by BK Munn
Yesterday I bought a bunch of old comics.
One of them was Young Romance #56 from 1953. Young Romance was the comic book series that started the romance genre. It was created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, who edited the series until 1959. During that time, Kirby drew 1,936 pages of art for various romance comics published by Prize Comics, including many covers. One of the few Young Romance covers NOT illustrated by Kirby was this cover, one of a myriad of photo covers used in the series. But doesn’t the loverboy on this cover look like Jack? The eyes. The grey temples? The hirsuteness? The square fingers? (Jack has a story inside, too: the 9-pager “On Your Honor”).
Not sure who the woman is? (She looks similar to the woman on the cover of YR #60.) Maybe the whole thing is just some stock photo acquired by Joe Simon from one of his regular suppliers? Who can say? Check out this history of the Simon and Kirby romance comics by the recently-retired Harry Mendryck.
While the future of the book is in question, and independent Canadian publishers struggle just to stay afloat, Drawn and Quarterly is thriving.
In the earl 90s Chris Oliveros wanted the comic strips that he and friends drew to find a larger audience. On that kitchen table, he put together the first issues of a little magazine he called Drawn and Quarterly. Now D and Q is one of hottest publishers of graphic novels on the planet. David Gutnick’s documentary about them is called Graphic Chicken Soup for the Graphic Soul. 21 minutes 33 seconds.
Player appears after the bump.
16.Nov.2012 Do They Still Publish Tomb of Dracula? A Lapsed Marvel Zombie Reviews Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
“I can’t call it the Marvel Age of Comics because I don’t believe in rewarding thievery. I call it the Jack Kirby Age of Comics.” –Frank Miller
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
by Sean Howe
review by BK Munn
What was the name of Jack Kirby’s childhood street gang? Why did Stan Lee shave his beard? What did Chris Claremont call “the quest for the cosmic orgasm”? Why did corporate raider Ike Perlmutter fax pages from the Old Testament to Carl Icahn? These facts and thousands more make up the exhaustingly engrossing content of Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, an unauthorized history of the pop culture kingpin recently published by Harper Collins.
Historical anecdotes about Marvel are like mother’s milk to me. As a child comic book reader in the 1970s and 1980s, I devoured Marvel Comics products and strove to learn everything about the company’s characters and creators I could. This early fannishness translated into a lifelong fascination with comics in general and, more specifically, an appreciation for the formative Marvel creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko as two of the most important and original figures in comic art, period. As a youngster, before my discovery of comics fandom and fan histories of comics, my historical education benefited from the easy availability of the cheap reprints of classic 1950s and 60s stories Marvel flooded the market with in the 70s (Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel Tales, and the horror and sci-fi stories reprinted in such titles as Where Monsters Dwell), as well as from the series of self-aggrandizing histories Stan Lee penned for Simon and Shuster beginning with The Origins of Marvel Comics. As a burgeoning Marvel zombie, I was entirely under the spell of Stan and his huckster tales of The House of Ideas and the hijinks of the jolly Marvel Bullpen, a legendary Valhalla of comic art geniuses nontheless subordinate to the genial genius-in-chief Stan the Man, the All-Father Odin of all that was good about my favourite fictional universe.
Cut to 2012 and a world in which the Marvel Universe is a planet-wide phenomenon that sits astride the world of movies and merchandising like It, The Living Colossus, and Stan Lee is a cult folk hero and minor celebrity known as the chief Marvel spokesperson, with a resume of campy cameos in a handful of Hollywood blockbusters (sorry, it’s hard not to drift into alliteration when writing about Stan). While long-time former fans like myself have a lifetime of reading about the dark side of Marvel under our belts, including the bitter memories of the battles for control and compensation of the creations of Kirby, Ditko, Steve Gerber, and Gary Friedrich, among many others, I suspect most people probably think of Marvel, if they think of it at all, as a glamorous multimedia success story in which Stan Lee is a sort of benevolent Walt Disney figure and the various studio executives, producers, directors, and stars form a modern Marvel Bullpen of creative and financial geniuses. Sean Howe’s Untold Story is a welcome corrective to this narrative, a well-researched, breathlessly-paced history of the company, its owners and employees, and their creations, a history stretching like a time-traveling Reed Richards from Marvel’s genesis in the down-and-dirty world of 1930s pulp magazines to its current place as a 21st-Century entertainment giant and Disney cash cow.
