Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Saga of Mammoth Annual NN (#1)

To recap: I mentioned yesterday that I have purchased a Mammoth Annual NN/#1, and that it contains Century #’s 1, 5 and 7, all from 1956.

The cover illustration includes a Christmas pudding, so one would assume the issue was published late/December 1956.

But, as so often happens with K.G. Murray comics, there’s a wrinkle or two to the story.

My friend Anthony Gillies also has a copy of this Mammoth Annual, but his copy contains Century #’s 9 and 10, and The Hundred #11 - all from 1957.

The Hundred #11 is from circa September 1957. This means there is more than 12 months between the publication of Century #1 (in my copy) and Hundred #11 (in Anthony’s copy). To the best of my knowledge, the contents of any Mammoth Annual (or Gigantic Annual) are from the preceding 12 months.

To repeat the question I posed yesterday:
Is Mammoth Annual NN/#1 from 1956, or 1957? Or - were there two unnumbered editions, one from 1956, the other from 1957?

There is no doubt Anthony’s copy is from 1957. Apart from the contents, there is also an advertisement for this issue which ran in K.G. Murray comics in 1957 – I have spotted one in My Greatest Adventure # 33 from December 1957.

However, I am considering my copy is possibly a 1956 publication. This is mainly based on the contents, and is not conclusive.

If it is not from December 1956, it also seems unlikely to me that it is from December 1957, as two of the issues would be well over 12 months old by that time. Of course, it could be from early 1957, but this does not tally with the Christmas theme.

If my copy is from 1956 it means the ‘first’ Mammoth Annual was published two years in succession. This may be irregular, but it is also plausible - it may have been intended as a one-off in 1956, and thus unnumbered. This is the period in which the new formats were being tried, so tentative experimentation with new unnumbered titles was not uncommon eg. Mammoth Comic Annual and Colossal Comic Annual.

Further, if the 1956 'trial edition' was a surprise hit, the publishers may have felt a subsequent edition warranted some advertising to capitalise on the success, hence the 1957 advertisement.

Publication in 1956 would also support the argument posed earlier that Mammoth Comic Annual NN/#1 may have been published earlier than the Christmas period in 1956.

Having said that, this is just guesswork. The only thing that is conclusive is that there was a Mammoth Annual NN/#1 in 1957.

Fine so far, right? And yet, there is a further twist to this story.

As if the possibility of two editions of the first Mammoth Annual is not enough to frazzle the intrepid K.G. Murray comics forensics experts, imagine the impact of a third edition of this cover!

Sure enough, there is another Mammoth issue with virtually the same cover (pictured above). This one is numbered “2”. It is distinguished not only by the number, but a price alteration (4’- rather than 5’-) and another small detail - - the Christmas pudding is replaced by a birthday cake (the glass next to the pudding is also replaced by a bottle). There are also some slight differences in the colouring (see Rex and Detective Chimp (?)).

To distinguish the two covers I’ll refer to them as either the “pudding” or “cake” covers.

The contents of my “cake” copy are:

Mighty Comic #11, May 1959
The Hundred Comic Monthly #32, June 1959
Unidentified issue – lead story The Challengers of the Unknown: ”The Menace of the Invincible Challenger” - presumably also a 1959 issue.

So – a 1959 #2 issue with an almost identical cover!
My copy was printed in New Zealand. That is, the rebound comics are each printed in NZ. Presumably there is a NZ No. 1 – I wonder what the cover image is on that one? A “pudding” cover?

I believe there is also a UK edition as per James’ listing, and I’d be curious to know whether its contents were printed in the UK. James’ index lists it as circa 1960, so it is possible the UK edition was issued after the NZ edition. However, it may also be a 1959 issue as per the NZ copy.

Anyway, as it stands, I now believe the Mammoths stack up like this:

1956: Mammoth Comic Annual NN/#1 Olympic rings cover
1958: Mammoth Annual NN/#2 sleigh cover
1959: Mammoth Annual #2 NZ (& UK?) cake cover
1959:Mammoth Comic Annual NN/#2 carols cover
1960: No Mammoth known
1961: No Mammoth known
1962: Mammoth Annual #3
1963-1973: #4 - #14

I’d like to acknowledge the contributions of Mark Cannon and James Zanotto, two gentlemen who are always happy to respond to a comics query, and offer their expertise with goodwill; Mark Muller for help in identifying certain issues at very short notice; and especially Anthony Gillies, who first notified me some six months ago that something was ‘amiss’ with what we thought was Mammoth Annual #2, and promptly shared his findings based on his 1957 copy.

Also note the picture of the Mammoth Annual #2 accompanying this entry is sourced from James' site - it is a much clearer image than my ratty copy, and substantially better to use for this comparative exercise.

Oh, and if anyone has any idea which K.G. Murray issue begins with ”The Menace of the Invincible Challenger” circa 1959…

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mammoth Annual NN (# 1) - 1956?

I purchased this wonderful specimen today from another collector.

It contains the following rebound comics:

Century #7, December 1956
Century #5, November 1956
Century #1, July 1956

I understand there is another copy comprised of Century #9, Century #10 and The Hundred #11 - all from 1957.

So - is Mammoth Annual NN/#1 from 1956? or 1957?

Or - were there two unnumbered editions, one from 1956, the other from 1957?

And how does the UK #2 copy fit into this mystery?

Naturally I have some ideas, theories, speculative notions… and just as naturally this will keep me awake for much of tonight... and so the rest of the story will have to keep until tomorrow. So until then…

PS I’ve been collating a list of Gredown Horror titles over the last week or so with the help of a few friends. Just waiting on a few more updates before I put up the first draft, so it may be another couple of days.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Alex Toth Reprint Stocktake Part 2

A couple of additions to the Toth reprint stocktake:

Rex the Wonder Dog: Trail of the Flower of Evil!
Rex the Wonder Dog #1, January-February 1952
Century Plus Comic #54, November 1960

I expect there are more Toth reprints from the Rex the Wonder Dog series reprinted in Century, such as “Rex -- Forest Ranger”, “Rex -- Hollywood Stunt Dog” and “Rex -- Circus Detective” (courtesy GCD) - all TBC.

Danger Trail: The Australian Code Mystery
World's Finest Comics #66, September-October 1953
Detective Comics #414, August 1971

Thanks to Mark Cannon for reminding me of this one - we both know we've seen it reprinted, most likely sourced from Detective Comics #414, but it's eluding us for the moment. File under TBA!

Update! Courtesy Mark Muller, I can confirm
The Australian Code Mystery is reprinted in
Tip Top Comic Monthly #80, December 1971.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Alex Toth Reprint Stocktake

It’s a truism that you never quite know what you’ll find in the odd K.G. Murray reprint title. And one of the things that has me purchasing various odd issues is the ‘lucky-dip’ prospect of an Alex Toth reprint - especially the horror titles.

And so it was today when I lucked onto a copy of Terror Tales Album #14. Amongst the standard 1970's DC horror fare was an unexpected Toth gem which originally appeared in Weird Western Tales #14, October-November 1972 - “Anachronism”, reprinted in glorious sidelong ‘landscape format’.

So I got to thinking: Just how many such Toth gems are hidden in various K.G. Murray comics? In other words, time for a Toth stocktake!

I note below original appearances, and some subsequent reprints in the US editions, but it is not an exhaustive list. There have been quite a few DC Toth reprints over the years, but for this exercise I have only listed the reprints used as sources forthe Australian reprints.

Some of the House of Mystery stories have been reprinted in the recent Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery Vol. 1, 2006.

I have not set them out in any particular order, other than broadly grouping them according to character or genre.

The Toth reprints:

Danny Dreams…
Tor #3, December 1953
Climax Adventure Comic #3, June 1964

Track of the Invisible Beast
House of Mystery #109, April 1961
House of Secrets #94, October-November 1971
The Hundred Plus Comic #58, August 1961
Doomsday Album #12, 1979

I Battled for the Doom-Stone
My Greatest Adventure #61, November 1961
The Phantom Stranger #15, September-October 1971
All Star Adventure Comic #15, April 1962

The Secret Hero of Center City
House of Mystery #120, March 1962
House of Secrets #98, June-July 1972
All Star Adventure Comic #16, May 1962
Weird Mysteries #44, 1980

Listen, World... I'm the Missing Link
My Greatest Adventure #81, August 1963
All Star Adventure Comic #24, November 1963

The Town That Buried Me - Alive!
House of Mystery #149, March 1965
The Unexpected #126, August 1971
All Star Adventure Comic #33, June 1965

Double Edge
The Witching Hour #12, December-January 1970
Weird Mystery Tales #37, 1979

Eclipso: The Man Who Destroyed Eclipso
House of Secrets #65, March-April 1964
Action Comics #413, June 1972
Mighty Comic #41, June 1964
All Star Adventure Comic #83, October 1973

Eclipso: The Two Faces of Doom!
House of Mystery #66, May-June 1964
Detective Comics #441, June-July 1974
All Star Adventure Comic #91, February 1975

Eclipso: Hideout On Fear Island
House of Secrets #64, January-February 1964
World’s Finest Comics #226, November-December 1974
Mighty Comic #42, August 1964
All Star Adventure Comic #95, October 1975

