Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is Kamandi selling pretty well these days?

The reason I ask is Comixology keeps adding Kamandi to their DC catalog.  The reason (I feel sure) is DC is providing the material they've already prepared for their Kamandi reprints and it isn't costing them much money above what they've already spent to offer the issues digitally as well.  But what I like to imagine is those of us who are Kamandi fans are also at the forefront of a pro-Kamandi wave swelling through comics and both DC and Comixology are responding to massive demand.

I also like to imagine I helped inspire this movement.  Yeah, my month devoted to that wonderful Kamandi series kind of skidded off a cliff and exploded (driving too fast for conditions, swerved to avoid work and hydroplaned on a wet mountain road read the accident report) but that doesn't mean my love for Kamandi has dimmed by any means.

We're up to #24 (December 1974) on Comixology.  It showed up this week and I bought it.  Kamandi washes up on some rocky shore and meets a group of what I'm guessing right now are people.  Some of them look human; others, I'm not so sure.  It's heavily influenced by William Peter Blatty and all those Satanic possession movies the kids were crazy about during the mid-70s.  I swear if it wasn't Pazuzu possessing some poor little rich girl it was some poor little rich boy as the Anti-Christ.  Even Carl Kolchak went mano-a-paw-o with a demon dog on Kolchak:  The Night Stalker.  Okay, other than its title, "The Exorcism!" and a cover promising supernatural mayhem of the ultimate evil kind, this Kamandi may not be about Satan or devils after all.  Just some ugly guy called the Curse.

In the interest of honesty, the reason I'm hedging on the whole Satan thing after being such a clown about it anyway is I've only skimmed the first five or so pages of "The Exorcist!"  No time.  No time for sergeants, no time for Kirby.  That's a sad state of affairs.  I've got two years of Kamandi on my computer and my iPhone and no time to read them.

But I've formed some hasty early impressions.  Because where would this blog be without half-assed judgments?  "The Exorcist!" does feature a truly spectacular double-page spread of the most haunted looking haunted house you've ever seen.  Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry really outdid themselves with that drawing.  I'll try to find time to show you this weekend.  Besides my takeaway vision of the haunted house, I really love how Kirby draws water.  Clumps of black ovals.  I've never seen water that consists of clumps of black ovals, and yet it reads as water.  Also, I think it's kind of weird that Kamandi, who has recently escaped from a lot of human-looking robots-- a major disappointment for the "last boy on earth," forever searching for others of his kind-- and after an experience with talking killer whales, doesn't immediately demand to know who these new characters are.  Especially the ones who look human.

I'm sure part of the reason is their opening gambit is to attack the poor kid and start whaling the tar out of him, but I have a feeling the main reason is Kirby just isn't wasting any time with a lot of chit-chat in these stories.  It's action first, characterization second.  Nothing wrong with that.

Anyway, if I get some breathing room I'll read the whole thing and see if I'm right or wrong!  Or, alternately, you could go buy it and read it and tell me if I'm right or wrong!*

*I get no money at all for this shilling.  I'm doing it out of the kindness of my withered little heart.  I really love Kamandi and think people should read it, and this is where they can do that.  Legally, anyway.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Artists I've tried to imitate...

Copying can be a good thing.  At least during your learning process.  Rod Serling admitted he was a Hemingway copier when he first started writing, and said everything he wrote began, "It was hot."  So imitation is a thing people do when they're learning to express themselves.  And it works for comic book art, too.  You learn how the greats do things and you eventually develop your own (fairly) distinct mode of expression*.

And yeah, there might be a few geniuses who spring forth fully formed and owe no debt to anyone.  But I'd be willing to bet even Picasso started off drawing and painting like someone else he admired.  He was probably six years old at the time.

I probably have no business discussing this stuff, but I have been studying art practically my entire life-- even now, when I have approximately 5 minutes a week to devote to it.  Obviously I'm no Picasso and I'm not even a Hacky H. Hackerson or a J. Jonah Journeyperson yet.  But what I have in common with practically any comic book artist you can name is I spent a lot of that time looking at other artists and trying to draw like them.  Even established pros do this from time to time.  Check out some of Alex Toth's work when he's obviously channeling Jean Giraud with those little parallel hatch lines.

Here, then, is a list of a lucky fourteen artists I've copied from over the years!

