Most folks visiting this site know about Dr. Doom’s Time Machine, the Guardian of Forever from Star Trek or that little book written by Herbert George Wells called The Time Machine. Or at least they know about that fantastic DeLorean that Marty McFly drove.
Well, there’s one more Time Machine to add to the list – Gemstone Publishing’s The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition, a reproduction of the very first Overstreet’s Price Guide published in the fall of 1970. What a treat it is! This book is, at the core of it all, a snapshot of old comic book prices. But faster than you can say “Why, oh, why didn’t I buy multiple copies of Fantastic Four #1 for $30.00 back in 70?”, you realize it’s so much more.
This is also a celebration of fan-focused entrepreneurs (Fantropreneurs?) grabbing the reins of their industry. This was the time when fans, and especially one fan named Robert M. Overstreet, rolled up their sleeves, researched meticulously and published an industry bible that would become both a tradition and the foundation upon which a million collections were built.
There’s an important thing to remember. Back in the “old days”, when you finished with something, it was discarded. As a society, we didn’t collect or save magazines or comics. My Italian relatives would save bottles and paper bags, but comics didn’t quite fit into that category. There were collectors, but they were either breathing rarefied air (e.g. Art Collectors) or they were weirdos… who’s maturity was obviously stunted.
But the Guide, in assigning values to comics in such an authoritative way, publicly established economic value for comics. The outside world could respect that. Society back in the sixties or seventies might not have cared if Captain Marvel debuted in Whiz Comics #1 but they did care if an old funny book, with a newsstand value of 10 cents, was suddenly worth $235.00.
“Oh, if only my mother hadn’t thrown them out!” laments every non-collector.
(Note to my mom -thanks for never throwing out my comics. But I am still bummed you sold my Major Matt Mason Space Station at a garage sale.)
Beyond the prices, this facsimile edition also showcases ads that, once ubiquitous, have now morphed into curiosities. Passaic Book & Comic Center has the first ad in the book. And it’s fun to recall when Big Little Books were an adjacent collectible. (There don’t seem to be too many collectors any more, but I hope I am wrong.) And surely mail order legend Robert Bell deserves his time in the historical spotlight.
I’m so glad Gemstone’s VP of Publishing J.C. Vaughn and his team pushed for this delightful reproduction. Flipping through it sends me back in time, back when the world was shiny and new and full of potential. Or at least comic collecting was.
I’m a big fan of Batman. Always have been. Just this past weekend my wonderful Great Aunt Margaret reminded me that I proudly wore a bat-cape as a young boy. Don’t worry, I think I outgrew that by the time I was 22. These days, I let my Batman fan-ness show through with things like my Bat-article in this year’s Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which focuses on the top Legend of the Dark Knight Batman stories. Jim Steranko provided a gorgeous Batman cover, so it’s a great honor.
But as my interest in comics has broadened, the focus on Batman, per se, has been pushed aside. There are plenty of fans to take my place. Batman attracts a lot of fans. It’s fine by me if it’s time for other fans to step up to the forefront. And it’s just as well. So many of today’s Batman stories, like the Christian Bale Batman movies or Playstation’s Arkham Asylum mythology, just aren’t my cup of tea.
And I know that at some point, there will be a special comic debuting or a reprint published that appeals to my vision of Batman. Recently I was surprised. I ended up having real Batman day.
This particular day started with catching a bit of HBO’s documentary, Starring Adam West. It showcases the actor, as you probably guessed. I only saw 20 minutes in the middle (I’d like to see more later) but there seems to be a healthy focus on Adam West’s role as Batman. The part I saw showed how he was invited to a Texas town and was honored as TV’s Batman.
There was a bit where someone announces him as the first Batman. Adam interrupts to correct him. The announcer adjusts and then refers to him as “the second Batman.” Many longtime fans, like those who read this column, know that two other actors starred as Batman in movie serials and three others voiced Batman in the long-running The Adventures of Superman radio show. It’s obvious that Adam knew that too. Instead of delivering a history lesson, Adam just offers the phrase “the Classic Batman” to the interviewer as a compromise. He’s clever and gracious, as he was throughout the documentary.
Later that very same day, the newest direct-to-DVD animated feature from Warner Bros. was scheduled for a special showing in movie theaters across America. It was one of those Fathom Events where they show something special in a movie theater on a slow movie night – usually a Monday or a Tuesday. My talented friends in the New York Metropolitan Opera, Gloria and Dana Watson, tell me that these Fathom showings have greatly expanded the Met’s audiences.
