Most fans of The Battling Bucket know that co-creator Bob Stark ran down both his dog and his gardener the day after he created Hoverboy, in an accident the police dismissed as “hi-jinx” in their official report. But the death of his beloved dog Skippy, and his casual acquaintance, Carlos the groundskeeper, would haunt Stark for the rest of his life. Often, Stark would wander to the end of his driveway on Stonebrook Terrace and stare intently at the trees found there, where he would then start to whistle violently, calling for either the dog to come “do his business” or the gardener to “Trim these damn shrubs!”. These episodes increased as the creator got older.
Some consider this tragic car accident the official start of the curse. Others cite the meteor strike that killed Stark’s parents the week later. Certainly the meteor strike was more memorable, singling Stark’s family out so specifically from the crowd like that at the baseball game. Either way, from that month forward, and until his death at the hands of overzealous mall security officers in 1982, Bob Stark’s life and the life of his creation, Hoverboy, were surrounded by mysterious and bizarre tragedies with a frightening regularity.
As this is the fiftieth anniversary of “The Day the India Ink Died”, when most of the staff of Vigilance Comics was killed by a dose of weapons grade botulism toxin that was accidentally spilled into the machine that wrote out the company cheques, I thought I’d focus on the curse and the cartoonists. (Steve Ditko, the only survivor of the famous Vigilance disaster, had refused to cash his cheque for Hoverboy #37 that month, as he claimed later it was “against the higher laws” to do touch money throughout all of February. Famously, when Ditko co-created Spider-Man with Stan Lee two years later, he would insist on being paid entirely in trousers and butter.)
The twenty eight cartoonists who died on February 13th, 1960 were not the only Vigilance artists to die mysteriously. In fact, the regularity with which these poor ink stained souls would pass away was so frequent, that amongst working illustrators, a Hoverboy job was known as “taking the last gig”. So great was the fear of the curse, that creators such as Kirby, Adams, Steranko and Toth stayed away from Hoverboy throughout their lives. Lucky for us they did avoid the curse, and got to spend long years working at their craft. Well, except for Steranko, the lazy bum.
At any rate, let us now pay tribute to some of the other unlucky craftsmen who “took the last gig”. This is but a partial sampling of the many Hoverboy artists and writers who died of suspicious circumstances. The loss to the golden and silver age of comics cannot be calculated, but some experts estimate it at around eight thousand dollars in unpublished art.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolled for these guys…but good.
Ty the Guy