Saturday, June 30, 2012

I Found Frank Brunner

Frank Brunner beautifully illustrated some superb Doctor Strange stories by Steve Englehart forty years ago, but I have not seen this great artist's name in any comic book for many years now. Until today.

When I go to the comic book store each week, I don't merely grab my stash and run. I linger. I observe. I investigate. I'm always on the lookout for a new great thing that I wasn't expecting. I page through some of the new release comics that attract me but which I'm not getting to see whether maybe, just maybe, I should be getting them.

I don't regularly get any of the many Bongo Comics, but I spotted the "superheroes" on the cover of Simpsons Super Spectacular #15 and was curious about it. I saw Frank Brunner's name in the credit box of the second story and I went Hmm. I wouldn't have realized it was Brunner art if I hadn't read the credits first, but a character that looks very much like Clea is running around throughout the story in all sorts of Clea-like poses.  This is a comic book that Doctor Strange completists will want to have.

Excellent 1987 Jack Kirby Interview

Author Barry Pearl has unearthed a radio interview with Jack Kirby from 1987 that is very interesting. Broadcast live on Mr. Kirby's 70th birthday, Stan Lee called in during the second half and joined right in on the festivities.  The interviewer asked what the two gentlemen were liking in then-current comics, and the answer included Watchmen and The Dark Knight and The Nam. Near the very end of the interview there was just a little bit of a (gulp) dust-up between the two creators on the matter of writing credits for stories they had collaborated on.

A tip of the hayfamzone helmet to Mr. Pearl for finding this transcript (and audio) which you can read (or listen to) over here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Michael Uslan was the Boy Who Loved Batman

Michael Uslan has served as the producer of all six Batman movies in the last three decades (of course a certain 1966 jokefest is not included among these six). Long before he was a movie producer he was a comic book fan, and he is even known for having taught a college course on the mythology of comic books.

Well I just read this morning that Mr. Uslan will be speaking at a college campus not too far from stately Hayfamzone Manor. Maybe I'll mosey on over there so I can report on the proceedings to all my loyal hayfamzonders, that's what I said to myself. I looked at the details and saw that the presentation is scheduled to be held... yesterday. You see, I was reading a two-day-old newspaper.

I told you a couple of years ago that I read three daily newspapers. That used to be five but I'm back down to my core of three after having jettisoned the two boutique publications. Yes I do read all three but on some rare occasions, due to pressing matters that squirm their way to the top of the to-do list, there is a slight delay. (A certain individual with a natural maternal instinct used to bellow Throw them away It's old news! but that's just not my way.)

So I missed seeing Michael Uslan in person. But I nonetheless do have a report for you. Here is the newspaper article that told me of his coming, and it points out that Mr. Uslan has written a book entitled The Boy Who Loved Batman. And here is an article that tells how the presentation went; it appears Mr. Uslan was the one responsible for selecting Jack Nicholson to play The Joker for Tim Burton!

But wait, there's more. Back in the 1970s Michael Uslan had an unusual involvement with a comics fanzine that had a very limited print run. Mr. Uslan and I may be the only two people in the world with a recollection of it but I have a copy of that fanzine. Somewhere. I'm off to go searching through the caverns for it now and I'll be back to continue this report when I find the smoking gun.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Trigger Girl 6

Creator-Owned Heroes #1 came out recently from Image Comics. There are not only two 11-page stories but also 25 pages of articles and other non-comics material. That's quite a lot of content! But is this a 'magazine' or is it a 'comic book?' The answer is: both. I enjoyed most of the non-comics features, but possibly only because of their novelty. I mainly look to read comics when I buy a 'comic book' and I'll be curious to see if the non-comics pages try my patience when I pick up the second issue.

The two comics stories are highly episodic in the spirit of Marvel Comics Presents and Action Comics Weekly (but I guess you'd have to be a crusty old-timer like me to remember either of those) and, as such, not all that much happens in either's first installment. The storyline that is the most interesting to me is Trigger Girl 6, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and wonderfully economically drawn by Phil Noto. Mr. Noto's coloring is especially beautiful, as you can see above. (By the way, did you notice that P.N. is the gentleman who was chosen to add the hues to Darwyn Cooke's Minutemen for one of the other companies? Excellent choice!)

Creator-Owned Heroes, I am watching you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Tribute to Ben Oda

Ben Oda is my favorite comics letterer of all time.

