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?|
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.