Friday, July 20, 2018

Number 2209: “Dam the rotten luck!” Murder morals in a crime comic

Joseph Federal is a very bad man. He strangles women for money. In “Joseph Medley Lady Killer,” from Murder Incorporated #3 (1948), he curses his luck after killing a young woman: “She wasn’t lying I know! That money is nowhere in this room. Dam the rotten luck!” Yes, the word “damn” was deliberately misspelled.

The story was reprinted four years later in Shock Detective Cases #20,* and “dam” was replaced by a standard comic book “#*@*”, using symbols to replace cursing. Showing murder wasn’t forbidden...just some mild swearing.

 Original printing, 1948

Censored, 1952.

The original version was published by Fox, and came from the height of the crime comics boom in 1948. It was the sort of thing that got parents, teachers, and guardians of public morals in a dither. I don’t think Dr Wertham ever saw this, because if he had he could have easily used several panels in his book, Seduction of the Innocent, to show how brutal crime comics could be. Sexy, too. L.B. Cole, editor of Shock Detective Cases, in a couple of panels had the dresses extended to appear more modest. This is the world of editorial decision-making: what an editor thinks goes too far, and how to fix it.

Artwork, signed by Carter, is actually by Rudy Palais. Palais, who died in 2004, was an early comic book artist who had work in various genres, including crime and horror. His artwork for Harvey’s horror comics line is known for the sweat drops flying off characters’ faces, although his style is so distinctive I don’t need sweat drops to identify it

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Number 2208: Here she is...Miss America!

Besides being the name of a beauty pageant, Miss America was a superheroine for Timely Comics in the 1940s. You can read her origin story by clicking on the link below. This Miss America was created by Otto Binder and Al Gabriele. As drawn, she was a cute young woman, and I assume meant to bring female readers to Marvel Mystery Comics, where she first appeared.

You can read more about Miss America in Don Markstein’s Toonopedia.

Since I have nothing better to do than sit around and think of stuff like this, at the time Otto Binder was writing scripts for Fawcett Publications, turning out a steady stream of stories about Captain Marvel and the rest of the cast of that comics universe. I have always wondered if, when going from publisher to publisher to turn in scripts, someone would give Otto a nudge and ask about the competition. Perhaps Otto thought of the wartime poster, “Loose Lips Sink Ships!” But then, people are apt to gossip in work settings, and I think it would be at least one way to keep up with what the other guys were doing. Call it an early and primitive form of hacking to steal trade secrets.

Written by Otto Binder, drawn by Charles Nicholas. From Marvel Mystery Comics #54 (1944).

The origin of Miss America. Just click on the thumbnail.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Number 2207: Frank Frazetta and the imitation li’l Abner

Looie Lazybones was a character based on Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip. In this entry, from 1949, a fan of Capp’s creation can see the similarities between the two. After all, “Li’l Abner” may have been the most popular comic strip in America at the time, or at least the one with the most cultural impact, and also remunerative. Every cartoonist would be lusting after Capp’s success. According to Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary by Denis Kitchen and Michael Schumacher, Capp wanted to hire Frazetta: “When Capp decided to hire another assistant in 1954, he had one particular artist in mind. Some years earlier, Frank Frazetta was doing his own hillbilly comic, ‘Looie Lazybones,’ which owed much to “Li’l Abner” . . . Capp concluded that Frazetta was not only very talented; he was also capable of mimicking a wide range of styles.”

The artwork in the Frazetta “Looie Lazybones” strip doesn’t rise to the level of plagiarism, but the story could star Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae; it reads like a sequence from “Li’l Abner.”

From Thrilling Comics #71 (1949).

Here is an example of the work Frazetta did for Capp. Just click on the thumbnail.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Number 2206: Ace Powers and the Panther Men

Ace Powers was one of those early comics heroes who went about fighting crime in his civilian clothes, without having the burden of changing into a costume or maintaining a secret identity. (Although “Ace Powers” sounds fake...maybe he changed it from his real name, something like John Smith.) Ace takes on the Panther Men, who are terrorizing a town. The head of the gang gives his henchmen a hacksaw to cut through their bars at the "Insane Asylum” (we don’t use that title anymore; it conjured up visions of murderous maniacs and other boogeymen who were put away in an asylum for the good of society). What I know of hacksaw blades is they break, so these “insane” guys got lucky, or maybe Panther Man had to keep running to the hardware store to buy more blades, and we were spared the boring details.

The story is drawn by Gaspano “Gus” Ricca, another journeyman professional who came to the comics in the 1930s when joining the Funnies Inc. studio, a comic art service. Ricca’s work is seen quite a bit in the forties and early fifties, although he left the business in 1953 when there was a crash in the industry. I have seen his work associated with Fawcett, drawing Ibis the Invincible, and he did some stunning and morbid covers for Harry “A” Chesler’s Dynamic Comics.

Drew Friedman, portraitist, did this painting of Ricca. In the portrait he is smoking a cigarette. Ricca died in 1956 at age 50. Coincidence?

The story is from Silver Streak Comics #5 (1940).

Here is a story that puts Ricca in an infamous comic art gallery: one of the examples used by Dr Fredric Wertham, M.D., in his book Seduction of the Innocent, to warn parents of the evils of comic books. Just click on the thumbnail.