Nick Cardy’s Romantic Side

« In YOUNG LOVE, how can people talk when they kiss? My mom can’t talk when she’s kissing. Can you? I am nine years old. » — Mary K, an astute young reader

It’s recently occurred to me that, in a year-and-a-half of posting, I’ve utterly neglected to feature one of my favourite artists, Nick Cardy (1920-2013); I suppose he’s been easy to take for granted, as he was DC’s main cover artist during most of Carmine Infantino‘s management years (1967-1976).

Much has been made, in various forums, of Cardy’s covers for Aquaman, the Superman titles, The Teen Titans, the Mystery books, and so on. I figured I’d have to dig a bit deeper. Cardy, ex aequo with the even more underappreciated Bob Oksner, was arguably DC’s primo portrayer of feminine pulchritude, and what I’d seen of his artwork for DC’s romance line was pretty stunning. It just turned out that there was far less of it than I had assumed.

DC’s romance books were sadly treated as the proverbial Siberia of the company’s roster. How else might one explain calling upon top illustrative talent, the likes of Jay Scott Pike, John Rosenberger, Ric Estrada, Werner Roth … then taking these fine men’s work and slathering it with wall-to-wall Vince Collettafinishes. We’ll return to this topic, naturally. This time around, we’ll showcase the sentimental side of Mr. Cardy. He seems to have produced fewer than thirty covers for the romance line (not counting a handful of gothics he did), of which I’ve retained an even dozen. I’m reserving a handful for an eventual thematic post, plus one that Colletta “fixed” (in the criminal, rather than useful, sense.)

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Falling in Love no. 115 (Feb. 1970), edited by Murray Boltinoff.
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Falling in Love no. 119 (Nov. 1970), edited by Murray Boltinoff. Something tells me Mr. Older Generation is holding a pipe off-panel.
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« Goodbye, and as my sister once said, good riddance! » This great Nick Cardy cover puts an attractive spin on an issue unfortunately marred by the omnipresent and indigestible Vinnie Colletta sauce over half the stories. Poor Ric Estrada and Werner Roth! Girls’ Romances enjoyed a healthy 160-issue run from 1950 and 1971. This is number 144 (Oct. 1969).
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« Rumors are carried by haters, spread by fools and accepted by idiots. » – Unknown purveyor of sage quips –  This is Girls’ Love Stories no. 139 (Nov. 1968) Edited by Jack Miller. Inside: The Only Man for Me, illustrated by Ric Estrada, How Could He Stop Loving Me?, by Tony Abruzzo, a Mad Mad Modes for Moderns from Jay Scott Pike, a reprint from 1963, Kiss Me If You Dare, by John Romita, Sr. and Bernard Sachs, and our cover story, She’s Young, Beautiful–and Alone! … Why?, illustrated by John Rosenberger.
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Girls’ Love Stories no. 143 (May 1969), edited by Joe Orlando, who couldn’t be less suited to the genre.  Cover wise, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I  suppose, but I adore Cardy’s expressive, roughly organic inks. Still totally in control!
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Girls’ Love Stories no. 148 (Jan. 1970), edited by Joe Orlando.
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Girls’ Love Stories no. 151 (May, 1971), edited by Joe Orlando.
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Interesting, given that these were the prime days of women’s lib, how little actual sisterhood was in evidence in these comics. Too many *male* cooks, surely. Girls’ Romances no. 147 (Mar. 1970), edited by Murray Boltinoff. Carmine Infantino‘s fingerprints are all over this particular layout… which is more than fine: he’s a master.
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This is Super DC Giant no. S-17 (Sept.-Oct. 1970), “edited” by Dick Giordano. Despite comprising nothing but crappy reprints, the scarce item will cost you a pretty penny if you can find it in decent condition. Here’s its only worthy selling point, Mr. Cardy’s cover, of course.
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Talk about a question that provides its own answer… this is Young Love no. 74 (May-June, 1969). Edited by Dick Giordano (who lost the bet that month). Cardy’s Alex Toth-ish side rises to the surface.
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Young Romance no. 157 (Dec. 1968 – Jan. 1969), edited by Joe Orlando. Never was the “Have a Fling With…” tag more appropriate… and more disturbing. « Oh, Ann-Margret‘s your mom? »
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Young Romance no. 163 (Dec. 1969 – Jan. 1970), edited by Joe Orlando. YR, as you may know, was the original romance comic book, created way back in 1947 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Things improved near the end of the series’ run, when Simon briefly returned to ride it into the sunset.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-o-rama

There’s some sort of Conan-mania around these parts. I’ve never understood the fascination with the Barbarian Hero (associated terms, in case you go barbarian-spotting: loin cloths or Pelts of the Barbarian, taut rippling muscles, oiled back, impressive weapons, the beard of a grizzly bear – or inexplicably clean-shaven at all times – and glorious manly manes), but clearly others go for sword-and-sorcery stuff in a big way. Conan sure puts the ‘sword’ in… err… well, he puts the sword into *everything*, slashing, hacking and dismembering his way through tedious comic after tedious comic.

He also runs into tentacled monsters, like, every 5 seconds. It seems that whatever tentacles existed in the Hyborian Age, they all made a point of appearing in concentrated clusters in whatever geographical area Conan was passing through. I understand, it’s difficult to come up with a decent monster for an Epic Fight Scene every month. Tentacles were clearly Plan B for days when nothing more exciting came to mind.

I’ve actually skipped some Tentacle Tuesday-relevant covers of this Conan the Barbarian series (275 issues published between October 1970 and December 1993) because they were just too ugly… or too boring. Can you imagine a cover with tentacles on it that’s boring?! Well, I can, now.

