Warren Kremer Aces It!

« Michelangelo was a ‘lefty’ » — Warren Kremer (a southpaw himself, a common attribute among artists)

I can’t help returning to Warren Kremer (today’s his birthday, not coincidentally; he was born on June 26, 1921, passing away on July 23, 2003), first because I adore his work, and second because I quite concur with Jon B. Cooke‘s bold but sensible assertion that Kremer…

« … is an extraordinarily talented artist. A master of design, character nuance and just plain exquisite drawing ability, he is perhaps the most underrated – or even worse, ignored – comic book creator of significance in the industry’s history. »

And why is that? A combination of working outside the superhero genre and of doing it, uncredited and for decades, on the ole Harvey Family Plantation.

This blog’s It’s a Harvey World category might as well be called It’s a Kremer World, since he’s pretty much had the spotlight to himself.

But Kremer’s comics career precedes his arrival at Harvey; after working for the pulps in the late 1930s, he entered the comic book field, and a sizeable chunk of his early work was done for Ace Magazines (1940-56), and this is the area we’ll be exploring today.

A rare foray into super-heroics, this is Banner Comics no. 5 (Jan. 1942, Ace); the guy with the star mask is ‘Captain Courageous’.
This is Super-Mystery Comics vol. 5 no. 6 (June 1946, Ace), featuring Mr. Risk in Riddle of the Revolutionary Portrait. Read it here! Kremer was signing as ‘Doc’ at the time.
Dig all that detail! This is Super-Mystery Comics vol. 6 no. 3 (Dec. 1946, Ace), featuring Bert and Sue in The Adventure of the Murdered Medium; read it here!
Boasting a snazzy new logo, this is Super-Mystery Comics vol. 7 no. 3 (Jan. 1948, Ace), featuring Bert and Sue (Ace’s Nick and Nora?) in Hell Bent for Election!. Read it here!
Eight years before DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, Ace came up with Challenge of the Unknownà chacun son tour. This is the first of its two-issue run, no. 6 — but of course! (Sept. 1950, Ace); pencils by Kremer, inks possibly by Al Avison. Read it here!
Three steps to a Werewolf. Kremer’s rough cover design…
The printer’s cover proof…
… and final publication switcheroo! One might surmise that someone got cold feet about CotU. This is The Beyond no. 1 (Nov. 1950, Ace). Read it here!
This is The Beyond no. 2 (Jan. 1951, Ace). A solid demonstration of dramatic perspective.
Here’s Mr. Risk again, in the first and penultimate issue of his own series — no. 2 (Dec. 1950, Ace) featuring The Case of the Psychopathic Lady and The Case of the Jinxed Air Line — the next issue was number 7! Read this one here.
Again, all that beautifully-rendered detail. This is The Beyond no. 3 (Mar. 1951, Ace), featuring The Keeper of the Flames. Read it here (preferably by candlelight)!
One of the most rewarding things for the Kremer fan is that the man thoroughly documented his creative process. In other words, he saved a lot of his art, including sketches, notes and preliminaries.
And the final version, from The Beyond no. 30 (Jan. 1955, Ace). See how Kremer had it all worked out, down to the colouring? Amazing. Oh — and read it here!

Happy birthday, Mr. Kremer — wherever it is you may roam!

-RG

Who Will Change the Devil’s Nappy?

« Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, it’s just god when he’s drunk. » — Tom Waits, Heartattack and Vine (1980)

Another week, another heat wave… I had something else in the pipeline for this week, but the canicular conditions brought to mind Hot Stuff The Little Devil (heat rises!) and his creator Warren Kremer‘s monumental parade of beautifully conceived and crafted calefaction variations.

As you may already know, the Harvey Comics stable consists, in the main, of one-note characters erected upon the visual template of licensed 1940s animation properties Casper the Friendly Ghost (Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Spooky) for the boys, and Little Audrey (Little Dot, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Pearl) for the girls.

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Would I kid you? (truthfully, I might). There’s even a meme about it.

We’ve already presented cover galleries from Spooky and Little Dot (as well as a Hallowe’en-themed array), and it’s now Hot Stuff’s turn to toast and roast. Though we’ve both been rather dismissive of the contents of Harvey Comics, I must point out that if there is a specific series that burns brighter than its brethren do, it’s Hot Stuff’s… at least during the line’s creative peak, the 1960s. Here’s an example of a good one.

