Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 15

« He was homicidal. He was a real nut, a really tooty-fruity nut… he killed for fun… now society is avenged… avenged avenged avenged… and minus expensive court costs too… » — writer-editor Al Hewetson loved ellipses

For a few years in the early 70s, longtime Atlas/Marvel production manager Sol Brodsky joined forces with canny schemer Israel Waldman in order to give monster mag publisher James Warren a good scare, and it worked. During its relatively brief existence (1970-75), brassy upstart Skywald Publications gave Warren pause and cause to nervously peer over his shoulder and strong incentive to improve his product, which was hardly at its peak in 1970.

This is Nightmare no. 11 (February, 1973, Skywald). The spooky, claustrophobic cover is the brushwork of José Antonio Domingo, who also contributed a handful of painted covers to Marvel’s concurrent b&w magazine line.

By all means, do read this intriguing issue, which is available in its entirety right… here.

Oh, and why not? Here’s the finest of Domingo’s Marvel covers, à mon avis… despite the rather inept text placement.

This is Vampire Tales no. 2 (Oct. 1973, Marvel).

-RG

John Severin, ‘Super Comics’ Cover Man

« I got into the comic business the same way I got into the bubble gum business: somebody gave me a job. » — John Severin

I’ve said it before, and I still feel that way: If you’re going to discuss a career of such length, variety, depth and consistency as John Severin’s (from the late 1940s to the early 2010s!) it’s simply too easy to lose your way in the details, sidebars and bifurcations. Best to pick a small area and stick to it, particularly if you don’t have the luxury of endless pages to devote to the task.

Speaking of sidebars: In this forum, I keep returning to the topic of Israel Waldman and his dodgy, but mesmerizing publishing ventures. The many scattershot titles issued under the IW / Super Comics (1958-1964) banner were printed on shoddy paper (which makes them, nowadays, nearly impossible to find in any sort of decent shape), were sold outside the usual channels (in bags of three through department stores, and not the fancy ones at that), consisted of rather hoary, indifferently-packaged reprints… but foxy businessman Waldman didn’t scrimp on the one count that mattered: he shelled out top dollar to commission top talent to create attractive covers. That sweet old bait-and-switch.

Sure, some of these random assemblages of decaying pulp happen to be good comics, but given the nature of odds, it was bound to happen.

John Powers Severin, born ninety-seven years ago today (Dec. 26, 1921-Feb. 12, 2012), was part of Waldman’s cadre of cover artistes, and he delivered beautifully, as he always did, right to the end of his career.

Here, then, are some highlights of these little-seen Severin pieces. Happy birthday, Mr. Severin!

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Blazing Sixguns no. 16 (1964), ten issues, 1958-1964. Read this issue here.

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Here’s Danger no. 10 (1963), the first of  seven issues. Read it here.

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This is Fantastic Adventures no. 10 (the first of seven issues, 1963-64). Read it here.

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Looks like Marvel’s Kid Colt did a bit of moonlighting for Super Comics (as did king of all media Gabby Hayes!). This is Gunfighters no. 18, fifth and final issue of the series (1958-1964).

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This is Silver Kid Western no. 1 (1958), first of two issues. Read it here.

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This is Robin Hood no. 9 (1958),  third of five issues (1958-1964). Read it here.

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An alternative view of table étiquette from real-life figure Ben Thompson. This is The Westerner no. 17 (1964), third of three issues.

And if you’re hankering for more John Severin, check out our earlier post and/or this illuminating, life-spanning and definitive Comics Journal interview.

-RG

Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Harvey and…

« It was long past midnight on a hot, wet June night many years ago… Central City lay choking for breath in an eerie fog… »

In this, part three of our chronicle following as we can the meandering and sometimes mystifying odyssey of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, we reach the most outré segments of the former Denny Colt’s road.

In a unique twist, The Spirit’s next residence, nearly a decade after his Fiction House run, had nothing at all to do with Will Eisner… in terms of securing his assent, that is.

