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

One Hundred and Eighty Bitter Years of Bierce

« Goodbye—if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia. » — Ambrose Bierce, writing to his niece in the fall of 1913.

There’s a profusion of biographical material out there on the topic of Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842- ??), but here’s a capsule version to get the preliminaries out of the way:

« Ambrose Bierce was an angry young man who got angrier as he grew older. His strong talent was directed always by bitterness and despair. His wonderful stories were weird, cynical, shocking. His life was restless, his temper outrageous, and his death violent. »

Bearce belongs to a select club of larger-than-life American literary figures (among which we might also encounter Messrs. Poe, Twain, Lovecraft, Hemingway, and perhaps Vonnegut), whose life and work inspired, and continues to inspire, countless adaptations in all media, imitations and parodies, appropriations. You know the drill: works by, works about, works starring the author as protagonist.

In addition to the expected adaptations of varying quality, Bierce’s own nebulous ending inspired both fiction (Gerald Kersh‘s 1957 short story ‘The Oxoxoco Bottle‘, in which the narrator discovers a manuscript, in Bierce’s hand, that recounts the extraordinary events that followed his disappearance) and speculative non-fiction, by which I mean Jake Silverstein‘s fascinating 2002 essay, The Devil and Ambrose Bierce: Well Met in Marfa, which you can read here).

There’s even an episode of Will Eisner’s The Spirit (July 25th, 1948) adapting Bierce’s The Damned Thing.

Since there’s so much to take in, I’ll fall back on my usual coping strategy, keeping my focus narrow to avoid (further) losing it. We’re going to explore my two favourite editions of a defining Bierce work, The Devil’s Dictionary, first published in 1906 as The Cynic’s Word Book.

Abasement, n. A decent and customary mental attitude in the presence of wealth or power. Peculiarly appropriate in an employee when addressing an employer.
Commerce, n. A kind of transaction in which A plunders from B the goods of C, and for compensation B picks the pocket of D of money belonging to E.
Edible, adj. Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
Prescription, n. A physician’s guess at what will best prolong the situation with least harm to the patient.
This lovely edition, featuring illustrations by Joseph Low (1911-2007) was published in 1958 by the Peter Pauper Press of Mount Vernon, NY. This, as it happens, was my introduction to the series, picked up at a long-gone bookstore during a 1992 visit to Victoria, BC, a city that last year finally broke with its proud, longstanding tradition (begun in 1894!) of dumping its raw sewage into the Pacific ocean, surely to the relief of most Seattlites.

Then in 1979 came along a most handsome edition (Thomas Y. Crowell, Publishers) boasting a wealth of illustrations by Egyptian-born force of nature Jean-Claude Suarès (1942-2013).

Interpreter, n. One who enables two persons of different languages to understand each other by repeating to each what it would have been to the interpreter’s advantage to have said.
Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
Longevity, n. Uncommon extension of the fear of death.
Medicine, n. A stone flung down the Bowery to kill a dog on Broadway.
Reflection, n. An action of the mind whereby we obtain a clearer view of our relation to the things of yesterday and are able to avoid the perils that we shall not again encounter.
Respite, n. A suspension of hostilities against a sentenced assassin, to enable the Executive to determine whether the murder may not have been done by the prosecuting attorney. Any break in the continuity of a disagreeable expectation.
Witch, n. (1) An ugly and repulsive old woman, in a wicked league with the devil. (2) A beautiful and attractive young woman, in wickedness a league beyond the devil.

For the sake of comparison, here’s Mr. Low’s rendition of same:

.

Zoology, n. The science and history of the animal kingdom, including its king, the House Fly (Musca maledicta). The father of zoology was Aristotle, as is universally conceded, but the name of its mother has not come down to us. Two of the science’s most illustrious expounders were Buffon and Oliver Goldsmith, from both of whom we learn (L’histoire générale des animaux and A History of Animated Nature) that the domestic cow sheds its horns every two years.

Happy 180th anniversary, Mr. Bierce, wherever you may roam!

-RG

George Freeman: Red ‘n’ White and All Colours of the Chameleon

« To many people in the mid-19th century, Canuck was merely a casual synonym for French-Canadian — and like the nicknames for people of various other ethnicities or nationalities, it came with unpleasant overtones. The word is used vulgarly and rather contemptuously” »

A friendly birthday how-do-you-do to mighty Manitoban George Freeman (born May 27, 1951 — that’s seventy-one years ago — in Selkirk, MB). Some of you will remember him for his Jack of Hearts mini-series at Marvel or his collaboration with Michael T. Gilbert on Elric for First; the more adventurous will recall his fine and, ahem, too-brief work on DC’s Wasteland.

