Aloha, āhole: Dennis Eichhorn in Hawaii

« In Hawaii they say, “aloha.” That’s a nice one, It means both “hello” and “good-bye”, which just goes to show, if you spend enough time in the sun you don’t know whether you’re coming or going. » — George Carlin

By and large, the notorious 1990s trend of autobiographical (at times navel-gazing) comics was undermined by its practitioners’ dearth of meaningful life experience and insight. Obviously, there’s been plenty of notable exceptions, before and since: on the insight front, for one, Canadian David Collier is an undervalued master of the documentary form.

As for life experience, puissant Dennis P. Eichhorn (1945-2015) put all the pasty, effete cartoonists to shame with his spectacularly turbulent, bold-type life. A gifted writer and storyteller, well-versed in the comics medium, he galvanised the creativity of his many collaborators, a broad yet aptly-selected crew of graphic practitioners, many of whom he’d met in the course of his lengthy writing and editorial stint with Seattle’s fabled The Rocket weekly.

I initially assumed I’d run into trouble in settling on the one story to showcase, but nope… right away, I knew just the ticket… a ticket to the Big Island.

Monkey See, Monkey Do, written by Eichhorn and illustrated by Gene Fama, first saw print in Real Stuff no. 11 (Jan. 1993, Fantagraphics); there, it appeared in black and white, but was coloured, presumably by Fama himself, for Swifty Morales Press’ lovingly-done 2004 Real Stuff anthology.
The issue originally featured a Charles Burns cover coloured by Jim Woodring (another master of autobiography, en passant). Burns presumably wasn’t too keen on the original palette (whose murkiness, to be fair, rather overwhelmed his drawing), so he recoloured it himself for the anthology. This is the all-Burns version. Compare, if you will, to the Woodring rendition.
A candid shot of our fair young author on a visit to Seattle, circa 1992, with Mr. Eichhorn, along with a friendly member of the local ethylic intelligentsia, who successfully lobbied for inclusion in the shot. You decide who’s who.

-RG

p.s. It would be easy to assume that āhole is just a fancy way of saying ‘asshole’, but it isn’t *necessarily* so; to wit:

āholen. An endemic fish (Kuhlia sandvicensis) found in both fresh and salt water. The mature stage is āhole, the young stage āholehole. Because of the meaning of hole, to strip away, this fish was used for magic, as to chase away evil spirits and for love magic. It was also called a “sea pig” (puaʻa kai) and used ceremonially as a substitute for pig. Foreigners were sometimes called āhole because of the light skin of the fish. He āhole ka iʻa, hole ke aloha, āhole is the fish, love is restless [of āhole fish used in love magic]. [ source ]

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

Here Comes Sally the Sleuth… and There Goes Her Dress!

She’s audacious, savvy, and she’s always cheerful. Here she is, the infamous Sally the Sleuth by Adolphe Barreaux*. First things first, to give us a timeframe: this strip was published in “pulp” magazine Spicy Detective Stories between 1934 and 1943, then moved to Speed Detective Stories in a new format** until 1950 then, finally, to Crime Smashers until the comic’s demise in 1953.

Sally the Sleuth features a tightrope act that’s not that easily achieved: fearless, self-sufficient Sally is so adept at spotting (and landing into the middle of) trouble that she frequently requires outside help to be rescued in the nick of time, with the role of the rescuer oft being played by her boss, the Chief, who usually bursts in through the door. What’s interesting is the way this rather typical damsel-in-distress set-up does not take anything away from our sense of Sally as a take-charge, go-getting kind of gal. She does not hesitate to bat her eyelashes or flash a gam when needed, but she’s neither the usual femme fatale archetype that appeared so often in contemporary comics, nor the innocent-yet-gorgeous victim. When captured, she spits (sometimes literally) in the face of her would-be killers; when she gets rescued, it was because she left instructions with Peanuts, her kid assistant, or schemed to leave the Chief enough clues to locate her if she hit a bad patch.

