K Is for Krigstein!

« Krigstein was a heartfelt sort of warm guy, but always in conflict. He was getting sick and tired of being embroiled and embattled. He fought hard to keep interested, but began getting cynical. » — Gil Kane, or Eli Katz if you prefer, fellow K-Man.

On any given day, K could easily stand for Kurtzman, Kliban, Kirby, Kubert, Kremer (or Krenkel, Kaz, Kupperman, Keller, Kim, Kuper, Kricfalusi, Kristiansen, Kiefer, Kirchner, Kinstler, Kamb, Kida…): what’s just another letter in everyday life is one of comics’ mightiest signifiers.

Over seven hundred posts in, why have we never featured Bernard Krigstein, despite the fact that both of us absolutely adore his work? Part of the reason is that so much of value and insight has already been written on the subject, and part of it is that he’s hard to write about, which makes the existing literature even more remarkable and worth treasuring. And yet, there’s still so much left to say!

Hell, since it’s his birthday (born on March 19, 1919, he would now be one hundred and three years old), I’ll give it a try.

I’m not quite certain what precisely was my proper introduction to Mr. Krigstein’s œuvre: it was either my encounter with the whimsical The Hypnotist! (written by Carl Wessler, originally published in Astonishing no. 47, March 1956, Atlas), as reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales no. 19 (Sept. 1976, Marvel), or with Pipe-dream, scripted by Johnny Craig and reprinted in Nostalgia Press’ Horror Comics of the 1950’s (1971, edited by Bhob Stewart, Ron Barlow and original publisher Bill Gaines… mine was the French-language edition). I enjoyed the first one just fine, but the latter blew my young mind, not that I was equipped to fully appreciate it. Kudos to the editors for including the tale, because it really stood out amidst the tried-and-true and somewhat formulaic EC classics. It had no heavy, easily digested moral, it was illustrated in a sketchy, vaporous, elastic style that bore no resemblance to its more conventional company, to say nothing of the writing.

Pipe-dream originally appeared in Vault of Horror no. 36 (Apr.-May 1954, EC); written by Johnny Craig (who was also editor). This version was recoloured from original Silverprints by Marie Severin for Greg Sadowski‘s rather sublime B. Krigstein Volume One (2002, Fantagraphics).

As it turns out, even the story’s colourist, a young Marie Severin, had some severe misgivings about it: as she noted many years later, « I can’t remember a thing about coloring ‘Pipe Dream‘ the first time. I rushed through it because I found it so depressing. The whole subject was so dingy to me. I was just a kid, you know — I didn’t want to know anything about dope. When I saw it again, it brought back all those negative feelings. I suppose I shielded myself from them by doing it quickly. Now that I’ve lived a while I can appreciate its beauty, and I’m better equipped to color it. »

To be fair, she had done her usual fine job on it.

Having come late to the EC stable, Krigstein didn’t get too many cover opportunities. This is his second, and final shot, Piracy no. 6 (Aug.- Sept. 1955, EC)… and, I daresay, a classic.
Krigstein sure could paint the elements evocatively: from the same year, an illustration from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (Pocket Library Series no. 28, 1955).
A 1949 photo of the radiant artist, having just been awarded First prize in black and white graphics by the Brooklyn Society of Artists. I think that part of what makes me favourably disposed towards Krigstein is that he’s a dead ringer for my accountant, a most worthy fellow himself.

If one could find any fault in Greg Sadowski’s definitive two-volume Krigstein monograph, it’s that his research missed one crucial entry in his subject’s funnybook bibliography… the last, and longest one! Here’s hoping for an updated edition, some sweet day.

It took another hardy historian, England’s Paul Gravett, to uncover the fascinating, final piece of the puzzle. It turned up in Gravett’s The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (2008, Running Press). A comic book spinoff of the television series based in turn upon Salvatore Albert Lombino‘s (aka Evan Hunter, Ed McBain, Hunt Collins, Curt Cannon, Richard Marsten, D.A. Addams and Ted Taine) 87th Precinct series, it appeared in the final year of Dell’s Four Color series. So here are a few extracts (as Mr. Gravett would surely call them) from Blind Man’s Bluff; scripter unknown, pencilled and inked by Krigstein, from Four Color no. 1309, June 1962, Dell). By all means, read the whole thing here!

