The Cover for Alarming Tales #2

Alarming Tales #2
Alarming Tales #2 (November 1957) art by Mort Meskin and Joe Simon

The Simon and Kirby studio must have been closed at the time Joe Simon produced a new title, Alarming Tales, for Harvey Comics. Jack Kirby had been doing freelance work for almost a year. Jack and Joe were still listed as editors for Young Romance and Jack would provide some art for that title. But missing from Young Romance were old S&K studio artists like Bill Draut, John Prentice and Mort Meskin. At this point the “usual suspects” were also absent from the Harvey romance comics that Joe Simon had been editing. John Prentice had begun what would be a long gig as the artist for the syndication strip Rip Kirby. Meskin, a prolific artist, had already been doing work for DC for a few years. What Draut was doing is a bit of a mystery, but he would do work for DC in the 60’s. What is clear is that Draut, Meskin and Prentice were conspicuously absent from the Harvey comics that Joe produced at this time. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the good working relationship these artists shared with Simon and Kirby had not weathered well the breakup of the studio. (This relationship was not permanently damaged because Bill Draut would do a lot of work with Joe in the 60’s.)

Alarming Tales #2
Alarming Tales #2 (November 1957) original art by Mort Meskin and Joe Simon (with thanks to Paul Handler)

The cover for Alarming Tales #2 is surprising, considering Meskin’s otherwise absence from Joe Simon’s productions of 1957 and 1958. Previously I believed this cover was penciled by Joe Simon. Actually I still adhere to that attribution for the man on the lower right. The similarity he has in his facial features and pose to other work by Joe, particularly the cover for Alarming Tales #4, leave me with little doubt that Joe was indeed the penciler. I have come to re-think my position about the figure of the giant after seeing the original art attributed to Mort Meskin by Paul Handler in the Comic Art Forum. (Paul has an excellent original art collection which includes some really nice Simon and Kirby pieces.) The facial features of the giant, particularly the eyebrows, certainly suggest Mort Meskin’s work. Unfortunately I really have no equivalent Meskin piece to compare it with. Meskin had done some work for titles like Black Magic and Strange World of Your Dreams but those titles lacked the science fiction emphasis found later in Alarming Tales and Black Cat Mystic. So the absence of similar figures by Meskin like the one on Alarming Tales #2 is not very surprising.

So what can we make about this cover for Alarming Tales #2? Well here is where the original art really helps. The art shows that it actually consists of two separate pieces that have been combined. The edge that delimits them from each other marks an irregular path between the two figures. The giant does not accurately reflect the story the cover is based on (“Fire Balls”). In the story the strange visitors are roughly human in size and the flames they are ensconced in obscures their features. The differences between the cover and the story maybe nothing more then artistic license, or it might reflect that the Meskin portion was originally meant for something else. Mort did provide work for Black Magic up until the end of the first run (the last issue of the run was #33 cover dated November 1954). As I said above, Black Magic did not have much of a sci-fi bent but that might have been changing. The last issue had a story by Jack Kirby called “Lone Shark” that best belongs in the science fiction genre. So perhaps the Black Magic title was in the process of including more sci-fi just when it was cancelled. I doubt the Meskin piece was meant for a Black Magic cover since previously Kirby did every single cover for that title’s first run. But a splash page seems quite possible or it could have been meant as a cover for a never launched title. Whatever its ultimate source, the Meskin piece appears to have been modified for Alarming Tales #2 by the inking of the background.

This combining of two different sources to make one piece is something I have seen Joe do before. His collection includes an unpublished romance cover constructed in just that manner. In the 60’s many of the covers for comics that Joe produced are combinations of original art and stats.