Friday, March 29, 2019

Rare Berni Wrightson Artwork

Actually, it probably had a bigger print run than any comic book he was ever in but was likely lining bird cages the next day. These were illustrations Wrightson did for the Baltimore Sun in mid-1968. Were there more? Possibly. These were all done to illustrate specific articles. Note the "Neal" on the one. A shoutout to Adams? Seems unlikely Wrightson would have met Neal by this point but possible. Adams had been drawing for DC for a year or so already, though, and everyone took notice of him immediately. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Review: James Warren: Empire of Monsters

JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS is the latest book from award-winning comics historian Bill Schelly and I’ll tell you right up front, it’s another good one. 

I didn’t pick up my first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND until 1970, at the ripe old age of 11. I had seen it around, along with CREEPY, EERIE and more recently VAMPIRELLA, but they had always looked to me like grown-up things so I had avoided them. 

Suddenly my whole world was changed as I began to discover not just monster movies but the men behind them—the Chaneys, Karloff, Lugosi, Lorre, Rathbone, Carradine, Cushing, and Lee. Not to mention Ray Harryhausen!  FM also introduced me to Forrest J. Ackerman, a man whose influence on pop culture is probably immeasurable…and yet a man whom I NOW know, thanks to this book, doesn’t really get ALL the credit for that. 

The biggest contribution Schelly’s book makes is to clarify Jim Warren’s position as far as the Warren mags go, and it’s a lot more substantial than many of us ever knew. Unlike many publishers, Warren was never just a money man. He was very much hands-on for all of his mags, not just hiring the right people (and sometimes the wrong ones) but also adding heavily to the look, feel, design, editorial, and publicity of his own publications. While FJA was most definitely the public face of FM, it turns out that Warren himself was the mag’s heart for much of its run. 

And the same can be said for CREEPY and EERIE. Warren is here even given more credit than known before for the creation of Vampirella!

Along with his little-known creative contributions, we also get the story of the man himself. An eccentric enigma by nearly all accounts, we see him rise from a cheesy Hef wannabe in Philadelphia in the 1950s to a successful Manhattan magnate in his own right with a Sopwith Camel airplane in his yard. 

With FM, Warren fostered a generation or two of Monster Kids who went on to create our modern movies, books, and TV shows. With CREEPY and EERIE, he revolutionized comics by not only reviving the dreaded horror comics of a decade earlier but making them for adults, without Comics Code interference. With VAMPIRELLA a few years later, he threw sex into the mix, to the particular delight of many young male readers. (One of my own early comics letters was published in an issue of VAMPIRELLA!)

Schelly’s prose is, as always, quite readable, laying out Warren’s story in more or less chronological order, complete with facts, rumors, and gossip from many credited sources, and yet without the elitist attitude many books of this type adopt. 

My very first Warren publication, long before my first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS, was ON THE SCENE: SUPER HEROES, a 1966 BATMAN cash-in mag that reprinted articles about old movie serials like Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel from Warren’s SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED. The articles were new to 7-year-old me, though, and stoked my early interest in old movies. That mag is not mentioned here, though. 

THE FLINTSTONES AT THE NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR is another Warren publication I would have liked to have learned more about but it’s only briefly noted by the author in passing. Printed in 1964 and sold at the actual World’s Fair, it was Warren’s only full color comic book and even features a very recognizable cameo of the publisher himself.

But no book of this type can be truly complete, and what IS in this one has dramatically changed my whole way of thinking of Jim Warren, his place in pop history, and even his influence in my own life. 

Published by Fantagraphics, JAMES WARREN: EMPIRE OF MONSTERS is another solid, well-researched biography from Bill Schelly. I really can’t wait to see who’s up after this. With the track record Schelly’s established, I’ll definitely be there for his next one.

Booksteve recommends. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Bobby Blake as Little Beaver-1947

Poor Bobby Blake was already having a rough life at home as a child so he was probably happy to travel around doing this publicity tour between Red Ryder pictures. He was terrible as Mickey (his real name) in the late Our Gang pictures but quite good--and cute--as Red's sidekick, Little Beaver. By the time he was an adult, of course, he was capable of brilliant performances but was known to be volatile in real life.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Review: Shooting the Breeze With Baby Boomer Stars by Torchy Smith

Torchy Smith’s new book of celebrity essays, SHOOTING THE BREEZE WITH BABY BOOMER STARS, is fun but frustrating. Although subtitled, “Surprising Conversations for the Retro Generation,” it isn’t at all the collection of interviews that seems to imply. In fact, most chapters spend more time discussing HOW the author arranged the interviews he got than they do actually quoting the interviewee. The interviews themselves seem confined to the author’s radio show.

As a sometime celebrity interviewer, myself, though, I really appreciated the behind-the-scenes info. I just wasn’t expecting to find so much of it here. Another problem is that, as a professional proofreader and fact-checker, the many typos and other issues in my PDF review copy that should have been caught in the editing and proofing stages distract from the reading. Hopefully, they’ve been corrected in the actual book.

Note, though, that I wrote “distract,” not “detract.” The bottom line on any kind of book like this is if the reader enjoyed it and if the reader learned something. And nearly every chapter of this one had something in it I didn’t know about people I have “known” my entire life.

