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Friday, January 26, 2007

O. G. Whiz #2 [1971]

Random Comics Theatre

O. G. Whiz #2 [1971]

O.G. WHIZ was among the many concepts created by John Stanley (best known for his long run of LITTLE LULU stories) over the years, published by Gold Key for a handful of issues in the early 1970s and a few more later in the decade (presumably mostly or entirely reprints of the earlier series). I don't know for sure if Stanley was actually involved in writing or drawing this particular issue.  The series follows the adventures of 8-year-old former shoeshine boy O.G. Whiz, who finds himself the president of the TikkleToy Company (see Scott Shaw!'s Oddball Comics spotlight on an issue for how exactly that happened). He's opposed by Thutnose Tikkle, the grandson of the founder of the company, who's determined to take over, but of course O.G. always manages to come out ahead, thanks to his quick wits, a bit of luck, his kindly secretary Miss Trinket and the various eager-to-please toy engineers who manage to turn his ideas into reality, one way or another.

I only have this one issue of the book, one of those oddities of indeterminate origin in my collection (I couldn't have gotten it before about 1976, long after it was published, but I had it before 1980). It's very much mental comfort food in that way, a book I've read dozens of times over the years and always enjoy. I should probably see if I can find some more issues, although obviously they'll never mean as much to me as this one does.

Four complete stories in this issue, of six or seven pages each. "The Great Marble Swindle" is my favourite. O.G. has to find something to do with an absurd surplus of marbles taking up all the storage space. On his suggestion is product development guys come up with Mar-Pool, a game of marbles played on a pool table. Thutnose sees his chance to use his superior marbles skill to win the supply of marbles from O.G., but is foiled when a delivery boy opens the door to his marble filled office (trust me, it almost makes sense). So of course Mar-Pool is a success, O.G. manages to balance the books and Thutnose is stuck counting marbles.

The other stories are "Stop That Mirror" (O.G. wants his men to create a magic mirror), "Testy Testers" (O.G. decides to have regular kids test the toys, but Thutnose brings in kids from a reform school), and "The Toy Spies" (O.G. has to take a cruise ship to a toy show overseas to deliver a secret new toy, and is pursued by various spies working for rival companies).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Joe Gill, R.I.P.

Mark Evanier reports the recent passing of prolific comic book writer Joe Gill.

I looked at a few of the Gill collaborations with Steve Ditko over here.

Among the non-Ditko work that I've read from Gill, one of my favourites is the HERCULES series that he did with Sam Glanzman at Charlton in the late 1960s. Like a lot of his work with Ditko, there's a quirky sense of humour, odd flights of imagination and haphazard plotting, plus a lot of room given for the artwork to shine, with Glanzman doing some pretty innovative layouts, integrating the text into the art in some unusual ways. #12 is my favourite of those I've read, as Hercules is summoned to a dinner in Olympus after completing his twelve tasks and gets into a throw-down fight with his half-brother Mars.

Monday, January 15, 2007

War That Time Forgot

Via the Palaeoblog


SHOWCASE PRESENTS: THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT VOL. 1 TP Written by Robert Kanigher, Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Over 500 pages of classic adventures are included in this value-priced volume collecting one of the most unusual series ever from DC Comics! On an unnamed, uncharted Pacific island, dinosaurs continued to thrive while World War II raged across the globe. It’s there that members of the U.S. Military found themselves armed only with standard-issue weapons against the deadliest predators ever to roam the Earth! On sale May 2 • 560 pg, B&W, $16.99 US

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

VAMPIRE LOVES by Joann Sfar

VAMPIRE LOVES, published last year by First Second Books, collects English translations of the first four of Joann Sfar's GRAND VAMPIRE books, originally published in France from 2001 to 2003. It features the various adventures and romances of the vampire Ferdinand of Lithuania and his various companions, including other vampires, witches, ghosts, living plants and others.

I was pretty disappointed in this book, overall, after really enjoying Sfar's THE RABBI'S CAT a while back. There are a lot of nice small scenes spread among the four stories, in particular the first two, but overall the stories just felt a little directionless.

Quite frequently the stories would just drift from event to event, having stories like Ferdinand getting involved with the police in a murder investigation for no good reason, which just kind of goes on for a while until everyone loses interest and moves on to something else. So you'd get these story fragments (some of which I gather relate to characters from other Sfar books popping in) that aren't that interesting in their own right and aren't even properly tied up.

