In Which A Mouse, A Rabbit, And A Cat, Become Atomic Superheroes

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During the 1950s Charlton Comics was just one of the many small, unremarkable comic book publishers. They had a reputation for low-budget production and the extremely low page rates they payed to their artists and writers. The first and most successful superhero series from Charlton Comics was a pioneer of the funny animal comic genre, Atomic Mouse. Atomic Mouse was created by the then in-house editor Al Fago – the first issue was released in March, 1953.

Following the relative success of Atomic Mouse, Fago introduced Atomic Rabbit in 1955. In 1957, the third of Charlton’s atomic animals was introduced named Atom The Cat. This character was morphed in issue #9 of the series Tom Cat after Tom mutated from exposure to radiation emitted out of a nuclear reactor. Maurice Whitman is the artist who brought Atom to life.

All three atomic animal comics are considered children’s classics. They are interesting examples of the atomic era – while all the characters are mutations from exposure to nuclear materials, their fates are not marred by horror but rather they become superheroes with superpowers. This must have been a comforting message to the children who enjoyed the adventures of these charming little creatures.

Atomic Mouse v1 #1- March 1953

Atomic Mouse  v1 #1 – Charlton Comics, March 1953 (Illustrator: Al Fago)

Atomic Mouse took magic pills called U-235 given to him by by Professor Invento. The pills granted him super powers such as super strength, speed, and flight which he used to protect the citizens of Mouseville. His arch enemy was Count Gatto (Gatto is Spanish for cat) and his inept sidekick, Shadow.
wikia

Graphic via CB+ – Entire issue available to read and download here.

Atomic Rabbit v1 #3 - March 1956

Atomic Rabbit  v1 #3 – Charlton Comics, March 1956 (Illustrator: Al Fago)

The Atomic Rabbit/Bunny gained superpowers when he ate U-235 carrots. His powers include flight and super strength which he used to protect the citizens of Rabbitville from Atomic Rabbit’s nemesis, the evil Sly Fox and his two kids.
wikia

Graphic via CB+ – Entire issue available to read and download here.

Atom the Cat v1 #9 - October 1957

Atom the Cat  v1 #9 – Charlton Comics, October 1957 (Illustrator: Maurice Whitman)

Originally started as a regular guy called Tom Cat. When the titular character absorbed atomic rays from a nuclear reactor, he was mutated and acquired super powers. The scientists responsible for the reactor gave him a cape and convinced Tom to work for his country and the world, becoming the superhero Atom the Cat. Atom the Cat maintains his powers by eating fresh fish.
wikia

Graphic via CB+ – Entire issue available to read and download here.

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In Which A Guy Named Dr. Seuss Put Play Into Learning And Creativity

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All around the world the name Dr. Seuss is synonymous with The Cat In The Hat. First published in 1957, the book The Cat In The Hat remains a favorite in children’s literature with a number of adaptations for film, television, and the stage.

First Editions With Dust Jackets: The Cat In The Hat (1957) and The Cat In The Hat Comes Back (1958)

First Editions With Dust Jackets: The Cat In The Hat (1957) and The Cat In The Hat Comes Back (1958) – (Photo: The Ephemera Network)

The classic came about as a result of a story in a 1954 Life magazine article that addressed the question, why can’t Johnny read? Writer John Hersey suggested that children’s low reading levels were a result of – boredom. Dick and Jane were just not stimulating to a young mind. Children just couldn’t relate to the ‘abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls.’ He suggested Theodor Geisel – aka Dr. Seuss – as a guy who could change that. The director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, William Spaulding, liked the idea. Handing over a list of 250 primary words Spaulding gave Geisel the now famous challenge – ‘Write me a story that first-graders can’t put down.’ Nine months later, Geisel handed over the manuscript and illustrations for The Cat In the Hat. The book is 1,702 words long, but it uses only two hundred and twenty different words. Dr. Seuss’ seminal work was so successful as a reading education tool that in 1997 the National Education Association declared March 3 – Seuss’ birthday – the date to celebrate reading during ‘Read Across America Day.’

