Tagged: 13th Dimension

Ed Catto: Michael Eury’s Hero-A-Go-Go!

I recently covered a mini-trend of fascinating and well-researched books lovingly that looked back at goofy super-heroes here. Now that we’re on the cusp of the debut of one of these books, Hero-A-Go-Go, it’s time to take a deeper dive. I cornered author Michael Eury and asked all those questions that I’ve been dying to ask him:

Ed Catto: You reminisce about Jill St. John’s role in the debut episode of the 60s Batman TV series. Isn’t this really the start of the Camp Age?

Michael Eury: Well, as I wrote in my introduction: “No, Batman did not create the camp movement of the Sixties. Yet Batman was its zenith, its very poster child. And from my perspective, it was a wonderful way to go-go.” I can’t pinpoint an exact beginning of the Sixties camp age (I doubt there was a single moment, but instead a growth, an evolution)… but as your question suggests, the premiere of Batman was its most visible moment.

EC: You’ve included some wonderful interviews in Hero-A-Go-Go. How did you decide whom to pursue?

ME: I wanted to add some celebrities to the mix for their behind-the-scenes insights, then targeted some folks whose work was fundamental to the Camp Age but whose stories are not as visible as, say, Adam West’s Batman anecdotes.

I loved the album Jan and Dean Meet Batman when I was a kid, and spoke with Dean Torrence for a couple of wonderful hours. Very nice guy and an incredibly frank interview.

I was also determined to give Bob Holiday, the Superman of Broadway, his due, and he was genuinely moved by my interest. Another great interview! Sadly, he passed away while the book was going to press, so he didn’t live to see this, his last interview, in print.

There are a lot of other interviews, including some comics artists, throughout the book. They add a valuable insider’s perspective to my essays.

EC: As a kid, I remember being so confused by Dell’s Dracula. Now, I love him and all the Dell monster heroes. What was the deal with these guys?

ME: Dell’s monster-heroes (Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf) became my sleeper favorite from my Hero-A-Go-Go research (which consisted of roughly a year of reading campy comic books and watching tons of Sixties’ cartoons and TV shows – in other words, reliving my childhood).

They were, at heart, a great idea: merge two things kids love, monsters and superheroes, into one concept. Essentially, Dell’s Dracula was Batman-meets-Dracula, the other titles being Superman-meets-Frankenstein and James Bond-meets-the Wolf Man.

Unfortunately, the comics themselves were haphazardly produced at a breakneck pace, and even the writer and artist, D.J. Arneson and Tony Tallarico, shrug off the final results.

EC: Being a marketer, I was especially interested to reach about the licensing deal for Batman Milk. In my hometown (Auburn NY) we always asked mom to get the Hogan-Souhan All Star Milk cartons featuring Superman! Was there a lot Superman and Batman milk out there?

ME: Definitely a lot more Batman than Superman, but both were represented.

The Batman All Star Dairy essay is one of my favorites in the book, not simply because it’s a story from my childhood, but because it tells a tale of the universal small American town.

tiger-girl-150x225-2022678riverdale-archie-150x225-7795464EC: Your section on super hero paperbacks was a lot of fun. Why do you think there were so many and which one is your favorite?

ME: Remembering that kids were only half of the camp movement – with adults being the other – these paperbacks were an effort to get superheroes into the hands of readers older than the standard comic-book demographic.

My favorite? It’s a tie between the first Signet Batman volume and Bill Adler’s Funniest Fan Letters to Batman.

EC: Archie Comics is experimenting with several reboots of their classic characters, in both comics and on TV. In Hero-A-Go-Go, you discuss some of the 60s Archie reboots. What were they like?

ME: As I note in the book, Archie Comics as a publisher has never been shy about capitalizing on current trends. During the Camp Age, there was an Archie for everyone – the standard teen fare, an Archie for superhero fans (Pureheart the Powerful), an Archie for spy fans (The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.), and an Archie for Monkees fans (the Archies). Funny how a small community like Riverdale attracted so many supervillains back then…

marvel-paperbacks-150x122-5381741EC: I recently picked up an old copy of Charlton’s Go-Go (complete with Miss Bikini Luv and some Jim Aparo artwork) and it was bats*t crazy fun. Can you tell us more about that series?

ME: It was a weird but wild book, editor Dick Giordano’s MAD-meets-Tiger Beat hybrid. Charlton was publishing music fan magazines back then and had access to teen heartthrob pinups and such, and those shared pages in Go-Go with parodies of TV shows, superheroes, and fairy tales, in comics form.

Jim Aparo was the break-out star from Go-Go – and who’d have thought he was such an amazing humor cartoonist? His Miss Bikini Luv work was fabulous!

EC: You know I’m a big Wally Wood fan, and in this book, you have fascinating sections on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Miracles, Inc. and more. What do you think of those properties and Wood’s 60s contributions?

ME: Well, if anyone could’ve elevated the so-called lowbrow camp movement to a highbrow art form, it was Wally Wood. He was just amazing.

I knew little of Miracles, Inc., Wood’s oddball superhero team spoof, before beginning my research. His first Miracles tale was short but sweet. Too bad he left the strip, as it floundered afterward.

