The most ridiculous question I’ve asked myself all week is, is this “the greatest comic book story ever?” Who the hell knows? The answer to that question is in the mind of the beholder, and in the case of my mind, well, I change my mind so fast I voided the warranty long ago.
But… this one is damn close.
When I was but a tiny brat, I fell in love with Mad Magazine. I copped a copy from my sister’s comic book pile, read it, was completely enthralled, and I coerced my mother (I was seven years old at the time) into buying me the then-current issue, #40. By the end of the day, I got her to get me a subscription.
Later on, my sister started dating this guy who was about eight years older than me, my sister being only seven years older. He became aware of my passion for Mad and asked me if I knew the original Mad was, in fact, a comic book. I looked at him as though he had just morphed into Fin Fang Foom. What? A comic book? Yeah, even then I was a serious fanboy. He brought over a copy of Mad #20, one of the last before it became a magazine, and I nearly fainted. Figuring the best way to my sister’s heart was through her brother’s passion, he gave me the issue. It was my first EC comic, and I instantly became a post-event EC Fan-Addict.
In an unrelated incident a couple weeks later, my sister dumped him. I remain grateful, but, well… c’est la vie.
The second story in Mad #20 was titled “Sound Effects!,” and it was drawn by Wally Wood. By this point I had consumed the first three Mad reprint paperbacks and Woody had become my favorite comics artist. At the time I didn’t know I had joined a very, very big club. I didn’t know the writer’s name – of course it was Harvey Kurtzman – but I admired his ability to tell a very clever, very funny story that satirized the very medium in which he was working, that brought out the best in one of the all-time best comics artists… and was written entirely without any dialog whatsoever. One can argue the last panel, but… why? I’d reprint it here, but that would be a spoiler.
Self-satire is tough. It was a strong element in what Kurtzman called “chicken fat humor” which was prevalent at the time on teevee in such shows as Sid Caesar (he did several) and Steve Allen (he did a lot more than just several). All three of these guys were masters at it – and both Caesar and Allen later wrote introductions for sundry Mad reprint books.
I’d take this opportunity to praise Marie Severin’s color art, but if you’ve ever seen an EC comic book or her later work at Marvel, there’s no need. She was one of the absolute best, in a very crowded field of wonderful colorists. Ben Oda’s lettering is outstanding, and, as you can see, it is the very point of this story.
Together, Kurtzman, Wood, Oda and Severin produced magic. The most amazing aspect of this particular saga is, “Sound Effects!” is one of the very, very few Mad comics stories that was not reprinted in the Mad paperbacks of the time. I think it would have worked; obviously, “the usual gang of idiots” did not share that opinion.
“Sound Effects!” was reprinted in the Mad Archives as well as in various reprint books, and I know I am not alone in having them all. Hey, I’m a fan. If you have the desire to procure but one, I recommend you start with Mad’s Original Idiots Wally Wood. It was published way back in 2015 so it should be fairly easily accessible. $15 (at Amazon, at least) for 176 pages of Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman is one of the best bargains in comics, and it will be one of the most entertaining experiences in your life.
Next week: Turning off the lights. Or shooting them out. It will be an interesting week. Happy Thanksgiving!
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.
I recently covered a mini-trend of fascinating and well-researched books lovingly that looked back at goofy super-heroes here. Now that we’re on the cusp of the debut of one of these books, Hero-A-Go-Go, it’s time to take a deeper dive. I cornered author Michael Eury and asked all those questions that I’ve been dying to ask him:
Ed Catto: You reminisce about Jill St. John’s role in the debut episode of the 60s Batman TV series. Isn’t this really the start of the Camp Age?
Michael Eury: Well, as I wrote in my introduction: “No, Batman did not create the camp movement of the Sixties. Yet Batman was its zenith, its very poster child. And from my perspective, it was a wonderful way to go-go.” I can’t pinpoint an exact beginning of the Sixties camp age (I doubt there was a single moment, but instead a growth, an evolution)… but as your question suggests, the premiere of Batman was its most visible moment.
EC: You’ve included some wonderful interviews in Hero-A-Go-Go. How did you decide whom to pursue?
ME: I wanted to add some celebrities to the mix for their behind-the-scenes insights, then targeted some folks whose work was fundamental to the Camp Age but whose stories are not as visible as, say, Adam West’s Batman anecdotes.
I loved the album Jan and Dean Meet Batman when I was a kid, and spoke with Dean Torrence for a couple of wonderful hours. Very nice guy and an incredibly frank interview.
I was also determined to give Bob Holiday, the Superman of Broadway, his due, and he was genuinely moved by my interest. Another great interview! Sadly, he passed away while the book was going to press, so he didn’t live to see this, his last interview, in print.
There are a lot of other interviews, including some comics artists, throughout the book. They add a valuable insider’s perspective to my essays.
