Friday, June 25, 2010

A Sight Unseeen--6

The Comic Section That Never Was--Over and Over Again

I've been digging through my garage looking for this item for months. Finally my labors have borne fruit.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd done comic-style artwork for an episode of the TV series Remington Steele. One of the props in that show was a fake newspaper comic section. Remington and Laura are fans of "The Blaster", an adventure strip supposedly produced by curmudgeonly cartoonist Raymond Kelly, but actually ghosted by his murderous assistant, Arte Wayne. Among the art I produced was a Sunday episode (in black and white) which presented the show's opening action in comic form.

The Sunday episode art was inserted into a mockup comic section that the post-production house had lying around. The post house was the Howard Anderson Company, a legendary post-production and effects company that has been around since 1927. It goes without saying this mockup had been around a l-o-o-o-ng one remembered just how long. Whenever a client needed a phony comics section, Anderson stuck new art into an empty space on the mockup and ran off a new four-page "edition."

I'm not sure exactly how they did this. These were the days before large-format copiers and computer printers. They either had an old-fashioned letterpress unit or an offset printer which they fired up for these special occasions. The copy I have doesn't have the "indentations" characteristic of letterpress printing, so I'm voting for offset. It had to have been a big machine: the fake paper is the same size as a full-sized American newspaper spread.

I was fortunate to get a spare copy of the Remington Steele edition. I present it here for two reasons: first, to give everyone a look at this comic oddity; and second, to invite you Golden Era art-hawks to tell me who drew the other features. I'm sure there are some interesting stories buried here.

Here's page one:

The first strip, "Our Street," has a 1950s UPA look to it. The strip isn't very slick and like several other features has no story. To me this implies it was made specially for the section and not taken from some cartoonist's back stock of unsold strips. Bill Carter is surely an alias.

The second strip, "Casey the Cop" by Wally Bullock (another alias?), seems amateurish to me. Or is it just "stylized"?

The third strip, "Donny and Dolly Dewlap" could conceivably have been someone's unsold strip. It delivers a gag rather than being open-ended like the last two. 'Ted Baker' is too generic to take seriously.

The fourth feature, which has no title, is drawn in a capable early-1930s adventure style reminiscent of "Tailspin Tommy". The signature is interesting: 'Jan Grippe' is unusual enough to be a real name. Google turned up two references to a 1950 movie producer with this name, but I couldn't find the pages. Then there was a Jan Grippo (b. 1906) who co-produced the Monogram "Bowery Boys" movies. The sig could be "Grippo." Maybe he started out as an artist and tried to sell a daily adventure.

The last strip, "Captain Smith", is drawn in a competent 1940s semi-realistic style...except for the main character, who is Dick Tracy under another name. Though the episode has a beginning and an end, it doesn't seem like an unsold daily. "K. Lentz" means nothing to me. IMDB didn't have any Lentzes that made sense, and the name was too vague to make a meaningful Google search. The lettering on this strip is the most professional of the bunch; it has almost a Ben Oda look to it.

And now page two:

"Uncle George" by 'Max Morgan' (surely a fake name) could be from almost any time. My guess is 1950s. The art isn't exactly bad, but it ain't great either.

"A Day at the Fair" by 'Todd' is completely unlike any other strip in this potpourri. Whoever this guy is (the signature 'Michael Kent' sounds unlikely), he must have trained as a 1930s animator. Both character design and drawing style point that way. It's a damned nice job, too.

Look who's here! "Toby" is by none other than animator extraordinaire T. Hee (real name Alex Campbell). He signed his own name and got a byline. Among his many employers was UPA (early 1950s). Given the style of "Our Street", could there be a UPA connection to this paper? Or am I grasping at straws?

"Marty" by 'Herb Klynn' appears to have been drawn by a cartoony artist drawing straighter than usual. Something about it says late-1940s to me (could it be Marty's resemblance to the Bardahl man?).

"Snips and Runty" seems to be the top row of a real (unsold) Sunday page, although the signature is probably phony. Unlike most of the strips here, the lettering appears to be professional.

