Saturday, April 28, 2007

Number 125

Toni Gay by Norman Nodel

Tony Gay? Butch Dykeman? Say, is somebody kidding with these names? I don't know for sure, but there they are, from this early 1950s story from a comic book called Popular Teenagers. Did those names have the same meanings as we might give them 55 years or so after the comic was published? That I also don't know…although I'm guessing the scriptwriter might have hung out with a hip crowd who used those words to describe a certain group of people years before the words themselves passed into popular usage.

We'll never know because the scriptwriter is unknown and the editor, L. B. Cole, and the artist, Norman Nodel, are all dead. With no way to prove it I think the names might have been a way of playing with the reader.

Toni Gay, in looks--the Bettie Page hairstyle gives it away--and name, seems to be related to an earlier L. B. Cole, creation, Toni Gayle, who appeared in a crime comic called Guns Against Gangsters. A Toni Gayle story appeared in Pappy's #22.

Norman Nodel (real name Nochem Yeshaya) was a very fine illustrator who worked for publisher/editor L. B. Cole for years on various projects, including comics, magazines, and is probably best known for his work in Classics Illustrated. Cole had very high regard for Nodel, and had this to say about him in an article by E. B. Boatner in The Comic Book Price Guide #11, 1980: "Norman Nodel was another extremely talented and much under-publicized illustrator who worked with me at Star [Comics] in 1951. He also illustrated for me at Classics and Dell and on World Rod and Gun [Magazine]. He had an opera quality voice and the God-given hands for illustrating--one of the nicest people you'll ever meet."

Cole was a canny publisher who used reprints and recycled material. The source for this Toni Gay story* is Popular Teenagers #6, published under the Accepted Publications banner and undated, obviously a reprint from an earlier comic book. Knowing that might help explain some of the poor printing on the comic. The story itself, with the exception of the names, is straight out of the Archie-style teenage comics, and its main interest is in Nodel's fine art. In those days he was working in a style more appropriate for comics, rather than a style using fine pen lines he later adopted.

This is the first twofer Pappy's, both of them featuring artist Norman Nodel, posted on the same day. I may do this again sometime in the future depending on circumstances.

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*It was also reprinted in a 1980s comic book, but I've been unable to locate the book in my collection to give you the exact title.

Number 124

Norman Nodel's The Great Houdini

Illustrator Norman Nodel is most familiar for his work in Classics Illustrated during the 1950s and '60s. He had worked for Classics editor, L. B. Cole, for several years on various types of publications. I think of Nodel as an illustrator because his work for Classics Illustrated had qualities more of illustration--beautiful penwork and somewhat static figure drawing--than they did of comic art. I think the best example of his work is in Classics Illustrated #167, Faust By Goethe.

"The Great Houdini" was a biographical comic book story published by Classics Illustrated in a series called The World Around Us. It was in issue #25, September 1960, titled The Illustrated Story Of Magic.Recently there's been a renewal of interest in Houdini's death. Was he poisoned or did he die of a ruptured appendix caused by a blow to the stomach as has always been claimed? This World Around Us story mostly focuses on Houdini's career, but doesn't stay away from the reported manner of his death, although it's told in the same matter-of-fact style as the rest of the 11-page biography.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Number 123

Jet Powers and The Man In The Moon!

This is the second story from the 1950 ME Comics Jet Powers #1. For the folks who care about such arcane trivia, the cover says the title is Jet, subtitled Jet Powers and Space Ace. The indicia on the inside front cover says the book is Jet Powers #1, (A-1 #30). Jet Powers was a series within the larger A-1 series, much like the Dell Four Color Comics, which published hundreds of one-shot issues and series comic books under the Four Color umbrella. I'm not sure what all was published under the A-1 designation, but for this title at least everything was further confused when Jet Powers became American Air Forces with #5, featuring Jet Powers as an American pilot fighting in the Korean conflict. Whew! I hope you're paying attention to all of this because it may appear on a test at the end of the semester.

But that has nothing to do with this story. In the first story, which I posted in Pappy's #121, we are introduced to Jet, Su Shan, who is the villainous Mr. Sinn's beautiful Asian "assistant," (wink wink, nudge nudge) and Mr. Sinn himself, a green-faced caricature of an Asian man. Despite being green, Mr. Sinn solidly represents an era of American pulp literature which used the Yellow Peril as a theme. "Orientals," according to the Yellow Peril-styled stories, were evil, sinister, inscrutable, criminal-minded, crafty and prone to spouting Confucious-like aphorisms. Luckily for us, at least Mr. Sinn doesn't sound like a Chinese fortune cookie. He doesn't have time or space to do that, since he's usually talking out loud, explaining his evil plans to us.

