Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 26

« 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.

This one appeared in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 17 (Mar. 1967, Western); « It was more than two centuries ago when the monstrous creature known simply as ‘the Beast’ appeared in the province of Auvergne, in France. » Perhaps you’ve seen the action-packed, *slightly* fictionalised cinematic account of the events, 2001’s Le pacte des loups, aka Brotherhood of the Wolves.
This one’s from Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 28 (Dec. 1969, Western); « When Gustave Labahn appeared in Munich, Germany in 1890, he was indeed a man of mystery. Nothing was known of his except that he was tall, lithe and powerful, with strangely hypnotic eyes, and a possessor of unlimited wealth. »
This one, from Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 28 (Dec. 1969, Western) states: « He was a man of a hundred names and countless identities. No one knew his true origin. It was said he was descended from an evil medieval warlock. Others said he was a reincarnation of the Count de St-Germain… a man who claimed to be more than 2,000 years old. He called himself Raoul Plessy, but his followers he was known as La bête… The Beast. »
Appearing in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 50 (Oct. 1973, Western), this one concerns the 1793 murder of French revolution leader Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday. Exceptionally, the art on this one is the work of John Celardo, a lovely, delicate composition.
One from Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 5 (Aug. 1972, Western). The cat’s name is Satan, we are told.
From Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 8 (Feb. 1968, Western), this piece tells the story of a coffin that found its way home to one of my favourite places, Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Here’s a more sober account of the legend.
From Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 15 (Feb. 1968, Western), this one concerns the purported haunting of Scotland’s Meggernie Castle.
A cozy one from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 21 (Aug. 1970, Western): « In the northeastern corner of Mississippi, near the town of Aberdeen, lies a stretch of deserted country road which has lately become known as one of the most haunted spots in the United States. »
A great drawing from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 41 (July 1973, Western); The text opens with « Ash Manor House in Sussex, England, was over six hundred years old when bought in 1934 by a man named Keel. Mr. Keel did not believe in ghosts. Neither did his attractive wife. »
This hails from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 42 (Aug. 1973, Western). The piece recounts anecdotes about such thespians as Burl Ives, Jackie Gleason, Rudolph Valentino and our beloved Vincent Price.
And here are a couple of samples of full pieces to give you an idea of how they looked in print. This thoroughly seasonal one saw print in Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 6 (Nov. 1972, Western).

One more? Here’s a favourite from The Twilight Zone no. 42 (Mar. 1972, Western):

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 10

« Cry, you little monsters! » — Otto Preminger

I’ve always had a soft spot for Gold Key’s The Little Monsters, who dwell within a cleverly designed and unaccountably comforting, topsy-turvy world; we’ve featured them back in the third edition of this countdown. This entry, however, isn’t strictly a return visit: I’ll be focussing on the back pages of ‘Orrible Orvie and Awful Annie’s antics. Last year, I picked up an issue I’d been missing, and was delighted with a surprise section, which I’ll happily share with our readers.

This is The Little Monsters no. 5 (July, 1966, Gold Key). Cover artist unknown, sigh.

What do you say we take a peek at that Extra Bonus Book of Monster Jokes?

Another uncredited, unacknowledged and unknown artist. Why, thank you, Gold Key!

… and there you have it, and you didn’t even have to destroy a comic book (preferably someone else’s) to assemble it. The jokes are corny — what did you expect? — but I can’t help but find the whole thing quite adorable. Sometimes that’s precisely what one needs.

As a bonus, here I am holding the piece of Little Monsters original art (Page 2 from issue no. 12’s ‘Stormy Weather‘) I was fortunate enough to get my mitts on. Back in the day, comic book artists worked *large*!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 4

« I don’t know that there are real ghosts and goblins, But there are always more trick-or-treaters than neighborhood kids. » — Robert Breault

Here’s a page from The Western Publishing Company‘s 1970 Golden Memo Calendar, from the brush of skillful Canadian illustrator Mel Crawford (1925-2015).

What’s that? You’re not familiar with Mr. Crawford’s name? Well, perhaps his work will ring a bell. Take a look at some of his œuvre through this fine overview by historian Ivan Kocmarek.

In this case, Crawford was obviously instructed to hew closely to the style of Richard Scarry (my very first artistic hero!), who’d illustrated the earliest editions of the Golden Calendar.

