Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spain Rodriguez's "Manning"

Very sad news regarding Spain Rodriguez's passing. I discovered his work through reference books about comics (most probably Toutain's Historia de los Comics), at an age in which I wasn't supposed to read underground comics. Nevertheless, being a big fan of Harvey Kurtzman's MAD, it wasn't a big surprise that I ended up being an enthusiastic reader of underground comics as well, most definitely including Spain Rodriguez's work.

I was able to track down Spain's work thanks to Fantagraphics' reprint volumes (part of their quixotic attempt to reprint the work of several underground comix artists during a period in which there wasn't a bookstore market for comics like these): 1989's Trashman Lives! and 1994's My True Story, a book that collected his autobiographical and non-fiction stories, a body of work that probably showed Spain at his best.

The following is just a minor footnote in his career, but it is a somewhat unexpected example of Spain's influence and may be of interest for those who (like me) enjoy comics trivia.

A few months ago comics writer Pat Mills started posting on his blog a series of articles about the creation of Judge Dredd. Back in September he wrote the following:

With the prospect of a better and fairer future ahead of us, John [Wagner] and I enthusiastically talked about his idea for a cop of the future. We were both impressed by a one page American underground strip called Mannix that was reprinted in Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, by Les Daniels. It featured a ruthless cop who shoots a fleeing criminal in the back and was obviously satirising dirty cops some years before the Clint Eastwood films appeared. We were also impressed by a story in American magazine Weird and Eerie where a science fiction cop pursues a criminal through a futuristic city and executes him. We then discover the perp’s crime – he was carrying a copy of a sick and seditious magazine, Weird and Eerie!

We also rated science fiction movies like Fahrenheit 451 where cops burn books, Logan’s Run where cops shoot old people, Death Race 2000 where crazy drivers run over pedestrians in legalised death races, and Rollerball where death is turned into a sport. Against this background, John suggested to me, “What about a future New York cop who executes people for the smallest infraction of the law, such as dropping litter?”

The comic Pat Mills is referring to isn't Mannix, but Manning, Spain's violent and energetically-drawn parody of cop movies. Here is the page (scanned from Les Daniels's Comix) that impressed Wagner and Mills and ended up being one of the inspirations for Judge Dredd (click on the image to see it at a larger size):

Thanks to Tom Spurgeon, we already knew that before "Before Watchmen" there was Spain Rodriguez. It turns out that before 2000 AD and Judge Dredd there also was Spain Rodriguez.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Columbia University Libraries: Comic New York - A Symposium

Videos from Comic New York: A Symposium (March 24-25, 2012)

Day 1, Panel 1: Ariel Schrag, Molly Crabapple, John Romita Jr., John Romita Sr., Kent Worcester. Moderator: Chris Irving

Day 1, Panel 2: Peter Kuper, John Carey, Sabrina Jones, Denis Kitchen. Moderator: David Hajdu

Day 1, Panel 3: Julia Wertz, Robert Sikoryak, Bill Griffith, Charles Brownstein. Moderator: Gene Kannenberg

Day 1, Keynote: A Conversation with Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson

Day 2, Panel 1: Irwin Hasen, Emily Flake, Ben Katchor, Lauren Weinstein. Moderator: Eddy Portnoy

Day 2, Panel 2: Miss Lasko-Gross, Dean Haspiel, Tracy White, Al Jaffee. Moderator: Danny Fingeroth

Day 2, Panel 3: Paul Levitz, Jonathan W. Gray, N.C. Cristopher Couch. Moderator: Jeremy Dauber

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Jack Kirby's "Davy Crockett" newspaper strips

My previous post about Artie Simek ended with a look at some "Davy Crockett" pages drawn by Jack Kirby that had been scanned from a copy of Marvelman #231. These pages didn't seem to have been previously published in an American comic-book, so I speculated that they could have been either done for the U.K. market (after the Atlas implosion), or that they could have been inventory stories left from the "Davy Crockett" series that Kirby did for Harvey's Western Tales between 1955 and 1956.

The answer is: none of the above.

Allow me to digress a little. During the mid-1950's everybody was doing "Davy Crockett" comics. There was the aforementioned Kirby series over at Western Tales; Charlton had its own Davy Crockett comic between 1955 and 1957 and also featured the character in a series named Wild Frontier; Avon released a Fighting Davy Crockett one-shot in 1955; the character appeared in DC's Frontier Fighters comic; and Dell published several Davy Crockett comics based on Disney's TV version.

On June 20, 1955, writer France "Ed" Herron and artist Jim McArdle began a new "Davy Crockett" newspaper strip (the ad at left and the first strip below are reproduced from the Spokane Daily Chronicle, courtesy of Google's newspaper archives). Herron had worked on and off with Kirby since the early 1940's, and is credited with co-creating the Red Skull, among other characters.

The first Davy Crockett daily strip, from June 20, 1955.

Back to the Kirby-drawn "Davy Crockett" pages from Marvelman #231. Dave Gibbons posted a comment on this blog noting that the pages looked like re-formatted newspaper strips. All the pages posted by Matt Gore have a white space at the top left corner every three panels, which is where the title of the strip would have appeared in a newspaper. So there was an extra clue.

Then, in a discussion over at the Grand Comics Database's mailing list about the provenance of these Kirby pages, someone pointed out an article from early this year which contained the solution to the mystery. On March 2012, Jean Depelley wrote an article at that explained where these Kirby pages came from.

It turns out these Kirby pages were also published in France (a decade after their U.K. appearance) in Zoom #15 (October 1968).

From Zoom #15. Check for more scans from this story.

From Marvelman #231. Note what a difference Artie Simek's lettering makes compared to the French version.

In his article, Jean Depelley describes the discovery of this story by French fans, their failed attempts to trace it to an American comic-book publication (they also considered the stories in Western Tales as a possibility) and their arrival to a conclusion: that these are newspaper strips Jack Kirby ghosted for Ed Herron's Davy Crockett strip during a transitional period in early 1957 (which would apparently date them before the Atlas Implosion).