This animated adventure, Batman and Harley Quinn, heralds the return of creator Bruce Timm. It revisits the Bat-version of Batman: The Animated Series. This Emmy-award winning series has been celebrating its 25 anniversary this year. The recent San Diego Comic-Con found many opportunities to celebrate this ground-breathing series, with panels the famous souvenir book, and even debuting this animated feature.
While my Batman ’66 memories are firmly rooted in my childhood, Batman: The Animated Series reminds me of a totally different time in my life. For me, it’s more of a “young dad” thing. I clearly remember watching the debut episode one Saturday morning with my daughter Cassie. She was always a good sport, putting up with her crazy dad’s interests. I tried to tell her how the female characters from that first episode (Catwoman and Red Claw) were just like Disney heroines, but she was smart enough –even then – not to buy it. But she’d sit with me and we enjoyed so many episodes together.
I’m not sure if I am really a Harley Quinn fan. I’ve been pruning my comic collection and it was pretty easy to part with many Harley comics. But Batman and Harley Quinn offers a nuanced view of the character. Sure, she’s a nut, but this “episode” takes time to show many sides of the character. She can be sympathetic, clever, manipulative, annoying, frustrated and a showboat. And somehow, all these various aspects mix together to create a believable character.
The vocal talents shine in this feature. Kevin Conroy, for many the ‘real’ voice of Batman, is familiar but offers a few surprises along the way. Notable is Paget Brewster. You know her from her many TV appearances, and she brings something new to the villainous Poison Ivy.
It was kick to watch Batman in a theater with a bunch of fans. Batman & Harley Quinn offers plenty of insider jokes to long time Batman and DC fans, and we all laughed together.
Usually, I dive into select comics for my Batman fix. But It was a surprisingly enjoyable day to spend a little time with an old buddy: starting with the HBO documentary and then watching a cartoon… on a big screen. What a year for Geek Culture and Batman fans.
Last week we discussed three books that each took a whimsical look at the sillier side of superheroes. This week, we take a deeper dive with Craig Yoe and his latest book Super Weird Heroes.
Craig is a prolific author and/or creator with a fanboy streak a mile wide. His impressive books range the gamut from Archie to Zombies and just about everything in between. Two of my recent favorites are Haunted Horror (Vol. 1) and Zombies! The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics.
Surprisingly, Yoe has never published a superhero book. “I started out reading Little Lulu and Uncle Scrooge,” said Yoe. When he outgrew characters like that, he thought he was putting comics behind him.
But when some junior high friends turned him onto early Marvel heroes, like Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, he found he was hooked on comics again. Since then, he’s always had a soft spot for them. “When I started Yoe Books,” said Yoe, “I thought superheroes were so strong… they didn’t need me.”
But then as he gathered vintage comics for his other geek culture projects, he couldn’t help but also stumble across some of the most fascinating, albeit obscure, heroes.
Yoe noted that it wasn’t as easy to get old superhero comics. Because this particular genre is so strong, so many collectors seek out these comics. To find and buy the comics, he was competing against collectors with some deep pockets.
Who’s Your Favorite?
Yoe was hard pressed to pick a favorite. But he was excited to speak about a few in particular.
Captain Hadacol has a fascinating story. A southern senator created the medicine, Hadacol – with at least 12% alcohol. (It may have had more). The hero, Captain Hadacol, gets his powers from drinking this “medicine!”
The Deacon was a mafia-type criminal who was crawling through the woods to escape his pursuers. When he came across a church and broke into it, he donned a priest’s outfit to become… the Deacon. And the Deacon’s sidekick was a young boy who was beaten by bullies to become… Little Nicky.
“The sidekicks are so much fun,” said Yoe.
And one of the most interesting sidekicks is Bullet Man’s ‘assistant’ Bullet Girl. In the story that Yoe features, Bullet Girl get’s fed up with Bullet Man’s chauvinist attitude – and quits! This particular story is illustrated by the legendary Ken Bald.
And to sweeten the pot, Yoe also offers readers a page of original artwork from another Bullet Man adventure.
Yoe tracked down several of the golden age creators and he found that even they didn’t remember these obscure superheroes. “I get the impression that back in the day, the editors told the writers and artists to just go and create their own heroes,” Yoe said.
