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60s Comics: A Brief History (Part 1)

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series MaxComics

60s Comics: A Brief History by Max Galli – A sort of Introduction.

The Sixties brought the wind of revolution into modern life. We now take this simple fact for granted. The decade gave birth to a brand new philosophy, created a whole culture and – for the first time ever removed the young from their parents’ grey world. All of a sudden, if you were 16-18, there was an exciting new way of life ready for you. A way of life made of sharp, tailored clothes, Hammond-led dancefloor music, Italian scooters and many other interesting things, like pop-art, design objects and, well, comics.

I started to post a shorter version of this feature about four years ago on Yahoo 360, a Myspace-like blog page, originally aimed at a collectors-only audience. Then, after Yahoo discontinued these pages, I moved to Myspace, carrying on finessing this project. At the time, I couldn’t maintain the 60s Comics Collectors page I had because I was busy with my job at Ultrapop Publishing, so I had to stop it. The page is still there, somewhere in the Myspace melting pot, but it somehow needed to be updated. Moreover, Myspace went a bit ‘funny’, as I found that updating text, images or whatsoever resulted in a complicated struggle (something like a man-against-machine conflict) wherein, you can’t win in any way. The same ‘collectors-oriented’ version also appeared on the New Untouchables network.

To cut a long story short, this ‘brief history’ of 60s comics would like to suggest a new way to explore the art of a decade that has for too long been underrated by most readers (except, of course, all those very few involved with the Mod/60s scene worldwide).

I can’t claim this ‘history’ as complete, nor am I able to include all comic books published in the Sixties (virtually impossible), but it should be considered as a ‘summary’ of a much wider topic. Most of the impressions will be based on first-hand knowledge, as I own a quite huge collection of original books to talk about.

With the aim of being as clear as possible, and presenting close examinations of each and every comic book presented, with a pinch of criticism, this ‘brief history’ will describe in few words the work of a small group of revolutionary writers and illustrators whose creations have achieved the status of ‘cult books of the 60s’.

1962 was an interesting year, full of fruity flavours. There was something in the air, and somebody was ready to sniff around and discover it. Obviously I’m not talking about good wines (yet I’m tempted to). 1962 was the time when comics broke the mould and came out from children’s world, straight into the one of grown-ups.

 When The Amazing Spider-Man initially appeared, he was the first superhero to have typically human problems, including those of a moral and psychological nature. This was a new concept for traditional American comics market, already filled with Superman-like flying heroes and cheap horror and SF magazines later known as ‘pulps’. Spider-Man – as you guessed – wasn’t like any other US comic. It had these bright, saturated colours, a pop-art appeal and the main character was Peter Parker, a typical boy-next-door, slightly shy student type. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko – the geniuses who created him – didn’t know how successful he was going to prove. He represented a revolution in comics.

Also in 1962, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine launched ‘Little Annie Fanny’, a funny and sexy character whose name was partly inspired by Little Orphan Annie. Needless to say, the authors’ intentions were far different from the original orphan Annie, being this one the typical Marilyn-esque sexually attractive American ingénue.

That was in the US.

In the UK, Peter O’Donnell introduced another major innovation. Modesty Blaise was the first modern girl spy. Originally drawn by Jim Holdaway, whose artwork was already widely known because of the late 50s funny strip Romeo Brown, Modesty Blaise demonstrated how a woman can be smarter than her male secret service colleagues. Sexier than Matha Hari, sharper than James Bond, and with such an attitude to make people like Dick Tracy and Phil Corrigan (Agent X-9) look pedestrian, she sported a shock of Brown hair, brown eyes and led life of risk and difficulties. Raised from obscurity somewhere in the Middle-East, she was always ready with her stiletto-heeled shoes ready to kick enemies and even lovers. The phrase ‘dressed to kill’ suits her like no one else. Modesty Blaise eventually became a film in 1966, starring a beautiful Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp.