EC: As a kid, I remember being so confused by Dell’s Dracula. Now, I love him and all the Dell monster heroes. What was the deal with these guys?
ME: Dell’s monster-heroes (Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf) became my sleeper favorite from my Hero-A-Go-Go research (which consisted of roughly a year of reading campy comic books and watching tons of Sixties’ cartoons and TV shows – in other words, reliving my childhood).
They were, at heart, a great idea: merge two things kids love, monsters and superheroes, into one concept. Essentially, Dell’s Dracula was Batman-meets-Dracula, the other titles being Superman-meets-Frankenstein and James Bond-meets-the Wolf Man.
Unfortunately, the comics themselves were haphazardly produced at a breakneck pace, and even the writer and artist, D.J. Arneson and Tony Tallarico, shrug off the final results.
EC: Being a marketer, I was especially interested to reach about the licensing deal for Batman Milk. In my hometown (Auburn NY) we always asked mom to get the Hogan-Souhan All Star Milk cartons featuring Superman! Was there a lot Superman and Batman milk out there?
ME: Definitely a lot more Batman than Superman, but both were represented.
The Batman All Star Dairy essay is one of my favorites in the book, not simply because it’s a story from my childhood, but because it tells a tale of the universal small American town.
EC: Your section on super hero paperbacks was a lot of fun. Why do you think there were so many and which one is your favorite?
ME: Remembering that kids were only half of the camp movement – with adults being the other – these paperbacks were an effort to get superheroes into the hands of readers older than the standard comic-book demographic.
My favorite? It’s a tie between the first Signet Batman volume and Bill Adler’s Funniest Fan Letters to Batman.
EC: Archie Comics is experimenting with several reboots of their classic characters, in both comics and on TV. In Hero-A-Go-Go, you discuss some of the 60s Archie reboots. What were they like?
ME: As I note in the book, Archie Comics as a publisher has never been shy about capitalizing on current trends. During the Camp Age, there was an Archie for everyone – the standard teen fare, an Archie for superhero fans (Pureheart the Powerful), an Archie for spy fans (The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.), and an Archie for Monkees fans (the Archies). Funny how a small community like Riverdale attracted so many supervillains back then…
EC: I recently picked up an old copy of Charlton’s Go-Go (complete with Miss Bikini Luv and some Jim Aparo artwork) and it was bats*t crazy fun. Can you tell us more about that series?
ME: It was a weird but wild book, editor Dick Giordano’s MAD-meets-Tiger Beat hybrid. Charlton was publishing music fan magazines back then and had access to teen heartthrob pinups and such, and those shared pages in Go-Go with parodies of TV shows, superheroes, and fairy tales, in comics form.
Jim Aparo was the break-out star from Go-Go – and who’d have thought he was such an amazing humor cartoonist? His Miss Bikini Luv work was fabulous!
EC: You know I’m a big Wally Wood fan, and in this book, you have fascinating sections on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Miracles, Inc. and more. What do you think of those properties and Wood’s 60s contributions?
ME: Well, if anyone could’ve elevated the so-called lowbrow camp movement to a highbrow art form, it was Wally Wood. He was just amazing.
I knew little of Miracles, Inc., Wood’s oddball superhero team spoof, before beginning my research. His first Miracles tale was short but sweet. Too bad he left the strip, as it floundered afterward.
EC: Your animated heroes section is very robust. Any surprises in your research?
ME: There was a lot of material in that section, wasn’t there? What a fantastic lineup of TV programming we had to choose from back then!
Most of the material I write about, I knew from my previous readings and studies, but I was surprised to discover from Ralph Bakshi the behind-the-scenes issues with Krantz Films’ Rocket Robin Hood. Also, before my research I didn’t know that the King Kong cartoon had two movie connections!
EC: Whose vinyl records are best to listen to when reading Hero-A-Go-Go: The Modniks or the Maniaks?
ME: Well, since they were both patterned after the Monkees, I’d say, listen to the source material! Actually, I did – through Hero-A-Go-Go, I developed a deeper appreciation for my two favorite bands from my childhood, the Cowsills and the Monkees. The Monkees, in particular, had a diverse range of music outside of the bubblegum pop hits that everyone remembers, and rediscovering them was a joy. Plus, I got their reunion CD, Good Times, and nearly played it to death!
* * *
Hero-A-Go-Go will be released April 19th by Twomorrows Publishing – look for it at your local comic shop or neighborhood bookstore! And remember, they can always order it for you. My bookstore gets books in for me so quickly –oftentimes the next day!
Oh, and by the way, our good pals over at the 13th Dimension are exploring 13 different sections of this book each Saturday too.
