Thursday, October 9, 2014

Unlikely Romance - "I Married a Ghost" from The Witching Hour #15 (June/July 1971)

Cover art by Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour #15
(June/July 1971)

October is upon us! And that can mean only one thing -- it's time for a good ghost story! This evening, I have for you "I Married a Ghost" from The Witching Hour #15 (June/July 1971). This story is a little outside the realm of romance comic books, but I think you'll agree that it definitely has romance comic book elements to it; and, with good reason. Not only was the cover of the issue illustrated by Sequential Crush favorite Nick Cardy, the interior art chores for the featured story were completed by Art Saaf -- a frequent romance comic book contributor. The story, written by "Al Case" (a pseudonym of Murray Boltinoff) also has a flair for the romantic. Though "I Married a Ghost" isn't a typical romance story, I think you'll enjoy the subtle touches you may recognize from the romance comics, along with its hefty dose of spooky horror tropes!

The story begins with a car crash, a theme used often in romance comics. On the splash page, Jennifer and Gil are introduced by Mordred, one of the witch narrators from The Witching Hour series. The couple is shown taking a drive the night before their wedding. Jennifer is scared the meeting will incur bad luck, but Gil chalks her fears up to silly superstitions. 

Unfortunately, fate is cruel and and it turns out Gil is wrong. Dead wrong. While he survives the crash, poor Jennifer does not. Gil however, can sense her presence after she is declared deceased and exclaims to his friend, "Jack, she's still alive! Can't you almost see her spirit?"

Though we readers along with Gil can see Jennifer's ghostly form, Jack cannot, and is rightfully spooked when he is sent by Gil to fetch a bouquet. Gil is going to marry Jennifer -- alive or not!

Jack goes along with Gil's grief-stricken demands, and handsomely compensates a none too happy justice of the peace for his troubles. And with that, Gil and Jennifer become husband and "wife." After the ceremony, Gil insists on carrying his new bride over the threshold of the house he bought for them on Thunder Hill.

By the end of the week, Jack has made an appointment with a psychiatrist for Gil. When Jack goes to pick up his friend to try to get him to the city to see the doctor, Gil lets him know that he is busy working on something. As Gil leads Jack into his studio to show him the painting of Jennifer he's been working on, they pass by the dining room table which hasn't been cleared. Gil apologizes for the mess and says that Jennifer hasn't yet had time to clean up breakfast. Jack is taken aback when he realizes that both settings have been used! Jack wonders -- has he descended into madness along with Gil?

Gil is aware that everyone in town thinks he's a nut. He keeps the shades drawn to prevent prying eyes, and his trips into town for groceries are unpleasant to say the least. After a violent attack on a mouthy townsperson, Jack grows increasingly worried over his friend. The morning after Gil's outburst, Jack goes to Gil's house to check on him. Upon entering, Jack is overwhelmed by gas. When he finds Gil strewn about on the bed, he finds that he has arrived just in the nick of time.

When Gil comes to, Jack inquires why he turned the gas jet on in the first place. Gil can only answer that he has no recollection of it. As Jack passes by the jet on his way back from calling the doctor, he feels a cool breeze and gets a faint whiff of Jennifer's perfume. He also sees a piece of torn gossamer-like cloth by the jet.

Finally, the doctor arrives to cart Gil off to treatment and help him realize that Jennifer is really dead. As the story ends and Gil is safe in the care of a doctor, we are left wondering -- will Jack be able to return to reality, or will he too be sucked in to Jennifer's otherworldly charms?

Bonus! The splash page of the issue features the three witches of the series, Cynthia, Mildred, and Mordred introducing the stories that ensue. This panel from the splash featuring witch Cynthia, gives a nod to the social climate of the time, and is reminiscent of the themes and language of romance comics in the 1970s! Just another reason this issue of The Witching Hour is worthy of the moniker, "Unlikely Romance!"

Cynthia the witch does her own thing!
For more The Witching Hour with a story also illustrated by a romance comic book artist (Lee Elias) check out this post over at Detective Comics' Pages of Fear!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Green Lantern, Romance Comics, and a Few Thoughts on Wizard World Nashville!

Danny Fingeroth and I after the panel!
Wizard World Nashville 2014
(photo by James L. Carey)

I'm back from Wizard World Nashville! Ok -- not really "back" per se since I live in the Music City, but the convention is over and it's "back" to things as usual. A big thank you to those that came out to the convention and listened to me speak with Danny Fingeroth! The panel went really well and was great fun. I think this was the first time I spoke at length in one panel about both my grandfather's contributions to the industry, as well as my own endeavors -- but hopefully not my last!

A couple of the images I used in my presentation.
I had a fun time connecting the dots between my passion
for romance comics and my family history!

