Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: A fascinating Will Eisner side project, 1949/50

Towards the end of the creative peak-era of Will Eisner's weekly comic book/strip The Spirit, the Eisner Studio had a strong team churning out innovative comics material.

Writers Jules Feiffer and Marilyn Mercer, background artist Jerry Grandenetti and peerless letterer Abe Kangeson were key components in a finely-oiled funnybook machine. All contributed greatly to the high quality of the post-war Spirit feature. (Other notables who contributed to post-war Eisner product include Klaus Nordling, Andre LeBlanc and Dan Barry.)

Eisner's hand was still deeply felt in the series. His growing ambitions to push comics past their humble street-smart status, and into something that rivaled literature and cinema, found their first strong expression in the 1946-1950 run of The Spirit.

Although Eisner certainly leaned heavily on his creative team, he left his distinct imprint on the work that issued from his studio. He drew from their strengths and made their distinct talents assets in mass media work of high quality

A lesser-known side project of the post-war Eisner Studio appeared in the checkered pages of a comic magazine published by Fiction House. Their comix imprint was as "spicy" and lowbrow as their pulp magazines. Cleavage, violence and sexual suggestion are rife in the assembly-line Fiction House product.

Much of their comix material came from the shop of Eisner's old partner, S. M. Iger. Iger's shop had a distinct house style. By this time, the look and feel keyed off of the work of African-American cartoonist Matt Baker.

Baker, a gifted artist, brought a sheen and flair to his often-elegant work. Those who followed his lead, in the manner of assemblymen on a production line, produced anonymous, efficient, prosaic work. 

Recognizable comix stylists such as George Evans, Bob Lubbers and Jack Kamen did work for Fiction House. Their styles were slightly at odds with the Iger shop "house style," but conformed to the same general rules of lush rendering, competent drawing and static, highly repetitive staging.

The work of a Will Eisner was bound to stand out in such company. Exactly why Eisner sought to return to comic books isn't clear. His studio can't have made much money off such work. Perhaps Eisner did it to keep his staff busy enough to work full-time for him. I'm sure Eisner must have discussed this move somewhere in the vast body of interviews he left behind.

In a posthumous tribute issue of Comic Book Artist, sundry comix professionals and  historians pay tribute to Eisner and his legacy. Among them is Jerry Grandenetti. He was chosen to do the artwork for a short-lived but feverishly ambitious comic book feature, "The Secret Files of Doctor Drew."

The series ran in issues 47 through 60 of Ranger Comics, amidst the headlight-heavy likes of "Firehair," "Jan of the Jungle" and "I Confess."

Grandenetti contributed the highly atmospheric, intensely detailed background drawings to Eisner's late-1940s Spirit. As Eisner's interest in the series lessened, throughout 1951, Grandenetti was among the artists who took over the artwork on the feature. At the time of "Dr. Drew"'s birth, Eisner was still heavily invested in The Spirit. Some of the finest episodes of the series appeared in 1949 and 1950.

Eisner created the "Dr. Drew" concept--of a self-appointed investigator of supernatural occurences, a sort of mystical-yet-worldly detective that one could imagine portrayed by George Sanders or Herbert Marshall. It's a sound idea, as it bridges Bram Stoker-style occult atmospherics with the 20th century private-eye genre.

The feature anticipates Steve Ditko's Doctor Strange, and, to an extent, the beloved 1970s TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Its mixture of Old World atmosphere and modern themes is genuinely unusual, and compelling.

In 1949, Eisner and Co. clearly chafed at the generic restrictions of the weekly Spirit feature. Increasingly, the series' focus shifted away from the masked detective, and explored one-shot short story scenarios, usually of a highly ironic "twist of fate" nature--forerunners of both the EC "SuspenStory" format and later TV shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

"Dr. Drew" may have offered a welcome creative spark for Team Eisner. While Eisner created the series concept and grandfathered the look and feel of the debut story, he left the creative work to the team of Mercer, Grandenetti and Kangeson.

Grandenetti commented on his artwork for "Dr. Drew:"

I did try to do an Eisner look on [the series] -- an impossible task -- but shortly afterwards I began to do my own thing.

For the first eight or so stories, "Dr. Drew" is consumed by the Eisner Studio "house style." in a spectacular display of innovative approaches to page layout, visual communication, ligature and graphic usage of text. If Grandenetti devised the page layouts, and the flow of information in these stories, then he learned -- and was clearly very inspired -- from Eisner's forward-thinking ethos.

