Two Legends Flex Their Muscles On This Month’s Great Cover

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I’m returning to Marvel Comics, my true love when it comes to comic books, for this month’s great cover. Let’s look at Sub-Mariner #20 (December, 1969). The legendary artists responsible for this action packed cover are John Buscema (pencils) and Johnny Craig (inks).

Buscema is one of my favorites. I especially like his work from the mid to late 1960s, which included The Avengers, Silver Surfer, and Sub-Mariner. When he took over the penciling of The Avengers, readers were treated to an artist approaching the peak of his abilities. His art was something like a combination of the two previous pencilers who worked on that series. First, was Jack Kirby, then Don Heck. Buscema combined Kirby’s dynamic action with Heck’s more accurate anatomy drawing.

The results are fantastic. (I have previously written in more depth about my appreciation of John Buscema’s masterful illustrating work on The Avengers.)

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By “Crime SuspenStories #22” at The Grand Comics Database. Retrieved June 12, 2008., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17904260

Johnny Craig goes back to the days of EC Comics. EC really was an excellent producer of comic books that appealed to older readers as well as the typical kid readers of the other publishers in the 1950s. Then came Sen. Estes Kefauver’s attack on comic books which he believed were leading American children to delinquency. He was particularly displeased by EC and it was one of Craig’s covers, the infamous depiction of a woman’s severed head being held by her killer, that drew much of the good senator’s ire.

Senate hearings were convened. Witnesses were harangued. Senators displayed their righteous indignation. The industry created the Comics Code Authority. EC Comics bid the world of comic books a fond farewell, turned to publishing magazines by dropping all of its titles but one, converting that title from a comic to magazine, and Mad Magazine was born anew. Thanks, Sen. Kefauver!

Well, these two excellent illustrators combined their considerable talents to produce a great cover. It’s an action cover in which the complicated hero Sub-Mariner drops in on one of Marvel’s greatest (also complicated) villains Dr. Doom. An epic battle is about to commence!

What kid could resist such a great cover? Both characters are so well drawn. I especially like Dr. Doom’s pose. Sure, he’s wearing a suit of armor, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still jump into action. This is comic books after all. If an artist can draw it, the character can do it.

I also really like the coloring of this cover, likely to have been provided by another legend of comic books – Marie Severin. The red background is attention grabbing and the use of half-toning in the grey of Doom’s armor, along with the use of white for highlighting, gives it a fairly real-looking metallic look.

The same team of artists provide the interior art for this book and it’s outstanding!

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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This Month’s Great Cover Ended An Era And Started Another

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In the mid-1950s, the US Government seemed to believe that comic books were turning America’s youth into juvenile delinquents. Rep. Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn) led the charge in Congress to stop the evil influence of comic books on America’s future. Funny. I thought the 1950s was when America was great. Huh.

Well, anyway.

There was one company in particular that really drew the attention of America’s decency standards keepers: EC Comics. In those days, EC was the comic book publisher that was most consistent in publishing quality comic books. The stories were intriguing and challenging and the artwork was some of the best in the industry, as this month’s cover by Johnny Craig demonstrates.

The cover is from issue number 22 of Crime Suspenstories (May, 1954) and it became the centerpiece of the US House Committee hearings on comic books, led by the worried Rep. Kefauver. The Congressman grilled then owner of EC, William “Bill” Gaines, on whether or not he considered a cover depicting a murdered woman with a man holding her severed head to be in good taste. Gaines thought it was for a horror comic book not necessarily meant for kids.

Gaines pointed out that the cover didn’t show the viscera of the severed neck nor of the body laying on the floor. However, I’ve read somewhere that Craig had originally drawn the cover depicting where the neck had been cut. It was redrawn to tone it down.

Well, the hearings led to the industry forming the Comics Code Authority in 1954. This body was to set down rules as to what could and could not be depicted in comic books. The Comics Code Authority remained active until the early 2000s, but their power had been eroding for years before then.

Soon after the Comics Code came into being, Bill Gaines shut down all of his comic book titles. Ending an era. He turned his attention to a magazine that had started as a comic book. Magazines weren’t subject to the Code, so he could do what he liked with them. And he liked satire. The magazine was Mad. And so began another era.

Phew, so much for the history. Now let’s look at that controversial cover…

First there is the general layout of an EC cover. There’s the banner title with a solid color for the background. The art is framed in a square taking up about two thirds of the cover. Marvel Comics would adopt this layout for a time in the 1970s.

