Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Number 60

Boy Heroes: Terror In Transylvania

Kid heroes were all the rage in the 1940s, especially during the war years. Simon and Kirby came up with Boy Commandos, Timely had the Young Allies, and Harvey Comics had the Boy Heroes.

I'm sure there were a lot of kids during that period that wished that somehow they could be part of the war, could help defeat the enemy. The comics provided a great fantasy outlet. Some of these kid groups stayed around for a time after the war, but didn't last much into the 1950s. About the only kid group that was published during the 1950s I can think of is Simon and Kirby's Boy's Ranch. That's off the top of my pointy little head. I might be missing someone, and I'm sure one of you will let me know if I am.

This is the only Boy Heroes story I've read, and don't know if it's typical, but it's fun, golden age style: slam-bang action, exotic locale, bad Nazis, tough kids.

I thought at one time the art was by Al Avison, but I think the timing is wrong, because Avison was in the Army at the time. It was by someone using a Simon and Kirby style. There were several artists using that style either because they had worked with Simon and Kirby or because their editors told them to draw it that way. The Grand Comics Database guesses it might be by Louis Cazeneuve, with a question mark.

The cover of All-New Comics #10, September 1944, where this story appeared, is another Alex Schomburg action fest. It didn't matter whose heroes he was drawing, or what company it was for, Schomburg put in a lot of detail and his covers are a true joy to study.

Click on picture for full-size image.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Number 59

A Humbug Christmas Carol

Ho! Ho! Ho! Only five weeks until Christmas, boys and girls! Have you got your online shopping done yet? It can be exhausting going to website after website, typing in your credit card number, can't it?

Just think of those poor folks out in the stores trying to elbow each other for the last of this year's fad toys, the ones your kids have just gotta have, the ones they'll have broken or discarded before Christmas brunch. Remember, those desperate shoppers all have tired feet from walking the shopping malls, you have tired fingers from keyboarding.

So while taking the occasional break from your online shopping, check with me. For the next five weeks I'll be presenting a different Christmas offering every Sunday until Christmas Eve. First up, a really off-the-wall retelling of an old Christmas chestnut, "A Christmas Carol."

Harvey Kurtzman and his friends started Humbug magazine when their other venture, Trump, was killed by publisher Hugh Hefner after two issues. Humbug was a great magazine, killed by low sales and spotty distribution. It was printed and distributed by Charlton Comics in the same size as comic books. It was priced a nickel more than comic books, and printed in a duotone format. It was also the sort of adult humor that Kurtzman had tried originally with the magazine issues of Mad he had edited. Because of Humbug's size it was most often put with the comic books on a spinner rack, where adult readers weren't likely to find it.

"A Christmas Carol" was published in Humbug #6, January 1958. It was drawn by Arnold Roth, whose work always reminded me of the British Punch magazine cartoonists. A perfect cartoonist to reinterpret Charles Dickens. No writing credit is given, so I'm guessing Kurtzman, who had a way of finding the core silliness of any subject he was lampooning. Nothing was safe from him, not even a maudlin but beloved Christmas story like "A Christmas Carol."

Jack Davis autographed my copy at the 1985 San Diego Comicon.

.…and anyone who doesn't find this story funny will be boiled in his own plum pudding and buried with a sprig of holly through his heart.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Number 58

Frankenstein Friday: The Strange Love Of Shirley Shmool

Frankenstein plays cupid in this cute story. It is the second story from Frankenstein #7, May-June, 1947, written and drawn by Dick Briefer.

This story was most likely originally slated for the lead spot. The splash panel says "Book by Dick Briefer."

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Number 57

The Flat Man

Since I'm writing this on Thanksgiving Day, 2006, it seems appropriate that I inaugurate a new series I'll be running occasionally: The Comic Book Turkey Awards. Rules are strictly arbitrary, judgment is all mine and will be strictly subjective.

