Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Frank Miller and the Friends of Abe

Not really about comics:

Finding through Sean Collins's blog (via) that Frank Miller was posting on the comments thread of Victor Davis Hanson's blog, I decided to look for more Miller posts at that site. Miller has apparently been sporadically posting over there for at least a year and a half, and I thought that a selection of his most noteworthy posts might be of interest, for a look at his thoughts about Hollywood, politics, and heroes.

Posted April 20, 2008:

Professor Hanson,

Your comments about movie-making and finding the right actor to portray a hero strike a loud chord with this director.

I was insistent, through the casting of my new movie, THE SPIRIT, to find a lesser known actor, so that the audience would, as they did with Richard Donner’s wonderful SUPERMAN and his perfect choice of then-unknown Christopher Reeve as the Man Of Steel, see the Spirit as the Spirit, not as a vehicle for an established star.

It wasn’t easy to find my hero. Dozens were auditioned. I learned that while Hollywood produces many skilled male actors, it produces very few men.

Gabriel Macht emerged as a matinee-idol dream of a hero, and he and I worked very closely for many months as he crafted his part.

So it was difficult to cast the part. But I still believe the fault lies not with the acting talent available, but rather with movie-makers’ intent. Look around: modern Bogarts like Bruce Willis crave good, heroic roles. Clive Owen brings back the verve of Sean Connery, adding his own Chandleresque twist to the job. Mickey Rourke is certainly a tragic presence–and an heroic one–worthy of the best comparisons with Jack Palance, in Rourke’s performance in my SIN CITY. And Gerry Butler in 300 would certainly put the great Charlton Heston to the test.

Add to that Matt Damon in the BOURNE series, and Brad Pitt whenever they let him show what he can do, and, though they are few, I argue that the talent is there.

To mangle the words of the Bard, the fault lies not in our stars, but in our studios.


Posted September 30, 2008:

Should Obama be elected, sad indeed though I will be, and horrible for my country this will be, I will remember my mother’s wise words: “We’ll still be America.”

This patriot takes some comfort in that.


A couple of months later he's more optimistic:

Posted November 19, 2008:

Call me crazy, call me irresponsible, but, though I opposed his candidacy, I suspect President Obama will turn out to be a rather moderate president. The Presidency is not a kingship, and it is informed by forces and events that are unexpected.

The anti-Obama hysteria is already smelling like the toxic waste thrown at George W.

Let’s see what the man does.


Posted November 22, 2008:


Please. McCarthy lost. The socialists won. That is so evident it is painful to behold.

Meanwhile, I challenge our correspondents to drop their fake names and stand for who they are. STATE YOUR REAL NAMES!

Or be branded, properly, as cowards.


(He goes on ranting against anonymous commenters for several more posts during that thread.)

And the latest post from a few days ago:

As usual, I concur with your sentiment, and share much of your taste (just watched ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA for the umpteenth time–what a tonic!), but I think that you’re unaware of the quiet struggle ongoing in entertainment.

The acting talent is there in abundance, though frequently misdirected, poorly scripted, and dismissed or downright condemned by critics. Given the proper opportunity, I’d put Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, Gary Sinise, Matt Damon, Samuel Jackson, Harrison Ford and others up against the stars of old. I’d likewise mention two actors in particularly with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work: Gabriel Macht and Gerard Butler. No nasal, spoiled-by-spending-their-lives-sitting-by-the-swimming-pool spoiled-brat conceit there.

“He is the hero; he is everything,” wrote Raymond Chandler. In film, a hero is a construct in the best sense of the word. The heroic actor is, of course, the sine qua non of any such effort. But whatever his talents and inherent dramatic virtue, the heroic actor is hobbled by an anti-heroic script, director, or studio. Women? You probably haven’t heard of Carla Gugino, but should her talent be unleashed, she’d give Bettte Davis a run for her money. Take a good look at Hilary Swank in MILLION DOLLAR BABY, and see what she can do–if allowed.

