« I was already doing a lot of splendid research reading all the books about ghosts I could get hold of, and particularly true ghost stories – so much so that it became necessary for me to read a chapter of Little Women every night before I turned out the light – and at the same time I was collecting pictures of houses, particularly odd houses, to see what I could find to make into a suitable haunted house. » — Shirley Jackson
This one’s from the department of historiated text. What text? “those fiction pieces that nobody read” in comic books, prose pages mandated by the United States Postal Service. The USPS insisted that comic books «… have at least two pages of text to be considered a magazine and qualify for the cheaper magazine postage rates. »
By the Sixties, most of these pages consisted of letters to the editor, but not every company followed this practice. After EC pioneered the letters page idea in the early 1950s, ACG, DC, Archie and Marvel followed suit. But not Dell/Gold Key, Harvey and Charlton.
For its mystery titles, Gold Key naturally opted for a ‘unusual history’ format, enlisting, to provide spot illustrations, veteran cartoonist Joe Certa, best-known for his co-creation of and long run (1955-1968!) on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter and his stylish run on Gold Key’s Dark Shadows comic book series (1969-76). While Certa started out with a pretty mainstream approach, as the Sixties wore on, his style got increasingly angular, spare and expressive. Personally, I love it… but I know it’s not for all palates.
One more? Here’s a favourite from The Twilight Zone no. 42 (Mar. 1972, Western):
If you’ll forgive me the venial but gauche sin of quoting myself… three years ago, I posited:
« Luís Ángel Domínguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day… and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye. »
I found it sadly infuriating that such an important and accomplished artist’s latter-day whereabouts and circumstances were so shrouded in mystery… and largely, it would seem, indifference. The usual story: he didn’t really do superheroes.
Neither Lambiek nor the Grand Comics Database have anything to add on the subject, but a spot of digging turned up that he indeed was still alive until recently, though purportedly afflicted with Alzheimer’s in his waning years. Then I found what may well be his… very basic obituary, placing his date of birth exactly one month off (unsurprisingly, since accounts have long varied) and his date of death as July 1st, 2020, in Miami, FL. Unless something more definitive comes along, it’ll have to do.
I think we can all agree that ninety-six years is a pretty good run, even with the doleful decline near the end. Let’s look back on what’s surely his peak decade in comics, the 1970s. My picks have nothing to do with ‘key’ issues, character débuts or popular crossovers. I’ve judged these on artistic merit, keeping the pernicious influence of nostalgia at arm’s length.
For more Domínguez delights, just click on this link and explore away! I daresay that I only managed to keep it to an even dozen (difficult!) choices because we’ve already spotlighted many of his finest covers.
« There’s something about guitars, they’re just so big, you know what I mean? You’re just like, ‘Ugh!’ It just seems so overwhelming. And the ukulele is, like, the opposite of overwhelming. » — Zooey Deschanel
While the inside artwork also had its charms, the weak link in the chain was the writing. Pedestrian and formulaic, most of its anonymous load was borne by Paul S. Newman, one of the comics industry’s great cranker-outers. And so things ran their humdrum course, even with the arrival of talented DC expatriate Arnold Drake in the early 1970s. I strongly suspect rampant conservatism on the part of the editors, as even normally-compelling authors produced the same generic plots, ground out like under-seasoned sausage.
Then occurred a curious bump in the road: the unheralded, near-anonymous arrival of future Clown College alumnus*Connor Freff Cochran (1954-), who scripted (as Freff, when credited — a rarity at GK) a number of short tales for Gold Key’s anthology titles for a few years (1974-1977). Of those I’ve read, most docilely follow the publisher’s tame editorial formula. But there are exceptions, and they really do stand out. Here’s such a pair, which I’m boldly attributing to Mr. Cochran.
Ahem — sloppy research on Freff’s part:
The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held from spring to autumn of 1915 in San Francisco.
It is therefore highly unlikely that anyone on the American continent would have been plucking a uke, let alone that two random Missouri farmboys would spot a specimen from a distance. Not to mention the fact that the uncredited and unknown artist (no, it’s notBill Molno, dear ignoramuses at the GCD) drew… a plain old guitar. Let’s face it, a banjo or even a mandolin would have made more sense.
