Friday, September 01, 2006

Number 17

Frankenstein Friday

This is the first Frankenstein Friday. Friday will be a day you can check back and see some really funky old material starring various comic book versions of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's most famous creation, the Frankenstein Monster.

I've just finished scanning Frankenstein #1 from 1945, the Dick Briefer humorous version. I don't have a whole collection of those comics, but I have several, and will be scanning them in months to come. Most of the material I have is from that particular Golden Age series, so if you like Frankenstein, if you like Briefer, this will be the blog to check on Friday.

First up, though, is a collaboration between two of comics' greatest, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. This is their version of Frankenstein, from Humbug #7, February 1958. From Mad to Trump, Humbug, Help! Magazine and finally to their greatest collaboration, Little Annie Fanny for Playboy, Kurtzman and Elder worked together successfully from the 1940s until Kurtzman's death.

This Frankenstein story (or "Frankenstien," as it's called here), seems to be a continuation of the Mad comic book work the pair did together five years earlier. It has all of the hallmarks of the hilarious Mad work, down to the funny captions and backgrounds that Elder threw into virtually every panel of every strip he did for Kurtzman. The pen-and-ink work is especially nice.

Unfortunately, Humbug was poorly printed on cheap paper. It made it all the more difficult to scan. When I scan a comic book I usually have to do some tweaking with my CompuPic software, but I had more challenges than usual with this strip. The magazine I scanned it from had been wet at some point in its near 50-year life, also folded down the middle. It's been kept away from light but still the paper is turning a tan color. It looks pretty sad! The scans have actually improved it, but it isn't perfect. You can tell by the panels where Elder pasted up the halftone photographs of equipment and machines the imperfections in the original printing haven't been helped much by the scan.

As one letter writer to Humbug put it, "The paper isn't much better than you'd find in some bathrooms, but the humor is there, and that's what counts."

Humbug was a collaborative effort between artists, putting out a magazine they all had a financial stake in. They did it on the cheap and it shows. They had the artistic vision, but the medium wasn't up to the vision, and Humbug failed to reach its audience. It took the lush first rate reproduction and printing of Little Annie Fanny to assure Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman their place in comics history, as if Mad wasn't enough. "Frankenstien" came between those things for which they are best known, but it's part of their collaborative history. It's worthy of their talents.

Coming up next Friday!

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