EC: Your animated heroes section is very robust. Any surprises in your research?

ME: There was a lot of material in that section, wasn’t there? What a fantastic lineup of TV programming we had to choose from back then!

Most of the material I write about, I knew from my previous readings and studies, but I was surprised to discover from Ralph Bakshi the behind-the-scenes issues with Krantz Films’ Rocket Robin Hood. Also, before my research I didn’t know that the King Kong cartoon had two movie connections!

EC: Whose vinyl records are best to listen to when reading Hero-A-Go-Go: The Modniks or the Maniaks?

ME: Well, since they were both patterned after the Monkees, I’d say, listen to the source material! Actually, I did – through Hero-A-Go-Go, I developed a deeper appreciation for my two favorite bands from my childhood, the Cowsills and the Monkees. The Monkees, in particular, had a diverse range of music outside of the bubblegum pop hits that everyone remembers, and rediscovering them was a joy. Plus, I got their reunion CD, Good Times, and nearly played it to death!

* * *

Hero-A-Go-Go will be released April 19th by Twomorrows Publishing – look for it at your local comic shop or neighborhood bookstore! And remember, they can always order it for you. My bookstore gets books in for me so quickly –oftentimes the next day!

Oh, and by the way, our good pals over at the 13th Dimension are exploring 13 different sections of this book each Saturday too.

Ed Catto: Boost Your Local Comic Shop!

The world is changing quickly, but I think everyone always says that. Back in high school, my fantastic Latin teacher, Mr. Guido, had us read writings of Romans from 2 AD or something. The gist of it was “the kids these days… they have no respect.” Sounds like what my parents said about my generation (they were right) or what adults say now about the younger generation.

But one part of the world is changing rapidly, and that’s the world of retail. On one hand the stores I ventured into this Yuletide Season seemed really crowded. My wife, who works in retail, was working hard as well. And so my parochial experiences didn’t really prepare me for the dire national news about retail chains; specifically, that 100 Macy’s, 108 K-Marts and 42 Sears stores would be closing this year.

That’s a huge number. Having moved back to a smaller community from the Metro NYC area, I can see how a department store closing like this can fundamentally impact a small town.

When we focus the retail lens on Geek Culture, quite a few comics and cards stores ended up struggling during the last few months of 2016.

You’d think that with big movie blockbusters, TV hits, strong merchandising, card game growth and some of the most creative comics being published in years, comic shop retailers would have it made. But they don’t. It’s still a tough business. There are many reasons and they all are passionately discussed. To say that Marvel’s recent comic product has been underperforming is simplistic, but there’s no denying that it’s a piece of the puzzle.

Christy Blanch is an owner of Aw Yeah Comics store in Muncie, Indiana. But she wears a lot of hats. She’s also a comics scholar, an educator, a columnist at the 13th Dimension and a comics writer. She shared her insights on it all.

“I am not really sure why comic shops are having such a tough time right now. It should be the opposite – we should be busier than ever,” said Blanch. “Maybe people don’t want to read about the characters they can see on the television and movie screens. I just don’t know because besides superheroes there are so many amazing books out right now. It could be that other places are selling comics or Amazon is so easy. But for me, the experience of comics is one that involves people. Checking out what’s new, talking to other people about what they are reading – it’s the touch and the smell and the visuals that get me. Comics shops are cultural touchstones – I believe that.”

And as comic shops are cultural touchstones, recent pop culture events spark conversations. “When Carrie Fisher passed, so many people came into the store just to mourn with us. It moved me,” continued Blanch. “People thanked us for being there. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I don’t plan on going anywhere. As Commander Peter Quincy Taggart said in GalaxyQuest, “Never Give Up. Never Surrender.”

Given these retail realities, I was especially impressed with Ross Richie’s recent Boost Your Local Comic Store campaign. Ross is the entrepreneurial CEO of Boom! Studios. He takes his job seriously and he takes the industry seriously, but he never takes himself too seriously. He’s a big, loud, smiling guy with both vision and a laugh that are both infectious.

Ross Richie must have had an epiphany (right before the liturgical Epiphany) and promptly sat down at his laptop and recorded an upbeat, call-to-action video. It’s not slick. It’s not overly produced. It doesn’t’ look like the executive team at Boom! Studios spent days and days planning it. It does look like one guy took the time be creative and issue a call to arms. The effort is called Boost Your Local Comic Store.

Via social media, it’s easy to see that this idea has caught on. Fans and collectors have been posting their additional purchases and shout outs to local stores.

Sparked by Richie, I visited two local comic shops last night: Larger than Life and Play the Game, Read the Story. During these visits, I bought a couple of comics for two co-workers: A Valiant Comic for a lapsed Valiant reader and Hawkeye #1 for a mom to give to her daughter, who likes archery. Gee, it sure felt good.

“I’m not sure how comic shops will survive but I know we have to survive, for the reasons I said above. Plus I’m not letting my kids live in a world without comic shops. They are the happiest place on earth. I love them,” added Blanch. “All I know is that I will do everything in my power to help comics shops, not just mine, but all of them, survive and hopefully flourish.”