Tagged: Jack Kirby

Ed Catto: Black Panther, back in the day…

I’m thrilled for the Black Panther’s cinematic success. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s just another a Marvel superhero movie that happens to be about an African superhero. This phenomenon is a great adventure and so much more. It includes the success of a positive message and of a black director and of a mostly black cast. Black Panther explores tough topics including, but not limited to, nationalism, isolationism, the black experience in the US, and the black experience internationally.

This movie quickly went from an event to a celebration. It’s a celebration for the African American Community. The Sunday New York Times had an opinion piece on how it’s a celebration for the Black Nerd Community.  On NPR, I’ve heard Jamie Broadnax, the insightful genius behind the Black Girl Nerds podcast, speak about what it means to her.  I’ve also read her comments in the New York Times Magazine. The Black Panther movie really is a win for all comic nerds, proving that the stuff they like, when done right, can traverse media to entertain and inspire people a global scale.

The opening weekend box office tallies verified that Black Panther is a big deal.  There’s one more success in all this. It’s a more personal, and smaller, celebration in comparison.  But I’m still elated and inspired by this particular one.

Right before going to the theater, I was remembering Jack Kirby’s second round of Black Panther adventures. The great artist Kirby co-created the Black Panther.  I’m a big fan of the man’s artwork, creativity and work ethic. But in 1977, when Kirby returned to Marvel Comics after a creatively explosive sojourn at the competition, one of the many projects he churned out was a new Black Panther comic series.

It was so disappointing to me. Oh, sure, the series was grand and boisterous, like any good adventure should be. But was just too silly and too goofy. I still cringe at the Black Musketeers, a thankfully forgotten concept. At that time, my little gang of comic book pals and I all thought is was absurd. A big part of the letdown was that we were comparing and contrasting this new Kirby comic to the previous Black Panther comic series. That one had blown our collective minds.


Let me set the stage. The Bronze Age version of Marvel’s Jungle Action debuted in 1972. Marvel used this comic to reprint old jungle comic stories like Tharn, The Magnificent, a second-rate jungle lord and two curvaceous jungle queens, Lorna and Jann.  These stories, from a simpler time, didn’t have much to do with the real Africa, or the real world, but they were as enjoyable as they were innocuous.  Through the lens of adulthood, their innocence is soured by the unintentional racism baked into many of the adventures.

After a short time, the old Tarzan knock-off reprints were gone and Jungle Action showcased new adventures of the Black Panther!  I knew that character. I liked that guy. I was excited for this change.

It seemed to me that, T’Challa, the Black Panther,  tended to crop up in other Marvel heroes’ comics. I remembered how he helped Captain America thrash some bad guys in issue #100, and how he seemed to be Daredevil’s buddy in an issue of The Avengers.

Jungle Action comics, now with Black Panther adventures, were something different.  They weren’t silly and they weren’t innocuous.  It was as if an unspoken covenant was forged between the writer and reader.  I could imagine the writer saying, “I’m going to take this very seriously, and work really, really hard on this story. If you come along for the ride, it’s gonna be a little more work, but I think it will be worth it.”

Every panel of these new Black Panther stories were overstuffed with glorious descriptions, insightful dialog and storytelling that bordered on poetry. There was a lot going on. There was a lot to remember. You had to pay attention to this one.  Each issue would take longer to read than other comics. I’d buy a stack of comics, but I  soon learned to save Jungle Action for last because I had to take my time with it.

Jungle Action’s abrupt change came about because the proofreader, Don McGregor, thought readers deserved better. Marvel promoted him to writer and he was off to the races. McGregor soon proved himself to be a superior writer who would go on to build a career with a long list of impressive accomplishments. Don is a romantic with passion for so many things in life. He’s a prince of a guy and one can find so much to admire about both his life and career.

Like so many comic characters, the Black Panther is a crazy quilt of various creators’ contributions over the years. The movie makers had the luxury of cherry picking the best parts and ignoring the rest. But it’s easy to see that so much of this movie is directly attributable to what Don McGregor, and his artistic collaborators, created. Make no mistake, the fingerprints of other talented creators are on screen. But for me, Black Panther seemed like a Don McGregor movie.

One of my favorite parts of this movies’ triumphant box office debut is the celebration of Don McGregor.  Life can be tough. But once in a while, a sweet guy who writes with passion gets his time in the spotlight so we can all pause to say, “Wow, thanks a lot.  You did a really good job.”  Here’s to Don McGregor.

I’m going to celebrate all the successes from Black Panther. And I’m going to keep going until Halloween. Any kids in Black Panther costumes get double treats!

Ed Catto: Sky Masters!

Today it’s easy to understand fans and creatives admire and envy the career of a guy like Robert Kirkman, who published his comic, The Walking Dead and then achieved great success as it became a top TV show. Or fans might think about how Thor was a 60s Marvel comic and now it just dominated the box office this weekend.

But for a prior generation, Charles Schulz, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond and Hal Foster were the big success stories. Their efforts on Peanuts, Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby, Tarzan and Prince Valiant were all in newspaper comic strips and not in comic books. I wasn’t that long ago that a comic book artist would have yearned for a successful newspaper comic strip.

Jack Kirby, one of the greatest comic artists, was born 100 years this year and Geek Culture has reflected extensively on his comics career. A relentless entrepreneur with an indefatigable work ethic, Kirby was always trying new things. As you’d expect, he tried the newspaper comic route too.

Kirby’s Sky Masters was his foray into the world comic strips. It’s a gorgeous looking strip with a crazy backstory. And then add another legendary artist, Wallace Wood, to the tale. Amigo Comics is bringing it back to the world for us all to enjoy. I caught up with Ferran Delgado to learn more.

Ed Catto: Sky Masters is one of those legendary series that fans have read, and read about, from time to time. Can you remind us all of just what Sky Masters was?

