Thursday, November 30, 2006

Erector Sets


Well, Christmas is coming as it usually does at this time of year. When I was a child, one of the most wanted (read: most widely marketed and advertised ) toys was an Erector Set. Oddly, I never got one. I knew kids who had them but I never had one of my own. When I saw them, they seemed complicated and confusing. I did want one, though. Perhaps the reason I never got one was that the company that made them declared bankruptcy in 1967 and they were picked up by a competitor. It wasn't long after that that I hit puberty and finally got one of my own. Sorry but the jokes just tend to write themselves on this one...which may well be another reason they faded from popularity in the more sexually-aware sixties.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Yellow Submarine



In the late sixties, Gold Key experimented with putting fold-out posters in some of its comics. As I recall they had them in DARK SHADOWS, CHITTY CHIITY BANG BANG and the adaptation of the Beatles film YELLOW SUBMARINE. This one was particularly cool because it gave nice views (and names!) to some of the monstrous Peter Max-style villains of the story, many of whom went unnamed (and under-utilized) in the film itself. YELLOW SUBMARINE was the very first film that I was allowed to go to see on my own (age 9) to the best of my recollection. The line for the Saturday afternoon matinee was stretched all the way to the Woolworth's down at the other end of the block. As previously stated, I was NOT really a Beatles fan until the LET IT BE era but, having discovered the comic at that selfsame Woolworths a week or two prior to the movie opening, I HAD to see it! I saw it twice that day and went to bed that night with Beatles songs echoing in my head for the very first time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Popeye



One of the most wondrous things about the age in which we find ourselves is that the once lowly newspaper comic strip is now at long last given its due as an art form and little by little, the true classics are coming back into print. The current case in point would be POPEYE by E. C. Segar. The first of a series of handsome tabloid-sized volumes presenting the original dailies and Sundays is just out and we highly recommend it.
It took nearly ten years before the one-eyed sailor man even appeared in THIMBLE THEATRE, a pre-jazz age comic strip showcasing the adventures of one Castor Oyl and his friends and family. Despite the historical significance of a volume reprinting those undoubtedly worthy strips, publisher Fantagraphics has wisely—at least from a marketing viewpoint—chosen to begin with that first storyline involving Popeye. We do see a bit of what the strip was like earlier as the storyline begins 27 pages prior to Popeye’s debut. Castor Oyl is presented a magic Whiffle Hen which he tries at some length to kill, then sell, but the bird keeps returning to him. Ultimately, he and friend Ham Gravy rent a ship and need a crew which is where Popeye comes into the picture.
Strangely, that first appearance is presaged by an early panel in which Castor yells, "I’ll be pop-eyed!" and then by the brief appearance of a tramp who resembles the later star of the strip!
Also in this initial volume is Castor’s sister and Popeye’s future paramour, Olive Oyl as well as the first appearance of the Sea Hag, originally one of the scariest strip villains of them all!
Visually and verbally inventive, Segar’s run on THIMBLE THEATRE stands with the work of the best humorists of the early twentieth century. In fact, as times have changed, much of the prose humor of the period doesn’t really hold up all that well but this strip is at turns exciting, amusing and endlessly ingratiating. In almost no time, Popeye takes center stage at the THIMBLE THEATRE never to relinquish it again. It’s about time whole new generations will get to discover the wonder of one of the very best comic strips and the true, unexpurgated version of a character they THINK they’ve known for years.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wonder Woman Paper Drive Ad-1944


Okay, okay, I know. Enough with Wonder Woman already. Sorry but here's yet another example of why golden age comic books are so rare and expensive. Ads like these encouraged kids to turn in old newspapers--AND COMICS-- to the government for recycling. AARRGH!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

1940's Cereal Ads






Yaaaawn! It's early on a sleepy Sunday morning so let's have some Breakfast! Here are a few vintage cereal ads from mid-late forties comics!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

