Friday, March 12, 2010

Author! Author!

You can just imagine The Author shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
He was a tall man and the seats in this small theater weren’t meant for a man of his height.

Still, he had to be there. This was opening night, even if it was a bit off-Broadway and a good review in tomorrow’s TIMES could mean a good run. After that, who knows?

It had to be a bit of a helpless feeling. He had written a book, the book the play was based upon. But the play itself was the work of someone else.

Mrs. Fraenkel had first dramatized the book a decade before. She originally called it “Taboo”. She continued working on the play, refining it, tweaking. It was a difficult subject, you know. It won some awards and bounced around for a while. There had even been some interest of turning it into a movie. Nothing ever came of that, so it finally came down to this, this play.

Not that he had anything against The Theater. Some of his best friends were playwrights. Well, one of his friends.

Oh, they had their disagreements, him and Arty. Specifically about Arty’s play.

“What the play does,” Arty explained, “is make the individual ask himself whether his rationalizations about himself are not leading him to an ultimate rendezvous with a dreadful reckoning.”

“That is just what bothers me,” The Author interrupted, “The hero of your play has a false dream. He succeeds with it; he fails with it; he dies with it. But why did he have this dream? Isn’t it true that he had to have a false dream in our society?”

“To my mind,”
he continued, “there are two kinds of suffering. The inescapable like death and aging and the unnecessary which grows out of social conditions.”

The Author was disappointed. Arty seemed to be missing the point of his own play.

“Social content is most often little more than the author’s disguised opinion,” Arty stated flatly.

“The play makes the individual realize that his apprehensions about himself are shared by nearly everyone.”

“Don’t you think,” The Author countered, “that the audience, instead of having apprehensions about themselves should have fears about the social conditions in which these apprehensions grow?”

“I think that when the audience weeps,”
Arty said dramatically, “they are weeping for themselves.”

The Author had to sum it up for Arty.

“The question is, do they realize that it is up to them not only to sympathize and to deplore the evil that oppresses such families in our society, but to fight it?”

That was the point. That was the point The Author was always trying to make.

The Author probably scanned the audience to see if he recognized anyone. It was a packed as a theater with 300 seats could be. It’s likely the producers were there. The Author didn’t know them well, although he did kind of recognize one of them. He was an actor himself, a television actor it was said. He played “Casey, Crime Photographer”. A silly name, probably a silly show.

The house lights darkened and the play began.

The Author squinted to see the faces of the actors through his glasses. The woman seemed capable of playing mother Rosa. And the boy, Gino--he glanced at his program--”James Lipton”--was properly overwrought.

The Author wondered if the audience would catch the subtleties of the story. Sure, it was about an immigrant Italian family led by a licentious widow and her overprotective son, but would they see the parallels to “Hamlet” or “Oerestes”? He had worked hard to craft a true incident into a bestseller. The book’s subtitle likely sold a few copies in itself: “A Study in Murder”. Murder always sells well; crime does pay.

The audience watched the play unfold quietly, almost too quietly. Despite the sordid premise of a mother obsessed teen who stabs her to death with a carving knife rather than have her remarry, the play was remarkably reserved.

The review in the NEW YORK TIMES the next day would suggest that, “Perhaps she has underwritten it too severely for the good of the play as a whole.”

“Although it is always interesting and credible,” wrote reviewer Brooks Atkinson, “it does not have much life of its own as a piece of writing.”

While crediting the cast for generally winning performances, Atkinson adds, “no one ever speaks a complete sentence without pausing portentously.” And after a final dismissal that the play was, “closer in style to psychiatry than to art,” he allows, “it is worth an experimental showing.”

The review sealed the play’s fate. It closed after eight performances on March 29, 1952.

The Author had to be disappointed. Gone was the hope of a Broadway run. Gone was the chance it would be made into a movie. But there was always the next book. Research still to be done. And The Author, Dr. Fredric Wertham, could only hope that SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT would be as successful as DARK LEGEND.

“Dark Legend“, a play in three acts by Helene Fraenkel, opened March 24, 1952 at the President Theatre in New York City. Among the cast were Olive Deering as the mother, Rosa, James (“Inside the Actors Studio") Lipton as son Gino and James Daly as one of her lovers, Rocco. One of the play’s producers was actor Darren McGavin, best known for his cult classic television show, “Kolchak: The Night Stalker”.

