Tuesday, 25 October 2011

It's just comics- part 5

recap. in part 1 I lamented that for years what we saw of 1950s comics was largely limited to HORROR and/or the EC Comics company and said I'd rather read a ROMANCE comic. In part 2 I cast a brief glance at EC's CRIME comics; in part 3 I looked at the romance comics Alex Toth drew for Standard; in part 4 I surveyed the Simon-Kirby shop output in the romance genre for Prize, and it was they who started it don't forget.

Frank Frazetta was one of the leading comics stylists of the early 1950s, but he was unwilling to settle on anything for long. Like Toth, he drew little for EC, only one solo story, one solo cover and a handful of co-signed things with Al Williamson. That cover had been previously rejected by Famous Funnies for being too violent. He drew other things for Famous Funnies (otherwise known as Eastern Color Print co.), including a group of five ROMANCE stories for their Personal Love title (cover at left; as noted before, photographic covers were all the rage). These have been gathered together more than once. Russ Cochran put four of them in an oversize collectible, shot from the original art and printed on bristol board, in 1973. I treasure it.

I am very fond of that EC story too, "Squeeze Play" which I mentioned here in part 1. I'm writing from memory here, but I recall that the first place I read about it (probably in the EC HORROR anthology it was in) said the story was 'nothing special.' I presume the commenter was an unabashed fantasist, of which I have encountered many. Steve Moore once told me he was one, unabashedly. But in the mid 1970s I was looking for a kind of comics that got away from everything supernormal. I felt that it could only lead to tedious absurdity, and time has borne me out.

Nothing that happens in it couldn't happen tomorrow. It is a romance story gone wrong, a fatal wrong turn in the adventure of finding a life-partner. It's set in an urban seaside resort town and concerns a girl and her guy. It's drawn more or less in the same style that Frazetta used for the romance stories. Just imagine the following with a first person narration instead of third.

Harry's girl tells him she is pregnant and he takes the situation in hand by pushing her off a roller coaster to her death.

Shock Suspenstories #13 Feb 1954

First he he has to drag her onto the roller coaster, screaming, and the passers-by think how cute, young love. But that's shown in flashback. When the story starts all of that has already happened and Harry is trying lose himself on the crowded beach:

He successfully attaches himself to a gaggle of girls, and then things go awry when they drag him into the surf, because he can't swim.

The whole story is at the link.

I've never heard of any connection between Toth and Frazetta until Setting the Standard (reviewed here in part 3). In the intro, Sadowski shows us the original art of the title page of the Toth-drawn story, I Struck it Rich from Personal Love #11, Sept 1951. He tells us that the page was owned by Frank Frazetta before 1958. One might presume that the editor passed it to Frazetta as a style guide for the stories he was to do for the same title, and by 1958 the company was gone and he was free to give it away. Just speculating.

With the romance genre hugely popular at the beginning of the '50s it's no surprise that Frazetta would have been working up samples to get work in that area. I found this one on the Comic-Art-fans site: it could have been drawn as early as 1949:

By 1953 he had mastered the romance thing. this is a panel from his daily strip Johnny Comet, from January 30 that year, the second last strip before the syndicate pulled the plug in mid-story, from the original art (this makes then repro in the old Eclipse collection of the strip look very rough).

The group of Love stories falls between Nov 1953 and April 1955, the Digital Comics Museum is a great place to look for old Romance comics.

Personal Love #25- Jan 1954- Too Late for Love

Personal Love #27- June 1954

There's an extraordinary energy and vigor in these panels. I also like the house lettering style, with the captions in lower case and the dialogue in upper. I was only able to find the first three stories in colour. Two years back, Mr Door tree posted all five in black and white. Four are scanned from the Russ Cochran book mentioned above.

Personal Love #25- Jan 1954- Too Late for Love

By the fourth story, my favourite of the group, Frazetta's personality is fairly boiling the lid off the pan. Look at the way the sculptural objects in the room are hinting at the torrid emotions being kept in check.

Personal Love #28- Aug 1954

Frazetta's fifth and final romance story tends to be the favourte of his fans, due to its exotic location, on safari in Africa.

Personal Love #32- Apr 1955

Such exoticism was very unusual in the genre, where a longing for domesticity was always the driving theme. The settings of the romance comics were always a contemporary urban or suburban environment (leaving out the hybrid genre of western romances.) Also, at this time, 'overseas' probably still had overtones of guys being sent off to war. The attraction of the African location in this instance is to be explained by the 1953 movie, Mogambo, starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner.

Frazetta would have made a much better job of that poster than whoever it was that did it.

no shrinking violets among THAT lot! More soppy romances to come.

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Blogger Jason Michelitch said...

Love when you delve deep into comics history and your interactions with same.

And always refreshing to get a look at a well-known artist from a less often considered angle - Frazetta is "king" of cover art, but I feel like I'm rarely reminded of just how strong his storytelling skills were. Thanks.

26 October 2011 at 10:58:00 GMT-5  
Blogger MarkSullivan said...

Wow, that Frazetta guy was good. I had no idea he had worked in this genre, and this stuff is gorgeous.

26 October 2011 at 12:10:00 GMT-5  
Blogger miriam beetle said...

love the frazetta thighs on the standing woman in image three, & all the frazetta asses in image four.

neat to see how he makes them pop even in flat colours & the simplest lines.

(also so glad you're blogging again! just caught up on all the stuff since two years ago.)

28 October 2011 at 00:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

thanks, Miriam.

I wonder if this means that Frazetta avoids the trap of 'the male gaze'?

6 November 2011 at 01:29:00 GMT-5  
Blogger miriam beetle said...

i'd say his gaze is pretty male. what trap specifically are you referring to?

(from what i recall from my snooty postmodern-conceptual art school education, the double consciousness women get, constantly being fed male-oriented media, means that women can gaze male-ly too, without even trying, as well as gazing female-ly. also i'm queer.)

6 November 2011 at 03:02:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

I'd originally typed more and then deleted it thinking, oh hell, this is too complicated.
Thoroughly confirmed by everything in the parentheses. :)

6 November 2011 at 05:38:00 GMT-5  

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