Treasured Stories: “The Code of Duckburg” (1958)

« We never knew his name; we only knew him as “the good artist”. But his style spoke for him. He was instantly recognizable despite his anonymity — at once different from the other funny animal artists and better. » — Dwight R. Decker

The great Duck Man, Carl Barks, despite having little interest in the holiday, drew over two dozen Christmas-themed stories featuring Donald and his relatives (and wrote the bulk of them). Now, so very much has been written and said about Barks that I won’t bother to add much here. I’ll just let his work speak for itself and breathe. I opted for a lesser-known ten-pager, not coincidentally one of my favourites. “The Code of Duckburg” originally saw print in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories no. 208 (Jan. 1958, Dell), but I’m using a more contemporary issue boasting better printing and a commendably tasteful colouring job, from Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge no. 317 (Jan. 1999, Gladstone). It must be said that the folks at Gladstone did right by the ducks — it was more of a labour of love than a strictly commercial venture.

Here’s a closer peek at a panel from page 3: just look at the joy on Roscoe’s face. Unlike Donald, his nephews are unfailingly kind to (other) animals, great and small. That’s what makes them such sterling exemplars of the Junior Woodchucks.
The issue of WDC&S where our story first appeared didn’t have a Holiday-themed cover, but this one reprinting it did. This is Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories no. 376 (Jan. 1972, Western); pencils by Tony Strobl and inks by Larry Mayer.

And as a bonus (there has to be a bonus!), here’s a look at a Barks model sheet. « The Barks sense of whimsy extended even to the model sheets he drew for other artists to follow. » I made it a larger image so that all the small details remain discernible. Happy Holidays, everyone!

-RG

Hot Streak: Herb Trimpe’s The Incredible Hulk

« Gamma rays are the sort of radiation you should avoid. Want proof? Just remember how the comic strip character “The Hulk” became big, green, and ugly. » — Neil deGrasse Tyson

It may seem a counterintuitive notion, but some artistic virtuosi, while draftsmen supreme, may be sorely lacking in pure design chops, while some otherwise unremarkable craftsmen design splendidly. The same general principle applies to a colour sense, or handwriting. As the cliché goes, the most skilled brain surgeon’s penmanship may just yield sloppy gibberish, what’s wittily described as chicken scratch writing.

My point in this case is that, while Herb Trimpe (1939-2015) has never ranked among the comics industry’s glory boys, I consider him one of its finest cover artists. It’s a special skill and quite a scarce one…

Herb’s streak begins with The Incredible Hulk no. 109 (Nov. 1968, Marvel), his first cover for the series. And yes, being seconded by one of comics’ all-time finest inkers (and cover artists!) didn’t hurt, but this is flawless layout work in the first place.
This is The Incredible Hulk no. 110 (Dec. 1968, Marvel), again boasting John Severin inks (and quite likely Marie Severin colours).
This surviving piece of production art grants us the opportunity to admire the splendid inks. I honestly don’t know what Ka-Zar was hoping to achieve here, though. Trimpe also produced another, rejected, version of this cover (scroll down, it’s near the bottom) the action tackled from quite a different angle. Featured in IDW’s ultra-fancy, signed-and-numbered limited run in the ‘where can I fit this damn monster?’ Artist’s Edition format in 2015, it demonstrates just how tight Trimpe’s pencil work was.
This is The Incredible Hulk no. 111 (Jan. 1969, Marvel). Dan Adkins takes over the inker’s chair.
This is The Incredible Hulk no. 112 (Feb. 1969, Marvel). Notice how innocent of hype and verbiage these covers are?
This is The Incredible Hulk no. 113 (Mar. 1969, Marvel). I always preferred the simplicity of The Sandman’s garb as envisioned by his creator, Steve Ditko. He was depicted as a bully in a striped green and black sweater, which was fine for a guy able to turn his body into sand. When Jack Kirby redesigned him, he gave him a cool-looking, but frankly rather impractical getup.

And that’s where this streak ends, as far as I see it: the following few issues feature decent covers, but nothing outstanding. But there were scores of excellent Trimpe Hulk covers to come. The blocky dynamism of his visuals, so easy to underrate, made his covers a reliable breath of fresh air in the mire of formulaic and overwritten Marvel 1970s covers (et tu, Gil Kane?)

As a bonus, here’s a 1970 Marvelmania poster, one in a series of products exclusively available through mail-order. Nowadays, any of them routinely fetches princely sums. If you think Herb’s perfectly nailed the King Kirby aesthetic with this one, you wouldn’t be far wrong, but there’s a twist. The drawing was designed and pencilled by Kirby, then in the process of leaving Marvel for DC. Trimpe was asked to ink the drawing, redraw the Hulk’s face in his own style, and delete Kirby’s signature. I forget just where I read about this, but Trimpe had some heavy moral qualms about being made a party to this petty act of malice.

