Into the Inky Shadows With Jerry Grandenetti

« Jerry Grandenetti started out ghosting The Spirit, and nobody… NOBODY… captured the spirit of The Spirit better. Not content to stay in Will Eisner’s shadow forever, he forged his own unique style leading to a highly successful comics career lasting decades. » — Michael T. Gilbert

Since my very first encounter with his work, Jerry Grandenetti (1926-2010; born ninety-five years ago today, another Thursday April 15th) has endured as one of my true artistic heroes. But he’s not celebrated much at all.

Though he’s worked extensively on The Spirit, he’s treated as a bit of a footnote in the Eisner hagiography. His DC war work is well-regarded, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by the Joe KubertRuss HeathJohn Severin trinity. Besides, by and large, the war comics audience doesn’t overlap much with the spandex long johns crowd. Grandenetti has only very occasionally and timidly dipped a toe into the super-heroics fray, and he was far too unusual for overwhelming mainstream acclaim.

In fact, aside from the couple of converts I’ve made over the years, I can only think of three fellow torch-bearing aficionados: Michael T. Gilbert (who digs best the early, Eisner-employed Jerry); Stephen R. Bissette (who favours the spooky 60s and 70s work); and Don Mangus, who’s most into the DC war stuff. I daresay I enjoy it all, but my taste is most closely aligned with Mr. Bissette’s on this particular point. Let’s sample a bit of everything, insofar as it’s feasible to sum up a career spread out over five decades… in a dozen-or-so images.

Opening splash from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Sabina the Sorceress, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 56 (Dec. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Special no. 2, Aug. 1986, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was recoloured by Steve Oliff.
Page 3 from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Curse of the Mandibles!, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 55 (Oct. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 4, Dec. 1985, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was most tastefully recoloured by Steve Oliff.

In 1954, the powers-that-be at National Periodical Publications (you know, DC) gave Grandenetti some latitude to experiment with their War covers. Grandenetti produced an arresting hybrid of painted and line art. The process involved a grey wash painting that was photostatted, with flat colour laid over the resulting image. The first few attempts yielded striking, but nearly monochromatic results. A bit farther down the pike, the production department got more assured in its technical exploration.

This is G.I. Combat no. 77 (Oct. 1959, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler, who recalled, in a 1970s interview: « It was suggested that we start doing washes for covers, and we were talking about doing it for so damned long, but nobody attempted it. I think Grandenetti did the first one, an army cover with someone floating in the water. I think that was the first wash cover that was done. That one ended up looking like a full color painting. »
This is G.I. Combat no. 83 (Aug.- Sept. 1960, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler. In 1995, Robert Kanigher, Grandenetti’s editor on the DC war books and a frequent collaborator, recalled: « Jerry liked to experiment and I had to sit on him to get him to stop it. Especially in his covers, which were outstanding, when I forced him to draw as realistically as possible. »
Original art from The Wrath of Warlord Krang!, smothered in dialogue and exposition by Stan Lee, from Tales to Astonish no. 86 (Dec. 1966, Marvel); inks by Bill Everett. Namor‘s constant random shouts of ‘Imperius Rex!‘ make him sound like a sitcom character with Tourette’s. As far as I’m concerned, it’s possibly been the most annoyingly asinine slogan in comics since Stan stole ‘Excelsior!‘ from Jean Shepherd.
The opening splash from Cry Fear, Cry Phantom, written by Archie Goodwin, from Eerie no. 7 (Jan. 1967, Warren). In the mid-60s, presumably tiring of being pigeonholed as a war artist at DC, Grandenetti made the publishers’ rounds, doing a bit of work for Tower, Gold Key, Charlton, Marvel, Cracked (check it out here) and most memorably Warren where, after ghosting a few stories for Joe Orlando, he unleashed his innovative expressionistic style.

DC was generally hesitant to entrust its more established properties to the more “out there” artists. In the cases of Grandenetti and Carmine Infantino, the solution was to match them with the weirdness-dampening inks of straight-arrow artist Murphy Anderson. And you know what? It did wonders for both pencillers and inker.

This is The Spectre no. 6, October, 1968. A tale told by Gardner Fox (and likely heavily revised by hands-on editor Julius Schwartz, a man who loved alliterative titling) and superbly illustrated by the Grandenetti-Anderson team. Steve Ditko aside, Jerry Grandenetti had no peer in the obscure art of depicting eldritch dimensions (you’ll see!)

Page 13 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson. Dig the salute to a trio of real-life spooky writers, all of whom editor Julius Schwartz knew well, having even served as Lovecraft’s literary agent late in his life. By the tail end of the 1960s, Lovecraft’s work was finally making some commercial inroads, thanks largely to Arkham House co-publisher Derleth‘s unflagging diligence.
Page 22 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson.
Page 2 from Men Call Me the Phantom Stranger, written by Mike Friedrich, from Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969, DC); inks by Bill Draut. This story reintroduced an obscure character from the early 50s, which Grandenetti had drawn a couple of times during his six-issue run. The Phantom Stranger has remained active ever since, but most writers (save Alan Moore, wouldn’t you know it?) don’t really know what to do with him. This, however, is my very favourite PS appearance. Draut, a slightly old-fashioned penciller by this time was, as a slick inker, a wonderful fit for Grandenetti’s confidently loopy layouts.
Page 3 from The Haunting!, written by Jack Oleck, from House of Mystery no. 183 ((Nov.-Dec. 1969, DC). Grandenetti pencils and inks: undiluted!
Page 2 from Eyes of the Cat, written by Robert Kanigher, from House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC); inks by Jerry’s fellow Will Eisner ghost Wallace Wood. The inspired combination of Grandenetti’s adventurous layouts and the velvety unctuousness of Wood’s finishes are a match made in heaven, but one Woody wasn’t fond of. Oh well.

