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, at 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 disagree, 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

Behind the Scenes, Back in the Day

« Television is like the invention of indoor plumbing. It didn’t change people’s habits. It just kept them inside the house. » — Alfred Hitchcock

A little while back, I chanced upon a handsome, lavishly-illustrated brochure (undated, but from 1976 or so) promoting the services of a Montréal television production company, which leads into this little history lesson.

JPL Productions Inc. was a subsidiary of Télé-Métropole*, Canada’s first private French-language television network. In 1965, France-Film president and Télé-Métropole founder Joseph-Alexandre DeSève sagely ensconced political cartoonist, illustrator, art director, television director, watercolourist… and even co-star of a timeless, Oscar-winning Norman McLaren short film, Jean-Paul Ladouceur (1921-1992) at the head of the newly-constituted ad production arm of his television operation. This was an era in which you might actually find bonafide creatives in positions of influence, before the age of financial ‘diversification’ and conglomerates** unleashed its full toxic bloom and creatives were henceforth sidelined and supplanted by bean counters.

Over time, JPL expanded the scope and range of its activities. I hardly need to go into details: that is precisely this publication’s purpose.

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The front cover. All artwork (uncredited… for shame!) by Bernard Groz.
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JPL himself provides the introduction: « To tell you about us, to speak of our people, our accomplishments, our equipment, we told ourselves: “it can’t be done without images”. And so, this illustrated brochure. JPL Productions Inc. is a subsidiary of Télé-Métropole Inc., the largest private enterprise television station in America. We produce advertisements, documentaries, industrial films, feature films, slideshows, soundtracks, printed matter, soundtracks, etc.. We hope that the following pages will give you a sense of the scope of our business. Our illustrator could not include each member of our personnel in his drawings. He had to leave out 250 of them. When we speak of ourselves, we say that we are producers, designers, publicists, advertisers, creators, communicators, propagandists, persuaders, as well as a whole range of ‘-lists’ and ‘-ers’. Without doubt and without false pride we are right. But we… prefer to think of ourselves, first and foremost as makers of amazement. » Phew!

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An elephant running a vacuum cleaner? I’d like to see that commercial.

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Four Sound Studios. Here and there, Groz threw in recognizable figures. In this one, the pianist (and the bandleader) are the talented Georges Tremblay, who composed and performed many a memorable (and often surprisingly elaborate) theme for Télé-Métropole’s émissions. To wit, the network released an LP’s worth of them, Les thèmes du 10. Here’s one, La couleur du temps, written for… the weather bulletin.
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Stage Services: workshops, studios, salons.
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Front cover of Le Capitaine Bonhomme au Mexique: Dynamite et… Tequila (1973, Hatier/Mondia); scripted by the Capitaine himself, ace raconteur Michel Noël (1922-1993) and illustrated by Bernard Groz. How much of Renaissance man was the Capitaine? Here’s his astounding biography (in French).
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Dynamite et Tequila‘s opening page. The beloved Capitaine Bonhomme, a Télé-Métropole fixture introduced in 1962, would follow his creator throughout his life. He was yarn-spinner in the grand old Münchausen / McBragg tradition, and his wide-ranging popularity in Québec has endured largely because he never patronized his audience and, as with much of the richest grade of humour, his wooly accounts were sprinkled with witticisms and allusions whose meaning(s) suited both juvenile and adult sensibilities. Here he is during a 1988 talk show appearance.

-RG

*« Present at the February 19, 1961 inauguration were Montréal’s Archbishop, Paul-Émile Léger, the city’s mayor, Jean Drapeau, and the Prime Minister of Québec, Jean Lesage, who declared that television has « great power, and therefore great responsibility. » Chew on that, Stan Lee fans!

