It was, for its time, the coolest comic book on the racks. Lucky for me, having just turned eight years old I was at the perfect age to best enjoy it.
In fact, I already was lusting for the comic by the time it hit my local drug store. The house ad promoting the issue had been running in several of the DC comics for a few weeks, and it intrigued the hell out of me. Back in those days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, new comic book heroes were very few and very far between, even though 1958 was something of a boom year. DC had a title called Showcase that offered new concepts a try out – usually three issues. Yes, it was joined by The Brave and the Bold, but not until the summer of 1959. Showcase begat the Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane, the Metal Men, and the silver age Flash, Green Lantern and The Atom… among others.
Whereas it isn’t hard to get an eight-year old all excited, this comic book had a pedigree that few others approached. It was created by, if you’ll forgive the word, legends. Julius Schwartz was the editor and the ringleader, and he reached for his A team. Gardner Fox, arguably the most accomplished comics writer in American history, did the scripting and he co-plotted it with fellow comics writer and science fiction icon Edmond Hamilton, along with the aforementioned Julie Schwartz. The cover artist was Gil Kane, and the story artist was Mike Sekowsky.
The series was called Adam Strange. It featured a run-of-the-mill Earthling who found himself transported by Zeta Beam to the planet Rann where he fell in love with the chief scientist’s daughter while flying around, usually with her, vanquishing alien invasions and monsters and such. When the Zeta Beam wore off Adam faded back to Earth, usually right after he saved the day but right before he could kiss his lover. That drove him bugfuck, and back on Earth he figured out where and when that Zeta Beam would strike next… usually just in time to save Rann once again.
What made Adam Strange work – in 1958 – was the costume. It was classic science fiction spaceman. Jet-pack, helmet, ray gun, and all red with white accents. It was designed by still another legend, Murphy Anderson. Murphy had been drawing science fiction heroes since 1944. In fact, he drew the newspaper adventures of one of the very first such heroes, Buck Rogers, and Buck’s influence on Adam’s costume was quite evident – and very welcome.
The whole thing started as a contest. DC executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld thought what the world needed was a new s-f hero and he challenged editors Julius Schwartz and Jack Schiff. Jack’s Space Ranger was published in Showcase #15 and #16; Adam Strange lived in the next three issues.
As it turned out, neither character won – yet neither character lost, either. Adam Strange became the lead feature in Mystery In Space, drawn by the near-mythic Carmine Infantino and always occupying the cover, while Space Ranger lived in Tales of the Unexpected. For the record: Space Ranger also was created by Gardner Fox and Edmond Hamilton, but the two were as different as night and day. The main difference: Space Ranger was rather typical, and Adam Strange was exciting.
Both series lasted until the mid-60s. By that time, the United States and Russia had sent a passel of humans (and a few dogs) into outer space, and the reality of what you could see on the home screen was vastly more compelling than 1950s science fiction heroes.
Of course, in comic books nothing ever goes away, and here Adam got the best of the Ranger. Adam Strange remains a vital force in the DC Universe to this day, and now Adam Strange is going to enjoy something of a starring role in the latest DC teevee show, Krypton. Mindy Newell reported on this Monday, although she revealed only a fraction of our deeply existentialist conversation.
I’m glad to see Adam is still around, but I’m reminded of DC publisher Jenette Kahn’s reaction to the character back in 1977 when Jack C. Harris and I discussed a run in the revived Showcase. She took home a couple bound volumes from the library, read them over the weekend, came back and pronounced it “dated.”
Yup. It was. And that was the point. But DC needed to develop its astrophysical borders, so Jack pretty much kept the story, which also featured Hawkman and Hawkwoman. We renamed the series Hawkman, and it did okay.
Amusingly, Hawkwoman (or Hawkgirl) will be joining Adam Strange in the new Krypton series. This will not be the same woman from the current DC/CW teevee shows as these shows (except Supergirl) inhabit a parallel universe in which Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman do not exist.
You’ve probably seen the second Superhero Fight Club by now; if you haven’t and you’ve got four minutes to spare, go give this a click. It’s great fun, not necessarly part of The DC-CW continuity, and it brings Supergirl in to play with the boys. And Felicity, of course.
SPOILER ALERT! (I’ve always wanted to say that!) From this point forward, I’m going to write stuff that presumes you’ve seen Superhero Fight Club 2, although as spoilers go, I’ve already spoiled it with my choice of graphics and my headline. Sue me.
Easily, the coolest part of the short is the “surprise” appearance of Gorilla Grodd, who already has been established in The Flash teevee series. But, let’s face it, Gorilla Grodd usually is the coolest part of damn near everything he’s ever appeared in, dating back to his introduction in early 1959. I’m sure you’re aware of the common belief that, at least in the 1950s and 1960s, putting a gorilla on the cover of a comic book guaranteed higher sales. I’m sure you’re aware of this because I’m one of the wags who has spent the past several decades sharing that observation at every possible opportunity.
