Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Russ Jones, Woody and the Genesis of Creepy

There is a classic quote that neatly sums up the obsessive aspect of the creative process, "You don't choose the life, the life chooses you". In the annals of comicdom there are many sobering examples of this dictum, artists such as Leo Baxendale, Frank Hampson, Ron Embleton, Jack Kirby, Herge to name but a few, who worked insane hours with ruinous consequences for their health, both physical and mental.

Some of the artist's concerned ended up burnt out and disaffected, in the case of Baxendale, Hampson and Kirby feeling that their creations had literally been stolen of them by predatory and ruthless publishers. But out of all these examples there is one man who was an exemplar of how destructive this process can be and that dear reader was Wallace Allan Wood, who worked like a man possessed. His work shone like a beacon and at it's best was simply superb, but by the mid period of his career he was so disillusioned by the comics industry that he was using every conceivable work around, including a constantly shifting team of assistant apprentices to help fulfill deadlines for clients he despised.

James Warren certainly fell into this category, Warren and the genesis of the idea that was to become "Creepy", "Eerie" and "Vampirella", had fallen into disfavor with Wood before those magazines were even born. It was more the formulation of the idea that had acted as a trigger for Woody's ire and at this point of the tale it is vitally important to introduce the real catalyst for what became Warren's black and white horror mags - Russ Jones.

Jones was a young ex Marine seeking a career in syndicated newspaper strips, who had by good fortune got an intro to the people working at the McNaught Syndicate, there it was that he honed and refined a lot of the skills required to make a successful career in comics. Jones was full of drive and ambition and whilst ruling up panel borders and inking backgrounds was also devising a historical strip which he felt would be sufficiently appealing to ensure as wide an audience as possible.



But to ensure that the strip would really connect he needed an artist with the right kind of provenance, the artist he had firmly in his sights was EC veteran Jack Davis, but by this stage in Davis' career (1962-1963) the artist was way too busy with a slew of magazine and advertising commissions to consider taking a punt on a historical newspaper strip which at best would tie him up on a weekly basis - he just didn't need the grief and hassle so politely declined Jones's offer. But Davis did helpfully suggest that his friend and colleague Wallace Wood might well be up for the gig.

Jones then approached Wood and sure enough Woody who had long dreamed of having his own syndicated newspaper strip was really up for the project. The rest was simple Jones had the McNaught connection and with Charlie McAdam at McNaught's assent they found themselves a deal. All they had to do was go away and within a couple of months provide McAdam with six Sunday pages. Simple!

Well actually no. Not so simple; Woody was still fielding a ton of work much of it emanating from Vince Colletta's studio and he was getting headaches - as in severe headaches. Finding it hard to get started and even harder to finish up work. By the time Woody had completed the six Sunday samples, months rather than weeks had elapsed and when Jones delivered the pages the McNaught syndicate who were already having nightmares with Don Sherwood lousing up on delivery dates for Dan Flagg were no longer at all enthused by the project. And that despite the knockout job Wood had provided and the exquisite coloring and photoengraving job Jones had arranged to add that final luster to the pitch.

How was Jones going to break the news to Woody?

(part 2 tomorrow)

Creepy  © New Comic Company LLC 2010

Check out the ongoing series of reprints from Dark Horse Comics here for US readers.

And here for UK readers.

5 comments:

  1. I hear Jim Warren growls every time Russ Jones's name is mentioned. So I'm hoping you're going to tell us why that might be.

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  2. Yes, I was at San Diego last year for the James Warren panel where he was there and answering questions. I bought up Russ Jones, asking what he had done. He didn't get into specifics but it was clear Warren didn't like hearing his name and had nothing good to say about him, I felt bad asking the question because it clearly brought him down. Time doesn't heal all wounds it appears.

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  3. Great to hear from you J, and yes the parting when it came was painful. It's really good to hear that the great James Warren is still in contact with comics fandom - a truly legendary publisher!

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  4. and a legendary non-payer for scripts and art and a vengeful egotist with sinister connections

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