Of Sneetches and Robots, Orange and Blue

« “Good grief!” yelled the ones that had stars at the first.We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned, “if which kind is what, or the other way round?” » — Dr. Seuss‘ The Sneetches (1961)

A few days ago, this news item piqued my interest: « The assistant director of communications for Olentangy Local School District abruptly stopped the reading of the Dr. Seuss book “The Sneetches” to a third-grade classroom during an NPR podcast after students asked about race. »

Naturally, since this sorry episode made its way around the world and rightly gave rise to quite the furore, the school district has since thrown its patsy under the bus.

This mention of Dr. Seuss’ timeless classic The Sneetches made me think of another slightly earlier parable of systemic racism, Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando‘s Judgment Day (1953), and the similarly telling reaction would-be guardians of bluenose morality had to it.

Initially, I thought posting such an already eminent story as ‘Judgment Day’ was a trifle too obvious. But then again, how famous can a standalone comic book story published seventy years ago be, in the true scale of things? Really, it can never be famous enough.

In the course of an excellent article, CBR.com’s Brian Cronin summed up the skirmish (spoiler alert! you may want to read the story first if you haven’t already):

« The last traditional comic book produced by EC Comics was 1955’s Incredible Science Fiction (a series that had just begun a few months earlier, taking over the numbering from Weird-Science Fantasy) #33.

The last story in the issue, “Eye for an Eye,” had to be pulled at the last minute due to objections by the Comics Code Authority.

So Gaines and editor Al Feldstein decided to reprint “Judgment Day” in its place.

However, Gaines and Feldstein were then told that this replacement story ALSO violated the Comics Code.

Judge Charles Murphy (administrator of the Code) said that they would have to change the astronaut from black to white if they wanted it to be included. This was not part of the Code at the time. Feldstein and Gaines felt that Murphy was just deliberately messing with them.

After being told that, clearly, the color of the astronaut’s skin was practically the whole point of the story, Murphy backed down a bit, but said that they would at least have to get rid of the perspiration on his skin. It could possibly be that Murphy felt that it was exploitative. I do not know, and neither did Feldstein nor Gaines, who only had their suspicions that they were being screwed with.

Feldstein and Gaines both refused to comply (I believe the terms they used included at least one use of the word “fuck“), and Gaines threatened a lawsuit and/or a press conference to shine a light on why exactly the story was objected to.

The story ran as is. »

And so here it is (boasting superior reproduction, thank you, technology):

Originally published in Weird Fantasy no. 18 (Mar.-Apr. 1953, EC). Beautifully understated, it’s easy to understand why its creators considered it a high point of their respective careers.

As is generally the case with such anecdotes, there are other accounts and explanations:

« At least three versions of the story about Gaines’ dispute with the CMAA exist. In an interview, Gaines said a story showing a black astronaut with sweat on his face was rejected because the code forbid ridicule of any religion or race. When he threatened to sue, the code administrator backed down. A second version of the story suggests that Gaines was not able to get approval for the comic, but printed it with the seal anyway. A third account, told by Gaines’ business manager, said the EC story was rejected because it featured robots, which challenged Code Administrator Charles Murphy’s religious beliefs that only man was granted the ability to think. »

I like that, no matter which angle or reality we consider, Judge Murphy never fails to, er… rise to the occasion.

In closing, here’s a scrumptious cartoon anecdote about Messrs. Orlando and Gaines.

« Here’s Sergio Aragones‘ version of one of the many outings Joe Orlando and his publisher/pal Bill Gaines made to the best restaurants in Paris. While on one of the now famous MAD trips, Joe and Bill would eat 4 or 5 times a day! They went from restaurant to restaurant, always ordering the specialty of the house — with appropriate wines, of course! Yep — they’ve been on a very strict diet since (… but it hasn’t helped!) » Originally published in The ‘Special Joe Orlando Issue‘ of Amazing World of DC Comics (no. 6, May-June 1975, DC).

-RG

Let’s All Go Down to the Catfights — Again!

One of this blog’s unexpected hits (pow!) has been Let’s All Go Down to the Catfights!. Though published in 2018, this post still generates a lot of interest on a practically daily basis – I knew people liked to spectate women fighting, of course, but I didn’t realize just to which extent. I mean, we have a whole THE TWILIGHT WORLD OF GIRLIE CARTOONS category, it’s not like that post was the only instance of us featuring half-or-entirely-naked women.

I’ve been meaning to do a part 2 for a long time now, gradually accumulating choice material, to finally spring it on you when you least suspect it (yes, that’s me cackling in the corner). When dealing with a potpourri of styles and decades, I usually try to go in chronological order. If this cavalcade through the years demonstrates something, it’s that our tastes haven’t evolved much. Plus ça change

Page from The Last Curtain, illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff and published in Sensation Comics no. 22 (Oct. 1943, All-American/DC).
Page from Condemned Venus!, scripted by ‘Gregory Page’ (who’s probably Ruth Roche), and tastily illustrated by Matt Baker. This story was published in Phantom Lady no. 14, 1947.
Jumbo Comics no. 105 (November 1947), with a cover by Joe Doolin.
Adelita y las Guerrillas no. 73 (1953, Ediciones José G. Cruz). This is a Mexican Western comic series created cartoonist José G. Cruz in 1936, initially published in Paquito magazine. I’m not sure whether here Adelita is fighting her nemesis, Tigresa del Bajio, or just punching around some other woman.

