Saturday, April 25, 2009

Alden McWilliams in Spaaaaaaaace!

Corbett in (Four) Colors
Ger Apeldoorn has been doing us the favor of reprinting stories from Mort Meskin's Tom Corbett: Space Cadet comic books. As he mentioned, Dell published its own series of Tom Corbett books, beginning with three issues in its Four Color series (#s 378,400. and 421), then continuing as a quarterly series series for eight more issues.

The regular series is usually dismissed because the stories were dull and the artwork weak. Both charges are largely correct. They were drawn in one of those competent but deadly dull leftover- Golden-Age styles. Unlike the Four Color issues, the series stories quickly dumped the show's Outer Space trappings. The cadets' spaceship was just a convenient way to travel to a distant planet. Once there they acted out a generic fantasy adventure that could as easily have starred Tarzan or Turok. In at least one issue they didn't even make it back to the ship before the mandatory closing joke.

However they did have great cover paintings! Here's the one from issue four.

The Four Color issues were another matter. They were drawn by Alden McWilliams, legendary Raymond-school illustrator who drew thousands of pages of comic books and strips, ghosted for everyone in the universe, painted for galleries, yet never managed to be listed among the "big guys" by comics fans.

Alone among 1950s space comic artists, McWilliams played up the lack of up and down in space. His spacemen stand upside down or sideways on the hulls of their ships, casting long shadows suggesting the high-contrast lighting writers used to tell us we'd find beyond Earth's atmosphere. His interiors were less imaginative: the engine room looks like that of an earthside steamship. But that wasn't unusual; pulp magazines had only just died out, and their pipe-and-bolt science-fiction tradition was still strong.

The stories were by Paul S. Newman, that incredibly prolific writer of increasingly-bland comics stories. His Corbett stories weren't that bad, and they exploited common kids' s-f themes: space pirates, space colonists, and space battles. They were certainly more space-specific than the series stories. They were extra-long, like many Dells of the period. The story filled not only the 32 interior pages but also the inside (in b&w) and outside back covers. I hated that as a kid. If a friend traded you a coverless copy you never got to see how the story ended!

Here are some sample pages from issue 400. I found them thanks to a comment from "tom" on Ger's blog. They came from the wide-ranging collection at Comicsworld ( which has a wonderful collection of Four Colors. (Unfortunately they're hosted on one of those download sites that try to force you into paying for "premium" service by limiting your slow downloads to one every 15 minutes.)

The deep perspective in the last panel of the first page (page 10) really gives an impression of weightlessness and the great distances in space. It also suggests an interesting gimmick that McWilliams develops more thoroughly on a later page (page 15, seen below). He apparently figured space cannon would be heat rays. Instead of twisted ragged metal, the outcome of the ray blast above was oozing blobs of molten metal. It's a neat effect, if a bit odd. Too bad the exhaust nozzles look like holes drilled in a piece of wood.

The third sample page (page 26) shows some nice characters amongst the pirate gang, including a couple of beautiful women. Even in a squeaky-clean Dell comic, Al managed to get in some sexy babes.

If you're interested in seeing the entire book, I suggest you visit Comicsworld. 36 pages are a bit more than I want to post right now.

One nice thing about comics based on TV shows and movies was that unlike their inspirations, the comics had no limitations to the "budget" for sets and special effects. Sadly only a few Dell artists took advantage of this--Alden McWilliams, George Evans and Reed Crandall, and Alberto Giolitti come to mind. Most Dell illustrators tended to cheat on backgrounds and favored pedestrian compositions. Nonetheless I love these comics. I grew up on Dell movie and TV comics the way other kids grew up on EC or the silver age DC superheroes. You'll see them pop up here from time to time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Things I've Done--1

Chalk It Up to Joe
Even if I can't be drawing comics I can still get my jollies occasionally in my job as a signmaker for Trader Joe's, a specialty food chain. Each store has one or more sign guys (ours has two) whose job it is both to handwrite shelf price signs and to draw large (32x40 inch) chalk signs for displays of featured products.

We work on black foam board. Sometimes we use the foam board's natural surface; other times we paint over an old sign with black gesso and work on that. The drawings and often the lettering are done in pastel. Very elaborate or very small lettering we do with a variety of paint pens and "wet erase" markers.