The evidence is in the article: the "Columbia Features Syndicate" copyright notice, the "Herron/McArdle" signature in a later strip, and the fact that the continuity of the Kirby strips flows naturally from previous episodes drawn by another artist (showing that Kirby's pages weren't a stand-alone work, he was following somebody else's story). So that's a minor mystery solved. There are probably other fans who were aware of the fact that Kirby ghosted these "Davy Crockett" strips (it's unlikely that nobody else has noticed this fact in the 55 years since the strips' original appearance), but Depelley's article is the only place I've seen this documented.

One final digression: I remembered Depelley's name from his appearances in the Jack Kirby Collector, usually in the letter columns but also as an occasional article writer. And as revealed by Tom Scioli in his Angouleme diary early this year, Depelley is also working on a Jack Kirby biography focusing on his war years. As Scioli describes it: "He’s put together a timeline of when and where Kirby was during the war, based on Jean’s interviews with the children of the soldiers Jack was stationed with. He’s visited the sites of various battles that Kirby had been involved in."

Sounds like this could be a really good book. Depelley has written a series of "Adventures of Private Kirby" posts over at which show some of his research. I haven't read them all yet, but look forward to doing so soon.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Artie Simek's post-Implosion work

One side-effect of reading comics for a long time is learning to recognize the distinctive styles of the people who created them. Some people are good at identifying artists and inkers, others (such as Martin O'Hearn) have learned to identify the specific tics and phrases of certain writers' dialogue, and there are those who can accurately determine who lettered a specific comics story.

Thanks to the efforts over the past decades of fans, historians, critics, and indexers it is now possible to google with a fair degree of accuracy the creative teams for a large part of the old comics one happens to find either as back issues, digital scans, or in reprint books. The enjoyment of reading a comic can be heightened by knowing more about who created it, at what stage during his/her career it was created, at what time period, for which publisher/shop/packager, etc. A run of the mill romance comic is more interesting if it's drawn by Alex Toth, we may be willing to read a funny animal story more closely when we know it was probably written by John Stanley, there may be hidden depths to that trashy-looking 1950's Charlton horror comic once we find out it was written by Superman's creator, Jerry Siegel, and so on.

Coming across these familiar styles and voices is pleasurable, and this can even extend to recognizing and enjoying the good, clear lettering practiced by craftsmen such as Ben Oda or Howard Ferguson. What was just a random comic story becomes part of a larger continuum of work, a glimpse into part of the history of a craftsman or artist who probably worked anonymously for most of his or her career. (One problem with this type of reasoning however, is that this can give you lots of excuses for not trimming your collection and throwing old comics away -- everything is potentially significant -- but that's material for another post.)

I became aware of the early (post-Fantastic FourMarvel superhero comics thanks to the 1970's Pocket Books editions along with reprint comics such as Marvel Tales. Most of the stories in these comics were lettered by Artie Simek and Sam Rosen, and it was easy to notice and learn these names since Stan Lee made a point of crediting them and at the same time making jokes at their expense in the credits (something that as a young reader I found amusing).

Artie Simek

Sam Rosen also worked for publishers such as Quality and Harvey, but practically all of Simek's career seems to have taken place at Timely/Atlas/Marvel Comics. Jerry Bails's Who's Who, for example, has him working from 1946 until his death in 1975 at Marvel, with no credits at other companies. (Simek's daughter Jean, also a comic-book letterer, passed away early this year.)

However, a few years ago I'd noticed that Simek's work had appeared in other comics. I first saw this in the Jack Kirby-drawn Challengers of the Unknown stories from Showcase #12 (cover dated February-March 1958, which means that the book appeared in late 1957).

"Challengers of the Unknown" splash from Showcase #12
The lettering in the above page is indisputably Simek's work, noticeable from the story's title's lettering to small details such as the highlighted first letters of the captions of the second and third panels.

Another Simek-lettered page from Showcase #12

When I shared this a few years ago over at the Grand Comics Database mailing list, fellow fan Marc Miyake pointed out that he'd also found Simek's work in a non-Marvel comic, this time in a story from Race for the Moon #2, from 1958.

Artie Simek lettering in another Jack Kirby story, "The Face on Mars"

Is the time period in these examples (late 1957 to 1958) significant? Most definitely. What is known as the "Atlas Implosion" took place in 1957, an event in which publisher Martin Goodman had to cancel several titles, fire staffers, and use inventory stories for a while (instead of assigning new work to freelancers). Many Atlas/Marvel freelancers and staffers had to find work elsewhere, and from what can be seen above, Artie Simek wasn't an exception.

Having found the above examples, it wasn't difficult to find other DC works by Simek from that period. Some examples are documented at the Grand Comics Database, others have been found thanks to the abundance of comics scans on the web.

Probably the earliest example (mentioned in Simek's Wikipedia entry) is the story "Batman's Roman Holiday" from Batman #112, cover dated December 1957.

Artie Simek lettering in Batman #112

House of Secrets #8, cover dated January-February 1958 has several stories lettered by Simek as well.

Art by Bill Ely, lettering by Artie Simek.

Art by Jack Kirby, lettering by Artie Simek.

Art by George Papp, lettering by Artie Simek.

And the story "The Truth about Love" from Heart Throbs #52 (cover dated February-March 1958) seems to also have been lettered by Simek.

From Heart Throbs #52

Simek would eventually return to Marvel, and would become one of their main letterers during their 1960's expansion.

The effects of the Atlas Implosion were apparently felt across shores. Several years ago, Matt Gore pointed out the existence of little-known work done by Jack Kirby for the British market: a series of "Davy Crockett" stories that appeared as backups in Marvelman magazine. Matt has uploaded some samples from Marvelman #231, originally published in 1958. As far as can be told, the handful of stories Kirby did for Marvelman were never published in the United States.

