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

Philosophy From the Foxholes: Bill Mauldin

« Wherever despotism abounds, the sources of public information are the first to be brought under its control. Where ever the cause of liberty is making its way, one of its highest accomplishments is the guarantee of the freedom of the press. » — Calvin Coolidge

Ah, the pitfalls of anchoring yourself to the news cycle: given the shocking news, last week, of the impending, unjustified closure of one of the greatest American journalistic institutions, the independent military daily newspaper The Stars and Stripes (founded in 1861!). I was all set to cobble together a series of posts showcasing the work of S&S’s greatest cartoonists, but then the massively unpopular decision was just as abruptly reversed. For now.

So I’ll stick to one post for the nonce (Shel and Tom will have to wait) and feature one of history’s greatest soldier cartoonists, William Henry “Bill” Mauldin (1921-2003), twice recipient of the Pulitzer Prize (1945, 1958), the Legion of Merit… and a host of other distinctions, both military and civilian.

Our baby-faced artist photographed during WWII.

With but a single exception, the following are samples from his essential Up Front collection (1945), which Mauldin humbly opens with: « My business is drawing, not writing, an this text is pretty much background for the drawings. »

But such a background! Mauldin is, naturally, funny and insightful, but there’s much to learn therein, not merely about men in war, but just about everything under the sun. While so many nowadays mix up freedom and privilege, it’s good to be gently reminded of the high price of both.

« Until some intelligent brass hat repaired a big brewery in Naples and started to send beer to Anzio, the boys at the beach-head were fixing up their own distilleries with barrels of dug-up vino, gasoline cans, and copper tubing from wrecked airplanes. The result was a fiery stuff which the Italians called grappa. The doggies called it ‘Kickapoo Joy Juice’, and took the name from the popular ‘Li’l Abner’ comic strip which Stars and Stripes printed daily. It wasn’t bad stuff when you cut it with canned grapefruit juice. »
Mauldin’s biographer, Todd DePastino, wrote, in his Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front: « First published on October 13, 1944, this cartoon made the 23-year-old Bill Mauldin the youngest Pulitzer Prize winner in history. Both he and his editors at Stars and Stripes were astonished by the selection, which did not seem to them particularly noteworthy. »

For a deeper dive into Mauldin’s war through the eyes of his ragged infantrymen, scrounge yourself a copy of Fantagraphics’ glorious Willie & Joe: The WWII Years (2008).

In closing, shall we hear from another president?

« I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that. » — Donald J. Trump

-RG

Barracks Life With Le Sergent Laterreur

« Le sergent Laterreur resembles no-one. It’s impossible for anyone to be so ignoble, so sinister, so cruel. One feels that the two poor bastards that created him are exacting their revenge for all the humiliations suffered at the hands of the strong. One wouldn’t have been surprised to discover that the authors of Sergent Laterreur were Jewish, Black, Irish or Czech. They’re Belgian. » — Georges Wolinski

“Le Sergent Laterreur” is a strip that ran in the fabled bédé weekly Pilote from February 1971 to December 1973.

This vitriolic lampoon of military life (no Beetle Bailey this) was the brainchild of Belgians Touïs ( Vivian Miessen, b. 1940) and Gérald Frydman (b. 1942).

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Pilote no. 590 (February 21, 1971, Dargaud), the Sergent’s third appearance in the magazine and his first (of two) on the cover.

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Episode 4: Flower Power

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Episode 15: « Et tu retourneras les poussières ». The Sergent’s immortal maxim: « Don’t forget that dirt is our worst enemy! »

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Episode 80: Les mots historiques. Laterreur thought the enemy was bluffing.

Miessen produced a few more comics during the 70s, and made a notable comeback contribution to L’Association‘s massive anthology Comix 2000, but he chiefly worked in animation. Frydman mostly pursued projects in photography and film, directing several short subjects.

Laterreur’s full effect is best experienced in massive doses, and L’Association, fully cognizant of that fact, issued a splendid Le Sergent Laterreur omnibus in 2006. An obscure creation, it remains obscure, but at least it’s available if you seek it out.