I think the biggest flaw, though, was that Sfar just failed to make me really care about any of the characters enough that I cared what happened next and how everything would resolve itself. It's a shame, since there were hints of some interesting stuff sprinkled throughout, and a lot of Sfar's art was nice (although there too it compares poorly to THE RABBI'S CAT).

Fortunately I picked up another Sfar book at the same time, a volume of THE DUNGEON (with Lewis Trondheim), and I liked that a lot. More on that later.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sergio Aragones' Dia De Los Muertos [1998]

Random Comics Theatre

Sergio Aragones' Dia De Los Muertos [1998]
(see also)
The whole Groo crew (Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai and Tom Luth) took some time between Groo mini-series in 1998 to do this one-shot special about the Mexican "Day of the Dead". It has a bit of an odd structure, beginning with Aragones narrating the story directly to the readers during a trip to Mexico, where he's having trouble getting a hotel room. He spends a few pages giving us the background of the traditions surrounding the Day.

After that he comes across some American tourists looking for a genuine Mexican experience, unlike all those places overrun with American tourists. For the price of some drinks he tells them the story of San Pascual, an unspoiled Mexican village which was found by a film crew looking for some footage. The film crew winds up attacked by zombies who cause their truck to crash for disturbing their slumber, but their footage survives and catches the attention of an American businessman who decides that a "Day of the Dead" is just what he needs for his struggling theme park. So he buys the village, cemetery and all, and moves it to the grounds of his park in the US.

That has the usual consequences moving dead bodies has in horror comics, especially bodies that already have a history of coming back as zombies. And then Aragones wraps up the story with an unexpected callback to the first scene.

This is one of my favourite of the non-Groo books done by the Groo crew, and is well worth picking up. I thought having Aragones as the narrator worked out pretty well, as he's a pretty colourful character. It's a shame that we've gone five years since the last Groo series (although apparently that particular drought is going to be relieved later this year with some new Groo for the 25th anniversary of the character's first published story. I wouldn't mind seeing a few more non-Groo projects from them ).

Friday, January 05, 2007

SOUL'S WINTER by Michael Zulli

While looking for some information on the Terrorsaur thing from a few posts back, I came across this page of upcoming Mirage books, including a reprint of "Soul's Winter", a Ninja Turtles story by Michael Zulli (with Stephen Murphy scripting the first part) from the original TMNT series #31, #35 and #36 (several pages from each issue at each link), from back around 1990/1991, along with some other Zulli drawn stories that I'm not familiar with and a new cover and an afterword by Steve Bissette.

This publication is as unexpected as it is delightful. I was never that much into the Turtles, mostly paying attention only when other creators I was interested in were invited to play in that sandbox, and I had discovered Murphy and Zulli's PUMA BLUES not too long before this began (and was hoping, in vain as it turned out, for that story to continue). An issue of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES probably wasn't the oddest place to find Zulli's art popping up (that would come a few years later when he drew some Spider-Man and X-Men stuff), but it was up there on the list. At the time, around the release of the first Turtles movie, the characters were everywhere, mostly in their most commercialized, colour-coded, kid-friendly format, but creators Eastman and Laird left the original series open to quite a few different takes on the characters, probably none more different than this one. Zulli doesn't take much more than the basic concept (four turtles trained in martial arts with a rat sensei and a samurai based opponent) and takes it off on an entirely different course, with a story far more rooted in Japanese myth and culture (more the Ninja, with a more realistic helping of Turtles, a more thoughtful reflection of Mutant and far less of the Teenage than most TMNT stuff), and with Zulli's insanely detailed artwork taking it all to a new level.

The story itself is pretty odd, with a lot of things going unexplained, and weird animal spirits and dream imagery. You sort of just have to let it carry you as far as it's able. The ending is kind of a letdown, if only because you really want it to continue and find out what happens next (which I don't think the stories outside the original three issues do). Anyway, I pulled out and re-read those three issues on finding out about the reprint, and I get more out of them each time, and they're one of the most attractive series of books from that era never to see a nice reprint you could stick on a bookshelf. If you've never read this before it's definitely one of the best $10 you'll be able to spend on comics in the next few months.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Inferior Five #3 [1967]

Random Comics Theatre

Inferior Five #3 [1967]

The Inferior Five were DC's attempt at a super-hero parody book in the 1960s, starting with three issues of SHOWCASE and then getting their own book for ten issues (with two more reprint issues a few years later). It featured a team of reluctant second-generation heroes who fell far short of the example set by their super-hero parents. I found their origin story reprinted in an early 1980s digest quite amusing, so I picked up a handful of the original issues when I got a chance. The team was created by E. Nelson Bridwell and Joe Orlando. Bridwell continued to write it, but by this time the artist was Mike Sekowsky, with inks by Mike Esposito.

