BY 1963, I WAS 12-YEARS OLD and had lost interest in comic books in general and superheroes in particular. Then, during the summer of 1964, I spent several weeks at the cabin at Harvey’s Lake owned by my friend Jon May’s parents. It was there that he introduced me to Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four, Steve Ditko’s Spiderman, Wally Wood’s Daredevil, and everything else Marvel! I was hooked. Immediately. Seemingly forever. 1
Witzend stemmed from a desire to give his friends in the comic book field a creative detour from the formulaic industry mainstream.
Witzend stemmed from a desire to give his friends in the comic book field a creative detour from the formulaic industry mainstream.
As a neophyte but oh so serious comic book collector in the mid-’60s, I eventually discovered and then subscribed to the Rocket’s Blast Comic Collector, the go-to fanzine for those few collectors of comic books that existed at the time.
RBCC featured page after page of eager sellers offering their no-longer wanted comics for sale or trade, and there were actually a few guys already established as genuine comic book “dealers.” 2
In an older issue of RBCC, I came across an advertisement announcing that “Wood has done it!” It was for a new magazine called Witzend, published by my favorite artist, Wallace “Wally” Wood. This was a first: an American comic book artist publishing his own work and that of others—especially some of the younger names in the fanzine field—in his own fanzine.
This is the full-page ad that showed up in certain comic book related publications in 1966 promising a whole new world of art by some of the field’s best talent.
Wally Wood vs the comic book industry
In fact, since Wood and most of his contributors were industry professionals, and Witzend was done in a high-quality, professional manner, it was dubbed a prozine. (I know: it looks like the name of a drug, and sounds like one too if you pronounce the second syllable with a long ‘i’ instead of as zeen.)
Wood launched Witzend with a publishing policy of “no policy” at all! That was his declaration of independence from the strictures of the Comic Code Authority and the corporate mainstream comics, primarily DC and Marvel.
He was depressed and angered at their unethical-if-legal work-for-hire contracts and pitiful pay that creators were forced to accept if they wanted to work in the field.
Witzend stemmed from a desire to give his friends in the comic book field a creative detour from the formulaic industry mainstream. He also saw the field as being capable of more than the essentially adolescent fare that the industry leaders accepted as necessary for their perception of the medium’s only real audience.
“During this same period, Bill Spicer and Richard Kyle began promoting and popularizing the terms graphic novel and graphic story. In 1967, Spicer changed the title of his Fantasy Illustrated ‘zine to Graphic Story Magazine. Kyle, Spicer, Wood, and Bill Pearson all envisioned an explosion of graphic narratives far afield of the commercial comic book industry.” (Wikipedia)
WITZEND #1 from the summer of 1966 gave us a nicely laid out (panel-like) if uninspired front cover montage of images by Wood and his contributors from within the magazine. These included Wood’s “Animan” and “Bucky Ruckus” and former EC artist Al Williamson’s much ballyhooed “Savage World.” Other artists included were other EC mates Reed Crandall (who sent some unbelievably beautiful pen and ink illustrations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels), Roy G. Krenkel, and Angelo Torres, along with Jack Gaughan, Gil Kane, and Ralph Reese.
The back cover was a portrait of Buster Crabbe—who played both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in movies—by Frank Frazetta (also linked to EC). The inclusion of work outside the bullpen by Marvel superheroes Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko added to the fun!
Alas, by the time my $2 for the first two issues reached Box 882 in Ansonia Station, the first issue was already sold out! Print runs for Witzend was in the low thousands; supposedly, no more than 5,000 for each of the first four Wood published issues.
So its being sold out made sense. I received Witzend#2 plus a notice that my extra dollar would be held for the third issue—unless I wanted my money back. (I did not.) 3
WITZEND #2 from early 1967 was the one that I received from Ansonia Station and therefore first that I owned! Therefore, it is the issue for which I have the strongest personal/sentimental attachment. While disappointed at not having received the first issue, I was mesmerized by the work in this number.
