Not long ago, I chanced upon this passage from an interview with the lovely Ramona Fradon, wherein she touches upon her mid-70s work for Joe Orlando‘s ‘mystery’ comics at DC.
« Those were all Joe’s productions, and there was nothing he liked better than to get around the Comics Code. The fact that my drawing was comic helped him get away with more than he could with other artists. He was always pushing the envelope. »
« So when we decided to start running a weekly illustrated personal ad — ‘Lustlab Ad of the Week’ — we knew right away what we didn’t want. We didn’t want to sensationalize what was already pretty sensational, thanks. And we didn’t want to hyper-sexualize what was already plenty sexual. We wanted an artist who could take short, pithy personal ads — short, pithy, filthy personal ads — and infuse them with the kind of playfulness that true kinksters bring to their sex lives. We wanted someone that could make someone into whips and chains and hoods look like someone you could take home to meet your parents.
We wanted Ellen Forney. »
Just like Ramona Fradon, Ms. Forney wields a friendly, extremely engaging and accessible style (as you’ll witness). Here, then, is a modest sampling from the four-year frolic of the ‘Lustlab Ad of the Week’, circa 2004-2007. Feel free to browse.
The feature’s highlights have been collected, in fine fashion, in a snazzy little hardcover entitled ‘Lust‘. (Feb. 2008, Fantagraphics). While it’s out of print by now, affordable copies appear to still be available. If it floats your boat at all, don’t hesitate!
Long before Cracked* was ‘America’s Only Humor Site’ deluging its readers in hit-or-miss listicles (5 Stupid, Stupid Things Humanity Has Shot Into Space, 15 Bonkers Crossovers That Somehow Happened, and so on), it was a satirical mag consciously aping Mad Magazine‘s schtick. I don’t know if anybody is actually hanging on to fond memories of it – Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson famously quipped ‘I don’t think I’m alone in thinking of CRACKED for most of its run as “a bunch of crap, and John Severin” – but it’s undeniable that quite a few great artists have contributed to it over the years (including the aforementioned Severin, who was a powerhouse** whatever you may think of his art).
Cracked was born in 1958 and shuddered its last in 2007 (more about said demise later). Here are a few Severin covers I like!
As a bonus, here is ‘Phooey’ Smythe as depicted by the amazing Jack Davis for the cover of Cracked no. 12 (January, 1960).
* When Cracked Magazine was sold to a group of investors in 2005, it was supposed to return in force with a new design à la ‘lad mags‘ like Maxim. Website Cracked.com launched several months later, outdid its parental unit, and when the magazine folded in 2007 (new design and all), the website stuck around, gaining popularity in exponential numbers. My only interest in it is the fact that Winston Rowntree occasionally contributes articles.
**«After being one of the founding artists for Mad, he began working for the Mad imitation Cracked in the late ’50s and stayed there for nearly 40 years, because he was paid as well as the Mad contributors and was allowed to contribute several features in every issue. In addition to the mountain of work he produced for Cracked, he was simultaneously working for Marvel, Warren and DC. Severin was the consummate professional who editors and art directors knew could draw anything, from a Roman legionary to Cracked mascot Sylvester P. Smythe, and everything in between. Like fellow EC colleagues Jack Davis and Frank Frazetta, Severin could crank out great humor comics with the same facility he drew war, Western and historical tales.» [source]
« Carefully, the old man utters a cacophonous incantation… then lets his mind go blank. » — Stephen Skeates
We recently (last March 30) lost a fine fellow and writer in Steve Skeates (1943-2023). I’ve long appreciated his work, as I felt he was among the very few ‘mainstream’ comic book writers who could actually be funny, not to mention gripping or thought-provoking*, whatever the situation demanded.
At its peak, his writing also stood out by virtue of its containing actual creative ideas rather than the usual mishmash of bromides and creativity-stifling continuity that the fanboys clamoured for.
Today, I’ll showcase a bicephalous favourite, The Spectre in « The Parchment of Power Perilous » and Dr. Graves in « The Ultimate Evil », both springing from the same author… and the same plot.
