Monday, February 22, 2021

Comics: Howard James, Black Comics Artist

Special thanks to Karen James who graciously provided additional information about her father.

Howard Benjamin James was a black artist who had a brief career during the Golden Age of Comics. He was born on October 3, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York, according to the New York, New York Birth Index at and his World War II draft card.

The 1925 New York state census said James and his mother, Edna, a waitress, resided in Brooklyn at 316 Atlantic Avenue.

The 1930 U.S. Federal Census recorded James, his widow mother, and maternal grandparents, Thomas and Margaret Jones, at 316 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. His father, deceased, was born in South Carolina and mother, a waitress, in Virginia. His grandparents had moved from Eastville, Virginia.

In the 1940 census, James and his mother were recorded under her maiden name, Jones. Both were unemployed. Also living with them was his mother’s brother, Dempsey. Their Brooklyn address was 5 Fleet Place.

James graduated from the School of Industrial Art around 1940. Other graduates around that time were Valerie Barclay and Mike Sekowsky. 

Here are James’ credits at the Grand Comics Database

Sub-Mariner Comics #3, Fall 1941 
The Angel; inker

Mystic Comics #8, March 1942 
Black Marvel; inker
Davey and the Demon; penciller and inker
The five-page story is at Timely-Atlas-Comics.  
Mystic Comics #9, May 1942 
Davey and the Demon; 
penciller and inker

USA Comics #4, May 1942
The Whizzer; 
penciller and inker

All-Winners Comics #5, Summer 1942
The Whizzer; 
penciller and inker

Mystic Comics #10, August 1942
Davey and the Demon; 
penciller; see Indexer Notes

Truthful Love #2, July 1950
“Classroom for Romance”; 
penciller and inker

There was speculation Ernie Hart used the pen name, “Howard James”. 
On February 16, 1942, James and his uncle signed their World War II draft cards. They lived at 5 Debevoise Place, Brooklyn. Timely Comics was James’ employer.

The second World War interrupted James’ career. James served in the Navy. His service was summarized on his separation document.  

Serial Number: 8150086
Rank: Steward’s Mate 1c, SV6, USNR
(SV6: Selective Volunteer guaranteed discharge within 6 months of war’s end.) 

1. Navy Recruiting Station, New York, New York, enlisted September 1, 1943; active service September 8, 1943

2. Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Maryland

3. Shoemaker Navy Training and Distribution Center, Receiving Barracks, Shoemaker, California 

4. CASU 33, Long Beach, California

5. CASU (F) 9, San Pedro Bay, Philippines
(Combat Aircraft Service Unit) 

6. USNPSC Lido Beach, Long Island, New York, United States Navy Personnel Separation Center
Honorable discharge

A history of CASU (F) 9 was illustrated by James and produced by mimeograph.

A Public Records Index at had two New York City addresses for James:
34-12 113 Street, Corona.

James passed away on August 24, 2010. The Social Security Death Index said his last residence was Flushing. An obituary has not been found.

(Updated May4, 2022. Next post on Monday: Gerard Huerta, Lettering Artist)

Monday, February 8, 2021

Monday, February 1, 2021

Comics: Al Grenet, Artist, Letterer and Editor

Alfred “Al” Grenet was born Alfred Grünberg on February 28, 1915, in Budapest, Hungary. The birth information is from Grenet’s World War II draft card and Social Security application, dated November 1936, which were transcribed at The application had two surnames, Greenberg and Grenet. Greenberg is the anglicized spelling of the German Grünberg (green mountain).

A passenger list at listed Grenet; his parents, Victor and Lottie, both born in Poland; a younger brother, Leopold, born in Silesia; and a younger sister, Regina, born in Austria. Grenet said his family were refugees of World War I. The Grünbergs, who had been residing in Vienna, were aboard the steamship Nieuw Amsterdam when it departed Rotterdam on December 10, 1920, and arrived in New York on December 20. Their tickets were paid by Victor’s uncle, Harry Wasser of New York City.

The 1930 U.S. Federal Census said the Greenberg family of eight lived in Manhattan at 47 St. Marks Place. Grenet’s father had an upholstery business.

Grenet began the process of naturalization when he filed a Declaration of Intention on June 18, 1936. His address was 121 St. Marks Place. His Petition for Naturalization was processed and Grenet became a citizen on May 27, 1939. At the time he was living at 134 First Avenue in Manhattan. The same address was in the 1940 census. Grenet was a commercial artist living with his parents and siblings. He had completed four years of high school and, in 1939, earned 288 dollars working 16 weeks.

In Alter Ego #34, March 2004, Jim Amash interviewed Grenet who explained how he got into comics.

I started out at seventeen as an errand boy in a drugstore. I got promoted to cashier and was in charge of the errand boys. I saw an ad in the newspaper—Walt Disney was looking for artists. I went up and took the test, but they didn’t like what I did, so I did other jobs until 1938, when I saw another ad in the paper for an artist. It was Eisner & Iger. They gave me a week’s trial and I stayed there for five years, until I went into the Army.
In the same issue, artist Chuck Cuidera said “I had to teach him [Grenet] how to draw and letter and do the promotional work for Quality Comics.” The Long Island Star-Journal (Long Island City, New York), August 16, 1955, said Grenet graduated from the National Academy of Design. Grenet said he was an apprentice who erased pages and corrected mistakes during his first year at Eisenr & Iger. After that he did lettering and backgrounds. Grenet said
I got so fast at lettering that I was doing 16 to 20 pages a day, without guidelines. I got it down to a system. It was like handwriting to me.
... I created the logos, like for Blackhawk, Smash, Crack, Doll Man, Plastic Man, and the rest. And later, all the logos for the romance comics and other comics we did while I was at Quality. I also colored the covers for Quality after World War II.
... I lettered the first Spirit stories. I also lettered for Harry Chesler on the side. He heard I was a letterer and called me at home. I went to see him and he offered me a lettering job as well as a manager’s job. I told him I wasn’t interested in that, but that I would letter for him.
On October 10, 1940, Grenet signed his World War II draft card. His address was 153 Second Avenue in Manhattan. He was employed at Eisner & Iger, 202 East 44th Street. Grenet was described as five feet eight inches, 158 pounds, with hazel eyes and black hair.