All American House Ad


Here's yet another cool house ad, this time from the All American Comics company. Although we think of them as DC characters today, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and the Justice Society were all actually published by All-American, a sister company to DC (which published Batman and Superman). It was kind of like the deal that DC has with some of the smaller companies today. There were some crossovers and cross promotion but they really were two different companies. In fact, in the late forties, All American publisher Max Gaines took his company out of the mix. DC ended up with the super heroes and the remaining books continued to be published as DC titles. Gaines took only his PICTURE STORIES FROM THE BIBLE and PICTURE STORIES FROM AMERICAN HISTORY and used them to spearhead the new direction for All-American which he now renamed Educational Comics or EC Comics. After his sudden death in an accident just a few years later, of course, the companywould fall to his son, Bill Gaines. Ditching the failing trend, Bill would rechristan EC as Entertaining Comics and, along with Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman, go on to create not one but several legends, not the least of which was MAD. In the seventies, MAD would end up connected to DC through various corporate takeovers and by the new century this last remaining vestige of All American Comics was now finally officially being published by DC. If you're in Columbus, Ohio don't miss Mark Evanier interviewing EC's Al Feldstein this weekend at Mid-Ohio Con!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Jerry Bails


I never met him but I always kind of idolized Dr. Jerry Bails who died today at 73. I think its safe to say that comic book fandom as we know it would not exist if not for Jerry. So great was his influence amongst fans and pros alike that it's probably a safe bet to say that comic books themselves as we know them might not exist if it had't been for Jerry. Jerry's childhood appreciation of the Justice Society of America led him as an adult to correspond with creator Gardner Fox and Editor Julius Schwartz who were very open to his suggestions. A lot of the comics blogs will give more of the specifics but here's a link to a 2004 interview with the man himself:COMICON.com: OF FANS & FANDOM: THE JERRY BAILS INTERVIEW Rest in Peace, sir...and a belated thank you.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Superman and the Mole Men



Here's a rare comic book ad for the 1951 SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN movie. A short film made an a very low budget, this film followed the two Kirk Alyn serials and introduced George Reeves in the role. Whether or not it was intended to do so, it served as the pilot for the subsequent (and now beloved) TV series, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Reeves is perfect right out of the gate, authoritative as both the Man of Steel and supposedly mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. Although paced rather slowly and featuring some pretty heavy (for the time) anti-racism themes, the movie was later edited down to fill two half hour episodes of the series. More recently, its resurfaced on DVD in its original form.

Pop Things I'm Thankful For Today


Linda Blair, Godzilla, Ugly Betty, Wonder Woman, The Beatles, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Sam Spade, Vincent Price, The Monkees, Dracula, Linda Lovelace, Laurell K. Hamilton, Scrooge McDuck, Harry Potter, That Girl, Bewitched, The Munsters, Heroes, Dr. Who, Torchwood, Pokemon, Speed Racer, Jack Benny, Johnny Dollar, Pink Floyd, Quisp and Quake, Bullwinkle and Rocky, Mister Magoo, Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, Popeye, Peanuts, Sugar and Spike, DC Showcases, Marvel Essentials, Super Hero Movies, Boris Karloff, The Thin Man, Indiana Jones, 007, Lenny Henry, Star Trek, Pure Prairie League, The Menomonee Falls Gazette, Alan Hanley, the Blogosphere, Ray Bradbury, FJA, Carry On Films, Asterix, The Wizard of Oz, Mad, Playboy, Pixar, Andrea Romano and hundreds of others! If we haven't written about them yet, we will so stay tuned! (If I ever get my #$%@!! scanner fixed, we might even catch up a bit!)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Beatles-All You Need is NOT Love



In the sixties, the Beatles were background figures to me. I would hear their music from time to time on the radio or on television but I wasn’t sure what their names were. I saw HELP when it premiered on network television and YELLOW SUBMARINE was one of the first movies I saw without my parents. The first Beatles record I bought was their very last single before the breakup-THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD. My first album was THE BEATLES AGAIN (AKA HEY JUDE), that hodgepodge compilation of leftovers and singles that Capitol put together that same year. Better late than never I guess because after that there was just no stopping me. Beatles books fill one entire bookcase here at the Library and we won’t even discuss how much Beatles music we’ve gotten over the years.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention, comes LOVE, referred to as the first "new" Beatles album in years. You could actually make a good case for that when you consider that Sir George Martin, the fabs’ producer and the man who actually found ways to put their often lysergically fuelled imaginations on record in the first place, was behind it. If anyone could truly be said to have been a so-called fifth Beatle (besides Stu but that’s a technicality), it was Martin. When Cirque du Soleil, supposedly with the encouragement of the late George Harrison, staged their Beatles-themed Vegas show, they wisely turned to Martin as the man who knew more about Beatle music than the Beatles themselves. The only problem is…it doesn’t work.
Compiled with the assistance of Martin’s son Giles, LOVE offers more than an hour of familiar and classic Beatles tunes sampled, mashed-up and strung vaguely together like a classical suite. It’s clever, it’s different, it’s well done (for the most part) and it even seems to offer the odd bit from lesser-known takes. The problem is that it’s a just a trick—a novelty. The sampling itself seems a tad stodgy (perhaps unavoidably) and the end result, rather than being the majestic piece it strives for, made me long to hear the real songs in the versions John, Paul, George and Ringo wanted released in the first place. You’ll find yourself singing along and suddenly you’ll transition to a different piece with different lyrics. Seemingly at random, Martin samples his own classic product, tossing in beats, horns, stray vocals and background rhythms that seem out of place because they really are. After just a few selections, it becomes a big musical guessing game where Beatle lovers will undoubtedly find themselves listening mostly to identify the next surprise sound. There is no doubt that George Martin contributed mightily to the success of the Beatles but, as is the case of the lads themselves, the sum is more than equal to the individual parts. LOVE may not really be a new Beatles album but it certainly won’t hurt their legendary reputation. As you can see by this shot, they will always be outstanding in their field.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wonder Woman's Creators