The signs are always done too hastily, especially since we often get only an hour or two's notice to come up with a sign. However we get to create our own ideas, write our own copy, and conceive our own pictures. So every tenth sign or so comes out all right. I recently downloaded these from the store camera.Here's a sign left over from the Holiday season. TJ's Advent Calendars actually sell for 99c, but the sign was altered when we closed out the remaining stock (The white things are double-stick mounting tape). I had to futz with this one in Photoshop, as the corner with the drawing was overexposed. Suffice it to say that on the original the lights weren't so burnt out. TJ's Advent Calendars were made in Germany right up til this last Christmas. This year, though, they came from Canada. The 99 cent price point is held by making the chocolate figures smaller and thinner each year. This year you could almost shave with one.

As Trader Joe's has devolved from a funky regional chain into a national corporation, the Suits have become increasingly sensitive about offending customers. Not for humanitarian reasons, you understand, but to protect themselves from lawsuits--the boogey man of Corporate Law. Can you believe this was the only sign in the store that mentioned Christmas by name? We couldn't help it--Advent Calendars don't count down the days 'til "Holiday."

Everything else in the store had to refer to "Holiday Time" or "Season's Greetings" or something like that. Similarly, we can't specifically mention Hanukkah, Easter, Ramadan, Kwanzaa...thank [insert diety here] for Santa Claus! Whom we can't call "Saint Nicholas." Incredibly, there was a heated discussion at the regional level about whether we should feature St. Patrick's Day, as this might imply support for the Catholic Church. Luckily, in America everyone knows it isn't a religious holiday, it's an excuse to get drunk, so it was all leprechauns and lager. Lots of lager.

Still on the Holiday theme was this quickie for a wine called "Kono Baru." On the label was a story about South Seas pirates (Sandokan and Company?), so I was compelled to draw a Santa pirate. Compelled, because I jump at any chance to do a pirate or a mermaid. (By the way, the right side of the sign is missing because it was cut off for use on a sidestack display.)

The autumn-themed sign was a big hit with the customers, despite an attack of my old Over-Long-Arm syndrome. Wish I'd had more time to work on it.

The Valentine's Day cherub (yes, we can say Valentine's
Day) was banged out in record time, so it's surprising how well it turned out. This one was done on white foam board--a big mistake, because its slick surface didn't take anything well. I washed some white gesso over the areas where I'd be drawing, which helped. Why not do it on black board as usual? We ran out of black and hadn't time to run to the art store for more!

The last sign, the cornbread and pumpkin bread display, was one of those rare times when everything goes right. The subject matter is trite, and I had no more time than usual, but every stroke just seemed to hit the right spot. The color on the scarecrow came out especially nice, though it doesn't all show in the photo. I was proud of this one. Such pieces allow one to feel that there's still some hope.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fun with Obscure Papers

Odds and Ends from the Internet
I've been browsing small-town newspaper archives recently, looking for obscure papers and strips. Though most archives charge for their services, several free archives exist, mostly from libraries and universities. The choice of papers and thoroughness of the collections vary greatly. I found obscure strips, to be sure, but I've given up ever finding one The Stripper's Guide hasn't already discussed. Here are some comics sections I enjoyed.Here's the Champaign Urbana Evening Courier for 27 December 1935. A fine collection of little-seen strips, including the pick of the litter, Connie. At top is Ned Brant, which helpfully tells us it's a story of college athletics. Writing is credited to Robert Zuppke, a football coach who coached Red Grange. Despite Zuppke' scredit, D. D. Degg makes a good case for the scripts being the work of Ted Ashby, who received a credit later after Zuppke's name was dropped. At the bottom is George Storm's always-interesting Bobby Thatcher. Online articles call the western humor strip Mescal Ike "popular" but I haven't found it in many papers. Hairbreadth Harry, created by C. W. Kahles in 1906, was on its last legs by this time (about four years to go). The Mr. Coffee Nerves villain seems painfully dated.The Okeeechobee (Florida) News for 18 Oct 1946 suggests this paper didn't have a much money for big-name strips. Little Reggie by Margarita, a kid strip, seems to have run in several small papers. Jitter by Arthur Pointer concerns a pesky monkey. I've seen other examples of this strip. The art is good though the gags are ho-hum. Isn't that inflatable creature the same one Terry and Pat Ryan used to scare Normandie Drake's kidnappers in the early Terry and the Pirates? Silent Sam by Jeff Hayes is the American version of Adamson, a Swedish comic strip created in 1920 by Oscar Jacobbson. Sam resembles a Simpsons character. Virgil by Leonard Kleis ran from 1947 to 1960, but it looks like a 1930s kid strip. I see nothing to justify a run of 13 years.
Last but hardly least is this comics-crammed page from the special Labor Day edition of Florida's Sentinel-Star. The only obscurity is the lame soaper Cynthia. Otherwise there are some solid features here: Turner's Wash Tubbs, Vic Flint, Rip Kirby, Red Ryder, Ozark Ike, Penny, and more. Don't I wish modern papers still carried this many strips!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Topolino 25 July 1940--revisited

How to Italianize a Mexican
I re-read my entry about my lone copy of Topolino, and it hit me like Ignatz' brick hitting the back of Krazy's head.

