Tagged: King Features Syndicate

Mike Gold: Hot Town, Summer In The Cities

I’m going to ramble a bit about an annual phenomenon. In many important ways, New York City and San Diego are about to trade places.

Even with DC Comics having moved its flat drawers and some of its staff from the Right Coast to the Left, New York City remains inundated with comics people. Marvel, Archie, Dynamite, and Valiant remain in the Baked Apple, as does King Features Syndicate and sundry Internet outfits such as comiXology and ComicMix. We’ve still got the only weekly magazine venerable enough to publish single-panel cartoons, The New Yorker. You’d be familiar with this publication if you went to the doctor more often. Overall, the Greater Comics Racket continues to dance to the beat of east coast drummers.

Except for next week.

Next week, New York goes to San Diego to participate in the annual “how many college freshmen can you stuff in a phone booth” contest, a.k.a. the San Diego Comic-Con. They prefer to call themselves just “Comicon,” maybe with two c’s, but there are a lot of tradespeople who consider this something akin to theft of intellectual property. We’ve got a ton of ComicMixers there, including Glenn Hauman, Adriane Nash, Ayna Ernst, Maddy Ernst, Jen Ernst (do you detect a theme here?), Ed Catto, Emily Whitten, Bob Ingersoll, Michael Davis, Arthur Tebbel, and whomever I forgot because my memory is like a well-tuned car – as long as that car is a Stanley Steamer.

That leaves Martha Thomases, Joe Corallo and me in Manhattan watching a double-feature. I’m not sure what Denny and Molly and John and Marc will be up to, but at least I’ll be seeing Marc in Kokomo this fall. How can I pass that one up?

So, for some reason I’ll be spending time wandering the hot, summery streets of Manhattan, coping with high humidity, high temperatures, pissed-off Long Islanders and the pervasive smell of rat urine, the stench that shouts “welcome to our subways!” During SDCC week, San Diego is overcrowded, overpriced, and over-partied but with perfect weather (except, oddly, when I’m there). I’ll be happy to be here. Besides, I try not to fly anymore. In airplanes, I mean.

I’ve dedicated my current travel schedule to the “smaller” conventions (of course, by comparison to SDCC the Roman Coliseum held “smaller” conventions). You know, the shows where I can talk with the fans, find out what people like and don’t like and might like, talk with the retailers and guests, and never have to wait more than five minutes to get through the bathroom line. I’ve been doing comic book conventions for 49 years, back when our product was printed on papyrus. The late and deeply lamented Phil Seuling held his first “big” convention in New York City in 1968. There were 300 people there, and all of them were thinking the same thought: “Holy crap! There are 299 other people who are just like me.”

Well, it was 1968, so “just like me” meant possessing a Y chromosome. It also helped if you were white but, then again, it usually does.

We’ve come a long way. SDCC dumps about a quarter of a billion dollars into the San Diego economy. Comic book conventions attract several million fans and professionals. Much of Hollywood moves down to San Diego for the week, and we see equivalent attendees in places such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Belgium, Chile, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Malaysia… I think I may have received an invite from Togo last year.

And to think it all started out as a hobby. 300 geeks in a hotel ballroom who never, ever thought the word “geek” would become a badge of honor.


Charlie Hebdo – A King-Sized Tribute

Je Suis Charlie Jeff_Parker DustinYesterday we presented R. Crumb’s tribute to the murdered Charlie Hebdo staff. Today, we further illuminate this horrific tragedy by presenting a number of tributes by King Features Syndicate comic strip artists.

I should note that on its website King Features also offers numerous contributions from their editorial cartoonists. Unlike the strip artists who must turn their work in six weeks to two months prior to publication, editorial cartoonists see their work in print the next day.

As for Charlie Hebdo, their first post-assault issue was published today and released in France, as well as certain select other cities including Quebec, London and New York. Their print run was 3,000,000, up from their average circulation of 40,000 copies. They sold out in minutes, and that was after some newsdealers limited purchases to one copy each. Charlie Hebdo has since gone back to press.

