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

In Bob Montana’s Riverdale for the Holidays!

« Everything that happened to Archie happened to me in school, except that Archie always seemed to get out of it. » — Bob Montana

Despite the hundreds, if not thousands, of variably-abled hands that have toiled in the Archie Comics salt mines, the most important set of mitts devoted to the task was also the very first.

Archie creator Bob Montana* (1920-1975) knew what he was doing from the git-go. After all, he rubbed shoulders with the characters’ real-life counterparts from the Class of 1940: according to a 1989 Associated Press story, his buddy ‘Skinny’ Linehan became Jughead, football hero Arnold Daggett became Big Moose Mason; principal Earl MacLeod gave us Mr. Weatherbee and school librarian Elizabeth Tuck inspired Miss Grundy… and so on.

Montana was also that rare cog in the Archie machine: an autonomous writer-artist. This served him well in the newspaper strip world: he débuted the Archie feature in 1946 and remained in charge, dailies and Sundays, until his 1975 passing. I do prefer Samm Schwartz’s Jughead, but Montana drew the definitive version of every single other member of the Riverdale ensemble. In particular, as you’ll witness, Betty and Veronica were never slinkier.

The Sunday, December 22, 1946 strip.
The Sunday, December 21, 1947 strip.
The Sunday, December 19, 1948 strip.
The Sunday, December 26, 1948 strip.
The Sunday, December 25, 1949 strip.

And a bonus New Year’s-themed one for the road!

The Sunday, December 28, 1947 strip.

And with this… Merry Christmas, everyone!

-RG

*On the Archie plantation, as with the Harvey gulag, we can safely dismiss the founders’ specious and strident claims of having created their cash cows. In this case, Archie “creator” John Goldwater‘s original mandate to Montana was essentially to riff on popular radio show The Aldrich Family (1939-1953).

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 20

« Only the knife knows what goes on in the heart of a pumpkin. » — Simone Schwarz-Bart

Today, for a change, here’s a gallery of light-hearted Golden Age funnies… if not directly on the theme of Hallowe’en, then at least full of spooky fun and spirit. Some of these babies are unbelievably rare items… hence, at least in part, the sketchy credits.

This is Mickey Mouse Magazine vol. 3 no. 2 [26] (Nov. 1937, Western); cover artist unknown.
This is Famous Funnies no. 75 (Oct. 1940, Eastern Color); cover by Victor Pazmiño, featuring Uncle Elby and Sam Smithers. Read it here!
This is Ribtickler no. 3 (July-Aug. 1946, Ace); cover artist unknown.
This is Hap Hazard Comics no. 4 (Spring 1945, Ace); cover by Sam Singer, who mostly worked in animation.
This is Spooky Mysteries no. 1 (1946, Lev Gleason); cover art by the Jason Comic Art Studio. G’wan, read it here!
This is Jo-Jo Comics no. 4 (Dec. 1946-Jan. 1947, Ace); you guessed it: cover artist… unknown.

-RG

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 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

Wacky Animal Antics on Parade!

I really enjoy the madcap world of Golden Age funny animal comics, and they’ve often made it into various Tentacle Tuesdays. Yet not everything fits into the somewhat narrow scope of tentacles (shocking, I know!), so I am pleased to take this fun gallop through some favourite covers that are quite devoid of cephalopods. Doing so involves going back some seventy, eighty years… a difficult to grasp concept for those of us who were not around back then.

This one-shot comic from Famous Funnies featuring a sweet cover by Dave Tendlar may not be-laugh-out-loud funny, but makes up with charming innocence what it lacks in the hilarity department. This is Dover the Bird no. 1 (Spring 1955, Eastern Color Printing).

My thirty-something colleagues consider movies from the late 90s to be ‘ancient’, so I can just imagine what their reaction would be to a comic from, say, 1942! Yet I feel emotionally close to these covers (whether artistically accomplished, entertainingly weird or just plain drugged-out) – humanity has not changed nearly as much as we tend to assume, and albeit some sources of humour require an historian’s explanation, others are every bit as funny and entertaining now as they were back then. As for talking animals, that goes back to the dawn of human history (Aesop’s fables readily come to mind, and Aesop was surely not the inventor of this concept!)

One could dedicate a whole lifetime to digging through this particular slice of history – I’ve tried to go for some variety in this post, but of course I am (happily) constrained by my own tastes in the matter. Here, then, are some Golden Age covers featuring funny animals that have amused, entertained or puzzled me.

Animal Comics no. 1 (December 1942, Dell), with a cover by H.R. McBride, is an amalgam of details both adorable and creepy – the harrowing expression of the fish contrasts wildly with Madame Crocodile’s peanuts-pilfering offspring and her flirty cocktail parasol, while her crocodile-skin purse makes me think of Disney’s Three Little Pigs cartoon (1933, Silly Symphonies). In case you’ve never noticed it, the third pig, the one with the brick house, has family pictures on his wall… for example, a string of sausages labelled “Father”. Black humour, indeed. Animal funnies are often dusted with a good sprinkling of the gruesome, as when a talking duck eats chicken legs for dinner.

The insides have two Walt Kelly stories, including the first appearance of Pogo Possum and his friends!