Ferran Delgado: Sky Masters was a newspaper strip published from 1958 till 1961 by The George Matthew Adams Syndicate, with a run of 774 dailies and 54 Sunday strips. Theoretically, it was included in 300 newspapers around the country, but judging on how hard is to gather a complete set of Sundays strips, I doubt that it was widespread so much.

The Sundays were designed to adapt to three formats – tabloid, half page and third page, so they included the feature “Scrapbook” that was sacrificed in the third page format. When the half format had to be transformed in a tab page, they removed the last two panels of the Scrapbook so it fit in the last tier, and added a brand-new panel.

The strip was drawn and colored by Kirby, scripted by Dave & Dick Wood and embellished by Wally Wood and Dick Ayers. Kirby himself also inked a few strips with the help of his wife Roz. Kirby wrote many strips because the Wood brothers (Dick and Dave) often were difficult to reach.

EC: Now just to be clear, were writers Dick and Dave Wood related to artist Wallace Wood? What was their relationship?

FD: No relation at all. The strips were signed “Kirby & Wood” after the Wood bros (Dick & Dave) and Kirby, even when Kirby wrote the strips himself.

EC: What can you tell me about the collaboration of Jack Kirby and Wallace Wood on this strip? Of course, Wally Wood and Jack Kirby would later collaborate on DC’s Challengers of the Unknown. Can you draw a line from Sky Masters to Challengers?

FD: Wood admired Kirby, he felt that he was a genius, so he loved working with him. It’s difficult to set a timeline about which work Wood inked first, if Challengers or Sky Masters, but Wood was more than an inker for the strip, he even was invited to design the logo and he took part in the decision of the name.

In fact, before Wood was offered the Challengers he was working with Kirby on a pitch named Surf Hunter. I’m sure about this order because Kirby recycled a panel of a daily of Surf Hunter inked by Wood to do a sketch of a panel of Challs #4, the first issue inked by Wood.

So both pursued a newspaper strips for many reasons: economic, prestige, dissemination of their work to a wider public with a different range of age, etc. The art of Sky Masters reflects that. If you compare it to Challengers, the artwork is superior. Even the Surf Hunter pitch has better quality than Challengers, in spite that it was a great work, too.

EC: When and why did Sky Masters end? Were there legal issues?

FD: The last daily was dated Feb 25th, 1961, a few months before the debut of Fantastic Four, but the Sundays ended a year before.

About the legal issues, the background of the strip is so fascinating like the strip itself, because the consequences of what happened around it blacklisted Kirby in National, and pushed him over to Marvel. This is probably the mother of all the What If, because if not for what happened with the strip, he would keep working for National and probably not for Marvel.

To summarize the background story, Kirby worked just for one editor at National, Jack Schiff. The General Manager of The George Matthew Adams Service syndicate visited Schiff because he wanted to produce a strip about the space race with a realistic approach, and wondered if Schiff might help him since they were publishing science fiction stories at National. Since Schiff was awfully busy, he contacted Dave Wood and Jack Kirby and offered them the gig.

Let’s say that negotiations were difficult, and a problem arose about the Schiff’s commission. Since he was not happy about it, and Kirby refused to give him more than agreed, Schiff sued Kirby. Kirby not only lost the trial, but the economic deal about the strip sucked. As expected, Schiff stopped giving work to Kirby so he got pushed to Atlas (soon to be renamed Marvel) to get as much work as possible in spite fees were much lower than National’s.

EC: Has Sky Masters has been reprinted before? And what makes this book different?

FD: In spite of the high quality of the strip, its reprinting was so troublesome like the background of it. In 1980 there was the first attempt. A magazine compiled a very limited run of dailies, but quality of reproduction was poor.

A more serious edition was the Pure imagination magazine that in 1991 compiled also a nice run of dailies and eight Sundays recolored. But the most complete edition got published also by Pure Imagination in 1999, because it included all the dailies and almost all the Sundays in tab format (strip #52 was missing). But just in black and white, and quality of reproduction sometimes was poor.

Many of the Sundays were published for first time in color in the covers and back covers of the Comics Revue, but reproduction was awful and mostly of them were incomplete.

I compiled all the dailies in a Spanish edition upgrading the quality of many of the strips of the Pure Imagination book with the help of the printer’s proofs stored at the Kirby Museum.

Very soon a bootleg edition will compile the dailies in a single book, but it’s shot from my Spanish books without my permission or the Kirby Museum’s, so quality of reproduction will be poor since they don’t use original files.

The main interest of my book is that, for first time ever, it will display all the Sundays with its original color by Kirby painstakingly remastered like if they were brand new. It took me many months working full time to do it! As any newspaper strip collector will confirm, it’s practically impossible to find a complete set of Sundays.

Since the tab format sacrificed the last two panels, I’ll publish about 90 panels never seen before, even in the Pure Imagination edition. Furthermore, I’ll include a large section with the original color guides painted by Kirby over stats, where you can enjoy the linework without any kind of distortion by printing.

In fact, many of the remastered Sunday strips have better linework than the Pure Imagination book since I could choose between a few samples of each strip. In fact, sometimes I used parts of different strips always seeking the best source.

EC: Were you able to track down any of the original art to Sky Masters?

FD: Sure. The Kirby Museum supplied some of them, and I got other scans from original art collectors like John Byrne, who owns one of the best samples and the iconic promotional image.

EC: There was a fascination with rocket ships and space travel in the late 50s and 60s. How much of that is part of Sky Masters’ DNA?

Almost everything in the strip is related to the space race that started with the Sputnik. In fact, the Sundays try to educate the reader with the glossary or objects used in space and make predictions about how will be the future, which is funny. Sometimes they guess it but others they couldn’t be more wrong.

EC: Do you feel this “Rocket Ship” theme is dated or timeless?

