Friday, December 30, 2011

Gary Friedrich loses fight for Ghost Rider movie money

Poor guy.  A New York judge ruled in favor of Marvel in Gary Friedrich's lawsuit against the company over the movie rights to Ghost Rider.  I didn't see the movie, but enough people did there are piles of money lying around, enough for a sequel and with plenty left over for everyone involved except Friedrich.  I really feel for Friedrich here, especially after reading the quote from his deposition where he states "he stopped doing freelance comic-book writing in 1978 when his alcoholism got 'completely out of control.'"

At the same time, I don't see how this lawsuit could have ended any differently.  From the article:

He said he thought he had given Marvel the rights to use Ghost Rider in comic books, but that he retained the rights for movies and anything else.

"Was that understanding ever reduced to writing?" Marvel attorney David Fleischer asked.

"No," Friedrich answered.

Quite the opposite from the denouement of Stan the Man v. Spider-Man, where Stan Lee had it all in writing and sued his way to a ten percent share of the Sony Spidey loot, which is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of several billion dollars and a couple of those new earth-like planets the Kepler space telescope investigators recently discovered, or however they divide that stuff up with all the crazy studio accounting and pay-offs and financial frippery and monetary mumbo-jumbo.  Only true Hollywood geniuses understand that stuff and people like us got no chance of standin' up against 'em.  Friedrich's case is very much in line with what happened when Jack Kirby's heirs sued Marvel, though.  Work-for-hire and freelance means you give away all your creator rights in favor of an immediate paycheck.  Ask George Lucas what he thinks about retaining certain rights whenever you create something, even if that something is made up of bits and pieces of better creations.

Here's a sweet blog with a scan of a 1978 Marvel work-for-hire agreement, and someone quoting one from around 1990 in the comments.  I don't know what one of these consists of today, but that's the kind of thing you had to sign if you wanted to work for Marvel not long after Friedrich and the comics company parted ways.

Anyway, for what it's worth, it was a noble effort, Mr. Friedrich.  I wish it had worked out for you.  I'm glad I didn't see Ghost Rider, though.  There's only so much Nicholas Cage screaming I can stand, unless it's Nick Cage in Raising Arizona.  Man, that movie rocks!

New Nexus update!

According to Jaynelle Rude, her husband Steve Rude has finished the thumbnails for the new Nexus story (coming at you in 2012 from Rude and writer Mike Baron courtesy the fine people at Dark Horse Comics) and is now hard at work on the actual pages themselves.  Plus this little tantalizing tidbit:  "Steve went over the page count so they're trying to figure out how to fit it in."

A longer story?  Or a little bit of editing, and a bonus extra-length version for the hardcore Nexus fans (like me) when it's collected as a trade?  Either way, it's a win-win situation for those of us who love our comics in flavors of awesome and super-cool.

Look, you don't have to take my word for it!  If you have Facebook, you can see for yourself.  Isn't that cool?  You can look right over his shoulder (it's rude of us to do this to Rude) and if you pay attention, you will see how genius creates a legend.  I didn't realize Rude used a blue pencil to lay down his initial lines.  I've learned something already.  Check out the photo reference of head shadows/lighting, "B&W design" and the little notes and panels scrawled out in what appears to be red marker.  Rude's even got the layout for Ylum's "new concourse" up there so he can keep it consistent with the older comics.

I don't know about you, but I'm suddenly excited for this new year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday, Stan Lee!

Oops!  Do I feel like a chump!  I knew December 28th was Stan Lee's 89th birthday, but I forgot to commemorate it here.  Well, I'm doing it now.

Despite having written who knows how many stories from the 1940s up to the present day, Stan Lee's greatest character creation has to be himself-- the Stan the Man persona.  Who would have thought a middle-aged man slinging WWII army slang and Madison Avenue-type sloganeering profusely peppered with amusing alliteration would make such a hit with the younger generation?  Who would have thought he'd still be at it 50 years later?

