A Tribute to the of

It's kind of interesting to see the changes that were happening toward the latter part of the Silver Age at DC or National Periodical Publications, if you prefer.  Some of them, of course, were due to the efforts by the freelance writers to gain some benefits and thereby getting themselves virtually put out of work, but in other cases, it was simply people moving on for their own reasons.  When Jim Mooney chatted with me, he mentioned that he was getting his fill of certain personnel at the DC offices and commented to Stan Lee that he was exploring his options and thus ended up moving over to Marvel for some enjoyable time on their titles.  DC's loss.  Jim, of course, had been doing the Dial H for Hero Series in the House of Mystery title since it's inception, so it was a little bit of a shock to the system for any loyal reader to pick up issue #171 from December of 1967 to see both the cover and interior art done by someone other than Jim Mooney after nearly 3 continuous years penciling and inking the covers and interiors.  In this case, cover credits go to Nick Cardy, who seemed to be one of DC's go to guys for cover work, particularly in the Bronze Age and even more particularly in the 100-page giants, and the interior was done by another pencil and ink pro, namely Frank SpringerGeorge Kashdan was the editor and the script for "The Micro-Monsters!" came from Jack Miller, taking the place of Dial H co-creator Dave Wood.  Let's see how the new team fared:

The first page following the splash gets the action going immediately as some thieves and armed security are exchanging gunfire at the AMKA chemical company.  The hoods have helped themselves to some pressurized containers and burn rubber out of the perimeter as one of the guards alerts the state patrol.  As it happens, Robby Reed is monitoring on his ham radio and decides it's a job for his H-dial.  He gives it the spin in the familiar H-E-R-O pattern and finds himself in the form of "Super-Hero King Viking."  He looks just a bit like the Mighty Thor, but with a broadsword rather than a hammer and a shield that Captain America would have approved.  He further has wings on his helmet, arms and boots, so you could almost insert Namor in there.  This isn't a Marvel comic, though.  Honest!  King Viking has the ability to fly and swiftly takes to the skies and soon locates the gang's hideout near an abandoned mine.  Peeking through a window, the mighty Norseman sees an obese, balding man in a lab coat addressing his henchmen and reporting that with the formula and chemicals he's prepared to crack the plant's top secret.  That's enough for the Viking, who bursts through the wall and begins to toss thugs into the air left and right.  The wicked scientist feverishly continues to work on his experiment, but in the tumult falls, smashing two vials together that results in a cataclysmic chemical explosion and then a multitude of electrical charges fill the air.  Immediately thereafter they all begin to shrink at a rapid rate.  The scientist speculates they've entered another dimension.  Robby suggests a truce as they try to figure their way out of this fix and then offers to recon the area.  Unfortunately he then discovers that his power of flight is ineffective in this thinner atmosphere, so it's the mysterious dial to the rescue.

After the latest use of the H-dial, Robby finds himself transformed into a Super Go-Go Disco Dancer.  Yeah, I know.  I thought the King Kandy character was over the top back in issue #160.  Anyway, he finds that when he's seemingly doing random dance moves like The Frug or The Monkey, his limbs seem to be imbued with super strength, so he uses it to fight off the bizarre creatures that confront him.

Later, he sneaks up on what appears to be the creatures' headquarters and he listens to their conversation, which is luckily in perfect English.  They discuss the fact that they need to strike with their molecular power now that they've established they are superior to humans in their microbe world.  Robby realizes they're planning a conquest of earth and rather than being in another dimension they've been shrunk into a minuscule, micro world.

Robby heads back to where Doc Morhar and his henchmen wait and even though he's changed personas they quickly accept his non-explanation of what happened to the Viking and they quickly fashion a plan to take on the creatures with Robby using himself as bait before taking them hostage to Washington for interrogating.  (Is Jack Miller's script leaving anyone else in the dust?)  Morhar agrees, but as the Go-Go hero strides off, he orders his gang to take him down and then approaches the microbe monsters himself, negotiating their freedom in exchange for leading them to the surface world and telling the vulnerabilities of humankind.  An agreement is struck and later Robby finds himself in an impenetrable cell.  Time to bring the dial into play one more time.

