Friday, August 31, 2007

Number 183

Imitation Madness

In my opinion the best story in Mad comics not done by one of the Big Three, Wood, Davis and Elder, is "Plastic Sam," by Russ Heath in Mad #14. Heath, mostly known for his illustrative approach, was freelancing from his regular gig at Atlas Comics, working for Stan Lee.

I think he really liked the idea of the humor comics, because he approached "Plastic Sam" by tightening up and inking Kurtzman's layout. At Atlas, he did the story I'm posting here, "The Wild Blue Yonderrrr," from Crazy #3, in an ersatz Bill Elder/Wally Wood style, with lots of jokes in each of the panels. I like puns and wordplay so I enjoy them, although overall the story is typical Mad imitation; without Kurtzman it's mostly nonsense, rather than satire.

You've got to give companies that went after Mad's popularity credit for trying. Try is all they could do. None of them succeeded, which is why they're obscure and Kurtzman's Mad is still revered.

Heath, who was born in 1926, had a great career at Atlas, turning out Westerns like Kid Colt, Outlaw. He also created some memorable science fiction and horror stories. From there Heath went to DC, where he made his mark in war comics, Sea Devils, et al. All-in-all, a remarkable career by a remarkable artist.

In his humor work Heath liked to insert a self-caricature as part of his signature, as he did in "The Wild Blue Yonderrr."

I've always admired the comic book artists who, when the going was the toughest during the 1950s, still signed their work.

I've been researching what could have inspired "The Wild Blue Yonderrr," and haven't found it. I assume it was a movie, maybe British, about breaking the sound barrier, but can't find references to it in any of my standard resources. If you know please clue me in.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Number 182

Sex and Skeletons Part 5

Ah, the things I do for you guys, looking through all of these skeleton covers so I can give you a few moments of pleasure. Well, it's a chore I enjoy. ::he said, giving his Crypt Keeper cackle:: I've explained how publishers used images of sex and death--like that's a big surprise--to sell their products, and comic books of the '50s were no different.

Eerie was published by Avon, and Eerie Adventures by Ziff-Davis. More than one cover of Eerie used the same girl in the same stance, looking at some horrific sight, like an approaching skeleton. It might have been some sort of inside joke. Why repeat the motif? Another mystery from the horror comics of the 1950s.

Secret Diary Of Eerie would have been one of those one-shot rebound editions of three unsold copies of regular issues squarebound in a new cover. A way of recycling that produced some interesting giant comics.

The cover to Eerie Adventures is painted by illustrator Allen Anderson. The beautiful girl in the foreground, giving much the same pose as the girl on the Eerie covers, is actress Jean Dawyot, who Anderson used for multiple covers, including pulps like Planet Stories. An article on Anderson in the excellent magazine, Illustrator #18, has several of Anderson's covers reproduced, including his Ziff-Davis covers; Dawyot is in most of them.

Eerie and Eerie Adventures were mentioned in the infamous Seduction Of The Innocent by Fredric Wertham, M.D. It was about Avon suing Ziff-Davis for using the word "Eerie" on their covers. Wertham thought the judge should've throw in his opinions on the contents, but the fact that the judgment was solely on unfair competition and infringement didn't occur to the good doctor. What the judge ruled was that Eerie Adventures had to make the word "Eerie" smaller. I guess Wertham thought the judge should have torn them to pieces or burned the books in front of the court.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Number 181

The Big Little Hero

Doll Man was a superhero who hung around for a long time, considering how fast some superheroes disappeared after the end of World War II. But then, Doll Man Quarterly, and before that, Feature Comics, where Doll Man appeared, were published by Quality Comics, which had an all-star lineup, good artwork and great distribution. When they went out of business in the 1950s most of their heroes were sold to DC Comics, who went on to great, long-running success with their version of Quality's Blackhawk. Later on they re-introduced characters like Doll Man and even Plastic Man.

This particular story, "The Tiny Terrors," is from Doll Man #6, dated Summer, 1943.

It's drawn by Al Bryant, who does a competent job. Not spectacular like Doll Man creator Lou Fine, but good enough in its own right.

