Adieu to Summer and to Childhood: Ray Bradbury’s “The Lake”

« And by the time they reached the shore of the quiet lake the sun was clouding over and fog moved in across the water so swiftly and completely that it frightened Doug to see it move, as if a great storm cloud from the autumn sky had been cut loose and sank to engulf the shore, the town, the thumping, happy brass band. » — Ray Bradbury, Farewell Summer (1980)

With summer on the wane — never mind the heat and humidity! — it seems fitting to feature, on the one hundred and second anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s birth, what’s possibly my very favourite EC comics adaptation of his work, Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando‘s ‘The Lake’. The other contenders jockeying for the top spot would be Johnny Craig‘s ‘Touch and Go!‘ (from the story ‘The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl‘) and Bernie Krigstein‘s ‘The Flying Machine‘. This mournful coming-of-age story was a speck of maturity in a boundless hinterland of juvenilia. I was agreeably surprised to find that there are some who concur with me on that point:

« It is hard for me to imagine how the 1953 comic book reader must have reacted when they picked up Vault of Horror #31 and read “The Lake” (adapted by Feldstein and Joe Orlando). The same month, Batman was fighting a crime predicting robot and Superman was helping to peel potatoes for Lois Lane during her stint in the Women’s Army Corps. So to go from that to this, a hauntingly sophisticated tale of a young boy obsessed with the death of his childhood sweetheart, must have been mind-blowing. »

(Do check out Brian Cronin’s solid picks for the 8 Greatest Ray Bradbury Adaptations by EC Comics)

Now, I trust I don’t have to school you about the life and times of Mr. Bradbury (1920-2012). Were it the case, I’d still skip the lesson, thanks to this 1953 summary, which will suit our current purposes just fine:

The good folks at EC comics, namely those in charge — proprietor William Maxwell Gaines and his loyal acolyte and second-worst artist, Al Feldstein — decided to adapt the works of young Ray… without bothering to first secure his blessing. After a few (splendid) adaptations, Bradbury shrewdly wrote: « Just a note to remind you of an oversight. You have not as yet sent on the check for $50.00 to cover the use of secondary rights on my two stories ‘The Rocket Man’ and ‘Kaleidoscope.’ . . . I feel this was probably overlooked in the general confusion of office work, and look forward to your payment in the near future. ». By 1953, the collaboration was well established, and so…

Bless her soul and all that, but I found Marie Severin‘s latter-day recolouring for Fantagraphics’ ‘definitive’ edition to be on the garish side, so I’ve toned it down somewhat. Computers aren’t for everyone.
Russ Cochran‘s stunningly ambitious and still-definitive The Complete EC Library featured John Benson, Bill Mason and Bhob Stewart‘s insightful and in-depth interviews and notes. Here’s what Benson wrote about The Lake:

« One of the few serious errors in the EC Bradbury adaptations is Joe Orlando’s imagery in ‘The Lake‘. Ignoring the many clues in the text (the long beach, the sand, the incoming waves) and taking his cue only from the title, Orlando drew a mountain lake, with pines and rushes, and a lodge in the background. But Bradbury’s lake was Lake Michigan, and this is a story that draws on the special poignance of the first autumn days at a large tidal beach. Had Orlando drawn on his undoubted experiences of the Atlantic seashore, he would have come much closer to the spirit of the original.

Readers who compare the dialogue in the EC version with the full version of the story in The October Country will find some seemingly inexplicable differences. The explanation is not that Feldstein cavalierly tampered with Bradbury’s text but quite the opposite. Feldstein was faithful to the story as it appeared in the May 1944 Weird Tales and in Bradbury’s first book anthology Dark Carnival (now long out of print). It was Bradbury himself who rewrote passages for this and other stories in The October Country, published after the EC adaptations. »

Orlando’s a funny guy. Like Harry Harrison, he started out as a friend, collaborator and friendly competitor of Wally Wood‘s. Unlike Harrison, who left the comics field to become a successful SF writer, Orlando was briefly able to more-or-less keep pace with Wood. It must have been nerve-wracking and of course quite unsustainable. While I hold that Orlando’s most aesthetically accomplished art job is ‘A Rottin’ Trick!‘ from Tales from the Crypt no. 29 (Apr.-May 1952, EC) and his most significant has to be anti-racist parable ‘Judgment Day!‘, from Weird Fantasy no. 18 (Mar.-Apr. 1953, EC), ‘The Lake‘ triumphs, thanks to its writing. After his peak of ’52-’53, Orlando’s art deteriorated fast. He made a bit of comeback in the mid-60s (the ‘Adam Link‘ stories at Warren were highlights) but… that’s when he was more often than not signing his name to Jerry Grandenetti‘s work. He found his niche as an editor at DC, and whatever artwork he produced thereafter seemed, to me, rushed and half-hearted. But he was a pretty good editor!