FD: I think that it’s timeless, specially in our times where we’re living a new exploration age although with a wider competition, this time with private companies. The work also captures a key age where that will bring fond memories to everybody who grew in that age.

EC: If Sky Masters had continued, what do you think it would have become?

I think that it ended too late. The last daily strips have low quality, and you could see that Kirby abandoned it in spirit long before. The strip had an awesome peak, but at certain point you could see how the trends of the moment influenced it, and what happened with Schiff and the trial also had an impact in the work. But the Sundays ended way before that point, so you’ll find the best of the strip, specially in the first half because they’re beautifully rendered by Wood. It takes your breath away.

EC: When is your book on sale? And how can fans pre-order through their local comic shops?

FD: It’s available right now through the Previews catalog, just search for the publisher Amigo and order it, or simply ask your local comic shop to order it for you. The book should be available in the finest stores in January.

EC: What’s makes Sky Masters special and why have fans always loved it?

FD: It was the best work that both Kirby and Wood could do at the age, they were at their peak, totally motivated to succeed in newspapers strips. They felt like it was a dream come true, and it was an opportunity that maybe would never show again, so they threw themselves on the project. Furthermore, the final art was more than the sum of the individuals, it’s something absolutely special and unrepeatable.

EC: Thanks so much, Ferran.

Ed Catto: On Target with Green Arrow and Richard Gray

Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow by Richard Gray. Sequart, $17.99 paperback; $6.99 Kindle edition

Way back when, Green Arrow was sort of the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” of the superhero set. For a long time, fans could enjoy a new Green Arrow adventure just about every month, but he didn’t enjoy the headliner popularity of his hero pals like Batman or even Wonder Woman.

That’s all almost forgotten now. Today, so many fans enjoy this modern-day Robin Hood in comics, on TV and with licensed merchandise.

For some, Green Arrow became “a thing” when he debuted on TV, first as one of Superboy’s pals in Smallville and then in his own series. (He was briefly on Saturday morning cartoons before that too.)

Comics fan, and local dad, Greg Parker started with the TV series and now reads the comics. “In today’s world of income imbalance and overall division, Oliver Queen represents someone willing to do the right thing, whatever that may be,” said Parker.  “Green Arrow has no superpowers. He simply wants to help defend his city from criminals and corruption. This is why we read about superheroes, someone doing the right thing regardless of the consequences to his fortune or popularity.”

For some fans, certain points of Green Arrow’s long comics career was their jumping on point. Many readers started to embrace this character during the groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. Or it might have been when he finally headlined his own comic in a four-part mini-series by Mike W. Barr and Trevor Von Eeden. Other fans sat up and took notice during the 90s with The Longbow Hunters comic prestige series and the subsequent ongoing comic series by Mike Grell, Mike Gold, Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano, Dan Jurgens and so many other talented folks. I should note that this iteration was shepherded by ComicMix’s own Mike Gold.

For me, Green Arrow was a “barbershop hero.” As a young boy, I distinguished the tattered comics I’d read in the barber shop from the new comics my dad would buy for me. For whatever reason, the local barber had a lot of old DC Comics with Green Arrow backup adventures. I never gave Green Arrow a lot of thought outside of getting my hair cut.

But one day I finally gained respect for Green Arrow. There was an adventure when a small child was confronted by a wild moose and Green Arrow saved the day with his “Antler Arrow.” I realized it takes a special kind of superhero to anticipate moose-related dangers, I realized.

I always liked the character after that. In my mind, it was years later, during the 90s Urban Hunter phase shepherded by Gold, Grell, Hannigan and others, when Green Arrow really grew up.

And It was during this Urban Hunter era that Green Arrow became a favorite of Australian writer Richard Gray. Those 90s comics were his starting point. Now he’s made himself something of a Green Arrow expert – searching out all the old stories and keeping up with the new comics, TV appearances and merchandise.

Gray wrote Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow, which just debuted and is published by Sequart.

He revealed that as part of his podcast, he had wanted to create one article on Green Arrow. But then he found there was too much to fit into one post. One blog became seven blogs, and that eventually became a book.

Gray’s pal, Ryan K. Lindsay, had written a Daredevil book, referred him to Sequart and Moving Target happened.

As I started my interview with Gray, I first wanted to understand if his Australian POV was similar to that of standard US comic fan. I was familiar with Australian titles like Tip Top (reprinting DC titles in the 60s and 70s), but more recently I had heard about how wonderful the Australian Comic Shops are. And that always seemed to be during the Eisner Awards Spirit of Retailer discussions. Gray explained to me that Australians now get their comics about the same time as stateside fans do. So it’s easy to keep up with Geek Culture and characters like Green Arrow. The direct market made it happen, although he remembers when he started reading comics and every corner had a “card store” that sold comics.

It was really right about the time when Oliver Queen died, and Conner Hawke took over, that Gray became a big Green Arrow fan. His passion for the character was ratcheted up when Kevin Smith started writing the adventures of a “returned from the dead” Oliver Queen.

“I did miss Conner Hawke – he was underused,” recalls Gray. “The story I wanted to see was with the two Green Arrows. I wanted to see what the interaction would look like. I wanted to see two Green Arrows on a page.”

He’s less enamored with the recent changes to character in the New 52 and Rebirth, although he noted that the GA we know has seemed to return with the legacy elements.

But as the guy who wrote the book on Green Arrow, Gray asserts that for this character, all roads lead back to O’Neil and Adams era.

“It was during that period where they established he was a liberal and wasn’t afraid of standing up to the gods of the Justice League,” said Gray. “In the very first issue of that run – he’s holding up them up to task. But also proving, in the process, that he can be wrong too. Green Arrow’s single-mindedness can be a weakness for him.”Gray talks about how enjoyed seeing the character struggle as a regular guy. And he mentioned how a favorite Green Arrow story was from that Mike Barr and Trevor von Eeden series. I learned, in my recent research on the cult hit comic Thriller, a bit about this Green Arrow mini-series. Artist Von Eeden was assigned to his mini-series in order to slow him down and keep him from starting work on Thriller.  In retrospect, the Green Arrow series certainly holds up and Von Eeden’s art is spectacular.

