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.

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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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Originally posted 2011-05-25 13:17:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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