Mr. Sinn is the first man to orbit the earth in an artificial satellite. From space Sinn watches the President of the U.S. on his "visibeam screen," which works because it "warps light." He can find out American national secrets because he can read lips!

Su Shan is also shown to be pretty tricky in her own right, pretending to have amnesia, but soon in this series she comes around to Jet's side. Just thought I'd mention that so you won't worry.

The story ends on something of a cliffhanger, but the storyline isn't picked up again until the next issue.

I'm probably not giving anything away by telling you that in the end Mr. Sinn gets away by using something called "repulsor beams." I'm pretty sure when I originally read this I had my own repulsor beams-thing going on with the girls I knew. Maybe it was the spacey look in my eyes from reading too many comic books.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Number 122

Sexy Suzie, Kinky Katy and Booby Betty

When the Comics Code was written in late 1954, and implemented with issues published in 1955, one of the chief promoters were the folks at Archie Comics. Archie Comics had claimed the moral high ground with their line of "wholesome" teenage books. They might have forgotten their origins. Before Archie came along they published some of the rowdiest and sometimes ghastly superheroes in the business. Anyone who can come up with a hero called The Hangman probably doesn't have the word "wholesome" in mind.

These pages and panels are all culled from one coverless issue of what I presume to be Pep Comics. Based on internal evidence I place it about 1953, a couple of years before the Comics Code. One of the provisions of the Code was that women wouldn't be shown with body parts accentuated. Even after the Code Archie Comics got away with showing the charms of Betty and Veronica. I mean, a code's a code, unless it interferes with the public's right to see accentuated body parts.

The Archie public, even pre-Code, was a pre-teen/teenage girl market. I'm sure the sexy stuff was meant to lure in the big brothers, too.

The "Suzie" pages are eye-catching and eye-popping, especially the splash, with Suzie spread out on the love seat like a hooker in a brothel. I'm also wondering about the guy who looks to be a shade older than the teenage boy who is his "rival." How old is the guy with the mustache, anyway? And what's he doing hanging with a teenage girl? (Heh-heh-heh…)

Click on pictures for full-size images.Katy Keene was a strip supposedly aimed strictly at young girls. When I dragged out this comic and my wife saw Katy the first words out of her mouth were, "Oh wow! Déjà vu!" It had been over 40 years since Wifey had seen a Katy Keene pinup page, but she knew instantly who she was. Once you've seen Katy, you don't forget Katy. I'm sure there are plenty of adult males out there who see Katy and also say, "Oh wow! Déjà vu!" Bill Woggon did the artwork, but the sly dog had help from his readers in designing the clothes. He also got to draw a really pretty girl. I don't mean to disparage gay people, but the guys in the strip always looked gay to me. And Sis was a total washout. Woggon should have tossed her and just shown Katy having lingerie parties with her supermodel friends. That would put the "strip" in comic strip! Incidentally, the page is full of phallic symbols.Betty, of Betty and Veronica fame, is shown in these two pages from an otherwise typical, tired Archie gag storyline, as having young, nubile breasts. Accentuated body parts, as it were. As Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder pointed out in Mad #12, in his later years "Starchie" regretted not taking advantage of the situation with Betty, who threw herself at him. Look at the panels with all of the hearts flying. I'm sure if Archie were human he'd have a heart-on for Betty, too. Archie, can you say "menage a trois?" In those pre-Code days Archie was a total dipstick for not inviting both Betty and Veronica over to his house when his Mom and Pop were out.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Number 121

Bob Powell's Jet Powers Introduced!

Jet Powers is a science fiction hero who came out of the Buck Rogers school of comics. No super powers, but a super brain, and lots of brawn to go with the brain. For the four issues of the comic book series, Jet Powers was drawn by Bob Powell*, and scripted by prolific comic scribe Gardner Fox.

My goal is to run all of the science fiction Jet Powers stories in sequence. An issue of Jet contained three stories starring the title hero, and a separate story featuring a character called Space Ace. Powell didn't draw the Space Ace stories, but I'm going to feature them anyway. The last two in the series were drawn by none other than Al Williamson, so that alone makes them worth a look.Jet Powers is represented in this first story as being a lone genius/inventor/scientist, living in a mesa laboratory somewhere in the Southwest U.S. He also wears tight clothes, including a shirt with an atomic symbol--I guess so we'll know he's a scientist!--and knee-high boots. With his white hair he looks a bit more mature than most comic book heroes.

