Monday, October 31, 2011

What I've Been Up To

I just got back from spending a little over a week in Key West -- a vacation extended off the back of a wedding (not mine). It was entirely relaxing and good to get off the grid for a while. (My posts from the past week and half were written well in advance.) But my mind is always drawn towards comics and, despite their not having a real presence on the island, I found a few items of interest.

First, it turns out that former Marvel Comics publisher, Shirrel Rhoades, lives down there, apparently moving down not long after he left Marvel. I discovered this because he had given an autographed copy of his book, Comic Books: How the Industry Works, to local restaurant, Sarabeth's. I don't recall seeing it come up in the usual comic circles, but it looked like a little bit more of an insider's view of the industry than most books. I'll be trying to pick up my own copy and review it here.

There was also a week-long festival called Fantasy Fest. Kind of a Mardi Gras type of thing. Lots of costumes and alcohol and such. The theme this year "Aquatic Afrolic" so many of the costumes were mermaids, Neptune, fish, pirates, etc. I even saw an Aquaman. I wasn't very inspired by most of the costumes -- you tend to see better ones at most comic conventions. Talking with one of the locals, it turns out that the costume aspect has been downplayed in recent years, in favor of exhibitionism. So, lots of body paint, clevage, butt cracks and more than a few folks displaying their genitalia. The woman's costume shown at the left was one of the more tame ones -- but only when seen from the front. (By the way, the gent in the somewhat more traditional Captain America outfit was with her, so their costumes were meant as a pair.) Not too many comic references overall, though. Besides Aquaman and the two Caps, I think I only saw one each Batman, Joker, Superman and Wonder Woman. For a week-long costume party that tends to have attendance in excess of 100,000 that strikes me as surprisingly light representation.

One of the local houses also decorated their place up with a Batman theme for, as far as I could tell, no discernible reason. Lots of places were decorated, but they generally tried to tie things to the aquatic theme. Why Batman? I don't know, but there it is.

There were some good costumes to be seen, and some which weren't spectacularly well-executed but still quite clever in concept. (The woman dressed as Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty had a particularly great twist on the costume that didn't involve showing any additional skin.) But overall, I think you could find better costumes at any decent sized comic con. And there's a much decreased chance of needing to un-see something at a comic convention, too!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ersatz Kirby

Jack Kirby influenced a lot of people. Partially by being just so damned prolific, but he was also just a darn good storyteller. In comic books, it's not at all difficult to find artists who've been influenced by the man, and there are plenty of homages to him. But some artists take things a step further.

Tom Scioli is perhaps the most famous (currently) comic artist working in a very obvious Kirby style. He's been criticized for it, but what I think is interesting about Scioli's work isn't so much that it looks like Kirby's illustration style, but that it also has that late 1970s, throwing-every-weird-idea-at-the-wall vibe to it. Scioli doesn't just draw squared off fingers and "Kirby Krackle", but he's putting some unusual ideas out there. Check out his webcomic American Barbarian if you don't know what I'm talking about.

I've also recently come across the work of Sterling Clark, who writes and draws Ntombinde as weekly syndicated adventure strip after producing a graphic novel about her. As with Scioli, Clark's illustration style bears a lot of the classic Kirby hallmarks. What strikes me as especially interesting is how Clark channels Kirby differently than Scioli. Clark's art looks more like Kirby's mid-1960s work. Where Scioli looks a bit like Kirby's pre-Machine Man 2001, Clark looks more like Kirby's Black Panther stories in Fantastic Four. Similarly, Clark takes more cues from Kirby's technical storytelling skills than his broad concepts. In fact, I was struck with how Clark seemed to have consciously studied Kirby's page and panel layouts, something I've only seen done once or twice before. And even then, it was for a decidedly limited duration. Clark's entire Ntombinde graphic novel, and the snippets of other stories about her I've seen, reads and feels like a culturally aware Kirby book with more natural-sounding dialogue. ("Culturally aware" in the sense that the protagonist is a Congolese woman.)

Now, favorably comparing these guys to Kirby is obviously intended as a compliment from me. But in the same way that Kirby didn't always produce gems, the same holds true for Scioli and Clark. Some of Scioli's concepts are a little "out there" and don't always make a lot of sense, and sometimes Clark takes some abrupt story turns that hearkens back to Kirby's tendency to not plan his work much further out than the page he was working on. But here again, they're pulling very different things out of the same man's oeuvre.

