Treasured Stories: “Emancipated Amanda” (1971)

« The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself. » — Virginia Woolf

It has dawned on me that we’ve been neglecting the romance genre of late, and so the time has come to remedy this regrettable situation. To that end, I’ve opted to spotlight some early work by Spanish-Argentine master José Luis García-López (born 1948, Pontevedra, Spain).

If you ask me, Mr. García-López is far under-appreciated. His graceful but unassuming virtuosity, and the seeming ease with which he wields it, makes it too easy to take him for granted. And while he’s tackled just about every major character (and many a minor one) in the DC Comics stable, much of it has been behind the scenes, in the way of style sheets and promotional artwork.

Meanwhile, in comic books, he’s mostly made pedestrian scripts* shine more brightly than they deserved. But there’s only so much, er… polishing one can do.

As it stands, my favourite portion of his œuvre is the romance comics he illustrated for Charlton early in his career, roughly 1968-74, before he moved to New York to launch his North American phase. While my predilection for his romantic material is a minority opinion, I’m not alone in this, I’m relieved to report.

It seems to me that, as a man who can clearly draw anything at all, JLGL’s chops are largely squandered on superheroes and such. But, in comics as in life, romance is hard. As Mr. García-López confirmed in the definitive interview he granted in 2010 to the championne of romance comics, Sequential Crush‘s Jacque Nodell: « Even now, I consider romance stories the most difficult genre to illustrate properly. » Bingo.

If you’ve at all read comics from the early 70s, romance or otherwise, you’ll have noticed that clothing and hair fashions can generally be termed (charitably) ‘of their time’. Not so much here. Have we come full circle, or does JLGL have a secret? He confides (do read the full entrevista… it’s well worth it):

« In those years we also had photo-novel magazines (like the foto-romanzo or fumetti in Italy) and they were very useful to design the characters and for the romantic scenes. Doing a good kiss without a good reference was very hard, honest. Besides, I was lucky to have two kindly girl friends that helped me with fashion advice and suggestions and even posed for me. That period was full of learning experiences – there is no better way to learn to draw than from a living model. »

Where can I get myself a pair of those snazzy Letraset pants?
Writer unknown, incidentally. Which is a shame.

Now, artwork aside, why am I fond of this particular story?

I love the mise-en-scène: characters are introduced in the background and without dialogue before they enter the stage. Namely Dorothy in the first panel of page 2 and ‘that beanpole’, Jim Loomis in the first panel of page 6. His first line comes in the final panel of page 7, but he and Dorothy have been staring holes into each other from the start. That’s great staging, not to mention something that, arguably, only the comics medium can achieve effectively.

I also enjoy the evolution of Amanda and Dorothy’s friendship; at first testy and tentative, Amanda’s calling her roommate ‘Dot’ by page 7. And they learn from, and support, each other. No cheap betrayal in this one.

It’s a lovely change of page for the genre that, once gridiron ‘hero’ and BMOC Dan Sruba commits his inevitable transgression… he’s gone (save for a passing mention from Les): no ‘second chance’, no confrontation, no revenge, no melodrama.

Despite the headline, I’m reading this as the story of Dot and Jim’s romance. Amanda’s interest in Les, beyond playing matchmaker for her roommate, is uncertain.

My wife was disappointed in the ending, and I can certainly see why: will Dorothy lose her fire and her beliefs? I prefer to think not — she was looking for an equal, respectful relationship, and I do think she’s found it with Loomis. And she had him well before word one, and she was clad in glasses, picket sign and dungarees. The guy seems like a keeper to me. They’re both quiet, thoughtful observers, for the most part. I like their odds.

