Friday, August 31, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – The Great Severins, John and Marie

sketch by John Severin—
The Great Severins, John and Marie

by Rick Marschall

I was startled and saddened by the news of this morning, as I write this, that Marie Severin has died. Bagpipes and eulogies all day in the background for John McCain’s funeral, but my mind was filled with memories of Marie, 89, who had been sick, a stroke victim in hospice; and of her brother John Severin.

They were each two of the most talented people to work in comics, especially during that sub-category of the Golden Age, the EC years, the shop assembled by Bill Gaines. John’s work at MAD and Cracked, and Marie at Marvel whilst I was editor there – and the other work they did – are superlatives matched by their personalities.

By nature, in a field populated by a few nasty graspers, they were the nicest people imaginable: friendly, generous, modest.

John I met and became friendly in another of my odd Forrest Gump situations. I grew up in suburban Closter NJ, where the woods (actually, I mean New York City and its suburbs) were full o’ cartoonists. Al Smith (Mutt and Jeff) briefly attended our little church; later I delivered the (Bergen County) Record to his house in Demarest. He introduced me to his sometime assistant Joe Dennett (Al was never really happy with Joe’s work, and he moved on to Harvey Comics), and one day Joe asked me if I knew John Severin.

Of course I knew Severin’s work, but nothing else. Joe told me he lived in Norwood, the other end of his own town. I stink at math, but I put two and two together, remembering that some friends had been talking about a storefront in Harrington Park – another neighboring little town – where they suspected that a cartoonist worked! 

—Robin Hood, 1964—
He must have been a grouch, or a hermit, because the curtains were always closed. But they peeked in and saw a studio, and a man at a drawing board. The next day I rode my bike there (I was still too young to have a driver’s license), knocked on the door – recalling the Frank Stockton story “The Lady or the Tiger?” – and knocked again. I could tell someone was inside… and he probably was hesitating to respond to Outsiders.

Well, he did. John Severin opened the door. A large presence. Not unfriendly but not effusive. I introduced myself; said I would like to meet him; and I had some of my sketches… would he mind looking at them?

He invited me in, and the ice was broken very quickly. John was not in any way a hermit, but he was very shy. He was not unfriendly, but he was a private person. He was not impatient… not at all. He was very gracious that first day, and we talked for a couple hours. There was never a short visit thereafter with John. No matter what his deadlines.

Pretty quickly he assessed me as someone who knew, and could talk about, comics old and new. He had a lot of books on his shelves, and I remember he was surprised that I knew Heinrich Kley’s work… but I had never seen the editions John had, two 1920s volumes published in Munich. And so forth. 

He rented that studio – or old strip-mall space cum studio – to work in peace. His house in Norwood was not large… and neither was his family.

I visited John for years, especially when I had a car to drive, and we talked about everything under the sun. He indeed critiqued my drawings. I still have sketches of hands in many configurations – many artists avoid drawing hands; but John loved to. He borrowed a lot of the old material I collected (as did other cartoonists I was getting to know).

One day he gave me a sketch he did of “Sean of Ireland,” intended (?) as a parody of Prince Valiant for MAD. I think it never took shape, but the character is terrific.

—Kull the Conqueror, 1964—
He eventually, or actually in “chapters” of chats, told me why he left the EC crew and MAD. The reasons have never been in histories or interviews with him or others; and never will be. The same with the real reason John, rather abruptly, moved to Colorado. Some humor in the telling… but a lot of sincerely held motivations to leave the East Coast.

We talked politics, a lot, as one of the subjects “under the sun.” John was possibly more right-wing than I was… as was Marie, who we will visit in a moment. He was a devoted Catholic, I think I recall one of the dissidents against Vatican II and the abandonment of the Latin Mass. I can share one aspect of his move to Colorado (which was a state he did not know but struck him as “sane”). His children, of course, all went to Catholic school; and one day he vented to me about the nuns (probably lay teachers) wearing mini-skirts (probably a touch of hyperbole). He would not leave the Church, but he left the East Coast.

I was surprised, almost, that he didn’t move next to a monastery in France or Italy.

When I went off to college he told me about a special “hello” he would send me from afar. John was happily excited that I joined Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the college youth group founded by William F Buckley. Oh, he wanted to know everything and encourage us all he could. I had a job at the national headquarters in Washington DC, and eventually was State Chairman there and back in New Jersey. John asked me to look out for a coming cover of Cracked Magazine.

