I’ve never been much for war comics, though there have been occasional exceptions of strong storytelling that really grabbed my attention. But my extensive comic-book collection really includes very few war comics, just the occasional issue here and that was a part of a larger lot I picked up at flea markets or the like over the years. I have several issues of DC’s original Weird War Tales among the many long boxes around my place, but I honestly don’t recall if I’ve read them all (I ought to rectify that, especially given the vintage-comics kick I’ve been on as of late).
Despite that lack of nostalgic connection to war comics, when I spotted a page from Weird War Tales for bid online recently, I definitely wanted to try my hand at winning it. The reason wasn’t due to the content, but rather the era from which it originated and the unusual pairing of artistic talents who crafted it. I was fortunate enough to have landed the board and added to my collection, and when I finally got it in my hands, I realized it was a treasure-trove of classic comics craft details.
What drew me to this page of original comic art from Weird War Tales #102 (cover date August 1981) was that it was pencilled by Trevor Von Eeden and inked by Jerry Ordway. Von Eeden’s profile is about to get a boost thanks to the upcoming Black Lightning TV series and the corresponding interest in the property in comics. Black Lightning was created by writer Tony Isabella in the late 1970s, and Von Eeden is credited as the original artist and Isabella’s creative partner in the character’s development. Personally, I’ve always associated Von Eeden with Green Arrow, as I was dazzled by his work on a Green Arrow limited series in the early 1980s. I loved his work on that title and the occasional story in World’s Finest.
I’m a huge fan of Ordway’s artwork ever since I first glimpsed it on All-Star Squadron in the early 1980s. While Ordway eventually became best known for his pencil artwork on various Earth-2-based comics for DC, as well as a writer/artist for the publisher’s Superman line and Power of Shazam!, I suspect many may easily forget he started out as an inker. Even after he became more established as a penciller, he still did some great inking work on such artists as John Byrne on Fantastic Four and George Perez on Crisis on Infinite Earths. Getting a chance to look up close at a sample of Ordway’s work early in his career was an opportunity I relished.
Sure, I’d kill for a page of his work from Infinity Inc., but I already have an Ordway-pencilled page in my collection (from the modern The Brave and the Bold series from a few years ago). Ordway’s influence on Von Eeden’s pencils is immediately apparent on this page. You can see it in the faces of the characters in the third panel in particular. There’s an early hint of those wide-eyed Ordway faces. I also note with delight that Ordway has employed a classic Kirby-dot approach to the cosmic energies and backdrop of the space-set scene in the fourth panel.
What I really love about this board is the abundance of vintage elements. Zip-a-Tone has been cut out and pasted onto aspects of the third, fourth and sixth panels to convey shadow and darkness. The Zip-a-Tone was also clearly meant to add depth, because Ordway uses traditional black ink for some shadows in the final panel. I’m delighted the applied plastic hasn’t yellowed much, even more than 35 years after it was used here, though the same can’t be said of the register tape at the sides and bottom of the page (the tape at the top has been removed or fell off, leaving a faded yellow rectangle in its place). Still, some yellowing on a page this old is to be expected, and it further reinforces the unique and dated qualities of the board.
Something else to be appreciated and studied on this board is the lettering by the late Gaspar Saladino, a prolific master of comics lettering and logo design. What’s most interesting about his work here is that he’s employed two approaches to the lettering. Most of it is lettered directly onto the board, but a couple of elements have been pasted onto the page: the digital display reading “YOU MUST PERSEVERE!” in Panel 2, and only one of the two sound effects in Panel 5, namely “PFFFT!” Clearly, the letterer wanted the precise nature of the digital font to be perfect, so it appears he cut those letters out of a printed resource.
There are a lot of little touches to be found that belie the creative and production process, and I always love to see evidence of the human hands that handled the board ahead of printing. There’s some whiteout visible at the upper left corners of panels 1 and 4, and again on the right side of Panel 5 (in this instance, to allow the dialogue tails to interrupt the panel border). There are numerous editing marks in blue pencil, and if one looks closely enough, one can even see some of the original graphite pencil marks left by Von Eeden.
At the bottom right corner, this page is labelled as the fourth one in the story and was printed as such in the final product, but at the top right, it’s noted as the 31st page in the comic itself, which wasn’t part of the printed page. The artists’ names are lightly written in pencil at the top of the board as well, as is a production note of “RED-SUR-PRINT” in black ballpoint pen. Also written in what appears to be a faded, black, thin-tip marker are labels to note the series and issue (“W. WAR 102”) and the anticipated cover publication date (“AUG. J-1108”). And on the reverse of the page is something I always love to find on a piece of original published comic art: the company’s copyright stamp.
A common trait of such vintage boards are the cuts made to them in the production process. Usually, this takes the form of some small trimming of the corners to remove them from the machinery, but to my dismay, this page boasts long, uneven cuts from top to bottom, and the full width of the page. It made it a pain in the ass to scan, and I feel that without the nice, straight sides, it doesn’t display quite as well.
This is far from a grail piece, and I think the bargain price for which I grabbed it was merited, given the obscurity of the original story and the lack of any established, permanent characters. Nevertheless, there are so many amazing details to be found here — and not just in the pencil and inked art — that I know it’ll be a permanent addition to my collection of original art (the rest of which can be found in my gallery on the Comic Art Fans site).
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.