Thursday, February 4, 2016


Henry Boltinoff is rightfully celebrated at DC Comics for penning a veritable army of half-page gag features throughout its silver age titles. From Cap's Hobby Hints to Vic Varsity to Super-Turtle, he practically owned the inter-story pages huddled above the ads for Palisades amusement parks and Superman on TV (all of which is long-overdue for a remastered collection - the comics, that is, not the ads).

Less celebrated, however, is the work of Hi Mankin, whose scientific-themed Robbie the Robot and Professor Brainstorm strips filled half- and three-quarter-pages in Strange Adventures...

Having made a career largely on Looney Tunes strips, western comics and animation storyboarding (you'll find his name in the credits of many an original Johnny Quest episode), Mankin had reportedly begun his career with a one-day stint in the Siegel/Shuster studios. Personal conflicts left him seeking the door, which has unfortunately robbed us of his energetic cartooning having graced a full-length story of the Man of Steel.

Professor Brainstorm is a spin on the absent-minded professor gag, although his particular issue seems to revolve around his contrary nature more than his memory lapses.

As for Robbie, he emerges fully-formed from his origin story, in which a scientist builds him to take over day-to-day distractions -- like eating, sleeping, and watching TV. Basically, it's like the guy who invented Soylent, taken to an even more absurd end.

Likewise, Robbie also seemed to wander the world indulging in other quotidian tasks which his inventor couldn't be arsed to deal with, such as watching movies and attending boxing matches. And getting drunk af.

Mankin didn't leave much of a legacy at DC, but he has a plethora of crime and western comics floating around, including having produced a lengthy stint of Roy Rogers comic strips for King Features. It seems like he'd be a good pick for a nice career overview volume, in which Brainstorm and Robbie would definitely have a place ...

1 comment:

Count Otto Black said...

Presumably this chap is no relation to beloved British children's literary character Professor Branestawm? The latter fellow was an absent-minded but benign mad scientist who, with the "help" of his best friend, the brave but somewhat trigger-happy Colonel Dedshott (presumably no relation to that guy in the Suicide Squad), tried to improve many aspects of life, with sadly limited success because he was too clever for his own good, and his amazing inventions tended to get out of hand and develop a life of their own.

His wonderful discoveries included that most logical of DIY supplies, the paint-on carpet, which didn't know when to stop growing and threatened to turn Britain into a wooly jungle (in which Colonel Dedshott went hunting for "carpet tigers" on the off-chance that there were any), literally unheard-of musical instruments that staged a very noisy robots' rebellion, and a time-machine which, though less impressive than the above fellow's model with the million-year range (which is 64 million years short of the actual Age Of The Dinosaurs, but never mind), did send him back far enough to become entangled in a time-paradox caused by the fact that there were now two of him.

I submit that we British had a far superior Professor Brainstorm (whichever way you spell it), whose adventures, which appeared in several short story collections, were much more original, much funnier, and, although he was a prose rather than a comic-book character, much better illustrated, especially in the first book, where the numerous excellent drawings were provided by Heath Robinson, the British Rube Goldberg. And by the way, Professor Branestawm may be gone, but apparently he's not forgotten, since he recently got his own extremely belated movie. Which just goes to show why you Yankee Doodles may have thought of the atom bomb first, but we were the first (and almost certainly last) country to have a bomb that bounced!

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