There are a few glitches here and there, but given that the script had to first be translated into Spanish (Mr. García-López claims to still not speak English to this day… technically) to be illustrated, there may have been here and there a nuance missed, a description gone astray. Loomis isn’t quite a beanpole, and neither is Dorothy, for that matter. And ‘Plain Janes’? (page 8) And I scarcely think that Les and Jim were planning a hatchet piece (given Jim’s evident interest in Dorothy, for one), no-one would mistake these two for Plain Janes. Well, that’s always been a systemic weakness of the romance genre, in comics and elsewhere: the plain one, the skinny one, the rejected one? Still gorgeous.

This is I Love You no. 95 (Jan. 1972, Charlton). For a variety of factors, distance chief among them, Garcia-Lopez never drew an original cover for Charlton, but the publisher often creatively recycled story panels, a task handled exceptionally well in the present case.

What’s that? Oh, right. Fine, here’s that « FREE Pin-Up Poster of David Cassidy » already.

Art by Don Sherwood. For more David Cassidy (the good stuff, which is to say Sururi Gümen‘s), check out our earlier spotlight Farewell to David Cassidy, pop star… and Charlton Comics hero.

-RG

*as a well-scripted exception, I submit the opening chapter of David V. Reed‘s The Underworld Olympics ’76!, in Batman no. 272 (Feb. 1976, DC).

At Last… Freff Speaks!

« Only times and places, only names and ghosts. »Aldous Huxley

Last November, after we spotlighted a pair of mid-70s Gold Key gems I had presumed to be the brainchildren of Connor Freff Cochran (as it turned out, I was only half right; see my revised original post), we heard from the gentleman himself (and I don’t use the term lightly), who generously shared with us his sharp recollections and insights. Once you’ve read them, I’m confident that you’ll agree that such goods would have been squandered as mere comments at the bottom of a post.

So I’ve picked out another Freff favourite to feature, which will be followed by the author’s commentary.

But first, let us set the stage through a bit of autobiography and an inestimable glimpse into the 1970s publishing scene.

Here’s the skinny. Heeding a suggestion Kelly Freas had made to me eight months earlier, I moved to New York City right after Labor Day 1973. (It was a two-step process. First I hitchhiked from San Francisco to Toronto for that year’s Worldcon, then I caught a ride the rest of the way to NYC from there.) I was six weeks away from turning 19, and gung-ho to launch a career as a professional cover artist and illustrator. I also wanted to work in comics, and thought the best way to break in and learn the ropes was to start as an inker. On the comics side I took my portfolio around to Marvel, DC, Gold Key, and Warren. On the book/magazine side, I went to any publisher where I could land an appointment.

It was not a stellar launch. My portfolio was full of SF convention art show pieces, some semi-prozine illustrations, and a handful of two-toned small press book covers. It wasn’t bad stuff, but it was certainly not well-targeted to the people I was trying to impress. A couple of magazines did pay me for spot illustrations. Jim Baen — brand-new managing editor at GALAXY and IF — liked my stuff, but he wasn’t in charge of art assignments. As for my attempt to break into comic inking, that was a complete washout. There was a paper shortage on, and because of publishing cutbacks there wasn’t enough work for established inkers, let alone a newbie like me. Marvel did give me a bunch of pencil Xeroxes to do vellum samples over…but I was a pen inker, not a brush guy, and pen inking wasn’t the Marvel house look in 1973. I did get to know and hang around with a bunch of people in the company, but I didn’t get any work there.

At Gold Key, though…

At Gold Key, Wally Green looked at my portfolio and said “We don’t need any more artists. But we do need writers. Can you write?” Years later I learned that Wally was trying to plug the production hole created when Len Wein stopped scripting for him. Most likely he put that same question to every stranger who walked through the door. In the moment, though, all I knew was that I’d be an idiot to say anything but yes. Wally then introduced me to his second-in-command, Paul Kuhn. Paul handed over some sample issues of TWILIGHT ZONE, and told me to come back when I had a five-page script to show him. A few days later I brought in a story called “The Stand-In”, which was read and bought on the spot. Thus did my accidental writing career begin. This was in early October 1973. At the beginning of 1974 I did the math and decided to quit my 9-5 job, because by then I was making more from three days per month of Gold Key scripting (at the princely sum of $10 per page) than my fulltime gig was generating. I’ve been self-employed ever since.