I have not been keeping that a secret. Here is an archived post from the 2007 infancy of The Hayfamzone Blog had me proclaiming from the mountaintop the excellence of Mr. Oda's handiwork, plus more. I additionally invited everyone to help themselves to a free download of Odaballoon, a wonderful computer font created by Mr. Oda's family and featuring a design based on the gentleman's beautiful hand lettering. I continue to use Odaballoon just about every single day and I repeat my invitation to you to use the link above to download the freeware for yourself.

Ben Oda was called away from this world in 1984. I had forgotten until just recently that a wonderful tribute to Ben Oda saw print in the DC Comics that were cover dated June of 1985. Written by editor Andrew Helfer, this wonderful article has been out of print for far too long. Up above you can see how the page appeared in the printed comics, and I consider it an honor to re-present to the world this informative and reverential memorial to a gifted craftsman:


      You probably never thought twice about Ben Oda. He was never interviewed by the fanzines. He was never the guest of honor at a comics convention. Fans never begged him for his autograph. The spotlight never touched him. And there's probably a very good reason for that. Ben Oda was neither writer nor artist nor comic book creator. He was just one of the hundreds of people who put the finishing touches on comics. Ben Oda was, to put it simply, a letterer.
      But Ben Oda had a fan club. An exclusive group. We kept its very existence a secret. Instead of calling it "The Ben Oda Fan Club," we called it DC Comics. To us, Ben was not only our favorite comic book letterer; he was also our favorite human being. And when he passed away a few weeks ago, we all became acutely aware of a space in our lives that would never again be filled.
      Ben Oda was one of an ever-dwindling group of comic book professionals - the "old timers." He worked on comics in their infancy, through their heyday, and right into the present. In the forties, his distinctive lettering style graced the pages of Jack Kirby's early work. In the fifties, when Harvey Kurtzman needed hand-lettering for his now-famous EC war comics, Ben was the man he asked to do it. He was a letterer for the Chicago Tribune and King Features Syndicate, regularly turning out pages of Prince Valiant, Little Orphan Annie, The Phantom, and others too numerous to mention. And until mere days before he left us, Ben was also the most prolific letterer working at DC Comics.
      Those are the facts - they're easy to tell. What's harder to explain is the way Ben touched us all - every day of his life.
      Among other letterers, Ben was the acknowledged master - I remember Tom Orzechowski's delight over being introduced to him some years ago; and Bob Lappan literally studied Ben's work with a comprehensiveness that Ben found both flattering and confusing. He never quite understood why anyone would give his work a second glance - as far as he was concerned, his job was simply to make the writer and artist look as good as possible.
      And that's exactly what Ben did so well - twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, or so it seemed. Ben would come into the DC offices every day at four-thirty in the afternoon (you could set your clock to it) with a staggering number of lettered pages. If you had a book that had to be lettered overnight, you just gave it to Ben. Truth to tell, we took him for granted. He was the ultimate pinch-hitter, and he got the DC team out of more than one deadline jam. But, like most pinch-hitters, he seldom received the praise he deserved.
      And as much as we'd all like to believe otherwise, Ben was no speed demon. He'd work long hours, sit hunched over his drawing board late into the night, all to meet what he undoubtedly felt was a personal commitment to a friend. Sometimes, in his desire to please and help out, he would push himself too far, and the strain would show. Often, the results were hilarious. Once in a while, Batman might "fight a wart on crime," and Superman might be referred to as "The Man of Seel." We'd laugh together over Ben's occasional blooper, and seldom think about the sleepless nights he'd put in just to get the job finished. Again, we took him for granted.
      But when the job was finally done, Ben would sit himself down in one editorial office or another and just shoot the breeze. This was when you got to know and really appreciate Ben. He could talk about practically anything - World War II and his time in the service (he was a paratrooper, a spy, and a part-time baseball player), his memories of comic book pros he'd worked with in the past, his family, the performance of various players on his Monday night bowling team, and the current state of the comic book field. All his stories and opinions were delivered with such a keen sense of humor that you couldn't help but laugh.
      But there was more to Ben than just that. When Ben told a story, he became a kind of Japanese Will Rogers, a homespun humorist with a shy smile that could melt ice. Dozens of wrinkles etched into his face, laugh lines mingling with the ones that simply come with age, Ben often seemed like an ancient yet human sage, always aware of the humor in life, and enjoying every minute of it. You had only to talk to Ben to see that this was true. His eyes would sparkle with life, and in an almost mystical transference, our eyes would sparkle too.
      And perhaps, when all is said and done, this was the most wonderful thing about Ben - his uncanny ability to make us smile, to make us laugh, to lift us out of our late-afternoon doldrums with a simple anecdote or tall tale - to simply be Ben. These were his gifts to us, these were the things we took for granted, and these are the things we will miss the most.

Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Bill Draut, Marvin Stein, and Ben Oda (seated)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keep an Eye on Erica Austin

Although my main focus at this past spring's C2E2 convention was getting ready for my Hayfamzone Panel, I did manage to work my way around the dealer's room to see what I could see. One display table that had a large version of the above artwork caught my eye and pulled me over. Usually I'm not drawn to independent publications I've never heard of but this artwork exuded a relaxed confidence that I found compelling.

Against the Grain #1 is a full-color graphic novel by newcomer Erica Austin, and I am very impressed. I told the lady at the C2E2 display table how much I liked the artwork and she told me she would have given me a copy of the book (!) except she was all out. I told her that I represented the world famous Hayfamzone Blog and she took my address and said she would mail me a copy.

The lady was not joking! My copy arrived in the mail shortly after and I got right into it. The 80-page package has a definite heft to it due to the coated paper. The stock is glossy but with a satin finish so there is no brashness to speak of. The writing is fun, the artwork is beautiful and assured, and the coloring is remarkable. Here is an interior spread so you can investigate for yourself. Erica Austin is the only name appearing so it seems she is responsible for all aspects of the production. My only quibble would be with the computer lettering and the excessive white space in many of the dialogue balloons.

The marked retail price of $20 seems a bit steep, but I am very glad to have seen this book. I will be watching for many great things in the future from Erica Austin.


Last summer I went for a drive. It was a hot day so I had the air conditioner on and the windows closed. As I parked and opened the door, a butterfly came fluttering out of the back seat and ventured off into the warm sky. Isn't that a peaceful, placid little nature note about an unexpected stowaway? No it is not! I was mortified!

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. Though inadvertently, I was responsible for separating that beautiful creature from its family! How would it ever find its way back to its home base? Does anybody else in the world ever think about this kind of thing? 

I am conscious of the matter and go out of my way not to let anything like that happen again. Last weekend I was raking some leaves off the patio in the back yard (that's correct, leaves keep falling year-round in the hayfamzone). As I raked the leaves into a large pile I noticed some innocent earwigs waddling away from the pile. Worried that there might be more little guys in that pile that hadn't found their way out yet and not wanting to displace them like I had done to the butterfly last year, I let the pile sit for a few minutes before picking up the leaves.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Note from William Gaines

I was a funny kid.

When Russ Cochran published the large hardcover reprint volumes of EC Comics starting in the late 1970s, I voraciously gobbled them up. There's nothing funny about that. Those books are great! The crisp black and white reproduction was perfect because Mr. Cochran was shooting directly from the original artwork (which was auctioned off after the publication of the reprint volumes).

In the 1950s, the EC Fan Addict Club was run in-house by publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein. The house ad that appeared in the EC Comics said to send in twenty-five cents and you would receive a Fan Addict Kit by return mail. I'm certain that many kids in the 1950s sent in their quarter and received their Kit.

I wasn't around back then but I saw the reproduction of the ad in one of the Cochran volumes (it must have been a Tales from the Crypt). And do you know what bright idea I had? I decided to send a check for twenty-five cents to William Gaines at the offices of Mad Magazine (it being sole publication of EC Comics that escaped the 1950s alive) and ask him to send me a copy of the EC Fan Addict Kit. I told you I was a funny kid!

Down below I show you the envelope that Mr. Gaines addressed to me, and over here you can see the note that he wrote. He was a very nice man to take the time to write that humorous message to me. I guess he was a bit of a funny kid himself!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Some Catnip about DC's New 52

Bleeding Cool has done it again.

That website has published a very revealing interview with George Perez. Producing comics with full script first rather than plot first is now de rigueur at DC Comics in their New 52? This requirement applies even to an industry veteran who has been drawing plot-first for forty years? Promises made to Perez when he agreed to write Superman were not kept? The high-profile writer of the other Superman title was holding his five-years-previous storyline cards so close to his chest that it hamstrung Perez's writing efforts? Oh, mama!

You can read the article and watch a video over here.

Channeling Bill Elder

Bill Elder comics were fun comics. I live-tweeted each of the many times an artist mentioned Bill Elder's name during last month's Comics Philosophy and Practice conference, and now something has brought him to my mind. Which is excellent! Not many things in modern-day comics have a Bill Elder vibe about them, but I instantly thought of that man's great artwork when I saw Italian artist Arturo Lozzi's cover to the new Harbinger #1.

