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

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 29

« A face like an oyster, huh?‘ Danny Lomax repeated, and swallowed hard. ‘That’s what it’s going to look like?‘ Nick Deene chuckled and nodded. ‘If there’s anything deader-looking than a watery blue oyster that’s been open too long,‘ he said, ‘I don’t know what it is. » — Robert Arthur, The Believers (1941)

Today, we’ll peer through filmy years past at another example of cultural cross-pollination: a notion is born, seemingly out of nowhere, then it ineffably catches the collective fancy and is in some fashion absorbed into folklore, scattered like grain by wind and whisper. Then some soul, blessed with a way with words, polishes it for publication and some editor buys it for peanuts. Another wordsmith reshuffles and refines it, sprinkling some notions of his own, perhaps a glint of sardonic humour. Hungry for material, radio gets hold of the setup and reshapes it a little to fit another medium. Late one night, some comic book hack hears that presentation, and recollects its essence, some years on, in a frantic rush to fill some pages and scrape together a meagre living. Or perhaps he saw it in a competitor’s rag. Bah, no-one’ll remember… or give a toss. “I’ll give it a stab from another angle!

First, there was… well, I’m not sure. But let’s begin with Henry Russell Wakefield‘s short story Ghost Hunt (either 1938 or 1948… sources differ), in which…

A radio host broadcasts a live ghost hunt in a house in London where there have been “no less than thirty suicides”. Most have run from the house at night to throw themselves off the cliff and into the nearby river. The radio broadcaster is joined by a paranormal investigator. The investigation proves all-too successful in this chilling story.

Then appeared, a couple of years hence, Robert Arthur Jr.‘s excellent The Believers [ read it here! ], published in the venerable Weird Tales‘ July, 1941 issue.

The Believers is a classic horror story by Robert Arthur. It’s about a radio host who decides to broadcast a live show from a haunted house. This story is also known as “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” and it was based on an older story by H. Russell Wakefield called “Ghost Hunt”. It also inspired a horror comic story and an episode of Tales From The Crypt, both of which were called “Television Terror”.

The Believers was featured in this 1963 Random House collection (which Robert Arthur himself edited as well as authored), under its alternate title of Do You Believe in Ghosts?. The splendiferous wraparound cover is by Arthur Shilstone (1922-2020).

In 1949 came a successful radio adaptation, courtesy of the popular Suspense show. This was likely the most influential iteration of the tale, the super-spreader, if you will.

And more that just the one ‘horror comic story’ was inspired by this singular scenario. In 1952, The Unknown (or at least uncredited, which amounts to the same thing) Writer came up with The Walking Ghost, which will now break up the tedium of text, text, text, and provide you with some welcome visuals by Messrs. Mike Sekowsky on pencils and Bill Walton on inks.

This adaptation (if you will) strikes a middle ground between the Wakefield and the Arthur approaches.

The Walking Ghost was reprinted decades later in Crypt of Shadows no. 3 (May, 1973, Marvel), where I first encountered this tale, and this bit of dialogue was modified to better (but not by much) fit the times:

And what exactly was the matter with “Uncle Miltie“? Doesn’t having the biggest schlong in Hollywood buy you any respect anymore? The Twilight Zone wasn’t even a radio show!
The Walking Ghost first saw print in Strange Tales no. 11 (Oct. 1952, Atlas); cover by Bill Everett. It didn’t even rate the cover.

-RG

Hot Streak: Bill Everett’s Menace

« I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us. » — Dorothy Dix

Menace was a short-lived (11 issues, 1953-54, Atlas) horror anthology title that’s mostly remembered*, if at all, for its one-shot introduction of a zombi by the name of Simon Garth. Because Atlas never really played the gore card, its successor Marvel was able to mine most of its Pre-code material as cheap filler in their 1970s bid to flood the market. Don’t get me wrong, though; these titles were still a lot of primitive fun, and in most cases, I’d pick an issue of Weird Wonder Tales, Where Monsters Dwell or Uncanny Tales From the Grave over the latest Fantastic Four or Spider-Man.