Of course I found Grodd amazing at the time of his introduction, in the second issue of the silver-age Flash, #106 (DC Comics didn’t have the auto-renumbering algorithm built into their reboot program way back in 1959). I was eight years old. The fact that John Broome and Carmine Infantino did one hell of a great comic book story helped a lot, and to put it in context Grodd came as a complete surprise to us at the time because he was not cover featured! It was the Pied Piper who on the cover. I realize this flies in the face of the “putting a gorilla on the cover of a comic book guaranteed higher sales” theory, but damn, you open the comic book and there’s this big gorilla frying The Flash with “deadly thought waves.” By the time I got to the Pied Piper story, that villain was – please forgive me – an also-ran.
Editor Julius Schwartz knew he was on to something. He usually was those days, but on page 15 of “The Menace of the Super-Gorilla” he captioned “In the next issue of The Flash – another Super-Gorilla thriller!”
Grodd was not on the cover of that second appearance, either. The cover was all about some guy who could outrun The Flash by running backwards. Where’s the damn super-gorilla?
Right there on page one. On the final story page, Barry Allen is reading the newspaper and hoping he never sees Grodd again. Fat chance, Barry. Julie ratted it out in the last caption, stating the smart ape would return “in a forthcoming issue.”
And there Grodd was. In the very next issue, #108. And, for the third time in three issues, he was not on the cover. After that I’d have an attitude problem too!
For the record, our great ape didn’t return for another seven issues. The Mirror Master came back in the following issue, and Wally West was introduced in the issue after that. Grodd didn’t make it back into The Flash until #115, September 1960…
… and he wasn’t on the cover of that issue either!
Gorilla Grodd didn’t make it to the cover until #127. By that point, Jay Garrick had been brought back, the Elongated Man, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, the Trickster and several other important rogues were introduced, and The Flash clearly was the most exciting comic book on the racks at the time.
Although by then The Flash was in for a run for the money. A few months earlier we saw the debut of the Marvel Universe. The Fantastic Four encountered their first ape villain – three of them, in fact – in 1963.
The world lost just lost another shining light: a brilliant artist who regularly shared his vision of heroes and adventures as he created countless pages of comics and an upstanding gentleman who shared his vision of living life with courtesy, kindness and class as he led by example.
Murphy Anderson passed away Friday at age 89. He had been struggling in recent years, but it’s still a crushing blow to those who loved the man and his work. Murphy, a prolific comic artist, was in facet one of the first wave of “fanboys” to turn professional. He was a big Lou Fine fan, and you can see wisps of that great artist’s work in Murphy’s figures and rendering. Murphy was also an enormous Buck Rogers fan and would one day professionally illustrate the adventures of this hero. He had a rich career in comics’ Silver and Bronze Ages, but also enjoyed great entrepreneurial success, managing the Army’s PS Magazine and running his own color separation business.
Murphy was an especially important artist in the Sixties, establishing the artistic gold standard of many iconic heroes for a generation of fans. His Justice League covers showed the world exactly how the leading DC heroes should look. His images of heroes like Hawkman and the Atomic Knights provided clear and engaging thrillers with solid storytelling. And his inking over so many great artists, from Gil Kane to Carmine Infantino to Curt Swan, provided something close to a house style that reflected the refined, best-in-class attitude of the DC line of that day.
Murphy was one of those rare artists who could compose fantastic stories with full artwork (pencils and inks), and yet, with his fine and precise inking, partner to make almost any artist to a little bit better. Even usual pairings, like Murphy inking over Neal Adams’ innovative and hyper-realistic pencils, produced memorable artwork, visual singing in perfect harmony.
A Gentleman and His Women
The females that Murphy drew were consistently pretty, but demure. They all combed their hair, had applied their make-up ‘just so’ and had spotless complexions. Any young man would feel confident in bringing a girlfriend who looked like a Murphy Anderson woman home to mother.
For me, that all changed when DC adapted Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars series. In this series, a cavalry solider adventures on Mars amidst exotic landscapes and bizarre aliens. But many of the Martian cultures eschewed excessive clothing. And the strip’s love interest, the beautiful Dejah Thoris, was no exception. She was a raven-haired beauty with whom the hero was madly in love. And when Murphy drew her, it was very easy to understand why any man would be head-over-heels for her.
This series also provided Murphy opportunities for creative and non-traditional panels and page layouts. But these innovations were lost to many of us, as the eye was distracted by the beautiful figures and lush inking.
Years later, during one of my lunches with Murphy, I brought along several John Carter comics issues of Weird Worlds for Murphy to autograph. I hadn’t realized it before, but his son, Murphy, Jr., who often accompanied us, was a dead ringer for John Carter!
Man And Superman
For me, the quintessential Superman will always be inked by Murphy.
As the Silver Age wound down, Murphy’s inks on Curt Swan’s 70’s Superman helped update the character, making him a little hipper and more relevant. Murphy’s inks rejuvenated the strip, with a more realism, longer sideburns and a vulnerable humanity. For me, the images of Superman casually eating a Kryptonite meatball (the deadly substance was temporarily rendered harmless) helped humanize the character in ways previously never imagined.
Murphy was a one of the most polite gentlemen I’ve ever met, and surely was not comfortable with being asked to “fix” the Superman renderings of Jack Kirby in Jimmy Olsen or Mike Sekowsky in Supergirl. But he was a true professional, and the editorial dictate of the day demanded that Superman look “on point”. And while I hate to see other artists’ work modified in this manner, now one could argue that a Murphy Anderson Superman sure looked like the real Superman.
