Columnist Mark Squirek turns the TV dial back to the 1960s and comes up with comics...
The Gold Key and Dell comic book covers for movie and TV show tie-ins were always fun to see on a newsstand or spinner rack. Featuring familiar friends from the big or small screen, when you picked one up, they were a sure thing.
These were family-friendly titles that featured the best of what entertainment could offer. They were clean, morally upright and designed to appeal to everyone. Even your grandmother watched The Beverly Hillbillies.
And as appealing as Elizabeth Montgomery was on Bewitched, when she was standing next to Darren they were clearly a normal, happily married couple.
What harm could there be in a comic book that featured a TV show or a movie on its cover? Parents seldom had a problem picking up a Gold Key comic book that featured a property licensed from television and film. They knew what they were getting.
Except in one rare case.
Amidst all this clean-cut fun there was one TV cover that was different. It made no attempt to hide the assets of its hero and if anything, put them front and center.
Gold Key’s sole issue of Honey West (September 1966) is, for multiple reasons, an absolute bombshell of a cover. It is also one of the most smartly designed and perfect covers ever to grace a TV-themed comic book.
Honey West, as portrayed by Anne Francis – a magnificent actress, who with her performance in Forbidden Planet had already secured her place in any fan’s Hall of Fame – stands tall, proud and unapologetic for who she is.
Ms. Francis makes it clear that Honey West is on a mission. This is not someone who you would want to mess with. Wearing a determined and focused glare, her body language speaks volumes. Her shoulders held straight back and one foot is forward, this woman is solidly anchored to the earth making it clear that she is ready to deal with anything.
Just in case you are missing the point, if you look closer you notice that she is tightly grasping a pistol and from the way she is looking straight at you, she will have no problem pulling the trigger.
Unless you are actually familiar with the TV show on ABC, the cover is unclear as to what side of the law she stands on. The narrative lines below the logo make it clear that “Honey is guarding a ‘hot’ yacht,” but as to why is a bit ambiguous. She could easily be guarding it for a mob boss as a bank officer.
More than the narrative, the all-black outfit seems to be the same one traditionally worn by criminals. As if she needs to hide in the undercover of moonless night. Few women of the time ever went out in public dressed like this.
And even fewer women owned a jungle cat as a pet! While she is dressed to the nines as she is holding the cat, it is clearly not your average household tabby. Everything about the two photos featuring Honey convey an ease with danger.
The presence of a leather-clad hoodlum in the third photo, a hoodlum who is pointing straight at the reader in a menacing manner doesn’t help sell the title as anything heroic either. This punk looks as if he just stepped off a motorcycle and wants your wallet now. Right NOW!
The images blend together in an easy way that serves as a perfect example of what a skilled layout artist can do to enhance excitement on a cover. Ms. Francis is certainly athletic, but the hourglass lines that frame her from behind highlight her figure in a way that a simple red background never could. Coming together in the center as they do pushes everything about her into a closer, fuller dimension.
Two different shades of very light, egg-shell yellow border the edges of that hourglass frame. This really allows the light, sea-blue-color found at the center to push Ms. West away from the field of red.
Overlapping a small piece of the bottom of the frame, a second photograph of Honey features her and her pet. This image sits on a slightly darker version of the light blue in the hourglass. Closer to green, the color really brings out the formal dress, but especially the flesh of her bare shoulder.
Significantly, the color of her cat is close in feel to that dress building a connection between her and the animal.
The third photo features an unknown male figure. The color behind his image is actually the lightest shade of them all. While his leather jacket and threatening demeanor is clearly male, the color links him to a much larger, more feminine atmosphere.
In case you are wondering who the book is about, a bit of Ms. Francis’ hair slips into his solo panel. A not too subtle reminder that the books is about Honey West.
Like the hourglass lines behind her full body figure on the left, the boxes that hold the other two photographs are each angled against a standard straight line. This gives a sense of dimension for each frame in a way that a flat red background never could.
Still, that red can never be dismissed for color is an important part of this cover. The massive presence of red the cover is notable for the idea that red has traditionally symbolized a fallen woman, one with questionable morals. (A big Scoop hello, Nathaniel Hawthorne…). The color also symbolizes heat, blood and in many cases, lust.