Meanwhile, in Italy, two sisters with a great passion for Hitchcock movies and classic thrillers, Angela and Luciana Giussani, created Diabolik, the ‘King of Terror’, a fascinating criminal with Robert Taylor’s eyes and a blonde, attractive girlfriend named Eva Kant. Always looking for a crime to commit, stealing huge diamonds or rare pearls, Diabolik drives his deep-black E-type Jaguar in and around Clerville, the imaginary city where the action is set. Diabolik was the first noir comic to be published in Italy, and it generated a plethora of imitations across the subsequent three years, all of which sported a prominent ‘k’ in their name – a proper ‘mark of krime’. Police inspector Ginko chases Diabolik and his girlfriend all the time, but – as you know – is not so easy to catch them.

In France, revolution in comics meant revolution in sexual attitudes. In 1962, Jean-Claude Forest invented Barbarella, a character with a strong resemblance to Brigitte Bardot, for Magazine V – it was an instant scandal. French censorship enabled the space heroine to be sexually uninhibited and often appear semi-naked. Two years later, in 1964, Barbarella appeared in her first hardcover, luxury edition comic book – adults only, of course. With this big size (a whopping 9.85 x 13 inch), a striking pop-art cover, monochromatic print (each episode was printed in a different colour) and bold lettering, the book earned Le Terrain Vague (the business name of Eric Losfeld, a truly illuminated publisher) an immediate and unexpected success. A US edition followed in 1966 and so on, until the very last ‘first edition’ in Europe – the Italian one, in 1975!

Soon, Barbarella became a cult character, almost a symbol to modern, emancipated girls, and became a best seller in spite of censors’ attentions. Eric Losfeld became the first European publisher to produce quality sexy comics (Jodelle, Pravda, Saga de Xam, to name but a few) with loads of innovative graphic styles, influenced by pop-art as well as the nascent psychedelia.

(continued in Part 2)

 

Max Galli

Max Galli was born in Rome in 1969, the son of a photographer and a housewife. Illustrator, graphic designer and writer, he embraced the culture and the aesthetics of the Sixties more than two decades ago. Max published three novels, an anthology of short stories and four comic books, and contributed to several magazines ( "Storie", "Vintage", "Blue" and "Misty Lane"). During the years he realized loads of cartoons, pin ups, record and cd covers and posters for Italian and European bands. He lived in London from 1998 to 2003, joining in the London Mod scene, from which he took inspiration for his work. His comic books “The Beatnix” and “The Adventures of Molly Jones” reached international success, especially in United Kingdom and USA.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Art Comics Picks Vintage Tags:, ,
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60s Comics: A Brief History (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series MaxComics

60s Comics: A Brief History by Max Galli – PART 2

 

As the mid-Sixties gave space to new experiments in graphic arts, so comics evolved into a new age. Italian architect Guido Crepax – already famous for illustrating jazz records covers in the late 50s, published his carachter Valentina on the new comic magazine Linus in 1965. Originally named ‘Neutron’, starring a man with extraordinary psycho-cinetic powers hidden in the features of American art critic Philip Rembrandt, Valentina was intended to be only Neutron’s girlfriend, but things turned out to be a bit different. The girl, a professional fashion photographer with Louise Brooks-like haircut, was potentially a sexy character, so Crepax set about making Valentina sexier and sexier, also introducing new elements in the very way to draw comix – a new film-like cut of frames, close to Michelangelo Antonioni’s sense of visuals, ‘fetish’ details, the confusion between reality and dream. Every single page of Valentina was a piece of art, as the ‘comic’ orthodoxy was transcended. At the end of 1967, Valentina completely replaced Neutron as the main character of the story.  A curiosity: Valentina is also remembered for being one of the very first graphic characters to get older as time passes.

If italians did their best to join in the cultural revolution, the French didn’t sleep at all. Belgian-born illustrator Guy Peellaert created Jodelle in 1966, a swingin’ chick with more than a resemblance to pop singer Sylvie Vartan. Set in a rather funny and surrealistic ancient Rome, Jodelle lives together with his boyfriend, a bizarre young guy studying to be a druid (?!?), who gets angry quite often and occasionally sports a pair of long and sharp vampire-like teeth. Published by Eric Losfeld, the king of  French sexy comics, Jodelle is widely recognised as the first pop-art comic.

