Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Marvel Oddity-America's Best TV Comics

In 1967 Marvel packaged a comic book for the ABC television network promoting their Saturday morning cartoon line. Not coincidentally, two of the debuting cartoons featured the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. The indicia provided further information:

“Published by the American Broadcasting Company” and “prepared and edited by Magazine Management Company.”

It also included information that did not appear in other Marvel comics:

"Distributed nationally be the Independent News Company" 

Independent News had been distributing Martin Goodman's products since 1957, although, as far as I know, was never included in the indicia (at least inside the comic books. The IND symbol appeared on covers).   

There was no reference to Marvel, either on the cover or interior pages, aside from the reprinted FF and Spidey stories.

As was the case in earlier years Marvel occasionally packaged comics for outside companies (see my blog post on Big Boy). Production head Sol Brodsky was almost certainly overseeing production of the ABC comic; employing Marvel staff and freelancers for the new material and likely assisting on the art in places. 


The cover is a compilation of vignettes featuring various characters, including stats of FF (Kirby/Sinnott); Spider-Man (John Romita); Casper (Warren Kremer); King Kong (Sol Brodsky?); George of the Jungle (Sol Brodsky?; John Verpoorten?) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (Paul Reinman). The center image focuses on Mr. Fantastic reaching out to the reader, credited to Jack Kirby, although I’m not entirely sure it's his work. The figure looks a little awkward, and the face may have been altered by another hand  (perhaps putting a smile on Reed's face). It's possible Kirby rushed out the drawing out, but it could also be work by Larry Lieber, who was very good at copying Kirby's style. Inking is likely by Frank Giacoia, and Sam Rosen provides the distinctive lettering.    

The inside front cover promotes all the upcoming ABC animated cartoons. The copy may be written by Roy Thomas, who, in email exchanges explained that he did not write any interior stories but may have written some of the ad copy. The art could be the work of John Verpoorten, who at that time was production assistant; with lettering by Sam Rosen (Note that the Spidey and FF cartoons rate two exclamation points instead of one!!!). As a child I eagerly awaited the FF and Spidey cartoons in the fall of 1967 and watched all the ABC cartoons, including the Beatles, who, either due to contractual agreements, or possibly because their series was two years old, having premiered in 1965, did not rate a feature.    

Casper, the Friendly Ghost had a long history in animation and comics. Originally created for a children's book by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, he instead found life (pun intended) in Paramount/Famous Studios cartoons beginning in 1945. The theatrical cartoons ran until 1959, but Casper was a staple of early television, originally running the theatrical cartoons, with new cartoons soon created for television. In comics Casper originated at St. John in 1949, moving to Harvey comics in 1952. In 1959 Harvey purchased the rights to the character. "The Flying Horse" originally appeared in The Friendly Ghost Casper # 17, January 1960. Writer, Possibly Ralph Newman; art by Warren Kremer; lettering by Joe Rosen. 

               (Special thanks to Mark Arnold for providing story and possible author info) 

A truncated version of Fantastic Four # 19 (October 1963) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers (with the spelling of Pharaoh corrected from the original; the question is can I spell it correctly!) is included. The story was loosely adapted for the 1967 Hanna-Barbera cartoon (with Alicia cut out of the storyline). Added to the splash is the Marvel corner symbol and a copyright and trademark notice.

The Spider-Man story by Stan Lee and John Romita was originally published in Amazing Spider-Man # 42, approximately a year earlier. Like the FF, the story was heavily edited to fit the 10 page slot. Unlike the FF tale, this was not adapted for the Grantray-Lawrence cartoon. The Mavel corner symbol and trademarks again appear on the splash page.

Journey to the Center of the Earth splash. Paul Reinman pencils and (likely) inks. Jean Izzo letters. Author unknown.  

The cartoon version of the famous Jules Verne story (which had been adapted into a movie in 1959) took many liberties with the original. Produced by Filmation, an animation firm in competition with Hanna-Barbera, they are best known for adaptations of Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Archie, and Star Trek. Like H-B, their limited animation technique was often lacking, although they had a few shows, such as Star Trek, that had a degree of quality. As with many of these shows, the openings were better animated than the cartoons (and had great theme songs), as can be seen here:

The series lasted one season, although it continued in re-runs. The voice of Prof. Oliver Lindenbrook and Count Sacknussem was supplied by Ted Knight, who did much voiceover work in the 1960's for Filmation. Ted Knight would go on to greater acclaim a few years later as inept broadcaster Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore show.           

King Kong splash. Possible Sol Brodsky pencils; Frank Giacoia inks; Jean Izzo letters. Writer unknown.   

King Kong was a Rankin-Bass production, in association with Japan based Toei, who provided the animation.  The cartoon was (very) loosely based on the original movie, and Jack Davis was involved in character designs. You can read much more about the genesis of the cartoon here:

I suspect the pencils on King Kong are by Sol Brodsky with inking by Frank Giacoia. 

Watch out for that TREE!! George of the Jungle. I’m not certain who drew the strip; possibly John Tartaglione or Sol Brodsky, although Ursula’s face makes me suspect that Bill Everett was somehow involved. Jean Izzo lettering. Writer unknown.

George of the Jungle was the last new cartoon series produced by Jay Ward and Bill Scott. Both men are noted for the satirical Bullwinkle cartoons, which included segments on Dudley Do-Right, Fractured Fairy Tales and Peabody and Sherman. The cartoon lasted one season and contained episodes of Tom Slick and Super chicken. the catchy opening theme can be seen here:

ABC's Sunday morning schedule. Art possibly by John Tartaglione and/or John Verpoorten. Letters by Sam Rosen. Copy by Roy Thomas?