1)  Alex Toth.  He wasn't the first, but out of all the artists on this list-- other than possibly Al Williamson-- he's the guy whose art I want mine to look exactly like.  I should get over that because at this point it's doing more harm than good, but if I'd discovered this when I was ten years old instead of in my mid-thirties, I might have learned a thing or two from him.  I have to add anyone working in the "Toth School" to this entry.  David Mazzucchelli's work on Batman Year One was a revelation as well.  The story didn't do much for me-- crazed Batman, all lawful authorities are irredeemably stupid/corrupt so a man must act outside the law, lots of prostitutes (you know, Frank Miller)-- but the art made it work.  The same goes for all the artists Toth openly admired.  I'm working my way towards primary sources now, too.  I think Toth would want it that way.

2)  Al Williamson.  He probably was the first to really blow my mind completely.  I drew before I discovered Williamson, and I read comics before I ever saw one with his art and I sometimes copied art.  But after seeing his work for the first time-- the Marvel adaptation of Empire Strikes Back-- I got serious about it.  And kind of like I am with Toth, I'm working my way towards Williamson's influences as well. Another artist I admire, Mark Schultz, has seen to that.

3)  Michael Golden.  Like I wrote above, I copied artists before I found Williamson.  Golden was one of them.  I used to sit at our kitchen bar and meticulously copy panel after panel and cover after cover of his Micronauts work.  The detail amazed me, but I think I was mostly taken with how real it seemed even if the figures themselves were slightly cartooned (look at the big eyes, for example).  Oh yeah, and the way he rendered light sources on faces-- double lighting!-- and metal armor and spaceships.

4)  Doug Wildey.  His animation work on Jonny Quest.  I went through a whole period where everything I drew I tried to make look like a Jonny Quest animation cell.  The simplicity of it, plus the heavy black spotting.  I suppose that's kind of Tothian, but the fixation was purely on that Jonny Quest look.  I didn't know Wildey's name until years later, but he gets his own entry because of how important the Jonny Quest visuals were to me at the time.

5)  The people behind Speed Racer.  I conflated this with Jonny Quest, and it had a similar impact.  I could look up the main artist but I'm lazy and there are too many other names to check on this list.

6)  Jack Kirby.  Kirby is the antithesis of Toth in a lot of ways.  Steve Rude can synthesize the two; I can't.  But I love Kirby's work with a passion equal to my love of Toth's and Williamson's.  Plus, he's my all-time favorite guy in comics as a human being.  I mean it; I'm saddened I never got to meet him and buy him a slice of chocolate cake.  Kirby is one of the most comic book distinctive artists, with a look that's more immediately identifiable than just about anyone else you could name.  It's almost bigger than comics themselves and very nearly elevates itself above the form.  A blown-up panel of just about any mid-60s through mid-70s Kirby comic would look splendid on the walls of any museum of modern art in the world.  As fun as Kirby is to read, he's just as much fun to imitate when you're drawing.  If you haven't tried it, you should-- I did a side-by-side reconstruction of a Fantastic Four panel for a color theory class I had in college.  We had to match the yellowed newsprint appearance of an old comic, then create how it would look printed on pure white with no competition from cheap paper and age.  One of the most fun little assignments I ever had.

7)  Jack Davis.  Having attended the University of Georgia to study art and graphic design, I found Davis's influence inescapable.  Not that I would ever want to escape it.  The GD program director's appreciation of cartooning began and ended with Davis.  In fact, if I didn't try to imitate Davis when I did my own little cartoons, he grunted at me.  Grunt, grunt, grunt.  While I had a broader sense of who I wanted to be at the time, I'd long admired Jack Davis for both his horror and funny stuff.  I wanted to caricature just like him.  And he did it in vivid watercolor or gouache or something.  Sorry, I can't remember what, and I even got to interview the man.  Unfortunately, this was about the time my hopes at being a comic book artist or commercial illustrator crashed and burned.  The graphic design program was more geared towards typography and magazine design, disciplines at which I had no native talent and little interest in learning.  I wanted to draw.  Despite getting to work with some great illustration professors, I foolishly bucked the system and came away from this program with my confidence wrecked and unable to complete a drawing for years.  I don't think I've completely recovered and probably never will.

8)  John Byrne.  I think just about every kid with dreams of comic book glory back in the early 80s wanted to draw like Byrne.

9)  Neal Adams.  Byrne always seemed to be talking about Adams.  That is, when he wasn't talking about Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, another awesome DC artist.  I knew Adams from some Batman reprints that kept turning up during my childhood.  For a time in the late 80s I copied as many Adams Batman drawings as I could find time to do.

