Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 17

« Dreams surround our desires with ugliness and dread. » — Mason Cooley

As everyone knows, the early fifties were a more innocent and wholesome era, when the average bobbysoxer would swoon away the nights with fantasies of dishy teen idol Rondo Hatton. I mean, just look at her blissful expression!

This is Weird Thrillers no. 1 (Sept. 1951, Ziff-Davis). Disappointingly, given the cover’s promise, the issue comprises mostly science-fiction and crime stories.

Surprisingly, the cover scene does, for once, occur within!

The opening pages from our cover tale, The Monster and the Model, pencilled by future Rip Kirby artist John Prentice. The entire issue is available for your perusal, legally and gratis, right here!
“So, who is this Rondo guy?”, you may ask. Before Mr. Hatton became a household name, got an award named after him and was the subject of his own book-length biography (Beauty Within the Brute), cartoonist Drew Friedman, ahead of the curve as usual, was endeavouring to preserve from oblivion the unfortunate man’s memory… in his own sardonic way.

One more for the road?

Originally published in Raw no. 8 (Sept. 1986, Raw Books). You may have heard of some other folks tragically afflicted with acromegaly.

-RG

A Most Instructive Visit to the Meyerowitz Aviary

« When birds burp, it must taste like bugs. » — Calvin

Like John James Audubon (and Roger Daltrey, in his own inimitable fashion), Rick Meyerowitz (b. 1943, The Bronx, NY) clearly loves to draw birds. Mayerowitz, among numerous other career highlights, was a prolific National Lampoon contributor (he even authored the mag’s definitive insider history, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, published in 2010). At the very least, you may be familiar with his Animal House poster [ have a gander at that portfolio! ]

In 1973, he gave us Birds of Israel (included at the end of this post); farther along, he (with his frequent collaborator, Montréal-born writer Sean Kelly) gave us a look at The Birds of Summer, (2007, The New York Times). And in 2016, these ardent but irreverent crypto-ornithologists were at it again with Odd Birds, which added in excess of one hundred and fifty fascinating new species to the tally. However, Meyerowitz only illustrated a handful (but such a handful!), which I present to you here. Still, how I would love to behold his depictions of, for instance: The Three-Day Lark; the Venomous Spite; the Oblivious Walking Jay; the Perpetual Jackhammer; the Yellow-Bellied Stool Pigeon; the Groveling Wince; the Hoodwinked Bagholder; the Celibate Tot-Fondler; Zimmerman’s Cryptic Drone; the Barecheeked Thongbird; the Bald-Faced Lyre; the Fact-Spinning Mockingbird; the Screaming Scarlet Manager; the Gulf Coast Petrel Dumper; Oscar’s Pink-Bottomed Boychick; the Crapulous Binge; the Free-Screech Owl… or the Swaggering Gut-Sucker! Man, this project needs to go the full book route.

THE RAVING HOMELAND JINGO: « This recently introduced European species is often mistaken (by itself) for native American. It proudly displays its red neck, white knuckles, and bluenosed morality, kept aloft by drafts of hot air. The Jingo emits gruesome shrieks in defense of its territory against the occasional Left-Winged News Hawk. The Jingo is anatomically anomalous, in that its testicles are located in its cranium, and its brains are safely secured behind and exceptionally tight sphincter. »
« The all-too-common Back Lot Goose, with its natural prey, the Wide-eyed Chippy. »
Meet HITCHCOCK’S MacGUFFIN — « An Old World species, introduced to California: a plump, lugubrious bird given to stealthy silences, sudden shrieks, and terrifying displays. Its diet consists of red herrings and snakes in the grass. Despite its reputation, has laid the occasional egg. Sometimes mistaken for Hammett’s Maltese Falcon; not to be confused with any of Spielberg’s Mawkish Cliff Hangers. »
THE CHRISTOPHER WREN: « Like the Francis Drake, the Dean Swift and the Florence Nightingale, this bird prefers a cold, damp, dreary environment such as the city of London, England, in which the Christopher Wren constructs nests of preposterous design, monumental size, and no apparent use. (This species is not related to the similarly named Christopher Robin, native to the Hundred Acre Wood in East Sussex.) »
« A Malibu Shack-Crasher. » Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word!
« A grizzled Hoary-Headed Junk Chucker faces down a Stat-Grubbing Peckerhead. »
These cartoons appeared within the pages of The American Bystander no. 2 (Spring 2016), bearing this soothing cover by the esteemed Charles Barsotti (1933-2014). Do check out and lend your support to the Bystander, which has most deservedly been deemed “The last great humor magazine“.
Where the good Mr. Meyerowitz seems to have first hatched his theme: Birds of Israel, from The National Lampoon Encyclopedia of Humor (1973, edited by Michael O’Donoghue).

