Monday, February 28, 2011

Dave Berg before Mad

Though Dave Berg's "Lighter Side" was the most aggressively mundane feature to appear in Mad, focusing on ordinary people facing everyday urban and suburban life, his earlier work often featured surreal images and fantastic settings. These tales were also marked by beautiful artwork that often reflected the influence of his boss at the time, Will Eisner.

From 1942, here are the adventures of Sir Butch.

From Ibis #1

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Do you yearn and burn to learn? Read Basil Wolverton's Culture Corner!

From Whiz Comics #115

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Open all night for war workers"

One of the things you notice in the popular culture of the early Forties is how every aspect of life was focused on the war, even things like keeping shop open all night to accommodate the around the clock work of the defense plants.

from Whiz Comics #53

Welcome to the family

Now open, the Mippyville Bijou, catering to the most discerning of Mippyville's cinema lovers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wit, humor and filosophy

Captain Billy's Whiz Bang started a publishing powerhouse that would include Family Circle, Gold Medal Paperbacks and, of course, Whiz Comics.

It even merited a line in the Music Man as one of the bad influences Harold Hill warns the residents of River City about.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

For the sophisticated palette, it's "Sunday Afternoon Culture Corner" with Basil Wolverton

From Whiz Comics105

The only Golden Age story you'll read this week featuring Pancho Villa, Richard the Lionhearted and Robespierre

From Toonopedia:

The Kid's opening story was written by Otto Binder (Legion of Super Heroes, Supergirl) and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman, Moon Girl). Its protagonist was a boy whose name wasn't mentioned to the reader — in fact, having been addressed as "kid" all his life, he wasn't even sure he had one. He and his only known family member, Gran'pa, were at sea during the early days of World War II, and their ship was sunk by a Nazi submarine. The gatekeeper of the Afterlife passed Gran'pa straight through, but there seemed to have been a mistake about "Kid" — according to the records, he was supposed to live another 75 years. A supernatural entity named Mr. Keeper had committed the error (his first in 2,000,000 years), and so "Keep" (as Kid called him) became responsible for the boy.

Keep brought Kid back to Earth and gave him a unique super power. Using "Eternity" as a magic word, he was able to summon assistance from anyone who had lived in the past. With great fighters, wise counselors and even the occasional politician at his call, Kid Eternity, with Mr. Keeper (who had resigned his supernatural commission) at his side, handled menaces of all types, from world conquerors down to children having trouble with their neighbors.

There was always a goofy charm to Kid Eternity. The logic of the stories wasn't always compelling but the string of bizarre cameos always kept things moving. This particular episode was notable not only for its memorable guest stars but for its not-so-comically setting. The phrase 'banana republic' originally referred to servile dictatorships supported by U.S. fruit companies. They were corrupt, brutal and unstable, just like the one in this story.

The original chronicler of banana republics, William Porter (a.k.a. O. Henry) based his stories on the time he spent in Honduras hiding from the law. I doubt anyone involved with this story spent much time in the tropics, but they did remember to draw the bunches growing up; that has to count for something.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The end of the original Marvel era

Whiz Comics ran for 155 issues and every one of them featured Captain Marvel, arguably the most popular of the Golden Age, at times outselling even Superman.

This final story, printed in 1953, is unusually dark for a Captain Marvel story but that was the direction the industry was headed in -- 1953 was the height of the horror trend with EC titles like Tales from the Crypt peaking in sales and quality.

There are no decapitations in this story, but the monster's plan are genuinely disturbing and the story is tight and well drawn. Not a bad note to go out on.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Death Patrol -- distinctive early Cole

Death Patrol debuted in the first issue of Quality's Military Comics alongside Blackhawk. It was created by Jack Cole under the supervision of Will Eisner. Though Cole was just finding his voice a lot of distinctive traits are already obvious, both artistic (check out the layouts) and thematic (the possibility of reform, the juxtaposition of slapstick and violence).


From Military Comics #1

Just in time, it's "Sunday Afternoon Culture Corner" with Basil Wolverton

from Whiz 74.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Comic book time capsule -- acknowledging racism in 1942

Sadly, it is not difficult to find ugly racial caricatures in Golden Age comics. If anything the depiction of any non-WASP was even more crude than what you routinely found in the rest of the popular media. Largely unrestrained by the shackles of respectability, comics went wherever they had to for a cheap laugh or an easy dramatic effect.

But there was more complexity here. As with poverty and corruption, the artists and writers of comic books could show some surprisingly progressive views about racism. As previously noted, the Green Lama confronted racism in the army during World War II. This Midnight story (Smash #33) by Jack Cole takes an even more interesting view. It starts out as a fairly standard comic book fantasy about finding a lost African tribe in the Florida swamps (complete with white queen adorned with decorative breast plates), but them it takes an interesting turn...

The introduction of slavery adds a certain weight to the story and gives the antagonist a just if misguided cause.

What really struck me, though, was the ending.

If nothing else this is a testament to the amazing impact of Joe Louis, not just as an incredible athlete but as an honest man in what had been considered a corrupt business. More than that, though, the strip reminds us that people in this country were aware of and felt guilty about the treatment of the Black Man in America for a long time, long before anything was done about it.

Sometimes we like to think that recognizing a problem brings the nation close to a solution. History does not support that assumption.