The Incredibly (Mysterious) Prolific Maurice Bramley

The Incredibly Mysterious Prolific Maurice Bramley

Sometimes you just need to dig long and hard enough to find the information that you’re ultimately seeking.  The following is a classic case of doing so.

In researching the Newton Comics book I’ve dug up loads of documents, letters, contracts, legal documents, interviews and more.  I’ve waded through thousands of pages and more pages arrive, both electronically and physically, every week, some weeks they arrive every day.  Most of it us very useful, some of it is irrelevant, but all of it is interesting, down to undated notes and political discussions.  Ultimately there’s so much information, with such depth and richness, that the Newton Book will only be the scratching of the surface.  And one document especially caught my eye.

Dated February, 1965, it is a handwritten letter from none other than Maurice Bramley detailing his career at Horwitz.  For those who might not be aware, Bramley was the main artist at Horwitz, he drew hundreds of covers – which I’ll detail shortly – along with interior art.  He drew mainly short stories, and one to two page fillers, but also took over The Phantom Commando from John Dixon.  To date not a lot is known about Bramley, other than he began his career as an advertising/commercial artist and then moved over to comic book art – but what motivated him to do so?  Now we might have an answer.

The letter details Bramley’s connection with Stanley Pitt.  In 1965 Bramley was nearing sixty and recounted how Stan Pitt was rejected the first time he came to the art department of the Sun newspaper.  Bramley, in his own words, “How I remember…how hard I fought that editorial mob on the Sunday Sun to give him a break with his astonishingly beautiful Speed (sic) Gordon like comic.”  Bramley spent the first twenty five years of his career at the Sun, working alongside Phil Belbin, who he described as, “…the grandpappy of them all.”  Unlike Bramley, Belbin started in comics and moved to commercial art.

Bramley stated that he moved to comic book art due to the freedom that it gave him, both in artistic expression and also his working environment.  Bramley started with Horwitz in 1955 and remained there until they ceased publishing comics in 1965, spending the years from 1958 onwards working from home.  Up to that point he only ever worked for Horwitz and was employed drawing cover after cover.  Thus, in February 1965, Maurice Bramley detailed the volume of his output as a cover artist for Horwitz as such:
Attack - 15
Battle - 80
Battle Action - 78
Black Knight - 3
Black Rider - 10
Buffalo Bill - 165
Combat Casey - 11
Combat Kelly - 15
Commando - 2
Crime Busters - 12
Crime Casebook - 12
Daniel Boone - 3
Don Christy RAN - 4
Fast Gun Western - 16
Giant Battle - 13
Giant Battle Action - 8
Giant Gunsmoke Western - 17
Giant Marines In Action - 8
Giant Wild West - 6
Giant Wyatt Earp - 7
Kid Colt - 156
Lone Rider - 12
Love & Romance - 50
Marines In Action - 47
Mike Battles - 4
Navy Action - 65
Navy Combat - 12
Phantom Commando - 16
Rawhide Kid - 12
Ringo Kid - 11
Roy Rogers - 40
Sgt Fury - 10
Strange Tales - 6
Tales Of Justice - 12
Tonto - 12
Trigger - 19
Two-Gun Kid - 47
Western Gunfighters - 25
Wyatt Earp – 32

That’s an incredible 1073 covers over a ten year period, which amounts to two fully pencilled, inked and lettered covers each week – on top of any other work that Bramley did.  And it is worth noting that when he did interiors, as he did on the sixteen Phantom Commandoes, his short, four page stories for Navy Action, his dozen or so four to eight page western stories and his estimated fifty one to two page fillers in various comics, he often wrote, pencilled, inked and lettered his work.  And that, at times, Horwitz or Bramley himself, would reject a finished cover.  In anyone’s eyes that’s a prolific output.  And he was well looked after by Horwitz, “I have found them a good bunch to work for,” Bramley wrote, and that explains his exclusivity.

As complete as Bramley’s list is, it’s not definitive.  I’ve cross-referenced the list with my own collection of Horwitz comics and have uncovered Bramley covers on the following titles (and issue numbers):
A Dream Of Love #22
Apache Kid #02
The Avengers #01
Carbine Kid #05
Daredevil #01
Famous Gunfighters #nn
Frogman #04
Fairy Tale Romance #nn
Forever Yours #nn
Kid Slade #06
Lone Rider #04
Outlaw Kid #03*
Outlaw Kid #10*
Real Love #06
Texas Kid #01
True Love #05
Wild Bill Hickok #03
Western Kid #04

I’ve placed an *asterix next to the Outlaw Kid titles as they could possibly be drawn by someone other than Bramley, yet the two Page reprints of The Outlaw Kid that I own feature Bramley signed covers.  The remaining covers listed feature artwork either signed by Bramley, or isidentifiable as being drawn by Bramley.  If we take those numbers as the highest numbers of the runs, and, in the case of The Avengers and Daredevil it’s generally accepted that they were one-off issues, then the number of covers by Bramley at Horwitz could be as high as 1200 to 1400 in total.  A large amount of Bramley’s western comics were reprinted by Page in the early 1970s, and they do include signed covers for the aforementioned Outlaw Kid and Western Kid, which are clearly different covers to the Horwitz issues I have at hand, meaning that there is yet more out there, waiting to be uncovered.