One day I saw it: a bunch of gnat-infested hippies, deliriously playing “music,” the magazine’s iconic Sylvester P Smythe playing a musical saw. There, on a huge bass drum, was the band’s name – Yancey’s Appalachian Flukes… YAF! 

I was likely the only kid on the continent who understood that. And also maybe the only kid to buy up every copy, probably, in Washington DC. John told me to contact Bob Sproul, publisher, and ask for the original painting.

After graduation, John was in Denver, and our contact was mainly through Christmas cards, although when I was at Marvel (late 1970s) I tried to lure him to the magazine department. “Been there, done that.” I did give work to other heroes not from the bullpen – Lee Elias; Jack Sparling; Frank Bolle; Tex Blaisdell; Leonard Starr… I think. Chad Grothkopf, of all people, lobbied for assignments (unsuccessfully of course; but he was my first landlord after I married, so I was patient with him). I even had Burne Hogarth in to the office; that might have been interesting! I must rattle my brain better.

But, segue. Marie Severin was in the bullpen, in her own little office, then specializing in designing (pencil roughs) covers, and their coloring. We became fast friends too – in the Severin DNA evidently: the nicest person; no oversized ego; generous. Funny! Always laughing, and easy to amuse. Conservative? Oh, yes. We also talked for hours, and would go out for lunch. A lot.

One thing that impressed me, and I thought was… unusual, anyway. Brothers and sisters often look alike, naturally, even when not twins. But John and Marie could have traded roles. Different hair or hairpieces; adjusted vocal registers, and they were alike in every detail – little things like the tic of a brief eye-roll after blinking. Or starting laughs silently, then wheezing, then loudly. It was almost uncanny. 

And, of course, their drawing styles, especially the manner of inking, were very close. That is easier to understand or explain, than the rest… I never really stopped noticing.

Marie always flattered me by liking, and tacking to her walls, caricatures I did. My assistant Ralph Macchio, too, festooned his side of our own two-desk domain with the foolscap impromptu drawings – Shooter (living dangerously); Mark Gruenwald; Roger Stern; Doug Moench; Roger Slifer; the whole Marvel universe, really. Ralph and I both did impressions – he is a master – so life in the Magazine Department was often like dropping in to Rodney Dangerfield’s.

I once drew Mary deZuniga, the wife and constant companion on office visits of Tony, about one-seventh her size. I must have nailed it, at least in Sev’s eyes, because for months, randomly, she would come to my desk with that portrait in hand, laughing uncontrollably. 

That reception, from a person and a cartoonist like Marie Severin, was better than winning an Oscar or Reuben.

Speaking of Reubens. And drawings. Marie and I often went to lunch; sometimes alone, often with Ralph and others. I have a sketch here she drew back in the office after a long meal at Pronto’s on Third Avenue. Evidently I hogged the water, and she drew me, a young John Romita Jr – “JR Square,” Gruenwald called him – and herself, always with those big eyes. We exchanged many such sketches – love letters – for a long time.

—sketch by Marie Severin—
Another drawing, here, she gave me as a Bon Voyage card. EPIC Magazine was in the works, and Stan Lee deputized me to go to Europe to scout for artists. I attended the Lucca convention, then traveled up through France, Germany, Scandinavia. In 1978 Italy was in political turmoil. Well, it always is. I mean violent political turmoil. In the south, the Mafia was killing prominent politicians, and everyday merchants, at will. In the north, the Red Brigades and other Communist clubs were targeting politicians and businessmen, also frequently at random. You know, terrorism. “Kneecapping” – shooting people in their knees – was their preferred tool of persuasion for a season.

It was all in the news – of course – and inaugurated the policy that still survives here and there in Europe, of soldiers with Uzis at airports and train stations. Knowing all this, and discussing it all, Marie set my mind at ease (and my young wife’s) by depicting me with cartoonist contracts in hand, happily shouting huzzahs on bloody stumps. Grazie bene, Marie! Of course I proudly displayed it on my side of the office… after I returned safely.

—sketch by Marie Severin—
John and Marie were “artists’ artists” – they seemingly could draw anything. At any angle. With crazy instructions. John had reference for those Cracked parodies of movies and TV stars, of course; but always nailed ‘em. Everyone knows he loved Westerns and War comics – Civil War, World War II, whatever. Drama; emotions; yeah, testosterone. When called for. The humor, for MAD and Cracked, oozed from every panel.
—Robin Hood!—
And Marie? Very similar. Whether coloring and bullpen work for EC; and coloring, bullpen work, designing logos and licensing assignments for Marvel… everything. All things. Masterfully. Both Severins were ready with generous advice. Marie brainstormed with me on the title, as well as logo possibilities, when EPIC was initially discussed. (Oddly, the names we came up with – some as silly logo designs, never serious – have made into some histories as actual working titles. I still have our work-sheets.)

