Friday, 25 September 2015

The Triumph & Tragedy of Jimmy Dean

---NOW following on from my previous post, here is very likely the earliest example of a comic strip telling the story of actor James Dean, who died 60 years ago this month. 

It was published in 1956 within 'ELVIS AND JIMMY' a rather odd magazine which is split into two distinct sections. The first half is a series of black and white photographs accompanied by an article called 'How it Feels to be Elvis' written by a journalist from a Memphis-based newspaper. 

Published by 'The Girl Friend - The Boy Friend Corporation', New York

The second half is a 32 page black and white comic strip entitled 'The Tragedy and Triumph of Jimmy Dean', made up of 70 panels drawn by Lou Cameron, perhaps best known at the time for his work on horror comics and the long-running series 'Classics Illustrated'. Cameron eventually became a prolific writer of crime and western novels.

The idea of using illustrations rather than photographs is explained in the opening panel which suggests that a photographer would inevitably not have been on hand to document such personal moments in Dean's life. Instead, his story is captured in ink by Lou Cameron - who quite possibly could have written the piece as well. 

It's ironic though that Dean was in fact one of the most oft-photographed stars of his day, but perhaps it was cheaper to hire a comic book artist than shell out for over 30 pages of costly press or archive photos?

However, it's a fascinating piece that came out in the flurry of hastily put-together one-off tribute magazines in those first years after Dean's passing - and here is a selection of some of Cameron's panels, beginning with the funereal-style opening page:

The right half of the final panel - which is a two page spread. Hovering in the sky above the wreckage of Dean's Porsche Spyder on Route 466 is a portrait of the dead star by the artist Norman Nodel.

For the price of 50c, 'Elvis and Jimmy' readers could send off for a special 10" x 8" copy of Nodel's portrait. Unlike the magazine which is not too uncommon, these art portraits must be exceedingly rare now...

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