First, we introduced this page with the work of Dustin creator Jeff Parker. Below, Snuffy Smith artist John Rose:

Je Suis Charlie Snuffy Smith

Next, Hagar the Horrible‘s Chris Browne:Je Suis Charlie Hagar

Followed by Bill Griffith‘s Zippy. The first balloon translates to “I Am Not Having Fun,” a twist on Zippy’s trademark “Are We Having Fun Yet?”

Je Suis Charlie Zippy

Next, Eric Reaves on behalf of the Hi and Lois creative team:

Je Suis Charlie Eric Reaves Hi & Lois

Rina Piccolo, from Tina’s Groove

Je Suis Charlie Rina Piccolo Tinas Groove

Jim Toomey‘s Sherman’s Lagoon

Je Suis Charlie Jim Toomey Shermans Lagoon

And finally, Mallard Fillmore‘s Bruce Tinsley:

Je Suis Charlie Bruce Tinsley Mallard Fillmore

REVIEW: Popeye the Sailor the 1960s Classics Vol. 1

Popeye the Sailor 1960s vol 1January 1929 was a very good month for comic strip readers. On the 7th they got to see the arrival of Tarzan and Buck Rogers while ten days later, fans of Thimble Theater met a brand new character named Popeye. The sailor was never intended to take over the strip but his popularity with readers encouraged E.C. Segar to keep him around until he finally shoved the Oyl family from the spotlight.

Burnishing his reputation were the brilliantly execute black and white theatrical shorts produced by Max and Dave Fleischer. After they shuttered operations, others took over the cartoon production, keeping Popeye a mainstay for generations of fans. Many of my generation were treated to the somewhat inferior Associated Artists Productions cartoons which completed their run in 1957. Not to be undone, King Features Syndicate hired Al Brodax to oversee a new round of cartoons aimed for the burgeoning television syndication market. He spread the order around to five different animation houses: Jack Kinney Productions, Rembrandt Films, Larry Harmon Productions, Halas and Batchelor, Paramount Cartoon Studios (formerly the Fleischers and Famous Studios), and Southern Star Entertainment. A whopping 220 cartoons were produced over a two year period, flooding the airwaves. Given the retention of the memorable theme song and vocal cast (Jack Mercer as Popeye, Mae Questel as Olive Oyl, and Jackson Beck as Brutus), young viewers were kept happy.

Brtus and OliveBluto was renamed Brutus when KFS’ lawyers thought Paramount had copyright to the Bluto moniker because no one did their homework. Bluto first appeared in the strip, making him a KFS property.

Of these cartoons, with their simplified animation design and short running times, the ones from Paramount stood out as the most memorable so it’s nice to see 72 of them collected for the first time in Warner Archives’ just-released Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s Classics Volume One. Classics may be stretching the point, compared with their 1930s rivals, but the kid in me remembers many of these stories. I suspect these work because so many were taken from the comic strip, which was an imaginative serial. Sweetpea, Eugene the Jeep, the Sea Hag, King Blozo, Toar, and, Rough House, all turn up more than once.

We are treated to the standardized Popeye, the none-too-bright, kind-hearted sailor in his white uniform, the dim and fickle Olive in her red turtleneck and long black skirt. Bluto’s muscle mass became flabby fat and he ditched his sailor uniform for dark clothes.

The stories go from adventurous to silly, such as the time Popeye goes to elementary school but is ridiculed for his lack of knowledge (sorry, but a sailor has to be plenty smart to wear that uniform). Where the Fleischers added a dose of an animated verve to the action, the limited animation meant far more static storytelling. Each episode ends with a new set of lyrics to the theme music and Popeye in the same pose, a cost saving measure that only now grows tedious as one works through the six dozen toons.

Are all 220 worth collecting? Probably not, but this is a nice time capsule reminder of the simpler pleasures children’s television once offered. We were entertained, with little in the way of moralizing beyond good triumphs over evil and you need to eat your spinach.

Jack Adler: Tribute To A Comics Original

Back in 1937 a King Features Syndicate staffer was given the job of taking over the coloring and engraving their fairly new full-page weekly comic, Prince Valiant. It was a remarkable assignment; one that only a truly talented artist could perform. The job was given to a 19-year old named Jack Adler.