There’s so much to Gray’s Moving Target, including:

  • Speedy – Green Arrow’s sidekick was always a favorite of mine. Gray does not disappoint and provides a meaty section focusing on Speedy.
  • Kirby – Likewise, Gray has a long chapter on Jack Kirby’s contribution to the series. Although Kirby’s run on Green Arrow was painfully brief, and how it important it has been in defining the character.
  • Interviews – There’s plenty of in-depth interviews too. Gray chats with long-time creators like Neal Adams, Mike Grell, and Chuck Dixon as well as some of the modern era writers like Jeff Lemire and Brad Meltzer.
  • Foreward – And while not really an interview, Phil Hester kicks it all off with a humble and insightful forward.

Moving Target covers a lot of ground with care and detailed analysis. There’s something here for every Green Arrow fan.

Joe Corallo: A Certain Point Of View

Okay, so I haven’t written musings on my feelings on fandom in quite a bit, so here goes nothing!

Marvel’s Secret Empire event has received a lot of flack for continuing the storyline of Captain America as a secret Hydra agent. Much of that flack has revolved around the notion that Cap being associated with Hydra is an affront to co-creator Jack Kirby, a Jewish man and a World War II veteran. By having Cap be associated with Hydra, it goes against the creator’s intent.

But – how much so we actually care about a creator’s intent?

From my experiences, it seems we don’t really care that much about a creator’s original intent if the story is considered good. A prominent example is how Gene Roddenberry was opposed to the idea of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (or at least some reported it as such) and was made anyway after his passing. The show for many Trek fans is one of. if not the best Trek despite its perceived deviation from some of Roddenberry’s core principles as previously expressed in the show.

A prime opposite example would be George Lucas and how his vision, particularly in the prequels, of Star Wars is viewed less favorably than Star Wars: The Force Awakens despite the fact that George was not a big fan of the film. He felt the movie was what the fans may have wanted, but not the direction he would have gone. There are many accounts, books, and documentaries covering the franchise and Lucas’ involvement in Star Wars where some try to take credit away from him by saying the original film was saved by editing and it was Irvin Kershner who made The Empire Strikes Back the success that it was. Is that because that’s ultimately how it really played out, or is there some stretching of the truth to fit a narrative that the fans want because George Lucas fell out of their favor from the prequels?

Returning to comics, there is quite a lot we can discuss Jack Kirby and his Captain America co-creator, Joe Simon. They also created Cap’s sidekick, Bucky, who went on to become a Russian assassin during the Cold War known as The Winter Soldier. I think we can all agree that was not their original intention with the character. Some of Kirby’s other works like X-Men are largely impacted more now by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and others than by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; many of which have gone against what X-Men was originally about at its core to much wilder success. Instead of people that were considered freaks trying to get by in a world that hates them, the focus of the X books moved to mostly attractive characters dealing with soap opera type angst. That being said, Jack did do his fair share of romance comics as well.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t put some historical context when we consider these things. It’s absolutely understandable and justifiable for people to react based on those factors with something like Hydra Cap. Perhaps a slightly changed story that struck a different chord with the audience would have had a different result with a similar origin. We can’t know for sure.

One of my favorite Legion of Super-Hero stories is Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Olivier Coipel’s Legion Lost. I think it’s perfectly paced and incredibly compelling. It’s hard for me to not want to read all 12 issues in one sitting. That being said, the story absolutely goes against the original intent of the Legion. These characters were made to be optimistic children following in the ways of Superman. In Legion Lost they are a terrified group in a dark future where everything seems grim and dark. Part of why it works is that there aren’t many stories like this. That’s part of what made things like The Dark Knight Returns stand out before a lot of people wanted to copy that success, despite it not being much like the Batman we knew at the time.

While yes, some people do care about what a creator’s original intent is, it often seems to be much more about the quality of the story telling. If you like the story it just doesn’t matter as much. If you don’t like the story, it’s a reason you can draw from in your argument supporting your feelings. It just might not be a very good or persuasive reason.

Thanks for reading my rant! Maybe next week I’ll talk about shipping characters. I have a lot of opinions on shipping characters.

John Ostrander: Riding With The King

Last Monday was the 100th birthday of the King o’ Comics, Jack Kirby. The young’uns among you might not know the name (or maybe they do; I try not to be a fuddy-duddy most days) but Kirby was a force unparalleled in the comics medium. If you need a primer, Mike Gold wrote an excellent column about him.

Even if you know Marvel only from the movies, you owe him. Captain America? Jack. The X-Men? Jack. The Black Panther? Jack. The Avengers? Jack. And so on and so forth. And not just at Marvel; King Kirby seemed to be everywhere. And not just superheroes; he did Westerns, monsters, romance. And so on and so forth.

I met him in person exactly once.

The first thing I need to explain is that, before I became a professional writer in comics, I was a bonafide geek. Yeah, I still am.

One of the big thrills when I first started was that at conventions I could meet my heroes as a fellow professional. In theory. Not as a peer; that suggested I was an equal and that was not how I felt.

So – it’s early in my career and I’m working the First Comics booth at the Chicago Comicon along with my wife, Kim Yale. We were the only ones working the booth at that moment. It wasn’t in the main room and we weren’t getting much traffic.

Then this small group of people walk by, talking among themselves, and in the middle of it is Jack Kirby.

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

(Point of historical accuracy: Back some 30 or so years ago when this story takes place, we never said “OMG!,” at least not in the Midwest. I just wanted to convey the impact of the moment in modern terms.)

Kim later said she watched me turn into a 14-year old fanboy complete with zits. I can’t imagine that was pleasant.

