Category Archives: 2006/04

Bill Draut (usual suspect #1)

In previous posts I mention three artists that did a lot of work for the S&K studio over a long period of time. Because of the frequent appearance in S&K productions, I often refer to them as the usual suspects. In this post I would like to write about Bill Draut, the first of the usual suspects to work for the studio. During the war Joe Simon served in the Coast Guard. Joe spent a good part of this service in Washington working as a Coast Guard artist. One of the other artist who worked with Simon was friends with Bill Draut, then in the marines. When Joe got to know Draut he told him that after the war Bill should look him up in New York. When Joe rejoined Jack Kirby after the war, they made a deal with Harvey to produce Stuntman and Boy Explorers. Bill Draut joined in this effort and his first comic book work appeared in Stuntman #1. As part of their work with Harvey, Simon and Kirby would create comic series to be done by other artists. For Bill they developed The Furnished Room, Calamity Jane, and The Demon. Unfortunately Stuntman and Boy Explorers got caught in a comic glut, and were discontinued after a very few issues. But Draut’s contribution, the Furnished Room and Calamity Jane, would reappear in other Harvey comics about a year later. They probably represent unused material from the cancelled comics.

The Furnished Room

The Furnished Room was the first to be published appearing in Stuntman #1 in April 1946 (all dates for comics are cover dates). As was pointed out by Stan Taylor, this series was a S&K’s take on the popular syndication strip Mary Worth. The Furnished Room was essentially a soap opera with an elderly dowdy lady (this series version of Mary Worth). This dowdy lady would generally play a more peripheral part in the stories. The real stories were about the people who rented rooms from her. Because of the lack of superheroes, the Furnished Room may have been a little out of place in Stuntman but the series was really well done. The Furnished Room had a short run, all done by Bill Draut:

Stuntman #1 (April 1946) “The Furnished Room”

Stundman #2 (June 1946) “Triangular Troubles”

Green Hornet #37 |(January 1948) “The Smiling Salesman”

Green Hornet #38 (March 1948) “The Furnished Room” (reprint)

Calamity Jane

For Boys Explorer S&K created Calamity Jane which Draut would draw. This series were about a hardboiled detective who happened to be a female. The source for this idea seems to have been what is now called film noire. But in those movies the detective was a man, and women just played supporting rolls. The stories are presented as told by Calamity to the artist Draut. This was another good series which unfortunately did not last long, only three stories. But there is a story by Draut in Justice Traps the Guilty #3 that appears to be a reworked Calamity Jane. The detective was now named Ruth Lang, but a supporting character (the cabbie called Hack) remained unchanged. I previously posted on editorial changes Joe Simon did on one of the Calamity Jane stories.

Boy Explorers #1 (May 1946) “The Case Of The Hapless Hackie”

Green Hornet #35 (August 1947) “The Fat Tuesday”

Green Hornet #36 (November 1947) “The Man Who Met Himself”

Justice Traps The Guilty #3 (March 1948) “My Strangest Crime Case”

The Demon

The Demon was first published in Black Cat #4 (February 1947). The full title of the series is “His Honor the Demon”. The Demon has a rather unusual origin in that the hero is a judge frustrated because the law sometimes is helpless in finding and punishing the guilty. After one such case of a murdered man, he decides to investigate on his own. At one point he wears the same costume that the murdered victim was wearing at a party when he got killed. The judge did this in an attempt flush out the murderer. After a successful conclusion to this case, the judge decides to continue his extra-legal efforts using the same costume of a red demon. Again Bill was the only artist to work on this short run series.

Black Cat #4 (February 1947) “Double Trouble”

Black Cat #5 (April 1947) “The Man Who Didn’t Know His Own Strength”

Black Cat #6 (July 1947) “The Midnight Killer” (origin story)

Black Cat #7 (August 1947) “Too Cold For Crime”

In Love #4

After those failed series, Bill Draut continued to work for the Simon & Kirby studio. Although he did provide some crime (Headline and Justice Traps The Guilty) and horror (Black Magic) work, most of the stories he did was for romance comics (Young Romance, Young Love, Young Brides and In Love). I previously posted on an unpublished Artist and Model cover that he did. His style seems very conducive to romance work. His women have beautiful eyes with simple but effective eyebrows. But Bill’s simple eyebrows seem more awkward on his men. Strong action did not seem to be Draut’s forte, but that was not an issue for the love stories. He was gifted enough of an artist and observant enough of the S&K style, that one of the covers he did (Young Brides #21) has been attributed to Jack by the Kirby Checklist.

Young Brides #21

Joe Simon has always maintained that he and Jack encouraged their artists to sign their work. Bill Draut does seem to have taken advantage of that and often added his signature to his earlier work. Later his stopped signing his material but his style is still easily recognizable. Draut does not seem as productive as the other usual suspects (Mort Meskin and John Prentice). As far as I know during his association with the S&K studio, he worked for them exclusively. When the studio disbanded in the mid 50’s Jack and Joe continued as editors for Young Romance with Kirby penciling a story in most issues. But for whatever reason, Bill Draut did not do any work for those Young Romance comics. I am not sure what Bill did in the late 50’s but he seems to have stayed in comics. When Joe Simon produced some hero comics for Harvey in the mid 60’s, Bill Draut would pencil some stories. I also know he did some work for DC at that time. His work seemed delegated to lesser profile series and I don’t think his style was very popular in the 60’s.

