Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Praise of Rocke

There were many talented artists in the Charlton line-up and Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio is one of the best and most underrated. Born in 1927 his first recorded work in comics was in 1949 for Better publications. Jerry Bails "Who's Who" notes that his first job was assisting Jack Abel. Other credits for Rocke include pencils and/or inks for ACG, Avon, Harvey, Hillman, Toby and Timely-Atlas. His longest association, though, was with Charlton Press, beginning in 1954 and running until his death in 1968.

    
Mastroserio's cover to Wyatt Earp # 18, Nov 1957 has a decidedly Joe Maneely-esque background. Maneely drew a number of stories for Charlton and some of Rocke's covers and stories in this period were clearly influenced by his work. Could the two have met and compared notes at some point? 

Image from the ever-resourceful Grand Comics Database, where you can view all the Wyatt Earp covers by Rocco and a variety of Charlton greats: http://www.comics.org/series/1189/covers/


Rocke's cover art to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds # 8, June 1958. Mastroserio's art peppered practically the entire Charlton line, from covers to interiors. With the amount of work he turned out some jobs were clearly rushed and weaker than others, but much of his art stands out as above average.  


An explosive (pardon the pun) cover to D-Day # 5, Oct 1967. Covers such as these, lacking copy, draw attention directly to the art. Mastroserio pencilled and/or inked countless covers for Charlton's various war and western titles and the hits outweigh the misses. Image from the GCD.   


A powerful image graces the cover to Fightin' Army # 25, June 1958, with pencils by Charlton editor Pat Masulli and inks by Mastroserio. Rocke inked most of Charlton's artists from time to time, including Charles Nicholas and Bill Molno, usually adding a layer of depth to two of Charlton's workhorses. While both men have often been maligned by fans, sometimes with justification, I've warmed up to their work a little since seeing more examples at Comic Book Plus:  

http://comicbookplus.com/

Molno and Nicholas were clearly capable of producing solid art when time and interest merged. Like many, I've probably been too harsh in assessing their talents, but I've grown to appreciate that they had distinct styles, even if they were not in the same class as Kirby and Ditko.




Mastroserio inks over Dick Giordano. The two produced many outstanding covers over the years. From Outlaws of the West # 61, Nov 1966. Image from the GCD.



Another exciting western cover by Rocke, with layouts possibly by Dick Giordano, from Outlaw of the West # 64, May 1967. Image from the GCD.   


When Ghostly Tales began with issue # 55, May 1966 (in actuality the first issue, which continued the numbering from Blue Beetle), Mastroserio was a major contributor, both as primary cover artist and on interiors. In this issue he provides the intro page, inks a Steve Ditko story and draws two stories of his own! This nicely designed page is from "A Powerful Tale!"   


Anyone for a game of cards? Rocke drew many attractive and inventive introductory pages for Charlton, this one featuring the host Mr. L. Dedd. From Ghostly Tales # 57, Sept 1966. 


Mastroserio was particularly suited to the mystery genre as this cover clearly illustrates. From Ghostly Tales # 60, March 1967.


As noted, Mastroserio inked many of Steve Ditko's stories when he returned to Charlton. Although he did a fine job on Capt. Atom, I believe Rocke's crisp, detailed inking on the mystery stories truly excelled. "If I Had Three Wishes", Gary Freidrich script, from Ghostly Tales # 60. 


Ditko and Rocke are again teamed in the same issue. This page features superb storytelling by Ditko, with each panel perfectly composed. The use of the host is an added treat, and Rocke's inking compliments Ditko's pencils as few have been able to. There are so many gems to be found in Charlton's 1960's comics. This is just one of them. "The Ghost Mover" Joe Gill script?


 Dr. Graves, who had a short feature in Ghostly Tales, usually written by Dave Kaler and drawn by Bill Montes and Ernie Bache, soon became the host and occasional star of his own title. As with GT, Rocke was again employed as main cover and intro artist on many of the early issues. Cover possibly from a Dick Giordano layout. Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves # 4, Nov 1967.


Another simple, effective Rocke cover, with lettering by Jon D'Agostino, from Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves # 5, Jan 1968.


And we close out our look at Rocke's Charlton work with a decidedly Ditkoesque cover, one inspired by the Ditko drawn "Routine" inside. All told, Mastroserio's fourteen year body of work at Charlton includes some extraordinary work.

