Lou Brooks’ Banana Bob, “Boy Inventor of Harding High”

« Pretty soon, they had me working at the stat machine and the PhotoTypositor, or touching up stripper photos for the Trocadero Burlesk ads. Mostly putting some underwear on them. I may as well have been Vincent Van Gogh, for all I knew. I was in heaven. » — Brooks recalls his formative years

At first blush, I’ve immensely admired cartoonist-illustrator-historian (and so on) Lou Brooks (1944-2021) and his assured line. An ever-eager autodidact, Brooks handily achieved a feat that sets the mind a-reeling: soaking up ‘low’ illustration styles and the essence of faceless pictorial ephemera (think comic book ads, matchbooks, bar coaster and napkin art…), Brooks miraculously derived, from this primeval soup, his unique style, paradoxically bland (by design!) yet instantly recognizable.

One of Brooks’ earliest jobs in the badlands of professional cartooning was a strip he produced for Scholastic‘s Bananas (1975-84), a skewing-slightly-older companion to the publisher’s big hit Dynamite (1974-92). Banana Bob, “Boy Inventor of Harding High” exploited the time-honoured gizmo formula hatched in 1912 by Rube Goldberg with the twist that here, the doodads were contrived by readers and given visual interpretation by Brooks. Banana Bob ran for the mag’s first twenty-nine issues.

With the early strips, Brooks was still fine-tuning the works. With a dozen or so under his belt, he hit his stride. This one’s from Bananas no. 12.
From Bananas no. 13. Foo! There’s our pal, Bill Holman’s Spooky the cat (though he’s lost his bandage)!
From Bananas no. 16.
From Bananas no. 18.
From Bananas no. 19. And add a dash or two of Bill Holman… Brooks knew his stuff, all right.
From Bananas no. 20.
From Bananas no. 21. I see shades of a Jay Lynch influence!
From Bananas no. 24.
From Bananas no. 25.

From Bananas no. 26.
From Bananas no. 27.
From Bananas no. 28.
… and the series’ full-page finale, from Bananas no. 29, aka the 1979 Bananas Yearbook.

Though Brooks had already developed his trademark style — as evidenced for other illustrations he did for Bananas — he didn’t fully employ it on the Banana Bob strip. If memory serves, here’s where I first encountered a full-fledged Lou Brooks wallop, and I suspect I’m not alone in this (our younger readers are likelier to have first come across his exemplary revamp of the old Monopoly game):

For the feature’s duration — a decade or so — Brooks logos ushered readers into Playboy’s comic strip section (created in 1976 by hip new hire Skip Williamson) that featured over the years such heavyweights as Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Jay Lynch, Bobby London, Frank Thorne, Chris Browne

Here’s another, er, pair:

… and speaking of Mr. Spiegelman, here’s a collaboration between titans. It appeared in the January, 1980 issue of Playboy.

Of course, there’s so much more to Lou Brooks than one could conceivably cover within a mere blog post. To that end, we have a handy little biopic entitled A Guy Named Lou — filmed entirely in Illustr-O-Vision!

Brooks was an assiduous chronicler of the history of reprographics — don’t miss his jaw-dropping Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. While he did a bit of everything to keep himself amused and occupied, he never lost sight of his vocation, of his one true love — I mean, he was in a band (with Bill Plympton!), but it was called Ben Day and the Zipatones!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Spot the Octopus

An octopus has crept into the following pages. Can you spot it before the year ends?*

*I realize this is an extremely easy assignment, but given the state of things these days, one should seek out a minor sense of accomplishment wherever one may find it!

Page from Bananas no. 13 (1975, Scholastic), a kids’ magazine from the 70s. Somewhat similar to its older brother Dynamite, Bananas had (even) more of a focus on celebrities. Art by Bill Basso.
Pizzazz, published by Marvel Comics from 1977 to 1979, was pretty much a rip-off of Dynamite, and, as co-admin RG points out, rather tiresome to read with its constant insertions of Marvel plugs. From Pizzazz no. 11 (August, 1978, Marvel), this elaborate scene is by Graham Hunter – visit Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 27 for more from this great artist!
From the mag’s final issue, Pizzazz no. 16 (Jan. 1979, Marvel).

