Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Bernard Krigstein, and the story is “Liar” in Love Diary #2, which was published by Orbit-Wanted, also known as Our Publishing Company, and is cover dated October 1949. These scans are from Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. Krigstein, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2013. Enjoy!
In the late 1940s, Krigstein began working for Ruth Hermann, a female publisher in a field dominated by men. He drew crime comics, westerns, and, of course, romance comics, including “Liar” (Love Diary, in which this story was featured, sported this great cover). Once again, there’s no writer credited for this story, although it’s very possible Hermann herself wrote it, as she did write several comics during her time in the industry.
There’s not a lot of action in “Liar,” as Beth simply begins lying, finds that it’s easy, and then the consequences catch up to her. Don’t lie, kids! Krigstein, however, is marvelous with the people in this story, as it’s crucial that we get a sense of Beth and Don (her lover) and everyone else in the story. Notice in Panel 1 how he crooks Beth’s eyebrow severely when she’s lying, putting on a slightly haughty air to imply wealth even as she’s lying both about having it and losing it. In Panel 2, she raises her chin to look down her nose at Sharon, and Krigstein turns her head in a nice, kiss-off fashion – she’s reveling in the lie even as she’s claiming she doesn’t want pity. It’s a clever twist on her words, and Krigstein sells it well. In Panel 3, we get the snide close-up – Krigstein quirks her mouth just so to match Beth’s inner monologue, and her wide eyes are drawn precisely, which helps show their piercing beauty but also their disdain for those who bought her story. Beth isn’t evil in the story, but that drawing hints at dark depths in her soul.
Beth meets Don and begins lying to him, of course, and here he asks her out on date. The body language in Panel 1 is subtly done – Don crosses his arms on the table, showing the easy confidence of a white, upper-middle-class American male in 1949, while Beth leans on her hand and pushes her head forward slightly, showing her eagerness for a date with Don even though she plays coy about it. It’s well done by Krigstein, even as it plays into male/female stereotypes. In Panel 2, Krigstein draws Don as a typical dreamboat, with dark, wavy hair, high cheekbones, and that heavy-lidded look in his eyes that comes off a bit as glazed even though it’s meant to be seductive. What do I know – I don’t get a lot of what women find attractive, just as many women don’t get what men find attractive! In Panel 3, Krigstein turns Beth into a horror character a bit by making her pupils pinpricks, which is just weird. But her head tilt, coupled with the way she holds her hands under her chin, are more important – Beth is trying to appear dazzled that Don would ask her out, but even here we know she’s lying, so Krigstein does a really nice job showing how cleverly sociopathic she actually is!
Don takes Beth dancing, and of course there’s a romantic rival! First, take a look at Panel 1. It’s almost a throwaway panel, as it really doesn’t matter how Beth and Don get to the dance, but Krigstein doesn’t take it off. It’s a bit out of place in this story, as it seems like the car might be attacked by the Hound of the Baskervilles at any moment – Krigstein puts a large bluff next to the road and an eerie tree hanging over it, forming a nice tunnel for the car, with the moon obscured by some clouds. It’s rather unusual. In Panel 2, even in miniature, we can see that Margo has a bit of a conniving look on her face while Don is simply smiling cluelessly. Don looks oddly bloated in Panel 3, but in Panel 4, Krigstein again gets to draw some close-ups, and he gives Mal a pencil-thin mustache that was, and remains, the universal sign of weaselliness (I don’t care if Clark Gable wore one and made the ladies swoon – he was a cad!). Notice that Krigstein gives him a slightly convex inking line on his cheeks, making his face a bit puffier than Dreamboat Don’s, and he inks his hand rather heavily, implying that Mal is a bit older than the other three and also, obviously, more of a cad than Don.
Beth lies to Don about her father, claiming he’s a drunkard so she doesn’t have to reveal the truth about her job to Don. I’ll write that again: Beth claims her father is an alcoholic because he innocently questioned why she said she had an hour for lunch when she previously complained about having only thirty minutes. If you don’t think Beth is a sociopath yet, well, I’m sure you’re good friends with Lester Nygaard. Anyway, her father gets hit by a car, but the police claim he was drunk in an alley, and Beth can no longer take it, and all her lies fall apart. Krigstein once again does a really nice job with the body language on this page. Check out Don’s disapproving look in Panel 2 – Krigstein makes his mouth small and petulant, and now his high cheekbones make it appear that he’s sucking in his face in judgment while Beth agonizingly holds her face in her hands. When Don reaches out to her, Krigstein draws a nice scene as she pulls away from him – her evil, piercing eyes are closed in shame, and she can’t even stand up straight as she twists out of his grasp. But, of course, Don cares more about the poontang than the crazy lady who claimed her father was a drunk, so he chases after her. Krigstein does a nice job with Beth in Panel 6 – she’s small and hard to see, but we can tell that her eyes are closed tightly, as if she can’t believe what a sucker Don is and how lucky she is that he’s so desperate for sex. The final panel is a well drawn kiss, with clear lines and beautiful inking, especially in Beth’s hair, as she realizes that if Don is this much of a sucker, she can tell him all the truths, like what’s really hidden in her basement! Lucky girl!
Krigstein, you’ll notice, pays a great deal of attention to the way people dress, which seems to be much more common in the pre-superhero dominance era – yes, superheroes were still probably the largest genre in comics at this time, but they certainly weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today. Many artists of this time were very good at putting their characters in nice clothing – witness Beth’s kicky hat in the first example or the marvelous gowns Margo and Beth are wearing at the dance. It dates the books, of course, but that’s part of the charm of reading old comics. It’s nice to see Krigstein is as good at this as he is at other stuff.
We’re moving in the 1950s tomorrow, so I hope you’ll come back and see what’s what. And try to carve out some time for the archives if you haven’t yet – who knows what gems you might have missed this year!