Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Among one of my personal favorite comics books growing up, Gray Morrow illustrated a few issues of Classics Illustrated. I've covered his adaptation of Jules Verne's Master of the World preciously, so now I present the two others I've come across since then.

Original cover painting for Classics Illustrated #159: The Octopus by L. B. Cole.

In the early 1960s, Morrow anonymously illustrated three literary adaptations for Classics Illustrated #159: The Octopus by Frank Norris, Classics Illustrated #163: Master of the World by Jules Verne and Classics Illustrated: #165 The Queen's Necklace by Alexandre Dumas, which he said he penciled and inked at the rate of "eight pages a day ... as fast as I've ever been able to go" since "I'd moved to California and needed those checks badly."

Marvelous splash page for Classics Illustrated #159: The Octopus by Gray Morrow.

Classics Illustrated #159 The Octopus
"The Octopus"
Adapted from the novel by Frank Norris.
Illustrated by Gray (Edge of Chaos) Morrow.

The Octopus was meant to be the first part of an uncompleted trilogy, The Epic of the Wheat. It describes the wheat industry in California, and the conflicts between wheat growers and a railway company. Norris was inspired to write the novel by the Central Pacific Railroad and the Mussel Slough Tragedy.

The Octopus depicts the conflict between wheat farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and the Pacific and Southwestern railroad (P&SW). The railroad attempts to take possession of the land the farmers have been improving for many years, forcing them to defend themselves. The wheat farmers are represented by Magnus Derrick, the reluctant leader of the ad hoc farmers' League designed to fight for retention of their land and low-cost freight rates. S. Behrman serves as the local representative of P. & S. W. In his attempt at writing his great epic poem, Presley witnesses the disintegration of Annixter, Derrick, Hooven, and their families.

Possibly a Gray Morrow cover for Classics Illustrated #165: The Queen's Necklace.
Nice splash page by Gray Morrow.

Classics Illustrated #165 The Queen's Necklace
"The Queen's Necklace"
Adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas.
Illustrated by Gray (Black Hood) Morrow.

The Queen's Necklace is loosely based on the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, an episode involving fraud and royal scandal that made headlines at the court of Louis XVI in the 1780s. This novel presents an idealized portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette, but it also shows the decadence of the nobility of the time, with its ending seeming to suggest the "beginning of the end" of the nobility.

The plot of Dumas' novel was fully or partially included in adaptations for film and television, which also drew on the historical facts.

Gray Morrow stories in each of these comic books from the publisher of Classics Illustrated.

Morrow also supplied drawings for chapters in Classics Illustrated Special Issue #159A, Rockets, Jets and Missiles, and in 13 World Around Us issues ranging from Prehistoric Animals to Famous Teens. One of those, #W28, The Illustrated Story of Whaling, resulted in unexpected controversy when he accurately depicted African-American whalers:
The page rate (at Gilberton in general) wasn't much for the accuracy and authenticity they expected, but it was a challenge to 'do it right.' Roberta and Len Cole were demanding but genial editors. One job I do remember ... something about whaling, got me in dutch with Roberta. My research indicated that many of the whalers were black - so that's what I drew. She had a fit and insisted they all be redrawn to 'avoid controversy

In the end, the problematic chapter, "The Long Voyage", retained what one comics historian called "a respectable number of African-American  whalemen," Morrow, however, recalled, "They had me make them all white. I had to change their features."

Other notable comic book artists showcased in The World Around Us series were Jack "pre-King" Kirby, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres & Sam Glanzman. You just never knew who to expect back then.

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