That assignment was his full work load: he had a week to do it, and given the complexity and beauty of Hal Foster’s work, Jack needed every minute of the work day to make his deadline. Given this workload and his youth, we can forgive him for making a politically incorrect faux pas. His boss was taking an executive on a tour; clearly, this executive was a comics fan who really new his stuff. He asked Jack all kinds of questions that were answered perfunctorily without the teenager taking his eyes off of his work. Finally, his boss cleared his throat and Jack swiveled around just in time to meet the executive’s glower.

The executive was the incredibly powerful William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the joint and a man used to deference.

Jack Adler kept his job. That’s quite a tribute to his talent.

Adler went on to a career in comics that lasted for nearly a half-century. Teaming up with his friend Sol Harrison – the engraver on, among other projects, Superman #1 (the first one), the two revolutionized the world of comics color. They recreated the engraving system at the New York Daily News, they helped organize for the engraver’s union and they wound up at DC Comics. Continuing to color – particularly covers – Jack became assistant production manager in 1960 and was promoted to production manager when his boss, friend Harrison, became DC’s president.

Of all his work, Jack is perhaps best known for his wonderful wash covers in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Sea Devils, Green Lantern, Adam Strange, Challengers of the Unknown and others.

A passionate photographer, an audiophile and a watercolor artist, Jack was quite the Renaissance man. I used to joke that he invented papyrus; he thought it over and said no, he would have invented a paper that would absorb color more efficiently.

Jack was saddled with all kinds of allergies and medical conditions and, during his final days at DC, needed help to get through the workday. But he still hung on and was a frequent advisor to a number of so-called independent comics publishers; Adler gave me all sorts of suggestions when we were doing the original First Comics.

Oddly, he might have been better known outside of the comic book donut shop because his cousin, Howard Stern, mentioned him frequently on the air.

Jack Adler passed away Sunday night at the age of 94.

Stern dedicated the opening of Tuesday show to his “super cool Cousin Jack,” calling him a “genius” photographer who supported his passion by becoming a comic book artist.

I called Jack Adler my friend.

 (Caricature by Neal Adams)

MIKE GOLD: Whips and Comics

In this very space a few days ago, John Ostrander said, By this time next year, we may know if we’re still viable or making buggy whips.” He was referring to comics creators, to comics fans, and to the entire comics art medium.

The first person I heard refer to comics with this term was master cartoonist Stan Lynde. In case you’re challenged in matters relating to newspaper comic strips, Stan was the creator and writer/artist of the strips Rick O’Shay and Latigo. He’s a master storyteller, a brilliant humorist and an artist of fantastic prowess. The time was close to 20 years ago, and Mike Grell and I were at a very enjoyable comic book convention at Billings Montana. One of the promoters promised to introduce me to Stan. This was a real fanboy moment for me.

As it turned out Stan and Lynda Lynde were two of the nicest people on the planet, and probably the universe. After dinner (where I consumed the best prime rib ever), they invited Mike and me to their place in the bluffs overlooking Billings. There Mike and I gazed upon acres of Stan’s paintings, original strip art, awards, historical memorabilia, and simply awesome sundry stuff. We talked for several hours and the subject got around to his career. Stan shared all kinds of great stuff – how one of his assistants was Robert Crumb, who, in many respects, was the anti-Stan Lynde. How Little Orphan Annie creator Harold Gray was an egotistical, arrogant bastard – those are my words, not Stan’s. And how, when he was coming to the end of his tenure his signature creation Rick O’Shay, his first wife asked him how long he was going to be making buggy whips.

That phrase impressed me. Were newspaper strips buggy whips? Maybe. Continuity strips certainly were – today, we have Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, Alley Oop, The Phantom, Mandrake, Judge Parker and barely a handful of others. Tracy’s picked up a few papers since our pal Joe Staton took over the art; on the other hand I know Mandrake is still alive solely because it’s online at King Features Syndicate. But the argument itself stayed with me, and during the past two decades I’ve endured the effluvium of the buggy whip factory as it surrounded the comic book medium.

The fact that the newspaper comic strip form remains alive is due to the Internet: a lot of newspapers run lots and lots of strips on their websites and the major syndicates have very low-cost services which email comics directly to their subscribers.

