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September 28, 2009

Ink Stains 2: Squa Tront 2

Squa Tront 2 (September 1968)
Publisher: Jerry Weist

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Squa Tront was one of the first fanzines dedicated to the creators and memory of EC Comics (a few others being Witzend and Spa Fon). Publisher Jerry Weist proudly displayed sketches from EC artists, ran articles on the artists and writers, and published those talents he thought were destined for great things, such as the feature on Berni Wrightson in issue 2.

Editor Weist recalls the genesis of Squa Tront:

“In 1966 my father drove me to the Tricon, Cleveland Ohio 1966 World Science Fiction Convention.  It was the 24th World Con, L Sprague de Camp was guest of honor and the toastmaster was Isaac Asimov. This was the World Con where Frank Frazetta won the Hugo for best artist, Caz won the Hugo for best fanzine with ERB DOM, and a young Jeff Jones displayed his paintings in the art show.  Phil Seuling was in the hucksters (dealers) room with Bill Thailing and others. I walked into the hucksters room on the first day and found two boxes of EC comics under the table of famed SF dealer Howard DeVore.” Weist says that Devore warned him, “kid, the SF titles are 75 cents and the horror titles are 50 cents each,” perhaps underestimating the young Weist’s business sense and love of EC comics. Weist continues “I bought a huge handful and made money on them at the con after taking what I needed for my collection!”

“During the end of the convention while at a party, I told Bob Barrett  (the Edgar Rice Burroughs collector and the one fan who put the whole Frazetta history together for fandom from the start), who was sitting with Caz that I wanted terribly to do a fanzine.  I suggested a Burroughs fanzine. They both gently suggested to me that there were enough Burroughs fanzines in fandom then, and was there anything else I could do that I had a real passion for? EC Comics!  That evening Squa Tront was born in my brain. I already knew the Chicago crowd of Rich Hauser, Helmut Mueller, and Wally Richart who were then publishing SPA FON, and I used my friendship with them also as a bouncing board. One thing lead to another and my early EC friend Roger Hill and I decided to commit for a first issue. Bob Barrett (much older and more mature than either of us stepped in with The Frazetta Collector column which would be in the first four issues) also joined in and we were off and running.”

“I wanted an expensive all photo offset effort, with square spine and color cover. Al Williamson heard of our efforts through Reed Crandall who actually lived in Wichita, Kansas, and those two EC giants also stepped in with contributions – no money changed hands in those days!  It was the summer of 1967 – and when Bill Gaines held the first issue of Squa Tront #1 in his hands in New York City he was overwhelmed that high school kids could produce anything so professional!”

Keep that year in mind, folks. EC was still a very recent memory, the end of the horror line still only ten years in the past, while the beautiful full sized reprint books from Russ Cochran were still almost 20 years away. And obviously, the internet was even further into the future. So, fanzines like Squa Tront were godsends to fans of those great comics of the fifties, as corroborated by Weist. “Yes, Spa Fon had strong editorial content, but they didn’t end up getting the unpublished EC stories like we did, and would never have considered four color covers at one time as we did with issue #4.  If you check the dates, is was Jerry Weist and Squa Tront that started the entire trend of having fanzine covers with 100% pure art [that is, no words at all-Ken].  We did this with issue #3 and it was so dramatic that many other very good fanzines began to do the same kind of cover presentation.”

“Once John Benson took over Squa Tront from issue #5 onward the journalism and literary content went up by huge leaps and bounds – it was John Benson who made Squa Tront into a really professional periodical.  His Bernard Krigstein special issue stands to this day a masterpiece of fanzine production and writing.  Now the title is part of comic history.  By the way the first printings don’t sell for huge amounts on e-bay…why?  The answer is that Squa Tront was one of the most saved of all fanzines, and they are all still out there.  I was flattered when I discovered that long time science fiction fan and editor of Algol, and later Science Fiction News, Andy Porter (who was a serious sf fan), had saved his entire Squa Tront run!”

Where else would you see sketches by Al Williamson, unpublished art by Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall, or a Harvey Kurtzman cover rough for Two-Fisted Tales? And all produced by someone who was still in high school!  He sold parts of his own EC collection to pay for the printing bill.  Phil Seuling was an early buyer in bulk, and so was the young Bud Plant, who helped him sell through 70% of the early issues.  Weist is grateful to Phil Seuling, who “really sold a lot at the major early 1960s comic shows, and he paid on time! Not until issue #3 did it become really expensive to print the fanzine; by that point I was selling entire EC runs to help pay the bills!”

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Many pages of Al Williamson’s sketches are shown in this issue, covering several genres. Reed Crandall did a back cover himself that covered all the genres of EC comics as well, even aping some Wally Wood, Graham Ingels and (possibly) Russ Heath. Frazetta is covered in the Frazetta Collector section, reprinting a Tarzan like strip called Tiga that never got off the ground.

The topics of the articles include EC war comics (in which we see both the finished cover to Two-Fisted Tales number 23 and the rough that Kurtzman produced) and a report on the 25th annual World Science Fiction Convention, complete with some great candid photos (see below).

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Running a fanzine like Squa Tront proved valuable later in life for Weist, who states that “some of the importance was immeasurable. We met the entire Mad staff and I made life long friendships with Kurtzman, Feldstein, Elder, and Gaines. When I became Comics Consultant at Sotheby’s in 1991 some of this spilled over to business deals that changed history.  I prompted Al Feldstein to start doing his re-creations of EC covers, the first one appearing in the first Sotheby’s auction.”

