Joe Maneely, Atlas of Versatility

« 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.

The artist at his table. Herb Trimpe lets us in on the secret of Maneely’s prodigious speed (said to produce up to six pages a day, pencils and inks): « his pencils [were] almost nonexistent; they were like rough, lightly done layouts with no features on the faces … It was just like ovals and sticks and stuff, and he inked from that. He drew when he inked. That’s when he did the work, in the inking! ». Talk about unerring confidence!

Atlas historian Dr. Michael J. Vassallo sums up the Tao of Goodman (and, by and large, Marvel’s):

« 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.

This is Outlaw Fighters no. 2 (Oct. 1954, Atlas).
This is Jungle Action no. 1 (Oct. 1954, Atlas). With spandex yet to hit the market (and even then), Leopard Girl’s costume must have been quite… stifling.
This is Mystery Tales no. 23 (Nov. 1954, Atlas).
This is Two-Gun Kid no. 18 (Nov. 1954, Atlas). I doubt anyone’s going to land comfortably. Particularly those poor horses.
This is Journey Into Mystery no. 22 (Feb. 1955, Atlas).
Oh, Stan — you’re so butch!” This is Rugged Action no. 2 (Feb. 1955, Atlas). To my eye, the bottom panel evokes Harvey Kurtzman‘s early style (think Two-Fisted Tales at EC); ironic, given that Maneely was as confident and speedy in his drawing as Kurtzman was painstaking and slow.
This is Apache Kid no. 15 (Aug. 1955, Atlas). The publisher also had in its roster Arizona Kid, Kid Colt, The Kid from Dodge City, The Kid from Texas, Kid Slade, The Outlaw Kid, Rawhide Kid, Ringo Kid, Texas Kid, Two-Gun Kid, The Gun-Barrel Kid… did someone say ‘redundant’? Why, yes, someone did.
This is Police Badge #479 no. 5 — the sole issue, really; its numbering picked up from Spy Thrillers… and went no further (Sept. 1955, Atlas). Maneely was another of that rare breed who could draw anything… because they enjoyed drawing everything. Dig all that well-observed detail!
Atlas published, in quick succession, no less that four short-lived Mad clones: Crazy, Riot, Snafu and Wild, each lasting from three to seven issues. None were particularly funny either, even if they did look quite good. This is Riot no.4 (Feb. 1956, Atlas) featuring what is termed, in comic book circles, an ‘infinity’ cover.
This is Melvin the Monster no. 4 (Feb. 1957, Atlas); Dr. Vassallo writes, in his in-depth Maneely overview for Alter Ego magazine (no. 28, Sept. 2003): « Stan Lee and Joe Maneely’s Melvin the Monster… duplicated everything they could about Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace — art style, comic strip format, even upper-&-lower-case lettering style — everything except the warmth and innocence.»
This is Kid Colt Outlaw no. 69 (Feb. 1957, Atlas). Along with everything else, I love his way with flora and fauna. Incidentally, most of these covers were coloured by Stan Goldberg.

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.

The artist’s promotional letterhead illustration, circa 1948.

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.

-RG

*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).

The Masulli-Mastroserio Cover Deluge of ’65!

« Charlton was just a place where you felt you could let off a little steam, even if you were never going to get rich. » – Roy Thomas

For over a decade, Pat Masulli (1930-1998) was executive editor of Charlton Publications’ comics line… and of its more lucrative song lyrics (Hit Parader, Song Hits) and crossword puzzle magazine line. Though much has been made of artist Carmine Infantino rising through the editorial ranks at DC Comics (positions traditionally held by writers or just plain bossy types; Sheldon Mayer was a most notable exception at DC), Charlton always did employ artists to manage the comics wing: Al Fago (1951-55), Masulli (1955-66), Dick Giordano (1965-68), Sal Gentile (1968-71) and finally George Wildman (1971-85). There are overlaps in time as well as the porous distinctions betwixt the titles of Managing Editor and Executive Editor.

Now, all of the aforementioned are serviceable artists, but I’m most interested in Masulli. Over the years, it’s gradually dawned on me that, for a few months in 1965-66, Masulli, as if he weren’t busy enough already, decided to lay out and pencil most of the comics line’s covers. And, astoundingly, they represented some of the finest (though often obscure) comics artwork of the decade. Cover artist is a plum job in comics, but few are born that can smoothly fill these tight, squeaky shoes.

