1983: Ms. Tree

Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Adventures (1983) #1-3, Ms. Tree (1983) #4-9 by Max Allan Collins, Terry Beatty, et al.

The first Ms. Tree storyline had been serialised in Eclipse magazine, and now that it had its own comic book, I had expected the episodic structure to change a bit.

But now, we instead get two or three eight page instalments per issue.

The first three issues are printed on newsprint… and these are perhaps the last three issues Eclipse printed this way before going to nice paper stock throughout its line of comics? I guess the next few days on this blog will telll…

Frank Miller does a few of these two-page “pin-ups” the first few issues. They’re kinda nice, but are a bit dashed off, I’d say.

Beatty’s artwork improves over the issues, and improves a lot from the Eclipse magazine days. Beatty was about 24 at the time, I think?

But it’s not like he ever got, like, you know… Good. All his characters have these impossibly big and blocky faces that have the separate features flowing around without connecting to anything. In one, Ms. Tree’s mouth is half as long as the nose, in another, a quarter as long. Floating in a sea of face.

There’s a slew of back-up features in these books, like these bleedin’ Mike Mist Minute Mist-Eries (gah). This one is of particular interest: It’s a dig at The Comics Journal who had published a number of less-than-flattering reviews of Collins/Beatty (which had then resulted in a rebuttal from Collins with more snide commentaries from Gary Groth and Kim Thompson following on).

So here you have editor “Roth” (Gary Groth), the editor of The Comics Enquirer, which “regularly attacked comics and their creators” being killed.

“Jim Ronson” (Kim Thompson) tries to pin the murder on “Gene Delaney” (Dean Mullaney), but Mike Mist cleverly figures out that Thompson, I mean “Ronson” was behind the murder, in the typical Mike Mist fashion of relying on obscure trivia and logical fallacies:

As usual in these Mist-eries, there’s no evidence, circumstantial or not, that ties the killer to the act.

But: “Ha, ha.” I guess that showed Groth not to mess with Collins!

Collins explains in the letters column that they wanted to call the comic “Ms. Tree”, while the publisher insisted on “Thrilling Detective Adventures”, so they settled on “Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Adventures”.

Trina Robbins and Barb Rausch, both comic book artists, write in to say that they’re quite enjoying Ms. Tree, especially the clear storytelling. And it’s a good point: Ms. Tree has no confusing layouts or splashy special effects: It just plods along. Both Robbins and Rausch draw in generally this tradition, but they’re so much better artists than Beatty is that they makes this work for them.

There’s about eight pages of the horrible back-up feature called The Scythe in most issues. It’s written by Eclipse co-owner Dean Mullaney and with artwork by Ellis Goodson, I think it says here (the printing is rather bad). It’s virtually unreadable and painfully amateurish.

Nice to see some properly romantic scenes.

Wat! Deni Sim pops up with a fan letter, which I think is kinda fun, since she took over as the publisher eight issues later.

Max Allan Collins calls Modesty Blaise “a bit butch”, which reminded me of this hilarious song by Gretchen Phillips:

The feud continues! Miaow!

In the third issue we get the first monthly Eclipse editorial, which is a tradition that would continue for many years. These usually aren’t very interesting, though, and often bear the imprint of being typed in haste just before the deadline.

With issue four, we switch to nice paper that can hold ink and stuff. It’s a distinct improvement, and seems to inspire Beatty to put in backgrounds more often than he’s done until now.

There’s some pushback on the “butch” thing, fortunately.

Collins explains that having the same structure in both of the first Ms. Tree serials is a feature, not a bug. In the first one, Ms. Tree has sex with a guy who turns out to be the murderer, while in the second one, Ms. Tree turns out to have sex with a guy who turns out to be the murderer… BUT THIS ONE WORKS FOR ANOTHER GUY SO IT”S TOTALLY SURPRISING!

Makes sense.

Huh. Eclipse are giving out a “color chart”? I tried looking on ebay to see whether anybody’s selling it, but apparently not. I wander what it is…

The number of people killed in each Ms. Tree issue is staggering.

The Scythe is wrapped up as a text piece instead of dragging it all out as a comic.

Frank Miller stops doing the detective pin-ups and Mike Grell takes over and interprets the remit a bit more literally.

We get an explanation for how they do the artwork. Beatty does the layouts, then Gary Kato does the pencils and lettering, and then Beatty pencils the faces and inks everything.

The final issues is a Mike Mist/Ms. Tree team-up, and… It’s like you’d expect.

Deni Sim at Aardvark-Vanaheim took over Ms. Tree at this point. In a news item in The Comics Journal, Eclipse publisher Dean Mullaney says that he dumped Ms. Tree because it didn’t sell enough. Ms. Tree writer Max Allan Collins said that their contract with Eclipse was over, and he shopped Ms. Tree around, and Aardvark-Vanaheim came up with the best offer.

Reality differs, I guess.

I was apparently a fan of Ms. Tree as a kid, because I found a pretty much complete run of the remaining Ms. Tree issues (and there’s a lot of them) in the Aardvark-Vanaheim short box. They’re done in duotone: Printed in black-and-white with one accent colour, usually a shade of red, but it varies. I think it’s a look that suits Beatty’s artwork better than full colour.

Deni Sim kept Ms. Tree when she left Aarvark-Vanaheim and continued to publish it under the Renegade Press banner. When that went under in the late 80s, it then moved to DC Comics for a handful of years.

Collins has also published some Ms. Tree novels, which I have not read.

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