When I was a kid (of twelve or so, if memory serves), I found a muddy and mildewed copy of this issue in the woods, which tremendously added to its allure, if not its readability.
Well… little did I know what a protracted history this particular little scenario had. Let’s return to the presumed beginning, or at least the industrial age version.
Around the turn of the last century, the prolific English writer Edward Frederic Benson (1867 – 1940) wrote a story entitled The Bus Conductor [ read it here ] that saw print in Pall Mall Magazine in 1906. It was quite well-received, then began to widely make the rounds… as putative fact.
Things kicked into high gear in the mid-1940s, as the tale was recounted as an oft-heard anecdote in editor Bennett Cerf‘s 1944 short story anthology, Famous Ghost Stories, which contained a Benson contribution… but not The Bus Conductor.
That same year, Cerf shared the anecdote with the legion of readers who picked up his highly-entertaining (and still dirt-cheap and easy to find, over three-quarters of a century later, which gives you a sense of its original success and ubiquity) book of anecdotes, Try and Stop Me. The pertinent chapter was the splendidly-titledThe Trail of the Tingling Spine. As examined earlier on this blog, this chapter was used by EC Comics’ Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein as what they termed ‘springboards’ for their earliest stories.
Cerf’s version, from Try and Stop Me:
When an intelligent, comely girl of twenty-odd summers was invited for the first time to the Carolina estate of some distant relatives, their lovely plantation fulfilled her fondest expectations. She was given a room in the west wing, and prepared to retire for the night in a glow of satisfaction. Her room was drenched with the light of a full moon.
Just as she was climbing into her bed, she was startled by the sound of horses’ hooves on the gravel roadway. Curious, she walked to the window and saw, to her astonishment, a magnificent old coach pull up to an abrupt stop directly below her. The coachman jumped from his perch, looked up and pointed a long, bony finger at her. He was hideous. His face was chalk-white. A deep scar ran the length of his left cheek. His nose was beaked. As he pointed to her, he droned in sepulchral tones, “There is room for one more!” Then, as she recoiled in terror, the coach, the horses and the ominous coachman disappeared completely.
The girl slept little, but the next day she was able to convince herself that she merely had a nightmare.
The next night, however, the horrible experience was repeated. The same coach drove up the roadway. The same coachman pointed at her and exclaimed, “There is room for one more!” Then, as before, the entire equipage disappeared.
The girl, now panic-stricken, could scarcely wait for morning. She trumped up some excuse to her hosts and left immediately for home.
Upon arrival, she taxied to her doctor from the station and told him her story in tremulous tones. The doctor persuaded her that she had been the victim of a peculiar hallucination, laughed at her terror, and dismissed her in a state of infinite relief. As she rang for the elevator, its door swung open before her.
The elevator was very crowded, but she was about to squeeze her way inside — when a familiar voice rang in her ear. “There is room for one more!” it called. In terror, she stared at the operator.
He was the coachman who had pointed at her! She saw his chalk–white face, the livid scar, the beaked nose! She drew back and screamed… the elevator door banged shut.
A moment later the building shook with a terrible crash. The elevator that had gone on without her broke loose from its cables and plunged eighteen stories to the ground. Everybody in it, of course, was crushed to a pulp.
The Twilight Zone’s continuing popularity pretty much killed the scenario’s urban legend potency (Snopes.com checked it out!) In 1999, Urban legend authority Jan Harold Brunvand wrote, in his Too Good to Be True – The Colossal Book of Urban Legends:
According to my readers when I wrote a newspaper column in 1989 about the old ‘Dream Warning’ legends, The Twilight Zone version was the only one most of them knew. After numerous reruns, the TV episode had virtually replaced the folk legend in the popular mind. Every reader who wrote me following my column mentioned this episode, with one exception, and this person mentioned that he saw the plot enacted in a mid-1940s film, called Dead of Night. I’ll bet my legend-hunting license that this film, too, borrowed from the Cerf version.
I wouldn’t make that wager if I were you, Mr. Brunvand… since Dead of Night properly credits Benson.
