Archive for the ‘General’ Category
Monday, September 15, 2014
Monday, September 8, 2014
This week I’ll be revisiting Popular Comics, a particularly strong looking anthology title that had always featured wonderfully designed covers. For most of it’s run its breads and various butters were comic strip reprints but for a time it had it’s own stable of original characters. Most of these were surprisingly well written and drawn and even gave original takes on tropes that were pretty well trod even by the early 1940′s.
Take, for example, the awkwardly titled Professor Supermind and Son. Handsomely drawn by Maurice Kashuba the feature concerned Professor Harmon (“America’s Supermind” was apparently his nickname; apparently all the good ones were already taken) and his son. One of his inventions temporarily turned junior into a kind of a minimalist, generic superhero (no pseudonym, no chest insignia, etc.) but instead of fighting crime they meddled into the affairs of sovereign nations. Captain America and Johnny Canuck may have punched Hitler in the jaw, but Dan Harmon did some real damage by shaming him with a misogynistic slur. Either that or he was outing Hitler as a female crossdresser; I’m not sure which.
I’ve covered The Hurricane Kids, Alan and Dave Burnham, are a couple of All-American kids who generally had pretty prosaic South Sea style adventures, in a previous installment. But thankfully they did veer over into the fantastic elements lane as we see where they go from battling Zulus to blowing up a dinosaur real good.
But there were still comic strip reprints like Herky. Man, I love me that Herky.
Heere’s an episode of Martan the Marvel Man who sadly isn’t from Mars to make the alliteration complete. Not that you could tell from his his outing which is heavy on the spy vs spy stuff but along with a hot wife he possessed super powers and a alien/super suit. It was a sweet like number that was vaguely faux Roman with kickass shoulder pads (lots of 40′s superheroes fought crime with bare legs but Martan was the only one I know of who did it in a skirt; a skirt that shorter than his wives).
Wally Williams was one of those college boy heroes whose minor key “adventures” fill the middle of many a 40′s anthology comic. Most of them were super student athletes battling jealous rivals, shady gamblers and Nazi spy rings that they conveniently found operating in the closest conveniently located haunted house; essentially endless pressings from the Frank Merriwell template. It’s the sort of thing I usually leaf through to get to something more substantial but creators Victor Boni and Tom Hickey happily foreswore such trite antics and created something nicely homey and ordinary.
On the other hand The Masked Pilot was just another aviator with a domino mask. Pass.
And finally there’s The Voice who was more Invisible Man as a low rent superhero than a factory second Shadow. But he was also kind of that as well.
Monday, August 25, 2014
I’ve already dealt with Smash, the British weekly comic that ran 257 issues between 1966 and 1971 that featured an oddball hodgepodge mix of British and American comics, but there’s several points of interest in this 1969 Annual edition of the title. Like, the way the cover doesn’t feature your standard symbolic, iconic image. Instead, it’s first of a three page color story featuring the characters from the humor features (Grimly Feendish, Percy’s Pets, the Swots and the Blots, Bad Penny, The Man from B.U.N.G.L.E., The Nervs, Charlie’s Choice, Ronnie Rich) engaging in a game of footie. While these kinds of crossovers weren’t unknown in British comics they were definitely pretty rare.
First up there’s a nicely drawn outing of undoubtedly the dullest stretchable hero in comics, Rubber Man, formerly James Hollis whose “powers” was actually a cruse given him by an Indian fakir.
Next up the first of two stories featuring the Legend Testers, Rollo Stones and Danny Charters who worked for the Museum of Legend of Myth in the 40th Century and traveled in time to test artifacts to discover whether the legends around them were true. People who know more than me about British artists tell me the art here was done by the series regular artist Jordi Bernet. Like Rubber Man the Legend Testers make a cameo in Albion, the 2005 limited series published by DC.
This one off science fiction story Inferno which appears to be a Spanish origin.
Lieutenant Lightning may very well be the goofiest British superhero of the 60′s, and that’s saying something. For the record his chest insignia reads “Tin”, which is the name of the future organization that emplows him.