The artwork itself is very well drawn by Craig. Craig’s execution is terrific. Without having it detailed for us, the positioning of the body on the floor, the look on the victim’s face, and the blood-spattered (done in black) axe tells the viewer that a man has just loped off a woman’s head. The under lighting on the severed head and the murderer’s arm add to the drama.

But, Craig has also done two things that are quite subtle. First is the positioning of the axe. I may be reading something into this that isn’t there, having a dirty mind as I do, but there’s a certain phallicness to it, don’t you think? Of course it might just be, that given the design and layout constraints, that was the best way for Johnny Craig to show the man had a blood-soaked axe.

The second subtle touch is the murderer’s posture. The man is not drawn hunched forward in a position that would indicate shame. No, this man is standing upright. His shoulders held back, his chest pumped out. This pose looks to me as though he’s happy – proud! – of what he’s done.

These subtle touches along with the fabulous execution make this a great cover. It may have ended EC Comics, but it gave us Mad Magazine. Not a terrible trade-off.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

A Cover Of One Of The Classics

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Classics Illustrated comic books were the industry’s balance to all those EC Comics that were leading America’s youth into delinquency in the 1940s and 50s. While EC was exposing kids to the macabre in a more visceral sense, Classics Illustrated attempted to do so with a more literary approach.

You can see that in this month’s great comic book cover. Especially so in the way Mr Hyde is depicted. The inner self that Dr Jekyll releases through the use of an experimental chemical compound is shown to be more foreboding and dark than being pure, unbridled, Hedonistic evil. There’s no appearance of the monster in this Hyde. In fact, this Hyde looks more worried than anything else.

EC, on the other hand, certainly would have monstered it up had they produced a version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story. In fact, Classics Illustrated had two earlier versions of this cover (here and here) that did have a more monstrous Hyde. But, I really like the subtly of this version of the cover first released, as far as I can tell, in 1953. (Classics Illustrated‘s practice of frequently reissuing their titles, sometimes with new cover art, and vague date listings in their indicia make it difficult to be certain when these comic books were published.)

The art was done by Mort “Mutz” Kunstler. Mutz really uses the under lighting of his subjects to great effect. I also like his sense of realism. As I said, it is subtle and has a more sophisticated appearance than the previous two covers by Classics Illustrated, or anything by EC. It’s high brow art for those kids watching Howdy Doody.

I think it’s a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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Calling Estes Kefauver! Calling Estes Kefauver!

My main function as an employee of Nostalgia Zone is to grab a short box of comic books (150 or so), bring them home, enter them into our online catalog, and bring them back to the store and file them in their proper places. It’s essentially data entry, but way more fun because it’s comic books.

In the process of gathering data to enter, one of the tools I use is comics.org. That website is invaluable to me. It has an incredible amount of information on virtually every comic book ever made. I use it to get publication dates, artist and writer information, publishing companies, etc. I’ll also use it to make certain the comic book in my hand and the one entered in our catalog are the same. (Not all of our online entries include an image of the cover.) Comics.org helps with that because they have images of the covers, so when there are multiple series of the same name I’ll know I have it right.

Comics.org includes the variant covers as well. Variant covers became a big deal in the ’90s and, apparently, it’s still a thing today.

So, there I was entering comic books into the catalog when I came upon the Avatar Press series Crossed. I had never heard of Crossed or Avatar Press. Oh, boy. Was I in for an eye-opening (and stomach-turning) experience. Avatar Press produces some pretty edgy stuff, to say the least.

I was aware of the “torture porn” genre of horror films (I’m a fan of horror films, but “torture porn” ain’t my bag), but I hadn’t thought there was a comic book equivalent. Until yesterday, anyway. That’s when I first laid eyes on Crossed: Psychopath #1.

I went through my usual process and saw that this comic book had several variant covers. The one we have is the least disturbing of the batch (see below).

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Let me give you a quick idea of what the Crossed series (there are several) are all about. They are pretty much zombie stories. However, these zombies aren’t your typical slow moving, dimwitted zombies come back to life to eat brains. And they aren’t the fast moving, crazy, diseased people as depicted in the film 28 Days Later.

