Saturday, April 28, 2007

Number 125

Toni Gay by Norman Nodel

Tony Gay? Butch Dykeman? Say, is somebody kidding with these names? I don't know for sure, but there they are, from this early 1950s story from a comic book called Popular Teenagers. Did those names have the same meanings as we might give them 55 years or so after the comic was published? That I also don't know…although I'm guessing the scriptwriter might have hung out with a hip crowd who used those words to describe a certain group of people years before the words themselves passed into popular usage.

We'll never know because the scriptwriter is unknown. The editor, L. B. Cole, and the artist, Norman Nodel, are all dead. With no way to prove it I think the names might have been a way of playing with the reader.

Toni Gay, in looks--the Bettie Page hairstyle gives it away--and name, seems to be related to an earlier L. B. Cole, creation, Toni Gayle, who appeared in a crime comic called Guns Against Gangsters. A Toni Gayle story appeared in Pappy's #22.

Norman Nodel (real name Nochem Yeshaya) was a very fine illustrator who worked for publisher/editor L. B. Cole for years on various projects, including comics, magazines, and is probably best known for his work in Classics Illustrated. Cole had very high regard for Nodel, and had this to say about him in an article by E. B. Boatner in The Comic Book Price Guide #11, 1980: "Norman Nodel was another extremely talented and much under-publicized illustrator who worked with me at Star [Comics] in 1951. He also illustrated for me at Classics and Dell and on World Rod and Gun [Magazine]. He had an opera quality voice and the God-given hands for illustrating--one of the nicest people you'll ever meet."

Cole was a canny publisher who used reprints and recycled material. The source for this Toni Gay story is Popular Teenagers #6, published under the Accepted Publications banner.

Click on the thumbnails for full-size images.

Number 124

Norman Nodel's The Great Houdini

Illustrator Norman Nodel is most familiar for his work in Classics Illustrated during the 1950s and '60s. He had worked for Classics editor, L. B. Cole, for several years on various types of publications. I think of Nodel as an illustrator because his work for Classics Illustrated had qualities more of illustration--beautiful penwork and somewhat static figure drawing--than they did of comic art. I think the best example of his work is in Classics Illustrated #167, Faust By Goethe.

"The Great Houdini" was a biographical comic book story published by Classics Illustrated in a series called The World Around Us. It was in issue #25, September 1960, titled The Illustrated Story Of Magic.

Recently there's been a renewal of interest in Houdini's death. Was he poisoned or did he die of a ruptured appendix caused by a blow to the stomach as has always been claimed? This World Around Us story mostly focuses on Houdini's career, but doesn't stay away from the reported manner of his death, although it's told in the same matter-of-fact style as the rest of the 11-page biography.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Number 123

Jet Powers and The Man In The Moon!

This is the second story from the 1950 ME Comics Jet Powers #1. For the folks who care about such arcane trivia, the cover says the title is Jet, subtitled Jet Powers and Space Ace. The indicia on the inside front cover says the book is Jet Powers #1, (A-1 #30). Jet Powers was a series within the larger A-1 series, much like the Dell Four Color Comics, which published hundreds of one-shot issues and series comic books under the Four Color umbrella. I'm not sure what all was published under the A-1 designation, but for this title at least everything was further confused when Jet Powers became American Air Forces with #5, featuring Jet Powers as an American pilot fighting in the Korean conflict. Whew! I hope you're paying attention to all of this because it may appear on a test at the end of the semester.

But that has nothing to do with this story. In the first story, which I posted in Pappy's #121, we are introduced to Jet, Su Shan, who is the villainous Mr. Sinn's beautiful Asian "assistant," (wink wink, nudge nudge) and Mr. Sinn himself, a green-faced caricature of an Asian man. Despite being green, Mr. Sinn solidly represents an era of American pulp literature which used the Yellow Peril as a theme. "Orientals," according to the Yellow Peril-styled stories, were evil, sinister, inscrutable, criminal-minded, crafty and prone to spouting Confucious-like aphorisms. Luckily for us, at least Mr. Sinn doesn't sound like a Chinese fortune cookie. He doesn't have time or space to do that, since he's usually talking out loud, explaining his evil plans to us.

Mr. Sinn is the first man to orbit the earth in an artificial satellite. From space Sinn watches the President of the U.S. on his "visibeam screen," which works because it "warps light." He can find out American national secrets because he can read lips!

Su Shan is also shown to be pretty tricky in her own right, pretending to have amnesia, but soon in this series she comes around to Jet's side. Just thought I'd mention that so you won't worry.

The story ends on something of a cliffhanger, but the storyline isn't picked up again until the next issue.

Click on the thumbnails for full-size images.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Number 122

Sexy Suzie, Kinky Katy and Booby Betty

When the Comics Code was written in late 1954, and implemented with issues published in 1955, one of the chief promoters were the folks at Archie Comics. Archie Comics had claimed the moral high ground with their line of "wholesome" teenage books. They might have forgotten their origins. Before Archie came along they published some of the rowdiest and sometimes ghastly superheroes in the business. Anyone who can come up with a hero called The Hangman probably doesn't have the word "wholesome" in mind.

