H. G. Peter, “Man O’Metal,” Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics no. 13 (1942)In 2006, Dan Nadel’s anthology Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 gave readers a taste of some of the weirdest and wildest comic creators of the past century, helping to spawn new critical and popular interest in their work. Now, Nadel’s new anthology Art in Time: Unknown Comic Adventures, 1940-1980, shows you a different side of some of classic comic artists.
How different? Harry Lucey, one of the definitive Archie artists, does a gritty private eye tale. H.G. Peter, artist of the fantasy-filled Golden Age Wonder Woman stories, goes a different route in the hard-hitting tales of “Man O’Metal.” Sam Glanzman, a legend for Western and war comics, takes readers on a prehistoric trip with Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle.
Fans of Marvel’s Agents of Atlas can see an early adventure of that group’s Venus, and the horrific side of Sub-Mariner creator Bill Everett. And Silver Age fans should check out the Charlton Comics one-shot story “Children of Doom: Can This Be Tomorrow?” by a pseudonymous Denny O’Neill and artist Pat Boyette, a phantasmagorical post-apocalyptic story that’s a favorite of, among others, one Alan Moore.
With Art in Time hitting stores on May 1, we called up Nadel to talk about these unsung masterpieces, what drew him to these works, and why some creators get overlooked. We also have some preview pages of what promises to be a weird, wild and wonderful collection of overlooked comics – some of which are being reprinted for the first time in 60 years.
Newsarama: Dan, what’s been impressive since Art Out of Time came out is how many retrospective volumes there have been for the books you covered. It’s as though the book really inspired a lot of people to get off their seats and start collecting this stuff.
Dan Nadel: I think some of that was coincidental – I mean, Paul Karasik was working on a collection of Fletcher Hanks at the same time I was putting together Art Out of Time. Some of it is just this reprint boom we’re in in general. But yeah, it might have had a catalytic effect on some projects.
Nrama: Well, there’s been reprints of Herbie, Terr’ble Thompson, The Upside-Downs…it’s been so much fun stuff.
Nadel: Definitely, it’s been amazing.
Nrama: You talk about this in the book, but for our readers – how did Art In Time come about, and how is it different from Art Out of Time?
Nadel: The concept evolved as I was working on it. I could do a million of these compilation volumes, but I knew I didn’t want to do another Art Out of Time, because that felt like it would defeat the purpose. And a lot of stuff I might have done has been picked up for reprints already!
The idea came from having to cut Harry Lucey and Jesse Marsh from the first volume – because they felt like they didn’t quite fit, and because they were dealing with licensed characters. And it seemed like their work was too visible to include in Art Out of Time.
So I wanted to build something around them, and the idea came from that – cartoonists who worked in a popular genre, or who were working in a highly-visible format, but who had this work that wasn’t as well known. Harry Lucey was the master Archie artist – what else did he do? Jesse Marsh was one of the best- known Tarzan artists – what else did he do?
They had these fascinating careers, and I wanted to explore that. And it kind of evolved into something that explored my interest in adventure comics in general. It’s a very flexible genre in general, and I wanted to dig into a real genre, a more confined space than Art Out of Time. I kind of just followed my interests.
Nrama: And you found some really interesting, startling work – I never would have thought of Little Lulu’s John Stanley as doing a horror comic. And while I’d heard of Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle – it’s a favorite among many pros – I had no idea Sam Glanzman, who I knew from these very realistic war and western comics, had worked on it.
Nadel: Yeah – Kona deserves its own archive collection. For me, it’s the best I’ve ever seen from Glanzman. I think it’s an awfully fun comic to read, very overblown in a very dramatic way, and it has things no one else was doing in comics – whether by accident or on purpose is hard to say.
I suspect that Glanzman was kind of seeing how far he could push it, because there are wonderful passages in it, this sense of high drama. I think that was helped by the fact that L.B. Cole, who is really famous for his vibrant covers in the 1940s and 1950s, was editing those books, so that’s an added layer of interest there.
Nrama: I love those crazy Gold Key books – I was quite excited to see Dark Horse will be reprinting Mighty Samson --
Nadel: That’s a great one too!
