Chicago Spanking Review

A Comparison of the Humorama Big Five Plus One Spanking Cartoonists - Part 2

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By Web-Ed

a humorama magazine


Having made a detailed comparison of The Big Five Plus One, I thought I'd like to take a closer look at their professional lives. Few of CSR's readers will have seen much of these men's work outside the confines of Humorama's spanking cartoons (and in fact, even these may well be new to many readers). Except for Ward and DeCarlo, I didn't know much myself when I began researching, and as we'll see I wasn't able to uncover much information about Homer Provence or George Morrice, although I did turn up a few facts on Kirk Stiles that were not previously known within the spanko (or even the artistic) community. But I was spurred on by a fascination with their lives - how did they manage to earn a living, for instance, and what were their professional aspirations?

I've kept the raw biographical data to a minimum (when it was even available), and I have avoided presenting any new spanking cartoons here - the place for that is in the Humor Gallery. I have instead tried to dig up some examples of each man's non-Humorama work, although with Homer and Morrice I was unable to do so, to give the reader some idea of what these artists did when they weren't brainstorming up one-panel gags for Abe Goodman.

cover of military comics #30 by bill ward

Ward's early comics work on Blackhawk, from Military Comics #30 (July, 1944).

Bill Ward is probably the best-known of the Five to spankos today except possibly for DeCarlo. Like DeCarlo, he started in comics, doing mostly layouts for the Jack Binder shop which had a contract with Fawcett. Later he moved on to Quality where he drew Blackhawk. Upon being drafted into the Army in 1942, he created his own strip, Torchy, which he continued at Quality after the war was over.

Something I'd always wondered about is why Ward left comics to work at Humorama, which paid peanuts. One possibility was that he didn't like pencilling romance books when he wasn't allowed to ink them as well (to save time, pencilling and inking are usually two separate tasks when the assembly-line process is used in comics). Not only did Ward not care for what various inkers did to his work (a lot of other artists feel the same way), he didn't have much time for Torchy any more, and Gill Fox had to do most of her stories. And when Fredric Wertham put Torchy on his “unfit” list, her days were numbered and Ward must have been very angry with Wertham and discouraged about the comics industry.

bill ward cover to torchy #5

By the time Torchy got her own book, Bill Ward was so busy with Romance comics that he could only find the time do some of her covers and stories. This is one of them, the cover of Torchy #5 (July, 1950). Published by Quality.

Ward made some biographical notes that helped me to complete the picture. First, he had begun selling his cartoons to Goodman at Humorama as far back as 1946, earlier than I had realized. Thus when comic-book sales began going down around '52 – '53 and with them his page rate, he had something to fall back on. Second, I had imagined Ward left comics around that time, but he said that he hung on at Quality until the end in 1956 and didn't look for more work elsewhere because there wasn't any. (For more on this period in comics, see my article The Effects of the Comics Code on Spanking in Comics, Part 1.) Third, Ward had started working for Cracked magazine, the most successful of the many MAD-imitators, as soon as it hit the stands in 1954. It seems, then, that from about 1956 – 1966 Ward made his living from Cracked, turning out an unknown number of pages, and Humorama, where he may have been selling as many as 30 cartoons per month! That would have been $450 right there, plus whatever he made at Cracked (I'll guess it was something like $50 per page for story and art), plus foreign and reprint fees from Humorama (they didn't pay much, but at least they did pay something for reprints, and apparently there was a lot of foreign demand for Ward's work). It may not sound like a lot of money to readers today, but you could support a family on that kind of income in the '50's and '60's.

It's less clear how much money Ward could have brought in during the last thirty years of his life. We know he still produced new work for fetish publications, for we have seen some of his later spanking stuff here at CSR, but the rates they paid could not have been high. On the other hand, Ward had a lot of fans by then and is known to have been selling his original art (we saw an ad in Fetish Times, a very weird paper to which he contributed). Until 1983, he would also still have been getting some domestic and foreign reprint fees from Humorama, so perhaps the combined income from these three sources was sufficient.

cover of army laughs august 1949 by bill wenzel

I encountered this August 1949 issue of Army Laughs quite by accident. The cover is unsigned and uncredited, but Wenzel is known to have done some work for this magazine and it looks like his art to me. Note again the girl's figure is more slender than his later subjects would be (as we saw in Part 1 in a different cartoon he did for Humorama a year later).