I have plenty more tentacles saved up, but after four years of weekly cephalopods, I am growing rather weary of this topic. While I endeavour to rekindle this old love of mine, I will move on to other interesting things, so this is not only the last Tentacle Tuesday of the year, but the last TT for a bit. See you on newer, fresher pastures!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 27

« No — I’m not alive! But we’ll have time to talk about that later! » — the accident-prone stranger

On the magazine front, Scholastic hit its peak in the mid-to-late 1970s with Dynamite (1974-92) Bananas (1975-84) and sundry periodicals aimed at various reading levels. Always comics-friendly, they struck a fruitful alliance with the fledgling Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, thus granting precious early exposure to some of the institution’s promising early alumni, such as Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben.

This is Weird Worlds no. 4 (1980, Scholastic). Cover by Joe Kubert. By ‘full-length’, they meant ‘four pages long’. Oh well.

Professorial Joe Kubert leads his students into a moody collaboration with the guiding lights of Dynamite, namely the husband-and-wife team of Jane Stine and ‘Jovial’ Bob Stine (of later R.L. Stine fame and fortune).

Could it be?

Well, Laurel could have fared far worse: her ‘Master’ is squarely in the then-fashionable Frank Langella / George Hamilton leading man mould. There was another alternative, of course:

You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.

Weird Worlds didn’t set this world afire, enduring but eight issues. Still, Scholastic would return to mine the teenage affinity for all things spooky and on that occasion (and further ones) strike gold and raise goosebumps.

-RG

The Many Lives of Jerry Robinson

« When comics came along in the 1930s there was a talent pool waiting. And one reason is so many areas were closed to Jews. Colleges, advertising agencies, many of the corporations – the doors that were closed led to the one that was open. » — Jerry Robinson

It’s New Year’s Day, which means it’s also the titanic Sherrill David ‘Jerry’ Robinson‘s birthday. Born on the first of January in 1922, he left us not so long ago, on December 7, 2011. He played at the very least a strong rôle in the creation of Batman’s sidekick Robin, his foes the Joker and Two-Face, his butler Alfred Pennyworth… and much more. Naturally, since we’re entering the murky world of Bob Kane, the whole process is mired in controversy, conflicting accounts and perhaps a little fibbing from certain parties.

Robinson went on to, well, several brilliant careers. In the 1950s, he worked as an instructor at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, where he mentored and considerably influenced a young Steve Ditko (among many others); he had a hand in several successful newspapers strips; served as president of the National Cartoonists Society (1967-69) and of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (1973-75); he lobbied hard for cartoonists’ rights, helping Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster obtain long-denied compensation and credit; he wrote, in 1974, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art. And this is but a sprinkling of highlights…

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We won’t limit ourselves to the obvious Bat-imagery, which was mostly studio work anyway. Here, for instance, is a more obscure but purer œuvre, both pencilled and inked by Robinson: the original art from « Behind the Mask », page 2, originally printed in Atlas’ Marvel Tales no. 103 (Oct. 1951). Writer unknown.

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My earliest encounters with Mr. Robinson’s work were through a pair of books for young readers he illustrated in the late 1950s, in a beautifully free and expressive styles. Here’s the cover and one interior vignette from The Phantom Brakeman (1959, Scholastic), written by Freeman Hubbard, then editor of Railroad Magazine.

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The following two pieces belong to Hurricane Luck (1959, Scholastic), written by Carl Carmer.

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Spoiler alert: Peter does, in the end, win the Tarpon fishing contest.

« What about Batman? », you might say. Okay, I admit I don’t have a prayer of getting away with a Jerry Robinson tribute devoid of the caped crusader and his trusty bird-themed sidekick, so here goes!