I like crowds. I like big noisy events. State fairs? Love ‘em. Black Friday shopping days? I’m there. Live music with tiny crowded dance floors? Sounds good to me. San Diego Comic Con? Yeah, baby. Ditto The New York Comic Con.
But on the other hand, when I’m thinking about Geek Culture and comic conventions, I find that I also enjoy small comic conventions. There’s a certain charm, an aura of creativity and a sense of community that embraces you in a unique way that you won’t find at NYC’s Javits Center.
I had to cancel out of this past weekend’s WonderCon in Anaheim, California. That was a drag as I was looking forward to being a panelist on Rik Offenberger’s Marketing/PR panel. But I haven’t been on a convention hiatus; lately, I have been busy finding and attending them. For consecutive weekends, I attended conventions in two Central New York – The Liverpool Comic Show and The Ithacon. Both were ‘small’ cons, but they both had a lot of charm.
Vanguard’s J. David Spurlock was in rare form at the Liverpool Comic Show, but isn’t he always? And after drooling over a couple of the books he publishes, The Frazetta Sketchbook and Wally Wood: Strange Worlds of Science Fiction, I broke down and snagged them both. He also shared a Wally Wood story with my wife Kathe and I. Who knew Wally Wood lived in the Syracuse area for part of his creative life?
In fact, Kathe was charmed by Jack Robinson, who was friends with Wood. Robinson was exhibiting right next to Vanguard. He’s a strong artist in his own right, and Kathe bought a couple of Bettie Page prints from him.
It was nice to see ComiXology’s Chip Mosher make an appearance at the local show. Catching up with him was filled with a lot of smiles and laughs, as always.
Ithacon hosted some impressive guests. But they always have. Over the years, fans have had the pleasure of meeting so many fantastic creators at this show: Walt Simonson, Murphy Anderson, Frank Miller, John Byrne, Al Milgrom, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and so many more.
Tom Peyer’s always been a favorite creator and I was so glad he was at Ithacon this year. I appreciate the unique way he mashes up his strong devotion to Silver Age comics with his subversively hilarious wit. His current comic, Aftershock’s Captain Kid is a winner and if you’re not reading it, you’re missing out.
There was another amazing part of Ithacon. Jim Shooter and Roger Stern, longtime pros and longtime pals, hosted a unique panel, where they reminisced about the days when Shooter first came to Marvel, joining Stern who was already on staff. It was a wildly entertaining hour full of great stories and behind the scene insights, all wrapped up in good natured fun. Fans deep into Bronze Age history loved this, but, due to the charisma of these two gents, even casual fans enjoyed it. The room was SRO the whole time.
It’s always cool to see the local talent. Joe Orsak, who created the long-running Captain ‘Cuse, (a local Sunday newspaper superhero who fought villains each week, like his foe Lake Effect), was at the Powercon. The always enthusiastic Jim Brenneman, from nearby Marcellus, also displayed his upbeat and friendly artwork at Ithacon.
Pulp Nouveau Comix is a great comic shop in downtown Canandaigua, NY, and the owner, Mark, was at the Liverpool show. I love his store and it has that Joe Dirt/mullet strategy: “All Business Up Front, Party in the Back.” The back room of this “Curiosity Shoppe”-style store is filled with fantastic treasures.
And like all comic conventions, there were quite a few treasures to be found including:
Hulk vs. Superman by Roger Stern and Steve Rude. I have my copy of this prestige format comic/graphic novel ‘around here somewhere’ but I was so happy to find this at Ithacon. You see, my nephew Alexander recently asked, “Who’s stronger, Superman or the Hulk?” And when I send this to him, he’ll see!
Somerset Holmes: The Graphic Novel by Bruce Jones, April Campbell and Brent Anderson. What a wonderful adventure this one is. I enjoyed the comics long ago, and the story-behind-the-story is one of those cautionary Hollywood tales that has always stuck with me.
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. I discovered the 1946 New York City Board of Education version of this publication, where they used illustrations from students of NYC’s famous School of Industrial Arts. So this book has what I believe to be Alex Toth’s and Joe Orlando’s first professionally published illustrations!
Many of you know that I’m hard at work on this summer’s Syracuse Salt City Comic-Con. It’s a midsize show that will be punching above its weight class. We’re planning some very cool things and have an amazing guest roster. More on this in the months to come, but I think come June, I might have to walk back “It’s a Small World After All.” I might be saying “Bigger is Better.”
I have wonderful Yuletide memories. Like every young boy, I quickly learned that the true meaning of the Holiday Season was… getting more stuff. And being the greedy little monster I was, (and, I guess, I remain) I also learned that I could extend that wonderful feeling of “Christmas Acquisition” through books. More than a toy, or apparel or certainly candy, the enjoyment of a book would linger well past the twelve days of Christmas.