Eclipso: Eclipso's Amazing Ally!
House of Secrets #63, November-December 1963
World's Finest Comics #226, November-December 1974
All Favourites Comic #43, July 1964
All Star Adventure Comic #96, December 1975

The Curse of the Cat's Cradle
My Greatest Adventure #85, February 1964
House of Secrets #93, August-September 1971
All Favourites Comic #42, April 1964

The Alien Within Me
My Greatest Adventure #60, October 1961
House of Mystery #196, November 1971
All Favourites Comic #48, May 1965
All Star Adventure Comic #84, December 1973

The Haunted Diamond
Sensation Mystery #114, March-April 1953
All Star Adventure Comic #53, October 1968

The Devil's Doorway
House of Mystery #182, September-October 1969
Wonder Comic Monthly 58, February 1970

Mask of the Red Fox
House of Mystery #187, July 1970
House of Mystery #229, February-March 1975
World's Finest Comic Monthly #66, September 1970
Haunted Tales #30, 1978

House of Mystery #190, January-February 1971
All Favourites Comic #84, May 1971

Turner's Treasure
House of Mystery #184, January-February 1970
Mighty Comic #76, April 1970

The World Where Dreams Come True!
Mystery in Space #7, April-May 1952
DC Special #13, July-August 1971
All Star Adventure Comic #77, October 1972

Sierra Smith: Case of the Teetering Tower!
Dale Evans Comics #7, September-October 1949
Detective Comics #424, June 1972
Batman Album #50, February 1981

Rex the Wonder Dog: Four-Legged Sheriff!
Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #2, March-April 1952
Century Comic #50, August 1960

Hopalong Cassidy: Vengeance of the Silver Bullet!
All-American Western #108, June-July 1949
Century Comic #99, September 1964

Hopalong Cassidy: The Ballad of Boulder Bluff!
Jimmy Wakely #15, January 1952
Mighty Comic #37, September 1963
All Star Adventure Comic #37, February 1966

Weird Western Tales #14, October-November 1972
Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales #2, November-December 1979
Terror Tales Album #14, 1980

[The Prisoner] and [This Is It!] – framing sequence
Weird War Tales #5, May-June 1972
Weird Mystery Tales #28, 1977

The Challenge of the Expanding World
The Brave and the Bold #53, April-May 1964
Action Comics #406, November 1971 (Part 1)
Action Comics #407, December 1971(Part 2)
All Favourites Comic 43, July 1964
World's Finest Comic Monthly #109 May 1974 (Part 1)
World's Finest Comic Monthly #110 June 1974 (Part 2)

Green Lantern: Too Many Suspects!
Green Lantern #37, March-April 1949
Detective Comics #440, May 1974
Flash #128, January 1976

Justice Society of America: The Injustice Society of the World (Chapter 5)
All-Star Comics #37, October-November 1947
100 Page Super Spectacular #DC-17, June 1973
Giant Superman Album #30, July 1977

Justice Society of America: The Plight of a Nation Chapter 3
All Star Comics #40, April-May 1948
Justice League of America #110, May 1974
Super Adventure Album #1, August 1976

30 reprints to start off with – not too bad!

Needless to say, this list is not a complete list. It simply reflects the Toth stories I’ve noted over the last 18 months or so. There are definitely more in various K.G. Murray titles, and I’ll duly note them in future as I come across them.

Many of the reprints are found in their proper place, so to speak. It may be impossible to tell which issue of Weird Mystery Tales carries a Toth and which doesn’t, but it’s no surprise to find many of Toth’s DC horror stories in this title. Similarly, it’s no great surprise to find the Eclipso reprints in consecutive issues of All Star Adventure Comic.

Others however are quite surprising - for example, finding ”The Haunted Diamond” from Sensation Mystery #114, March-April 1953 being reprinted in 1968, as I’m unaware of it being reprinted in the US around that time (indeed, I’m sure I’ve seen other vintage Sensation Mystery stories reprinted in All Star and other K.G. Murray titles…). Others just turn up in unexpected places, such as the “Case of the Teetering Tower!” in a Batman comic in 1981, 9 years after it is reprinted as a back-up in a US Batman comic.

I’ll do my usual thing here and ask for corrections, and a heads-up from anyone on any stories not listed above so I may pursue my lucky-dips with a bit more direction. For example, I believe there is an Australian reprint of “Dirty Job” from Our Army at War #241, February 1972, but I do not know where it appears.

Since Toth’s passing last year I’ve been hoping for announcements of collections of his work. There have been a few tributes here and there, and an issue of America’s Best Comics reprinted a few stories, but I’d like to see a substantial hardcover set along the lines of the Bernard Krigstein volumes from Fantagraphics Books (Krigstein is another artist who renders me a desperate reprint lucky dipper!)

Until then the Australian reprints will tide me over - and of course the annotated pages on the official Alex Toth website are a must for any Toth fan.

Oh, and the scan above is from the framing sequence in Weird War Tales #5, scanned from Weird Mystery Tales #28 - my thanks to Shane Foley!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Interview with Grant Morrison

In 1999 I had the pleasure of interviewing Grant Morrison for about an hour or so. He was at the Armageddon Pop Culture Expo in Melbourne, along with Warren Ellis. On the Saturday they held separate Q&A sessions, and on the Sunday they shared a session during which they drank some champagne on stage and riffed off eachother. After this session, Warren went off armed with a range of local and imported beers, and Grant hung around signing autographs (including my copy of Doom Patrol #19) and we sat down with some chips and mineral water for a bit of a chat about things which had been touched upon during the Q&A.
Many of the references to 'current projects' are, of course, out of date now, but such distractions aside, Grant says some interesting things about the industry, other writers and artists, and his own writing.

S. In the early days comics writers were anonymous and regarded as hacks, and indeed regarded themselves as hacks. There’s an article I read recently on Neuman in which he says “If you read it, I probably wrote it.” Later, DC was advertising Alan Moore’s scripting style in an in-house advertisement, specifically his language. It hit me then that the profile of writing was changing for the audience and the industry. What is your impression of writers working for a conglomerate such as Time-Warner. What does it mean to you as a writer personally and professionally?
G. I always wanted to be a writer. When I was five years old I knew I wanted to write. The only other thing I ever wanted to be was a cowboy. I knew what I wanted to do and from then on it was How does this work? How do I get to do this? Back in the seventies I was writing in a bedsit, fantasy novels, whatever. I got some work doing comics because I knew the techniques, I understood the form...

S. And you mean people can’t if they haven’t grown up with it...
G. Yes, as strange as it is... and I thought, ok, I’ll do comics because they paid me, and this was a way to make money. I was still trying to do the novels, I had an agent and I was trying to get published, and then Warrior came out which had V for Vendetta, they were doing the type of novels and type of tv shows and films I wanted to do, but it was in a comic. I thought this means I can do adult stuff, I don’t have to do comics for kids if I don’t want to, and I just started pursuing that as an avenue, to make a living from it, and as you say, you’re dealing with conglomerates, with Time-Warner, but Time-Warner doesn’t even realise that they’re publishing The Invisibles, which criticises Time-Warner.
The only time we had problems with that was when this guy wrote this fantastic letter saying “You’re part of the conspiracy because you’re working for Time-Warner, and I put it in there and they spotted it and they wouldn’t print it, so there is censorship there, but in comics, I can reach this mass audience. If I was doing serious novels, I’d be lucky to be selling a few thousand copies, and that would be it, and it would take me two years to write another one. With comics, even the most avant-garde one can sell 3- or 4000 a month. That’s amazing...

S. That’s an amazing readymade audience, especially considering that, as you say, Time Warner/DC Comics aren’t even interested in broadening their audience or even sales, they’re just interested in keeping alive their trademarks, their vacant properties. The impression of your readers is that writers such as yourself have clout, but what you’re saying is really the opposite of that...
G. You don’t have it. And you believe you do. It’s the same as what Moore and Miller were saying back in the 80’s, that we’re doing this stuff, and it’s cutting edge, and it’s selling well, why don’t you let us do more? And they always say “No!”.

S. They all thought that Dark Knight was a great Batman comic but...
G. Yeah... but with Dark Knight, they never even believed it was going to sell. These guys, they just don’t understand. It’s always the same, it’s not just Time-Warner. As writers, we have to know what’s going on, because our lives depend on it. Y’know, I get paid by the script. If I don’t do any scripts, my whole life falls apart, we have to keep writing. And we have to keep being aware of what the pop culture is saying. It’s not even a conscious thing, but you’re in there, you know what’s going on, you know what’s going to sell, you know what kids are interested in. And editors don’t, because they’re getting a salary, they don’t have to care. They’re set up, they’ve got their pension funds, so we actually know how the stuff is done. We know what people want. And you suddenly come up against this wall, the Company, and the Company won’t exist if they don’t have the trademarks, and as you say, they’re not interested in a new version of Superman, the old one’s just fine as long as they make a movie every ten years. That’s it, that’s all we need.

S. Then you wonder why they want Grant Morrison or Garth Ennis to take on a particular title or character, knowing that your name will bring your audience along, but they don’t want you to do what you do. They’re commodifying your name, your style...
G. But they don’t want us to change. It’s like McDonald’s, this is what you’ll get, with Garth Ennis you’ll get the desert, or with Tarantino you’ll get guns. If you get me, you’ll get wierd shit. If you get Warren (Ellis), you’ll get lots of swearing.

