« 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.
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:
What is there left to do but to warmly wish Mr. Motter the finest of birthdays… at a safe distance? Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
« … 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?
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.
« 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.
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.
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…
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.
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.
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!
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.
« … 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!
« … 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.
« 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?
Speaking of ’74, isn’t that rhino a dead ringer for Swan’s oleaginous right-hand man, Philbin, from Phantom of the Paradise?
And that’s Bill Stout for you: stunningly versatile, but always himself. Could any artist strive for more?
« 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?
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.
« 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.
« 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?
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.