A Tribute to the of






It's been a rotten few weeks for we more mature comic fans.  My friend and the man who did my very first commission, Lew Sayre Schwartz, passed away on the 18th of June at the age of 84.  Lew and I had quite a few enjoyable conversations since the interview he granted and he showed me many kindnesses, including inscribing and sending me a copy of The Batman Annuals, Volume I containing several reprints of his classic Batman stories.  I'll miss him very much.

Then, on the 23rd of June we lost Gene Colan, also 84 years of age.  I spoke to Gene precisely once and he was everything everyone said:  Sweet, kind and unassuming.  Unfortunately he was battling physical problems from that point forward, so I tried to keep my communication to the mails, dropping words of encouragement here and there.

Rather than wallow in sadness, though, I'm trying to simply be grateful for the interaction I had with them, and the enduring legacy they leave behind.  Godspeed, gentlemen.

One of the things I enjoy about this gig is the learning opportunities and I inadvertently gave myself a new one when I finally explored my first issue of Tomahawk.

I'd seen it before in the house ads (this should sound familiar to my long-time readers, because I told a similar story about Bat Lash, the Secret Six and others) and had been intrigued, particularly by those wondrous Neal Adams covers.  Who and what was Tomahawk about?  Even as a kid I could surmise from the name and the buckskins that it was likely a western style hero.

According to my DC Comics Encyclopedia, Tomahawk has a long history, first appearing in Star-Spangled Comics #69 in June of 1947.  His given name is Thomas Hawkins and he's described as a frontiersman and freedom fighter active from around 1750 to 1820, 6'1" in height and 184 pounds.  (Who comes up with this stuff?)  His bio begins with:  "The U.S. might never have gained its independence from Britain had it not been for Tomahawk, the greatest hero of the Revolutionary War.  As a young man, Thomas Hawkins spent a year living with an Indian tribe where he learned the ways of the frontier and how to handle the short throwing-axe, whose name he adopted as his own."

And lest I forget, let me finish the short history of the character by acknowledging his creators, Joe Samachson and Edmund Good.  I don't know anything about Edmund Good, the artist, but Joe Samachson may be familiar to some as the originator of The Martian Manhunter, along with Joe CertaSamachson was a PhD in chemistry, fer cying out loud!

So, on to our feature presentation:  The issue in question is Tomahawk #121 with a publication date of April, 1969.  Neal Adams' cover artwork is a thing to behold.  The editor was Murray Boltinoff and this issue carried two stand-alone stories, both illustrated by Frank Thorne.  "To Kill a Ranger!" was written by Bob Kanigher and the second tale, "Aim Your Cannons at Me!" was scripted by Howard Liss, someone I'd not heard of before. 

Kanigher wastes no time getting "To Kill a Ranger" going.  Tomahawk is acting as an advance scout in front of his Rangers when an arrow whizzes by him and embeds itself into a tree.  Spotting the feather on the head of the brave, Tomahawk fires his long rife, killing his assailant.

What Hawkins is unprepared for is finding that he has just killed a young boy.  Overcome with remorse, he carries the inert form to his people and explains what has happened to the chief, whose son is the casualty.

The chief tells Tomahawk that there must be restitution, but rather than having him forfeit his life, he conceives a more terrible penalty:  "You will slay one of your own men…in repayment for my son's life!  Then you will be full of remorse and sorry for the rest of your life!"  As he is sent on his way, Tomahawk is cautioned that if he fails in his task, a settlement of innocents will be massacred.

Trudging away, Tomahawk wonders which of his band of Rangers it will be.  Cannonball?  Long Rifle?  Big Anvil?  Wildcat?  Frenchie?  Brass Buttons?  Kaintuck?

He prepare a snare and it is Brass Buttons who steps into it, but he is relieved when he sees Tomahawk advancing toward him.  His relief is short-lived, however, when he sees the determination in his eyes as he brings his tomahawk into position.  Just then, however, a panther springs and the tomahawk is used on the big cat.  Hawkins then quickly leaves.

Next, the leader of the Rangers is in a narrow, rocky gap, awaiting his next potential victim.  Big Anvil is soon walking through the passage, squinting into the sun.  Tomahawk calls out Big Anvil's name several times at several decibels to start an avalanche, but then scampers down the sheer Cliffside to protect Big Anvil.  Again, he scurries away, leaving a perplexed Ranger behind.

The Rangers gather to brainstorm about what is going on with their leader and how to deal with the situation.

Soon, Tomahawk is in ambush mode again, hiding among tall cattails.  He levels his weapon at Long Rifle, but is surprised by Wildcat, who has successfully snuck up behind him.  The two Rangers march Tomahawk back to camp and the whole story comes out.

To a man, the Rangers all insist on being the sacrificial lamb, but before anything can be resolved, the chief himself appears, condemning Tomahawk for his inability to fulfill his promise.  The two men clash in battle, tomahawks clanging when the chief lunges and tumbles over the sheer drop above the river.  Hawkins dives after him, trying to save the chief from the roaring falls when the other Rangers, anchored by Big Anvil, make a human rescue chain in the river, catching the two figures before certain death.

The chief proclaims Tomahawk's debt is paid through his heroic action and the story comes to a happy end, though Hawkins says that the boy's eyes will haunt him for the rest of his days.

