Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Number 100

Wally Wood's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

As you can see from the number above, this is Pappy's 100th posting!

For this occasion I wanted to bring you something special. I'm showing you a very early comic by Wally Wood and Harry Harrison, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
This comic has an interesting publishing history. I scanned it from my copy of Charlton's This Is Suspense #23, dated February, 1955, the last pre-code issue of that title.

Click on pictures for full-size images.
  The story was reprinted a couple of years earlier, in 1952 by Star Comics as Startling Terror Tales #10, with a cover by L. B. Cole. But the original printing was in 1950 by Fox Publishing in A Star Presentation #3. I don't know of any other one-shot comic book reprinted three times by three different publishers in less than five years.In the 1980s it was reprinted as The 3-D Zone #1, with a 3-D process job by Ray Zone.

Those are the only printings I know of, so this may be its first presentation in cyberspace, the fifth time it has been presented in 56 years.

This is a very fast moving adaptation of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson classic, an examination of the two sides of good and evil. It is a very rushed-looking job, but probably because of the Harrison inking. Harrison bragged once about how fast he could ink with a #7 sable brush, and this appears to be something he did using that big brush. Wood later did work on The Spirit for Will Eisner, and there are some Eisnerish characters and layouts spotted throughout the story. It's far from the best thing Wood or Harrison ever did, but based on the careers they both had later — Harrison as a famous science fiction author and Wood as one of the most revered comic book artists of all — it has a great historical interest.

I haven't read the original Stevenson version of the story for decades, but I remember enough of it to advise you kids, do not use this comic book version as the basis for a book report in your English class.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Number 99

EC Comics: Adultery Is For Adults!

EC Comics' Shock Suspenstories #11 was the first non-Mad EC Comic I ever read. I was too young to read EC's when they were originally available, and I was buying them blind via mail-order from Bill Thailing of Cleveland, Ohio. Bill sold most EC's for about 50¢ each in 1960 and '61.

Click on pictures for full-size images.

I remember being disappointed by the cover; a guy and girl (even if the girl was in a bikini) on a sailboat, another guy getting knocked out. It didn't look like what I thought of as a horror comic. When I looked inside I was additionally puzzled. There was a splash panel with a pretty girl carrying a basket, a man behind a tree, and big letters, THE TRYST. I thought, "What's a tryst?"

Well, at age 12 I wasn't really expected to know, which was a problem with EC Comics. They were written for older readers, but a lot of kids read them, too. I'm sure that if parents were looking over their young boys' shoulders in 1953 when this comic came out, they had their eyes widened by that word. A tryst is a lover's rendezvous. And in the case of this story, refers to one character's perception of the tryst as an adulterous one.

When I read the story I didn't know the older man hiring the young girl wanted to protect her virginity from other men because he wanted her for himself.

Virginity was also a word I didn't know. You may think I was naïve when I was 12, and you'd be right. It's hell when you have to get your sex education from EC Comics.

The panel where the new wife asks her older husband, who has stashed her away on an estate to keep her away from other males, if she could have a baby, got my attention. I knew a bit about babies and where they came from, but I was a bit weak on the mechanics of the process. I sure did like the picture that artist Johnny Craig drew of the young blonde babe, though.

In the story the old man suspects his young wife is having an affair with another man, so he kills that man.

I knew about jealousy, but sexual jealousy of this sort was beyond my comprehension at the time. Actually, it still is. I'm aware of the crimes people commit when under its influence.

The capper is when the husband follows his young wife into the woods, thinking she's having a tryst with a lover. Craig, writer as well as artist, loads up the captions with information about her buttoning her blouse, or blowing kisses, which would lead a reader to suspect she's up to no good.

So the husband does the ultimate act: he shoots into the woods, killing the person he thinks is his wife's lover.

The "lover" that the young wife was meeting was an orphan boy named Tommy, who lived behind the estate in an orphanage. The last panel shows a dead boy near a pond. Then as now, victims in fiction are objects, not "real" victims, like we find in life.

The fact that the orphanage hadn't been mentioned before didn't bother me at the time, but now I realize that it's good to plant that information in the story somewhere so the reader doesn't feel the denouement has come out of left field. Which is exactly what this ending did. We know the young woman wants companionship, but the husband's jealous mind has turned her actions into cheating, when she's innocent of nothing more than making friends with a young boy. What we don't know ahead of time is that there is anything like an orphanage nearby.

Well, that's comics for you! They don't have a lot of room for information, so sometimes this sort of thing is left out, and it weakens the ending. Still, when I read this story the first time I wondered why the husband would have a problem with his wife meeting a young boy. Wow, was I dumb, missing the whole point of the story because of my unfamiliarity with the ways of sex, love and lust.

Three of the stories in Shock Suspenstories #11 deal with adultery. Only the second story, "In Gratitude," doesn't deal with a triangle love affair.

I bet most of the readers of Shock Suspenstories were probably in the 13-to-16 year age group, almost all of them male. In that more innocent time this issue should have set off alarm bells somewhere with somebody's parents, but maybe the excesses found in the horror comics trumped this comic. I think parents were probably more upset by walking dead than jealous husbands.