By all accounts (including my own), Mr. Trimpe was a gracious, upstanding, talented gentleman. Here’s OTHER GENERATIONS: STARTING OVER; Old Superheroes Never Die, They Join the Real World, a fascinating piece he wrote in 2000 for the New York Times, recounting… well, just read it.

-RG

Here Come the Flakes!

« It’s quiet snow that I remember best… snowfall and Brahms on November nights. » — Rod Mckuen, Midnight Walk

While Autumn is easily my favourite season, much of its magic and colours are gone by the purgatory that is the month of November, and I find myself longing for snow to brighten the relentlessly longer and gloomier evenings.

And then, yesterday, as I was still mulling over this post, I woke up to this view from my front door.

Well, then! This post consists of a(nother) gallery of Warren Kremer‘s delightful Harvey covers, this time with a snowy theme. Never truly ‘ha ha’ funny, they get along on charm and crafty, limpid conception and execution.

This is Little Dot no. 15 (Jan. 1956, Harvey). While most of Harvey’s efforts were channeled into their ‘Big Two’, Casper and Richie Rich, I always found these too bland (in the former’s case) or kind of deplorable (in the latter’s). I was more attuned to the line’s (slightly) bad boys, Spooky and Hot Stuff (Donald Ducks to Casper and Richie’s Mickey Mice), but really, the genuine interest resided in art director Kremer’s nimble design gymnastics and thematic acumen on Little Dot covers. By this time, these have improbably (but happily) inspired designers all over the globe. Nevertheless, a big juicy pox on the article’s author for failing to acknowledge Warren Kremer even once.
This is Spooky no. 73 (Apr. 1963, Harvey). Those 1960s Harveys were so beautifully uncluttered in their design, with the bonus of Kremer’s marked and ongoing contempt for the Comics Code Authority stamp. Oh, and here’s our earlier selection of Spooky covers.
This is Wendy, the Good Little Witch no. 22 (Feb. 1964, Harvey).
Richie Rich no. 23 (May 1964, Harvey). What have you been eating, Richie?
This is Little Audrey and Melvin no. 23 (Mar. 1966, Harvey). As you can see, Audrey’s sidekick Melvin shares a former fedora with our dear friend Forsythe Pendleton ‘Jughead’ Jones. That particular chapeau is called a Whoopee Cap.
This is Richie Rich no. 55 (Mar. 1967, Harvey).
This is Casper, the Friendly Ghost no. 116 (Apr. 1968, Harvey). Variations on skiing through solid objects is quite the cartooning wellspring.
This is Little Audrey and Melvin no. 39 (Apr. 1969, Harvey).
This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no. 93 (Oct. 1969, Harvey). For more Hot Stuff covers, check out Who Will Change the Devil’s Nappy?
This is Little Lotta no. 89 (Apr. 1970, Harvey). And they didn’t find the local children’s mangled bodies until the following spring thaw.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 26

« I was already doing a lot of splendid research reading all the books about ghosts I could get hold of, and particularly true ghost stories – so much so that it became necessary for me to read a chapter of Little Women every night before I turned out the light – and at the same time I was collecting pictures of houses, particularly odd houses, to see what I could find to make into a suitable haunted house. » — Shirley Jackson

This one’s from the department of historiated text. What text? “those fiction pieces that nobody read” in comic books, prose pages mandated by the United States Postal Service. The USPS insisted that comic books «… have at least two pages of text to be considered a magazine and qualify for the cheaper magazine postage rates. »

By the Sixties, most of these pages consisted of letters to the editor, but not every company followed this practice. After EC pioneered the letters page idea in the early 1950s, ACG, DC, Archie and Marvel followed suit. But not Dell/Gold Key, Harvey and Charlton.

For its mystery titles, Gold Key naturally opted for a ‘unusual history’ format, enlisting, to provide spot illustrations, veteran cartoonist Joe Certa, best-known for his co-creation of and long run (1955-1968!) on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter and his stylish run on Gold Key’s Dark Shadows comic book series (1969-76). While Certa started out with a pretty mainstream approach, as the Sixties wore on, his style got increasingly angular, spare and expressive. Personally, I love it… but I know it’s not for all palates.

