« No matter what scientists say, lumbermen of the West insist that the monster exists… Believe it or Not! » — the standard Ripley’s line, from The Beast of the Humboldt
In the early 1960s, former industry leader Dell Publishing suffered a crushing blow when Western Publishing, who had been producing Dell’s comics for them since 1938, decided to handle their own distribution, which left Dell with, well… just about zilch*. But that’s neither here nor there.
Dell had opted out of the Comics Code Authority, and Western’s subsequent comics, under the Gold Key banner, also enjoyed that advantage, not that they abused the privilege much, though the exceptions are among the finest comic books ever issued: Ghost Stories No.1 and the one-shot giant Tales From the Tomb, both from the phenomenal mind of John Stanley and published by Dell in the fall of 1962.
By the mid-1960s, Warren Magazines had pounced through the loophole of the magazine format, unregulated by the Code, to bring back monsters forbidden under the CCA’s rule. Gold Key required no such stratagem.
At first, GK’s long-running (1965-1980, 94 issues) Ripley’s Believe It or Not! * couldn’t decide on a focus: 14 of its initial 26 issues were devoted to « True Ghost Stories », two related « True War Stories », two shared « True Weird Stories », and six tackled « True Demons and Monsters ». With issue 27, the title stuck to ghosts, if not to the strict truth.
This is an excerpt from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 4 (April, 1967), featuring the work of the much underrated Joe Certa (1919-1986), who began his comics career in the mid-1940s, working in just about every genre for a score of publishers, settling with Gold Key in the mid-60s and staying on until his retirement in 1980. He’s most remembered for his co-creation (with writer Joseph Samachson) of, and lengthy stint on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter (1955-68), as well as for drawing every single issue of Gold Key’s loose adaptation of television’s first supernatural soap, Dark Shadows (35 issues, 1969-76). By this time, Certa’s style had evolved from a fairly mainstream style to a wonderfully blocky, angular and shadowy style that left him ill-suited to the depiction of standard superheroics… but prepared him well for moodier fare.
*the one priceless creative asset that Dell managed to hold onto was John Stanley, not that they appreciated him. When he left the industry, it wasn’t with a carefree grin and a spring in his step.
** « Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. The Believe It or Not panel proved popular and was later adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums and a book series. »