Lee knew how to sell comics, how to build a brand, how to create a house style like no other.  At a time when the comic book industry was moribund, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a cast of... well... maybe a half dozen or so Marvelites-- people like Sol Brodsky, Artie Simek, Flo Steinberg, whose names we learned thanks to Lee's always enthusiastic cheerleading-- somehow Frankensteined it back to life.  Stan Lee made you feel part of something bigger than yourself, something fun, something forward thinking and fast moving, always colorful and dynamic.  Sometimes silly, frequently self-deprecating (even while playing at self-aggrandizement for the laughs, or engaging in it for real), occasionally pretentious, never less than entertaining.  The rest is comic book history, repeated thousands of times in books and better blogs than this one.

Well, I wanted to celebrate the day after Stan Lee's birth with a scintillating scene from the old Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV cartoon, which he narrated beginning in the show's second season-- giving the raucous Rococo revelry his personal imprimatur and improving its quality immensely in the bargain.  While I'd certainly read his "Stan's Soapbox" columns in my monthly Marvel magazines, Amazing Friends was where I first heard the Man's mellow and mellifluous voice, and ever since I've been trying and failing to channel it for my own nefarious ends.  But wouldn't you know it, all I could find were episodes without the voice overs!  I suspect someone over at the Distinguished Competition is laughing his fool head off at playing that little prank on yours truly.  But that's all right, Marvelites-- Smilin' Stan and Rascally Roy assure me Irving Forbush is on his way over there now to even the score!  So while we await the inevitable ambulance bells, here's a random clip where your ol' pal Stan the Man talks about a video game:

Face front and hang loose, true believers! Mighty Marvel's mightiest marvel marches on! Excelsior!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Baron and Rude return to Nexus!

This is the season of giving that keeps on giving... to little old me!  But also to you, the savvy comic book fan and possessor of fine taste in illustrated literature.  First came word Boom! Studios is reprinting Terror on the Planet of the Apes and now some even better news:  Mike Baron and Steve Rude are working on a new Nexus story for Dark Horse Presents.

Not only does this mark Steve Rude's return to sequential comics-- long overdue, since he actually attempted to break back into the business on at least one occasion last year-- but it's a new story starring Horatio Hellpop and his cast of thousands.  Nexus is my favorite hero of all and I was disappointed when Dark Horse's previous Nexus series ended and Rude's attempt to self-publish fizzled.  The Nexus universe is full of memorable characters-- Judah Maccabee, the happy-go-lucky avenger/pro wrestler/chef and lover of many women; Sundra Peale, Nexus's own lover, former spy, ace business-person and mother of his child; and Ursula X.X. Imada, the ultimate "dragon lady" with surprising depth.  She's the iron-fisted ruler of the planet Procyon and also the loving mother of Nexus's other children.

There are hundreds more, some funny, some menacing, all richly written by Baron and gorgeously drawn by Rude.  I have to salute Dark Horse for publishing the series, returning the ownership of the characters to Baron and Rude and also keeping the title alive with their lavish hardcover Nexus Archives books.

More Nexus in 2012!  Rude doing comics again!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm sorry to say I don't really know all that much about Joe Simon

I only know the basics about Joe Simon, who passed away Wednesday at the amazing age of 98. He came up with Captain America with his partner Jack Kirby, then the two of them went on to invent romance comics. How many people can say they created an entire genre?

Other than that, I'm most familiar with Joe Simon as the co-creator of the Boy Commandos, one of any number of "kid gang" comics he and Kirby produced in the 1940s and 1950s. A group of boys from each of the major allied nations of WWII, the Boy Commandos took their orders from Captain Rip Carter, but guff from no one. Not even Hitler, whose ass I feel certain they must have personally kicked at some point.

And I only know this because I own the hardcover America at War:  The Best of DC's War Comics, the Michael Uslan-edited book full of amazing tales from the 40s to the 70s starring characters like Sgt. Rock, Gunner and Sarge, the Haunted Tank, Enemy Ace and the Unknown Soldier-- it includes Simon and Kirby's "The Romance of Rip Carter," (Detective Comics #82, December 1943), where Carter takes the boys on a mission behind enemy lines (is there any other kind for comic book commandos?) aboard a B-17 named the "Rosalind K." after Kirby's wife. Simon and Kirby turn the bomber into a character in its own right, personifying it effectively without resorting to anything like overt anthropomorphism. It's actually pretty touching, mixed in as it is with all the slam-bang punch-the-Ratzis-in-the-face action.