One time as a child, my family was visiting my dad’s alma mater, Cornell University, for his Homecoming. After the football game, we were shopping at the campus bookstore and I found a curious book. It was called The Gospel According to Superman by John T. Galloway, Jr. The cover showed Superman, rendered by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, flying over a small town church. At that time, the last thing I was interested in was theological philosophy, but I somehow knew this was legitimate and important because it had the ‘”real” Superman on the cover. And although I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, the “real” Superman meant an image rendered by Murphy Anderson. My mom and dad thought I was nuts when I started begging for this strange, hybrid book, but as they were more understanding than even Ma & Pa Kent, in the end they relented. I read the book, but I really loved that cover.
About this period, there was a life-sized Superman poster offered via mail order in the DC comics. The 6-foot poster, rendered by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, was impressive and overwhelming. Superman was flying up through the clouds complete with a peace sign hand gesture. I’m not sure why, but I brought it to my Second Grade class and it was hung on the blackboard for a day. I might have trying to impress my beautiful teacher, Mrs. Beardsley, but that’s another story for another day. I’m sure my thinking then was “What woman wouldn’t be impressed with Murphy Anderson art?”
The first time I met Murphy was in 1984 at an Ithaca Comic Convention. Now, the year before I had the distinct pleasure of being the inker for a penciled Superman image provided to us by Curt Swan. It was a valiant effort, but I was certainly no Murphy Anderson when it came to inking. As you have gathered by now, my visual“ gold standard” for Superman was the character as inked by Murphy Anderson.
At the convention, I thought maybe this provided me a kinship to Murphy Anderson. While I’m sure he was mentally rolling his eyes at me, I recall his overwhelming politeness. He almost made me feel that he and I were part of an exclusive club, having both inked Curt Swan. That’s preposterous, of course. But somehow Murphy’s most amazing talent, far beyond his art skills, even surpassing his entrepreneurial efforts, was his amazing ability to make a person feel special by just speaking with him.
Ready for Action
Murphy was the quintessential artist for one character even though he never drew the character’s comics adventures. In 1966, Murphy Anderson was chosen to be an important contributor to a toy called Captain Action. Much the same way that Barbie could become a teacher or an astronaut, or GI Joe could become an infantryman or a frogman, Captain Action could become other superheroes via costume sets. For many of these toys, the packaging artwork was expertly provided by Murphy.
He created images for the packages featuring heroes like Batman, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Superman, Aquaman, Superboy, Robin and Aqualad. As the line progressed, Murphy also created impactful representations of Captain Action on in a variety of poses for expansion sets. And when the line was extended to include heroines, Murphy outdid himself with gorgeous packaging illustrations for Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman and Mera, the Queen of the Seven Seas.
Years later, Joe Ahearn and I would acquire the rights to Captain Action and one of the first things we did was to bring Murphy back onto the project. How thrilled we were when he agreed to pencil and ink a new Captain Action comic cover! He agreed to recreate the classic Batman and Robin rooftop image, which was originally a poster by penciled Carmine Infantino and inked by Murphy. In the updated version, it’s Captain Action and his sidekick, Action Boy, on the rooftop, as Lady Action flies by in the Sliver Streak. Gerry Gladston, the CMO of Midtown Comics, loved the idea and we made the cover an exclusive variant.
We had discussed him doing another cover for Captain Action. The vision for this was to pay homage to Justice League of America #1’s cover, where the Flash and Despero were playing a game of Kalanorian chess – using JLA chess pieces. My vision was to have Captain Action facing off against Dr. Evil with chess pieces of all the Captain Action costume sets, but it wasn’t meant to be. At that point, Murphy just didn’t feel he could pull it off with the standard of excellence he demanded of himself.
* * *
Murphy was a Tarheel, who made good in New Jersey, and was surrounded by a loving family and adoring fans. I had studied his thoughtful inking for most of my life, but when gifted with his friendship, I soon realized that there were so many bigger lessons to be learned from this humble, kind-hearted man. Murphy we’ll miss you and thanks for showing us how it’s done.
The much anticipated home video release of the 1966-1968 Batman teleivsion series has been confirmed by Warner Home Video. A complete box set of the trend-setting 104 episodes will be out later this year in a date to be determined.
The announcement was made on the Conan O’Brien Show complete with a breaking news tweet.
Last year, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox reached an agreement to allow licensing from the ABC series to begin which spawned action figures, Barbie & Ken Collector’s Set, the well-received comic book Batman ’66 from DC Entertainment, and related merchandise. There were high hopes that the DVD announcement would be made at last summer’s Comic-Con International but it was not to be.
No details have yet been released regarding how this arrangement was completed but it has been long understood that there were legal entanglements between DC, 20th Century Fox, and Greenway Productions, the latter being William Dozier’s production company which actually created the pop series.
Dozier had been asked to turn some comic hero into a television series and after attempts with others failed, they settled on Batman, whose sales had been slipping for years as the static art from co-creator Bob Kane and his ghosts failed to keep up with the maturing look of comic books and the writing had gone down hill, mired in science fiction concepts unbefitting the world’s greatest detective.