10)  Mike Allred.  Super cool art and a really nice guy.  His work made me think I could possibly do comics again after my disaster at UGA.  Not that I thought I'd be as good.  It's just that looking at his fun work made me want to draw again.  And his love for the medium is infectious.  Also inspiring is the way he buckles down and turns out pages.  His runs on The Atomics and Marvel's X-Force/X-Statix are freaky good and all the more impressive for their consistency and Kirby-like work ethic.  Can you imagine a guy who draws like this able to turn around a monthly book? I mean this is following years of self-indulgent lesser artists constantly blowing deadlines.  And a few years ago, Allred suddenly took his art to a higher level and left a lot of people in the dust.  What an amazing cat!

11)  Steve Rude.  The Dude.  There is nothing more need be said.

12)  Rumiko Takahashi.  Her art is the very definition of appeal.  It reminds me a bit of Walt Kelly's in that you just want to hug it as much as you want to look at it.  I'd give anything to produce art with this much appeal.

13)  Mike Mignola.  Deceptively simple.  Geometric, stripped down to basic lines and areas of black.  Easy to copy line-for-line, difficult to produce on your own.  He has a unique way of putting together lower bodies.  What's happening there with that anatomy?  When I look at it, I see.  When I look away, I can't.

14)  Gene Colan.  He should have come earlier on this list.  Man, even now I would give anything to be able to draw like Colan.  He always chose the most interesting angles and while later in his career his anatomy sometimes came apart as a result-- check out Batman's birthin' hips-- Colan in his prime was a true master of mood.  Shadow and mood. Drama.  Reading a Colan comic was like watching one of the better Hammer Studio films.  Drawing from one was difficult.  But even now when I draw a face wearing glasses, I'm thinking Colan.

Okay, there are a number of others I should do full entries on-- John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, Goseki Kojima, Ai Yazawa, Bob McLeod, P. Craig Russell, plus a whole lot more I'm forgetting at the moment.  But I'm tired of writing about drawing.  I'd rather be drawing.  Too bad I'm at work.

*I can't stress this enough-- this has to be in conjunction with actually learning how to draw.  You need a full education in art basics like composition, perspective and figure construction, which are just some of the universal underpinnings of an artist's methods, plus a LOT of life-drawing!

I own the first 30 issues of Fantastic Four...

Plus Annual #1 where Namor goes off on the human race and invades New York City with an army of blue dudes wearing fishbowls on their heads.  Not the print originals, of course.  How much is Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961) going for these days?  There's a graded example (CGC FN+ 6.5, white pages) online at Heritage Auctions with a recent offer of $18,500.  An 8.5 went for $52,000.  That's a little out of my price range, I'm afraid.  No, I own reprints.  Reprints, reprints, reprints.

I've had the Fantastic Four Essential collections for a long time, and I used to have the fat Fantastic Four Omnibus that was so heavy I couldn't rest it on my stomach while reading in bed or it would squeeze my dinner out of me as if I were a Play-Doh Fun Factory.  I gave that one away before I moved back the US following my first stint in Japan as an English teacher, otherwise I would have had to purchase a second seat ticket from Air Canada to take it with me.

Comixology is my current source for vintage comics.  Publishers have been putting out re-colored versions of various classics so long they have a nice back catalog of stuff they're adding to Comixology a little at a time.  They usually run you about 1.99 each, although sometimes you can find 99-cent sales or even freebies.  With the files available, there's no reason not to put the books online.  The hard work has been done, so overhead is minimal at this point.  Easy money for Marvel and DC.

I frequently find myself pondering the appeal of early Fantastic Four.  I'm not denying it exists; I love the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby era Fantastic Four, after all.  What is that appeal's substance, however?  That's what I think about, in search of a magic formula, I suppose.

When we look at Fantastic Four #1, we're looking at something fairly raw and even clumsy.  The plot mechanics barely stand up to close scrutiny.  Why in the hell would a top scientist take his girlfriend and her kid brother on an illegal rocket jaunt?  Even by the lax standards of comic book logic, that's pretty stupid stuff.  Kirby's art seems relatively timid, not at all the bold, bombast we've come to associate with the King, and it's poorly served by gloopy inks.

Perhaps we have to put it into context, stack it up against DC's contemporaneous efforts.  I know the talent were doing their level best to put out good product, and a lot of these guys and gals rank pretty high in my pantheon of greats.  Plus there was this little thing called the Comics Code.  The last time someone tried to do something truly interesting with comics, the government got involved and not to say, "Nice job you're doing entertaining the little chaps, Mr. Gaines!"

