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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 154: Wonderworld Comics #7

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Wonderworld Comics #7 (a Flame story), which was published by Fox Publications and is cover dated November 1939. It’s reprinted in Supermen!, which Fantagraphics published in 2009 and which is ridiculously awesome. Enjoy!

I think they're more fiends, really

Will Eisner and Lou Fine (credited as “Basil Berold”) give us The Flame, with a fairly standard layout for the time – a big panel that acts as a semi-splash, and then two or three panels below it taking us into the story. It’s not a hard-and-fast layout, of course, but it shows up quite often during this time period. Fine does a good thing with the semi-splash – we naturally gravitate toward the tree, which frames the ship, which points to the caption box, which leads to the inlet, which shows us the “strange procession.” The entire page funnels us toward the people, and as they’re next to the first smaller panel, everything moves us that way. Of course, most good comic book artists do this, but as with a lot of stuff in the Golden Age, it’s interesting to consider how much artists already had figured out about sequential storytelling. It’s not that different from painting or other “highbrow” artistic endeavors, except that there are more panels. Fine, among others, had already mastered the way to lay out a page to move the eye, not only through the panel, but between panels. In the second panel, the banality of the punk playing solitaire contrasts nicely with the weirdness of the scene and even his attire. I’m going to assume the coloring is as close to the original as possible, which makes the use of the bold red, yellow, and green give the scene a more lurid vibe than if the colors had been “normal.” It also reminds us that even in a stranger comic like this one, coloring of this era was bolder and brighter than it is today, thanks to the primitive coloring processes used. Fine gives the “thug” a exaggerated expression in Panel 3, as he answers the door with the ejaculation “WOW! Spooks!” and his cigarette comically falls out of his mouth. I don’t know how much of the exaggerated expression is from the fact that the paper on which the comic was printed didn’t allow more subtle stuff or if it was because the creators didn’t take comics too seriously even when they were writing “serious” stories, but perhaps it’s a bit of both. The red cloaks of the “spooks” contrast nicely with their green faces – it’s a good, bold choice. In the last panel, Fine shifts the point of view from behind the thug to behind the spooks, and we get the green clothes of the thug against the bright yellow, and Fine moves our eye from the thug to the spooks by way of the bullet, which also leads us toward the next page. We also get a good profile of the one of the spooks, which gives us an indication of how horrific they are.

Eisner, uncredited, sets the mood with the opening caption box better than Fine does, actually, because the night does not look foggy or dark as Eisner describes it, and while we know the procession is a bit off, Eisner reinforces this with the adjective “strange.” The “salt encrusted sides” are a nice touch, because there’s no way we’re going to be able to see that nor even quite get it if we did. Eisner gives us the “knock” on the door, presumably because the panel was too crowded to accommodate a sound effect. He also, amusingly, has the thug speak in colloquialisms while wearing that odd outfit, which helps heighten the strangeness of the scene. It’s a good, mysterious scene – who is the boss he’s waiting for? Why is such a rough-and-tumble dude in such a bizarre house? Who are those green skeletons? The only thing to do is … turn the page!

I’m not sure why Eisner is not listed, nor why Fine used a pseudonym. In fact, I’m not sure why a lot of Golden Age creators used pseudonyms. Maybe someone can enlighten me. Anyway, “The Flame” is a nifty little comic, and this page does a nice job setting the scene. I guess that’s all we can ask for!

Next: I couldn’t avoid Batman if I tried! But tomorrow, we’ll see what a very lousy detective he actually is! I’m sure you already know that there are plenty of Batman comics in the archives!

8 Comments

I’m completely speculating, but maybe they used pseudonyms because they didn’t want their names connected to “funny books”. Didn’t Stan Lee do that decades later, used a pseudonym because he wanted to be a “real” novelist?

Pedro: That’s certainly possible, and Lee’s example was in my mind when I was writing this, but so many of them did it, I wonder if there was something else going on. Whenever I read about this period, it seems like a lot of the artists were drawing for a lot of different companies, and I wonder if there was some contract-jumping going on and the artists didn’t want their bosses to know about it. Someone must know definitively!

Fine does a good thing with the semi-splash – we naturally gravitate toward the tree, which frames the ship, which points to the caption box, which leads to the inlet, which shows us the “strange procession.” The entire page funnels us toward the people, and as they’re next to the first smaller panel, everything moves us that way.

Your “naturally” differs a great deal from mine. There’s the title, then the caption box, then people marching toward something. My eye wants to know what they’re marching toward. It’s a pretty awful layout, really, since if you’re looking at the semi splash, you finish “reading” that panel, and then your eye has to traverse the next panel backwards, and then forward again to actually read it. It would make more sense to have the story panel on the right hand side of the semisplash (with the semisplash redrawn accordingly).

I agree with The Dude, but I also think there may have been other reasons. For instance, many people in the entertainment industry would change their names if they sounded too “ethnic”. Eisner and Fine were both Jewish, so perhaps Fine decided to adopt a name that sounded more Anglo.

Travis Pelkie

June 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Pseudonyms: from my readings of the time period, there were a few reasons. As the Dude and Ian mention above, there was not wanting to be tied to “funny books” and the “ethnic” issues.

Another is that with certain books (like the Fox pubs, et al), the same guys did EVERYTHING in the books, so it helped to create the illusion that there was a vast stable of creators working on these things. If every story is by Will Eisner, it starts looking a little odd, This was also, for a bit of a different reason, why certain pulp writers used pseudonyms — they turned out so much stuff, there were certain issues where EVERYTHING was written by one guy. I think the difference is that the pulp mags didn’t want it to seem like they couldn’t get any other writers for their mags, and the comics (like the Eisner one here) were packaged by, say, the Eisner-Iger studio, and they wanted it to look like, to the people buying the comics they packaged, that there were more than just 1-2 guys doing everything (so if one guy leaves, you can still get stories from these guys).

I think there were some other reasons, but I think that covered the major ones. From what I remember from my reading.

Cass: I won’t argue that the first panel might be better on the other side of the page, with the semi-splash shifted to the left, but I think the layout still works. To each his own, I suppose!

Travis: That’s another good point. I do like how today, we’d appreciate if someone could do everything so quickly, but then it was seen as a detriment.

This week is gonna be fascinating.

One more scenario I remembered – Many artists and writers were freelancing for multiple companies, which was kind of frowned upon. In order to do this, they would use pseudonyms for different companies. For example, when Werner Roth started on X-Men he was still being employed by DC, so he used the name Jay Gavin for the first several issues.

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