This one appeared in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 17 (Mar. 1967, Western); « It was more than two centuries ago when the monstrous creature known simply as ‘the Beast’ appeared in the province of Auvergne, in France. » Perhaps you’ve seen the action-packed, *slightly* fictionalised cinematic account of the events, 2001’s Le pacte des loups, aka Brotherhood of the Wolves.
This one’s from Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 28 (Dec. 1969, Western); « When Gustave Labahn appeared in Munich, Germany in 1890, he was indeed a man of mystery. Nothing was known of his except that he was tall, lithe and powerful, with strangely hypnotic eyes, and a possessor of unlimited wealth. »
This one, from Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 28 (Dec. 1969, Western) states: « He was a man of a hundred names and countless identities. No one knew his true origin. It was said he was descended from an evil medieval warlock. Others said he was a reincarnation of the Count de St-Germain… a man who claimed to be more than 2,000 years old. He called himself Raoul Plessy, but his followers he was known as La bête… The Beast. »
Appearing in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 50 (Oct. 1973, Western), this one concerns the 1793 murder of French revolution leader Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday. Exceptionally, the art on this one is the work of John Celardo, a lovely, delicate composition.
One from Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 5 (Aug. 1972, Western). The cat’s name is Satan, we are told.
From Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 8 (Feb. 1968, Western), this piece tells the story of a coffin that found its way home to one of my favourite places, Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Here’s a more sober account of the legend.
From Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 15 (Feb. 1968, Western), this one concerns the purported haunting of Scotland’s Meggernie Castle.
A cozy one from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 21 (Aug. 1970, Western): « In the northeastern corner of Mississippi, near the town of Aberdeen, lies a stretch of deserted country road which has lately become known as one of the most haunted spots in the United States. »
A great drawing from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 41 (July 1973, Western); The text opens with « Ash Manor House in Sussex, England, was over six hundred years old when bought in 1934 by a man named Keel. Mr. Keel did not believe in ghosts. Neither did his attractive wife. »
This hails from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 42 (Aug. 1973, Western). The piece recounts anecdotes about such thespians as Burl Ives, Jackie Gleason, Rudolph Valentino and our beloved Vincent Price.
And here are a couple of samples of full pieces to give you an idea of how they looked in print. This thoroughly seasonal one saw print in Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 6 (Nov. 1972, Western).

One more? Here’s a favourite from The Twilight Zone no. 42 (Mar. 1972, Western):

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 10

« Cry, you little monsters! » — Otto Preminger

I’ve always had a soft spot for Gold Key’s The Little Monsters, who dwell within a cleverly designed and unaccountably comforting, topsy-turvy world; we’ve featured them back in the third edition of this countdown. This entry, however, isn’t strictly a return visit: I’ll be focussing on the back pages of ‘Orrible Orvie and Awful Annie’s antics. Last year, I picked up an issue I’d been missing, and was delighted with a surprise section, which I’ll happily share with our readers.

This is The Little Monsters no. 5 (July, 1966, Gold Key). Cover artist unknown, sigh.

What do you say we take a peek at that Extra Bonus Book of Monster Jokes?

Another uncredited, unacknowledged and unknown artist. Why, thank you, Gold Key!

… and there you have it, and you didn’t even have to destroy a comic book (preferably someone else’s) to assemble it. The jokes are corny — what did you expect? — but I can’t help but find the whole thing quite adorable. Sometimes that’s precisely what one needs.

As a bonus, here I am holding the piece of Little Monsters original art (Page 2 from issue no. 12’s ‘Stormy Weather‘) I was fortunate enough to get my mitts on. Back in the day, comic book artists worked *large*!

-RG

Hot Streak: Carmine Infantino’s Detective Comics

« I was always concerned more with the visuals than with the copy — and the visuals had to be provocative! » — Infantino*, in a nutshell.

To recap, under the parameters I’ve set for this category a hot streak is a series of outstanding consecutive covers by a single artist (inkers may vary) on the same comic book title. Since it’s my party, I occasionally make allowances (e.g. allowing entry to a scruffier, but still presentable, specimen), but it’s more challenging and more fun to play it straight.

By my reckoning, there are very few truly great cover artists to begin with, and their output is often stifled by indifferent, incoherent or hostile art direction, poor lettering and colouring choices beyond the unfortunate artist’s control, lack of interest in the imposed subject matter… you get the picture. And there’s also the difficulty of getting a decent streak going when the editor keeps shuffling cover artists.

The artist in his suit and tie (and cigar!) days at DC.

I’ve gone on at length (I refer you in particular to Hot Streak: Nick Cardy’s Aquaman, Previously) about the gargantuan amount of work Carmine Infantino (1925-2013) knocked out conceiving comic book covers during his executive years at DC (1966-75), but most of his best designs were executed by others. I mean the man was already doing the work of five people, what more could he do?

