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’sIt’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.
Happy birthday, Mr. Kremer — wherever it is you may roam!
« 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.
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.
That’s it for now! Keep cool, and may your asbestos underwear never chafe!
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.
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.
« 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).
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.
« 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.
« 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
All right, let’s play it safe, call in sick and stay home.
Dang! How about going to a conference, instead?
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:
« 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.
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.