Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Bennett finds the gems in the pre-Marvel Atlas Comics:
In case any of you were wondering, I'm still illegally downloading public domain comic books; I really have no excuse, other than finally being able to read the comics I never thought I'd get the chance to. It's not like I'm doing research for a book, though after devoting so many hours to this project I could certainly write one, I just don't know how many people would be interested in reading From Wimpy to Foggy: The Definitive History of Fat Guys in the Comics.
I suppose you could explain away my obsession as a mid-life crisis but I'd much rather see it as an Old Man and the Sea larger than life and death kind of thing, the epic struggle between a fifty year old man armed only with a high speed Internet connection and entirely too much free time vs. over fifty years of comics. The only question I have is whether I'll have enough time to actually finish all of them.
At the moment I'm working my way through the pre-Marvel Atlas titles from the 1950's, a line that in many ways was ahead of its time (for one thing, though they didn't have credits as such, Stan Lee and his collaborators frequently signed their work). It was an eclectic mix of the Lee/Kirby monster comics as well as horror, humor, adventure, war, science fiction and jungle titles. While I'll always admire the imagination and raw vitality of Golden Age comics, it's undeniable the contents got a whole lot better after the war, and this was especially true after Timely became Atlas.
Of course they also produced knockoffs of both Dennis the Menace (Dexter the Demon, Melvin the Monster) and Casper the Friendly Ghost (Homer the Happy Ghost) and at one point had so many Western titles they apparently ran out of names. How else can you explain such on the nose comics as Wild Western and The Western Kid?
One benefit of doing this sort of thing is you can discover comics that you otherwise never would have imagined existed, like Dippy Duck. Decades before they had Howard, Marvel published any number of ducks, ranging from Wacky to Dopey to Buck (the last being, naturally, a cowboy duck), but none of them gave Disney much to worry about. But Dippy, created by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely, was a comic like no other; for one thing the artist Maneely, better known for his highly detailed realistic art style, for some reason gave his funny animals human hair.
Dippy was one of Stan Lee's standard issue 'stupid' characters, a mouthpiece for what seemed like an endless stream of cheap joke book gags, who was regularly tormented by Bingo, a rabbit with a crew cut, Hawaiian shirt and glasses (who clearly was the group sophisticate - he wore pants and shoes). The cast was filled out by an antagonistic bulldog named Growler, Dippy's sort of girlfriend Dolly, and acting as a book's filler strip was Spunky the Monkey, a tough talking monkey stuffed into a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. The less said about him the better.
Marvel Masterworks collecting all of Dan DeCarlo's work for the company which ranged from Millie the Model to Homer the Happy Ghost*. He also worked on Sherry the Showgirl, although the sample seen here is by the underappreciated Al Hartley who also really knew how to draw pretty girls.
Happily it's not just me who's interested in this kind of material; so far Marvel has released over a dozen volumes of Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era which collects such titles as Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, The Yellow Claw, Black Knight, Lorna the Jungle Girl and Marvel Boy. All of which would indicate there's a demand for high quality reprints of a wide variety of genre material; ok, it's a micro-niche at best. But it seems to me that trying to cultivate customers who can afford these kinds of high ticket items cannot be considered bad for business.
I certainly hope they do more of the Atlas Era Masterworks; I haven't been able to find copies online and would happily pay good money to read issues of Sailor Sweeney, Meet Miss Bliss and (of course) Blaze the Wonder Collie.
Rex Lane, Solver of the Supernatural. He was a hardboiled detective who seems to have got turned around and started working the paranormal side of the street that appeared in issues of Atlas' Young Men.
* And I am still waiting for Marvel Masterworks: Powerhouse Pepper by Basil Wolverton.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
Column by Steve Bennett
Posted by ICv2 on October 29, 2009 @ 3:33 am CT
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