Friday, 11 November 2011

At, Sven-Hendryk Magotsch is showing a sketch I did for him at the front of his copy of the big Alec book. I couldn't figure out what the hell this was at first, whether the picture on the wall is a glued in original from elsewhere, but it's just the regular book. He must have paid me to get me to do that much work on it, just in case anybody else is thinking of asking.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Here's a blast from the past. From the 1980s small press scene in fact.
Battle Of The Eyes burnt briefly but brilliantly in 1985 as an ‘ideologically insane’ post-punk art-gang, whose extreme flagship tabloid, sneeringly named Nyak-Nyak!, trampled borders between the trash culture of hot rods, monsters and comics, and the British music scene from which the trio sprang.
Paul Gravett is telling us that they're back together:
The results were their first Predatory Life images about the fight for survival, one showing a two-headed turtle locked against a mutated baboon, another a horned hyena cackling amidst radioactive devastation.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

it's just comics- part 10

In Part 4 I wrote about the swift rise of the romance comics genre: "By the middle of 1949 things were building to a glut," with the peak happening around Dec '49/Jan '50. That makes it sound like they were throwing every kind of junk into the market, but in fact one of the most beautiful looking comic books I have ever seen came out at the peak of this glut.

It was published by St John (last seen here in Part 6), and titled Adventures in Romance. It was cover dated Nov 1949. A second issue with the title changed to Spectacular Adventures had the date Feb 1950 and then that was the end of it. The comic was deliberately different, beginning with its slightly larger format (I've only seen it online, so i'm quoting the historical record on that account) and promising on its contents page: "Thrilling action, good-humored comedy, and heart-warming romance, are combined for the first time in this brand new, exciting magazine." the cover and lead story were drawn by Warren King, an artist who I think swiftly 'moved up' to doing paperback book covers

The knockout feature in this comic is that, as well as having art spilling out into the margins of the pages, each of the stories opens with a double page spread:

Adventures in Romance #1- Nov 1949

I love the fresh, bright and healthy quality that emanates from King's artwork.

Note also that the stories are not told in the first person, which would become de rigeur in the romance books.

Of the other three stories, one is a 'western-romance', a genre hybrid that had a short popularity, another is a light comedy and a third has a 17th century historical setting. When the smoke cleared after the glut, this kind of variation became rare. Of these other three stories, two 8-pagers were drawn by Leonard Starr, last seen in this series of posts doing assignments for Simon and Kirby earlier in 1949. In a period when most comic book stories were drawn anonymously, the artists have signed their names proudly in this book.

I'd love to see the second issue, in which Starr is in Caniff territory with a 20-page(!!) story titled China Bombshell. The other artistic contributor is Frank Bolle who I think nowadays is to be found drawing Apartment 3-G in the newspapers. The Grand Comics database gives the writing of this one to Dana Dutch. Furthermore, in a time when so many of these publishers were resorting to the formalities of Leroy mechanical lettering (if you look back over these posts you'll see it in the pages from Avon, EC and Famous Funnies. Quality were also using it), look at how smart the calligraphy is in this story. Perhaps the artist did it himself, since it is so perfectly integrated into the job as a whole. Look for example at the way the motif of the raised eyebrow in the final panel is inverted in the initial 't' of 'the end' that runs beneath the panel.

I read it and sampled the pages at The Digital Comics Museum, an online site that is a real education in old comics. I salute them! This particular book must have been scanned for a mint copy or somebody knows more about digital restoration than I do. That does not look like 62 year old newsprint. in fact, now that I look again, there are no staples showing in those spreads. Well done, whoever it was!

St John threw another gem into the bubbling glut, and again it only lasted two issues, Oct. and Dec. 1949. this was Hollywood Confessions and its appeal is that it has Joe Kubert all over it. He did the covers, and where he didn't draw some of the stories by himself, he inked over pencils by Joe Giunta and Hy Rosen. the result is a stylistically cohesive and attractive package.
That's the second issue's cover at left. (found at the Grand Comic Book Database, another invaluable source for comic book history.) The idea of a book of romances with a Hollywood angle may even have been Kubert's idea, and he may have put the whole thing together himself too. ( A little later he would be a creative force at St. John, with Tor in the world of 1,000,000 years ago and the very first 3D comic book.) On the other hand, it wasn't to be a unique idea. Quality Comics had two new comics out with Hollywood in the title over the following two months, and neither of them lasted more than six issues.

Hollywood Confessions #1 Oct 1949- art by Kubert

The above sequence is very unusual in a romance book. And the following story's pencilling by Giunta is full of unpretentious charm:

ditto- art by Giunta-Kubert


Monday, 7 November 2011

Hayley Campbell's at McSweeney's, in their section titled 'OPEN LETTERS TO PEOPLE OR ENTITIES WHO ARE UNLIKELY TO RESPOND'

Dear Sir,

Listen, I know you won’t speak to me but just come over here and let me bend your waxy ear for just a second. Don’t wait for my colleague to come back from lunch so you can ask him about that Green Lantern comic. I work here too.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

It's just comics- part 9

One of my intentions with this series of posts is to look at the other publishers of the early 1950s and see how they matched up to the vaunted EC comics. And there were a hell of a lot of publishers in the game. As already noted, not all the publishers got into ROMANCE, but there were at least 38 that did. I find myself now looking at some of the comics published by Avon.

