Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bill Molno's 1970s war art for Charlton

Technically, Bill Molno's '70s Charlton work starts in September, 1971 with "The Talking Tooth" (Fightin' Marines #99), but I strongly suspect this feature was an instance of delayed publication--stylistically, it is identical to a Nov., 1968 Fightin' Marines feature by Molno called "Silent Signals."  Observe:

Same lettering, too.  And there's the biggest clue of all: the job number of B-647.  (The other two stories in Fightin' Marines #99 have the job numbers B-1591 and B-1561, respectively.) Clearly,"The Talking Tooth" was drawn well before 1971.   I think we can safely conclude, based on available data (i.e., mine and GCD's), that Molno's '70s Charlton work really starts in July, 1974 with his cover for Fightin' Army #114:

Molno drew one more war cover before Charlton mass-fired its staff in 1976, though that cover (Fightin' Army #129) wasn't printed until November, 1977.  Its art was (mostly) taken from the splash panel to "A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse":

Notice how the guy in the foreground appears to be shooting one of his own men (above)?  Well, it turns out he was borrowed from the interior story's second panel and carelessly pasted in.  Hence, the rather awkward detail in an otherwise tight composition.  Behold:

During Charlton's reprint era, Molno's art graced five war comic covers (from 9/81, 5/80, 3/78, 12/82, and 8/81, respectively):

But we're here for the interior art, and I'm happy to report that it's the best of Molno's career (though my personal favorite is the artist's highly eccentric '60s Charlton space art).  Here are some of his best compositions and layouts from Fightin' Army, Fightin' Marines, and War, images which display a looseness of line, depth of detail, and inventiveness in layout missing from much (though not all) of his pre-1974 work.  In my humble yet biased view, these are highly effective and efficient battlefield depictions. It should come as no surprise that the man behind these images was a watercolorist.

By the way, going through these, I noticed to my surprise that some of them received their first (and only) printings during the reprint era--meaning, of course, that they had remained in inventory since the mass firing of 1976.  And so I had assumed that, for instance, 1979s "The Cold, Cold War" and 1978's "My Duty Or Death" were reprints.  Not.  This stuff gets complicated!

Below: "Private War," Fightin' Marines #133, Oct., 1977:

Below: "Trapped Again," Fightin' Marines #123, May, 1975.

Below: "The Devil Dogs at Chateau Thierry," Fightin' Marines #125, Sept., 1975.

Below: "Chicken," Fightin' Marines #127, Jan., 1976:

Below: "The Raiders," Fightin' Army #130, Feb., 1978.  (Not to be confused with the Molno-illustrated story of the same title in War #9, Nov., 1976):

Below: "The Chongjn Express," Fightin' Marines #118, Aug., 1974.

Below: "My Duty or Death," Fightin' Army #131, March, 1978.  

Below: "The Cold, Cold War," War #13, April, 1979:

Below: "Giant Killer," Fightin' Army #127, Dec., 1976:

More Molno to come!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Charles Nicholas Stayed Busy After Charlton, Part 2--"Star Wars" (1978)!

My copy of Pendulum Press' Star Wars adaptation (Contemporary Motivators, 1978) must have been a big hit at Jefferson Middle School's Reading Department in Meriden, Connecticut--the worn front and back covers attest to as much.  Of course, for the following photo, I software-restored the front-cover border to something like its original state.  I cheated, in other words:

The well-loved original, before retouching:

A 31-page Star Wars comic book adaptation may sound like an impossible task, and maybe it is, but illustrator Charles Nicholas and adapter Linda A. Cadrain pretty nearly pulled it off.  The chief issue, besides the drastically compressed narrative?  Too many panels describing action instead of showing it--e.g., "Quickly Leia blasted open a small grate in the wall," and "Moving in on the target, Luke fired, then shot up and away from the Death Star."