As he told Gary Groth in a definitive interview (The Comics Journal no. 191, Nov. 1996, Fantagraphics):

« At DC Comics, I worked round the clock, including weekends, and never taking a vacation in the 10 years I served there. I not only was creating new titles, designing most of the covers, plotting stories and going on the road for the distribution of the magazines, plus doing radio shows and then running out to California to be totally included with Puzo and the producers creating the Superman movies I &II. Time got so tight that I would design covers on the way to the airport and have the driver deliver them to Sol Harrison, who in turn gave them to the waiting artists. I would be at my desk from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It began to be a destructive grind. »

While Carmine is most closely associated with Silver Age characters The Flash and Adam Strange, I couldn’t discern, in these titles, a run of sufficiently stellar *and* consecutive covers (Flash nos. 139-142 and Mystery in Space nos. 69 to 71 come closest… do bear in mind that I have no consideration for ‘key’ issues or ‘famous’ or ‘event’ covers). It’s no real surprise that Infantino’s design work rose to a crescendo of accomplishment and consistency when he was made the company’s de facto art director, late in 1966. And what was he working on at the time? Batman. So, since Detective no. 261 bears a ho-hum cover and no. 269 is pretty spiffy, but the work of Gil Kane, here’s Mr. Infantino’s hot streak:

This is Detective Comics no. 362 (Apr. 1967, DC), pencilled by Infantino and inked by Murphy Anderson. Carmine wasn’t a fan of the so-called ‘Go-Go Checks’, that checkerboard pattern that once famously adorned those distinctive yellow NYC cabs. He didn’t mince words, either: « What a ridiculous thing: it was the stupidest idea we ever heard because the books were bad in those days and that just showed people right off what not to buy. ». Certainly, in the case of Detective Comics, they left the top of the page far too cluttered.
This is Detective Comics no. 363 (May 1967, DC), featuring (this) Batgirl‘s second appearance. She’d been created by editor Julius Schwartz and Infantino at the request of the hit Batman TV show‘s producers, figuring that the series needed a heroine for a little extra spice. Art by Infantino and Anderson.
This is Detective Comics no. 364 (June 1967, DC). Roy Reynolds, alias The Getaway Genius, was a fun civilian villain whose finest hour, in my view, came at the tail end of 1973 with Batman no. 254‘s King of the Gotham Jungle! (written by Frank Robbins, pencilled by Irv Novick and inked by Dick Giordano), when he was unexpectedly caught between the Batman and the Man-Bat.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a Batmaniac or three had reconstructed this Joker edifice in their backyard or basement, out of Lego blocks or papier mâché… or actual bricks.

Carmine really went to town on this one, and it’s rightly earned its place in the hall of classics. This is Detective Comics no. 365 (July, 1967, DC). The cover story, The House the Joker Built! is scripted by John Broome, pencilled by Bob Kane ghost Sheldon “Shelly” Moldoff and inked by Joe Giella.
Speaking of design, here’s the masterful Ira Schnapp‘s house ad for Detective 365, as it appeared in Green Lantern no. 54 (July, 1967, DC), among other titles.
This is Detective Comics no. 366 (Aug. 1967, DC); I love those moody colours and light effects, that tell-tale Infantino candle and the mysteriously parsimonious inheritance bequeathed to Robin.
This is Detective Comics no. 367 (Sept. 1967, DC), an intriguing preview of Where There’s a Will — There’s a Slay!, written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Infantino, inked by Sid Greene. I wonder how many young readers enthusiastically destroyed the cover to assemble the puzzle…

Note also the improved logo placement (a return to issue no. 327 original ‘new look’ logo, actually), giving the layout a chance to… breathe a bit better. The Batman cameo at top left is still de trop.

This is Detective Comics no. 368 (Oct. 1967, DC). Infantino reportedly created the covers first, and editor Schwartz assigned his writers to work up a scenario to fit. This one could not have been a cakewalk. Gardner Fox was the unlucky recipient of that gargantuan task.
Since it’s not an issue of Detective, this cover’s not *technically* part of the streak… but as it features Batman, and it appeared between issues 365 and 366 of Detective, I’m throwing it in. Infantino and Anderson’s literal and figurative blockbuster of a cover for Batman no. 194 (Aug. 1967, DC). Its cover aside, a pretty ho-hum issue. The book and the character were in urgent need of another overhaul, and it was just around the corner. « When Donenfeld saw this cover, he had a fit! He said, ‘I don’t see the logo on top!’ I said ‘You don’t have to — you’ve got Batman up there!’ »
Aw, heck — here’s Ira Shnapp’s accompanying house ad, a work of art in itself, wouldn’t you agree?
Speaking of immortal Infantino Batman images: « Aurora wanted action shots of their models, so I did this rough layout, sent it to them, and they liked it! I had a moon behind him, but they dropped it. The tree created the design. I was very high into design at this point (1964) — the design was pouring out of me! ». Here’s a look at the finished model.
I couldn’t very well leave out what’s possibly the most famous of Carmine’s Bat-scenes: this is Batman From the 30s to the 70s (1971, Crown Publishers) a splendid hardcover anthology. Its cover adapts an Infantino-Anderson mini-poster that originally saw print in Detective Comics no. 352 (June 1966, DC) and bore instead the inscription « Best Bat-Wishes Batman and Robin ». Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, er… ‘Shazam’ also got their own historical anthology in this format.