S. Warren was saying how you do get cliques, how you’ll get, say, for Gaiman, a Caitlain Kiernan hired to do a Sandman-related title in the Gaiman style, and that becomes a new house style.
G. That’s happening the same on JLA. It took them years to realize that it was successful, and all I was doing was thinking of what the JLA was about, big science fiction ideas, y’know, time travel stories, other dimension stories. But once people learn the language - like Quantum and Hyper that Warren said I always use - everyone’s doing it, I may as well do something else. ‘Cos they can just hire other guys to do those sort of scripts. They can ape the style. But what you’re not gonna get from that is anything new. That’s the way it works. They get something successful, but they don’t want to do anything different. Whereas I’m convinced the next idea will be even more successful, and I keep trying to convince them, give me Superman and I’ll sell you a million, no problem, I’ll do it: “No, we don’t care, we don’t want to sell a million, ‘cos you don’t get scripts in on time.” And that’s when you realise how the process really works.

S. It seems that when something does arrive that’s fresh and innovative, that in the eyes of the editors, it’s not perceived as a positive for the industry or for promoting comics per se, but rather that there is another novel way of milking the existing audience. Is that the sort of thing that you see....
G. (nodding)
S. Yeah?
G. Completely. Y’know, there was no JLA comics for years, nothing was successful. This one’s successful. And now everything that DC’s putting out is the Justice League.

S. But when I read Justice League I don’t feel I’m getting... I’m getting a good superhero comic, but I’m not getting a "Grant Morrison" comic. When I first read Animal Man and Doom Patrol - a guy in the shop just recommended them to me, I’d never heard of you before - I thought: “I’m following this writer”, and I would go ahead and buy comics - for the artists as well - but largely according to the writers involved. It seemed to me then that if I thought that way, there must be a whole lot of people doing this, buying comics based on who’s writing it. And that’s why I say that if your editor comes up to you and says “Grant, we want you to do this title or resurrect that title”, why get you to do something that’s not what you want to do, which is what you were doing in the first instance, rather than saying “We want another Dada comic”, or another self-conscious superhero comic...
G. They don’t understand it. The best success is when your creative people are doing what they feel. That’s always the best success...

S. Because you’re also surprised as a writer when you read that stuff as your working on it, aren’t you. There’s that sense that you discover something yourself, something is revealed, something comes off the page at you....
G. The feeling I’ve always got when I’m writing, sometimes when it’s not working, I can’t do it. I can sit there and technically do you a great Justice League comic, but the stuff I like the best is something like The Invisibles, which is a different thing altogether, it’s more like what I want to do. Even when I’m working for kids, or whoever writing this stories, there just comes a moment when it’s like... I always describe it as a click in the head, when you suddenly hit on a way of doing it. For instance, when I was doing the “Rock of Ages” storyline, the last one or second last one with the zombie factory on the moon and the death of Darkseid, when I wrote that, I just thought it was dry, and the click suddenly came when I decided to do the story from the point of view of the Black Racer - Death - and then it’s Death that starts narrating the story. It comes around to the end of the story and you finally find out who’s talking and it’s Death, and that was it, that was the click, because it was something I hadn’t done before. And that was what made the story work for me. And if I don’t get that click, if I don’t get that file that gets opened, the thing doesn’t work.

S. And you can trust it because that’s what comes through to a reader as well. You know when you find yourself trying to explain the levels or many meanings available, for example, in Arkham Asylum, I‘ve always felt that that was... When a writer has to go to the effort of pointing that out, when it’s not happening ‘organically’, whatever you want to call it... I found it interesting that what you didn’t like about Alan Moore’s work is that it’s reductive, which I assume by that you mean that it’s overdetermined, that it’s too dry and schematic. I actually think he is also surprised by how his method reveals things to him because it’s process work...
G. Yes...
S. It actually works specifically as comics...
G. To read Alan Moore’s work, it’s so beautiful and architectural and everything about it is great, but for me, that fire of creativity isn’t there in it, and I’m not fooled by it. I read Promethea last night, and I thought, “This is Doom Patrol, I don’t care, there’s nothing new for there for me here, but it’s so beautifully constructed, I wish I could do this kind of thing...
S. ...immaculate objects...
G. ...yes. It lacks the transcendental, it lacks the soul. And even last night, I was talking to Warren, The Authority’s like Justice League, but to me, what I find in that is this voice coming out, that to me, Warren’s got this voice of this new whatever generation it is that’s coming up where there’s all this violence and black humour, and that’s why I love it, because it is a thing with fire coming out of it. I don’t get that with Moore’s stuff, I just get this brilliance.

S. But I think there’s an appeal to that which is to do just with how comics are read, and I reckon that when Moore’s doing it, he’s actually surprised by the connections that are made. You know when you said that he synthesises...
G. Yeah, that’s right...
S. ...his work is a process of synthesis. I think he is surprised when he sees the connections and analogies between the salt shaker and the Chrysler building, for example...
G. ..yeah...
S. ...and even when he talks about being surprised by the coincidences in it, that this art work on the poster was the same as the... whoever was doing the Yes covers...
G. The Roger Dean stuff...

S. I was thinking about how you were saying with Arkham Asylum, Dave McKean was doing more collage, and you had structured it as a very clean, articulate, spot-the-shadows-behind-the-object...
G. Even more than that, I wanted it schizophrenic, because schizophrenics look at the world where everything’s objectified, where things don’t mean other things, because the whole story already had multiple angles, I didn’t want that to be in the art at the same time. I wanted everything objectified. The cup of coffee is a cup of coffee when you’re a schizophrenic, there’s no meaning in it.

S. Have you read Cages?
G. I read the first few, but I lost interest, to be honest. It just went on too long...

S. Yeah, it does have to be read in the one sitting. There’s writers who do communicate their stories very visually, and he’s one of those, like Sienkiewicz. Do you read much of the independent comics? Have you read Chris Ware?

(another interruption by announcer’s voice overhead)

S. There’s always someone up there, isn’t there?
G. Yeah... (laughs)
S. And it’s always a white male voice.
G. I really like Chris Ware formally, he’s formally brilliant. The black humour is at a pitch where I can enjoy it just for the sheer nastiness of it, the black depth of it. But what worries me is that there’s so many of those American guys - and I have this problem with the Fantagraphics books, not all of them, but most of them - is that there’s a lot of really bad ones, I think.
They live in the most privileged, the most wonderful country in the world, and they keep writing about how shitty their lives are, and I’m sorry, I come from Scotland, I come from a place where no one’s got work, no one’s got money, and I’m reading these Americans in California telling me that life is shit, and it’s like, Get Therapy, y’know, I don’t want to read your comics, ‘cos you’re boring bastards. And there’s nothing fun, there’s nothing empowering or useful in that. You know, I love Dan Clowes’ stuff, when he was doing Velvet Glove, and Ghost World, but when he writes that stuff, this is who I hate, because Dan Clowes walks in and says “I hate that kid over there because she’s got a big arse, and I hate that one... it’s like, shut up, shut the fuck up, keep it to yourself, that means nothing to me, it’s just attacking humanity for no good reason, do something. And the good thing about him is, he does, but a lot of these Fantagraphics guys do nothing but “I hate this!”, nihilistic, pointless... But like I say, these guys are living in California...

S. It’s their audience as well, isn’t it...
G. ...I suddenly realised how adolescent that is ‘cos when you’re 17 you are nihilistic and you do think everything is shit...
S. ...well, you’d wanna be...
G. (laughs) Yeah, it’s the way people think. That’s why people are into death when they’re 17. Once you get past a certain age you don’t want anything to do with it, y’know?(interrupted by an autograph hunter)

S. What about Love and Rockets, have you read that sort of thing?
G. I read it when it first came out but then it no longer seemed relevant after a certain point.

(a female announcer’s voice interjects this time)

S. Somebody else got a shot at it! (laughter). Just getting back to being a comics writer, having a certain audience - you mentioned the letter columns and the immediate response. There’s no doubt comics are a pop medium with the immediacy, and you know your target audience is going to be turned over every five years or whatever... How did getting rid of the letter columns affect you? It seemed to be a significant theme for you in the panel session.
G. When I came to make the Invisibles I was communicating with these people and the whole idea was that there was a lot of ideas that inspired me when I was young, certain films, the Sex Pistols, F, and the Lindsay Anderson films, all this anarchic stuff, and I began to realise that all that is is handing on the baton, it goes right back through the beatniks, back to the Romantics, there’s this thread that kind of runs through this counter culture thread, and I always felt that I identified with that.
But for me the comics became a way of expressing that again, getting to a big audience. Byron was writing poetry and he had this gigantic audience all across Europe and there were all these young men and young women reading his stuff and I just thought, novels don’t have it, poetry certainly doesn’t have a big audience anymore, but we can do comics that have poetry in them, like Alan Moore, it’s brilliant, you can do poetry and sell vast amounts which is unheard of, certainly in the Western neck of the woods, and that’s what it’s about. We’re using this medium to say the things I wanted to say.

