Sunday, September 30, 2007

Number 196

Paperback comics

A while ago I told you how I was influenced by The Mad Reader paperback. Comics were used in paperbacks, but they were mostly reprints of newspaper comic panels, comic strips or gag panels from magazines. In the 1960s with the popularity of the Batman TV show paperbacks with comic book characters popped up on the paperback spinner racks, but whether they sold well or not I don't know.

At the time I was surprised that the EC reprints from Ballantine Books, probably influenced by the popularity of Creepy and Eerie magazines, went only one volume each. I thought there would be a whole series and was disappointed when the series didn't materialize. In that way EC reprint material frustrated us collectors who were still searching out original issues we could afford.

Here are a few other paperbacks from my collection.

The House Of Mystery isn't a reprint of the comics from that title, but text rewrites of some of the stories. It has a great Bernie Wrightson cover, though, and Jack Oleck is a writer who also did stories for EC.

Executive Comic Book is desirable because of the reprint of Kurtzman and Elder's "Goodman Goes Pl*yboy" story, originally published in Help! The publishers of Archie comics took offense and Kurtzman agreed not to reprint it; then he had Elder "disguise" the characters for this edition, after which the Archie folks got real upset. So it hasn't been reprinted since.

Tower paperbacks were reprints of their own line of comic books, which had a brief existence in the mid-1960s. The Wally Wood stuff for these comics is incredible, and the line is well remembered. Unfortunately, these paperback reprints are printed about as bad as it's possible to get. They're still fun to find in used bookstores, though.

I don't know how many editions the Batman paperback had, but there were other books in the series. DC got a lot of mileage from old material.

I like this Christopher Lee book because the stories are original to the book, and because of the Mort Drucker cover. There's also one of the best of the post-EC Johnny Craig stories, a Rudyard Kipling adaptation called, "The Mark Of The Beast."

My favorites I've saved for last. Humbug was Kurtzman's attempt to recreate the lightning-in-a-bottle he had created with Mad, and apparently Ballantine Books was hoping it would have the success of their Mad paperbacks. The Jungle Book I bought off the stands when it came out in 1959, and I had Harvey sign it for me in the 1980s. It's one of those things I'll never let go.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Number 195

Air Ace Jet Powers

If you're a new Pappy's reader then you don't know that all four issues of the M.E. Comics series, Jet Comics have been posted on this blog in chronological order. Just click on the link for "Jet Powers" at the bottom of this page.

Jet was a science-fiction series, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Bob Powell. After the four-issue run it was replaced by American Air Forces, which also starred Jet Powers, not as a scientist, but as a fighter pilot in action during the Korean conflict. That's a big switch. You have to wonder why they kept the same character to confuse the reader. It would have been smarter to just rename him something like Ace Powers, and tell us he was Jet Powers' twin brother.

This story, the last in my personal inventory of Jet Powers stories, is from Battle #15, a reprint circa 1964, of American Air Forces #7. The publisher was Super Comics, which took old comics, reprinted them, packed them three to a bag, and sold them for a quarter.

"Whom The Gods Destroy" is the kind of war story that Harvey Kurtzman hated, which motivated him to create Frontline Combat over at EC Comics. It's typically violent in that guts-and-glory, jingoistic war comics way. The Chinese femme fatale looks a lot like Su Shan, Jet's female "friend" in the science fiction series. Maybe Bob Powell just had one stock Asian woman character in his portfolio, and she happened to be sexy and beautiful.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Number 194

Al Hartley Throws The Bull

I haven't ever read much about cartoonist Al Hartley, except when he started drawing Christian comic books for the Fleming Revel Company in the 1970s. I read an article in a Guideposts magazine about the series.

All-in-all he drew about 60 Spire Christian Comics; some even starred the Archie characters, used with permission, of course.His main body (yuk-yuk) of work was in drawing pretty girls and his résumé is full of romance comics, teen comics, etc., mostly for Stan Lee at Atlas and Marvel. He later drew Archie comics.