Now here's a great photo! Taken from the inside cover of WONDER WOMAN # 2 in 1942, this picture depicts all of the MALE creators of the Amazing Amazon. Well...not REALLY all apparently if you'll note the text by FEMALE Assistant Editor Alice Marble. According to her, Harry Peter, standing, second from left, directed a crew of four assistants to churn out all of the WONDER WOMAN art. If you know your comics history, this is not at all unusual as Siegel and Shuster, Simon and Kirby, Will Eisner and most especially Bob Kane all had assistants and ghosts. After all, this was commerce, not art! The more product you could turn out, the more money. Most histories of WONDER WOMAN, however, note the unusual, "old-fashioned" art style of Peter and seem content to think it was all his and his alone! At left in the picture is the infamous Dr. Marston, noted more as a self-promoter and polyamorist than the pop psychologist he was (and from what I understand, only a CO-creator of the lie detector). At center is young Sheldon Mayer, one of the unsung heroes of the comics, Mayer, a cartoonist himself, edited the All-American line and was a keen judge of talent and creativity. He also, of course, gave us the delightful strips SCRIBBLY and much later SUGAR AND SPIKE, both of which need DC SHOWCASE volumes! Finally, at right, the old man himself M.C. "Charlie" Gaines. According to Gerard Jones' essential comics history, MEN OF TOMORROW, the erroneous notion that Gaines "created" the comic book was largely promoted after the fact by son Bill (of EC and MAD fame). Note the claim here though, proving that Gaines himself was taking the credit much earlier.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mid-Ohio Con


For many years I was unable to attend Mid-Ohio Con in spite of its relative proximity due to the fact that my retail management career dictated the necessity of working on the biggest shopping weekend of the year. This year, with that not being the situation, I asked for and was given next weekend off. Unfortunately, as we're still dealing with the financial effects of having been fired this past summer it turns out that it will not be possible again. Sigh. That said, I wanted to give it a plug as it looks like a great show! Gary Friedrich and Dick Ayers highlight the classic comic creator guests and, along with cancelled but now re-instated guest Herb Trimpe, they're to be interviewed on Saturday by fellow bloggers Mark Evanier and Tony Isabella. MAD's legendary second editor Al Feldstein will be there along with one of my all-time favorites, Louisville's own Don Rosa! Writer/Artist Bill Messner-Loebs is scheduled too! He's been through a hell of a lot in recent years but I always enjoyed his work (particulary JOURNEY) and recall him as a delightful convention guest back in the early eighties! Media guests include, among others, Richard Kline and Joyce DeWitt from THREE'S COMPANY, the great Marcia Wallace, Stan Lee's TV show winner Feedback and SEINFELD'S Soup Nazi, Larry Thomas. If you're reading this blog and you can get to Columbus, Ohio next weekend, I see no reason why you shouldn't go! Heck, if you wanted to write a review of the Con and send it to me, I might even run it here! If you see Mark, Tony or even Don, tell 'em Booksteve says "Hi" and "Maybe next year!" Mid-Ohio-Con Guests

Saturday, November 18, 2006

WWII DC Comic Ads



Here are a couple of interesting ads from an early/mid-forties issue of ACTION COMICS. Ignore the unfortunate stereotype in the SUPERMAN ad ( reproduced here only for historical purposes natch)and you'll note that absolutely everything had a military theme in those days back here on the Home Front. Even the candy bar ads!