I'll tell you what, for having never read a Tomahawk book before, I was very impressed.  The pacing of the story was excellent and the characterization of the Rangers with their particular personalities and quirks was engaging.  I couldn't help but think of Sgt. Rock's Easy Company, with Wildman, Bulldozer, Little Sure Shot and Ice Cream Soldier.  Since Robert Kanigher was involved with both, go figure.  Frank Thorne's exquisite figure work was the perfect complement.  His work in these stories puts me in mind of Alex Toth and the panel work was imaginative and effective.  I highly recommend this issue and give it a solid 9 on the 10-point scale.  Silver Age goodness through and through.

I sent a message to Frank Thorne requesting some of his impressions about his career and he graciously e-mailed me some brief responses to my list of questions:

Bryan D. Stroud:  According to my research you started in 1948 at Standard Comics doing romance work.  True?  

Frank Thorne:  My ignoble career started in the pulps, before Standard.

BDS:  Comics wasn't the most respectable profession back in the day.  What led you there?

FT:  All I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist.

BDS:  Did you attend an art school?  If so, which one?

FT:  The Art Career School, atop the Flatiron Building at 23rd and 5th in Manhattan.

BDS:  You've been a penciler, inker and writer.  Are any of those roles a favorite?

FT:  I prefer to do it all.

BDS:  What other artists have influenced you?

FT:  Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, and Neil O'Keefe.

BDS:  You've worked for virtually everyone in the business, from DC and Marvel to Dell, Warren, Gold Key, Seaboard, Archie and Dynamite.  Where did you feel most comfortable?  How did the companies contrast?

FT:  I NEVER worked for Dynamite.  They just reprinted all my Sonja stories, without permission or recompense. I did but one series for Marvel--Red Sonja.

BDS:  When you worked at Marvel were they giving you Marvel style scripts?  If so, how did you like those as compared to a full script?

FT:  Never worked in the "MarveI Style." Always a written script.

BDS:  Did you have any favorite collaborators as far as writers?

FT:  Roy Thomas was the best.

BDS:  How about editors?

FT:  Roy Thomas and Joe Kubert.

BDS:  Are the legends about Robert Kanigher true?

FT:  Don't know any, but he was a damn good writer.

BDS:  You've worked in many different genres, to include adventure, war, mystery, horror, sword and sorcery, jungle and western.  Do you have a favorite?

FT:  I LOVE drawing women.

BDS:  Much like Russ Heath, you've not done any superhero work.  Is that a conscious decision?

FT:  I don't like superheroes.

BDS:  The list of characters you've worked on is pretty impressive.  Flash Gordon, Green Hornet, Conan, Red Sonja, Dracula, Moby Dick, Tarzan, The Phantom and Enemy Ace to name just a few.  Were there any restrictions with how you could portray them or did you feel pretty free to do what you wanted?

FT:  They always gave me leeway.

BDS:  You've done syndicated strip work on Perry Mason.  How did that come about?  

FT:  I was 20 years old and walked in to King Features with my samples, and they gave me the Perry Mason Daily and Sunday.

BDS:  Was it a good gig?  A strip seemed to be the Holy Grail back in the day.

FT:  The pay was huge! We bought a house and a yellow convertible.

BDS:  What was your typical production rate?

FT:  I knocked out the daily and Sunday (which I hand colored) each week for near two years.

BDS:  Who were your friends in the business?

FT:  Hy Eisman, who writes and draws Popeye and the Katzenjammer Kids these days, and Fred Fredericks who writes and draws Mandrake.

BDS:  The life of a freelancer can be tough, but you've hung in there for decades.  Any regrets?

 FT:  Better hand-to-mouth than 9-to-5.

BDS:  Are there any characters you'd have liked to work on, but didn't get the opportunity?

FT:  "Buffy" by "Dementia!"

BDS:  Do you think the industry will survive?  Sales seem to be slumping.

FT:  Comics will always be around, in some form or other.

BDS:  What do you think of the television and movie adaptations of comic book characters?  Have you seen good or poor examples, in your opinion?

FT:  Superman 2 was good, Hellboy great, Spiderman so-so. I don't watch many comic book movies. I love "The Whole Wide World." a semi fact tale of REH.

BDS:  Do you still attend conventions and are you still The Wizard?

FT:  Haven't attended a con in decades. Nobody but Bryan Stroud would remember me. I've hung up my wizard's hat.

BDS:  Are you doing commission work?

FT:  Yes, Mighty Nib is my agent.

BDS:  What job has given you the most satisfaction?

FT:  "Moonshine McJugs" (Playboy) is my favorite. I've been contributing to Playboy since 1980.

BDS:  Did you expect this to be your career, meaning as an illustrator?

FT:  I hoped it would be, but even if illustrative I'm ever a cartoonist.

BDS:  Do you use the computer at all or are you still working by hand?  

FT:  I work by hand, but the computer is the greatest research tool in the Universe!

BDS:  What are your preferred tools of the trade?

FT:  Strathmore 2 ply 500 series vellum, Hunts 102 crow quill pen points, and Dr. Martin's TECH dyes.

BDS:  What's your process when composing a page?

FT:  A CLOSE-UP on every page makes them work.

BDS:  Any advice for those who want to break in today?

FT:  Keep drawin' realistically, and THEN head for Henti, or whatever, preferably your own style.

BDS:  Any plans to retire?

FT:  Never hadda job, so how can I retire?

Frank's replies were a lot of fun and I look forward to looking into more of his work in the very near future.

Speaking of the future, this feature will continue along its course, so remember to take a little time out of your schedule for the next installment, which will be at this very URL in approximately two weeks.  We always appreciate your comments, questions and suggestions, so send them here:  professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!



© 2000-2011 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edited by Frank Thorne


This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by

B.D.S.

 





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