Gravett says of the tale: « Illustrated by the EC Comics genius Bernie Krigstein, it was described by him as ” … the most fantastically absurd story that has ever been typed or presented to an artist… ” A painter himself at the time, Krigstein quit the series after rejecting the unknown writer’s second script and pursued his art career, sadly never to draw comics again. Despite his misgivings, his swansong has a bizarre fascination to it. »

Well, that about wraps it up. See what I mean about how much there is to say? All this blather, and I never even got around to introducing the villains of the piece, Kanigher and Lee.

-RG

Haven’t You Heard? Santa Claus Is a Killer!

« Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus. » — Annie Dillard

’twas 1982, and DC’s mystery anthology titles were dead or dying (the last one standing, The House of Mystery, had but a year or so left to go), and The Unexpected, published since 1956, was a mere two issues away from cancellation. Latter-day editor Dave Manak had done a fine job with the means at his disposal, wisely engaging Joe Kubert (1926-2012) to grace close to ten issues with his ever-elegant artwork.

This is perhaps the finest of the lot, a wistful, old-fashioned cover that dispenses with most of the clichéd Holiday iconography.

This is The Unexpected no. 220 (March 1982, DC). Pencils and inks by Joe Kubert with extra-fine lettering by Gaspar Saladino (1927-2016), truly a key element of the cover’s visual appeal.
Drive carefully, darling!” Is that woman worried about *everything*? Talk about fretful. Insurance agents must adore her. From the Fairhaven and Bon Marché allusions, one may presume that the events are set in the state of Washington.
To give credit where credit is due, the unexplained bit with Santa’s hand on the phone is the story’s subtlest touch. He’s the one who phoned in the tip — anonymously, one presumes. Santa does not abide off-brand competition.

The issue’s lead, Holiday-themed story, boasts gorgeous art by powerful and versatile Puerto Rican cartoonist Ernie Colón (1931-2019), and it’s unusually well-coloured for the era (not to be confused with well-printed!), in that the shadings convey projected light and ambiance, not merely the prevalent, simplistic colour-by-numbers approach.

The writing, on the other hand…

Santa Is a Killer! is an artless hodge-podge of tropes, a kiddie rehash of Johnny Craig’s timeless “… and All Through the House” (Vault of Horror no. 35, Feb. 1954, EC), dressed up with the done-to-death-and-then-some “That — wasn’t *you*? Then — it must have been the –*choke* — real ghost / Satan / Santa Claus / Carlos Santana / Tooth Fairy / Larry “Bud” Melman!) “twist”. Did I mention that I love the art?

Since we strive to avoid repetition, and as my partner-in-mischief ds has already featured this legendary cover in her How do you like *your* Christmas? post, here instead is the original 1954 Silverprint proof, a colour guide for the printer’s edification and coloured by hand, presumably by EC’s resident chromatic conjuress, Marie Severin (1929-2018). Cover art by Johnny Craig.
It’s a little-known fact that VoH35’s dear, doomed wife’s peignoir was later snapped up for a pittance at an estate sale by a young rake by the name of Danny Rand. Soon, with a few minor alterations, he had himself a nifty (and silky!) crime-fighting ensemble. Just don’t ask ‘is that a ladies’ nightgown you’re wearing?‘ if you don’t want your features rearranged. This is Iron Fist no. 8 (Oct. 1976, Marvel). Cover art by John ‘Booster Cogburn‘ Byrne and Dan Adkins. And though « The Canadian Government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions » (and presumably for Céline Dion and Justin Bieber also), I say it’s high time Canuck honchos proffered their excuses as to cuddly Mr. Byrne.
To give you some idea of how prevalent the ‘Santa as homicidal maniac’ notion was by the 1970s, here’s another semi-famous instance: this is Creepy no. 59 (Jan. 1974, Warren); cover by Spain’s Manuel Sanjulián (b. 1941). A year later, writer-director Bob Clark (Porky’s, A Christmas Story) would unleash his influential Black Christmas.

Bonuses:
The film adaptation of Craig’s “… and All Through the House“, starring Joan Collins, from Tales From the Crypt (1972, Amicus), directed by Freddie Francis;

The television adaptation, from Tales From the Crypt (season one, episode two, 1989), directed by Robert Zemeckis.

