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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Marvel what now?

I was all ready to make fun of Marvel's upcoming book MARVEL BROMANCE. You know, the usual mockery of how "hep" and cutting edge they are over at Pop Art Productions.  Then I re-read the Kirby story they're including...

And all I can say is:

So I'll give you this one, Marvel.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Learn from Starchie's example, Arch...

So, Archie is proposing to Veronica, huh?

No big surprise, Kurtzman and Elder called that preference half a century ago...

However, Archie should really pay attention to how Starchie ended up...

Just saying, is all.

Of course, this being Archie Comics, I suspect the Archie/Veronica wedding story will be followed by an Archie/Betty wedding story. Personally, I'm not sure why he's not marrying Sabrina...

Does Steve Ditko wish he was taller?

An image "drawn" by Harry Bliss in a recent NEW YORKER might seem familiar to some...

Click on image or right here to embiggen.

You may be familiar with Bliss from this thing last year.

(title of this post is a SEINFELD reference, for those who don't get it)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Links to keep your eye on...

Stan Sakai previews pages of his upcoming original painted colour hardcover USAGI YOJIMBO book.

The Comic Panel That Ate Brussels

J.M. DeMatteis on Captain America.

Randy Reynaldo on Charles Schulz.

Hm, did everyone but me already know that the Pinis have posted just about every page of ElfQuest (over 6500 pages) online to read for free? Here's a short story by Sarah Byam and Ric Estrada, and here's a HIDDEN YEARS story by Wendy Pini I'm fond of. I'm not too familiar with the series from after that point (circa 1993), when they opened it up to other creators, though I've enjoyed a few things I've read. Any recommendations among the later stuff, either what to read or what to avoid?

James Vance on Tekno-Comix (part 1) (part 2)

Bryan Talbot has a video "trailer" for his upcoming serious animal fantasy GRANDVILLE.

Peter Laird draws many sketches of Mutant Ninja Turtles (who must be middle aged by now)

Brian Hibbs on short-sighted marketing in comics. From Marvel no less. In other news...

Evan Dorkin presents what really would be the happiest place on Earth.

The "eye" atop this post is Swamp Thing, from this drawing, now on display just above my desk:

Highly recommend you check out Steve Bissette's gallery of recent sketches, including those still available to buy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A DRIFTING LIFE by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

A DRIFTING LIFE is a massive 856-page comic book by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, chronicling the early part of his career (or technically that of his doppelganger "Hiroshi Katsumi") in creating comic books in post-WWII Japan, from his teen years as a reader entering contests for the magazines until his mid-20s, in 1960.  The previous Tatsumi comics to be published in English are all from considerably after that period, circa 1970, so the work he talks about is unfamiliar, and there's obviously room for another volume or two if Tatsumi were to write it.

I wasn't that much of a fan of what I read of those previously translated Tatsumi comics. They were all collections of unrelated short stories, generally about working-class Japanese life, and I only read three or four stories from each of the collections. They had some points of interest, and it was certainly very nice to see Japanese comics that didn't fall into the standard categories that see English translation (no fantasy/sci-fi/horror elements, done in a few dozen pages instead of epic stories of thousands of pages). However, I heard that this new book was what all the hipsters were reading, and anyone who knows me is aware that hip is what I aspire to be, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

I did find it much more interesting than the previous Tatsumi work I read, and enjoyed most of it. It's obviously a long and detailed history about a short period in the career of someone who it seems was really a minor figure in the industry of the 1950s, but who certainly had some interesting things going on around him, and who thought a lot (sometimes it seems too much) about various aspects of what he was doing, both technical and philosophical. It's also an interesting look at a culture that certainly seems strange to someone both half a world and half a century removed, but with some oddly familiar resonances.

I was going to write a longer piece about the whole book, but there's probably been enough written about it already by those who know more about the Japanese comics than I do, so here are a few scenes I had scanned for that longer piece with a few quick comments.

Young "Katsumi" and his brother (who also becomes a comic artist) soak up the influence of early Osamu Tezuka, who of course is going to cast a shadow over any history of comics in Japan.

And in fact more than a shadow, as young Katsumi actually has some occasion to meet Tezuka soon after, which is a very entertaining chapter of the story. Much of his career as presented in the book is about artists trying to create what one calls "post-Tezuka" comics.

This bit cracked me up, since it reminds me of all the futile discussions (which I'll admit to sometimes engaging in, when I was young and stupid) about terminology like "comics", "comix", "graphic novels", genre vs. medium and all the rest. This is like something straight out of Scott McCloud comic...