Each cover is the brainchild and handiwork of Harvey’s indefatigable resident genius and art director, Warren Kremer. Obviously, one man does not a company make, and his able colleagues Howie Post, Ernie Colón, Sid Couchey and Sid Jacobson were hardly lightweights or slouches… but Kremer was the cover generator.

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.9 (Feb. 1959, Harvey). Is this helping? Probably not. Sorry!

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.15 (Sept. 1959, Harvey).

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.33 (Mar. 1961, Harvey). I especially admire Kremer’s black covers, though they complicated the printing and make issues in pristine (or even decent) shape a scarce proposition.

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.34 (Apr. 1961, Harvey).

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.36 (June 1961, Harvey).

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Ah, so that ol’ devil moon is not merely made out of cheese, but of stinky cheese to boot? Good to know. This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.41 (Nov. 1961, Harvey). Fun fact: because of its distinctive holes, Swiss Gruyère is the shorthand cartoon cheese.

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This is Hot Stuff Sizzlers no.7 (Feb. 1962, Harvey).

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This is Hot Stuff Sizzlers no.8 (May 1962, Harvey).

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This is Devil Kids Starring Hot Stuff no.3 (Nov. 1962, Harvey). One wonders why other comics publishers didn’t show the same lack of regard for the Comics Code Authority Stamp of Approval typically demonstrated by Kremer and Harvey. Their ‘shove it in a corner and colour it invisible’ approach is refreshing. I suppose that, like other publishers specialized in the nominally wholesome ‘kiddie’ market, Harvey’s code approval was a formality.

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.68 (Oct. 1965, Harvey). Listen to this excellent ‘word jazz‘ piece by the late, great Ken Nordine (1920-2019), on the fecund topic of… Fireflies.

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This is Devil Kids Starring Hot Stuff no.21 (Nov. 1965, Harvey). A little better, cooling-wise?

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This is Hot Stuff, the Little Devil no.77 (Apr. 1967, Harvey). And how’s this?

That’s it for now! Keep cool, and may your asbestos underwear never chafe!

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: By the Sign of the Jack-in-the-Box Harlequin

As Tentacle Tuesday creeps by once again, we found ourselves knee-deep in ghosts and devils – adorable, baby-featured ones. As a matter of fact, if you’re the kind who breaks out in hives when exposed to an overdose of cuteness, I would suggest skipping this week’s installment.

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The best-known titles published by Harvey Comics, whether comic book adaptations of an animated cartoon (for instance, Casper the Friendly Ghost or Baby Huey, both adapted from Paramount’s Famous Studios cartoons) or original series, are certainly no passion of mine for the simple reason that the stories are, for the most part, quite boring. Their strained slapstick elicits, at best, a semi-chuckle: each character is so tied to a shtick that the whole thing becomes predictable very quickly. Hot Stuff, the little devil with temperature regulation problems, constantly burns through and/or melts stuff. Little Dot draws polka dots on everything – or hangs out with giraffes. Little Lotta demolishes all food in sight à la Garfield. Richie Rich swims in money, eats money, inhales money. Wendy the Good Little Witch is nauseatingly boring (I disagree with that being a viable definition of “good”).

All of these characters have redeeming features – their heart is in the right place and they enthusiastically come to the aid of friends and animals. The Harvey Girls, as they’re called (Little Lotta, Little Dot and Little Audrey) are clever and enterprising, if spoiled and headstrong, which is a pleasant change from females in need of rescuing. I wouldn’t go as far as calling their antics “proto-feminist”, notwithstanding the lofty claim made to that effect in the introduction to the Dark Horse Harvey Girls anthology.

One can hem and haw about it all day, but there is one redeeming and indisputably striking feature, and it’s one to contend with: the covers are beautiful! Lovingly designed, gorgeously coloured, they’re pure eye candy.

We have artist and art editor Warren Kremer, who worked at Harvey for some 35-odd years starting in 1948, to thank for that. See my colleague’s Little Dot’s Playful Obsession and his spotlight on Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost for more details. Me? I shall simply concentrate on tentacles.

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Casper & Nightmare no. 21 (1968). Casper the Friendly Ghost was adapted from Famous Studiosanimated cartoon, and soon gave birth, so to speak, to a score of spinoffs, such as Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost and Wendy the Good Little Witch.

