Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Number 139

Space Ace and the Invisible Death!

This Space Ace story, "The Invisible Death!" from Jet #2, 1951, is an action-filled short science fiction story right out of Planet Stories and Planet Comics. It's real space opera with a beautiful babe and Space Ace on Saturn's moon, Titan, looking for the "Ocean Of Diamonds," which is protected by the Invisible Death! And that's a problem only if you get by the Jumping Mountains to get there.

The explanation for the Invisible Death — using rays to cook someone from the inside out — sounds like a microwave oven.

The art is credited to Lawrence Woromay, and like the story in Jet #1 is influenced by Wayne Boring, then the main Superman artist.

In Jet #3, upcoming, Al Williamson takes over the Space Ace art chores.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Number 138

Dandy Dan D!

Dan DeCarlo was a great cartoonist. He specialized in pretty girls, and the pretty girls he drew were prettier--and sexier--than most other cartoonists could draw them. He influenced several artists, including Jaime Hernandez of Love And Rockets fame.

DeCarlo died in 2001 at age 82. Over the 50+ years he put in at his board he did some really fine work. He did pin-up cartoons for Chip Goodman at Humorama (which was part of the company owned by Marvel Comics owner Martin Goodman). In the fifties he did work for Stan Lee. The strip I'm showing you here is from a coverless issue of My Friend Irma, which was a spin-off of a radio and TV show about a really ditzy blonde.

DeCarlo was a born storyteller. He could draw a pretty girl with so few lines and give her such nice curves and dress her so well. Sigh. Many a young comic book reader probably had his first crush on a DeCarlo doll.

Here is a cheesecake Millie The Model cover, which pretty much typifies the sex appeal his artwork had.

The Irma strip is a lot like the later work he did for Archie. He was remarkably consistent over the years, which gives us such a great body (heh-heh…I said "body") of comic art to go back to and study.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Number 137

The Bastard Children of Harvey Kurtzman

Harvey Kurtzman is one of my Personal Pantheon of Comic Art Gods.* He is one of a very small group of great cartoon art geniuses who make me laugh.

By creating Mad in 1952, and having it become one of the hippest and funniest comic books ever, he unleashed the unwanted children of success: the untalented imitators.

Anyone who loved Mad would know in an instant these lackluster imitations were not Mad. Although they were drawn by talented artists (for the most part), they were written and edited mostly by people who just didn't get what it was that made Mad great.

They looked all all the surface stuff, like the little funny signs and bric-a-brac of the individual panels, the eye candy that Mad readers looked for. They might not have known that Harvey's stories were carefully thought out, worked out layer upon layer, and given to the artists with careful instructions to do it like Harvey intended. Woe unto those who didn't.

The thing was, the imitators were giving the readers what they expected from 99% of the comics of the era: pale shadows of the greats, just more stuff pumped out to fill the newsstands, to keep the distribution chain going. It shouldn't be a surprise that Timely/Atlas gave readers two or three Mad imitations, because the whole company philosophy was to copy whatever was possible after someone else had blazed the trail.

Even EC Comics came out with an imitation of Mad, edited by Al Feldstein, who would go on to make Mad Magazine a major publishing success after Kurtzman's departure. But even the officially sanctioned imitation, Panic, using the same artists as Mad, couldn't match Mad in its originality or sales.

Mad was as Kurtzman was, true original comic art genius.

All of these Mad imitators came out in 1953 and 1954. I give credit to Ross Andru and Mike Esposito for making the cover of Get Lost! #1 look like a Kurtzman cover, and also to the Charlton Eh! cover for making an obscene description of female anatomy into a cover.

But other than that, these imitations are so pale compared to the original that they are just footnotes in comic book history.

*Pappy's Personal Pantheon of Comic Art Gods: Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz and Robert Crumb.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Number 136

Jet Powers goes ape!

While Jet Powers is off racing around through time (Pappy's #133), Mr. Sinn's former assistant, the sexy Su Shan, takes a powder. And that's appropriate. It turns out that a powder is one of the motivations of this plot, such as it is. The villain, Marlon Stone (a comic book villain named Marlon?) has a "dissolvo-ray" that turns any paper into powder. He plans to extort money from people wishing to keep their precious paper collectibles intact.

Imagine your comic collection turned to dust unless you cough up some money. You obsessive-compulsive comic book collectors would do it. I know you would because I would, too.

The story, "House of Horror," is in the number two position in Jet #2, 1951. The story is written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Bob Powell. Jet Powers doesn't show up until page 4, and immediately gets thrown into the action, a room with walls that press in on him, and escapes that only to find himself in a room full of gorillas. Such interesting ways Marlon has of dispatching an enemy. He must've been raised on movie serials. Why not just take a gun and shoot Jet when he walks in the door?

You have to wonder what in the world Mad Marlon Stone had in mind building such death traps. Like all of the Jet Powers stories, it's very entertaining, even if lacking in the logic department.  The ending leaves us wanting a little more. I'm sure from that goggle-eyed expression on Jet's face when Su Shan admits she "knows what she's doing," he's imagining what the two of them could be doing. Too bad the story ends at that point. I'd like to find out what happened when they got back to Jet's mesa lab.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Number 135

Rocket Ships and Dinosaurs!

This story featuring the character Rocky X (and with that blond hair, he's obviously no relation to Malcolm X), titled "Horror On Kallaxyn," is from Boy Illustories #96, December 1953. I've seen a few of the Rocky X stories and they seem to be part of some long continuity, but it doesn't seem to hurt the story much to get dropped in to the storyline as we are with this episode.

