Treasured Stories: “Any Port in a Storm” (1974)

« I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve. » — George Bernard Shaw

Today, let’s spread a little romance around. This much-maligned genre certainly deserves more affection and respect. From what I’ve observed, even social media groups nominally dedicated to romance comics mostly exist to mock and denigrate them. Honestly, are they truly sillier and more formulaic than superhero comics?

Anyway, while recently visiting a local comic shop with the intent of buying some supplies, I also discovered a fine trove of late 60s to mid-70s romance titles, affordably-priced to boot. Having spent a month or so leisurely reading through the pile, here’s a favourite tale. My co-conspirator and romantic partner ds spotted this one first, and I agreed with her assessment that this was something special. Let us, then, cast off into the briny blue… just don’t forget to bring the oars.

Jack Abel (1927-1996) was one of those efficient and reliably solid artists of the sort that held the comics industry together through the years. I honestly can’t think of any other artist who, more than once, worked concurrently for DC (mostly inking, but occasionally pencilling) Marvel (inking and editorial), Charlton (pencils and inks) and Gold Key (pencils and inks). Add to that tally Atlas-Seaboard (in its sole year of existence, 1975) and Skywald, and you have a mighty ubiquitous fellow. It is worth specifying that, unlike most of comics’ other utility players and pinch hitters, his work never seemed rushed or botched.

For what it’s worth, Abel was twice the hapless victim of fine artiste Roy Lichtenstein, both in 1963, with: Torpedo…Los! and Crak!

I enjoy Abel’s Charlton work most, because he was often assigned some memorable scripts (an unlikely prospect at Gold Key), chief among them The Lure of the Swamp! (script by Nicola Cuti, Haunted no. 8, Oct. 1972); Mr. Blanque (script by Cuti, Ghostly Haunts no. 28, Nov. 1972); Like Father, Like Son (script by Cuti, Haunted no. 10, Jan. 1972); Sewer Patrol! (script by Cuti, Ghostly Haunts no. 31, Apr. 1973); and The Teddy Bear! (script by Cuti, Haunted no. 15, Nov. 1973)…

Any Port in a Storm, however, is clearly the work of Joe Gill, who frequently helped distinguish and elevate Charlton’s romance material by deftly integrating just the right amount of plausible detail of business, engineering, sports or what-have-you matters into his narratives. Presumably, Gill was getting further mileage from all the research he’d conducted in order to write the fifteen-issue Popeye Career Awareness Library, a couple of years earlier.

As you can witness, this is every bit as much of a tale of adventure as it is a romance, and indeed, why split hairs when you can have both?

Any Port in a Storm was rightly picked as the cover feature: this is Love Diary no. 90 (Nov. 1974, Charlton); George Wildman, managing editor.


On This Day: November 16, 1902

A cartoon appears in the Washington Post, prompting the Teddy Bear Craze, after President Teddy Roosevelt refused to kill a captive bear tied up for him to shoot during a hunting trip to Mississippi.

Boy, American presidents sure were different back in those days.

The history-making cartoon by Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman (1869-1949), who worked with the Washington Post from 1891-1907, then with the Washington Star from 1907-1949.

Which brings us to Teddy Bears (as they became known henceforth) returning the favour of protecting the vulnerable and innocent.

The earliest instance that comes to mind is Johnny Craig and “Ghastly” Graham Ingels’ holiday charmer, Shoe-Button Eyes!, which appeared in The Vault of Horror no. 35 (Feb.-Mar. 1954, EC), wherein a blind, put-upon little boy gets a new set of peepers… the hard way.

Post-Code, this sort of harsh poetic justice had to be handled very gingerly, if at all. The vengeful bear turned up again in Nicola Cuti and Jack Abel’s elegantly-told The Teddy Bear, in Haunted no. 15 (Nov. 1973, Charlton.)

Quoth the plush companion: « I was sent to you to protect you and I will! » Spoiler alert: the butler did it.

A couple of years down the pike, “Grisly”* Tom Sutton took up the gauntlet with his «Terrible Teddy!», from Ghost Manor no. 23 (May 1975, Charlton). Here it is, presented in its glorious entirety (including Sutton’s gnarly painted cover).



