Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 27

« No — I’m not alive! But we’ll have time to talk about that later! » — the accident-prone stranger

On the magazine front, Scholastic hit its peak in the mid-to-late 1970s with Dynamite (1974-92) Bananas (1975-84) and sundry periodicals aimed at various reading levels. Always comics-friendly, they struck a fruitful alliance with the fledgling Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, thus granting precious early exposure to some of the institution’s promising early alumni, such as Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben.

This is Weird Worlds no. 4 (1980, Scholastic). Cover by Joe Kubert. By ‘full-length’, they meant ‘four pages long’. Oh well.

Professorial Joe Kubert leads his students into a moody collaboration with the guiding lights of Dynamite, namely the husband-and-wife team of Jane Stine and ‘Jovial’ Bob Stine (of later R.L. Stine fame and fortune).

Could it be?

Well, Laurel could have fared far worse: her ‘Master’ is squarely in the then-fashionable Frank Langella / George Hamilton leading man mould. There was another alternative, of course:

You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.

Weird Worlds didn’t set this world afire, enduring but eight issues. Still, Scholastic would return to mine the teenage affinity for all things spooky and on that occasion (and further ones) strike gold and raise goosebumps.

-RG

The Many Lives of Jerry Robinson

« When comics came along in the 1930s there was a talent pool waiting. And one reason is so many areas were closed to Jews. Colleges, advertising agencies, many of the corporations – the doors that were closed led to the one that was open. » — Jerry Robinson

It’s New Year’s Day, which means it’s also the titanic Sherrill David ‘Jerry’ Robinson‘s birthday. Born on the first of January in 1922, he left us not so long ago, on December 7, 2011. He played at the very least a strong rôle in the creation of Batman’s sidekick Robin, his foes the Joker and Two-Face, his butler Alfred Pennyworth… and much more. Naturally, since we’re entering the murky world of Bob Kane, the whole process is mired in controversy, conflicting accounts and perhaps a little fibbing from certain parties.

Robinson went on to, well, several brilliant careers. In the 1950s, he worked as an instructor at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, where he mentored and considerably influenced a young Steve Ditko (among many others); he had a hand in several successful newspapers strips; served as president of the National Cartoonists Society (1967-69) and of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (1973-75); he lobbied hard for cartoonists’ rights, helping Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster obtain long-denied compensation and credit; he wrote, in 1974, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art. And this is but a sprinkling of highlights…

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We won’t limit ourselves to the obvious Bat-imagery, which was mostly studio work anyway. Here, for instance, is a more obscure but purer œuvre, both pencilled and inked by Robinson: the original art from « Behind the Mask », page 2, originally printed in Atlas’ Marvel Tales no. 103 (Oct. 1951). Writer unknown.

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My earliest encounters with Mr. Robinson’s work were through a pair of books for young readers he illustrated in the late 1950s, in a beautifully free and expressive styles. Here’s the cover and one interior vignette from The Phantom Brakeman (1959, Scholastic), written by Freeman Hubbard, then editor of Railroad Magazine.

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The following two pieces belong to Hurricane Luck (1959, Scholastic), written by Carl Carmer.

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Spoiler alert: Peter does, in the end, win the Tarpon fishing contest.

« What about Batman? », you might say. Okay, I admit I don’t have a prayer of getting away with a Jerry Robinson tribute devoid of the caped crusader and his trusty bird-themed sidekick, so here goes!

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Detective Comics no. 70 (Dec. 1942). Pencils and inks by Robinson.

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Detective Comics no. 71 (Jan. 1943). Pencils and inks by Robinson.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 22

« Grave grunge! You giggling squigglers wriggled around my fashion foul-up and found the store’s name! » – Count Morbida, vowing revenge

Jumping Jellyfish! Here’s the ghoulishly lovely and eerily colourful poster you got with your March 1976 issue of Dynamite magazine, numero 21, cover-featuring Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier and Jimmy Walker, stars of the recently-released sequel to Uptown Saturday Night, the honestly-titled Let’s Do It Again.

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Said poster features dapper Count Morbida (and friends, er, fiends), lovingly rendered by Arthur Friedman (hopefully no relation to evil crank Milton).

The cranky-but-adorable Count hosted his own Monthly Puzzle Pages in Dynamite, and even if the challenges were child’s play, they rarely failed to entertain on the verbal and visual level. Linda Williams Aber (aka Magic Wanda) ably juggled the bons mots.

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Despite his unrepentantly evil ways, the crafty nobleman accrued sufficient popularity to glom cover-feature honours a few times, as well as a spinoff book or two. Case in point: Dynamite 12 (June, 1975).

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-RG

“I’m sixty-three now, but that’s just 17 Celsius”*: Happy Birthday, Stephen Bissette!

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A panel from « Return of the Swamp Beast! », story by Jane and Bob (RL) Stine, art by Stephen R. Bissette, originally published in Weird Worlds no. 3 (Oct. 1979, Scholastic.) This is the colour version from the one-shot Bissette & Veitch’s Fear Book (April, 1986, Eclipse.) Colours by Brendan McDonough.

Ah, that old Earth’s taken another whirl, and so today, the wonderful Stephen Bissette, that most erudite master of terror *and* one of the truest, most steadfast gentlemen the medium has known, observes another birthday. He first breached this plane of existence in the wilds of Vermont some sixty-odd years ago today, on March 14, 1955. Let’s wish him all the best, shall we?

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The original art of this silk-spewing splash was reportedly acquired, by proxy, by erstwhile Calvin Klein Jeans model Brooke Shields. I like to envision it occupying a place of honour in the dining room of her favourite mansion. Or perhaps in the bedroom, right above the headboard?

This is from Saga of the Swamp Thing no. 19 (December, 1983, DC.) Quite respectably co-plotted and scripted by Martin Pasko (with Mr. Bissette), this predates epochal game-changer The Anatomy Lesson, but the Bissette/Totleben dream combo was already scorching eyeballs, en attendant Mr. Alan Moore’s accession.

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Newlyweds Rich and Jamie meet this dusty fellow, for the first and final time, in Egyptian Graffiti, story by Jane and Bob Stine, art by Stephen R. Bissette, originally published in Weird Worlds no. 2 (March 1979, Scholastic), also collected in Bissette & Veitch’s Fear Book , with colours by Michele Wrightson.

-RG

*George Carlin may have said that, or something to that effect. Who knows, these days?

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 23

« Join the Group Gripe by sending in your own Bummer, and our Dynamite artist might pick your idea to illustrate. »

Bummers was a long-running feature (from the first to the final issue, in fact) in the pages of Scholastic’s Dynamite Magazine (165 issues, 1974-92), whose success was due, in no small part, to the winningly wobbly style of its illustrator, Jared Lee (b. 1943).

Here’s a selection of the finest Halloween-themed bummers from issues 4 (Oct. 1974) and 65 (Oct. 1979). Was any one of these yours?

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It was bound to happen: two kids groused about the very same thing, and someone lost track. Well, kids, just be thankful the apples weren’t spiked with needles or razor blades. Left: the 1974 version. Right: the 1979 reprise. Note that Mr. Lee wasn’t about to repeat himself visually.

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