**After mobster and parking lot maven Emmanuel “Manny” Kimmel inherited the assets of his partner Abner “Longie” Zwillman (“the Al Capone of New Jersey“) upon the latter’s death, he continued his plans for legitimization and diversification. After The Kinney Parking Corporation acquired a chain of funeral homes, Kimmel soon entrusted the business dealings to a canny young undertaker named Steve Ross. « Ross diversified into businesses that had no visible connection to the already odd marriage of caskets and parking spaces. He bought office cleaning services, DC Comics (publishers of Superman), MAD Magazine, and a talent agency. In 1969 Ross made a daring bid for Warner Brothers, the film studio and record company. » « Kinney acquired Warner for $400 million. » Quotes from William Poundstone‘s captivating Fortune’s Formula (2005).

And that, children, is how The Mob bought DC Comics. I always chuckle when fanboys claim, without a shred of evidence, that Charlton Comics (owned by the Santangelo family) were ‘mobbed up’. I guess to some people, it’s only the Mob if it’s eye-talian.

Tentacle Tuesday: Rahan to the Rescue

« Rahan n’a plus peur de la nuit, ni du feu, ni du tonnerre du ciel, ni des fleuves sans fin… »

(Rahan no longer fears the night, nor fire, nor the sky’s thunder, nor endless rivers…)

Even non-European readers will probably have some familiarity with handsome troglodyte Rahan, one of the heroes of the Franco-Belgian bande dessinée.

In 1969, Rahan made, to general acclaim, his début in the inaugural issue of Pif Gadget: apparently his escapades appealed to both male and female audiences. The series was created by writer Roger Lécureux and artist André Chéret, both seasoned comic pros by then. His adventures spanned years upon years of publication and spawned legions of rabid fans. To give you an idea of what “many years” implies, the last album – with new material! – came out in 2012; the collected series, which gathers material between 1969 and 1999 (30 years of the Lécureux – Chéret team), took up 26 handsomely-printed hard-cover volumes.

The following sequence is from La flèche blanche, originally published in Pif Gadget no. 90 (Nov. 1970), and reprinted in colour in Rahan no. 7 (Oct. 1973).

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I first encountered Rahan on his home turf, which is to say in some old issues of Pif Gadget. I am not a big fan of the prehistoric genre, as it demands a more momentous suspension of disbelief on my part than I can provide. (The endless parade of clean-shaven blonde hunks accompanied by female nubile savages is a little too much for me.) Besides, Pif Gadget offered far more fascinating strips to focus on, so I happily skipped over the adventures of Rahan, just as I would gleefully ignore Les pionniers de l’espérance (same writer as Rahan) or the boringly handsome Docteur Justice (not the Marvel one).

However, I have to (grudgingly) avow that Rahan doubtlessly had great things going for it. Its strengths are also what seems to provoke some modern readers into dismissing Rahan with a patronizing hand-wave: aligning itself with the communist nature of Pif Gadget, Rahan espoused such values as justice and equality. He was also an immensely curious young man with a scientific mindset, which led him to discovering/creating useful tools, helped him to solve problems and shielded him from the superstitious nonsense others believed. One doesn’t often run into a caveman whose leitmotif is Humanism.

I did not grow up with Rahan, having only come to Pif Gadget in the last ten years or so (through the influence of co-admin RG), but these values are well known to me from growing up on Soviet science-fiction (Russian has a nicer word, fantastika, which is much more encompassing and also includes any forays into fantasy, prehistoric or otherwise). That, too, often gets thrown under the train of « childish, naive and simplistic », the holy trinity of a jaded cynic that’s currently en vogue as a role-model.

This seems especially unfair given that the series did not shield its mostly young readers from some harsh truths about life. Death and violence accompanied our hero wherever he went, and a lot of characters he encountered were, frankly, colossal assholes, as disinterested in fairness or egalitarianism as some modern poo-pooing readers. Not to mention Rahan’s curse of solitude – orphaned twice, he is never really accepted by the tribes he bumps into during his travels. He’s either rejected as an intruder… or venerated as a sort of a god, once he creatively extricates himself (and frequently the tribe) from some predicament. Oh, and this being a French comic, there are also bare-breasted women like it’s no big deal (and even some breast-feeding).

