Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A Generalist Saves the Specialists
A while back I praised Joe Horne's The Specialists, a forgotten gem from the early days of MTV's Liquid Television. Thanks to a tip from Mr. Bloody Mojo, I found that the entire series has been posted to YouTube. The first episode is here. Seeing the show again after all these years was a treat. It's funny how Joe Horne's designs, a radical departure in their day, look mainstream now--though still better than a lot of the stuff out there!
I'd almost forgotten that the ninth episode of The Specialists featured my one and only appearance as a cartoon voice actor! It happened this way. Joe was assembling episode 9 when he discovered missing dialogue. The actor playing Granfaloon, the millionaire with the missing poodle, never recorded his line welcoming Fifi home. It's easy to see how the line was missed, because after his introduction in episode 1 Granfaloon didn't reappear until the end of the story.
Anyway, Joe burst into the studio in a frenzy. The original Granfaloon was unavailable and Joe needed someone NOW to pick up the line. I happened to be sitting there and Joe said, "Ron! You'll do it!" He whisked me over to the recording studio and stood me in front of a microphone.
I'm not a voice actor, nor for that matter an actor of any sort. For the next half hour I stood there and sweated, repeating the line over and over while Joe pulled his hair out. Finally he got something he could use. Of course my voice didn't sound anything like the original actor. But that didn't worry Joe. He figured no one would remember what Granfaloon sounded like anyway. So in episode 9 when you hear, "Fifi! You're back!" etc., that's me. Once the artwork came back from the animators, Joe presented me with a thank-you gift: a cel of Granfaloon holding Fifi. It was a nice way to mark the end of my acting career.
Friday, March 18, 2011
When I was a kid I was a Boy Scout. I had a subscription to Boy's Life, a large-format monthly filled with short stories, fact articles, lots of ads for guns and...a comics section!
Naturally this was my favorite part of the magazine. The section ran full- and half-page color comics, their subject matter divided amongst fact, humor and adventure. I later learned these strips were produced by Johnstone and Cushing, the legendary comic art studio. At the time I was reading Boy's Life the section's roster included "The Tracy Twins," "True Stories of Scouts in Action," "Tono of the Longhouse People," biblical and historical one-shots, and my favorite, an s-f series called "Space Conquerors."
From my garage/midden I've recovered the handful of tearsheets I clipped from the magazine in the early 1960s. For years they'd been my only mementos of the series. Three cheers for the Internet! While googling in preparation for this post I discovered a complete index of the series with links to every episode in Google Books' run of Boy's Life!
I learned that the feature began in 1952 and went through several reboots as well as periods during which it simply presented astronomical facts. The story I'm posting turns out to have been the first episode of one of those reboots. It introduces three nameless astronauts exploring space in the first faster-than-light spaceship. Early episodes were rather tame, but later the series became a wild and woolly space opera. Not that the stories were very good: half a page per month made for sketchy plots and no characterization. It didn't help that the writer (presumably Al Stenzel) occasionally changed plans in mid-story.
This 1962-1963 episode was drawn by Lou Fine in his most generic style. Art on the strip was generally good. Fine had replaced George Evans, who had replaced the second of two guys I don't recognize. Fine drew several stories, then Alden McWilliams took over for a long run. After a surprise appearance by Gray Morrow, Fine returned. This time his art was more elaborate, though in some strips he seems to have been inked by another hand. Fine died in 1971, so the art variations may have been related to illness.According to Planettom, the series ended in 1972. However I swear that years later...maybe the mid-1980s?...I came across a copy of Boy's Life, now thinner and in a smaller format, and found an episode of "Space Conquerors" drawn by Ernesto Colon. Did I dream this? Does anyone know about post-1970s Boy's Life comics? Several later "Space Conquerors" originals are out there. Here's a nice 1964 page from Stephen Donnelly's collection. From near the end of the strip's run comes this one from 1971 which belongs to Alan Crouse. Both are by Fine.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
While sifting through the endless piles of crap in my garage/midden I rediscovered something I never thought I'd see again: one of the two letters sent to me in 1974 by one of my favorite comics artists, George Evans.
Evans was one of those artists who spent a lifetime producing beautiful work, yet was always under-appreciated—mostly because his quiet style seemed dull in the light of flashier contemporaries like Wallace Wood and Al Williamson. Evans started drawing in the 1940s; drew comics for famous publishers like Fiction House, EC, Fawcett, and Dell; and ghosted George Wunder's daily Terry and the Pirates for decades before inheriting Secret Agent Corrigan from Al Williamson.
