Panning the murky old print stream for the odd glimmering nugget
By the Light of the Silver Age
We know when the Silver Age begins, but when exactly does it come to a close? Since it’s just arbitrary retrofitting, a bunch of events and dates have been posited, mostly from the early 1970s: Kirby leaving the Fantastic Four and Marvel, the “relevance” of Green Lantern/Green Arrow… The cut-off points of decades have been pretty misleading in the past while the middles have often been more pivotal: for instance, the years 1955 to 1965 are more of a piece than 1950-60, for instance. Same goes for 1965 to 1975. I therefore deem the end of the Silver Age to be the end of 1975, when Carmine Infantino stepped down as DC publisher, along with his brilliant art director Nick Cardy. Replace them with inexperienced Jenette Kahn* and the legendary (but not in a good way) Vince Colletta as art director, and you have a pretty massive sea change. Compared to that, comics from 1969 are virtually identical to releases from 1970. *creating Dynamite Magazine for Scholastic is what got Kahn the job. She only stayed for four issues, and Jane and Bob “R.L.” Stine likely did most of the heavy lifting, since the magazine only improved following Kahn’s departure. – RG
« 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.
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!
« 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…
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?)
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.
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.
« 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.
One more? Here’s a favourite from The Twilight Zone no. 42 (Mar. 1972, Western):
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.
What do you say we take a peek at that Extra Bonus Book of Monster Jokes?
… 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.
« 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.
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?
« 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:
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.
*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).
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.
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.
« 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).
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.
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).
« 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!
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?“
« 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:
Ahem. All these walking child-shaped time bombs reminded me of a rather fine comic book from a couple of decades later.
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.” »
« 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.