Manny Stallman’s The Raven and Mayven (the Poet)

« There’s no need for some of the language that’s been thrown at some of the artists and writers. These men are highly skilled craftsmen and deserve a lot of respect. » — editorial comment in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 14 (July, 1967, Tower)

This post has been inspired by sundry signs and omens I’ve encountered these past few days: first, a casual mention dropped by Bizarro ink stud Wayno on his blog; then a fond-but-hazy recollection by a graphic designer colleague… and so this week, the agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.* make the scene. Well, one of them does.

As with many other choice cultural items of the era, I was first tantalised by a little volume entitled Dynamo, Man of High Camp from the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, devoted to its in-house Captain Company catalogue: Warren magazine back issues, rubber masks and hands, posters, LPs, Super 8 reels, paperbacks, novelties… a veritable trove of wonders. And unlike many a mail-order house, these goodies were the real deal, solid classics avidly sought after and treasured to this day.

Since much has been written about the history of Tower Comics (1965-1969), I’ll skip that part. Here’s the gist of it.

Of course, I adore the Wally Wood material, all the more the unfailingly delicious Steve Ditko-Wood combo. A fine surprise was George Tuska‘s nimble comedic touch on the misadventures of ‘Weed’. But my very favourite flavour in the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. cocktail is ‘Raven’ as written and illustrated by Manny Stallman (1927-97), a quintessentially eccentric delight.

Introduced by Steve Skeates and George Tuska in Enter the Raven (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 8, Sept. 1966), the character’s sole point of interest was that he was a mercenary who, originally intending to betray T.H.U.N.D.E.R., had a change of heart.

Along came Manny. He took over the character, redesigned him from stem to stern, and gave him a memorable arch-nemesis in Mayven, the Poet. But enough of this prattle, let’s have a look!

This is page two of Raven Battles Mayven the Poet (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 9, Oct. 1966, edited by Samm Schwartz), spotlighting Mayven’s signature weapon: explosive tots.
Stallman had no trouble with action: another page from Raven Battles Mayven the Poet.
Mayven, captured in the previous episode, wastes no time in making good — and memorable — her escape from the clink; the opening pages from Mayven Returns (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 10, Nov. 1966).
Bold, dynamic, sloppy in all the right places and the right ways. And I *love* that Raven makes an ungodly racket when he flies, itself a great source of visual interest.
A three-page sequence from the following episode, The Case of Jacob Einhorn (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 11, Mar. 1967), wherein ice-cold Mayven takes on the assignment to eliminate Mr. Einhorn, a fictive stand-in for legendary ‘Nazi hunter’ Simon Wiesenthal (1908-2005). I wouldn’t want to give too much away… read the whole shebang here!

After a mere five Raven episodes, Stallman was gone. Judging from the letters columns, reader reaction had overwhelming been of this nature:

In issue #9 the art on the Raven was awful

You’re using a lot of grade D artists… as for whoever draws the Raven, his art is utterly atrocious.”

How about having Chic Stone draw Raven in addition to Lightning?

Here I’ll quote editor-historian Tom Brevoort, from his own appreciation of Stallman’s Raven:

« Unsurprisingly, many of the fans of the era hated Stallman’s work and mocked it openly in their letters and in fanzines. Comic book fans have often had very narrow boundaries for what they consider an appropriate style for a super hero strip. And Stallman was coloring way outside of those lines with his work. »

After an issue’s hiatus, the Raven returned, once more reimagined (minus the imagination) this time by Gil Kane. Just another run-of-the-mill flying dude. I’ve always held that Kane should never be allowed to ink himself, but he also makes an excellent case, in his sole Raven outing (and Raven’s final flight), that he shouldn’t be allowed to write, either. Here’s a sample:

The ending (sorry!) from Darkly Sees the Prophet (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 14, July 1967), story and art by Gil Kane. To be fair to Kane, he and Manny were close friends. Here are some of Gil’s recollections, as shared by Mark Evanier.

Ahem. All these walking child-shaped time bombs reminded me of a rather fine comic book from a couple of decades later.

This is Daredevil no. 209 (Aug. 1984, Marvel), cover by David Mazzucchelli.
This issue is a thrillingly relentless continuation of a thrillingly relentless (but in a different way) Winchester-mystery-house-of-murder tale, The Deadliest Night of My Life!, co-scripted by Harlan Ellison and his pal Arthur Byron Cover. Here, Byron Cover carries the ball, and offers us this darkly delicious sequence. Pencils by Mazzucchelli, inks by Danny Bulanadi.

It could all be coincidence, but I like to imagine that the exploding kids idea is a sharp hybrid of notions from two Mario Bava flicks from 1966: the murderous little girl from Operazione paura aka Kill, Baby… Kill, and the booby-trap beauties from Le spie vengono dal semifreddo aka Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.

