Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Marvel Comics: 70's Monsters

After the loosening up of the Comics Code Authority in 1971, Marvel Comics published a set of new horror titles. These included separate books featuring a werewolf, vampire and Frankenstein's monster. Except for the Dracula comic, Mike Ploog was the primary artist for many of these books. Much of his pre-Marvel experience had came from working with Will Eisner, whose influence is very evident, and in animation work for Batman and Superman TV cartoons in the late 1960's.

Marvel comics become popular in the early 60's, primarily, because of the dynamic, energetic style of art and storytelling of Jack Kirby combined with the more character driven writing of Stan Lee. Kirby was a powerful, creator and storyteller. Lee, as a writer and editor, was a sharp promoter. Marvel Comics was a bit like a restaurant with two talented chefs - one who had an innovative creative vision (Kirby;) and the other (Lee) had the talent and intuitive skill to know how to dress up a final product to best polish it and present it to the clients. The early marvel superheros were influenced by the monster books Lee and Kirby were creating in the late 1950's. These monster books of the 70's, by a new set of artists and writers, were created and influenced by the then popular line of superhero books Marvel had established.

The marvel horror book were not successful to me. Mike Ploog's art had a very comic book superhero feel. Action, dramatic figure poses and dynamic stylized anatomy overshadowed the realistic , moody and dark atmosphere you might expect in a horror story. Marvel was successful with it's new version of superhero in the 60's, partially, because the characters were given more realistic problems. This helped us everyday humans identify with the fantasy characters in the stories. By presenting the new horror books in the superhero house drawing style of Marvel, they lost the realistic edge that gives horror it's scaryness. They looked too much like comic books and not enough like something that could realistically freighting you.

Gene Colon's art in The Tomb of Dracula was better suited for the horror titles, especially when inked by Tom Palmer. There was unique style and mood in their art. It was a more realistic illustrative approach to the art that added an element of "this could be possible" to the stories. There was strength, a twisting, flowing action and quick cinematic pacing The realism sold the narrative better than in the other horror books by Marvel at the time. I was never sold on the design of the Dracula character though. That pencil thin Clark Gable mustache always seemed out of place. I'm sure it must have been added to give a more romantic and sophisticated air to Dracula; but it always looked too contrived - more like a used car salesman than the alpha vampire.

art @Marvel Comics

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