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WALLY WOOD: STRANGE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION

Wally Wood: Strange Worlds of Science Fiction
By Wally Wood
Introduction by J. David Spurlock
216 8.5x11-inch pages, color
2012 Vanguard paperback
$24.95

This volume embraces Wood work from 1950 through 1958, with most from 1951 (15 of the 23 stories). Herein, the artwork is typical of Wood’s mature style — feathering and shading — and the women are Wood women.

StrangeWood

Perhaps the sf publisher, Avon, gave Wood greater leeway in limning the curvaceous gender than Fox or Fawcett in Torrid Romance. Reproduction (from comic book pages, not original artwork) is excellent, and all the content is meticulously dated and sourced. The first three stories, the three-part “Flying Saucers,” is probably inked by Harry Harrison, employing a heavier line than Wood or Joe Orlando, who inked most of the rest. Throughout, every story is “introduced” by a black-and-white page from Wood’s EC oeuvre for comparison purposes. The book concludes with several Spy Masters Sunday comic strips, which, I believe, Jack Kirby penciled and Wood inked.         

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WALLY WOOD: CLASSIC TALES OF TORRID ROMANCE

Wally Wood: Classic Tales of Torrid Romance
By Wally Wood
Introduction by J. David Spurlock
200 8.5x11-inch pages, color
2014 Vanguard paperback
$24.95

“Torrid,” when coupled to "Wally Wood" creates an expectation for lascivious pictures of Wood’s amply curved women, an expectation this book promptly disappoints. The “romance” stories reprinted herein start with September 1949 and end with April 1953 (all copiously dated and sourced), during what must, in retrospect, be regarded as Wood’s less inciting apprenticeship. Reproduction from comic book pages is excellent, but the typical Wood femme doesn’t appear until the last three-four stories, and even then, his hand is more evident in faces, not figures.

TorridWood

Apart from the first story (which, I suppose, Wood did before his publishers — Fox and Fawcett — tamed him), the pictorial content is entirely bland — well coiffed, conventionally dressed (no tight blouses or plunging necklines or short skirts). Useful as an insight to Wood’s early work, but “torrid”? Not hardly.

And the stories themselves are nothing particularly scandalous by today’s standards — despite titles that hint at rapacious doings, “Dance Hall Girl,” “I Tormented Men,” and so on. In his Introduction, Spurlock tells us that “these rare and valuable Wood Studio stories — sometimes in collaboration with the likes of Harry Harrison and Marty Rosenthal — have never appeared in any proper book.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE CISCO KID: VOL. 1, 1951-1953

The Cisco Kid: Vol. 1, 1951-1953
By Jose Luis Salinas
Introductions by Sergio Aragones and Dennis K. Wilcutt
230 8.5x11-inch landscape pages, b/w
Classsic Comics Press paperback
2011
$24.95

Publisher Charles Pelto, who has brought us high quality reprints of such illustrative masterworks as Mary Perkins On Stage and The Heart of Juliet Jones, herewith recycles one of the greatest artworks in newspaper comic strip history. Based upon a name in a O.Henry short story (published in this volume’s introductory material, in which the Cisco Kid is a murdering outlaw, scarcely the light-hearted Robin Hood of the Old West who appears in the strip), the strip, a rollicking and oft nicely harrowing albeit melodramatic narrative, was written by Rod Reed and gloriously drawn by Salinas. Unhappily, Salinas’ copiously feathered and shaded style is not reproduced herein as well as it deserves, due largely to the dearth of high-quality proofs. In his Afterword, Pelto relates the saga of his search for good source material, and he has found a substantial amount, which is happily reproduced in these pages.

CiscoKid

Reed’s ability to write continuity for a daily comic strip is not always as sure-footed as Salinas’ command of the visuals, but the latter is so superlative that neither Reed’s occasional shortcomings nor the often muddied reproduction of the art can entirely undermine the intended excellence of this enterprise. A second volume is available.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

COMIC ILLUSTRATION REEKS AUTHENTICITY

And then there this — clipped from Life magazine’s April 13, 1962 issue, an illustration for an article entitled “Lethal Legend of Truck-Stop Food,” in which Elliott Chaze, traveling 1,200 miles by highway from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Oklahoma City, ate at 20 truck stops and determined, without further research, that the food was lousy.

