Tuesday, April 23, 2024

HORRORS FOUND LURKING IN AN ATTIC! A Groovy Guest Post by Jasper Bark

Greetings, Groove-ophiles! How about this: my pal and amazing author Jasper Bark decided to share an unbelievable Groovy Age comicbook find exclusively with the Diversions! (Well, okay, he shared some other stuff from his fab and fortunate find with Down the Tubes and Tripwire, but the treasure below is exclusive to DotGK, okay?) Anyway, we hope you really, really dig Jasper's excellent essay and awesome intro to a very unique tale. Maybe one of you Groove-ophiles out there can help him answer the burning question, "Who is R. L. Carver?"

When I helped the family of a deceased friend sell the comic collection he stashed in his huge four room attic, I was reminded of what a great time The Groovy Age was for horror comics. 

It’s fair to say that horror comics were going through a renaissance in the Groovy Age. Which was a relief for horror comics fans, because things had looked bleak for the decade and half before. By the mid 50s, the Kefauver hearing, which looked into the connection between comics and juvenile delinquency, had made horror comics public enemy number one. While books like Seduction of the Innocent and the formation of the Comics Code Authority drove a stake through their heart. From 1955 onwards, horror comics were chased from the newsstands likes ghosts exorcised from a haunted house.

But one thing horror comics teach us is that the monster always comes back. There’s often a loyal acolyte willing to gather fresh blood for his unholy master. Or a gang of thrill-seeking teens who’ll fire up a Ouija board for cheap kicks. In the Groovy Age, it was a maverick magazine publisher who brought horror comics back from the dead.

James Warren published the first monster mag, Famous Monsters of Filmland and helped to create the ‘Monster Kids’ craze of the 60s and 70s. He thought there might still be a market for horror comics, and he realized he could get around the Comics Code Authority’s ban on horror by producing a black and white magazine. Thus were born Creepy and Eerie, two of the most successful and influential publications of the Groovy Age.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but James Warren saw the wave of imitators who followed in Creepy’s wake as carpetbaggers trying to muscle in on his market. Initially his biggest competitor was Israel Waldman who, with Marvel’s former production manager Sol Brodsky, formed Skywald Publications. At first, Skywald’s magazines, Psycho and Nightmare were straight copies of Warren’s magazines. However, when editor Al Hewestson took over and instigated what he called the Horror Mood, Skywald published some of the most exciting and innovative horror comics of the Groovy Age.

Not everyone who tried to cash in on the black and white horror market was as good as Warren though. Myron Fass was a former comic artist turned publisher who made a fortune putting out cheap magazines to cash in on whatever trend was popular at the time. He wanted to release a black and white horror comic magazine called Eerie at the same time as Warren did. As they shared a distributor this caused problems.

Warren’s solution was to trick the distributor into thinking he had already released a comic called Eerie. A few days before his meeting with Fass and the Distributor, to hash out who could have the name, he had 100 copies of Eerie #1 mocked up, using reprints from Creepy. He bribed newsstands all around his office to display them. When the distributor arrived, Warren was able to point to the copies as proof he’d already published a comic called Eerie and so he won the name, much to Fass’s chagrin. This is why Warren’s run of Eerie starts with issue #2.

Fass subsequently named his company Eerie Publications to spite Warren. To hide the evidence of his deception, Warren destroyed all but 10 of these ashcan copies of Eerie #1. Ironically, shortly before Al Hewetson became the editor of his biggest rival, Warren gave one of these 10 copies to him, in return for an original Charles Schultz drawing.

Eerie Publications reprinted old horror comics from the 1950s that were in the public domain. They produced them in black and white in a magazine format and, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, they added extra gore to many of the panels. When he ran out of inventory to print and reprint, Fass hired cheaper, Latin American artists to redraw the same stories with even more gore and 70s fashions. Eerie Publications may have their detractors, but there is also a certain pulpy satisfaction to be gained from their gleeful excesses.

Fass did, very occasionally, include original stories, and so did his former business partner, Stanley Harris, who split with Fass to set up his own publishing company. I found this out recently, when I chanced upon a couple of old engraver’s proofs in the attic of the friend I mentioned who had just passed.

I helped my friend’s family catalogue and sell his huge collection and, in return for my help, they let me keep a few things. I wrote about the full story for the British comics website Down The Tubes. Engraver’s proofs are uncut and unbound pages that a printer runs off for a publisher before a full print run.

