Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 25

« Swing your razor wide! Sweeney, hold it to the skies! » — Stephen Sondheim

Variations on a theme: The entirely reasonable dread of the straight razor.

First there was this Lee Elias cover that…

Actually, no. Before that, there arose the idea in art director Warren Kremer‘s ever-effervescent mind:

One of Kremer’s surviving preliminary sketches.
Then there was this one, more refined and with wonderful suggestions, instructions and notions addressed to the assigned cover artist, Lee Elias.
Ah, here we are. The final (in more ways than one!) version. This is Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 18 (July 1953, Harvey). Art by Lee Elias… but you know that’s not the entire process. Check out this earlier Hallowe’en post for more of that magical Kremer-Elias collaboration.

Then, one year on…

… appeared this cover entry by Québécois Joseph Michel Roy aka Mike Roy (inks likely provided by George Roussos). This is The Unseen no. 15 (July 1954, Pines), the series’ final issue. To give credit where it’s due, the death’s head reflection is a cute new wrinkle.

More than two decades down the road, Marvel, since they were already borrowing Harvey’s Chamber of Chills title (did they even ask? I wonder), figured they may as well reenact one of its classic covers.

Say, what’s this about the day’s first shave? … is there shaving after death? Hassles, hassles.

Though most would nowadays call upon electric shavers or disposable plastic razors, I presume that straight razors have made a comeback among the hipster set. Still, a niche is hardly universal.

This is Chamber of Chills no. 22 (May, 1976, Marvel). Pencils by Larry Lieber, raised on high by the masterly inks of Tom Palmer, who, not content with being one of the all-time finest ink slingers, was also an excellent colourist.

As a bonus, here’s one on the general topic by the immortal Chas Addams. It appeared in The New Yorker in 1957, then was reprinted later that year in his solo collection Nightcrawlers (Simon and Schuster). For more of that excellently-morbid Addams mirth, amble over to this earlier spotlight from our Hallowe’en Countdown’s initial edition.

Most modern reprints of Addams cartoons I’ve seen tend to be on the washed out, blurry side, so I’m grateful to have my ancient volumes of his work. Feast your weary peepers on this fine vintage!

-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

Who Will Change the Devil’s Nappy?

« Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, it’s just god when he’s drunk. » — Tom Waits, Heartattack and Vine (1980)

Another week, another heat wave… I had something else in the pipeline for this week, but the canicular conditions brought to mind Hot Stuff The Little Devil (heat rises!) and his creator Warren Kremer‘s monumental parade of beautifully conceived and crafted calefaction variations.

As you may already know, the Harvey Comics stable consists, in the main, of one-note characters erected upon the visual template of licensed 1940s animation properties Casper the Friendly Ghost (Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Spooky) for the boys, and Little Audrey (Little Dot, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Pearl) for the girls.

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Would I kid you? (truthfully, I might). There’s even a meme about it.

We’ve already presented cover galleries from Spooky and Little Dot (as well as a Hallowe’en-themed array), and it’s now Hot Stuff’s turn to toast and roast. Though we’ve both been rather dismissive of the contents of Harvey Comics, I must point out that if there is a specific series that burns brighter than its brethren do, it’s Hot Stuff’s… at least during the line’s creative peak, the 1960s. Here’s an example of a good one.

Each cover is the brainchild and handiwork of Harvey’s indefatigable resident genius and art director, Warren Kremer. Obviously, one man does not a company make, and his able colleagues Howie Post, Ernie Colón, Sid Couchey and Sid Jacobson were hardly lightweights or slouches… but Kremer was the cover generator.

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.9 (Feb. 1959, Harvey). Is this helping? Probably not. Sorry!

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.15 (Sept. 1959, Harvey).

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.33 (Mar. 1961, Harvey). I especially admire Kremer’s black covers, though they complicated the printing and make issues in pristine (or even decent) shape a scarce proposition.

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.34 (Apr. 1961, Harvey).

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.36 (June 1961, Harvey).

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Ah, so that ol’ devil moon is not merely made out of cheese, but of stinky cheese to boot? Good to know. This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.41 (Nov. 1961, Harvey). Fun fact: because of its distinctive holes, Swiss Gruyère is the shorthand cartoon cheese.

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This is Hot Stuff Sizzlers no.7 (Feb. 1962, Harvey).

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This is Hot Stuff Sizzlers no.8 (May 1962, Harvey).

