Thursday, 30 July 2009

Nanny Dickering

We always looked at Cracked as the poor relation to Mad, often buying it but usually with a 'nhh, it's not as good' shrug of the shoulders. And sure Mad had Mort Drucker, it had Don Martin, it had Sergio Aragones and Al Jaffee and Dave Berg and all the rest of The Usual Gang Of Idiots.
But Cracked had Nanny Dickering.


Immortalized by legendary ( and legendarily filthy ) Good Girl artist Bill Ward, Nanny was based on then TV newscaster Nancy Dickerson, and appeared in each issue of Cracked interviewing everyone from Stephen King to Hugh Hefner, all the while threatening to fall out of her two sizes too small dress, and generally helping the readers get through puberty.
Here she is interviewing one of those said fanboys, and though this isn't Bill at his best ( in fact it feels a bit like a Ward copy rather than the real thing ) it was the only full-length example of the strip I could find on the net, having long ago lost my Cracked collection. I mean, come on fellas, if any character deserved her own tribute site, It's this girl! I can't be the only one who used to read this strip with my eyes out on stalks like the wolf in that old cartoon, can I?





Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Bat Lash


Bat Lash probably holds the prize for "Most loved, well remembered title that only lasted a few issues and that nobody bought at the time anyway." Preceding Jonah Hex by a good four years, Bat Lash was the first of the Bronze Age cowboys, drawing inspiration more from the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood than the John Wayne horse operas that gave rise to the likes of The Rawhide Kid, The Two-Gun Kid & Tomahawk.


The fantastic illo above was created when all DC really had was a title, and a vague idea, and seems much more Hex than the strip Bat Lash became. He was created by the committee of Carmine Infantino, Joe Orlando & Sergio Aragones, to be a different kind of cowboy hero. At least partially inspired by the Maverick TV show, Bartholomew Alouysius Lash was a charming, devil-may-care drifter who loved fine food, beautiful women and flowers, and not always in that order. He was also a peace-loving soul, unless riled. Really, he was a hippy cowboy, even looking vaguely like Shaggy from certain angles. "But he was no clown," says Sergio "The idea when I wrote it was that he was a man with a sense of humour, but was not a clown. He would do things that will make other people the butt of humour, but not him."


Bat first appeared in Showcase 76, in a classic introduction that told you exactly what kind of character you were about to meet.


Plotted by Sergio, written by Denny O'Neill, and illustrated at the top of his game by the truly great Nick Cardy, Bat Lash set out his stall pretty quickly, giving rise to the running gag that, if he asked somebody to hold his flower for him, then it was time to move the furniture and put the glasswear away.



It was a great, light-hearted, fun strip that didn't take itself too seriously, though both Orlando & Aragones expressed doubts about that very humour, particularly in the 2nd, Cardy plotted, issue of the regular title, where people fall into bathtubs and out of windows at an alarming, knockabout pace.


To be fair, as great as they are, there is a little repetition in the first few issues, as our suave hero is constantly rescued from jail/the noose by whichever panting babe's fallen for him that month. But hey, if Bat Lash is having fun, so are we!



But it all settled down into a fun, familiar groove, like here, where Cardy homages Tom Sawyer, as Bat hires the local rapscallions to get him out of a particularly tricky shotgun wedding.



More chuckles later on as Bat meets up with dangerous desperado Sergio Aragones, and the pair team up to go after the obligatory missing fortune in gold. By all accounts, Sergio simply couldn't think up a suitable name for this character, so used his own name for the rough draft, never dreaming O'Neill & Cardy would take him seriously.


The final two issues are a bit of a turnaround, as Bat's past ( only briefly hinted at in the previous issues ) comes to light via flashback's detailing the murder, and his subsequent revenge, of his parents that set him on the road to being an outlaw.