Aldo Carenni, indeed! No wonder there's no Italian cartoonist by this name. "The Adventures of Matteo Garrese" is another American import! Matteo is really Ted Strong, the short-lived 1935 western strip by Al Carreno, a Mexican cartoonist who emigrated to the USA to pursue a long career in comics, winding up as president of the National Cartoonists' Society! Another wonderful example of ethnic metamorphosis!

(Unfortunately I could find no examples of Ted Strong online...there may be one on one of the pay sites. Sadly, unlike some of you I can't afford the $70 and up annual fees.)

By the way, lest you think only the Italians practiced this forced repatriation, consider the French language reprint of the first Virus story. Fine upstanding Italian Walter Molino became the fine upstanding Frenchman W. Molineaux!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Sight Unseen--4

Ronnie Does Dallas--For Good
The Dallas Sunday below isn't really "unseen." Maybe a dozen people in the world read it in their hometown newspapers. These were the twelve diehards who hadn't given the strip up after the first couple of months.
Its claim to uniqueness is that it's the only Sunday I colored on the original. This wasn't a color guide; I worked it over with markers just for the hell of it after I got the art back from the syndicate . There were comparatively few pasteovers (only two J.R. heads this time around) so the color didn't look so bad. Some years ago I sold the original on ebay to a woman in the Spanish publishing industry.

I preferred to draw my Sundays twice up on large sheets of vellum bristol, but this time I used a 15x20 inch piece of cold-pressed Crescent board. Note that in the grand American newspaper comic strip tradition, nothing at all happens in this page. Maybe only 20% of the subscribing papers took the Sunday, so putting something important there would mess the story up for the other 80%.

The car in the second panel is the 1954 Hudson Itali. The Itali was an experiment in sporty design for the faltering Hudson marque. Only a couple were made. The European design was pretty slick save for some funky space-age tubular taillights. I often drew odd cars and planes into my strips as a way to keep from going crazy. Not that it worked. Once a reader recognized one of the cars and let me know in a letter.

There aren't a whole lot of Dallas originals out there. The only thing good about the nutty hours I put in on Dallas and Star Trek was that I didn't have any time to spend my money. Even at the crummy salary I wound up with enough in the bank to pursue a long-time dream: attending the international comics convention in Lucca, Italy. I took some of my originals along and ended up selling or trading a few Dallas pieces to European fans. I gave a few Sundays to family members and friends. The rest I stuck in a drawer.

Almost a year later the Syndicate called to say that Lorimar, the company that owned Dallas, wanted the originals back. This was interesting, because literally a couple of days earlier I'd chucked the remaining Sundays and the majority of the dailies into the dumpster in my latest fit of depression. I'd cut the rest of the dailies into pieces to use as brush warm-up pages. I told this to the Syndicate. They told me just to send what I had. I took a perverse delight in filling a manila envelope with mangled bits of J. R. Ewing and his dysfunctional relatives. I sent the envelope full of pieces to Lorimar and that's the last I ever heard of it.

Needless to say I had kept the above original. And I think I may still have one of the large-format Sundays somewhere. As for the rest, Good Riddance.

Monday, April 13, 2009

1950s Advertising Comics--2

When You Cash In On a Star
I don't know how far back one can trace the use of celebrities to advertise products. My guess is the turn of the twentieth century, at least. Anyway, the comics pages were always glad to call on a familiar face to hawk supplies...automobile name it. In descending order of fame, here are four advertising comics I enjoy.

Coming in first place is Mr. Ray Milland, a screen star who will be familiar to anyone who likes classic American movies. In 1952 Ray discovered V-8 Vegetable Juice Cocktail while building a cabinet with his friend "Bob." As he recounts in his typewritten voiceovers, Ray had never had a V-8 before, and he promptly introduced everyone at the movie studio to the drink. No wonder Campbell Soup Company hired him for this strip!

A lighter line than most ad strips of the time, and some decent likenesses of Mr. M. As always I'd appreciate any artist ID's.

Golden-voiced Vaughn Monroe was one of the kings of the late Big Band era. He recorded many hits, including the best-known version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky." He also took a fling at being a singing cowboy. Vaughn's music made him rich and famous, while his movies made him a comic strip star. In 1950 he promoted Quaker Puffed Wheat while performing stunts for his new feature, "Singing Guns." Helping him was a remarkably literate six-year-old ("Hello, Mr. Monroe. Your fans are thrilled that you're starring in your first movie!" ) Bet the kid grew up to be an ad copywriter. The artist here did a good job capturing Monroe's likeness. Nice painting of him in the splash panel, too. I notice his movie debut was filmed in the notorious Trucolor process...which means its color probably looks as good today as does this beat-up tearsheet's!