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This is Devil Kids Starring Hot Stuff no.3 (Nov. 1962, Harvey). One wonders why other comics publishers didn’t show the same lack of regard for the Comics Code Authority Stamp of Approval typically demonstrated by Kremer and Harvey. Their ‘shove it in a corner and colour it invisible’ approach is refreshing. I suppose that, like other publishers specialized in the nominally wholesome ‘kiddie’ market, Harvey’s code approval was a formality.

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.68 (Oct. 1965, Harvey). Listen to this excellent ‘word jazz‘ piece by the late, great Ken Nordine (1920-2019), on the fecund topic of… Fireflies.

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This is Devil Kids Starring Hot Stuff no.21 (Nov. 1965, Harvey). A little better, cooling-wise?

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.77 (Apr. 1967, Harvey). And how’s this?

That’s it for now! Keep cool, and may your asbestos underwear never chafe!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: By the Sign of the Jack-in-the-Box Harlequin

As Tentacle Tuesday creeps by once again, we found ourselves knee-deep in ghosts and devils – adorable, baby-featured ones. As a matter of fact, if you’re the kind who breaks out in hives when exposed to an overdose of cuteness, I would suggest skipping this week’s installment.

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The best-known titles published by Harvey Comics, whether comic book adaptations of an animated cartoon (for instance, Casper the Friendly Ghost or Baby Huey, both adapted from Paramount’s Famous Studios cartoons) or original series, are certainly no passion of mine for the simple reason that the stories are, for the most part, quite boring. Their strained slapstick elicits, at best, a semi-chuckle: each character is so tied to a shtick that the whole thing becomes predictable very quickly. Hot Stuff, the little devil with temperature regulation problems, constantly burns through and/or melts stuff. Little Dot draws polka dots on everything – or hangs out with giraffes. Little Lotta demolishes all food in sight à la Garfield. Richie Rich swims in money, eats money, inhales money. Wendy the Good Little Witch is nauseatingly boring (I disagree with that being a viable definition of “good”).

All of these characters have redeeming features – their heart is in the right place and they enthusiastically come to the aid of friends and animals. The Harvey Girls, as they’re called (Little Lotta, Little Dot and Little Audrey) are clever and enterprising, if spoiled and headstrong, which is a pleasant change from females in need of rescuing. I wouldn’t go as far as calling their antics “proto-feminist”, notwithstanding the lofty claim made to that effect in the introduction to the Dark Horse Harvey Girls anthology.

One can hem and haw about it all day, but there is one redeeming and indisputably striking feature, and it’s one to contend with: the covers are beautiful! Lovingly designed, gorgeously coloured, they’re pure eye candy.

We have artist and art editor Warren Kremer, who worked at Harvey for some 35-odd years starting in 1948, to thank for that. See my colleague’s Little Dot’s Playful Obsession and his spotlight on Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost for more details. Me? I shall simply concentrate on tentacles.

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Casper & Nightmare no. 21 (1968). Casper the Friendly Ghost was adapted from Famous Studiosanimated cartoon, and soon gave birth, so to speak, to a score of spinoffs, such as Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost and Wendy the Good Little Witch.

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Richie Rich no. 128 (September 1974). Richie Rich, yet another Warren Kremer character, debuted in Little Dot. Don’t you just love the super-bashful octopus?

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Devil Kids Starring Hot Stuff no. 67 (December 1974). Hot Stuff the Little Devil is another Kremer character.

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Richie Rich Profits no. 5 (June 1975)

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Casper Digest no. 2 (December 1986). This would be a far nicer image sans all the page-cluttering copy (and bar code)!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 16

« Mirrors toins things in revoise! Everything in Mirrorland is opposite! So naturally I’m a tough ghost and you’re a sissy spook! » — Poil in Through the Looking Glass (Spooky no. 121, 1970… read it here)

The Harvey Comics line, in its peak years (from the late Fifties to the mid-seventies, say) was essentially a collection of monomaniacal characters. As Daniel Clowes deemed in his classic lampoon of the Harvey cast, theirs is a Playful Obsession (read it here.)

Richie Rich had his moolah, Little Lotta wolfed down everything in sight, Little Dot found stimulation in… dots, and so on. Casper the Friendly Ghost’s uncouth counterpart, the 30s kid gang-inspired Spooky (complete with Brooklyn accent and « doiby » hat), loved to, well, scare people (and things!) with a hearty « Boo! », Hot Stuff raised the temperature wherever he went. On the other hand, Casper and Little Audrey’s adventures didn’t rely on such gimmicks, possibly from predating the rest of the Harvey gang, originating in animation in Casper’s case, and… folklore in Audrey’s:

« One day, Li’l Audrey was playing with matches. Her mother told her she’d better stop before someone got hurt. But Li’l Audrey was awfully hard-headed and kept playing with matches, and eventually she burned their house down.

