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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

We Should Never Forget: The Amazing Art & Sad Deaths Of OGDEN WHITNEY & JOHN FORTE

A LOOK AT TWO GREAT GOLDEN & SILVER AGES ARTISTS

I need to start this posting off with a little bit of back-story. I have written and posted numerous times before about how the old Alan Class Comics  were a mainstay in my childhood reading.  Most of the artists I loved the work of but, for some reason, I got "tickled" by that of John Forte and Ogden Whitney.

I began trying to find out more about these two artists and, eventually, in 2004, published this very article on the old Freeservers CBO which ran alongside the main one. 


I then re-posted to the main Word Press CBO.  Here I got a tirade of a comment from someone (I cannot even remember his name now) accusing me of stealing the entire thing from a magazine published in the US -I think a fanzine but I'd not heard of it.  I suggested that he  "wind your neck in" and explained that I had spoken and written to many people between 1979-2004 trying to gather more info on Ogden Whitney.  I heard no more. 

Someone trying to start a little "internet flame war" to increase his blog stats?  No idea.  Don't care. Or he might well have been someone who considered the artist his property to research and I've come across that before.

So, if that person reads this again -feck off.  Don't even bother trying to comment or whine on.  All my posts are backed by research notes and correspondence.

Now, on to what really matters -John Forte and Ogden Whitney!
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As a comic historian, specialising mainly in British comics, I have a meagre collection of  Class Comics.  These were black and white reprint comics of between 62-100 pages and published by Alan Class between 1962 to the early 1980s.  Class had gotten agreements to reprint strips from the big boys at Timely/Marvel, ACG, Charlton and others.

At a time when getting US comics was a little hit-and-miss,to me,as a kid of the 1960s,these Class Comics were a treasure trove! I first saw FING FANG FOOM! [wonderfully returned to us recently in EXILES] and many Kirby and Ditko classics “anyone recall the strip “I RELEASED SHAGG UPON THE WORLD!”?

There were plenty of MLJ/Archie reprints such as the adventures of The Fly, Jaguar and so on. But there were various science fiction and spooky tales added to these issues.

Two artists work struck me as a youngster,though it wasn’t until the 1980s that I tried to find out more about them -an interest re-kindled whilst cataloguing the issues I had.  Ogden Whitney and John Forte seemed to have no written history and I asked any pro artist or writer I met at UK conventions if they knew anything about them....many returning blank expressions.
 
No photographs can be found of Whitney, but there is his self-penned illo for and ACG book. Which I reproduce here!

I learnt that Ogden had become a comic book artist during the late 1930s and drew for A-1 Comics and Big Shot Comics. It became quite obvious that fans loved the way Whitney drew women!  So,working on Romantic Adventures and Wedding Bells was quite natural and I have to admit some of the work leaves me in awe!

But,Whitney was not just a “good girl” artist;he was reknowned for his drawings of automobiles as well as work on war strips and for horror comics such as Adventures Into The Unknown.

Tower Comics also gave Whitney the opportunity to work on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents NoMan as with the story “The Good Subterranean” [NOMAN #1, November,1966]. A very distinctive style!

For those interested in Golden Age heroes,Whitney is probably better known for the character Skyman “the character even made a cameo in HERBIE #8,1965. For DC in the 1940s he had drawn Sandman and a strip called “Cotton Carver” but World War II meant “call up”.


All I have managed to find out about Whitney’s war-time is that he saw service in the Phillipines.  Interestingly enough, in the same outfit was another comics artist and a person who had worked with Whitney both at DC and the Columbia Comic Group -Fred Gaurdineer.

Happily,after the war Whitney continued his comic work,though it has been said that he had often tried -“unsuccessfully- to break into the more lucrative advertising market. Whether this was purely for the money or through disenchantment with comics I wouldn’t like to guess.

Luckily, the Editor at the American Comics Group, Richard E.Hughes, was a former “old-timer” and gave Whitney work.  I’ll put my hands up and declare here-and-now that I know next to nothing about Hughes except that he often gave work to those considered as “fading comic book artists” -I should draw so well as those old boys!
 http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_XKZzywxP6P4/SUyAo6wAq_I/AAAAAAAAEDQ/Aac5SzlzM3Y/s1600/SkymanBigShot8Dec4010.jpg

Richard E. Hughes introduced a number of characters to comics such as John Force,Super Katt,The Black Terror and the Fighting Yank.  Hughes created characters under an amazing number of pseudonyms ;there is even a silly rumour on the internet that Hughes was Julius Schwartz!  And in Michael Vance’s “Forbidden Adventures: The History Of The American Comics Group” [page 43] it is stated that Frederick Iger voiced the opinion that Richard E. Hughes was actually a Leo Rosenbam! 

In fact, if I may, I’d disagree as people were still referring to his widow as Mrs Hughes years later....ahh, what a tangled web they leave us!

Now, Hughes or Rosenbam, it was as “Shane O’Shea” that he created a legend. Nay, more than a legend!  This boy..this Herbie!

 
Herbie Popnecker  was a rotund, basin-haircut, spectacle wearing and lollipop sucking kid! The first appearance of this youth was in Forbidden Worlds #73 [1958],a science fiction, fantasy and horror title that,as far as I can tell, had never before featured continuing characters.  Obviously Hughes must have realised there was something special about Herbie. 

