Posts Tagged ‘Stan Lee’

Ogden Whitney Goes Kirby!


Saturday, March 5, 2011

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A very Whitney top panel - but look at the figure on the right at he top. That's a total Kirby pose.

Two-Gun Kid #117 reprints an Ogden Whitney story from the same series years before. “Three Rode Together” (originally appeared in Two-Gun Kid #89) is a very Jack Kirby looking Ogden Whitney effort. There’s no listing for an inker on the indicia – so I’m left to assume Whitney inked himself on this one. It’s really heavy-handed Marvel style inking compared to Whitney’s ACG work. You can imagine editor Stan Lee telling Whitney to make this western look like the other issues of Two-Gun Kid – meaning make it look like Kirby.

It was fun for me to discover this comic in the quarter bin. I’d never seen it. Dan was like, “Oh, yeah, I have some of those. I think that’s some of Whitney’s last professional work.” I was startled at how “3-D” looking the pages are in comparison to Whitney’s “flat” space in most of his ACG work. Whitney is famous for his flat, stage-like compositions in Herbie and in his romance comics work. So, it’s really odd and somehow thrilling to see Whitney’s compositions go “in” to the panel. He seems to be imitating Kirby’s layered approach. Y’know what I mean – when Kirby has a strong foreground, middle ground and background all in one panel. (more…)

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Class and Comics: Labour Day Notes


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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Reid Fleming: Working Class Hero

Labour Day is coming up, so let’s talk about social class:

1. In the R. Crumb Handbook, the creator of Mr. Natural writes: “Some of the other comics that Charles and I liked, Heckle and Jeckle, Super Duck, things of that ilk, featured very primitive stories on the crudest proletarian level….The super-hero comics of the 1940s also had this rough, working class quality. A cartoonist like Jack Kirby is a perfect example. His characters – Captain America, for instance – were an extension of himself. Kirby was a tough little guy from the streets of New York’s lower east side, and he and he saw the world in terms of harsh, elemental, forces. How do you deal with these forces? You fight back! This was the message of all the comic strips created during the Great Depression of the 1930s, from Popeye to Dick Tracy to Superman.” Crumb as usual is right: I’d add that the anti-comics movement of the 1940s and 1950s had a class dimension as well. Genteel, middle-class Americans were shocked by the plebian violence, crude sexuality and general spirit of irreverence of the early comic books.


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There’s Money In Comics


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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1. In 1947 Stan Lee was virtually unknown, except to the few perverse readers who paid attention to the credit lines of 3rd rate knock-off comics. But Marshall McLuhan, who himself was years away from fame, had a great radar for what was happening in popular culture. He noted a 1947 issue of Writer’s Digest where Lee wrote an article arguing “There’s Money In Comics” (which turned out to be very true for Lee, although much less true for Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). In his 1951 book The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan used Lee’s article as a jumping off point for talking about middle- and low- brow art.


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Saturday, August 21, 2010

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I realized after posting about My Love last week that there’s no way to write about these romance comics without writing about the search for them, finding stories on blogs, diggin’ thru bins in dusty warehouses. So these posts are gonna ramble. I’m only talkin’ to the True Believers out there who wanna help me study this workshop known as the Marvel Bullpen. And specifically this workshop’s romance comics: My Love and Our Love Stories. These are some of the more difficult Marvel mags to track down for various reasons. I haven’t seen many of them in my lifetime of comics collecting. And they have not been reprinted much at all. So it’s always a shock when I find an issue that I’ve never seen before. Even seeing the covers are a shock. It’s only in recent memory that these things began floating around on the web. The covers weren’t often reprinted in Price Guides or fanzines or even in other Marvel Comics from the period. I like finding stories on the web but it just makes me want to own them, to possess them. I don’t like rare comics shopping on eBay—I want to find it in the comics store and flip through it and decide if I want to buy it. You know, that whole “joy of the hunt” and everything. It’s not until I find it myself, hold it in my grimy hands and smell the newsprint, that I feel connected to the thing. Luckily, I live in a town that has some great secret comics warehouses that have every single possible back issue you could imagine and eventually I found a handful of My Loves and Our Loves that I don’t own so I can continue my studies. (more…)

