Showing posts with label DC Comics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DC Comics. Show all posts

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Review - Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DC

reviewed by Mike Rhode

There are a lot of comic book studies and histories coming out these days, as movies based on them have become a multi-billion dollar business and the academic world has accepted them as a legitimate field of study. I would estimate 40-50 prose books about comic books are published per year now, and there's at least five academic journals covering the field. 

Slugfest is aimed at a popular audience who have some basic knowledge about the fact that there are two major publishers of superheros comics, and are curious about the history of how they interacted over the years. Tucker is a journalist from New York City and writes a breezy story running from the 1930s up until the present. He frames the story as an ongoing "war" (his term) between the companies, beginning in earnest in the 1960s as "DC represented Eisenhower's America, Marvel ...like John F. Kennedy's." (p. xix) He concludes his introduction by stating, "This is the story of the fifty-year battle between the two companies - some of it driven by DC's desire to copy Marvel, some of it driven by Marvel's desire to copy DC, and some of it - the most fun stuff, let's be honest - driven by pure gamesmanship and spite." (p. xx) If that sounds appealing, you'll probably enjoy the rest of the book. I did.

Tucker cuts his take on the companies relationship into logical breaks. DC is the older company, having published Superman first in 1938, and the first chapter is "DC Becomes the Industry's Eight-Hundred-Pound Gorilla" and covers about a twenty-five year period. For the second chapter, "Mighty Marvel Comes Out Swinging," Marvel returns to its roots as a player in superhero comics, after chasing trends including romance, funny animals, westerns and science fiction from post-World War II until late 1961, when the Fantastic Four were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Having laid the groundwork, Tucker writes about the initial competition on the newsstand, when DC controlled Marvel's distribution, through ongoing poaching of talent and storylines, event-driven sales such as The Death of Superman, both companies being absorbed into bigger corporations, revolving editor-in-chief seats during tough times, and the battle for television and movie dominance, ending in 2016 with sales at both companies markedly depressed.

He does this largely through the use of interviews rather than primary sources or archival research. The advanced copy I received has incomplete notes (and no index), but he seems to largely have worked from published interviews given to a wide variety of media outlets over the years. Thus, this is a very dialogue-driven book, and one that's intensely personal - there's no reviews of corporate annual reports studied for absolute bottom line earnings. As a result, one should probably think twice about accepting as absolute truth a story or interpretation presented by Tucker, but you can certainly enjoy hearing the story.

I enjoyed this book much more than a lot of what I've read about superhero comics in the past few years. I may very well purchase a replacement hardcover to keep on my shelves. It's a fast read, and if you're curious about the history of the companies, this is a good place to start learning about fifty years of superhero publishing.




Monday, October 02, 2017

Ramona Fradon, a Baltimore Comic Con interview

by Mike Rhode

Ramona Fradon is a noted Silver Age artist who worked for DC Comics for years. Her Amazon description reads: Ramona Fradon is a legendary comic book illustrator known for her work on Aquaman, Metamorpho, Plastic Man and Super Friends. She also drew the newspaper comic strip, Brenda Starr and is noted for the humor in her drawings. In her serious moments, she wrote a book about the Faust legend in relationship to Gnostic mythology. In 2006 she received the prestigious Eisner Lifetime Achievement award. She lives in upstate New York in a very old house with a very old dog. She's been at the Baltimore Comic Con for the past few years, and we conducted this interview via e-mail.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do? 

I worked in comic books, mostly for DC, drawing Aquaman, Plastic Man, Super Friends and stories in House of Mystery and House of Secrets, I co-created Aqualad and Metamorpho and also illustrated the syndicated newspaper strip, Brenda Starr.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination? 

I never worked with a computer and for most of my career, I inked with a #7 brush. Lately I have been using Micron felt pens.

When working in comic books, you probably didn't get to do your own inks very often. Would you have preferred to? Did you have a favorite inker?