Not to put words in Brother John’s mouth, but the Internet is the only thing staving comic books off from the buggy whip wing of the American cultural museum. I think John’s right: we should know in about a year if that works. If not, ComicMix will become, oh, I don’t know, either a B&D site with all those whips, or a B&B site where you can score a nice home cooked meal.

As we passed midnight Stan drove us back to our hotel. As we were walking to the door and I said something to the effect of “hot damn.” Brother Grell responded, “You better believe it.” Even then Mike and I were two hardened veterans of the comics racket but we effortlessly allowed ourselves to bathe in the most crystal clear waters of fanboy heaven. We shared a truly inspirational time and we actually leapt up in the air out of our shared enthusiasm.

And that’s why I think comics might just have a future after all.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

Comics Kingdom Launches Today

Comics Kingdom Launches Today

Comics Kingdom is the latest web initiative for traditional comic strips. Launching today, the site is from King Features Syndicate and is designed as a portal for newspapers to include comic strips as part of their online presence while tapping advertising and KFS’s deep archives.

“The premise behind this new type of comic delivery is to offer the newspaper a product that better helps the paper monetize their comic page online,” according to a release.

King Features Syndicate President T.R. “Rocky” Shepard, said, “for almost 100 years, King Features Syndicate has assisted newspapers in attracting new readers and incremental ad revenue by providing appealing, premium content. As our newspaper partners face new challenges in the ever-changing media landscape, we are continually looking to develop innovative ways to help them reach their business goals – which still remain the same as ever: attracting new readers and driving ad sales.”

The Albany Times Union, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Oklahoman/ NewsOK are the first three papers to use the new feature. During beta testing, the Times Union’s General Manager said the feature “almost doubled the traffic to the comic section and increased the average amount of time spent on the site — a key metric to increasing advertising revenue.”

Last month, United Media rebranded its comics.com website switching from a pay model to an advertiser-supported model allowing people to read their archives for free.

Moonstone and Dynamite Both Publishing ‘The Phantom’

Moonstone and Dynamite Both Publishing ‘The Phantom’

While last weekend’s Wizard World Chicago convention didn’t feature much in the way of news, there were a few announcements that had people talking. Among them was Saturday’s announcement by Dynamite Entertainment that the publisher had acquired the rights to Lee Falk’s The Phantom comic strips. The announcement created quite a buzz, as publisher Moonstone Books was under the impression that they still had the license to The Phantom.

Well, according to ICv2, both parties are correct, as neither publisher owns the exclusive rights to the character, and both plan to publish Phantom stories down the road… which should be interesting.

When Dynamite Comics announced that it was publishing a Phantom comic book at Wizard World Chicago, a Moonstone representative contacted by ICv2 was unaware of the changes in the Phantom publishing program. But after the show, Moonstone contacted King Features and discovered that neither Moonstone or Dynamite had an exclusive license, so Moonstone could continue with its publishing program.


R.I.P.: Ted Key

R.I.P.: Ted Key

Cartoonist Ted Key, creator of the popular newspaper comic panel Hazel and the classic cartoon characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman, died today at 95.

Born Theodore Keyser in 1912, Key created Hazel for the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. The panel shifted over to King Features Syndicate in 1969 after its creator acquired the rights when the Post ceased publication. In the interim, Hazel evolved into a hit television show that ran between 1961 and 1966, and in syndication thereafter.

In 1959 Key developed the surreal "Peabody’s Improbable History" cartoon series for producer Jay Ward and his program Rocky And His Friends.

Key retired from Hazel in 1993 but the panel has continued in newspapers in reprints ever since.

MICHAEL H. PRICE: Roy Crane: A life in comics

MICHAEL H. PRICE: Roy Crane: A life in comics

Continued from last week…

The following text contains the remarks of comic-strip master Roy Crane (1901 – 1977) from a visit with George E. Turner and Yrs. Trly. on May 13, 1969, in the Editorial Art Department of the Daily News & Globe-Times at Amarillo, Texas. George and I had become acquainted with the Texas-bred artist a few years earlier when he had visited various client-newspapers on behalf of his Reuben Award-winning feature Buz Sawyer. – M.H.P.