This particular strip, "The Bull Thrower," is from Atlas Comics' Crazy #3, 1954. Crazy was yet another Mad imitator. Just about every panel shows how Hartley could draw females…and how. The torero in this story makes me bullish, that's for sure.

Hartley, according to what I've read about him, was very fervent about his faith, and it came through in his Christian comics, but he hadn't forgotten his bread-and-butter, pretty girls.

I say, religious or not, once a boob man, always a boob man.

Hartley died in 2003.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Number 193

Miss Purdy loves Uranus

Looking at the title of this story, "Queen Of Uranus," takes me back to my sixth grade classroom. My buddies and I, huddled together at our desks in the back of the room, snickering and giggling every time the teacher, discussing the solar system, would say the word "Uranus."

"OK, boys," Mr. Swan finally said, "we all know what the name of the planet sounds like, so let's just settle down, quit smirking, quit laughing, and listen." I'm not sure those were his exact words. They could have been, "Shut up back there, or I'll plant my size-12 foot in Uranus!"

We had to write a report on the solar system, and I was tempted to title mine, "Rocket ships head straight for Uranus," or even better, "Uranus, a very gaseous place." I thought twice, and wrote a report on Pluto, which I wanted to title, "Pluto: Planet or Mickey Mouse's Dog?" but didn't.

Enough of the personal reminiscences of a young smartass. "Queen Of Uranus" comes from an ACG comic, most likely Adventures Into The Unknown or Forbidden Worlds. It's part of the Pappy tear sheet collection; a box of hundreds of loose pages of stories cut out of old comics, given to me in the early 1980s. I reassembled what stories I could, and am slowly bringing them to you.

The story just about encapsulates everything an ACG story by writer Richard Hughes, writing under one of his numerous pen-names, was in those days. It has a person who isn't very good-looking, who's under-appreciated by her boss (whom she secretly likes), finding love from an unlikely swain. Hughes was good at this sort of underdog-makes-good tale. There were always things about Hughes' stories that bugged me, though. In this one it's that Miss Purdy, despite being smart and a very good teacher, isn't even noticed until she glams up, uses makeup, gets a new hairdo and a new dress. The word is out to you girls: work on your looks. Men don't like you for anything else.

The artwork by Ogden Whitney is, as always, excellent. This sort of story was meant for Whitney's style, which was about as matter-of-fact as it's possible to be. His art was subtle, and added immeasurably to the stories. If you don't believe me, look at some ACG comics with similar stories, published after Whitney stopped drawing mystery comics, or, more likely, was too busy drawing Herbie, and you'll see what I mean.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Number 192

Death On The Earth-Mars Run!

Over the past few days I've been wondering if there's ever been a comic book artist who went as far in the art world as Everett Raymond Kinstler. He's a man who, in the early 1950s was drawing sci-fi potboilers like "Death On The Earth-Mars Run" for Avon's Strange Worlds #8, and by the turn of the 21st Century had painted the portraits of five U.S. Presidents, having two of them chosen as official White House portraits.
Offhand I can't think of anyone else who reached those heights after a background in comics.

Kinstler wasn't ashamed of his comic book work, either. He signed it when he did it; he mentions the comics work in his autobiographical materials. Kinstler was very influenced by James Montgomery Flagg, who is most famous nowadays for his iconic World War I poster image of Uncle Sam, pointing and saying, "I Want You!" In his pen and ink work Flagg was known for his flourishes with a flexible pen point, but that was the style of the day. By the time Kinstler used the Flagg-style in his comic book work it was passé. That didn't bother Kinstler, though, and it helped to make his work some of the most instantly recognizable of any comic book artist.

"Death On The Earth-Mars Run" strip isn't signed. Not my copy, anyway. I scanned it from a reprint in Skywald Comics' Heap #1, dated September, 1971.There may be some other changes as well, dictated by the Comics Code, but I don't have the first printing with which to compare. It looks like Kinstler didn't spend a lot of time on it, but it's a fun read, anyway. Some of it is also similar to the work that Alex Raymond was doing on Flash Gordon in the mid-1930s. The whole story has an old-time feel to it; more like something published 20 years earlier. Nothing wrong with that; not when Everett Raymond Kinstler was wielding the pen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Number 191

Arrrr! Hangman talks like a pirate today

September 19 is Talk Like A Pirate Day. Here at Pappy's we like pirates and like to arrrrrrgghhh along with Robert Newton in Treasure Island.

This Hangman story is from Hangman #8, Winter 1942-43. But the pirates are from 1498. You'll just have to read the story, because I can't explain it. All I can say is, it's vintage Golden Age comics. It's drawn by the great Bob Fujitani, signing himself Bob Fuje. He's drawing in his early style. Within a few years he'd adopt a more realistic, illustrative style. As you can see from some of the panels, a lot of his influence for the drawing in this story came from Will Eisner.

After you've read the story, mateys, swing your cutlasses, shake your pirate booty and holler arrrrrgghhh in honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day.

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Thanks to 1506NixNix for the scans.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Number 190

Sheldon Moldoff takes us through the Doorway to Horror!

When I first encountered organized comics fandom in its early phase, 1961, there was a focus on the DC superhero comics of the early '40s, specifically All Star Comics, and Max Gaines' All-American line of DC's superheroes. Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff, who was born in 1920, was one of the earliest of the stars of DC Comics, drawing lots of covers but best known in 1961 for the work he had done 20 years prior on Hawkman. He was revered for Hawkman. He used a lot of swipes from Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, but to be fair, everybody swiped. At the same time he was being revered for that earlier work, he was being reviled for his then-current work, as Bob Kane's ghost on Batman. The fans who loved his stuff didn't know he was the same guy they hated.

I remember fan artist Ronn Foss telling me in 1962 or '63, "I loved Batman until '53, when that lousy 'stiff' artist took over." He was referring to Moldoff, although neither of us knew it at the time. I also disliked Moldoff's "Bob Kane" artwork, but I've gotten used to it over the years. Now I enjoy looking at how stylized it is, even considering that Moldoff himself was a better cartoonist than his Batman work shows. The three main artists on the Batman strip in those days were Win Mortimer, Dick Sprang, and an anonymous Moldoff, signing his work Bob Kane. While Charles Paris was the inker who worked over all the Batman artists' pencils, DC used Moldoff as an inker for other artists. They were supposedly unaware of his arrangement with Kane. Shelly was Kane's secret identity!

If you read Moldoff's version of things, he was an idea man as well as an artist. He came up with the idea for horror comics, pitching the idea to Bill Gaines, who--according to Shelly--took the idea and ran with it, leaving Moldoff drinking from his cup of bitter gall.* Oh well…you win a few, you lose a lot. Moldoff took his ideas to Fawcett, and after EC's horror comics took off, Fawcett published his horror stories.

This story, "Doorway to Horror," from Fawcett's Worlds Beyond #1, dated November, 1951, is a fairly typical story, but it's a good solid entry in the horror comics annals.
Shelly also drew the cover. Click on it to see it full size. It illustrates a story done by Bob Powell and posted in Pappy's #110.

Sheldon Moldoff was one of the cartoonists who made the Golden Age what it was. He and his peers worked hard for little money, they made their deadlines, they weren't flashy, but they were professional and dependable. In my opinion, "Doorway to Horror" is one of Shelly's better jobs. I think he enjoyed the horror work, the deep shadows, the whole noir atmosphere. It may have been in an artistic sense what would have attracted him to Batman.

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*Tales Of Terror!/The EC Companion By Fred von Bernewitz and Grant Geissman, Fantagraphics Books, 2000.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Number 189

How I went Mad in the 1950s

As a kid I never kicked and fussed when Mom took me to the grocery store, because it gave me a chance to stand near the magazine rack and paperback book spinner, ogling the sexy covers. On one occasion in 1955 or thereabouts I spotted a book I'd never seen before, The Mad Reader.

I opened it up to the first panel of Wally Wood's "Superduperman" story, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The problem is, as much as I wanted this book, and I wanted it really, really bad, Mom wouldn't buy it for me. Mom was aware of the talk about evil comic books turning children into juvenile delinquents, and while she let me read comic books she approved of (Uncle Scrooge, Little Lulu, etc.), she wasn't about to let me go over the line to something like Mad.

I went home disappointed, then my obsessive-compulsive disorder kicked in. When I wanted something as bad as I wanted this book I usually kept up a whining, obnoxious pleading until my parents caved in. Since Mom had said no, I went to my dad. Dad was usually more easygoing when it came to things like this. Listening to me bellow, snivel and whine for about an hour was all it took. He went to the store to find the book for me.

It's said that Mad, in its original comic book incarnation, was a flop saleswise until issue #4, which had the Wood "Superduperman" story. From that time on Mad became a cult favorite. Even my future brother-in-law, who was in in high school in the early '50s, bought Mad, as did his buddies. Mad was real gone! It was hep! I didn't know any of that, though. I just knew that I recognized who Superman was, I knew who the Lone Ranger was, I knew the comic book character, Archie, and I loved the grotesque, funny artwork of Wally Wood, Bill Elder and Jack Davis. They took all of those familiar characters and turned them inside out and upside down. They turned them into jokes. From that book I went on to the other Mad paperbacks, like Mad Strikes Back, Inside Mad, and Utterly Mad. From the time I first held these books I was hooked, a junkie to the drug of Mad-ness.

Mom's problem with Mad was the effect the drawings had on her, which was the exact opposite of the effect they had on me. She claimed they "made her head spin." They did that to me, too, just in a good way.

Take "Starchie, "Bill Elder's version of Archie. The art is very close to the original. The people who produce the Archie comics like to tout their comics as being wholesome, but there was no doubt that the whole subtext of their comic books was some sort of triangular sexual thing going on between Archie, Betty and Veronica. The author and editor of Mad, Harvey Kurtzman, always went for the most obvious satirical elements of what he was lampooning, and that is the crux of this story, behind its more obvious elements of Starchie and gang as juvenile delinquents.

The Lone Ranger was a guy who traveled around with a Native American companion and wore a mask. As in this Mad version called "The Lone Stranger," he steered clear of womenfolk. One might ask why? And did he and Tonto share body heat around the campfire? Anyway, when I saw this Jack Davis panel of the Lone Stranger being chased by the ugly "girl," I laughed my guts out. Yes, the lady chasing the Lone Stranger is actually a man in drag.

I was a big fan of Mad in the 1950s, but the two entities, the Mad paperback books and the regular Mad, magazines being published every couple of months, were entirely different things. I wondered why, but didn't know why they were different until later when I found out about the two editors, first Kurtzman, then Al Feldstein, about the Comics Code, about the color comic book after 23 issues becoming a 25¢ black and white periodical. Much to my mom's displeasure, despite a lot of yelling, burning my magazine collection, and even her outright theft of mail-ordered copies of early Mad comic books, I didn't give up on Mad.

What happened to me with The Mad Reader, I'm sure happened with a lot of people in my generation: aspiring cartoonists, comedians, actors, whoever. Who knew that such brilliance could exist in parody and satire? Looking back on that book today I still see the sort of genius I saw many years ago the first time I pulled it off the paperback rack.

*The copy of The Mad Reader at the top of this page is not my original Mad Reader, which was destroyed by my mother at some point in the late 1950s. This is a copy of a first printing I picked up in California 20 years ago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Number 188

The Not-Quite-Kelly

Howie Post is one of those comic artists who worked in the business for so many years his work is everywhere. This particular strip, from DC's Animal Antics* #9, July-August 1947, was drawn when Post was only 21 years old, based on his birth year of 1926. He started in comics when he was still in his teens, not as young as Joe Kubert or Frank Frazetta, but still a prodigy, as far as I'm concerned.

In his later career Post did a daily syndicated comic strip called The Dropouts, and Harvey Comics are filled with his pages, mostly in Hot Stuff. The Little Devil and Spooky, The Tuff Little Ghost. He has a very appealing style, full of action and humor, as this page from a 1976 issue of Hot Stuff shows.

Post's early art was inspired by Walt Kelly. According to Post he met with Kelly and comic book packager Oscar Lebeck about doing work for them. His method of inking and penciling was inspired by Kelly, but different enough that it is wholly Post. "Presto Pete" is a funny animal magician strip. I think it's quite good. I don't know if Post wrote his own material, but it's well done. Rather than being a clone of Walt Kelly, Howie Post went on to develop his own style, instantly recognizable. That is until he invented Anthro for DC Comics in 1968, where he went from funny devils, funny ghosts and funny animals to funny cavemen.

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*Post mistakenly calls Animal Antics a book he packaged for Timely (Marvel), rather than DC in his TwoMorrows interview from Comic Book Artist #5. This is the danger of interviews with artists who have fallible memories stretching back five or six decades, or even more.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Number 187

The Waterboys

Here's something you don't see anymore: a monster story combined with Cold War jitters. "The Merman Menace" is from Forbidden Worlds #5, published by the American Comics Group, dated March-April, 1952. The writer is unknown, but according to the Grand Comics Database, the artist is Lin Streeter, about whom I know little. About all I could learn about Streeter is that he was active in comics from the early '40s until at least the 1950s.

You've gotta love having a monster pumped full of adrenalin and benzedrine to get him back up to speed, so he can get revenge on the Reds. It's in the story, folks. I don't make this stuff up.

Just as this giant merman is a survivor of an underwater city, so is Aquaman a citizen of Atlantis. He was born of an Atlantean mom and an American dad. He can stay out of water for an hour but then he has to be submerged again. His adventures had to be short because of that hour time limit, no doubt.

I was given the DC phonebook-sized Showcase Presents Aquaman, and have enjoyed reading a story or two a night. I read Aquaman stories in Adventure Comics in the 1950s and enjoyed them then, too. Of course, at that time I didn't really discern how gimmicky the plots are. I should have, because that was DC Comics in a nutshell: all gimmicks, all the time. Something I appreciate even more than I did 50 years ago is the artwork of Ramona Fradon. Ms Fradon had an excellent semi-cartoony style, perfectly suited to the somewhat zany plots.* Her panels are full of action and her sea creatures are great. In the 1960s I liked her work on Metamorpho and in the 1970s on Super-Friends.

My favorite story (so far) in the book is "The Undersea Hospital," reprinted from Adventure Comics #262, cover-dated July 1959. In this outrageous tale Aquaman opens a "hospital" for his finny friends, splinting a broken tentacle (!) for his octopus friend, helping a dogfish who chased a catfish and got in trouble. You get the idea. At the end an outrageous story goes right off the outrageousness charts when Aquaman is shot by some bad guys. The sea creatures help him: swordfish-surgeons cut into him, and sucker fish suck out the bullets!

After a tryout in Showcase (the comic book) Aquaman got his own book and the stories went totally bonkers, as all DC Comics did, with science fiction monsters and menaces. The Aquaman artwork went from Fradon to another great artist, Nick Cardy.

The current Showcase series of volumes is bringing back all of the old DC characters, the gimmick plots, the ridiculous and stilted dialogue, just as we saw them in the 1950s and '60s. At an affordable price, too. I hope you're joining in the fun and nostalgia of these great black and white reprints.

*The editor was Mort Weisinger, who showed in Action Comics, Superman, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, etc., etc., how much mileage a comic book editor can get out of a few gimmicks. The writer on most of the Aquaman stories in Adventure Comics was Robert Bernstein, probably best known amongst Golden Age fans as writer of Psychoanalysis for EC Comics' New Direction. Apparently Bernstein had psychological problems, had psychoanalysis, and elements of it pop up even in the Aquaman stories.

It's a bonus! If you've read this far then you deserve a treat. I'm enclosing an extra story about another famous half-fish, half-human hero. The story is from the late 1940s, and was part of the box full of comic book tear sheets I received years ago. I went through and assembled the complete stories, of which this is one. Comic title unknown, by a writer and artist unknown. (See note by reader Darci below.)