What was Masulli like? It depends on whom you ask. His one-time assistant, artist (and later DC inker) Frank McLaughlin, responded with a diplomatic, amused « You don’t want to know. » Charlton’s main writer, Joe Gill, queried about Masulli as editor, sums it up: « Terrible. Pat’s dead now, but he was a martinet, not a friendly guy that enjoyed amiable relations with the artists. He ruled it, and he and I co-existed. » On the other hand, writer-editor Roy Thomas (who was granted his entrée into the industry from Masulli), understandably speaks well of him although, to his regret, they never met. Before they could, Masulli was promoted at Charlton, leaving him to devote his time and effort to the music division, handing the reins of the comic book line to his now-and-again assistant, Mr. Giordano.

Masulli’s go-to guy within his stable of artists appears to have been the versatile, underrated Rocco ‘Rocke’ Mastroserio, who died far too young (at the age of 40!), still steadily improving and shortly after landing some promising jobs at Warren and DC. Mastroserio’s early work can be a tad gawky and lopsided, but shows much promise. By the mid-60s, his covers (his forte) could at times attain a level of craft and inspiration rivalling (and akin to) the work of John Severin and Joe Maneely, fine models to emulate.

This time, however, let’s focus on highlights from the Masulli-Mastroserio flash flood of ’65.

This is Billy the Kid no. 53 (Dec. 1965, Charlton).
This is Special War Series no. 1 (Aug. 1965, Charlton).
This is Fightin’ Navy no. 124 (Jan. 1966, Charlton).
Intricate yet easy to parse, this is The Fightin’ 5 no. 36 (Jan. 1966, Charlton). Comic Book Artist editor Jon B. Cooke once or twice opined that The Fightin’ 5 were ‘a Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos swipe‘… but he was wrong: they were a Blackhawk swipe (if anything), and, let’s be honest, Sgt. Fury is, for his part, a Sgt. Rock and Easy Company swipe. All clear now?
This is Hot Rod Racers no. 9 (Jan. 1966, Charlton).
This is Hot Rod and Racing Cars no. 78 (Mar. 1966, Charlton). Masulli began his career as a colourist, and it certainly shows in his cover work.
This is Konga no. 23 (Nov. 1965, Charlton), the series’ final issue. The mighty Steve Ditko had begun the series, but later art chores were capably handled by the solid team of Bill Montes and Ernie Bache.
This is Outlaws of the West no. 55 (Sept. 1965, Charlton). Masulli could do busy and action-packed, and he could also do spare, clean and serene. Unlike many a cover artist, he didn’t seem to rely on one particular formula, or even two.
This is Submarine Attack no. 52 (Oct. 1965, Charlton). Both composition (that foregrounding!) and colouring are top-notch.
This is Texas Rangers in Action no. 53 (Dec. 1965, Charlton). Nearly all of Charlton’s covers of this period were distinctively lettered by Jon D’Agostino (1929-2010).
This is Frontier Marshal Wyatt Earp no. 62 (Mar. 1966, Charlton). Mastroserio’s savvy variation of line thickness to convey perspective and emphasize depth is what most reminds me of Joe Maneely‘s work for Atlas and DC (speaking of artists snatched away in their prime).

I’ll return at some point to spotlight solo Mastroserio. Next on the agenda for me, however, is this year’s Hallowe’en Countdown!

-RG

Hot Streak: Joe Kubert’s Son of Tomahawk

« Who are these men, Tomahawk? » « My Rangers! We fought against renegades… from Pennsylvania to Kentucky! When the country got too crowded, Moon Fawn and I moved out West… where a man has room to breathe! » — Tom Hawk sums up his change of station.

Tomahawk was created in 1947 by writer Joe Samachson (later co-creator, with Joe Certa, of J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars) and artist Edmund Good. The series was distinguished by its setting, the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), and it appeared both as a back-up in Star Spangled Comics (until it switched to an all-bellicose format and became Star Spangled War Stories in 1952) and in World’s Finest (at first intermittently, from 1949, then steadily from 1953 to 1959). And Tomahawk had been spun off into his own book in 1950.

Inevitably, with the Silver Age and its superhero reascendancy, to the eventual detriment of all other genres, the historical adventure strip’s slow decline set in.

