Monday, September 25, 2006

Number 28

COVERING IT: Classic Golden Age comics covers.

I can imagine the editorial conference that went on between editor and artist when this cover was dreamed up. "Al, I want some skeletons…two or three of 'em would be good. I need a girl chained to the wall, and a guy trying to get out who is being threatened by a skeleton coming out of a coffin. Oh yeah…try to work some spiders and lizards in there, too, would you?"

The "Al" the editor was talking to was Al Avison, one of the true workhorse artists of the Golden Age. He worked with Simon and Kirby on Captain America at Timely, then helped Syd Shores draw it when Simon and Kirby left to go to DC. He worked for various companies, but found his home at Harvey Comics, where he did a lot of stories, and a lot of covers. He could channel various artists, like Jack Kirby, Chester Gould, Ham Fisher, and so usually did the covers for issues of Dick Tracy or Joe Palooka when not doing a Kirbyesque Boy Heroes in All-New Comics.

He did some fine horror comics, too, including this gem of a cover from Harvey's Chamber Of Chills #7,, dated April, 1952. One of the story titles on the cover, "Pit Of The Damned," would perfectly describe this illustration. If that isn't the damndest pit I've ever seen, I don't know what is.

I don't own this book. I found this picture on the Internet, and even though I thought I'd seen every cover of every Harvey horror comic I hadn't seen this one. It's eerie, with lots of elements that would seem really cool to a young boy picking it off the rack at the newsstand. "Wow! One of those skeletons has a knife through its skull! That is neat-o!"

This looks a lot like the sort of thing a young teenage boy might draw in his school notebook while sitting through another boring algebra class. In those days if the teacher saw it it probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow. He'd just think, "This kid reads too many comic books." Nowadays if a kid drew that picture and someone saw it he'd be in for a visit with a shrink. They'd think they had a potential serial killer on their hands.

Even for a 1952 horror comic this was pretty heady stuff, but if you look past the subject matter at the composition the elements are arranged in a pleasing way, and as with other Avison covers, there is so much going on that it is a classic of the era and of the genre.

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