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 Conan the Barbarian #25 (April 1973), penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Ralph Reese. I actually sort-of like this cover. Nice totems!
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Conan the Barbarian #32 (November 1973), penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Ernie Chan. “Give the woman tentacles, but make sure she has huge boobs, too. And make them flesh-coloured, otherwise it’s too weird. And give her fangs because she’s also a vampire.
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Conan the Barbarian #41 (August 1974), penciled by Gil Kane and John Romita (?), inked by Ernie Chan and John Romita.
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 Conan the Barbarian #45 (December 1974), penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Neal Adams. What a cutie! I bet he was just minding his own business in a cave when he was rudely interrupted by Conan and his blondie.
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Conan the Barbarian #86 (May 1978), art by John Buscema.
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 Conan the Barbarian #116 (November 1980), penciled by John Buscema and inked by Klaus Janson; the latter information has been suggested by co-admin RG, whose artistic eye I unreservedly trust. To quote him directly: «another misattribution from the GDC. They think it’s Neal Adams inking, toss in Dick Giordano’s name to try and explain away the too-thick-for-Adams lines, and still get it wrong. Giordano’s inking is sloppy and random, never ‘organic’. This, despite clearly being a rush job, isn’t botched. The main inker: Klaus Janson, then-member of Adams’ Crusty Bunkers, and an inker with a very distinctive style. Dead giveaway, if you need just one: Conan’s left boot, bottom right corner. It’s likely a group effort, but there’s no trace of Adams nor Giordano on this page. Adams does pop up later, mostly inking Conan faces and some figures.» See how hard we work to bring you not only entertainment, but also edification?
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« Is that you, Conan? » Conan the Barbarian #117 (December 1980), art by John Buscema. Why is Spidey’s face in the bottom left corner?* Everyone looks half-hearted on this cover – the tentacles are only making a half-assed attempt at grabbery, Conan’s in the middle of some sort of intricate ballet footwork, and the girl seems a little bored. It’s not a good sign when I start reminiscing about the good old Gil Kane covers… I don’t even like Gil Kane (although I’m gradually warming up to him, I admit).
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Conan the Barbarian #136 (July 1982), art by John Buscema. I’m fascinated by the sword’s arc: what direction is it going in? From the bubbles, it’s a swing backwards, but why is the tentacle in the path of that art unaffected? And why is Conan swinging backwards? That child’s face is enough to give one nightmares.

In the mood for more Conan? Visit another Tentacle Tuesday entry, the Savagery of Conan’s Savage Sword, for a gallery of painted Conan covers, replete with mostly nude cuties and of course a great heaping helping of tentacles.

~ ds

*because it’s a direct sales edition, as opposed to a newsstand edition, which would bear a barcode.

Donald McGill, King of Saucy Postcards

« Won’t you have a little rest when they turn out the lights
A nice cup of tea and you’ll be feeling alright
Don’t fret, you’ll recover yet you’ll see
So keep on sending dirty postcards back to me
Back to me, back to me » — James Warren/The Korgis (1980)

London-born Donald McGill (Donald Fraser Gould McGill, to be more precise, 1875-1962), was known for his risqué seaside postcards, sold mostly in souvenir shops in British coastal towns.

He painted the usual figures of fun in the noble tradition of British titillating humour: attractive young ladies, obese men, respectable drunks in the throes of a midlife crisis, cantankerous old ladies, religious personnel, courting couples (a lot of courting couples!), and so on. He painted well, he was prodigiously prolific… and he was not afraid of making jokes so off-colour they could possibly make a sailor blush. (I only have a vague idea of what sailors were like back then, you see.)

McGill ranked his own work according to its vulgarity, classifying it into “mild, medium and strong”. It goes without saying that the “strong” category sold in far greater numbers! Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), McGill’s postcards got him into trouble with upholders of the Moral Good (spoilsports!), culminating with McGill being dragged into court in 1954, when he was almost 80, for breaking the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. The result of this hearing was a hefty fine for McGill, and disaster for the companies producing saucy postcards, with several smaller companies going bankrupt as sales plummeted, cards were destroyed and retailers cancelled orders.

McGill very much died in the saddle: he continued to work until his death in 1962 (and with cartoons for 1963 already prepared). He certainly recycled some jokes, but I think it’s safe to say that he was not about to run out of material. The “king of the saucy postcard” is estimated to have produced around 12 thousand (!) paintings during his career, resulting in the sale of around 200 million postcards… and no royalties for McGill, mind, just his earnings of three guineas per design.

These days, he’s credited with an astute power of social observation and impressive artistic skill. He’s worthy of that praise, but what touches me most is that McGill gave people who surely needed some cheer in their lives a reason to smile, giggle and perhaps even daydream. Hell, some of these postcards made *me* daydream.

Okay, enough theoretical discussion! On to the indecency. I’ve roughly sorted these out by degree of (increasing) “vulgarity”. I honestly didn’t think the jokes would go beyond the “not indecent, but suggestive as hell” category, as per a definition my college best friend coined for something else altogether, yet some of them make surprisingly direct references. Isn’t it lovely to know that our great-grandmothers had their minds in the gutter, too?

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In the category of “social commentary”.

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I can’t decide whether this is just sweet and innocent or makes a reference to something far more lewd.

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This particular postcard holds the world record for selling the most copies (a little over 6 million).

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For further, ahem, study, view (or even purchase!) 24 banned (sauciest!) postcards right here, or visit the Saucy Seaside Postcards resort.

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« McGill’s family was steadfastly respectable. He said of his two daughters: ‘They ran like stags whenever they passed a comic postcard shop.’ »

You can also take a gander at some sketches, which were unearthed in someone’s attic in 2015. As the article explains, « drawings feature fat old ladies, big busted women and lusty men. » While you’re at it, brush up on your Brit slang for the bedroom (entirely unnecessary for the current post, but fun!)

~ ds

Hot Streak: Steve Ditko’s Ghostly Haunts

« There’s no room for professional jealousy around the graveyard, chums… life is too short, as they say… but what comes after that short life may stretch into all eternity! »

I could carry on endlessly (or so it would seem) on any number of obscure topics, but it’s healthy, every once in a while, to take a deep breath, empty one’s mind of its flotsam and jetsam, and reach for an old favourite.