These pages and panels are all culled from one coverless issue of what I presume to be Pep Comics. Based on internal evidence I place it about 1953, a couple of years before the Comics Code. One of the provisions of the Code was that women wouldn't be shown with body parts accentuated. Even after the Code Archie Comics got away with showing the charms of Betty and Veronica. I mean, a code's a code, unless it interferes with the public's right to see accentuated body parts.

The Archie public, even pre-Code, was a pre-teen/teenage girl market. I'm sure the sexy stuff was meant to lure in the big brothers, too.

The "Suzie" pages are eye-catching and eye-popping, especially the splash, with Suzie spread out on the love seat like a hooker in a brothel. I'm also wondering about the guy who looks to be a shade older than the teenage boy who is his "rival." How old is the guy with the mustache, anyway? And what's he doing hanging with a teenage girl? (Heh-heh-heh…)
 Katy Keene was a strip supposedly aimed strictly at young girls. When I dragged out this comic and my wife saw Katy the first words out of her mouth were, "Oh wow! Déjà vu!" It had been over 40 years since Wifey had seen a Katy Keene pinup page, but she knew instantly who she was. Once you've seen Katy, you don't forget Katy. I'm sure there are plenty of adult males out there who see Katy and also say, "Oh wow! Déjà vu!" Bill Woggon did the artwork, but the sly dog had help from his readers in designing the clothes. He also got to draw a really pretty girl. I don't mean to disparage gay people, but the guys in the strip always looked gay to me. And Sis was a total washout. Woggon should have tossed her and just shown Katy having lingerie parties with her supermodel friends. That would put the "strip" in comic strip! Incidentally, the page is full of phallic symbols.

Betty, of Betty and Veronica fame, is shown in these two pages from an otherwise typical, tired Archie gag storyline, as having young, nubile breasts. Accentuated body parts, as it were.

As Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder pointed out in Mad #12, in his later years "Starchie" regretted not taking advantage of the situation with Betty, who threw herself at him. Look at the panels with all of the hearts flying. I'm sure if Archie were human he'd have a heart-on for Betty, too. Archie, can you say "menage a trois?" In those pre-Code days Archie was a total dipstick for not inviting both Betty and Veronica over to his house when his Mom and Pop were out.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Number 121

Bob Powell's Jet Powers Introduced!

Jet Powers is a science fiction hero who came out of the Buck Rogers school of comics. No super powers, but a super brain, and lots of brawn to go with the brain. For the four issues of the comic book series, Jet Powers was drawn by Bob Powell*, and scripted by prolific comic scribe Gardner Fox.

My goal is to run all of the science fiction Jet Powers stories in sequence. An issue of Jet contained three stories starring the title hero, and a separate story featuring a character called Space Ace. Powell didn't draw the Space Ace stories, but I'm going to feature them anyway. The last two in the series were drawn by none other than Al Williamson, so that alone makes them worth a look.

Jet Powers is represented in this first story as being a lone genius/inventor/scientist, living in a mesa laboratory somewhere in the Southwest U.S. He also wears tight clothes, including a shirt with an atomic symbol so we'll know he's a scientist, and knee-high boots. With his white hair he looks a bit more mature than most comic book heroes.

This story sets up a hero, a super villain (yet another racist Fu Manchu-styled Asian villain, replete with green, leering, hideous face), and a beautiful female assistant, in a short but action-packed 10 pages.**

I originally read the first two issues of Jet in reprint form in the late 1950s, when they were republished by I.W. Comics as Jet Powers #'s 1 and 2. I was really taken by the artwork as well as the science fiction elements of the strip. When I had my chance to buy the original issues in the mid-1970s I jumped at it, even though I recall I paid $15 apiece for the four issues, which was the most I had ever paid for comic books up until that time. How times — and prices — have changed…

From Jet #1, 1950:

 *Previous Pappy's Bob Powell postings are "The Shrunken Skull" in Pappy's #35, "The Man In The Hood," in Pappy's #90, and "Twice Alive," in Pappy's #110.

**One part of the story deserves note. Jet is put into a chamber where he's exposed to lights and noise. It looks psychedelic, a two decades-early precursor to a rock light show from the late '60s. He is driven instantly mad, which could help explain a lot of what happened to my generation.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Number 120

Kelly Freas was a true Madman!

A couple of original Kelly Freas Mad Magazine covers showed up on an auction site recently.

Click on pictures for full-size images.

These artworks show what a great artist Freas was. Norman Mingo, who also did covers for Mad in the 1950s and '60s, was another great artist, but it was Freas who really caught my attention and caused me to pick up and buy Mad in the 1950s.

The printed covers, also taken from the Internet, show how much was lost during reproduction. Freas put a lot of work into each cover. Look at the textures on the weathervanes.

Artists who do the new Mad covers have a lot of talent, but they also have Photoshop to work with. They're good, but they don't have the individuality of style that Freas or Mingo had.

Freas died in 2005 at age 83. He left behind a legacy of work in the science fiction field that is unequaled, but his Mad humorous work is, for me, what made him a truly great illustrator.