Many in Hollywood still whine about “The McCarthy Era,” which is ironic, given that McCarthy lost and the Left won. So the pervading atmosphere is at direct odds with any attempt at heroic drama. In response, a fast-growing group called FRIENDS OF ABE has taken shape in hope of reclaiming heroism–and patriotism–to the screen. Then next time we’re both in LA, I’d love to take you to one of their lunches or dinners. I think you’d find it encouraging, if not inspiring.


The "Friends of Abe" group that Miller mentions at the end is (according to the Washington Times) a group of politically conservative Hollywood figures apparently trying to do something against what they perceive as a Hollywood bias in favor of liberalism (also described in the article as a support group for industry figures allegedly ostracized for espousing conversative values). Miller's participation in this group shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's still interesting to see.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: Two Steve Ditko Comics

I've known for some time that Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder have been publishing new Ditko comics over the past few years, but it became harder for me to buy these comics once they stopped being listed in the Diamond catalog. It seems the only way to get them now is through mail order or at one of the few comic-book stores that carry them.

So during a visit to New York a few months ago, one of the first things I did was to head over to Jim Hanley's Universe where I knew these comics would be stocked. I ended up buying four of them:

  • Steve Ditko's 32-Page Package ("Tsk! Tsk") (2000), a collection of illustrated essays.
  • The Avenging Mind (April 2008), a collection of (mostly) text pieces dealing with topics such as current Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, Martin Goodman, and examinations of what it means to "create" something (with special attention given to Stan Lee's various and contradictory accounts of his and Ditko's role in the creation of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange).
  • ...Ditko Continued... (January 2009)
  • Oh, No! Not Again, Ditko! (March 2009)

It's the last two I'm interested in reviewing here; both are 32-page black-and-white comics featuring mostly stories told in a traditional comics format, along with some illustrated editorials or examinations of the ideas that Ditko's traditionally been concerned with.

It makes sense to review these two together, Ditko has this odd habit of splitting stories between books, publishing for example the first four pages of a story in ...Ditko Continued... and then publishing the conclusion (pages 5 to 8) in Oh, No! Not Again, Ditko! (I don't find serialization by itself to be odd, it's the brevity of each installment that makes me wonder why couldn't each story be published complete in a single comic.) Also, some stories in ...Ditko Continued... are conclusions to stories apparently originally began in Ditko, etc..., a comic I didn't find at Jim Hanley's store.

Reading the comics, one thing that immediately stands out is the minimalistic approach to storytelling that Ditko uses. Each panel contains the minimal information needed to carry the story and explain the motivation for each character. One gets the impression that complete sentences are barely used here, the dialog frequently consists of only fragments of sentences or simple descriptions of actions (some examples of all the dialog featured in three single panels from different stories: "...try a long shot...", "...a drink, relax... count my earnings...", "that's it... hear voices..."). The artwork is also quite clear, some pages are elegantly designed, but there's little unnecessary detail in them.


It's as if Ditko at this point didn't feel the need to bother with all the trappings of a standard "good vs. evil" story (or in many cases, "evil hoist by its own petard" story); there are no captions, no unnecessary supporting characters, very few backgrounds, no effort (as in traditional superhero comics) at creating an unbelievable situation and then trying to convince us of its believability through repetition and the gradual accumulation of details. All that stuff would interfere with the message, with the point of the story.

In a similar fashion, characters either have no name, or just the briefest of names needed to identify them. Ditko's new hero is simply called "The Hero", another one is just called "The Cape" (and he consists of just that, a floating cape; no face, no body). Villains are called "The Fist" (he has a gigantic fist) or "Force" and "Violence". Heroic characters have only one facial expression, looking with serene detachment; "evil" or "corrupt" characters' faces on the other hand go through several contortions throughout the story: from happiness to worry to fear to incomprehension in some cases ("Why? I'm an honest man... doesn't make sense.. white ... grey ... black !?") or frustrated acceptance of their fate in others.

There are also a few one-pagers scattered throughout these comics, these can be similar to old-fashioned editorial cartoons (heavy on labels and simple symbolism), or diagrammatic examinations of ideas (one example shown below).