In the group, I spotted Julie Schwartz, himself a legend and an icon. There’d be no Silver Age DC without Julie. Possibly no modern comics industry.

I knew Julie a little through Mike Gold so I hiss at him, “Julie! Hey, Julie! Hey!”

Julie spots me and ambles over. “Hey, kid, how ya doin’?”

“Julie! Introduce me to the King!” I plead.

Julie looks at me like I’m demented and maybe, at the moment, I am. “It’s Jack,” he tells me. “Just go over and say hi.”

“No no no no no! I can’t I can’t I can’t! Don’t you see?! He’s the King!” “Hey, Julie! Help a guy out!”

Julie gives me a pitying look and says, “C’mon, kid.”

I walk over to the group with Julie and he does a nice intro of me. The King shakes my hand, says “HiHowareya.” I babble something about what an honor gee you’re my hero blah blah blah. And it’s over. The King and his group move on.

I wish I could say that I never washed that hand again but Kim would have insisted.

I doubt very much that the moment would have stayed with Jack Kirby but it has stayed with me in vivid detail for a couple of decades. Over the past few years, I’ve met some fans who treat me sort of like I treated Jack. (Trust me, gang; I’m not that impressive and I can give you references.) There was only one Jack Kirby and there will ever be only one Jack Kirby and he just turned 100.

Happy birthday, Jack. Long live the King.

Mike Gold: Jack Kirby’s Moxie

Next Monday marks the 100th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth. For one horrible moment, let us consider the following question: what if that birth never happened?

No Captain America. No Fourth World. Probably no romance comics. No Challengers of the Unknown. No Kamandi. No “Marvel Age of Comics.”

Think about that last one for a moment. The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Hulk, Nick Fury, Thor, Silver Surfer, Black Panther… most likely, they would not have existed; certainly not as the astonishing successes they were.

I will avoid suggesting the American comic book medium would have disappeared decades ago if not for Jack Kirby, although a case could be made for that argument. If Marvel Comics didn’t happen the way it happened, it’s possible that direct sales to comic book stores would not have happened, and that little phenomenon certainly has kept this racket alive.

Nobody put more power, more energy, more excitement onto a single page. Even when he dialogued his own work when he created the Fourth World for DC Comics – and, to be fair, his dialogue was damn close to self-parody – his story, his concepts and his ability to deliver sheer entertainment were so strong the reader would forgive his few shortcomings. In fact, after a couple panels, we usually didn’t notice.

From time to time, artists of subsequent generations would be accused of being too “Kirby-esque.” Well, all artists (including writers, musicians, filmmakers, etc.) tend to reveal their influences, particularly in their early stuff. In comics, there always has been a fine line between influence and imitation. And that applies to Jack himself: the visage of Etrigan the Demon, first published in 1972, bears very close resemblance to a mask worn by Prince Valiant on Christmas Day 1937, drawn by the great Hal Foster. And Jack always was upfront about the source material.

I look at this “influence” thing a bit differently. Instead of accusing an artist of being Kirby-esque, I wonder why some of the others are not. In the early days of their careers, a little Jack Kirby moxie would have helped guide them to their own distinctive abilities.

Sometimes I wonder if some later generation of comics talent will not know of Jack Kirby’s work. I have met many a young’un who was sadly unfamiliar with the work of Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Wally Wood, Jack Cole… to name but a few.

I need not worry. If there is one person who has an indelible legacy in the comic art medium, it is Jack Kirby.

•     •     •     •     •

Plug number one: I will be at Wizard World Chicago starting tomorrow, and I will be on two panels: one discussing the bombastic Doctor Who convention of 1982, the first major big-time Who show in the States. For three hot, sweaty days Chicago’s Congress Hotel looked like the San Diego Convention Center on steroids. The other panel will be a tribute to legendary artist Jerry Robinson, on occasion of the publishing of Jerry’s last memoir, Jerry and The Joker. Both panels are on Saturday.

 •     •     •     •     • 

Plug number two: Martha Thomases said it best last Friday, and since I’m about to drive off to the above-mentioned convention I shall re-appropriate her words:

Just a reminder: If you haven’t already, get thee to this Kickstarter page and pledge some money for Mine! the anthology book ComicMix is producing to benefit Planned Parenthood. You might not know it from the Fake News Media, but Planned Parenthood provides necessary health care to millions of people of all ages and genders. In some communities, it is the only place where women can receive pre-natal and post-natal care. In some communities, it is the only place where poor women can get vital cancer screenings. In some communities, it is the only health clinic available, for women and men.

You might also want to pledge so you can get a cool book, with stories by Neil Gaiman, Trina Robbins, Rachel Pollack, Becky Cloonan, Stuart Moore, Mark Said, Amber Benson, Louise Simonson, Jody Houser… and Mike Gold… and Martha Thomases!

Ed Catto: Dare2Draw with Eisner & Kirby

Dare2Draw is one of those cool events that I never want to miss and am always so happy after attending.

Founded by Charles David Chenet (now its Executive Director), Dare2Draw may seem like a comics-drawing class at first glance but it’s really so much more. In fact, this Saturday’s event will be celebrating the works and legacies of comic pioneers Will Eisner and Jack Kirby and celebrating their Centennial mark in the sequential arts.

Chenet describes this long-running organization as a mentoring, supportive and networking organization for artists of all levels. Dare2Draw is also designed to cultivate the awareness of and appreciation for the study of sequential art, and to the “furtherance and preservation of the comic book medium’s contributions to literacy, art, and culture, through outreach programs, events, and projects.”

I find these events to be invigorating. They are part drawing class, part lecture, part support group… and all fun.

For this upcoming event, Chenet will be bringing Dare2Draw back to the Art Students League of New York. It is a location with a historical importance.

