Friday, April 20, 2018

Ditko and Wood

Steve Ditko and Wally Wood exist in a rarefied estate of comic book hierarchy. Their body of work has been admired and critiqued by fans and historians in numerous articles, books and online forums. Separately they each garnered accolades and showed great promise from the outset; Ditko in countless horror, mystery and sci-fi stories for Charlton; Wood for his superlative artistry throughout EC Comics line, particularly his ornate depiction of spaceships and interplanetary flights of fancy. Both Ditko and Wood were non-conformists with a strong sense of independence, which by the mid-1960s led them to seek out avenues outside the dictates and constraints of mainstream comics where they did not have to acquiesce to an editorial status quo.   

Wood led the charge with his self-published magazine witzend, where Ditko (who was reportedly friends with Wood) created a character he fully owned in its third issue: Mr. A (1967). The two had joined forces professionally a year earlier, when Wood sought out artists to fill the pages of Tower Comics' adventure line. Wood was hired by publisher Harry Shorten to package the titles, which - priced at 25 cents - were double the size of an average 12 cent comic. Wood contributed profusely as writer/plotter, artist and inker, but even with a staff of assistants he was unable to handle the load. In addition to Ditko, Wood called on many highly-respected professionals to illustrate T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Dynamo and Noman, including Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Dick Ayers, Reed Crandall, Paul Reinman and Chic Stone. 

The auspicious debut of the Ditko/Wood combo began at Tower Comics in 1966; from the onset their pairing resulted in an undeniable synergy. The artists continued to partner sporadically in the ensuing years for a variety of publishers, with results that were always interesting and frequently quite stunning. I believe the following review, in which I chronicle every Ditko and Wood story produced in the 1960s and 1970s*, provides tangible evidence why attention to the work of these two remarkable craftsman is warranted.  

*The format I've employed is chronological, and based primarily on cover-dates, although in the instance of The Stalker I decided to discuss all four issues consecutively. Job numbers also come into play at times, as I will explain in the body of the text in greater detail

"Dynamo Meets the Amazing Andor," inking assistance by Dan Adkins. Tim Battersby worked on the script (per his work records) with Wood possibly involved. Dynamo # 1, August 1966.

The first issue Ditko penciled and Wood inked was either Dynamo # 1 or T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents # 7. Both are cover-dated August, which means they were on newsstands in May of 1966, but since Tower didn't employ job numbers on their published stories (often seen on splash pages and used in an editorial capacity to keep track of jobs) there is no way to ascertain their premiere undertaking. I've chosen the Dynamo splash because of Ditko's striking point-of-view shot, looking up from the manhole, a perspective that may have been influenced by Orson Wells' cinematic masterpiece (studied by many artists in the field) Citizen Kane. Wood lends the perfect touch with his precise inking. 

Another reason I led off with this story is - quite frankly - purely visual. The "Ditko/Wood" signpost that is illuminated on the splash page is symbolic of the two artists symmetry in graphic storytelling. Ditko's signature showed up in a similar manner on a Charlton cover years earlier, so it's a distinct possibility Ditko playfully added the credits here. 

  Ditko's fight-scene choreography has been admired by many comic book aficionados, and with good reason, as page 8 from "Dynamo Meets the Amazing Andor" illustrates.   

Panels from page 8 and 9 and the entirety of page 10; "A Matter of Life and Death," T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents # 7, August 1966. In an unusual move for the time, Dan Adkins had the idea of killing one of the Thunder Agents. After receiving approval from editor Samm Schwartz, Ditko was assigned to the story. Who else could convey emotions of disbelief, anger and grief with a sense of craft and authenticity? Adkins script, layouts and inking assistance. 
Dynamic splash page art showcasing Ditko's poses and command of anatomy combined with Wood's lush inking. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents # 12, April 1967.  

One of the Thunder Agents played largely for laughs was the non-super powered Weed. Wood reportedly had a fondness for the character and his appearance was even patterned after the artist. Ditko who had a good feel for humor, exaggerated postures and hand gestures throughout the story. Wood imbued The Iron Maiden, a voluptuous femme fatal, with a strong dose of what all his women appeal. "Once Upon a Time..," Dynamo # 4, June 1967.

