Willie Lumpkin was created by Dan DeCarlo and Stan Lee when Harold Anderson, the head of Publishers Syndicate (which merged into Hall Syndicate, which was eventually purchased by Hearst and is now part of King Features…) wanted a ‘bucolic’ newspaper strip set in some small town. The ‘friendly mailman’ idea is supposed to be Anderson’s, the family name Lee’s.
I cannot say that it’s a very funny strip (well, it was written by Lee, need we say more?), but it has a certain charm, and DeCarlo’s art is highly enjoyable, even though one occasionally feels like one has stumbled into an Archie story. DeCarlo liked drawing cheesecake, and we enjoy looking at it (for the heavy guns, visit RG’s Dan DeCarlo at Humorama (1956-63)), but in this case it is the other characters I am interested in, the kids with dirty behind their ears, spinster aunties in funny glasses, and of course the adorably bookish Lumpkin, the glue that holds the denizens of this small town together.
The strip ran from December 1959 to May 1961. Here are a few pickings —
I stayed mostly away from the aforementioned cheesecake, but here is an example of it:
If the name Lumpkin rings some sort of different bell for you, it might be because he got incorporated into the Marvel universe in 1963 – a much older Lumpkin became the Fantastic Four‘s mail carrier with issue no. 11 (February 1963):
Over his Marvel years, his back story expanded and expanded, reminding me of the Russian expression ‘a stopper for every barrel’. He seemed to have been shoved into every plot that needed some secondary character to do something, delivering letters left and right, getting wounded multiple times during various epic battles, and accidentally ending up immortal (as of 2019). Same old, same old. I bet he preferred his quieter days among courting teenagers and middle-class families.
« Ward’s beautiful buxotics operate in a strange separate universe, in which all women are gorgeous voluptoids, all men oafish, saucer-eyed drooling dupes. » — Chris ‘Coop‘ Cooper
Well, I certainly wasn’t planning to hog all the blogging this week, but there were birthdays and other hopefully mitigating factors. While today is the great Will Eisner‘s birthday, it’s likely to overshadow that of a fellow Golden Age toiler, one with an equally intriguing career, but with a trajectory quite divergent from Eisner’s own.
Bill Ward (1919 – 1998) was also born on this day, one hundred and three years ago. Ward started out in comics with the Jack Binder shop, turning out material for Fawcett’s line of characters (Captain Marvel and his family, Bulletman…); he soon found himself working for Quality Comics, most notably on Blackhawk (an Eisner co-creation, it should be noted). He inched closer to his true passion when assigned to Quality’s romance line.
In the mid-50’s, when came the brutal, censorship-induced compression of the comic book industry, Ward smoothly shifted to producing girlie cartoons for Abe Goodman’s Humorama line, becoming its star and most prolific performer, thanks to his popularity and prodigious speed. He was aided in this by his choice of tool and technique: the conté crayon on newsprint. While everyone else was working on 8″ x 12″ illustration board, Ward was using a soft, beige paper of a size (18″ x 24′) and texture familiar to any art student who’s taken a life drawing class. With this type of stock, he could produce texture rubbings and achieve smooth, sensual sheens ideal for rendering highlights of hair and stockings. Said Ward: « It didn’t take me long to figure out that the quicker you could do the work… the more money you could make. » Over the course of a quarter-century, he wound up producing around 9,000 drawings for the Humorama line.
As Ward recalled of his early training in Binder’s studio, « [Binder] trained me to do layout, which is the most difficult part of art. » To wit, layout never counted among Ward’s strengths. A lot of his pinup work is undermined by poor staging, often grotesque proportions, and absolutely minimal attention to non-erotic detail.
Now, had I ever wondered what Ward’s pencils would look like, if inked by Bill Everett? I readily confess I hadn’t. But upon learning that such a momentous collision once occurred, my mind was set slightly reeling.
Another weathered fellow combatant in the trenches of the Golden Age, Everett (1917-73), unlike Ward, always gave his best, whatever the conditions. Right to the end, despite his rapidly declining health, Everett was, incredibly, producing top-flight work.
