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

Wyatt Earp, Ubiquitous Comic Book Marshall

« Fistfightin’ may not be your style, Marshall Earp! If you want to crawl, I’ll let ye off easy! »
« Crawl, Irish John? I’m going to tie a knot in your cauliflower ears! » — ‘Hired to Die’ (1965)

Happy one hundred and seventy-fourth birthday to Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848 – January 13, 1929), bison hunter, teamster, bouncer, saloon-keeper, gambler, brothel owner, pimp, miner, boxing referee, constable, city policeman, county sheriff, and, lest we forget, comic book hero… for several publishers at once!

This is Wyatt Earp no. 6 (Sept. 1956, Atlas); ultra-detailed cover by Bill Everett, colours by Stan Goldberg.
This is Wyatt Earp no. 9 (March 1957, Atlas); cover by John Severin, colours by Goldberg.
This is Wyatt Earp no. 11 (May 1957, Atlas); cover by John Severin, colours by Goldberg.
This is Wyatt Earp no. 15 (Feb. 1958, Atlas); cover by Joe Maneely, colours by Goldberg.
To cash in on the success of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-61) tv series, Dell also threw their Stetson into the ring. This is Hugh O’Brian, Famous Marshal Wyatt Earp (sheesh!) no. 13 (Dec. 1960-Feb. 1961, Dell), the final issue.

Mr. Earp had an especially notable run at Charlton (and by far the best title logo), with sixty-one issues of his very own title published between 1956 and 1967. And with Joe Gill scripts, so it’s solid stuff. This is Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal no. 61 (Dec. 1965, Charlton); cover by Pat Masulli and Rocco Mastroserio. I’d saved this one for this occasion, having withheld it from my M/M showcase The Masulli-Mastroserio Cover Deluge of ’65!

This is Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal no. 64 (July 1966, Charlton); cover by Mastroserio, lettering by Jon d’Agostino.
This is Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal no. 69 (June 1967, Charlton); cover by Mastroserio.
This is Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal no. 72 (Dec. 1967, Charlton), the fiery finale of *that* run. Another effective cover by Mr. Mastroserio, who passed away a few months later, aged a mere 40.
And here’s a shot of the real-life Mr. Earp. Don’t look so glum, hombre — it’s your birthday!

-RG

Odd Pairings: Bill Ward & Bill Everett

« Ward’s beautiful buxotics operate in a strange separate universe, in which all women are gorgeous voluptoids, all men oafish, saucer-eyed drooling dupes. » — Chris ‘Coop‘ Cooper

Well, I certainly wasn’t planning to hog all the blogging this week, but there were birthdays and other hopefully mitigating factors. While today is the great Will Eisner‘s birthday, it’s likely to overshadow that of a fellow Golden Age toiler, one with an equally intriguing career, but with a trajectory quite divergent from Eisner’s own.

Bill Ward (1919 – 1998) was also born on this day, one hundred and three years ago. Ward started out in comics with the Jack Binder shop, turning out material for Fawcett’s line of characters (Captain Marvel and his family, Bulletman…); he soon found himself working for Quality Comics, most notably on Blackhawk (an Eisner co-creation, it should be noted). He inched closer to his true passion when assigned to Quality’s romance line.

Ward’s cover for Love Diary no. 1 (Sept. 1949, Quality). Artistically speaking, this is what a fully committed Ward can produce.

In the mid-50’s, when came the brutal, censorship-induced compression of the comic book industry, Ward smoothly shifted to producing girlie cartoons for Abe Goodman’s Humorama line, becoming its star and most prolific performer, thanks to his popularity and prodigious speed. He was aided in this by his choice of tool and technique: the conté crayon on newsprint. While everyone else was working on 8″ x 12″ illustration board, Ward was using a soft, beige paper of a size (18″ x 24′) and texture familiar to any art student who’s taken a life drawing class. With this type of stock, he could produce texture rubbings and achieve smooth, sensual sheens ideal for rendering highlights of hair and stockings. Said Ward: « It didn’t take me long to figure out that the quicker you could do the work… the more money you could make. » Over the course of a quarter-century, he wound up producing around 9,000 drawings for the Humorama line.

As Ward recalled of his early training in Binder’s studio, « [Binder] trained me to do layout, which is the most difficult part of art. » To wit, layout never counted among Ward’s strengths. A lot of his pinup work is undermined by poor staging, often grotesque proportions, and absolutely minimal attention to non-erotic detail.

