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Monday, November 16, 2009

CRACKED # 1 - Bill Everett and the Atlas art connection

-click on images to enlarge-

Here you go.
In December of 1957, a new magazine hit the news-stands. 'CRACKED' would become the most successful 'MAD' competitor ever published. With a cover date of March, 1958, here is the amazing first cover! By John Severin, right? Nnnah, not's the story...

...1957...Atlas (Marvel) Comics...Publisher Martin Goodman confronts editor/writer Stan Lee regarding a 'closetful of completed yet unused stories', forcing Lee to end offering freelance work, and to essentially fire the entire steady bullpen staff one by one until finally, by the end of April, the infamous 'Atlas Implosion' is in full effect. At the same time, Goodman takes a gamble by deciding to switch to a new distributor, American News Company (ANC), and when ANC shut down operations within the first months,  the 'Atlas Era' effectively came to a close. A few short years later, Stan Lee would usher in the renaissance of the 'Marvel Age of Comics', but another story for another time.

Now it's the end of 1957. The core group of Atlas artist's are scrambling to find steady work. One of many new ventures they find is a new publication seeking to imitate the success of 'MAD' magazine. Publisher Robert C. Sproul hired Lee's right-hand man, artist and production manager Sol Brodsky as his new editor. Brodsky promptly hired the best of the old art staff, including: Carl Burgos, Paul Reinman, Joe Maneely, Bill Everett, Al Williamson, Ed Winniarski, Russ Heath, and, last but not least, John Severin. Severin, who had drawn for 'MAD', was offered the assignment of drawing the first cover. He drew his cover layout idea and brought it in for approval. The problem was, Sproul was not about to pay as much as 'MAD', not even close. So Severin decided to pass on completing the assignment, and close friend Bill Everett came on board to paint the first cover, using much of Severin's layout. The result is a beautiful combination of the now familiar 'cluttered, star-studded' Severin cover style and the excellent humorous artistic talents of Everett. Today we can take a look at both the original cover (above), as well as a more recent reprint of same issue (below), for comparison.

To help you make sense of all the madness (cracked-ness?), here are a few of the people and events from 1957 that the artist(s) have captured in this 'time-capsule' of a cover:
*Between 1955 and 1958 there were at least 8 recorded Antarctic expiditions, beginning with America's 'Operation Deepfreeze' led by the legendary Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who's first expidition was in 1928. Wikipedia explains : The impetus behind Operation Deep Freeze I was the International Geophysical Year 1957–58. IGY, as it was known, was a collaboration effort between forty nations to carry out earth science studies from the North Pole to the South Pole and at points in between. The United States, along with Great Britain, France, Japan, Norway, Chile, Argentina, and the U.S.S.R. agreed to go to the South Pole—the least explored area on Earth. Their goal was to advance world knowledge of Antarctic hydrography and weather systems, glacial movements, and marine life. The U.S. Navy was charged with supporting the U.S. scientists for their portion of the IGY studies.
To represent these expeditions we see a parka-clad man in a canoe...what is it he's discovering? A giant smoking penguin hitting on a mermaid! In the back of his canoe we see...

* ...a television set, complete with antenna. By the end of 1957, TV was the new technology and growing fast as the soon-to-be dominant form of media, with over 47 million TV sets in 40 million homes.

* The cold war was in full the west (USA) we see the mushroom clouds (literally), while in the east, at the 'Atom Bombski Site' there appears to be smaller fireworks exploding instead...on the USA side we see a eye spying on us from a submarine the north we see Santa Claus being accosted by a Soviet soldier, who in turn is foiled by a good old American cowboy, who very much resembles the comic book version of Wyatt Earp that had been drawn by both Severin and Everett at one point.

* Speaking of the cold war, on October 4th, 1957, Russia launched the first satellite into space, Sputnik 1, and the space race was on. A month later, Sputnik 2 was launched, carrying a live dog. America, fearing Russian atomic bombs dropping from the skies, quickly responded by attempting to launch our own sattelite, and in December the United States answered the Soviet challenge by launching the Vanguard. The rocket burst into flames upon launching, and the USA's satellite managed to travel only a few hundred feet at best, being thrown clear in the explosion.

* Ike was president, and here he swings his golf club and drives a ricochet shot straight into the sputnik satellite.