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Episode 85: Du gâteau. A fitting way for a dotty old general to blow out his birthday candles.

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The finale, Episode 108: Tapage nocturne. Now you know how it goes down, so to speak.

Fun factoid: The strip’s name presumably comes from the French title of a USA “boot camp” Korean War propaganda film from 1953, “Take the High Ground!“, directed by Richard Brooks. and starring Richard Widmark and Karl Malden.

– RG

Dateline: Frontline – The Cary Burkett Interview, Part 3

« From time to time a sputtering doodle-bug shatters the torpor of the overcast sky. One second, sometimes two … at most three … of silence. Visualizing that fat cigar with shark fins as it stops dead, sways, idiotically tips over, then goes into a vertical dive. And explodes. Usually it’s an entire building that’s destroyed. » — Jacques Yonnet

Perhaps the title gave the game away, but we’re back with part three to wrap up (in style!) our talk with Cary Burkett on his and Jerry Grandenetti‘s (and Ric Estrada‘s) Dateline: Frontline (1977-1981).

Who’s Out There: How hands-on an editor was Paul Levitz?

CB: Paul was more hands-on at the beginning. We would have a plot conference and he would toss out suggestions and sometimes specific directions. But Paul was a very smart guy, and he had a way of figuring out how to best to work with individual writers. With me, it usually worked better to plant a seed and let it develop rather than to nail things down too tightly. I didn’t think fast in a plot conference setting, I was too intimidated by Paul’s creativity and confidence. I think Paul figured this out and found ways to drop a little guidance in that I could take time to mull over on my own.

Paul was also extremely busy, not just an Editor but the Editorial Coordinator for the whole line of DC comics, and that is a whopping responsibility. So as things progressed, he was less hands-on. I like to think he began to trust the material I was giving him.

WOT: Was there much distance between the précis Mr. Levitz assigned you to do and the scenario you handed in?

CBI don’t think so.

WOT: Dateline: Frontline is clearly a bit of a ‘pill in the hamburger’, that is to say, instructive, eye-opening material. Was this ‘Trojan Horse’ approach considered and deliberate? (Surely it wasn’t just intended as pure entertainment!)

CBIn a way, it was deliberate, although not carefully considered or planned out. The trajectory was set by Paul when he passed on to me the book The First Casualty as background guidance. The tone of that book and all the eye-opening material in it definitely influenced the approach to the series. The very idea that the main character would be a war correspondent, not a soldier or fighter, meant that these stories would have a different kind of focus. That concept came from Paul, along with the title of the series.

Of course, in comics, you could do a series with a war correspondent where the protagonist becomes a fighter, a behind-the-lines de-facto special forces soldier. If this had been a Jack Kirby strip in the ‘60’s, the correspondent would probably be thrown into situations every issue where he had to fight his way out to save threatened soldiers from some Nazi ambush. You know what I mean.

So we knew we weren’t going for pure entertainment, sure. And the more research I did, the more interested I became in the reality of what happened in the war, and the more I wanted to portray that. And since it was just a 6-page, irregular backup series, we could go in that direction.

WOT: If you were to write this series today, what, if anything, would you do differently? What effect might the intervening years and the current political climate have, for instance?

CBToo much to think about. But I will say this, I think to try to tie the series to any current political issue would tend to push it into something contrived to fit the agenda. In a way, then, it would become a kind of political propaganda, the very opposite of what the series grapples with.

That’s part of why I wasn’t so interested in setting it during the Vietnam War back in 1976 or ’77. Today, it could be put in that setting without triggering a firestorm of controversy which might drown out what the series is trying to show.

My point is that the issue of seeking truth in a time of war is not limited to any time or place. By attaching the theme to a current political hot button issue, it becomes weaker, not stronger. It becomes more limited, not broader. And it’s more difficult to hear.

My preference would be to see the series deal with the questions outside of the current political setting, and hopefully along the way to see in some way how they apply today.

Maybe that is the ‘Trojan Horse’ method you mentioned.

WOT: I’d say you nailed it.

