Monday, July 09, 2018

Steve Ditko, R.I.P.

It was announced a few days ago that Steve Ditko passed away recently at age 90. It should probably be obvious that I was a big fan of his work, from the beginning to the (current) end (with hopefully quite a bit of posthumous releases still to come) and you can look through the archives of the other weblog for looks at quite a few facets of his career, including over 200 complete stories from the 1950s (every non-Marvel story he did in the 1950s, except those reprinted in recent Snyder/Ditko publications).

You can find all sorts of biographical information all over the place right now about Ditko, some of it even partially accurate. The important thing is the published work, which in Ditko's case comes out to over 15,000 pages over 65 years of being published. Almost all of those pages he pencilled (about 300 pages he just inked, mostly over Jack Kirby in the 1960s), the majority of them he inked and a large percentage he wrote or co-wrote, including most of the best of those 15,000+ pages. A few thousand he even lettered.

My own journey with Ditko begins around 40 years ago, when he had already been working professionally for a quarter century. While I may have seen his work before that, the first clear memory I have is the 1978 Pocket Book DOCTOR STRANGE, MASTER OF THE MYSTIC ARTS which reprinted the first 18 stories of Ditko's creation from 1963 to 1965. Despite the reduced size which makes the book hard for me to read now, it was a favourite of mine at age 8, with endlessly imaginative characters and settings all in just 5 to 10 pages per chapter. It would be a few years before I found out that the back half of Ditko's run on his creation was even better the front.

I'd encounter Ditko's work a few times in the next few years, mostly on stories he just pencilled, including a few short stories in DC's mystery/sci-fi anthology titles and the one year run he did on Starman with Paul Levitz in ADVENTURE COMICS. That was a particular favourite, and somewhere along the line it must have clicked that this was the same guy who did those Doctor Strange stories I loved so much.

Somewhere in there I also somehow got a copy of  E-MAN #4 from Charlton in 1974, which features an uncredited back-up story featuring an enigmatic character named Killjoy, which to this day is one of my favourite comic book stories ever. I'm not sure when I finally put the Ditko name to that story.

In the early 1980s, I began to find out more about comic book history, and reprints and back issues became more available, so I became aware that this Ditko guy whose work I'd enjoyed in various scattered places was actually somewhat of a big deal, having actually created not only Doctor Strange, but also the even more successful Spider-Man. I got some reprints of his Spider-Man stories and liked those a lot more than any of the new Spider-Man comics I read.

I mostly stopped buying comics in the mid-1980s as newsstand selection dried up, but kept reading the ones I had, so when I got back into buying comics around 1988 those early exposures to Ditko that I had read and re-read were definitely something I was ready to explore more. I found out as much as I could about his work, and over the next few years read more of his Spider-Man and Doctor Strange work, plus found other work like his Creeper, Shade and The Hawk and The Dove, plus reprints of his early sci-fi/fantasy short story work for Charlton and Marvel.

And then somehow I got lucky enough to get the now hard-to-find two volumes of THE DITKO COLLECTION that Robin Snyder edited in 1985 and 1986. These collect most of the black and white independent creator-owned work that Ditko created from 1966 to 1976, originally published through various fanzines and small-press outlets. This was quite a revelation, as just about everything I'd seen by Ditko before was filtered through writers, co-writers, editors and (often) inkers. While his imagination and storytelling couldn't help but come through even with all those filters, that only barely prepares you for the pure experience of stories where Ditko actually expresses his philosophical opinion (most notably in the Mr. A. stories in those collections, but also Avenging World and the rest) using all the skills he displayed on his mainstream work.

