Recalling Tomorrow With Dean Motter

« Mister X has always puzzled me. I’ve never been exactly certain where he came from. It seems like he has always been present — maybe not skulking through the perplexing shadows of the city so much as through some kind of collective unconsciousness. » — Dean Motter (1986)

On this day, back in 1953, the celebrated art director, graphic designer, writer-illustrator and cartoonist Dean Motter was born in Berea, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.

Over the course of his illustrious career, Motter has flitted in and out of comics, often in tandem with a rather remarkable array of collaborators, among them Jaime Hernandez, Paul Rivoche, Seth, Ty Templeton and Michael Lark… but just as frequently on his own.

As you’ll see, though he is quite adept in a vast range of media and techniques, nearly all of his mature work is lovingly filtered through his abiding interest in Will Eisner’s The Spirit, film noir, Art Deco, German Expressionism, with, I’d say, a soupçon of Soviet Propaganda art… resulting in a surprisingly cogent and coherent retro-futurist vision. The future as seen from the past, in short. And that’s just the visuals.

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Ah, youthful indiscretions! Motter’s cover for the inaugural issue of the tabloid version of Andromeda (1974, Media Five; Bill Paul, editor). Herein, Motter wears some rather less highfalutin’ influences on his sleeve, notably those of Mssrs. Brunner, Kane and Steranko. « Focus Fire ~ white Eclipse The Aurora Anti-Cosmos Splitting Heavens Apocalypse. »… concluded Young Master Motter’s epic poem, Celestial Circuit Cirkus.
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An early appearance from (a yet-unnamed?) Mister X, snuck its way onto a Canadian reissue of Patrick Cowley‘s Megatron Man (1982, Attic Records). And here is a later, rather dodgy recycling of his artwork that must give Dean some choice nightmares.
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A nice change of pace to showcase his range, this is Motter’s cover for Mister X no. 6 (Dec. 1985, Vortex). This splendid logo, débuting here, would thankfully return from time to time.
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This is Mister X no. 8 (Oct. 1986, Vortex); In its subtlety, this cover stretched the limits of what was technically possible in comics printing at the time, in terms of saturation and contrast.
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In the late 1980s, Motter jumped at the chance to write and illustrate Shattered Visage (oh dear me, a Shelley quote!) a sequel to 60s British television classic The Prisoner (4 issues, prestige format). This is the (much improved) cover to a 2019 reprint (Titan Books) of the original 1990 DC Comics collected edition.
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This is Electropolis no. 2 (Sept. 2001, Image), a spin-off of his Terminal City limited series (1996-97, DC Comics).
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Page two of Epilogue Prologue from A1 no. 1 (Atomeka Press, 1989), story and art by Motter.
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Cover from Mister X: Eviction no. 2 (June 2013, Dark Horse).
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The cover of Dean Motter’s Mister X: Eviction & Other Stories (Nov. 2013. Dark Horse).
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Front and back cover spread of Mister X: Razed no. 4 (May 2015, Dark Horse). Unusually done in gouache, if I’m not mistaken.
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One of the current comics field’s crasser, most mercenary outfits, Dynamite Entertainment specializes in the frivolous mangling and mingling of established franchise properties, with the wankbait titillation ramped way the hell up and variant covers out the wazoo. Sample titles: Red Sonja & Vampirella Meet Betty & Veronica (twelve issues so far, as it’s so very high-concept), Barbarella / Dejah Thoris, or Army of Darkness / Xena… I mean, check out this train wreck of a lineup. Such is the power of their brain-dead crappitude that they even managed to produce an abysmal mini-series from a Roger Langridge script, a career first for the great man. Their not-so-secret weapon: in the hallowed publisher’s tradition of the old bait-and-switch, they don’t scrimp on the slick-as-spit cover artwork. This is The Shadow no. 25 (May 2014); a variant cover, need you even ask?