The discussion between Dr. Wertham and playwright Arthur Miller about his play, “Death of a Salesman”, took place in the Sunday edition of the NEW YORK TIMES, May 15, 1949 and was entitled, “A Dialogue: Let the Salesman Beware”.

Additional information came from various magazine and newspaper articles regarding both the play and Dr. Wertham’s 1941 bestseller, DARK LEGEND: A STUDY IN MURDER.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hank Chapman Update

(Here is Ger Apeldoorn's update to his Hank Chapman post. Ger and I would both like to give thanks to Steven Rowe and Leonardo De Sá for their help with valuable information about Chapman.)

After Ken put my short piece on Timely/Atlas writer Hank Chapman,things went pretty fast. I wish I could say it was all due to the posting, but frankly most of the work was done by Ken himself. He truly is The Comics Detective.

Through the indispensable Hames Ware/Jerry Bails Who's Who In American Comic Books site, I had already found that Hank Chapman's real name probably was Henry P. Chapman. Confirmation for that came from a source I provided myself; Ken noticed it was the name Chapman used to sign the "The Nightmare" story we used to illustrate the article.

Working from that, Ken found a series of articles by Henry P. Chapman in DESERT MAGAZINE, a magazine about the nature and architecture of the American Southwest, which is almost completely available for viewing online at

One of these articles was followed by an editorial piece which gave some more information about Henry P. Chapman. Apparently he had visited New Mexico on holiday in 1952 and had moved there sometime later with his second wife, Toni. There he went on to become a freelance journalist and photographer.

The pieces he did for DESERT MAGAZINE were all about taking pictures of the area and showing them to your friends or turning them into a show-and-tell slideshow. This fit in with information found on Wikipedia, that Stan Goldberg had spoken about Chapman in his ALTER EGO interview and mentioned that Chapman had moved to New Mexico. From the same source came the information that Chapman had been married to a "Bonnie", who was a production staffer at Atlas and later married to Goodman magazine editor named Hano (no first name given).

In the meantime, fellow Timely/Atlas enthusiast Steven Rowe found an autobiographical war story by Henry P. Chapman in a book, MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: ITS HEROES AND LEGENDS. It was entitled "The Day I Died" and told the supposedly true story of Chapman's miraculous survival of a fall from a WWII airplane, where he was working as a photo-gunner.

Ken found the book and sent the story to me. Even though it reads as one of Bob Kanigher's first-person war yarns, all the contributions to the book are described as true stories. Could this mean that Chapman did serve in the war?

Apparently so, because using the name as a basis, Ken found the war records for a Henry P. Chapman and that tells us a lot of what I was looking for.

Henry P. Chapman was born on May 5, 1915 and died on October 18, 1973. In WWII he served in the U.S. Army Air Force as TSGT, which translates out as a Technical Staff Sergeant. He is buried in Santa Fe National Cemetery (in plot X 202), which is a reserved for military veterans only. Santa Fe is also where he lived,according to one of his DESERT MAGAZINE articles. Finding the war records is one of the things I couldn't do from Holland, so I am very grateful to Ken for that.

In a response to my post, Portuguese-French comic historian Leonardo De Sá, revealed that, "The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post all have pieces on travel subjects by Hank Chapman in that 1962-1973 period. In later years he sometimes appeared alongside his wife, Toni Chapman, who *may* be the editor of some Fodor’s Travel Guides,".

So where does that leave us? Well, I would still like to know if something happened during the war that made hi so conflicted about it in later years. He was pretty old when he enlisted (35+), so that is probably too old for a brother to have died or something as traumatic as that. If the story that he was a photographer in WWII is true, that fits in nicely with the fact that he went on to sell articles based on his photographs later on. It also makes you wonder if he ever brought the camera to his work and if he ever photographed any of his co-workers.

Further research will hopefully show if he has any living relatives. Maybe one of those still has some of his pictures.I know I still have some of my granddad's slides he left to my father. And now that I have both a name and a city of residence I will use NewspaperArchive to try and find more evidence of Chapman's freelance writing and photographing. A quick search yielded several pieces in the late Sixties about Chapman selling articles to various publications as a "syndicated" travel writer. It also revealed that he "spends his summers in Tesuque and his winters in California".

As for DESERT MAGAZINE, I am still looking through those to find more articles. A search of gives four entries, the first of which is no more than a photo on an interior page, probably his first entry in the magazine. The last seems to have been published several years later in the August 1960 issue. I have downloaded and copied it for you to see. But there may have been more articles after that, that are not turning up in a name search. I will have to go though them one by one to be sure.