The latest hero to emerge from the dial's influence is a living "Whirl-I-Gig."  Feature if you can a humanoid creature with limbs that spin with a razor's edge on them and a flame-emitting aperture where his mouth should be.  He has high hopes that he now has the ability to cut through the cell to freedom.

Back on the surface, Morhar has kept his word and led the Microbe marauders to the surface and they're beginning their attack.  The Whirl-I-Gig has succeeded in freeing himself and bursting through the surface, regaining his size with exposure to the surface atmosphere when he realizes his skills are needed to defeat the threat of the would-be conquerors.  He sucks them into a vortex reminiscent of the activities of the Red Tornado, thwarting the plot of Morhar and his gang along with the Microbe Menace, bringing this 13-page adventure to its conclusion.

Well, I can't say this story particularly inspired me.  Jack Miller may have been a good writer for the romance titles, but this effort just seemed silly in many respects and chock full of plot holes.  Once again, you can't develop a story to any great extent in the span of half a comic book, but this one just didn't make much sense to me half the time.  Frank Springer stepped up to the plate admirably, but you can't do much with a poor story.  Frank again used imaginative panel sequences with varying shapes and sizes and moved things along pretty well from a visual standpoint, but I must rate the story as a mediocre 5, good art notwithstanding.

Frank went on to illustrate the next issue in the series as well, but the following issue, #173, was the swan song for the Dial H series and from that point forward the House of Mystery became a true mystery title.  In the "interesting trivia department" that final story was done by Sal Trapani, who happened to be Dick Giordano's brother-in-law.  It's part of my collection, so it may get the review treatment in the future.  I also noted that probably due to sheer coincidence, Nick Cardy did one cover for Frank Springer's efforts in Secret Six #2.  I thought it was interesting that Frank did two issues in each series and one each had covers by Nick.

Meanwhile, let's finish up the terrific interview graciously granted by the great Frank Springer:

Prof:  You penciled and inked a lot of your own work.  Was that a conscious choice or just the luck of the draw?

FS:  Yeah, the luck of the draw, I guess.  The stuff at National Lampoon was more individual because you were a freestanding feature rather than issue #500 in a Superman book.  All those I penciled and inked and the Sports Illustrated for Kids I penciled and inked and all of these ones for magazines other than comic books I penciled and inked.  And I penciled and inked all that stuff at Dell.  I wouldn't want to go look at them with a fine-toothed comb right now.  I think I'm better than that right now.  At Marvel and DC mostly it was a case of, "You know we've got these pencils that have to be inked.  Call Frank," or, "We've got this story to be penciled.  Call Frank."  I think that was just the case.  It was just a case of it was my turn, I guess.

Prof:  Sure.  Probably glad to have it, too.

FS:  Yeah.  It was good to have a stack of well-penciled sheets to work on.  Sometimes it saved me from having to go to a file every few minutes to find out what a locomotive looks like or an airplane or something like that.  I think it was tougher to pencil than to ink, but I enjoyed both.  I think one advantage of doing one or the other on occasion is that once I'd penciled a 22-page book, I was tired of it and I was glad that somebody else was going to ink it.  I wouldn't want to go back and take the same ground again.  So it was better.  Whereas with an individual feature, a stand alone feature, I wanted to see the whole thing to its conclusion because that was my stuff, not somebody else's characters not somebody else's creation.  It was totally mine.  At any rate, I was lucky.  I didn't starve, raised the kids, paid for the house. 

Prof:  You can't ask a whole lot more.

FS:  No. 

Prof:  You were commenting that Marvel was a little bit more enjoyable to work for.  Was the Marvel Method part of the calculus there, or did that make much difference? 