"The Rovers" intrigues me. Based on both the cartooning style and the heroine's dress and hair, I'd swear this was an unsold strip from the late 20s or very early 1930s. Its pacing suggests it's part of a longer story, and its subject brings to mind all those "Joe Palooka"-style strips. Google drew a blank on 'Leo Courey'.

Page three has a couple of features I know something about:

"Gerry" is likely the work of Gerry Woolery of Playhouse Pictures, the animation studio which contracted with the Steele team to supply art for the show. It was probably done on the spot to fill the hole to the left of "Sylvia Trace."

"Sylvia Trace" is, of course, two retouched "Dallas" dailies over which I lettered new dialogue. This was from my latter days on the project, when the late Thomas Warkentin was brought on as inker. You don't need a very keen eye to recognize J. R., Pam, Bobby, and Miss Ellie under those mustaches and glasses. Gerry agreed to my leaving Thomas' and my names on the strip, since Playhouse Pictures got screen credit for the Steele art, not me.

"The Blaster" is the fake Sunday I drew. Of course I signed it 'Raymond Kelly', but using my own signature style. Some friends who saw the episode thought I'd actually signed my own name to the art.

"Dinky" seems to be signed 'Ade'. It appears to be newer than most of these strips. It has that light, casual style that started in the 60s and continues to this day.

The fourth page of the mockup merely repeats the strips on page two. Now listen up, art spotters and strip historians. Who drew these strips? When? Why? Has anyone out there seen this comic section in other TV shows or movies? Get to work! And thanks.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sostig the Pirate

It's Time-Wrecking Time!

Recently I've been re-reading my replica collection of early Albi d'Oro issues. Albi d'Oro was a post-WWII Italian comic book from Mondadori, reprinting features which had first appeared before the war in Mondadori's weekly children's papers. I especially enjoyed issue #199, “Sostig Il Pirata” (“Sostig the Pirate”), which originated in the late 1930s.

I don't know if Ray Bradbury's “The Sound of Thunder” was the first time-travel story to warn of the perils of changing history, but it certainly left its mark upon the genre. Ever since its publication, one hasn't been able to write about time traveling without considering unintended future consequences of things chrononauts do while in the past. Not so “Sostig the Pirate.” Its heroes violate time travel laws with the gleeful abandon of city folk out to teach the rubes a thing or two. The story's audacious disregard for anything but fun makes it an enjoyable romp, a relief from the earnestness of much time-travel literature.

“Sostig the Pirate” was part of an ongoing series called I Conquistatori del Tempo (The Conquerors of Time), scripted by Federico Pedrocchi and drawn by Giovanni Scolari, who had earlier collaborated with Pedrocchi on the legendary space opera Saturno Contro la Terra (Saturn vs. the Earth). “Sostig” is a self-contained sub-story within a larger arc called “Il Fiume del Fuoco” (“The River of Fire”), the second story arc in the Conquistatori saga.

In the first story arc, Professor Everton had invented a means of traveling through time. He enlisted hunky adventurer Trevor to lead an expedition into the past. The professor, his daughter Daly (Trevor's love interest), and a couple of fellow scientists survived a harrowing series of adventures in various eras before returning to the present. Now the professor finds himself a bit short of cash. Ever-resourceful Trevor offers a neat solution:

Of course Trevor forbids Daly to go with him, and of course Daly stows away and goes with him anyway. But more of this in a moment. Since he'll be facing bloodthirsty pirates, Trevor wants to be sure he has the stronger hand. So on his trip into the past he'll be taking along a fully-armed torpedo boat!

Not long after jumping back to pirate days, Trevor discovers that Daly has invited herself along on the voyage. Surprise!

But although Trevor briefly turns into Flash Gordon when he welcomes Daly, this girl is about as far as you can get from the classic Dale Arden clinging vine. She's one tough cookie, a real scrapper, always ready--no, eager--to man the guns alongside the boys. She's also something of a hothead, as we'll see in a moment. But first, the chrononauts rescue a dying ship's captain who was set adrift in a dory after Sostig, a vicious pirate, slaughtered his crew. Before his exile the captain had heard Sostig planning his next attack, plundering a merchant vessel called the Mary-Joan..

