In the the USA USA In
CREIG FLESSEL BERT CHRISTMAN MICHAEL CHABON Art ©2005 Creig Flessel; Sandman TM & ©2005 DC Comics.
Vol. 3, No. 45 / February 2005 Editor
Associate Editors Bill Schelly Jim Amash
Design & Layout
Consulting Editor John Morrow
Comic Crypt Editor Michael T. Gilbert
Jerry Bails (founder) Ronn Foss, Biljo White, Mike Friedrich
Writer/Editorial: The Sandman Cometh! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 “What Led You To Get A Job In Comic Books?” “Hunger! What Else?” . . 3
In Search Of Bert Christman. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Eric Nolen-Weathington Creig Flessel
David Alexander on the short, eventful life of the creator of The Sandman.
And Special Thanks to:
Heidi Amash Ger Apeldoorn David Armstrong Richard Arndt Bob Bailey Paul Bach, Jr. Brian H. Bailie Mike W. Barr Michael Baulderstone Mike Burkey Mark Cannon Michael Chabon Bob Cherry Lynda Fox Cohen Richard Cole Teresa R. Davidson Guy Davis Howard Leroy Davis Craig Delich Al Dellinges Michael Eury Mark Evanier Creig & Marie Flessel Shane Foley Todd Franklin Jean-Paul Gabilliet Carl Gafford Jeff Gelb Janet Gilbert Mike Gold Duncan Goodyer Paul Gravett Beth Gwinn Dan Hagan Jostein Hansen
Golden and Platinum Age artist Creig Flessel interviewed by Jim Amash.
Jennifer Hamerlinck Robert Justis Gene Kehoe Tim Lapsley Stan & Joan Lee Dan Makara Bruce Mohrhard Scotty Moore Frank Motler Lou Mougin Mark Muller Will Murray Mart Nodell Joe Petrilak Steve Piersall Charlie Roberts Ethan Roberts Eric Schumacher Diana Schutz David Siegel Harvey Sobel Joe Staton Marc Svensson Marc Swayze Stan Taylor Greg Theakston Dann Thomas Mike Tiefenbacher Anthony Tollin Alex Toth Herb Trimpe Delmo Walters, Jr. Hames Ware Alan Weiss Dylan Williams Marv & Noel Wolfman
This issue is dedicated to the memories of
Bert Christman, Fred Guardineer, Harry Lampert, Irv Novick, & Christopher Reeve
“ChristmanWasWellOnHisWayToBecomingAnotherNoelSickles”. . . 36 Alex Toth pays homage in words and art to Bert Christman.
The Saga Of The Sandman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 A look at DC’s Sandmen from 1939 to the present, by Lou Mougin.
The Amazing Adventures Of Michael Chabon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 The author of the Pulitzer-winning Kavalier and Clay e-mails Roy Thomas.
Comic Crypt: Warren Confidential – Part I . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Michael T. Gilbert on Warren Pubs’ “young Turks” of the 1960s and ’70s.
Getting To Know “Veteran Comics Fan” Jaunty Jeff Gelb . . . . . . . . . 61 Bill Schelly talks to the editor of Men of Mystery—and Strange Bedfellows.
Brief Tributes To Fred Guardineer, Irv Novick, Harry Lampert, & Christopher Reeve. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 re: [comments, correspondence, & corrections] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 FCA (Fawcett Collectors Of America) #104 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79 Paul Hamerlinck presents C.C. Beck, Marc Swayze, and Otto Binder’s Jon Jarl.
About Our Cover: When we decided to feature Jim Amash’s Creig Flessel interview in this issue, editor Roy Thomas phoned Creig and asked if he might know the address of someone who owned one of the several re-creations he had done in the 1990s of his 1939-1941 Sandman covers for DC Comics. Creig, however, said he’d prefer to do a new color Sandman drawing for us. At age 92, he came through like Gang Busters—and we’re delighted with the result, which celebrates 65 years since Creig’s cover for Adventure Comics #40! [Art ©2005 Creig Flessel; Sandman TM & ©2005 DC Comics.] Above : The splash panel of the first “Sandman” story in Adventure Comics (#40, July 1939), drawn by Bert Christman. As David Armstrong (who sent this scan) emphasizes in his article that begins on p. 18, this was probably the second story of that hero written and drawn. [©2005 DC Comics.] Alter EgoTM is published monthly by TwoMorrows, 10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614, USA. Phone: (919) 449-0344. Roy Thomas, Editor. John Morrow, Publisher. Alter Ego Editorial Offices: 32 Bluebird Trail, St. Matthews, SC 29135, USA. Fax: (803) 826-6501; e-mail: email@example.com. Send subscription funds to TwoMorrows, NOT to the editorial offices. Single issues: $8 ($10 Canada, $11.00 elsewhere). Twelve-issue subscriptions: $60 US, $120 Canada, $132 elsewhere. All characters are © their respective companies. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial matter © Roy Thomas. Alter Ego is a TM of Roy & Dann Thomas. FCA is a TM of P.C. Hamerlinck. Printed in Canada. FIRST PRINTING.
“What Led You To Get A Job In Comic Books?”
“Hunger! What Else?”
Comics Pioneer CREIG FLESSEL Talks About The Golden Age—And Before! Interview Conducted & Transcribed by Jim Amash
NTERVIEWER’S NOTE: Creig Flessel was in the comic book business soon after it started— and still would be today, if he so desired. His early covers for DC Comics are nothing short of masterpieces of illustration, capturing the imagination of his readers and helping to legitimize a wholly original, American art form. And he still has the magic touch, as his cover for this issue demonstrates. Creig was a star artist everywhere he worked, and though the focus of our interview is on his early DC work, the Checklist at the end of this interview will give you a taste of what else this thoughtful, tasteful, brilliant artist has done. In the meantime, he opens the curtains on the early days of DC, and gives us a peek at the men who laid the foundation for what DC was to become in later years: a powerhouse company whose characters have spanned many countries and entertained generations of readers. —Jim.
