Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gerry Conway has Something to Say on DC's Compensation Policy

Karen: Gerry Conway posted a very interesting article on his blogspace the other day about DC policies towards recognition and compensation for artists/writers whose characters are being used in other media. He used an example from the Flash TV show, but there are many more out there. Please read his article here, and then jump back to comment.

Karen: This whole "derivative character" concept is so ludicrous, it's stunning to me that anyone could discuss it with a straight face. DC has several successful TV shows on the air right now featuring dozens of characters, but they've created a loophole that allows them to credit no one - it's as if they were somehow magically created from thin air, or by this great mass organism known as DC Comics. It's not as if DC is going to break the bank by giving credit (and compensation) where it is due. 

Karen: A few months ago I spoke with a writer who had worked at both DC and Marvel and we began discussing the Marvel films, as some of his characters were appearing in them. He said that Marvel, particularly since Disney had taken over, had become much better at crediting and compensating creators. He felt that part of it came because of the backlash over leaving Jack Kirby's name off of The Avengers. They "became enlightened" after that. But DC/Warners, he said, has always seemed to have taken the other route. They own it and that's that. It's a sad attitude. We can only hope that as more people shine a light on it, DC will do what's right and treat the comic book creators, without whom they wouldn't have material for their TV shows, movies, toys, etc., fairly.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Simple Question About Comic Books

Doug: What is the best thing about comic books? Stick to one response at a time, with rationale. It may be interesting to see how the conversation grows. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Guest Post - Shared Experiences

Doug: Today Redartz leads us in conversation. I think you'll find his thoughts heartfelt and certainly topical for "people of a certain age".

Redartz: Hello everyone. Over the last couple weeks I've been absent from our little group (although I have been regularly reading all the fine posts, of course). My father passed away following an extended illness, and most of my time and attention has been occupied. During this period of reflection, sorting through photos and mementos, many memories returned to mind; one of which has inspired me to write this little essay.

Often our hobbies and interests are discussed in terms of individual activity or interpretation. For example, what our favorite titles were, where we purchased them, what action figure we desired most. But sometimes our experiences included others -- a close friend or two, a sibling or parent. Did you have someone with whom you regularly shared your comics hobby with, or had a particularly memorable activity with?  I will share today two of these; the first featuring my father, and the second a close friend.

My father had many interests, from history to science to music. He also was a collector; not of comics but of antiques and stamps. Unlike some parents, he never criticized my fascination with four color adventures; rather he encouraged it. Once I started learning some of the history behind the comics industry, we would sit and talk about books both old and new. Dad was a boy during WWII, and like so many kids of that era he read comic books. He always enjoyed telling stories of the comics he remembered from his youth. His stack included Batman, Superman and Captain Marvel (or Shazam, if you like). He recalled Captain America, but also Bugs Bunny, Looney Tunes and various westerns. Unfortunately , the ultimate fate of all those Golden Age gems was the war paper drive. He probably never gave those books much thought afterwards, at least not until I came along and told him what they could have been worth...
Anyway, our family would often go to antique shows together. Yet on one occasion, I got Dad to accompany me to a local flea market as I hunted for comics. He was very patient with me as I scoured the market floor for comics, and he looked over many tables of antiques and 'junk'.  We  eventually found a booth that had a small stack of old (as in 1940s-50s vintage) comics for sale. The comics themselves were not in the finest condition, and thus were priced very low. Dad started to leaf through them, finding Mutt and Jeff, Blondie, Roy Rogers and a few others. I think he enjoyed looking at the old ads as much as the art pages; at any rate he ended up buying the whole stack. I provided him with the obligatory bags and boards, and those comics found a spot on his shelf for years to follow.

Over the years there were several times that my parents would surprise me with additions to my comic collection , but this was the only time I recall Dad buying any for his own enjoyment!

My second tale is from that great summer of 1975; and this experience was shared with my best friend Bill. Bill was the one responsible for my return to the comics fold. He reintroduced me to Marvel in particular, and once I started collecting we would frequently visit each other's house, comparing stacks of Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man.