 
 In 1966 Rocke, along with fellow Charlton artists Steve Ditko, Pat Boyette and Tony Tallarico, began getting assignments from Warren Publishing. Mastroserio's black and white work was effective, as this splash page to "Monster" clearly illustrates. Archie Goodwin script. Creepy # 10, Aug 1966.

While continuing to work for Charlton, Mastroserio drew stories for Warren and received his first assignment from DC editor Murray Boltinoff, a mystery story over Jack Sparling pencils (The Unexpected # 108, Sept 1968). Sadly, it was to be his only DC job, as he died in 1968, at the age of 41. 


Mark Hanerfeld's obituary of Mastroserio, from On The Drawing Board Vol 3, # 2, Apr 1968


Like the tragic early death of Joe Maneely, who knows where the future would have taken Rocco Mastroserio? Mastroserio was excited to be working for DC, and more jobs from editor Murray Boltinoff were pending (according to historian Mark Evanier, Boltinoff was ready to assign him a Challengers of the Unknown story). His command of the form was constantly improving and would likely have continued in that direction. Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio's life may have been short, but his accomplishments in the world of comic art cast a long shadow.

I'll close out with a rare treat: Rocco in his own words, writing about art and storytelling. A letter from Comic Comments # 19, June 1967. Rocke had contributed a cover to issue # 10, which I unfortunately don't have, but if anyone has a copy and would send me a scan I'd love to add it to this tribute.

      

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Comic Reader reaches 100!

With the 11th Anniversary issue The Comic Reader once again returns to its original name. After years of various permutations (On The Drawing Board; the recent double-name of Etcetera and The Comic Reader), publisher Paul Levitz wisely decided that less is more. 

                     
                       Cover to The Comic Reader # 90, October 1972. Art by fan Marc Bilgrey


Levitz's A Letter From The Editor closes the door on "the double name nonsense". He further explains that Etcetera will become a separate fanzine with many of the ongoing columns appearing therein (which did occur). The really good news? The Comic Reader will REMAIN The Comic Reader for the duration (that doesn't mean there won't be ANY changes, though...)    


The Marvel news section tells of the Marvel Origins book being delayed. That was an understatement, since it wouldn't appear for another two years. Barry Smith leaves Conan, as John Buscema takes over what would be a very long and popular run on the character. Don McGregor joins Marvel as an editorial assistant; coincidentally news of the delayed War of The Worlds strip is mentioned, a strip that McGregor would go on to write, most prominently with Craig Russell, another newcomer who was assigned the Ant-Man strip. One item that sadly did not come to fruition was the Spider-Man/Sub-Mariner story to be drawn by Bill Everett. While Everett inked Spider-Man over Ross Andru and Gene Colan, he never had the opportunity to pencil the character. As will soon be noted, Everett passed before he was able to pencil the story. The FF image is from the T-shirt, with art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia.

     
In the "news and notes" section Paul Levitz talks of his upcoming visit to the Malachy McCourt program. McCourt had a long-running show on AM Station WMCA in New York which was then a Talk Station that included a range of diverse hosts, including Alex Bennett, Bob Grant, Leon Lewis and late night host Long John Nebel. Paul's teacher, and Malachy's brother Frank McCourt was unknown to the general public at the time, but years later would become celebrated for his best-selling Memoir Angela's Ashes. Frank McCourt died in 2009.   


The Comic Reader # 91, Nov 1972. Cover of Kirby's the Demon by Don Rosa. Rosa has an interesting history in fandom. He wrote the Information Center column for The Rocket's Blast Comicollector for many years, and his comic strip, Pertwillaby Papers, would later appear in The Comic Reader. Rosa was a lifelong fan of Carl Barks, the famous writer/artist of many Donald Duck comics for Western publishing. In later years Rosa would have the opportunity to create his own Duck stories.   

    
 DC news included the return of Joe Simon to editorial duties, although this time he remained largely a solo act, even though ex-partner Jack Kirby was also at DC. Fans were not the only ones who took notice of the two working for DC again. Could that mean a reunion? Stay tuned! The Toth item turned out to be false, though not inaccurate - read my previous blog post for all the sordid details! Secret Origins # 1 cover-repro by Nick Cardy. 

    
A Kirby/Ayers Sub-Mariner illo graces the Marvel news page, which includes news of colorist Glynis Wein joining the staff and Marv Wolfman becoming assistant editor, replacing Steve Gerber who became busy writing stories. Tony Isabella joined the ranks of professionals, assisting on Marvel's British Weeklies! Mad also gets a plug, with its special "comic section" including a pull-out of the original comic version.


