Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

August 23, 2020

GUNFIGHTERS #72 (Charlton Comics, April 1982)

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gunfighters 72

GUNFIGHERS #72 (Charlton Comics, April 1982)

There is something charming about the re-purposing/re-cycling of product in the low end of the popular culture marketplace. I recently saw a collection of late 70’s newspaper ads from the South and from Texas for drive-in theaters and was surprised to learn that the 1960’s and early 1970’s films of Herschell Gordon Lewis were playing regularly in various combinations up through 1980 or so–imagine going to your local passion pit on the outskirts of town circa 1980 and getting a double-bill of THE GORE GORE GIRLS and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. At the same time, you could go to your local Sound Warehouse’s budget bin and purchase some dodgy budget label LP for $1.99 containing the grungy Ed Chalpin-produced R&B jams featuring the pre-fame Jimi Hendrix, fifteen years after they were recorded (and who knows if Hendrix was even aware that the tape was rolling!). In the comics world, Charlton Comics was putting out new product consisting of reprints of older Charlton content (comics looked down upon and ignored by the comics powers-that-were back then, whether they were new or reprints), some going back to the late 1950’s! Why, you could potentially have bought the Charlton GUNFIGHTERS comic under review here, picked up the budget-label Hendrix album, and gone to see the Lewis films THE SAME DAY. And for most people back in the pre-Internet age, it would all have been new to you. My, what a satisfying day that would have been! Also, all of those things would have been relatively “off the radar” in terms of the gate-keepers of popular culture, and you could have experienced all of these from your small-or-medium sized town in Western Kansas, or Central Pennsylvania, or the Texas Panhandle. All you needed on top of that for a perfect day was a ‘Big Plain’ from your local Burger King and an oversized can of Big Cat Malt Liquor to wash it down.

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Long before people attempted to document everything via the internet, daily life had a pleasurable randomness factor to it and a sense of the unknown. Things were thrown at you in the course of your everyday routine that could not be looked up on your smart-phone. When you found for a quarter a used copy of some odd paperback book from a publisher you’d never heard of, you could not look it up and get its backstory–you had to read it, and even then, you might not have a handle on where it came from and what was its context. You could stumble across an obscure film at 3 a.m. on the UHF station, something that did not appear in your local newspaper TV supplement or TV Guide, which just had LATE MOVIE listed, see it once, mention it to people afterwards and no one would have ever heard of it, even though it may have had a name star in it such as Rory Calhoun. After a while, you wondered if you were the only person anywhere who saw this….and did you REALLY see it, or was it all just a dream as you were dozing off (I have seen non-existent European movies starring Guy Madison in my dreams, and heard non-existent Kim Fowley albums in my dreams, undoubtedly constructed from known elements in my brain) and the station was in reality running an ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW re-run? It’s hard for people who were born into the internet age to understand that, the way it was difficult for me as a child to grasp the concept of life before electricity, which my grandmother who was born in 1896 lived through for her first few decades (women did not even have the vote when she turned 21!). The important thing to remember about these eras is that people got along just fine, and in some ways life was more pleasurable, or perhaps the proper term would be MORE INTENSELY AND DIRECTLY EXPERIENCED. That’s true whether we are talking about 1979, 1896, or any other random date you want to mention….1733, 1142, 212 B.C.

One thing that has always annoyed me is people who look at the past through the lens of the present and view themselves and the present age as being superior. Anyone with a sense of history, and a sense of modesty, and a sense of perspective, knows that many aspects of present-day life and society circa 2019 will make future generations cringe! I would hazard to guess that many  are already cringing today, as these things are happening! We’re no better than previous generations, and in many ways we’re probably worse. Oh, but you can watch a shitty sit-com on your phone rather than talk to the person sitting next to you, and you can find out in three seconds who led the American League in home runs in 1981….and you can take a picture of your meal and post it so people on another continent can see your tedious dinner. How advanced we are!

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Fortunately, we can escape this world of people watching corporate infotainment on portable devices they are addicted to as much as (or even more than) any drug addict they’d look down upon….by picking up a cheap and unwanted late-period Charlton Comic, still available for a dollar or so in unread condition.