Aside from his comics work, Motter spent a considerable part of the 1980s working for the Canadian arm of what was then the biggest (and possibly stingiest) record label in the world, CBS/Sony, shepherding or designing beautiful and clever covers for albums that were often neither… but that’s an art director’s job, cynical as it may seem. Anyway, you know you’ve made it when your work rates a pastiche decades on; to wit:

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This reminds me of how a single-minded, contrarian generation of Chuck Klostermans has taken over music criticism in order to wipe away the work of the Obama Administration Robert Christgaus and Dave Marshes of this world, aiming to vindicate and impose their beloved childhood bands, which once were the reigning critics’ whipping boys. Nowadays, you’ll find 4 and 5 star ratings (out of five, there’s no room here for moderation!) of Van Halen, Kiss, Loverboy and Journey albums, which was unthinkable at the time of their release. Plus ça change…

What is there left to do but to warmly wish Mr. Motter the finest of birthdays… at a safe distance? Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

– RG

Birthday Boy Bernard Baily

« … drawn by a terrible hypnotic fascination, the gangster peers deep into Jim’s dark eyes and glimpses — DEATH! » — “The Spectre”, More Fun Comics no. 52 (Feb. 1940)

Today, we salute Bernard Baily (April 5, 1916 – January 19, 1996), recalled nowadays as co-creator of The Spectre (with Jerry Siegel) and Hourman (with Ken Fitch) and conjurer of many of the 1950s most notorious comics covers… but there’s much more. Let’s take a look, shall we?

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More Fun Comics no. 64 (Feb.1941, DC); It’s curious that the Golden Age’s arguably most merciless avenger would wind up in the pages of “More Fun”. « The Spectre… was notable in the character’s original run for imposing violent retribution against evildoers. In Siegel and Baily’s first story, Jim Corrigan, upon being introduced, is immediately killed by being encased in cement and thrown into a river. A God-like figure intervenes and returns Corrigan to Earth to combat evil as The Spectre. In that first outing, The Spectre uses the power of his mind to skin an assassin alive, leaving only a skeleton. » [ source ] Read The Spectre’s nasty origin tale!
To my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of Golden Age superheroes whose costumes were so perfectly designed in the first place that no change whatsoever has been required over time. The Spectre has to be exhibit number one in that case.

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This is Weird Mysteries no. 2 (Dec. 1952, Stanley Morse); Read it here!
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« Be assured that the death certificate will read… death from natural causes! Yes — hah hah, natural causes! » Baily provides a strikingly modern cover for the final issue of Fawcett’s Suspense Detective, no. 5 (March, 1953). The insides are also top-notch, with thrillers by Baily and Mike Sekowsky. Read it here!
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Here’s Weird Tales of the Future no. 7 (May 1953, Stanley Morse); The stench is palpable, Bernie.
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One of the images that most undermined the comics industry’s case during the 1950’s furor over horror comics, this is Baily’s eye-searing cover for Mister Mystery no. 12 (July 1953, Stanley Morse). Injury-to-eye motif, the censors (or was it the collectors?) termed it. « Don’t worry, Mac, the sharp stick’s hot to make sure yer peeper don’t get infected. Now hold still! »
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Behold Mister Mystery no. 14 (Nov. 1953, Stanley Morse); this one rarely turns up in any condition. Hey, tentacles!
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In the Silver Age, Baily was back at DC, but straight superheroics weren’t his thing; here’s a rare exception. I must say, his Flash looks great, with the appropriate runner’s physique. This is The Brave and the Bold no. 56 (Oct.-Nov. 1964, DC), featuring Raid of the Mutant Marauders, scripted by Bob Haney and illustrated by Baily. George Kashdan, editor.
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Baily’s bread-and-butter during the Silver Age was SF and fantasy stories for DC’s anthology titles. Utter balderdash, but often highly entertaining, thanks to that very ‘anything goes’ approach and a solid cadre of artists. This is Strange Adventures no. 186 (Mar. 1966, DC); read it here, you’ll see what I mean.
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Whither National Brotherhood Week? Baily was also editor Jack Schiff‘s go-to guy for a series of public service ads that ran throughout the DC line during the Silver Age. This one, What’s Your B. Q.*? (*Brotherhood Quotient) appeared in books dated April and May 1966); Love those control questions.
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By the 1970’s, Baily’s work was seen as quaint and outmoded. Editors sometimes experimented with inkers, in this case Bill Draut, whose own style, while out of vogue, produced interesting results when paired with DC’s most outré pencillers (e.g. Jerry Grandenetti, Ric Estrada…) This Baily-Draut splash appeared in Secrets of Sinister House no. 8 (Dec. 1972, DC); lettering by Ben Oda, ‘Auntie’ Eve and her birdie by Michael Kaluta.
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« Lousy, filthy, stinking hobo! He’s no better than
the rats themselves! He’s in a class with them! » Grizzled Baily showed fine form in this late-career corker published in House of Secrets no. 107 (April, 1973, DC). Evidently inspired by Stephen Skeates‘ squalid tale of a rising flood, greed, murder and musophobia, the veteran artist lovingly rendered the precarious, musty milieu of Winner Take All!. In fact, the entire issue sets a high water mark for HOS: beyond a so-so Berni Wrightson cover, the book unusually contains two Alfredo Alcala yarns, one rendered in his realistic style and written by Jack Oleck, the other drawn in his delicious cartoony fashion and scripted by Arnold Drake. Read the issue here! « Whew! A lot more going on back then than even I realized! », commented Mr. Skeates upon being reminded of this story, a few years ago.
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Another lovely late-period job was A Night in a Madhouse; it appeared in The Unexpected no. 148 (July 1973, DC), scripted by Carl Wessler. Read it here!