How did this come to pass? Skeates told the story in an article entitled « Graves Acting Strangely: The Ultimate Evil Reconsidered », published in Charlton Spotlight no. 5 (Fall 2006, Argo Press, Michael Ambrose, editor).
« … at that particular point in time, I was totally unaware of the unique manner in which Julie [Schwartz ] approached his profession, typically in the dark when it came to the fact that this longtime comic book icon was far more actively involved in the plotting process than any other editor up at DC. […] I ambled into Julie’s well-kempt office armed with an intricate plot… something I had stayed up half the night before constructing, working, reworking, polishing and repolishing, only to have Julie read it over, extract a couple of ideas he liked, and unceremoniously toss the rest of it away. […] the two of us set about constructing what basically amounted to a brand-new plot based on those couple of ideas of mine that Julie liked, ideas that had somehow gotten his creative juices flowing. »
Unlike (with one notable exception, initials SD) his colleagues who scampered from Charlton to DC along with editor Dick Giordano (Denny O’Neil and Jim Aparo, for instance) in the late 1960s, Skeates maintained his Charlton work for a time. He explained: « I simply possessed too much affection for what I was producing for that Derby, Connecticut company to do anything along those lines. » Skeates enjoyed « … contributing to Charlton’s take on the “mystery” anthology, ghostly compilations somehow edgier, funkier, and far more fun than those produced by DC and Marvel. »
« Furthermore, unlike DC, Charlton didn’t require that I first submit a plot outline, get it approved, and then write my story. Instead, I could just suddenly turn in a finished product, on spec, a way of working I very much preferred — diving right in with the plot idea only sketchily there, not boxed in even by myself but allowing the story to work itself out, to go where it wanted to go. » Amen.
The one time we saw the Doctor M. T. Graves truly get his mystical groove on was in this tale of two Steves, Skeates and Ditko, a splendid bit of recycling-but-not-quite.
And he’s how the whole ball of wax coalesced: « I suddenly remembered that fairly intricate Spectre plot that Julie had long ago summarily tossed aside. Hey, y’know, I might just be able (especially if I placed most of my emphasis on those portions that Julie hadn’t extracted, working on the bulk of my original plot while rather downplaying those couple of ideas that Julie and I had built our new plot on) to transform that baby into a workable Dr. Graves adventure! »
« Boom! I was into it, writing this story nearly as fast as I could type. Of course, to in effect have Graves play the role of the Spectre, I could see no way around making certain alterations to my protagonist’s makeup, making him far more mystically powerful than he had ever before seemed, more like Marvel’s Doctor Strange than anyone else…
Yet I could see no real problem in any of that, unless of course someone up at Charlton wound up doing supremely silly like assigning the art for this story to none other than Ditko himself — which, as it turned out, is exactly what happened! »
Hail and farewell, Mr. Skeates. You will be missed.
Something about the current spring weather, with its contrast between the warm wind perfumed with chlorophyll and the trash liberated from its snowy prison and strewn about artistically, reminded me of 6-page story Song of the Terraces. Originally published in A1 no. 4 (1990, Atomeka Press), it is officially part of Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse’s Bojeffries Saga, and as such was also collected in the The Complete Bojeffries Saga published in 1992 by Tundra Press (and reissued in a new collection in 2013 by Top Shelf Productions).
I don’t know if it’s a universal rule, but it seems that people either love to read plays, or hate the very idea. I belong to the former category, and have happily spent my young years on a steady diet of plays. Sometimes these included musical interludes, and I was not in the slightest bit perturbed by being given basically lyrics with some details about the mood of the singers, but no melody.
Perhaps that is part of why I am so fond of Song of the Terraces, or perhaps it’s the familiarity of this scene – its row of lovingly depicted council houses (Parkhouse has a really lovely, fluid style) and its hodgepodge of denizens in various states of spiritual and physical dishevelment are part and parcel of British shows I’ve watched and loved. Be as it may, I find the following tremendously endearing.
This interlude features two characters from the mighty Bojeffries family line – Raoul (the werewolf) and powerful but lonely Ginda – but otherwise is not particularly linked to any storyline.