Possibly the most interesting segment to current comic and horror fans is the Berni Wrightson profile, in which we see the still developing skills of the 19-year-old artist. While working as a staff artist at the Baltimore Sun, Berni told me he freelanced for “anything and everything.” You can see the stylistic elements that would take him to DC comics a few years later starting to develop in this early work. Weist recalls that “It was through Squa Tront that I published early Wrightson and at the 1967 New York World Convention introduced him to Al Williamson who helped him get some of his first professional assignments!!”

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With good production values throughout, the rest of the issue is rounded out by full page black and white reproductions of some of EC’s science fiction comic covers and two full page illustrations by George Metzger, who would go on to be a driving force in underground comics just a few years later.

Editor and publisher Jerry Weist remains one of the preeminent authorities on EC and has led a many faceted career, including the aforementioned consultant position for Sotheby’s. He continues to lend his vast array of knowledge of comics in general, and EC in particular, to venues such as the Wall St. Journal and USA Today. He recalls some of his proudest publishing projects as Ray Bradbury: An Illustrated Life / Journey to Far Metaphor, and From The Pen of Paul: The Fantastic Images of Frank R. Paul, which I wrote with Steve Korshak, published by Shasta Press. He is also working with Jack Butterworth to complete the 3rd Edition of The Comic Art Price Guide for 2010, and will begin work after that on a book entitled The History of Fanzines: or What the Geeks did Before the Internet.

Jerry Weist can still gush with enthusiasm, saying “while nearing 60 years of age, I have the same passion for EC comics and their history as I did in 1966 when we first conceived Squa Tront!”

Download the PDF here, folks …this is only a small taste of your walk down an EC inspired memory lane!

Links:

Weist’s ebay page (with short bio)

Fantagraphics has published three new issues of Squa Tront that you can see and order here.

Berni Wrightson’s site (keep your volume control down!) is blasting away here.

With the official Frazetta website down, this is a pretty good one, including a comic section.

In two weeks, tune in for Fantastic Fanzine 10, from Gary Groth!

Ken Meyer Jr.

ken@comicattack.net

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15 Comments



  1. It’s really cool to read about how some of the comic greats began their careers, and how many of them were fanboys themselves!



  2. Yeah, well, as everyone will see as this column continues…many of the artists and writers that are pros now got their start in these fanzines!


  3. billy

    I love a good origin story. Writers and artists included.



  4. Thanks, Billy…many more on the way!



  5. I am a huge EC fan and never heard of this fanzine. Thanks for the PDF link.

    BTW, “The History of Fanzines: or What the Geeks did Before the Internet” is the best title ever.



  6. Yeah, Christina, I agree, great title. And thanks for coming by! If you like this one, stay tuned, because I have another 4 issues or so of Squa Tront, plus a few issues of Spa Fon and Witzend, all great zines, and all centered on EC (among other things).

    Everyone, I hope you download the pdfs, so you can see the whole zine!


  7. Bettie Blackchurch

    Very well written, and very informative. You have given us all quite a tasty bit of history. Looking forward to the next article. 😀



  8. Why thank you, BB…I appreciate it. I am doing the best job I can at the writing part, though it is not my specialty. The next one is on a great comic zine called Fantastic Fanzine…tons of great superhero art.



  9. What a fascinating read, I’m hooked. Great work Ken!



  10. Thanks, Matt…I hope you tune in every other monday…and download those pdfs!


  11. Jim Gray

    This issue was a life-changer for me; up to that time, I was seriously into super-heroes, but when I discovered Frazetta’s comic work and the EC stuf, that was it for super-heroes; from then on I was into artists!
    At my first Con in 1970 (Multicon in Oklahoma City) I met Jerry Weist, Bud Plant, and a few other big name fans, but unfortunately Rich Hauser of Spa Fon didn’t make it. That was just about the best weekend I ever had! No comicon has ever lived up to that one.



  12. […] of comic strip frames by Frank Frazetta (a different version of which you would have seen in a previous installment of Ink Stains featuring Squa Tront), with the text added after the fact. It is not made clear who actually wrote […]



  13. […] number 92 in1971. What is really striking is the incredible leap in quality between his work in Squa  Tront, to the four illustrations in the this portfolio, spanning a mere two or three years. A sampling to […]


  14. Robert R. Barrett

    Hi! I know that it is five years after the fact, but I just discovered COMIC ATTACK and wanted to read what you had to say regarding SQUA TRONT. Especially since I was very much a part of the first four issues. Jerry Weist misreremembered part of the history. I did not attend Tricon in Cleveland, Ohio in 1966 so my part of that conversation never took place. Jerry did ask me to write about Frazetta because Frazetta had become very popular and Jerry felt that his name would help sell issues. And I was more than willing to write about Frazetta. Jerry, Roger Hill, and myself attended the World Con in 1967 where I met and visited Frazetta for the first time and Jerry and Roger visited the EC offices and Bill Gaines.


  15. Roger Hill

    Hi Ken:

    Roger Hill here. I really like your website and appreciate your coverage on a lot of the early comic fanzines from the 1960s and 1970s, etc. I just wanted to mention that I will be starting a series of articles (with special visuals) about the early years of the fanzine SQUA TRONT by Jerry Weist, Bob Barrett and myself in the next issue of my EC FAN-ADDICT FANZINE (now in its 3rd issue). Like yourself, I’m a huge fan of the history behind the early developmental years of Comics Fandom and enjoy reading what others have to say about them. In lieu of that I’ve been working on the story behind SQUA TRONT for a few months now and the first chapter is almost ready to go. None of us are getting any younger and that’s why I think it’s important to document this history now, while we’re still around to do it. Thanks for all your interest and work in this endeavor.



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