The award will be given to the story I think best exemplifies comic book stupidity at its worst. Just as turkeys are reputed to stand looking up at rain until they drown, so do these stories exhibit similar lack of intelligence. First up is a story I mentioned in a Frankenstein Friday entry a couple of weeks ago, "The Flat Man," from Journey Into Fear #19, May 1954.

Most comic book horror stories are by default pretty dumb because the plots depend on wild occurrences that can't happen in real life. Still, with most horror stories we suspend disbelief and just accept the premise or the plot and ride it out until the end, enjoying it for what it is, dumb or not. "The Flat Man" seems to fail on the suspension of disbelief angle. I can suspend disbelief when it comes to rotting corpses rising from the grave, vampires, werewolves, or people making pacts with the devil, but I just can't accept a guy run over by a steamroller, mashed flat, and still living.

It's all a joke, really, because the story ends where it begins, under a steamroller. The artwork was done by the Iger shop for the publisher, Superior, which was a Canadian company. In an industry full of poorly-printed products Superior was definitely inferior to even its poorly-printed competition. I've seen quite a few Superior comics and none of them were printed well. They were sleazy publishers, going for the fast buck with a really crummy product. That's one of the reasons I love them so much!

On this Thanksgiving Day, "The Flat Man" earns 3 ½ turkeys out of a possible 4.

[Note: I have re-scanned artwork, slightly edited and replaced the original posting with this post in August 2012.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Number 56

The Kill-Crazy Carlins

Fred Guardineer was a fine but underrated comic book artist of the Golden Age. He's probably underrated because he didn't do superheroes or flashy longjohns-wearing characters. If there are the equivalent of movie stars for comic book artists, then Guardineer was a character actor.

Guardineer's excellent crime story, "Mother Of Murderers" was presented in Pappy's Number 2. This story, "The Kill-Crazy Carlins," came from Black Diamond Western #17, January 1950, and was one of a special genre, the Western crime story. That's appropriate, since it was published by Lev Gleason, edited by Charles Biro and Bob Wood, the same group that did Crime Does Not Pay, where "Mother Of Murderers" appeared.

Dr. Fredric Wertham M.D., in Seduction Of The Innocent, claimed all comic books were crime comic books, so that's no big surprise. The story follows a typical crime comics arc: The killers commit a lot of crimes, get hunted down by law enforcement, get punished in the end by death.

What I notice about the story is an air of authenticity in characters, clothing and buildings I don't usually see in Western comic books, which usually closely followed the popular idea of the Wild West promoted in movies. I'm not saying it's 100% authentic, because the sheriff is a clean cut blond hero stereotype straight out of Hollywood Central Casting. But I like the touches Guardineer throws in to give it an 1876 look, or at least more of that look than readers in 1950 were used to seeing.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Number 55

COVERING UP: Classic covers of Golden Age Comics

Trolling around the Internet is an interesting experience for me, because I keep running into things I haven't seen before. Just when I thought there weren't any Golden Age comics I hadn't seen before, I find a couple that are new to me.

Click on pictures for full-size images.

The first cover, Down With Crime #7, from November 1952, is a Fawcett Comic, with a cover that looks to be by Bernard Baily. I'm astonished a girl would have her window open to let a guy in, especially a guy wearing a gas mask and carrying a gun! At least she has a gun in the drawer to reach for, and she has the Hollywood style of hair: in bed with no hair out of place. Since I don't have the comic book itself to look at I'm not sure if the cover illustrates a story inside, but it reminds me of a famous true story I read years ago.

In a Texas town during WWII a woman reported that during the night a gasmask-wearing weirdo had opened her window and sprayed gas into her room. Within a short period of time other women were reporting the same thing. At first the reports were taken seriously, but quickly it was determined to be a case of mass hysteria. It was believed the power of suggestion and war jitters were making people imagine such crazy events. I don't know if there has ever been a resolution to this story, except that it's commonly used as an illustration of how delusional hysteria can become infectious.