I wrote for GRIMM’S GHOST STORIES, RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT, BORIS KARLOFF TALES OF MYSTERY, TWILIGHT ZONE, DARK SHADOWS (for a different editor, Denise Van Lehr), ADAM-12, and even one issue of Gold Key’s STAR TREK. Roughly once a month Paul would agree to a pitch session. I’d bring 10-15 different story ideas with me, knowing I needed to sell at least five to meet my monthly minimum nut (which was low, since I lived in a 7’ x 12’ fifth-floor walkup room on the West Side that rented for $50). Paul would listen intently, but he couldn’t look me in the face most of the time because he had a permanent spastic tic in his neck. Inevitably he would reject all but a couple of ideas, at which point I had to invent more on the spot and talk him into buying them. It was GREAT story development training.

Paul had an eidetic memory for every damn comic book Gold Key had ever published, which was its own kind of problem. This is a real exchange we once had:

Paul: I don’t know…

Me: Paul —

Paul (shouting through the open door to Wally, in the next-over office): Hey, Wally! Freff has an idea for an art museum guard ghost story. Didn’t we do a museum guard ghost story, what, nine years ago?

Wally: I think so.

Paul: Sorry, Freff. That’s out. What else have you got?

Me: Paul, your readers are eight years old. They weren’t even born when that other story was published! And anyway, it’s an ART museum guard ghost story. What kind of museum was it last time?

Paul: History.

Me: So no art.

Paul: Okay, I’ll think about it.

(He did…and still passed on the idea.)

And here’s our featured tale: Charm of the British, first published in Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 22 (March 1975, Gold Key).

Before I return the floor to Freff, it bears mentioning that this tale was illustrated by Argentine cartoonist José Delbo (born in 1933 and still among us), then on the cusp of a five-year run on DC’s Wonder Woman. Delbo was quite recently in the news for the astonishing windfall he received from a crypto artwork auction. In these uncertain times, what 87-year-old on a fixed income couldn’t use an extra million to top up his or her nest egg?

While I confess I’ve never quite warmed up to most of Delbo’s DC work (his inkers did him no favours), I do have a soft spot for his solid run on Charlton’s Billy the Kid (1966-74!), I dug his deft comic touch on Dell’s The Monkees, and let’s not forget his inspired work on the real ‘weird western tales’ series, Charlton’s gonzo Geronimo Jones (1971-72).

I hear James Mason as the British Ambassador. How about you?

And now, with a first-hand account of its genesis, Mr. Connor Freff Cochran!

The publication date of the issue with “Charm of the British” was March 1975. Gold Key comics typically hit the stand a month sooner than the official date, so that makes this a February 1975 release. From that, and some internal clues, I can narrow the writing window down to the first three weeks of September 1974.

I’d been away from NYC all the previous summer, living in Champaign-Urbana, IL, where I was self-training just in case my application to that year’s Ringling Brothers Clown College was accepted. I finally got word that I’d made it when I arrived at the World SF Convention, which was held over Labor Day weekend in Washington, DC. (One day later I went out for Chinese food and got a fortune cookie that read “You will visit a strange place and find fresh work.”) The Clown College started on September 23rd and ran for just over two months, during which time I would be unable to do any paying freelance work. So between the end of WorldCon and flying to Venice, FL on 9/22, I crammed in every job I possibly could – which included selling and writing as many Gold Key stories as I usually did in three or four months. Wally Green and Paul Kuhn knew I would be unavailable until late November/early December at the soonest, so they did something they hadn’t done with me before, and built up inventory.