So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!

-RG

Archie Goodwin’s “Sinner” (1966)

« If you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block. » — Anton Szandor LaVey

I’m afraid the appeal of Archie Goodwin’s (1937-1998) writing has always escaped me. As you’d expect with a career as busy and prolific as his was, there are notable exceptions*. But I think, as is often the case in comics, he gets a lot of credit for tepid, formulaic writing that happens to be masterfully illustrated. You know, like just about every story from the early Creepy and Eerie (Goodwin was editor and principal writer of the Warren line for its first four years or so) with their groan-inducing ‘shock’ endings: “But I’m a vampire, and we don’t like competition around here!” or “We ghouls don’t cotton much to werewolves!” or “You’ve guessed my secret too late — I’m a witch!” or “For I am… Death!

On the other hand, he was a fine editor and, by all accounts, a terrific human being. In 2013, Mark Evanier put it this way: « At a time when some editors in comics were notorious for treating their freelancers with disrespect and yelling, Goodwin had a sterling reputation. He always would. Archie was nice. He was honest. »

It is to his great distinction that even such divisive, eternally-acerbic figures as Jim ShooterFirst and foremost, everyone loved Archie. Archie had a manner about him that you just couldn’t not like him. While he was tough as nails, and he was probably the best that passed through this business, he managed to do it without offending anyone. He managed to be respected and remain friends with everyone and do his job. ») and Alex TothNone of us were working there [at Warren ] for the money, because there wasn’t much. We were working there to work with Archie. ») reserved naught but effusive praise for the man.

But you know what I really like about Archie? His drawing, which was all-too-rarely showcased. While he did adjoin thumbnails layouts to his scripts, Goodwin’s drawings rarely appeared in print, aside from some jokey editorial asides at Marvel in the 1980s. Here’s Sinner, written and illustrated by Goodwin, from Wally Wood’s prozine Witzend no. 1 (Summer 1966).

Sinner would be reprinted a few times, notably in the second issue of Marvel’s Heavy Metal knockoff Epic Illustrated (Summer, 1980), edited** by Goodwin. Marvel had passed on the Métal Hurlant licensing rights and, when Heavy Metal proved a smash hit, launched their ersatz. Such is the way of Marvel.
This is Witzend no. 1, featuring a splendid cover layout by Goodwin…. it’s harder than it looks, especially when it looks this good… and given the relatively primitive means employed. I tell you, Archie missed his calling.
Goodwin’s, adobe, clean line and silhouette graphic approach has always reminded me of this fine album cover from a few years earlier, which is to say 1963. It was designed by A&M Records art director Peter Whorf (yes, the legendary Whipped Cream & Other Delights cover was also one of his).

Despite all this, Archie Goodwin’s greatest claim to fame simply has to be the tremendous legwork he did as Nero Wolfe’s assistant.

« Archie Goodwin’s first prose story was published by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which warned him he could not use Archie Goodwin as a pen name because it was a Rex Stout character in the Nero Wolfe books. According to Goodwin’s wife Anne T. Murphy, the magazine’s editors ‘then were so delighted when he wrote back to say that it was his real name that they used the anecdote as the introduction to the story, which ran in the July 1962 issue.’ »

-RG

*Notable exceptions: The Success Story, with art by Al Williamson (Creepy no. 1, 1964) has actual bite. Despite its rote-EC-revenge-from-beyond-the-grave finale, it’s a bitter parody of real-life comic-strip parasites such as Don Sherwood (Dan Flagg, The Partridge Family) and Alfred Andriola (Kerry Drake). There’s the tragically moving Island at World’s End, illustrated by Gray Morrow (Eerie no.4, July 1966). And a handful of inspired little tales that truly fired up the creativity of a freshly-emancipated Steve Ditko: Collector’s Edition (Creepy no. 10, Aug. 1966); Second Chance! (Creepy no. 13, Feb. 1967); Deep Ruby! (Eerie no. 6, Nov. 1966); and my very favourite, Room With a View (Eerie no. 3, May 1966… their first collaboration!). If anyone’s interested, the Goodwin-Ditko outings have been handsomely collected in Creepy Presents: Steve Ditko (2013, Dark Horse).

It must be said that Goodwin knew how to match a plot with the proper illustrator. As he explained, « I always tried to write the stories for individual artists. Sometimes, I’d ask them if there was a certain setting or a certain kind of story they were interested in, and I also knew what they did best. » It’s a shame that, overall, the stories themselves were so timid and unambitious, so mired in the glories of the past. Some people can’t help pulling their punches, I suppose.

**To give you a fair idea of Marvel’s delusions of corporate grandeur at the time, Epic Illustrated no. 2‘s convoluted and deceptive editorial credits read thus: Stan Lee (editor); Archie Goodwin (editorial director); James Shooter (consulting editor); Marian Stensgard; Louise Jones; Larry Hama; Ralph Macchio (editorial); Roy Thomas (contributing editor); Maggie Thompson (contributing editor); Don Thompson (contributing editor). Dollars to doughnuts that Goodwin and Louise Jones did all the actual work.