But mostly, I'd still like some personal remembrance of the guy. I will write Jim Amash and ask him to ask about it whenever he interviews someone connected with Timely/Atlas.

We still don't know when Chapman gave up being an editor for the war titles. Was that at the same time as he stopped writing for Stan Lee or after? One person who could know, is fellow editor Al Jaffee. Since I am in contact with him through my blog, I will try and ask him as well. And maybe one of the artists who worked for him as an editor has something to tell. People like Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott and John Romita Sr. only mention Stan Lee when they talk about getting work from Atlas, but if Chapman was the editor did he not have the right to choose who should draw what story?

So this is what we know now:

Date of Birth: May 5 1915

Army Record: Army Air Force, TSGT

Apparently worked at Fox as a writer (more information needed)

Worked at early Marvel in 1941 on the classic 60-page "The Human Torch Battles The Submariner As The World Faces Destruction" from THE HUMAN TORCH #5 (Fall 1941).

Worked at Marvel/Timely/Atlas as a writer and later writer/editor from 1951 to somewhere early in 1953 (with single stories appearing into 1954) (confirmed by a note on a Bert Frohman script sold on e-Bay to Doc Vassallo).

Married Bonnie (maiden name unknown), who later remarried and became Bonnie Hano (a Goodman production staffer).

Resigned as an editor and moved to New Mexico somewhere in the mid-Fifties.

Divorced and remarried someone called Toni (maiden name unknown), possibly somewhere in the mid-Fifties.

Worked as a writer for Bob Kanigher at DC for the various war titles from at least 1959 to 1967/8 (which is when Kanigher left and Joe Kubert took his place).

Started taking up photography as a hobby.

Started doing lectures with slides (from an article in DESERT MAGAZINE).

Won second prize with one of his photo's for DESERT MAGAZINE photo contest in December 1956, probably his first contact with the magazine.

Wrote several articles for DESERT MAGAZINE (3 confirmed as of now) in 1959/1960 and possibly more.

Wrote a story "The Day I Died!" about his experience being listed as KIA (Killed In Action), in a 1960 issue of AMERICAN LEGION MAGAZINE, reprinted in MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: ITS HEROES AND LEGENDS, by Diane L. Hamm and James L. Gilbert.

Sold articles on Indian and Western subjects to BOY'S LIFE magazine (two confirmed in 1960 and 1965).

Worked as a syndicated travel journalist in the mid-Sixties (from a 1966 newspaper article).

Worked as a travel journalist for various media in the Sixties, including FAMILY WEEKLY (in 1962), CHICAGO TRIBUNE (from 1969 newspaper article), ROUNDUP MAGAZINE (from 1967 newspaper article), THE TRAVEL MAGAZINE (from an newspaper article in 1966), the AMARILLO DAILY NEWS (from a newspaper article in 1967).

May have worked for the Copley News Service (from a newspaper article in 1967, which might explain his being referred to as a Santa Fe syndicated travel journalist). The Copley News Service sold it's assets to The Creator's Syndicate in 2008. Before that it was a famous news, political cartoon and opinion syndicate which had several newspapers, including its 'flagship title', THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE.

A story in AMERICAN WEST magazine, January 1971, by "Hank and Toni Chapman" entitled, "Midas of New Mexico", which was a biography of Lucien B. Maxwell.

Died in 1973 and was buried in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I also checked the Grand Comic Database and that left me with a few questions as well. For the DC war books, the GCD works wirh Julius Schwartz's records, so we are fortunate to have most if not all of Hank Chapman's credits from 1959 to 1968. But these records don't seem to start until 1959 for most books. The first Chapman stories appear in the summer of 1959 and he quickly jumps to a couple of stories each months for the various war books. That does seem to imply that Chapman didn't start working for DC until early 1959 (for the stories to be able to appear in the summer). There are no records of 1958 to check for earlier appearances of Chapman, but chances are his records for 1954 to 1958 are still unknown. He may have been freelancing for Stan Lee or working for Bob Kanigher or he even may have been concentrating on his move to New Mexico and his new marriage. His first articles as a travel journalist don't seem to appear until the same year and the pieces for BOY'S LIFE are all from a later date as well. So what did he do for a living in those years? Without the personal information from a surviving relative, we may never know.