A typical example of a Ward girlie cartoon produced using the conté crayon. This one first turned up in Comedy no. 51 (Jan. 1960, Marvel); in a typical work-for-hire arrangement, for a flat fee (in Ward’s case, 7 dollars a cartoon, topping out at the princely sum of $30 near the end of his 25-year run), Goodman retained all reprint rights (and reprint he did, liberally) and kept the original art, which he sold to collectors for several times its original cost, naturally. Nowadays, these pieces exchange hands for several thousand dollars.

Now, had I ever wondered what Ward’s pencils would look like, if inked by Bill Everett? I readily confess I hadn’t. But upon learning that such a momentous collision once occurred, my mind was set slightly reeling.

Another weathered fellow combatant in the trenches of the Golden Age, Everett (1917-73), unlike Ward, always gave his best, whatever the conditions. Right to the end, despite his rapidly declining health, Everett was, incredibly, producing top-flight work.

This is The Adventures of Pussycat no. 1 (Oct. 1968, Marvel). Cover by Bill Everett. Highly sought after today, this scarce, magazine-size one-shot is merely a reprint collection of some of Pussycat’s ‘adventures’ from various Goodman Playboy knockoffs, and one of a gazillion contrived acroynym-based attempts to cash in on the ubiquitous 007 craze of the 60’s. It does contain the first Pussycat tale, illustrated by Wally Wood, who would soon go on to his own entry in the super-spy stakes, Tower’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
Concentrate on the artwork. The less said about the writing (was it Stan the Man or Larry the Lieber? We’ll likely never know), the better. As usual, any American attempt at French is mangled, even at a mere two words and two syllables (for the record, it should read either “C’est fini!” or “C’est la fin!“). Pensively squinting while adjusting his pince-nez, a ‘curator’ at Heritage Auctions made this uproarious whopper of a claim: « The figures of Pussycat look to be by Bill Everett and everything else is Bill Ward. » So you think Bill Ward drew everything… except the one thing he was interested in drawing? These folks don’t seem to know how comics are produced.
The Bombshell and the Bank!“, never reprinted, saw print in Male Annual no. 6 (1968).
This is The Mighty Thor no. 171 (Dec. 1969, Marvel). Jack Kirby pencils, Bill Everett inks. Coming late in Kirby’s run, what a vigorous breath of fresh air after years of lazy erasures!

In the 60’s, Ward also provided covers for various soft-core novels, such as this one from Satellite Publications’ ‘After Hours’ imprint. He even wrote some of them, notably under the alias of ‘Bill Marshall’. His fellow Quality Comics alumnus Gil Fox also penned many of these potboilers under a staggering array of aliases.

This is Side Street (1966, After Hours). I’ve noticed over the years that certain artists of a more single-minded frame of mind can’t be bothered to devote much attention to anything but the object of their obsession. Such was the case with Bill Ward, and with the passing years, ever increasingly so. Exhibit A: has Ward ever seen an actual dog?
Which reminded me of this classic, by another ‘can’t be bothered’ master of ‘Good Girl’ art, Alberto Joaquin Vargas Chavez (1896-1982). Another howler from the comedians at Heritage: « This early masterpiece, one of the greatest pin-ups the artist ever painted, was reproduced as a full-color double-page spread in Vargas, Taschen, 1990. Alberto Vargas thought so highly of this lot and the following two stunning paintings that he retained them in his personal collection. » I wouldn’t presume to criticise Vargas’ depiction of the female form, but on the other hand, this is Exhibit B: has Vargas ever seen an actual cat? Don’t worry, Alberto, you’re not alone in this affliction: neither has Neal Adams.

This, er… pussycat brings to mind botched attempts at taxidermy and/or artwork restoration.

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Mister Gregory and the Ghost!” (1961)

« From the body of one guilty deed a thousand ghostly fears and haunting thoughts proceed. » — William Wordsworth

Today’s selection is an early, early favourite of mine. I first encountered it in French, in the pages of Capitaine America no. 8 (Aug. 1971, Les Éditions Héritage); back in those days, Québécois printer-packager Payette & Simms would reprint, in black and white, recent Marvel comics in their ‘Format Double’ package, a terrific deal at 25 cents: you got two issues’ worth, no ads, plus a bonus short story. P&S’ paper stock and printing were better than Marvel’s — but their lettering and translation work generally left much to be desired*.