In his defense, Freff recalled:
« I absolutely did write “Don’t Play That Ukulele!” But I don’t deserve the ding for the misspelling — that was the letterer’s error, which no one fixed. I will cop to not knowing (in 1975) that the ukulele wasn’t introduced stateside until 1915…but even there the story is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. When I pitched the idea it was a guitar that brought doom down on our unfortunate swain, same as it wound up being drawn. But editor Paul Kuhn thought a ukulele was intrinsically funnier than a guitar, and he’s absolutely right about that. I remember us both giggling over the title when we came up with it. »
At fourteen, he and his family moved to Placentia, California, east of Los Angeles, where he graduated from El Dorado High School a year ahead of the normal schedule. One of his fellow students had combined the words “friend” and “Jeff ” to coin the name “Freff ”— and while at ﬁrst this remained only a nickname, by 1970 he had started signing his artwork that way, as well. Like many artists, Cochran entered the science ﬁction ﬁeld doing “freebie” drawings for fanzines. His ﬁrst paid job were pen and ink drawings for Andrew Porter’s semi-prozine Algol, done in 1972. In the same year he dropped out of Fullerton Junior College after two months of art classes to live on his own. He worked in various ﬁelds to make a living and “The rest was all just self-directed study and experimentation,” he says, adding “as a young pro, just starting out, I was lucky enough to be mentored ever-so-slightly by two of my early faves in the ﬁeld: Kelly Freas and Jack Gaughan. At Kelly Freas’s suggestion Cochran moved to New York in September 1973 and started looking for work as an illustrator.
When that was not forthcoming, Cochran attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College — class of 1974.
In that year he got his ﬁrst big break from Jim Baen, the new editor of Galaxy and If. Baen needed people who would work fast and cheap and put up with being paid late — in other words, the perfect opportunity for beginning artists like Cochran. By this time he was aware that other professional artists and cartoonists were named “Cochran”— and feeling that using his initials “JC” would be presumptuous — the artist in 1976 went to court and legally adopted “Freff ” as his professional nom de brush, and kept it during his years of magazine illustrating. Baen was so taken with the name that he put it on the cover of Cochran’s ﬁrst cover for IF, as if Cochran was an author with a story in the magazine. After that “Freff ” did a lot of work for Baen, primarily interiors in black-and-white. He also did drawings for Cosmos, Isaac Asimov’s SF, and did cover work for publishers such as Dell, Berkley, and Doubleday. Cochran was selected to be one the artists in the special 1975 NASA/Smithsonian Artists Tour. After early success illustrating Zelazny’s “Amber” novels for Galaxy, followed by cover art and interior illustrations for a set of hardcover novels by Zelazny for Gregg Press in the early 1980s, Cochran became disgruntled over nonpayment for the use of his art in foreign editions of John Varley’s novel Titan, for which he had done a frontispiece and 16 illustrations—and the argument led to the end of Cochran’s illustrating in the ﬁeld.
He turned to other endeavors, but brieﬂy “dipped a toe back into the waters by collaborating on the ﬁrst (and only) issue of an SF comic book called D’Arc Tangent” in 1982–1983. He did inking and penciling for DC and Marvel comics: Star Trek** and Tomb of Dracula***.
And here’s the uncredited, utterly batty Tender Feelings, recognizably illustrated by another hardworking Argentine, José Delbo. It saw print in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 53 (Apr. 1974, Gold Key).
Part of my reasoning for attributing authorship of Tender Feelings to Freff is his penchant for light, deftly humorous tales that conclude with several characters meeting dismal ends. Churrr...
But… nope. The mystery of this mordant little tale remains whole. Freff helpfully eliminated himself as a suspect, and proposed some intriguing leads:
« I can’t take credit for “Tender Feelings.” I certainly wish I could, since it’s a delightful mashup/piss-take on DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man-Thing. But nope — not me.
The publication date I find online for that story is April 1974. But Gold Key titles usually hit the stands a month ahead of the printed date, and editors Wally Green and Paul Kuhn liked to have a solid backlog of finished stories on hand. That puts the likely writing window for “Tender Feelings” somewhere around August 1973, which means there’s a chance that “Tender Feelings” was written by Len Wein himself. Len did a lot of uncredited Gold Key stories, starting around 1969, but he stopped in late summer 1973. It would have been absolutely in keeping with his sense of humor to write something like “Tender Feelings” as a happy sendoff for himself.