One last thing. Jim Amash tells me Chapman may have had red hair, but he can't be sure.

Here are samplings of Chapman's post Timely/Atlas work:

The August 1960 DESERT MAGAZINE article:

"Mud Mansions" pg. 1

pg. 2

pg. 3

pg. 4

And an article Chapman wrote for the January 7, 1962 FAMILY WEEKLY:

"The Bible is His Beat"
FAMILY WEEKLY Jan. 7, 1962

Finally, a Mort Drucker drawn story written by Chapman for OUR FIGHTING FORCES #49 (Sept. 1959):

"Ace--Minus One!" pg. 1

pg. 2

pg. 3

pg. 4

pg. 5

pg. 6

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Wonderful WAGS of Oz

(A special thanks to Frank Motler for help with the Denis Gifford portion of this post.)

I chased this unicorn for over 30 years.

I’d heard it was out there. I’d seen fuzzy pictures of one. And once, I saw one in person--on a backboard at a comic book convention.

My unicorn was WAGS.

WAGS was the comic tabloid that achieved legendary status for its hosting the earliest efforts of the equally legendary Eisner-Iger comic shop.

The publication itself had a unique history. It was a transcontinental production: conceived, put together and printed in the U.S., but sold and distributed in Great Britain and Australasia.

The tabloid was the brainchild of publisher’s representative Joshua Bryant Powers. Powers, who had carved out a unique niche for himself as a man who represented American syndicates overseas, had a colorful past. A University of Texas graduate and WWI era flying cadet, he had once run the United Press bureau in Buenos Aires in the 1920s. He maintained his close ties to South America much of his life and reportedly acted as an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency on that continent.

Powers had founded Editors Press Service in the Thirties to do the above mentioned work of syndicating American newspapers, columnists and comic strips to foreign countries. (Editors Press may have also provided another service. It has long been suspected of being a CIA front.)

As a way of lowering the costs involved with four-color printing, Powers came up with the idea of the export only publication. Entitled WAGS--a name he came up with because he thought it sounded “typically English”--the paper was 16 pages of American strip reprints.

According to British historian Denis Gifford, the first issue went on sale in Australasia on September 8, 1936 and was an immediate hit. The British edition debuted shortly thereafter on January 1, 1937. The success of both publications prompted Powers London agent, T. V. Boardman, to split off and start his own reprint tabloid--OKAY COMICS WEEKLY.

Boardman had the British rights to some of the American strips and took them to start OKAY. This left Powers with a hole to fill in his publication, so he contacted a small outfit just starting out to produce material for him. Eisner and Iger had the first major client of their Universal Phoenix Features.

Gifford states that the first issue to carry the new UPF features was #17, dated April 23, 1937. What is not clear, though, is whether these strips appeared in both editions of WAGS simultaneously. From the date and issue number Gifford cites, he was looking at a British issue. Confounding the situation even more is the fact that the Aussie version didn’t carry a date, only a volume and issue number.

Aside from the facts above, there has been little information uncovered about the WAGS of Oz. Until now.

Thanks to the goldmine that is eBay, I have been able to purchase several issues of the Australasian WAGS over the past few years.

The earliest issue in my possession is volume 2, #13 (the issue number appears on the back cover). It takes a bit of work to determine the approximate date.

If the Aussie WAGS indeed began on September 8, 1936, then that should place this issue sometime in 1937. A few of the reprinted strips have a date of “4-11-37”, while Little Orphan Annie is dated “8-1-37”. Obviously, this issue appeared after that. If WAGS was a weekly, then one year plus 13 weeks after its September 8th start would place it in mid-December,1937.

WAGS vol. 2, #13

The cover features Moon Mullins, but is unsigned and certainly not by its creator, Frank Willard. My guess it is drawn by Eisner. The stock characters in the image resemble some of the earliest Eisner art I’ve seen and it’s unlikely he would trust a cover drawing to anyone else in his shop at this point of its existence.

Inside the front cover is a small indicia:

WAGS indicia

As already noted, the bulk of the tabloid is made up of four color reprints of various American strips. The Eisner-Iger shop provided 7 pages of content, all printed in black and white.

(Gifford reported that the shop supplied 8 pages per week, but the only other black and white printed strip in this issue was a page of John Hix’s Strange as it Seems and John Hix’s Scrap Book, neither of which was a UPF strip.)

