Sunday, December 31, 2006

Number 76

Ears Karpik: The killer who believed in divide and conquer!

I suckered in on this story, believing it was based on a true person, and true story. As crime comics go, it's fairly typical. It came from Atlas Comics' Justice #16 from 1950, and details the harsh life of a criminal right up until his end. In most cases in a crime comic the end came in the form of death, which was their "he got his just desserts" theme. This is no exception.

The sucker punch came when I encountered an ending so preposterous, so unlikely that I said a mental "Wha-----?" and looked at the splash page again. It says "Based on a true story," but in the type under the bottom tier of panels it says that this "true-to-life story" is fictitious, and the usual legal boilerplate that would keep them from being sued in case some real guy named Ears Karpik should get offended.

The art is serviceable, with no artist identified by

What I like about the story is the criminal dialogue, which crackles along with slang like "playing chicky" (being a lookout) or "listeners" (for ears). Where it falls short is in its last two pages, when it tries for the surprise ending, and the unintended surprise turns out to be how far a plot can be stretched before it breaks apart.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Number 75

Frankenstein Friday: Froglegs!

After a flood in Mippyville, Frankenstein sets out to meet his favorite author of fantastic stories, Peg O'Mihart. This turns into an adventure with some giant frogs, the leader of which is Peg's old boyfriend, Waldo. He has taken the plot of one of her old books and turned himself into a frog, and plans to do the same to her.
The story has some pretty good humor, but more of Briefer's hurried up artwork. At least he spent some time on the splash panel with Peg, the good-looking author.

This also has a pretty gross ending involving frog legs. Actually, anything involving frog legs sounds pretty…urp…bad to me. The ending is a gag in more ways that one.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Number 74

COVERING UP: Classic Golden Age Comics Covers: Covers that work for me!

Covers are designed for one thing: to sell books and magazines. The old adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover" is very true, but a good cover can sell a mediocre comic book better than a mediocre cover can sell a good comic.

Trying to make themselves seen during the Golden Age of comics must've seemed impossible during the times when there were over 400 titles on the racks. But in culling through pictures of thousands of comics over the years, these are some of the covers that would have gotten my attention and drawn me like a magnet.

First up, Weird Tales Of The Future, dated March-April, 1953. Our old friend Bernard Baily, who drew many a great cover for many a crappy comic, is at his genius best here. Exploding planet! People in space, sucked along by reptilian aliens with tentacles! An alien sport shirt with the skull-and-crossbones of a pirate! Wow. I don't care what else is in this book. Here's my dime.

Second is a startlingly silly horror comics cover, Web Of Evil, dated September, 1953. Some weird giant spook is rising up from the grave, while a gangster tries to mow him down with a machine gun. The cover looks to be done by Jack Cole, or someone appropriating his style. I also like the titles of stories carved into the tombstones. Here, take my money. I've just gotta have this book.

Chamber Of Chills #19, a Harvey horror comic, is cover dated September, 1953. It's the same date as the aforementioned Web Of Evil, so they were on the stands at the same time. It's also an all time classic horror comics cover by Harvey's best cover artist and art director, Lee Elias. What is the story on the girl with the gorgeous headlights and corpse face, being offered a drink held by a skeletal hand? I want to study it further. Ka-ching, another 10¢ of my allowance goes into the cash register. I'll take this one home.

Nineteen fifty-three must've been one helluva year for comics. Horror comics were at their wildest and wooliest during '53, just a year before Dr. Fredric Wertham's bombshell book, Seduction Of The Innocent came out and caused such an uproar. Pity. I would like to have seen what would have happened had no outcry appeared. Would comics have gotten more gruesome, or morphed into something else altogether? Another fad? We'll never know.

My personal favorite of this gang of four is Amazing Adventures #4. It's a couple of years older than the others, dated July-August 1951. Of the four, it's the only one with a painted cover. And what a cover. It's drawn by Allen Anderson, who did several covers for Ziff-Davis during their short stay in the comic book jungle. A robot. A kissing robot, yet. A blonde babe. A little green drooling guy on a sky sled. A mystery: just who are the "Love Robots"? And your wife says your lovemaking is mechanical! Another hard-earned dime goes down for this comic book. A must-have, double bagger.

All of these comics have something in common: run-of-the-mill they aren't, and if you can't judge a book by its cover, then you can at least judge the cover.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Number 73

Wood and Severin Post Code

When the Comics Code was implemented in late '54 it not only spelled the death knell for many comic book companies, already reeling under the onslaught of television, but found many artists scrambling for work.

Some artists quit the business entirely, but some stayed behind, slogging it out with what work remained. Wallace Wood and John Severin, formerly stars at EC Comics, were no exceptions.

One of the comic book companies still standing in 1956 was Atlas, formerly Timely, and now Marvel. An implosion of titles was a year off but in 1956, over a year after the Code went into effect, they were still churning out comics.

These stories, "Inside the Dark Cave," and "He Was Nobody," from Journey Into Mystery #51, are good examples of how the Comics Code emasculated comics. Just a couple of years before these stories wouldn't have been published in this form. They'd have a murder or two, or skeletons, or vampires. Early Code-approved stories can be so pallid that the only thing that makes them interesting is the artwork.

And what good artwork! Severin does a wonderful job drawing Leprechauns, and Wood's drawings, his settings of a rain-engulfed town with a bursting dam, are a lot better than the paycheck he sold the artwork for. Wood even lettered his story, probably picking up a couple extra $ per page for the chore.

The men who made and stayed in comics were a brave and hardy lot, dodging the falling bricks of a crumbling industry. I'm glad neither Severin or Wood dropped their comics work during those insecure and difficult times. In many ways their best years were ahead of them.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Number 72

Walt Kelly's Santa's Christmas Gift


Oh, sorry. …sniff… You caught me boohooing and blubbering over this sentimental little Christmas story by the master cartoonist, Walt Kelly, from Santa Claus Funnies #2, 1943.
This is a real tearjerker, folks. It even begins with a jerk! Jerk Frost, errrr, I mean Jack Frost, is a nasty twit who freezes up the forest, putting all of the critters and even the forest's human dwellers in a real bad way. Animals are starving; two kids and their sick mother shiver with cold and hunger in a little cabin.

I'll tell you before you start reading, you won't get through this without going through a box of tissues.

Well, it has a good ending. I mean, you didn't really think the kids were going to starve to death along with all of the forest animals, while Mom withered away with her indeterminate illness, did you? This is a Christmas comic book, after all.

There's a heroic pigeon in the story, too. Santa comes to the rescue...say, am I giving away too much, here?

And in the end…wait. Maybe you'd better read this whole story and then come back and I'll talk about the end. I'll wait for you.

"Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla Wash, and Kalamazoo…" Oops. Caught me singing. After all, it is Christmas Eve. I've got Christmas presents wrapped and under the tree. I'm also rubbing my greedy little hands together in anticipation of getting some great comics goodies himself. I know I am because I picked 'em out!

As I was saying, in the end Santa takes off in his sleigh, with the hero pigeon by his side. He tells the pigeon he's going to Africa, Europe and America. Since this was a very dark era of World War II, one wonders if Santa had some knowledge the rest of us did not. Especially how to get around anti-aircraft guns and the Luftwaffe. But, we assume this story, although written and drawn during the war, did not take place during the war, but during a more placid time for Santa and the rest of the world.

It's a good story, just a little bit…sniff, sniff...sad. Be warned.

Oh, and MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you Pappy's readers. I hope you all got what you wanted.