Almost half of Gary Groth’s great book on the Artists of EC is an interview with John Severin. Kurtzman, Wood, Elder, et al., occupy the rest. That is appropriate, and there needs to be  due notice taken of John and Marie Severin. John’s modest personality comes through – as does the voice, in the background, of his wife! – but as I suggested above, some of the most interesting aspects of his life will likely never be shared.

—American Eagle—

No matter, that small detail: one great thing about cartooning – all art, really – is that the work speaks for itself. We know that aphorism. But ultimately it speaks for the creators too, as words cannot, fully. Memories are great, but need to be shared.


Monday, August 27, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Al Smith, Jack Dempsey, John Cullen Murphy

Two Champs

by Rick Marschall

Still back in Old Testament days, so to speak, I remember Christmastide 1973. The National Cartoonists Society New York chapter for all intents and purposes was the NCS back then, in terms of number of members and activities, Orlando and northern Ohio and southern California notwithstanding.

There were monthly meetings in the Lamb’s Club, with first-rate panel discussions; the annual Reuben awards festivities invariably were at the Plaza or the Waldorf-Astoria; the officers, workers (for instance, editors of the publications), and the “Scribe” who held us all together, all were New Yorkers; Marge Duffy Devine was a former King Features employee. Many “outside” events were still “close in” to New York City – for instance, the annual bash hosted by legendary bandleader Fred Waring was at his Shawnee Country Club… on the New Jersey/ Pennsylvania border.

(Fred, by the way, whose big band Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians was a middle-level success on stage and in recordings. But his tinkering hobby led him to invent the Waring Blender – the first of kitchen devices of electric mixers, blenders, food processors – and made his real fortune. He could afford to throw the generous cartoonist weekends. Drawings on easels, especially on tablecloths, were saved by Fred and framed and eventually displayed.)

 Al Smith (1902-1986) NCS Biography 
A different NCS than today. I was in the right place at the right time. Getting to know many of the cartoonists in NYC area, I was a guest at NCS meetings from an early age. Implausible, but true, I was 11 when Al Smith (Mutt and Jeff) brought me in, after getting my parents’ permission. My father, a comics fan, would say no? Subsequently Vern Greene and Harry Hershfield and Rube Goldberg were among others who invited me.

One of those traditional and oh-so-New-York events was the annual NCS Christmas party at Mama Leone’s, the legendary Italian eatery in the Theater District. The year I recall here was 1973, even before I worked for any of the syndicates, but I had become a familiar face; and I was the political cartoonist for the Connecticut Herald. I think I was also writing for Cartoonist PROfiles and other publications.

 Big Ben Bolt, John Cullen Murphy, Dec 25, 1953 
 Big Ben Bolt, John Cullen Murphy, Dec 20, 1956 
Anyway, these monthly get-togethers not only were populated by the virtual Who’s Who of the top cartoonists… but there were celebrities, too, who were welcomed to crash the parties, or were amateur cartoonists themselves. Like Fred Waring. And another Fred, Fred Gwynne, who actually illustrated several books, and was a regular (prepping around this time for the Broadway revival of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof). Margaret Hamilton – not a cartoonist but a hilarious (!) friend to us all, not typecast as the Wicked Witch of the West after all, a jolly gal – lived on Gramercy Square and was a regular. Will Jordan, when he was in the mood, would join us and, of course, be asked to “do Ed Sullivan,” his claim to fame.

 Jack Dempsey shows Doug Fairbanks the punch that
took the heavyweight championship from Jess Willard 
Then there was Jack Dempsey (1895-1983). The legendary heavyweight champ, the Mannassa Mauler, was still around (with the help of a cane) as was his great restaurant on Times Square. There are still multitudes of people – I am one of them – who swear that the best cheesecake ever in New York City, or anywhere, was from Dempsey’s.

He was heavyweight champion of the world from 1919 to 1926 (and some say still the greatest) – a bygone era? Yet here he was in our midst. To me this was like strolling around Mount Olympus. Jack was always friendly and happy to recall old times, old boxers, and… old sports cartoonists, which I managed to ask about, despite the hubbub and singing and drinking and the usual boy’s choir from St Pancras Church and their Christmas carols.

 John Cullen Murphy, August 5, 1961 
At one point that evening I looked through the cigarette and cigar-smoke haze and spotted Jack Murphy. John Cullen Murphy (1919-2004), the eventual successor of Hal Foster on Prince Valiant, was then drawing Big Ben Bolt for King Features, written by Eliot Caplin, Al Capp’s brother. John Cullen Murphy’s son Cullen, who among other credits like editing at The Atlantic and at Vanity Fair, wrote the Prince Valiant continuities for 25 years. He recently wrote a memoir, Cartoon County, for Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Jack seemed an unlikely artist for a rough-and-tumble boxing strip (“lace curtain Irish,” was Rube’s characterization of him, as opposed to “shanty Irish”). I had an idea for another collaboration.

 —Jack Dempsey and John Cullen Murphy at a National Cartoonists Society party—
I asked Jack Murphy, famous boxing cartoonist, to do a drawing of Jack Dempsey, famous boxer. Both were happy to oblige. Both… remain Champs in every way.

 John Cullen Murphy Self-Portrait


Saturday, August 25, 2018

S. Clarke Hook (1857-1923)



Robert J. Kirkpatrick

S. Clarke Hook was one of most popular boys’ story paper writers of his era. He was best-known for his stories of “Jack, Sam and Pete”, a trio of rich adventurers whose comic exploits took them all over the world, and which began in Alfred Harmsworth’s The Marvel in 1901, and ran until 1922.  He also wrote countless other stories, mainly school stories, for many other Harmsworth papers. For a long time it was thought that his first name was Samuel, until Bill Lofts, writing in The Collectors’ Digest in November 1973, revealed that it was actually Sydney. Yet, despite his popularity and longevity – his working career spanned around 35 years – nothing has been written before about his life.

S. Clarke Hook was born on 7 July 1857 and baptized, as Sydney Clarke Hook, on 14 August 1857 at St. Anne’s Church, Hornsey (then a village in Middlesex north of London). His father was Adam Clarke Hook, born on 12 October 1824 in Clerkenwell, and baptized at the Wesleyan Methodist Registry in Paternoster Row, London, on 9 November 1824. His father, James Hook, was a draper and later a judge in Sierra Leone; his mother, Eliza Frances Clarke, was the second daughter of Dr Adam Clarke (hence the family’s second name of Clarke), a Methodist theologian and biblical scholar. James and Eliza had 13 children, the first of whom, James Clarke Hook (born in 1819, died in 1907) became a highly-respected artist.

Adam Clarke Hook became a Land Agent and Surveyor. He married Charlotte Ann Hennell, born in Kensington in 1830, the daughter of Charles Hennell, a Special Pleader (i.e. a law practitioner who specialized in writing legal pleadings for prosecuting or defence barristers), on 2 October 1851 in Kensington. At the time of Sydney’s birth they were living in Dartmouth Park, Maiden Lane, Hornsey. Adam was sufficiently well-off to be able to afford two servants a nurse (1861 census).

Sydney was the fourth of their 10 children. The others were a son who died shortly after his birth in 1852, Ada Francis (born in Putney St. Mary, Wandsworth in 1853), Evan James (born in Hornsey in 1855);, Louisa Mary (born in Wandsworth in 1859), Harry Lionel (born in Malden, Surrey in 1863), Beatrice Maud (born in Epsom, Surrey in 1866), Ella Caroline (born in Chichester, Sussex in 1869), Edith Charlotte (born in Staines, Middlesex in 1871), and Constance Elizabeth, born in North Dulwich in 1874).

At the time of the 1871 census the family was living at Mulgrave Road, Sutton, Surrey, with Adam again employing two servants and a nurse. Sydney was being educated at Ewell College.

On 30 November 1876 Sydney Clarke Hook married Alice Elizabeth Gray at Holy Trinity Church, Gray’s Inn Road, London. Born in London in 1858, she was the daughter of Charles Gray, an architect, and was living in Shepherds Bush.  Sydney was described on the marriage certificate as a merchant.