Eisner’s own Hawks of the Seas leads off the new material. This episode is numbered with a “10” in the final panel. Each of the other UPF strips that carry a number are also designated with a “10”. This brings up the possibility that the UPF contributions are only ten weeks in--which would mean they began in about June of 1937. If so, that could mean that the Aussie version of WAGS ran the Eisner-Iger material two months later than its British counterpart.

Hawks of the Seas

Bob Kane’s Peter Pupp is a revelation to those who only know him as the early artist of Batman. Kane supposedly spent some time at the Fleischer Studio circa 1934 and that animation experience shows in this strip. Like Hawks and most of the other UPF features in WAGS, Peter Pupp was reprinted in JUMBO COMICS. Eisner and Iger had bought the printing plates from Powers and re-sold them to Fiction House.

Peter Pupp

Next up is the first of Don DeConn’s offerings in this issue. It is The Adventures of Tom Sherrill. The graphic technique DeConn used seems to be derivative of advertisements from that era. His geometric forms were rendered so similarly from panel to panel, that it’s possible he employed woodblocks or something akin to them.

The Adventures of Tom Sherrill

DeConn’s Puzzle Phun was illustrated with the same static graphic style. DeConn’s features were also reprinted in early issues of JUMBO COMICS and then he seems to have left the industry. The only other credit I can find for him was as the illustrator of a 1940 children’s book entitled, THE HUMPTY-DOTS, by Susan Holton.

Puzzle Phun

Like all of the contributors to this issue of WAGS, Les Marshall had worked on WOW, WHAT A MAGAZINE!, the seminal Henle publication that provided the original staff of the Eisner-Iger shop. Marshall’s contribution here was Modern ‘Planes, a one large panel strip devoted to that subject. Apparently that was also Marshall’s only interest, as every feature he is known to have drawn is a variation on this panel.

Modern 'Planes

Spencer Steel was credited to “Dennis Colebrook”, which was a shop pseudonym. In this case the likely artist was Eisner himself.

Spencer Steele

The final UPF strip is also one of the most interesting. It was The Hunchback of Notre Dame by the great Dick Briefer. Briefer‘s Hunchback appeared initially in WOW! in 1936, years before he brought Frankenstein to life.

Hunchback of Notre Dame

Subsequent issues of WAGS would feature other strips by other artists, but that’s a subject for a future post.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hank Chapman

(I am very pleased today to present a special guest blogger. He is Ger Apeldoorn, who in addition to be the top television writer in the Netherlands, is also a comic fan and historian. Ger most recently wrote a two-part article for ALTER EGO magazine about the 1950s MAD imitators and he has his own terrific blog, The Fabulous Fifties, which showcases his amazing knowledge of the sequential art. Apeldoorn's current quest is for information about the wonderfully talented and underrated comic writer, Hank Chapman.

If you can help Ger with his Chapman quest, you can either post here or contact him through his own blog.)


I wish I knew more about Hank Chapman. One of the most fascinating writers in comics from the early Fifties to the mid-Sixties, I would like to write an article about him. But I just don't know enough about the man to make it more than an appreciation piece.

And since I am not from the U.S., but from the Netherlands, Europe, I am cut off from all sorts of actual research facilities. I have to make do with what I can find on the Internet and the wonderful interviews with oldtimers such as by Jim Amash, Doc Vassallo and others. So I am glad Ken has offered up his blog for comic book researchers who have reached the end of their possibilities, where they can write down what they know and possibly get some help from others to fill in the gaps.

Hank Chapman started out at Stan Lee and Martin Goodman's Marvel comics. Okay, it was not called Marvel comics at the time, or maybe it was and Stan Lee was only the editor and not even the only one at that, but this is not about that mess. Some records show that Chapman did some writing in the earliest superhero books from the Goodman family company. I don't have those particular books, so I couldn't comment on that. One day, even these books will be reprinted or be available in scans, so I can read them and see if Chapman's peculiarities as a writer were even visible then. But more importantly, it means that Chapman was writing comics before he was in the army. If he was even in the army, because that is one of the more frustrating gaps in my knowledge.

After the war, Hank Chapman's name turns up again in the first horror comics brought out by Marvel/Timely/Atlas. There are tons of suggestions that he may also have written some western books before that, but unfortunately I have never been able to find one. Chapman was one of a few writers at Stan Lee's outfit who got to sign his name (or at least at some point and on some books). Others include editor Don Rico, writer/artist Norman Steinberg and of course head honcho, Stan Lee, himself.