As Don Markstein put it:

« Toward the latter part of the ’50s, practically all DC comics ran aliens, monsters and other goofy sci-fi stuff on the covers, no matter how badly it clashed with the title’s subject matter — even war comics often sported dinosaurs in that position. And so, all through the late 1950s and early to mid ’60s, Tomahawk fought gigantic tree men, miraculously-surviving dinosaurs, mutated salamanders, and other menaces that seem somehow to have escaped the history books. There was even a giant gorilla among them, and putting a gorilla on the cover was also a contemporary trend at DC. »

It all comes down to the editor, and Tomahawk was long edited by Jack Schiff, who just adored that sort of (admittedly fun) claptrap, then by his associate Murray Boltinoff, who at least was more flexible.

To wit, with issue 116 (May-June 1968) came a change and a relative return to the feature’s roots. First, Neal Adams was brought in to provide covers, and the more outré aspects were phased out. With issue 119 (Nov.-Dec. 1968), the book’s final creative team was brought aboard: writer Robert Kanigher and illustrator Frank Thorne (1930-), eventual creator of Moonshine McJugs. Thorne replaced Fred Ray (1920-2001) who, while he wasn’t a Tomahawk originator, had been chronicling the mountain lion’s share of his exploits since 1947. He would draw a handful of short pieces for DC’s war books before leaving the comics field in the early 1970s, writing historical non-fiction and art directing and illustrating for publications Civil War Times Illustrated, American History Illustrated, True Frontier, The West and Yank (despite the title, not a porno mag).

With the heart of the creative team in place, it was a change of editors that prompted Tomahawk’s final mutation, and arguably its most interesting: Joe Kubert took over the editorial reins, and the action was moved four decades or so forward in time. Tom ‘Tomahawk’ Hawk had settled down with a Native woman, Moon Fawn, sired a pair of sons, and was by then a lanky, crotchety old coot, but not quite helpless. His elder son Hawk was the protagonist, and they encountered frontier-style prejudice, greed, corruption, tribalism, paranoia… you guessed it: it was a ‘socially-relevant‘ comic, but hardly the cringe-fest that was the concurrent Green Lantern/Green Arrow. I daresay that Kubert and Kanigher’s respective politics were rather too complex for that.

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This is Tomahawk no. 131 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC). Inside: Hang Him High!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne. I like how nonplussed Hawk is at the prospect of doing the Brand New Tennessee Waltz.

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This is Tomahawk no. 132 (Jan.-Feb. 1971, DC). Inside: Small Eagle… Brother Hawk!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

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This is Tomahawk no. 133 (Mar.-Apr. 1971, DC). Inside: Scalp Hunter, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

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This is Tomahawk no. 134 (May-June 1971, DC). Inside: The Rusty Ranger, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne.

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This is Tomahawk no. 135 (July-Aug. 1971, DC). Inside: Death on Ghost Mountain!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, and the powerful Spoilers, written by Jerry DeFuccio and illustrated by John Severin. This was my admittedly random introduction to the series.

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This is Tomahawk no. 136 (Sept.-Oct. 1971, DC). Inside: A Piece of Sky!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus an extraordinary Firehair tale by Kubert… but then they all are.

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This is Tomahawk no. 137 (Nov.-Dec. 1971, DC). Inside: Night of the Knife!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus a selection of fine reprints.

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This is Tomahawk no. 138 (Jan.-Feb. 1972, DC). Inside: Christmas, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, as well as an assortment of worthy reprints boasting artwork by Nick Cardy, Sam Glanzman, Norman Maurer and Mort Drucker.

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This is Tomahawk no. 138 (Mar.-Apr. 1972, DC). Inside: Death Council, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne, plus a clutch of reprints illustrated by Fred Ray, Gil Kane, and none other than Frank Frazetta.

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This is Tomahawk no. 140 (May-June 1972). Inside: The Rescue!, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Frank Thorne. Gaspar Saladino‘s brand new logo, a rare misfire, was unveiled just in time for the book’s cancellation.

As for the interior art, I’d say it’s Frank Thorne’s finest work. The notorious Alexander Toth would of course disagreed, far preferring Thorne’s work when Thorne’s style bore a heavy… Toth influence (here’s an example from 1957.) For comparison, here’s a pair of interior pages from Tomahawk no. 131‘s Hang Him High!

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Thanks to their production manager, Jack Adler, DC had the finest, most nuanced colouring in the field in the late 60s and early 70s.

