The BRAINS BENTON MYSTERIES was a series of juvenile fiction books published by Golden Books from 1959 to 1961. Charles Spain Verral wrote the first volume, and handled the outline and rewrites for the remaining books (even though they are credited with the pseudonym George Wyatt). Silver age comic book artist Tom Gill's connection with Brains comes a few years later.
Above: cover painting for the first BRAINS BENTON book, THE CASE OF THE MISSING MESSAGE, 1959, The Golden Press. Art by Paul Nonnast. Image from the exhaustive Brains Benton Anthology site.
Junior High School kids Barclay "Brains" Benton and his friend Jimmy Carson solved mysteries in the college town of Crestwood. "Brains" wears glasses, likes to use big words, and is very much the action leader. He is no uninvolved nerd. Jimmy Carson is his freckled sidekick who worries a lot and is bossed around some by Brains. The stories, ala Holmes' Watson, are written from Jimmy's point of view.
While never as big a name as THE HARDY BOYS or even THE THREE INVESTIGATORS books, the "Benton and Carson International Detective Agency" has a devoted fan following on the Web.
Above: uncredited cover art from the final Golden Books BRAINS BENTON volume.
What a lot of people do not know and I am revealing here for the first time: there was a BRAINS BENTON comic strip. Well, that is to say, it was a comic strip proposal.
Veteran comic book illustrator Tom Gill produced a proposal based on the books in 1963 or '64. I don't know the story behind it. Obviously, Verral and Gill both worked for Whitman publishing. Verral's publisher, Golden Books, which was a division of Whitman, and Tom's Long Island studio was churning work for their comic book division; the Dell/Gold Key LONE RANGER, SILVER and BONANZA comic books.
Anyway, like any good artist, before Tom could create the comic strip samples, he needed a "Brains."
And this is where Greg McMahon comes in. He wrote me last year. Here's an excerpt:
"I lived in Tom's neighborhood as a young boy. At about 11 years old (now 58) Tom asked me (and my parents) if I would care to be his model for a new cartoon strip entitled The Adventures of Brains Benton. As a tall and awkward glasses wearing kid, he thought I looked the studious, science oriented type. He was right. I spent a summer posing for different action scenes outside his home. At only 11 Tom made me feel like a celebrity. He was a fine man, a gentle guy who was fun to be around. Brains Benton was styled after the Hardy Boys series of books. Unfortunately, the strip was never picked-up by the papers. None the less, I still cherish the prints I have from the experience. In fact to this day, friends of mine from the old neighborhood, still call me by the nickname 'Brains.'"
Below are some of the surviving samples, courtesy of Greg. There are 3 weeks of dailies, with the first week finished, the remaining two dozen are in pencils. Sorry to say, the syndicates didn't bite.
Note Tom Gill's signature in the first panel of the third strip, with the Silver-like horse and rider! A quiet nod to his Western comics fame.
Now we go from the finished inks to tight pencils:
Brains Benton's father, a college professor at the local Crestwod College, indulged his son, allowing him to make this cool super secret headquarters in the garage. That whole pulling secret code bit with the nail is right out of the books.
And there we have the BRAINS BENTON comic strip proposal. It's too bad that it didn't get picked up, but I'm thankful to Greg "Brains" McMahon for sharing these treasures of Tom Gill's, unseen since the 1960s.
Brains Benton Anthology
Keith Robinson reviews the series at EnidBlyton.net