FS:  Yeah, I think so.  I think writers, with the huge exception of Michael O'Donoghue, writers writing continuity kind of get carried away sometimes with things.  They're not thinking visually, whereas with Marvel where you got an outline of the story; just a synopsis, it was tougher to go through and thumbnail the thing and decide what gets emphasis and just how you would do this and so on.  The finished product was done by somebody who was visually oriented and knew how to emphasize this and minimize that in the course of telling the story rather than, "In this panel, this guy says this and then that guy says that.  Second panel, such and such."  So I think you're better off having the artist decide just how the story should be featured.  Just like doing the movie, a director will decide just how to shoot this scene that the writer has written.  I don't know this for a fact, but I've heard that on a movie set, where they're filming a movie, the last guy they want there is the guy who wrote the story in the first place.  (Chuckle.)  They want to do what they feel like doing and they don't want him hanging over there saying, "Hey, that's not what this guy should say."  "Hey, get lost, buddy.  We bought the script.  You got your money, now take off."

Prof:  Yeah.  It's my interpretation now.

FS:  Yeah.  And a good director should know how to picture the scene and how to set the scene and the mood and the lighting and all of that.  Well, that's what the artist does in comics.  It's the same as acting.  In fact, I got into amateur theatrics down on Long Island when we lived there for many years in the 70's and did that for 18 or 20 years.  Sing, dance, act and it is exactly like cartooning.  The same thing.  You are given a line to say and it's up to you and the director to dope out what kind of body language and expression to use when delivering that line and that's just exactly what you're doing when you're sitting at a drawing board deciding what kind of body language this guy would use in talking to this girl and what kind of body language she would use and what kind of expression and so on.

Prof:  That is a very exact parallel.  I'd never considered that.

FS:  I didn't consider it either until the first time I got on stage with one line to say and realized how many ways that you could deliver that line and just how to turn your body and how to milk it, in effect.  (Mutual laughter.)  Who was that, was that Frank?  I don't know, I couldn't tell.  He was on for such a short time.  Anyway, one thing is that when you're on stage, you can't erase.

Prof:  No, you're committed.

FS:  You're live and there's an audience out there and there are always screw-ups in the play and you have to get through that some way without the entire play falling apart, whereas on the drawing board you can say, "Well, that's not the right expression or that leg is too long.  I can fix that."  You're sunk when you forget…there was a time I forgot the name of the other actor I was supposed to be talking to.  I mean his stage name, and I knew I couldn't call him Bob.  That would be stupid.  What the hell?  You get these blocks.  I don't think the audience knew.  I got through it okay and then backstage this guy says, "What the hell happened to you, Frank?"  I said, "Hey, I forgot your name."  (Chuckle.)  Judd Fry in "Oklahoma!", and I was supposed to go across and say, "Hey, Judd, look at this."  It was about a one minute crossover there and I could not think of the name Judd and I just knew I couldn't call him Bob.  (Mutual laughter.)  Anyway, we had fun.

Prof:  Oh, yeah.  When you were at DC in particular did you have a favorite scripter?  Someone who could give you that visual?

FS:  At DC?  You know I can't think of anything.  I did several titles there, but none of them very memorable I don't think.

Prof:  Okay, then Marvel perhaps?

FS:  At Marvel I liked Nick Fury, because when I drew him he didn't wear a costume or anything.  He was just a guy in a pair of slacks and a dress shirt, open at the collar with the sleeves rolled up of course, and I liked that better than some guy in some fancy uniform with all sorts of dopey pockets.  So I enjoyed Nick Fury and what else did I do for Marvel?  The Avengers and some other related things that Frank Robbins penciled.  I inked that series and that was a lot of fun.  Frank Robbins was just a fabulous artist and his pencils were just terrific.  Everything's there and I just loved jumping into that.  I think that was the favorite thing I did for Marvel.  Perhaps the easiest.

Prof:  So his pencils were very tight then, huh?

FS:  Yeah.  And black I mean like he used a 9B pencil.  But everything was there.  All the shadows.  All the muscles.  All the fingers and toes and so on.  It was really good.