Because I didn't read any of their adventures until they showed up in Jimmy Olsen, I tended to associate the Newsboy Legion more with Kirby solo.  Not really fair.  I wish I'd done my homework on Joe Simon, his life and his career.  He's another of those legendary figures we have too few of these days-- Jerry Robinson having recently passed as well.  As comic book aficionados we have to treasure these men and women while they're still with us.  They've provided us with a lifetime of knockabout entertainment, some of it even thought-provoking to go along with the fun.

A very belated thank you, Mr. Simon, on a job well done and a life well lived.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My favorite bits from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol III): Century #2 - 1969

And by "bits," I don't mean all the boobies and wieners on display. Although there are a lot of those this time out. It's the Swinging 60s and our fab heroes Mina, Allan and Orlando are back in London to tune in, turn on and occasionally have sex with multiple partners across the gender universe.  Which is only natural, the 60s being the time of Free Love, and especially with Orlando spending the story slowly transforming into a woman.  Mina even adopts youthful slang and Mary Quant-type mini-dress fashions in an effort to stay relevant.  It's definitely a tour de force for Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill this time out-- a regular kandy-kolored tangerine-flake streamline baby.

An electric kool-aid acid test of a comic, if you prefer.

I've been on board with this series from the start. It really tickles the former literature student in me. I consider myself well-read, but obviously Alan Moore has me beat, because there's no way I can keep up with every single reference and cameo appearance. I don't think it's important that I-- or any reader-- do. It's enough to follow the immediate story and later, if you're curious, find one of those websites where they've annotated every player, background element or in-joke. This time out I really felt on top of my game because every page was an experience where I'd go, "Ah ha! That's based on Brian Jones's drowning death, he's Mick Jagger's character from Performance, and there's everyone's favorite drunken spouse-abuser Andy Capp! And that guy is Michael Caine from Get Carter.  And look, it's Sean Connery threatening Roger Moore with a golf club for some reason!"

Okay, it's now obvious my frame of reference tends more towards pop ephemera, comic strips, cinema and music than literature, despite my having a worthless piece of paper from a university that says I read more Melville, Shakespeare and Chaucer while drunk than most do sober. I'm just very attuned to the 1960s, which I tend to think of as a very British time-- what with all those Mersey beat bands and bowler-hatted spies running around at the time. Twiggy and Ray Davies and The Who wearing the latest in mod fashion, spending more on clothes and replacing smashed instruments than they earned.

This is the first issue of League where I've felt very much at home, up to and including the punk scene post-script (where the lower eyelashes on some of the characters make O'Neill's art strangely echo Mort Drucker's). What really made me laugh, though, was the silly "Jumping Jack Flash" joke, and the shout-out to one of my oldest brother's favorite movies, the 1968 generation gap sci-fi thriller Wild in the Streets.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Onion A/V Club interviews Jack Davis!

And it's amazing how closely it echoes the talk I had with Davis many years ago when I was a graphic design student, right down to the mention of the kind of brush he uses for inking.  Well, for the most part.  He's probably answered these same questions from people like me a thousand times over the years.  We didn't get into biography all that much.  He did tell me the chain gang story and how he went from the University of Georgia to the Navy in WWII and then pounded the pavement in New York city before he broke into the comics business, and we briefly touched on his time at EC.  In the A/V Club interview he paraphrases what he told me about his feelings about today's Mad.  I asked him what it was like to work with Wally Wood.  But mostly, as an artist, I wanted to know about process and that's what I got.