– RG

*perhaps more appropriately “Grizzly”, in this instance.

Purple Tentacle Tuesday

Greetings. Today’s theme: purple tentacles! (No, that’s not a euphemism.)

First up on our list is this beauty of an octopus, the Octo Rod.

This intrepid purple fella is part of Topps’ 1980 series, Weird Wheels, which had 55 cards in all. The credit for the gorgeous artwork is split between Norman Saunders and Gary Hallgren; nobody’s quite sure which artist worked on which card, and whether Saunders actually painted the images himself, or just retouched paintings by somebody else.

Sadly, Weird Wheels just didn’t sell all that well, so you can still purchase them for fairly cheap today. You can see the whole set here (and please do feast your eyes on them, they’re quite stunning).)

Octo Rod is no. 21, 1980. The art is by Gary Hallgren, at least according to David Saunders, Norman Saunders’ son.

Speaking of David Saunders and his dad, here’s a quote from “Norman Saunders” (a book written by David in 2009):

« In 1980, at the age of 73, with failing eyesight, cataracts, and advanced emphysema, Norman Saunders defied doctor’s orders and went back to work on one last card set. Weird Wheels are painted with full control of his creative powers, but with a morbid humor that reflects his attitude towards mortality. When reprimanded by his son for risking his life on low paying work, the artist said, ‘It’s fun! I gotta keep working! What the hell else am I gonna do?!‘ »

Saunders passed away in 1989, at 82, after a remarkably prolific and varied career.

Moving on, here’s a thrilling scene of purple tentacles vs Nemesis:

This is ACG’s Adventures Into the Unknown no. 157 (June-July 1965). The cover is by Kurt Schaffenberger (who signed as Jay Kafka here). “Case of the Tittering Texan” sounded intriguing – I figured that the Texan was being tickled by a tentacle – but no, he’s just a stuttering, crazy, power-hungry villain in a cowboy hat and spurs. Same old, same old…

I would also like to mention that Nemesis *is* wearing pants (well, shorts, at any rate), but his costume is still gosh-darned stupid. You try wearing a hood under water and see how far it gets you. I’m normally a fan of ACG‘s Adventures, but Nemesis is by no means a favourite character of mine.

Further developing the theme of violaceous violence, here’s another:

« Giant squid, giant water rats! Are we in New York, or are we on Mars? Down here, it’s hard to tell! » Ghostly Haunts no. 31, April 1973, cover by Jack Abel.

“Sewer Patrol”, the cover story, is also illustrated by Abel, with an excellent script by Nicola Cuti – it’s a story about people who dump their pets (and still-alive food) when they don’t want them anymore… and where and how these pets end up. (The answer to that, of course, is “mutated, gigantic and in the sewers.”)

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 11

« Geez! What’s he been feedin’ that horse?! I’m runnin’ wide-open — and he’s gainin’ on me! »

I won’t pretend that The Headless Horseman Rides Again is all that good a comic book, even by the standards of 1973 Marvel. It’s a clumsy narrative hodgepodge, a tangle of tough guy private dick clichés and your basic Scooby Doo plot, courtesy of Gary Friedrich (Ghost Rider, Son of Satan). But it’s agreeably moody in spots, considerably helped along by a solid art job by the prolific George Tuska (1916-2009), who’s not, for once at Marvel, saddled (ha!) with the likes of Vince Colletta. Here he’s smartly matched with the fine but generally undervalued Jack Abel (1927-1996), whose velvety strokes significantly add to the fittingly nocturnal ambiance.

I happen to own a page of original art from the issue, and here are some of my favourite panels. This is page 7 of 20. Script by Gary Friedrich, pencils by George Tuska, inks by Jack Abel. Love that Abel smoke!

The issue bears your typical hyperkinetic Gil Kane 70s cover, winningly inked by Ernie Chua/Chan. This is Supernatural Thrillers no. 6 (Nov. 1973, Marvel).

The published version…

… and a peek at the original artwork. Note the absence of the alterations presumably made on an overlay, namely the texture on the foreground rock and the halftone mist across the middle.

– RG