-RG

*unless otherwise specified, most Infantino quotes are drawn from his excellent, profusely visual 2001 autobiography (with J. David Spurlock), The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino (Vanguard Publishing).

Treasured Stories: “Jonnie Love and the Go-Go Girls” (1969)

People have quite a range of definitions as to what constitutes romance. For some it’s novels of werewolf romance, others prefer completely mind-boggling Fabiosa stories (‘Unborn triplets crashed my husband’s love‘), and some ship (I learned this term from a younger colleague) characters from whatever TV show happens to be in vogue.

If you were a teenager in the ’50s, 60s, or 70s, you probably would have read romance comics, immensely popular at the time. Charlton Comics published a whole bevy of them, and co-admin RG has amassed a respectable collection. For weeks now I’ve been reading issues of Teen-Age Love during my lunch hour, specifically for their Jonnie Love stories. Introduced in Teen-Age Love no. 61 (November 1968) as the ‘new teen swinger’ – ‘he has a way with a guitar and a way with girls!’, Jonnie lingered within its pages for quite a while, having all kinds of adventures, hanging out with new conquests and lost souls in every issue. As advertised, he was indeed good with a guitar. Joe Gill, who was scripting the stories, wrote him as a kind of chevalier errant, wandering from town to town (with the ultimate goal of going back to his hometown, which he never achieves), offering a helpful hand to damsels in distress who are running away from predatory men, disciplinarian fathers, or just the solitude of a small town.

Jonnie Love stories appeared in 31 issues overall, but I’m most intrigued by those published in Teen-Age Love issues numbers 61-74, as they were created by the same tip-top team: scripted by Joe Gill, pencilled by Bill Fraccio and inked by Tony Tallarico (see RG’s (Fondly) Remembering Tony Tallarico).

It was actually rather difficult which tale to feature, for they’re all pretty good, and I had to decide on some sort of optimal concomitance of a good plot and how the story was told visually. The final decision was Jonnie Love and the Go-Go Girls, published in Teen-Age Love no. 63 (April 1969), which I think strikes a good balance between plotting and interesting art, and is a fairly typical example of Jonnie’s behaviour in general.

Cover illustrated by the Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico combo. Dig the classy tattoo on the girl’s leg, courtesy of the previous owner of this comic (where are you now, Mamie?) The kissing couple in the top left corner is a preview of another story drawn by Vince Colletta. The protagonist is a brunette, whereas Jonnie often consorts with blondes (perhaps a sort of a short-hand for an attractive woman).

This story has several things going for it – an entertainingly evil manager, a grotty dance club, the go-go-dancers, and of course the protagonist, a farmer’s daughter who ran away from her parents to make it big in showbiz (the lines dreaming of glory/twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun‘ come to mind). ‘Cute‘, notes Jonnie, ‘but there are tens of thousands with as much talent‘. Some romance stories set out to stun their readers with ritzy places, glamorous dates, and finding a rich prince charming; others feature women who give up a life of success for simpler living – a small town, a farm, a cabin in the woods. The latter moral always feels a bit stilted, even aside from me feeling bad for women who have to give up a career they worked so hard to achieve (mostly because such plots are retrograde, and it’s all-too-seldom considered that a woman can marry and continue working).

In Jonnie Love yarns, there is a strong undercurrent of returning ~Home~, home from which one foolishly ran away and which beckons lonesome wanderers back to its comforting womb. The plots are imbued with bittersweet longing for this homecoming, and that is what lingers most in one’s mind after finishing the stories. Yet the people depicted in them are outcasts; Jonnie himself was outed as a weirdo in both dress and thoughts by the people in his home town, which is why he left it in the first place. Returning is hardly the panacea it’s supposed to be (unless one is willing, this time around, to ‘fit in’ properly), and while some of these nomads do manage to make it back, our main character is doomed to forever roam strange towns, sleep in fields, and share sweet kisses with girls he knows he’ll never see again. Rather a tragic figure, really.

~ ds

A Visit to the Hall of Impractical Costumes!

