Friday, December 31, 2010
Hopefully that monkey can clang away and keep the demons of the previous year getting into the next.
I'm not necessarily going to be sad to see 2010 disappear. It's been a struggle often, especially for my wife who has had a cavalcade of medical issues this past year. She's at last on the mend and feeling well overall, and our goal for the new year is to see fewer doctors for sure. My girls' fortunes are looking up, as jobs have stabilized and financial goblins have diminished. Both my beauties are aiming for the future with little time to grind on the past. I'm personally looking forward to 2011 as a year to reassert some momentum professionally, financially and personally.
In the world at large, I hope that some sense penetrates the powers that be and that the United States can at long last come to terms with its responsibilities to its citizens as well as holding us all accountable for what is done and spent in our names. After of a year of dishonest politics hopefully we'll have a year in which reason can trump fear.
On this site expect me to be plumbing the depths of my collection more often to generate postings. I've got quite a pile of old comics and other stuff and as I trade some away fodder to attempt to reap some value, I'll doubtless uncover many things I'd forgotten I had. I hope to at long last do close readings of E-Man, Yang, Blue Beetle, Korg, and other vintage Charlton gems. It should be fun to do, and I hope at least a bit of fun to read.
I hope you and yours have a happy and a safe New Year's Eve.
Fantastic Four Annual #2 was an impressive comic. Not perhaps as groundbreaking in its storytelling scope as had been the previous annual which documented the rebirth of Atlantis and Prince Namor's first (of many) Marvel Age invasions of the surface. But it was pretty impressive.(Note: I love that multi-colored logo, it screams fun.) The origin of Dr.Doom must've been thrilling to boys and girls who had been fascinated by the vile FF villain. I can only imagine it must have been like finding out who Darth Vader was a generation later.
But one detail many if not all of Marvel's classic annuals had was a host of pin-ups. The second FF Annual featured a bevy of them. There was an expansive rogues gallery. You can get a glom on that scurvy collection here. But to my eye it was the charming posters of the FF themselves that stole the show.
Below are the originals. Note how Kirby captures the essence of each member, each with a smidge of disarming humor.
The Torch poster was later used as the cover art for the Essential collection of Johnny's Strange Tales solo adventures.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
When I chanced upon this great image of Captain America pencilled by the late and great Jack Kirby, I was mostly entranced by the outstanding inking. The inker is not indicated, but there's little doubt to my eye that Dashing Don Heck is responsible. Heck did quite a bit of inking for Kirby toward the end of his stay at Marvel when he was producing his portfolios and things and this seems to be a product of that period.
Kirby wanted to bring the painfully underrated Heck over with him to DC to work on the Fourth World stuff after he'd kicked off the concepts. He imagined he'd be not unlike Stan Lee I suppose, overseeing a bullpen of talented artists working on his concepts. But alas DC didn't share his vision and pretty much began to undermine his efforts from the get go. Much to the detriment of talented guys like Don Heck alas.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Above is a gallery of Marvel's Thongor series which ran in the former monster-reprint book Creatures on the Loose. Ironically this is a seminal series for fantasy fans because it also ran the first episodes of Gullivar of Mars and debuted King Kull in that great one-off story by Berni Wrightson.
Also heavy on the irony is that it was in fact Lin Carter's Thongor that started the whole barbarian-in-comics surge that in many ways defines the Bronze Age. Figuring there was no way Marvel could afford to license Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, Roy Thomas began his search looking for ways to get hold of the lesser known (and presumably cheaper) Thongor. When he found out Conan could be done, he dropped poor Thongor, but with this series at last got Lin Carter's homage to both REH and ERB onto the comics page.
As it turns out, Thongor is a pre-Conan hero in another way too, as in the vast scope of the Marvel Universe history as defined here, his adventures pre-date Conan's by some vast number of years, but are connected. Not bad for a largely forgotten knockoff from a then meager genre.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Above is the masterful Frank Frazetta painting Thongor Against the Gods for the Lin Carter Novel of the same name.
Here is a cover for an issue of Marvel's The Savage Sword of Conan by Joe Jusko. Is there an inspiration from the iconic Frazetta image? I say yay. What say ye?
Monday, December 27, 2010
Above is a fascinating bit of original artwork.
How about now?
What if other...
essential art elements...
Beautiful bit of collage work from the master Jack "King" Kirby! With an assist from Neal Adams too.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
For no especially good reason, other than I love to look at them, and I'm guessing so do most of you, here is a dozen dramatic Neal Adams covers. He really has that talent to structure the layout so that it smacks you in the nose. These are covers for comics that dared you to buy them.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says "If you see it in the Sun it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
115 W.95th St
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Francis P. Church
The New York Sun
There's the famous letter and response. It speaks to the hope that seems to spring up during this season each year. As for the letter let me tell a personal story.
