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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Brain Bats of Venus: The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton

by Greg Sadowski (Author),  & Basil Wolverton  

Publisher: Fantagraphics; 1 edition
Hardcover, 432 pages 

“If the comic books are to fall under rigid the censorship of a control-mad few, who, in their questionably infinite wisdom, imagine they know what is best for all of us, so must the newspaper strip be smothered by the same censorship.  Also the newspapers, magazines, books, and all publications. Freedom of the press would soon be only a pleasant memory.  
“Mysterious indeed are the contortions of the brain impulses, if any, of those who hatefully struggle to ban a book of harmless features like Mickey Mouse, while choosing to ignore the underhanded creators and distributors of lewd cartoon booklets advertised in scores of adult magazines. But of course mud shows up much better if it is slung into clean areas.” 
 Basil Wolverton, from his forward to A Defense of Comics 
 This rather massive tome is the second volume in the biography of Basil Wolverton, the previous one being the just as thick, CreepingDeath From NeptuneWolverton was one of the pioneers of the comic book industry. Like many of the comic book men, he started out as a failed comic strip artist for the newspaper - back in the day the funnies were where the real money dwelled. This book covers his material from 1942 to 1952, when Wolverton left the comic industry. But still I think there is a place for a third and final volume.  

Wolverton became known mostly as a humor writer. The majority of his work was published by Timely Comics - later to become Marvel Comics - in their juvenile and teenage comics. Madcap series like Tessie the Typist, Powerhouse Pepper, and Mystic Moot and his Magical Snoot (though the later one was done as a backup feature for Zatara by DC comics) were his stock in trade, but by the 1950s, sci-fi and horror had begun to dominate the field. Thus, the end of the book is filled with wonderfully reprinted old horror material, which marked (in my opinion) the highlight of his career.  
What you really want this volume for is the art. Wolverton was a master of the comic face, but that translated very easily over into horror and science fiction stories as well. There are hundreds of pages of remarkably grotesque material. This was during the height of his fame, when Wolverton won the Lil’ Abner contest to reveal the face of Leena the Hyena, reputedly the ugliest woman in the world. Wolverton won, hands down, with a disgusting portrait and his career briefly took a bump after that.  
What drags this book down is that the man himself didn’t have a very fun fast-paced life which makes for a riveting read. There is paragraph after paragraph of Wolverton sent this idea out, only to be turned down in a letter which states blah, blah, blah. Over and over. A lot could've been left out. The interesting thing is that much of the correspondence was with Stan Lee over at Timely, but even that is mostly boilerplate business talk. I skimmed though these portions of the book, just to get back to the amazing illustrations.  
  For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.


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