I think that's one of the fascinating things about studying art of any sort: tracing back creators' influences and trying to figure out how they arrived at a finished product. What's more, tracing back creators to find a common source and seeing what they took from that source. Because whatever strikes one person about an artist, good or bad, it's inevitably different from what the next person sees.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Newspaper Strip Artists From 2004

I came across a copy of Hogan's Alley from a few years ago and it contained an interview with four newspaper strip cartoonists who were all "in the early part of their careers." It struck me as odd at first, largely because I didn't initially realize the interview was conducted in 2004, and all four cartoonists are fairly well-established now. But in double-checking, it seems doubly odd since two of the four artists had actually been in national syndication for nearly a decade when the interview took place. The four folks in question were Dave Coverly (Speed Bump, 1994), Jef Mallett (Frazz, 2001), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine, 2000) and Hilary Price (Rhymes with Orange, 1995).

In any event, there were a few pieces that stood out for me in explaining the industry. More to the point, there was commentary by relative newcomers at a point when newspapers were on a noticeable downward slide, but few people had really acknowledged that yet. I think that it sheds light on A) the social rifts that occur even within the industry and B) the lack of any deep understanding about the internet by the industry at that time.

Price, speaking about cartooning veterans: "It seems like it was a much more insular community. Everyone lived in and around New York, and they went to people's offices, things like that. Now you can cartoon from anywhere. There used to be a real sense of community."

What he touches on here is essentially the same type of thing that's occurred between newspaper cartoonists and webcomic creators. The people who all came into their respective media at around the same time form a community of sorts based on a "we're sharing the same types of problems" attitude. It's clear throughout the interview, these four cartoonists get along well with each other, but there's most of a decade between them. But they all acknowledge that they're competing against Beetle Bailey and Blondie and Dennis the Menace and a bunch of "old guard" strips that aren't even being worked on by their original creators any more.

Pastis: "Editors say that older people threaten to cancel their subscriptions when they try to cancel these dinosaur strips, and I said to them that they're not going to cancel. Every town in this country is a one-paper town. There are like 10 two-paper markets. Where are they going to go? My generation, on the other hand, is not reading the paper like generations past. That's who papers should try to capture."

Interestingly, while they all note the advantages of using the internet to attract/maintain an audience -- Pastis freely acknowledging that his initial success was due in large part to United Features running Pearls on their site before actually syndicating to newspapers -- there is zero mention in any capacity of webcomics. There's no animosity shown towards them; it just seems like the notion of doing webcomics is so completely foreign to them that it's never even considered. As a point of reference, Penny Arcade had been running for six years at this point, and PvP was successful enough that Image had been publishing a print version of the comic for almost two years.

The issue seems to stem from two things. First, these people are cartoonists. Not technologists or futurists or sociologists or anything like that. Their job is primarily to draw funny comics every day, and there's no reason why they would know anything beyond that, unless they specifically took that up as another interest. Second, they all stepped into the cartooning world with the old newspaper syndication model firmly embedded in their heads. They've been told often enough and long enough that the only way to make a living drawing comic strips is how they've done it for the past century that they can't see any other way that it might work.

Coverly: "... no one has absolutely any idea where it's going to go or how anyone is going to make any money. It just seems like if people are reading it, they should be paying for it somehow." (He's actually referring here to posting newspaper strips online, not webcomics.)

That's trying to apply old business models to a new business. I don't know if Penny Arcade or PvP were entirely self-funding by 2004, but they certainly had that new model (giving the comics away for free) in place as something they were aiming for. I presume they were. Girl Genius dropped print comics in favor of web distribution at the end of 2004 and the Foglios were very candid about why they were doing it. So the notion that a webcomic creator could make a living doing that was not only around but proven in practice by 2004.

Don't get the wrong idea here. I like Coverly's, Mallett's, Pastis' and Price's work. I read all of their comics as they come out. But I read them for free online. Legally. But that they also seemed to display, at least in 2004, a complete ignorance of what their competition was speaks volumes to why there's a rift between them (not necessarily these four cartoonists specifically, but newspaper cartoonists in general) and webcomic creators, and why those who work in newspapers are still clueless as to why things aren't going so well for them these days.

Friday, October 28, 2011

SnarfQuest The Review

Like many teenage boys in the 1980s, I was into Dungeons & Dragons. I didn't actually play all that much, but I had many of the books and boxed sets and magazines and such. And nestled in the back of each issue of Dragon Magazine was a serial adventure comic told in three-page increments. It was by none other than Larry Elmore, who called his story "SnarfQuest" after the lead character. Larry Elmore was THE artist for Dungeons & Dragons, illustrating many covers as well as providing lots of spot illustrations throughout the various books. I had already known him as a talent painter and to see him regularly do an actual story was a thrill!

Of course, this was back when I was still in my early teens. And it was the 1980s, so everybody's sense of style was pretty warped. So maybe I wasn't looking at things too clearly.