The second cover, Crime Mysteries #4, also from November 1952, reminds me of Seduction Of The Innocent, by Dr. Fredric Wertham, M.D. That book reprinted an illustration of two crooks--and you could tell they were crooks, because they were wearing little Lone Ranger-style masks--had a girl on an operating table, tubes coming out of her. One crook is saying, "We'll drain this dame dry!" Dr. Wertham's caption mentioned (and I'm paraphrasing because I don't have the book to reference the exact quote): "Outside the forbidden pages of de Sade you will find draining a woman's blood only in a comic book."
Crime Mysteries was part of a group of comic books that are tied to DC Comics. Twenty years earlier DC's owners were the publishers of the notorious Spicy pulp magazines. After the pulps went out of the business some of the same people associated with the Spicy line published comic books. It's kind of a murky tale, with the illustrated examples in the website, DC's "Other" Comics.

The whole early history of comics is somewhat shadowy and murky. Some of it deals with semi-pornographers, the Mafia and organized crime.

In the DC's "Other" Comics website there is a link to a bibliography detailing the earliest years of the comics. The bibliography includes my favorite article on the subject, "DC's Tangled Roots," by Will Murray, from Comic Book Marketplace #53, November 1997.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Number 54

Frankenstein Friday: Silas Grunch Gets His

This is the first story from Frankenstein Comics #7, May-June, 1947.

The thing that strikes me the most when looking at this story is how hurried the artwork looks. It doesn't have the careful penciling and inking that characterized the earlier Frankenstein stories. At this point it was reputed that writer/artist Dick Briefer was producing so much so quickly that he was even drawing on the back of wallpaper in order to get his work done.

He also gives credit in the final panel to Ed Goggin for helping with these tales. I'm not sure what kind of help Goggin gave. Story? Artwork? Briefer doesn't say.

The story of an old miser who hates kids and gets his just due in the end sure wasn't new when this story was published. I think it was the basis for several movies, even some Our Gang short comedies. It was something of a plot staple in those days. Its literary antecedents can be found in A Christmas Carol and Silas Marner. Misers have always been popular to hate.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Number 53

Kirby's Krime Komics

This story by Jack Kirby appeared in Frankenstein#7, May-June, 1947. Stories like this were published in various comics of the Prize line as a promo for Headline Comics, which featured crime comics drawn by the Simon and Kirby team.

Kirby had a varied career in comics, but he's best known for his superhero comics, especially in the 1940s and 1960s, with characters like Captain America and The Fantastic Four. But Kirby could draw anything, and he did. He did crime comics, horror comics, action/adventure, mysteries, westerns, even some funny animals. He may be the most versatile artist in the history of comics, with one of the most identifiable styles.

His hallmark was action, and this story has that. Check out the slugfests, which are typical Kirby bashes, bodies in extreme and dynamic motion, with lightning fists, done in all the types of comics he drew.

It's also interesting because Kirby drew himself as a character in the story.

This story was also reprinted in the book, The Complete Jack Kirby March-May 1947, from Greg Theakston of Pure Imagination in 1998. Greg did a wonderful job taking the color out of the stories and reprinting them in black and white. Some of these stories are obscure, and probably wouldn't be seen by Golden Age comics fans unless he'd taken it upon himself to reprint them. If you have a chance to get any of the books in Pure Imagination's The Complete Jack Kirby
series, do it. This particular book is one of my favorites from that series.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Number 52

Jack Cole and Silver Streak, Part IV

This is the last of the Silver Streak stories published in the one-shot, unnumbered issue of Silver Streak, published in 1946. The story itself was originally published in Silver Streak Comics #7 in 1940.

Previous postings of Jack Cole's Silver Streak were Pappy's Number 6, Pappy's Number 18, and Pappy's Number 36.

In his comic book days Cole was never far from his bigfoot art style of the 1930s. As a matter of fact, I don't think the superhero stuff came easy to him, not as easy as the cartoony stuff, that is. This story has some really weird cartoon characters. The premise of the story is ludicrous, but that was something of a hallmark of early Golden Age comic book stories.

