|Bombed out buildings like this formed playgrounds for us kids during the early 1960s. Every neighbourhood bore the scars of WWII and no one seemed to have the money to tear these accidents-waiting-to-happen down.|
|I had one of these capgun Lugers around 1962, though mine was in much better condition than this one. Having the gun was one thing, but affording to buy caps for it was quite another proposition.|
|This was the grassy bank outside my grandparents' flat where we'd play the shooting game. It really doesn't seem to have changed much since the early 1960s.|
When we weren't playing at war, we were reading about it in our British weekly adventure comics, watching it on television or seeing war movies at our local cinema, whether it was at a feature in the evening with our parents or with our mates at Saturday Morning Pictures.
|Combat! was a long-running television show that focussed on the US military, and featured many top-name Hollywood actors, like Lee Marvin. Hogan's Heroes, on the other hand, saw the funny side of the Nazi POW camps.|
Hollywood film studios considered WWII something of a cash cow. Just between 1962 and 1964 there were over thirty English-language war movies released, funny and serious, including The Longest Day (1962), PT109 (1963) and Father Goose (1964).
And of course comics, both home-grown and US imports, were stuffed full of war stories. Some comics, like Victor, were dedicated to the genre, but war stories even turned up in sports comics like Tiger. And in the states, WWII had been a major subject for comics publishers pretty much from VE Day onwards.
In British comics, the genre was pretty much defined during the 1960s by Captain Hurricane, who appeared in Valiant. Like most other WWII stories in the comics of the time, Captain Hurricane was full of comedic Germans, who shouted, "Gott in Himmel" and "Englisher schweinhund!" a lot. Every speech balloon, in fact. Mostly, no one was killed, just roughed up a bit. Stories would often end with Hurricane walking away from a pile of German soldiers, all with black eyes and cauliflower ears, dusting off his hands and congratulating himself on a job well done. These stories were not of great interest to me, and I must have only read a handful of Valiants all through my childhood.
|Though they weren't publishing war comics, Timely books featured a lot of war in them. Unlike DC, Timely's heroes took on the Axis forces head-on.|
Unlike market-leader DC Comics, Timely seemed quite happy to let their superheroes tangle with Nazis and Japanese. Captain America Comics 1 (Mar 1941) famously had the hero socking Hitler on the jaw on the front cover several months before the US entered WWII. And the long run of Alex Schomberg covers on Marvel Mystery Comics featured an unbroken run of The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner trashing both the German and Japanese forces for the duration.
Actual war comics, as a stand-alone genre, wouldn't come along for another couple of years, though there were a couple of early niche examples. Wings Comics, debuting at the end of 1940 and running 124 issues through to 1954, concentrated on air combat stories. And U.S. Marines came along in 1943, but only managed four issues, ending the following year. But it was actually Martin Goodman's Atlas Comics, under the editorship of Stan Lee, that really kicked off the war comic genre with, appropriately, War Comics 1 (Dec 1950). Once Goodman saw the sales figures on that book, he had Stan launch a fleet of war comics, including:
- Battle 1-70 (Mar 1951 - Jun 1960)
- Men's Adventures 9-20 (Aug 1951 - Apr 1953) continued from drama title Men's Adventures; continued as horror title Men's Adventures
- Combat Kelly 1-44 (Nov 1951 - Aug 1957)
- Man Comics 11-28 (Dec 1951 - Sep 1953) continued from drama title Man Comics
- War Adventures 1-13 (Jan 1952 - Feb 1953)
- Battle Action 1-30 (Feb 1952 - Aug 1957)
- War Combat 1-5 (Mar-Nov 1952) continued as Combat Casey 6-34 (Jan 1953 - Jul 1957)
- Battlefield 1-11 (Apr 1952 - May 1953)
- War Action 1-4 (Apr 1952 - Jun 1953)
- Men in Action 1-9 (Apr-Dec 1952) continued as Battle Brady 10-14 (Jan-June 1953)
- Battlefront 1-48 (Jun 1952 - Aug 1957)
- Combat 1-11 (Jun 1952 - Apr 1953)
- 3-D Action 1 (Jan 1954)
- Marines in Battle 1-25 (Aug 1954 - Sep 1958)
- Navy Action 1-11 (Aug. 1954 - April 1956) continued as Sailor Sweeney 12-14 (Jun-Nov 1956) continued as once again as Navy Action 15-18 (Jan-Aug 1957)
- Battle Ground (first four issues "Battle-Ground") 1-20 (Sep 1954 - Sep1957)
- Marines in Action 1-14 (Jun 1955 - Sep 1957)
- Navy Combat 1-20 (Jun 1955 - Oct 1958)
- Devil-Dog Dugan 1-3 (Jul-Nov 1956) continued as Tales of the Marines 4 (Feb 1957) continued as Marines at War 5-7 (Apr-Aug 1957)
- Navy Tales 1-4 (Jan-Jul 1957)
- G.I. Tales 4-6 (Feb-Jul 1957), continued from humour title Sergeant Barney Barker
- Commando Adventures 1-2 (June-Aug 1957)
|EC's Frontline Combat was the publisher's first war anthology. The earlier Two-Fisted Tales contained war stories but also had pirate tales and other boys' adventure subjects.|
|The DC house ads of the 1960s were always appealing and none more so than the ads for Star Spangled War Stories, with their sensational stories of WWII infantrymen battling dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in a hostile island environment.|
- Our Army at War 1-301 (Aug 1952 - Feb 1977)
- Star Spangled War 3-204 (Nov 1952 - Feb/Mar 1977)
- All-American Men of War 2-117 (Dec 1952 - Sep/Oct 1966)
- Our Fighting Forces 1-181 (Oct/Nov 1954 - Sep/Oct 1978)
- G I Combat 44-288 (Jan 1957 - Mar 1987), acquired from Quality Comics
|One of the last of the successful DC war titles was Weird War Tales. Honourable mention should be given to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's war anthology Foxhole which debuted in the middle of the 1950s war boom.|
Of all the war genre comics available to me during the early 1960s, the only title that even vaguely interested me was the dinosaurs vs G.I.s issues of Star Spangled War Stories. But for some reason I never read any of them as a kid. It wasn't until much later (last year, in fact) that out of curiosity I picked up a copy of the DC Showcase Presents collected volume and gave it a read. And a thankless task it was too.