For some sense of Crawford’s range, here’s an episode of Professor Harbinger, a speculative ‘science’ backup feature that regularly appeared in Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. This, the inaugural vignette, saw print in the magazine’s second issue (Dec. 1962, Gold Key). It was scripted by the prolific Dick Wood; Crawford must have enjoyed the feature, as he stuck around to illustrate its first dozen or so instalments. He was succeeded by fellow Ontarian Win Mortimer.

It’s what’s happening, all right, but not for the stated reason.

-RG

Luis Domínguez (1923-2020): A Farewell in Twelve Covers

« Painting is the art of hollowing a surface. » — Georges Seurat

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.

First, a little biographical background! This helpful piece appeared in the pages of Eerie no. 44 (Dec. 1972, Warren), which also boasted a Domínguez cover… albeit reproduced too small.
The folks at Warren were apparently first in North America to recognise and call upon of señor Domínguez’s masterly painting skills. This is Famous Monsters no. 93 (Oct. 1972, Warren).
My personal favourite of his too-few Warren covers, this is Eerie no. 43 (Nov. 1972, Warren).
While Luís had been steadily working on the insides of Gold Key comics since 1967, it wasn’t until 1974 that they gave him a crack at a cover. That was either this one, Space Family Robinson no. 40 or Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 55, both cover-dated July, 1974… (incidentally, the GCD misattributes to him several of his colleague George Wilson‘s paintings).
DC hardly ever used painted covers, but they did keep Domínguez busy as a cover artist. I assure you, this ambitiously-muted cover must have been a printer’s nightmare. This is The Phantom Stranger no. 32 (Sept. 1974, DC), a great issue that features Arnold Drake and (returning to the Stranger after a 27-issue absence!) Bill Draut‘s It Takes a Witch! and a gorgeous Michael FleisherNestor Redondo Black Orchid backup.
This is House of Secrets no. 125 (Nov. 1974, DC). For once, Domínguez also illustrates the cover-featured story, E. Nelson Bridwell‘s Catch as Cats Can!
Then of course, Marvel soon after got in on the act. This is Dracula Lives no. 9 (Nov. 1974, Marvel). I would have picked the even better previous issue, but I’ve already featured it, so you get to enjoy both!
The printed version of this piece, featured as the cover of UFO Flying Saucers no. 5 (Feb. 1975, Gold Key) pales in comparison with the surviving original art, so that was an easy choice.
This issue’s original art also survived, and seeing both versions is most instructive as an insight into production manager Jack Adler’s methods. This is House of Mystery no. 235 (Sept. 1975, DC), and the original can be viewed here. As an aside, this issue’s The Spawn of the Devil, written by Maxene Fabe and drawn by Ramona Fradon, is the only DC horror story I ever found scary. Perhaps editor Joe Orlando should have hired women more often!
Another one whose printed version fails on the reproduction front, this is Mighty Samson no. 31 (Mar. 1976, Gold Key), the title’s final issue. Let’s again rejoice at the original art’s survival!
This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 94 (Sept. 1979, Gold Key); I hold that Dominguez’ three finest consecutive covers came near the end of Gold Key’s Karloff anthology and, wouldn’t you know it? … we have already featured the other two. You’ll find issue 92 here, and issue 93 (and its original art) in one of ds’ posts, which also showcases another top-flight contender, which I couldn’t use for reason of… tentacles, Dagar the Invincible no. 11.
This is The Comics Journal no. 56 (Fantagraphics, May 1980). According to masthead notes, « Luís Dominguez’s painting was originally scheduled for the fourth issue of DC’s Digest Comic, “Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales“, but the title was cancelled with no. 3. » The magazine’s larger size certainly affords us a better view of this richly detailed scene.
And as bonus, this mysterious, undated, possibly unpublished cover painting to Edgar Allan Poe‘s famous tale. Acrylic on board, 36 x 50 cm (14″ x 20″). The corners confirm that Domínguez worked from dark to light (which largely accounts for his marvellously luminous colours) and faint lines (on this and other works) indicate that he used a grid to scale up his preliminary sketches accurately.