The chrononauts have a mission. Their torpedo boat steams full speed ahead, reaching the Mary-Joan just as she's battling three of Sostig's ships. Our heroes flex their muscles and give the pirates a taste of 20th-century steel.

Sostig himself escapes. The time travelers raise their phony sails and head for Maracaibo, “the pearl of the Spanish empire.” Trevor and Daly go ashore to snoop around. They discover a proclamation from the local viceroy offering a 200,000 ducat bounty on Sostig. The loss of the reward irks Trevor. The pair decide to visit a local pub to dig for information. Trevor cautions Daly to avoid trouble, but she laughs him off: “I'm not worried! I was the Olympic women's fencing champion!”

Good thing, too. No sooner have the two seated themselves at “La Posada del Buen Retiro” than a brunette swordswoman greets them and makes eyes at Trevor. In time-honored Dale Arden tradition, the Green-Eyed Dragon immediately bites Daly. But like I said, Daly's something of a hothead:

A brawl erupts and the police arrive to break it up. A one-armed stranger helps Daly and Trevor escape the melee, but eventually they're caught and hauled before the law.

Another donnybrook ensues. The chrononauts and their new ally grab the post commander for a shield and fight their way to the upper floor. They find temporary respite behind a barred door. After gagging and tying the commander, they seek a rear exit. But when Trevor enters one room, he discovers a lovely woman--and gets another surprise.

A rather long flashback fills us in. Pedro, the one-armed man, had been a respected young officer in Maracaibo. Isobel was his beloved. Unknown to Pedro, the post commander also desired Isobel. He appointed Pedro to guard a shipload of pearls bound for Spain. Pedro protested that the course ordered by the commander ran straight through pirate territory. The commander demanded that Pedro obey orders, though he agreed to Pedro's insistence that the orders be put in writing. It turned out that the commander and the viceroy had plotted with Sostig to attack the ship, steal the pearls, and kill Pedro. Sostig would split the proceeds from the pearls with the treacherous pair, and the commander would have Isobel all to himself.

However it didn't quite work out that way. Sostig double-crossed them and kept all the loot. Though the pirate thought he'd killed Pedro, the young officer narrowly escaped death. Pedro lost an arm, but while on Sostig's ship he'd memorized a map showing the location of the pirate's treasure island.

The chrononauts quickly find Sostig's hoard, including the stolen pearls and Pedro's written orders. How about the rest of the treasure? “Of course the pearls are yours, Pedro, so you can complete your mission. As for the rest, we'll return whatever we can return. What's left over we'll divide between us.” Want to bet how much of the fortune was returnable?

Though Trevor's financial woes are at an end, Sostig is still at large. It's time to make him pay. The torpedo boat soon catches up with the renegade. Its deck guns blow Sostig's masts away. Then Daly and Trevor's machine guns feed the pirate crew hot lead until they agree to turn over their captain.

Sostig is gone, but there remains the matter of the traitorous viceroy and post commander back in Maracaibo. Anchoring beyond the range of the forts' guns, Trevor marches into the royal headquarters and demands the 200,000 ducat reward for Sostig--as well as a few other things.

You don't mess with Italians!

The commander sends his strongest warship out to punish the upstarts, but...well...

All's right with the world, Pedro is reinstated and marries his lovely Isobel, the treacherous officers have left town, and except maybe for several hundred dead soldiers and pirates, everyone's happy. On to new adventures!

Yep, they don't make 'em like that any more!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stuff I've Done--3

Research Meets Reality
I have a presence in the amateur/semipro art community, DeviantArt. It's my "rest of me" site, where I post art, photos, and ramblings just because I feel like it, not because of their thematic significance. If you're so inclined you can visit it at

Recently I unearthed and posted some old background drawings from my TV animation days. I have always liked this one, depicting a Parisian cafe:
In my notes I identified this as a BG from the old Dinosaucers series. However subsequent conversation with a rabid Dinosaucers fan (they really exist!) suggests it came from another show. Maybe Karate Kid. I didn't label the photocopy and I simply don't remember.