Friday, November 17, 2006

More DC Comic Sidekicks






Well, turns out there was at least one that I STILL hadn't heard of so here he is. Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hourman briefly had a comic sidekick named Thorndyke. Short, fat, balding and wearing his turtleneck collar up over his mouth even when he's out of costume. (Note also the hero's little-seen mask as opposed to his more traditional hood). Here's a good shot of the Star Spangled kid's adult comic sidekick, Stripsey, also as well as Vigilante and Stuff, the Chinatown Kid. Also, I mentioned before that the obscure Mister America (see THE GOLDEN AGE mini-series)had a sidekick, Fatman. Here he is in all his Forbush Man-like glory. Check out the fact that his logo is nearly as big as that of the star of the feature! Finally, I was genuinely surprised to find that Wonder Woman's chubby l'l buddy, the inimitable Etta Candy, actually headlined her OWN series, written and drawn by WW's creators.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hop Harrigan-DC's Forgotten Hero



DC’s most forgotten hero would have to be HOP HARRIGAN. HOP HARRIGAN was an early aviation strip about a blonde, handsome young pilot and his chubby sidekick, "Tank." Inspired by various newspaper pilots (and even presaging Caniff’s STEVE CANYON to some extent), the strip was created, drawn (and written?) by Jon L. Blummer and ran in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS beginning in 1939. Although relatively undistinguished except for its aviation art, it was popular enough to merit monthly inclusion in COMIC CAVALCADE a few years later also alongside WONDER WOMAN, FLASH and GREEN LANTERN. By that time there was a war on and Hop had enlisted, making the strip at times very similar to TERRY AND THE PIRATES. Like most war-themed strips during the Big One, Hop’s popularity soared as high as his plane could fly leading to a six year radio series at ABC and later Mutual, right down the hall from SUPERMAN! By contrast, BATMAN never had a radio series, appearing only as a sometime guest-star with his Kryptonian friend. What’s that I hear you saying? Batman at least had has own serials! Well, so did Hop with fifteen chapters beginning in 1946. He even had an extremely popular fan club. That’s just it. For all intents and purposes, at one time Hop Harrigan was as popular as they came in comics. It’s just that no one seems to know him today. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Random Wonder Woman Weirdness


When I was a kid my mother used to tell me how she had raised her niece almost like a daughter. The two of them would sit around and read the absolute only comic book they liked-WONDER WOMAN! Now, even though I was a self-styled comic expert from an early age, I didn’t "get" WONDER WOMAN at all. I liked the Andru-Esposito art but the goofy villains (the Paper Man, Egg Fu) of the camp sixties could hardly make up for the goofy, sexist scripts (mostly by Robert Kanigher). The 1940’s and ‘50’s reprints, with their eccentric, almost woodcut-like art by Harry G. Peter, were even more bizarre with the heroine consistently being tied up and lots of talk about "loving submission" and "Sappho" and female domination.If you check out Les Daniels’ WONDER WOMAN book of a few years back, you’ll get an idea about the unusual (to say the least!) life of William Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator, and how his progressive(?) beliefs and lifestyle affected his very calculated creation of WW and, ultimately, the young people of this country!
Lately, though, I’ve been able to reassess WONDER WOMAN and, for the first time, read a number of the original stories. Surprisingly, I found them uniquely stylized and much more entertaining than I had expected. Spotting random panels of kinky weirdness in 1940’s WONDER WOMAN stories is unfairly simple but here are a few.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Vintage JSA Ad


Traditionally, one thinks of Superman and Batman as members of the Justice Society of America but in actuality the World's Finest friends appeared participated in only one actual adventure. This inside cover ad from a 1947 WONDER WOMAN heralds that historic appearance. The real reason probably has something to do with the fact that Supes and Bats were technically DC characters while the JSA featured characters published by DC's "sister" company, All-American Comics. After Max Gaines' death around this time the two companies fully merged.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Walt Disney Treasure Chest


In those heady mid-40's days before DVD's and VCR's--heck, practically before video at all!--this was what the average person had to settle for if they wanted to watch a Disney film at home. Note though that these are 16mm filmSTRIPS, not actual movies. The 64 scenes referred to are simply individual frames! You'd sit in a dark room (or closet) and shine the image on the wall through the viewer. Now we sit in our living rooms and watch FANTASIA in stereo on our 88 inch plasma wallscreens. Things change!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Linda Blair and Supernatural



Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) are in their second season of travelling the video highways of this country in kind of a metaphysical ROUTE 66. They’re the main characters in SUPERNATURAL, a CW TV series to which I quite frankly paid no attention at all until Linda Blair guested in this past week’s episode. It’s good. Not great but good. The actors playing the ghost-hunting siblings are charismatic, the effects are good and the script is sometimes fairly sharp. Of course the highlight of the most recent episode was the appearance of Linda Blair. In her first major TV role in ages, our favorite former child star plays her age as a seasoned, tough but compassionate cop who stumbles on something out of the ordinary—a real ghost! Looking a bit weathered and tired (presumably on purpose for the role), Linda gives a contextually believable performance. She has a deft way with a line and her emotions flow naturally as she slowly comes to believe in the supernatural and question other aspects of her life. It’s a solid performance. Unfortunately, the writers couldn’t leave it at that and had to throw in an EXORCIST gag at the end, turning the whole thing into a piece of stunt-casting. Unless Linda Blair's detective returns, I may not go out of my way to watch SUPERNATURAL on the CW network again but I enjoyed it quite a bit this time. For those of you that like this sort of thing, I venture to say that you might, too. Here's a link to the official website where you can view clips from this and other episodes:Shows - Supernatural

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sgt. Fury For Veterans Day



It’s Veterans Day again. Time to (metaphorically at least) quaff a few root beers with Snoopy and Bill Mauldin. In my case this year, I’ve been reading a long run of Marvel’s SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS. Termed "the war mag for people who hate war mags," SGT FURY is violent, poignant, cliched, and generally very enjoyable. Ostensibly more realistic than say, BLACKHAWK, it’s pretty much the same setup. Seven (later eight) guys from various backgrounds and nationalities pretty much winning the war by themselves in true John Wayne fashion and wisecracking their way through Europe and Asia. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the early issues establishing the characters were based on the artist’s love of old movies (and probably more than a bit of influence from TV’s then-popular COMBAT). Kirby’s regular Marvel inker from the period, Dick Ayers went on to become the chief penciller on the series and youthful Gary Friedrich took over the reins as writer for several peak years offering a decidedly sixties perspective on the WWII setting of the series.
My all-time favorite issue is the 1968 Annual. Set in then-present day, it tells of S.H.I.E.L.D.s Colonel Fury reuniting with all of the Howlers at Christmas at sidekick Dum-Dum Dugan’s house. During the course of the day, he tells the kids in the house old war stories including the ultimate Howler triumph at the Battle of the Bulge. Friedrich and Ayers, aided and abetted by the supreme inks of the legendary John Severin, pull out all the stops for this one. After a nice, quiet ending, we even get a short humor piece about the creation of the book itself as done by the same folks! Ayers and Friedrich, it should be noted, are scheduled to appear at Mid-Ohio-Con in a couple weeks, veterans reunited themselves for the first time in many years. If you’re near Columbus, yell "Wah-Hoo!!" and head over to the Convention Center to see ‘em interviewed by Mark Evanier and Tony Isabella.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Doctor Fate


In the sixties, perhaps because of a general renewed interest in mysticism, Doctor Fate was coolness personified. In his all-too infrequent DC appearances (he was, after all, one of the "retired" Earth 2 heroes) he looked cool, acted cool and, with the possible exception of the Spectre, you just knew he could take anybody else in the room and kick their metaphysical butt! If Fate appeared in a comic, that comic’s trade value amongst us kids was doubled. Hard to believe that he was pretty much an also-ran in his original 1940’s run in MORE FUN COMICS. The sixties version was based more-or-less on the early Fate stories. After awhile, somebody decided they didn’t like the helmet and the half helmet look was born. With it, the pretentious magic-themed stories and dialogue were gone. While these stories have rarely been reprinted, even they were supplanted by the final forties version of Doctor Fate, still with the half helmet but now sans cape and even without his goofy shoulder-thingies. In that form, he was just a slightly magical run-of-the-mill crimefighter who, because of his color scheme, strongly resembled Jack Kirby’s Guardian. The continuity-wise kids of the sixties were given some half-hearted explanation for all of this even though they didn’t actually remember the original stories anyway. Over time, Fate got more and more mystical and his continuity got so convoluted that his worst enemy probably wouldn’t even recognize him. They keep reviving him in one form or another, though, because the folks running the industry today are the fans of yesterday. And yesterday, Doctor Fate was cool.