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Year of the Artist, Day 197: Bernard Krigstein, Part 1 – Prize Comics #34

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Bernard Krigstein, and the story is an untitled Buck Sanders tale from Prize Comics #34, which was published by Prize Publications, also known as Crestwood Publications, also known as Feature Publications, and is cover dated September 1943. All of the scans in this post and the rest of the series are from Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. Krigstein, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2013. Enjoy!

Bernard Krigstein is famous for drawing “Master Race,” of course, but he drew a lot of other comics too, you know! Fantagraphics’ Messages in a Bottle is a tremendous book, and it contains quite a lot of Krigstein’s work before he left comics, so I’ll be using it over the next five days. That’s just the way it is! I can’t find how much work Krigstein did before he went to war in the spring of 1943, but in the back of the book, in an interview Krigstein mentions that this might have been the last story he drew before he went into the army. He worked for Prize Comics from about mid-1942, but the book doesn’t say when he took over full art duties. He drew a bunch of “Buck Sanders” stories for Prize, and he was probably around 24 when he drew this (he turned 24 in March 1943). I can’t find who wrote this story, but we’re not here about the story, are we?

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In the interview in the back of the book, Krigstein was shown this story so he could comment on it, and it jogged his memory a bit (the interview was in 1987). He mentions that some of the inking wasn’t his style, and cited Panel 3 as an example, because he said he wouldn’t have inked the forms in the foreground so blackly on both sides like that. He looked through the story and mentioned that the inking had more “feathering” than he would usually do, so he wasn’t sure if he actually inked this. What is notable again about inking is how much stock Krigstein put into it – he comes across as almost embarrassed that he’s getting credit for the artwork when he can’t really say if it was his inking. It’s fascinating, because in the more modern era, the penciler is usually the star, but I hope I’ve been able to show over the course of this year how important the inker is to the way the art looks. The only credit for this story is Krigstein’s – there’s no writer credited, and of course no colorist gets credit either. It’s just something to keep in mind.

I know I’ve always thought of 1940s artwork as somewhat crude, and much of it lives up to the stereotype, but we have to remember the conditions in which many creators worked and the materials they had on hand. Even so, the great thing about the Golden Age of Reprints in which we live is that so much more than just Batman and Superman comics is getting its place in the spotlight, so we can see that some artists were far more sophisticated than others. Krigstein’s figure work is still a bit wonky when it comes to perspective (even though we still see modern artists having trouble with that!), but he still does a marvelous job with a fairly big cast, making them each pretty unique. He moves us nicely across the page, even with the large amount of text in the way, and he does a good job creating a scene where Buck and his pals can walk through the forest and be observed by the gangsters. The facial expressions are very Forties – “Fatty’s” face in Panel 4, with the black eyes and pinched, grumpy expression a very good example of what we see in comics from this time period, while Wolf’s sneering look in Panel 6 is done well, as he’s a combination of conniving and evil.

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This is a nice fight sequence, as Wolf is trying to get the information about Herman the Hermit’s money out of him while Buck and his pals decide that, in the spirit of the 1940s, the best thing to do is attack these heavily armed gangsters. Krigstein again does a very nice job with the layout. In Panel 1, he gives us a medium view to show how cruel and craven Wolf really is, as he beats on an old man (all old men in early comics had big, white beards, don’t you know). In Panel 2, the kids burst in, and Krigstein leads us from them diagonally to the bad guys, who react to the intrusion. Panel 3 shows the boys again in the upper part, which makes them seem more in control of the situation than the gangsters. The kid with the glasses (he never gets named in this story) manages a bank shot off of two bad guys in Panel 4, which is pretty impressive. Krigstein switches the point of view in Panel 5 of the first page, as the gangster is in the back while Glasses Dude and Fatty are in the front, but that just moves us to the next page with our mind on the more sympathetic characters. On the next page, he circles back around to link the two panels and the two characters, who snag the thug with the fishing line and accidentally knock him into Buck. In the middle row, Krigstein puts the kids in the front of Panel 4, and their throws lead us back toward the bad guys, who start to gain the upper hand in Panels 5 and 6. Panel 6 is remarkably violent for the time period – we don’t see anything, of course, but three grown men with blackjacks beating on kids is a disturbing image. Notice that even though Krigstein is still drawing somewhat cartoonish characters, he still manages to show how they’re feeling through their expressions, from the haplessness of the punks on the first page to their rage on the second page. There’s a good sense of the bad guys being actual people, from their embarrassment at being bested by kids to their revenge on said kids. It’s what makes Panel 6 so disturbing, because Krigstein really gets across the rage they’re feeling.