I hadn’t yet written anything about Steve Ditko‘s passing, as I figured it would get lost in the mad shuffle of tributes. That base was well-covered. Still, while I’d known all along the day would come, it was hard to imagine a world without that reclusive genius, likely my very first artistic inspiration.

I didn’t see much of Ditko’s 60s Marvel work until the late 70s pocket book reprints (the period equivalent of watching a movie on one’s cellphone), but the Charlton ghost books grabbed me at a tender age. And so…

As my candidate for Steve Ditko’s finest cover run, at any company, I submit issues 22-27 and 29-30 (curse you for the interruption, Joe Staton!), from January 1972 to March 1973, final year of Ditko’s peak period, imho.

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Ghostly Haunts no. 22 (Jan. 1972), an excellently-balanced all-around winner, with the whimsical “Wh-Who’s in Th-There?” (w: Joe Gill p: Charles Nicholas i: Vince Alascia), “Witch’s Brew“, a taste of creepy suburbia with a whiff of Rosemary’s Baby brimstone (w: Joe Gill, p/i Pat Boyette) and our headliner, “The Night of the Lonely Man!” by Gill and Ditko. Read the whole pamphlet here, folks.
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Ghostly Haunts no. 23 (Mar. 1972), offers two Gill-Ditko stories: “Treasure of the Tomb” and the cover-featured “Return Visit!“… and I’d be hard-pressed to pick the superior entry. The reader wins. Ah, you cast the deciding vote: read them both here.
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Ghostly Tales no. 24 (Apr. 1972), another strong issue, thanks to Gill and Boyette’s “The Other One!” and of course Ditko illustrating “A Man Who Was Here“, Joe Gill’s parable about a Tennessee mountain man displaced, but not entirely, by the construction of a modern superhighway. Read the entire issue here, ladies and gentlemen.
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« The butler’s a real monster! » Ghostly Tales no. 25 (June 1972) is where Mr. Ditko demonstrates his unmatched virtuosity in the delicate task of incorporating several elements of a tale without winding up with the dog’s breakfast. Compositional alchemy of the highest order! The cover tale aside, Joe Gill’s wonderfully-titled “What Will Lance Surprise Us with This Time?“, illustrated by Fred Himes, is loads of fun. Read “I’ll Never Leave You!here.
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Roger C. Feeney, Indian Affairs bureaucrat from Washington, DC, appears to have stumbled onto the wrong sacred Hopi cave. Uh-oh, Roger, it appears you’ve been noticed by… something. This is Ghostly Haunts no. 26 (Aug. 1972). Beyond the classy Ditko cover, it’s just an okay issue.
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« Why does it happen each year? Citizens of Trappton don’t know it, but it always begins right here… at an unmarked grave… » Presumably bearing no direct relation to the 1967 Michael Winner- Orson Welles – Oliver Reed film, I’ll Never Forget What’s-His-Name“, the Gill-Ditko cover story is a classic, the tale of a forgotten man, Bertram Crumm, who merely wanted his existence recognized by the town that spurned him during his lifetime.
It’s too bad Charlton only occasionally featured mystery host Dr. Graves in active (rather than narrative) roles, because when they did, the results were pretty gripping. Unusually, Graves guests outside his own book and in Winnie’s, and we find ourselves with a classic on our hands. This is Ghostly Haunts no. 27 (Nov. 1972). Read the Gill-Ditko story here, but don’t miss the fabulously oddball “The Mine’s All Mine!” by Gill and Stan Asch, featured right here.
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« Maybe I’m going mad! I keep imagining I hear his voice! » Ghostly Haunts no. 29 (Jan. 1973) features a striking (gold) exercise in fearful symmetry announcing the Joe Gill – Ditko saga of two untrustworthy acolytes in the Canadian North. Check out “Partners!here.
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« Ugh! It’s really hideous! Is it a self-portrait of the real you?»  We put the finishing touches on our tour of Steve Ditko covers from 1971-72 with Ghostly Haunts no. 30‘s “Fear Has Three Dimensions” (Mar. 1973). Despite a theme right in Ditko’s wheelhouse, none of his art appears within; the cover feature is handled by Wally Wood disciple Wayne Howard, and the other tales are deftly told by Fred Himes and Warren Sattler.

That just about wraps it up. For further reading on the topic, I recommend you check out Ben Herman’s perspective on some of these very stories, and on Ditko’s spooky Charlton work of the 70s in general.

« Poor Agatha Wilson still has screaming fits! »

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Those Blackhawks and Their Marvellous Tentacled Machines

« Blackhawk is helpless! He’s being drawn up by that suction tentacle! »

When my co-admin learned that today’s Tentacle Tuesday is all about Blackhawk, he wanted the answer to an important question. Did I know who created the character? I did not. As some of our readers may be in the same boat, I’ll share what I gleaned.

Blackhawk, the leader of the Blackhawk Squadron, was supposed to have been created by Charles Nicholas ‘Chuck’ Cuidera with assistance from Bob Powell and Will Eisner. Why “supposed”? As with a lot of series that came into existence some 80 years ago (the first appearance of the Blackhawks Squadron was in a Quality Comics issue published from 1941! Holy crap!), and human memory and human’s desire for recognition being what they are, there’s a lot of squabbling about who actually did what.

« Will Eisner has at times been considered the characters’ primary creator, with Eisner himself acknowledging the contributions of Chuck Cuidera and writer Bob Powell. Over the years, Cuidera became increasingly vocal that he did much more work on Blackhawk than Eisner and that he had in fact already started creating the characters prior to joining Eisner’s studio. According to Cuidera, he and Powell fleshed out the concept, deciding on everything from names and nationalities, to the characters’ distinguishing traits, uniforms, and the aircraft they would fly. » |source|

In 1999, Eisner addressed his view of the matter during a Comic-Con panel:

« It’s not important who created it… it’s the guy who kept it going, and made something out if it that’s more important. Whether or not Chuck Cuidera created or thought of Blackhawk to begin with is unimportant. The fact that Chuck Cuidera made Blackhawk what it was is the important thing, and therefore, he should get the credit. »

To me, that sounds like yet another confirmation that Eisner was a really classy guy. At any rate, all we can say with certainty is that Eisner worked on early Blackhawk covers with Cuidera.