Monday, August 18, 2014
You may very well consider this week’s installment of whatever the hell this is supposed a deviation from it’s designated mission station, that being to read all the comic books I’ve always wanted to read before I died. Not to mention the fact it’s a new all-time low in my over reliance on what I generously like to thin of as the cut and paste school of journal (pick a subject, do some research, collect images, read other peoples posts then do a bit of cut and pasting; rewrite and you’re done). But truthfully I am just as over fascinated with comic strips as I am comic books and that goes double for Hugo Hercules, William H.D. Koerner’s short-lived strip. It ran for five months, September 1902 to January 1903 in the Chicago Tribune and is thought by many to be the funny pages very first superhuman. Albeit one who didn’t wage an never ending battle against evil so much as wander around aimlessly sans agency or visible means of support looking for cool stuff to do. The strip itself was admittedly pretty meh; like a lot of early strips it relentlessly stuck to a repetitious single theme and rarely deviated from it. In this case Hugo getting mixed up in stock situations that require a demonstration of super strength, punctuated by his not particularly catchy catch phrase.
Not being what you’d call a success Koerner left cartooning to become a painter. In a lot of ways it’s still ahead of its time; as much as the trope of the superhuman has been, often brutally, deconstructed, no one to my knowledge has created so casual a ‘crimefighter’; maybe it’s time for someone to dust Hugo off and see what they could do with him..
Monday, August 11, 2014
I wish I could explain how my brain works because frankly it’s inner workings are a mystery to even me. Perhaps it’s just a symptom of my ADHD driven obsessive-compulsive nature but I tend to get “over fascinated” (which is probably the most polite thing you could call it) with certain things. For example, Henry Brewster, a short-lived teen comic from 1966 drawn (and presumably written) by Golden Age artist Bob Powell, a.k.a. Stanley Robert Pawlowski. Powell is know for his work on Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, Mr. Mystic and the Mars Attack cards and while those credits clearly show he was an incredibly versatile artist seeing him do teen comics is still a little strange, not to mention a bit unsettling. These comics are are drawn in a distinctive loose, scratchy style, which would make these comics oddball enough but Henry (no relation to Punky) Brewster is plenty peculiar in a lot of other ways.
First off there’s the format; a 25 cent, bimonthly comic of entirely original material (which they should have made much more of; for once a cover banner reading No Reprints wouldn’t have been out of place) just seems kind of ambitious for a neophyte publisher like Myron Frass’s M.F. Enterprises Especially seeing as how it’s only other title was much maligned (for good reason) even shorter-lived version of Captain Marvel – the android version who could dissect himself by yelling “Split!” .
Then there’s the fact Henry Brewster wasn’t yet another pressing from the well worn Archie Comics template. The cast consisted of standard All-American boy Henry, the super strong and literally soft spoken (his dialogue was always lettered at roughly half the size of everyone else’s) Animal, professional weirdo Weenie and “the girls”, who were sadly mostly easily defined by their hair color, prematurely silver haired rich girl Melody and dark haired girl next door Debbie, Though Melody did develop some depth over the course of the series; in #1 she coldly rejects the hapless, love struck Weenie so often”Go away!” threatens to become her catch phrase, but by #6 she actually appears to be going out with him (or at least willing to be seen holding his, ew, hand). Which is odd seeing as how along with being a hardcore goofball who sometimes seems like he’s stolen an middle schoolers clothes as drawn Weenie is grotesque he could easily be a background character in a Gilbert Herandez Love & Rockets story.
While the adults in Archie Comics were frequently spectacularly exasperated to the point of hair pulling by the Riverdale Gangs innocent antics grown ups in Henry Brewster instinctively get that Henry and company were basically good kids who just wanted to be helpful. But after more or less ignoring anything specifically 1960′s (except for a story in #1 where the gang gets into a Beatles analog band called “The Baldies” which leads them, including some of the girls, to shave their heads, placing them several decades ahead of their time) this issue gets hip deep into super secret agents and supervillains.
Admittedly this was what got me over fascinated in Henry Brewster – that and it’s cover. I mean, seriously, what the hell is that thing standing behind Henry supposed to be? Some kind of African cat god? An extraterrestrial bent on world domination? I had absolutely no clue and ached to know, though I knew in my heart that chances were I’d never get to read it. But then I didn’t reckon with the internet; almost all things are possible with the internet.
Before they get to the super spies and villains the gang has a positively Scooby Dooesque encounter in a haunted house. But here the mysterious figure isn’t trying to scare them off because he’s searching for hidden treasure or running a counterfeiting ring out of it’s basement but just some poor schlub testing amusement for a spook house. Though instead of wearing a creepy rubber mask for some reason he decides to dress like a minor league pre-1965 Marvel villain.