These are the plucky heroes – the heroes that didn’t stick. They were often published by smaller publishers with precarious printing schedules.
The Look and Feel That’s Real
Yoe takes great strides, in all his reprint books, to present the material in all their newsprint glory. Many companies who publish vintage comics clean them up and then publish them in slick color. But Yoe Books takes the opposite approach.
“We like the reader to get into the book so they feel like they are reading an old comic, maybe in the forties under a tree, purchased from a candy store,” said Yoe.
“Also, you can’t tell, but if one of the panels is blurred, we spend hours and hours and to ensure they look good and are readable. We didn’t overly correct when it’s out of register. We work to ensure they are not misprinted. We monitor every single panel and make sure the color has a nice fidelity,” said Yoe. “ We make sure the comics look old.”
Who’s it for?
These superheroes have broad appeal. Super Weird Heroes is available at brick and mortar bookstores and IDW has received major orders from bookstore chains. And there’s been strong interest from comic shops. “There’s no better retailers in the world than comic shops, right?”
“There’s something here for everybody,” proclaimed Yoe. “Hard core collectors will love this and kids will too. “
In fact, Yoe told me the tale of a shipment of books arriving at his home. “My six year old boy saw the box, grabbed one and asked ‘Will you read this to me?’”
Yoe estimated, using the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, that it would cost a collector $105,280 to acquire all the comics with these stories.
For the umpteenth year in a row, we’ll be giving out comics instead of candy for Halloween today. We’re typically met with a mixture of surprise and delight… by both kids and their parents. Returning families call us “the comic book house” and tell us that they remember this tradition from last year.
The occasional parent confides in me that “this is the kids’ favorite house.” They probably say that at all the houses, but it’s still nice to hear.
When I was kid, the standard Halloween traditions were often modified. “Trick Or Treat for UNICEF” was designed for kids to collect small donations from neighbors as they’d go from house-to-house with a specially designed orange UNICEF container. I fondly recall TV ads that basically taught young trick-or-treaters to scream “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” when they knocked on doors. The program still continues today.
Another modified tradition, which must have been either a local one or an Italian one, was that one the night before Halloween we’d put on our costumes and my parents would drive us around town to several relatives’ homes. We had a big Italian family in town and getting to their houses to hold them up for the yearly candy ransom clearly mandated a car and driver. My brother and I would gleefully don our costumes for this pseudo “dress rehearsal” and of course, enjoy collecting the extra candy in that insatiable way that all trick-or-treaters do.
So it’s natural that by giving away comics instead of candy, we’d put our own twist on the annual candy tradition. But I’ve heard about many other comics fans giving away comics for Halloween.
For the past few years, we’ve been setting up two tables: one filled with “All Ages” comics that are appropriate for the youngest kids and another with comics more suited for older kids. We label each table. In the early hours we only need the younger kids table, and in the later hours we just leave the older kids table out.
The kids never seem to pick out the comics you’d expect them to choose. It’s fascinating to see the selection process when kids are presented with a table full of choices. Sometimes they choose by character or just by an interesting cover.
Some kids know just what they want and quickly sift through the choices. Too many kids are unfamiliar with comics are amazed to see media properties in comics form. “Scooby Doo? Cool!”
In this age where a hero like Iron Man who used to be a B-lister has hundreds of kids dressing like him, the impact of comic heroes at Halloween is palpable. Every kid now knows Iron Man and Thor, but few of them have read, or even seen, an Iron Man or Thor comic.
I love the kids that struggle to make a choice between two comics. If we have enough comics, we typically let them get both.
But traditions change. We’re empty nesters and we’ve just moved after 26 years to a town called Auburn, nestled in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. It’s a great town with a rich nerd history.
Auburn was blessed with one of the pioneering comic shops back in the 70s and several after. There was also a back issue dealer who was selling in Auburn before the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was established. He’d use the Passiac Book Guide to establish pricing. On the other hand, Auburn NY was the site of one of those comic book burnings in the 50s.
It will be fascinating to see how our new neighbors react to comics on Halloween. I’ll let you know next year how it all went.
One More Halloween Thought
Orson Welles’ Mercury Radio Theater was an old time radio program that adapted classic books as radio dramas. But on Halloween in 1938, they tried something a little different with their H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds adaptation. Orson Welles cast himself as a reporter broadcasting live from the horrific scene of the Martian invasion. Some listeners who tuned in midway through the broadcast thought it was real.
