Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nutsy To You

I want to take a look at an early Woody Gelman comic book character today but this will also be a catchall Woody thread in a way. So hang on tight...

Sometime after his first major gig at the Fleischer/Famous animation studio, before he started doing work for Topps and likely just before the time he was partners at an independent art agency with Ben Solomon, Woody Gelman developed a comic character called Nutsy Squirrel in 1946. Woody wrote and an artist named Irving Dressler drew, although both apparently dropped out very early on.  I suspect Woody bailed when he started his art agency with Ben Solomon.

Originally introduced in the first issue of the DC comic Funny Folks in April 1946, Nutsy got his first cover with issue #4 and eventually was starring in two books as Comic Cavalcade, a superhero comic became a Funny Animal book commencing with issue #30 in December 1948. Funny Folks became Hollywood Funny Folks for a bit but became Nutsy Squirrel with issue #61 in September of 1954. After a dozen issues as the title character, Nutsy expired with issue #72 in November 1957 as TV continued its meteoric ascent as the primary entertainment vehicle for the kiddies..

Here is a good look at Nutsy, from Funny Folks #11:


The DC connection is interesting in view of some early Bazooka comic series featuring DC characters, among them some Funny Animals. It seems quite possible that Woody was the conduit through which the DC comics made it to Topps as this occurred around the middle of 1949, when Solomon & Gelman were already working on projects for the company.

These were not the worlds best strips, as one can imagine.  Here is another DC Funny Animal strip Topps used:



Note the small DC logo near the bottom right corner (above the "l" in "valuable"). I am trying to determine if Nutsy ever appeared on a Bazooka comic as that would be elegantly serendipitous. Nutsy did make it to TV though, albeit as a static image with voiceovers describing the action in what must be the cheapest show ever made.

I don't think Nutsy made it to any of the Nostalgia Press releases from Woody unfortunately. Nostalgia Press operated from the mid-1960's until Woody's death in 1978 and reissued what I would describe as "thrilling adventure" comic strips.  Perhaps even more thrilling was this book that Woody worked on:



I wonder if Barbara Jackson is the same as Barbara Gelman,who "edited" Topps Fan Magazine back in 1965? It's not Woody's wife (her name was Lil) but maybe it was his daughter. Or not.

Other interesting little tidbits: Woody was an advertiser (through Card Collectors Company) in both Popular Mechanics and Boys Life magazines as far back as the early 60's.  Here are typical examples from the June 1961 issue of Boys Life and the April 1962 issue of Popular Mechanics:



I'm not sure where Woody found the time to work at Topps! He even appeared on an episode of To Tell The Truth in early 1974; sadly I can't find a video of it on youtube.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Placement Service

BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd passed along an old ad featuring an item from my favorite confectioner a short time ago. Sometime in the 1940's the Bakelite Corporation (really Union Carbide) took out a trade ad featuring an old Topps Gum display.  I think it looks pretty cool as the colors of the Topps display and gum really stand out:


Bakelite was essentially an early form of plastic, a bit more brittle than the stuff we are used to today. Shep says it's the first time he's seen one of these displays other than in darker colors.

Here's a better look at the Topps display:



Here is one of the aforementioned darker displays:



That display was auctioned along with the other type of counter display used by Topps, the round canister:


All these displays date from around 1946-47 I would say as the canister has a 1946 copyright.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tricky Tacks

Well oddball items just keep popping up from the 1960's Rookie Banquets Topps used to throw every year.  Take a gander at the baubles below: a tie tack and cuff links purportedly given to J.C. Martin, a 1961 Rookie All Star award winner (even though he had a card in 1960 he only had cups of coffee in 1959 and '60) who must have led the AL catching field in a weak year.  In 1961 Martin played in 110 games while batting .230 and knocking in a whopping 32 runs in what may have been his best offensive season.

