Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Little Argument

Friday Comic Book Day.

Here has been a discussion going on on Facebook between two publishers of old comics. Both of them use material from the copyright free domain to make collections. One of them only chooses the best, presents the material in the best possible way and has the most prestigious scholars comment on them. The other one has no problem showing unpopular artists, shows the material as it was and stresses the outragousness of many of the stories he is reprinting. Can you guess who I am with? Yes, it's the second one. Not only because the first one (Fantagraphics started the attack - and it really was a hatched job) and the second one (Craig Yoe) has never counterattacked, and even published a list of the best Fantagraphics book he knew. Not even because I have worked with Craig on Behaving Madly and can never get a Fantagraphic's attention. The real reason is that I find collecting comics from the fifties both a joy and silly. There was a lot of crap made in that period (as in any period) and I have been running my blog to celebrate that. I do not believe in dividing the comics world into the worthy and the not worthy. As I have proven here time and again there is good and bad to be found in most artists. There is excellence in some artist who just hacked away at it and there are some who worked really hard and still didn't manage to find their groove. I don't believe in publishing only the established big names, reprinting the EC books for the umpteenth time and adding scholarly commentary that only rehashes what we already know to justify the importance of my hobby.

Lately I have been looking at a couple of Stan Lee produced Timely/Atlas books from the early fifties and like the first time I became interested in them I was blown away completely again. Only two books, Adventures into Weird Worlds #13 and #21, two issues I had not seen before. And I know, there is very little in there that reaches the level of excellence that the EC books do. But they are also imbued with a sense of fun that Al Feldstein and his creators only rarely reached. Over the next few days I hope to show some of those stories and maybe add a little nonscholarly commentary by myself.

Adventures into Weird Worlds was one of the many horror titles that were launched in the early fifties to cash in on the current rage for that sort of material. What happened in comics was that the soldiers that read the comics in the forties were looking for the next step up and the rougher, more adult material provided that (in the horror books, but also in the new, grimmer war titles). The first story is a story with a twist, like the ones Stan Lee liked to write himself. In fact, there are a couple more indications it might have been one of his. There is the use of 'thru' instead of 'through', which he always did (even in his private correspondence with syndicates). There is the use of four dialogueless panels in a row with commentary on top (which he may have gotten from Harvey Kurtzman at EC). There is the fact that the story concerns classical monsters, which Stan always liked and used and reused an many ways, the fact that it has a twist ending - many of Stan's stories start out a a 'joke'. And it has seven pages, which is one page more than normal - a bonus he only afforded himself over all the other writers. There are indications it may not be his as well. First of all, Stan used to write in bunches on his day off or at the weekend. That means that all of his stories fall into a set of sequential job numbers - most of them ending or starting with one of his funny teen books (My Friend Irma and such) which he had to do one a week anyway. The added horror or war story usually was a little something extra, maybe because something occurred to him while writing the other assignments. Sadly, the job numbers surrounding this one (B-346) are not signed by Stan and are not likely to have been written by him either. So I is more likely to have been brought in by another writer. And lastly he did not sign this story, where he did sign most of his work. On the plus side, this story is drawn by Carmine Infantino, one of the top talents he liked to use for his own stories.

Carmine Infantino did not sign his work either, but there was only one artist doing this sort of detailed and often grotesque work at Timely and that was Infantino. If you go to the Atlas Tales website and look up this book, you will see a bunch of us agreed on that attribution, at least. As for the Stan Lee attribution... I don't think it is his. Another complication is the fact that the monster introduced in this story was used again in Adventures into Weird Worlds #15, is another unsigned story drawn by George Tuska. And again, there are no Stan Lee written stories surrounding that job number (B-781). It also has 'thru', it has the row of textless panels, seven pages and a twist ending. But two unsigned ones as a solo effort? Very unlikely.

In that case, there is only one other writer who shares some of these characteristics with Stan, and that is Hank Chapman. Only problem is that he too usually signed his work and that he had left the horror field (famously, because they gave him nightmares) and had started writing war stories for Stan - and lots of them.

So here is the first one. I will do the second one tomorrow. Presented as is, and none of them will convince the art world that comics from the fifties were a noble endeavour. But for those of us who love reading, they are very well produced, they do not have the text heavy style that pulled down the EC books and both George Tuska and Carmine Infantino are two of the greats of the industry whose work in the fifties is unjustly forgotten. They also present another view of what was happening in comics in the fifties than the black and white EC versus the rest of the world view presents. I will go into that in one of my next posts about these fascinating books.


comicstripfan said...

I just read your book authored with Craig Yoe "Behaving Madly" and posted my "short and sweet" review (so many people want to comment on your excellent work!). You seem to work well with him. I also appreciate your comments in the first paragraph in this instalment of your blog and am inclined to agree with you - I didn't know that about Fantagraphics and wonder whether they would respond to your comments (I assume you would welcome it).

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Thanks for the review. You caught my intention - to write a book that is both accessable to the comic book historians and the general reader. My other intention was caught by others as well: to write a book that would leave people wanting more. And indeed, I'd love to be corrected by anyone at Fantagraphics as to my assumptions about their work.