“Charm of the British” was one of those inventory pieces. It paid $60 (my page rate for scripting was $10), and looking back I have no idea what the exact trigger for the idea was. Most likely it was improvised during a pitch & sell session with Paul. Those were always insane. The typical structure: I’d come in once a month with 8-10 ideas, knowing that I needed to sell five or six to guarantee my monthly budget. Paul would say yes to one or two and reject the rest. At which point the improv would begin, with me inventing more stories on the spot while he tried to get me to leave… something I would only do after getting him to say yes as many times as needed. I was 19 years old, and it was great training for a creative future. 

The title’s a minor bit of wordplay, of course – “charm” as in magic and manners, both.

Grimm  always had to have jokey intro and outro lines for each story. The outro on this one wasn’t anything to be proud of, but all these years later I’m still happy with the punny “shades” (of the Boston Tea Party) in the intro.

These were stories for young kids, so you couldn’t go into detail about anything. But I did enjoy slipping in as many real Revolutionary War references as I could, both direct (namechecking Paul Revere) and indirect (referencing Revere’s profession by having my lead character ask for “the good silver” in the first panel). “I won’t be judging without representation anymore” is obviously a riff on “no taxation without representation.” No child who read this comic book was ever going to remember it years later, when they encountered the real phrase in some history class, but maybe a bit of subconscious memory would help the knowledge stick, you know? In any case I enjoyed playing with all these references.

Page 2, panel 2: I absolutely did NOT write that unnecessary “Why, No!” Either Paul or Wally or the letterer added that. Didn’t make sense to me then, and makes no sense to me now. Similarly, the “Thinks they he can come in…” in panel 4 on that page is definitely an editing/letterer goof. I wrote “Thinks he can come in…” 

As usual, my character names referenced friends, sometimes combined with private jokes. Fan friends Eli Cohen and Susan Wood had begun dating recently, so I named the house owners “Eli and Susan Wood” (though all reference to the name “Susan” somehow vanished in the editing process). Susan eventually became one of the major academic names in the science fiction field, before she sadly passed, much too young, in 1980. Our visiting British Ambassador got the name of a junior high school friend of mine who had spent a lot of his childhood growing up in Europe. These days he’s a partner with the law firm of Thompson Coburn LLP, in St. Louis. Revolutionary War ghost Nathaniel Emerson is a combination of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson (they were neighbors in Concord, MA for a time), with a sideways nod to NYC fan David Emerson. David had recently shared an apartment with Eli Cohen, so it amused me to have an “Emerson ghost” hanging around to haunt an Eli living space…

Looking back from today, it amuses me to think of Outlander’s evil British soldier “Black Jack Randall” and his nice-guy modern descendant, who both have the same face. It’s a neat coincidental lineup with my evil British soldier “Black Jack” Ryder and his nice-guy, same-face descendant.

Overall… confronted with this story after nearly 50 years, I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s got some nice lines, it turns in unexpected directions, and none of the characters are idiots (though they are all amazingly blasé about spectral appearances). I can imagine the Ambassador and the ghost of Nathaniel Emerson becoming the best of friends, making regular visits back and forth across the Pond… and hanging out together in the afterlife when the Ambassador finally dies from eating one too many diplomatic desserts.

Alternatively, of course, there’s a story to be written about the Ambassador coming home to England and being haunted by Black Jack’s ghost, who is appalled that any descendant of his would make nice with Yankee riffraff like Nathaniel…

Again, my heartfelt and slightly befuddled gratitude to Mr. Cochran for all his cordiality and patience. We’ve more of it to share with our readers, so expect a sequel in the near future. Cheers!

-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 12

« I don’t know what’s wrong with him!
He’s in hellish torment!
» — there’s witchery afoot, clearly

I’ll grant you in a heartbeat that Nick Cardy‘s (and, to a lesser extent, Neal Adams’) earlier The Witching Hour (full original title: It’s 12 O’Clock… The Witching Hour!, hence its twelfth day appearance) covers beat out subsequent entries on the overall quality front, but this particular beauty, in my opinion, takes home the terror tiara as the very creepiest of the bunch. Is it the otherwise-innocuous daytime setting, the tension between the pastoral and the grotesque? In the end, it induces shivers, and that’s what counts.

