« 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!
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!
« 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.
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.
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.
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.
« Jerry Grandenetti started out ghosting The Spirit, and nobody… NOBODY… captured the spirit of The Spirit better. Not content to stay in Will Eisner’s shadow forever, he forged his own unique style leading to a highly successful comics career lasting decades. » — Michael T. Gilbert
Since my very first encounter with his work, Jerry Grandenetti (1926-2010; born ninety-five years ago today, another Thursday April 15th) has endured as one of my true artistic heroes. But he’s not celebrated much at all.
Though he’s worked extensively on The Spirit, he’s treated as a bit of a footnote in the Eisner hagiography. His DC war work is well-regarded, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by the Joe Kubert – Russ Heath – John Severin trinity. Besides, by and large, the war comics audience doesn’t overlap much with the spandex long johns crowd. Grandenetti has only very occasionally and timidly dipped a toe into the super-heroics fray, and he was far too unusual for overwhelming mainstream acclaim.
In fact, aside from the couple of converts I’ve made over the years, I can only think of three fellow torch-bearing aficionados: Michael T. Gilbert (who digs best the early, Eisner-employed Jerry); Stephen R. Bissette (who favours the spooky 60s and 70s work); and Don Mangus, who’s most into the DC war stuff. I daresay I enjoy it all, but my taste is most closely aligned with Mr. Bissette’s on this particular point. Let’s sample a bit of everything, insofar as it’s feasible to sum up a career spread out over five decades… in a dozen-or-so images.
In 1954, the powers-that-be at National Periodical Publications (you know, DC) gave Grandenetti some latitude to experiment with their War covers. Grandenetti produced an arresting hybrid of painted and line art. The process involved a grey wash painting that was photostatted, with flat colour laid over the resulting image. The first few attempts yielded striking, but nearly monochromatic results. A bit farther down the pike, the production department got more assured in its technical exploration.
DC was generally hesitant to entrust its more established properties to the more “out there” artists. In the cases of Grandenetti and Carmine Infantino, the solution was to match them with the weirdness-dampening inks of straight-arrow artist Murphy Anderson. And you know what? It did wonders for both pencillers and inker.
This is The Spectre no. 6, October, 1968. A tale told by Gardner Fox (and likely heavily revised by hands-on editor Julius Schwartz, a man who loved alliterative titling) and superbly illustrated by the Grandenetti-Anderson team. Steve Ditko aside, Jerry Grandenetti had no peer in the obscure art of depicting eldritch dimensions (you’ll see!)
So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!
« ‘A face like an oyster, huh?‘ Danny Lomax repeated, and swallowed hard. ‘That’s what it’s going to look like?‘ Nick Deene chuckled and nodded. ‘If there’s anything deader-looking than a watery blue oyster that’s been open too long,‘ he said, ‘I don’t know what it is.‘ » — Robert Arthur, The Believers (1941)
Today, we’ll peer through filmy years past at another example of cultural cross-pollination: a notion is born, seemingly out of nowhere, then it ineffably catches the collective fancy and is in some fashion absorbed into folklore, scattered like grain by wind and whisper. Then some soul, blessed with a way with words, polishes it for publication and some editor buys it for peanuts. Another wordsmith reshuffles and refines it, sprinkling some notions of his own, perhaps a glint of sardonic humour. Hungry for material, radio gets hold of the setup and reshapes it a little to fit another medium. Late one night, some comic book hack hears that presentation, and recollects its essence, some years on, in a frantic rush to fill some pages and scrape together a meagre living. Or perhaps he saw it in a competitor’s rag. Bah, no-one’ll remember… or give a toss. “I’ll give it a stab from another angle!“
First, there was… well, I’m not sure. But let’s begin with Henry Russell Wakefield‘s short story Ghost Hunt (either 1938 or 1948… sources differ), in which…
A radio host broadcasts a live ghost hunt in a house in London where there have been “no less than thirty suicides”. Most have run from the house at night to throw themselves off the cliff and into the nearby river. The radio broadcaster is joined by a paranormal investigator. The investigation proves all-too successful in this chilling story.
The Believers is a classic horror story by Robert Arthur. It’s about a radio host who decides to broadcast a live show from a haunted house. This story is also known as “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” and it was based on an older story by H. Russell Wakefield called “Ghost Hunt”. It also inspired a horror comic story and an episode of Tales From The Crypt, both of which were called “Television Terror”.
And more that just the one ‘horror comic story’ was inspired by this singular scenario. In 1952, The Unknown (or at least uncredited, which amounts to the same thing) Writer came up with The Walking Ghost, which will now break up the tedium of text, text, text, and provide you with some welcome visuals by Messrs. Mike Sekowsky on pencils and Bill Walton on inks.
The Walking Ghost was reprinted decades later in Crypt of Shadows no. 3 (May, 1973, Marvel), where I first encountered this tale, and this bit of dialogue was modified to better (but not by much) fit the times:
« I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us. » — Dorothy Dix
Menace was a short-lived (11 issues, 1953-54, Atlas) horror anthology title that’s mostly remembered*, if at all, for its one-shot introduction of a zombi by the name of Simon Garth. Because Atlas never really played the gore card, its successor Marvel was able to mine most of its Pre-code material as cheap filler in their 1970s bid to flood the market. Don’t get me wrong, though; these titles were still a lot of primitive fun, and in most cases, I’d pick an issue of Weird Wonder Tales, Where Monsters Dwell or Uncanny Tales From the Grave over the latest Fantastic Four or Spider-Man.