The story itself is kind of a horror story, if you have insect fear. A mad scientist (and there are no other kinds of scientists in comic books), Dr. Dlee, discovers how to make insects big. His plot is to kill all the other humans on the planet. The war, going at the time this story was written, drawn and published, isn't mentioned in the story, but its effects are felt "off-camera." I see Dr. Dlee as having snapped under a form of war psychosis. The mad doc joins a long list of would-be conquerors and destroyers. And, of course it's up to Doll Man to stop him! The side effect to making the insects big is to make them intelligent, and murderous.

This story has one of those illogical comic book run-that-one-by-me-again-wouldja? moments on page 6, where an impossible transition is made. I'll let you spot it for yourself, but when I read it I had to go back and see if I'd missed something in the timeline established by this story. Nope, I didn't.

Doll Man has what I think is the worst name in the history of superhero comics. What boy of the era would be caught dead reading something with the word "doll" in the title? Apparently a lot of them, but maybe they kept their copies hidden so their buddies wouldn't razz them. Doll Man also had a costume that was right out of the Will Eisner/ Lou Fine costume shop. The bare legs and arms, along with the elf-shoes, would probably be OK during the summer, but in winter weather he'd be one cold, shivery little fella. I look at these costumes that Fine designed as somewhat fetishistic. It showed on a cover like Doll Man Quarterly #5, which featured Doll Man in male bondage.
All of that aside, "The Tiny Terrors" story is fast-moving and entertaining. You know, what it's supposed to be.

My copy of Doll Man #6 I got for free from a comics shop owner. It had been seriously mouse-chewed in the upper right corner. Only the last three stories are salvageable, but of course I took it from him, mouse-chewed contents and all. The cover shown above is one I took off the Internet. As longtime Pappy's readers know by now, Pappy's comics collection includes a lot of coverless comics, tear sheets of stories, damaged and unsellable comic books. That's OK, because you are a beneficiary, as I make digital copies to preserve them.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Number 180

You Are In My Power!

This ad for the Hypno-Coin, taken from the Internet, brought back a flood of memories. As a kid I was interested in things like hypnosis and ventriloquism. OK. So I was a weird kid. So what else is new?

I read Mandrake the Magician in the funny papers. He could make his enemies think they were floating off the ground or being threatened by a lion by "gesturing hypnotically." It wasn't magic, he was just able to hypnotize the bad guys by wiggling his fingers. In popular culture like movies or pulp magazines there was some sort of a Bela Lugosi-type, a girl in a chair, his piercing eyes up close, his hands gesturing, "You are in my power…you will sleep, sleep…"

When I saw the original ad for the Hypno-Coin I thought it looked great. I'm not sure exactly what I had in mind for it. Maybe hypnotize my teachers into giving me A's, my parents into giving me money, girls into being my girlfriends, or my brother into being my personal slave. The picture of the girl in the ad, obviously under the power of the hypnotist, was enough for me. I sent away the money and within a couple of weeks I had it.

I decided to test it on my brother, Bob, who was about 9 or 10 at the time. The Hypno-Coin itself was just one of those little 3-D blinkies. I remember seeing 3-D pictures of Jesus on the cross. Jesus' head would hang down and his eyes close. They've even used the process for postcards. I told my brother I was conducting an experiment.

I held it up in front of him and said things like, "Watch the coin. Concentrate on the coin. You are getting sleepy…you are getting sleepy." Wow! His head went down and his eyes closed! Hot dog. I said, "Go pick up that book." I gestured (hypnotically, no doubt) to a Hardy Boys novel on the end of the bed. I said, "It weighs 10 pounds." He picked it up with a grunt. Oh, glory. He was under. I said, "Now it's getting heavier, heavier…heavier…" he started to strain as the book grew heavy in his hands. "You can't hold it anymore! It's too heavy!" The book plopped to the floor. My heart was pounding. Success! I saw myself as a magician, able to snap my fingers and have others do my bidding. I was instantly giddy with the possibilities. That is, until he opened his eyes and laughed at me.

I threw the Hypno-Coin into a drawer and forgot it, disgusted with myself for spending good money for crap like that. Like countless others before me who had bought items from comic book ads, Sea Monkeys, 199 plastic soldiers, a Buck Rogers ray pistol to vaporize your enemies (for $2.98!), I was disappointed and felt had. Caveat emptor was never truer to me than that day.