I've been silent until now about the recent revivals of two companies from bygone decades. The new Atlas Comics and the new Valiant Comics have underwhelmed me, but Harbinger #1 from Valiant has forced me to sit up and take notice. The cover hooked me in and then the interior artwork by Khari Evans struck a cool Alex Nino chord in me. Plus, the Joshua Dysart script is intriguing and well-paced. I will continue checking out future issues of Harbinger.

And I hope each of you will check out the artwork of Bill Elder.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nice Spin, TJKC!

I just learned in an email from Two Morrows Publishing that The Jack Kirby Collector is being downsized from glorious 11" by 17" tabloid-sized pages to 8.5" by 11" standard-sized pages starting with the issue that comes out next month. This is a huge disappointment to me. For years I've enjoyed those original-art-sized pages and will miss them very much.

The heading of the email I received shouts "NEW, STANDARD FORMAT!" as if that were a positive in some sense. (This unconvincing attempt at spin reminds me of a story from the 1940s that my father told me when I was young. A canner of white salmon, upset that pink salmon consistently outsold his white salmon, emblazoned his labels with the devilish tagline "Guaranteed Not to Turn Pink in the Can!")

And Two Morrows might want to make a point of updating their website. I just read the home page and it described The Jack Kirby Collector like this: "Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size."

I didn't like it when Rolling Stone shrunk and I dislike the diminution of TJKC even more. But I will survive. And here's my positive spin on this situation: finally I have something new to complain about!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Harlan Ellison and His Comics

Harlan Ellison is my favorite contemporary author. 

I initially encountered his writing in the 1973 prose digest from Marvel Comics entitled The Haunt of Horror. From my very first reading of his work I was amazed by the way he toyed with words and strung together magical new phrases line after line after line.

I have written previously about how Mark Waid is selling his entire comic collection. Well, if you go to the website where Blastoff Comics is doing that liquidating, you'll see that a far less publicized sale is running simultaneously: Harlan Ellison is also selling his comics and, just like Mr. Waid, Mr. Ellison is also making videos about the items!

Here is a video where Mr. E. tells you about his copy of X-Men #1 which was personalized to him by Stan Lee. And, while we're sharing, here is a collection of pithy quotations by Harlan Ellison.

The nice photo below of Mr. Ellison I found on the internet. But the picture up at the top of the page? That's another story entirely! That photo, featuring the gentleman and Jeanette, was snapped by me at The Chicago Comicon in the mid-1990s. That's right! My favorite writer and my favorite daughter, together again for the very first time!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Alex Ross Museum

I never watch any network news show on television. The only two programs I watch that are news-related are 60 Minutes and Chicago Tonight. The latter is produced by and broadcast on WTTW, Chicago's public television channel; for one hour four evenings per week it rounds up the news of the day, it showcases long-form interviews with local figures, and it presents features on the arts and the sciences and the home. Something for everyone!

Last month, to put a local spin on its reporting of The Avengers as a rousing film success, Chicago Tonight interviewed Alex Ross (and one of his former teachers at Chicago's American Academy of Art). I learned for the first time that Mr. Ross's mother was herself a professional artist and saw a sample of her work. Particularly interesting to me was that one room in Castle Ross is what I would have to call a museum devoted to comics; there are life-size statues of Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and Iron Man in that room!

You can enjoy this interview video yourself right over here.

Great Result for Herbie Pulgar and his Drawing

Herbie Pulgar is going to Washington!

Earlier this year I related the story of how this young man won a citywide art contest in Chicago, and how his accomplishment was subsequently besmirched and tainted and stripped away by authorities who misinterpreted his artwork. You can review that dark chapter in Chicago history over here.

U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez has been a supporter of young Mr. Pulgar through it all, and he entered the teen's drawing in the nationwide Congressional Art Contest. The Congressional Institute is providing a flight for Herbie and his mother to Washington,  D.C. where the two will get to view the boy's artwork as it hangs in the Capitol complex.

Representative Gutierrez, you are a modern day hero. Thank you for standing up for this young artist.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ray Bradbury Met Al Feldstein at Comicon

Last week I recounted the history of how editor Al Feldstein of EC Comics adapted Ray Bradbury stories for Weird Science and their other titles. It's a fun old chestnut of history that I've known for decades and I shared it in the hope that maybe someone would be reading of it for the first time.

Well, a couple of days ago I came across an item on Mark Evanier's blog in which I learned something for the first time: Feldstein and Bradbury never met in person until the 2002 San Diego Comicon! Mark was the moderator of a panel featuring Bradbury and Julius Schwartz, and Feldstein was in the audience. Schwartz let it be known ahead of time that he did not want to share the stage with Feldstein but Mark went ahead and called Feldstein to the stage anyway and, whoa! What is this Peyton Place? You can read the Mark's four-part account over here in his June 2012 blog archives (just scroll down to the 9:31 p.m. post dated June 15).