Last year, a podcast on the Panoply Network tried the same trick with a drama called The Message. It’s a spooky thriller, with clever twists and turns. And they played it straight – just like Orson Welles did all those years ago. If you need one more Halloween fright this year, give it a try!
As a kid, I had book called Our Country’s Presidents by Frank Burt Freidal. It was an important looking book published by the National Geographic Society. This heavy tome devoted a few pages to each president along with a handful of gorgeous, colorful pictures. In retrospect, the model they used was a precursor to today’s magazines, complete with sidebars and sections-within-sections.
Way back when, the U.S. presidents were held in high regard.
I didn’t think I could ever read it all, but it was great fun to skim a few chapters now and then to get a perspective on all these great men and the times in which they lived.
During that same period, as you can imagine, I was also reading a fair amount of comic books. And in one comic series, The Justice League of America, each summer they’d have an adventure with their out-of-town “relatives,” the Justice Society of America.
This made all the sense in the world to me. As an Italian-American family, we were all about gathering the family together at wonderful events. One of the leading restaurants in my hometown was founded by a relative, so getting the invite to their enormous annual summer picnic was always such fun.
Our family would just eat a lot at these gatherings. But when the Justice League of America, essentially a super hero family, would meet annually with their older, wiser, mentor-ish counterparts, the Justice Society of America, there would always be a grand adventure. Oh, sure, they’d typically have one or two pages showing all the heroes enjoying hors d’oeuvres and chatting, but that wouldn’t be very interesting for the entire story.
To help readers identify and understand the visiting characters, the comic would typically devote a couple of pages to each Justice Society member and explain a little bit about their background. To me, it seemed exactly like that U.S. presidents book. The message I got was “These old heroes are important and you should really learn about them- just like you should learn about presidents.”
I dutifully obeyed and complied with this imagined directive. Chalk it up to the power of Geek Culture. Whenever there was an adventure with these Justice Society heroes, it was a treat for me and I took it seriously.
So with this background, you’ll understand how I was thrilled to find out that these “out of town” characters, the Justice Society, would return to star in their own comic. All-Star Comics #58 was published in 1976 and starred the JSA heroes.
There they were – these fantastic characters doing amazing things, presumably in the times between those family get-togethers.
For some odd distribution reason, this wasn’t available at my regular newsstand, the fabled Pauline’s News in Auburn, NY. I had to make a special trip to a specific drug store on the other side of town to get this comic. The extra effort was worth it.
There was a new character introduced in this series too. She was kind of like Supergirl, but not as demure and sweet. She was aggressive and always displayed her assertive personality.
She was also very attractive. One artist on the series was the legendary Wally Wood, who could draw anything but had a particular aptitude for rendering pretty blondes. To a 13-year-old boy, this was of great interest to me.
I’m writing about this because I’m thrilled to announce that I was given a great honor. Gemstone’s vice-president of publishing, J.C. Vaughn, asked me to contribute an article about the Justice Society revival series to this year’s Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. The Overstreet Guide is another of those grand summer traditions. It’s a detailed price guide to just about every comic book ever published, but it’s more than that. It’s an incredible reference detailing the history of American comics, and provides insightful historical articles and industry trends by the nation’s top comics experts.
The book also celebrates creators with the annual showcase of legendary talents providing special cover artwork. This year’s cover is really special, in fact, as J.C. has recruited Amanda Conner to create a two-part diptych cover, one of which features that “pretty blonde” from my youth – Power Girl.
The limited edition cover is by a true master as well. Russ Heath is a phenomenal artist, whose life story is as fascinating and fun as is his art. Heath has created a moody, moving piece evocative of the old war comics covers. As usual, the Overstreet team has designed a unique alternative logo that always thrills evokes the original 60s war comics.
J.C. Vaughn treats the annual publication like one big party. As is the tradition, the book debuts at San Diego Comic-Con and then is on sale nationwide at comic shops and traditional bookstores.
Writing my article for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was such fun. I talked with creators of the series, young pups just starting out when the series was first published: Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. Each has gone on to establish incredible careers in the industry. I also spoke with Justice Society expert Roy Thomas. Although he wasn’t directly involved with this iteration of the JSA, he still had great insights and revealed a story or two I hadn’t heard.