As a comics fan back in the day, actual books about comics were few and far between. One that did make it onto the traditional bookstore shelves was Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. Soon after Superman: From the 30’s to the 70’s was a one of those “big wow” books about comics that was gifted to me. It was so massively thick that I couldn’t imagine anyone would be able to read the whole thing in one lifetime!
That holiday-hardcover comic tradition carried on each year with Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics, The Son of Origins, Bring On the Bad Guys, The Superhero Women and that Silver Surfer graphic novel that reunited Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. (It was kind of a dud for me.)
When I was a parent, my kids would always get me similar treasures – most often DC Archive Editions and Marvel Masterworks. I’ve been one fortunate bookworm.
So with all that in mind, here are a few suggestions for holiday books:
There’s something about Norse mythology and the Yuletide season that just naturally go together. On the other hand, any day is a good day to enjoy the incredible work of comics legend Walter Simonson. IDW just published Ragnarok: Last God Standing as a collection of the first few issues of the ongoing comic, featuring Thor, the last of the Asgardians. It’s a fresh thriller by a comics master, and keep an eye out for my upcoming column spotlighting Walter’s Ragnarok series.
IDW has also teamed up with Eaglemoss to produce an ongoing reprint series of all the Star Trek comics. And the nice thing about this effort is that each volume mixes and matches Star Trek comics from all the different publishers over the years: Marvel, DC, Malibu, IDW, Gold Key and even the strips from the British weekly comics. What a great way to experience it all. While I love the Gold Key strips, I can’t read more than a few at a time. With this series, fans get a smorgasbord rather than just one heaping main course. Check out Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection.
It seems like it’s a golden age for Classic Comic Strips reprints. While some brilliant artists like Thomas Yeates, Mike Manley and Terry Beatty are doing great things with comic strips printed in the actual newspapers, there are now s great many options for reprint books. In fact, in the Diamond’s most recent Previews Magazine (the one with the cool Kamandi by Bruce Timm Cover) “From The Archives” was the monthly theme, celebrating comic strip reprints.
Hermes Press is the run by a passionate guy named Dan Herman. When it comes publishing and reprinting old comics with the respect they deserve, he’s the real deal. A few books of particular note:
Alex Raymond was a phenomenal artist and a groundbreaking entrepreneur for what would evolve into Geek Culture. But at that time, the world thought of him as an advertising artist who made a living doing those silly comic strips. And today, when comic fans look at his work, I’ve heard comments like “That looks like Dave Stevens’ art.” Hermes’s gorgeous coffee table book Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey: Adventure, Intrigue and Romance offers readers a ringside seat to experience Raymond’s work again or for the first time.
And while it’s not a collection of reprinted comic strips, The Phantom: The Complete Avon Books Vol. 1 looks to be fun. This ongoing series reprints the old 60s prose Phantom paperback stories. The first one is an origin story by series creator, Lee Falk and it’s wrapped in a gorgeous painted George Wilson cover.
Max Alan Collins is a favorite here on ComicMix for so many reasons, and he’s contributed essays to two fantastic Hermes books. His thoughts aren’t the only reasons, or even the main reason to check these out, but like a good bottle of wine, he makes the main dish that much better. So I’d also recommend:
Zorro: The Complete Dell Pre-CodeComics which gathers together wonderful Zorro adventures from Dell’s Four Color
The collection of Mike Hammer strips from the mid-fifties in Mickey Spillane: From the Files of Mike Hammer.
My highest recommendation will probably go to Vanguard Press’ The Sensuous Frazetta by J. David Spurlock. I purchased this book at San Diego Comic-Con in July, and haven’t been able to officially move it from my reading pile to my shelf of favorites in the bookcase. Each time I pick it up I see something new and enjoy it more.
Also on my short list is another Wally Wood book from Vanguard. The latest is called Wally Wood Jungle Adventures and it features the “lost hero” Animan. I’m not sure how much of an Animan fan I am, but you can never go wrong with Wally Wood.
Have a great Yuletide Season and be kind to your friends and foes alike!
Okay, let’s close the metaphorical door…no, let’s slam the door on my cutsey way of sneaking up on an answer to the question I posed last week, which was something like: If I can’t teach writing — and I admit that I can’t — why do respectable institutions pay me to teach writing?
We’ll get to that gibberish at the top of the page in a bit, but first, let’s make a distinction between writing and creativity. I don’t know of anyone who has sussed out a reliable procedure for teaching creativity and I’m sure multitudes are trying. So let’s just drop the subject.
But writing? Different thing, and that brings us to the gibberish, which is supposed to be the noise information makes when it strikes a student because that, dear companions, is what I have done while standing in front of whiteboards. No, not fabricate sound effects, but hurl information at the eager faces: give them everything I know about the subject of the day, hoping that they will remember some of it and that what they remember will be useful. I’ve found that I can talk for… oh say twenty hours over the course of a semester about facts pertaining to writing – left-brain stuff that will fit into English sentences. Then, if I allow myself a little blue sky, or bring in a guest, or have responsive students willing to enter into dialogues voila! job done and where’s the nearest Starbucks?