No, these zombies are people with a particular infection that leaves them as intelligent as they would normally be, but completely devoid of empathy, compassion, love, caring. They have lost all control over any violent tendencies they might have. In fact, they wantonly, gleefully! indulge in any and every evil act they can conceive. They have an irresistible drive to infect others. The infection is spread by bodily fluids and they come up with every disturbing, depraved, violent way of spreading their fluids to those victims they let live.

And they love to torture, maim, rape, and kill. These zombies are cannibals, much the same as most other zombies; however, these victims of the Crossed infection may resort to eating their own limbs should the idea strike their fancy.

The pages (and variant covers) are filled with torture and rape; slashed bodies; exposed brains; severed limbs; decapitations; terrorized people, including children; and blood. Lots and lots of blood.

Who writes this stuff? Who draws it? Who reads it?!

Actually, the artists and writers of these books aren’t exactly hacks trying to use shock value to compensate for lack of talent. The artwork is very well done and Avatar Press has some good writers. Writers that include Garth Ennis (the award winning writer of Preacher, Hellblazer, and Judge Dredd) and Alan Moore (the award winning writer of V For Vendetta, Swamp Thing, Watchman, and Batman: The Killing Joke), both are very talented and well-respected creators.

As to who reads it? Well… I just don’t know.

So, I was looking through the variant covers (I won’t post any here, but I will post links you can follow if you’re curious enough) for Crossed: Psychopath #1. There is a cover that is a wrap-around (art on both front and back) showing innocent children happily getting on a playground slide that feeds them into a wood chipper. The remains of the chipped children are shown splashing through the air covering everything and everyone in blood and guts. Much to the delight of the infected.

This is some very sick, twisted sh#t!

I was appalled! But I was more upset by one of the alternative covers for that same issue that shows a terrified child seeing the hanging, nude, slashed, and bloodied body of a woman, I presume to be the child’s mother. Standing behind the child we see one of the infected holding a bloody butcher knife. WTF?!

I should have stopped there, but I just couldn’t. I checked other issues with variant covers. I looked at Crossed: Family Values #1. There is one cover that, in particular, got to me. Again it involved a small child completely terrified, crying with no hope of being comforted; because she was surrounded by three infected women, covered in blood, smiling as though taking a family picture and completely enjoying the evil they are creating…

It was then that I actually began to feel faint. Now, believe me, I don’t normally have a very squeamish nature. At least not overwhelmingly squeamish. I’ve see some pretty nasty images in my life. I’ve seen disturbing art. I’ve even drawn some awfully visceral stuff myself. But the whole concept of these comic books and the depiction of those crying children got a bit too much for me.

I do have a history of panic attacks and passing out. So, I have experienced that feeling of beginning to go, as it were. I have learned how to get myself back together and keep from completely losing consciousness. I managed to calm myself down and keep my senses.

Now, don’t get the idea that I think these comics shouldn’t exist. I’m a staunch supporter of the First Amendment. I believe that if a comic book company wants to produce “torture porn” they damn well have that right. Sure, prohibit minors from purchasing it until they are old enough and mature enough to handle it. Of course, at 51, I think I’ve demonstrated I still may not be able to handle it. But, if there are people who enjoy this sick and twisted sh#t? Well, that’s their bag.

I was reminded that there was a time when comic books came under fire in the 1950s. The US Senate had a subcommittee hold hearings on how EC Comics was leading to juvenile delinquency. Senator Estes Kefauver (and you thought I wasn’t going to explain the headline reference) was particularly upset by the cover of Crime SuspenStories #22 (see below).

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The good Senator from Tennessee grilled EC Comics’ publisher William Gaines, who would later publish the brilliant satire magazine Mad, over the tastelessness of the cover depicting a man holding a bloody axe in one hand and a woman’s severed head in the other. Gaines thought the cover was fine and said that kids were not the intended audience, but he didn’t mention he had the artist tone it down a little before going to press.

Those hearings lead to the formation of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) to make sure comic books weren’t too detrimental to America’s youth. The CCA held sway over what was permissible in comic books, so if any publisher wanted their stamp of approval, they’d have to toe the line. The CCA began losing its grip on the publishers in the 2000s and by 2011 had ceased to exist.

I may not be into “torture porn” comic books and movies, but there are people who enjoy that sort of thing. I support their right to consume such material and the right of creators to produce it. I just won’t be buying any of it any time soon. And, with any luck, I won’t be entering any more into our online catalog.

Packing Peanuts!

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