Tagged: Wally Wood

Mike Gold: Restoring Our Sense of Wonder

Savage DragonBack in the days of purple hallucinogenic duplicator fluid, Bill Schelly published a great fanzine called Sense of Wonder. In an era when there were many first-rate fanzines (Alter-Ego, Fantasy Illustrated, RBCC), Bill’s zine was the most aptly-named. That’s what comic books were all about. Playing to the sense of wonder.

Today, well, not so much. Comics offer us nitty-gritty, slow moving but quick reading stories that are meant to be collected into trade paperback form. The audience is a lot older than it was a half-century ago, and that’s okay. Times change, tastes change.

But then there’s the “baby-for-the-bath-water” argument. I think we have turned our backs on a vital portion of our potential audience. We’ve finally addressed the younger end of the audience, primarily through recent efforts from Boom!, IDW and Archie, although DC and Marvel continue to churn out needlessly lame versions of their cartoon characters. That’s their problem. Our problem is, how do you keep the readers too old for Adventure Time but too young for Hawkeye? What do we have for the “bridge” readers?

Obviously, it’s an issue of commitment from the publishers. They must invest in their own future, and sometimes they’re trying to sustain their current efforts and don’t have the cash flow or incentive to experiment. But, I think, it’s also a talent issue. It’s hard for a publisher to turn down a great concept from established talent. It happens – well, it happens a lot, but we need more.

The greatest comics creators bathed in the sense of wonder. Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Will Eisner, Bud Sagendorf, Carl Barks, Carmine Infantino… the list is nearly endless. And many of those who grew up reading these masters bathe in similar waters: Jim Starlin, Walter Simonson, Keith Giffen, Howard Chaykin, et al. But too many comics creators who are not on Medicare are sadly less likely to be fantasists.

Today there are only a handful of such titles being produced by the larger publishers. But Erik Larsen has been doing Savage Dragon for 200 issues – if you count crossovers and mini’s, that number is probably about 300. Somebody must be buying it, and I doubt it’s just a couple people with severe myopia thinking they’re getting a lot of variant editions.

Maybe we perceive such stuff as “children’s comics” and we feel indulging in such storytelling is a step backwards. Retro. I don’t think so. The sense of wonder addresses all audiences. Just go to the movie theater during afternoon showings and count the number of old geezers wearing 3-D glasses.

We need to address the entire humanity of potential audiences. And we desperately need to hold on to our sense of wonder.


Mike Gold: EC Comics Fight – T’aint The Teat, It’s The Humanity

Over at The Comics Journal website Michael Dean posted an article about how the Harvey Kurtzman Estate (represented by Denis Kitchen) and Al Feldstein filed to “regain” the copyrights to their EC Comics work.

Feldstein and the Bill Gaines estate reached an agreement – undisclosed, of course – but the Kurtzman situation is more complex. Kurtzman created Mad, he wrote it, he did the layouts for his artists and he drew a modicum of the material as well. But it’s Mad and Mad is owned by Time Warner. It’s a teevee show on one of Time Warner’s cablenets. The magazine might not be very profitable any longer, but the brand name most certainly is.

Be that as it may, I put the word “regain” in quotation marks because, well, Al and Harvey never had those copyrights in the first place. EC Publications and its sundry successors in interest always held them. And, as Dean and others point out, the exploitation value of the material has been well-plundered. But we’re saddled with a remarkably antiquated, unfair and pro-theft copyright law and I think Al and Denis deserve to get in the game.

But who really should own what? This is the sort of thing that gives compassionate thinkers migraines and earns lawyers their reputations. Lots of people contributed massively to the creation of this body of material, including a great many of the most accomplished writers and artists of the time. And, in my opinion, of any time.

Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Bernie Krigstein, Willie Elder, Al Williamson, John Severin – to name simply the first half-dozen creators to come to mind. They and their co-workers played as important a function in the creation of the EC legacy as Al and Harvey. Their work was not interchangeable. The then-current artist list of, say, Charlton or even St. John Comics could not have been dropped into their place – well, they could, but you wouldn’t have had EC Comics and I wouldn’t be writing this piece.

Then again, Bill Gaines took the financial risk. He selected and hired these people. He contributed to a great many of the stories, particularly those edited by Al Feldstein. Does he (or his estate) deserve to be chilled from the long-term rewards?

Maybe. Bill didn’t return any of the original art – but, then again, in those days nobody did. However, Bill kept and archived the original art, and decades later he had it auctioned off. When he did this, artists were getting their work back and those that had it returned whatever inventories of old art they had on hand. Bill did not do this. He gave the artist a taste of the revenue, at a price determined by him and him alone. The artists were unable to get their art back, to do with what they wish.