My best second guess after that would be John David Warner…though if I really had to bet, I’d bet on Len. In any case, whoever did it was lightyears better than the usual Gold Key writer. Glad to see them get this recognition. »
*Class of ’74. As Freff himself stated: « The Really Famous Guy from our session was Bill Irwin, who went on to a great stage, TV, and film career, and was the first performer to win a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.) I did originally intend to apply for the ’73 class, but I learned about it too late to make that year’s deadline. So I went to NYC instead to pursue art, while waiting for my next chance to roll around.. »
***a pair of frontispiece illustrations in Tomb of Dracula (the magazine, that is: six issues, published Oct. 1979 – Aug. 1980); he also conducted a fine interview with Stephen King, published in issues 4 and 5 of TOD. Freff provides some illumination: « plus the framing graphics for the magazine’s title/table of contents page, plus I got to ink a bunch of ads for the magazine. The one I know they used involved inking Gene Colan’s pencils, which was hella fun and a childhood dream come true. I grew up on Gene’s work in DAREDEVIL, DOCTOR STRANGE, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL, etc, and he was easily as big an influence on my visual thinking as people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, or Jim Steranko. (I got to achieve another childhood comics dream when I got to re-pencil, ink, and color a Curt Swan drawing for the October 1988 cover of KEYBOARD magazine.)
I did a lot more writing than artwork at Marvel, but most of it was nonfiction material in their b&w magazines — 100+ articles for PLANET OF THE APES, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU, CELEBRITY, NOSTALGIA ILLUSTRATED, THE TOMB OF DRACULA, etc. »
Todd Franklin of Neato Coolville has actually transformed this cover into a groovy wallpaper (go to his website to download the high-res version).
That previous cover has borderline tentacles, I agree, but the completist in me insisted on its inclusion. Also, it’s entertaining.
A beautiful cover this may be, but the insides are distinctly underwhelming. The title story, It Lurks by Moonlight, is scripted by Don Glut and illustrated by Filipino artist Jesse Santos, who seemed like a likable artist with a wide-ranging career… but his art is not my cup of tea.
The painting lost something in detail (a lot, actually) when it was made into a cover… this is more what it originally looked like:
« Spine-chilling tales of suspense, horror, and the supernatural—prepare yourself for Adventures into the Unknown! »
This American Comics Group (ACG) entry is generally considered the first title fully committed to the supernatural genre in the history of US comics. And this arresting, Isle of the Dead-styled tableau graces the cover of the title’s second issue (December, 1948). Art by Edvard Moritz. Most of the stories were scripted by horror legend and H.P. Lovecraft disciple Frank Belknap Long (read his The Hounds of Tindalos and forfeit your soul!) Speaking of which, the entire issue’s contingent of chills and thrills is available right here for your pleasure and leisure.
Today’s tentacle adventure brings us a bounty of Gold Key covers.
And just to offset all the cartoony, cutesy stuff, here’s a cover featuring an epic struggle, a life-or-death situation, a decisive skirmish between Man and Beast. (I’ll let you guess which is which, though.)
Ahoy, landlubbers! Today’s Tentacle Tuesday goes back to the good ol’ days of nautical journeys, ships crushed by mighty tentacles, and brave men who end their lives as snacks for the mighty cephalopod.
Speaking of the Sargasso Sea (frequently depicted in fiction as a perilous area where ships go to die, mired in Sargassum seaweed, unable to escape), here’s another vignette about that mysterious spot. Incidentally, it is the only sea that doesn’t have land boundaries, enclosed by the Gulf Stream on the west side, the Canary Current on the east, the North Atlantic Current on the North and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current on the South. No wonder people thought it was full of mystery and danger! Even I, more or less immune to the siren’s call of wild maritime adventure, feel a little thrill at its mention. *Ahem* back to comics.