I inked Aquaman and the mysteries and Brenda Starr, which was quite enough for me. I do a tight penciling and have always felt that inking  was redundant. I don't really have a favorite inker although I admire many of them.
When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in Chicago in 1926.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning? 

I studied design at Parsons School of Design and fine art at the Art Students' League in NY. I never studied cartooning specifically, although I was influenced by the great newspaper comics I read when I was growing up.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change? 

I would have written and drawn children's' books or done book illustrations.

What work are you best-known for?   

Probably Aquaman and Metamorpho.

What work are you most proud of?

Besides  the children's book I wrote (THE DINOSAUR THAT GOT TIRED OF BEING EXTINCT which is on Amazon)  I would say Metamorpho.

What would you like to do or work on in the future? 

That's a funny question for someone who is ninety-one (as of today, October 1st).

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

I clean the house or take a vacation or catch up on reading until I feel like working again.

What do you think will be the future of your field? 

It seems as if Hollywood is determining it right now, but I expect it will have a lot to do with the internet in ways I can't imagine.

Do you have a website or blog?
No. But you can see my work on Catskill Comics website.

How was your BCC experience this year? How often have you attended it?

I think I have been there about five times. It's getting bigger, but thankfully, not overwhelmed by TV and Hollywood. Brad Tree and his staff do a great job and make being there a pleasure. They gave me the biggest table (actually two tables) I have ever had.

What's your favorite thing about Baltimore? 

I liked walking around the harbor and eating at a seafood restaurant that overlooks the water.

Least favorite?

Not-so-good crab cakes sometimes.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Meet a Richmond Comics Writer - A Chat with Gary Cohn


Mark Lindblom (l) and Gary Cohn
by Mike Rhode
Gary Cohn co-wrote two of my favorite 1980s DC Comics, Blue Devil and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. I recently got to meet him at Heroic Aleworks Brewery's minicon, and he answered my usual questions.
What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
A: I’m a writer. I work with artists.
How do you do it? Thumbnails? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
A: I work in either of the standard comics writing styles. I can write full scripts when I don’t know or don’t trust the artist; I write plot/dialogue when I trust the artist and when we’re full collaborators. I’m happiest when I can give an artist an outline, and then the artist throws me some visual surprises that I need to integrate into my original conception of the story. In the early part of my career when I was writing stories and often didn’t know who would draw them, I did thumbnail sketches of pages to accompany my scripts. They were the crudest of cartooning, and I was disappointed when some artists chose to follow my thumbnail layouts completely instead of taking them for the suggestions they were meant to be. I assumed that an artist would have a better visual imagination than I have, and would be able to take my suggestions and run with them, not just follow them slavishly.
When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
A: I was born in NYC in 1952—I’m a child of the 50s and 60s, and all the pop culture of that era.
Why are you in Richmond now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?
A: It took me twenty years to realize that I wasn’t going to make a living writing. So I became a NYC high school English/social studies teacher and did that for 14 years. When I retired I realized that a “short” pension was not going to keep me going in NYC, and after 30 years there I wanted a change of venue. I had an artist friend living in RVA (ie Richmond, VA), I’d visited her a number of times over the years, and when I was considering new places I narrowed it down to RVA and St. Petersburg, FL. I wanted someplace a lot cheaper than NYC, warmer, with some history and culture and a creative community. Since my 90-year-old mom still lives in NY, I decided on the place where I could get to NY more quickly and easily. Roads not taken… I still wonder about St. Pete. I live in the oldest neighborhood in RVA, Church Hill. It’s been a very good move.
What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
A: Choose-your-own-major BA degree from Michigan State (defunct residential Justin Morrill College allowed us to design our own major: mine was creative writing/science fiction and fantasy lit); MA from the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State in Ohio; course work completed towards a doctorate in US History (US naval history, esp 1880-1900). Basic teaching certification courses from NYS.
Who are your influences?
courtesy of the Grand Comics Database
A: Nothing. Everything I come up with is sui generis and without compare. Joking, of course. My influences are six decades of reading, watching, consuming American popular culture, “serious” literature, academic history and the range of liberal arts subjects. I was a guy who thought he disliked school… so of course I’ve spent my entire life as a student and a teacher.
If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change? 