From Silver Streak Cole went on to Plastic Man, Midnight, even The Spirit during Will Eisner's Army service. Cole did some horror and crime stories before wrapping up his comic book career and becoming Playboy's top cartoonist. He then created a syndicated newspaper comic strip, Betsy and Me, before shooting himself to death.

Jack Cole would have had a lot of good years of drawing in him and we are poorer for losing out on so much. The old Silver Streak Comics, with their cartoony art and bizarre stories, were very fun, but came nowhere close to showing the inspiring talent that was routine for Jack Cole just a few short years later.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Number 51

Frankenstein Friday: Frankenstein Comics Covers

Most issues of Frankenstein Comics by Dick Briefer had great covers. These issues, #3-6, are no exception, sporting bold, poster-colored covers, sure to stand out on any newsstand of the era.

Click on the pictures for full-size images.

I don't own any of these issues, so I found these covers on the Internet. I especially like the cover with the little Frankenstein monsters. The cover of #6, with the steamroller flattening some people reminds me of the story, "The Flat Man," from the horror comic, Journey Into Fear #19, from 1954, drawn by the Iger comic book shop. It was the plot of a story which seems like it would fit into the funny Frankenstein. It was actually funnier because it was supposed to be serious.

Next week, should I get it scanned in time, I'll be showing the first story in Frankenstein #7. Be here!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Number 50

Frankenstein Friday: Ghost Rider Vs Frankenstein!

Dick Ayers, one of the finest of the Golden Age artists, was also one of the finest Silver Age artists, and as far as I know, at age 82, is still drawing! The Ghost Rider was his strip, very popular in its time, killed by the Comics Code.

Ayers went on to Marvel Comics in the early 1960s, drawing and also inking. His bold inking made Jack Kirby's bold pencils on his late '50s monster strips really eye-popping. There was nothing else like them anywhere.

Ghost Rider was a combination western/fantasy/horror comic book, begun in 1950. It had fast moving stories and great art. (I probably don't need to mention that Marvel Comics also appropriated the name, if not the theme, of the Ghost Rider by creating its own character.)

The Ghost Rider Vs. Frankenstein story, from Ghost Rider #10, December, 1952, is widely regarded as one of the most memorable from the title. The cover alone is worth the price of the book.

If I have an objection to the story at all it's the cop-out ending. The rest of it is quite good, though.

Ghost Rider publisher, ME Comics, didn't really publish horror comics, but Ghost Rider was spooky enough in its own right. And it was due to the moody and evocative art of Dick Ayers.

Click on picture for full-size image.

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This is the 50th edition of Pappy's, and it's coming to you a day early. Frankenstein Friday is on Thursday this week. I'm going out of town for a few days, and wanted to get it posted early.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Number 49

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were 1930's Depression-era outlaws who earned 15 minutes of fame, which has now lasted over 70 years. This story from Crime Does Not Pay #57, November 1947, tells their story…sort of.

Bonnie wasn't really a cigar smoker. That was a prop she used for a photo. The Barrow Gang took a lot of pictures of themselves, and like most people, sometimes they gagged it up.

In the end Bonnie and Clyde were killed by a hail of bullets, but it was in an ambush by lawmen, not because they blundered into a situation where they got killed for opening fire on unsuspecting cops. I suspect that even in 1947 when this story was published the editors didn't think a story with cops lying in wait to assassinate people was appropriate. Not even for a crime comic. After all, the idea of Crime Does Not Pay was to show that crime, well, doesn't pay, not that lawmen could sometimes get as down and dirty as the criminals they were hunting.

Bryan Burrough, who wrote the 2005 book, Public Enemies, didn't think much of Bonnie and Clyde. He said of them: "Murderous children who longed for the big time, Bonnie and Clyde have garnered an artistic and cultural relevance in death they never found or deserved in life."

George Tuska, longtime comic book artist, illustrated the story. Tuska worked for comics from the late '30s until the 1970s when he retired. He had an illustrative style perfect for this type of story. He ended his career drawing superheroes for Marvel Comics. I didn't think that was his forte, but I loved his work in Crime Does Not Pay.

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