It’s a bit incongruous that what must be EC Comics’ quietest, most ruminative horror story should appear under one of its most violent (‘hard hitting’ comes to mind… literally) covers. Johnny Craig’s work could be — and generally was — quite understated, but on days when he wasn’t in that particular restrained frame of mind… look out! This is the original cover art from Vault of Horror no. 31 (June-July 1953, EC).

In closing, a word of warning: you’ll be seeing precious little of us in the coming month of September, as we’re preparing ourselves for a major change of domicile. We’ll be living in boxes for a spell, but I’m hoping to be back in time for the annual Hallowe’en Countdown. The show must go on!

-RG

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

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 30

« Every time I go to Oona Goosepimple’s spooky old house something SCARY happens to me! » — Nancy

Back in the blog’s early days, my partner ds, wrapping up her tribute to John Stanley, stated:

« And I haven’t even mentioned Stanley’s Nancy, nor her friend (and my favourite character) Oona Goosepimple. Next time… »

Well, that time has come. Despite my deep and enduring love of John Stanley, I never could warm up to what’s generally considered the cornerstone of his œuvre, Little Lulu. It’s hardly Stanley’s fault: I just happen to dislike Lulu creator Marjorie ‘Marge’ Henderson Buell‘s visual conception of her characters.

On the other hand, I’ve always been in thrall to Ernie Bushmiller‘s world. Purists will, and surely have, objected to the bold liberties that John Stanley took with Nancy and Sluggo, but I don’t care a whit. This collision between the singular visions of a pair of cartooning geniuses is every bit as delightful as I might have hoped.

Night Howls first appeared in Nancy and Sluggo no. 174 (Jan.-Feb. 1960, Dell). It was reprinted in Nancy, Volume 4: The John Stanley Library (2013, Drawn & Quarterly). Script and layout by John Stanley, finished art by Dan Gormley.

One more short one?

The Ghost Story first appeared in Four Color no. 1034 – Nancy and Sluggo Summer Camp (Sept.-Nov. 1959, Dell). It was reprinted in Nancy, Volume 2: The John Stanley Library (2009, Drawn & Quarterly). Script and layout by John Stanley, finished art by Dan Gormley.
Fancy, uh? This is Nancy, Volume 2: The John Stanley Library (2009, Drawn & Quarterly); meticulous series design (and covers) by Gregory ‘Seth’ Gallant. Now if only D&Q would finish building the library, or at the very least give us Kookie and Dunc & Loo!
In 1975, when fandom movers and shakers Robert Overstreet and Donald Phelps visited Stanley in his home, « … he dug into a closet, and said, ‘I have something that might interest you.‘ He pulled out the roughs for the first Oona Goosepimple story for Nancy. Stanley told Phelps he could keep it. (Actually, it was the script for an unpublished story). » [ from the late Bill Schelly‘s illuminating Stanley bio, Giving Life to Little Lulu (2017, Fantagraphics). ]

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 25

« Swing your razor wide! Sweeney, hold it to the skies! » — Stephen Sondheim

Variations on a theme: The entirely reasonable dread of the straight razor.

First there was this Lee Elias cover that…

Actually, no. Before that, there arose the idea in art director Warren Kremer‘s ever-effervescent mind:

One of Kremer’s surviving preliminary sketches.
Then there was this one, more refined and with wonderful suggestions, instructions and notions addressed to the assigned cover artist, Lee Elias.
Ah, here we are. The final (in more ways than one!) version. This is Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 18 (July 1953, Harvey). Art by Lee Elias… but you know that’s not the entire process. Check out this earlier Hallowe’en post for more of that magical Kremer-Elias collaboration.

Then, one year on…

… appeared this cover entry by Québécois Joseph Michel Roy aka Mike Roy (inks likely provided by George Roussos). This is The Unseen no. 15 (July 1954, Pines), the series’ final issue. To give credit where it’s due, the death’s head reflection is a cute new wrinkle.

More than two decades down the road, Marvel, since they were already borrowing Harvey’s Chamber of Chills title (did they even ask? I wonder), figured they may as well reenact one of its classic covers.

Say, what’s this about the day’s first shave? … is there shaving after death? Hassles, hassles.

Though most would nowadays call upon electric shavers or disposable plastic razors, I presume that straight razors have made a comeback among the hipster set. Still, a niche is hardly universal.