David Spurlock is the wry, charming publisher of Vanguard Productions. You may enjoy Vanguard’s fantastic books spotlighting artists like Frank Frazetta, Paul Gulacy or Wally Wood. I sure do. On the other hand, my wife just likes talking to the guy because he’s charming and witty.
But he carries the torch for many artists, and Wallace (Wally) Wood is one of them. David pulled back the curtain and revealed some great stories (some of which I couldn’t publish) about Wood’s participation in this 70s Justice Society revival.
It was great fun to write and I think it will be great fun to read! Be on the lookout and don’t be shy about reserving your copy of The 46th Annual Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.
And if anyone has a copy of Freidel’s book on the presidents …. I’ll trade you an extra copy of the Overstreet Guide for it. I’ve got to finish reading that one!
2016 is looking to be a big year for Paul Gulacy, with the long-awaited reprinting of his groundbreaking Master of Kung Fu series and as a guest of Honor at the San Diego Comic-Con. But in some ways every year is a big year for Paul. He’s a tireless workhorse who is always creating and producing gorgeous artwork. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Paul on a few projects (please don’t ask about the Lady Gaga thing) and it’s always been enjoyable and invigorating. This interview is no exception. As you’ll see, Paul is witty and wistful and, as always, honest and authentic. He’s the real deal.
Ed Catto: Marvel has announced that the trademark and licensing rights to Master of Kung Fu have been resolved and they are finally reprinting the series. How do you feel about that and how do you feel about your work from the period?
Paul Gulacy: It’s wonderful news. It’s about time and everybody I talk to is going nuts. They can’t wait. The way I feel about it is probably the same way everybody feels about it – including Stan Lee. It’s simply terrific news. Not to mention about time. I can’t think of any other popular comic that had to put up and deal with so much nonsense.
EC: When you think about your run on Master of Kung Fu, what are your fondest memories?
PG: Having a ball. Working for Marvel, a great series, a fantastic writer like Doug Moench. It was awesome. We were the springboard creators that launched an entirely new direction and new wave for the industry. We were the 70s guys that some pop culture enthusiasts determined to be a revolutionary period especially in the world of pop culture. When you think of some of your favorite 80s tunes you might be surprised to find out that those songs were recorded in the 70s. The Talking Heads come to mind… and Blondie.
EC: This past year you contributed a cover to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide as one of their prestigious cover artists. Can you describe that process and how you went about it?
PG: Yeah, that was quite the honor. Very nice to make a contribution to such an iconic Americana pop culture treasure. Many people don’t realize just how popular Captain Action and friends were. I recall the TV commercials for the toys when I was a kid. It was an honor to do the commemorative anniversary cover.
EC: You’ve illustrated Batman a number of times, and I’m struck by how often you brought something new to the party – things like a clever costume tweak or a new Batmobile. What’s it like to work on Batman on how does that differ from other assignments?
PG: If I’m not mistaken, Doug and I were asked to re-introduce the development of the Batmobile. And that took place in the series called “Prey” (in Batman:Legends of the Dark Knight). Later on we also re-introduced Gordon’s idea of utilizing a bat signal and why.
EC: Recently you contributed to an issue of the DC Western series, Jonah Hex. The issue was stunning, and the opening sequence with a burning building still sticks with me. What can you tell us about illustrating other genres?
PG: Maybe it might be a good idea to stay away from matches, Ed. No, Hex was a blast. Justin and Jimmy always came thru with a doozie storyline. And of course I come from the era where the western was all over television. Plus, I grew up in Ohio riding horses. As a kid I couldn’t stop drawing horses. But again, those guys always came through with an inspiring script.
EC: You’re well known for illustrating beautiful and sexy women, Paul. What’s your secret?
PG: Perhaps it’s the Jonah Hex after-shave I splash on every morning to start my day. I admire pretty women. They catch my eye and capture my attention. All kinds, shapes and sizes. On my Catwoman run I used three different models who posed for me, and at this point I better shut my big trap before a frying pan comes down in my direction.
EC: By looking at your finished artwork, it seems to me that you’ve enjoyed all your assignments. You never phone it in. But I know that can’t be the case. Were there any projects you were less than thrilled with?
PG: Too many to count. Everybody has those clunkers that make you roll your eyes and shake your head at. I’ve dialed it in on more than one occasion, often to just pay the rent, or get some fast cash. You have to take it on the chin.
