Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 6

« There’s money, all right! I quoted Mrs. Tarrent a hundred slugs for this trip and she never batted a tonsil! » — Ken Shannon’s on the job.

Reed Crandall (1917-1982), one of the final additions (mid-1953… late in the ballgame!) to EC Comics’ immortal roster, previously spent most of the Golden Age years (1941-53) exclusively working for Quality Comics, and it was only when the publisher began to scale back its output, in 1953, that Crandall began to look elsewhere for additional work. After EC, he would make landfall at George A. Pflaum’s Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, a story we’ve touched upon earlier this year.

Hard-boiled private eye (was there any other kind?) Ken Shannon was introduced in Quality’s Police Comics with issue 103 (Dec. 1950), and right away grabbed the cover spot (dethroning Plastic Man, no less!), which he doggedly retained to the bitter end, namely Police’s final bow, issue 127 (Oct. 1953). Concurrently, Shannon’s investigations were spun off into his own book, over the course of ten issues (Oct. 1951 to Apr. 1953).

Shannon certainly had his share of unusual cases to puzzle out, and here are the spookiest!

This is Ken Shannon no. 3 (Feb. 1952, Quality). From what I’ve seen and heard, these babies are scarce.
The cover story’s introductory splash. Read the entire issue here!
This is Ken Shannon no. 6 (Aug. 1952, Quality). Read the entire issue here!
And this is Ken Shannon no. 7 (Oct. 1952, Quality). Read the entire issue here!

-RG

All Men Are Brothers: Henri Dunant’s Croix-Rouge and the Geneva Convention

« When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross. » — Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971)

As is often the case, I had something else in the pipeline for this week… but then I came across a beautiful biography of a wise man whose birthday was just around the corner. Now if the other guy (he’s 88) can just hold on and stay alive another week, things’ll be just fine.

In these riotous days when acts and thoughts of kindness and compassion are being denounced as political and partisan, we would do well to remember the life and example of International Red Cross founder, Henri Dunant ( Jean-Henri Dunant, May 8, 1828 in Geneva, Switzerland). Read on…

To Treasure Chest’s credit, they’re not being tribal or sectarian at all: Dunant wasn’t even Catholic, but rather Calvinist.

As you can bear witness, Reed Crandall (1917-1982) was not the type of artist to cut corners. Unlike some of his peers who could not be bothered to properly draw, say, details of background, period or costume, Crandall lavished attention and care to each and every element, yet without overpowering the narrative. His pages aren’t mere sequences of panels: they’re smartly composed for smoothness of flow and tonal balance.

Though nowadays his fame rests largely upon his brief but fruitful association with EC Comics (1953-56) and its echo at Warren Magazines (1964-1973), the greater bulk of his work was produced for Quality Comics (1941-1956) and for the catholic comics anthology Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact (1960-1972). All Men Are Brothers was, as it happens, his first work to be published in Treasure Chest.

Here’s a tongue-in-cheek but revealing snippet from a profile of Crandall that appeared in Creepy no. 10 (Aug. 1966, Warren):

« Combined with Reed’s fantastic drawing ability and mastery of rendering technique, is the rare ability to take any subject or setting and impart to it a complete sense of realism and authenticity. This, along with the fact that he is one of the most genial and unassuming men in the comics field, has earned him the high regard of his fellow artists, in addition to a growing circle of reader-admirers.

Asked about his ambitions, Reed replied: “To live in an ivory tower and to try to learn to draw and paint, also to pursue unendurable pleasure indefinitely prolonged.” It looks to us as though the drawing and painting are pretty far along already, so surely the ivory tower and prolonged pleasure can’t be too far behind… and in our opinion, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy! »

As for writer John Randolph, who knows? He scripted twenty or so non-fiction pieces for TC between 1955 and 1962, then appears to have moved on. It must be noted that he understood the comics medium, as his work (often with Crandall) was well-paced and not overwritten, the words and visual in steady harmony. Many a writer, lacking the restraint and finesse required for the collaborative pas de deux of comics, tends to crowd out the illustrator, box him in (j’accuse, Al Feldstein!) or pointlessly restate what’s right there in the visuals (Et tu, True Believer?). Add to that the difficulty of elegantly condensing a life or career in six pages… as in this case. Take a bow, Mr. Randolph, whoever you are.