WOT: Were you writing and planning much in advance? Are there any contemplated, but unpublished, plotlines you’d care to share?

CBI wasn’t planning specifically very far in advance. I was never sure which set of stories might be the last. But I had a vague outline in my head that I would progress through the major events of the war, choosing specific ones for Clifford to be present reporting. They would be chosen for their historical significance but also to advance general themes of the conflict between reporting the truth and trying to win a World War.

The final series of stories, I think, would have been centered on events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and somehow Clifford would have found a way to write a story about it which revealed some of the horrible details … which of course, would never have seen the light of day. Even now, thinking about this, some lines of dialogue closing out the series kind of come to my mind.

I see Clifford, exhausted and disappointed, having given his all to get this incredible story, bitter and at the breaking point. Like it happens to all of us sometimes, the fact that he can’t publish this story seems to him to be an event that sums up his whole life as a failure. He questions why he made such a herculean effort to get the story, why he ever even bothered to try. All his previous failures to get the truth out come back to accuse him.

Maybe it’s his old mentor, the older reporter who tried to ground him a few times, who has the last word. And those words would be about the truth, and the value of searching for it no matter the outcome. And that the truth itself will stand even if only one person knows it. And the old reporter, cynical as he might have seemed at times, would be shown to have his own ideals which have sustained him through the same battles that Clifford has fought.

Yeah, maybe it sounds a bit corny out of the context of the story. But I think I’d go there. I might even have the old reporter say something like, “Truth may seem to be the first casualty in a war. But Truth can never really die, right? Someday people will know the truth about what happened.”

HA! I never expected a story idea for Dateline:Frontline would pop into my head like that after all these years. Seems like this would be a good closing question for this interview. I appreciate you bringing it up, and thanks for giving me a chance to reminisce.

WOT: And thank you for doing it so thoughtfully and graciously.

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And now, to see our readers off with a story, here, as promised last time, is the concluding episode of Dateline:Frontline’s London trilogy.

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And as a parting bonus, a vintage in-house biography of young Mr. Burkett!

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-RG

Dateline: Frontline – The Cary Burkett Interview, Part 2

« A reader has the right to ask for all the facts; he has no right to ask that a journalist or historian agree with him. » — Herbert Matthews

And we’re back with part two of our examination of Cary Burkett and Jerry Grandenetti‘s Dateline: Frontline (we’re not forgetting the famously-ambidextrous Ric Estrada, who took over illustrative duties in the second half of the series). In part one, Mr. Burkett graciously opened for us a window on the series’ genesis. In light of these privileged behind-the-scenes gleanings, as well as a reading of the series’ springboard text, Phillip Knightley’s The First Casualty, I formulated  a series of follow-up questions, of which we present the first half, along, of course, with Mr. Burkett’s insightful and modest responses, followed by chapter 2 of the first D:F trilogy.

Who’s Out There: Was there much deliberation on your part regarding the specific setting of the series?

Cary Burkett: I vaguely recall that in an early meeting with Paul Levitz we mentioned the possibility of setting the series during the Vietnam war. Or rather, I think he may have mentioned it. But I never had any interest in that from the beginning. That war was too close at the time, and I didn’t think I could do it. Research was a lot harder to do in those days, and I was too green as a writer to want to tackle that controversy.

If my memory is right, I think he left it up to me, and I very quickly settled on the World War II setting. There were a lot of reasons in my mind for that, including the wealth of research material available.

But the biggest thing was the fact that the U.S. started out as “neutral” in that war. I felt a story arc right away of a young reporter who began as a “neutral” observer, wanting to be an objective journalist, but over a series of events finding himself unable to keep from being drawn in and taking sides, despite his proclaimed neutrality.

At the time I didn’t know how long the series might last, but it was my intention to gradually move Wayne Clifford from a naïve journalist with laudable ideals into a conflicted character grappling with the very gray areas of war reporting and the messy questions of patriotism and propaganda.

WOT: In writing the series, did you ever find yourself at odds with the, er, ‘official record‘ of history?