Grenet enlisted in the New York Guard on January 19, 1942. He was in Company E, 9th Regiment. He enlisted in the army on March 5, 1943 and served in the European Theatre.

Grenet was discharged in December 1945. He tried to return to the Iger Studio but was turned down. Grenet found a job as a production artist at Quality Comics where he eventually became editor.

The Long Island Star-Journal, August 16, 1955, talked to Grenet about the comics industry.
Comic Book Editor Tells of Trade’s Woe
Teen-age girls desire pure romance and no sex in their comic books.

That comes from no less an authority than a 40-year-old Whitestone editor, who turns out comic books for the third largest publishing firm in the country.

Alfred Grenet said his company—Quality Comic Publications—specializes in romance comics and consequently has no trouble with crusaders trying to clean up the industry, accused of putting out too many sex and horror books which have a bad effect on youth.

Taking time out in his lavish Madison avenue office to explain why comic book editors run out of laughs and end up with grey hair, Grenet said:

“All the fuss is about comic books dealing with sex and horror, but strangely these never have sold too well.

“The average teen-age girl—average age 17—doesn’t relish our romantic comic books.  They prefer the Cinderella type and we always have a happy ending. The readers want it.”

However, Grenet is the first to admit that the crusade and television have cut deeply into the comic book industry.

The clean-up campaign is subsiding somewhat now but the business will have to go a long way to regain the popularity it once held in the war years, explained Grenet.

“Everyone made a fortune then,” he said smiling.

People were traveling. Entertainment was hard to find and the men in the army were lonely and bored.”

“In the good days our top writers used to make up to $25,000 and our artists up to$15,000.”

“But no more.”

Writers are the key men in the comic book game, Grenet said. All are free-lance, ut his firm makes regular use of four in particular.

Each can usually write four stories—the average number in a comic book—per week.

Then one of the firms five pencilers, some specialists in straight drawing, others in animation—sketch in the writer’s scenes. This usually takes two weeks per book. Inkers then fill in the colors.

It takes 10 weeks, on the average, from the time the writer starts on a book until the time when it comes off the presses.

The writers are, when successful, men of prolific imagination, Grenet said.

They get some ideas from newspapers and stories, but usually from their heads.

“The idea counts much more than the writing or the drawing,” the editor said. “A poorly drawn comic with a good idea can be a top seller. And some of the finest drawings you’ve ever seen never catch on.”

As for Grenet himself.

A conservative dresser, he hooked up with the business in its infancy in 1939 after he graduated from the National Academy of Design.

He rose to chief editor at Quality—which publishes 14 books a month, in 1949. His success led him to leave the Bronx and purchase a house at 166-67 22nd avenue, where he relaxes with his wife [Bella], and two sons, Robert, 8, and Steven, 5.

Grenet never smokes or drinks and is active in the Clearview Jewish Center and Clearview Civic Association. His two sons can’t seem to buy enough Davy Crockett comic books and Grenet smiles. They are put out by a rival publisher.
In 1956 Quality expanded into magazines and Grenet was the editor. Grenet “said that in the early 1950s Hugh Hefner approached Busy [Arnold] with a proposal to publish Playboy. Arnold, being a comic book publisher, turned him down, to his later regret.” Grenet designed the magazine logos. The Cosmic Teams website has all of the covers for Arnold Magazines, Inc.

The 1957 Manhattan telephone directory listed “Alfred Grenet” at 303 Lexington Avenue which was the editorial office of Arnold Magazines, Inc. The publisher ceased operations at the end of 1957.

Grenet became a salesman and did some freelancing. He drew covers for I.W. Publishing. Some of the logos may have been created by him or possibly Sol Brodsky who was also doing covers.  
On July 30, 1959, Grenet returned home on a flight from Mexico. The Long Island Star-Journal, August 5, 1959, said “Winner of an eight-day trip for two to Acapulco, Mexico, was Alfred Grenet of 166-67 22nd avenue, Flusing [sic] ... He copped the award for salesmanship with a photography firm.”

In 1978 Grenet moved to Florida. He passed away on August 1, 2006, in West Palm Beach, Florida. A two-sentence death notice appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, August 3, and the Palm Beach Post, August 4.

Below are the comics logos by Grenet. I believe he used circle and ellipse guides to draw some of the letters. It’s noticeable in the letter “O”. The covers were found at the Digital Comic Museum and Heritage Auctions. Many of his credits are at the Grand Comics Database and Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999.











Left: The legibility of the logo improved with an outline on the “O”.











Left: The second issue of Plastic Man had significant changes to the letterforms.

Left: A big improvement to the logo.











Left: The funny animal logos were quite a departure from the plain logos.

Left: With the second issue the title changed from Love Diary to Diary Loves.



Left: The Exotic “E” got a makeover on the second issue.

Left: Looks like the logo was set in type.


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(Next post on Monday: Larsen’s Frostop)