Oh, right, we’re here for the tentacles. The Blackhawks have fought a variety of bizarre war machines in their time (and by “bizarre”, I mostly mean preposterous). You can read quite a lot of the DC-published issues (up until no. 273) here, though I’d only recommend it for those of you who don’t mind *really* suspending disbelief while reading a story. If you’re one of those fuddy-duddies who actually insist on plots that make sense, move along!

On a more positive note, the art is usually quite nice. (However, there’s also usually *a lot* of dialogue – peppered with French and German exclamations, as The Blackhawks are an international crew – obscuring the nice art.) The full team consists of the following braves: Blackhawk (American), Olaf Friedriksen (Danish), André (French), Chuck Wilson (American), Hans Hendrickson (Dutch), Stanislaus (Polish), and Chop-Chop (Chinese… seriously, guys? You couldn’t come up with a better name for him?) Oh, and I should probably also explain that events unfold during WWII, and that the Blackhawks are fighting on the Allies’ side (well, obviously).

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Blackhawk No.109 (February 1957), pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Charles Cuidera.
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Blackhawk no. 130 (Nov. 1958), pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.
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Blackhawk no. 166 (Nov. 1961), pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.
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Blackhawk no. 190 (Nov. 1963), pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Charles Cuidera.
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Blackhawk no. 211 (Aug. 1965), 
pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Charles Cuidera.

One of the rare cases where tentacles are promised *and* delivered inside:

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Page from « Nobody Replaces a Blackhawk », pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Charles Cuidera. The evil guys here are the Octopus Gang!
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Blackhawk no. 224 (Sept. 1966), pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Charles Cuidera.
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Page from « The Blackhawk Wreckers », scripted by Ed Herron, pencilled by Dick Dillin and inked by Charles Cuidera.

I have to admit that while looking up stuff for this post, I grew rather fond of the Blackhawks. It’s fun to follow their adventures in completely improbable situations, to eagerly anticipate the introduction of yet another asinine machine hellbent on destruction. I also enjoyed the international flavour of the team – and Chop Chop, despite his ridiculous name, isn’t treated differently from his teammates.

Y’know what the Blackhawks look like these days?

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/marvel_dc/images/9/91/Blackhawks_Vol_1_1.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20110923235035

It’s important to update the image of old heroes so that new audiences can relate. Now let’s go rinse our eyes out with acid.

Signing off before I melt into a big puddle – this post comes to you courtesy of RG’s help cleaning up the images, and of my heavy cold which made me unusually verbose 😉

~ ds

Edgar Allan Poe: Immortality Is but Ubiquity in Time*

« Be silent in that solitude
    which is not loneliness — for then
the spirits of the dead who stood
    in life before thee are again
in death around thee — and their will
shall then overshadow thee: be still. »
— Edgar Allan Poe (1829)

It was on this day, two hundred and ten years ago, that the great writer, poet and posthumous master of all media Edgar Poe (Jan. 19, 1809 – Oct. 7, 1849) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I’ll spare you the usual biographical details, widely available elsewhere, and we’ll concentrate on his unflagging ubiquity in the medium of comics.

Poe’s literary reputation was in tatters in America, thanks to a rash of hatchet jobs and dismissals, some of the most vicious from the pen of one Rufus Griswold, the very worm he’d named his literary executor (!), as well as such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson and T.S. Eliot… while his renown was undimmed in Europe, particularly in France (in no small part owing to Charles Beaudelaire’s legendary translations), rehabilitation at home slowly came as the 20th century crept along, but it was likely the publication of Arthur Hobson Quinn’s definitive Poe biography, in 1941, that sealed the deal and opened the floodgates.

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Top two tiers from page 2 of The Spirit‘s August 22, 1948 episode. Layout by Will Eisner, pencils and inks by Jerry Grandenetti. As Dave Schreiner puts it: « Grandenetti captures the asthenic look of Roderick Usher that Poe described. The man is a decadent waif; insular, fragile, high-strung, possibly in-bred. »

Classics Illustrated publisher Gilberton was first out of the gate with Poe adaptations, at first tentatively with a pair of poems (Annabel Lee, then The Bells)**, then more substantially with The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in Classic Comics no. 21 3 Famous Mysteries (July, 1944), sharing the stage with Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy de Maupassant. Read it here. Pictured below is Classics Illustrated no. 84 (June 1951, Gilberton), cover by Alex A. Blum. Read the issue here.