But despite a few stand-out stories and some awesome-- if a little mechanical and stiff at times-- art, the formula wears thin pretty fast.  DC comics of that era don't really seem to be about anything in particular.  Especially if it's an "Imaginary Story!"  Which might be more interesting than any of the so-called "real" stories because it dares embrace weirdness.  So if you ask me what issue was it where we saw Superman turn into a fat version of himself or when did he grow a long beard or turn into a gorilla or gain a whole new set of powers or whatever, I'm likely to answer, "All of them."  What does it really matter?

Now imagine you're a kid who's starting to feel a bit jaded by all of this and you see the cover of Fantastic Four #1 glaring out at you from the newsstand like a pugnacious new kid to your neighborhood.  A little loud-mouth with a dirty face.  It's rude, it's coarse, it's even a little ugly.  But you can't take your eyes off this newcomer.  You open it and the inside is more of the same. And look at that squashed orange guy ripping that tree out of the ground to hit his friend with it.  Immediately, you sense it's got something those tight-assed DC comics don't have.

Charisma.  That's it.  It's got charisma.  The plot isn't just some one-off that's essentially the same as last month's with the details changed.  You probably don't even question Reed Richards's poor decision-making process.  That might be due to the frantic pacing, but I like to think it's because Stan and Jack are going somewhere and taking us along with them.  It's not just a plot; it's an actual story.  It matters.  Or at least it does by comparison to its competition.

And it just got better and better until DC was forced to react and turn to new talent, style experiments and the like (I'd argue Marvel inspired DC to put out a lot of their cooler books, even if they didn't sell all that well).  By the time Doctor Doom shows up in Fantastic Four #5 (July 1962), things are really starting to cook.  From that point, issue-by-issue, you get to witness Kirby come into his own again, giving his career that huge push that made him the super-legend he is today and Lee develop the inimitable voice of Marvel, bizarrely made up of WWII-era slang and hyperbolic carnival barker come-ons.  It's captured there for constant rediscovery on Comixology, the same way recordings capture the exponential aesthetic growth of the Beatles from "Love Me Do" to "Carry That Weight."

My favorites, though, are the Fantastic Fours inked by Chic Stone.  They have the energy and slightly unformed quality of the earliest issues and a little bit of the structure of the later Joe Sinnott-inked issues, which leave me a tiny bit cold.  I like Sinnott's slickness, but his issues just don't have the energy of Stone's.  To carry the Beatles analogy a bit further, it's kind of the way I admire the heady pop craftsmanship of Abbey Road, but I end up listening to the peppier Help! and back-to-back self-topping albums Rubber Soul and Revolver more often.

Anyway, the first 30 Fantastic Fours are now available on Comixology and I own them.  I plan to keep buying these until they get just past the Galactus caper.  After that, a lot of the energy and charisma seeps out.  You get the idea Stan and Jack were looking elsewhere after that point.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Precious 1938 Superman comic found in wall insulation | The Japan Times

Precious 1938 Superman comic found in wall insulation | The Japan Times

It's not often we get American comic book news over here in Japan, but I suppose this is a biggie. It's too bad about the family strife it caused.  Superman himself would not be pleased.

Have you ever dreamed of finding a comic book treasure forgotten in some attic or for sale for four for a dollar at a flea market or garage sale?  I used to fantasize about such things until the reality set in that the chances of doing so-- of finding Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27 residing in some dusty wooden chest in pristine condition as if they were meant to be mine-- were about the same as hitting the Power Ball or being attacked by a shark.

Still, as I've related a few times here in this blog, I've gotten lucky more than once.  Way back in junior high I bought a run of Uncanny X-Men commencing with #94 itself from a friend.  His mother worked for a newsstand owned by a regional magazine distributor and used to bring home comics by the box-full for this kid, who didn't really appreciate them.  I had no idea what I was getting into that afernoon, but he took ten bucks plus a promise for ten more at a later date for a pile of comics he'd left haphazardly stuffed in a cabinet.  I had them for a month before I noticed an ad in one of my newer comics offering #94 for sixty dollars.

