Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Odds and Ends

This time around I thought I’d take a break from familiar ground and talk about some comics that are not Marvel/Atlas related. Although my main interests lie in the early Marvel age, over the years I've collected, and continue to collect, quite a bit of non-Marvel material. At the last New York con a few weeks ago, attending with the “legendary” Yancy Street Gang (legends in our mind anyway!), I was pleased to have acquired a batch of comics, most in the $2-4 dollar range. Often at cons there is little variety for sale, but this time around it was quite different. This led me to buy a load of different comics, some on my list, others purchased on impulse. While I did buy a batch of Marvel westerns, I'll focus on some of my other interesting purchases in the genres of romance, western and mystery.
I knew very little about the romance line published by DC Comics, and had none of their comics for a long time. Most of my romance collecting focused on Marvel’s late 1960s line, plus earlier work by Jack Kirby. Jacque Nodell educated me these past few years on her excellent site, Sequential Crush, where she discusses romance stories from a variety of publishers and shows samples of the art (look to my favorites section on the right for a link to her blog). I’ve learned that DC often dealt with more contemporary and controversial issues and presented some quite interesting stories. I've also noticed that many artists know for their Marvel Hero art, such as Don Heck, Werner Roth and George Tuska, were contemporaneously drawing stories for DC. Often some of their best work was in genres other than superheroes in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, much of it for DC. They also either inked their own pencils more often, or were provided better inkers. John Romita was able to make the leap to superheroes effortlessly, but his romance output for DC was prolific and attractive.

Girls' Love Stories # 85, March 1962, John Romita art

The cover to this issue was loose, and I discovered that inside was a different DC romance comic, Heart Throbs # 76, Feb-Mar 1962, which also featured a nice Romita story, likely inked by Joe Giella.

You’ll notice the trademark on the upper left corner, which heralded the National Romance Group. This differentiated the romance line and was used in ads of the period. It began in 1957 and lasted until 1962, when it reverted back to the normal Superman/DC Comics .

"Too Late For Tears!" Girls' Romances # 103, Sept 1964. Gene Colan art.
This issue cover features a Gene Colan story, “Too Late for Tears!” which may be inked by Gene as well. Gene’s storytelling, expressions and body language are excellent as always. There is also a Mike Sekowsky story, possibly inked by Joe Giella. The Julia Roberts Romance Counsellor Column is particularly interesting, as a letter is featured from a seventeen year old who discovered she was dating a married man asked for advice. I doubt if a story would have been allowed to illustrate such a situation due to Comics Code restrictions, but the column certainly addresses a serious issue.

Girls' Love Stories # 158, April 1971. Don Heck pencils, Dick Giordano inks 
Dick Giordano often mentioned that he loved inking Heck, and it shows on this cover, as it does on many romance covers of the period.
The opening story, “Perfect Match”  is drawn beautifully by Tony DeZuniga, with great use of zip-a-tone and wonderful coloring. This story also took me by surprise. While Comics Code restrictions were becoming looser, this tale of a woman engaged to one man while lusting after an often shirtless laborer was quite graphic in its choice of words and visuals. How a caption like “A cold shock went right through me from my head to my toes at the touch of his hard, bulging calf” got through the Code is pretty surprising.
Young Romance # 170, March 1971. Dick Giordano cover

Dick Giordano drew some stunning covers, not only at DC, for Charlton's romance line as well. The cover feature was actually a two-part story inside, "The Swinger" written by Bob Kanigher and drawn by Werner Roth and Vince Colletta. The story centers on Lily Martin, who is haunted by the death of her boyfriend, who drowned after he drove away from Lily after an argument. Lily is plauged by guilt and roams the highways searching for peace. The story was supposed to be continued in a future issue, but I've not discovered any other stories published. Was this storyline ever continued? The story by Kanigher is interesting and Roth's art is attractive, with fine inking by Colletta. Roth was very good at drawing young people, and his work stands out in this story.  

"Liars in Love" Young Romance vol 13, # 1 (103) Dec 1959-Jan 1960  Kirby art
While DC took over the publication of Young Romance in 1963, the comic originated at the Prize group in 1947, under the auspices of Simon and Kirby, the fathers of romance comics. Jack Kirby was drawing monsters and westerns at Pre-Hero Marvel, but he continued romance stories at Prize some 13 years later, and I was lucky to pick this issue up, which not only has a Kirby drawn and inked cover, but two stories inside. Both stories appear to be written, drawn, inked AND lettered by Kirby, and while his art is sparse, with the work likely rushed out, as some of his concurrent romance work appeared to be, Kirby puts enough in to make the stories interesting, such as the above splash to “Liars in Love”. There are also two nicely drawn stories by Bob Powell, another, versatile, underrated artist. 

All Star Western # 8, Nov 1971. Tony DeZuniga art
There were some fine stories and artwork even before Jonah Hex reared his ugly puss in All Star Western. Tony De Zuniga shows his versatility, drawing a gritty western feature, Billy the Kid, written by John Albano. The rest of the issue features reprints by the likes of Joe Kubert,  Carmine Infantino and John Prentice, as well as a short 3 pager by Gil Kane and DeZuniga. Not too shabby a group.
"Lend Me An Ear", House of Secrets # 104, Jan 1973. George Tuska art.