It was down to the fabulously sketchy Israel Waldman, one of those fringe-dwelling characters who made the comics industry such a colourful snake pit. To quote the Grand Comics Database: « I.W. Publications (1958-1964) was part of I.W. Enterprises, and named for the company’s owner, Israel Waldman. Reportedly, Waldman came into possession of a printing company and among the assets were the production materials for several hundred comic books previously published by various publishers as well as a limited amount of previously unpublished material. Waldman equated possession of production materials as the right to reprint and I.W. became notable for publishing unauthorized reprints of other companies’ comics, often with new covers, as Waldman’s windfall did not often include the production materials for covers. The later half of the company’s existence, it published comics under the Super Comics name. Usually these companies were out of business, but not always. »

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This is The Spirit no. 11 (1963), featuring The Man Who Killed The Spirit (Mar. 24, 1946), cover-featured The Case of the Balky Buzzard (Apr. 21, 1946), Carrion’s Rock (May 19, 1946), all scripted by Eisner, as well as Honeybun and Flatfoot Burns shorts. Cover by Joe Simon (“Joe, did you even read the story you’re depicting?“). This one was well worth one’s hard-earned twelve pennies. Read it here.

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This is The Spirit no. 12 (1964), featuring, this time, a trio of WWII-era Spirit stories scripted by Manly Wade Wellman and Bill Woolfolk and illustrated by Lou Fine, rounded off with a pair of Flatfoot Burns shorts by Al Stahl . Cover again by Joe Simon. Read it here.

If memory serves, Waldman’s comics craftily bypassed the Comics Code (another exception!) and the newsstands, being exclusively sold in sealed bags of three in bargain-basement department stores. To bait the hook, Waldman paid top dollar for new cover artwork, approaching established pros like Ross Andru (who actually delivered some fun stuff, unlike his unforgivably atrocious turn as DC’s main cover artist in the late 1970s), John Severin, Jack Abel, and in these two cases, Jacob Kurtzberg‘s old partner, Joe Simon.

Unsurprisingly, Waldman skimped on all other materials, particularly the paper his comics were printed on, which means that I.W./Super Comics are pretty hard to come by these days in any kind of decent state, so they’re ironically pricey.

A few years later, Eisner struck a deal with another rascal (albeit one with cleaner fingernails), Alfred Harvey of Harvey Comics, Stan Lee‘s only credible competition in the credit-usurping, I created-the-Universe stakes. Again, two issues, but this time with some new Eisner material, including origin stories for The Spirit (his third, but definitive one), and his arch-nemesis Zitzbath Zark, which you may know as purple glove enthusiast The Octopus.

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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 1 (Oct. 1966), featuring the new Origin of the Spirit by Eisner, and classics Lorelei Rox (Sept. 19, 1948), Two Lives (Dec. 12, 1948), Agent Cosmek/Visitor (Feb. 13, 1949), The Story of Rat-Tat the Toy Machine Gun (Sept. 4, 1949), Ten Minutes (Sept. 11, 1949), Thorne Strand (Jan. 23, 1949), Gerhard Shnobble (Sept. 5, 1948), all scripted by Eisner, save Ten Minutes, which hails from the mind of Jules Feiffer.

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Harvey’s The Spirit no. 2 (March, 1967) features the brand-new Octopus: The Life Story of the King of Crime and 2-pager The Spirit Lab, plus a generous helping of fine oldies, namely Plaster of Paris (Nov. 7, 1948), The Deadly Comic Book (Feb. 27, 1949), Rudy the Barber (Oct. 22, 1950), The Story of Sam, the Saucer That Wanted to Fly (Sept. 17, 1950), Sam Chapparell (Oct. 10, 1948), La Cucaracha (Nov. 19, 1950), The Halloween Spirit of 1948–Ellen Meets Hazel (Oct. 31, 1948), all scripted by Eisner… the book wraps up with a preview of the next issue, which never saw print. And so it goes…

Mr. Eisner then finally had the good fortune to run into an honest man, who would prove in time to be his most steadfast ally: Mr. Denis Kitchen. Their first collaborations were a bit tentative, but quite sympathiques, with Eisner kind of slouching towards the Underground, his creation even cover-featured on Kitchen’s long-running humour anthology Snarf.

