« It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize that the best you can do is choose which rules you want to live by, and it’s persistent and aggravated imbecility to pretend you can live without any. » — Wallace Stegner
It’s funny how, closing in on 300 posts, I’m only getting around to discussing some of my very favourite series. As my co-conspirator ds points out, these are far harder to do justice to.
Many of these were abject commercial failures, but providential glimpses into fully-formed universes we must leave forever unexplored save in our dreams. In the eighties and nineties, Fantagraphics were particularly courageous in following up on their principles (explicitly elaborated upon in the pages of The Comics Journal) and publishing material for which there wasn’t much of an obvious market. For instance, the four issues of Jim Woodring‘s pre-Frank anthology, Jim. Still my favourite work of his… but a definite commercial non-starter.
He’s not really an anarchist, you know. This amusingly led an overly literal-minded, self-styled hardcore aficionado (from the nerve centre of American Punk, Monroe, LA) to testily complain to the authors: « Where do you get off calling your lame comic ‘Kid Anarchy’?!! Yup, I thought for sure this might have something to do with Anarchy, hardcore, social and political matters and so on, but what does it turn out to be? A deadbeat story about a bunch of rednecks sitting around a house. You guys suck! Why don’t you get your shit together and do something you understand, like a story about two posers wanking each other! Get a life! »
Ah, but Kid Anarchy could have been utter offal… had it conformed to that (mis)reader’s expectations. Anyway, see for yourself.
To me, the deeply poignant charm of KA rests in its character study of a band of outsiders, drawn together by virtue of greater difference from the rest of the populace than from one another. While each of them outwardly appears to represent a ‘type’, this facile pigeonholing is defeated and contradicted at every turn. Not one of them fits the tidy category that convention and circumstance seek to wedge them into. Also notable is the tonal choice undergirding the narrative: let’s face it, young Tommy is generally a sullen, immature prick, while the authorial voice of his older self is honestly rueful and brimming with hard-earned insight. I would have loved to see where the story was bound: would the gang dissolve? Would we follow Tommy with a new entourage? What’s the sinister secret behind Pop’s low prices?
As it was, the third issue, appearing over a year after the second, made it clear that it was an indulgent boon from the publisher.
British comic weeklies are a world unto themselves, with their own styles and jargon. A few books have been written on the subject, and a handful of dedicated bloggers have endeavoured to provide interested readers with cover and story scans, as well as historical information, but overall this is largely an unmined field. I don’t know if this situation is caused by a relative lack of interest, or simply because there is just so much material to cover (the most popular of weeklies have thousands of issues). The other problem is that for reasons of mercantile interests (i.e. sales), a lot of these weeklies would be merged with other weeklies, sometimes keeping a double name and occasionally getting renamed altogether, every so often de-merging to continue under the original name to be cancelled altogether or perhaps merge again. Short of being a scholar specialising in this field, keeping track of all this is about as daunting as attempting to interpret this extremely confusing roadway sign.
The two most popular British comics are deemed to be The Beano and The Dandy, both weeklies for children published by D.C. Thomson (I really have to force myself to not add a p to that) starting in the 1930s. The former reached its four thousandth (!) issue in August 2019, and the latter counts as the world’s third-longest running comic (spot number on is taken by Italian Il Giornalino, and spot number two belongs to Detective Comics).
It’s pretty difficult to find high-res scans of most issues of any of the weeklies discussed in this post, so I was definitely limited by that. However, I believe I still managed to cobble together a fairly representative selection, with the help of co-admin RG who had to unwarp, re-colour and trim the heck out of some of these covers. Thanks, partner!
