Friday, August 31, 2007

Number 183

Imitation Madness

In my opinion the best story in Mad comics not done by one of the Big Three, Wood, Davis and Elder, is "Plastic Sam," by Russ Heath in Mad #14. Heath, mostly known for his illustrative approach, was freelancing from his regular gig at Atlas Comics, working for Stan Lee.

I think he really liked the idea of the humor comics, because he approached "Plastic Sam" by tightening up and inking Kurtzman's layout. At Atlas, he did the story I'm posting here, "The Wild Blue Yonderrrr," from Crazy #3, in an ersatz Bill Elder/Wally Wood style, with lots of jokes in each of the panels. I like puns and wordplay so I enjoy them, although overall the story is typical Mad imitation; without Kurtzman it's mostly nonsense, rather than satire.

You've got to give companies that went after Mad's popularity credit for trying. Try is all they could do. None of them succeeded, which is why they're obscure and Kurtzman's Mad is still revered.

Heath, who was born in 1926, had a great career at Atlas, turning out Westerns like Kid Colt, Outlaw. He also created some memorable science fiction and horror stories. From there Heath went to DC, where he made his mark in war comics, Sea Devils, et al. All-in-all, a remarkable career by a remarkable artist.

In his humor work Heath liked to insert a self-caricature as part of his signature, as he did in "The Wild Blue Yonderrr."

I've always admired the comic book artists who, when the going was the toughest during the 1950s, still signed their work.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Number 182

Sex and Skeletons Part 5

Ah, the things I do for you guys, looking through all of these skeleton covers so I can give you a few moments of pleasure. Well, it's a chore I enjoy. ::he said, giving his Crypt Keeper cackle:: I've explained how publishers used images of sex and death — like that's a big surprise — to sell their products, and comic books of the '50s were no different.

Eerie was published by Avon, and Eerie Adventures by Ziff-Davis. More than one cover of Eerie used the same girl in the same stance, looking at some horrific sight, like an approaching skeleton. It might have been some sort of inside joke. Why repeat the motif? Another mystery from the horror comics of the 1950s.

Secret Diary Of Eerie would have been one of those one-shot rebound editions of three unsold copies of regular issues squarebound in a new cover. A way of recycling that produced some interesting giant comics.

The cover to Eerie Adventures is painted by illustrator Allen Anderson. The beautiful girl in the foreground, giving much the same pose as the girl on the Eerie covers, is actress Jean Dawyot, who Anderson used for multiple covers, including pulps like Planet Stories. An article on Anderson in the excellent magazine, Illustrator #18, has several of Anderson's covers reproduced, including his Ziff-Davis covers; Dawyot is in most of them. 

Eerie and Eerie Adventures were mentioned in the infamous Seduction Of The Innocent by Fredric Wertham, M.D. It was about Avon suing Ziff-Davis for using the word "Eerie" on their covers. Wertham thought the judge should've throw in his opinions on the contents, but the fact that the judgment was solely on unfair competition and infringement didn't occur to the good doctor. What the judge ruled was that Eerie Adventures had to make the word "Eerie" smaller. I guess Wertham thought the judge should have torn them to pieces or burned the books in front of the court.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Number 181

The Big Little Hero

Doll Man was a superhero who hung around for a long time, considering how fast some superheroes disappeared after the end of World War II. But then, Doll Man Quarterly, and before that, Feature Comics, where Doll Man appeared, were published by Quality Comics, which had an all-star lineup, good artwork and great distribution. When they went out of business in the 1950s most of their heroes were sold to DC Comics, who went on to great, long-running success with their version of Quality's Blackhawk. Later on they re-introduced characters like Doll Man and even Plastic Man.

This particular story, "The Tiny Terrors," is from Doll Man #6, dated Summer, 1943.

It's drawn by Al Bryant, who does a competent job. Not spectacular like Doll Man creator Lou Fine, but good enough in its own right.

The story itself is kind of a horror story, if you have insect fear. A mad scientist (and there are no other kinds of scientists in comic books), Dr. Dlee, discovers how to make insects big. His plot is to kill all the other humans on the planet. The war, going at the time this story was written, drawn and published, isn't mentioned in the story, but its effects are felt "off-camera." I see Dr. Dlee as having snapped under a form of war psychosis. The mad doc joins a long list of would-be conquerors and destroyers. And, of course it's up to Doll Man to stop him! The side effect to making the insects big is to make them intelligent, and murderous.

This story has one of those illogical comic book run-that-one-by-me-again-wouldja? moments on page 6, where an impossible transition is made. I'll let you spot it for yourself, but when I read it I had to go back and see if I'd missed something in the timeline established by this story. Nope, I didn't.