It's interesting to see that he took some lessons from reading American comics of the era. Or, if that illustration is accurate, American comics from over 20 years in the future. Truly he was a visionary! Just goes to show that the shallow American understanding of the distinctions in Japanese comics history is reciprocated.

Quite a lot of the book goes into various aspects of the history and growth pains of comics in Japan in the 1950s, which has some interesting parallels with the American experience, although obviously with very different driving factors and results.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


THE ESSENTIAL DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR is a recent hardcover collection of 390 of the comic strips that Alison Bechdel did on a mostly bi-weekly basis from 1987's Strip 1, introducing main characters Mo and Lois, to last year's Strip 527, when Bechdel put the strip on hold while she works on her follow-up to her book FUN HOME. Bechdel also provides a new 12-page autobiographical comic to introduce the collection.

I'd probably read about three-quarters of the strips before, either on-line or in some of the dozen or so smaller format collections (which are still available, and include most if not all of the missing strips, plus usually an original short comic book story of the characters not included in this book), but I'd always read the books in random order, so it's a new experience getting the two decade arc of the story in order.

As you'll see in just about any long-running strip, the early episodes seem a bit off, with the characters not quite settled into their definitive look or personalities yet, but everything falls into place fairly quickly, by around a dozen strips in when Mo begins working at Madwimmin Books. From there we follow the characters through two decades of life and all that entails, from changing relationships to changing jobs, and get their reactions to the changing political reality of the era (which tends to date the strip when read out of context, but in this format serves to ground it in reality, as the characters grow and change in real time along with the changes in real world events).

Late in the book it sometimes feels bogged down by the weight of its history and restrictions of its format (perhaps around the time Bechdel was also working on the autobiographical FUN HOME). But even in the later strips there's a lot worth reading in the better strips, as things revolve to some degree, but life goes on.

Anyway, DTWOF has long been one of my favourite "alternative" comic strips, and reading it in this format only improves its standing in my eyes. Whether Bechdel ever returns to it or not (and I'm honestly not sure which I'd prefer), this is a very satisfying collection. Hopefully it'll do well enough that we get a second book at some point with the missing strips, plus the short stories from the smaller collections, and maybe even the pre-Mo&Lois era DTWOF material.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Miracleman - Once more unto the breach

In my continuing quest to be the clearinghouse for all Miracleman/Marvelman developments until we finally get a resolution, here's what's new.

Pádraig Ó Méalóid provides most of the news this time around through his combination of journalism and detective work. Interviewing Moore over at Forbidden Planet's site, we get Moore's current understanding of the situation and his position:
PÓM: OK. The only other thing about your previous work is, do you keep up with what’s going on with the Marvelman Miracleman debacle?

AM: Nah. I mean, other than the fact that I was happy to do everything that I could to help Mick Anglo, who is the person who has always owned all of the rights to Marvelman, as far as I now understand it, that we never had the rights to do those stories, even though Mick really liked the stories that we did. We didn’t understand at the time that Mick Anglo was the sole owner of the rights. We were misled. So I’ve done everything that I can to clear all that up.

[more on the topic in the full interview]

And over on his Alan Moore Fan page at Livejournal, he follows my own legwork on some of the news that came out in that ComicMix story (and shares my opinion on the quality of that piece), and adds something I didn't know. So now we have a company called "Emotiv" buying Mick Anglo's rights to the characters (reported by Steve Bissette as information from Neil Gaiman, by way of PRINCE OF STORIES). And we have "Jon Campbell, the Scottish businessman" shopping around the film rights to the character (unsourced info, by way of ComicMix). Combining the two leads us to Glasgow based Emotiv Records, which is associated with Jon Campbell of the band The Time Frequency (internet, by way of a series of tubes).

All circumstantial, to be sure, but add to this Pádraig's independently gleaned info that "Mick Anglo apparently has a grandson in the music business"...

Hey, now we've got ourselves the fixins!

Or this could all be blind men trying to describe an elephant.

Pádraig's got some additional juicy rumours from an Ebay listing you should check out, but having both read and written Ebay listings that stretch the truth I'd say you definitely need a better source than someone trying to get almost $400 for less than $20 worth of comics, who therefore has a vested interest in people believing they'll never be reprinted in that form.

So there's stuff going on behind the scenes, and bits of it peeking out. I suppose the wait is for "Emotiv" to actually make a public move. Perhaps something more will come out in a few months when this issue of ALTER EGO comes out (it'll at least be fascinating to see what they list as the copyright holder to the images they use, since they're usually pretty scrupulous about that, but might resort to the old "everything is copyright its respective owner, and we take no position on who that might be" standby). There's some more I want to write about the whole thing, but I'll wait until at least that issue of ALTER EGO comes out to see if it clears things up or muddies the waters even more.