Most of the volume is made up of Torchy’s visits with my childhood “imaginary friends,” people I saw so much on television in my formidable years that I couldn’t help but feel I actually knew them; people who, to this day when I see them, or read about them, I automatically smile.

Tommy Kirk, Angela Cartwright, Butch Patrick, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Cindy Williams, Bobby Burgess, Jerry Mathers, Clint Howard, Pat Priest, and a couple dozen more. 

These are not formal interviews, just casual conversations. There is no effort to give a complete summary of any one person’s career, just a basic overview. Nor is it a gossipy book as some well-known scandalous behavior is glossed over or completely left out, as are whole parts of some people’s careers.  

But what IS there is often choice info, and while some chapters have a perhaps unavoidable air of regret or disappointment, it’s good to know that so many of these memorable folks turned out just fine, even if they didn’t continue on in the public eye. 

Another point I particularly liked was that Torchy Smith himself is a character here. In fact, rather than just cold facts, the book isn’t so much about these other people as it is about him and his particular relationships with them, then and now. They were his imaginary friends, too, you see, and now he’s gotten the chance to actually spend some time with them. You know what they say. Any friend of MY imaginary friends is a friend of mine! 

There is a quote in here that struck me as playing on how all of us Boomers have so much in common still. “Fortunately, nostalgia-themed channels…help keep the retro baby-booming generation alive and on their toes, including my toes. So I think we’re all grateful for that. I don’t want my toes anywhere but on my feet while I’m standing up and breathing. And unless you have one of those feet in the past, you don’t have the right perspective for the present—or any leg to stand on.” That may sound a bit convoluted but I GET it. I think most reader my age would.

Thank you, sir, for the chance to vicariously renew so many old acquaintances. No matter our differences, and no matter the inevitable changes of time, I still smiled as I finished nearly every single chapter.  

Booksteve recommends.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

R.I.P. Erica Hagen

Sad news coming from my friend Kathy Coleman who reports finding out today that her memorable LAND OF THE LOST co-star Erica Hagen died this past September. So happy that I talked Kathy into getting Erica to write the Foreword to LOST GIRL/RUN HOLLY RUN. They were able--see below--to get together one last time.

Erica Hagen also appeared in several movies including SOYLENT GREEN and THUNDERBOLT & LIGHTFOOT, as well as many TV series in the '70s. See the clippings below to find out why she left acting. 

Kathy writes: She was a beauty on the outside and even more gorgeous on the inside. When I got together with her to write my book intro, I told her the profound effect she had on me as a child. She said " Me?, I had no idea". She then giggled. I could tell that that made her happy. More beauty for the heavens!

Don Deitesfeld, Collector

Anyone know whatever happened to this guy? I know he was Art Editor of his school paper or mag at Bowling Green in the late 1940s and that at least some of his collection has ended up in the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Review: Wally Wood Dare-Devil Aces

Have I mentioned that it’s a good time to be a Wally Wood fan? There have been so many great books covering Wood’s life, art, and career in one or more capacities in recent years that a fan could easily fill a bookcase with nothing but wonderful Woodwork!

The latest of these books is Vanguard’s cleverly titled DARE-DEVIL ACES, subtitled “Commandos and Other Sagas of War.” As you might suspect from that title, this is a collection of Wood’s war-related comics stories. Well, most of them anyway. Avoiding repetition, the already widely printed EC’s and the separately published BLAZING COMBAT pieces are instead covered herein via informative text pieces and some original art pages.  

The meat of this volume consists of lesser-known material originally published by Charlton, Harvey, Avon, Tower, and even DC Comics. Military comic books flourished throughout the 1950s and into the ‘60s until ant-Vietnam sentiment began driving many of them out of business. Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury managed to hang on a bit longer, as did a few under-the-radar Charlton titles, but the boom had ended. 

While the boom lasted, though, Woody contributed some typically attractively drawn pieces, some concurrent to his amazing MAD years, and those often uncredited—but easily recognizable—stories are to be found here.

Storywise, most are lacking in comparison to Harvey Kurtzman’s highly researched war/anti-war EC’s but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of Wood’s art, which is really why you’re here. In fact, most of these stories, originally printed on cheap pulp paper (REALLY cheap pulp paper in the case of the Charltons!) have never looked better. The decision to reproduce from the original comics on slick paper goes a long way toward covering up many of the printing flaws of the original comics.

And make no mistake! While some of the examples here might be considered lesser Wood, we’re also treated to The Lone Tiger and Dollar Bill Cash from 1966, considered by many to be some of the artist’s very best work of that decade. And Cannon! Wood’s own paramilitary strip superspy character that ran in the Overseas Weekly for years is represented here by the stories from both issues of Heroes, Inc., done with the great Steve Ditko! Dan Adkins, Maurice Whitman, and Russ Jones are also credited as working with Wood on a number of the pieces at hand. 

Available in multiple editions, Dare-Devil Aces is a particularly attractive book and yet another choice addition to that Wallace Wood bookcase from Vanguard Publishing. With more to come, Wood fans might want to start shopping for bigger bookcases!

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Doc Savage on the Air-1934

As far as I know, there are no circulating episodes of this particular DOC SAVAGE series of 15 minute episodes from 1934. Or of his 1940s series for that matter! The whole series of 1980s episodes can be found online, though.

Monday, March 04, 2019