Friday, March 30, 2007

Number 113

The Weapon To Win The War!

Wow, gang! A genuine Buck Rogers Sonic Ray, with uranium power chamber, fission heat eliminators, cyclotron chamber and sonic resonator…only $2.50! A bargain like that you won't find from the Pentagon, where a weapon like this would end up costing at least $250,000 each.

This ad came from a coverless early 1950s issue of Boy Comics, and looks to be like what we need to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arm our G.I.'s and Marines with one each of these and in no time we'll have our enemies throwing up their hands in surrender and screaming for mercy as the sonic rays cook their brains and turn their internal organs to molten liquid.

Wonder if J. Whitford Gordon Sales Co is still around in Chicago? I'll have to check it out. Maybe I'll send the Secretary Of Defense a link to this blog.

Or this "weapon" could be just a fancy flashlight. But then, you don't think anyone selling ray guns in comic book ads would do anything but sell the real article, would you? I mean, look at the explanation of how this deadly little piece works in the essay, "Here's What Happens When Buck Fires His Sonic Ray." You'll be a believer in no time, just like me. No one would just make this stuff up, would they?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Number 112

The Ghost Rider and the Fire Ghost!

This is story number two from Ghost Rider #1, 1950, published by M.E. Comics.

Gardner Fox, who wrote hundreds, maybe thousands, of comic book scripts in his life, wrote the Ghost Rider stories. Fox loaded the balloons with comic book sound effects. On tier one of page three, for example, we get "Aieeee!" "Ayah!" and "Waughhhh!" There's no record of what English novelist Evelyn Waugh thought of his name being used as onomatopoeia in a comic book.

The artwork by Dick Ayers is up to the usual standards of excellence for this series. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ayers, who freelanced for several of the major publishers, and did outstanding work for each and every one.

I'm not glossing over the racist attitudes toward the Native Americans in this story. There actually were some comic books that used Indians in respectful ways, but not in this story.

Previous postings of Ghost Rider stories were in Pappy's #95 and Pappy's #50.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Number 111

Popped Wheat's Giveaway Smilin' Jack

Smilin' Jack was a popular newspaper comic strip which ran from 1933 to 1973. Forty years is a respectable run for any strip, especially one that was centered around aviation. That field seemed much more exotic in the early 1930s than it was in the early 1970s. The creator/artist was Zack Mosley (1906-1994).

This posting is of a 16-page Popped Wheat giveaway comic book from 1947, with reprints of a 1938 Smilin' Jack continuity. There were four titles in the Popped Wheat series, Terry and the Pirates, Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy, all strips from the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. There was only one issue of each title.

This issue of Smilin' Jack seems to be pretty typical of the comic strip I read from the late 1950s until its demise in '73; it has its soap opera elements mixed in with comic relief. The gimmick of the lothario Downwind Johnson keeping his face away from the reader was used with great effect for the life of the strip. The gimmick of Fat Stuff popping his buttons into the mouth of a waiting chicken seems like something that should have been ended right after it began. Fat Stuff--and his girlfriend--are pretty awful racial caricatures, but that sort of thing was more acceptable in that time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Number 110

Bob Powell's Twice Alive!

When you think about it, you are a sum total of your ancestors. You have their genes, good and bad; you carry their legacy. In this story by Bob Powell from Fawcett's Worlds Beyond #1, November 1951, the main guy carries his ancestors within him…literally.

Bob Powell does his usual excellent job on this story, and the use of color in the panels of the man wandering through his own body is particularly nice. Unfortunately, the print job on this comic--on a lot of Fawcett comics of this era--isn't the best. The blacks tend to break up from some unevenness to the printing ink coverage. I have used my photo editing software to reproduce it as best I can. Powell was a great comic book artist, probably a lot better than he had to be in that period. No one would have blamed him for cutting corners on his drawings, but he didn't. I like to be able to look at his artwork without the distractions caused by cheap and indifferent printing from giant web presses.

Previous Powell stories posted include "The Man In The Hood" in Pappy's #90 and "The Shrunken Skull" in Pappy's #35.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Number 109

Howard Nostrand Holds That Tiger!

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! was a very popular newspaper comics panel for decades. It's still being published, now drawn by John Graziano. It was a natural for a comic book, and the title has a history, either as a comic book feature, or in its own title, throughout the Golden Age and beyond.

Harvey's Ripley's Believe It Or Not! #4, dated March, 1954, has a story by Howard Nostrand, who did a terrific job of appropriating Jack Davis's art style. This job looks mostly Davis, although he could sometimes mix in a little of Wally Wood's style for a really nice double pastiche of those popular EC cartoonists. Pappy's #15 shows one of Nostrand's classic Harvey horror comics strips, "Ivan's Woe," done with a mix of Davis/Wood styles.

The artwork in the newspaper comic panel of Ripley's Believe It Or Not! used the technique of shading with a grease pencil on the textured surface of an illustration paper called coquille board. Sports and editorial cartoonists used it for years, but it seems to have fallen out of favor. Nostrand's shading on "The Man Who Was a Tiger!" is masterful. As a matter of fact, the whole strip is excellent. I especially love the "open" panels, which emulate the look of the newspaper Ripley's, while retaining the continuity of a comic book story.