Sydney and Alice subsequently moved around the country (Bill Lofts claimed that Hook also “travelled round the world many times” – Collectors Digest, November 1973), as evidenced by the births of their children. Their first child, Sydney Victor, was born in Brixton in the summer of 1877, and baptized at St. Matthew’s Church, Brixton, on 27 January 1878, when Sydney and Alice were living at 14 Atlantic Road, Brixton, with Sydney working as a Spanish translator. Two years later, they had moved to High Cottage, North Road, Hendon, Middlesex, where their first daughter Beatrice Madeline was born in the summer of 1880, and subsequently baptized at St. Lawrence’s Church, Little Stanmore, on 8 May 1881. In the 1881 census, Sydney was recorded as working as a Notary’s Clerk.

Sadly, Beatrice Madeline died in West Ham in 1882, and Sydney Victor died in Brentford the following year.

Sydney and Alice’s second son Herbert Clarke was born in Brentford on 23 April 1883, and later baptized at St. Mary’s Church, Acton, on 8 June 1884. The baptism record gave their address as 5 Avenue Gardens, Acton, with Sydney rather oddly recorded as an engineer. Two years later, they had moved to Brighton, where Evelyn Irene was born in early 1886, and Mabel Inez in late 1887.

At the time of the 1891 census, the family was living at 15 Croppers Hill, Eccleston, Preston, Lancashire, with Sydney working as a Spanish Corresponding Clerk for a glass works in St. Helens. Their last child, Sybil Dora, was born in St. Helens in the summer of 1893, and baptized at St. Helen’s Parish Church on 5 November 1893, with the family address given as 106 Prescot Road, St. Helens.  Sydney was then working full-time as an author. In 1895, Hook was listed in the local Kelly’s Directory living at 106 Cropper’s Hill, St. Helens.

The 1901 census records the family living at Alexandra Villa, Prescot Road, employing a 19 year-old servant.

They then moved to the south coast – between 1905 and 1909 they were living at Hollingside, Stanley Road, Hastings (Kelly’s Directory). In October 1909 Hook placed an advertisement in The Evening Standard:

WANTED to Rent, with option of Purchase, a gentleman’s COUNTRY HOUSE, standing in secluded grounds of 2 acres, not isolated, near a good town, not clay soil, not less than 50 or more than 100 miles from London, unless having exceptionally fast service of trains; containing at least 3 rec., 6 bed rooms, bathroom (h. and c.); rent £50-£60 p.a., with option of purchase; freehold preferred; purchase would be made at end of first year if house found suitable. S. Clarke-Hook, Esq., c.o. The Property Editor, “The Standard”.

This advertisement was clearly successful, as by the time of the 1911 census the family had moved to The Hawthorns, Elton Road, Clevedon, Somerset, where they were employing a cook and a maid.

By 1918 they had moved again, to St. Adhelm’s Grange, Leicester Road, Poole, Dorset, Two years later, they were living at 31 Surrey Road, Bournemouth (then in Hampshire but now in Dorset).

Sydney Clarke Hook subsequently died at Rogate Lodge, Surrey Road, Bournemouth, on 14 August 1923, leaving a small estate worth £730 (around £38,000 in today’s terms).

His widow, along with her daughters Mabel and Sybil, subsequently moved to The Cottage, Russells Green, Hailsham, Sussex (1939 Register). (Rather strangely, they gave their dates of birth as 13 December 1859, 10 September 1899, and 13 August 1903 respectively – these do not tally with earlier records).

Alice died in Sussex in September 1947. She did not leave a will.

Although S. Clarke Hook was working as a translator in 1891, he had already began his career as a writer – his novel Victor Gonzalez’s Secret had been published by the St. Helens Printing and Publishing Company in 1890. In 1893, he had two short stories (The Maiden’s Vow and For His Sake) syndicated to local newspapers, such as The Hertfordshire Illustrated Review and The Newcastle Courant, and his stories subsequently appeared in other local newspapers, such as The Weekly Irish Times, The Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, The Cardiff Times and Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper. In November 1893, he provided the very first story, Dead Man’s Land, in Alfred Harmsworth’s first boys’ story paper, The Halfpenny Marvel. He went on to contribute numerous stories to this and other subsequent Harmsworth (later the Amalgamated Press) papers, including The Union Jack Library, Pluck, The Popular, The Boys’ Friend, Comic Cuts, The Gem, The Magnet, The Nelson Lee Library, Young Britain, Dreadnought, The Boys’ Friend Library and The Ranger. He also had stories published in United Newspaper’s Lloyd’s Boys’ Adventure Series and Lloyd’s Detective Series, C. Arthur Pearson’s Big Budget, Trapps Holmes’s Funny Cuts and The World’s Comic. He was best-known for his “Jack, Sam and Pete” stories, which ran in The Marvel from March 1901 until January 1922, with many other stories of the trio appearing in The Boys’ Friend Library between 1906 and 1924. He also wrote a series of school stories for The Gem, set at “Stormpoint College”, under the pseudonym of Maurice Merriman.

