Sunday, December 31, 2006

Number 76

Ears Karpik: The killer who believed in divide and conquer!

I suckered in on this story, believing it was based on a true person, and true story. As crime comics go, it's fairly typical. It came from Atlas Comics' Justice #16 from 1950, and details the harsh life of a criminal right up until his end. In most cases in a crime comic the end came in the form of death, which was their "he got his just desserts" theme. This is no exception.

The sucker punch came when I encountered an ending so preposterous, so unlikely that I said a mental "Wha-----?" and looked at the splash page again. It says "Based on a true story," but in the type under the bottom tier of panels it says that this "true-to-life story" is fictitious, and the usual legal boilerplate that would keep them from being sued in case some real guy named Ears Karpik should get offended.

The art is serviceable, with no artist identified by

What I like about the story is the criminal dialogue, which crackles along with slang like "playing chicky" (being a lookout) or "listeners" (for ears). Where it falls short is in its last two pages, when it tries for the surprise ending, and the unintended surprise turns out to be how far a plot can be stretched before it breaks apart.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Number 75

Frankenstein Friday: Froglegs!

After a flood in Mippyville, Frankenstein sets out to meet his favorite author of fantastic stories, Peg O'Mihart. This turns into an adventure with some giant frogs, the leader of which is Peg's old boyfriend, Waldo. He has taken the plot of one of her old books and turned himself into a frog, and plans to do the same to her.

The story has some pretty good humor, but more of Briefer's hurried up artwork. At least he spent some time on the splash panel with Peg, the good-looking author.

This also has a pretty gross ending involving frog legs. Actually, anything involving frog legs sounds pretty…urp…bad to me. The ending is a gag in more ways that one.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Number 74

COVERING UP: Classic Golden Age Comics Covers: Covers that work for me!

Covers are designed for one thing: to sell books and magazines. The old adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover" is very true, but a good cover can sell a mediocre comic book better than a mediocre cover can sell a good comic.

Trying to make themselves seen during the Golden Age of comics must've seemed impossible during the times when there were over 400 titles on the racks. But in culling through pictures of thousands of comics over the years, these are some of the covers that would have gotten my attention and drawn me like a magnet.

First up, Weird Tales Of The Future, dated March-April, 1953. Our old friend Bernard Baily, who drew many a great cover for many a crappy comic, is at his genius best here. Exploding planet! People in space, sucked along by reptilian aliens with tentacles! An alien sport shirt with the skull-and-crossbones of a pirate! Wow. I don't care what else is in this book. Here's my dime.

Click on pictures for full-size images.Second is a startlingly silly horror comics cover, Web Of Evil, dated September, 1953. Some weird giant spook is rising up from the grave, while a gangster tries to mow him down with a machine gun. The cover looks to be done by Jack Cole, or someone appropriating his style. I also like the titles of stories carved into the tombstones. Here, take my money. I've just gotta have this book.
Chamber Of Chills #19, a Harvey horror comic, is cover dated September, 1953. It's the same date as the aforementioned Web Of Evil, so they were on the stands at the same time. It's also an all time classic horror comics cover by Harvey's best cover artist and art director, Lee Elias. What is the story on the girl with the gorgeous headlights and corpse face, being offered a drink held by a skeletal hand? I want to study it further. Ka-ching, another 10¢ of my allowance goes into the cash register. I'll take this one home.Nineteen fifty-three must've been one helluva year for comics. Horror comics were at their wildest and wooliest during '53, just a year before Dr. Fredric Wertham's bombshell book, Seduction Of The Innocent came out and caused such an uproar. Pity. I would like to have seen what would have happened had no outcry appeared. Would comics have gotten more gruesome, or morphed into something else altogether? Another fad? We'll never know.

My personal favorite of this gang of four is Amazing Adventures #4. It's a couple of years older than the others, dated July-August 1951. Of the four, it's the only one with a painted cover. And what a cover. It's drawn by Allen Anderson, who did several covers for Ziff-Davis during their short stay in the comic book jungle. A robot. A kissing robot, yet. A blonde babe. A little green drooling guy on a sky sled. A mystery: just who are the "Love Robots"? And your wife says
your lovemaking is mechanical! Another hard-earned dime goes down for this comic book. A must-have, double bagger.All of these comics have something in common: run-of-the-mill they aren't, and if you can't judge a book by its cover, then you can at least judge the cover.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Number 73

Wood and Severin Post Code

When the Comics Code was implemented in late '54 it not only spelled the death knell for many comic book companies, already reeling under the onslaught of television, but found many artists scrambling for work.