A: Amethyst would have been developed as a toy line by Kenner when they were planning to do it, BEFORE She-Ra came out, and I’d have made a fuck-ton (that’s a technical term) of money; and spent most of it on motorcycles, adventuring, and wild women. There’s been a fair amount of all three in my life, but I’ve never really been able to afford to fully indulge myself.
What work are you best-known for?
A: Amethyst and Blue Devil from DC in the early ‘80s. My standard line is that for a short while I was a little bit famous and successful in a relatively obscure pop sub-culture.
What work are you most proud of?
A: Demon Gun, published by Crusade about 20 years ago, which is the only piece of my published work that I actually own--well, co-own with artist Barry Orkin. I understand that there are comics writers who claim sole ownership over properties. I’ve always believed that anything I create in comics is co-created by the artist, because I can’t make comics without one. If I wanted sole ownership, I’d write prose exclusively.
What would you like to do or work on in the future?
courtesy of the Grand Comics Database
A: Blue Devil artist Paris Cullins and I have been slowly developing our own property, New Devil. It’s unrelated to DC’s BD, except that it’s a “devil,” but it has that spirit and bounce. With NY artist Ray Felix I’m getting ready to self-publish the first issue of “NYX, Daughter of Night.” I’ve got a zillion ideas, as always, and I hope to be able to get some of them out there before…well, you know.
What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
A: I’ll tell you when I’ve solved that problem. While I was a teacher I wrote very little. Since I’ve been on my own I’ve been struggling to find the old mojo. A deadline and a paycheck were always good incentive. Right now I have neither from writing.
What do you think will be the future of your field?
A: No idea.
What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

A: Until I have something to peddle, some new wares to spread out on a table, I’m staying close to home. Any Con in Richmond that will let me in for free, I’m there. Beyond that, I went to the Baltimore Con last fall and liked it, I stopped in at Tidewater this year to see Paris and a few other folks and because it made a nice motorcycle run, I’ll probably head down to some other Cons in VA and NC in the next year, and if one of Mike Carbonaro’s NYC cons is going on when I’m visiting, or Eternal Con on Long Island, I try to stop in to schmooze with old industry buddies.

What's your favorite thing about Richmond?

A: Hard to say. It’s a very nice small city. I’ve met a lot of great people, I’ve connected with the thriving comics community here, found the perfect motorcycle shop and car repair place, discovered terrific restaurants… I’m thinking the answer is, my apartment and neighborhood. It’s a great space in a great location.

Least favorite?

A: The wannabe Confederates. I’m a carpetbagger Yankee.

What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

A: The VMFA (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) is a very good small-city art museum; then there’s Monument Ave (or as we carpetbaggers like to call it, “Losers’ Lane”) with all the ridiculous Confederate statues and one very badly designed but well-intentioned Arthur Ashe statue.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

A: This town is full of very good restaurants; but Lemaire in the Jefferson Hotel is an amazing experience and a world-class dinner. I let a visiting stockbroker friend pay for it.

Do you have a website or blog?

A: Nope.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Recalling Darwyn Cooke's 2010 appearance at the Smithsonian

by Mike Rhode

Darwyn Cooke has been one of my favorite comic book artists for about a decade and a half. He passed away over the weekend.

I had forgotten that I had written about a talk he gave at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
It doesn't seem to be online at their site anymore, so I'll reproduce it here. Also, you can hear my recording of the talk here, newly online since sadly we won't be able to hear any new thoughts from him.

