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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Happy 100th Birthday - The Sheldon Mayer Centennial

Happy 100th Birthday to Sheldon Mayer (1917-1991), one of the greatest comic book creators of all time.  Here's just a quick sample of some of his varied creative work.

Mayer's most famous creation was Sugar & Spike, which ran for 98 issues from 1956 to 1971, plus hundreds of pages of additional stories in the 1980s, primarily for foreign publication, some seen in English in digests.  The on-going adventures of two neighbour babies who can talk to each other, but not to their parents, it's a constant delight of visual and verbal humour.

In the 1970s, Mayer wrote (and occasionally drew) three dozen stories for DC's various anthology books.  "Is a Snerl Human?", drawn by Alex Toth, is one of the best of them.

 In the 1970s Mayer wrote and drew a number of DC's tabloid format specials featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
 Also for DC's tabloid line, Mayer wrote a book of stories from the Bible.  Only the first one, featuring Old Testament stories, was published, with artwork by Nester Redondo and Joe Kubert, although a significant amount of work for a second book of New Testament stories was done.

Mayer produced several hundred short funny animal stories, mostly in the 1950s.  My favourites are the Three Mouseketeers stories, a kid-gang of field mice navigating the world of the big-feets.

Dizzy Dog stories are also always fun.  Dizzy usually has to defend himself against various attempts of others to take advantage of his innate stupidity, with varying degrees of success.

 Bo Bunny is the comedy duo of Mayer's funny animal work, as Bo and his "friend" Skinny Fox hobo around, trying to avoid work.
 Doodle's Duck is the family comedy of Mayer's funny animal work, at least after the introduction of nephew Lemuel.
Black Orchid was a super-hero created by Mayer in 1973 with artist Tony DeZuniga, only appearing in a handful of stories back in the 1970s but re-appearing in various forms quite often since.

 "Up In McWhistle's House" was a proposal for a depression-era story that Mayer worked on circa-1974, apparently never going beyond a dozen pages of an introductory story partly pencilled and some notes on further plans.

 And of course Scribbly is probably Mayer's second most famous creation, beginning as original content for early Dell comics composed of mostly strip reprints in 1936, continuing as a regular feature in All-American Comics (which Mayer also edited) from 1939 to 1944, where supporting character Ma Hunkel took the identity of the Red Tornado and also took over the feature, and then 15 issues of his own book from 1948-1951. Plus a handful of later returns to the character.

For some earlier posts by me about Mayer, see here.  And if you're on Facebook, check out this group for more on Mayer, including foreign covers, unpublished artwork, Sugar & Spike comic strip proposals, fan art and more.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Bernie Wrightson, R.I.P.

A belated farewell to Bernie Wrightson, who passed away at age 68 last week. I think Wrightson was mostly out of mainstream DC/Marvel comics when I started to read comics, working on stuff like HEAVY METAL, so I probably first encountered his 1970s work in reprints in the early 1980s. Of course one that especially stands out is the reprint of the original Swamp Thing short story, and later some of the full issues. Swamp Thing casts a long shadow on Wrightson's career, with the influence of not only the original stories, but subsequent takes on the character.  But if there were never any Swamp Thing stories beyond those original ones, they'd still be classics.  Later I'd encounter a lot more of his work, and much of it was spectacular.

Here's a random hodge-podge of images from his career that I've pulled out in the last few days, with an emphasis on stuff I haven't seen on-line since his passing.

From EPIC ILLUSTRATED #34 [1986], "They Just Fade Away" was a story done a decade earlier for an unpublished anthology, written and drawn by Wrightson.

SHADOWS & LIGHT #1 [1998] was a black&white anthology from Marvel, and Wrightson wrote and drew a Hulk story for it, which is basically the Hulk fighting a few different monsters, with a pretty decent twist at the end.

DOCTOR STRANGE/SILVER DAGGER #1 [1983] was a reprint of a 1974 Brunner/Englehart story. Wrightson did the wraparound cover which is pretty good. Don't think we got any other Doctor Strange work from him.

