Hey, it’s Saturday night, we let our hair down, and we’ve all — presumably — better things to do than to linger and moulder at the computer. Here, then are some lovely (under) things by Tentacle Tuesday Master Rich Larson, none of them featuring grasping octopodian appendages. I became aware of Mr. Larson‘s work through some fine covers and stories he illustrated for Charlton’s line of ghost comics in its 1970s heyday. After Charlton more or less gave up the ghost in 1976, he smartly forged his own singular path, generally in collaboration with the equally talented Steve Fastner.
Is everyone ready, then, for a visit to… the Haunted House of Lingerie?
Your mileage may of course vary, but what I find most remarkable about Larson’s work is how its wit and joie de vivre, its good-natured enthusiasm, keep the results from ever seeming crass or tawdry, whatever the topic. Hats off, gentlemen.
« Skepticism is the highest duty and blind faith the one unpardonable sin. » — Thomas Henry Huxley
Plot-wise, this one’s a trifle, a frothy bit of nonsense, I’ll happily concede. But it’s ornately illustrated by Joe Maneely, in that busy-but-clear, rough-but-assured, scratchily cartoonish fashion of his.
Hey, you know who our protagonist reminds me of? Marshall Teller’s sidekick, Simon Holmes, from outstanding early ’90s TV show Eerie, Indiana. See what I mean?
While our featured tale is saddled with the hoariest of plots, what lends it some flavour, in my book, is its rampant self-referential hucksterism (hello, Stan!), to the point that it’s practically a five-page commercial for Atlas’ supernatural titles. Still, I like it — it’s a bit of novelty.
« From the body of one guilty deed a thousand ghostly fears and haunting thoughts proceed. » — William Wordsworth
Today’s selection is an early, early favourite of mine. I first encountered it in French, in the pages of Capitaine America no. 8 (Aug. 1971, Les Éditions Héritage); back in those days, Québécois printer-packager Payette & Simms would reprint, in black and white, recent Marvel comics in their ‘Format Double’ package, a terrific deal at 25 cents: you got two issues’ worth, no ads, plus a bonus short story. P&S’ paper stock and printing were better than Marvel’s — but their lettering and translation work generally left much to be desired*.
In this case, despite the allure of the slickly sumptuous Gene Colan / Joe Sinnott artwork, the issue’s out-of-nowhere high point was (you guessed it!) a modest little story plucked from the predawn of the so-called ‘Marvel Age’, Mister Gregory and the Ghost!, from a pre-Thor issue of Journey Into Mystery (no. 75, Dec. 1961). Many may disagree with me on this one, but boy, those post-Kirby issues of Cap’n ‘merica just serve to demonstrate what happens without a perpetual motion plot engine like Jack Kirby to propel and guide the series: when you try to introduce new foils for the hero, you get bonehead non-ideas like biker gangs, a jealous scientist in the body of a gorilla, or in issue 123’s Suprema, the Deadliest of the Species!, a brother-and-sister hypnosis act who drive around a gadget-filled tanker truck that magnifies Suprema’s power by way of a *very* 70’s medallion her brother wears around his neck. Then Cap feels its vibrations (“Ping!”) through his shield, and … oh, I won’t spoil the thing’s idiotic charms any further for you: read it here.
Ahem — back to Mister G and his Ghost. It’s not exactly a masterpiece of writing either (Larry Lieber?), but it presents Kirby at his moody, understated best. Upon seeing it in colour, I realised how providential my monochromatic encounter had been. While the story’s been reprinted a few times (in 1966, 1971, and in 2020 in a fancy and pricey hardcover omnibus), the printing’s always been pretty shoddy. As you’ll see.
But… it seems that most, if not all of the original art survives, so we’ll make the most of the situation and mix our sources as needed — hope the effect isn’t too jarring!
*here’s an example of Éditions Héritage’s lovely calligraphy, from this very story:
« She’s a haunted house / and her windows are broken. » — Scott Walker, “Big Louise” (1969)
I’ve been wanting to share one of the all-time most beautiful art jobs Steve Ditko ever wittled, 1960’s The Ghost of Grismore Castle! (published in Strange Tales no. 79), but I don’t have that book. I do, however, own a 70’s reprint of it, in Vault of Evil no. 14 (October 1974), but the colouring and reproduction were so bland and washed-out that I knew that justice wouldn’t be done to this meritorious piece.
Then it hit me: I *had* seen a lovingly reconstructed presentation of the tale — has it nearly been… 30 years ago? Yikes!
It was reprinted with brio in the redoubtable Mort Todd‘s Curse of the Weird (no. 2, January 1994), a flawlessly-assembled anthology title he somehow conned Marvel into publishing in the early 90s.
So my gratitude goes out to Mr. Todd and, once more, my admiration to Mr. Ditko.
« We shot it from the original stats I dug out of the Marvel vault, rather than reprint VoE #14, and lovingly recolored it! Thanks for noticing! »
Oh, and as bonus, here’s the cover, one of those absurdly lush Kirby-Ditko collaborations. As usual with Marvel, all captions are de trop.