By the 1990s, he was also affiliated with Winnipeg’s celebrated Digital Chameleon studio… but to me, he’s the guy who made Richard Comely and Ron Leishman’s Captain Canuck into a contender, as far as I’m concerned.

This is Captain Canuck no.7 (Dec. 1979-Jan. 1980, CKR Productions), featuring Ruse, story by Richard Comely, art by George Freeman. Cover by Freeman, with colours by Freeman or Jean-Claude St. Aubin.
This was the Captain’s first (and sadly, only) Summer Special (July – Sept. 1980, CKR Productions); a winningly mixed bag, it *was* a lot of fun. Cover by Freeman.
Among the goodies included in the Summer Special was a preview of the short-lived CK newspaper strip, which ran in three daily newspapers in Western Canada. It looked quite promising! Written and lettered by Comely, illustrated by Freeman and St. Aubin.

This is Captain Canuck no.14 (Mar.-Apr. 1981, CKR Productions), the final issue — just when the series was going from strength to strength. Sigh.

To demonstrate, here’s the opening sequence from that issue. Freeman and St. Aubin were evidently pushing hard against the conventions and constraints of the era’s crappy printing standards.

In 1995, the Captain even got his own stamp. Quoting the press release: « What do Superman, Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, Captain Canuck and Fleur de Lys have in common? For one thing, they’re all super heroes sprung from the wondrous pages of comic books; and for another, they’re all the marvelous creations of Canadian talent. On October 2, these five super heroes will find new adventure in a booklet of 10 stamps from Canada Post Corporation, to be issued in conjunction with Stamp Month 1995. A universal hero in concept, Captain Canuck is undeniably Canadian in nationality, costume and mannerisms. The concept can be traced to Ron Leishman and Richard Comely. Comely changed Leishman’s Captain Canada to Captain Canuck, and in 1974 established the only independent full-colour comic book in Canada. The cover price was 35¢ – 10¢ higher than other comic books at the time – but that didn’t stop Captain Canuck from outselling all American titles. Unfortunately, the series folded with issue No. 14, in March 1981. »
Part one of The Jack of Hearts’ limited series (Jan. 84, Marvel). The character was introduced in, of all places, an issue of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (no. 23, Apr. 1976, Marvel); The Jack shuffled around various Marvel titles for a time, culminating in this solo four-parter scripted by his co-creator, Bill Mantlo, and illustrated by Freeman. That costume must have been a bitch to draw.

Oddly enough, while Freeman was my favourite among the stable of artists chosen to illustrate John Ostrander and Del Close‘s scripts on Wasteland (Don Simpson and David Lloyd got the best), I feel he was assigned the least interesting ones to work on, with the exception of the excellent Del Close autobiographical two-parter, On the Road (issues 6 and 7). Beyond that, he drew one cover and split, unwittingly triggering the debacle that was the second half of the series’ run.

This is Wasteland no. 1 (Dec. 1987, DC). Pencils and inks by Freeman, colouring by his Digital Chameleon accomplice, Lovern Kindzierski.
This is Wasteland no. 5 (Apr. 1988, DC). Pencils and inks by Freeman, colouring by Lovern Kindzierski. As denizens of Winnipeg, a notoriously cold city, the guys would know how to colour ice, all right. To quote another famous native son, Randy Bachman : “Portage and Main, Fifty below“.

On the subject of chameleons, it appears that the traditionally held ‘camouflage’ theory of their colour changes is simplistic and generally incorrect.

-RG

Earth Day 2022: Woodman, Spare That Tree!

« Trees cause more pollution than automobiles. » — Ronald Reagan

After some of the time-consuming epics we’ve been running lately, I’d been looking for a short piece to help me catch my breath; as it happens, I’d been saving a special piece for this day and occasion.

I’ve always much admired any well-done bit of scientific popularization, and given people’s abysmal ignorance, and even worse, their utter lack of curiosity on the subject of trees (among others!), this one stands out as increasingly timely and poignant. Just yesterday, I stumbled upon an alarming article from Smithsonian Magazine pointing out that the hard lessons of the Dust Bowl were either not learned or simply forgotten. So it goes…

This strip originally saw print in Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact vol. 16 no. 5 (Nov. 10, 1960, George A. Pflaum), written and illustrated by TC mainstay Frank Tytus Huffman (1919-1986), who ably doles out both fun and facts.