These tales were clearly written with a transient young audience in mind. Scripter Robert Kanigher must have realised that few kids were loyal to any one brand or even title and would just buy comics whenever the covers appealed to them. And the DC circulation guys must have told him that covers with dinosaurs were always good sellers. As a consequence "The War That Time Forgot" is another concept-in-search-of-a-story. Each 13-page story had no continuing characters, workman-like art by DC's star war artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito and an identical plot: Some US soldiers find themselves on an unnamed Pacific island where dinosaurs have survived. The entire story would be just scene after scene of giant reptiles trashing subs, tanks, jeeps and (mostly Japanese) soldiers. After reading three or four in the collected album I was losing the will to live.
ANDRU & ESPOSITO ... AND KANIGHERDuring the last 1950s and early 1960s, Ross Andru (born Rossolav Andruskevitch) and Mike Esposito were DC Comics' go-to team for just about any series that needed to be delivered on time and drawn competently.
Ross Andru was born into a musical family. His father had played the french horn with the Ballet Russe and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Michael Esposito also was from a musical family - Esposito Sr fronted the band Ralph Perry and his Orchestra. Both had attended the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York under Burne Hogarth, after serving in WWII. Hogarth had singled Andru out in 1948 and gave him work assisting on the Sunday Tarzan strips. That last a couple of years until Hogarth left the strip.
|Andru and Esposito were an editor's dream - hard-working sons of immigrant families |
who drew fast and well and never missed a deadline.
The team would be a mainstay on the war books for the next few years, often working over Editor Robert Kanigher's scripts. Then in 1958, a couple of years after DC had successfully reinvented Golden Age super-hero The Flash for a new audience, the company decided a makeover was needed for Wonder Woman and assigned Kanigher to the task. Kanigher turned to his most reliable art team and Andru and Esposito spent the next decade chronicling the adventures of the Amazon superheroine.
|Andru and Esposito began drawing Wonder Woman with issue 98 (May 1958), Metal Men with Showcase 37 (Mar 1962) and finally The Flash with issue 175 (Dec 1967, though their first cover was 177, pictured above).|
Though Mike Esposito regularly moonlighted at Marvel Comics during the 1960s, under the name "Micky Demeo" so as not to upset the notoriously prickly Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru would only turn in one job for Marvel during that decade, a fill-in issue for Amazing Spider-Man when it looked like regular penciller John Romita wasn't going to make deadline. In the end the fill-in wasn't needed and eventually saw print in Marvel Super-Heroes 14 (May 1968). A couple of years later, Ross Andru took over the regular pencilling job on Spider-Man, the majority of them inked by Esposito, and with Gerry Conway, created The Punisher.
In a 2010 interview, Gerry Conway said, "Ross Andru could place a character anywhere he wanted. He had a terrific sense of spatial relations; he could track a battle easily across rooftops, from panel to panel. He drew some great sequences where he maintained the same stationary background, a rooftop or a street, across an entire page, but move the characters from panel to panel. I know there are artists today who do that, but many of today's artists are figure-oriented. Space and context doesn't seem as important to them, whereas it was extremely important to Ross. He used to go around New York City taking pictures of the buildings so he could be accurate about where he put Spider-Man."
For all that success, I was never a fan of Andru and Esposito's work, finding it lacking in personality. But perhaps that's what endeared them to the DC (and later the Marvel) editors. Maybe their slightly bland style could fit just about any kind of series without them having to change the way they drew. And certainly no editor would even complain about an art team who always turned their work in on time.
|Editor-writer Robert Kanigher pictured during the late 1940s.|
Famously short tempered and overly-protective of his scripts, Kanigher would regularly lambast those he saw as transgressors. John Romita recalled of Kanigher in an interview, "He used to compliment me whenever he'd see me in the bullpen. 'Like the stuff ... like the stuff...' That was about the amount of conversation we had. Then one day we were in the elevator together, and he said, 'Like the stuff.' I, like an innocent fool... I used to do some adjustments to his pages. If he had a heavy-copy panel, I might take a balloon from one panel and put it in the next. Just because I was distributing space. I was so stupid and naive, I said to him, 'It doesn't bother you, does it, that I sometimes switch some of the panels around and move some of the balloons from one panel to another?' He started to chew me out in the elevator! 'Who the hell do you think you are, changing my stuff? Where do you come off changing my stuff? You don't know anything about this business!'"
Ross Andru died 9 November 1993. Mike Esposito passed 24 October 2010. Robert Kanigher died in 2002.
JUST NOT FOR ME ...As far as war comics were concerned, it wasn't a genre I had much interest is as a ten year old, not until until later in the 1960s, when Stan Lee's makeover of Martin Goodman's comic line became Marvel Comics and Lee & Kirby brought a new character-driven dynamic to the otherwise standard superhero and adventure titles they were publishing. Stan and Jack set out their war stall in competition with DC's mighty five titles and at last got me interested in war stories. But Marvel's war comic wasn't so much a different take on war adventure tales as it was a social manifesto.
And that's what I'll be talking about in my very next blog entry ...
Next: Sgt Fury and his Howling Whatchamacallems!