« Challenge Merlin and be a fool! — Challenge a demon — and be destroyed! »
Suddenly having so much time on my hands (courtesy of COVID-19) is an eerie, though by no means unpleasant, experience. While I could crochet mini couches for my cats or enrol my partner’s help to re-create some favourite classic paintings, I prefer to catch up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Case in point: in April, I’ve been joyously absorbing Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga, reprinted in a handsome 4-tome omnibus (and to which I have easy access, thanks to co-admin RG’s vast library). That ended all too soon, and I moved on to a collection of Etrigan the Demon. It was a somewhat underwhelming experience, especially given the epic scope of Fourth World, but of course still worth a read.
The red-eyed, yellow-skinned creature called Etrigan came into existence in 1972. Mark Evanier, in his introduction to Jack Kirby’s The Demon, explains: « There was, at the time, a feeling around DC that perhaps superheroes were on the way out again. Ghost and mystery comics like House of Mystery and Phantom Stranger seemed to be selling, and some in the office felt the next trend was what Joe Orlando, who edited most of them, dubbed “weird adventure” comics. A few weeks later, [Carmine] Infantino asked Jack to whip up something in that category… »
Kirby accepted the challenge and, despite his lack of interest in horror, created The Demon, patterning his face on a a detail from Hal Foster‘s Prince Valiant strip as an inside joke.
As great a storyteller Kirby is, I think being asked to write about a subject he wasn’t particularly into had its repercussions. Although he clearly tried to give Etrigan a stimulating playground of supernatural rogues of varying degrees of viciousness to bat around, the overall result is rather underwhelming by Kirby standards. I’ve seen quite a few people in comic forums expressing their undying love for the Demon – if you’re one of them, I’m open to being convinced!
I actually first encountered Etrigan the Demon in a Swamp Thing issue written by Alan Moore. He first made an appearance in Swamp Thing no. 26 (July 1984) and then came back for the 14-issue storyline American Gothic that ran from June 1985 to July 1986. In Moore’s hands, Etrigan cut a dashing, mysterious figure, and he spoke in rhyme, which was a really nice touch. I admit I was disheartened to find out that he really wasn’t that exciting in his original form.
However, he *did* encounter tentacles, and more than once!
The three pages above are Etrigan’s encounters with actual tentacles, but we have an honorary mention of almost-tentacles-but-not-quite, which I wanted to include in the spirit of thoroughness.
Can the following creature’s beard tentacles be used to grab anything? We never learn if they’re prehensile or not, because the fear-monster doesn’t stick around long enough.
« Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech. » — Plutarch
When I think of cover layouts, I always recall the sage advice of my art school book design teacher, who posited that « a poster should be One Angry Fist », as you only have a second or two to make your point to the undecided consumer. That knuckle sandwich is what gets your message across, not a bunch of clichés and slogans; these only detract from the power of your image.
While we’re obviously dealing, in comics, with a commercial medium, it’s hard to not view it as creative interference, a lack of confidence**. While all publishers indulged in cover overhyping to some degree, Marvel and DC were the main offenders, and DC at least had superior title and logo designers***.
In the 60s, Jack Kirby created a massive amount of stunning cover art for Marvel… which editor Stan “Ne’er ’nuff Said” Lee buried, as often as not, under his trademark wiseass hyperbole. One might argue that this hardsell approach worked, commercially speaking. Artistically, on the other hand… well, the debate lingers on.
One could counter that cover hype only increased in the subsequent decades (imitated, amplified and distorted), and that stands to reason. That trend is pretty universal, since everything is getting louder, literally and figuratively: commercials, recordings, everyday life. Indeed: louder, sweeter, saltier, faster, meatier and of course cheesier.
Ah, but for what seems like a mere blip in its history, which is to say around ’68-’69*, Marvel somewhat dialled down the verbiage and let some prime Kirby compositions enjoy a bit of breathing room (at least on Fantastic Four, the company’s second-best seller — and number 16 overall for 1968).
This particular streak is circumscribed by two ho-hum (by lofty Kirby standards) covers: flat FF 81 and messy FF 88 (featured here)… which leaves us with plenty of goodies in the middle. Let’s take the tour, shall we?