I admit I particularly enjoyed the sequences Ditko devotes to comic-book fans. Fans as shown here are arrogant, whiny, selfish, and parasitic; complaining when Ditko doesn't meet their expectations (which seems to be always). The thing is, Ditko's right. These fans exist and I've seen them in various message boards and mailing lists. One thing is to disagree with Ditko's philosophy, dismiss some of his ideas, or criticize his work, but there are many fans who go beyond that and seem to be offended by the very idea of someone not living in the way they'd like him to live: Why doesn't he give interviews? Why doesn't he try to claim the rights to Spider-Man? Why didn't he negotiate a better deal? Why is he challenging Stan Lee's version of history now and not fifteen years earlier?

Ditko is certainly an intriguing figure in comics, and it's very tempting to try to guess what his motivations are, what makes him tick, what makes him behave in the way he does. But many fans go beyond this, trying to convince themselves and others that "Ditko must be an unhappy man", "Ditko's moving through different publishers in the 1960's and 1970's must mean he's an unstable person", "Alan Moore says Ditko lives at the YMCA so it must be true", "Ditko must be penniless", etc (none of these examples are made up). Ditko seems to be aware of these fans and their deeply-held convictions (one page is simply titled "The Internet Nuts"), and there's a one-pager titled "I Don't Understand!?! I'm an Inquiring Guy" which is so eerily accurate that it makes me suspect Ditko must be reading a few mailing lists I'm aware of. (The phrase "Ditko won't perform for us" is also a great summation of fan thinking, see illustration below.)

Ditko won't perform for us

I love the idea of this 81 year-old man thumbing his nose at his detractors and not doing the slightest effort to accomodate them or justify his actions to them.

But of course, after criticizing and mocking other fans for their attempts at mind-reading Ditko, I can't help falling in the same trap myself, if only a little. (Though according to these comics, you can't be "a little" wrong or be guilty of a "minor" transgression, you're either behaving correctly and rationally or you aren't.) One can draw parallels between some elements of these stories and Ditko's own life, such as in page 3 of "The Partner" in which someone fixes a report only to have someone else take the credit for it ("...great report, yes, good work. Very good!")

Ditko backstabbing

And one story in particular, "Habitual Means to Ends" (sample page shown above), with its depiction of a backstabber who constantly excuses himself by saying he's sorry and that he will not do it again, reminds me of Ditko's account in Steve Ditko's 32-Page Package of how Stan Lee gladly takes complete credit in interviews for the creation of Spider-Man, then corrects his version and credits Ditko ("I write this to ensure that Steve Ditko receives the credit to which he is so justly entitled"), only to once again take complete credit for the character, and so on.

It's not much of a stretch to assume that this "I'll stab you / I'm sorry!" behavior could also be how Ditko sees his past relationships with certain publishers, fans, or associates; take for instance Blake Bell's account of his relationship with Ditko and the reasons why Ditko decided to stop his association with him. (And I'm aware of the irony that with this paragraph I've become one of the fans Ditko shows in "The Internet Nuts", saying things like "One might assume he figured / It also may have been.../ They look like they could have been...".)

All in all, I wasn't disappointed with these comics. They can be simplistic and repetitive at times, but they do contain some surprises, some good old-fashioned Ditko fighting scenes (pages 6, or 13-14 of Ditko's "Hero" story are fine examples), and they even show Ditko has a sense of humor (something that's almost always omitted in the usual accounts of Ditko as a recluse which doesn't give interviews). I'm glad he's still doing his eccentric comics for the very love of it, and I look forward to reading more of them as they become available.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Frank Miller's "The Price"

Following last week's reprint of a guest editorial by John Byrne, this time I'm posting an article by Frank Miller, originally published in Comics Scene #3 (May 1982).

In this article, Miller reviews the deals made by creators such as Siegel & Shuster or Lee, Kirby, and Ditko; he affirms that neither DC nor Marvel are to blame for not giving these creators a larger compensation for their work ("If Siegel and Schuster [sic] had wanted a bigger piece of the action, they should have swung themselves a better deal"); and then proceeds to enthusiastically describe how treatment for creators has improved in the past few years.

