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 Shock SuspenStories #8 and 9, Two-Fisted Tales #34, Weird Science-Fantasy #23, and MAD magazine #13, all of which were published by EC and are cover dated April/May 1953, June/July 1953, July/August 1953, March 1954, and July 1954. The scans of the first two stories are from Came the Dawn and Other Stories, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2012, and the next three stories are from WoodWork: Wallace Wood 1927-1981, which was published by IDW/Éditions Déesse in 2012. Enjoy!
So, yeah, I'm cheating a lot with Wood, aren't I? Well, to be fair, early in his career he drew short stories, and he drew a lot of them, so I'm only showing a little bit of each. Plus, I absolutely LOVE Wood's art, and I've gotten quite a bit of it over the past few years, so it's tough to choose which to show. Tomorrow I'll focus on one issue, I promise! For now, though, let's take a look at some of his mid-1950s work, which is much more intricate than even the stuff we saw yesterday from a year or two earlier. Wood really mastered the craft quickly!
I'm showing these in the order they were published, not necessarily in the order Wood drew them. I know back in the day, artists drew stuff and very often editors sat on them for a while, but I don't know exactly when these were drawn. In order, these comics were published on 20 January, 12 March, and 25 March 1953, and 1 March and 1 July 1954. So Wood was drawing these when he was 25 and 26 years old. They were also in color, originally, but here they're in black and white. Such is life!
Wood uses a lot of blacks to set the dark mood, with the thick folds in the clothing and the shadows on the faces of the men, leading to the really nice eerie appearance of Lucy as she arrives home. Wood's inking, as usual, is terrific, as he uses blacks and thin lines to make Lucy look haunted, while he uses Zip-A-Tone very well to make the lightning in Panel 1 crackle and to shadow the faces of the people as they see Lucy on the porch. The ragged white ink that makes the rain completes the scene of despair and uncomfortable anticipation. Wood sets the scene for the terrible story to follow really well on this page - it's a way to make us think it was a dark and stormy night without coming right out and saying it.
I want to show two pages of this story in succession to show how well Wood knows body language, because he changes the way we see Lucy with very little in terms of words, even though she uses plenty of them. First, we see George meet Lucy at the diner, and Wood gives her that pleated skirt she was wearing when she came home on the first page, linking us back to that scary moment, so we're already connecting dots in the story. He draws her looking cheerful, and notice that he shows her putting lipstick on. I don't know how deliberate this will be, but we'll come back to that drawing. Anyway, George and Lucy get hot and heavy at the lake, and then Wood draws Lucy in Panel 6, looking fearful and even somewhat innocent as she tells George that her parents will be worried. Wood, of course, is wonderfully detailed on this page, using beautiful blacks in Panel 4 to show the reflections in the lake, while in the foreground he uses thick strokes to draw the twisted tree. In Panel 6, his Lucy is sexy as hell but also timid - her heavy-lidded eyes are down a bit, and her full lips are pursed in plaintiveness. She likes the sex, but she also worries about the effect it will have on her parents ... or does she?
Of course, Lucy isn't quite as innocent as she seems, which we begin to figure out in Panels 5 and 6, when she tells George she's had the gall to bang other men. How dare she explore her sexuality before marriage instead of staying chaste like a good girl? Oh, the horror! But that's not the point! The point is that Wood draws her in Panel 2 in such a way that we know she's not Little Miss Innocent even before the script tells us. When George introduces her to Hodges, writer Al Feldstein doesn't have her say too much, even though she's impatient to leave. But Wood draws her completely differently than he did only a few panels earlier - Lucy is standing straight, with her ample chest thrust out, and her hand on her waist. She has her head held high, somewhat haughtily, and her eyes are no longer as wide open. She's tugging at George's arm, as she's taking the lead in the relationship, in marked contrast to her submissiveness in the car at the lake. Wood then shows her smoking, which, while widespread in the 1950s, was also something that "good girls" didn't do, and notice that in Panel 6, he draws her face remarkably similarly to when she was putting on lipstick on the previous page. Lucy uses make-up to make herself desirable, and she smokes when she no longer cares what the man thinks of her. It's a clever way to link two behaviors, and while I can't imagine men in the 1950s thinking that make-up was inherently evil, it did make women more desirable, and that leads poor weak-willed men to their (metaphorical) doom! Plus, I love the Venetian blinds in Panel 4, discreetly hiding Lucy's torso. Perhaps she is not quite decent?
You'll have to buy the book to find out what happens, but you should just buy the book anyway, because it's awesome. Let's move on to "Came the Dawn!"