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A relevant passage from Simon Singh‘s fascinating (if you’re into that sort of thing… and I hope you are) The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking (1999): « On the other side of the Atlantic, Edgar Allan Poe was also developing an interest in cryptanalysis. Writing for Philadelphia’s Alexander Weekly Messenger, he issued a challenge to readers, claiming that he could decipher any monoalphabetic substitution cipher. Hundreds of readers sent in their ciphertexts, and he successfully deciphered them all. Although this required nothing more than frequency analysis, Poe’s readers were astonished by his achievements. One adoring fan proclaimed him ‘the most profound and skilful cryptographer who ever lived’. In 1843, keen to exploit the interest he had generated, Poe wrote a short story about ciphers, which is widely acknowledged by professional cryptographers to be the finest piece of fictional literature on the subject. The Gold Bug tells the story of William Legrand, who discovers an unusual beetle, the gold bug, and collects it using a scrap of paper lying nearby. That evening he sketches the gold bug upon the same piece of paper, and then holds his drawing up to the light of the fire to check its accuracy. However, his sketch is obliterated by an invisible ink, which has been developed by the heat of the flames. Legrand examines the characters that have emerged and becomes convinced that he has in his hands the encrypted directions for finding Captain Kidd’s treasure. »
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A page from EC Comics great Reed Crandall‘s exemplary adaptation of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, from Creepy no. 3 (June, 1965). While Crandall’s work is outstanding, scripter-editor Archie Goodwin tried to ‘improve’ upon Poe by tacking on a tacky ending, a nasty habit he would indulge in again on subsequent adaptations, notably issue 6’s The Cask of Amontillado!. Read The Tell-Tale Heart. And don’t miss The Cask…, if only for the artwork.
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In the mid-70s, Warren would devote two full issues of Creepy to Poe adaptations; issue 69 (Feb. 1975), featured The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Premature BurialThe Oval Portrait, MS Found in a Bottle!, Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar; issue 70 (Apr. 1975) comprised The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Man of the Crowd, The Cask of Amontillado!, Shadow, A Descent into the Maelstrom! and Berenice
All stories were adapted, with far greater respect than Mr. Goodwin seemed capable of, by Rich Margopoulos, and illustrated by a host of artists. The project was edited by Bill DuBay, and the cover painting is by Ken Kelly.
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Isidre Monés‘ fabulous opening splash from Creepy no. 70‘s Berenice. Read the story in full here.
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« The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Musselmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. » In 1976, a peak-form Berni Wrightson got out his brushes and paint tubes for a heartfelt portfolio of Poe-inspired oils. A sensitive and subtle sense of colour was among Wrightson’s chief assets; it’s a shame we didn’t see more of it. I opted to feature my favourite piece from the lot, A Descent Into the Maelström, but by all means feast your eyes on the whole shebang.
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In 1976, Marvel Comics set out to make their mark on the classics… with dubious, but predictable results. It wasn’t what their zombie readership had clamoured for. Here’s the best page (art by Rudy Mesina) from Marvel Classics Comics no. 28, The Pit and the Pendulum (1977), featuring three tales adapted by scripter Don McGregor, and including future superstar Michael Golden‘s abysmal professional début on yet another helping from The Cask of Amontillado, where he demonstrates how he believes wine is to be drunk just like Pepsi. See what I’m griping about here.
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Think Poe’s all about the horror? Think again! You don’t become a household name by putting all your eggs in the same basket. Meet Edgar ‘Eddie’ Allan Poe, romantic leading man. “Based on actual records…” and sanitized beyond recognition. Given that Virginia and Edgar were first cousins and that they married when she was thirteen, you can see how absurd this strip is. Read the full tale of romance and pathos right here. The Beautiful Annabel Lee appeared in Enchanting Love no. 2 (Nov. 1949, Kirby Publishing). Writer unknown, art by Bill Draut and Bruno Premiani.
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Kubert School alum Skot Olsen‘s cover illustration for the revised and expanded second edition (July, 2004) of Graphic Classics‘ Poe compendium.
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As with, say, Elvis or H.P. Lovecraft, when both legend and œuvre reach a certain tipping point of iconic fame, one can bend and twist the concepts any which way and they’ll still be recognizable. Here’s a panel from Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s faithful-in-its-fashion take on The Raven, from Mad no. 9 (Feb.-Mar. 1954, EC).
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Michael Kupperman strikes again. From Snake ‘n Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret ( 2000, HarperCollins)
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Hot off the presses! It’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror no. 2 (Nov. 2018, Ahoy), featuring a collaboration between Rachel Pollack and the fabulous Rick Geary. Don’t miss it! Oh, and if the pose looks familiar, you’re thinking of this.

Whew — that’s it for now. In closing, I must bow and salute before the gargantuan endeavour accomplished by Mr. Henry R. Kujawa on his truly indispensable blog, Professor H’s Wayback Machine. Thanks for all the heavy lifting, Henry. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

Tintinabulate on, Mr. Poe — wherever you are!

-RG

*my thanks to Herman Melville for those words of wisdom.
**and thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Kujawa for that precious scrap of arcane lore.

Tentacle Tuesday: Franco-Belgian Edition, Part II

The world of tentacles is colourful and varied – and very much multi-lingual. For those of our readers who have no access to comics in French (or any idea where to start looking for them), we present this gallery of Gallic comics. For an earlier peek into ze tentacules, visit part I – Tentacle Tuesday: The Franco-Belgian Edition. In case you’re wondering what the heck are Franco-Belgian comics, An Introduction to Franco-Belgian Comics gives a good overview.

Sans plus tarder

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What a glorious scene! In this dream sequence, Philippe Caza’s protagonist (clearly a stand-in for himself) battles an octopus that wanted an easy meal and suffered the consequences. This story is called Épaves, which translates in much-more-prosaic-in-English to “shipwrecks”. It was part of Caza’s Scènes de la vie de banlieue cycle, published between 1975 to 1979. Visit Philippe Caza’s Surreal Suburbia for more information.

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Caza draws tentacles often and with pleasure. You can keep your Moebius.

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View at Medium.com

Going into slightly less obscure waters, we have a page from Joann Sfar‘s « Petit vampire» series, its 7 volumes published between 1999 and 2005. I deem it somewhat less obscure because part of it has actually been published in English, and that’s how success is measured these days, right? Only the first 3 volumes of Little Vampire have been translated, but that’s better than nothing. In France, Petit vampire is pretty popular, so much so that it has been made into an animated series.

The following page hails from Volume 4: Petit vampire et la maison qui avait l’air normale, or Little Vampire and the House That Seemed Normal, published by Delcourt in 2002.

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Here’s a rough translation of the text: « On the road, the soldiers had slaughtered everything they encountered. The Menitsnik, below, was hearing the sound of their boots. He was hearing the explosions. And for once, he wasn’t indifferent, for he knew that this army was heading towards his home. The soldiers began to descend into the lake. One by one, they were crushed by the tentacles. The Menitsnik was crazed with anger because the more soldiers he killed, the more there were to kill. »

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Speaking of Sfar, I’ll mosey along to the Donjon series (Dungeon in English), created by Sfar and Lewis Trondheim. The latter is another not-to-be-missed artist on the Franco-Belgian comics scene, at the very least because he’s one of the founders of L’Association. To explain:

« L’Association is a French publishing house which publishes comic books. It was founded in May 1990 by Jean-Christophe Menu, Lewis Trondheim, David B., Mattt Konture, Patrice Killoffer, Stanislas, and Mokeït. L’Association is one of the most important publishers to come out of the new wave of Franco-Belgian comics in the 1990s, and remains highly regarded, having won numerous awards at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. They were among the first to publish authors such as Joann Sfar and Marjane Satrapi, and also are known for publishing French translations of the work of North American cartoonists like Julie Doucet and Jim Woodring. »|source|

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 Excerpt from Donjon Zénith: Cœur de canard (Delcourt, 1998), written by Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and illustrated by Trondheim.