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This is some very nice work, as Krigstein and the inker (whoever it was) put the houseboat in a neat setting and heighten the drama in Panel 4. In the first three panels, we get really nice spot blacks on the trees, creating a murky and somewhat scary atmosphere, especially when you add in the blacks on the water. The notes in the back state that this story was “restored” from the original comic, so unfortunately I don’t know how much retouching was done, but I imagine that this is very close to the original, and it works well. The final panel, in which the text tells us the boat is heading toward a waterfall, is a nice drawing. The thugs look scared, which again shows that they’re just a bunch of guys, no matter how menacing they might seem when they’re talking tough, and Krigstein’s use of the horizon line and the mist rising up above it is a neat touch. Krigstein designs the panel so that our attention is focused on the drop, which isn’t terribly revolutionary but still works really well.

As I noted above, Krigstein went into the army soon after this story was drawn, and he didn’t get back until late in 1945. So tomorrow we’ll start on his post-war career! Be sure to come back, and remember that you can find some other Golden Age work in the archives!

29 Comments

I really like Panel #4 on the page where the crooks are beating up on the kids (it is also the panel that is displayed in the article header). I like the perspective used on it, you get a feel that the kid in the foreground is going to have a great throw!

I’ve never heard of Krigstein before (not surprising, I don’t know anything about the Golden Age era). Guess I’ll have to do some research.

But gosh what a shift from yesterday! :-)

David: Krigstein drew “Master Race,” one of the most famous comic stories ever, so if you know that story, you’ve at least seen his work! I’ll spoil things for you – Krigstein left comics before he turned 40 because he couldn’t make a living at it, which is why he’s lost to the mists of time a bit. He never drew superheroes, and he famously did not like Stan Lee, so I imagine Lee wasn’t in any hurry to talk about him. Those are some reasons he’s not as well known as others of his era. The Fantagraphics book is a phenomenal collection of his stories, with some very cool back matter.

Thanks Greg. Sad to say, I’ve never heard of “Master Race” either. ::BLUSH:: My interest in comics has primarily been superhero and horror, so that might explain why I’ve never heard of it. And my experience with Golden Age is nil – I don’t think I’ve even read clips from any Golden Age comics. Hey give me a break, I’m just now finally discovering the joys of the Silver Age. I might eventually make it to the 40’s & 50’s! :-)

I did a bit of quick research, and wow that “Master Race” is indeed very lauded. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to it (I still haven’t read Maus or even The Shadow)… but I will say the art is completely fine from the examples above and what I saw online. So I’ll make that a “maybe” for now. I am looking forward to seeing what you pick to highlight.

I was right yesterday!

I did read a few Kringstein stories that I like, mainly on the series of reprints that Mad did in the mid-1990’s of their comic book era, one is “From Eternity Back to Here” on Mad #12 (Which I thought is more Art-Decoish than the movie supposed to be), and a few “serious” pages (And one final panel) that he did for the “Bringing Back Father” feature on Mad #17. Hope you’ll shown neither one of these

David: Well, I didn’t become familiar with “Master Race” until recently – definitely in the last decade – so I’m the last person to throw stones! I guess I’m ahead of you, but I also didn’t get into pre-1970s comics until years after I started reading comics!

I’ll get to the story, though. I’d be a fool to skip it!

Mike: Fret not – I don’t own those, so I won’t be showing them!

@ Greg–well, you DO own The Flying Machine, so I hope that one’s on the menu. Also, you may want to check out this interesting article on Stan vs. Bernard :)

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2013/06/02/quote-of-the-day-from-the-late-bernard-krigstein-1919-1990/

mrclam: You’ll have to wait and see!

Hey, that post seems familiar …

Jeff Nettleton

July 16, 2014 at 6:03 pm

@DavidTheGrey
If you are interested in horror comics, the Golden Age has a wealth of them, before the Comics Code put a damper on things. If nothing else, you should check out EC, which isn’t hard to do; but, there is a wealth of other material available from that era, much of it for free (legally), online.

