Tagged: Great Comic Book Heroes

Ed Catto: No More Shh-ing in the Library

Seymour LIbraryIf you’re passionate about Geek Culture, you probably should (1) promote it by bringing new people into the fold, and (2) prune your collection to keep it robust and manageable. I’m typically pretty good at the first and pretty bad at the second. But last weekend I tried something new and I had an experience that was better than expected.

First, a little background. I grew up in Auburn, a small town in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. I was surrounded by about a million Italian relatives, a downtown that could have been the basis for Smallville, and an outstanding library. It was called the Seymour Library and was built around the turn of century by the firm of Carrere and Hastings. You may know them from another one of their works – the New York Public Library.

My mom led us on weekly excursions to return and borrow books. She’d choose a bunch from the new fiction/mystery section, read the best one or two, and then repeat the process the following week. Likewise, my brother and I would do the same in the children’s section. I’d shift my focus from time to time. I’d be interested in Hardy Boys books for a while, then Robin Hood books (he was big back then), then sports books (Matt Christopher was a favorite) and then dinosaur books. Always dinosaur books, in fact.

After I had checked out every dinosaur book in the children’s section at least once, I got a little pushy. I boldly told our beloved librarian, Mrs. Pine, that she needed to get more dinosaur books. I was a bit of a brat, eh?

Library Lisa Carr Books DonatedBut my real passion was comics. Back then, there were only a few books about comics. To me that universe was confined to Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes, Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s (and the Superman companion book) and Les Daniels’ Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. One other one, All In Color for a Dime by Don Thompson and Dick Lupoff, was like Bigfoot/ I just knew it was out there but never saw it.

So, flash forward to 2015. I’m a guy with overgrown collections of comics and books about comics. It’s time to prune those collections. And I thought my hometown library might be good pass along some of these books.

My Aunt Marcia, a well-read and supportive relative, introduced me to Lisa Carr, who is now the Library’s Director. She’s the energetic type that makes you realize how far libraries have come. I can’t imagine her ever shh-ing anyone in Seymour Library.

She’s all about creating excitement and addressing the ever-changing needs of her community. I explained that I’d like to make a donation of comic related books and graphic novels. She was both excited and gracious.

Lisa, and her staff, welcomed me with open arms (literally) as I brought my donation into the library. We chatted about Batman and Raina Telgemeier and how things had changed over the years. She then showed me the graphic novel section that they had built and I was so impressed. I checked out IDW’s The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke for my dad, in fact.

One of the other librarians explained that the character Nightwing was her favorite. My eight year-old self would never have believed that one day I’d be talking about Nightwing, essentially a grown-up Robin, to an authority figure in the library. It’s amazing how far Geek Culture has come.

So, a nice little chunk of my collection now resides in the Seymour Library Graphic Novel section. It was a great experience for me and I’d encourage any fellow hoarders collectors out there to consider the benefits of donating. Mrs. Pine, that wonderful librarian who fanned the flames of my passion for reading all those years ago, would be pleased to know that each of my donated books will have a special bookplate with a dedication to her.

And I think they have plenty of dinosaur books now too. I can’t really help with that.

Ed Catto: The Spirit at 75, part 2

A Spirit Eyes

In last week’s column I started to explore some of the history and issues of managing a brand in its 75th year. As I mentioned, I have had the privilege of managing several brands with long histories, most notably Oreo. I know how tough it can be to keep a brand respectful to its roots, yet relevant for today’s passionate consumers.

1 The Spirit_347_the_school_for_girlsThis week the San Diego Comic-Con will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, so I was eager to speak with The Will Eisner Foundation’s Carl and Nancy Gropper. And it made sense because they also live the same town as I do – and we have a fantastic local restaurant for breakfast meetings. And I love breakfast.

I was curious how the Groppers got involved with the foundation, and Carl explained that Will Eisner was his uncle. Growing up, Carl lived in New York City and Eisner lived in White Plains. On weekends, Carl and his brother would visit their uncle in “the country” and sleep over on a pullout couch. Initially, he had no idea who The Spirit was, but he and his brother would stay up late discovering a curious treasure: hardbound collections of the actual Spirit newspaper stories. This was in the fifties, after The Spirit’s weekly adventures had ended.

2 Spirit LoreleiThey both were enthralled with their uncle’s adventures of The Spirit. But they felt like they were the only two Spirit fans in a world that had forgotten the hero.

“Who else knew about the Spirit?” Carl said. “Our friends didn’t. It was ancient history. We were 5, 10 or whatever. There were no <reprinted> collections in those days. We might be reading comics, but they were Superman and Batman.” Nancy agreed and added that she was a fan of Archie and Veronica at that time.

Carl explained further that during this period, Eisner was focused on “running the business”, meaning his studio, PS Magazine and the booklets he’d regularly create for Fortune 500 companies. “He was a businessman. Man, was he a businessman!” said Carl.

3 PGELLEssentially, Will Eisner didn’t maintain The Spirit “as a brand” for this period. In fact, Carl suggests that it wasn’t until the release of Jules Feiffer’s classic book The Great Comic Book Heroes, which featured a segment on the Spirit, that the public “relearned” about the Spirit. This classic collection was one of the early “real books” about comics. Feiffer started it with a wonderful essay and then reprinted early adventures of heroes such as Superman, Batman, Captain America and … the Spirit.

Seeking to understand Uncle Will through his nephew’s eyes, it’s no wonder that Eisner was leaving The Spirit behind and exploring new things. One of the great qualities about Will Eisner, according to Carl, was his continuous experimenting and pushing things forward. “He believed the medium could do anything”, said Carl.

4 Great Comic Book Heroes FeifferAnd Eisner was also eager to expand his relationships to include others who were trying new things. For example, Eisner forged a relationship with Dennis Kitchen. Carl told the story how at one of the old Phil Seuling comic conventions, Dennis Kitchen was hoping to meet Eisner, only to find out Will was actively looking to meet him.

Eisner created his first graphic novel, A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories in 1978, and then continued to produce nineteen more graphic novels. All the while, he returned to the Spirit for an occasional illustration or project.

5 Spirit and Batman detective comics 600 p65Nancy paused a moment to remark about the type of person Will Eisner was, and fondly remembers him as very warm and kind. She recollects that Eisner was very modest and had no idea about of his substantial contributions to the industry. “It isn’t by chance that the Eisner awards are named after Will. In our opinion, he’s the best person to be acknowledged for this,” added Nancy.

But for the here and now, just how does a brand celebrate a 75th Anniversary? The Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic-Con this Friday, the annual “Oscars-style” ceremony for the comics industry, will embrace the anniversary theme. The annual San Diego Comic-Con Souvenir book will spotlight the 75th Anniversary with a gorgeous Michael Cho illustration on the cover, and Spirit articles and artwork within. And after the San Diego Comic-Con, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, a leading venue of pop culture, comic and graphic novel art, will feature a Spirit exhibit. (More details on that soon!)

6 SDCC-cover-Spirit ChoHow do they define where to take the brand in the future? “We’re only trying to do what Will would’ve wanted to do, ” said Carl.