According to Brian Doyle (in his Who’s Who of Boys’ Writers and Illustrators, published in 1964), Hook retired from writing in 1922, and was awarded a small pension by the Amalgamated Press in recognition of his services.  It was possibly ill-health that led to his retirement, as he died the following year, aged 66.

Of his five surviving children, Herbert Clarke Hook became an author, working for the Amalgamated Press from around 1907 onwards. (He was recorded in the 1911 census as an author, living with his parents and three sisters). He enlisted in the army in May 1916, transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in May 1916, and then to the RAF in April 1918. Afterwards, he returned to writing. Amongst the story papers he wrote for were The Boys’ Magazine, Pluck, The Magnet, The Gem, The Boys’ Herald, Boys’ Realm, Boys’ Friend, Chums and The Scout. Many of his stories appeared under his pseudonym of Ross Harvey. He apparently married, although no details of when and to whom are known. He died in Hastings in September 1957.

His sister Evelyn Irene had died, unmarried, in Eastbourne in 1930. His two other sisters, also unmarried, Mabel Inez and Sybil Dora, died in Hailsham, Sussex, and Hastings, Sussex, in 1960 and 1977 respectively.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Exhibition: Weapons of Mass Seduction

—[illustration not part of the exhibition]

Exhibition: Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda

The Dark Side of War Propaganda

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Jerry Marcus

.Sketch by Jerry Marcus (1924-2005).

A Moving Farewell

by Rick Marschall

My first major job as a newspaperman was with the Connecticut Herald in Norwalk. A generation earlier it was the Bridgeport Herald, so powerful in the Nutmeg State that it published editions as far away as Hartford and even Springfield MA. When I was hired as reporter and cartoonist it was a shell of its former self… but. There I was in Fairfield County CT, home of many great cartoonists; and the paper was large enough to have vestigial influence around the state, but small enough that I was asked to assume additional chores, handling wire copy, composing front pages on the weekend, and so forth.

The best days of my life, except for others. But, consider: the paper was then owned by William Loeb, owner, also, of the Manchester (NH) Union-Leader. He was famed then, and still is, for being the most conservative of major newspaper publishers (he had a small chain). So when I was pulled from reporting to write a political column (me, being then, and still, fairly conservative) I never received a complaint for going overboard from Bill. In fact, a lot of “attaboy!” notes.

Besides, Loeb was the son of Theodore Roosevelt’s influential private secretary, and we both worshiped TR.

All of which made for a great job for a few years. I eventually was given the new weekend magazine section to edit, a dream; total freedom. The paper’s condition was rocky, and Loeb ordered several shake-ups… but always instructed on-ground exec to leave my magazine intact. Yes, a dream. Add to that, phone calls from, say, Dik Browne or Leonard Starr or John Cullen Murphy, complimenting me on a cartoon or column.

But two things, maybe inevitably, intervened. The Herald was indeed on a rocky footing, and a young professional with marriage in his sights could not rely on its security. Also, I received a job offer from Sid Goldberg at United Feature Syndicate in New York to edit comics for them. This seemed too good to resist; and its duties also included drawing two political cartoons a week and celebrity caricatures.

(The job was partly arranged by Tee Wheeler, the widow of John Wheeler, syndication pioneer whose earlier protege was Sid; and Sid, by the way, was husband of conservative firebrand Lucianne Goldberg – Google Monica Lewinsky; Linda Tripp; and the blue dress – and father of Jonah Goldberg.)

Tangent, sorry. My fatal disease. When I took the job in New York City, I was able to commute from Weston, about an hour by train. Sparing more tangents, eventually we moved to Pennsylvania, where I was offered a teaching gig at the Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts. When the “final” break from Fairfield County came, a few cartoonist friends arranged a Good-Bye party for us.

I think it was at Jack Berrill’s house; he drew Winnie Winkle. Jerry Marcus (Trudy) was there; and the great gag cartoonist Orlando Busino; and author and comic expert Ron Goulart; and gag cartoonist Herb Green; and the amazing Bob Weber (Moose) and others. It was a great evening, of course tinged with sadness.