« Taking sartorial risks and not following other people is what makes you stand out. » — Zac Posen

I was planning a big commemorative post for today, but I got tangled up in my calendar and realised in time that I was a couple of weeks off. So instead, I’ll just blow off a little steam.

Some cartoonists are born character designers. Others, not so much. The Rhino, a Stan Lee-John Romita Sr. creation, first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man no. 41 (Oct. 1966, Marvel), soon after Steve Ditko‘s abrupt but quite justified resignation. Isn’t that just a dog of a cover? (pencils and inks by Romita, colours by Stan Goldberg).

I’ve been getting these migraine headaches, Doc” “What do you do for a living?” “Uh…” Seriously, what can you do with a character who obviously can’t move that fast, has to lean his head down to strike… blindly, and isn’t particularly smart? All Spidey has to do is duck, which is one of his chief talents.
Answer: you pit him against a more suitable adversary, preferably a dumber one. This later, but still ludicrous, appearance is The Incredible Hulk no. 104 (June 1968, Marvel). Cover by Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia.

Somehow, Daredevil seems to wind up with more than his share of poorly-attired villains. It’s as if they know he’s blind and won’t judge them too harshly on sartorial grounds.

The Beetle first scurried into view in Strange Tales no. 123 (Aug. 1964, Marvel), tackling the Human Torch (and The Thing). Too bad it wasn’t Doctor Strange he was sparring with, since his threads would then have been designed by Mr. Ditko instead of by Carl Burgos.

He then went on to bug the aforementioned ‘hornhead’. This is Daredevil no. 34 (Nov. 1967); pencils by Gene Colan, inks by Bill Everett. Why does everyone on stage appear to wear a size 15 shoe? At least!

The costume of the Tarantula (a glorious Gerry Conway-Ross Andru creation!) is such an impractical conceit that they pretty much have to use him in the same position on every cover. The guy can barely walk in such, er — calzado, let alone fly at Spider-Man with such force. Just a lousy idea, on every level — tarantulas bite, they don’t sting, Gerry.

This is The Amazing Spider-Man no. 134 (July 1974, Marvel). Art by John Romita Sr. So… much… pointless…. exposition.
They just had to bring him back! This time, Gil Kane and John Romita Jr. do the honours. This is The Amazing Spider-Man no. 147 (Aug. 1975, Marvel).
No formula at work here, no sir. This is Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man no. 1 (Dec. 1976, Marvel). Cover by Sal Buscema. Tarantula creator Conway was the editor, which explains a lot — but hardly excuses it.

Poor Razor-Fist was created by writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy. How did he get dressed? How did he go to the bathroom? How did he feed himself? How did he get his head to bend that far back? (Perhaps he’s a Pez Dispenser).

This is The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu no. 30 (July 1975, Marvel). Cover by Gil Kane and (most likely) Frank Giacoia. I guess all the male lions were taking a nap somewhere.

Should you hanker for more of these, er… dressing-downs, you might want to inspect our earlier instalment along these lines, « You’re going out wearing THAT? ».

-RG

Manny Stallman’s The Raven and Mayven (the Poet)

« There’s no need for some of the language that’s been thrown at some of the artists and writers. These men are highly skilled craftsmen and deserve a lot of respect. » — editorial comment in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 14 (July, 1967, Tower)

This post has been inspired by sundry signs and omens I’ve encountered these past few days: first, a casual mention dropped by Bizarro ink stud Wayno on his blog; then a fond-but-hazy recollection by a graphic designer colleague… and so this week, the agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.* make the scene. Well, one of them does.

As with many other choice cultural items of the era, I was first tantalised by a little volume entitled Dynamo, Man of High Camp from the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, devoted to its in-house Captain Company catalogue: Warren magazine back issues, rubber masks and hands, posters, LPs, Super 8 reels, paperbacks, novelties… a veritable trove of wonders. And unlike many a mail-order house, these goodies were the real deal, solid classics avidly sought after and treasured to this day.

Since much has been written about the history of Tower Comics (1965-1969), I’ll skip that part. Here’s the gist of it.

Of course, I adore the Wally Wood material, all the more the unfailingly delicious Steve Ditko-Wood combo. A fine surprise was George Tuska‘s nimble comedic touch on the misadventures of ‘Weed’. But my very favourite flavour in the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. cocktail is ‘Raven’ as written and illustrated by Manny Stallman (1927-97), a quintessentially eccentric delight.

Introduced by Steve Skeates and George Tuska in Enter the Raven (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 8, Sept. 1966), the character’s sole point of interest was that he was a mercenary who, originally intending to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R., had a change of heart.