Prof:  You only did the first two issues, I believe, on Secret Six.  Were you in transition at that time or do you remember why you left that project?

FS:  I don't remember.  I wouldn't have known that I did just two.  I really don't recall.

Prof:  Well, the whole series only went seven issues, but you did something really unusual, at least for the time, maybe they've done it since then, on issue #1 where the cover was actually the first page of the story.

FS:  That's right.

Prof:  So in essence it was the splash as well.  Was that your idea?

FS:  That was their idea.  They actually got the idea from an illustration I did.  I guess it was actually the cover of Phoebe Zeitgeist where they had the car crashing over a cliff or something and they liked that idea, so they asked me to incorporate that into the thing, but the idea of putting the splash on the cover, that was their idea and I guess that was good.  I guess I got paid for the cover when we got more money than for the inside of the books.

Prof:  Exactly, and I know you did some covers in addition to interiors.  Did you have a preference?

FS:  I did some covers on Nick Fury and I did some covers on The Dazzler and I did a number of covers for Dell on Ghost Story.  Oh, boy what a weird job, but you know it was all drawing and I loved that.  It was great.  I look back on that and as flawed as the drawing was back then and everything else, I look back on that as a fun time in my life even though we were worried about bills, we had little kids and expenses and everything else and all the things that go with being a young guy with a lot of responsibility and everything else like that I guess you look back on those times when you were younger as great times.

Prof:  Yeah, just struggling through and making it.

FS:  Yeah.  That's right.  Times long ago seem like simpler times, although at that time you don't think they're simpler, you thought the times earlier were simpler.

Prof:  Yeah, exactly true.  The lens of nostalgia, I guess.

FS:  That's right.  Gasoline then was .28 or .30 a gallon in the 50's and 60's.

Prof:  Is it true that you worked at Neal Adams' Continuity Studios for awhile?

FS:  Yeah.  I did some work there.  I forget what it was.  It was very little work there.  I did work on Space Ghost.  That was a Saturday morning cartoon in the 60's.  That was for Hanna-Barbera.  They sent us the thumbnail for the continuity and on animation boards we did the key action.  It wasn't real animation, but it was the key drawings, like drawings 1, 5, 7, 15, 20 and then somebody would do the in-between stuff out on the west coast.  Bill Lignante and I did Space Ghost.  We turned out I think one six minute adventure in a week and three other guys working at Bill's house actually at that time, that summer, did "Dino Boy," which was a caveman thing and it involved more characters, so as things fell into place those three guys turned out that adventure in a week and Bill and I did Space Ghost adventure in a week.  Next week you'd get another set of thumbnails and another set of thumbnails and so on and it lasted all summer in either '65 or '66.  I've forgotten.  It was part time stuff, but that was enjoyable.  It was a different phase of cartooning.

Prof:  Yeah, that had to be a breath of fresh air or a change of pace, whatever you care to call it.  

FS:  Yeah.  And you know who sent us the model drawings or who did the model drawings sent from Hanna-Barbera?  It was Alex Toth.

Prof:  Oh, that's right.

FS:  He did the model drawings and it was just…what a sensational artist.  Those beautiful lines!  The Space Ghost character was about 6'5" with shoulders like condor wings and there were two teenagers, a gal and a guy in this thing, and a monkey and a giant insect that looked like a Praying Mantis.  That was another character in the thing.  The name might have been Zorack or something.  I've got some Xeroxes of the model drawings.  They're great.

Prof:  I'd forgotten Alex had done that work.  He did quite a bit of animation there for awhile out west, I think.

FS:  I think he did mostly the character design.  I don't know how much actual animation he did.  He might have done what we did, I suppose, the key drawings.  He was too good to do the day to day animation.  I think he probably did the key drawings.

Prof:  I read where you've been heavily involved in the National Cartoonists Society for years and years.  You've obviously enjoyed that.