We are dropped right into the action, as major cities of the world, including "San Fransisco" (sic) are struck by earthquakes. Since San Francisco has a history of earthquakes I'm not sure why anyone would think that was terribly out of the ordinary, but Jet Powers does. Using his instruments he finds that the earthquakes originate in Asia. With the blessing of President Truman ("…may luck go with you!") he takes his invention, the "Aerocar," which flies through the air, drives on land and swims through water, to the Mekong River in Southeast Asia where he finds the originator of the earthquakes, the villainous Mr. Sinn, and Sinn's beautiful female assistant, Su Shan.

In this story another of Jet Powers' inventions is shown. The "gravitron gun," which "…releases the mass of any amount of matter, and so frees it from earth's gravity," is used several times in the story. Fox was a veteran comic book writer and this pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo is the sort of thing that was common in many of his scripts.

This story sets up a hero, a super villain (yet another racist Fu Manchu-styled Asian villain, replete with green, leering, hideous face), and a beautiful female assistant, in a short but action-packed 10 pages.**

I originally read the first two issues of Jet in reprint form in the late 1950s, when they were republished by I.W. Comics as Jet Powers #'s 1 and 2, part of a series of three-to-a-bag comic book reprints. I was really taken by the artwork and the energy of the writing, as well as the science fiction elements of the strip. When I had my chance to buy the original issues in the mid-1970s I jumped at it, even though I recall I paid $15 apiece for the four issues, which was the most I had ever paid for comic books up until that time. Ah, how times--and prices--have changed…

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*Previous Pappy's Bob Powell postings are "The Shrunken Skull" in Pappy's #35, "The Man In The Hood," in Pappy's #90, and "Twice Alive," in Pappy's #110.

**One part of the story deserves note. Jet is put into a chamber where he's exposed to lights and noise. It looks psychedelic, a two decades-early precursor to a rock light show from the late '60s. He is driven instantly mad, which could help explain a lot of what happened to my generation.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Number 120

Kelly Freas was a true Madman!

A couple of original Kelly Freas Mad Magazine covers showed up on an auction site recently.Click on pictures for full-size images.

These artworks show what a great artist Freas was. Norman Mingo, who also did covers for Mad in the 1950s and '60s, was another great artist, but it was Freas who really caught my attention and caused me to pick up and buy Mad in the 1950s.

The printed covers, also taken from the Internet, show how much was lost during reproduction. Freas put a lot of work into each cover. Look at the textures on the weathervanes.Artists who do the new Mad covers have a lot of talent, but they also have Photoshop to work with. They're good, but they don't have the individuality of style that Freas or Mingo had.

Freas died in 2005 at age 83. He left behind a legacy of work in the science fiction field that is unequaled, but his Mad humorous work is, for me, what made him a truly great illustrator.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Number 119

Son of Frankenstein Friday:* Going--going--real gone!

This oddball story with the excellent surrealistic splash panel came from a comic called Madhouse #2, August, 1957. According to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide there was a comic called Madhouse that ran three issues in 1954, and a second series of three (or four, Overstreet isn't sure) issues in 1957 from the same publisher, Ajax/Farrell.Click on pictures for full-size images.

The Frankenstein connection in this story is pretty thin: a character resembling our favorite monster is part of a gaggle of ghosts, ghouls and goons haunting a house. Not only are they haunting it, they're trying to hold onto it against an equally geeky gang of partying bop kats.

Yes, my young friends…before there were hippies there were beatniks, and before beatniks there were be-boppers or bop kats. Actually, all of these groups were just part of a continuous mid-century bohemian-scene stream, each generation with its own clothes and music to listen to, as well as its own slang. Almost. The word "cool" was still cool back then, just as it is now. "Cool" is one of those words that has stayed hot. Dig me, you crazy cubes?

I've been trying to determine if this issue of Madhouse #2 is a reprint from the original series. I haven't been able to find out, but I'd be willing to bet it is. Let me know if you know, Daddy-o. It's published under the Comics Code, so if it is a reprint it may have been changed somewhat from the original, but I don't see anything obvious.

It's also an imitation of the Mad comic books, which set very high standards for humor, satire and art. So high a standard that no one--even to this day--has been able to match it. Madhouse suffers from the same problems the other Mad imitators had, besides not having the talents of Kurtzman, Elder, Wood and Davis. The people who made Madhouse had no idea what was funny. They looked at Mad and they just didn't get it! They saw a lot of funny little signs and crowded panels and thought, this is what makes Mad popular, so they put out their versions of funny signs and panels crowded with characters and they all failed, where Mad grew and prospered. "The fustest with the bestest gets the mostest," as the old saying goes. To that I'd add, "the fustest with the bestest and mostest talent!"

