« Clocks in disagreement are worse than no clock at all. » — David Mitchell
There’s simply nothing that gets me more into the proper Hallowe’en spirit than a spectral Joe Gill – Steve Ditko yarn.
Back in 1999, Mr. Ditko shared this intriguing insight about his most frequent — and preferred — collaborator:
« Joe Gill is one comic book story/script writer who understands a comic panel. Many other writers believe a single panel is a long, continuing strip of a movie film, containing numerous, changing, point-of-view frames. »
Here, then, is a moody tale that originally saw print in Haunted no. 7 (Aug. 1972, Charlton).
A few notes: The title design is among the best I’ve seen from Charlton; it wasn’t generally their forte.
I’m wondering whether I’m just imagining the Benny Goodman / Don Ellis jazz subtext. Joe Gill is just the type of guy to surreptitiously toss that into the mix. Goodman, the ‘King of Swing’ was an paradigm of the big band school of jazz, while Ellis, though he began his career with Glenn Miller’s band, soon fell in with the avant-garde side of things. I see a natural dichotomy at work here… though I’m a fan of both myself.
Also, this seems to me like another instance of the suave villain / obnoxious hero setup (think Night of the Demon)… I mean, who would you rather spend an evening with, dapper Howard R. Clark, or with those two boorish, meddlesome stuffed shirts? Oops, I think I’ve given my bias away.
For a bit of mood setting, listen to some of those fabulous Lights Out radio shows that Mr. Clark so rightly digs.
And here’s a swingin’ Miller performance, circa 1937, of the Louis Prima standard Sing, Sing, Sing. And to balance things out, here’s Don Ellis performing his Bulgarian Bulge in 1969. Now, now.. can’t we all just get along?
So we’re done, countdown-wise, for another year. If that’s not enough to satisfy your odious cravings, take a stroll through our voluminous-by-now archives, at this point one hundred and eighty-six posts strong (or at least long!):
People have quite a range of definitions as to what constitutes romance. For some it’s novels of werewolf romance, others prefer completely mind-boggling Fabiosa stories (‘Unborn triplets crashed my husband’s love‘), and some ship (I learned this term from a younger colleague) characters from whatever TV show happens to be in vogue.
If you were a teenager in the ’50s, 60s, or 70s, you probably would have read romance comics, immensely popular at the time. Charlton Comics published a whole bevy of them, and co-admin RG has amassed a respectable collection. For weeks now I’ve been reading issues of Teen-Age Love during my lunch hour, specifically for their Jonnie Love stories. Introduced in Teen-Age Love no. 61 (November 1968) as the ‘new teen swinger’ – ‘he has a way with a guitar and a way with girls!’, Jonnie lingered within its pages for quite a while, having all kinds of adventures, hanging out with new conquests and lost souls in every issue. As advertised, he was indeed good with a guitar. Joe Gill, who was scripting the stories, wrote him as a kind of chevalier errant, wandering from town to town (with the ultimate goal of going back to his hometown, which he never achieves), offering a helpful hand to damsels in distress who are running away from predatory men, disciplinarian fathers, or just the solitude of a small town.
Jonnie Love stories appeared in 31 issues overall, but I’m most intrigued by those published in Teen-Age Love issues numbers 61-74, as they were created by the same tip-top team: scripted by Joe Gill, pencilled by Bill Fraccio and inked by Tony Tallarico (see RG’s (Fondly) Remembering Tony Tallarico).
It was actually rather difficult which tale to feature, for they’re all pretty good, and I had to decide on some sort of optimal concomitance of a good plot and how the story was told visually. The final decision was Jonnie Love and the Go-Go Girls, published in Teen-Age Love no. 63 (April 1969), which I think strikes a good balance between plotting and interesting art, and is a fairly typical example of Jonnie’s behaviour in general.
This story has several things going for it – an entertainingly evil manager, a grotty dance club, the go-go-dancers, and of course the protagonist, a farmer’s daughter who ran away from her parents to make it big in showbiz (the lines dreaming of glory/twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun‘ come to mind). ‘Cute‘, notes Jonnie, ‘but there are tens of thousands with as much talent‘. Some romance stories set out to stun their readers with ritzy places, glamorous dates, and finding a rich prince charming; others feature women who give up a life of success for simpler living – a small town, a farm, a cabin in the woods. The latter moral always feels a bit stilted, even aside from me feeling bad for women who have to give up a career they worked so hard to achieve (mostly because such plots are retrograde, and it’s all-too-seldom considered that a woman can marry and continue working).
In Jonnie Love yarns, there is a strong undercurrent of returning ~Home~, home from which one foolishly ran away and which beckons lonesome wanderers back to its comforting womb. The plots are imbued with bittersweet longing for this homecoming, and that is what lingers most in one’s mind after finishing the stories. Yet the people depicted in them are outcasts; Jonnie himself was outed as a weirdo in both dress and thoughts by the people in his home town, which is why he left it in the first place. Returning is hardly the panacea it’s supposed to be (unless one is willing, this time around, to ‘fit in’ properly), and while some of these nomads do manage to make it back, our main character is doomed to forever roam strange towns, sleep in fields, and share sweet kisses with girls he knows he’ll never see again. Rather a tragic figure, really.