About three or four years ago, I stumbled across a collected edition of those SnarfQuest stories entitled, appropriately enough, SnarfQuest: The Book. I was thrilled once again since I didn't actually have ever installment of the story -- I only picked up Dragon sporadically and was missing a good chunk of the middle of the story. But that was still nostalgia working. I went to take another look at recently to see if I could look at it a little more critically.

The story is a sword-and-sorcery style fantasy focused on Snarf, a kind of bat-faced regular Joe of a guy who's trying to make something of himself. When his village's king dies, the citizens are all given a year to do as many great and heroic things as they can, and the one who comes back with the biggest reputation and most wealth will become king. Snarf then sets off to seek his fortunes. Adventures abound as Snarf teams up with the likes of Raffendorf (a prince enchanted into a giant rat), Aveeare (a time-travelling robot) and Willie (a giant dragon who thinks he's a duck).

The art, as to be expected from Elmore, is beautiful. He seems to have a knack for drawing everything with ease. He also does impressively well on the storytelling. Though he doesn't take many risks in that regard and sticks mainly to fairly standard page layouts, he still conveys the story well, regardless if it's a fight scene or talking heads or wildly careening through the middle of a town. The only "complaint" one can really lodge against the art, I think, is some of the costume choices Telerie makes when she finds some clothes from the future -- they're perhaps a bit too rooted in the mid-1980s.

The story has a good set-up. There's an overarching plot that holds things together, but also allows for the story to be told in a series of almost random adventures. Some things are more dangerous than others, some challenges require wit over skill, some adventures allow for more comedy... There's ultimately a good mix of all of that. Perhaps where it falls down a bit is in the way characters flit in and out of the story. It feels a bit like Elmore would throw in a character he thought could work, only to realize a few months later that he didn't have much of anywhere to go. Which might well be the case, since Elmore was cranking out quite a bit of work at the time and I believe this was his first sequential art piece. But it does lend a sort-of flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feel to the story. Which actually kind of works for the set-up/setting, bearing in mind that a lot of D&D games that got played had players in and out of games as their schedules might not always permit the exact same group to always play together over the extended period that a single adventure might last. But if you're looking for a stable cast, this might not be a great choice for you.

Aside from that, though, it remains a solid, fun book. Worth a look, especially if you read any of those stories in Dragon like I did!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Adventures Of Comicretailman

I found this short comic in a quarter bin a little while back, and couldn't resist picking it up. It's a promotional piece from Retail Business Solutions, Inc. to try to coerce comic retailers to buy into their "Mr. Assistant" computerized sales system. Presumably it was sent to retailers for free. I can't find ANY information about Retail Business Solutions, it's president Larry Wickwar, or "Mr. Assistant" beyond what's presented in the pamphlet. You can learn pretty much everything I know about them in the reproduction below.
Two interesting things to keep in mind here. First, this is dated 1990. That strikes me as something of a disconnect because everything about the approach and the art screams to me mid-1980s. Granted, computers weren't in widespread use with smaller retail shops like you see in the comic industry, but this still strikes me as behind the curve by several years.

Second, the artwork is signed by Ben Dunn. Although the art style is a little different that his later work that I'm most familiar with, this appears to be the same Dunn who founded Antarctic Press in 1984 and created Ninja High School in 1987. His Warrior Nun Areala character was introduced in that title in 1993 and got her own series the following year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tales Through Time

One of the stories that really intrigued me for many years was the origin of Rama-Tut. In part because it was one of the early Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four stories, but also because, by the time I started getting into comics, it had been followed up on twice. The new stories interestingly retconned the history a bit without actually changing it, just adding to it. I really enjoyed Steve Englehart's West Coast Avengers story here, and thought he handled things extremely well.

(Though I disagree with the central time travel premise of not actually being able to change the past. It suggests that we don't have free will, and everything we do is destined to happen and completely immutable. But I recognize that's just a so-far-unprovable theory, so I can accept a story with a contrary view. Provided it's done well. Which Englehart's is.)

At any rate, a few years back, I sat down and sorted out a specific panel-by-panel chronology of how all the stories and how they intersect one another. I had originally presented it to the Marvel Chronology Project, and it was used; however, it gets into a lot more detail than they generally present on their site. So I thought I'd re-present it here in its entirety, for anyone interested.