Though it comes as the tail end of their involvement, Carmine Infantino and Cardy still had a hand in, as publisher and art director, and took an active rôle in the design of each DC cover of the era.

This is It’s Midnight… the Witching Hour no. 62 (Feb.-Mar 1976, DC). Edited by Murray Boltinoff. Argentine grand master Luis Dominguez’s cover art is loosely based on Carl Wessler and Fred Carrillo’s The Cat’s-Eye Stone. That aside, is it actually a picnic that Mr. Romantic has in mind, what with a “picnic place that no one will ever find“? Suspicious, to put it mildly.

And so — why not? — here’s the full tale, so that you may judge for yourself.

One small quibble: doesn’t Drusilla’s witch’s brew count for something in the spell? Surely the words won’t suffice…
For a devil-worshipper, she’s pretty biblical (‘cast the first stone’). Or maybe that’s the point.
This story anticipates the shock ending of Carrie by almost a year. Or had this twist already made the rounds? Perhaps the cycle began with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death… but I’m not sure.

Wilfredo Limbana ‘Fred’ Carrillo (1926–2005) was an underrated Filipino artist who produced some quite fine work for DC Comics’ mystery titles in the 1970s. I was particularly fond of his work on The Phantom Stranger, when he illustrated both the titular feature and its worthy backup, The Black Orchid, at the tail end of the title’s run.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 25

« You’re sure you want to spend the night out there? »

As an avid backyard camper, this effectively chilling cover by the versatile Argentine Luis Dominguez never failed to bring a pleasant tingle of dread. It has that quality of a silent, slow-motion nightmare. Barely-glimpsed but eerily tangible horrors shambling your way… and you can hardly move, helpless but with all senses on edge. Eek.

DominguezUnexpected166A
Though it came late in Carmine Infantino‘s tenure, one can safely assume that DC’s publisher and his adjutant, art director Nick Cardy, had a hand in the cover’s layout. It certainly does tick Carmine’s boxes of « Leave Room for the Kids » and « Make It More Mysterioso. »

DC’s The Unexpected no. 166, (July 1975). The moody featured story, The Evil Eyes of Night, scripted by Al Case (one of editor Murray Boltinoff‘s several noms de plume) and illustrated by an inspired Ruben Yandoc, doesn’t betray or squander the promise proffered by the cover, though it hardly proceeds as one might presume. This isn’t The Expected, after all…

YandocEvilEyes01A
I do believe that Yandoc did his own lettering, as it’s a consistent element across his American output. That’s always a plus, an added touch of personality. Love those sinister onomatopoeia!

YandocEvilEyes02A

– RG

Treasured Stories: “The Servant of Chan” (1975)

« Followers in death: Attendants and relatives who were killed so they could be buried in the tomb with the person (normally someone very important or wealthy) who had died. » — The British Museum

Let’s face it, Gold Key’s would-be-spooky comics rarely lived up to their habitually fine painted covers (mostly courtesy of hard-working George Wilson, with Vic Prezio, Luis Dominguez, Jesse Santos or Jack Sparling occasionally chipping in); as with most things, there were exceptions: I’ve raved earlier about a particular issue of the generally ho-hum Grimm’s Ghost Stories, namely issue 26, boasting, along with the usual Paul S. Newman sleep aids, two excellent yarns from the undervalued Arnold Drake (co-creator of The Doom Patrol, Deadman, and the original Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ah, but today, we’re celebrating Drake’s co-conspirator, the prolific Argentine master (yes, another one) Luis Angel Dominguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day (Dec. 5, 1923), and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye.

Without further foot-dragging, here’s a vintage tale of quick wits in ruling class hubris from beyond the grave, The Servant of Chan, by that dastardly duo, Drake and Dominguez.