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.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Squeaks and Quacks From the House of Mouse

Eventually I accumulate enough material that posts bleed into other posts, sort of like a melting blueberry puddle gradually makes it way into the nooks and crannies of every object in its path on the counter (that happened recently, thus the very specific analogy). In this case, the blueberry juice is Uncle Scrooge et al., who have already appeared in Tentacle Tuesday: Duck Feathers!. Today our emphasis is more on Mickey Mouse, but I can’t promise other Disney characters won’t wander in for a cup of tea (or a quick tussle with an octopus).

As a matter of fact, my usual habit of arranging images in chronological order starts this post on a distinctly un-Mickey-like note…

The following sequence is from Ghost of the Grotto (written and illustrated by Carl Barks), published in Four Color no. 159 – Donald Duck in The Ghost of the Grotto (August 1947, Dell). You can read the full issue here.

Okay, I promised Mickey Mouse, so I’d better get back on topic!

Page from The Phantom Ship, scripted by Carl Fallberg and illustrated by Paul Murry; it was published in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories vol. 25 no. 3 (December 1964, Gold Key).

Speaking of the aforementioned Paul Murry – I bet you have never seen an octopus adorned with quite so many bracelets.

Mickey Mouse no. 159 (October 1975, Gold Key). The cover is by Paul Murry.

Now we step into the dubious territory of European Disney comics – don’t forget to read about co-admin RG’s enjoyably scathing views on the subject here.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge Adventures no. 12 (April 1989, Gladstone). Does anybody recognize the cover artist?

The following story, credited as ‘story and art: the Egmont Group, script: John Cochran, colour: Scott Rockwell’, was published in Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse no. 4 (March 1996, Gladstone). You can read the full issue here.

I’ll wrap up by going back to the top, which is to say finishing on as high a note as this post started on. Carl Barks, ladies and gentlemen!

Wishing you happy undersea adventures… until next Tuesday rolls around!

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Flash Gordon, Space Opera Saviour

« When I was a young writer if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers. » Ray Bradbury

We’ve talked about newspaper strip Flash Gordon in Tentacle Tuesday: Lurkers in the Newsprint, and now it’s time for its comic book version! Although I normally have very little interest in FG, this is no second-rate Tentacle Tuesday: there is some prime tentacular material to be enjoyed.

We first concern ourselves with the Flash Gordon Charlton Comics run, which picked up the count where King Comics had left it in 1967. From 1969 until 1970, Charlton published issues 12 to 18, all of which but the first had glorious covers and cover stories by Pat Boyette, an absolute WOT favourite ( you can visit co-admin RG’s Pat Boyette — Hillbilly Makes Good* for a deeper exploration of his career).

The cover of issue 14 has an octopus shortage (a serious flaw affecting many, many comic book covers!), but the monster o’nine-tentacled-tails the ’emotionless killers’ encounter is a beauty. The following page is also a good example of Boyette’s imaginative page layouts, in which things are kept dynamic, but never engender confusion about who is doing what and to whom.

Page from Rancor and the Seven Shadows of Flash Gordon, scripted by Bill Pearson and illustrated by Pat Boyette, was published in Flash Gordon no. 14 (June 1969).

Then we come to a real bevy of Boyette tentacles a few issues later –

Flash Gordon no. 17 (Charlton, November 1969). Cover by Pat Boyette.

The Creeping Menace, the cover story, is scripted by Joe Gill and illustrated by Pat Boyette. I am including two pages (and a panel) because it’s too difficult to choose between them – all boast the aforementioned dynamic layouts and striking tentacles.

Isn’t this a lovely, stylish panel? I want it on a t-shirt.

The publishing history of comic-book Flash Gordon was an interesting relay race: Gold Key Comics resumed the run with issue 19 (1978), and kept it up until issue 27 (1979); finally, issues 28 to 37 were published under its Whitman imprint between 1980 and 1982. The latter category offers two tentacled covers, and some inside goodies.

Original art (sadly by an unknown artist) for the cover of Flash Gordon no. 29 (Whitman, May 1980).

The cover story The Deadly Depths is scripted by John Warner and illustrated by Carlos Garzón. Oh, this thing is not hostile… just hungry.

The last Whitman issue also is of some interest, though on the cover Flash looks like he’s fighting caterpillars with an martini olive for a head.

Flash Gordon no. 37 (Whitman, March 1982). Cover by Gene Fawcette.

Cover story My Friend, My Killer! is scripted by George Kashdan and illustrated by Gene Fawcette and features cute serpent plants that look like they’re wearing little hula skirts.