Jack Kirby art from Marvelman #231

I'd seen these pages back when Matt Gore originally shared them, but seeing them again today made me notice for the first time that they were also lettered by Artie Simek.

I don't know much about the origin of these stories or how they ended up appearing in a British publication. Richard Bensam pointed out to me via Twitter that Kirby had drawn stories featuring Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie between 1955 and 1956, in issues 31 to 33 of Harvey's Western Tales. Are these stories from Marvelman part of the same series? Or could these be unused Atlas inventory stories (which would explain the Simek lettering)? I wrote at the beginning of this post about how easy it is these days to google information about old comics and their creators, but there's clearly still much more to be learned about them, even about the work of well-known figures like Jack Kirby.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Obituaries: Belford A. Richards & Norman Fruman

Two recent obituaries of persons who worked in North American comics.

From D.D. Degg comes news of the passing of Belford A. Richards, who apparently wrote the Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy comic strip during the early 1950's, when Leslie Turner was drawing it.

Captain Easy Sunday page for March 15 1953, drawn by Leslie Turner.

ANDOVER - Belford Arlington Richards, 86, died Sunday, April 29, 2012, at Franklin Regional Hospital. 
He was born in South Portland, Maine, on April 25, 1926, the son of Harold Scott Richards and Aria Gould Richards. 
He graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, in 1945. 
Joining the U.S. Marine Corps at 18 years old, Belford was one of the youngest Marines to serve during the end of World War II over the South Pacific as an aircraft radar/radio operator and tail gunner. 
He attended the University of MI and transferred to Rollins College, Fla., where he graduated in 1953 with a BA. 
While at Rollins College he wrote comic strip continuity for Les Turner, artist of the Washtub [sic] Comic Strip cartoon. Mr. Richards traveled to England in the 1950s to do research on a book he was writing called "Forty on the Emu." He returned to Portland, Maine, in 1963 and was employed in advertising and became a Freemason. In 1974, he moved to Bradford, and had resided in Andover for the past 15 years. Mr. Richards was an avid reader, collector of original comic strip art, and loved to travel, especially to the island of Gozo, Malta. He leaves behind Gail Gurnsey Richards, his wife of 25 years; two sons, Tyler Ford Richards and the Rev. Michael H. Richards; a daughter, Lizabeth McAllaster Tompkins and numerous friends in both Europe and the U.S.

And from various sources comes news of the passing of University of Minnesota professor Norman Fruman (like Richards, another World War II veteran). From the Star-Tribune's obituary:

Norman Fruman, a noted scholar and a longtime faculty member of the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, died of cancer on April 19 at his home in Laguna Beach, Calif. He was 88. 
Fruman is perhaps best known for his 1971 book, "Coleridge, the Damaged Archangel," which exposed a pattern of plagiarism by beloved English poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Cover to Adventures into the Unknown #53 (March 1954). Art by Harry Lazarus.

According to Jerry Bails's Who's Who, Fruman was an assistant editor for ACG between 1951 and 1955, where he also wrote stories for titles such as Adventures into the Unknown. He's also credited with having written "about 700 scripts" for Better Publications during that decade.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Two Moebius interviews (1977 & 1982)

Here's a Jean GiraudMoebius interview conducted in November 1977, and published in the first issue of Graphixus (1978) and later in Alter Ego #11 (1978). The accompanying text in the latter publication states that the interview was conducted by Mal Burns (publisher of Graphixus), Dominique Gaillard, and Mike Friedrich.

At the time of the interview, Metal Hurlant magazine was only a couple years old, the English-language version, Heavy Metal, was only a few months, and Moebius's first collaboration with Alejandro Jodorowsky, Les Yeux du Chat, had yet to appear.

The scans are from my copy of Graphixus:

"I put many things into a story -- subconscious things that I can't always see immediately myself. When I do a story, I really suffer! I try to do, say eight pages and I put all my feelings towards it inside it, but at the same time try not to put a message into it because I know that the basic message is the story itself. It's rather like hitting that exact magic note when playing music, so for this reason I don't try to be intellectually very strong -- but more try to be in harmony."

"I can actually see something changing in the new pages of Blueberry, but I'm unclear as to exactly what. Maybe in two years I will look back at it and see what, but right now I'm too involved with it."

(The date of the interview suggests that Giraud is talking here about Nez Cassé, the 18th Blueberry album, identified by Dave Gibbons as his favorite Moebius work: "perfect fusion of Giraud and Moebius.")

And here's a brief 1982 interview with Moebius about his work on Tron:

Also recommended: a 35-minute Moebius interview (with subtitles in English) found at Fascineshion.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Comic Con India videos: Robert Crumb, Gary Groth, and Chris Oliveros

More from Comic Con India, the videos for presentations given by cartoonist Robert Crumb, Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth, and Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros have been uploaded.

(Hat tip to Mike Lynch, who featured the first Crumb video at his blog.)

Robert Crumb in conversation with Gary Groth, February 19, 2012 (4 parts):

Comic Con India Special Session with Gary Groth: Co-Founder, Fantagraphics, February 18, 2012 (3 parts):

Comic Con India Special Session With Chris Oliveros, Founder, Drawn & Quarterly, February 17, 2012 (2 parts):

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bret Easton Ellis: The Warren Years

It is in some ways an homage to Stephen King and the comics I loved as a kid. Especially the EC Comics, like Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. And the Warren Comics of the '70s that I was a huge fan of. They had titles like Creepy and Eerie and Vamperilla [sic]. These were all influences on Lunar Park. That was the impetus to write the book. To write a book that was similar to the books that gave me pleasure as a boy and as an adolescent. I was really into the horror genre and the supernatural genre when I was a teenager and certainly I came of age, along with a lot of men of my generation, with the first book that Stephen King published and onward.

