Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Wallace Wood, and the issues are Amazing Adventures #1, which was published by Ziff-Davis Publishing and is cover dated 1950, Crime SuspenStories #1, which was published by EC and is cover dated October/November 1950, and Eerie #2, which was published by Avon Periodicals and is cover dated August/September 1951. The scans of the first story are from Wally Wood: Strange Worlds of Science Fiction, which was published by Vanguard in 2012, the second story is from Came the Dawn and Other Stories, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2012, and the third story is from Wally Wood: Eerie Tales of Crime and Horror, which was published by Vanguard in 2013. Enjoy!
I always knew I was going to show Wood's work, but I waited a while because IDW had solicited a collection of his romance stories from the late 1940s, but then they cancelled it and I'm not sure if it's ever going to come out. So I don't have his earliest work, but he worked so much that I don't think that will be a problem. Then I began thinking about Wood, and I got depressed. His life ended in such an awful way, with alcoholism, vision problems, a stroke, kidney failure, and suicide, and for the final few years of his life, his work in porn seems a lot sadder considering how his life ended - at least it does for me. I know Wood isn't known only for his porn, but the fact that he was "reduced" to it (I use quotes because I imagine he probably at least enjoyed it a little) is depressing. Wood had a rough life, and I'm going to try to ignore that as I look at his amazing artwork.
"Winged Death on Venus" is our first story, although I'm not sure if it came before the next one. Amazing Adventures #1 is cover dated 1950, but I haven't been able to find an actual publication date, so I'm not sure if Wood drew this before or after the next story. I suppose it doesn't really matter too much. Wood was probably 22 when he drew this (he turned 23 in June 1950), and it's fairly indicative of his early work. We can see the attractive woman (an early example of something that would become a Wood hallmark) and, of course, the strapping young man. Wood really has fun with the Venusian creatures, as Magda is carried in a litter by "ant-men" and they encounter all sorts of beasts along the way (Chet is supposed to be a guide for a big-game hunter, but of course the old man has nefarious schemes!). Wood gives us a lush landscape and wild creatures, and his curvy, cartoonish line is suited very well for this kind of madness.
We get some close-ups here, to see how Wood was drawing his people - again, they're fairly standard for the time period, but Wood did draw them quite elegantly. Like a lot of early artists, Wood's inks were what made him famous, and you can see some very nice brushwork on these pages. Wood gives Chet some dark premonitions about Duprey, and Wood uses blacks to visually show that in Panel 3, and the line work on the darterfly in Panel 1 and the wolf in Panel 6 is very nice. Wood does some interesting subtle things, too - we don't see Magda's pants too well in Panel 1, but Wood uses what looks like a thatched brush to make them look shinier, and he creates the wolf's paw prints by interrupting the hatching on the ground with a thin black line to create a ridge. Little things like this give the page some very nice texture.
Duprey is really on Venus to steal the gem from the idol to Anacinth, god of the Winged People of Venus. Yeah, that's a bad idea, considering Duprey stole the first one thirty years earlier and didn't consider that they might have booby-trapped the second one. Anyway, Wood has a lot to fit into this story, so it's impressive that he manages to give us a good idea of the scale of Anacinth in Panel 1 - he has to tilt the viewpoint, sure, but that only assists our eyes moving from left to right, and it actually makes Anacinth look bigger, as if he can't quite fit onto the page. Wood puts Duprey in the foreground in Panel 3, shoving his gruesome death-mask in our faces as a warning to those who might be thinking about stealing gems from Venusians, and I like how in the final panel, Magda's hair is bit unruly and Chet is unshaven, as if they're both going to accept their wild, uncivilized sides more. They've left civilization behind and can now fuck like bunnies! The inking, again, is terrific, as Wood makes Anacinth a cold, unforgiving god, with sharp contrasts between the blacks and the grays, while we get more beautiful, delicate work to add details to the stone idols all around the temple. It's really nice stuff.
"Death's Double-Cross" was originally colored by Marie Severin, but Fantagraphics reprints these stories in black and white, which is often not a bad thing. You can find the colored version on-line, but the only place I could didn't have the pages individually, but as a collection, so I couldn't swipe them and use them. Severin is a decent colorist, but the colors on this story do seem a bit bright, and the black and white suits the noir vibe perfectly well.
It always seems like splash pages from this era were a bit more detailed than the rest of the story, and that's the case here. The story is drawn perfectly well, but Wood really does a nice job with the splash, as Ruth stands like a goddess, with the skull hovering menacingly over her and the hand reaching out of the water toward her. Wood gives her a terrific femme fatale look (even though she's not a femme fatale in this story at all), with the cocked eyebrow, the thin eyes, the coy mouth, and the untamed hair, while he uses hatching and spot blacks wonderfully to create that diaphanous gown, which is a contrast to the ugly hand, rough and veined, reaching up for her. She can't help it if she's so desirable! Even in the smaller panels that begin the story, we already see Wood's skill with a brush, even at 22/23 (depending on when he drew this). He uses just a little bit of ink to give Ruth a cute haircut in Panel 1, while contrasting her airiness with John's more severe look.