S. You were saying how you thought it was things you said in the letter columns that they’d edited out and then said “Well, we’re not giving it to you any more, we’re giving it over to advertising space”.
G. The whole thing with the letter columns was that on the Invisibles I was handing on the baton. I’ll do this calling, I’ll send out signals and try to connect every one on Earth who liked the Invisibles, and that was the idea. And suddenly I started getting the letters in, and all these people are saying “Well. I’m gonna bootleg this”, and “I’ve got cd’s, you should hear this”, and they were sending me all this stuff and everyone was doing the same work, but expressing it in their own way, but it was always saying, like, the same currents people were reflecting in different ways. and I found that suddenly this international community was beginning to emerge that I’d only dreamed of when I started doing the book, but it’s what I imagined the Invisibles would be. And it got more and more real to the point where I created a shamanic transvestite character and the next thing is, this shamanic transvestite sends me photographs and letters and tells me how to throw molotov cocktails.
And then I meet - you know, I’d keep getting all these letters and the whole thing became this fantastic ferment of people, and the letters column for me was at the centre of it because I could respond directly to people, I just ran with the things I was thinking that day, and we created this energy, this force, you know, and they deliberately took that away, and you can see a community of a different sort emerging through the other columns, like Transmet, it was all different, but the people it attracted would create this fantastic stir, they wanted their ideas involved, they wanted to comment. I was getting things that people would write to me - the whole Ragged Robin thing in the the second book of the Invisibles came up because this 16 year old girl sent me these fantastic photographs of herself dressed up as Ragged Robin, and then she sent me this story she’d written which was all about this girl writing this story which included the Invisibles, and that just fed directly into it, that became part of my story as well.

S. That turnaround of response, the immediacy is amazing...
G. But they did it deliberately to all of us so we’ve lost that sense of community, where you can go to the back page and it’s like looking through the door of the clubhouse and be involved in the discussion and debate. It’s gone, and to me it was deliberate and it was brutal, and it does affect me, I’m working in the dark again.

S. So what did you do to Charles Sperling?
G. (laughs) What’s Charles Sperling doing to himself? (loud laughter) You know, I’m going to write him a letter, and just say, Charles, you’ve got to stop reading comics, ‘cos you don’t like them anymore. That’s the problem, you’ve stopped being interested in these things, but you’re reading them out of nostalgia, and you’re too old for it!

S. Warren was saying he refuses to print one of his letters! There was this other guy, too. Do you remember T. M. Maple? - that was his pseudonym - every time I read his letters, I thought, someone’s got to write a short story or a novel based just on a series of letters written to a comic, and it would have this whole pathology, because it was moving stuff sometimes...
G. ...yeah, because they’re writing so much, they’re actually folk writers as well, these guys and it becomes like a badge of honour... Y’know, Sperling, he writes to every single comic, every month. How much time must that take, I mean there’s all these references to “F. Scott Fitzgerald said this...” and it’s completely irrelevant to the story!(laughter)
G. I’ve met some fantastic people throught the Invisibles, people that are real friends, people I know in Melbourne I’ve met who are really good people.

S. The cynical view is that the comics audience is ghettoised, it’s so invisible, and what you’re saying is that there’s another aspect to it which is Yes, I work for a conglomerate, Yes I’m hampered by this and that, but despite all that there’s this energy that comes through this sort of work, there is this connection, and Yes, I’m a pulp writer or a popular writer, but what you’re saying is that with pop writing, we don’t need to spend a year working on the novel...
G. Exactly...
S. ...and you don’t need the official culture or beauracracy or official channels of applause...
G. Because it doesn’t matter. One of the great things with comics is that generally the culture isn’t looking, and no one sees what’s going on in the Invisibles, so we can get away with stuff. It’s getting harder and harder, but in comics you can get away with stuff you can’t get away with in novels or film because they’re too public, and there’s something about comics, this disdained form, this despised sideways up form that gets overlooked and because it’s getting overlooked a lot of very interesting people go there to work because they can say things that they wouldn’t be able to say anywhere else.

S. I see that as a very recent thing in mainstream comics. Of course there was the undergrounds which were very consciously anti-establishment...
G. The funny thing is that the underground scene is a really wierd one because I notice that it’s always the underground cartoonists who always survive best. All the guys from the 60’s have huge benefactors, like Crumb is really rich...

S. ...Shelton...
G. ...Shelton lives in Paris where he has a benefactor who’s a millionaire who just pays Shelton to do stuff. Look at Curt Swan, the guys who worked there on the frontlines of superhero comics, and they have more money than them (the superhero artists) and they’re actually cooler than these guys who worked hard. These guys have all worked out how to make money. And the guys at Fantagraphics, they’re all doing, like, posters for beer adverts, so they’re the ones who actually end up successful. The so-called alternative culture is more successful.

S. So all you get now is Crumb sketchbooks...
G. ...lavish versions of that stuff...S.
I just saw the ad for Crumb’s compilation of his favourite jazz records from his collection, and he gets to write the liner notes...
G. (laughter) Peter Bagge’s the same, they’ve just got a whole bunch of them, everyone’s favourite records are being put out on cd’s. And those guys are making a fortune. But no one says to Steve Ditko What’s your favourite records? So I actually think the real heroes in all this are the people doing mainstream comics, just because there’s no kudos in that, nothing but hate from the general culture.

S. And your Swan's and Ditko's were effectively in a production line sweatshop environment. That’s what I started off saying, that our impression as readers is that with the higher profile of writers having come into comics in the last ten years the audience has also changed, and writers having been recognised as scripters rather than writer/artists have really brought a different influence, and the audience is there waiting to be found, so that when you do the Invisibles or when Swamp Thing was done, or when the all the clever things in Watchmen is found, there’s an audience there for it...
G. Because the audience is literate, that’s one thing to remember. These are people who like to read, and that’s like only 10 per cent of the American population, and that’s what’s important, they’re actually reading. Anyone who picks up a comic is literate because they want to read. Comics have become more literate along with the audience as well. Because it used to be like, you could sell 4,000,000 Superman issues a month, to G.I’s and little kids on the corner, but what we’ve got left is a really intense reading audience.

S. And it’s not an uncritical audience either. The conventional view of comics audiences is of 14 year olds and less reading superhero comics, but the audience that grows and stays may get smaller, but is intense and critical. When you say there’s these 40 year old editors that are going to be there forever and they won’t give you the freedom you want - there’s always this positive-negative thing in the comics industry...
G. We have the enthusiasm, you know, I’m so enthusiastic, that’s why, with doing Justice League I’m doing this positive, forward-looking thing and after 7 years, as the years go by I’ve been ground down to the point where I’m angry and I’m spitting fire at the company, and it’s terrible and I should still be excited by this stuff instead of being worn down by it.

S. I guess that writers have been taught two other lessons, that even if you’re big enough like Alan Moore, you won’t be able to take your audience, because you can’t administer Mad Love or whatever, and the other thing is like Rick Veitch, where you take the principalled approach and say “I’m leaving”, there’ll be growth in the industry after that where printing stories with Jesus won’t be an issue, but he’s lost his livelihood.
G. Since Rick Veitch we’re not allowed to use any form of cross or Christian imagery. You don’t really notice this. But we’re able to do good stuff despite that.

S. And when obscenities are allowed that articulates another audience, it identifies another group...
G. It’s sad, because there you’ve got like Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon with the project they’re doing after Preacher, and they’ve gone and said “We won’t give you this unless you give as an assurance we can use the word ‘cunt’”, and I thought Is that really the basis of...
S. That’s what I’m saying, that you get away with that, and suddenly that will be marketable and they’ll say “We want the Ennis swearing, but not that swearing...”.
G. Yeah, and we’re fighting over the word ‘cunt’ but we should be fighting about other things. There are certain restrictions which are in place...

S. What about other things for yourself such as having had access to The Face, and I saw some years ago when I was in London and the Invisibles was coming out, and there was a writeup in Time Out. That to me seems like genuine crossover acknowledgement...
G. I haven’t got the time ‘cos I’m working all the time but when the Invisibles came out I had the time and I went out and did all the press...

S. You did it yourself?
G. Yeah, I went to them and if you say “This is a comic” they go “My God, this is a comic, it’s so great, and look, it’s got swearing, it’s got real life situations in it”, and they love it.
S. So you promoted it yourself...
G.The companies will not promote one. They don’t want the world to know it’s out there. So what I do - when I have a new project - is I send it out to everyone in the media, and they’re always interested because it is interesting. But they don't promote the Invisibles, or they don’t promote Preacher or Transmetropolitan, they don’t want them to sell, because it might attract bad light onto these things.

S. Everyone will see what they’re up to?
G. Everything about the company is there to keep hobbling the creators, and that’s what we’ve discovered.

S. They’re protecting their demographic but their demographic isn’t what they think it is. They think they’re protecting 14 year old boys...
G. It’s not even for 14 year old boys. What do 14 year old boys like? They like South Park, whatever the latest thing is. Fourteen year old boys are quite aware of what’s going on in the culture.

S. They’re not into whatever 50 year old editors were into when they were 14.
G. The editors are convinced that everyone is just like them, and that’s the way it’s always been. And the horror is, it has to be said, that these editors are geeks, and they’re frightened to engage with the real world and talk to people because they feel slow and ashamed of themselves...

The tape/transcript ends rather suddenly at this point. I know we discussed a few more things, but not much that I can recall now, other than he also remembers the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators series of kids' mystery books, and his oft-told story about meeting Superman (which makes me think I must have another tape somewhere with more of the interview... watch this space!)

