The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part 14

Welcome to the 14th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I previously posted these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge posed by group moderator Jim Thompson was to pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject.  The subject I chose was Coffee.

66) Ramón Torrents

“Good to the Last Drop” was drawn by Ramón Torrents and written by Martin Pasko.  It appeared in Vampirella #36, released by Warren Publishing in September 1974.

Christina Kavanaugh, heiress to the Miller Foods fortune, has been having an affair with Bill Wright, VP of Product Improvement.  Unfortunately her husband Jim, current President of Miller Foods, has just found out.  As we see, Jim reacts badly to the news, brutally slapping Christina while she is having her morning coffee.  Jim slaps his wife so hard that she hits her head against the grandfather clock, causing her death.  This leads the grieving, still-jealous Jim to embark on a very twisted plot to gain revenge on Bill Wright, a scheme that centers on Miller Foods’ production of freeze dried coffee.  Fortunately by the end of this grim little tale karma has boomeranged back on Jim, leading him to a fitting end.

“Good to the Last Drop” appears to have afforded Martin Pasko an opportunity to let his very skewed, offbeat sense of humor go extremely wild.  The story is effectively illustrated by Ramón Torrents, a Spanish artist who had previously worked for British publishers Fleetway and D.C. Thompson on several romance titles in the 1960s, followed by short horror stories for American publisher Skywald in the early 1970s.  Torrents drew a number of stories for Warren that saw print in Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie and between 1973 and 1979.  Reportedly he left the comic book field at the end of that decade.

67) Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick

“Power Shortage” from Sabrina the Teenage Witch #60, penciled by Dan DeCarlo, inked by Rudy Lapick, written by Frank Doyle, lettered by Bill Yashida, and colored by Barry Grossman, published by Archie Comics in June 1980.

Sabrina and her boyfriend Harvey are walking home from school when they see a flying carpet whiz by carrying groceries.  Sabrina rushes home and demands to know why her Aunt Hilda is using a flying carpet during the middle of the day.  Hilda explains that she forgot her weekly magical recharge again.  She doesn’t have the power to just “zap” some groceries home like she usually does, and needs to rely on the carpet.  To demonstrate her weakened power, Hilda attempts to levitate her coffee cup over, and it crashes to the floor.  Sabrina tells her Aunt she had better get a recharge soon.  Hilda then realizes that she forgot to pick up lemons at the market, and she sends the flying carpet out again.  Naturally enough, hilarity ensues.

Dan DeCarlo was definitely adept at drawing comedy.  His style was very well suited to Archie Comics, where he did great work for nearly half a century, from the early 1950s to the late 1990s.  For many years DeCarlo’s art served as the basis for the company’s house style.  Sabrina the Teenage Witch was one of the characters he had a hand in creating.

68) Mike Zeck & Denis Rodier

Damned #3, penciled by Mike Zeck, inked by Denis Rodier, written by Steven Grant, and colored by Kurt Goldzung, published by Image Comics in August 1997.

Damned features the recently-paroled Mick Thorne, who is attempting to deliver a message to the sister of his deceased cellmate Doug Orton.  Unfortunately, New Covenant crime boss Silver believes that Mick knows the location of the fortune that Doug stole from the mob before going to prison.  Mick has to avoid Silver’s thugs while trying to locate Doug’s elusive sister.

In this scene Charlotte Dahl of the State Parole Office is working late, attempting to track down Mick, as well as figure out who murdered Mick’s parole officer.  Drinking coffee to keep awake, Charlotte and her assistant begin looking through the files of other ex-cons who are now in New Covenant, searching for any kind of link to Mick.

Damned was a four issue crime noir miniseries that reunited Steven Grant and Mike Zeck, the creative team that had successfully launched the Punisher into super-stardom a decade earlier.  Damned was collected together by Cybrosia Publishing in 2003 with a new epilogue by Grant & Zeck and behind-the-scenes material.  The collected edition was reissued in 2013 by BOOM! Studios.

I’m a huge fan of Zeck, and I really enjoyed his work on this miniseries.  Rodier’s inking was a good fit for the tone of the story.  I definitely recommend picking up the trade paperback.