Unlike Ward and DeCarlo, Bill Wenzel never worked in comics, which is rather interesting as there was a lot of comics work available in the 1947 – 1952 period. I believe he genuinely liked coming up with his own gags rather than working from someone else's script, and he seemed quite content to contribute to the Humorama line as well as other humor magazines such as Pepper and Mirth which were numerous throughout the 1950's. We know that he did some work for Army Laughs early in his career, and he certainly sold many cartoons to Humorama. But prolific as he was, we also know he wasn't able to support his family on what he made because his wife had to work, too.

bill wenzel cover for paperback all about girls

Wenzel found some work doing watercolor covers for paperback books. This one published by Avon had a congenial title for him, All About Girls (printing date unknown but probably 1960's).

Humorama began going reprint in 1963. I don't know exactly when and where the non-spanking cartoons were reprinted because I haven't catalogued them the way I have the "spankers," but I do know they were reprinted because I have seen, for example, DeCarlo, Jack Cole, and Jefferson Machamer in post-1962 digests, by which time DeCarlo had left and Cole and Machamer were dead. It does appear that Wenzel, along with Ward, may have gone on selling to Humorama after the other members of the Big Five Plus One had left the scene (DeCarlo departed around 1960; Stiles around '63 or '64; Ward claimed to have continued selling there until '66, and I have no departure dates at all for Homer or Morrice). But at some point, Humorama stopped buying new cartoons or at least greatly curtailed their purchases - the issues of Popular Jokes I have from the 70's after Romp and Joker had breathed their last are almost all-reprint except for a few new ones by Ward and Wenzel.

After the prime Humorama years, Wenzel did find other outlets for his work such as the magazines Sex to Sexty and Escapade and the covers of paperback novels. In 1979, he and his wife moved to Florida, but he does not seem to have retired completely at that time. As far as I can tell, he continued to work on a freelance basis until his health declined. Wenzel passed away in 1987.

kirk stiles in saturday evening post

(Above). Quite recognizably Stiles, this example of a non-spanking humor cartoon appeared in an unknown issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The reference to Maurice Chevalier suggests it may have been as far back as the 1930's. (Click to increase in size).

Kirk Stiles' biography is sketchy at best. He may have been a little older than the other members of the Big Five, for he was a professional cartoonist by 1936 when Jim Linderman reports he had a cartoon published in Fiction Parade and Golden Book magazine. In The Magazine Cartoon Art of Hank Ketcham, Dennis The Menace creator Hank Ketcham is pictured remembering Stiles as one of the cartoonists who would meet with various editors in New York, and this gives us an important clue as to how he managed to support himself since he couldn't possibly have lived on what he made at Humorama alone. I would guess he had at most 5 – 10 cartoons in Humorama during a good month, which translates into about $75.00 - $150.00. A brief biographical entry on Stiles I found in Magicpedia of all places (Stiles was apparently an amateur magician) says he contributed to The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Time, the New York Herald, and Collier's, which is fully consistent with Ketchum's recollection. I have indeed located one of his cartoons from The Saturday Evening Post (at left).

(Below) The reverse side of a Kirk Stiles cartoon from the March 1961 issue of Jest. "LD - 8/68" means it was reprinted in the August 1968 Laugh Digest. Humorama's stamp shows that a reprint fee was paid, although if the check was mailed to Stiles' old address in Saugerties, New York, I wonder if he received it down in Florida.

reverse side of kirk stiles cartoon

It also explains Stiles' inconsistency, which I have commented on many times and attributed to haste: he really didn't have the time to redraw anything if errors popped up, which they did. He was contributing to Humorama by the early 50's and seems to have continued doing so through 1962. As mentioned earlier, it appears that Humorama started to go reprint in 1963, and I found a report that he moved to Florida from New York in 1964 and taught art at the Hollywood Art School. Linderman found evidence that someone named Kirk Stiles was offering to teach painting in Miami in 1976, which jibes nicely with his becoming an art teacher 12 years earlier, and also with my guess that he had some experience as a painter based on the backgrounds in his Humorama work.