Sixty dollars?  For a comic book that didn't even have Superman or Batman in it?  I almost wet my pants.  I pulled out my X-Men books and couldn't believe my good fortune.  Not only did I have #94, but I had every issue up to #100 and then a few after that.  The one in worst condition was #106, with cover tears, but the others were fresh and glossy.  Not mint by any means.  We read them back in those days.  I was just more careful with mine than most, mainly because I knew I'd want to read them again and again.  You didn't have paperback re-print collections of entire series back then, just books with a few selected stories.

The most coveted one I lacked was Giant-Size X-Men #1.  A few weeks after that, I completed the transaction by loaning the kid my left-handed baseball glove during P.E. and by then I was a confirmed comic book fanatic.

My next lucky find was Cerebus #5 at the flea market just past the city limit sign across the river.  My dad used to buy turnip greens there, so he was usually willing to drive us way out to that dusty place almost any Saturday morning he wasn't busy with yardwork or changing the oil in our various cars and trucks.  The comic book stall featured a box marked "Four for a Dollar" and while the stock largely consisted of Marvel re-print books and old Killravens that left gray soot in the grooves of your fingerprints, somehow that Cerebus snuck in there and I took it home.  I didn't even know what it was; it just looked cool.

It may have even been one of those counterfeits I later read about (I know some unscrupulous soul faked the first issue, but maybe someone also did a full run of early Cerebus-- I don't know!), but a few months later that left-handed friend of mine offered me the first issue of New Teen Titans for it.  We looked at an ad for back issues in another comic and I felt I was getting ripped off, but he kept reminding me what a deal I'd gotten on those Uncanny X-Men comics, and I wanted that New Teen Titans.

Another Saturday at the flea market and the woman who ran the stall told me she had a huge pile of comics she hadn't been able to catalog lying on the floor of her van.  Since I was a regular customer she offered to let me pick through them and take whatever I wanted for a quarter each.  Sounded good to me, so I climbed in and found almost every single Frank Miller Daredevil.  Including the first one he wrote and drew.  He was just about to leave Marvel and go to DC to do Ronin, so Miller was huge at the time.  I bought all of them (plus some Killravens) and went through a Frank Miller phase I grew out of way before Frank Miller himself did.

Well, none of that excitement equals pulling an Action Comics #1 out of a wall in some old house, but at the time it was like being a comic book Indiana Jones.  And that was good enough for me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Series I have loved: My comic fan biography

What titles made me the idiot I am today?  Let’s take a look at some of the series I made it a point to buy whenever I found them back there in my distant past, the titles that entranced me the most and made me spend way too much time thinking about and guessing what would happen next.  I’m going to try to put these in chronological order, but I’ll probably screw it up.  Oh well, what the hell? Let's go!

