Saturday, June 3, 2017

Molno-Trapani: "Montezuma's Gold" (The Wild, Wild West #4, Gold Key, 1968)

Bill Molno shows up once again as ghost penciler for Sal Trapani in Gold Key's next to last issue (#4) of The Wild, Wild West (1968).  A number of clues point directly to his participation in the main feature, "Montezuma's Gold," including the usual presence of what I term left-to-right "action panels" (though not all such panels feature action; it's just a working term that stuck).  Here are five of them:

Then we have the face of James West (right)...


...which also showed a year earlier (with bushy eyebrows) as the captain in Dell's Rango (p: Molno, i: Trapani):

...and as the face of a villain in "Rapwell's Kid" from the Jan., 1959, #44 issue of Charlton's Tex Ritter Western (p: Molno, i: Trapani), albeit with a bigger nose:

And we have a very creative reuse of a Charlton image from "A Lost Treasure" (Strange Suspense Stories #48, July, 1960).  Both depict underwater rescues by female rescuers.  Here's the Charlton "Lost Treasure" panel (p: Molno, i: Rocco Mastroserio)...

...and here's the Wild, Wild West panel, genders inverted but the same general layout:

In this next Wild, Wild West panel, two outrageously muscled henchmen manhandle James West:

Meanwhile, in this very similar Charlton Comics panel from eight years earlier, two outrageously muscled Venusian henchmen alien-handle two Earth heros ("The Barrier Clouds of Venus," Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #16, January 1960; p: Molno, i: Mastroserio):

Another clue to Molno's involvement occurs toward the end of "Montezuma's Gold," where we're treated to this rather underwhelming depiction of Montezuma's treasure, which looks something like an over-sized children's sandbox:

It reminds me of this image from the Molno-Trapani "Fifth Titan" (Teen Titans #6, Nov.-Dec. 1966, DC), in which money, jewels, and wallets are treated in the same sketchy, quickly penciled (and inked) fashion.  (It's a left-to-right action panel, too)  Maybe Molno was making an anti-materialist statement:

In fact, there's no shortage of line-saving tactics on display in "Montezuma's Gold"--witness the sketchy, partially obscured crowd in the Part Two splash panel:

And we this cluttered but sparsely populated composition, meant to depict Jim West and Artemus Gordon in a desperate battle against a massive group of Aztec foes ("The odds are only about 10,000 to 1!" says Artemus, to the left of Jim and in Aztec disguise).  Maybe they were down to the last four by the time the action was recorded:

Most economical of all are the story's last two panels, with their less than spectacular views of our heroes' private locomotive:


So, I think we definitely have Molno ghost-penciling for Trapani here.  Now, I should note that "Montezuma's Gold," despite some of its chintzier touches, is a highly enjoyable entry.  Despite his not infrequent corner-cutting and a tendency to repeat his images, Molno knew how to tell a story efficiently and entertainingly.  And he left some fun challenges for the art spotters of the future.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Molno-Trapani: The Medium (Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #20, Gold Key, Dec., 1967)

Possibly my favorite issue of Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, on account of two superior entries--"The Medium" and "The Death Bell."  The former boasts art by Sal Trapani, with ghost-penciling by my favorite Charlton talent, Bill Molno.  I loved this story as a child of 10, mainly because of such audacious, genuinely creepy images as this:

Sort of Steve Ditko lite in its loose lines and unbridled strangeness.  It's also a classic left-to-right action panel of the type Molno specialized in, and which show up in the majority of his stories.  "The Medium" boasts four more of these, all nicely done (even if the first two are virtual clones).  They're models of efficiency:


Now, let's compare some of the Gold Key faces to Charlton Molno-Trapani mugs.  We start with "The Medium":

Then we jump to this very similar visage from Charlton's Tex Ritter Western #44, "How the Feud Ended" (Jan., 1959).  The same expression, even!:

And how about these two guys?  First, from "The Medium" (see man in the center):

Then Charlton, where we see the same individual, a little balder and grayer and stockier ("How the Feud Ended," Molno-Trapani):

Then we have the gullible old lady from the start of "The Medium":

...who turns up in a younger version in Molno's Charlton entry, "Funeral Wreath" (The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #59, October 1976).  (Image reversed for purposes of matching).

Best of all, we have vastly similar closing panels, design-wise, to "The Medium" and "Funeral Wreath."  Both are classic l-to-r compositions:

And so I think we have another Molno-Trapani Gold Key entry.

More to come!


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Back from the fun and excitement of a two-month respiratory virus. (One month battling it, another one recovering from it.)