Strategic panty drop! Page two from “Tourist Trade” (June 1938, Spicy Detective Stories).

It may surprise a modern reader that an American comic from the mid-thirties (1935! consider this number again if it hasn’t sunk in yet!) should be so casual about a topless female when present-day consumers of culture freak out at the very sight of a nipple (and that goes for male nipples as well). Of course pulp magazines and comics weren’t read by staunch defenders of High Morals and Propriety, but it was nevertheless a hugely popular medium, and Spicy Detective Stories, where Sally got her débutante ball, certainly abounded in unclad women in tales of booze, butchery and concupiscence.

The cover of Spicy Detective Stories no. 4 (June 1935), in which The Tiger’s Lair (see below) appeared.

Which brings me to my next point: tension created by the play between the predictable and the unforeseen. Sally always, always ends up in a state of advanced déshabillé. That is an enjoyable given. Much like panties drop to the floor if a woman should be carrying celery, Sally’s dress and underwear fly off at the gentlest of tugs. However, just how it is accomplished varies wildly from week to week. One wouldn’t think that were so many interesting ways of getting accidentally undressed. And these stories are harsh, no doubt about it: scenes of torture and murder vary from the comparatively sedate (getting whipped, slapped, shot) to sensationalist (death by venomous snake or spider) to viscerally uncomfortable (cannibalism with more than a dash of necrophilia, being boiled alive, impalement).

The complete “The Tiger’s Lair” (June 1935, Spicy Detective Stories).
Sally’s stoicism as she’s about to be carved up is nothing short of miraculous. Page two from “The Sewer Horror” (December 1937, Spicy Detective Stories).
Page two from “Murder Mania” (April 1935, Spicy Detective Stories).
Page two from “The Missing-Models Mystery” (April 1937, Saucy Detective Stories).

Though of course it’s the nudity is sexualised, I love the ease with which Sally does it, completely unperturbed by having a bare chest whether she’s surrounded by hoodlums, talking to her boss, or racing through a crowded hotel. There’s a certain innocence in it, as if we were watching a frolicking Dedini nymph. Despite being so frequently assaulted, she does not at all come off as a victim.

Some top-rate lassoing from Peanuts! They’re trying to make it look like a suicide, but I’m not sure why a woman would want to jump off a roof naked. Page two from “Love Nest Loot” (September 1935, Spicy Detective Stories).

Earlier-day Sally (1934-1943) is supposedly ‘ditzy and naive’ (source), but I think one should not mistake cheerfulness or pragmatism for naïveté. She navigates the seedy parts of town with aplomb and talent, efficiently following clues, taking on many roles to infiltrate criminal organisations or simply glean information. Sally may have to rely on the Chief to extricate her from yet another predicament, but he is a sort of handsome stock figure with little personality, mostly sitting around his office and agreeing when Sally says ‘I should investigate this!’

Page two from “Coke for Co-eds” (January 1938, Spicy Detective Stories).
Sally also doesn’t judge other women; her moral compass is firmly pointed to bringing all manner of crooks to justice, but she’s a no-nonsense kind of girl when it comes to standards of female behaviour. Page two from “Sin Ship” (October 1936, Spicy Detective Stories).
Page one from “Toy of Fate” (January 1937, Spicy Detective Stories).

Sally the Sleuth has historical importance, if only for the panel borrowed by Frederic Wertham for his Seduction of the Innocent report from a Sally the Sleuth: Death Bait (1950) story. In the wonderfully written introduction to the Sally the Sleuth Collection, comics historian Tim Hanley goes a step further, saying “without Sally the Sleuth, there would be no Superman. Without the pulp heroine with a penchant for solving crimes in a state of undress, there would be no Batman either.” It can be (and has been) argued that he is giving this strip too much credit***, but there will be no argument that Sally is an important figure. Because I’m a philistine, what’s most important to me… is that it’s a great read.