CBI wouldn’t say that exactly. The truth is, I had only a sketchy knowledge of World War II history, and little idea of what the “official record” said. So I set about to educate myself.

One really good current documentary at the time was The World at War narrated by Laurence Olivier. I watched a number of episodes of that. What I realized from watching it was how much the history I had heard and read was centered on how the U.S. and England had won the war. This documentary was one of the first western pieces which really pointed out the importance of the Russian contribution.

That led me to other research and made me want to do a series of stories set in Russia. Of course, the insane difficulties of trying to report the truth during a war in the middle of Russia appealed vastly to me and provided a lot of opportunities for conflict on a lot of levels. I felt I barely scratched the surface in those Russia stories.

One thing about doing research; you start to get interested in all the little details. You want to include much more than you really can. You have to be careful to let the story reveal the details when it is important to the story, but not to let the research itself become the story.

I struggled with that in writing those Russia stories, because much of what I was finding out was really eye-opening to me. What I knew about the war in Russia I had learned mainly from watching Hogan’s Heroes. In that TV comedy, the Nazis all feared being sent to the Russian front, so you knew it was cold and terrible. But that’s about all I knew.

When I began to read about the scope of the tragedy and brutality of the war in Russia, I wanted to bring the reality of it into my stories. I wanted to shove it all in somehow. But my stories were a mere 6 pages long in each issue, so I had to just try to give little glimpses that implied a lot more.

Stephen King’s advice to writers is to “kill your darlings”, that is, to get rid of your pet favorite bits so they don’t bog down the story. Those Russia stories were ones where I felt I had to keep killing those “darlings” over and over.

WOT: Was there any friction with DC’s brass, or was the series too far under the radar for them to notice? If so, did that allow you more leeway?

CBWe were definitely way under the radar, but I don’t think that the stories would have caused any stir even if they had been noticed. I don’t think there was anything subversive or strongly controversial about them. They were different from the usual comic book war stories, but not in a way that would cause any issues.

The lead stories of the books featured Gravedigger, or later, The Unknown Soldier. These were the stories that were there to sell the book, and these would have gotten more scrutiny. They were the typical action-oriented comic book war stories, sometimes just a step away from fantasy. Sometimes not even a step.

With a long-running lead character in a war series, you have to be a bit looser with timelines in the war. I suppose it’s a convention of the genre that the character might pop up in Okinawa in one story, then many issues later have a story related to D-Day, even though D-Day would have happened well before Okinawa.

Maybe it’s because the main character was a journalist who was dedicated to getting the facts right, but I decided that my timeline was going to be accurate. The series would start with the U.S. as a neutral country, and we would later see the USA join the war, and all of the historical events would follow in the order they occurred.

WOT: Was the rotation of backup features decided from the start? Was it some sort of commercial compromise?

CBI don’t really know. I think the idea was mainly to have variety in the backups. It was a common template for older DC titles like Action Comics or Adventure Comics in the ‘60’s. One issue would have a Green Arrow backup, the next maybe Aquaman.

My own speculation is that as an editor, Paul was drawn to that kind of setup, and felt it gave the reader a little something extra. That’s just my own thought, he never told me that. But I know he was a comics fan, and I think he was glad to have a place where Enemy Ace could still fly through the pages of a DC Comic.

WOT: Given the wealth of material you dug up in the course of your research, it must have required considerable effort of concision to craft such spare chapters. Did you go through a lot of drafts?

I did struggle to find ways to get my stories into the six-page frame and did quite a few re-writes, trying to balance the pace so the story didn’t seem rushed but also had enough meat.

There were compromises, for sure. In what I considered to be one of the key stories, Clifford, still a neutral reporter, takes a rifle and kills an Axis soldier attempting to kill his English friend. I had been leading up to this decision since the beginning of the series. Here he is forced to admit that he is neither neutral nor objective as he thinks of himself.  I would have loved to have had a bit more room to let that sequence play out with more significance.

No doubt, I could have done a better job even in the space I had. In the end, I felt that it came out a bit weak and contrived.