When you move house, as I did a few months ago, some items inevitably get buried while others get kicked loose. For instance, several decades ago, I had picked up (at a dollar fifty apiece, apparently) a tidy little pile of Punch issues from 1946 and 1955. Punch (1841-2022) of course, boasted at the time what was likely the world’s finest roster of cartoonists. Not only were the cartoons splendid — and now I’m old enough to actually get most of the jokes — but even the ads, often produced in-house, were exquisitely illustrated. And so, instead of the cartoons (you can still scratch that itch with our recent Rowland Emett’s Ramshackle Poesy in Motion, for instance), I’m proposing a sampling of adverts from my pile o’ Punches.
You probably remember Ontarian artist Doug Sneyd from Playboy magazine (well, those of you who read it for the cartoons!), which he began drawing for in 1964. Co-admin RG is distinctly not a fan… and as for me, well, it depends on my mood. I like his watercolour technique, and the way he draws noses and mouths* somewhat less so. There is such a bevy of wonderful Playboy artists that one is a bit spoiled for choice (for a few favourites, see previous posts, for example Happy Birthday to Eldon Dedini, Don Madden’s Luxuriant Oasis of Dames and Dogs, or Dink Siegel’s Swingin’ Roommates), but one can always use some more cheesecake.
Somehow I ended up with The Art of Doug Sneyd: A Collection of Playboy Cartoons (2016, Dark Horse Books) without even noticing. Like most similar monographs, it’s now out of print, so one could perhaps consider it an investment of sorts! Canada is proud of Sneyd, who was born in Guelph, Ontario and spent most of his time in NYC-wannabe Toronto – a bunch of his cartoons are included in the National Archives of Canada, thirty of them from Playboy.
Here are a few examples from the aforementioned collection – I tried to go for a combination of the visually interesting** with a decent gag. It can perhaps be argued that all such cartoons can’t age well by virtue of their very nature, but many have passed through decades with considerably more dignity and grace than Sneyd’s. I suppose it depends on whether the jokes is at the expense of the woman involved and whose side the sympathies lie. Anyway, here we go!
* Speaking of wide ‘fish’ mouths and no noses, I generally prefer Erich Sokol.
** I distinctly object to the claim that ‘he is by far the best cartoonist Playboy magazine has seen‘ (source), and scoff in dismay at the idea that ‘all [of his cartoons] are beautifully drawn, richly colored, and very very funny, and each one is an exceptional work of art‘ (introduction to The Art of Doug Sneyd by Lynn Johnston — pushing Canuck solidarity quite a bit too far.
« This is how you disappear… » — Scott Walker, Rawhide
No foolin’, honest: today is the birthday of cartoonist Frank M. Borth III (April 1, 1918 – August 9, 2009), who worked on such Golden Age features as Phantom Lady, Captain America, Skypilot, Spider Widow, colleagues Captain Daring, Captain Battle and Captain Fleet… he kept busy.
Then, at the close of the 1940s, he began a long association with Catholic publisher George A. Pflaum, chronicling (among others) the rollicking adventures of one Frumson Wooters, aka The Champ, a stereotype-bucking chubby kid who’s at times scatterbrained and clumsy, but also wise, determined, resourceful, and humble to boot. Written by Captain Frank Moss and radiantly illustrated (and later, also scripted) by Borth, the feature ran for two decades in Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, a publication distributed to parochial school students between 1946 and 1972 and generally avoided like any of the Ten Plagues of Egypt by your average comic book fan, but — wouldn’t you know it? — chock full of excellent work by the likes of Bernard Baily, Fran Matera, Bob Powell, Reed Crandall, Joe Sinnott, Graham Ingels, Joe Orlando, Murphy Anderson, Jim Mooney, Marvin Townsend, Paul Eismann… I’ll stop now.
I was going to feature a gallery of favourite Borth pages from all over the place, but instead decided it might be more interesting to highlight his ability to break down an action sequence, since that’s the palpitating heart of an adventure yarn. Therefore, here’s chapter 4 of “The Champ’s Treasure Hunt“, published in TCOF&F volume 15, No. 4 (Oct. 22, 1959).