~ ds

* As far as Barreaux, born Adolphus Barreaux Gripon, is concerned, there are much better places to read about his biography than on this blog, mostly due to the fact that biographies kind of bore me. I specifically direct you here for a detailed biography, and here for more information about Barreaux’ mixed heritage and the variety of genres he illustrated.

** This post only includes strips from the earlier, 1934-1943 version, because I by far prefer it to what came later, although I may be in the minority. The art got arguably better once Sally moved to Speed Detective stories, and stories also got longer, allowing for more elaborate plots. However, Sally was now some sort of international spy, travelling to ‘exotic’ countries and having to contend with native Hula dancers, superstitious savages in Indian jungles, Nazis, Japanese master-minds, and so on. She got disrobed less frequently, but the charming innocence of the strip, despite its violence and simple but effective art, is what makes Sally so appealing to me.

*** Hanley has been clearly reproached for this by some readers, and so elaborated on his blog:

My introduction begins with the grandiose claim that there would be no Superman without Sally the Sleuth, but it’s true. Long before Harry Donenfeld launched DC Comics, he was a publisher of pulp magazines that featured lurid crime stories. Sex was a major focus, and the dirty stories were a popular product. In 1934, Adolphe Barreaux convinced Donenfeld to expand outside of prose and add some comics to his books, and the “Sally the Sleuth” strip in Spicy Detective was their first attempt. It proved popular and more followed. Eventually, Donenfeld got into the comics game full time in the late 1930s, first with Detective Comics and later with Action Comics. Once Superman and Batman took off with young readers, more series followed and the comic book business became Donenfeld’s priority. But it all started with Sally.

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 15

« Get ready for the future: it is murder. » — Leonard Cohen

Since Hallowe’en isn’t as widely celebrated in Europe — Ireland and the rest of the U.K. aside, obviously — as it is in North America, it’s not always evident and easy to keep the countdown truly international. No worries: in such a situation, I’m no stickler — I’ll take the spirit of the law over its letter.

The first (and until now, only) time I posted about Thomas Ott, I wound up with a contender for least-popular post in this blog’s history. Have I learned my lesson? Heavens, no. I live, perhaps naïvely, in the belief that our audience has grown in the interim, and that said audience is ever more attuned and receptive to our quirks.

Here, then, is some gallows humour from Mr. Ott. Don’t try this at home, unless…

Top: The Night Porter, anyone?
Er… Top: Deadly Weapons, anyone?
Originally published in Tales of Error (Oct. 1989, Edition moderne, Switzerland). Yes, a book in English by a German-speaker from a Swiss publisher with a French name.
The Exit collection (Sept. 1997, Delcourt) gathers the essential bits of Ott’s first three albums (Tales of Error, Greetings from Hellville and Dead End), as well as some new pieces.

For more poisoned goodies from Mr. Ott, just plod your carcass over to his official website.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 6

« There’s money, all right! I quoted Mrs. Tarrent a hundred slugs for this trip and she never batted a tonsil! » — Ken Shannon’s on the job.

Reed Crandall (1917-1982), one of the final additions (mid-1953… late in the ballgame!) to EC Comics’ immortal roster, previously spent most of the Golden Age years (1941-53) exclusively working for Quality Comics, and it was only when the publisher began to scale back its output, in 1953, that Crandall began to look elsewhere for additional work. After EC, he would make landfall at George A. Pflaum’s Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, a story we’ve touched upon earlier this year.

Hard-boiled private eye (was there any other kind?) Ken Shannon was introduced in Quality’s Police Comics with issue 103 (Dec. 1950), and right away grabbed the cover spot (dethroning Plastic Man, no less!), which he doggedly retained to the bitter end, namely Police’s final bow, issue 127 (Oct. 1953). Concurrently, Shannon’s investigations were spun off into his own book, over the course of ten issues (Oct. 1951 to Apr. 1953).