Note: When imparting information, I never claim to be teaching the way to do anything. We have a mantra: There is seldom any one absolutely, inarguable, unimpeachably right way to do anything. There is just what’s worked for a lot of people a lot of times and maybe you’ll benefit from knowing about it.
Can I hear an Amen?
The matter of script format is sure to arise in any comics writing discussion and at first glance this seems like a no-brainer. I mean, a format is a format and all the instructor has to do is show one to the class and then take a bathroom break, right? That would indeed be the case if the subject were writing for television and/or movies. There is a widely accepted format for screenwriting and you’d best adhere to it. (But fear not: your friendly neighborhood software dealer will supply you with all you need.) Comics, though? I can’t show you the standard comics script format because there isn’t one. Every prolific writer seems to find, or evolve, a format that suits them and these range from the minimalist to the dense and detailed and I say blessings upon all. If it’s okay with your editor and with your collaborator(s), it’s okay.
We’ll probably revisit this topic, maybe not next week, but soon. For now, another amen and I’m off to play hooky.
As I watched Fox’s Lucifer the other night, I uttered my all-too common refrain “Oh, that’s from a comic book.” Even I am amazed how often I recite it. The frequency with which we all say that simple phrase is proof that Geek Culture is thriving in 2016.
But in many ways Geek Culture never went away, it’s just that the momentum driving pop culture has gained so much visible traction in the last few years. This week I’m turning back the clock to 1954 to take a look at something that seems unique, but actually isn’t unique at all. I’d like to focus on comic that was a copy of another wildly popular comic. But therein lies the charm. Amazingly, its publication resulted in a ban from the state of Massachusetts, a police raid and an arrest.
Panic was EC’s other parody comic and it’s now collected in Dark Horse’s EC Archives: Panic Volume 1. Panic was created to backdraft its “older brother” MAD. Al Feldstein edited this comic for publisher Bill Gaines. With unusual candor, but with the smart mouth satire we’ve since come to expect, the first issue’s editorial proudly proclaimed, “Frankly, no one asked us for a companion magazine to MAD. The only reason we are publishing Panic is because MAD is selling well.”
In marketing, companies often strategically create fighter brands. When I was in brand management at Nabisco, most of our brands were category leaders, but not all. Cheese Nips, for example, was an imitation of Sunshine’s Cheez-It. Nabisco also developed a vanilla version of OREO called Cookie Time, an imitator brand, in order to keep other companies from making their own vanilla OREO.
And you might know that in fact, Hydrox was the original sandwich cookie and OREO was the imitator.
Panic took great delight in the fact that it was a copycat of MAD. In fact, in issue #4, Panic ran a hilarious house ad, showcasing ‘research’ as a doctor proclaims that of the eight brands tested, Panic is the best imitator of MAD.
Through the lens of today, it’s also fascinating to see how on target Panic’s 1950s parodies can be. The movie satires, now be appropriate for the TCM crowd (I’ll admit it – I watch a lot of old movies), still have a biting and suspicious edge. In the How to Marry A Millionaire satire (Panic retitled it You Too Can Hook a Zillionaire). Writer Al Feldstein and artist Wally Wood begin their story with a peek inside a Hollywood movie studio conference. In the opening scenes, movie executives are planning the movie based on pandering to the female and male demographics. (Doesn’t Hollywood call them “quadrants” today?)
The other striking thing about this Panic collection is that so much of the art is just gorgeous. In particular, the great Wally Wood’s timeless artwork shines as he captures celebrity likenesses, provides a sense of visual humor and renders beauty amongst absurdity.
Panic only lasted twelve issues. But during that time, it managed to seriously ruffle some feathers. The provocative Christmas parody from the debut issue caused the state of Massachusetts to ban the comic. The whole story is a smirkingly grisly little fable, but it was placing a “Just Divorced” sign on St. Nick’s sleigh that sent righteous censors into a tizzy.
It didn’t’ stop there. Issue #1’s hard-boiled send-up of Mickey Spillane’s best-selling (at the time) detective, Mike Hammer, called The Gun is My Jury, was punctuated with a gender-bending transvestite surprise. This led to outrage and ultimately a series of events including an office raid by the NYC police and an arrest.
But the best reason to spend some time with Panic is that it’s fun. If you’re brave enough to be drinking milk while reading these tales, I guarantee you’ll snort some through your nose at one point or another.
Issues 1-6 are collected in Dark Horse’s EC Archives: Panic Volume 1 on sale since January 27th and priced at $49.99. Ask your local comic shop or bookstore to reserve one for you!
