Sunday, March 31, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown - Runner-Ups!

Jay Scott Pike

The "Favorite Comic Artist Countdown" was an idea which was suggested to me by one of you last year when I concluded my favorite hero countdown. I loved the idea and immediately began to ruminate on who would make the list. It was at first a "Top Ten" and I found I adored the work of too many artists to limit it a mere ten. So it grew to twenty-five, then thirty and forty and fifty. I went with fifty for a long time until it just burst the seams and expanded to sixty. I then briefly contmplated making it seventy-five,but realized that it had to end somewhere and forced myself to stop. In the course of making the list names occurred to me and were on the list but then later came off. Some of these I cannot imagine what I was thinking, they are among my favorite talents. But there you are. S0 for your viewing pleasure here are the runner-ups.

Don Simpson
Rich Corben

Gray Morrow

Lee Elias

Al Williamson

Lee Weeks

Steve Epting

Brent Anderson

Ron Frenz

Wayne Boring

Curt Swan

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Richard Grass Green

Biljo White

Now you know the names of some of the guys who won't be in the top ten, which will be unveiled early next month. Admit it, aren't you getting a wee bit tired of this. I"m not, but I bet you are.

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Favorite MAD Artist Countdown # 1 - Al Jaffee!

That Al Jaffee tops my list surprises even me. When I sat down to construct this little list, I assumed Don Martin was at the top, but then I thought of Jaffee and all those absolutely brilliant Fold-In back covers he produced over the long decades and amazingly continues to produce I am absolutely gob-smacked by the wit and cleverness and sheer attractiveness of his pages. Jaffee did all sorts of gags for the inside of MAD, most notably "Snappy Answers...". I've bought a few Jaffee books over the years, but I do not have the collection of Fold-Ins which came out a decade ago.

I regret not having it, but it goes for a pretty penny these days, though it's worth it. Maybe it's because you had to work for it, maybe that's why the Fold-In gags linger in the mind -- it's participatory. (I always tried to do it in a way in which I could guess the answer but not crease the cover -- pretty hard sometime.)  That and the sheer attractiveness of Jaffee's style which is instantly recognizable on the page. Is there any member of the "Usual Gang of Idiots" who is indispensable? Time has proven that is not the case, with the decades claiming each of them in some way, but Jaffee remains. Sadly I know that like all things, even his delightful images will depart, but until then he remains delightfully MAD.

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Friday, March 29, 2019

Favorite MAD Artist Countdown #2 - Don Martin!

When folks think of the classic MAD, they might almost immediately think of Don Martin. Martin's people look like no one you've ever seen and yet he successfully in his abstraction captures that every man which nestles in the heart of us all. When his characters act stupidly it is a stupidity we can sadly likely identify with. The Don Martin gags were always the first thing I checked out in a new issue of MAD, scampering through the pages to find the two or more likely three installments. After that it was time other things, but it was always Martin first. When Don Martin left MAD for places, for a time at Cracked and later with his own short-lived magazine, he was always instantly recognizable. Martin seemed to have some fine success in the paperback arena, and one regret I definitely have is that over the many years I've read and collected comics and such, I never made much of a point of chasing the MAD paperbacks, especially the Don Martin collections. Captain Klutz needs a new edition especially.

Some years ago they published all of Martin's MAD cartoons in two super-size volumes and I was lucky to stumble across it for relatively small money. The slip-covered collection a treasure and now that I think of it, one I haven't examined in far too long. Maybe when I finish this post, I'll dig it out for a few laughs. Don Martin was always good for that.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Favorite MAD Artist Countdown #3 - Sergio Aragones!

Sergio Aragones produces comics which always bring a smile to my face. His style is that of a real professional, it seems effortless, but clearly it's not and reflects an innate understanding of how to stage scenes. I well remember my earliest encounter with Aragones, in the pages of a MAD Fall Special which I was secretly reading during school hours. As I  glommed through the pages fill with parodies and whatnot, I became aware of little drawings in the margins, like bugs skittering across the edges of the pages. I hadn't noticed them at first, but with the tiniest scrutiny I discovered they were at least as funny as what was happening at the center of the page. After that the marginals became one of my favorite parts of the magazine, and I'd scout through the books looking for them. The marginals seemed to say that this was a magazine jam-packed with entertainment, so much so that they couldn't fit it all in at regular size.

Later of course Sergio did other stuff and I found him over at DC on Plop! and other things. Over the decades I've followed him here and there on his exceedingly successful Groo and Magnor with Mark Evanier. As the years have gone by Sergio Aragones has increasingly seemed to be a force of nature, with tons of visual gags tumbling forth from his fingers making seem all too easy too much of the time. When that dark dark day finally comes when he is no longer among us, we will truly begin to understand just how important he's been to the craft of cartooning.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Favorite MAD Artist Countdown #4 - Antonio Prohias!

Spy Vs. Spy was not like anything anywhere else. The distinctive and singular artwork of Antonio Prohias made this regular feature a must read, though "read" ain't quite the best word. Like Henry in the Sunday funnies, the  Spy Vs. Spy strip was pantomime, a silent ballet with all the essential information needed to get the gag communicated silently through the spare sharp drawings. As the two Spies attempted to foil one another endlessly we were treated to a lovely and astonishing dance of danger and death and all to make us laugh.