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Original cover art from Rahan – L’intégrale Tome 16 (2019, Soleil).

Today’s post is dedicated to André Chéret, who died less than a month ago, on March 5th. He was 82.

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A self-portrait of the artist, which originally saw print in Pif Gadget no. 81 (Sept. 1970).

You can read some Rahan stories here.

∼ ds

Stan Mack and the Delicate Art of Eavesdropping

« There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head. » — Thornton Wilder

I’ve always been drawn to the more observational areas of cartooning, and Stan Mack (b. May 13, 1936) surely counts among the preeminent practitioners of the form, thanks to his long-running strip (in the pages of The Village Voice for a couple of decades!), Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies.

Therein was to be found the cartoonist’s bold pledge: « Guarantee: All Dialogue Reported Verbatim ». Oh, it might seem easy, but I’m quite convinced it was anything but.

In point of fact, here’s some insight on Mr. Mack’s modus operandi, from the horse’s mouth:

« Carry a little pad and pencil. Dress to blend in quietly. Get to the destination with enough time to case the joint. It helps to be not too tall, not too short, not too dark, not too handsome, not too ugly, not too old and not too young.

When I arrive, if I find that everybody knows each other, I make a quick exit and forget it. Otherwise, the system continues: smile and keep your ears open. Find the men’s room (always good for a line), find coffee and food, which is very helpful unless you are trying to take notes. Look for a few convenient corners in which to hide. Learn to walk backwards in order to get closer to groups. Learn to stand in the middle of a mob and like it. And, finally, learn to change direction suddenly in order to follow a good line floating by.

Appear preoccupied. If you are engaged in conversation, pay no attention to what you are saying. Say anything. Fake it. You can’t listen and think at the same time. Float through the event. Each has its own particular current. Professional wrestlers and East Side gallery-hoppers move at different speeds.

When I start to draw a strip, I sit with my deadline approaching and a pad full of quotes and doodles. I try to draw the kind of people who actually said the lines.

I don’t know why some comments seem important and others dull, but I know that it isn’t until I begin to edit that material that the story emerges. It’s often a surprise.

It’s the unexpected that makes it work. Therefore it helps to approach everything with an open mind and no preconceptions, whether it involves policemen or transsexuals or frisbee addicts. »

« I hear words I couldn’t make up. I think, ”that’s something I would never have thought of. I’ll just write it down.” I work out of other people’s heads. »

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Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies, The Divorce (March, 1977, The Village Voice).
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Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies, An Art Sale in Suburbia (April, 1977, The Village Voice).
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Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies, Sex Accessories (October, 1977, The Village Voice).
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Stan Mack’s Outtakes, The Sting (Adweek, 1983)
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Stan Mack’s Outtakes, What a Bummer (Adweek, 1983)

« So, what’s he done lately? », you may ask. Well, you will nowadays find him in the pages of The American Bystander, where the cream of America’s extant cartooning geniuses gather to keep warm. Rick Geary, R.O. Blechman, Sam Gross, Drew Friedman, P.S. Mueller, Tom Hachtman, M.K. Brown… and these are just some of *my* favourites. Do them (and yourself) a favour, check it out!

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Stan Mack’s Chronicles, Up His Alley (The American Bystander no. 7, Winter 2017).

Astute Mack-o-philes (and I’ve every reason to believe that they are astute) might point out that I neglected to bring up the artist’s splendidly surreal early ’70s National Lampoon feature, Mule’s Diner; fear not, its time in the limelight will soon(ish) be at hand, so stay tuned.

