Monday, July 30, 2007

Number 167

Sex and Skeletons Part 2

Dem bones. Dem bones. Dem dry bones. Or how 'bout dem living dry bones! Yow!

Of course we all know that skeletons aren't out walking around; we all know that when the tissue finally decomposes and there's nothing to hold it together, a skeleton is nothing more than a collection of loose bones. We all know that these horror comics covers with their living skeletons are just symbolic. But still, ulp. We'd all have a jolly time if one of these horrors suddenly popped up in front of us, wouldn't we?

These covers have to do with revenge, a major theme for horror comics of the early 1950s. Here's a butcher who regrets meating a couple of bony guys, displeased by the shop's customer service.

Here's another, by artist Hy Fleishman, of a skeleton getting his revenge on a mountain climber. (The climber whose sleeve is being held seems much too passive for someone confronted with such a sight.)

Another couple of covers have to do with revenge from a murdered spouse. In those cases the publishers got themselves into a tricky spot. First of all, the covers have a subtheme of adultery. So not only did the enemies of comics get to see gruesomely awful covers, but they could take in that the couple being visited by the skeleton were probably having sex and killed the spouse to get him out of the way. Next to those the butcher and mountain climber covers seem relatively tame.

The husband on the cover of Dark Mysteries #4 seems pretty well decomposed for a guy just buried yesterday, doesn't he?

Here's a fella who's being presented to a woman, but not for a formal introduction, we surmise. We don’t know what he's done to deserve this treatment but it's gotta be bad. We don't see her head but we get to see some boobs. Another great Russ Heath horror comics cover. His skeletons look very scary. Considering what's got this poor chump, she must really be something for his mouth to be gaping so wide.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Number 166

Spectro Analysis

Spectro was yet another comic book magician, along the lines of Zatara, or the granddaddy of comic magicians, Mandrake. It seems every anthology comic book had to have at least one magician to go along with the stock parade of secret agents, private detectives, and of course, the resident super-hero.

In this story the only power I can detect for Spectro is an ability to read minds, and apparently, according to this story, not always able to do even that. Unlike Zatara, who chanted words backwards and created real magic, or Mandrake, who gestured hypnotically and created perceived magic, Spectro uses his fists. He is also missing the ever-present top hat of the comic book magician, but he wouldn't be able to show off his blond hair. Or it'd be knocked off when he socked a bad guy. He has one element of a costume, a red cape which he inexplicably wears off-stage. But then, comics magicians always dressed like they were ready for a performance.

The villain is a bespectacled teacher who turns out to be a conman. You can tell he's a teacher because his name is Mister Pedant. You can tell his gang are crooks because they talk like comic book criminals. You can tell this teacher isn't very smart because he acts like a comic book villain. He tries to kill the hero using a gimmick, and gives the hero the opportunity to escape. You can tell this story doesn't make a lot of sense, but then it's a filler in an otherwise average comic book, Wonder Comics #16 from 1948.

The artwork is by Al Camy (a/k/a Al Cammarata), who did three stories in this issue. According to what I see about Al Camy in the Grand Comics Database, he was active in the comic book field in the late 1930s, throughout the 1940s, and sometime into the early 1950s. He worked mostly for Richard E. Hughes at Nedor/Better, which became The American Comics Group. Earlier on he worked a lot for MLJ Comics, drawing such strips as the origin of The Black Hood from Top-Notch Comics #9. Here's the splash for that story:

Camy's solid artwork is that of a journeyman comic book artist. Not flashy, but it tells the story.

Also, checking again with the Grand Comics Database, this is the last Spectro story I see listed, so perhaps that silver dart Spectro pulled out of his shoulder had a slow-acting poison and after the last panel poor Spectro shuffled off to comic book magician heaven .

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Number 165

Sex and Skeletons Part 1

Publishers have known since printing was invented that what attracts readers are images of sex and death. Horror comics of the 1950s were continuing a rich tradition. They had a lot of precedents to guide them, and by the middle of the 20th Century several of the comic book publishers had been involved in publishing pulp magazines--no strangers to sex and death--and some were even concurrently involved in publishing paperback books with lurid covers.

The cliché says you can't judge a book by its cover, but in reality you sell one by the cover.