ROOTS OF THE SWAMP THING #5 [1986] reprints the tenth and final issue of Wrightson's run on the series from 1974, and this might be my favourite page from that run. Arcane and the Unmen are just wonderfully realized horror creations.

MORLOCK 2001 #3 [1975] is the final issue of the short-lived series from the short-lived publisher Seaboard. This is notable for teaming up Bernie Wrightson as inker over Steve Ditko, which was an interesting look.  Wrightson did a handful of inking over other artists in the 1970s, including a Shadow story over Michael W. Kaluta, a GL/GA story over Neal Adams and a few short stories at Warren over Carmine Infantino.

Wrightson did a pin-up for SUPERMAN #400 [1984], an all around great issue.

A rare later example of Wrightson doing some inking, this one over Sergio Aragones on FANBOY #1 [1999] written by Mark Evanier.

Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson re-team in TREEHOUSE OF HORROR #11 [2005] for a Simpsons story based on one of their early stories.

FRANKENSTEIN ALIVE, ALIVE #3 [2014] is the last issue of the unfinished series, one of the last things Wrightson worked on, with writer Steve Niles.

Wrightson always did a great job doing strong single images for covers, this one for SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT 3-D #2 [1986] from Eclipse.

Here's one from THE SPECTRE #58 [1997]. One of Wrightson's earliest jobs at DC was a Spectre story, thirty years before this.

He did a lot of covers and intro pages to DC's horror books of the 1970s, and came back for a reprint special in WELCOME BACK TO THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY #1 [1998].

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #100-2 [1995] has a really strong image of Mike Mignola's Hellboy.

And here's a very atypical version of Kitty Pryde from HEROES FOR HOPE STARRING THE X-MEN #1 [1985], a scene written by Stephen King and inked by Jeffrey Catherine Jones. Wrightson also initiated and co-plotted the comic, which raised money for famine relief.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

A Dan Spiegle sampler

Here's a selection of some comics pages by Dan Spiegle. In random order.

First up is a page from SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON, one of Spiegle's longest running gigs, drawing over 50 issues from 1962 to 1978.  This is an original comics creation, predating the LOST IN SPACE TV show with a similar premise, which led to the comic picking up the LOST IN SPACE subtitle starting in 1966, although keeping its own characters and designs.

Spiegle did quite a bit of Tarzan related work (mostly on Korak, Tarzan's son) for Western starting in 1968, and later for foreign publishers.  This specific page was done for a 1983 adaptation of the original novel written by Mark Evanier and Sharman DiVono.

"Nemesis" was a serialized spy-thriller that ran in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD from 1980 to 1982, with Dan Spiegle drawing Cary Burkett's back-up stories for 25 issues and Jim Aparo handling the art in two full-issue Batman team-ups (including the finale). This was my first regular exposure to Spiegle's work, and combined with the great Aparo art on the lead stories to make B&B among my favourite books when I was 10 years old. Burkett & Spiegle did a great job working with the 8-page chunks they were given to build the story.

Spiegle did the art on three issues of the JONNY QUEST series written by William Messner-Loebs in the mid-1980s.  The first, featuring a mistaken identity story around the social services worker sent in to check on Jonny and Hadji's care, is probably my favourite of that run.

Oddly Spiegle was never called in to draw STAR TREK while Western held the licence, which is probably why those comics have such a reputation for being off-model.  It was only when DC got the rights that Trek got the Spiegle treatment, with an issue written by Walter Koenig which, surprisingly, features Chekov.

While he didn't draw a lot of super-hero stuff, it was kind of interesting when he did, like this 1988 story of the original Teen Titans, written by Evanier and DiVono, which has a strong feeling of the classic 1960s Titans stories by Nick Cardy.

Spiegle drew three issues of SGT. ROCK with Robert Kanigher in the early 1980s, including two long annuals, and they're among my favourite issues from that era,

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS was a five issue series by Spiegle and Evanier for Marvel's Epic imprint in 1991, which apparently Marvel had little interest in publishing by the time it was ready, and that showed in the production and promotion end, but was still entertaining reading. There's a pretty decent and inexpensive black&white reprint of the five issues available.

