Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Greatest Adventure: El Diablo

Never achiving it's own title, this supernatural Western feature rightfully ended up in Weird Westen Tales and as a backup feature to Jonah Hex. It all started when a wealthy California gentleman Lazurus Lane was nearly killed after trying to stop a bank robbery in 1866, being struck by lightning and left in a comatose state. Doctors could do nothing to restore Lane, until an mysterious Apache shaman named Wise Owl arrived and used his mystic skills to heal him. One fateful night months later, Lazurus Lane suddenly awoke from his coma, but his spirit was now splint in two; one remained as Lazurus' silent husk, while the other became a supernatural avenging being called El Diablo! With his first appearance in the second series of All-Star Western #2 in 1970, El Diablo administered his severe code of justice, with fist, six gun, or whip, to the many criminal elements of the Old West. A expert marksman's and horseback rider, this "devil of a man" can preform amazing feats of athleticism, with knife, bolo, or any other weapon close at hand.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tom Sutton's Planet of the Apes Original Art Prices!

Years ago in the ultimate fanzine, Rocket's Blast Comic Collector, issue #132 had another favorite artist, Tom Sutton, selling off a number of his wonderful Planet of the Apes pages he drew for Marvel's black and white magazines. The ad had a future clad gorilla reaching out and shouting straight at you, ..."Hey human, wanna buy some ape stuff?" Having had some of these great pages, they were illustrated in the larger format of 19.5 x 13.5 inches, with lots of Sutton's spectacular detail that the artist claimed was "impossible to reproduce faithfully." For one hundred eighty nine dollars you could have his "Dreamer in Emerald Silence" from POTA #15, December 1975, which was one of Sutton's favorite stories for the series. Issue #24 "Shadows of Haunted Cathedralus" was selling for a mere $140 for the twenty page story, which averaged at seven dollars a page! He had eight gritty sets to hawk, selling only the complete stories if possible to his many fans. All his ape pages were offered at that same rock bottom $7 price, including the ones he inked on issue #19 with pencils by the dynamic Mike Ploog.

Sutton was even gracious enough to try to keep the stories together, when he said he would reproduce a double page spread that was lost for POTA #18, February 1976, "Graveyard of Lost Ships" for $75, plus the $126 for the eighteen pages he still had. Tom used lots of over the top blurbs to promote these pages, as he'd done before, like..."see the giant living brains!" he used for the "Messiah of Monkey Demons" from POTA #23, August 1976, or "experience the eerie ape city" for the complete twenty page story entitled "Society of Psychedrome" from April, 1976. Overall, Sutton had one hundred thirty seven pages of Planet of the Apes pages for sale from his later "Future History Chronicles" and "Jason and Alex Apes Series" storylines, that added up to $959 for the eight sets. But never wanting to miss a deal, the artist was willing to sell the whole lot to the first lucky buyer that wanted to purchase them all for only $600, or about $4.38 a page. Too bad I was still a teen collecting comics, before I later wised up to the real joy of owning the original art to these spectacular pages.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sensational Strips: Ben Casey

With the popularity ABC TV show Ben Casey, the NEA Syndicate decided to to adapt the idea into a daily strip that debuted on November 26, 1962, with a Sunday feature added later on September 20, 1964. At the young age of twenty one, Neal Adams had the experience and look that NEA wanted, so he was chosen to draw the feature in his slick photorealistic style. Illustrated in the likeness of TV star Vince Edwards, Ben Casey was the resident surgeon of County General Hospital dealing with the most extreme and rare medical cases, with the help of an elderly chief surgeon and mentor, Dr. Zorbe. Rounding out the cast was the beautiful Dr. Maggie Graham, who became the romantic interest for Casey in his extremely sparse leisure time away from the hospital. For the early 1960s, the storylines were quite ahead of their time, dealing with controversial subjects including drug addition, attempted suicide, and unwanted pregnancy, all done in a straightforward direct style that stressed the realism of the strip. When the television show had finally run its course, ending on the fifth season, the newspapers strip soon followed with the last Ben Casey episode appearing on the Sunday page, July 31, 1966.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Foreign Favorites: Lone Wolf and Cub

First appearing in Japan's Manga Action in August 1970, Kozure Okami (A Wolf and His Cub) was written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. A period strip set in the Edo era, it tells the tale of Itto Ogami, a former high executioner of the realm and his young son, Daigoro, who are targets of an assination plot from the powerful Yagyu clan. With his wife murdered, and now disgraced before the Emperor, a "lone wolf and his cub" vow vengance against the clan, leaving his former life as a samurai to become a roving paid assasin for hire. The saga continues for six years and over eight thousand pages with Itto and Daigoro fighting the dreaded head of the family, Retsudo Yagyu, who eventually loses an eye, as well as his four sons and a daughter to the savage Ogami in their many bloody swordfights. Late in the run a new enemy emerged, Kaii Abe, who now opposed both Yagyu and the Okamis on a deadly rampage. An instant best seller, it spawned six motion pictures, a TV series, and numerous records, that depecticted not only revenge and violence, but a story of family loyalities, honor, and a rough tenderness between a father trying to raise his son.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Skywald's "Horror-Mood" Magazines

After collecting Warren's spectacular horror/fantasy magazines as a teen, I still knew very little about the other rival publishers in the spook market at the same time, including the gruesome Skywald magazines that barely lasted five years before their early demise. I had seen and enjoyed Skywald’s short-lived color comic book line, mainly just Westerns, romance, and jungle titles, and “The Heap” with some new material and fifties reprints, but none lasted more than three issues. However, once I discovered these black-and-white harder to find gems, Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream, I was fascinated by some old American favorites and new Spanish artists that were featured in these terrible tomes. Founded by a former Marvel Comics production manager, Sol Brodsky, and comic reprint publisher Israel Waldman, Skywald launched its first horror title, Nightmare #1 in December 1970.

Editor Brodsky’s first big move was to bring Al Hewetson on as head writer, who had the right experience after working briefly for both Marvel and Warren on there various horror titles, producing some early similar Warren inspired shock-ending type tales. But once Brodsky returned to Marvel Comics, "Archaic Al" (as he called himself) took over as editor of the company and developed a new approach with his "Horror-Mood" stories, now reproducing classics from Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelly, Robert Louis Stevenson, and other literary horror giants.

As with Warren Publications, the first issues features stories created by American writers, such as Gerry Conway, T. Casey Brennan, Garner Fox, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Robert Kanigher and others. An assortment of talented artists like Syd Shores, Rich Buckler, Bruce Jones, Bill Everett, Don Heck, Pat Boyette, Ross Andru, Pablo Marcos, and Tom Sutton, drew these early chilling stories, just to name a few. Quite an impressive lineup for a start up company that paid some of the lowest page rates in the business! What’s interesting is that Jim Warren let it be known he didn’t want any of his creators to work for rival publishers, so a legion of pseudonyms were used for both artist and writer, as well as hiding names in the artwork to help protect their identities.

Some of these Skywald yarns really started to walk the line on being overtly graphic in bondage and torture, trying to out do the other pioneering horror publishers of the day. But with only two years into the run, most of the American artists were pushed out for those fantastic Spaniards from the Barcelona school. Lots of new names debuted in these issues that I never hear of before (or since) including, Maelo Cintron, Felipe Dela Rosa, Jesus Suso Rego, Fernando Rubio, Domingo Gomez, Ferran Sostres, Jose Mirelles, Maro Nava, and Zesar which were some of my favorites.

With Hewetson as editor for Skywald, he experimented with some old and new approaches in content, like bringing back the well established use of “horror hosts”, as many of the fear books had done in the past. Al established some reoccurring series like “Darkkos Mansion“, “Shoggoth”, and “Human Gargoyles“, adding contests to win genuine “gargoyle eggs” (smooth stones from the Hudson Bay beach), or Shoggoth Crusade certificates to join in the hunt for those fiends. He devised using nightmare inspired tales sent in by the reader’s dreams, and the empty voice balloon series similar to Gold Key comics for kids to fill in their fears themselves. Memberships to clubs, various interviews with horror stars, ”Scream Screen” movie reviews, and the usual letter pages and artist/writer bios rounded out the three books. Skyward even developed its own marketing department similar to Warren’s Captain’s Company called “The Little Horror-Mood Shop Of Horrors” to sell weird novelty items.

Since Al was the driving force behind “Horror-Mood”, he wrote most of the stories under a collection of names like Stuart Williams, Joe Dentyn, Hugh Laskey, Henry Bergman, Harvey Lazarus and Howie Anderson. But two other favored writers made up his scary stable, Augustine Funnell and Ed Fedory, who understood what Al was trying to accomplish in his high-brow terror tales. You could always tell that Hewetson and his creepy staff at Skywald were having fun with the material, often spoofing themselves and others in the comics industry. Skywald’s gruesome horror magazines, were all selling well and often sold out many of their issues.

Unfortunately, the company only lasted to the end of 1974, with its last issue, Psycho #24 arriving in March of 1975. Returns that came back usually shipped to England and sold out there as well, but when Marvel decided to enter the horror magazine market they effectively pushed Skyward to the back of the newsstands since they had the power to do so with distributors. Now, readers of these titles simply couldn’t find their issues that were limited to only the largest outlets, effectively removed from all the smaller markets, which had nothing to do with Skywald’s solid group of fans. Another high point in the black and white horror magaine market had once again bit the dust.