I've picked out some of my favorite horror comics from the '50s, culled from places on the Internet, eBay, etc., even some from my own collection. All of these have something in common: they all show skeletons, since time immemorial the most common symbol of death, and an image that evokes a lot of reactions and curiosity. And speaking of curiosity, young kids looking over the comic covers in the '50s couldn't pass up the opportunity to ogle a sexy babe. Comics used the old damsel-in-distress motif a lot. They used bondage a lot and they used red dresses a lot, too. Not only were the red dresses eye-catching on the newsstand, they were also a symbol of a hot chick. They meant bad girl, a symbol for a prostitute, or at the very least, someone willing to have sex.

The covers also fell into sub-categories, looking for inspiration from other covers. Comic book publishers, or at least the artists, were looking to other artists and covers for inspiration; they swiped both ideas and artwork. Here are two sub-themes I've noticed while looking at my computer file of images. The Bill Everett cover of Atlas' Venus #17, dated December, 1951, appears to have been at least partially inspired by the cover of Chamber Of Chills #21 (actually, the first issue) by Harvey Comics' workhorse Al Avison, cover dated June, 1951.

I've found three covers of skeletons being married to "normal" folks. Adventures Into Darkness #6, is the earliest, from 1952, also the one to show a guy marrying a skeleton girl. In this case I'd say his bride went to some extremes to lose weight so her dress would fit! Journey Into Mystery #6 and Mysterious Adventures #17, both from 1953, reverse that, with a girl marrying a skeleton. These gals picked some real stiffs to drag to the altar! Since Pappy's is a high-class blog we'd never make a joke about these covers reminding us of wedding night boners. We could, but of course we won't.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Number 164

Space Ace Gets Woody!

This is the last Space Ace story from Jet Comics #4, the final issue.

Not only the last Space Ace, but because of the artwork it's the best of the series. Wally Wood inked over Al Williamson's pencils. What a combination they made. I wish they'd done a lot more work together. Wood's bold inking replacing Williamson's tentative inking of this period really makes a difference in how dynamic the story looks.

As for the story itself, well, it's Space Ace, after all…ace criminal of the spaceways, blah blah blah…gets into a jam over a woman, then gets himself out, blah blah…meantime getting lots of reward money or some jewelry or something good, blah blah…and then gets a full pardon for all his crimes, et cetera, et cetera...nice life!

As usual, some of the most entertaining bits of business are the little things that scripter Gardner Fox was good at: his pseudoscientific-sounding creations, like Ace's electric space pants (!!!) Wouldn't they give you a shock if you had to--you know--go to the bathroom? Not only that, he has the ability to turn them into a key to unlock a cell door. Or how about the paralysi-ray? Or Space Ace finding big tanks of nitrous oxide--laughing gas--so conveniently? Or how about describing Ace's fighting ability as being like a "Plutonian tigercat"?

This story doesn't make much sense, but it's a fun read not only because of the ridiculous plot elements, but because of the great artwork.

I'm not an expert on all Golden Age comics (duh), so I just found out that ME published a Space Ace comic in 1952. I was also surprised to find out that Space Ace appeared in ME's Manhunt as far back as 1947. Well, hit me with a paralysi-ray! There's always something new to learn in this crazy comic book business.

I found this cover on the Internet:

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Number 163

Kink From Under The Counter

It's hard for me to believe, grizzled and jaded as I am today, that I was ever young and naïve. But I was. It was 1965, I was 18 and my friend Calvin was 22. Calvin was an inveterate collector of everything: World War II memorabilia, old paperback books, pulp magazines, comic books, even pornography.

Calvin and I went into a bookstore in downtown Salt Lake City. In some pre-arranged buy, he gave the clerk $3.00, which got him a digest-sized booklet, very slim. It was a black-and-white comic book called The Passion Pit.

The booklet was by Eneg, an artist I'd never heard of. Eneg was the pseudonym for Gene Bilbrew, an African-American comic book artist who turned to fetish illustrating and became well-known in that subterranean community. Bilbrew was born in 1923 and died in 1974 at the young age of 51. You can google his name and come up with several sites, some of them selling his printed work.