Credits were occasionally hidden in backgrounds, as seen in this panel. Ditko's name appears on a billboard (as does RR for Ralph Reese); Wood's on a bus. Wood's then-wife, Tatjana's name is partially visible on the side of a building. Tatjana was a talented colorist and likely did the honors on this story.      
The adventures of Dynamo were not always taken as seriously as some of his super-heroic peers, an influence imposed by Wood. Here is another example of Ditko character-types populating a story, including satirical beatniks and mobsters. "Return Engagement," T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents # 14, July 1967. Wood layouts and possible script, with inking assistance by Dan Adkins. 

While this Dynamo story is drawn solely by Ditko I decided to include it because Wood may have been involved as plotter (with Roger Brand scripting) as posited on the Grand Comic Book Database. If so, it's still an example of the two working together (and besides, I liked the page so much I HAD to share it!). "Dream of Doom!," T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents # 16, October 1967. 

"The Wizard of Dark Mountain!," Bhob Stewart, script and layouts; Steve Ditko finished pencils; Wally Wood inks, with possible assistance from Dom Sileo and others, Bill Yoshida lettering. Jungle Jim # 22, February 1969.  

Ditko and Wood's next collaborative effort took a circuitous route to Charlton comics. On his blog Bhob Stewart explained that Jungle Jim was originally an assignment Wood produced for King Features, the newspaper syndicate who decided to start a comic book line utilizing some of their popular characters. Unimpressed with sales figures, management decided to drop the line, selling off the remaining material to Charlton. Stewart recounts that, with a deadline fast-approaching, Wood recruited a number of artists to get the stories completed, including Ditko:  

  Wood turned that one ("The Wizard of Dark Mountain") over to Steve Ditko, who followed my rough layouts with such precision that he carefully included every detail. I saw that he had made a few slight alterations and improvements. On page five, panel five, I had Jungle Jim holding Rima’s ass as he gave her a boost into the ventilating shaft; Ditko gave it a simple change to make it acceptable to the King editors. On page three, panel four, my rough of the trio rock climbing was awkward, and he easily solved the problem by repositioning the characters.   

You can read a more detailed account of Stewart's work with Wood on Jungle Jim here:

Jim makes a brilliant observation on this page from "Reptile God of Lost Island."  Ditko and Wood illustrated three stories in Jungle Jim # 27 (December, 1969).  Charlton had been producing all-new material by staff writer Joe Gill and artist Pat Boyette, beginning with # 23 and continuing until issue # 26 (for reasons lost to the ages Charlton did not publish the remainder of its King inventory until nearly a year later. Go figure!)

 "The Beast Man and the Man Beast" is the second Jim story featured in JJ # 27. Ditko may have only contributed layouts or breakdowns, with finished art by Wood and other unknown assistants. I see less of Ditko's expressive faces and figures here, although Jim's pose in panel four and the villain's fingers in panel five confirm his input. 

     "Winged Fury," the final Jim tale appearing in issue # 27, has a more pronounced Ditko presence, from the characters poses to the bat-winged creature lurking above the heroes. Bill Yoshida lettering on all stories. 

 Heroes, Inc. presents Cannon, 1969. Story/inks by Wood; pencils by Ditko.  

In 1969 Wally Wood produced a comic book for the publisher of Overseas Weekly, where he had created Sally Forth and other comic strips for Military News, a paper distributed to G.I.'s. and circulated on Army bases. Heroes, Inc.  was not restricted by Comics Code regulations and included depictions of violence and sexuality. The stories and characters were all copyrighted in Wood's name, which was another incentive for the artist. Wood recruited Ditko to pencil the 12 page lead feature, Cannon, a soldier turned into an unemotional fighting machine and sent on missions by the US government. Freed from the confines of the Code, Ditko and Wood turned in one of their most impressive pencil/ink jobs.     

From 1970-1973 Ditko and Wood went their separate ways creatively; Ditko working primarily for Charlton while writing and drawing Mr. A, Avenging World and other independent comics appearing in fanzines and small press publications; Wood was busy inking stories for DC, drawing and occasionally writing material for Warren Publishing's black and white magazines (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirilla) and producing creator-owned tales in witzend and for overseas publications.   

The impressive splash page to The Destructor # 1, February 1975. Inking assistance by Paul Kirchner; lettering by John Duffy; coloring by Bhob Stewart.  

Mobsters, heroes and classic storytelling. "Deathgrip!," The Destructor # 2, April 1975. Archie Goodwin script; Paul Kirchner inking assistance; Dave Hunt letterer.  