For now, I follow this stuff pretty closely, and I honestly can’t say whether the developments that have come to light in the last few months have brought proper reprints and a continuation of the story closer or made them more unlikely. I suppose any movement is good news, since the status quo of everything out of print wasn't helping anyone but those trying to sell back issues.

Hm, just realized, Alan Moore cedes his claim to Miracleman/Marvelman (first print royalties and other-media rights, at least) to Anglo fits "A king will forsake his kingdom". Next up, "Life and death will clash and fray".

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Various unrelated links

Rick Veitch draws Swamp Thing meeting Jesus. Man, what a great idea! I can't believe they've never done a comic about that. What? Oh, well, then, never mind.

Pádraig Ó Méalóid, who a few months ago brought us the scans of BIG NUMBERS #3, interviews Alan Moore (part 1, part 2, part 3), and in part 2 we find out that there's a new 24-page Bojeffries Saga story by Moore and Steve Parkhouse coming up in a complete collection from Top Shelf. Some more interesting stuff in part 3 about Miracleman/Marvelman, which I'll get into in a few days.

Flesk Publications is publishing a book of all of Al Williamson's various stints drawing Flash Gordon, from the 1960s comic, the 1980 movie adaptation, the 1990s series I wrote about recently and more. Introduction by Sergio Aragones. More info here. Think I might spring for the hardcover of this one.

Larry Marder presents an unusual rough version of a classic Beanworld moment.

Steve Bissette on his one-time Kubert School teacher Ric Estrada.

Great old Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez page of Superman and the Metal Men.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Winter Soldier [Gallery of War - RK & Estrada]

Winter Soldier
by Robert Kanigher & Ric Estrada
Our Army At War #263
December 1973
American Revolution
7 pages

General Washington must deal with a deserter during the long hard winter at Valley Forge.

This is one of the few few Gallery stories to deal with a recognizable historical figure rather than the more common frontline soldier. Which actually fits in quite well with the theme, since the framing device in the story is about an artist in 1791 about to paint a portrait of Washington and being intimated by him being a living legend. He's then told a story about the winter at Valley Forge.

The basic story is that a young soldier named Jim does what a lot of the soldiers are thinking of doing in the desolate winter and attempts to desert. He's captured and arrested, and General Washington imposes a sentence of death by firing squad. The story explores Washington's reasons for this, and the burden that making such decisions has on him. It humanizes him for the reader as well as the painter.

Kanigher manages to explore a few themes of life in general and war in particular in this short story. It's about the nature of courage and cowardice, it's about the burden of difficult choices, it's about how in war it's sometimes harder to deal with a single life in your hands than with larger numbers. He does all this with some crisp dialogue and a clever plot (with a few twists I haven't mentioned here).

Estrada, as usual, is in his element drawing this kind of story. I was especially taken with his use of dark shadows in this story, with some of the scenes taking place in candle-lit tents and the like. Really dark, evocative, shapes. One panel in particular, showing the troops trying desperately just to stay alive in the cold, worked really well, with the art really getting the idea of cold through to the reader.

The body language is also very effective. On the first page you can see the fear in Jim as he runs away, not just in the face, but in the whole body. When his sentence is passed, you can see the resignation. When he's trying to write to his mother and explain, you can see the sorrow, and when he finally faces the firing squad you can see the courage and determination. Washington shows similar body language through the story, as you can see the effect the decisions he has to make wear on him, but also see the determination to do what's right.

While this story features a general, it's also about the frontline soldiers, at both ends of the spectrum of war.

I can't recall the exact reference, perhaps it was in Kanigher's Comics Journal interview, but I'm almost sure I read Kanigher talking about this story elsewhere, in the context of him having written it for some other venue (stage play? radio play?) first.

Estrada did a single DC war story in the 1950s, "Parade for a Statue" in Our Army At War #41 (December 1955). He tells an amusing story in The Comics v7#10 about how Kanigher had him re-draw the statues in the story and how they misread each other didn't seem to like each other's attitudes at the time. Fortunately they got along better when they met again and collaborated in the 1970s.

Robert Kanigher's Gallery of War

The Tally [Gallery of War - RK & Toth]

The Tally
by Robert Kanigher & Alex Toth
Our Army At War #254
February 1973
First World War
8 pages

In the first World War, British ace pilot Alex Torrent obsesses about his credit for downed enemy planes.

