« Special effects are characters. Special effects are essential elements. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. » — Laurence Fishburne
Spookiness is afoot in Riverdale! Here’s a lovely George Gladir (script) & Samm Schwartz (pencils, inks and letters) saga to suit the season. I love those longer tales, which in this case allows for a larger-than-usual cast and a more leisurely pace.
‘A Haunting We Will Go’ was originally published in Archie Giant Series Magazine no. 564 / The World of Jughead (Sept. 1986, Archie). Oh, and colours by Barry Grossman.
« The people who are always hankering loudest for some golden yesteryear usually drive new cars. » — Russell Baker
We’re having a bit of a scorcher over here, so I’m doing my bit to compensate with a piece set in wintertime.
As we surely all know, Archie stories (in the comics at least) are formulaic to a fault. This static state of affairs plays a considerable part in their comforting nature. Sure, all fashions and trends are embraced and discarded, but the characters don’t evolve in any significant, permanent way. No lesson ever sticks.
So on the rare occasion when a writer deviates from the formula, it really shows. This tale, I daresay, is such a specimen. Virtually plotless, it’s a precursor, by more than half a decade, of that rule-breaking « show about nothing »: Seinfeld (1989-1998).
While nothing much happens here in terms of plot, this is a difficult trick to pull, in any medium: as it mainly consists of yadda yadda yadda (but witty yadda yadda yadda… another daunting level of difficulty), it’s talking heads all the way, so you need some great performers who know how to keep an audience engrossed through the minimal means at their disposal.
In comics, this calls for a great illustrator, a master of body language and the art of the mise en scène, namely Samm Schwartz (1920-1997). I shudder — and not with delight — to envision this particular script landing in the hands of a lesser light, which is to say practically anyone in the Archie stable save Bob Montana (but he’d died in 1975) or Harry Lucey (retired and in poor health by then). While he was never credited for anything but his artwork, Schwartz enjoyed a free hand with his regular collaborators’ scenarios (George Gladir and especially Frank Doyle), with their blessing. And he was always enriching his backgrounds with delightful pantomime mayhem.
Craving more Schwartz? Go on, help yourself to the full spread right here.
« How could you be so sure? … they could be real! » — Reggie Mantle, believer
Sure, it’s a hoary ol’ plot, used both to comedic and dramatic effect a gazillion times, but… as is often the case, the plot is more or less accessory. I always enjoy an Archie comics story that reminds us that these kids have known one another forever (from their perspective — not in the sense that they’ve been around since the 1940s, that’s too metatextual). With Archie for the most part being someone things happen to, as opposed to a catalyst — one who sets events into motion, I’m rather more interested in the adversarial (and sometimes collaborative) relationship between Reggie and Jughead… when it’s properly explored.
« Coming to play golf is not what I would consider to be an essential purpose. » — Nicola Sturgeon
I’ve long wanted to showcase one of Samm Schwartz‘s Jughead stories on this blog, but always hit the same snag: which one? Not too long ago, while revisiting my trove of 1970s issues, I came upon just the specimen. Tee for Three appeared in Jughead no. 247 (Dec. 1975, Archie). I’ll spare you the hideous-as-usual Stan Goldberg cover.
Why this one among hundreds of others, then? For one thing, it’s longer; at eleven pages long, it’s a towering freak amidst the customary five-or-six pagers.
But that’s not all: Tee for Three also boasts an unconventional plot, one that cried out for (and received) a more leisurely deployment. Its tone is also surprising: it’s quite deadpan and sanguine in its absurdity.
For once, you can envision why these three, despite being frenemies or plain rivals, would actually hang out: they challenge and entertain one another. And even collaborate when the occasion calls for it. In this case, Jug, Archie and Reggie are so bonded in their good-natured folie à trois that the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue and hardly stands a chance.
While such a golf contest would surely result in much injury, property damage and litigation in the ‘real’ world, it sure seems like a rollicking bit of sport here, and isn’t that what good fiction is for(e)?
« What is this ‘witch’s brew‘? Oh, that’s a special! It’s a squirt of everything! » — Pop Tate divulges one of his culinary secrets
A little while back (okay, quite a while back!), upon reading an article written by cartoonist Seth (John Stanley’s Teen Trilogy, The Comics Journal no. 238, Oct. 2001), this passage especially piqued my interest: « I have to admit right now that I like Archie comics quite a bit and I have hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin-off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) ».
As it happens, I’m in full agreement with the gallant Mister Gallant : this was when Archie’s Mad House and Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats came along, when Bob White (and Samm Schwartz, and Orlando Busino) were producing scads of wild and wooly covers featuring ghouls and bug-eyed critters, mole men and mad (though I’m told they prefer ‘eccentric’) scientists and sundry extraterrestrials and witches. The line’s cover layout was also nicely open, affording the artists plenty of latitude to indulge themselves. Here are some samples from the aforementioned creators at the peak of their formidable powers, before the end-of-recess bell rang and stifling homogeneity was henceforth imposed.