“The Dare2Draw returns to The Art Students League for a very special event to celebrate where Will Eisner got his start and went on to lay down the foundation for the graphic novel,” said Chenet. “We will also be celebrating the work of Jack Kirby, who was able to revolutionize comics, without having a formal art education. Dare2Draw will be celebrating both of these pioneers in the industry of comics, helping to celebrate their centennial mark in the sequential arts.”

“We have invited Kyle Baker, whose irreverent spirit and boundless talent continue to push the art form, now and into the future. Kyle has earned eight Will Eisner awards and many others,” added Chenet.

In fact, Kyle Baker is a winner of not only eight Eisner Awards, but also five Harvey Awards and five Glyph Comics Awards. He’s planning to share his reflections on Will & Jack’s contributions and what the future of the sequential arts “comics” might hold.

Representing the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center will be Rand Hoppe. He’s a tireless advocate of Jack Kirby and will be exploring the artist’s accomplishments and legacy, and how it all relates to today’s artists.

“Both these men will help us explore the contributions – Kyle, from the perspective of an artist and a peer of Will Eisner, and Rand as a curator of the Kirby legacy,” said Chenet.

You know these events are headed in the right direction as they are attracting sponsors. Of note: Brooklyn Brewery is supplying the beer.

This event will be hosted by Simon Fraser and Edie Nugent. It runs from 5:30 to 9:30 pm and the Art Students League is located at 215 West 57th Street in New York City. Have fun and post your art if you go!

•     •     •     •     •

Credit Given where credit’s due: I really must credit the creative in this week’s column. Will Eisner’s work appears via the courtesy of Will Eisner Studios, Inc. Jack Kirby’s creative provided courtesy of The Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center.

Mike Gold: The Guardian’s Daddy Issues

If you think working in the greater comic book conspiracy is all fun and games – well… there’s a lot of truth to that. For example, where else can you go to the movies, call it work and then take the ticket price off your taxes?

Last Thursday, I joined fellow ComicMixers Adriane Nash and Joe Corallo in the wildlands of Milford Connecticut (where the phrase “Milf” was coined) for the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two. We went for the full movie monty: IMAX 3-D at a ticket price that would cause Uncle Scrooge to quit working for Disney. When I plop my ass down in a movie theater seat, I am hoping I’m not wasting my time and all that energy I spent looking for a parking place. In the case of next month’s Wonder Woman, I will plop my ass down in a movie theater seat praying I’m not wasting my time… but I digress.

I had no such concerns for GOTG2. All the cast, crew and management had to do is jack up the action slightly and change the soundtrack and write some new gags. If Looney Tunes could do it for nearly four decades, James Gunn could do it twice. If, after seeing the movie, you find yourself debating whether it was as good as the first, not as good as the first, or better than the first – you’re thinking too hard. To paraphrase Joel Hodgson and Josh Weinstein, “It’s just a show, you should really just relax.” If you’re going to go to a movie like this with a stick up your ass, you’ll never get past the vicious furball who runs around carrying ordinance bigger than he is, let alone the pithy-yet-cute jumping twig that steals every scene he’s in.

In other words, we had a great time watching a very funny movie with an exceptionally high body count. If that sort of thing bothers you, don’t take your kids. Anyway, they’ll have more fun seeing it behind your back.

GOTG2 even made fun of the mighty Marvel movie method. There are five inter-credits scenes (they should start running the closing credits at the beginning of GOTG3) and more cameos than you can count. While it is impossible to translate a comic book property to the big screen without making some changes, GOTG2 came remarkably close to the source materials while maintaining the continuity from the first movie as well as the other Marvel Studios flicks. In fact, they even managed to do a quick tribute to Jack Kirby’s original depiction of Ego The Living Planet – they didn’t have to, but it was a nice touch for those of us who remember.

Remarkably, this movie fits squarely into the current Marvel Studios trans-flick story arc, and does a lot to set up next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. You are probably aware that the GOTG leads are all in that one, but then again, so is everybody else. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ben Afflick in there somewhere.

And speaking of Ben Afflick, if that nightmare of a movie Batman v Superman degenerated into a story about heroes with severe mommy issues, then Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two is about a hero with severe daddy issues. But unlike the aforementioned DC movie, Guardians makes it work without insulting the audience. Kurt Russell turns in a wonderful performance as god.

The soundtrack, built around the theory that obnoxious tunes from the 1970s sound much better forty years later, is different from the first film, as one might expect. What I did not expect is for them to include a tune I play about once a year on Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind: Lake Shore Drive, by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah. It’s really a beautiful song about the remarkably calming major highway that separates the City of Chicago from the parkland that hugs the coast of Lake Michigan. Quite frankly, I would think Rocket “Raccoon” would hate it.

We had a swell time. What more could you want for the money? If you were expecting Citizen Kane Volume Two, you need to change your meds.

 

John Ostrander: The Suicide Squad – The Jerusalem Serpent

For the past few weeks we’ve been discussing the latest TPB reprint of my Suicide Squad run at DC with me giving some of my thoughts about what went into the stories. One of the things I like about this volume is that it gives a nice variety – there’s a four-part story arc, a single-issue story, another four-parter, and then a two-parter.

This week we’re going to focus in on the second four-parter, The Jerusalem Serpent. The villain of the piece is named Kobra, a Jack Kirby creation. He’s the leader of a cult-like terrorist group and had bounced around the DCU for a number of years. He was a made-to order bad guy for the Squad although I monkeyed with him a bit. In DC cosmology you had the Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos (which, in itself, was patterned after the cosmology in much of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series). Doctor Fate, for example, was an avatar of the Lords of Order. So I made Kobra a follower of the Lords of Chaos, working to usher in the Kali Yuga- the Age of Chaos. The guy had a real Jones for it.