Toth would, in (final) conversation with The Comics Journal publisher Gary Groth, in 1996, froth forth:

« I repeatedly warned Frank: “For Christ’s sake, get the hell away from Kubert. He’s not doing you any good. His influence on you is negative, not positive, so get the hell away from him and stop aping his style and stop putting on all that shit that you lived without for years. You did nice, clean, hard-lined stuff, and it’s been detrimental to your work.” He confessed: “Yes, Joe Kubert and his style are hard to resist.” So, yes he had the influence, and he liked it. Well, good luck. »

DC attempted an update of the character back in 1998. It wasn’t *atrocious*, but basically a rehash of Jeremiah Johnson with a sheen of ‘Magical Native American‘ sprinkles.

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Creeping Death” (1960)

« You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep. » — Navajo saying (attributed)

I’ve written before of my appreciation of Joe Gill‘s long-running yet consistent ‘good guy with an edge‘ characterization of Billy Bonney, but I had stuck to the book’s exteriors, namely Warren Sattler’s watercolour covers from the final stage of the series’ original run. I’ve also — twice! (first here, then there) drawn attention to John Severin (1921-2012) and his colossal powers as a cover artist. Today, at long last, we dare to peer inside.

Some may wonder at the up-to-date slickness of our current selection. Bear with me. Sure, it’s old, sure, it’s obscure, and the original comic book it saw print in is on the pricey side… but it’s work that’s found some resolute champions in the intervening sixty years.

After the Charlton comics line made the switch to a mostly-reprints mode (circa 1977-78), executive editor (and cartoonist) George Wildman, possibly nudged along by his colleague Bill Pearson, endeavoured to harvest some dusty gems from the vast archives at his disposal. In this case, six consecutive issues (nos. 124-129) of the long-running Billy the Kid were aimed squarely at the discerning fans with a bold ‘All Severin Art‘ label.

Fast forward to just a couple of years ago. As the nefarious, multifarious Mort Todd* tells it: « I had the extreme honor of working with John for many years as a writer, penciller and editor. When comics creator Bill Black told me he had a complete run of John’s work on Billy the Kid in the form of Charlton’s original photostats, we decided to recolor the work and release it in two volumes. Since the original artwork is lost to history, these photostats are the closest things to the originals to reproduce from. »

When I approached him, Mr. Todd most graciously granted me permission to showcase an excerpt from his restoration of Messrs Gill and Severin’s efforts. If you enjoy this one, do check out morttodd.com for more goodies!

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Why this particular story? Doesn’t it strike you as ever-so-slightly timely? We all could use a happy ending, though, in these times of contagion and racial strife.

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And here’s the original comic book in which Creeping Death appeared, namely Billy the Kid no. 20 (Jan. 1960, Charlton). Your basic “collage of interior panels” cover. Then again, with John Severin, you’re spoiled for choice… and you do get your dime’s worth.

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Not to be confused with the historical William Bonney, Charlton’s Billy was the legendary bad boy’s first cousin, and he aimed to redress the damage done to the family name by its all-too-infamous black sheep. Read it here! Written by Joe Gill, with art by Pete ‘PAM’ Morisi, this tale appeared in Billy the Kid no. 15 (Feb. 1959, Charlton).

You may have noticed that this Billy the Kid fella displays some awfully progressive attitudes for 1959… and, some might say, even for today. And if you surmised that the story’s writer, Joe Gill, was a card-carrying liberal, you’d be way off the mark. He was, after all, Steve Ditko‘s favourite collaborator**. Gill was, instead, a bonafide conservative, fair-minded, intellectually honest, prudent, sagacious. It would appear that with time and shifting meanings and mores, this once-thriving breed has been overwhelmed by today’s  reactionaries, who arguably went so far as to usurp and absorb its very name.

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An R.J. Reynolds ad from the back cover of Coronet no. 177 (July, 1951). Put that in your T-Zone and smoke it!

By way of contrast, and speaking of cowboys… Marion Morrison*** (1907-79), better known as “Popular, handsome Hollywood Star John Wayne“, despite his renown as a so-called Conservative Icon, was no conservative… he was just another reactionary. I mean, just consider *his* stance towards African-Americans (« I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and  positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people. ») or Native Americans

Meanwhile, Gill’s Billy the Kid, though thoroughly adept at quick marksmanship and fisticuffs, always sought to defuse conflict and avoid bloodshed through wits and compassion. His idea of paradise (just like his real-life cousin, come to think of it) was to head South of the border into México and hang loose among his amigos, who good-naturedly called him El Chivito.