In the face of all this, is it any wonder I found so refreshing the design quietude and purity of some recent comic books covers, such as the Chris Samnee creations we recently spotlighted? There’s hope, thanks to some enlightened folks out there.
« Somehow, this thing had caught the spark of life! And, anything that lives will fight to stay alive… even if it’s just a Rag-a Bone and a Hank of Hair! »
Ah, Brother Power, the Geek. A notorious flop for DC in 1968… or was it? At the time, it took several months for a book’s initial sales reports to make their way back to the publisher. Axing a title after two measly issues is quite a preemptive and premature strike against it. I suspect a case of toxic in-house politics. From the onset, editorial cold feet had the suits meddling with the project: the character of the animated rag doll was to be called The Freak, which was nixed in favour of the less druggy but more chicken-head-bite-y TheGeek.
Brother Power the Geek, despite its commercial failure and infamy, offered a good-natured, unpretentious romp, even if didn’t quite show us « The Real-Life Scene of the Dangers of Hippie-Land! » You can’t always get what you want.
Brother Power was brought back under DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993, but as with the revival of its fellow Joe Simon creation, Prez, it received a « groovy » and « ironic » hipster treatment. Bah.
« He’s back from the dead / the telegram read / If you get on a flight / You could catch him tonight / You’ll find Commissar / He’s at the Munich Hilton Bar » — B.A. Robertson
In 1958, Classics Illustrated publisher Gilberton tried something a bit different: a mostly non-fiction documentary title on various topics entitled The World Around Us, and featuring The Illustrated History of… Dogs, Space, Pirates, Great Explorers… depending on your area of interest, these could mean unrelenting tedium or sheer bliss. I haven’t encountered many issues, but the two I own, Ghosts and Spies, count among my prized paper possessions.
This is The World Around Us no. 35 (August, 1961), featuring this lovely mixed media piece by The Unknown Artist, whose cover remains defiantly unblown. On the inside, some fine company: George Evans, Norman Nodel, Edd Ashe, Jo Albistur… and Jack Kirby (inked by Dick Ayers)… the most beaten-down, anonymous, excitement-dialed-down-to-one Kirby you’re ever likely to see. Oh, he could do the job just fine, but the job, and the publisher, were not making anything of his regal strengths*. He would recall that this was « … the worst paying job of my entire life, including times I worked for free. »
Those early post-Code years were difficult ones for the diminished comics industry, and Kirby’s situation wasn’t exactly rosy: he’d been blacklisted at DC, thanks to the Jack Schiff / Sky Masters imbroglio, and his work at Harvey Comics had dried up. So what was a prolific artist to do, but pick up whatever bits of freelancing were available, here and there…
Quoting from Paul Gravett‘s review of Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, we find this telling statement: « The most demanding editor was Roberta Strauss, a stickler for detail, who would count soldiers’ buttons or pleats in skirts and even called an editorial meeting in her hospital room only days after her son’s birth. » Give me Harvey Kurtzman‘s editorship** any old day!
**« Kurtzman’s editing approach to Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat was a stark contrast to EC editor Al Feldstein‘s style. Whereas Feldstein allowed his artists to draw the story in any manner they desired, Kurtzman developed detailed layouts for each story and required his artists to follow them exactly. »
« Though the refined eyes of the aesthete may consider Kirby’s work crude, ornery, and anti-intellectual, the fact remains that he combined the virtues and limitations of his class with a stubborn genius to produce a body of comics work that has remained consistently true to its source and is unparalleled both in quantity and quality. » (Gary Groth)
Strike while the iron is hot, it is said, and thus part II of our celebration of Jack Kirby‘s tentacle prowess comes hard on the heels of Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Jack Kirby, Part 1. I’d like to thank co-admin RG for his vast knowledge of Kirby comics, as well as his suggestions and scans – that’s what (among other things) partners are for. Whereas part 1 focused on Kirby’s 70’s work for DC, today’s post (also firmly entrenched in the 1970s) is a celebration of his brief but intense return to Marvel Comics.
All art is scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Mike Royer, unless otherwise indicated.
We start with the somewhat less interesting, but nevertheless tentacular, Hercules.