Make no mistake, I liked Ditko's work before I read those two books, and if asked would probably have described myself as a Ditko fan, but it was only after reading them that I think I truly appreciated his work. After that it was really no return, as I would make an effort to get any Ditko I could lay my hands on. Along the way I discovered great works like Static, The Mocker and Laszlo's Hammer, a second Killjoy story from the 1970s (both reprinted in superior black and white in THE DITKO PACKAGE), plus a seemingly endless supply of minor delights in this mainstream work like his Charlton and Marvel short stories, which often have unexpected storytelling flourishes. It's been great to see him active in the last decade (with co-publisher Robin Snyder) with not only over a thousand pages of new comics (with characters including Miss Eerie, The Madman and more Mr. A.) but also reprints of many of his long out-of-print classic independent comics and dozens of essays on various topics. I was glad I could play some small part in publicising those publishing efforts.

So, tip of the hat to S. Ditko, thanks for the last 40 years of interesting, entertaining and often enlightening reading, which I look forward to continuing to read for the next 40 years.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Turning the rusting crank on the old weblog machine...

So, where was I...

Maybe that should be the name of this weblog.

Time for one of those infrequent attempts to get posting on here more often, this time spurred on by my displeasure over most other on-line venues. One recently went belly-up, taking with it years of discussions. Most others I find to be problematic on a technical, aesthetic or political level, often all three. Thinking back, I realized I was most satisfied with ol' blogger (although there are some political questions with the parent corporation) for my particular needs, which are mostly to get things down for my own personal later reference, and if those thoughts manage to entertain or inform anyone else that's an agreeable but ultimately non-essential side-effect. So I figured I'd try using it for a little while while I explore alternatives, maybe prepare to migrate whatever content from the archives is worth saving to the alternative in the future. Right now I'm thinking occasional omnibus posts with short comments on various subjects interspersed with longer articles on specific things I want to write about, and eventually bringing in a few of the regular features I used to have.

Some housekeeping, I've changed the layout because something in the old one was apparently causing the page to load very slowly on some systems. If anyone is still reading, feel free to let me know if there are any problems with the new layout, and have some patience while I do some tweaking around the edges.



I've remained mostly on a moratorium on acquiring any newly published paper, comic book or otherwise, for the last little while, with some exceptions which I'll probably discuss sooner or later. I do still pick up quite a few back-issue comics if the price is right (rarely going over $2 a single issue or $10 for a collection) and it fills in some hole in my collection.  Lately that's meant a lot of 1980s DC stuff, finally completing a run of OMEGA MEN, coming close on NEW TEEN TITANS, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, THE OUTSIDERS and ACTION COMICS WEEKLY, and for $5 I wasn't going to say no to the SQUADRON SUPREME collection, even though I have the original issues, as that 1980s Marvel printing doesn't age well, and it has the CAPTAIN AMERICA crossover issue I was missing.

For new stuff I'm mostly relying on the local library system, which has a pretty great selection of print books available, plus through the Hoopla and Libby apps a very large collection of digital comics.  Plus I'm occasionally buying stuff digitally on sale or though deals like Humble Bundle. I've gone digital on the last few serialized holdouts I was getting in print, GROO and USAGI YOJIMBO, and get a few other serialized comics when they're on sale, like MONSTRESS and BLACK MAGICK, though I am several issues behind on reading all of those. For the past few weeks Marvel's been undermining their retail partners by putting recent books, with print prices as high as $75, on sale for $1, and I've been happy to take advantage of that. Although so far they've mostly added to the backlog of stuff to read. I have been making my way through the collections of 1950s horror anthologies they had on sale, which are often fun, if slightly clumsy.



Been trying to catch up on movies that I've missed over the last few years, as well as some older stuff I never got around to only have vague memories of.  Maybe longer comments on a few of them later, but for now:

I thought WONDER WOMAN (2017) was pretty entertaining, far more than most modern super-hero movies, although not without a few problems, mostly the related to the parts of its DNA shared with the other DC movies of late. Overall about 75% of the way to a good movie, which is pretty close.

I wasn't as impressed with SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING (2017). While parts of it were better than most of the previous Spider-Man movies (I'd have to go back and see if the first two Raimi directed ones hold up, and if either has enough good stuff or I'm just mentally combining the two), overall I'm not sure that they got the point of Spider-Man, certainly not if their idea was to give him an Iron Man suit and computer guide.