-RG

What! You Call This Cold Weather?

« Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. » ― Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922)

Here’s what happened: I was leafing through Paul C. Tumey‘s splendid comics anthology Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny (2019, The Library of American Comics/IDW) when I came across a wonderful sample of Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (1936-58) wherein the strip’s central figure, Judge Homer Puffle, feeds another boarder a steady line of bull in that grand, booming Baron Munchausen — Captain Geoffrey Spicer-SimsonColonel Heeza Liar Commander McBragg tradition.

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Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (March 17, 1937, King Features).

Of course, it’s all piffle and bunk, but it brought to mind a passage from a favourite article on weather peculiarities in Siberia, Marcel Theroux‘s The Very, Very, Very Big Chill (published in Travel & Leisure in 2000):

« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »

Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.

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This is Astonishing no. 36 (Dec. 1954, Atlas), the title’s penultimate pre-Code issue… not that Atlas ever crossed the line into gruesome. The cover-featured yarn is The Man Who Melted!, an amusing load of utter rubbish you can read here. Cover art by Carl Burgos.
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This is Chamber of Chills no. 10 (May, 1974, Marvel), and most everything’s the same, save for the colour palette and the now-hostile expression on the caveman’s mug.
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And this is also Chamber of Chills no. 10 (July, 1952, Harvey)… the original, whose title Harvey Comics left curbside for Marvel to recycle when they went all kid-friendly in the Comics-code-ruled Silver Age. Cover designed and art-directed by Warren Kremer and illustrated by Lee Elias. For some insight into these collaborators’ working methods on the horror titles, here’s our post on that very topic. Incidentally, what’s up with the hifalutin Lord Byron quote, Harvey folks? This wacky fare is quite plainly fiction… what’s your point? [Read it here.]
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This is Tales of The Unexpected no. 101 (June-July 1968, DC). Layout and pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by George Roussos. Infantino, promoted the previous year to editorial director (he would soon rise to the rank of publisher), brought in the versatile Nick Cardy to serve as his right-hand man on the artistic front; together, they designed all of DC’s covers until both men stepped down in 1975.
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This is House of Mystery no. 199 (February, 1972, DC), illustrating Sno’ Fun! a rare (possibly unique, really) collaboration between Sergio Aragonés (script) and Wally Wood (pencils and inks). Cover designed by Infantino and Nick Cardy, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams and coloured by Jack Adler.
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This is Unexpected no. 142 (Dec. 1972, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.
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This is Unexpected no. 147 (June, 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.
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This is Unexpected no. 150 (Sept., 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.
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« Hey, look! The critter is frozen whole… it’s in pretty good shape! » Tom Sutton vibrantly sells Joe Gill and Steve Ditko‘s cautionary tale of arctic drilling gone awry, The Ancient Mine. Also in this issue: Steve and Pete Morisi‘s Surprise!, and Gill and Fred Himes’ touching Pipe Dream. This is Haunted no. 37, (Jan., 1974, Charlton), presented by the publisher’s blue-skinned, green-haired answer to Nana Mouskouri, Winnie the Witch.
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« … that face haunts me… was it a man or a beast? » Ah, the Seventies. Left dazed and frazzled by his whirlwind life of slow-mo violence, glamorous excess and substance abuse, not to mention radiation poisoning, the inevitable occurs: The Hulk wanders onto the wrong set, as well as the wrong publisher’s! Against all odds, he handles the rôle with aplomb and commendable gravitas. A page from Gill and Ditko’s The Ancient Mine. Read it here!
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This is Ghosts no. 37 (April, 1975, DC), featuring Luis Dominguez‘s first (or many) cover for the title, a passing of the torch from Nick Cardy, who’d handled every one of the preceding three dozen…. minus one: number 7’s cover was the work of Michael Kaluta.

Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.

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Mr. Freeze, who first popped up in Batman no. 121 in 1959, initially known as, er… Mr. Zero (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin?) before being revamped and renamed for the mid-60s Batman TV show, a makeover that carried over to the comics, but tragically didn’t include his outfit. This is Detective Comics no. 373 (March, 1968, DC); layout by Infantino, finishes by Irv Novick. [ read it here!]
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…

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Namor goes all First Commandment on some poor Inuits (surely they’ve seen frozen bodies before?), displaying an unseemly level of insecurity for someone of his standing. This recap hails from King Kirby’s sensational feat of deadline rescue on the behalf of a tardy Jim Steranko (to be fair, it was worth the wait). George Tuska‘s inks are a surprisingly good fit! This is Captain America no. 112, Lest We Forget! (April 1969, Marvel). [ read it here!]
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.

-RG

Lynch and Whitney’s Phoebe and the Pigeon People

« How do I despise thee? Let me count the ways. Society, you corpulent swine! » – Bix

Today, January 7, marks the seventy-fifth birthday of storied undergrounder Jay Lynch (1945-2017), creator of Nard n’ Pat, Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids and MAD Magazine contributor… to name but a very few.

Today, we’ll shine a light upon his epochal comic strip Phoebe and the Pigeon People. Here’s how it was hatched:

« In April 1978, Lynch teamed up with cartoonist Gary Whitney to produce weekly Phoebe and the Pigeon People strips. Lynch wrote them and Whitney drew them. “It was very easy and it got us invited to cocktail parties”, said Lynch. “We wanted to do a strip that would appeal to secretaries, rather than a strip that would appeal to the comic fan type person.”

« Lynch and Whitney launched a stage show based on the characters, called When Cultures Collide, with an improvisational theater troupe, The Practical Theater. The performance included a battle of the bands between rock and new wave musicians. » (quoted from Ink & Anguish, a Jay Lynch Anthology, 2018, Fantagraphics)

P&TPP was another one of those captivatingly freewheeling features that popped up during the heady heyday of alternative weeklies. A while back, we devoted a post to Tom Hachtman‘s Gertrude’s Follies, which bloomed in a similarly unlikely fertile milieu. In Phoebe’s case, The Chicago Reader was the publication it called home during its impressive 1978-1996 run.

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A 1982 poster for the event in question. Art by Gary Whitney.

For a few years now, they’ve (in this case, a shadowy outfit vaguely named “Alternative Comics“) been promising us a Phoebe collected edition. We’re still waiting. Hey, if the publisher needs more time to do the job right, so be it… but expectations are accordingly high.

Amazon’s blurb is an ominous portent: « The under-achieving Phoebe and friends hang out with beatnik people-headed jazz-loving beat-philosophy cooing pigeons in a park in Chicago. »

Uh, not even close. Here are a few highlight from the strip’s first four years, pulled from the pages of Kitchen Sink’s valiant three-issue run (1979-81); read these selections and you’ll know more about the strip than whoever wrote that blurb. You’re welcome!

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Phoebe & The Pigeon People no. 2 (May 1980, Kitchen Sink).

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Clearly, these strips are so rooted in their time period that they retain no relevance whatsoever to today’s world and its social and political mores.

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Ah, politicians: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I’d love to see some of our finer young minds take a crack at such an opportunity. One can still dream, right?
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In Phoebe’s world, there was always plenty of room for the meta-contextual.

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Bix gets to trot out his pet poetic phrase. Catchy!

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This is the magazine-size Phoebe & The Pigeon People no. 3 (July 1981, Kitchen Sink). Until the omnibus arrives, this is your best bet. Read the run right here, friends!
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Our loveable auteurs and some of their cast, enjoying the Chicago winter. That’s Mr. Lynch on the left, Whitney on the right.