Here is JC's 1962 card, showing his major prize:



Here is the full set:


I was hoping the back views would show manufacturing details but it only looks like patent pending stamps were impressed:



As you can see, the motif is taken from the actual trophy:


Here is a closeup of the tack, it's got some slight damage but I like it just the same:


While he may not have been a slugger, he was a whiz with the glove and got himself some additional hardware with the 1969 Mets, who directly benefited from a lucky play of Martin's in Game 4 of the World Series.  With the immortal Rod Gaspar on second base in a 1-1 game, Martin pinch hit for Tom Seaver in the bottom of the 10th.  He bunted and the pitcher fielded the ball and threw it to first, hitting Martin, running to the inside of the baseline, in the arm. The Orioles cried interference but the ump said JC had not intentionally done so and the run counted.  The tally put the Mets up 3 games to 1 and they never looked back.  This play allegedly led to the creation of the running lane to the outside of the baseline, commencing 45 feet away from the bag, for the 1970 season.

Topps immortalized the play, although not with the end result but rather the beginning, on a World Series card in the 1970 set:


Now I was (and am) a huge Mets fan and remember quite well the final out of the World Series that year, having just come home from school in time to witness it in glorious black and white, but I've always preferred his regular 1970 card; I just think it looks sharp:



JC was gone by then though, traded to the Cubs in the offseason.  Did you know the Mets carried three catchers on their postseason roster in '69?  Yep:  the starter Jerry Grote, Duffy Dyer and ol' JC.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Love, Woody

A pretty neat bit of correspondence was auctioned off a couple of years ago by Nate D. Sanders Auctions to which I was alerted by BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd.  It's a two-parter, with Robert Crumb, a former Topps artist (in 1965) writing to his former boss, Woody Gelman, in the spring of 1968.  Check out the content of this letter:


Crumb is discussing, of course, the quite infamous first issue of Zap Comics! Woody, being Woody, was likely ordering 25 copies of one of the most famous underground comix ever published to distribute to his friends and colleagues. Currently that's something on the order of a half million dollars worth of pulp that Woody got for a mere $3.75!  There is some good information in this letter concerning the print run of the first issue's first run, which would be in excess of 3,500 copies a figure toward the upper end of estimates for this historical artifact. It would appear 4,000 to 5,000 first edition copies would have been run I think. It also appears Woody had received copies previously.

You also get wind of Crumb's firstborn, Jesse; the search for a New York distributor; and a query as to whether Bhob Stewart (the longtime reviewer at Publishers Weekly and generally a comics historian) had seen the first issue.

The fact that Woody's response is also extant is quite remarkable, although I suspect it was a carbon. Woody also had a file going on Crumb in his archives:



I love the Nostalgia Press letterhead! I also get the distinct impression Crumb and his (first) wife had visited Woody recently at his home in Malverne, Long Island, NY. Woody's handwriting is atrocious, worse than mine even, and I can't make everything out (there is some sort of "familiar" abbreviation to boot ) but Woody definitely showed Zap #1 to a very young Art Spiegelman, which is kind of mind blowing! Let's not overlook that $20 gift to young Jesse Crumb either-these guys were clearly friends.

Woody was a prime mover in subversive comic art and the extent of his involvement and appreciation in the movement seems to grow every time another bit of information is uncovered. And this all needs to be put into historical perspective as Woody was writing back to Crumb two weeks after Martin Luther King was murdered. It was a chaotic time in America.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Best Berger

I have a few more Sy Berger press photos to share today, all from the 1960's.

Here is Sy receiving an award from George Trautman at the 1961 Minor League Convention in Florida. Trautman was a minor league executive who became President of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) in 1947.  Berger was a fixture at such events starting in 1959, when Topps began giving out their rookie awards .


Same folks, same award, different locale.  Here is the 1962 award presentation held in Rochester, NY in December of 1962.  Trautman would die the following year while still in office.


Here Sy presents an award to Earl Keller, the longtime sportswriter for the San Diego Tribune, in December 1963.  I suspect this one was shot in San Diego and that it may actually have been the presentation of a ceremonial gavel.































Now we jump ahead to 1969 an the presentation of a 10 year Anniversary award to Sy from the NAPBL:


Sy must have received dozens of awards on the rubber chicken circuit over the years.

I have a handful of other Sy Berger press photos that I am trying to find details on.  I'll post them here soon.