I've decided to move my 19th century children's stuff to a companion blog, which I call Finding Its Form: The Evolution of the Modern Comic Book.  Feel absolutely free to mosey on over and give it a shot, though for the moment the sole entry is a reposting (from here) of "Aesop's Fables (1884): the modern comic page on its way."

This way, I can keep Lee's Comic Rack focused on Charlton, Bill Molno, Dell, and the occasional Classics-Illustrated-knockoff post.  I think things were getting a little too cluttered around here (despite my slow posting rate of late!), what with having to juggle what are essentially two formats.

So, two blogs should do it.  More than do it, as they say.  Here, by the way, is a page from the Nov., 1887 issue of Babyland.  It's something we might expect to see a half century later, when comic books were old news.  But in 1887?

Thus, my interest in 19th century children's magazines and magazine-style books, of which there were zillions.  (Tell that to the eBay dealers jacking the prices sky-high on these things on account of the current "Victorian" craze.)  Anyway, I strongly believe that, with pages like the above, we're seeing the modern comic book come into being.  The details of that evolution are too complicated to simply summarize, so I'll let Finding Its Form: The Evolution of the Modern Comic Book do the talking.  Many thanks to Bev for helping me with the title (the portion that precedes the colon).

The earliest modern comic books aren't exactly what we might have thought they were, but that's the fun of historical research--namely, finding out how wrong we are about the past.  When we let it tell its own story, it always has tons of things to teach us.

Back to this blog--In no time at all, I'll be putting up some more Bill Molno art-spottings (I guess I can use that as a noun) in Dell and Gold Key.  I've been sitting on these for a while, as it's pretty intense work putting all the images together (finding the right ones being 95 percent of the work).

So I hope you'll check out my new (seven visits, to date!!) blog and stick with this one as I pick things up anew.  Bev and I were sick all January with a nasty respiratory virus that put the "long-term" in "long-term"--the dang thing took a month to leave our systems, and then it took us another month to fully reenter the world of the living.  Having "lost" 1/6 of a year, I'm having a hard time believing April is just around the corner.  I'm sure Bev is, too.

Our ten cats, as ever, couldn't care less....


Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Ants and the Grasshopper--Morgan J. Sweeney (1884)

I was able to get this wonderful 1884 book on the cheap from eBay, owing to some loose pages throughout.  I owe thanks to the binding for deteriorating--this kept the item in my price range.  Pages otherwise look fine.

But before we open Aesop's Fables, let me present this 1901 New York Herald comic page by Richard F. Outcault, of Yellow Kid fame (image swiped from eBay).  Its depictions of African Americans, as most of us probably know, was par for the 1901 course.  This was your great-great grandparents' popular culture:

What's significant to this post is Outcault's comic page layout: text surrounded by comic panels of various shapes--some lined, some not.  This is the same format featured in the Aesop's Fables chapter, "The Ants and the Grasshopper," by illustrator Morgan J. Sweeney. To the scans:

Below: A short text version of Aesop's fable...

...followed by a much longer version in verse and accompanied by Sweeney's delightful comic page illustrations:

Note the slightly softened ending for young readers.  The grasshopper dies, as in Aesop's tale, but only after the ants have taken pity on him, giving him food and clothing--to no avail.

A quick Google search turns up nothing on Morgan J. Sweeney, save for illustration credits.  Shouldn't he better known?  (Him, and a host of other children's illustrators from this era.)  More chapters to come....


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Sounds of Charlton: Record Riot!


Every Charlton fan, unless his or her collection lies outside the range of these ads, has seen one or more of the  "Record Riot" offers.  This one ("60 Smash Songs $2.98") hails from the Feb.-Mar., 1966 Billy the Kid (#43, last page), and it includes the iconic (hate that word) twisting couple:


Wow--less than 5¢ per song!  Awesome deal, no?  Well, we'll be exploring that question momentarily.

In 1963, you could get 96 songs ("a complete record library--amazing priced") for $3.49, which was less than 4¢ per song!.  From the inside front cover of the Dec., 1963 Strange Suspense Stories (#68):

Here's an earlier "96 Smash Hits" offer (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #44, Dec., 1962) with the titles in a different order.  Same songs, otherwise?  Dunno--I'm not OCD to do a title-by-title comparison.  (Is there any scanning software that will do it for me?  Hmm.)

In my (hasty) search through my Charlton boxes, I didn't encounter any pre-1962 examples of this ad, but they may very well exist.