The writing was by no means daring or even coherent, but the artwork was frequently rather fine, with none quite finer than Bill Everett‘s, particularly his covers, which elegantly straddled the line between fearsome and goofy.

I’d be tempted to say that Everett (1917-1973) was at his peak when he created these, but the bittersweet fact of it is that Everett was still at the height of his artistic powers, even as he was slowly dying in the early 1970s.

This particular hot streak ends not because Everett turned in a lesser job, but because other hands provided covers for the rest of the run. Talented hands, at that (Carl Burgos, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Harry Anderson), but none of the other Menace covers are a patch on Everett’s mighty half-dozen.

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These monsters look kind of playful and kooky, don’t they? This is Menace no. 1 (March 1953, Atlas). Inside we find Everett, George Tuska, Russ Heath and Werner Roth art. Oh, and Stan Lee stories. Colours by Stan Goldberg.

 

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This is Menace no. 2 (April 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg.

 

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This is Menace no. 3 (May 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg. Was the title’s monthly schedule truly supposed to be a selling point?

 

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This is Menace no. 4 (June 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg.

 

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If you think that’s impressive, you should see what mushrooms can do to asphalt!** This is Menace no. 5 (July 1953, Atlas). Simon Garth was dug up (sorry) in 1973, likely at the behest of continuity addict Roy Thomas, to star (if you can call it that) in his own black & white magazine, Tales of the Zombie (10 issues, 1973-75). Like The Man-Thing, he was essentially mindless and shambling, and so mostly a pawn or an uncomprehending witness to others’ tragedies. The best of the mangy lot is, imho, The Blood-Testament of Brian Collier (TotZ no.7… read it here.) It’s not great, but it sure looks pretty, thanks to the sublime Alfredo Alcala, who’s quite in his element here.

 

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Don and Warren also met Simon. Read Lee and Everett’s 1953 Zombie!

 

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This is Menace no. 6 (August 1953, Atlas). Colours by Stan Goldberg.

That strange compulsion that’s creeping over you, that ungodly craving for more Bill Everett, cannot quite be slaked without incurring a terrible cost, be it in human lives, the forfeiting of your immortal soul, or both. But do check out my co-admin ds’ earlier tribute to Mr. Everett’s nightmares, Bill Everett’s Restless Nights of Dread, it might tide you over until dawn.

-RG

*these babies are rare, in any condition.

**Here’s an example:

« A bump in the garage floor turned into a half meter of mushrooms in little more than three days. It crushed its way through five centimetres of asphalt in Åge Reppes garage in Stord, western Norway. It is the water pressure in the cells of the fungus that makes it able to crack the asphalt, says a biologist at the local university. » [ source ]. These are inky caps. Edible, but some species are toxic when consumed with alcohol. These are commonly known as ‘tippler’s bane‘.

Bill Everett’s Restless Nights of Dread

Today, 102 years ago (!), on May 18th, 1917, William Blake Everett came into the world. He did not become a poet like his ancestor William Blake, nor a politician like Richard Everett, another famous forebear, who founded the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. Bill Everett’s father wanted him to become a cartoonist, and his wish came true, though the elder Mr. Everett died long before before the rebellious Bill found his place in the comics industry.

Bill Everett is best known for creating Namor the Sub-Mariner (visit out Tentacle Tuesday: Prince Namor for an overview of this character’s story and adventures… or read The Brilliance of Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner, Marvel’s Superman, a great article from Sequart Magazine), but he also had his hand in the creation of Daredevil and Simon Garth, Zombie. Everett excelled in many genres – superheroes, horror, fantasy, science-fiction – but today, since there are far too many covers to feature, I will force myself to focus on horror. Welcome to the ghoulish gallery of my favourite Bill Everett covers! (They’re not necessarily the goriest or scariest – sometimes it’s a mood of quiet menace or a striking composition that sways me.)

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Venus no. 19 (April 1952). The silent, smirking watchers in the corner are far creepier than the skeleton embracing her!

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Astonishing Tales no. 15 (July 1952). Do a lot of daughters address their fathers by their first name?

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Marvel Tales no. 111 (February 1953)

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Mystic no. 18 (March 1953).