In this case, despite the allure of the slickly sumptuous Gene Colan / Joe Sinnott artwork, the issue’s out-of-nowhere high point was (you guessed it!) a modest little story plucked from the predawn of the so-called ‘Marvel Age’, Mister Gregory and the Ghost!, from a pre-Thor issue of Journey Into Mystery (no. 75, Dec. 1961). Many may disagree with me on this one, but boy, those post-Kirby issues of Cap’n ‘merica just serve to demonstrate what happens without a perpetual motion plot engine like Jack Kirby to propel and guide the series: when you try to introduce new foils for the hero, you get bonehead non-ideas like biker gangs, a jealous scientist in the body of a gorilla, or in issue 123’s Suprema, the Deadliest of the Species!, a brother-and-sister hypnosis act who drive around a gadget-filled tanker truck that magnifies Suprema’s power by way of a *very* 70’s medallion her brother wears around his neck. Then Cap feels its vibrations (“Ping!”) through his shield, and … oh, I won’t spoil the thing’s idiotic charms any further for you: read it here.

This is Journey into Mystery no. 75 (Dec. 1961, Marvel); pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers, colours by Stan Goldberg.

Ahem — back to Mister G and his Ghost. It’s not exactly a masterpiece of writing either (Larry Lieber?), but it presents Kirby at his moody, understated best. Upon seeing it in colour, I realised how providential my monochromatic encounter had been. While the story’s been reprinted a few times (in 1966, 1971, and in 2020 in a fancy and pricey hardcover omnibus), the printing’s always been pretty shoddy. As you’ll see.

But… it seems that most, if not all of the original art survives, so we’ll make the most of the situation and mix our sources as needed — hope the effect isn’t too jarring!

I find Kirby’s layout for this page to be especially ingenious and interesting.
I’ve used the recoloured reprint from Fear no. 4 (July, 1971, Marvel), which was an improvement over JIM75’s, albeit a slight one.

-RG

*here’s an example of Éditions Héritage’s lovely calligraphy, from this very story:

Sayonara, Buzz-a-Rama!

« Auto racing began five minutes after the second car was built. » — Henry Ford

This post comes to you nearly seven days late, as I was sidelined rather abruptly by a nasty inner ear infection for the better part of last week.

I was inspired to write it by a mournful headline about the passing of an institution, Brooklyn, NY’s slot-racing emporium Buzz-a-Rama, founded in 1965… and now, with the death last year of its owner, Frank “Buzz” Perri, presumably closed for good. Here’s the story. And there’s even a documentary!

My own experience with slot-car racing was limited to miniature sets in boardwalk amusement parks, often powered by water pistols. Even then, it was clear that particular cars were better performers, and that there were preferable lanes. These were always occupied, seemingly on a permanent basis.

Slot-car racing knew its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, and I suppose its slow twilight somewhat mirrored that of such classic, once-ubiquitous pastimes as model railroading and model building, though surely the latter’s glamorous sideline, airplane glue huffing, will always be popular with the kids.

And what about comics? We’ve got that covered, so bear with me. Today, we wave the checkered flag in salute to Jack Keller (June 16, 1922 – January 2, 2003), who enjoyed a long career in comics beginning in 1941 with Dell, followed by a stint assisting Lou Fine on The Spirit while Will Eisner was serving in the war, then some work with Fiction House. A pretty spiffy résumé already!

As a staff artist for Atlas, Keller added to his body of work and his versatility. In 1953, he took over Kid Colt, Outlaw, one of his longest stints — 1953-67! By the late 1950s, he was also freelancing for Charlton Comics.

Eventually, Charlton managing editor Dick Giordano offered Keller an exclusive contract, and so he had to pick between Marvel and Charlton… while the Derby, CN publisher offered a lower page rate than Marvel’s, it offered steadier, more plentiful work, as well as near-complete autonomy. No arbitrary, unpaid re-dos and revisions, and full credit for all of his work*. Quite significantly, Keller would be free to devote himself to his favourite genre, racetrack opera. Easy choice!

Here’s a perfectly à propos story starring Scot Jackson and the Rod Masters*, Keller creations introduced in Teenage Hotrodders no. 1 (April 1963, Charlton).

Now, now, Flip. There’s simply no call for such callous racial epithets, even if there’s a war on. Especially if there’s a war on, one might argue.
While they play but a small role in this particular tale, Motors McHorn and his cousin Wellington McHorn were worthy assets to any ensemble. The big lug was amusingly introduced in Hot Rod Racers no. 6 (Nov. 1965, Charlton) “I’m 6 feet 8 and weight 665 pounds — and my ma says I’m still growin’…
Over the years, Keller’s characters grew older and evolved. While it was a good thing for most of them, the superbly-named Shifty Gears became so bitter over years of (often self-inflicted) humiliation and defeat at the hands of Scot and the Rod Masters that he escalated from childish hi-jinks to near-homicidal sabotage. And in the series finale, The Passenger (Drag n’ Wheels no. 59, May 1973), Scot suffers a dreadful accident that lands his broken body (and spirit!) in the hospital for several weeks, and he struggles with severe depression and loss of confidence.