DC always had a diverse assortment of artists on their mystery line, especially during its heyday in the late 1960s and 1970s, from younger artists such as Neal Adams, Berni Wrightson and Mike Kaluta to old pros such as Frank Robbins, Alex Toth and Gray Morrow. “Lend me an Ear” is written by veteran Jack Oleck and drawn by George Tuska, and it illustrates how good Tuska could be when inked well (by himself here, I believe) and when working in a genre other than superheroes. So many underrated artists such as Heck, Tuska and Roth did superior work on romance, war, western and fantasy stories, although much of it is neglected. With the help of the GCD I'm determined to track down some of their more obscure work from the 1960s and 1970s, and I'm sure I'll discuss it here in the future. This is not to say that these gentlemen didn't do some fine work on superhero stories as well, bit often the combination of uninteresting stories and poor inkers made them look less than interesting. On a well writen story then can excel, and  Oleck's tale of a practical joker getting his just rewards is worthwhile.
Red Circle Sorcery # 10, Dec 1974. Gray Morrow art

The short lived Red Circle line, a division of Archie, produced some very attractive work in a short 2 year period. Edited by Gray Morrow who also drew many stories and covers, these mystery/horror comics have some interesting twists. Marvin Channing wrote most of the stories in this issue, with art by Frank Thorne, Howie Chaykin, Al McWilliams and Jack Able. Morrow shows his ability to capture likenesses in page one of a two page tribute to Universal's finest Horror stars.

"Demon Rider" Jack Abel pencils; Wally Wood inks
 The Abel tale, “Demon Riders”, is exquisitely inked by Wally Wood, and is another offbeat tales concerning a man's conscience and its consequences. It’s too bad this line didn’t last, as it had many worthwhile stories and art.
And there you have it. From time to time I’ll concentrate on other comics groups and genres. There is an abundance of material to enjoy, appreciate and discover, and I hope you have as much fun looking under the rocks as I do.   


Kid said...

Fascinating stuff as always, Nick. As you say, sometimes non-superhero strips reflected some of these artists' best work.

Nick Caputo said...


We've got to stop complimenting each others blogs, people will think theres some payola scandal going on!

Kid said...

Or that we're the same person. Okay, I'll start things off - your blog's wonderful. (It's no good - I just couldn't do it.)

dayglo said...

"Often some of their best work was in genres other than superheroes.."

Sheesh! ALWAYS their best work was in genres other than superheroes. That's the worst genre for good comic art and cartooning ever devised. Can't American comic fans ever move on from this stupid and ugly genre/style?

Barry Pearl said...

I respectfully and strongly disagree with dayglo.

So many wonderful talents reached their heights on super-hero comics, Kirby, Ditko, Steranko, Colan, Buscema, Kubert…the list is endless.

Superheroes and the science fiction that went with them, gave them great opportunities to use their imaginations. I think of Kirby with his incredible inventions, Spider-Man lifting, Nick Fury fighting the Yellow Claw in a four page spread and so much.

I also find it offensive not just to put down the people who created a genre but to put down a group of comic book fans (not just Americans, these comics sold all over the world) who supported and enjoyed it, including myself. It’s OK not to like a style of comics, but to use the term stupid and ugly shows a snobbishness I don’t appreciate.

Nick Caputo said...

Jack Kirby, to name just one artist (and one of the most important)brought a visual vocabulary and individual sensibility to the superhero genre, along with measures of fantasy, science fiction, adventure and freewheeling imagination. In the 1960s, especially, superheroes attracted a youth culture and connected with a segment of society that often felt like outsiders. The populaity of superheroes in itself is interesting to analyze, a popularity that continues in media such as movies, although my main interest is in the work of the creators who brought a sense of excitement, drama, and humor to the genre.

While suerheroes may be overly emphasized in relation to other genres, there is a world of interesting stories and art in the comic book medium. Now, more than ever, there is a rich variety of comics to explore, from independent comics to collections of classic comic strips; from crime and horror to romance and humor. Why denigrate the superhero fan?

Barry Pearl said...

Comic books are all special effects now and the creators know it.

Originally, were another vehicle for telling stories, like books, pulps, movies and magazines? In fact, it was many of the pulp houses that turned to comics to tell the same type of popular fiction stories. Soon however, the single major force in storytelling was brought to every American hone: Television and that changed everything.

TV adapted every popular genre there was: Soap Opera, Detective Stories; Hospital Drama, Courtrooms and action and adventure stories.

It took a couple of generations but once those stories started going on TV, they faded from the pulps and, yes the comics. The romance comics faded as Soap Opera began to dominate both the daytime and nighttime (with shows like Dallas, Beverly Hills 90210, Dynasty. As the detective and mystery stories began to take over TV in the 1960s and 1970s, the pulps began to disappear too when people could find them free at home, just by turning on their TV set.

Science Fiction, perhaps do to the time and money it takes to do special effects, is the one genre that has not had a steady road on TV. Yes, Battlestar Galactica on cable and Smallville had good runs but they were the exception, not the rule.

So comics now fill that void, of sci fi fans who can’t regularly find these kind of stories anywhere else, except, of course in the movie theatres where a handful of good movies come out each year. But comics can be all special effects, all imagination, in a world where everything else is something we have seen before.

Jacque Nodell said...

Great overview of the DC romance comics, Nick! When glancing at the cover of Young Romance #170, I had always assumed it was Heck -- I guess that is why Giordano was so suited to inking his work!

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks, Jacque! High praise coming from you. Giordano was such a good inker, and did fine work on folks like Heck and Sekowsky.