Anyway, those of you who've been to Paris were no doubt struck by the vintage American-style telephone booth in the left foreground. What is a vintage American-style telephone booth doing in Paris? It's there because the script said so. And because the art director said the script said so, and we aren't changing the script just because Paris doesn't have vintage American-style telephone booths.

This was one of the countless times that my artist's desire to get things right has collided with the practical aspects of TV production. Schedules are short (especially on Dinosaucers!), a hundred different tasks are being performed simultaneously, and cartloads of money are being spent. You can't halt the process just to correct a factual detail.

I don't pretend to any sort of moral high ground about research. Personally I love research. But I lack the obsessive drive necessary to be a research expert. I also have limited patience; eventually I want just to get on with it. I regret it deeply when I learn after the fact that I made some huge factual blunder. But I feel worse when a truly major error is detected in advance but circumstances dictate it must go through anyway. In the case of the phone booth, I could imagine every kid in Paris yelling at the screen, "What is that stupid thing? We don't have those here!"

On one show my art director was a young
Frenchman. He was fabulously talented and knew his craft to the nth degree. He was also a hothead equipped with an endless supply of contempt which he was quick to unload upon those whom he considered morons. We were designing another show set in Paris. Paris is a favorite destination for cartoon characters. The a.d. was already pissed because the writers had got the elevator system in the Eiffel Tower all wrong.

Then came the Parisian pet shop. "Pet shop!" he roared. "Ignorant assholes! We don't even have American style pet shops in France!" [I have never been there, so I don't know, but I wonder if anyone can confirm or deny that there are no pet shops in France.] It wasn't the existence of the pet shop that sent the a.d. over the edge, though. It was the sign the writers wanted on the storefront: Maison du Pet. Now they obviously wanted to say "House of Pets" and couldn't (or chose not to) find a translation for "pet." In those pre-Internet days finding translations could involve a bit of legwork. The unfortunate thing is that in French pet means "fart."

The art director's eyes burned and his lip curled in a truly magnificent sneer as he fulminated. "Maison du pet!! Do you know what zat means?!!" (He had an almost stereotypical French accent which really took over when he was angry.) "'Ouse of Farteeng! It means 'Ouse of Farteeng! Muzzerfuckairs! Oh, zey're so smart! Zey know so much about Paris! I should let it go through. Oh, I should let it go through! On televisions all over the world: Maison du Pet!" But while the man was a hothead, he was also a dedicated professional. Maison du Pet did not go through. Instead the sign was written in English: "Pet Shop."

My one brush with "big time" television was producing bogus newspaper strip art for an episode of the lighthearted mystery-adventure Remington Steele. The story concerned a young artist working as a ghost for a rich, famous, domineering cartoonist. When the big man is murdered, our heroes deduce that the assistant killed him. They stage an elaborate hoax to trap the killer into incriminating himself.

I never met the episode's writers, but the producer was impressed by their thorough research. They wrote lots of little-known factoids into the script to lend it authenticity. For example an important clue hinged on discovering that one artist pencilled with a regular black pencil while the other drew in non-photo blue. Clever--maybe the only time non-photo blue pencils found their way onto prime time television. Unfortunately a 500-pound gorilla was sitting in the corner: the oldest, "wrongest" misconception about newspaper comics, something anyone who'd researched the field shouldn't have missed.

As part of the setup Remington Steele creates several new episodes of the dead man's strip. The trouble is, Steele draws the strip today, and it appears in the newspaper...tomorrow! Having just finished two years of struggling to maintain six-week leads on two daily strips at once, I couldn't believe my nearsighted eyes. As diplomatically as possible I mentioned the error to the producer. "No kidding?" he said. "They draw 'em months ahead?" Yes, I said. "Well," the producer replied, "we sure as hell can't do anything about it now!"

Of course he was right. The episode was in its final weeks of production. Fixing the mistake would mean throwing everything out and starting over at the script stage. No one in his right mind would suggest that. The episode aired with blunder intact. That's just how it goes...facts are nice, but only if you fit them in early enough.