The ET AL section posted a variety of popular culture items, including convention news, books on comics and strips and info on newspaper articles. On a personal note I fondly recall listening to WRVR, a Jazz oriented FM radio station in New York that I frequently enjoyed (as a teenager I loved rock and roll, but appreciated all types of music, and really grew to love jazz in the years ahead). WRVR also played old time radio, and along with the Lone Ranger, I particularly recall listening to the Shadow many Saturday nights with my brother John, usually with the lights turned off to create the appropriate mood. One of the sponsors for the show was none other than the Monster Times, a bi-weekly newspaper that featured articles on comics, movies, television...well, why not just read Manny Marris' recap of the 17th and 18th issues in his column:      
    


The Obituary section notes the passing of actor Charles Correll and Animation Pioneer Max Fleischer. A producer and inventor, Fleischer's achievements included Ko Ko the Clown, Betty Boop and most famously, was instrumental in bringing Popeye to the moving screen. Along with his talented studio of animators and voice artists, the Fleischer studio created many unique, decidedly urban and extraordinary cartoons that stand the test of time.  



The one and only ORIGIKANAL! Accept no subskitutes!


I beg your indulgence for a moment, since The Comic Reader # 92 (Dec 1972) was the first fanzine I ever purchased, way back in December of 1972. The cover peered out at me from the little nook of a window of an old bookstore, located in the Ridgewood section of Queens, New York. It was on a Sunday, though, and the store was closed. Neighborhood bookstores were still in evidence in the early 1970's, and this one was known by the proprietors name, Pat. The store sold books, magazines, records and, yes, comics. Since my brother John and I were comics fans and bought them on a regular basis I recognized the character on the cover, Warlock. I was also intrigued by the cryptic copy that dotted the cover: "Dracula Lives, new Marvel B&W"; "In This Issue: EC Comix.  I rushed back the following day and purchased The Comic Reader, discovering it was filled with information on Marvel and DC's line, including reproductions of upcoming covers! What a thrill it was to a kid who only got his news from the companies coming attractions. Plus it had news of other companies! Articles! Ads for other fanzines! The discovery of this small publication led me to an ongoing interest in fanzines; I've collected, studied and enjoyed them ever since that day almost 40 years ago. 
Cover art by Alan Kupperberg. Colors by N. Caputo.


News of the latest paperback releases also appeared in TCR, as seen on the "So What Else Is News?" Column 



Even the ads were exciting! Reprinting of Eisner's The Spirit and EC's Comics. This took place at a time when there were very little early comic books being collected.

  
The Comic Reader # 93, Jan 1973 heralds the return of Simon and Kirby on a new Sandman. The pair would only work on one issue together, and it would not be published for some time, although sales turned out to be very strong. Dreams of further Simon/Kirby collaborations were not to be, though, and the pairs fortunes would remain in separate paths. The proposed Deadman revival never got off the ground; instead the Spectre got the green light. Since horror and weird strips were doing extremely well (note the Swamp Thing's overwhelming success) it might have been worthwhile to try both features. Captain Marvel...excuse me..Shazam # 2 cover by C.C. Beck and Jack Adler.    


ET AL has many interesting tid-bits, not the least of which is Harlan Ellison's unproduced The Dark Forces TV show, which sounded promising, and information and art by Neal Adams on the short lived Warp play.


Howard Chaykin's cover to The Comic Reader # 94 Feb 1973, introduces his new character. IronWolf, who later debuted in Weird Worlds.   


News on Russ Heath's current work, the first German Comiccon, the revival of Weird Tales and old time radio on WRVR. I was glued to my radio every night listening to those old programs, including the comedy Fibber McGee. To show how everything connects, a supporting character that appeared on the show, The Great Gildersleeve, played by character actor Harold Peary, was once mentioned in an essay by Steve Ditko as serving the same function as did his Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man, a character the fans loved to hate. Ditko noted: "I realized that J. Jonah Jameson was Spider-Man's Great Gildersleeve." (A Mini-History 10: "The OO's and JJJ" Robin Snyder's The Comics Vol 14, No 5, May 2003).  And if you ever heard Gildersleeve's laugh on radio and thought of Jameson's leering face from ASM # 18, you'd get the picture.   


