Friday, June 03, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Book: It Rhymes with Lust

Possibly a first edition,
based on the defects on the cover.
One of the stablemates in any genre is to discuss what was the first artifact produced in the particular genre. Hence there are many first graphic novels. I don't know what the first graphic novel really is, but I do know that there were many before It Rhymes with Lust was published in 1950 by a small outfit called Picture Novels, a subsidiary of St. John Publications.

It Rhymes with Lust was written by Leslie Waller and Arnold Drake and illustrated by Matt Baker. Drake and Baker had been doing regular comics for some time, mainly for DC, Waller had published a crime novel or two. Later on he did lots of movie novelizations. There have been two reprints, one in Comics Journal ten years ago and one by Dark Horse in 2007. It's been sold out for some time now, but I managed to pick up a copy.

It Rhymes with Lust (a great title, by the way!) is a slightly noirish exposé story of a cynical journalist who's called to a town called Copper City to run a newspaper published by the big man of Copper City, Buck Masson. Masson has passed away just before the story starts, but our man doesn't know it entering Copper City. It's soon revealed to him that Copper City is a corrupt place and eventually he has to stop the corruption. He has to face some thugs run by the deceased Buck Masson's lusty widow, Rust ("it rhymes with lust"), but he also falls in love with Buck Masson's daughter.

It Rhymes with Lust wouldn't be great literature if if were a prose novel, but now it's interesting, at least as a curiosity. It might work also as a movie, but even then it would be cliched. The active woman, Rust, is a bad femme fatale, and the passive one, Buck Masson's daughter, is a good girl. You've seen this a thousand times. Matt Baker draws well (beautiful women especially), his line is fluid, and the continuity is pretty good - this stuff reads fluently -, but as a story this would require some extra twists.

Picture Novels published another graphic novel, The Case of the Winking Buddha, by pulp novelist Manning Lee Stokes and illustrator Charles Raab -, but that's never been reprinted, so I'm not very likely to be able to read it. It has a great cover, though. Stokes wrote some crime novels from the thirties on and later he did a dozen Nick Carter paperbacks.

I noticed while reading this that a new small publisher Automat.Press has just launched a new Kindle edition of another early graphic novel, also in paperback format, i.e. Joseph Millard's Mansion of Evil. It was originally published by no less than Fawcett Gold Medal! Millard was an interesting character in his own right, making comics in the 1940's and 1950's and then moving to paperback originals. He wrote as Joe Millard some The Man With No Name westerns in the early seventies (though everyone knows Clint Eastwood has a name in all the Sergio Leone movies he's in). There are some free pages of Mansion of Evil in Amazon, and from those it seems that Mansion of Evil is purer noir, with its doppelgangers and all that stuff. Graphicwise, it doesn't seem as solid as It Rhymes with Lust.