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Richie Rich no. 128 (September 1974). Richie Rich, yet another Warren Kremer character, debuted in Little Dot. Don’t you just love the super-bashful octopus?

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Devil Kids Starring Hot Stuff no. 67 (December 1974). Hot Stuff the Little Devil is another Kremer character.

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Richie Rich Profits no. 5 (June 1975)

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Casper Digest no. 2 (December 1986). This would be a far nicer image sans all the page-cluttering copy (and bar code)!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 16

« Mirrors toins things in revoise! Everything in Mirrorland is opposite! So naturally I’m a tough ghost and you’re a sissy spook! » — Poil in Through the Looking Glass (Spooky no. 121, 1970… read it here)

The Harvey Comics line, in its peak years (from the late Fifties to the mid-seventies, say) was essentially a collection of monomaniacal characters. As Daniel Clowes deemed in his classic lampoon of the Harvey cast, theirs is a Playful Obsession (read it here.)

Richie Rich had his moolah, Little Lotta wolfed down everything in sight, Little Dot found stimulation in… dots, and so on. Casper the Friendly Ghost’s uncouth counterpart, the 30s kid gang-inspired Spooky (complete with Brooklyn accent and « doiby » hat), loved to, well, scare people (and things!) with a hearty « Boo! », Hot Stuff raised the temperature wherever he went. On the other hand, Casper and Little Audrey’s adventures didn’t rely on such gimmicks, possibly from predating the rest of the Harvey gang, originating in animation in Casper’s case, and… folklore in Audrey’s:

« One day, Li’l Audrey was playing with matches. Her mother told her she’d better stop before someone got hurt. But Li’l Audrey was awfully hard-headed and kept playing with matches, and eventually she burned their house down.

“Oh, Li’l Audrey, you are sure gonna catch it when your father comes home!” said her mother.

But Li’l Audrey just laughed and laughed, because she knew her father had come home early to take a nap. »

The Harvey line’s covers were by far its most precious asset: endless riffs on a character’s particular motif, granted, but spun out in well-designed, nimbly-executed and brightly-coloured scenes… virtually the work of a single creative whirlwind, art director-illustrator Warren Kremer (1921-2003).

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This is Little Lotta no. 57 (Jan. 1965). Lotta may have been a glutton, but she was also super-strong.

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This is Playful Little Audrey no. 71 (Aug. 1967).

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This is Playful Little Audrey no. 73 (Dec. 1967).

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This is Hot Stuff Sizzlers no. 43 (Nov. 1970).

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This is Casper the Friendly Ghost no. 149 (Jan. 1971).

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This is Spooky Haunted House no. 9 (Feb. 1974). Note that Spooky’s girlfriend’s actual name is ‘Pearl’… he just pronounces it ‘Poil’. Upon occasion, the ‘tuff little ghost’ essays the rôle of the spookee rather than his usual spooker (or is that “spookist”?)

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This is Little Dot no. 156 (Dec. 1974). I’m not sure what the kid’s so terrified of… maybe he’s never had the measles?

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This is Wendy, the Good Little Witch no. 87 (Apr. 1975). [ds: these just might be edible mushrooms.]
In all cases, artwork by the legendarily prolific Warren Kremer. As we demonstrated last year, the Harvey house style hardly was the only range he could draw in.

– RG

Little Dot’s Playful Obsession

« Y’gotta develop an annoying compulsion if y’wanta get anywhere in this world! » — Dan Clowes’ Willy Willions (Eightball No. 5, Feb. 1991)

Dorothy Polka, known to the world at large as « Little Dot », made her first appearance in Harvey’s Sad Sack Comics no. 1 (Sept. 1949). All you need to know is that she’s inordinately fond of dots and circles, and that she has an absurdly large extended family. That raises a few choice questions, but we’ll leave them for someone else to tackle.

While I cheerily dismiss the bulk of Harvey Comics’ post-Code output as at best charming in a decidedly minor way, I opt to focus on the line’s most singular highlight: art director/chief artist Warren Kremer‘s endlessly inventive and escalatingly bonkers cover variations on the Harvey stable’s absurdly formulaic monomanias. Kremer clearly viewed the preposterous task he’d been handed as an opportunity to continually challenge himself with elegant design exercices and experiments. While I see little point in collecting, nor even reading most Harvey Comics, my admiration for Mr. Kremer just grows and grows. Perhaps these examples will give you a sense of what I see in them.