1)    Sgt. Rock/Our Army at War.  Both of the Sgt. Rock-starring titles.  As far as I know—and until we get the results of my hypnotic regression sessions-- these were literally the first comics I read.
2)    Richie Rich.  Any title with Richie.  I went through an intense Richie Rich period at one point.  Also, to a lesser extent, Casper.
3)    Archie.  Any of the Archie titles.  Since they all pretty much featured the same cast of characters, I didn’t differentiate between them.  But I generally preferred the digests because they packed more value and featured cool stories from the characters’ earliest days and I liked that art more than the newer stuff.  I also got into Little Archie in a big way.
4)    Planet of the Apes.  The Curtis/Marvel black and whites.  I liked the color series but it didn’t last long, while these showed up at the grocery store fairly frequently and for a few years.  Although they were pricey and scary, I managed to talk my parents into buying them for me one a few magic occasions.  I’d have bought them all if they’d had better distribution and we were a little better off financially.
5)    Batman.  This was more off and on, but I never turned down a chance to read either Batman or Detective Comics starring Batman.
6)    Superman.  The original.  The greatest of the superheroes.  If you don't dig Superman, you probably should go read another blog.  Or keep reading this one.  Either way.  I don't mind.  Much like with Batman, I bought Superman and Action Comics whenever the need to read about the Man of Steel struck me.  Sometimes I could go for over a year without seeing what he was up to.  When the Christopher Reeve movies came out, I started buying these whenever I could.
7)    Spider-Man.  Starting with Amazing, and then, when I was a teenager, the Spectacular.  My intro was the Gil Kane era, and I had the first appearance of the Punisher.  Left it out in the rain and it fell apart.  This is a character whose books would really catch on with me from time-to-time depending on the creative team.  During the 1980s, I had a massive run of them, with over 100 issues at one point, including some major milestones of that era.
8)    Star Trek.  The Gold Key series.  Since I was a huge fan of the TV show, I tried to get my hands on as many of these as I could.  But, like a lot of Gold Key books, they only showed up intermittently and everyone ended up with huge gaps in their Star Trek collections.  I read the two or three I had until they fell apart.
9)    Teen Titans.  The first volume.  I have vivid memories of borrowing a lot of these from a friend of mine and reading them at dinner, forever associating the Titans with steak and dinner rolls in my mind.
10)  Justice League of America.  All the heroes in one title!  A bargain!  Plus it was a little like Superfriends.  When you're a kid and your income derives mainly from change found between sofa cushions or near the drain at the deep end of the local swimming pool, you tend to economize and look for more heroes for your money.  Justice League was a wallet-saver.  I got into this book thanks to a reprint paperback I had of the team taking on the Adaptoids or some such thing.
11)  The Incredible Hulk.  Of course I bought this.  The TV was a must-watch weekly event.
12)  Micronauts.  All the coolness of Star Wars but with better artwork.  Plus, my friends and I were really into the toys.  This is one of the first books I seriously collected, searching for back issues and new issues no matter where we were—at home, at the beach, in the mountains.
13)  Conan the Barbarian.  And Savage Sword of Conan.  My middle brother introduced me to this character and I was hooked.  A monthly buy, especially when drawn by either John Buscema or Gil Kane.  Conan the Barbarian marked the beginning of my serious comic book fandom, when I began reading comics almost obsessively and began dreaming of becoming a comic book artist.
14)  Uncanny X-Men. I got into this title around the same time.  A friend of mine had a run of issues starting with #94 and I bought them all for about a buck each, plus one-time use of my left-handed baseball glove.  I had no idea I was risking addiction. Through this comic I became a fan of Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne and Paul Smith.  I didn’t like John Romita, Jr.’s art on the X-people; I much preferred him on Spidey.
15)  New Teen Titans.  At one point the new Titans were more popular than the X-Men around my parts.  I started reading this title with #1 mostly because of the slick George Perez art.
16)  Daredevil.  The Frank Miller run, naturally.  Friends kept telling me about it but it wasn’t until I bought a couple of issues—including the first one Miller wrote and drew—at a flea market that I realized what they were talking about.  The panel-to-panel storytelling was a revelation, as was Miller’s wonky, slapdash anatomy.  I decided if I could just learn how to tell comic book stories cinematically it wouldn’t matter that I couldn’t draw for squat.
17)  E-Man.  A couple of comic book shops opened in our town at almost the same time, one in a small storefront and the other at an indoor flea market.  The owners of the former were a middle-aged married couple, super friendly people who often commissioned me to do artwork for their store and paid in posters and comics.  The owner of the latter was a skinny, loud guy who wasn’t shy about mocking the other store’s name.  But they all gave me sterling recommendations for reading material and broadened my comic book horizons considerably.  E-Man was the first of the indie comics I latched onto, the First Comics version. Man, I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever read, especially when Martin Pasko and Joe Staton took potshots at Uncanny X-Men, a title I was still very much in love with at the time, so much so I even enjoyed parodies of it.
18) Judge Dredd.  The Eagle Comics color versions.  Could you ever go wrong with Brian Bolland covers?  His interior art blew my mind, too, but I also came to appreciate Ron Smith and Mike McMahon as well.  The coloring on these books was gorgeous, too.  And Dredd himself, never suspecting the joke was on him, made a compelling figure with his perpetual scowl and his big green boots.
19)  American Flagg.  I probably shouldn’t have been reading this because of all the double entendres and the lingerie-clad women, but read it I did and I loved it.  The typography was really catchy and I dug Howard Chaykin’s art and writing.  This book made me feel smart.
20)  Cerebus.  This was before the whole misogyny rap.  At this point, it was just a cleverly-written series with some laugh-out-loud moments and obviously something deeper going on.
21)  The New Mutants.  The X-Men, but my age.  Dani Moonstar quickly took over the lead spot in the book and as my favorite superhero character.
22)  Alpha Flight.  Byrne goes back to his Canadian roots and puts together a pretty cool team from the crumbs Claremont left on the table.  Puck was, and is, filled with more awesome than most characters twice his height.  I really like Marina, too.  When she turned into a savage version of herself, I ached for her.
23)  Fantastic Four.  The John Byrne era.  It was the last book I latched onto and very possibly the last I let go of when I decided I’d outgrown comics.  These books really captured the excitement of the superhero genre, plus I could never grow tired of looking at Byrne’s art.  The stories were smart, too.  Maybe not as smart as Byrne thought they were, but smart nevertheless.  Remember when the moon fell apart like an anthill and that sideways issue?  Byrne's issues inspired me to read the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby originals and to this day I'm a dedicated 1960s-era Fantastic Four fan.