As with most Charlton product, I did not get this new at full price–I picked it up later (though not much later, maybe 8-12 months) in the secondary market. Many convenience stores had a used or remaindered magazine section back then (you still saw this in rural areas until a few years ago, particularly in non-chain Mom’n’Pop stores), where something like this 60-cent comic would have a 25-cent sticker on it. That section was often beside the full-price section or in a corner (or on a separate rack). I’d learned by 1982 that if a Charlton comic did not have the words ALL-NEW in big letters at the top, then it was recycled material from their archives. You could also tell that from the masthead, which did not hide the fact that the material was old. This magazine reads “all editorial material herein contained was originally published in and is reprinted from publications copyright 1960, 1961 by Charlton Publications Inc.” There was certainly no problem with that, as far as I was concerned. It was unlikely that I’d have had many 1960 comics in my collection, and if I did, I’d probably have vaguely remembered the stories. And if I didn’t, then I would not mind re-reading them. Considering that the late 50’s and early 60’s were a Golden period of westerns on TV and in comic books, I was actually happy to be getting vintage material. And Charlton had been pumping out so many series of western comics for so long that whatever this magazine contained, it would surely be worthwhile, and well worth a quarter. A broad title like GUNFIGHTERS could cover pretty much any western comic material–it would be hard to find a vintage story that did not have a gun drawn by someone somewhere in it.

What makes this issue so appealing is exactly the wide variety of material and the various “big names” of western lore who are represented: ANNIE OAKLEY, WILD BILL HICKOK, WYATT EARP, KID MONTANA….and checking out the Grand Comics Database on this issue, I see that even the cover was re-cycled from an old TEX RITTER magazine (and if you look at the cover pic we provided, you can see that yes, it does resemble the comic book version of Tex….as much as any Charlton comic “resembles” a real-life model!).

I can remember sitting on my front porch in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with the porch light on and a citronella candle burning to keep the mosquitoes away, at about 2:30 a.m. reading this.

The bar/club/restaurant I worked at closed at 1 on weeknights, we usually had it closed up and ready to go for the next morning’s day shift by 1:45-2:00 a.m. As I would walk home in the middle of the night, I would savor the silence….it provided a blank canvas on which whatever minor sounds were out there would stand out in contrast to the silence (when I met John Cage 6 or 7 years after this, I mentioned this image to him and brought up his citation of Thoreau’s line about sound being “bubbles on the surface of the silence”–Cage smiled like an uncle proud of his nephew graduating from high school, and said something along the lines of “that’s it”). After I got home, washed up, and took my copy of GUNFIGHTERS out on the porch (probably sipping one of those Big Cats), I would relax—-no more dishwashing, marinating and cooking cheap steaks, preparing plates full of nachos, and doing inventory of kitchen supplies until tomorrow….which was actually TODAY since it was after 2 a.m.!

Annie Oakley took on and defeated a sleazy and corrupt faux-Frenchman who was trying to control the entire valley, steal her ranch, AND force himself upon her. As I tuned into the middle-of-the-night silence, and looked out toward the dimly-glowing horizon west of town, I could imagine all this being played out just a few miles from where I sat.

I would come out on the main street from the frontier café where I worked as cook and bottle-washer, and I would wave at and applaud Annie Oakley as she rode down the street after gunning down the Frenchman and turning him over–wounded, bloodied, and defeated, with his head down in shame– to the Sheriff. I could then go back to my daily life–in the Old West or in Oklahoma circa 1982–and feel a sense of victory. Thank you, Annie Oakley….thank you, Charlton Comics….thank you, Big Cat Malt Liquor!

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July 20, 2020

RAWHIDE KID #100 (Marvel Comics, June 1972) and the stripped-cover comics phenomenon

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:29 am
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Long before anyone ever made a drug or sex overture to me, and years before I was taken into “the back room” at Independent Records on West Colfax and offered bootleg LP’s for sale, I was first taken “behind the veil” as a comic book-buying elementary school student. Although I bought comic books at a drug store and at other places in the neighborhood, my main comic source was Convenient Food Mart, which had one of those tall circular wire-racks where the comics were on display. The comic section was in the corner of the front of the store, on the opposite end from the entrance, behind an ice-cream freezer and a soda machine. At my present advanced age, I don’t remember now what day of the week the new comic shipment appeared, and I did not have enough money to buy a comic a week anyway, but whenever I did get a quarter from my grandmother or some change from someone else for doing a chore or whatever, I would take it down to Convenient and check out the comic section. You could not “read” the comics without buying them, but you could look them over pretty closely, and I did. It was kind of like looking at 20 coming attractions for different films before deciding which one you would pay to see. It also allowed me to keep up on comics I did not actively buy as you could skim them fairly quickly. I would also stop there on the way home from elementary school and check out comics I could not afford.

