November 10, 2011
1950’s Media by Mark G. Heike
We’ve recently been enjoying the 2007 CBS Video release of “Suspense- The Lost Episodes: Collection 1” on DVD, re-presenting the 1949-54 television in- carnation of the long- running (1945 shows over 20 years ) classic radio drama anthology of the same name. Our good friend Wayne Markley sent us a used copy of the DVD set of these vintage programs from the early days of television, unseen since their initial broadcast. Never run in syndication, this series was once thought “lost” until enough Kinescopes were unearthed to make this collection a reality. It probably would not appeal to fans of current TV series like Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, or any of the multitude of various “CSI” dramas- but if you enjoy vintage television, it can be fun. Early performances by eventual superstars like Charlton Heston, Paul Newman Rod Steiger, Anne Bancroft and others have been a real treat, but the MAIN reason our buddy Wayne sent us the set was so that we could see the episode entitled “The Comic Strip Murder”, originally aired on September 29, 1949. It starred Lilli Palmer, Dan Briggs and a very young Eva Marie Saint, but the real draw to it (no pun intended ) was that the “comic strip art” mocked up as props for the murder mystery centered around a successful newsparer strip artist and his suspicious wife. The artwork for that show was produced by a very young Dick Ayers, that comic book luminary whose star initially rose at Magazine Enterprise in the early 1950’s, illustrating The Ghost Rider, Calico Kid and other features; and who played a key role as a “bullpen” mainstay in the Marvel Age of the early-to-mid 1960’s, inking Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four, Thor, The Hulk, X-Men, Avengers and others, and doing full art chores on Giant Man, The Human Torch, Sgt. Fury and more- AND who also penciled The FEMFORCE at AC Comics in the 1990’s. It was fascinating to see this early work Dick did while he was still cutting his teeth in the “real” comic book world. But the true “find”of viewing this “Suspense” compilation was stumbling upon ANOTHER comic-related episode which we had not previously heard of. It was “The Crooked Frame”, originally seen on July 29, 1952. It starred Richard Kiley in a drama about an unscrupulous lady comic book writer whose studio “ghost” turns on her. It was not just the plot (about a ficticious publisher called “Terrific Comics”) that was noteworthy, but the set props on the faux comic book company office: instead of hiring some young artist to create phoney drawings (like Dick did in the other episode), THIS story is replete with ACTUAL original cover art from actual comic books of the era published by The American Comics Group, better known as ACG to it’s fans. The actor playing the “editor” is seen flipping through original cover art from ACG’s long-running Adventures Into The Unknown horror/SF anthology, Operation:Peril and other ACG books. In addition, a large (five foot) blow-up of a cover piece originally drawn by Ogden Whitney is seen, with the main character’s face altered slightly, and bearing the logo of “Terrific Comics” fictional comic- book meal-ticket, Sally Forth. All this is particularly interesting to the discerning comic book historian, as although the venerable ACG line of comics ran for over 20 years until it closed it’s doors in 1967, it is all but forgotten today. You won’t find names like Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta or Neal Adams among the companies’ list of artistic contributors, but the great Alex Toth considered ACG’s mainstay Whitney one of comicdom’s best ever, and a huge influence on his work. Other art regulars include former Captain Marvel artist Pete Costanza; Paul Reinman, Kurt (Lois Lane, Superman)Schaffenberger, future Star Wars artist Al Williamson, EC Comics’ great Johnny Craig, and later on Spiderman co-creator Steve Ditko. ACG’s quirky and whimsical approach to fantasy (managed by long-time editor-in-chief and head writer Richard Hughes, who helmed the creation of the Nedor characters at Standard/Better publications in the early 1940’s) ) gave their books a unique flavor. Although some ACG material had been reprinted in Canadian publisher Roger Broughton’s APlus comics in the 1990’s, and others (including the also-ran 1960’s superheroes Nemesis and Magicman, and the iconic Ogden Whitney humor strip, Herbie) by Dark Horse, AC comics has reprinted a number of the best Pre-code ACG horror stories in it’s Crypt of Horror series; with perhaps the best examples in CRYPT OF HORROR# 11. At any rate, the “Suspense” series was fun and entertaining despite the limited technology of the “live” TV productions of the day. The same can probably be said of the comic book output of the late, great American Comics Group. Certainly ALSO a product of it’s times, it’s creative output can still be of interest to the discriminating collector of today.