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Author Topic: 'It Rhymes With Lust' - An Introduction by Michael T. Gilbert  (Read 1902 times)

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Offline Yoc

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Hi Gang,
As an added bonus to the debut of this original paper scan of 'Rhymes With Lust', Michael T. Gilbert has allowed us to share the introduction he wrote for the first reprint of the book found inside The Comics Journal #277 (July 2006) 30th anniversary issue.  Our thanks to Michael for doing this and all the support he's given the site since he joined DCM.


It Rhymes With Lust!
© 2006 Michael T. Gilbert

In 1996 I was in Powell’s Books searching for hidden gold. For the uninitiated, Powell’s is a venerable Portland, Oregon, institution roughly the size of Rhode Island. In its glory days they had a great selection of used books, but now the new has largely displaced the old. That fact, however, didn’t stop me from dreaming of finding some mysterious, long-forgotten volume. And that’s exactly what happened that fateful day. I was in the store’s cartoon section, when I spotted a large pile of books stacked above the regular shelves. That top shelf was well out of reach, so I grabbed a nearby ladder and started climbing. Who knew what treasures awaited me up there?

Not many, as it turned out. Perched precariously on the ladder, I rifled through book after book, only to discover most were of recent vintage. Then an odd digest-sized comic jumped out from the rest. And this 128-page black-and-white square-bound comic had a most enticing title: It Rhymes With Lust!

It was a comic I’d never seen before –– and believe me, I’ve seen lots of weird comics! The brown-tinged paper suggested that the book was decades old, but what mainstream comic from back then had "lust" in the title? A suggestive cover featuring a steamy redhead with a plunging neckline only added to the mystery. This was definitely not a kiddie comic.

"Picture Novels" read a headline at the top, while a blurb at the bottom stated that this was "An original full-length novel." Clearly, I was holding a very early graphic novel. There has been much discussion about who created the first modern graphic novel. The answer depends of how one defines "modern," and what criteria one uses to define the phrase "graphic novel." Many claim Will Eisner’s A Contract With God (1978) fills the bill. Others argue the honor belongs to George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again (1976), Burne Hogarth’s Tarzan Of The Apes (1972), Wood’s The Wizard King (1978), Richard Corben’s Bloodstar (1976) or Gil Kane’s His Name Is Savage (1968), to name a few. Furthermore, if one accepts the premise that a collection of similarly-themed short stories can comprise a graphic novel, as is the case with Eisner’s Contract With God, then Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book (1959) is also in the running. But It Rhymes With Lust, published in 1950, predates them all.

Publisher Archer St. John had produced numerous comic books in the 1950s, including Joe Kubert’s Tor. St. John had a reputation as one of the good guys, willing to give creators a fair shake. In fact, he even let Kubert retain copyrights and get a piece of the action –– something almost unheard of by publishers back then. The script was credited to Drake Waller, a pseudonym for future screenwriter Leslie Waller and Arnold Drake. Drake, a prolific comic book scripter on such titles as Bob Hope, House of Mystery, Batman, Little Lulu and The X-Men, is perhaps best known as the creator of DC’s Deadman and the Doom Patrol. If I didn’t recognize "Drake Waller," I was quite familiar with the artist, Matt Baker, a comics’ mainstay in the 40s and 50s. Baker specialized in "headlight" comics (The kind men like!), featuring scantily dressed, well-endowed women. He enjoyed a reputation for drawing some the most luscious females in comics, including the delightfully sleazy Phantom Lady. I was less familiar with inker Ray Osrin, who drew comics for Fiction House, Fox and other publishers in the 40s. Together, they were the ideal team to depict the novel’s steamy, scarlet-tressed heroine, Rust (She-whose-name-rhymes-with-Lust!).

Amazingly, the book was bargain-priced at $5.95. I happily paid it, not having any idea what it was worth. Recently I was shocked to discover that 2006 Overstreet Price Guide values a mint copy at close to $1000. Whew! Admittedly, my book wasn’t mint, but quite valuable nonetheless. But was it any good? Overall, I’d have to give that a qualified "yes."

The art was handsome, and the clever use of Zip-A-Tone as a storytelling element was an unexpected bonus. For those unfamiliar with Zip-A-Tone, they’re shading sheets of transparent plastic with dot or line patterns printed on top and a sticky surface on the back. Once tones are placed on the art, excess areas are removed with a sharp Exacto blade. Cartoonists generally used black Zip-A-Tone to add grey tones to white. By contrast, white Zip-A-Tone is applied to black areas to lighten the art or give the illustration a ghostly appearance. Lust uses white zip throughout to make selected visual planes recede. As a result, the remaining artwork pops forward, subtly directing the reader to areas of particular importance to the narrative, much as a camera lens does in film. If a movie camera focuses on the foreground, the background becomes fuzzy. As a result, the viewer’s eye instinctively moves to the sharper image in front. It’s a simple but surprisingly sophisticated technique –– one Baker and Osrin may have used to make the reader feel he was looking at a movie on paper. And indeed, that was the point.

The Picture Novels series was actually conceived as a series of movies in comic book form. Maybe that’s why It Rhymes With Lust! reads like a B-movie potboiler, bubbling over with greed, sex, and political corruption. The script, while fun, is hardly a work of genius. Of course, many of the movies Lust tried to emulate weren’t exactly Academy Award® winners either! Regardless, It Rhymes With Lust! was a bold attempt to expand the comics medium, decades ahead of its time. Perhaps that’s what killed it. Picture Novels was intended to be the first of a series of adult graphic novels, but St. John and crew produced only one more before tossing in the towel. If they had succeeded, graphic novels may have become popular decades earlier. We’ll never know. For my part, I’m happy they tried. And I’m also happy I found hidden gold ten years ago in Powell’s Books. It was certainly my lucky day. And since you also get to read this lost gem, this your lucky day, too!

The End

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