(I didn't write that lede by the way)

by Mike Rhode Washington City Paper blog Feb. 3, 2010
Sure, the crowd was thin due to the snow. But the air was thick with nuggets: Darwyn Cooke spoke for almost two hours to a rapt crowd of about 40 people at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum Saturday, concentrating on his recent adaptation of Richard Stark's novel Parker: The Hunter and offering a glimpse into the mind of a successful, critically adored cartoonist. Just don't, he said, call him a creator. Cooke would rather be known, simply, as someone who entertains, and that's exactly what he did at Saturday's event. Read some of his more memorable quotes:

"I was pretty sure the Smithsonian called the wrong number when they approached me about this program, but I jumped at the chance to come down to talk about Don Westlake [aka Richard Stark] and Parker—two of my favorite subjects."

"The [Parker] books are very lean and brutal and I think that's part of what I loved about them…."

"I have to plan everything. I have to write biographies of all my characters, I have to research every scene and situation, and then I have to outline it in great detail in order for me to feel secure enough to go ahead with the work…" in contrast to Westlake's lack of plotting, backstory or details about Parker's life.

"The Hunter was written in 1962, which was actually the year I was born, which I thought was kind of neat."

"When I was a kid, I used to love series novels, like The Executioner, and all these sort of terrible B-movie type paperbacks…. but as I got older I realized that the quality of the writing in them was terrible and I moved on to more literate fare."

"[Westlake] was able to keep [Parker] completely reprehensible, and yet completely magnetic. He's certainly not a person you'd want to have to deal with in your life, but he's a very interesting, very magnetic type of character."

"Parker as a character represents something that we've seen evaporate from the American landscape over the last century and it's probably the last period of time when a character like this could have existed—that's basically a free-market anarchist. A man who makes his own rules, lives by his own rules, his own judgments and society still has room for him to operate within."

"The only thing I can compare [the plot] to is, you know when you get a phone bill for $500 for one month, and it's a mistake and you phone the phone company to get it straightened out? That's what he goes through. That's what this book is—it's a man who got screwed and is trying to communicate through a large faceless corporation that he's been screwed and he's owed something and the frustration that comes out of that. When you consider the time that the book was written, I think it's a very sly sort of indictment of the world we were all looking into."

"What can I do to reach outside the comic book audience… How can I get outside this [direct] market? How can I reach other readers with my work? The only real viable option at the time was the idea of original graphic novels. I very quickly set my sights there. … It's still a very risky creative venture. To put out an original graphic novel and hope it finds an audience is a very risky venture. We've seen some incredible books in the last few years, whether it's Persepolis, or Asterios Polyp or Diary of Wimpy Kid or American Born Chinese. These are all graphic novels that have nothing to do with superheroes…but they all have audiences that responded to the stories within the books. That really gave me the juice and the excitement to move forward…"

"DC had contacted me about doing Will Eisner's The Spirit. As much I was ready to move on, they found the one project that would keep me there. I hope this doesn't sound the wrong way, but half the reason I wanted to do this project was to make sure it didn't get screwed up by somebody else. It was purely a defensive position I was taking around the character… That was a hard year trying to live up to Will's work and deal with that character and everything it meant, so I was really thrilled when it was over…"

"At the time I started to correspond with Westlake, he was 72 years old, but his enthusiasm for this was unbelievable…"

"As for as he was concerned, if I screwed up [the adaptation], it didn't matter. Because the book's still there."

On having difficulties with character design and not receiving guidance from Westlake: "Finally I forced him into laying it out. '[Parker] is Jack Palance. It's Jack Palance from a movie called Panic in the Streets. That's what I saw in my head when I wrote it.' So from that point on I was able to fashion a character and an approach that Donald was really thrilled by."
Cooke planned on submitting the book to Westlake for Christmas, but Westlake went on vacation and died before Cooke sent it to him. "He never got to see any of it and it took about six weeks to get back to work. It really stopped me in my tracks and I realized that I'd been doing it for an audience of one person and that audience was gone. I didn't even know why I was doing the book for a little while after that."

At this point, Cooke read from the actual novel while showing the first chapter of his adaption on the screen.

"Those of you familiar with my earlier work should know I'm pretty plugged into the 'heroic ideal' and I love the notion of optimism and hope and I'd like to think that most of my work carries those messages right up front and this was a case I had to put all my instincts aside and sort of go more with Donald's."