These proofs appeared to be for Weird Chills #4 by Key Publications from 1954 and Chilling #6 by the aforementioned Stanley Publications. When I did a bit of digging I was excited to find that neither title had been published and I might have the only copies that still existed. This excitement died down when I found they were both full of reprints. All except for three stories which appear to be written and drawn by a mysterious artist and writer called R. L. Carver.

I’ve been able to find very little information on this artist. However, about 10 years ago, I wrote an article about an equally obscure artist called Bill Alexander for the This Is Horror website, and his widow reached out to me on social media. So I thought I’d try the same thing for R. L. Carver.

I’m casting my net wide so, in addition to the article for Down The Tubes I mentioned above, I also shared one of the pre-code stories with the website Tripwire which you can read here. As the last story came from the Groovy Age, I felt it was natural to reach out to my good friend Lloyd Smith, who we all know and love as Groove, renowned blogger and talented creator of the Blue Moon Comics line.

Below is the last known story to be attributed to artist who signs themselves as R. L. Carver. It’s called Tipping The Scales and it has a very dark sense of humor, no more than you’d expect from a horror comic. If anyone has any information on them and their work, could you please contact me at jasperbark@gmail.com

Friday, March 22, 2024

Getting to Meet Groovy Age Greats!

Greetings, Groove-ophiles! Ol' Groove just had to share some of his experiences at the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention this past March 9, 2024. I had the opportunity to visit the Lexington Con for one day (thanks to my brother-in-law/YouTube movie reviewer Badraven), so I wanted to make the most of it, as did he and his son Drewdrop. We made our plans to leave early on Friday morning (around 8 a.m.) to get to the Con in plenty of time before it officially opened (we'd gotten our tickets online to speed things up).  And we were glad we did.

We got there about an hour before opening, but you could go inside to get your lanyards and get in line for whichever event you were going to visit first (I headed for the comicbook creators/vendors line on the third floor, Badraven and Drewdrop headed downstairs to level one for the Celebrity autographs and photo-ops.) What lines! Long, four rows wide lines in the spacious halls of Rupp Arena, but once the doors opened, everything moved swiftly and smoothly into the artists/vendors area.

Having planned ahead, I made a beeline for Jim Shooter's table. No one else was there, so I got to have a very nice visit with him. I'm sure he'd heard similar stories before, but I thanked him for being so kind to 14-year-old me back in 1978 when I sent in my Angel vs. a Sentinel pencil samples (on typing paper, natch--sorry I still don't have them--or the letter for that matter. Sigh.). I reminded him that he'd been especially kind and helpful in his letter/critique and that I was sure I wasn't alone in being so thankful for his kindness and encouragement. We had a short, pleasant conversation and shared two warm handshakes. I walked away so happy from that meeting. Later that day I got to sit in on his Q&A session. I learned a lot about his life, career, and his time at Marvel as E-I-C. I may share some of that in a later post if'n ya wanna hear it. :D

My next stop was across the aisle and and at the opposite end of the hall: Joe Staton! I've always heard about how warm and friendly artist Joe Staton is, and Ol' Groove's here to tell you--them's the facts, Jack! 

Joe was working on a piece of art when I interrupted him to say, "Hello." He looked up, a big smile on his face, put down his pencil and extended his hand for a handshake. I got to tell him my story about how I got my hands on E-Man #1 (August 1973) (which I rap about here) and how much I love the characters Alec Tronn, Nova Kane, and Mike Mouser. 

I got to talk about how his co-creation (with Paul Levitz and Bob Layton) The Huntress, and how I believe that Showcase #100 (I'm still gonna do a post on that one) might just be the best DC comic of the 1970s (or tied with the origin of the JSA--which, huh--Joe also illustrated). That got Joe to stand up and give me a high-five. What an awesome moment. 

Then Joe took the time to get to know me a bit, asked about my family and was interested in hearing about my comics. He knew and appreciated DotGK and was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was rapping with Ol' Groove. I bought a hand-drawn Scooby Doo from him, and he gave me an autographed E-Man trading card. It was an awesome visit for sure. 

Ol' Groove's youngest grandsons happily posing with a Joe Staton Original Scooby Doo Sketch

This was only Ol' Groove's second Con, and now that I'm retired, I hope to visit many more. Ol' Groove does think, though, that this year's visit to the Lexington Comic Con set a mighty high bar! 