If this were published today it'd be considered tame. There just isn't that forbidden thrill to spike-heeled boots, masks, whips and chains, or rubber clothes, not anymore. The mainstream co-opted those images some years ago. I saw a lot of them when I watched MTV with my son in the early 1990s and the heavy metal bands were thrashing around with models right out of Irving Klaw's shop in New York City.

A note on the copy I used for the scans: I found a pirate copy of The Passion Pit back in the late 1970s. It was called Chinese Torture, and Eneg's name was removed. The printing was not that good, photographed as it was from an original printed copy. Mine is a second generation from that generation. So if there are details that are muddy I apologize. Some of it isn't my fault. Some of the original printing flaws due to Bilbrew's sloppy original art are still present: There are lettering guide lines visible in some panels, even some pencil marks under his drawings. He also didn't rule his panel borders very straight. Personally, I like that sort of thing. It reminds me that a real live human being sat down at a drawing board and made these pictures, and was a sloppy workman with some of it. Just like the rest of us are at times in our everyday work.

I also get a kick out of his spelling: "Bhudda" and "strenght" show no editor was involved in this comic.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Number 162

The First Man In History Who Could Not Die!

Oboy, here's another story from Jet #4. Except that Jet only appears as a vignette in the splash panel. He doesn't star in this story, but says if we write in he'll show us more of this type of story. He calls us "boys and girls," too. Apparently no boys and girls wrote him back then in 1951, because there were no more issues of Jet. I'm not sure why a comic with the potential Jet had in issues #1 and 2 would flame out so quickly, but sadly, it did.

It could have been editorial problems, maybe not knowing exactly what direction to send the book. I thought it had a strong premise at its beginning: a two-fisted scientific genius with a bunch of futuristic gadgets and a beautiful Asian girlfriend fighting off evil using his own wits and gizmos. Mix together some concepts cobbled from newspaper comic strip stars Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, then a dash of real-life Einstein and Thomas Edison. For some reason Jet never got back to its initial level. It's a pity, really, but there's no accounting for the marketplace. In 1951 science fiction was popular, but not as popular as other genres. Horror was raising its ugly head, thanks to EC and its line-up of titles, and science fiction was represented amongst the titles on the market, even from EC, but they didn't sell well compared to other genres. Even romance comics outsold science fiction. Believe it or not, romance outsold almost everything! That seems almost science fiction-y to me, but it's true.

This story is a standalone, and is similar to what writer Gardner Fox would do for editor Julius Schwartz in titles like Mystery In Space and Strange Adventures.*

The story of Gar San, Myrza, and the surprise ending using a heretofore unseen character, Tanda Set, is lightweight. There's really no explanation for why the female character is in disguise as a newspaper writer, or why she's in the same place pilot "Johnny Wilson" is brought to hospital. The whole story is contrived, for lack of a better word.

Still, with artwork by the great Bob Powell it can't be all bad. Myrza is a hottie, 1951-style. The story might be lacking in the logic department, but it's fast moving and maybe some boys and girls of that era liked it, even if they didn't write in asking for more.

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*Unlike most other science fiction comic books, science fiction sold well enough for DC to publish for many years. It likely had something to do with Schwartz's genius for gimmicky covers and plot hooks.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Number 161

Gran'pa Feeb

Reading the Dark Horse reprints of the classic John Stanley Little Lulu stories makes me appreciate how much Stanley was able to do with his material. He worked with only a few characters who acted in a more-or-less closed universe (the "Luluverse"). Yet Stanley was able to be creative with variations of his theme month after month, year after year.

Lulu's friend and personal foil, Tubby, was someone I identified with. I was a chubby kid and even emulated Tubby when trying to solve some "crimes" in my neighborhood. (I nearly got punched in the nose when I accused a kid of being the one who broke into Bobby S.'s chicken coop in the caper I called The Case Of The Clucking Chicken. But I digress.) In the Dell Giant, Tubby And His Clubhouse Pals #1, which I bought off the stands in 1956, Stanley gave us some fantasy stories with Tubby, his friend Sammi and the little men from Mars, and then switched gears and introduced us to Iggy's Gran'pa Feeble.

Iggy brings Feeb to the boys' club because Feeb wants to join. But he's not a kid. He's an old man! That's OK, explains Iggy, "Feeb feels like a boy. Right up until noon, anyway." He goes on: "After that he gets younger and younger, until finally, along about eight o'clock, Ma has to catch him and carry him up to bed…boy! You ought to see him holler!"

