Hey Kids Comix!

A very talented freelance illustrator named Rob Kelly maintains a set of passionate sites devoted to comic books, comix that is. Rob was kind enought to post my comments on the war comic books of the late nineteen-forties and early fifities. Check out Rob’s amazing work at namtab.com. Don’t miss the Dylan portraits.

Here’s the gist of what I sent Rob:

One of those things I obsessed about as a kid was a comic book called “Wings.” It was during the Second World War and for three or four years I bought a copy every month. It was the cover art that got to me more than the stories or even the strip art. If you are not familiar with Wings, the cover shown tells it all, a gorgeous WW II aviation cover of a P-39 Bell Airacobra.

When I discovered comic books, the war dominated my mind. Two other comic books were favorites; “Blackhawk,” and “The Boy Commandos.” The pilots in Blackhawk, an international mix of course, fought the evil fascists while wearing flashy Prisoner of Zenda, Hapsburg-style uniforms, and they flew stubby, little two-engine Grumman Skyrocket naval fighters that in reality never saw action during the war. The Boy Commandos were a comic book version of the “Dead End,” “East Side” or “Bowery Boys” movie gang who also helped win the war against the evil Nazis and Japs. I thought they were great.

Now here’s a strange one. I rarely read a comic book. I looked at the pictures. If the artwork got my attention, I bought the book and looked at the pictures. The stories hardly interested me at all.

When the Korean War started in 1950, I was twelve years old and already into the whole EC comic line. I had every on of their two war, or rather anti-war, comics, mostly for the Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman work, particularly the Kurtzman covers. I bought a couple of reprints back in the late eighties or early nineties and what surprised me was just how well the artwork, the Kurtzman covers specifically, have held up. After more than fifty years, I believe that in terms of graphic art, subject matter aside, it would be difficult to date them. They are wonderful.

834_06.jpg834_031.jpg762_201.jpgA Part of Kurtzman’s genius was an ability to convey a wealth information with a minimum of detail. Look at his 1951 Korean War piece “Contact.” The splash panel is a small masterpiece. The rendering of the winter tree holding a Chinese sniper is van Gogh-like, and the drawing of the rifle, absolutely minimalist, is still recognizably, a Mauser.

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