In the 1970s I was out of college and trying (unsuccessfully) to assemble an article about movie and television tie-in comics, particularly those published by Dell in the 1950s and 1960s. I wrote three men who'd worked on them: Alex Toth, George Evans, and Frank Thorne. All three responded kindly—and at length—to my questions. Evans was the most pleasant surprise of all. His letters were long, friendly, and chatty, providing loads of background information. The Toth and Thorne letters are long gone. Fortunately the surviving Evans letter contains much information about his varied career.
Following are excerpts from his letter of April 8, 1974. I've inserted italicized comments explaining my original questions. I hope genuine comics historians will find something to help them in their research.
First I asked Evans about how he became involved with Dell and how he went about adapting movies to comics.
I asked whether he had begun to work with George Wunder at the time he was doing Twilight Zone, having noticed what I thought was Wunder influence in his work. He turned out to have started even earlier.
At Tales of Terror I had just begun to work with Wunder, through a quasi-agent named John Lehti; also, he was a cartoonist, and he abetted the inking of the last story there. And he was the one supposed to do Ivanhoe, but bogged down, so it was a botched and butchered patch-up job. I can't even recall which parts I did. I think he'd done bits everywhere that he had swipes for, or that fitted his abilities, and I hacked to a boring finish.
I asked him about his collaborations with Reed Crandall, which enlivened many a Classics Illustrated as well as Twilight Zone stories.
both men were at the top of their form.
One time though he threw me a curve. I had penciled for him to ink, but he turned it over to a Frank Borth. And Borth simply inked what he felt like of the pictures, and erased what he'd left un-inked. I spent a lot of time putting it all back together myself. It was the semi-humor story to a Twilight Zone, and Reed had wanted a vacation—and Borth was a humor-cartoonist he thought he could trust.
I believe this story from Twilight Zone #4 (1962) was the one Borth worked on. Many of the character faces appear to have been touched by someone else. An interesting sidelight: half the final page was dropped to accommodate an advertisement. It wasn't until a reprint several years later that the page appeared in its original form.
I asked Evans if he could drop any names of editors or writers. Alex Toth had suggested Kim Aadmot wrote for The Frogmen, so I asked about him as well.
I worked through Len Cole, as noted. If others edited or whatever I never met them. In fact, Len lived at the edge of N. Y. City and would bring the stuff out so I could avoid the hassle of going in and wasting the extra time. Two names only come back to me as writers: Leo Cheney (think that's spelled right) who did the Twilight Zones and much s-f stuff. And Don Siegel (Sei-gel?) did The Frogmen. Don't know if he's the Don Seigel who is now a reputable name in movie making. Don't know Kim Aadmot. If he wrote Frogmen, it was after my time.
I was a great fan of the early Frogmen comic. I was puzzled about why the book's concept changed completely between issues: in the beginning the two heroes had families and kids and ran a skin-diving shop in the Northeast. At the time Evans left the book the families suddenly vanished without a trace and the heroes became globe-trotting adventurers.
clearly shows Reed Crandall's pencils. The kids belong to the
two heroes' families, as discussed above.
I had been trying to identify the inker on the first Brain Boy and wondered if it had been Evans (I cringe to admit this).
No, I never inked anything of Gil Kane's, though he once phoned to ask me to do same. That's not my idea of things. Half-an-artist or less! I'd rather be a bad one on my own! Didn't do any writing on Frogmen, but sometimes Len and I talked about them, and sometimes in a story a faux-pas would turn up that I'd pick up and he and Siegel would smooth them out. Yes, Frank Frazetta helped me on a few pages of Frogmen, and quite a lot on the last Twilight Zone. He had just parted company with Al Capp, for whom he'd penciled the Sunday Li'l Abner for years. One of Capp's people had had a stroke, and out of a clear sky he ordered Frank to drop everything, move up to Boston and go full-time as a Capp ghost. Fortunately, Frank had the guts to say no—though he knew it was an instant cut-off, and he had a new house, a young family...He scraped by with his comics work while painting up the samples that launched his painting career. I'd turn green with envy watching the facile way he swept in color...
From The Frogmen #2 (1962) comes this knockout
example of Frank Frazetta lending his special touch
to the inking.
