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December 21, 2009
 

Ink Stains 8: Witzend 3 and 7

The great Wally Wood did not only produce some of the greatest comics of all time, but one of the greatest fanzines of all time…Witzend!

Witzend 3 (1967) and 7 (1970)

Publisher: Wally Wood

Editor: Bill Pearson

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Most comic readers will know the name Wally Wood. He worked as an artist and sometimes writer for more than four decades. His name graced the pages of EC, Skywald, Warren, Marvel, DC, Tower, Mad, and others. Though he could excel in virtually any genre, he was probably best known for his science fiction work for EC, his work on the early Marvel Daredevil, and on the T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents for Tower.  He was often portrayed as a troubled soul and bitter at the end of his career and life. However at the time of producing his fanzine, Witzend, he appeared happy and privileged to be a member of the group of artists and writers that populated the pages of this gorgeously produced zine. Witzend was a venue to publish work by himself and his contemporaries that could not be printed elsewhere.

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This group contains some of the best and most highly praised members of the comic business. Frank Frazetta. Berni Wrightson. Reed Crandall. Roy Krenkel.Vaughn Bode. Gray Morrow. Steve Ditko. Al Williamson. Harvey Kurtzman. Art Speigelman. Leo and Diane Dillon. And that is just in the pages of issues 3 and 7 in this column! If you are wondering why I am featuring two issues of Witzend, I have three in my possession and I could not bear to choose just one!

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I will start in order, with number 3 from 1967. Wally Wood was still the editor at this point, and his lighthearted touch runs through his contributions, which include a three page “Pipsqueak Papers” story, a simple but evocative cover utilizing the now obsolete specialty paper, Duo-shade, and a frequently whimsical editorial/contents page. The story showcases Wood’s acknowledged ability to “spot blacks” as well as his command of the human figure, in particular the female form. A related online article on Wood’s representations of sexual scenarios can be found here.  This article also shows a fair amount of art, including other issues of  Witzend. Steve Ditko, a frequent contributor, presents another installment of his moralistic hero, Mr. A.This is followed by the poetry of artist Ralph Reese,  coupled with a graphic woodcut type illustration by Leo and Diane Dillon, who have been producing award winning illustrations for the last 40 years. Four pages of Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired art by Reed Crandall follows, which in turn is followed by Art Spiegelman’s hallucinogenic “A Very Strange Comic Strip.” This is not the Spiegelman you may know from Maus, but a much lighter and more playful creator. witz_art_spieglmanIt reads like a psychedelic book done in a commune for hippie children. Harvey Kurtzman continues the goofy theme with a few of his “Hey Look!” strips. After that is a strip called “The Invaders,” which appears to be a story married to visuals that have little to do with each other, and with art by Richard Bassford that looks like a combination of Wally Wood and fellow contributor Roger Brand. Brand himself follows with five pages of visuals that are reminiscent of Bernie Krigstein’s “Master Race,” while the story attempts to examine the reasoning of a murderer. However, the story suffers from an ambiguous finale. Rounding out this issue is a series 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 the words, but it has the  classic EC  “twist ending.”

Next we look at number 7, published  four years later. Literally starting out with a bang on the cover by Vaughn Bode, the Wood-less issue (edited and published by Pearson) is decidedly different in tone from issue 3. Continuing from the cover, Vaughn Bode (a superstar among the Underground comics scene for you youngsters out there) illustrates “Cobalt 60” with his usual singular style. In an answer to a letter later in the issue, Pearson reveals that founder Wood “sold Witzend to the vast Wonderful Publishing Empire for the sum of $1.00, on the condition that we would fulfill his promise to produce at least four more issues.” Though there is no work by founder Wood in this issue, the list of witz_art_ditkocontributors more than makes up for it. Following the graphic cartoon violence of Bode comes part two of Ditko’s “The Avenging World.” Ditko’s black and white worldview is literally portrayed on the first page of this seven page examination of the world today (the world of 1970 anyway). It is followed by a one page “Mr. A” story, which continues what some might see as high minded lecturing, but is refreshing if only because it expresses an honest and vibrant opinion. Adhering to the usual high contrast from one contribution to the next, Ike and his Spoonby Roger Brand is playful, goofy, and far away both in tone and visual style from his contribution to issue 3. A young Berni Wrightson writes and illustrates two single-page installments of his “Limpstrel” series. A Ditko parody by Bill Pearson and Tim Brent follows called “Mr. E.” An interesting quote from editor Pearson regarding this story notes that,  “Ditko had been one of the most supportive contributors to Witzend. Even after I became publisher, he came to my apartment a couple of times and spent hours with me stuffing envelopes and helping with the other drudge duties involved in maintaining the subscription files. This was after his Marvel years with Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. But I hated publishing that ‘Avenging World’ diatribe of his, and would have preferred to reject it and hope he couldn’t find another publisher either. I felt about him just as I did about Wood. Throughout our long association I tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to keep him from publishing personal revelations that betrayed flaws in his character or deficits in his intellect. BOTH of these men were master cartoonists, genius talents, but they DID need editors. I really debated with myself about running ‘Mr. E’, but just had to offset Ditko’s strong positions.”

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Gray Morrow’s “The Journey” (written by his wife, Betty) ends the issue. Morrow’s beautifully realistic black and white painted work illustrates a story of a witch, her death, and her unfortunate reincarnation. Other contributions include a single page strip by Pearson, Ed Paschke’s ‘famous comic strip characters on dope’ pin up, and a beautiful back cover by the enigmatic and erudite Kenneth Smith, as well as a small but beautifully rendered spot illo by Ralph Reese (seen at the top of the column).

As you can see, if you want a feast for the eyes, you will witz_art_berniwant to download both pdfs of these lovingly assembled fanzines.

More Links:

A fairly informative blog on Wood can be seen here.

A very good page featuring Wood’s famous and invaluable “22 Panels that Always Work” can be seen in several resolutions here.

A concise Wood bio can be seen here.

Another bio, a little longer, can be seen here.

Another very interesting (and well put together) site from John Hitchcock is called “The Wally Wood Letters,” and shows a personal side  you will rarely see of your average comic creator.

An exhaustive index of Witzend and other zines can be seen here.

Please download the pdfs so you can see all of Wally’s Wonderful Witzend!

Ken Meyer Jr.
ken@comicattack.net

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