Lion, published by IPC, was brought to life to compete with the Eagle periodical, which was the home of ever-popular Dan Dare. For proper competition, this new weekly publication needed a science-fiction romp, too, and that’s how Captain Condor – Space Ship Pilot got started. In 1969, the Lion gobbled up its rival Eagle (yum) and they merged into Lion & Eagle (sounds like a pub, not a publication! – RG). As for Lion and Thunder, that was the result of the periodical Thunder (also published by IPC) getting incorporated into Lion in 1972, after only 22 issues. I guess “Thunder Lion” would have put the cart before the horse, or the minor, unsuccessful periodical ahead of the major one.
The Wizard was a weekly “story paper” launched in September 1922, published by D.C. Thomson. It got as far as issue no. 1970, merging with The Rover in 1963 and continuing under Rover and Wizard for a while. The Wizard was relaunched in 1970, and endured until 1978.a while. The Wizard was relaunched in 1970, and.
Last (but not least, as they say), no post of this type would be complete without a couple of issues of the aforementioned Dandy!
« Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, it’s just god when he’s drunk. » — Tom Waits, Heartattack and Vine (1980)
Another week, another heat wave… I had something else in the pipeline for this week, but the canicular conditions brought to mind Hot Stuff The Little Devil (heat rises!) and his creator Warren Kremer‘s monumental parade of beautifully conceived and crafted calefaction variations.
As you may already know, the Harvey Comics stable consists, in the main, of one-note characters erected upon the visual template of licensed 1940s animation properties Casper the Friendly Ghost (Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Spooky) for the boys, and Little Audrey (Little Dot, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Pearl) for the girls.
We’ve already presented cover galleries from Spooky and Little Dot (as well as a Hallowe’en-themed array), and it’s now Hot Stuff’s turn to toast and roast. Though we’ve both been rather dismissive of the contents of Harvey Comics, I must point out that if there is a specific series that burns brighter than its brethren do, it’s Hot Stuff’s… at least during the line’s creative peak, the 1960s. Here’s an example of a good one.
Each cover is the brainchild and handiwork of Harvey’s indefatigable resident genius and art director, Warren Kremer. Obviously, one man does not a company make, and his able colleagues Howie Post, Ernie Colón, Sid Couchey and Sid Jacobson were hardly lightweights or slouches… but Kremer was the cover generator.
That’s it for now! Keep cool, and may your asbestos underwear never chafe!
« Chanoc was set in the fictional Mayan fishing village of Ixtac somewhere near Veracruz. The heroes struggled against corrupt foreigner and larger-than-life sea and jungle animals, especially sharks and octopi. An important feature of the comic book was its use of local colour and coastal lore… »
I’m always unpleasantly amazed when I stumble upon a comic series that ran over a thousand issues… and that I’ve never heard of until now. The sting of it is only slightly alleviated by the fact that it was published in a language I don’t speak. I have already written about long-running (and abounding with tentacles) German series Spuk Geschichten; today it’s the turn of Mexican Chanoc. We may be unable to travel right now, but at least we can accompany pearl diver and fisherman Chanoc and his goofily-mustachioed grandfather Tsekub Baloyán in Aventuras de Mar y Selva (adventures on land and sea – in the context of this post, mostly the sea).
Chanoc actually started out as a rejected screenplay by Dr. Ángel Martín de Lucenay, who, undeterred by this failure, cobbled the story into a proposal for a comic strip and brought it to publishing house Publicaciones Herrerías (taken over at a later junction by Novedades Editores). Ángel Mora was recruited to provide the art, and the first issue (32 pages in full colour!) came out in October 1959. Martín died after having written only 20 episodes, and young writer Pedro Zapiain Fernández was hired. He plotted Chanoc for the next eleven years until 1971, at which point his services were dismissed for a variety of reasons.
In Not Just for Children: The Mexican Comic Book in the Late 1960s and 1970s, author Harold E. Hinds argues that it’s Fernández’s involvement that made Chanoc a best-seller.
« In order to continue to improve the characterization of Veracruz culture, Zapiain immersed himself in the coastal environment. He fished, sailed, deep-sea dived, hunted sharks, and was even shipwrecked in a hurricane.