TruckStop

Contrary to legend, truck drivers stop at truck stops not for the food but because there’s room to park their rigs. They eat there because there’s food there — not because the food is good, but because, “through years of trial, they know they can eat it and survive.”

Chaze summarizes his findings: “The meals, generally speaking, are concocted by fine, conscientious people who are good at their work. Their work consists of taking the chill off food and placing it in a plate in such a way that it will not fall on the floor. Cooking does not appear to be among their accomplishments.”

I don’t know who did the drawing, but it is excellent, a perfect portrait of counter dining at a truck stop. On the plate in the foreground, everything — gravy and rice, no doubt, and maybe the ubiquitous truck-stop fare, potato salad — is piled on top of a slab of steak. A thick slab, thickness being the sign of excellence at any truck stop worthy of the name.

Nobody’s talking. They’re all eating. Everyone is drinking coffee from huge mugs (in the hope, probably, that the coffee will kill the taste of the food). The waiter-cook stands at the ready with a spoon, the customary display of pies just in front of him.

At the cash register — accoutered with various goods for sale, cigars, nasal spray — is the cashier, a severe (and therefore serious and wholly trustworthy) woman, wearing spectacles that were fashionable a few years ago, inspecting a bill.

 It’s as perfectly authentic a drawn scene as I’ve seen.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

OUR ROOM AND BOARDING HOUSE

Gene Ahern, whose career is hinted at in the accompanying Literary Digest bitsy-profile, was one of the few cartoonists before recent times to own his feature, but he didn’t arrive at that enviable state until he left his first success, NEA’s Our Boarding House, to join King Features.

LitDigAhern

Our Boarding House was obviously a very popular cartoon: King wouldn’t have lured Ahern away otherwise. And he was regarded as such a catch that he was apparently able to negotiate ownership as a condition of his deserting NEA for King.

Our Boarding House ran October 3, 1921-December 22, 1984. The star of the show, Major Hoople, showed up four months after its debut — namely, on January 27, 1922 — and made the feature the success that it was. Ahern drew it until March 14, 1936, when he left for King to do a feature so similar that it was a swipe — of himself — namely, Room and Board, with the blow-hard Judge Puffle taking the Major’s role. It started June 15, 1936 and lasted until November 29, 1958.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

SPOOFING COMICS 'WAY BACK WHEN

And here, also from the pages of the old Life humor magazine but this time in the fall of 1924, is a spoof of newspaper comic strips of the sort Life did every so often (once newspaper comics became overpoweringly popular).

LifeFauxStrips

Left to right, top to bottom: Boob McNutt by Rube Goldberg, Happy Hooligan by Frederick Opper, Betty by Charles Voight, Abie the Agent by Harry Hershfield, and the immortal Krazy Kat by George Herriman.

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RANCID RAVES GALLERY: ROLLIN KIRBY

Pictures Without Too Many Words

Here, from the pages of the old Life humor magazine dated March 23, 1922, is a cartoon by Rollin Kirby, an editorial cartoonist who invented the funereal Anti-Saloon League character, Mr. Dry, whom we see here cloaked in black.

LifeKirby

 

The girl is labeled “Spring,” and in the wagon are “Bonus,” “Mister Anti-Saloon League,” “Ship Subsidy,” and the ever present “Politics.” It may have been spring, but Kirby wasn’t optimistic. Kirby, by the way, was the first editoonist to win a Pulitzer Prize — which he did for "On the Road to Moscow," which was published the summer before the one above.