I first started hearing Krigstein’s name until I started reading the Comics Journal, in the late 80s, then came across “Master Race,” when I acquired a copy of The Smithsonian Book of Comics, which reprinted the story. That was a great little window into past greats, like the Spirit, Uncle Scrooge, Plastic Man and many others. Unfortunately, my copy had some printing errors and there were “ghost lines” from the color plates, so some of the images were fuzzy.

Really, one of the best pure artists of the Golden Age is Lou Fine (though Jack Cole was a pretty darn close second, for me). His stuff doesn’t look as swiped from comic strips as many of that era do. Will Eisner depicts him in The Dreamer, where he and Will have a contest to see who can make a thinner line, with a brush. His covers were often better than his stories; but, his Black Condor is a thing of beauty. really, the Quality Comics crowd were some of the best, though no one could match Simon & Kirby for action and power. Their stuff isn’t as pretty; but it was made for action stories and superheroes.

Looking forward to this series: I taught a bunch of the strips from Messages in my comics class last year. “Key Chain” is my favorite of that bunch.

Greg: I may have stated this in an earlier post, but my first comic was a Charlton The Phantom that I got for Christmas when I was 5 or 6. After looking around on the internet, I think it was #74, which looks to have been in the stores in October 1976, so I was 6. I know I had several Harvery comics, but my next comic I remember reading was Spidey Super Stories and then an Avengers issue or two circa 1977/1978. I had a few Amazing Spider-Mans and started reading them somewhat continuously with #194 (Black Cat’s first appearance). In the early 80’s it was Conan, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, and Marvel Team-Up (via Marvel’s subscription service). It wasn’t until the mid 80’s that I really branched out and stated reading a lot of comics (thank you allowance!), and the late 80’s I finally started getting into Batman & then Vertigo horror. In that time I did dabble – I had some Flashes and Supermans, but they were few and far between. Also, I think in the late 70’s but no later than 1980, my Mom’s boyfriend’s son had a stash of comics that had some DC horror comics that I got to read, and also some really bizarre Crusaders religious/horror comics (I think “Exorcists”) that gave me nightmares. Oh and I did have a couple of marvel digest pocketbooks that had those classic Lee/Ditko stories, and a copy of the Fireside Marvel Super Heroes which exposed me to the 60’s origins stories of several of Marvel’s heroes. It wasn’t until last year (2013) that I started going back to the bronze age Marvel titles I had barely remembered, and now also the Silver Age goodies with Omnibuses. So hopefully you see my lack of DC classics, and really until the mid to late 80’s, I did not pay attention to creative teams at all.

Jeff: If you could give me some ideas on where to start with pre-Code EC horror collections, I’d definitely start looking out for them. Thanks to Mr. Burgas, I have already purchased several collections that I probably wouldn’t have: The Winter Man, and Creepy Ditko, Creepy Wrightson, and also waiting to start the Ditko archives. I’m also severely tempted to try out the Kirby omnibuses, even the DC 4th World stuff which I knows absolutely nothing about. So what’s a few more EC horror collections on a wish list? :-)

Sorry for the rambling, once I started I couldn’t stop. I may end up searching down some of this Krigstein, depending how it goes the next few days with Greg’s examples.

Oh – and in my previous post, I mentioned “The Shadow” when really I meant “The Spirit”. Whoops.

Dang, I knew I had one item I meant to fact check. It was Fireside’s “Origins of Marvel Comics” that I had, which only cost me $6.95 brand new at our Fireside bookstore. Ah those were the days and I didn’t even know it.

Sadly, somewhere around 1980 we moved and had put a bunch of furniture and stuff (including my comics) in a “friend’s” storage unit, and naturally they sold it after a few months, without telling us. So all those early comics I had were gone (of course, they were beat up and in GD or VG condition anyway, so no big loss of money other than sentimental value).

My PC is doing updates and every other letter I have to stop and try and correct. I apologize for any typos!

Rob: You’ll have to wait and see if “Key Chain” made the cut!

David: You’re about my age, but I didn’t start buying comics until I was 17, so I don’t have a lot of weird old stuff that kids were able to find – by the time I started buying, I was pretty focused. I didn’t pay attention to creative teams for the first few years, but then I began to get serious about it!