There’s a lot going on in Geek Culture right now. I’m just amazed how shows like Supergirl, The Flash and Jessica Jones have engaged faithful fans and created new fans simultaneously. I’m surprised to be reading about Santa Con and noting the similarities to the explosive Cosplay growth at every comic convention this past year. And I’m encouraged by the all the great Geek Culture books, comics, merchandise and collectibles out there – and ecstatic that it’s so creative and fun.
So this week, let’s take a pause and look at a few of these treasures. This isn’t meant to be a Holiday Buying Guide – but if you get a little cash from your Aunt Agnes this yuletide season, you might want to zip down to your local comic shop or bookstore and check these out.
Scott Dunbier is so much more than just an editor at IDW. He’s a passionate fan who’s committed to creating product the way he’d love to see them –and not afraid to blaze a few trails along the way. In recent years, his “Artist’s Editions” have created a new category, replicating the look and feel of holding the actual, oversize comic pages upon which artists typically pencil and ink their illustrations.
Scott has created books that are reproduced from the actual original artwork pages, so in addition to every ink line and stray pencil mark, you can also see the corrections, whiteouts, touch ups and scrawled notes in the margins. It’s an astounding experience for fiction lovers and art lovers.
And in the “he’s done it again” category, Scott and IDW have created the Artisan Edition. This format is similar, but it presents the pages reduced to a size we’re all more accustomed to seeing the final printed product at; the typical book/magazine size. For an artist like the great Wally Wood, who packed every panel with brilliant and thoughtful detail, this is a feast for your eyes. If artwork had calories, you’d go over your daily allotment reading just one story illustrated by Wally Wood.
The other rule that was “broken” here is that this Artisan Edition presents several different stories, and covers, from a bunch of different EC comics. This provides the reader with a fantastic assortment of artwork and adventures from this influential artist, clearly one of the greats of the industry.
Most of the folks reading this column probably saw the latest James Bond adventure, Spectre, and probably enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun for long-time fans but had a fresh cutting edge vibe that kept it from being stale or stodgy.
That’s exactly what author Anthony Horowitz has done with the newest Bond thriller, Trigger Mortis. This spy novel is set in the past, right after the James Bond adventure with Goldfinger. And the good news is that Pussy Galore, the quintessential Bond Girl –is still hanging around at the novel’s start.
This novel weaves in some original Ian Fleming chapters. These were pages he had written for a proposed James Bond television show. And the nice part about a James Bond novel is that the reader can cast his or her favorite Bond actor in the lead role. This one seems tailor made for Sean Connery, and in my mind’s eye it played out like a lost James Bond movie broadcast on the old ABC Sunday Night at the Movies.
One other note: Horowitz provides Bond with exposure to alternative lifestyles in this book, and presents Bond rising to the occasion. In the original novels, Bond sometimes exhibits a misogynistic or close-minded side, but that was refreshingly absent here. Bravo!
I’m blessed with an abundance of generous people in my life. One of them is my cousin Yamu. Despite a childhood filled with non-stop reading and re-reading old 60’s Marvel Comics bequeathed to him, and his brother Peter, by their baby sitter, Yamu is always enjoying new and different comics. He still enjoys the capes-and-tights stuff, but he’s great at finding fresh new voices and then helps spread the word.
Yamu gifted me The Complete Pistol Whip and what a treat it’s been. Dark Horse publishes it, but Top Shelf published the original series. Kindt is currently gaining accolades with Mind Management, but this is where it all started. In fact, Pistol Whip was named as one of Time Magazines Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2001. (How’d I miss that?)
This is a lovely book that still seems fresh and innovative, despite being almost 15 years old.
And much like the Wally Wood book with all the imperfections and corrections, this collection also lovingly provides the reader with many thoughtful, small extra touches. One of my favorites – they’ve printed a tear in the book as if several pages were ripped in the same place. They aren’t of course, but it adds to the astonishing attention to detail that makes this volume a reading experience.
This book isn’t a graphic novel, but it does have many of the hallmarks of heroic fiction. On one hand, it’s the story of a guy trying to do the right thing and working hard to be a good father. He faces his challenges with a great deal of courage and humility. And in the end, he ultimately triumphs. Jim usually writes insightful marketing books (his Experience Effect series are marketing “must reads”) but this very personal memoir is outstanding and I can’t recommend it enough.
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And in the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying your Yuletide. You (probably) deserve it.
Lately there’s been some controversy about the creator credits on the Daredevil teevee series. To be specific, the hubbub revolves around the use of the name and comments of some comics industry notables with respect to the issue. In other words, we have a controversy about a controversy.
Both are important issues, and are quite different from one another. But for the purpose of this particular polemic, I’m going to focus on the root issue, which is, as I understand it, as the creator of the costume used in the program, whether or not Wallace Wood deserves a creator co-credit.
