Tony DiPreta’s Dramatic Darkness

« I don’t mind if my skull ends up on a shelf as long as it’s got my name on it. » —Debbie Harry

A couple of years back, I spotlighted a story by a neglected Golden Age favourite of mine, Anthony Lewis “Tony” DiPreta (July 9, 1921 – June 2, 2010), the wacky The Hidden Vampires! I advise reading it first for comparison (and a bit of background on the artist).

Well, this time I’ve exhumed another yarn that’s even loopier. Scripted by Stanley ‘The Man’ Lieber at his Stan Lee-est, it’s riddled with plot holes, failures of logic, displays of ignorance of basic psychology and economics… your typical 1950s Atlas horror tale, in other words. And yet, as if frequently the case with these slapdash page-fillers, it’s charming and massively entertaining, thanks to stylish artwork, breezy pacing and snappy, if absurd banter. Guess someone knew their audience well. Step right up, folks, and prepare to make the acquaintance of “Skull-Face” © ™ ®️. (what is it with the brackets?)

A whole hour! People were armed with unwavering patience back in the day.
So the suits’ great flash of inspiration is not to update a fifteen-year old movie (from 1937!), nor remake it: they’ll just trot it out again. Picture doing this with 2006’s biggest horror hit, Saw III. How do you think it would fare today?
You’d think a seasoned publicist would be a savvier negotiator. I mean, all he needs is some random skeleton. Adjusted for inflation, a thousand 1952 dollars would today be worth 9,829 bucks. But that’s nothing compared to his liberal waste of electric current: the voltage used to execute a convict in the electric chair is around 2,000 volts for less than a minute… and that makes the lights dim all over the area*. Now multiply the voltage by 25,000, and the duration (let’s round it off to a minute, for simplicity’s sake) 80,640 times longer. Picture the resulting electric bill, not to mention the repercussions on the power grid, all for a stunt that could have simply been faked (i.e. just say there’s live current… no-one’s going to check). Oh, and what’s a “famous biochemist” doing on a film studio’s payroll? Come to think of it, it’s not that odd: Thornton was a cynical, opportunistic money-grubbing parasite, the Dr. Memhet Oz of his day…
Note these stellar examples of one of DiPreta’s trademark horror ambiance moves: lighting from below, projecting stark, expertly-delineated shadows.
One has to wonder why Fenton insists on addressing the resurrected ‘Demon’ (he was a demon on the sousaphone) incorrectly as “Skull-Face” (that’ll only aggravate him, you dolt!). Would it have helped if he’d added air quotes?
The ho-hum Sol Brodsky cover of Mystery Tales no. 6 (Dec. 1952, Atlas), but hey, our pal “Skull-Face” is the featured attraction!
The comics industry’s traditional garish colour and murky reproduction fail (spectacularly!) to do justice to DiPreta’s spare, confident and elegant inking line. To remedy the situation, here’s a look at a surviving piece of original art. It hails from “One Must Die” (scripted by Carl Wessler), from Crime Can’t Win no. 11 (June 1952, Atlas), the publisher’s knockoff of Lev Gleason‘s influential Crime Does Not Pay.
A slick Joe Palooka Sunday from July 24, 1966. DiPreta enjoyed quite a run on the strip, illustrating it from 1959 to its 1984 finale.


*a possibly apocryphal notion, I’ll admit.

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 3

« I’ve never gone to bed with an ugly woman… but I’ve sure woke up with a few » — Royal C. Bannon

Clearly, some cravings die awfully hard. This is Strange Tales no. 28 (May, 1954, Atlas), featuring a most claustrophobic… cuddle. The rest of this scarce issue contains artwork by Pete Tumlinson, Jack Katz (who recently — just last week! — turned 93), Bob Forgione, Don Perlin (who recently turned 90) and Tony DiPreta.

Cover by by Harry Anderson (1911-1970), not to be confused with his namesake, alias Judge
Harry T. Stone.
*Ken* Grimm, eh? Speaking of horror, they sure didn’t mince words to reel in the rubes, did they? This gentle, understated pitch appeared on the inside back cover of this issue of Strange Tales. « Mail the damn coupon with your shekels already, you bloodless, pitiful, skinny shrimp! », bellowed the bellicose drill sergeant.

[ psst! you can read the issue here! ]


Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 23

« A knot you are of damned bloodsuckers. » — William Shakespeare

One of my favourite Atlas mood-masters was Anthony Lewis “Tony” DiPreta (July 9, 1921 – June 2, 2010); it appears Mr. DiPreta and his colleague Murphy Anderson share not merely a birthday, but a day of birth as well.

Tony DiPreta’s long career in comics began with his arrival at the “Busy” Arnold studio, with his first credits appearing in early 1942. He worked extensively for Hillman Periodicals, handling such features as Airboy (yay!), Skinny McGinty, Flying Dutchman and Stupid Manny; Lev Gleason Publications (various crime stories and The Little Wise Guys); and of course Atlas Comics, where he chiefly, but not exclusively, cut loose on moody-but-not-gory horror stories, often with a finely-turned streak of gallows’ humour.

Tony survived the post-Code near-collapse of the comics industry when he succeeded Moe Leff on Ham Fisher‘s Joe Palooka strip, which he carried until the feature’s final curtain in 1984. In the 1970s, he also did a bit of moonlighting for Charlton, contributing to a couple of issues of The Flintstones spin-off The Great Gazoo. In 1994, DiPreta took on another venerable, long-running newspaper strip, medical soap opera Rex Morgan, M.D., until his well-earned retirement (DiPreta’s, not Morgan’s) in 2000.

For your reading pleasure and mine, I’ve selected this adorably wacky tale from Atlas’ Journey Into Mystery no. 11 (August, 1953). Writer unknown, which is a shame.


Well, I suppose it might have been simpler to see who wasn’t around in the daytime, but let’s face it, Mazerok’s method is far more entertaining and original.

The story was reprinted in Where Monsters Dwell no. 17 (Sept. 1972, Marvel); though cover-featured, the cover itself was a lacklustre job by an overworked and uninspired Gil Kane, stuck here with Vinnie Colletta, though to be fair, there’s nothing here to ruin. Beyond the cover, the insides are great: two Ditko stories (« I Opened the Door to… Nowhere! » and « The World Beyond », a low-key Russ Heath (« If the Coat Fits », also from JIM 11), and our featured yarn.

Now that’s more like it! The Hidden Vampires‘ original place of appearance, Journey Into Mystery no. 11 (Aug. 1952, Atlas), boasts a just-about-classic cover by Russ Heath, with a fine colouring job by Stan Goldberg.

Heath did a lovely job with the small space allotted to preview the other stories. Pre-Code Atlas books were graced with a clever and attractive cover grid.

– RG