Feeb is going through a second childhood. There is an initiation. Feeb has to put his hand into the knothole of a tree. No one has ever passed this part of the test but Feeb. In the knothole is a furry beast. It's actually a Davy Crockett hat. Feeb puts it on. "Oboy!" he says, "I bet I look more like Davy Crocker [sic] than Davy Crocker himself."

The last question in the initiation is posed by Tubby, "Feeb, do you like girls?" Feeb replies, "Why, of course I like girls!" The other boys scream, "No, Feeb! No!" To a gang with a motto, "No Girls Allowed," liking girls is heresy.

Feeb can't pass the initiation, so the boys rig it. Tubby, who as a junior detective often wears disguises, this time poses as a girl. It's cross-dressing done in a more innocent time. Tubby tricks him into hating girls, and Feeb is in the club.

When I originally read these Gran'pa Feeb stories I thought they were funny, but on rereading them I found them to be a lot like what I went through with my mother, now in an Alzheimer's nursing home. In the second Feeb story, "Injun Fighters," Feeb has to be introduced to Iggy. Gran'pa Feeble has Alzheimer's!

In the third story, "Gran'pa Feeb's Treasure Chest," Feeb goes through a siege of paranoia by calling Iggy to his room, asking if he's been followed.

Whew. The best writers show us some truth, and 50 years ago Stanley was showing me a comic book version of my future!

The Feeb stories are hilarious, because humor grows out of situations like this. We find eccentricities and old age rich fodder for comical situations. Unfortunately, if we live long enough, old age visits us and then it doesn't seem so funny. What scares me about Tubby And His Clubhouse Pals is that 50 years ago I was Tubby, but now I'm becoming much more like Gran'pa Feeb.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Number 160

Nature Of The Beast

"Look Homeward, Werewolf," is a good example of a comic book twisting a title from a popular source (in this case, Thomas Wolfe's classic 1929 novel, Look Homeward Angel). It also uses a famous fable for its basis, the often-told story of the frog and the scorpion. It's been adapted to horror comics, though, so even though the fable has a moral, the moral to any horror comics story is there is no moral to a horror comics story.

The story was originally published in 1954 in Atlas Comics' Uncanny Tales #23, but I scanned it from a Marvel Comics reprint in 1974's Crypt Of Shadows #8. I don't have the original to compare it to, and there might be slight differences mandated by the Comics Code.

The writer is unknown, but the artist is the great Mort Lawrence. I'm unable to find out a lot about Lawrence, but I believe he went from comics into something else, maybe illustration. If anyone knows tell me. He was one of the top artists of this era. The whole story is well-drawn, but the splash panel of the werewolf leaning to listen at the window is great. With a few props on the wall the artist has established the werewolf's victim's bona fides as a champion competitive boatsman.

This story messes with the werewolf legend. According to it, the werewolves live "in the hills" and hide from humanity. They also can't stand any water at all, or they turn mad. This silliness stretches the reader's credulity, but it's an entertaining story anyway.

I'm also including an Internet-find, a scan of the cover of the original Uncanny Tales #23 this story appeared in, as well as the 1970s reprint edition.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Number 159

Jet Powers Puts Them To Sleep

Anarchy! Murder! Looting! Chaos! "The Rain Of Terror," is from Jet #4, ME Comics, 1951, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Bob Powell. It's a follow-up to "The Dust Doom" in issue #3. I explained in my last entry for Jet Powers about the unique way they had with continuity and continued stories in Jet Comics. You can check out my last couple of postings by clicking on "Jet Powers" in the links at the bottom of this page.

The title refers to an attack by the villains of this post-apocalyptic story, a "former torch-singer," now called The Red Queen, and a general who has been dishonorably discharged from the Army. They crush a rebellion against their subjugation of the population with a rain of napalm--jellied gasoline--one of the worst anti-personnel weapons ever invented. Jet Powers rallies support and attacks the Red Queen and her general buddy with a rain of his own. Jet's rain being more humane, of course.

