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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 171: Strange Tales #166

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: the 1960s! Today’s page is from Strange Tales #166, which was published by Marvel (although the indicia lists “Vista Publications”) and is cover dated March 1968. I borrowed this and several other comics over the next few weeks from Howard Harris, my comics retailer, who was nice enough to let me take them home and scan them. Enjoy!

I'm always swearing by the eternal Vishanti

The second story in Strange Tales #166 features an amateurish splash page that really isn’t worth talking about, so let’s check out this sucker, shall we?

This was when Stan Lee was still putting his name above everyone else’s, because as the editor, he was the most important person, consarnit! I do like how they credit letterer Artie Simek: “Voice creations.” I don’t know what that means, but I guess they were being clever.

Anyway, “nothing can halt … Voltorg” and all, according to the title (it takes Dr. Strange exactly nine pages to prove this wrong), and we see that Yandroth, “scientist supreme,” has “unleashed” Voltorg “to thwart Dr. Strange’s rescue of Victoria Bentley.” That’s really all we need to know, isn’t it? Of course, Jim Lawrence lets us know that Yandroth isn’t from around here (why else would he tell Voltorg to destroy the “Earthling”?) and that Voltorg has “atomic electrodes” and that only the “most potent spells” can save him. That about sums it up, doesn’t it? I’ve seen Victoria before, even though I’ve never read these old Strange stories – she showed up in Alan Moore’s Captain Britain series, helping Betsy Braddock control her telepathy. This is just a small reason why continuity is awesome if writers know how to use it. In case you’re wondering, according to the Internet, Ms. Bentley is currently dead. Well, of course she is.

Tuska’s splash page is kind of adorable, isn’t it? Yandroth wears a standard “futuristic” outfit, and baldness often connotes evil (even with Xavier, who was kind of creepy in the 1960s … and in each subsequent decade!). Yandroth wants to marry Victoria, and you can just see her reaction: “But … but … you’re bald! And Stephen has such a luxurious head of hair!” Voltorg, however, looks like a robot who just wants some love. He’s even carrying sparklers to play with! Tuska tilts him right, and it’s actually quite effective, because it makes him look more like a robot (this has always been a problem with comic book robots like Cliff of Doom Patrol or the Vision, who I know isn’t really a robot but is close enough). He has an impressive bulky body that dwarfs Dr. Strange’s, and Tuska gives him a slightly open mouth with teeth lines – is he grinning or clenching in rage? I don’t know, but I like it! Dr. Strange is hidden behind his cloak, and Tuska makes him nice and vulnerable. The spell-casting is very nice, with Tuska using Zip-A-Tone to contrast the spell with Voltorg’s purple armor. It’s a very cool effect, and gives it a more modern look even though Tuska has a fairly old-fashioned line. It’s quite keen.

Next: Speaking of modern, tomorrow’s artist is, according to me, one of the first artists whose work wouldn’t look out of place today, it’s that cutting edge. See who it is … or look at some modern art in the archives!

14 Comments

Joe S. Walker

June 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Marvel indicia of the Sixties listed a LOT of different companies as publisher.

I wouldn’t mind hearing why the Steranko page is “amateurish and not worth talking about.” I read your posts to learn and better understand comics art, both good and bad. I am one who can’t tell you if it’s good art or not, just whether I like it or not.

DonW: I was being absolutely and completely sarcastic. Steranko’s art on the Nick Fury stuff is wonderful. I just wanted to feature something a tiny bit more obscure than that, and even though it’s Dr. Strange and the main story in the book, the back-up feature has become much more famous over the years. Sorry my sarcasm didn’t translate! :)

Sarcasm noted. I totally thought you were serious. Hence my confusion. I love these “frantic” pieces, especially when you feature older titles. BTW – You cannot do enough Sienkiewicz pages. How ’bout some Ted Mckeever too.

Matthew Johnson

June 20, 2012 at 7:37 am

I love the way Voltorg is lifting his right leg so you can see the sole of his “foot.” It’s a great evocation of how actors in cardboard suits played robots in ’50s B-movies.

Who is Jim Lawrence? Seriously. I am very familiar with George Tuska (very, very underrated artist) and I have a more than passing knowledge of Dan Adkins. But the name Jim Lawrence rings absolutely no bells.

“The second story in Strange Tales #166 features an amateurish splash page that really isn’t worth talking about, so let’s check out this sucker, shall we?”

Funny stuff, sir. nicely played.

RE:Tuska,

Well, the guy was a solid artist, and he did some fine work on IRON MAN, but I can’t imagine someone less suited to draw DR STRANGE.

Ben: I have no idea who Jim Lawrence is. Obviously it’s not even a strange enough name to Google, so if anyone else knows, they can feel free to chime in!

Okay, I looked up Jim Lawrence on the Unofficial Hanbook of Marvel comics Creators website (http://www.maelmill-insi.de/UHBMCC/) and accord to that he wrote five issues of Strange Tales featuring Doctor Strange in the late 1960s, a few issues of Captain Britain in the late 1970s, and that’s it. Maybe he was a production guy who was recruited to pitch in as a writer a couple of times when there were looming deadlines? Sounds like a question for Roy Thomas. He’s usually brilliant at remembering this sort of information. I should send him an e-mail.

Is there some in-story reason we’re getting the “…, isn’t it?” followed by “…, doesn’t it?” within two sentences in that third paragraph? Especially since “That’s really all we need to know, isn’t it?” and “That about sums it up, doesn’t it?” pretty much mean the same thing, right? Commentary on silver age dialogue?

Jim Lawrence was the main writer on the James Bond newspaper strip for many years; he did all the original stories after the strip was finished adapting the Fleming books and Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun. He wrote a number of other British comics as well. No idea how he got hooked up with Dr. Strange, but chances are the Captain Britain stuff was for Marvel UK.

But my favorite thing he ever did was the Christopher Cool, TEEN Agent series of young adult novels, under the pen name of Jack Lancer.

More of Jim Lawrence’s credits here. He mostly used pen names so it’s not surprising most people don’t recognize the name. It wasn’t until I was writing about Chris Cool and the Stratemeyer Syndicate that I realized Lawrence had written all the Tom Swift and Hardy Boys books I thought of as “the good ones” when I was a kid.

Actually, to be honest I still think of them as ‘the good ones.’

C. W.: I can’t write wonderful prose all the time!!!!! :)

Greg: Ah, so that’s Lawrence. I remember you waxing nostalgic about Christopher Cool, so that’s very neat that it’s the same dude.

Thanks for the info, Mr. Hatcher!

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