Panning the murky old print stream for the odd glimmering nugget
Oh, the Horror: the 1950s
The 1950s, as we all know, brought us the acme (and nadir) of horror comics. A zillion publishers, most of them long gone, got into the gore game before the censors stepped in. Let’s take a look at what led to the neutering of the comics industry…
Actually, no. Before that, there arose the idea in art director Warren Kremer‘s ever-effervescent mind:
Then, one year on…
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.
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.
« Drinking your own blood is the paradigm of recycling. » — Gary Busey
Say, isn’t there something… sorta quaint about that cover?
In the 1970s, while DC and Charlton consistently provided all-new material*, Marvel quickly switched to an all-reprint formula (the better to save money whilst flooding the market, my dear!), sometimes even on the covers, with some amusingly inappropriate updates at times.
Okay, here are another pair of before and afters:
*and if and when they didn’t, they’d tell you! Not so with Marvel. As for Gold Key, they would just pretend the material was ‘reprinted by popular demand’.
« Dreams surround our desires with ugliness and dread. » — Mason Cooley
As everyone knows, the early fifties were a more innocent and wholesome era, when the average bobbysoxer would swoon away the nights with fantasies of dishy teen idol Rondo Hatton. I mean, just look at her blissful expression!
Surprisingly, the cover scene does, for once, occur within!
« The whole planet reeks of mysticism without revelation. » — Dan Simmons
Last May, when I showcased Joe Maneely‘s Atlas cover art (see Joe Maneely, Atlas of Versatility), I intentionally left out his pieces for the horror titles, knowing them worthy of some attention of their own, an ideal topic for the Hallowe’en countdown. Besides, it took some pressure out of the selection process if I could save one whole genre for a rainy day — and today’s most certainly that day!
“Mystic” is evidently one of Marvel’s pet titles: the title was first used by Timely in 1940-42, then again in 1944-45; once more, most successfully in this Atlas horror series, for 61 issues from 1951-57. And lately in 2009 and 2011. I’ll bet that tradition’s not yet done with, but why on earth?
« After that I never saw him again. He became the ‘phantom’ artist, whereabouts unknown! » — Bhob Stewart
Hello again. Last year, I touched upon the stint that Matt Fox (1905-1988) did as an occasional and unappreciated inker at Marvel in the Silver Age. While he’s assured a sort of immortality for the eleven winningly oddball covers he painted for Weird Tales, he also left his distinctive and lasting mark on horror comics of the 1950’s. Let’s give the old burying grounds the once-over, shall we?
Here’s one of Fox’s all-too-infrequent forays between comic book covers. This one appeared in Uncanny Tales no.6 (March 1953, Atlas). Writer unknown… though that’s no great loss to history.
« There is an air of disquiet to his vision, yet it charms through a surreptitious blending of the primitive with the mockingly insane. His characters border on the lunatic, seemingly at home in his landscapes, concealing a darkness corruptive of the soul. »
And I leave the final word to my trusted accomplice ds, who observed that:
« I find that the art of Matt Fox reminds me of Terrance Lindall… Both can create disquieting monsters with eyes that speak of inner torment, reminiscent of Christian Art (mostly Spanish, I believe) from a few centuries ago. »
« I don’t know what the hell I published. I never read the things. » — Stanley P. Morse
In the sinister wake of Warren Publishing‘s success with Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, old-school fly-by-night 1950s comics publisher Stanley P. Morse (Aragon Magazines, Gillmor Magazines, Medal Comics, Media Publications, S. P. M. Publications, Stanmor Publications, and Timor Publications…) dusted off some of his old pre-Code chillers in the late 1960s and early 1970s in black and white magazines such as Shock (15 issues), Chilling Tales of Horror (11 issues), Ghoul Tales (5 issues) and Stark Terror (5 issues). It certainly wasn’t all junk: after all, Morse had published Weird Tales of the Future and Mister Mystery, with their Basil Wolverton and Bernard Baily classics…
Unlike Eerie Publications’ grey-toned and blood-and-gore-ified reprints, these are, as far as I know, unretouched, not to mention decently printed.
Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t Kurt Schaffenberger just about the unlikeliest pick of cover artist for a pre-code horror anthology? Sure, he fit in nicely with ACG’s gentle moral fable aesthetic, but aren’t you just expecting the Man of Steel or The Big Red Cheese to swiftly sweep in, catching the damsel-in-distress before the A Train smooshes her?
« There’s money, all right! I quoted Mrs. Tarrent a hundred slugs for this trip and she never batted a tonsil! » — Ken Shannon’s on the job.
Reed Crandall (1917-1982), one of the final additions (mid-1953… late in the ballgame!) to EC Comics’ immortal roster, previously spent most of the Golden Age years (1941-53) exclusively working for Quality Comics, and it was only when the publisher began to scale back its output, in 1953, that Crandall began to look elsewhere for additional work. After EC, he would make landfall at George A. Pflaum’s Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, a story we’ve touched upon earlier this year.