-From an interview with Bret Easton Ellis, about the influences behind his novel Lunar Park.

What follow are letters published in Warren magazines during the 1970's, written by Ellis when he was between 12 and 14 years old, along with samples of the stories he commented on at the time. Click on the scans to see at large size.

From Creepy #84, cover-dated November 1976.

Ken Kelly's cover to Creepy #81
Splash page to "Battle Rot", by Bill DuBay and John Severin.
Another page from "Battle Rot"

From Creepy #96, cover-dated March 1978.
Splash page to "Ada", by Bill Pearson and Alfredo Alcalá
First page of "Sacrifice", by Roger McKenzie and Luis Bermejo
Another page from "Sacrifice"
More from "Sacrifice". Probably a coincidence, but the tied girl reminded of a sequence from Ellis's Less Than Zero.

From Creepy #99, cover-dated July 1978.
Splash page to "Black Death" ("one of the best stories ever to appear in a Warren magazine"), by Bruce Jones and Leopoldo Sánchez
Another page from "Black Death"

From Creepy #100, cover-dated August 1978
Splash page to "Helen Horror Hollywood" by Gerry Boudreau and Leopoldo Durañona

The above were all the "Bret Ellis" (Sherman Oaks, CA) letters I could find, after an exhaustive search through scans of CreepyEerieVampirella, and other Warren titles. There's still a slight chance more Ellis letters were published, though, in case anyone wants to keep on looking.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Robert Crumb in India

Robert Crumb is a guest at Comic Con India, and there's been some local coverage:

"Keep on Truckin'" (Tehelka):

Why is the trope used in graphic novels, especially in the West, autobiographical in nature? 
RC: That’s an interesting question and I really don’t know the true answer. Growing up in the 60s, there was this tremendous temptation to be liberal with your expression. It was also about asserting your identity, whether it was ethnic or cultural or artistic. A lot of us felt that there was a story everyone could relate to, even though it was about our personal lives…

"Comically Contentious" (The Indian Express):
One of Crumb’s most popular characters, Mr. Natural, a “self-described” ascetic guru and voluptuary, is said to be partly a caricature of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While Crumb says Mr. Natural wasn’t based on one person, there are certain influences of Indian mysticism. He said, “In the ’60s and ’70s, we were influenced by movements such as Hare Krishna etc. I used to read a lot of Yogananda, Mahesh Yogi and others, and some of it manifested in Mr. Natural.”

"A Slice of Crumb" (Hindustan Times):
“I’m here just to see the country. I don’t come to comic conferences,” Crumb paradoxically started off.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

J. Michael Straczynski on Alan Moore and reinterpretations (2006)

Six years ago, years before anyone thought that adding a "TM" mark to "Crimson Corsair" was a good idea and back when projects like Before Watchmen were mentioned only in April Fools' Day posts, the big Alan Moore-related controversy in comics circles was his decision to distance himself from the V for Vendetta movie adaptation and Hollywood in general. The decision (which included transferring his film royalties to the artists involved and the removal of Moore's name from the film's credits) was drastic, but the reasons Moore gave made sense.

(He was tired after having been cross-examined for ten hours because of a screenwriter's claim that League of Extraordinary Gentleman had been plagiarized, and the last straw was seeing Warner issue a press release in which produced Joel Silver falsely claimed that Alan Moore would be involved with the V for Vendetta film. Moore tried vainly to get an apology or retraction.)

A few weeks after this, there was an interesting discussion over at the Newsarama message boards between Don Murphy and Rich Johnston about this same subject. The thread, which featured posts from creators such as Eddie Campbell and J. Michael Straczynski, is unfortunately no longer online, but I was able to find a backup I made at the time.

One of the comments that caught my attention at the time was Straczynski's. There was a part of it that I found incredibly condescending, and I was reminded of it after seeing his interviews today. Quoting Straczynski (emphasis in bold is mine):

Alan has banked his whole world-view on the notion that film and TV folks will always screw up his work, that they're all hacks or the like. And in some cases, he may have some legitimate beef. But in other cases, as with Vendetta, which was and is a very, very good movie, I think it almost threatens his world-view. He reacts with even more anger because the cognitive dissonance is just too much, the idea that Hollywood could do a good job on one of his books is more than he can or chooses to handle. And so he lashes out.

What Straczynski seems to be saying here is that the reason Moore doesn't care for adaptations of his work is because Moore is secretly afraid that someone will do a better work. It's an amazingly arrogant and pig-headed statement to make (it's one thing to say that Moore is wrong or that you don't agree with him, it's a whole different thing to pretend to get into his mind and make up reasons for why Moore acts as he does), but it helps explain the mentality of one of the writers responsible for two of the upcoming Before Watchmen mini-series (and who coincidentally is the creator which has been the most outspoken about this new work and why Moore has lost the "moral high ground").

Straczynski's full Newsarama comment (in which he also trivializes Moore's reasons for distancing himself from Hollywood, and in which he, more reasonably, explains why he believes art should be re-interpreted with the passing of time) is reproduced below, in order to provide context for the quote above.