(You'll read in the article that the typed transcript of the panel was provided to Mark by James Van Hise, who was the editor and publisher of the Rocket's Blast Comic Collector (that's RBCC, of course) back in the 1970s. Mr. Van Hise has also been a visitor to the hayfamzone, buying one or two of my comic book offerings a year or two back.)

As for Mark Evanier himself, I've been proclaiming for six years that I consider his blog to be a paradigm of Blogworld!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hey Ravinia, Knock it Off!


Ravinia Festival is a beautiful wooded park in the northern suburbs of Chicago where individuals and families have, for over 100 years, gone to hear a musical concert while picnicking on the well-manicured lawn. From what I read it seems similar in every way to Wolf Trap Park in Virginia. Ravinia is a breathtaking venue and we used to take the kids there when they were little.

During the summer months Ravinia presents a musical concert just about every evening. Half the time it is a concert of classical music and the other half of the concerts feature other types of popular music, even rock and roll. Here is their concert schedule so you can see the wide variety for yourself.

So varied is Ravinia's programming that one could say they offer something different every day. In fact, they seem to have taken the phrase something different every day to heart because last week I heard a Ravinia radio commercial that used that phrase something different every day. And that's where I start having a problem.

Back in 1982 when Alan Light invited me to regularly draw 'commentoonies' for his weekly Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom newspaper, I knew I needed a name for the series. Everything has a name, after all. Murray Bishoff had Now What? and Don and Maggie Thompson had Beautiful Balloons and Cat Yronwode had Fit to Print, but what in the world could I call my series in which the content would vary wildly from one installment to the next?

After careful consideration I settled on Something Different Every Time, and you can see that phrase titling the sample below from 1982's TBG #433. (That page's title lettering is of course channeling the helter-skelter nature of the original logo for Shade the Changing Man, about which you can read more from Todd Klein over here.) Admittedly I did not display the SDET title on every installment of my series, but still you'll certainly agree with me that Ravinia is flying a bit too close to the sun with their something different every day tagline. I considered having my lawyer call their lawyer but, alas, I've grown soft in old age. Instead I will just publish this blog article and leave them shaking in their boots and wiping a sweat of relief from their mottled brow that I have chosen not to pursue the matter.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thanks, but no CAKE for Me

Really? Are my interests really that mainstream? Can this possibly be true?

This weekend the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo is being held, and I have absolutely no interest in attending. I had never heard of this conference before yesterday but, when I came across a paragraph announcing the event I said to myself Hmm, maybe I'll go check this out. Then I read their panel descriptions and I realized I would not be going. Seven panels were being planned for each day and not a single one of them came anywhere near reeling me in. You can see how the descriptions sound to you over at their website.

Some of the guests at the Expo I have a passing knowledge of, like Jeffrey Brown and Anders Nilsen and Paul Hornschemeier. Also Sarah Becan (about whom I've told you previously over here) was at the conference and she even sent out a tweet encouraging whomever had left behind their copy of her Shuteye to come pick it up at Table 22. In all twenty-five guests are listed but most of them I have never heard of.

It's obvious from the CAKE website that a great deal of effort and planning went into this conference, but I'm very curious to know how well attended it was. And exactly how does the K in their acronym stand for "Comics" anyway?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Howard Chaykin's Crowning Achievement

I came across an article the other day singing the praises of Howard Chaykin's Time Squared  graphic novels published by First Comics back in the 1980s. (Sorry, but the Blogger word processor does not make exponential formatting available to me; you can see over here how that title appeared when the comic was printed.) Of course, scant years earlier First Comics had also published Chaykin's American Flagg! which was also met with widespread critical acclaim.

I first saw Chaykin's artwork when he drew for DC's Sword of Sorcery and Weird Worlds in 1973. His work had a fun, hip energy to it. Just two years later he would draw a 6-page story that remains my favorite of all his forty years in the profession.

Joe Samachson was a writer during the Golden Age of Comics. He created the Martian Manhunter and co-created Tomahawk and also wrote Seven Soldiers of Victory stories for Leading Comics. That's far from all. In fact Dr. Samachson (he had earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Yale University at the age of 23) was nearly omnipresent in various DC comics of the 1940s and 1950s, and I want to drive that point home with the following list. Samachson wrote stories featuring Superman, Superboy, Batman, Alfred, Aquaman, Starman, Johnny Quick, Sandman, Manhunter, The Boy Commandos, Zatara, Robotman, and Congo Bill. Whew!