EC: Conversely, what projects did you work on in the past that you wish would get another lease on life?
PG: Some independent company characters like Sabre or The Grackle come to mind. The characters that Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey developed for a series called Time Bomb for Radical Publishing I thought were awesome. I really had fun on that story. They come by once in a blue moon, and the fact that they are indie gives you more latitude. My entire career is established for the most part for working on obscure, oddball titles. I’m certainly not known for my Captain America contributions.
EC: Dark Horse is publishing The Rook. It’s a relaunch you’re working on with writer Steven Grant. How did this one come about and what are your thoughts on the character and time travel stories?
PG: Both Steven and I were contacted by Ben Dubay who holds the rights to the Rook character that was developed by his uncle, Bill Dubay. Bill passed away a couple of years back. I actually worked for Bill when he was on staff at Warren Publishing in New York City. Among a handful of stories I did for them was a still unpublished Rook story.
The Rook is a time traveler. Maybe it’s a good time to get that in here. Anyhow, Ben was on a mission to get it in the hands of Dark Horse and that worked out. We have one four-part series completed and we are currently working on the next series of four issues. We’re having a ball. Steven’s scripts are just off the hook fun. And don’t be surprised to see this character appear beyond the printed page.
EC: Thanks so much for your time, Paul.
Paul Gulacy’s 2016 convention appearances include: Cal Comic Com January 31st in California’s Orange County, Comic-Con International (San Diego Comic-Con) July 21- 2th in San Diego,
Monster and Robots, August 27 and 28 in New Jersey’s Garden State Convention Center.
Pop Culture, especially that unique Pop Culture flavor of comics and graphic novels, validates itself with massive box office wins (Avengers: Age of Ultron is the 4th best performing movie ever), television triumphs (The Walking Dead, Gotham and The Flash are amongst the most watched shows on their respective networks) and licensing successes. When even a character like Ant-Man is a licensing juggernaut you know the business community and the world at large is noticing the spending power of Pop Culture.
It wasn’t always this way. For a long time, passionate fans knew that comics opened the floodgates of the imagination with fantastic writing and artwork. But we simply couldn’t convince the rest of the world. So instead, fans learned to leverage the concept of collectibility and value as a means of validation. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, celebrating an impressive 45th anniversary this year, helped to start it all. Fans could point to the astronomical values assigned to rare comics, like Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 or Spider-Man’s debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 and say “See? This is important! Someone is willing to pay a lot of money for this!”
One downside is that an entire generation takes their comics too seriously. And I admit I’m one of these folks. It’s difficult for people like me to read a comic and then roll it up my in back pocket. I can’t seem to bend back a page, for fear of the dreaded spine roll. And while I love to read on vacation – taking a comic to the pool or the beach is risky business. What if they get splashed? Any defect might cause the potential value to plummet. Today’s “mint condition” treasure could become tomorrow’s “poor grade” loser simply because of an irresponsible reading experience.
Logically, we all know that that most of the comics we read won’t increase in value to astronomical heights. Ever shop the $1.00 comic bin? Seems like every store has one. And many fans can’t bear to sell their collections, so their collections will never attain a real market value. But still – the need to preserve a comic’s condition is baked into our collector’s DNA.
Well, it’s time to unlearn that! I’m working hard to prune my oversize collection, but that’s a whole ‘nuther column. It’s time to unlearn the tyrannical tradeoff of keeping comics in pristine shape, especially if the trade-off means enjoying them less.
So for the past few summers, I’ve made it a point to bring Silver Age comics, some of my favorites and prized classics from the sixties, to the beach. I read them in them in bright sun. They might get sand blown between the pages. Fingers greasy from suntan lotion might leave an occasion stain. Some of that wonderful Jersey Shore ocean might even inflict water damage on them.
And it’s just fantastic.
I’m still not 100% there. It takes a little while for me to get used to the idea. But I’m getting better.
Today I’m issuing my Summertime Comics Challenge. I want you to read some comics on the beach, at the campsite, by the edge of the pool or even just in the backyard by the grill. Forget about the bags and boards. Forget about the condition. Forget about the collectibility – just enjoy them. And send me a picture. I’ll publish the best ones here at the end of the summer. I’m looking forward to seeing some genuinely happy faces… if you too can unlearn collecting habits and enjoy your Pop Culture a little bit more.
