Tagged: Al Feldstein

Ed Catto: Space is Fun

Science Fiction is a term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different fans. When I was kid I thought it kind of meant Star Trek and Lost in Space, Bradbury books and the Twilight Zone episodes that included aliens. Of course, it’s so much bigger than that. There are subgenres and all kinds of slivers of fandoms that are populated with bazillions of fans. And Star Wars, of course, has just about transcended the entire genre and become its own thing.

So it’s was all the more interesting that a local art exhibit chose to focus on the earliest incarnation of science fiction. It’s called “Fun in Space: An Homage to Pulp Science Fiction.”

Pulp Science Fiction is cheesy and brilliant all at the same time. Pulps often sported lurid and garish covers aimed at adolescent males. On the other hand, so many authors, like Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinlein started telling their endearing and enduring tales in the pulps.

Lurid and garish are two of my favorite adjectives, so it’s natural that I just love old pulp covers. They’re silly, naïve and needlessly sexualized. They are also lovely and skillfully rendered, all with an intense sense of urgency and excitement.

The show’s curator is Steve Nyland. He’s enthusiastic and focused, able to make something like this art show happen and able to convince all the powers that be that it should happen. Nyland told me about how he developed a love for pulp science fiction stories as a kid and it’s never left him.

One of my favorites pulps has been an old issue of Fantastic Adventures that showcases the story “Invasion from the Deep” by Paul W. Fairman. The cover shows a submarine crew astonished as a giant – and I mean giant – undersea princess is bursting through the waves riding an equally giant seahorse.

At the heart of it all – this “Fun in Space” exhibit channeled that frenetic energy. My favorite piece is a recreation of an old issue of Fantastic Adventures featuring the unforgettable story, the Justice of Tor. (Well, OK, that story is actually completely forgettable, but the cover is gorgeous.)

There is so much great artwork here that channels the charm of old science fiction, especially one evoking an Al Feldstein EC Comics cover and another with mash-up of iconic sci fi characters. I was nice to see Spock dancing with Princess Leia.

And cosplay is everywhere! Even at opening night for a Science Fiction art exhibit in downtown Syracuse. On hand were clever cosplayers, celebrating the many aspects of the genre.

The contributing artists stretched a bit too – with some cool sculptures and painted sneakers and furniture.

The gallery is part of a business incubator in downtown Syracuse New York called the Tech Garden. It makes all the sense in the world that a business building that attracts dreamers and non-traditionalists would host an art show that attracts dreamers and non-traditionalists.

I wish I could refrain from corny puns and not write that the opening was “out of this world,” but it was a fun, upbeat celebration by a passionate bunch of talented artists for like-minded geeks.

Dennis O’Neil: Have I Offended Anyone?

judgment-day-ec-comics-4

So there’s some kind of election going on? Well, not in comicbookland there isn’t and maybe that’s just as well.

Last week, we blathered about the lack of ethnic diversity in mass entertainment, particularly regarding names, and suggested that the purveyors of such entertainment didn’t want to alienate potential customers by giving their heroes traits that some might find offensive. And it doesn’t stop with names.

You may have noticed, the more astute among you, that we as a nation are embroiled in what is surely the daffiest presidential contest in our history, and by “daffiest” I don’t necessarily mean most entertaining. On the contrary: I’m disgusted with it. But we’re stuck with it until November and then, if the results are not to my liking, I may consider some serious depression.

Politics generally plays no part in the procedurals that glut television, and even less in comics stories, and given the nastiness of our current national conversation, maybe we should be grateful. Here it is again, that fear of losing audience in action.

I’m not complaining. Mostly, we go to our screens and pages, not to be proselytized but to be entertained, and we don’t have to know everything, or even much, about a character to be amused by said character’s adventures. (Do we know how Spider-Man likes his coffee? Do we care?)