And that concludes our tour of Flash Gordon tentacles in the Silver Age (and with some forays into Bronze).

🌱 ds

The Truth About UFOs: The Hoaxmaster Knows — and Tells All!

« I have argued flying saucers with lots of people. I was interested in possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it’s possible or not but whether it’s going on or not. » — Richard P. Feynman

While the UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) mania has arguably continued unabated for the past three-quarters of a century, kicked off in 1947 by the Kenneth Arnold sighting and, of course, the so-called Roswell incident, the phenomenon hit its peak of popularity and hysteria in the 1960s and 1970s, when all things occult, bizarre and otherworldly were all the rage across all media.

You can follow the rising pitch with the publishing frequency of Gold Key’s UFO Flying Saucers: after its premiere issue hits the stands in 1968, two full years elapsed until the second, then another two until the third… and again to the fourth. It’s fair to presume that the title had been intended as a one-shot, and that encouraging sales led the way to a regular, if sparse schedule. Then the pace picked up after issue four (Nov. 1974), and so ten issues appeared in the span of just over three years. There was a brief hiatus, a retitling to UFO & Outer Space and a further dozen issues saw print, two of them reprints. By late 1979, the series sputtered to a halt.

They may not have been to everyone’s taste, but Gold Key comics provided their audience with a soothing respite and change of pace from Marvel’s endless manic brutality and insipid crossovers. Even amidst the GK line, UFO Flying Saucers stood out. It did a stellar job of covering the flying saucer craze of the Cold War years, thanks to a sober, documentary-style narrative tone and strong artwork, led by Frank Bolle, who fit the template to a T. The tone was surprisingly even-handed (far more so than most modern media; j’accuse, History Channel!) They even tossed a scrumptious pinch of skepticism into the mix now and again, and it’s this delicacy that we’ll be sampling.

The modern skeptical* movement was spearheaded by the 1952 publication of mathematician and science writer Martin Gardner‘s fascinating In the Name of Science (thereafter better known as Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science), answering the need for an organised response to a (still) rising tide of irrationality, superstition and scientific illiteracy. When UFO Flying Saucers introduced its series featuring The Hoaxmaster, the skeptics’ flagship publication, The Skeptical Inquirer, was still a couple of years away from being launched. That auspicious occasion came in the fall of 1976, under its original title of The Zetetic: Journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

The introduction of The Hoaxmaster, from UFO Flying Saucers no. 4 (Nov. 1974, Gold Key).
And such fakery has only become far, far easier… from UFO Flying Saucers no. 6 (May 1975, Gold Key).
Ah, that John and Marsha/Marcia routine never gets old! From UFO Flying Saucers no. 7 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key).
Mr. Bolle provided just one cover to the series, and while it’s hardly the best one, it certainly stands out amidst the lot. Again, this is UFO Flying Saucers no. 7 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key).
Say, what have we here? Could it be… fake news? From UFO Flying Saucers no. 8 (Nov. 1975, Gold Key).

Sadly, The Hoaxmaster series bears no writing credit. The only writer ever credited in the title is Western Publications staffer Patricia Fortunato, a former story editor of The Golden Magazine. If that’s your work, Pat, take a bow!

In comparison, artist identification is a cinch: the steady hand of Frank Bolle, who left us just last year, at the most venerable age of 95, is instantly recognizable. Artistically active right to the wire, he drew the final leg (1999-2015) of soap opera comic strip Apartment 3-G‘s 54-year-run. Over the course of his singularly long career, he worked for just about every comics publisher… and then some! His reliable proficiency at providing just the right tone to illuminate that delicate borderline between science fact and science fiction made him the ideal choice to adapt John Christopher‘s early young adult post-apocalyptic The Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire), serialised in Boys’ Life magazine in the 1980s. Check it out here!

Well, that’s roughly half of the Hoaxmaster strips. If you’d like to see the rest, let us know… I can probably time it with the next edition of World Contact Day. To sign off on a musical note, here’s its catchy, Canadian-made anthem. Remember, “we are your friends“.

-RG

*as opposed to ‘denialism’, of course. It’s a crucial distinction: know the difference!

At Last… Freff Speaks!