One more thing: you can send your pix to me at Ed.Catto@BonfireAgency.com, and don’t be shy about sharing them with #SummertimeComics .
Back in 1976 I loved comics (big surprise) but I didn’t really know who Will Eisner was. I didn’t know who The Spirit was either. But I still kind of got the gag on the cover of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide that year. As you may know, this annual publication has a long tradition of showcasing different artists and characters each year. The Bicentennial was a big deal and everybody was getting in on it. That year, the guest cover artist for The Price Guide was Will Eisner. In order to get into the Bicentennial theme, his Spirit cover portrayed The Spirit’s supporting cast in patriotic regalia and the subtitle became The Spirit of ’76.
I know. That’s a long run for a short slide.
Over the years I’ve learned what a brilliant visionary and hard-working guy Will Eisner was, and I’ve read and re-read so many of his fantastic stories. And here we are now, nearly 40 years later, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Will Eisner’s signature character, The Spirit. It makes me wonder – how can one manage a brand like this with 75 years of history? America’s favorite cookie, Oreo, was an even older brand I managed for a few years in the 90s and sometimes I found it daunting. When I spoke with Carl and Nancy Gropper, who run the Will Eisner Foundation, I learned about the challenges of managing the legacy of an iconic brand.
As I was doing my research, my pal J.C. Vaughn, Vice-President of Publishing at Gemstone Publishing, alerted me to an intriguing opportunity: to explore the “secret origin” of that Overstreet Spirit of ’76 cover. So next week we’ll focus on the insights from the Eisner Foundation, and this week I have a real treat to share: insights from Robert Overstreet. As you might know, over the years Bob has never really been one for interviews. He’s always preferred personal, one-on-one conversations. That hasn’t changed much, even for the Guide’s 45th anniversary. But Bob Overstreet loves The Spirit, and in particular, that Bicentennial cover.
Bob explains how it all started. “In the fall of 1975 DC Comics recommended that I contact Crown Publishers in New York about bookstore distribution for the Guide. I called them and they pre-ordered 10,000 copies of my next book, which was The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #6. I contacted Will Eisner to do a 1776 theme since it was our country’s 200th anniversary in 1976. He finished the art right away and upon receiving it, I sent Crown a copy of my new cover.”
“Crown called me on Christmas Eve 1975 and told me that Eisner could not have his name on the cover because his illustrated cook book series had sold awfully. I had to call Eisner on Christmas Eve to ask him if it would be okay to drop his name off the cover art,” he said.
Call Will Eisner on Christmas Eve and say his name couldn’t be on the cover? Piece of cake, right?
“This was very hard for me and something I did not want to do. I got him on the phone and surprisingly he agreed for me to delete his name from the cover art. However, I just couldn’t do it. I left his name on the cover, much to Crown’s chagrin,” Overstreet said.
“Incidentally, it ended up selling very well. This was so important because this was my very first book for bookstore distribution worldwide,” he said.
J.C. Vaughn’s experience with the cover started in the same place as my own. “The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #6 was the first copy of the Guide I ever saw, so Eisner’s “Spirit of ‘76” cover has been lodged in my mind ever since that day at Eide’s in Pittsburgh (in their old location, where PNC Park now stands). I didn’t know anything about The Spirit at that point, but I loved the cover,” said Vaughn. “Pretty soon I saw the previous edition, which featured Joe Kubert’s powerful Tarzan, which also remains one of my all-time favorites, but there’s always been something about Eisner’s work, hasn’t there?”
And he also explained a little bit about his office, and I immediately got a bad case of ‘office envy’. “The Eisner piece was one of the few original Guide covers that Bob didn’t own,” J.C. explained. Will Eisner gave him a one-of-one litho. When I joined the staff, that litho ended up hanging in my office for a decade, so no surprise that I have such strong, fond memories of it.”
And to bring it all full circle, The Spirit will adorn the cover of the souvenir book from Comic-Con International, (which everyone really calls the San Diego Comic-Con). I’m in awe of a brand, and the creator behind a brand, that can last 75 years.
Of course, I’m wondering if some kid, like me 39 years ago, won’t know who The Spirit is when they see him on the cover of the souvenir book. But we’ll get into that more next week.
Note: Special thanks this week to J.C. Vaughn and all his help with and insights for this week’s column. He’s a real connect-the-dots kind of guy!