Doll Man has what I think is the worst name in the history of superhero comics. What boy of the era would be caught dead reading something with the word "doll" in the title? Apparently a lot of them, but maybe they kept their copies hidden so their buddies wouldn't razz them. Doll Man also had a costume that was right out of the Will Eisner/ Lou Fine costume shop. The bare legs and arms, along with the elf-shoes, would probably be OK during the summer, but in winter weather he'd be one cold, shivery little fella. I look at these costumes that Fine designed as somewhat fetishistic. It showed on a cover like Doll Man Quarterly #5, which featured Doll Man in male bondage.

All of that aside, "The Tiny Terrors" story is fast-moving and entertaining. You know, what it's supposed to be.

My copy of Doll Man #6 I got for free from a comics shop owner. It had been seriously mouse-chewed in the upper right corner. Only the last three stories are salvageable, but of course I took it from him, mouse-chewed contents and all. The cover shown above is one I took off the Internet. As longtime Pappy's readers know by now, Pappy's comics collection includes a lot of coverless comics, tear sheets of stories, damaged and unsellable comic books. That's OK, because you are a beneficiary, as I make digital copies to preserve them.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Number 180

You Are In My Power!

This ad for the Hypno-Coin, taken from the Internet, brought back a flood of memories. As a kid I was interested in things like hypnosis and ventriloquism. OK. So I was a weird kid. So what else is new?

I read Mandrake the Magician in the funny papers. He could make his enemies think they were floating off the ground or being threatened by a lion by "gesturing hypnotically." It wasn't magic, he was just able to hypnotize the bad guys by wiggling his fingers. In popular culture like movies or pulp magazines there was some sort of a Bela Lugosi-type, a girl in a chair, his piercing eyes up close, his hands gesturing, "You are in my power…you will sleep, sleep…"

When I saw the original ad for the Hypno-Coin I thought it looked great. I'm not sure exactly what I had in mind for it. Maybe hypnotize my teachers into giving me A's, my parents into giving me money, girls into being my girlfriends, or my brother into being my personal slave. The picture of the girl in the ad, obviously under the power of the hypnotist, was enough for me. I sent away the money and within a couple of weeks I had it.

I decided to test it on my brother, Bob, who was about 9 or 10 at the time. The Hypno-Coin itself was just one of those little 3-D blinkies. I remember seeing 3-D pictures of Jesus on the cross. Jesus' head would hang down and his eyes close. They've even used the process for postcards. I told my brother I was conducting an experiment.

I held it up in front of him and said things like, "Watch the coin. Concentrate on the coin. You are getting sleepy…you are getting sleepy." Wow! His head went down and his eyes closed! Hot dog. I said, "Go pick up that book." I gestured (hypnotically, no doubt) to a Hardy Boys novel on the end of the bed. I said, "It weighs 10 pounds." He picked it up with a grunt. Oh, glory. He was under. I said, "Now it's getting heavier, heavier…heavier…" he started to strain as the book grew heavy in his hands. "You can't hold it anymore! It's too heavy!" The book plopped to the floor. My heart was pounding. Success! I saw myself as a magician, able to snap my fingers and have others do my bidding. I was instantly giddy with the possibilities. That is, until he opened his eyes and laughed at me.

I threw the Hypno-Coin into a drawer and forgot it, disgusted with myself for spending good money for crap like that. Like countless others before me who had bought items from comic book ads, Sea Monkeys, 199 plastic soldiers, a Buck Rogers ray pistol to vaporize your enemies (for $2.98!)  I was disappointed and felt had. Caveat emptor was never truer to me than that day.

Years later my wife and I were talking to her younger brother, Dave, who told us a story. I'd mentioned to him that I thought hypnotism acts on stage were faked; that audience members were shills who were doing their bits for the act. Dave said that as a soldier at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he and his buddies went to one of those shows. The way the hypnotist set it up was by telling the audience to concentrate on something, and then he began his spiel. He told them to lock their fingers together and pull. They wouldn't be able to pull their hands apart. The people who pulled their fingers apart were not hypnotized, but Dave said he couldn't get his hands apart no matter how hard he tried. He was hypnotized.

So hypnosis was real! Not just in a clinical sense, not just in a self-hypnosis sense, but you could have power over others if they were suggestible enough! Great. But by then the Hypno-Coin was long gone. I guess my dreams of world conquest, one hypnotized subject at a time, wouldn't come to pass.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Number 179

Average White Goddess

Jun-Gal is from Blazing Comics #1, 1944. Blazing Comics is probably known for its cover feature, The Green Turtle, one of the few Golden Age comic book heroes--maybe the only one?--created and drawn by a Chinese-American, Chu Hing.

Jun-Gal is notable for at least a few reasons: The horrible pun name. The artwork, which is more suitable to the 1920s than the 1940s, and the racial attitudes, which permeate the story.

