Monday, March 31, 2014

Number 1551: The “undiscovered” master

This Rocketman story is from Chesler’s Scoop Comics #2 (1942), credited by the Grand Comics Database to Arthur Pinajian. Pinajian, an old-time comic book artist working with the Funnies, Inc, studio, also drew features such as Madam Fatal and Invisible Justice for Quality Comics.

I’ve been waiting to show work by Pinajian, because he figured in a big art story a couple of years ago. A decorated war veteran, he lived with his sister after the war. He painted landscapes and stored them in their house. He asked that they be disposed of in the county landfill after his death. A relative refused to let the paintings be hauled away, and had them examined by an art historian, Peter Hastings Falk. Falk pronounced Pinajian a brilliant abstract landscape artist, heretofore “undiscovered.” The story made some national news programs on television and in newspapers. At the time the story broke Pinajian, who died in 1999, had been dead for over a decade. As soon as I saw his name I knew that as a comics fan I felt I knew more of Art Pinajian’s early work than all of the art community who pronounced him an unknown, eccentric genius.

Although I knew some of his backstory from his days in comics, the story of his landscapes is one of those tales of some poor artist slaving away in obscurity, starving in a garret. Never recognized in life, suddenly revered in death.


Some of Pinajian’s early comic book work, featuring Madam Fatal. I showed these stories in 2010. Click on the thumbnail:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Number 1550: Monarch of Monster Isle

A few things went through my head as I was reading the first issue of Dell’s Kona Monarch of Monster Isle from 1962.

First, for a scientific expedition the Dodd family has taken a lot of guns and ammo. Dr. Dodd, who is “Grandpa,” his daughter Mary and her children Mason and Lily are flying in a surplus blimp and go down in the ocean off Monster Isle. Dr. Dodd makes sure to save all his guns. Was Grandpa using the scientific stuff as a cover? Perhaps he was really a gun runner.

Besides dinosaurs, the Isle is inhabited by Neanderthal men who are colored like the modern Caucasian members of the cast, and Pithecanthropus men who are dark-colored. The Neanderthals are good, Pithecanthropus men are bad. Is there a message there? Well, yeah, even if the people who made this comic book 52 years ago might not have thought about it. Or maybe they did.

Kona does not appear on the cover. A Pithecanthropus man is on the cover. Did I mention the Pithecanthropus men have trained the T. Rexes like pets?

Against that Dr. Dodd arms the Neanderthal men and teaches them to shoot. The Neanderthals don’t have enough technology to make fire, and yet Dr. Dodd gives them guns. I think that would be a bad idea unless they can be trained in gun safety, and even then it is still a bad idea. Better Dr. Dodd should do the shooting and train his grandkids for backup. Coincidentally, the only ad in the whole comic is a Daisy Air Rifle ad on the back cover.

If I stretch just a little more, the story seems an allegory of early U.S. involvement in Vietnam, where the U.S. sent in military advisers to train the South Vietnamese, and armed them against their enemies in the North.

I don’t remember why I passed up Kona when it was being published. It was one of the more successful titles (21 issues) from Dell after they split from Western Publishing, which became Gold Key. Maybe I thought it was a ripoff of Turok. I recognized Sam J. Glanzman’s artwork, which I had seen in Charlton comics. He was a longtime comic book journeyman whose work stretched way back to the World War II era. According to some sources Don Segall was the original writer.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Number 1549: Action, please!

“Power Nelson, Futureman,” from Prize Comics #16 (1941) uses the Jack Kirby template of early comic book art. Action, action, action. The art is attributed to Paul Norris, a journeyman who drew for decades, comic books, pulps and comic strips.

 Copyright King Features, original art for a story illustration by Norris from 1947.

The breathless pace of the art covers up a lot of deficiencies in the story. Our eyes are so busy goggling the punches thrown (even by a girl) that we don’t have time to think that it is just WWII comic book silliness.

Norris, born in 1914, died in 2007.