This is Chamber of Chills no. 22 (May, 1976, Marvel). Pencils by Larry Lieber, raised on high by the masterly inks of Tom Palmer, who, not content with being one of the all-time finest ink slingers, was also an excellent colourist.

As a bonus, here’s one on the general topic by the immortal Chas Addams. It appeared in The New Yorker in 1957, then was reprinted later that year in his solo collection Nightcrawlers (Simon and Schuster). For more of that excellently-morbid Addams mirth, amble over to this earlier spotlight from our Hallowe’en Countdown’s initial edition.

Most modern reprints of Addams cartoons I’ve seen tend to be on the washed out, blurry side, so I’m grateful to have my ancient volumes of his work. Feast your weary peepers on this fine vintage!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 23

« Drinking your own blood is the paradigm of recycling. » — Gary Busey

Say, isn’t there something… sorta quaint about that cover?

In the 1970s, while DC and Charlton consistently provided all-new material*, Marvel quickly switched to an all-reprint formula (the better to save money whilst flooding the market, my dear!), sometimes even on the covers, with some amusingly inappropriate updates at times.

This is Dead of Night no. 2 (Feb. 1974). Alterations by unknown hands. Only one issue of this title would feature new material: its eleventh and final issue (introducing The Scarecrow); this number, however, reprints pre- and post-code Atlas stories from 54-56.
This is Marvel Tales no. 125 (July 1954, Atlas); cover art by Harry Anderson. The milky semi-transparency is a nice touch.

Okay, here are another pair of before and afters:

This is Tales to Astonish no. 34 (Aug. 1962, Marvel). Cover pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers. Hardly a classic, not to mention that it lazily recycles the story’s opening splash. It’s also a textbook demonstration of what I dislike about Marvel colouring in the Silver Age: I’m guessing it was company policy to leave the backgrounds mostly in grey to make the characters ‘pop out’. A sound commercial policy, perhaps, but artistically, it seems pretty stale to me.
This is Monsters on the Prowl no. 29 (Aug. 1974, Marvel). A classic instance of John Romita‘s alteration-happy art direction. Making the protagonist a woman and adding a witness are both dishonest touches, for what it’s worth. On the plus side, I do like the lightning bolt (good use of existing space!), and the colouring is a marked improvement. Edited by Rascally Roy Thomas.
This is Mystic no. 30 (May, 1954, Atlas); colours by Stan Goldberg. A striking cover by Russ Heath
… is, if not ruined, then at the very least diminished by clumsy and pointless updates, including the removal of Heath’s signature (although upon seeing the ‘improvements’ perpetrated upon his work, he might have opted for the comics equivalent of an ‘Alan Smithee‘ or ‘Cordwainer Bird‘ credit). This is Crypt of Shadows no. 9 (Mar. 1974, Marvel). Alterations, once more, by unknown, guilty hands. Also edited by Roy Thomas (just so you know who’s responsible).

-RG

*and if and when they didn’t, they’d tell you! Not so with Marvel. As for Gold Key, they would just pretend the material was ‘reprinted by popular demand’.

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 17

« Dreams surround our desires with ugliness and dread. » — Mason Cooley

As everyone knows, the early fifties were a more innocent and wholesome era, when the average bobbysoxer would swoon away the nights with fantasies of dishy teen idol Rondo Hatton. I mean, just look at her blissful expression!

This is Weird Thrillers no. 1 (Sept. 1951, Ziff-Davis). Disappointingly, given the cover’s promise, the issue comprises mostly science-fiction and crime stories.

Surprisingly, the cover scene does, for once, occur within!

The opening pages from our cover tale, The Monster and the Model, pencilled by future Rip Kirby artist John Prentice. The entire issue is available for your perusal, legally and gratis, right here!
“So, who is this Rondo guy?”, you may ask. Before Mr. Hatton became a household name, got an award named after him and was the subject of his own book-length biography (Beauty Within the Brute), cartoonist Drew Friedman, ahead of the curve as usual, was endeavouring to preserve from oblivion the unfortunate man’s memory… in his own sardonic way.

One more for the road?

Originally published in Raw no. 8 (Sept. 1986, Raw Books). You may have heard of some other folks tragically afflicted with acromegaly.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 16

« The whole planet reeks of mysticism without revelation. » — Dan Simmons

Last May, when I showcased Joe Maneely‘s Atlas cover art (see Joe Maneely, Atlas of Versatility), I intentionally left out his pieces for the horror titles, knowing them worthy of some attention of their own, an ideal topic for the Hallowe’en countdown. Besides, it took some pressure out of the selection process if I could save one whole genre for a rainy day — and today’s most certainly that day!

