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, to 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.

Tomahawk131A
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 disagreed, 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

More Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood!

« … every idiot who goes about with a ‘Merry Christmas‘ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. » — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Whoa, is the accursed Holiday Season upon us again already? Given the rather baffling (but greatly appreciated) popularity of our previous brochette of Christmas-themed Playboy cartoons, which took off in… April and just kept gathering steam, we’ve chosen to just go with the flow and present you with a sequel. We’ve had more time and opportunity to dig further, so we’ve cherry-picked a dozen, both naughty and nice, with plenty left over for next year. We’ve taken pains to include some of the worthy cartoonists who were somehow left out of last year’s legendary Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood.

Here we go, then. Season’s greetings and all that rot!

DediniXmasTreeA
One from adorable bon vivant Eldon Dedini (1921-2006), previously spotlighted here.
RowlandProvisionA
A late-career entry from Rowland Bragg Wilson (1930-2005), from Playboy’s January, 2002 issue.
SmilbySantaBagA
It was bound to happen: for a change, Santa decided to indulge in a little *receiving* of his own. This mutely eloquent cartoon from the pages of Playboy is by the steady hand of Smilby, pseudonym of American blues-loving Englishman Francis Wilford-Smith (1927-2009).
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Here’s a Dink Siegel piece I’d saved for this occasion, once more featuring his “roommates”. It debuted in Playboy’s December, 1969 issue. Feast your jaded eyeballs upon our recent Dink Siegel spotlight right here.
ESimsCampbellClubA
A lush yet understated œuvre by pioneering African-American genius Elmer Simms Campbell (1906-1971), from Playboy’s December, 1962 numéro.
SokolTelegramA
Austrian künstlerisches Genie Erich Sokol (1933 – 2003), whose work, for my money packs the strongest erotic charge of all the Playboy cartoonists’, painted this marvel for the December, 1969 issue of Playboy.
BuckBrownFoulPlayA
We couldn’t, in good conscience, leave out Buck Brown’s famously naughty ‘Granny’. This undated cartoon is likely a marker preliminary.
ThorneRosesA
Noted comic book artist Frank Thorne provides this whimsical quote from Clement Moore’s perennial The Night Before Christmas, featuring a gorgeous aurora borealis night sky. The candy cane keepsake is a lovely signature, Not-so-Saint(ly)-Nick.
MikeWilliamsHoHoHoA
For a change of pace, here’s an unctuously cynical one from Liverpudlian stunner Mike Williams (b. 1940); from Playboy’s January, 1982 issue.
BuckBrownConcessionsA
A more colourful specimen of the lush artwork of Robert “Buck” Brown (1936 – 2007), another brilliant African-American whose Playboy work was but a single facet of his incisive, multifarious and socially-engaged œuvre.
SneydTinyTimA
I must confess that my fellow Canadian Doug Sneyd‘s (b. 1931 in Orillia, ON, birthplace of Gordon Lightfoot and Mitch the Ferret) style isn’t really my cup of tea. But my partner ds enjoys his work, and that’s good enough for me.
GahanCloggingA
And last but not least, our dear Gahan Wilson, who just recently left us. Here’s our earlier salute to this macabre maestro. This bittersweet creation appeared in the October, 1964 Playboy.

-RG