On this warm day in August of '75, there was a comic convention in Indianapolis, and Bill and I were attending. Not only attending, but actually staying overnight there in the hotel by ourselves! Our parents had agreed to let us set up a small table there, and we had the run of the place all weekend. Granted, one or the other of us was supposed to stay at our booth, but we took off after the room closed and pursued books and creators with gusto. One of the featured guests that weekend was Walt Simonson, and he happened to wander over to our booth. He spoke with the both of us, was very friendly and actually purchased a few books from us. As payment, he did a sketch for each of us, and that sketch still hangs on my wall  (and is scanned here as well).


We ended up having the good fortune of selling out our whole booth to another dealer, which freed us to hit the convention floor with full attention. Our funds soon vanished, in their place were new books to add to our growing collections. Plus, there were other creators to meet, Bob Layton and Al Milgrom among them. Then, when we finally tired out, we could crash in our hotel room and sort through our newly acquired stash. We were in 14-year old geek heaven...      

Between meeting Walt, wandering the hotel late into the evening (Orange Crush in hand), and leaving with new stacks of back issues to read, this weekend was one of the biggest highlights of my teens. Sharing all those adventures with Bill made it all the better. So, do you have a particular shared experience to pass along?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Guest Reviews - Finding Gold (sort of) and High (yeah, I went there) Bronze in the Late Bronze Age: John Law, Shining Knight, and Darklon

Doug: Happy Monday, kids! Rainy Days and Mondays... you know what I'm saying! But today we have a gaggle of reviews from our resident Balkan. He quipped to us in an email that his intent was to write in the 100-Word Review format, but soon found the handcuffs to be a bit too tight. So today, with a little expansion, the musings of Edo Bosnar --

Edo Bosnar: The year 1983 was a good time for reprints, apparently, and here’s a review of three reprint books I have in my collection that all came out that year. The first two collect some classic material from the late ’40s and early ‘50s by industry legends Will Eisner and Frank Frazetta, while the last one contains some pretty obscure stories by the no less legendary Jim Starlin.


First up: John Law, Detective. Published by Eclipse, this book contains three stories done by Will Eisner in the late 1940s featuring a then new character he was trying to develop. No publishers were interested at the time, and he ended up redoing them for the Spirit newspaper sections, while these originals were put into an envelope and forgotten until Eclipse editor-in-chief cat yronwoode (that’s not a typo, she deliberately signed her name like that back then) found them in Eisner’s archives years later and had them published.

Visually, John Law is virtually indistinguishable from the Spirit – basically Eisner wanted a character who was a normal cop, not some guy pretending to be a ghost and wearing a domino mask (John Law wears an eye patch instead). The stories therefore match the style and tone of the popular Spirit shorts – there’s even a little boy sidekick, a shoeshine named Nubbin who is, thankfully, not a caricatured stereotype like the Spirit’s Ebony.

Of the three stories, the first, “Sand Saref” is the best – and probably familiar to those who’ve read Eisner’s Spirit stories, since Sand Saref was an occasionally recurring character in them. Basically, it’s the origin tale of Sand, a childhood friend of Law’s who went down a different path and eventually ended up leading a globe-trotting life, often engaged in none-too-legal activities, before coming back to their hometown. Like a lot of Eisner’s stories, it almost works as a storyboard treatment for what could be a good noir film.


The other two stories focus more on the Nubbin character, with John Law in a more supporting role, i.e., he sort of steps in and saves the day at the last moment. Again, these will be familiar to anyone who’s read Eisner’s Spirit strips that focus on any of his several boy sidekicks (not just the unfortunate Ebony). This book is definitely worth getting if you’re a fan of Eisner’s work (like I am), and I think it’s pretty easy to find for next to nothing (my copy carried the hefty price tag of 80 cents a few years back).

Next: Masterworks Series of Great Comic Book Artists, nos. 1-2, published by DC together with Sea Gate Distributors. These two books reprint the Shining Knight and other stories drawn by Frank Frazetta that originally appeared in Adventure Comics in 1050-51. I’m a fan of Frazetta’s art, so I really like these simply because they’re so nice to look at (by the way, someone posted a video on YouTube with a page-by-page overview of the first issue in case anyone’s interested).