He decided to play it as straight as he could and with Lorenzo Semple, Jr. at the typewriter, they came up with an approach that worked. The story would be split in two, with the first thirty minute part concluding on a cliffhanger with Dozier’s own narration promising results if fans merely tuned in “same bat time, same bat channel”. One show split up ion this manner had not been done before but ABC, then a distant third in the ratings, was desperate to try anything.
The series arrived on January 12, 1966 after being in development for less than a year. However, it shattered the ratings charts and became an instant smash success, spawning countless forms of apparel, books, records, and other collectibles. It turned journeyman actor Adam West into a superstar and newcomer Burt Ward into a youthful sex symbol. All manner of actors, actresses, and celebrities clamored to play villains on the series or make cameo appearances during the famed climbs up buildings.
The series arrived at a time when pop culture was enjoying a colorful renaissance, inspired in part by an art movement fronted by Andy Warhol and a renewed interest in super-hero comics. It used odd camera angles, a bright colorful palette (at a time when color TV was still considered something new), and had jazzy music. Kids adored the action sequences while adults cackled at the corny jokes and seemingly ludicrous plots. There was something for everyone.
The show quickly spawned a big budget film which arrived in August 1966, between the first and second seasons, allowing the producers to add a Bat boat and Batcopter to the growing arsenal of bat-themed weapons. It also pitted the Dynamic Duo against a quarter of foes, something heretofore untried on the series.
By that fall, though, the bloom had quickly faded and ABC was scrambling to find ways to sustain interest in the series. They asked DC for a Batgirl and rather than resurrect Kathy Kane, editor Julie Schwartz and art director Carmine Infantino created Barbara Gordon, who was introduced in Detective Comics #369 that November. Yvonne Craig, a dancer turned actress, nabbed the role and became an object of lust for young boys everywhere when she arrived the following September.
Even though ABC reduced the series to a single night, the ratings continued to plummet and the show was canceled, airing its final episode in March 1968. Soon after it went into syndication and it has been playing on some channel, somewhere ever since.
The High School Of Art & Design (A&D) was where I studied illustration and where countless great comic book, animation and illustration artists learned their craft, including Carmine Infantino, John Romita Sr., Dick Giordano, Ralph Bakshi, Neal Adams, Larry Hama, Denys Cowan, Mark Texeira, Malcolm Jones III, Frank Brunner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Joe Jusko, Mike Carlin and Ralph Reese.
That list goes on but A&D also produced many others of note in various areas such as fashion and music: Calvin Klein and Tony Bennett are A&D alumni along with a myriad of badass mofos. I’ve written about A&D before as it certainly has played an important part in the comics industry and has for many decades.
A&D is the backdrop for this piece, but that’s pretty much the extent of the industry tie in. This piece is about a love story and A&D is the only way I can justify it appearing here. I beg your indulgence, but I think this is a love story that deserves to be told to as many romantics as possible and the comic book and pop culture world is nothing if not a group of romantics.
We are a group of romantics. Consider the following from my comic book journey… I shed a tear over Gwen Stacy’s death. I felt a real sense of tragedy when Jean Gray killed millions as Dark Phoenix. I felt horrible for Matt Murdock when he found out the love of his life was a drug addict and a whore. Comics are full of stories that bring out the romantic in all our little geek hearts.
This story happens to be true. This is the story of A&D students Frank & Debbie.
I know I’m pushing it but I humbly beg your forgiveness as I compose this as if I’ve written it for Frank and Debbie alone.
I’ll understand if you skipped this article and instead went back to playing Injustice. If I were you I’d skip it… but I’m an asshole.
“Fine Tall Guy With The Kissable Lips and that Mack smile?” Debbie you said that was your first impression of Frank when you saw him on the A&D escalators?
That fine tall guy with the kissable lips was I Debbie. Frank was the guy behind me asking for a breath mint, a pick (white people ask somebody) and a clue when he saw you.
You just think you met him on the escalator as I wiped your mind clean of the first meeting with my powers. Hello!! Master Of The Universe here! Your first meeting actually happened when Frank was coming out of the 7th floor bathroom.
Remember the 7th floor bathroom and the assemblage that used it?
Yes, yes you do.
I was covering for him (long story he was drunk) when he lost his mind and saw you.
It’s well known that ever since A&D I’ve been the crazy one of our tight knit group but I will digress for a rare moment and speak from the heart.
I remember ALL my A&D girlfriends. Pretty Jackie Brown (way before the movie) Carol Rivera (oh my god she was fine) Lynn Jacobs (she was in the 9th grade I was in the 11th…yeahhhh jail bait) and for about 3 days Althea Hill (she was a stone cold fox but a bit eccentric. How so? I found out we were no longer an item when she decided to get mad at me for dating Jackie…the year before.)
Jackie broke up with me.
Carole broke up with me.
Althea broke up with me
Tony Tutt pointed out to me that dating a 9th grader was just stupid. I should have noticed that when I’d call Lynn at home and her mother would pick up the extension and tell Lynn it was bedtime. I decided to take Tutt’s advice and break up with Lynn but before I could…
Lynn broke up with me.