Junior Member
Registered: Nov 2004
Location: Just some town
Posts: 13 
from jms  
Don -- 
Having fought more than my own share of battles for quality with the studios and networks, I've long sympathized with Alan at his end of things. And let me be clear: I think he's the best writer in the business, bar none. I've collected, and read, the majority of what he's written. He's an amazing, amazing talent. 
But I think that in regards to some of the movie stuff, he's gone way off the beacon. 
This is particularly true of his comments regarding V for Vendetta. As it happens, I know the Wachowskis, I consider them good friends and most of all hard-working, dilligent writer-producers who went as far afield as anyone could imagine to be faithful in rendering their adaptation of his story. I was blown away by the script, and said so publicly at the time that I read it. 
And then Alan went on the rampage about it, but when the proverbial push came to the equally proverbial shove, he was only able to cite a few things like mis-statements regarding the British postal service, and the names of a few things, as the source of his rage...a rage that was substantially greater than anything he'd said before about anything else. 
I've been watching this situation for some time now, and I have a thought or two about what might actually be going on...because as anyone who's ever had an argument with a loved one or friend knows, sometimes the argument's not really about the argument, it's about something else. 
Alan has banked his whole world-view on the notion that film and TV folks will always screw up his work, that they're all hacks or the like. And in some cases, he may have some legitimate beef. But in other cases, as with Vendetta, which was and is a very, very good movie, I think it almost threatens his world-view. He reacts with even more anger because the cognitive dissonance is just too much, the idea that Hollywood could do a good job on one of his books is more than he can or chooses to handle. And so he lashes out. 
Anyone who has ever had to interpret a given work and translate it into another venue knows that change is inevitable, especially because what makes literature work is internal and film/tv are external media. I've adapted Jekyll and Hyde for Showtime, I just finished adapting Watchbird for ABC's Masters of Science Fiction, and there were necessary changes...but the core of the story works, is still there, as it is in Vendetta and elsewhere. 
Finally, and perhaps most to the point, art is supposed to be interpreted and re-interpreted with the passing of time. That's what it's FOR. So that each generation gets a new look at it. I've seen Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona" produced in a World War One venue, seen the filmed version of "Richard III" set in a neo-fascist England, saw on stage "Hamlet" played with a female in the lead...the greater the masterpiece, the more it lends itself to interpretation and re-interpretation. 
That's what the Wachowski's did with Vendetta: they didn't leave it written in stone, they brough [sic] to the discussion, to the adaptation, today's political and social climate and thus made something that was timely in its day just as timely today. If the story is about the world and repression, if the shape of that world changes, then how can the story not change to match? Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant.
I'm a huge Alan Moore fan, always have been, always will be. He is, again, the best of us.  
But on this count, he is wrong. And he needs to reconsider.

Last edited by straczynski on 04-04-2006 at 10:32 AM
04-04-2006 10:19 AM 

Watchmen prequels: Irrelevant and pointless

Abhay Khosla had already predicted all this, but the way the announcement has been made is still interesting.

There is a lot of unintentional humor in the official announcement for a series of new Watchmen prequels: from trying to add some legimitacy to the initiative by mentioning that both the "original series editor" and the "original series colorist" will be working on them (we all know that DC always mentions the colorist when announcing a new series, they consider it a key selling point) to the solemn pronouncement from Lee and Didio that "collaborative storytelling is what keeps these fictional universes current and relevant". As opposed to, you know, coming up with new characters or concepts.

This is not surprising, it's the way DC and Marvel normally work after all. Think of the way Steve Gerber would react each time Marvel announced a new series featuring Howard the Duck or any other of his characters, and how little effect this would have on the readership (and industry) in general. In an interesting coincidence, Jonatham Lethem (about whom Gerber said at one point that he had made "an enemy for life" by deciding to write an Omega the Unknown series) is quoted in the New York Times as justifying these new Watchmen prequels, claiming they're the product of some sort of cosmic inevitability: "In the greater scheme of things there's an ecological law, almost, that it ought to be."

I'm aware that things are tough for freelancers (I probably have no idea of how hard a freelancer's life is), so I can't really blame the creators involved or lecture them about how they should manage their careers. But still, some of the justifications we're now seeing can be irritating.

J. Michael Straczynski pats himself in the back, saying that DC could have done something easy like having the Justice League fight the Justice Society, or the Justice Society fight the Teen Titans and so on (he forgot to mention "or creating a hardcover graphic novel with yet another retelling of Superman's origin"), but that this time instead they chose the "harder, and riskier path". I would have thought that the harder and riskier path was to create something new, come up with a new 100 Bullets or a new Preacher, for example.

Straczynski also tries to justify this by reminding us that Moore has done stories with characters created by Jules Verne, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, and so on, implying that this is surely the same thing as doing a Watchmen prequel. (He even says that Moore has lost "a little of the moral high ground".) Well, no. Moore's stories with those characters aren't simply pastiches or an attempt to do "The Further Adventures of Invisible Man / Captain Nemo / etc.". The stories he's created using those public domain characters are usually about something else, something much bigger in scope than just the crafting of pointless sequels and team-ups. You might argue whether Moore has been succesful or not in these attempts, but works like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Lost Girls are quite different from just a cynical moneygrab using somebody else's creations. But Straczysnki would have us believe that using the characters of writers who died before Alan Moore was even born is the very same thing as doing new Watchmen books.

The main thing is: a Watchmen prequel would be pointless even if Moore and Gibbons did it. I'm aware that at some point they'd talked about doing a "Minutemen" prequel which would have been something interesting to see back in 1988 or 1989, but not today. Watchmen stands on its own as a complete story, as a unique piece of work (despite the self-serving attempts by some to dismiss it as just a reboot of the Charlton superheroes), and it's also in some ways a period piece, a work very much of its time, written by someone who today is capable of doing much better and more complex work these days than what he did in the 1980's. I'll ignore these prequels not out of solidarity with Alan Moore or because I find them immoral, I'll ignore them because I think they're irrelevant, no matter who does them.

It will be fun to see how the media reaction progresses. In the meantime, I'll look forward to this summer's announcement of the new Sandman series without Neil Gaiman.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Al Capp's sex scandals

Brit Hume remembered the conversation that took place on 1971 between cartoonist Al Capp and reporter Jack Anderson as follows:
Angered over rumors of impropriety, Anderson allegedly confronted Al Capp, a conservative political cartoonist and radio host, whose lectures at universities across the country gave him easy access to female students. 
As Hume described it, Anderson, a devout Mormon with nine children - including a college-age daughter - questioned Capp about these activities. 
Capp's response to Anderson was a pleading, "You know how these college babes are," which turned to panic when he saw Anderson's face turn red with rage. 
"After that, the world never heard very much from Capp again," Hume said.