That the stories are genuinely well-written, atmospheric and impressive is something of a triumph. Sheer formalism, for its own sake, can only do so much. "Dr. Drew"'s blend of substance and style is a true rarity in 1940s comics.

These stories are jarring when encountered in the context of Rangers Comics. After one gets accustomed to the Eisner-esque visual trappings (Kangeson's lettering and Grandenetti's rich backgrounds are identical to their contemporary Spirit work), the sheer quality of the series remains striking.

Yes, they look like they were filmed on the Will Eisner backlot. But "Dr. Drew" transcends its stylistic debt with highly original, vibrant visual storytelling.

Here's one of my favorites in the series, from Ranger Comics #52. It best shows the odd mix of old-world and new-world that is "Dr. Drew," and it has a character modeled on cult film actor Bela Lugosi.

The placement of blacks, the free-wheeling approach to page layout, the notebook motif... all these were key components of the post-war Spirit. It is fascinating to see the Eisner approach slightly shifted, as it is guided by other hands.

Here's another favorite story, from issue #50. It's a variant on the Faust-Mephistopheles legend, given a suspenseful approach much like Alfred Hitchcock's 1940s films. Again, strong writing bolsters the visual pyrotechnics and prevents them from being an empty, self-indulgent grandstanding.

The visual hijinks of "Dr. Drew" toned down after its first eight installments. Page layouts became more earthbound, and the Eisner house style phased out. In their place was Grandenetti's strong, more  traditional cartooning, in the au courant style of Alex Toth, Bill Draut or Pete Morisi.

Here's a sample page from the final "Drew" episode, in Rangers Comics #60:

Traces of the earlier, more flamboyant approach still remain (and, to be honest, I selected the most extreme page of this story). The style of the figures now resemble the look of the post-Eisner Spirit episodes. It seems obvious that Grandenetti assumed more of that series' art chores in 1951.

Grandenetti has continued to produce innovative, graphically arresting comix work--he contributed some strong, stylized material for the Warren horror magazines of the 1960s, and endowed DC Comics' war features with more grit and style than they deserved in the 1970s.

"The Secret Files of Dr. Drew" remains an intriguing side-project in comix history. If The Spirit was Will Eisner's Citizen Kane, "Dr. Drew" is his Journey Into Fear--a relentless excursion into visual style.

Though it stayed within the boundaries of genre tradition and audience expecation, the feature was blessed with narrative substance. While the other contents of Rangers Comics seem unreadable today, "Dr. Drew" still has something to offer 21st century readers.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

FLETCHER HANKS DISCOVERY: "Moe M. Down," from Great Comics (1941)

Here's a fascinating bit of comix archaeology. You may have heard of Fletcher Hanks--the mysterious Golden Age comic book creator who wrote and drew highly sinister, violent and freaky jungle, super-hero and space-opera stories from 1939 to 1942.

Hanks' super-hero, jungle and he-man comix have been compiled in two handsome-yet-disturbing trade paperbacks published by Fantagraphics Books. Cartoonist/comix researcher Paul Karasik did an outstanding job on these books. The first volume includes a haunting docu-comic, by Karasik, about how he uncovered the dark truth about the life of Fletcher Hanks.

Both books come highly recommended, and are easily available through (you might also see them--gasp!--on a bookstore shelf if you're lucky. But don't count on it.) (Click HERE for more info.)

The bulk of the notorious Hanks' work was done for the Fox Comics Company. All of it--even the back-woods he-man feature "Big Red McLane of the North Woods"--is deadly serious in nature.

As I continue to learn, via my research into the comix work of writer-artist John Stanley (see my blog, STANLEY STORIES, for more information), the archaeology of early comic books is by no means over.

With the boom in digital scanning of rare old comic magazines, these fetish-items have been taken out of the hostage of collections and been made available for actual study. By digging through over-looked, avoided titles, we continue to find surprising discoveries.

Here's a humorous feature from 1941, for a small comix company, that may not be written by Hanks, but it's clearly drawn by him! Many of his visual "tells" are present in these two five-page stories.

The title character strongly resembles Hanks' Stardust, the Super-Wizard--but with a google-eyed, tongue-lolling cartoon head grafted to his heroic physique.

The discovery of these stories puts a curious twist in the Fletcher Hanks legend--that this violent, cruel man created only dark, brutal tales of Biblical-style vengeance. "Moe M. Down" is a quick-blend of "Joe Palooka," Damon Runyon-esque pop culture cliches, and a hint of Al Capp's "Li'l Abner."