Let’s forget about television and movies for the moment and concentrate on comics, which have almost entirely avoided politics. I don’t recall any comics that labeled a character Democratic or Republican, or even Independent, or anybody in comic book political campaigns being identified by party. Maybe Abraham Lincoln. But comics have, occasionally, touched on subjects that concern politicians – or should concern them. There was, for example, an excellent short story in EC Comics’ Weird Science, published in 1953 and titled “Judgment Day.” It is as relevant today as it was 63 years ago and, given the subject matter, bigotry, that’s a shame. In an early Superman story our Man of Steel give the what-for to a wife beater. And in the early 70s, Neal Adams and I did a series inspired by the state of the world. All this and much more were possible political concerns, but they nothing to do with parties and precincts and superpacs and the rest of the kerfuffle of modern politics.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned religion. You’re right. I choose not to step into that particular quagmire. Ah, but why? Religion, as a subject for stories, is certainly pertinent to our discussion. The boundaries are relaxing and once in a while, character’s religious preference is specified. But this is new. Throughout the history of the media, religion has been largely avoided. (When it is part of a narrative, it usually affirms that what the parson told you about the Lord and going to Heaven was absolutely correct and don’t give me any of your sass, young man.)

Come to think of it, why have I not engaged what some might call spirituality here? Could it be that I’m afraid I’ll offend someone?

 

Ed Catto: Geek Culture’s Panic Attack

Panic Zillionaire Wood JPG

As I watched Fox’s Lucifer the other night, I uttered my all-too common refrain “Oh, that’s from a comic book.” Even I am amazed how often I recite it. The frequency with which we all say that simple phrase is proof that Geek Culture is thriving in 2016.

But in many ways Geek Culture never went away, it’s just that the momentum driving pop culture has gained so much visible traction in the last few years. This week I’m turning back the clock to 1954 to take a look at something that seems unique, but actually isn’t unique at all. I’d like to focus on comic that was a copy of another wildly popular comic. But therein lies the charm. Amazingly, its publication resulted in a ban from the state of Massachusetts, a police raid and an arrest.

comicbookxmascovers_Panic1_650pxPanic was EC’s other parody comic and it’s now collected in Dark Horse’s EC Archives: Panic Volume 1. Panic was created to backdraft its “older brother” MAD. Al Feldstein edited this comic for publisher Bill Gaines. With unusual candor, but with the smart mouth satire we’ve since come to expect, the first issue’s editorial proudly proclaimed, “Frankly, no one asked us for a companion magazine to MAD. The only reason we are publishing Panic is because MAD is selling well.”

In marketing, companies often strategically create fighter brands. When I was in brand management at Nabisco, most of our brands were category leaders, but not all. Cheese Nips, for example, was an imitation of Sunshine’s Cheez-It. Nabisco also developed a vanilla version of OREO called Cookie Time, an imitator brand, in order to keep other companies from making their own vanilla OREO.

And you might know that in fact, Hydrox was the original sandwich cookie and OREO was the imitator.

Panic took great delight in the fact that it was a copycat of MAD. In fact, in issue #4, Panic ran a hilarious house ad, showcasing ‘research’ as a doctor proclaims that of the eight brands tested, Panic is the best imitator of MAD.

Through the lens of today, it’s also fascinating to see how on target Panic’s 1950s parodies can be. The movie satires, now be appropriate for the TCM crowd (I’ll admit it – I watch a lot of old movies), still have a biting and suspicious edge. In the How to Marry A Millionaire satire (Panic retitled it You Too Can Hook a Zillionaire). Writer Al Feldstein and artist Wally Wood begin their story with a peek inside a Hollywood movie studio conference. In the opening scenes, movie executives are planning the movie based on pandering to the female and male demographics. (Doesn’t Hollywood call them “quadrants” today?)

The other striking thing about this Panic collection is that so much of the art is just gorgeous. In particular, the great Wally Wood’s timeless artwork shines as he captures celebrity likenesses, provides a sense of visual humor and renders beauty amongst absurdity.

My Gun is the JuryPanic only lasted twelve issues. But during that time, it managed to seriously ruffle some feathers. The provocative Christmas parody from the debut issue caused the state of Massachusetts to ban the comic. The whole story is a smirkingly grisly little fable, but it was placing a “Just Divorced” sign on St. Nick’s sleigh that sent righteous censors into a tizzy.

It didn’t’ stop there. Issue #1’s hard-boiled send-up of Mickey Spillane’s best-selling (at the time) detective, Mike Hammer, called The Gun is My Jury, was punctuated with a gender-bending transvestite surprise. This led to outrage and ultimately a series of events including an office raid by the NYC police and an arrest.

But the best reason to spend some time with Panic is that it’s fun. If you’re brave enough to be drinking milk while reading these tales, I guarantee you’ll snort some through your nose at one point or another.

Issues 1-6 are collected in Dark Horse’s EC Archives: Panic Volume 1 on sale since January 27th and priced at $49.99. Ask your local comic shop or bookstore to reserve one for you!