At the end of the interview I was heading off to the Astor to see Chris Marker’s La Jetee. I invited Grant along but he had already made plans to catch The Matrix. I believe he had more to say about that later.

I found Grant to be as charming and cool and as forthright as I expected him to be, and I still think that if there's a casting call for Spider Jerusalem, he should top the list.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic # 12

It’s taken a few weeks, but this instalment wraps up the indexing to the first dozen issues of All Star Adventure Comic, which I began discussing towards the end of January.

There’s plenty of unidentified contents in these issues – and possibly some errors - so as always, if any one can identify any of the contents or cover artists, or if anyone has corrections to any of the credits, or would like to refer me to any sources which may provide more information, please send me an email.

All Star Adventure Comic #12, circa November 1961

(Cover artist/source unidentified)

This issue reprints three stories which originally appeared in Planet Comics #73, Winter 1953, Fiction House. I assume they were sourced from the facsimile reprint of Planet Comics #73 in Space Mysteries #9, 1958/1959, Super Comics, I. W. Publishing. These issues included two more stories not reprinted in All Star #12 – a Cerebex story which appeared in All Star #11, and “Strangers On Satellite C”, which may be reprinted in another K.G. Murray comic.

Ka'a'nga: Glory or Death!
(Original unidentified, 9 pages)

Wambi The Jungle Boy: (untitled) - (begins "A trophy hunter has entered Wambi's jungle...')
Roy L. Smith/Henry Kiefer
(Jungle Comics #152, August 1952)

Tiger Girl: The Voodoo Master!
(Jungle Comics #162, Spring 1954)

Among The Missing
Jack Abel
(Planet Comics #73, Winter 1953)

Ka'a'nga: (untitled) - (begins " The game trails of the dark and brooding congo...")
Frank Riddell/Maurice Whitman
(Original unidentified, 10 pages)

Wambi The Jungle Boy: (untitled) - (begins " "Eat and sleep... Eat and sleep... ")
Roy L. Smith
(Original unidentified, 4 pages)

Tiger Girl: The Enchanted Valley
(Jungle Comics #161, Winter 1953)

Jungle Kings
(Original unidentified, 1 page)

The Martian Plague
Bernard Sachs
(Planet Comics #73, Winter 1953)

Ka'a'nga: (untitled) - (begins "The jungle lord and his mate...")
Frank Riddell
(Original unidentified, 9 pages)

Wambi The Jungle Boy: (untitled) - (begins "Once when Bruno hurt his foot...")
Roy L. Smith/Henry Kiefer
(Jungle Comics #155, November 1952)

Jungle Tales by Trader Jim: (untitled) - (begins "The drum message had said an emissary...")
(Jungle Comics #155, November 1952)

Star Pirate: (untitled) - (begins "Star Pirate, Robin Hood of the space-lanes, crosses swords again...")
Murphy Anderson (as Leonardo Vinci)
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Mysteries of the Jungle: Leopard Men
Tony D'Adamo
(Jungle Comics #155, November 1952)

Jungle Animals: A Walk in the Sun!
(Original unidentified, reprinted in Jungle Adventures #15, 1963, Super Comics, I. W. Publishing)

Ka'a'nga: (untitled) - (begins "The B'Kuta tribe trained the great tuskers...")
Frank Riddell
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

The Wonder-Warp
(Planet Comics #73, Winter 1953)

plus an Amazing Ratios 1 page filler

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This Comic Is Haunted #4: A Classic Gredown Horror Comic

This Comic Is Haunted #4, $0.50 cover price, Gredown Pty. Limited, no cover date
I mentioned in passing in my previous post on a Page Publication horror comic that I’m fond of certain titles and issues put out by Gredown, and this issue of This Comic Is Haunted is close to what I consider to be the perfect Gredown horror comic - - a tacky 1970’s ‘adult horror’ cover; a stash of pre-Code horror stories without any Spanish/Euro filler; and a high proportion of Steve Ditko material.

And, as a bonus, it appears to reprint a complete pre-Code horror comic!

The contents:

Caretaker of the Dead(This Magazine is Haunted #18, July 1954)
Note: Original title "Custodian of the Dead!", from Beware! Terror Tales #1, Fawcett, May 1952

The Last Earl! (or, The Bottom of the Swamp!)
Joe Shuster/John Belfi
(This Magazine is Haunted #18, July 1954)

The Faceless Ones!Steve Ditko
(This Magazine is Haunted #12, July 1957)

Menace of the InvisiblesSteve Ditko
(This Magazine is Haunted #13, October 1957)

What the Dream Meant(Original unidentified, Job Number S981, 5 pages)

Bridegroom, Come Back!
Steve Ditko
(This Magazine is Haunted #18, July 1954)

The DrumsSteve Ditko
(This Magazine is Haunted #13, October 1957)

The Man Who Changed BodiesSteve Ditko
(This Magazine is Haunted #13, October 1957)

Valley of Shadow!Stan Moskowitz
(This Magazine is Haunted #18, July 1954)

The Gredown horror catalogue comprised numerous one-shots, and quite a few series which appear to have run for a dozen or so issues. But few of the titles acknowledged their source material as respectfully as This Comic is Haunted. (I doubt there were pre-Code sources for titles such as The Demon is a Hag, Loathsome Ghosts or Ramparts of Evil – but maybe I’m wrong!)

The four stories reprinted from This Magazine is Haunted #18 may constitute a complete reprinting of that issue’s main comics features. I believe they were 36-page comics, so the 28 pages reprinted here should account for the bulk of the comics material, allowing for advertisements and text-only pages, but I note it is TBC.

Some of these Ditko stories were also reprinted in Ghost Manor #54, January 1981, an all-Ditko issue.

Many of these stories are introduced by the horror host, Dr. Haunt, but interesting to note that "Custodian of the Dead!" is introduced by Fawcett's horror host, The Mummy. As George Suarez notes in his review of the Charlton horror comics in Terrology #11, November-December 1993, this is likely evidence of Fawcett ‘inventory’ material being published by Charlton.

Not much more to add for the moment, but I plan on delving further into the history of Gredown - and the horror titles in particular- down the track.

Update 9/12/2019:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic # 11

All Star Adventure Comic #11, circa October 1961

Cover based on panel on page 6, artist unidentified.

Sheena Queen of the Jungle: Conjure-Man's Kraal
W. Morgan Thomas/Robert Webb
(Jungle Comics #158, Spring 1953)
Note: One source credits Robert Webb as artist, another Alex Blum (pencils)/Robert Webb (inker)

Sheena: Queen of the Jungle: Pool of Peril
W. Morgan Thomas
(Jungle Comics #158, Spring 1953, TBC)
Note: The GCD credits a text-only Sheena story called "Pool of Peril" in Jumbo Comics #96, February 1947, Fiction House. However, the "Pool of Peril" reprinted here may be Part 2 of "Conjure-Man's Kraal" from Jungle Comics #158 as the GCD entry for "Conjure-Man's Kraal" notes it is 12 pages not 7.

Wambi The Jungle Boy: (untitled) - (begins" Dawn on a Congo tributary...")
Roy L. Smith/Henry Kiefer
(Jungle Comics #158, Spring 1953)

Auro Lord of Jupiter: (untitled) - (begins "Through the brooding Jupiterian forest race two excited figures...")
Nick Charles
(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Camilla: (untitled) - (begins "Downriver - far below the mine of the seven serpents...")
Victor Ibsen
(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Ka'a'nga: Wild Boy!
Maurice Whitman
(Jungle Comics #162, Spring 1954)

Ka'a'nga: The Temple of the Leopard
(Original unidentified, 5 pages)

The Red Comet: (untitled) - (begins "Smashes into action against Randi, the power mad emperor...")
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Jungle Tales by Trader Jim: (untitled) - (begins "They were down at Trader Jim's hut...")
(Jungle Comics #152, August 1952)

Ka'a'nga The Jungle Lord: (untitled) - (begins "Four days and four nights...")
Maurice Whitman
(Original unidentified, 9 pages)

Tiger Girl: (untitled) - (begins "He was B'Shini, the shadow god...")
Alan O'Hara/Matt Baker
(Jungle Comics #155, November 1952)

Cerebex: (untitled) - (begins "Brad Cummings watches as his boss...")
Bill Benulis
(Planet Comics #73, Winter 1953, TBC)

Captain Terry Thunder: (untitled) - (begins "The big ghost of Simbah...")
Pierre La Rue
(Original unidentified, 5 pages)

Tiger Girl-(untitled) - (Begins "With a giant sikh servant and striped bengal pets...")
Allan O'Hara/Matt Baker
(Jungle Comics #152, August 1952)

Ka'a'nga Jungle Lord: (untitled) - (begins "Some called him the white ape of the Congo...")
Frank Riddell
(Original unidentified, 10 pages)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rheinstrom, MacFadden and the DC Connection

I have recently corresponded with an expert in the field of comics and magazine publishers, Michael Feldman. I recognise Michael’s contribution to comics scholarship from years on the comixschl list, and more recently on the GCD-Chat list. Michael is a significant contributor to Gerard Jones’ book Men of Tomorrow - which I thoroughly recommend – and is currently working on another project on the distribution of American journals.