Shannon certainly had his share of unusual cases to puzzle out, and here are the spookiest!

This is Ken Shannon no. 3 (Feb. 1952, Quality). From what I’ve seen and heard, these babies are scarce.
The cover story’s introductory splash. Read the entire issue here!
This is Ken Shannon no. 6 (Aug. 1952, Quality). Read the entire issue here!
And this is Ken Shannon no. 7 (Oct. 1952, Quality). Read the entire issue here!

-RG

Warren Kremer Aces It!

« Michelangelo was a ‘lefty’ » — Warren Kremer (a southpaw himself, a common attribute among artists)

I can’t help returning to Warren Kremer (today’s his birthday, not coincidentally; he was born on June 26, 1921, passing away on July 23, 2003), first because I adore his work, and second because I quite concur with Jon B. Cooke‘s bold but sensible assertion that Kremer…

« … is an extraordinarily talented artist. A master of design, character nuance and just plain exquisite drawing ability, he is perhaps the most underrated – or even worse, ignored – comic book creator of significance in the industry’s history. »

And why is that? A combination of working outside the superhero genre and of doing it, uncredited and for decades, on the ole Harvey Family Plantation.

This blog’s It’s a Harvey World category might as well be called It’s a Kremer World, since he’s pretty much had the spotlight to himself.

But Kremer’s comics career precedes his arrival at Harvey; after working for the pulps in the late 1930s, he entered the comic book field, and a sizeable chunk of his early work was done for Ace Magazines (1940-56), and this is the area we’ll be exploring today.

A rare foray into super-heroics, this is Banner Comics no. 5 (Jan. 1942, Ace); the guy with the star mask is ‘Captain Courageous’.
This is Super-Mystery Comics vol. 5 no. 6 (June 1946, Ace), featuring Mr. Risk in Riddle of the Revolutionary Portrait. Read it here! Kremer was signing as ‘Doc’ at the time.
Dig all that detail! This is Super-Mystery Comics vol. 6 no. 3 (Dec. 1946, Ace), featuring Bert and Sue in The Adventure of the Murdered Medium; read it here!
Boasting a snazzy new logo, this is Super-Mystery Comics vol. 7 no. 3 (Jan. 1948, Ace), featuring Bert and Sue (Ace’s Nick and Nora?) in Hell Bent for Election!. Read it here!
Eight years before DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, Ace came up with Challenge of the Unknownà chacun son tour. This is the first of its two-issue run, no. 6 — but of course! (Sept. 1950, Ace); pencils by Kremer, inks possibly by Al Avison. Read it here!
Three steps to a Werewolf. Kremer’s rough cover design…
The printer’s cover proof…
… and final publication switcheroo! One might surmise that someone got cold feet about CotU. This is The Beyond no. 1 (Nov. 1950, Ace). Read it here!
This is The Beyond no. 2 (Jan. 1951, Ace). A solid demonstration of dramatic perspective.
Here’s Mr. Risk again, in the first and penultimate issue of his own series — no. 2 (Dec. 1950, Ace) featuring The Case of the Psychopathic Lady and The Case of the Jinxed Air Line — the next issue was number 7! Read this one here.
Again, all that beautifully-rendered detail. This is The Beyond no. 3 (Mar. 1951, Ace), featuring The Keeper of the Flames. Read it here (preferably by candlelight)!
One of the most rewarding things for the Kremer fan is that the man thoroughly documented his creative process. In other words, he saved a lot of his art, including sketches, notes and preliminaries.
And the final version, from The Beyond no. 30 (Jan. 1955, Ace). See how Kremer had it all worked out, down to the colouring? Amazing. Oh — and read it here!

Happy birthday, Mr. Kremer — wherever it is you may roam!

