Stan Campbell: A Golden Age Case Study
When we think of the Golden Age of comics, we tend to think of the first generation of superheroes, beginning with Superman in 1938. The end of this era is disputed but it definitely has something to do with the 1954 Senate Hearings and the self-implementation of the Comics Code Authority. Here are some basic things everyone should know about the Golden Age: At their height in 50s, comics were a mass medium. Titles had circulation in the millions, and nearly every child and G.I. read comics regularly. Also, there was a tremendous diversity in genres. There were many, many people toiling anonymously or near anonymously to create comics because the profession was held in such low regard. Comics drew from pulp magazines, and have always been closely tied to radio and television. Comics were youth culture long before Rock n’ Roll gyrated its way into caucasian pelvises. Anyway, here’s a page of comics, don’t bother reading it, just kinda bounce around the pictures.
Isn’t there, well… something about the art? Look at that guy in the bottom left, what a mug! I was reading a lot of crime comics in research for my Golden Age project (more on that soon, I promise!) and I came across the above story in Crime and Justice #18 with a credit of “Stan Campbell.” Now, it was probably just a credit for the pencils, but in the Golden Age, some artists did everything short of production — Fletcher Hanks wrote, penciled, lettered, and inked (and maybe did the color separations?) for a whole book every month! So, I started looking for Stan Campbell stuff, and …
Holy Cripes! I found this awesome excerpt of Space Western on Flickr. Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait. Both Space Western and Crime and Justice were published by Charlton — which was often considered the lowest paying and often worst quality publisher — but there is a big difference in the pacing and tone between the two stories. I googled Space Western and found two free Space Westerns to download, which can easily be read with the free program Simple Comics. Now I was in pretty deep. Besides the faces, illustration like in the panel above threw me for a loop. WHO WAS THIS GUY??!!
Here’s the thing about many Golden Age creators, there is absolutely no biographic information available. To be fair, all of this digging has been on the internet, and I haven’t had time to start digging deep into Charlton, but it seems that Stan Campbell exists only as “penciller” in the history of comics. I DID find this great resource, which seems to be the best listing of everything that he worked or could have worked on. At this point I began downloading things from this list, and I came across this issue of Dell’s showcase title Four Color featuring Mandrake the Magician. This issue came out in 1956, after the Code had thinned the herd and only the non-controversial titles that employed Campbell were left. Here, in Four Color, Campbell had a whole 36 pages to tell just two stories. Crime and Justice #18 had packed in four! Take your time to read these two pages, clicking to magnify:
Now, I know it’s not perfect, but Damn! There is some great cartooning here! Campbell may not be an advanced draftsman, but I think his caricature/figure drawing is excellent, as well as his contrast of background and foreground elements. I mean, just look at that spotlight hypnosis on the first page! His clarity and style remind me of other greats from his time, such as Basil Wolverton and Burne Hogarth. So, are you sold? Do you want to see more of Stan Campbell? Well, you can’t. There’s nowhere you can buy Campbell’s work. However, I’m confident that eventually someone will publish a reprint of every single thing that Stan Campbell drew.
Special thanks to Steve Bissette for background info on the Golden Age through his Survey of the Drawn Story class. All images © Charlton and Dell comics. Some of these might be public domain but these are all just used for review anyway.