Years later my wife and I were talking to her younger brother, Dave, who told us a story. I'd mentioned to him that I thought hypnotism acts on stage were faked; that audience members were shills who were doing their bits for the act. Dave said that as a soldier at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he and his buddies went to one of those shows. The way the hypnotist set it up was by telling the audience to concentrate on something, and then he began his spiel. He told them to lock their fingers together and pull. They wouldn't be able to pull their hands apart. The people who pulled their fingers apart were not hypnotized, but Dave said he couldn't get his hands apart no matter how hard he tried. He was hypnotized.

So hypnosis was real! Not just in a clinical sense, not just in a self-hypnosis sense, but you could have power over others if they were suggestible enough! Great. But by then the Hypno-Coin was long gone. I guess my dreams of world conquest, one hypnotized subject at a time, wouldn't come to pass.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Number 179

Average White Goddess

Jun-Gal is from Blazing Comics #1, 1944. Blazing Comics is probably known for its cover feature, The Green Turtle, one of the few Golden Age comic book heroes--maybe the only one?--created and drawn by a Chinese-American, Chu Hing.

Jun-Gal is notable for at least a few reasons: The horrible pun name. The artwork, which is more suitable to the 1920s than the 1940s, and the racial attitudes, which permeate the story.

Jun-Gal's "real" name (in the story, anyway) is Joan Teal. Teal is Mrs. Pappy's maiden name, so that made me sit up and take notice.

The artist is someone I can't identify. None of the artwork in Blazing Comics was signed. There were some artists who were more mature, who got jobs in comic books after having been successful artists in an earlier era. Artists like H.C. Kiefer, E.C. Stoner (whose name always reminded me of my buddy, Cal, who used to smoke dope and read EC Comics), Alex Blum and H.G. Peter. You can usually tell their artwork right off because of that quality of drawing with a pen point.

What's most interesting to me is the racial viewpoint. This is standard fare for the era. The characters are stock. The blacks are "natives;" not Africans, just "natives." They have bulging lips drawn in a minstrel style. The white people are set upon and the parents killed by the "bad natives." Joan is raised by her "mammy," in the midst of the village of her parents' killers.

As drawn, Joan is a beautiful blonde girl in a sarong. They were going for the Dorothy Lamour look, which was hugely popular during World War II. While Sheena and others went around in animal skins, Jun-Gal wore her sarong. Jun-Gal is given powers of strength from the "Pit Of Death," an ever-burning hole full of radium. Apparently it doesn't affect the black people the same way. Because she's blonde, she becomes the queen, the goddess figure to the superstitious and uneducated natives. Maybe African-Americans of the era viewed this sort of thing with trepidation, but to white America it was pretty much business as usual with attitudes toward "coloreds." Tarzan movies were made up of this sort of stereotyping. The natives are cruel, stupid, superstitious and treacherous. The whites, just by virtue of their race, are made to be masters over the blacks.

I'm presenting this as it was, over 60 years ago. The irony isn't lost on us that when this was published we were fighting an enemy whose philosophy of superiority was repugnant to us. But it was repugnance in words, not deeds. Over in morally superior America we felt it was OK to discriminate based on race, all the while excoriating our enemies for doing the same.

OK, that was then, this is now. I've climbed down from my soapbox. Blazing Comics was short-lived, only five issues, and I own only the first issue. I can't tell you if Jun-Gal lasted for the entire run. The Comic Book Price Guide doesn't help, and the Grand Comics Database doesn't even list Blazing Comics. I don't know what happened to Jun-Gal after her origin story, and I don't know who wrote or drew her adventure(s). That's really a lot I don't know about Jun-Gal, isn't it?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Number 178

Sex and Skeletons Part 4

Haunted Thrills, published by Farrell, a publisher which hung around the periphery of comics even after the Comics Code was instituted, had a nice selection of skeletons and skulls on its horror comics covers. Some symbolic, some representational.

I especially like the taxi driver cover on issue #15. I'll bet jouncing over bumpy roads with this guy gave new meaning to bone-rattling. When he jawboned with the passengers, he really jawed.