Based on our email correspondence I have pieced together the following summary of the Rheinstrom / MacFadden / DC connection (and, by extension, the connection to K.G. Murray):

Contrary to some reports in various books and magazines, such as Daniel’s DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes, and Comic Book Marketplace (on which I based my previous post) Rheinstrom was not in fact head of MacFadden Publications International - S.O. Shapiro (and some other person) were CEO. Bernarr MacFadden himself had been kicked out of the company in 1941, essentially for using the funds of a public company for his own use. MacFadden would be burdened by a huge printer debt throughout the 1940’s.

Rheinstrom was a top level executive at MacFadden, possibly in charge of overseas properties, and possibly had the title ‘Head of MacFadden International’ or some similar title. This may have been an autonomous operation linked to the main company.

It appears MacFadden’s problems throughout the 1940’s made them vulnerable to corporate raids, and some of its executives went to Independent News, DC's distribution sister company, around 1950.

It is no certainty that Rheinstrom also went directly to Independent News. It is likely that, having developed his own network while at McFadden, he formed his own service and consulting company circa 1950, and had NPP (National Periodical Publication - of which DC Comics and Independent News were divisions) as his major client.

There was some special deal at Independent News whereby Rheinstrom was granted 'carte blanche' in handling all their international reprints and licensing out of North America via his holding company, and after 1952 as president of Carroll Rheinstrom International Editions. This arrangement was still in place into the 1980s.

Besides the National/DC properties, Rheinstrom also handled product from other comics publishers. He may have been offered periodic 5 year contracts that were variously renewed.

There were deals with various companies and countries over the decades. Jack Adams was general manager of Independent News between 1939-52. Jack's brother Allan worked for Charlton, handling the resale of their returns to places like South Africa and other colonial countries. They mainly dealt in song lyric magazines. It’s possible he was even still handling MacFadden's properties for some time.

Not a lot to add to this for the moment, but these snippets of information do support the argument that Rheinstrom is the key to the range of publishers reprinted by the K.G. Murray titles. Indeed, it may explain the source of non-DC publishers who may not have been distributed by Independent News. The renewable 5-year contracts may shed light on supply-line symptoms referred to in previous blog entries. All good fodder for further analysis and speculation.

My thanks to Michael for contributing to our behind-the-scenes knowledge of the parties which likely hold the key to the source of the K.G. Murray reprints.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic and the DC/ACG Axis

As discussed previously, All Star Adventure Comic #13 is the first issue in the series to feature a DC cover. All subsequent covers in the series would also be from DC.

It is also the first issue to feature DC content. The previous issues carried material from a range of publishers such as Charlton, Marvel (Atlas), Fiction House and others. They also included comics from American Comics Group. The ACG material would be the only non-DC comics to continue appearing along with the DC material in this next stage of All Star.

The ACG material accounts for a high proportion of the contents of All Star between #’s 13 and 23, yet paradoxically also plays second fiddle to the DC comics. Whether there is only one or two DC stories in a particular issue, as is often the case, or whether there are a handful of DC stories, the DC feature typically opens the issue, and indeed ‘presents’ and ‘sells’ the issue by virtue of cover duty.

Keeping in mind these are all 100-page issues, and the DC features are around 9 pages each, the DC/ACG ratio slices up something like this:

#13: 4 DC, balance ACG
#14. 1 DC, balance ACG
#15: 4 DC, balance ACG
#16: 4 DC, balance ACG
#17. 5 DC, balance ACG
#18. 1 DC, balance ACG
#19. 1 DC, balance ACG
#20. 3 DC, balance ACG
#21. 1 DC, balance ACG
#22. 1 DC, balance ACG
#23. 7 DC, balance ACG
#24. All DC, 1 unidentified
#25. All DC, 1 unidentified

It begs many questions - Why such a concentration of ACG material in a relatively short span? Why did All Star not continue as a non-DC title and instead splintered into All Star Vol. 2 and Climax? And Why did the ACG material lose the balance so emphatically to DC in All Star after almost a dozen issues?

It’s another of those K.G. Murray mysteries which lead to more questions, theories and speculation. It’s often difficult to judge whether it’s best to ascribe editorial directive or just plain random chance to many aspects of these comics, but I’m inclined towards the former in the case of the early All Star/Climax contents.

So I'll proceed with my assumption that the K.G. Murray editors deemed the majority of the All Star Vol. 1 material to be sufficiently different in style to the rest of the DC material they were publishing as to warrant channelling them into a separate title. I have discussed how I expect this is in turn led to the launch of Climax Adventure Comic.

Likewise I expect the editors deemed the ACG material to be close enough in style and appeal to the DC material to associate the two in All Star Vol. 2.

I believe it was Will Eisner who said style is the result of limitations. I’d argue it is also a matter of critical distance.

For example, the well-versed fan of Silver Age comics does not find it too difficult to distinguish between a DC and an ACG comic.

However, ask a pre-code horror aficionado about the relative merits of DC or ACG comics – in particular, their horror titles - and the disparaging assessment will strongly suggest the relative blandness of the DC/ACG material renders them virtually indistinguishable. The pre-code horror expert may concede the earliest DC and ACG horror comics have some merit, and in the case of ACG some historical importance, but will also quickly remind the fanboy that neither missed a beat when it came to abiding by the Code.

It’s certainly not difficult to appreciate the clean, light, open style of some ACG artists such as Chic Stone, Pete Costanza and Kurt Schaffenberger blended readily with the predominant DC style of the period. Indeed some ACG alumni, in particular Schaffenberger, would become strongly identified with DC in the 1960’s.

And it’s true that in flipping through one of these issues of All Star there are no great jarring moments of contrasting styles akin to that encountered in All Star Vol. 1, such as Wolverton mixed in with Williamson. Apart from the conspicuous outlines on the ACG story titles, and the neat credit boxes identifying writers and artists, these ACG stories in All Star could, for all intents and purposes - ie: from a certain critical distance - have been produced by a team of DC writers and artists.

Beyond matters of style and audience, I have recently been surprised to discover there are other interesting links between DC and ACG.

As Michael Vance relates in his book Forbidden Adventures: The History of the American Comics Group, the early comic book industry, centred around New York, was a web of relationships within the Jewish community, and the history of ACG is replete with arrangements and relationships amongst the comics publishers, including DC.

For example: B.W. Sangor, a retired attorney, was a friend of Harry Donenfeld; His son-in-law was Ned Pines, of Pines/Better/Nedor/Standard Publications; The Sangor shop’s main client was Pines, but also supplied art to DC and other publishers; Mort Weisinger was a former editor for Pines; Sangor’s business manager was Frederick Iger, who was also (briefly) Donenfeld’s son-in-law; He became ACG’s publisher after Sangor’s death; Iger had worked at DC, and indeed Iger and Sangor invested through Donenfeld’s offices (the B&I Corporation); The Sangor shop evolved into ACG; Sangor’s and Iger’s close connection to ACG and Donenfeld led to rumours that Donenfeld and DC owned a share of ACG.

The rumours were further fanned by the appearance of advertisements for some ACG titles in DC comics. It appears the truth behind the rumours is that Donenfeld listed himself as part owner of ACG just to guarantee distribution via Independent News Company, but was not in fact a part owner. It is said Donenfeld also helped Sangor secure black market newsprint paper in the early 1940’s.

(This summary is drawn from Vance’s book - most of which was also reprinted in a recent issue of Alter Ego, featuring many scans from K.G. Murray comics!)

Vance establishes ties of varying degrees between DC and ACG based on key personnel (did I mention Sangor was Donenfeld’s crony and gin rummy partner…?!) artists and, critically, distribution.

I suggested in my post on Carroll Rhinestrom, DC’s - read Independent News Company’s - international distributor that it would be unlikely that an agency would operate exclusively for one company. I also argued that factoring in such a third party would go a long way to explaining how non-DC material was supplied along with the core DC material.

My assumption was that it was unlikely non-DC comics - ‘the competition’ - would have been sourced directly via DC. Yet, as Gerard Jones says in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book: “…publishers that might have looked like competitors from the outside… were in fact another source of (Donenfeld’s) wealth.” (p. 158)

Indeed Independent News was also the distributor for Marvel for much of the 1960’s, a deal weighted heavily in favour of DC. The Marvel features K.G. Murray published in Climax and Super Giant (see previous discussion) all appeared after the distribution deal with Independent News had expired, and Martin Goodman had sold Marvel to Perfect Film and Chemical Corporation (but therein lies a tale for another blog.)

So, based on Vance, we have established various ties between ACG and DC – most critically, the distribution of ACG via DC/Independent News Corp. Add to this the likelihood that Rheinstrom’s company would have been in a position to deliver DC and non-DC material to K.G. Murray. Suddenly, this double-pronged supply-line makes the appearance of non-DC comics in K.G. Murray’s line not unlikely or surprising, but almost inevitable.

I don’t mean to suggest that after #23 All Star consisted exclusively of DC material. Although it did become a predominantly DC title and took its place alongside other mainline K.G. Murray DC-centric titles, it tended to feature non-superhero, or non-core superhero features for much of its run (Animal Man, Spectre, Adam Strange), and also carried other non-DC features, albeit in support roles. And I don’t mean to suggest that the ACG material appeared exclusively in All Star, as it was also carried in other titles in this period, for example All Favourites, Mighty, The Hundred, Five-Score and Century.