In 1967 Peellaert invented another pop-art comic strip, Pravda ‘la survireuse’ (one who lives day-by-day). If Jodelle was all about fun and a bit of optimism, Pravda is a cynical, disillusioned girl with an anarchic attitude. She hates almost everything and everyone, and she’s never satisfied with anything. This time, the model for Peellaert’s artwork is Francoise Hardy, and the story of Pravda is not even a story, but a mix of various episodes.

In the UK, Jenny Butterworth & Pat Tourret created Tiffany Jones around 1965. Tiffany Jones comes to London from ‘up north’, and sets up a new life at her cousin’s flat – evolving from a plain provincial chick to a fashion model, having a go to all those cool jobs that epitomised Sixties youth. Here, our girl looks like a bit of a do-gooder, although  representing (in part) the typical cultural zeitgeist of  the era.

Lovely Tiffany is basically a good girl who only wants to do the best she can in life, but without being particularly ambitious or original. All the other characters are just there to frame to Tiffany’s adventures: neither completely square, nor completely hip, just  somewhat  in the middle.

That said, let’s talk about the artwork – The drawings are captivating and much passion for the ‘Swingin’ London’ is included in every single frame. I should say that the beauty of this comic strip resides in its drawings and (pop) graphics.

In the US, the nascent counterculture was generating new horizons in comic design. Robert Crumb created Fritz the Cat in 1964, named after his own cat Fred. Fritz had nothing to do with the usual Disney or Warner Bros animal characters. He had all the human attitudes you can imagine, as he liked to smoke (both cigarettes and pot), drink, and have sex with his fox-like girlfriend and many other female characters. Fritz continued throughout the Sixties and lasted till 1972, when director and cartoon animator Ralph Bakshi made a film out of it. Robert Crumb – it must be said, with very rare coherence – didn’t like his underground cat going mass-media, so answered back with a bitter end, killing Fritz in an almost forgotten episode, stabbed to death with an ice stiletto by his last, ostrich-like, girlfriend.

Crumb also created another funny character, Mr Natural, a sort of  tricky guru who liked to annoy a certain ordinary guy called Foont.

(continued in Part 3)

Max Galli

Max Galli was born in Rome in 1969, the son of a photographer and a housewife. Illustrator, graphic designer and writer, he embraced the culture and the aesthetics of the Sixties more than two decades ago. Max published three novels, an anthology of short stories and four comic books, and contributed to several magazines ( "Storie", "Vintage", "Blue" and "Misty Lane"). During the years he realized loads of cartoons, pin ups, record and cd covers and posters for Italian and European bands. He lived in London from 1998 to 2003, joining in the London Mod scene, from which he took inspiration for his work. His comic books “The Beatnix” and “The Adventures of Molly Jones” reached international success, especially in United Kingdom and USA.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Comics Design Picks Vintage Tags:, ,
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60s Comics: A Brief History (Part 3)

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series MaxComics

60s Comics: A Brief History – By Max Galli, (Part 3)

At the end of 1967, psychedelia was spreading everywhere. It began with the introduction of mind-expanding drugs, and went on to influence music and most visual arts, including – of course – comics.

A couple of young French artists called Jean Rollin and Nicolas Devil (being the first one a script writer and the second an underground painter) created the first psychedelic comic book ever: Saga De Xam. It’s the story of planet Xam, a peaceful world populated only by women, invaded by aliens who know the art of war. Beautiful Saga, the girl with the blue skin, begins her journey through various ages, looking for a way to save her planet. Magnificently drawn, with plenty of psychedelic graphics and details, Saga De Xam was way ahead of most of late 60s comic art. The book, published by Eric Losfeld (yeah, the same publisher of Barbarella, Jodelle and Pravda), was printed on heavy paper (300+ grams) and sold as a luxury edition. Nowadays, only few copies survive, as the book itself has become a most treasured possession for a very small group of discerning collectors.

