(Fondly) Remembering Tony Tallarico

« 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!

A page from Crazy Quilt, one of three stories Tallarico illustrated for my personal candidate for greatest horror comic book of all time, the unlikely one-shot Tales From the Tomb (Oct. 1962, Dell). Script and storyboard by John Stanley. Read the rest (complete with, fittingly, its analysis) of Crazy Quilt here.
Arguably, if Tallarico’s going to be remembered in comics and general history, it may be for this once-obscure but significant mid-60s creation. This is Lobo no. 1 (Dec. 1965, Dell Comics). Tallarico and writer D.J. Arneson hold different views as to the character’s genesis, as Canadian researcher Jamie Coville discovered in 2016. To his credit, Coville simply let the former collaborators present their respective side of the story. Read the resulting interviews here! And do check out the début issue itself, along with Tom Brevoort’s analysis… right here.

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. »

A Tallarico ad from Eerie no. 20 (March 1969, Warren); given Tony’s propensity to keep it in the family, ten-to-one that “Danny Smith” is actually Anthony Tallarico, Jr.
Cryptozoologists take note! Creepy no. 26 (April 1969, Warren); script by editor Bill Parente. I just adore Uncle Creepy’s pose (great use of props!), not to mention the question mark mullet. Should be the hit of the next tonsorial season!
Joe Gill and Tallarico took over the handlebars of one of Charlton’s established hot-rodders, Ken King. Following the direction blazed by their predecessor, Jack Keller, King had become “the Most Hated Man on Wheels!” (in Drag-Strip Hotrodders no. 13, Jan. 1967, Charlton) after being unjustly accused of wrecking his best friend, Jerry Gerard, aka “The Nicest Guy in Racing” during a meet. The series’ unremittingly bleak portrayal of the racing scene is fascinating, and Gill and Tallarico wisely kept the pace. This is World of Wheels no. 26 (June 1969, Charlton); cover by Tallarico.
An in-house ad from Eerie no. 23 (September 1969, Warren), technically Vampirella’s first published appearance. Art by “Tony Williamsune”, the collective nom de plume adopted by frequent collaborators Tallarico and William ‘Bill’ Fraccio. According to Tallarico, their collaboration was quite fluid: both contributed to layout, pencils and inks, but Tony was the extroverted go-getter, while Bill was the quiet one.
A “Williamsune” splash from Creepy no. 31 (February 1970, Warren). Tallarico on his association with Fraccio: « I would pencil some, he would ink some, visa versa y’know one of those things. I was really the guy that went out and got the work. Bill never liked to do that. It would depend. If he was working on something else I would start a project too and do pencils. It was a fun time. » [ source ]
This is Abbott & Costello no. 14 (April 1970, Charlton), featuring the beloved veteran comedians’ crossover with the aforementioned Ken King. The look of the series is based upon Hanna-Barbera‘s 1967-68 The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show rather than on the duo’s classic movies and routines. Besides, Lou Costello having passed away in 1959, his part was voiced by Stan Irwin (with Bud Abbott as… Abbott).
Preceding the advent of Jonah Hex by some months* in the Weird Western stakes, Geronimo Jones was a truly oddball oater series, in the best sense of the term. Created by Tallarico (script and inks) and José Delbo (pencils), Geronimo’s adventures ran for 9 issues (plus one that remains unpublished), from September, 1971 to January, 1973. Geronimo himself was essentially a young pacifist seeking his quiet place in the Old West, in the finest tradition. However, strange encounters and occurrences keep thwarting his noble goal. And none is more outlandish and shocking than what he comes up against in this issue, cover warning and all. This is Geronimo Jones no. 6 (June 1972, Charlton). The GCD credits the cover to Delbo alone, but the use of collage and halftone wash are telltale Tallarico trademarks… not to mention his distinctive lettering. My guess therefore is: pencils by Delbo, layout, inks and collage by Tallarico.
Tallarico and Fraccio did only a handful of stories in this wild, swirly style, including four for Charlton: The Curse of the Vampire in The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves no. 44 (Jan. 1974, Charlton);
this one, Come See Our Ghost… in Haunted no. 16 (June 1974, Charlton); The Reuger Formula in Haunted no. 24 (Nov. 1975) and A Solemn Oath! in Ghostly Tales no. 118 (Nov. 1975). Let me assure you that the sort of bold inking on display here, while deceptively simple in appearance, takes unerring confidence and skill to achieve. Bravissimo!