Nrama: …I love those apocalyptic things, which brings me to one of the more esoteric reprints in your book, Charlton’s “Children of Doom.” I found this one through a Scott Shaw! column, and I’ve made a point of sharing this with people I chat with at cons. Joe Casey’s mind was blown when he saw it; Matt Fraction took one look and said, “I have to have a copy.”
It’s such a weird, unsettling book. There’s some intentional genius and unintentional genius to it – I read Alan Moore say it was one of his favorites.
Nadel: I love Pat Boyette’s work a lot. I think that there’s a tremendous amount of character in what he did, from the staging to the drawing to the page composition. There’s a sense of a lived-in, inhabited sensibility, kind of like what Wally Wood had. You get a sense that there’s a real person behind the stuff.
Boyette’s life story draws me in! It’s a life story that I’d like to dig into more, actually. Another guy who needs a book…
But the story I heard about “Children of Doom” is that it was written and drawn in a week, if not a weekend. It has this occasionally insensible sense of urgency to it, which I love. It works for me as a kind of piece of new wave sci-fi – you can see that Denny O’Neil was influenced by the late-1960s SF of the time.
Intentional or not, the color shifts are remarkable. I’ve never gotten to the bottom of it, but the amazing shifts between gray tones and color and back again give it an almost hallucinatory feel.
The imagery is just as apocalyptic and as scary as it gets in comics for me. You combine this woman with no eyes, drawn in gray in these slashing panels, and you get the feeling that everything’s crashing in on you.
It’s a classic, and I was amazed it was never reprinted, and I suspect there are a lot of classics like that buried at Charlton.
Nrama: There’s a lot of great stuff – Ditko at full-tilt, Pete Morisi doing Thunderbolt…
Nadel: Morisi was amazing.
Nrama: There was some really weird, philosophical stuff at that place. Sometimes it was a little insane, like the Peacemaker—
Nadel: Peacemaker’s another great one.
Nrama: But speaking of Morisi, you have Johnny Dynamite in here.
Nadel: It’s great hardboiled comics. And I love Morisi all the way through, but that’s my favorite stuff of his, before he got into photo-referencing…
Nrama: That happened even in the 1950s?!
Nadel: Yeah, if you look at Thunderbolt and his later work, it’s obvious he’s looking at photos. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but his art stiffened up a bit. The early work has this great flow to it. The early work has this great cinematic flow to it, and it’s very dark and urban.
Sam J. Glanzman, “Cave of Mutations,” Kona no. 3 (1962)With Morisi, the spaces feel lived-in. They don’t feel arbitrary. There’s some purple prose, and even Morisi admitted it was inspired by Mike Hammer, but it does its own thing. The staging is just fantastic, and brutal even for the time. Just rough, violent stuff.
Nrama: One story that might be of interest to Newsarama readers because the character is currently in use in Agents of Atlas is Bill Everett’s Venus story.
Nadel: I had no idea. Wow.
Nrama: Everett was really going crazy with darkness and angst in his 1950s work – what’s most interesting to you about his work?
Nadel: Everett, to me, is the great heir to Alex Raymond on Flash Gordon, or someone like Virgil Finlay. His work has a wonderful sense of passion to it. He was a true auteur – he wrote, drew, lettered, did everything.
With Venus, he took this kind of generic character and used her to do whatever he wanted. She was kind of like the Spirit for Eisner – he just used her as an everywoman in whatever kind of story he wanted to tell.
There is a sense of sadness and kind of distress to his work, and also the idea that he was pouring a tremendous amount of effort to it. Those drawings are detailed beyond whatever could be necessary, and that makes it very compelling to me. And he is a fascinating story himself – I’m very glad there’s a book on him coming out at Fantagraphics.
With characters like Johnny Dynamite or Venus – the character isn’t really the appeal to me. It’s kind of the story of the artist and the artwork that makes it for me. Everett was amazing – good work all the way through his career. There’s even pages where he inked Jack Kirby that have a real masculinity and vitality you just don’t see in most inking. He was a master with the brush.
Nrama: Then there are some of the underground books – how did you find those? “Crystal Night” is particularly interesting –
Nadel: That was introduced to me by my friend Matthew Thurber, who’s an artist. I kind of fell in love with it as a feminist take on Philip K. Dick, and I love the drawing as well. There’s a kind of unsung drawing style that artists like Justin Green and Sharon Rudahl and Frank Stack have that’s kind of figure-based and open.
