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Family Circus
One of the reasons I like looking at original art is to see more of the process that creators put into their work. How did they go about actually creating the page? How did they achieve certain effects? I find it gives me a better insight into both their specific methods, but also comics production in general.

Here's an interesting example: a 1978 Sunday Family Circus from Bil Keane featuring the oft-copied/parodied dotted line showing Billy's path as he runs through the neighborhood.
Family Circus original art
(It's currently up for sale on ebay if you're interested.)

What I find interesting here is how Keane actually drew that dotted line. My assumption had always been that he inked a solid black line, and then went in with some white paint to create the spaces between the dashes. That would strike me as the easiest way to have done these. But let's take a look at what Keane actually did...
Family Circus original art close-up
You can just barely make out the pencil marks in a few places that show he did indeed sketch things in as a "solid" line. Two parallel pencil lines snaking throughout the piece. He's then gone in with a brush to ink between those two pencil lines to make a single, solid black line. In a few places here, you can see how the ink of his brush flows from one trapezoid to the next. And then there are stripes of white paint cutting through the line to create the dotted effect, as I guessed. But it's very high quality white that, over three decades later, still retains its pristine color and hasn't even begun chipping away.

All of which says what? Well, first, that Keane was no idiot. He knew how to create that dotted line effect efficiently. And, although I didn't touch on it much here, there's some subtlties in the execution of it, too, that make it a lot more readable than it might've been. That's probably why so many people remember the motif -- because Keane always did an excellent job of communicating the line even as it weaves in and out of other lines on the page. The reader never has to question where it goes. In large part because Keane spent some amount of time on the details of the line itself.

The other thing this says is that Keane used some really high quality materials on his work. Granted, he'd been doing the strip for nearly twenty years at this point, so we're not talking about a fresh-faced kid but a middle-aged adult who'd already made a successful career for himself, and could afford quality materials. He was a professional, and treated his work very much as a professional would.

I'm still not a big fan of Keane's style of humor, or his occasional heavy-handed religious iconography, but the man was unquestionably talented in his illustration and studying an original of his for the first time does give me a greater appreciation of his work.
Fantastic Four #8
My thought for today's post was going to be presenting the first Black character shown in what's now known as the Marvel Universe. Basically, I wanted to see how early Black people were integrated into Marvel's comics after Fantastic Four #1. Not necessarily a named character like Robbie Robertson or Black Panther, but just any random background character with darker skin.

So I pulled out my Marvel Masterworks and started flipping through, and came across this gent in Fantastic Four #8. He's a prison inmate trying to escape, but it'd be somebody.
Fantastic Four #8, Page 19, Marvel Masterworks version
As I started going through some other back issues -- namely The Hulk #1-4 which I don't have in the Masterworks format -- the thought occurred to me that the FF issue was actually a reprint and might not faithfully depict the original colors. So I dug up a copy of FF #8 and, lo and behold...
Fantastic Four #8, Page 19, original version
Besides no one of color being depicted here, you can see that almost none of the original color choices were used.

But, now here's the really interesting bit: check out the colored version that's available through comiXology today...
Fantastic Four #8, Page 19, comiXology version
Brighter and more vibrant, but essentially the same colors as the original.

It's no surprise that these older comics would need to be recolored for today. The original separations, I'm sure, were treated more disposably than the original art. But it would appear that, in their initial high-quality presentation of the material, someone at Marvel opted to make the comics more inclusive than they really were. That's more than the stylistic choice of a blue background versus a yellow one, that was a deliberate choice where somebody said, "Hey, we should be more race conscious -- make one of those guys Black."

On the one hand, I can appreciate that they were trying to be more inclusive in 1987 when the Masterworks book first came out. As minimal an effort as this was. But what that also does is change the historical record so that it misrepresents where Marvel was at socially in 1962. It makes the company look more progressive than it was. The truth is, as of FF #8, Marvel was not thinking about equal rights or showing people that didn't look like anyone in their offices.

A lot of these little seemingly minor changes can really skew how people perceive and understand the world around them. For years, I was told that Rosa Parks didn't give up her seat because she was tired. She was indeed tired, but not physically. She was tired of being treated like a second class citizen and was fairly active in the civil rights movement. That seemingly minor change of phrasing puts a whole different spin on her actions -- it was no longer an weary act of exhaustion, but a deliberate motivated act of challenging the status quo.

But does this single panel in a single comic (well, technically two panels; a Black guy shows up in one other in the Masterworks book) equate at any level with Parks refusing to give up her seat? Of course not. The significance of this one comic pales in comparison. But with enough little changes like that, and you can present an entirely different Marvel than what actually existed. In fact, that's precisely why so many people criticize Stan Lee -- he's presented a skewed version of what happened in so many ways that it's culminated in a sort of cult of personality based around a character of himself that doesn't actually exist. Which, in turn, is why he's so often given sole credit for creating Spider-Man or the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. And that credit is money. With the movies doing as well as they've been, that's a LOT of money.

Does the alteration of a background character's skin color have that kind of impact? Probably not. But it's still a distortion of the record. "Was colorist Stan Goldberg really that progressive?" "Was Lee really pushing for more diversity that early?"

I'm glad that the comiXology version seems to be more in line with the original coloring. Kudos to whoever made that decision. But in this Golden Age of Reprints, keep in mind that you're seeing a reproduction of history which may have been distorted to make someone look different than they really were/are.
I Want You poster by Mr. Fish
Our Country's Veterans
Micronauts
I recently picked up the original Micronauts series from Marvel. It ran from 1979 until 1984 with two annuals and 59 regular issues, all but the very last issue of which were written by Bill Mantlo. I bought the entire run off ebay because the thought of hunting through long boxes and/or ordering a handful of issues at time through various retailers sounded dreadful.

There was a time, of course, when you had to do that for most any past comic you wanted to read. Not only were limited by what your local comic shop had to offer, but very little was being reprinted, so your only choice was to hunt for back issues even if you only wanted to read the story. Now, it seems, though, pretty much everything is getting reprinted, sometimes in multiple formats, and a lot is becoming available digitally.

But I still went ahead and bought Micronauts as the original floppies. Why? Because it's not likely to get reprinted any time soon.

The Micronauts name and some of the characters were licensed from Mego Corporation, who were producing toys under that name. While Mantlo and original series artist Michael Golden created several new characters, which Marvel continues to own, the names and likeness of characters that were brought over from the toys are not available without a new license agreement from Abrams/Gentile Entertainment, who owns them now. Other comic companies have gotten licenses, and Marvel did make another try for it but was unsuccessful. Which means that, for now, they can't reprint or collect their stories.

Unauthorized Tarzan
This is a potential problem with any licensed property, and is partially why we've never seen Rom collected. Or The Care Bears. Or The Get Along Gang. There are multiple companies who need to cooperate in order to get these books republished in any capacity (print or digital).

Which isn't to say it's impossible, of course. Marvel has been able to secure a deal to collect all the Star Wars stories that were originally produced by Dark Horse. And Dark Horse was able to secure the rights to reprint some Tarzan comics that weren't even legal in the first place!

But I have to figure that unless we're talking about an incredibly popular franchise like Star Wars, it's probably not worth the legal hassle to try to reprint these. As nostalgic as some folks might be for Micronauts, pretty much every attempt to revive the name both in comics and toys have failed pretty miserably. I don't see a Hugga Bunch revival happening any time soon either.

My point is that, despite living in what some have called a Golden Age of comics reprints, alongside with being an era where seemingly everything is available digitally, there's still some merit looking for old back issues. So if you really do want to read the stories from Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos or Silverhawks, you can either brush off your flipping-through-long-boxes skills or make some strategic purchases off ebay because I sincerely doubt you'll see a collected edition of those any time soon!
One of the narratively most interesting comics I've read from Marvel or DC was Fantastic Four #352 by Walt Simonson, which I was recently reminded of. The comic consisted of two parallel narratives: one was the "primary" story of the main characters, and the second was a battle between Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom in which they flitted in and out of time. What was particularly clever, I thought, was how the second story was non-linear to the first but still interesected it repeatedly. Simonson used a "turn to page X" type of gimmick for the battle, as explained in an editor's note on the mail page...
The story in FF #352 begins as a single timeline, but when Reed and Dr. Doom begin their battle, the timeline bifurcates. While the restof the Fantastic Four continue to live in ordinary time, as indicated by the rectangular clock at the bottom of each page, Reed and Dr. Doom make jumps backward and forward in time while the duel. To follow Reed and Dr. Doom's story linearly, as they would experience it, turn to the time/page indicated by the round teleportational timeclock at the bottom of each black and white timejump panel... P.S. Be sure and check out the cover!
It's a storytelling trick I haven't seen before or since, and it's one of the reasons why I love Simonson's stint on the book as much as Kirby's (who created all of this in the first place) and Byrne's (whose run is what I grew up with).

I'd found a few sample pages online, but I wanted to showcase just how crazy-awesome this entire comic is. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is Fantastic Four #352 in its entirety...

Did you know there used to be a Hercules comic strip? No? Well, that's hardly surprising because there wasn't one. Maybe.

I recently came across this auction for a piece of original comic strip art featuring the Greek legend. Now, I'm not a huge expert on comic strips but I had certainly never heard of this one before.
The seller knows little about it. There's no date on it, and the signature is simply the initials "B.S." The illustration style would suggest an older work; my guess would be the 1940s, but that's just a rough guess. The illustration board is in excellent condition; a little yellowed, but that's about it. It also appears to be the very first installment of the strip, given the fairly straight-forward and obvious introduction.

I ran it past some comics historians, and they couldn't recollect hearing about it either. The suggestion was that it was done as a test or a proposal that was never ultimately picked up. They pointed out that there's no syndicate or copyright notification. And as I looked at it, too, the condition of the board itself is almost too pristine to have actually been used in the purposes of production. The corners and edges should be a lot more dinged up if it had gone past even just a photostat machine.

I'm sure it would be almost impossible to ascertain this art's origin at this point, and probably not nearly worth the effort for what I'm sure is a simple and humble story that doesn't go very far. But I kind of like the idea that we've got evidence of someone from about a half century ago thought they could make a go at drawing an adventure comic strip. For as many people who try their hand at webcomics today, thinking they could be the next Scott Kurtz, there was someone decades ago who thought he could be the next Hal Foster.
One of the interesting little side-bits that I caught during the Scott McCloud talk last week was that one of his daughters is blind. At least, that was what I thought he said. I did some digging and found a post from a few years ago where he noted that she's not completely, can't-see-anything-at-all blind, but she's "pretty significantly" visually impaired. A little more digging, and I see that he's talked a few times about his father's blindness. So it's a condition with which he's pretty familiar.

Even so, the side-bit that he mentioned at the talk was that he was watching some talking heads on television, one of them said something that ran completely contrary to all available evidence that had already been presented to him, and McCloud shouted at the TV something to the effect of, "I can't believe how blind this idiot is!"

At which point, his college-age daughter reprimanded him for using the term in a derogatory way, subverting the actual definition.

Now, my family has had its share of eye problems, but nothing nearly so extreme as what McCloud's experienced. So when he mentioned the anecdote, I cocked my head to the side a little and said to myself, "Huh." Because I've never actually known anyone who would be considered blind. I'm aware that there are blind people, of course -- there was even part of an interesting story I caught on NPR a week or two back about blind people who used echo-location instead of a cane. But because it's always been well beyond my day-to-day purview, it's not something I've really given real consideration to.

My day job for the past 15-20 years has been in web design and development in some form or another. For the past decade in particular, I've been conscious of and have worked to ensure all the projects I work on meet ADA requirements. That is, that someone who can't read a computer screen in the same way most people can will still be able to get all the same information, often through a screen reader program. When I was first pointed to the directives, I saw that most of them are either just basically practicing good design and good coding, so it was fairly easy to adopt everything as regular practices. Most of it is second nature any more.

And yet, the notion of using "blind" as an insult (which I'm sure I've used on occasion myself) never occurred to me as possibly offensive.

About 1/2% of the globabl population is what would be considered blind, and over 80% of those people are older than 50. So it's not very surprising that I don't know anyone who would qualify. But while that can explain my ignorance of first-hand experiences, that doesn't excuse my lack of thought on the subject.

Comics are a way of connecting with other people and sharing stories and experiences that we ourselves can't or won't get to personally experience ourselves. That's actually true of stories in general for that matter. And that includes off-hand anecdotes that get thrown in with a broader discussion of comics theory and history. Provided you're willing and able to keep yourself open to hearing them.