As for whether I believe the story, "The Man Who Was a Tiger," despite the last panel's claim, "…wholly attested by the Yearbook of the Residency of Sumatra, 1927!"...c'mon, do I look like my mother raised a fool for a son? Wait. Don't answer that.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Number 108

Scholastic Fantastic!

OK, so this is not a comic book subject. So I'm stepping outside the boundaries of my blog to bring you something that is — gasp! — written in prose, and typeset rather than hand lettered. Hope you guys can stand it. In my defense I'll say I'm doing this unusual blog because I think — or hope — kids who read comics were also reading — gasp! — prose. I'll get back to traditional comics in the next posting, I promise.

Several times a year I encounter Scholastic Book Fairs in the schools I visit. More than 40 years after my first purchases from them Scholastic is still there, pitching books that kids actually want to read. Now they're known as the American publishers of the lucrative Harry Potter series, but in the past they published juvenile editions in several genres. I liked their science fiction books, and a lot of others must've liked them too because they aren't hard to find in used bookstores or thrift shops.

I heard an author say once that he thought juvenile novels were the best novels of all because they were "about something." I appreciate the best of them because they are told concisely, have strong plots and characters. You can fool an adult with a pretentiously written bad story, but you can't fool a kid.

The books I currently have on hand make a partial "Who's Who" of classical science fiction authors. Gordon R. Dickson was a prolific author; Jack Williamson died at age 98, yet was still writing into his old age. He was first published in the earliest days of the science fiction magazines. Lester Del Rey had a publishing imprint, Del Rey Books, which he ran with his wife, Judy-Lynn Del Rey.

Robert Silverberg is a prolific writer in several genres. Besides writing juvenile non-fiction, like Treasures Beneath The Sea (1960), Silverberg also wrote sex paperbacks, and so many short stories he had to use a stable of pen names. Silverberg's main claim to fame is his science fiction, though, and a number of his books are considered some of the best the genre has ever offered. Revolt On Alpha C was his first published novel. I've posted both front and back covers, and it's worth noting that Larry Stark is a real name of a real person, appropriated (maybe as an inside joke) for this novel. He is probably most well-known to comics fans for his insightful and critical letters to EC Comics during their heyday .

Tunnel Through Time was published the same year the television series, The Time Tunnel premiered on television. This book had nothing to do with that series. To add to the confusion, Murray Leinster (another famous s-f author) published a book called The Time Tunnel in 1964, and also did the novelization for the television series in 1968.

Click on pictures for full-size images. Captions below the pictures are from the original back cover blurbs.

Tunnel Through Time By Lester Del Rey (1915-1993). 1966, Scholastic Books. 160 pages.

Has the experiment failed? Why hasn't Doc Tom returned through the time tunnel? "He's hours overdue," says Bob grimly. "Where is he?"

"Back 80 million years in time," says Dr. Miller. "Back in the age of the dinosaurs."
What has gone wrong? Is it too late to save Pete's father? There is only one way to find out. Pete and Bob must go through the time tunnel.

The Runaway Robot By Lester Del Rey. 1965, Scholastic Books. 188 pages.

"We're returning to Earth," Paul's father tells him. Paul is wildly excited, for all human beings on the planet Ganymede dream of going back to Earth some day. Then Paul finds out that he cannot take his robot Rex with him. Rex has been his constant companion for sixteen years. Leave him behind? Never!

So begins a breathtaking adventures in space as Paul and his robot Rex attempt to outwit the forces that seek to separate them.

Trapped In Space By Jack Williamson (1908-2006). 1968, Scholastic Books. 128 pages.

Astronaut Ben is lost--a million miles from Earth! His last message: "Strange life forms here . . . we're under attack . . .!"

Jeff sets off to rescue him, but soon his own crippled starship is caught in the same eerie web of a monstrous creature from outer space!

Secret Under the Sea By Gordon R. Dickson (1923-2001). 1960, Scholastic Books. 128 pages.

Why is the dolphin acting so strangely? Something must be wrong.

It is the year 2013, and Robby lives in an Underwater Research Station with his scientist parents. Most of the time he has fun exploring the ocean caves with the dolphin who is his favorite companion.

But something has frightened the dolphin, and Robby sets out to investigate. Then he finds the giant footprints. And he knows that something enormous and unknown is walking across the bottom of the sea!

Lost Race of Mars by Robert Silverberg (b. 1935). 1960, Scholastic Books. 124 pages.

Are the Old Martians really a lost race--just withered mummies lying in dark caves? Or are they still alive--somewhere on the red planet?

Sally and Jim must find out. They must help their father if the Old Martians still exist. His life work as a scientist is at stake!

But it's not easy. They are only visitors to the Mars colony in the year 2017. And no one really wants them there.

Revolt On Alpha C by Robert Silverberg. 1955, Scholastic Books. 118 pages.

With a mighty twist, the Space Ship Carden lunges into overdrive and shoots out into space. Ahead lies Alpha C IV, eerie world of three suns.

But the Carden arrives on Alpha C right in the thick of a revolution against Earth. Treason!
Then young cadet Larry Stark finds himself caught up in the revolution...on both sides!