It’s not necessarily traditionally cartoony, but it feels like a good middle way. And this felt like a story that really needed to be seen, that was 20 years ahead of its time, at least. I feel in love with it.
The other underground work kind of fell into this category of psychedelic adventures – adventures into mental spaces or Willie Mendes’s search for a hippie utopia. That one came from my searching through things that interested me; same with Michael McMillan, whose work I’d only seen bits and pieces of before I finally tracked him down and got to talk with him. A great guy.
For me, they kind of fit in to where the adventure comic went, how it evolved. Now, I could have put in some of Ditko’s stuff from Charlton in the 1970s as well, and it would have fit right in, but I wanted to see how the other “groups” of artists were dealing with this stuff.
Nrama: When you were putting this book together, were did you discover any particular stories or bits of history you hadn’t known about before?
Nadel: Yeah – most of what’s in the book, actually! Talking to John Thompson was a bit of a revelation, because I had no idea he was as deeply involved in comics as he was, and that he’d known Wally Wood and a lot of these mainstream guys in the 1960s. That there had been this crossover between mainstream and underground in the 1960s and 1970s was a revelation.
Learning about Pat Boyette was fascinating – that he had this film career I really knew nothing about. And my friends pointed me to all these great stories – Jason Miles suggested Kona, Thurber suggested “Crystal Night” – things kind of filtered through that I’d never heard of. And the book reflects this whole process of discovery.
And there’s more to be done! I’m still trying to learn more about Harry Lucey. I know he had a daughter, but it’s a struggle to find more about his family. So it’s an ongoing process.
Nrama: One of the things that’s most interesting about your work is that while there were these big-name creators like Lee, Kirby, and so forth who came out of the Silver Age era, but you focus on these great creators from that era, who were working alongside the greats, but are almost forgotten. Why do you feel that some of these creators don’t always get appreciated?
Nadel: It’s a combination of a lot of things. One is that, as you know, there’s a million – or at least a ton – of books being published for years and years and years, and for a long time there were only a handful of guys like Ron Goulart and Bill Blackbeard documenting it.
There were only a few guys trying to keep up with this deluge of material! And fandom, which was comics’ history until people began doing formal histories in the late 1970s, picked its favorites. It’s why we have so many interviews with guys like Kirby and Kurtzman.
Pat Boyette, “Children of Doom,” Charlton Premiere no. 2 (1967)There weren’t enough people keeping up with these creators is the first problem. The second is that because so many of these books came out from companies that went under, there was no legal way to reprint this material for a long time. It was difficult to see Jesse Marsh’s Tarzan, for example, until Dark Horse got the license to that character, and the rights to reprint his work.
So there are rights issues, and copyright issues, and just taste issues. A lot of stuff was well-covered, but there weren’t enough people around to cover everything. And if you weren’t drawing comics in the 1960s and 70s, when fandom rose up, it was difficult to document that person’s work. Bill Everett came back in the 1960s, but a lot of people disappeared.
Ogden Whitney never gave an interview in his lifetime! If you didn’t make it in the 1960s and 70s, it was easy to be forgotten. Now, people are getting rediscovered, and historians are getting more active – there’s going to be a Mort Meskin book, which is an amazing thing. But it’s a tricky thing, and comics’ history is a thankless task, as anyone will tell you. (laughs)
Nrama: Were there any challenges in getting the rights to reprint this stuff, and was there any stuff you weren’t allowed to reprint?
Nadel: I got permission from Marvel, of course, which was very gracious. But everyone agreed, though there were some things like Marsh’s John Carter of Mars that’s already being reprinted.
And I’d have loved to do more of some of the artists, and there are things I’ve discovered in the year since I’ve finished the book. But I’m happy with this, and I’m proud of it.
Nrama: So do you have another book like this in the works now?
Nadel: Not right now – though I’ve got a bunch of other books I’m working on. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do next. I’m busy with comics’ history, but there are plenty of things I still want to tackle.
Art in Time comes out from Abrams ComicArts on May 1.
Zack Smith (email@example.com) is a regular contributor to Newsarama.<./i>