Friday, April 12, 2013

Here's to "The Other Guys"

Karen: Today I want to talk about those unsung heroes, whether in comics or music or any other media, the ones standing just to the side of the stars, whose contributions are significant but frequently overlooked.

In comics, I'd say a lot of inkers fall into this category. The most prominent in my  mind would be Terry Austin on X-Men. I can't even imagine that book without his beautiful fine line work.  Nowadays when I think of the creative team for that incredible run, I think Claremont-Byrne-Austin, because I have no doubt that his art work helped define the look and feel of the book every bit as much as John Byrne's pencils.

Another great inker has to be Joltin' Joe Sinnott, who gave the Fantastic Four a sense of continuity regardless of who was drawing the book. He's a strong inker, yes, but a good one.Sinnott deserves to be included in any discussion of the FF from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

A few weeks ago we discussed the original Star Trek TV series, and the bad blood between star William Shatner and some of the supporting cast. While the show undoubtedly revolved around Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Deforest Kelley, would it have been quite as fun or had the same flavor without the efforts of Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, or Walter Koenig in their respective roles?  I have a hard time imagining anyone else but Doohan saying, "I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain!" or anyone else doing that excruciating Russian accent than Koenig.

Recently I saw a documentary on the Eagles, and was struck by how much band members Don Felder, Bernie Leadon, and Joe Walsh brought to the group. So much is made of Glenn Frey and Don Henley as the songwriters of the band, but many of the big hits for the group were developed out of riffs that those three guitarists came up with. Where would the band be without them?

And what about the greatest pop band of all? There's that famous quote from John Lennon, which sadly I couldn't find as we go to press, but went something along the lines of, "It could have been me and Paul and any two other guys." I have a hard time believing that! I think the unique chemistry of the four Beatles was directly responsible for much of the band's success. To dismiss George and Ringo so callously seems very short-sighted. 

There are a ton of other unsung heroes out there - so start naming them!


J.A. Morris said...

It's early, so I'll probably be back with more.

This has been discussed here before,but the first guy I thought of was Klaus Janson. Everyone talks about Miller's work on Daredevil & Dark Knight (and rightly so). But Janson brought as much to the look of DD as Miller. Look at Miller's work without Janson, it's not the same.

So when people talk to me about the greatness of Miller, I often say "you mean, Miller and Janson?".

Rip Jagger said...

I think in comics, the most often overlooked talents are the Letterers. Since that business has been overwhelmingly taken over by assorted computer generated "fonts", the personal touch often so distinctive has been driven from the field.

Lettering is one of those items you don't notice unless it's not working well. Recently I was reading Martin Powell's excellent adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles drawn by Jamie Chase and it looked great, except for a lettering choice to do Watson's reports to Holmes in a script font which proved to my weary eyes too dang hard to read. I had to fall out of the story to decipher the code of those words. It was a problem.

Likewise, we take veteran talents like Artie Simek, Joe Rosen, Ben Oda, Ira Schnapp, John Workman, Todd Klein, Gaspar Saldino and others for granted because they were so consistent and reliable.

Charlton is notorious for its use of "A. Machine", which referred to an attempt to dodge the Letterer requirement all together by using a type-setting device to do bubbles and captions. It certainly gives the books which used it a distinctive look, but lacked something which the warm hand of a real person can deliver.

I always most impressed by Jim Aparo in that he not only inked most of his own work before coming to DC, but he also lettered it. Pat Boyette did the same thing. These guys were workhorses who could be counted on to deliver fully rendered pages ready for printing on time. Their lettering was no small part of that overall package.

Modern fonts mimic that but there rock steady reliability is different in kind somehow than the old fashioned reliability of veteran letterers. The difference between a metronome and a heartbeat, both regular, but only one alive and properly vivid.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

As far as comics goes, Rip completely beat me to the punch: the first thing that came to mind as I read the post was - "letterers." I totally agree with Rip's points about how important the lettering is to the overall appearance of the finished product, and how often nobody even thinks of them when discussing creative teams.
So I would add yet another crucial factor to the final appearance of the comics we so loved: the colorists. Back then, I know Glynnis Wein was probably my favorite colorist. She added so much to Cockrum and Byrne/Austin's art in X-men, and Byrne's Fantastic Four art. Since Rip mentioned Aparo and Boyette, who also did their own lettering, another impressive artist in this regard was P. Craig Russell, who quite often also did the coloring for his art in the 1970s.

Looking beyond comics, and turning to rock, I'd say Robby Krieger of the Doors is one of those all-too-often overlooked or forgotten talents. He's an absolutely brilliant guitar player with a really unique style. Obviously, Jim Morrison, as vocalist and primary lyricist, gave the Doors their identity, but Krieger was vital to creating their dictinct sound. He also wrote a not insignificant number of their best known songs, most notably "Light My Fire," but also "Love Me Two Times", "Touch Me", and (one of my favorites) "Love Her Madly".
By the way, Karen, I'm glad you mentioned Joe Walsh. He's another fantastically talented and innovative guitarist (one of my personal favorites), but, I think, one of the unsung heroes of rock in general.