Howe does a good journalistic job synthesizing a history of Marvel from available sources, including previous fan histories and interviews, combined with 150 new interviews and a close reading of key Marvel comics and editorial content in the context of their historical creation (World War II, the 1960s Civil Rights movement, and the 1960s and 70s counterculture). What emerges is a more-or-less unbiased account of the creation of characters like Spider-Man and The X-Men, and the transformation of what was once known as Timely Comics from a small operation run by a few hardworking men in an office of Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management mini-empire to its current incarnation, along the way humanizing all involved and giving faces to the men and women behind the newsprint fantasies. Beginning with the bestselling success of early superheroes like Carl Burgos’ Human Torch, Bill Everett’s Submariner, and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America in the early 1940s, Howe traces the quick growth of Marvel from a publisher of pre-packaged sweatshop-produced action comics to an idea factory overseen by writer-editor Simon and one-man art-machine Kirby.
Howe breathes some new life and insights into the often-told tale of Stan Lee’s ascendancy from annoying teenage office boy, hired because he was a cousin of the publisher, to the head-writer and editor-in-chief who oversees the slow decline of the company through the late-40s and the censorship crisis of the 1950s through to its revitalization at the hands of Kirby and Ditko in the early 1960s. The golden thread Howe follows in this narrative is the growing fissures in the corporate ediface and the creative differences between Goodman, Lee, and the other writers and artists that would eventually lead to a destructive dual culture of management and labour (or fleecers and the fleeced, as the case may be). Howe writes of the creation of “Lee’s most important non-super-powered characters: the merry members of the mythical Marvel Bullpen,” a metaphorical construct that spun gold from the base metal of the dysfunctional atomized group of bitter middle-aged freelancers and the handful of production staff and office workers who occasionally shared Stan’s tiny cubicle. Having first described the creation of the Bullpen mystique, Howe next spends over 300 pages on the bizarre evolution of the concept and the comings and goings of subsequent generations of creators leading up to the transformation of the company’s culture into a more corporate environment through the 1980s.
One of the highlights of the book is Howe’s detailed treatment of the rise of the first generation of post Lee-Kirby-Ditko fans-turned-creators beginning with the hire of 20-something schoolteacher and fanzine publisher Roy Thomas in the late-60s and continuing through the motley crew of 70s stalwarts like Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin. While even the most casual reader of Marvel’s 70s output must have wondered about the level of drug use and the nature of the spiritual-philosophical-political beliefs of Captain America writer Steve Englehart or Black Panther scripter Don McGregor, until now a coherent profile of this group has been largely elusive, limited to the scattered odd fanzine interview or blog post. Howe provides an almost month-by-month, comic-by-comic history of the takeover of Marvel by the younger generation, breezily incorporating capsule biographies and juicy, hilarious anecdotes about Al Milgrom and Alan Weiss stumbling through “Death Wish-era Manhattan” on LSD, dreaming up plots and settings for Master of Kung Fu. The reinvention of Kirby and Lee’s Cold War parable X-Men as an A-list sci-fi soap opera helmed by Chris Claremont and the promotion of Jim Shooter to editor-in-chief are told with microscopic, entertaining detail, as are the behind-the-scenes backroom corporate deals, battles, hirings, firings, betrayals, and nervous breakdowns that finally brought Marvel into the world of 1980s schlock movie production and set the stage for the 1990s corporate raider takeover and strip-mining of the company, bankruptcy, and the defection of the Image Comics artists.
The book’s real value lies in its accounts of the past three decades of business and editorial boom and bust cycles at Marvel; how bad decisions, big egos, and mistreatment of creative artists led to personal tragedy and the near-death of the company and of the North American comic book industry as a whole, and Marvel’s inexplicable success despite a spectacular lack of artistic creativity or vision. As Howe makes abundantly clear, the fact remains that unlike even new owner Disney, Marvel has not produced a new character or story with mass appeal since about 1978 and remains essentially an empty shell devoted to maintaining and promoting a handful of lucrative properties first imagined by Kirby, Ditko, and a few others. Under the harsh glare of Howe’s prose, modern Marvel’s success is exposed as the combination of inertia, historical accident and the determined efforts of a few canny operators to leverage any stray scrap of intellectual property they could lay their hands on into Hollywood currency.