I only stumbled upon Donjon, a sort of tongue-in-cheek parody of role-playing games, recently. It has a sprawling structure consisting of 5 sub-divisions into stories tied by a common theme – originally the authors were aiming to release 300 volumes (with the help of many contributing artists floating around L’Association), with 36 volumes published so far. It’s more than a handful for someone who’s just starting to read the stuff… but the world is compelling, with a rich array of appealing (if flawed) characters and a complex mythology. It may technically be a parody, but the stories are poignant and imaginative, the language is delightfully playful. Some of the themes are surprisingly dark… this is far from being another dumb Dungeons and Dragons spoof.

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Page from Donjon Zénith: Coeur de canard (Delcourt, 1998), written by Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and illustrated by Trondheim. This volume is full to the gills with tentacles, thanks to the Cthulhian overlords (in pointy red hats) who want to take over the Dungeon.

« I am Octo! The chicken-octopus ninja!! »

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Panel from Donjon: La Princesse des barbares (Delcourt, 2000), written by Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and illustrated by Trondheim.

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Our last entry is from Valérian and Laureline, the stunningly influential French comics series created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières that director Luc Besson besmirched, besmeared and befouled. It can also be noted that a variety of movies “borrowed” from V & L’s rich science-fiction lore, most notably the Star Wars franchise. Should I be happy that more people now know about this series now that a shitty movie “based” on it came out? Nope, sorry. Besson claims to have fallen in love with Valérian et Laureline when he was 8 years old, but with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets he demonstrated quite thoroughly that he doesn’t understand the characters in the slightest and is only capable of seeing science-fiction through the lens of chintzy special effects designed to wow idiots.

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Page from Les Mauvais rêves (1967).

To which I’ll add that Valérian kind of transcends the science-fiction genre – or perhaps I should say that it’s science-fiction as it was originally meant to be, as an exploration of the possibilities of external and internal worlds. (Technologically upgraded cowboys shooting each other with laser guns in primitive, shallow battles between good and evil? We’ll leave that to crappy movie directors, thanks.) Its plots are elaborate (but they never defy their own internal logic), its characters complex but immensely likable.

In 2007, the series got renamed Valérian and Laureline for its 40th birthday, and I’m glad they renamed it, as Laureline is an integral part of both its appeal and its popularity. She’s every bit as intelligent and determined as her companion, and is certainly no maiden in distress, often sizing situations up quicker than Valérian and subsequently pointing him in the right direction.

~ ds

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Warren

« According to statistics, millions of Americans read millions of the most carefully written crime and crime detection stories in the world! Expertly told… and prepared, after exhaustive research — the best of these are, in effect, lessons in crime and criminal psychology! Yet could you, sitting in the trolley or bus or subway at night, pick out the killer sitting opposite you? » — The Killer (Dec. 8, 1946)

Welcome to the fourth entry in our chronicle of the variegated ambulations of the former Denny Colt. Begin if you will, as we did, with his time at Quality, then follow his path through Fiction House, then on to Harvey, Super and Kitchen Sink; at that point, you’ll be all caught up.

Okay, now that we’re all here, let’s pose and answer the next burning question: how did The Spirit come to make landfall at Warren Magazines? Thankfully, we’re spared the motions of idle speculation in this case, since Jim Warren himself revealed all in the course of an interview with Jon B. Cooke, published in The Warren Companion (2001):

JW: « I would have mortgaged everything I owned to publish Will Eisner — to be involved in anything Will Eisner was doing. I called Will and said, ‘Mr. Eisner, I’d like to take you out to lunch.

I knew Will was talking to Stan Lee about The Spirit and that DC was interested in his company, American Visuals. I also knew that Harvey Comics had done a couple of Spirit reprints and that they might be interested again. I had to move fast.

So I took him out to lunch, sat him down, and said, ‘There’s no possible way that I’m going to let the great Will Eisner escape. You are someone I have revered since 1940, when I saw the very first Spirit section in the Philadelphia Record with that splash page that changed my life. Do you think I’m going to let you go to Stan Lee, whom I ‘hate’ and ‘despise’ as a competitor? Do you think I’m going to lose you to that unrepentant sociopath? You’re just going to be a computer number to Marvel; they have a factory, where they cookie-cut comics, turning out 400* titles a month!’

And I saw the expression in Will’s face — he had his pipe in his mouth at the time, just like Commissioner Dolan — and I could see that I had him. »

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Let’s have a look at some covers. Most of the sixteen (plus the colour Special) are terrific, but I skipped a few of the lesser ones: issue one is a not-quite successful Eisner-Basil Gogos painted collaboration, and issue two is just okay. Issue 11 is another Ken Kelly painting over Eisner pencils, and 12 to 16 are composites using inside panels. Fine, but facultative. And now, on to the gems!