  From his dark glasses to the metallic hands, Deathgrip is reminiscent of the insane scientist Dr. Gogol, as played by Peter Lorre in the 1935 thriller Mad Love. Perhaps author Goodwin suggested the visual reference to Ditko?

In late 1974 Ditko and Wood were reunited under the auspices of Atlas-Seaboard, a new comics company overseen by former Marvel publisher Martin Goodman. In an effort to get some of the top creators in the field to join, Goodman offered higher rates and a return of original art pages. Ditko penciled a few titles for the company, notably The Destructor, a teenage superhero with a hard edge. Ditko was certainly no stranger to teen heroes, having previously crafted both Spider-Man and The Hawk and Dove. Written by Archie Goodwin (who Ditko had worked with at Warren, illustrating black and white horror/thrillers in a medley of breathtaking ink/wash techniques), Wood embellished the first two issues with his usual expertise.

     "Quest for a Stolen Soul," Paul Levitz script, Stalker # 1, July 1975

     "Darkling Death at World's End Sea," Stalker # 2, September 1975

   "The Freezing Flames of the Burning Isle," Stalker # 3, November 1975 

"Invade the Inferno," Stalker # 4, January 1976. All stories written by creator Paul Levitz, with inking assistance from Paul Kirchner, Al Sirois and Wayne Howard. Lettering by Ben Oda.  

DC Editor and former Wood studio partner Joe Orlando corralled Ditko and Wood to illustrate Stalker, Paul Levitz's sword and sorcery/fantasy hero. Playing to the strength of both artists, Levitz crafted a world populated with demonic creatures, beautiful women, ornate castles and fantastic adventures. Unfortunately the series was cancelled after four issues, a victim of both the comic book glut and an overall slump in industry sales. 

On Paul Levitz's blog you can discover more about the character's origins and how fandom was miraculously graced with a 4th issue:

"Love is a Dandy!," Steve Skeates script; Milt Snapinn lettering, Paul Kirshner inking assistance, Plop # 16, September 1975.

Wood, who had drawn and designed a few bizarre covers for Plop, Joe Orlando's humor title, was teamed with Ditko on Steve Skeates unusual tale of a young man who takes his love of horticulture to a whole new level!    

"The Gnark is Coming! The Gnark is Coming!," Steve Skeates script; Milt Snapinn lettering, Amazing World of DC Comics # 13, November 1976

Ditko and Wood's last published work for DC appeared in Amazing World of DC Comics, a fanzine produced by the company to promote their line. The story was originally intended to appear in Plop, a title that was due to be cancelled. While Ditko had only drawn a few humor strips in mainstream comics, Wood was revered for his madcap parodies of comics, movies and advertising (teamed in its early years with the brilliant satirist Harvey Kurtzman) in Mad comics and its later incarnation as a magazine.

Untitled Cannon story; script by Wally Wood. Heroes, Inc. Presents Cannon # 2, 1976. 

The Ditko-Wood team ends, appropriately, on one of their final published stories, a return engagement with Wood's creation, Cannon. Published seven years after the first issue, the dimensions changed from a color comic to a magazine-sized black and white publication. Bob Layton, who became a well-known inker, artist and writer for DC, Marvel and other companies, published this issue (under his CPL/Gang Publications banner) which was sold through mail order, in comic shops and at conventions.

Ditko and Wood did not cross paths professionally after 1976. Ditko was busy with assignments at Charlton, DC (where he wrote and illustrated several "Creeper" stories in World's Finest Comics and created Shade, the Changing Man), science-fiction tales for Questar and returned to freelance for Marvel after over a decade's absence; Wood also penciled and inked various DC stories but one of his most accomplished projects, The King of The World, a book-length fantasy extravaganza, was published in 1978. Tragically, Wood died by his own hand on November 2, 1981. 

For over a decade two extraordinary stylists and creative powerhouses fused their storytelling aptitude with impressive results. It is a testament to their imagination, creativity and purity of craft that the work of Steve Ditko and Wally Wood continues to be studied, analyzed and dissected. Like those who rise to the top in any field - authors, directors, musicians, actors, athletes - they invite further investigation into the creative process.        