Many of the scenes and characters in the comic book are modeled on real Veracruz vistas and people. Zapiain slowly transformed Chanoc. Adventure faded in importance, although many issues still contained at least one adventure subplot. Comedy became Chanoc’s trademark, the humour ranging from wit and repartee to parody and slapstick comedy. Mild polictal satire and social ciriticism were intoducted and sports themes became a staple. » /source/
Conrado de la Torre took over the writing when Zapiain (who, incidentally, died in 1979, at 48) was fired, but by most accounts Chanoc’s heyday was over, though I’ve seen mentions of the strip still being published as late as mid-90s. Many artists have contributed to Chanoc during the golden years: «painters Landa and José Luis Gutiérrez (both as cover artists ); Guillermo Vigil , who later created the comic El Payo; Antonio Morales, the screenwriter for Viruta y Capulina , and Antonio Salazar Berber, the first sports cartoonist and creator of mascots for Mexican soccer teams. » /source/
My (rather lengthy, sorry) introduction is now done, and we can move onto the octopuses I promised you!
Some covers are, sadly, only available online in extremely poor resolution, so here are two more:
« The comic book may be more popular in Mexico than in any other Latin American country. In this essay, Harold Hinds speculates that its decline was due to a number of factors, including the degeneration of one of its main characters, Tsekub, into a mere clown, the inaccessibility of its increasingly “slangy” language, and its tendency towards cuteness rather than meaningful satire. He then examines the main characters. Chanoc is a kind of highly moral Tarzan‐figure who protects the defenseless against villainous exploiters. Tsekub, Chanoc’s sidekick and antithesis, is an old man with a young spirit whose zest for life provides much comedy. Hinds points out that in addition to adventure and humour, Chanoc’s main components, the comic book also deals with foreign, particularly U.S., interference, in Mexico and elsewhere. He also considers a variety of ways in which Chanoc reflects, at times quite subtly, Mexican culture and society; e.g., aspects of regionalism, nationalism, mestizo character, machismo, and modernisation are briefly explored. » (excerpt from Harold E. Hinds’ Chanoc : Adventure and Slapstick on Mexico’s Southeast Coast)
« Who are these men, Tomahawk? » « My Rangers! We fought against renegades… from Pennsylvania to Kentucky! When the country got too crowded, Moon Fawn and I moved out West… where a man has room to breathe! » — Tom Hawk sums up his change of station.
Inevitably, with the Silver Age and its superhero reascendancy, to the eventual detriment of all other genres, the historical adventure strip’s slow decline set in.
As Don Markstein put it:
« Toward the latter part of the ’50s, practically all DC comics ran aliens, monsters and other goofy sci-fi stuff on the covers, no matter how badly it clashed with the title’s subject matter — even war comics often sported dinosaurs in that position. And so, all through the late 1950s and early to mid ’60s, Tomahawk fought gigantic tree men, miraculously-surviving dinosaurs, mutated salamanders, and other menaces that seem somehow to have escaped the history books. There was even a giant gorilla among them, and putting a gorilla on the cover was also a contemporary trend at DC. »
It all comes down to the editor, and Tomahawk was long edited by Jack Schiff, who just adored that sort of (admittedly fun) claptrap, then by his associate Murray Boltinoff, who at least was more flexible.
To wit, with issue 116 (May-June 1968) came a change and a relative return to the feature’s roots. First, Neal Adams was brought in to provide covers, and the more outré aspects were phased out. With issue 119 (Nov.-Dec. 1968), the book’s final creative team was brought aboard: writer Robert Kanigher and illustrator Frank Thorne (1930-), eventual creator of Moonshine McJugs. Thorne replaced Fred Ray (1920-2001) who, while he wasn’t a Tomahawk originator, had been chronicling the mountain lion’s share of his exploits since 1947. He would draw a handful of short pieces for DC’s war books before leaving the comics field in the early 1970s, writing historical non-fiction and art directing and illustrating for publications Civil War Times Illustrated, American History Illustrated, True Frontier, The West and Yank (despite the title, not a porno mag).
