365 Reasons to Love Comics #321
Ian Astheimer is unstoppable. Here’s another great entry from the madman himself!
Whoever said the first was the worst never picked up this book. (Archive.)
321. It Rhymes with Lust
Way back in ’49, Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller — freelance comics scribes both — combined forces to bridge the gap between comic books, which were being gobbled up by the millions by GIs, and regular books, the kinds without pictures. As Drake Waller, they tapped Matt Baker — one of the first African American artists in the medium — and created, arguably, the first graphic novel (then called a “picture novel”), It Rhymes with Lust.
When Buck Masson dies, control of his estate goes to his wife, Rust Masson, the fiery femme fatale who gives the book its name, and control of his political empire is up for grabs. As the widow Masson faces off against the malevolent Marcus Jeffers for Copper City, square-jawed newspaper man Hal Webber seeks to uncover corruption. Of course, he’s morally compromised, since he and Rust are old flames, and there’s still a flicker of passion between them. But is it stronger than Webber’s feelings for Audrey Masson, Rust’s step-daughter?
But, don’t write off Lust as a romance. Exchanges are terse, faces are slapped, people are played, a pool hall explodes, and it all culminates in a fatal showdown at a mine.
The pacing’s solid pulp, and the title neatly fits in any noir collection.
The book’s real star, however, is Baker. Known primarily for his “good girl” art on books like Phantom Lady, he was, of course, ably equipped to draw the sultry Rust and the less overtly amorous Audrey. Far more surprising is the effectiveness of his unique rendering technique. To force focus on a desired area, he inked the person/object/what-have-you in solid, even bold, lines. Everything else — all the background detail, all the incidental material — was created by stippling, dashing, or zip-a-toning. It’s such a brilliant, obvious solution to adding depth to black and white art that I’m shocked more people haven’t cribbed it, wholesale.
Even if you’re not a noir fan, give the book a look for Baker’s stellar style.