I particularly love the strip’s anything-for-a-joke ethos: as was Lynch’s wont, he ran the gamut from lowbrow to highbrow, from squeaky-clean to salacious, from sunny side up to scrambled. Let’s face it, that bizarre premise would have challenged and defeated most would-be humourists within a few weeks, let alone a decade-and-a-half.

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Jay Lynch, dapper elder, as he appears in the short film There’s Something Weird About Jay Lynch (2014, filmed and edited by John Kinhart). Watch it here!

-RG

More Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood!

« … every idiot who goes about with a ‘Merry Christmas‘ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. » — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Whoa, is the accursed Holiday Season upon us again already? Given the rather baffling (but greatly appreciated) popularity of our previous brochette of Christmas-themed Playboy cartoons, which took off in… April and just kept gathering steam, we’ve chosen to just go with the flow and present you with a sequel. We’ve had more time and opportunity to dig further, so we’ve cherry-picked a dozen, both naughty and nice, with plenty left over for next year. We’ve taken pains to include some of the worthy cartoonists who were somehow left out of last year’s legendary Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood.

Here we go, then. Season’s greetings and all that rot!

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One from adorable bon vivant Eldon Dedini (1921-2006), previously spotlighted here.
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A late-career entry from Rowland Bragg Wilson (1930-2005), from Playboy’s January, 2002 issue.
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It was bound to happen: for a change, Santa decided to indulge in a little *taking* of his own. This mutely eloquent cartoon from the pages of Playboy is by the steady hand of Smilby, pseudonym of American blues-loving Englishman Francis Wilford-Smith (1927-2009).
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Here’s a Dink Siegel piece I’d saved for this occasion, once more featuring his “roommates”. It debuted in Playboy’s December, 1969 issue. Feast your jaded eyeballs upon our recent Dink Siegel spotlight right here.
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A lush yet understated œuvre by pioneering African-American genius Elmer Simms Campbell (1906-1971), from Playboy’s December, 1962 numéro.
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Austrian künstlerisches Genie Erich Sokol (1933 – 2003), who for my money packs the strongest erotic charge of all the Playboy cartoonists, painted this marvel for the December, 1969 issue of Playboy.
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We couldn’t, in good conscience, leave out Buck Brown’s famously naughty ‘Granny’. This undated cartoon is likely a marker preliminary.
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Noted comic book artist Frank Thorne provides this whimsical quote from Clement Moore’s perennial The Night Before Christmas, featuring a gorgeous aurora borealis night sky. The candy cane keepsake is a lovely signature, Not-so-Saint-Nick.
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For a change of pace, here’s an unctuously cynical one from Liverpudlian stunner Mike Williams (b. 1940); from Playboy’s January, 1982 issue.
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A more colourful specimen of the lush artwork of Robert “Buck” Brown (1936 – 2007), another brilliant African-American whose Playboy work was but a single facet of his incisive, multifarious and socially-engaged œuvre.
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I must confess that my fellow Canadian Doug Sneyd‘s (b. 1931 in Orillia, ON, birthplace of Gordon Lightfoot and Mitch the Ferret) style isn’t really my cup of tea. But my partner ds enjoys his work, and that’s good enough for me.
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And last but not least, our dear Gahan Wilson, who just recently left us. Here’s our earlier salute to this macabre maestro. This bittersweet creation appeared in the October, 1964 Playboy.

-RG

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

« … there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. » ― Clement C. Moore, A Visit From St. Nicholas (1823)

Not too long ago, we glanced at the interesting case of Tower’s teen line, another instance of works insufficiently popular to be properly reprinted, yet still sought after by collectors and aficionados and consequently on the pricey side. And so it is within this limbo that Tippy Teen and Go-Go and Animal find themselves consigned, in the rather fine company of Sugar and Spike and Angel and the Ape. Let’s not strand them there for the duration, please.

So why do I consider Tippy Teen superior to Archie? For one thing, while there’s some underwhelming artwork to be found here and there (sorry, Doug Crane), there’s nothing dismal (no Al Hartley, no Dick Malmgren, no Gus Lemoine, no Stan Goldberg…), and the writing is generally superior, thanks to, among uncredited others, the great Jack Mendelsohn (recycling and updating his old scripts, but that’s not the end of the world).

Here’s a little seasonal piece I find quite witty and charming. The well-paced work of an anonymous scripter and my beloved Samm Schwartz, it appeared in Tippy Teen no. 18. The whole issue’s quite solid, and since it’s in the public domain, you can enjoy it right here.