Some artists quit the business entirely, but some stayed behind, slogging it out with what work remained. Wallace Wood and John Severin, formerly stars at EC Comics, were no exceptions.

One of the comic book companies still standing in 1956 was Atlas, formerly Timely, and now Marvel. An implosion of titles was a year off but in 1956, over a year after the Code went into effect, they were still churning out comics.

These stories, "Inside the Dark Cave," and "He Was Nobody," from Journey Into Mystery #51, are good examples of how the Comics Code emasculated comics. Just a couple of years before these stories wouldn't have been published in this form. They'd have a murder or two, or skeletons, or vampires. Early Code-approved stories can be so pallid that the only thing that makes them interesting is the artwork.

And what good artwork! Severin does a wonderful job drawing Leprechauns, and Wood's drawings, his settings of a rain-engulfed town with a bursting dam, are a lot better than the paycheck he sold the artwork for. Wood even lettered his story, probably picking up a couple extra $ per page for the chore.

The men who made and stayed in comics were a brave and hardy lot, dodging the falling bricks of a crumbling industry. I'm glad neither Severin or Wood dropped their comics work during those insecure and difficult times. In many ways their best years were ahead of them.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Number 72

Walt Kelly's Santa's Christmas Gift



Oh, sorry. …sniff… You caught me boohooing and blubbering over this sentimental little Christmas story by the master cartoonist, Walt Kelly, from Santa Claus Funnies #2, 1943.
This is a real tearjerker, folks. It even begins with a jerk! Jerk Frost, errrr, I mean Jack Frost, is a nasty twit who freezes up the forest, putting all of the critters and even the forest's human dwellers in a real bad way. Animals are starving; two kids and their sick mother shiver with cold and hunger in a little cabin.

I'll tell you before you start reading, you won't get through this without going through a box of tissues.

Well, it has a good ending. I mean, you didn't really think the kids were going to starve to death along with all of the forest animals, while Mom withered away with her indeterminate illness, did you? This is a Christmas comic book, after all.

There's a heroic pigeon in the story, too. Santa comes to the rescue...say, am I giving away too much, here?

And in the end…wait. Maybe you'd better read this whole story and then come back and I'll talk about the end. I'll wait for you.

Page 1 (234K) / Page 2 (272K) / Page 3 (227K) / Page 4 (234K) / Page 5 (243K) / Page 6 (249K) / Page 7 (241K) / Page 8 (226K) / Page 9 (219K) / Page 10 (232K) / Page 11 (211K) / Page 12 (240K) / Page 13 (242K) / Page 14 (254K) / Page 15 (236K) / Page 16 (202K)

"Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla Wash, and Kalamazoo…" Oops. Caught me singing. After all, it is Christmas Eve. I've got Christmas presents wrapped and under the tree. I'm also rubbing my greedy little hands together in anticipation of getting some great comics goodies himself. I know I am because I picked 'em out!

As I was saying, in the end Santa takes off in his sleigh, with the hero pigeon by his side. He tells the pigeon he's going to Africa, Europe and America. Since this was a very dark era of World War II, one wonders if Santa had some knowledge the rest of us did not. Especially how to get around anti-aircraft guns and the Luftwaffe. But, we assume this story, although written and drawn during the war, did not take place during the war, but during a more placid time for Santa and the rest of the world.

It's a good story, just a little bit…sniff, sniff...sad. Be warned.

Oh, and
MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you Pappy's readers. I hope you all got what you wanted.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Number 71

COVERING UP: Classic Golden Age Comics Covers:
Frankenstein Comics #8-11.

Since I don't own these issues of Frankenstein Comics, I found these covers on the Internet.

These are different covers that have different ideas of telling a joke or story. Number 8, July-August, 1947, has a cover that illustrates an interior story. What's up? King Frankenstein could get stabbed from behind and the pretty island girl with the Bettie Page hairdo is watching and smiling. There's obviously treachery afoot!

Click on pictures for full-size images.

Number 9, September-October, 1947, has a great visual gag. When this comic was published television was in its infancy and movie-going was just about the number one pastime of most Americans, if not the world.

The cover to Number 10, November-December, 1947 is also a visual gag, but has nowhere near the strong graphics of the prior issue.

I find the cover of Number 11, from January-February, 1948 to be interesting because it is self-referential. The movie Frankenstein made Boris Karloff a star. The movie gave Briefer's Frankenstein his distinctive look. But the tables are turned: Now Karloff, called Karload here, is scared by our friendly Frankenstein. Does "our" Frankenstein look a little bit short to you? He doesn't look as large on this cover as he does on other covers. I'm sure it had to do with the limited space in which Briefer had to draw his idea.
The covers of Number 9 and Number 10 have the strong poster-like graphics that I like so much in Briefer's work. The insides may have been hastily drawn, but he spent some time on the covers.