Miller had reason enough to be optimistic: the amount of benefits given to creators by DC and Marvel during this period was unprecented (Miller, to his credit, argues that the publishers were driven to this out of necessity, instead of doing this out of a sense of fairness). Miller mentions the following benefits:

  • Higher page rates and royalties
  • Sharing of licensing revenues
  • Creator-ownership
  • Profit sharing on new characters, titles
(One benefit he doesn't mention is reprint fees, he probably couldn't imagine back in 1982 how often his work would be reprinted over the next decades.)

In contrast to Byrne, who argued that creators asking for more benefits would only harm the fans, Miller concludes that these incentives will drive creators to do better work ("For the first time, it's to our advantage to invest in the survival of the industry").

To make the difference clearer, Miller took the time to write a letter refuting some of Byrne's points. The following was published in Comics Scene #4 (July 1982):

As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, all these articles were written while Steve Gerber and Marvel were fighting over the ownership of Howard the Duck. In my next post, I'll show Steve Gerber's reaction to this discussion.

Carlos Roume

Mariano Chinelli over at the Eternautas mailing list reports that Argentinian comic artist Carlos Roume passed away last week.

Throughout his long career, Roume worked for Argentinian, British, and French publishers, and was probably best known for his ability at drawing animals and for specializing in stories with rural, naturalistic settings.

I'm most familiar with his collaborations with Hector German Oesterheld on series such as "Nahuel Barros" and "Patria Vieja", but his career consisted of much more than that, as can be seen in the samples of his work posted over at the Chiquirritipis blog, at Domingos Isabelinho's blog (which includes an examination of Roume's "Nahuel Barros"), and in this gallery of his original artwork.

(Image above taken from Domingos Isabelinho's blog.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cogs in the machine

This is something I'd been meaning to post for a long time. It's the beginning of (hopefully) a series of snapshots showing how the discussion regarding creators' rights in the American comics industry has evolved during the past decades. Generally speaking, things have improved since then (there are more choices available for creators today), but there is also a sensation of stagnation in many aspects (just look for example at the new generation of creators who have in past years been screwed by fly-by-night publishers who take all their rights in exchange for vague promises of future royalties).

Things like Jerry Siegel's family trying to regain the copyright of Superman (by simply trying to take advantage of a modification in copyright law that enables them to do so) still generate some controversy today, partly due to lack of information (some people believe the Siegels are trying to change past contracts, which is untrue) or simply because there are people who believe that a publisher is more responsible of a character's financial success than its creators. In the same way there is plenty of room for improvement regarding creators' rights, there is also room (and a need) for informed discussion about this matter.

The following article is from Comics Scene #2 (cover-dated March 1982), and it's written by John Byrne at the height of his popularity. In it, Byrne defines himself as a "company man", making his famous statement: "I'm a cog in the machine which is Marvel Comics", and he also explains why he believes creators should accept the rules as they are, or at the very least not pretend that they weren't aware of these rules when they started working in the industry.

Byrne is characteristically blunt and direct in this article, saying: "The whole concept of work-for-hire has been a thorn in the side of creative people for a long, long time, but it has also been the bounden duty of those who entered the industry to accept the rules, and not expect their presence to modify their little corner of the cosmos." This was published at the same time Steve Gerber and Marvel were battling in court over the rights of Howard the Duck (I intend to write more about Gerber in following posts), and Byrne still held this same view some 15 years later, when he voluntarily testified for Marvel (and against Marv Wolfman) in the lawsuit for the rights to Blade. (Byrne's viewpoint basically was that everybody back then knew they were selling all their rights to Marvel in exchange for a flat page-rate and that it was disingenious for Wolfman to pretend otherwise. Wolfman lost the lawsuit, and hasn't been able to get work at Marvel since then.)

In this article, Byrne also makes the somewhat bizarre statement: "If we are going to have creator's rights [...] should we not then also have (excuse the pun) creator's wrongs? In all the noise and fury over everyone getting a fair share I have not heard one so-called creator offering the flip side of the coin. No one has said they would be willing to take a loss if their creation fell flat on its very expensive face."

This is an example of the viewpoint I mentioned before: believing that since publishers take risks when publishing an unknown property, they deserve a large part of the financial benefits if the property turns out to be succesful. This is a legitimate point of view, but by taking the argument to its extreme ("Is there anyone out there willing to return the money they made while producing some of these duds?") Byrne may have ended up weakening his argument. Freelancers do take a loss if their creations are not commercial enough; each failure means it's going to be more difficult to find work in the future.