-RG

Treasured Stories: “The People vs. Hendricks!” (1964)

« Programmed for love, she can be quite tender
Treat her unkind, nothing offends her
She vacuums the carpet and doesn’t complain
She’ll walk the dog in the pouring rain.
» — Was (Not Was), Robot Girl

Today, on the occasion of his birthday (this would be number 112), we celebrate the great writer and editor Leo Rosenbaum (1909-1974), Potentate of Pseudonyms. If you know of him at all, odds are it’s under his nom de plume of Richard E. Hughes, pioneering chief writer and editor of the American Comics Group (ACG, 1943-67), and then perhaps under one of the numerous colourful aliases he adopted to conceal the fact that he was doing most, if not all, the company’s writing. In alphabetical order, meet Pierre Alonzo, Ace Aquila, Brad Everson, Lafcadio Lee (a salute to the Irish-born writer of Japanese ghost stories of Kwaidan fame, perhaps?), Kermit Lundgren, Shane O’Shea, Greg Olivetti (probably inspired by the brand of his typewriter!), Kurato Osaki, Pierce Rand, Bob Standish and Zev Zimmer.

Early in my comics collecting days, I spent a lot of time consulting Robert Overstreet‘s The Comic Book Price Guide (a practice I’ve utterly abandoned) gleaning random bits of trivia and dreaming about potential acquisitions. One item that greatly piqued my interest was this note:

From the 12th edition of The Comic Book Price Guide (1982, Overstreet Publications).

Well, I did eventually get my hands on a copy, and I must say wasn’t disappointed. And since I was taught to share with the other kids, here’s the story in question.

While “The People…” draws upon familiar elements of The Bride of Frankenstein and say, Inherit the Wind, I daresay that its heart-rending conclusion is its very own.
And here’s the cover. This is Unknown Worlds no. 36 (Dec. 1964 – Jan. 1965, ACG); art by Kurt Schaffenberger.

As for the artist: Johnny Craig (1926-2001) had been absent from the comics field most of the decade that followed EC Comics’ near-total collapse and the advent of the Comics Code, when he suddenly turned up at ACG (he’d been toiling in advertising). He would later do some work with Warren, Marvel and DC until the early 80s, at which point he more or less retired. Craig’s always been near the very top of my favourites at EC. Since he was, artistically-speaking, painstaking (‘slow as mollasses in February‘, my art school drawing teacher was fond of saying) and quite self-critical, Gaines entrusted him, as he did in the case of Harvey Kurtzman, with some editorial and scripting responsibilities to make up the income shortfall and keep him around and happy. And so the Craig-edited-and-led Vault of Horror is easily the finest of the company’s horror trio, largely thanks to Craig’s solid writing skills, not to mention his inspired artwork. Craig’s stories provided a much-needed breather from Gaines and Feldstein’s often powerful, but also formulaic and overwritten tales.

Interestingly, while Craig’s art style is overall understated and full of spit and polish, he created several of the company’s most transgressive images (such as this one and that one). Editor-writer Hughes knew precisely what he was doing (as any editor worth his salt should) when he conceived this story and assigned it to Craig. It plays superbly to the man’s strengths, if you ask me.

-RG

How do you like *your* Christmas?

« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas makes me happy
I love Christmas cold and grey, I love it sweet and sappy
Says crazy kissin’ Cousin Flo:
‘Let’s break out the mistletoe’ »

FourColor201, 1948
The heart-warming cover of that Four Color no. 201, 1948. Art by Walt Kelly. Check out the adorable moon-jumpin’ cow in the top left corner!

Dell's Four Color #302
This is the back cover of Dell’s Four Color no. 302 (Santa Claus Funnies), 1950. Such warm colours. Art by Canadian Mel Crawford, who worked on various Dell publications in the 1950s (such as Howdy Doody, Mr. Magoo, and Four Color Comics) to later become an accomplished watercolours/acrylics painter.

« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas out the waz
Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas up the schnozz
Come all ye faithful, don’t be slow
It’s Christmas time, you can’t say no »

Creepy68-Christmas
Creepy no. 68 (January 1975), cover by Ken Kelly. “House’ and “about” don’t rhyme, but it’s the season to forgive. I like how Santa appears to be bawling in frustration.

