Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It's Comic-al

Devoted divers here in the Underworld know that I sometimes like to pepper my posts with shots of unusual tie-in items such as bubble gum cards, paper dolls, etc… One of my favorite ones to use is the comic book. I was an avid comic collector during my pre-teen and early teen years, but mostly of DC and Marvel superhero titles. Now that I’m older, I find myself becoming intrigued by and amused by the photo cover titles that were based on popular TV shows and movies of their day.

Primarily published by Gold Key and Dell, these books are proving to be highly collectable and very much sought after by folks who either have a fondness for the personalities depicted on the front or for the project involved. The condition of the cover is paramount when determining the value. I’m not sure too many people even give much of a hoot what the inside artwork or story is even like! (As always, you can click on these pics to make them bigger.)

Barbie collectors have the ability to get their hands on some old books that depict their beloved plastic icon living the high life with her boyfriend Ken. These covers also serve as a record of some of the doll’s fashions that were available at that time. Like many of the other covers made at that time – and some featured here – there is a combination of photography and artwork that is simplistic and amusingly endearing somehow. Comic books now are very stylized and busy. These quaint covers are in some ways an oasis of simplicity.

Presumably still after the young female market is this example of a book based on the sitcom Family Affair. Precious and innocent as it is, it’s still a little jarring to see a cover of a prepubescent girl in the bathtub with Uncle Bill sitting on the side! Not a likely subject to be found on a tie-in, comic book or otherwise, these days. For those who don’t know, both of these people died in tragic ways. Brian Keith committed suicide rather than continue to suffer from terminal illness and little Anissa Jones died of a drug overdose while in her teens. She was, in her day, THE cutest child ever to appear on television.

Another girlie book would be this copy of The Flying Nun, featuring Miss Sally Field. Sally had made a splash in the TV series Gidget (all about the misadventures of a fun, quirky teen) the previous year, but overeager network execs cancelled it prematurely. When they realized their error, they foisted her into this show and it ran longer, leaving her with a legacy of preposterousness that took her years to live down.

Appealing more to boys (who might still be unhappy with all the pink!) would be this Mission: Impossible comic. I have always loved these sort of stiff, staged publicity shots. Eventually, they overstayed their welcome and now there’s usually an emphasis on the casual, but many shows offered up these stylistic portraits for a long time. It lent a kind of noble air to the team since, of course, they never appeared posed in this way on the actual series. There’s a post elsewhere on this site regarding the series for those who wish to know more.

Comic books were sometimes made for series that either didn’t last or that are only remembered today by a select group of fans who like a particular star. The Young Lawyers, for example, lasted on season in 1970 and is not a show many people recall, but here is a comic book adaptation with the stars on the cover. Lee J. Cobb, Judy Pace and Zalman King. King would later become a director of erotic films such as Two Moon Juntion, Wild Orchid and a plethora of softcore Red Shoe Diaries cable films.

Medical shows had a spate of immense popularity in the 60s and 70s, and two of the most popular were Ben Casey and Doctor Kildare. These series were in black and white for the bulk of their runs, so photographic comic book covers gave fans a chance to see their medical idols in color. Vince Edwards, the star of Casey, began his career as a nude physique model and a photo or two became unearthed many years after his TV success. It seems a miracle that his hair could fit under a surgical cap! Kildare starred Richard Chamberlain, who was adored by most everyone for his youthful, earnest presence on the series, and I must say he looks pretty dreamy in this shot. Unlike a lot of TV actors, Chamberlain, for a while anyway, was able to parlay his fame into a feature film career. In 2003, he belatedly came out of the closet as a homosexual when he penned his autobiography Shattered Love.

Lloyd Bridges son Jeff won an Oscar for Best Actor the other night. Contemporary audiences might know him best, if at all, as the steel-plated nitwit in the Hot Shots movies, but prior to that he was a popular star of TV, movies and TV movies. Sea Hunt was a successful show about diving (and Jeff, along with his brother Beau, guest-starred on the series while still young.) Here, Lloyd shows off some welcome chest hair, which probably delighted the heck out of little gay boys everywhere.

Star Trek enjoyed only middling popularity when it ran initially. It was in reruns that it caught fire. The photo covers for the comic version provide great opportunity for collectors to get their hands on rare stills of the stars that may not be found anywhere else. After a time, photo covers for this line were stopped and paintings were used instead, as the Enterprise’s adventures continued on long beyond the initial mission, making the photo covers even that much more rare and hard to find.

One funny thing that could occur in the wacky world of photography mixed with art is demonstrated here with these contrasting Bonanza covers. The first shot is of the three Cartwright boys with their father. After Pernell Roberts, as Adam, left the series, someone took the old photo and carefully removed Roberts from it, placing the remaining men against an abstract green background and white fence! Poof! No more Adam Cartwright. Christina Crawford used to complain about stepfathers and other folks disappearing from pictures in the household frames and albums. (“If she doesn’t like you, she can make you disappear…”) I wonder if Roberts could sympathize?