All Men Are Brothers originally appeared in Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact vol. 16 no. 7 (Dec. 8, 1960, Geo. A. Pflaum); cover by Crandall.
Crandall is most closely associated with the long-running Quality (and DC thereafter) character of Blackhawk (a Will Eisner co-creation). This is Modern Comics no. 78 (Oct. 1948, Quality). Between the operas, musicals, and films, John Luther Long’s Madame Butterfly sure gets around! Read the issue here!
More orientalism, but what a cover! This is Police Comics no. 105 (Apr. 1951, Quality). This title was the former and first home of longtime headliner Plastic Man, who bowed out with issue 102. Superheroes, you’ll recall, suffered fading popularity by the early 1950s. Read the issue here!
While Crandall arrived a bit late to the EC party, he made his lasting mark. Versatile as he was, I’d argue he was most in his element on this swashbuckling title, one of EC’s last-ditch, doomed attempts to placate the censors. Wally Wood drew the ship on the left, a recurring element of the cover layout. EC colourist Marie Severin (1929-2018) truly deserves a long round of applause for the sublime job she performed here. This is Piracy no. 3 (Feb.-Mar. 1955, EC).

-RG

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

Edgar Allan Poe: Immortality Is but Ubiquity in Time*

« Be silent in that solitude
    which is not loneliness — for then
the spirits of the dead who stood
    in life before thee are again
in death around thee — and their will
shall then overshadow thee: be still. »
— Edgar Allan Poe (1829)

It was on this day, two hundred and ten years ago, that the great writer, poet and posthumous master of all media Edgar Poe (Jan. 19, 1809 – Oct. 7, 1849) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I’ll spare you the usual biographical details, widely available elsewhere, and we’ll concentrate on his unflagging ubiquity in the medium of comics.

Poe’s literary reputation was in tatters in America, thanks to a rash of hatchet jobs and dismissals, some of the most vicious from the pen of one Rufus Griswold, the very worm he’d named his literary executor (!), as well as such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson and T.S. Eliot… while his renown was undimmed in Europe, particularly in France (in no small part owing to Charles Beaudelaire’s legendary translations), rehabilitation at home slowly came as the 20th century crept along, but it was likely the publication of Arthur Hobson Quinn’s definitive Poe biography, in 1941, that sealed the deal and opened the floodgates.

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Top two tiers from page 2 of The Spirit‘s August 22, 1948 episode. Layout by Will Eisner, pencils and inks by Jerry Grandenetti. As Dave Schreiner puts it: « Grandenetti captures the asthenic look of Roderick Usher that Poe described. The man is a decadent waif; insular, fragile, high-strung, possibly in-bred. »

Classics Illustrated publisher Gilberton was first out of the gate with Poe adaptations, at first tentatively with a pair of poems (Annabel Lee, then The Bells)**, then more substantially with The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in Classic Comics no. 21 3 Famous Mysteries (July, 1944), sharing the stage with Arthur Conan Doyle and Guy de Maupassant. Read it here. Pictured below is Classics Illustrated no. 84 (June 1951, Gilberton), cover by Alex A. Blum. Read the issue here.

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A relevant passage from Simon Singh‘s fascinating (if you’re into that sort of thing… and I hope you are) The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code-Breaking (1999): « On the other side of the Atlantic, Edgar Allan Poe was also developing an interest in cryptanalysis. Writing for Philadelphia’s Alexander Weekly Messenger, he issued a challenge to readers, claiming that he could decipher any monoalphabetic substitution cipher. Hundreds of readers sent in their ciphertexts, and he successfully deciphered them all. Although this required nothing more than frequency analysis, Poe’s readers were astonished by his achievements. One adoring fan proclaimed him ‘the most profound and skilful cryptographer who ever lived’. In 1843, keen to exploit the interest he had generated, Poe wrote a short story about ciphers, which is widely acknowledged by professional cryptographers to be the finest piece of fictional literature on the subject. The Gold Bug tells the story of William Legrand, who discovers an unusual beetle, the gold bug, and collects it using a scrap of paper lying nearby. That evening he sketches the gold bug upon the same piece of paper, and then holds his drawing up to the light of the fire to check its accuracy. However, his sketch is obliterated by an invisible ink, which has been developed by the heat of the flames. Legrand examines the characters that have emerged and becomes convinced that he has in his hands the encrypted directions for finding Captain Kidd’s treasure. »