Produced in the era of extreme political tensions between East and West, this strip poked a hole in the pomposity which often attached itself to that geopolitical struggle and reduced all those endless speeches, proclamations, and maneuvers to a singular struggle between two equally absurd antagonists. The point of Spy Vs. Spy is that no one ever won, not for long anyway. Those days felt like that sometimes.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Favorite MAD Artist Countdown #5 - John Severin!

What you say -- John Severin drew for Cracked not for MAD and that's absolutely true mostly. Severin was one of the original MAD Men, but took his skills to Cracked and created inside that little often ignored universe some of the finest satirical art we've ever seen. Severin (not unlike his sister Marie) could do series and funny, and like his sibling was fantastic at capturing likenesses. This made ideal for doing all those parodies.

At MAD each guy had his role, at Cracked, it seemed all those guys were John Severin. Now that's not really fair to great talents like Bill Ward and Howard Nostrand, but unlike MAD which had many famous names attached to it, Cracked is known almost exclusively around the Dojo for the masterful work of John Severin.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Favorite MAD Artist Countdown #6 - Jack Davis!

Jack Davis ruled the Earth once upon a time. There seemed like there was no place on the planet one could venture to without seeing a Jack Davis image plastered somewhere on an ad, in a magazine, or otherwise. Davis was just one more member of the "Usual Gang of Idiots" and drew many an offbeat piece for MAD. Unlike other of my favorite artists, I don't associate Davis with any particular feature in the magazine. He'd do unusual gags or he could once in a while do a parody.

Mostly with Davis, what you had was an artist who had captured the zeitgeist of the time in the real world and who was at the same time creating parodies of it. A Davis image is full of vital energy and antic movement and his potent lines make mincemeat of the things they depict.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Favorite MAD Artist Countdown #7 - Dave Berg!

While we wait for the end of the "Favorite Artist Countdown" to return next month, I'm taking the chance to look at one of my absolute favorite magazines -- MAD. MAD was a regular dose of satire in a world which was often not all that keen on looking askance at itself. The "Usual Gang of Idiots" held up a mirror to society and we all had to lean back and say that maybe, just maybe life deserved more smiles and fewer grimaces.

Leading off my list of MAD favorite artists is Dave Berg. Berg delivered his "The Lighter Side of..." sections with rock solid regularity. It wasn't the first thing I too a look at in a new issue of MAD but it was in the top five features which got my attention. Berg's looks offered a keen understanding of the middle-class suburban lifestyle which had blossomed after WWII, and he made fun of all generations. Berg did have that oddly charming incapacity of some older artists to draw convincing hippies, but that didn't stop him trying. Berg seemed always to want to keep it current and so looking at old strips is almost like exploring a catalog of the distinctive fashions which came and went in American pop culture. Berg came up in comics drawing all sorts of things, often for Atlas. But I've never seen any of that, I know him only from those monthly carefully crafted doses of worldly insight.

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #11 - Joe Staton!

Joe Staton popped onto my radar with E-Man #6 from Charlton Comics, It was love at first sight and Staton has been a favorite ever since. He along with writer Nick Cuti gave the world a total of ten delightful issues of E-Man, a smattering of Mike Mauser stories and a few fanzine pieces here and there and E-Man closed up. Staton jumped to Marvel and inked a bit here and there before hopping over to DC where he began to pencil again and again he was working on a favorite of mine, the Justice Society of America in the pages of All-Star Comics. He even drew their "secret origin". Staton was a stable DC man for many years after that and worked steadily on strips like Green Lantern and The Huntress. He also gave us a modern version of Plastic Man, the hero who inspired E-Man. And he had a nifty run on Metal Men. I didn't know much about these because I left all of DC behind for most of the 80's following the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Then when I was able, I found that Joe and Nick were kicking out new E-Man stories for Comico, then other Indy publishers and have continued to do so off and on over the decades until this last last year saw what Joe says was finale. There was another nifty character called Femme Noir which Joe did with Chris Mills. Now Staton is the regular artist on Dick Tracy and he's great at it. Joe Staton coming in a number eleven surprised me. I would've though Joe was in my top ten easily, but when I began to build the list it didn't happen that way. But who is in the top ten -- well you'll have to wait to find out. See below for more.

I won't be able to finish the list before next month rolls around, so I've decided to suspend the list until April. This list started as a top ten, then twenty-five, and just grew and grew, but I have to say it's been a ton of fun putting together. But those who have come to expect it, there is a another countdown to fill much of the rest of March, as I identify in sequence my top seven MAD Magazine artists. That will begin tomorrow.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #12 - Jim Steranko!

Jim Steranko wins for being the greatest comic book artist with the least comic book art to his credit.  I admire the workhorses work any comic book company, but that doesn't mean that an auteur like Steranko escapes my notice, especially when he concocts books like the first four issues of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD and adds a few covers in for good measure. Each of his four issues is a different genre, each demands the full attention of the reader and unlike so many comics which make that claim the results of that full attention are worth it. Steranko made his reputation on SHIELD but quickly built on that rep with short visits to Captain America and The Uncanny X-Men. Then Steranko seemed to withdraw from Marvel to pursue his own publishing interests such as the two-volume The History of Comics. He popped back up at Marvel as a cover artist in the early 70's but for the most part became a part-time comic artist working in other than the mainstream. Steranko's stary at Marvel was incredibly influential despite its brevity and other than a few offbeat projects here and there has never really done comics again. But that doesn't mean that he's not among my favorite artists still and all.

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