Around 1990 Spiegle drew an adaptation of Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo" for a short-lived revival of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED. I think he was announced as doing another one before the line folded, but don't think it ever came out.

Another place where I saw Spiegle early on was a short run Zatanna series that ran in WORLD'S FINEST in 1982.

SCOOBY-DOO was a book that Spiegle would return to a few times, usually with Mark Evanier along writing, first for Western in the early 1970s, Marvel in the late 1970s and this example from Archie in the mid 1990s. I've found those I've read a lot more entertaining than I do any version of the cartoon I've watched in years.

So, a werewolf, a vampire and Frankenstein get together in WWII to fight Nazis. Wait, I'm not done yet, later they're joined by a gorgon and a robot.  Yeah, the Creature Commandos was an odd concept, but sometimes pretty entertaining, including the four issue fun Spiegle drew in 1982.

CROSSFIRE is one of Spiegle's best known works. A spin-off of Mark Evanier and Will Meugniot's DNAGENTS, it ran from 1984 to 1988, plus a few later short stories, telling stories about an LA bail bondsman named Jay Endicott who inherited the costume and gadgets of an industrial spy named Crossfire. The series started strong and got better as it went along, as the superhero trappings became less central to the stories (by the end he's pretty much just wearing the mask a few pages in each issue) and becomes a straight action-adventure in and around Hollywood series and played to all of Spiegle's strengths as an artist.

Spiegle did the first dozen chapters of the "Secret Six" story in a weekly run of ACTION COMICS in 1988. While not quite as memorable as "Nemesis", it did have some entertaining espionage adventures.

A page from the weird DC CHALLENGE series in 1986 has the pretty unusual sight of Spiegle drawing Superman.  Also Batman, but he got a more substantial chance to draw Batman in a nice chapter of a 1991 story.

The Shadow is another character that fits Spiegle's style, as he got to show off a few times like this 1992 story for DC which features the shadow fighting Nazis on an exploding dirigible with a bi-plane.

More Nazi fighting in every issue of BLACKHAWK, which Spiegle and Evanier did for a 23 issue run from 1982 to 1984. I think I read a few of these early on, and later picked up the full run in back issue bins a few years later. Highly entertaining run, with a lot of different styles of war stories, some interesting continuing plotlines and of course great art throughout.

A page from one of the "Tales of Gotham" stories of Batman's city without Batman that Spiegle drew in the early 1980s, this one written by Jack C. Harris is one of my favourites (and even made DC's "Year's Best" compilation digest).

And finally, a nice little oddity from late in Spiegle's career, in 1999 (at almost 80 years old) he did a few pages in the FANBOY series with Sergio Aragones working together on the art for Evanier's story.

And of course there was a lot more, especially for Dell/Western from the 1950s to the 1970s and some comic strip work.  Pick up a copy of this biography for an overview.

Mark Evanier has information on where you can donate in his memory.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dan Spiegle, R.I.P.

Sad to hear of the passing of artist Dan Spiegle. His long-time friend and frequent collaborator Mark Evanier has a nice tribute here.

I probably saw some of Spiegle's work for Gold Key or other publishers in the 1970s, but I really noticed it when he started to do work for DC around 1980. I think the first bit I remember seeing was one of the "Tales of Gotham" shorts he did in DETECTIVE.  Then I really noticed the two-year stint he did on the "Nemesis" back-up feature with writer Cary Burkett in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which combined with the Jim Aparo art on the lead in most issues made that one of my favourite books of that era. He did a lot of other memorable stuff for DC in that era, including some "Creature Commando" stories and some short stories for the mystery/sci-fi books.

Later on, after a few years away from buying comics, my memory of those stories from 1980-1982 got me digging through the back issue bins to get what became my favourites to his work, two of his collaborations with Mark Evanier in long runs of BLACKHAWK and CROSSFIRE. I've picked up a lot of his other stuff that I missed in the years since, although of course it's only a fraction of the work that he's done.

I'll try to update this with a few choice scans of his artwork in the next few days (I decided to give it its own post).  Until then, I'll repeat a strong recommendation for John Coates' book DAN SPIEGLE - A LIFE IN COMIC ART that I reviewed here.
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