Wednesday, January 09, 2008

You Have To Start Somewhere


Recently, for the special Stan Lee issue of prozine Alter Ego I wrote a lengthy article about the writings of Stan Lee from 1941 to 1961, which is when he revitalized the comic book industry together with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko by starting the Marvel comic book line with heroes such as Spiderman en The Fantastic Four. So lengthy infact, that Roy and I decided to leave it for another date. I did get him a couple of scans to use, including one of a sunday page of Stan Lee and Dan deCarlo's 1961 newspaper strip Willie Lumpkin.

In the next couple of days, I will upload one page a day of all the sundays I have for this delightful strip. This will give me a chance to get familiar with the working of Blogger and anyone who stumbles upon this site something to read and to come back for.

But first, some history.

In the late fifties, the comic book industry was faltering. Many publshers had thrown in the towel and others were either downsizing the number of their titles or at least reducing their page rates and find other ways to make the books cheaper to produce. many comic book artists took this as an incentive to try and leave as well. Most comic book creators wanted to be in newspaper strips or advertising anyway. So this was their chance to try and make it in the big leagues.

Among them was Stan Lee, who had a good job as editor of a huge line of comic books from his uncle-once-removed Martin Goodman. But a job is all it was, he didn't have a part of the company and from his point of view at that moment in time, it must have seemed like a dead-end job in a dying industry.

So he approached several artists and tried to get some proposals up. One of them was Dan deCarlo. Not a weird choice, as they had worked togetehr succesfully since the late forties on what we now would call Archie-type teen humor comics. But they were more than that. They were in fact, quite unique and of a style all their own, combining Stan Lee's love of cheap puns and silly situations with deCarlo's slightly sexy yet still innocent and very attractive illustration style.

Their most popular series had in fact already been a newspaper strip. My Friend Irma was based on a popular radio series in the forties and had been a newspaper strip in 1952. When the artist of that strip couldn't make a go of it, Stan Lee and Dan deCaro even took it over for a while. But they too, couldn't turn it into a hit. Still, some of their tries at newspaper strips followed the model of Irma closely. Maybe too closely. I get all of this information from Bill Morrison's book on the art of Dan deCarlo, which for some reason he called The Art Of Dan deCarlo (Fantagraphics). In my next post I will steal a bit more from this book, show a few samples and tell you how Willie Lumpkin got started.

But first the first of my Willie Lumpkin sundays. Click on the image for a larger scan.

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