-RG

Between 117 and 007: Francis Coplan, Agent FX-18

« Generally speaking, espionage offers each spy an opportunity to go crazy in a way he finds irresistible. » — Kurt Vonnegut

I love a good tale of espionage, but not in the Bond mould. While the adventures of Fleming’s 007 have their charm, it’s not exactly plausible spycraft, nor is it expected to be, I reckon. The world-weary, less flashy and more cerebral approach pioneered by Eric Ambler (Passport to Danger, A Coffin for Dimitrios) and Graham Greene (The Confidential Agent, The Quiet American) is more in keeping with my interests.

« Before Ambler, international thrillers tended to be dominated by such writers as John Buchan, Herman Cyril McNeile (known as “Sapper”), and their many imitators. These books were often rousing adventures, but filled with improbabilities, both of plot and character, plus a hearty jingoism and a well of right-wing, Old World prejudice that would curl your hair today. » [ source ]

As far as I’m concerned, I’m afraid that describes Fleming’s writing to a T. By contrast, I was right chuffed when I learned, a couple of days ago, of this striking bit of news about worthy Ambler disciple John le Carré (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), who passed away last year.

Now, given his prodigious and lasting popularity, most people likely presume that James Bond was the first “super spy”. While espionage chronicles have been around nearly as long as there’s been storytelling, the spy, if he survived his adventure, rarely embarked on a sequel.

That state of affairs was scrambled somewhat by the arrival on the scene of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, alias OSS 117. Created by Jean Bruce, he’s starred in 265 novels, which have sold in excess of 75 million copies. The series was initially published by the legendary Fleuve Noir press, which lent the English language the now-ubiquitous (and often misused) term of ‘Noir‘.

As it happens, Mr. Bruce decided, after 25 novels in three years, to shift his series over to a rival publisher (Presses de la Cité*). Fleuve noir, understandably scrambling to avoid a massive shortfall, commissioned a pair of Belgian writers, Gaston Van den Panhuyse and Jean Libert (under the joint nom de plume of Paul Kenny) to concoct a replacement agent secret. The new fellow was Francis Coplan, alias FX-18. He was featured in 237 novels between 1953 (beating James Bond to the stands by a couple of months) and 1996.

Coplan’s début, 1953’s Sans issue (“No Exit”)

In 1966, les Presses de la Cité began issuing, through their Arédit/Comics Pocket line, graphic adaptations of OSS 117 novels; Coplan followed in 1969. As a kid (and later!), I assiduously steered clear of these: stiff and generic-looking artwork, overly-verbose scripts. At nearly 200 pages, the comics were barely shorter than the novels (generally less than 250 pages long), so the adaptors clearly didn’t make full use of the visual medium’s condensing potential.

So why am I even discussing these?

Because I discovered recently that an artist whose work I do rate highly, José de Huéscar (1938-2007), drew, as it happens, a handful of Coplan issues, and demonstrably well at that. Here are some samples, pulled from the original art.

Position clé, page 33 (1971). Note Huéscar’s confident use of a dry brush technique and his bold use of negative space (panel one in particular).
Sabotages sanglants, page 16 (1971). Ingenious, low-tech Coplan is far more John Drake than James Bond, and that’s how I prefer my spies!
Sabotages sanglants, page 24 (1971). Inventive, but not gratuitous or confusing, ‘camera’ work.
Sabotages sanglants, page 29 (1971). Fun with textures, great depth of field work, again with clear storytelling despite the invasive captions.
Sabotages sanglants, page 43 (1971). Another page that would have resulted in static talking heads. The meal the characters share is virtually relegated to the captions, and Huéscar wisely moves the action (so to speak) outside.
Sabotages sanglants, page 85 (1971). Having left London for Cairo, Coplan recruits some local help. In lesser hands, this would have just been graphically tedious talking heads.
Sabotages sanglants, page 92 (1971). Yes, this will get Francis into trouble.
Front and back covers of Coplan no. 7: Position clé (Jan. 1971, Arédit), and Coplan no. 10: Sabotages sanglants (Oct. 1971, Arédit). Seems like the cover artist had a favourite model!

