Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Welcome to what I’m considering “Volume Two” of my series on the 136 comic books that arrived on the newsstands in July 1963. As I’ve explained in previous installments of this series, that month was pivotal to my own comic-book career because it was the month when Fantastic Four Annual #1 ignited my desire to write comics.

I’m thinking in terms of “Volume Two” because the previous columns in this series have been collected in July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella Volume One. The columns that appear in that softcover book were rewritten as needed with bonus material added to the mix. The book is available from Amazon in two formats: Kindle and actual print.

Today we look at Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #5, a 36-page issue dated October 1963, and published by Gold Key. The striking cover is by George Wilson, the renowned illustrator who painted hundreds of comic-book covers for Dell and Gold Key.

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery was Boris Karloff Thriller, based on the TV anthology series hosted by the actor. The first issue of the title was dated October 1962 with the title change coming with the third issue [April 1963]. The title ran 95 issues, ending with the issue dated February 1980.

Gold Key comics of this time period generally devoted the inside front and back covers to the “Keys of Knowledge” feature. These were non-fiction comics pages on a variety of subjects.

“The Tomb of Ti” (Archaeology Number 7) was drawn by Joe Certa, a prolific contributor to Gold Key’s comics and the artist for DC’s “John Jones Manhunter from Mars” series, which ran as a feature in first Detective Comics and then House of Mystery. Here’s what a 1963 reader could learn from this page:

Auguste Mariette, a Frenchman, digging at Sakkara, came upon the tomb of Ti, a wealthy man who lived 4500 years ago. The walls of the tomb were covered with reliefs which showed details of the life of Ti and the wealthy people of his period. The reliefs also showed the kind of tools and working methods used by craftsmen and artisans of the ancient Egyptian times. Mariette was made the supervisor of all Egyptian excavation. He had the power to forbid digging by unauthorized persons. He finally persuaded the Egyptians to build a museum in which they could preserve the priceless treasures of their glorious past.

The writer of “The Tomb of Ti” has not yet been identified, but it is known the prolific Gaylord DuBois worked on “Keys of Knowledge” in 1963-1965. Carl Fallberg wrote railroad-based pages around the same time and might have written on other topics as well.

“The Sorcerer's Potion” (9 pages) is the cover story and, frankly, it’s a mess. Drawn by Ray Bailey from a script by a writer who has not yet been identified, the plot charges course every other page or two. We start with the clearly evil sorcerer talking to a large caged cat, telling it that, when he is finished with it, it’ll have the strength of a lion and the killer instinct of a panther. Don’t fixate on the cat. We never see it again.

The also evil Sir Hubert the Gaunt comes knocking on the sorcerer’s door. The two are hatching a plot for world domination. Disguised as the Red Knight, Hubert will kidnap a duke’s daughter. She will be given a mind-control potion. Step by step, other nobles will be given the potion until Hubert and the sorcerer control England and the world. No one ever actually drinks the potion.

Lady Eleanor, the Duke’s daughter, is defended by Sir Malcolm, who keeps getting taken by surprise. But he recovers from the attack, rides to her rescue and, more by luck than skill, sends Sir Hubert to his maker.

Fearful of the consequences of his actions, the sorcerer uses his powers to hide in a wine container. Eleanor figures this out, then traps him in the container for all eternity. She thinks.

Jump forward 800 years. The container is one of the exhibits at the sorcerer’s remarkably preserved tower. A mischievous youngster gets his hands on the container and releases a cloud of smoke that is, apparently, the sorcerer. No one believes the kid. That’s where the story ends. What the heck?

This issue has stories identified as being written by Dick Wood and Leo Dorfman. We know Newman wrote for the book as well, but he kept excellent records of his work. Two possible writers for this clumsy story would be Eric Freiwald or Robert Schaefer, TV writers who did many scripts for Gold Key. I’m going to wildly speculate on another possibility.

Though I can find no record of Charlton Comics icon Joe Gill doing scripts for Gold Key in 1963, “The Sorcerer’s Potion” reminds me of a Gill trait when he was writing for Charlton. Some of his scripts there read as if he didn’t have a firm grasp of where said scripts were going. He’d start a script and take it to whatever page count he was writing to. The scripts would go all over the place and just kind of sort of end.

Next up is “Possessed” (11 pages) by Dick Wood with pencils by Alex Toth and inks by Mike Peppe. This is an unsettling story with its suburban black magic club that conjures up the spirits of X, Y, and Z. In turn, they possess housewife Betty, making her slovenly and then reckless and then flirtatious. At the end of the story, these spirits make it clear that they like possessing Betty and will not be going anywhere. Considering that Gold Key comics had a squeaky clean reputation, this story is shocking. Not only do the spirits win, but, reading between the lines, Betty is looking for a bit of  loving outside her marriage. Still, it’s a terrific yarn with great art by the Toth/Peppe team.

