By 1954 Mort Meskin had been providing work for the Simon and Kirby studio for four years. Even more important then the amount of time spent was the volume of work; Mort executed more work for S&K then any other studio artist. There were even periods that Mort’s page production rates exceeded Kirby’s who was justly famous for his productivity. Mort’s contribution went beyond volume; he played an important part in the S&K classic Boys’ Ranch (1951). It was Mort who persuaded S&K to create that unusual title Strange World of Your Dreams (1952) for which he listed as an Associate Editor. 1954 was an important year for both Meskin and S&K as well. In that year Simon and Kirby would return to the superhero genre with Fighting American published by Prize. Even more important Joe and Jack would create their own comic publishing company called Mainline. Considering Meskin’s contributions in the past, it would be expected that he would play a significant role in these projects, but he did not. Mort provided no help with Fighting American and only shows up in a few initial issues of the Mainline titles. Since Mort was creating art for the Prize romances (still being produced by Simon and Kirby) his absence from the other projects is hard to explain. 1954 was of note for Mort because it marked his return to providing art for DC. This was not an exclusive arrangement, as mentioned above Mort would continue to provide work for the Prize romances. Meskin also did one work for Harvey’s Chamber of Chills.
The hero of this story is the meek and troubled Oscar Pert. He could have been happy, if only he was not oppressed by his wife, Martha. The only important thing in life for Martha was the continual depositing of money into the bank. Everything else must be sacrificed. Oscar lost his friends when he was no longer able to pay club dues. Martha would not even let him spend a little money for milk to give a stray cat. But finally Oscar devises a new means to happiness. We see him in his cellar stealing moments away from Martha, designing some project. His increased sense of contentment is noticed by all but understood by none. That is until Martha discovers his drafting ruler and pawns it off. Apparently that is the last straw because that night Martha hears a strange ticking noise coming from the cellar. She finds a box down there and when she investigates the box’s opening the trap is set. The story ends with Oscar making his own rather gruesome deposit to the bank vault.
Chamber of Chills #24 (July 1954) “Credit and Loss”, art by Mort Meskin
The story was not written by Mort, but he makes the most of it. He is at the top of his form in story telling, and that means a lot because Meskin was a consummate graphic story teller. His shifts in distance and perspective are done not just to provide variation, but as a means to advance the story itself. Take the sequence that starts the tale; a panel of a broken record introduces the theme of repetition, the next panel has advances the theme with a close-up of a woman’s nagging mouth, with the final panel a more distant shot providing an introduction to the main characters of the story and their relationship.
Chamber of Chills #24 (July 1954) “Credit and Loss” page 4 panel 5, art by Mort Meskin
Mort’s art is excellent, particularly the inking. The splash panels uses the S&K studio style with bold picket fence brush work (for an explanation of this term, see the Inking Glossary). The image of the skeletal hands with ledger is not a literal summation of the story but it does effectively symbolize the theme. I cannot explain what the ruled background represents, perhaps another visual reference to a financial ledger? In any case it is a pleasing pattern as if designed by Mondrian. After the splash Meskin drops using the S&K studio style and adopts his more typical inking methods. However that is a little misleading as Mort’s inking is here much more elaborate then what he had previously been using in work that he had done for Simon and Kirby. For example Meskin typically constructed eyebrows as a couple of overlapping simple brush strokes, but for close-ups in “Credit and Loss” the eyebrows are made with numerous brushstrokes that suggest the individual hairs. Instead of simple brushing for shadows on faces, here Mort provides some careful crosshatching. Meskin even seems to take much more effort with the drawing as well. The close-ups of Oscar are some of the best portrayals that Mort has ever done. The large soulful eyes and small chin suggest his submissive character. But note how in the panel I provide above how Mort subtlety reveals Oscar’s awakened spirit of resistance.
With such a great piece of art it is a wonder that Mort Meskin did not do more work for Chamber of Chills. I really do not have the timing of Meskin’s non-S&K work down very well, but perhaps it is nothing more then having been returned to the better paying DC Mort felt no need to pursue work from Harvey. Joe Simon’s collection includes the complete original art for “Credit and Loss”, as well as some other art from the same Chamber of Chills issue. So maybe even at this early date Joe was giving Harvey a hand. If so, Simon was not passing onto Harvey excess S&K material, this story much more deserves being called horror then anything found in S&K’s own Black Magic. The tale goes beyond what Joe and Jack would have considered to be in good taste. Whatever the explanation for its unique status, “Credit and Loss” is a masterpiece. Unfortunately its presence in a rare comic means it has not been seen by many. Maybe someday it will get the reprint treatment it so richly deserves.
I didn’t know of this story, Harry. Have you compared it to the Meskin stories in the later Frnkenstein issues from Prize? I guess those are earlier. Meskin only did work this detailed in his early DC work, so this is a great find. How did you come across it and how do you know it is the only Harvey story?
I have not seen any of Mort’s work from Frankenstein, but I suspect that stuff would not differ that much from the other Prize work Mort did. As for how I found it, Joe Simon still has the original art in his collection so I just had to track down a copy of the comic.
As for how do I know that this is Mort’s only story for Harvey, well I don’t know. I believe I was very careful in my wording so as not to make claim. The only way to be sure is to examine every Harvey comic, which I have not done. But I have looked at a lot, including other Chamber of Chills, and have not found any work by Meskin. So I do suspect it is the only one.
The GCD lists a Mort Meskin story in Black Cat #51 Aug 1954. Titled Punch and Rudy. This title was a horror title at this period. I have never seen this story so I can’t verify.
Yep, I have found and seen Punch and Rudy. It is scratchier than some of his work for Prize’s Frankenstein. Very dark in style.