I must have been going there for a few years a few times a week to look at comics when the overture was made: “Hi, Son. You come in here a lot–you’re a good customer. I’ve got some special comics in the back room that are cheaper than these ones out front. Only thing is they are missing the cover, or part of the cover. Want to take a look. You will keep this to yourself, right? Also, there’s no sales tax on these.” I was a bit taken aback, but there was the sweet taste of something unknown in his invitation, so I was ready.

What the backroom held was a few boxes of comic books with the top halves of the front cover ripped off….and some with no front cover at all. They were about 1/3 the cost of a proper comic. I don’t remember the specifics of pricing, but let’s say that instead of getting two new comic books for thirty cents, I could get something like six or seven of these “stripped” ones (as they are called in the trade).

Needless to say, I was hooked. I would make a point of stopping by when this particular guy was working, and he’d take me back again and let me thumb through the new offerings. Eventually, he let me go back myself (if there were no customers in the store), put my comics in a bag, and leave the money on the table. When I did it this way, I had to write down which ones I took, and he would check later.

I suppose on some level this practice was similar to cut-out records or remaindered books, but the big difference is that those are legit practices, and comic book stripping is not. The covers were sent back to the distributor so the store would get a credit for unsold copies. It would cost too much to ship all the unsold books back. If you look at the official notarized publication statements in comics of the era with the print runs and the sales and the returns, you see that often 50% of the magazines and comic books were returned unsold. This stripping procedure saved a lot of money on returns, and magazine and comic publishers factored the throwaway copies into the cost of doing business. Sale of stripped copies was an under-the-table practice….although I know that employees at stores which sell such publications often get access to free stripped magazines and newspapers if they want them, before they are discarded. I also remember seeing them at flea markets and junk stores as a child. That’s why you often see some kind of statement on the masthead of a magazine or comic or on the copyright page of a mass-market paperback that “it is a crime to sell this book in a mutilated form” or something similar–letting retailers know this practice is illegal and constitutes theft.

Other than the sale of stripped comic books, Convenient Food Mart seemed like a relatively honest convenience store. Independent convenience stores sometimes are a bit shady in some ways….here in Texas, you have the ones which have “8-liner” gambling machines in the back room, but you also have the ones which sell drug paraphernalia, synthetic marijuana, the combination energy drinks-with-alcohol, etc. The sleazier ones are sometimes known to offer known customers so many cents on the dollar in cash for food stamps or other government benefits. Then in some rural areas you have the phenomenon of stores selling used magazines, home-made food items, and other things you would not find in a chain-affiliated convenience store. These kind of stores are an American institution and we rely on them in so many ways, but they are rarely commented on or analyzed, except sometimes on the business page in the newspaper when there is a merger or a change in affiliation. Having worked in a convenience store myself, I can tell you that the employees REALLY know the regular customers. Even the ones who don’t talk about themselves are known to the employees through what they buy and when they buy it–and since we employees have active minds we need to fill with something, we construct scenarios about the customers. Their sex lives, their spending habits, their religious habits, the relative success of their marriages, the family dynamic (who wears the pants, etc.), who’s an alcoholic or potsmoker, who’s a habitual spender even though broke, etc.–all of these can be inferred from their purchases….but that’s a story for another article.

Of what value is a 40+ year old western comic book with a stripped cover to anyone today? It’s not as if the western genre of comic book was ever the most popular. Super-hero fans always looked down their nose at it, and it kind of died out by the 1970’s, although lame attempts were made to revive it by creating the half-baked “weird western” sub-genre. However, those never really took off except among comic-nerds. I assume that the kind of people who read western comics as children graduated to western fiction as adults–although I am an exception to that rule. I grew up on B-Western films and also western comics, but western fiction never really appealed to me. However, it has always been a niche market and continues to be, as anyone who has ever worked at a bookstore (particularly a used bookstore) knows, particularly in the west, the Midwest, and the South.

Holding this 1972 coverless Marvel western comic in my hands, I wonder….who in the world actually cares about something like this. Since it’s coverless, comic collectors would not touch it with a ten-foot pole. Superhero fans and those into comic-nerd culture (the latter being a big market segment nowadays) would not want anything to do with this as it’s a western. Those who follow comic art and comic artists might find it interesting from that angle. Stan Lee had an active hand in Marvel’s western line (and continued to into the 70’s); however, I’m guessing he does not get many questions about that in his comic-con appearances, from the people who pay two-hundred dollars for a 60-second audience with Stan, if they can even get one. Marvel tried at least twice to revive the Rawhide Kid character–through time-travel, he worked with The Avengers, and then later he was revived and revealed to be gay–and I vaguely remember each of those when it happened, but each was to me a ridiculous failure. Checking an online Marvel database, I see that the Rawhide Kid has never been killed off, so Marvel no doubt sees at least the possibility of some future marketability in the character (hey, even killing him off would have no market value nowadays!).