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This is The Spirit no. 3 (Aug. 1974), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: Black Alley (June 5, 1949), Fox at Bay (Oct. 23, 1949), Surgery… (Nov. 13, 1949), Foul Play (March 27, 1949), The Strange Case of Mrs. Paraffin (March 7, 1948), The Embezzler (Nov. 27, 1949), The Last Hand (May 16, 1948) and Lonesome Cool (Dec. 18, 1949). Cover pencils and inks by Eisner, colours by Richard Corben.
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This is The Spirit no. 4 (Oct. 1974), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: Life Below (Feb. 22, 1948), Mr. McDool (Oct. 12, 1947), The Emerald of Rajahpoor (May 30, 1948), Ye Olde Spirit of ’76 (July 3, 1949), The Elevator (June 26, 1949; in colour), The Return of Vino Red (Sept. 25, 1949), The Guilty Gun… (June 6, 1948), and Flaxen Weaver (Dec. 11, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
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This is The Spirit no. 5 (Dec. 1974), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: The Return (Aug. 14, 1949), The Spirit Now Deputy (Apr. 24, 1949), The Hunted (May 1st, 1949), The Prediction (June 19, 1949), The Deadly Comic Book (Feb. 27, 1949; in colour), Death, Taxes and… The Spirit (Mar. 13, 1949), Hamid Jebru (May 18, 1949), and Ice (Jan. 2, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
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« You cannot stop me now… I am at the threshold of immortality… Yowch! »
This is The Spirit no. 6 (Feb. 1975), featuring seven black & white (and one full-colour) presentations of tales from the 1940s: Showdown (Aug. 24, 1947), The Wedding (May 2, 1948), The Job (May 9, 1948), The Lamp (July 27, 1947), Glob (March 6, 1949; in colour), The Winnah! (Dec. 3, 1950, This is ‘Wild’ Rice (Apr. 4, 1948) and Taxes and the Spirit (Apr. 16, 1950). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
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This is The Spirit no. 7 (Apr. 1975), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: The Big Sneeze Caper (Feb. 6, 1949), Hoagy the Yogi (Pt. I) (Mar. 16, 1947), Hoagy the Yogi (Pt. II) (Mar. 23, 1947), Cheap Is Cheap (June 13, 1948), Young Dr. Ebony (May 29, 1949; coloured by John Laney); A Moment of Destiny (Dec. 29, 1946); The Explorer (Jan. 16, 1949); and A Prisoner of Love (Jan. 9, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
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This is The Spirit no. 8 (Apr. 1975), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: “Sand Saref” (Jan. 8, 1950), “Bring In Sand Saref…” (Jan. 15, 1950), “Thorne Strand” (Jan. 23, 1949), “A Slow Ship to Shanghai” (Jan. 30, 1949), “Assignment: Paris” (May 23, 1948; coloured by Michelle Brand), “A Pot of Gold” (Apr. 3, 1949), “Satin” (June 12, 1949), and “Visitor” (Feb. 13, 1949). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
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This is The Spirit no. 9 (Aug. 1975), reprinting eight post-WWII stories: The Candidate (Aug. 21, 1949); White Cloud (Aug. 28, 1949); Stop the Plot! (Dec. 5, 1948); Lovely Looie (Apr. 10, 1949); The Space Sniper (May 22, 1949; in colour); The Vernal Equinox (Mar. 20, 1949); Black Gold (June 15, 1947); and Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948). Cover colours by Ken Kelly.
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« The Octopus is at it again. This time his thugs have the Spirit cornered. Has his incredible luck finally run out? A tense moment captured by Will Eisner and Ken Kelly. » Evidently, Warren’s readership wasn’t content with line art covers, fancily wrought and gorgeous as they were; so Ken Kelly was brought in to slap some paint over a tight Eisner layout et voilà! An interesting hybrid, but I’m not quite convinced of its necessity. This is The Spirit no. 10 (Oct. 1975), reprinting a whopping ten post-WWII stories: Heat (July 15, 1951); Quiet! (July 22, 1951); Death Is My Destiny (March 4, 1951); Help Wanted (April 29, 1951); The Origin of the Spirit (From Harvey’s The Spirit No. 1; in colour); Sound (Sept. 24, 1950); A Time-Stop! (Jan. 7, 1951); The Octopus Is Back (Feb. 11, 1951); Hobart (Apr. 22, 1951) and The Meanest Man in the World (Jan. 28, 1951).
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Among my favourite features of the Spirit’s Warren run are the single, well-selected, lushly-coloured story appearing in each of the first ten issues. This, from no. 1, is page 4 of El Spirito (Feb. 1st, 1948). The Octopus’ buxom accomplice is Castanet. While I’m strictly underwhelmed by Rich Corben’s interchangeable tales of bald, lumpy, donkey-donged bodybuilders roaming the land and forever risking ritual castration at the hands of amazon tribes, his colour work here is simply sublime.
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As you can see, the panel montages were extremely well-done; The Spirit Special (1975) handily gathered in one place the colour stories from issues one to ten. According to the GCD: « Available through mail purchase only, just over 1500 are thought to have been printed. »

In closing, this final, telling exchange from the Jim Warren interview:

Jon Cooke: Do you recall dealing with Denis Kitchen about The Spirit?
Jim Warren: Will had given his word — and his word is his bond — for Denis to reprint The Spirit (this was before Will and I negotiated a deal). Denis had spent money on preparing the reprints. Will said to me, « It would be a nice gesture if you would reimburse Denis, who is a good guy, for the material he’s already prepared. » I think Will looked on me kindly when I said « Absolutely. » (What Will doesn’t know if that if he had asked for me to give Denis a Rolls-Royce, I would have driven it to Wisconsin myself!)

*an exaggeration, of course, but a pointed one. At the time, Marvel *was* doing its worst to flood the market in order to starve its competitors.

-RG

Just a Humble Boy From Tupelo, Mississippi

« When I was a boy, I always saw myself as a hero in comic books and in movies. I grew up believing this dream. » – Elvis Aaron Presley (1935 — ?)

Today, somewhere, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll celebrates his eighty-fourth birthday, be he alive, dead or undead, he lives on. And never forget: Elvis is everywhere!