The cartoonists all drew Farewell cartoons. I’ll share them here eventually, but Jerry Marcus’s was funny and memorable. In fact I made it into a change-of address card!

Jerry was one of the great companions and unforgettable dining companions. Perhaps half the time six or eight of us would gather somewhere for lunch, he would have a problem with the menu or the water glass or the sun streaming in the windows or the angle of the napkins… and up we would all get, headed for a different restaurant. Story for another chapter of a Crowded Life…


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Crimson Rain: Charles Stevens Roman Romances

—Caractucus [c.1885]—

by John Adcock

Wanted always, scarce penny dreadfuls and fierce boys’ journals, 1830-1900. Nothing goody-goody! — advertisement by Barry The Penny Dreadful King Ono.

“Ildica’s lacerated shoulder bled so freely that both her own and Flavia’s fairer skin were sprinkled with crimson rain…” — Charles Stevens

CHARLES STEVENS. Charles Stevens [1836-1908?] was the founder and proprietor of Boys of England, whose first number was published on Tuesday, November 27, 1866. Stevens contributed the thrilling opening serial Alone in the Pirates’ Lair, illustrated by a man named Hebblethwaite, “who could draw as well with his left hand as with his right one, and was considered the finest black and white artist of the day [Frank Jay, 1918].” The Boys of England passed into the hands of Edwin Brett with the eleventh issue of Feb. 4, 1867. Stevens new venture in publishing was The Boys’ Book of Romance, begun in 1868 with art by John Proctor, Matt Morgan, Harry Maguire, and R. Wagner. Stevens contributed the opening serial A Cruise With The Buccaneers. He was the conductor of The Royal Journal in October 1869, contributing The Blonde, a Tale of the Great City to the first issue.

By the eighteen-seventies Charles Stevens was in great demand as a publisher, editor and writer of boy’s romances. In a rich muscular style Stevens manufactured brutal penny dreadful historical serials for the The Young Englishman’s Journal (both editor and contributor), Gentleman’s Journal, Boys Herald, The Young Men of Great Britain, The Sons of Britannia, The Boys Standard, The Boys Leisure Hour, Rover’s Log, and the Young Briton. His historical fiction was of great variety with tales of Dark Age Britain; of Cromwell’s time; of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, and the war of the Spanish Armada.

Stevens was particularly enamored of the period of the Roman Invasion of Britain. He wrote several sword and sandal epics: Caractus the Champion of the Arena, Caradoc the Briton, Spartacus; or, The Revolt of the Gladiators, The Master of the Lion, Nicias the Spartan, The Roman Standard BearerThe Sentinel of Pompeii, and King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.

Stevens stories were grim and his characters believable, the texts illuminated with historical quotes and footnotes. My own favorite Stevens tale is The Roman Standard Bearer, a dreadful story of Julius Caesar, the Druids, and human sacrifice, which was originally published in the Emmett brothers Sons of Britannia, Vol.3 No. 76, issued August 19, 1871, then re-issued as a serial in Charles Fox’s Boys Leisure Hour for August 28, 1884. Conan the Barbarian would have run like a girl from Stevens muscular Ancient Britons!

Roman Standard Bearer

ANCIENT BRITONS. The Roman Standard Bearer, sub-titled A Tale of Britain’s First Invasion, begins in Rome where two of the gladiators, a Briton, Glaucus, and a Roman, Claudius, form a warm friendship in the arena. The story then follows their adventures in Britain where Caesar’s legions are startled by the sight of naked Britons with “stalwart bodies and sturdy limbs, which were tattooed with quaint devices of birds, beasts, reptiles, trees and flowers, from chest to ankle.”

Stevens protagonists were not the usual plucky boy heroes of penny fiction, they were bloodthirsty men with facial hair, and the arousing female characters, sold as slaves and sacrificed to the bloody gods, were the hard-boiled equal of the woad-painted men in the gladiatorial arena 