Jack Anderson's 1971 investigation about Al Capp being asked to leave the University of Alabama in February 1968 (where he was invited as a lecturer) after being accused of making "indecent advances" to four college students in the space of a few days is available in Google News. The complete article follows:

22 Apr 1971
Jack Anderson
Al Capp Hustled Off U Of A Campus After Coeds Charge He Made Indecent Advances
WASHINGTON - Al Capp, the famed cartoonist and caustic critic of college students, was shown out of town by University of Alabama police a few years ago after he allegedly made indecent advances toward several coeds. 
The incident, hushed up for three years by the university administration, is both ironic and significant. For Capp's scathing denunciations of college students and their morals have made him one of the most controversial commentators of the day. 
He now has a syndicated newspaper column and his broadcast commentaries are heard on some 200 radio stations. He was even approached to run for the Senate. But his principal forum has been the campus where some of his biting remarks have become famous. 
In a widely quoted speech at Princeton, for example, Capp said: "Princeton has sunk to a moral level that a chimpanzee can live with, but only a chimpanzee. It has become a combination playpen and pigpen because it disregards the inferiority of the college student to every other class." 
"President Nixon," Capp has said, "showed angelic restraint when he called students bums." On another occasion, he said: "Colleges today are filled with Fagin professors who don't teach... They just corrupt." 
Although Capp denies any misconduct and says he cannot remember being asked to leave Tuscaloosa, we have confirmed the Alabama incident with a number of high-level university officials. 
They include Dean of Women Sarah Healy and University Security Director Col. Beverly Lee. On instructions from then University President Dr. Frank Rose, Lee went to Capp's hotel, asked him to leave and followed his car to the town line. 
- Capp On Campus - 
In addition, we have established the details of Capp's alleged encounters with the four young women involved. Two of them have given us notarized affidavits recounting their experiences. 
Based on our interviews and affidavits, here is what occurred: Capp arrived in Tuscaloosa Sunday, Feb. 11, 1968, to make a speech as part of the university's annual arts festival. 
Late that afternoon, a coed, active in the arts program went to his room at the Stafford Hotel to deliver a university yearbook and other materials he had requested for his speech the next night. 
Capp told the young woman he was impressed with her and discussed the possibility of hiring her to help produce the "Capp on Campus" radio series, then in progress. 
He began making forceful advances toward her and exposing himself to her. She tried to leave but found she could not get the door open. She finally broke free and locked herself in the bathroom until he agreed to let her go. 
Although she was not injured, she was sufficiently upset by the experience to be admitted a few days later to the university infirmary where she remained under sedation for several days. 
That evening, another coed, whose job it was to greet visiting speakers, went to see Capp at his hotel. He exposed himself to her and made suggestive comments. She, too, found she could not open the door, but he let her go when she threatened to open a window and scream. 
The next afternoon Capp was introduced in his room to another woman student who had just completed a taped interview with his staff for a planned broadcast called the "Now Morality." Capp exposed himself to her and made suggestive comments. She immediately left. 
Late that night, he brought another coed to his room where he said a party was planned. There was no party, however, and Capp made an unsuccesful pass at the girl. 
- Exodus From Town - 
By the next morning, reports of the four incidents had reached the university administration and Dr. Rose sent Col. Lee to Capp's room. "He was asked to get and he did get out and went to Birmingham," Lee told us. 
Asked why no charges were preferred against Capp, Dean Healy explained: "The young women were not physically harmed and we felt that the publicity and notoriety should be avoided." 
Reached at his studio in Cambridge, Mass., Capp told my associate Brit Hume that the Alabama allegations made him sick and he would neither confirm nor deny them. Instead, he immediately boarded a plane and flew to Washington to discuss the matter with us. 
In our office, he repeatedly declined to discuss the episode, claimng it made him ill. All he would say was: "I have never become involved with any student." Pressed, he finally listened to a review of the allegations and, when questioned about them specifically, denied them. 
It gives us no pleasure to make these revelations about a man whose legendary "Li'l Abner" cartoon creations have amused millions of Americans for generations. 
But Al Capp today is much more than a gifted cartoonist and a brilliant humorist. He is a major public figure, whose views reach and influence millions. He even seriously considered running against Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. 
Therefore, we believe the public has a right to any information which may bear on his qualifications to speak, particularly when the incident involved is so obviously relevant to the selfsame subjects on which he has been holding forth.

A 1968 Li'l Abner strip

In a 2008 interview, Brit Hume told how some newspapers decided against publishing the above investigation, and how Capp unsuccesfully tried to cover it up:

BRIT HUME: ”The Post” – ”The Washington Post” didn’t run it. The Boston paper, whichever one we had then didn’t run it. A lot of papers didn’t run it. 
BRIAN LAMB: A Chicago paper out there -- 
BRIT HUME: I don’t remember, but I can’t remember now. But it might be in the book, but ”The New York Post” ran it. We found that the Al Capp lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the ones that – the minute ”The New York Post” hit the newsstands up there, they were all bought up. So, he did everything he could to try to cover it. Now, one of the things – interesting things that happened was that the story ran in a little newspaper out in Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where there’s a branch of the University of Wisconsin. 
It so happened at that very moment that a young woman had had a similar encounter with Mr. Capp out there and she like a number of women across the country, we later came to learn, was agonizing with the local prosecutor about what to do. He didn’t – he was indignant about what had happened and outraged, but there was a question of are you going to put this – her word against his testimony and he’s a famous guy. And you going to put her through that for the sake of something that she managed to wriggle out of anyway. And when that story hit, her resolve was – look, this is obviously happening elsewhere. We got to do this. So, he was charged out there. And an extradition measure was taken. And Al Capp was on the verge of being extradited to Wisconsin to stand charges of assault. And as – I don’t remember all the details, but I think he pleaded out and got it over with. And, basically, he was really never heard from again.