With the heart of the creative team in place, it was a change of editors that prompted Tomahawk’s final mutation, and arguably its most interesting: Joe Kubert took over the editorial reins, and the action was moved four decades or so forward in time. Tom ‘Tomahawk’ Hawk had settled down with a Native woman, Moon Fawn, sired a pair of sons, and was by then a lanky, crotchety old coot, but not quite helpless. His elder son Hawk was the protagonist, and they encountered frontier-style prejudice, greed, corruption, tribalism, paranoia… you guessed it: it was a ‘socially-relevant‘ comic, but hardly the cringe-fest that was the concurrent Green Lantern/Green Arrow. I daresay that Kubert and Kanigher’s respective politics were rather too complex for that.
As for the interior art, I’d say it’s Frank Thorne’s finest work. The notorious Alexander Toth would of course disagreed, far preferring Thorne’s work when Thorne’s style bore a heavy… Toth influence (here’s an example from 1957.) For comparison, here’s a pair of interior pages from Tomahawk no. 131‘s Hang Him High!
Toth would, in (final) conversation with The Comics Journal publisher Gary Groth, in 1996, froth forth:
« I repeatedly warned Frank: “For Christ’s sake, get the hell away from Kubert. He’s not doing you any good. His influence on you is negative, not positive, so get the hell away from him and stop aping his style and stop putting on all that shit that you lived without for years. You did nice, clean, hard-lined stuff, and it’s been detrimental to your work.” He confessed: “Yes, Joe Kubert and his style are hard to resist.” So, yes he had the influence, and he liked it. Well, good luck. »
« Kate’s death scream gags stillborn in her throat as the tentacles dart toward her, slithering hungrily across her body. »
Here’s a quick association exercise: as fast as you can, name words that come to mind when somebody says “Dracula”. Um, fangs! Stake! Blood, cape, biting! … Tentacles? Say what?
It would have never occurred to me to look for tentacles in Dracula, giant-size or otherwise, so thanks to admin RG for this splendid suggestion.
You’re not sure those green things were tentacles? If it quacks like a duck, it may well be an aquatic bird – and if it slithers towards female “human flesh”, count it as tentacles! Call Them Triad… Call Them Death! is scripted by Chris Claremont, pencilled by Don Heck and inked by Frank McLaughlin. I have to say that the art is distinctly subpar, as far as I’m concerned.
“Words are inadequate”.
Perhaps it’s the drab colours that weigh this down, and the original art would be a considerable improvement? Nope, sorry.
As further example of the ineptitude of this art team, a quick question: does this look like he’s slapping her?
However, I have no wish to engage in Don Heck bashing – he had his moments, it’s just that this story wasn’t one of them. Instead, I will direct you to this article explaining how Harlan Ellison mocked Heck once upon a time, several lifetimes ago. Also, ouch.
Harlan Ellison: There are guys who’ve got very minimal talents and it doesn’t matter whether they corrupt it or not. I could name them and would happily name them, but why bother? There’s no sense kicking cripples. I mean, all you have to do is open up comic books from Marvel and DC and take a look at them. You see these guys have a very minor-league talent and, to say, “Well, these people are wasting their talent” is ridiculous. I mean, they’re never going to be any better. What’s the name of the guy who used to do… over at Marvel… he use to do… [Pause]… the worst artist in the field.
Continuing our foray into Draculas of colossal proportions tangling with tentacles…
Sadly, the tentacles promised on the cover don’t really appear in the cover story. Time to move to another series —
What Lurks Beneath Satan’s Hill? (tentacles, obviously) is scripted by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer.
The story continues in number 63 –
The Road to Hell!is scripted by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer:
Next up (eventually), an equally random concept: Werewolf VS tentacles!