“A Good Way Of Apprenticing” JIM AMASH: I’m curious about your middle name, which is Valentine. When were you born? CREIG FLESSEL: I was born in Huntington, Long Island, in February 2, 1912. I lived on Long Island for 89 years. Valentine was a family name. JA: I thought maybe you were born on Valentine’s Day, but you almost made it. What were your early art influences? FLESSEL: Books and magazines. My father was a great reader of fiction and there was reading material around: Saturday Evening Post, The Country Gentleman, Good Housekeeping, among others. I was fascinated by the newspaper strips. The Hearst newspaper, The Journal American, had a
Alter Ego Alter Ego The All-Star Companion, Vol. 1
Sunday supplement and always had black-&-white illustrations by a man named Lee Conrey. His work was amazing, and he spent his life working for Hearst. JA: Who were your favorite magazine illustrators? FLESSEL: First off, there was Howard Pyle. Dean Cornwell, Henry Raleigh. J.C. Leyendecker did great covers, as did Norman Rockwell. This was before the advent of photography. There were many great artists whose work I liked. Later, people like Al Dorne and Robert Fawcett influenced me, too. There were many newspapers strip artists I liked: Billy DeBeck, George McManus, Winsor McCay, and others. I also liked sports cartoonists like Willard Mullin. I always drew. It was a way of amusing myself. My brother could draw and my mother painted flowers. JA: You went to Grand Central Art School, right? FLESSEL: That’s right. You’re talking 1929, 1930—the depth of the Depression. I needed to earn money. A neighbor was taking her kid to New York and asked what was I going to do. I said I’d probably dig ditches; I didn’t know what I was going to do. She told me to come to New York with her and check out schools. We found the Grand Central Art School, and I managed to wrangle a scholarship by being a janitor and bouncer at the school. People had a tendency to wander into the art school to look at the nudes, and it was my job to throw them out. So I managed to get two years of art school in. And then I started doing
Comics Pioneer Creig Flessel Talks About The Golden Age art for the pulp magazines. JA: Before we get to that— when did you go to Pratt Institute? FLESSEL: I took a night class in illustration in 1937. The reason everyone wanted to take this course was because the teacher was the art director for Street & Smith Publications. He’d hand out manuscripts to the students and told us to illustrate them for a project. If he liked what you did, he bought it. It was a good way of apprenticing. I’d go to places and they’d ask what have I done? And since I was doing those samples for Street & Smith, I’d tell them I did work for Street & Smith. It wasn’t the truth, but that was a way of showing I had a background. That’s what you did back then. I don’t think anyone can do anything about it now. [laughs]
JA: I’m amazed at this, because you were already a working professional doing comic books.
outfit. He had been in a terrible fire and his face was like a skull. I did some art for the Shadow pulp, but not The Shadow himself. I worked for other pulp outfits, too.
FLESSEL: Sure. In 1935, I was already working for Major Nicholson at National Publications. [NOTE: Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was the original publisher of the company which eventually became DC Comics. —Jim.] I was doing double-page spreads like “Fishy Frolics” and “Acorn Antics,” which was a Walt Kelly type of thing. I did “Don Drake on the Planet Saro” and a couple of other things. Eventually, I went to New York and sat down in the offices to work. That’s when they started needing covers and asked me to do them.
In 1937, I was ghosting for John Striebel on Dixie Dugan for Liberty magazine, as well as ad work for him. And then Dixie turned into a newspaper strip. Dixie was a showgirl, but Blondie proved that a showgirl strip didn’t fly in the newspapers, so Dixie Dugan became a single secretary. I did that for one year. I was also doing ad work for Johnstone and Cushing, pulp work, and comics for National Comics.
“[Wheeler-Nicholson] Had Everything But The Money”
JA: When did you start doing pulp art? FLESSEL: About 1935. Everything started coming together for me at that time. I think Street & Smith was the first place I worked for. I illustrated a backup feature in The Shadow called “Sheridan Doome.” He was a lieutenant in the Secret Service part of the Navy and wore a white
JA: What led you to get a job in comic books? A/E The All-Star Squadron, Vol. 1
FLESSEL: Hunger! What else? [laughs] I saw an ad in The New York Times. So I ended up at Major Nicholson’s outfit. JA: Then, before you noticed the ad, you hadn’t really seen comic books?
FLESSEL: I really hadn’t. We didn’t
“What Led You To Get A Job In Comic Books?” “Hunger! What Else?”
have them around the house, and I wouldn’t have spent 10¢ for them. I might have seen them at the paper store. I was aware of pulp magazines, but comics were a phenomenon that didn’t occur until the mid-1930s. There were the comics William Cook published, which were mainly reprints, but not much else. JA: Do you remember the first time you went to see Major Nicholson? FLESSEL: Yes. I remember the poverty of the place. It was a dump. I had been uptown looking for ad agency work. I remember Nicholson had a secretary. Vin Sullivan and Whitney Ellsworth were there. Nicholson was busy taking the freight elevator or escaping down the back staircase. He owed everybody money. There were process servers looking for him. I didn’t know what process servers were in those days. We were on the fourth floor and we’d look out the window, watching these people waiting for Nicholson. If the Major didn’t go out the freight elevator, he’d go out the front door and they’d nail him as he walked down the street. JA: Who actually hired you?
Detective Comics Millennium Edition Detective
being told, “You’ll do this and you’ll do that and I’ll give you this, that, and the other thing.” Nicholson would say, “It was my idea, you know.” They’d say, “Yeah, but where are you going to get the money to produce it? Where are you going to get the distribution or the printing?” They owned everything.
FLESSEL: That’s a good question. If you brought work in, they all looked at your work and made a decision. I guess it was either Sullivan or Ellsworth. The Major kept out of sight most of the time. He was either talking to people about money or hiding from them. Nicholson was a good writer in his past; he was a pulp writer and had written several books. He had been in the service as a major in the Cavalry.
FLESSEL: He was quiet. He wasn’t a Harry Chesler and I wouldn’t say he was a great businessman or a great leader. He was a dreamer. He was a writer and he had an idea of what he wanted to do.
JA: Would you give me a visual description of him?
JA: Would you say Nicholson was a likable person?
FLESSEL: He always wore a beaver hat and a double-breasted overcoat. He always carried a briefcase, a cane, and a pipe with a longette. He had a small, round bald head with very blue eyes and bad teeth.
FLESSEL: Oh, yeah. Sure. Of course, he had to make promises, and a lot of people disliked him because they didn’t get paid. He’d lie if he said he was going to pay you next week. He was hoping that the money would appear somewhere. I don’t know how he figured that would happen, but for dreamers like that, money sometimes appears and sometimes it doesn’t.
JA: Did you talk to Nicholson that much? FLESSEL: He was there and we talked. I had one-on-one conversations with him, and we’d talk about this, that, or the other thing. I liked him. I felt sorry for him. He had the idea to do new material for comics. He had everything but the money. Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz just squeezed him out, but I think it was probably the Major’s own fault. He wanted to be the big cheese. At one point, they told him they’d give him so much money a week to keep out of the business... to buy him out. But he wanted to go down in history as being the first producer of new comic books. Donenfeld and Liebowitz took over; they were “uptown.” They had the money, the distribution, the printing... they had everything.
JA: Was Nicholson a talkative man? Or was he a quiet person?
JA: You wouldn’t classify him as a crook, would you? FLESSEL: No, he wasn’t sleazy. A crook is a guy who hopes to make a lot of money. Nicholson didn’t fit that pattern. He might have been a crook and he might have been dishonest, but you didn’t suspect him of it. I wouldn’t label him as a crook. I’d label Harry Chesler as a sleazy character, with his big cigars. He looked like a crook and sounded like a crook. Now that I’m thinking about it, the Major was soft and quiet and would maybe rob you blind, quietly. Harry Chesler would rob you blind and knock your teeth out.