“Ethics” are tricky. The idea is to rectify wrongs without wronging others in the process. This is only somewhat easier than building a perpetual motion machine.

The conversation over at The Comics Journal is spirited, engaging and, in a few instances, amusingly over-the-top. These are three important elements in protracted online conversations. You might want to check it out.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


Captain Action Offers NYCC Purchasers Free Comics

New York, N.Y. (September 25, 2012) –Captain Action Enterprises is proud to announce a New York Comic Con convention-only offer: fans and collectors receive free comics with every Captain Action toy purchase.  These comics include comics showcasing characters featured in the toy sets, including Spider-Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, Loki, and Captain Action.

And the first 66 customers will receive special autographed comics.  These comics are signed by top creators including Walt Simonson, Roger Stern, Beau Smith, Sean Chen, Mark Wheatley and more.

“New York Comic Con and ReedPop have been very good to us, and this is one small way of giving back,” said Ed Catto, Retropreneur and co-founder of Captain Action Enterprises.

Additionally, the Captain Action booth will be giving away stress ball “brains” to celebrate the return of Captain Action’s arch-foe, Dr. Evil. As an insidious alien, Dr. Evil’s striking countenance is topped off by his creepy exposed brain.  Available while supplies last, these Brains will be given away to all fans and no purchase is necessary.

“This will be a busy year for us at NYCC”, said Joe Ahearn, co-founder of Captain Action Enterprises.  “We’ll be debuting our second wave of Toys featuring Dr. Evil, Thor and Loki and our new merchandise from Titan. We’ll also have the legendary Walt Simonson and pulp author Jim Beard on hand to autograph copies.  Oh, and we have a panel and a big announcement too!”

Captain Action is based on the action figure created in 1966 by Stan Weston for Ideal Toys and sold internationally. The hero came equipped with a wardrobe of costumes allowing him to become many different heroes such as Batman, The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet and many more. In 1967, Captain Action proved so popular that the line was expanded to include a sidekick, Action Boy and a blue skinned alien foe with bug eyes, the nefarious Dr. Evil.  The following year, DC Comics licensed the character from Ideal and published five issues of Captain Action featuring industry luminaries such as Jim Shooter, Wally Wood and Gil Kane.

The line has experienced as strong resurgence, complete with an all-new toy line that debuted earlier this year.

“For our gift-with-purchase, we’re offering the best recent comics as well as vintage treasures.  Some gems include vintage Kirby Thors and a Romita Captain America, guest-starring Spider-Man.  We even have a few Wally Wood issues in there.  It’s our hope that we’ll reward collectors and provide a unique gift to younger fans, “ said Catto.

Captain Action is at booth #3136. The New York Comic Con is held at the Javits Center in New York City, from October 11 – 14, 2012.

Mike Gold: Mars Attacks – Completely!

Mars Attacks • Abrams ComicArt • hardcover $19.95,  also available in electronic format. Publication date: October 1, 2012

There’s a seminal moment in every weirdo’s life where we experience something so outrageous our worldview is altered severely and forever. For Ray Bradbury and Michael Moorcock, it was Edgar Rice Burroughs. For nascent NASA scientists, it was Ray Bradbury and Buck Rogers. EC Comics begat a generation of filmmakers, satirists, and cartoonists. I have no doubt we will be appreciating the influence of The Simpsons and South Park as its early adopters enter the creative workplaces.

For me, it was Mars Attacks.

I love to collect things. I suspect if comic books were unnumbered I wouldn’t have made it to the Marvel Age. So I would dutifully check out the counter-spaces at my local drug stores to see what the Bazooka Joe boys at Topps were offering in the realm of what we now call “non-sports cards.” Their Civil War News series was as informative as it was gutsy. Their Space Race and Funny Monsters cards brought great entertainment to my pre-pubescent little brain. But nothing – absolutely nothing, not Rocky and Bullwinkle, not Mad Magazine, neither Ernie Kovacs nor Steve Allen – prepared this 11 year-old proto-nerd for the glory and the horror of Mars Attacks.

Briefly for those who are not in the know, Mars Attacks was a set of 55 trading cards issued in 1962 that told the grisly story of an invasion from space by everybody’s favorite bug-eyed naked-brain Martians. On the front was a masterful painting by the great Norm Saunders based upon sketches by the great Bob Powell and the great Wally Wood. On the reverse was the next part of the invasion narrative. Cattle were torched, subway cars were eaten by giant ants, soldiers were slaughtered, dogs were vaporized in front of their youthful masters.

Spoiler Alert: We win.