In Alter-Ego #62, which I just got, there is a 3-page sequence of Briefer's unsold samples for a Frankenstein comic strip. It's too bad this wasn't sold to a syndicate. These are some of the best drawings I've seen from Briefer. In a letter, from which they have published excerpts, Briefer admitted some of his old art could get sloppy, but eventually found that it was faster to draw the same size as the printed page.

Next week: Froglegs!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Number 70

Al Williamson's You Never Can Tell

After EC Comics folded in the mid-1950s, popular science fiction artist Al Williamson did what a lot of comic book artists did in those days: he found work where he could. Among other companies, he freelanced at Harvey Comics, Atlas and ACG.

ACG published some of Williamson's pre-EC work in the early 1950s, and just a few years later he was doing some more jobs for them.

This story, "You Never Can Tell," is from Adventures Into the Unknown #107, April 1959, written by editor Richard E. Hughes under a pseudonym, Kermit Lundgren. Hughes wrote under a dozen or so pen names to disguise the fact he was the editor and writer of all of the ACG line. 

What I remembered about the story from my original reading  was the earth diving suit, which seemed really neat-o! It still does. The idea of a suit able to move through the ground the same way a deep sea diver's suit moved underwater was irresistible to me. It was probably inspired by the earlier Harry Harrison short story, "Rock Diver," in which prospectors used such suits to move underground in their search for precious metals.

The main character and his wife have those unusual names common to Hughes, "Jethro" and "Grenda." Jethro is also one of Hughes' typical losers; a little guy who suddenly stumbles onto something great, only to have it taken away from him. A story posted earlier, in Pappy's Number 10, "The Lonely Life Of Homer Hergis," is typical of that type of story.

This is a fun little 5-page story, made better by Al Williamson's artwork.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Number 69

COVERING UP: Great Covers Of Golden Age Comics: Santa Covers

One week until Christmas, gang! This is your reminder from Pappy that if you don't have that Christmas shopping done by now you'd better watch out, you'd better not pout, you'd better just get out! Spend the mon' and get it done, son.

That said, get back to the reason we're here. We want to show some of my favorite covers featuring Santa Claus. Since these comics were produced exclusively for younger children it's difficult to find any of them in really great shape, but all of these covers seem to have survived (mostly) the ravages of little fingers.

Walt Kelly was not only one of the greatest cartoonists of the Golden Age--or any age--he did some of the best covers. This is a cover that is somewhat atypical because Santa is drawn in a more realistic manner. It evokes Thomas Nast to me. But the rest of the cover, the toys and such, are purely Kelly. A really great cover from 1946. Click on the pictures for full-size images.
In a similar vein is 1947's cover of Tiny Tot Comics by an artist named Burton Geller. I'm not familiar with this artist at all, and despite the subject similarities, compared to Kelly his art is crude. As all true EC Comics fans know, Tiny Tot Comics was produced by legendary comics publisher M. C. Gaines, who died and passed the company on to his son, Bill, who turned it into one of the best remembered and most loved comic book companies of all time. Also most notorious. Just a few years later, any pictures of Santa Claus produced by EC Comics would be of jolly ol' St. Nick carrying an axe.Everybody knows the song, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," which is one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. Lots of merchandising was done, including his own comic book series from DC Comics, which ran for 13 annual issues from 1950 to 1962. The series was revived for a time in the 1970s using some reprints and new stories. I loved this comic book when I was a kid and it was because of the great artwork by a very underrated artist, Rube Grossman. This is Rudolph #1, from 1950, which features a book-length story of 48 pages.L. B. Cole was a great, and very collectable, cover artist of the 1940s and '50s, but his funny animal stuff is lacking something. Cole was much better at his more dramatic artwork, but he could really produce covers that sold comic books. I like this particular 1952 cover of Holiday Comics, not so much for his Santa Claus, but for its poster-like qualities, including the snow. It gives it, as my old college art teacher would've said, "thump."
By the late 1950s the Santa Claus we know best today was done by Haddon Sundblom, an illustrator who did yearly paintings of Santa holding Coca-Cola bottles. Those ads were so influential that they defined the costume and vision of Santa Claus. This cover from 1960, Dell's Four-Color #1154, is by an artist whose name I don't know, but who captured the Sundblom look. It's a great whimsical cover and I probably bought it off the stands because of the cover. When I look at the interior art I know I didn't buy it for that.

Next week, break out the Kleenex for a sentimental Walt Kelly Christmas tale.