In closing, I’m happy to report that Mr. Stallman landed on his feet after his fall from the Tower. Honestly, the comics industry, and its fans, didn’t deserve the likes of him. He would go on to recount the Adventures of the Big Boy (published by the Bob’s Big Boy chain of restaurants) for a whopping seventeen years, among other fine assignments. And if ever there was a mensch, he surely was the one. Here’s a telling passage from his obituary:

« When a 1991 stroke caused cartoonist Manny Stallman’s right hand to intermittently go numb, he didn’t let it stop him. He simply took it upon himself to learn to draw with his left hand.

After making that switch, he had trouble drawing the tightly controlled figures he had created for years as a leading artist in what has been called the Golden Age of Comics. So he took advantage of the larger figures he could draw, transposing them onto a blackboard to help teach English and citizenship classes to Russian immigrants at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

Despite additional health problems that included diabetes and congestive heart failure, he also led classes for Chinese immigrants and taught computer-aided drawing to disabled children. “Manny decided to stop focusing on what he had been able to do before his strokes,” says his wife, Jane Stallman.

“He decided to start ‘where I am‘ and do whatever he could with whatever capacity he had. His life goal was to make someone smile each day.” »

[ source ]

Thanks for the example and the inspiration, Mr. Stallman!

-RG

*an acronym for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves

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.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Literary Grapplings

Some people would shudder at the idea of having « literary » and horror and / or science-fiction within the same sentence, but I firmly believe that some of this oft-despised « genre » oeuvre is worthy of that (somewhat pompous, anyway) moniker.

To open the proceedings, here’s a page from a graphic adaptation of « Shattered Like a Glass Goblin », written by the venerable Harlan Ellison in 1968 (and first published in 1975, in Deathbird Stories: A Pantheon of Modern Gods.) One of the showier pieces featured in the anthology The Illustrated Harlan Ellison (1978), it is drawn by William Stout, who does a great job translating the story into no-longer-just-mental images – and sneaking in a tentacle or two in the process (if you think that’s just a tail, shhh, don’t ruin it for the rest of us). People who dislike a vivid palette, beware:  the bright, vivid colours just emphasize the terror felt by the main character (and the readers, if said readers have any imagination to speak of).

Apparently, poor high-school kids are often forced to analyze « Shattered Like a Glass Goblin », because upon Googling it to check the year of its creation, I stumbled upon a bevy of study resources that explain what the story is about and what techniques Ellison used to make this point. Yawn, and yuck. There’s nothing that ruins a good time like having to dissect it.

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Page from the graphic adaptation of Shattered Like a Glass Goblin, written by Harlan Ellison and illustrated by William Stout, published in The Illustrated Harlan Ellison (1978). Stout cleverly refrains from showing everything, instead suggesting the unimaginably horrifying in a series of fleeting, clipped images.

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Now we come to Marvel’s short-lived Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction series, which often published adaptations of short stories and novels by well-known writers into a comic format (Mostly with lacklustre results, as far as I’m concerned, but then I’ve always preferred to stick with the original medium of things.)

UnknownWorldsofScienceFiction1
Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction no. 1 (Marvel, January 1975). The cover is by Frank Kelly Freas. It has nothing to do with either the Day of the Triffids nor with Ray Bradbury (is he *really* the ‘most famous SF author of all time’?) but it features aliens with stylish tentacle-hair (how much hairspray did it require to hold, I wonder?)

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Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction no. 4, (Marvel, July 1975). Cover by Frank Brunner. I say the guy looks much handsomer with a mess of tentacles sprouting randomly from his torso! Bonus: a newly-materialized, huge tail that no doubt ripped his pants apart, even if the artist demurely decided not to draw attention to this fact.

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Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction Giant Size Special no. 1 (Marvel, 1976). Cover by Don Newton. Number 1 it may be, but this was the final bow of Unknown Worlds. Note that the tentacles sought out the woman first! (Coincidence, you say? I think not.)

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Since I’m talking about  tentacles and literature, I am contractually obliged to include  something Lovecraftian as part of this post.

My colleague R.G. has already talked about the H.P. Lovecraft edition of the anthology Graphic Classics (head over here to check it out ), but I’d like to share two illustrations from the inside. Both are by Allen Koszowski, whose work is a feast of tentacled beasts and Lovecraftian horrors.

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Illustration by Allen Koszowski of « Fungi from Yuggoth ». Published in Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 4, 2002.

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A portrait of Mr. Lovecraft himself, in all his striking glory, accompanied by some of this unholy creations. Illustration (also by Allen Koszowski, which was accidental on my part) from Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft, Volume 4, 2002.

Koszowski got the similarity down pat: Lovecraft was mighty weird-looking (in a stately kind of way) – which seems quite appropriate. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he certainly looks like he’s just seen something terrible just behind his interlocutor’s back, but he was half-expecting it, so he’s not too startled, even though someone’s probably about to get gobbled up.

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(Cats have that look periodically, too, down to the dilated pupils.)

ScaredCat

 

Incidentally, I said that Koszowski’s art was full of tentacles, so here’s one more taste of his proclivities:

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Aliens at Stonehenge” (1984) by Allen Koszowski.

~ ds