Along came Manny. He took over the character, redesigned him from stem to stern, and gave him a memorable arch-nemesis in Mayven, the Poet. But enough of this prattle, let’s have a look!

This is page two of Raven Battles Mayven the Poet (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 9, Oct. 1966, edited by Samm Schwartz), spotlighting Mayven’s signature weapon: explosive tots.
Stallman had no trouble with action: another page from Raven Battles Mayven the Poet.
Mayven, captured in the previous episode, wastes no time in making good — and memorable — her escape from the clink; the opening pages from Mayven Returns (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 10, Nov. 1966).
Bold, dynamic, sloppy in all the right places and the right ways. And I *love* that Raven makes an ungodly racket when he flies, itself a great source of visual interest.
A three-page sequence from the following episode, The Case of Jacob Einhorn (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 11, Mar. 1967), wherein ice-cold Mayven takes on the assignment to eliminate Mr. Einhorn, a fictive stand-in for legendary ‘Nazi hunter’ Simon Wiesenthal (1908-2005). I wouldn’t want to give too much away… read the whole shebang here!

After a mere five Raven episodes, Stallman was gone. Judging from the letters columns, reader reaction had overwhelming been of this nature:

In issue #9 the art on the Raven was awful

You’re using a lot of grade D artists… as for whoever draws the Raven, his art is utterly atrocious.”

How about having Chic Stone draw Raven in addition to Lightning?

Here I’ll quote editor-historian Tom Brevoort, from his own appreciation of Stallman’s Raven:

« Unsurprisingly, many of the fans of the era hated Stallman’s work and mocked it openly in their letters and in fanzines. Comic book fans have often had very narrow boundaries for what they consider an appropriate style for a super hero strip. And Stallman was coloring way outside of those lines with his work. »

After an issue’s hiatus, the Raven returned, once more reimagined (minus the imagination) this time by Gil Kane. Just another run-of-the-mill flying dude. I’ve always held that Kane should never be allowed to ink himself, but he also makes an excellent case, in his sole Raven outing (and Raven’s final flight), that he shouldn’t be allowed to write, either. Here’s a sample:

The ending (sorry!) from Darkly Sees the Prophet (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 14, July 1967), story and art by Gil Kane. To be fair to Kane, he and Manny were close friends. Here are some of Gil’s recollections, as shared by Mark Evanier.

Ahem. All these walking child-shaped time bombs reminded me of a rather fine comic book from a couple of decades later.

This is Daredevil no. 209 (Aug. 1984, Marvel), cover by David Mazzucchelli.
This issue is a thrillingly relentless continuation of a thrillingly relentless (but in a different way) Winchester-mystery-house-of-murder tale, The Deadliest Night of My Life!, co-scripted by Harlan Ellison and his pal Arthur Byron Cover. Here, Byron Cover carries the ball, and offers us this darkly delicious sequence. Pencils by Mazzucchelli, inks by Danny Bulanadi.

It could all be coincidence, but I like to imagine that the exploding kids idea is a sharp hybrid of notions from two Mario Bava flicks from 1966: the murderous little girl from Operazione paura aka Kill, Baby… Kill, and the booby-trap beauties from Le spie vengono dal semifreddo aka Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.

In closing, I’m happy to report that Mr. Stallman landed on his feet after his fall from the Tower. Honestly, the comics industry, and its fans, didn’t deserve the likes of him. He would go on to recount the Adventures of the Big Boy (published by the Bob’s Big Boy chain of restaurants) for a whopping seventeen years, among other fine assignments. And if ever there was a mensch, he surely was the one. Here’s a telling passage from his obituary:

« When a 1991 stroke caused cartoonist Manny Stallman’s right hand to intermittently go numb, he didn’t let it stop him. He simply took it upon himself to learn to draw with his left hand.

After making that switch, he had trouble drawing the tightly controlled figures he had created for years as a leading artist in what has been called the Golden Age of Comics. So he took advantage of the larger figures he could draw, transposing them onto a blackboard to help teach English and citizenship classes to Russian immigrants at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

Despite additional health problems that included diabetes and congestive heart failure, he also led classes for Chinese immigrants and taught computer-aided drawing to disabled children. “Manny decided to stop focusing on what he had been able to do before his strokes,” says his wife, Jane Stallman.

“He decided to start ‘where I am‘ and do whatever he could with whatever capacity he had. His life goal was to make someone smile each day.” »

[ source ]

Thanks for the example and the inspiration, Mr. Stallman!

-RG

*an acronym for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves

K Is for Krigstein!

« Krigstein was a heartfelt sort of warm guy, but always in conflict. He was getting sick and tired of being embroiled and embattled. He fought hard to keep interested, but began getting cynical. » — Gil Kane, or Eli Katz if you prefer, fellow K-Man.