After the second and third tier superheroes had completed cover duties, it was only a matter of time before Superman and Batman made cover appearances. Towards the end of its run All Star had pretty much settled into reprinting Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. The last issue was #96, and the numbering was continued with Superboy #97. Yet throughout this period it still maintained ties to its Strange Adventures and House of Mystery heritage

Saturday, February 17, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic # 10

All Star Adventure Comic #10, circa September 1961

Cover is based on splash page of “The Girl of the Tiger!” from Jungle Comics #160, Fall 1953, Fiction House.

This issue reprints the entire main features (sans text only stories) from Jungle Comics #163, Summer 1954, and Jungle Comics #159, Summer 1953 (apart from “The Blow-Gun Kill”).

Tiger Girl: The Girl of the Tiger!
Maurice Whitman
(Jungle Comics #160, Fall 1953)

Jungle Adventure
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

I Wake Up Screaming
Richard Doxsee
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #59, August 1957)

Dick Cole: (untitled) - (begins "A strong feeling against Farr Military Academy Cadets has developed...")
(Dick Cole #9, April-May 1950)

Ka'a'nga Jungle Lord: A Warrior Must Die!
Maurice Whitman
(Jungle Comics #163, Summer 1954)

The Magic Tree
(Jungle Comics #159, Summer 1953)

Jungle Tales by Trader Jim: (untitled) - (begins "When a sand bar fouled his loaded cage-rafts...")
(Jungle Comics #159, Summer 1953)

(Jungle Comics #159, Summer 1953)

Jungle Tales: (untitled) - (begins "It was the day the natives gathered inside...")
(Original unidentified, 4 pages)

Tiger Girl: (untitled) - (begins "She was the pale queen of a hidden temple...")
Allan O'Hara/Matt Baker
(Jungle Comics #159, Summer 1953)

The Shadow Men
(Jungle Comics #161, Winter 1953)

Camilla: (untitled) - (begins "The pygmy tribe had been betrayed...")
Marcia Snyder
(Jungle Comics #163, Summer 1954)

Ka'a'nga Jungle Lord: The Big Game Hunters!
Frank Riddell/Maurice Whitman

Jungle Patrol: (untitled) - (begins "For Kip Cummings of the Jungle Patrol...")
(Original unidentified, 4 pages)

Jungle Tales: (untitled) - (begins "There are many things in the African jungle...")
(Jungle Comics #160, Fall 1953)

Tiger Girl: (untitled) - (begins "The trouble began at Henrig's plantation...")
(Jungle Comics #163, Summer 1954)

plus a 1-page filler, Peter Puptent Explorer.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic # 9

All Star Adventure Comic #9, circa June 1961

This issue reprints the entire main comics features from Astonishing #53, September 1956; Journey Into Unknown Worlds #41, January 1956; and Journey Into Unknown Worlds #59, August 1957 (apart from “I Wake Up Screaming” which is reprinted in All Star Adventure Comic #10).

I believe the cover is an Australian original as it is not the cover image from Astonishing #53, and the image is not copied from the interior art or splash page.

The Hunter's Prey!
Dave Berg
(Astonishing #53, September 1956)

He Hides in the Night!
Paul Reinman
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #41, January 1956)

He Never Grew Old!
Ed Winiarski
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #41, January 1956)

The Living Dream
John Forte
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #41, January 1956)

It Happened To Finnegan!
Dick Ayers
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #41, January 1956)

The Flying Saucers!
Bill Everett
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #41, January 1956)

The Dreadful Disc!
John Forte
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #59, August 1957)

Shock at Seven O' Clock
Ted Galindo
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #59, August 1957)

Dick Cole: Death on the Pistol Range!
Dick Cole #9, April-May 1950

The Strange Warning!
Ruben Moreira
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #59, August 1957)

A Shaggy Wolf Tale!
Al Williamson
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #59, August 1957)

The Man Who Lived Twice!
Al Eadeh
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #59, August 1957)

The Hidden Valley!
Lou Morales
(Astonishing #53, September 1956)

There Were 3 Victims!
Sid Greene
(Astonishing #53, September 1956)

Trapped in the Tunnel!
John Forte
(Astonishing #53, September 1956)

Down in the Cellar!
Ted Galindo
(Astonishing #53, September 1956)

The Great Migration
Ross Andru
(Astonishing #27, October 1953)

Build Me A Machine!
Steve Ditko
(Astonishing #53, September 1956)

The Macabre Museum!
George Tuska
(Astonishing #27, October 1953)

Ka'a'nga: (untitled – begins “Kaanga was approaching home now.”)
Frank Riddell
(Original unidentified, reprinted as an Ann and Her Mate feature, not as a Ka’a’nga feature, in Jungle Girls #8, AC Comics, 1992, 8 pages)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic # 8

All Star Adventure Comic #8, March 1961

This is something of a ‘companion issue’ to All Star #7 with some similarly untypical and quirky contents.

This issue reprints the entire main feature contents (sans text-pieces) of Journey Into Unknown Worlds #42, February 1956, and Journey Into Unknown Worlds #47, July 1956.

There are a number of features in this issue which I expect have been sourced from a single issue, Blue Bolt #110 (or “Blue Bolt Comics”), August 1951, Star Publications, but unconfirmed at this stage.

I recommend checking in on James’ site for some more info on this issue, such as attributed story titles and possible credits.

The Target and the Targeteers: (untitled - begins “ Ranging afar in their battle against crime…”)
(Original source unknown, likely Target Comics, possibly reprinted in Blue Bolt #110, August 1951, TBC.)

They Wait in the Shadows!
Bob Forgione/Jack Abel
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #47, July 1956)

The Village That Cried!
Syd Shores
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #42, February 1956)

Mental Block
Bob Forgione/Jack Abel
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #42, February 1956)

Bull's-Eye Bill: (untitled – begins “Rawhide Ike, telling Bill his life story…”
(Original unidentified, 5 pages)

The Iron Men
Vic Carrabotta
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #47, July 1956)

Muggy-Doo and Orry Orangutan: (untitled – begins “Yo-Ho-Ho—Yo-Ho! I buy and sell, you know…”)
(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

The Girl Who Vanished
Syd Shores
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #47, July 1956)

The White Rider and Super Horse: (untitled - begins “From the hidden valley…”)
(Original source unknown, possibly reprinted in Blue Bolt #110, August 1951, TBC)

No Escape
Mac Pakula
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #47, July 1956)

Spacehawk: Spacehawk and the Blazing Death
Basil Wolverton
(Original unidentified, reprinted in Blue Bolt #110, August 1951)

The Strangers
Herb Familton
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #47, July 1956)

The Phantom Sub: (untitled – begins “Naval intelligence in Washington is all aflutter…”
(possibly Blue Bolt #110, August 1951)

My Neighbor's Secret!
Jack Kirby
(Journey Into Mystery 55, November 1959)

A World There Was
George Roussos
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #47, July 1956)

Fearless Fellers: (untitled – begins “Introducing the Boys—and Butch!)
5 pages
(Original unidentified, 5 pages)

The Man-Hunters
Jim Mooney
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #42, February 1956)

Elmer the Elk and Junior: (untitled – begins “Crash! Gosh all hemlock!”)
2 pages
(Original unidentified, 2 pages)

What Lurks Out There!
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #42, February 1956)
Bob Powell

Life or Death
Bob Brown
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #42, February 1956)

This issue also includes a couple of full-page advertisements.

If anyone has any more info or sources on the above contents, please let me know.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mammoth Comic Annual: The Missing Link

I think it’s fair to say that when I first came across this Mammoth Comic Annual I was stunned.

Up to that point I was unaware of the existence of such an issue. Although there were a few Mammoth Annuals circa 1957-1963 that I had yet to encounter, I had every reason to believe the issues I was seeking were orderly numbered objects, albeit with a query over their precise publication dates. In other words, even though they were proving to be elusive, and slightly mysterious for all that, I nevertheless expected I had a pretty good handle on what it was that I was seeking. The object of my quest was clear and I was accustomed to the process.

Or so I thought. I would soon understand that finding a long-sought-after item is one thing; discovering an unknown species – indeed, a missing link - is quite another!

