Tentacle Tuesday: Octopus Cameo*

*No, I am not referring to the popular company that lets customers hire favourite ‘stars’ to record personalized videos; a month ago, I didn’t even know this existed, and my life has not been improved by this knowledge.

Sometimes an octopus stays politely in the background, waving hello shyly from behind a rock, or waiting for a dance invitation like a bashful kid at a high-school dance (do they still have these?) I never know where to use these covers; their tentacled nature is undeniable, but their octopuses are so peripheral to the main story that they tend to be overlooked when I am in search of a unifying theme for a post.

cam·e·o/ˈkamēˌō/

a small character part in a play or movie, played by a distinguished actor or a celebrity.

a piece of jewellery, typically oval in shape, consisting of a portrait in profile carved in relief on a background of a different colour.

I’m not sure this counts as a “portrait in profile”, but I will happily accept it as a cameo.

All right, on to the comics…

Mutt & Jeff no. 18 (Summer 1945, All-American). Cover is by Sheldon Mayer. So the octopus has only four tentacles, but he’s a cutie!

Mutt & Jeff have already been part of a Tentacle Tuesday line-up, but the main interest here is Sheldon Mayer, a big favourite at WOT. Don’t believe me? Set your orbs on Yesterday’s Tomorrow’s Teenagers: Sheldon Mayer’s Sugar and Spike.

Life with Archie. no 41 (September 1965, Archie). Cover by Bob White.

Co-admin RG rounded up quite a few of his favourite Bob White covers in Bob White, Forgotten Archie Artist and More Bob White, Lost Archie Artist – I highly recommend to have a look at both posts!

Treasure Chest vol. 22 no. 9 (December 1966, George A. Pflaum). Cover by Reed Crandall. This cover is of course dedicated to Jules Verne.

Treasure Chest, a long-running catholic publication we mention routinely though not too often (for details, see co-admin RG’s Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 24), runs the gamut from informative to fun, sometimes both at the same time. There are occasional clunkers (like the admittedly rather entertaining multi-part story I am currently reading about Godless Communism), but overall it’s well worth picking up, should some issue catch your eye.

Can you spot the octopus, right there in the window? He’s all set to escape, I think. Bonus: bats! As the top says, this is a strip from June 1970, scripted by Brant Parker and Johnny Hart, with art by Parker. These two have created The Wizard of Id in 1964, so this strip has been around for quite a while…

I originally had in mind happy, frolicking octopuses for this post, so here is one instance of just that. As a matter of fact, his smile is somewhat unnatural and more of a rictus, but I don’t want to be picky…

Bunny no. 14 (March 1970, Harvey). Cover by Hy Eisman. More (dubious) puns than one can shake a stick at… it’s almost like reading a Piers Anthony novel.

I’ll quote from Don Markstein’s excellent summary of this hare-brained comic series: « Bunny was aggressively, even obsessively trendy. Even at the time, it seemed to lay on the love beads and “psychedelic” display lettering a bit thick. […] But she owed her painfully discordant Sixties-ness to nobody. […] It’s as if her entire raison d’être was to parody the decade of student activism and radical youth fashions, even while living it. To make matters worse, this teenage girl comic was edited, written and drawn by middle-aged men who were probably, like most middle-aged men, unable to communicate with their own daughters. To vary the dialogue, in which everything that wasn’t “groovy” was “outasight”, they made up their own slang. Things could also be “zoovy” or “zoovers” or even, in extreme cases, “yvoorg” — which was obviously “groovy” spelled backward, but no hint was ever given as to how it might be pronounced. »

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “Tee for Three” (1975)

« Coming to play golf is not what I would consider to be an essential purpose. » — Nicola Sturgeon

I’ve long wanted to showcase one of Samm Schwartz‘s Jughead stories on this blog, but always hit the same snag: which one? Not too long ago, while revisiting my trove of 1970s issues, I came upon just the specimen. Tee for Three appeared in Jughead no. 247 (Dec. 1975, Archie). I’ll spare you the hideous-as-usual Stan Goldberg cover.

