Harvey Horror and Science Fiction: Black Cat Mystery #57

The break up of the Simon and Kirby studio, was not the end of Simon and Kirby collaborations. Even after Kirby began freelancing, Simon would still turn to Jack to help with comic book titles that he would work on. While Kirby contributed to these projects, particularly for the initial issues of a title, these were essentially Simon’s projects. Nonetheless I am sure that Jack had much creative freedom on the pieces he actually drew. I will begin examining, in some cases re-examining, these late collaborations beginning with Black Cat Mystery #57 (January 1956). There is some question as to exactly when the Simon and Kirby studio disbanded. In my opinion the latest date that can be assigned to the breakup would be August 1955 (cover date) when the final issues of the former Mainline titles were published by Charlton (Foxhole #6 and Police Trap #6). However is possible that some of the art to be discussed in this serial post could have been created before the studio breakup.

Black Cat Mystery #57 (January 1956), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The Black Cat series had undergone a number of title changes. Starting out as Black Cat based on a female superhero (#1, June 1946), then becoming Black Cat Western while presumably retaining the female hero (#16, March 1949), returning to Black Cat (#20, November 1949), switching to Black Cat Mystery and a horror genre (#30, August 1951), returning once again to Black Cat but retaining the horror content (#44, June 1953) before returning again to Black Cat Western without the horror and with the titled superhero (#54, February 1954). The last switch from horror content may have been prompted by all the adverse public criticism of genre which lead to the establishment of the Comic Code Authority. Black Cat Western #54 (February 1954) and #56 (October 1956) contain much reprint material from earlier issues according to the GCD. Black Cat Mystery #57 brought a returned to the old title and the horror genre although the horror was the mild form suitable for passing the strict Comic Code.

Jack Kirby only contribution to the issue #57 was the art for the cover. With Simon and Kirby there is always the possibility that a particular cover art could have been recycled from an earlier unused cover. However in the case of the cover for BCM #57, there are two reasons to believe that did not happen. The somewhat humorous aspect to the cover would have been out of place for Black Magic the only appropriate alternate source for this type of cover. Further the cover is based on a story found inside (see below). It is doubtful that the inside story was recycled because Black Magic was a pre-Code comic and therefore any story from it would have had difficulty getting Comic Code approval. I suspect that Kirby had not actually seen the interior story since that story had nothing to do with an underwater fish civilization.

The original art for this cover still exists and it would be interesting to see the date of the Comic Code Approval. While this cover was probably made for this issue it is still possible that the entire issue was put together some time previously.

Black Cat Mystery #57 (January 1956) “Pushin’ Up Daisies”, pencils by Bob Powell

Although Bob Powell had occasionally done work for Simon and Kirby, he was largely a Harvey artist having provided much work to that company over many years. Earlier Harvey horror stories were too extreme to pass the Comic Code without modifications but there are no signs of changes so this was almost certainly a new piece created for this title.

Black Cat Mystery #57 (January 1956) “20th Century Man”, pencils by John Giunta, inks by Manny Stallman?

John Giunta only did a few pieces of work for Simon and Kirby (see Art of Romance Chapter 9 and It’s A Crime Chapter 7). Giunta seems to have worked for a variety of publishers including a few pieces for Harvey. His style is a little dry for my tastes particularly for the crime or romance genre. However his style works very well for this particular story. I especially like the splash. The background with is jumbled silhouettes and scratchy and splashy inking is very effective. It is a little surprising to see such rough work for this artist but otherwise the inking looks like that found in some of his other work inked by Manny Stallman so I believe Stallman may have been the inker here as well.

Black Cat Mystery #57 (January 1956) “Underwater”, pencils by Howard Nostrand

Howard Nostrand is another artist that normally I cannot get too enthusiastic about. But the opening sequence for “Underwater” is just superb. Nostrand was a frequent contributor to Harvey Comics but as far as I know never previously worked for Simon and Kirby.

Black Cat Mystery #57 (January 1956) “The World of Mr. Chatt”, pencils by Mort Meskin

The final story, “The World of Mr. Chatt”, was drawn by a former Simon and Kirby regular (or what I sometimes refer to as one of the usual suspects) however Mort did very little work for Harvey. The only other Harvey piece that I am aware of was “Credit and Loss” from Chamber of Chills #24 (July 1954, a real masterpiece) but I have heard he did another earlier piece for Black Cat as well. Meskin was doing a lot of work for DC at this time. Many have criticized Mort’s DC work but in many ways he was still doing great art. But the emphasis of this late work was the almost cinematic approach that Meskin used to graphically tell a story. Mort’s careful control of pacing and view points was just masterful but unfortunately involved subtleties that many readers failed to notice or appreciate. “The World of Mr. Chatt” is a good example of Meskin’s late approach. Note the simple but effective opening sequence to the story. My main criticism of this particular work of art concerns the inking. I have not done a careful study but I suspect that Mort did not ink a lot of this later work and I am pretty certain he did not ink this piece. Again without careful inspection the inking reminds me of George Roussos.

I believe that Joe Simon was responsible for putting Black Cat Mystery #57 together although I have little evidence to back that up other than the cover that Jack Kirby provided. With the exception of Meskin, the artists used in this issue mostly seem to be drawn from Harvey’s talent pool. This is not too surprising as it suggests that the title had to be put together quickly. We shall see later that something similar happened with the first issue of Race for the Moon. The next issue would more clearly show the Simon and Kirby touch.

3 thoughts on “Harvey Horror and Science Fiction: Black Cat Mystery #57

  1. John RxB

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  2. Ger Apeldoorn

    The GCD says the Meskin story is drawn by Roussos as well, which I don’t think and apparently, neither do you. I am not even sure about Roussos inking. I think he did, but there is no sign of the crosshatching he did at places where Meskin used single strokes. And I’s say Roussos would have blacked out more of the faces in the splash. This matter of attributing Roussos and Meskin remains a mystery to me and I change my opinion every year or so. By the way, do you know if the unpublished Mac Beth story by them was from this same period or earlier? I was looking forward to these posts and I am curious to see what you’ll make of the publication tempo of this title. Was is cancelled between #58 and #59?

  3. Harry Post author

    You might be right about your points about whether Roussos inked the Mr. Chatt story. As I wrote, I have not done a careful study of this issue but base my opinion on an impression of the of the inking. I have not carefully studied the Mac Beth story since it would certainly not have been meant for the Harvey horror or science fiction comics.

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