Then again, the whole point of these Pendulum comics was to encourage kids to read, so maybe such measures were for the best.  But what's Star Wars without all the zaps, blasts, and explosions?  (Actually, a lot better, in my opinion--I hate the movie's sound effects!)  Even the Kenobi/Vader duel gets three measly panels, all close-ups.  But at least we get a nice Nicholas rendering of the Death Star explosion.  Better than the original, really, which looked like stock footage from Lost in Space:


And we get these other above-average panels to make up for the adaptation's lost opportunities.  Here, as at Charlton, Nicholas was no slouch in the space-art department:


Of the core characters, "Ben" is especially well-drawn:


Ditto for the droids:

Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker are adequately rendered, and Darth Vader is terrific:

Chewbacca is nicely done.  Han Solo, on the other hand, looks like a moonlighting Reggie from Archie Comics:

Can't win 'em all, I guess.  Anyway, minus the talents involved, this drastically compressed version of Star Wars would likely have been told with a lot less (pun alert) force, if much of any.  Too bad Cadrain and Nicholas weren't given more space--this might have aspired to a Classics Illustrated level.  But, all format limitations considered, this is a very competent and diverting adaptation.  Just ask the patrons of Jefferson Middle School's Reading Department. 


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Charles Nicholas stayed busy after Charlton, Part 1--"Lost Horizon" (1979)

Below: Hugh Conway gazes upon the not-quite-splendor of Shangri-La, as drawn by Charles Nicholas for the 1979 Pendulum Press comic book version of Lost Horizon:

"What the heck is that?"--Conway

Pendulum Press' "Contemporary Motivators" series (that's what they called it!) appears to be as generally unknown to comic collectors as the same publisher's set of twelve Classics Illustrated reissues.  Half the length of the Now Age Illustrated titles, the CM literary adaptations had to tell their stories even more quickly and simply, which made Charles Nicholas (of Charlton/Nicholas-Alascia fame) their ideal illustrator--and my Net research suggests he did them all.  No cut on Nicholas--he was a talented man, but most of his work was pretty no-frills, and that no-frills quality may have been deemed more suitable to the "contemporary" titles in this series than the comparatively flamboyant contributions of Pendulum's Filipino artists.  Maybe that's why Vincent Fago picked Nicholas.  Or maybe it was because Nicholas had suddenly become available, his time at Charlton having just ended.  I do not know.  Besides Horizon, CM's literary adaptations include Hot RodJust Dial a NumberThe Diary of Anne FrankGod Is My Co-Pilot, and The Caine Mutiny.

Here's the splash/introduction page for Horizon.  The story's narrator (not shown here) looks exactly like the characters Conway and Mallinson, making for some slightly confusing reading, even at 32 pages.  (Well, 31. We'll get to that):

Below: A typically competent Nicholas composition, complete with those gaping foreground faces we know and love from Charlton:

Below: "The most beautiful mountain on earth"?  I guess you had to be there:

Below: The reasonably cool Shangri-La in the second panel helps make up for the not-so-hot cover rendition thereof: 

Below: A cool overhead view, adequately detailed, with the ceiling lanterns helping to give this composition a sense of depth.  I was puzzling over why this panel has a stronger feeling of depth and scope than the exterior scenes, and the reason is simple: because it's wide.  

Below: Nicholas' least successful panel, besides the cover, featuring the mountain called Karakal, which looks like a pile of sand left over from a building project.  The panel shape gives a nice sense of height, if nothing else:  

Below: A much cooler composition, even if the mountain continues to look like an outsize chunk of ice cream.  Mallinson (who parts his hair differently than Conway) gets the Nicholas gaping-face treatment in panel 2.  Shangri-La, while a bit under-detailed, is still faring better than it had on the cover:

Below: Fine work from Nicholas, as Shangri-La fades into the mist.  Here the upright panel shape doesn't hinder the sense of depth and scope:

Below: The decades catch up with the previously young and beautiful Lo-Tsen following her departure from Shangri-La with Mallinson and Conway.  This could have been the occasion for some memorable comic work--instead, we get a bored-looking face and a few lightly-inked wrinkles.  Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, this is not.  The final panel is nice, though.  Like the book, this adaptation ends with the question, "Do you think he will ever find it?" ("He" being Conway, and "it" being Shangri-La.) Next page blank.  Nice effect.

Or maybe not--Just Dial a Number also sports a blank final page, so maybe I'm mistaking an ink-saving measure for an innovative touch!  

Verdict: Mediocre but fun.  Not much magic in this Lost Horizon adaptation, though I enjoyed it, anyway.  More Nicholas to come.