My best guess on the date range for these discs: 1959 to 1966.  In the absence of a complete discography with release dates, I can't be sure, but since the series starts with Pink Shoelaces and The Happy Organ (plus four more tracks), 1959 is the logical conclusion for the kickoff year, given that the series focused on the latest hits (or, more precisely, on adequate to awful copies of the latest hits).

What did these things look like?  Like this:


As you can see from my scans, these "L-O-N-G playing records" were, in real life, 45-rpm EPs with six tracks (the standard count for the sound-alike EPs of the day).  The labels, needless to say, were named after Charlton Publications' Hit Parader and Song Hits magazines.

I cannot account for the "Hits of the Week" slogan on the sleeves, unless they were actually churning these out every week (which would mean there were 364 in all--don't think so).  Cool, campy labels, sixties-tacky sleeves.  And I just realized that, at 69¢ a disc (see printed price sticker), the tracks were actually a whopping 11.5¢ each, not 4 or 5¢!!  What gives?

I know that when I order hits for 4 or 5¢ apiece, I don't want to end up paying 11.5¢ a pop, and I wonder if any of the customers back in the day complained when they saw the label price?  That's a 100 to 200 percent increase over the ad quote!!   Then again, maybe these discs were sold in stores as well as by mail--I've seen a Hit Parader/Song Hits mailing box that could have doubled as a store display, so I wonder.  69¢ might have been the store price.  Will we ever know?

Hopefully, pop culture scholars around the world are working on this issue as we speak.  But now it's time to cover...


It would certainly be cool--in fact, awesome--if Charlton had recorded its own sound-alikes.  I don't mean in the sense of Bill Molno or Sal Trapani on lead vocals (and Joe Gill on typewriter), but, say, in the sense of Charlton having had masters recorded for its own exclusive use.  Imagine that.

But, of course, that's not how the cheapo labels operated--alas, none of these recordings were unique to this brand.  Despite the "Capitol Distributing Co., Derby, Conn" (Charlton) credit on the label and the Hit Parader and Song Hits tie-ins, these exact same tracks also came out on a host of other cheap labels, including Tops, A.R.C. (Allied Record Co.), Promenade, Hurrah! and Bravo.  (I've verified this with my own collection.)  By the late 1950s, the dime-store labels seem to have been leasing all of their tracks from one or two companies, master-wise.  (Exceptions included Bell.)  This made for endless overlapping of material from one label and/or LP/EP  to another--much more so than in the pre-1957 period, when four or five different budget-label versions of a given hit might be found.  (A great example would be the 1955 ((but recorded by Bill Haley in 1954)) hit, Rock Around the Clock.)

But, of course, now we want to hear some of...


Luckily for the sake of this post, I own nearly every one of the Song Hits and Hit Parader discs, their condition ranging from NM (near mint) to PDA (please don't ask).  So I was able to put together an 8:30 sound file containing portions of twenty-four tracks.  (Just what the die-hard Charlton fan has always dreamed of, I'm sure.)  You can download (or listen on-site to) the file here:

Hit Parader and Song Hits samples

The smash-hit titles, in order:

Summer in the City
Good Vibrations
Leader of the Pack
You Really Got Me
Baby Love
Sounds of Silence
Get Off of My Cloud
I Know a Place
Positively 4th Street
All Day and All of the Night
This Diamond Ring
My Girl
She Loves You
Surfin' Bird
Blue Moon
Who Put the Bomp
Take Good Care of My Baby
Surf City
Dang Me
A Fool Such as I
Help Me Rhonda
I Want to Hold Your Hand 

Cough, and you might miss a snippet.  I don't have the energy to list all the original artists, but all can be easily Googled.  (Imagine saying "easily Googled" in the days before cyberspace.)


Yikes.  There are some adequate imitations in the mix, but quite a number are something less than same, with the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones numbers especially awful (it's a toss-up between Help Me Rhonda and Good Vibrations).  Not bad at all are Surfin' Bird, Summer in the City (a tad under-produced, but what can we expect?), This Diamond Ring, and My Girl.  Overall, lousy, but not as lousy as we might expect.  (Faint praise, you say?)

So why did I hunt these down?  Because I love sound-alikes--don't ask me why.  I love all the tracks here--good, bad, and I-want-my-$3.49-back dreadful.  Sound-alikes make up about 1/10 of my collection, so I guess I'd better like the things.

What do you think, dear listener?  Anyone dying for complete tracks, maybe I can manage that in a future post.  Just give me a holler.  (Sound of crickets chirping.)