« … there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. » ― Clement C. Moore, A Visit From St. Nicholas (1823)
Not too long ago, we glanced at the interesting case of Tower’s teen line, another instance of works insufficiently popular to be properly reprinted, yet still sought after by collectors and aficionados and consequently on the pricey side. And so it is within this limbo that Tippy Teen and Go-Go and Animal find themselves consigned, in the rather fine company of Sugar and Spike and Angel and the Ape. Let’s not strand them there for the duration, please.
So why do I consider Tippy Teen superior to Archie? For one thing, while there’s some underwhelming artwork to be found here and there (sorry, Doug Crane), there’s nothing dismal (no Al Hartley, no Dick Malmgren, no Gus Lemoine, no Stan Goldberg…), and the writing is generally superior, thanks to, among uncredited others, the great Jack Mendelsohn (recycling and updating his old scripts, but that’s not the end of the world).
Here’s a little seasonal piece I find quite witty and charming. The well-paced work of an anonymous scripter and my beloved Samm Schwartz, it appeared in Tippy Teen no. 18. The whole issue’s quite solid, and since it’s in the public domain, you can enjoy it right here.
« Welcome to the house of horrors! Brought to you by Grippo Denture Adhesive! »
A little while back, we made a brief detour through artist Samm Schwartz’s Silver Age Archie comics covers and touched upon the time he took the last bus out of Riverdale and headed for the greener pastures of New York… and an art director gig with Tower Publications.
Robert Klein and Michael Uslan, in their foreword to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives Volume 1 (DC Comics, 2002), stated: « With Samm Schwartz not very familiar with or comfortable editing super-hero adventure books, publisher Harry Shorten cut a dream deal with Wally Wood. Samm would handle the Tippy Teen titles as well as the Undersea Agent comic book and the war comic book called Fight the Enemy. He would be the managing editor of the company and its day-to-day office executive. »
Interestingly, Tippy Teen was the first Tower material to be reprinted: in 1975, four issues of Vicki (a renamed Tippy) were issued by the *very* short-lived Atlas/Seaboard, featuring ugly new covers by Stan Goldberg. These issues rank among the most scarce and priciest Atlas releases. Most of the line’s books can still be easily found and acquired dirt cheap… but not Vicki.
When I hear about Dan DeCarlo‘s would-be artistic influence on Jaime Hernandez, I can’t help but wince. If I squint real tight, I can kinda-sorta-maybe see a flicker of it in the wholesome sexiness of Betty and Veronica circa 1960-63, but no more. DeCarlo was soon reduced to such a state of hackdom that I can’t fathom how Jaime would have been driven to imitate and absorb the lessons of such hastily-executed, formulaic drivel. There, I’ve said it. On the other hand, Hank Ketcham, Steve Ditko, and, dammit, Mr. Schwartz’s touches are evident all over, though perfectly amalgamated into Jaime’s own singular vision. The way Schwartz and Hernandez draw clothing folds, the beautifully expressive comedic body language… it’s unmistakable.
And as a bonus, this helpful feature from Tippy’s Friends Go-Go and Animal no. 3 (June 1966, Tower), illustrated by Samm Schwartz. And yes, the boys can also come as beautiful victims.
« What is it about me, Pops? Am I different than normal people? »
One (more) thing I’ve learned in this world is that the vast majority of people, from the man or woman in the checkout line to the hard core of comics aficionados… can’t tell Archie artists apart, let alone name any of them.
If you scratch deep enough, one name will come up, like pebbles from a fallow field: Dan DeCarlo. I’m reminded of the annual restaurant poll a local alternative weekly used to hold: McDonald’s unfailingly took its category in a landslide, because of its ubiquitous familiarity. And so it is with Archie artists: DeCarlo must be the best because… well, that’s what we’ve always been told.
If you ask me, much of his peers’ work gets attributed to him. For instance, check out our gallery of Bob White covers. That Archie’sMad House no. 27 cover, in particular…
WOT’s pick for top artist on the Archie totem is handily Samm Schwartz (1920 – 1997). He’s easily the smoothest, most inventive storyteller in the Archie universe. Despite his skill as a cover designer during Archie’s best years (1959-1965, a figure proposed by cartoonist-scholar Seth and worth carving in stone), there were no Schwartz covers chez Archie after 1965.
The likely reason? In ’65, Schwartz was hired away by Wally Wood‘s Tower Comics (by managing editor Harry Shorten, a former Archie writer-editor) to serve as their art director. While there, he conceived Tower’s relatively prolific teen humour line, featuring Tippy Teen, Go-Go and Animal, and Teen-In, often glibly dismissed as “Archie clones“, by people who clearly haven’t read the work. We’ll return to these eventually.