JA: Was Nicholson a bad businessman?
JA: Were you a staffer at DC when you worked there?
FLESSEL: Yes. He had a certain amount of success in the Army. He made major and was used to commanding troops. He wasn’t used to
FLESSEL: No. I never had a straight salary even when I worked for the Major at the downtown offices. I just did piece-work and sat in the offices. If I did that, they’d see me and pay me. If I’d been out of their
In Search Of Bert Christman The Short And Adventurous Life Of The Man Who Created “The Sandman” by David Armstrong
The Early Years – 1915-1936
ert Christman is one of those rare individuals. He was a true innovator in graphic storytelling of high adventure. He was also someone who sought and lived that adventure to heroic proportion.
Allen Bert Christman was born May 31, 1915, in Fort Collins, Colorado. He showed great artistic aptitude at an early age. Bert was close to his family. He had two sisters, Ruth and Joanne. Ruth was three years older, and Joanne was eleven years younger. He was particularly close to his father, a railroad man for the Burlington Railroad.
Scorchy Smith New York World’s Fair Comics All-Star Comics Golden Age Sandman Archives, Vol. 1
When Christman was only thirteen years old, his father suffered a fatal work-related accident. This must have been a crushing blow to Bert, imbuing him with a sense of responsibility at an early age. He started working, while in high school, as an artist for a local department store. Following high school, he enrolled in Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University) and majored in mechanical engineering. During the break between his
sophomore and junior year, in 1934, he went north to Alaska and spent the summer working in a fishing cannery. Upon completing his final year, in June 1936, he decided to seek professional work in New York City. He was told, through family friends, to look up George Baker at the McClure Syndicate. He gathered his savings and, with a portfolio full of cartooning and art samples, he set out by rail (he had a lifetime rail pass) for New York. He made a stop in Cincinnati to see his sister Ruth, who had married and settled there. He arrived in New York in late June and started religiously writing home concerning his progress. He took a room at the William Sloane House—the first of many. Finding that George Baker was no longer at McClure, he set about to find a job. Within weeks, he landed employment with Fairchild Publishing. Fairchild was (and still is) the leading publisher in the worlds of retail and style, with Women’s Wear Daily being its flagship publication. Bert found himself doing cartoons and retouching photos for a variety of clothing and merchandising trade papers. He worked during the day and spent the evenings getting art instruction. He also continued doing cartoons that he could take to various publishers, looking for additional freelance work or the possibility of better employment. It was
The Short And Adventurous Life Of The Man Who Created “The Sandman” More Fun Comics The Big Comic Magazine
during this period that he got his first comic book work. The comic book field, in the mid-1930s, was a brand new business with lots of promoters and entrepreneurs. One of the most colorful was a man who started National Comics, which would eventually become DC Comics. “He was Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson—hyphenated name,” remembered the late Vin Sullivan, his assistant editor, production manager, and cover artist, in a personal interview with the author on Feb. 13, 1998. “He had been in the Army. And he married some gal he met in Europe, I think… on top of the Eiffel Tower or some ways up in there [laughing]. But, he was quite a character. He had a beaver hat, carried a cane, wore spats occasionally. He was quite a sharpie.” Wheeler-Nicholson was producing all original material—not reprints, as most of the other comics publishers of the day were printing. “I still don’t recall how I met Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who was the fellow who originated the comic books themselves, or the original comic books I guess you’d call them,” Sullivan continued. “I can’t recall how I met him… but in any event I did, and then I met Whit Ellsworth and the both of us… the three of us started these books off.” Money
was Wheeler-Nicholson’s major weakness. “The only thing I didn’t take care of was financing. That was Nicholson’s job... and he did a terrible job,” Sullivan noted.
In an interview on the same date, Creig Flessel, who was a fledgling artist in the mid-’30s, was aware of the problem when he started and figured a solution. “Well, I didn’t have to worry about getting paid because I was there. I decided that the money was scarce, and I saw guys come in and out screaming for money. They’d lay down on the floor, crying and kicking, and I figured I wasn’t going to do that. I could, but I wouldn’t—not a very good actor. So I sat there and I got my check every week. They never ended up owing me... not a cent, and I got a wonderful experience.” There was no formal training for graphic storytelling. As related by Will Eisner in San Diego on July 23, 1997: “I could get a lot of guys who were coming out from the art schools, illustration—Pratt [Institute], Cooper Union, places like that would be turning out artists. But there were no comic book schools. There was no comic book art. Nobody knew about comic book art. There was no cohesion. Nobody said, ‘Ah, this is the beginning of the Golden Age of Comics.’ Just nobody thought that.” Lots of artists sought work from these new publishers. Flessel saw many of them at National (DC): “Everybody came through there. Siegel and Shuster came in, of course they were only 17, and they had ‘Dr. Occult’ and they had the ‘Federal Men,’ and they had this other thing about… ‘Superman’—you know, the guy with the cape….” William Cook and John Mahon had been Managing Editor and Business Manager, respectively, at National Comics for Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. They decided, in early 1936, to start their own comic books with non-reprint, original material. They started with The
Funny Picture Stories Funny Picture Stories Detective Picture Stories
In Search Of Bert Christman
Comics Magazine (which became the company name), Funny Picture Stories, and later that year introduced the first single-themed comic, Detective Picture Stories.