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Detective Comics no. 70 (Dec. 1942). Pencils and inks by Robinson.

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Detective Comics no. 71 (Jan. 1943). Pencils and inks by Robinson.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 22

« Grave grunge! You giggling squigglers wriggled around my fashion foul-up and found the store’s name! » – Count Morbida, vowing revenge

Jumping Jellyfish! Here’s the ghoulishly lovely and eerily colourful poster you got with your March 1976 issue of Dynamite magazine, numero 21, cover-featuring Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier and Jimmy Walker, stars of the recently-released sequel to Uptown Saturday Night, the honestly-titled Let’s Do It Again.

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Said poster features dapper Count Morbida (and friends, er, fiends), lovingly rendered by Arthur Friedman (hopefully no relation to evil crank Milton).

The cranky-but-adorable Count hosted his own Monthly Puzzle Pages in Dynamite, and even if the challenges were child’s play, they rarely failed to entertain on the verbal and visual level. Linda Williams Aber (aka Magic Wanda) ably juggled the bons mots.

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Despite his unrepentantly evil ways, the crafty nobleman accrued sufficient popularity to glom cover-feature honours a few times, as well as a spinoff book or two. Case in point: Dynamite 12 (June, 1975).

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-RG

“I’m sixty-three now, but that’s just 17 Celsius”*: Happy Birthday, Stephen Bissette!

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A panel from « Return of the Swamp Beast! », story by Jane and Bob (RL) Stine, art by Stephen R. Bissette, originally published in Weird Worlds no. 3 (Oct. 1979, Scholastic.) This is the colour version from the one-shot Bissette & Veitch’s Fear Book (April, 1986, Eclipse.) Colours by Brendan McDonough.

Ah, that old Earth’s taken another whirl, and so today, the wonderful Stephen Bissette, that most erudite master of terror *and* one of the truest, most steadfast gentlemen the medium has known, observes another birthday. He first breached this plane of existence in the wilds of Vermont some sixty-odd years ago today, on March 14, 1955. Let’s wish him all the best, shall we?

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The original art of this silk-spewing splash was reportedly acquired, by proxy, by erstwhile Calvin Klein Jeans model Brooke Shields. I like to envision it occupying a place of honour in the dining room of her favourite mansion. Or perhaps in the bedroom, right above the headboard?

This is from Saga of the Swamp Thing no. 19 (December, 1983, DC.) Quite respectably co-plotted and scripted by Martin Pasko (with Mr. Bissette), this predates epochal game-changer The Anatomy Lesson, but the Bissette/Totleben dream combo was already scorching eyeballs, en attendant Mr. Alan Moore’s accession.

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Newlyweds Rich and Jamie meet this dusty fellow, for the first and final time, in Egyptian Graffiti, story by Jane and Bob Stine, art by Stephen R. Bissette, originally published in Weird Worlds no. 2 (March 1979, Scholastic), also collected in Bissette & Veitch’s Fear Book , with colours by Michele Wrightson.

-RG

*George Carlin may have said that, or something to that effect. Who knows, these days?

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 23

« Join the Group Gripe by sending in your own Bummer, and our Dynamite artist might pick your idea to illustrate. »

Bummers was a long-running feature (from the first to the final issue, in fact) in the pages of Scholastic’s Dynamite Magazine (165 issues, 1974-92), whose success was due, in no small part, to the winningly wobbly style of its illustrator, Jared Lee (b. 1943).

Here’s a selection of the finest Halloween-themed bummers from issues 4 (Oct. 1974) and 65 (Oct. 1979). Was any one of these yours?

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It was bound to happen: two kids groused about the very same thing, and someone lost track. Well, kids, just be thankful the apples weren’t spiked with needles or razor blades. Left: the 1974 version. Right: the 1979 reprise. Note that Mr. Lee wasn’t about to repeat himself visually.

BummersHalloween78ABummersHalloween90A– RG