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. »

Here’s a lovely one: Things You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Monsters (1977, Grosset & Dunlap). From the author’s introduction: « My sincere thanks to the many motion picture studios who produced these great monster films. They have kept many a generation of fans ‘monsterized‘. My thanks to my parents, who did not forbid me to see these films when I was a boy. Instead, they brought out in me many of the questions that appear in this volume. They always stressed that monsters are another form of fictional entertainment. My thanks to my wife Elvira, and my daughter Nina**, who stood by while my son and I made a mess of the living room as we selected the many pictures that appear here. »

I should point out that I haven’t forgotten one of my favourite Tallarico projects, namely his charming work on the Bobby ShermanGetting Together” comic book (7 issues, Feb.-Oct. 1972, Charlton)… it’s just that I’ve already addressed the topic: check out Let’s Hear It for Bobby Sherman!

And what of his 1965 collaboration with The Shadow’s Walter Gibson, Monsters? Got you covered on that one as well!

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.

-RG

*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.

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 30

« Every time I go to Oona Goosepimple’s spooky old house something SCARY happens to me! » — Nancy

Back in the blog’s early days, my partner ds, wrapping up her tribute to John Stanley, stated:

« And I haven’t even mentioned Stanley’s Nancy, nor her friend (and my favourite character) Oona Goosepimple. Next time… »

Well, that time has come. Despite my deep and enduring love of John Stanley, I never could warm up to what’s generally considered the cornerstone of his œuvre, Little Lulu. It’s hardly Stanley’s fault: I just happen to dislike Lulu creator Marjorie ‘Marge’ Henderson Buell‘s visual conception of her characters.

On the other hand, I’ve always been in thrall to Ernie Bushmiller‘s world. Purists will, and surely have, objected to the bold liberties that John Stanley took with Nancy and Sluggo, but I don’t care a whit. This collision between the singular visions of a pair of cartooning geniuses is every bit as delightful as I might have hoped.

Night Howls first appeared in Nancy and Sluggo no. 174 (Jan.-Feb. 1960, Dell). It was reprinted in Nancy, Volume 4: The John Stanley Library (2013, Drawn & Quarterly). Script and layout by John Stanley, finished art by Dan Gormley.

One more short one?

The Ghost Story first appeared in Four Color no. 1034 – Nancy and Sluggo Summer Camp (Sept.-Nov. 1959, Dell). It was reprinted in Nancy, Volume 2: The John Stanley Library (2009, Drawn & Quarterly). Script and layout by John Stanley, finished art by Dan Gormley.
Fancy, uh? This is Nancy, Volume 2: The John Stanley Library (2009, Drawn & Quarterly); meticulous series design (and covers) by Gregory ‘Seth’ Gallant. Now if only D&Q would finish building the library, or at the very least give us Kookie and Dunc & Loo!
In 1975, when fandom movers and shakers Robert Overstreet and Donald Phelps visited Stanley in his home, « … he dug into a closet, and said, ‘I have something that might interest you.‘ He pulled out the roughs for the first Oona Goosepimple story for Nancy. Stanley told Phelps he could keep it. (Actually, it was the script for an unpublished story). » [ from the late Bill Schelly‘s illuminating Stanley bio, Giving Life to Little Lulu (2017, Fantagraphics). ]

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 10

« Ghost stories … tell us about things that lie hidden within all of us, and which lurk outside all around us. » — Susan Hill

We’ve once before turned our attention upon Dell’s Ghost Stories, an anthology title with such an incredible first issue (written and directed by John Stanley) that all the subsequent ones whither in the long shadow it casts. In recent years, I’ve somewhat softened my stance on these sequels, taking into account that nothing could measure up to Stanley’s work on numero uno — and accordingly judging them on their own merits.

As a kid, I didn’t think too highly of Frank Springer (1929-2009), being primarily familiar with his inks over Frank Robbins on The Invaders (too sloppy, and no substitute for Robbins inking himself, which never happened at Marvel anyhow). Down the line, I ran into some of his earlier work (Phoebe Zeit-Geist, The Secret Six, The National Lampoon, Dial H for Hero and sundry items for Dell) and grew to appreciate his strengths.

Now, Ghost stories was interesting as a ‘horror’ (in the very limited Silver Age/Comics Code in full force sense) anthology, in that the vast majority of the stories were, after that peerless first issue, the work of one single artist (Gerald McCann, after contributing a couple of page to number one, handled issues 2-5, with a couple of filler pages thereafter, then Springer took over for 6-20, the rest of the run consisting of reprints, with the unexpected exception of no. 35).

Here then is what’s likely my favourite Springer Ghost Story: A Room with a Dreadful Secret.

This is Ghost Stories no. 14 (June 1966, Dell). Cover by Springer.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Lovey-dovey Octopuses

Dunc and Loo (which was called « Around the Block with Dunc & Loo » for the first three issues) was a comic written and story-boarded by John Stanley. (See our initial post about John Stanley, including more D&C covers.) The finished art for the series was provided by Bill Williams. This combination worked perfectly to provide readers with (only eight, alas) hilarious issues of teenage high-jinks and other silliness.