« Someone at Dell Comics decided it’d be swell to turn famous monsters into superheroes — an idea whose time never came. And just to make sure there were bad, they hired Tony Tallarico to draw them. » — — James Schumeister, with the sort of brickbat typically lobbed at Mr. Tallarico.
Last week, we lost, at the venerable age of eighty-eight, the controversial, much-maligned Tony Tallarico (Sept. 20, 1933 – Jan. 7, 2022). The case of Mr. Tallarico’s reputation is typical of mainstream US cartoonists who generally eschewed the superhero genre. His mistake, I suppose, is that he drew a handful of them, and in his own distinctive fashion to boot, thus sealing his doom in Fanboy court.
Yet there’s far more depth and variety to Tallarico’s career, and that’s should be remembered. Besides, those superhero comics were just light-hearted, unpretentious fun. Obviously not what the continuity-addicted True Believers craved.
Let’s take a tour of some of the highlights!
As reported in Alter Ego no. 106 (Dec. 2011, TwoMorrows): « On May 20, 2005, Tony Tallarico received the Pioneer Award, given for his co-creation of the first African-American comic book hero, Lobo, a post-Civil War cowboy who appeared in two issues of his own Dell/Western title. The honor was given at a ceremony held at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. »
By the mid-70s, with his main comics accounts defunct or dormant (Dell, Treasure Chest, Charlton), Tallarico, ever the astute and tireless businessman (another rare trait among cartoonists) simply stepped up and diversified his efforts, branching out and creating a market for himself. « In the 70s the whole business went kaput. Luckily I was able to transfer over into doing children’s books. I’ve been doing children’s books ever since. My wife went though a count several months ago. It was over a thousand titles. That’s a lot of children’s books. »
I don’t know whether I’ll change anyone’s mind about Mr. Tallarico’s work, but I believe I can rest assured I gave it my best shot.
*Hex was introduced in All-Star Western no. 10 (Feb.-Mar. 1972, DC).
**My closest brush with the Tallaricos came in 2015 when I helped his daughter Nina identify and source some artwork she was selling on eBay for her dad. In my experience, a very nice lady. My sincere condolences to the bereaved family.
« 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.
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?
While he worked for just about every New York comics publisher under the sun (and certainly some under a rock), let’s note that he displayed and gleefully indulged his flair for the macabre at Harvey in the 1950s, and his versatility while Illustrating the Classics for Gilberton, tackling for instance Poe’sThe Cask of Amontillado, Cooper’s The Prairie and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
Palais kept a low profile during most of the Sixties, but turned up at Gold Key and Charlton around 1967. For the latter, he crafted his final work in comics. Between 1967 and 1974, he sporadically turned his hand to a handful of short tales in the western, war and mystery genres. As far as I can tell, his comics œuvre respectably concludes with the quite amusing Cry for Tomorrow, in Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves no. 46 and The Last Cruise of the Princess III in Ghostly Haunts no. 39 (both July 1974, Charlton), the latter also featuring some of Mike Vosburg‘s earliest pro work. As one door closes…
« 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.
Then we come to a real bevy of Boyette tentacles a few issues later –
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.
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.
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.
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).
The thing kept coming. “Die, die!” Parke screamed, his nerves breaking. But the thing came on, grinning broadly. “I like quiet protoplasm,” the thing said as its gigantic mouth converged on Parke. “But I also like lively protoplasm.” It gulped once, then drifted out the other side of the field. — excerpt from The Last Weapon by Robert Sheckley
Call it goo, label it as a giant amoeba, christen it ectoplasm or protoplasm, but when it starts crawling your way, do remember to beat a hasty retreat.
Coo! this page has everything: a prehensile amoeba, tentacled plants, aliens with cephalopod appendages…
… but it’s the amoeba that’s of current interest to us (yes, the one devouring everything in its path, including dawdling professors).
Continuing our literary delusions, a peek at the adventures of a ‘star vampire’, from a (somewhat lackluster) comic book adaptation of a Robert Bloch short story:
If a tentacled amoeba is scary, just think of how startling it is to run into an amoeba with a single bloodshot eyeball (that feeds on soap, among other things).
Not only does this monstrosity go after the scientist, instead of pursuing his absurdly attractive assistant…
But she’s also the one who saves the situation. Joe Gill, ladies and gentlemen!
« You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep. » — Navajo saying (attributed)
I’ve written before of my appreciation of Joe Gill‘s long-running yet consistent ‘good guy with an edge‘ characterization of Billy Bonney, but I had stuck to the book’s exteriors, namely Warren Sattler’s watercolour covers from the final stage of the series’ original run. I’ve also — twice! (first here, then there) drawn attention to John Severin (1921-2012) and his colossal powers as a cover artist. Today, at long last, we dare to peer inside.