« Only times and places, only names and ghosts. »Aldous Huxley

Last November, after we spotlighted a pair of mid-70s Gold Key gems I had presumed to be the brainchildren of Connor Freff Cochran (as it turned out, I was only half right; see my revised original post), we heard from the gentleman himself (and I don’t use the term lightly), who generously shared with us his sharp recollections and insights. Once you’ve read them, I’m confident that you’ll agree that such goods would have been squandered as mere comments at the bottom of a post.

So I’ve picked out another Freff favourite to feature, which will be followed by the author’s commentary.

But first, let us set the stage through a bit of autobiography and an inestimable glimpse into the 1970s publishing scene.

Here’s the skinny. Heeding a suggestion Kelly Freas had made to me eight months earlier, I moved to New York City right after Labor Day 1973. (It was a two-step process. First I hitchhiked from San Francisco to Toronto for that year’s Worldcon, then I caught a ride the rest of the way to NYC from there.) I was six weeks away from turning 19, and gung-ho to launch a career as a professional cover artist and illustrator. I also wanted to work in comics, and thought the best way to break in and learn the ropes was to start as an inker. On the comics side I took my portfolio around to Marvel, DC, Gold Key, and Warren. On the book/magazine side, I went to any publisher where I could land an appointment.

It was not a stellar launch. My portfolio was full of SF convention art show pieces, some semi-prozine illustrations, and a handful of two-toned small press book covers. It wasn’t bad stuff, but it was certainly not well-targeted to the people I was trying to impress. A couple of magazines did pay me for spot illustrations. Jim Baen — brand-new managing editor at GALAXY and IF — liked my stuff, but he wasn’t in charge of art assignments. As for my attempt to break into comic inking, that was a complete washout. There was a paper shortage on, and because of publishing cutbacks there wasn’t enough work for established inkers, let alone a newbie like me. Marvel did give me a bunch of pencil Xeroxes to do vellum samples over…but I was a pen inker, not a brush guy, and pen inking wasn’t the Marvel house look in 1973. I did get to know and hang around with a bunch of people in the company, but I didn’t get any work there.

At Gold Key, though…

At Gold Key, Wally Green looked at my portfolio and said “We don’t need any more artists. But we do need writers. Can you write?” Years later I learned that Wally was trying to plug the production hole created when Len Wein stopped scripting for him. Most likely he put that same question to every stranger who walked through the door. In the moment, though, all I knew was that I’d be an idiot to say anything but yes. Wally then introduced me to his second-in-command, Paul Kuhn. Paul handed over some sample issues of TWILIGHT ZONE, and told me to come back when I had a five-page script to show him. A few days later I brought in a story called “The Stand-In”, which was read and bought on the spot. Thus did my accidental writing career begin. This was in early October 1973. At the beginning of 1974 I did the math and decided to quit my 9-5 job, because by then I was making more from three days per month of Gold Key scripting (at the princely sum of $10 per page) than my fulltime gig was generating. I’ve been self-employed ever since.

I wrote for GRIMM’S GHOST STORIES, RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT, BORIS KARLOFF TALES OF MYSTERY, TWILIGHT ZONE, DARK SHADOWS (for a different editor, Denise Van Lehr), ADAM-12, and even one issue of Gold Key’s STAR TREK. Roughly once a month Paul would agree to a pitch session. I’d bring 10-15 different story ideas with me, knowing I needed to sell at least five to meet my monthly minimum nut (which was low, since I lived in a 7’ x 12’ fifth-floor walkup room on the West Side that rented for $50). Paul would listen intently, but he couldn’t look me in the face most of the time because he had a permanent spastic tic in his neck. Inevitably he would reject all but a couple of ideas, at which point I had to invent more on the spot and talk him into buying them. It was GREAT story development training.

Paul had an eidetic memory for every damn comic book Gold Key had ever published, which was its own kind of problem. This is a real exchange we once had:

Paul: I don’t know…

Me: Paul —

Paul (shouting through the open door to Wally, in the next-over office): Hey, Wally! Freff has an idea for an art museum guard ghost story. Didn’t we do a museum guard ghost story, what, nine years ago?

Wally: I think so.

Paul: Sorry, Freff. That’s out. What else have you got?

Me: Paul, your readers are eight years old. They weren’t even born when that other story was published! And anyway, it’s an ART museum guard ghost story. What kind of museum was it last time?

Paul: History.

Me: So no art.

Paul: Okay, I’ll think about it.