Overall, the convention was a good time. As one of the newer Wizard shows, it still has some growing to do, but it did seem larger than last year. It was also noticeably laid out better, with Artist Alley more centrally located. The lack of actual comic book dealers was disappointing, but I was prepared for it based on last year's rather poor selection. I do hope that the show continues to grow, especially in the actual arena of comic books!

Did any of you attend? Will you be going to any other upcoming conventions anywhere? Feel free to share! For more updates about things like convention appearances and talks, sign up for the Sequential Crush email newsletter here!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hey Y'all! Come See Me at Wizard World Nashville!

Hey there! If you are in the Nashville area and attending Wizard World this weekend, I'd like to invite you to come see my panel with Danny Fingeroth Saturday morning! I'd love to see you! And if you do come, be sure to say hello after! See more of the show's programming schedule here, and get a glimpse at what I'll be speaking about below. As always, thank you for your support!

Not only is Jacque Nodell the creator of the Sequential Crush blog, which “tells all” about the history of romance comics (be on the lookout for her upcoming book on the topic!), she’s also the granddaughter of Martin Nodell, creator of the original GREEN LANTERN! Join Jacque and moderator Danny Fingeroth (Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society; Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero) as they discuss the amazing world of romance comics as well as her grandfather’s amazing career, in which he created Green Lantern (with Batman co-creator Bill Finger), drew Captain America for Stan Lee, and was in on the birth of the Pillsbury Dough Boy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Romance In Memoriam - Celebrating Stan Goldberg

A few days ago, on August 31st, we lost another comic book great -- Stan Goldberg. He was 82 years old. Stan had an extensive career both penciling and coloring, and is primarily known for his work on teen humor titles such as Millie the Model, Patsy Walker, Swing with Scooter, and Archie. Let's take a minute today to remember Stan and his art!

 Cover art by Sal Buscema

Though Stan's work on the teen titles is plentiful, his work on the romance comics is much rarer. The story I have for you today, "How Do I Love Thee?" originally presented in Our Love Story #12 (August 1972) is actually the only romance story of his that I could think of off the top of my head. Written by Stan Lee and inked by Frank Giacoia, Stan Goldberg's pencils tell a simple story that asks the question, how do you know when you've met the one? Stan Goldberg answered with whimsy and a hefty dose of romantic fun.

Connie is torn up over breaking up with boyfriend, Bennett. Things were great -- until he asked her to marry him, that is. She then promptly freaked and made a break for it. Her pain over the split is relatable. Maybe she was too hasty in canning him? Maybe, it was all a big mistake! Connie's friend from work, Daphne, volunteers to set Connie up with her boyfriend's new singing partner to help forget the whole thing.

So Daphne takes Connie to the recording studio, and Connie is totally smitten with the "outtasite" Jeff. And who can blame her, with that fringed jacket and everything?! Wowzas!

The two lovebirds really hit it off, but when Jeff pops the question, Connie just can't even. After breaking things off with Jeff, Connie feels terrible and like something is truly wrong with her. The next day, Daphne apologizes for her bad matchmaking skills, but Connie replies, "It's my fault, Daphne! Maybe I don't know what I want!"

But Connie doesn't stay down in the dumps for long, for low and behold, who is that man in the office? What sort of office do they work in you ask? No clue. Clearly an office that allows the wearing of hotpants. But I digress... the mystery man is a romance writer!

Connie makes her move (which most certainly was frowned upon in dating advice just a few years prior) and the two find a nice quiet spot to begin their romance.

The two prove to be a match, and the rest, as they say, is a perfect mingling of polyester and dacron. Err.. I mean, heart and soul!

I enjoyed this short and sweet story quite a bit. No doubt imbued with that special Goldberg touch, Connie is depicted as confident, and yet, she is drawn with just enough vulnerability to make her love troubles believable. She sticks up for what she wants, and is bold about doing so.

Thank you, Mr. Goldberg, for all you have given us comic book fans. We won't forget you!

For more in depth information about Stan Goldberg and some great photographs, take a look at Michael Vassallo's Timely-Atlas-Comics memorial post here

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Artist Spotlight - Tony Abruzzo

Tony Abruzzo Cover Pencils
Falling in Love #95 (November 1967)

Writing about comic book history wouldn't be nearly as fun or gratifying were it not for the amazing community surrounding it. There are so many wonderful people studying comic books who are willing to share their time, knowledge, and expertise in a field which we are all collectively trying to understand. In the grand scheme of things, it is still a very new field of study and we all benefit from one another's research. Anyhow, one such fellow scholar, Steve Rowe,* contacted me a while back and gave me some information on the iconic romance comic book artist Tony Abruzzo. It came at a time when it was most appreciated; quite a few other people had been asking me if I had any information about Abruzzo, and at the time, I was pretty much at a loss. So, thanks to Steve and his generosity, I now have some more information on Abruzzo to share for all our benefit!

