Treasured Stories: “The People vs. Hendricks!” (1964)

« Programmed for love, she can be quite tender
Treat her unkind, nothing offends her
She vacuums the carpet and doesn’t complain
She’ll walk the dog in the pouring rain.
» — Was (Not Was), Robot Girl

Today, on the occasion of his birthday (this would be number 112), we celebrate the great writer and editor Leo Rosenbaum (1909-1974), Potentate of Pseudonyms. If you know of him at all, odds are it’s under his nom de plume of Richard E. Hughes, pioneering chief writer and editor of the American Comics Group (ACG, 1943-67), and then perhaps under one of the numerous colourful aliases he adopted to conceal the fact that he was doing most, if not all, the company’s writing. In alphabetical order, meet Pierre Alonzo, Ace Aquila, Brad Everson, Lafcadio Lee (a salute to the Irish-born writer of Japanese ghost stories of Kwaidan fame, perhaps?), Kermit Lundgren, Shane O’Shea, Greg Olivetti (probably inspired by the brand of his typewriter!), Kurato Osaki, Pierce Rand, Bob Standish and Zev Zimmer.

Early in my comics collecting days, I spent a lot of time consulting Robert Overstreet‘s The Comic Book Price Guide (a practice I’ve utterly abandoned) gleaning random bits of trivia and dreaming about potential acquisitions. One item that greatly piqued my interest was this note:

From the 12th edition of The Comic Book Price Guide (1982, Overstreet Publications).

Well, I did eventually get my hands on a copy, and I must say wasn’t disappointed. And since I was taught to share with the other kids, here’s the story in question.

While “The People…” draws upon familiar elements of The Bride of Frankenstein and say, Inherit the Wind, I daresay that its heart-rending conclusion is its very own.
And here’s the cover. This is Unknown Worlds no. 36 (Dec. 1964 – Jan. 1965, ACG); art by Kurt Schaffenberger.

As for the artist: Johnny Craig (1926-2001) had been absent from the comics field most of the decade that followed EC Comics’ near-total collapse and the advent of the Comics Code, when he suddenly turned up at ACG (he’d been toiling in advertising). He would later do some work with Warren, Marvel and DC until the early 80s, at which point he more or less retired. Craig’s always been near the very top of my favourites at EC. Since he was, artistically-speaking, painstaking (‘slow as mollasses in February‘, my art school drawing teacher was fond of saying) and quite self-critical, Gaines entrusted him, as he did in the case of Harvey Kurtzman, with some editorial and scripting responsibilities to make up the income shortfall and keep him around and happy. And so the Craig-edited-and-led Vault of Horror is easily the finest of the company’s horror trio, largely thanks to Craig’s solid writing skills, not to mention his inspired artwork. Craig’s stories provided a much-needed breather from Gaines and Feldstein’s often powerful, but also formulaic and overwritten tales.

Interestingly, while Craig’s art style is overall understated and full of spit and polish, he created several of the company’s most transgressive images (such as this one and that one). Editor-writer Hughes knew precisely what he was doing (as any editor worth his salt should) when he conceived this story and assigned it to Craig. It plays superbly to the man’s strengths, if you ask me.

-RG

10 thoughts on “Treasured Stories: “The People vs. Hendricks!” (1964)

  1. Bill November 6, 2021 / 12:15

    Where is the mentioned Herbie?

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    • gasp65 November 7, 2021 / 21:35

      Hi Bill! From what I can tell, Overstreet seems to be referring to the one-page Herbie ad in the issue. But it makes little sense, since Herbie gets advertised in preceding and subsequent issues… with no ‘cameo’ mentioned. Kudos to the ACG team for making these ads different from month to month, judging from what I’ve seen. See the whole issue here: https://readcomiconline.li/Comic/Unknown-Worlds/Issue-36?id=149939

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  2. Michael T. November 7, 2021 / 16:17

    I really like this one, always have. But my favorite is the Hughes/Craig “The Gravy Train!” about a mentally handicapped man who makes good. Superbly done…and it always brings a little tear to my eye!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gasp65 November 7, 2021 / 21:32

      Hi Michael! Well, given the quality of these scripts, it’s understandable that Hughes was able to lure Craig back into comics. ACG truly brought something special to the field… we can be grateful it lasted as long as it did. Thanks so much for commenting and the lovely suggestion. Spotlighting ‘The Gravy Train’ might be in the cards…

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  3. Krackles November 9, 2021 / 07:33

    I do like the elegant work of Johnny Craig. He also did some good jobs on the superhero genre both as a pencil and / or inker, although he was more at home with ordinary people.
    At times, given his level of profession, I would have liked him to have tried to to break the mold and push his limits on some of his work, like Alex Toth who shared a common elegance. It would have been quite interesting.

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    • gasp65 November 9, 2021 / 12:18

      Hi Krackles!

      The less said about Craig’s superhero work the better, the poor man. When he was pencilling, both Marvel (“From the Brink’, Tower of Shadows no. 1… John Romita strikes again!) and DC (Brave & Bold no. 70) utterly butchered his work, deeming it ‘too sedate’.

      And I must strongly contest the notion that Craig didn’t break the mould and push his limits. Much of his EC work was beautifully experimental. For instance, check out his ‘Touch and Go!’ in Crime SuspenStories no. 17 (an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl’) and the nightmarish ‘Star Light, Star Bright!’ from Vault of Horror no. 34. It blew my mind as a kid when I read it as ‘Étoile du matin… chagrin’ in Horreur – une anthologie en bandes dessinées (Williams France, 1974)… you can imagine what an eye-opener that was for a small-town ten-year-old!

      Toth, for his part, just *hated* to be reminded (taunted, really!) of his never having illustrated a great, transcendent script. I guess he was really visually-driven and just viewed scripts as vehicles for his graphics. And that’s why I respect Toth’s work more than enjoy it. Conversely, Craig didn’t just illustrate great scripts, he even wrote some timeless classics for others: the incredibly bleak ‘Pipe Dream’ for Bernie Krigstein and, say, ‘Shoe-Button Eyes’ for Graham Ingels.

      So I’m definitely content with Mr. Craig’s œuvre as it stands, all the more given how small it is!

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      • Krackles November 12, 2021 / 06:49

        Hi Gasp65,

        Just to clarify, it wasn’t my intention to take any merit from Johnny Craig’s work, far from it.
        I agree that he did experiment with storytelling techniques and this is precisely, given his craft and potential, what I would have liked him to try more with his graphic design, which I find elegant but more conventional.

        His work wasn’t particularly suited for the House of Jack’s Ideas but I find it graceful nevertheless, but it still came through despite Marvel’s usual heavy editing.

        I guess you can also blame me for being mostly visually-driven which I won’t deny.

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