Su Shan, the sexy Chinese woman Jet met back in #1 (when she was an accomplice to the diabolical Mr. Sinn), is here in a couple of panels, along with Jet's new friend, Jimmy, who survived the dust doom. Su Shan tells Jimmy, "What a man!" referring to Jet, which leads me even further to believe that when he isn't saving the world, he and Su Shan are entertaining each other on that lonely mesa in the desert Southwest where they're shacked up. What can I say? Jet's a virile scientific hunk, and she's a sexy Asian woman in the Dragon Lady class. Ah, but that's just my crass, dirty brain at work again. I've got to read between the panels on these old comic book stories, because frankly, a lot of the stories just don't make a helluva lot of sense. Sometimes if I make up my own backstory it becomes more interesting.

Jet #4 is the last issue of the series. In that strange way of Golden Age comics and their re-naming of titles to fool the Post Office, it turned into American Air Forces with #5. Jet Powers had a role as an air ace, minus the science fiction elements. I have one of those stories, from a 1960s reprint book, and I'll present that after I post the whole of Jet #4. Be patient, Jet-fans. In a few weeks you'll have all of the Jet catalogue I own at your fingertips.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Number 158

Tara Is A Wonder

A reader has reminded me that in Pappy's #144 I promised to show stories from Wonder Comics #16, dated February, 1948. This is the lead story, "Tara," an outer space strip in the Fiction House-Planet Comics mold. The artist and scripter are unknown to me.

There's an old story about writers in the pulp era of the 1930s, who with a change of setting from Tortuga to Venus, cutlasses to rayguns and pirate ships to rocket ships, could turn a standard pirate tale into science fiction. That's pretty much the case with this Tara story. You don't have to use a lot of imagination to put it back on earth sailing along the bounding main in the 18th Century, especially with the stilted dialogue. Anytime a villain spouts lines like, "Swine! Ye comb the universe and bring back none but these cabbage faces…?" or a hero shouts out, "A quick death with the taste of steel in thy throat for this sacrilege, pirate cur!" you've got something entertaining on a whole other level.

I've included the two-page text story from this issue, because even though it's Tara and her pals, the dialogue is definitely more modern.

Finally, the splash panel is a classic of the type with the huge looming villainous figure, and be sure to check out the cover of Wonder Comics #16, which can found by using the link in the first paragraph.

Comic story: Tara and The Fabulous Jewel Of Morn
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Text story: Tara and the Message From Home
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Number 157

Herbie Hallucinates In Hell

Herbie Popnecker might've been the most unlikely character ever to star in his own comic book, but in the 1960s he was not only a hit in several issues of Forbidden Worlds, he was spun off into his own series. His title ran for 23 issues until the issue dated February, 1967. By that time the American Comics Group was running on fumes and soon after shut down operations. I read Herbie and thought the stories were completely bizarre. In retrospect, perfect for the 1960s and the dawning of the psychedelic era.

This particular story was the last story to feature Herbie in the anthology comic, Forbidden Worlds, November-December, 1963. Herbie moved into his own book after this story.

A couple of things really worked in Herbie, the aforementioned bizarre storylines--unlike anything else being published--and the wonderful solid artwork of Ogden Whitney. Somewhere I read that Whitney, who is apparently now deceased, was an alcoholic, but I've been unable to trace that story. If he drank he didn't drink and draw, because studying Whitney's inking is a study in a rock-steady hand.

Most, if not all, of the articles about Herbie usually have looked at the book from a strictly literal viewpoint. In other words, they have just accepted the fact that Herbie could walk in the air, knew all sorts of famous people, could talk to animals, or as in this story, could descend to hell and beat Satan. Personally, I think Herbie had a form of autism and was prone to hallucinations. I don't think Hughes wrote it that way, nor did Whitney (who reportedly based Herbie on himself as a boy) draw it that way. But that's what it looks like to me.

In this particular story, "Herbie Goes To The Devil," Herbie not only sells his soul to the devil, he acts in the movie Cleopatra* with Elizabeth Taylor, and more importantly knows everyone, knows how to handle every situation, and can walk on air. Not bad for a "little fat nothing," as his verbally abusive father calls him. But Herbie's hallucinating. The story is straightforward up to this panel, where Herbie is sitting in class, "thinking." To me it's almost the best panel in the story because Whitney has, with very subtle drawing, indicated that Herbie is spacing out. After that I consider the rest of the story to be pure hallucination. Trust me on this. I know what I'm talking about.Click on the picture to get a full-size image.