I intended to direct interested readers to an autobiographical essay Borth penned late in life, but it’s gone — well, retrievable if you try hard enough, but to avoid losing it altogether, I’m going to quote it in full:
FRANK BORTH, syndicated cartoonist was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Cleveland School of Art in 1940. Frank had earned his tuition by painting price signs in tempera paint for butcher shops, grocery stores, Green Grocers, etc. from 11th grade on until he left Cleveland to get employment as an illustrator in New York City. Where he worked as a free-lance illustrator and writer for comic book publications.
Frank was drafted into army and assigned to the Transportation Corp training Center at Indiantown Gap Military reservation to produce training aids where he rose to the rank of T/Sgt. In 1944 Frank painted a 52-foot mural for the Service Club that is still there today. Frank married Barbara Stroh of Harrisburg, Pa in 1944 and was discharged in 1946.
Frank came back to New York to find work and an apartment; he found neither, but his landlady offered him the summer use of some unheated rooms over garage of a large house she planned to rent to roomers out in Montauk. Frank and Barbara moved in May 1st for the summer as Montauk was by then once more a summer resort, and he found employment by painting murals in bars and sign work at the Yacht Club. Frank entertained members every Friday night at a dinner with chalk talk and other inspiring skits. Finally Frank decided to create a new comic-adventure strip about a two-masted schooner available for hire and an agent in the audience offered to try to sell it in New York.
Frank’s little family really lived on the money he had saved up in the three years in the army. He went back to Cleveland however due to the death of his father and worked for a small ad agency. The following spring the agent told him that he had sold the yachting script and Frank went back to Montauk to work on the strip “Ken Stuart” for three years; but couldn’t get it syndicated inland. Frank was not saved by the bell but by a Catholic publication called “Treasure Chest” who mailed him a script to illustrate in ten chapters of six pages each, a fiction story about the Priest of Shark Island. This led to steady interesting assignments for 25 years. The magazine was in comic book form, and was published every two weeks during the school year, twenty in all. Since they didn’t print in the summer, Frank would use that time to write scripts on his own. In those days they corresponded by letter and the editor and Frank soon became pen pals. Frank made sure that he delivered always on time and produced exactly what they were looking for.
The Borth family, they had produced two children a son and a daughter, they bought property in Montauk and built a house. Frank had joined the volunteer fire department and also volunteered to be one of the crew on our new ambulance as well. You can imagine that he did a lot of artwork for the fire department and other civic organizations. He taught Sunday school and was elected an Elder of the Montauk Community Church. Barbara, Frank calls her lovingly Bobbie, became a Girl Scout leader and also sang in the choir, they no longer were “summer people” but full time residents of Montauk. Bobbie became a schoolteacher and also attended Southampton College and earned a Masters degree.
Frank was asked to become a republican committeeman, which led to Frank being elected a Town trustee, and to the office of Councilman on the East Hampton Town Board in 1968. At the conclusion of the four-year term Frank choose to give up the part time position that had by then turned into a full time commitment. Shortly after retiring from politics, Warren Whipple, a long time friend (The artist who drew the syndicated cartoon feature “There Oughta Be a Law”) called to asked Frank if I would take the job of writing the plot and dialogue of each cartoon as the original creator of the strip wanted to retire. Frank said OK, as he had done almost as much writing as drawing with his own labors. The syndicate approved Frank taking over and for the next ten years, Whipple and Frank Borth were a team.
Frank took over the entire production of writing and drawing the strip until February of ’83 when he turned 65 and terminated the production. The Treasure Chest Publisher also went out of business due to the rapid closing of a lot of parochial schools. Another publisher tried to sell it on the newsstand but failed. Frank turned out about 50 when another acquaintance talked him into getting back into production doing crazy assignments for Cracked Magazine which he had done for a period of time until they switched editors and all they were interested in was using famous people’s names.
Frank concluded his second career and retired to doing art and posters for local organizations like the Fire Department, Lighthouse, and the Town. Since he had created the Town seal of east Hampton as well as the Bicentennial seal, he also drew up the tricentquinquagenary seal as well. He still does things for the Library, church, and other local organizations until I lost the vision in his left eye which has deprived him of depth perception. Frank still writes but cannot draw as I used to. Oh, well. 84 is a reasonable time to retire, he chuckles. Frank’s retirement is spent in painting Montauk land and seascapes.