Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pirates of Coney Island #2

Just got a chance to read Pirates of Coney Island #2. A lot of what I liked about #1 was present here... Lolos' art was generally very strong, and Spears' writing was pleasantly restrained. He let the art tell the story in many scenes and refrained from using obvious explanatory dialogue.

The basic plot revolves around Patch meeting the titular pirates, and how he joins the group, despite some initial reservations. The process flows pretty naturally, and not in a trite manner that one might expect from a comic book. The characters also feel realistic and genuine -- they're almost painfully aware of their place in society. The dialogue is crisp and the occasional pirate lingo feels surprisingly natural, despite coming from a contemporary gang of land-locked kids.

In fact, I really only have one complaint about this issue -- the hot dog eating scene was not well-explained, I felt. It looked kind of like a hot dog eating contest, and the solicitation copy confirms that, but I had to re-read that scene several times to really get that. A simple banner or poster in the background or something would've been sufficient, but just suddenly seeing these people eating hot dogs was a bit disjointed.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the book and I made a point of telling my local comic shop to add it to my pull list. While there's a superficial resemblence to being an update of the old kid team books like the Newsboy Legion, the characters are all distinctly different and don't fall into the broad stereotypes that are often used. Even with the relatively minimal dialogue, we can see these characters as characters unique unto themselves and there's a lot of strength in that.

There's a lot to like with this book. I was a little reluctant to pick up the first issue, to be honest, based on nothing in particular. But I'm glad I did, and I hope the series does well.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Big Barda

I was checking out some of the web sites that are referring over here, and saw that Axel Gruner took up the Kirby Design Meme challenge over at his Nemed House. I'll post a full Meme update later, but Axel opted to select Big Barda as his character design of choice. (By the way, the site's written in German, so I only got the overall gist of his reasoning.)

In any event, I thought it was interesting because I've been thinking about Big Barda lately anyway. As you may know, I tackle a different character's design in each issue of The Jack Kirby Collector and the next two issues are supposed to focus on Kirby technology and warriors. I'm doing my research currently for Machine Man, and I was kicking around who to tackle for a Kirby warrior. Oh, there's plenty to choose from, so my head was swimming with ideas. The Howling Commandos jump immediately to mind, as well as just about any other war story character Jack did. Or the guys from SHIELD. Almost anyone from Thor. Almost limitless possibilities.

But amid all the contenders, I think I'm going to take on Big Barda.

The interesting thing about Big Barda -- aside from the it-shouldn't-work-but-does idea -- is that no one has really looked past Lainie Kazan as the visual inspiration for the character. Now, while that may well suffice for her face and general body structure, that doesn't address her costume at all. Blue chain mail, yellow trunks and a red cape? Where's that come from?

I honestly have no clue at the moment. But a lot of what I enjoy in working on my column is the research and just trying to uncover what I can. If you're curious, wait around a few months and pick up Jack Kirby Collector #49 next spring. Hopefully, I'll have it all figured out by then.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

October 1958

Last week, I got some good feedback on my covers post looking at what a comic rack might've looked like in November 1961, so I thought I'd take a look a few years earlier. Today, we're looking at October 1958, which is often heralded as the beginnning of the Silver Age because Showcase #4 debuted and featured the first appearance of the modern age Flash. What's also interesting/significant, but rarely mentioned is that it's also the debut of the Smurfs in France's Le Journal de Spirou and Bizarro in Superboy.

Romance books seem to be on the decline by this point while monsters and science fiction hadn't quite struck a chord yet. Probably in large part due to the still relatively recent Keafauver hearings and the creation of the Comics Code Authority. And, naturally, superheroes hadn't quite caught on yet, and the JLA was still a little while off.

But, without further ado, let me present the spinner rack of October 1958...

Personally, I think what's collectively note-worthy here is how bad everything looks. Sure, the industry was still trying to figure out what was and wasn't allowable under the Comics Code, but many of these covers are just plain poorly designed. Lots of visually uncomfortable dead spaces, especially between the main artwork and the logo. Somewhat indicative of the industry at the time, I suppose.

And, say, what do you suppose Fred Wertham would've said to that Wonder Woman cover?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jerry Bails Memoriam

I'm certain that the death of Dave Cockrum will do a lot to overshadow that of Jerry Bails, but I think Jerry is deserving of much more than what I expect he'll receive. I'm probably not the best person to take this up (that honor should fall to Roy Thomas and/or possibly Bill Schelly) but I'm probably the most vocal online, so I'm going to try to honor Jerry here in the ether while Roy puts together whatever he'll undoubtly do in Alter Ego. (The cover shown here, by the way, is taken from a celebratory issue from 2003.)

This blog would not exist without Jerry Bails. Newsarama would not exist without Jerry. Marvel Comics would not exist without Jerry. Without Jerry Bails, the comic book landscape would definitely look a lot different. Bold statements, certainly, but Jerry really did have that kind of impact on the industry.

I first learned about Jerry in Bill Schelly's The Golden Age of Comic Fandom. Schelly is one of a very few authors to really take a look at comic book fandom thus far, and he's far and away the most prolific of them. Schelly's book examines the earliest days of comic book fandom tracing its roots back to the early days of science fiction fandom decades earlier. Jerry is referenced, though, on numerous occasions for all of the various things he'd done for the industry. I was surprised, in reading the book, to learn about how much he had done since he is/was scarecely discussed in comic book literture. He never worked for Marvel or DC or any comic book publisher, and yet he clearly had a huge impact on the industry as a whole.