While we know the story was illustrated by Samm Schwartz, the writer’s identity remains unknown. Schwartz usually took a hand in the scripting, but he didn’t really ever work alone. The likeliest miscreants are his usual accomplices, Frank Doyle and George Gladir.

Why this one among hundreds of others, then? For one thing, it’s longer; at eleven pages long, it’s a towering freak amidst the customary five-or-six pagers.

But that’s not all: Tee for Three also boasts an unconventional plot, one that cried out for (and received) a more leisurely deployment. Its tone is also surprising: it’s quite deadpan and sanguine in its absurdity.

For once, you can envision why these three, despite being frenemies or plain rivals, would actually hang out: they challenge and entertain one another. And even collaborate when the occasion calls for it. In this case, Jug, Archie and Reggie are so bonded in their good-natured folie à trois that the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue and hardly stands a chance.

While such a golf contest would surely result in much injury, property damage and litigation in the ‘real’ world, it sure seems like a rollicking bit of sport here, and isn’t that what good fiction is for(e)?

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: How Does That Grab You?

Today’s TT is like one of those 5$ grab bags: you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get, but there will at least one thing you’ll find amusing! Unless the store has cheapened out and stuffed it with nonsense nobody in their right mind would want. This offering, on the other had, is full of our favourite artists, and is not nearly as disparate as I first thought 😉

I don’t always have an over-arching idea for a post, inevitably ending up with plenty of odds and ends that don’t neatly fit into any one category. Actually, some of those “scraps” are the most enjoyable finds for me.

Feature Comics no. 71 (September 1943, Quality Comics). Cover by Gill Fox. The octopus-in-plumbing theme is an oldie-but-goodie; the undaunted housewife may yet regret her cavalier attitude towards the tentacled one, who probably wants to move in with his family.
Nicola Cuti‘s Weirdlings was a charming little ‘filler’ gag page designed and drawn by him. This one was published in Haunted no. 14 (Sept. 1973, Charlton).  I think the octopus, that appears to be still alive, would also prefer a good old PBJ sandwich.
Midnight Tales no. 11 (February 1975). Cover by Wayne Howard, who’s a Who’s Out There? (oh, all right, mine) favourite. Read my take on his art in Tentacle Tuesday: Plants Sometimes Have Tentacles, Too.
Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 77 (October 1961). Cover by, dare I say legendary, Samm Schwartz; revisit (or discover!) some of the nicest covers he has drawn for Archie Comics in co-admin RG’s post.
Al Jaffee Sinks to a New Low (1985, New American Library). Visit Al Jaffee: Snappy Answer to Many a Stupid Question for Who’s Out There’s take on this quintessential Mad Magazine artist!

= ds

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 2

« What is this ‘witch’s brew‘? Oh, that’s a special! It’s a squirt of everything! » — Pop Tate divulges one of his culinary secrets

A little while back (okay, quite a while back!), upon reading an article written by cartoonist Seth (John Stanley’s Teen Trilogy, The Comics Journal no. 238, Oct. 2001), this passage especially piqued my interest: « I have to admit right now that I like Archie comics quite a bit and I have hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin-off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) ».

As it happens, I’m in full agreement with the gallant Mister Gallant : this was when Archie’s Mad House and Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats came along, when Bob White (and Samm Schwartz, and Orlando Busino) were producing scads of wild and wooly covers featuring ghouls and bug-eyed critters, mole men and mad (though I’m told they prefer ‘eccentric’) scientists and sundry extraterrestrials and witches. The line’s cover layout was also nicely open, affording the artists plenty of latitude to indulge themselves. Here are some samples from the aforementioned creators at the peak of their formidable powers, before the end-of-recess bell rang and stifling homogeneity was henceforth imposed.

