Friday, October 25, 2013

Presenting the works of Bill Madden....

How do we select the comics we decide to publish in our anthologies o Golden Age reprints?

I've been asked that question a couple times now. The answer is the same that it was for the Robert E. Howard collections we produced last year... we find stories we think deserve more attention than they're gotten and we use our little vanity press here to put them before a new audience. Other things we consider is whether the material would hold any appeal to a modern reader whatsoever (who doesn't happen to be a total nerd).

Given those factors, it shouldn't be surprising we led with things like Jack Kirby's Stuntman, George Tuska's Lady Satan, and, of course, the lovely Black Cat.

For that same reason, it was a foregone conclusion that we'd want to put the work of forgotten 1940s comic book artist Bill Madden in front of modern readers. When L.L. Hundal first came upon his work, he was another creator about whom she said, "It's as if he drew these just so we could adapt them for RPGs!"

Upon surveying the dozen or so stories that she has identified as being by Madden, I agree that he was an interesting and unique talent. I can nitpick individual panels and some of his layout choices, but overall he had a dynamic style that stands out from the pack, and it seems to me that he deserved more recognition than he got.

Who was Bill Madden?
According to Jerry Bails' "Who's Who of American Comics 1929 - 1999", Bill Madden (who also signed his work as William J. Madden and W.J.M) produced comics for the Chesler Studio during WW2 and moved to the Schoffman Studio during the post-war years; these studios produced content comics magazines from dozens of different publishers. There are indications that he started his comic book career working with industry pioneer Harry "A" Chesler as early as 1937, with work for Chesler's Centaur Comics imprint, but we've been unable to verify that with any certainty.

In general, very little information is readily available about Bill Madden. He's not a Bill Draut, Lee Elias, or George Tuska who kept working in the comics field after the 1950s and into the era where fans were hungry for details about creators. By the dawn of the Silver Age, Madden was long gone from the comics field, or at least no longer working in any sort of audience-facing capacity.

All we've been able to learn about Bill Madden through our usual half-assed, Google-driven research methods is in the preceding paragraph, and that the majority of his published, identifiable work was done through Chesler on their short-lived B-series--things like "Carnival," "Dynamic Boy," "Mother Hubbard," and "The Unholy 3." His presence at Chesler's studio is itself noteworthy as it was an important shop in its day, where celebrated artists like Joe Kubert and Carmine Infantino got their earliest professional gigs in the comics biz. Kubert was 11 or 12 when he apprenticed at Chesler's, and since Madden did not appear to serve in WW2, he may have been too young, too old, or maybe suffered some health issues. We don't know, and at this late date, we may never know. (But if someone out there wants to share details about William J. Madden/Bill Madden--where he came from and where he went after 1954--please get in touch!)

While Madden the man is obscured in the shadows of history, his work is here for us to enjoy. As mentioned, we've identified about a dozen stories that we'll be  reprinting in our comics/rpg anthologies over the next several months. In fact, we've already released half of them. Each of our books featuring his work collect the entirety of his recognizable contribution to a given series.

Our most recently-released Madden project features nothing but his work, cover to cover. "Mother Hubbard" was a series that ran for the first three issues of Scoop Comics in 1941. The third Hubbard tale (untitled in its original presentation and titled "Eye Trouble" for its NUELOW Games release) served as a source for the notorious Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent. (Perhaps this is why Madden left the comics field; Lee Elias walked away from the industry for almost ten years after Wertham claimed his art on the "Black Cat" series for Harvey was "perverse.")

The cover of Mother Hubbard from NUELOW Games


Earlier this month, we released The Unholy 3 and OGL Trickery. Madden drew two stories about a trio of con artists and masters of disguise who have turned their talents to taking down criminal practiciners of their "craft." Inspired by the screwball comedies of the 1930s--the headlined by the Marx Brothers, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, William Powell, and Myrna Loy--these stories should be particularly appealing to both lowers of comics and old movies. The book also contains a non-Madden adventure featuring superhero Black Cobra spending a chaotic night at the ballet, and these three stories are great examples of the freewheeling nature of comic book storytelling during the Golden Age of Comics.

The cover of The Unholy 3 and OGL Trickery from NUELOW

The first of our books to feature Bill Madden, and the one that inspired L.L. Hundal to go digging for more work by him, was Carnival. It's a collection of three circus-themed mysteries, and although it only features one story by Madden, it's a great introduction to his work. It's also an excellent place to start with the NUELOW Games comics line, because it's rife with the sense of freewheeling, no-holds-barred storytelling that attracts us to so many of the short comics features from the 1940s and early 1950s.

The cover of Carnival from NUELOW Games

We have at least one more title featuring unadulterated Madden in the planning stages. It's it working title is Madden's Boys, and it will be a collection of superhero adventures with Dynamic Boy and Rocket Boy. (There may be others--we're still researching this one.)

We're also in the process of identifying other Madden work. I think I've spotted him in at least two other stories, under the inks of other artists. I'm trying to confirm whether I am right or not before we publish. (My ID of Al Plastino in a couple of spots is a bit dodgy, and while I feel confident about my judgement that it is indeed Madden's work on a couple "Madam Satan" stories, I want to be as sure as I can be.)