-RG

Tire la chevillette: Jean Ache’s Little Red Riding Hood Variations

« … Out behind a tree
there jumped a great big hungry wolf
‘Pardon me’, he said, real cool

‘Why make the scene alone?
A crazy chick like you should have
a handsome chaperone’ » — Ridin’ Hood (The Coasters, 1962)

It could be quite convincingly claimed that Jean Ache (1923-1985,  Jean-Baptiste Huet in Le Havre, France) was the most versatile, chameleonic artist of his generation. Not only was he able to accurately adopt any style he chose, “high” or “low”, but he also wielded a panoply of styles of his own devising. To support my claim, take a peek at noted historian Henri Filippini‘s comprehensive survey of Ache’s career (in French), which includes a generous gallery of his multifaceted art. [ Part One ] and [ Part Two ]

From 1971 to 1973, near the end of René Goscinny‘s enlightened regime (his Astérix compère Albert Uderzo ably serving as art director), French bédé periodical Pilote featured a high-calibre series of “high art” pastiches. It was entitled Le Musée Pilote.

The pages of 1973’s Pilote Annuel revealed an Ache tour de force, wherein he retold the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood in comics format *and* in the style of a number (seven, to be exact… but not *the* Group of Seven) of famous painters. The set bore the following cheeky introduction: « Within the scope of the Musée Pilote, we came to realise that numerous artists had never tried their hand at comics. Thanks to our friend Jean Ache, it is now a done deal, and we are pleased to present the tryout pages crafted by these illustrious beginners. It is for you to decide whether these attempts are conclusive, and if these young people’s efforts should be encouraged. »

Here we go!

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After Henri Rousseau (French, 1944-1910). Incidentally, « Tire la chevillette, la bobinette cherra » means « Pull the bobbin, and the latch will go up. »
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After Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955).
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After Bernard Buffet (French, 1928-1999).
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After Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973).
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After Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978).
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After Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983). My first encounter with Miró came through this item; if I’d been hipper, it might have been this instead… but I was only six years old at the time.
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After Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944).
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And here’s the cover. This is Pilote Annuel 74 (no. 731 bis, Nov. 1973). It comprised, in roughly equal measure, a selection of the past year’s best work and new material.

My initial brush with Ache came in the early 1970s and his short-lived Pastec (1968-70, 9 issues, plus one album). I only ever got my hands the album (« L’Agent secret chante à minuit », 1971), but I never forgot. Like many a childhood fascination, it came out of nowhere, then vanished.

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A sample from Pastec no. 4 (January 1969, Société française de presse illustrée). The birdie is Psitti, Pastec’s loyal Ara; the Llama is Camélo; and Pastec himself is the displeased fellow with the green hat in the middle tier.

I honestly hadn’t planned to write two consecutive posts about nearly-forgotten French artists named Jean, but something else fell through… and here we are. Sorry!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday Dabblers: Gil Kane

When digging through comics in quest for tentacled material, one soon notices that Gil Kane‘s name tends to crop up again and again. Despite this seeming ubiquity, I’ve never specifically concentrated on his art, though he certainly has appeared in Tentacle Tuesdays before (quite a lot in Tentacle Tuesday: Conan-O-Rama, for instance).

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but one of the things that seems to bug me is that Kane, whose real name was Eli Katz and who was born in Latvia, threw himself with such vigour into American culture. It’s an unfair reproach, I realize – one can hardly expect a four-year old child to hang on to a quickly-receding memory of his parents’ motherland to the detriment of whatever culture he’s growing up in, not to mention that this would be unhealthy.

The crux of the matter is that I don’t grasp that je-ne-sais-quoi that people seem to find appealing about Kane’s art. Where others see “dynamic storytelling, emotionally charged characters, and innovative [sic] staged fight scenes“, I see overly busy, hard-to-parse scenes and stiff anatomy. It doesn’t help that the bulk of his oeuvre is concerned with a subgenre of comics I have strong misgivings about, namely superheroes.

To answer the question of what is it that makes Kane so special, I have naturally turned to Gary Groth:

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That is certainly well argued, but I’ve read a few Kane interviews and his intellectualism is just clearly not on my wavelength at all. There’s no doubt that he was the analytical kind (this interview with him published in Alter Ego no. 10 (1969) calls him « the comics’ most articulate artist »), but what he says often strikes me as stilted (much like his art). Take this, for instance: « Craft is merely the springboard. It’s the ability to give wings to your expression; otherwise your expression bangs around in an inarticulate way and comes out thick and untutored; you’re just throwing away range and scope. » Let’s just say that Kane was a very opinionated man, which does him credit. Yet I get the impression that his inclination to pick at himself veered towards self-destructiveness, as if he were ever striving for some lofty heights he was aware he would never reach.

