July 11, 2011

Dick Briefer's Lost Frankenstein

A rare, unpublished page of Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein comics shows the Merry Monster making a blood bank delivery, unaware of a vampire stowaway. Note the pencils still showing and the squiggles in the margins where the artist brought a freshly ink-dipped brush to a fine point. Click the art to see it large.

Another page from this story appears in Craig Yoe’s book, Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein, showing “Duke Tracer”, Briefer’s take on Chester Gould’s the oft-lampooned straight arrow detective Dick Tracy.

According to Yoe, this story was one of three orphaned episodes, finished but never to appear, after the publisher pulled the plug on the Frankenstein comic book in 1949. When the title rebooted in 1952, it was as a horror comic, bringing Briefer’s Frankenstein series full circle.

Briefer had first introduced his version of Frankenstein as a horror strip in Prize Comics number 7, in 1940, creating the first ongoing horror series in comic book history. Briefer’s gruesome, angular Monster rained panic and mayhem on New York, fighting superheroes, and terrorizing Nazis during WW2. After the war, Briefer surprised his readers with a bold switcharoo, turning the nasty, snarling, split-faced monster into a lovable lunk with his nose up on his forehead.

The sublimely silly, surrealistic, so-called “Merry Monster” version ran concurrently in Prize Comics — until the title folded in February 1948 — and its own comic book, Frankenstein, through 17 issues, from 1945 to February 1949. There followed a three-year hiatus until Frankenstein started back up as a horror series, again, with No.18 in March 1952. It ran 16 issues until its final demise, with No.33 in October 1954, the year Frederic Wertham published Seduction of the Innocents, setting the stage for the notorious Congressional inquiry that would sweep horror comics from the nation’s newsstands.

In the mid-50’s, Briefer drew up some samples for a funny Frankenstein daily strip that prefigured The Munsters, but when syndicates passed on the project, Briefer quit comics and went into commercial illustration.

Dick Briefer always preferred the strip’s funny version, and he was obviously enjoying himself creating wildly inventive and genuinely funny storylines, drawn in a loose and elegant brush style evident in the examples shown here. This is Briefer at his peak, at once exuberant and confident.

Thanks go out to comics writer John Arcudi for generously sharing this wonderful original art with Frankensteinia readers, and Craig Yoe, author of Dick Briefer's Frankenstein, for expert information.

Previous posts about Dick Briefer.


Karswell said...

Totally amazing, thanks for posting this Pierre!!

Kevin Nowlan said...

Fascinating! I think it's safe to say that Briefer was one of the best ever. When creative people as diverse as Alex Toth and John Arcudi sing the man's praises the rest of us would be wise to stop and take notice.

I love his loose, spontaneous line work and the way every panel reads like a hand-written note. His storytelling was direct and clear but he told some wonderfully twisted tales that still make me smile all these years later.

Interesting to see how he cleaned up the panel border corners by scrapping away the ink instead of using white paint and how he used a brush for inking everything but the borders and the lettering. He did his own hand lettering, didn't he? It looks great... nice thick and thin strokes and lots of personality.

Thanks for posting this!

Pierre Fournier said...

Karswell: I suspected you’d like this!

Kevin: Wonderful comment. You describe Briefer’s spontaneity much better than I ever could.