FS:  Oh, yes.  We're professional and fraternal and that's it.  In the early days we would meet once a month in New York and drink and eat and have fun and swap stories and so on.  Incidentally, we'd learn about what's going on in the business and who needs what help and so on.  I joined in the spring of '65, so that's 43 years this spring.

Prof:  That's a good long association.

FS:  A lot of fun.  You know Jack Sparling, who was a member, took me to the first N.C.S. meeting and I guess that would have been in '63 and God there was Milton Caniff and Bob Dunn and all the great idols from my childhood there.  It was tremendous.

Prof:  Oh, it had to be wonderful.  Did you interact with Jerry Robinson?

FS:  Oh yes, yes.  Jerry's still around.  I saw him last year and I'll see him this year I guess when we get together for our yearly bash.  A lot of the old-timers are gone now.  I just got a newsletter the other day and I learned that Red Wexler passed away.  He was a terrific illustrator.  He was 85 or so and he did comics, he did illustration, he did just about everything.  In fact, he did a soccer column.  He illustrated a soccer column which I guess he quit at one point and I continued the thing for about two years after that, so I can say I followed Red Wexler.  I had a lot of fun with that.  That's one of the sports I don't care about at all, and argued for not doing it, but they convinced me to do it.  I said, "I don't like soccer."  They said, "We don't care."  I said, "I think it's the dullest thing."  They said, "We don't care about that, we just want you."  I would get the scrap, good scrap photographs from which I would do the illustration on the column.  I lettered it myself.  They'd send me the type, the script and it was just a lot of fun.  Penciling in these figures and then inking them and turning it out, it was great.  I guess I did a week at a time.  One day a week, something like that.  No, I did a month at a time.  It was three or four a week, so they'd send me about 12 or 15 things at once and I would turn that batch out in maybe a day or two and then turn it around.  A lot of fun.  Bodies in action, again.  The sport was stupid, but I had the photographs of these bodies in action and I got to draw the bodies in action.

Prof:  Wonderful.  I see where you contributed to "How to Draw Comic Book Heroes and Villains."  What was that like?

FS:  It was fun. I got paid for it.  It was a little difficult in that I had to think about "How would I do this?"  How would I show somebody else how I would do this?  But it was a one shot thing.  Along that line I would enjoy teaching figure drawing or something like that if it were something where I was nearby and it didn't take too much time.

Prof:  Yeah, I was gonna say you're out of the commuting area of most of the art schools.

FS:  Yeah, that's right, but all those teachers that you had, some of those thoughts are still rattling around in your head as you draw.  "Get those planes in there, Francis, get those planes in there."  (Chuckle.)  Those ideas, the good ones, don't leave you or shouldn't leave you.  You still refer to them.

Prof:  Absolutely.  It seems like I saw where you were on a roster for the Berndt Toast Gang.  Do you still do anything with them?

FS:  Yes, well I'm still a member there even though I'm up here in Maine.  I'm still on their roster.  In fact, we have this house for sale.  We intend to move back to Long Island at some point when this place sells.  I hope it will be this spring and then I'll be able to go to their meetings every week and be back in the swing of things.  I miss hob-nobbing with artists every once in awhile.

Prof:  It seems like it's a very well organized and dynamic organization.  Joe Giella was telling me he never misses a luncheon if he can help it.

FS:  The thing is there are so many artists on Long Island and they're so concentrated that it's not difficult to get to the luncheons.  You know that began really with that Space Ghost stuff.  The five of us that worked on that back in '63, '64, '65, the five of us who worked on Space Ghost would go out to lunch.  Then when the Space Ghost stuff ended, every once in awhile we'd call each other up and say, "You know, it's been awhile since we've been out to lunch," and we would go to lunch and then a sixth guy or a seventh guy would show up and that really began the Berndt Toast.

Prof:  So you're actually a founder.