The issues revolving around creator credits, a subset of the entire creators’ rights movement, are of vital concern. But they’re not very cut-and-dried. For example, there’s a good reason that the creator credit on Superman reads: “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.” That seems simple and straightforward. It is not.
I think we can all agree that Siegel and Shuster created Superman. If not; go away. I can’t deal with you. We may agree that they also created Lois Lane. Maybe. But, how about… Jimmy Olsen? Kryptonite? Perry White? Almost certainly not; all three were created for the Superman radio series and adopted by the newspaper strip, the comic books and the subsequent media manifestations. Okay, that’s just an example. I can cite dozens more. Maybe hundreds.
In the case of Daredevil, the first issue of the comic book was something of a train wreck. I read it off the stands and loved it, but I didn’t know that artist Bill Everett had enormous difficulty completing the issue and “various hands” were brought in to finish the job. Joe Orlando took over with the second issue, and Wally Wood followed Joe starting with issue #5, often with the credited assistance of Bob Powell. Bob penciled issue #11 and Woody inked it, and Jack Kirby and John Romita took over with #12. The briefness of Wally Wood’s tenure is not an issue here.
Woody changed the coloring of the costume from yellow-and-black to all-red in issue #7, which, coincidentally, costarred the Sub-Mariner – Bill Everett’s creation. The popularly held story, and there’s no reason to doubt it, is that Wood thought Everett’s costume was silly and that if the guy is called anything-devil, he should be in red.
So, some contend, because it is the Wally Wood costume that is being used in the television series, Wally Wood should get a creator’s credit.
I am second to no one in my admiration of and lust for Wally Wood’s artwork. I believe he was the first artist who’s work I could recognize by name – because Woody signed his stuff and Jack Kirby did not. But the immense quality of his craft does not enter into this argument.
There are comics creators, almost always writers, who believe that because they were the ones who came up with the original idea they were the true, and sole, creators of the property. Generally I reject this because comics is, first and foremost, a visual medium and the person or persons who create the visuals are also critical to the creation of the property. When I work on a creator-owned property, as I do almost exclusively these days, I insist the creators have a signed agreement stating their ownership positions. This makes life easier for everybody. I really do not care what those positions may be – as long as it’s not totally egregious, it’s not my business. If it is totally egregious, I know that it will blow up before long and possibly take the project down with it. That’s the only horse I have in the race.
After that point, things get a little tricky. Can you imagine the creators’ credits on any contemporary Superman story? Damn, the credits on Superman The Movie ran longer than some life-forms. Imagine adding the names of the people who came up with all the other characters and unique elements of the saga.
Of course, Batman’s “creator” will get his contractually due credit in next year’s Batman/Superman movie. I won’t get into the issue of just who created Batman right now; it has little to do with the Daredevil situation and, besides, my head would explode. Just consider my quotation marks to be editorial comment.
In my view, Wally Wood did not recreate Daredevil’s costume. As dynamic as the change was – and, damn, it certainly was – it was a coloring change and a tiny bit of alteration akin to putting that yellow circle around Batman’s bat. I know I just pissed a lot of people off and I’m sorry about that.
But it’s a tough one. Marvel notes all (or most all) of the writers and artists whose work is adapted for each movie and television show, and I think it drives my daughter crazy when I freeze-frame that part of the end credits because we’re both enjoying the “coming next week” teaser. But I’ve never seen the end-credits on Daredevil because, at least on my Netflix delivery system, the screen shrinks down to an unreadable size so that Netflix can inform me of how much time I have to not read those credits before the next episode starts. My guess is that for those who believe Woody’s name should be prominently displayed wouldn’t be satisfied, and I get that.
Comic book characters that survive for any length of time are like snowballs going down a ski-slope: they get bigger and bigger as they roll on. To me, the phrase “created by” refers to the people who started that ball rolling.
And my love of and respect for the work of the late Wallace Wood remains undiminished.
“When television is good, nothing – not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers – nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials – many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.” – Newton N. Minow, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, Speech at the National Broadcasters Association Convention, May 9, 1961
This week both Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide published their fall TV preview issues. Among the many new shows vying for an audience and a pick-up for next season are The Flash, a spin-off of the CW’s Arrow, and Gotham, a “crime serial” (as described by EW) which takes place in DC’s mythic city a decade or more before Bruce Wayne first dons the cowl of the Batman. Constantine, based on Vertigo’s occult anti-hero, aims to make us all forget Keanu Reeve’s frankly horrid movie – um, we don’t need any help in erasing that mistake from our memory – and, at least from what I’ve seen in trailers on the web – will not miss its mark. Returning genre-oriented shows (meaning including elements of fantasy and science fiction as well as directly linked to comic books) are the afore-mentioned Arrow, Grimm, Under The Dome, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Vampire Diaries, Once Upon A Time, American Horror Story, Supernatural, The Originals, The Walking Dead, Resurrection, and Sleepy Hollow.