The concept and story, created by Topps’ creative director (and, later, seminal comics fan publisher) Woody Gelman and staff writer Len Brown, later of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents fame, was breathtaking because it was over-the-line. Way over the line. So far over the line you couldn’t see the line in your rearview mirror if you stopped right after you crossed it. Simply put: in 1962 you did not torch dogs and soldiers and cattle and wrap it up in wax paper with a slice of bubble gum.

Were adults offended? Holy crap, yes! You’d think the Martians actually invaded and turned out to be Commies. Topps was inundated with complaints and boxes were removed from store counters. At first, the Bazooka-boys thought they’d simply tone down some of the more objectionable cards, but instead they squeezed the toothpaste back into the tube and withdrew their product… leaving nothing but the legend in its wake. A highly collectible legend.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this historic event, Abrams ComicArts has released a hardcover book surprisingly called Mars Attacks. Forwarded by Len Brown and backwarded by Norm Saunders’ gifted daughter Zina, all the cards are reprinted (both sides) in their full glory along with the surviving sketches as well as the 1994 sequel cards and other great stuff, including artwork from Zina Saunders, Jay Lynch, Timothy Truman, Frank Brunner, Sam Kieth, Keith Giffen and a whole lotta other swell folk.

In addition to the aforementioned 1994 sequel cards, there have been several attempts to revive Mars Attacks including at least three comics series and a grandiose Tim Burton movie (forgive my redundancy). These have succeeded to varying degrees, but I think the concept is truly a product of its times. The bar of outrageousness has pole vaulted in the past 50 years, and these cards would barely raise an eyebrow if issued today.

But for its time, in its time, Mars Attacks brought the energy of rock’n’roll to the B-movies of the drive-ins and put it all on the doorsteps of the nation’s 11 year-olds. Its quick removal trusted it into legendary status. Abrams’ new book is a very worthy tribute.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil


Titan Merchandise gets in on Captain Action Action

New York, N.Y. (September 17, 2012) – Titan Merchandise, a leading international licensee of pop culture icons and Captain Action Enterprises, licensors of the popular Captain Action line, have teamed up to produce a series of T-shirts, mugs, I.D. holders and more.  These products will be on sale internationally in late 2012.

Captain Action is based on the action figure created in 1966 by Stan Weston for Ideal Toys and sold internationally. The hero came equipped with a wardrobe of costumes allowing him to become many different heroes such as Batman, The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet and many more. In 1967, Captain Action proved so popular that the line was expanded to include a sidekick, Action Boy and a blue skinned alien foe with bug eyes, the nefarious Dr. Evil.  The following year, DC Comics licensed the character from Ideal and published five issues of Captain Action featuring industry luminaries such as Jim Shooter, Wally Wood and Gil Kane.

The line has experienced as strong resurgence, complete with an all-new toy line that debuted earlier this year.

“I’ve been a massive fan of Captain Action since my late 60s childhood in the North West of England” said Titan director Andrew Sumner.  “Back then, my grandfather kept me supplied with a steady diet of US comic books and I was filled with excitement every time I read a Captain Action advertisement in the back pages, I would have done ANYTHING to own the action figure. Stan Weston’s costume design blew my mind, which was blown even further when I picked up Jim Shooter and Wally Wood’s first issue of the DC comic. By the time Gil Kane and Wally Wood’s classic, way-ahead-of-its-time issue five rolled around, I was hooked for life! It’s our absolute pleasure to be working with the awesome team at Captain Action Enterprises on such an iconic, brilliantly-designed property.”

“We’ve been big fans of all Titan’s products and are proud to be part of their line-up, “ said Ed Catto of Captain Action Enterprises. “From Doctor Who to Star Trek to the classic Hammer horror movies – Titan’s products always seems to be top-notch in quality and lovingly created.”

Current plans call for the first wave to include a distressed T-shirt with the Captain Action logo, a coffee mug and an I.D. holder.

The new products will debut at New York Comic Con at the Javits Center from October 11 to 14, 2012.


Harry Harrison: 1925-2012

stainless-steel-rat-1-1192910Harry Harrison, best known for his character Jim DiGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat, and the novel Make Room! Make Room! (adapted into film as Soylent Green) died yesterday at the age of 87.

Harrison started as a comics illustrator in 1947, notably with EC Comics’ two science fiction comic books, Weird Fantasy and Weird Science, as well as a short stint on Blackhawk for Quality, and various war, western, and romance comics– even western romance comics. Harrison was one of Wally Wood’s early employers and the man who brought Woody to EC.