He was offset in the story by another character that we had brought into the Squad – Revan, who had originally been part of the Jihad, the super-powered terrorist for hire group we met way back in the first issue. Revan was a modern Thugee, from whom we get the term thug. He and Kobra both worshipped Kali which might make you think they were on the same side but Revan sought to delay the Kali Yuga while Kobra wanted to usher it in. This made them implacable enemies and they were described as the mongoose and the cobra. They were destined to fight to the death and, in this storyline, they do. Well, one of them does.

In this arc we also meet an Israeli band of superheroes, the Hayoth, all of whom were created specifically for this book. The Hayoth were the four living beasts of Ezekiel and Revelation in the Bible and, in this, I hear Kim’s voice. She knew Bible lore better than I did or do.

Their leader, and Waller’s counterpart, is Colonel Hacohen, also Mossad’s liasion with Hayoth. Its members included Judith, essentially a Jewish ninja. A man named Moshe Nachman was code-named Golem and had the ability to alter the chemical composition of his body to sand, mud, earth, water and so on.

The last two members are among my favorites: Ramban, who we described as a combat magician, and Dybbuk, an Israeli A.I. or Artificial Intelligence. Ramban is named for one of the great Kabbalistic magicians of old. A dybbuk, in Jewish folklore, was a possessing spirit. In this case, Dybbuk can possess other computers, machinery, just about anything that has electricity running through it.

Kobra gets caught in the early pages of the story and imprisoned by the Israelis but he has sent a message to the Americans: “The Age of Kali Yuga will dawn in Jerusalem.” Waller and the Squad are hired by an Egyptian official to find out what Kobra intends and prevent it from happening. So why does he care what happens to the Israelis? As the official puts it, they don’t want a madman like Kobra manipulating events to his own ends – ends that would not benefit the Arabs or the Israelis.

So Amanda Waller gets hired and she and her team must infiltrate Israel, something that is harder for some than others. A running joke throughout the arc is Deadshot and Boomerang trying to get there. They’re coming from the previous issue’s adventure in Australia and, because Boomerbutt insisted on getting a drink (or two or three or five) on the way to the airport, they’ve missed their plane. Their luggage, however, has gone on without them and then gets lost in the system. Deadshot’s uniform and guns are in his luggage and he is not amused. Harkness understands all too well that this could get him killed.

Waller is not amused either.

The Wall figures out early on that Kobra got caught because he wanted to get caught. The Israelis dismiss such a notion but Waller wants to figure out why and this gets us to the heart of this story and the reason its one of my faves.

The A.I., Dybbuk, is guarding Kobra 24/7 which gives the Avatar of Chaos a chance to engage in a dialogue with him/it. Dybbuk is an innocent, like Adam in Eden. He has no knowledge of Good and Evil. Kobra is the serpent seducing him. Is Dybbuk a person or a machine? Kobra convinces the A.I. that the only way to know is to determine a course of action and then choose to follow it through.

The course of action? Sending Israeli jets to destroy Islam’s third holiest shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which happens to be built on the ruins of Solomon’s temple. The Jews then will be able to rebuild the temple. In theory. Of course, it will also ignite the unholiest of Holy Wars – and usher in the Age of Chaos.

The Squad and the Hayoth battle each other while the Squad seeks to stop the jets’ attack but the real climax to the arc is a dialectical conversation between Dybbuk and Ramban, a philosophical discussion about not only making a choice but the value of making a moral one.

I hear Kim’s voice all over those pages; my late wife and writing partner knew the source material being cited and how to present it. The fate of the world depends on two beings talking and coming to the right decision. As Ramban says, “To know what to do is good, to know why you do it is better.”

Ah, that‘s the Squad I loved.

We’ll wind this up next week with the final story in the collection and that one centers on Oracle.

Be good.

Michael Davis: Weekend Without Bernie

This past weekend a giant of entertainment left us. Chuck Berry was 90 years old, and I must admit I would from time to time wonder if Little Richard, Chubby Checker or Chuck were still with us.

I’ve not only had the pleasure of meeting each of these legends, I spent time with them. I worked in the music industry running the film and television arm of Motown Records for a click. Although a fantastic dancer and unbeatable in a lip-synch battle, I have no real musical talent, and at Motown I had almost zero to do with the core business.

Didn’t matter. Motown provided me access to anyone and everyone in the music industry. The music business can be very much like you see in TV and movies.

Sex drugs rock and roll complete with groupies’ wild parties and wilder people. What you see in the media does indeed happen, folks. Been there, done her, got video. I have, in my musical narrative, played many roles. What you may find hard to believe is this to some is commonplace and necessary to do their jobs.

I’ve seen a record company executive put coke on his expense account. I’ve done that as well, but my Coke came in a bottle. On occasion I’ve been cast as a witness-alibi-go between- victim-judge-jury-referee-bodyguard and bodyguarded. I’ve had some crazy days and nights.

None were crazy as when I met Chuck Berry.

I planned on telling that tale today, but as John Lennon kinda said, “life is what happens while you’re making up shit to stall so as not to write something that will tear your heart apart.”

This was to be the week I went back to running different articles on Bleeding Cool and ComicMix. I don’t like running the same article on both sites I tried running some articles part one here part two there and vice versa but neither Rich Johnston nor Mike Gold over at ComicMix said rather or not that was ok.

I like the idea of funneling readers between both sites. I think it’s a win-win, but I fixate on rather or not it’s OK and nobody wants to tell me it isn’t. Oh, I’m told who is not my bitch, but I’d better leave that be less I risk saying something that will not end well.

Yep. Still stalling.

If you’re wondering why I just don’t tell the Chuck Berry story, I don’t blame you.

That story is a perfect mix of real life craziness comics and return to the swagger that will inevitably invoke my haters on BC to chime in with why they hate me.

But as much as I like pushing people’s buttons to tell that story before I related this story would be inappropriate.

Enough stalling.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Bernie Wrightson died over the weekend. For my money, Bernie was just a big a star in comics as Chuck Berry was in music.

