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.

 

Witzend ad

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)

 

Witzend1 500

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

 

Witzend2 500

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 7 500

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.

 

Witzend3 cover 600

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.

 

Witzend4 500

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 Witzend10 600

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.

 

WallyWood PipsqueakPapers book 500

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.”)

 

Wood Pipsqueak2

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.

 

HeroMaiden3 300

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 . . . 

 

WallyWood Witzend 4 cover 1000c

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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