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To Be (or Not to Be) Continued


Thursday, July 22, 2010

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Well, one of my initial impetuses for the way [Wilson] was told was that I was reading the collected Peanuts editions […] And to read them in sequence, it felt like a new way to tell a story, in a way. I mean, that wasn’t Charles Schulz’s goal was for you to read them all at once, that you’re supposed to read them every day. But to read them in sequence, it really felt like it was replicating the way that you remember the passage of time in memory. It – you know, you remember just these sort of high moments, emotional highs and lows or certain resonating moments of a given year.

—Dan Clowes, interviewed for NPR’s Talk of the Nation

I wonder if Clowes is right that Charles Schulz did not intend for his strips to be read all at once. When Schulz first began Peanuts, of course, the idea that the entire strip would eventually be collected in its entirety would have been beyond imagining, but at a certain point in his career, it must have become obvious that the vast bulk of his strips would, in fact, be collected into books. That must have influenced the way he created them on some level, right? Even if he was primarily concerned with the strips as standalone, daily reads (and he presumably was), it could not have escaped his notice that they would eventually be read together, and that after their initial publication, that would be more or less the only way they would be read. One of my co-bloggers (or our readers) might know more definitively what Schulz thought of all this, if he ever said anything about it publicly. (more…)

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Moderating Stan and Harlan


Thursday, January 21, 2010

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Conventions are a fixture of comic book culture (not to mention science fiction culture, and other related fandoms). Yet they rarely get analysed as an experience. What is the point of going to conventions? How do they reinforce a sense of sub-cultural identity? What do cartoonists and other artists get out of them?

The “Dimension Convention” that took place in New York in the summer of 1984 was an entirely typical and humdrum affair, a mixture of comics, science fiction and affiliated media junk. Isaac Asimov was there as a guest of honour. Stan Lee debated Harlan Ellison over gun ads in comics books (a clash of the titan memorialized in The Comics Journal #103). The usual New York crowd of the time – Chaykin, Wein, Wolfman, Simonson – could be seen loitering the halls.

Yet the very ordinariness of the event, its mundane typicality, makes it worthwhile as a specimen case, a stand-in for a larger set of experiences. We’re lucky to have an in-depth account of the Dimension Convention, written by novelist Samuel Delany, who took part in a panel and moderated the Lee/Ellison talk.

Delany’s report on the events comes in the form of a long letter he wrote on June 28th, 1984 to a friend, which can be found in the book 1984, which collects a large chunk of the writer’s correspondence for that year (with some spillage into 1983 and 1985). Delany is of course a marvelous writer, which is what makes his account of the convention worth reading. With a novelist’s eye for telling detail, he recaptures the hustle and bustle of the crowd, the quick psychological jolts that come from meeting old friends or encountering new fans, and the tawdriness of the commercial tables. Along the way, we get a quick sketch of Lee and Ellison as public performers. Reading Delany’s account, it’s easy to see why conventioneering is both exhaustive and addictive.

With the kind permission of Samuel R. Delany, I’ve pasted some pages from Delany’s letter below. I would recommend them to anyone who wants to think about conventions as an essential pillar of comics culture.

I should also add some words about Delany’s book as a whole. Writers don’t usually publish their letters while still alive (the task is usually left to widows, ex-lovers, and assistants) but Delany has never been one to follow the rules. (Oddly enough the only other writer I can think of who was so similarly bold with publishing his correspondence was E.B. White, who has nothing else in common with Delany). 1984 provides a remarkably intimate picture of Delany’s life during a crucial moment in time. Like Whitman or Melville, Delany is a New York democrat comfortable with all walks of life, as likely to go to hustle for sex in a movie theatre as to party hosted by a millionaire, equally at ease with Umberto Eco as with Stan Lee. 1983 and 1984 were the years that he (and many others) first became fully conscious of AIDS (the disease had only been named in 1982). The onset of this plague had a profound impact on Delany’s literary career: he became one of the first fiction writers to record the impact of AIDS. But aside from being a record of how the gay community in New York processed information about the new disease. Delany’s 1984 belongs to the small shelf of great literary letter writing, alongside Keats, Flaubert, Kafka, and D.H. Lawrence.