* We can see Cleopatra fishing off of her ship on the river Nile, and she looks like she hooked a big Roman, Marcus Antonius...okay, so...these two were not actually around in 1957...

* Just above them we see the yawning, sulphurous mouth of Hell is now exposed (naturally in communist territory), and Satan himself looks out, accompanied by his three recent inductees - Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Benito Mussolini. There is a pair of legs also sticking out of hell, and I like to think they belong to that 'fanner of the cold wars flame's, red-baiting, commie chasing senator Joe McCarthy, who had died earlier that year.

*  Appearing to fly out of the pits of Hell (which inevitably brings this image to mind) are a man and a woman on a motorcycle, trailing a 'Just Married' sign and a string of tin cans. The man is the 'Wild One' himself, Marlon Brando, and the woman is his new bride, Anna Kashfi, who were married on October 11th, 1957. Brando would later state that he married Kashfi only because he had gotten her pregnant. The result of that pregnancy was son Christian Brando, who shot and killed Dag Drollet, his half-sister Cheyenne's boyfriend, in 1990. Brando divorced Kashfi  in 1959.

*  The beautiful and busty Jayne Mansfield's star was on the rise. She had just released a couple of movies that helped to establish her as the next big 'sex symbol', 'The Girl Can't Help It', and 'Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?". In November of '57 she purchased the now famous 'Pink Palace', and in January of '58 she married bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay.

* I'm not 100% certain, but speaking of sex symbols, I do believe that the blonde woman in the Canadian Mountie uniform dragging behind a man with glasses to be Marilyn Monroe, and husband at the time playwright Arthur Miller...I do not understand the Canadian reference, if it even is supposed to be them. If you know who they are and I'm mistaken, please let me know.

* In the lower left we see a jet with USA markings flying, and the pilot is giving a thumbs up sign. This is Major John Glenn, who set an air speed record on July 15th, 1957. Project Bullet, the first supersonic transcontinental flight was achieved by Glenn who flew a Vought F81-U Crusader jet from California to New York in 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.4 seconds. He later became the first American to orbit the earth, and is currently a US senator.

* Lastly, take a look at this last inside joke  --  Underneath all of the craziness, the weight of the world has crushed...the mighty 'Atlas'! (Atlas is dead - long live Atlas!)

Here is the reprint version
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CRACKED magazine (or mazagine, as they called it) stopped publishing in 2007. In it's place is the modern version, the updated website. Click here to visit.

Thanks for dropping in! Next time, could you phone ahead first? ...I was in the shower...
More on the early days of Cracked, as well as the Atlas contributor's, in days to come!
See you then!


  1. Fantastic research~ another great post~ !

  2. Thank you, my friend! Oh, I forgot to mention, that Severin and Cracked obviously came to an agreement, starting with the very next issue Severin did the cover, and, for the most part nearly every cover for years!

  3. I remember standing at the drugstore goggling (not "googling," goggling) at this cover. Mom wouldn't let me buy it, though. Just another thing to warp my brain, she thought. Heh heh. She was right. I found plenty of other things to do just that.

    I jumped on the reprint edition in the 1980s and when I read it I thought...well, it was a typical Mad imitation of the day. Except for the art staff, not really very good. But unlike many of the magazines that popped up only to quickly disappear, at least Cracked hung around. With artists like Severin and Ward it's well worth picking up old issues.

  4. Moms! It's a wonder we ever warped our brains at all the way they protected us! God bless her!
    I am trying to rediscover the early issues just because of some of the artists involved...what I remember most as a kid reading Cracked was Severin Severin Severin! Man! That guy could draw anybody! Talk about time capsule art! Just pull out any issue from the 60's or 70's and you'll find a whole slew of celebrities caught frozen in time look at it now and say, who is that and where are they now? Every popluar tv show etc was given that Severin treatment - the stories and jokes were stupid, but his art was everything! And when you get other great comic artists like Howard Nostrand and Ward, etc., yeah, there is a little something worthwhile!
    Thank you for dropping by and sharing that, Pappy!

  5. Cracked had alot of good moments over the years, although since I had a subscription to MAD from the time I could read until just a few years ago I'd normally only pick up the best of Cracked collections or anything with monster parodies. Good post!

  6. Thanks, Karswell! Yes, CRACKED was never as good as MAD...I believe publisher Sproul once said (paraphrased)"Most of our fan base consists of MAD readers who get to the comic store after all the copies of MAD were sold out!"