Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Stan Goldberg Request

A reader asked me if I had this comic story, and I do: Reggie and Me # 28 (March 1968), an issue-length story that probably represents some of Stan Goldberg's earliest work for Archie comics. With Archie having crushed most of its humor competitors and Marvel phasing out its humor titles after the short-lived attempt to convert them to romance comics, Goldberg followed the Dan DeCarlo path and started to move from Millie the Model to Archie. Though he would continue to contribute to Millie and other Marvel titles for several hears, he asked Marvel to credit the art to Sol Brodsky so he wouldn't officially be moonlighting with them; in effect, he was part of the Archie stable from 1968 onward and has continued to be there to this day.

Around the same time that Goldberg came over from Marvel, Al Hartley also moved from Marvel to Archie, and for the same reason: the non-superhero work was drying up at Marvel and he wasn't a superhero artist. (Stan Lee tried Hartley on one Thor story, and it was clear that superpowered action was not his thing any more than teen hijinks were Steve Ditko's.) And also around this time, Archie editor Richard Goldwater decided to change the system for assigning covers: whereas each artist had usually gotten to do a certain number of covers, starting about 1967 Dan DeCarlo became the main cover artist for nearly all the company's major titles, no matter who was drawing the contents of the book. After they added some new titles, Goldberg was given a lot of covers too, presumably because his style was the closest to DeCarlo's. Other artists would only get to do a cover when DeCarlo or Goldberg simply weren't available. In fact I don't know that Samm Schwartz, who had done many covers in the '50s and '60s, ever got to do a cover for a single issue of Jughead after he came back in 1970; it was always DeCarlo or Goldberg.

So it's this period, 1967-8, that really created what is now thought of as the "Archie House Style," defined as the DeCarlo style. By giving the covers to DeCarlo and bringing over two of his Marvel colleagues, the Goldwater family was obviously trying to standardize the comics and give them an overall look. (The prolific veteran artists, Harry Lucey and Samm Schwartz, were "grandfathered," allowed to keep working in their accustomed styles; but new artists were apparently told to draw like DeCarlo.) Hartley certainly DeCarlo-ized his style a bit when he went to Archie; his Marvel style, on Patsy Walker, was more realistic and less cartoony.

Goldberg, of course, is a chameleon, someone who can always adapt to whatever style his company needs. When DeCarlo left Millie to work full-time at Archie, Stan Lee put Goldberg on the title, and he turned out work that was... not DeCarlo, not even a DeCarlo imitation exactly, but something close enough to make the reader feel like there hadn't been a change in style. When Millie went soap opera, Goldberg completely changed his style, only to change back when it went back to comedy. Like I said, a chameleon.

Back to Archie, though, the DeCarlo-ization of the style had its good and bad points. The good was that with Goldberg and Hartley on board, two men almost as fast as DeCarlo himself, Archie was able to meet the new demand created by a) the collapse of its competitors and b) the success of Filmation's cartoon series. (The Archie regulars were not generally as fast as the Marvel people. Harry Lucey was not slow, but according to Victor Gorelick, he wasn't a workaholic: he would do as many pages as he needed to get the amount of money he needed. Bob Bolling was, by his own admission, a slow and methodical worker.)

The problem from a comics fan's standpoint is that standardization is just that, standardization, and a comic isn't as much fun to look at when everybody's trying to draw like the one head guy. (This is also one of my problems with Harvey Comics, where everything -- with the exception of some of Ernie Colón's wilder stuff -- either is Warren Kremer or looks like Warren Kremer.) This is a much bigger problem for me in humor comics, where much of the fun and variety is in the drawing styles, than in superhero comics.

Another thing about the Marvel infusion was that it seemed to point up the Goldwater family's weakness at developing talent. I may be too harsh, since many comics companies had trouble adding to their talent base. It's like animation, for that matter: Warner Brothers cartoons depended almost completely on the talent base that Leon Schlesinger assembled in the '30s. And at Archie Comics, the talent base was primarily Harry Shorten's; as editor of MLJ/Archie, he brought in most of the important artists and writers. It wasn't a talent pool put together all at once; first there was Bob Montana, Harry Lucey, Samm Schwartz, Joe Edwards and Bill Vigoda -- the young men who joined in the '40s and created or developed the humor titles. Shorten hired Frank Doyle as a writer in 1951 (on the recommendation of another writer, Ray Gill) and got Dan DeCarlo on a part-time basis the same year. Finally he signed up Bob Bolling, Bob White and Dexter Taylor just before quitting, reportedly because John Goldwater refused to make him a partner.

When Richard Goldwater took over as editor, he clearly had some good ideas; in fact, the quality of the monthly titles probably improved overall under Goldwater's editorship. (Shorten treated them more as grab-bag titles, while Goldwater moved more toward giving each title its own regular artist and its own distinct look and feel: Betty and Veronica became DeCarlo's title, Archie became mostly Lucey's, and so on.) He also expanded the brand by introducing adventure titles (Life With Archie) and oddball humor (Mad House). But in terms of bringing in new talent, he doesn't seem to have had Shorten's track record, except on Mad House where he hired George Gladir to write and the young Orlando Busino to do a lot of the art. This is partly because superhero comics were taking off again and young artists were more interested in doing those. (Neal Adams was an Archie discovery, but he'd come there to work with Simon and Kirby on The Fly and only did the regular Archie pages after Simon wouldn't hire him. As soon as superhero work became available elsewhere, he took it.) But a lot of the new artists and writers who did emerge at Archie in the '60s and '70s were either mediocre (Dick Malmgren, Gus LeMoine) or DeCarlo clones (DeCarlo's son Dan Jr.). And so the Archie company was dependent on two talent pools -- Shorten's and Stan Lee's -- but didn't have new people coming in to freshen things up.

