Thursday, March 10, 2011

George Evans—Artist

Lost “Interview” with George Evans

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.

Initially I did some stuff for Western which was an affiliate of Dell, or at least they worked together, though with separate editorial offices and people. At Classics [Illustrated] near the end their editor was Leonard Cole, who went on to Dell and asked me to go with him.
Panels from Oliver Twist, a Classics Illustrated issue Evans
drew with Reed Crandall

The first movie-related stuff I did was When Worlds Collide for Fawcett. Then the TV-related Captain Video. On WWC they just gave me a slew of stills, some of which I still have. I'd read the book and saw the movie, so with the stills, stayed close to what had been done. At Dell, they got stills, too; sometimes sheet after sheet of photo-size stop-action stuff, which is what they gave me for Tales of Terror. But they let me just interpret it loosely along the movie line, so I hammed up some of the stuff—and it was well received, so I guess if you have fun doing something, it helps communicate.
A page from one of the short stories in Dell's
Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Terror (1962)

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.

Reed and I held over from Classics. Reed had gone back to Kansas to help look after his mother. I special-air-mailed rough layouts to him; he put them in inking shape and zipped them back. We were pretty fast as a team, so somehow made our deadlines. Mail was faster then...and far more reliable, and much cheaper, too.
This page from an unidentified Twilight Zone story
was penciled by Crandall and inked by Evans;
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.

Why did they change that? I have no idea. Maybe Mike Sekowsky just told them he wasn't drawing whole tribes of people. He seems to have a lot of clout in the business, and many friends, so it's a possibility [Actually Sekowsky took over after single issues drawn by Don Heck and Alex Toth]. Me—I get involved with the people I draw, and really thought of those two families as neighbors. Crandall helped me on the first couple—or the first, for sure.
This page from The Frogmen's first issue (O.S. 1258, 1962)
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.

I did Underwater City on my own, completely. Did enjoy it, though afterwards felt I missed the likeness to the hero, Wm—who? [Lundigan]. So far as I ever knew, it had no connection with my doing Frogmen, but then it might well have in the editorial rooms. I don't do any diving, but I am spectator-interested, and among the neighbors some of the athletic types dive, and we quacked a lot about it; and of course equipment was available for reference. The shore is only nine miles off here, and there's a lot of surfing and diving. Was, anyway, when I needed reference. It's getting polluted, too—so maybe it'll be kaput, too. But lotsa boats of all kinds, all the scenery. And many completely fruitless fishing expeditions with friends on various boats all went into Frogmen.

A beautiful page from The Frogmen #3 (1962).

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.

Have had discussions on comics related to movies or TV characters. Including with Wunder. It's a really tough question. Takeoffs on one-shots possibly have a place—but then I think the story should sort of take-off from the movie story, just as movie versions often veer away from successful novels on which they're based. To just re-tell the same story—especially using the same stills as basic pictures—would seem dull. That's why I tried to ham it up, or make it a little more expansive. Adaptations of successful series characters to series comics would seem to me too much maturation—and bad for both. Any failure on the part of either turns the money-oriented producers sour. And yet I do think some comics should have continued around series characters even though the TV thing failed. Or was slaughtered. Star Trek as a perfect example.
It's not a movie book, but to wrap things up I couldn't resist
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.


fortunato said...

The unidentified Twilight Zone story penciled by Crandall and inked by Evans is "Specter of Youth" (The Twilight Zone #1173, Dell 1961).

Paul Chadwick said...

Great draughtsman, if perhaps too staid and mature a sensibility for the stories he was illustrating, which could've used more adolescent brio. I particularly like his drawing of hands.

Was he ghosting Terry for George Wunder at the time of this exchange? I admit I really like, even prefer (embarrassing to say) those couple of DC aviation stories he did in the late seventies with Wunder's idiosyncratic approach to the human face injected into his style.

Did I ever mention Wunder had lived not far from where I was in Connecticut? My mechanic in New Milford had serviced Wunder's car. Thrilling at the time!

Smurfswacker said...

Fortunato, thanks for the identification on that Twilight Zone story. I will work it into the main body of the post.

Smurfswacker said...

Paul, the Terry strip ended in 1973, so Evans had been off it for about a year when he wrote this letter. I go both ways about Wunder's influence on Evans. Greater dynamism and more varied compositions, yes. But I always admired Evans' drawing of drapery, and in later years he never shook Wunder's idiosyncratic style of bunchy little folds at the joints. Tended to draw stiffer arms, too, a Wunder specialty.

That's cool...George Wunder's mechanic. I fantasize that Wunder's car had lots of big black brushed-in shadows swirling all over it. GW really was a master of inking machinery. Frank Springer, who assisted Wunder at one time, picked up a lot of GW's technique for inking aircraft. (And of course I've imitated it many times.)

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Terrific interview!

I was so glad to have been able to find, read, clean up and re-post Evans' entire (brief) run on "SPACE CONQUERORS!" at my blog the other year. Am working on cleaning up his "TALES OF TERROR" movie comic right now. I've included a link to THIS interview.

I'd love to get my hands on more of his work one of these days.