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George Wilson’s cover highlights a dramatic scene from our little story. This is Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 26 (Sept. 1975, Gold Key).

Some further details on historical context, from Ancient China for Kids (!):

« Slavery in ancient China was not a pleasant experience. The lives of slaves were filled with hardship. Many were abused. Many slaves were children.

Most people who were slaves worked in the fields, alongside of peasants. They did the same job, and had the same hours, and pretty much the same clothing and food, as free farmers. But they were not treated with the same respect given to farmers. Some slaves built roads. Some worked in government.

But slaves who worked for the emperor, the royal family, and sometimes the nobles, had the worst of it. They could only do what they were told to do. They were treated in any way that their master and his family felt like treating them. Many were treated with great cruelty. When their master died, they were killed, and buried with their master in his tomb, so they could continue to serve their master after his death. »

Brr. All the same, if you’ve enjoyed this yarn, check out Arnold Drake’s other contribution to this issue, The Anti-13, which we enthusiastically featured some time ago.

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Señor Dominguez… wherever you may be!

-RG

Mordillo’s Flights of Fancy

Guillermo Mordillo (1932 – 2019), known simply as Mordillo, was an Argentine artist of  Spanish parentage. Through his long and productive career, he released more comic albums than you could shake a stick at… and at 86, was still active in the comics field. His easily recognizable style, love of bright colours and oft-surreal humour make his work memorable despite his persistent profligacy.

It would be impossible to provide an overview of his body of work in one post, but it is my pleasure to furnish a fun sampling of his œuvre. Most images below have been gleaned from Opus 5 (Glénat, 1984) and Safari (Glénat, 1990), unless indicated otherwise.

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The following two images were scanned from early 1970s issues of Pif Gadget.

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In the mid-70s, Mordillo’s cartoons were used by Slovenian artist Miki Muster to create Mordillo, a series of cartoon animations that ended up being 400 “episodes” long (for a total of 300 minutes – each episode is under a minute). These droll snippets were broadcast in over 30 countries between 1976 and 1981. Should you have a few minutes to spare for a chuckle or two, have a look at this video (recorded by somebody in Germany on VHS tape in the 90s and, many years later, uploaded to Youtube – what lovely, contorted pathways some of these things take).

Visit Mordillo’s website here. More cartoons? More animated cartoons?

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~ ds

Treasured Stories: “The Organist and the SS” (1972)

« They were bitter, war-weary men and the old woman’s music was comforting — perhaps too comforting… »

Writer and occasional penciller William ‘Willi’ Franz (born 1950) broke into the comics industry at the tender age of 15, selling his first script to Charlton editor Dick Giordano in 1966.

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Will Franz, September 1971. A photo « …taken at the Manhattan insurance company where I worked as an accounting technician. My wall is covered with cartoons I made of various office friends and personnel. » Source: Will Franz and Charlton Spotlight.

While best known for his fruitful collaborations with his mentor, the great Sam Glanzman (1924-2017), namely The Iron Corporal, The Devil’s Brigade and most enduringly The Lonely War of Willy Schultz, Franz also scattered a few gems that the light has mostly missed.

My favourite among these has to be his final story for Charlton, The Organist and the SS, published in Attack no. 8 (Nov. 1972). Franz’s bleak, nuanced and markedly pacifist tales had drawn the military’s ire, back in the late ’60s, and this somber little piece of doom might have, too, if anyone had been paying attention.

As Franz recalls in a 2015 interview with Richard Arndt, published in Charlton Spotlight no. 9 (Winter-Spring 2015-2016):

« I was told that a lot of Charlton sales were on military bases. They were a staple on Army bases. I, and my stories, were dropped in 1969, out of the blue. Things were heating up in Vietnam.