While much of the material collated here has been previously covered in the pages of The Comic Journal and in books like Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon’s Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book and Ronin Ro’s Tales to Astonish, and corporate-sanctioned tomes like Les Daniel’s Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades, Howe’s approach, that of a business writer with a human concern for the interior life of his subjects, coupled with a newspaperman’s love of local colour and gossip, elevates the stories of the people behind Marvel into something resembling real history; both tragedy and farce combined. The only thing lacking is visual documentation –being an unauthorized, warts-and-all history, permission to reproduce comic art or related images was understandably hard to secure– but Howe has set up a wonderful tumblr blog to showcase all the weird ephemera and art he unearthed in his research. Old fans like myself might wistfully resent the occasional lacunae (the 1940s “Golden Age” heyday of the company and oddball artists like Harvey Kurtzman and Basil Wolverton barely figure in the book) and proofreading gaffes (I’m pretty sure Marvel never published something called “Millie and the Models”), but the book is probably the best and most balanced history we are likely to get of “The House That Jack Built” for quite a long time.
Cellophane ad by Richard Taylor (1902-1970). Maclean’s 1930s. Toronto-based Taylor created comic strips and this memorable series of bug-eyed advertisements in the 1920s and 30s before moving to the U.S. and a career with The New Yorker.
30.Oct.2012 C-List | the facebook roundup
Item: Conor McCreery from Kill Shakespeare was on Main Street [halifax cbc radio show] talking about their popular book series and how they came up with the idea.
Item: Frozen Light Comics Presents Canada’s Newest batch of Superheroes for an all ages audience.
Item: Son Of Gothra: A new Indy comic by Fred Kennedy & Jeff Brown, art by Vincent Sunico & Charles Prichett, cover by Kalman Andrasofszky. “Abrax is capture by the feared Imperial General Findalpha and begins his transition from tribal raider to stallion of the arenas. The slave of an Empire in turmoil, Abrax of Gothra must navigate his way through the intrigue of the courts and the violence of the arena.”
Item: Brad Mackay suggests If you’re in the Burlington, Ontario region Friday you should go to this.
Item: Becky Cloonan said : A little preview of Swamp Thing Annual, where we lull you into a false sense of security with all the cute romance. Written by Scott Snyder, out Wednesday. The issue features some bits by her beau, Andy Belanger.
Item: Eugene Zhilinsky said: “We did it! The latest (and already popular!) novel of Editions Tchai – Rock Testament – even better than our pilot version we did last year – it’s twice thicker, printed on better paper and has nicer cover color. This is the whole cinch of printing a big run offset. This book was already presented at TCAF 2012. More in our blog here.”
Item: The Drink & Draw Montréal site is seeking new bloggers and content creators.
Item: La Mauvaise Tête presents “Pinkerton”. by Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau & Francois Samson-Dunlop. Two newly single friends, sleeping away their failures, discover that their troubles have something to do with a nostalgic affection for the music of the 1990s. An album of this period holds their attention in particular. Will they finally overcome his bad influence? Pinkerton was a great success as a zine. A bittersweet comedy about love, music and drunken nights that end around a poutine. The Graphic novel includes an afterword by Nicolas Tittley. 176 pages, black and white. French text. In stores November 2012.
Item: Also, Les recrues de l’année | The rookies of the year. News about the studio of La Mauvaise Tête. A tight crew of talented Montrealers.
Item: NSFW: Rick finally gave in, and has done a brand new Motion Picture Purgatory for Noboru (Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead) Iguchi’s DEAD SUSHI: “How to Get Rid of Vaginal Odor!”
Item: Colin Upton wrote: “I have unleashed my pent-up drawing comics rage! Ah! Finished the art of another new mini-comic, this one the first Famous Bus Rides in more than a decade! This one is drawn on black paper with black, white and grey coloured pencils. It’s the story about being stranded in the urban Hellscape of Columbus, Ohio while being too cheap to take a cab!” One assumes you can acquire the book from here.
Item: Robin McNerdel of Inkstuds said: “Hey, I posted an interview with Michael Deforge. I like that guy, and so should you!”