Red also grabs our eye unlike almost any other color. For as much as it can hold the beauty of a rose, its connection to blood creates a strong sense of threatening violence.
Laying the photos on top of the different shades of blue and green works perfectly. If photos were left sitting right on top of flat red, almost everything would have been swallowed up by its dominating presence.
The colors of the costumes are important as well. Wearing an all-black, skin tight outfit, Honey West is ready to slip into the night shadows a second after she has taken down the criminal. At least that is supposed to be the intent behind her costume. There are those who might see her outfit as a controlling Venus in furs…. A less than subtle hint at much more adult games.
This racy cover (for the times) of Honey West must have snuck through the editorial approval process. Even though the show on which it was based was on ABC, and it ran in what was then considered a more “adult” time slot, the tie in comic book for Honey West features a racy, innuendo filled cover.
This is an image straight from a ten cent bus station paperback of the fifties. This is a slightly cleaner version of a Mickey Spillane book cover. It is the 1950s cool of Peter Gunn coupled with the sex appeal of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, married to the modernity of James Bond with a big helping of beatnik cool mixed together.
Except this is a woman.
There had to have been a certain amount of reaction to this cover when it appeared. At Gold Key the editorial board can’t have been unaware of what the cover said to some adults.
Despite the fact that the times were indeed changing in America during the latter part of the 1960s, Gold Key did little to acknowledge this radical shift in morals and standards.
When the comic adaptation of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E showed up a year later in 1967, her covers were certainly considerably less suggestive than what we see on the sole issue of Honey West as published by Gold Key.
Despite the obvious notes or deviant ideas imagined about the cover for Honey West, nothing diminishes the dignity and strength of Ms. Francis. A skilled actress, she brought intelligence to every role she ever played.
In Forbidden Planet she gave a full life to what could have easily been a two dimensional character. Instead of playing a simple minded ingénue she inhabits the daughter with a sense of innocence, honest curiosity and gives her a full, full life.
No one who has ever seen her in the first season episode of Twilight Zone titled After Hours can ever forget her work. This story consistently lands in Top Ten lists of Twilight Zone episodes.
As with any great actor, she builds on the solid writing found in the script and makes the confusion of that woman in the Department Store so wonderfully heartbreakingly believable. She followed that up in season four with another magnificent job on Jess-Belle.
As to Ms. Francis’ work on Forbidden Planet, the comic world would have to wait until 1992 when the now defunct publisher Innovation did an official version of the film as a four-issue mini-series. The cover art and inks are by Daerick Gross, Sr.
The publisher Innovation lasted from 1989-1994 and specialized in media tie-in titles. They published titles based on Anne Rice novels, Lost in Space, Child’s Play, Nightmare on Elm Street and other familiar properties. They are also known for Hero Alliance as well as keeping Mike Barr’s The Maze Agency going after Comico.
Since 2010 Honey West has returned to comics as a regular presence with her own series from Moonstone. Lasting seven issues so far, she has also been scheduled to appear in one shot titles with other such Moonstone characters as Kolchak, Captain Action and Flint. Moonstone has also been reprinting the original Honey West stories by the husband and wife team of Gloria and Forrest E. Fickling who wrote the stories under the pen name of G.G. Fickling (Scoop took a look at the first volume in The Honey West Files when it appeared in 2012).
Building on the idea of a hard boiled private eye, Honey West built the idea that women could hold any job and do it just as well, if not better than a man. She was independent, strong-willed, intelligent and for the times, an anomaly.
In the hands of Anne Francis she acquired even more dimension than she had in the original stories. Her portrayal of the detective added a vitality and strength to the character. She wasn’t afraid to acknowledge the obvious sexuality inside Honey West yet never let that quality overwhelm the larger message that she was doing a job, the same job as a man.
The cover for the 1966 Gold Key comic book successfully emphasized both sides of Honey West. It did this with a simple, strong color scheme and a few choice angled lines. A measured exercise in simplicity, it is one of the classic covers to be found in the TV and Movie part of comic book collecting.