Al Capp ended up being charged with sodomy, attempted adultery and indecent exposure in 1971. Capp tried to blame this on the "revolutionary left" but in the end "as part of a plea agreement, Capp pleaded guilty to the charge of attempted adultery" (quote from Al Capp's Wikipedia page). He retired his Li'l Abner strip in 1977 for health reasons, and died in 1979.

A 1971 Li'l Abner Sunday page

Nevertheless, we know that it's not exactly true that Capp was "never heard from again". More than two dozen reprint volumes of his Li'l Abner daily strips were published by Kitchen Sink a couple of decades ago, and IDW's Library of American Comics is now reprinting the daily strips and the Sunday pages. His talent as a cartoonist and satirist is undeniable, and I'm a big fan of the 1940's episodes of the strip, where many believe Capp did some of his best work.

And there's more. Over at The Beat, one of the blogs about comics where an account of actress Goldie Hawn having a similar incident with Capp was reproduced, publisher and agent Denis Kitchen posted the following in the comments section:

Readers of Heidi’s column who are interested in Al Capp’s fascinating career and personal life (of which Goldie Hawn is but one scandal) will be happy to know that Michael Schumacher (Will Eisner, Alan Ginsberg and many other bios) and I (Art of Harvey Kurtzman, etc.) are hard at work collaborating on a biography of Al Capp. It’s coming in approximately one year from a major publisher. Official announcement will come from them.

Good news. Kitchen definitely has shown himself more than capable of assembling books about cartoonists (though this may be the first time he tackles a straight biography), so I'm looking forward to this upcoming book.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hugo Pratt: Will Gould was my real teacher

An interview with Hugo Pratt (originally published in 1988) was recently posted over at Ediciones de la Duendes's blog (part one, part two). The following exchange (translated from Spanish) caught my attention. Interviewer Germán Cáceres describes Pratt as a great artist in the comics medium, comparing him to Chester Gould.

Pratt replies:

HP: He narrated masterfully, but I prefer Will Gould, who has no relation to Dick Tracy's author. Will's line is more dynamic, in the thirties he launched the police comic strip Red Barry. Will Gould was the artist who had the most impact on me.

GC: I had supposed those [who had the greatest impact] were Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff. Will Gould's work isn't very well known.

HP: I admit Will Gould isn't a widespread comics artist, but he was my real teacher. Though of course Caniff with Terry and the Pirates had an influence on my style as well, and besides, I consider he's the greatest comic strip artist ever.

Image taken from ComicArtFans.

A Fantagraphics compilation from 1989 is still available, but the good news is that there are plans to do a more definitive edition of Will Gould's Red Barry. The first hint was a blog post from Dean Mullaney over at the Library of American Comics site, showing a Red Barry Sunday page waiting to be scanned:

And Dean Mullaney confirmed it last month, posting the following:

We're gathering all the source material for Red Barry with plans to present the hard-to-find Sundays and dailies in a complete two-volume set. As soon as we locate the final elusive dailies, we'll put it on the schedule.

More of Hugo Pratt's work, by the way, can be seen at the Corto Maltumblr.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

R.I.P Jean Simek

Roy Thomas reports the passing of letterer Jean Simek:

I'm sorry to have to report that I just learned, from her partner Tom, that Jean Simek passed away on Jan. 5, after a long illness in which her body had great difficulty absorbing nutrition, and after an operation or two. Jean was the daughter of veteran Marvel letterer Art Simek, who lettered most of the early Marvel comics in the 1960s. Both under an earlier married name and later under her own name, she was a letterer in her own right, both for Marvel and for DC. I hadn't spoken with her in a year or so, though we exchanged Christmas cards, and we kept discussing the interview I wanted someone to do with her about her own career and her father's. She had lots of her father's sports cartoons, etc. Perhaps in the near future I'll discuss getting some of those from Tom... but I don't want to bother him just now.

Jean Simek's credits can be found at the Grand Comics Database, both as Jean Izzo and as Jean Simek.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Lost" 1958 Peanuts strip by Charles Schulz

A rare find from Heritage's upcoming auctions, a special Peanuts page drawn by Charles Schulz for the July 22, 1958 issue of Look Magazine. It seems to be an original piece, instead of a reprint.

Something to include in an special "odds and ends" volume after Fantagraphics finishes reprinting the strip, perhaps? (By the way, Fantagraphics recently posted the cover of The Complete Peanuts: 1983-1984.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Harlan Ellison on Howard Chaykin's "The Shadow"

About a week ago, Warren Ellis casually mentioned that he'd been "Writing a blurb for the back cover of the forthcoming reprint of Howard Chaykin’s SHADOW comics series."

Today Dynamite Entertainment has made the official announcement, releasing some preview artwork along with an impressive amount of blurbs from notable comics industry figures. But one of the things that came to mind when I first read Ellis's blog post was the somewhat different reaction from people back in 1986, when Chaykin's The Shadow mini-series originally was published.

This is something that Matt Fraction maybe alludes to, when he writes: "IT’S TIME TO GET OFFENDED AGAIN." I'm thinking of Harlan Ellison's particularly memorable reaction.

Ellison is a big fan of the character in its original radio and pulp incarnations, even planning at some time (a few years before Chaykin did his version) to write a graphic novel featuring The Shadow. Michael Kaluta was going to be the artist (sample image above), with Fantagraphics publishing the book. For various reasons the graphic novel was never done, and the fact that Ellison and Fantagraphics were involved at the time in a years-long lawsuit against Michael Fleisher probably didn't help.

Anyhow, issue #108 of The Comics Journal includes a report of a radio interview with Frank Miller that Harlan Ellison conducted on March 14, 1986. The interview is mostly about Miller's Dark Knight, which Ellison praises and holds up as an example of updating an old character "in more adult terms". Ellison contrasts Miller's work with what he describes as the:

"loathsome Shadow revival that is being done by Howard Chaykin, which in my view is an absolute obscenity".