Before Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy starred as The Hardy Boys, the pair of mystery-solving brothers appeared in a Walt Disney version. This vaguely (and unintentionally) homoerotic shot is part of the reason why the duo was skewered mercilessly on South Park. Called “The Hardly Boys,” the mincing, lisping guys would talk about clues until they became aroused, telling one another that their “clues” were pointing a certain way, until they would go off-screen to do God knows what!!

One of TV’s hunks who is somewhat known and admired in the gay community, but who has almost completely slid out of consciousness amongst everyone else is Gardner McKay. One reason for his lack of recognition is because he only worked in the business for about a decade and intentionally left it after only a handful of projects to become a writer, sculptor and photographer. Still, his series Adventures in Paradise has a fond place in many men’s hearts. He won the lead role in the show because he really was able to sail. His dark good looks led him to amass a small cult following that remains to this day.

It would mostly have been grossly inappropriate for a pre-teen or teen boy to possess a muscle physique or fitness model magazine back in the day, but who in their right mind could object to Tarzan? Comic books allowed boys permission to ogle their scantily clad hero with no objections. Gordon Scott was one of the most muscular Tarzan’s in the film series’ history and was used in many covers. Before that, however, the divinely handsome Lex Barker owned the role and was featured time and again. All of Lex’s Tarzan movies were in black and white, so these color photos are a real find for fans of his. Sometimes he was featured looking serious with a few artist details surrounding him. Other times, he was hilariously inserted into fully rendered jungle environments, giving the covers a surreal quality. In all of them, however, he was tanned, toned and very beautiful! You can read more about Lex by clicking on his name in the column to the right.

Movie adaptations were somewhat common, especially if the film had an adventuresome quality or was a western or otherwise had appeal to young male readers. The Pride and the Passion, all about the transporting of a cannon during war in Spain. It featured a truly unusual casting blend that included Cary Grant, Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra! Frank, in period clothes and fake hair, was featured on the cover while busty Sophia was nowhere to be found.

The Light in the Forest, which had been a popular book before Walt Disney made it into a movie, featured James MacArthur (in an amusingly fluffy Mohawk), shown here with Fess Parker, as a white boy raised by Indians who is eventually returned to his rightful family. (Oddly, the word “The” is left out of the title on this cover.) MacArthur, the adopted son of Helen Hayes was a hunky teen actor who later made a major splash on Hawaii Five-O as Danno, the subject of Jack Lord’s much-quoted line, “Book him, Danno.” Spartacus offered another opportunity for beefcake. Kirk Douglas played the lean, fit slave turned gladiator, forced into the games by bloodthirsty Romans. Again, this particular shot was one that couldn’t be found in many places, especially in those days long before the Internet.

How many comic books out there do you think featured the amazing blue eyes of luscious Paul Newman?! Not too many. One of them is the adaptation of The Left Handed Gun, the story of Billy the Kid. This one not only had the selling point of Paul’s baby blues, but it also had a photo in the bottom right corner of him with his legs spread. Ha! Did Mom and Dad ever wonder why Joey seemed to stare more at the cover than to actually open the comic and read the story inside?

Some people might be surprised to find that a comic book adaptation exists of such a somber and highly regarded western as John Ford’s The Searchers. The book featured a very serious portrait of John Wayne and not much else. The most recent DVD release of the film includes a reproduction of this item in the deluxe, boxed set. Original copies, even in the rough condition shown here (which I have enhanced a little for cosmetic purposes), sell as high as $35.00. That’s quite an appreciation on the original 10-cent cover price, though it did take 50+ years!

Most fun of all, though, is stumbling across a one-shot version of some goofy, obscure movie like this one, The Story of Mankind. Following his success with documentaries, Irwin Allen branched out into films with live actors. In order to secure success, he loaded the picture down with many, many names. However, the shoddy film, which paired bits of elaborate stock footage with inserted new moments filmed in cardboard settings, was an unintentional laugh riot and is frequently listed among the all-time turkeys. A middle-aged Hedy Lamarr portrayed Joan of Arc while Agnes Moorehead overacted as Queen Elizabeth I. Virginia Mayo was quite an unlikely Cleopatra, but she had nothing on the actor cast as Napoleon Bonaparte, Dennis Hopper!! Other stars, from Vincent Price to The Marx Brothers to Ronald Coleman, embarrassed themselves in the same way that others would later when Allen collected them to appear in his hot mess The Swarm.

I don’t own any of these comics, but always enjoy thumbing through them at flea markets or antique shows because you never know what on Earth you’re going to stumble upon.

1 comment:

Klee said...

I actually had that Land of Giants comic book in Portuguese--same cover too!