Here's how I remember it:  His agent faxes him jobs and he picks and chooses the ones he wants to do, otherwise he's on his boat or playing golf.  His initial sketches start off as a "lot of scribble-scrabble" and he inks with a No. 3 Series 7 Winsor & Newton brush.  Seeing that mentioned really brought back a lot of warm memories of our phone conversation, where he was so genial and patient with my hero-worship gushing that I walked on air for two days afterward.  It remains a highlight of my checkered college career.  Somewhere among all my own crappy art files I still have the notebook where I jotted down as much of what he told me as I could.  If I'm ever back in the US, I could dig it up and read through it and try to recapture a little bit of that magic.

Jack Davis is overdue for widespread acclaim.  Not that he hasn't had accolades and praise.  The Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, the Reuben Award and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cartoonist Society are certainly that.

It's just he needs to be one of those names dropped alongside people like Charles Schulz and Walt Kelly (although Davis's attempt at a syndicated newspaper strip never really got off the ground), Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner and Wally Wood.  He needs to be right there in the forefront of your consciousness whenever you think of cartoonists and cartooning.

After all, he worked for EC's most infamous titles-- and interviewer Sam Adams brings up perhaps the most notorious story of them all, the Davis-illustrated "Foul Play"-- as well as for Mad magazine.  Then he did covers for Time and TV Guide, designed the characters for the Jackson Five cartoon, created movie posters and all sorts of amazing stuff.  There's a trade paperback book, now out-of-print, about the man and his art called-- appropriately enough-- The Art of Jack Davis, and it was a decent enough tribute.  Considering the man's done so many high profile jobs and associated with so many other cartooning legends in his time, he really needs something more deluxe.  Something spanning the entirety of his eclectic art career.

That Fantagraphics volume is a must-buy, but I'm thinking even at 208 pages it's a little light.  I think he needs a hardcover series collecting all of his sequential work with color plates of his magazine covers and movie posters to round it out.  Your floorboards should buckle under its weight.  If only someone published, say, a collection of some of his other humor magazine work, or if you could buy a book with some of those horrifying EC stories he drew with mixed feelings but incredible skill-- what a world that would be!  Oh well.

Jack Davis is an American treasure.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Don't you just love Esteban Maroto's artwork?

I know I do!  I've been really getting into Creepy and Eerie and so I've rediscovered my love for Esteban Maroto's artwork.

When I was a kid back before you were born, I was very into those Lancer/Ace Conan paperback collections. I'd either buy one of those or a Choose Your Own Adventure book with my allowance each week. Most of the Conan covers featured teensy Frazetta paintings, but I remember some of them contained a few Maroto illustrations.  I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty certain I first encountered Maroto's work in the context of Conan's world.

Yeah, the mind plays tricks on you and all that kind of thing.  Well, whatever.  The point is, I liked what I saw and I copied his style in my school notebooks every day for a while. Badly, of course. Maroto never seemed to lift the pen or brush off the paper until he completed the image, leaving one sinuous, amazingly attractive line that formed-- usually-- some lush-lashed (yes, they had Maybelline before the dawn of time) princess or queen naked except for lavish jewelery Conan would probably steal from her after they made savage, prehistoric love or whatever it was barbarians did back in the Hyborean Age when they weren't killing giant snakes, trampling thrones beneath their sandaled feet or hanging out with Sandahl Bergman or Wilt Chamberlain.

According to Maroto's website, he also designed Red Sonja's metal bikini armor. Not the most practical battle-wear, but it's served to make her a fairly popular character over the years. I can understand Maroto's motivation for drawing her that way, but I can't figure out why the character herself would go around dressed like that. She must be a mass of scar tissue.  Then again, in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian comics our favorite barbarian did his sword thing wearing a fur loincloth and some boots, so he probably wasn't much better off.  They were made for each other, these two legendary warriors, disfigured as they were because they dressed stupidly for battle.  Put some clothes on, fictional people!