I was blacklisted at Charlton because a guy had put my name and stories down as one of the reasons he registered as a conscientious objector. I found out other people were throwing my name around. Someone in the army apparently said that my stuff, maybe like [Archie] Goodwin’s stuff, was too blood and guts. It was going to make soldiers *not* want to kill the gooks. The army can’t have that! »

Well, evidently Charlton (presumably managing editor George Wildman, bless his heart) let Will sneak back into the fold, if briefly, after the heat was off, otherwise I’d be writing about some other topic entirely.

Without further preamble, please savour this pitch-black, existentialist play of war and death, but mind the thorns.

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Will’s layout for the opening splash of our story. It’s always a treat to see what liberties the illustrator takes… or doesn’t.

This issue is chock-full of arrivals and departures: it opens with a story from new recruit Warren Sattler, trying his hand at a few short mystery and war stories before he found his niche in excellent collaborations with Joe Gill on Billy the Kid and Yang; next up is Jack Keller, who was winding up his comics career, what with Charlton’s remaining pair of hot rod books, Drag ‘n’ Wheels and Hot Rods and Racing Cars, soon to be scrapped. He would move, appropriately enough, to making a living selling cars. Finally, Argentine ace Leo Duranoña (b. 1938) was just passing through Charlton, crafting a handful of finely-hewn tales before moving on to DC and Warren… among others.

-RG

(27178) Quino*

Today we talk about an artist who had an asteroid dedicated to him! (27178) Quino was discovered in 1999.

Quino is the nom de plume of Joaquín Salvador Lavado, an Argentine cartoonist born in 1932 and still with us today (currently 85 years old, for those in the audience who aren’t too good at mathematics). He’s best known for his character Mafalda (heroine of a self-titled comic strip), a lively and precocious 6-year old girl who sought to change the world for the better (but hated soup – how can anyone improve the world without soup?) This comic strip, which ran from 1964 to 1973, is said to have been influenced by Schulz’s Peanuts – for instance, Umberto Eco made that comparison in 1968 – but it makes me think more of Bushmiller’s Nancy. Comparisons aside, I heartily recommend it.

You won’t be surprised to find out that Quino wrote in Spanish – being Argentine and all – but some of his strips, notably Mafalda, have been translated into a variety of languages… by which I mean mostly French. I was harbouring the hope that this great artist had been able to reach many countries with his art, but it seems that his non-Mafalda cartoons (and he’s done quite a few after he quit Mafalda in 1973) aren’t really available in languages other than Spanish or French. As consolation, it seems that at least Mafalda was a big hit in not only Latin America, France and Québec, but also Asia, even meriting a translation into Chinese.

The following three comics were scanned from Manger, quelle aventure! (eating, what an adventure) published in 2016 by Glénat. I was looking for something mute but amusing to sidestep linguistic barriers, and I hope that these qualify. Check out Quino’s beautifully squiggly, decorative lines!

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ChickenGhostBR~ ds

*part of our galaxy’s main asteroid belt

On This Day: Boris Karloff Crosses Over

« What’s that noise comin’ up from the cellar?
It’s the restless bones of Boris and Bela* »

It’s a cinch that William Henry Pratt, back when he was eking out a living in Canada, digging ditches or driving a truck, never suspected that his name, his stage name that is, would still elicit shivers of recognition long after his passing. Here we are, a whole hundred and thirty years past his birth, in Camberwell, South London, on Wednesday, November 23, 1887.

From his ascent to stardom in the early 1930s until his passing in 1969, he certainly lived to see his likeness appear in a bewildering array of toys and games and bedsheets and mugs and a zillion knicknacks and gewgaws, a parade that continues to this day. But he was likely never represented more consistently and abundantly than he was in comic books.

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Here, the Monster meets his… inspiration, in « Boris Karload, Master of Horror ». Dick Briefer‘s Frankenstein is a definite highlight of the Golden Age of comics. This is Frankenstein no. 11 (Jan.-Feb. 1948, Prize Comics). Read it here: http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=39937 And if you, er… dug that, treat yourself to Craig Yoe‘s selection of Briefer’s rendition(s) of the Famous Monster. It’s a great package, and Mr. Yoe can always use the money… to unleash further wonders.