On another matter, I'd be surprised if editor/writer Hughes didn't get some feedback from conservative Christian groups, if any of them were reading comics, that is. The storyline using the devil as a funny character seems almost sacrilegious to people who would have Satan, "the adversary," as part of their theology. He's handled in this story in a very flippant way. But then, since we know now that Herbie is hallucinating, even Satan can act any way that Herbie wants him to act. After all, it's Herbie's fantasy, and we're just looking in.

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*In the early 1960s the movie, Cleopatra, was a scandal-plagued, costly production in the grand scale of that era's blockbuster movies. Elizabeth Taylor, married to singer Eddie Fisher (after "stealing him away" from Debbie Reynolds in another scandal), was having an affair with co-star Richard Burton, who she later married. So the production was in the news all the time, and was a natural to feature on the cover of a Herbie comic book. After all, it was on the cover of every other magazine of the time as well. It also might have gotten the interest of conservative groups who'd wonder why Taylor, considered an adulteress and condemned from the pulpit, was featured on the cover of a comic book sold to children.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Number 156

Getting Graphic

It Rhymes With Lust from 1950 is widely considered as the first of what we now call graphic novels. It was published by St. John, written by Arnold Drake and Lesley Waller under the pseudonym of Drake Waller, and drawn by one of the star artists of the golden age, Matt Baker.

Not so well known is the follow-up to this experiment in "Picture Novels," The Case Of The Winking Buddha by Manning Lee Stokes, illustrated by Charles Raab. I found a stack of these at my druggist. They sat near the magazines for a couple of months before I finally gave in and bought one. I wasn't all that impressed with it and it ended up in a box with other oddball items from my collection.

I should qualify it: It Rhymes With Lust would be the first American graphic novel. In December, 1969, I found the Tintin graphic novel, Explorers On The Moon, on a bargain table at a department store, and picked it up for under a dollar. It was the edition published by Western Publishing, also publishers of Gold Key Comics.

When I read it I wasn't all that impressed by the 1954 story, which is hackneyed, but I loved the format. When this was originally published in America in 1960 I don't think people were ready or willing to pay $1.95 for what looked like a comic book, even one in a more deluxe format. A few years later when Asterix found his way to America and Tintin was available again comics had gained more acceptance as acceptable literature for adults and even for children, and parents were more willing to pay the price for a more quality book.

In the early 1970s, thanks to the Graphic Story Bookshop in Culver City, California, I was able to pick up some really great graphic novels, Valerian, Lone Sloane, and this book by Greg and Hermann, part of their Bernard Prince series. I am still knocked out by the dynamic art, and wonder if it has ever been reprinted in English.At that time in the early 1970s I expected American comics to collapse at any moment; distribution channels were disappearing. Less stores were willing to sell comics because they were a nuisance. They cost 15¢ with low profitability, kids stood around and read them without buying, and they took up valuable display space.

Just before the independent comic book stores took up the slack it looked like comic books as we had known them since the 1930s would be gone. The French had anthology comics coming out every week with serial chapters, printed on slick paper with beautiful coloring, and were then collecting the serials into graphic novels. When I saw the French graphic novels I thought, wouldn't this be a great idea! Legitimize them, collect comics into these deluxe format books. But naw, this is America…readers expect a cheap product and won't pay more for a comic book. Another example of my lack of foresight.

I notice now that most bookstores devote a whole section to graphic novels, and especially manga. I see something I haven't seen in years: I see kids, usually teenagers, sitting in bookstores actually reading them. I hope some of them are buying them as well. Manga seems really popular with young people. I'm not a manga fan, but around the time I bought the books from Graphic Story Bookshop I also bought a couple of Japanese "graphic novels," reprints from their original comic books. This is my favorite. Isn't it the character we Americans know as Gigantor, who had a TV cartoons series a la Astro Boy and Speed Racer, in the mid-1960s?

I don't like all graphic novels, but there is enough variety to insure I can find something I like.