    A fond farewell to the Ditko-Wood team. Final panel of Stalker # 1, July 1975


Friday, April 13, 2018

Chuck McCann: In Tribute

For those of us who were children of the 1960s and resided in the New York City area, Chuck McCann was a familiar name. The popular television shows he hosted (Laurel and Hardy and Chuck and Let's Have Fun on WPIX-Channel 11 and The Chuck McCann Show on WNEW-Channel 5), epitomized the frenetic and raw nature of a blossoming medium. As McCann explained in his book Chuck McCann's Let's Have Fun! Scrapbook (2012):

You have to keep in mind that in those days nobody really knew television. Everybody was flying by the seat of their pants.
From his earliest days in show business Chuck had met and apprenticed with master puppeteer Paul Ashley, who was an instrumental part of many early children's and adult television shows.


   A flyer for the team of Paul Ashley and Chuck McCann, who played many venues together before teaming up on TV. Ashley's skill at both caricature (Laurel and Hardy, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton and Ed Sullivan are a few that can be seen here) and original creations left an indelible impression on this author's early years and has fostered a life-long love of the art of puppetry. Largely forgotten, Paul Ashley's work in early television deserves a critical study. Image from Chuck McCann's Let's Have Fun! Scrapbook, as are most of the other Chuck-related pictures here.   

One of Paul Ashley's puppets starred in an early TV show from 1950-1954. Rootie Kazootie was popular enough to star in several Dell comic books in that same period. Rootie Kazootie (Four Color) # 415, August 1952. Writer unknown, Dan Gormley art. Image from Comic Book Plus.      

Chuck's first foray in a starring role on television (accompanied by Paul Ashley and his puppets) was as host of The Puppet Hotel, a short-lived program on WNTA-TV, Channel 13 (precursor to what would become public television station WNET) that ran from November 28, 1959 until January 16, 1960.     

When offered a contract to work at WPIX Chuck came up with the idea for a show. A huge fan of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy since he was a child (he had been in contact with Stan Laurel since he was 12 years old) he suggested a program where he hosted their films, using segments with puppets to round-out the show. WPIX had been using the shorts in rain delays or when they had to fill time before their next program on New York Yankees broadcasts; later on they employed the Abbott and Costello Show in the same manner (many of us are familiar with the announcer stating: "We now join Abbott and Costello, already in progress.."). Laurel and Hardy and Chuck debuted on September 7, 1960 - which initiated nearly a decade of tomfoolery with Chuck at the helm.

 Chuck holding the brilliant craftsmanship of Paul Ashley in his hands. Chuck did the voices of both Stan and Ollie in-between segments of the boys films. According to Chuck, Stan Laurel was pleased that the team was being introduced to a new audience on television. 

Chuck was soon asked to host another program on Sunday mornings to compete with Sonny Fox's popular Wonderama on rival network WNEW channel 5. Let's Have Fun was first broadcast on September 18, 1960 and would run FOUR hours live, with segments featuring cartoons (Popeye, Superman); classic comedy (The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and, of course, Laurel and Hardy) and Serials such as Flash Gordon) giving the host a break between comedy sketches and puppetry. It was a grueling work-load but Chuck was a performer up to the task and Let's Have Fun quickly became a ratings success.

A fortuitous event opened up another avenue for the comedian to experiment with, as Chuck recounts in his book:
Then, one day in 1962, I was blessed when I learned that the Daily News - which was the parent company that owned the station I was working for - was going on strike. Since the paper had the rights to use strips that appeared in the Sunday "funnies", the idea came that I could read them on the air and keep our viewers up to date on what their favorite characters were doing, just as Mayor LaGuardia had done on radio during a newspaper deliverymen's strike in 1945.     

 New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (1934-1945) read the comics on his WNYC Talk of the People radio show in July, 1945, which inspired Chuck to do the same on Television almost two decades later.

Since television is a visual medium Chuck decided to dress up as some of the characters he was reading, including "Dick Tracy', "Little Orphan Annie" and "Dondi". For "Terry and the Pirates Chuck opted not to caricature the strips hero but instead parodied his femme fatale nemesis, the Dragon Lady. Well, not exactly. Chuck thought THAT would stretch credibility a little too far, so he created the Dragon Lady's mother!

