Thursday, August 22, 2013

Harry Lucey: When Worlds Collide

My love for comics is based upon the work of four genius cartoonists. My ‘pillars’ are Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood and Harry Lucey. I supposed to the casual, viewer that final name might appear out of place but for me his artwork was every bit as key to my understanding of the artform as the other three fellows.

The amazing thing is that until 2007, I didn’t know his name. That is because I came to love his stuff from reading Archie comics and they were not in the habit of providing artist credits. But from a very young age, I could recognize Lucey’s distinct art style and was aware how much more I appreciated his strips over the other ones I saw in those Archie books.

Lucey was able to combine superb, precise draftsmanship with exaggerated and manic comic beats. If Archie was shocked you would see a reaction not unlike something from a Tex Avery cartoon. But he would fill his backgrounds in with such amazing detail. He was also gifted with a knack for drawing unbelievably sexy women and I rank him above his bullpen mate, Dan DeCarlo in this area. 

Once I discovered his name I started to research him a bit and was flabbergasted to learn that he produced work not only in the humor category but in ‘straight’ features as well. When I saw my first one, an issue of Sam Hill, I was shocked. With artists like Kirby and Wood, I could recognize the same artistic traits in both their humor and adventure work. But with Lucey I found it hard to reconcile the two. His straight stuff, to my eyes, shows the influence of Caniff and Sickles and seams far away from the precise draftsmanship of his Archie work. But I still liked it, just the same. 

Well I’ve just come across a story where these two styles are blended and I wanted to talk about it. In the late 1950’s he was asked to produce a 13 page adventure story that featured a hitherto unknown Archie character. It’s the ol’ redheads older cousin, Andy Andrews. Andy was an ivy league, college All-American and an ex-Marine who became a foreign correspondent for a newspaper. The piece lay unused and forgotten in the warehouse before editor Victor Gorelick found it in an old file cabinet. It remained unpublished until the spring of 2011, when it was part of the The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. trade paperback. 

Why that tome, you might wonder? It’s because the story was written during the ‘red menace’ paranoia and it explicitly details an adventure where Andy is at odds with the Soviet Union, so it ties into the spy theme.

The story is called “The Iron Curtain Caper”. On page one Andy introduces himself to the readers. If you image and older and better built Archie, that is what Lucey presents us with. Andy explains that going into this adventure that there was a good chance that he might not survive, so he decides to write cousin Archie with the details. The scene shifts to the classroom taught by Miss Grundy. She was asking the class who invented the H-Bomb? Besides citing the official names, Archie adds the name of Professor Zeiger, whom Grundy doesn’t recognize. Archie explains that it’s all spelled out in a letter from his cousin (which he happens to have on his person). He reads the latter to the class which details how Andy discovers that Prof. Zeiger is not dead, as the West was lead to believe, but is in the care of the Czechoslovakian underground and in need of a way out. Andy gets a visa into the country, where he has a run in with the Soviet Secret Police. He sidesteps that and then makes contact with the underground and ultimately gets the professor out safely.

It ends back in the classroom where the story puts him in good stead with Miss G and with Veronica. Reggie and Betty are bitchin’ that now Archie and Ronnie will become exclusive for a bit, but it’s Juggy that provides a silver lining. Grundy was so enthralled that she forgot to issue any homework! 

So in this single story Harry displays both of his artstyles at once. Plus the character of Andy blends them together into one. Its fuckin’ amazing and worth seeking out.


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