69) Art Saaf & Vince Colletta

“Never a Bride to Be” from Falling In Love #117, penciled by Art Saaf and inked by Vince Colletta, published by DC Comics in August 1970.

Another coffee page from a romance story?  What is it with people drinking coffee in romance comics?  Maybe that’s why everyone is so emotional and melodramatic; too much caffeine!

Lisa, the boss’ daughter, has invited young, handsome British engineer Derek over to dinner with her family.  It’s all part of a plan to try to get Derek interested in Lisa’s shy sister Dottie.  Derek and Dottie are soon dating, but Dottie is worried that Lisa is going to try to steal him away.  Indeed, Lisa soon realizes that she is attracted to Derek after all.  What’s a girl to do?

Art Saaf’s career stretched back to the Golden Age.  He did a great deal of work for Fiction House throughout the 1940s, and then for Standard Comics in the late 1940s and early 50s.  In the mid 1950s Saaf began working in television; among his jobs was creating storyboards for The Jackie Gleason Show.  He did feelance advertising work throughout the 1960s, and returned to comic books at the end of the decade.  Between 1969 and 1974 he drew a number of romance stories for DC Comics, several issues of Supergirl, and a handful of war and horror tales.

Saaf is paired here with Vince Colletta, one of his regular inkers at DC.  Colletta’s inking is fairly heavy, but you can still perceive Saaf’s expert storytelling and use of facial expressions & body language to establish the personalities of the characters.  He certainly does an excellent job differentiating between the outgoing Lisa and introverted Dottie here.  I like the awkward humor of those bottom two panels and Lisa and her parents none-too-subtly leave Dottie and Derek to have coffee alone together.

Saaf and Colletta both excelled at drawing beautiful women, so pairing them up was perhaps an inspired choice, after all.  Romance comics historian Jacque Nodell expressed a fondness for their collaborations on her blog Sequential Crush.

70) Sergio Cariello & James Pascoe

Here are two coffee-drinking pages from Azrael: Agent of the Bat penciled by Denny O’Neil, penciled by Sergio Cariello, and colored by Rob Ro & Alex Bleyaert, from DC Comics.  Issue #83 was inked by James Pascoe and lettered by Ken Bruzenak, published December 2001.  Issue #99 was inked by Cariello and lettered by Jack Morelli, published April 2003.

On the first page Lilhy, a member of the sinister Order of St. Dumas, seeks to understand the nature of evil.  She visits the Joker, currently incarcerated at the maximum security prison the Slab, to see if the insane super-villain can offer any insights.  Unfortunately she arrives just as the Joker releases a modified form of his “Joker venom” that transforms everyone in the Slab into doppelgangers of the Clown Prince of Crime.

The now-Jokerized Lilhy returns to Gotham City, where she meets with the psychiatrist Bryan.  Over coffee Bryan attempts to explain to Lilhy that humanity has struggled to understand the nature of evil throughout its entire existence.

On the second page Azrael, aka Jean-Paul Valley, is meeting with Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who has recently been treating him.  Due to the genetic manipulation and brainwashing inflicted upon Jean-Paul in his childhood by the Order, he has been experiencing serious health issues, as well as another bout of mental instability.  It appears that at long last Jean-Paul has finally stabilized, both physically and psychologically.  Over coffee with Leslie, the directionless Jean-Paul wonders what to do next.  She urges him to try to live his own life, and find happiness.

“The Evil Men Do” and “Last Respects” are written by the legendary Denny O’Neil, who passed away in June at the age of 81.  O’Neil co-created Azrael and wrote the entirety of the character’s solo series, which ran for 100 issues.  He appeared to have a fondness for the character.  Interviewed about Azrael in 2009, O’Neil had this to say…

“I wish I’d done one or two things differently, and I think the series kind of lost its way for a while in the middle of the run.  But all that aside…I don’t think there’s ever been a character exactly like Az before or since and I generally enjoyed working on him.  I wish the 100th issue could have been stronger, but it was wonderful of Mike [Carlin] to let me write it; I was only weeks past major surgery at the time and maybe a ways from my best.”