However, Marvel is now a huge entertainment conglomerate. The human element–the days when Marvel readers thought of themselves as a family or when you could send a note to Stan Lee and possibly even get a short answer–that’s long gone. Marvel’s unique “bullpen” provided a sense of identity and camaraderie among readers, and any comics fan of the era remembers fondly the messages from Stan Lee and later Jim Shooter about the product line and the enthusiasm about upcoming projects and story arcs. The enthusiasm shown in the old Bullpens created an enthusiasm in the readers. However, I doubt that much of Marvel’s income today comes from comic books themselves. Merchandizing and movie development deals bring in the money. The comics themselves appeal to a small and insular group. Independent publishers, who come and go, have tried since the 1980’s to create the kind of “family” atmosphere one found in pre-1985 comics, but their publications have never caught fire outside of the hardcore comics community and usually cannot be found outside specialized comic shops, places that normal people would never set foot in.

It’s possible that a 10-year old today in a section of the country where rodeos and “western culture” are still part of what’s everyday and taken for granted could stumble across this and, if he already has a taste for comics, might find it interesting and sense a kinship with it…..the way a youngster today who vaguely associates him/herself with “punk” can have a revelatory experience upon finding a Link Wray 45 on Swan or a Little Richard 45 on Specialty. Frankly, though, even in this issue, it seems as though the series was starting to be running on fumes. The main outlaw in the main story, GUNFIGHT FURY FALLS!, seems more like an over-the-top mutant than a real outlaw, and the story EL SOMBRO–MEXICO’S GHOST OF CHAPEL HILL does actually feature an otherworldly gunfighter. These are signs that the comic’s creators realize that a standard-issue western story can no longer create much interest. Jonah Hex and the full-fledged “weird westerns” were waiting just down the road a-piece–in fact, Jonah Hex made his first appearance around the time this Rawhide Kid comic was originally issued.
I was still relatively young as I watched the western comics genre distort itself while in its death throes and then die off entirely. Different comics industry Dr. Frankensteins have tried to revive the corpse here and there over the years, and some self-conscious and ironic revisionist western comics may well exist now under my radar, but the genre should be allowed to die a natural death and be left undisturbed. Some kid in Wyoming or western Kansas who grows up around horses and the mystique of the Old West may stumble across a MIGHTY MARVEL WESTERN in the basement of an old house or at a flea market, and he may get excited about western comics….otherwise, the fair has moved on, 40 years ago, and the Rawhide Kid is fated to spend his final days in a stack of old magazines, in a dusty rack below a broken table at a junk store on a state highway, miles away from the interstate, stuck between old high school yearbooks and old copies of People Magazine featuring cover photos of long-forgotten celebrities. The rare person who wanders into the back section of the junk store is far more likely to notice old empty cans of beer from brands no longer brewed. As for the Rawhide Kid….Nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody cares.

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July 16, 2020

JUSTICE TRAPS THE GUILTY #76 (Prize Comics, July, 1955)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:44 am
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JUSTICE TRAPS THE GUILTY #76 (Prize Comics, July, 1955)

The 1940’s and 1950’s were a Golden Age of crime comics, and with the many crime-oriented B-movies and later TV shows of the era, it’s clear that crime was in the air…and also in the blood of the comic book audience. I just grabbed this comic book off one of my comics shelves at random—I could have grabbed any one of 50 others—and on the surface, it seems to have all the best qualities of the typical crime comic of the day, and it would have had to, with all the competition out there. The front cover promises action, thrills, and excitement!

According to Comic Book Plus, JUSTICE TRAPS THE GUILTY ran for 92 issues, from 1947 through 1958, which certainly qualifies as a good run. It was issued by PRIZE COMICS, which had a diverse set of offerings, from romance to western to science fiction (TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET) to horror (FRANKENSTEIN) to faux-Archie (DUDLEY) to various anthology publications. Prize was run by comics legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Interestingly, one of the last-gasp publications of Prize’s owner Crestwood Publications was SICK magazine (which was to CRACKED what CRACKED was to MAD), until 1968 when it was sold off.

