Friday, April 29, 2011

Number 938

...and featuring Sonny Bono as Burt the ghostly ex-lover...

Looking at this story makes me realize how long ago 1973 really was, and yet seems so recent, still vivid to me. Maybe it was the sideburns or the turtleneck sweaters, maybe the bell bottom trousers, the wide, have we ever approached the coolness of that time since? (That's a joke, son...)

Frank Bolle, the artist on this story for issue #2 of Charlton's Haunted Love, had the look of 1973 down well. Bolle had a clean ink line, and looked like he drew from photographs. The audience for whom the comic was intended, mostly pre-teen or teenage girls, wouldn't be fooled if he had faked it. I wasn't part of the intended readership, but Haunted Love was one of my guilty pleasures in 1973. I was so embarrassed about buying any comic book with "love" in the title that I always hid it in the middle of the stack of comics I bought.

Bolle was born in 1924, and his work pops up many places over several decades of the history of comics. He has his own website, if you want to see other illustrative work he's done. The story is written by Charlton scripter Joe Gill.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Number 937

I'd walk a camel for a mile

All American Western was the continuation of DC Comics' All American Comics. Western comics were popular in the late '40s and superheroes had lost their audience, so All American added "Western" to its banner and covered another genre entirely. This issue, #126, is the last under that title. In 1952 All American Western was canceled and replaced by All American Men of War, a title that lived on until 1966.

The last we see of Western action hero Johnny Thunder he and his girl are watching their horses return to them in the desert. They had just had an adventure with some Arab raiders on camels who tried to kill them. It's probably a story not likely to decrease tensions between our cultures. But camels in the Southwest, imported as pack animals, were a reality. The experiment of using them in the deserts of the United States territories just didn't work and by the Civil War the experiment was essentially over. As Western historian Will Bagley writes:
It wasn't that the camels couldn't adapt to the West; the West couldn't adapt to camels. They were not friendly animals, even to fellow camels, and they held grudges. Despite their bad temper and ability to spit the contents of their stomachs with the accuracy of a Kentucky marksman, it was camel stench that helped do them in. Odor usually was not an issue for Western muleskinners, but the slightest whiff of camel stench played havoc with a mule train. Sometime in 1865, camels stampeded a pack train bound for Missoula and turned the whiskey-bound town's Fourth of July celebration into Montana mud. It was not long before camels were banished from northern mining camps.

Their vast advantage as pack animals notwithstanding, it was America's affection for horses that doomed Western camel caravans. Camels and their legends long survived among the boomtowns and ranches of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah. A grizzled sideshow camel with a U.S. brand turned up in San Antonio in 1903. Arizona declared camels extinct in 1913, but hunters reported seeing them in the desert around Yuma into the 1950s.
As interesting as the history is, and it probably influenced this Johnny Thunder episode, it wasn't noted by the writer or editor Julius Schwartz, who loved to drop these types of facts into stories in the form of footnotes.

"Phantoms of the Desert" is written by Robert Kanigher, drawn by Carmine Infantino and Seymour Barry, from All American Western #126, 1952.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Number 936

Grim Paree

Looking through some old crime comics I noticed that stories of Parisian criminals looked back at me from three of the five comics I leafed through. What was it about Paris that incited writers of crime comic books? France had been liberated from the Nazis just a couple of years before, yet there is no mention of war in any of the stories. Crime in any country is much the same as any other country, and god knows the USA has enough crime of its own. But Paris, to those comic book scripters of 60+ years ago, must've been a very exotic place, full of people who wore neckerchiefs, and exclaimed "Parbleu!" or "Sacre bleu!" They had the bleus in Paree in those days...

From Crime and Punishment #2, 1948 comes "The Plague Of Paris," illustrated by Fred Guardineer, he of the fastidious ink line. It is a reprint from its older sister magazine, Crime Does Not Pay #48, from 1946. And speaking of Crime Does Not Pay, Rudi Palais, his usual over-reliance on flying sweat drops missing from "The Blonde Queen of Crime," does the illustrative honors, picturing the blonde queen in fishnet stockings and her man in a beret, thus apprising us via such visualizations that yes, they are Frenchies! The story is from issue #39, 1945.

Our last story was drawn by Bob Butts, who signed his name R. Butts in the penultimate panel of page 7. I have featured the splash panel before in Pappy's #727, in my continuing quest to find all the swiped figures of what I call "Jeepers Girls."* The story, "Murders On The Rue Brevet," set in Paris in 1925 is from Pay-Off #1, a crime comic from 1948.

*More Jeepers Girls here.