“Oh, Li’l Audrey, you are sure gonna catch it when your father comes home!” said her mother.

But Li’l Audrey just laughed and laughed, because she knew her father had come home early to take a nap. »

The Harvey line’s covers were by far its most precious asset: endless riffs on a character’s particular motif, granted, but spun out in well-designed, nimbly-executed and brightly-coloured scenes… virtually the work of a single creative whirlwind, art director-illustrator Warren Kremer (1921-2003).

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This is Little Lotta no. 57 (Jan. 1965). Lotta may have been a glutton, but she was also super-strong.

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This is Playful Little Audrey no. 71 (Aug. 1967).

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This is Playful Little Audrey no. 73 (Dec. 1967).

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This is Hot Stuff Sizzlers no. 43 (Nov. 1970).

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This is Casper the Friendly Ghost no. 149 (Jan. 1971).

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This is Spooky Haunted House no. 9 (Feb. 1974). Note that Spooky’s girlfriend’s actual name is ‘Pearl’… he just pronounces it ‘Poil’. Upon occasion, the ‘tuff little ghost’ essays the rôle of the spookee rather than his usual spooker (or is that “spookist”?)

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This is Little Dot no. 156 (Dec. 1974). I’m not sure what the kid’s so terrified of… maybe he’s never had the measles?

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This is Wendy, the Good Little Witch no. 87 (Apr. 1975). [ds: these just might be edible mushrooms.]
In all cases, artwork by the legendarily prolific Warren Kremer. As we demonstrated last year, the Harvey house style hardly was the only range he could draw in.

– RG

Tentacle Tuesday: All Aboard

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sailing along, just minding your business, concentrating on fishing or just taking a pleasure cruise, when suddenly you’re abruptly attacked by shifty tentacles. What do you do? Defend yourself with a tickle assault!

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Page from “Little Dot Meets Uncle Gill”, printed in Little Dot no. 5 (Harvey, 1954). Art is by Steve Muffatti. Little Dot is never at loss in any situation, but I’m surprised the octopus isn’t covered in polka dots.

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Panel from “Little Dot Meets Uncle Gill”, printed in Little Dot no. 5 (Harvey, 1954). Art by Steve Muffatti. No harm done!

Some octopuses sneak onboard to be helpful…

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Original art for a Felix the Cat Sunday comic strip from July, 1934. Art by Otto Messmer.

… And some are just pissed off about their dwindling food supply. (Or perhaps that fish was a personal friend.)

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Marmaduke Mouse no. 2 (Summer 1946). Artist unknown.

If there’s any moral to these tales, it’s that fishing is hazardous business.

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Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Beach Party no. 1 (July 1955). The story is “Sea Breeze Sailors”, scripted and drawn by Dick Moores.

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« Don’t let it get away! » Cartoon by Gahan Wilson.

~ ds

Little Dot’s Playful Obsession

« Y’gotta develop an annoying compulsion if y’wanta get anywhere in this world! » — Dan Clowes’ Willy Willions (Eightball No. 5, Feb. 1991)

Dorothy Polka, known to the world at large as « Little Dot », made her first appearance in Harvey’s Sad Sack Comics no. 1 (Sept. 1949). All you need to know is that she’s inordinately fond of dots and circles, and that she has an absurdly large extended family. That raises a few choice questions, but we’ll leave them for someone else to tackle.

While I cheerily dismiss the bulk of Harvey Comics’ post-Code output as at best charming in a decidedly minor way, I opt to focus on the line’s most singular highlight: art director/chief artist Warren Kremer‘s endlessly inventive and escalatingly bonkers cover variations on the Harvey stable’s absurdly formulaic monomanias. Kremer clearly viewed the preposterous task he’d been handed as an opportunity to continually challenge himself with elegant design exercices and experiments. While I see little point in collecting, nor even reading most Harvey Comics, my admiration for Mr. Kremer just grows and grows. Perhaps these examples will give you a sense of what I see in them.

Oh, and bonus points to Kremer for his increasingly callous treatment of that omnipresent visual blight, the Comics Code Authority stamp. Clearly, he judged the censorious seal de trop.