The point of this post however is to simply present Byrne's famous article, and not to rebut it point by point. Nevertheless, I'll show in future posts how other industry professionals reacted to this article, with what should be some familiar names popping in.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The difficulties Kirby's heirs face

Yesterday's announcement that Jack Kirby's heirs are trying to claim the copyrights to characters created by Kirby for Marvel probably caught many by surprise, including me. It's true that when news of Disney buying Marvel broke out, many fans speculated that the Kirby family might try to do something like this, following the footsteps of Jerry Siegel's heirs. But my thought at the time (and now) was that actually regaining to copyrights to the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Hulk, Sgt. Fury and other characters would be extremely difficult for the Kirby family to do.

Like most of the people commenting about this and the Superman rights case, I'm not an expert on copyright law. I've followed the development of the Siegel case closely though, trying to understand the reasoning behind each decision, and based on that I think the Kirbys have some significant hurdles to cross.

Many online commenters have correctly pointed out that Kirby didn't sign work for hire contracts while he worked for Marvel, and that the current definition of "work made for hire" applies from 1978 onwards (when the new law took effect). In fact, Kirby refused to sign the work made for hire contract that Marvel started using that year. As noted in The Comics Journal #44, February '79 ("Ploog & Kirby Quit Marvel Over Contract Dispute", page 11):
Former Marvel star artist Jack Kirby also objected to Marvel's contract and Marvel has indicated that he won't be allowed to work for the company unless he signs it. Kirby had apparently been scheduled to resume drawing for Marvel at the end of the animation season. He had been working for Filmation Associates on their Fantastic Four Saturday morning cartoon series for the NBC television network.

Kirby enjoyed working in animation again [...] and remarked, "I sort of adapted to it and I like it very much." He did not want to discuss the specific details of his complaints with the contract, saying only, "I don't want to get tied to a commitment."

Marvel still hopes Kirby will consider signing the contract and returning to work, however. [Editor-in-chief Jim] Shooter says Marvel's talks with Kirby were on friendly terms and Kirby himself called them "very amicable." Nonetheless, Kirby remained unwilling to sign. "I want to try my talents in other directions," he told The Comics Journal. "Maybe this is the right time of life to try other things."
And so he did, doing more animation-related work, trying his hand at screenplays, and doing creator-owned comics like Destroyer Duck, Captain Victory, and Silver Star. (He also returned to The New Gods, but that's because DC offered him a very good deal to do so, which included royalties. The reason appearances of those characters to this day have a "Created by Jack Kirby" credit is due to that deal.)

Still, as seen in the opinion issued by Judge Stephen Larson on August 12 of this year regarding the Superman copyright, the lack of a written agreement between Kirby and Marvel may not be enough. As commented in this blog's previous entry, the Siegels were able to claim the copyrights to some important elements of the Superman franchise, but the Judge's opinion is worth reading in full for knowing which elements and stories they were not able to regain.

Beginning in page 40 of the document, the Judge deals with the Superman work produced by Siegel and Shuter after March 1, 1938 and before the employment agreement they signed in September of that year. Despite the lack of a contract, the Judge decides that the material produced during that time is work for hire, and therefore belongs to DC.

The Judge writes (pages 43-44):
In essence, the September, 1938 employment agreement formalized what had informally been ongoing beforehand. That Detective Comics' requests were made on an informal basis before the written agreements were executed does not detract from the fundamental fact that Siegel and Shuster's creation of the derivative Superman material was done at the request and instance of Detective Comics. That Detective Comics waited six months before more formally "employing" the pair to "continue" to do just that does not detract from the core point that such production by Siegel and Shuster was again done at the instance of Detective Comics; it simply shows that by that point Superman had so proven itself a commercial success that the publisher desired a more formalized arrangement to be placed down in writing to ensure that the pair would continue to produce such material for it (rather than going on to create other comic book characters for other publishers).