BTW, Lynn lead me to believe she was in the 11th grade when I first met her… lying little bitch.
Frank not only did you keep Debbie as your girlfriend from the moment you two were an item in high school but you married her after high school and she is still your wife and the love of your life. Debbie, those ‘break ups’ you were refer too?
Frank, I remember you telling Tony & I (who was my best fucking friend in A&D and beyond until we lost touch) that you guys had broken up. He and I just gave you a “yeah right” look.
The only people who thought you guys ever broke up were you two. Those ‘break ups’ were always about a day. If the break up went a week it was because school was closed for Christmas break. If it went 2 days it was a weekend, etc. You get the drift.
But I digress; Frank you were able to keep Debbie and every single girl I dated in High School woke up one day and said, “Michael Davis?? What the fuck and I thinking?”
I was a bit envious of that. But I also loved you guys like family so I was happy for you. Although I will never ever forgive Frank for bragging about having his girlfriend with him on the senior weekend trip to the dude ranch. All the other guys in our group spent two days trying to get a girlfriend…for the weekend.
Anyway-you guys are the real deal. A real love story. To this day I can’t think of you guys as individuals I have to think of you as Frank and Debbie.
I would not be surprised if you looked up soul mate in the dictionary there would be a picture of Frank & Debbie.
Happy birthday Frank. I love you man and you as well Debbie. Oh and Debbie if (when) you find Frank’s secret Asian porn collection I’m here if you want to talk…
Lastly, to the girls who dumped me in high school.
I’ve done all right for myself, all right as in I have a Ph.D., homes on both coasts, I’ve written books, created TV shows, I lecture all over the world, have a motherfucking school auditorium named after me and none of that is even the most impressive things I’ve accomplished.
How you like me now?
OK, OK, I can’t hide my feelings by bragging about things that in a moment I’d give up for any one of you. Carole, take me back. Jackie I still love you, Althea forgive me.
The latest issue of Roy Thomas’s fine magazine Alter-Ego arrived in today’s mail. This one was dedicated to the late Joe Kubert, who died some seven months ago. It arrives a couple of days after I learned of the passing of Joe’s contemporary (and my ex-boss) Carmine Infantino. The synchronicity is odd and painful. These two men were excellent artist/storytellers and quite a bit more and they were among the first of their kind; they helped invent comic books.
Years back, when I was chipper and unbald and fanzine folk began asking to interview me, I was flattered and – sure, always happy to open my gob. And so I did. But I wondered: shouldn’t these young journalists be talking to the older guys, the ones who were there at the beginning? Because most of them were already past youth and, as novelist Samuel R. Delany observed at the time, comics were still new enough for interested parties to read almost everything that had been published. Wasn’t this an unparalleled opportunity? Didn’t the happy coincidence of accessible talent and available work provide a chance to really examine, closely, the emergence and evolution of an art form? Because, for obvious reasons, this ideal coincidence wouldn’t be in effect forever. Wasn’t a lot of interesting and potentially valuable information in danger of being lost?
Well, maybe some was lost, or will yet be lost, but probably not as much as I feared. There were interviews that I knew nothing about and a lot of the pioneers still had plenty of talk left in them. And communication was about to boom: the quaint mimeoed and hectographed fanzines were giving way to stuff produced by slicker technologies and those, in turn, were in the shadow of forthcoming electronica, an example of which is before you at this instant. Scholars and hobbyists alike are continuing to investigate and document comics and please allow me a modest hurray.
It seems safe to say that comics are the most documented art form in history (though cinema may have some claim to that honor.) We have large amounts of what. Now, how about some more why? There are, I hereby aver, correspondences between the evolution of comics, particularly superhero comics, and that of mythology/religion. A properly focused exploration into one might reveal something about the others and, storytelling being one of mankind’s primary activities, this revelation could help us discover meanings that have so far eluded us. Another possibility: the influence cartooning in general and comics in particular has had on journalism.
Does anyone sniff a term paper? A thesis, even? Or have such papers already been written? Could be, I guess.
Meanwhile: we have lost two of our founders, and in our usual helplessness, we can do no more than mourn, and we should.
Carmine Infantino, the legendary artist, editor, and co-creator of the Black Canary, the Barry Allen Flash, Elongated Man, Deadman, Human Target, and Batgirl, and onetime publisher of DC Comics has passed away at the age of 87.
Carmine was born in his family’s apartment in Brooklyn, NY, on May 24, 1925. He started working for comics packager Harry A. Chesler during his freshman year of high school at the School of Industrial Art. His early career included stints on Airboy, The Heap, Johnny Thunder, the Golden-Age Green Lantern and Flash, and the Justice Society of America.
In 1956, Julius Schwartz teamed Carmine with Robert Kanigher to attempt to revive superheroes by creating a new version of the Flash in Showcase #4, an event which marked a beginning of the Silver Age of Comics. Carmine designed the streamlined look of the series, down to the familiar red and yellow costume. He also had famous runs on Adam Strange and Batman, ushering in the “New Look” in Detective Comics #327, complete with yellow oval around the Bat-symbol on his chest.