And that’s not even all of it. We’ve been very active on the Facebook fan page, come check it out, like, and keep up on the latest of Canadian comics!
26.Oct.2012 Friday Flashback: Atomic Chartier
Some Cold War hijinks from this undated Onésime strip by Albert Chartier (1912-2004). Reprinted in the Quebec version of Archie comics published by Éditions Héritage (Archie #111, 1980). Look at those lines. Great figures, composition. Great comics!
19.Oct.2012 Friday Flashback: Jimmie Frise, 1931
27.Sep.2012 The C-List : The Facebook editon
Been spending a little more time than ussual on Facebook
the last week, promoting a crowdfunder.
In my spare moments collecting stories that float by
and posting them to our page a lot, here’s the last few days worth…
Item!: Bernie Mireault has posted a great long entry about his attending the latest Montreal Comic Con, and joining the EN MASSE crew there for the weekend. He was a regular at the Montreal Comic Jams over the years, he introduced me to them in fact. Sounds like he had a lot of fun with it. And he’s got photos of George Perezz painting with the EN MASSE crew too! Like Zoro!
Item!: New Snail is open, look forward to checking it out next time i’m in Toronto [been a long time since i had a good reason to be on that part of Young] in the mean time Ty took his kids and got to be the first customers, again!
Item!: Photos of a “drawing concert” with Philippe Girard, Todd Picard, Reine Du Mambo, Mathieu Girard, Fred Lebrasseur and Joe Ollmann!
Item!: J.Torres has been posting notices about contributors to his new comcis antholagy and Indigogo project True Patirot. Here’s linkts to their Facebook Page, and posts about Howard Wong & Adrian Alphona, Tom Fowler, Agnes Garbowska, Jay Stephens, J. Bone, Jack Briglio & Ron Salas, Ramon Perez, Andy B, Scott Chantler, Faith Erin Hicks, and the book itself [1st]. Their funding drive on Indiegogo goes live Monday, October 1st.
25.Sep.2012 Wednesday: Comics Vs Art Booklaunch, Toronto
Comics Versus Art: Comics in the Art World
by Bart Beaty
University of Toronto Press
On the surface, the relationship between comics and the ‘high’ arts once seemed simple; comic books and strips could be mined for inspiration, but were not themselves considered legitimate art objects. Though this traditional distinction has begun to erode, the worlds of comics and art continue to occupy vastly different social spaces.
Comics Versus Art examines the relationship between comics and the most important institutions of the art world; including museums, auction houses, and the art press. Bart Beaty’s analysis centres around two questions: why were comics excluded from the history of art for most of the twentieth century, and what does it mean that comics production is now more closely aligned with the art world? Approaching this relationship for the first time through the lens of the sociology of culture, Beaty advances a completely novel approach to the comics form.
The Comic Shop
3638 West 4th Avenue
photo from c. 1978
click to enlarge
(you can clearly see some Marvel titles on the rack, including Howard the Duck and The Invaders, not to mention EC reprints and Pogo)
source: The First Vancouver Catalogue by Pam Harrison and Colin Dobson (Ensemble Publications, 1978)
27.Aug.2012 Let’s Help Sandeep
As a result of last week’s devastating fire in Waterloo, Aardvark-Vanaheim communications director Sandeep Atwal was left homeless.
I understand that not only the equipment and negatives being used for the Cerebus digital project but also Atwal’s collection of Dave Sim sketches and drawings, among other personal possessions, were destroyed.
When I contacted him via email, Atwal shrugged off his loss, noting he was physically okay and the things he had lost were “just stuff”. I’m sure he could use a bit of cheering up and maybe some new stuff?
Luckily, the Cerebus Fangirl blog has stepped up and started a Paypal donation fund for Atwal. Click here to “help Sandeep.”
17.Aug.2012 Friday Flashback: Paul Bunyan by Adrian Dingle
by BK Munn
Adrian Dingle (191-1974) is best known in comics circles as the creator of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Canada’s first female superhero.
But Dingle had a long, post-comics career as a teacher, painter and illustrator, with tons of high-profile work published in Canadian magazines and books. Here he is working on another Canadian superhero of sorts, the legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan, in illustrations for Logging with Paul Bunyan by John D. Robins (The Ryerson Press, 1957). The author was a folklorist and University of Toronto professor.
21.Jul.2012 San Diego Panel Recordings and Pictures
Jamie Coville wrote us with the links for his haul of goodies.
He’s posted online a whooping 16 panels, and the Will Eisner Awards!
Job well done Jamie!
17.Jul.2012 A C-list impostor | Is that an Atwood?
Item: Starting off the last C-list was news of Michael Deforge’s Ant Colony graphic novel being published by D&Q. Deforge has until now being published by Koyama Press, his Lose series continues to be. So for us canucks that was some big news.
But arguably the other name in the same cycle of pree SDCC press from D+Q merited a mention. It was Art Spiegelman. Drawn & Quarterly announced it acquired North American and UK rights to Spiegelman’s Co-Mix: A Retrospective Of Comics, Graphics And Scraps. An expanded English-language version of the bilingual edition published by Flammarion. The work began as a major museum retrospective appearing first at Angouleme during his recent presidency, and then moving to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The show version will continue on to Cologne, Vancouver and New York City over the next several months. Co-Mix will be distributed in the US by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, in Canada by Raincoast and in the UK by PGUK. Matthew Bloomgarden of the Wylie Agency represented Spiegelman in negotiations.
Item: Evan A. posted a nice list of Canuck achievement for SDCC, here’s a synopsis; Captain Canuck Feature producers sign on a writer; D+Q gets infested with ants; Margaret Atwood cosplays as Margaret Atwood; One of a kind Merch from Jeff Lemire & Bryan Lee O’Malley; & Canada cleans up at the Eisners!
Item: Revisiting that last point, along with much deserved trophies for Darwyn Cooke’s work on Parker, D+Q’s edition of Shigeru Mizuki’s manga Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, and The Dragon netting the retailer’s award, here are freind of the blog Ramón K Pérez’s trophies for Best Graphic Album – New & Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team. They also scooped Best Publication Design – the book was designed by Eric Skillman.
Item: Rachel Richey on Comic Syrup talks about Dustin Harbin’s ode to the DWA, “The Doug Wright Awards 2011: An Essay in Comics, by Some American”.
Item: Robin from Inkstuds has a new project, archiving lost obscure Canadian comics! Check out the Canadian Comics Archive, “A collection of rare, unusual, forgotten and inspiring Canadian comics history”.
On the heels of the convention he hosted here in Montreal, Mosher is appealing to the Council to recognize cartooning formally and give the medium its own section in the grant structure.
He feels the form needs the support in light of the contracting print market, which calls for fewer political cartoons and strips. Right now the council funds Graphic Novels under the writing program, and would probably accept a cartoonist’s drawings under the arts. But cartooning and the publishing of cartooning is not recognized as its own art form yet. Sign the petition here if you like the idea.
04.Jul.2012 The C-List: Of Policarts, Prizes and Prints
The Vancouver Province
censored its political cartoonist
over threats from advertiser.
Item! The big news this past week is that The Vancouver Province censored its political cartoonist over threats from an advertiser. Cartoonist Dan Murphy created a video parody of an ad by Northern Gateway oil-pipeline company Enbridge and Enbridge threatened to pull a million dollars worth of advertising if the paper didn’t remove the cartoon from its website. The paper removed the cartoon, citing copyright infringement:
Murphy’s video used an Enbridge (TSX:ENB) ad extolling the virtues and safety of the Northern Gateway proposal, a highly controversial pipeline that would bring oilsands bitumen from Alberta to West Coast ports. The cartoonist took Enbridge’s original animated ad and undercut the pastel images of trees and happy families with occasional dollops of oil and interjected voice-overs.
Item! The controversy was on everybody’s lips this past weekend in Montreal, where the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists had its annual meeting. The meeting was also the occasion for the launch of a new exhibit on Quebec’s policart tradition, titled Cartooning Calamities at the McCord Museum, accompanied by a book Caricature – Cartoon Canada, edited by Terry (Aislin) Mosher. According to the exhibits curator in Montreal Gazette,
Long snubbed by the art world, editorial cartoonists deserve recognition as artists who cut through political bafflegab and corporate spin to help us make sense of an ever-changing world, says Hardy.
“They’re people we feel are always on the lookout for us, to try to make sense of the complexities of the governments we live under,” he says.
Item! As part of the event in Montreal this past weekend, Drawn and Quarterly’s Chris Oliveros was on hand to flog some books and he and writer Brad Mackay happened to bump into former Prime Minister Paul Martin who waxed enthusiastic for Doug Wright! You can read all about it on the D+Q blog. Great photos!
Item! Bryan Lee O’Malley gives us a sneak peak of the cast of his upcoming 2013 graphic novel Seconds. A limited edition print of the drawing (200 copies) will be offered on a first-come basis at the San Diego Comicon.
Item! The nominations for this year’s Harvey Awards have been announced. There were some Canadians on the list, including Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly, who ironically received 3 nominations for Best American Edition of Foreign Material. (Does a Canadian publisher not count as “foreign” for a U.S. award? Granted, we are all “Americans” here but then shouldn’t Mexican, Argentine, etc, publishers be included?) In addition, D+Q books received nods in the Special Award for Humor (Kate Beaton), Best Graphic Album Previously Published (Big Questions and The Death Ray), Best Cartoonist (Kate Beaton), and Best Single Issue (Optic Nerve #12). Individual Canadian nominees include the aforementioned Beaton (who was also nominated in the Best Online Comics Work category), editor Michael Choquette (Best Anthology and Special Award for Presentation: Someday Funnies), and cartoonists Darwyn Cooke (Special Award for Presentation: Parker Martini Edition), Ray Fawkes (Best Graphic Album Original: One Soul), Kagan McLeod (Best Graphic Album Original: Infinite Kung Fu)), Ramon Perez (Best Single Issue or Story and Best Graphic Album Original: Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand), and Jeff Lemire (Best Writer: Animal Man). Congrats to all seven Canadian nominees and best of luck in the final voting!
Item! In the other U.S. comics awards news, two Canadian comic shops have made the long list of nominees for the Eisner Awards Spirit of Retailing Award. The shops are Happy Harbor of Edmonton, and my own local comic shop, The Dragon of Guelph. Congrats to both shops!
Item!Today is a patriotic holiday in the U.S. Did you know that the U.S. national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, was inspired by an event from the War of 1812? Also inspired by the War of 1812? A new graphic novel called The Loxleys and the War of 1812. As reviewed by Don MacPherson, the book features art by Claude St. Aubin, of Captain Canuck fame:
“…this was a time the Americans were trounced. Of course, the facts don’t necessarily bear that out; the script makes it clear both sides had their victories. But the Americans are also depicted as being uncivilized, unscrupulous and even barbaric at times. It’s hard to know how much of it is fact and how much is a matter of perspective. The Canadians and natives are portrayed as being ethical and honorable to the point of incredulousness, and the Americans as being greedy and hungry for territory they don’t need. It’s certainly an interesting change of pace, as Americans have been predominantly cast as the white knights of history throughout pop culture. It might make this something of a tough sell to an audience beyond Canadian borders.”
Item! Lastly, I saw this on The Comics Reporter today and had to share. The Australian Comics Journal is a blog/magazine devoted to “Australian Sequential Art” and chock-a-block full of great reviews and previews of great-looking comics you have never heard of. Always nice to see another English-language comics site devoted to a single country comics culture. Hail the Commonwealth of Comics!
By BK Munn
Every day is Canada Day here at Sequential, dedicated as we are to Canadian comics past, present, and future, but I felt I should at least make a token effort, from deep in the heart of “Summer Postin’” territory, to put something Canadian heritage-y up for the holiday. How can I do this with the least effort possible from my hammock? Why, by scrolling through my hard drive for old scans of classic comic books. Ah, here we go….
Thunderfist was the creation of writer E.T. Legault (featured last week in Friday Flashback) and artist Murray Karn. A generic secret identity superhero feature, it was nevertheless redeemed by that weird 1940s sweatshop logic and fanciful approaches to storytelling, both literary and graphic. Thunderfist was in reality the very un-Canadian Randolph Steele, the socialite fiancee of Beverly Holmes who fought crime in an Art Deco New York City with a combination of short pants and electrical power.
Below find 3 scans of the Thunderfist story from Active Comics #2, 1942: the vibrant cover, a very striking and atmospheric splash page, and a vaguely dynamic action page (how anyone can make superheroes fighting dinosaurs boring is beyond me). The plot is simple: Thunderfist and his girl are on a train that is attacked by a T-Rex. Fisticuffs ensue and T-Fist rides a pterodactyl back to the lair of the mad scientist responsible. All in a day’s work for THUNDERFIST!
18.Jun.2012 Summer Reading: Lou Skuce in Comic Books, 1941
“Say, Aint You Fellas Gonna Work?!”
by BK Munn
Journeyman cartoonist Lou Skuce (1886-1951) has one of the most distinctive styles of pre-war Canadian cartoonists. Strong compositions, a flowing line, and bold-yet-warm Art Deco-style lettering. Add to that a memorable name and a signature character (he often signed his work with a cartoon goose, Lou Skuce/”Loose Goose”), and there is no mistaking a Skuce cartoon. Primarily an internationally known sports cartoonist, Skuce was a fixture on the Toronto newspaper scene, working for most of that city’s dailies at one time or another during the first half of the 20th Century, and equally adept as art director, adman, illustrator, comics journalist, gag cartoonist, and comic stripper, as we can see from his stabs at producing strips for U.S. syndicates.
Seemingly not one to pass up any paying cartoon work, Skuce showed up to lend some professionalism and style to the issues of Bell Features’ various titles, contributing covers, filler pages and illustrations to Joke Comics and Wow Comics beginning in 1941. The work is breezy and dumb, with some Norman Rockwell-ish, sub-J.R. Williams small-town saccharine, mixed with casual racism, topical humour, cute grotesques, and some striking colour pieces.
06.Jun.2012 Ray Bradbury, Comic Book Writer
News of the passing of science fiction and fantasy grandmaster Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) trickled out earlier today. I’m sure in the days to follow there will be many lengthy obits and memorials of the author, noting his many contributions to literature and film. It’s worth noting here that Bradbury also made his mark in the comic book field, most famously with an unwitting contribution to the efforts of 1950s powerhouse publisher EC Comics.
As the story goes, EC editors William Gaines and Al Feldstein began swiping Bradbury’s short stories for their horror and science ficton comics in 1951, plagiarizing the plots and not crediting the writer. Bradbury, being a voracious devourer of all things sci-fi, and a fan of EC comics to boot, soon caught on and politely asked for a $50 fee. Along with a cheque, Gaines sent a note asking for permission to officially adapt more of Bradbury’s stories, and quickly began featuring the writer’s name prominently on the cover, beginning with an adaptation of “There Will Come Soft Rains” in Weird Fantasy #17, with a cover by Feldstein and story art by Wally Wood. In all, 27 of Bradbury’s short stories were adapted by EC for Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, Weird Science, and Weird Fantasy, and illustrated by EC legends like Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, George Evans, Graham Ingels, Bill Elder, John Severin, Al Williamson and Jack Kamen. 16 of them were collected in the Ballantine paperbacks, The Autumn People (1965) and Tomorrow Midnight (1966), with new covers by Frank Frazetta. Bradbury was a perfect fit for EC’s style of twist-ending, atmospheric comics and the deal was a win-win situation, with EC getting a “name” author to write (very good) comics and Bradbury getting some extra change, classy illustrations, and newsstand billing as “America’s Top Science-Fiction Writer”.
While Bradbury never wrote any fiction specifically for comics, his favoured medium of the short story, matched with his visually descriptive prose style and fanciful plots were seemingly tailor-made for comics adaptation. He later lent his name to several eponymous anthology comics series in the 1990s, including 3 issues of The Ray Bradbury Chronicles in 1992 (Byron Preiss Visuals/Bantam Spectra Books) featuring art by P. Craig Russell, Daniel Torres, Dave Gibbons, and Tim Truman, select EC reprints, and new introductions by the author. The series was continued for four issues by NBM, and then picked up by Topps for another 5 issues as Ray Bradbury Comics, with contributions from Kenneth Smith, Harvey Kurtzman, Matt Wagner, Richard Corben, Mike Mignola, Dave McKean, Moebius, and Jon Jay Muth, among others. Topps followed up with two one-shots in 1994, The Illustrated Man (Guy Davis) and The Martian Chronicles (Steranko, Kaluta).