Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Wonderworld Comics #7 (a Flame story), which was published by Fox Publications and is cover dated November 1939. It’s reprinted in Supermen!, which Fantagraphics published in 2009 and which is ridiculously awesome. Enjoy!
Will Eisner and Lou Fine (credited as “Basil Berold”) give us The Flame, with a fairly standard layout for the time – a big panel that acts as a semi-splash, and then two or three panels below it taking us into the story. It’s not a hard-and-fast layout, of course, but it shows up quite often during this time period. Fine does a good thing with the semi-splash – we naturally gravitate toward the tree, which frames the ship, which points to the caption box, which leads to the inlet, which shows us the “strange procession.” The entire page funnels us toward the people, and as they’re next to the first smaller panel, everything moves us that way. Of course, most good comic book artists do this, but as with a lot of stuff in the Golden Age, it’s interesting to consider how much artists already had figured out about sequential storytelling. It’s not that different from painting or other “highbrow” artistic endeavors, except that there are more panels. Fine, among others, had already mastered the way to lay out a page to move the eye, not only through the panel, but between panels. In the second panel, the banality of the punk playing solitaire contrasts nicely with the weirdness of the scene and even his attire. I’m going to assume the coloring is as close to the original as possible, which makes the use of the bold red, yellow, and green give the scene a more lurid vibe than if the colors had been “normal.” It also reminds us that even in a stranger comic like this one, coloring of this era was bolder and brighter than it is today, thanks to the primitive coloring processes used. Fine gives the “thug” a exaggerated expression in Panel 3, as he answers the door with the ejaculation “WOW! Spooks!” and his cigarette comically falls out of his mouth. I don’t know how much of the exaggerated expression is from the fact that the paper on which the comic was printed didn’t allow more subtle stuff or if it was because the creators didn’t take comics too seriously even when they were writing “serious” stories, but perhaps it’s a bit of both. The red cloaks of the “spooks” contrast nicely with their green faces – it’s a good, bold choice. In the last panel, Fine shifts the point of view from behind the thug to behind the spooks, and we get the green clothes of the thug against the bright yellow, and Fine moves our eye from the thug to the spooks by way of the bullet, which also leads us toward the next page. We also get a good profile of the one of the spooks, which gives us an indication of how horrific they are.
Eisner, uncredited, sets the mood with the opening caption box better than Fine does, actually, because the night does not look foggy or dark as Eisner describes it, and while we know the procession is a bit off, Eisner reinforces this with the adjective “strange.” The “salt encrusted sides” are a nice touch, because there’s no way we’re going to be able to see that nor even quite get it if we did. Eisner gives us the “knock” on the door, presumably because the panel was too crowded to accommodate a sound effect. He also, amusingly, has the thug speak in colloquialisms while wearing that odd outfit, which helps heighten the strangeness of the scene. It’s a good, mysterious scene – who is the boss he’s waiting for? Why is such a rough-and-tumble dude in such a bizarre house? Who are those green skeletons? The only thing to do is … turn the page!
I’m not sure why Eisner is not listed, nor why Fine used a pseudonym. In fact, I’m not sure why a lot of Golden Age creators used pseudonyms. Maybe someone can enlighten me. Anyway, “The Flame” is a nifty little comic, and this page does a nice job setting the scene. I guess that’s all we can ask for!
Next: I couldn’t avoid Batman if I tried! But tomorrow, we’ll see what a very lousy detective he actually is! I’m sure you already know that there are plenty of Batman comics in the archives!