Friday Comic Book Day.
Four years ago I showed a story from the early fifties horror magazine Mister Mystery #1, which many believe to have been done by Charles Stern, a former classmate of Harvey Kurtzman. The story is completely in the Kurtzman style and completely new, not cobbed together from swipes. Kurtzman had just been doing some artwork for the early EC horror ooks and just as this book seems to be an answer to the horror boom that EC started, this story seems to be the editors attempt to imitate that aspect of EC's succes. The story itself is so original and so much like the work of Kurtzman that some have proposed that Krtzman may have helped out his old friend Charlie Stern. My intrenet friend Michael T. Gilbert even adressed this in his pages in Alter Ego, showing not only this story but also the one after that in Mister Mystery #2, which looks to be by the same team. Sounds reasonable, doesn;t it?
Except that it isn't true. Or at least that is my opinion. In my previous post (predating the article in Alter Ego) I already stated this, but the whole idea of finding an unknown Kurtzman story based on the idea that he may have helped his old studio mate (yep, they shared a studio in the late forties) is too tempting.
So why am I so adement. Well, first of all, the story is not well drawn enough to be by Kurtzman and Kurtzman too much of a perfectionist to have helped out over someone elses pencils. He may have done so a couple of times in 1947 when he was out of a job and hadn't found his style yet, but in 1951 he was well underway at EC and becoming the perfectionist we all know and love. We are talkng about a man who not only sketched every panel of every story he wrote for every artist, he also refused to work with them if they didn't stick with his example, even if they were Alex Toth.
Also, the whole 'helping out a friend' idea is backwards. The story looks like Kurtzman's so it must be by Charlie Stern so Kurtzman could have helped him out? This sidesteps the fact that the story is not signed and that there is no evidence of Stern ever working for this company. He was doing his stuff at St. John at that time, in a complete different style, may I add. So when I first showed this story, I humble said that I could be wrong if the second story (which I hadn't seen at that time) would be signed by Stern. Heck, any story signed by Stern for Key Publications would be enough to at least leave a shimmer of a doubt. But now I have and can show the second story and it is not signed either. Even better, there is a third story as well, also unsigned and that undermines the 'helping out a friend' theory even further. I have a hard time believing Kurtzman would just ink someones pencils to help out a new publisher copy his style. Doing so twice makes it even harder to accept. But three times is impossible.
So who did these stories? In my previous post I pointed to the fact that the wife in the first story looks a lot like the funny work of Andru and Esposito later in life (Up Your Nose and stuff like that). They were invistors in this magazine and had their hand in almost every aspect of it. In issue #3 there is a story signed by Rose, which could be Mart Rosenthall (or at least that is how he signed his stories for Stan Le later in the fifties) who worked with Andru and Esposito in their own company MikeRoss as Thall. In that line, the prolific Andru used different inkers to create different styles. Also Andru and Esposito are known to have an EC fixation. Not only was Mr. Mystery a diect reaction to the horror books by EC, at MikeRoss they also produced a Mad imitation with many refences to the EC horror line and it's publisher Bill Gaines. Who, by the way refused ever to work with them again after that. The main point of course was the stylistic one and Andru and Esposito expert (and writer of their biography) Daniel Best.
The second 'Kurzman' story from Mister Mystery #2 does not have any direct visual link to the work of Andru and Esposito, though. It is clerly by te same team as the first one, but is it Andru? The pencilling is slightly less cartoony as well, could it be a different penciller? I don't think so. I think it stll is Andru, reverting a bit more to his own style. The introducing character is probably by him as well, but that could have been added later. The set-up of that page with the long image on the left is pure Andru, though.
The third (and last) story in this style has no signature either. So as far as I am concerned there is no evidence of Charles Stern doing this except years and years of fans willing it. The story has no typical Anru characters either, althugh there is the typical left hand side splash that Andru would use so much all through the fifties and there is the preference of vertical panels to horzontal ones that also marks his work. There even is a six vertical panel page, as we see in much of his work.
Anyway, I hope this ends the discussion for once and for all. For that to happen this post has to be seen, though. So please link to it, reproduce it on Facebook, whatever is necessary. As my final 'proff' I am including two newspaper strips Andru and Esposito tried. One from 1950 and a later one, both from Daniel Best's site.