 

KirbyPulitzerKirby’s prize-winner acknowledges the path of oppression followed by Bolsheviks in establishing the rule of communism in Russia. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the famed USSR of yore) wouldn’t be formally established until 1922, but during the so-called “civil war” of 1918-1921, the Red Army rampaged through neighboring nations, adding them to the Russian roster; and on the home front, the Red Terror killed millions simply for being middle-class citizens instead of workers. In Kirby’s cartoon, Death personified is followed by mobs in chains, Kirby’s assessment of the fate of the people conquered by zealous Bolsheviks.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF BLACK COMIC BOOKS

Untold History of Black Comic Books coverrThe Untold History of Black Comic Books
By William H. Foster III and Craig Yoe
252 9x12-inch pages
b/w and color
2014
IDW Publishing
hardcover, $39.99

 

Foster is one of the pioneering scholars of black comics and cartoonists. His Looking for a Face Like Mine, a collection of essays, interviews and presentations, was an early (2005) modest attempt at covering the ground that this more ambitious tome assays, and with Yoe, another dogged comics historian, at his side, Untold promises to be the most comprehensive treatment of its subject yet.

Previews’ blurb says this: the book “traces the changing image of African Americans in comic books from the 1940s to the present day. ... Profusely illustrated ... with over 15 complete stories in full cover.”

I’ve already ordered my copy.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

TALES OF THE TALENTED TENTH

Tales of the Talented Tenth, No.1: Bass Reeves
By Joel Christian Gill
126 8x10-inch pages, color
2014 Fulcrum Publishing
paperback graphic novel
$25.95

Gill is doing today what George L. Lee did a generation ago: he’s telling stories about black Americans who achieved greatness in their chosen vocations. Bass Reeves, for instance. Reeves, a frontier deputy marshal in Oklahoma during the closing quarter of the 19th century, was “the most successful lawman in the Old West”: he was not the first African American marshal, but he arrested more crooks than anyone else — thousands, Gill reports. “He once brought in 21 outlaws at one time.”

In the volume at hand — the first of a proposed series on what W.E.B. DuBois called “the talented tenth” — Gill traces the life of Reeves, beginning when he is a young slave, being taught to shoot a rifle by his master, who enters the youth in sharp-shooting contests (and collects the winnings himself, naturally). During the Civil War, Reeves’ master served in the Confederate Army, taking Reeves along with him. The youth hears about blacks running off to join tribes of Native Americans, who harbor the fugitives and prevent them from being captured; he does the same, growing to maturity among the Indians. He eventually marries and becomes a farmer, but after helping a local marshal solve a problem with some Indians, he becomes a marshal himself.

The rest of the book is devoted to a couple of narrative strands that demonstrate Reeves’ methods as a lawman. One of his quirks, for example, is to leave with those he has helped a silver dollar, a habit, Gill speculates, that “led many scholars to believe that his life inspired the story of the Lone Ranger.”

An admirer of Chris Ware, Gill has adopted a refined simplicity for his drawings, and he deploys the resources of the medium skillfully. But Gill is adept at exploiting the capacity of the medium for conveying meaning symbolically. Instead of using the N-word, for example, he inserts in the speech balloon text a tiny version of a stereotypical racist rendering of an African face—big white eyes, liver-lips. Gill believes that the N-word has lost its nasty sting; his visual symbol, however, he thinks revives the power of the word. I don’t agree that the N-word has lost its derogatory ugliness; but the rebus pictogram is a potent device, imparting to the term a dramatic, visual weight that the word itself no longer carries.

BassReeves1

 

BassReeves2

 

A recurring character in the story is depicted as a human-size crow. Jim Crow. And it behaves as you would expect Jim Crow to behave. In the first of Gill’s graphic novels from Fulcrum, Strange Fruit, the cartoonist tells short histories about lynching, and he shows many crows attending the lynchings. The group of crows, Gill points out, is termed a “murder.”

Apt.

Gill believes, with ample justification, that “black people in America are the true Horatio Alger, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story. ... What’s more American than walking 500 miles in the snow with dogs chasing you just so you can choose where you wake up and go to bed every day?”

Gill has planned at least three more graphic novels in the Talented Tenth series, featuring: Bessie Stringfield, the motorcycle queen of Miami; Robert Smalls, an escaped slave-turned-politician; and Mary Bowser, a freed slave who returned to the South as a Union spy during the Civil War.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com