Chapman's horror stories are nothing special, but they do all have a sort of weird, dreamy quality. When I finally do the article, I will have to go into that a bit deeper, with some samples. But for here that statement will have to do. It is important to note, because the only story we have about Hank Chapman privately is about those horror stories. It is by Stan Lee and as such, we can't be entirely sure of it's truth. Stan Lee is one of a few living people from the industry who knew Chapman and I would love to ask him about his old colleague. His memory is a bit poor about most events, but he seems to remember people better than anything else. Especially when his memory is jogged by a photograph. I think it is Doc V. who tells the story of showing Stan a photo of an office gathering in the forties or fifties and he could pick out most people from that. Anyway, what he would tell about Chapman, would probably be the same story he has told a couple of times. It seems that Chapman didn't like writing the horror stories. As Lee tells it, at some point he came to him and asked to be given other work. He said he was using his dreams as a basis of his horror stories and since he had started doing that, his dreams had started to haunt him. And he hoped that by stopping writing those stories, the dreams would go away.

"The Nightmare"
#4 (June 1951)
(image courtesy of Atlas Tales website)

There are two things wrong with that story. Chapman did indeed suddenly stop writing horror stories in the early Fifties. He was shifted to the war books, where he did the best work of his career all through the Korean war and beyond. But the war books didn't start until the Korean war was in it's first year. It seems more likely that Chapman was shifted from the horror books to the war books simply because from late 1951 onward there was much more work there. And secondly, the story Stan Lee tells is almost exactly the same as one of the later horror stories Chapman wrote (and Wayne Boring drew),"The Nightmare" from ASTONISHING #4 (June 1951). Did Chapman use his own situation as the basis for this story or did Stan Lee use the story as the basis of his memory?

This is an important question (within the scheme of things) because if Stan Lee story is true, it is more than likely that Chapman did not serve in the army during the war or at least did not see battle. If he had asked to be removed from the horror books, because his stories were giving him nightmares, his far more horrifying war stories would certainly have given him a hard time had he actually seen some hardship during the war. And so we come to the most important unanswered question of my research. Did Hank Chapman serve in the army of navy or anywhere during WW II?

Starting from late 1951, Chapman wrote nothing but war stories. First he wrote some of the most horrifying stories of the period. Harvey Kurtzman is known for writing some great war stories for EC, illustrating the futility of war. Chapman's early war stories are from the opposite side of the spectrum. They illustrate the cruelty of war, but take the necessity of it as a given. So in Chapman's stories we have a lot of soldiers dying for their country heroically or just as often needlessly, parents getting letters about their sons dying, soldiers killing each other of small pieces of rock and ships going down due to mis-communication of stupidity. Chapman seems to have known the reality of war, but he also hated the sacrifices it took and in many of his stories he questions out loud if those sacrifices are worth it. Nowhere more than in one of his masterpieces, “Atrocity Story“, beautifully illustrated by Paul Reinman. “Atrocity Story” is written in a documentary style, a trick Chapman used more often. In those stories the writer often is a presence himself and the story is less about the events than what they mean. In “Atrocity Story” Chapman uses reports of cruelties by the communists to wonder if it wouldn't be better to drop another atom bomb on the enemy this time. But he can't really bring himself to advocate that, because he is aware of the huge human cost that would have.

"Atrocity Story"
#2, pg.1 (June 1952)

pg. 2

pg. 3

pg. 4

pg. 5

pg. 6

pg. 7

Another particularly horrific war tale (also drawn by Reinman) was the story of a young soldier who gets trapped on his own bayonet.

"Guard Duty"
MEN'S ADVENTURES #11, pg.1 (Dec. 1951)

Rather than being taken prisoner by the Communists and running the risk of folding under torture and revealing something that may harm his comrades, he shoots the rifle with the bayonet into his own stomach.

pg. 6

All in all, I don't think Chapman served in the war, or at least not in any significant way. He may have had a brother or a relative die, though. His personal connection to these tragic stories suggest at least something that would give him the need to examine the nature and need of sacrifice in a wartime situation. It is that palpable anguish that makes his stories from 1952 to 1954 so unique. It would be great to know what his personal connection to that material was.

Not all his stories from that period were like that. He also wrote a lot of gung-ho stories, about brave soldiers fighting the Communists and winning in the most remarkable way. Two of the heroes he created in that vein were Combat Kelly and Combat Casey.