America's comic heritage is exceptionally rich, but it has been people from other countries who have paved the way and shown us that heritage shouldn't just be left to rot in cheap, disposable formats. Which reminds me: has anyone ever given the Pogo reprint books of the 1950s the credit they deserve as graphic novels? Yes, they were collections of daily comic strips, but edited and composed so as to make a "novel." They were sold for a dollar and even at that price were successful beyond anyone's expectations.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Number 155

Jet Powers Fooled by Fleebs!

"The Interplanetary War" is the final story from Jet #3, published in 1951 by ME Comics. As with the rest of the Jet Powers series, it was written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Bob Powell.

Issue #3 started out with the near-destruction of our planet by a cosmic dust storm, but that fact isn't mentioned in the following three stories. When I post the stories from Jet #4 you'll see that both the first story and this story from issue #3 are continued. It's an odd way to continue something…you'd think they'd devote a book to each storyline individually, but apparently that wasn't the way they did it at ME Comics in 1951.

"Interplanetary War" begins with some Martians hunkering down against their Venusian enemies, the "white slugs," as the Martians call them, and "Fleebs," as the Venusians call themselves.

This is a screwy story and I won't ruin it for you by breaking it down into its composite pieces, but to me it looks like a whole lot of plot crammed into eight short pages. Su Shan, Jet's live-in lady-love, shows up in four panels, but Jet leaves her at home in his lab. He makes it to Mars--in two days, yet!--by himself, mistaking the Venusians for the Martians. Just for the record, the most jarring panel to me in the whole story is the one with Jet sitting with his Fleeb "host" at what looks like a coffee-shop table, eating lunch, with musical accompaniment. I'm not sure what author Fox could have said in his script to indicate the action in this panel: "Jet is having a sitdown lunch with the Fleebs. Waiter serves, and Fleeb with mandolin plays in background." This panel is oddball, even for this story. Jet seems to communicate very well with the good-guy Martians when he finally finds them. The Fleebs used a translation device. I don't see him using one with the Martians.

Ah, but I wasn't going to break it down, was I? As is true with the rest of the contents of Jet #3, the printing is bad, blobbing up in spots and washing out in others. It's not my scanning, folks…it's some long ago printers who didn't care about what they printed or what it looked like.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Number 154

Hang 'em High

I heard recently that Captain America died. I don't buy new comics, and haven't for several years so I don't know anything about what direction the Captain America comics have taken. Actually, I haven't cared since the 1960s, but that's beside the point. The point is, Superman "died," Robin "died," and for all I know, Magilla Gorilla "died." They are imaginary characters in an imaginary world, so dry your tears, fanboys.

'Way back when, having a comic book character die was unheard of, which is why when The Comet, a second banana character in Pep Comics died, it was a real big deal. Second banana or not, comic book characters were invincible: they got out of impossible traps, bullets bounced off them, they foiled the most dastardly plots and fought (successfully) with the world's most insidious super villains. And back in World War II they had some real villains to fight.

After his death along came The Comet's brother, a vengeful character called The Hangman. He starred in his own comic book series in the early 1940s, and was quite successful. His brother, The Comet, didn't make it to his own title, but The Hangman did. Here's an introductory page from the inside front cover of Special Comics #1, Winter, 1941-42.

Something I like about these early issues of comic books from the MLJ line, which morphed into Archie Comics a couple of years later, is the wild-and-woolly plots and the action. They cleaned up their comics after a while, but in these earlier issues the exploitation of violence is prevalent. It was the kind of thing that started the early campaigns against comic books, but it also brought in a lot of readers.

In this story from Hangman #2, Spring, 1942, Hangman fights with a sinister Nazi villain, Captain Swastika. Nazi villains were often presented as comic opera characters, or old-time vaudeville foils with thick fake accents, big lips and bulbous noses. You can tell who Captain Swastika is because he wears a hood and shirt emblazoned with swastikas. The costume ended at the waist. The ensemble was continued with blue serge pants, white socks and blue shoes. In addition to his sartorial sins, Captain Swastika was also a real stone killer. As an addicted comic book reader you just know he'll get his ass kicked by The Hangman. After all, The Hangman had his own comic book, and this was story number one in issue number two. You could be assured that unlike his brother, The Comet, he'd live long enough to see Page 64.

The artwork is unsigned and I'm not sure who did it.

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