This is Mystic no. 7 (Mar. 1952, Atlas); colours by Stan Goldberg.
This is Mystic no. 15 (Dec. 1952, Atlas); colours by Stan Goldberg.

“Mystic” is evidently one of Marvel’s pet titles: the title was first used by Timely in 1940-42, then again in 1944-45; once more, most successfully in this Atlas horror series, for 61 issues from 1951-57. And lately in 2009 and 2011. I’ll bet that tradition’s not yet done with, but why on earth?

This is Mystery Tales no. 12 (June 1953, Atlas); colours by Stan Goldberg.
This one’s got it all! Here’s Adventures Into Weird Worlds no. 27 (Mar. 1954, Atlas); colours by Stan Goldberg.
This is Mystic no. 29 (Apr. 1954, Atlas); colours by Stan Goldberg. Maneely’s Atlas horror covers generally distinguished themselves by their goofiness.
Begging the question: What’s worse than having two left feet? Having three left hands, apparently. This is Riot no. 3 (Aug. 1954, Atlas); colours by Stan Goldberg.
This is Mystery Tales no. 24 (Dec. 1954, Atlas); colours by (need you ask?) Stan Goldberg. While I make no bones about my disdain for Goldberg’s work at Archie, he was a superb colourist in the 1950s. In terms of legibility, Atlas’ busy covers had to be quite a challenge to pull off, and he did it again and again.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 12

« After that I never saw him again. He became the ‘phantom’ artist, whereabouts unknown! » — Bhob Stewart

Hello again. Last year, I touched upon the stint that Matt Fox (1905-1988) did as an occasional and unappreciated inker at Marvel in the Silver Age. While he’s assured a sort of immortality for the eleven winningly oddball covers he painted for Weird Tales, he also left his distinctive and lasting mark on horror comics of the 1950’s. Let’s give the old burying grounds the once-over, shall we?

This is Chilling Tales no. 13 (Dec. 1952, Youthful), actually the title’s début, as it picks up its numbering from Beware. In addition to its cover, the issue features within a rare Fox story, The Hand of Glory. Read it here… at your own peril! (just kidding, it’s all perfectly safe).
This is Chilling Tales no. 15 (Apr. 1953, Youthful). What in tarnation is going on here?
This is Chilling Tales no. 17 (Oct. 1953, Youthful). Incidentally, this title was edited (anonymously) by Sally the Sleuth creator Adolphe Barreaux.

Here’s one of Fox’s all-too-infrequent forays between comic book covers. This one appeared in Uncanny Tales no.6 (March 1953, Atlas). Writer unknown… though that’s no great loss to history.

From the Tomb editor Peter Normanton, in the lumberingly-titled The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, astutely noted that:

« There is an air of disquiet to his vision, yet it charms through a surreptitious blending of the primitive with the mockingly insane. His characters border on the lunatic, seemingly at home in his landscapes, concealing a darkness corruptive of the soul. »

And I leave the final word to my trusted accomplice ds, who observed that:

« I find that the art of Matt Fox reminds me of Terrance Lindall… Both can create disquieting monsters with eyes that speak of inner torment, reminiscent of Christian Art (mostly Spanish, I believe) from a few centuries ago. »

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 9

« I don’t know what the hell I published.
I never read the things.
» — Stanley P. Morse

In the sinister wake of Warren Publishing‘s success with Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, old-school fly-by-night 1950s comics publisher Stanley P. Morse (Aragon Magazines, Gillmor Magazines, Medal Comics, Media Publications, S. P. M. Publications, Stanmor Publications, and Timor Publications…) dusted off some of his old pre-Code chillers in the late 1960s and early 1970s in black and white magazines such as Shock (15 issues), Chilling Tales of Horror (11 issues), Ghoul Tales (5 issues) and Stark Terror (5 issues). It certainly wasn’t all junk: after all, Morse had published Weird Tales of the Future and Mister Mystery, with their Basil Wolverton and Bernard Baily classics…

Unlike Eerie Publications’ grey-toned and blood-and-gore-ified reprints, these are, as far as I know, unretouched, not to mention decently printed.

This is Shock Vol. 2 no 5 (no 10, November, 1970). Edited by Theodore S. Hecht.

Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t Kurt Schaffenberger just about the unlikeliest pick of cover artist for a pre-code horror anthology? Sure, he fit in nicely with ACG’s gentle moral fable aesthetic, but aren’t you just expecting the Man of Steel or The Big Red Cheese to swiftly sweep in, catching the damsel-in-distress before the A Train smooshes her?

To wit: one of Kurt’s fun ACG covers, this is Unknown Worlds no. 43 (Oct.-Nov. 1965, ACG).

-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