He also edited comics in the 50s for very small publishers. He used house names such as Wade Kaempfert and Philip St. John to edit magazines, and has published other fiction under the names Felix Boyd, Hank Dempsey, and even as Leslie Charteris on the novel Vendetta For The Saint. Harrison also wrote for syndicated comic strips, creating the Rick Random character and writing the Flash Gordon comic strip during the 50s and 60s.

Harrison is now much better known for his writing, particularly his humorous and satirical science fiction, such as the Stainless Steel Ratseries (which was adapted into a comics series by Kelvin Gosnell and Carlos Ezquerra) and the novel Bill, the Galactic Hero (which satirizes Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers). But he may be best known for Make Room! Make Room! which was adapted into film under the title Soylent Green— which (spoiler alert) is delicious.

He is survived by two children, Todd and Moira. Our condolences to his family, friends, and fans.

Ray Bradbury, 1920 – 2012

Ray Bradbury, generally considered to be among America’s greatest writers, died Tuesday night in Los Angeles. He was 91.

The author of such modern classics as Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury was born August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, on Lake Michigan near the Wisconsin border. From these placid roots came a gargantuan imagination that gifted the world with nearly 30 novels and collections of his 600-plus short stories, helping the fantasy and science fiction genre shake the coils of its adolescent, bug-eyed monsters and big-breasted blondes image.

Heavily influenced as a child by futuristic imagery of Buck Rogers, Bradbury maintained his enthusiasm for the comics medium. When EC Comics William M. Gaines publisher “inadvertently borrowed” one of his stories for adaptation, Ray sent him a polite note informing Gaines that his payment check must have been lost in the mail. An enduring relationship quickly followed, and Bradbury’s work was adapted by such great artists as Wallace Wood and Al Williamson.

On a personal note, I had met Ray several times – the first at the premiere of his first play, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, directed by Stuart Gordon (later made into a movie by Gordon starring Edward James Olmos, Joe Mantegna, Esai Morales, Gregory Sierra and Michael Saad). One of those great moments in life came when I was asked to share an autograph table with Ray at the San Diego Comic Con; we spent some time talking about his fellow Waukeganite, Jack Benny. He was a marvelous, charming man – a surprisingly opinionated man who, despite his reputation as a science fiction author (which he denied; he was a fantasist), Ray Bradbury declined to fly in airplanes.

He helped inspire the imaginations of several generations. I can think of no greater tribute.


Mike Gold: Nancy’s Tale

“The secret to Nancy’s success,” the classic story goes, “is that it takes as long to read it as it does to decide not to read it.”

When I heard that gag back in the 1970s, it was attributed to the great artist Wallace Wood. Chillingly, it’s possible it predates Woody’s career by decades. What somehow became synonymous with the bland and the banal started off as the offspring of a cheesecake girlie strip, Fritzi Ritz. It turns out Fritzi had this niece named Nancy who came to live with her. Being a gag strip, I do not believe the details of the demise of the spiky-haired girl’s parents were ever revealed, but it would be uncharitable to assume the spunky, independent girl murdered them in their sleep.

Nancy’s best friend was a Dead End Kids wannabe named Sluggo. Had Nancy shaved off her hair, enjoyed a sex-change operation, and donned a striped t-shirt, she would look exactly like her friend. So perhaps it was Sluggo who did the parents in after uncovering the results of a blood test.

Fritzi and Nancy lived in the nice part of town. Sluggo lived in the slums. For quite a time in the 1930s and, less so, thereafter, clearly what separated those neighborhoods was Wackyland. Had those adventures been published in the hippie era, we would have assumed writer/artist Ernie Bushmiller consumed a prolific quantity of LSD.

In fact, I am surprised a Nancy underground comic wasn’t published during those paisley days. Publisher/cartoonist/freedom fighter Denis Kitchen was, and probably still is, quite a fan of the stuff. He even produced a line of Nancy ties; I once wore the subtle power-tie version to a big-deal executive meeting at Warner Brothers, much to the chagrin of DC Comics publisher Paul Levitz.

Nonetheless, I suspect the secret of Nancy’s success was the decision to “dumb it down” for the general audience, a trick that saved Blondie’s ass during the previous decade. Remember, the only reason the even more surreal Krazy Kat endured throughout the ridiculously powerful Hearst chain was the fact that it was William Randolph Hearst’s favorite feature… and he signed the paychecks.

Despite its homogenization, Bushmiller produced a funny and often clever gag strip. The proof of this lies in the strips produced by others after Ernie died: even recycled old jokes looked pale and pathetic compared to the original. At its dullest moments during the later Bushmiller era, Nancy was sufficiently entertaining to maintain its role in the readers’ daily ritual at a time when comic strips gave subscribing newspapers their competitive edge. You know, back when they actually had to compete with other newspapers.