-RG

Excelsior! A Century of Jean Shepherd

« Night after night, Shepherd forged the inchoate thoughts and feelings of a whole generation of fans into an axiom that went something like: ‘The language of our culture no longer describes real life and, pretty soon, something’s gonna blow.‘. » — Donald Fagen

Today’s a very august occasion, for it marks the birth centennial of that sublime storyteller, Jean Shepherd (July 26, 1921 – October 16, 1999), so we’ll celebrate it… in comics!

« Since 2012, cartoonists Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall have been collaborating on an extensive interview project with John Wilcock, an underground publisher of the 1960s. The graphic novel biography… focuses a year-at-a-time on Wilcock’s interesting and largely undocumented life, from co-founding the Village Voice in 1955, to becoming a member of Andy Warhol’s Factory in the early Sixties, establishing the Underground Press Syndicate, and other interesting moments, until Wilcock left NYC in 1972. » This particular entry appeared in the pages of The American Bystander no. 2 (Spring, 2016). For more info on the project (including a generous helping of choice excerpts), now complete and available for purchase, direct your browser here.
The front and back covers of I, Libertine‘s paperback edition (1956, Ballantine). Here’s a full, fascinating account of how this literary hoax unfolded. Take note, fellow Theodore Sturgeon fans!
Shep’s second LP, Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles (1959, Elektra), was abundantly illustrated by his good friend, Renaissance Man (and local favourite) Shel Silverstein, who also authored the liner notes and played washboard and kazoo!
« In addition to the liner notes, Shel drew a veritable parade of characters marching across the front and back album cover of Foibles, incorporating the message, ‘Jean Shepherd is a dirty rotten, one-way sneaky son of a bitch‘, spelling it out backwards to escape the censors. » (from Lisa Rogak’s A Boy Named Shel (2007, St. Martin’s Press)
Another interesting comics connection: In Foibles‘ opening track, [ hear it here ] Shep recalls an old favourite: « How many of you remember ol’ Peter Pain? He used to work in the comic strips, you remember, in those little strips that appeared under Moon Mullins, under The Gumps? He was green, was shaped like a pickle, he had stubble all over, he wore a black derby. He was a tremendous figure… a great American! He was the first Beat Poet. » Here’s one of Peter’s misadventures, circa 1948, illustrated by Jack Betts. You’ll find many more of these entertaining ads on Ger Apeldoorn’s highly-recommended blog, The Fabulous Fifties.
Seldom seen since its publication, this was Shepherd’s collaboration with Wally Wood at the height of his powers. The Night People vs. “Creeping Meatballism appeared in Mad Magazine no. 32 (Apr. 1957, EC).
One gets a sense of Shepherd’s outsize and hopefully abiding significance from the quality of the minds he has helped warp. For example, here’s Underground Comix pioneer and Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith‘s fond tribute to Mr. Shepherd, published soon after Shep’s passing. A grateful tip of the hat to Mr. Griffith, who graciously provided me with a high-quality image of this, his Sunday, January 9, 2000 strip.

Let’s close in highfalutin fashion with a most pertinent bit of Longfellow (1807–1882):

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
      Excelsior!

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
      Excelsior!

“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”
And loud that clarion voice replied,
      Excelsior!

“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast! “
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,
      Excelsior!

“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
This was the peasant’s last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,
      Excelsior!

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,
      Excelsior!

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star,
      Excelsior!

-RG

Behold… the Great Shnozzola!

« That’s the conditions that prevail! » — Jimmy Durante

Today, we salute noted vaudevillian, piano player, comedian, singer, film and radio star, raconteur and unlikely comics legend James Francis “Jimmy” Durante, born on this day, February 10, in 1893 (as it was a Friday, the family presumably fasted or had fish for dinner). He truly was a master of all media, as you’ll witness.