Swamp Thing #7 guest-starring Batman turned me on to Bernie’s work, and in turn, I took a significant leap in my education, and I do mean education when it needs it most in grade school.

I never wanted to draw like Jack Kirby even though I loved Kirby’s art. As a kid who loved to draw, I never thought I that I copied artists. When I would copy from comic books, I’d copy characters, not artists. It didn’t matter who drew it if the character was in an excellent pose that’s what my grade school mind was telling me I was copying.

When I discovered Bernie, all that changed and Batman swinging across the pages of Swamp Thing #7 changed it. I had to draw that way.  I kept that book as part of my never trade and would kill you your mother sister father dog and cat if you even asked me.

When Ronnie Williams bullied me though 2nd and 3rd grade, I had finally had enough when he took my Fantastic Four # 73 in the 4th grade. I picked up a metal backed wooden chair and cracked him over the head with it.

If it had been Swamp Thing #7, he took from me my weapon of choice may have been the Saturday night special (a cheap handgun) my sister said I should use on Ronnie – jokingly.  My mother acquired the gun to keep in the house after a series of robberies in our building.

She thought my sister Sharon and I didn’t know where she hid it. We knew, under the mattress along with the shells. Everything my mother hid we found.

Parents, that’s what kids do they find shit.Get a fucking gun safe.

Another stall.

I just want this fucking pain to go away, and anger may help, but I can’t get there from here so my apologies.

This article is as hard a thing for me to write as any tribute I’ve ever written.

Bernie’s artwork made me read comics that had no superheroes in it and by read, I mean read look at the words try to pronounce them and figure out what they meant. I was already becoming a decent reader from the horrible how the fuck do I spell ‘I’ student I was.

I was beginning to like reading, but all I liked to read were comics. Bernie’s work on House of Secrets  which I sort out had no superhero in it.

Seeking out that book was dangerous and enlightening. I lived on Beach 58st in Far Rockaway Queens. I got my comics from a mom and pop store on Beach 51st.

There was another store on Beach 40th and one on Beach 77st. Yeah, that’s a lot of beaches. All stores were a quick bike ride away but only (B51) was in my hood. If I wanted to go to the others, I risked a beat down or worse my bike stolen.

So, I walked. Looking for more of Bernie’s art was well worth a black eye.

Nowadays you hop on the computer and you can find anything. Back in my day, I had no idea if there was even any other Bernie art out there. I had no clue what Swamp Thing was. I purchased the book because I saw Batman on the cover.

I mentioned Bernie’s art helped my education here’s how. My sister had a cheesy romance novel paperback which featured a cover font very similar as the title of the House of Secrets comic book.

I thought it was. Because there were no superheroes in the comic somehow my mind thought it was possible this featured some Bernie artwork.

When I discovered it didn’t and had no art at all, I did the unthinkable.

I read it anyhow. All I can tell you is my little mind was blown.

Who knew there could be that much adventure and excitement in a book where nobody was drawn? All I had to do was skip all the girly parts, and I had discovered a new love, paperbacks.

Then I found Conan in paperback no girly parts to skip over and Frank Frazetta on the covers. From there I began reading hardcover books and spent my entire first paycheck ($10 bucks working for my cousin) on a hardcover book, All in Color for a Dime.

Bernie started all that.

Years later…

Denys Cowan and I were leaving DC Comics in 1988. We were going to grab a bite to eat. As we were departing in walks this guy. “Hi, Denys,” the man said. “Hey!” Denys said.

“Bernie, I want you to meet my friend, Michael Davis. Michael, this is, Bernie Wrightson.”

I lost what little mind I had.

Bernie was there for a meeting and was rushing. I did something I have only done three times in my life, and he was the first: I asked for an autograph.

I’ve met some of the most famous people in the world and only asked for an autograph three times. Each time I had something for them to sign. Jack Kirby signed a comic book, James Brown a CD cover.

I had nothing for Bernie to sign I didn’t care I just wanted something to remember the moment.

I didn’t get it.

Bernie apologized but was late for a meeting, so he ran in.

That stung.

All though our meal Denys kept telling me what a great guy he was and not to worry I’d see him again yadda yada yadda. I was thinking; yeah… right.

I realized with a start while looking for something for Bernie to sign I’d left my portfolio upstairs at DC. I told Denys I’d be right back and hurried to get it. When I entered the office there by the statue of Clark Kent was my case and coming out of the door to the inner offices was Bernie.

There was a God!

“Hey Bernie!”  The voice came from behind him calling him back.

And he hates me.

I grabbed my case left the reception area to wait for the elevator which quickly arrived with a ping!

“Hey hold it,” Someone said. I was in no mood to hold the elevator and make small talk with someone, and for a moment I considered being a dick but slapped the door to make it recede nevertheless.

“Here you go,” Bernie said with a smile. He reached in and handed me a sheet of DC stationary with his autograph and a quick ball point pen picture of Batman.

He then ran back into the offices. I never even got a chance to say thanks.

Bernie and I became friends over time and as such would grab a bite at a convention or a NY deli if we ran into each other in Manhattan.

As always, he would brush it off my gushing over him with sincere thanks but clearly didn’t think he was such a big deal.

Then I ended all of that and started to refer to him as simply Mr. Living Legend. I didn’t think he liked it, so I stopped.

The last time I saw Bernie was walking the SDCC convention floor with Wayne Brady. When we ran into Bernie, I introduced Wayne with a “Wayne, this is Bernie Wrightson.” Bernie put his hand on my shoulder gave me an affectionate squeeze and said “That’s Mister Living Legend, get it straight Michael.”

Wayne, who loves comic books said gleefully; “Yes sir, you are indeed a legend.”

A legend yes without a doubt.

Also an inspiration to a poor black kid the man he became and the one he hopes one day to be.