Friday, October 24, 2014

On Strips: Extra Hulk Strips?

In the late 1970s, in an effort to capitalize on the relative success of the television show, Marvel started an Incredible Hulk comic strip. That the main character is called David Banner, and not Bruce Banner, is the key pointing back to the show of course. The scripts were credited to Stan Lee, and the art duties got shifted around to various artists like Larry Lieber, Rich Buckler, Alan Kupperberg, Ernie Chan and Frank Giacoia. The strip only lasted a few years (from October 1978 and until September 1982) and was retired with little fanfare as a minor point of Hulk trivia.

But I stumbled across this piece of ephemera, which has my brain cogs spinning...
It's 1980 coloring book featuring the Hulk. Except it's formatted like a comic strip. And pretty short with only sixteen pages. And while the illustrations aren't terribly elaborate, they do seem unusually detailed for a coloring book. The strips are credited to David Anthony Kraft (writing), Win Mortimer and Sal Brodsky (pencils), and Chic Stone (inking).

Given the timing and the format, my first thought is that it's artwork from the comic strip, just repurposed for this book. The "all new" starburst on the cover, though, suggests that these strips were never published before. Also, as far as I can tell, none of the creators here actually worked on the Hulk strip. So where did this come from?

My guess is that these were strips that were intended as a try-out for the comic strip, but veered too far from the newspaper characterizations and were rejected based on that. The comic strip itself was produced by Marvel. That they had a series of artists working on it suggests that it was farmed out to whoever was available, and were relying on the Hulk name itself as the selling point. With perhaps some additional emphasis on Lee's name as the face of Marvel. Of course, Lee's name went on a lot of material that he didn't write, and it was in fact Lieber who wrote the strip under Lee's byline for several months after Lee had actually stopped writing it.

The strip, as I noted, followed the characterizations from the TV show. The Hulk never spoke, and the antagonists were, by-and-large, not of the supervillain variety. In the coloring book, not only does the Hulk speak (much like the comics) but the storylines are much more in line with the comic books as he faces off against The Leader and The Rhino.

It's also interesting to note Mortimer's art here. While he did work at Marvel on occasion, particularly during the 1970s, he had never worked on the Hulk before (or since). But he HAD spent the better part of a decade years earlier drawing the Superman newspaper strip, so he was clearly comfortable with the format. He was also familiar with the TV-tie-in property idea, having worked on Spidey Super Stories.

One last thing to notice. I can't confirm whether or not this was actually published by Marvel, but it was almost certainly NOT published by Whitman. Which is noteworthy because Whitman was pretty much THE go-to publisher of licensed property coloring books at the time. In fact, any other Hulk coloring book from that period you will find bears a large Whitman logo in the corner of the cover. Why wouldn't they haven't published this one as well?

So my theory is that Marvel first pulled together these strips in 1978 to shop around as a tie-in to the TV show. They got Kraft (who seemed to be the ubiquitous Marvel writer of the late 1970s) to write a few weeks' worth of material and pulled in Mortimer as someone familiar with the comic strip format/pacing. After taking it to a syndicate or two, they got feedback saying something to the effect of, "Sure, great idea! But this doesn't look like the TV show at all. Make it more like that and we'll buy it." So they went back to Lieber for the rework, with Lee getting pulled in for some name recognition. These strips were left lying around for a couple years before someone had the coloring book idea to make at least some money off this already-produced-and-paid-for artwork. Whitman probably wouldn't do it since A) the stories are too short, and B) the format is radically different than the 8x10 size they always go with. It simply wouldn't fit in with the rest of what they were already set up to work on. Marvel put it together in some other package (it originally came with a set of markers as well) and hopefully managed to at least recoup their losses before this fell into the scrapheap of transient superhero tie-ins.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On -isms: How Typical Is Historical Misogyny?

A few weeks ago, I talked a bit about an early science fiction convention from 1891 based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1871 novel The Coming Race. (Later editions retitled it Vril, the Power of the Coming Race.) The convention itself aside, my interest was piqued enough that I dug up a copy of the book and started reading it. Last night, I had to give up.

The book was a bit of a slog for me in the first place. I don't care much for Bulwer-Lytton's overly flowery prose, and couple that with a "plot" that largely consists of long-winded descriptions of the whole society. The book is not so much a story, but mostly has the main character convalescing and reporting on how this new society is different from Victorian England. It reads kind of like a wish list of what Bulwer-Lytton would like the world to be. Everyone is healthy and attractive and strong, no one is poor or homeless, they have a limitless supply of free energy... It's horribly dry material, which is I suppose why the author tried to make it more interesting with lots of unnecessarily verbose descriptions.

And then I got to chapter ten. It starts...
The word Ana (pronounced broadly 'Arna') corresponds with our plural 'men;' An (pronounced 'Arn'), the singular, with 'man.' The word for woman is Gy (pronounced hard, as in Guy); it forms itself into Gy-ei for the plural, but the G becomes soft in the plural like Jy-ei. They have a proverb to the effect that this difference in pronunciation is symbolical, for that the female sex is soft in the concrete, but hard to deal with in the individual. The Gy-ei are in the fullest enjoyment of all the rights of equality with males, for which certain philosophers above ground contend.
Let's set aside the renaming-things-for-the-sake-of-renaming-things motif; and we'll even disregard the narratively useless changes in pronunciation. What's bugging me here, and what forced me to quit reading this entirely was that whole "female sex is soft in the concrete, but hard to deal with in the individual" bit. Basically, he's saying that women are weak but a pain in the ass when you actually talk with one of them. I should hope that I don't have to explain how sexist that is, right?

Now, granted, that was written in 1871, before a national women's suffrage movement even started in England, much less gained any sort of traction. So it's hardly surprising that Bulwer-Lytton held some sexist attitudes. That he even provides the platitude about enjoying equal rights as men would have been a progressive statement. But that he tosses that equality line out after spending an entire paragraph explaining why woman and women have two distinct pronunciations, it rings pretty hollow. "Sure, women are equal to men, just not as equal."

This shows up in comics all the time. Stuff written in the Golden Age seems incredibly sexist today. And if it's written (or drawn) poorly on top of that? Well, it makes reading through it that much more of a slog. If not outright impossible.

The thing of it is that this captures the mood and tenor of the time in which it's written. Art is a reflection of society, right? More accurately, art is a reflection of what one creator interprets as the current status of the society in which s/he lives. So to say everyone in 1871 thought the same way Bulwer-Lytton did would be the equivalent of saying that everyone in 2014 thought the same way Dave Sim does. That said, that Bulwer-Lytton remained a popular author for much of his life suggests that his thinking wasn't that uncommon. Just as, through crapfests like Gamergate, we can see that Sim's thinking isn't all that uncommon either. (Just to be clear, "not uncommon" is still a far cry from "prevalent" or even "typical.")

All of which is to say that any given comic you read is indeed a reflection of the time it was created. But to see precisely how much of a reflection, you would need to look at a number of different comics from a number of different creators from the same time period. (Fortunately, comics' serial periodical format makes it fairly simple to identify contemporary issues!) Does Robert Crumb really speak for everyone in 1968 with Zap Comix #1? Or is that perhaps tempered by Stan Lee and John Romita's Amazing Spider-Man? Or John Broome and Ross Andru's Flash? Or Russ Manning's Magnus, Robot Fighter? Or Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins, On Stage? Or Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Meance?

The collective view of society would, in fact, be reflected in all of these. And while you may have to put an individual book down because the outdated views are too grating to read, know that that particular story may not be indicative of everything of that period.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On History: Got a Spare $70k?

While the character of Archie Andrews debuted in Pep Comics #22 from late 1941, he became enough of a hit to warrant his own title in 1942. The character soon found himself the focus of several titles, so much so that MLJ Magazines changed its name to Archie Comics, and all but dropped everything non-Archie related.

Archie Comics have been published continuously since 1942. Through the book burnings and Senate subcommittee hearings, through the birth of the direct market, through the special cover incentive bubble, through every part of the roller coaster that is the comics industry. That is some long-standing history, especially for a perpetual high school student!

And while there have been slumps in the creativity afforded the comic, there have been some really impressive moves in the creative direction of the stories in recent years, largely thanks to Dan Parent. He's helped to make Archie Comics an aggressively more progressive company than any of its publishing peers.

Needless to say, there's plenty of history that could be covered in writing about Archie. But, now, for $70,000 you can own every single issue of Archie Comics. Not reprints, not digital copies. The original print issues. Every. Single. Issue. Ever. Over 630 individual issues, from 1942 until today. Up for sale on ebay.

I don't have anything really to add to that besides... wow.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Business: Mixing Business & Friendships

I've been to a few different weddings now where at least one of the two people getting married worked in comics. The ceremonies themselves obviously reflected the individuals, and I've been honored and proud to have been witness to them. But as I'm sitting here reflecting a bit, I can't help but make some comparisons. Not in terms of whose was better or anything like that, but just how different approaches in making comics are reflected in the weddings.

On one end of the spectrum was a wedding in which both the bride and groom worked in comics in different capacities. They're not huge celebrity names that sell tons of additional books just because their names were on them, but they're far from unknowns. They've both done work for Marvel and DC, as well as some personal projects that are closer to their passions. They know that those personal projects are emotionally satisfying, but they need to work with the big guys to pay the bills. As such, they spend a lot of time in and among the circles of comics professionals and, accordingly, a great many of their wedding guests were comics professionals.

On the other end was a wedding in which just the groom worked in comics. Again, not a huge celebrity name but one that's not unknown. He's never worked for Marvel and DC. I suspect that if they offered him a gig, he'd take it, but it's never been a real pursuit of his. He'd rather work on his personal passion projects and pour his all into that. His work is very much his work, and that's what drives him, even if he never really makes any fame or fortune from it. He pours his energy into the work, and doesn't spend much as much time with other comic professionals. Accordingly, at his wedding, there was only one other guest besides myself who had much of an interest in comics, but he wasn't working in the industry and he was on the bride's side anyway!

It's interesting, I think, because a wedding isn't just a list of everyone in your address book; it's a reflection of the people closest to you emotionally. The first wedding happened to look like a comic book convention attendee list; the second one, not so much. Even though I suspect he could scan through his digital rolodex and get the names and addresses of just as many comics folks. Part of why those first couple are doing more work within the industry (after, of course, having a fair amount of talent) is that they have a number of people they are close to who also work in the industry, and are able to provide support and guidance, even if it's only tangential to their prime career. The other gent, not being as "in" with other comics pros, doesn't have as many connections to work with, and winds up working largely outside the system. Which, I hasten to add, is not an issue/concern for him! I daresay it's almost a point of pride.

Neither approach is necessarily better than the other. And your wedding should not be about just trying to make industry connections. But it is interesting to note how the different professional approaches are reflected in the personal lives of creators. By taking one path, your personal and professional lives blur together more than you might expect, but by taking another path, you can still work in comics and keep them pretty separated. It all depends on what your goals and aspirations as a comic creator are.

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Strips: First Dual-Duty Creator?

One of the many challenges in working as a comic strip artist is the daily grind of it. Although things have changed enough in recent years so that it's no longer mandatory per se, but the general rule is that they have to churn out a new strip seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. A new strip with a new idea every single day. That's no easy task. So when someone comes along to work two strips...? Well, that is certainly an impressive feat.

I think the first person I recall seeing do that was Jim Davis. He had been doing Garfield for several years, and then introduced U.S.Acres. He no longer does both strips, and only does some of the work on Garfield any more however. Of course, he wasn't the first or last to try multiple strips and you could argue he wasn't very successful at it since his second strip only lasted three years. (At that point, I'm not sure how many assistants Davis might have been using, or if he was still trying to do it all himself.)

You've also got team-up efforts that would seem to make the increased workload of a second strip more mangeable. Mort Walker (who was already working on Beetle Bailey) collaborated with Dik Brown (already working on Hagar the Horrible) to develop Hi and Lois together. Tom Batiuk (after working on Funky Winkerbean) launched John Darling with Tom Armstrong and later Crankshaft with Chuck Ayers.

Another alternative is to not make the second strip a seven-day-a-week thing. Greg Cravens has been working on The Buckets for several years, and more recently launched the five-days-a-week webcomic Hubris. Mike Peters does Mother Goose & Grimm every day, but his editorial cartoons are only twice a week.

So it's not unheard of to work on two strips simultaneously, but it's clearly an effort. But my question is: who attempted this first? Who was the first comic creator to work on more than one strip at a time?

Well, I haven't done an exhaustive analysis, but I'm currently putting my money on Winsor McCay. His first strips were published in 1903. He tried a couple different titles, but they didn't last very long. His first real success was Little Sammy Sneeze which debuted in July 1904. While still working on that, he launched Dream of a Rarebit Fiend in September of that year. In January 1905, he began The Story of Hungry Henrietta (not one of his more popular strips) and in June, he started A Pilgrim's Progress By Mister Bunion before finally getting to Little Nemo in Slumberland in October. The only strip McCay dropped during this timeframe was Hungry Henrietta so at the tail end of 1905, he was working on four different strips simultaneously. He continued that throughout 1906 before dropping Sammy Sneeze (so he could do a 4,000 cell animation by himself) but he continued on with the other three strips through 1910.

Now, granted, these weren't all daily strips, but they were more detailed and considerably larger than anything you'd find today (often taking up a full newspaper page by themselves). Other earlier cartoonists certainly worked on multiple strips in a serial nature, but does anyone know of any cartoonists working multiple strips simulatenously?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On -isms: Fear & Courage

People are called courageous for doing things that many others won't do. Running into burning buildings to save someone. Defending a stranger against an armed assailant. Reporting an injustice even under the threat of bodily harm. There's no end to what can be considered examples of courage. And many look to those so-called courageous people as individuals who have no fear. They're real world Green Lanterns, charging into to save the day without even the benefit of a power ring.

But that's not courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is not the opposite of fear. Courage is having the inner strength to do something IN SPITE OF fear. In order to be courageous, you need to be first be fearful of something so that you can overcome that fear.

You can still be heroic without being courageous, mind you. Superman is very heroic. He goes around saving people all the time. But it's not courageous for him to stand in front of a bank robber's gun since he knows that his skin is hard enough to deflect every one of the bullets without so much as leaving a bruise. Heroism ≠ courage.

And this is relevant to our ongoing -isms discussion because fear is what lies at the heart of most -isms. Often fear of the unfamiliar. Fear of what's different.

"I don't really know any gay people. Their culture includes things I don't understand. I don't know what to say or how to act when they display those cultural touchstones that are unfamiliar to me."

"I don't really know any Black people. Their culture seems different than mine, and I do not want to risk theirs superceding mine. I'm very comfortable with my own culture, and not comfortable with theirs."

That's essentially what -isms boil down to: a mechansim for justifying treating someone poorly because they look/act/sound a little different than what you're used to. They're reacting out of fear. They're reacting fearfully because they have no courage. They fear what they don't know or understand, and don't even have the courage to try to learn about it. They don't have the courage to say, "Just because it's different doesn't mean it's wrong." They don't have the courage to say, "Just because it's different, it doesn't invalidate my preferences."

And perhaps that's part of the problem in comics. There are so many out there that talk about heroism, but don't touch on courage. Spider-Man doesn't fear going against the Green Goblin. Batman doesn't fear confronting the Joker. Archie Andrews didn't even fear taking a bullet for Kevin Keller. Those characters are/were absolutely acting heroically, but not courageously.

I can't help but wonder, then, if we would see fewer instances of -isms in the comics community if the stories were less focused on heroism, and more focused on courage.