Archive for January, 2010

Jesse Marsh Then


Monday, January 18, 2010

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Jesse Marsh drawing for a Tarzan coloring book, circa early 1950s.

An exciting artifact popped up on Golden Age Comic Book Stories yesterday: The only interview with Jesse Marsh published (and perhaps the only one conducted?) in his lifetime. It’s from a 1965 issue of ERB-Dom. Most of this information has been absorbed into his biography, but I didn’t know that he worked on The Flintstones! I’ve been looking for this interview for a long, long time and didn’t even get it before Art in Time went to press. Alas. Anyhow, here it is. Enjoy.

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The Romance


Sunday, January 17, 2010

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Alex Raymond (1909-1956) made a certain kind of drawing that drove the boys wild. His Flash Gordon strips are the height of lush eroticism in comics (lush as compared to Burne Hogarth’s spiky cocks and taut flesh in his highly sexed Tarzan strips), his lines not finding any form, but creating it – becoming the substance of the image itself. Like a pulpier Franklin Booth, he seemed like he couldn’t help but draw the air that swept around his characters. Sometimes criticized as not being great comics qua comics, his stuff nevertheless worked best on the comics page, where sequences of drawings forgive the occasional clunker and where he could push even further than was commonly done in the pulps.

A gloss on his biography finds Raymond’s initial break in 1934, when, he debuted an astounding three strips: Dashiell Hammett’s Secret Agent X-9 (he only stayed on until 1935) and the more successful Sunday-only Jungle Jim and Flash Gordon. Flash, of course, would make his name, and he carried on until 1944, when he joined the Marines and served as an artist and designer until 1945.

Meanwhile, King Features had assigned Austin Briggs to Flash Gordon, so the company offered Raymond a strip of his own. Conceived and written with editor Ward Greene, Rip Kirby was born in 1946. Kirby is a gentleman detective complete with a golf hobby, a butler, and a bespectacled gal Friday who is not quite a lover. Kirby is moral and stern, but not without a wry sense of humor and, of course, a weakness for dames. None of the pulp madness of contemporaneous crime novels lurks within his psyche. Nope, he’s the public side of the post-WWII world: cosmetically sound and mostly sexless, all the better for him to be able to move through his various storylines while remaining mostly unruffled.

Anyhow, as you may know, IDW recently released the first volume in a comprehensive Rip Kirby reprint series. Some 300 pages of seriously high quality work reproduced beautifully. I’ve been waiting a while for this book, having only recently come to Raymond via Wally Wood, really, and following on my sudden, distressing, and then comfortable, and then soothing conversion to the many virtues of Hal Foster. It’s kind of like rediscovering the Grateful Dead as adult. You’ve passed through an unfortunate period of rejecting things your adolescent brain thinks aren’t appropriately “sophisticated” and then you come back around and realize that none of that fucking matters and your standards were mostly specious. Meanwhile you’ve made an ass of yourself rejecting all this great stuff. Well, fuck it, that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the younger kids out there (and lots of other older smart people), bless them. And I’m sort of mortified it was a problem for me. But we’re all idiots sometimes, even if those times last years.

Back to Raymond. With Rip Kirby he introduced a drawing style highly influenced by the classy illustrations found in Good Housekeeping and elsewhere – a moderate, well crafted realism that emphasized solidity and modesty without the flash and drama of the pre-War generations.

Foster was dramatic and stagey and Caniff overtly filmic and grotesque. Raymond wanted to bring a sense of fidelity (and here I mean something akin to a hi-fidelity audio recording – a highly polished simulacra of the “real” but without all the messiness of actual palms-in-the-dirt realism) into the mix – he relies on standard close-ups, over-the-shoulder shots, and crowd set-ups and avoids expressive angles and obvious dynamism. He keeps the figures rooted in the kind of photos you’d find in magazines. Nothing too far out. It’s a kind of media-based realism rooted more in images of America than any kind of documentary impulse.

For the first month of the strip Raymond uses his Flash Gordon fine line style, but a month later the art gets thick and brushy. Not Caniff brushy, but more like Al Parker brushy, and that’s where it gets really interesting.

Fine line and then brushy…

Raymond the aesthete (though not Raymond the storyteller) always seems like a hedonist, and these ink-heavy images look like they were fucking fun to make – big, juicy strokes like long honks on a saxophone (side note: I’m currently reading Larry Rivers’ autobiography, in which he has much to say about honking, which is a subject I think Frank relates to more than me, but I find interesting nonetheless) and in stark contrast to the rather pallid stories.

So, here is also where I can see Raymond’s profound influence on comic books – minus his finicky fine line style, this stuff has a surface sheen and a visceral feel that I can imagine comic book guys (many of whom hoped for strips) imitated. No hysterics here, but lots of detail and respectability.

The middle panel looks like every villain in every 1950s comic book. Except drawn to utter surface perfection. Not a line out of place. Not a move made without consideration. And dig that background stroke.

Of course, the comic book guys were saddled with lurid stories – so there you have a powerful combo: Attempts at “respectable” drawing in service to the down-and-dirty. I can see all of 1950s Ogden Whitney unfold, and Wally Wood baroque compositions, as well as John Romita, not to mention Russ Manning, and so many others. Those guys understood in a way that I bet Raymond did too, that taking that kind of technical drafting facility and cutting out the showiness of it – forcing it into the time and space constraints of a daily strip – can make it work as cartooning. The less Raymond put in – the more he feinted at realism but dove at cartooning – the more successful he is.

This realism is stunning in its facility, and the marks are beautiful, but the far more rushed drawing below kinda reads better as cartooning (um, Toth anyone?).

I haven’t said much about the stories. After all, it’s a comic. There is a blackmail storyline, there’s one about counterfitting; there’s a missing model in London; there’s even a kind of island adventure. The villains are stock and so are the situations. Kirby himself isn’t too interesting. But they move right along – I can happily sit and read them as the strips move through the basics of a plot. But really, that doesn’t matter. Rip Kirby isn’t a classic – not in the way that Mary Perkins on Stage is, or Terry and the Pirates is. I get the feeling Raymond wasn’t that interested in the “literary” end of things, so you can’t go looking for the kind of visionary experience you might have with Chester Gould or the feeling of a unique voice from Caniff. It’s an oddly impersonal strip, really. It’s all in the drawing – and that in itself is enough in this case. It gives me everything I need from the strip. The pleasures derived from Rip Kirby are unique and worth pursuing.

Judging by this first volume, Raymond’s greatest success with Rip Kirby was, in a way, inspiring the likes of Stan Drake (who was with Raymond the night of his fatal crash) and Leonard Starr, both of whom would marry Raymond’s “realism” with a sense of melodrama straight out of Douglas Sirk and snappy, well observed stories filled with moral ambiguity and undercurrents of fear and sex. The two ongoing Drake and Starr reprint series, The Heart of Juliet Jones and Mary Perkins on Stage, respectively, are my favorite finds of 2009 (the best source for info on these guys is the now defunct web site. The Look of Love). More on all of this another time.

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Jack Kirby and Caesar


Saturday, January 16, 2010

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Jack Kirby costume designs for Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.
Check it out over at the Kirby Museum.


Jason T. Miles interview


Saturday, January 16, 2010

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Our newest contibutor, Jason T. Miles, spoke with Robin McConnell over at Inkstuds. It’s a really good interview. Both the interviewee and the interviewer are in good spirits. Thanks for the name-check, Jason. Listen to it here.

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Smilin’ Stan


Thursday, January 14, 2010

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Check out this early ’70s Marvel horror comic. Basically, in the early ’70s horror was hot and Marvel quickly threw together a lot of titles for the stands. Books like these were a way for Marvel to reprint their old catalog and maybe print new stuff. Well, one of the reprints in this issue was penned by a young Stan Lee. I’m not sure where the story, “Poor Mister Watkiss”, first appeared but it was probably from the late ’50s. Maybe Journey into Mystery? The story itself is nothing special but I’m guessing Stan liked it enough to put it in Vault of Evil #1 in 1972.

