September 20, 2008

Dick Briefer's Frankenstein

Dick Briefer broke into comics in the pre-superhero days of 1936. Working out of the Iger-Eisner shop, he learned his craft punching out adventure and science fiction strips featuring characters with names like Storm Curtis, Crash Parker and Rex Dexter (of Mars!).

It was in Prize Comics number 7, in 1940, that Briefer introduced The New Adventures of Frankenstein, featuring a genuinely chilling creature, giant-sized, with a cruelly twisted face, as a pulp riff on the Universal Frankenstein movies of the Thirties. This gruesome Frankenstein messed with Prize heroes and World War Two Nazis until 1945 when Briefer submitted a proposal for The Monster’s own comic book, but with an unexpected twist… The Frankenstein comic book would be humorous.

The Monster was simplified and beautifully cartooned up, scars erased, given a button nose that rode up on its forehead and his suit redone in primary colors. From ’45 to ’49, over a 17 issue run, Dick Briefer’s oafish, heart of gold Frankenstein — now billed as “The Merry Monster” — romped with vampire, werewolf and ghost friends. Wild to the point of surrealism, Briefer’s funny Frankenstein stories were perfectly served by his gorgeous brush strokes. The series stands as a true classic of Golden Age funnies, which makes the next step in Briefer’s Frankenstein career all the more surprising. Three years after its cancellation, the title was restarted, picking up with number 18, but as a horror comic, returning to The Monster to its grim and grisly origins.

Face split in half and mouth tortured in a permanent snarl, this new incarnation of The Monster combined the earlier nasty Monster with the clean lines and lavish brushwork that had distinguished his comical doppelganger. The series ran another fifteen issues, its demise coming with the backlash against the very horror comics fad that had made its reboot possible. But Briefer was not quite done yet… In the mid-50’s, he doubled back to the comedic Frankenstein, doing up a set of black and white gags as a proposal for a syndicated newspaper strip. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell. Briefer then stepped away from comics and spent the rest of his career as a commercial artist.

A happy coda to Briefer’s story is that his Frankenstein was “rediscovered” and celebrated by a new generation of artists and comic book fans before he passed away in the early 80s.

Dick Briefer’s comics, with their unusual back and forth, horror to comedy arc, masterfully done in both registers, holds a unique and preeminent place in the pop culture history of Frankenstein. There’s a real need for a comprehensive collection of Briefer’s Frankenstein stories. All we have at the moment is a print-on-demand title, The Monster of Frankenstein, reproducing some of Briefer’s horror work in black and white.

Here’s a taste of Briefer’s range: Karswell, host of the ever brilliant and essential The Horrors of It All, has posted Briefer Frankenstein stories in both horror and comedy modes.

The first selection, The Monster and The Statue, is from the 1952 horror comic restart issue, number 18. Note: The post includes a mind-blowing photo — by Weegee! — of a Frankenstein/Dracula re-release marquee, the very subject discussed here and on the Greenbriar Picture Shows blog.

The second post, How I Had (and Lost) a Pet Dinosaur, harks back to the comic's cartoon era, from issue No. 5, in 1946.

Dick Briefer's Frankenstein links


Karswell said...

Thanks Pierre! And to you and any of your readers interested, I think this October I might be doing a series of Dick Briefer Frankenstein stories for a few days throughout the final week leading up to Halloween too. I just need to see what I have available that I haven't already posted in the past.

rob! said...

with all the HC comic collections coming out (Creepy, Herbie, etc), someone should definitely put together one for these Frankenstein comics.

Mr. Cavin said...

I do this for the sake of thoroughness only, since I am certain that everyone who reads this entry will have all the same resources I do (and that this information can probably be found on this blog elsewhere). Still, just in case:

Karswell's the Horrors of it All blog has additional Dick Briefer Frankenstein stories here, here, here, and here. Those last two links are a longer story, broken into two parts.

And over at Pappy's Golden Age Comics, there are some nineteen or twenty Dick Briefer Frankenstein stories that can be accessed here. I've just linked the search term for Pappy's blog, so you may have to scroll some (and the posts, which at times represent a run of issues, will come up in reverse order).

Anyway, I hope this hijacking isn't out of line.

Flickhead said...

Isn't that "Frankenstein" lettering in the top cover image the same that was used on the cover of Cal Beck's Journal of Frankenstein?

Click to see sample.

Pierre Fournier said...

Mr. Cavin: Thanks. I added a bunch of links to a followup post.

Flickhead: Yep, that's the excellent Frankenstein comics logo repurposed (shall we say) on Calvin Beck's movie magazine.

KW said...

BRAVO on this post, thanks!