By the way, my folks often tried to get us to eat Puffed Wheat, but it tasted dry and bland. The only thing that could liven up Puffed Wheat was LOTS OF SUGAR!! Which was available pre-applied to Sugar Jets, my favorite breakfasttime tooth-rotter.

Speaking of teeth, give an open-mouthed smile to Bert Parks, unforgettable host of a zillion radio and TV game shows, as well as the Miss America pageant. In this undated strip (probably circa 1950-1952), Bert shows his pearly whites for Vitalis Hair Cream, which guarantees the TV camera won't catch him with a "gooey film" on his hair.

It appears Vitalis left a gooey film on the illustrator's Art-O-Graph, though, because he seems to have had only one photo of Bert to work from. I'm reminded of an old Cracked parody of The Millionaire that John Severin drew . He had obviously been given only one still of Marvin Miller (playing "Michael Anthony," the guy who distributed million-dollar checks). I gather it annoyed him, because Severin drew one caricature of Miller (a full-face shot), made multiple stats, and pasted one onto each Michael Anthony figure throughout the strip, regardless of the position of his body!

Be that as it may, we have one more face from the past: lovely Kitty Kallen, who may not be remembered at all. After a career in the Big Bands, Kitty made a comeback in the 1950s with two hit singles, "Little Things Mean a Lot" and "Chapel in the Moonlight." 1954 was Kitty Kallen's big year. It was also the year she thanked Halo Shampoo for helping launch her career.

To me, using quotation marks within balloons was one of the sure signs of an ignorant comics scriptwriter, right up there with having the tail of a pointer touching the speaker's mouth. But Miss Kallen doesn't mind so long as she has her Halo.

I remember that Halo package well. It was a slick design, a ridged spindle-shaped clear bottle of thick glass. The golden color of the shampoo made a neat glowing reflection on my grandmother's vanity as the sun shone through it. The only shampoo that was aesthetically superior was Prell, with its thick Oz-green bubbles. But I digress.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Topolino 25 July 1940

Golden Age, Italian Style
I want to give you a tour one of my favorite "orphan" magazines. For all I know Europe is crawling with these things, but this is the only copy I've found of the famous, super-influential Italian weekly paper Topolino. A gift from my amico Antonio, it dates from 25 July 1940. It's a great issue, too. One can easily see why Italian kids loved its combination of Mickey Mouse, disguised American adventure strips, and high-quality Italian content.

The paper is tabloid sized, 16 pages long. It shows its age with a prominent fold and tattered edges (not to mention patches). It leads off with five colorized Mickey Mouse dailies under the title "Topolino e il selvaggio giovedi'" (Mickey and the Savage, Thursday). Floyd Gottfredson looks good in color.

The second page (not pictured) offers the part 14 of a text serial, "La casina in riva al mare" (The Cottage on the River to the Sea) illustrated by Bernardo Leporini. Leporini, an illustrator since the late 1920s, went on to a long a distinguished career in Italian comics. He retired in 1970 and spent his remaining 22 years painting.

There's also a column with short patriotic stories and a box identifying editor Federico Pedrocchi, also a prolific comics writer, as we're about to see.

Page 3 is in black-and-white. It presents the first American import, Brick Bradford. But these were the days when Mussolini frowned on invaders from overseas (except for Mickey Mouse!). Thus Brick has become Giorgio Ventura. William Ritt and Clarence Gray have metamorphosed into "Amadeo Martini." The story is "The Fortress of Alamut."

Page 4, also b&w, offers chapter 11 of one of my favorites, Il polo V (The V-Pole). This was the second story to feature the mad scientist Virus.Virus' inventions include a device which captures the essence of people on a phonograph record so they can be resurrected when the record is played back. In his first adventure Virus used the device to bring Egyptian mummies back to life. This time around he's invented "the V-Pole," a third pole between positive and negative, which generates a force that repels all matter. Though the story wanders, it's a lot of fun. The artwork, the best in this paper, is by Walter Molino, a classically-trained artist who later painted many fine illustrations. His characterizations really bring the strip to life. The writer is the aforementioned signor Pedrocchi.