Hanks' attempts at bigfoot cartooning come off like a half-hearted collaboration of Basil Wolverton and rural cartoonist Norman Pettingill. The stories aren't really successful--they're not funny. But oh, are they peculiar!

Here is the first "Moe M. Down" story, from the debut issue of Great Comics. It and the companion book Choice Comics were published by Great Comics Publications (see the indicia for the first issue following this first story.)

A mish-mash of oddball adventure/super-hero stuff, factual/historical material and miserable bigfoot-style comics, the innards of Great Comics Publication's output appears to come from the S. M. Iger shop. Iger had partnered with Will Eisner on this concern in the 1930s.

When asked about Fletcher Hanks, Eisner only vaguely recalled him--and remembered only that Hanks could be counted on to turn in his work on-time. (In such a ramshackle business as 1930s comic books, reliability was indeed an asset!)

"Moe M. Down" lived in the back half of Great Comics, which housed the magazine's undelightful "funny" comix. Amidst the slick, rococo cartooning of the Iger shop (which includes intensely detailed artwork by Rudy Palais and Charles Sultan), Hanks' blunt, bold cartooning stands out in sore-thumb relief.

Here are the cover, and the "Moe M. Down" story, from issue #2 of Great Comics. More striking Hanks "tells" decorate this story. Dig the woman in the splash panel, for example! As well, the artist's eccentric rendering of the human form, and of the drape and volume of clothing, are dead giveaways of Fletcher Hanks' work.

The splash panel is an (unintentional?) lampoon of Hanks' final "Red McLane" story, from the Fiction House title, Fight Comics. That story was published in the magazine's September, 1940 issue--a year or so before this story saw print.

UPDATE ON 1/2/10: Paul Karasik informs me that the "see ya next issue" blurb, in the above story, is just wishful thinking:

This just in... a collector with a copy of Great Comics #3 informs me that there is no Hanks tale inside...too bad... too, too bad...

Sigh... too much to hope for. But, in the meantime, the mere existence of these two odd stories is certainly a wonderful effed-up Yuletide gift to the universe!

POST SCRIPT: Paul Karasik's comments on this post lead me to toss another theory on the table. What if these are alterations of the "McLane" stories? I don't have a copy of Karasik's second book on hand, but, as I think of it, it seems that there are many recognizable panels, especially from the final "McLane" story.

Were these stories done for the Iger shop? If so, would Iger have retained the originals? As this series didn't really catch on, was Iget trying to get some extra mileage from a commercial flop?

As at least one "McLane" story was retitled, slightly altered and reprinted later in the '40s, this would make these stories appear to be owned by the Iger shop. It's horrifying to consider how little respect Iger had for his studio's output.

Were one to search for them, there may be other cases of repurposed Iger shop material in 1940s comics. There are enough obscure, uninviting comix from the 1940s--especially in the middle of the decade--that it's quite possible.

It's a tough job, sifting through these dull, hapless funnybooks!

I agree with Karasik: the bridging material doesn't look like Hanks' way of drawing. Many of the oogly-eyed faces appear to be another artist's work. And the complete blandness of the stories goes against the Hanks grain. His stories were many things, but they were never quaint or dull.

Is "Moe M. Down" an early comix mash-up? Or is it an example of cynical recycling? The jury will ponder these peculiar findings and, I hope, render a verdict.

POST-POST SCRIPT: Paul Karasik writes back with more comments on these stories:

I guess I just did not want to believe it to be true, but I take it all back.

Not that anyone cares but me...BUT....I spent a looong time looking at these pages again today
and have come to the conclusion that they are, in fact by Hanks.

The second story is taken directly from the final Big Red McLane tale with the captions rewritten and the faces re-rendered (possibly by another hand).

But the first story really had me stumped, so many of the compositions are un-Hanksian but ultimately tiny details such as hair-rendering, crowd-rendering , and big details like, yes, anatomy have made me change my mind.

I knew that sooner or later it would happen: the undiscovered Fletcher Hanks has been discovered.

Well, whaddaya know? Remember, folks--you read (and saw) it HERE first!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let Your Funnybook Freak-Flag Fly: Panelological Pantheon!

Jim turned me onto the most flat-out fascinating blog I've seen in ages... Panelological Pantheon.

Hosted by Mason Moray, a 60-something veteran comic-book enthusiast, or "panelologist," as he prefers to be called, PP offers a choice array of exotic, rather freakish stories from the pioneer days of funnybooks.