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Dunc and Loo no. 7, July-September 1963, art by Bill Williams.

You can read the whole issue over at Comic Book Plus – no tentacles, I’m afraid, but some gorgeous art and zany stories. It’s well worth the detour!

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Hey, octopuses like surfing, too. Or maybe this one just wanted the blonde for himself…

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The Adventures of Bob Hope no. 94, 1964. Art by Bob Oksner… I think.

The Adventures of Bob Hope were published by National Periodical Publications from 1950 to 1968, for a total of 109 issues. The main stories centred around comedian Bob Hope (or his misadventures, rather); the cover stories often featured some other film-related characters. The original artist of the series was Owen Fitzgerald, with Cal Howard as the writer. Official credits aren’t really available, but these two seemed to provide much of the content for the first 60 issues. In #61, however, Mort Drucker (on main stories) and Bob Oksner (on back-ups) made their debut, and continued on their merry way until, oh, 1967 or so. In case you’re interested, Neal Adams did the last 4 covers for the series (eek).

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Here’s another series that followed a pretty similar path (unsurprisingly – same publishing house, comparable years, same subject matter): The Adventures of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis (July-August 1952 – October 1957) that became The Adventures of Jerry Lewis with #41 (November 1957). The art, handled mostly by Owen Fitzgerald in the beginning, gradually landed increasingly into the more-than-capable hands of Bob Oksner, who stayed around until the end with issue #124 (June 1971). Here, also, Neal Adams stuck his nose in, this time for three issues (covers of #102 through to #104).

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The Adventures of Jerry Lewis no. 44 (April 1958). Art is, presumably, by Bob Oksner, though GCD tentatively attributes it to Owen Fitzgerald.

Read this issue over at Ominous Octopus Omnibus (what could be more appropriate on Tentacle Tuesday?)

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~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 28

« No matter what scientists say, lumbermen of the West insist that the monster exists… Believe it or Not! » — the standard Ripley’s line, from The Beast of the Humboldt

In the early 1960s, former industry leader Dell Publishing suffered a crushing blow when Western Publishing, who had been producing Dell’s comics for them since 1938, decided to handle their own distribution, which left Dell with, well… just about zilch*. But that’s neither here nor there.

Dell had opted out of the Comics Code Authority, and Western’s subsequent comics, under the Gold Key banner, also enjoyed that advantage, not that they abused the privilege much, though the exceptions are among the finest comic books ever issued: Ghost Stories No.1 and the one-shot giant Tales From the Tomb, both from the phenomenal mind of John Stanley and published by Dell in the fall of 1962.

By the mid-1960s, Warren Magazines had pounced through the loophole of the magazine format, unregulated by the Code, to bring back monsters forbidden under the CCA’s rule. Gold Key required no such stratagem.

At first, GK’s long-running (1965-1980, 94 issues) Ripley’s Believe It or Not! * couldn’t decide on a focus: 14 of its initial 26 issues were devoted to « True Ghost Stories », two related « True War Stories », two shared « True Weird Stories », and six tackled « True Demons and Monsters ». With issue 27, the title stuck to ghosts, if not to the strict truth.

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This is an excerpt from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 4 (April, 1967), featuring the work of the much underrated Joe Certa (1919-1986), who began his comics career in the mid-1940s, working in just about every genre for a score of publishers, settling with Gold Key in the mid-60s and staying on until his retirement in 1980. He’s most remembered for his co-creation (with writer Joseph Samachson) of, and lengthy stint on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter (1955-68), as well as for drawing every single issue of Gold Key’s loose adaptation of television’s first supernatural soap, Dark Shadows (35 issues, 1969-76). By this time, Certa’s style had evolved from a fairly mainstream style to a wonderfully blocky, angular and shadowy style that left him ill-suited to the depiction of standard superheroics… but prepared him well for moodier fare.

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Issue 4’s front cover. Most of them featured often-splendid paintings by George Wilson, Jack Sparling or Luis Angel Dominguez, but the occasional effective photo cover crept in.

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Here’s a harsh factoid that makes vampires seem cuddly by comparison.

– RG

*the one priceless creative asset that Dell managed to hold onto was John Stanley, not that they appreciated him. When he left the industry, it wasn’t with a carefree grin and a spring in his step.

** « Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. The Believe It or Not panel proved popular and was later adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums and a book series. »

 

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 2

« … it was a balled-up thing… like an empty wrapper thrown carelessly aside… but somehow still recognizable as having once been human… »

Dell’s Ghost Stories (1962-1973, with issues 21 to 37 lazily and straight-up reprinting numbers 1 to 16… with a single, perplexing exception, the all-new, surprisingly decent issue 35, late in 1972) were quite tame, trifling stuff, with one notorious bright spot: the première issue, entirely written by John Stanley (1914-1993) and comprising, amidst other excellent short pieces, what’s possibly the most nightmarish tale to see print up ’til then in American comics (particularly all-ages comics!), « The Monster of Dread End ». It represented the kind of material few comics publishers could have gotten away with at the time, save, ironically, one of the squeaky-clean stalwarts (Dell, Gilberton, Gold Key…) that opted out of the industry’s recently-instituted governing censorship board, the Comics Code Authority. Their reasoning was that, having never published anything objectionable to begin with, they were unlikely to head down that sordid path in the future.

Journeyman cartoonist Frank Springer (1929-2009) provided some decent artwork through most of the book’s run, but as he didn’t have much to work with, script-wise (Carl Memling was no substitute for Mr. Stanley), the end result remains underwhelming. Looking at the bright side, he did provide a couple of quite alluring covers, the final, non-painted entries in our select little gallery.

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If you haven’t already made its acquaintance, treat yourself to the nerve-tingling Number One, available gratis under the auspices of the fine folks at comicbookplus.com. Love the semi-woodcut technique used on the cover by the Unknown Artiste.

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Ghost Stories no. 3 (April-June 1963). Cover artist unknown.

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Ghost Stories no. 10 (April-June 1965). Cover artist unknown.

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Ghost Stories no. 19 (August 1967). Cover and interiors by Frank Springer.

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Ghost Stories no. 31 (January 1972). Cover and interiors by Frank Springer, price and indicia aside, a facsimile of issue 11 (July-September 1965). My own tepid introduction to the series.

-RG

Happy birthday, John Stanley!

I’d like to bring to your attention that on March 22nd, 1914, more than a hundred years ago, John Stanley, American cartoonist and comic book writer extraordinaire, was brought into this world. He died in 1993 at age 79, but he left an undeniable mark on this world. (At least I hope it’s an indelible one.)

I won’t talk about his artistic parcours, as people far more erudite than I have already done it. For an enjoyable gallop through Stanley’s multi-faceted and staggeringly productive career, head over to the Comics Journal and read an excellent article by Frank Young. Want to read some stories (and have a few hours, if not days, to spare?) Visit Stanley Stories, a truly impressive blog by the same Frank Young, who scanned tons of comics and perceptively analyzed them for our great enjoyment.

Me, I’m just an devotee who likes to curl up and read his comics. I’ll share some images. The art is by John Stanley, unless otherwise specified.

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Marge’s Little Lulu no. 10 (April 1949). I recommend « John Stanley: Giving Life to Little Lulu » by Bill Schelly, published in Fantagraphics in 2017, which pieces together Stanley’s transformation of Little Lulu into the beloved, iconic figure she is today.  I’ve never felt the need to have female characters to relate to, yet Lulu’s a great role-model for mischievous little girls who can pitch a mean snowball as well as any boy!

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Marge’s Little Lulu Tubby Annual no. 2, March 1954. Cover by Irving Tripp from a layout by Stanley. Tubby’s series is an offshoot of Lulu’s.

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Page 8 from « Guest in the Ghost Hotel », from Tubby no. 7 (January-March 1954). Looking for ghosts, ghouls and monsters? Look no further than Stanley comics.

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John Stanley took a stab at Krazy Kat stories when Dell revived the comic in 1951. Krazy Kat Comics lasted for 5 issues (presumably poor sales doomed it), all published in the same year. This is Krazy Kat no. 1, 1951.

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How do Beatniks while away the hours? They compose nonsensical poetry, noodle it out… and dig girls, of course. Kookie was John Stanley’s creation; the series was written and laid out by him. Unfortunately, it was very short-lived, running for a grand total of 2 issues. This is Kookie no. 1, February-April 1962. The handsome painted cover is by Bill Williams from a layout by Stanley. You can read the issue here.

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Dunc And Loo no. 6, April-June 1963. Cover by Bill Williams from a layout by Stanley.

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Lou (of Dunc & Lou) was apparently destined to be a newspaper strip, but never made it.

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Melvin Monster no. 2, July-September 1965.

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O.G. Whiz no. 1, February 1971.

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An inside page of O.G. Whiz, with very typical madcap Stanley action.

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It’s not all fun, though: « The Monster of Dread End », written by John Stanley for Ghost Stories no. 1 (Dell, September-November 1962), is genuinely scary. Art by Ed Robbins.

And I haven’t even mentioned Stanley’s Nancy, nor her friend (and my favourite character) Oona Goosepimple. Next time… pick yourself up a copy of Drawn & Quarterly’s Nancy: The John Stanley Library, and happy reading!

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From Melvin Monster no. 1 (April-June 1965).

~ ds