Back about 1912, when I was a boy, our next-door neighbor in Sweetwater [Texas] was a traveling salesman for a wholesale grocery firm. Mother and I went with him and his wife, once, when he made his rounds, and we went up to Amarillo. I had an impression of endless grass, and the car seemed always to be going uphill. The grass was very thick and grew right up to the ruts – there wasn’t a graded road. There was a world of prairie dogs. They’d dive into the runs, and we’d run over hundreds of them a day. Now they [residents of the Texas Plains] have discovered trees, and there are beautiful lawns and flowers.

Les Turner, who later was my assistant on the Wash Tubbs daily strips, is from Wichita Falls [Texas]. We were going on a sort of bumming trip together after we finished art school. There were no jobs for us, and we went riding freight trains and hitching rides. I missed him by one day when he got a ride to California. I went to Galveston and got a job as ordinary seaman on a tramp steamer to Europe. When we returned and landed at New York, I got my first art job on the New York World.

I started Wash Tubbs in 1924. Later that year, [Harold Gray’s] Little Orphan Annie came out, and it was quite a departure. Here was a strip that tried to make you cry instead of laugh! I wanted to make Wash Tubbs an adventure strip, and the office wanted to make it a movie [humor, i.e.] strip. When I broke in, there had been a few continuities. I think Andy Gump [of Sidney Smith’s The Gumps] ran for President, and they had running gags about the election. He lost, of course.

But 1924 was in the day of joke comics, and the guy who took [subscribed to, i.e.] the most joke magazines was the biggest-rated cartoonist. Some [cartoonists] collected foreign joke books and had them translated. I was living in Cleveland, then. Once, two different strips in the Cleveland paper had the same joke on the same day – and there it was, the next day, in still another one! No one paid much attention to adventure strips until the Depression. They were called comics, and they ran on the comics page, and they were supposed to be funny.

A number of us were trying to tell stories. We called them continuities, not stories. They were more or less like the situation comedies on teevee today. I was trying for adventure, connected with romance. In 1929, I picked up [Captain] Easy. He was someone I could put some force behind. [The title character] Wash had been with a pal about like himself, and they couldn’t fight or anything. I even had to have some eunuchs in a harem help them out a bit, and that was going too far! Easy was what I needed, a two-fisted type.


TV REVIEW: Flash Gordon

TV REVIEW: Flash Gordon

Okay, I’ll get this over with real fast. Sci-Fi Channel’s new Flash Gordon show really sucks. I sat through the 90-minute pilot, and I sat through the next episode. No more. Life is too short.

Here’s the first tip-off: Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond is not in the opening credits. Hell, he got better (far better) treatment in that campy movie from 1980. Say what you will about that movie, compared to this waste of time that movie was [[[Citizen Kane in Outer Space]]].

Second tip-off: No rocketships. Rocketships are not “dated.” In fact, we launched one into space with a whole bunch of people in it right when this show debuted. Doing Flash Gordon without rocketships is like doing The Lone Ranger without horses. Hi-yo, moccasins!

Third tip-off: They only refer to Dr. Zarkov by name once in the 90-minute pilot and once in the subsequent episode. That’s crazy. Dr. Zarkov is to Flash Gordon what Dr. Watson is to [[[Sherlock Holmes]]].

Mind you, if there were a real Hans Zarkov, he’d sue. The real Zarkov was a genius; this guy is a bumbling fool. The real Zarkov was driven mad by the fact that he could save the Earth from destruction but had no way to do it; once Flash appeared on the scene and they got to Mongo (in their rocketship!) he got better.

Fourth tip-off: No longer merciless, Ming is a dick. He’s about as threatening as [[[Garfield]]] after a place of lasagna. I understand they wanted to update the character – these guys should have taken a cue from the way Russell Davies updated The Master on Doctor Who. Ming wouldn’t even make it as a member of George Bush’s cabinet, and from the first (and for me, only) 150 minutes of the series, he’s not even that competent. Plus, he looks about seven weeks older than his daughter.

So here’s my question. Why the hell did these people pay King Features for the license? They could have saved themselves a bundle and called this limp and lame pile of fly-feed “Bill Jones.”

If you’re a fan of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon or of the 1930s serials, avoid this teevee waste like Chinese toothpaste.

Artwork copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc. All Rights Reserved.