"Darwin of the Apes" is the 24-page story of the issue, which features the team sent to Africa to find the long-missing Dr. Livingroom. Their guide is a hardly-at-all disguised version of Tarzan, named Darwin, now living a civilized life but happy to return to his jungle roots. The trail leads them to one of the many lost cities full of sexy women that riddle Africa. It's a pretty decent story, with some clever jokes, though more than a few groaners and a disappointing ending. I think the issues I've read that parody other super-heroes are a bit better, but this is a nice change of pace. The art is really good, with Sekowsky doing a good job on the goofy animals and sexy women.

Also of interest in this issue is a full page extra letter page with a long poem, "Saga of the Inferior Five", based on "Casey at the Bat", sent in by reader Bill Mantlo, long before his pro comics debut.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Terrorsaur Mini-Comic [1989]

Random Comics Theatre

Terrorsaur Mini-Comic [1989]

I only have a few dozen mini-comics in my collection. A bunch from Matt Feazell's Not Available Comics, Brad Foster's Jabberwocky Graphix, a few other strays, and then, like the topic of this post, a baker's dozen from a 1989 published pack of minis called MIRAGE MINI-COMICS, featuring a bunch of the creators associated with the Ninja Turtles books of the time, some of them Turtle related, a few related to other Mirage published books (GIZMO by Michael Dooney, PUMA BLUES by Murphy&Zulli), some related to possible future projects. TERRORSAUR is in the last group, along with its companion in the set, COMMANDOSAURS, both by Steve Bissette and Peter Laird, and are my favourites in the set behind the PUMA BLUES one. The completed comics featuring these concepts never did come out (Bissette talks about the background a bit here).

The concept as it stood at the time seems to be two warring groups of intelligent dinosaur based creatures. The Commandosaurs are science fiction based, military types with high-tech weapons, and are at war against the more horror-based Terrorsaurs, much more savage and vicious versions of dinosaur descendants.



The 8-page mini-comic features the story "Daymare", which has a groups of Commandosaur soldiers out in a bombed out wasteland, with the rookie of the group worried about the Terrorsaurs, that he's never seen. The others, including the cigar chomping Sarge, regale him with with descriptions of the horrible Terrorsaurs they've seen, like two-headed Leechasaurs, flying Head Eaters, others which are all teeth or poison spikes. This serves to impress the green apple, but we see that those grizzled vets don't know as much as they claim, since the rocks they were resting on were camouflaged Terrorsaurs.

This was a great little sampler for the concept that the series would have explored. I really liked the combination of standards from old war movies and comics, sci-fi concepts and pure horror to create something new that the creators clearly reveled in exploring. It's a shame we never saw the full series, which was announced a few times in the early 1990s but never made it out the gate.

Laird seems to have the characters under some sort of development as of a few years ago. A.C. Farley has a few paintings on his site from a few years ago designed for a model set of the Commandosaurs designed by Michael Dooney (including some 3D quicktime objects of the models), but I can't find any evidence that the models actually were made.

Monday, January 01, 2007

EC - Red Knight (Severin)

Red Knight
art by John Severin, story by Harvey Kurtzman
Two-Fisted Tales #29[#12] (1952)

Kurtzman and Severin give us a short history of Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron of the First World War, with five single page vignettes of some of his air victories, each introduced with panels of the beginning of his letters requesting acknowledgement for each battle, and then switching to the narrator describing the details. The whole thing is wrapped up in a framing sequence of the Baron's plane landing in No Man's Land and his dead body being pulled out.



Severin's art is really given a chance to shine here, with no dialogue and comparatively sparse captions in the flashback sequences, he captures the movement in the air well, and the occasional quick glimpse of the pilots' faces reveals a lot beyond what the script has. He's helped a lot by the lettering of the sound effects (by Ben Oda, I believe), which are well used in various ways to establish a sense of distance in some scenes, to describe the movement of the planes in others, and the pattern of the gunfire elsewhere. A real early showpiece for how lettering technique could be used to enhance the storytelling (which Oda would do a lot in MAD as well).
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