Our narrator, Bob, bursts into his cabin to find a woman wearing nothing but a sheet. You know, like you do (as we see below, Bob was even musing about reading about something like this in Penthouse Forum years before that even existed). Yes, yes, Wood draws a terrific woman, but let's look at everything but the woman for now. In Panel 1, we get that beautiful line work and use of blacks and Zip-A-Tone to create a wild forest beyond the cabin, while inside, Wood does a superb job filling the cabin with details that make it seem much more homey and alluring for a lost woman (which Cathy says she is). Wood adds a bookshelf with the requisite books, a clock on top of the shelf, an end table with a lamp on it next to a rocking chair, a portrait on the back wall, a mounted head over the fireplace with crossed guns over it (and another head above Bob's shoulder), and some steins on the mantle. Cathy stands on a lush bearskin rug, and Wood even puts a sleeping cat in the frame. In the bottom two panels, we see some knickknacks in the cabin, and a miniature sailing ship. We don't know if that's Chekov's hatchet in Panel 1, but Wood put it there for a reason, right? And, of course, Wood uses hatching beautifully to show off Cathy's shape, but that's not surprising by this point in his career.
Bob suggests that Cathy stay over, as it's getting dark and she shouldn't be out in the forest, especially as she claims she got lost out there in the first place. This is just more terrific work by Wood, as he uses thin lines to show how delicate Cathy is, but thicker lines to show that Bob's pants are tough and manly, even on her. He continues to use Zip-A-Tone to nice effect, especially to show the darkness outside, and he's not exactly subtle about introducing yet another weapon into the story. He's becoming excellent at body language, as we saw in the other story, and we get some of that here. Cathy strides confidently into the room in Panel 3, acting like a new woman and nothing like a girl lost in the woods, which is just so we can become suspicious of her. She smiles seductively at Bob in Panel 6 when she asks him about his relationship status, but then Wood does a very nice job of making her look vulnerable in Panel 7, when she tells Bob about her engagement. He tilts her head down, accentuates the more innocent pony tail (only wanton women let their sexy hair flow free!), and has her cross her arms, which both shuts her off a bit and, cleverly, accentuates her breasts. Bob remains aloof, notice, but he does seem to be sucking on that pipe rather a lot, doesn't he?
So of course Bob bangs Cathy, but then, while she sleeps, he hears on the radio that there's been an escape from the "state hospital for the criminally insane." He suspects Cathy (this is where the colors would have helped, obviously, because we can't see the blue), so he gets her outside (and, on the next page, locks her out, but what happens then is for you to discover!). Again, we get the beautiful line work - Cathy sits up and stretches like a contented cat, and Wood draws her so elegantly we can almost feel the stretch ourselves. When Bob wonders why anyone would be talking about her on the radio, Wood draws her well, with suspicious side-eyes and slightly crooked eyebrows, as if she's wondering whether Bob knows too much. Bob's face in Panel 5 is well done - he's worried, but he's trying to keep it together. Finally, once again we get the beautiful work on the outdoors in the final panel. Wood does a very good job with the blacks, making Bob's cabin feel more claustrophobic, especially when he contrasts it with the grand vista in the final panel, which promises freedom for Bob but also danger, as we can see how isolated the cabin really is. Wood is very good at creating a stifling atmosphere in his story, and it leads to ... a tragic ending! But let's move on to other things!
The examples I'm showing from WoodWork (which I haven't read yet, as I only got it a few weeks ago, but it looks pretty freakin' sweet) are examples of Wood's original art from private collections, which is why they're not colored. I've been wanting to see more original art to use in this series, and while for some of it, the original pencils would be cool, with Wood, it's pretty cool to get the uncolored pages. So here are two from "Trial by Arms" from Two-Fisted Tales.
With just the original art, you can really see how well Wood uses Zip-A-Tone, as it adds shading and nuance that today would come from a computer. It adds nice texture to the shields and the armor of the combatants, giving it a more metallic look that you probably wouldn't get with just blacks and grays. Wood uses it to contrast the leather straps and belts the knights wear, which helps it stand out even more. This is also a terrific fight scene (it goes on for one more page, but you get the gist). Wood draws destriers in motion very well, and the inks on Sir Clyde's horse are wonderful, giving it a silky coat. When Sir Malcolm dismounts in Panel 4 of the first page, Wood makes it seem to be one fluid motion, as Sir Malcolm is obviously skilled at riding. Then the hand-to-hand combat begins, and Wood leads us through it really well, using very few motion lines but not needing them because of the position of each man and the moments he chooses to highlight. The final four panels of the first page are a nice few seconds, as Sir Clyde blocks Sir Malcolm's mace and thrusts with his sword, which Sir Malcolm grabs and then swings upward with his shield, knocking the sword loose. Wood does a really good job showing Sir Clyde off-balance in Panel 7, which makes it easy to believe that the well-balanced Sir Malcolm is able to knock his sword loose in Panel 8. Then, on the second page, Sir Clyde the Weaselly cheats, which allows him to press the attack. Once again, Wood does good work, with Sir Clyde remaining in the foreground as he throws his cloak over Sir Malcolm's face and then knocks him down with the hatchet. When Sir Malcolm is able to counterattack, Wood places him in the foreground in Panels 5 and 6, as he drives Sir Clyde back. Then it's back and forth in Panels 7-9, as neither knight can gain an advantage. Wood does a very nice job moving the figures around as they struggle, showing that neither can really take command of the fight. The figure work is smooth and fluid even though both men are wearing armor, and Wood knows how the human body moves, so each strike seems to land realistically, as both men react to it like we expect them to. Wood wasn't a big superhero artist, of course, but obviously he knew what he was doing in terms of action.