Now that we have the boring stuff over with, we move on to the spacey part of this post: epic voyages into the cosmos, mind-shattering encounters with Gods and fights to the death with unthinkable monsters of fearsome power! As usual, in chronological order: one must respect tradition.
« To make his comic, Kirby watched 2001 again, referenced a stack of stills, and pulled from the screenplay and Arthur C. Clarke’s novelization. The illustrations were instantly recognizable to anyone who’d seen the film, but the characters were uniquely his: beefy and emotive with a touch of uncanny. There are also moments of pure Kirby: a splash page of a spacesuit-clad astronaut gaping at an exploding cosmic sky, an acid-trip interpretation of the climatic Star Gate sequence. »
« Kirby was the right choice for the assignment, but, Mark Evanier (a comic book writer, Kirby friend and colleague, and author of the biography Kirby: King of Comics) says, he was wary of taking on someone else’s story, especially one as iconic as Kubrick’s vision of 2001. “He didn’t feel he had a lot of wiggle room to expand or inject himself into it,” Evanier says. “He had to keep reminding himself, ‘That’s my viewpoint, that’s not Stanley Kubrick’s,’ and adjusting.”» (source: The Crazy Legacy of Jack Kirby’s Forgotten 2001: A Space Odyssey)
I wanted to find a good overview of The Eternals, and thought I had found it (plenty of pictures, an overall idea of the leitmotifs driving the series – and importantly, NO MENTION OF THE MOVIE)… until I came to the end of the article in question and saw that the author was next going to read Neil Gaiman‘s take on The Eternals* to see if the latter had fixed some of Kirby’s plot flaws, at which point I choked on the water I was sipping. But, but! the author repented, and so I give you Review: The Eternals by Jack Kirby from the blog Giant Size Marvel.
Surely everyone knows Captain America already, but here are his 7 Most Awesome Moments (arguable, but a good starting point) by the good folks at Comic Alliance.
Here we have energetic tentacles, free-flowing-energy cephalopods…
You asked for it (right?): Doughboy in action! Technically, those are rubbery arms, not tentacles, but as someone who regularly makes sourdough bread, I assure you, dough *does* sprout tentacles and will latch onto your hands and arms with them.
I also recommend reading Learning to Love Jack Kirby, an earnest and personal story of how the author (Chris Sims) came to appreciate Kirby and, at the same time, a pretty good overview of some of his most memorable characters and comics.
« I’m tempted to say that you don’t really get Kirby until you develop the ability to look beyond the surface of a story and see how much craftsmanship it takes to look as simple as his comics, but that’s really just covering up my own initial revulsion. There were plenty of kids who encountered Kirby at the same age I did and wound up loving him from the start; I’m just a slow learner.But I do think there’s something to the idea that it just has to hit you right for everything to make sense, and once you’re there, you’re there forever. And the good news is that Kirby’s contributions to the medium are so vast, so unavoidable even a quarter-century after his death, that even just scratching the surface of superhero comics means you’re encountering them all the time. »
Now that we have part over with, shall we continue to the tentacular part of today’s post? Kirby didn’t do anything in half-measures, so I’d like to think that we have some epic, larger-than-life, cosmic tentacles on offer. As it turns out, there’s quite a lot of ’em scattered throughout Kirby’s mind-boggling career, so today I am concentrating on Kirby’s work for DC Comics in the 1970s.
Seriously, there’s all kinds in here. A sea ball of yarn is our exhibit A.
This may be a take on the old head-of-Medusa, but Gargora doesn’t mince words, and when she says someone can’t escape, well, she’ll deploy some tentacles to catch them:
Some monsters crush you between their limbs – this is no different, but instead of two legs, there’s a “crushing mass of tentacles”. Don’t feel bad, Etrigan, no-one could break free of *that*.
You might argue that these aren’t tentacles at all, but the creature is described as a “flying octopus”, and who am I to argue with Kirby’s description?
One must have one proper sea monster in a Tentacle Tuesday, and this one’s a beauty:
Last but not least, plant tentacles!