(He did…and still passed on the idea.)

And here’s our featured tale: Charm of the British, first published in Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 22 (March 1975, Gold Key).

Before I return the floor to Freff, it bears mentioning that this tale was illustrated by Argentine cartoonist José Delbo (born in 1933 and still among us), then on the cusp of a five-year run on DC’s Wonder Woman. Delbo was quite recently in the news for the astonishing windfall he received from a crypto artwork auction. In these uncertain times, what 87-year-old on a fixed income couldn’t use an extra million to top up his or her nest egg?

While I confess I’ve never quite warmed up to most of Delbo’s DC work (his inkers did him no favours), I do have a soft spot for his solid run on Charlton’s Billy the Kid (1966-74!), I dug his deft comic touch on Dell’s The Monkees, and let’s not forget his inspired work on the real ‘weird western tales’ series, Charlton’s gonzo Geronimo Jones (1971-72).

I hear James Mason as the British Ambassador. How about you?

And now, with a first-hand account of its genesis, Mr. Connor Freff Cochran!

The publication date of the issue with “Charm of the British” was March 1975. Gold Key comics typically hit the stand a month sooner than the official date, so that makes this a February 1975 release. From that, and some internal clues, I can narrow the writing window down to the first three weeks of September 1974.

I’d been away from NYC all the previous summer, living in Champaign-Urbana, IL, where I was self-training just in case my application to that year’s Ringling Brothers Clown College was accepted. I finally got word that I’d made it when I arrived at the World SF Convention, which was held over Labor Day weekend in Washington, DC. (One day later I went out for Chinese food and got a fortune cookie that read “You will visit a strange place and find fresh work.”) The Clown College started on September 23rd and ran for just over two months, during which time I would be unable to do any paying freelance work. So between the end of WorldCon and flying to Venice, FL on 9/22, I crammed in every job I possibly could – which included selling and writing as many Gold Key stories as I usually did in three or four months. Wally Green and Paul Kuhn knew I would be unavailable until late November/early December at the soonest, so they did something they hadn’t done with me before, and built up inventory.

“Charm of the British” was one of those inventory pieces. It paid $60 (my page rate for scripting was $10), and looking back I have no idea what the exact trigger for the idea was. Most likely it was improvised during a pitch & sell session with Paul. Those were always insane. The typical structure: I’d come in once a month with 8-10 ideas, knowing that I needed to sell five or six to guarantee my monthly budget. Paul would say yes to one or two and reject the rest. At which point the improv would begin, with me inventing more stories on the spot while he tried to get me to leave… something I would only do after getting him to say yes as many times as needed. I was 19 years old, and it was great training for a creative future. 

The title’s a minor bit of wordplay, of course – “charm” as in magic and manners, both.

Grimm  always had to have jokey intro and outro lines for each story. The outro on this one wasn’t anything to be proud of, but all these years later I’m still happy with the punny “shades” (of the Boston Tea Party) in the intro.

These were stories for young kids, so you couldn’t go into detail about anything. But I did enjoy slipping in as many real Revolutionary War references as I could, both direct (namechecking Paul Revere) and indirect (referencing Revere’s profession by having my lead character ask for “the good silver” in the first panel). “I won’t be judging without representation anymore” is obviously a riff on “no taxation without representation.” No child who read this comic book was ever going to remember it years later, when they encountered the real phrase in some history class, but maybe a bit of subconscious memory would help the knowledge stick, you know? In any case I enjoyed playing with all these references.

Page 2, panel 2: I absolutely did NOT write that unnecessary “Why, No!” Either Paul or Wally or the letterer added that. Didn’t make sense to me then, and makes no sense to me now. Similarly, the “Thinks they he can come in…” in panel 4 on that page is definitely an editing/letterer goof. I wrote “Thinks he can come in…” 

As usual, my character names referenced friends, sometimes combined with private jokes. Fan friends Eli Cohen and Susan Wood had begun dating recently, so I named the house owners “Eli and Susan Wood” (though all reference to the name “Susan” somehow vanished in the editing process). Susan eventually became one of the major academic names in the science fiction field, before she sadly passed, much too young, in 1980. Our visiting British Ambassador got the name of a junior high school friend of mine who had spent a lot of his childhood growing up in Europe. These days he’s a partner with the law firm of Thompson Coburn LLP, in St. Louis. Revolutionary War ghost Nathaniel Emerson is a combination of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson (they were neighbors in Concord, MA for a time), with a sideways nod to NYC fan David Emerson. David had recently shared an apartment with Eli Cohen, so it amused me to have an “Emerson ghost” hanging around to haunt an Eli living space…

Looking back from today, it amuses me to think of Outlander’s evil British soldier “Black Jack Randall” and his nice-guy modern descendant, who both have the same face. It’s a neat coincidental lineup with my evil British soldier “Black Jack” Ryder and his nice-guy, same-face descendant.