One of his Seven Soldiers scripts was never drawn and sat for decades in an inventory drawer until editor Joe Orlando in the 1970s had a very good idea. Why not have (then-)modern artists draw one chapter each and serialize the project in successive issues of Adventure Comics? Brilliant!

Mike Grell drew The Crimson Avenger chapter, Ernie Chan drew The Star Spangled Kid, Garcia Lopez drew Vigilante, Lee Elias drew Green Arrow (and that was a fun choice since Elias had been a regular artist of G.A. a decade and a half earlier), and Dick Dillin drew bookends featuring all of the characters together. Oh yes, and Howard Chaykin drew The Shining Knight.

Mightily, majestically he drew it. Six pages at the back of 1975's Adventure Comics #438 sang with the grandeur and power of swords clanging loudly in battle. I was fortunate enough to purchase one of those six pages and I'm pleased to show it to you at the top of this page.

Howard Chaykin attended The Chicago Comicon one year in the mid-1980s and I decided I would ask him to sign the page for me. As I approached him and made my request, he curled his lip and arched his eyebrow that way he does and he asked whether I liked that page. Startled by his question, I barely audibly and sheepishly said yes, I liked it. I forget his exact response, but he indicated that he felt that job was one of his weaker efforts. I thanked him for his signature and moved along.

For decades now I have wished that I had told him NO! THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST THINGS YOU'VE EVER DRAWN! because that's how I felt then and still do to this day. Oh well.

You can view a larger version of this great Shining Knight page over here if you like.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mark Waid and His Anecdotes

Mark Waid made big news when he announced that he was selling his extensive comics collection. I already told you about it back here .

What you may not already know is that a short video is posted on YouTube every week or so where he describes the story in one of his comics and/or he tells an anecdote about comics history. Here is one I liked where he told of an interchange between Robert Kanigher and Julius Schwartz. And here is one in which he derides Lois Lane's cooking prowess. There are many more videos in this series to be found if you enjoy these two samples.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ross? Steranko? Kaluta? The Shadow!

 The above Alex Ross painting on the first issue of the new Dynamite! Shadow series is so beautiful that I almost bought the comic for the cover artwork alone!

Back in the 1970s I did buy all the Shadow paperback novels came out because the Jim Steranko cover paintings (like the one above) were just that great. I still have those books around here someplace but I never did read them (yet). (I very much like Harlan's Ellison's indignant response of "Who would want to own a library in which they've read all the books?" when asked if he had read all of the one million books he owns.)

But the softest Shadow-spot in my heart is for the Denny O'Neil and Michael Kaluta DC series of the 1970s. That was my first exposure to The Shadow and the artwork is stunningly perfect for the character.

Five or eight years back there was to be a local staging of a script from The Shadow radio show, and I seriously considered auditioning for the lead role. At 6'6" I'm a bit too tall for the part, but I did practice and master the narrative introduction followed by maniacal laughter that would start off each radio play.

Here, listen to the first 29 seconds of this radio episode. I'm not kidding that I do it even better than that! If the opportunity ever arises again, I will audition. And I'll invite you to the opening.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Simon and Kirby Letterhead

Look what I just bought on ebay!

Here you can see the letterhead that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby used in the 1940s, showcasing many characters they created. This is a notepad recreation from the 1980s and published by Greg Theakston's Pure Imagination Publishing.

I have only three of these notepad pages so I will carefully decide to whom I should write!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Comic Art as Muzak

There is an artist named Peter Mars. His output seems to mainly consist of overprinting a mass-market advertisement image on top of a base image appropriated from a comic book or some other pop culture source. Peter Mars is banned from The Hayfamzone Blog and will never be mentioned here again.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Punisher Times Ninety

Just for fun, here is The Punisher as drawn by ninety different artists!

This was the forty-fourth in a series of "Draw-Offs" sponsored by Oz Comics of Australia. Earlier contests focused on Batman and The Sandman and Watchmen, and you can see the complete list of links over here.

This "Before Watchmen Situation"

Back in the last century I toyed with the idea of writing an epistolary novel. There was to have been no on-page interaction of characters but rather the story would have been told entirely within letters that the characters wrote to each other. I may still (ha ha) get around to working on this project so I won't reveal the (quite excellent) title I concocted for it.

This week the first issue of Before Watchmen was released. Maybe you bought and read it. Maybe I bought and read it. But instead of me going on about it one way or another, I have a different idea.