The stories, however, are pretty average, and if the art wasn’t so nice they would be entirely forgettable. No writer credits are generally cited in the book, so I had to look it up on the GCD, and found that the Shining Knight stories were written by one Joseph Samachson, who was also the co-creator of the Martian Manhunter and otherwise a research chemist and university professor! None of that comes out in these stories, unfortunately, and they quite surprisingly contain much of the typical Golden/Silver Age wonky science among other things. A case in point, one story involves a con-man who sells what he claims is the Shining Knight’s winged horse – and he manages to fool his marks (mainly gullible rich guys) because he has very real-looking fake wings with small jet packs under them mounted on the horse, which allows it to glide for a short distance. Needless to say, the reader is left with the question that often arises with these criminal geniuses in comics: why doesn’t he just patent that impressive technology and make a fortune, instead of running scams or trying to take over  the world?

This brief review is going to run a little long, just because I have to highlight what is by far the best story in these two books. It’s an extra in the second issue, an SF tale written by Gardener Fox (who is credited). It starts with some mysterious spores from space falling to Earth and kick-starting a new ice age that devastates much of the planet.

Astronomers eventually learn that they came from the none other than the asteroid Ceres – I found this amusing as I was re-reading this just as the news broke that the Dawn spacecraft approaching Ceres had photographed what looked like lights on it. The story also has a very darkly ironic ending, as Earth’s scientists figure out that the spores are a source of infinite energy, and use it to power machinery that not only reverses the ice age but also helps rebuild human civilization – and propel a rocket that is launched to blow up Ceres. Afterward, they find out that the inhabitants of the asteroid actually sent the spores to Earth to keep us from using atomic energy and destroying ourselves. Definitely a twist worthy of the Twilight Zone.

And finally: Darklon the Mystic, published by Pacific Comics. This one collects five stories by Jim Starlin about a cosmic character called Darklon that originally appeared in various issues of Warren’s Eerie magazine from 1976 to 1979. As far as I know, these stories were originally black-and-white, so they were colored for this Pacific edition. The tale begins with the titular space-faring character tracking down a group of assassins who tried to kill him; he kills each one of them in turn, sparing the last one long enough to find out who sent them (spoiler: his father). So this is the kind of fare we’ve come to expect from the writer of those cosmic Warlock and Captain Marvel epics: a powerful and determined yet grim and troubled protagonist involved in a dark tale of  retribution and inevitable destiny with lots of cosmic magic thrown in (and it gets pretty dark, and also quite weird at a few places). Of these three titles that I’ve reviewed here, I have to say I like this one the best. It’s Starlin doing what he does best, and the story is engrossing, while the art is spectacular. By the way, I know many people don’t like it when black-and-white stories are later colored, but the coloring here was very nicely done and it really serves the story well.

I’m also happy that these reviews highlight some of the independent publishers that became quite active in the 1980s and gave started releasing a lot of creator-owned material. Pacific in particular did a few other books similar to Darklon, i.e., they collected and reprinted some of the more obscure comics work from the 1970s by popular artists like Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Bernie Wrightson and Arthur Suydam.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

That's Just Dumb - The "New Look" Joker...

Doug: Well, if you've not seen Jared Leto in character for the upcoming big-screen Suicide Squad, take a peek below. I'd offer Neal Adams's rendition of the Joker as being just a bit more in my comfort zone. Sheesh... Marilyn Manson rip-off...

Friday, April 24, 2015

True or False: I Have Comics-Related Goodness on Display in My Home or Office

Doug's desk in his office at school, with Spidey and Cap guarding the family photos and other memorabilia.

Posters referenced by HB in his first comment today.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

True or False: No Character Retcon Was as Radical as Frank Miller's Daredevil.

Doug: Miller's Batman. Byrne's Superman. The Vision was the Original Human Torch. Retcon after retcon... But, did any of those totally redefine a character moving forward as did Frank Miller's "ninjafying" of the Daredevil mythos?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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