Rise of Apocalypse #2 pg. 11 p. 1 (flashback)
2958 BC - Rama-Tut crashes in ancient Egypt. He later cites that, when he captures the West Coast Avengers in 2940, he has been ruling for ten years. A minor issue here, though, is that in Rise of Apocalypse #1, there is a span of seventeen years given between Apocalypse's birth and the appearance of the Fantastic Four, AND that Rama-Tut was already instituted as Pharaoh at the time of Apocalypse's birth. Since we clearly establish in other stories that Rama-Tut had multiple reigns, I placed the original crash prior to Apocalypse's birth and am assuming that there is a period during Apocalypse's adolescence where Rama-Tut is removed from the throne temporarily. Thus, his line in West Coast Avengers #21 would refer to ten years of CONTINUOUS rule.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 11 p. 1 (flashback)
Same crash, a half-second later.

Rise of Apocalypse #2 pg. 11 p. 2-3 (flashback)
Baal finds Rama-Tut in the wreckage. Appearances by Baal, Rama-Tut.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 11 p. 2 (flashback)
Rama-Tut realizes he can't see. Appearances by Rama-Tut.

Rise of Apocalypse #2 pg. 11 p. 4 (flashback)
Rama-Tut is healed by Baal. Appearances by Baal, Rama-Tut.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 11 p. 3 (flashback)
Rama-Tut takes control using his advanced technology. Appearances by Rama-Tut.

Rise of Apocalypse #1 pg. 1-6
2957 BC - Apocalypse is born. Appearances by Apocalypse, Baal.

Rise of Apocalypse #2 pg. 12 p. 1-3 (flashback)
Rama-Tut returns to Baal's tribe, looking for Apocalypse. Appearances by Baal, Rama-Tut.

Rise of Apocalypse #1 pg. 7-23
Rama-Tut rules Egypt and recognizes Apocalypse's potential. Appearances by Apocalypse, Ozymandius, Logos, Rama-Tut, Nephri, Baal.

Rise of Apocalypse #2 pg. 1-10
Baal and Apocalypse wander around and find Rama-Tut's underground technology. Appearances by Apocalypse, Baal, Ozymandius, Nephri, Rama-Tut, Logos.

Rise of Apocalypse #2 pg. 12 p. 4 - pg. 22
Apocalypse begins to realize his power. Appearances by Apocalypse, Baal, Ozymandius, Logos, Nephri.

West Coast Avengers #20 pg. 22
2940 BC - The West Coast Avengers, trying to deal with a partially-working time machine, land in ancient Egypt only to be captured by Rama-Tut, who seems to have been expecting them. He stuns them into unconsciousness. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Rama-Tut.

West Coast Avengers #21 pg. 1 p. 1
West Coast Avengers #21 pg. 2 - 4
West Coast Avengers #21 pg. 10-11
West Coast Avengers #21 pg. 15 - 16 p. 4
Rama-Tut captures the West Coast Avengers and drops them in the desert to die. The priests of the Temple of Khonshu find them and bring them to the Temple. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Khonshu, Khonshu Priest, Rama-Tut. (Note that this is an actual appearance of Khonshu. I later cite instances of his statue which is supposed to imply his presence, without necessarily showing it literally.)

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 6-8
The Fantastic Four go back in time to find an optic nerve restorer for Alicia Masters. They fight with an army of Egyptians before being captured by Rama-Tut himself. Again, he stuns the heroes into unconsciousness. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl.

Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 1-6
Apocalypse is enslaved to help build a pyramid. Appearances by Apocalypse, Ozymandius, Isis.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 1 p. 1
The Avengers are led by a Khonshu Priest. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Khonshu Priest.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 3 p. 4 - pg. 6
Stephen Strange, searching for Morgana Blessing's soul, travels back in time. Searching through Rama-Tut's Sphinx, he unexpectedly encounters a barrage of automatic blasters that render him unconscious. Appearances by Dr. Strange.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 6 p. 4 - pg. 8
The West Coast Avengers run across Strange being carried away by two droids. They attack the droids, only to have more come out of the woodwork. Four new droids pick up Strange and carry him off as the Avengers battle the hordes of robots. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Dr. Strange, Khonshu Priest.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 8 p. 5
Strange is carried away by four robots. Appearances by Dr. Strange.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 9 p. 1
The robots carry Strange into a room. Appearances by Dr. Strange.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 9 p. 1-3
Just as the lid closes on the sarcophagus, Strange manages to release his astral form which would have trapped it inside. This scene is duplicated in West Coast Avengers #23 pg. 7 p. 4 (flashback). Appearances by Dr. Strange.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 9 p. 3-5
The Avengers arrive just after sarcophagus lid closes. They try to release Strange but, since Wonder Man can't even open the lid, they opt to let him remain in stasis while they look for the Fantastic Four. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Dr. Strange.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 9 p. 4 - pg. 10 p. 4
Strange wanders around in his astral form and is surprised to find Rama-Tut's throne room. Just after he enters, the guards bring forth the still-unconscious Fantastic Four. Strange scans Reed's mind to see the events leading up to their capture. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Rama-Tut, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Thing, Human Torch II.

Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 7 p. 1-3
Rama-Tut gloats to himself. Appearances by Rama-Tut, Logos.

West Coast Avengers #22 p. 10 p. 1-4
The Avengers continue to run through the corridors and find a room which is monitoring the throne room. As they enter, they see the Fantastic Four beginning to gain consciousness. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Rama-Tut, Invisible Girl, Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 9 p. 1-2
The Fantastic Four awaken and Rama-Tut makes introductions. This scene is duplicated in Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 7 p. 4 and Dr. Strange #53 pg. 10 p. 5. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Rama-Tut.

Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 7 p. 5 - pg. 8 p. 1
Logos questions his ruler's actions and notes that they're speaking in an unusual language. Appearances by Rama-Tut, Logos.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 9 p. 3-4
More introductions and posturing. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Rama-Tut.

Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 8 p. 2-4
Rama-Tut dismisses Logos, who questions what he's been witness to. Appearances by Rama-Tut, Logos.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 9 p. 5
Rama-Tut recounts his origin. This scene is duplicated in Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 8 p. 5-6. Appearances by Rama-Tut.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 11 p. 4 - pg. 12 p. 2
More recounting. This is duplicated (in somewhat mutated forms) in Dr. Strange #53 pg. 11 p. 1-2 and Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 9 - 10 p. 2. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Rama-Tut.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 11 p. 4 - pg. 12 p. 2
Rama-Tut dismisses the FF and has the Invisible Girl sent off to get dolled up. Strange's astral body is shocked into "unconsciousness" from an encephaloprobe on his real body. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Human Torch II, Invisible Girl, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Rama-Tut, Morgana Blessing.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 12 p. 3-5
Rama-Tut humiliates the FF. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Rama-Tut.

Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 10 pp. 3 - pg. 16
Apocalypse meets Nephri and finds out what happens to Logos. Appearances by Apocalypse, Nephri, Rama-Tut, Ozymandius, Logos, Osiris, Invisible Girl.

Rise of Apocalypse #3 pg. 17-22
Sunrise, the next day. Appearances by Apocalypse, Nephri, Ozymandius, Rama-Tut, Logos.

Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 1-14
The same morning. Apocalypse rebels against Tut and his lackeys. Appearances by Apocalypse, Rama-Tut, Oxymandius, Nephri, Logos.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 12 p. 3 - pg. 13 p. 1
Strange wakes up "over an hour later" and finds Morgana Blessing. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Morgana Blessing, Invisible Girl, Thing.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 13 p. 1-2
Susan's makeup is finished and she is escorted away. Appearances by Morgana Blessing, Invisible Girl.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 13 p. 3 - pg. 14 p. 2
Ben's big escape sequence. This sequence is duplicated in Dr. Strange #53 pg. 13 p. 2-5 and West Coast Avengers #23 pg. 7. p. 5-6 (flashback). Appearances by Thing.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 13 p. 8-9
Strange directs Ben back towards Rama-Tut's throne room. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Thing.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 14 p. 3-5
Ben barges in on Rama-Tut and Susan being entertained by Torch. This scene is duplicated in Dr. Strange #53 pg. 14 p. 1-2. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Rama-Tut, Invisible Girl.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 12 p. 5 - pg. 13
The Avengers finish off the robots and run into a room full of guards. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 15
The Thing releases Susan, who releases Torch. Johnny then attacks Rama-Tut, who flees into a secret passage. This is duplicated in Dr. Strange #53 pg. 14 p. 2-5 and West Coast Avengers #23 pg. 7 p. 7 (flashback). Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Rama-Tut, Invisible Girl.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 14 p. 1
The Avengers battle the guards. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 16 p. 1-2
Rama-Tut escapes via a secret passage. This is duplicated in West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 14 p. 2. Appearances by Rama-Tut.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 16 p. 3-6
The Fantastic Four begin to make their escape. Partially duplicated in Dr. Strange #53 pg. 15 p. 1-2. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Invisible Girl.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 15 p. 3-6
Strange directs Blessing to release his body. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Morgana Blessing.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 17
The Fantastic Four rescue Reed. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 16 p. 1-5
Rama-Tut runs into Strange and Blessing and activates some automated defense lasers. Just as Blessing and Strange leave... Appearances by Dr. Strange, Rama-Tut, Morgana Blessing.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 18 - 19 p. 2
The Fantastic Four melt their way into the heart of the Sphinx where Strange was just standing. They discover Rama-Tut on a viewscreen. This scene is duplicated, in part, in Dr. Strange #53 pg. 16 p. 6-7. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Rama-Tut.

Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 15
Ozymandias wanders the corridors of the Sphinx and sneaks past the Fantastic Four as they find the aforementioned viewscreen. Appearances by Ozymandius, Human Torch II.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 17
Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto on Blessing. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Morgana Blessing.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 19 p. 3 - pg. 20 p. 3
Rama-Tut unleashes more traps on the Fantastic Four. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 17 p. 4-6
The Avengers finish off the guards and try another corridor. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra.

Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 16-18
Apocalypse starts destroying Rama-Tut's technology within the Sphinx. Appearances by Apocalypse, Ozymandius.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 18 p. 1-4
The Avengers, still in the Sphinx, feel the place begin to fall apart. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra.

Rise of Apocalypse #pg. 19 p. 1
Rama-Tut's escape pod begins its launch.

Dr. Strange #53 pg. 18 p. 1-4
Strange and Blessing stand outside the Sphinx and watch. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Morgan Blessing.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 20 p. 4-6
Reed and Rama-Tut exchange taunts, as Rama-Tut launches his escape capsule. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Rama-Tut.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 18 p. 5-6
The Avengers see Rama-Tut's escape on a viewscreen. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra.

Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 19 p. 2
Egyptians outside watch Rama-Tut's escape and begin to panic.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 21 p. 1-5
The Fantastic Four find the optic nerve restorer and leave the Sphinx. This scene is duplicated in West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 19 p. 1-4 and Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 19 p. 3. Appearances by Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 19 p. 5-6
The Avengers are right behind the Fantastic Four. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 21 p. 6
The Fantastic Four run across the desert sand as the Sphinx begins to explode. This scene is duplicated in Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 19 p. 4. Appearances by Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch II, Invisible Girl.

Dr. Strange #53 pg 18 p. 5 - pg. 19 p. 4
Strange and Blessing watch the Sphinx explode and exchange goodbyes. Strange leaves. This scene is duplicated in West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 20 p. 1-4. Appearances by Dr. Strange, Morgana Blessing.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 20 p. 5-6
The Avengers leave the Sphinx. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra.

Fantastic Four #19 pg. 22 p. 1
The Fantastic Four see the time machine effect activated over their heads. This is the last scene of the original story with the Fantastic Four in ancient Egypt. This is duplicated in West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 20 p. 7. Appearances by Human Torch II, Invisible Girl, Mr. Fantastic, Thing.

West Coast Avengers #22 pg. 21 - 22 p. 1
The Avengers watch as the Fantastic Four vanish. Appearances by Hawkeye, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, Invisible Girl, Human Torch II, Thing, Mr. Fantastic.

West Coast Avengers #23 pg. 5 p. 5 - pg. 7 p. 3
West Coast Avengers #23 pg. 7 p. 8 - pg. 8 p. 6
The Avengers battle some Egyptian guards and head back to the Temple of Khonshu, where a priest tells them how all the storylines intertwine. Appearances by Iron Man, Hawkeye, Wonder Man, Tigra, Statue of Khonshu, Khonshu Priest.

Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 20
Apocalypse emerges from the now-destroyed, but still smoldering, Sphinx. Appearances by Apocalypse.

West Coast Avengers #23 pg. 17 - 19 p. 3
The Avengers are saved by Hank Pym, Firebird, and Moon Knight. Appearances by Hank Pym, Moon Knight, Firebird, Iron Man, Tigra, Wonder Man, Hawkeye, Statue of Khonshu, Khonshu Priest.

Rise of Apocalypse #4 pg. 21-22
2810 BC - Apocalypse visits an aging Nephri for the last time. Appearances by Apocalypse, Nephri.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Run! Run! Run!

I'm still watching and enjoying One Piece but I have to say that my favorite theme song from the show (they change both the opening and closing themes repeatedly) is "Run! Run! Run!" by Otsuki Maki. The high energy of the song itself is part of it, but I find the lyrics inspiring as well, despite not translating very directly into English. Running so fast and so far that you out-race your own dreams. I love that idea! The song just makes me happy every time I hear it.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a video of the whole song, instead of the 60 seconds they use on the show. Translated lyrics are below the clip.

My overflowed feelings won't connect and
I tighten my grip of your hand.
Even if I'm alone, I'll begin to walk so
look after me to the far distance

I was thinking about it since morning
why is it so hot?
I begin to run faster than usual
wanting to feel the unseen wind.

From some time ago, those ideas won't depart from me.