Fast forwarding four years, we fall into pleasantly loopy territory of Fox Features’ Nuttylife no. 2 (Summer 1946, Fox Comics). Despite it being number two, this is technically the only issue, issue number 1 having appeared as Krazy Life, and issue number 3 and onward becoming Wotalife Comics. I can’t find credits for the cover, but the insides contain Pat Adams with Ellis Chambers (“One day a little goil went to her Grandma’s joint…”), Tim Howe and Cy King. Ellis Chambers by himself definitely deserves a separate post – take a glimpse at Eddie Elephant – 1946 Hallucinogenic Funny Animal Comix by Ellis Holly Chambers, for example.

I couldn’t very well leave Felix the Cat out of this post! I won’t go into the complex history of this character, but suffice it to say that this is one gorgeous cover. Clearly I’m not the only one to admire this image, as it was used for the cover of Craig Yoe‘s wonderful anthology Felix the Cat – Greatest Comic Book Tails (2011, IDW), which I highly recommend. This is Four Color no. 135 (February 1947, Dell Comics), with a cover by Otto Messmer.

The American Comics Group is responsible for many a goofy plot, source of my long-lasting affection for some of their titles (see Tentacle Tuesday: ACG’s Adventures Into the Tentacles). ACG’s Ha Ha Comics are a riot, all right, but I have two favourites among the 88 issues released. The first is Ha Ha Comics no. 11 (August 1944), with a cover by Ken Hultgren. A joke doesn’t have to be elaborate to be funny – something about the expression of the indignant man-eating lion and his wild mop of hair cracks me up!

The second is Ha Ha Comics no. 78 (Dec-Jan 1951), cover artist unknown. I like porcupines in general, but here we are presented with a truly bizarre situation – a porcupine who tears out his sweetheart’s quills one by one to figure out whether she loves him… (unless she’s just a friend helping out, and he’s in love with some other porcupine). Kinky, whichever way you look at it.

Going a few years back, we take a little inter-planetary voyage with Coo Coo Comics no. 38 (March 1948, Pines/Standard Comics), with a cover by (possibly) Vince Fago. I am very fond of this purple-green monster who looks like he’s suffering from a bad hangover (or terminal cretinism). Coo Coo Comics is credited with having introduced the first funny animal superhero (in its very first issue, published in October 1942). That little guy was Supermouse…

The insides contain some Frank Frazetta stories, in case anybody is interested.

… but the other contender for this title was Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse, also introduced in October 1942 (under the name of ‘Super Mouse’) in the theatrical short The Mouse of Tomorrow. That’s enough to get anybody confused in all these mice! This is Terry-Toons Comics no. 1 (October 1942), with an Ernie Hart cover that hints at the influence that funny animal comics had on the underground comix artists:

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Glittering Lure of the Golden Age

The source of tentacles in Golden Age comics seems inexhaustible – every time I think I have reached the bottom of the well, I find myself awash in cephalopods. That being said, a lot of these octopusoid appearances are one-panel cameos, and even when the tentacles linger for a few pages, the shitty printing, questionable scans or bare-bones art don’t exactly incite me to use this material in a Tentacle Tuesday. Today’s crop is all Golden Age, running the gamut from 1939 to 1952, and composed of pages/covers I can enthusiastically endorse.

George (of Harry J. Tuthill’s The Bungle Family, ‘one of the most under-rated comic strips in the history of American cartoonery’ according to Art Spiegelman, one of the top hundred comics of the 20th century‘, according to The Comics Journal) may be thoroughly bundled up in tentacles, but he still keeps a sort of prosaic calm that I admire.

Feature Comics no. 23 (August 1939, Quality Comics). Cover by Ed Cronin. As for Charlie Chan, he was originally a private detective in a series of novels by Earl Derr Biggers, from which a number of movies were made. Opinions are divided about whether he was a breakthrough Asian character (tired of Yellow Peril stories, Biggers conceived him specifically as an alternative to stereotypical, ‘sinister and wicked‘ Chinese) or perpetuated a lot of the same preconceived notions that were circulating at the time (and, alas, are still with us today).

Just look at the canines the red devil is ready to plunge into Black Hood’s leg! Throw in a fanged octopus, and this cover has as much action as one would possibly want. Sadly, nothing of the sort actually goes on in this issue.

Top Notch Comics no. 16 (June 1941. Archie Comics). Cover by Al Camy.

Robotman and his Robot dog are a worthy topic of discussion in themselves, especially when Jimmy Thompson is involved (see Robotman and Jimmy Thompson: Golden Age Comics’ Best-Kept Secret), but for now these two pages will do nicely!

Page from Fisherman’s Luck, published Star-Spangled Comics no. 41 (February 1945, DC).
This page from Boy Meets Robotdog was printed in Star-Spangled Comics no. 75 (December 1947, DC). I would certainly come to this house!

We really like Howard Nostrand at WOT, though so far he has been woefully under-featured in our posts!

This page is from The Man Germ, scripted by Nan Barnett and illustrated by Howard Nostrand. This story was published in Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 13 (October 1952, Harvey Comics).

Finally, I have a soft spot for these tiered layouts that Rugged Action employs… especially when an octopus with tender, moist eyes is moonlighting in one of them.

Rugged Action no. 1 (December 1954, Marvel). Cover by Carl Burgos.

~ ds