Friday, July 15, 2011

Your move.

Great Comic Book Covers - THE TWILIGHT ZONE #35 (December 1970)
Artist Unknown

By 1970 the entire world knew writer Rod Serling through his accomplished teleplays for such landmark dramas as Patterns, The Comedian and Requiem for a Heavyweight. But it was his five years as artistic powerhouse behind the incomparable Twilight Zone that affixed him permanently in the cultural zeitgeist. As the success of this Independence Day's TZ marathon on SyFy can attest, he has never left. A recent tribute column by Maureen Dowd went so far as to include this epitaph: "Everything is Rod Serling now." Television's original Angry Young Man was a man ahead of his time.

But in 1970 I did not know this. Due to the vicissitudes of syndication, I never saw an episode of Twilight Zone until I was into my college years. But it was my favorite television series, despite never having watched a single installment. I devoured the paperback books that adapted Serling's teleplays into prose (even the Bantam anthologies that were "edited" by Serling, Devils and Demons and Rod Serling's Triple W - Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves), and did the same for the Night Gallery volumes when released. No, my exposure to one Rodman Serling came as the man who introduced stories for Gold Key's Twilight Zone comic book. Gold Key made their mark on the industry by licensing virtually every TV property they could get their hands upon, and in addition to publishing a handful of originals like Doctor Solar and Turok: Son of Stone, they also brought young readers new tales from series like The Man from UNCLE, Dark Shadows and Star Trek.

Twilight Zone was an anthology comic, one of dozens that filled the newsstands in the 1970s, and I have to admit; reading the tales now, the writers at Gold Key (including such comic luminaries as Marv Wolfman, Len Wein and Arnold Drake) did an excellent job of nailing Serling's approach to the series. These were not standard "spook stories," but were mostly set in contemporary settings and dealt with workaday folks who somehow slipped between the cracks in reality. In one noteworthy tale, "Fortune and Men's Eyes," they blatantly cribbed from Serling's Night Gallery teleplay "Eyes," replacing Joan Crawford's imperious dowager with a male character who meets a similar fate. And check that title! "Fortune..." was lifted from a Shakespeare sonnet, but also inspired by a then-controversial 1967 Broadway show about homosexuality. Oh, what they got away with back then...

But what drew readers to Gold Key titles were the rich, lustrous painted covers by such artists as George Wilson and Morris Gollub. (GK did such a poor job of record-keeping that proper credits are missing for most of what they published.) They had the appearance of paperback books of the era, and made me feel very adult when I slapped down my 15 cents for an issue. Check out the composition on this stunner. It was a common approach to have a large figure that was symbolically dominating a smaller figure, not necessarily a literal depiction of a moment in a story from the issue. Gold Key meant for their books to stand out on the newsstand, and they did.

One more element to the story of this cover: In 2004, just after I had finshed a move down to Chicago, I happened to be browsing through eBay auctions, and lo and behold, the original art for this cover was up for bids, with a starting price of $900. That would not have been a deterrent at any other point in my life, but having just relocated, money was tight, and the artwork slipped away from me. I still sentimentally covet one of these Gold Key covers, but this striking chess-themed beauty went to another (hopefully appreciative) owner. File it under "M" for "missed opportunity" - in the Twilight Zone.