What is special, or funny, is that in the same issue there is a letter from a university thanking Stan for helping kids learn how to read by using Marvel Comics. Wait, that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that in Stan’s horror story the main character, an annoying obnoxious cad, asks a librarian for “some good readin’.” When the librarian offers the man some poetry, the man replies: “I don’t mean that longhair stuff! Do you have any blood-curdlin’ mystery yarns? Y’know, the kind with lot of killin’s, an’ gore and guys gettin’ whammed in the guts…?”

You gotta wonder if Stan put the letter and the story in the same issue on purpose. And if not, it’s funny anyways.


Voices: Kirby and Crane and … Me?


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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I have to admit, even I’m a little shocked by the silliness of the MoCCA statement about this whole Archie credit issue. To wit (and I promise, this is the last time I’ll mention it, since clearly it’s like talking to a brick wall): I emailed Karl at MoCCA 3 times over the course of a month before posting my thoughts on the show. Having curated a show there and done numerous events over the years, yes, that means I can expect a response back, just as I would respond to any colleague who emailed me. No, I couldn’t make it back to the museum itself, but I didn’t need to — I was asking why there were no credits and why it was OK to ignore and perpetuate a shameful legacy. How is a phone call or email not enough to explain that? The fact that I’m somehow being blamed by Ellen in her “statement” is probably self-evidently ridiculous. But just in case: Guys, the issue isn’t whether or not I could make it back over the to museum: The issue is that you don’t act anything even remotely like an educational institution. It’s not Archie (the company’s) fault that you don’t have anyone on hand who can ID the original art–there are at least a dozen historians in the NYC area who could do that; nor is it the company’s fault that you would refuse to even acknowledge the issues at play. Nor is it my fault. Get a grip, admit that you screwed up, and move on. Every commenter (myself included) basically was giving you the benefit of the doubt. By issuing a defensive statement that somehow pulls me in and (again!) ignores the real issues at play, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Anyhow, onto happier matters. Here are a couple of recordings by artists. Y’know, the people that draw comics! Both of these recordings have been linked to but I want to reiterate how wonderful they are. First is Jack Kirby in 1970, with Steranko chiming in occasionally. Kirby sounds like a forceful visionary let loose on a crowd, practically preaching.

Jeet kindly transcribed the following passage, which is one of the best ever statements on cartooning:

Drawing a good figure doesn’t make you a good artist. I can name you ten men, right off the bat, who draw better than I do. But I don’t think their work gets as much response as mine. I can’t think of a better man to draw Dick Tracy than Chester Gould, who certainly is no match for Leonardo Da Vinci. But Chester Gould told the story of Dick Tracy. He told the story of Dick Tracy the way it should have been told. No other guy could have done it. It’s not in the draftsmanship, it’s in the man.

Like I say, a tool is dead. A brush is a dead object. It’s in the man.

If you want to do, you do it. If you think a man draws the type of hands that you want to draw, steal ‘em. Take those hands.

The only thing I can say is: Caniff was my teacher, Alex Raymond was my teacher, even the guy who drew Toonerville Trolley was my teacher. Whatever he had stimulated me in some way. And I think that’s all you need. You need that stimulation. Stimulation to make you an individual. And the draftsmanship, hang it. If you can decently: learn to control what you can, learn to control what you have, learn to refine what you have. Damn perfection. You don’t have to be perfect. You are never going to do a Sistine Chapel, unless someone ties you to a ceiling. Damn perfection.

All a man has in this field is pressure. And I think the pressure supplies a stimulation. You have your own stresses, that will supply your own stimulation. If you want to do it, you’ll do it. And you’ll do it anyway you can.

The Crane interview from 1961 is notable for the heavy shoptalk, Crane’s unabashed patriotism, and his wonderfully intelligent awareness of both his own and his medium’s history. I’d never heard Crane’s voice before – his laconic twang fits perfectly with that plush cartooning of his. Cartoonist Verne Greene is a great and officious host. There is also a Chester Gould interview from the same series. Invaluable stuff.