There do not seem to be any ongoing characters in the few copies I own of this magazine, just four 5-8 page stories…and the requisite two pages of prose filler, which in the issues I’ve seen are quirky enough to be interesting.

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“River Rats” deals with a violent protection racket preying on small businesses on the waterfront—it delivers the goods. “Two Old Friends” is something of a surprise….a sentimental story of an old-school cop whose old service horse, Lacey, is getting older and weaker and the department is thinking of re-assigning Lacey to the glue factory, so of course the horse saves the day and is rewarded and valued and kept on the force—I wasn’t really expecting a tear-jerker in a crime comic, but it’s a nice change of pace. “Savvy” repeats the same theme, but with a cop instead of a horse. Detective Brennan may be not as fast as he once was, but he’s got the one thing younger cops have failed to get yet: And he uses that sixth sense to break the Dutch Ankers gang, where no one else on the force can. “Tour of Duty” is one of those day-in-the-life-of-a-cop stories—like a Dragnet episode which would be half devoted to Gannon’s (Harry Morgan) home life and half to the case he’s working with Friday (Jack Webb) on—and Officer Charlie Mitchell, family man and all-around good citizen, even works the night shift! This story has a bit too much speechifying (if that’s a word) in its last page or two, as if it were a public service short subject made by the police union to be broadcast as filler on Sunday morning: “I’m a cop. I work under all conditions. I have a wife and a couple of kids. I value my life, but I value yours too. That’s why you’ll find me making this tour of duty every night….I want to help keep things safe for you and me.” After that, I’m expecting a pitch for a contribution to the Police Officers Benevolent Association or whatever!

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Now that I think about it, after analyzing the different pieces here, this particular issue is not really typical of the crime comics of the day. It is a bit too sentimental and, in the last story, self-serious for what’s usually a grim, violent, sensationalistic approach devoted to fast living, cheap thrills, and violent gun battles and nerve-wracking chases….stories where some brutal punk, who thinks nothing of taking hostages or killing civilians and terrorizes the public for the first 4/5 of the story, gets blown away on the final page and left to die in a pile of rubbish in an alley. That’s what fans of the genre (like me) want. It’s interesting that this comic has the “approved by the Comics Code Authority” seal of approval on its cover (see pic). Many of my favorite crime comics do not. Part of the Code read, “Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.” It’s no wonder the crime comic genre tended to fade away in the years after the Code (which came around in 1954, as a kind of self-policing response by the mainstream comics industry to the attacks of Frederic Wertham and the US Senate hearings on comic book content). Comic books should be full of sensationalism and cheap thrills. If I want a moral lecture, I’ll attend Sunday School….if I want to learn about being a good and productive citizen, I’ll attend a Rotary Club meeting…if I want full and rich characters, I’ll find a copy of BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1954. There’s a reason why when you see some over-the-top made-for-video action film, mainstream critics will attack it as having a ‘comic book” approach. That’s what the strength and the uniqueness of comic books SHOULD BE…and the reason why people like me can still read some 60+ year old hard-boiled crime comic, considered trashy and disposable in its day, and get the same sense of joy from it that a pimple-faced teenager or a comic-reading night watchman got from it when it was hot off the press, purchased with a precious dime at the local neighborhood newsstand or drug-store comics rack. I’ve never viewed comic books as a reflection of life or daily reality or social issues….for me, they are a REPLACEMENT for the tediousness of life and daily reality. I’ve got enough daily reality already, thank you, in the other 22 hours of each day when I’m not reading a comic book or watching an exploitation film or blasting a record by the Trashmen or The Troggs—the comic book adventures of Jungle Jim or Mike Hammer or Lash La Rue or The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves are there to take me out of it, if only for twenty minutes. Reality will still be there, alas, when I put the comic book down and finish my 99 cent tallboy of malt liquor.

I’ll have to check some of the pre-Code issues of JUSTICE TRAPS THE GUILTY to see if they are different from this one, with more cheap thrills and less sentimentality and models of good citizenry. Until then, you can make up your own mind and read this issue and all the earlier ones yourself, for free, at Comic Book Plus. The tallboy of malt liquor, YOU will have to pay for.