In my personal opinion, showing a dead child, murdered as a result of mistaken sexual jealousy, seems over the line. By that time in EC's history I'm sure it was just another snap ending to another story. In retrospect it seems more powerful and disturbing.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Number 98

Toth and Tufts in Drag Cartoons!

I got my first car in 1963. Those were the days when we thought all of the "bitchin" cars came out of Southern California. We--my buddies, me and most all the rest of the adolescent and adolescent-acting males in America--all wanted to be part of the car culture they had in that magical place of California.

That car culture produced one of the most unusual comics of all time, the black and white hot rod cartoon books, CAR'toons and later, Drag Cartoons. Both of these magazines were started in Southern California by racing enthusiast and cartoonist, Pete Millar. The story is that he created CAR'toons, walked out when he had a disagreement with the publisher, and started Drag Cartoons. Millar's artwork was pretty good, and the cover to this issue is extremely well done. But the art seems rooted in its era, maybe even earlier. It looks very 1950s to me, but it also seems perfect for the stories he was doing, about cars, hot rods and the kids who drove them.

In the earlier issues some of the best comic book artists who lived in Southern California worked for Drag Cartoons. In this installment of Pappy's I'm showing two of them, Alex Toth and Warren Tufts, both four-page stories from Drag Cartoons #2, December 1963. Toth is legendary for his comic book work, working in all sorts of genres. I think this example, "The Tell Tell Car," is a fine story. He didn't get a chance to work with satirical material often, and the splash panel shows the Mad influence of Mort Drucker. For you younger readers, the fellow making the speech in the splash is a caricature of distinguished actor E.G. Marshall. Along with "Mr. Brady," Robert Reed, he starred in a popular early 1960s TV drama called The Defenders.

Warren Tufts did a fantastic Western comic strip called Casey Ruggles, but as was claimed, was a perfectionist who spent a lot of hours at the drawing board and at some point quit the syndicated comic strip biz. The "Vincent Van Gears" story he did here shows how hard he worked. Every panel is beautifully composed and drawn. What a great-looking story with a very strangely grown-up Dennis Mitchell, swinging into a real close approximation of the Dick Tracy comic strip. Oh yeah, for you younger readers again: The "Kennedy foot bit" the hot-rodding Dennis refers to on the first page would be the Presidential Fitness Program founded by President Kennedy in the early '60s, putting more emphasis on physical activity. And we would think, less on driving. (John F. Kennedy was assassinated just before this issue went off sale.)

All of the men mentioned on this page are gone now. Millar died in 2003, Toth in 2006, and Tufts died in a flying accident in the late '70s or early '80s.

Drag Cartoons, its predecessor and its descendents, were products of their time, and had a loyal following of young readers for whom cars and that California car culture were "Bitchin, man, bitchin!"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Number 97

Frankenstein Friday: Frankenstein And The Plant!

Shades of Audrey II. For the final story in the horror comics incarnation of the Frankenstein monster, from Frankenstein#33, October-November 1954, creator Dick Briefer turns to the world of botany and plants. Of course, this is a horror comic, so the titular plant is a meat-eater. The Monster is in the story as an observer, standing back from the action for the most part, until the end when he is once again set upon and betrayed by humans.

The botanist, a "mad" scientist (there are no other kinds in horror comics), remains unnamed, but gets his just desserts, a la Little Shop Of Horrors. That movie in its original, non-musical form, was released just six years after this comic was published, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine the screenplay writer had this story in mind. Stranger things have happened.

In the next-to-last panel of the story the Monster takes off for parts unknown, but we never get to find out where he's going. The series is at an end. The last panel is reserved for the mad scientist's gruesome fate.

I said this would be the last Frankenstein Friday, but I lied. Next week a 1966 Steve Ditko story.


I just got this book:

The Monster Of Frankenstein, written and drawn by Dick Briefer, reprints all of the horror comics issues of Frankenstein, numbers 18 through 33, from the early 1950s.

Production on the book is good. The stories, for economy's sake, are reprinted in black and white, but the reproductions are clear. This is a page from the story that I have posted this week in color, and you can compare the two.
In an afterword, Briefer's granddaughter, Alicia Jo Rabins, says she grew up with her grandfather's paintings, including Frankenstein, but beyond that tantalizing claim nothing is shown. If the cover artist of this volume is identified I can't see it. The painting seems crude compared to the rest of Briefer's art, but if it is by Briefer, could have been done in his later life.

I think the covers from the individual issues should have also been reprinted, a la Marvel's Essentials and DC's Showcase series'. I believe it was a mistake of omission.

The book is available from for $20.99. If you've enjoyed the stories I've posted from Briefer's horror phase of Frankenstein you'll like this book.

The Monster Of Frankenstein, Story and Art By Dick Briefer. Supplementary Material by David Jacobs, E.J. Robinson, Alicia Jo Rabins. 2006, 246 pp., 7"x10 1/8" trade paperback. Color covers, black and white interiors.