« His incredibly unique art style and bombastic storytelling made him one of the most imitated creators in western comics history. Kirby Dots are named after the artist’s distinctive rendering of Battle Auras, also nicknamed, “the Kirby Krackle”. He died of heart failure in 1994 at the age of 76, or at least that’s what Galactus wants us to believe. Due to his speed in creating well-received comics, there exists something called the “Kirby Barrier”; breaking the barrier means that you’ve created a quality comic in under a week, a surprisingly difficult feat. » |source|
« It was like plunging deeper and deeper into a growing nightmare! »
A powerful (what else?) Jack Kirby piece, one of his last before decamping to DC. He actually gets a full writer/artist credit (a telling tail end turning point of that Marvel residence) on this tale, … and Fear Shall Follow!. The lush cover inks are provided by fellow Golden Age titan Bill Everett (1917-1973), a far cry from the miserable Vince Colletta « finishes » he would be saddled with at DC for the next couple of years (at their insistence!)
I was planning on featuring the entire story, but others have long ago preceded me down that primrose path. Why fight it? Just pay Diversions of the Groovy Kind a visit, where you’ll receive, as a bonus, Kirby’s other solo outing for the House of (mostly his) Ideas, The Monster!, from the previous issue of Chamber of Darkness (no.4, April, 1970). Both are sympathetically inked by Marvel’s production manager at the time, the underrated and gone-too-soon John Verpoorten (1940–1977). Again, several notches above “Valiant” Vince Colletta’s casual sabotage.
Plot-wise, … and Fear Shall Follow!, while another variant in the Carnival of Souls tradition, is enriched by its unusual setting and whiff of incense and philosophy. Reminds me of a possibly apocryphal exchange between Watchmen editor Len Wein and its writer Alan Moore: « Alan, that ending’s already been done on The Outer Limits! »; (in thick Northampton accent, dripping with sarcasm) « Yes, Len, but it’s never been done by me! ». With all due respect, it’s not as if Mr. Wein had any moral lessons to dispense regarding originality.
« And by the way, did I see you without a Pookie Snackenberg button? »
Concluding our exclusive conversation with Mr. Mike Royer, picking up the thread from where we left off in Part Two. And don’t forget to begin with Part One.
WOT: Are you happy with the overall work?
Michael Royer: I would say… two-thirds of the covers, I’m really pleased with. I can look at them and pickle the living daylights out of them. The Cruising’ Years… I look at it, and some of the proportions bother me. The scrapbook is too small, compared to the photo on the desk, and other little things that, if I were gonna do that again, I would adjust those sizes. But then again, that’s the impression I get, I guess, that’s important.
MR: The one where Peggy sees Eddie behind her in a car at the drive-in is my least favorite of all of them.
WOT: Do tell.
MR: Because Paul had given me an impossible thumbnail. To make it work, so that they were all on the same planet… Ah, it’s really easy to lay out something and have two cars and the drive-in theatre lot, and not worry about if they’re on the same plane, if they’re seen from the same point of view… and so to do that and make it work… I still look at that and I get disappointed.
MR: I really like the one where he’s outside and it’s snowing.
WOT: And he’s with a black lady? That’s 1966.
MR: The black lady is looking at him… kind of suspiciously, and it may have something to do… because he’s in her neighborhood. I’m trying to remember if his early career at the law firm was dealing with…
WOT: Social issues?
MR: And I can’t remember, every tv screen’s got the same thing on it. Is it the Batman logo?
WOT: Confirmed. You were right on the money.
MR: Here we are, all the Cruisin’ cds. They have changes on them. Okay, let’s see. ’55 was the first one.
WOT: Actually, from what I’ve read, ’55 was actually done later, part of the second batch produced [in January, 1972].
MR: Yes, it was added in, and I don’t care for that one. I really like ’56, only because in retrospect, I look at it and it speaks to me. ’57, okay. ’58, only because of the subject matter and Paul’s layout… ’59 is the one where I went to South East Los Angeles, to the car lot that had the dashboard. It had to be that, after so many years, if anybody had one, they just had to go “heyyy!“, you know.
MR: 1960 is… not as bad as I remember! At least I made his layout work…
WOT: That’s good news.
MR: And ’61, is, yeah, they’re about the break up. And Cruisin’ ’62 is.. ha. They *are* breaking up. No, I guess it was a three year breakup, okay?