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This is Kitchen Sink Enterprises’ Snarf no. 3 (Nov. 1972), featuring an original Eisner cover.

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Another two-issue run! Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 1 (Jan. 1973), featuring a new cover by Eisner, and precious relics Max Scarr’s Map (Apr. 14, 1946), Caramba (Nov. 10, 1946), Return to Caramba (Nov. 17, 1946), The Rubber Band (June 23, 1946), plus a few brand-new short pieces.

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Kitchen Sink’s The Spirit no. 2 (Nov. 1973), featuring a new Eisner cover, an original four-pager, The Capistrano Jewels, and, as boasts the cover, all about P’Gell, with Meet P’Gell (Oct. 6, 1946), The School for Girls?? (Jan. 19, 1947), Competition (Aug. 3, 1947) and The Duce’s Locket (May 25, 1947).

Next time out: some interesting times with Warren.

-RG

Unexpected Delights: John Severin, 1971-72

« And you always get your finger in the frame* »

I’m inordinately fond of Marvel’s brief flirtation with “picture frame” covers, which lasted but a year, opening with books cover-dated November 1971, at the tail end of Stan Lee’s run as editor-in-chief, and fading away less than a year later during Roy Thomas’ tenure. Figures.

This period coincided with one of John Severin’s passages at Marvel. At the time, the self-proclaimed « House of Ideas » was endeavouring to flood the market with crap, aiming to force DC to overextend itself to retain its market share, and, reportedly, to drive Gold Key out of business. So Marvel let loose a torrent of unannounced and unnecessary reprints, at most commissioning new covers to sell the bill of goods.

Tactically, it was a tawdry page out of the infamous Israel Waldman* book: in the late 1950s to mid-60s, the canny cheapjack publisher issued a line of comics (IW/Super) reprinting material he owned and often didn’t, in the case of some of the more nebulous copyrights (namely Quality’s The Spirit, Doll Man and Plastic Man)… accidentally on purpose. Anyhow, Waldman paid a few handpicked freelancers top dollar (to get his money’s worth… I did say he was canny) to create enticing new covers to adorn his shoddy reprint rags. And I do mean rags: the paper stock used was even worse than the low industry standard… just try to find any IW comic book in decent shape nowadays!

Among the cover artists Waldman recruited were the Ross Andru / Mike Esposito team, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Jack Abel… and John Severin.

But getting back to 1971-72, here’s a chronological and alphabetical sampling of my favourite Severin turd-polishing covers from Marvel’s brief « picture frame » flirtation, out of the 35 or so he created solo at the time. Several of these are refreshingly uncluttered and moody… for Marvel.

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Someone at Marvel loved to rip-off the 1967 Lee Marvin-led epic “The Dirty Dozen“; probably Gary Friedrich. The very next month, the Deadly Dozen would team up with another Irishman stereotype to form “Combat Kelly and The Deadly Dozen”, I kid you not. Oh, and a diverse cast in a Marvel war comic? Oh, right, they’re ex-convicts… and they get slaughtered in the last issue. Oops.

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Ah, Severin’s Rawhide Kid. Don’t miss Severin and writer Ron Zimmerman’s brilliant and daring 2003 reboot of the Kid, “Slap Leather”.

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*Del Amitri, “In the Frame” (1995)

**all about Marvel’s “picture frame” era: https://www.cbr.com/marvel-comics-picture-frame-cover-era/

***The gory details on the IW/Super story: http://toonopedia.com/iw-super.htm

-RG