This early bit of biography appeared in Juke Box Comics no. 4 (Sept. 1948, Eastern Color); it was illustrated by Ed Moore. Hear Cantor and Durante reminisce about their early days on this 1947 episode of The Jimmy Durante Show.
A passing mention of old Jimmy, from Nyoka the Jungle Girl no. 24 (Oct. 1948, Fawcett). Writer and artist unknown.
An early cover by Dick Ayers (1924-2014), this is Jimmy Durante Comics no. 1 (Oct. 1948, Magazine Enterprises).
The second and final issue of Jimmy Durante Comics (Winter 1948-49, Magazine Enterprises).
Mr. Durante rates a smashing musical appearance in this Rube Goldberg Device daily strip (Apr. 14, 1951, King Features Syndicate)… by Rube Goldberg, naturally.
And here’s the Shnozzola in the midst of a carnal melée of his fellow Old Hollywood legends (can you name them all, cinephiles?) This is Bill Griffith‘s cover for The Tiajuana Bible Revival Volume Two: Under the Stars in Hollywood (1977, Hooker, California: Paramounds Prod.). This was « An anthology reprinting 1930’s Tijuana Bibles, some of which were obscene parodies of popular newspaper comic strips of the day. Others made use of characters based on popular movie stars and sports stars of the day, such as Mae West and Joe Louis, sometimes with names thinly changed. Before the war, almost all the stories were humorous and frequently were cartoon versions of well-known dirty jokes that had been making the rounds for decades. » [ source ]
Pointillist-satirist Drew Friedman‘s immortal Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets first saw print in National Lampoon vol. 2 no. 78 (Jan. 1985).
Durante briefly pops up (with the Checkered Demon!) in the second half of a truly all-star underground comix jam involving R. Crumb, Steve Clay Wilson (1941-2021… he left us just three days ago, aged 79… RIP), Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Gilbert Shelton. It appeared in Zap Comix no. 12 (1989, Last Gasp). Cartoonists are generally fond of the Schnozzola, but Underground cartoonists are just mad about him.
And finally, on a gentler note… here’s a clearly affectionate caricature (a preliminary sketch) of the esteemed Signor Durante (aw, he’s blushing!) by the amazing Sam Berman (crayon on onionskin paper, 1947). Berman (1907-1995) was, deservedly, quite a big deal in his day; as the erudite Drew Friedman told Print Magazine in his quality of co-curator of the 12 Legendary Caricaturists You’ve (probably) Never Heard Of exhibition at NYC’s Society of Illustrators, Berman « was indeed famous and celebrated in his day. Beginning his career in the late 1930s, he created iconic sculpted caricature covers for Esquire featuring their new mascot “Esky” (created by Berman) for an entire year. He created the sculpted caricatures of the leading actors (Fredric March, Carole Lombard, etc.) for the opening titles of the 1937 classic screwball comedy Nothing Sacred, did huge amounts of work for all the top magazines and newspapers of the day, including for Mark Hellinger’s popular column, created close to 60 amazing full-color portraits for the 1947 booklet The NBC Parade of Stars, drew children’s books, and arguably his most famous creation, the opening caricature of Jackie Gleason rising over Brooklyn for “The Honeymooners,” although he was never credited on the show for drawing that image, nor in any books. He then inexplicably went into map-making and faded quietly into obscurity. »

To wrap things up, here’s Jimmy D. and Frankie S. duetting in Russian. And why not? Happy birthday, Jimmy, wherever you are (and do say hello to Mrs. Calabash!)

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Don’t Play That Ukelele!” (1975) and “Tender Feelings” (1974)

« There’s something about guitars, they’re just so big, you know what I mean? You’re just like, ‘Ugh!’ It just seems so overwhelming. And the ukulele is, like, the opposite of overwhelming. » — Zooey Deschanel

It’s no big secret: the chief asset of Gold Key’s line of mystery comics (The Twilight Zone, Thriller / Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Dark Shadows, Grimm’s Ghost Stories and The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor) was its (generally) painted covers, the bulk of the work handled by the prolific George Wilson, with occasional contributions by Luis Dominguez and Jesse Santos.

While the inside artwork also had its charms, the weak link in the chain was the writing. Pedestrian and formulaic, most of its anonymous load was borne by Paul S. Newman, one of the comics industry’s great cranker-outers. And so things ran their humdrum course, even with the arrival of talented DC expatriate Arnold Drake in the early 1970s. I strongly suspect rampant conservatism on the part of the editors, as even normally-compelling authors produced the same generic plots, ground out like under-seasoned sausage.

Then occurred a curious bump in the road: the unheralded, near-anonymous arrival of future Clown College alumnus*Connor Freff Cochran (1954-), who scripted (as Freff, when credited — a rarity at GK) a number of short tales for Gold Key’s anthology titles for a few years (1974-1977). Of those I’ve read, most docilely follow the publisher’s tame editorial formula. But there are exceptions, and they really do stand out. Here’s such a pair, which I’m boldly attributing to Mr. Cochran.

