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September, 2011

  1. Spy vs. Spy

    September 30, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Spy vs. Spy, which debuted in MAD magazine #60 (1961), was the creation of Cuban political cartoonist Antonio Prohías.  After drawing one too many unflattering cartoons featuring Fidel Castro, Prohías was forced to flee Cuba for the United States in 1960. He was soon hired by MAD publisher Bill Gaines and worked for the magazine until ill-health forced his retirement in 1987. A series of other cartoonists including Bob Clarke (with gag writer Duck Edwing)  and Peter Kuper have kept the feature going to the present day.

     

    Here is the very first Spy vs. Spy that appeared in MAD magazine:

    Note that the earliest strips resulted in stalemate. Eventually the spies would take turns being the victor or defeated. Here are a few more such strips from 1961:


  2. Top Cat

    September 29, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    This week marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Hanna-Barbera’s second prime time animated TV show, Top Cat. The previous year, the animation studio created The Flintstones for ABC and by the end of the year the network was begging for another half hour animated  sit-com. If The Flintstones was a ripoff of  The Honeymooners, then Top Cat was a ripoff of The Phil Silvers Show.  Joe Barbera makes no secret of this in an AP article published soon after the project was announced in April, 1961. The article is also of interest because it was written when it seemed that Hanna-Barbera Studios could never lose. Alas, Top Cat only lasted a single season before it was canceled.

    Huck Hound’s Masters Add ‘Top Cat’ To List
    By BOB THOMAS
    AP Movie-TV Writer

    HOLLYWOOD(AP) – Here is the cast of one of next season’s most promising TV series:

    Top Cat, Choo Choo, Brain, Benny the Ball, Spook and Fancy-Fancy.

    Sound like a strange bunch of cats? They are. But they will be adding more gold to the already booming cartoon firm of Hanna-Barbera, now the world’s biggest.

    The new series is titled after its star, “Top Cat,” and was snapped up in a hurry by ABC for showing in the prime time of Wednesday at 8:30.

    As described by Joe Barbera: “Top Cat lives in an alley behind a bowling center and next to a policeman’s call box. The policeman is Officer Dibble who is always admonishing him about using the phone. We see Top Cat as a kind of Sergeant Bilko. He’s always dreaming up outlandish schemes for his fellow cats.”

    The sale of the new series adds more strain to the bulging walls of the Hanna-Barbera studio, outgrown after six months of occupancy. “In TV you keep creating new shows, expecting your old ones to be dropped,” said Barbera. “Then we sell the new ones, but the old ones are renewed. So we have to keep expanding.”

    It’s a nice kind of problem. But the team has conquered others in the past, including what to do when they were abruptly dropped from MGM’s cartoon studio. They turned to TV and sold a show called “Ruff and Ready.” They still had something to learn.

    “We aimed the show at kids, and that was a mistake,” said Barbera. “We still haven’t gotten our money out of it after three years. For our next show, we took an adult approach.” After all, the kids are pretty hep nowadays. How many of them watched ‘I Love Lucy?’ They know what’s going on. So if you can hook their parents, you’ll get the kids, too.”

     

    The next show was “Huckleberry Hound,” and it drew a wide and rabid audience. It was followed by “Quick Draw McGraw.” Yogi Bear got so popular in “Hound” that he spun off in a show of his own. And this season Hanna-Barbera leaped into the top nighttime ratings with “The Flintstones,” a domestic comedy set in prehistoric times.

    “We wanted to do a cartoon with humans and we tried every kind of combinations,” said Barbera. “It was never funny until we put them in Stone Age clothes.”

    For all their bright ideas, the firm’s operation couldn’t have succeeded without a different approach to animation.

    “It’s something that goes back to the early days of cartoon,” Barbera said. “They used to be a caricature of human action. Then Disney began photographing live actors and copying the film to make the cartoon prince move like a real man. The result: Cartoons weren’t funny any more.

    “We’ve gone back to the caricature of human action. It’s cheaper—you don’t have to draw so many pictures. And it’s funnier.”

     


  3. If Only we had a Vespa

    September 28, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although Roman Holiday  (1953) with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck introduced American audiences to the romantic image of a young man zipping around cities and coastal roads with a beautiful woman wrapped around his waist,  motor scooters weren’t really “cool” in the United States until the early Sixties. For one thing, Italian scooters like Vespa and Lambretta were re-branded and sold by Sears and Montgomery Ward. It wasn’t until 1961 that these Italian companies succeeded in attaching the cachet of the Italian Bohemian to their products through a combination of advertising and the release of a Rock Hudson film called Come September. Even then, the sense of fun and romance displayed in advertising everywhere else in the world was rarely employed in the United States. Instead, American ads touted fuel economy, avoiding traffic, affordability, and saving space in one’s garage for a proper Detroit leviathan.  

        

     

            

     


  4. Spacemen

    September 27, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although the first issue of Spacemen magazine was published in mid-1961 only two issues would appear on newsstands in its inaugural year. The quarterly magazine was published by Warren Publishing and edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, the same team behind Famous Monsters of Filmland

     

     

    It would be inaccurate to call Spacemen the science fiction counterpart to the horror-themed Famous Monsters since the latter highlighted any science fiction film with extraterrestrial creatures or actors in make-up, and the former ignored all but those science fiction tales set in space (Tagline: The World’s Only Space Movie Magazine!)  This might explain why there was probably only enough content for four issues a year.  When there weren’t enough space movies to write about, Ackerman would turn to short fiction, which brings us to a 1961 (or perhaps, 1962) submission letter sent by a 14-year-old Stephen King:

     

    I suspect “O. Henry’s Comet” was a feature  in Spacemen reserved for short science fiction stories with a twist ending.  Although Ackerman declined to buy the story for Spacemen, he was not a man known for throwing anything away. He would finally publish King’s story in a 1994 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland under the title ‘The Killer” (at the risk of spoiling a story published almost twenty years ago, it is a tale about an amnesic who doesn’t know he’s really just a robot.)