My overflowed feelings won't connect and
I tighten my grip of your hand.
Even if I'm alone, I'll begin to walk so
look after me to the far distance.

For some reason, I couldn't sleep last night.
Why is it so far?

Because my feelings rush, I chase after it.

Holding onto my overflowed feelings
I continue to run within the wind.
The overflowed dream won't stop.
I want to wake this special feeling.

My overflowed feelings won't connect and
I tighten my grip of your hand.
Even if I'm alone, I'll begin to walk so
look after me to the far distance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mort Grim Review

A little while back, Derik Badman sent me a decent sized pile of comics. Among them was Doug Fraser's Mort Grim.

The story is a fairly simple one. A sedan, trying to pass a slow-moving truck, gets into a nasty accident with a semi coming the other way. As the cops pull up, a leather-clad skeleton on a motorcycle races through, only to vanish moments later. In a small cafe, a waitress pours a final cup of coffee for a customer, who leaves to harvest his crops despite the season being well over. As he leaves, repeating "I'm not done", a car speeds by with the skeleton not far behind. A halo'd dog grabs hold of the skeleton's forearm and there's a violent crash. Seeing this, the waitress dives into the wreck. She reassembles the skeleton, pulling the bones from the dog's mouth, and informs him that the customer she had earlier is just up the road. The skeleton catches up with him, tucks his soul (still claiming "I'm not done") into his saddle bags and drives off.

Obviously, it's an updated take on the Grim Reaper, though the motorcycle and skeleton theme can't help but also be compared to Marvel's Ghost Rider. There's a noted difference in tone, however. Ghost Rider was clearly more the spirit of vengeance, trying to punish those who committed crimes, whereas Mort here seems more existential about his role. "There is no justice. There just is." People have to die, and he just collects them when their time comes.

What's more striking about the book is Fraser's art. He uses very bold linework, which is accentuated by a very limited color palette. Much like his commercial art, he's able to focus the viewer's attention on precisely the right details, and his storytelling is surprisingly (to me) smooth.

There's not a lot of story here for the $5.00 price tag, but it's very nice to look at (including the varnish on the cover that you can't see in any scans) and study. It remains available from AdHouse Books.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Early Alan Davis FF

Recently, I found this squirreled away with some old files. If I recall correctly, it's the first piece of professionally printed Alan Davis artwork. Or one of his first pieces at any rate. It was a pin-up that was used in a Marvel UK book in the early 1980s. Probably 1983 judging by how I named the file.
Maybe it's just me, but I'd say he's improved a bit over the intervening years...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

N.W. Ayer & Son

N.W. Ayer and Son's American Newspaper Annual and Directory was a directory to US newspapers and periodicals, arranged by state and city, published in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was first published in 1880 and continued under the Ayer name until 1986. It really is just a directory listing and pretty dry material to sort through: names and addresses, founding date, circulation figures, etc. The reason you, the comic book fan, might be interested is because the listings include comic books publishers.

Their changing names and publishing configurations over the years can make sorting through and finding relevant information a bit tedious, if not downright difficult. Plus, the information listed is self-reported, so circulation figures can be a little suspect. But for edification purposes, here are three relevant pages from the 1963 edition featuring Dell, Marvel and National (DC)...

It's interesting to note that Marvel doesn't list ANY superhero comics. The timing could be such that the information is from before when Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men or Avengers launched, but after Incredible Hulk was going to be canceled. This would have been a VERY small window, though, and still doesn't account for why Fantastic Four isn't listed. My best guess is that they were still trying to hide the fact that they were publishing superhero comics in response to the successes DC was having. After all, Marvel's books were being distributed by Independent News at this point... a company which was owned by DC and had forced several publishing concessions on Marvel. (Such as limiting the number of titles they could publish in a month.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Captain Long Ears Review

I added Diana Thung's debut graphic novel, Captain Long Ears, to my wishlist sometime last year but I have no idea why. Not that it sounded bad, but I honestly have no recollection of where I had heard of it or even what it was about. These are always cool to me when I do get around to reading them because I know I must have liked something I heard about it, but I can come to the book with no pre-conceived notions of what to expect.

The short summary is that Captain Long Ears (eight-year-old Michael) is a Space Ninja along with Captain Jam (a stuffed gorilla). They spend a day and a night at the Space Ninja Headquarters (the Happy Land amusement park) and manage to save a baby elephant, all while on the perpetual search for Captain Big Nose (Michael's dad). The story is largely told through Michael's eyes, so authority figures become monsters and park rides become spaceships. Michael has plenty of adventures, though they're somewhat enlarged by his imagination, while his mother is on a desperate search for him before he gets hurt.