Carl Burgos does the Fly

In 1959 Joe produced The Adventures of the Fly for Archie Comics. It was based on the Silver Spider, a never published Simon & Kirby creation. Jack was involved in some of the art, in particular the origin story. But other artists also did work on the Fly comics. Joe’s involvement on the Fly only lasted 4 issues. Perhaps that end came suddenly because Joe still has layouts for a Fly story (“Asleep on a Million”). When I asked him about them, he said that they were done by Carl Burgos. I was aware that Joe knew Carl well, but I did not know that Burgos had anything to do with the Fly. Need I add that Carl was the creator and frequent artist of the Human Torch for Timely.

Asleep On A Million

There is a larger image here. In the top margin of the first page is a note: “The Fly – 6 pgs”. But Joe only has 4 pages. They were all in the same envelope so I don’t think the missing 2 pages were misplaced. I suspect that they were never actually done. The art work for the layouts are very rough and done in light pencil. The script is in stronger pencil but still rough. However the script text itself looks like the it was meant to be the final draft. There are also margin notes providing directions such as “city background” for the splash. Or “make TV look patched up instead of new” for panel 4. One note makes it obvious that these layouts were meant for another to finish (“artist add crime graf behind news caster”).

Having seen this one layout, it makes you wonder whether Carl Burgos may have made some of the layouts for some of the Fly stories that were published. It also makes you curious about why he was not going to do the finishing pencils himself.

Pocket Comic #3 (November 1941)

I have saved Pocket Comics #3 as the last small sized cover that I would post on. If Speed #14 to #16 were done by Al Avison and if Pocket #1, #2 and #4 covers were done by Joe Simon, it would seem natural to say Joe also did Pocket #3. In fact the depiction of the Black Cat matches the one Joe does for Pocket #2 and #4. On none of the Speed covers is there any indication that Avison could execute such a convincing pose for the Black Cat. But as soon as we turn to the rest of the cover, problems set in. The soldier being prepared for shipping (via C.O.D) just does not seem to lay down in the box. The Nazis are white skeletal figures in red hooded clocks. I would describe the robbed figures with the same term I used for Speed #15 and #16, goofy. The track record so far for the pocket comics is that Joe did well executed covers, Al rather crude ones, Joe presents intimidating villains, Al goofy Nazis.

Pocket Comics #3

The action takes place in a long corridor done in forced perspective. There are more red clocked Nazis advancing from the end of the hallway. This is all similar to the tunnel in Speed #16 but not seen elsewhere. This suggests that both covers were done by the same artist.

My conclusion is that the cover for Pocket #3 was done by Al Avison, perhaps with an assist by Joe Simon on the Black Cat figure. After S&K left Timely, Al would not work for them again. But their paths would cross at Harvey comics after the war. I am sure I will post on that sometime but until then, and in difference to Nick (who wanted to see more Avison) here is a splash page from Pocket Comics #1.

Pocket Comics #1

At this point we have examined all the Harvey pocket comics. The best is yet to come, however they will be different not only in size but also in style. So let’s recap the attributions so far.

Pocket 1 (August 1941) Joe Simon
Pocket 2 (September 1941) Joe Simon
Pocket 3 (November 1941) Al Avison
Pocket 4 (January 1942) Joe Simon

Speed 14 (September 1941) Al Avison (signed)
Speed 15 (November 1941) Al Avison
Speed 16 (January 1942) Al Avison

Speed Comics #16 (January 1942)

Speed Comics #16

Everybody makes mistakes, even experts. So when I say that when the Jack Kirby Checklist included Speed #16 it made a whooper, that does not diminish the value of that list. But all that needs to be done to dispel that misattribution is to compare the cover to one by Jack that came out in the same month (January 1942). There can be no question, Speed #16 was not done by Kirby.

Captain America #10

But I have a confession to make. I included Speed #16 in the books I once made of the complete Simon and Kirby covers. I did so because I thought it was possible that Joe Simon might have been the artist. Now I am not so sure. Comparing it with the covers for Speed #14 and Speed #15, I wonder if perhaps like them it was done by Al Avison. Particularly the goofy Speed #15 with its little red Nazis. Speed #16 has little green froglike Nazis and is also goofy, but in a different way. I do not believe that the humorous quality to Speed #15 was intentional. But in Speed #16 is clearly was. It is hard to believe that anyone would take seriously an attach by Hitler on the White House. But even if they did, it wouldn’t be this ridiculous Adolf carrying four rifles and three swords. This sort of visual humor would later be a Simon trademark in his comic magazine Sick. But if Avison was the artist, as far as I know he would never return to this particular type of humor.

One feature of this cover that should be noted is the long corridor in forced perspective. It is from the end of that tunnel that Hitler and his green army have come. We have not yet seen such a long hallway, but we will when I next get to Pocket Comics #3. And there are a variations of this theme in a later Harvey publications (Champ #19). But we have seen an alternative version, and perhaps source, on Speed #14. On that cover beyond an entranceway we see another room and a staircase. In the room a uniformed figure, presumably defeated by Shock Gibson, is rising from the ground. More similarly clothed figures are coming down the stairs. Not quite the same thing as here on Speed #16, but it might have been the jumping point.

Assuming that my attribution is right, Speed #16 would be the last cover by Al Avison for Harvey’s wartime comics. Frankly I find Al’s efforts on Speed #14 to #16 on the crude side. Their interest lies mainly as early examples of Avison’s work. These covers really do not stand out from what a host of other artists were doing at the time. Al’s first cover for Captain America would come out in the next month. What a difference! It is hard to believe how great the improvement was. In fact if Speed #14 had not been signed I doubt I would have believed it. I can only surmised that it was only after S&K were out of the picture, that Al felt comfortable enough to push himself. It is small wonder that Avison became the primary artist for Captain America until he went into the service.