Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 27

« Now these men have no need for words… they know! » — Anonymous

Now I won’t claim that Dick Ayers (1924-2014) was all that great an artist. In the early Sixties at Marvel, as an inker of Jack Kirby’s pencils, he was at best neutral, more likely than not to defuse much of the explosive excitement of the King’s pencils*.

However, Ayers’ chief strengths lay elsewhere: it was demonstrated time and time again that he could quickly put together dynamic and easy to parse — don’t laugh, it’s no cakewalk — layouts, and if you paired him with a dominant inker (such as John Severin (on Sgt. Fury) Alfredo Alcala (on Kamandi), Jack Abel (on Freedom Fighters) or Gerry Talaoc (on The Unknown Soldier), you’d get some quite presentable results — and quickly at that. Guys like Ayers should be saluted instead of dismissed, because they were the glue that held the funnybook business together and operating more or less smoothly.

I won’t claim either that Eerie Pubs’ product was anything but shoddy, shlocky goods, but I won’t deny that it can be fascinating… in small doses. While still working for Marvel, Ayers produced a memorable bunch of stories for a pair of former Timely/Atlas colleagues, publisher Myron Fass and editor Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch). This is Ayers’ first published effort for those rascals. It appeared in Horror Tales v.2 no. 1 (Jan. 1970, Eerie Pubs). Brace yourselves!

«… Dick Ayers understood what ‘Carl and Myron’ were asking for and gave it to them in spades. They wanted gore? They got it! Ripped-off limbs, lolling tongues, gouts of blood and oh my… those popping eyes! Ayers’ trademark was the eye-poppin’. Socket just couldn’t contain ’em! » — from Mike Howlett‘s definitive study The Weird World of Eerie Publications (2010, Feral House).

« House of Monsters » is a Grand Guignol remake of « The Castle of Fear », from Weird Mysteries no. 3 (Feb. 1953, Stanley Morse). Read it here! Myron Fass held the rights to a lot of old inventory, so he had the old stories touched up or redrawn, some of them multiple times. Grotesqueness aside, I do prefer the original version. It had a better monster and a stronger ending… but you be the judge!

I came across this saucy bit of Ayers carnage in 1976, in one of the first Eerie Pubs mags to surface following a hiatus imposed by a severe contraction of the black and white horror mag market (thanks, Marvel). At the time, it just seemed like the oddest item: at once something of another, earlier time (it was an all-reprint affair), but also extremely garish in its goriness, even by slack contemporary standards.

Here’s my beat-up original copy of Weird vol. 9 no. 3 (Sept 1976, Eerie Pubs). Cover by Bill Alexander. I didn’t realise at the time that it was a bit of an Eerie’s Greatest Hits collection, so every other Eerie mag subsequently encountered rather paled in comparison.

-RG

*But then, with the splendid exception of Steve Ditko (and that was a waste of precious resources), I’d argue that virtually all of the inkers he was saddled… er, paired with before Joe Sinnott were rather underwhelming.

What! You Call This Cold Weather?

« Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. » ― Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922)

Here’s what happened: I was leafing through Paul C. Tumey‘s splendid comics anthology Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny (2019, The Library of American Comics/IDW) when I came across a wonderful sample of Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (1936-58) wherein the strip’s central figure, Judge Homer Puffle, feeds another boarder a steady line of bull in that grand, booming Baron Munchausen — Captain Geoffrey Spicer-SimsonColonel Heeza Liar Commander McBragg tradition.

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Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (March 17, 1937, King Features).

Of course, it’s all piffle and bunk, but it brought to mind a passage from a favourite article on weather peculiarities in Siberia, Marcel Theroux‘s The Very, Very, Very Big Chill (published in Travel & Leisure in 2000):

« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »

Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.

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This is Astonishing no. 36 (Dec. 1954, Atlas), the title’s penultimate pre-Code issue… not that Atlas ever crossed the line into gruesome. The cover-featured yarn is The Man Who Melted!, an amusing load of utter rubbish you can read here. Cover art by Carl Burgos.

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This is Chamber of Chills no. 10 (May, 1974, Marvel), and most everything’s the same, save for the colour palette and the now-hostile expression on the caveman’s mug.

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And this is also Chamber of Chills no. 10 (July, 1952, Harvey)… the original, whose title Harvey Comics left curbside for Marvel to recycle when they went all kid-friendly in the Comics-code-ruled Silver Age. Cover designed and art-directed by Warren Kremer and illustrated by Lee Elias. For some insight into these collaborators’ working methods on the horror titles, here’s our post on that very topic. Incidentally, what’s up with the hifalutin Lord Byron quote, Harvey folks? This wacky fare is quite plainly fiction… what’s your point? [Read it here.]

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This is Tales of The Unexpected no. 101 (June-July 1968, DC). Layout and pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by George Roussos. Infantino, promoted the previous year to editorial director (he would soon rise to the rank of publisher), brought in the versatile Nick Cardy to serve as his right-hand man on the artistic front; together, they designed all of DC’s covers until both men stepped down in 1975.

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This is House of Mystery no. 199 (February, 1972, DC), illustrating Sno’ Fun! a rare (possibly unique, really) collaboration between Sergio Aragonés (script) and Wally Wood (pencils and inks). Cover designed by Infantino and Nick Cardy, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams and coloured by Jack Adler.

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This is Unexpected no. 142 (Dec. 1972, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 147 (June, 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 150 (Sept., 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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« Hey, look! The critter is frozen whole… it’s in pretty good shape! » Tom Sutton vibrantly sells Joe Gill and Steve Ditko‘s cautionary tale of arctic drilling gone awry, The Ancient Mine. Also in this issue: Steve and Pete Morisi‘s Surprise!, and Gill and Fred Himes’ touching Pipe Dream. This is Haunted no. 37, (Jan., 1974, Charlton), presented by the publisher’s blue-skinned, green-haired answer to Nana Mouskouri, Winnie the Witch.

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« … that face haunts me… was it a man or a beast? » Ah, the Seventies. Left dazed and frazzled by his whirlwind life of slow-mo violence, glamorous excess and substance abuse, not to mention radiation poisoning, the inevitable occurs: The Hulk wanders onto the wrong set, as well as the wrong publisher’s! Against all odds, he handles the rôle with aplomb and commendable gravitas. A page from Gill and Ditko’s The Ancient Mine. Read it here!

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This is Ghosts no. 37 (April, 1975, DC), featuring Luis Dominguez‘s first (or many) cover for the title, a passing of the torch from Nick Cardy, who’d handled nearly every one of the preceding three dozen…. minus two: number 7’s cover was the work of Michael Kaluta and number 16‘s that of Jack Sparling.

Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.

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Mr. Freeze, who first popped up in Batman no. 121 in 1959, initially known as, er… Mr. Zero (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin?) before being revamped and renamed for the mid-60s Batman TV show, a makeover that carried over to the comics, but tragically didn’t include his outfit. This is Detective Comics no. 373 (March, 1968, DC); layout by Infantino, finishes by Irv Novick. [ read it here!]
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…

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Namor goes all First Commandment on some poor Inuits (surely they’ve seen frozen bodies before?), displaying an unseemly level of insecurity for someone of his standing. This recap hails from King Kirby’s sensational feat of deadline rescue on the behalf of a tardy Jim Steranko (to be fair, it was worth the wait). George Tuska‘s inks are a surprisingly good fit! This is Captain America no. 112, Lest We Forget! (April 1969, Marvel). [ read it here!]
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.

-RG