Now comes the clincher: Schwartz in turn hired some of his former Archie colleagues to pitch in (presumably at higher page rates); DeCarlo (a handful of stories in early issues of Tippy Teen), Harry Lucey (a decent batch, actually) and reportedly Bob White (no sign of him, though). But the bulk of the work was done by Schwartz and future Archie artist Doug Crane.
Now the Archie people didn’t like this one bit; it was a clear case of sedition, a threat to their tidy little work camp system. After the industry’s near-collapse in the mid-1950s, there weren’t a lot of options in the tight-knit little club that remained; let’s not forget that even Jack Kirby was driven to such humbling desperation in the early 1960s. It was all too easy to be blackballed. The Goldwater clan, Archie’s reigning dynasty, took careful note of Schwartz’s break for freedom and the names of his accomplices. After Tower called it a day in 1969, Schwartz went to DC for a year, but it didn’t take. He was forced to return to Archie, which certainly suited the publisher since Schwartz’s signature title, Jughead, had been wilting away in his absence.
The terms of his return are unknown… but against all odds, Samm proceeded to create the finest work of his career, pencilling, inking and lettering hundreds of inspired Jughead stories until, well, until he couldn’t any more. But no covers, considered a plum job: these went exclusively to DeCarlo (with an occasional Lucey) and later to versatile mediocrity Stan Goldberg, aping DeCarlo’s style and random design sense*.
To quote his daughter, Joanne Colt, from the introduction of 2011’s The Best of Samm Schwartz (it isn’t, but it’s pretty good): « He drew for Archie until his death on November 13, 1997, my birthday. There was an unfinished story on his drawing board. »
*the way I see it, the difference between a Bob White or a Samm Schwartz cover and a DeCarlo is the difference between a considered, effective layout and the act of pointing a camera at random and snapping the shutter. To be fair to DeCarlo, his girlie cartoons for Martin Goodman’s Humorama were excellent, and his first half-decade at Archie (60-65) was fine… then the company wore him down into a sad hack and the unfortunate protagonist-victim of a cautionary tale.
« Gosh! I never knew you had a school for monsters! »
« There are a lot of things about Transylvania that you American tourists do not know! »
Archie Comics’ earliest foray into monster humour was its long-running, in one form or another*, Mad House series (1959-82).
It doesn’t get any better than Samm Schwartz‘s cover for Archie’s Mad House no. 16 (December, 1961). The early issues featured Archie and the gang in slightly more surreal settings than usual, then they were phased out, with the noteworthy exception of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who was introduced in AMH 22 (October, 1962). The title was a fine showcase for Archie’s best and most idiosyncratic stylists, Schwartz, Orlando Busino and Bob White in particular.
An idea they liked so well they used it (at least) twice. Bonus points for bothering to redraw it! This was Archie’s Mad House Annual no. 4 (1966-67), cover art by the aforementioned Bob White.
*It was called Archie’s Mad House (issues 1-60), then simply Mad House (61-65), then Madhouse Ma-ad Jokes (66-70), Mad House Ma-ad Freak-Out (71-72), The Mad House Glads (73-94), Madhouse (in a non-cartoony horror format, featuring the likes of Gray Morrow and Vicente Alcazar, 95-97), then finally Mad House Comics (95-130).
Let’s start with something hair-raising. Well, not really – we’re a blasé audience, and it takes something special to truly scare us. Yet can you deny the foul-smelling, palpable sense of foreboding, the billowing and swirling nightmare that beckons from the elegant inks of this page?
Gravesend is an ancient town in northwest Kent, England; as for the gorgon part, it’s not entirely accurate, but it’s clear that comic writers cannot resist an alliteration.
On a slightly more humorous front (unless one is directly involved with this green monstrosity, in which case the situation would quickly lose its humour), here’s a page that hails from Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such no. 4, (June 1995). The story features the half-worm, half-human albino Autumn Brothers, whom you can see here greeting the big worm-momma. Texas blues rockers Johnny and Edgar Winter attempted to sue, but the suit was dismissed after a judge begrudgingly ruled that « the First Amendment dictates that the right to parody, lampoon and make other expressive uses of the celebrity image must be given broad scope. » Thank you, Los Angeles court. Frankly, it seems that the brothers are more remembered for the lawsuit than their music.
Jonah Woodson Hex, created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga in 1971, curmudgeonly and disfigured but bound by a personal code of honour, is a favourite character of mine, although I only like the way he is written for DC’s Weird Western Tales. Well, with one exception, this one! I most tentacularily recommend Jonah Hex: Shadows West, a collection of the three Vertigo-published mini-series scripted by Lansdale and illustrated by Tim Truman and Sam Glanzman, containing the stories Two-Gun Mojo, Shadows West and Riders of The Worm and Such.
And to wrap this up, on an even goofier note, here’s Jughead getting into yet another weird situation, which is pretty standard for him.