In that process of self-improvement (let’s call it that), he often slagged other artists who were operating on a different level from his. Even as he flattered them, his compliments felt incredibly back-handed, bringing to mind those people who never smile, trying to get their atrophied mouth muscles to do the job and achieving merely a sort of pained rictus. For instance, I’m a little sore about his description of Will Eisner, who « did little morality stories, which were very moving, but they had the quality of reading a children’s picture book; he could be quite dramatic, but always on a kind of innocent level. He never had complex, subtle characterizations…» or, again, « Eisner is a writer until you start talking about literature, and talking about the great writers of literature. Then Eisner is only a cartoonist. »

You can read the full interview over at Destination Nightmare.

All this being said, I do like *most* of today’s crop… save for the last two Kull the Destroyer covers, instances of the messy, rigid mises en scène I was carping about earlier. The two best covers here are both inked by Tom Palmer, not so coincidentally. Co-admin RG has been heard to posit that Gil Kane should never have been allowed to ink himself.

And now I’d better stop displaying my ignorance and move on to the tentacles!

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Warlock no. 3 (December 1972). Cover by Gil Kane.
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Journey into Mystery no. 3 (February 1973). Pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Tom Palmer.
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Werewolf by Night no. 27 (March 1975). Pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Tom Palmer.
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Kull the Destroyer no. 17 (October 1976). Pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Klaus Janson.
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Kull the Destroyer no. 21 (June 1977), cover by Gil Kane.

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “The Locked Door!” (1973)

« Man’s constitution is so peculiar that his health is purely a negative matter. No sooner is the rage of hunger appeased than it becomes difficult to comprehend the meaning of starvation. It is only when you suffer that you really understand. » — Jules Verne

For my final post of the year (my co-admin ds yet holds one more Tentacle Tuesday instalment), I turn to crusty Joe Gill and a surprisingly cheerful tale of elder abuse (one of his pet topics, see The Night Dancer! for another example). Herein, a quite horrifying situation is leavened by Gill and his Billy  the Kid acolyte Warren Sattler‘s graceful, humorous handling… with the moral still clear. This is one of Sattler’s few forays into the spooky at Charlton, and I hope you’ll agree it’s worth the detour.

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Despite the mere six pages allotted, The Locked Room! features a lot of story. Joe Gill typically wrote pages comprising five panels, which would translate to 30 panels for a six-pager. Sattler breaks down the script into 43 panels, so it could have been far longer. A jewel of elegant compression!
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Tom Sutton’s humdinger of a cover gives away the plot, but no matter — it’s a striking, beautifully-coloured image. The rest of the issue’s nothing special: Joe Gill, Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia’s The Truth in the Fire is yet another spin of the stale greedy-explorer-versus-native-god plot; Gill and Wayne Howard‘s Bury Me Deep! is saved by its light tone; Gill and Steve Ditko‘s Let the Buyer Beware, despite featuring Ditko in full-on goofy mode, is more-or-less standard voodoo stuff; but the humdrum outing is largely redeemed, in the end, by the cover tale. This is Ghost Manor no. 17 (January 1974, Charlton).

I love Gill’s use of the principle of communicating vessels as a means of poetic retribution. Or is it a feedback loop? I’m also very fond of Agatha’s characterization: she’s hardly the picture of evil, blandly accepting each new bend in the road as if morals never entered into the equation. But you just know that, once Jerome is laid to rest, she’ll simply find another man to feed and breezily carry on. In a sense, she’s the main character: doesn’t the whole thing hinge on her fine cooking?