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Little Dot no. 29 (January, 1958)

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Little Dot no. 38 (October, 1958)

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Little Dot no. 44 (May, 1958)

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Little Dot no. 51 (December, 1959) Gruyère? Impressive refinement for a little kid. Perhaps there’s more to the little lady than meets the eye…

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Little Dot no. 52 (January, 1959)

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Little Dot no. 97 (January, 1965)

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Little Dot no. 119 (October, 1968)

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Little Dot Dotland no. 9 (November, 1963)

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A timely one: Little Dot Dotland no. 38 (March, 1969)

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Little Dot’s Uncle$ and Aunt$ (they’re loaded, I guess) no. 21 (November, 1967)

-RG

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Harvey and…

« It was long past midnight on a hot, wet June night many years ago… Central City lay choking for breath in an eerie fog… »

In this, part three of our chronicle following as we can the meandering and sometimes mystifying odyssey of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, we reach the most outré segments of the former Denny Colt’s road.

In a unique twist, The Spirit’s next residence, nearly a decade after his Fiction House run, had nothing at all to do with Will Eisner… in terms of securing his assent, that is.

It was down to the fabulously sketchy Israel Waldman, one of those fringe-dwelling characters who made the comics industry such a colourful snake pit. To quote the Grand Comics Database: « I.W. Publications (1958-1964) was part of I.W. Enterprises, and named for the company’s owner, Israel Waldman. Reportedly, Waldman came into possession of a printing company and among the assets were the production materials for several hundred comic books previously published by various publishers as well as a limited amount of previously unpublished material. Waldman equated possession of production materials as the right to reprint and I.W. became notable for publishing unauthorized reprints of other companies’ comics, often with new covers, as Waldman’s windfall did not often include the production materials for covers. The later half of the company’s existence, it published comics under the Super Comics name. Usually these companies were out of business, but not always. »

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This is The Spirit no. 11 (1963), featuring The Man Who Killed The Spirit (Mar. 24, 1946), cover-featured The Case of the Balky Buzzard (Apr. 21, 1946), Carrion’s Rock (May 19, 1946), all scripted by Eisner, as well as Honeybun and Flatfoot Burns shorts. Cover by Joe Simon (“Joe, did you even read the story you’re depicting?“). This one was well worth one’s hard-earned twelve pennies. Read it here.

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This is The Spirit no. 12 (1964), featuring, this time, a trio of WWII-era Spirit stories scripted by Manly Wade Wellman and Bill Woolfolk and illustrated by Lou Fine, rounded off with a pair of Flatfoot Burns shorts by Al Stahl . Cover again by Joe Simon. Read it here.

If memory serves, Waldman’s comics craftily bypassed the Comics Code (another exception!) and the newsstands, being exclusively sold in sealed bags of three in bargain-basement department stores. To bait the hook, Waldman paid top dollar for new cover artwork, approaching established pros like Ross Andru (who actually delivered some fun stuff, unlike his unforgivably atrocious turn as DC’s main cover artist in the late 1970s), John Severin, Jack Abel, and in these two cases, Jacob Kurtzberg‘s old partner, Joe Simon.

Unsurprisingly, Waldman skimped on all other materials, particularly the paper his comics were printed on, which means that I.W./Super Comics are pretty hard to come by these days in any kind of decent state, so they’re ironically pricey.

A few years later, Eisner struck a deal with another rascal (albeit one with cleaner fingernails), Alfred Harvey of Harvey Comics, Stan Lee‘s only credible competition in the credit-usurping, I created-the-Universe stakes. Again, two issues, but this time with some new Eisner material, including origin stories for The Spirit (his third, but definitive one), and his arch-nemesis Zitzbath Zark, which you may know as purple glove enthusiast The Octopus.

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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 1 (Oct. 1966), featuring the new Origin of the Spirit by Eisner, and classics Lorelei Rox (Sept. 19, 1948), Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948), Agent Cosmek/Visitor (Feb. 13, 1949), The Story of Rat-Tat the Toy Machine Gun (Sept. 4, 1949), Ten Minutes (Sept. 11, 1949), Thorne Strand (Jan. 23, 1949), Gerhard Shnobble (Sept. 5, 1948), all scripted by Eisner, save Ten Minutes, which hails from the mind of Jules Feiffer.