On any given day, K could easily stand for Kurtzman, Kliban, Kirby, Kubert, Kremer (or Krenkel, Kaz, Kupperman, Keller, Kim, Kuper, Kricfalusi, Kristiansen, Kiefer, Kirchner, Kinstler, Kamb, Kida…): what’s just another letter in everyday life is one of comics’ mightiest signifiers.

Over seven hundred posts in, why have we never featured Bernard Krigstein, despite the fact that both of us absolutely adore his work? Part of the reason is that so much of value and insight has already been written on the subject, and part of it is that he’s hard to write about, which makes the existing literature even more remarkable and worth treasuring. And yet, there’s still so much left to say!

Hell, since it’s his birthday (born on March 19, 1919, he would now be one hundred and three years old), I’ll give it a try.

I’m not quite certain what precisely was my proper introduction to Mr. Krigstein’s œuvre: it was either my encounter with the whimsical The Hypnotist! (written by Carl Wessler, originally published in Astonishing no. 47, March 1956, Atlas), as reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales no. 19 (Sept. 1976, Marvel), or with Pipe-dream, scripted by Johnny Craig and reprinted in Nostalgia Press’ Horror Comics of the 1950’s (1971, edited by Bhob Stewart, Ron Barlow and original publisher Bill Gaines… mine was the French-language edition). I enjoyed the first one just fine, but the latter blew my young mind, not that I was equipped to fully appreciate it. Kudos to the editors for including the tale, because it really stood out amidst the tried-and-true and somewhat formulaic EC classics. It had no heavy, easily digested moral, it was illustrated in a sketchy, vaporous, elastic style that bore no resemblance to its more conventional company, to say nothing of the writing.

Pipe-dream originally appeared in Vault of Horror no. 36 (Apr.-May 1954, EC); written by Johnny Craig (who was also editor). This version was recoloured from original Silverprints by Marie Severin for Greg Sadowski‘s rather sublime B. Krigstein Volume One (2002, Fantagraphics).

As it turns out, even the story’s colourist, a young Marie Severin, had some severe misgivings about it: as she noted many years later, « I can’t remember a thing about coloring ‘Pipe Dream‘ the first time. I rushed through it because I found it so depressing. The whole subject was so dingy to me. I was just a kid, you know — I didn’t want to know anything about dope. When I saw it again, it brought back all those negative feelings. I suppose I shielded myself from them by doing it quickly. Now that I’ve lived a while I can appreciate its beauty, and I’m better equipped to color it. »

To be fair, she had done her usual fine job on it.

Having come late to the EC stable, Krigstein didn’t get too many cover opportunities. This is his second, and final shot, Piracy no. 6 (Aug.- Sept. 1955, EC)… and, I daresay, a classic.
Krigstein sure could paint the elements evocatively: from the same year, an illustration from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (Pocket Library Series no. 28, 1955).
A 1949 photo of the radiant artist, having just been awarded First prize in black and white graphics by the Brooklyn Society of Artists. I think that part of what makes me favourably disposed towards Krigstein is that he’s a dead ringer for my accountant, a most worthy fellow himself.

If one could find any fault in Greg Sadowski’s definitive two-volume Krigstein monograph, it’s that his research missed one crucial entry in his subject’s funnybook bibliography… the last, and longest one! Here’s hoping for an updated edition, some sweet day.

It took another hardy historian, England’s Paul Gravett, to uncover the fascinating, final piece of the puzzle. It turned up in Gravett’s The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (2008, Running Press). A comic book spinoff of the television series based in turn upon Salvatore Albert Lombino‘s (aka Evan Hunter, Ed McBain, Hunt Collins, Curt Cannon, Richard Marsten, D.A. Addams and Ted Taine) 87th Precinct series, it appeared in the final year of Dell’s Four Color series. So here are a few extracts (as Mr. Gravett would surely call them) from Blind Man’s Bluff; scripter unknown, pencilled and inked by Krigstein, from Four Color no. 1309, June 1962, Dell). By all means, read the whole thing here!

Gravett says of the tale: « Illustrated by the EC Comics genius Bernie Krigstein, it was described by him as ” … the most fantastically absurd story that has ever been typed or presented to an artist… ” A painter himself at the time, Krigstein quit the series after rejecting the unknown writer’s second script and pursued his art career, sadly never to draw comics again. Despite his misgivings, his swansong has a bizarre fascination to it. »

Well, that about wraps it up. See what I mean about how much there is to say? All this blather, and I never even got around to introducing the villains of the piece, Kanigher and Lee.

-RG