"Nothing was better back then [in 1962] except the way things looked…"

"Anything I could do visually to immerse us in—to make us feel that we were back in that time period—was gonna help people get into the book. Everything in here was done with the tools available in 1962. There's no computer lettering, there's no digital tinting. It's drawn on the art board, the black ink is laid down, the lettering is laid down, and then I take a blue watercolor and lay it right onto the board. Nobody does this anymore…I even had the printers lay a pale yellow ink on top of every page before the artwork went down so that the book even had the appearance of being yellowed with age…"

"I'm hard at work on the second book now, about halfway through. It's called The Outfit and that's going to be out in October…I'm doing four [adaptations]."

"I've never been comfortable with the terms 'artist' or 'creator.' I think they're bullshit terms that are thrown around to make the guys who do the work feel better about themselves. For example, Jack Kirby was a creator. Jack Kirby created entire universes. Ethan Van Sciver pencils a comic book—there's a big difference there. I've always been very uncomfortable when people referred to me as a creator…I've always preferred entertainer, or storyteller. Those I'm much prouder of, or more comfortable with those designations. I'm not that deep. I'm just not."

"I love stories about people who've found ways to live without having to suck up to The Man."

"Heroes aren't heroes anymore; they're just people with power. And I think that it's a shame."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Comic strip and books received in early November

New collections and books on comics have been rolling in from publishers for pre-Christmas / Hannukah / Kwanza publicity. I still can't keep up on reading all of the books coming out, so here's the blurb of each of them from Amazon. I would recommend any of these for a fan though, especially Doonesbury and Roy Thomas' new DC World War II collections.

Four books relating to comic strips have come in already this month:

by G. B. Trudeau
Andrews McMeel, $20

Welcome to the age of pivots. Two centuries after the Founding Fathers signed off on happiness, Zonker Harris and nephew Zipper pull up stakes and head west in hot pursuit. The dream? Setting up a major grow facility outside Boulder, Colorado, and becoming bajillionaire producers of “artisanal” marijuana. For Zonk, it’s the crowning reset of a career that’s ranged from babysitting to waiting tables. For Walden-grad Zip, it’s a way to confront $600,000 in student loans.

Elsewhere in Free Agent America, newlyweds Alex and Toggle are struggling. Twins Eli and Danny show up during their mother’s MIT graduation, but a bad economy dries up lab grants, compelling the newly minted PhD to seek employment as a barista. Meanwhile, eternally blocked writer Jeff Redfern struggles to keep the Red Rascal legend-in-his-own-mind franchise alive, while aging music icon Jimmy T. endures by adapting to his industry’s new normal: “I can make music on my schedule and release it directly to the fans.”

He’s living in his car.



 
by Scott Adams
Andrews McMeel, $20

Does Scott Adams really have a hidden camera in your cubicle?

Dilbert, the cubicle-dwelling drone, is at his satirical best with this new collection of cartoons. Dilbert has managed to keep up with technology like iPads and Twitter over the years, as well as advanced systems like the Disaster Preparedness Plan that has its followers eating the crumbs from their keyboards. It doesn’t get any more sophisticated than that.

It’s an office code violation to be this good after so many years, but Dilbert keeps doing what he does best: passive-aggressively out-witting his superiors and exercising conflict avoidance. And he is so good. No wonder office drones and workforce automatons alike can’t resist the cold embrace of Dilbert’s workplace.



 
by Jim Toomey
Andrews McMeel, $15

Join Sherman, the lovable shark, and his aquatic cohorts in the comfy environs of Sherman's Lagoon.

Sherman’s Lagoon is an imaginary lagoon somewhere in the tropics, inhabited by a cast of sea creatures whose lives are curiously similar to our own.

Sherman, the main character, is a great white shark who is completely unaware of how intimidating his species can be. He gets pushed around by the other characters, namely: Hawthorne the hermit crab, Fillmore the sea turtle, and his wife, Megan, who is another great white shark, of course. 


