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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Collection Recaps Killer Comics From the Pages of Crime Does Not Pay

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM

CHARLES BIRO
  • Charles Biro

"Artist Slays Divorcee After 11-Day Tryst in A Gramercy Pk. Hotel." So read a headline on August 27, 1958, in the New York Daily News. A woman named Violette Phillips had been found dead in Manhattan's Irving Hotel. Her head had been bashed in with an electric iron. Bob Wood, the "artist" mentioned in the headline, quickly confessed to the murder. Wood and Phillips, longtime lovers, had spent 11 days at hotel, engaged in a drinking binge that spun out of control. Wood was convicted of manslaughter and served three years in Sing Sing.

At the time of the crime, Wood had a history of violence against women and had carried large gambling debts, but he was not known as a career criminal. He was primarily known, from 1942 to 1955, as the co-creator of the one of the most successful (and notorious) comic books of all time: Crime Does Not Pay.

A new paperback collection from Dark Horse Books, Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer (suggesting, we hope, that additional volumes will follow), presents a choice selection of stories from the book's 13-year run.

The new volume from Dark Horse
  • The new volume from Dark Horse
Bob Wood co-created the book with Charles Biro for Lev Gleason Publications. Biro and Wood had previously worked together on other Gleason comics, including the original (non-Marvel) Daredevil. Crime Does Not Pay told true crime stories in a sensational, lurid way. They always fulfilled the title's admonition, satisfying the puritanical American desire to see criminals punished. But the style of the book spoke more directly to the prurient blood-lust that has always helped sell newspapers and magazines.

The stories in Crime Does Not Pay are efficiently told and gruesomely illustrated. The art indulges in the seamy and does not pull punches -- although one could also say that it willfully emphasizes the most grotesque aspects of the crimes depicted. Many of the stories -- illustrated by Biro, among other notable artists, including Joe Kubert, George Tuska, and Carmine Infantino -- open with wonderful, graphically atmospheric splash pages.

Crime Does Not Pay is "hosted" by a ghostly guide along the lines of EC's later Crypt Keeper. His name is Mr. Crime (see below), and he takes ghoulish pleasure in the crimes themselves and the criminals' ultimate comeuppance, reveling as they are done in by the law -- or by their own greed, errors, or general moral corruption.

DAN BARRY
  • Dan Barry

Raw material came from well-known stories, such as those of John Dillinger and Lucky Luciano, as well as more obscure tales. In the 1946 story "Mutiny on the Rock," we have a particularly good rendition of the then-contemporary Battle of Alcatraz, an escape attempt that led to a riot and the deaths of several guards and inmates.

A panel from "Mutiny on the Rock," 1946 - DAN BARRY
  • Dan Barry
  • A panel from "Mutiny on the Rock," 1946

When Crime Does Not Pay folded in 1955, it was primarily because of the anticomics backlash of that era, fueled by Dr. Fredric Wertham's pugnacious, spurious book-length essay, The Seduction of the Innocent, which condemned comics as the chief cause of juvenile delinquency. A congressional investigation authorized institutional censorship overseen by the exceedingly arbitrary and uptight Comics Code Authority. Effectively, the comics industry was dead for several years thereafter.

From "Danny Iamascia -- Dutch Schultz's Triggerman," 1947 - DAN BARRY
  • Dan Barry
  • From "Danny Iamascia -- Dutch Schultz's Triggerman," 1947

Charles Biro and several other Crime artists went on to have productive careers anyway. Not so Bob Wood. After being released from Sing Sing in 1961, he was unable to find work as an artist, so he scraped along doing odd jobs. About a year after his release, he ultimately learned that crime does not pay the hard way: Known to have owed money to prison associates, Wood was murdered and dumped on the New Jersey Turnpike.

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Casey Burchby

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