In the mix are Moray's day-to-day musings on life, collecting, and, most recently, a stark story of a personal tragedy.

After reading his first few posts, I was suspicious. It's hard to believe this is for real. I dropped Mr. Moray a quick e-mail. Here's his reply, in full.

Mr. Young,

I deeply appreciate your critique and welcome reactions to my humble "blog." Surely, such a forum will be easily misunderstood by most. It is encouraging to hear that you "get it."

Re your comments on my home life: thank you for your concern. But you need not worry. Dorrie and I get along like "gang-busters." I, too, rue the whims of fate that have allied me with a partner who is otherwise perfect--save for her crucial flaw of not appreciating panelology.

The Pantheon itself is in fine condition. Your concern for my holdings is quite kind. I take a moment to "inspect the troops" several times a week. And, unbeknownst to Dorrie, there are a few choice boxes that come in the house for winter's duration. They are marked "TAX RECORDS," the better to pass muster.

Your story request is intriguing. After dinner tonight I'll get the flashlight and see what I can find for you in The Pantheon's stacks. Until then, take care, and again, many thanks for your kind words of understanding.

Mason J. Moray

He sent his photograph as an e-mail attachment. I don't know many people who would do that, in response to a routine e-mail.

In a word: wow. This guy is a keeper.

His most recent post features an amazingly crude, nightmarish horror-detective story, "The Madhouse Murder Mystery," written and drawn by an early crackpot comix auteur, E. F. Webster. I've never seen such sinister, whacked-out cartooning in my life. Check out the story's first page and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Get your mind blown--go to Mr. Moray's sight and read the rest!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Effed-Up Comic Book Ad #1: Taint of the "Blimp Man"

Great works of art speak for themselves.

Who wouldn't gamble two dollars on a man-girdle? Especially one ordered from a comic book in 1940?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jim Tyer comix, from Little Roquefort 3, 1952

There is no mistaking--or overlooking--the cartoon artistry of Jim Tyer. Tyer labored in the animation industry for at least 40-45 years. He worked for the New York studios--Van Beuren, Famous and Paul Terry--mostly on sub-standard cartoons (especially so with the Terry product).

In the early 1940s, Tyer contributed some dynamite, hallucinatory direction and animation for various Famous Studios Popeye cartoons. The old guard at Famous (once Max Fleischer's studio) didn't get Tyer's anarchic, hopped-up approach to animation.

Though he animated on some of the late black-and-white Popeyes (all available on legal DVD) and some of the early color entries, he was ostracized from Famous Studios by 1948.

It was not in Tyer's bones to conform to a house style. He certainly tried. But the verve of his drawing style, and the peculiarity of his animation, were too strong for him to stay on-model. At a more pragmatic studio like Famous, staying on-model was the name of the game.

Thus, Tyer was a misfit. He could not have functioned at the West Coast studios. Animators such as Rod Scribner and Emery Hawkins could push the envelope in their work for Warner Brothers (and, in Hawkins' case, Walts Lantz and Disney), but they had a sense of when to let their freak-flag fly, and when to take it down from the pole.

Tyer let several freak-flags, all in clashing colors, flap madly in the breeze. Were it not for the refreshing interludes of his wild animation, all Terrytoons of the 1950s would be landfill. (There--I've said it!) [TM]

Terry's studio had talented animators--Bill Tytla, Carlo Vinci, John Gentilella, to name three--but the end-results of Terrytoons was usually depressing.

Except when Tyer's scenes come on-screen. Tyer gives the middle finger to every rule of Disney-style animation. Were his drawing style not so appealing--he's like a spikier, more manic Dr. Seuss--Tyer would never have gotten away with his brazen rejection of modern animation technique.

Ironically, Tyer was among the only "old guard" of Terry to adapt to the cartoon modern style of the Space Age. He single-handedly animated the remarkable Ernest Pintoff-written Flebus, which was nominated for an Academy Award. His highly angular style lent itself well to the moderne makeover. (H E R E is a link to Flebus, among the greatest cartoons of the post-war era.)

An intensely private man, Tyer guarded his animation techniques from his colleagues. Other Terry animators pathetically attempted to emulate his style. It proved inimitable. And, because there was no quality control at the Terry studios, Tyer's rampant eccentricity was tolerated.

Like other Terrytoonists, Tyer sought extra $$$ by drawing stories for the licensed Terry-themed comic books. In the early 1950s, Tyer's work is all over the St. John-published Terrytoon titles.