DC's apprentice program came on strong with Carl Gafford and Al Milgrom. Gafford was involved in fanzines and went on to become a major colorist, particularly for DC. Milgrom was an artist/inker/editor and writer, producing tons of work for Marvel and DC. Milgrom is also the inker of one of my favorite Kirby covers, Invincible Iron-Man # 80.


The 39 year run of Terry and the Pirates comes to an end and news of Jerry Bails' essential Who's Who of American Comic Books makes this a noteworthy page.


The sad news of Bill Everett's passing, creator of Sub-Mariner, distinctive stylist and a giant of the industry.



Murphy Anderson's expressive Spectre cover announces his return to comics, although Jim Aparo would be drawing the revived version. The Comic Reader # 96 April 1973.


   
Along with Weird horror, Weird war and Weird westerns, DC had Weird humor. Plop debuts, with cover art by the delightfully weird Basil Wolverton. After an absence of many years the Joker returns, reverting to his manically homicidal personality. Neal Adams cover art.   


 News from other companies, including Gold Key and Charlton, begin to filter back into TCR.  E-Man, a new superhero feature by writer Nick Cuti and artist Joe Staton is spotlighted.


No, the X-Men still aren't back, but Al Milgrom awaits their return on the cover of TCR # 97, May 1973



Included in the Marvel news section was the original, unaltered cover art to Savage Tales # 2 by John Buscema.


This Tom Sutton-esque cover to The Comic Reader # 98, June 1973, is actually the work of long-time Marvel editor/current editor-in-chief of Papercutz Jim Salicrup! Jim did a terrific job on this manic cover, but credit for the coloring goes to N. Caputo, who takes the blame for adding a palette to many black and white covers of the period. 


Only a few short months after the news of Everett's passing, another titan of Timely/Atlas dies. Syd Shores was a tremendously talented artist. Versatile and prolific he drew many excellent Captain America stories in the 1940's following Simon and Kirby. He was particularly effective on war and westerns. In later years he was known for distinctive inking. Some of his best was in tandem with Gene Colan on Daredevil. Colan studied under Shores at Timely and was a huge fan of his. Some of Shores last work, appropriately enough, was on the western features Gunhawks and Red Wolf.


DC news includes Paul Levitz filling-in for vacationing Mike Fleischer as a summer temp. Carl Gaffford's Fourth World Nuts panel and cover repos of Mr. Miracle # 16 by Kirby/Royer and Limited Collectors Edition of Tarzan by Joe Kubert.

    
Levitz's editorial states his assisting at DC for the summer is temporary and he has "no desire to make a career for myself in this industry" Why do I get the feeling I'm going to include a different announcement in the 100th issue??


News of  Archie's Red Circle line headed by Gray Morrow as editor sounds promising. Plus news on Warren, Gold Key and Charlton. Cover to E-Man # 1 by Joe Staton.


Walt Simonson's cover to The Comic Reader # 98, July 1973, featuring his new version of the Manhunter, a series that would run in Detective Comics with writer Archie Goodwin. 

  
Gray Morrow's cover to Chilling Adventures in Sorcery # 3 for the short-lived Red Circle line. And news of Fredric Wertham's The World of Fanzines.


A milestone accomplishment deserves a milestone artist. Jack Kirby's wraparound cover to The Comic Reader #100 Aug-Sept 1973, includes Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America and probably his first depiction of Batman! Colors by Carl Gafford and logo, I believe, by Gaspar Saladino.



News of Kirby's Demon and Mister Miracle cancellations. Omac was the next solo Kirby title, although he would work on Sandman and later a powerful run on The Losers strip in Our Fighting Forces. The Dingbats of Danger Street were featured in one issue of First Issue Special, later episodes have yet to be collected. Other Kirby ideas that only appeared once were Atlas, a new version of Manhunter and Kobra. Rima art by Nestor Redondo.


And, with the 100th issue comes a change of publishers once again. After a three year run Paul Levitz decided to move on. In a short period Levitz would be editorial assistant and soon write stories for DC, particularly noted for the Legion of Super Heroes. He would move up in the editorial ranks until he became publisher from 2002-2009. Levitz wrote the massive 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking published by Taschen. Not too shabby a resume from starting out in fanzines!
  
Following Levitz with issue # 101 would be Mike Tiefenbacher. He, along with Jerome Sinkovec would carry the ball for the remainder of the publications history.