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A page from EC Comics great Reed Crandall‘s exemplary adaptation of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, from Creepy no. 3 (June, 1965). While Crandall’s work is outstanding, scripter-editor Archie Goodwin tried to ‘improve’ upon Poe by tacking on a tacky ending, a nasty habit he would indulge in again on subsequent adaptations, notably issue 6’s The Cask of Amontillado!. Read The Tell-Tale Heart. And don’t miss The Cask…, if only for the artwork.

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In the mid-70s, Warren would devote two full issues of Creepy to Poe adaptations; issue 69 (Feb. 1975), featured The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Premature BurialThe Oval Portrait, MS Found in a Bottle!, Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar; issue 70 (Apr. 1975) comprised The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Man of the Crowd, The Cask of Amontillado!, Shadow, A Descent into the Maelstrom! and Berenice
All stories were adapted, with far greater respect than Mr. Goodwin seemed capable of, by Rich Margopoulos, and illustrated by a host of artists. The project was edited by Bill DuBay, and the cover painting is by Ken Kelly.

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Isidre Monés‘ fabulous opening splash from Creepy no. 70‘s Berenice. Read the story in full here.

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« The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Musselmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. » In 1976, a peak-form Berni Wrightson got out his brushes and paint tubes for a heartfelt portfolio of Poe-inspired oils. A sensitive and subtle sense of colour was among Wrightson’s chief assets; it’s a shame we didn’t see more of it. I opted to feature my favourite piece from the lot, A Descent Into the Maelström, but by all means feast your eyes on the whole shebang.

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In 1976, Marvel Comics set out to make their mark on the classics… with dubious, but predictable results. It wasn’t what their zombie readership had clamoured for. Here’s the best page (art by Rudy Mesina) from Marvel Classics Comics no. 28, The Pit and the Pendulum (1977), featuring three tales adapted by scripter Don McGregor, and including future superstar Michael Golden‘s abysmal professional début on yet another helping from The Cask of Amontillado, where he demonstrates how he believes wine is to be drunk just like Pepsi. See what I’m griping about here.

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Think Poe’s all about the horror? Think again! You don’t become a household name by putting all your eggs in the same basket. Meet Edgar ‘Eddie’ Allan Poe, romantic leading man. “Based on actual records…” and sanitized beyond recognition. Given that Virginia and Edgar were first cousins and that they married when she was thirteen, you can see how absurd this strip is. Read the full tale of romance and pathos right here. The Beautiful Annabel Lee appeared in Enchanting Love no. 2 (Nov. 1949, Kirby Publishing). Writer unknown, art by Bill Draut and Bruno Premiani.

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Kubert School alum Skot Olsen‘s cover illustration for the revised and expanded second edition (July, 2004) of Graphic Classics‘ Poe compendium.

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As with, say, Elvis or H.P. Lovecraft, when both legend and œuvre reach a certain tipping point of iconic fame, one can bend and twist the concepts any which way and they’ll still be recognizable. Here’s a panel from Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder‘s faithful-in-its-fashion take on The Raven, from Mad no. 9 (Feb.-Mar. 1954, EC).

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Michael Kupperman strikes again. From Snake ‘n Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret ( 2000, HarperCollins)

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Hot off the presses! It’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror no. 2 (Nov. 2018, Ahoy), featuring a collaboration between Rachel Pollack and the fabulous Rick Geary. Don’t miss it! Oh, and if the pose looks familiar, you’re thinking of this.

Whew — that’s it for now. In closing, I must bow and salute before the gargantuan endeavour accomplished by Mr. Henry R. Kujawa on his truly indispensable blog, Professor H’s Wayback Machine. Thanks for all the heavy lifting, Henry. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

Tintinabulate on, Mr. Poe — wherever you are!

-RG

*my thanks to Herman Melville for those words of wisdom.
**and thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Kujawa for that precious scrap of arcane lore.