Some may wonder at the up-to-date slickness of our current selection. Bear with me. Sure, it’s old, sure, it’s obscure, and the original comic book it saw print in is on the pricey side… but it’s work that’s found some resolute champions in the intervening sixty years.
After the Charlton comics line made the switch to a mostly-reprints mode (circa 1977-78), executive editor (and cartoonist) George Wildman, possibly nudged along by his colleague Bill Pearson, endeavoured to harvest some dusty gems from the vast archives at his disposal. In this case, six consecutive issues (nos. 124-129) of the long-running Billy the Kid were aimed squarely at the discerning fans with a bold ‘All Severin Art‘ label.
Fast forward to just a couple of years ago. As the nefarious, multifarious Mort Todd* tells it: « I had the extreme honor of working with John for many years as a writer, penciller and editor. When comics creator Bill Black told me he had a complete run of John’s work on Billy the Kid in the form of Charlton’s original photostats, we decided to recolor the work and release it in two volumes. Since the original artwork is lost to history, these photostats are the closest things to the originals to reproduce from. »
When I approached him, Mr. Todd most graciously granted me permission to showcase an excerpt from his restoration of Messrs Gill and Severin’s efforts. If you enjoy this one, do check out morttodd.com for more goodies!
You may have noticed that this Billy the Kid fella displays some awfully progressive attitudes for 1959… and, some might say, even for today. And if you surmised that the story’s writer, Joe Gill, was a card-carrying liberal, you’d be way off the mark. He was, after all, Steve Ditko‘s favourite collaborator**. Gill was, instead, a bonafide conservative, fair-minded, intellectually honest, prudent, sagacious. It would appear that with time and shifting meanings and mores, this once-thriving breed has been overwhelmed by today’s reactionaries, who arguably went so far as to usurp and absorb its very name.
By way of contrast, and speaking of cowboys… Marion Morrison*** (1907-79), better known as “Popular, handsome Hollywood Star John Wayne“, despite his renown as a so-called Conservative Icon, was no conservative… he was just another reactionary. I mean, just consider *his* stance towards African-Americans (« I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people. ») or Native Americans…
Meanwhile, Gill’s Billy the Kid, though thoroughly adept at quick marksmanship and fisticuffs, always sought to defuse conflict and avoid bloodshed through wits and compassion. His idea of paradise (just like his real-life cousin, come to think of it) was to head South of the border into México and hang loose among his amigos, who good-naturedly called him El Chivito.
*whose name basically means “Death Death” in French and German (albeit with an extra D); how cool is that?
**“The comic book story/script writer? It doesn’t matter who follows the first. That first choice is Joe Gill.” — Mr. Ditko, from his preface to Steve Ditko’s 160-page Package no.3 (1999).
« Maybe one day I’ll feel her cold embrace and kiss her interface; ’til then, I’ll leave her alone. » — Jeff Lynne, Yours Truly, 2095
Without further tergiversation — here’s the thrilling conclusion of our tale!
In case anyone’s wondering, why do I treasure this particular tale?
Let me count the ways and means: the cosmic adventures are treated as asides, ceding centre stage to Warren Simms’ and Clarissa’s slow-simmering pas de deux. Whatever surprise comes at the dénouement had been carefully and honestly foreshadowed and backgrounded, respecting the reader’s intelligence. Unsavoury implications of the robot/human relationship are brought up, then coyly cast aside, in a ‘we know, but we’re not going there‘ move.
For me, it’s mostly about Joe Gill’s sober, understated writing, though I can hardly envision anyone turning in more lushly complementary visuals than did Mr. Aparo. I’d be over the moon to say that The Imitation People was one bead on a long string of commensurate efforts, but nope, it’s just about a one-off. It was only preceded by Denny O’Neil and Pat Boyette‘s classic Children of Doom (read it here).
Thoughtful science-fiction* in American comics as always been poorly served: with meagre exceptions, it’s been a numbing, near-constant diet of space opera.
There was the anomaly of EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy… DC’s long-running, Julie Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space were fun, but trifling in the end (the short length did not help), and while Warren Magazines came through on occasion, they vastly underperformed on that front. Western Publishing’s Starstream tackled some classic adaptations, but the results were a bit staid. Grandmasters Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, of course, could handily pull off the feat: the former’s OMAC was a wonder of anticipation (with an honourable mention to his 2001: A Space Odyssey), and the latter’s tense serial Life on Another Planet (also collected as Signal From Space) kept its focus on the human drama.
« You are not as strong as the Robots. You are not as skillful as the Robots. The Robots can do anything. You only give orders. You do nothing but talk. » — Karel Čapek, Rossum’s Universal Robots (1921)
From the Department of Promises Kept: nearly a year ago, while featuring the late 60s run of DC’s Aquaman, I happened to posit that « Aparo returned to the character just a few years down the road, but by then, he’d already begun his long, painful artistic deterioration. » One reader disagreed. Another clamoured for some Aparo art, presumably his better stuff.