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Who is Dr. Death?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

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The Creation Convention which opened on February 28, 1981 in New York city was a pretty bread-and-butter comics affair. Walking through the 18th floor of Statler Hotel you could see the usual mix of back-issue dealers and fan favorites, swords-and-sorcery buffs and baseball card mavens. Stan Lee stalked the halls complete with his sleazy lounge-lizard moustache and receding hairline. Terry Austin was on hand to offer the lowdown on his falling out with John Byrne over the inking of the X-Men (apparently Byrne didn’t like Austin’s habit of adding jokes in the background).

If you were very alert and had an eye for the new, you might have noted a table with three young men, gawky, gangly lads who didn’t quite seem to belong at the convention. The three were selling a self-published comic called Psycho Comics. What was it about these guys that made them seem like interlopers, oddballs even among a hotel hall of oddballs? It was something in the eyes, a glint of mockery and mischief. And their hair was more coiffed, albeit in a punk fashion, than was the norm at a comics event.

A photo from Amazing Heroes #1 (July 1981) gives us a snapshot of the trio. Two are well known: Dan Clowes and Rick Altergott. The third called himself Dr. Death. Who is he? Mort Todd? Charles Schneider? Any advice from readers would be appreciated.

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2009 comics criticism list


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

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Hey everyone, Frank Santoro here. I was asked by Ng Suat Tong to participate in a survey of comics criticism from the 2009 calendar year. I agreed as long as I didn’t have to nominate any of the pieces to be voted on. I just wanted to vote on the list that Suat provided me. Check this out for details.

So here’s the outcome. And below that are the pieces I voted for. This was fun. Thanks. I’m gonna refrain from writing about any of the pieces here. I think they are all pretty awesome. Comics criticism is a buffet these days. There is something for everyone.


Top three, all with four votes each:

Robert Alter: “Scripture Picture” (The New Republic)

Joe McCulloch, “A Review of Batwoman in Detective Comics Focusing
Mostly on the Art

Tom Spurgeon on Rereading

Remaining four, all with three votes each:

Eddie Campbell on Will Eisner and PS Magazine (30th August 2009)

Tom Crippen “Age of Geeks” TCJ 300

Dirk Deppey, “The Man Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight”

Andrew Rilestone on Watchmen



Seth, “The Quiet Art of Cartooning” (Walrus Magazine)

Joe McCulloch, “A Review of Batwoman in Detective Comics Focusing Mostly on the Art

Tom Spurgeon on Rereading

Derik Badman: Rubber Blanket

Ken Parille on Tim Hensley and Gropius

Douglas Wolk “Shades of Meaning” (New York Times)

Eddie Campbell on Will Eisner and PS Magazine (30th August 2009)

Dan Nadel on Hal Foster

Nina Stone: “The Virgin Read: You Need More Janet Jackson In Your Life, Power Girl”

Bill Randall: “Lost in Translation” TCJ 300



Steelers win Super Bowl…Gary Panter paints a mural in a fancy museum…Watchmen is fine by me—just think if they would have made it in 1992…Fumetto Festival in Switzerland rules…TCAF is awesome even in new location…Canadians have their shit together…Kids still don’t know their comics history…Diamond raises minimums—and all but last indy pamphlets that haven’t already jumped ship finally do…

But indy folks still keep releasing pamphlets anyways. Why? I like to think it’s cuz they are easier to store than mini-comics. I have boxes of mini-comics that I can never look through like I look through my LP records or graphic novels that sit on a shelf. I used to love this about mini-comics, now it drives me crazy. My Cometbuses, King Cats and Battlestack Galacticraps all fit together. And my Low Tides and my Slime Freaks fit together. But then are way too many zines tied with string and dumb bindings that just make them impossible to store. I’ve been throwing those ones out. They’re usually pretty bad anyways. Except the new Coppertone zine…

Mazzucchelli show at MoCCA is awesome. And so is new book…MoCCA the con is an oven. Good crowd tho…Multiforce published…Nexus tanks. The Dude quits comics…Comic Con no longer viable for Indy creators, still viable for some Indy publishers. Con promoters duke it out over who gets to host Daisy Dukes when and where…Disney buys Marvel. DC stumbles. War declared. Goofy/Wolverine crossover jokes begin…

Penguins win Stanley Cup…

SPX was fun as usual. The rise of Ben Marra continues. Critics crowd roundtable and argue among selves…Kramers klan kills it with Simpsons comic…Prison Pit mania begins…

APE was weird, as always. The kids in the Bay Area don’t buy anything. Except Bone … The kids love to fight about C.F. … Kick Ass movie trailer looks cool … Crumb’s Genesis published … Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival was a hit.

