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August, 2011

  1. Reed Crandall in the Twilight Zone

    August 31, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although Dell was quick to buy up the comic book rights to The Twilight Zone when the TV show was renewed for a second season in 1960, the first comic book didn’t appear until 1961 when only a single issue was published. Dell would publish three more issues in 1962 before turning the license  over to Gold Key.

    The inaugural issue compensated for its hefty 15-cent price tag with superior artwork and three relatively long stories, each with about a dozen pages. Art duties were shared by EC veterans Reed Crandall and George Evans who had spent the late Fifties collaborating on various editions of Classics Illustrated. The talents of both artists are well represented in this issue although I’m sure they would have been more comfortable drawing a host like the Crypt Keeper rather than Rod Serling.  The writer is not credited but I fancy the idea that these stories were found crumpled up at the bottom of  Serling’s waste-paper basket. The plots are a little predictable but the actual storytelling is impeccable. No crowded expository caption boxes here. These tales are written like teleplays, with the words and actions of the characters propelling the story.

    The first story, “Specter of Youth”  is a beautifully illustrated “Oh, the irony” type story that takes place in modern Greece. The depictions of local dress and antiquities display the kind of research and detail that George Evans usually reserved for his aviation covers for Aces High. Alas, the story itself is one of those where you know from the first page that the greedy antiquities fence will eventually receive a fitting comeuppance.

     

    The remaining two stories are better and appear to be solely the work of Reed Crandall. Below is the issue’s middle story and the one featured on the cover, “The Phantom Lighthouse”. Crandall’s sense of humor is on display in the middle panels of page four. If the hole in the ice outside the shack is for fishing, then the hole in the ice inside the shack must be for something else. Click the images for a reading view.

     


  2. Wedding Bells

    August 30, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     If not for the “Imaginary Story” disclaimer or a last-minute intervention of circumstances, Superman and several of his friends might now be celebrating their 50th anniversary of marital bliss. I’m not simply referring to Superman and Lois Lane (although they were married to each other in a half-dozen or more stories in 1961) but also Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Lana Lang. Even Bizarro-Superman proposed to Lois Lane during one of her freakish physical transformations.

     

     

     In Action Comics #279, Superman decides that the only way Lois Lane and Lana Lang will ever stop pursuing him is if he brings back a couple of hunks from the past to marry them. Traveling through the time barrier, Superman travels to the past and brings Hercules and Samson back to modern-day Metropolis and introduces them to Lois and Lana. In short order Lois and Lana become Mrs. Hercules and Mrs. Samson repectively. Hercules spends his first day as a married man moving the home he and Lois have bought from one spot to another until Lois is finally satisfied. Meanwhile, Lana has Samson running errands like securing a mountain lion as the household pet.  Lois is so  envious of the Samsons’ exotic pet that she dispatches Hercules to the nearest zoo to steal an ostrich. Because the two women love shopping so much Hercules and Samson are each forced to hold down several jobs, none of which go very well. Samson and Hercules finally confront Superman and beg him to return them to the past. 

     

    Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #57 begins with a  splash page showing Jimmy slipping a ring on a beaming Linda (Supergirl) Danvers. As best man Superman tries to restrain his disapproval.  We soon learn that Jimmy has unwittingly beguiled Supergirl’s alter ego with a chunk of red Kryptonite. The red K causes Linda to lose her superpowers and forget she is Supergirl. When Superman returns from a mission in space he finds the two are engaged to be married.   Even though he soon figures out that red K is to blame, Superman can’t bear to break up the happy couple and the marriage goes on as planned. When the red K finally wears off Supergirl is afraid  Jimmy won’t still love her if he finds our she’s Supergirl, so she attempts to woo him as her super personae. After numerous adventures, Supergirl eventually confesses and is delighted that Jimmy has no problem being married to Linda Danvers and Supergirl.

     

    In Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane#25 Superman and Lois are married in secret so Lois won’t become a target of Superman’s enemies. Lois soon tires of this arrangement and insists that they go public. Against his better judgement, Superman agrees and the newlyweds are personally congratulated by President and Mrs. Kennedy. As soon as the couple moves from the Fortress of Solitude to the suburbs, Superman goes to work protecting his bride and new home from his enemies. When a serum to give Lois super powers doesn’t pan out, Superman creates the hilarious bullet-proof vehicle depicted on the cover. Lois soon learns that being Mrs. Superman in public is not all that it’s cracked up to be and admits that Superman was right to want to keep their marriage secret. But the cat was already out of the bag, so she would just have to live with the situation along with her super smug hubby.