In the 60’s, Ward also provided covers for various soft-core novels, such as this one from Satellite Publications’ ‘After Hours’ imprint. He even wrote some of them, notably under the alias of ‘Bill Marshall’. His fellow Quality Comics alumnus Gil Fox also penned many of these potboilers under a staggering array of aliases.
« 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:
« Don’t change your tack when the timbers crack On the dark and the rolling sea… » *
I am relatively indifferent to tales of adventure, but the siren song of the ocean sometimes prompts me to venture into reading tales about ruthless pirates or valorous seafarers and the perilous voyages they undertake on ships big and small, magnificent or modest. Who hasn’t felt a thrill at spotting a handsome vessel on the water, even if that water is but a canal running through the city? The other point of interest of this discussion is that where there’s an ocean and a ship upon it, there is a (preferably) giant octopus somewhere nearby, only waiting to shred the ship’s hull to smithereens and voraciously gobble up its shipmates.
Here is a modestly-sized yet utilitarian boat with a handsome octopus in tow. Maybe he just wanted to climb on deck to rest a while, like this otter?
A similar boat (I don’t know whether it’s my profound lack of knowledge of boats that makes it seem that way) was attacked by a bigger, scarier – downright malevolent! – octopus some twenty years later. See Kyle “Ace” Morgan, Matthew “Red” Ryan, Leslie “Rocky” Davis and Walter Mark “Prof” Haley scramble for safety while an enraged octopus seeks to devour them! Oh, sorry, I’m being melodramatic.
This cover has actually been recycled from Showcase no. 12 (Jan.-Feb. 1958, DC), where the background was yellow and the water a more normal shade of blue-white. I do like how the octopus stands out against a black background, however (and the multi-coloured water really sets off his beady, evilly-glowing green eyes!)
Of course these encounters also take place within the stories, as opposed to on the cover.
Time to move underwater, a very natural setting for an octopus attack. Here we have a submarine tenderly wrapped in tentacles:
Last but not least, I’ve kept this neat little submarine until the end:
Glanzman is also a favourite of ours, though we haven’t talked about him much (yet). In case you’re wondering what the insides of one of those issues looked like – good, they looked really good! Note the octopus proudly perched in the middle of the page.
« The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. » — Confucius
To a bibliophile, shelf space is precious. In recent years, I’ve happily purged my library of many a bulky and obsolete reference tome. With the sheer mass of information that’s migrated online, it’s frequently far simpler to tap a few key words than to scan the shelves in order to pull out and peruse some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Frequently — but not always. One significant exception is my copy of What’s What, accurately touted as « a visual glossary of everyday objects — from paper clips to passenger ships ». Obviously, it covers the expected doohickeys and other dinguses, contraptions and doodads, esteemed constituents of our flora and fauna… but, on occasion, it drifts deep into left field, and that gives it spice. To wit, its entry on cartooning:
Cartooning: Many one-panel cartoons use captions or labels below the illustration for dialogue or explanation. Those appearing on the editorial pages of newspapers are called editorial or political cartoons and usually feature an exaggerated likeness, or caricature, of some well-known figure, as the main character. Comics, or comic books, use cartooning throughout. A complete shericasia, or shallop, is used by a cartoonist to depict a complete swing at an object, be it a golf ball or another person.
To this array of clever cartooning terms, we simply must remedy one omission, and it’s a crucial one: Kirby Krackle!
When I was a kid (of twelve or so, if memory serves), I found a muddy and mildewed copy of this issue in the woods, which tremendously added to its allure, if not its readability.
Well… little did I know what a protracted history this particular little scenario had. Let’s return to the presumed beginning, or at least the industrial age version.
Around the turn of the last century, the prolific English writer Edward Frederic Benson (1867 – 1940) wrote a story entitled The Bus Conductor [ read it here ] that saw print in Pall Mall Magazine in 1906. It was quite well-received, then began to widely make the rounds… as putative fact.
Things kicked into high gear in the mid-1940s, as the tale was recounted as an oft-heard anecdote in editor Bennett Cerf‘s 1944 short story anthology, Famous Ghost Stories, which contained a Benson contribution… but not The Bus Conductor.
