Before Superman, Batman, and Spiderman there was the Phantom.
We picked up a copy of El Hombre Enmascarado late last year when we were passing through Granada, and in typical fashion, it's taken us almost a year to scan anything from it. But never let the early become the enemy of the late, or something to that nonsensical effect, so above you see the cover of issue thirty-four, written and illustrated by Lee Falk and published in 1960 by Editorial Dolar as part of its Héroes Modernos series. However, Dolar was merely translating a U.S. serial. There the main character was known as the Phantom, originating as a daily syndicated comic strip. This episode is titled “Balas,” or “Bullets.” The only credit inside is for Falk, but we're actually unsure whether he was the sole hand behind this. Although Falk was an artist, Phantom strips are generally credited to three cartoonists—Ray Moore, Wilson McCoy and Seymond Barry.
Falk invented the character of the Phantom in 1936, which makes him a precursor to modern superheroes. He even predates Superman, who came in 1936, and Batman, who arrived in 1940. His background is fun. During the age of piracy, Sir Christopher Standish was killed in an attack that his son survived. That son swore to fight evil in his father's name, and pledged that his descendants would too. So each new Standish generation inherits a costume and fights crime, perpetuating the idea among the public that the masked vigilante is immortal—a phantom. In addition to the costume he carries two pistols and two rings: one bears the image of a skull, which he uses to mark foes by slugging them in the jaw. The other ring is a peace symbol. His sidekick is a wolf and he also sometimes rides a white stallion. We've scanned a few interior pages plus the slightly defaced rear cover for your enjoyment. And perhaps—who knows?—we'll have more from the masked man later.
What's a crime? Being unable to identify the artist.
Has the Mexican crime art revival passed? Maybe, but not on Pulp Intl. We've talked about this niche quite a bit, and today we're veering back in that direction to share this piece entitled “Crimen Perfecto,” painted during the early 1980s by someone who signed as Yuno. Yuno who? We dunno. Do you? You do? Let us know. Actually, we don't expect you to know, because these artists were rarely properly credited, nor properly compensated, we suspect.
For that reason they never could have expected interest in their work to rekindle, but it did, and for a while auctions in these were pretty active, both online and in brick-and-mortar. The technical execution on display isn't what you'd usually find in classic paperback art, but as critic Ken Johnson wrote in the New York Times in 2015, “The value of [Mexican crime] paintings isn’t to be found in their aesthetic sophistication or refinement. This is truly art for the masses, as kitschy as it is amusing.”
He forgot to mention horrifying and violent. A smart person once said that violent societies have violent amusements, and Mexico, like the U.S., has certain strains in its culture that persistently glorify mayhem. Art such as this gives you a glimpse of that, put to pasteboard via brush and paint. While the artists remain mostly unknown, what they produced resonates all these decades later. See more wild Mexican crime art here, here, here, and here.
Vampires never get old, in legend or in publishing.
Above you see a cover from the long running Elvifrance bande dessinée Jacula, with uncredited art. We picked this up from a Paris bouquiniste a few weeks ago. The backstory here is that a woman named Jacula Velenska is bitten by a vampire and, once turned, roams far and wide quenching her thirst for blood. She's accompanied by her vampire husband Charles Verdier, and his dog servant Wolf. This is in French but the series originated in Italy as a fumetti, or adult comic book, and ran from 1969 to 1982 for a total of 327 issues, which strikes us as quite a lot.
Our French reprint is from 1971 and is 14 in the series. We were anticipating some foundational Jacula vamp action, but were surprised to discover that it deals almost entirely with a loup garou, or werewolf, named Charles, and how he ends up eating his own child and wife. At the end of the tale he encounters Jacula, who he captures and plans to kill before thinking better of it, for reasons that are unclear. It could be this is the same Charles that later becomes her companion. We'll figure it out. One of the reasons we bought this was to practice French, which comes in handy where we live.
We said the cover art was uncredited, but generally they were painted by three guys—Leandro Biffi, Fernando Tacconi, and Carlo Jacono. Thanks to the powers of the internet we were able to determine that this one is by Biffi. The interior art by Alberto Giolitti is a bit more basic, which is usually true of comic books, but you're buying these for the story, 112 pages of it in this case, written by Giuseppe Pederiali. We have a few scans below, and if you want to see more from Elvifrance, start here.
