World Contact Day: Another Audience With … The Hoaxmaster!

« We all have a thirst for wonder. It’s a deeply human quality. Science and religion are both bound up with it. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to make stories up, you don’t have to exaggerate. There’s wonder and awe enough in the real world. Nature’s a lot better at inventing wonders than we are. » ― Carl Sagan, Contact

Time to keep a promise — a promise to myself, but just as worthy of being kept. A couple of years ago, I posted the first half of a favourite comics feature of mine, ‘The Hoaxmaster’, which ran in most issues of Gold Key’s UFO Flying Saucers in the 1970s. At the time, I declared that I might get around to posting the second half of the set some World Contact Day, which is today.

The bracing brand of skepticism demonstrated here by the Hoaxmaster, much needed as it was then — smack in the middle of the UFO-Spiritualism-Occultism mania of its era — is yet more urgently needed these days, as the merry-go-round of surreal disinformation spins faster and faster, further out of control with each passing day, it would seem. You may have noticed.

From UFO Flying Saucers no. 9 (Jan. 1976, Gold Key); as with all the Hoaxmaster vignettes, script by Pat Fortunato and artwork by Frank Bolle.
From UFO Flying Saucers no. 10 (May 1976, Gold Key).
From UFO Flying Saucers no. 11 (Aug. 1976, Gold Key).
This was the issue in question, my introduction to the title; it bore this terrific — downright terrifying — painted cover by George Wilson.
From UFO Flying Saucers no. 12 (Nov. 1976, Gold Key). Adamski!
From UFO Flying Saucers no. 13 (Jan. 1977, Gold Key). Bolle was always a solid artist — which is certainly why he enjoyed such a long and busy career — but I can’t think of any, among the myriad of features he worked on, where he seemed to enjoy himself this much. His work always had a deadpan grace, but here, the wit deployed in the scripts allows him to reveal a seldom-seen facet of his talent.

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Why Can’t You Be More Like Marvin?” (1975)

« The devil’s most devilish when respectable. » — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Ah, the nineteen seventies… and their Satanic panic, in which we can recognize so closely the roots (or at least relatives) of today’s disinformation maelstrom, before the politicisation and weaponisation of septic paranoia and lies had become honed to such an anti-science. In a lot of sordid ways, Lawrence Pazder was an Andrew Wakefield of his day.

Here’s a story that I first encountered around the time of its release, remembered, but didn’t revisit until a couple of weeks ago, when a good friend (merci, Keith!) helpfully snapped up a copy for me. This deceptively dark tale was created by writer Arnold Drake (I surmise), penciller John Celardo and mysterious inker Wanda Ippolito, who may have a been a spouse or relative of Celardo’s. It’s odd to find someone else inking Celardo, as this was his chief, most enduring and distinctive strength. For comparison’s sake — and presumably, reading enjoyment — here’s another Drake-Celardo outing, The Anti-13!

I won’t make any claims that this is great art: by this time, Gold Key’s printing was shoddy, they barely bothered with the colouring (straight Magenta and Cyan and Yellow everywhere — how lazy can you get?)… but I treasure this one because of the story. Given its moral — what moral? — it’s hard to imagine The Comics Code Authority giving this one a pass, as it merrily violates several of its key precepts. I’ve got another such blasphemous entry in the pipeline… this one duly Code-Approved! Just you wait…

I had a childhood friend who was a lot like Marvin (minus the devil worship — for all I know)… he was incredibly talented, but also scarily unpredictable, and not in a good way. One day, he just disappeared.

On the other hand, the accompanying cover is spectacular.

« Why Can’t You Be More Like Marvin? » originally appeared in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 63 (Aug. 1975, Gold Key), which bore this masterfully disquieting cover by Luis Domínguez. It would have made it into my Domínguez retrospective, Luis Domínguez (1923-2020): A Farewell in Twelve Covers but for the fact that I didn’t own a decent copy of the issue.

And as (nearly) always, a bonus for context: Celardo had a long and fruitful career, and I’m sure one of its highlights was to number among Fiction House’s elite cadre of cover artists. I’ve said it before, but despite their mind-numbing repetitiveness, FH covers were tops in the Golden Age in terms of draftsmanship and production values.

Aw, poor Ka’a’nga — always left at home to feed the jackals while Ann Mason goes off on escapades with her other boyfriends. And who insisted on adopting them in the first place? Ann, that’s who! This is Jungle Comics no. 98 (Feb. 1948, Fiction House). Judging from his ability in the jungle antics genre, it’s no wonder that Celardo was picked to illustrate the real thing (at least comics-wise): the Tarzan comic strip, from 1954 to 1968, between Bob Lubbers (another FH cover artiste!) and Russ Manning.
And here’s one of Celardo’s Tarzan Sundays (March 27, 1954, United Feature Syndicate).

-RG

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