Tyer never signed his work, but his stylistic autograph covers his comix pages. Sure, the stories are usually sub-par. Today's offering has, sadly, the narrative equivalent of rickets. It demonstrates Tyer's great appeal as a vibrant, impressive cartoonist.

On the printed page, Tyer could not summon the freaky excesses he committed on-screen. He had to keep his feet on the ground, and go for strong cartooning. Thus, his comix work is among the best funny-animal art in the genre.

Here is a typically forlorn story from a typically forlorn issue of Little Roquefort. Each and every panel is a joy to peruse, for Tyer's dynamic cartoon art. The narrative content is as casual as any animated Terrytoon--that is to say, there's not much in evidence.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An Improvised Cartoon From Frank and Jim!

Why We're Not Even Slightly Interested — Issues With My Name — The Tail — Kneading — Questions — Instincts — Small Moving Things Outside the Window

Conversation With My Cat - High Resolution from Jim Gill on Vimeo.

This is a high-resolution version of an original cartoon made with Blender, the free 3d software. Frank Young and I improvised the soundtrack.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Jumbo Size Henry

We are pleased to offer you an unknown gem of 1960s comics. Henry Brewster was among a handful of titles published by Myron Fass in the mid-1960s.
Fass seemed to have a yen for Golden Age comic book creators. He published Fat-man, the Human Flying Saucer, a series by C. C. Beck and Otto Binder (who worked together on the classic 1940s Captain Marvel series), and even illegally used that character's name for another short-lived title.

Confusingly titled Jumbo Size Henry on its cover, the Henry Brewster title was drawn (and presumably written) by journeyman comics stylist Bob Powell.

Powell had been in the comics biz since the late 1930s. He had done it all--superheros, horror, aviation, adventure, war, romance, crime. Perhaps the only comic book genre untouched by Bob Powell was "funny animal."

Powell was at the end of his life when he took on this series. He had just been through a misfired stint with Marvel Comics. Powell's atmospheric, highly distinctive work suffered at the hands of inept scripters and, worst of all, heavy-handed, insensitive inkers--one of the unforgivable banes of "The Marvel Age of Comics."

He did his best to breathe much-needed life into such second-string features as "Giant Man" and "The Human Torch." Powell was too much the idiosyncratic stylist to fit into the Marvel way of life.

Powell also did jobs for Topps Chewing Gum, the outfit which also exploited master painter Norman Saunders, and employed underground cartoonists such as Art Spiegelman, Jay Lynch and Bill Griffith to create their trend-setting Wacky Packages parody stickers. (I have worked on this series, too--but that's for another post entirely!)

It appears that Powell was left completely to his own devices in the creation of Henry Brewster. Presented here is the second issue, cover-dated April, 1966. Powell worked on its contents in the fall of 1965, at the latest. The book would have been on newsstands before the end of '65.

There is an interesting story that accompanies this particular copy of the comic--still the only issue I've seen to date. It was part of a large lot of teen-age comics offered on eBay. I bid on the lot to obtain two issues of John Stanley's great Dunc 'n' Loo comic book. One of these was in particularly nice shape. The remainder of the lot was just along for the ride, in my opinion.

I won the lot for a very fair price, sent in my payment (to Canada)... and waited, waited and waited.

The seller became increasingly embarrassed and apologetic as it became clear the parcel of funnybooks was lost in the international mails. After three or four months, my payment was refunded in full. We both expressed regret that the beautiful VF+ (that's comic-nerd talk for "very fine plus," a state of condition close to the revered "mint"--a very nice copy, by anyone's standards) issue of Dunc 'n' Loo was lost to the ages.

I wasn't out any money. The loss of the two comics was sad, but life has a tendency to go on, inanimate objects be damned.

Nine months later, a battered, frazzled parcel showed up in my mailbox. It was covered with bi-lingual postal stickers, each peppered with rubber-stampings and smeared, indecipherable scrawls.

The comics had, almost a year to the day after the auction had closed, finally found their way to me. Inside the parcel, they were no worse for the wear, having been well-packed by their shipper.

I had lost track of this eBay seller. After the seeming end of the transaction, I deleted all our emails. I couid not find him among the many people in my feedbacks. This case was well and truly closed.

I was happy to have the two Dunc 'n' Loos. The stack of comics was, largely, forgettable stuff--Charlton teen titles, bland Dells, and so on. Near the bottom of the stack was the Jumbo Size Henry.