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Journey Into Mystery no. 9 (June 1953)

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Marvel Tales no. 117 (August 1953)

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Mystic no. 51 (September 1956). I love these silent covers where the menace is suggested rather than shown in detail.

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Strange Stories of Suspense no. 9 (June 1956)

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Marvel Tales no. 151 (October 1956). Here it’s the composition I especially like – the giant hair isn’t that scary.

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Mystical Tales no. 6 (April 1957). I admit the WHY? WHY? WHY? amuses me WHY? WHY? WHY?; – one inquiry should have sufficed. Speaking of “WHY?”… Why is she barefoot? Those rocks have to be treacherously slippery at the best of times, let alone in a rainstorm.

If you’d like more, you can visit Scott’s Classic Comics Comics Corner: Top 13 Bill Everett Horror Covers – only two of his entries overlap with my own selection, which shows how opinions vary and just how rich this vein is.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner

Created by Bill Everett, Namor the Sub-Mariner first appeared in Marvel Comics no. 1 (October 1939). The offspring of a human sea captain and a princess of Atlantis (and thus proudly bearing the title of Prince), he possessed the aquatic talents one expects of a regular merman and the exceptional strength of a carnival strongman. The cool thing about Namor is that right off the bat, he was a rather negative character – to be more precise, he was an Enemy of the United States (Everett didn’t mince words or characters, huh?) As Les Daniels states in his Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics (1991), « Namor was a freak in the service of chaos. Although the Sub-Mariner acted like a villain, his cause had some justice, and readers reveled in his assaults on civilization. His enthusiastic fans weren’t offended by the carnage he created as he wrecked everything from ships to skyscrapers. » This chaos culminated in an epic fight with Human Torch in 1941 when Namor took things a little too far and threatened to inundate the whole island of Manhattan. This little skirmish didn’t prevent him from joining the Allies’ side once World War II started, however, which gave a more constructive outlet for his somewhat destructive energies.

Right from the beginning, the Sub-Mariner was a complex character who just wouldn’t fit into the standard good guy/bad guy dichotomy. He underwent through quite a few transformations, disappearing for a bit right after WWII like many of his super-and-anti hero compatriots (but never for more than a couple of years at a time) and resurfacing during the Silver Age as a slightly different character. Namor’s concern about encroaching technology and hate of humanity, his fierce independence, made him a likeable character for those of us who like mavericks. He is a tragic character, a king without a kingdom who finds that Atlantis and its people have been destroyed by nuclear testing. After that, who wouldn’t hold a grudge? Anyway, if you’d like a more cogent overview of the Sub-Mariner’s history, visit The Great Comic Book Heroes.

To get back on topic, given how much time Namor spends underwater, it’s hardly surprising that he quite frequently encounters tentacles.

First, a story scripted and drawn by Bill Everett – who better to introduce the character than his creator? This is “The Octopus-Men!”, printed in The Human Torch no. 38 (August 1954).

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« The Original Aquaman » ? My, aren’t we testy. Now, now, you boys both belong to a long, storied tradition.

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Skipping ahead some twenty years, a page from “Namor Agonistes!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by John Severin, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 38 (June 1971). This is sort of an origin story of the Sub-Mariner. Lovely art, n’est-ce pas?

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A page from “When Wakes the Kraken!”, scripted by Roy Thomas, pencilled by Sal Buscema and inked by Mike Esposito, printed in Sub-Mariner no. 27 (July 1970):

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Oh, let’s have a couple of covers, too.

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A rather random assortment of creatures, isn’t it? Sub-Mariner no. 13 (May 1969), pencils by Marie Severin and inks by Joe Sinnott.

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Umm… why is a piranha wielding an axe? Sub-Mariner no. 54 (October 1972), pencilled by Alan Weiss and inked by Frank Giacoia.

I mostly sneer at modern “reboots” of Golden or Silver Age characters, but Namor’s appearance in the excellent Thor the Mighty Avenger (Marvel, 2010) was completely à propos. (The series is a happy union of an absorbing story with great graphics – it’s written by Roger Langridge with art by Chris Samnee.) Here’s a page from “Thursday Morning“, published in Thor the Mighty Avenger no. 5 (December 2010).

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~ ds