The strip was reprinted in TCOFAF vol. 23 no. 6 (Nov. 16, 1967) with improved colouring, so it’s the version you see here.

The title of this post quotes (with a slight spelling change) a once-famous poem by George Pope Morris (1802-1864), which goes:

Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I’ll protect it now.
‘twas my forefather’s hand
That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o’er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earthbound ties;
0 spare that aged oak,
Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
My father pressed my hand. . .
But let that old oak stand!

My heartstrings round thee cling
Close as thy bark, old friend;
Here shall the wild bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave;
And, woodman, leave the spot . . .
While I’ve a hand to save,
Thy axe shall harm it not.

« Now why should I spare that tree, Kotter? What’s in it for me? »

For further arboreal reading, check out our earlier post, Earth Day With Jim Woodring and Friends.

-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

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

Oh, the Places He’s Been: Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

« Theodor Geisel spent his workdays ensconced in his private studio, the walls lined with sketches and drawings, in a bell-tower outside his La Jolla, California, house. Geisel was a much more quiet man than his jocular rhymes suggest. He rarely ventured out in public to meet his young readership, fretting that kids would expect a merry, outspoken, Cat in the Hat-like figure, and would be disappointed with his reserved personality. » — Susan Cain

Today, we honour Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), born one hundred and eighteen years ago and better known under his nom de plume of Dr. Seuss (one of several, such as Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, Dr. Theodophilus Seuss, Theo LeSieg, L. Pasteur, D.G. Rossetti, and Rosetta Stone. The man loved a good pseudonym.) And no, he wasn’t actually a doctor, though he contributed to more people’s well-being than most physicians could dream of. His alma mater, Dartmouth College, did bestow upon him an honorary doctorate, in 1956. Furthermore, it renamed, in 2012, its medical school (fourth oldest in the United States, founded in 1797) Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in recognition of the good man’s financial contributions over the years. Cool, uh?

Moreover, « Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association. »

It certainly did in my case — when I wanted to learn English as a kid, his books were the ones I reached for. Results!
Geisel’s cover for Judge‘s March, 1933 issue.
A sample of his 1930’s magazine work. Dang — now I can’t get that song out of my head.
And another. Teetotallers may not know (or they may know too well, hence the abstinence) that DT stands for the latin delirium tremens, or alcohol withdrawal-induced delirium. As for these beasts, you’ll have cause to worry if you should See Them Everywhere, and not merely aboard Goah’s Ark.
« Long before his success as Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel (Dartmouth Class of 1925), designed advertisements for Flit, Standard Oil Company’s wildly popular spray-pump insecticide which later contained DDT. Over the course of 17 years, Geisel’s humorous advertisements helped make Flit a household name throughout the 1930s and 1940s. At the time, liberal spraying of pesticides around people, animals, and crops was highly encouraged with little regard to potential environmental impacts. » [ source ]. This particular ad hails from 1930.
Given the scope of Geisel’s genius and the length of the ad campaign, there are many, many highlights.
More like ‘Bug Game Hunter’!
Over the years, these ads came in every format.
A 1941 poster for Flit. The casual, harum-scarum use of dangerous chemicals may seem quaint to our jaded modern eye, but it goes on, all right. Personally, I cringe when I encounter ads for Procter and Gamble’s Febreze, for instance. Seems a tad irresponsible to me, given the risks.
This is the opening installment of Hejji, Geisel’s very short-lived (April 7 to June 23, 1935, twelve episodes in all — read them all here) Sunday comic strip, the man’s sole entry into the syndicated comic strip arena, preceding by a couple of years the publication of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). Hejji was oh-so-briefly published by William Randolph Hearst’s King Features Syndicate. Fickle, fickle!

« In these pages Dr. Seuss was already introducing us to his wonderful talent for creating unusual and delightful creatures. Hejji and his master “The Mighty One” would meet many an odd creature like Bearded Bees, Wombats, and the great Pitzu bird. All of these would be encountered in the attempt to impress the object of “Mighty One’s love, “The Fair One”. Unfortunately, as the legend goes, Seuss was let go during great depression job cuts by William Randolph Hearst. Of course Seuss would later go on to create his extraordinary children’s books including Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch that stole Christmas. Hejji pages are some of the rarest and most sought-after on the comic-strip market. Printed exclusively as Tabs and only carried in a few newspapers, their rarity is as great as the popularity of their creator. As a result, each and every page carries the highest premium. » [ source ]

In 1982, Darmouth College commissioned none other than Everett Raymond Kinstler to paint this portrait (oil on canvas) of his esteemed colleague.

-RG

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.