Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 25

« He was offered a sloe gin fizz in a pink frosted glass by a young woman who removed her glass eye and sucked on it while discussing the moral imperatives of the sponge boycott in Brooksville, Florida. » — Harlan Ellison, ‘Neon’.

In 1973, Marvel was trying all sorts of things to bolster its market presence. They even dared to tread where even the venerable Weird Tales had never quite succeeded. The Haunt of Horror was a prose fiction digest that strongly showed its comics roots. It offered a mixture of classic material (Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, a piece by Robert E. Howard) and of contemporary genre practitioners: Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell… featuring a score of illustrations slapped together by Marvel’s less superhero-limited alumni, namely Gene Colan, Mike Ploog, Frank Brunner, Walt Simonson and Dan Green. After two issues, Marvel called the whole thing off, licking its wounds, but soon revived the title as a b&w comics magazine, this time eking out five issues (May 1974 – Jan. 1975) plus a 1977 issue of Marvel Preview.

This is The Haunt of Horror no. 1 (June, 1973), edited by Gerry, no, make that *Gerard* Conway (in full ‘take me seriously, I’m not just a hack comics writer!‘ mode), with a striking cover by Gray Morrow.

As for me, I picked it up for the rare short story by the nonpareil R. A. Lafferty, Ghost in the Corn Crib.

Dan Green‘s illustration for Lafferty’s story.
One of Frank Brunner‘s illustrations for John K. Diomede (alias George Alec Effinger)’s The First Step.
Werewolf by Night originator Mike Ploog didn’t have to stretch far beyond his comfort zone for this illustration for Alfred Angelo Attanasio‘s Loup Garou (french for Werewolf, if you still feel the need to ask).
It’s nigh-impossible to fully scan some these images without destroying the source document, but here’s the opening splash for Haunt of Horror’s publication of Fritz Leiber’s 1943 classic Conjure Wife, adapted in the movies as Night of the Eagle (in the UK) and Burn, Witch, Burn (in the US). Here, a fine, committed but uncredited Gray Morrow pebble board illustration is ‘corrected’ by Marvel’s number two Yes Man (Consulting Editor Rascally Roy Thomas would surely be numero uno), who replaces whichever figure Gray had drawn by an image of Mary Jane Watson, not even bothering with the slightest effort to match the style. John Sr. had gotten plenty of practice ‘fixing’ Kirby and Ditko, so Gray Morrow was just ‘all in a day’s work‘.
Gene Colan was called upon to whip up a few quick pieces for the rest of the feature.
The Haunt of Horror ran just one more issue, graced by a lovely, quite pulpy cover by the nonpareil Frank Kelly Freas, whose efforts Romita Sr. has also seen fit to ‘fix’. See Unknown World of Science-Fiction no. 1 (Jan. 1975). This, however, is The Haunt of Horror no. 2 (Aug. 1973, Marvel). Come to think of it, that evil priest kind of anticipates a latter-day Nicolas Cage, doesn’t he?

In the end, you might say that this short-lived publication is best known for a screwup: indeed, the notoriously disorganized Marvel Bullpen messed up the page order of Harlan Ellison‘s contribution to the first issue, Neon. Never one to let such things slide, Harlan made sure that a correct version was printed in the second issue. Score one for the good guys.


Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 15

« Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. » — Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Look out, Ichabod! Legendary pulp and SF illustrator Frank Kelly Freas does the honours (he was Mad’s prime cover artiste from 1958 to 1962) of taking mascot Alfred E. Neuman‘s goofy gourd for a bumpy ride through the back lanes of Sleepy Hollow.


And here’s a peek at one of Freas’ preliminary versions of the cover. I daresay it’s lovely, but the final rendition is the clear winner. Sometimes the editorial process works just fine!

FreasIchabodPrelimASome of you may recall Freas’ classic cover art for Queen’s News of the World album, back in 1977. That, in fact, was a case of Freas recasting his painting from the October 1953 issue of pulp mag Astounding Science Fiction. Look familiar?

ASFOct53– RG

A MAD dash… outside

And now… for a bit of levity: a few favourite MAD covers.

I’ll start with this by-now-iconic cover, that’s nevertheless worth posting (with proper attribution to artists involved and in high enough resolution to admire the details, two characteristics sadly often absent from stuff posted online). You’ll note I’ve skipped over the first couple of Harvey Kurtzman covers (MAD nos. 1, 3 and 4) – which are amazing but a topic for another conversation.

Mad no. 5, June-July 1953. Cover by Will Elder, colours by Marie Severin. The busty babe is the least interesting character on this cover!

And it’s back to Kurtzman for covers of MAD nos. 6 to 10. Then I’ll disregard the somewhat boring covers, and jump over the Norman Mingo ones, and that brings us to… Frank Kelly Freas! It shall quickly become apparent that I really like his art (guilty as charged). Having started his career at Mad in February 1957, by July 1958 he was the magazine’s official cover artist (his first was MAD no. 40), and painted most of its covers until October 1962.

This one must have been fun to draw. I especially like the three (drunk?) crows singing on Alfred E. Neuman’s left arm. Mad no. 43, December 1958. Cover by Frank Kelly Freas (from an idea by Joe Orlando).

Frank Kelly Freas painted this attractive, colourful cover for the annual More Trash From Mad no. 2, 1959. This cover + Mad labels (you can see some of them here) for 50 cents? Seems like a good deal!

MAD Magazine no. 53 (March, 1960). Looks like there’s a woman about to follow Alfred E. Neuman’s bold cliff-jumping example.. unless she’s the one who pushed him off.

Original art for the cover of Mad no. 55, June 1960. Cover by Frank Kelly Freas. The sides of the weather indicator would be labelled “Fair” and “Foul” on the actual cover, but here you can really admire the detail of Freas’ deft brush. Alfred E. Neuman would be standing under “Fair”, of course, which would mean he’s predicting the weather erroneously… but maybe he’s just a pluviophile.

Another Kelly Freas cover: Mad Magazine no. 58 (October 1960). A summery cover, wouldn’t you say? Look closely and you’ll see that Freas cleverly carved his name onto the bough. Random fact: Freas painted bomber noses during WWII.

MAD no. 62, April 1961.

And to wrap this post up…  a lithograph from the cover of More Trash from MAD no. 1 (1958).

Everything but the kitchen sink (which has been replaced by a barbecue).

Only three of these lithographs were ever published before the production was stopped as a violation of the MAD copyright. The other two are currently in private major MAD Magazine collections. This is the only lithograph done by Kelly Freas of one of his MAD book covers.

For more (not necessarily MAD-related) FKF, go here.

~ ds