 The story “Herbie’s Quiet Saturday Afternoon” was typical ACG fair; Herbie was hated by his peers because he was over-weight,slow and had an addiction to lollipops. However,unknown to his school mates and even his family,Herbie had vast and certainly undefined super powers. During the course of the strip,Herbie used his powers several times and even foiled an alien invasion -before anyone even knew there was an alien invasion!  By the end of the story Herbie was back to enduring the taunts of other kids. 
 http://images.furycomics.com/viewer/81/811b0be522d724c80580e258ec1cf1f1/0.jpg
Another Herbie story appeared in Forbidden Worlds #94 after popular feed-back. Then came a third strip in #110.  Pretty soon Herbie was appearing in each issue.  It’s rather interesting that Whitney,said to be a rather “big man”,is said to have based Herbie on his own appearance as a boy.

In May,1964,Herbie got his own book which ran until #23 [February,1967]. Settings for Herbie adventures and genres included the Wild West, pirates, science fiction and so on. Then Herbie took the super hero route and became “The Fat Fury” [very politically incorrect,of course!].  In #14 [January,1966] ACG’s two other mystical heroes,Nemesis and Magicman guest-starred.
 http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-vqIWmPLkd6c/ULgwxJE0DZI/AAAAAAAAk9c/kv1XXXWbnFg/s1600/MH07-26.jpg
With Herbie gone fans felt disappointed but not long afterwards ACG ceased publishing. Hughes went to DC to write.  Whitney got work at Marvel where he drew several issues of The Two Gun Kid and some covers for Millie The Model and one odd collaboration with Jack Kirby in Strange Tales #149,a Nick Fury Agent Of  S.H.I.E.L.D. story. In this Fury looks exactly like Herbie’s father, Pincus Popnecker -plus eye-patch!
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But what happened to Whitney who seems to have vanished from comics in,it seems,the late 1960s?  Hughes widow has told comic enthusiasts that the couple used to socialise with the Whitneys up until Mrs Anne Whitney died in the late 1960s [1968?]. 
 



 There has also been confirmation of Mrs Hughes’ claim that Whitney had been a functioning alcoholic, a not completely unknown condition amongst old time comic pros who spent days in isolation, working late into the night week-after-week trying to keep up with deadlines. But there is nothing in Whitney’s printed work to show this.  

Whitney apparently ended up in a nursing home after a nervous breakdown following his wife’s death and the effects of drink and died of a possible stroke in the early 1970s -possibly 1972?
 https://dominobooksnews.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/fw_52_301.jpg
Alcohol, sadly, as we have read before in cases cited in Alter Ego magazine, has led to many an untimely death amongst old comic pros.


Perhaps, one day, a comic historian based in New York can do some in-depth research on Whitney.  For instance, after all these years I have been unable to find out whether the Whitneys had any children. One source said there was a son and daughter but another said there were none. If there are any offspring could they add more to our knowledge?
 
The other artist, John Forte Jnr I know a lot more about.  Born in 1918, Rockaway, Illinois. In Forte's case at least we have a photograph that, originally, took me a few years to get hold of.  I've not seen it used elsewhere so here you go!


Forte started work at Timely in 1941 but also worked for other companies in the 1940s and 1950s,including ACG horror comics and romance comics for both Timely and Quality Comics. When DC purchased Quality Comics in 1958,Forte moved along with the company.
 
Above -I believe the very first Tales Of The Legion Of Super Heroes story from Adventure Comics 300, 1962.  Artist Al Plastino for many years had to "re-touch" faces in strips and I believe this is one of those instances!
 
above: Forbidden Worlds 61 Dec 1957


Forte had pencilled some early Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane stories and had even inked some Curt Swan pencils -as in “Superboy Meets Supergirl” in Superboy#80,April,1960.  Of course, to fans of the original -“the genuine"-  Legion Of Super Heroes will be aware that it was with this series that Forte made his mark. 

And as for Adventure Comics 300, well, I have just found a blog dealing with that issue in detail (better page scans, too!) called Days Of Adventure -http://adventurecomicsblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/adventure-comics-300-september-1962.html

Forte had made his name drawing those fantastic fun tales featuring the Bizarro World and moved over to draw the LSH with,as far as I can tell,Adventure Comics #304,January,1963, And the story “The Stolen Super Powers”.
 http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-PvsJ2koRTXA/T9_ZvFDDQLI/AAAAAAAAmqU/dhJGZk2DrHg/s1600/arrowhead_004_20.jpg


Above: Some of Forte's work for Atlas Comics in the 1950s. And, good lords! There's even a post about Forte and this strip over at Four Color Shadows!


 
But suddenly, in 1965, Forte left comics.  To many of us this seemed odd but the usual assumption was that he had moved on to other comics we weren’t getting in the UK or he had, quite simply, left the industry.

The sad truth was that Forte had left to fight colon cancer. From what I can uncover, he lost that fight and died in hospital in New York  in mid-1966.

I would,if permitted, like to make an appeal here to any of the old time pros who worked or had contact with Whitney or Forte -even fans who may have had commissioned sketches drawn by these men. 

 
We would all like to think that those creators who brought us many hours -many years- of fun and entertainment simply slip into their sunset years and live on through their work.  For me it was a sad day when I finally learned the truth about Ogden Whitney and John Forte but at least we still have their fantastic archive of work to look back on that will go on forever!
 

 And I have JUST found another blog with an entry on Forte!  Destination Nightmare:
 http://creatfeatforever.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/cartoonists-make-better-lovers-john.html  see -good taste does show through eventually on all things!

But for me, in 2015, it's back to trying to find out more about British Golden and Silver Age creators we know next to nothing about!

Fin.

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