Rap at ya later, Groove-ophiles!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Still Truckin'/Sad Sack in "The Grudge"

 Greetings, Groove-ophiles! Ol' Groove is just checking in to reassure everyone that he (and DotGK) are alive and well--just buuuuuussssaaayy!

Writing/lettering/promoting your own comics it pretty time-consuming, but I love it! It's a great escape from work, Covid, and all the craziness that goes along with it. I just sent Diversions #4 to the printers, so it should be available via IndyPlanet in print and digital a few weeks from now. I also put it on DriveThruComics for all the .pdf fans out there. This issue is extra special because it features the last collaboration with my pal, the late Donnie Page. He created U.S. Flag and Liberty Lad (his version obviously, of Captain America and Bucky), long ago. A few years back we co-plotted the story, then in 2019, while battling cancer, Donnie drew this amazing, Groovy Age-style, wall-to-wall action mini-thriller in his (as he called it) "Sal Buscema-clone" style. This summer, inker/finisher John Gentil took on the task of getting the story ready for print by digitally enhancing and inking PHOTOS of the pages Donnie had taken with his phone--because he never got the chance to scan them. Herculean efforts like those of Donnie and John NEED to be published, so I'm thrilled to get this story into print. I'm especially thrilled that my friends Steven Butler and Mort Todd have allowed me to use their art (which they created to cheer Donnie up) as the cover. 

Art by Steven Butler/Colors by Mort Todd

There's also a a magnificently illustrated, by JW Erwin, Night Spider story in the issue...

...and Joe Koziarski rocked the modern/retro feel of super-science-hero Max Miracle, as well.

We also had a bit of a lark creating these faux snack cake ads in the style of the Groovy Age Hostess snack cake ads that ran in so many of our favorite comics...

Art by JW Erwin

Art by Joe Koziarski

The Guns & Rosa faux ad is in the OTHER book we sent to print (and DriveThru if you like your comics on the digital side), Guns & Rosa Special Edition #1. Joe Koziarski did the fantabulous cover, ad, and art for all the Rosa material (which was originally published in the first two issues of Diversions, but collected here in one mag for folks who like their anthologies to feature only one character). 

Ol' Groove has also been working on more characters/stories for  upcoming issues of Diversions, AND writing a prose novelette for an upcoming project that I can't speak of now, but will blow your socks off in the near future!

So, in short, Ol' Groove hasn't been a Sad Sack this year! And speaking of Sad Sack...Here's my favorite Sad Sack story from Sad Sack #200 (April 1968), with art (according to GCD) by Fred Rhoads--"The Grudge!"

George Baker's cover for Sad Sack #200

Oh, it's been a while since Ol' Groove has given a shout-out to some of his favorite blogs! Here are a few new-er ones that shine like Groovy Age stars (and you can always find them in the "Mind Blowing Blogs" list in the sidebar)!

Groove-ophile Michael Mead's Occasional Murmerings is one of Ol' Groove's favorite reads. He's currently discussing Jack Kirby's Fourth World mags as they each reach their 50th anniversary. Michael has an awesome spin on discussing these mags by showing how The King had his finger on the pulse of the times and how the real world helped him create the Fourth World. If you haven't been reading Michael's blog, you really need to check it out!

Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books by Alan Stewart is another must-read for all fans of the Groovy Age! Alan's delving into 1971, the year that Kid Groove turned into a full-fledged comicbook fiend, baby, and Alan is so adept at, not only recalling how he felt/feels about the comics, but the stories behind the creation of those comics that you just can't stop reading!

And Benton Grey's Into the Greylands is also covering good ol' 1971, but Benton's reviewing the groovy mags in his own inimitable way that add new insights that make you really think about the comics he's reviewing. Ol' Groove digs the way he looks at the mags with more of a modern eye, rather than just (yeah, like Ol' Groove) so much nostalgia. 

One last thing, Ol' Groove just has to thank Joeseph Simon and the gang at First Comics News for interviewing yers trooly about my fantasy creations, Kragor and Ash-Aman. As much as I dig rapping about the Groovy Age of comics, it's pretty cool to get to rap about my own stuff!

Cover art by Russ Martin

Stay safe and dry, Groove-ophiles, and I'll see ya next time! Pax! 


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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!