Interesting that writer Freff opted here for the obscure, alternate spelling of ukulele. Speaking of which, how do you think ‘ukelele‘ is pronounced? You might be surprised. Check here for the answer. And, er… 1907? “One of the earliest appearances of the word ukulele in print (in the sense of a stringed instrument) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations published in 1907.” [ source ]
Man, that lake monster looks familiar. I smell a swipe.
And for the full multimedia experience, you can sing and strum along with George!

Ahem — sloppy research on Freff’s part:

The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held from spring to autumn of 1915 in San Francisco.

[ source ]

It is therefore highly unlikely that anyone on the American continent would have been plucking a uke, let alone that two random Missouri farmboys would spot a specimen from a distance. Not to mention the fact that the uncredited and unknown artist (no, it’s not Bill Molno, dear ignoramuses at the GCD) drew… a plain old guitar. Let’s face it, a banjo or even a mandolin would have made more sense.

In his defense, Freff recalled:

« I absolutely did write “Don’t Play That Ukulele!” But I don’t deserve the ding for the misspelling — that was the letterer’s error, which no one fixed. I will cop to not knowing (in 1975) that the ukulele wasn’t introduced stateside until 1915…but even there the story is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. When I pitched the idea it was a guitar that brought doom down on our unfortunate swain, same as it wound up being drawn. But editor Paul Kuhn thought a ukulele was intrinsically funnier than a guitar, and he’s absolutely right about that. I remember us both giggling over the title when we came up with it. »

Oh, I fully agree. A pox on that sloppy letterer.

So, who is this Freff guy? Here’s a bit of self-provided biography:

At fourteen, he and his family moved to Placentia, California, east of Los Angeles, where he graduated from El Dorado High School a year ahead of the normal schedule. One of his fellow students had combined the words “friend” and “Jeff ” to coin the name “Freff ”— and while at first this remained only a nickname, by 1970 he had started signing his artwork that way, as well. Like many artists, Cochran entered the science fiction field doing “freebie” drawings for fanzines. His first paid job were pen and ink drawings for Andrew Porter’s semi-prozine Algol, done in 1972. In the same year he dropped out of Fullerton Junior College after two months of art classes to live on his own. He worked in various fields to make a living and “The rest was all just self-directed study and experimentation,” he says, adding “as a young pro, just starting out, I was lucky enough to be mentored ever-so-slightly by two of my early faves in the field: Kelly Freas and Jack Gaughan. At Kelly Freas’s suggestion Cochran moved to New York in September 1973 and started looking for work as an illustrator.

When that was not forthcoming, Cochran attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College — class of 1974.

In that year he got his first big break from Jim Baen, the new editor of Galaxy and If. Baen needed people who would work fast and cheap and put up with being paid late — in other words, the perfect opportunity for beginning artists like Cochran. By this time he was aware that other professional artists and cartoonists were named “Cochran”— and feeling that using his initials “JC” would be presumptuous — the artist in 1976 went to court and legally adopted “Freff ” as his professional nom de brush, and kept it during his years of magazine illustrating. Baen was so taken with the name that he put it on the cover of Cochran’s first cover for IF, as if Cochran was an author with a story in the magazine. After that “Freff ” did a lot of work for Baen, primarily interiors in black-and-white. He also did drawings for Cosmos, Isaac Asimov’s SF, and did cover work for publishers such as Dell, Berkley, and Doubleday. Cochran was selected to be one the artists in the special 1975 NASA/Smithsonian Artists Tour. After early success illustrating Zelazny’s “Amber” novels for Galaxy, followed by cover art and interior illustrations for a set of hardcover novels by Zelazny for Gregg Press in the early 1980s, Cochran became disgruntled over nonpayment for the use of his art in foreign editions of John Varley’s novel Titan, for which he had done a frontispiece and 16 illustrations—and the argument led to the end of Cochran’s illustrating in the field.

He turned to other endeavors, but briefly “dipped a toe back into the waters by collaborating on the first (and only) issue of an SF comic book called D’Arc Tangent” in 1982–1983. He did inking and penciling for DC and Marvel comics: Star Trek** and Tomb of Dracula***.

This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 64 (Oct. 1975, Gold Key), featuring a painted cover by Argentine master Luis Dominguez. Don’t Play That Ukelele! isn’t even the cover story… there’s just a lot of aquatic peril in this particular issue.

And here’s the uncredited, utterly batty Tender Feelings, recognizably illustrated by another hardworking Argentine, José Delbo. It saw print in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 53 (Apr. 1974, Gold Key).