I’d like to give you some ideas about 1950s horror, but I’m seriously lax in that area, too. Recently I got a book of Wallace Wood’s horror work from the 1950s, and while I haven’t read it yet, the art is wonderful (which isn’t surprising; Wood was great). Jeff would probably know more.

That’s very cool that you’ve bought some stuff based on this series. I hope I didn’t put too much strain on your bank account! :)

Krigstein’s stories in MAD magazine are great! I just read “From Eternity Back to Here” a few days ago! And the “Bringing Up Father” parody is one of the top stories from the early MAD. (Well, pretty much anything in early MAD is “one of the top stories.”)

A good way to look at some pre-Code horror (not EC stuff, but still pretty good) is the Haunted Horror title that IDW is putting out, edited by Craig Yoe and co. Some really fun goofy stuff in there, and at 4 bucks a pop for about 40 or so pages, it’s not a bad deal.

I agree w/ Travis. Their “Weird Love” is pretty great, too. However, if you want the real deal, there is no better place to start than this. You can’t beat the price, it’s in full color, and it’s the apex of EC horror:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/TALES-FROM-THE-CRYPT-ANNUAL-4-/181330435184?pt=US_Comic_Books&hash=item2a3822dc70

Almost the entire output of EC was issued in this series of reprints, and used copies are pretty easy to come by. Very nice coloring and reproductions all around. Cheap, too!

thanks for a forgotten classic (by-some) artist

Greg: So, what was it that got you started in comics back at age 17? Just curious! Whatever the reason, I’m glad – and yeah, I’m also happy that this series has turned me on to some great artists and got me thinking about comic art in a whole new way. It’s one thing to read and enjoy Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”, but another to sit down and have things pointed out to you and be able to discuss them. I have noticed that it’s taking me longer to read my comics now – I am often pausing and taking closer looks at the art. Thank you, sir!

Travis & mrclam: thanks for the recommendations! I’ll start checking into these!

I was unaware that Bernard Krigstein’s career in comic books was either lengthy or prolific. To be perfectly honest, the ONLY story that I can think of that he drew was “Master Race.” So I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what work Greg spotlights over the next four days. Odds are that most of it will be completely new to me.

@ DavidTheGrey

Like Travis and mrclam I recommend Haunted Horror. Yoe Books/IDW also publishes The Chilling Archives of Horror series. For free horror on line, and more on Yoe books check out http://thehorrorsofitall.blogspot.com/

As for EC comics, Dark Horse is publishing the EC Archives hardcovers, and there are plenty of the Gemstone and Russ Cochran reprints out there in the back issue bins. I saw two dealers at Heroes Con this year with boxes of them for something like $1-2 an issue.

matt: You’re welcome!

Ben: Well, I guess if you have to be known for one story, “Master Race” is a good one to be known for! I wonder if most people might be unfamiliar with Krigstein was because he never did superheroes, even for a story or two, so casual fans might not even be vaguely familiar with him. I know that’s why I had never heard of him, because it’s not like he was inking Daredevil in the 1980s (like Al Williamson), which might make someone think, “Hey, I wonder if this guy ever did anything else?” and then get led to older work. When Krigstein quit, he quit for good!

David: The short version is that my best friend, who read comics, and I happened to be at the mall when Batman #426 was out, and he told me Robin was probably going to die in the story. I couldn’t resist! The rest is history. The long version is here.

G Thomas Mueller

July 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Didn’t Bernard Krigstein do a story with Matt Wagner (Krigstein pencils & Wagner inking, or vice versa, I’m not sure at the moment) on an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury story for the Bradbury series Topp’s published in the early 90’s? Or am confusing Krigstein with someone else?

G Thomas Mueller

July 17, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Please excuse my grammar on the previous post. I posted from my phone and didn’t read my comment before posting.

kdu2814: thank you for the info! I have a good start to at least add some times to my wish lists (or even let them tug at the wallet)!