Bramley’s work was rich in detail and texture, as you’d expect from a former commercial artist, but he did suffer from using the same poses and, at times, outright swipes on occasion.  In 2002 Daniel McKeown wrote a short, but excellent, four part article detailing Bramley’s use of swipes, focusing on the similarities betweenFrogman #6 and The Phantom Commando #16.  At that point in time Bramley’s actual output was largely unknown – unlike other countries, Australia has been very lax when it comes to documenting the local comic scene, especially when it comes to reprint comics.  When one considers that Bramley’s output, if set at 1200 covers alone, equates to one fully pencilled, inked and lettered cover every three days for the ten years he was employed at Horwitz, and that doesn’t include the interior stories that he wrote, pencilled, inked, lettered and edited, then it comes as no surprise that he reused poses and outright swiped both his own and other people’s images for his work.  As Bramley himself pointed out, “I think that throughout 165 covers I have had Buffalo Bill in every possible predicament short of being burnt to death at the stake. The same, of course, applied to Kid Colt.”It’s also worth noting that while his favourite characters were Buffalo Bill and Kid Colt, his favourite comic book was Navy Action for a number of reasons.  “Navy Action was perhaps my favourite comic with Australian sub-mariners outwitting Japs in the sea and so forth, “wrote Bramley.  “Then there was the story of theStuka Dive Bomber, the Two-Tailed Devil (P38 Lockheed Lightning), Lord Louis Mountbatten and his destroyer Kelly, the Queen Mary’s war service, the Scrap Iron Fotillaetc etc.  All drawn and written for kidsconsumption but equally interesting for dad.”  Sadly for Bramley Horwitz cancelled Navy Action to focus on the aforementioned Phantom Commando. 

And that raises the question – what happened between Horwitz and Marvel Comics?  Sadly that’s a mystery that remains, but there is a clue in the letter itself.  “Unfortunately they (Horwitz) have now ceased publication of all comics, “wrote Bramley.  “There was a slip-over somewhere along the line by the Marvel crowd.”  The question remains, what happened in late 1964/early 1965 at Marvel that saw them rescind the rights for Horwitz to reprint their comics, only to partially issue them to the K.G. Murray syndicate shortly after?The deal between Horwitz and Marvel had been established in the mid-1950s and might well have been for a fixed term, in fact all evidence points towards a fixed, ten year deal, starting in early 1955 and ending in early 1965.  In 1955 the company consisted of westerns, fantasy and the odd romance comic and the company (Marvel) could have folded at any time. Horwitz, operating under their own code of conduct, passed on the fantasy material and concentrated on westerns, romance and war titles which dated back to the early 1950s, and even titles such as Joe Maneely’s Black Knight and the last few issues of Captain America.Horwitz were also able to publish Marvel material when the original Marvel comics were banned from coming into the country, either by import restrictions or banned under the importation act, which made reprinting the material an attractive proposition.

Marvel in late 1964/early 1965 was booming.  Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others were busily pumping out material that was becoming popular with the comic book world at large.  From the beginnings of the modern Marvel Universe in 1963 and Fantastic Four #1, books and characters had been springing to life on a constant basis.  After the Fantastic Four came the Amazing Spider-Man, the Mighty Thor, The X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil, The Avengers and many others.  With the growth in the comic book department came growth in their business department.  This also explains why only one issue of Daredevil was ever released by Horwitz, along with one issue of The Avengers in 1963/1964, other than war and westerns were still hugely popular – the one-off issues might have been merely testing the waters, but the original, colour, Marvels were also coming directly into the country.  No doubt the original deal was for a pittance, and as Marvel grew they may have felt that more money could be made with their licensing and as such they obviously went for a better offer from K.G. Murray.  It could be argued that Horwitz saw the futility of competing with Marvel in the market place and just didn’t go all that hard for the rights as well.  With the loss of Marvel, Horwitz removed themselves from mainstream comics, dumping the right to reprint their own original and Marvel reprint comic books with the Yaffa Syndicate and instead concentrated on books and magazines.

Even though Bramley was out of work thanks to Marvel, he was impressed enough with Sgt Fury to recommend it as a, “…comic well worth reading.  Terrific story and A1 art-work.”Bramley’s work lived on via reprints of the Horwitz comics, as published by Page, a subsidiary of the Yaffa Syndicate, where it was still possible to find a Bramley one-page filler in the back of a Marvel reprint into the early 1980s.  The main complaint with the Page reprints of Horwitz’s titles was the seemingly slipshod manner in which they reprinted the Horwitz titles.  Page merely threw new issues numbers onto the Horwitz comics and pushed them back into the market, often with cropped covers and always on newsprint quality paper – the Horwitz material more than not sported glossy, colour covers.Page also reprinted the same comic on multiple occasions, complete with the same cover and interior art, albeit with new numbers.  Part of this was due to Page comics being produced to inclusion in showbags at various Royal Shows around Australia – by placing a new number on existing stock, costs were kept to a bare minimum and it makes collecting the early 1970s Page comics a frustrating, and often futile, exercise.  However the trick has always been tracking down the Horwitzcomics that feature Bramley’s artwork, now, thanks to the man himself; we have an idea of what is actually out there.  Now to start hunting!






Nick Caputo said…
Hi Danny,

Thanks for providing more information of the exceptional Maurice Bramley. He was a prolific artist and even his swiped images have a personality all their own. I've written a little about him on my own blog some time back, as can be seen here:

I also made it a point to reference your own blog, which was one of the few that had any info on Bramley.

It's been fascinating to learn about the working of Horwitz and some of Bramley's own thoughts. THanks again for shedding light on a worthy subject.

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