The writing was by no means daring or even coherent, but the artwork was frequently rather fine, with none quite finer than Bill Everett‘s, particularly his covers, which elegantly straddled the line between fearsome and goofy.
I’d be tempted to say that Everett (1917-1973) was at his peak when he created these, but the bittersweet fact of it is that Everett was still at the height of his artistic powers, even as he was slowly dying in the early 1970s.
This particular hot streak ends not because Everett turned in a lesser job, but because other hands provided covers for the rest of the run. Talented hands, at that (Carl Burgos, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Harry Anderson), but none of the other Menace covers are a patch on Everett’s mighty half-dozen.
That strange compulsion that’s creeping over you, that ungodly craving for more Bill Everett, cannot quite be slaked without incurring a terrible cost, be it in human lives, the forfeiting of your immortal soul, or both. But do check out my co-admin ds’ earlier tribute to Mr. Everett’s nightmares, Bill Everett’s Restless Nights of Dread, it might tide you over until dawn.
Today, 102 years ago (!), on May 18th, 1917, William Blake Everett came into the world. He did not become a poet like his ancestor William Blake, nor a politician like Richard Everett, another famous forebear, who founded the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. Bill Everett’s father wanted him to become a cartoonist, and his wish came true, though the elder Mr. Everett died long before before the rebellious Bill found his place in the comics industry.
Bill Everett is best known for creating Namor the Sub-Mariner (visit out Tentacle Tuesday: Prince Namor for an overview of this character’s story and adventures… or read The Brilliance of Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner, Marvel’s Superman, a great article from Sequart Magazine), but he also had his hand in the creation of Daredevil and Simon Garth, Zombie. Everett excelled in many genres – superheroes, horror, fantasy, science-fiction – but today, since there are far too many covers to feature, I will force myself to focus on horror. Welcome to the ghoulish gallery of my favourite Bill Everett covers! (They’re not necessarily the goriest or scariest – sometimes it’s a mood of quiet menace or a striking composition that sways me.)
Created by Bill Everett, Namor the Sub-Mariner first appeared in Marvel Comics no. 1 (October 1939). The offspring of a human sea captain and a princess of Atlantis (and thus proudly bearing the title of Prince), he possessed the aquatic talents one expects of a regular merman and the exceptional strength of a carnival strongman. The cool thing about Namor is that right off the bat, he was a rather negative character – to be more precise, he was an Enemy of the United States (Everett didn’t mince words or characters, huh?) As Les Daniels states in his Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics (1991), « Namor was a freak in the service of chaos. Although the Sub-Mariner acted like a villain, his cause had some justice, and readers reveled in his assaults on civilization. His enthusiastic fans weren’t offended by the carnage he created as he wrecked everything from ships to skyscrapers. » This chaos culminated in an epic fight with Human Torch in 1941 when Namor took things a little too far and threatened to inundate the whole island of Manhattan. This little skirmish didn’t prevent him from joining the Allies’ side once World War II started, however, which gave a more constructive outlet for his somewhat destructive energies.
Right from the beginning, the Sub-Mariner was a complex character who just wouldn’t fit into the standard good guy/bad guy dichotomy. He underwent through quite a few transformations, disappearing for a bit right after WWII like many of his super-and-anti hero compatriots (but never for more than a couple of years at a time) and resurfacing during the Silver Age as a slightly different character. Namor’s concern about encroaching technology and hate of humanity, his fierce independence, made him a likeable character for those of us who like mavericks. He is a tragic character, a king without a kingdom who finds that Atlantis and its people have been destroyed by nuclear testing. After that, who wouldn’t hold a grudge? Anyway, if you’d like a more cogent overview of the Sub-Mariner’s history, visit The Great Comic Book Heroes.
To get back on topic, given how much time Namor spends underwater, it’s hardly surprising that he quite frequently encounters tentacles.
First, a story scripted and drawn by Bill Everett – who better to introduce the character than his creator? This is “The Octopus-Men!”, printed in The Human Torch no. 38 (August 1954).
Skipping ahead some twenty years, a page from “Namor Agonistes!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by John Severin, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 38 (June 1971). This is sort of an origin story of the Sub-Mariner. Lovely art, n’est-ce pas?
A page from “When Wakes the Kraken!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Sal Buscema and inked by Mike Esposito, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 27 (July 1970):
Oh, let’s have a couple of covers, too.
I mostly sneer at modern “reboots” of Golden or Silver Age characters, but Namor’s appearance in the excellent Thor the Mighty Avenger (Marvel, 2010) was completely à propos. (The series is a happy union of an absorbing story with great graphics – it’s written by Roger Langridge with art by Chris Samnee.) Here’s a page from “Thursday Morning“, published in Thor the Mighty Avenger no. 5 (December 2010).