Part of my reasoning for attributing authorship of Tender Feelings to Freff is his penchant for light, deftly humorous tales that conclude with several characters meeting dismal ends. Churrr...

But… nope. The mystery of this mordant little tale remains whole. Freff helpfully eliminated himself as a suspect, and proposed some intriguing leads:

« I can’t take credit for “Tender Feelings.” I certainly wish I could, since it’s a delightful mashup/piss-take on DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man-Thing. But nope — not me.

The publication date I find online for that story is April 1974. But Gold Key titles usually hit the stands a month ahead of the printed date, and editors Wally Green and Paul Kuhn liked to have a solid backlog of finished stories on hand. That puts the likely writing window for “Tender Feelings” somewhere around August 1973, which means there’s a chance that “Tender Feelings” was written by Len Wein himself. Len did a lot of uncredited Gold Key stories, starting around 1969, but he stopped in late summer 1973. It would have been absolutely in keeping with his sense of humor to write something like “Tender Feelings” as a happy sendoff for himself.

My best second guess after that would be John David Warner…though if I really had to bet, I’d bet on Len. In any case, whoever did it was lightyears better than the usual Gold Key writer. Glad to see them get this recognition. »

-RG

*Class of ’74. As Freff himself stated: « The Really Famous Guy from our session was Bill Irwin, who went on to a great stage, TV, and film career, and was the first performer to win a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.) I did originally intend to apply for the ’73 class, but I learned about it too late to make that year’s deadline. So I went to NYC instead to pursue art, while waiting for my next chance to roll around.. »

**he inked two drawings (one of them a double-paged splash) in Who’s Who’s in Star Trek (1987). That seems to be all.

***a pair of frontispiece illustrations in Tomb of Dracula (the magazine, that is: six issues, published Oct. 1979 – Aug. 1980); he also conducted a fine interview with Stephen King, published in issues 4 and 5 of TOD. Freff provides some illumination: « plus the framing graphics for the magazine’s title/table of contents page, plus I got to ink a bunch of ads for the magazine. The one I know they used involved inking Gene Colan’s pencils, which was hella fun and a childhood dream come true. I grew up on Gene’s work in DAREDEVIL, DOCTOR STRANGE, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL, etc, and he was easily as big an influence on my visual thinking as people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, or Jim Steranko. (I got to achieve another childhood comics dream when I got to re-pencil, ink, and color a Curt Swan drawing for the October 1988 cover of KEYBOARD magazine.)

I did a lot more writing than artwork at Marvel, but most of it was nonfiction material in their b&w magazines — 100+ articles for PLANET OF THE APES, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU, CELEBRITY, NOSTALGIA ILLUSTRATED, THE TOMB OF DRACULA, etc. »

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 14

« Listen, Angel! If they’re out of bananas… I’ll meet you at the corner fruit stand! »

Today, let’s combine our general theme with a celebration of the birthday of one of comics’ great, yet perpetually underappreciated talents: Bob Oksner (October 14, 1916 – February 18, 2007), DC’s go-to humour and good girl art guy. Can you beat that? Didn’t think so.

Bob had a winning penchant for mixing monsters and babes, and for this, he’s earned our lifelong gratitude.

This is Angel and the Ape no. 6 (Sept.-Oct. 1969, DC), featuring The Robbing Robot and The Ape of 1,000 Disguises! (Would You Believe Four?), wittily written by John Albano, lusciously pencilled by Oksner, and creamily inked by Wallace “Wally” Wood. Truly swoon-inducing stuff. Edited by Joe Orlando (that explains all the monsters!), with a cover by Oksner.

You might say Angel and the Ape exist in an awkward sort of limbo: popular enough for the back issues to be kind of pricey, but not popular enough to have been reprinted (eight issues, including their Showcase appearance, ideal for a trade paperback, hint, hint).