Anonymous said...


Bob Layton – he’s more responsible for that great run in Iron Man than either DM or JRJR (plotting and inking). Is there any JRJR artwork that equals the stuff Layton inked?

Syd Shores – wonderful over Colan.

Tom Palmer – now, I think he DOES get a lot of recognition, but I think Palmer’s genius was that he improved everyone....from bad artists like Heck (see Xmen 64) to great ones like Adams & Colan and J. Buscema. He was something else.

Janson – Good call, JA . I totally agree. Miller without Janson is indeed half a loaf, but he also vastly uplifted several other pencillers, particularly Sal Buscema, and even the great Gil Kane.

Vince Colletta - I know he gets a lot of stick, and perhaps rightly so, but leaving aside what he deleted, removed & reduced, what he actually delivered had a lovely soft style and pulled up many artists. How many inkers were better on Kirby? I must check sometime if Colletta removed Kirby’s ‘spotting blacks’ as well. Let’s face, that’s one time that none of us would have minded him turning his pencil around to the eraser end.

Frank Giacoia – great on Kane & Kirby, but I remember him for pulling Don Heck up a few notches (right, Doug?)

Dan Adkins – just love him on Kane. He gets onto my list purely for that.

George Klein – now this guy seems all but forgotten, but his style always seemed perfect for super heroes to me. The ‘over-muscled’ look of super heroes often makes them look ridiculous, but Klein’s use of shadow always made them more real, more three dimensional. Lovely on John Buscema. I think the Vision might be unique in that THE definitive artwork on him was in his first outing (57/58) and that was as much to do with Klein as JB.

Dick Giordano – I never read DC, but he was the one person who always made me feel I was missing out. Without Giordano, no Janson?

John Severin – I think we’ve all agreed many times who was wearing the trousers in the Trimpe/Severin relationship.


Rip – good call for picking this up, but I don’t agree you only notice when it doesn’t work. I loved Tom Orzechowski’s small, delicate hand on CBA Xmen. First time I remember really noticing lettering, except whoever it was who used put shouting in jagged speech bubbles in the 70’s (Charlotte Jetter? John Costanza?)


I hate that quote from Lennon, because I love George Harrison. Massively underrated, and not allowed to put more than one track on an album so no wonder ! Seriously, play Harrison’s Best of (Let It Roll) and then play McCartney’s. Harrison kills McCartney. Then get your favourite McCartney solo album (I’m guessing Tug of War or Flaming Pie) and stack it up against Cloud Nine. Harrison kills McCartney AGAIN. Then get ALL your favourite (non Beatle) McCartney collaborations and stack them up against Travelling Wilburys Vol 1. Guess what !


Matt Celis said...

Bashing mcCartney in no way elevates Harrison. You could say the same about lennon best-ofs, they aren't great. Doesn't make harrison superior to lennon.

Matt Celis said...

P.S. If you can find it, "Best o Dark Horse" is a far more
comprehensive best-of for George harrison and about twice as long as "Let It Roll."

J.A. Morris said...

Not to derail the discussion, but I've read lots of Beatles books,I'm not familiar with that Lennon quote. But I'd guess it was something he said shortly after the Beatles broke up. They said lots of hurtful things about each other (and their wives)in the early 70s that they didn't say a few years later.

This was the closest quote I could find:
Lennon in 1971:(responding to a question about the Beatles being more than the sum of their parts):
They remembered that they were four individuals. You see, we believed the Beatles myth, too. I don’t know whether the others still believe it. We were four guys… I met Paul, and said, “You want to join me band?” Then George joined and then Ringo joined. We were just a band that made it very, very, big that’s all. Our best work was never recorded.

Whole interview here:

david_b said...

I certainly won't have as much to offer as you all here (busy day, and I don't keep all these subtle details in my head...), but a fav inker of recent is John Tartaglione, especially on Colan's DD inks.. Just superb. As for others to mention (like Sinnott), there's hardly more to say.

And YES, count me in for bestowing love on the letterers... When I steal away a moment to reflect and browse through my early FF's I find myself drawn to how the captions and scripts are all realized. LOVE the older letterings long before PCs were invented to cover.. NOTHING like the brush-stroke of an actual letterer, a rare skill in and of itself.

BEATLES..: John's comments..? I'd chuck nearly all of 'em, seriously. Especially in the '70s, he was SO FLIM-FLAM about so many details, very contradictory about most subjects. He didn't have a concern for how 'weighty' his words would be documented, he just said 'em as he felt. He could be extremely hurtful, yet he never had 3 closer brothers.