The final issue is even better, as he comes face to face with his long lost brother, now a souless bounty hunter, in a genuinely powerful story that takes you by surprise after the japery of the previous issues. Keeping up the cameo's by the way, is Sergio's dad Don Pasqual there as Bat's old pal.


Bat Lash only lasted seven issues, going the way of many titles at the time, though according to Infantino, it was huge in Europe where fans repeatedly asked for the the no-good gunfighter to return. In fact it often feels like a lost cousin to something like Lucky Luke, so it's no surprise the Europeans went for it in such a big way.
Bat did make a few return appearances, mostly in the back of Jonah Hex, like here in this excellent Len Wein / Dan Speigle story.


More recently, there was an even better mini-series going into more detail over the origin ( even explaining the hero's deep love of flora ) collected into this trade, with unbelievable artwork from John Severin, still proving he's got the chops at the grand old age of 86.


But now, finally, there is at last a Showcase edition. And if you're wondering how they padded out a Showcase with only 8 issues and a couple of backups, the answer is, they didn't. This is the first of the mini-Showcases, with less than half the usual page count, but easily worth twice the money. Although they, rather tight-fistedly, didn't include the Severin story, this is still indispensable stuff, and an example of a strip that really does live up to it's rep.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Love Me...Love My Demon!

Here's a superb early piece from Arthur Suydam, from House Of Secrets. This was the first time I ever saw Suydam's work, and it made me an instant fan, having not seen anything this good in horror since the early days of Berni Wrightson. It's an old, familiar plot, having been reused many times in House Of Secrets and House Of Mystery. ( Don Heck did a version of it a few years before, for one ). But who cares? It's all about atmosphere, and this is as creepy as it gets.
Not sure if this was Art's first job for Joe Orlando but there's an apocryphal story where, when Joe gave Suydam his first try-out script, the budding artist actually kept it for an entire year, eventually delivering three whole pages. Utterly unfazed, Orlando reacted as if only a week had passed and said: " Nice to see you. Ready for another script? "





Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Complete Kaos The Slayer

So here we go then with a look at the complete Kaos The Slayer, as requested by thousands. ( Sam Thousands, he runs the deli round the corner. ) I think me & Sean packed more swipes in this one strip than Rich Buckler managed in an entire career, but one thing that isn't crap about this piece is the lettering, which was done by a great british cartoonist by the name of Ken Houghton.
Ken taught a night class in comic art at our school back in the early '80's, and he encouraged us a lot with drivel like Kaos. Sadly no longer with us, Ken was a great guy & a great cartoonist, and sometime soon I'll do a proper piece on him & his work. But for now, heeere's Kaos.....










Kaos The Slayer

Just for chuckles, here's the opening to mine & Sean's Kaos The Slayer, done while we were at school as our entry in a competition to come up with a new comic strip for The Times newspaper.
How deluded were we? The Times, that bastion of the establishment, more used to political cartoons and middle class laugh free strips about lawyers or university graduates, going with a comic about a post-apocalyptic half- mutant barbarian. Hey, we like sword & sorcery, surely everybody else does, right?


How many ( cough ) 'homages' can you spot here? I manage to steal from both Gil Kane's Blackmark and Jim Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey in my alleged 'script', while Sean 'channels' Gil, Esteban Maroto AND Barry Smith, all in only five panels. And a ritual that manages to be both 'dark AND foul' ? That'll be my application to The Department Of Redundancy Department sorted then. Personally, I don't think either of us have ever surpassed this masterpiece...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Billy The Cat ( & Katie )



You'll have to bear with me on this one, as I'm really relying on 30 year old memories plus what little information I've managed to find on the net, but you really can't cover the '70's without talking about Billy The Cat ( and Katie ), so:
Billy The Cat ( and Katie ) ran in venerable british comic The Beano from 1967 to 1974, or thereabouts, and was a great fun little strip, at least as far as I remember it.
Cousins William & Kathleen Grange lived in the town of Burnham with their avuncular Aunt Mabel ( William's parents, both of whom worked for the old bill, having been killed in a car crash caused by the getaway car of a pair of bank robbers. ) Wanting to take over from Mum & Dad, William used the designs left by his inventor pop to strike terror into the hearts of, well, nobody at all really, as...Billy The Cat! He also managed to convince his strangely willing cousin to dress up in black leather with him & climb rooftops at night. Subtext, anyone?