-RG

A Sausage or a Can of Beer? The Goodies in Comics

« Slap him up and down upon the floor
Tickle his feet and hear him giggle
Then unzip him down the middle
Give that gibbon what he’s hollerin’ for! » — Stuff That Gibbon (words and music by Bill Oddie)

Back in the late 1970s, before I had even heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, nor even of Benny Hill, for that matter… I discovered The Goodies, thanks to the CBC’s belated programming of their exploits*. While The Goodies do share a *lot* of DNA with the Monty Python gang (they were school chums, close friends, collaborators and friendly competitors practically all along the way), this trio’s comedic format veers sharply away from the Pythons’ methods: Graeme, Bill and Tim play ‘amplified’ versions of themselves, and use the skit format sparingly, reserving it for mid-show intermission ‘blackouts‘.

While the trio was formed in 1970, it only made its comic strip début (and bow) in 1973**, where they held a weekly feature in the pages of Cor!!, also making an appearance in the magazine’s 1974 annual and The Goodies Annual, the whole lot hitting kiosks in ’73.

« Apparently licensed for just the one year, The Goodies were unique in the fact they were the only adapted characters featured with the comic’s pages with copyright credit being given to Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke Taylor (sans hyphen) and Graeme Garden. According to Robert Ross’ book The Complete Goodies, the strips were all authorised and approved by The Goodies prior to publication and Tim still displays an original Cor!! strip in his study. »

Scans (and detailed synopses!) of The Goodies’ Cor!! shenanigans are helpfully provided by their fan site, goodiesruleok.com.

And now, some introductions from the aforementioned The Goodies Annual 1974 (the only one of its kind, poor thing):

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The Goodies’ brainbox, Graeme Garden, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Feb. 18, 1943. « He lists his hobbies as painting, drawing, playing the guitar and banjo, apologising for playing the guitar and banjo, trying not to travel in cars and, of course, being a Goodie. »
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The Goodies’ resident singer-songwriter and ornithologist, Bill Oddie, born in Rochdale, Lancashire, on July 7, 1941.
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« Tim Brooke-Taylor was born very suddenly in Buxton on July 17th, 1940, among those dark, satanic hills of Derbyshire. » I like the sound of that… very Luke Haines. He was The Goodies’ conservative type, and the one who greatly relishes essaying the cross-dressing roles. And he was, after all, the fair one without any of that pesky, telltale facial hair.

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Among other, er, goodies, the annual contains a whopping 33 pages of comics. However, as it was fairly typical for UK comics of the period, no creator credits appear anywhere.
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« The comic strips form a large part of the official Goodies Annual, although “none of us had anything to do with the design or stories”, explains Graeme, “but we were very happy with the results.” »

Goodies, Goodies

Take a little good advice, try a trip to paradise
It’s not hard to find, you’ve got it on your mind
Can’t pretend it wouldn’t be nice
It’s whatever turns you on, Goodies

A circus or a seaside pier, a sausage or a can of beer
A stripper or a clown, prices going down
You can make it happen here
Fun for all the family, Goodies

Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum
Goodies, goody goody yum yum

Goodies are coming for you and you and you and you
It’s anything you want it to be, a record or an OBE
A four minute mile, a policeman with a smile
I know you won’t believe what you see.

(The first Goodies Theme; words and music by Bill Oddie.)

-RG

*« In Canada, the series was shown in on the CBC national broadcast network during the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the traditional “after school” time slot, later a Friday night 10 pm slot, and occasionally in a midnight slot. Several episodes were also shown on the CTV Television Network. In the mid-1970s it was shown on TVOntario on Saturday evenings, repeated on Thursday evenings, until being replaced by Doctor Who in 1976. » [ source ]

**I hear they’ve turned up in The Beano, circa 1994.

Charles Bronson’s Paper Doppelgängers

« I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited. » — Charles Bronson

Welcome to our 400th post! I suppose a Steve Ditko birthday post would have been more momentous, but I did that already a couple of years ago, while he still drew breath.

Today, our man Charles Dennis Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson (1921 – 2003… he would have turned 98 today — picture that!) squeezes in a rather routine bit part (merely credited as « The Pilot ») in Joe Molloy and Mike Zeck’s nonsensical hijacking melodrama Only a Toy. Heck, read it here if you don’t believe me.

Oddly enough, this expanded cameo came about just a year after Bronson’s megahit Death Wish, as Bronson reached the pinnacle of his earning power (in inverse proportion to the quality of his output, thanks to his long association with the shady Cannon Group). Presumably, he was just doing a favour for his old pal Zeck.

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« Like an unpalatable salad » indeed; a word salad. Published in Charlton’s Scary Tales no. 2 (October, 1975). Edited by George Wildman.

Ah, but this wasn’t the first time cartoonists had paid such tribute to Bronson: in 1971, writer Jean-Marie Brouyère and artist William Tai (aka Malik) created the South-America set Archie Cash series for Belgian bédé weekly Spirou. The series had a healthy run of 15 albums (what one would call a graphic novel over in North America) between 1973 and 1988.

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Front and back covers of Archie’s début, Le maître de l’épouvante (1973).
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And to give you a sense of the series’ narrative texture, page five from Le maître de l’épouvante; when it debuted in the fall of 1971, the series brought a welcome griminess and ethno-social realism to the squeaky-pristine pages of Spirou.

The Italians would then follow suit, “borrowing” Jean-Paul Belmondo‘s likeness for their Goldrake series around 1972, followed by Alain Delon‘s looks for Playcolt, and more exploitively, Ornella Muti‘s charms for Sukia. Mind you, all these liberties with celebrity likenesses don’t make Brian Hitch‘s laziness and lack of imagination any less reprehensible.

Anyway, back to our birthday boy: if you want to see Bronson at his finest, I recommend his early, pre-moustache TV showcase Man With a Camera (1958)… the 29-episode boxed set’ll cost you peanuts and it’s great value. Then, from his European period, you can’t go wrong with 1968’s Adieu l’ami (Farewell, Friend), co-starring the aforementioned Mr. Delon; 1970’s gloriously weird Le passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain), 1971 winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and co-starring creepy Eva Green‘s mom (or should that be “mum”?) Marlène Jobert. And of course 1971’s Soleil rouge (Red Sun), co-starring, this time not only Delon, but none other than Toshirô Mifune!

Happy birthday, Mr. Buchinsky!

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 31

« Our dried voices, when we whisper together are quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass or rats’ feet over broken glass in our dry cellar. » — T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

It’s with a bittersweet little shiver that I wrap up this year’s WOT Hallowe’en countdown. In light of my fond feelings for the holiday, I didn’t want to go out with a massive fireworks display of a post, but opted instead for a quiet, succinct coda.

Nick Cardy‘s illustration impeccably epitomizes the spirit of Hallowe’en. No, it’s not about the candy collection ritual nor about the motley, garish masquerade… truly, it’s much as Ray Bradbury summed it up in his preface to his The October Country, « … that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain… »

You can practically hear the echoes of sinister cackling drifting on the chill October breeze.

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How’s this for perfectly-composed, uncluttered graphic majesty? A wisely understated palette, from top-to-bottom, holds it all together. One has to understand that this sort of soft-sell, muted grace could not make it to market without a tremendous amount of trust, cooperation and… no second-guessing. This is It’s Midnight… The Witching Hour! no. 33 (Aug. 1973, DC), edited by Murray Boltinoff. That lead witch looks quite… lusty. Where’s she off to, and why is the Comics Code Authority not stepping in?

This seldom-seen Nick Cardy cover graces quite an issue, by my reckoning: the blackly ironic Four Funerals, drawn by Ruben Yandoc and probably written by editor Boltinoff; George Kashdan‘s cynical Cold Ashes — Hot Rage, drawn by Alfredo Alcala (what, him again?); and Carl Wessler‘s convoluted A Choice Seat for… Doomsday!, illustrated by the mighty Jerry Grandenetti. Read it right here!

… and Happy Hallowe’en, one and all!

-RG

p.s. before I forget: how cool is it that the witches exit through the chimney?