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This is Tippy Teen no. 18 (March 1968, Tower). Cover artwork by Samm Schwartz.
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What kind of a grinch would I be if I failed to include the Monkees pin-up promised on the cover? I shudder to even entertain the notion. In the usual order, Messrs. Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith.

-RG

The Prodigious William Stout

« You know, the dog food that Billy Jack loves! » — The Firesign Theatre

Ah, September the 18th. Today’s the birthday of the staggeringly accomplished William Stout (born in 1949), master of ancient reptiles, bootleg record covers, friend of The Firesign Theatre, former Russ Manning assistant (none but the best would do!), and I’ll spare you the illustrious details of his career in cinema. Still, let’s look around a bit, shall we?

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Here’s an unforgettable cover from Alien Worlds no. 3 (July, 1983, Pacific Comics). This scene gave me nightmares, and still raises a shudder. These critters look like a hybrid of a platypus and a piranha. Happy landings!
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Stout’s wonderful original logo for Rhino Records, circa 1974.

Speaking of ’74, isn’t that rhino a dead ringer for Swan’s oleaginous right-hand man, Philbin, from Phantom of the Paradise?

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This is the back cover (the recto is equally sumptuous) for The Firesign Theatre‘s 1975 opus, In the Next World, You’re On Your Own, featuring a pair of classic sidelong suites, Police Street and We’ve Lost Our Big Kabloona.
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A clutch of underground classics? Sure. Here’s Cocaine Comix no. 1 (Feb. 1976, Last Gasp).
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Another number one (with a bullet, of course): 50’s Funnies no. 1 (1980, Kitchen Sink). More lies inside!
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A favourite page from Stout’s masterpiece (or certainly his great labour of love, at the very least): The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era (1981, edited by Byron Preiss). This piece (the first he drew for the book) is entitled Hot Weather. « After lifting his head for air, he drank more and then wallowed his whole length and breadth into the ooze, vocalizing for the first time that day, and loudly. »
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Say hello to friendly Ed Gein. Weird Trips no. 2 (1978, Kitchen Sink). Please note the sinisterly-customized Kitchen Sink Enterprises logo, Wrightsonbrand coffee, and EC Comics narrator The Old Witch impishly peeking from a lower-right shelf. And yes, can’t go disemboweling your fellow man and woman without a copy of Gray’s Anatomy. Preparation is everything!
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Well, there never was any doubt that Mr. Stout was an EC Comics überfan. The Comics Journal no. 81 (May, 1983, Fantagraphics).
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I did bring up his Hollywood work, so here’s a sample. I wasn’t going to go with his the far-too-familiar Rock ‘n’ Roll High School poster… you all know it already, so where’s the fun in that? Of course, Joe Dante’s Amazon Women on the Moon again (1987) raises the eternal question: « Who made Steve Guttenberg a Star? »

And that’s Bill Stout for you: stunningly versatile, but always himself. Could any artist strive for more?

-RG

Walter Gibson and His Shadow

« The stranger’s face was entirely obscured by a broad-brimmed felt hat bent downward over his features; and the long, black coat looked almost like part of the thickening fog. » –Harry Vincent first encounters his future employer. (Shadow Magazine, April/June, 1931)

We note today the birth anniversary of Walter B. Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985), an extremely prolific writer and professional magician. Gibson is best known for developing the radio character of The Shadow, through nearly three hundred stories he wrote under the collective nom de plume of Maxwell Grant.

The Shadow’s had an interesting and varied career in comics, but Gibson’s novels (and the radio shows… Orson Welles!) are where it’s at. Still, let’s take a look around, shall we?