I've been reading everything about this Before Watchmen Situation since it first erupted, and I have been saving quotations from what I read. In the spirit of an epistolary novel, I want to share with you some very interesting things that others have been writing. If you have no earthly idea what the Before Watchmen Situation is, these quotes will make it abundantly clear. And even if you know very well what it's all about, I bet I have a couple of tidbits that have escaped your notice. Here we go:

Dan Didio:
I hope [Alan Moore]  looks at [the Before Watchmen comics] with an open mind and a chance to understand this is a love letter to what he created, and more importantly that the strength of his work is allowing other people to grow and tell other stories which will hopefully inspire other creators along the way. In the way he was inspired by the creators when he was younger, we’re hoping these ideas and these books are inspiring new people, so that we continue to grow the comics business as a whole.

Brendan Wright in The Wright Opinion:
DC has taken a huge step backwards in the way they discuss the reasons for Before Watchmen. It’s not being sold as a continuation of a great story, but as a continuation of great characters. But the characters aren’t all that great. Out of context, they’re pretty interchangeable with dozens of other superheroes, and a Rorschach story or Night Owl story outside of Watchmen are just two more superhero stories, hardly worth the attention these are getting.
It ignores the fundamental, inconvenient truth: whatever value Watchmen has comes not at all from Doctor Manhattan and the Comedian and entirely from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The book hasn’t stayed in print nearly 30 years because of its characters, but because of its perfectly controlled artwork and intricate writing, because even for someone like me who’s never been all the way convinced, it rewards rereading and has passages revelatory in their thematic and emotional payoff. By contrast, DC’s barely even hiding the fact the Before Watchmen is solely a cynically produced product.

Chris Roberson in The Comics Journal:
The only defense that’s offered of things like either Before Watchmen or the counter-suit against the Siegels or any number of different things that have been done historically is that the company is operating within the bounds of the law. The company is doing nothing illegal. There’s no defense mounted to the ethics or morality of their actions, and in many cases they will make kind of passing nods to the fact that what they are doing might be interpreted as unethical, but that because it’s not illegal, you know, they’re going to do it. And seeing as these are companies, both DC and Marvel, that are built upon stories about paragons of virtue who stand for what’s right, not for what’s nitpickingly legal, that was really bothersome to me.

Tim Marchman:
The first issues of Before Watchmen will be published next month. Among the writers working on it is former He-Man scripter J. Michael Straczynski, who once penned a comic in which Spider-Man sold his marriage to the devil. (This is the rough equivalent of having Z-movie director Uwe Boll film a studio-funded prequel to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.)

J. Michael Straczynski:
The perception that these characters shouldn't be touched by anyone other than Alan is both absolutely understandable and deeply flawed. As good as these characters are - and they are very good indeed - one could make the argument, based on durability and recognition, that Superman is the greatest comics character ever created. But I don't hear Alan or anyone else suggesting that no one other than Shuster and Siegel should have been allowed to write Superman. Certainly Alan himself did this when he was brought on to write Swamp Thing, a seminal comics character created by Len Wein.

Len Wein:
I was the editor of most of those early [Watchmen] issues, and I had a problem with Alan's intended ending to the series, specifically that the ending was almost verbatim the ending of a wonderful episode of the classic SF series, The Outer Limits, called "The Architects of Fear". When I argued with Alan that he had to change his ending because it had already been done, Alan's reply was simply, "Well, it hasn't been done by me." To this day, the redundant ending of Watchmen mars all of the book's other magnificent qualities for me.

Jill Thompson:
If u draw ur line In the sand at Alan Moore and Watchmen are u also boycotting The Avengers?

Darwyn Cooke:
I'm not here to subvert these [characters]. I'm just here to tell a rippin' story.

Aaron Haarland on Bleeding Cool (originally misattributed to Rich Johnston):
Before Watchmen: Minutemen!  Darwin Cooke is the new Alan Moore. One reimagined Swamp Thing, Charlton heroes, and literary characters, the other took on the Spirit, Parker, silver age DC, and now the Watchmen mythos. This book delivered. Skip it if you feel you must, but I loved every page.

Paul Grist:
There's great talent on Before Watchmen. That's true. But it's like when your favourite band decides to do a covers album. 

Dave Gibbons:
I appreciate DC's reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire.

Alan Moore:
It’s a finite series. Watchmen was said to actually provide an alternative to the superhero story as an endless soap opera. To turn that into just another superhero comic that goes on forever demonstrates exactly why I feel the way I do about the comics industry. It’s mostly about franchises. Comic shops these days barely sell comics. It’s mostly spin-offs and toys.