« You know, I once took a ride in a Volkswagen convertible driven by Harvey Kurtzman, with fellow passengers Terry Gilliam and Robert Crumb. Had we been smacked by a garbage truck the history of humor and popular culture would have been slightly changed. Interestingly not one of us had the slightest interest in any of the other three. Except, I am pretty sure we all hated Kurtzman, but who didn’t? » — Daniel Pinkwater
This post was originally going to be an interview. Having belatedly discovered Norb (1989-1990), I got in touch with Daniel Pinkwater (who better to ask?), intending to pepper him with questions, but he was so very helpful, providing me with all the background material I could have desired, that his prediction that « … since I have nothing to add, you may not need to formulate any questions for me » … came to pass. And so I gladly yield the floor to the sterling Mr. Pinkwater.
Tony Auth was a brilliant artist. He had an important day job as editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think it was his first job, which he held for decades, and he was a Pulitzer Prize winner. We talked about doing ‘something’ together for a couple of years. Tony wanted to do a daily/Sunday newspaper strip, so we did that. Every day we’d remind one another, ‘keep it stupid.’ The fact was, we had no idea how stupid a commercial strip needed to be.
Stroke of luck, Denny Allen, who was temporarily in a position of influence at King Features had approached me years before about doing a strip. We met the power elite at King Features. I won’t characterize them except to say that the concept of stupid did not elude them, nor would it have been likely to. We negotiated for, and received a substantial advance from King, covering two years. I understand this was unheard of in the highly competitive rat race with a great many submissions coming in every day from marginally talented cartoonists.
So we went to work. My part was utterly easy. I would write the dailies and the separately plotted Sunday strip every Saturday while watching Dr. Who. Tony was putting in long hours in addition to his job at the newspaper. The strip launched in something like 70 papers, and I was told this was a big launch and unusual for the times.
We started in the vacancy created when Bloom County ceased production. The response from readers consisted entirely of actual hate-mail, letters saying it was hoped we would die, crude drawings of tombstones and daggers dripping blood. The only piece of positive fan mail I remember came from Jules Feiffer. A few papers dropped the strip, some in response to outrage from readers for whom the comics page was their literature. The typical letter read, ‘I hate NORB, it makes me feel stupid.’ Fair enough, I thought.
I understood that as few as 10 negative letters were enough to spook a paper into dropping a feature. My wife did a bit of research and discovered that all new strips have it rough initially, but if one survives two years it becomes un-droppable, and it is the editorial staff who get the threatening letters. Interestingly, Tony, who was a fair-minded political cartoonist, and got abuse all the time, (he’d had his office trashed by the right and the left at different times over the same issue, for example), and didn’t mind it, regarded the comic strip as the product of his heart, and was hurt by the unfair criticism.
So, at the end of the first year, Tony, exhausted by working two full-time jobs, depressed by the evidence that nobody seemed to like the strip, unwilling, as I was, to follow the advice from the comics/humor expert at King Features, let me know that he was not having any fun. ‘So, shall we quit?’ I asked. Since he was carrying 90% of the weight, I didn’t feel it should be my call. King was delighted to kill the strip because that meant they wouldn’t have to pay us the second year’s advance, and apparently they thought that saving money was the same as making money.
Exactly a year after the strip stopped appearing the fan mail started to come in, ‘Where’s NORB?’ ‘NORB was my favorite comic.’
« It’s pretty clear that you take the whole subject of comics and cartooning a lot more seriously than I do. » Guilty as charged. Thanks for your most kind coöperation, Mr. Pinkwater!
This post is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Tony Auth (1942 – 2014).
Random fact of the day: in Mandarin Chinese, secret is “mimi”, whereas in French “mimi” means something like “cute”. Today’s post is not cute, but it is very much about secrets – DC secrets, to be more precise.