If the story isn't exactly screamingly funny, in its own way it's entertaining. Besides the splash panel I like the little Casper the Friendly Ghost-type who looks like Peter Lorre. The bop kat with the big bop kat hat looks pretty funny, too, as do the panels of Frankenstein being swung by a dancing chick.

…but then maybe I just have a weird sense of baby boomer humor.

I don't know the artist(s), but in the indicia the art director is listed as S.M. Iger, the famous S.M. "Jerry" Iger of the Iger Studios, producers of comic book pages by the thousands for several different publishers. So I believe it's a shop job, Slob!

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*Frankenstein Friday is a feature that began in Pappy's #17, continuing for several months until I ran out of material to post. Son Of Frankenstein Friday will be an occasional feature that will show up when I find something to post for you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Number 118

Bill Everett loses a button!

Mrs. Pappy walked through the living room while I was watching TV.

"Are you watching that CSI show again?" She sniffed. "What is it you like about this stuff?"

I confessed. "I'm hoping to learn enough that when I begin my life of crime I won't make the same mistakes the crooks make on these shows."

It's true. On CSI someone is always leaving a fingerprint, DNA, or even epithelials at the scene of the crime. I wouldn't want to do that. I know I could never do jail time. In the heyday of the crime comic books of the 1940s and '50s parents groups complained loudly that crime comics glorified criminals and were actually blueprints for crime. Nowadays a kid doesn't have to read a comic book. He can just watch TV and get all the ideas he wants.

In this story from Lev Gleason's Crime and Punishment #31, October, 1950, the great Bill Everett* draws a story about a criminal who worries about leaving behind evidence, and finds his paranoia correctly placed.

It's a five-page short with great art and a great moral for all you wannabe criminals: don't get caught. Errrr, I mean, don't leave any evidence…errrrr, what I really mean is CRIME DOES NOT PAY! Heh-heh.

*Formerly seen in Pappy's #8.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Number 117

Alex Toth's Time Machine!

H. G. Wells' The Time Machine was a popular science fiction movie in 1960. It won an Oscar. Even with the older style special effects the story is still effective, adapted from a classic Victorian-era short novel by Herbert George Wells. George Pal directed the movie and Rod Taylor starred.

Dell Comics seemed to have the comics movie adaptation business sewed up at the time this was published. One of their top artists at the time was Alex Toth, a talented but volatile artist who died last year. This adaptation was published by Dell Comics as Four Color #1085, with a date of March, 1960. Click on pictures for full-size images.

The artwork on The Time Machine is a bit hurried in spots, but overall shows Toth's genius at composition and rendering a comic book page. Unlike other artists, Toth didn't work much at getting exact likenesses of the characters. If he worked from photos it was for a generalized reference of the actor. With the possible exception of Sebastian Cabot, who had a very distinctive look during his whole career in movies and television, most of the characters look something like the actors, but not quite.

The overall problem with the adaptation is the strict length of a comic book, 32 pages. The story meanders a bit for a dozen pages before getting into the time travel, and in a comic book you don't have the space to meander.

Still, this is a pretty good comic book, mainly because of Toth. It was drawn long in advance of the movie's release, from a script written from a version of the movie script. Toth carefully avoids showing much of the story's boogeymen, the Morlocks. A Morlock is shown on the cover in a still from the movie, but they are not shown closely in the story itself. This might have been because the exact images of the film's monsters were being kept under wraps by the studio until the movie's release. That's OK with me because of all the monsters in movies, the Morlocks are about the lamest.

The copy of The Time Machine I scanned this from had some tape and a torn page or two, so you'll get a look at what cellophane tape does to comic books. It turns brown, the glue dries out and the tape drops off, leaving a residue. Had the original owner a time machine of his own and traveled to the future to see what the comic book would look like after 47 years he might not have been so free with the Scotch tape.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Number 116

Arachnophobic Comics!

Scared of spiders? Afraid when one of the little critters is crawling on your leg and you look down and are suddenly seized by blind panic? If you're that afraid of a tiny arachnid, what would you do if the spider was as big as your dog, or an elephant?

Well, you'd probably react like the people in these stories. Not very well!

First up is a Gale Allen story from Planet Comics. This 1946 strip is full of the pin-up panels that Fiction House was famous for. They were definitely going for the military PX, and teenage boy market. I don't know who the artist is.