WOT: (laughs) Okay!
MR: ’63, they’re in the coffee shop, and that’s the Studebaker… now waitaminit, what’s the one on… that’s not a Studebaker on ’61, that’s an Olds, so the Studebaker’s on ’63.
MR: ’64, there’s the announcement: “to wed Kevin Buchanan III…” And ’65 is ten years later, and it’s the same girl that was working at the library, but she’s gotten a little prettier.
WOT: No kidding? Subtle bit of continuity.
MR: And there’s Luthor on the board in the background… his concert, “New York Blacked Out” headlines, Up the Down Staircase… okay, ’66: oh yeah, “What this community needs is economic improvement and self-help!” Ah, yeah, all the TVs except one had Batman, and one of ’em has Luthor on it, singing.
MR: And ’67, that’s the one with Ron Jacobs coming out of the… through the beads in the back. And golly, it’s Genevieve again. Mmm!
WOT: The librarian from ’55!
MR: That’s her.
MR: And ’68 was the first one *after* The Cruisin’ Years. Ah, there it is; I should have them in the order they were released. So we redid 1968, “Vietnam Widows for Peace“, and I kinda liked the way that turned out. It was fun researching all of the fashions and things!
WOT: Good, because research wasn’t always a simple task.
MR: Ah, ’69, on their honeymoon, Niagara Falls Retreat; Newspaper headline: “Beatles to Split” “Eddie, I might want a career of my own“… I just sold the comp to that, I think in Charlotte.
WOT: Oh, wow. So I am being timely here.
MR: 1970: “Mike’s gonna give me another lesson”. I put myself in there, uh… idealized.
WOT: (laughs) So that’s what it is, then?
MR: And then there’s the Porky Chedwick, and somewhere in here… the Cruisin’ boxes. Whoa! There are… three of them.
WOT: What are they?
MR: The first box set has ’55, ’56 and ’57, and has the Cruisin’ Years cover, with the Peg and Eddie photographs, and the scrapbook, and the concert tickets and so on. The next one is ’58, ’59 and ’60, and that one is, Eddie is next to his Chevrolet with the tire kit on the bumper, and he goes “Come on, Peg! The Blob starts at 7:15!” “Eddie… we can’t go! Elvis is on Ed Sullivan tonight!”
WOT: Poor girl’s chained to her TV!
MR: And the last box set was ’61, ’62 and ’63, and Eddie’s got the beard that he’s wearing in the college one, and Luthor’s leaning against a tree, and she says: “Oooh, Eddie… your whiskers tickle me!” and he says: “Peg… do you think Luthor sounds like Pete Seeger?”
WOT: These two were always moving in separate directions.
MR: Always! And so I wrote ’68, ’69, ’70, The Cruisin’ Years, and Porky Chedwick. And if I could the long box artwork, and one of the last ones I did, which I believe was gonna be another Cruisin’ Years, and it’s probably the sexiest Peg I ever did…
MR: It’s Peg and Eddie… oh my God… *two* of them. I might have done another big box, because they’re at the beach, she’s in a bikini, and it’s another tension-filled thing…
WOT: Her bikini?
MR: Oh, he’s saying: “Who’s this Buchanan the third?“, so that fits in the chronology somewhere. And the last one would precede their wedding, it’s where they’re on a bridge, in New York City, it’s a big closeup, they’re dressed to the nines, he’s in… could have been a tux, she’s in a sexy evening gown. And leaning on the rail, exposing her… attributes. The program was for a big Broadway hit of ’69, and he’s got his finger under his collar, kinda saying something to the effect of: “You know, Peg, there’s something I should have asked you… a long time ago“. It’s the proposal cover, you know.
Now I don’t know if that was ever produced. I also did another cover, which I know was not produced, and it was a Cruisin’ Christmas Album.
MR: And I actually drew my living room, in the house I had in Simi Valley [California] and Eddie, in his Santa Claus outfit is putting presents under the Christmas tree in the center of the room. And Peg is coming down the stairs in her sexy négligé, with her robe blowing open…
WOT: That’s his present.