One guy who remains unrecognized was Chip Douglas on the Monkees 'Headquarters' and 'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones' albums. Just LISTEN to his rolling, melodic basslines, he just pulled everything together (he also produced both albums as well..). Granted he took a lot from McCartney's influence, but so did a LOT of folks back then. It really tightened the sound, lifting up a lot of those nifty tracks. AND he created the guitar intro to 'Pleasant Valley Sunday', taught it to Nesmith, which Tork plays now on tour.

Richard, partially agreed with you on George. Was my fav post-Beatles Beatle for most of my time, but McCartney's best still resonate pretty effectively. Far better than Lennon, but their combined (and separate) efforts on 'Ringo' made that album such a treat.

But will agree on the collaborative Wilburys, it was the peak for George (and the other guys..) ~ As a guitar player, it made me hunt for one of those cheap Wilbury's guitar for about 5yrs, until I finally realized I didn't need it (and they were such cheaply-made guitars..). I'll keep playin' my Gretch Country Gentleman.

Doug said...

As with comics writers and artists, there is no objective way to measure "greatness" between performers. Even if we used commercial success, there are those who would say an artist's best output was never released as a single.

I could probably pick a Top 5 favorite songs from each of the three main solo Beatles (sorry, Ringo!). Looking at just those fifteen songs, I would wager that my attention would probably turn slightly toward Harrison. But that doesn't mean that I don't really like "Maybe I'm Amazed" by McCartney or Lennon's version of "I'm Losing You". At this point in time, I probably still like Harrison's recording of "It Don't Come Easy" over the others.

But back to "the other guys". How about some supporting actors from television and film?


Matt Celis said...

Where can one find Harrison's version of "It
Don't Come Easy"? I've only heard Ringo's.

Matt Celis said...

As for T.V. and film, I've always enjoyed Judy Greer. Her lead role on a T.V. show was hilarious but then there was a writer's strike and the show never came back. So sorry to see that happen!

J.A. Morris said...

For Matt Celis, Harrison's demo of Ringo's hit song:

Doug said...

If I recall, the guys from Badfinger do the backing vocals on Harrison's version.


J.A. Morris said...

You might say Chico Marx was the Ringo or Terry Austin of the Marx Brothers.

Groucho was hilarious, Harpo was a brilliant silent performer. But Chico held his own in those movies, he was a great comic actor who sometimes gets dismissed as merely a "foreign accent comedian".

For that matter,4th brother Zeppo's pretty good in this scene:

david_b said...

Being on a slight Trek TOS bend lately, I always give much thanks to both Bob Justman and Gene Coon, for adding SO much flavor to the old series.

Especially in it's 2nd Season, Coon suggested so many great scenes between Spock and McCoy to writers which really gelled a lot of those 'quieter character/family moments', adding much ensemble sparkle to what could have been an intellectual but slightly duller offering.

david_b said...

J.A., great add on Chico. One of my fav scenes of his piano playing..:

Another fun one with Harpo..:


Anonymous said...

On the Beatles...I love the music of the Beatles as a group and each of the 4 individually. But, immediately following the break-up, John was writing over the top self-indulgences like Mother and God, then follows up with slaps at Paul like How Do You Sleep? Meanwhile, Paul comes out with an album of pop throwaways and then takes his swipes at John with a song like Too Many People. Actually, I got a kick out of all that silly in-fighting, but I preferred George's All Things Must Pass, thanks.

Can this discussion also include comic book characters? Let's hear it for Jasper Sitwell.


Bruce said...

Great call on Klaus Janson, J.A. He definitely was a huge part of Miller's success.

As far as unsung heroes in comics, I'll nominate Charlton's workhorse writer Joe Gill. He wrote stories in every genre under the sun - war, horror, superheroes, western, romance, funny animal, even kung fu. When you crank out that kind of volume, they can't all be winners, but Gill wrote many good stories and had many great collaborations with Steve Ditko.

In the music world, the rhythm section of John McVie & Mick Fleetwood add so much to Fleetwood Mac's sound.

david_b said...

Yes, another OT word on George..:

As I'm sure most of you have viewed this, I have the full uncut version on DVD and will always adore this 'final interview'..:

George at his all-time best.

Doug said...

Just curious -- for those of you who had not heard Harrison's version of "It Don't Come Easy" but listened to the link J.A. provided, what's your evaluation?

I find Harrison's vocals infinitely more passionate than Ringo's, and the slightly different sound of the music appeals to me as well. And you can't beat the "Hare Krishna!" in the bridge.


david_b said...

Eh, surprisingly first I heard it, 'course that's the great fun about the 'net, now having access to so much being unearthed.

The vocals are fine for a demo, but prefer the final orchestration which really rocks with the horn section. I was actually going to do this song in a gig, getting down the intro guitar, but I haven't had time to get another group together over the last few years.