On page 5, a color page, we meet Gino and Gianni, popular heroes of a series of jungle adventures. Pedrocchi scripted again. The art is a solid job by Rino Albertarelli, yet another big name in Italian comics. Among his famous features was the fascinating Faust, which I'll have to sample sometime. In chapter 4 of "Le grandi caccie di Gino e Gianni" (Gino and Johnny's Great Hunts) our homegrown Tim Tyler and Spud are on the trail of a giant white lion.

Page 6 (not pictured) prints readers' letters and artwork. Some of the drawings are pretty good. I looked for famous names but I didn't recognize any.

Page 7 wraps up the story "Saturnino Farandola contro (vs) Fileas Fogg." This half-realistic half-cartoony strip doesn't look like much, though Saturnino Farandola was a popular character. Pedrocchi does the script once again. From the ho-hum artwork you'd never guess that Pier Lorenzo de Vita was an extremely versatile illustrator who handled both realistic and funny-animal styles with brio. In the latter part of his career he became a top-notch artist for Italy's Disney comics.

The left side of the center spread offers chapter 14 of a color adaptation of Emilio Salgari's "La caduta di un impero" (Fall of an Empire). Salgari's novels featuring Sandokan, a heroic Malaysian pirate, remain extremely popular in Europe, though they never caught on in the U.S. The script is by Guido Mellini. Illustrator Guido Moroni-Celsi was famous for his work on these Salgari adaptations. I find his work pleasant, but a bit stiff.

The right hand side of the spread brings back Bernardo Leporini, this time in color. "La capitana del sette fraris" is a sequel to "Un Gentiluomo di sedici anni" (A Gentleman of Sixteen Years), one of Rino Albertarelli's noted features. Pedrocchi scripts again. The story is a political intrigue set in 1718. I don't know much about it. Leporini's panels are well-composed and combine with the coloring to create a nice atmospheric feeling.

Page 10 (not pictured) prints recaps of earlier chapters of the various serials. There's an ad pushing a magazine of war stories, including "Il mozzo del sommergibile" (Cabin Boy on a Submarine), one of Kurt Caesar's early serials.

Page 11 presents chapter 11 of a Segar Popeye story. Here it's titled "Il Monarca di Roccaverza" (Monarch of Roccaverza). At least they didn't give Segar a fake name...they simply eliminated his credit altogether.

Emilio Salgari returns on page 12. "La scotennatrice" (I don't know what it means) is a western adapted by Mellini and illustrated by Albertarelli. It's a strange page. The figures are dwarfed by the landscape. The camera stays so far back we can barely make out their faces. We don't develop any interest in the characters, but those sure are nice backgrounds.

On page 13 is my favorite re-branded import. "Le perle dei mari del sud" (Pearls of the South Seas) is an Ella Cinders continuity. While crossing the Atlantic, artist Charlie Plumb was lost overboard...while writer William Conselman was resurrected as Guglielmo Conselli! On the same page is a Henry strip, with the bald boy renamed Rico...and in this incarnation he speaks. An advertisement urges us to read "The Little Colonials" in the pages of Paperino. But Mario and Furio are none other than Tim Tyler and Spud again. For characters who never climbed out of the basement in the States, those guys did pretty well in Europe.

Along with a Pluto strip (not pictured), page 14 features a chapter of "Avventure di Matteo Garrese" (Adventures of Matteo Garrese) by Aldo Carreni. This western seems to be the only thing Carreni ever did. The InDUCKS database knows nothing about him. Could this be an American strip I don't recognize?

Page 15 (not shown) is divided between a b&w Mickey strip and a half-page of puzzles.

Bringing up the rear is a beautiful episode of "Il solitario dei Sakya" (Hermit of the Sakyas), a complicated adventure seet in China and Tibet. Once more Federico Pedrocchi handles the scripting. The artwork is a lovely job by another of my favorites, Antonio Canale. Instead of the dozen panels on the other story pages, this one has only six. Canale takes full advantage of the extra space.

Antonio Canale is best known today for his work on the Phantom-inspired masked hero Amok, launched in 1946. But Canale already had a long career behind him by then. Despite Amok's charm--and I do like Amok--"Tony Chan's" art on that series paled in comparison to his pre-WWII work on features like "Il solitario dei Sakya" and "Cabiria."

Well, that's my stroll through Topolino. It probably doesn't tell anyone anything they didn't already know, but I wanted to express my appreciation for this famous paper and its stable of noted creators. It was indeed the Golden Age of Italian comics.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Sight Unseen--3

Win-Win for Win (Mortimer)
While digging out my Ray Bailey page yesterday I also unearthed this sample daily strip by Win Mortimer. I bought it on ebay a couple of years ago when several lots of material from this project surfaced. Unfortunately I didn't write down the name of the strip and I no longer remember it. The older guy with glasses was the hero. Mortimer did quite a lot of work on the project, including complete strips, inked but unlettered strips like this one, and penciled-only strips.Canadian illustrator James Winslow Mortimer had a long career in both comic books and newspaper comic strips. He's best known in the former for his work on 1950s Superman and Batman covers, but he did everything: romance, spooky stories, classics adaptations, you name it. In strips he's usually associated with David Crane, a continuity strip about a small-town minister. However he also created and drew adventure strips for Canadian newspapers.