Overall… confronted with this story after nearly 50 years, I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s got some nice lines, it turns in unexpected directions, and none of the characters are idiots (though they are all amazingly blasé about spectral appearances). I can imagine the Ambassador and the ghost of Nathaniel Emerson becoming the best of friends, making regular visits back and forth across the Pond… and hanging out together in the afterlife when the Ambassador finally dies from eating one too many diplomatic desserts.

Alternatively, of course, there’s a story to be written about the Ambassador coming home to England and being haunted by Black Jack’s ghost, who is appalled that any descendant of his would make nice with Yankee riffraff like Nathaniel…

Again, my heartfelt and slightly befuddled gratitude to Mr. Cochran for all his cordiality and patience. We’ve more of it to share with our readers, so expect a sequel in the near future. Cheers!

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Don’t Play That Ukelele!” (1975) and “Tender Feelings” (1974)

« 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

It’s no big secret: the chief asset of Gold Key’s line of mystery comics (The Twilight Zone, Thriller / Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Dark Shadows, Grimm’s Ghost Stories and The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor) was its (generally) painted covers, the bulk of the work handled by the prolific George Wilson, with occasional contributions by Luis Dominguez and Jesse Santos.

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.

Interesting that writer Freff opted here for the obscure, alternate spelling of ukulele. Speaking of which, how do you think ‘ukelele‘ is pronounced? You might be surprised. Check here for the answer. And, er… 1907? “One of the earliest appearances of the word ukulele in print (in the sense of a stringed instrument) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations published in 1907.” [ source ]
Man, that lake monster looks familiar. I smell a swipe.
And for the full multimedia experience, you can sing and strum along with George!

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.

[ source ]

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 not Bill 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. »

Oh, I fully agree. A pox on that sloppy letterer.

So, who is this Freff guy? Here’s a bit of self-provided biography:

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***.

This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 64 (Oct. 1975, Gold Key), featuring a painted cover by Argentine master Luis Dominguez. Don’t Play That Ukelele! isn’t even the cover story… there’s just a lot of aquatic peril in this particular issue.

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. »

-RG

*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.. »

**he inked two drawings (one of them a double-paged splash) in Who’s Who’s in Star Trek (1987). That seems to be all.

***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. »

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 11

« Take our advice, at any price, a gorilla like Magilla is mighty nice. Gorilla, Magilla Gorilla for sale! »

Seems you just can’t unnerve a guy (let alone an ape) who takes fright fables so lightly. I mean, look at that blasé expression! Perhaps he needs some spookier tales.

This is Magilla Gorilla no. 9 (Oct. 1966, Gold Key). Cover artist unknown…certainly a ghost.
Unfortunately, the title story — and the rest of the issue — are nothing to get excited about. Nicely flowing, on-model animation-style artwork, but the stories…
Still, here’s the highlights reel. Strictly kid stuff… but did it truly need to be? A little subversion goes a long way.
In Yiddish, a megillah is a long tedious or embroidered account, from the Hebrew megillah, a story written in a scroll. One episode has Magilla saying, “Such a megillah over a gorilla. [ source ]

« We’ll try again next week. »

In other, loosely-related news, and in the spirit of the seemingly undying nature of pop culture icons (even minor ones)…

José Adílson Rodrigues dos Santos (born September 2, 1958), is a retired Brazilian heavyweight boxer. He scored 61 knockouts with 43 of those coming under 5 rounds. Rodrigues currently resides in São Paulo, São Paulo, where he is being treated for Alzheimer’s disease originating from dementia pugilistica. His nickname in Brazil, Maguila, comes from the cartoon Magilla Gorilla.

The gajo should have really sold the concept, and fought in a too-small bowler hat and green suspenders.

-RG