-RG

*whose name basically means “Death Death” in French and German (albeit with an extra D); how cool is that?

**The comic book story/script writer? It doesn’t matter who follows the first. That first choice is Joe Gill.” — Mr. Ditko, from his preface to Steve Ditko’s 160-page Package no.3 (1999).

***And the likely inspiration for Shel Silverstein‘s story-song A Boy Named Sue, (popularized by Johnny Cash).

John Severin, ‘Super Comics’ Cover Man

« I got into the comic business the same way I got into the bubble gum business: somebody gave me a job. » — John Severin

I’ve said it before, and I still feel that way: If you’re going to discuss a career of such length, variety, depth and consistency as John Severin’s (from the late 1940s to the early 2010s!) it’s simply too easy to lose your way in the details, sidebars and bifurcations. Best to pick a small area and stick to it, particularly if you don’t have the luxury of endless pages to devote to the task.

Speaking of sidebars: In this forum, I keep returning to the topic of Israel Waldman and his dodgy, but mesmerizing publishing ventures. The many scattershot titles issued under the IW / Super Comics (1958-1964) banner were printed on shoddy paper (which makes them, nowadays, nearly impossible to find in any sort of decent shape), were sold outside the usual channels (in bags of three through department stores, and not the fancy ones at that), consisted of rather hoary, indifferently-packaged reprints… but foxy businessman Waldman didn’t scrimp on the one count that mattered: he shelled out top dollar to commission top talent to create attractive covers. That sweet old bait-and-switch.

Sure, some of these random assemblages of decaying pulp happen to be good comics, but given the nature of odds, it was bound to happen.

John Powers Severin, born ninety-seven years ago today (Dec. 26, 1921-Feb. 12, 2012), was part of Waldman’s cadre of cover artistes, and he delivered beautifully, as he always did, right to the end of his career.

Here, then, are some highlights of these little-seen Severin pieces. Happy birthday, Mr. Severin!

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Blazing Sixguns no. 16 (1964), ten issues, 1958-1964. Read this issue here.

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Here’s Danger no. 10 (1963), the first of  seven issues. Read it here.

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This is Fantastic Adventures no. 10 (the first of seven issues, 1963-64). Read it here.

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Looks like Marvel’s Kid Colt did a bit of moonlighting for Super Comics (as did king of all media Gabby Hayes!). This is Gunfighters no. 18, fifth and final issue of the series (1958-1964).

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This is Silver Kid Western no. 1 (1958), first of two issues. Read it here.

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This is Robin Hood no. 9 (1958),  third of five issues (1958-1964). Read it here.

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An alternative view of table étiquette from real-life figure Ben Thompson. This is The Westerner no. 17 (1964), third of three issues.

And if you’re hankering for more John Severin, check out our earlier post and/or this illuminating, life-spanning and definitive Comics Journal interview.

-RG

Warren Sattler’s Travels With El Chivito

« They’re drinkin’ red-eye, playin’ stud poker, and havin’ a high old time! I’ll just hang around awhile… »

In the mid-1970s, thanks to Pat Boyette’s connections in Texas, Charlton Publications found themselves able to affordably produce painted covers, a development that several members of their iconoclastic stable of artists took full and glorious advantage of. Tom Sutton, Don Newton and Boyette were naturals, but Warren Sattler often gets unfairly sidelined from that esteemed lot… perhaps because he rarely worked for Charlton’s ghost books. Each of his cover paintings was produced for the publisher’s western / martial art adventure series, Yang, House of Yang, and Billy the Kid. And he alone worked in that most unforgiving of media, watercolours, wherein, unlike oils or acrylics, one requires unerring confidence and dexterity if you’re aiming to come up with anything above a muddy mess.

Today, Mr. Sattler (born September 7, 1934, in Meriden, Connecticut, where he resides to this day) celebrates his eighty-fourth birthday. Let’s wish him all the best!

Over the years, I’ve become quite enthused with Charlton’s long-running Billy the Kid series (1957-1983!), which featured over the years the artwork of such luminaries as John Severin, Maurice WhitmanRocco “Rocke” MastroserioJosé Delbo and of course Mr. Sattler. As far as I know, Joe Gill just about wrote the entire series, which is one of its chief pleasures: over a hundred issues of consistent characterization of young Bill Bonney as a peace-loving, unprejudiced champion of the underdog whom his amigos in Old México fondly nicknamed « El Chivito ». I know, hardly the real-life Bill Bonney, but what could one expect under the Comics Code Authority‘s heavy thumb?