Oh, and bonus points to Kremer for his increasingly callous treatment of that omnipresent visual blight, the Comics Code Authority stamp. Clearly, he judged the censorious seal de trop.

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Little Dot no. 29 (January, 1958)

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Little Dot no. 38 (October, 1958)

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Little Dot no. 44 (May, 1958)

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Little Dot no. 51 (December, 1959) Gruyère? Impressive refinement for a little kid. Perhaps there’s more to the little lady than meets the eye…

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Little Dot no. 52 (January, 1959)

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Little Dot no. 97 (January, 1965)

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Little Dot no. 119 (October, 1968)

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Little Dot Dotland no. 9 (November, 1963)

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A timely one: Little Dot Dotland no. 38 (March, 1969)

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Little Dot’s Uncle$ and Aunt$ (they’re loaded, I guess) no. 21 (November, 1967)

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 23

« It was the town dandy! That spiffy cigar-store indian! Within the impact of a second I knew what I had to do! »  – Ron gets it wrong.

It’s become a historical footnote that, before fully settling into their (for a time) winning formula of lighthearted, cartoony monomania with Casper, Richie Rich, Little Dot and their ilk, Harvey Comics had published, pre-Code, some of the most, er… transgressive horror comics in the field. And before he settled down to designing and pencilling the lion’s share of Harvey Comics‘ admittedly inventive and arresting covers, art director Warren Kremer had fulfilled many of the same in-house duties in the more daring and diverse pre-Code years. A remarkably inventive and versatile artist, Kremer’s true worth has historically been obscured by his retiring, behind-the-scenes status, as well as the Harvey family’s plantation mentality. Today, let’s take a peek at the nuts and bolts of his collaborative partnership with cover artist Lee Elias, who would go on to become one of DC’s most straight-laced artists (though his talent remained undimmed.) It would seem, and it’s quite understandable, that a lot of artists who’d merrily produced horror comics in the early 1950s got burned by the ensuing censorious witch hunt / backlash… and became quite timid thereafter.

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Warren Kremer’s original cover sketch and colour guide.

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… and his instructions to the final artist, in this case Lee Elias.

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As it appeared in print, this is Chamber of Chills Magazine no. 19 (Sept. 1953.) Marvel borrowed the title in the 1970s… Harvey clearly had no further use for it.

Another one? But of course!

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Kremer was evidently a believer in the « tilt the drawing to make it more dynamic » rule of layout (as DC’s Carmine Infantino notoriously was)

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Kremer to Elias, again. An illustrator is quite blessed indeed when he gets to work with such a talented, insightful and friendly art director.

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Elias’ finished version, as it appeared on the stands. This is Witches’ Tales Magazine no. 21 (Oct. 1953).

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Splashing With the Octopus

It’s boiling hot in this part of the world, so I’d like to concentrate on soothingly cool covers for this Tentacle Tuesday. If we end up taking a dip in refreshing waters in our quest for relief from balmy temperatures, so much the better. Today’s roster brings us fashionable dames and their splashy encounters with octopuses!

Here’s the Queen of Fashions (and right now, queen of tentacles), and for once the cover doesn’t focus on her outfit – I understand it’s hard to wriggle out of a swimsuit while an octopus is holding your leg.

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Katy Keene was created by Bill Woggon, and introduced in Wilbur Comics no. 5 (1945). She was “America’s Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashions”, and readers were encouraged to submit drawings of outfits and other tralala such as designs for automobiles, boats, and whatever other method of transport Katy could glitter in. This is Katy Keene no. 60, July 1961, cover by Bill Woggon.

Mockery aside, I have nothing against Bill Woggon-era Katy – I like Woggon’s art, and the gentle humour of the stories is hard to dislike. After Katy Keene’s demise in 1961, she was eventually revived by Archie Comics in 1983. They should have let the dead rest in peace! Though several people were considered for the role of regular artist, that position went to John Lucas, whose style I abhor, recoil from and spit upon. I first saw his take on KK in those huge Archie digests you can get for pennies that reprint a bit of everything, giving readers a total pêle-mêle of different decades and different artists. I didn’t know who drew what at the time, but I quickly developed a preference for certain styles while finding others repellent… and John Lucas’ puerile art was top of my hated list, along with the half-arsed, anatomically asinine line-work of Al Hartley.