This is Laugh no. 130 (Jan. 1962, Archie); cover by Samm Schwartz. Looks like our friend Ricou Browning is slumming it in Riverdale, with Betty happily showing him the sights. Honestly, he’s more of a gentleman that Archie ever was.
This is Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats no. 2 (Jan. 1962, Archie); cover by the incomparable Orlando Busino, still with us and nearly 94 years young! I strongly suspect that these witchy younglings mean mystical business!
This is Archie no. 125 (Feb. 1962, Archie); cover by Harry Lucey, one of the crucial classic Archie artists. Regardless of what you’ve heard, look at the actual sales figures for 1969, with Lucey drawing every issue of Archie. Readers voted with their wallet.
Here’s a swell example: Pep Comics no. 158 (Oct. 1962). Spooky cover art by local favourite Bob White. I wouldn’t have pegged Archie as a skeptic, to be honest.
This is Life With Archie no. 39 (July 1965, Archie); cover, again, by Mr. White. The previous year had seen the TV arrival of The Addams Family and its imitators, The Munsters. So what’s one carbon copy more or less?

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 11

« Is it true your first concert is going to be at a cemetery? »

By the summer of ’74, the Archie brass was getting sick of those no-account Didit Brothers (You know, Dan, Dippy, Dick and Clyde) and their groupie Fran the Fan, so the Madhouse Glads were tossed out on their collective ear in favour of… a horror anthology. It made sense: in the 1970s, there was considerable overlap (largely female, but not exclusively) among readers of, say, The Witching Hour, Betty and Me, and Romantic Story.

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The final fate of Fran the Fan? This is Mad House no. 95 (Sept. 1974, Archie); cover art by Gray Morrow. Read the issue here.

It’s fair to assume they were envisioning a companion title for their Chilling Adventures in Sorcery / Red Circle Sorcery. This was something different for Archie, all right: they sought out top talent, but in a fairly consistently sober visual style. Gray Morrow‘s photo-based approach was the baseline, and small wonder: he was the editor. The bulk of the stories was penned by Marvin Channing, and while the ‘twist’ endings weren’t exactly fresh, some of these tales were surprisingly nasty and nihilistic.

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Page two from The Terrible Trident!, written by Don Glut and illustrated by Vicente Alcazar.

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Page three from the cover story, The Happy Dead. Written by Marvin Channing and illustrated by Doug Wildey. Whoever handled the colouring here was smart and discerning.

However, this version of Madhouse lasted but three issues before the book was returned to its original, pre-Glads format. Sorcery endured for nine issues, the first three done in the Archie house style, with narration by Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. By the end of 1974 (with a book cover-dated February, 1975), the experiment was over. But these things come in cycles, don’t they? Witness the recent Afterlife With Archie… which incidentally reprinted much of this material.

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And in other media, amidst the current glut of Archie product, one finds a direct scion of a timid, decades-ago exploration, Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

– RG

Walter Gibson and His Shadow

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

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

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

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This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 3, no. 12 (March, 1944, Street and Smith); cover possibly by Vernon Greene. That Thade seems like a friendly sort, mayhap a tad overly so.

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This is The Shadow Comics Vol. 7, no. 12 (March, 1948, Street and Smith); cover by Bob Powell.

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Now why were Archie Comics allowed to take such ridiculous (though I’ll grant, perversely entertaining) liberties with The Shadow? Must have been a lull in the revival market, I suppose. This is The Shadow no. 1 (August, 1964, Archie), cover by Paul Reinman. You just wait until the subsequent issues…

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This, however, is not quite how Gibson envisioned and portrayed the mysterious Shadow. This off-model rendition hails from Archie Comics’ 8 issue, 1964-65 run, helmed by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and Golden Age journeyman Paul Reinman. This be The Shadow no.8  (September, 1965).

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A privileged peek at Frank Robbinsoriginal cover art for The Shadow no.7 (Nov. 1974), second of his four (or so) covers for DC, featuring Night of the Beast!, scripted by Denny O’Neil. Yummy… but too short.