Several of Mr. Sattler’s cover paintings have, thank goodness, survived destruction. They have to be viewed in person to be fully appreciated. For the nonce, we’ll make do with mere digital reproductions.

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For his first painted comic book cover (or second, Yang no. 7 appeared that same month), I believe Mr. Sattler got the proportions slightly wrong, so the cover art was cropped fairly tight horizontally, which still made for a striking, action-packed cover, but since we’ve got the original…

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Two Billy adventures appear in this one: the cover-featured “The Good Life” and “The Spoilers!”

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This one was featured as the cover of Billy the Kid no. 114 (Oct. 1975), illustrating Gill and Sattler’s “Killers in the Shadows!”

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I’m sure Billy would be admiring the lovely light of dusk if he wasn’t being ambushed. Such a splendid and unusual (for comics) palette!

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The printed version of this painting, which appeared on the cover of Billy the Kid no. 116 (Feb. 1976), lost quite a bit of its subtlety in translation, so I’m happy to show you the original. I love that bit of yellow in the clouds, echoed in the bushwhacker’s shirt. For the first time, a solo Sattler Billy the Kid tale, “The Treasure”.

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Beautiful composition, and an effective and economical way to convey height and distance. Note the cattle horns in the artist’s signature.

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This one’s mood and palette bring to mind the work of Doug Wildey. A good thing, you understand. Excellent use of the « dry brush » technique for texture.

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After several issues’ absence from the insides, Mr. Sattler reunites with Joe Gill on “Three for the Money!”

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One final painted cover before Charlton rode off into the sunset…. for the first time.

 

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Mr. Sattler, a true prince of a man, created this piece especially for me a few years ago… without any request on my part! But you can bet I’ll always be grateful for this touching act of generosity and kindness.

As El Chivito’s many friends across the border would surely say, « ¡Que cumplas muchos más! », and thanks for everything!

-RG

Pat Boyette — Hillbilly Makes Good*

« That young fella must be the college kid who’s going to work for my paper! Those two prairie wolves will pick him clean… it’ll be an excellent lesson to him, I reckon! » — Max Cogswell, editor-publisher of The Boothill Gazette

Today marks what would have been the ninety-fifth birthday of suave Texan Renaissance man Aaron P. “Pat” Boyette (July 27, 1923 – January 14, 2000). The Golden-voiced Mr. Boyette was in turn actor, radio announcer, cinematic auteur and of course a far-beyond-fine painter and cartoonist. Ah, and if anything could speak more eloquently of his worth as a human being, he was best man at Gus Arriola‘s wedding.

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Didn’t I say he was suave?

Now, I could have focussed on any number of his remarkable projects: his 1966-67 run on The Peacemaker (« A man who loves peace so much that he is willing to fight for it! »), his tour-de-force fill-ins on DC’s Blackhawk (issues 242-43, from 1968), his lavishly-detailed work for Warren Magazines (1968-72), his brilliant, but admittedly controversial, run on The Phantom at Charlton (1970-73), his far-better-than-its-source adaptation of Hanna Barbera’s Korg 70,000 B.C., his intense The Tarantula for Atlas-Seaboard (with Michael Fleisher, 1975), his fun revival of Spencer Spook for ACE Comics in the 1980s, or any of his moody work for Charlton’s ghostly anthologies… but I won’t, at least not this time.

Instead, if you’ll bear with me, we’ll take a gander at a fine, fine backup series he co-created with Joe Gill for the pages of Charlton’s long-running Billy the Kid. Mr. Young of the Boothill Gazette (BTK 88, Dec. 1971, to BTK 110, Dec. 1974). Abel Young, bereft of sharp-shooting or pugilistic skills, is a true hero: a fool, an idealist, a stubborn cuss who acts nobly even when he’s scared spitless. His is a charming strip, full of graceful humour and humanity.

Here, then, is my selection: the series’ thirteenth episode, originally published in Billy the Kid no. 100 (March, 1973, Charlton).

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Happy birthday, Mr. Boyette. The world needs more gentlemen of your ilk.

-RG

*so proclaimed the headline of a Boyette profile published in Creepy no. 33 (June 1970, Warren).

