Wednesday, January 18, 2017
The usually staid DC Comics got into the crime comics business in 1948 when several other publishers flooded the newsstands with gangsters and gunplay. DC did it a different way, by licensing a popular radio show, Gang Busters. Maybe the powers at DC thought that would keep away the outrage from censorious groups. But looking at the cover of Gang Busters #1 we find some of the same elements as we’d find in other crime comics, including a crook getting shot by a cop, and a pretty girl for sex appeal.
In the story, “Crime Agency,” we see other things we have come to expect from crime comics: bondage, shootings, a criminal conspiracy. We also get a crook under fire yelling, “Come and get me, coppers!” Did any crook in the history of crookdom every really yell, “Come and get me, coppers!" at the cops firing at him? Maybe.
Dan Barry did the beautiful art for this tale of a policewoman working undercover for a gang burglarizing the homes of the wealthy. From Gang Busters #1 (1948):
Monday, January 16, 2017
So-called “true crime” comics were obsessed by gangsters, killers and thugs who were part of organized crime. Such was the case of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, who was a psychopath and killer during the 1920s, getting lots of press at the time because of his association with big-time mobster Dutch Schultz. There were a lot of criminals out there, but some of the same names, including Coll’s, pop up in several crime comics. I showed another story about Coll, drawn by Leonard Starr, in 2009 (see the link). I am a sucker for stories set during that wild period of the twenties and thirties, when prohibition was the law of the land, gang wars were erupting, and newspaper headlines were screaming bloody murder (literally).
This story is Vincent Coll drawn by Bernie Krigstein. It’s from Hillman’s Crime Detective #3 (1948):
Another version of the Coll story. Just click on the thumbnail.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Some of the artists of the unsigned stories are unknown to the Grand Comics Database. Only three signed their work, including A.C. Hollingsworth (“Bloodless Corpse”), Gil Kane and someone named Larny (?) (“Clara Peete”), and Paul Parker (“Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond”). See the photo of Kane below.
Dr Fredric Wertham, M.D., said all comic books were crime comics, and from his interpretation of what constituted a crime comic that may have been true. But the year 1948 saw a proliferation of crime titles from several publishers, based on the success claimed by Crime Does Not Pay. While a Bugs Bunny comic might be classified by Wertham as a crime comic if Bugs has a slapstick encounter with some bank robbers, comics like Crime Does Not Pay and Famous Crimes came right out by making the word “crime” big and bold on the covers. That told us they were exploitative and seedy. As I have said before, I have a fascination for that style of crime comics. I read Dr Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent when I was 12-years-old. I thought if adults hated crime comics so much I wanted to see them! I was a typical kid in that way. The difference with me may be that my curiosity toward the subject matter never went away.
This undated photo of Gil Kane in his studio was provided by artist Ken Landgraf. Thank you, Ken! Ken had mentioned that he believed Kane used a rubber artist’s manikin, which I thought might be how he was able to successfully draw the human figure in extreme action. Ken circled the manikin in the photo.
I love pictures of artists in their studios, and am fascinated by Kane’s bookshelves, which show his interests.
Kane, born Eli Katz in 1926, entered the comics business at a very young age (16), and worked at it all his life. He died at age 73 in January, 2000. He would have been about 20 when he penciled the violent story, “Clara Peete, the Beautiful Beast.” Kane’s early work in comics echoes Joe Kubert’s, who was also a teenager working in comics until getting his chance to solo in the mid-to-late '40s.