That same year, Cerf shared the anecdote with the legion of readers who picked up his highly-entertaining (and still dirt-cheap and easy to find, over three-quarters of a century later, which gives you a sense of its original success and ubiquity) book of anecdotes, Try and Stop Me. The pertinent chapter was the splendidly-titledThe Trail of the Tingling Spine. As examined earlier on this blog, this chapter was used by EC Comics’ Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein as what they termed ‘springboards’ for their earliest stories.
Cerf’s version, from Try and Stop Me:
When an intelligent, comely girl of twenty-odd summers was invited for the first time to the Carolina estate of some distant relatives, their lovely plantation fulfilled her fondest expectations. She was given a room in the west wing, and prepared to retire for the night in a glow of satisfaction. Her room was drenched with the light of a full moon.
Just as she was climbing into her bed, she was startled by the sound of horses’ hooves on the gravel roadway. Curious, she walked to the window and saw, to her astonishment, a magnificent old coach pull up to an abrupt stop directly below her. The coachman jumped from his perch, looked up and pointed a long, bony finger at her. He was hideous. His face was chalk-white. A deep scar ran the length of his left cheek. His nose was beaked. As he pointed to her, he droned in sepulchral tones, “There is room for one more!” Then, as she recoiled in terror, the coach, the horses and the ominous coachman disappeared completely.
The girl slept little, but the next day she was able to convince herself that she merely had a nightmare.
The next night, however, the horrible experience was repeated. The same coach drove up the roadway. The same coachman pointed at her and exclaimed, “There is room for one more!” Then, as before, the entire equipage disappeared.
The girl, now panic-stricken, could scarcely wait for morning. She trumped up some excuse to her hosts and left immediately for home.
Upon arrival, she taxied to her doctor from the station and told him her story in tremulous tones. The doctor persuaded her that she had been the victim of a peculiar hallucination, laughed at her terror, and dismissed her in a state of infinite relief. As she rang for the elevator, its door swung open before her.
The elevator was very crowded, but she was about to squeeze her way inside — when a familiar voice rang in her ear. “There is room for one more!” it called. In terror, she stared at the operator.
He was the coachman who had pointed at her! She saw his chalk–white face, the livid scar, the beaked nose! She drew back and screamed… the elevator door banged shut.
A moment later the building shook with a terrible crash. The elevator that had gone on without her broke loose from its cables and plunged eighteen stories to the ground. Everybody in it, of course, was crushed to a pulp.
The Twilight Zone’s continuing popularity pretty much killed the scenario’s urban legend potency (Snopes.com checked it out!) In 1999, Urban legend authority Jan Harold Brunvand wrote, in his Too Good to Be True – The Colossal Book of Urban Legends:
According to my readers when I wrote a newspaper column in 1989 about the old ‘Dream Warning’ legends, The Twilight Zone version was the only one most of them knew. After numerous reruns, the TV episode had virtually replaced the folk legend in the popular mind. Every reader who wrote me following my column mentioned this episode, with one exception, and this person mentioned that he saw the plot enacted in a mid-1940s film, called Dead of Night. I’ll bet my legend-hunting license that this film, too, borrowed from the Cerf version.
I wouldn’t make that wager if I were you, Mr. Brunvand… since Dead of Night properly credits Benson.
“Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman–a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, and for every successful superhero remembered throughout the ages, there’s probably about a hundred forgotten characters of varying degrees of goofiness. Periodically, some artist or writer digs up one of them from the deep recesses of time, dresses him in a new frock and plugs him into the modern era of Internet and cellphones, with almost universally lacklustre results.
I like to contemplate these bold strangers in their natural habitat — Golden Age comics! And for a 40s superhero, there is simply no better way to demonstrate super powers and a nimble brain than a friendly tussle with a cephalopod.
The Black Owl, clad in a red-and-blue costume with some odd leopard-print swimming cap… oh, sorry, that’s his blond hair:
The Sandman… oh shoot, which one? Remember we have both feet firmly planted in the 40s in this post. This Sandman is Wesley Dodds, created by artist Bert Christman and writer Gardner Fox. Accompanied by his sidekick Sandy, this superhero-cum-detective wielded a special gun that could put criminals to sleep or act as a sort of truth serum.