So what else has Mr. Oksner cooked up over the years? Keeping to our theme, here are a few highlights, but first, a handy bio:

This piece appeared in The Adventures of Jerry Lewis no. 73 (Nov.-Dec. 1962, DC).
The is The Adventures of Jerry Lewis no. 83 (July.-Aug. 1964, DC). Formerly The Adventures of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis… of course. The book (under both titles) featured some lovely artwork from Owen Fitzgerald, Mort Drucker and of course Oksner… but it was no Sugar and Spike. Still, it had its audience, long-lasting as it was (124 issues… Jerry wasn’t just big in France!)
This is The Adventures of Bob Hope no. 104 (Apr.-May 1967, DC). DC’s celebrity-licensed humour titles followed a parallel course: fading sales led to their nominal stars being more or less sidelined in their own book in favour of increasingly outlandish supporting casts.
An inside page from that issue. Good-looking comics… but they weren’t particularly witty, which can be a bit of a drawback. Arnold Drake was the writer, and while he could be pretty damn funny, it just didn’t work here. Still, you can bet that it was still more amusing than Milton Berle’s comic book.
1940s teenager Binky was pulled out of mothballs in the late 60s (ten years elapsed between issues 60 and 61). A moderate success (especially given it mostly consisted of slightly updated reprints), it returned to oblivion after another twenty-two issues, though the first seven bore some rather fine Oskner cheesecake covers. This is Leave It to Binky no. 67 (June-July 1969, DC).
Finally, for a touch of the more ‘realistic’ Oksner style, here’s his cover introducing Sheldon Mayer‘s marvellously-mysterious Black Orchid. This is Adventure Comics no. 428 (July-Aug. 1973, DC). She deserved far more than a mere three-issue run!

-RG

The Mad Peck Strikes!

« Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea. » — Guy Debord

Well, after our brush with Surrealism, let’s hazard a brief detour amidst the Letterists. As we all surely know, The Letterist International was « a Paris-based collective of radical artists and cultural theorists between 1952 and 1957. » I’ll spare you a dry discourse about schools of thought, art and politics and their numerous and acrimonious (perhaps not so dry after all!) schisms.

The main point of interest, in this case, is the Letterists’ pioneering of the rousingly subversive artistic technique of détournement, which involves “taking preexisting images and mixing them together to highlight the underlying ideology of the original image.

This brings us to the storied career of Providence, Rhode Island’s finest son, John Peck (b. 1942), alias The Mad Peck.

Les Daniels and The Mad Peck Studios’ 1971 Comix was a pretty fair early crack at recounting the history of the comic book up to the peak of the Undergrounds.
A-ha! On the back cover, The Mad Peck indulged his penchant for détournement, repurposing an early 1950’s ad for hair loss reversal scammers Ward Laboratories in a fashion that is in no way relevant to our current, media-savvy, ethically-enlightened world.

In his 1987 retrospective, Peck recalls « Yeah, Comix was good. Maybe a little too good. It’s been stolen from every public library I’ve ever been in. »

By then, he was working steadily for Boston-based music magazine Fusion (1967-74), “doing short reviews of the records nobody else wanted to do.” This one liberally swipes from DC’s long-running Fox and the Crow series (which of course borrows its premise from dear old Aesop’s immortal fable), with a smidgen of Fritz the Cat for the frisky finale.

Fast-forward to 1978, and Peck’s much-improved comix-style capsule reviews are appearing regularly in Creem and The Village Voice.

Ah, but she wasn’t a comic book semistar of the *late* 40s… she arrived on the scene in 1941, four months before Wonder Woman, even! Who dat? Why, The Masked Marvel is none other than Golden Age heroine The Black Cat, whose repurposing surely constitutes The Mad Peck’s most brazen act of détournement!
This is Black Cat Comics no. 3 (Dec. 45 – Jan. 46, Harvey); cover art by the lady’s creator, Al Gabriele. ‘Action that’ll make you pop your monocle!
The Mad Peck really stood out in the landscape of rock criticism in that he wasn’t a rockist snob (“It’s not rock, therefore it’s crap!“), and that his taste was wide-ranging and often surprising, evidence of a true music lover well-versed in all its strata and permutations.
And still, these Jefferson Airplane alumni had yet to hit bottom (knee-deep in the hoopla, so to speak)!
The Slickee BoysManganese Android Puppies; MadnessThe Prince; Prince BusterMadness.
The EaglesHeartache Tonight; The Sugarhill GangRapper’s Delight; The EaglesThe Disco Strangler.
HansiAutomobile; The Flying LizardsMoney; Sid Vicious(I’m not Your) Stepping Stone.
Joe “King” CarrascoParty Weekend; QueenCrazy Little Thing Called Love; ChicGood Times.

Then ahead to the mid-80s and Bob Guccione Jr.’s Spin (est. 1985), and a short run with a new title, Tales From the Bogusphere. Meanwhile, The Masked Marvel had been sidelined by legal hassles. As the heroine recalls:

I took an extended vacation in 1980 when Marvel Comics threatened to sue Peck after reading ‘Ms. Marvel’ in the Eagles cartoon that led off Creem’s review section in February. I hightailed it before the corporation had me roped into a team-up book with She-Hulk, but Peck had to stick it out while they tried to stick it to him. What really teed me off was that Ms. Marvel, who had oozed out of Marvel’s bullpen in the early ’70s, was such a dynamic concept that her book died almost instantly.

