Tuesday 16 February 2010

Woody's Apprentices - Ralph Reese

One of the enjoyable aspects of Warren magazines throughout the 1970's was the sheer unpredictability of their content, during the previous Goodwin Golden Age you did after a while know what to expect, which would essentially be a stunning Frazetta cover with Gray Morrow standing in from time to time with some superb covers of his own and contents mainly scripted by Goodwin and art by Ditko, Morrow, Torres, Crandall, Orlando, Grandenetti, Mastroserio and Toth.

All good stuff!

But after a while as with EC comics some ten years earlier, you became accustomed to the formula, with the succession of young artists and writers all developing their skills in the pages of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella during the seventies, pretty much anything could happen. It was therefore a lot less predictable in terms of a reading experience, some of the stuff was truly amazing, some wasn't but it was never boring - that's for sure.

When Ralph Reese's wacky and off the wall strip "Warmonger of Mars" appeared in the Mars themed issue of Creepy 87, it was more like stumbling through a time portal and reading one of the Kurtzman era Mad comics with art which conjured up Woody's "Flesh Garden". Hardly surprising as Woody had scripted the story, Wood's appearances in Warren magazines were fleeting to say the least as James Warren was on Woody's ever expanding list of comic book editors and publishers that he regarded with contempt if not outright loathing.

Reese had in fact been closely associated with Wood from the mid sixties onwards, as by the age of sixteen he had pretty much left home and still nurturing dreams of pursuing a career in illustration had hove'd up at Larry Ivie's apartment. Ivie who was a comics devotee of extraordinary enthusiasm had managed to blag himself a variety of comicsville gigs including scripting Frazetta's solo story for the debut issue of Creepy. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of comics and a collection to back it up, including a considerable quantity of EC comics. Reese now occupying a piece of Ivie's apartment floor space, was particularly impressed with the ECs and with the work of Wallace Wood in particular.

Coincidentally one of Ivie's current jobs was acting as Wood's assistant inker on Captain America. Which in Ivie's case amounted to ruling panel borders for Wood. Nothing else was required, however such was Ivie's missionary zeal that he entirely neglected to fulfill this function, rather he devoted himself to obsessively reworking the costumes and shield of the Cap and Bucky so that they would be identical to their 1940's incarnations rather than the, to Ivie's mind, pallid redesigns that had occurred when they were revived by Lee and Kirby a few years earlier.

Needless to say Ivie's tenure with Woody was not going to last that long but not before he had the opportunity of introducing the homeless and penniless Reese to Woody, who having left home himself at a very early age was generous of spirit and also generous of means to anyone that had the talent and inclination to assist him in the never ending cycle of batting out artwork to meet impossible deadlines and could endure working in a gray haze of tobacco fumes, could digest junk food and sleep on a small floor space and engage with Wood on all matters pertaining to comics, psychology, music, women and the vicissitudes of life in general.

Reese took to this demanding life style with enthusiasm and energy and his tasks from when Woody hired him at the relatively generous wage of fifty dollars a week rapidly upped from drawing panel borders, to backgrounds, inking, scripting and acting as Woody's sounding board cum ideas man as they strove to meet the omnipresent delivery dates which so governed life in the studio which they shared with Wood's other assistants such as Dan Adkins and Wayne Howard.

To give you an idea of how well Ralph Reese absorbed the ideas and working practices of his mentor, here's a very early sample of the eighteen year old Reese's work from the first issue of 'Web of Horror', plus the story I mentioned earlier from Creepy 87.

As they say Enjoy!

And a tip of the hat to Mr Door Tree whose excellent Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog has got me out of a hole as my three copies of Web of Horror are still MIA.


  1. I see distinct touches of Gil Kane and Dan Adkins in the Web of Horror strip, as well as the obvious Wood influence.

    It makes you wonder how much these guys borrowed from and maybe even helped out on each other's work. There's a strip by Adkins in Eerie #28 that's chock-full of obvious lifts (not just style, actual poses) from Buscema, Kane, Ditko, Steranko and Tuska. Homage? Or an insanely tight deadline? We may never know...

  2. Yes Dave, you're right about Kane as an influence on Reese, the opening panel of "Skin Eaters" in particular is pure Kane and very reminiscent in terms of layout to the cover he did for his "Blackmark" graphic novel.

    Say that's an idea I'll bung it in as an afterword!

    There's a piece coming up on Adkins - who is a really fascinating character - more will be revealed shortly.

    P.S. Do you still have your copy of Errie 28 Dave?

  3. I'd never throw a Warren magazine away! Did you want me to scan anything from it, Peter? Just say the word.