The page above is what re-sparked my Maroto interest.  It's a lovely pastoral scene from "Wings of Vengeance" (Creepy #81, July 1976), which he also co-wrote with Bill DuBay.  I'm very into Art Nouveau, and Maroto's compositions here and his controlled use of negative space and "designy" plant life recall another fave of mine, Aubrey Beardsley.  Specifically, the first four panels.  The single female figure, the framing, the poses are all ultra-Beardsley-esque.  Any of them could be blown up into a poster worthy of adorning an undergraduate's dorm room wall.  This page shares with Beardsley's art the same sense of romantic decadence within a kind of fairy tale atmosphere.  The draped and folded gown the woman wears seems very inspired by Alphonse Mucha as well.  I love the subtle gray tone on their skin, which helps separate them from the from the white backgrounds.  Enjoy this lovely young couple while you can.  She's later tortured to death and he has his face cut off.

If you happened to open a Warren magazine in the 1970s (something I rarely did because the covers were enough to scare me into insomnia), you stood a very good chance of finding Maroto's work.  He was one of their most prolific artists during that period.  Now imagine finding it beside some full-color Richard Corben nightmare, a Russ Heath axe-murder tale, an Al Williamson story with a space hero fighting alien dragons in a jungle, John Severin bringing horror to the Old West and maybe something drawn by Luis Bermejo.  There might even be something set in the 1930s by Alex Toth!  Don't forget Bernie Wrightson's frontispiece!  All packaged by genius editor Louise Jones, who is now Louise Simonson and who also happened to edit and write some nifty comics for DC and Marvel-- including New Mutants.

Which brings us full circle, I suppose.  Anyway, Esteban Maroto!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Boom! Studios is reprinting the classic Terror on the Planet of the Apes!

Finally, my demands have been met and I can release the hostages. Wait-- a gorilla sniper! KA-POW!  Damn you, Dr. Zaius! Thank God, I die a true human...  But... first... let me push... this button...

With the frivolity finished, I can announce the happiest comic book news I've heard in quite some time. BOOM! Studios, holders of the Planet of the Apes license from 20th Century Fox and publishers of fine Planet of the Apes comics since about April 2011, will reprint the rambling and mostly off-the-rails epic Terror on the Planet of the Apes by Doug Moench and Mike Ploog, plus contributions by other artists. The geniuses behind this decision at BOOM!  haven't set a release date, but if the cover image holds, it looks like they'll be using the old painted covers from the Marvel series as well. Time to introduce a whole new generation to the lurid charms of these images by Bob Larkin and Earl Norem.

This is what I've been begging for since I started comic book blogging.  The way Dark Horse has been publishing old Marvel/Curtis magazine material, I expected them to come through for me.  But it was BOOM! Studios all along.  I'm grateful to them for doing this, and to all the Apes fans who helped make it happen.

And now the bad news.  This series is going to be difficult for me to come by.  I had problems getting issues of BOOM!'s regular Planet of the Apes title when I lived in the States.  They're also publishing Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes, starring a young Dr. Zaius.  I'm dying to read this book!  How can I get my filthy, stinking paws on these Apes comics here in Japan?

I will not rest until I solve this problem!*

*Actually, I think they have international subscriptions.  And there's always EBay.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Oh, Dani, don't you ever change!

Which is ironic because she's already changed so often.  At first she could pull images of a person's greatest fear from his or her mind-- and she barely had control of that power-- and later she started manifesting various objects and things, became a Valkyrie, fired some kind of magical arrows, acted as some kind of double or triple agent in the war between humans and mutants, then lost her powers completely.  But to understand Dani Moonstar, you really only have to understand a few simple things.

She's got a temper.  And it's a violent temper.  She's forever threatening to stab people in their craven hearts, or to punch them.  That's when she's not actually punching them.  She does that a lot, too.  For Dani, a day without punching someone is a day without structure.  If you look at her daily planner, it's the first thing she writes for each entry:  Find someone and punch them.  Punch them HARD.  Sometimes she does her punching early in the morning, as a kind of preparatory exercise for all the hard work she has to put in the rest of the day as a non-powered team leader in the X-family.  Sometimes she schedules it as a noon release, a way to blow off a little steam.  Every once in a while, she slots a punching in just before bedtime.  It sends her off to pleasant dreams of flying horses and punching people.