Crimes by women, on women? Read an entertaining overview of this dime comic book published by Fox Features Syndicate on Criminal Element.

Crimes by Women no. 6 (April 1949). Is a cheap frill the same thing as a cheap floozy?
Crimes by Women no. 16 (December 1949). ‘Crime never pays’, they always remind the reader, who’s probably too interested in the catfight to believe it.

For more Golden Age goodies, don’t forget about Here Comes Sally the Sleuth… and There Goes Her Dress! (which I am not including here, as I devoted a whole post to Sally).

We have a heavy Italian contingent today! Co-admin RG recently wrote a post about Averardo Ciriello, Sitting Pretty: Averardo Ciriello’s Maghella. As he pointed out, Ciriello lent his art to many an erotic series — here’s his cover depicting Lucifera fighting a woman with three breasts (?) I mean, nobody can say you don’t get your money’s worth from this blog… 😉

Lucifera no. 165, 1980.

And here is the original painting, for comparison purposes:

Ciriello wasn’t the only one working in that vein.

Historia d’Ahi!, a one-shot published by Edifumetto, presumably in the 1970s. Episodio Completo Inedito Fumetto… cashing in on Histoire d’O.
Storie Blu Special no. 12 — L’astronave dei mille tormenti (1983, Ediperiodici).

How about some dubious plot involving a fight between an impeccably fair-skinned maiden and an exotic black woman clad in some sort of tribal garb? Uh, sure.

A page from Royal Hunt, scripted (cringingly overwritten, frankly) by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Bolton. Marada the She-wolf finds herself a ‘worthy’ adversary in Epic Illustrated no. 12 (June 1982, Marvel).
Page from The Devil-Tree of Gamburu, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by John Buscema and inked by Tony DeZuniga, published in The Savage Sword of Conan no. 42 (July 1979). Conan fans, I am sending you over to Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-o-rama and Tentacle Tuesday: the Savagery of Conan’s Savage Sword.

For a slight change of pace and style, I offer you some horror from Tentacle Tuesday Master Richard Sala, two pages from Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires, published in Evil Eye no. 13 (August 2005, Fantagraphics):

~ ds

P.S. Here’s a Tik Tok video of a female martial artist who has a rather interesting way of showing different self-defense techniques. It seemed relevant!

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 14

« Skepticism is the highest duty and blind faith the one unpardonable sin. » — Thomas Henry Huxley

Plot-wise, this one’s a trifle, a frothy bit of nonsense, I’ll happily concede. But it’s ornately illustrated by Joe Maneely, in that busy-but-clear, rough-but-assured, scratchily cartoonish fashion of his.

I don’t know about you, but if I’d just had a bona fide supernatural encounter, it’s unlikely that my next move would be to rush to the corner store to stock up on hokey monster comics. Unless I was thinking investment.

Hey, you know who our protagonist reminds me of? Marshall Teller’s sidekick, Simon Holmes, from outstanding early ’90s TV show Eerie, Indiana. See what I mean?

Meet Simon (Justin Shenkarow, later on Picket Fences) and Marshall (Omri Katz, seen soon after in Joe Dante‘s underappreciated Matinee).
I Was Locked in a… Haunted House! originally materialised in Uncanny Tales no. 7 (Apr. 1953, Atlas), and was reprinted in the somewhat more affordable Chamber of Chills no. 15 (Mar. 1975, Marvel). Cover art by Bill Everett, colours by Stan Goldberg.

While our featured tale is saddled with the hoariest of plots, what lends it some flavour, in my book, is its rampant self-referential hucksterism (hello, Stan!), to the point that it’s practically a five-page commercial for Atlas’ supernatural titles. Still, I like it — it’s a bit of novelty.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 11

« His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary. » — Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

In these dark days of superhero media dominance, it’s nice to look back at a time when the übermensch were in the throes of a cyclical decline and had to borrow a page or two from the dominant horror genre to extend their lifetime a bit. By the early 1950’s, superhero comics were in a slump and horror was ascendant in the land. Some of the main players went largely unaffected and presumably unconcerned, but some of the jobbers had to move quickly to preserve their day gig. The world wound up with such aberrations as Captain America’s Weird Tales.

We’ve previously noted the changes wrought upon Quality’s Plastic Man, and now we turn to ‘The World’s Mightiest Mite‘, Doll Man (a bit of back-handed compliment, wouldn’t you say?)

Quality always boasted a superb bullpen, and so some of these covers were crafted by the most excellent Reed Crandall (and check out our spotlight from last year). Natural cover artists are a true rarity, yet Crandall certainly fit the bill.

This is Doll Man no. 40 (June 1952, Quality). Read it here! Cover by Reed Crandall. Read it here! Once again, a reminder that spiders aren’t insects. This tale preceded the great Richard Matheson‘s novel The Shrinking Man by four years, and its classic film adaptation (add ‘Incredible‘) by five. Just sayin’…
Dipping into the classics of American literature, this is Doll Man no. 41 (Aug. 1952, Quality). Cover by Mr. Crandall. Read it here!
This is Doll Man no. 42 (Oct. 1952, Quality). Another Crandall cover. I know *I* wouldn’t have passed this one up on the newsstand, whatever the competition! Read it here!
This is Doll Man no. 43 (Dec. 1952, Quality) cover tentatively attributed to the many-pseudonymed Dan Zolnerowich. Read it here!
This is the series’ swan song, Doll Man no. 47 (Oct. 1953, Quality), quite a scarce issue. Read it here!

-RG

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