Fantagraphics Books has released a hefty tome reprinting Nancy’s mid-forties run, fronted by an introduction from Daniel Clowes. Given the feature’s undeserved reputation and the plethora of fine newspaper reprint books, I fear their Nancy Is Happy might get lost in the shuffle.

Nancy was good enough to keep our elders laughing through the Great Depression and World War II. Nancy is certainly good enough to keep us laughing through the 2012 elections.

Nancy Is Happy by Ernie Bushmiller • Edited by Kim Thompson • Fantagraphics Books, $24.99

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

MIKE GOLD: Important Advice For Comics Artists

Hardly a day goes by without my asking myself “How did all this crappy art get published?”

Now, before all you upstarts get bent out of shape, please appreciate the fact that I’ve been asking this question since about the time Freedom 7 was launched. (Note to self: After gawking at Brian Bolland’s Blog, please don’t look at anybody’s comics art for at least three hours. You’re not giving them a chance.) The difference is, there are a hell of a lot more comic books being published these days. Whereas I think the comics medium beats out Sturgeon’s Law, there’s a hell of a lot of crappy art out there, and much of it is below what I consider to be professional standards.

Over my career I’ve spent a great deal of time evaluating newbie portfolios, and while I feel doing this at the larger, crowded conventions generally gives the young wannabe short shrift, like most geriatric editors I’ve developed a mental go-to list of comments that, if followed, will likely give direction to the newcomer. Since I’ve grown anti-social of late, I’ll share some of these points with you.

Stare at something other than the comics you grew up with. And don’t spend all that much time staring at comic books published before your birth – yeah, study the classics like Toth, Kubert, Kirby, Kane, Maneely, Wood, Adams, Barks and Toth, but learn from the great newspaper strip creators like Milton Caniff, Frank Robbins, Floyd Gottfriedson, Alex Raymond, and Frank Godwin. Spend some time gawking at the great illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, Howard Pyle, and NC Wyeth. Go to a few art museums. There is no more enjoyable way to pay your dues.

Get a large jar and label it “Photoshop Copy Machine.” Every time you use Photoshop or any other graphics program to copy your art so that you can use it later in lieu of drawing something new, put $20.00 in the jar. When you fill it up, donate the money to The Hero Alliance or CBLDF. The eye tires of the same old stuff, particularly when you repeat the same image within a few pages. Sometimes there is a solid storytelling reason to rerun your work within the same story, but like all dramatic effects these are few and far between and should only be used sparingly.

Get a smaller jar and label it “Son Of Photoshop Copy Machine.” Every time you use Photoshop or any other graphics program to copy somebody else’s art, put $10,000 in the jar. Then find some other fulfilling way to make a living. I suggest procuring a domino mask, a striped shirt, and a gun.

There’s an old adage that proclaims “color will save it.” More often than not, this statement is attributed to the late DC Comics production whiz Sol Harrison, who got his start as an engraver on Superman #1 and in his spare time did watercolors. Unfortunately, Sol was wrong. Color will not save bad art. Not even the most heavy-handed computer color. Bad art is bad art. Or, to be less subtle, shit stinks.

Go buy a copy of [[[Gray’s Anatomy]]]. Not the teevee show, silly, the book written and drawn by Henry Gray first published 154 years ago. Whereas the book has been updated frequently, the human body has not. I am not concerned with your religious predilection, but no matter which hoary thunderer or cosmic muffin you might worship, if you intend to draw the human figure for a living this is your new bible. I cannot stress this more highly.

Study storytelling. As the artist, you carry the burden of telling the story. You are not an illustrator illuminating somebody else’s story: you’re the person putting it across the plate. Your friend over there should be able to get a good sense of the story by looking at your unlettered original art. Go get Will Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Take these three books, add the aforementioned Gray’s Anatomy, and don’t pick up the pencil or the Wacom tablet until you have studied and thought about each and every word in these four books.

Do not stop drawing. Question your alleged need to watch television, play video games, associate with people, eat, and bathe. Each of these activities takes valuable time away from your perfecting your craft. Trust me; once you get an assignment with a deadline, you won’t have time to watch television, play video games, associate with people, eat, or bathe.

Don’t give up. A newbie comic book artist who had just blown a couple deadlines once told me “If I can’t do this, I might as well flip burgers.” Well, today this guy is not flipping burgers. He became a comic book writer.

Drawing comics is no different than any other vocation: you’ve got to learn your stuff. Don’t look at the worst people being published and say “I can do better than that.” We’ve got enough crap. Aim high and don’t jump into the water until you know you can swim to the other side.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil