Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hey Kids, Don't Try This at Home

An article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune focused on whether exposure to comic books and movies and video games tends to make the youngsters have a proclivity towards violence. Interesting question.

What caught my eye was the graphic accompanying the article. It was a "Tribune Photo Illustration" and, since it doesn't appear to be available online, I will describe it to you. The upper one-third was a portion of the cover to 1938's Action Comics #1, the middle one-third was a close-up of Malcolm McDowell's despicable character from A Clockwork Orange, and the bottom one-third was video game screen capture of a pilot bombing a bridge.

Wait one minute, I said to myself. Did the Tribune Photo Illustrator really think that the Action #1 cover ever incited anybody to violence? Do kids these days make a practice of lifting cars and smashing them onto boulders like Superman was shown doing in that 73-year-old drawing? I just feel that the choice of that cover for inclusion in the Photo Illustration did not support the thesis and a better selection could have been made.

Here is the article in case you'd like to read it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Comic Book Theater Festival

Everybody knows that Spider-Man is on Broadway, but are you aware that Batman is appearing off-Broadway right now? It's so far off, in fact, that it's across the river in Brooklyn, and Batz is the name of the play. It's but one facet of The Comic Book Theater Festival which is running at The Brick Theater (and this is an interesting website to visit; I found out that Marvel Comics writer Fred Van Lente and Masterpiece Comics genius R. Sikoryak are involved with The Brick).

I won't be able to attend the play but maybe you'll have a chance to catch it. Here is a review that appeared in The New York Times (and TCBTF has been extended a week beyond the date indicated in the image below!).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Who is your favorite comic book letterer? The process is a bit of a lost art these days and I can understand if you brush off the question like a mosquito off your nose. But not so very long ago the field of lettering was vibrant and thriving and at that time I might have chided you if you couldn't name a beloved practitioner.

Admittedly, I was ignorant of the artistry of lettering when I was younger. My awakening occurred during the late 1970s at the confluence of (1) DC Comics beginning to regularly name a story's letterer in the same credit box that identified the writer and artist and (2) the publication of the first editions of the oversized hardcover EC Comics Library. I've proclaimed any number of times that Ben Oda is my favorite comics letterer of them all. My two-pronged past-and-present fascination with his craftsmanship developed as I pored over his then-current work for DC and as I simultaneously admired his impeccable title lettering for many of the EC stories. (EC editor-in-chief Al Feldstein for some reason preferred the robotic-looking Leroy lettering for everything except the story titles, but Mr. Oda lettered entire stories for editor Harvey Kurtzman in, for example, Mad.)

Yes, Ben Oda is my favorite, but I appreciate the work of a bevy of other letterers also. John Costanza worked on the early issues of Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics. Mike Royer took over in the later Fourth World releases (and, as I now reflect on it, I probably knew Mike Royer by name before I knew Ben Oda by name since those early-1970s Kirby comics had an "Inked and Lettered by Mike Royer" credit line). Let's not forget about the excellent letterer of the early issues of Jimmy Olsen that I have lauded every time I listed a J.O. comic over on ebay (but whose identity I will not reveal until a later day). Another top flier is John Workman, whose work has adorned Marshall Rogers' Batman stories and Walt Simonson's Manhunter and Metal Men and Thor stories. In fact, I'm ready to announce to the world that John Workman is my second-favorite letterer of all time!

But I'm sorry to say that I'm here today bearing bad news about John Workman. He was one of the stalwart holdouts but now he too has thrown in the towel. It wasn't that many months ago that I can recall enjoying a comic with the beautifully jaunty rising and falling of Mr. Workman's hand-drawn letters. But it's a different situation altogether in the "Super 8" story insert in the midsection of many of this month's DC Comics releases.

The credit box of the Super 8 comic-within-a-comic says that the lettering is by John Workman, but where's the life? Where's the lilt? The lettering shows some resemblance to the style of Mr. Workman but the rigid uniformity of the heights of the rows of letters makes it woefully apparent that Mr. W has crossed over to the dark side and has computer-lettered rather than hand-lettered this story. The John Workman Wikipedia page makes mention that Mr. W is one of the last to still letter by hand. Somebody's going to have to go alter that line to read "Mr. W was one of the last to still letter by hand."

The glory days were great while they lasted. I feel a sadness as I watch the artform of comic book hand-lettering hobble toward extinction.

Computers are the worst thing that ever happened to comic book lettering.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


I was at the stands and a cover caught my eye. I don't usually purchase Draw! magazine but issue 20 features a long interview with Walt Simonson and is wrapped inside this beautiful drawing of Jack Kirby's Orion. Head's up!

Here is the published version of the Draw! #20 cover and here is the original Jack Kirby version as seen on New Gods #1, for comparison.

(While you're here for a visit, how about if we dip into the legendary Hayfamzone Trivia Basket to share a little tidbit with you that you may not have heard before. In an interview many, many years ago Walt Simonson explained that he designed his artistic signature so it would look like a dinosaur!)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Jack Kirby Has Done It Again!

Hard to believe it's been almost two decades since Jack Kirby left this plane to go create in a more expansive one. Yet, all these years later, The King is still impacting our wide world of comics.

I watched Smallville for the entire ten years it was on the WB (I mean CW) network. Some seasons were better than others and some were worse. This final year has been building to a crescendo to the drumbeat of "The Darkness is coming." Since last fall we have been introduced to Glorious Godfrey and Desaad and a quite excellent Granny Goodness (and we even found out that Lex Luthor's sister Tess (yes, you did read that correctly) was raised in Granny's orphanage). All year these minions were paving the way for the arrival of the dark lord Darkseid himself.

(When Darkseid did finally appear in the last couple of episodes, he was a shadowy and towering perfection of computer-generated imagery. And did you see that fireball of Apokolips filling the sky over Metropolis in the finale? Very nice effects.)

Not only are all these characters the brainchildren of the one and only Jack Kirby, the impending threat of Darkseid was the impetus for Clark Kent to once and for all don the Superman costume in the Smallville series finale. I thought it was a little bit cool when writer Jeph Loeb had the climax of the first season of NBC's Heroes take place in "Kirby Plaza," but here we have the writers of Smallville attributing the entire costumed mythos of Superman to a confrontation with Jack Kirby's Darkseid. I'll never stop saying it: HOORAY FOR JACK KIRBY!!!

(And maybe you'd like a closer look at that Superman splash page from Jimmy Olsen #143 that I've proudly owned for almost 30 years? Just click here.)