One title I liked but didn't collect?  Wonder Woman.  I loved the TV show and occasionally read the comic but I considered my enjoyment of it something of an embarrassment.  Why was that?  It didn't come naturally; I learned it.  I lived in the conservative Deep South and entertainment, as with many other aspects of life, tended to be severely gender segregated.  Wonder Woman was, well, a woman, and therefore her comic was for girls.  Whenever I expressed any interest in "girly" things, I got my hand slapped metaphorically by my peers and well-intentioned adults who happened to be complete dopes.  So my love for Wonder Woman, just like my enjoyment of Charlie's Angels for their cool adventures rather than their physical appearance or skimpy undercover outfits, remained top secret.

And then I grew up.  Kinda.  Liking any comic book became an embarrassment to me, so I sold off a lot of my collection—most of those early Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans, plus my Cerebus and even the first two issues of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian—which I traded for a ton of Kitchen Sink The Spirit reprints, which I still have.  Reading comics in high school and junior college wasn’t considered cool, not even when the first Batman movie came out.  I had to escape my hometown to shrug of the snobbery.  And then came…

24)  EC.  The Gladstone/Gemstone reprints.  When I wasn’t spending my student money on pizza, booze and live shows, I bought every one of these I could find.
25)  Namor.  Byrne again.  Namor as a suit-wearing multi-billionaire?  Sign me up!
26)  Nexus.  Post-college, with a little spending money, I could afford to indulge myself a little.  So when Dark Horse brought back Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus with a run of fantastic mini-series, I was there.  I still am.  It broke my heart when the Dark Horse run ended, so I'm thrilled Baron and Rude have taken up the story again, first as a self-published effort and then back at Dark Horse.  Here's hoping we get to visit Ylum again.
27)  John Byrne’s Next Men.  Byrne telescoped the storytelling, which frustrated me, but I found his science-based approach to superpowers fascinating, as well as the way he tortured his poor cast.
28)  Harbinger.  Jim Shooter shoots… he scores!  Imagine the X-Men with more of a low rent real-world vibe.
29)  Archer and Armstrong.  More Valiant goodness.  A team book, kind of an action comedy.
30)  Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom.  Who am I to argue with Barry Windsor-Smith?
31)  Xenozoic Tales.  I discovered this one via Marvel’s color Epic reprints, then started buying the black and white albums whenever I could afford them.  Yes, I was back in college, studying graphic design this time.  Mark Schultz re-introduced me to an old friend of mine, a certain Al Williamson.  And also classic adventure storytelling and lush artwork.  The stories started off as EC-rips and soon evolved into something epic unto themselves.
32)  Gen13.  And then things got stoopid.  This is a book that cheered me up when life took an extended downward turn, just the kind escapist nonsense I desperately needed at the time.  Hard to believe this book was once so popular it spun off into an experimental title where some of the top names in comics took chances with the characters the creative team behind the regular monthly wouldn’t dare.  But my biggest obsession was—I freely admit—with the dumber-than-dumb but still quite fun main title.  I even drew a couple of pages of continuity with a mind towards submitting them in the hopes of getting hired.  I ended up simply sending in a fan letter.  J. Scott Campbell’s art improved exponentially in each issue even if the plots consisted of recycled elements of better comics.  Later writers and artists turned this into a real comic, but by then the craze was over and nobody cared.  Except me!  I cared.  I care.
33)  Hellboy.  Mike Mignola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula adaptation was another one of the wow moments where I knew I’d found something I’d been missing without even being aware I’d been missing it.  So when he launched Hellboy, I was ready.  Still one of the best franchises out there.
34)  Hate.  Peter Bagge’s signature title is one of those “funny because it’s true” titles, especially if you’ve ever lived in a music-oriented college type town.  You can transpose a lot of the cast’s antics to my friends and me.  I’m not bragging.  It’s embarrassing to read this book.  Really cringe-inducing.  Because we lived it.
35)  Love and Rockets.  Working as a graphic designer/illustrator at a newspaper allowed me to buy a few comics every once in a while and I chose these.  I can’t remember what inspired me to pick up Love and Rockets Volume 2 #5, but it was love at first read.  I very quickly bought all the collections and back issues.  Still one of my all-time faves.  Hopey is an obsession with me.
36)  Kirby's Fourth World.  New Gods, Mister Miracle, Forever People and, to a lesser extent, Jimmy Olsen.  Love 'em to pieces.  I didn't see many of these as a kid, but I've long been a Jack Kirby fan.  His books just didn't come my way very often.  Case in point, Kamandi.  Kamandi (while not part of the Fourth World epic) is another series I'm into in a major way, but I only ever owned that single issue.  Most of what I knew of Kirby I discovered in various reprint collections at the local library or bookstore.  None of these were Fourth World stories, just his early work with Joe Simon or some of his Marvel creations.  A few years ago, DC started repackaging Kirby and I was finally able to read some of his greatest stories in their proper order.
37)  Tomb of Dracula.  Gene Colan.  Marvel collected a few issues as specials back in the 90s, which is when I first caught up with a book whose art I'd been in love with for years because of the panels reproduced in How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way.  But it wasn't until the Essential Tomb of Dracula books came out that I was finally able to fully indulge myself in Marv Wolfman's deliciously purple prose and Gene Colan's nigh-flawless art.
38)  Warren.  Whether it's Creepy or Eerie or Blazing Combat, I cannot get enough of those old Warren books.  Big thanks to Dark Horse and Fantagraphics for putting these babies back into print in hefty, expensive hardcover form.