New Comics Journal site launches, sputters, re-launches.
Final Crisis on Infinite Blogs Crossover begins, etc. (stay tuned).


Oh, Archie


Monday, January 11, 2010

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Following up on Dan’s post on the MoCCA Archie show from last week, I wanted to draw your attention to two related links.

First, Tom Spurgeon agrees with Dan, and today does a nice job of clearly presenting the issue. (Incidentally, he also put up a post collecting all of his 2009/10 “Holiday Interviews” with critics, including contributions from four of your favorite Comics Comics bloggers.)

Second, Bob Heer (whose Kirby and Ditko blogs I’ve enjoyed for years, without realizing until today that he is Jeet’s brother!) has written a long post tackling a related ethical issue: whether or not the artists who created so many recently republished classic comics are being paid royalties.

At the risk of being accused of putting my head in the sand, I’d say that’s kind of important. What would Siderman do?

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Cubists and Cartoonists in Chicago, 1913


Friday, January 8, 2010

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Clare Briggs, March 20 1913.

Modern art famously came to America in a burst at the Armory Show that opened to scandal and praise in New York on February 17, 1913. The story is often told and it’s true enough. But not quite the complete truth. In fact, there had been exhibits of modern art as early as 1911 in W. Scott Thurber’s gallery in Chicago. And on February 25, 1925 the Art Institute of Chicago hosted an “Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art” which can be seen as strongly paralleling the more famous New York show.

Frank King April 24, 1913.

For our purposes what is important is the number of top notch cartoonists who went to the show, including Frank King, Clare Briggs, and John T. McCutcheon. The show was much mocked in the press but was a popular success, attracting many ordinary Chicago residents (including Frank King’s wife Delia who went to see it by herself).

John T. McCutcheon, April 3, 1913

For months afterward, cartoonists would use cubist and futurist imagery in their work. Intriguingly, many of these comics weren’t done in the typical philistine “you call this art” mode. Rather, these artists seemed to be affectionate to the new art, and tried to assimilate it into more homespun, familiar experiences, notably Briggs’ jest that the quilt maker was the first cubist. Another cartoon showed a bear cub (symbol of the local baseball team) done in a cubist mode: “our own little cub-ist.” In effect these cartoonists were domesticating modernism.

L.W. Newbre (?), March 25, 1913

Frank King of course remained obsessed with modern art for many years, leading to the great Gasoline Alley Sunday pages where Walt and Skeezix enter into the world of abstract painting. In his personal papers, King often alluded to Picasso.

There has already been one academic paper written about the 1913 show and Chicago cartooning. Alas that paper is as yet unpublished. But more work remains to be done. The crucial question I think is this: was their a hidden affinity between comics and cubism? Did the encounter with modern art liberate King and other cartoonists to free themselves from illustration and become more abstract and cartoony? This is a story that has yet to be written.

NOTE: Robert Boyd makes an important point in a comment posted below. The Armory Show travelled to Chicago. This would explain all the cubist cartoons printed above, except the Clare Briggs one which ran before the show moved from New York to Chicago. This renders moot my speculation that the artists might have seen modernist art in earlier gallery shows. Oh well, we can still enjoy the cartoons.

So to clarify: Briggs, who did at least 2 cubist inspired cartoons, might have gone to the Armory Show in New York. King, McCutcheon and L.W. Newbre probably went to the Armory show in Chicago. The show that Delia went to was the Armory show in Chicago, not the earlier exhibit of contemporary Scandinavian art.

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