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July 9, 2020

ADVENTURES OF THE BIG BOY #126 (1967 promotional giveaway comic)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:46 am
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ADVENTURES OF THE BIG BOY #126 (1967 promotional giveaway comic)

I’ve never lived in an area with Big Boy restaurants, so I can’t tell you much about the persona of their corporate mascot. The first drawing of the Big Boy character came in the late 1930’s, a few years after the burger chain’s founding, although the character as we know it today (and at the time of this comic) dates from the 1950’s. Evidently, the Big Boy burger concept was operated under different names in different parts of the country (and one of these eventually was spun off to become Shoney’s!), and there was even an East Coast Big Boy mascot and a different West Coast one. According to Wikipedia, in 1979 there were 1000 (!!!!) Big Boy restaurants in the US and Canada. You may have seen one of the massive Big Boy statues in front of one of them in your travels, as I have. The California-based Bob’s Big Boy is perhaps the best-known franchise using the Big Boy moniker (Johnny Carson used to joke about it on the Tonight Show, as I remember), but there were dozens of other regional variations, including the Pittsburgh-based EAT’N’PARK which was Big Boy-related from 1949-1974.

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This particular comic (regular in size but only 14 pages) belongs to that taken-for-granted part of the comics industry, the giveaway (and one would also assume throwaway) comic given to children or with a kid’s meal. These are still given out today at various restaurants, though often they include a coloring book section and some crayons. I’d guess 95% of them are thrown out within a few days of acquisition….or get food stains on them during the meal and are discarded with the burger wrappings and paper soda cups before the family leaves the restaurant.

big boy logo

This particular issue, dating from 1967 (and one of 466 issues published over decades), hails from the Knoxville, Tennessee area, where I’m guessing Fritch’s was the operator of the Big Boy restaurants, though that’s not stated anywhere on the comic. The only regional identifier on this is a big ad for Channel 10 in Knoxville, which proudly lists its Saturday children’s programming, including Tom and Jerry, the Road Runner, the Lone Ranger, Space Ghost, Underdog, Superman, Mighty Mouse, and Leave it to Beaver! Boy, if that is not a KSE-approved TV lineup, I don’t know what is (all that’s missing is a Bowery Boys film).

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Besides the comic stories, there are of course word games, puzzles, and the like, as well as letters from juvenile fans of previous issues (or, more likely, their parents).

I think you can imagine what the Big Boy character is like. He’s a grinning, amiable guy, a kind of man-child with an “aw shucks” manner, and I can almost imagine him saying “gee whiz!” and calling to some adult, “hey, mister!”

There are only two multi-page stories in this–one before the word games and puzzles in the middle section, one after. The first one, “Facing The Deadly Monster,” has Big Boy heading to Florida to find his older cousin who has sent a cryptic letter. Turns out Big Boy mis-interpreted the letter, and the cousin is doing just fine, a scientist investigating mosquitoes (I’m not worrying about spoilers here as I doubt any of you will ever read this). In the second one, “The Miraculous Cape,” Big Boy sees someone with a Bat cape and buys it from him….only to discover anyone over a few pounds cannot fly in it. Oh, well!

There’s also a “State Of The Union” section, where Big Boy tells us about different states. This issue features Mississippi (and we’re told the next month’s state will be Rhode Island).

The Big Boy crew also includes his female friend Dolly (who in the last month or so here in 2020 has become the temporary mascot of the chain to promote their new chicken sandwich, meaning perhaps that Big Boy himself is associated primarily with beef…) and the dog Nugget.

I often find giveaway children’s comics from previous decades mixed in with old Archie comics and unwanted yellowed magazines in junk stores and flea markets. This one was slipped in free with some Abbott and Costello comic books I purchased–I’m glad it made it through all these years. One wonders if there were also Big Boy comic paper placemats put under the kid’s meal back in 1967 Tennessee. Now THAT would be a collectible….though for whom, I don’t know.

The most interesting thing about this giveaway comic is that except for some minor aspects of the artwork and some of the wording of the dialogue and the letters section, this could be given out today.

Frankly, when I take my grandsons out somewhere for a kid’s meal, I’m often more interested in the giveaway booklet or comic than they are!

big boy sauce

Silent film fans (which I hope means pretty much everyone reading this) also know that there was a juvenile comedy actor named Malcolm “Big Boy” Sebastian, who made a number of shorts at Educational Pictures. He was a child who wore over-sized adult clothing (see pic). Grapevine Video issued a collection of these shorts, and one of them also appears on Volume 2 of Ben Model’s excellent ACCIDENTALLY PRESERVED series. Other than the name, however, the restaurant character doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the silent film comedian (or for that matter, with western star and character actor and great Texan, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams).

big boy poster

There are still a number of Big Boy outlets, and on their website, you can even buy items such as their special sauce (pictured above). Next time I’m in an area with Big Boys, I’ll order a kid’s meal and let you know what if any comic booklet I get with it.

big boy phantom

June 21, 2020

Henry Aldrich, Volume 1: Readers Collection (Gwandanaland Comics #534-A)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:21 am
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henry aldrich 1

THE ALDRICH FAMILY began in the late 1930’s as a stage play and then a radio show (1939-1953), and by the late 1940’s, it had expanded to television (1949-1953). There was also a hit series of feature films—-11 of them built around Henry, the trouble-prone teenaged son, with Henry played initially by Jackie Cooper and then by James/Jimmy Lydon (star of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 Hamlet-rewrite STRANGE ILLUSION). Henry became the breakout star and featured character in the radio show. With the amazing success of ARCHIE COMICS beginning in 1942 (interestingly, Archie publisher John Goldwater observed that he was trying to appeal to fans of the Mickey Rooney “Andy Hardy” films, which are not that different from the Aldrich Family, so Archie taps into Andy Hardy, and Henry Aldrich taps into Archie….makes sense to me), it would seem inevitable that at the height of his TV and radio fame in 1950, Henry Aldrich would get his own comic book and that it would be echo Archie comics to some extent, although Aldrich (who, technically, pre-dates Archie) is a unique character with a unique family (much more emphasis here on the immediately family than in Archie) and unique quirky qualities, all of which are on display in the Dell HENRY ALDRICH comic books.

Dell published 22 issues of HENRY ALDRICH between 1950 and 1954, and all are in the public domain and available for free reading online at Comic Book Plus.

However, for those who want to hold a print copy in your hand, Gwandanaland Comics is reprinting the series in book form, and the first volume is out, containing issues #1-5. I purchased the “readers collection,” which is a euphemism for black and white transfer. These “Readers” collection are 1/3 or 1/4 the price of the color collections, and getting an 8″ x 11″ book of 250 pages, containing five 52-page comic books, for only $14.99 is too great a buy to pass up, especially since these are comedy and joke oriented stories. Just imagine watching Henry Aldrich on B&W television in the early 50’s while reading these B&W transfers.

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I published a review online of Henry Aldrich #21 (the next to last copy issued, from 1954) a few years ago at BTC, so let me reprint that write-up here to give you a better idea of what this appealing comic book series is like.


HENRY ALDRICH #21 (Dell Comics, June 1954)

Among my recently acquired batch of fifty-cent comics was a cut-cover copy of the second-to-last issue of the HENRY ALDRICH series. THE ALDRICH FAMILY was a massive hit on radio (running from 1939-1953) and then in movies and in television, and the inevitable comic book adaptation came from Dell in 1950 and ran for four years and 22 issues.

I’ve heard about the radio show and the films, though I’ve never heard a show or watched a film, but fortunately, you do not need any background or backstory whatsoever to enjoy this comic book. The franchise is built around the character of quirky and bumbling but lovable Henry Aldrich, who is in his late teens, his parents and extended family and neighbors, and his best friend and neighbor Homer.

The best way for me to describe this comic book is to ask you to imagine a character who is like a cross between Archie and an older Dennis The Menace placed in a more slapstick-oriented version of the OZZIE AND HARRIET or LEAVE IT TO BEAVER family. In fact, I’ve never thought of this connection before, not being really familiar with the Aldriches, but Ozzie Nelson definitely was influenced by THE ALDRICH FAMILY in his creation of the OZZIE AND HARRIET universe.

It’s hard to do sit-com style comedy well in the comic book format —-the real thing relies so much upon timing, set-ups for jokes, tight back-and-forth editing, established personas of the regular characters which have to be understandable to first-time watchers while not repeating what the regular viewers already know, etc., and it can’t be TOO wordy though it relies on jokes–it’s EXTREMELY hard to do well and in a way that’s timeless and holds up 50 years after the fact….just look at the many un-funny shows of the 50’s-60’s era, some of which are still aired on nostalgia channels today), but HENRY ALDRICH #22 hits a home run in that department–it’s as entertaining and funny in the quirky-family-humor vein as an Edgar Kennedy comedy short or a Columbia BLONDIE movie, but etched on the comic-book page. The first story (the stories are not titled) deals with a family picnic to which various free-loading extended family members and neighbors (and their pets) invite themselves—the humor here has more of the sarcastic “bite” of an Edgar Kennedy short than the gentler feel of OZZIE AND HARRIET. The second (which could have been a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER or DENNIS THE MENACE episode) has Henry’s father having to get a client to sign an important contract he’s been reluctant to sign–Dad goes to the person’s office to find him, while the man comes to the Aldrich office and meets up with Henry, who is filling in for someone who is taking the day off, and whose quirkiness totally wins the man over and gets him to sign the contract. Next, Henry loans a two-dollar bill to his friend Homer, who offers to change it for him, but it blows out of Homer’s hand and in between two buildings with just an inch-or-so clearance and he has to fish it out somehow without admitting that that’s what he’s doing–the problem is that Henry needs that money in a few hours for an important date he’s got lined up for that evening. The final story features Henry’s pal HOMER in his own story. Homer overhears his girlfriend ordering a bunch of food items and party supplies for someone named “Bobby,” and of course he’s jealous and bumbles his way through figuring out what it is going on.

As stated earlier, this comic does a great job of doing 50’s family-sitcom style comedy–it’s as successful as a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER episode or Archie Comics at their finest. After all, doesn’t EVERYONE want a comic book as satisfying as an Edgar Kennedy comedy short or a DENNIS THE MENACE TV episode?


All 22 of the Henry Aldrich comic books are all available online at Comic Book Plus

The Gwandanaland book version under review (containing the first five issues) is available at Amazon.

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May 4, 2020

thoughts on the first ten months of Frank Robbins’ JOHNNY HAZARD Sunday strips

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:51 pm
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JOHNNY HAZARD, THE SUNDAYS (Full Size) : 1944-1947 (Hermes Press), by Frank Robbins


Frank Robbins’ action-adventure comic strip JOHNNY HAZARD ran for 33 years, from 1944-1977.  I’ve read a number of reprints of the 50’s and 60’s material and remember reading the original strips as a teenager in the 70’s. In the last few days, I’ve been savoring the amazing over-sized Hermes Press edition of the first few years of color Sunday strips, in original full-page size. This massive and beautiful hardcover book, 12.25″ x 17.25″, is limited to 1000 copies, so you should act soon if you want one.

While this is an extremely worthwhile collection (as are any of Hermes’ Johnny Hazard or The Phantom collections—-this is how comic-strip archival reissues should be done), the reason I’m writing about it today is more specific than just general praise. I always knew Johnny was a military flyer in World War II serving in the Pacific, but in the post-WWII era of the 50’s and 60’s, he was an pilot-adventurer for hire, a globetrotting action hero involved in complex two-fisted narratives that went on for months in daily-strip form, and for months in the separate Sunday continuity. The plots and adventures were like some B-movie that might star Rod Cameron or Scott Brady, and that cinematic quality in the storytelling was one of the major selling points of the strip (and of course the distinctive art and characterizations).

However, I was quite surprised in reading the first ten months of the Sundays, from July 1944 through May 1945 (I just moved into June 1945, and noticed the huge change in the strip), and discovering that each Sunday page is a separate slice-of-military-life, with no continuity running over from week to week. Also, the emphasis is very much on the group and its various members—-it is NOT a vehicle for Johnny’s solo exploits. Some weeks Johnny is hardly seen and the focus is on other members of the unit, and there are some weeks which feature mostly military humor or introduce us to the local Chinese population surviving through the Japanese occupation. Also, in the first panel of each week’s full-page Sunday entry, Frank Robbins has a small scale, incredibly precise, line drawing, from two different perspectives, of a war plane and challenges the reader to guess which one it is. The next week he provides the answer, and then has a new drawing and another challenge. The planes are a wide variety of American, Soviet, Japanese, and German models, and they provide a fascinating counterpoint to the narrative (I was reminded of Chester Gould’s similar studies of police technology in Dick Tracy).

On May 6, 1945, Robbins announces at the top of the Sunday page (which no longer contains any drawings of planes), “starting next week, Johnny Hazard’s Sunday adventures will be continuous”… and starting the next week, they are, gradually building in length and complexity to the post-War Johnny Hazard, now EX-military, I know so well. However, for ten months in 1944 and 1945, it was a different strip—-and a unique one, in many ways unlike what it later became.

It’s interesting to note that this first year is what won over readers and made the strip a hit and gave it its initial momentum, a momentum that kept things going for 33 years of exciting adventures enjoyed by millions daily. I’d bet the military readers loved the first year (seeing themselves represented by someone who “got it”), and as Johnny left military service and found a new identity in the post-war world, so did his readers. So many heroes of post-war B-movies and crime fiction and men’s adventure magazines were veterans, and adventurer veterans like Johnny Hazard provided a model of how that was done.

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