When these facts are considered in toto, it is easy to conclude that creation of the works in question lie further along the spectrum from that found in a more traditional employment relationship, as is the case for the comic books created by in-house employees of the publisher. The lack of any long-term guarantee or commitment by the publisher to the business enterprise itself, however, is not something which is atypical in an independent contractor situation. That the pair functioned in such a looser employment relationship with the hiring party is not critical. What is important is the existence of an engagement to create the works, and the level of control and direction the commissioning party thereafter had over creation of the works in question. And in that regard, the fact that Siegel and Shuster were commissioned by the publisher to create specific material to which the publisher had the statutory right to exert control over its creation, and for which they were paid upon the material's publication, is dispositive as to the instance prong.

In short, Detective Comics, as the copyright holder of the pre-existing work, approached the artists and asked that they create works derived from that preexisting material on a regular basis, and then paid the artists for that derivative work. As such, the material would fall within the category as a work made for hire. [emphasis mine]
It's easy to see the parallels with Kirby's situation at Marvel. He was a freelancer, but he was working under the editorial direction of Stan Lee, and he was "commisioned by the publisher to create specific material" on a regular basis for Marvel's monthly books.

Basically, until now the Siegels have been only able to regain the rights to material that Jerry Siegel developed before selling it to DC. Is the Kirby family in a position to come up with evidence that shows that Jack Kirby had written scripts or drawn stories featuring the Fantastic Four or the X-Men before he sold them to Marvel? This is doubtful, and this is the main reason why I can't see them being able to succesfully claim the copyrights to these characters.

Despite all of the above, Tom Spurgeon makes an important point: "The fact that aggressive litigator Toberoff & Associates is the attorney of record makes this a bigger deal because of their past successes" (including the recent Siegel victories). I would very much like to see the Kirby family regain these copyrights, or at least some fair compensation for the use of the characters. I believe they're in a difficult position for the reasons stated above, but at least they have chosen a powerful ally, and this may end up making an important difference.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Siegels awarded more Superman rights

As usual, Jeff Trexler brings us the latest news regarding the Siegels' litigation against DC Comics for the rights of Superman.

The Siegels have recaptured the rights to the following Superman material: Action Comics #1; Action Comics #4; pages 3 to 6 of Superman #1; and the first two weeks of Superman newspaper strips.

The judge's reasoning is as follows:

There is evidence (provided by Denis Kitchen) that the Superman story in Action Comics #4 (about Superman's exploits in a football game) was sufficiently developed by Jerry Siegel and Russell Keaton some years before Action Comics #1. As such, the story in Action Comics #4 can not be "work for hire". While there is proof (based on surviving Siegel notes and documentation) that Siegel had the ideas for some of the stories of other early Action Comics issues some time before 1938, the judge says that a mere idea is not subject to copyright.

Pages 3 to 6 of Superman #1 were also developed before Siegel's and Shuster's relation with DC, so they would now belong to Siegel's heirs. There is evidence that pages 1 and 2 are work for hire, since they were done at Detective Comics's request. (The rest of Superman #1 consists of reprints of early Action Comics stories.)

But what is probably most important is the ownership of the first two weeks of Superman newspaper strips.

(This is the most complicated part of the judge's opinion, examing in detail the deal between Siegel & Shuster, Detective Comics, and the McClure Syndicate; and also citing previous cases such as the DC-Fawcett lawsuit for Captain Marvel/Superman, and a legal dispute between Burne Hogarth and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.)

The judge writes (page 85):

A fact not lost on either party or the Court is that potentially valuable copyright elements subsist in this material, as it is the first material in which Superman's home planet of Krypton is named, Superman's Krypton name is revealed, and the circumstances surrounding Krypton's destruction are revealed. [Emphasis mine]
That's right, it seems these key elements of the Superman franchise would now also belong to the Siegels.

So while gaining the copyright to a mere handful of Superman pages and strips wouldn't seem that important at first glance, gaining the copyright to "Krypton" and "Kal-El" seems to be a very important legal victory for the Siegels.