I've also included a copy of Canadian publisher Superior's Strange Mysteries #15. Not only does it have a big symbolic skull, it's got bony hands reaching for a girl with a Bettie Page hairdo, a red dress, and some of the worst looking and un-sexiest sandals I've ever seen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Number 177

Dan DeCarlo's Brain!

The late Dan DeCarlo is a much-admired and well-liked artist from the post-war to 1990s. His main body of work is for Archie Comics, specifically his Betty and Veronica, but including his own creations, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats.

The Brain, a funny comic by DeCarlo, was published after the Comics Code was instituted, and was one of ME's last comics before its demise. It ran for seven issues, and had a couple of reprint issues from IW Comics a couple of years later. There is a Rube Goldberg-element to the strips, included in some very funny gag pages, and the cover. (Click on cover picture for full-size image.)Benjamin Bang is The Brain, a smart kid full of inventive ideas. You know, like I wanted to be! The thing I didn't want to be was a pinhead, which unfortunately is how Benjamin looked. You wonder why his parents didn't notice. This particular fantasy story appeared in The Brain! #6, January 1958.

The usual bread-and-butter of DeCarlo's career is missing, the pretty girls. Benjamin's mom is pretty, but she hardly counts. I mean, who has fantasies about somebody's mom? If you do, I don't want to know. Click on the Dan DeCarlo link below to see a DeCarlo/Stan Lee story from an old My Friend Irma comic.

Back to The Brain, I like the outer space plot, I like Benjamin's friend, Dinky, who sports a fedora, large glasses, short pants and a bowtie. I didn't know any kids in the 1950s who fit that description, although Benjamin is built like I was, wears clothes like I did. All that is different is my head didn't come to a point, but if you talk to people who knew me fifty years ago they might disagree with that.

This issue appears to be entirely sponsored; only one advertiser, Compix, and the products available are all geared to a 9-year-old reader. I'm sure Compix was a company either owned by the publisher, or had some sort of business arrangement. I've included a page advertising the Electronic Man, "the latest brainstorm from The Brain!" I wonder if anyone ever sent away their $2.98 (plus 45¢ for postage!) and played in this weird-looking cardboard contraption.

The Brain is typical DeCarlo. It's well drawn, fast-paced and funny. It's just missing the pretty girls, and that might be the reason it went only seven issues. Maybe if Benjamin had a foxy older sister, and her girlfriends, and they were featured on the covers, it might have appealed to the older male readers DeCarlo's other books appealed to. Ah, but I can only review and show what was published, and not what I think should have been published.

I've posted some stories from pre-code ME Comics, all of the four issues of Jet by Bob Powell, and some Ghost Rider stories by Dick Ayers. Check on the link below for ME Comics to see what's been on Pappy's previously.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Number 176

Airboy Gets Ghastly!

When most Golden Age comics fans think of Graham Ingels they think of him as "Ghastly," a nickname earned during his time drawing some of the creepiest horror comics ever published for EC Comics. He well deserved that nickname. But Ingels was an artist who freelanced on various other genres of comics before he signed on at EC. This particular Airboy story, from Airboy Volume 5 Number 7, August 1948, although unsigned, is undoubtedly one of his.

Ingels, who was born in 1915, was about a decade older than his fellow EC artists. Ingels was a mature and polished cartoonist by the time he started his comics career. So it is with this Airboy story, a far-fetched story about criminals killing "bums," (now called "homeless persons"), secreting dope on their bodies and shipping them to their home cities where the dope can be claimed. The crime comics element is foremost in the story, and along with the later horror stories, was a milieu well suited to Ingels' style.

Airboy's dad shows up in this story. He isn't given a name, so is he Airdad?

The comic I scanned this from is from a copy reported unsold after it went off sale. The title strip had been razored off the cover, returned for credit to the distributor. The mutilated comic was then sold by an unscrupulous storeowner or news dealer, probably for 5¢. I used to see those sorts of displays in various stores in the early to mid-1950s. I think after a time they were shut down by local magazine distributors. My copy has tape holding the razored pages together through the first few pages of the story. I didn't do the taping, and I found this issue along with a couple of others in like condition. Fortunately, the tape's adhesive hasn't dried out, so the cellophane is still intact, not fallen off leaving a stained brown residue.