And now we’ve reached the end of the list.  It's longer than I expected, and I'm pretty sure I've left out a few things.  Some of them I still read, some I’ve long since given up on.  I’ve gotten into a few newer titles in the years since, but these are the ones I concentrate on in this nostalgia blog.  Anything that started post-1996 goes elsewhere!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

On Dan Adkins and weird rumblings in the comic book world

I learned this morning via P. Craig Russell's Facebook feed Dan Adkins passed away.  He was one of those artists I knew by name even when I was a kid, but I never really caught onto his visual style the way I did others whose work I could pick out from the angle of a face (John Buscema, Gil Kane), the set of a jaw (Carmine Infantino) or a certain lean, muscular phsyical type (Neal Adams).  I just associated his name with solid craftsmanship.  This was before I ever heard of a guy named Wally Wood or knew what was up with those scary Creepy and Eerie magazines I always avoided at the convenience store while looking for Sgt. Rock.

Adkins was Wood's assistant, which couldn't have been easy, back in the 1960s.  Thanks to Dark Horse's Creepy Archives, I'd been getting into Adkins-- things he did with Wood, things he did solo.  His "The Doorway" in Creepy #11 (October 1966) is a six-page visual knockout with an Archie Goodwin script.  While its neat-o concept involving science and black magic at a government research lab anticipates some of Stephen King's stories (especially his novella The Mist) the narrative reads a bit clunky.  The real draw is Adkins's clean, Woodsian artwork and his supremely controlled use of gray tones.  He painted the cover for Creepy #12 (December 1966), but the cramped design doesn't do him any favors, especially following a spectacular Frazetta ape on the previous cover, a full bleed image with room to rampage.

They also compressed Gray Morrow's graveyard werewolf into a small box on the following cover-- what were they thinking?

He went on to draw a ton of stuff like a run of Dr. Strange tales starting in... wait for it... Strange Tales and continuing in the first two issues of Dr. Strange:  Master of the Mystic Arts for Marvel.  He inked all over the place for them, too.  But I'm most familiar with Adkins from this era as Virgilio Redondo's inker on a story in Giant-Size Dracula #5 (June 1975) because I read it in the second Essential Tomb of Dracula reprint book.

The greatest impact Adkins had on my personal fandom came when he gave career starts to three guys you may have heard of-- namely Paul Gulacy, Val Mayerik and Russell himself.

In other comic book artist news, there's a cool little debate on the Al Williamson Fans Facebook feed, too.  What was Williamson's last published comic book work?  One guy says Williamson told him one thing, J. David Spurlock says another and it goes back and forth from there.  Both men knew Williamson and that makes me jealous.

Monday, May 6, 2013

I'll be back...

Sorry I haven't been posting a whole lot lately.  I still have a few Kamandi posts to drop here and I'm working on a look at the love life of one Hopey Glass, plus some more stuff about Micronauts.  I'm working a lot and getting married this week, so the blog is a low priority matter right now.