I really enjoyed ETHEL & ERNEST (2016), based on the 1998 Raymond Briggs book that I discussed here. It captured most of what worked in the book, with a pleasing visual style and some very effective voice acting. I wasn't completely taken with some aspects of the animation style, so that while I might have like each frame in a sequence taken in isolation, it sometimes bothered me how things moved in the actual movie. But that's a minor complaint, overall I'd definitely recommend watching it after reading the book.



I guess that'll do for a start.  Some possible upcoming topics, comics including THE ETERNAUT, HERO SQUARED, PLANET HULK, ASTRO CITY, a few TV shows I've been watching including AMERICAN GODS, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, BETTER CALL SAUL, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, THE GOOD PLACE, some more detailed thoughts on a few movies, a discussion about the state of digital comics and other stuff.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sam Glanzman, R.I.P.

A farewell to Sam Glanzman (1924 - 2017), an excellent comic book writer/artist with a career stretching back to his teen years and including numerous classics in various genres, plus casting a large shadow in his influence on later generations of artists.

I came to his work relatively late, as I didn't read too many of the DC war comics as a kid, when that was the primary place his work was published. As I started to get into them in reprints and back issues around 1990, I noticed that I really liked a lot of the short story back-ups from the 1970s, especially those that fell into two groups, "Robert Kanigher's Gallery of War" (with various artists, most frequently Ric Estrada) and "U.S.S. Stevens", written and drawn by Sam Glanzman. As my collecting expanded I became more familiar with a lot of Glanzman's past work, as well as the new work he continued to produce almost to the end of his life, although I've still only scratched the surface on his full body of work.



I also had the pleasure of meeting him once, and had a few brief e-mail encounters with him, and am happy to own a few original pieces by him, including the 2003 Kona sketch above.



In the 1960s he worked primarily for Charlton and Dell. Notable work includes a lot of war comics for both companies, including most issues of Dell's COMBAT. Also for Dell, he did the full 21 issue run of KONA, MONARCH OF MONSTER ISLE, a sometimes bizarre but always exciting fantasy adventure book with some very innovative storytelling and character design. Two notable Charlton projects were HERCULES (with Joe Gill and others) and a short run on TARZAN which was produced under the mistaken impression that the character had lapsed into the public domain. One of the most notable features he did was an on-going WWII adventure "The Lonely War of Willie Schultz" with Will Franz (there was talk of Franz and Glanzman doing a conclusion to the story a few years back, anyone know if it was ever published?).



In 1970 Glanzman began working for DC, primarily on their war comics. The most notable are the 58 U.S.S. Stevens short stories he wrote and drew, most of them only 4 pages and published from 1970 to 1977. Based on his experiences on the ship during WWII, they provide a vivid and fascinating account, with a variety of storytelling styles. The stories range from the comedic to the tragic, look at the mundane aspects of life on board the ship, provide philosophical musings and describe many colourful characters.  In terms of volume, Glanzman's main work was on the Haunted Tank feature in G.I. COMBAT, taking over from co-creator Russ Heath in 1972, mostly working with co-creator Robert Kanigher (briefly with writer Archie Goodwin), until the cancellation of the feature in 1987, drawing over 200 stories. Just after that he drew two of the last issues of DC's flagship war book, SGT. ROCK, which are really nice. In addition to the war books, Glanzman also drew a number of fantasy/horror stories, writing a few of them, and also working with Sheldon Mayer on one interesting dual narrative story from 1972.


As the DC war books wrapped up in the 1980s, Glanzman began doing some work for Marvel, continuing the auto-biographical WWII stories with some short stories in SAVAGE TALES and two full length A SAILOR'S STORY books, as well as some stories by other writers in SEMPER FI' and THE 'NAM. He also wrote and drew a complex sci-fi adventure called ATTU (two books published in 1989/1990, the third finally included in a complete edition last year). He also worked as a strong inker on a few books, most notably over Tim Truman on three JONAH HEX stories written by Joe Lansdale for Vertigo and a few issues of TUROK. There were a lot of other projects, including working with Lansdale on the western RED RANGE (soon to be reprinted in colour), another western with James MacCormick called WEST OF THE DAKOTAS and an unfinished Robin Hood story with Roger Broughton called THIEF OF SHERWOOD. He also did a few more U.S.S. Stevens stories over the years, including those in JOE KUBERT PRESENTS.