      Chuck surrounded by Channel 11's line-up of kid's show hosts: Captain Jack McCarthy (top); Officer Joe Bolton (right) and Bozo the Clown (Bill Britten)
Chuck departed Let's Have Fun and WPIX in August, 1965 due to managerial interference. Without skipping a beat he moved to WNEW-Channel 5 in September of that year. The Chuck McCann Show aired weekdays and Saturdays with the same basic format until September 9, 1966. The format changed to once again spotlight Chuck's favorite comedians as Chuck McCann's Laurel and Hardy Show and ran until June 9, 1966. While he worked on other children's programs from time to time, Chuck became a versatile performer, appearing as a character actor in movies and on countless television shows, doing commercials and utilizing his mimicry and vocal skills for Saturday morning cartoons and animated features.

 In 1994-95 Chuck provided the voice of the Thing for the animated Fantastic Four cartoon, which included an adaptation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Galactus story-line. Page from Fantastic Four # 48, March 1966. Joe Sinnott inks, Artie Simek lettering.   
For over five decades Chuck McCann gave children a reason to smile and never appeared to lose the child in himself, which is an accomplishment in itself. By all accounts he was a kind and gentle soul, which came through in his on-screen persona. Chuck McCann died on April 8th 2018, at the age of 83. For the majority of those years he put on a happy face for all the world to enjoy. 

Click the link below to see the opening of Let's Have Fun and the closing segment of The Chuck MCCann show, which includes a magical moment of Chuck outside the WNEW studios greeting fans. It perfectly captures the charm and innocence of a bygone era.




Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Mystery of Kevin Banks

In the early 1970s Marvel attempted to capture a segment of the audience they had not focused on for many years. Comics geared towards young children were selling well for other companies, specifically Archie Publications, Western/Gold Key, Harvey and Charlton, and since sales figures at the time indicated that the superhero line was weakening, as further evidenced by the cancellation of X-Men, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, publisher Martin Goodman began to diversify, hoping to attract new buyers. An inexpensive way of achieving this goal was to dip into his vast Timely-Atlas inventory, which included war, western, jungle, horror and romance material. 

Only one new title was created, Harvey, "inspired" by Archie's successful group of comics. Initially written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Stan Goldberg, who was a veteran colorist for Timely/Atlas/Marvel and had drawn various teen-romance titles, including the popular Millie the Model. Later issues were produced by Stu Schwartzberg and Henry Scarpelli. Running sporadically from 1970-1972, Harvey lasted only six issues and didn't cause the Silberkleit's (Archie's publishers, for those of you not "in the loop") to lose any sleep. 

Just because it looks like an Archie comic that doesn't mean it sells like an Archie comic! Stan Goldberg, who had recently drawn the Archie gang (and would spend most of his later years working for them) provided the cover art (and likely coloring); lettering by Morrie Kuramoto, Harvey # 1, October 1970. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

The bulk of Marvel's foray into children's comics lay in their past, where they had a wealth of features available. They consisted of a Casper the Friendly Ghost copy, Homer the Happy Ghost (brought back from the dead - excuse the pun - because Casper comic books continued to fly off the stands) by Stan Lee and Dan DeCarlo; Lee and Joe Maneely's "Dexter the Demon", which was re-titled, with the lead character slightly altered, as Peter the Little Pest and Li'l Kids/Li'l Pals which featured reprints of Howie Post's "Little Lizzie". Beginning with issue # 10, though, a brand-new series debuted.

                                                                                                                                   Li'l Kids # 10 (February 1973). Kevin Banks signature is seen  on Calvin's desk, with the initials "N. T." nearby. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

A new masthead adorned Li'l Kids # 10, likely designed by Danny Crespi, a long-time letterer/production man. The proper title was minimized with the name "CALVIN" boldly emblazoned on the cover, emphasizing the lead feature, a humorous strip featuring an African-American child. The cover is signed "K. Banks", along with the initials N. T., which I assume is the inker. Unfortunately, I'm stymied as to who those initials belong to. 

Banks (standing) posing with long-time letterer/production man Morrie Kuramoto in the Marvel Bullpen circa late 1972 or early 1973. Banks would have been 16 years old in 1972. Photo from Foom # 2, Summer 1973. 

A photo of Kevin Banks appeared in Foom # 2, a fanzine produced by Marvel. "Behind the scenes at the Marvel Bullpen" focuses on the office production/editorial staff. Banks is referred to as "Li'l Pals" artist, with no further information.    

Cover to Li'l Kids # 11, April 1973, by Kevin Banks and "N.T." While "Calvin' was the lead feature, Timely/Atlas humor strips continued to be reprinted.  Image from the Grand Comics Database.   

