wally wood and witzend and the pipsqueak papers

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

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.

 

Witzend stemmed from a de­sire to give his friends in the comic book field a cre­ative de­tour from the for­mu­laic in­dustry main­stream.

 

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.

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

The first issue 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.”

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). Other artists in­cluded were:

Reed Cran­dall (who sent some un­be­liev­ably beau­tiful pen and ink il­lus­tra­tions of Edgar Rice Bur­roughs’ novels)
Roy G. Krenkel
An­gelo Torres
Jack Gaughan
Gil Kane
Ralph Reese

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

The second issue came in early 1967 and 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
Warren Sat­tler

 

FANTASY ILLUSTRATED #7

This 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

Wood and friends 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
Harvey Kurtzman (more “Hey, Look!”)
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 

The fourth issue 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 Bill Pearson. Con­trib­u­tors were:

Roger Brand
Reed Cran­dall (more Edgar Rice Bur­roughs)
Frank Frazetta
Grass Green
Bhob Stewart
Leo and Diane Dillon

 

Wood’s contributions dwindled

After the fourth issue, Wally Wood and Witzend were no longer com­pat­ible, and he sold the rights 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
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.

 

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 pipe-dream, 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, and girls

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 sports-wise) 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 for the cover of Witzend 4 and then as the cover for an­other self-published col­lec­tion, the Wal­lace Wood Port­folio (1970). While Wood and his dreams were com­mer­cials fail­ures at the time, it was a brief flow­ering of what was to be. Today, Witzend is con­sid­ered both in­no­v­a­tive and a classic in the field of comics.

 


FOOTNOTES:

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 JohnnySpinout, 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,

 

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