     


  5. Marvel Monsters Roll Call for Sept. 1961

    September 26, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     

    The Glob (Journey into Mystery #72) is an alien advance scout for an invasion from space. He lies in wait for years in an old Transylvanian castle disguised as a statue and can only be resurrected by the application of a special paint. An unwitting painter brings the monster to life but ultimately succeeds in defeating  the Glob with a can of turpentine.

     

     

     

    Klagg (Tales of Suspense #21) is an alien who visits Earth and becomes so upset with the war-like ways of humanity that he declares war upon all the nations of  Earth. A young lay-about convinces communist agents to join  forces with the free world to confront Klagg. Seeing that the various nations are able to set aside their differences and band together against him,  Klagg decides that there is hope for humanity and suspends his campaign of destruction.

          

     

    Robot X (Amazing Adventures #4) is a thinking robot who is the propaganda  target of the editor of a local paper. Robot X  builds a robot army in a secret factory and assaults the town to capture and expose the newspaper editor as a Martian in disguise. The Martians knew that they could not manipulate thinking robots and had to turn the humans against them. With the alien plot foiled, Robot X and his fellow robots deactivate themselves so that humans will not need to live in fear.

          

     

    Moomba (Tales to Astonish #23) is the leader of an alien fifth column disguised as African wood carvings (I suspect he stole the idea from the Glob’s people). Moomba gives his command to strike and all the carvings get up and begin to attack their human owners. The wood they are made from is so hard that fire and bullets can’t harm them. Eventually, an African witch doctor defeats Moomba and makes him promise to leave Earth along with all of his wooden warriors.

          

     

    Zzutak (Strange Tales#88)  was created by magic paints supplied to a comic book artist by an Aztec elder.  The artist is hypnotized by the paints to travel to Mexico and create Zzutak, but after hearing the elder’s plans, he mutters under his breath “Zzutak is your enemy” while painting a second creature. When the magic paint brings the second monster into existence,  it begins a battle with Zzutak. The elder tries to get them to stop fighting, but they ignore him. During the fight, the columns supporting the temple are damaged and the whole structure soon crashes down on all three of them. The elder survives, but a blow to the head has caused amnesia and his plans are lost forever.

     

        


  6. The Amphicar

    September 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The Amphicar was the first amphibious automobile mass-produced for sale to the public. First sold in 1961, the German vehicle was designed by Hanns Trippel and manufactured by the Quandt Group at Lübeck and at Berlin-Borsigwalde.  The Amphicar was primarily designed to be marketed and sold in the United States, but many of the early adopters were in Britain and Germany. Several were purchased by the West Berlin police to patrol along and in the Spree River. Although only about 4000 were sold before the company folded four years later, the Amphicar is still the most successful amphibious civilian automobile of all time.

     

     


  7. FF #1: The Pages They Never Reprint

    September 24, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Have you ever been tempted to crack open the seal on that $10,000 copy of Fantastic Four #1 to see what’s inside? Of course not! You have that story in your $50 Marvel Masterpieces edition or your $15 Essential Fantastic Four or even an old beat up copy of Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics. But, did you know,  not everything  from the first issue of Fantastic Four was reprinted in those editions? Aren’t you just a little curious?

    STOP! Don’t break that seal! Just check out the scans below made by a guy who’s copy of FF #1 is probably now worth a lot less than yours:

     


  8. The Adventures of Superboy: 1961 Pilot Episode

    September 23, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The Superman TV show no one has ever heard of was shopped around to local TV stations in 1961, but there weren’t enough takers to produce anymore episodes. I’m not sure what doomed this venture starring Johnny Rockwell as Superboy and Bunny Henning as Lana Lang. As silly as it was, The Adventures of Superboy was no worse than any of the other children’s shows at the time. Rockwell was clearly cast because he resembled a slightly younger George Reeves. Here is that pilot episode in three parts.

     

     

     

     

     

     



  9. What was Lois Lane Doing 50 Years Ago? (Pt. 2)

    September 22, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I can’t tell you how tempting it was to title this post “Who was Lois Lane Doing 50 years Ago?” This Curt Swan cover from Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #29 (Nov. 1961) depicting Lois being gang-kissed by the Justice League of America is perhaps one of the most disturbing images to come out of comicdom in 1961. The expressions of sexual  urgency on the faces of Aquaman and Batman are exquisitely rendered. Aquaman’s impatience is palpable. And Batman appears more than a little conflicted about being in the position of partaking in Aquaman’s sloppy seconds. However, as animalistic as their urges may be, the heroes still have the decency to form a proper line. I doubt any member of  Hell’s Angels would display such classy comportment.

     


  10. The Creature in the Black Bog

    September 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The Jack Kirby cover of Tales of Suspense #23 depicts a scene from a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko backup story called The Creature from the Black Bog. Ordinarily, the cover of ToS would show a scene from the Kirby drawn first story in the book. The lead story that month (“I Entered the Dimension of Doom”) contained a number of features that would have made for an exciting cover; a two-dimensional world populated with frog-faced creatures and a giant “hypno-creature”.

    Kirby’s cover is strikingly threatening compared to the rather sweet and endearing story and artwork by Lee and Ditko. (I like the way Ditko draws old people!) One aspect of the cover that is an improvement is the title. The Creature in the Black Bog makes more sense than the Creature from the Black Bog.