The second of Alex Toth's two "Gallery" stories is, to no surprise, another one of the highlights of the series. This time he tackles an aerial combat story in the first World War. Aerial combat is kind of tricky to do effectively in comics, but when it is done right it's well worth it. War comic fans have been fortunate that there have been so many talented artists who had the skill and took the time to do it right, and Toth is obviously on that list. About three-quarters of this eight page story take place in the air, and the choreography and attention to detail are impressive. While I'm not as up on the details of planes as a lot of war comic fans seem to be (I couldn't tell you if a plane was a Nieuport or a Fokker or a Brandenburg. I know a Sopwith Camel looks like a dog house...), I like to think I know enough to tell what's good, and in Toth's art I see planes that look plausible, and I see them from a variety of angles and perspectives that I know he took drawing them right seriously.

Almost as much as the drawings of the planes in this story, I also like Toth's use of sound effects. You can see some of that in the sample page here, how he has the effects upsidedown when the plane is in a loop, and has the steady pace of "TOK" effects following the path of the plane in the longer shots. It's kind of neat in that it's a little playful but also does a good job of leading the eye, setting the reading pace, and giving an extra audio dimension to the reading.

So, to Kanigher's story, which was more than deserving of all this effort of Toth's part. What Kanigher writes about here is largely obsession. Torrent seems to have forgotten why his country is fighting this war, and he seems to have forgotten that the other planes in the sky contain human beings. His only concern is "The Tally", and he's determined that his will be higher than anyone else can hope to reach. Kanigher uses the aerial combat scenes to establish all of Torrent's character. A theme Kanigher returns to over and over in his stories is the different effects that war has on people, and in this case it's made a man a hero for all the wrong reasons.

Without giving away an especially powerful ending, this story closes with a really strong four panel sequence, wonderfully realized by Toth. Irony appears to be a favourite tool of Kanigher, and he seems to like his ironic blade sharp...

For other Toth aerial combat art, with writers other than Kanigher, you may want to look up:
Blazing Combat #2 - "Lone Hawk" by Archie Goodwin
Our Fighting Forces #146 - "Burma Sky" by Archie Goodwin
Frontline Combat #8 - "Thunderjet!" by Harvey Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #12 - "F-86 Sabre Jet!" by Harvey Kurtzman
Detective Comics $442 - Batman in "Death Flies the Haunted Sky" by Archie Goodwin
and his own Bravo For Adventure stories.

By all accounts a rather sad and especially needless loss in this particular category for comic fans is "Death Takes No Holiday", an Enemy Ace story by Kanigher intended for Star Spangled War Stories #144. A version drawn by Toth was reportedly rejected by Joe Kubert and then re-drawn for publication by Neal Adams and Kubert. Toth's original artwork for his version of the story, apparently, no longer exist.

Robert Kanigher's Gallery of War

A note on some upcoming content

Back in the the olden days of the internets, when it really was a series of tubes, I wanted to put up some information about comics that I really liked, and which weren't covered anywhere else on-line. Being somewhat cheap, I went with the free hosting offered by Geocities, and put up some stuff about Sheldon Mayer's Scribbly and Sugar&Spike, Robert Kanigher's Gallery of War (with various artists, including Ric Estrada) and Sam Glanzman's USS Stevens. Unfortunately, after a while some changes in how the site was run, plus my own awkward web designing, made updating the pages kind of frustrating, plus they added some poorly implemented advertising, so for the most part I never got around to properly finishing those sites. Plus, the amount of server space they offered turned out to be pretty low for the number of images I needed to do those topics justice.

Anyway, fast forwarding to today, Geocities is closing down later this year, and there are a lot of better options for hosting that stuff now, so I'm going to be copying and revamping some of that old stuff. For now I'm going to post the stuff on this site, though I may at some later point create a new weblog for each of those topics.

So that'll be a lot of the posts for the next little bit. First up, some stuff on Kanigher's Gallery of War.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

What else do COMICS TEACH me?

Okay, this one is going to bug me. I came across a listing for this comic while looking for something else:

And it's like, wow, how has the universe conspired to keep me from knowing about this so long? So, curious, I do some searching and find out, courtesy of the GCD, this is the second (numbered "M-02") of four comics in the COMICS TEACH series published by King Features (printed by Charlton) from 1979.

So here's M-01:

And here's M-04:

Now, I didn't have fancy COMICS TEACH comics growing up, with Hagar and Hi&Lois and Popeye teaching me math and problem solving, so I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure there's something missing there. "D-07", if my calculations are right... wait, that can't be right.  Let me double check...

Okay, sorry, "M-03" is the missing one. As you can see, I really need these comics, and more than anything right now, I need to know what "M-03" promises to teach me.  Someone put me out of my misery. And while you're at it, what are those two strips sharing the covers with Popeye?
Weblog by BobH [bobh1970 at gmail dot com]