From the late 1950s to the early 1970s, Keller handled the bulk of the main stories in Charlton’s stable of hot rod titles: Hot Rods and Racing Cars, Teenage Hotrodders, Drag-Strip Hotrodders, Hot Rod Racers, Top Eliminator, Drag ’n’ Wheels, Grand Prix, World of Wheels, Surf ’n’ Wheels… crafting gripping and meticulously-researched gear-head sagas injected with just the right dose of hi-test humour for the win. Speed demons Clint Curtis, Rick Roberts, Scot Jackson, Ken King and The White Angels got the real deal when Keller chronicled their full-throttle antics. Curtis and Jackson even faced off in Match Race! (Hot Rod Racers no. 10, Sept. 1966, Charlton).

Finally, when Charlton dropped its last two hot rod titles in 1973 (HR&RC and Drag ’n’ Wheels), Keller called it a career, left comics and went off… to sell cars.

« The Street Racers », written, penciled, inked and lettered by Keller, originally appeared in Teenage Hotrodders no. 20 (Oct. 1966, Charlton); edited by Dick Giordano.

– RG

*if you think that sounds like a porn name, what about early Hot Rods and Racing Cars protagonist “Buster Camshaft, Screwball of the Hot Rods”?

**Here’s the sort of Mighty Marvel experience that befell none other than Wallace Wood (and as we know, he wasn’t alone in this: « I enjoyed working with Stan [Lee] on Daredevil but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing, and I was being paid for drawing, but he didn’t have any ideas. I’d go in for a plotting session, and we’d just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt like I was writing the book but not being paid for writing. » [ source ]

(Fondly) Remembering Tony Tallarico

« Someone at Dell Comics decided it’d be swell to turn famous monsters into superheroes — an idea whose time never came. And just to make sure there were bad, they hired Tony Tallarico to draw them. » — — James Schumeister, with the sort of brickbat typically lobbed at Mr. Tallarico.

Last week, we lost, at the venerable age of eighty-eight, the controversial, much-maligned Tony Tallarico (Sept. 20, 1933 – Jan. 7, 2022). The case of Mr. Tallarico’s reputation is typical of mainstream US cartoonists who generally eschewed the superhero genre. His mistake, I suppose, is that he drew a handful of them, and in his own distinctive fashion to boot, thus sealing his doom in Fanboy court.

Yet there’s far more depth and variety to Tallarico’s career, and that’s should be remembered. Besides, those superhero comics were just light-hearted, unpretentious fun. Obviously not what the continuity-addicted True Believers craved.

Let’s take a tour of some of the highlights!

A page from Crazy Quilt, one of three stories Tallarico illustrated for my personal candidate for greatest horror comic book of all time, the unlikely one-shot Tales From the Tomb (Oct. 1962, Dell). Script and storyboard by John Stanley. Read the rest (complete with, fittingly, its analysis) of Crazy Quilt here.
Arguably, if Tallarico’s going to be remembered in comics and general history, it may be for this once-obscure but significant mid-60s creation. This is Lobo no. 1 (Dec. 1965, Dell Comics). Tallarico and writer D.J. Arneson hold different views as to the character’s genesis, as Canadian researcher Jamie Coville discovered in 2016. To his credit, Coville simply let the former collaborators present their respective side of the story. Read the resulting interviews here! And do check out the début issue itself, along with Tom Brevoort’s analysis… right here.

As reported in Alter Ego no. 106 (Dec. 2011, TwoMorrows): « On May 20, 2005, Tony Tallarico received the Pioneer Award, given for his co-creation of the first African-American comic book hero, Lobo, a post-Civil War cowboy who appeared in two issues of his own Dell/Western title. The honor was given at a ceremony held at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. »