Both kids could leap incredible distances, climb walls only Spidey would attempt, and could take on several adults with one hand tied behind their backs, as well as having their nifty backpacks utilizing all kinds of climbing equipment. And Aunt Mabel's packed lunches.
Neither Billy or Katie's incredible agility or strength was ever explained, and I doubt the readers cared much anyway, as long as they could jump all over the playground like the cavortin' catlike cousins.


Interesting that William & Kathleen were clearly the posh kids of British adventure heroes, popping along to lessons at their local academy in their smart little blazers. How different from Buster's The Leopard From Lime Street, who had to steal his costume from the school panto!


Billy returned in the '80's, in the pages of Buddy, older, minus Katie, and with considerably less powers. ( Puberty fucks you up. Fact. )


Unbelievably, the upper-crust crimefighter is still going, having appeared intermittently in The Beano's annuals, as well as the regular mag on occasion. Having not read this strip in 30 years, I'm not even sure if it was actually as good as I remember it, and I suspect maybe not. But I do remember sending in some drawings to the BBC's kid's art programme Vision On at the time, at least one of which was of Billy The Cat ( and Katie ). And I guarantee I wasn't the only kid who walked home weighed down by a heavy backpack, pretending that hidden amongst the maths homework, lay a costume of black leather, with a crash helmet with cats eyes painted on it. Hey, I still do that....


Herbie


If Herbie isn't one of the weirdest, strangest, most out-there comics ever done by anyone anywhere, then it sure ain't for want of trying. I don't even know if I can adequately summarise this once-in-a-lifetime comic strip, at least not without the aid of hallucinogens.
Herbie was published by ACG from 1964 to 1967, created and written by the companies' editor Richard E. Hughes ( using the pseudonym Shane O'Shea ) and illustrated by Odgen Whitney and, like I said, it pretty much defies description.



It's a kid's book, sort of. It's superhero satire, sort of. It's Zen abstract comedy, sort of. It might even be just a gigantic put-on. What it isn't is in any way predictable or boring.
Herbie Popnecker was an emotionless, nearly monosyllabic, kid who had, well, pretty much the powers of a god. Some of his powers came from genetics, while some came from lollipops from The Unknown. Herbie could walk on air, travel through time, become invisible, talk to animals (who all knew him by name):



Actually he kind of knew everybody:


And was completely irresistible to women:


World leaders consulted his advice:


And his stare could terrify the life out of you. Like here, where Herbie puts the fear of God into The Devil himself:


Or even Miss Perriwinkle:



And he regularly saved the world, often in his costumed identity of The Fat Fury.
Which is where I first came across him, in this issue I presumably swapped from some poor sap with no idea of the value of this stuff.


Here Herbie teams up with his ACG labelmates, the suitably uninspiring Nemesis and Magicman, and of course, leaves the lacklustre pair in the dust.






This story ends as most of them do, with Herbie's asshole dad decrying his 'little fat nothing' of a son. Whitney apparently based Herbie's look on his own appearance as a child, by the way...
Herbie, for all it's weirdness, is actually the perfect kids book, and with it's gigantic freewheeling imagination where literally anything could happen from panel to panel, it has the logic of the best children's stories. And a hero who's fat, ugly and who everybody thinks is stupid, but who can actually do anything? Beats Superman into a cocked hat.



There has been the odd attempt over the years to redo Herbie, but you can't catch lightning in a bottle twice, particularly as The Fat Fury's creators are no longer with us. Best to stick with Dark Horse's collection of reprints. You think they'd come with a free lollipop, wouldn't you?