 Little has surfaced over the years about Kevin Banks or his short tenure at Marvel. I've quizzed folks who were there at the time, including Roy Thomas and Tony Isabella, but they have no recollection of the man. I've scoured the internet and have come up with few answers, although some details have surfaced since I originally wrote this post in 2012. 

Most importantly are first-hand accounts by people who knew Banks personally, helping to fill out some pieces of the puzzle. A woman who dated Banks informed me that he was born in 1956, placing him at age 16 when he first drew Calvin while interning at Marvel. Others who wrote in the comments section confirmed Banks living in the Bronx, with one person recalling him working as an artist in some capacity for the New York Daily NewsIt remains a mystery WHAT he drew, though. A comic strip? Single-panel editorial panel? Filler art? My friend and fellow comic book detective Michael J. Vassallo has been researching and collecting The Sunday News comics and thus far has not discovered any strips with Banks' by-line.  

The most intriguing information came from B. Cameron White, a professional artist know as Shakor, which is worth quoting:

 "I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and attended the High School of Art and Design where I met Kevin Banks.As comic book art lovers we quickly became friends .We were high school students in the 10th grade when Kevin landed the job at Marvel drawing "Calvin". Kevin was artistically talented way beyond his years. I was inspired and challenged by his creative genius to reach his level. I was so excited about his internship with Marvel because we often dreamed of becoming artists for Marvel and Kevin accomplished just that! I bombarded him with questions about the staff at Marvel and what artist did he meet? ,Did he meet Adam Austin? (Gene Colan), Jack Kirby? Steve Ditko????. As time progressed Kevin seemed to attend school less and less and eventually declared he was going professional and was gone. Have not heard from him since 1974."

Unfortunately the road ends at age 18, since Mr. White has not heard from Banks in 44 years. Nor has anyone else who knew him all those years ago. His last know address was in Florida and he has no presence on the internet. At this point in time (2018 as I write this) Banks would be 62 years old.    

A Fat Albert-inspired scene appears on the third and final appearance of Calvin in Li'l Kids. 

Li'l Kids featuring Calvin lasted only three issues, ending with # 12, June 1973. Marvel's children's line faded away as horror-related material such as Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing dominated in sales, and while Martin Goodman may have feared that superheroes were in trouble, they too survived.  

Kevin Banks' name was nowhere to be seen at Marvel after his final Calvin story. Did Banks' only comic book work appear in three issues of Li'l Kids? Could he have drawn or written stories in obscurity at other companies, such as Gold Key, where creator credits were often non-existent? Was he employed at the Daily News or another paper? Or did he go into another field entirely? The questions remain unanswered thus far, but there is always a chance that Kevin Banks will surface to tell his own story.  

And who was N.T. ?  

If anyone has further information on Kevin Banks or knows his whereabouts please contact me at Maybe one day I can update this blog post with the heading: "mystery solved" with Banks recounting his experiences as an intern and artist at Marvel.   

Postscript: All roads lead to other roads, some often surprising or exciting. B. Cameron White, AKA Shakor, knew Kevin Banks many years ago, but while White was a comic book fan, his muse took him on a different artistic path. He has an art gallery in New Orleans, but you can visit his website and take a peek at his distinctive work. One painting that impressed me greatly is  "Jazz Combo on Canvas":


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Hidden Gems in Marvel Reprints

If you had the original comics you might have ignored Marvel's reprint titles, but occasionally new or unpublished inventory surfaced, nestled in the back pages and appearing without fanfare. For the fanatical collector who is compelled to have it all (something I'm quite familiar with, in case you haven't yet noticed), these are treasures to be sought out, akin to an unreleased track from a favorite band or musician appearing on a compilation CD. Displaced stories would sometimes find a home in Marvel Tales, Ka-Zar and Marvel Super-Heroes, (The Angel, Tales of the Watcher and the 1950s-era Human Torch being a few examplesand pin-ups were often used to fill up pages. Most were either procured from earlier comics or manufactured by using images from covers, splash pages, tee-shirts or pasted together from a variety of sources. Unused artwork was most likely discovered unexpectedly, mixed among FF or Spider-Man stats and used as needed. One such example is this Ditko Dr. Strange pin-up, published for the first time in Marvel Collectors' Item Classics # 10, August 1967.