A Tallarico ad from Eerie no. 20 (March 1969, Warren); Tony enjoyed keeping things in the family, and so young “Danny Smith” was actually Tony’s wife’s nephew, Danny Grosso. My thanks to Tony’s daughter Nina for graciously divulging this bit of inside info!
Cryptozoologists take note! Creepy no. 26 (April 1969, Warren); script by editor Bill Parente. I just adore Uncle Creepy’s pose (great use of props!), not to mention the question mark mullet. Should be the hit of the next tonsorial season!
Joe Gill and Tallarico took over the handlebars of one of Charlton’s established hot-rodders, Ken King. Following the direction blazed by their predecessor, Jack Keller, King had become “the Most Hated Man on Wheels!” (in Drag-Strip Hotrodders no. 13, Jan. 1967, Charlton) after being unjustly accused of wrecking his best friend, Jerry Gerard, aka “The Nicest Guy in Racing” during a meet. The series’ unremittingly bleak portrayal of the racing scene is fascinating, and Gill and Tallarico wisely kept the pace. This is World of Wheels no. 26 (June 1969, Charlton); cover by Tallarico.
An in-house ad from Eerie no. 23 (September 1969, Warren), technically Vampirella’s first published appearance. Art by “Tony Williamsune”, the collective nom de plume adopted by frequent collaborators Tallarico and William ‘Bill’ Fraccio. According to Tallarico, their collaboration was quite fluid: both contributed to layout, pencils and inks, but Tony was the extroverted go-getter, while Bill was the quiet one.
A “Williamsune” splash from Creepy no. 31 (February 1970, Warren). Tallarico on his association with Fraccio: « I would pencil some, he would ink some, visa versa y’know one of those things. I was really the guy that went out and got the work. Bill never liked to do that. It would depend. If he was working on something else I would start a project too and do pencils. It was a fun time. » [ source ]
This is Abbott & Costello no. 14 (April 1970, Charlton), featuring the beloved veteran comedians’ crossover with the aforementioned Ken King. The look of the series is based upon Hanna-Barbera‘s 1967-68 The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show rather than on the duo’s classic movies and routines. Besides, Lou Costello having passed away in 1959, his part was voiced by Stan Irwin (with Bud Abbott as… Abbott).
Preceding the advent of Jonah Hex by some months* in the Weird Western stakes, Geronimo Jones was a truly oddball oater series, in the best sense of the term. Created by Tallarico (script and inks) and José Delbo (pencils), Geronimo’s adventures ran for 9 issues (plus one that remains unpublished), from September, 1971 to January, 1973. Geronimo himself was essentially a young pacifist seeking his quiet place in the Old West, in the finest tradition. However, strange encounters and occurrences keep thwarting his laudable goal. And none is more outlandish and shocking than what he comes up against in this issue, cover warning and all. This is Geronimo Jones no. 6 (June 1972, Charlton). The GCD credits the cover to Delbo alone, but the use of collage and halftone wash are telltale Tallarico trademarks… not to mention his distinctive lettering. My guess therefore is: pencils by Delbo, layout, inks and collage by Tallarico.
Tallarico and Fraccio did only a handful of stories in this wild, swirly style, including four for Charlton: The Curse of the Vampire in The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves no. 44 (Jan. 1974, Charlton);
this one, Come See Our Ghost… in Haunted no. 16 (June 1974, Charlton); The Reuger Formula in Haunted no. 24 (Nov. 1975) and A Solemn Oath! in Ghostly Tales no. 118 (Nov. 1975). Let me assure you that the sort of bold inking on display here, while deceptively simple in appearance, takes unerring confidence and skill to achieve. Bravissimo!

By the mid-70s, with his main comics accounts defunct or dormant (Dell, Treasure Chest, Charlton), Tallarico, ever the astute and tireless businessman (another rare trait among cartoonists) simply stepped up and diversified his efforts, branching out and creating a market for himself. « In the 70s the whole business went kaput. Luckily I was able to transfer over into doing children’s books. I’ve been doing children’s books ever since. My wife went though a count several months ago. It was over a thousand titles. That’s a lot of children’s books. »

Here’s a lovely one: Things You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Monsters (1977, Grosset & Dunlap). From the author’s introduction: « My sincere thanks to the many motion picture studios who produced these great monster films. They have kept many a generation of fans ‘monsterized‘. My thanks to my parents, who did not forbid me to see these films when I was a boy. Instead, they brought out in me many of the questions that appear in this volume. They always stressed that monsters are another form of fictional entertainment. My thanks to my wife Elvira, and my daughter Nina**, who stood by while my son and I made a mess of the living room as we selected the many pictures that appear here. »

I should point out that I haven’t forgotten one of my favourite Tallarico projects, namely his charming work on the Bobby ShermanGetting Together” comic book (7 issues, Feb.-Oct. 1972, Charlton)… it’s just that I’ve already addressed the topic: check out Let’s Hear It for Bobby Sherman!

And what of his 1965 collaboration with The Shadow’s Walter Gibson, Monsters? Got you covered on that one as well!

I don’t know whether I’ll change anyone’s mind about Mr. Tallarico’s work, but I believe I can rest assured I gave it my best shot.

-RG

*Hex was introduced in All-Star Western no. 10 (Feb.-Mar. 1972, DC).

**My closest brush with the Tallaricos came in 2015 when I helped his daughter Nina identify and source some artwork she was selling on eBay for her dad. In my experience, a very nice lady. My sincere condolences to the bereaved family.