Adding later that Chaykin's series was:

"a really offensive, ugly, mean-spirited, violently pornographic piece of work".

Ellison also criticized what he described as "the starfucker syndrome", in which:

"the comics companies are giving total auteur freedom to certain people to create projects like the Dark Knight project, and yet some of them are turning out very, very sour. Some of them are going very, very wrong."

Issue #111 of the Journal has reports of three more Hour 25 radio shows from 1986, in which Ellison interviewed people such as Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, and Frank Miller. There is a quite interesting discussion about John Byrne's Man of Steel which you can read following the link, and also more interesting Ellison comments about Chaykin's Shadow:

Ellison referred to the Shadow as "beloved to people of my generation," but found Howard Chaykin's interpretation "vile and detestable." According to Ellison, Chaykin's Shadow is a "sexist pig who uses people, sacrifices people, hasn't one grain of decency in him. He's a psychopathic killer." 
Ellison said he objected to Chaykin's killing off original Shadow characters and sidekicks. "At what point do we say, 'You're mucking with our myths'?" he asked.

(During the eighties Ellison frequently wrote and talked in public appearances about then-current comics, even writing an article for Playboy magazine in which he tried to summarize to a general audience how much comics had changed during the decade. I'm just mentioning this as an excuse to link to Gary Groth's 1989 editorial in which Groth responds to this article, denouncing Ellison's "intellectual charlatanism.")

Ellison is known for his ability to nurse a grudge, and here's one more example. In 2003, Michael Chabon edited McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, a collection of stories by various writers, with each story carrying an accompanying illustration by Howard Chaykin (who did his usual exemplary work). Well, each story save one. Here's a note Harlan Ellison posted on his forum at the time:

- Saturday, February 22 2003 19:23:45 
The reason my story in McSweeney's doesn't have an accompanying piece of art by Howard Chaykin -- as do the other stories in the issue -- is because I didn't want one. I wanted the marvelous color oil painting by my friend (and frequent Ellison-fiction illustrator) the phenomenal California artist, Kent Bash, that he did for this story-idea when I came up with it for the final issue of HARLAN ELLISON'S DREAM CORRIDOR. The illustration had to be done in black&white, so you cannot see how spectacular it is; but you'll see it when I get around to putting together that issue of DREAM CORRIDOR. What DOES piss me off, however, is among all the typos and amateur fuckups in McSweeney's #10 (which is incorrectly identified
as #11 on the table of contents) are two unacceptable, egregious demonstrations of sophomoric editing and amateur proofreading: 
1) They dropped all the copyright notices, thereby forcing me and other writers to have to get letters of omission so we can register the stories with the Library of Congress; 
2) The table of contents announces "all art in this issue by Howard Chaykin." Well, no, in fact; Kent Bash is an internationally-acclaimed artist, and however good or bad Howard Chaykin's little b&w cameos may be for McSweeney's purposes, the Bash painting is not comic-book art, it is a full visual interpretation of one of the punchlines of the story, and failure to acknowledge Kent REALLY and TRULY angers me.
Harlan Ellison

'Nuff said.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Love and Rockets books announced

As part of a celebration of Love and Rockets's 30th anniversary, Fantagraphics will be publishing the following two books. (Descriptions below taken from a message sent by Gary Groth to a comics scholars mailing list.)

Love and Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting)

The Love and Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting) contains three incredibly in-depth and candid interviews with creators Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez: one conducted by writer Neil Gaiman (Coraline); one conducted some six years into the comic’s run by longtime L&R publisher Gary Groth; and one conducted by the book’s author, spanning Gilbert’s, Jaime’s and Mario’s careers, and looking to the future of the ongoing series, with a follow-up conversation with Groth. 

This book has foldout family trees for both Gilbert’s Palomar and Jaime’s Locas storylines; unpublished art; a character glossary (which is handy, considering that Gilbert alone has created 50+ characters!); highlights from the original series’ anarchic letters columns; timelines; and the most wide-ranging Hernandez Brothers bibliography ever compiled, including album and DVD covers, posters and more. 

The obsessive-yet-accessible detail and high production values make it a must-have for comics collectors, scholars, libraries and old and new fans alike: for those new to the series, it will make jumping in seem less daunting. For longtime fans, it clears up confusion that even those devoted to the groundbreaking alternative comic over its 30-year run can experience, given the sheer amount of material and sophisticated storytelling techniques (such as flashbacks, flash forwards, elliptical narrative and magical realism).

The Love and Rockets Reader: From Hoppers to Palomar 

The Love and Rockets Reader: From Hoppers to Palomar started as a series of blog posts attempting to answer the deceptively simple question: “what makes Love and Rockets so great?” Over the next six years, it quickly grew into a meticulously researched study containing in-depth analysis of and commentary on the series. Author Marc Sobel delves into the comics’ themes, symbols and influences, as well as the Hernandez Brothers’ artistic development.

Organized into seven main chapters, one for each of the first seven Love and Rockets trade paperback collections (representing the original Love and Rockets Vol. I), the book also includes: the comics’ origins in the Hernandez Brothers’ roots, such as their involvement in the Southern California punk scene, their adventures in self-publishing, and their vital partnership with Fantagraphics; an examination of the Hernandez Brothers’ ill-fated Mister X (a science-fiction series) collaboration; a review of Mario’s solo book, Brain Capers; and a paradigm-changing analysis of Gilbert’s vastly underappreciated erotic graphic novel, Birdland. As an “extra,” The Love and Rockets Reader also includes Jaime’s very first published work: the never-before-reprinted four-page story, “Another Time, Another Place,” from 1977.

An essential resource for scholars and enthusiasts alike, this book will enlighten and deepen even the most ardent fans' appreciation of this groundbreaking series.