“Then the beautiful blonde suddenly shot out a lightning blow straight from her round dimpled shoulder, which the brunette avoided by quickly sinking on her knee and letting it pass over her head; but in an instant she was back on her feet again, and ere her antagonist could recover her guard, her steel-plated cestus came crashing down on her exposed chest.
The dull thud of the iron on the soft flesh could be heard in every part of the vast theatre. The stricken girl gave a short quick gasp, and the blood momentarily left her cheeks, as she reeled backwards a yard or more, but still maintained her footing.
Then she rallied and sprang forward to renew the contest, avoiding two blows by rapid movements of her agile body; she caught another on her round right arm, and disregarding the pain, she passed her opponent’s guard and rained a fierce stroke on her beautiful shoulder that cut through to the bone.
Then, with their naked, glowing busts pressed tightly against each other, and their white rounded arms encircling each other’s bodies in no gentle or loving grip, they wrestled for the mastery. To and fro they reeled panting with excitement and anger but in every twist and turn showing some new line of beauty in their undulating swaying forms, so exquisitely modeled and of such rare symmetry.
Sometimes Ildica would, with a hand pressed against each of her adversary’s white shoulders, thrust her body back until ‘twas hard to imagine that it could bend further without snapping the spine asunder, and then her strength would give way, and their chests would come together with a dull thud, and Flavia would quickly throw a milk-white exquisitely modelled leg, bare to the hip, around the darker-skinned, but equally well-proportioned limb of the Lady Ildica, and tighten the coil till every little blue vein would show through the creamy skin, in a vain attempt to hurl her on the sand.
Ildica’s lacerated shoulder bled so freely that both her own and Flavias fairer skin were sprinkled with crimson rain, and the blonde’s lovely chest already showed ten leaden-coloured bruises made by Ildica’s cestus, but yet neither thought of confessing herself vanquished and they continued to clutch each other’s yielding frames tighter and tighter until each seemed to feel two hearts beating in her body, and their rounded bosoms seemed bursting with the compression.”
— Roman Standard Bearer

HOMICIDAL HEROINES. Virginal Stella waited her fate as a prisoner in the Den of Maniacs, about to be sacrificed by the Arch-druid in a huge wicker-man construction. But first she must serve as the entertainment for the blood-maddened crowd in the arena. Stevens painted the scene in the Den of Maniacs in fleshy purple-bruised prose 

“Naked beauty shrinking from a blow or from contact with anything that is vile or unclean, is sure to be graceful in the extreme, for an elegant pose is somehow, by mere accident, certain to be obtained in such a case, and so it was with Stella.
Her beauteous form, so perfect in its natural outlines, gleamed like a marble statue in the red murky light, and her rounded limbs, creamy skin, snowy neck, and heaving bosoms made her resemble a veritable goddess.
A woman’s beauty will seldom excite pity, however, in another female breast, and so the three harpies before named sprang at the fair Amazon simultaneously and endeavoured to clutch some portion of her delicate frame.Two of them were promptly felled to the floor by Cassibelan, who was happily chained sufficiently close to his sister to be able to render her some assistance, but the third, advancing from quite an opposite direction extended to the full length of her chain and fastened her teeth in Stella’s dimpled back.
The poor girl uttered a cry of pain and sprang in an opposite direction, but only to bring herself within reach of another crouching female form, who seized a white leg and bit deep into her quivering thigh, causing the red blood to spout forth.In vain Stella strove to tear herself away while the length of Cassibelan’s chain would not permit of his rendering any aid in this case.
Her assailant rendered mad by thirst and hunger, clung to her beautiful limb until her hooked nails were buried deep in the broad hip, and sucked a way at her rich young blood as though it had been the most delicious nectar of Olympus.
The Amazon writhed, and trembled, and shrieked; her flesh actually quivered with the agony she was enduring, but with her little fists she rained blow after blow upon the head of her cannibal assailant, and at length thereby forced her to desist.
The woman with a gasp of satisfaction and relief, relaxed her terrible clutch with teeth and nails, and sank back dreamily back as though in a happy sleep, while Stella, painfully dragging away her injured limb, sunk fainting upon the foul and blood-stained floor of the den.”

FAME. Story-paper collector Henry Steele once said “It was these tales that stimulated my love of history and certainly impressed many dates of important events on my mind, which the ordinary school tuition would have failed to do.” Indeed. Steele burst out in poetry to praise the thrilling serial The Sentinel of Pompeii and its inspired author, Charles Stevens 

This yarn though it was meant for lads,
Still holds them now that they are dads,
This tale of old boy’s journal fame,
Was given alack! No author’s name,
I think, however, the story throughout,
Was by Charles Stevens without doubt,
Years ago, a novel written,
Was by that classic writer, Lytton,
Stevens doubtless was inspired,
By this and his ambition fired,
So he wrote “The Sentinel” there and then,
A noble story from an able pen.