Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein by Dick Briefer with an Introduction by Craig Yoe

Posted by on February 24th, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Yoe Books at IDW; 148 pp., $21.99; Color. Hardcover; ISBN: 9781600107221

Briefer became the official funnybook master of the menace of Frankenstein’s monster by doing two versions of the character — a serious evocation of Boris Karloff’s 1931 movie interpretation of Mary Shelley’s creation and a highly comical big-foot re-interpretation. Yoe reprints the inaugural appearance of the first version from Prize Comics #7 (December 1940), “which began the very first continuing series of horror comics,” followed by the next two (#8 and #9) and then three stories from Frankenstein #1 (Summer 1945), wherein the character is “the merry monster” that Briefer had introduced in Prize Comics #53 (May 1953).

Funny Frank flourished in his own title for 17 issues, and then he reverted to horrifying with #18 in March 1952 in order to join the trend of horror comics then slithering across the land. But for Briefer, whom Yoe quotes, “the attitude was different, the fun was gone.” He did 16 terrifying issues for the paycheck, and when “the anti-horror groups” arrived, Briefer left comics for advertising after #33 (October 1954) of Frankenstein, and the comics medium lost one of its most distinctive practitioners.

Yoe’s Funny Frank revival includes two more stories, one from Frankenstein #8 (July-August 1947) by which time, Briefer’s drawings have shed fineline shading in favor of a bold, fluid brush stroke, and another from #15 (September-October 1948). In the latter, “The Girl with the Bewitching Eyes” invokes Will Eisner’s take on Jane Russell and her famous bosom, from the Sept. 1, 1946 Spirit story, “Olga Bustle: The Girl with the Big, Big Eyes” — clearly an in-group joke: Briefer’s comic book career had started in 1936 in the comic art shop run by Eisner and Jerry Iger.

Click to view larger image.

In the last four stories in the Yoe Book, Frank reverts to his original terrifying self as revealed in #20 (August-September 1952), #24 (April-May 1953), #28 (January 1954), and #31 (June-July 1954). The last two showcase Briefer’s mature style, now deftly blending the bold outline of the comical version with fineline modeling and shading.

Briefer is remembered more for his comical Frankenstein than for any of the other excellent work he did in comics. I was always a little put off by his Funny Frank because Briefer located the monster’s nose above his eyebrows, too weird for me in my misguided youth. Now I see that facial tic is Briefer’s caricature of his version of the Frightening Frank, whose nose was missing except for two nostril holes between his eyes. Briefer, Yoe tells us in his introduction, wrote all his own stories, and the comical ones in particular are a treat to behold. Briefer liked his funny stuff best, but it’s fascinating to watch him shift, seemingly without effort, from serious, realistic visuals to bigfoot cartooning, and back again.

In Funny Frank, Briefer’s treatment is lighthearted, his visuals energetically antic in their comedic exaggeration; in Frightening Frank, the stories are flamboyantly horrifying (in what might be described as the best EC manner), narrative captions pulsating purple, and the pictures grittily grim and menacing.

Click to view larger images.

In one of his most light-hearted tales (from Frankenstein #8), Briefer commits a cheery send-up of Superman when Funny Frank becomes Blooperman, embodying the hopes of two comic-book creators, Jerry Shoestring and Joe Seagull.

Yoe’s Introduction, as is common with Yoe Books, is a mine of visual extras — a couple of Briefer’s paintings of Frankenstein (in both guises), a page of his first comic-book story (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), samples of the Funny Frank comic strip that no syndicate had the wisdom to buy, a few of Alex Toth’s shorthand version of Briefer’s Funny Frank, some original art, and more — as well as an informative albeit brief biography. (Briefer was blacklisted during the McCarthy Red Scare Years of the 1950s because he drew a comic strip for the Communist Party’s Daily Worker during World War II; Russia, at the time, was an ally of the U.S. and Britain. Guilt by association is retroactive.)

The cover of the book is an inventive design that, unlike Chip Kidd’s Shazam cover, serves a purpose other than simply showing off the designer’s crazed inventiveness: It draws attention to the Briefer variants of Frankenstein. The face of Frightening Frank appears on the cover with holes where his eyes should be, but through the holes, we see the eyeballs of the picture behind the cover, Briefer’s Funny Frank. Their eyes link the two interpretations of the character. On the back cover, another full-face portrait, this time of Briefer.

Altogether, a nifty package and a delightful read.

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