Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Finally At witzend!

I'm wrapping up my month-long focus on Wally Wood with arguably his most significant contribution to comics, the prozine witzend. Wood was an artist constantly on the prowl for opportunities and in retrospect his career has a real gypsy aspect to it as he bounced from one project and company to yet another and yet another. He was in many ways like others of his generation of artists such as Steve Ditko and Gil Kane who were not necessarily content with the corporate approach to comics and the limitations on expression that imposed. 

So he decided to create witzend (at one time called et cetera) and gave a space for his fellow pros to see their work published for no fee but also no pay, the difference being they kept the rights. witzend was black and white version of what Image Comics would do decades later but on a much, much larger scale and with a keener interest in profit. In these pages readers found stories unlike what the "Big Two" were producing but they were stories written and drawn by that same talent. Wood introduced such features as Animan, the Pipsqueak Papers, Bucky Ruckus, The Rejects and perhaps most importantly the early installments of his unfinished fantasy epic The World of the Wizard King. 

After the first four issues, all of which sported Wally Wood covers, the control and ownership was shifted over to Bill Pearson for a buck and the publication carried on for a total of thirteen issues before folding in 1985. Wood remained a contributor. He generated one more cover, a delightful color wraparound illustration. See it below with the rest of the covers for the run. 

witzend was a notable milestone in the changing of the way comics were made. Famously or perhaps infamously comic book shops were factories with talented and competent craftsmen producing product owned by the company in all respects with the "creator" getting paid merely for his time and effort and not able really in most cases to realized any share specifically of the profits his work generated. That of course has changed over the decades for a host of reasons. But artists like Wally Wood waking up to the notion that he was an artist and not just a field hand and taking steps to find outlets for his expression was not a small marker along the road of that change. 

I have had a blast taking a closer look at Wally Wood and I have learned a bunch I didn't know. There are several things I anticipated getting to that I didn't and that means that it might be time again some time in the future to take yet another close look at one of the finest comic book artists of any time.

Note: This post originally appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I have been transferring some of those posts over here as the month went on. 

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Monday, November 29, 2021

His Word!

Big Apple Comix #1 and only was the brainchild of Flo Steinberg, the longtime staffer at Marvel Comics in its heyday. It's a ground-level comic book sporting a dynamic Wally Wood cover, with work by a number of folks including Herb Trimpe, Mike Ploog, Neal Adams, Marie Severin, Alan Weiss, and others. Wood contributed greatly not least of which was his revisiting the EC classic story "My World" from Weird Science #22 (see yesterday's post) and offered up this raunchier updated sardonic variation dubbed merely "My Word".

It's a far different world envisioned here, the implacable optimism of mankind's eventual conquest of the universe replaced by the humbled desire to get through day-to-day modern life.  "My World" looked outward towards possibilities while "My Word" looks inward at limitations.

In addition to the cover and the three page reflection Wally Wood also inked a piece in the little comic anthology. "Lots Yox" was drawn by Herb Trimpe and featured some particularly crafted biplanes taking on a rather familiar  target. There's a second page to this story which reveals that all is not as it seems. It's a good reason to scout up a copy of Big Apple #1 if you can.

"My Word" has been reprinted a few times. Most recently I picked it up in The Erotic Art of Wally Wood.

Note: This post originally appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I will be transferring some of those posts over here as the month goes on. 

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Sunday, November 28, 2021

His World!

Cap'n's Comics: Weird Science #22 Cover by Wally Wood

In the pages of EC's Weird Science #22 there's a story titled simply "My World". It was written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Wally Wood. Here is that story in its original art form. That first page in particular is magnificent in the depth of image one can see, reminding me of the misty backgrounds of Skull Island in the original  King Kong of all places.

It's almost like a visit inside the imagination of the creators themselves, or perhaps more particularly Wood himself as his artwork drives this vignette more than most EC offerings. The sprawling capacities of science fiction have rarely been better portrayed.

This story has been often reprinted, but I read it most recently in Comics About Cartoonists - Stories about the World's Oddest Profession from Craig Yoe. 

Note: This post originally appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I will be transferring some of those posts over here as the month goes on. 

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Thunder Agents Archives Seven!

I haven't the strength to revisit the whole meandering odyssey of the THUNDER Agents after their Tower days were done. The saga of their ownership is a confusing and at times quite dark tale. A chap named John Carbonaro got the rights from Tower to publish the T-Agents (although some say that those rights never existed and remained with Wally Wood and afterwards his estate -- it's murky). 

Carbonaro's first foray with the Agents was in the form of a black and white magazine which lasted exactly one issue. It was put together by Pat Gabriele and featured some decent art by Mark Texeira. The Adams and Kirby art advertised was vintage stuff from years gone by. It's not a sterling effort by any means, but it was new THUNDER Agents. 

Next Carbonaro took the Agents into the direct sales marketplace under his own brand of JC Comics, We got a few new tales of decent quality and a reprint series. Somehow this was tied into Archie Comics and the short-lived run was finished under their banner in an issue of Blue-Ribbon Comics. 

And that brings us to Deluxe Comics, the stories reprinted in the seventh and final volume of DC's THUNDER Agents Archives series. Another fellow named Dave Singer and former associate of Carbonaro claimed that the Agents were in public domain and set about to use them in a brand new spanking line despite Carbonaro's objections and eventual lawsuit. Singer seems to have been a dodgy character at best and though he promised big money to big name talents such as George Perez, Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen, Steve Englehart and others his promises were more impressive than the reality. 