“The Spinner” of Tales Christman made the rounds with his portfolio and landed a job with Cook and Mahon’s startup company, Comics Magazine Company. He wrote and drew four stories for those early books—all with “The Spinner,” a storyteller who introduces and spins the tale. His first was a two-pager titled “Deep Sea Dan” in Funny Pages, Vol. 1 #7 (Dec. ’36). This was followed by “The Case of the Broken Skull” in Funny Picture Stories #1 (Nov. ’36), “Christmas Kid” in issue #2 (Dec. ’36), and “The Tale of Timothy O’Toole” in Detective Picture Stories #1 (Dec. ’36). These early stories are adventure yarns. “Timothy O’Toole” is set in the rough-and-tumble days of the early 19-teens in a seafaring town, “Broken Skull” in the mountains, and “Christmas Kid” in Alaska. They could have all taken place in Alaska, as they seem to draw on Christman’s days there. Though the drawing style is crude and raw, it’s interesting to note the page layout. These pages were not simply six or eight panels to a page: page 4 of the “Christmas Kid” story is a full page, with only a single panel inset at the bottom right! Christman used the page layout to tell the story—unusual, given that most artists at the time were using newspaper formats for laying out pages. Since he had no experience coming into this business, he had no preconceived ideas about what he could and couldn’t do. The first “Spinner” tale is a simple two-pager about a deep sea diver who is rescued by someone he called a coward. The other three are all mysteries and/or police dramas. They all reflect Christman’s background and experience. Bruce Berry, the hero of “Broken Skull,” is a highway engineer (Bert was a mechanical engineer major) who falls in love with an engaged woman, Cecilia Chambers. The boyfriend is mysteriously killed after a non-fatal fight with Berry. Cecilia investigates—and solves the case after a jury sentences Berry to death. She finds the real culprit and discovers gold in the process. “Christmas Kid” is set in Alaska with a young child who is apparently abandoned, raised by a couple who discover him. They die while “the Kid” is still quite young: “Thrown on his own at such an early age, the Kid grew up to be an extraordinary individual—he had all the courage, daring, and great skill, and he always adhered to the rugged principles of righteousness as they were instilled in him by the Kingsleys.” Was this an expression of what Christman felt about his upbringing? He certainly brings his Alaskan trip to the setting of this mystery. The final story, “Timothy O’Toole,” is set on a barge. O’Toole, despondent over the break up of a relationship, decides to end it all. While sitting in a boat, with an anchor around his neck to facilitate drowning, he hears a dog in trouble, rescues him, and falls in with kidnappers who are holed up on a working barge. Tim helps capture the kidnappers and marries the captive. I tend to think the only part of that tale that relates to Christman’s life is his working by the sea. It’s interesting to note that the progression of these stories was documented by Christman himself. Each story is signed and has a byline that lists the previous story. “Christmas Kid” is signed, “A ‘Spinner Feature’ by Bert Christman, author of ‘The Case of the Broken Skull.’” Another fascinating note is that there is at least one other “Spinner” tale, which was never published—well, at least there’s a finished splash page. I found it while going through the collection of Bert’s artwork to which his sister graciously allowed access. It is titled “The Spinner featuring Tessie Tilton” and begins the story of dance hall lady who’s also quite a woman with a gun. The story points out an interesting fact—that all of
Christman’s women are very strong characters. They are in the early tales, and also in the later DC work.
Scorchy Smith In late summer of 1936, Christman wrote home that he might have a possible job at Associated Press. On August 28th, he wrote that he had accepted the AP position at $35 a week. He quickly became the assistant to Noel Sickles on the newspaper comic strip Scorchy Smith. Noel Sickles had taken over Scorchy Smith, first ghosting for John Terry (who was dying of tuberculosis) for six months, then getting the strip in December 1933. Sickles had been Milton Caniff’s roommate in college and would later work on Terry and the Pirates with him. Prior to taking over Scorchy, he had been doing political cartoons for Associated Press. In the early days, he had to mimic John Terry’s style because the AP didn’t want any newspapers to become alarmed with any artist change and drop the strip. It took over six months before Sickles could start to develop his own style on Scorchy. But, within a short period of time, Sickles produced one of the finest adventure strips to come out of the ’30s. It was a perfect environment for Christman to learn and work. It is obvious from his work during this period, both on the Scorchy strips and the DC story that he worked on in the summer of 1937, that he was influenced by Noel Sickles. The growth in his rendering and storytelling from his early “Spinner” stories for Cook and Mahon to his work on Scorchy is dramatic. As his technique matured, it is obvious that he was far more capable and assured.
“Christman Was Well On His Way To Becoming Another Noel Sickles” ALEX TOTH On The Art Of BERT CHRISTMAN INTRO NOTE: As per usual, we’ll mostly let our Golden/Silver Age master artist speak for himself, but first, thanks are in order to David Armstrong, who forwarded this two-page missive penned by Alex in 2000. And perhaps we should point out in advance that the Christman drawing of Scorchy Smith which he mentions below is the one printed on p. 21. The late Jerry de Fuccio was the longtime associate editor of Mad magazine, and was an inveterate comics researcher and collector. —Roy.
Our Fighting Forces
The Saga Of The Sandman
75 Years Of The Master Of Dreams––A Quick Overview by Lou Mougin
ontrary to what some newbies may think, the Sandman of comics didn’t start out as the pale-faced Lord of Dreams.
New York World’s Fair Comics Secret Origins
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman had a lot of predecessors. All of them, except for one Marvel Comics super-villain namesake, stemmed from a single source, and that source itself stemmed from radio’s Green Hornet of the 1930s. If the idea of Dream evolving from a green-clad, gas-gun-toting vigilante makes you check your sanity reading, don’t worry. We’ll explain it all, in time.
Adventure Comics needed a “name” character to carry the load in 1939. Action Comics had hit paydirt the year before with “Superman,” and Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s “Batman” had just debuted in Detective Comics. The first wave of super-heroes were bursting out of the gates, and DC, the originator of the trend, needed other mystery-men
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to headline its remaining titles. Two months after Batman’s first appearance, Adventure #40 had its own masked avenger. To be precise, it had a gas-masked avenger. The cover showed said hero in mask, hat, cape, and business suit, spraying a hoodlum with gas from his handgun. A banner above the logo said, “Beginning this issue: The daring exploits of THE SANDMAN!” And so it was. The first “Sandman” story was credited to “Larry Dean.” In it,
socialite Wesley Dodds used his dukes and his gun full of sleeping gas to take on a bad-guy called The Tarantula, and set the tone for his earliest run of exploits. After a few issues, we learned more details of Wes’ earlier life: he had been “in the service” six years earlier as a pilot (probably ending in 1933), he was a “steel magnate,” and he had two old Army buddies, Dr. Clyde Dunlap and Happy O’Shea, who formed “The Three Sandmen” with him for a one-shot appearance in issue #42. (In that issue, Wes didn’t even appear in costume.) His girlfriend was Dian Belmont, who showed up in issue #47 and who alone knew his double identity. Her father was the district attorney. From The Green Hornet he took his modus operandi; from the pulpmag hero The Shadow, his playboy otherself. There was enough swiping to make the character familiar, but enough originality (or at least conflicting swiping) to keep the lawsuits away. There was no origin, and would be none until Roy Thomas wrote one for him in the 1980s. Nobody seemed to care.
75 Years Of The Master Of Dreams Sandman was given a spiffier yellow-and-purple skin-tight costume (complete with cape) and, yes, a kid sidekick, in “The Case of the Giant Bees!” Sandy Hawkins arrived to help him in that story, saying he’d always been a fan of The Sandman; he dressed up in a similar costume to lend his hero a hand, and stuck around for the rest of the run. Dian Belmont immediately faded from view, except for a cameo or two in AllStar Comics, in whose 10th issue his new costume made its first appearance. Norris and Grothkopf also drew the stories in Adventure #70-71. But the big change was yet to come. With “The Riddle of the Slave Market” (Adventure #72), Joe Simon and Jack Kirby arrived to do the art and scripting chores. Hot from their Captain America stint at Timely, the pair were bursting with ideas to foist on DC, including their “Manhunter” strip which would debut in the next issue. They were hired to further rework Sandman and Sandy, and that’s just what they proceeded to do.
Adventure Comics Sandman! new
Taking their cue from the name of the hero, Joe and Jack built their “Sandman” stories around dreams. With titles like “Dreams of Doom,” “Footprints in the Sands of Time,” “The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep,” and “The Unholy Dreams of Gentleman Jack,” they delivered up tales of yellow-and-purple-clad heroes who haunted the nightmares of every evil-doer who dared to dream at night, which was apparently all of them. The gas-gun was summarily retired; this Sandman and Sandy put their foes to sleep with their fists, though they did swing from building
Creig Flessel drew The Sandman’s earliest cover apearance on Adventure #40. Bert Christman illustrated the first five stories, after which Flessel drew the episodes in Adventure #44-45. Ogden Whitney stepped in to illo the next three, after which Flessel returned. The earliest “Sandman” stories were six pages in length; later they expanded to ten pages. “The Sandman” also appeared in anthology issues #1-2 of AllStar Comics in 1940, and with #3 became a charter member of the new and groundbreaking Justice Society of America, attending every meeting through #21 in 1944. The Sandman held the cover spot on Adventure #40, 42, 44, and 46, alternating with generic adventure scenes. Then, in #48, Adventure gained a second hero, one with a more colorful costume: The HourMan. After that, The Sandman looked positively moribund. In addition, his stories were increasingly run-ofthe-mill. He commandeered covers only on #51 and #60 before Starman arrived, with an even neater costume and better art than Hour-Man. Clearly, if the gas-gun gladiator was to survive amid all this competition, he’d have to try a new tack. Green Hornet ripoffs were so yesterday. By Adventure #69 (Dec. 1941), a makeover went into effect. In a story drawn by Paul Norris (pencils) and Chad Grothkopf (inks), The
Adventure Comics World’s Finest Comics
The Amazing Adventures Of MICHAEL CHABON The Author Of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Talks About Researching The Golden Age Of Comics
E-Mail Interview Conducted By Roy Thomas
OTE: By now, everyone who has even a quasi-serious interest in the history of comic books has heard about, whether or not he/she has actually read, Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel, which is named above. Chances are you also know that it won a Pulitzer Prize. The novel is, of course, a work of fiction, although strong echoes of the real-life careers of “Superman” creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and to a lesser extent those of other Golden Age talents, can be found within its pages. In addition, numerous true-life creators make cameos therein, as in one memorable scene where Stan Lee, Gil Kane, and Bob Powell share a lunch (and conversation) with the fictitious Frank Pantaleone, Marty Gold, and Julie Glovsky. This brief interview, conducted by e-mail after several attempts to accommodate both our schedules for a phone talk failed to pan out, deals not with the literary aspects of the novel, but with Chabon’s research on the Golden Age, as detailed in his “Author’s Note” at the end of the book. —Roy. ROY THOMAS: Assuming you consciously know—what inspired you to write a novel using the early comic book industry as the background? MICHAEL CHABON: That is actually a big assumption. After it’s all over, and some time goes by, and you start doing interviews, you sort-of create this secondary narrative of the origins of the story— when, a lot of
times, it’s really a piecemeal and, as you suggest, unconscious business. But I think the book has a dual origin. Its roots lie in my father’s Brooklyn childhood of the 1940s and ’50s, and the stories that he used to tell me about it. Comics were a big part of that childhood, as they The Amazing Adventures of were of mine—my Kavalier and Clay Alter Ego dad made sure of that. So there was always this connection in my mind and imagination between old comics, “old-time” super-heroes, and New York City of the Golden Age. Of course, this connection was reinforced by the content of the books themselves, since the “Gothams” and “Metropolises,” etc., in those stories were just versions, to me, of New York. The second point of origin came many years later, long after I had stopped reading comics, when I had a pair of encounters, one after the other. One was with an article about Siegel and Shuster in some magazine, maybe Smithsonian. I was struck anew by the pathos of their story, by their Jewishness, and by the echo of the world of my father’s youth. The other encounter was with the lone surviving box of comics from my boyhood collection, which sort-of tumbled out of a closet one day when I was preparing to move—all the Jack Kirby books that were what I had saved. I had been carting it around for years without ever opening it. The smell of those old books seemed to carry an overwhelming odor of the past, of history, and, I thought, remembering that magazine article about Superman’s fathers, of story. RT: How did you go about researching the early-’40s comics? Did you borrow a bunch of them? The Great Comic Book Heroes Playboy
The Amazing Adventures Of Michael Chabon
CHABON: I started where I started—with Jules Feiffer’s Great Comic Book Heroes, which was the first exposure I ever got as a kid to the comics of the Golden Age. I still had my old copy. Next I went down to Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica (I was living in L.A. at the time) and bought a few cheap, low-grade comics... an old Doll Man, and a Captain Marvel Jr., and a couple of others. RT: I’d like to ask you about the contributions of the people you especially mention in your His Name Is Savage Blackmark Green Lantern
“Author’s Note”… starting with Gil Kane, whom you cite as a particular source for reminiscences. How much time do you estimate that you spent talking— by phone or in person—with Gil? What were some special insights there? CHABON: Gil was amazing. He invited me over to his apartment, and sat with me for over three hours while I pestered him. I guess it’s no secret that he was an opinionated and voluble guy. He didn’t have any trouble answering my questions at length! RT: Elaine Kane, Gil’s widow, says she hasn’t been able to read your book because there’s a lot there that she feels is Gil, so she finds it a bit painful. Of course, Gil intended that it be used… and she doesn’t dispute this. CHABON: Gee, I’m really sorry to hear that! I don’t think I really used all that much that was directly biographical or unique to Gil. A lot of the things he told me, the things he remembered, were
The Author Talks About Researching The Golden Age Of Comics
common to many of the first-generation comics men, and I don’t think I used any of the relatively few things he told me that were unique to him. It was pretty general New-York-City-upbringing stuff. The big exception to that, I think, would be the fact that, like Sam Clay, Gil had a “swipe” book, in which he kept poses and panels cut out from comics by other artists, and which he copied for his own work. But I’ve seen him talk about that in other interviews— how he underwent a kind of revolution in the early ’50s that led to his groundbreaking Green Lantern work. The truth is that, when Gil sat down to talk to me, he had no idea who I was (nobody did!), and I doubt that he thought anything would ever come of it. I know that’s what Will Eisner thought—he’s told me so! RT: You mention Will, and Stan Lee, as the two next in importance after Gil. What did they contribute? Did Stan actually remember anything?