The cover art is one of the many fantastical, wee beasties that Wood drew for his own amusement. The issue included another “Animan” segment by Wood and more art by Crandall (Edgar Rice Burroughs), Ditko, Reese, and Frazetta. The new contributors were Bill Elder, Harvey Kurtzman (“Hey, Look!” reprints), Don Martin, Gray Morrow, and Warren Sattler.
FANTASY ILLUSTRATED was one of the best comics fanzines of the ’60s. Publisher/editor Bill Spicer eventually became one of the earliest promoters of the comic form as a potential art form and championed the concept of the graphic novel. The cover of this seventh issue (mid 1967) featured a drawing by one of Wood’s protégés, Dan Adkins, inked by the master himself.
By this time, Wood was active with Witzend and was also the driving force behind the new entry into the superhero field of American comic books, Tower Comics. Wood acted as editor/writer/artist for the companies two biggest titles, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and Dynamo, and helped launch No-Man and Undersea Agents.
WITZEND #3 finally came out in late 1967 and featured this rather silly drawing by Wood that my (then) 15-year old mind interpreted as a couple of asexual beings wrapped in what might be called a co-dependent relationship. Not my favorite Wood art.
This issue introduced both Wood’s “Pipsqueak Papers” and Ditko’s reactionary “Mr. A.” Other work was contributed by Richard Bassford, Roger Brand, Will Eisner, Richard “Grass” Green, Kurtzman (more “Hey, Look!”) and Art Spiegelman.
The big deal this time was “Last Chance,” a previously unpublished story originally intended for one of EC’s New Direction titles in 1955. Those titles featured very short prose stories with copious comics-like illustrations, a format designed to bypass the new Comics Code Authority. It had been written and drawn by Frank Frazetta but was restructured and rewritten for Witzend by Woody’s associate editor Bill Pearson.
WITZEND #4 from mid-1968 had a nice cover by Wood of a knight on his way to a castle—no doubt to rescue a fair maiden. (And they were always both maidens and fair in male fantasies of this nature). So that readers knew that Woody knew that this form was tired and often taken to seriously, his knight is coming ton the rescue with a broken lance.
With this issue, Wood began his fantasy, “The World Of The Wizard King” with co-author Pearson. Returned contributors were Brand, Crandall (Edgar Rice Burroughs), Frazetta, and Green, with first appearances by science fiction/children’s book illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon and Bhob Stewart.
Wood’s contributions dwindled
After the fourth issue, Wally Wood and Witzend were no longer compatible, and he sold the rights to Witzend to Pearson’s Wonderful Publishing Company for one dollar (no doubt due to his committing himself into helping Tower Comics get off the ground and compete with DC and Marvel for a share of the superhero field).
Wood remained listed as Founder and Editor Emeritus of Witzend but his actual contributions dwindled to nothing. These post-Wood issues continued to explore new avenues with contributions from such new names as Vaughn Bode, Jeff Jones, Mike Hinge, Kenneth Smith, and Bernie Wrightson.
The tenth issue of Witzend (above) was the first to feature Wood’s art on the front cover in several years and by now the cover was in color and the magazine cost $3. This silly drawing seems to be a reflection on both his early Mad comics work and some of his current interests. Witzend was less enjoyable with each issue as it got further away from what I assumed Wood’s intentions had been.
Woody and Pipsqueak and Nudine
With Witzend #3, Wood introduced Pipsqueak and Nudine. The diminutive, apparently sexless hero became my favorite character of Wood’s. Despite his seeming lack of any kind of physical maturity, Pip had a pretty hot girlfriend: a fairy-like beauty drawn as only Wood could draw a female! 4
Pipsqueak Papers (1993) is a posthumous collection in book form. I never figured out my reasons for so digging Pipsqueak: perhaps it was my inferiority complex (most of that long since overcome) or the sense of insignificance I felt when confronted by pretty girls (most of that long since forgotten) or my sense of, ahem, not measuring up (most of that long since dismembered).
Whatever, the character resonated with me and that turned out to be something of value when I met Wally Wood a few years later. (And you can read about that in a follow-up to this piece titled “with wally wood at the EC fan addict convention.”)
This is a page of Wood’s original art for Witzend. In this story, Pipsqueak finds himself alone—finally!—with the nubile Nudine (yeah yeah yeah, but it’s a teenaged male fantasy, remember) and we discover that our hero is NOT, in fact, sexless!
Wood’s dream was a pipedream
Wrapping this post up, I have included a non-price guide section of no value to anyone, and an anecdotal afterlude just to add a bit of personality to the above. As much as I would like to assign realistic near mint values to the items above, I am no expert in the evaluating of comic books. The little research that I did on the Internet (Amazon, eBay, and several dealers sites) found variances in prices being asked too big to give me a realistic hint at current market values.
For instance, for one copy of Witzend the spread was between $45 and $80, and in both cases the items were less than NM. Should a reader be better informed and want to chime in with some assessments, please do.
Almost fifty years after the fact, it is almost impossible to relate the sense of joy and, better, the possibility of expanding of the horizon of the medium that Witzend gave me. And as I was hardly unique, I assume the same sense of expectation existed in 1966-67 in other comic book fans/collectors who were intelligent and articulate and who took our funny books seriously.
While Wood’s dream turned out to be a pipedream, another kind of dream—based on another kind of pipe—was being realized at the same time at the drawing boards and desks of less-than-professional artists in San Francisco.
This is a variation on the theme from Pipsqueak wooing Nudine above. Wood titled this “Idyll” and made it somewhat less playful than the Pipsqueak work. This print is an artist’s proof (A/P) and was created for a portfolio released by the National Cartoonists Society in 1977-78. It was done as a “limited edition print” of 1,200 numbered and signed copies.
On comics records girls and Janet
Finally, all of this happened in 1967, when my passion for comic books was probably at its peak. By the next year, this passion would be lessened considerably by the redirection of some of my passion from comic books to records and rock & roll music.I had been an Elvis fan since I could remember, with “You ain’t nothin’ but a houn’ dawg” forever embedded in my consciousness. 5
But by ’65 I was also a big fan of the Dave Clark 5, the Kinks, the Stones, the Who, etc., but especially the Byrds. By ’67, there was Donovan Cream Butterfield Blues Band Buffalo Springfield and so so so much more! I actively collected their records, even looking for imports of the original releases of the British groups.
As I just stated, “some of my passion” went to records and the ‘new’ rock music, but most of it went to girls. Actually, by 1968 all my passion was directed to one girl: Janet Golaszewski, Head Strutter—you know, the really pretty girl with the great legs at the front of band!—for the Nanticoke-Newport High School marching band (my school’s arch rivals in all things sportswise) and the most gorgeous girl in her school, if not the entire Valley.
But I acknowledge my prejudice in this matter . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: Another great drawing that was used as the cover for one of several collections of previously published strips and art titled Woodwork (1980). This was one of the few attempts to present Wood’s work outside of a comic book format during his life.
Here we have Pipsqueak addressing Nudine, with several observers from the Woodian world. Is Pipsqueak pleading for a little you-know-what? Or is he pledging his troth? Note that Wood also drew some fine trees (although his mushrooms were even better).
While Wally Wood and Witzend and his dreams were more or less failures at the time, it was a brief flowering of what was to be (the underground comix of the late ’60s and the “fine art” prints ushered in by Barry Smith in the early ’70s owe Woody a nod or two) and Witzend come to be considered both innovative and a classic of its kind.
1 And was discovering rock & roll and girls, but that’s another story.
2 Anybody remember Howard Rogofsky?
3 I did not find a copy of Witzend #1 until 1971, when I paid $20 for a mint copy at one of Phil Seuling’s Comic Art Conventions in New York City (probably at the Statler Hilton.
4 In the almost exclusively (post-adolescent, pre-mature) male world of comic books in the’60s, all women were known as . . . “girls.”
5 Of course, being an Elvis fan during the heyday of his movie career and many of the singles that accompanied them—ahem, Do The Clam, Frankie And Johnny, Spinout, and Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On) come to mind—made me the focus of the derision of many a hipper musical classmate. But that’s another story,