Ruth was really in love with Ronnie, John's wastrel twin, so when Ronnie returns, he hatches a plan to do away with John and simply take over his life. Yes, twins, so you might be able to guess where this is going. Anyway, in the middle of this dramatic page, I love Ruth's face in Panel 4. Wood uses a brush to detail her hair a bit more (as we're in close-up) without going too far, and he gives her somewhat severe eyebrows; beautiful, lush eyes; a pert nose; and full, sensual lips. He hatches under her eyes a bit to add a blush, as she's thinking about running away with the man she truly loves, but even though she doesn't suggest the "accident," Wood draws her in a way that we can believe she'd go along with it. As I noted, she's not really a femme fatale because she isn't really terribly active in the plot, but she certainly doesn't stop Ronnie from setting it up. Wood captures that pretty well, especially in that panel.
Ronnie's plan works, but then Ruth begins to wonder if Ronnie or John actually survived (they're twins, remember). The dude claims he's Ronnie, but maybe it's really John, and now he's trying to take revenge on his unfaithful wife. So a lamp falls on the chair in which Ruth was sitting, and she notices it's been moved. A safe almost falls on her, and she barely escapes. The story ends with her wondering if it's really John, because "Ronnie" is acting very much like her husband always did. Oh dear. Wood does some nice work here - when the lamp falls on the chair (which you can see in color here), he draws her moving backward very well, with her dress billowing out and her body contorted slightly. Her leap out of the way of the safe is a bit more awkward, but it's not too bad. Again, his inking is superb here, as he begins to use more spot blacks to show the darkness moving in on Ruth's life, until the final panel just shows a heavily shadowed face with terror in Ruth's eyes. It's a nice change from the more confident woman from a few pages earlier, and it's mostly due to Wood's artwork.
"The Thing from the Sea!" came out a little under a year after "Death's Double-Cross," but we can already see the strides Wood had made in his artwork. He had started using Zip-A-Tone (he may have used it earlier, but it doesn't show up in the stories I own), and his line work became more sophisticated and less cartoonish (although, as we'll see tomorrow, he was always able to switch back and forth). So on this page we get a very nice ship in Panel 4, with a lot of wonderful details, and Wood uses blobby blacks very well to create the roiling ocean as Johnny dumps Eddie overboard. As Eddie sinks, Wood uses blacks to overwhelm him as he sinks deeper, and he adds a Zip-A-Tone layer in the final panel to add some nice texture to the scene. Wood's use off more jagged blacks adds some realism to his artwork, which helps sell the supernatural aspect of it.
After Johnny dumps Eddie, he moves in on Eddie's girl, Helen, and eventually they fall in love. Wood does a nice job with Panel 1, as they're dancing so happily, unaware of the horror that's about to enter their lives. I'm not sure why artists in the 1950s draw couples kissing like they are in Panel 3 so much - it looks really awkward, but it's a standard trope from that time period. Weird. Anyway, then Johnny dreams of Eddie coming to get him, which can't be good. I love the way Wood does the background in Panel 1 - the musicians are just black shapes and some color (it's unknown who colored this, as far as I can tell), and Wood creates a nice smoky atmosphere in the background. When Eddie appears, Wood once again uses Zip-A-Tone to add texture, and his use of blacks here turns Eddie into a horrific, decaying monster. Obviously, this is before the Comics Code, so Wood didn't have to restrain himself, but he still uses enough blacks to obscure Eddie's disintegration a little bit, leaving the rest up to our imaginations. Which is, of course, the way to do it!
Eddie drags Johnny away after Helen faints (unsurprisingly; I mean, her dead boyfriend returns from a watery grave and drips water all over her nice carpet), and Wood does a great job making the journey torturous and terrifying due to its inevitability. Johnny's face in Panel 2 is nice and scared, and Wood places Helen in the foreground to show that she's his last hope, while his hand reaches uselessly toward her. Then it's a long trip down to the beach, with Johnny clawing at the sand and Eddie, all black shapes and thick lines, telling him it's pointless. Wood uses heavy inks on Johnny's hand in Panel 6, both because it's in shadow a little but also because it's going down to the depths. As with a lot of these short stories from the 1950s, there aren't a lot of surprises in the script (and it's unknown who wrote this), but the artists tend to make the stories work because they can manipulate the tone so well. Wood does that nicely in this story - we know Johnny is going to die, but Wood manages to wring some tension out of it nevertheless.
Wood continued to get more work throughout the Fifties, and tomorrow I'll look at some more of it, including some of his goofier stuff. You won't want to miss it! Find some other goofy stuff in the archives!