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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 2 (March, 1967) features the brand-new Octopus: The Life Story of the King of Crime and 2-pager The Spirit Lab, plus a generous helping of fine oldies, namely Plaster of Paris (Nov. 7, 1948), The Deadly Comic Book (Feb. 27, 1949), Rudy the Barber (Oct. 22, 1950), The Story of Sam, the Saucer That Wanted to Fly (Sept. 17, 1950), Sam Chapparell (Oct. 10, 1948), La Cucaracha (Nov. 19, 1950), The Halloween Spirit of 1948–Ellen Meets Hazel (Oct. 31, 1948), all scripted by Eisner… the book wraps up with a preview of the next issue, which never saw print. And so it goes…

Mr. Eisner then finally had the good fortune to run into an honest man, who would prove in time to be his most steadfast ally: Mr. Denis Kitchen. Their first collaborations were a bit tentative, but quite sympathiques, with Eisner kind of slouching towards the Underground, his creation even cover-featured on Kitchen’s long-running humour anthology Snarf.

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This is Kitchen Sink Enterprises’ Snarf no. 3 (Nov. 1972), featuring an original Eisner cover.

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Another two-issue run! Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 1 (Jan. 1973), featuring a new cover by Eisner, and precious relics Max Scarr’s Map (Apr. 14, 1946), Caramba (Nov. 10, 1946), Return to Caramba (Nov. 17, 1946), The Rubber Band (June 23, 1946), plus a few brand-new short pieces.

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Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 2 (Nov. 1973), featuring a new Eisner cover, an original four-pager, The Capistrano Jewels, and, as boasts the cover, all about P’Gell, with Meet P’Gell (Oct. 6, 1946), The School for Girls?? (Jan. 19, 1947), Competition (Aug. 3, 1947) and The Duce’s Locket (May 25, 1947).

Next time out: some interesting times with Warren.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 23

« It was the town dandy! That spiffy cigar-store indian! Within the impact of a second I knew what I had to do! »  – Ron gets it wrong.

It’s become a historical footnote that, before fully settling into their (for a time) winning formula of lighthearted, cartoony monomania with Casper, Richie Rich, Little Dot and their ilk, Harvey Comics had published, pre-Code, some of the most, er… transgressive horror comics in the field. And before he settled down to designing and pencilling the lion’s share of Harvey Comics‘ admittedly inventive and arresting covers, art director Warren Kremer had fulfilled many of the same in-house duties in the more daring and diverse pre-Code years. A remarkably inventive and versatile artist, Kremer’s true worth has historically been obscured by his retiring, behind-the-scenes status, as well as the Harvey family’s plantation mentality. Today, let’s take a peek at the nuts and bolts of his collaborative partnership with cover artist Lee Elias, who would go on to become one of DC’s most straight-laced artists (though his talent remained undimmed.) It would seem, and it’s quite understandable, that a lot of artists who’d merrily produced horror comics in the early 1950s got burned by the ensuing censorious witch hunt / backlash… and became quite timid thereafter.

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Warren Kremer’s original cover sketch and colour guide.

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… and his instructions to the final artist, in this case Lee Elias.

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As it appeared in print, this is Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 19 (Sept. 1953.) Marvel borrowed the title in the 1970s… Harvey clearly had no further use for it.

Another one? But of course!

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Kremer was evidently a believer in the « tilt the drawing to make it more dynamic » rule of layout (as DC’s Carmine Infantino notoriously was)

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Kremer to Elias, again. An illustrator is quite blessed indeed when he gets to work with such a talented, insightful and friendly art director.

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Elias’ finished version, as it appeared on the stands. This is Witches’ Tales Magazine no. 21 (Oct. 1953).

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 14

« That should teach you not to tangle with a tuff little ghost! »

Amongst Harvey Comics’ cast of monomaniacal characters, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost’s propensity for trying to scare folks out of their skin with a hearty « Boo! » seemed sanest. After all, that’s what ghosts are s’posed to do, even if they’re from Brooklyn.

Here’s a tiny sample of some of Spooky’s spookiest covers, from the incredibly fertile mind and pen of unsung conceptual genius Warren Kremer.

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Spooky no. 77 (Dec. 1963, Harvey). Say, is that Mrs. Rich getting hit up for some treats?

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Spooky Haunted House no. 10 (Apr. 1974, Harvey)

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Spooky Haunted House no. 12 (Aug. 1974, Harvey)

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Spooky Haunted House no. 13 (Oct. 1974, Harvey)

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Tuff Ghosts Starring Spooky no. 27 (March 1967, Harvey)

As reading material, the Harvey books were mush for the mind, but they sure had purty covers. Note how Harvey was the only comics company that treated the Comics Code Authority stamp with such contempt: if it doesn’t get half cropped off, it’s coloured as to be barely visible. The damn thing, even at its smallest, *was* a visual blight. Bless that art director! Then came barcodes… and the battle wasn’t even worth waging anymore.

– RG