The inside back cover was utilized to promote ABC's Sunday morning line-up, which included Bullwinkle, Peter Potamus and Tennessee Tuxedo, the latter which featured the voice talents of Don Adams of Get Smart fame. While the copy claims the cartoons were all-new, many - if not all - were shows that had been in syndication. Discovery '67 was an educational show for teens that ran from 1962-1969, changing it's name each year (researching these shows has been quite educational!).  

ABC also used the opportunity to advertise its prime time fall programs in full page ads.

Cowboy in Africa; John Tartaglione art; Frank Giacoia inks or corrections (the lion in the center frame may be the work of Giacoia); Sam Rosen letters; Roy Thomas copy?

Cowboy in Africa starred Chuck Conners, of Branded and Rifleman fame. This series was produced by Ivan Tors, known for the hit series about a dolphin, Flipper, but it only lasted one season. Surprisingly, you can see the opening here:

The Second Hundred Years. John Tartaglione art? Morrie Kuramoto letters. Roy Thomas copy?

The Second Hundred Years was another short-lived TV series. The premise revolves around a gold miner frozen in ice for 67 years (maybe the producers were reading Marvel comics for inspiration) and revived in present day 967. Comedy ensues (or not). The series starred  Monte Markham, a television actor who appeared everywhere for decades, from Mission Impossible to the Golden Girls. Arthur O'Connell was another familiar face in movies and numerous TV shows. One of his earliest roles was in the closing moments of Citizen Kane, but he also had a strong supporting role in Anatomy of A Murder (1959) starring Jimmy Stewart. I even found the opening episode of this obscure show on You Tube! Watch it - if you dare!       

Custer! and Batman by George Tuska pencils and (likely) inks; Sam Rosen letters; Roy Thomas copy?

Boy, did ABC have it's share of flops in 1967! Custer was another one season wonder. The series co-starred Slim Pickens but was cancelled after a scant 17 episodes, facing heavy competition from the Virginian and Lost in Space.

And part of this series can also be viewed on You Tube:

It’s odd to see Batman promoted in a "Marvel" comic, but this was packaged for ABC and the caped crusader was enjoying his third season on television, although after becoming a phenomenal hit with both children and adults the ratings were sliding precipitously and this would be its last season. The art is by veteran George Tuska who likely never drew Batman before, but would do so again in the 1980's for DC.  Robin is left out of the picture, likely due to ABC wanting to promote Batgirl, who debuted in the third season. (Thanks to Britt Reid for correcting the info!) 

                                 Off To See The Wizard. John Verpoorten art?; Sam Rosen letters.

 Off To See The Wizard was a showcase for recent MGM family movies such as Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion and Flipper, highlighted by wraparound animation segments and music from the Wizard of Oz. Chuck Jones was executive producer, Abe Levitow, producer and director, and the voices were provided by Daws Butler, June Foray and Mel Blanc. You can view an animated segment here:

Inside back cover. The Flying Nun. John Tartaglione art; Sam Rosen letters; Roy Thomas copy?  

We end with a particularly odd concept. The Flying Nun was based on the 1965 book The Fifteenth Pelican, by Tere Rios. It starred Sally Field as Sister Bertirille, a nun who discovered she had the ability to ride air currents and become involved in outlandish situations. The show was a modest hit for ABC, running three seasons. Sally Field went on to greater heights (pun intended) on television and critically acclaimed movies such as Norma Rae (1979), Places in the Heart (1984) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1990).  . 

There was an air of excitement that Saturday morning in September 1967 when the new cartoons premiered. At seven years old I was already hooked on comics, having been weaned at an early age by my older brother John (still reading and collecting after all these years) and was particularly thrilled that two of my favorites - FF and Spidey - were cartoon shows. In 1966 I enjoyed the syndicated Marvel Super Heroes, shown in New York on WOR-TV channel 9. ABC's affiliate in New York was Channel 7, and after Casper (yes, I watched that too!) the FF appeared. I recall enjoying watching the Lee-Kirby characters come to life, along with the jazzy theme song and incidental music. I later learned that Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic was voiced by Gerald Mohr, a character actor and radio star on many shows, including "The Adventures of Philip Marlow". Spider-Man followed (with the words IN COLOR flashing on my black and white TV. I didn't quite understand why there was no color on MY set!). Spider-Man was also entertaining, although I was  disappointed when the Green Goblin appeared and they didn't adapt the unmasking story! Obviously, Grantray-Lawrence didn't understand their target audience!     
While many of the cartoons don't hold up under viewing as an adult, they were appealing to me as a child and a few remain sentimental favorites.It's surprising that many of these obscure shows have survived, especially the short lived prime time programs, and can be viewed (at least in part) on You Tube. 

America's Best TV Comics was packaged in hopes of getting a comics audience interested in the latest cartoons. Whether it served its purpose or sold well is unknown, but this crossover with outside media was an exception to the rule in the 1960's. What counted in that period was their own characters, and adaptations were left to companies like Dell/Gold Key which specialized in that area. In the 1970's all that would change at Marvel, as the company became involved in a slew of movie and television adaptations including The Wizard of Oz, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, Man From Atlantis, Battlestar Galactica, GI Joe, Bullwinkle. While they achieved varying degrees of success, Marvel as a whole became quite a different entity from its 1960's incarnation when the emphasis was on their own line of characters.