 

The Art and Making of The Peanuts Movie 
by Jerry Schmitz
Titan, $35 

This in-depth book goes behind the scenes of the movie-making process and looks at how the movie continues the tradition and legacy of Peanuts. An unmissable experience.

For the first time ever, in November 2015, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang we know and love from Charles Schulz's timeless "Peanuts" comic strip will be making their big-screen debut; like they've never been seen before in a CG-animated feature film in 3D.


Three books relating to comic books are all reprints of World War II stories from DC Comics, edited by Roy Thomas, a former writer for the company who specialized in retro stories. The stories can be corny now, but these are nice collections and well-priced.

by Roy Thomas
Titan, $25

Wonder Woman, warrior princess of the Amazons, is among the most famous heroes of all time. From her introduction in 1941, she has been a shining example of feminism and the strength of womankind. But what was her role during the wartime of her creation? Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945 details how she used her super speed, strength, and Golden Lasso of Truth during World War II to bring peace and justice to a turbulent world.

by Roy Thomas
Titan, $25 


For more than 75 years, through countless comics, television, and movies, Batman has been a symbol of strength and perseverance. He was created in 1939, on the brink of World War II -- a volatile time, when we needed a hero most. Who better to come to the rescue than the Caped Crusader? For the first time, Batman: The War Years 1939-1945 details The Dark Knight's involvement in the war and his fight against some very real villains. 


by Roy Thomas
Titan, $25


 .
Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman!
The Man of Steel is one of the most recognized characters in pop culture. Though he may not be from this planet, his dedication to protecting its people is inspiring. Superman: The War Years 1938-1945 shows how his introduction at the start of World War II lifted the spirits of a weary country and brought people the hero they so desperately needed.






 

With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age
Kamerer, Tracy L. and Janel D. Trull
Palm Beach, FL: Henry Morrison Flagler Museum,  2015
The-Haunted-Auto
Not the actual cover)

With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age will examine the history of Puck and American humor through 72 original drawings created for the magazine from the collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, supplemented with published cartoons and more than 20 vintage issues of Puck. Organized by the Flagler Museum, With a Wink and a Nod runs from October 13, 2015, through January 3, 2016. An illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition.

Finally, I received a copy of this exhibit catalog book because I know Frederic Sharf, the man who loaned the artwork.  Presumably it will eventually be on sale at the museum's website. All the artwork in the book is reproduced from the originals. It's a nicely done, albeit minor, addition to the literature about cartoonists of the 19th century.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Beyond Comics - Villains Month Announcement!


DC Comics Villains Month Announcement!

Allocations Will Occur

on many titles!


Dear Valued Customers,

This week marks the beginning of DC Comics' Villains Month Event. Promising a lot of fun for readers, all of DC's titles are being taken over by the villains. As part of the event, all titles will ship with 3D lenticular covers, at a cost of one extra dollar.

However, as many of you are aware through industry news sites, DC had problems with print numbers, and many of the titles are being allocated, with shops' orders being partially filled for the special covers. Some of these allocations are rather extreme, under 30% fulfillment on some titles, while others will be completely filled. To help make up for this, DC is shipping second print regular cover versions of all the Villains Month titles, the same days as the 3D covers, at regular cover price.

Due to the large number of in-store subscribers, we simply cannot guarantee that any given customer will be able to get any given 3D cover. There is just no easy way to track purchasing as it goes, over the course of a month, in order to do something along the lines of first come, first served. As a result, all subscriptions will be filled randomly. On any given title, a subscriber may get the 3D cover or the 2D cover. There is no way to tell in advance, and there will be no preferential treatment where this is concerned.

We apologize in advance for this, wishing there were a way to make all customers happy at once, but it is completely out of our hands. We hope that despite the issue with the covers, you still enjoy Villains Month, as well as its follow-up, Forever Evil.

Thanks for your understanding.

The Staff of Beyond Comics

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