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Next, we have another beauty queen, although this time the stuff is quite a bit more risqué. It’s not for nothing that cataloguing websites classify Torchy as “adult” material. As for the octopus, it has impeccable taste, having determined that there’s no need to decide between blonde or brunette when you can have both.

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But Torchy, why are you wearing high-heel sandals in water? Modern Comics no. 97 (Quality Comics, May 1950). This is a page from « The Mermaid Gig », with scripted and art by Gill Fox. Fox took over from Bill Ward (Torchy Todd’s creator and writer) five years after her introduction, starting with Modern Comics #89 (1949). As far as replacement of Bill Ward, Fox did a truly excellent job, managing to preserve the mood and style of Ward’s stories. Read the mermaid tale (no more tentacles, sadly) here.

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Sometimes octopuses catch little girls, but occasionally a feisty little girl captures an octopus. Little Dot is going to be a handful when she grows up… but of course she never will.

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This polka-dotted octopus is a perfect catch for Little Dot in this soothingly green sea. Too bad the cephalopod fellow looks so disgruntled. He was probably in the middle of lunch or something. Little Dot no. 105 (June 1966); cover by Warren Kremer.

Those of you also inhabiting parts of the world where the weather has gone bananas (because it’s certainly hot enough for growing them in here), stay cool!

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Takes a Turn for the Domestic

You might think that tentacles are just something that happens to other people, to the intrepid swashbucklers and globetrotters of this world. But watch out! No matter how dull your job and how stodgy your lifestyle, no-one is safe on a Tentacle Tuesday.

Let’s say you’ve embarked on a normal working day in a bustling city. No ravenous tentacle will be able to reach you as long as you stick to main streets, you think. Right? Wrong.

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One would think New Yorkers would be immune to being fazed by *anything* found in NYC sewers. Cartoon by Charles Addams.

All right, let’s play it safe, call in sick and stay home.

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Mother Goose and Grimm is a syndicated comic strip written and drawn by Mike Peters, published both in newspapers and online. Syndicated in 1984, it’s still going strong. Spoofs of modern culture, screwball comedy and dogs on blind dates, it’s all in there. Jan. 23, 2015.

Dang! How about going to a conference, instead?

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Comic habitués will easily recognize the talented pen of Gary Larson, and identify this as a Far Side strip.

Sigh, I give up.

As today’s Tentacle Tuesday happens to coincide with Halloween (can this day get any better?), I’ll leave you with an image that gleefully combines both:

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 I don’t know how Little Lotta manages to control all these tentacles when she only has two hands – maybe she’s in symbiosis with an octopus? This is Little Lotta in Foodland no. 27, August 1971 (okay, so it’s a masquerade party, not a Halloween one – cut me a little slack!), cover (as usual) by Warren Kremer.

~ ds

 

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 14

« That should teach you not to tangle with a tuff little ghost! »

Amongst Harvey Comics’ cast of monomaniacal characters, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost’s propensity for trying to scare folks out of their skin with a hearty « Boo! » seemed sanest. After all, that’s what ghosts are s’posed to do, even if they’re from Brooklyn.

Here’s a tiny sample of some of Spooky’s spookiest covers, from the incredibly fertile mind and pen of unsung conceptual genius Warren Kremer.

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Spooky no. 77 (Dec. 1963, Harvey). Say, is that Mrs. Rich getting hit up for some treats?

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Spooky Haunted House no. 10 (Apr. 1974, Harvey)

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Spooky Haunted House no. 12 (Aug. 1974, Harvey)

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Spooky Haunted House no. 13 (Oct. 1974, Harvey)

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Tuff Ghosts Starring Spooky no. 27 (March 1967, Harvey)

As reading material, the Harvey books were mush for the mind, but they sure had purty covers. Note how Harvey was the only comics company that treated the Comics Code Authority stamp with such contempt: if it doesn’t get half cropped off, it’s coloured as to be barely visible. The damn thing, even at its smallest, *was* a visual blight. Bless that art director! Then came barcodes… and the battle wasn’t even worth waging anymore.

– RG