Meanwhile, I hope you will choose to take a look at Madden's under appreciated work in Carnival, Mother Hubbard, or The Unholy 3. If you do, please share what you think, either on the site you download the book from, or here at the blog.

5 comments:

  1. Hey, Steve!

    I'd downloaded your d20 supplements Carnival, The Unholy Trio & OGL Trickery, and Mother Hubbard not too long ago and have been pretty impressed by all three. Granted, I could complain that the "crunch" (i.e., feats, talent trees, etc.) presented in each of these supplements was a bit sparse for a more diehard gamer such as myself, but it was all pretty useful nonetheless--especially the talent trees from Carnival and Unholy 3. Not only that, but I can't begrudge you in the slightest for keeping old comics like these alive to show them to younger gamers like me and allowing them to inspire the OGL-related content you've been providing recently in your work. In short, props and thanks to you, good sir. I'm definitely looking forward to whatever d20 releases you have planned for the future.

    Speaking of keeping things alive, though, I was wondering if you've ever had dealings with a man named Keith "Smokewolf" Taylor. He used to run 93 Games Studios from 2001 to 2010, and when that company was around, they used to provide not only their own original stuff (i.e., The Swing), but also plenty of material for the d20 Modern system such as Arcane Classes, Arcane Adventures, and Secret Societies. Sadly, it's been nearly three years to the month since they'd gone out of business, and I can't find their d20 material anywhere. Sure, they'd given Game Designers' Workshop the rights to sell their Twilight: 2000/Twilight: 2013 material, but their stuff for d20 Modern and The Swing is basically gone for good. I was wondering, then, if you'd ever worked with the guy and if you know how to get in touch with him so that I and other gamers can [hopefully] convince him to revive some of his older, out-of-print material the same way you have via NUELOW Games. I only ask this because I honestly believe that 93 Games Studio's work deserves more exposure and credit than it had back when they were around and would be every bit as fun and useful now as it was back then. I sure know I'd support his new label and buy his older stuff if he finally decided to bring it back.

    All in all, thanks for reading, and keep up the good work!

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  2. Thank you for buying some of our comics/games products. We will *try* to keep the "crunch" factor in mind, but the fact is that none of the people involved with their production are big when it comes to producing "crunch." The main objective was, as you correctly picked up on, to bring old-time comics back to the fore--specifically the work of Bill Madden in the cases of the books you'd bought.

    That said, I think you're going to be pleased with pair of big d20 System release we have coming up, "The Price of Eternity" will satisfy your need for crunch in particular. [We brought someone in from the outside for this project... :) ]

    I don't believe I've had any dealings with Keith Taylor, but I will tale a look around and see what might be possible.

    Thanks again for writing and for your patronage of NUELOW Games. Feel free to stop by anytime and let us know how we're doing!

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  3. To the first guy who posted here concerning Keith "Smokewolf" Taylor:

    I've done some looking into Mr. Taylor's whereabouts, and from what I've gathered, the guy's a training manager now for Actiance, according to his profile at Yatedo.com (I'd post a link to it, but I don't know if doing so would be a violation of Blogspot.com's rules and regulations or any sort of policy with Yatedo.). Sadly, the closest thing I could do to emailing him directly was emailing Actiance themselves in hopes that they would forward my original email to Mr. Taylor. Obviously, that's no guarantee that he will even receive my message, much less read it and take into account my (and your) concerns.

    If you want to try getting in touch with Keith, go right ahead. Maybe you use Yatedo's online business promotion services yourself and thus have direct access to his email, or maybe you'll have luck having Actiance forward your email to him. At any rate, I agree with you; 93 Games Studio deserves to be remembered somehow, just as so many other independent RPG publishers have over the years, and for their material to simply disappear--regardless of which system said material supported--is just a shame. I sure know I would have loved to have gotten my hands on their Arcane Classes and secret Societies lines to see just how well such material would have fit in with my own d20 Modern campaign. I especially would have learned all about the magic associated with the religion of Santeria via their Arcane Classes: Santeria supplement. I mean, you can only incorporate other forms of "real world" magic (Voodoo in particular) before the stuff gets to be old hat.

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    1. Actually, Anonymous 11-24-2013, that information you dug up about Keith Taylor via Yatedo.com was outdated by a good year-and-a-half or so (April 2012). Smokewolf had actually transferred over to Com-Net Software to become one of their software integrators by September 2013, which is where he should be now, according to his account on LinkedIn.com. Look him up on that website, and you'll see what I mean.

      Ordinarily, I'd insist upon contacting the guy directly via his home email or whatever business email he has outside of Com-Net's contact page. Sadly, I wasn't able to find such information, either, so if you want to try to email him via Com-Net, try it and see if it works. Just don't hold your breath.

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    2. Thanks for the advice! :)

      Good news, too: I was actually able to contact the guy. Unfortunately, after hearing back from him, it seems as though he's more or less left the RPG business for good...not surprising, all things, considered, but a shame all the same. He told me that he'd like to get back into the fold, but with so many obligations on his plate (family, his "day" job, etc.), he feels he wouldn't have the time. He's not against selling the rights to his past work, though, although he hasn't had any takers since the day he wrote back to me.

      Just a little food for thought for anyone who might be interested.

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