Jun-Gal's "real" name (in the story, anyway) is Joan Teal. Teal is Mrs. Pappy's maiden name, so that made me sit up and take notice.

As drawn, Joan is a beautiful blonde girl in a sarong. They were going for the Dorothy Lamour look, which was hugely popular during World War II. While Sheena and others went around in animal skins, Jun-Gal wore her sarong. Jun-Gal is given powers of strength from the "Pit Of Death," an ever-burning hole full of radium. Apparently it doesn't affect the black people the same way. Because she's blonde, she becomes the queen, the goddess figure to the superstitious and uneducated natives. Tarzan movies were made up of this sort of stereotyping. The natives are cruel, stupid, superstitious and treacherous. The whites, just by virtue of their race, are made to be masters over the blacks.

What's most interesting to me is the racial viewpoint. This is standard fare for the era. The characters are stock. The blacks are "natives;" not Africans, just "natives." They have bulging lips drawn in a minstrel style. The white people are set upon and the parents killed by the "bad natives." Joan is raised by her "mammy," in the midst of the village of her parents' killers. I'm presenting this as it was, over 60 years ago. The irony isn't lost on us that when this was published we were fighting an enemy whose philosophy of superiority was repugnant to us. But it was repugnance in words, not deeds. Over in morally superior America we felt it was okday to discriminate based on race, all the while excoriating our enemies for doing the same.

OK, that was then, this is now. I've climbed down from my soapbox. Blazing Comics was short-lived. I don't know what happened to Jun-Gal after her origin story, and I don't know who wrote or drew her adventure(s). That's really a lot I don't know about Jun-Gal, isn't it?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Number 178

Sex and Skeletons Part 4

Haunted Thrills, published by Farrell, a publisher which hung around the periphery of comics even after the Comics Code was instituted, had a nice selection of skeletons and skulls on its horror comics covers. Some symbolic, some representational.

I especially like the taxi driver cover on issue #15. I'll bet jouncing over bumpy roads with this guy gave new meaning to bone-rattling. When he jawboned with the passengers, he really jawed.

I've also included a copy of Canadian publisher Superior's Strange Mysteries #15. Not only does it have a big symbolic skull, it's got bony hands reaching for a girl with a Bettie Page hairdo, a red dress, and some of the worst looking and un-sexiest sandals I've ever seen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Number 177

Dan DeCarlo's Brain!

The late Dan DeCarlo is a much-admired and well-liked artist from the post-war to 1990s. His main body of work is for Archie Comics, specifically his Betty and Veronica, but including his own creations, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats.

The Brain, a funny comic by DeCarlo, was published after the Comics Code was instituted, and was one of ME's last comics before its demise. It ran for seven issues, and had a couple of reprint issues from IW Comics a couple of years later. There is a Rube Goldberg-element to the strips, included in some very funny gag pages, and the cover. (Click on cover picture for full-size image.)
 Benjamin Bang is The Brain, a smart kid full of inventive ideas. You know, like I wanted to be! The thing I didn't want to be was a pinhead, which unfortunately is how Benjamin looked. You wonder why his parents didn't notice. This particular fantasy story appeared in The Brain! #6, January 1958.

The usual bread-and-butter of DeCarlo's career is missing, the pretty girls. Benjamin's mom is pretty, but she hardly counts. I mean, who has fantasies about somebody's mom? If you do, I don't want to know. Click on the Dan DeCarlo link below to see a DeCarlo/Stan Lee story from an old My Friend Irma comic.

Back to The Brain, I like the outer space plot, I like Benjamin's friend, Dinky, who sports a fedora, large glasses, short pants and a bowtie. I didn't know any kids in the 1950s who fit that description, although Benjamin is built like I was, wears clothes like I did. All that is different is my head didn't come to a point, but if you talk to people who knew me fifty years ago they might disagree with that.

This issue appears to be entirely sponsored; only one advertiser, Compix, and the products available are all geared to a 9-year-old reader. I'm sure Compix was a company either owned by the publisher, or had some sort of business arrangement. I've included a page advertising the Electronic Man, "the latest brainstorm from The Brain!" I wonder if anyone ever sent away their $2.98 (plus 45¢ for postage!) and played in this weird-looking cardboard contraption.

The Brain is typical DeCarlo. It's well drawn, fast-paced and funny. It's just missing the pretty girls, and that might be the reason it went only seven issues. Maybe if Benjamin had a foxy older sister, and her girlfriends, and they were featured on the covers, it might have appealed to the older male readers DeCarlo's other books appealed to. But I can only review and show what was published, and not what I think should have been published.

I've posted some stories from pre-code ME Comics, all of the four issues of Jet by Bob Powell, and some Ghost Rider stories by Dick Ayers. Check on the link below for ME Comics to see what's been on Pappy's previously.