I can't begin to describe the entirety of things Jerry did for the industry, but Alter Ego #25 does a good job if you want to order that from TwoMorrows. There's also a (much) shorter summary of his efforts, as well as an interview I conducted with him, over at The Pulse.

Jerry wasn't the first comic book fan, certainly. He wasn't even the first to publish articles about comic books. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he put a LOT of effort in making comic book fandom its own entity. He repeatedly would start fannish efforts to get things rolling, then pass them off to other fans, so he could start yet another way to bring fans together. He could have stuck with Alter Ego (or any of his ideas) and made it successful in its own right. But instead, he was interested in uniting fandom long before the days of cheap, easy, electronic communication. He was writing letters constantly. His letter-writing helped prompt Julie Schwartz to create the Justice League of America -- which, in turn, prompted Marvel to respond with Fantastic Four! His letter-writing (and a sizeable donation of old comics) helped keep a young Roy Thomas interested throughout college, and prompted Roy to leave his schoolteacher job in Missouri for a gig with DC -- which led to his being snatched up by Marvel's Stan Lee a scant two weeks later.

I never met Jerry in person. He was something of a homebody with failing eyesight by the time I even knew his name. But we communicated via e-mail for a little while, and our conversations ran all over the map. And in every facet of our talks, he was thoughtful, intelligent, well-reasoned, polite and open. I mean, here was this punk kid asking questions about aspects of his life that he didn't think anyone would care about, and he responded with an amazing amount of candor, bringing up deeply personal moments without prompting. I felt almost immediately at ease with him, and I treasure the electronic commuiques we exchanged.

I've been studying comic book fandom specifically for several years, and I don't feel I even have a good grasp on everything Jerry contributed to fandom. I am quite happy to have had the chance to chat with him, but saddened that he is no longer with us. Even if he hadn't been so strong a force in fandom, he was genuinely a nice guy and dealt with a lot of hardships with an amazing strength of character.

I'll always regret not having tried taking the opportunity to meet Jack Kirby before he passed away. I think it's important to let people know when they have an impact on your life, and I didn't really have a good sense of what Kirby did for me before he died. I did at least have an chance to tell Jerry and thank him for everything he's done, but it's unfortunate that so many people are only now just learning about him now that he's no longer with us.

Jerry did seem pleased overall with where fandom has gotten to, although I'm sure he didn't give himself nearly enough credit in how he shaped it. I think it's impossible to understate what Jerry did for comic book fandom in the same way that it's impossible to understate what Jack Kirby did for comic books. There's just so much there over so long a period that I can't imagine what fandom would look like without Jerry to have kicked things off.

So thank you, Jerry. Thank you for Alter-Ego and Comicollector and Who's Who and the Detroit Triple Fan Fair and the GCD and everything else you did for comic fandom. Thank you for never losing sight of what you enjoyed in comics. Thank you for showing what could be done by joining together through long-distance communication. Thank you for doing everything that you did with a high degree of intelligence and professionalism that helped to bring respectability to comics. Thank for you spending so much of your free time devoted to a life-long hobby. And most of all, thank you for being such a decent, honorable human being that I am proud to say I had the chance to know ever so briefly. I'm not a religious man but, Jerry, I hope you've got the chance now to re-read those old, mint condition All-Stars as often as you like.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Jerry Bails

Damn! With all my running around for holiday/family stuff, I just learned that Jerry Bails passed away on Wednesday! I've read a few obits and brief remembrances so far, but none that I feel do the man justice. Over the next day or so, I'll be writing a lengthy piece to try to put Jerry's contributions into perspective. I'm sure Roy Thomas will do an excellent tribute to Jerry in Alter Ego, but the blogosphere owes just as much to the man as the fanzines do.

Kirby Design Meme Update

Just a quick note here to link to some of the folks who've added to the Kirby Design Meme...
Jon Corimer over at hypnoray votes for Machine Man. Harvey Jerkwater from Filing Cabinet of the Damned chooses Dr. Doom. Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin refers back to a piece he wrote on The Thing a while back. Dipping into the Golden Age, Kalinara talks about Sandy at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise.

More links as I find them, but I having a blast reading these!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Super Serials!

A few weeks ago, I discovered Turner Classic Movies was airing some of the old Superman serials featuring Kirk Alyn. Five chapters every Saturday morning. At the moment, I'm watching Chapter 8 of the second storyline: "Atom Man vs. Superman".

The serials are kind of corny in the same way that every serial was back in the day. Cheesy cliffhangers that are retconned in the following chapter. Flimsy motivations. Absurd notions about science. Plot holes you could drive a truck through.

But the main actors do a better than decent job. Kirk Alyn in particular makes a very credible Clark Kent, although his Superman is not perhaps as physically impressive as later actors. Noel Neill also does a great job that I don't think carried over as well into the George Reeves era -- she has a Debbie Reynolds thing going on that probably would've made her more of a name had she been few years younger and gotten into movies after serials started fading to the wayside. Lyle Talbot also does an excellent job as Lex Luther and looks the part better than any actor who's taken the role since.

The film quality itself looks excellent for as old as the films are. (More than likely, this is a result of the DVD release.) Worth tuning in at least for a few episodes.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving Article

Still running around from holiday-related family stuff, but I did catch this article in yesterday's Cincinnati Enquirer. It was in the business section, and talks about an intersection in the area that has a comic shop, an "antique" toy store and non-mainstream music shop. I've been to both the toy and comic shops repeatedly (although not recently) and it's decidedly refreshing to see this kind of coverage of something OTHER than a huge corporation like Wal-Mart or Macy's.