Well over a year had passed since Steve Ditko quit Marvel, so this was certainly not a new illustration. The copy on the right, likely scripted by Roy Thomas, only noted that Dr. Strange (whose stories were reprinted in chronological order beginning with MCIC # 3) was absent in this issue and the pin-up was a substitute. The unanswered question is: where was the drawing originally scheduled to appear? Submitted for your approval are a few possible scenarios: It may have been intended for an issue of Strange Tales, around the time that pin-ups appeared throughout the entire line, circa January 1965 cover-dated issues. A Ditko Dr. Strange pin-up was featured in Strange Tales # 128, which had the hero gesturing while surrounded by an array of mystical dimensions; perhaps the quieter scene above was rejected by Stan Lee, who sought a more dramatic interpretation. It might also have been scheduled for the next issue but excised to make room for an in-house ad (one appeared in ST # 129). Finally, it could have been intended for inclusion in Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 2 (also published in 1965) which co-starred Dr. Strange. Whatever the case, it's truly a wonderful piece of artwork by Mr. Ditko on a signature character, and perhaps still a secret to many of his fans.

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics # 21, June 1969, included another treat, a pin-up of Medusa by a new kid on the block.


Only four months earlier, a British lad, then simply named Barry Smith (now known as Barry Windsor-Smith) produced his first work in the states, in a crudely drawn issue of X-Men (# 53, February 1969). As a teenager Smith had already been published in his native England, crafting pin-up pages of Marvel's superheroes for UK publisher Odhams Press (Terrific and Fantastic), many of which can be seen by perusing my pal Kid's blog:

Smith's art improved rapidly, from a Kirby-Steranko hybrid to a more stylized, classical approach. By the time this Medusa illustration saw publication Smith was drawing fill-in issues of Daredevil, Avengers and by the following year was on his way to recognition as artist/co-plotter of Conan the Barbarian

Marvel's western titles began in the late 1940s and various iterations appeared on newsstands for three decades, with Two Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt Outlaw being a few of the best sellers. While new material appeared in Western GunfightersOutlaw Kid, Gunhawks, Red Wolf and Rawhide Kid in the early 1970s, sales had slumped and reprints dominated from 1973 onward. Exceptions included a handful of illustrations, many crafted by up-and-coming talent who took a (pardon the pun) shot at drawing Marvel's western heroes.

"Gunhawk" pin-up, Kid Colt, Outlaw # 227, December 1978

"Gunhawk" was a short lived strip that appeared in the 64 page (for 25 cents back in 1970 kids!) Western Gunfighters. The anthology title featured new tales of the Ghost Rider, "Tales of Fort Rango," "The Renegades" and "Gunhawk," alongside Apache Kid and Wyatt Earp Atlas reprints. The pin-up above is signed "Al Hartley and Sal Buscema," which I believe is inaccurate. The pencils are actually by Werner Roth. I was led to this conclusion when observing the splash page of the first "Gunhawk" tale in WG # 1, August 1970 (below). The credits read: Jerry Siegel, writer (yes, the very same co-creator of Superman, who did a little work for Marvel in this period); Werner Roth, artist; Sal Buscema, inks. 

"Gunhawk" splash, Western Gunfighters # 1, August 1970
Roth's pencil credits were indeed correct for everything but the splash page, which was replaced by one drawn by an uncredited Herb Trimpe (lettering also differs from the interior story; Morrie Kuramoto who worked in production, did the honors there while Jean Izzo lettered the rest of the tale). Roth's splash may have been discarded for a more enticing image, and Trimpe, who worked on staff, delivered the goods by depicting Gunhawk in a tighter close-up, eliminating the background figures and positioning a hawk in the foreground, shifting the viewer's eye directly to the protagonist. A Marvel employee likely discovered the unused Roth splash in storage and incorrectly attributed the pencils to Al Hartley. 

Kid Colt Outlaw # 219, August 1977

Howard Bender provided the pencils for this attractive pin-up, his first color work for Marvel, inked by one of the best in the business, Frank Giacoia. Bender began his comic book career working in the production department at Marvel, and later freelanced for a variety of companies and features, including Superman, "Dial H for Hero", Archie, and a Sherlock Holmes comic strip with Jack C. Harris, to name just a few.      

Rawhide Kid # 141, September 1977. 