Here’s a gallery of cover highlights from Gold Key Comics’ long-running Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery (95 issues, 1962-80).

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Before there was called Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, there was, for two issues, Thriller, based on the by-then-cancelled NBC series. Gold Key were often quite slow in making their licensing moves. The TV Thriller was often terrifying (“Pigeons From Hell”, “The Hungry Glass”…), but the comic book never scaled such heights, even sans the emasculating influence of the Comics Code Authority.

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« You know that one sideways glance from that bug-eyed banshee can turn your brains to prune-whip! » Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 33 (Feb. 1971), Cover painted by George Wilson, illustrating Len Wein, Tom Gill and John Celardo’s March with a Monster.

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« I’m being scorched by something that shouldn’t even exist! » A laser cannon-equipped Evel Knievel tussling with a badass reptilian nightmare? That’s the Seventies for you. Gold Key’s mystery comics were generally pretty tame fare, but their covers, such covers! This one’s painted by Saint George Wilson. Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 34 (April 1971.) You just know that Dragondoom is written by Lein Wein, because its damsel-in-distress shares his wife’s name, Marvel and DC colourist Glynis.

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A look at Mr. Wilson’s original painting gives us an idea of just how much was lost in the transition from brush to print. Sometimes it’s better *not* to know.

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« Feast your eyes upon them, mortal! Do they satisfy your appetite for witchcraft? Hee Hee! » Wayne Howard conjures up some decent monsters inside, but Psychotomimetic George Wilson, who painted this mind-melting cover, shows how it’s *really* done. Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 43 (Oct. 1972.)

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« The car — being sucked in by this blasted fetid swamp! Goodbye car… goodbye, convention! » Roadside George Wilson strikes again! Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 49 (March 1973.)

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« These computer cards are wonderful… almost as if they were alive! They tell me everything! » Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 62 (July 1973). Luis Angel Dominguez‘s painted cover depicts a scene from (presumably) Arnold Drake‘s witty It’s in the Cards.

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« G-g-get away, B-Bobby! There’s a living horror out there! » « Aww, gee, dad! I’m sorry about that! It’s just my sea monster! » Meet The Mail-Order Monster, a gem from an uncredited scripter (likely Arnold Drake, if the sparkling wit is any indication), and illustrated by Ed Robbins. It’s a fabulously wacky yarn, combining to fine effect good old Sea-Monkeys (brine shrimp, really) and a generous sampling of Ray Bradbury’s Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar! 
This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 65 (Dec. 1975), edited by Paul Kuhn. Also within: Don’t Put It on Paper, another of the handful of jobs José Luis García-López did for Gold Key, before settling down at DC later that year. The plot is basically that of Clark Dimond/Terry Bisson & Steve Ditko’s The Sands That Change! (Creepy no. 16, Aug. 1967, Warren), but with a much gentler outcome.

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« But — why would anyone create something so — so terrifying? » One thing you can nearly always count on in any given issue of BKToM: “scientific” experiments always go awry, and they nearly always yield rampaging monsters. Fitting! Luis Angel Dominguez provides this electrifying cover for issue no. 92 (July, 1979.) The man has such a peerless colour sense.

And remember, there’s far more to Boris Karloff than Frankenstein’s Monster: for evidence of his talent, check out The Body Snatcher (1945, directed by Robert Wise and produced by Val Lewton) or Targets (1968, directed by Peter Bogdanovich.)

Let’s reserve our closing words for the man (monster) himself: « Certainly I was typed. But what is typing? It is a trademark, a means by which the public recognizes you. Actors work all their lives to achieve that. I got mine with just one picture. It was a blessing. »

– RG

*Ships Don’t Disappear In The Night (Do They?) by 10cc (1973)