Many observations have been noted about The Cat In The Hat‘s success – i.e. it stressed phonics as a reading teaching tool, by connecting interesting illustrations with words it amped up the use of storybooks to teach language skills rather than primers and textbooks, it even had deep social and political ramifications (for a bit darker take on The Cat In The Hat, Louis Menand’s 2002 New Yorker article, Cat People, is highly recommended.) But with all that said, it can be simplified with one word – fun.

So it was with the 1959 Revell ‘Dr. Seuss Zoo’ toy set. The Zoo consisted of four snap together models with interchangeable parts. It encouraged creativity by allowing kids (and adults) to make up any number of creatures by mix-and-matching the various parts. Shown below are the main characters – Roscoe The Many Footed Lion, Tingo The Noodle Topped Stroodle, Norval The Bashful Blinket, and Gowdy The Dowdy Grackle. It’s easy to imagine the fun one would have creating different zoo characters with this toy set.

Dr. Seuss Zoo Toy Advert Published in Life Magazine - October 19, 1959

Dr. Seuss Zoo Toy Advert Published in Life Magazine – October 19, 1959 (Photo: books.google.com)

Dr. Suess Zoo Model, Roscoe The Many Footed Lion

Dr. Suess Zoo Model, Roscoe The Many Footed Lion (Photo: Jeff Pidgeon flickr)

Doctor Suess Zoo Model, Tingo The Noodle Topped Stroodle

Doctor Suess Zoo Model, Tingo The Noodle Topped Stroodle (Photo: Jeff Pidgeon flickr)

Dr. Seuss Zoo Model, Norval The Bashful Blinket

Dr. Seuss Zoo Model, Norval The Bashful Blinket (Photo: Jeff Pidgeon flickr)

Dr. Seuss Zoo Model, Gowdy The Dowdy Grackle

Dr. Seuss Zoo Model, Gowdy The Dowdy Grackle (Photo: Jeff Pidgeon flickr)

So, what do we come away with when considering Dr. Seuss’ contributions to education and creativity? It’s pretty elementary – when it comes to developing the mind, nothing beats playful and compelling tools. And in today’s 21st century computerized world, that’s easier than ever.

Modified Biological Entities Or Cybernetic Man – A 1963 Discussion On Space Travel

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Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Dehumanized and drugged, transistorized and plugged with electronic replacements for natural parts, a spaceman might survive. But would you still think of him as human?

The illustration above is from the November, 1963, issue of Popular Science magazine. The article is credited to Toby Freedman. M.D., and Gerald S. Lindner, M.D.. It’s a discussion about adapting man for space travel and exploration, and it’s remarkably dramatic. Below are the last few paragraphs from the article. If you’re curious enough to read the full article this link will take you to the terrific Modern Mechanix webpage for your enjoyment.

More profound is the biological approach, which seeks to understand adaptive mechanisms in other forms of life and apply them to man. Instead of hooking up a transistorized organ, the object here is to enable the subject to grow one. This is not as inaccessible as it sounds. Remove one kidney and the other one grows large to sustain the load.

Wonders or horrors? What guide can we look for to direct us in the development of these new powers? For if we can raise people’s general performance with stimulants, we can also reduce them to automatons with depressants, and dissociate them with hallucinating drugs. We can interchange their organs or intercept their heredity by scrambling their DNA. In short, we can alter them in any direction, letting loose in the world forces more powerful and menacing than anything that came out of the atom.

As in the case of the atom, are we going to back into this and find ourselves facing catastrophe without a policy? I have no answers to this question – simply a plea that we start thinking about it.

Let us plan to improve man as we modify him. Let us, while taking over from nature, follow her lead. The keynote is gradual improvement. We should try to optimize those capacities and abilities man already has, by all means available, but avoid radically tampering with the basic mechanism.

In contrast to the astronaut who accomplishes his space mission at the cost of trading most of his physiological systems for electronic ones, whose mouth is sealed, his lungs collapsed, his body wastes recycled through himself, his neural pathways partly severed, and his emotions dissected out we see another. We envision a man who looks quite normal, but who has been adapted to the oxygen requirements of a Himalayan Sherpa, the heat resistance of a walker-on-coals; who needs less food than a hermit, has the strength of Sonny Liston, and runs the mile in three, minutes flat while solving problems in tensor analysis in his head. We call him Optiman, and we think we can make him in the near future.

It we don’t, the Russians will.

(h/t to Sweet Dreams‘ Tumblr for the tip)

‘A Devilish Sense Of Humor – Juxtaposing Playfulness, Absurdity and Violence’ – The Artz Of Jim Flora

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Jim Flora in New York - 1970 (Photographer: Gene Deitch)

James Flora was a graphics genius, my first serious design influence, and later my great friend and collaborator. He was endlessly inventive. I called his drawings “visual jazz”.  –  Gene Deitch
Jim Flora in New York – 1970 (Photographer: Gene Deitch)

James (Jim) Flora is best-known for his wild jazz and classical album covers for Columbia Records (late 1940s) and RCA Victor (1950s). He authored and illustrated 17 popular children’s books and flourished for decades as a magazine illustrator. Few realize, however, that Flora (1914-1998) was also a prolific fine artist with a devilish sense of humor and a flair for juxtaposing playfulness, absurdity and violence.

Flora’s album covers pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop-hued horns. Yet this childlike exuberance was subverted by a tinge of the diabolic. Flora wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring flying musicians, levitating instruments, and wobbly dimensional perspectives.

Flora’s TriclopsTaking liberties with human anatomy, he drew bonded bodies and misshapen heads, while inking ghoulish skin tints and grafting mutant appendages. He was not averse to pigmenting jazz legends Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa like bedspread patterns. On some Flora figures, three legs and five arms were standard equipment, with spare eyeballs optional. His rarely seen fine artworks reflect the same comic yet disturbing qualities. “He was a monster,” said artist and Floraphile JD King. So were many of his creations.

JimFlora.com

Below are a few examples of Flora’s works. A number of them are highly valued by jazz fans, art lovers, and album cover collectors. Some of the illustrations may seem familiar to a lot of people yet the name of the artist is unknown to them. Hopefully, Jim Flora’s name will be remembered for future conversation and reference.

Gene Krupa and His Orchestra - Columbia Records, 1947

Gene Krupa and His Orchestra – Columbia Records, 1947

Louis Armstrong's Hot 5 - Columbia Records, 1947

Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 – Columbia Records, 1947

Jimmy Dorsey and his Original 'Dorsey land Jazz Band' - A Rare 10″ LP, Columbia Records, 1949,

Jimmy Dorsey and his Original ‘Dorseyland’ Jazz Band – A Rare 10″ LP, Columbia Records, 1949

Inside Sauter-Finegan -  RCA Victor, 1954

Inside Sauter-Finegan – RCA Victor, 1954

One of the best-known album cover illustrations by Jim Flora. Released on RCA Victor in 1954, the record featured the orchestral adventurism of composer-arrangers Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan. While the figures on the cover in no way resemble the two musicians, Flora’s playful caricatures reflect S-F’s modernist, mid-century approach to redefining big band jazz after the decline of the swing era.
JimFlora.com

Music Of The Bonampak Mexican Ballet - RCA Victor, 1954

Music Of The Bonampak Mexican Ballet and Brazilian Songs – RCA Victor, 1954

Performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico with Luis Sandi as conductor. The cover features depictions of Mayan characters and cultural images as envisioned by Flora. This album belongs in the classical, world, or folk category.

The War of the Bands Concert (Combined Orchestras of Ralph Flanagan and Buddy Morrow ) - RCA Victor, 1954

The War of the Bands Concert (Combined Orchestras of Ralph Flanagan and Buddy Morrow) – RCA Victor, 1954

The Sons of Sauter-Finegan - RCA Victor, 1955

The Sons of Sauter-Finegan – RCA Victor, 1955

The Sons of Sauter-Finegan was a showcase group formed in 1955 following the success of the collaboration of Bill Finegan and Eddie Sauter in Sauter-Finegan.

Eugene Ormandy & the Philadelphia Orchestra's  Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels [sic] Lustige Streiche and Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier -  Columbia Masterworks 10" LP, 1954

Eugene Ormandy & the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegels [sic] Lustige Streiche and Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier – Columbia Masterworks 10″ LP, 1954

This way cool illustration is a work-for-hire piece Flora produced for Columbia Records.

The original artwork no longer exists except on the somewhat rare (and hence very collectible) cardboard sleeve. The bland, generic typesetting is poorly juxtaposed atop Flora’s iconic fine-art imagery. We can only speculate that Flora — who also specialized in mischievous typography — provided the artwork but did not design the package.
Florablog

Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel/Death and Transfiguration -  RCA Victor (Red Seal) - 1955  (NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini, conductor)

Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel/Death and Transfiguration – RCA Victor (Red Seal), 1955 (NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini, conductor)

Flora’s whimsical illustration wonderfully captures the German peasant folk hero Till Eulenspiegel, his misadventures, and pranks chronicled in Strauss’ tone poem.

Mambo for Cats - RCA Victor, 1955

Mambo for Cats – RCA Victor, 1955

This is a personal favorite – it’s one of Flora’s most renowned and hard-to-find works.

Lastly, here are a few contemporary musical releases that continue the Jim Flora illustration tradition. It’s good to know that Flora’s spirit continues on even after his too soon departure.

Cracked Latin - Alone With You (CD, 2011)

Alone With You – Cracked Latin (CD, 2011)

This Cracked Latin CD cover features an adapted design of Flora’s 1970 uncirculated tempera painting entitled, Chance Encounter.

Whirled Chamber Music- Quartet San Francisco (CD 2007)

Whirled Chamber Music- Quartet San Francisco (CD, 2007)

This Quartet San Francisco CD cover features an adapted design of Flora’s mid-1960s uncirculated painting entitled, Barberinni.

Terry Adams & the Whole Wheat Horns - Euclid Records 7", 2009

Terry Adams & the Whole Wheat Horns – Euclid Records 7″, 2009

This 45 rpm single’s sleeve features a Jim Flora musician montage. The chaotic combo, which incorporates cartoonish players from numerous Flora 1940s and 1950s sources, was created by Barbara Economon and Irwin Chusid for their second book, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora. Both Economon and Chusid maintain the Florablog as well as JimFlora.com.

Visit JimFlora.com for galleries of works, news, fine art prints, articles, links, and history. If you’re interested in purchasing high quality Flora related goods, The Little Shop of Flora’s is open for business.

A 60¢ Monster Make-Up Handbook By Dick Smith? Yes!

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Famous Monsters Of Filmland's Monster Make-Up Handbook

Famous Monsters Of Filmland’s Monster Make-Up Handbook – 1965

Imagine that – for 60¢ in 1965 you could purchase a complete monster make-up handbook put together by the premier make-up artist Dick Smith. Ah! You say you’d love to see the content? Well, Nerdcore‘s Rene Walter has been so gracious as to post the pages at flickr. If you’re interested in taking a look, click here.

Below is a short introduction to Dick Smith and his accomplishments via Wikipedia.

Richard Emerson “Dick” Smith (born June 26, 1922) is an American special effects make-up artist (nicknamed “The Godfather of Make-Up”) known for his work on such films as Little Big Man, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, and Scanners. He won a 1985 Academy Award for Makeup for his work on Amadeus and a 2012 Honorary Academy Award for his career’s work.

Smith pioneered the method of applying prosthetics made from foam latex in small pieces as opposed to the standard of applying a latex mask as one solid piece. Smith’s technique allowed the actor to have a wide range of facial expressions, making the makeup appear more natural. Despite initial criticism from many professional makeup artists at the time, Smith’s makeup techniques proved to be superior. Today, the standard methods of applying prosthetics are those that Smith invented.

Wikipedia

 

Introducing: The First Crash-Test Dummy, Elmer

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Elmer, the Pilot's Friend  - Continental Oil Co., 1952   Illustration: James R. Bingham

Elmer, the Pilot’s Friend – Continental Oil Co., 1952.  Illustration: James R. Bingham

‘Born’ in the CAA machine shop, Elmer is a remarkably lifelike steel and rubber dummy, designed for studies in improving shoulder harness for pilots. Elmer is so cleverly designed that his compressibility, flexibility, center of gravity, muscular contraction and natural relaxation are almost exactly that of the human body. He even has a roll of ‘flesh’ above the belt when he is bent over! Elmer is an example of how Civil Aeronautics Administration scientists worked to improve air transportation.

(Source: Plan59)