In late 1966/early 1967, Carmine was tasked by Irwin Donenfeld with designing covers for the entire DC line. Stan Lee learned of this and approached Carmine with a $22,000 offer to move to Marvel. DC Publisher Jack Liebowitz confirmed that DC could not match the offer, but instead promoted Carmine to the position of art director. When DC was sold to Kinney National Company in 1967, Infantino was promoted to editorial director, where he made artists Joe Orlando, Joe Kubert and Mike Sekowsky editors. New talents such as artist Neal Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil were brought into the company, and in 1970, Carmine signed on Marvel Comics’ star artist and storytelling collaborator, Jack Kirby, to a DC Comics contract.
Carmine was made DC’s publisher in early 1971, during a time of declining circulation for the company’s comics, and he attempted a number of changes. In an effort to raise revenue, he raised the cover price of DC’s comics from 15 to 25 cents, simultaneously raising the page-count by adding reprints and new backup features.In January 1976, Warner Communications replaced Carmine with magazine publisher Jenette Kahn, and he returned to freelance work, doing Spider-Woman, Star Wars, and Nova for Marvel and numerous stories for the Warren family of comics magazines. He returned to DC in 1981 on the Flash, Supergirl, Red Tornado, Dial “H” For Hero, and the Batman syndicated newspaper strip.
In 2004, he sued DC for rights to characters he alleged to have created while he was a freelancer for the company, including Kid Flash, Iris West, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, Gorilla Grodd, the Elongated Man, and Batgirl. He wrote and contributed to two books about his life and career: The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino and Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur. He appeared at conventions promoting these books up to the end of 2012.
Carmine was often quoted as saying his favorite character was Detective Chimp.
He won numerous awards over the years, including the National Cartoonists Society Award in 1958 for Best Comic Book and eleven Alley Awards, plus a special Alley Award in 1969 for being the person “who exemplifies the spirit of innovation and inventiveness in the field of comic art”.
The subject of Creators’ Rights in Comics has been catapulted into the limelight in recent years with the sudden surge of blockbuster, comic related films taking in billions of dollars for the corporations that own the copyrights and trademarks while the creators or the estates of creators that conceived and created these gold mines, struggle to get screen credit, let alone, some type of monetary compensation.
The current success of Marvel’s characters in all popular media has made Jack Kirby the posthumous poster child for numerous creators who are now victims of the comic industry’s tradition of work-for-hire agreements.
Stan Lee, Marvel’s long-time, imperial ambassador and co-creator on many of these characters, stands accused of benefitting enormous financial gain while failing to defend the rights of his various creative partners, most notably, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who many contend deserve more than just art credit for their contribution to the actual creation of the characters that they are associated with.
Stan has and always will be, first and foremost, a company man having been brought into the business as a gopher at the ripe old age of 17 by his cousin-in-law, Martin Goodman, the publisher and former owner of Timely Comics. Timely evolved into Marvel under the stewardship of Stan who took over as editor, replacing Joe Simon who left Timely with Jack Kirby in 1941. Nepotism goes a long way in comics and Stan Lee, since, has always been “taken care of” for his role as a stalwart, corporate soldier.
To be fair Stan Lee is much more than the average, Marvel Monkey Boy. He is, unequivocally the Voice of Marvel Comics. The head cheerleader. The band leader of the Mighty Marvel Marching Society. Stan Lee, in many ways, has made himself into a Marvel character as epochal as any Spider-man, Avenger or X-Men. He has done so with a silver tongue, a witty pen, relentless salesmanship, unbridled enthusiasm, and a revisionist memory that defies the continuity strangled editorial policy of Marvel itself.
Stan Lee and his relationship to Marvel is his own greatest creation and he gets paid handsomely for it. Stan’s net worth is reportedly $200 million! This staggering figure infuriates co-creators and their heirs as well as comic fans focused on creators’ rights who all argue the unfairness that Stan Lee continues to acquire great wealth while his former collaborators are rewarded zilch. Most of them can’t even get a free ticket to see a movie featuring the character they created.
Is there, however, any evidence that Stan Lee is gaining that wealth from any type of royalty paid to him for his act of co-creating those characters either? If Stan got even a fraction of a cut from all the Marvel films and associated merchandise featuring a character that he is credited as a co-creator of , that $200 million would be a drop in the bucket.
Stan gets paid for being Stan the Man. Stan gets paid for being Executive Producer. Stan gets paid for his gratuitous cameos. Stan Lee has made himself famous. He is the Kardashians of the comics world and he is making himself rich, still, at 89 years old with the same vigor he had in 1961 when the Fantastic Four first hit the stands.
So why does Stan Lee catch so much heat when the subject of creator’s rights comes up if he is probably a victim of the same corporate greed, himself?
Well, it’s his own damn fault.
While Stan was creating a marketing atmosphere that sold Marvel to it’s readers as one big happy, zany Bullpen, he took it upon himself to make stars out of his creators by giving them credits with merry monikers that were intended to stick in the minds of the legion of fans that was growing faster than even he could have imagined.