From Toth and Thorne I'd heard interesting stories about restrictions on likenesses and other contractual nonsense. I asked Evans about his experiences.
I don't know about all the technical and contract details, but of course they had to negotiate regarding copyrights. Use of stars' likenesses was probably covered in the stars' contracts with the studios. Probably they got nothing extra, in the same way Laurel and Hardy got not a cent extra as they became the most popular comics on TV.
It was possible to have at least some of the films run at private showings. Not bang-bang; but when a group of somehow-involved people (cartoonists, advertisers, critics, etc.) could be assembled. I saw the Hercules stuff that way. Became a big man in my older daughter's eyes when I magnanimously took her with me—and she gloated about it around the neighborhood kids! Other stories they sometimes got the entire storyboard from the film company's art department. I saw the storyboards for 20,000 Leagues etc. or some undersea story. On charcoal paper with litho pencil. Loose but very handsome. I was surprised they weren't in color. Wonder if there was another in color—as for color movies you'd think there'd have to be planned color composition.
Stills were given but so far as I know, didn't have to be followed, though doing so made easier work. Likenesses were never questioned, at least to me. And since I saw many books that simply used the assigned artist's “standard” faces, with only a slight bow to actual actors, I guess no one cared. Maybe they preferred that. How could the stars make trouble if they weren't used?
From O.S. #1328, The Underwater City (1961). Not the best page
from the book, but chosen because George Evans invited himself
along on the government's inspection tour of the undersea installation.
That's him in the green suit in panels 3 and 5.
I asked about his adaptation of a minor film, The Underwater City. This comic was another personal favorite.
Did he like doing movie comics any better than other books?
Depended on the story. I always yearned to do things like the James Bond stuff—or the “Flynn” ones [I think he was referring to Our Man Flint]. But one editor told me the girls I drew were not slutty enough for that sort of thing. Don't know whether that was praise or criticism.
adding this page from Evans' Classics Illustrated retelling of an urban legend
about a ghostly hitchhiker.
I think the best idea for comics is to originate stories that go beyond where movie or TV stories go. I don't mean that in the curent sex and/or slaughter stuff, for I don't see how you can go any farther with either! But as an example, the funny story that was always included in the Twilight Zone. Nothing was too ridiculous, as long as it could be drawn, where making props for the TV version would've been too expensive, and too phony.
Dell was good to me, though as said back yonder I dealt only with Len Cole. I was much closer to the affiliated Gold Key, and really liked the group of people up there. I hope that was mutual. In fact, I must say that among the comics publishers I have worked for I've found very good people. I understand that was not so in all companies. I was lucky—and I was a little bit choosy, too; and, of course, friends in the business—artists, writers—steered me to the good people. People like that are good friends.
Just reading his letters you knew George Evans was a nice guy. Everyone I've seen quoted who knew him confirms that fact.
In closing let me point out that he seems to have got the Dell/Gold Key thing slightly muddled. The Hercules book he mentions and the Twilight Zone one-shots were published by Dell Comics when it was still connected with Western Printing. However Frogmen and the Tales of Terror adaptation was done after Dell and Western had parted company. As I understand it, it was during this period that Leonard (L. B.) Cole was editor. The non-Western Dell continued the numbered One Shot series for a while but soon switched to releasing tie-ins as unnumbered issues.
There seem to have been two distinct periods of non-Western Dell. The first (the Cole period?) is known for off-beat series like Brain Boy, Space Man, and Kona. Most still featured painted covers. Frank Springer, Paul Parker, Gerald McCann, Jack Sparling, and Sam Glanzman were among the artists.
At a certain point the line changed again: painted covers were replaced by line drawings, ongoing series were canceled, sometimes after a couple of reprinted issues; and writing and art teams changed. Some earlier artists like Springer and Sparling continued with the new Dell, but the new crew featured many names familiar to Charlton readers: Sal Trapani, Tony Tallarico (with Bill Fraccio), Dick Giordano, the Vince Colletta studio, Steve Ditko, and writer Joe Gill. During this period Dell experimented with new series like Nukla, Super Heroes, and Flying Saucers. Most died after three or four issues. I speculate that the change was due to a change in editorship from L. B. Cole to D(onald). J. Arneson. At least it was Arneson who signed a reply to my letter of comment regarding Nukla. But that's a subject for another time.