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This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 3, no. 12 (March, 1944, Street and Smith); cover possibly by Vernon Greene. That Thade seems like a friendly sort, mayhap a tad overly so.
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This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 7, no. 12 (March, 1948, Street and Smith); cover by Bob Powell.
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Now why were Archie Comics allowed to take such ridiculous (though I’ll grant, perversely entertaining) liberties with The Shadow? Must have been a lull in the revival market, I suppose. This is The Shadow no. 1 (August, 1964, Archie), cover by Paul Reinman. You just wait until the subsequent issues…
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This, however, is not quite how Gibson envisioned and portrayed the mysterious Shadow. This off-model rendition hails from Archie Comics’ 8 issue, 1964-65 run, helmed by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and Golden Age journeyman Paul Reinman. This be The Shadow no.8  (September, 1965).
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A privileged peek at Frank Robbinsoriginal cover art for The Shadow no.7 (Nov. 1974), second of his four (or so) covers for DC, featuring Night of the Beast!, scripted by Denny O’Neil. Yummy… but too short.
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Two great Street & Smith pulp heroes face off! Mr. Kaluta takes some artistic license here, however, since Ike (as The Avenger calls his throwing knife), is supposed to be small and almost needle-like, not a freakin’ butcher knife. Come to think of it, the Shadow’s trusty automatics look like something a Rob Liefeld character would wield. One doesn’t encounter often the final three issues of DC’s initial run of The Shadow. Post-Kaluta (save the covers) and post-Robbins, the art was handled by Filipino artist E.R. Cruz, who did a commendable job, while series regular Denny O’Neil (who wrote all issues except for number 9 and 11, Michael Uslan ably filling in) stayed until the curtain was drawn.
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Skipping the heinous Howard Chaykin revival, in which he delighted in sadistically dispatching The Shadow’s aged former operatives in gruesome ways (why do these people always call themselves fans of the original series?), we move on to the Andrew Helfer-Bill Sienkiewicz regular book. Better, but still not great. This is The Shadow no. 3 (Oct. 1987). Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.
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Ah, now things perk up. A nasty but excellent tale, worthy of Michael Fleisher at his bugfuck best; the shade of Marshall Rogers and smart up-and-comer Kyle Baker were a good visual match. This is The Shadow no. 7 (Feb. 1988).
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This is Kyle Baker’s cover for the finale of his and scripter Andrew Helfer’s thrilling and hilarious Seven Deadly Finns saga (no. 13, March 1988) that made The Shadow such a must-read title. To quote Kate Bush, « What made it special made it dangerous », and the folks at Condé Nast, who hold the rights to the classic Street & Smith characters (also including Doc Savage and The Avenger) reportedly got twitchy* at the reckless liberties the Helfer-Baker team were taking and pulled the plug after issue 19, where a beheaded Shadow gets a big action robot body. The Shadow was rebooted the following year in more obedient hands, with quite pedestrian results.

As a bonus, let’s slightly depart from comics proper and admire a couple of paperback reissues from the brush of noted fabulist James Steranko.

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Steranko comes up with one of his subtlest, most unctuously moody covers for Pyramid’s 1974-78 series of Shadow paperbacks that introduced these classic pulp adventures to a new audience, picking up where its predecessors Belmont (1966-67) and Bantam (1869-70) had left off. Pyramid had one extra trick in its bag, though: Jim Steranko, who painted tantalizing covers for each of Pyramid/Jove’s twenty-three volumes. This particular case file, MOX, « from The Shadow’s annals as told to Maxwell Grant » originally appeared in The Shadow Magazine vol. 7, no. 6 (November, 1933).
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Natty dresser Jim Steranko has built up, over the years, quite a biography for himself. Of his numberless and prodigious accomplishments, my favourites are those that actually happened, such as a stunning series of cover paintings for Pyramid Books’ reprints of vintage Shadow pulps from the 30s and 40s. This one, twenty-second in a set of twenty-three, was published in March of 1978. The Silent Death initially saw print in The Shadow Magazine, Vol. 5, no. 3 (April 1, 1933.)

-RG

*which everyone apparently’s been denying since.

Jean-Claude Forest, ‘Father of Adult Comics’

« J’fais dans la bande dessinée, qu’est bien plus pop que le ciné!* » — J.C. Forest (Une chanson, 1973)

On the eighty-ninth anniversary of his birth, let’s salute in passing one of the great pioneers of French comics, namely Jean-Claude Forest (Sept. 11, 1930 – Dec. 29, 1998), Barbarella’s creator, the man who, in the early 1960s, ushered strictly-for-kids bandes dessinées into decidedly more risqué and adult realms of eroticism, fantasy and fun.