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Now, let’s rejoin Wayne Clifford and his buddy Ed Barnes, who were, when we saw them last, off to the pub…

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That’s it for now! Stay tuned for the conclusion of our talk with Cary Burkett, along with part three of Dateline:Frontline’s London trilogy.

-RG

Dateline: Frontline – The Cary Burkett Interview, Part 1

« All studies of propaganda tell what a powerful weapon it is; that since armies fight as people think, it is essential to control that thought. This means some form of managing the news, and the only question is the degree to which the news should be managed openly and the degree to which it should be managed subtly. » ― Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-maker from the Crimea to Vietnam

In most collectors’ lives, there’s a degree of more casual, automatic accumulation. Things you pick up for a song, just because the opportunity arises, and that you file away, planning half-heartedly to look them over when you find the time. As a devoted Jerry Grandenetti fan, I always pick up his work… but I favour some genres over others. Mr. G has crafted, for instance, a lot of war comics for DC over the years (1952-1984!), most of which I haven’t seen. For me, it’s always been about his horror/mystery work. So… I had picked up, somewhere along the line, a consecutive pair of issues of DC’s Men of War (26 issues, 1977-80), numbers 9 and 10, featuring the first two parts of a Dateline: Frontline backup sequence, « Bathtub Blues » and « Glory Soldier ». I was very, very impressed.

Now, most of DC’s war books were scripted by a small cadre of authors, namely the indefatigable Robert Kanigher, as well as Bob Haney, Ed Herron, Jack Miller… but mostly Kanigher. In the Seventies, things changed a bit, with solid help and variety coming from Frank Robbins and David Michelinie on The Unknown Soldier, for instance. I had encountered Cary Burkett’s name here and there, being a regular reader of Batman titles The Brave and the Bold and Detective Comics, where he scripted backups (Nemesis, Batgirl) and the occasional lead feature. But this was… different. Hard-hitting, quite free from convention, and damn well buried in the back of a second-tier war book.

I hunted down the rest of the D:F series, and my initial impression did not fade… quite the contrary, indeed. The third serial (MoW 21-23), set on the Russian front, actually brought some tears to my eyes. Why was this feature so little-known? Oh, I know… the usual reasons. But I wanted to find out more, and the next logical step was to reach out to the series’ surviving author, who was happy to oblige, to my delight. And so here we are. The stage is yours, Mr. Burkett.

Dateline: Frontline recollections, by Cary Burkett

« Paul Levitz was editor of a new war comic called ‘Men of War‘ featuring a character called ‘Gravedigger’.  He wanted to have backup stories in each issue, and he came up with the title ‘Dateline: Frontline‘ and the idea that it would feature a war correspondent as the main character. I was working as his assistant at the time (1976), and he asked me to do a series of 3 six-page stories.

He pointed me toward a book called ‘The First Casualty‘ by Philip Knightley. The title was inspired by a famous quote ‘The first casualty when war comes, is truth‘.  The book was a history of war correspondents from early days of reporting through the Vietnam War. It became a basis for the new comic series in terms of setting up the inner dilemma of the main character, which was how to report ‘the truth’ in time of war.

I chose to set the series in World War II and named the main character Wayne Clifford. My idea was that he would begin his career as a war correspondent being very idealistic and naïve. Over the series of stories, he would come face to face with wartime situations which challenged his assumptions about news reporting, war, ‘truth’ and about himself.

That, in a nutshell, was the core of the series.  I chose to set the narration in first person, which I guess is pretty much the standard in comics now, but was not common then.

After the first 3 stories, Paul asked me to continue the series. But we kept the idea that the series would be done in groups of 3 related stories.

I did a lot of research to depict true, historic wartime settings which I hoped would show more aspects of war than to just have the hero ‘fight the enemy’ and stop the Führer’s latest grand plan.

Paul had gotten Jerry Grandenetti to be the artist on the series from the very beginning. I admit, when I first heard this, it didn’t thrill me. I was not that familiar with Grandenetti’s work, but I had seen a few stories he had done and had been put off a bit by his strange, exaggerated style.

But when I saw his art for my first DF story, I realized why he was such a respected artist. His expressionistic kind of style emphasized certain qualities that gave a distinctive mood to the story.