VaultofHorror35
Vault of Horror no. 35 (EC, 1954), cover by Johnny Craig. Maybe open the lid of the coffin first, dumbass?

« Momma wants a kitchen sink
And daddy wants a stiffer drink
Grandma wants us to cut the crap
Grandpa wants a nice long nap »

Richard-Thompson-Christmas
Illustration by Richard Thompson. Who else wants some Festive Dietetic Crackers? I’d definitely sit with the mouse.

« Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas everywhere
Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas pullin’ out my hair
Shoppers lined up out the door
Traffic backed up miles and more
It’s Christmas time, so what the heck
Let’s go spend the whole paycheck »

MargeBuell-LittleLulu-Christmas
A Little Lulu cartoon by Marge Buell (Saturday Evening Post, 1944).

HilaryBarta-FelizNavidada
From the pleasantly warped mind of Hilary Barta with a fond tip of the Santa hat to old Uncle Salvador, obviamente. Да да да!

« Deck the halls, it is the season
We don’t need no rhyme or reason
It’s Christmas time, go spread the cheer
Pretty soon gonna be next year »

SensationComics38
Sensation Comics no. 38 (1945), cover by H.G. Peter.

LittleOrphanAnnie-Christmas
Original art for a Christmas card of Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray. Just some 70 years ago, right?

Merry Christmas!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 16

« When the dark mists rise up from the graveyard, and shutters bang in the windows of old abandoned houses, and the lights burn late in the back rooms of funeral parlors, the hour has struck for the Autumn People. » — anonymous back cover blurb

Frank Frazetta‘s cover for Ballantine Books’ October 1965 collection of EC adaptations of Ray Bradbury short stories (such a string of possessives!), namely « There Was an Old Woman » (art by Graham Ingels) « The Screaming Woman » (Jack Kamen), « Touch and Go », aka  « The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl » (Johnny Craig), « The Small Assassin » (George Evans), « The Handler » (Ingels), « The Lake » (Joe Orlando, some of the finest, most sensitive work of his incredibly-brief peak, which he would coast on for the rest of his career), « The Coffin » and « Let’s Play Poison » (Both Jack Davis).

FrazAutumn

I’m feeling foolishly generous, so here’s a panel from each story. Owing to personal bias, Mr. Craig is the only one who gets a full page to show off. Seriously, though, scripting his own stuff afforded him greater latitude in storyboarding his work… and how it shows!

IngelsOldWomanA
« Ghastly » Graham Ingels.

KamenScreamingA
Jack Kamen.

CraigTouchA
Johnny Craig.

IngelsHandlerA
Mr. Ingels again.

EvansAssassinA.jpg
George Evans.

OrlandoLakeA
Joe Orlando.

DavisCoffinA
Jack Davis once…

DavisPoisonA
… and Jack Davis twice.

I first encountered Bradbury through « The October Country » (1955), which turned out, I was to discover later, to be a heavily-revised version of his initial, Arkham House-issued collection, « Dark Carnival ».

« When given the chance to rerelease the out-of-print collection in 1955, Bradbury seized the opportunity to revisit his first book and correct the things he deemed inadequate. (Ever the perfectionist, Bradbury was, throughout his career, often discontent with calling a book done, even after its publication.) He rewrote a number of stories, made light revisions on others, cut twelve tales altogether, and added four new ones to round out the collection. The stories Bradbury discarded he thought too weak, too violent, or too primitive, and not representative of where he was as a writer at that moment. »

As it happens, several of the stories that caught Gaines & Feldstein’s fancy were the very ones that Bradbury was in the process of disowning. Ditching « The Coffin » or « Let’s Play Poison » or, for different reasons, « The Black Ferris » (as he was to expand it into « Something Wicked This Way Comes » a few years down the line) I can understand, but losing the incredible « The October Game »? Especially since he was making (lots of) room for his most plodding story, the seemingly-interminable (at 44 pages) « The Next in Line ».

There was a companion volume devoted to EC’s adaptations of Bradbury science-fiction tales, « Tomorrow Midnight », also boasting a Frazetta cover.

– RG