MR: ’twas drafty in the house that night. And she’s got a plate, and she’s saying: “Oh, Santa… don’t forget your milk and cookies!” So it’s the only cover in the series without any tension.
WOT: Or the most tension, depending on how you look at it.
MR: I think we discussed doing ’71, but figured that there wasn’t enough happening that year to make an interesting cover, or the songs were too new in the late ’80s to get clearances or rights on them, you know.
WOT: Things have changed quite a bit… even the cd reissues are significantly different from the LPs. Reissuing certain pop-song heavy tv shows has proven quite a financial ordeal in some cases because of astronomical increases in the cost of music rights.
For that reason, the Cruisin’ LPs each have a few more songs than the cds, even if the opposite should be true, if only in terms of storage capacity.
MR: They lost rights, and stuff like that.
WOT: People didn’t know back then what was to come, obviously. The Cruisin’ series came out at just the perfect time, and I think it was quite visionary to decide to preserve, or recreate, what must have seemed at the time a very recent piece of the past.
MR: I wish that I had not given all of my vinyl discs to my first… son-in-law… and replaced them all with the CDs before I realized that there were the differences.
WOT: Not to mention the size of the artwork and quality of reproduction.
MR: Once the series was over, I sold Ron Jacobs all of the originals. And I kind of regret that in a way, because I could sell them for a lot more today than I did, in the early ’90s, to him.
WOT: Sigh. They’re heirlooms.
MR: I don’t know why I didn’t think to pull these things off the shelves and look at them before we talked.
WOT: Ah, it’s okay. In fact, it’s probably better: I got your spontaneous responses out of it.
MR: Actually.. overall, I’m more proud of them than I am disappointed. And the things that disappoint me, I can point out why and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it excuses the problems…
MR: Oh, and there was also a full-page ad… that was in Billboard. Peg and Eddie are sitting in the front seat of… probably a 1955 or 56, I think Ford convertible. I cannot remember.
WOT: On the contrary, you clearly remember plenty! (laughs)
MR: I’ve got it somewhere out in the garage, in one of the custom filing cabinets I had made that I call “Mike’s Life in a File Cabinet“.
WOT: I think that I think this series is a great artistic success. When people see these volumes individually, they work as snapshots… but put them together, and you realize that there’s so much happening between the panels.
MR: Yeah, it does tell a story!
WOT: It’s beautiful storytelling, and I think, one of your crowning achievements.
MR: You know, it’s funny: the early covers were put into two books. The first one was a… I don’t know if it was a hardcover, it was a oversized, glossy trade paperback called The Album Cover Album [original edition 1977], and it says: “Paul Gruwell, art director, art by Mike Noyer“.
WOT: Oh, lovely. They got one name right.
MR: And the second book they were in, which I didn’t bother to buy, because all they listed was the Art Director. I wasn’t even listed.
WOT: This kind of thing, which I’ve noticed also, is what prompted me to get in touch with you. And I think we’ve done our bit here to help set the record straight. Thank you so much, Mr. Royer!
Today, Michael Royer (born June 28, 1941), who surely needs no introduction around these parts, celebrates birthday number seventy-seven, and on this special occasion, we have a treat, both for the great man and for the rest of us: part one of an interview Mr. Royer granted us, conducted just a few days ago.
As you can imagine, Mr. Royer has spent decades answering the same queries about his work with Jack Kirby and with Russ Manning, so that’s quite a well-trod line of investigation. We like to approach things a bit differently here at WOT; having long been intrigued by Mr. Royer’s evocative series of LP covers for the Cruisin’ anthology series, beginning in the late 1960s, and frustrated by the lack of solid information concerning said contribution, I figured I’d take a hand, and reached out to Mr. Royer.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Cruisin’ Series, here’s the pitch: « Cruisin’ is a year-by-year recreation of pop music radio during the years 1956 through 1962 [the years of 1955 and 1963-1970 were produced later]. Each album is not just a collection of the top pop music of a particular year, but a total recreation by a top disk jockey (of that year) doing his original program over a major pop music station. That means actual commercials, promotional jingles, sound effects, newscast simulations and even record hop announcements in addition to the original records themselves. »
« Cruisin’ producer Ron Jacobs monitored thousands of feet of tape, travelled over 10,000 miles and rooted through forgotten files and cluttered basements for old commercials, station promos and jingles. »
« What’s so special about these album covers? », you may ask. I’d posit that they’re unique in the sense that, while they each work as standalone pieces, together, they form a quite impressive comic strip, one in which a year or so elapses between panels. Just about every detail has its place, imparting information plainly or quite subtly. Characters come and go, years apart, sometimes entirely offstage, often never speaking a word. It’s graphic storytelling at its finest. And the LPs are pretty spiffy too.