The comic's cover is quite crude. Its composition is awkward, the rendering primitive and the mild gag blunted by poor grammar. Just another dumb '60s teen comic, I thought...
Then I noticed the POWELL signature on the green shopping bag. This encouraged me to look inside.

I found an eccentric, visually innovative piece of comix storytelling. Its 40 pages of interior story and art, apparently all from Powell's hand, infuses a tired genre with wry, understated humor and adds some stunning new tools to the vocabulary of comix.

This is least apparent in the rather conventional opening story, "Don't Monkey With Me." Powell plays it straight, as if to warm up the reader for the fireworks of the subsequent stories.

Powell the writer chooses, notably, not to condescend to his teenage audience, but to understand them. He is contemptuous of the content of '60s pop music, but sympathetic to the plight of young people. The second and third tiers of Page Two thoughtfully and wistfully depict the frustating limitations faced by teenagers--then and now.

The story uses a celebrity caricature--Peter Noone, pint-sized, cuddly singer of the successful British pop group Herman's Hermits. Powell makes "Sherman the Hermit" an apparent American, rather than a Brit, but the caricature is unmistakable--it's almost photographic.

The story's charm relies on the vigor of its well-timed dialogue--and on the eerie, remarkable stylization of Powell's cartooning. He uses a bold blend of cartoony faces and realistically-proportioned bodies. The mixture is sometimes sloppy, but it consistently works.

"Weenie the Dancer" lets some eccentric touches into the mix. The last panel of its third page uses a common comix device--the double-take--as smarmy wanna-be bad-guy Lester reacts to his girlfriend Melody's indifference.

On page four, we see some startling temporal twists. The second panel condenses three incidents into one frame, and arranges them in such a way that the eye follows their kinetic path. This effect is remarkable--in how it conveys a chain of events, and how efficiently it conserves story space.

In the next frame, we see another innovation--one that will distinguish this book. Lester does a modified "triple take"--a device in which Powell depicts the passage of time, as a character's mood shifts as a result of the effects of his or her actions on others.

This is as brilliant a device as anything done by Bernard Krigstein. I have never seen anyone else attempt this effect in the hundreds of thousands of comics I have studied over three decades-plus.

These touches are squandered on an otherwise slight story. Yet Powell's unusual visual devices remain inspirational for even the most outre experimental cartoonists.

"A Shot In Time" features the series' stand-in for the big, bulky, none-too-bright athletic type always found in these teen comics. Animal is unique among his character type. Pensive and extremely soft-spoken (his dialogue is lettered about six point sizes smaller than other characters'), Animal is a genuinely interesting individual.

As with most of Powell's cast, Animal seems likely to exist in the real world. Powell's investment in his characters, coupled with witty writing that never goes for cheap laughs, works particularly well in this amusing double narrative.

Note the stacatto dialogue on page five, panel five, and the graceful passage-of-time tableaux in the center panel of page seven. This story also succeeds in its array of caricatural styles.

The next two stories repeat the established formula of rapid-fire comedic dialogue, crisp, eccentric cartooning and temporal-formal devices. "One Of A Kind" includes a quadruple-take on its fourth page, and another character's striking emotional transformation at the end of its fifth page.

"The Animal Takes a Flyer" is a short story that reverts to ordinary comics forms.

The final story, "A Good Skate," is the book's strongest narrative. Powell plays with expressive extreme "takes" that show the white-knuckle exasperation and panic of certain characters. In another formal innovation, page eight's second panel depicts a series of spoken words as if each is written on a cascading bit of yellow notepaper. Here's another device I've not seen anyone else use.

Powell's innovations are worthy of study by today's cartoonists. They are examples of how to uplift comics narratives with simple but dazzling devices that serve the story.

None of these six stories are masterpieces of plot, character or prose. Yet they work far beyond generic expectations. Powell was confident enough, as a master cartoonist, that he could bend the conventions of teen comics to include some pretty radical formal devices--and yet make them work as drivers of the characters and stories.

Powell's few issues of Henry Brewster are among his final works. Powell died of cancer in 1967 at age 50. Had he lived another decade or two, I wonder what he would have done with these fascinating devices. Would he have continued to work in the shadows of the comics field--in teen titles, romance books, war comics, horror comics? Very likely. His style was not in sync with the growing realism of super-hero artwork.

This late work shows that he had some tremendously strong ideas on how to shape and reshape the comics form. I wish someone had been listening to these notes in a bottle. Over 40 years later, this remains fascinating work. We hope you find it of great interest.

--Frank M. Young