As is often the case, the original painting has a lot more detail than the printed version:
What does this peculiar, one-eyed beast look like closer up, one might ask? Something like this:
The sea can bring many (other) strange things, including a sword-wielding octopus… who should have stayed in the water, where he had the home advantage, instead of attempting to wage battle on sort-of land.
« Are all your projects this dangerous, Dr. Solar? »
Dateline: 1962. Printer-packager Western Publishing had just dealt its biggest client, Dell Comics, its slow death sentence (by mutual agreement, it is diplomatically claimed), though Dell should have seen it coming: for decades, Western Publishing Co. had « secured the rights, created the comics, printed them and shipped them out for Dell. Dell acted as the publisher and distributor and did the billing and paid Western for its creatively manufactured products*. » In 1962, Western cut out the middleman and launched its Gold Key imprint (1962-1984.)
Enter, briefly, revolutionary illustrator Richard M. Powers (1921-1996), who successfully wed representational and abstract art for his paperback covers of the 50s and 60s, bringing science-fiction visuals an unprecedented visual maturity. Don’t merely take my word for it: treat your peepers to a gander at his work. You may well find that you know it already.
So far so good, right? And then… we may never know exactly what transpired, but I assume that some art director at Western Publishing chose to second-guess Mr. Powers… smothering the tonal and compositional balance of his painting (« can’t… bear… negative space! »), and likely depriving the outfit of Powers’ further services. He was at his peak, was being offered assignments than he could hope to fulfill, assignments surely more lucrative and friction-free. He wisely scooted along.
The printed version:
And the tale might have ended there, but here’s the curveball: in the mid-to-late Seventies, Powers provided the fading publisher with a pair of gorgeous, but seldom-seen cover paintings.
See what I mean?
If memory serves, my own Powers epiphany took place in the autumn of 1982, in Lennoxville, a small college town in the Eastern Townships of Québec. There was this little bookstore… and its fine selection of 60s horror and science-fiction paperbacks, priced in the 35-to-50-cents range. The kind of place book lovers dream about stumbling upon, and wake up dismayed to find themselves in the real world… empty-handed.
My favourite (inside and out) of the lot I picked up that day? Fritz Leiber’s Night’s Black Agents (June 1961, Ballantine Books). If you’ve had a similar thrill of discovery with Powers’ art, please do tell us about it!
« What’s that noise comin’ up from the cellar? It’s the restless bones of Boris and Bela* »
It’s a cinch that William Henry Pratt, back when he was eking out a living in Canada, digging ditches or driving a truck, never suspected that his name, his stage name that is, would still elicit shivers of recognition long after his passing. Here we are, a whole hundred and thirty years past his birth, in Camberwell, South London, on Wednesday, November 23, 1887.
From his ascent to stardom in the early 1930s until his passing in 1969, he certainly lived to see his likeness appear in a bewildering array of toys and games and bedsheets and mugs and a zillion knicknacks and gewgaws, a parade that continues to this day. But he was likely never represented more consistently and abundantly than he was in comic books.
Here’s a gallery of cover highlights from Gold Key Comics’ long-running Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery (95 issues, 1962-80).
« These computer cards are wonderful… almost as if they were alive! They tell me everything! » Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 62 (July 1973). Luis Angel Dominguez‘s painted cover depicts a scene from Arnold Drake‘s witty It’s in the Cards.
Let’s reserve our closing words for the man (monster) himself: « Certainly I was typed. But what is typing? It is a trademark, a means by which the public recognizes you. Actors work all their lives to achieve that. I got mine with just one picture. It was a blessing. »
« I hope I will not be accused of undue vanity if I publicly thank Mr. Addams for immortalizing me in the person of the witch’s butler, to say nothing of the rather hairy gentleman whose clothes are strangely cut and who appears to subsist on a diet of bananas. » — Boris Karloff, from his foreword to the Addams collection Drawn and Quartered (Random House, 1942)
At the risk of being obvious, the ghoulish wit of Charles Addams brings us Hallowe’en on any old day of the year… but it’s no reason to take him for granted when the proper season slinks into view. Here’s a small selection of favourites. I’ve noticed that many latter-day collections have been plagued by terrible reproduction (heads should roll for that particular crime against art!), so I’ve gone back to the original collections in my library. Enjoy, fiends!