Here is Delany’s account of the convention:

And suddenly I had an insight that stopped me where I stood, one foot on one step and one on the step below. The content was not terribly profound. The intensity with which I felt it is a little hard to convey. But I was suddenly aware of the psychological mechanism by which a writer or an actor or a performer becomes addicted to this kind of public feedback. Such public attention is terribly pleasurable. The pleasure lasts for a few days, or even weeks. And under the pressure of such pleasure, even the most dedicated and conscientious artist can have his or her mind move into the configuration — without even realizing it — that connects writing (or anything else) in his or her mind with this kind of pleasure. And that’s a very different kind of pleasure from that which you get in front of the page when you put words on it to organize an intense picture of the universe around you and a self within it, from which, for moments here and there, if you’re doing it right, you can vanish as a pained personality into some universal cascade of order and accuracy. That pleasure you turn to the page again and again for, hoping to find it — and sometimes you do. But it is a rational pleasure, finally. This publicly mediated pleasure, however, you can become truly addicted to: It would be very easy to get yourself in a mental state where you honestly felt you couldn’t write without it. In fact, what I realized is that if you don’t put some conscious energy into fighting it — because finally, in psychological terms, it’s just a matter of following the path of least resistance — you will become addicted to it.

So many writers, on whatever level, already have. How many writers have I talked to over the years who’ve told me: “I can’t work without a contract”? Most of them are particularly high production writers, too: Brunner, Moorcock, Malzberg come to mind. I could probably name more if I thought about it. But this is just the poor man’s version of this addiction. They truly need that “shot” that comes from getting an idea, and having some editor say: “Hey, that’s a great one! I’ll buy it from you! Here’s a contract and a check! Go home and write it!” In fact, one of the weirdest things in the world to me has always been to sit around in some professional party and listen to these guys talk seriously and intently about how much this editor or that editor is crazy about some book or other — of which not a page has actually yet been written!

By the same token, editors learn very quickly that they have to supply this sort of enthusiasm. Lou Aronica, for example, if you went by what he says at lunch, is just as enthusiastic over the unwritten Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities as he is over Stars in My Pocket,which he’s actually read three times now! It makes you kind of wonder.

But how often does a Malzberg or a Brunner or a Moorcock get a Sunday Times review? Once, twice, three times out of a lifetime production of 50 or 150 books or so. It’s not much. And so they become hooked on the editorial substitute. In a way, I’m lucky that I’ve had as much of the strong stuff as I have, if only to see how it works.

And the other source of feedback is, of course, the conventions. In a sense, the conventions are a lot more realistic: For one thing, there the feedback is for work written and published, not an editorial substitute for an addictive craving. And it’s not the inflated sort that comes with mechanical reproduction, i.e., knowing that a few hundred thousand readers, who, indeed, haven’t read your book, are sharing in the praise being heaped on you by the reviewer. The only place where, you realize, there is still a lot of room for misconstruing what is going on around you is an incident of the sort that happened to me at least once at last weekend’s convention: I had been chairing a panel on Visual Interpretation and the Written Word.The participants were (from right to left) Howard Chaykin, Kelly Freas, me in the middle, Walt Simonson, Harlan Ellison, and Richard (The Shattered Stars) McEnroe.

Richard was filling in for Alfred Bester, who hadn’t shown up. He’s young (29?), stocky, serious, and I don’t think he’s done very much of this sort of thing before. The rest of us are all old convention panel hacks, and Harlan is irrepressible and brilliant, and can make just about any audience glitter. And Howie is almost as good. Now we’re all smart. All of as have things to say on just about any topic. Really, our only difference is how much experience we’ve had with (and our personal style in) saying them. I felt the topic itself was a loser. But somehow everyone rose to the occasion, and the whole thing — as a performance — was among the better such I’ve been on . . . not a little because, as moderator, I’d done about fifteen minutes’ thinking before it got started, kept notes while it went along, and I simply wouldn’t let it die.