Fortunately a lot of Glanzman's work was finally reprinted in the recent past (ATTU, A SAILOR'S STORY and U.S.S. STEVENS, with RED RANGE upcoming), thanks largely to Drew Ford, who has been raising some money lately to help with some expenses on Glanzman's final illness and publish a tribute book.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

James Vance, R.I.P.


Sorry to hear about the passing of comic book writer James Vance. Neil Gaiman has a few recollections, including a link to a fund-raiser for his family.


Vance is best known for his Great Depression set comic with Dan Burr from the 1980s, KINGS IN DISGUISE, and the sequel ON THE ROPES published in 2013 (I wrote about it here), both based on a supporting character from a play he'd written in 1979. Some excellent comics. The illustrations above are Harvey Kurtzman's cover to #2 of the original serialization and a short KINGS story from Vance and Burr from the benefit comic IMAGES OF OMAHA #1 [1992]. Shortly after KINGS he wrote OWLHOOTS with artist John Garcia, a western  set in the early 20th century (with flashbacks to the 19th century) about an aging marshal looking to make a movie about his life. Unfortunately it was unfinished due to low sales, with only two of six issues published.



Before ON THE ROPES, Vance and Burr reunited for a short story in THE SPIRIT - THE NEW ADVENTURES #2 [1998], which is a nice little romp for Will Eisner's character. Vance's most "mainstream" work was probably the Batman story he wrote (as he said, for a chance to work with editor Archie Goodwin) in BATMAN - LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #80 - #82 [1996], with artists Doug Braithwaite and Sean Hardy. Set early in the career of the vigilante created by Bill Finger (with Bob Kane), it has several nice scenes of Bruce Wayne interacting with Alfred and Captain Gordon. Vance also worked on James O'Barr's creation the Crow with artist Alexander Maleev in THE CROW - FLESH AND BLOOD #1 - #3 [1996], featuring the first female Crow, a murdered government agent Iris Shaw seeking revenge against right-wing militia types.


One of Vance's longer works in comics was on NEIL GAIMAN'S MR. HERO THE NEWMATIC MAN #1 [1995-1996] for Tekno-Comix, with artist Ted Slampyak and others developing some concepts Gaiman came up with. The company seems to have been a bit chaotic, but some of the comics I've read were pretty decent. Read some of the messiness on the company end on Vance's blog, starting here. Vance also wrote some interesting stuff in ALIENS - SURVIVAL [1998] with artist Guy Davis and he and Kate Worley co-wrote PREDATOR - HOMEWORLD [1999] for artists Toby Cypress and Mark Lipka, both pretty decent genre tales based on the concepts from the movies.


Vance also finished up writing OMAHA THE CAT DANCER after Kate Worley passed away, based on her notes for creator/artist Reed Waller, doing good work that seamlessly fit in with Worley's earlier stories and wrapping up the long-running saga.

And I'll just finish with a few words from Alan Moore's introduction to KINGS IN DISGUISE:





Monday, May 15, 2017

Good Miracle Monday

A quick reminder to remember to set a place at the table for Superman tonight, the classic Miracle Monday tradition, as seen in this story from SUPERMAN #400 [1984] by Elliot S! Maggin and Klaus Janson.


Next year in Metropolis!

And if for some reason you've never read them, pick up Maggin's two Superman novels, LAST SON OF KRYPTON and MIRACLE MONDAY.  Hm, looks like there may be a new edition of MIRACLE MONDAY...

(Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster)
Weblog by BobH [bobh1970 at gmail dot com]