Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Number 60

Boy Heroes: Terror In Transylvania

Kid heroes were all the rage in the 1940s, especially during the war years. Simon and Kirby came up with Boy Commandos, Timely had the Young Allies, and Harvey Comics had the Boy Heroes.

I'm sure there were a lot of kids during that period that wished that somehow they could be part of the war, could help defeat the enemy. The comics provided a great fantasy outlet. Some of these kid groups stayed around for a time after the war, but didn't last much into the 1950s. About the only kid group that was published during the 1950s I can think of is Simon and Kirby's Boy's Ranch. That's off the top of my pointy little head. I might be missing someone, and I'm sure one of you will let me know if I am.

The Grand Comics Database guesses the Kirbyesque artwork might be by Louis Cazeneuve, with a question mark.

The cover of All-New Comics #10, September 1944, where this story appeared, is another Alex Schomburg action fest. It didn't matter whose heroes he was drawing, or what company it was for, Schomburg put in a lot of detail and his covers are a true joy to study.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Number 59

A Humbug Christmas Carol

Ho! Ho! Ho! Only five weeks until Christmas, boys and girls! Have you got your online shopping done yet? It can be exhausting going to website after website, typing in your credit card number, can't it?

Just think of those poor folks out in the stores trying to elbow each other for the last of this year's fad toys, the ones your kids have just gotta have, the ones they'll have broken or discarded before Christmas brunch. Remember, those desperate shoppers all have tired feet from walking the shopping malls, you have tired fingers from keyboarding.

So while taking the occasional break from your online shopping, check with me. For the next five weeks I'll be presenting a different Christmas offering every Sunday until Christmas Eve. First up, a really off-the-wall retelling of an old Christmas chestnut, "A Christmas Carol."

Harvey Kurtzman and his friends started Humbug magazine when their other venture, Trump, was killed by publisher Hugh Hefner after two issues. Humbug was a great magazine, killed by low sales and spotty distribution. It was printed and distributed by Charlton Comics in the same size as comic books. It was priced a nickel more than comic books, and printed in a duotone format. It was also the sort of adult humor that Kurtzman had tried originally with the magazine issues of Mad he had edited. Because of Humbug's size it was most often put with the comic books on a spinner rack, where adult readers weren't likely to find it.

"A Christmas Carol" was published in Humbug #6, January 1958. It was drawn by Arnold Roth, whose work always reminded me of the British Punch magazine cartoonists. A perfect cartoonist to reinterpret Charles Dickens. No writing credit is given, so I'm guessing Kurtzman, who had a way of finding the core silliness of any subject he was lampooning. Nothing was safe from him, not even a maudlin but beloved Christmas story like "A Christmas Carol."

Jack Davis autographed my copy at the 1985 San Diego Comicon.

.…and anyone who doesn't find this story funny will be boiled in his own plum pudding and buried with a sprig of holly through his heart.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Number 58

Frankenstein Friday: The Strange Love Of Shirley Shmool

Frankenstein plays cupid in this cute story. It is the second story from Frankenstein #7, May-June, 1947, written and drawn by Dick Briefer.

This story was most likely originally slated for the lead spot. The splash panel says "Book by Dick Briefer."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Number 57

The Flat Man

Since I'm writing this on Thanksgiving Day, 2006, it seems appropriate that I inaugurate a new series I'll be running occasionally: The Comic Book Turkey Awards. Rules are strictly arbitrary, judgment is all mine and will be strictly subjective.

The award will be given to the story I think best exemplifies comic book stupidity at its worst. Just as turkeys are reputed to stand looking up at rain until they drown, so do these stories exhibit similar lack of intelligence. First up is a story I mentioned in a Frankenstein Friday entry a couple of weeks ago, "The Flat Man," from Journey Into Fear #19, May 1954.

Most comic book horror stories are by default pretty dumb because the plots depend on wild occurrences that can't happen in real life. Still, with most horror stories we suspend disbelief and just accept the premise or the plot and ride it out until the end, enjoying it for what it is, dumb or not. "The Flat Man" seems to fail on the suspension of disbelief angle. I can suspend disbelief when it comes to rotting corpses rising from the grave, vampires, werewolves, or people making pacts with the devil, but I just can't accept a guy run over by a steamroller, mashed flat, and still living.

It's all a joke, really, because the story ends where it begins, under a steamroller. The artwork was done by the Iger shop for the publisher, Superior, which was a Canadian company. In an industry full of poorly-printed products Superior was definitely inferior to even its poorly-printed competition. I've seen quite a few Superior comics and none of them were printed well. They were sleazy publishers, going for the fast buck with a really crummy product. That's one of the reasons I love them so much!

On this Thanksgiving Day, "The Flat Man" earns 3 ½ turkeys out of a possible 4.

[Note: I have re-scanned artwork, slightly edited and replaced the original posting with this post in August 2012.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Number 56

The Kill-Crazy Carlins

Fred Guardineer was a fine but underrated comic book artist of the Golden Age. He's probably underrated because he didn't do superheroes or flashy longjohns-wearing characters. If there are the equivalent of movie stars for comic book artists, then Guardineer was a character actor.

Guardineer's excellent crime story, "Mother Of Murderers" was presented in Pappy's Number 2. This story, "The Kill-Crazy Carlins," came from Black Diamond Western #17, January 1950, and was one of a special genre, the Western crime story. That's appropriate, since it was published by Lev Gleason, edited by Charles Biro and Bob Wood, the same group that did Crime Does Not Pay, where "Mother Of Murderers" appeared.

Dr. Fredric Wertham M.D., in Seduction Of The Innocent, claimed all comic books were crime comic books, so that's no big surprise. The story follows a typical crime comics arc: The killers commit a lot of crimes, get hunted down by law enforcement, get punished in the end by death.

What I notice about the story is an air of authenticity in characters, clothing and buildings I don't usually see in Western comic books, which usually closely followed the popular idea of the Wild West promoted in movies. I'm not saying it's 100% authentic, because the sheriff is a clean cut blond hero stereotype straight out of Hollywood Central Casting. But I like the touches Guardineer throws in to give it an 1876 look, or at least more of that look than readers in 1950 were used to seeing.