You’re not convinced that those are tentacles? Shame on you. Take a gander at this:
The next superhero (technically with no super powers, but managing beautifully all the same thanks to his lightning-fast reflexes and superior fighting skill) is my personal favourite Green Turtle, a Chinese superhero who fought against Japanese invaders in WWII. Unfortunately, the publisher wouldn’t let creator and artist Chu Fook Hing make his creation obviously Chinese, so the Green Turtle was never seen without a mask. It’s okay, we can read between the lines!
Magno the Magnetic Man has, believe it or not, magnetic powers (though I imagine it’s not helping him much in this particular skirmish). He’s irresistible to women (maybe they have metal parts?), impervious to harm, and is accompanied by his side-kick Davey, whom he periodically magnetizes to ensure that the little whippersnapper also has access to magnetic powers.
« Challenge Merlin and be a fool! — Challenge a demon — and be destroyed! »
Suddenly having so much time on my hands (courtesy of COVID-19) is an eerie, though by no means unpleasant, experience. While I could crochet mini couches for my cats or enrol my partner’s help to re-create some favourite classic paintings, I prefer to catch up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Case in point: in April, I’ve been joyously absorbing Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga, reprinted in a handsome 4-tome omnibus (and to which I have easy access, thanks to co-admin RG’s vast library). That ended all too soon, and I moved on to a collection of Etrigan the Demon. It was a somewhat underwhelming experience, especially given the epic scope of Fourth World, but of course still worth a read.
The red-eyed, yellow-skinned creature called Etrigan came into existence in 1972. Mark Evanier, in his introduction to Jack Kirby’s The Demon, explains: « There was, at the time, a feeling around DC that perhaps superheroes were on the way out again. Ghost and mystery comics like House of Mystery and Phantom Stranger seemed to be selling, and some in the office felt the next trend was what Joe Orlando, who edited most of them, dubbed “weird adventure” comics. A few weeks later, [Carmine] Infantino asked Jack to whip up something in that category… »
Kirby accepted the challenge and, despite his lack of interest in horror, created The Demon, patterning his face on a a detail from Hal Foster‘s Prince Valiant strip as an inside joke.
As great a storyteller Kirby is, I think being asked to write about a subject he wasn’t particularly into had its repercussions. Although he clearly tried to give Etrigan a stimulating playground of supernatural rogues of varying degrees of viciousness to bat around, the overall result is rather underwhelming by Kirby standards. I’ve seen quite a few people in comic forums expressing their undying love for the Demon – if you’re one of them, I’m open to being convinced!
I actually first encountered Etrigan the Demon in a Swamp Thing issue written by Alan Moore. He first made an appearance in Swamp Thing no. 26 (July 1984) and then came back for the 14-issue storyline American Gothic that ran from June 1985 to July 1986. In Moore’s hands, Etrigan cut a dashing, mysterious figure, and he spoke in rhyme, which was a really nice touch. I admit I was disheartened to find out that he really wasn’t that exciting in his original form.
However, he *did* encounter tentacles, and more than once!
The three pages above are Etrigan’s encounters with actual tentacles, but we have an honorary mention of almost-tentacles-but-not-quite, which I wanted to include in the spirit of thoroughness.
Can the following creature’s beard tentacles be used to grab anything? We never learn if they’re prehensile or not, because the fear-monster doesn’t stick around long enough.
« Morticoccus is overpoweringly large and sinister! In this new world he can live — only if he destroys all other life around him — kingdoms and empires would crumble to dust at his deadly touch! Morticoccus waits in his prison — he waits to get out — and breed!! »
I apologize, but according to co-admin RG (whose sense of humour is apparently more morbid than mine) this is Contagion Week on Who’s Out There? Well, I suppose tentacled microbes and germs are as good a topic as any right now…
Our first foray into germs is This Beachhead Earth, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Neal Adams and inked by Tom Palmer, published in The Avengers no. 93 (November 1971). The Vision collapses, the Avengers send Ant-Man into his body to figure out what’s amiss. I made an earnest attempt at following the plot, but the bad dialogue made my head hurt. Did you know that the scream of an ant « is like the wailing of a forsaken child »? The story includes gems like « frankly, my dear, I don’t give an hydroelectric dam» and « therein lies the only true superiority of the educated man — that he analyzes — dissects — probes — reconstructs ». Oh, the glorious mix of bad puns and pompous lines!
