Alter Ego #162 Preview

Page 1




In the USA

No. 162 January 2020




82658 00375



Figure at left © Estate of Frank Foster; central figure © Estate of Hal Sherman; figure at right © Estate of Harris Levey.

Roy Thomas' Prototype Comics Fanzine

Vol. 3, No. 162 / January 2020 Editor

Roy Thomas

Associate Editors Bill Schelly Jim Amash

Design & Layout

Christopher Day

Consulting Editor John Morrow

FCA Editor

P.C. Hamerlinck J.T. Go (Assoc. Editor)

Comic Crypt Editor

Michael T. Gilbert

Editorial Honor Roll

Jerry G. Bails (founder) Ronn Foss, Biljo White Mike Friedrich


Don’t STEAL our Digital Editions! C’mon citizen, DO THE RIGHT THING! A Mom & Pop publisher like us needs every sale just to survive! DON’T DOWNLOAD OR READ ILLEGAL COPIES ONLINE! Buy affordable, legal downloads only at

Rob Smentek William J. Dowlding

Cover Artist or through our Apple and Google Apps!

& DON’T SHARE THEM WITH FRIENDS OR POST THEM ONLINE. Help us keep producing great publications like this one!

Shane Foley

Cover Colorist

Glenn Whitmore

With Special Thanks to: Paul Allen Heidi Amash David Armstrong Richard Arndt Bob Bailey John Benson Brett Canavan John Cimino Pierre Comtois Chet Cox Cash-Book Journal (newspaper) Comic Book Plus (website) The Sven Elven family Frank Foster, Jr. & the Foster family Michael D. Fraley Wayne Gassmann Jim Gaylord Janet Gilbert Don Glut Grand Comics Database (website) Shane Foley Dan Hagen George Hagenauer Tom Hamilton Heritage Auctions (website)

Tom Horvitz Carla Jordan Joyce Kaffel Jim Kealy Paul King Jonathan Levey Art Lortie Doug Martin Peter Meskin Philip Meskin Brian K. Morris Will Murray Peter Normanton The Paul Norris family Barry Pearl John Pierce Sandy Plunkett Larry Rippee Charlie Roberts Al Rodriguez Bob Rozakis Randy Sargent Janet Myers Schuette David Siegel Southeast Missourian (newspaper) Dan Tandarich Dann Thomas Nicky WheelerNicholson Kent Wilson

This issue is dedicated to the memory of

Hal Sherman, Frank Foster, & Sven Elven


Writer/Editorial: A Prophecy In Four Colors? . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Super-Hero Skullduggery -1941? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Will Murray unlocks the mystery of the lost Batman, Wonder Woman, & Tarantula!

The Golden Bat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Dan Hagen tells us all about Japan’s “Dark Samurai” of 1931.

“Welcome Home, Roy Thomas!” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 A photo-strewn remembrance of a comics celebration in Jackson, Missouri—Feb. 2019.

Mr. Monster’s Comic Crypt! The Other Stan Lee, Part 2 . . . 51 Michael T. Gilbert continues to compare and contrast Smilin’ Stan & Charles Biro.

re: [correspondence, comments, & corrections] . . . . . . . . . 58 FCA [Fawcett Collectors Of America] #221 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

P.C. Hamerlinck and Michael D. Frahley showcase early DC & Fawcett artist Sven Elven.

On Our Cover: It was a real dilemma—what to feature on the cover of an issue that dealt with neverpublished possible prototypes of “Batman,” “Wonder Woman,” Tarantula, and other classic superheroes. Spotlighting the DC characters themselves didn’t seem right, so Roy T. suggested to Aussie artist Shane Foley that he utilize the predecessors, using as a template the several-hero cover of 1950’s AllStar Comics #50, by the team of Arthur Peddy & Bernard Sachs. Shane improved on that notion by basing the figures of the non-DC, unpublished 'Batman' and 'Wonder Woman' on the work of Bob Kane (from the cover of Detective Comics #27, 1939) and H.G. Peter (from the cover of Sensation Comics #1, 1942). The result, we think, is nothing short of terrific! [Art © Shane Foley.] Above: Maybe Hal Sherman never got to draw a “Wonder Woman” of his own concoction, but he was the first artist of the feature “The Star-Spangled Kid” in DC’s Star Spangled Comics! Seen here are transformational panels from the two-for-one origin of the Star-Spangled Kid & Stripsey team. SSC #18 (March 1943); possibly scripted by Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman. [TM & © DC Comics.]

Alter Ego TM is published 6 times a year 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: Send subscription funds to TwoMorrows, NOT to the editorial offices. Six-issue subscriptions: $67 US, $101 Elsewhere, $27 Digital Only. 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 China. ISSN: 1932-6890. FIRST PRINTING.


Super-Hero Skullduggery – 1941? Or, The Mystery Of the Lost BATMAN & WONDER WOMAN! by Will Murray

Seeing Double? Or Not! Bob Kane’s Batman & H.G. Peter’s Wonder Woman—juxtaposed with Frank Foster’s “Batman” & Hal Sherman’s “Wonder Woman.” Read the article for the rest of the story! [Batman & Wonder Woman TM & © DC Comics; Foster art © Estate of Frank Foster; Sherman art © Estate of Hal Sherman.] The Kane Caped Crusader is from a circa-1980 painting by that artist, belonging to David Siegel and photographed years ago by Dr. Jerry G. Bails… while Peter’s Amazon princess is from a Junior Justice Society of America ad that ran in 1947 issues of All-Star Comics, although that illo had appeared several years earlier in ads for the Wonder Woman newspaper comic strip. All Frank Foster art accompanying this article is courtesy of the Foster family, via Will Murray; while all the Hal Sherman “WW” art accompanying it was provided by the late artist to Will for Comic Book Marketplace magazine #78 (May 2000) and appeared therein.


The Mystery Of The Lost Batman & Wonder Woman


Preface: One Awesome Overview— Sprinkled With Star-Spangled Kid & Aquaman s a comics historian, I enjoy unearthing lost lore and making new discoveries. Not all of them are pleasant. Some are puzzling, and a few were downright weird.

Periodically, I stumble upon dark, cobwebbed corners of the Golden Age of Comics that no light has touched in generations. Especially in regards to DC Comics and its affiliate, All-American Comics. Among the most remarkable were a series of seemingly unrelated interviews I did for the late lamented magazine Comic Book Marketplace, which uncovered something bizarre. It all started back in 1998, when I read a Boston Globe article about Frank Foster, an obscure artist whose surviving son claimed that his father had created an unpublished super-hero called “Batman” years before the Bob Kane and Bill Finger version had appeared in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. Interested, I interviewed Frank Foster, Jr., heard his story concerning his father, and examined the yellowing pieces of art that survived of an Art Deco version of a hero called Batman—as recorded in the following section of this article, which is a slightly edited version of my piece that appeared in Comic Book Marketplace #66 (Jan. 1999). Though intriguing, the story ultimately proved to be something of a dead end, since nothing concrete connected Foster with DC Comics. So imagine my surprise when comics maven David Siegel read my original article in CBM and informed me that he knew of a potentially similar instance! David quickly put me in touch with Golden Age artist Hal Sherman, the original 1940s illustrator of the DC feature “The Star-Spangled Kid,” and I soon heard his tale of creating a character he called “Wonder Woman” in 1941 and offering it to DC Comics

editorial director Whitney Ellsworth—only to find himself handed art chores on Jerry Siegel’s brand new “Star-Spangled Kid” feature instead of being offered work drawing the super-heroine concept he had submitted. The Kid was first seen by readers in a house ad in Action Comics #40 (Sept. 1941); the origin of Wonder Woman came along a month or so later, in All-Star Comics #8. This, too, I wrote up for Comic Book Marketplace (#78, May 2000)—an interview reworked somewhat and added to for this issue of Alter Ego. Still, there was little or no direct evidence of anything sinister going on in this case, either, and I did not suspect a pattern. Then, a few years later, David arranged for me to interview artist Paul Norris on the creation of “Aquaman,” whereupon the character’s original artist told me something he had not previously revealed––an anecdote even David did not know. “Well,” Norris related, “a couple of weeks before he called me in on ‘Aquaman,’ Whit [Ellsworth] asked a number of artists to come up with some ideas for new features. And I submitted one. They used the title, but they didn’t use the feature at all.”

Whitney Ellsworth had been a National/DC editor early on, had left, and returned to take the top editorial spot when Vin Sullivan moved on to co-found Columbia Comics.

“What was the title?” I asked innocently. “‘The Vigilante.’ But I had the idea of having him in tights. He wasn’t a cowboy like they did later. He was a super-character, in long underwear.” I was staggered. Here was another artist telling the same story! Instead of accepting his Vigilante, Ellsworth handed Norris a humorous sketch of a character called Aquaman who lived underwater––while smoking a cigar!––and asked Norris to rework it into a super-hero. A completely different version of another character calling himself The Vigilante swiftly appeared in Action Comics #42, scripted by new DC editor Mort Weisinger and drawn by Mort Meskin. Both features—“Aquaman” and “The Vigilante”—debuted the same month! Here, perhaps, was the smoking gun, or something very much like it. Testimony that Ellsworth was soliciting fresh characters, but not acting on them in concert with the original artist. The coincidence of so many such switcheroos seemed compelling. So when Alter Ego ran the story of “Air Wave” creator Lee Harris (Harris Levey) in issue #125, accompanied by a neverbefore-published illustration of a completely different version of “Tarantula” than the one that had debuted in Star Spangled Comics #1 (Oct. 1941), I thought to myself, “That sure looks like another possible example of a bait-and-switch editorial ploy.”

Coming Up To Bat! DC “Batman” co-creator/artist Bob Kane (on left) & fan David Siegel on right, with a copy of a 1980s French “Futuropolis” reprinting of the Batman comic strip. Dave, whose main claim to fame, perhaps, is helping to get many Golden Age artists to attend the San Diego Comic-Con between 1987 and 2005 (see A/E #142), was also instrumental in bringing the Hal Sherman “Wonder Woman” story to Will Murray’s attention—and, a bit later, a similar occurrence related to “Aquaman” co-creating artist Paul Norris. Read on! Thanks to Charlie Roberts for the photo, via Tom Horvitz.

It’s especially damning inasmuch as Mort Weisinger is credited with creating “Tarantula” and “Air Wave,” as well as with scripting the first “Aquaman” and “Vigilante” stories! (It must be said: some sources claim it was DC editor Murray Boltinoff who scripted the first “Air Wave” tale.) The four above-mentioned features debuted only months apart, with “Air Wave” showing up last, in the Feb. 1942 Detective Comics. Harris’ Tarantula page was dated April 24, 1941. Hal

Super-Hero Skullduggery—1941?


concept drawings to what his family has always believed is the one, true, original Batman. The ancient piece of Strathmore board is yellowed, its edges chipped by time. Across the front are three India ink shots of a character caparisoned in a strikingly stylized super-hero costume: in action, decking a lightly penciled figure with a roundhouse right cross; standing in a nonchalant pose with one arm resting on a casually lifted leg; and climbing in through a window in classic super-hero style.

Frank Foster as a young man in the early 1940s, and (at left) one of his 1932 drawings of his hero “Batman.” [Art © Estate of Frank Foster.]

And below that, a three-quarters-view head shot of the unmasked mystery-man with a strangely batlike left ear and a sharp jawline that smacks of both the Golden Age Batman and Dick Tracy! Foster flips the board to the other side to reveal a pencil sketch of an exotic-featured woman. The words “1932 Village” are visible and below that, two startling names in bold script: Batman Night-wing

Asked about the significance of these names, Foster digs out a deposition his father gave in 1975 and indicates the explanation Frank Foster, Senior, offered at that time:

Part I Frank Foster & The “Batman” Of 1932— Or, All This & Night-Wing, Too! One of the most famous “Batman” stories, “The First Batman” (Detective Comics #235, Sept. 1956), related the tale of Bruce Wayne’s astonishing discovery that his father had once worn a bat-costume similar to his own to a masquerade ball. It was an electrifying moment in the life of the Caped Crusader—the revelation that he was not the first Batman. Frank Foster, Jr., knows how Bruce Wayne must have felt. His own father, he believes, created the original Batman—ten years before Bob Kane’s version debuted in Detective Comics #27. Interviewed in the cool comfort of his Cape Cod basement home office, surrounded by his father’s nautical watercolors, Foster, a retired commercial photographer, recalls first hearing about the prototypal Batman when he was four years old in 1940.

“Oh, I guess that was a night wing, or something like that.... That’s just some sort of alternate thought I had at the moment, and then I checked off Batman because I thought that was a better name.” Foster, Jr., seemed oblivious to the electrifying significance of the second name. Nightwing was the name a grown-up Robin would take in 1984 for his adult crime-fighting alter ego during his stint with The New Teen

“I remember my parents telling me about it before I ever saw the Batman comic. My father said he drew the Batman and showed me the drawings. He said he showed it to people in New York, and they stole his ideas and he never got a penny.” It’s an amazing, even stunning claim, that contradicts the admittedly murky lore surrounding the origin of the Caped Crusader, who debuted in early 1939. “A father does not tell his four-year-old child that he’s been cheated!” Foster says firmly. “It was a curious thing for me when I was a kid. Not of any great significance, particularly. When I was of comicbook age, I’d say, ‘My father invented Batman.’ The kids would say, ‘Oh, sure.’ The drawings were always around.” From a long architectural file drawer, he pulls out the original

Going Bats! (Above right:) Sheldon Moldoff’s cover for Detective Comics #235 (Sept. 1956), the story in which Bruce Wayne learns that his father had once worn a “Batman” costume—to a masquerade party! Thanks to the Grand Comics Database. [TM & © DC Comics.]. (Above left:) The names “Batman” and “Night-wing” are written in Foster’s handwriting, and dated “1932 Village,” on the back of the sheet. “Nightwing,” of course, is the name Dick (Robin) Grayson took when he became an adult crime-fighter. [© Estate of Frank Foster.]


The Mystery Of The Lost Batman & Wonder Woman

I Wander As I Wonder… (Left:) Another of Hal Sherman’s circa-2000 post-hypnotic Wonder Woman sketches. [Art © Estate of Hal Sherman.] (Right:) The splash page of the “Wonder Woman” story in Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942), almost certainly originally intended to appear in Sensation #2 before the Amazon’s origin was truncated and squeezed into All-Star Comics #8. Script by Marston; art by H.G. Peter. [TM & © DC Comics.]

dress. It was done in short briefs, and sexy. “I do remember one page,” he added. “On one of the samples, where I had a large, magnetized gadget on a strange aircraft, lifting a huge building into the air. It’s my belief Whit Ellsworth’s files with my samples had the answer.” As for the origin of the magic name “Wonder Woman,” Sherman explained, “Here we are on our honeymoon and I’m working for three months on the transition from gag cartoons to comicbook style of art––and my bride is out working to keep everything from falling apart. Thinking of a title, the word ‘wonder’ kept swirling around inside my head—how wonderful can a woman be? Wonder... Wonder... Woman. I had a title for two of the samples: ‘Wonder Woman!’” Avoiding any contact with “Wonder Woman” comics, Sherman concentrated on his bread and butter, The Star-Spangled Kid, who by year’s end joined The Vigilante, Green Arrow, and others in the “Seven Soldiers of Victory” feature in Leading Comics. The busy artist penciled the “Star-Spangled Kid” chapters in early issues. It was a fascinating time, filled with fascinating people. “Murray Boltinoff, Jack Schiff, and Mort Weisinger were the editors I came into contact with at DC. I also met Al Bester, who may have done some ‘Star-Spangled Kid’ scripts. But Whit Ellsworth was my major contact. Working with Whit Ellsworth was pleasant, but I got nowhere in my efforts to get back my ‘Wonder Woman’ art. He brushed me off every time. “I remember a heated phone conversation he had with Bill Finger. He was tearing Bill apart. He turned to me and said, ‘How’d I do?’ I didn’t like it at all. Later, I asked Bill how come he had not

taken more credit for developing Batman. He just mumbled.” Sherman recalled that only once did Ellsworth have a problem with the work he produced for DC. “The wife used to take the stuff in and turn it over to Ellsworth,” he revealed. “He looked at it and wasn’t happy with that particular week’s drawings. He asked Ann if she did it. I had a terrible sinus attack and it reflected in what I was doing.” Sherman’s growing circle of friends continued to widen: “I dropped in to see Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin at their 52st Street studio, when the two geniuses were turning out comicbook art like they just invented it. They seemed a bit groggy, and rightfully so. They were working around the clock, beating deadlines on the material they were sweating over. I picked up one of their finished pages and didn’t believe what I was looking at. I checked the copy. The copy did not bear out what I saw. You don’t doubt genius when he is in the act of creation. But two elbows on one arm? I howled. Jerry and Mort wanted to know what was so funny. I showed them. They howled. I made a phone call and left. As I closed the door, the two geniuses were still howling.” Sherman especially liked Meskin. “At 480 Lexington Avenue, where we all worked together, I looked at a page Mort just completed. He signed it “M-M-M-Mort”... displaying his wonderful sense of humor. Mort stuttered.” Like many of his contemporaries, he was less enamored of Batman co-creator Bob Kane. “I ran into him one day somewhere in midtown. I was with some young lady. And along came Bob Kane. I introduced him to

Super-Hero Skullduggery—1941?

The Several Soldiers Of Victory (Above left:) The splash page of the first “Seven Soldiers of Victory” group story, in Leading Comics #1 (Winter 1941-42), with art by George Papp & script attributed to Mort Weisinger. The Seven Soldiers never did get a real group logo, though—and on the cover, only six heroes had been shown (no Stripesy) with a topline reading “Five Favorite Features!” Go figure! (Above right:) While Weisinger apparently wrote the rest of the 56-page story, Jerry Siegel scripted the 9-page “Star-Spangled Kid” chapter, which was illustrated by Hal Sherman and featured the Kid’s recurring foe The Needle. Repro’d from Ye Editor’s personal copy. [TM & © DC Comics.]

the girl, and the first thing you know we’re hearing the life story of Bob Kane! In bull sessions, I usually walked away because I couldn’t take what he was saying. He said, ‘Who the hell is Milton Caniff?’ And on Jerry Robinson’s desk at that particular moment is a big airport layout taken from Milton Caniff! Can you imagine? He’s swiping the stuff and he says, ‘Who the hell is Milton Caniff?’” One person Sherman didn’t recall was Wonder Woman’s publisher, M.C. Gaines. “I never worked with Gaines,” he said flatly. “I never met him.” Sherman thinks he did come into contact with All-American editor Sheldon Mayer, however: “If he is the person I think he is, he and I, both loaded, beat the hell out of a huge cardboard cutout of Superman during a Christmas dinner. Somebody from the inner office spiked my drink.” And he had a strong recollection of DC owner Harry Donenfeld. “He was flirting with death one time when he gave Jack

Howard Sherman was the artist of the “Doctor Fate” strip that ran for several years in More Fun Comics, as originally written by Gardner Fox. Seen here is part of the splash page from issue #58 (Aug. 1940). Hal says that, so far as he knows, he never met Howard Sherman—nor have we ever, alas, seen a photo of him. Repro’d from the hardcover Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives (2007), a 400-page tome that reprinted every single Golden Age “Doc Fate” solo story. [TM & © DC Comics.]



The Golden Bat Japan’s “Dark Samurai” Returns! by Dan Hagen


e was a caped, flying champion from a lost, distant civilization, who fought monsters and criminals in defense of humanity.

In Japan. In 1931. As comics historian Zack Davisson observes, “Five years before Lee Falk’s ‘Ghost Who Walks,’ The Phantom, stalked the daily strips of newspapers everywhere, and seven years before Superman burst from the pages of Action Comics, 6,760 miles away in the island country of Japan kids were already thrilling to the adventures of super-powered heroes all their own.” Even before the first modern comicbooks appeared, Japan had evolved a form of sequential fantasy art that put it “deep in a Golden Age of strange visitors from another planet flying through the sky in brilliant costumes, righting wrongs and battling mad scientist inventors,” Davisson notes. Street performers painted and presented what were essentially oversized, itinerant comicbook adventures in Japanese communities, selling candy, roasted potatoes, and chestnuts to the

Fleischer Brothers, Look Out! (Above:) The Golden Bat is shown in his own “fortress of solitude” in the mountains of Japan, telepathically tuning in to a woman’s plea for help. (Right:) The hero vs. a giant robot, by Nagamatsu—doubtless illustrating a story by Suzuki. These scenes somewhat resemble some of those in the early-1940s theatrical Superman cartoons by the Fleischer Brothers’ animation outfit—but this is a decade earlier! And of course they’re a precursor to all those Japanese robots like Astro Boy, Gigantor, and 8th Man. [TM & © the respective trademark & copyright holders.]

The Golden Bat Dan Hagen reveals how, in the early 1930s, Japanese creators developed a super-hero in the medium of Kamishibai, which, he writes, “is described as a form of participatory storytelling that combines hand-made art with a performance by a live narrator (“kami” means “paper,” and “shibai” means “play” or “drama”—so they were sort of oversized, itinerant comicbooks!” ). Above is one of artist Takeo Nagamatsu’s original watercolor-onposter-board illustrations of The Golden Bat, a.k.a. Ōgon Batto, who was scripted by Ichiro Suzuki. Read on! The illustrations accompanying this piece appeared in Eric P. Nash’s book Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theatre, published by Abrams Comicarts, NY (2019), and were scanned from various kamishibai collections in Japan. Nash’s book is a must-have— because it features many, many other wonders besides these few! [TM & © the respective trademark & copyright holders.]

youngsters who’d been summoned to the show by the clacking of wooden sticks. These “paper theatre” performances provided inexpensive, colorful children’s entertainment during the Depression, as well as much-needed employment opportunities for the benshi (script narrators who sat next to the screen in the newly outmoded silent movies). “Storytellers would travel from town to town with their butai (miniature stage) on the back of a bike,” observes Liesl Bradner in the Los Angeles Times. “The setup was reminiscent of a Punch and Judy show, but instead of puppets the narrator would slide a series of poster boards with watercolor illustrations in and out of the box. He would act out the script, which was written on cards placed on the back of a board. Each show consisted of three stories of about


“Welcome Home, ROY THOMAS!” A Remembrance Of The “February Annual” Event In Jackson, Missouri, 2019

by Carla Jordan Director, Cape Girardeau County History Center of the Cape Girardeau County Historical Society


“Roy Thomas Day” in Jackson, Missouri… Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (Above:) The official February Annual poster, created by local graphic designer Megan Lopez, utilizing an art print drawn by pro comics artist Joe St. Pierre that spotlights Roy and many of the Marvel characters he had a hand in creating; concept by John Cimino. (The art print itself, produced by special arrangement with Marvel Entertainment, is sold only at comics conventions at which Roy appears, with part of the proceeds going to the comics’ own charity, Hero Initiative.) [Art TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc.] (Left:) A photo taken that afternoon outside the Cape Girardeau County History Center on High Street, with Jackson’s town square, county courthouse, and bandstand prominent in the background. One summer in the late 1950s, Roy had the job of announcing the musical numbers performed in the latter by the town’s municipal band. Photo & poster courtesy of Carla Jordan.

EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION: Loath as I was (and if you doubt that, I can’t really blame you, I suppose) to showcase yet another article centered around myself so soon… the bald fact is that, nearly a year ago, my Missouri hometown surprisingly named me guest of honor at a local arts celebration. Even though flying from South Carolina to Memphis, then facing a several-hour drive north in the dead of winter, were hardly tops on my wish list, my wife Dann and I agreed that I could hardly refuse. And then, the person central to it all—the above-bylined Mrs. Carla Jordan—and her volunteer crew did such a spectacular job with the event that I felt I should document the whole magilla in Alter Ego… mostly from her POV. To the extent I’m involved as editor and caption-writer, just consider this article an early Valentine to a town that had, at the very least, a powerful hand in molding any creative virtues I may have brought to the comics or to other fields….

Prelude Jackson, Missouri, is a small, peaceful town not far from the Mississippi River. Though its current population is just 14,000, it has a bustling town square that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district is known as Uptown Jackson, because its grouping of blocks is set on the highest point in the town, on two sides of a classic stone courthouse and its grounds, on which sits an old-fashioned bandstand right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Jackson also happens to be the hometown of comicbook writer Roy Thomas, although it boasted only about one-fourth as many people when he was a child. (He memorized its 1950 census figure of 3694 as he drove past the city-limits sign countless times as a teenager in the late ’50s.) Each late winter for the past half-decade, the Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization (UJRO) has hosted a celebration of arts and culture known as the “February Annual,” organized around one guest of honor. Since no


A Remembrance Of The “February Annual” Event In Jackson, Missouri, 2019

previous Annual had honored anyone who had actually lived in Jackson (or in Cape Girardeau County, of which Jackson is the county seat), it was decided that it was time to remedy that situation. Thus, UJRO and the Cape Girardeau County History Center pulled out all the stops with their “Celebration of Roy Thomas” on February 23, 2019. (The nearby city of Cape Girardeau now has a population of around 40,000; Roy graduated in 1961 from Southeast Missouri State College— now University—in what Jacksonians often refer to simply as “Cape.”)

Carla Jordan & Tara Thomas

When I was designated the liaison for the UJRO Design Committee with Roy and Dann Thomas, I had no idea what I was undertaking. But the journey, which included numerous e-mails of planning, schooling myself in the world of comics, and then hosting the Thomases, was absolutely delightful. I have been a historic preservationist for 30 years, and have owned my own preservation business for nearly 20. During this time, I have preserved structures on historic Route 66, directed two regional museums, consulted with numerous historical sites regarding development, and designed hundreds of exhibitions. In addition, since my 1960s childhood, I have been a “closet” Batman fan, but this project opened up a whole new world that fascinates me. It became a project of my heart, and I admit that I now enjoy reading Alter Ego from cover to cover, and my children have given me a list of how to properly watch the Marvel movies. Carla (on left) and Roy’s youngest sister Tara—she’s an accountant in Des Moines, Iowa—smile for the camera at the History Center on 2-23-19. And yes, the damsels introduced in both Conan the Barbarian #1 (Oct. 1970) and #52 (July 1975) were named for Tara.

“You’re My Supermen!” In September of 2018, Roy (on left) greets Michael Archer, who as a graduate intern at the State University in nearby Cape Girardeau had put together a comicbook exhibit for the History Center; it’s seen behind them. The Center held a reception for the pair five months prior to the February event. Photo by Carla Jordan. The most prominent artwork in the display is a blow-up of the Wayne Boring-penciled cover of Superman #29 (July-Aug. 1944), seen more fully at right, courtesy of the online Grand Comics Database. [TM & © DC Comics.]

commenced unofficially on the evening of Friday, the 22nd, with a dinner and a gathering of some of Roy’s family and acquaintances, including classmates and friends from Jackson’s St. Paul Lutheran School (where he attended grades 1-8), Jackson High School, and Southeast Missouri State University. It was held at the St. Paul Lutheran Fellowship Hall, and was hosted by C.L. Jordan Preservation, on the grounds of the church Roy attended while living in Jackson. Unfortunately, he, Dann, and his manager and friend John Cimino arrived in town an hour late, due to flight delays getting to Memphis plus considerable rain during their three-hour drive north. But they made it, and the attendees had voted to hold dinner until they pulled in.

Dress Rehearsals Roy paid a visit to Jackson roughly once a year until about a decade ago, when his late mother, Leona Thomas, moved to an assisted-living facility in Des Moines, Iowa, where his sister Tara resides. As it happened, his most recent trip here had occurred in September 2018, to attend the 60-year reunion of the Jackson High School class of ’58, and we took that opportunity to get together to plan the details of the February 2019 celebration. That September meeting also included a one-night reception for Roy and “SEMO” graduate intern Michael Archer. Michael had interned at the Cape Girardeau County History Center, which is a part of CGC Historical Society. His internship project had included the creation of an exhibit titled “When Comics and History Collide.” Michael had corresponded by e-mail with Roy seeking advice for the display, and that exchange had established the relationships that led to the February celebration. The February Annual: Celebration of Roy Thomas event

Roy, Dann, & John Cimino arrive at their Jackson motel digs weary but unbowed (well, maybe a little bit bowed) on the evening of 2-22-19, after a day of air flights, driving north from Memphis in the rain, then attending the dinner in the Thomases’ honor.


{Above:) Daredevil meets Crimebuster and Squeeks, C.B.’s pet monkey. This was for a “Win A Live Monkey” contest from Daredevil #9, April 1942. Biro owned one! (Right:) Biro from a 1950 film “Famous Cartoonists.” [TM & © the respective trademark & copyright holders.\]


Mr. Monster’s Comic Crypt!

Charles Biro—The Other Stan Lee! (Part 2) by Michael T. Gilbert


ast issue we explored some notable similarities between Marvel writer/editor Stan Lee in the ’60s, and Gleason Publications writer/artist/editor Charles Biro in the ’40s. But wait! There’s more!

Reality Check! Perhaps Stan’s greatest contribution to Marvel was injecting a dose of reality into the tired super-hero formula. Under Lee and Ditko, Spider-Man became a refreshingly real-world take on super-heroes. Take for instance Amazing Spider-Man #12, in which our hero, weakened by the flu, was easily beaten by Dr. Octopus. Ock triumphantly unmasked his foe, only to react with dismay when Spider-Man is revealed to be a kid named Peter Parker. At staid DC, the writer would have figured some contrived gimmick for Superman or Batman to fool the villain. But Lee (along with co-plotter Ditko) took a startling different route. In this story Parker didn’t figure some clever way out. Instead, Doc Ock, surprised at how easily he defeated “Spider-Man,” reacts in shocked disbelief as he stares at the face of the helpless teenager.

Who Was That Masked Man? Stan Lee had Spidey revealed as Peter Parker in this scene from Amazing Spider-Man #12 (May 1964). Art by Steve Ditko. [TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc.]

“I should have known!!” he bellows. “It isn’t Spider-Man! It’s that weakling brat, Peter Parker!” Of course! In the real world, the logical conclusion would be to assume that the kid under the mask, beaten so easily, was just some dumb teenager playing Spider-Man (while the real Spidey was clearly missing in action). Lee’s solution to the problem was brilliant in its simplicity. But, back in the ’40s, Charles Biro had beaten Stan to the punch. Daredevil #42 (May 1947) had a reporter stumbling onto Daredevil removing his costume, revealing himself as Bart Hill. Rather than threaten the reporter, Bart decided to do what no other ’40s comicbook hero would have done in the situation: bribe him! “Look,” says Bart, “perhaps you and I could work out a little something.” No goody two-shoes, this hero! Unfortunately for Bart, the reporter, a guy named Killroy, declines even after being offered a car, an apartment, hot stock market tips, and a horse (!).

A Daredevil By Any Other Name… Bart Hill, having revealed his Daredevil identity to the world, is shoved in front of a truck by a crook. But while Bart may not have been wearing his costume any more, he still had exceptional reflexes. From Daredevil #44 (Sept. 1947). Art by Norman Maurer. [© the respective copyright holders.]

“Tut, tut! Mustn’t bribe!” chastises Killroy. “Remember that won’t look so good in my story!” Just Daredevil’s luck, finding an honest newshound. It was a very unexpected twist, but then, Biro was known for them. In the same story Charlie added another



The Miraculous Life Of SVEN ELVEN by Michael D. Fraley Edited by P.C. Hamerlinck


he statuesque brunette in the crimson hat stood in the doorway of El Carim’s office. Jane Grey’s father had been kidnapped, and she had come to this place out of desperation. “Oh El Carim, you’re the only one who can help me!” she pleaded to the magician. After a few pleasantries, the master of mystery wrote the name of Jane’s father on a slip of paper and fed it into a strange device he called a “spectrograph.” Removing the monocle from his eye, he held it in front of a slot on one end of the mechanism, and magically, like a scene from a movie, her father’s fate was played out on the “screen” of the lens. That’s the story Sven Elven illustrated for Master Comics #1 back in 1940; and, in my journey to solve the mystery of just exactly who Sven Elven was, I could have used a magic spectrograph more than once along the way. Fortunately, I had access to wonderful resources nonetheless—the memories of his daughter and grandchildren, access to his various documents and tools, and the work of Elven’s widow and son-in-law, both of whom have passed

Sven Elven & El Carim (Above:) Sven, his wife Martha, and their newborn daughter Sigrid at their farm in the Catskills in 1938. One would never know it from her proud smile, but Martha had given birth with broken ribs due to an accident on the farm. (Below left:) The master of magic, “El Carim”—from Master Comics #9 (Dec. 1940). Script by Carl Formes (a former opera singer); art by Sven Elven. [TM & © the respective trademark & copyright holders.]

on. I am deeply grateful for all of that. The love and respect that the family has repeatedly expressed for their grandfather is what has impressed me the most about this entire journey. I can only hope that all of us would be so fortunate. *** Before illustrating the adventures of “El Carim” for Fawcett, Elven produced a tremendous amount of work for National (the future DC Comics) in the 1930s, appearing in landmark issues such as Detective Comics #1, Action Comics #1, and Detective Comics #27. If you’ve seen any of his work at all, it’s thanks to the fact that he was part of a larger show. He was responsible for well over a hundred stories for National alone—writing, drawing, and inking up to 22 pages’ worth of comics per month, spread across four publications. This doesn’t even take into account his later work for Fawcett and Centaur. Then, after just five short years, he was gone without a trace. An anecdote or two survived about him, but no one really seemed to know just who Sven Elven was, other than that he most likely was of Swedish origin. Even his name has come into doubt. Was it a slick pseudonym that played on the lucky numbers seven and eleven in craps or blackjack? Compounding the problem is the fact that he wasn’t a super-hero artist like Joe Shuster, a super-herocreating machine like Jack Kirby, a storyteller who pushed the limits of the medium like Will Eisner, or an artist who became a studio boss like Jack Binder. Elven illustrated the classics with a confident pen line, helping to lay the foundation for the revolution, but he never seemed interested in joining the revolution himself. He proved to be as mysterious as the characters he drew. The other artists he shared the pages of those early comics with, like Creig Flessel, Leo O’Mealia,

FCA [Fawcett Collectors Of America]


A Nation Of Immigrants (Left:) As detailed in Michael D. Fraley’s article, the family of young Sven Elven made its way to the New World on board the RMS Empress of Ireland, seen here. There was room on board for some 765 immigrants and poorer passengers. The Empress tragically sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River near Quebec years later, after running into a Norwegian coal ship. (Right:) Sven’s family, the Frykholms, circa 1910, just after they arrived in the United States. From left: Martha, Wendela, Judith, Philip, Sven, Albin, and possibly William, one of twins. In front would be the other twin, Fred.

Homer Fleming, and Tom Hickey, remained in either comicbooks or comic strips for decades. Sven Elven chose not to do that. Even Merna Gamble, who drew a lovely adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities for National, has more personal history available than Elven has had. It’s time to draw back the curtain.

Origins Born as Herbert Swen Frederik Frykholm in Stockholm, Sweden, on July 17, 1897, Sven and his family emigrated to America in 1909, fleeing the poverty of their homeland. After taking a ship to England, their Transatlantic ocean liner, the Empress of Ireland, sailed from Liverpool to Canada, from which the family quickly made their way towards the western suburbs of Chicago. There, they would find a large number of other Swedish immigrants. According to historian Ulf Beijbom, there were nearly 150,000 Swedes in Chicago alone by the turn of the century. Berwyn, the Swedish hub, was not far away. Sven’s father found employment as a bricklayer, while his older brother Philip worked laying cement. Sven would work with dogged determination to learn English so that he could make his way in his new country, keeping a massive, unabridged Webster’s dictionary within easy reach as he would read books or newspapers. Sven’s 1918 draft

registration and the 1920 U.S. Census show him living in the Old Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago with his parents and siblings, but working at a metal forging plant near East Chicago, Indiana—a train commute of about two hours each way. As a young man, Sven was quite handsome, with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Standing 6’2”, he was probably the shortest of the Frykholm brothers, with two others towering over him at 6’5”.

Turning Towards Art The 1920 U.S. Census marks the first time we find Sven identifying his profession as “artist.” When he could, he took classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and it is intriguing to wonder if he rubbed shoulders with a few other famous students who were there between the late 1910s and the 1920s. Harold R. (Hal) Foster, who would later draw Tarzan and Prince Valiant, would have ridden into Chicago on his bicycle in 1919, just as Russell Patterson, the delineator of Jazz Age beauties, was leaving his studies at the SAIC. In 1921, Vernon Grant, creator of Snap, Crackle, and Pop for Kellogg’s cereals, became a student as well. During art lectures by Dudley Crafts Wilson, he may have heard Orson Welles’ mother Beatrice providing background music on the piano. The Art Institute of Chicago would remain a fond

A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (Above:) On June 5, 1921, Sven Elven married Martha Hofmann in Chicago, Illinois. Sven’s brother Phil and Martha’s sister Edith are standing behind the couple, while Martha’s youngest sister is positioned between them. (Also seen is a blow-up of Sven himself from that same wedding picture.). (Right:) Although Elven produced a few oil paintings in his later years, most of the later paintings are watercolors. This preliminary color selfportrait sketch in oils probably belongs to his student work from the early 1920s, when he attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. A finished painting based on this sketch was eventually made, but its whereabouts are unknown.

El Carim! The Miraculous Life Of Sven Elven

focal point for him as the years passed, appearing in some of his personal art. It would also be a point of contention for him, as more modern and abstract art made its way onto the museum walls. Sven’s student works that survive from this period are paintings in oils, including color sketches that have a spontaneous, impressionistic look about them, similar to the legendary Swedish portrait painter Anders Zorn. On close inspection, he also seems to have even used the “Zorn palette” for a while, teasing a full spectrum of colors out of just black, white, red, and yellow ochre. According to the family, Sven illustrated some 38 books; I’ve been able to identify seven of them. Tearsheets from those books were clipped and saved by his wife, documenting his long career, but not always with a note as to where the piece might have appeared. It’s possible that he may have done some of the work under a different name, experimenting as some other family members did with names that would allow them to blend more easily into English-speaking America. Philip, for example, shortened the family name to “Holmes,” which is a name that Sven is also said to have used early on. At any rate, an illustration career would begin to open up for the tall, young immigrant with calluses on his hands. In later years, he would tell a tale from around that time. Grandson John says, “Grandpa would tell us a story of how he


had done his first real successful art which had been paid for, and he was still working very hard to master English. Well, he decided to celebrate the occasion of his success and went to a very upscale restaurant and ordered a steak. He told the waiter he wanted a ‘very rare steak,’ thinking that ‘very rare’ would be the finest steak in the house. He was a little surprised that what was served was a practically raw steak! He’d laugh as he would tell us, but he would also tell us how important it was to have a good command of the language!” Granddaughter Janet adds that Sven would go on to speak English very well. He spent some 45 years of his life in and around the Windy City.

Working Methods & Influences ALTER EGO The magazine cover art for Tatler & #162 American Sketch (which WILL MURRAY presents an amazing array of possible prototypes was also an earlyof Batman venue(byfor Vargas) that currently adorns artistAlberto FRANK FOSTER—in 1932!)—Wonder Woman (by Star-Spangled Kid home artist HALis SHERMAN)—Tarantula the walls of granddaughter Ruth’s drawn in a very linear (by Air Wave artist LEE HARRIS), and others! Plus a rare Hal Art Deco style similar to Russell Patterson other artists of the Sherman interview—MICHAEL T. GILBERTand with more on artist PETE MORISI—FCA—BILL SCHELLY—JOHN BROOME—and late 1920s and early 1930s. In addition to Patterson, Elven was more! Cover homage by SHANE FOLEY! also clearly influenced (100-page by adventure illustrators such as Pyle, FULL-COLOR magazine) $9.95 Wyeth, and Coll, as most of his generation (Digital Edition) $5.95were. This combination of influences sometimes gave his later comic work the unique appearance of N.C. Wyeth inked with a stylized art deco line. Like Wyeth, Elven was someone familiar with hard work and a love of adventure and the outdoors. He enjoyed the world of fine art, too, and he admired Degas, whom years later in a letter to the Chicago Tribune (11/22/1952) he would term “the superb master,” both for the life he brought to his paintings as well as his ability to convincingly depict animal anatomy. A sense of liveliness and accuracy were important to

Ars Gratia Artist (Above:) During his time in Sweden in 1924, Sven supported himself by making “plein air” paintings of Stockholm. This is a palette knife painting of a street in Sweden that returned home with him. (Right:) In the early 1930s, he created Art Deco-oriented covers for Tatler & American Sketch magazine, a showcase for the cream of New York’s upper class. Shown is the March 1931 issue. To look at Elven’s covers, or the magazine in general, one would never know that the Roaring ’20s had come to a grinding halt and that America had been plunged into the Great Depression. The Tatler was clinging desperately to a world that was swiftly fading. [© the respective copyright holders.]


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.