The cover, which I got off the Internet, is also by Ingels, and has a really nice graphic design. The coloring, and the silhouettes of the figures against the sunset make it stand out. It's likely influenced by Will Eisner, who had some very memorable Spirit splash panels set on piers like this.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Number 175

Bill Spicer's Fantasy Illustrated

Comics fandom was still in its infancy in 1963; while youthful fan editors were attempting to put out fanzines on crude spirit duplicators, other more mature fans were setting the course that fandom would follow. Bill Spicer was one of those innovative editors. He's been a fan for a long time, predating modern comics fandom for several years with EC fandom. He was also one of the fans responsible for thrusting artist/writer Carl Barks out of his anonymous work for Dell-Disney.

In 1963 his fanzine Fantasy Illustrated was published. It was printed, not in the purple ditto or crude mimeo form of most fanzines, but as a professional offset-printed magazine, with color covers and black and white interiors. Offset printing wasn't exactly new: Ronn Foss had published Alter Ego #5 in offset a year earlier. Comic strips in fanzines weren't new either. Roy Thomas wrote and drew the satire "Bestest League Of America," which ran in Alter Ego #1-3, and numerous other super-hero pastiches were published in the fanzines of the day, usually laboriously drawn in ballpoint pens on ditto masters. What was new with Fantasy Illustrated was publishing fan-produced comic strips much like the professional artists and writers produced theirs, with professional production and editorial direction from Spicer.

Despite its professional production, Fantasy Illustrated #1 showed the birth pains of most fanzines. Artwork varied in quality from amateurish to professional. Three of the four stories were drawn from pulp writing of the 1930s and '40s. For some reason Spicer didn't have artwork for a back cover and padded his editorial to fit in three pages which would otherwise have been blank, but the feeling was there…something new had arrived.

Landon Chesney produced the first cover, in my opinion the best of any of the subsequent issues.

For the contents, Alan Weiss' first printed offset job was very amateurish, drawn in pen with scratchy lines. It was a Jon Jarl story, "The Ancient Secret," written originally by Otto Binder as the text feature for an issue of Captain Marvel Adventures. Richard "Grass" Green, who went on to do professional comics, underground and fanzine work until his death in 2002, contributed "Will The Real Lance Lightning Please Sit Down!", a funny superhero parody suited for his cartoony style.

The third feature was the crudely drawn "Moon Ants" by Buddy Saunders, another pulp story attributed to "Thornecliff Herrick," an old Planet Comics pen-name. Finally, part 1 of "Adam Link's Vengeance," from the classic story by Otto Binder, rounded out the issue. D. Bruce Berry did the artwork. Parts 1 and 2 were reprinted in full in Spicer's Graphic Story Magazine #13 a few years later.

Future issues did some improving, especially issue #2.

It opened with "The Life Battery," taken from yet another Binder story, and illustrated by Landon Chesney. It was later reprinted in color in Spicer's underground comic, Weird Fantasies. I prefer this original printing, however, which was drawn to be printed in black and white.

Issue #3 has a cover by Chesney inspired by EC's science fiction titles.

Number 3 opened with Edgar Rice Burroughs illustrator Harry Habblitz' version of "The End Of Bukawai," a story from Jungle Tales Of Tarzan. While not drawn in a real comic book style, it is an outstanding story from this issue.

Chesney did a collaboration with Comic Book Price Guide publisher Bob Overstreet, "A Study In Horror," similar to, and done better by Harvey Kurtzman as "House Of Horror" in Tales From The Crypt #21. Overstreet soloed on a story called "March 25th" which showed that as an artist his future destiny definitely lay in publishing. The back cover of #3, done by the late Russ Manning, used color overlays to beautiful effect in a surrealistic fantasy illustration. You can see it at the top of this page.

Fantasy Illustrated begat Graphic Story Magazine which begat Fanfare, and then at some point I lost track of Spicer's publishing career. When I saw these early issues as they originally appeared I felt that they were a new direction for comics fandom, toward producing a more professional, albeit alternative, comic book. When underground comix came out a couple of years later their format didn't surprise me, because I'd already seen it with Fantasy Illustrated.

(This article is adapted and edited from an unpublished article I wrote in the early 1980s. It also covered FI issues 4-6, which I no longer own, and for which I have no scans.)