You can read this « paltry prologue to the most portentous Avengers saga of all! », the work of a fellow who’s just a little too fond of calembours and his thesaurus, here.
Continuing on a grand scale – this time, it’s the grandest scale there is! – we pay a visit to the aforementioned Morticoccus (sinister a’plenty, you shall surely agree), arguably the most fatal disease known to mankind, or at least the deadliest to spring from Jack Kirby‘s fertile mind (ouch) . As for me, I really like the giant, lethal bats.
Our third medical study is a little case of fungoid infection that even boasts a name. M’Nagalah had a rather complicated birth. Created by British horror writer Ramsey Campbell for his cycle of H.P. Lovecraft pastiches (to be more precise, the creature first appeared in the short story The Inhabitant in the Lake in 1964), it was soon adopted by DC Comics, after doubtlessly being bowled over by its puppy eyes while visiting a no-kill shelter of the Great Old Ones. It was first borrowed for Swamp Thing no. 8 (1974) and afterwards used as per the Russian idiom “a plug for every barrel“. Just look at this mess.
Challengers of the Unknown no. 82(August-September 1977), scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Michael Netzer, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, starts off with a just mild (if disgusting) contamination…
That fast progresses to the old “unspeakable, indescribable horror” (yawn).
Swamp Thing gets dragged in, and professor Mark Haley blooms prettily in the beginning of Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (October-November 1977), also scripted by Gerry Conway, but this time pencilled by Keith Giffen and inked by John Celardo…
It is soon explained that this is actually some Elder God trying, as usual, to take over the planet, blah blah blah.
Wishing everyone health and bon courage in these trying times, especially to our poor American friends who seem to be caught in the middle of the virus vortex… And a last strip to end on a more positive note:
« Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech. » — Plutarch
When I think of cover layouts, I always recall the sage advice of my art school book design teacher, who posited that « a poster should be One Angry Fist », as you only have a second or two to make your point to the undecided consumer. That knuckle sandwich is what gets your message across, not a bunch of clichés and slogans; these only detract from the power of your image.
While we’re obviously dealing, in comics, with a commercial medium, it’s hard to not view it as creative interference, a lack of confidence**. While all publishers indulged in cover overhyping to some degree, Marvel and DC were the main offenders, and DC at least had superior title and logo designers***.
In the 60s, Jack Kirby created a massive amount of stunning cover art for Marvel… which editor Stan “Ne’er ’nuff Said” Lee buried, as often as not, under his trademark wiseass hyperbole. One might argue that this hardsell approach worked, commercially speaking. Artistically, on the other hand… well, the debate lingers on.
One could counter that cover hype only increased in the subsequent decades (imitated, amplified and distorted), and that stands to reason. That trend is pretty universal, since everything is getting louder, literally and figuratively: commercials, recordings, everyday life. Indeed: louder, sweeter, saltier, faster, meatier and of course cheesier.
Ah, but for what seems like a mere blip in its history, which is to say around ’68-’69*, Marvel somewhat dialled down the verbiage and let some prime Kirby compositions enjoy a bit of breathing room (at least on Fantastic Four, the company’s second-best seller — and number 16 overall for 1968).
This particular streak is circumscribed by two ho-hum (by lofty Kirby standards) covers: flat FF 81 and messy FF 88 (featured here)… which leaves us with plenty of goodies in the middle. Let’s take the tour, shall we?
In the face of all this, is it any wonder I found so refreshing the design quietude and purity of some recent comic books covers, such as the Chris Samnee creations we recently spotlighted? There’s hope, thanks to some enlightened folks out there.