-RG

*the competitors would merge in 1962, when Presses de la Cité bought Fleuve Noir. While les Presses always did a steady business in translations of American novels, their output comprised a healthy contingent of French-language originals (including excellent series by San-Antonio and Georges Simenon); nowadays, after the usual jumble of soul-killing mergers and acquisitions, they mostly traffic in translated novelisations of American TV shows and pop franchises, a dismal parallel path to globalisation and the steady decline of French culture from the second half of the 20th century.

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 19

« Since man cannot live without miracles, he will provide himself with miracles of his own making. He will believe in witchcraft and sorcery, even though he may otherwise be a heretic, an atheist, and a rebel. » — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Here’s the earliest recorded appearance of Futurama’s Phillip J. Fry, and it would appear that he’s in for a heap of trouble… voodoo trouble! Fortunately, world-class sleuth Ellery Queen is on the case and on his side. That’s him discreetly crouching behind a gravestone.

ElleryQueenOriginalA

This once-upon-a-midnight-dreary George Wilson beauty served as the cover of Dell’s Four Color no. 1243 (Nov. ’61 – Jan. ’62), the tale of The Witch’s Victim, featuring interior art by Mike Sekowsky, with inks by, from the look of it, George Roussos.

I wonder what Fry had done to get a coven so howling mad at him? I mean, just look at that innocent face…

FrySlurmA

FC1243A
Here’s how the painting fared in print.

SekowskyVictim01A

SekowskyVictim05A
A couple of sample pages from the story…. interesting to see the tension between the staid-by-design Dell style and a bit of an iconoclast like Sekowsky. It’s impressive that Mr. S. could find the time, between pencilling the rollicking monthly adventures of Snapper Carr, to moonlight for the competition… but here we are.

Has your interest been piqued ? Enjoy the tale in its entirety, courtesy of Karswell’s fine blog, The Horrors of It All.

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 10

« Behind every tree there’s a new monster. » — Todd Rundgren

Now how can you go wrong with a genre-melding title like this? Did publisher Hillman Periodicals decide it was entirely too much of a good thing, and nip it in the bud? Who wrote and drew the darn thing? Nearly seventy years on, these are not easily-answered questions.

Monster-Crime1A

Anyway, the lone, unnumbered issue of Monster Crime Comics rolled off the presses in the fall of 1952, it’s a pretty scarce item, as they say in the trade, and it features the sordid tales of The Crutch to Paradise, Another Hallowe’en, The Boss of Ice Alley, Oregon Tiger, The Canvas Tomb, The Cold Doorstop, and The Two-Legged Newspaper.

« A low print run and high price for the time (15 cents!) combined to make this one-shot among the rarest of the era’s crime comics, with perhaps 20-100 copies surviving. The over-the-top cover contributes to the book’s fame, particularly because it has nothing to do with the contents. Pre-Code crime comics from Hillman, possibly printed to clear out a backlog before the publisher ended its comics lineup a few months later. » [ source ]

– RG

Walter Gibson and His Shadow

« The stranger’s face was entirely obscured by a broad-brimmed felt hat bent downward over his features; and the long, black coat looked almost like part of the thickening fog. » –Harry Vincent first encounters his future employer. (Shadow Magazine, April/June, 1931)

We note today the birth anniversary of Walter B. Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985), an extremely prolific writer and professional magician. Gibson is best known for developing the radio character of The Shadow, through nearly three hundred stories he wrote under the collective nom de plume of Maxwell Grant.

The Shadow’s had an interesting and varied career in comics, but Gibson’s novels (and the radio shows… Orson Welles!) are where it’s at. Still, let’s take a look around, shall we?

ShadowV3No12A
This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 3, no. 12 (March, 1944, Street and Smith); cover possibly by Vernon Greene. That Thade seems like a friendly sort, mayhap a tad overly so.

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This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 7, no. 12 (March, 1948, Street and Smith); cover by Bob Powell.