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A most salty salute to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll on his birthday! Compared to earlier decades, the 1980’s (and on!) were not kind to the anthology comic book. Thankfully, the meagre rewards and resounding indifference weren’t enough to quite dissuade some foolhardy souls from giving the format a go. But the fanboys wanted spandex, they wanted continuity and they soon wanted their « decompressed storytelling ». Bah. 
In 1981, Kitchen Sink Comix published the lone issue of Terry Beatty‘s labour of irradiated passion, Tales Mutated for the Mod. (June, 1981). Unlike John Byrne and others’ unceasing and pointless ‘tributes’ to Fantastic Four No. 1, this cover version of Harvey Kurtzman‘s Mad No. 1 is fiendishly clever. Kudos, Mr. Beatty!
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Gary Panter crafted this loving tribute in 1984, a one-shot published by RAW. Such heady stuff was well ahead of its time!
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The back cover… this beats Power Records‘ meek offerings flat!
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The oft-inaccurate Grand Comics Database really fumbles it this time: the instantly-recognizable icon on the right is, according to them… Fabian. Dopes. Hamilton, Ontario’s Win Mortimer (1919-1998), inducted into the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame in 2006, drew this cover for DC’s Heart Throbs no. 95 (April-May 1965); given the time period and The Pelvis’ shirt, he would presumably be shooting the dire Paradise, Hawaiian Style. If you’re of a mind to commemorate the King’s anniversary with one of his mid-60s cinematic offerings, better opt for the far finer Tickle Me (1965).
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His (alleged) paper boy claims, and I do want to believe him, that the Big E has peacefully decamped to the quietude of Eerie, Indiana. Looking good, Big E!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: George Wilson and His Painted Covers for Gold Key

« Savage plants, monster mutations, human vultures… »

George Wilson (1921-1999), prolific cover illustrator for Dell Comics and Gold Key from the 1950s through to the 1970s, is such a ubiquitous figure for anyone interested in comics of that era that it’s almost like he’s taken for granted by comic aficionados. “Oh, yes, another gorgeous George cover”, we say and move on to something else. Let’s not, shall we? We can admire his trademark bright colours, eye-popping attention to detail and impeccable compositions *and* celebrate Tentacle Tuesday. And there’s all kinds of tentacles in these covers – organic or motorized, animal, mineral, or… plant-like. (I refuse to use “vegetable” as an adjective.)

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Mighty Samson no. 11 (August 1967). This might just be the most random menace (and the most ridiculous set-up) I’ve seen in a while.

Mighty Samson was created by writer Otto Binder and artist Frank Thorne, and involved a heroic barbarian-type sword-and-sandaler loitering around a dystopian, post-nuclear disaster world that has reverted to something resembling the Stone Age. One thing that amused me – not only is our dashing hero blond, but so is his love interest (apparently recessive traits help survive radioactivity). The evil temptress-cum-scientist is a dark-haired femme fatale, obviously. You can read each and every issue of Mighty Samson here.

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Panels from “The Swamp Rats“, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jack Sparling, whose art is for some reason hated by many (the same many who have no trouble with bad art from other, more publicly accepted artists).

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Doctor Solar, created by writer Paul S. Newman and editor Matt Murphy, was fairly humble at first, despite his somewhat ponderous moniker. (« The Man of the Atom »!) Originally clad in a normal lab-coat, he acquired his red costume in issue #5. The source of his super-powers? A nuclear disaster, of course. It’s difficult to be impressed by that when everyone and their auntie is getting exposed to radioactivity. I try to keep in mind that Doctor Solar was one of newly-formed Gold Key’s first publications, and in 1962, a nuclear war seemed imminent whatever side of the continent you were on… but I’m still bored. There’s a list of Atomic Superheroes with 27 items in it here, but it only includes public domain characters.

Of special interest are the first two issues of this series because they boast glorious covers by Richard Powers. Go look at them. That’s an order.

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Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom no. 21 (October 1967).
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Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom no. 24 (July 1968).
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Page from “The Deadly Trio”, written by Dick Wood and drawn by Ernie Colón. That “monstrous master of the sea” is so freaking cute!

All of Gold Key’s Doctor Solar run is available here. How much time do you have on your hands, anyway?

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Fantastic Voyage no. 2 (December 1969).

This two-issues “series” features « adventures based on the cartoon about the Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF) with Jonathan Kidd, Erika Lane, Dr. Guru, and Busby Birdwell. » Clearly, nobody cared about the comic. Maybe someone cared about the animated TV series the comic was based on.

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Speaking of boring… I haven’t yet encountered *one* issue of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! that wouldn’t cause me to yawn or start rolling my eyes. However, painted covers are often worth dwelling on, and the inside art is also occasionally quite nice (especially when it’s by Luis Dominguez).

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 12 (February 1969).

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The Microbots no. 1 (December 1971). The tentacled monster was designed by Jack Sparling, who illustrates This Is the Way the World Ends and Day of the Juggernaut, but the cover art is by George Wilson.

There’s an excellent (and suitably sarky) review of this one issue of Microbots on Gone & Forgotten. Here’s a little taste: « Superstitious, parochial, and frequently eaten alive by mutated elephants, the people of the future world have turned their backs on technology. » Bet you’ve never seen *that* sentence before. Or — « The Microbots are the creation of Dr. Norman Micron (of the Connecticut Microns, I presume), a scientist living in the dire times of a world succumbing to man’s pollution. ‘Mankind had ample warning that he was destroying the world around him’ he muses, standing by a window with a highly-desirable garbage view. »

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The crew of the Starship Enterprise keeps running into tentacles, it seems. (Presumably, they couldn’t do it as convincingly on the TV show, as the visual effects weren’t quite up to snuff.)

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Star Trek no. 24 (May 1974). Gold Key published Star Trek comics between 1967 and 1978, for a total of 61 issues. They weren’t a rehash of the TV series, and featured original characters and stories, although later issues included sequels to a couple of episodes (which is pretty cool, if you ask me).
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Star Trek no. 29 (March 1975).

Gail O’Brien shared this snippet on a forum about Wilson’s art, sadly a fairly typical story: « You might be interested to know that George’s widow (a friend of mine) has had no income from his paintings as they “disappeared” from his estate at his death while they were separated. She is presently living on small retirement from teaching. I’ve tried to influence her to seek legal advice to acquire her share of George’s sales, but she feels it is impossible… hope there is a lawyer who enjoys George’s work, who would want to go on a 50/50 basis to acquire what is rightfully belonging to my friend. » |source|

Look at more (less tentacle-centric) George Wilson art here.

~ ds