And here the gang gets involved in 60′s style super spy stuff…
And finally they face an actual supervillain, well, kind of a supervillain, a broad parody of a TV Batman villain anyway. One Tome B. Bukwurm.
He’s…well, I don’t properly know exactly what he’s supposed to be. Is he a mole man (one crossed with Professor Kelp from The Nutty Professor) or just a guy dressed up like a mole man? Albeit a mole man dressed in a Transylvanian space outfit for a showing of The Rocky Horror Show. And that goes double for his henches, who look like mole man members of The Rat Pack? Are they a crime gang or do they represent an incursion by a race of subterranean creatures bent on world domination? After all that anticipation I was frankly disappointed by Bukwurm’s unnecessarily exaggerated goofiness, making me wish even harder that the creature on the cover actually appeared in the comic. Which is only when it finally occurred to me…
is the creature on the cover! As the saying goes, if it had been a snake it would have bit me. But this raises even more questions. Is it suppose to be one of those ‘symbolic’ covers or did Powell forget what the character was originally supposed to look like, or did he change his mind about his appearance after the cover was drawn?
And finally, here’s a couple more stories without any fantastic elements that manage to be quite a bit of fun.
Monday, July 7, 2014
I am not much one for Westerns; life in the Wild West always seemed like the worst possible combination of camping and gym, which seemed like a nightmarish hellscape to a fat kid like me. Oh, I’m not made of stone. Some of my favorite movies (Cat Balou, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, etc.) and TV shows (Maverick, Wild, Wild West, etc.) are westerns. But when it comes to comics, I’m pretty much ‘meh’ on the genre. But in years past while idly leaving through the Overstreet Price Guide I would find myself staring wistfully at the beautifully painted covers of Kid Cowboy, a Ziff-Davis series that ran for ten issues between 1950 and 1952. But it wasn’t just the covers; I have to admit I was intrigued by both the kid’s snazzy cowboy outfit and the comic’s title; Kid Cowboy is without question a strong contender for “Most On The Nose” title for a comic. And it’s sub-title, “Boy Marvel of the Wild West!” was no slouch either. It was one of those comics I dreamily dreamed about one day reading, never really believing I’d ever get the chance.
The Kid dresses like Gene Autrey and shoots like The Lone Ranger and has one of those ”raised by Indians” origins that were fairly common back in the day. Being a white guy I can’t say for certain but the stories do a fairly good job of depicting Indian life, or at least go out off their way to show that Native Americans weren’t backward savages. Along with his
and the stories do a fairly good job of depicting Indian life (being a white guy I can not say for certain, but at the very least the stories go out of their way to show Indians weren’t backward savages). Along with his childhood chum Red Feather without benefit of either agency or visible means of support The Kid just went around helping people, the way cowboys only did in the pages of fiction. Standard stuff, yes, but once you get past the John Buscema (!) cover of #1 you really can’t complain about the contents by Ogden Whitney and Bob Brown.
Monday, May 26, 2014
On my short list of comic strips I wish King Features should start running in the Vintaage section of their website is Barney Baxter in the Air by (Not That) Frank Miller. It was a pretty prosaic airplane strip about a not particularly attractive plane crazy kid who was always having standard issue aviation adventures until like everybody else of the era he got swept up into WWII. It started in 1935 and lasted (surprisingly) until 1950, a fairly healthy lifespan for a strip. It’s perfectly understandable if you’ve never head of it because though fairly popular in its day it’s only appearances in other media consisted of a couple of comic books reprints and a Big Little Book.
The plots were basic, the “characters” nearly non-existent, but the art…oh, gosh, could this Frank Miller draw pretty. Airplanes, girls, animals, the guy was just gold.
About the most interesting thing about the strip was its comic grotesque sidekick Gopher Gus, who looked more than a little like Popeye crossed with chinless wonder Andy Gump. Gus was your standard colorful old prospector type who made an unlikely career switch by becoming a surprising competent pilot after meeting Barney. Though it’s clear from the second panel things after the end of the war science fiction elements creeped into the strip as Barney and Gus somehow made it to the moon.
And here’s the final Sunday from 1950, the art still looking darn good.
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