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)



Blogger Loris Z. said...

I have a deep love (no pun intended) for the titles of these stories.

"I Decided My Love". "I Was A profiteer". Brilliant!

6 November 2011 at 06:56:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

That Toth page is great. I can't stop looking at it.

6 November 2011 at 14:30:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Knucklavee said...

I love Toth Too. I believe he got paid per page completed for everything he did, right?

plus a royalty (sometimes)?

6 November 2011 at 23:47:00 GMT-5  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home