I have always preferred Mortimer's newspaper work to his comic book material. The format seemed to bring out the best in him. This sample strip spotlights his knack of drawing pretty girls (albeit in a very unrevealing nightgown), as well as his gift for character faces like "Unckie."

The strip is drawn on good old Craftint Singletone paper. Craftint was a technology for creating grey tones in line artwork, permitting greater tonal range without the expense of halftone cuts. An invisible pattern, usually dots or crosshatch lines, was printed on sheets of Strathmore bristol. After inking his drawing, the artist applied a clear developing fluid with pen or brush. The developer brought out the pattern. Singletone paper had one pattern, while Doubletone paper had two, one light and one dark. The "light" grey might be crosshatch lines going in one direction while the "dark" grey would have lines going both directions. Craftint paper was popular in newspaper strips through the 1960s, when drastic reduction in original sizes made it impractical.

Mortimer inks everything except large black areas with a flexible steel pen. The artwork is exceptionally clean, without corrections. No visible pencil work remains. The art is big, roughly 7x23 inches. It's a nice piece by an under-appreciated artist.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ray Bailey's Undersea Agent

Under da Sea wit' U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A.
In one of my Tom Corbett posts I promised (threatened?) to dig out my Ray Bailey Undersea Agent original. Here it is!

It's page 10 from the first issue of Tower Comics' second adventure magazine (the first being the superhero book T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, of course). The Comics Code stamp on the back is from 1965. The page is enormous, roughly 13x21 inches, on heavy Strathmore vellum-finish bristol.

I love this page, despite the unfortunate racial caricature of Dr. Fang. It's Bailey at his best: superb balance of black and white, lots of attention to detail, crisp inking, and the unbeatable Bailey Rocks. The ink is thick and intensely black, the way the old Pelikan yellow-label used to be. I was surprised that Bailey used a pen much more than I'd thought. Most of the outlining on heads, bodies, and hands (even the big closeup thumbs in panel 1) are flexible steel penwork. So is the lighter hair and beards; even some of the folds on the diving suit in panel 2 appear to be pen rather than brush.

At the top is a note Ray wrote to his editor Samm Schwartz, translating the Chinese characters. The partly-cut-off note near the second panel is the word "coral," probably intended for the colorist. The caption in the final panel is a pasteover. Using a light table I discovered the text it covers is the same, but the letterer had used a slightly larger lettering size than he used on the rest of the page. Hence the extra space between lettering and panel border at the bottom of the caption. By the way, if anyone knows who this letterer is, please let me know. His lettering has a "newspaper comic strip" rather than a "comic book" style, and he's easily recognizable by his unique exclamation marks.

The hero of this strip is one Davy Jones (now there's an original name!), who resembles Pat Ryan right down to his pipe smoking. At first he was a mortal man, but in the second issue he gained a lame super-power: the ability to attract or repel things, without even having to say "Volto!" The fellow who looks like Santa Claus is his boss Professor Weston, who built an undersea lab on the site of the ruins of Atlantis. Believe it or not, "Undersea" is actually an acronym. You thought T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves) was bad? How about "United Nations Department of Experiment and Research Systems Established at Atlantis"?

Undersea Agent was a 64-page comic with several characters. Bailey drew most of the Davy Jones stories, though in my opinion the first was his best. The book only lasted six issues.
When I bought the second issue back in 1966, something about Bailey's work looked "wrong" to this high-school art fan. It wasn't until last year that I learned Bailey had been inked by, of all people, Sheldon Moldoff! It's the only time I know that Bailey was inked by someone else. Moldoff did a pretty good job. Bailey must have been a very tight penciler for Shelly to come so close to his look. I wonder how this teamup came about, and why Moldoff never seems to have done any other work for Tower. At right is a sample page taken from the Who's Who website, where it's credited to Bailey alone. However Moldoff's Who's Who listing does list his Undersea Agent credit.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

1950s Advertising Comics

Mr. Coffee Nerves and his Rivals
I don't know if Mr. Coffee Nerves was the first advertising comic strip "super-villain." He certainly was one of the longest-lived. I have plenty of Postum strips in various reprints, but the only real one I own is this battered one-third-page from 1949. It stars the modernized Mr. C. N.: A snazzy jet-pack replaces the old opera cape and a Buck Rogers helmet substitutes for the top hat. The artist is surely Lou Fine. The surprisingly awkward balloon placement interferes with the slick professionalism that marks most Johnstone & Cushing strips.