As Marvel Mania grew, Stan boasted and told all. He was very open about who he collaborated with and happily shared the details of the now famous Marvel Method of creating comics. Not only did he talk; he wrote it down in his own words so that even if his memory would one day be awry, there would be a very clear paper trail.
In 1974 Stan Lee authored Origins of Marvel Comics followed the next year by Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. The success of these two books led to The Superhero Women and Bring on the Bad Guys. These books all detailed his perspective of his creative relationships with the artists in the Bullpen especially his dependancy on his numero uno illustrator, “Jolly” Jack Kirby.
Stan seemed to do all this with an intention of elevating the appreciation of comic creators with both the public and the industry. He assesses that the writing in comics prior to the inception of the Marvel style “…left just a little bit to be desired.”
To make his point he writes:
“Who were these people who actually created and produced America’s comic books? To answer that burning question we must be aware that comics have always been a high-volume low-profit-per-unit business. Which is a polite way of saying that they never paid very much to the writers or artists. If memory serves me (and why shouldn’t it?), I think I received about fifty cents per page for the first script I wrote in those early days. Comics have always been primarily a piecework business. You got paid by the page for what you wrote. the more pages you could grind out, the more money you made. The comic book writer had to be a comic-book freak, he had to be dedicated to comics; he certainly couldn’t be in it for the money. And unlike most other forms of writing, there were no royalty payments at the end of the road… no residuals…no copyright ownership. You wrote your pages, got your check, and that was that.”
We all know that Stan Lee values credits highly and was sure to plaster his own name on every Marvel comic. Stan Lee Presents and Stan’s Soap Box were as much of the part of the Marvel experience as anything else. His famed sign-off,“Excelsior!”, still brings a giddy rush to a generation of comic book fans. In an effort to instill some added pride to the work of the comic creators in the Bullpen, Stan began putting credits of all the creators in the comics Marvel produced.
“…I’ve frequently mentioned Jolly Jack Kirby as our most ubiquitous artist-in-residence. He wasn’t christened Jolly Jack –– sometimes he wasn’t even that jolly –– but I got a kick out of giving alternative nicknames to our genial little galaxy of superstars, mostly for the purpose of enabling our readers to remember who they were. You see, prior to the emergence of Marvel Comics, the artist and writers who produced the strips, as well as the editors, art directors, and letterers, were mostly unknown to the reader, who rarely if ever saw their names in print. In order to change that image and attempt to give a bit more glamour to our hitherto unpublicized creative caliphs, I resorted to every deviceI could think of –– and the nutty nicknames seemed to work.”
And it did work! Joe Rosen, a letterer in those days said in COMICS INTERVIEW #7, “That’s why I admire Marvel. By instituting credits, they made you feel prouder of your work. And by being so successful they revamped the industry and launched so many titles that they made it possible to have a professional career.”
Stan knew that to be successful you have to make those around you successful. He did this by giving credit and creating work. Most of which went to Jack Kirby.
Throughout the Origins series and, actually, most of his career, Stan always spoke very highly of Jack Kirby and his creative contributions. Some of those very telling remarks have been posted on the Kirby Museum website in Robert Steibel’s Kirby Dynamics but I have to refer to a quote in Son of Origins where Stan Lee completely asserts Jack Kirby’s role:
“Jack was (and still is)* to superheroes what Kellog’s is to corn flakes. When such fabulous features as The Fantastic four, the Mighty Thor, and The Incredible Hulk were just a-borning, it was good ol’ Jackson with whom I huddled, harangued, and hassled until the characters were designed, the plots were delineated, and the layouts were delivered so that I could add the little dialogue balloons and captions with which I’ve spent a lifetime cluttering up the illustrations of countless long-suffering artists.”
(*This was written during a period when Jack Kirby had left Marvel and gone to DC, unhappy because he was not being paid for what he considered “writing” at Marvel according to Carmine Infantino in his autobiography The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino. Kirby no longer wanted to be “second fiddle” and even declined an opportunity to collaborate with Joe Simon for the same reason though the pair did do a single issue of Sandman together.)
Stan recognized that his greatest resource was his talent pool and, short of finding ways to give them ownership in their creations, he looked for other ways to keep them happy. Stan was even the first president of The Academy of Comic Book Arts that he started with Neal Adams. The ACBA was to be the start of a comic creator’s union of sorts but did not last long.
Stan Lee has been in the comic book business for seventy-three years, probably longer than anyone else alive. He has done more for crediting comic creators than any editor who had gone before him, revealing his greatest sin. With his eye focused on glamour and recognition he failed to affect righteous residual compensation for the efforts of Marvel’s comic creators. His compliance with the business tradition that he himself recognized as insufficient destined generations of creators to teeter on poverty while their creations reaped gold for Marvel.
The victims of this industry-wide practice blanket the entire comics landscape, some tragically. Most recently Robert L. Washington III co-author of Static which is currently owned by DC Comics died of a heart attack in abject poverty at the age of 47. His contribution to the Heroes Initiative is a heart wrenching window into the reality of too many comic creators.
Stan, we love you man, but we need you now, more than ever, to stand up for comic creators or you will be always be cursed with the blame for Marvel cheating the same creators that you personally paraded as stars. You can still make a difference. It’s time to put an end to an archaic, unjust work-for-hire practice that keeps talented people impoverished while a soulless corporation bloats over the spoils of their creative efforts.