So after a couple of stunning issues the talent began to walk away and the books trudged along. There are some really sweet stories in these, such as nifty hard-edged Raven stuff from George Perez, fan-pleasing artwork from Dave Cockrum and some really weird but fascinating stuff about Lightning by Giffen. There is a definite grimness to some of it, but for the most part the characterizations rang true since most of the creators were drawn to the work by their fondness of the original Tower Comics. The storylines even recognized the old Tower days and built upon them. 

Some of the stuff had real fanboy appeal such as the exceedingly physical encounter between Dynamo and the Iron Maiden. The two had danced around one another in the 60's but here in the 80's that dance took a highly erotic turn, something the old Comics Code would not have approved of I have little doubt. Undersea Agent is incorporated into the T-Agents properly and after he's forced to be voyeur to the Dynamo-Maiden love scene he might have wanted to change his name to "Unsee Agent". 

Despite great covers right to the end, the books insides became less and less impressive. Though Perez is still around there is even in his art an unfinished quality. 

The fifth and final issue has some Jerry Ordway art and its quite handsome and the story picks up embers from the Tower days yet again, but it's too little to late. Other stories in this issue are not nearly so professional in their aspect and the writing seems to be handed off to lesser known names. Singer's venture falls apart even as his claim to the Agents turns to ashes in the courts. 

The THUNDER Agents tumble around for several more years becoming guest-stars in several Indy books before Carbonaro is able to land a deal (of sorts) with Bob Guccione's Penthouse outfit.

He has a guy named George Caragonne in charge of them now and he  proves another less than reliable fellow. There is a stunning story done with Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin but only the first chapter of three ever sees publication in an issue of Omni Comix due to the suicide of Caragonne among other factors. The Agents are in limbo yet again  until many years later DC picks them up and later still IDW takes a stab at them. 

A few more pages of the Gulacy material gets published in The THUNDER Agents Companion from Twomorrows but it's still less than satisfying not see the whole story, which may or may not still exist. This Twomorrows book has been a ton of fun to read as I've tumbled along with the Agents on this read. There are many many interviews and profiles of the talent involved with the creation of the T-Agents over the many years. The book is a bit out of date now having been published in 2005 or thereabouts. But it still makes one hunger for more good THUNDER Agents stories and I for one believe there are more of those to tell. 

Note: Only the Deluxe material and the single story for Omni Comix is included in this particular Archives edition. 

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Friday, November 26, 2021

The Life And Legend Of Woody!

This month as I've been diving into the THUNDER Agents and other things by Wally Wood, I've been supplementing my readings with essays from  two sumptuous volumes from Fantagraphics titled The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood. Not a standard biography, though there is some of that here too, these volumes offer up choice remembrances of the great comic artist by those who knew him best. There is a tremendous number of essays by former assistants and even a recorded roundtable conversation by a host of them. These essays and interviews by the likes of Bhob Stewart, John Workman, Steven Thompson, Nick Cuti, Al Williamson, John Severin, Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Paul Kirchner, Bill Spicer, Bill Pearson, Len Brown, Flo Steinberg, Tom Sutton, Trina Robbins, and Wally Wood himself among many others delve into most all aspects of Woody's career from the EC days and right up to his final porn work for Nuance. There is as you'd suspect a tremendous number of illustrations and even a few complete stories from the earliest days. These are a bit costly I'll admit but I've had a splendid time this month not only reading some vintage stories by Wally Wood, but reading about the development and construction of those stories. 

But we're not quite done yet. More Wally Wood and his legacy tomorrow. 

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Blind Man Sees Red!

As important as fine talents the likes of Gene Colan and Frank Miller have been to the development of the Daredevil comic book, it's easily arguable to me that the single most important artist in the history of the was Wally Wood. What Wood did was simply transform Daredevil from a musty looking superhero who might've dropped in out of the Golden Age into a sleek modern hero literally suited for the Silver Age. He did it with a single color -- red.

From his inception the design of Daredevil had played off his name by adorning his cowl with little horns. What Wally Wood did was to take that notion and give the character named "Devil" a deep rich color which evoked his name in all its glory. Soon after taking the helm Wood started diddling with the look and along with Stan Lee even made sure the hero got some high profile exposure in the Fantastic Four of all places and by fighting one of the greatest of all Marvel battles ever against the indomitable Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. "The Man Without Fear" earned his nickname when he put it all on the line against the Sea King and there was no going back.

Despite small-ball but visually spectacular villains like the Stilt-Man, the comic was secure because watching DD in battle was exciting in itself.

Not all the stories made sense, but getting there was nearly all the fun. Daredevil was establishing himself as a hero who took on all comers and looked good doing it.

Wally Wood's tenure was brief though and ended when Bob Powell was brought aboard to finish Wood's layouts in the terrific two-parter featuring the debut of the villains who would be called the Ani-Men. These guys are all Wood, who wrote the first half of the two-part adventure. With that Wood left the book and a fellow named John Romita took the helm, no slouch himself.

Wally Wood stepped aboard the Daredevil comic book one more time, inking Frank Miller in a story from his epic run. It was a hearty reminder of the early days when Wally Wood had saved the comic from the dustbin of history.

daredevil # 7 pin - up / 1965 - acetate color, in red raven's ...

It was then that Daredevil was established as the comic without fear.

Note: This post originally appeared at Rip Jagger's Other Dojo. I will be transferring some of those posts over here as the month goes on. 

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