But Mr. Coffee Nerves wasn't alone in the world of invisible enemies whose lives were devoted to bringing misery to the American family. From 1952 comes this adventure of Peter Pain, the little green man with a strange flat hat and the chin of a 1930s safecracker. Ben Gay to the rescue! The delightful drawing is by Jack Betts. If you want even more Pain, Ger Apeldoorn has a gallery of them here:

From 1954 comes this chronicle of a rather flabby-looking green guy with "Mr. Stomach Upset" scrawled on his tummy. His flaming trident is about as convincing as his "hep" dialogue in panel two. When he's banished by Pepto-Bismol, he says "Curses!" like his old mentor. Strictly bush league, if you ask me.

I wonder how many of these series pain-pushers there were. If anyone knows who was the first such mascot, won't you let me know?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tom Corbett in Color--3

The Last of the Batch
Here are the last of my Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Sunday strips. I'm confused, though. First, I had two more strips, color versions of Sundays that Ger Apeldoorn posted in b&w on his blog. For the life of me I can't find them. Did I just dream them when I had space fever?

The other problem is that the strip below is dated 22 January 1952, while a Sunday I ran earlier (Astro dreaming of monsters) I had listed as 20 January 1952. None of my Corbett Sundays have dates on the strips themselves; I got most of the dates from notes penciled in the margins by the original collector. Obviously one of these dates is wrong.

The next strip is definitely from 2 March 1952 because the dateline from the newspaper is still attached.And that's it for Tom. I'm excited by Mr. Apeldoorn's project to reproduce his near-complete run of microfilm Corbetts.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Scorchy Smith Postscript

I'm running short on time today, so this post is very short. I found that John Milt Morris sample, and I wanted to add it to yesterday's Scorchy Smith article. I have no idea where it came from, but I wish it'd go back.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Scorchy Smith--Just Passing Through

The Many Cooks of Scorchy Smith
Surrounded by online newspaper comic strip historians and collectors, I'm aware of the shortcomings of my knowledge. Almost everyone out there knows more than I do about almost everything. Still I'll offer what I do know in hopes it will help someone somewhere fill in some blanks. In return I hope you'll fill in a few of mine.

AP Newsfeatures' Scorchy Smith surely must deserve a prize for the greatest number of artists to draw one adventure strip. We're all familiar with its early days. In 1930 John Terry started the feature, modeling its hero after Charles Lindbergh. We have seen examples of Terry's scratchy, rather clumsy artwork (So unpopular was Terry's version that most online sources actually ran Noel Sickles' art, not Terry's).

We also know that Terry became ill and young Noel Sickles imitated the creator's style for a while until it became clear Terry wouldn't return. Then Sickles began changing to his own personal style. In the process he revolutionized comics. Sickles left Scorchy in 1938 when AP refused him a raise. For a while he assisted on other people's strips, but finally Sickles moved on to a distinguished illustration career.

Bert Christman replaced Sickles. Thanks to the people at Big Fun Comics we can see a long run of Christman's work. He was an able successor. Not only did he draw exceptionally well, he also (in my opinion) wrote better stories. Christman might have become a big name had he not joined the Flying Tigers and died in combat.

This part of Scorchy's history is well-documented. Afterward things get fuzzy. An article in Il Fumetto by Franco Fossati says Christman was succeeded by one Howell Dodd. The only Howell Dodd I turned up was a prolific magazine illustrator who painted lots of “men's sweat” illustrations in the 1950's. From his career dates he could have worked on Scorchy. I found a 1946 pen-and-ink drawing by Dodd that suggests he would have done a nice job. However I can find no further info.

Next in line (1939) was Frank Robbins, another young man who made his name on the strip. Though his approach was cartoonier than Christman's, Robbins' rich blacks and dynamic staging worked well on Scorchy. Sometime during Robbins' five years' stay on the feature a Sunday page began. Impressed by this young artist, King Features stole Robbins away from the AP in 1944. At King Robbins created another flyboy, Johnny Hazard.

Robbins was replaced by Ed Good. Good was a Canadian comic artist who later did much work in American newspaper strips and comic books. I've never seen a sample of his Scorchy.