“The Master’s Touch” (2 pages) is a prose piece telling of 1930s Dutch artist Han van Meegeren who created original paintings in the style of the 17th Century master Johannas Vermeer. Van Meegeren then sold them as previously unknown works of Vermeer. Though the paintings were proven to be fakes, critics were amazed a mediocre artist like Van Meegeren could create them.

The artist? He claimed he was guided by the spirit of Vermeer, who approved of the paintings and helped the artist through the process of creating them.

Van Meegeren did exist and he was the skilled forger described in this prose piece. I have not yet been able to document the artist claiming to be guided by Vermeer’s spirit. I’m thinking that was an embellishment added to the piece to make it a better fit for Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery.

“A Cage for Hassan” (9 pages) is by Leo Dorfman with art by Frank Springer. The esteemed Karloff sets up the story:

For years, the wealth of oil-rich Suwat has flowed into the coffers of grasping Sheik Hassan.

While demanding every more gold for his oil, Hassan turns his back on the abject poverty of his people. Prince Ali, his nephew, tries to get his uncle to help the poor, but Hassan refuses his requests. Ali leads an uprising against Hassan, but his forces are crushed. Ali is captured and put in a cage hanging above the marker place. Given no food or water, Ali dies, but not before predicting Hassan will end up in a cage begging for help.

Hassan’s advisers believe the curse can be thwarted if there were no cages in Suwat. The sheik orders all cages be destroyed, freeing the animals who were in them.

Ali’s curse still weighs heavily on Hassan. On his birthday, he’s given an ape dressed like the sheik him in a cage. A caged vulture is snuck into the palace.

Terrified, Hassan doesn’t eat for days at a time. A sand-diviner offers a solution. If Hassan leaves Suwat, he can avert the curse. The sheik heads for the finest hotel on the Riviera.

The change of scenery doesn’t help. Hassan imagines assassins are following him everywhere. When he is shown the most beautiful villa  in the area, he panics when he sees the elevator that leads to the highest floors. It looks like a cage to him.

Given the villa’s keys, Hassan goes there alone to overcome his fears. He gets trapped in the elevator and is not found until days later. Physically, he recovers. Mentally, his mind is shattered. He imagines that his room at the sanitarium is the very cage where his nephew Ali died.

“The Enigma of Shanti Devi” is a one-page comic sub-titled “A True Tale of Mystery.” It’s drawn by Tom Gill and might’ve been written by him as well.

Young Shanti insists she lived a previous life as a married woman in the city of Muttra. A few years later, though she had never been there previously, she guides scientists to the city. She leads them to her husband and her sons and, by digging up coins the man’s wife had seen him bury, forces the astonished scientists to conclude that, given the evidence, reincarnation is the only answer to this mystery.

This does seem to be a “true” tale. There’s a brief Wikipedia entry on Shanti Devi that matches this one-page comics story.

The “Keys of Knowledge” page on the inside back cover of this issue is “Sawfish.” The overall category is “Fish” and this is number 38 in the series. Drawn by Ray Bailey, here’s the info:

In the tropical waters of the Atlantis and in the eastern Mediterranean lives a very large fish that is known as the Common Sawfish. The “saw” is actually a blade with teeth on both sides. The ray possesses another set of teeth, but very much smaller, in his mouth. When fully grown, this dangerous ray reaches 20 feet or more in length. The vicious-looking saw accounts for one third [of that length]. Some people mistake the Swordfish for the Sawfish. The Swordfish pierces with his sword while the Sawfish slashes and digs. Commercially, the Sawfish had very little value. The Chinese make soup from the big fins. The “saw” is sold to tourists.

The back cover of this issue is the George Wilson cover painting, but without the logo, cover copy and other trade dress. This was a common thing with Gold Key comic books of the era.

Look for another “July 1963" episodes in the near future. I’m hoping to complete the second volume as soon as possible.

Come back tomorrow for our first new “Western Wednesday” column. It will be followed on Thursday by a look at recent issues of the UK’s Commando comics. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. Oh, my gosh, does this post bring back memories. Back when I was 8 or 10 years old I had a handful of Boris Karloff Tales Of Mystery comics bought from the spinner rack at Wood's Drug Store in my old Missouri home town. At the time, I thought they were pretty creepy stuff as I wasn't allowed to watch the TV show! What I wouldn't give to read those old comics again. Thanks, Tony for posting.