But Dani's not strictly about the punching of punchable people.  She's also compassionate.  Dani cares about the folks she punches.  Whether it's Sam Guthrie and his bruised jaw or Shan and her robot bird-claw leg, Dani tries her best to nurture them.  She doesn't just go at it randomly, either.  She's as systematic about compassion as she is about punching.  Take this guy-- Gus Grim, the cognitive therapist.

  Dani's known him for a long time, and in New Mutants #28, she brings him to Utopia, the ugly and  dehumanizingly high-tech and steel-walled nightmare Marvel forces the X-people to live in, and allows him to rip her teammates apart in the interest of helping them deal with their neuroses and post-traumatic stress disorders.  Because living in an environment that resembles the latest nuclear submarine or a futuristic prison certainly isn't helping.

Another aspect of Dani's personality is her directness. She has a straightforward way of discussing things and she admires that quality in other people, as she tells Grim here.

She's a leader, which is why she might beat someone in the head, but she won't do the same around the bush.  And she's refreshingly free of self-pity.  Of all the superhero character traits, bemoaning one's status is my least favorite.  Nothing turns me off a character faster than a scene where he or she whines about wanting a normal life or just complains in general.  Writers have twisted Dani around so much her character history is the prose equivalent of that balloon animal guts thing Cowboy Gil made at Kevin Buckman's birthday party, but you don't find too many scenes where she mopes about it.  That's for us fans to do.

Dani also loves to talk to animals.  She's kind of like Dr. Dolittle, minus the racism.  I mean the original Dr. Dolittle books, not the Eddie Murphy movie version, which would be minus the CGI mouths and celebrity voice-overs.  From her early days cavorting with mountain lions in the mountains of her Colorado home to her psychic rapport with wolf-girl Rahne to this little supernatural bird-familiar in New Mutants #29, Dani has always had the uncanny ability to empathize and communicate with other species.  She would be a natural at some kind of Animal Planet show where she travels the world curing the PTSD of gorilla babies who have seen their parents poached, or maybe simply helping pet owners cope with difficult companion animals.

Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are doing a smashing job writing Dani these days.  From the simple story of Grim (who's very Dr. Gregory House-like in his approach to healing) to the involvement of Dani in Marvel's "Fear Itself" crossover, they keep the focus on characterization.  Zeb Wells had a nice take on the team that offered continuity with the past-- I especially enjoyed the scene where he has Dani and Sam argue about whether or not Sam's a good kisser complete with a call-back to Lila Cheney, the intergalactic rock star he dallied with for a while-- but too often he had to force the team into crossovers where the action reduced them to bit players, not even appearing on their own covers.  Abnett and Lanning have a denser, more dialogue-heavy style that works wonders in making the team seem alive to the readers.

I wonder if the renewed focus on characterization has something to do with Axel Alonso as editor-in-chief.  He edited the brilliantly off-kilter X-Force/X-Statix, which for a time was the only Marvel book I read.  Putting Peter Milligan and Mike Allred on that book was an inspired decision and it led to some twisted and satirical but still characterization-oriented issues deconstructing the very idea of an X-book.  The stories didn't lack for comic book violence in the classic Marvel tradition, either.

I was a little irked at Marvel when Abnett and Lanning took the team in an intriguing new direction-- tying up the loose ends of about 30 years of ultra-convoluted storytelling in the X-books-- and then had to abandon that almost immediately in favor of "Fear Itself," but with a character-first approach, the tie-in issues won me over.  And I haven't bothered to read any of the rest of the story.  I just don't care about crossovers!  I never will!

Dave Lafuente's art impresses me, too.  The characters are recognizable, but in a way that's reminiscent of the art experiments from the first New Mutants series.  Not all of those worked.  Bill Sienkiewicz's issues were visually arresting, but some of the later art teams produced a lot of sketchy, scrawly stuff.  Lafuente has a heavily stylized look, with a little Barry Windsor-Smith, a little Paul Smith and a whole lot of Kevin O'Neill in the mix.  It's a pleasure to look at and I hope he gets more work, especially on this book.  They seriously need to find an art team and stick with them for a while to continue to build this title's identity.

Yes, I'm enjoying a superhero book.  A MARVEL X-people superhero book.