Stiles interest in magic must have been strong, for he edited Magic and Spells Quarterly and served as President of the Society of American Magicians Assembly 49 in Ft. Lauderdale. He also had an interest in chess, contributing to Chess Review. I looked for but could not find any back issues of Chess Review cheap enough to make it worthwhile to go through them looking for his cartoons there.

kirk stiles cartoon of man tempted to grope full-busted girl

I have no pictures of Stiles, but something about the man here suggests to me it might be a self-portrait. Taken from the August 1965 issue of Laugh Riot (Web-Ed's collection; click to double-size).

Why did Stiles leave his cartooning career in New York behind him? After almost 30 years in the business, he may have been tired of the pace, or he may have found it difficult to continue selling enough cartoons to get by on, especially with Humorama going at least partially reprint in 1963. The timing of his move in 1964 is certainly interesting – was it mere coincidence that Humorama stopped buying so many cartoons the year before? Note that DeCarlo had left both Humorama and Timely around 1960, suggesting that market conditions were changing (more on this below). Of course, DeCarlo had his comics work at Archie, which made it possible to give up both comics at Timely and girly cartoons at Humorama. Stiles had never worked in comics, and would have found it difficult to break into the field in 1964 even if he had wanted to.

(At left) In Part 1 we discussed the Overbarrel Theory, that an artist into spanking probably wouldn't focus much attention on the bosom, instead concentrating on the behind. As we see from this cartoon in which it's not an allergy that's making the man's fingers itch, Stiles was clearly focused on the bosom - and how! Stiles didn't draw enormous breasts the way Ward did, but he sure knew how to make them look provocative as we see here. Bra straps that slip down the shoulder or actually break during a spanking are another Stiles trademark, and would have been considered fairly suggestive in the mid-50's.

cover of betty and veronica #106 by dan decarlo and rudy lapic

DeCarlo soon set the style at Archie. Here we have the cover of Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #106 (October 1964) with pencils by DeCarlo and inks by his long-time collaborator Rudy Lapick. © Archie Productions Inc.

Dan DeCarlo was both talented and fortunate, and seems to have had the widest range of career alternatives of the Big Five Plus One. He was talented enough to have a unique style that was valued by editors inside of comics and out, and fortunate to have been able to draw very quickly, not to mention having been in the right place at the right time. While he had wanted to be a magazine illustrator or at least a cartoonist for The Saturday Evening Post, after serving in World War II the only job in the arts he could find was working for Stan Lee at Timely (Atlas, Marvel) Comics. At that time, Timely still had staff artists, and DeCarlo made a steady $75 per week – enough to live on – drawing comics like Jeanie and Millie the Model.

Working for Stan Lee had another benefit – Lee agreed to introduce DeCarlo to Humorama editor Abe Goodman (for a 10% finder's fee!). DeCarlo seems to have produced 5 to 10 cartoons per month for Humorama at $15.00 each. He was, however, paying Lee a $1.50 finder's fee and his Timely inker Rudy Lapick $3.00 to help him with the gags. Since the ink wash technique took a lot of time, DeCarlo felt that netting only $10.50 per cartoon simply wasn't enough. Goodman agreed, but rather than increase DeCarlo's rate instead told him to turn in the art and he (Goodman) would supply the gags. Lee chipped in by agreeing to forego the agreed-upon finder's fee, and so DeCarlo could now clear the entire $15.00 per cartoon.

archie #230 cover by decarlo and lapick

The cover to Archie #230, with pencils by DeCarlo and inks by Rudy Lapick. Archie whacks Veronica with a tennis racquet near the top of this cover and inside the book, making DeCarlo the only artist to do spankings for both comics and Humorama. (Click to go to detail page.)   © Archie Productions Inc.

With all that going on, DeCarlo somehow managed to find the time to do more freelance work, with Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #4 (c. 1951 - no indicia available) being perhaps his first work for Archie. With this triple vocation – Timely, Humorama, and Archie – DeCarlo's situation might seem pretty secure. However, comics were in trouble – after 1952, Timely let its bullpen of staff artists go, relying entirely on freelance work, so DeCarlo's work there must have been on a freelance basis after that time. Freelancing could pay well, but was less secure than a staff job. Worse, the comics industry was in deep trouble, and in 1957 things got so bad at Timely (by then called Atlas) that Stan Lee had to let everyone go (again, see my article The Effects of the Comics Code on Spanking in Comics, Part 1). Before long, Lee was able to start offering work again, but to DeCarlo the situation there and at Humorama was too unstable to be relied upon. Archie was offering him more work, so sometime around 1960 he left both Timely and Humorama forever.

In making this decision, DeCarlo showed remakable prescience: Atlas (as Marvel) would soon move to superheroes with few titles in DeCarlo's bread-and-butter genres of teen humor and girl's interest, while Humorama was to curtail its cartoon-buying in 1963. Meanwhile, he redefined the art style over at Archie, substituting his own take on the characters for Bob Montana's original designs, and he continued with great success there until 2000, when they fired him in the middle of a legal dispute over the ownership of Josie and the Pussycats.

DeCarlo passed away in 2001.

The life of Homer Provence is even less well-documented than that of Stiles. The original art for one of his Humorama cartoons has on its back an address in Yuma, Arizona - far from the publishing capital of America, New York City. Homer of course could have conducted his business by mail, and in fact must have done so, but it's hard to see how he could have hustled up as much business as Wenzel or Stiles, who could and did visit their editors in person. Perhaps he supplemented his cartoon work with commercial illustrations, but if so it will be hard to confirm as I imagine most of the books and magazines he could have contributed to are long out of print or otherwise unavailable, even if we knew what they were. Or perhaps he had a part-time job completely unrelated to cartooning or commercial art.

As a secondary mystery, why did he use a Post Office Box? His business couldn't have been secret from Humorama editor Abe Goodman. Was he trying to keep his connection with Humorama a secret from someone else? A daytime employer, perhaps, or a small newspaper which might have viewed Humorama as too risque´? We'll probably never know.

reverse side of cartoon by homer provence cartoon of woman and phonograph by homer provence

(Click to triple-size) The reverse side of an example of Homer's original art for Humorama. You can see that Humorama paid a reprint fee (this cartoon was reprinted twice), and that they moved from one address on Madison Ave. to another. Homer's address was in Yuma, Arizona - far away from the publishing world, and pretty much everything else as well. Note that this cartoon was first printed in 1961, prior to when Humorama begin going reprint in 1963.

An example of Homer's non-spanking original art. While his brushwork does not seem as skilled as that of DeCarlo or Stiles, his characters are unique. We don't know what the woman is doing with the phonograph here, but she has the intelligent and sophisticated appearance that was typical of Homer's women even when they were being spanked.

sexagenarian gag in humorama laugh it off by george morrice

One of George Morrice's non-spanking cartoons, from the March 1961 issue of Laugh It Off (Web-Ed's collection; click to double-size).

If the life of Homer Provence is something of a mystery, that of George Morrice is a complete enigma. The spelling of his name and some of his original art with "Newcastle-on-Tyne" as his address on the back (according to Linderman) show him to be British, and he left no traces in America except for his Humorama work. I can only imagine that there wasn't enough illustration work in the U.K. for him, so he tried Abe Goodman even though the postage costs must have eaten up a fair portion of the $15.00 (at most) he was getting. The Humorama line in its heyday must have been the #1 buyer of cartoons in the world, since ten or twelve 100-page bi-monthly digests would have required something like 460 - 540 cartoons per month!

Although Morrice did more Humorama cartoons than I had realized when I began my search, he must have supplemented his Humorama income somehow. Any work he did in the U.K. will probably remain unknown here in the States, and my rather incomplete sampling of non-Humorama cartoon magazines has so far failed to find anything, but there were a lot of such magazines at one time, so perhaps he sold to some of them.

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