Johnny Mack Brown


Monday, April 26, 2010

In the 1972  fanzine Sense of Wonder #12, Russ Manning published an enigmatic “see if you can guess” essay on Jesse Marsh. Without naming the artist, Manning takes the reader through the progression of the mystery artist’s style, beginning with Four Color Comics and ending with Johnny Mack Brown. Manning situates Marsh’s style from first-hand knowledge of Marsh’s influences, but goes further by describing the difference between an artist like Gould and an artist like Foster: design versus composition. It’s a quick theoretical detour, but one Manning would come back to later in interviews about his own work. Over halfway through the piece he declares Johnny Mack Brown #2 (featured in its entirety in Art in Time and chosen—I swear—before I even read this article!) a masterpiece, and then explains why in as close an analysis of artistic style as I’ve read from that period. Manning gets inside the work like a fellow artist but with the enthusiasm of a fan. And Russ Manning was, in fact, a fan. He began as an Edgar Rice Burroughs fanzine artist and, via Tarzan, made the acquaintance of Jesse Marsh, who got the younger artist his first job at Dell. Eventually, of course, Manning would succeed his mentor on Tarzan. By the end of the piece, Manning, with rhetorical flourish, reveals his subject to be Jesse Marsh. Anyhow, these two men, so different in style, were closely linked as artists and friends. It’s a study in contrast and lineage, and also a somewhat opaque subject, since both men were very private and possessed full lives outside of comics. Maybe this independent streak, something common to the handful of comic books masters on the west coast, was recognized and respected by the two friends. In any case, here is some fine evidence of an unusual artistic friendship.

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5 Responses to “Johnny Mack Brown”
  1. patrick ford says:

    Wonderful article by Russ Manning. I’m left wanting to see Gene Autry #16.
    Any scans of that one around?

  2. I always enjoy your references to Jesse Marsh, and as one of the many devoted fans to this great artist, appreciate your effort to make more people aware of him.

    Though most of my TheJesseMarshSite vanished when AOL stopped supporting membership sites, I had managed to get most of this wonderful artist’s western comics comics up onto the internet, along with many Tarzan stories, his comics, and many of the Sunday pages (they’re still available on web pages from Yahoo, as is Tarzan no.1).

    I will be making the effort this year to rebuild the site.

    To explain Russ Manning’s seemingly “enigmatic” article, Mr. Manning had written to Verne Coriell that he’d done an essay on Jesse Marsh for his friend, Biljo White, for his magazine ‘Batmania,’ issue no.1. It was to be the first of a guess-who series on comic book artists called “Spot the Pro.” He wrote the article for a number of reasons, the first of which was that Jesse Marsh was an important artist. He also wrote it because “Bill had some fine comic books I needed, and traded them for this article.”

    Though the ‘Batmania’ magazine did publish his article, the “Spot the Pro” series never continued and the article was reprinted in ‘Sense of Wonder,’ but without the explanation as to why it was written as it was. (Even Alex Toth was annoyed by its cryptic tone.)

    It is curious that Russ Manning, so antithetical to Mr. Marsh in in ‘style,’ was his greatest promoter (in 1948, two years before he met Jesse Marsh, he wrote to Mr. Coriell that Burne Horgarth was his main inspiration…talk about antithetical!) Russ Manning continued to praise Mr. Marsh throughout their careers.

    To Patrick Ford, if he wants to write me at buch112233 AT (substitute ‘@’ for ‘AT’), I will send him digital copies of Gene Autry no. 16. Though it’s the first page that’s the stunner, he’ll get the entire story. I’ll also pass on an article by Scott Algen, analysing the artwork…very instructive.

    Mr. Nadel, thanks again for all your efforts…and your very entertaining books and blogs.

    • Marc Seger says:

      I look forward to the rebuild of The Jesse Marsh Site, which I enjoyed so much before the AOL debacle. Please let me know when it’s up at

      Might I mention that I have obtained DVDs with scans of nearly all the Marsh Tarzan and Gene Autry work via ebay and sources found through ebay? Just another option fans might consider. This was my entrypoint into comic scans on DVD/CD, a great source of reading material.

  3. DerikB says:

    Since I finally just got around to reading the Manning article, I thought I’d add, for anyone else coming to this post late, that you can download a great number of the Gene Autry comics (including #16) from the Digital Comics Museum:

    (you have to make an account before you can download, put its free and easy)

    And, Dan, in case your reading the comments still, any citations for more discussion by Manning of the composition/design issue? I’d like to see a more detailed discussion of it, if there is one.

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