Now, the Goldberg story itself. Goldberg started out working mostly on low-selling titles, of which Reggie and Me was undoubtedly one of the lowest. (Poor Reggie; he's never really had a successful title of his own. Even Veronica now has her own reasonably popular title, and he doesn't.) They tried several things to make the title work, never really settling on a style for it; with this issue, the idea apparently was to do a book-length story, though it's really more four separate stories that happen to be linked.

The uncredited script is clearly the company workhorse Frank Doyle, though it's neither one of the best nor worst of his 10,000 Archie scripts. It's pretty standard stuff, maybe a little more campy than usual, and a few more puns than usual from a writer who wasn't usually very inclined toward puns. (A lot of Doyle's stories around this time were trying to be more over-the-top wacky, to respond to the success of campier, wackier entertainment, particularly on television.) I do like the line about "the Jolly Green Clyde," whatever that means, but otherwise the main point of interest is the Goldberg art.

That art as you'd expect based on his Millie work -- it's like DeCarlo except a bit looser and less slick. Plus the women are a little less voluptuous than in DeCarlo's art, and the men tend to hunch over a lot, like they have bad backs. Goldberg also sometimes draws the characters in circle instead of square panels, which he later stopped doing but which I like, since it's sort of a '50s throwback.

Here, for comparison, is the issue's cover, by DeCarlo:

And here's the story, by Goldberg:


Anonymous said...

Dick Malmgren - nice to finally put a name to the work. Growing up on the digests, his stuff always stuck out for me. Mostly for the noticeable lack of background detail and constantly shifting proportions of the characters' bodies/facial features. Was he really not very good, or did he just crank them out a little too quickly?

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Just to make sure we're talking about the same people, here are examples:

- Dick Malmgren

- Gus LeMoine (from a script by Malmgren)

- and Chic Stone, who was a great inker (for Marvel and Archie and so on) but did a disappointing job when he took over the Archie pencilling from Lucey.

In Malmgren's case, he spent many years writing for Archie without drawing -- he probably wrote the first few issues of Josie and the Pussycats, which would make Valerie his unofficial co-creation (though she didn't actually get a personality until Doyle came back to the title). Finally he started drawing his own stories in the mid-'70s, but I have a feeling they wouldn't have used him if they had still had access to better artists, like Hartley (who had moved over to Christian comics by then).

Devlin Thompson said...

While he wasn't doing much finished art on full stories, Malmgren was drawing tons of gag pages for ARCHIE'S JOKE BOOK and MAD HOUSE GLADS by 1970ish, was't he? Or is that actually LeMoine? Those are admittedly the most worthy candidates for ignoring, of course. On my personal "want list", JOKE BOOK gets cut off about 10 years earlier than any of the other titles. In the case of MAD HOUSE, for whatever reason, I stick with it to the wretched end.

Kenny said...

No wonder Reggie and Me was never a hit -- I remember this story very distinctly, because as a kid it made me furious. Reggie's bullying here was so relentlessly cruel and sadistic --in 4 parts, yet! -- that the meager comeuppance never felt sufficient to me. Any one of the pranks, or outright acts of violence, that he perpetrated on Archie (or, mistakenly, Betty) outweighed the minor humiliation of being laughed at by a couple of nameless cops. I wanted him to be beaten to a pulp, or subjected to any of the tortures imagined by a frustrated Archie. Even now it sort of outrages me.

Aaron Long said...

Wow, you could've fooled me-- I'm hardly a connoisseur of later Archie artists, but these all look pretty much exactly like Dan DeCarlo to me. They must've gotten REALLY strict about it around this time.

I could swear I have a Jughead from around 1972 with cover art by Harry Lucey, not DeCarlo. I can't seem to find it at the moment though.

Anonymous said...

This is the Malmgren clipping from Google Images that I based my connection on:

To me, Lucy and DeCarlo are the gold standard of Archie artists, and almost anybody else could look sloppy in comparison.

By the way, you mention the more idiosyncratic Archie artists whose unique styles were 'grandfathered in' during the time of standardization. I've peaked at some digests in recent years, and noticed a couple of artists (of the new stories at the front and/or back) have been allowed to play with looser variations again. There was one in particular where the characters all looked like blockheads with triangular mouths.

Peter Lynn said...

Wow! Samson Smythe is spewing some pretty shocking racism in that Malmgren-scripted, LeMoine-drawn sample.

Did Malmgren usually give all his females that inverted-V nose rather than the usual little curved wedge seen on most Archie comics females, or is that just a specific hallmark of the Josie title, irrespective of the particular artist?