The 1960s were a tough time to break into comics. Openings for new artists were few indeed. Aspiring comic book creators largely found themselves locked out of Marvel and DC. Luckily, James Warren had the perfect solution. In late ’64, Warren began publishing Creepy, a lushly-illustrated black-&-white horror comic. And issue #5 featured a ghoulish drawing of horror-host Uncle Creepy asking the readers to submit their own art and stories. Once Warren Publishing opened the fan floodgates, an ocean of new talent gushed forward! Later, Warren introduced two more b&w comics magazines, Eerie and Vampirella, which featured similar fan pages. Some magazines submissions were quite good––so good, in fact, that a few newbies snagged professional assignments. Jim Warren was no dummy. It was a great way for him to spot hungry young talent willing to work cheap! Even those who didn’t break in at Warren often went on to forge successful comic careers elsewhere. Don’t believe me? Check out these drawings pulled from the fan pages of Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella— and see how many future super-stars you recognize! [Unless noted otherwise, all art for this section is ©2005 Warren Publishing, Inc.]
Frank Brunner Creepy Creepy Howard the Duck Dr. Strange
Jack Davis Creepy
Title Comic Fandom Archive
Getting To Know “VETERAN COMICS FAN”
JAUNTY JEFF GELB By Bill Schelly
Time: Present Day. Place: Los Angeles, California.
Jeff Gelb knows all about labors of love. When he was just thirteen years old, he became a fanzine publisher with a little Xeroxed publication called Heroic. The year was 1963, a time when no more than a few dozen comics fanzines helped herald the dawning of a fandom they could call their own.
It’s well into autumn in Burbank, and that means it’s only 75 degrees outside, instead of the usual 85. Inside Dark Delicacies, America’s only all-horror bookstore (and perhaps the world’s, for that Once ignited, largely by the revival of matter), a diverse crowd packs the the costumed heroes in the late 1950s and place: young and old, trendy and early 1960s, the fannish spirit burned nerdish, goth and retro. They have brightly in the bespectacled youth from gathered to have the latest Hot Rochester, New York. No matter that his Blood volume (Strange Bedfellows) amateur publications, crude at first, signed by series editor Jeff Gelb, as weren’t exactly central to the emerging well as one of the anthology’s comics subculture. He was there, doing contributors, comics legend Marv it, before all but a handful. That makes Bettie Page Comics Wolfman. Marv has joined a long Gelb a pioneer, though he would never list of comics scribes who have describe himself in those terms. written stories for Jeff Gelb’s twenty anthologies of erotic horror, which includes Grant Morrison, Peter David, Kurt Busiek, and Mark Verheiden. Jeff Gelb was born on December 12th, 1950, in Rochester, New York. The room is noisy, crowded, and getting warmer by the minute, His first memory of comic books was his mother reading Little Lulu but no one seems to mind. The energy level is high as the sound comics to him when he was sick as a young child. “When I got a little system plays an amalgam of horror movie themes and alternative older, I bought the Atlas pre-hero monster comics by Stan Lee and Jack rock. Editor Gelb looks around the room, obviously pleased to see a Kirby by the bushels,” he recalled in a recent conversation. “I read DCs bunch of smiling faces and happy customers. The signing will be a and enjoyed them, but when I bought Fantastic Four #1 off the success, which can’t help but remind him that his books actually have drugstore shelves, I knew comics were about to change forever, and that fans and even collectors— Hot Blood books aren’t usually found at I was going to follow them forever.” used book stores. It’s got to be a nice feeling, even if his editorial Shortly thereafter, Jeff was introduced to the world of Golden Age avocation hasn’t made him rich. There’s a strong component that comics, first by an acquaintance whose father had kept some of his glues all the loose ends of the enterprise together, similar to the reason vintage comics in his basement. “I vividly remember seeing copies of so many are driven to work in the comics industry on a part-time Fighting American in that basement collection,” he remembered. “I basis: it’s a labor of love.
A Love Affair With Comics Begins
Comic Fandom Archive
suddenly realized that there was this whole world of comics that were published before I was born. That was a stunning revelation.” Then Gelb met some local Rochester comics fans, like Margaret (Marge) Gemignani, who already had a collection of old comics. Something about Golden Age comics especially appealed to him. “I was transformed into a rabid fan and collector of back issues,” Gelb said. “By the time I was fourteen, I had amassed such a large collection of old comics that the local newspaper did a story about me! Unfortunately, the reporter got the story wrong, calling me a ‘fanzine’ rather than a ‘fan’! I was so mortified by that mistake that I’ve never shown the article to anyone.” Of course, building a sizable collection of old comics was greatly aided and abetted by Jeff’s discovery of comics fandom, through letter columns in comic books and Famous Monsters of Filmland, some time in late 1962 or early 1963. Jeff bluntly stated, “Fanzines saved my life in high school. I was a social outcast, a real nerd… or so I thought at the time. I had few friends and certainly no girlfriends on the horizon, so fanzines were a real life preserver.” The world of amateur publications offered him the opportunity to communicate with like-minded people.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Irv (1916-2004) Novick
A Blue Ribbon Artist––In More Ways Than One by Mark Evanier NOTE: Reprinted with permission, very slightly edited, from Mark Evanier’s website www.newsfromme.com.
nother great comic book artist of the medium’s first generation has died. Irv Novick passed away on the morning of December 10, 2004, following a long illness and a recent fall. He was 88 years old and had been drawing comics, pretty much without stopping, from 1939 until his retirement more than fifty years later. He was a graduate of the National Academy of Design. In 1939 he worked briefly in the studio of Harry “A” Chesler, who paid low rates to young illustrators who cranked out pages in what Novick later called a “sweat shop atmosphere.” Everyone told Novick he was good enough to get work on his own… and, after a few months, he did. He went to work for MLJ (the company now known as Archie Comics), and his first known work there appeared in Blue Ribbon Comics #2 (Dec. 1939), where his art introduced a new feature, “Bob Phantom,” which
stuck around for several years. The very next month, he drew the cover and lead story of Pep Comics #1, which debuted “The Shield,” the first “patriotic” super-hero. Written by Harry Shorten, “The Shield” pre-dated “Captain America” by a year, offering a similar premise and—because both heroes wore the American flag—similar costume. Thereafter, Novick was MLJ’s lead super-hero artist, drawing all its costumed characters at one time or another, including “The Hangman” and “Steel Sterling,” until the company began cutting back on heroes and increasing its “Archie” titles around 1946. From ’46 to ’51, he worked on two syndicated strips—Cynthia and The Scarlet Avenger—neither of which received wide circulation. He also began working intermittently in advertising, but that wasn’t steady, so he started drawing for DC Comics, hired by editor Robert Kanigher, who had written many of the stories he had drawn for MLJ. Kanigher was the DC war editor, so Novick became a war artist, his work appearing in Our Army at War and all the DC combat titles, and occasionally in the romance books during the occasional periods when Kanigher worked on them. Kanigher had a reputation for being rough on artists, but he loved Novick’s work and, according to Irv, they never had a cross word in all their years of working together. For many years, Novick drew for DC and also freelanced for Boys’ Life magazine and for the Johnstone and Cushing advertising service. In the mid-1960s, Johnstone and Cushing offered him a full-time position and he briefly left comics. Novick was unhappy in the job, and Kanigher was unhappy to lose one of his two favorite artists, Joe Kubert being the other. With Kanigher’s intervention, Novick landed a then-unprecedented freelance contract with DC. It included many perks not available to other artists and guaranteed him the company’s highest rate and steady work. When he finished one job, he had to immediately be given another. Kanigher had no trouble keeping him busy, though other artists complained that assignments promised to them would sometimes be suddenly diverted to Irv. After 1968, when Novick began working for other DC editors, there was sometimes a wild panic in the company’s office: “We have to find a script to give Irv tomorrow!” The one story I wrote that Novick drew came about in part because editor Julius Schwartz needed something to keep Novick busy. (By that time, many artists had such contracts, but for years Novick was the only one who did.) 1968 was the year artist Carmine Infantino was promoted into management at DC and was charged with improving the look of the company’s line. One of his first decisions was to rotate artists around, breaking up old editorial holds on certain talent. Novick stopped penciling and inking war titles and became a full-time super-hero penciler. His immediate tasks were Batman and Lois Lane, but he eventually drew most of the top DC titles, including a long stint on The Flash. He only cut back as his eyes failed him in the late 1980s. I was honored and frustrated to interview Irv on several convention panels over the years—an impossible task, for in front of an audience and microphone, he claimed to remember very little of his career and to
81 the company ceased publishing comics, Marc moved over to Charlton Publications, where he ended his comics career in the mid-’50s. Marc’s ongoing professional memoirs have been FCA’s most popular feature since his first column appeared in FCA #54, 1996. Last issue, Marc discussed his syndicate strip sample—the humorous Louis LeBone—the missing link and origin to his Louis LeNoir strip—and, as revealed in this issue—reworked again as The Great Louis … eventually leading to The Great Pierre—the strip which finally led to a contract for syndication. —P.C. Hamerlinck.]
When the Louis Le Noir art was taken to the syndicates, it had with it an added sales impetus not present on previous similar occasions: photostatic copies of the work. Black-&white copies, in the 1940s, were not as readily available as we find them today. Nor as economical. In the case at hand it had been necessary to leave the art with a local photostat service where negatives were shot, then reproduced in positive in quantities desired. The process took weeks... and money.
[Art & logo ©2005 Marc Swayze; Captain Marvel © & TM 2005 DC Comics]
[FCA EDITORS NOTE: From 1941-53, Marcus D. Swayze was a top artist for Fawcett Publications. The very first Mary Marvel character sketches came from Marc’s drawing table, and he illustrated her earliest adventures, including the classic origin story, “Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel (Captain Marvel Adventures #18, Dec. ’42); but he was primarily hired by Fawcett Publications to illustrate Captain Marvel stories and covers for Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures. He also wrote many Captain Marvel scripts, and continued to do so while in the military. After leaving the service in 1944, he made an arrangement with Fawcett to produce art and stories for them on a freelance basis out of his Louisiana home. There he created both art and story for The Phantom Eagle in Wow Comics, in addition to drawing the Flyin’ Jenny newspaper strip for Bell Syndicate (created by his friend and mentor Russell Keaton). After the cancellation of Wow, Swayze produced artwork for Fawcett’s top-selling line of romance comics, including Sweethearts and Life Story. After
I must have come to realize at long last that if the cost had been a deterring factor in earlier efforts to syndicate, the expense would have been a sensible investment... considering the importance of “leaving something” when a syndicate expressed interest. You can bet, when the Le Noir work was carried in at the West 46th Street address of McClure Syndicate, a package of the “stats”... neatly trimmed and stapled in handy book form... was included.
Louis Le Noir
The response was several months in coming but was encouraging. “We have had favorable
“We Didn’t Know... It Was The Golden Age!”
reaction to your samples... the way the continuity is held together... and the idea of a big handsome braggart who can deliver when necessary.” The letter, signed by Andre F. L’Eveque, went on, proposing a title change to something more easily and consistently pronounced, less emphasis on the dialect, and a clean-shaven chin for the hero. Use of the plural “We,” and the lapse of time, suggested the comments having had input from sales personnel and hence from prospective newspaper customers. Lots of professional wisdom behind those criticisms. The “stats” had paid off. The project had begun in 1953... the year Fawcett turned off the lights in the comic book department. I neither recall nor believe the despair that has been hinted about that. The company... perched there virtually atop Times Square... widely considered the most prestigious in its field... did not die with Captain Marvel. Nor with the comic book department. Some shuffling around may have taken place among the creative suppliers, but not much, if any, complaint from office personnel. No excitement about it at our house, either. For five or more years I had been illustrating Fawcett romances... “as much as you care to handle,” editor Roy Ald had put it. June and I were comfortably settled in our home in Louisiana with four of our children... Chris yet to come. The romances, Phantom Eagle, et al, had been generous. Fawcett, too. Somewhere in my head dwelt the conviction that should we ever arrive at a decision to leave the South, the same confidence expressed by the company for years could be relied upon. And there were the syndicate efforts. Photostat copies of other titles produced during that period were distributed among interested syndicates and results were surfacing... some pleasing. An itinerary scribbled on an envelope dated April ’54 described another journey to New York: “Mon. - appt. tomorrow with L’Eveque. Saw Harry [Gilburt] at United... thinks story [Jango] moves too slowly... captions say same thing pictures show... a monkey with the same name at La Fave[?].” “Tue. - a.m. - Left Louis originals for Miss Bellah at McNaught... p.m. - saw L’Eveque at McClure... wants 3rd wk. of art and rewrite of dialect, 1st two weeks. Mac [Raboy] called... talked to Byck [at King Features]... wants to see me.” Correspondence with L’Eveque continued throughout the year... the suggestions all good... and complied with as promptly as I could manage. The lead character remained the same in general appearance and personality, but his name changed... as well as his background and purposes in the story... even the title of the strip. And the dialogue, the accent having been considered too heavily stressed for easy reading, had to be altered. It all added up to more writing and drawing... work... the situation reaching a point where criticisms were overlapping criticisms. The suggestion, for example, to affiliate the hero in some way with the Border Patrol. When three new strips, complete with text and art, were finished I looked at them with a feeling of frustration. They were to be the introduction to the initial episode. The original intro, the bayou bank home of the Avairs, had been fixed in my mind since before
the first page was typed... the scene sketched repeatedly from various angles as though to have us... the readers, hopefully, and I... feel comfortable there for the first two or three weeks of story. Now, here I was, offering a new introduction in its place. Then, to top it off, once that was in place, the old stand-by criticism came in: “The story now moves too slowly.” In the final analysis, only one of the three new strips was used. Oh, well.... The criticisms, rewrites, changes and expansions to the strip continued. In November, with six more newly prepared strips, I wrote: “Don’t you think I’m entitled to something in writing by this time? It was spoken of last May... We seem to have come to agreement on financial terms, policies, etc.... How about a contract?” L’Eveque’s reply was received within the week: “…Some of our salesmen will return around the middle of December... You will hear from me then.” I didn’t, though... ever again. The next letter, with the McClure
Celebrating Otto Binder’s induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, we present …
The “Lost” Jon Jarl Story
Otto Binder’s Recently-Discovered Final Prose Piece Intended for Captain Marvel Adventures Edited by P.C. Hamerlinck by Bill Schelly
ne of the first things I did when I decided to write a biography of Otto Binder [Words of Wonder: The Life and Times of Otto Binder, still available from Hamster Press; see ad in this issue. —PCH] was to canvass all my contacts in comic fandom, to see what kind of primary source material would surface. Otto’s letters, notes, scripts, and much more came to light, including a startling item from Bill Spicer (publisher of Fantasy Illustrated and Graphic Story Magazine): what appeared to be a never-before-published ‘Jon Jarl, Space Detective’ short story—one of the type that appeared in consecutive issues of Captain Marvel Adventures as a “text filler” during the post-war period, penned under Otto’s pseudonym “Eando Binder.” Unlike most such prose features, which comic books ran to fulfill second-class mailing requirements, Binder’s “Jon Jarl” tales were avidly read, due to their charm and imagination … staples of Binder’s fictional storytelling. According to Binder’s own records, he wrote 86 of these short tales. Yet, the title “The Missing Moon Man” isn’t among them. While it’s possible the title was changed for publication, the story does not seem to fit any of the list of titles in Otto’s records. Therefore, the following story must be considered the 87th “Jon Jarl” adventure, heretofore unseen.
The Missing Moon Man by Eando Binder “Digby!” The cry rang through the bungalow, in feminine tones. “Digby, where are you? That man, I can never find him when I want him!” Digby Ditherton was in the hall, using the visi-phone. At his wife’s ringing cry, he hastily spoke to the small image of the man’s face on the visi-screen. “Gosh—it’s Maybelle—my wife—got to hang up, Pete!” Guiltily, he bracketed the phone and tried to sneak down to the basement, but a little curly-headed face was peeking from the livingroom, and childish tones said—“Shall I help you hide from Mama, Daddy?” Only little Gerty, aged 3H, forgot to lower her voice and Mrs. Maybelle Ditherton marched up with a stern face. “Digby, how thoughtless of you to try such things before the children! Come now, I want you to beat the rugs.” Digby suppressed a groan. As bad as that? He hoped it might be washing the dishes, or repairing the sun-lamp, but beating the rugs—the
job he hated most. Maybelle handed him the big woven-glass rug, all rolled up, and then clamped the all-glass oxy-helmet around his head. “Don’t forget to keep it on,” she warned. “I remember once you took it off outside, to wipe your forehead, and you nearly suffocated before I dragged you in.” “Yes, my love,” said Digby meekly. With oxygen circulating through his helmet, Digby dragged the rug out through the double air-locks of the front door. He climbed the stone steps to the lip of the small crater in which their bungalow was built, and surveyed the landscape stretching for miles in all directions. Or rather—the moonscape. The Dithertons lived on the moon, in this year of 2261 A.D. Their bungalow was hermetically sealed, and aerated with artificial air produced by the Air-o-vat. In all directions, wherever there was a protective crater, lay other bungalows. This was the
88 INTRODUCTORY NOTE: This issue’s FCA cover is a 1975 painting by chief Captain Marvel artist C.C. Beck, entitled “Thorin – King under the Mountain”—based on the character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. From the collection of P.C. Hamerlinck. We wrap up this issue with another essay by Beck, originally presented in FCA #21 (FCA/SOB #10), Oct.-Nov. 1981, during Beck’s tenure as editor of FCA/SOB. —P.C. Hamerlinck.
The Great Heroes Were All Losers
by C.C. Beck
he great heroes of literature have always been unheroic types. The great macho-sadistic-all-conquering-super-characters have been the villains against whom the heroes were pitted.
In Greek mythology such heroes as Perseus, Ulysses, and Daedalus were mere mortals without special powers. Their enemies were the gods who had super-powers. In the Middle Ages, King Arthur and Robin Hood spent their lives battling evil characters much stronger and with more powers at their command than they had. Sometimes they lost out; both died ignominiously in the end.
Edited by P.C. Hamerlinck throats propaganda that comic characters had to spread. While the all-powerful, invincible, godlike super-characters have always been second-rate in literature, Captain Marvel was at one time well on the way to becoming a true hero in the classic style. His stories had a wide variety of plots and settings. There were humor, and magic, and drama, and characters who were young, old, handsome, and ugly in
Don Quixote was a doddering old idiot; Lemuel Gulliver was the original gullible tourist, falling into one tourist trap after another and never learning to take care of himself. Robinson Crusoe was a castaway whose worst and only enemy was himself. D’Artagnan was an innocent country boy from the backwoods of France. The reason that such heroes were popular with readers is that they were human, fallible, and even more unheroic than the rest of us. Ichabod Crane was the hero of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, not Brom Bones, who was big, strong, and handsome. Readers like to see the “little guy” in trouble and having a terrible time. Things happen to such heroes, not the other way ’round. They don’t go looking for trouble; it comes to them. If the little guy ever comes out on top it’s a fluke of some kind. Not aware of this, ignorant producers of penny-dreadful stories have again and again created heroes with vast, supernatural powers. The stories about Paul Bunyan and other mythical backwoodsmen were completely ridiculous. Even Daniel Boone and Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill were turned into mythical characters who did all sorts of impossible things. Comics are our modern penny-dreadfuls. During World War II they reached the depths of silliness. We had Commando Yank, Captain America, The Shield, and other such heroes stopping invasions, destroying Nazi and Japanese armies single-handed, and “saving the world for democracy.” Even Captain Marvel and The Marvel Family were suckered into such actions. It was their undoing. Where Superman was born with inhuman powers and went around looking for excuses to use them, Captain Marvel was really only a small boy who always had things happening to him. He used his powers as The World’s Mightiest Mortal to get out of trouble, not into it… at first. Then came the fateful change. The 1940s were the days when we were told that America was the most powerful country in the world and that it was up to us to remake civilization in our image. Reading old comics of the 1940s is sickening when one sees the chauvinistic, ramming-down-people’s-