Jonah Hex’s Bumpy Friday the Thirteenth

« Whut in the ding-dong? »

Jonah Hex originators John Albano (1922-2205) and Tony DeZuniga (1941-2012) take the piss out of their boy in a little tale that was, according to Paul Levitz, intended for a (self) parody title provisionally titled Zany (having cycled through the tentative monikers Black Humor and Weird Humor), and that never saw the light of day… This feature was the only one completed for the abortive endeavour, and it saw print in the Plop!-themed issue of The Amazing World of DC Comics (October, 1976), its thirteenth, of course. Incidentally, Plop’s own cancellation was announced in that very issue of AWODCC. Bummer.

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Why, yes… now that you mention it, an ice-cold root beer *would* be nice.

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« Lying out in the ‘dessert‘ », Jonah? That was either a root-beer float mirage or a careless letterer’s oversight.

I would be earning myself a sound flogging if I didn’t share Sergio Aragonés‘ adroitly-done cover, so here it is.

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-RG

Unexpected Delights: John Severin, 1971-72

« And you always get your finger in the frame* »

I’m inordinately fond of Marvel’s brief flirtation with “picture frame” covers, which lasted but a year, opening with books cover-dated November 1971, at the tail end of Stan Lee’s run as editor-in-chief, and fading away less than a year later during Roy Thomas’ tenure. Figures.

This period coincided with one of John Severin’s passages at Marvel. At the time, the self-proclaimed « House of Ideas » was endeavouring to flood the market with crap, aiming to force DC to overextend itself to retain its market share, and, reportedly, to drive Gold Key out of business. So Marvel let loose a torrent of unannounced and unnecessary reprints, at most commissioning new covers to sell the bill of goods.

Tactically, it was a tawdry page out of the infamous Israel Waldman* book: in the late 1950s to mid-60s, the canny cheapjack publisher issued a line of comics (IW/Super) reprinting material he owned and often didn’t, in the case of some of the more nebulous copyrights (namely Quality’s The Spirit, Doll Man and Plastic Man)… accidentally on purpose. Anyhow, Waldman paid a few handpicked freelancers top dollar (to get his money’s worth… I did say he was canny) to create enticing new covers to adorn his shoddy reprint rags. And I do mean rags: the paper stock used was even worse than the low industry standard… just try to find any IW comic book in decent shape nowadays!

Among the cover artists Waldman recruited were the Ross Andru / Mike Esposito team, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Jack Abel… and John Severin.

But getting back to 1971-72, here’s a chronological and alphabetical sampling of my favourite Severin turd-polishing covers from Marvel’s brief « picture frame » flirtation, out of the 35 or so he created solo at the time. Several of these are refreshingly uncluttered and moody… for Marvel.

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Someone at Marvel loved to rip-off the 1967 Lee Marvin-led epic “The Dirty Dozen“; probably Gary Friedrich. The very next month, the Deadly Dozen would team up with another Irishman stereotype to form “Combat Kelly and The Deadly Dozen”, I kid you not. Oh, and a diverse cast in a Marvel war comic? Oh, right, they’re ex-convicts… and they get slaughtered in the last issue. Oops.

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Ah, Severin’s Rawhide Kid. Don’t miss Severin and writer Ron Zimmerman’s brilliant and daring 2003 reboot of the Kid, “Slap Leather”.

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*Del Amitri, “In the Frame” (1995)

**all about Marvel’s “picture frame” era: https://www.cbr.com/marvel-comics-picture-frame-cover-era/

***The gory details on the IW/Super story: http://toonopedia.com/iw-super.htm

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 18

« Sorry fella! But yuh fergot tuh git yore ticket punched! »

In the early 1970s, despite the western genre’s waning prospects in comics, DC found itself with a surprise hit in John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga‘s antihero Jonah Hex, thanks to a healthy infusion of grit and spaghetti sauce. The battle-scarred Civil War veteran first reared his memorably homely puss in All-Star Western no. 10 (Feb.–Mar. 1972), which soon changed its title to Weird Western Tales with issue 12 to better accommodate its new star.

WWT’s reliably great covers probably didn’t hurt sales. Most of them were the work of Argentine Luis Dominguez, in tandem with the all-star design team of publisher Carmine Infantino, art director Nick Cardy and production manager / colourist Jack Adler. These covers all possess that elusive allure of « Mysterioso », as Infantino termed it.

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This is Weird Western no. 25 (Nov.-Dec. 1974), featuring Showdown with the Dangling Man. Script by Michael Fleisher, art by Noly Panaligan.

– RG