FS:  Yeah, and one of the guys that would show up was Walter Berndt who did Smitty, that feature, for 50-some years.  He was still doing it at that time and eventually instead of five or six or seven, it would be twelve or fourteen and then even more than that.  Walter Berndt died in 1981, I think and we went to his wake, went to his funeral and came back to our usual meeting place, this restaurant in Huntington and somebody said, "Well, you know, we ought to drink a toast to Walter every meeting from now on and I think it was Creig Flessel that said, "Ah, Berndt Toast."  Ba-boomp-boomp.  So we've been the Berndt Toast Gang ever since.  It's one of the most active chapters in the Cartoonist's Society.  But there's no format.  Bill Kresse plays the harmonica sometimes and Al Skaduto the late Al Skaduto, who did "They'll Do It Every Time," died just recently, a great talent, would sing a song, but like most of these things it's more of a free-wheeling kind of thing.

Prof:  Well, when you get creative types together that's what you get.

FS:  Yeah.  A lot of fun.

Prof:  We were talking a little about lettering earlier and of course with the readily available fonts on computer software and so forth that work seems to be drying up somewhat.

FS:  That's right.  Well that's what Gaspar told me the last time I talked to him, which was not long ago.  This past year at some point.  "Nah, I'm retired.  Nah, to hell with it."  He was great.  He did the lettering for me on "The Virtue of Vera Valiant," the strip I did with Stan Lee for a year and he's terrific.  What a swell guy.

Prof:  One of the very best.  I loved getting acquainted with him.

FS:  He's great.  At one point we presented Mort Walker with the Golden T-Square.  We have a Silver T-Square award for outstanding service to the Cartoonist's Society.  It's not something you're paid for.  It's not something you're elected to.  It's just doing a lot of work for the Society.  We have a silver T-square, but in this case we awarded him with a golden T-square and it had a commemorative sentence on it.  Something about for outstanding service and commitment and love and so on for the National Cartoonists Society and I called up Gaspar.  I said, "Gaspar, I want you to letter this.  You're the guy that can letter this so the people at the foundry can etch it into the T-square."  "Nah, I don't want to do that.  You do it."  I said, "Look, charge the Society for it."  "Nah, I'm not going to do that."  Anyway, he did the line and he did not send a bill and so the golden T-square that Mort has hanging in his studio has the lettering on it of Gaspar Saladino.

Prof:  Oh, fantastic.

FS:  Of course there was Ben Oda years ago.

Prof:  Yeah, Gaspar told me in his typical unpretentious way that Ben Oda was the real genius.

FS:  Ben Oda lettered Phoebe Zeitgeist.  He lettered the whole thing.

Prof:  There was plenty to do, too.

FS:  Yeah, and he lettered for everybody.  He lettered for George Wunder when I worked on Terry and the Pirates.  He would show up with this portfolio that weighed a ton.  It was this huge portfolio just jammed with strips and he worked for Stan Drake, he worked for Leonard Starr, he worked for Hal Foster, he worked for George Wunder, he worked for Milton Caniff, he worked for this, he worked for that…

Prof:  Wow, he really ran the gamut.

FS:  He was in the studios of all these people and we thought if Ben ever wrote a book about what he saw in some of these studios, everybody would have to leave town.  (Mutual laughter.)  He was just terrific.  A World War II veteran.  He saw combat in Italy with the Nisei, the Japanese-Americans unit there while his family was interred in Wyoming.

Prof:  Oh, goodness.  And another one that was taken from us too soon.

FS:  Yeah, a great guy.

Prof:  I understand you're still doing commission work these days, Frank.

FS:  I did one recently, yeah.  It was a cover format.  I did the pencils and Joe Rubenstein did the inks.

Prof:  So if I get an inquiry about a commission I can refer them to you?

FS:  Absolutely.

If you're interested in learning even more about Frank and his great career, I highly recommend you partake of this recent interview conducted by Daniel Best.

Readers, thanks as always for your kind patronage.  Another review will arrive at this space in the customary 2 weeks for your reading pleasure, and if you've got thoughts to share, you can always reach me at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you then, and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2008 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edited by Frank Springer

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



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