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Now why were Archie Comics allowed to take such ridiculous (though I’ll grant, perversely entertaining) liberties with The Shadow? Must have been a lull in the revival market, I suppose. This is The Shadow no. 1 (August, 1964, Archie), cover by Paul Reinman. You just wait until the subsequent issues…

ArchieShadow8A
This, however, is not quite how Gibson envisioned and portrayed the mysterious Shadow. This off-model rendition hails from Archie Comics’ 8 issue, 1964-65 run, helmed by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and Golden Age journeyman Paul Reinman. This be The Shadow no.8  (September, 1965).

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A privileged peek at Frank Robbinsoriginal cover art for The Shadow no.7 (Nov. 1974), second of his four (or so) covers for DC, featuring Night of the Beast!, scripted by Denny O’Neil. Yummy… but too short.

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Two great Street & Smith pulp heroes face off! Mr. Kaluta takes some artistic license here, however, since Ike (as The Avenger calls his throwing knife), is supposed to be small and almost needle-like, not a freakin’ butcher knife. Come to think of it, the Shadow’s trusty automatics look like something a Rob Liefeld character would wield. One doesn’t encounter often the final three issues of DC’s initial run of The Shadow. Post-Kaluta (save the covers) and post-Robbins, the art was handled by Filipino artist E.R. Cruz, who did a commendable job, while series regular Denny O’Neil (who wrote all issues except for number 9 and 11, Michael Uslan ably filling in) stayed until the curtain was drawn.

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Skipping the heinous Howard Chaykin revival, in which he delighted in sadistically dispatching The Shadow’s aged former operatives in gruesome ways (why do these people always call themselves fans of the original series?), we move on to the Andrew Helfer-Bill Sienkiewicz regular book. Better, but still not great. This is The Shadow no. 3 (Oct. 1987). Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.

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Ah, now things perk up. A nasty but excellent tale, worthy of Michael Fleisher at his bugfuck best; the shade of Marshall Rogers and smart up-and-comer Kyle Baker were a good visual match. This is The Shadow no. 7 (Feb. 1988).

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This is Kyle Baker’s cover for the finale of his and scripter Andrew Helfer’s thrilling and hilarious Seven Deadly Finns saga (no. 13, March 1988) that made The Shadow such a must-read title. To quote Kate Bush, « What made it special made it dangerous », and the folks at Condé Nast, who hold the rights to the classic Street & Smith characters (also including Doc Savage and The Avenger) reportedly got twitchy* at the reckless liberties the Helfer-Baker team were taking and pulled the plug after issue 19, where a beheaded Shadow gets a big action robot body. The Shadow was rebooted the following year in more obedient hands, with quite pedestrian results.

As a bonus, let’s slightly depart from comics proper and admire a couple of paperback reissues from the brush of noted fabulist James Steranko.

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Steranko comes up with one of his subtlest, most unctuously moody covers for Pyramid’s 1974-78 series of Shadow paperbacks that introduced these classic pulp adventures to a new audience, picking up where its predecessors Belmont (1966-67) and Bantam (1869-70) had left off. Pyramid had one extra trick in its bag, though: Jim Steranko, who painted tantalizing covers for each of Pyramid/Jove’s twenty-three volumes. This particular case file, MOX, « from The Shadow’s annals as told to Maxwell Grant » originally appeared in The Shadow Magazine vol. 7, no. 6 (November, 1933).

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Natty dresser Jim Steranko has built up, over the years, quite a biography for himself. Of his numberless and prodigious accomplishments, my favourites are those that actually happened, such as a stunning series of cover paintings for Pyramid Books’ reprints of vintage Shadow pulps from the 30s and 40s. This one, twenty-second in a set of twenty-three, was published in March of 1978. The Silent Death initially saw print in The Shadow Magazine, Vol. 5, no. 3 (April 1, 1933.)

-RG

*which everyone apparently’s been denying since.