My eldest daughter's name is Virginia. While I was back in college I took her, still at a very tender age, with me to attend a lecture given by The Amazing Randi. Randi is an infamous debunker, a man I much admire for calling out "paranormal" frauds from all corners. During his presentation, he might have gone a step too far for my personal tastes, or perhaps I made a poor choice to bring my beautiful girl. He announced to one and all that "No Virginia, there is NO Santa Claus".
I immediately snapped my head to my daughter, who was likewise looking up at me, her innocent eyes framed by her soft red hair filled with concern. So did many of the folks around us who knew her name. Luckily a bit of tomfoolery on my part, and others, healed the breach for the short time needed over the next few years. But it must have been a shock to a small child for a man who looked not unlike Saint Nick himself to suddenly and blatantly announce the death of the good old elf.
Most of the year I don't believe in Santa Clause myself, it's utter claptrap of course. But for a few days each year around this time, I give in to my irrational soul and believe. So should you. Have a Merry Christmas, and be careful around debunkers this time of year. They're out there.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
The voice of the Lone Ranger is stilled at 89. Fred Foy has passed away. Here's a link to the NY Times obituary with much more detail. It's enough for me to say that Mr.Foy was the very sound of heroism and derring-do to my ears.
In a cloud of dust he, like us all eventually, is gone. Rest In Peace Mr.Foy.
Here's the classic opening.
Here's Fred Foy being interviewed and giving that stirring opening one more time.
The two covers above by the late and certainly great Jack "King" Kirby struck me with their dramatic similarity. Two heroes, under siege and at bay against overwhelming odds. The drama is palpable.
Kid Colt is under fire from a host of gunmen it seems, his hat flying away adding a tip of movement with the city folk running for their lives in the background. Colt's determined focus among all this chaos adds the central point of character that makes this scene heroic.
Nick Fury on the other hand seems desperate surrounded by shadows of what seem to be allies, he's nonetheless backed as far as he can be, a somber craggy drop behind him. He is much more the victim here, but also the man of action. The roiling surf seems almost to visually repeat the confusion in his face and form.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
What's the Hulk so peeved about?
Above is Gil Kane's dynamic cover for the mostly reprint volume of Giant-Size Defenders #1. It's always been one of his more powerful depictions of the Jade Giant, the clear star of the series.
Here's the original artwork.
Here is that same cover art converted to other uses for the British weekly The Mighty World of Marvel. Kane's Hulk remains largely intact, but notice how Doc Strange has morphed into the Ever Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing, and how the noble Sub-Mariner has become the Man Without Fear, and how the Silver Surfer has disappeared to be replaced by the Human Torch.
The Hulk would be most irritated were he to turn his emerald eyes over his mighty-thewed shoulder.
This art was later adapted again for use on the cover of Essential Defenders Volume 2. The 3-D effect of the artwork is greatly enhanced by the way it's blended in with the trade dress here. Powerful stuff.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
That was pretty dang good. Last summer I gleefully collected up the Showcase volume of the Dial H for Hero stories from House of Mystery starring Robby Reed, and I at last got around to reading them. These vivid covers had been in many a evocative DC house ad when I was stumbling around comics in the late 60's. The covers spoke of wild villains and even wilder heroes mixing it up.
The reality was a bit tamer than the covers sometimes suggested, but by and large I found the read satisfying. It's great to finally put substance to all those images which have been dancing in my memory all these decades.
Robby Reed can become any hero he wishes by dialing a mysterious device he found. It's effectively a phone dial and likely such an antique image that modern readers don't even get the symbolic notion of using the phone to reach out beyond the humdrum immediate local world. Sure the phone is an even more powerful device in our time, but the dial is long gone as a symbol of its potency.
These stories are about wish-fulfillment pure and simple. You're a teenager and you get your mitts on a magic device that transforms you into just about any superhero you can imagine. You might become an offbeat freak, you might become a handsome prototype, or you might become Plastic Man even. You never know and neither does Robby.
The artwork through the vast majority of the stories is by the sturdy Jim Mooney. He does his usual quality storytelling job here, effective and straightforward. But I was left wanting something a bit more dynamic after a few tales and it was interesting to see Frank Springer step in to do a few issues toward the end of the run. Sal Trapani did the artwork on the last installment.
Dave Wood wrote all the stories, and they are a clever blend of classic superheroics and plain goofy zany fun. You can almost tell sometimes what sparked a particular group of heroes, like the Freaks who are based on toys.
One surprise in the series was that some of the heroes repeated and one time even blended. It's a fun goofy series firmly rooted in its time. Subsequent treatments of the Dial H for Hero concept have been more "serious" but none more successful and none remotely as fun.