O’Neil was an intelligent and contemplative individual, qualities that were frequently present in his writing.  Although the “Joker: Last Laugh” crossover was a ridiculous event, O’Neil appears to have used this tie-in issue to briefly touch upon the subjective nature of human morality, and our struggles to understand if our actions are ethical.

Likewise, as I recently discussed on this blog, O’Neil utilized Leslie Thompins, another character he created, as a counterpoint to Batman and Azrael.  Leslie is passionately dedicated to fighting for social justice, but she is an avowed pacifist.  In the last storyline of this series O’Neil had Leslie calling out Batman for dragging the emotionally damaged Azrael further into a life of endless violence, and she works closely with Jean-Paul hoping that she will get him to see that he can walk his own path.

Brazilian-born Sergio Cariello penciled Azrael from issue #69 to the finale in issue #100.  He was initially paired with James Pasco, who inked the series for seven years.  On the last nine issues Cariello inked his own work.

Cariello was a student at the Joe Kubert School, and he later taught there.  Thinking about it, I suppose you could describe Cariello’s work as a cartoony version of Kubert’s style.  The Kubert influence certainly became more apparent in the issues where Cariello did full artwork.  It’s another good demonstration of how different inkers affect the look of the finished art.

I actually did another 30 of these Daily Comic Book Coffee entries on the Comic Book Historians group for a grand total of 100. At some point I may re-post the rest of them here on my blog. However, all of the entries have already been archived by Rik Offenberger at First Comics News. Rik is also responsible for the nifty Daily Comic Book Coffee banner seen at the top of this blog post. Thanks again, Rik.

First Comics News is currently presenting my Comic Book Cats posts, as well. I hope you will check them out.

Thanksgiving deja vu: comic book homages to Norman Rockwell

One of the most iconic images associated with the American holiday Thanksgiving is Norman Rockwell’s painting Freedom from Want.  Painted by Rockwell in November 1942, it was published in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I am going to quote from Wikipedia here, and hopefully it’s accurate!

“Freedom from Want” by Norman Rockwell

Freedom from Want, also known as The Thanksgiving Picture or I’ll Be Home for Christmas, is the third of the Four Freedoms series of four oil paintings by American artist Norman Rockwell. The works were inspired by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms.

The website Totally History offers the following analysis of the painting’s composition:

The painting depicts three generations of a family around a table at Thanksgiving. The father is standing at the head of the table as the mother is about to place a large turkey in front of him.

The opulence of the turkey is counterbalanced by the relative scarcity of other foods on the table and the presence of water as the only beverage.

Over the past 75 years Freedom From Want has been the subject of numerous homages and parodies, including within the comic book medium.  For my tongue-in-cheek celebration of Thanksgiving this year, here are 10 of those images.

JSA 54 cover

Probably one of the best well-known comic book covers to pay tribute to Freedom From Want is JSA #54 (Jan 2004) from DC Comics.  Drawn by Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino, this cover features Superman and Power Girl serving Thanksgiving dinner to the Justice Society and Justice League. I am going to abstain from making any comments about “breast or leg” here, although the jokes do sort of write themselves. Sorry, Power Girl!

American Flagg 4 Thanksgiving

Nobody does political satire in comic books quite like the legendary Howard Chaykin.  Here is a panel from American Flagg! #4 (Jan 1984) from First Comics, featuring one of the most dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinners you are likely to ever come across.

Evil Clown Comics 4 cover

Hmmm, this turkey tastes a little funny.  Ha ha ha… sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.  Anyway, speaking of dysfunctional, not to mention just plain disturbing, here is the cover to Evil Clown Comics #4 by the late Alan Kupperberg from 1989. I’ve never found any physical copies of this series, but I believe that it collected together the Evil Clown Comics stories by Kupperberg that were published in National Lampoon.

Garfield 7 variant cover

A slightly less unsettling image is offered up on this variant cover to Garfield #7 (Nov 2012) published by Boom! Studios.  I’m certain anyone who has ever had cats can identify with the danger of your feline companions attempting to make off with the Thanksgiving turkey.  It’s certainly happened to us on a couple of occasions!