They're actually a little rude but the French don't seem to mind
Here you see the cover and few scans from Les femmes de Manara, which is a compendium from 1995 featuring published as well as previously unseen women created by the agile hand of Milo Manara, one of the great illustrators of graphic novels. He was born in Italy and was copiously published both there and in France, and remains extremely popular all over Europe. His niche is explicit erotica, and he's done it better than just about anyone, populating his books with lithe, beautiful women who manage to get into the weirdest scrapes. In Il Gioco, aka Click or Le Déclic, for example, the character Claudia Cristiani has an implant placed in her brain to help her with sexual arousal, which is all well and good until the remote control that operates it breaks and she's left in an ongoing nymphomaniacal state. It was made into a movie which we may discuss later, by the way. In Gulliveriana Manara's heroine survives a storm at sea only to find herself stranded naked on an island of tiny people. No movie of that, though we'd love to see one made. Anyway, these panels will certainly give you an idea why Manara became an icon in his field. He's still active, and maintains a nice website, frequently updated. So for more info on this master illustrator look there.
Mexican comic book artists left no wickedness unexplored.
In Mexican comic book art of the 1980s, which is a subset of modern pulp we've documented before, a motif that recurred was the looming head. Multiple artists used this idea, which can only mean it was encouraged or sought by the publishers of series such as Micro-Misterio, Frank Kein, and Sesacional de Maistros. We have a mini-collection today of art pieces with floating heads. The creators include Beton, Dagoberto Dinorin, Rafael Gallur, and others. Also, we've learned that Dinorin often worked as a colorist, filling in the pencil drawings of other artists, particularly Gallur. So it's possible Dinorin had a hand in the piece signed by Gallur. We'll get into that subject more at a later date. We have nine more scans below, and since the Mexican comic book market thrived on transgressive violence, a few of them are a bit disturbing. You've been warned.
A Gallur gallery of viciousness and vice.
A while back we began sharing pieces of 1980s comic art from Mexico and intended to make it a regular feature. In our heads we're still featuring Mexican art regularly, but today we realized we haven't posted a piece in two years. Which goes to show you how things work around here. So we're back to Mexican ’80s comic art today, with all its crazy violence and wild stylings.
Above you see a painting entitled Enlatadas, which in Spanish means “canned.” We're guessing that's Mexican slang for getting your ass handed to you in the most brutal possible way. Below you see three more pieces. The first is for a comic series called Frank Kevin, and is the cover art used for #366 in the series. Second you see a piece for the series Sensacionál de Maestros, or “teacher's sensation.” In this case, thief seems to be the answer. And third you see cover art for something called Posesión Demoníaca, no translation needed.
The artists on Mexican comic illustrations are often forgotten, except for a select few. All today's pieces are by the same person—Rafael Gallur—who has had a long and prolific career in newspapers and comics. You can see more from him here. We'll try to pump new life into our Mexican art series going forward, which means you should see the next post in about a year. Just kidding. We'll do better. In the meantime check out others in the category here, here, here, and here.
Bulletproof black man flips the script in Harlem.
So, we watched the entirety of the new Netflix series Luke Cage. Our love of blaxploitation films made it mandatory. Of course, Luke Cage isn't blaxploitation—it's serious black-oriented drama. But anyway we queued it up. For those who don't know, the series is based on a Marvel Comics character who was a bulletproof, super strong black man who lived in Harlem. The show does away with the comic book Cage's bright yellow costume, but leaves the Harlem setting, political machinations, and dealings of crime kingpins that intertwine as normal people try to get on with their lives.
Most members of the sizable cast are black except for several supporting roles, and the occasional one-off—i.e., a technician here, an office worker there. The series is basically an exact negative of about 10,000 television shows over the years that cast blacks in supporting roles. A vocal percentage of the public is not dealing well with it. Some call the show racist. It made us think of the famous unattributed quote: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” These racially sensitive critics watched How I Met Your Mother, Arrested Development, True Detective and scores of other lily white television shows in droves, but the existence of a single show like Luke Cage is threatening.
But let's put all that aside for the moment. Is the show any good? There are some of the same failings as other action-oriented series, but on the whole it's entertaining. Just be forewarned—it's akin to The Wire more than any superhero extravaganza. The characters are deeply explored. Serious comic book action fans will be disappointed. And second, the complete immersion into an African American culture will be unfamiliarto many viewers. In the end, you simply have to have an interest in the premise and the characters to enjoy the show. For us, the immersion into a nearly 100% black Harlem is one of the show's strengths. For others, not seeing characters that remind them of themselves will be alienating. While not an ideal reaction, in our view it's acceptable in terms of deciding how to spend one's hard earned free time selecting television shows. But such people should say they aren't interested in the premise. They shouldn't make phony claims that the show is racist.
We think American broadcast media need more shows that reflect reality. Here's the reality—the U.S. is both diverse and extraordinarily segregated. 75% of white Americans have zero black friends, while around 60% of blacks have zero white friends. 100% white environments and white points of view have been shown on television for decades. Luke Cage airs a black point of view, with complex relationships, romantic entanglements, ambitions, dreams, and dealings with harsh realities. There should be room for that, particularly considering television history. On a completely different note, we really are looking forward, twenty or thirty years from now, to a scholarly examination of all these damned superhero shows and movies. There's a real pathology there.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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