I do find Ringo's stronger vocal strengths a plus for the song. George is fine, but his vocals can be a bit weak if not produced right. Been listening to his 'Brainwashed' in my car of late (I always try to fit in 'Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' when I perform..), and also have ATMP (the 2000 reissue).

Garett said...

I agree with Glynnis Wein for colorist. So often I've looked at the credits to see who did the great color, and her name's there.

Nice seeing the love for the Marx Brothers! I just bought Night at the Opera, and Day at the Races--I've seen them before but it's been a while. Thoroughly enjoyed them, and particularly noticed Harpo this time out. Groucho was my favorite when I saw them as a kid, but now I appreciate Harpo's wild behavior and surreal actions--wonderful! Maybe as I get older I appreciate an adult who can still be completely a child. But as you say, J.A., Chico is great too.

Love this piano performance by Harpo! : )

I'm not sure how much credit he gets, but Evan Handler is a fantastic buddy to David Duchovny on Californication. Their conversations are some of the best scenes on the show, and Handler can play his part for laughs, and sometimes seriously and with dignity. He hits the right notes.

Speaking of notes, here's a band I saw recently in Toronto, called Bend Sinister. I assume they're underappreciated, as they're not superstars yet, which they should be! Fantastic live show if you ever get the chance to see them:

david_b said...

Ok, you guys (and gals) want an 'Other Guy'..???

Rolling Stones' Ian Stewart.

Knocked off the original lineup by Andrew, he was STILL the pillar for many decades. Shortly after Stewart's death, Jagger said: "Stu was the one guy we tried to please. We wanted his approval when we were writing or rehearsing a song. We'd want him to like it." Keith bemoaned that without Ian, there'd be nobody around to tell whether their music was crap.

Ian indeed was a cruel sounding board, hating 'Goats Head Soup' for instance, calling it 'junkie music', referencing Keith's addictions. He wasn't far off.

mr. oyola said...


You wanna CGI something, Lucas? CGI that wookie a medal at the end of Episode IV!

Anonymous said...

How about Ace Frehley in Kiss? Gene and Paul got all the attention, but Ace was pretty cool.

Mike W.

Matt Celis said...

Everyone in the Faces who wasn't Rod Stewart.

Edo Bosnar said...

As per Tom's suggestions about comic book characters, I think a seriously under-appreciated 'other guy' is the Ancient One from Dr. Strange. When you think about, he's totally cool, and deserving of a great deal of respect: he taught Stephen everything he knows, and he was Earth's sorcerer supreme for several centuries at least - think of the awesome adventures he must have had.

Anonymous said...

This is dedicated to all the unknown actors/musicians/artists/comics professionals whose names we shall never know .......

Well first off I have to agree that letterers and colourists are the unsung heroes of the comics industry. Writers and artists usually get the lion's share of the accolades, but it's the lettering and the colours which also add to the look of a book, and most readers don't appreciate it unless it's really off. Most people have named the unsung heroes already, so I won't repeat them.

I don't know if Lennon actually said a quote like that, but he'd be doing a huge disservice to Harrison and Ringo if he did say that. True, while he and Paul were the main creative force behind the Beatles, they would have been a very different band if George and Ringo were not there. As a band they really were synergistically better than the sum of their parts.

Hmm as for Star Trek, they also had a great supporting cast. Can't think of any better than Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Jimmy Doohan and Walter Koenig supporting the triumvirate of Kirk,Spock and McCoy.

I believe this discussion could go on forever - a finished comicbook, film, TV series or music band is not simply the lead faces you see in front of you, but rather is the end result of a combined effort of many people, some whose names you will know instantly, e.g. John Buscema as the artist, and some whose names you will never know or even care to know, e.g. the production manager on that comic book.

Again, to all those unsung people who worked to make these magical things for us fans, thank you.

- Mike 'unknown but working hard anyway' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Vintage Bob said...

In a slightly different twist, there are some inkers I absolutely loathed!

Jack Abel turned everything he inked into Jack Abel art. I hated his inking. It's as if he erased the pencils first, and then re-drew the scene from scratch with his pen.

Al Milgrom's inks were every bit as bad as his pencil art. Ugh! Same for Mike Esposito. Those two inkers ruined many an issue.

And of course, Coletta. Vince Colletta gets my vote for most horrendous inker for various reasons. Mainly because he ruined nearly everything he ever inked. At least Kirby's Thor pencils were powerful enough to endure Colletta's offensive inking to a large degree.

Karen said...

I'm on the road right now so I'm just catching up on all of your thoughtful comments. You guys really took the ball and ran with it! J.A., agreed on Chico, the Marx Bros simply wouldn't be the same without him. But Mr. Oyola really pegged it: give that wookiee a medal!

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