Born on September 11, 1930 in the Parisian suburb of Le Perreux-sur-Marne, he passed away in 1998 at the age of 68, but not before leaving behind a body of work of breathtaking depth and variety. Barbarella aside (sorry, miss): Le Copyright (the springboard for Nikita Mandryka‘s Le Concombre masqué), Hypocrite, Mystérieuse matin midi et soir (his wild riff on Jules Verne’s L’île mystérieuse), Bébé Cyanure, Les Naufragés du temps (illustrated by Paul Gillon), Enfants c’est l’Hydragon qui passe… « et j’en passe », as they say.

Here are a few highlights to give you a sense of the man’s imagination, versatility and tremendous draftsmanship, in chronological order.

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An excerpt is from Les colères du mange-minutes (1965-66), the second volume of Barbarella’s adventures. Yes, there was a film adaptation, but it’s, well, pretty vapid. Director Roger Vadim was kind of the Gallic John Derek; both were fair-to-middling directors whose chief talent was womanizing. Though one has to admit it *was* quite a talent.
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« No, you mustn’t love me… » Detail from the cover of giff wiff, revue de la bande dessinée no.22 (Dec. 1966), previewing its article on Forest’s 1965 experimental tv cartoon Marie Mathématique, which you can watch here. It features the dulcet tones of Le beau Serge, certainly one of the most overrated artistes of the 20th century. Too much competition to call the race to the bottom, though. 😉
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Born out of a misunderstanding between the editorial team of Pif Gadget and Forest, Mystérieuse matin midi et soir proved too labyrinthine for the magazine’s young readership, cost the publishers a bundle, and only two of its three parts appeared in Pif. Fear not, it was collected in album form the following year. This is a page from part 1, which saw print in Pif Gadget no. 111 (April, 1971).

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A sequence from the rollicking N’importe quoi de cheval…, featuring Hypocrite, another of Forest’s spunky heroïnes. From Pilote Mensuel no. 6 (Dargaud, Nov. 1974).

A pair of pages from the melancholy, elegiac Enfants, c’est l’Hydragon qui passe « Children, there goes the Hydragon » (Casterman, 1984).

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I’m sure it’s mere coincidence, but the boy, Jules, seems to be modelled after yet another Gainsbourg “muse”, pop nymphette Vanessa Paradis.

– RG

*I make comics, they’re far poppier than movies!

Love and Romance and Enrique Nieto

« The precious hours seemed to hurtle by, as if we were in some kind of vicious time machine! »

Today’s birthday number seventy-six for one of Charlton Comics’ most singular and hardest-working artistes, namely Enrique Nieto Nadal (born August 15, 1943, in Tangiers, Morocco, to Spanish parents), who injected some edgy excitement into the Charlton Comics line, handling with equal aplomb and virtuosity tales of romance, horror, war, adventure… and every combination thereof.

To mark this special occasion, I’ve picked out the lovely tale of A Strange Good-Bye from Love and Romance no. 20 (January, 1975); it provides a sterling showcase for his remarkable design chops and, as my dearest co-admin ds has earlier pointed out, Enrique’s tales provide, as a rule, beefcake and cheesecake in equally generous shares. Is anyone else that fair-minded?

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I’m particularly fond of this yarn because of its unusual avoidance of most romance clichés: there are no scheming rivals, no duplicitous so-called friends, no disapproving parents, no melodrama… just two serious-minded, intelligent young people who are *really* into each other, but don’t lose their heads over it. And they may be yuppies, but  success wasn’t just handed to them. Call me a sap, but I can’t help but sincerely root for Wade and Didi.

Oh, and let’s face it, can you think of any other US romance comics that pack such an erotic charge? It may be subjective, but I’ve rarely seen such convincing depictions of tenderness and affection, physical and otherwise, between two characters… and in mainstream, comics-code approved funnybooks yet. Full marks to Mr. Nieto and his masterful understanding and depiction of body language… male and female.

While he’s not credited, it’s still obvious to me that Joe Gill is the writer; my favourite facet of his romance tales is how he grounds what could be stock situations in the everyday, endowing his characters with actual, credible occupations, as opposed to soap opera ones. When a character describes a business deal or an industrial process, it makes perfect sense. I suspect this to be a by-product of Gill’s authorship of a 1973 series of promotional career-choice Popeye-branded comic books. The research clearly fed his subsequent work, which is just as it should be.

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A Strange Good-bye was the cover feature of Love and Romance no. 20 (Jan. 1975). Blast that puzzle page!

Well, once more… ¡feliz cumpleaños, Enrique!

-RG