PANIC best imitation house ad

Mindy Newell: I Want To Believe

Military Comics 11Sometimes I think I’m living in a comic book world.

Comics have often reflected the events going on in the real world. During World War II, American comics vilified the Axis Triumvirate, i.e., Germany, Italy, and Japan – Superman was fighting a German paratrooper on the cover of Action Comics #43, and Marvel (then known as Timely Comics) presented the All-American hero, Captain America, who, in a story written by and drawn by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, punched out Adolf Hitler on the cover of his eponymous first issue, cover-dated March 1941. In Gleason’s Daredevil #1 (July 1941), the red-and-blue hero also took on the Führer, as did the Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner in the autumn of that same year.

The Boy Commandos, again from the team of Kirby and Simon working for DC, were four orphaned kids from the United States, England, France, and the Netherlands. They form an elite fighting unit under the command of Captain Rip Carter to fight the Nazis and appeared on the newsstands in the winter of1942. In Green Lantern #5 (May, 1945), the Emerald Crusader brings a bigoted Army private to Nazi Germany to show the private the rotten fruit of racism. Quality Comics’ Blackhawk first appeared in Military Comics #1, August 1941.

The Japanese didn’t get off easy. In The Nightmares Of Lieutenant Ichi or Juan Posong Gives Ichi The Midnight Jitters was published by U.S. Office of War Information for the Pacific Theater, and secretly circulated in the Philippines to boost morale during the Japanese occupation of country.

During the Korean War, the United States Department of State authorized the Johnstone and Cushing Company to create and publish the comic book Korea My Home, which was a true propaganda masterpiece worthy of Joseph Goebbels. In direct contrast, EC Comics debuted Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales; these comics did not propagandize war as a “field of honor,” but showed the killing fields for what they were – im-not-so-ho, the real reason why EC Comics was attacked and shut down by Congress… although William Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Harvey Kurtzman, most notably, kept up the good fight by continuing to publish Mad Magazine, the “original” subversive comic magazine for us baby boomers.

But it’s all propaganda, whether you’re on the right or the left of the political 50-yard line.

During the Reagan administration (I have a picture in my mind of Ronnie in the Oval Office ignoring the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and dreaming up “trickle-down economics” and pulling the Marines out of Lebanon while giggling over the gang’s antics in Riverdale and munching on some jelly beans), the CIA got into the business of publishing comics – though it was credited to the fictional “Victims of International Communist Emissaries,” whoever the fuck they were supposed to be – in 1984 with Grenada: Rescued from Rape and Slavery.

Get this – the storyboards were delivered in a Washington, D.C. taxi, where the head of the company received a suitcase full of cash for them. Ooooh, James Bondian skullduggery! The comics were airdropped over Grenada prior to the American invasion of the island, and, according to Wikipedia, “were intended to justify the American intervention in the country by describing the rise of communist forces there and how their presence demands military intervention” and “outlines President Ronald Reagan’s justifications for the invasion: alleged oppression and torture of the local inhabitants, threats to American medical students on the island, and a potential domino effect leading to more Communist governments in the Caribbean.”

Also under Ronald Reagan – he who got away with the Iran-Contra scandal – and the CIA was the 1985 The Freedom Fighter’s Manual, distributed to the Nicaraguan Contras during the fight against the Sandinista government in that country.

This one if fucking unbelievable!

It states that its purpose is that of a “practical guide to liberating Nicaragua from oppression and misery by paralyzing the military-industrial complex of the traitorous Marxist state without having to use special tools and with minimal risk for the combatant,” and instructs the readers on all the “various techniques” the “guerilla fighter” can use to fight the oppressor, up to and including terrorism. Okay, it talked about non-violent protest (work slowdowns, wasting resources), but it also instructed the reader on “minor sabotage, how to set fires with makeshift time fuses, demonstrated the making of Molotov cocktails and using them to firebomb government buildings.”

It also is a political manifesto on the necessity and ultimate goal of guerilla warfare:

“…guerrilla warfare is essentially a political war. Therefore, its area of operations exceeds the territorial limits of conventional warfare, to penetrate the political entity itself: the political animal that Aristotle defined.”

This comic was repackaged and retitled “Afghanistan: The Mujahedeen’s Handbook for Overthrowing the Evil Empire” and redistributed to Osama Bin Laden’s team of freedom fighters in Kabul.

Only kidding!

Propaganda. It’s not just for kids anymore.