The story was drawn by Ralph Mayo, a comic book artist who had worked for Standard Comics doing work in various genres, but he seemed especially good at love comics. Mayo also did the Crimebuster strip in this issue of Boy, where he signed the splash panel.

The dinosaurs in the Rocky X story appear to be drawn by none other than Joe Kubert. Mayo didn't use the motion and "shock" lines external to the figures like Kubert did, and the dinosaurs look a lot like the dinos Kubert did for his Tor books. Mayo could have swiped them from Kubert's strip, or Kubert could have drawn them himself. There was a connection: Kubert's business partner in those days, Norman Maurer, was the principal artist on the Crimebuster strip for several years, and also drew some of the Rocky X stories I've seen. So did Kubert draw the dinosaurs in this story? I don't know for sure, but in the production of comic books with strict deadlines I've learned that any kind of artist crossover was possible.

As a bonus, I'm including a full-page ad from the same issue of Boy. This is for a Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Sonic Vision helmet, with a one-way visor. It claims invisibility, but as I found out when I was a kid, everyone knew who I was underneath the helmet. "You see people — they can't see you!" Sure.

I love the other claims in this ad: "…sensational discovery is as new as the hydrogen bomb! As exciting as a ride through space! Makes you a super space cadet!" Overstatement was not a concept unknown to this copywriter, and in those days the term "space cadet" didn't mean the same thing as it came to mean years later.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Number 134

EC: Preachy-ing to The Choir

Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, as publisher and editor of EC Comics, had social consciousness. They published several stories they called "preachies," which were stories told, EC-style, to demonstrate the racist and uglier side of life in America.

The preachy in Shock Suspenstories #11* is "In Gratitude," drawn by Wally Wood. The message is straightforward. A young soldier, Joey, returns home a hero from Korea. He has been wounded and lost his hand. His best buddy threw himself on a hand grenade and saved Joey's life. Because his buddy, Hank, had no family Joey has his remains sent home for burial in the town cemetery. The undertaker calls Joey's parents, as well as other townies, and they protest having this black person buried in their cemetery.

In the climactic scene Joey gets up to the podium and chews out the bigots, then sits down and cries while they walk out in silence.

Maybe no one thought about this in 1953 when it was published, but the only people shown in the story are white people. Hank, when he's shown, is pictured so his race can't be easily determined.

In a nutshell this was what I find nowadays to be outdated about the EC Preachies. White people were most often the springboards for their stories. The minority group members, blacks, Jews, Mexicans, whomever, were just props. Because of the strict storytelling strictures of EC Comics there had to be a shock ending, so the minority characters were often just a way of fooling the reader until the denouement.

"In Gratitude" was spotlighted in the documentary on the first Tales From The Crypt TV series DVD, "Tales From The Crypt: From Comic Books to Television." What wasn't mentioned that put it in some sort of historical context is that the story appeared a year before the landmark "Brown v Board Of Education" ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, two years before the savage murder of Emmett Till, three years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and ten years before the March on Washington, all watershed events in the history of Civil Rights. In all of those events African-Americans were the group that had to take action. They couldn't just depend on white people, even well-meaning white people producing comic books in New York, to precipitate the action.

As well-meaning as "In Gratitude" was, I believe that anyone who believed strongly in segregation wouldn't be swayed by this story, and the readers who would most likely be in agreement with the story would be people who had a predisposition to that philosophy. I don't think the Preachies changed anybody's minds, but even while saying that, it was brave of EC to publish them. In those days of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, Civil Rights as an issue was viewed in about the same light as Communism. It was a threat to the American way of white people having absolute power and minorities knowing their "place."

*In case you're interested, two other stories from Shock Suspenstories #11 are covered in Pappy's #102 and Pappy's #99 .

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Number 133

Jet Powers and the Three Million Year Old Men!

In 1959 Mom and I used to go grocery shopping on Saturdays. Correction. Mom used to grocery shop, I hung out at the grocery store's magazine rack looking at issues of Cracked, Amazing Stories, or sneaking looks at Sexology or even Playboy. There was a comic book rack, also, and I did my share of looking at comics, usually picking up my weekly allotment at that store. There was also a cardboard dump (display case) with piles of comics in bags. These were the IW reprints, also called "A Top Quality Comic" on the covers.

"IW" was Israel Waldman, a publishing entrepreneur who used printing plates for old comics and published them with different covers under his own imprint. The comics were sold three to a bag for 25¢ a bag.

What I liked was that most of them were pre-Comics Code issues. And so it was with Jet #2 from 1951, reprinted in 1959 as Jet Power #2.  I read and re-read this issue practically to death. I'm showing a scan of the cover here, which has been taped because the cover was torn while I was re-reading it for the umpteenth time.

The cover of the reprint is unsigned but I believe to by the fabulous team of ex-EC Comics artists Reed Crandall and George Evans, who were teaming up in those post-EC days on things like issues of Classics Illustrated .

My imagination was captured by this comic, and it led to a lifelong love of the artwork of Bob Powell, and also for the four issues of Jet, published by Magazine Enterprises.

Almost 20 years after buying the IW reprint I bought the original series of Jet comics. Of all the comics I've wanted and then bought over the years the Jet comics were ones I really wanted. To find them in the near-mint shape I found them was a bonus.

Since I've already used up my allotment of space for talking about a story, I'll just let you read the lead story from Jet #2. I only have one thing to say about it, and it's that I wish Powell would have done some research on dinosaurs. He faked his drawings of the giant saurians and it shows.