At any rate, afterwards, while Harlan fled somewhere else as fast as he could run, and the various other panel members dispersed (as friendly as we all are on the dais, a kind of immediate exhaustion sets in the moment the terminal applause is over, and rarely do even good friends speak to each other afterwards, as this one heads off to the bar, or another is beset by a dozen kids wanting autographs, or that one hurries off to take part in another program starting five minutes later, or this one wanders away toward the hucksters’ room, just to walk around in circles for fifteen minutes, to give himself or herself a chance to come down from the buzz of attention, applause, and even that much thinking and feeling in public, if it’s been a Good Show), as I was leaving the curtained-off area of Exhibition B (where we’d been exhibited), some guy about 25, blond, and wearing some light beige sports jacket, stopped me to say: “You know, Mr. Delany, I really enjoyed that panel. I thought you did a very good job moderating, and you really had a couple of very intelligent things to say yourself that I’d never thought about before. Tell me, what do you do? Do you ever write anything? Or do you just go around to the conventions and moderate these panels?” Clearly he only knew my name from the panel itself and, presumably, the “pocket program” where it was listed among those of the other participants.

The feeling was moderately like being kicked in the nuts. I don’t think my public smile wavered, and I probably said something like,“Yes, I write science fiction. Thank you for the comment. It was nice of you to take the time to tell me you enjoyed it.” (That’s my standard response to post-panel praise.) “You’ll have to excuse me, though. I have to get upstairs to another program . . .?”

And smiled.

And left.

But one really negotiates these entire affairs with the feeling that one is a known — even a well-known — personage. And somehow, all compliments, even all attention, are saturated with the fact (at least in your own head) that you are somehow being paid back, socially, for having sweated your ass off for 23 years, making, as best you can, in isolation, fine books; so that to receive a perfectly honest and sincere compliment for something perfectly real that you just actually did, followed by your praiser going on to say, in effect, “And what’s more, I don’t know you from Adam,” somehow leeches the entire narcotic charge; and your gut reaction, no matter how well you maintain your cool, is pretty much the same as an addict’s, who just pushed the plunger on the hypodermic, only to realize ten seconds later that what he’d thought was heroin was only a glassine envelope full of milk sugar.

Burned again.

And it is precisely that aspect of it that, I feel, is ultimately unhealthy — for me, as a writer.

The young man putting on this convention was John Estrin. Six years ago, he was a nineteen-year-old fan running the New York “Empiricons” that were sponsored by Columbia University’s fan group. Today he’s a 25-year-old junior executive at some public relations firm, which was the sponsor for this particular convention. Last summer, John ran “Empiricon” down at the Milford Plaza, on 8th Avenue (where I chaired at least one panel); and simultaneously there was the Forbidden Planet comics/SF con, where I interviewed Van Vogt and did a couple of programs as well.

A few months back I did a convention called “I-con” out on Long Island, at Stony Brook, where I moderated still another panel, also with Harlan Ellison. Harlan is certainly one of the SF community’s best public performers. And though, here and there, I have some minor disagreements with him, I deeply respect the man. Also, I’m just personally very fond of him. Harlan, on a panel, does require a bit of moderating. When you’re dancing that fast and furiously, it helps to have somebody who’ll remind you where the edge of the stage is, so that you don’t fall off into the lap of someone in the front row.

On that same panel, I had one complete public-presentation disaster case, Raymond Z. Gallun, who is in his late seventies or early eighties, is a terribly nice old man, but tends to mumble on unstoppably, for 40 minutes if you’ll let him, about, “How I wrote this, in 1933. And how I wrote that, in 1934. And how I wrote the other, in 1935.” Nor does it matter, particularly, what question you’ve happened to put to him. The answer is the same monologue. (I’m sure you’ve seen the odd aging professor caught up in the same syndrome.) Well, Ray needs another kind of guidance, i.e., every 20 minutes by the clock, you ask him a question to which some portion of his monologue is applicable, let him run on for 50 seconds by your watch (a minute thirty, if he’s actually being coherent), at which point you cut him off at the next comma. (Don’t try to wait for a full period. He doesn’t use them. And even with the microphone, beyond the third row, no one can hear him anyway.)