Cameron Stewart:
Before Watchmen begins tomorrow. I'm not going to tell you not to buy it, but I will ask you to consider the implications of it.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Ray Bradbury's "Fight" with EC Comics

Here's a tidbit of comics history that some of you younger whippersnappers may not know.

In the early 1950s, editor Al Feldstein and publisher William Gaines of EC Comics were cranking out so very many stories for their anthology titles like Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science that they were constantly on the lookout for inspiration. One time they used two Ray Bradbury stories as "inspiration" for one of their stories which, of course, many other authors might have objected to strenuously.

But Bradbury's response was to write a note to EC saying how much he had enjoyed "their" story and that, somehow, his royalty check must have been misdirected. Pretty classy! The parties came to an agreement and the Feldstein adaptations of Bradbury stories continued, totaling almost two dozen. Maybe you're anxious to see another one?

Yesterday I showed you The Million Year Picnic (drawn by John Severin and Will Elder), and today here is The Lake (drawn by Joe Orlando).

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Million Year Picnic

The EC Comics adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Million Year Picnic is one of my favorites of all the many stories published by EC. It's too miniscule to read up above but you can enjoy the tale for yourself over here, and be sure to revel in that superb Ben Oda title lettering!

Jack Kirby's Superman

In the early issues of Jack Kirby's Fourth World titles, all the Superman faces were re-drawn to make sure they were "on-model." The second frame above shows the published version of this comics page panel, with obvious input from Murphy Anderson. (Mr. Anderson also is responsible for the Superman and Jimmy faces on the Jimmy Olsen splash page in my art collection.)

I have found a website where other artists try their hand at re-inking some Kirby images, over here. (If you click on the 'comments,' one is from an artist who mentions what happened when Dick Giordano looked at a Superman drawing in his portfolio. I've never mentioned yet what happened when Dick Giordano looked at my portfolio, but I will sometime!)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Alan Moore and 1963

1963 written in 1993 by Alan Moore is almost certainly my favorite series ever published by Image Comics.The six issues in the run were a fun and wonderful throwback to an earlier age of comics. After those six the plan was for there to be an oversized "Annual" issue. I waited a year for it and then another year and, basically, I'm still waiting twenty years later. (Maybe you'd like to read what Wikipedia has to say about 1963.)

Just today I stumbled upon a 2010 interview with Steve Bissette, one of Moore's 1963 collaborators. I'm about ready to stop waiting for the Annual, but Mr. Bissette describes plans of his own for portions of the property. The interview gets chest-deep in the politics of the comics world and an indication is given as to what it's like to (gulp) work with Alan Moore. You can read it over here.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Hooray for Roger Langridge!

Roger Langridge is having a great week, and he deserves it!

It was just a few days ago that the Hayfamzone Editorial Board unanimously agreed to name the Langridge-written Popeye #1  as Favorite Comic Book of the Last Two Months, and now this morning's New York Times lavishes praise upon the gentleman's Snarked! stories.

Douglas Wolk of the NYT writes that "Roger Langridge’s comics have the greasepaint glow of vaudeville about them." You can read the full review over here. (And attentive hayfamzonders will observe that the above artwork is by Mr. R.L. and is not the published Popeye #1 cover that was drawn by Bruce Ozella.)

Friday, June 01, 2012

I Want to Fly

I can fly, you know. Oh yeah. The Hayfamzone Blog gives me all the wings I need to soar to the literary heavens.

But when I was young I aspired to actual flight rather than the merely metaphorical. I hope you have read the installment of The Spirit in which the character Gerhard Schnobble had the ability to fly. (Will Eisner has been quoted as saying that this 1948 story was one of his own personal favorites.) Shortly after I first encountered that tale as a teenager I had a wonderful dream that I myself could levitate by holding my breath and waving my arms about. 

To this day I observe birds in flight with great interest, from Canada geese flapping their wings so strenuously to hawks floating effortlessly far overhead. I'll let you search YouTube for yourself if you'd like to meet the cardinals that live on the grounds of Castle Hayfamzone so you can observe them in flight with your own eyes. (All right already, so I'm a softie; the cardinal videos are here and here.)

A photo in The New York Times the other day brought this all to my mind because, in the picture, a man seemed to be flying. Really he was falling, not flying. Falling from 2400 feet without a parachute. If you're curious I can show you the article and more photos of this daredevil and even a video of his flight drop, but I don't want to jump without a parachute.

I want to fly.