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Two great Street & Smith pulp heroes face off! Mr. Kaluta takes some artistic license here, however, since Ike (as The Avenger calls his throwing knife), is supposed to be small and almost needle-like, not a freakin’ butcher knife. Come to think of it, the Shadow’s trusty automatics look like something a Rob Liefeld character would wield. One doesn’t encounter often the final three issues of DC’s initial run of The Shadow. Post-Kaluta (save the covers) and post-Robbins, the art was handled by Filipino artist E.R. Cruz, who did a commendable job, while series regular Denny O’Neil (who wrote all issues except for number 9 and 11, Michael Uslan ably filling in) stayed until the curtain was drawn.

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Skipping the heinous Howard Chaykin revival, in which he delighted in sadistically dispatching The Shadow’s aged former operatives in gruesome ways (why do these people always call themselves fans of the original series?), we move on to the Andrew Helfer-Bill Sienkiewicz regular book. Better, but still not great. This is The Shadow no. 3 (Oct. 1987). Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.

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Ah, now things perk up. A nasty but excellent tale, worthy of Michael Fleisher at his bugfuck best; the shade of Marshall Rogers and smart up-and-comer Kyle Baker were a good visual match. This is The Shadow no. 7 (Feb. 1988).

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This is Kyle Baker’s cover for the finale of his and scripter Andrew Helfer’s thrilling and hilarious Seven Deadly Finns saga (no. 13, March 1988) that made The Shadow such a must-read title. To quote Kate Bush, « What made it special made it dangerous », and the folks at Condé Nast, who hold the rights to the classic Street & Smith characters (also including Doc Savage and The Avenger) reportedly got twitchy* at the reckless liberties the Helfer-Baker team were taking and pulled the plug after issue 19, where a beheaded Shadow gets a big action robot body. The Shadow was rebooted the following year in more obedient hands, with quite pedestrian results.

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

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Steranko comes up with one of his subtlest, most unctuously moody covers for Pyramid’s 1974-78 series of Shadow paperbacks that introduced these classic pulp adventures to a new audience, picking up where its predecessors Belmont (1966-67) and Bantam (1869-70) had left off. Pyramid had one extra trick in its bag, though: Jim Steranko, who painted tantalizing covers for each of Pyramid/Jove’s twenty-three volumes. This particular case file, MOX, « from The Shadow’s annals as told to Maxwell Grant » originally appeared in The Shadow Magazine vol. 7, no. 6 (November, 1933).

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Natty dresser Jim Steranko has built up, over the years, quite a biography for himself. Of his numberless and prodigious accomplishments, my favourites are those that actually happened, such as a stunning series of cover paintings for Pyramid Books’ reprints of vintage Shadow pulps from the 30s and 40s. This one, twenty-second in a set of twenty-three, was published in March of 1978. The Silent Death initially saw print in The Shadow Magazine, Vol. 5, no. 3 (April 1, 1933.)

-RG

*which everyone apparently’s been denying since.

Jughead’s Pal, Samm Schwartz

« What is it about me, Pops? Am I different than normal people? »

One (more) thing I’ve learned in this world is that the vast majority of people, from the man or woman in the checkout line to the hard core of comics aficionados… can’t tell Archie artists apart, let alone name any of them.

If you scratch deep enough, one name will come up, like pebbles from a fallow field: Dan DeCarlo. I’m reminded of the annual restaurant poll a local alternative weekly used to hold: McDonald’s unfailingly took its category in a landslide, because of its ubiquitous familiarity. And so it is with Archie artists: DeCarlo must be the best because… well, that’s what we’ve always been told.

If you ask me, much of his peers’ work gets attributed to him. For instance, check out our gallery of Bob White covers. That Archie’s Mad House no. 27 cover, in particular…

WOT’s pick for top artist on the Archie totem is handily Samm Schwartz (1920 – 1997). He’s easily the smoothest, most inventive storyteller in the Archie universe. Despite his skill as a cover designer during Archie’s best years (1959-1965, a figure proposed by cartoonist-scholar Seth and worth carving in stone), there were no Schwartz covers chez Archie after 1965.

The likely reason? In ’65, Schwartz was hired away by Wally Wood‘s Tower Comics (by managing editor Harry Shorten, a former Archie writer-editor) to serve as their art director. While there, he conceived Tower’s relatively prolific teen humour line, featuring Tippy Teen, Go-Go and Animal, and Teen-In, often glibly dismissed as “Archie clones“, by people who clearly haven’t read the work. We’ll return to these eventually.

Now comes the clincher: Schwartz in turn hired some of his former Archie colleagues to pitch in (presumably at higher page rates); DeCarlo (a handful of stories in early issues of Tippy Teen), Harry Lucey (a decent batch, actually) and reportedly Bob White (no sign of him, though). But the bulk of the work was done by Schwartz and future Archie artist Doug Crane.

Now the Archie people didn’t like this one bit; it was a clear case of sedition, a threat to their tidy little work camp system. After the industry’s near-collapse in the mid-1950s, there weren’t a lot of options in the tight-knit little club that remained; let’s not forget that even Jack Kirby was driven to such humbling desperation in the early 1960s. It was all too easy to be blackballed. The Goldwater clan, Archie’s reigning dynasty, took careful note of Schwartz’s break for freedom and the names of his accomplices. After Tower called it a day in 1969, Schwartz went to DC for a year, but it didn’t take. He was forced to return to Archie, which certainly suited the publisher since Schwartz’s signature title, Jughead, had been wilting away in his absence.

The terms of his return are unknown… but against all odds, Samm proceeded to create the finest work of his career, pencilling, inking and lettering hundreds of inspired Jughead stories until, well, until he couldn’t any more. But no covers, considered a plum job: these went exclusively to DeCarlo (with an occasional Lucey) and later to versatile mediocrity Stan Goldberg, aping DeCarlo’s style and random design sense*.

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Jughead’s Fantasy no. 2 (Oct. 1960); a parody of the excellent 1958-61 detective show… and yes, Peter Gunn did get conked on the head an awful lot.

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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 78 (Nov. 1961)

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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 81 (Feb. 1962). Check out Reggie’s body language, in particular.

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Archie Giant Series Magazine no. 17 (Archie’s Jokes, Summer 1962). There goes Archie, into the next county.

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Laugh Comics no. 136 (July 1962)

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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 86 (July 1962)

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Archie’s Pal Jughead no. 89 (Oct. 1962)

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Er, interesting choice of space pioneers, USAF. Could this mission be some sort of tax dodge? Perhaps Mr. Lodge has a financial stake in it, and gently “suggested” Archie for the possibly one-way trip. Archie Giant Series Magazine no. 19 (World of Jughead, Dec. 1962)

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Pep no. 165 (Sept. 1963). My college graphic design teacher told our class that a poster should be “One Angry Fist”, which certainly applies to comic book covers, and this is a fine, fine example of making the most of a format.

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Archie’s Mad House no. 33 (June 1964)

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Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica no. 102 (June 1964). The new, definitely not improved cover layout of the Archie line rears its homely head.

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Mr. Samm Schwartz, date unknown, though the cars should certainly serve as a clue.

To quote his daughter, Joanne Colt, from the introduction of 2011’s The Best of Samm Schwartz (it isn’t, but it’s pretty good): « He drew for Archie until his death on November 13, 1997, my birthday. There was an unfinished story on his drawing board. »

-RG

*the way I see it, the difference between a Bob White or a Samm Schwartz cover and a DeCarlo is the difference between a considered, effective layout and the act of pointing a camera at random and snapping the shutter. To be fair to DeCarlo, his girlie cartoons for Martin Goodman’s Humorama were excellent, and his first half-decade at Archie (60-65) was fine… then the company wore him down into a sad hack and the unfortunate protagonist-victim of a cautionary tale.

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 6

« Gosh! I never knew you had a school for monsters! »
« There are a lot of things about Transylvania that you American tourists do not know! »

Archie Comics’ earliest foray into monster humour was its long-running, in one form or another*, Mad House series (1959-82).

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It doesn’t get any better than Samm Schwartz‘s cover for Archie’s Mad House no. 16 (December, 1961). The early issues featured Archie and the gang in slightly more surreal settings than usual, then they were phased out, with the noteworthy exception of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who was introduced in AMH 22 (October, 1962). The title was a fine showcase for Archie’s best and most idiosyncratic stylists, Schwartz, Orlando Busino and Bob White in particular.

WhiteMad-House-Ann4AAn idea they liked so well they used it (at least) twice. Bonus points for bothering to redraw it! This was Archie’s Mad House Annual no. 4 (1966-67), cover art by the aforementioned Bob White.

-RG

*It was called Archie’s Mad House (issues 1-60), then simply Mad House (61-65), then Madhouse Ma-ad Jokes (66-70), Mad House Ma-ad Freak-Out (71-72), The Mad House Glads (73-94), Madhouse (in a non-cartoony horror format, featuring the likes of Gray Morrow and Vicente Alcazar, 95-97), then finally Mad House Comics (95-130).

Tentacle Tuesday: Splashing With the Octopus

It’s boiling hot in this part of the world, so I’d like to concentrate on soothingly cool covers for this Tentacle Tuesday. If we end up taking a dip in refreshing waters in our quest for relief from balmy temperatures, so much the better. Today’s roster brings us fashionable dames and their splashy encounters with octopuses!

Here’s the Queen of Fashions (and right now, queen of tentacles), and for once the cover doesn’t focus on her outfit – I understand it’s hard to wriggle out of a swimsuit while an octopus is holding your leg.

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Katy Keene was created by Bill Woggon, and introduced in Wilbur Comics no. 5 (1945). She was “America’s Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashions”, and readers were encouraged to submit drawings of outfits and other tralala such as designs for automobiles, boats, and whatever other method of transport Katy could glitter in. This is Katy Keene no. 60, July 1961, cover by Bill Woggon.

Mockery aside, I have nothing against Bill Woggon-era Katy – I like Woggon’s art, and the gentle humour of the stories is hard to dislike. After Katy Keene’s demise in 1961, she was eventually revived by Archie Comics in 1983. They should have let the dead rest in peace! Though several people were considered for the role of regular artist, that position went to John Lucas, whose style I abhor, recoil from and spit upon. I first saw his take on KK in those huge Archie digests you can get for pennies that reprint a bit of everything, giving readers a total pêle-mêle of different decades and different artists. I didn’t know who drew what at the time, but I quickly developed a preference for certain styles while finding others repellent… and John Lucas’ puerile art was top of my hated list, along with the half-arsed, anatomically asinine line-work of Al Hartley.

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Next, we have another beauty queen, although this time the stuff is quite a bit more risqué. It’s not for nothing that cataloguing websites classify Torchy as “adult” material. As for the octopus, it has impeccable taste, having determined that there’s no need to decide between blonde or brunette when you can have both.

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But Torchy, why are you wearing high-heel sandals in water? Modern Comics no. 97 (Quality Comics, May 1950). This is a page from « The Mermaid Gig », with scripted and art by Gill Fox. Fox took over from Bill Ward (Torchy Todd’s creator and writer) five years after her introduction, starting with Modern Comics #89 (1949). As far as replacement of Bill Ward, Fox did a truly excellent job, managing to preserve the mood and style of Ward’s stories. Read the mermaid tale (no more tentacles, sadly) here.

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Sometimes octopuses catch little girls, but occasionally a feisty little girl captures an octopus. Little Dot is going to be a handful when she grows up… but of course she never will.

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This polka-dotted octopus is a perfect catch for Little Dot in this soothingly green sea. Too bad the cephalopod fellow looks so disgruntled. He was probably in the middle of lunch or something. Little Dot no. 105 (June 1966); cover by Warren Kremer.

Those of you also inhabiting parts of the world where the weather has gone bananas (because it’s certainly hot enough for growing them in here), stay cool!

~ ds

Bob White, Forgotten Archie Artist

Of course, you can take that ‘forgotten artist’ notion with a grain of salt: most Archie artists aren’t forgotten, because they were rarely acknowledged in the first place. There are cases such as that of Scrooge McDuck creator Carl Barks, aka the Good Duck Artist, whose identity latterly became known through the efforts of a handful of devoted fans… but such fortuitous events are rare as Gladstone Gander’s off days.

No such luck for Robert “Bob” White (1928-2005), who got the short end of the stick despite being the Archie line’s signature artist during its peak period* (pretty squarely 1959 to 1965) and crafting uncluttered, expertly-designed covers and stories. Of course, these years coincide with most of the classic Archie bullpen hitting its stride, bookmarked at one end by the ascent of White (who’d arrived at Archie around 1954, but details are scant) and at the other by Samm Schwartz‘s departure for greener, but sadly ephemeral (1965-69) pastures, an art director post with Tower Comics.

According to The Comics Reporter, writing on the occasion of White’s passing, « He was let go by Archie after working on Tippy Teen for Tower, at which point he moved into other lines of work, including a stint as an artist at United Artists. »

Archie’s illiberal response to a guy simply, and wisely, trying to avoid putting all his eggs in one basket was typical of the publisher, and of the reactionary comics industry in general, but it’s to White’s credit that, unlike Dan DeCarlo and Samm Schwartz (who at least made a break for it), he didn’t just fold, kiss their ring and take their abuse. Who’s to say? Perhaps that principled departure really stuck in their craw.

There are simply too many outstanding White covers to feature in one go; I suppose I’ll have to return to the well a couple of times. Still, these ought to give you a sense of the man’s style.

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Before Afterlife With Archie, there was… Life With Archie, which « was a comic book published from 1958 to 1991. It featured Archie Andrews in adventure stories that were more dramatic than the standard Archie tales. » This is Life With Archie no. 5 (November, 1960.)

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« As I looked there came, I thought a change – he seemed to swell – his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter… » ― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
‘Delicious’ is a good start, but what about the side effects? This is Archie’s Mad House no. 15 (Oct. 1961).

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Hey, the Macabre Trio’s in town! This is Laugh no. 129 (December 1961). Cool ghoul Bob White is truly in his element here. Also, do bear in mind that the word “Horror” was banned by the Comics Code Authority, yet they approved this cover. Asleep at the switch!

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This is Life With Archie no. 12 (January, 1962.) Correctly acknowledging the facts of evolution? Obviously, Al Hartley hadn’t made the scene yet.

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I’m especially fond of the period when you get a sense from the covers (chiefly those produced by White and Schwartz) that Riverdale was built over the Hellmouth or an ancient burial ground, as monsters and aliens routinely ask for directions or take Betty out for a soda. This is Pep no. 153 (March, 1962).

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Ah, there’s some of that “more dramatic” stuff. Life With Archie no. 16 (September, 1962.)

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« So don’t be persistent / Please keep your distance / You know my resistance is low »
It would appear that Madison Avenue’s brand of wizardry is more than a match for Sabrina’s. This is Archie’s Mad House no. 27 (August, 1963).

– RG

*I’m in complete agreement with cartoonist-connaisseur Gregory Gallant, aka Seth, when he writes, in his introduction to John Stanley‘s Thirteen ‘Going on Eighteen’ (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009… where’s volume 2 at?) that « I like Archie comics quite a bit and own hundreds of issues of Archie and its various spin off titles. I can even tell you which years are the good years (1959 to ’65, incidentally) »