Even discounting the giant spiders the story itself is ludicrous, but that just makes it more fun. How many rocket pilots, like Gale, also fill in on the switchboard?* It'd take too much space to have another character, an actual switchboard operator, call to Gale to tell her of a distress signal about giant spiders. The writer just made Gale the operator. Simple! You can't think too much about these types of comic books, you just enjoy them for their dopey plots. I also enjoy the attempts to make the story more "science-fictiony" with the use of words like "atmos-minutes" and a unit of measurement like "atres." Say what? Atres? Sizzlin' rockets!

The second story is a Fantomah story from Jungle Comics, drawn by the legendary Fletcher Hanks using a pseudonym, "Barclay Flagg." There is a book coming out soon from Fantagraphics on Hanks, and I can hardly wait. This Fantomah strip will be a good teaser to get us all ready.**

There is an hallucinogenic quality to all of Hanks work. Maybe it was the fact that he was alcoholic, but it could also be that he could draw, kind of, but just not what people expect of comic book art. He traced. Panels of the villain, Org, especially in the first couple of pages, look to have been traced and flipped, then re-traced. That's true for the giant spiders, too. His composition is also strange. Look at the two panels on page 1 where Org and Fantomah are eyeballing each other across the gutter between panels. I suspect that Fletcher Hanks was inspired by the art of Basil Wolverton, but like all Wolverton admirers didn't quite have the talent to pull it off in his own work.

I downloaded the Fantomah story from the Internet a few years ago and I don't know who to thank for doing the scanning.

So read these stories, arachnophobes, and just be glad that little brown spider crawling on your arm isn't bigger.

Gale Allen, Planet Comics #41, March 1946

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Fantomah, Jungle Comics #15, March 1941

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*I also enjoy seeing the future from the vantage point of the past. Instead of using some sort of device like telepathy or wireless communication, the writer just transferred some 1946 technology to the future.

**Hey, I said Fantomah was a "strip teaser," yuk-yuk.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Number 115

Fritzi Ritz Has Ritzy T*tz!

Ernie Bushmiller's art style is instantly recognizable and more importantly, instantly readable. Anyone should be able to get the joke in a Bushmiller strip. The gags are what comedian Milton Berle called "lappy," so simple they were laid right in the audiences' laps.

Nancy was the character that took over the glamour-girl Fritzi Ritz strip, but it's these covers with their simple jokes and eye-catching pin-ups of Fritzi that got the attention of male readers in the early 1950s. I'm guessing covers with Bushmiller's characters Nancy and Sluggo didn't do quite as well in sales to men.
Fritzi is in the great style of the old-time cartoon cuties of the 1920s through the 1950s. She's curvy and sexy but not sexual. Except for Fritzi in various states of undress there's nothing overt about any of these covers. Well, maybe except for the hot dog cover…but that's more than you need to know about how my mind works.Someone needs to take a collection of Fritzi Ritz covers and turn them into a book like the books on pin-up cartoonists like Bill Ward, Dan DeCarlo, Bill Wenzel, et al. Are you listening, Fantagraphics?

Click on covers for full-size images.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Number 114

Ghost Gallery #1

In his Senate testimony EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines* claimed the horror comic as his invention, but that claim itself was an invention. The EC-style horror comic that became popular in the early 1950s was his and Feldstein's, but horror comics had been around in one form or another since the earliest comic books. Even the superhero titles had their share of horror elements: vampires, witches, and monsters.

This story, the first of the Ghost Gallery By Drew Murdoch series from Jumbo Comics #42, August, 1942, fits into the earlier mode of horror comic. It's actually a gothic story: old dark mansion in the swamp, ghosts, and a mysterious, murderous thing.

Grand Comics Database identifies the artist as Bob Hebberd. Fiction House, publisher of Jumbo Comics, utilized the Jerry Iger comic book shop so often several artists worked on one story. Most of the stories in Fiction House Comics were just excuses to put sexy, leggy girls into the panels.** They were popular with their readership, servicemen and teenage boys. The stories didn't have to make much sense, and they often didn't.

This first Ghost Gallery story seems fairly well done, even for Fiction House. It's full of clichés, but it actually has a story that propels it for six pages, and it's done without most of the panels showing a half-dressed girl. Ghost Gallery must've been a popular series. It continued for over 120 issues of Jumbo Comics.

*Gaines' testimony is on film in the excellent documentary, Tales From The Crypt From The Comics To Television on the DVD, Tales From The Crypt, Season One.**Hey gang, I don't have anything against sexy, leggy girls.