You have stood at the helm of a company that has created heroes your entire life. Be a hero to those that depended on you the most, the ones that helped you build that fabled “House of Ideas.”
Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!
As an added Bonus here’s a link to Neal Kirby’s FATHER’S DAY tribute to his dad that ran on this site last year.
I was about 14 years old when Ballantine Books started their reprint series of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. Being a science fiction fan, a character fiction fan, and fan who’s attracted to anything numbered sequentially, I devoured the series. I re-read the first five books about 12 years ago and I enjoyed them, albeit with a nostalgically jaundiced eye.
I was both amazed and, oddly, not surprised (they’re two different emotions) when my father told me he was a John Carter fan. He started reading them around 1928 – by then, the first book was about 16 years old. Sharing this bond was quite comforting: both John Carter, my father, and I were created in Chicago over a 38 year span.
There have been numerous comics adaptations. The first was for the newspapers and for Dell Comics, created by Burroughs’ son John Coleman Burroughs. Gold Key tried a few issues; despite Jesse Marsh’s art, they were pretty lackluster. Later on, both DC and Marvel got into the John Carter business – sequentially – and those projects attracted an amazing line-up of artists, including Murphy Anderson, Dave Cockrum, Ernie Colón, Larry Hama, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, and Mike Vosburg. Whereas the latter Marvel issues were written by Chris Claremont and Peter Gillis, the majority of the DC/Marvel runs (by far) were penned by Marv Wolfman, and that stuff is among my favorite of his. And that says a lot. Later on, Dark Horse did some crossovers with Tarzan, and John Carter even popped up in the waning days of the classic Tarzan newspaper strip. Currently, both Dynamite Comics and Marvel are publishing the character – the latter is tied into the new movie, and the former is tied into a lawsuit.
There had been a great many attempts to bring John Carter to the screen, both large and small. If you dig around, you’ll find the legendary cartoonist Bob Clampett’s test footage and sketches – they were amazing, and I wish he was able to sell the project. I remember going to the International Licensing Show in the early part of this century and seeing a huge display for an upcoming movie adaptation – some stunning artwork, particularly in their mammoth backdrop. Sadly, none of these projects came to be. There was a movie released just a couple years ago starring Antonio Sabàto, Jr. and Traci Lords, but because I’m a nice guy who always maintains a civil tongue, I won’t mention it again.
This Friday, John Carter of Mars finally makes his big-time movie debut. Produced by Disney – not coincidentally the owner of Marvel Comics – if you haven’t seen any of the trailers, commercials or ads for the movie you just might be Stevie Wonder. For many, many reasons, I have set the bar for John Carter pretty high. My dad died six years ago, so I won’t be able to see it with him. But I notice my daughter Adriane is pretty excited about the movie, and I hope to extend the family bond to her this weekend.
By the way, this is John Carter’s 100th anniversary. If you’re planning on sneaking a cake into the theater, please, don’t light the candles.
Well, here’s something strange. Within a 72-hour period last week a half dozen people asked me if I had read the new, new Animal Man. During that same period, my daughter was asked the same question by one of her friends. Then I had lunch with comics writer Paul Kupperberg, so I asked him if he read the book. He said no, not yet, but a number of people told him he should.
Hmmmm. Word of mouth is either the best or the worst type of publicity. I noticed not a one of these folks said it was great; just that it was worth reading.
I enjoyed the original Animal Man – the one that was created by Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino in Strange Adventures 180, some 46 years ago. It was unusual in that it was only occasionally published, and the lead didn’t get his costume (one of Carmine’s best) until the third appearance nearly a year later. His run – more like a bunch of skips and hops – was brief, but it clearly had an impact on us Baby Boomer fanboys. Animal Man was more of a cool concept than a fan fave.
Because I’m not quite paranoid to believe that all those people who recommended the book to us were part of a vast conspiracy, I approached Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman’s Animal Man volume 2, number 1 without preconceptions.
Gone is the cool Infantino-designed costume, replaced by something that was clearly influenced by the original: no more contemporary in design, but with a more striking color scheme. We start with Buddy Baker’s home life, and here we indulge a bit in the married life superhero chiché. He’s not henpecked the way The Web was back in the 1960s (one of the first, if not the first, costumed hero with a “realistic” married life); Lemire cleverly uses the rough parts of family life as exposition.
It is that very family that is the root of this first story arc. In the 22-page format there’s very little room to establish the characters in this new reality and really get you deeply involved in an actual story, and Animal Man 2.1 does a better job of it than most of The New 52 stories I’ve read so far. Not as good as Mister Terrific #1 in terms of the quantity and depth of story, but more compelling from the perspective of character.
That seems to be what Animal Man is all about: character development within the framework of a family where the father has superpowers. I say “seems to be” because, well, hell, we don’t know. It’s just the first issue. But this beginning gives me hope.
I always get hinky when I think about how a DC series will get coopted as it is thrust into the DCU – sorry, make that DCnU – but I’ve learned to leave such speculation to time and historical inevitability. And hope that Animal Man beats the odds.