During my quick read of the 99-page document I found some additional and interesting details about other aspects of the negotiations between Siegel & Shuster and DC. One example: the origin of the mysterious "Lois Lane, Girl Reporter" strip is revealed. On page 23 it is stated that this strip was produced directly by DC as "filler" material due to lateness on Siegel's and Shuster's part in providing strips for the McClure syndicate. There was a side agreement (apparently done without Siegel's and Shuster's knowledge) between DC and McClure in 1943 for the production of these strips, and the cost of producing this material was to be deducted from the gross receipts of the Superman syndication (resulting in, I assume, less income for Siegel and Shuster).

Besides being happy for the Siegels, I also find it very entertaining to see details like these (and many others regarding contracts, page rates, and other financial matters) to be finally revealed in these court documents.

The initial Superman newspaper strips can be seen here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Comics Revue

The latest Previews catalog shows how some publishers are adapting in order to meet the new minimum orders required by Diamond. As pointed out in various places, Buenaventura Press for example is offering a "Comics Revival Previews Excluse 3-Pak", a $11.95 shrink-wrapped package containing Eric Haven's The Aviatrix, Ted May's Injury #3, and Lisa Hanawalt's I Want You (comics that if published separately probably wouldn't have met Diamond's minimums).

Other publishers are taking similar measures. When I was reaching the end of the solicitations I noticed something: Comics Revue wasn't listed. Comics Revue is a monthly 64-page anthology of classic newspaper strips that has been published since 1983. Currently in its 277th (!) issue, the magazine is something that (in its current format) could only survive in the direct market. I admit I was worried when I noticed there was no listing for the magazine in the latest Previews catalog, so I decided to ask publisher Rick Norwood about the situation. His response was:

Diamond will (knock wood) still carry Comics Revue. But to meet the Diamond minimum order on each issue, I have to publish six double issues each year instead of twelve single issues. So, no issue in September. First double issue in October. On the other hand, to comply with Diamond's demands, I had to raise the cover price to $16 for each double issue. If you subscribe, you can lock in the old price -- $45 for one year, $90 for two years.

I explain all this in the editorial in CR 278, on its way to your dealer now.

The magazine currently reprints strips such as Gasoline Alley (the Dick Moores strips), Krazy Kat dailies, Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie, Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer, Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon, Dan Barry's Flash Gordon, and V.T. Hamlin's Alley Oop, among others. Comics Revue was an essential part of my monthly comics reading when I started buying it regularly, in the dark mid-to-late 1990's period in which few publishers were issuing book collections of newspaper strips. And even in today's current bonanza of reprint projects, Comics Revue is still worth reading for its selection of strips and its attention to detail.

Rick Norwood also adds the following:

I know there are a lot of people out there who would love Comics Revue if they knew it exists, but it is hard to get the message out. I was at the recent New York Comics Con, and people I talked to about Comics Revue would say things like -- my comics dealer said it was no longer published or -- my comics dealer says he can't order it from Diamond.

[T]he new format will have eight pages of color, including The Phantom in Return of the Sky Band. Also starting in October, the first English language reprint of the very first Mandrake story.

Personally, I think this new format might be an improvement over the current one (it reminds me in a way of how the Comics Journal has evolved during the past few years), and I'm looking forward to seeing it. Hopefully there will still be a place in today's marketplace for this magazine and the strips it contains.

Monday, January 26, 2009

You'll never guess the identity of our surprise mystery villain!

"It can't -- It can't be!"

"No! It can't be!" "But it is! I've sensed it all along! I just wouldn't let myself believe it!"

"Oh my God!"

"Why didn't I see it? WHY?!"

"Oh my, God!"

Courtesy of:

Stan Lee, John Romita, Sal Buscema, 1969:

Gary Friedrich, John Romita, 1971:

Gary Friedrich, Sal Buscema, 1972 (a reveal so cool, it had to be spread over two issues):

Steve Englehart, Frank Robbins, Joe Giella, 1975:

Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, 1977:

Roger McKenzie, Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, John Tartaglione, 1978:

J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, 1981:

Mark Gruenwald, Larry Alexander, Bud LaRosa, 1991:

Mark Waid, Ron Garney, Scott Koblish, 1995:

Batman R.I.P. 1967

From TV Tornado 5, (Feb. 11, 1967):