     


  3. So Close to Flying Cars I Can Taste it!

    August 29, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Introduced at the 1961 Detroit Motor Show as a concept car, the Ford Gyron was a futuristic two-wheeled gyrocar.  One wheel was at the front and the other at the rear like a motorcycle and the car was stabilized by gyroscopes. The two occupants of the vehicle were seated side by side and, when the vehicle was stationary, two small legs appeared from the sides to support it.

    Alex Tremulis was the designer and the gyroscopic systems were based on the theories of aviation pioneer Louis Brennan. Alex Tremulis started his career at Wright Patterson Air Force Base working on the concept of Military flying saucers. He then became the chief designer for the ill-fated Tucker automobile company before joining Ford. He was also involved with Tuscan gyroscopic motorcycles and the Gyronaught XU1 gyroscopic car.

     

    Here are some more futuristic cars from 50 years ago that Detroit never delivered on:

    Ford Thunderbird Custom Roadster Thunderflite

     

    Plymouth XNR Roadster Ghia

     

    Chevrolet Astro III

     

    Chrysler Turboflite

     

     

    Detroit, Michigan may have let us down, but at least Turin, Italy gave it a go with a production car called the Fiat 600 Y Aerodinamica (Pininfarina), 1961.

     


  4. Mad Monsters

    August 28, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Charlton Publications was an interesting company. Unlike most magazine publishers and all other comic book publishers, Charlton consolidated the whole process of turning out a periodical into a single vast  factory complex in Derby, CT.  Editorial, printing and distribution were all conducted under the same roof. Not content with the savings from strict vertical integration, Charlton also kept costs low by producing products renowned for their low production values in an industry famous for using cheap materials and presses. The two movie monster publications (i.e. Famous Monsters of Filmland rip-offs) they launched in 1961 were no exception.

    Like other Charlton publications, Horror Monsters and Mad Monsters had thin covers that tore easily and preserved the fingerprints of all who touched them. The interior pages were yellow before they were even run through the presses. The photos inside the magazines were muddy and devoid of any gray-tones. But if you got a chance to see the covers before too many people had handled them, they were quite eye-catching. Only one cover can be credited to a particular artist and only because Steve Ditko bothered to sign his name to the drooling wolf man on the cover of Mad Monsters #1 (1961). None of the writers were credited either and even the editor was anonymous, using the pen names “Sanzar Quasatood” (Horror Monsters) and “Abernathy Farquad” (Mad Monsters)

    Both magazines lasted until 1964. Here are the covers from their inaugural year:

     


  5. Aug. 1961: Mandatory Two Pages of Text

    August 27, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    An odd feature of early comic books was the mandatory two pages of text required for publications to take advantage of second class mail rates. Until someone stumbled upon the clever substitution of a letters page, every comic book published until the early Sixties had one of these text stories. I’m uncertain what difference it made to the post office. If a comic book without pages of text wasn’t a magazine, what was it? Art? Think of the prestige comic book publishers could have garnered if they’d just spent a few pennies more on stamps!

    This month’s mandatory two pages of text comes from Tales of Suspense # 21.  Author unknown.

     


  6. Kirby Covers

    August 26, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     

    Here’s an interesting exercise in putting yourself in the shoes of a comic book reader fifty years ago. Pretend you have never heard of the Fantastic Four when you walk into your corner drugstore and see these Jack Kirby covers on the magazine rack. Are you immediately drawn to the new title or do you have to take a closer look before you realize it’s not just another monster book?

     

         

     


  7. Visual Thinking with Kermit and Harry and Jim

    August 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    For some reason I have puppets on the brain lately. I guess it started a few weeks ago when I first discovered Sid & Marty Krofft’s 1961 nudie puppet show, Les Poupées de Paris. The discovery was only enhanced by the fact that the Brothers Krofft would spend the rest of their careers creating product for children’s television programs. In fact (despite the “creepy” factor)  there has always been an association in my mind between puppets and children’s entertainment. Growing up with Sesame Street and the Muppet Show did little to disabuse me of that impression.

    Sure, Jim Henson‘s creations were always cool enough to appeal to adults but I would never have called the humor deep or sophisticated. My opinion changed as soon as I stopped reading about Henson’s early work and started watching it.

    Jim Henson was working in television before he even finished high school, creating puppets for a local station’s children’s show. By the time he was a freshman in college, he was producing a daily five-minute puppet show called Sam and Friends for Washington DC station WRC-TV.  The show ran from 1955 to 1961 and it was the birthplace to almost all of the revolutionary developments in televised puppetry that Henson is famous for.