Flare 31 cover

The talented and much-underrated Gordon Purcell offers up this lovely tribute to Rockwell on his cover for Flare #31 (Feb 2006) from Dennis Mallonee’s Heroic Publishing, which has been releasing fun, entertaining comic books since the mid 1980s.

Barbie Fashion 37 cover

Back in the early 1990s Marvel Comics had not one, but two ongoing Barbie comic book series, both of which lasted for several years.  Both titles had some talented creators working on them.  It was probably one of Marvel’s more successful efforts to reach a young female audience. Here’s the cover to Barbie Fashion #37 (Jan 1994) by Anna-Marie Cool & Jeff Albrecht.

Chase 6 cover

Chase was one of those really good titles from the 1990s that unfortunately never really found an audience and was cancelled too soon.  D. Curtis Johnson did some really great writing on this series.  Cameron Chase had some serious family issues, so of course here we are flashing back to Thanksgiving of days past on the cover to issue #6 (July 1998).  This striking image is by the superb team of J. H. Williams III & Mick Gray.

Mad Magazine 39 pg 43

Good old MAD Magazine, always ready to skewer politics, pop culture and society! This send-up of The Saturday Evening Post is from issue #39, published waaaay back in May 1958.  Unfortunately I have not been able to find a credit for the artist.  Can anyone help out?

Update: As per the link helpfully provided by M.S. Wilson in the comments below, this piece was done by regular MAD contributors writer Tom Koch & artist Bob Clarke.

Fantastic Four 564 cover

Marvel’s First Family celebrates Thanksgiving on the cover to Fantastic Four # 564 (April 2009) by Bryan Hitch.  I’m sure that, among the various things for which the Invisible Woman is thankful for this year, it’s that Reed Richards opted to slice up the turkey in the traditional manner, as opposed to inventing an Atomic Powered Turkey Carver which would have undoubtedly blown the roof off of the Baxter Building.

Betty 119 cover

Let’s close things out with the cover to Betty #119 (Jan 2003) by Stan Goldberg & Bob Smith, which has the gang from Riverdale celebrating Thanksgiving, complete with Reggie Mantle’s usual snarky comments.  I’m not completely certain if this cover is a specific homage to Rockwell, but it is certainly close enough.  In any case, Archie Comics too often falls under the radar, which is too bad, since they have some really great art.

(This was by no means a comprehensive list, and a quick search of the internet will reveal many more tributes to Freedom From Want.)

I hope everyone enjoyed this little selection of Thanksgiving-themed comic book artwork.  Have a good holiday, and let’s all try to be thankful for for what we have, because there are a lot of people much less fortunate in the world.

Comic book reviews: Necronomicon

Halloween is right around the corner, so once again I am going to take a look at a horror comic book series that I really enjoyed.  A few years back, BOOM! Studios published a number of series inspired by the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.  For the uninformed, Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) was one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century.  He was very effectively melded aspects of the supernatural with science fiction, creating eerie, unsettling tales of “cosmic horror” and alien-spawned entities from the dawn of time exerting influence upon the present day.  Among the Lovecraftian titles released by BOOM! was the Necronomicon miniseries, written by William Messner-Loebs, with artwork by Andrew Ritchie and covers by J.K. Woodward.  Originally serialized in 2008, the four issues were collected into a trade paperback in 2009.

The eponymous Necronomicon is, within the fictional universe devised by Lovecraft, a tome of ancient, dark, powerful knowledge compiled over a thousand years ago by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred.  Throughout Lovecraft’s stories, characters often foolishly sought out the Necronomicon, either to uncover the secrets of Earth’s pre-history, or in the hopes of discovering methods to revive the now-banished god-like beings which once inhabited the planet.