Words to live and listen by: « Forget all that image stuff and check what’s in the grooves » WhamWake Me Up Before You Go-Go; New EditionCool It Now; Hank Williams Jr.All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.

Peck’s experience as a critic left him with an encyclopedic knowledge of doo-wop and early R&B. When financing from rock publications got thin, Peck practiced the art of rock ‘n’ roll arbitrage: buying records at flea markets and “backwater Woolworths” and trading them at statewide record collectors’ conventions that he organized himself.

Peck spun his best finds on his popular WBRU radio show, “Dr. Oldie’s University of Musical Perversity.” Wary of semi-fame, Peck still makes an occasional public appearances in disguise as Dr. Oldie, complete with lab coat and head mirror. [ source ]

As a bonus, here’s The Mad Peck’s greatest commercial success, a piece first commissioned by Providence’s The Humbox Press for the inaugural issue of its poetry journal Loose Art. A fluke hit, it spawned postcards and posters “and is still keeping the Mad Peck in Camels.”

« In 1978, Peck designed the famous Providence Poster, a composite of witty one-liners that he and Daniels had uttered over the years about their beloved city. » I must confess I could not resist the urge to recolour it.

Channeling a credo he gleaned from a chance encounter with comic book artist Wally Wood — “Don’t draw what you can trace, and don’t trace what you can paste” — Peck made his name as a comic book artist despite an inability to draw anything more complex than psychedelic hand lettering. Most of his characters are swiped from the works of an obscure Golden Age comic artist, Matt Baker.

I can buy that most of his characters were swiped from Baker (hello there, Canteen Kate!), but he also begs, steals and borrows from, namely… Al Feldstein, George Carlson, Phil Davis, Jim Davis (no relation to Phil, and not the Garfield guy either), Bob Oksner, Don Flowers, and a gazillion anonymous advertising and animation toilers. And it works!

As a trailblazer of this particular approach, you might say he was Yesterday’s Tom Tomorrow.

-RG

Tippy Teen in “The Fright Before Xmas” (1967)

« … 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.

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This is Tippy Teen no. 18 (March 1968, Tower). Cover artwork by Samm Schwartz.

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What kind of a grinch would I be if I failed to include the Monkees pin-up promised on the cover? I shudder to even entertain the notion. In the usual order, Messrs. Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith.

-RG

A Sausage or a Can of Beer? The Goodies in Comics

« Slap him up and down upon the floor
Tickle his feet and hear him giggle
Then unzip him down the middle
Give that gibbon what he’s hollerin’ for! » — Stuff That Gibbon (words and music by Bill Oddie)

Back in the late 1970s, before I had even heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, nor even of Benny Hill, for that matter… I discovered The Goodies, thanks to the CBC’s belated programming of their exploits*. While The Goodies do share a *lot* of DNA with the Monty Python gang (they were school chums, close friends, collaborators and friendly competitors practically all along the way), this trio’s comedic format veers sharply away from the Pythons’ methods: Graeme, Bill and Tim play ‘amplified’ versions of themselves, and use the skit format sparingly, reserving it for mid-show intermission ‘blackouts‘.

While the trio was formed in 1970, it only made its comic strip début (and bow) in 1973**, where they held a weekly feature in the pages of Cor!!, also making an appearance in the magazine’s 1974 annual and The Goodies Annual, the whole lot hitting kiosks in ’73.

« Apparently licensed for just the one year, The Goodies were unique in the fact they were the only adapted characters featured with the comic’s pages with copyright credit being given to Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke Taylor (sans hyphen) and Graeme Garden. According to Robert Ross’ book The Complete Goodies, the strips were all authorised and approved by The Goodies prior to publication and Tim still displays an original Cor!! strip in his study. »

Scans (and detailed synopses!) of The Goodies’ Cor!! shenanigans are helpfully provided by their fan site, goodiesruleok.com.

And now, some introductions from the aforementioned The Goodies Annual 1974 (the only one of its kind, poor thing):

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The Goodies’ brainbox, Graeme Garden, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Feb. 18, 1943. « He lists his hobbies as painting, drawing, playing the guitar and banjo, apologising for playing the guitar and banjo, trying not to travel in cars and, of course, being a Goodie. »

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The Goodies’ resident singer-songwriter and ornithologist, Bill Oddie, born in Rochdale, Lancashire, on July 7, 1941.