    Equipped with the details in the previous paragraph and having grown up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, I assumed that Sam and Friends was a children’s show.  That assumption was either wrong or the kids of 1961 were a lot hipper than I’ve been giving them credit for.

    Here is a sketch from a 1961 episode starring a primordial Kermit and his friend Harry the Hipster:

     


     


  8. Ditko & Lee: Anatomy of a Collaboration

    August 24, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The debate over the ratio of creative input between Stan Lee and his artists is one that has raged for years and is revived each time a new Marvel film is released or another member of the old bullpen passes away. Not surprisingly, these debates center on Marvel’s most iconic and popular characters, probably because that is where the money was, and continues, to be made. Any debate involving the comparative contributions of  Stan Lee and Steve Ditko inevitably revolves around Spider-Man. The major evidence in that debate are the evolving credits found on the splash pages of the first 38 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. (From “Written by Stan Lee; Illustrated by Steve Ditko” to “Scripted by Stan Lee; Plotted and Drawn by Steve Ditko”)

    Curiously enough, nothing is ever made of the fact that the only writing credit Stan Lee predictably received (or took) in the years before the birth of the Marvel Universe with Fantastic Four #1, was on those stories drawn by Steve Ditko. In the Atlas years of the late Fifties and early Sixties, Stan and his brother Larry Lieber not only plotted many of the stories for artists like Jack Kirby, Don Heck and Paul Reinman but they also wrote all of the captions and dialog. Yet they were never credited as Stan was on the splash page of every Steve Ditko story. Mind you, the credit is in the form of Stan’s own signature, sometimes before and sometimes after Steve’s. To my knowledge, neither man has commented on this (at the time) unique convention.

    Which brings us to this five-pager from Tales of Suspense #22 (Oct. 1961). Even with his face obscured, the writer before the typewriter on page two looks remarkably like a certain editor.

    If I was a stickler for logic, I might be tempted to call shenanigans for the depiction of such earthly props as a mid-20th Century typewriter, waste basket and desk on page two, only to be replaced with the odd furnishings in the last panel. I don’t fancy the idea of  “nightmare pills”; that’s what I used to call Tylenol PM.

    I don’t know if it was Stan or Steve who came up with the initial idea for this story but whoever did may well have been inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone  (“The Eye of the Beholder”) that aired the previous November. In that story, the props were also illogically earthly. And we all know that aliens all like a good smoke!

     


  9. Jet-Ace Logan and the Missing Spaceships

    August 23, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    A few weeks ago I came across some 50-year-old British comic strip art while researching illustrator Sydney Jordan and was surprised by how much more detailed and “clean” it looked compared to American comic strips and comic books from 1961. The absence of color may have something to do with that impression but I suspect the British artists simply took more time penciling and inking than their harried American counterparts. I spent a bit of time online searching out  samples of strips like Jeff Hawke and comic book serials like Captain Condor, but as impressive as the art was in those titles, nothing was more striking than that found in a strip published in the British comic book Tiger.

     Jet-Ace Logan ran from 1956 until 1968 (switching from Comet to Tiger in 1959). The titular hero was a space pilot with the RAF, 100 years in the future. He and his wingman, Plumduff  were entrusted to thwart the plans of nefarious aliens, smugglers, and other space-baddies. Here are two beautiful pages from the fall of 1961, drawn by an artist I know nothing about; Brian Lewis. Click for a larger view.


  10. A Needle Rises in Seattle

    August 22, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In August, 1961 a new structure began to emerge on the Seattle skyline. Preparation for the erection of the Space Needle began earlier in the year with the purchase of a small 120×120 foot lot between the southern end of Lake Union and Puget Sound. In May a 30-foot deep hole spanning the entire lot was dug, laced with steel, and filled (in one day!) with 467 truckloads of concrete. Massive footings were attached to the foundation and by August a truncated central core (elevator shaft) had risen to a height of about 100 feet.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The foundation weighs 5850 tons, almost the same as the above-ground structure, placing the Needle’s center of gravity just 5 feet above ground level. The footings seen in the photo on the left were bolted to the foundation with 72 thirty foot long bolts.

    By November, the Needle had reached its full height of 605 feet making it (at the time) the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. Work then began on the saucer-shaped rotating dome that is so perfectly balanced it requires only a 1.5 hp electric motor to turn it.

    Just in time for the opening of the 1962 World’s Fair, construction was completed on the Space Needle and the core was painted “Orbital Olive”, the legs “Astronaut White”, the saucer “ Re-entry Red”, and the roof  “Galaxy Gold”.