COMBAT KELLY #5, pg.1 (July 1952)
art by Joe Maneely
(image courtesy of Atlas Tales website)

Both titles were continued beyond the actual boundaries of the Korean war and their deed got more heroic and fantastical as the years went on. Chapman also seems to have written more of these heroic adventure stories in a WW II setting for the other war titles of Timely/Atlas, when the war in Korea ended and a new arena for the still popular war books had to be found. He kept on writing these kind of stories when he jumped ship to Timely/Atlas main rival DC. There he didn't sign his work, but the Grand Comic Book Database has the records of many of the DC editors and that why we have quite an extensive list of his work for DC's war editor Bob Kanigher. I don't find his work for DC as interesting as that which he did I those first years with Stan Lee, but I will have to delve into it a bit more if I want to do a further appreciation of his career.

And that's it. That's his whole career. Chapman stayed with DC from the mid-fifties until somewhere in the sixties and all he did was write war stories for and probably with Bob Kanigher. After that he dropped of the radar ad nothing was ever heard from him again. He doesn't seem to have looked for other work, although I have found two written stores by him in two 1961 and 1965 issues of the Boy Scouts monthly magazine BOY’S LIFE (one of which was illustrated by artist Jerry Robinson).

BOY'S LIFE (July 1962)

Both of those stories were about Indian tribes, which gives some credence to the idea he may have written western stories at some point of his career. Since we do not know Chapman's year of birth, we don't know if he stopped writing war stories for DC because he tired of it and looked for another job, retired or maybe if Kanigher just got tired of him and let him go. All I have is a note from another fan, who told me Chapman had written a travel book later in his career, but I have never been able to find it.

And that's it for me. I wish I had more. And I hope there is someone out there who can help me. I know there are some fans who are good at finding birth records. I'd love to know when Chapman was born, when he died, where he lived, anything. I'd love to get in touch with his offspring, if he had any. The travel book he was supposed to have written, was apparently done with his wife, so maybe there were children. I'd love to write to the US government and ask for his service records, but apparently you have to be from the US to be able to do that. I would like to talk to anyone who still remembers him. Maybe John Romita Sr. ran across him in his early years. Maybe Joe Kubert knows how and why he left DC. Maybe Jerry Robinson knows how he came to write something for BOY‘S LIFE. Maybe Stan Lee remembers where he lived. Anything would be a clue at this point. So at the very least I am asking anyone who interviews one of the older artists to ad a note to their list of questions to ask about Chapman as well. He may not have been the greatest or the most influential writer in comics, but he did make a living from it for more than 15 years and for some of those he certainly was one of the most interesting ones.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Watch the Skies!

Remember how paranoid everyone seemed to be in the Fifties?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
, blacklists, Kefauver hearings...ah, the Good Old Days!

Anyway, one of the many lingering doubts that lurked in the back of American minds was that the government was keeping information about flying saucers away from them. Silly,right?

Well, it turns out that apparently the government was getting their information about UFOs from comic books:

National Archives photocopies
"Saucers Over Washington, D.C."
Reed Crandall art/Al Feldstein story

The U.S. Air Force apparently paid particular attention to this one story that was part of the EC comic's "Flying Saucer Report Issue". Photocopies of this story reside in the National Archives as:
Saucers Over Washington, DC, 07/19/1952 - 07/19/1952
ARC Identifier 595553 / MLR Number A1 294D
Item from Record Group 341: Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff), 1934 - 2004


Right up front, on the inside front cover, Feldstein made the purpose of the comic known:

WEIRD SCIENCE-FANTASY #26 inside front cover

This was obviously Feldstein and Gaines' way of tweaking the nose of their governmental tormentors. On April 21st of 1954, Gaines had made his disastrous appearance before the Kefauver committee. Angry and frustrated, both men were feeling the heat as this comic was conceived in the wake of the bad publicity.

Feldstein couldn't confront Kefauver, et al. directly in the pages of a comic, but he could go after a part of the government that a portion of the public already suspected of hiding something.


The Air Force obviously took note. The two-page story about the appearance of UFOs above Washington, D.C. must have been especially intriguing to them.

You can only imagine a low-ranking Air Force officer setting a copy of the comic on a long table lined on both sides with grim-faced higher ups.

"We have to do something about this!," a general thundered as he slammed his hand on the table.

And in an office at 225 Lafayette Street, New York City, Al Feldstein was smiling.