Cue the forensics report:

Superman: Superman, Stuntman!
Alvin Schwartz/Al Plastino
(Action Comics #120, May 1948)

Johhny Quick: The Man Who Hated Water!
Otto Binder/Charles Sultan
(Adventure Comics #140, May 1949)

Superboy: Around the World in 80 Minutes!
Bill Finger/ Ed Dobrotka
(Adventure Comics #138, March 1949)

Hopalong Cassidy: The Powder-Keg Rider!
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

Superboy: The Man Who Could See Tomorrow!
John Sikela
(Superboy #1, March-April 1949)

Batman: Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!
David Vern Reed/Dick Sprang/Charles Paris
(Batman #56, December 1949-Jan 1950)

Superman: The Courtship of the Three Lois Lanes!
William Woolfolk/Wayne Boring/Stan Kaye
(Superman 61, December 1949

Superboy: Telegraph Boy!
John Sikela/Ed Dobrotka
(Adventure Comics #139, April 1949)

Aquaman: The Treasure Beneath the Lake!
John Daly
(Adventure Comics #129, June 1948)

Batman: A Greater Detective Than Batman!
Bill Finger/Jim Mooney
(Batman #56, December 1949-January 1950)

Johnny Quick and his Magic Formula: The Slowdown of Johnny Quick!
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Superman: Superman Returns to Krypton!
Al Plastino
(Superman #61, December 1949)

Zatara: A Dog-Catcher's Life!
(World's Finest Comics #34, May-June 1948)

Superboy: The Boy Vandals!
John Sikela
(Superboy #1, March-April 1949)

Hopalong Cassidy: The Tenderfoot Outlaw
Don Cameron/Gene Colan/Joe Giella/Sy Barry
(Hopalong Cassidy #87, March 1954)

plus Peg (1 page); Blockbusters (1 page); Quick Quiz (1 page)

As anyone who is familiar with the Mammoth Annual series can readily attest, this is not a typical resume of contents for a Mammoth Annual.

Mammoth Annuals (and Gigantic Annuals) were lucky dip compilations comprising unsold coverless comics returned to the publisher, rebound into whopping huge editions, and resold as specials. Each edition contained three newsstand comics at random, hence the contents of any particular issue of Mammoth Annual (or Gigantic Annual) were unpredictable. The only thing one could reasonably expect is that the issues had been published within the preceding 12 months.

The sheer heft of these volumes was quite something for the young reader to behold. They were formidable tomes to be reckoned with, not slight pamphlets to be folded and shoved in one’s back pocket. Even by today’s standards the page count is tremendous, exceeding that of the average trade paperback or hardcover Archives volume.

The first few editions proudly boasted “Biggest Comic Printed Ever! 292 pages!” (Gigantic Annual #3 even managed to score 352 pages due to a few 116-page comics!) The tally at the end of the boast may have decreased steadily over time but the claim to fame was to endure for a number of years.

Towards the end even three rebound comics could only muster a relatively meager 164 pages. Indeed by the time the comparatively modest “Super-Size Comic Omnibus!” was emblazoned on the cover Gigantic Annual #16 in 1975 – probably in response to the Trade Practices Act 1974, of which a summary was being printed in the comics themselves at the time - the Mammoths and Gigantics were rather slight and gaunt facsimiles of their former robust selves, and about to fade altogether.

And that is one of the things I noticed when I took a closer look at the newly discovered Mammoth Comic Annual – the anticipated heft, the sense of density and mass was absent. It was still a substantial magazine, and appreciably larger than the regular comics, but it was certainly not a clutch of rebound issues. In fact it felt more like a 148-page Colossal Comic…

And that’s when it hit me. It may have looked like a ‘missing’ Mammoth Annual, but it was in fact the ‘missing link’ between the Mammoths (and Gigantics) and the Colossals. It foreshadows the ongoing Mammoth Annual by title, but sets the template for the Colossal Comic series.

The Colossal series was also a repository of previously published K.G. Murray DC reprints, but unlike the Mammoths and Gigantics, Colossal did not contain rebound issues. Colossal reprinted stories previously published by K.G. Murray in the pamphlet-size series such as Superman, Batman and Super Adventure Comic. (I’ll be discussing Colossal Comic in greater detail in a forthcoming blog).

Mammoth Annual, Gigantic Annual and Colossal Comic form what I think of as the ‘massive’ line of compendiums, as distinct from regular ‘centurions’ (Century Comic, The Hundred Comic Monthly and Five-Score Comic Monthly by name, and the 100-pagers in general).

There is nothing to suggest that this issue was intended as anything but a one-off special. For one thing it is unnumbered, so there is no suggestion of any intention towards a series or subsequent issue. For another, as already mentioned, it consists exclusively of material which had already been published earlier in various other titles by K.G. Murray which, to the best of my knowledge, had not been done before.

Consider also that it may have been a 'rush job'. No doubt the Olympic rings motif was a deliberate cover element. (As obvious as it is, I must admit I did not even notice it until a few days later when my friend David Studham pointed it out – hey, I did say I was stunned!) It’s quite possible that a special ‘holiday season’ issue was in the works for the summer of 1956, and that it was decided at the last minute that the hot ticket in town was the Olympics, and the yuletide would keep.

This appears to have been the thinking behind the covers for Century #’s 5, 6, 7 and 8, which appear to have been crammed into the Olympic/Christmas season of 1956 - Century #5 has an advertiser’s date code suggesting it was published in November 1956; Century #6 sports an Olympic flag and MCG cover without an advertiser’s date code, but presumably followed #5 in November or December; #7 has a December advertiser’s date code and a conventional anthology cover, suggesting it was the ‘proper’ December issue; and #8 has the Happy New Year banner, so presumably that was published in January 1957. I assume from this that the Olympics/MCG cover was ‘rush-released’. (The Hundred Comic Monthly issues were not similarly affected in this period).

Almost all the main features in Mammoth Comic Annual are presented in a greyscale form. The exceptions are the opening Superman story and the two Hopalong Cassidy features. When I first saw these I assumed it had something to do with the source prints. Unfortunately I have not been able to compare them to their previous prints side-by-side.

However, I no longer expect this is the reason for the grey tone, for two reasons.

The first reason is that I understand that the Batman story “Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!” was originally published in Australia in Batman Comics #2, July 1950 as "Ride, Batman, Ride". I have not verified this, but based on the cover image, in which “Bat-Hombre” is replaced by “Batman”, it is more likely than not to have also been altered for the splash page in Batman Comics #2.

(“Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!” also happens to be the lead feature in Giant Batman Album #16, June 1968, but as this was sourced from the US edition of Batman #193, aka Batman Giant #14, aka 80 Page Giant #G-37, July-August 1967, it does not help in answering this query.)

The second reason is that at this point in time the K.G. Murray catalogue of DC reprints was experiencing an overhaul in terms of format and presentation. As discussed in a previous blog the 100-page format was being tested for the first time, as was full colour printing in the pamphlet format comic books. There were even a couple of 100-page Color Giants produced. I now believe the greyscale of Mammoth Comic Annual was another experiment in upping the ante on the previous standard black and white printing model.

It was also given a run in a few other titles in 1956-57, for example Colossal Comic Annual, All Favourites Comic Annual, The Mighty Comic Annual, and possibly others. I will discuss these issues in greater detail in an upcoming blog, but for the moment it is enough to note that the greyscale was not exclusive to Mammoth Comic Annual.

I should note there was another unnumbered Mammoth Comic Annual published a few years later, a conventional Mammoth edition of rebound coverless comics from 1959. This was released after the second ‘proper’ Mammoth Annual in 1958, and a few years before the third ‘proper’ Mammoth Annual in 1962.

Which leaves 1960 and 1961 as Mammoth-less years… at least as far as I know, for there could be more unnumbered Mammoths to be discovered!

Monday, February 12, 2007

All Star Adventure Comic # 7

All Star Adventure Comic #7, February 1961

This issue reprints most of the comics features in Mystic #51, September 1956, omitting the opening story “Man in the Dark”.

The cover image is based on a couple of panels on page 7, but I have not identified the artist.

Blue Bolt: (untitled - begins "During the great emergency of war...")
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

I Am The Abominable Snowman!
Paul Reinman
(Strange Tales #72, December 1959)

The Locked Room!
Manny Stallman
(Yellow Claw #4, April 1957)

Muggy-Doo and Osh: (untitled – begins "Ah--Tis So Nice and peaceful without Muggy-Doo...")
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

I Can Live Forever!
John Forte
(Journey Into Mystery #55, November 1959)

Dick Cole: Mid-Winter Scene!
(Dick Cole #7, January 1950)

(Carnival Week at Farr Military Academy!)
(Dick Cole #7, January 1950)

Muggy-Doo and Osh: The Big Fight
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

Cliff Mason White Hunter: Prize Trophy!
Don Rico/Don Heck
(Jann of the Jungle 11, May 1956)

No One Will Ever Know!
Marvin Stein
(Mystic #51, September 1956)

Think! If You Dare
Harry Lazarus
(Mystic #51, September 1956)

The Unknown Jungle: A Time of Hazard!
Don Rico/Syd Shores
(Jann of the Jungle 11, May 1956)

Behind The Door
Lou Cameron
(Mystic #51, September 1956)

The Cadet featuring Kit Carter: Crime Invades The Cornfield
Nina Albright (?)
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Wings in the Night!
John Forte
(Mystic #51, September 1956)

Osh and Voodoo Vermin: (untitled - begins "Gosh--it felt just like someone hit me in the eye!")
(Original unidentified, 5 pages)

The Imperfect Plot
Gray Morrow
(Mystic #51, September 1956)

A rather odd collection of features for an early issue of All Star – quite apart from the funny animal strips, which were best suited to Lot o’ Fun, or even an occasional cameo in an early issue of Century - the Blue Bolt and Dick Cole instalments look as out of place stylistically here as the Hart Amos and Vernon Hayles features did in the first issue of Climax Adventure Comic. Which is not to say they are without charms – the Blue Bolt story in particular is a hoot, a precious example of truly primitive ‘z-grade’ adventure comics which is genuinely fun to read, and I recommend it and its ilk, in small doses – but they hardly blend well with the mature style of, say, Gray Morrow.