The interaction between Michael and Jam, and everyone else they encounter is bound to recall Calvin & Hobbes; however, the similarity essentially ends there. Not only is Thung's art style markedly different than Bill Watterson's, but so are the themes being focused on. Where Watterson focused on a broad spectrum of adult "truths" but filtered through a child's eyes, Thung turns inward and shows the child's world in which adult issues aren't even recognized, much less understood. Thematically, in that sense, it bears more similarity to My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill. The distinction, though, is that in Mommy, Jean is only five, whereas Michael is eight here. In childhood development terms, that's a world of difference and the contrast between how the two characters react to similar news is interesting.

Some of the adjectives used in the copy on the back of the book include: touching, goofy and endearing. I'm usually skeptical of copy like that on book covers, but it's definitely apt here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mighty Midget Comics

In 1942 and '43, Fawcett published several "Mighty Midget Comics" -- two color, 4" x 5" comics of only 36 pages. (Compared to the 64 pages of most comics at the time.)

There were twelve altogether, each featuring a different character, but they were strangely all labeled as "No. 11." I haven't been able to find out anything about their distribution, but I'm sure it was at least somewhat different than Fawcett's regular comics. My guess is that all of these stories were not original and lifted from then-recent regular issues.

For your edification, here's the Captain Marvel issue...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Today Is Wedslinkday

  • I have no idea where this came from, but Steve Niles posted a picture of Fantastic Four #51... knitted!
  • Paper Wings does an analysis/comparison of several print-on-demand options for publishing your own comics. Why they neglected to include Lulu, I don't know, but they specifically examine Ka-blam, Createspace, Lightning Source and 360 Digital Books. They also don't speak to the actual printing quality of each company, which certainly could be a concern for some folks.
  • Daily Finance commits two heinous acts against comicdom in one article. First, they try to tout all the wondrous benefits of using comics as an investment (a strategy that almost killed the whole industry about a decade and a half ago) and they gratuitously throw "BAM! ZAP! POW!" in the first paragraph. I'd say, "At least they didn't use it in the title," but they opted for the just plain bad "Super, Man!" pun. Somebody shoot me.
  • Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa, creator of The 99, has an op-ed piece noting that, if a murdering pyscho-path like Dexter can be presented as a sympathetic character, then the same should be possible for Muslims; and that media should step up and help push for that kind of broader tolerance as they've done with Seasme Street, The Cosby Show and 24.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Un-Meek Lettering

One of the webcomics I've been reading is Der-shing Helmer's The Meek, which is a cool story and well-drawn and all, but I really love that lettering. Check out one of these recent panels...
See how the word balloons not only overlap, but the balloons cover up parts of the actual dialogue. It's a nifty visual way to show interrupted speech. This case is pretty elegantly handled, too, since you have no trouble reading through that whole first balloon, despite some of the words in the middle getting cut off. But, wait, it's gets better! Another panel from the same page...
This time, it's a sound effect that's cutting off the dialogue. The same basic principle, but look closely at what Helmer's done. The balloon is actually getting cropped by the panel border itself. It pushes the dialogue into a deeper plane of the panel by not having it sit on top of the artwork. The balloon is given depth just by its placement on the page, of low enough importance visually that it's almost irrelevant what the text actually says there. Furthermore, the sound effects overlap multiple dialogue balloons and change in size as the reader follows it out the door, as if the sound effects were actually in perspective.

When digital lettering first started showing up a little over a decade ago, I saw some folks play a bit with different fonts for different characters. But I think Helmer's done more playing with the possibilities of digital lettering than just about anyone I've seen since then.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The "Lesser" Amazing Fantasy Stories

Amazing Fantasy #15 is, of course, famous for the debut of Spider-Man. The story has been reprinted quite often, and I'm sure many visitors to this site know it well. But the original Spider-Man story only takes up half of the issue. The second half features a series of short mystery tales, also by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. So if you haven't seen them, here's the back half of Amazing Fantasy #15 that you never hear about...

Interestingly, the two stories with the particularly unnecessary splash pages ("Man in the Mummy Case" and "Martians Are Among Us") were created before the Spider-Man story, according to their job numbers. Which suggests to me that Lee found he was two pages short when he put the issue together -- possibly due to the new format stemming from the Spidey tale -- and had Ditko draw up two filler pages to pad out the issue. As "The Bell-Ringer" already had a three-quarter splash with some of the story running across the bottom, adding filler to the other two stories made the most sense. That's all idle conjecture on my part, but you have to admit that those two splash pages look pretty out-of-place relative to the rest of the issue, and the layout of the "Martians" one looks unusually awkward for Ditko. I wonder if anyone's done any actual research into those pages.