According to the Who's Who of American Comic Books, Good drew Scorchy through 1950. Fossati cuts him off in 1946, which seems a likelier date. His replacement was Rodlow Willard, one of the most painful adventure strip artists I've encountered. Here's a sample from an Italian translation of one of his continuities. The sequence begins on 14 January, but no year is given. It's amazing that Willard ran the feature for eight years, considering that as time passed he only got worse.

Willard was succeeded by John Milt Morris. Morris seems to have taken over circa 1954. I haven't seen a sample of his Scorchy, either. However the one sample I've seen of Morris' strip work makes me wonder if Willard wasn't so bad after all! I've found no biographical information about Morris.

In almost every source, Scorchy's saga ends with Morris, crashing the strip ignominiously in 1961. Hardly anyone mentions the two artists who actually saw the strip out: George Tuska and A. C. Hollingsworth. I've seen several Tuska Scorchy dailies. They were drawn in Tuska's Buck Rogers style. This jibes with's note that Tuska was “main illustrator” on the strip from 1954 to 1959, when he left to take over Buck. Interestingly, says Tuska assisted on Scorchy back in 1939, which would have been in the early Robbins days.

Where this puts Morris, I don't know. It does suggest a term for A. C. Hollingsworth: 1959-1961. Hollingsworth, one of the few (two, perhaps?) African-American artists of 1950s American comics, is worth an entire article. Several of his Scorchy dailies and Sundays are available online. Though variable in quality, they're generally rather good. The last of the old-school Scorchy Smith style was gone by the time Hollingsworth took over; his work owed more to Wallace Wood than to Noel Sickles. It seems as if Scorchy became a space pilot in his last years. These Sundays take place on other planets. The day of the earthbound flyboy was over, as was the day of Scorchy Smith. It had been quite a ride.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

1935 Advertising Comics

Suds and Cigs
These are the earliest Sunday advertising comics I have. They're from The Milwaukee Journal of mid-1935 (one has strips dated 14 April on the back). Nice reproduction and a variety of art styles make these quite interesting.

While the other strips are drawn in traditional comic-strip styles, the Lifebuoy ad uses a clean-outline style common in magazine illustrations of the time. The balloon-less dialogue further detracts from the comic-strip look. Flash Gordon was one of the few strips that used this approach. It always seemed as if the creators felt balloons lacked class, and eliminated them to achieve a magazine illustration feel. At least we get three lingerie shots and a nude scene (although I defy any real woman to pose her arms that way without revealing her left breast).

Sandwiched into the bottom of the page is the tiniest strip ad I've seen. This Lifebuoy Shaving Cream ad is just over an inch high! You can barely see the stubble on Otto's chin.

On the flip side of this page is an elaborate full page ad for Camel cigarettes. I don't know who the artist is, but he does a solid variation on the drawing style of contemporary strips like King of the Royal Mounted. The extra space gives plenty of room to develop the action. It's a very nice page, except for that poorly-lettered "In the meantime" caption. The last panel is odd. "Jim" delivers a plug for Camels, then refers to a real-life rancher who appears as a photo in the next panel. My first time reading the strip I thought Charley Belden of Pitchfork, Wyoming, was the cowboy in the comic. No, he's only a one-panel wonder. Perhaps the client felt a real person was necessary to attract readers who don't listen to sales pitches from cartoon characters.

On the 14 April 1935 page are two strips for Lux soaps: toilet soap on top, soap flakes on the bottom. "Dixie in Hollywood" is apparently a continuity strip, a rarity in advertising features. The two rows of panels provide the story plenty of room, though the narrow gutters between panels give the whole thing a crowded look.

But what was in the writer's head? Our heroine, Dixie Darling, is almost fired because she can't act. Only her gorgeous Lux Toilet Soap complexion saves her. That's fine for Dixie--she launches into an embarrassing paen of praise to her soap bar. But the fact remains that our heroine can't act! Dixie's boyfriend has reason to worry. In his note the director doesn't assure Dixie that she's a good actress after all. Instead he says don't worry, her body will get her by. Clear a place on the casting couch for Dixie! I like that portrait of Joan Blondell in the final panel. though.

The "Peggy Lux" feature also has story problems. Peggy fingers the ludicrously-dressed "court detective" in panel 4 and the man confesses. That means he must be the guy wearing handcuffs in panel 5. If so, he's changed clothes and lost his hat. He doesn't even look like the same person.

What's more, who is saying "She's there!" in the same panel? It should be Peggy making the big reveal, not Lady Marie. Lux may have made good soap, but they hired sloppy writers and artists.

I usually associate advertising comics with the 1950's, but as we see the format was already well-established twenty years earlier. I'd like to find more ad strips from this period. Especially "Dixie in Hollywood." Did poor Dixie ever learn to act?