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David Lloyd's Lettering Guide
One of the earliest instances I can recall where I was conscious that a comic book publisher was creating promotional materials to sell to retailers was in the early 1990s, when I learned that they were making a six-foot tall inflateable Spider-Man that could be hung in stores or suction-cupped to windows. I'm not sure where I heard about it however. I'm pretty confident that I've never actually seen one in person. My best guess is that I saw a photo of one in Wizard or a similar fan magazine.

I also seem to recall that they were reasonably priced. Almost to the point where I could've afforded one, despite not having a job at the time. I want to say they were $100? But I had no way of getting one, since I didn't have any retailer connections at the time. There was effectively no after-market for these because none of the retailers who did buy them wanted to part with them.

Decades later, they're available on ebay with some regularity. I see two that still come with the original box at the moment. But despite having the funds to purchase one now (they still seem to only be around $100!) I find that there are so many volumes more of commercially available products that are better displays of a wider variety of comic book characters, that the inflateable Spider-Man seems pretty chinsy by comparison. It was essentially made in the last days of Marvel just starting to make it big time, but just before they really developed the savvy to do really quality marketing. It's a large tchotchke, not appreciable any different than a logo-emblazened bag or stress ball.

The key to tagging this to a period before they started doing quality marketing is that some of the folks at Marvel sat down in a room and decidedly, jointly, that calling this "Inflate-O-Spidey" was a good idea.
Inflate-O-Spidey box
I've seen copyright dates on these ranging from 1991-1994, so it seemed to have been a success for Marvel. Further proof that it did well was that an Inflate-O-Wolverine was also made available.
O Human Star
Last month, Black History Month, you may have seen any number of people (myself included, hopefully) talk up a variety of comics, both online and in print, that were created by Black creators. Maybe you discovered a new artist whose style you really like, or maybe just a new work by someone you were already familiar with. Either way, I hope you were exposed to something cool that wasn't by a white, gisgendered, hetero male.

Genius #4
March is Women's History Month. I expect you'll see a similar set of recommendations throughout the month highlight female comic creators. And I hope you are once again exposed to something cool that isn't by a white, gisgendered, hetero male.

But that exposure is only part of the what needs to happen.

The other part is making sure these creators can get money by doing more of what you liked about them. That is, making comics. And the way you get them to make more comics is by encouraging them with your wallet.

In some cases, that means buying the books that they work on. Essentially telling their publishers that you like this and and want to see more of it. Whether that's through your local comic shop or Amazon or whatever, the publishers get those sales numbers and see that these creators are doing something people like. That generates dollars for the publisher, so they hire those creators again.

Pre-orders count pretty strongly too! Even if the book won't be out for months, pre-ordering it (again, through your LCS or Amazon or wherever) tells the publisher you're really eager to see the work in print. Just because a book is solicited doesn't mean it will actually see print, but pre-ordering helps to ensure that it will. And, hey, it doesn't cost you anything until it's finally printed. Here again, this encourages publishers to continue hiring these people.

A lot of creators are putting stuff out on the web for free as a way to garner your attention. But the way the make money is by selling printed copies of their work and/or other items related to their comics: t-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed toys, etc. Crowd-funding falls under this category too. In these cases, the money you drop on their work goes directly to them. It's like being at a convention and handing a twenty dollar bill directly to the creator and them handing you a book. That twenty bucks might buy them lunch. The point is that you are telling them very directly that their work is of value, and you are willing to suppor them financially.

Now, obviously, we can't all pay all the money we want to all the creators we want, right? I know I sure can't! But I am willing to pay what I can afford to the creators I like the most. Depending on what they're doing, that might involve different strategies. I've got Adam Freeman, Marc Bernardin, and Afua Richardson's Genius TPB on pre-order at Amazon, I contribute to Blue Delliquanti's Patreon campaign, I recently backed Darryl Holliday & E. N. Rodriguez's Kedzie Avenue Kickstarter.

I can't afford everything I'd like, or support everyone that deserves it, but I try to put what money I can where my mouth is. If you discover a creator or a work you really like, particularly those that aren't well-served by the comics industry in general, try to do what you can to support their work. That's really the way that we're going to make real progress: by doing more than just saying we need more diversity, by actually paying for it!
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
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!