Hard-boiled private eye (was there any other kind?) Ken Shannon was introduced in Quality’s Police Comics with issue 103 (Dec. 1950), and right away grabbed the cover spot (dethroning Plastic Man, no less!), which he doggedly retained to the bitter end, namely Police’s final bow, issue 127 (Oct. 1953). Concurrently, Shannon’s investigations were spun off into his own book, over the course of ten issues (Oct. 1951 to Apr. 1953).
Shannon certainly had his share of unusual cases to puzzle out, and here are the spookiest!
« I don’t mind if my skull ends up on a shelf as long as it’s got my name on it. » —Debbie Harry
A couple of years back, I spotlighted a story by a neglected Golden Age favourite of mine, Anthony Lewis “Tony” DiPreta (July 9, 1921 – June 2, 2010), the wacky The Hidden Vampires! I advise reading it first for comparison (and a bit of background on the artist).
I can’t help returning to Warren Kremer (today’s his birthday, not coincidentally; he was born on June 26, 1921, passing away on July 23, 2003), first because I adore his work, and second because I quite concur with Jon B. Cooke‘s bold but sensible assertion that Kremer…
« … is an extraordinarily talented artist. A master of design, character nuance and just plain exquisite drawing ability, he is perhaps the most underrated – or even worse, ignored – comic book creator of significance in the industry’s history. »
And why is that? A combination of working outside the superhero genre and of doing it, uncredited and for decades, on the ole Harvey Family Plantation.
This blog’sIt’s a Harvey World category might as well be called It’s a Kremer World, since he’s pretty much had the spotlight to himself.
But Kremer’s comics career precedes his arrival at Harvey; after working for the pulps in the late 1930s, he entered the comic book field, and a sizeable chunk of his early work was done for Ace Magazines (1940-56), and this is the area we’ll be exploring today.
Happy birthday, Mr. Kremer — wherever it is you may roam!
« The cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people who were all replaced. » — Georges Clemenceau
Commercially and creatively, the 1950s held some of the best and the worst years for the American comic book industry. Basically, the first half was a glut and the second, a massacre. This is all well-trod ground. Today, we’ll stick to one artist and his main employer.
In his one intensely-prolific decade as a professional cartoonist, Joe Maneely (1926 – 1958) produced the overwhelming bulk of his work for publisher Abe ‘Martin’ Goodman’s Timely/Atlas, which would become Marvel Comics by the decade’s end.
« As one genre faded, another would add titles to compensate. It didn’t matter if the new titles were basically redundant titles with new names. Goodman followed all trends in the comic book industry and the publishing industry in general.
A savvy businessman, he rarely led, mostly followed, but had the resources to follow with gusto, overwhelming competitors with product. »
As Ger Apeldoorn tells it, Maneely was a mere thirty-two years of age and at his frenetic artistic peak when tragedy struck:
« … on June 7, 1958, after going out for the night (with old-time friends John Severin and Walt Kelly assistant George Ward) he stepped out on the balcony of the train to get some air, fell between two trains and died. For a long time the story was that he had been drunk, but according to Dan Goldberg* he had lost his glasses earlier that week and that may have been a contributing factor. »
If the inspiring story of Joe Maneely, and its heartbreaking and sudden end is at all remembered these days, it has chiefly been through the diligent efforts of aficionado-historians such as Jim Vadeboncœur Jr. and the aforementioned Dr. Vassallo. Now why would an artist of such calibre fade so swiftly from memory? Since that happens all of the time (what one might term ‘invisible evidence‘), let’s move past the realm of the rhetorical and be more… specific. But first, some samples of the late Mr. Maneely’s goodies.
And so… why have Maneely’s star and memory dimmed so? It has been proposed, and I agree, that it’s because he just didn’t draw superheroes (a couple of Sub-Mariner covers being the lone exceptions), and Marvel itself hardly lifted a finger, over the years, to preserve the reputation of one of its principal architects.
There’s been much idle speculation as to what course comics history would have taken had Maneely lived. Stan Lee wrote, in his usual disingenuous way, that:
« How I wish the world (and I) could have seen what he’d have done with the F.F., Spidey, Thor and all the other Marvel super-heroes! It’s a true tragedy that we’ll never have the chance. »
Let’s be honest here: Maneely was an incredible artist, and he made Stan look good, but Joe wasn’t a writer, and certainly not a world-builder in the fashion and class of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks, John Stanley, Basil Wolverton… and precious few others. Without Kirby, the so-called Marvel Age never would have come to pass. Not to mention that Maneely, with a wife and three daughters to feed and support, had just begun to work for one of DC’s friendliest editors, Murray Boltinoff**. He would have been unlikely to drop a better-paying, likely secure gig to drop everything and return to Marvel’s uncertain prospects. Ah, and I see Mark Evanier views it along the same lines.
Oh, and I’ve mentioned in the past Maneely’s likely influence (mostly in the inks) on his contemporary Rocco Mastroserio. Take a look at this gallery of his covers and see if you agree.
*Stan Goldberg, actually.
**as a matter of fact my first encounter, as a child, with Maneely’s work was through a reprint of one of his DC stories: The Doomsday Drum (House of Secrets no. 9, March-April 1958).