"Mad Mad Modes for Moderns"
Heart Throbs #107 (April/May 1967)

Before I dive in to what I've learned about Tony Abruzzo, it is important to understand the reason why Abruzzo is so darn important. Besides the fact that Abruzzo was an extremely talented artist in his own right, he is in need of remembrance because his work in large part, is what Roy Lichtenstein built his fame on. Now, the whole Lichtenstein thing is a topic for another post, but I don't think anyone can deny Abruzzo's significance in the history of not only comics, but in popular culture and the arts in general.

Abruzzo and Lichtenstein -- Side by Side
from David Barsalou's Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein

The coolest thing Steve dug up was a 1942 Long Island Daily Press newspaper article about Abruzzo. The article was a great help in tracking down Abruzzo's census information, since the article gave his civilian address at the time. Utilizing the article, the 1940 census, and the United States Social Security Death Index, I was able to come up with a few tidbits. Born June 21st, 1916, Anthony Abruzzo was of Italian heritage. His occupation on the 1940 census is listed as "Fashion Artist" for a dress house. After a career in both the military and the arts, he passed away December 30th, 1990. Though it appears that Abruzzo remained unmarried and without children, he left behind a prolific body of work. The newspaper article is a really great read, and gives us a snapshot of Abruzzo as a young artist:

Dress Designer's Doing Swell Illustrating Lines of Jeeps

     It wasn't so long ago Tony Abruzzo of Ozone Park was designing dresses and his creations were eagerly snapped up by many of Park Avenue's best-dressed women.
     Now he is at Fort Knox, Ky., drawing tanks, scout cars and jeeps for special training manuals prepared for members of the Army Armored Force.
     The ex-dress designer, now Corporal Abruzzo, is doing a swell job at his new assignment.
     One of his superior officers, describing the military sketches, said:
     "They are a far cry from the old style diagrams. Abruzzo's drawings have perspective. They show the reader exactly what happens under given military situations."
     Until he was called to service on Jan. 28, Corporal Abruzzo resided at 102-03 103rd avenue. He lived in Ozone Park for 14 years.
     Abruzzo studied at Pratt Institute and the Traphagen Institute of Design.
     In addition to creating dress designs, he did fashion ads for the big stores and sold free lance sketches.
     "I was all ready to go to Paris," he said, "when the Nazi war machine changed my plans. Then I was called to service so I'll have to forget about dress designing for the duration."
     His aunt was a dressmaker and, as a girl in Italy, his grandmother made trosseaus [sic] for the royal family.
     He sketches dress designs in his spare time and vainly tries to find copies of the current fashion magazines at the Post Exchange.
     "But I don't have much spare time," he grinned. "Every day, and quite a few nights, I'm making illustrations for the Army training manuals.
     "And I don't think the Army khaki needs redesigning. It's made for fighting and I can't think of any improvements.
     "Until the war is over, I draw tanks instead of dresses."

There really isn't a whole lot of concrete information about Abruzzo besides the previously mentioned items. I have not been able to find any details on how he entered into the comic book business, or what he did after, but his legacy remains in the pages of the romance comics. I will certainly do an update if I acquire any more information on this important artist and fascinating man.

With a signature tilted neck, Abruzzo's characters
are equal parts sweet and sassy
"Mad Mad Modes for Moderns"
Young Love #63 (September/October 1967)

Abruzzo frequently used floral motifs in his work
Young Romance #144 (October/November 1966)

Steve suggested I get in touch with Robin Snyder** and see if he had any information on Abruzzo from Robert Kanigher's files. When I contacted Robin Snyder he wrote to me in an email,

"I have been looking for this fellow for over 30 years. He is the great lost mystery man of the comics. Tony worked for National for about 20 years and no one could tell me his name when I uncovered a huge number of pages of his original artwork during my tour of duty there. I advertised for help and asked everyone at the company. No one knew or cared. You may have noticed most fans dismiss love unless it is in a so-called super title... 

"Love 'Em and Leave 'Em!"
Pencils: Tony Abruzzo
Girls' Romances #131 (March 1968)

...Robert Kanigher walked into my office one day, glanced at the pages, and asked me what I was doing with so many pages by Tony Abruzzo. Several years later I was sitting on a convention panel with John Romita and mentioned this mystery. He not only remembered Tony but told me he had inked some of his stories. That is just about it. How is that for a tragic love story?"

"Too Late for Love!"
Pencils: Tony Abruzzo
Young Romance #153 (April/May 1968)

Tragic indeed. So today, let's remember and celebrate this amazing artist who doesn't get nearly enough credit for his contributions to modern culture, and hope that someday, more clues on the life of this talented man will surface. 

*You can find Steve Rowe's blog, A History of Comics here. He also was a columnist for the old The Comic Reader, and served as a senior editor of Jerry Bails' Who's Who.
**There's still a little bit of time (just a little over 24 hours) to help Robin Snyder's project with Steve Ditko, Mr. A, via Kickstarter! Click here to help!

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