At any rate, Estrin was in the audience. And, as he called up to say, a few weeks later: “I figured, Chip, if you could keep Ray from looking like a total fool, could keep things from turning into Harlan’s one-man comedy show, and at the same time could keep the subject going and the energy up — well, I figured you could moderate anything! Would you like to moderate a Sunday afternoon debate for us, between Stan Lee and Harlan?”

“Okay,” I said.

On the first day of the convention I arrived at twelve. Stan Lee was doing a solo bit at that time in the Sheraton Center’s Imperial Ballroom, and though I’d had a pleasant talk with him on the phone, long distance, while he was in L.A., about possible topics for the coming debate between him and Harlan, I’d never met him in person, and I had no idea what kind of public self-presentation he had, though I’d heard from a few people that he was very good at it, spent a lot of time going around to colleges and speaking in public, and — from what he said on the phone — he was willing to field just about any kind of question.

The program was late getting started, so I walked into the vast Hucksters’ Room — acres of comic books, many less SF novels, and various SF-related toys and gizmos — which was kind of the social center of the convention. Saw Barry Malzberg for a few minutes. Then,I practically tripped over Ike (Asimov), with his fly-away muttonchops and western string-tie, the actual Guest of Honor, and we stood around and made “great-to-see-you” noises, while fans came up and thrust books between us for him, for me, to sign.

A moment later Harlan came up to me. “Hey, Chip,” he said. “You were supposed to call me, about this debate. Everybody said: ‘Chip’s going to call you!’”

So I cupped my hands to my mouth and called: “Harlan . . .!”

That got him to laugh. There was some odd encounter with a young, black fan whom Harlan managed to mistake for Marvel’s single black comic artist. “I know, I know,” said Harlan with his hand over his face in mock embarrassment, “all you black guys look alike.” People began to thrust books between us. Harlan said: “I’m sorry, but we are in the midst of a conversation, now.” Fans scurried away. And I took a couple of notes in my omniscient notebook (The Notebook That Knows More Than I) on the proposed debate. Then Harlan went off to hug a bunch of young women who seemed to be waiting for him, all in matching beige T-shirts.

When the Stan Lee program was announced over the loudspeaker, I escalatored upstairs again to the Imperial. The organizers were hanging about, clearly worried because only about 500 people had come upstairs for Stan’s “talk,” when they had been expecting a turn-out of close to a thousand. (There must have been another clear thousand down in the hucksters’ area. But inertia seemed to be keeping them below,and they weren’t surging up for the second floor programs as expected.) On my way in, I passed a tall, slender late-middle-aged man who, later, I realized was Stan (I’d never actually seen him before), lingering outside with a couple of people I recognized as among the con organizers. Back-reading a little, I’m pretty sure what they were talking about was some version of the following: Stan was politely suggesting that they let him go on now, since this was the time they’d announced him for; and they were saying, well, gee, no, maybe if they waited another ten minutes, another fifty or a hundred people might wander in.

I took a seat toward the back, and, indeed, in another ten minutes (after a wholly inept young man took the mike and tried, nervously, to keep the audience entertained and expectant, while they waited), Mr. Lee loped onto the stage, took the microphone, and began to present himself in a most personable and relaxed manner. Clearly what he was there for was to plug “Marvel Productions,” of which he is now the “Creative Vice President,” out on the coast. And with a host of funny stories and the dropped names of movie stars and comic book characters, that’s what he did. He was clearly as self-confident as Harlan. Very entertaining. And he obviously knew what he was doing.

No, I didn’t think there would be any problems with him and Harlan the next day.

I stayed for about 25 minutes of it.

Then, suddenly, I was hit by an overwhelming desire to be out of there. No fear or anxiety, mind you. Just a kind of: “What am I listening to this idiocy for . . .? I want a drink and some lunch!”What I’d come to see Stan for was to find out how well he did what he did, how comfortable he was doing it, what his style was, so that I would know how to integrate it with Harlan’s. I hadn’t come to learn anything having to do with the content of what he might have to say. And, really, after ten minutes I had what I needed. So fifteen minutes after that, I left in the middle, quit the hotel, wandered down and across town to 46th Street and Eighth Avenue, and went into Joe Allen’s, where I had a Tequila-Wallbanger and some sautéed chicken with capers, while I worked diligently in my notebook on the long prologue of Splendor and Misery.

Spilled some chocolate syrup from desert (a hot fudge eclair, filled with ice-cream) on my white shirt — which, as I quipped to the actor-cum-waiter who brought me some club soda to scrub it out — “This only happens when you have to perform in front of 300 people in an hour.” Then I wandered back to the Sheraton, in time for my four o’clock panel: the one I told you about, with McInroe, Harlan, Chaykin, Freas, and Simonson. And went home.

The next morning, Sunday, the second day of the convention, I woke up with knotted guts and watery shit. Somehow I’d come down with stomach flu. And there was yet another infirmity, which had plagued me the day before and was to produce unexpected agonies all that day as well —though, frankly, I’m almost embarrassed to mention it. Nevertheless: I’d had a hangnail on my right forefinger the previous day (fortunately I’m left-handed); while trying to bite it off, I’d pulled a sliver of nail loose from the quick. It had bled. It was now swollen and under the tiniest of scabs. And anything that touched it, from another finger to a piece of paper, to a comic book picked up at the wrong angle, sent a shooting pain through my hand and into my forearm.You may assume that, on top of all else I say, such shooting pains indeed shot, quite at random, about every 20 minutes all through the weekend, whether I was wandering by myself in the hucksters’ room, moderating a panel, signing a book, or talking to friend or fan. And I don’t think I acknowledged it once.

A hang-nail . . .?

Well, that’s the kind of pain, as we know, Real Men ignore (while not eating quiche) — especially if they have to run through another day of SF convention.

Frank wasn’t up, yet.

I wondered out to the Associated Supermarket over on Columbus Avenue to pick up a bagel and some yogurt. While I was at the back of the check-out line, a vaguely familiar voice passing by behind me said: “Chip . . .?” And I looked up to see a hefty, white-haired male in a pale blue shirt and silver sunglasses. How I recognized him, I’ll never know, because he’d lost at least 80 pounds since I’d last seen him, and that had been in East Lansing, Michigan, three or so years back at a Clarion. “A.-J. . . .?” I said.

“Yeah. It’s me.”

He smiled behind his shopping cart. (It was A.-J. Budrys!) “How’re you doing, Chip?”

“Fine!” I said, grinning in spite of my stomach; and my hand — which touched something just then. “What on earth are you doing here? Are you here for the convention? That’s where I’m going, as soon as I go home and eat a bagel.”

“Nope,” he said. “I didn’t even know there was a convention in New York this weekend. I’m visiting my mother. I’m just doing some shopping for her — she lives right around the corner from you,” which, by now, I’d actually remembered his telling me once, years ago. At onetime, this area of New York was a Ukrainian/Lithuanian neighborhood; there’s an old Ukrainian Church, a few buildings away from me on 82nd Street that I’d just walked past this morning on my way to the store. A.-J., who’s Lithuanian by nationality, had grown up here — though he’d lived in Chicago most of his adult life. “I’m leaving this evening,” he told me, “to go and see my wife’s family in Connecticut. So I won’t have time to drop down there.”

We enthused a bit more about the chances of just running into each other in the supermarket like this, hundreds of miles away from our last meeting, or indeed, any other of our ten or so meetings in the last twenty years. Then I walked out onto sunny Sunday Columbus Avenue.

I almost lost my very light breakfast three times on the way to the con.

Just before my first panel, I sat around in the art show area with Bob
Whitticker and Jonni Seri, two of the more civilized long-time fans, who seem to have been on the verge of getting married now for going on six years. Jonni gave me a back rub, which I truly appreciated. Between two panels, I had lunch with Denny O’Neil (across from the hotel at the Stage Deli, of all places) and his girlfriend whom I hadn’t met before, a red-headed dance therapist named Maggie. At the same lunch I learned that Larry O’Neil, Denny’s son by Anne, whom I remember as a perpetual six-year-old on East Sixth Street, was now eighteen, a senior at the High School of Music and Art, was still a vegetarian (twelve years ago I’d just assumed it was a passing phase), and was apparently determined to become a comic book artist, somewhat to his father’s chagrin!

Then we went up to the con’s hospitality suite, where the pros could, presumably, escape the fans. The clutch of rooms was dominated by Marvel Comics’ resident “Spider-Man,” a very nice, 26-year-old actor-cum-body-builder, a Peter Parker look-alike whom Marvel retain sat such functions to zip around in blue long-johns with a redhead-mask over his face, throwing nets and climbing things. He’s really quite bright, knows the character well, and sometimes even leads tours through the Marvel offices, here in the city. He’s personable, and good at answering questions. Most of the afternoon, however, he was bouncing about the Sheraton’s pale egg-shell 29th-floor suite, three-quarters naked (between costumes), combing his hair a lot, while his petite blonde girlfriend in designer jeans hung on his impressive biceps, and generally being friendly and decorative.

I can’t remember his name.

Denny, Maggie, and I were talking in the corner. I sipped a bit of ginger ale to settle my still-queasy stomach and ate a totally uncalled for chocolate cookie. Ray Gallun sat down to join us — and created that crashing lull that sometimes happens among even the most lively and witty conversationalists when someone interrupts the flow of repartee with an intensely mumbled account of something terribly important that occurred in (as best I could make out) 1932.

Quarter to five, and I took off downstairs for the Georgian Ballroom, with Ray still tagging along. In the ballroom (Imperial: read “modern.” Georgian: very “traditional,” with red drapes along the walls, much copper, hanging “crystal,” and gold) there were about 800 kids and lots of confusion. George (Mr. Sulu) Takei was just finishing up his program, plugging Star Trek III. (I’d ridden out with him to I-con a couple of months back. He’s a truly nice guy and as big-hearted as they come, if just a bit hyper in a perfectly understandable, actorly sort of way.) Harlan was swamped with fans at the front. No one quite knew where Stan was.

No one was announcing anything, so I went up on the stage, took up the microphone, and, well, created order.

Stan was just waiting out of sight, of course, for something to happen. There he came, loping up.

There was Harlan.

And we launched in.

I introduced them with cute anecdotes, to loud cheers. And we were off and flying. Both were in fine form. About a third of it was serious (a debate about gun advertising in comic books, which really got the audience hopping) and about two-thirds of it was tap-dancing (what’s wrong with movies; are comic books good for you) — which, it was clear, was just about the proper proportions such an audience could handle. And when it was over, just to be different, I managed not to go running off, but broke through the ring of autograph seekers to say thanks to both of them, while the applause was still going on: Harlan was fighting his way downstairs to get to the limo that was to take him to the airport. Stan was signing veritable mountains of comic books but, over the hubbub, shouted me a smiling invitation to visit him, next time I was in L.A.

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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.


Dubya Doom


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

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I like to think that former President Bush’s speech writers read old issues of Fantastic Four. Maybe one of them read #57 during the ramp up to the invasion of Iraq. I mean, doesn’t Dr. Doom’s dialogue in the first panel read like classic Dubya speak?

“I have been waging a ceaseless battle for PEACE — and for JUSTICE! But, in the course of that battle, I need WEAPONS — weapons with which to defend myself from the dastardly enemies of FREEDOM!”

“THERE, for example, is my mobile, all-powerful PACIFIER! It’s purpose is to come to the aid of those who are threatened by TYRANNY — or by INJUSTICE!”

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Best of…


Thursday, November 15, 2007

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Kick-ass Tom Sutton cover. Santoro, take notes.

It appears to be “year’s best” time, when people begin soliciting for one’s “top ten” comics of the year. In honor of that tradition, I give you:

The Outstanding Graphic Stories of 1967, as printed in Graphic Story Magazine #9, Summer 1968.

Will Eisner
The Spirit 2

“Master Time and Mobius Tripp”
George Metzger
Fantasy Illustrated 7

George Metzger
Graphic Story Magazine 8

Lee and Kirby
Fantastic Four 66 and 67

“The Aliens”
Russ Manning
Magnus, Robot Fighter 17-20

“Luck of the North”
Carl Barks [Heidi must be relieved–ed.]
The Best of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge 2

“The Gifted Cockroach”
Will Eisner
The Spirit 2

“Showdown on Hydra Island”
Jim Steranko
Strange Tales 156-158

“Project: Blackout”
Jim Steranko
Strange Tales 160-161

Prehysterical Pogo
Walt Kelly

“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?”
Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino
Strange Tales 205

“Mr. A”
Steve Ditko
Witzend 3

Gee, times haven’t changed that much. Funny how most of this stuff is still considered classic– I gotta check out that Arnold Drake story. And, whatever else anyone says, that Steranko period is full of fantastic, retardo Kirby and Op-Art pastiches….man, I knew I shouldn’t keep my “collection” in the office. Ok, back to work. Honest.

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The Bunk Starts Here, or, Ground Well Trod, Trod Once More


Sunday, June 18, 2006

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Superheroes and social issues usually don’t mix well. Whether it’s Superman crying because he’s unable to prevent famine in Africa (which actually seems like the kind of problem he could solve if he really wanted to), or the Justice League coming face to face with the fact that being raped by a supervillain can turn a woman into a psychopathic killer (for those who don’t follow superhero comics, that story was actually published, just last year, as DC’s flagship title), their engagement with complicated “adult” problems is generally puerile, hystrionic, and more likely to belittle the issues involved than to clarify them.

This kind of superficial treatment of complicated ideas in superhero comics saw its apotheosis in the 1970s, when writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams (who currently moonlights as a plate tectonics skeptic) teamed up for a series of Green Arrow/Green Lantern adventures, with the heroes joining forces to confront such social ills as racism and drug addiction.

These stories are still celebrated in some circles today as somehow breaking important ground, though they are basically the embarrasingly dated equivalents to the “very special episodes” of bad sitcoms.

Basically, the quest to depict superheroes as “all grown up” is just a bad idea at the outset—so far, to my knowledge, this artistic strategy has worked exactly once. (And no, I don’t consider The Dark Knight Returns to be “grown-up”; that book works best when the reader is fifteen years old. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.) Superheroes are the vehicle for adolescent power fantasies, more or less by definition.

Which is not to say that the superhero story is a bankrupt genre or that its tropes are incapable of being used to great effect; it’s just that like any other genre, superhero stories have built-in limitations. Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s early Spider-Man stories do a remarkable job within those limits, as do Frank Miller’s later Daredevil comics, at a slightly more sophisticated level.

(More obliquely, Chris Ware has shown that the iconic value of Superman can be used quite effectively to very different purposes in his early Jimmy Corrigan stories, and more obliquely still, Ursula K. Le Guin has shown the very complicated and profound ramifications of power fantasy in her original Earthsea trilogy, despite the fact that it features wizards instead of super-powered aliens. (Anyone interested in the potential triumphs and pitfalls inherent to fantasy for young adults should pick up a copy of her essay collection The Language of the Night posthaste.))

I’ve rambled on far too long already, so I’m going to end this here for now. So far I’ve just been leading up to what I really want to talk about, a sixty-year-old superhero comic that deals extremely successfully with a grave political problem. On Wednesday, I’ll reveal the masterpiece in question. If you can’t wait (and I’m sure most of you can’t, this is so exciting), I’ll leave you with a one-word hint: Shazam.

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