Whew! Did I miss any?
It seems to be a golden age for genre television, which I think is partly due to The Big Bang Theory, the success of which has helped out the millions of geeks in this country and around the world; it’s now cool to be a geek, and while the networks, including cable, may have been a little slow in noticing, they’ve got their eyes wide-open now.
…but there’s been plenty of science fiction, fantasy, and comic-based shows for as long as I can remember. In fact, I sometimes think that if it weren’t for television, my imagination might have been dimmed, that I might have not picked up that copy of Stranger In A Strange Land in the bookstore, that I wouldn’t have taken “Introduction to Science Fiction” as my English requirement in my first year of college, that I wouldn’t have been led to discover the magic words…
I was born in 1953, which means that I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the television’s Golden Age. In the late 50s and early 60s, the medium was still experimenting with this new entertainment and took a lot of chances. Which meant that, though I was frequently scared out of my mind, I watched The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
A few years later, thanks to the old Channel 9 in New York City and the national Million Dollar Movie franchise, I watched Godzilla trampling Tokyo and The Giant Behemoth not only trampling, but also irradiating London, while Rodan flew at supersonic speeds overhead. And years later in Psych 101 I totally got the Freudian concept of the id because of Forbidden Planet.
Yes, it was all there on the tube: Invaders From Mars. Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. Them! Queen Of Outer Space. The Day The Earth Stood Still. The Fly. War Of The Worlds. The Blob. Mysterious Island. World Without End. The Time Machine. King Kong. When Worlds Collide. The Thing From Another World.
Though fifty years ago these were throwaway movies – probably bought for very little dollars and broadcast to fill what otherwise would be dead airtime, many are now lauded masterpieces – King Kong and The Day The Earth Stood Still, for example – while others still get their due as classics of the B-move genre: Forbidden Planet, The Fly, The Blob, Invaders From Mars, for example.
Well, okay maybe not so much Queen Of Outer Space or World Without End, though they are still two of my favorite “B-movies” of the genre, so much so that my cousin Ken Landgraff, a noted comics artist who worked with Wally Wood and Neal Adams in their studios before striking out on his own to help pioneer the independent comics movement in the 70s and 80s, made copies of them for me, which I cherish.
Yes, there were many if not classic, fondly remembered genre shows back in the day: My Favorite Martian, which starred Bill Bixby – my first “screen idol” crush – and Ray Walston. Bewitched with the gorgeous Elizabeth Montgomery (go, Team Dick York!). I Dream Of Jeannie, on which network censors forbade Barbara Eden to show her belly button and whose male star played an inept, befuddled astronaut – and didn’t he turn that around a few years later on a show about a Texas oil family. There were the first, black-and-white episodes of Lost In Space and the colorful Wonder Woman, which I think is not so much remembered for the show itself but for Lynda Carter, the Amazonian beauty who seemed to step right out of the pages of the eponymous comic. Bill Bixby returned to genre TV with his, yes, incredible performance as the lonely and cursed genetic scientist Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. There was The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman.
And then there was Star Trek. Which begat Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep SpaceNine and Star Trek: Voyager. (“Uncle Martin” Ray Walston became a favorite recurring guest star on Next Gen and Voyager as Boothby, the Star Fleet Academy gardener – by the way, the character is first mentioned in the fourth season episode “Final Mission,” in which Wesley Crusher leaves the Enterprise to attend Star Fleet Academy; Captain Picard tells him to look up “Boothby, one of the wisest men I have ever known.”
There were also shows like Farscape and the rebooted Battlestar: Galactica. There were Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel and Charmed. There was Stargate SG-1 and its descendents, Stargate Command and Stargate: Atlantis. Shows that never built a huge audience by network standards, but like Star Trek and its sequels, had devoted fans that built franchises that couldn’t be contained on television alone but led to self-contained universes that spawned conventions and books and websites.
And there were shows that tried but weren’t as successful: Shows like The Man From Atlantis and Sliders and Time Tunnel and Space: 1999. Some completely sucked. Some started out strong and got sidetracked. Some just never built the audience needed to stay on the air.
And there was Smallville. Which led to Arrow. Which is now leading to The Flash.
I’m wondering how long this bonanza of science-fiction, fantasy and “adapted from the four-color page!” on the small screen will go on. Will it flourish for a short time and then die in its season, only to be reborn ten or twenty or even thirty years from now? Will someday another columnist write a piece about how, when he or she was growing up, back then in the early 2000s, there was a cornucopia of television shows about super-heroes and monsters and fairies and princes and princesses and aliens and vampires, and how, because of television, he or she learned how to embrace those magic words…