The original art for this cover feels a little less cluttered:
Taking a peek at the insides, we will find that they have little to do with the cover, but tentacles are still present. The Discovery is scripted by Jay L. Zilber, pencilled by Juan Ortiz, and inked by Vince Colletta:
Tentacles also rudely intrude in Selina, a story scripted by Nicola Cuti and elegantly illustrated by Ramona Fradon and Bob Smith —
Beware the Sea Hag, the cover story, is scripted by Carl Wessler and drawn by Wade Hampton:
But, wait, this is not what the Sea Hag normally looks like! This is more like it:
Shifting to another sort of secrets (these are sinister rather than haunted), we have another tentacle apparition —
This story, a sort of take on Bluebeard, is well worth reading, for the plot as well as the stunning art. I don’t want to reveal spoilers – you can read it here.
Since we’re discussing secrets, I might as well throw in TheHouse of Secrets… I will willingly admit that I have the hardest time keeping track of which is which.
« … And so Hooten Landing remained unchanged through the years… a landmark and a memorial… a colonial world that had made only one or two concessions to the march of progress. » — From Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949)
Having reached the last half of Kitchen Sink’s chronological reprinting of the Post-WWII Spirit, we come at last to the end of our own chronicle. As stated earlier, facing an inexorable dwindling of Eisner’s involvement and investment in his creation due to other commitments and an understandable sagging of his stamina, the strip slowly entered its decline. Then as now, good help was hard to find, to the point where Eisner opted to wrap up the strip rather than let it peter out completely. This sober and courageous decision most certainly contributed in preserving the feature’s solid reputation to this day.
As we embark on the inarguably lesser half of the run, we encounter fewer standout covers, which is to be expected, given the creator’s diminished affection for the contents. Nevertheless, forty-four Will Eisner covers are bound to yield some genuine sparklers. Here, then, are my picks.
Some background about the classic Sand Saref two-parter, from Tom Heintjes‘ Stage Settings column:
« The final two stories form one longer tale, and they’ve earned a place in comics history. Eisner’s work and film noir have been mentioned in the same breath for decades, and you hold in your hands one of the best reasons why. »
« The story’s history is unorthodox. Sand Saref and Bring in Sand Saref had their origins in Eisner’s shop, which had been producing various comic books and pieces of commercial art with growing frequency. The two stories were originally done as a single 11-page feature, but it didn’t star The Spirit. The lead character was John Law, a character Eisner intended to launch independently of The Spirit feature.
When the John Law project was shelved due to the often poor newsstand distribution of many comic books, Eisner later saw an opportunity, and seized it by breaking the 11-page John Law feature into a two-part Spirit story. Astute readers are now saying: ‘But Spirit stories are seven pages long, requiring fourteen pages of art.‘ Well, there are no flies on Will Eisner. He created the first three pages of ‘Sand Saref’ to bring up the page count.
Eisner said breaking the John Law story into two halves, eliminating all traces of the intended hero, and inking in the faces of The Spirit’s cast of characters wasn’t simple. “The characters were different people, so considerable dialogue had to be rewritten,” he said. “John Law was a policeman and The Spirit wasn’t. Merely because they both fought on the side of law and order didn’t make them the same character.” In fact, Eisner has Sand Saref tell The Spirit ‘you’re a cop’ in the climax of the 14-page story. »
A word or two about The Outer Space Spirit, as it’s come to be called: Eisner, looking for a worthy successor to bequeath the strip to, found young Wally Wood. Talented as he was, Wood’s tragic character flaws were already well established: unlike Eisner, he couldn’t pace himself and he couldn’t stay the course, two qualities essential to the steady production of a comic strip. But for the couple of weeks before Wood started missing deadlines, such lush, interstellar beauty! Feast your peepers here.
Well, that’s it! Thanks for tagging along on Will Eisner and his most famous creation’s tireless peregrinations.
If you’ve missed the earlier entries in the series (punctuality is not one of your strong suits, is it?), all is not lost. In fact, it’s all handily archived within easy reach :