Monday, July 30, 2012

Number 1201: Captain Wings: “Heap hep dream beam”

Love comes to Captain Wings, hero of Wings Comics, in the form of a young girl who has a mad crush on the dashing flyboy war hero. Bitsy looks to be jailbait. Hard to tell with girls...they can be sixteen but look older, and a man has to be careful. “Sixteen will get you twenty,” as the old saying goes.

This is the first Captain Wings story I've shown, because I've never cared that much for aviation comics. But then, I've never given them much of a look. I admit this particular one intrigued me. I will be looking at other Captain Wings stories, as well as other stories from Wings Comics. It was published by Fiction House, famous for its female pulchritude, aimed at boys and young men who like that sort of thing. And old men who like it, too (heh-heh).

Bob Lubbers is credited by Grand Comics Database as the artist. Lubbers had a long comic art career, both in comic books and comic strips, as well as assisting on other strips. You can read more about Lubbers and his career here. Like the best of the Fiction House artists, Lubbers had a knack for drawing pretty girls. In my opinion Bitsy is too young for Captain Wings, but give her a couple of years and Captain Wings will hope she's still interested in an older man.

From Wings Comics #82 (1947):

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Number 1200: That crazy little mixed-up mag

Crazy was an attempt from Atlas Comics to lure some of the readers who were buying Mad into parting with their dimes. Any Mad loyalist would immediately see the attempt fell short. But even if it sounds as if I'm dismissing it, I actually like this comic with its frenetic energy and lunacy popping out of every panel. I like the sexy pin-up art of  Al Hartley, who later went on to Archie and then to Spire Christian Comics; I like Bill Everett's funny Frankenstein, and Joe Maneely's artwork is, as always, superb. Ed Winiarski was a comic book journeyman, and Davy Berg later became a Mad-man. What Crazy didn't have was Mad creator/writer/editor Harvey Kurtzman, and it makes all the difference. There was Mad and then there was everyone else. It didn't make the imitators bad comic books, and Crazy is entertaining in its own crazy way, but in my opinion no Mad imitator ever reached the heights to which Kurtzman had taken Mad. (See more in my review of John Benson's The Sincerest Form of Parody, below the scans.)

Here's Crazy #1 (1953):

John Benson’s book, The Sincerest Form of Parody, is an excellent example of an overview (with examples) of a less-than-excellent subject. To wit (ho-ho), it is a book about all of them furshlugginer imitations of Mad comics that popped up in the wake of Mad’s success.

Benson, whom I admire as a comics historian,* obviously researched his subject matter. It appears that he read all of the Mad imitators of that period. The book reproduces a couple of dozen stories, some better than others, but none up to the high standards set by Harvey Kurtzman and Mad.

There just weren’t any other talents like Kurtzman out there at the time. There were writers who could write funny, and artists who could draw funny, but they couldn’t write and draw Kurtzman-funny. Even if the artists were technically good, they just didn’t come up to the level set by Kurtzman’s inspired cadre of cartoonists, artists like Elder, Wood, and Davis. At the time, they were the holy trinity of humor.

In my opinion, the best Mad imitations are what you see above you, the Mad-like comics from Atlas, and Harvey Comics’ short-lived Flip, with the sharp Davis-like drawing by Howard Nostrand.  EC Comics’ own in-house imitation, Panic, had some gems like Wood’s “African Scream,” shown in Pappy’s #871 or Elder’s “The Lady Or the Tiger,” the latter reproduced in Benson’s book. But same publisher or not, Panic was still a Mad imitator.

If Kurtzman worried at all about posterity, his name or his stories being remembered, he need not have been concerned. Kurtzman is one of the comic book geniuses, and they were rare, so we remember him. Reprints over the years have kept the twenty-three issues of Mad comics available to fans in various print formats, even two digital versions. The imitations just don’t get that kind of treatment, so The Sincerest Form of Parody makes some of the better imitators (“better” being subjective) available for the first time since their original publication almost sixty years ago.

I recommend The Sincerest Form of Parody with a qualification. The stories can be more bizarre than laugh-out-loud funny, and oftentimes (which happens with Mad, also) the satirical references are obscured by the half dozen decades between their first appearance and this book. Production is top notch, and the reproduction from the original four-color comic books is excellent.

It’s available from or your favorite bookseller. If your local comic shop has it or will order it for you, that’s even better.

The Sincerest Form of Parody by John Benson with introduction by Jay Lynch. Fantagraphics Book, 2011, trade paperback, 192 pages, 7 ¼” x 10”. $24.99 suggested retail.

*Benson also wrote Romance Without Tears, and Confessions, Romances, Secrets and Temptations, about the love comics of St. John publishing and writer Dana Dutch.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Number 1199: Homicidal hobo

Frank the Tramp is so bad he doesn't know how many people he's killed. “I guess hundreds —” he says to himself. “I kinda forgot —” Whew. Now that’s a bad guy. Frank avoids detection for a long time the way real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas reportedly did, by traveling around and varying his methods of dispatching victims. As Frank puts it in his final attempt at murder, “I've killed people all sorts of ways, but never with a live wire!”

In my opinion this story from Daredevil #22 (1943) is really only interesting because of Frank, not because of Daredevil, who just steps in when necessary. Certainly not by Daredevil’s kid gang, the Little Wise Guys, even though Frank’s crime spree is stopped because of their suspicions. Frank’s two wives are there to build up the story and provide Frank with victims. The critics of comics, crime comics especially, were sensitive to this sort of thing. Biro followed a criminal’s career, right up until the criminal’s bad end. That wasn't anything new in fiction, but in four colors, sold to children, it caused alarm.

This story is by Charles Biro* and drawn by Norman Maurer.

*According to David Hajdu in The Ten Cent Plague, Biro also used Virginia Hubbell as a ghost-writer, but the Grand Comics Database credits this story to Biro.