I'm arriving at subjects by way of random connections rather than any order of importance. I arrived at this one through the clipped loose pages of a story in my files that I find attractive. It's one of a bunch of stories reprinted, in black and white, by Malibu (or a small company of that ilk) in the 1990s.

Realistic Romances #4- Feb 1952

This would have been the original cover of the issue. There tended to be an animal lustfulness about Avon's romances at this time, with people eating each other rather than gazing longingly. At least, that's the impression I'm getting from the handful of issues viewable at the Digital comics Museum. 'Realistic', to judge from some of the stories, means tales of beautiful women falling for gangsters. For example, in #16, the female protagonist of the first story ends up in court, being judged guilty, after a shoot-out at a gas station; the heroine of the second is behind bars after the FBI walk in on the perfume counterfeiting racket; and of the third she's being taken out of a sanatorium after being cured of 'reefer madness.' Years later Avon would lead the way in the modern ROMANCE genre in paperbacks when "in 1972 they put out the first single-title romance to be published as an original paperback" (according to wikipedia... this isn't the sort of thing I would otherwise know). Founded in 1941 as an early publisher of paperbacks, they published a line of comic books between 1945 and the mid-50s, but I'm thinking that, at least as far as the romances go, they weren't weren't quite in step with the rest of the field.

Here's another cover, just to underline the point.

Romantic Love-#13-Nov 1952

The art inside their romance comics often has a rather old fashioned look about it. This didn't occur to me with the story signed by Astarita above because of its World War 2 setting (though that is part of the 'deception', the girl in uniform being a Hollywood actress), some ten years earlier than the publishing date. I looked for some details on the artist at Jerry Bails' who's who of comic books. There I find that Rafael Astarita was born in 1912 and was working in comic books from the beginning (New Comics #1 Dec 35). During the early 1950s he worked mostly for Avon and St John. The dress and mannerisms of his figures suggest a man who would have been fashion-aware in the 1930s rather than the 1950s. But it goes deeper than just the recognizability of period clothes or automobile styling. In the following splash panel, also by Astarita, even the pictorial construction, and the way the eye is lead into the composition, belong to an earlier period.

Intimate Confessions-June (?) 1952

Contrast with this title panel by Alex Toth, an artist 16 years younger and very much a a 1950s guy. You'd swear it was published more than just one year later.

New Romances #17- published by Standard -Alex Toth- Aug 1953

The other artist I associate with Avon is Everett Raymond Kinstler. He was something of a virtuoso with the pen and brush , but while Kinstler was an artist of Toth's generation rather than Astarita's, the trouble with his virtuosity was that it emulated the penmanship of those other guys who owned three names, Charles Dana Gibson and James Montgomery Flagg, artists who made their mark in the opening decades of the twentieth century. He liked to fill his page up with as much ink as possible:

Realistic Romances #16 -June 1954

Sometimes I feel that the self-conscious inkwork has been laid over a rather commonplace comic book conception, as suggested by this face:

Before long Avon had him doing as many covers as they could get out of him for the whole line, of which the romance titles were just a small part:.

Romantic Love-July 1954

Let's get a close-up of the pen technique:

Romantic Love- #20-March 1954

While the jarringly aggressive covers of the earlier phase have gone, still Kinstler is never going for the classic iconic representation of love in these images. There's always some little detail that makes it a specific moment rather than a general expression. Nor is there a sense of narrative. I suppose that the girl in the red dress is inviting the guy in for a coffee rather than telling him never to darken her doorstep again and he's taking it like a trouper. But the pictorial syntax doesn't ask us to care, or at least not in the way it does in the panel by Astarita at the top of this post.

I tend to feel closed out by Kinstler's fussy story art, but I'm drawn to these covers. While they feel like old pulp illustrations that have been unnecessarily coloured in, they do have a muscular and unsentimental simplicity about them.

Realistic Romances- #16- June 1954

After comic books, Kinstler became a celebrated portrait painter and painted many famous Americans. Here's his Richard Nixon.

more portraits by Kinstler at The Greatest American painters gallery.

Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist's Journey Through Popular Culture - 1942-1962. [Hardcover] (2005)

Amusing postscript:
I.W. was a company whose thing was to reprint comics previously published by other companies, sometimes without permission reportedly. There were so many publishers out of business following the introduction of the Comics Code that they all must have had more important things to worry about. I.W. plied this trade for about five years, 1958-63 (I have one of their Spirit reprints). They put out several issues of Avon's Romance titles, and led off with a more up to date cover, see left,

(circa 1958)