Greg: Woah, that is a long story, but with pictures! You did good for not having read them all your life. I don’t know what I would’ve done living in close proximity to all those comic shops. We lived in remote places, so my only source was the grocery markets IF they had a spinner rack (or a magazine rack, which was more often the case).
I remember those McFarlane Spider-Mans you referenced and the X-Men with Wolverine nailed to the X cross. Around that time those books started coming out twice a month – it was like being on crack cocaine (I guess, I really wouldn’t know). Fun story, thanks for sharing!
It also helped me to remember when I started getting into Batman – it was around when Legends of the Dark Knight came out. I remember that because it was also when Batman & Dracula Red Rain had come out, and Kelley Jones was in town (Chico, CA) to do a signing at one of our two comic shops for his upcoming Aliens series from Dark Horse. Kelley was from Sacramento, so it was not too far for him to go – and our town NEVER got comic guys for signing, so it was a big event. Fun days. It may have turned into an obsession that is slowly crowding me out of my home, but I am so grateful for comics. About 38 years of reading enjoyment!

G Thomas Mueller: Krigstein died in 1990, so I don’t think he’s who you’re thinking of. I wonder who it was?

David: Yeah, I had fun driving around to various comics shops. Good times!

Jeff Nettleton

July 17, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Well 50s era is really EC. Once the Code came to past, horror degenerated into monster stories. You have your Atlas stuff (Amazing Fantasy, Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, etc…), with Ditko and Kirby, some good, some not so much. Prior to that, you have stuff like ACG, who had Adventures into the Unknown, Forbidden Worlds, and Unknown Worlds. Avon and Fawcett had a few, like This Magazine is Haunted! and Eerie (before Warren). Ace Magazine Comics had several, like Beyond, Hand of Fate, and Web of Mystery. Harvey, of all companies, had a few like Black Cat Mystery and Chamber of Chills. Charlton had numerous: Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds, Strange Suspense Stories, and Unusual Tales. Prize had Black Magic (with work from Simon & Kirby) and Frankenstein. Superior Comics had some, and their were numerous others. Many titles lasted only a handful of issues, some a couple of dozen. ACG probably had the longest run, with Adventures into the Unknown and Forbidden Worlds lasting for several years. Of course, the Atlas books wen’t from horror and suspense to launching Marvel heroes.

DC had theirs and inherited some, but they mostly stayed away from it, until later, with their “mystery” books, like House of Secrets and House of Mystery. Once the Code relaxed, they dabbled more. Marvel continued a bit, but Tomb of Dracula was their mainstay, though they had short runs with other book (Werewolf by Night and others). Warren became the inheritors of EC, to a certain extent. Since they published their books as magazines, they could do more mature stuff, and attracted some great artists and more than a few good writers. Dell/Gold Key and Charlton kept things alive through the 60s and 70s, with books like Doctor Spektor, Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery (and tv tie-ins like Dark Shadows and Twilight Zone), while Charlton had Many Ghosts of Dr Graves and Ghost Manor.

A good Golden Age horror book to check out is Prize Comics’ Frankenstein, by Dick Briefer. It starts out as traditional horror, but soon became more humor oriented. It’s a pretty fun book. Simon & Kirby’s horror stuff gets pretty creepy. Kirby fit right in there.

I’ve seen bits and pieces, but was never a huge horror fan, so I didn’t pursue them much. However, EC is quality all the way, and Warren had a lot of just beautiful artwork. Most of what I saw in my heyday was in the 70s, with stuff like House of Mystery, Doctor Spektor, and a few Charlton comics. They tended towards the gothic stuff (which was popular, thanks to Dark Shadows and stuff like the Hammer films) and the twist ending stuff (Twilight Zone influence). I’ve looked at more, since, thanks to the internet. You can get a lot of that stuff online cheaply, and legally, since much of it is in the public domain. There have also been a couple of reasonably priced anthologies of horror comics; again of public domain stuff. The Fantagraphics collections of late are done good books.

G Thomas Mueller

July 17, 2014 at 6:22 pm

It was Harvey Kurtzman that did that bradbury adaptation with Wagner. My bad

G Thomas Mueller: Ah, I see. Not the worst mistake in the world to make! :)

Speaking of mistakes, if this was a guess the artist series, I would have guessed Simon and Kirby.

Jeff – Thanks for that amazing post with a lot of nuggets of information! I’ve saved that into my draft email (my way of keeping temporary records) so I can refer to it for searches, because while I can remember EC and a few artist names, I sure won’t remember all of that! I’m going to try and get collections when possible, just have to figure out a good place to start for a try-out and see if it’s something I want to commit to.

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