Gil Kane was a dynamic artist who enjoyed applying his craft to western-themed imagery. Along with John Severin, he produced the majority of new covers for Marvel's western reprints throughout the 1970s. I'm fairly certain this is a new drawing, not one derived from a cover. Kane's Rawhide Kid is a tough looking hombre, very much in the Jack Kirby mold. 

Two-Gun Kid # 136, April 1977

Paty Greer Cockrum worked in Marvel's Bullpen, alongside John Romita, Frank Giacoia, Danny Crespi, Mike Esposito and production head John Verpoorten, handling a myriad of production chores and the occasional pencil, ink or coloring assignment. She contributed a drawing of the Two-Gun Kid which appeared in the final issue. 

Kid Colt Outlaw # 218, June 1977 

Rawhide Kid # 145, May 1978

John Romita, Jr. drew these two pin-ups of Kid Colt and The Outlaw Kid early in his career.  Kid Colt is inked by veteran John Tartaglione; Romita Jr. or his father may have inked the Outlaw Kid. Romita Jr. learned his craft from observing his talented father and was inspired by other comic book titans such as Jack Kirby. His strong storytelling techniques have served him well over the years, as seen in Iron-Man, Daredevil (in collaboration with Frank Miller), X-Men, Black Panther, Eternals, Kick-Ass and Spider-Man.  

Kid Colt Outlaw # 222, February 1978

Arvell Jones pencils; Keith Pollard inks. Jones and Pollard have worked together at times, primarily at Marvel and DC/Milestone. Jones is noted for a run on All-Star Squadron with writer Roy Thomas; Pollard has worked on numerous features, including Fantastic Four, Spider-ManThor, Green Lantern and a Silver Surfer Graphic Novel with Stan Lee. 

A little history on the character pictured above for those of you not in the know. The Ghost Rider originated at Magazine Enterprises in 1949, created by Ray Krank and Dick Ayers. The company folded in the 1950s and when the trademark lapsed Marvel decided to revive the character in late 1966, scripted by Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and drawn by co-creator Ayers. Ghost Rider had a short, seven-issue run, but returned as a feature in Western Gunfighters in 1970, which lasted for eight issues. Marvel still felt the name had value, so two years later, at the height of their success with horror-oriented material, a new Ghost Rider was created, this time in a contemporary setting, with a skull face instead of a mask and a motorcycle replacing a horse. This upstart sold well, so when Marvel decided to reprint the western heroes adventures that character was re-named Night Rider. Sometime later yet another name change occurred and Night Rider became Phantom Rider, but we don't need to go into that! (if you're able to make sense of all this, please explain it to me!) 

Kid Colt Outlaw # 223, April 1978 

Another pin-up by comic book legend Gil Kane. Kane drew a number of Ringo Kid covers during its run, but this image appears to be new material.

Kid Colt Outlaw # 226, October 1978    

Alan Weiss contributed this stunning illustration of Marvel's long running western star. Weiss was one of the many comic book fans who found a home in the industry. A versatile artist, his work appeared in many genres, including romance, horror, western and superheroes. In addition to Marvel/Epic he has also freelanced for DC, Gold Key, Defiant and Warren. 

Marvel Super-Heroes # 95, March 1981

Lurking in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes, which featured reprints of The Incredible Hulk, is this impressive Frank Miller/Klaus Janson artwork, which I was unaware of until recently. The artistic pair who revitalized Daredevil in the late 1970s (along with writer Roger McKenzie) drew a new splash page, which was required because the story, originally published in The Incredible Hulk # 145 (November 1971), had to be re-formatted and extended over into two issues. This was due to Marvel having raised their price from 15 to 25 cents in 1971, which added up to 15 story pages to every title. This only lasted for a month or two before they reverted to a 20 cent price (and 22 pages). Obviously, when these stories were reprinted years later the editors had to find solutions for presenting the material within the present (much smaller) page count. 

Sub-Mariner King-Size Special # 1, January 1971

Finally, we close with the unique styling of Bill Everett. The artist created Namor, the Sub-Mariner in 1939 and had a hand in the character on and off for thirty-four years (Everett was drawing Namor when he died in 1973). The other pin-ups featured in the special were images taken from different stories, but this was new art, perhaps originally intended for inclusion in Sub-Mariner's monthly comic. Copy likely by Roy Thomas. 

If I discover further reprint treasures I'll be sure to share them within the pages of this blog.

Batmite has showcased an excellent array of pin-ups and special features over on the Marvel Masterworks site. Check it out: