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Airboy #1
I happened across this Catherine Yronwode piece on the inside cover of Airboy #1 cover dated July 15, 1986. I'm not sure what exactly prompted her to write this at the time, but it seems to speak to 2017 pretty well, too, so I thought I would reproduce it here. (Note: Yronwode refers to herself throughout the piece using a lower case "I" in the original; I'm repeating that formatting, and a few other idiosyncrasies here.)
MAKING ART: I was raised in a family that valued political integrity highly. Childhood memories of my mother's outrage at being asked to sign a "loyalty oath" during the McCarthy era (so she could work in a library, of all places) combined with what she had told me about life in Germany as Hitler rose to power, and i knew that fighting facism and repression were as important to life as . . . well, as life itself.

As i grew older, i saw a curious contradiction in the area where art intersects with politics. Art (by which i mean all art -- dream, literature, dance, painting, poetry and the rest) must be protected always from political repressives who would censor and destroy it because it may lead people into avenues of free thought and fellow-feeling. But the politics of struggle against severe violations of human rights often casts the role of art into doubt: will singing songs really end apartheid in South Africa?

At one time i saw the polarity of art versus struggle as epitomized in the difference between two towns in California -- San Francisco (where i was born) and Berkeley (where i was raised).

San Francisco, garbed in many colours -- not all of them in the visible spectrum -- represented the triumph of at over all . . . and it fell prey to art's lesser known nemesis, not repression but success. Berkeley, land of City Council meetings and student protests, was dangerous in its idealism: people were actually killed over trivialities such as public parks versus parking lots.

I left Berkeley when i couldn't take the tear-gassing anymore, but i didn't move to San Francisco, land of the lotus-eaters. Instead i chose to "live" my politics in a quiet environment and make what art i could with my own hands. That course of action kept me busy for a decade, sewing quilts and refusing to vote for military build-ups.

The trouble was, i needed more art in my life than i could make for me. I also needed more ways to work for the betterment of life than just saying "no" to local corruption and graft.

What i needed, and what i finally sought, was involvement with the larger scale arts and entertainments as well as the world arena of human interactions.

All of which leads me to a small transcendent moment in an old rehearsal room above the cracking-plaster decay of the St. Mark's Theatre in New York City a couple of days ago.

Dean's brother Jan Mullaney, former Eclipse Publisher, was at the piano. Sitting next to him were Mary Bracken Phillips, a singer and song-writer, and David Cooper, a singer. They were running through some numbers from the musical Jan and Mary had written, called "Cradle Song." As they worked at their lines and joked over their miscues, i felt a tremendous sense of peaceful well-being. I saw very clearly the similarities between their making of a musical and my daily work toward the making of comic books.

What i saw in that moment was the vast linkage of all people who have ever made art, and especially those whose goals included mass popular entertainment. The work behind the scenes to bring art of any kind before the public, the presentation of the piece in hope that someone who sees it will be aesthetically delighted and even emotionally moved, this is a very fine thing, that's all. It must be protected from dictators and thugs, it must be kept free from the taint of corrupt influence, and it must be open to anyone who wishes to participate.

Making art may be the best thing humans can do. It may also be one of the most political, because it insists on freedom in order to flourish. We need not condemn a governmental system for anything worse than its repression of art to demand its overthrow. Art is freedom and we shall be free.

catherine yronwode
In the 1970s, Jack Kirby launched a number of titles for DC. They were generally dismissed by the industry at the time, with some of the Jack's artwork being redrawn for long-standing characters, and newer works getting cancelled despite decent sales. It was only a decade or two later that people started to understand what Jack was doing at the time, and appreciate it beyond his devoted followers. And it's really only been within the past ten years or so that DC seemed to start acknowledging the creative output Jack did for them by reprinting his stories.

But, to me, one of the stranger cases from a business perspective is Jack's The Demon.

Jack's original run on the 1972 title, featuring a character of his own creation, lasted only sixteen issues. DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #5 reprinted the first issue in 1980, but aside from that, nothing else has been collected or reprinted by DC except in one Omnibus collection that came out in 2008. No trade paperbacks, no Archive collections, no other single issue reprints, none of the books are even available digitally! IDW did come out with an "Artist's Edition" version which just uses Jack's original pencils but, here again, only the first issue. Which means your options, if you want to read that story are either track down the Omnibus or all 16 of those back issues.

Now, granted, this is basically how comic collectors used to have to operate all the time! Reprints weren't widely available, digital wasn't even an option, so you had to do a lot of scouring to get the original books. And that was even before the internet made quick searches on ebay easy. I spent my early decades as a comic fan working like this.

But here, now, in the twenty-first century, that seems a very strange business decision. It's not like The Demon is this obscure work or he's an unused character. Or like Jack himself is unheard of. You can get Forever People and Mister Miracle --both works created by the same man for the same company in the same time period--in paperback and digital formats currently pretty easily. Kamandi is only hardcover and digital, but not prohibitively expensive.

But The Demon? While it's got a MSRP of $50, in the past two or three years, I haven't seen a copy for less than $100. Most have been $125-$150. The original individual issues usually run about $10 each, whether you get them independently or as a set. All of which says to me that there's still a pretty solid market for this material that DC is ignoring.

Now it'd be one thing if they still had to go back and digitize everything, touch it all up, and recolor it... but they already did all that for the Omnibus. Why not use that same work to set up a relatively inexpensive two or three trade paperback set? Or shoot the files over to comiXology to at least make them available digitally?

Clearly, I'm missing something here, some unique business justification why they aren't putting this out there. What is it?
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Presidential Impact

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Byrne's Generations Review

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Wednesday Webcomics: Scalability

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Bass Reeves Review

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: The Comic Strip Murder

The TV show Suspense debuted in early 1949 on CBS on ran for six seasons. It was an anthology series based on a radio show where each episode presented an entirely different story, related only by the broad "suspense" genre. The TV show was sponsored by Auto-Lite, and host Rex Marshall regularly hawked spark plugs, headlights, and other car parts. Several stories (particularly early in the series) were adapted from the radio show, while several others were lifted from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, and Charles Dickens.

Of particular interest here is the September 27, 1949 episode entitled "The Comic Strip Murder." In the story, Julia Stetson's husband, Mark, draws an adventure strip called Buzz O'Keefe, which seems to be something of Dick Tracy knock-off. The female lead in the strip is based off Julia, and after nine years of working on the strip, Mark decides he's going to kill off the character in a particularly gruesome manner. This convinces Julia that Mark is out to kill her as well, so she calls on the police. I'll leave you in "suspense" about what actually happens in the story...

But one of the things I find interesting about these types of works is that they have to show at least some samples of the comic in question. And, more to the point, they have to get someone to draw them. So I watched through the episode to see if I could make out any tell-tale markers of who might have worked on it -- I was skeptical, though, and went in assuming it was whoever was already working on the show and could kind of draw a bit. So imagine my surprise when the end credits actually featured a credit for the cartoonist! And imagine that I was doubled surprised to see a name I recognized: Dick Ayers!

Ayers is probably primarily known as an inker from the early days of Marvel Comics, but he had been in the comics industry for many years as a penciller by then, doing a lot of work on Westerns for Timely/Atlas. Including the creation of the original Ghost Rider. He would later have an extended run on Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos beginning in 1963.

But in 1949, at the age of 25, he was only a couple years out of school and had already begun working in comics, getting his start with Dell Comics. In fact, his original Ghost Rider character debuted in Tim Holt #11 (from Magazine Enterprises) shortly before "The Comic Strip Murder" aired. I can't seem to find any information about how he landed the TV gig, but I suspect it was through some connection editor Vin Sullivan had.

There's not much of Ayers' work shown in this episode, but certainly enough to showcase that he was already an extremely talented artist...
A few months back, I reviewed Joel Christian Gill's biography of Bessie Stringfield. I was certainly encouraged enough to track down the first volume of the series, featuring a biography of Bass Reeves, "the most successful lawman in the Old West!"

The story begins in the 1840s, with Reeves as a child. As America was still several years away from the Emancipation Proclamation, Reeves was owned by a white man who taught him how to fire a rifle so that he could enter the boy in shooting competitions and clean up on bets. After all, who would bet on a Black boy?

Reeves grew up like this, but eventually fled during the Civil War and lived with a tribe of Native Americans for a while before joining a platoon of Black Union soldiers. Reeves' sense of justice and fairness earned him a position alongside some Oklahoma deputies and eventually led to him becoming a full US Marshal. He was incredibly effective in the role, ultimately bringing in over 3,000 outlaws over his career, thanks in part to his aim and in part to his overall approach, which often involved sneaking up on his targets in some form of disguise. He did marry and have a son, but he spent much of his time on the roads and didn't see them often, instead travelling with a Native American companion.

I couldn't have pegged Reeves' name for anything a week ago. But after maybe a dozen pages or so, I realized the story sounded just familiar enough that I thought I'd heard it before. And another dozen pages, it dawned on me that I was reading a biography of the real life inspiration for the Lone Ranger. Gill doesn't make that connection obvious until the very end of the book, reflecting perhaps that the connection isn't entirely confirmed. While Gill simply recounts Reeves' life, as opposed to actively trying to make a case for the lawman being an inspiration for the character, the details he provides definitely give the reader something of an a-ha moment when the Lone Ranger idea is finally mentioned on the last page of the story.

Whether or not Reeves did serve as the model for the Lone Ranger is moot, though, as his life is pretty compelling on the face of it. Having grown up a slave, and literally fighting his way out of that life is no small feat by itself. But then to assume a position of authority in a relatively lawless area, as a man who is frequently hated because of the color of his skin... well, that's super impressive. Couple that with being successful? The man would be a big damn hero even if the Lone Ranger was never created!

Gill's storytelling is solid for the most part. I did feel one scene in which Reeves accidentally kills a cook was a little oddly staged; I'm not sure if that was deliberate to emphasize how the subsequent trial could go either way, but I don't know that keeping that part deliberately ambiguous was necessary. After all, a Black man killing a white man in the 1880s would all but guarantee a guilty verdict regardless of the circumstances. Showing readers the actual events clearly wouldn't have changed that.

It's a relatively minor story point to nitpick over, especially since Gill makes it clear what happens with the dialogue, but it did catch me off-guard a bit.

Nevertheless, the book is solid overall, and I'm looking forward to whenever Gill is able to get the next one complete. It looks like that might be about Robert Smalls or Mary Bowser, both of whom sound like great subjects! We definitely need more books like these out there and available, and I suggest you pick this and his Bessie Stringfield biography up.
  • Greg Presto looks at the growing comic market in Africa, particularly in Nairobi.
  • Ron Edwards makes the argument that the history of US comics is the history of DC comics. "There’s no history of Marvel, Dell, Fawcett, Archie, and Gold Key, or their related media without DC in place for the bigger context."
  • Sarah Larson has a nice piece on Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. Hayden makes special call-out to their collection of comics.