In the UK, brilliant SF writer Jo Addams, one of the very few females writing in the medium, and Barcelona-born illustrator Luis M. Roca, created a space heroine who – because of a car accident –dies and becomes the guinea pig for a scientific experiment that reincarnates her with a new life and a new identity. The plot is quite interesting, as Scarth (our eponymous heroine) finds herself in an unfamiliar world, where she can’t remember anything from her previous life and has to rebuild everything from scratch. The year is 1969. The place is London, where pop culture is still producing new concepts. The comic strip, published in The Sun for a few years, proved to be an instant success, as Scarth was the first British comic character to appear completely naked in a newspaper, and one of very few spacewomen. Roca’s drawings are extremely suggestive and take inspiration from pop-psychedelic graphics as well as Art Nouveau decorative art, and the story is just irresistible, as it never runs out of new ideas. Space journeys, fashion, adventures in strange worlds … Scarth’s new life is full of interesting stories and catchy graphic solutions.

Back in the US, 1966 and 1967 were the years of a revolutionary American comic: Phoebe Zeit-Geist. The dynamic duo, Springer-O’Donoghue, created a bizarre adventure with – maybe – a bit too much emphasis upon necrophilia and sado-masochism, as 24 year-old Phoebe is submitted to various tortures and dies many times in many ways. Graphically speaking, Phoebe Zeit-Geist looks like a bizarre mixture of early 1940s comics and Liechtenstein’s pop-comic-art, as the authors didn’t introduce many significant new elements to it. The plot of this comic book intended to satirize violence in contemporary living. This, I believe, is only partially achieved.

In the US mainstream, Jim Steranko added precious and innovative op-art graphic details to the American comic industry, making his ‘Nick Fury, Agent of the S.H.I.E.L.D.’ one of the finest Marvel comics ever. His influence led to a sort of ‘new wave’ of US comic art.

In 1965, Madrid-born Esteban Maroto created one of the best SF comics ever. Cinco por Infinito, published in the US as Zero Patrol. This series was far ahead of its time, introducing interesting psychedelic graphic elements ahead of the breaking wave. The comic was slaughtered by Warren Publishing editor Neal Adams, who applied heavy ‘corrections’ to it, despite Maroto’s growing popularity in the US. The original version only survives in Spanish.

In the second half of the 1960s, eroticism replaced action as the main subject for comic strips. Georges Pichard, a former art teacher from France, started to draw adventure comics as early as 1963, but switched to erotica in 1967, creating Blanche Epiphanie, the saga of a chaste girl who is continuously abused by ruthless men. Blanche is a girl who expects life to be better than what it is. Very different is the other famous character from Pichard, Paulette. Created in 1969/70, Paulette is a spoiled rich girl who spends money to offset boredom, always looking for new kicks. Drawn in a rich black and white style, Paulette has beautiful Art Nouveau frames and psychedelic graphics.

There is much more to be said about 1960s comics. Take this as it is: a sort of ‘taster’ of the whole phenomenon. Hope you readers liked it and – maybe – would like to know a bit more.

Here’s a string of names and books for you. The rest is action.

Max Galli

Max Galli was born in Rome in 1969, the son of a photographer and a housewife. Illustrator, graphic designer and writer, he embraced the culture and the aesthetics of the Sixties more than two decades ago. Max published three novels, an anthology of short stories and four comic books, and contributed to several magazines ( "Storie", "Vintage", "Blue" and "Misty Lane"). During the years he realized loads of cartoons, pin ups, record and cd covers and posters for Italian and European bands. He lived in London from 1998 to 2003, joining in the London Mod scene, from which he took inspiration for his work. His comic books “The Beatnix” and “The Adventures of Molly Jones” reached international success, especially in United Kingdom and USA.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Comics Design Picks Vintage Tags:, ,
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