Now that you’re up to speed, shall we begin? Mr. Royer and I spoke on Tuesday, June 2018, and he was most generous with his time and his recollections. I assure you that the minutes simply fly in such gracious company.
Who’s Out There: Mr. Royer, How did you happen to be selected for the job in the first place?
Michael Royer: In 1966, I was working for Grantray-Lawrence Animation on the Marvel Superheroes limited animation cartoon series. And I believe that a man named Paul Gruwell… If you look at the record album, he’s listed in there as the art director… I’m listed as the artist and they misspelled my name.
WOT: Of course. We’ll set that straight.
MR: Paul was one of the guys working on the series and I did some work with him on an outside project he was doing, where he was doing… I guess you could call them slide shows, on the history of the Mormon church.
I was working on these things, and he knew someone at the record company who had this idea for the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And for the life of me, I can’t remember what the young man’s name was. But he’s the cover of one of the records, where he’s coming out of the backroom, through the beads [Cruisin’ 1967]. It’s like a head shop, or something…
WOT: Would that be Ron Jacobs? He was the producer.
MR: Yeah, yeah.
MR: So, anyway, the first batch of covers that went through, I believe, 1968… and the last cover had Peg and Eddie, who were reunited, with her little boy from her fist marriage. And they’re in the front seat of a van, in a traffic jam leaving Woodstock. That cover was never printed.
WOT: No wonder I’ve never seen it!
MR: Anyway, the covers that I did, how many was it? ’54 through…
WOT: Fifty-five. ’55 through ’70, plus one that’s “The Cruisin’ Years”…
WOT: How much latitude/wiggle room were you given? Were research materials provided or not? Were specific cultural signifiers specified, or did you get to pick (or a mix of both)?
MR: Anyway, on those ones that I did in the late Sixties, early Seventies, Paul Gruwell gave me little three-or-four square inch thumbnails… on the covers that he wanted me to do. All I got was his, in my opinion, so-so little thumbnails, which I guess gave him the reason to call himself ‘art director’…
WOT: I was going to ask if he could draw.
MR: I had to do all the research. Each cover had to feature certain items that definitely said that it was that year. Like newspaper headlines, magazine covers…
WOT: Movie marquees…
MR: … automobiles, and I had to look up all that. I went to the library, as we didn’t have “online” then. Ah, on one of the covers where I need the dash, I believe, of a ’57, or ’58 Chevy, I had to go to a used car lot in South East Los Angeles, and with my Polaroid camera, I asked these two big guys in their double-breasted suits if I could, uh, photograph the interior of one of their cars, and they looked at me like… « Okay, white boy, you’re crazy if you wanna shoot it, but we’ll let ya, you know. »
WOT: People do like those odd requests.
MR: It was very interesting researching the cars, and making sure that, even if they were shown from the basement [Cruisin’ 1963], out parked at the curb…
WOT: They had to be accurate.
MR: … you could still tell that it was a Studebaker. You know, and the jukebox had to be, I believe the Wurlitzer that was in places in that year [Cruisin’ 1961]. And so I did all of that. So all of the research materials were not provided by anyone other than me, and the special cultural signifiers had to be newspaper headlines, uh, I think the one where Peg and Eddie are in the basement [Cruisin’ 1963] café, and the Studebaker’s up on the street, there’s a newspaper that says something about “Cuban Missile Crisis” [Cruisin’ 1961 and The Bay of Pigs. 1963’s headline was the Profumo Scandal]…
MR: It’s so long since I’ve looked at these, Richard.