An announcement sure to rock comics fans appears unobtrusively in type on the cover of the Comic Reader # 44, Dec 1965. Art by fan Gary Polin.
Derrill Rothermich continued as publisher/editor of The Comic Reader in late 1965/early 1966, with Dave Kaler listed as associate and news editor.While On The Drawing Board was the primary attraction, TCR also featured fanzine reviews, articles, letters and artwork. Steve Ditko quitting Marvel was a shock to fans, and further information appeared inside:
According to the article, Ditko turned in his last stories for Marvel in November 1965. There was some trepidation that Ditko might leave the industry, but those fears were unfounded, and Ditko went on to create and drawn countless characters and stories in the 45 years since that ominous headline.
A nice Paul Reinman drawing of Fly-Man and Fly-Girl, two characters he was currently drawing (along with the rest of the Archie Superhero line), also from TCR # 44. In his editorial Derrill notes:
"My special thanks go to Paul Reinman who took the time to do the Fly-Man and Fly-Girl illo especially for TCR. It really surprised me because I didn't think he would find enough free time to do it."
Reinman seemed to appreciate the fan attention, and it's unfortunate that no one (as far as I know) interviewed him about his long career. Still, from the letters I've read that appeared in fanzines and his generosity, I suspect Reinman was a nice guy.
So much for anonymity! In TCR # 45, January 1966, Kaler reveals who Adam Austin and Mickey Demeo really are. Frank Giacoia lucked out, since he couldn't spell his last name! The news section also mentions that John Romita will take over Spider-Man and Bill Everett will likely be the new Dr. Strange artist.
Ditko was still very much on fan's minds, including editor Rothermich:
"I suppose that a large number of you were disappointed to see that the great Steve Ditko would no longer be working for Marvel. This came as a great shock to me and now I am wondering what this turn of events will mean for Spider-Man. In my mind, Spider-Man and Steve Ditko were one and the same word. Ditko made Spider-Man unique, something extra special. I am not saying that John Romita won't do a good job on him but he still won't be the same. The one consolation that we do have is that Steve will still be doing comic work for Charlton and Tower."
Will Eisner contributed this drawing of his most famous creation in TCR # 45. The Spirit returned for a brief two issue run at Harvey in this period, the first introduction to many fans of the masked crimefighter.
The Comic Reader # 46, February 1966, sports a cover by Alan Hutchinson, who contributed much artwork to early fanzines. Three of the most important companies to fans were Marvel, DC and Gold Key, and Hawkman was apparently preferred over DC's big three!
On The Drawing Board featured a preview of two new characters from Charlton: Mr. L. Dedd and Dr. Graves, both drawn by the underrated Rocco Mastroserio. Graves originally appeared in short stories written by Dave Kaler in Ghostly Tales and would graduate to his own comic soon after. Other news items included info on Mighty, Dell, King, DC and Marvel, as well as the hit Batman TV show, which would soon have an impact on many publishers who attempted to latch onto the superhero bandwagon, most with less than spectacular results. And one can only wonder how a live action Captain America or Spider-Man TV show would have turned out, even with Stan Lee writing scripts. From TCR # 46.
TCR # 47 included a ton of Batman related news, as the media saturated hero invaded toys, games, records, gum cards, clothing and anything else you can think of. There was anticipation by fans that other superhero and adventure related characters would make the transition to TV and movies, but, aside from animation and a few TV shows such as the Green Hornet, the Batmania phenomenon would not be duplicated.
Even the super-busy Jack Kirby found time to sketch the Thing for the Comic Reader, appearing in issue # 47, March 1966, but Benjy must have been clobbered if he can't figure how to get to Yancy Street!
And now, fasten your seat belts and prepare to be confused (I know I am!). With the following issue The Comic Reader essentially became a new publication, On The Drawing Board (which was the name of the news section), numbered Volume 2, # 2. Rothermich explained he would continue as Executive Editor, but OTDB would be published by the Gateway Comic Book Fan Club, with Robert Schoenfeld residing as President. The new publication would focus primarily on news and Academy of Comic Book Fans and Collectors info, which was a gathering of organized fans. The Comic Reader would become a separate publication, focusing on articles and non-news items. OTDB was intended to be a monthly publication, clocking in at six pages.
If you've digested that, be advised that three issues later the name was changed back to The Comic Reader, as Rothermich attempts to explain....
And BACK to the Drawing Board (or more precisely ON the Drawing Board) with the following issue! Believe me, folks, this was not an easy fanzine to try to collect! Since the print is hard to produce, I'll just note that Schoenfeld explains that he is returning to OTDB and continuing the numbering, with The Comic Reader becoming a bi-monthly publication (which didn't occur). This was also the last issue Rothermirch edited. (As Groucho once said, I'll go out into the lobby until this blows over!)
(I promise the title won't change again....at least not until part 4!). Alan Hutchinson's cover features the short-lived Harvey heroes, Spyman, Piranha, Jigsaw and Will Eisner's The Spirit. Vol 1, no 6 (whole # 53), October 1966.
In that same issue Schoenfeld makes an important point about how fans often ignored older creators, letting their history and contributions to comics slip away for all time. Sadly, neglecting those pioneers in lieu of the current favorite happened all too often.
A humorous cartoon about Rothermich in the service, drawn by Mike Fleisher, likely the same person who went on to produce the Spectre and Jonah Hex.
The back cover to OTDB # 53 included an ad for Et Cetera # 1 before Wood changed the title to Witzend.
On The Drawing Board Vol 2, # 55 includes info on Frank Giacoia.