But what I felt the most strongly was that Grandenetti understood how to make the story flow. If you could let yourself be drawn into the visual universe he created, it would come alive. The sequences of images he created would merge into one storytelling stream.

I didn’t know at the time that Grandenetti had worked on The Spirit with Will Eisner, but that strong storytelling aspect of his art was what I responded to most when I saw Jerry’s work on my stories.

My Dateline:Frontline stories were done ‘full-script’, meaning I wrote out full panel-by-panel breakdowns for the artist to follow. And I could see how Jerry would take my panel descriptions and make them flow into each other. If I was going for a specific kind of pace or mood with a sequence, Jerry immediately knew what I was after, and knew how to emphasize it visually.

I worked with very few artists who had Jerry’s instinctive grasp of this and his skill for executing it. »

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Each Dateline: Frontline episode was conceived to stand on its own, but be part of a larger trilogy. This London entry, the series’ introduction, appeared in Men of War No. 4 (Jan. 1978). In part two of our talk with Cary Burkett, we’ll feature the second London chapter, « Human Interest Story » and our guest will generously answer some of WOT’s questions.

Incidentally, but not coincidentally, one hundred years ago today, on the 11th  of November, 1918, the Armistice of Compiègne was signed, formally ending the First World War. The event is commemorated each November 11 as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day.

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This eloquent little tag appeared at the end of DC’s war stories, at least those edited by Joe Kubert, in the early 1970s.

Continue to Part 2 of the Cary Burkett interview.

-RG

Russ Heath and The War That Time Forgot

« Look! An undersea monster!
Spearing that torpedo like it
was a sardine! It’s a nightmare! »

Writer-editor Bob Kanigher, flanked by artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, drew first blood in « The War that Time Forgot », chronicled in DC’s Star Spangled War Stories beginning with issue 90 (May, 1960). The idea was scarily basic, but it was an irresistible premise, at least where young boys were concerned: let’s face it… soldiers vs dinosaurs. How might a T-Rex fare against a bazooka charge? Well…

The only time the series (what I’ve read of it… Andru and Esposito are no dream team of mine) did anything for me was a tale about two soldiers, one American and the other Japanese, stranded together on « Monster Island » and having to save each other’s sashimi. And this was before Lee and Toshirô got together on their own little slice of Hell in the Pacific, yet! I enjoyed the human interest aspect of the tale.

While I, like pretty much any other kid, was fascinated by dinosaurs early on, I quickly soured on inaccurate and fanciful depictions of the beasts. The War That Time Forgot is just one long, tedious dino-butchering exercise, be they harmless herbivores or kill-frenzied carnivores. Piss-poor palaeontology, that. Give me King Kirby‘s Devil Dinosaur any old time instead: that series runneth over with surreal, freewheeling fun, with nary a claim to accuracy in sight or in mind.

Ahem. The WTTF ran its course in SSWS until issue 137 (February-March, 1968), and was replaced by the far more nuanced Enemy Ace by Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Their all-time high, arguably in the case of Kubert, and without the faintest shadow of a doubt in Kanigher’s case.

So why am I writing about this series if I care so little about it? Well, when Andru (meh) or Kubert (great, true to form) weren’t handling cover duties, Russ Heath was. And while I’m fairly unmoved by Heath’s skill as a storyteller (too static, too measured), he was a first-rate cover artist, most strikingly for DC’s 1960s war books (and hey, Sea Devils) and Atlas’ 1950s westerns and horror titles.

So, in fond remembrance of Mr. Heath, who left us last week at the age of ninety-one, here’s a gallery of his Star Spangled War Stories covers featuring The War That Time Forgot. Thank you, sir.

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Star Spangled War Stories no. 122 (Aug. – Sept. 1965). Grey toning and colour by Jack Adler.

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Star Spangled War Stories no. 123 (Oct. – Nov. 1965). Dinosaurs love those orange skies, which set off their scales to fine advantage.

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Star Spangled War Stories no. 130 (Dec. 1966 – Jan. 1967). The first Japanese-American “Enemy Mine” team-up, but the Japanese guy gets no redemption before dying. Grey toning and colour by Jack Adler… probably my favourite cover of the lot.

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The Bird-Man provides a new wrinkle to bloodthirsty war criminal Curtis LeMay‘s « Bomb them back to the Stone Age » pronouncement. Star Spangled War Stories no. 131 (Feb. – Mar. 1967).

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Star Spangled War Stories no. 132 (Apr. -May 1967).

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Star Spangled War Stories no. 133 (June – July 1967).

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Star Spangled War Stories no. 134 (Aug. -Sept. 1967). Once more, grey toning and colour by the indispensable Mr. Adler.

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Star Spangled War Stories no. 135 (Oct. – Nov. 1967).

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Last call! Star Spangled War Stories no. 137 (Feb. -Mar. 1968).

Addendum to SSWS 131: apparently, « Bird-Man » started a trend, as everyone and his distant ancestor soon was riding a Pteranodon of his own. To wit: Tomahawk #109 (Mar. – Apr. 1967… just a month later).

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What do dinosaurs care about the American Revolutionary War? And yet the poor, noble Pteranodons all perish in the end… « for the cause » . Tomahawk no. 109 (March-April 1967), cover art by Bob Brown.

-RG

Treasured Stories: “The Organist and the SS” (1972)

« They were bitter, war-weary men and the old woman’s music was comforting — perhaps too comforting… »

Writer and occasional penciller William ‘Willi’ Franz (born 1950) broke into the comics industry at the tender age of 15, selling his first script to Charlton editor Dick Giordano in 1966.

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Will Franz, September 1971. A photo « …taken at the Manhattan insurance company where I worked as an accounting technician. My wall is covered with cartoons I made of various office friends and personnel. » Source: Will Franz and Charlton Spotlight.

While best known for his fruitful collaborations with his mentor, the great Sam Glanzman (1924-2017), namely The Iron Corporal, The Devil’s Brigade and most enduringly The Lonely War of Willy Schultz, Franz also scattered a few gems that the light has mostly missed.

My favourite among these has to be his final story for Charlton, The Organist and the SS, published in Attack no. 8 (Nov. 1972). Franz’s bleak, nuanced and markedly pacifist tales had drawn the military’s ire, back in the late ’60s, and this somber little piece of doom might have, too, if anyone had been paying attention.

As Franz recalls in a 2015 interview with Richard Arndt, published in Charlton Spotlight no. 9 (Winter-Spring 2015-2016):

« I was told that a lot of Charlton sales were on military bases. They were a staple on Army bases. I, and my stories, were dropped in 1969, out of the blue. Things were heating up in Vietnam.

I was blacklisted at Charlton because a guy had put my name and stories down as one of the reasons he registered as a conscientious objector. I found out other people were throwing my name around. Someone in the army apparently said that my stuff, maybe like [Archie] Goodwin’s stuff, was too blood and guts. It was going to make soldiers *not* want to kill the gooks. The army can’t have that! »

Well, evidently Charlton (presumably managing editor George Wildman, bless his heart) let Will sneak back into the fold, if briefly, after the heat was off, otherwise I’d be writing about some other topic entirely.

Without further preamble, please savour this pitch-black, existentialist play of war and death, but mind the thorns.

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Will’s layout for the opening splash of our story. It’s always a treat to see what liberties the illustrator takes… or doesn’t.

This issue is chock-full of arrivals and departures: it opens with a story from new recruit Warren Sattler, trying his hand at a few short mystery and war stories before he found his niche in excellent collaborations with Joe Gill on Billy the Kid and Yang; next up is Jack Keller, who was winding up his comics career, what with Charlton’s remaining pair of hot rod books, Drag ‘n’ Wheels and Hot Rods and Racing Cars, soon to be scrapped. He would move, appropriately enough, to making a living selling cars. Finally, Argentine ace Leo Duranoña (b. 1938) was just passing through Charlton, crafting a handful of finely-hewn tales before moving on to DC and Warren… among others.

-RG