(As I was looking for MAD magazine pages, I found this and this from this site, which, if you click on the links, shows these two pages in color. They're not substantially improved, although they are brighter!)
"The Children" is from Weird Science-Fantasy in 1954, and it's quite weird and science-fantastical, so I guess that works! Ellen Grayson is a colonist on a distant planet, and when she and her husband have a kid, said kid is taken away from them for ... reasons. I'm not getting into it! Anyway, Ellen keeps trying to get her kid back, and the scientists who are raising him keep telling her that they need more time, which makes Ellen sad. Her dick husband isn't any help, either, as he believes in science and shit. So on this page, Ellen finds out she won't get her kid back until he's two (that number keeps going up), and she finds out it's not only her (hers was the first, though, which is why she's the star of the story). By this time, of course, Wood had mastered Zip-A-Tone, so we get it to add lushness to Ellen's hair in Panel 2, nuance to her clingy clothes (no post-baby weight for her!) in Panel 5, crushing emotional sadness in Panel 6, and texture to the alien rock formations in Panel 7. But I really want to focus on Panel 1:
I don't know how Wood gets the blurred effect on Ellen, as she sits in the shadows mourning her son, but it's wonderful. He hides her face in shadows, and then uses a succession of lighter grays to blur the blacks until he gets to white, and it makes Ellen look as if she's emerging from a dream, or perhaps entering a nightmare. Wood draws a diaphanous gown on her, too, so even at this moment, Ellen is pretty sexy - Wood just couldn't stop! That nifty effect makes this panel even better than the rest of the page, which is pretty darned cool already.
Even as the mothers rise up, Wood makes sure they're sexy and fashionable! I don't have much to say about this page, except to admire the use of inks and Zip-A-Tone yet again. That final panel is excellent - Ellen's hair is beautifully inked, with Wood's brush strokes making it lush and full, while the Zip-A-Tone makes her dress even clingier. I suppose she hopes that the doctors will be distracted by her bosom and therefore allow her to take her son, but who knows. It's still a terrific page and a great final panel.
Wood also worked on MAD magazine in the 1950s, which is probably where I first saw his artwork, in reprints that I read in the early 1980s (I know I read "G.I. Schmoe," and probably some others, too). He did a lot of parodies, including "Prince Violent" from issue #13. WoodWork doesn't have the complete story, but it has a few pages, so I'm going to show some of them.
Wood, of course, puts as much effort into the goofy "Prince Violent" that he does into anything, so we get the nice use of Zip-A-Tone again, while the armor seems to be just Wood using a thin brush to put dots onto the page. The details are great, as he gives plenty of personality to all the Huns that Viol dispatches, and notice that he uses a looser, more cartoony style with them than he does with the hero of the piece. This is, as far as I remember, fairly par for the course for MAD, and Wood does a nice job. As we might expect, he doesn't sacrifice the nice motions of Viol as he swings his sword - despite the silliness of him hacking through trees and rocks, the way he does it looks very nice.
I don't know how much Wood was a template for other artists in MAD, but some of the tropes seem to be fairly common for the magazine, so maybe Wood was following an already-established template. I haven't read a ton of early MADs, so I don't know. This kind of thing was common, though - Wood shifts Violent's serene and serious expression to a much more cartoony one in Panel 3, when he chases the maiden, and she herself has a silly face that shifts to a more standard Wood Face in Panel 4. Even the final panel is a fairly "MAD" kind of thing, as Viol is drawn more like an actual person, but Wood gives him a goofy expression as he smooches Alota (that's not Alota Fagina by any chance, is it?). As usual, the brush work and the details are tremendous - there's a reason why the early years of MAD are so highly regarded. Wood drew a lot of stuff for MAD, and from what I've seen, it's all pretty great. (Of course, this being the Internet, you can find almost anything, so here and here are these two pages in color.)
So, yeah. That's a lot of Wally Wood, isn't it? Okay, I'll stop here, and I'll skip him inking Kirby in the late 1950s. Tomorrow we'll check out some of his superhero work. You knew it was coming eventually! Find many more superheroes in the archives!