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« Tim Brooke-Taylor was born very suddenly in Buxton on July 17th, 1940, among those dark, satanic hills of Derbyshire. » I like the sound of that… very Luke Haines. He was The Goodies’ conservative type, and the one who greatly relishes essaying the cross-dressing roles. And he was, after all, the fair one without any of that pesky, telltale facial hair.

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Among other, er, goodies, the annual contains a whopping 33 pages of comics. However, as it was fairly typical for UK comics of the period, no creator credits appear anywhere.

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« The comic strips form a large part of the official Goodies Annual, although “none of us had anything to do with the design or stories”, explains Graeme, “but we were very happy with the results.” »

Goodies, Goodies

Take a little good advice, try a trip to paradise
It’s not hard to find, you’ve got it on your mind
Can’t pretend it wouldn’t be nice
It’s whatever turns you on, Goodies

A circus or a seaside pier, a sausage or a can of beer
A stripper or a clown, prices going down
You can make it happen here
Fun for all the family, Goodies

Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum

Goodies are coming for you and you and you and you
It’s anything you want it to be, a record or an OBE
A four minute mile, a policeman with a smile
I know you won’t believe what you see.

(The first Goodies Theme; words and music by Bill Oddie.)

-RG

*« In Canada, the series was shown in on the CBC national broadcast network during the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the traditional “after school” time slot, later a Friday night 10 pm slot, and occasionally in a midnight slot. Several episodes were also shown on the CTV Television Network. In the mid-1970s it was shown on TVOntario on Saturday evenings, repeated on Thursday evenings, until being replaced by Doctor Who in 1976. » [ source ]

**I hear they’ve turned up in The Beano, circa 1994.

Charles Bronson’s Paper Doppelgängers

« I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited. » — Charles Bronson

Welcome to our 400th post! I suppose a Steve Ditko birthday post would have been more momentous, but I did that already a couple of years ago, while he still drew breath.

Today, our man Charles Dennis Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson (1921 – 2003… he would have turned 98 today — picture that!) squeezes in a rather routine bit part (merely credited as « The Pilot ») in Joe Molloy and Mike Zeck’s nonsensical hijacking melodrama Only a Toy. Heck, read it here if you don’t believe me.

Oddly enough, this expanded cameo came about just a year after Bronson’s megahit Death Wish, as Bronson reached the pinnacle of his earning power (in inverse proportion to the quality of his output, thanks to his long association with the shady Cannon Group). Presumably, he was just doing a favour for his old pal Zeck.

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« Like an unpalatable salad » indeed; a word salad. Published in Charlton’s Scary Tales no. 2 (October, 1975). Edited by George Wildman.

Ah, but this wasn’t the first time cartoonists had paid such tribute to Bronson: in 1971, writer Jean-Marie Brouyère and artist William Tai (aka Malik) created the South-America set Archie Cash series for Belgian bédé weekly Spirou. The series had a healthy run of 15 albums (what one would call a graphic novel over in North America) between 1973 and 1988.

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Front and back covers of Archie’s début, Le maître de l’épouvante (1973).

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And to give you a sense of the series’ narrative texture, page five from Le maître de l’épouvante; when it debuted in the fall of 1971, the series brought a welcome griminess and ethno-social realism to the squeaky-pristine pages of Spirou.

The Italians would then follow suit, “borrowing” Jean-Paul Belmondo‘s likeness for their Goldrake series around 1972, followed by Alain Delon‘s looks for Playcolt, and more exploitively, Ornella Muti‘s charms for Sukia. Mind you, all these liberties with celebrity likenesses don’t make Brian Hitch‘s laziness and lack of imagination any less reprehensible.

Anyway, back to our birthday boy: if you want to see Bronson at his finest, I recommend his early, pre-moustache TV showcase Man With a Camera (1958)… the 29-episode boxed set’ll cost you peanuts and it’s great value. Then, from his European period, you can’t go wrong with 1968’s Adieu l’ami (Farewell, Friend), co-starring the aforementioned Mr. Delon; 1970’s gloriously weird Le passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain), 1971 winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and co-starring creepy Eva Green‘s mom (or should that be “mum”?) Marlène Jobert. And of course 1971’s Soleil rouge (Red Sun), co-starring, this time not only Delon, but none other than Toshirô Mifune!

Happy birthday, Mr. Buchinsky!

– RG