Long time DC staffer Mark Hanerfeld writes about the 1966 Academy Con. Who wouldn't want to hear a transcript of this Con, featuring Stan Lee, Bill Everett, John Romita, Roy Thomas, Denny O'Neil, Steranko, Dick Giordano, Bill Finger, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson and Bill Harris, to name a few.
On The Drawing Board Vol 2, no 12 (# 59) includes a letter by Bill Harris, editor of King Comics, describing their attempts to find alternative areas of distribution. Sadly, despite utilizing some fine writers and artists, they soon stopped publishing comics.
Popular fan artist Ron Foss provides the cover to OTDB Vol 2, no 14 (#61), June 1967
Fan artist Rich Buckler shows his Kirby influence early on. Buckler would soon turn pro and work for both Marvel and DC on many of their superhero features. What's News became the new title of the news section., and fans Mike Fredrich and Jeff Jones receive their first professional assignments.
Len Wein went on to write many of the Marvel and DC characters he DREW for this Con ad on the back cover to OTDB 61.
An atmospheric cover by Dick Memorich of Eisner's Spirit, from OTDB vol 2, no 15 (# 62), August 1967.
Dave Kaler's news column in #62 reveals the upheaval that took place in late 1967. Too many companies competed for rack space, with many following (and attempting to copy) the popularity of Batman/Marvel. Sales were apparently down overall, and many companies either folded or stopped publishing superhero material (Archie, Charlton). The Tower line, which held promise, soon met its demise. Perhaps with time they would have found an audience, but their higher 25 cent price apparently hurt sales. Whatever the case, lack of imagination, an overabundance of publishers and changing tastes put an end to the proliferation of superheros. In less than a decade most genres would be gone, and sales continued to plunge. The children's audience was largely abandoned, as mainstream comics catered more and more to older, long time superhero fans. The writing was on the wall over 40 years ago; since then comics have become a marginalized, niche audience, with corresponding sales figures.
The next issue mentions further industry changes. A popular misconception is how Dick Giordano brought Steve Ditko to DC, but Joe Orlando was talking to Ditko about creating new characters for DC while Giordano was still at Charlton. Shortly, Ditko created the Creeper, although Murray Boltinoff was listed as editor of his premiere in Showcase. Bob Powell's passing is also noted, an extremely talented and versatile artist who produced excellent work throughout his career.
More changes for On The Drawing Board. As of Vol 2, no 17 (#64) January 1968, Mark Hanerfeld takes over the news column from Dave Kaler and the Academy is disbanded, with the possibility of OTDB being cancelled. Fear not, though. We're not done yet! The Creeper and Hawk and Dove are announced as new Ditko titles, and Dick Giordano leaves Charlton to replace outgoing Editor George Kashdan.
Mark Hanerfeld takes over the editorship and publication of On The Drawing Board with Vol 3, no 2 (# 65)(March 1968). As you might suspect, there were plenty of internal upheavals, and we're not quite finished yet. Included in the news section is a sketch by Bill Ligante of Dr. Doom, a strip he was supposed to draw for Marvel that never materialized.
Murphy Anderson also contributes a sketch for the same issue.
Dick Giordano was busy editing a number of books for DC, and while most of the upcoming news came to pass, not everything did. Reed Crandall wound up sending back the Blackhawk script, which was completed by Pat Boyette. Another intriguing news item that never materialized was DC's intention of using the title Adventures into the Unknown from the defunct ACG, which would include a new "Dr.Strange type" character by Steve Ditko. That would have been interesting, although Ditko's plate was pretty full at that point with Creeper and Hawk and Dove. DC instead decided to revamp an ongoing title, House of Mystery, which had been headlining Dial H for Hero, returning it to its anthology roots (#174, June 1968), with no continuing characters besides the host. That series was edited by Joe Orlando. Giordano became the editor of The Witching Hour, which debuted in late 1968 (February 1969 cover-date).
In case you weren't totally confused, there are TWO On The Drawing Board # 66's! Robert Schoenfeld published The Comic Reader # 66, which is listed on the cover as OTDB! In the editorial he states that he will continue The Comic Reader as a separate publication, with Hanerfeld publishing OTDB, but his Comic Reader didn't continue (as far as I know...at this point I'm getting a headache!).
The REAL On The Drawing Board # 66 (Vol 3, no2), March 1968, did appear, still run by Mark Hanerfeld. Rocke Mastroserio's passing is noted. He was just starting to work for DC, and would have been a fine addition to their mystery line.
A Milton Caniff sketch of Steve Canyon adorns the aforementioned issue.
A Frank Frazetta sketch accompanies the news of Martin Goodman's sale of Magazine Management to Perfect Film, from OTDB # 68 (Vol 3, no 4), June 1968. Bill Everett's announced western feature, Black Arrow, was unfortunately never produced.
Other news included Steve Ditko being hospitalized. Gil Kane took over the art, and later the writing as well on Hawk and the Dove, but Neal Adams didn't spell Ditko on the Creeper. Jack Sparling would complete the 6th and final issue, so it's anyone's guess if Ditko would have returned to the strip after he recovered.
Jack Sparling's drawing of the new character Jonny Double, based on a sketch by Neal Adams, as noted elsewhere in the mag.
And speaking of Adams, he produces a Deadman sketch for the very same issue!
Finally we close out this go 'round with another Spirit sketch by the incomparable Will Esner.
We're far from done with TCR (or is it OTDB)? Next time out they'll be more changes, along with lot's of interesting news and artwork from one of the most important fanzines of the 1960's (and beyond)