Necronomicon TPB cover

Set in 1924, Messner-Loebs’ story focuses on Henry Said, the son of an Arabian merchant who is studying engineering at Miskatonic University.  Henry, although struggling with his major, is a polyglot who possesses an incredible aptitude for quickly comprehending new languages.  His remarkable abilities come to the attention of the Miskatonic’s theosophist society, composed of both faculty & students and headed up by Randolph Carter (who happens to bear a more than passing resemblance to H.P. himself).  The society is hoping that Henry can translate the Necronomicon, providing them a copy of the text in English.  At the urgings of his friends Jeremiah “Maxey” Maxwell and Rachel Schiff, Henry agrees to take on the task.  Soon, however, as he begins to experience strange dreams & unearthly sensations, Henry realizes the Necronomicon is no ordinary book.  This is confirmed when strange creatures masquerading as human beings attempt to steal the Necronomicon from the university.

As much as I am a fan of Lovecraft’s stories, I do have to admit that there were certain formulaic elements to his writing.  One of these is that his protagonists were typically middle aged white male academics.  When non-Caucasian or female characters did appear, they were usually depicted in an unflattering light, as servants of the various “Old Ones” who were threatening to once again encroach upon the Earth.  Unfortunately, it’s likely that Lovecraft’s own xenophobia and racism played a major part in this.  One of his primary themes is fear of displacement by some degenerate group of “others” or, worse, the discovery by his characters that they were connected by tainted bloodlines to those outsiders.

Therefore, it was very interesting to read Messner-Loebs’ story, which seems to have deliberately subverted this.  Henry is a foreign-born Muslim, and Rachel is a Jew possessing fervent Zionist ideologies.  Of the three protagonists, Maxey is the only WASP, and he is actually a rather dim fellow who is having an affair behind Rachel’s back, sleeping with a blonde-haired girl who makes anti-Semitic remarks.

Necronomicon 1 pg 7

Writing from the perspective of Henry, the outsider to American society, enables Messner-Loebs to look at the bizarre, disturbing events with an alternate point of view.  Indeed, it is Henry’s awareness that he is a stranger in a strange land, and his empathy for others who are in similar situations, who are looked upon as different, feared & scorned, that ultimately leads to his salvation.

Messner-Loebs also provides a glimpse into the possible history of the infamous Abdul Alhazred himself.  A number of commentators on Lovecraft’s writings over the years have noted that this is not a genuine Arab name, but rather something the author devised which sounded foreign & mysterious.  I believe, though, that Messner-Loebs is the first individual to expand on Lovecraft’s mythos who actually addresses this fact in-story.  Henry, originating from the Middle East, immediately realizes that “Abdul Alhazred” cannot be a genuine name.  But if so, then what was the true identity of the author of the Necronomicon?  Messner-Loebs offers up an interesting theory within his story.

When I was in high school and college, I enjoyed Messner-Loebs’ writing on Flash, Wonder Woman, and various other titles.  Regrettably he has not been employed as frequently within the last decade or so.  I was certainly happy to see him writing this miniseries for BOOM! and, indeed, it was on the strength of his past work that I purchased it.  Necronomicon is a very effective synthesis of the themes found in Lovecraft’s original writings and Messner-Loebs’ own sensibilities as an author.

Necronomicon 1 pg 20

I am not familiar with Andrew Ritchie, who illustrates and colors the miniseries.  I did a Google search to see what else he’s worked on and located his Tumblr site, which contains some really nice artwork.  It reminds me a bit of Charlie Adlard’s work.  Ritchie’s style is certainly well-suited to this miniseries.  He definitely imbues a macabre sensibility and atmosphere to the story.  Richie’s depictions of the Mi-Go and the Elder Ones have a genuine quality of the alien and unearthly to them.  And his renderings of Henry’s Necronomicon-spawned visions into other times and other worlds have the unsettling, sickly feel of a fever dream.

The cover work by J.K. Woodward is quite good.  These were done by him several years ago, earlier in his career, and consequently perhaps not nearly as polished as his recent amazing work on the Star Trek / Doctor Who crossover published by IDW.  That said, even back then it was obvious that Woodward had real talent & potential.  His cover for the first issue, a depiction of Lovecraft’s cosmic entity Cthulhu, is very striking.

If you are in the mood for an interesting, somewhat different interpretation on Lovecraft’s now-iconic legacy, the Necronomicon series is well worth a read, especially right around this time of year.  Happy Halloween!