HIGH CAMP SUPERHEROES


By Jerry Siegel, Paul Reinman & various (Belmont)
B50 695

Sometimes it’s cold and wet outside, the deadline’s thundering upon you, the cat’s been sick on your shoe and there’s only Rich Tea biscuits in the biccy-barrel. What can possible lighten the mood in such circumstances? For me it’s the sheer guilty indulgence of comics from early childhood that have the special ability to transport one back to a specific moment in time and space, redolent with joy and powerful, inexpressible emotion: a complete sensorium submersion that still leaves me breathless now.

It was a Wednesday; the last week of the summer holidays. I’d gone down to the (now sadly departed) Woolworth’s store with me Mum. She wanted tea-towels and I needed exercise, and I always got a treat when we hit the main High Street of our little town.

Woolworth’s at the time used to sell ballast and bargains books from America in deep wire bins. For sixpence. Sometimes two for sixpence, and three for a Shilling. Every visit would begin with a dazzling glance at a hodge-podge of primary colours and corners sticking out between the wires.

I was trying to get one last atom of flavour from the unique, dry pink plastic “chewing gum” (there was never that much to begin with) that had accompanied the four Tarzan gum cards in the pack we’d purchased on our walk (a good one: three I hadn’t got and a full-figure swap I could paste into my sketch-book). Despite having no discernible taste, the sugar pink smell of the gum intensified the more you chewed and it was almost overpowering when my chubby little paw alighted on the garish item at the top of the jumble.

Precocious and annoying, I’d been collecting US science fiction paperbacks, Ace, Belmont, McFadden-Bartell and the like for about a year, and comics of all nations for a darn sight longer. But what I grasped then was a revelation. It was the first time I had seen comics in book format. In black and white, and read on its side, this book seared into my brain. It was my first introduction to the unrestricted insanity of Jerry Siegel’s pastiche of Marvel Comics style on Archie Comics’ aged pantheon of superheroes. Of course I knew none of that then: I just knew these were weird, wild and utterly over the top!

I soon found other paperback collections – most of the American comics publishers used the “Batman Bounce” to get out of their ghetto and onto “proper” bookshelves – but this first book always held an extra charge they didn’t. I read it to death and then found my current copy on a market stall for 1/6 (that’s one shilling and six pennies for all you callow juveniles out there – incredible inflation but worth every penny to me).

Looking at it with as much cold dispassion as I can muster, there’s not a lot to recommend it to others. Archie revived their Golden Age stable when superheroes became a mid-sixties craze; fueled as much by Marvel’s burgeoning success as the Batman TV show, but they couldn’t imbue them with drama and integrity to match the superficial zany-ness – nor I suspect did they want too.

But as harmless adventures for the younger audience they have a tawdry charisma of their own and the hyperbolic scripting of Siegel touched the right note at just the right moment for a lot of kids.

Collected and resized from Mighty Comics Presents, an anthological clearing-house title fully written by Siegel, comes ‘Steel Sterling Vs The Monster Master’ illustrated by Paul Reinman (with what looks like some subtle assistance from Mike Sekowsky and Chic Stone), whilst The Shield tackles the astounding ‘Gladiator from Tomorrow’ and overcomes low esteem and the mysterious Hangman in ‘Suffer Shield, Suffer!’ which are all pure Reinman.

Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, The Fly had been renamed to milk the camp craze. ‘Fly Man’s Strangest Dilemma’ features the biggest cop-out ending of the decade (truly!) and the collection concludes with excerpt and origin from an adventure of The Web, a Batman clone who had the singular distinction of having to sneak out to fight crime because his wife Rosie disapproved.

As awful as this may sound I love this book and if anyone out there feels like giving it a chance, or even coming clean about their own unspeakable tomes, I’m going to support you all the way…
© 1966 Radio Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.

80 Glorious Years!


There are few comic characters that have entered world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old seaman with a speech-impediment is possibly the most well known of that select bunch. Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre since December 19th, 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “Sailor Man” into the saga of Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 29th, 1929 nobody suspected the heights that walk-on would reach…

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY POPEYE!

Fred Kida’s VALKYRIE!


By Fred Kida & various (Ken Pierce)
No ISBN

Airboy was one of the very best adventure strips of the Golden Age; one with a terrific pedigree and a profound legacy. Created for Hillman Periodicals by the brilliant Charles Biro (Steel Sterling, Crimebuster, the original Daredevil, the Little Wiseguys and the landmark genre prototype Crime Does Not Pay number among his many triumphs) it featured a plucky teen and his fabulous super-airplane, affectionately dubbed ‘Birdie’.

In his more than twelve years of publication the boy-hero tackled the Axis powers, crooks, aliens, monsters, demons and every possible permutation of sinister threat – even subversive giant rats and ants!. The gripping scripts, initially the work of Dick Wood, took the avenging aviator all over the world and pitted him against some of the most striking adversaries in comics.

The most notable of these was undoubtedly the conflicted Nazi Air Ace known as Valkyrie, who flew the killer skies with a squadron of lethal lovelies codenamed The Airmaidens.

Their first duel happened in Air Fighters Comics volume 2, #2 (November 1943), a full year after the hero’s debut, and featured art by up-and coming Fred Kida, twenty-three years old, utterly besotted with the work of Milton Caniff, and ably inked by Bill Quackenbush.

‘Airboy Meets Valkyrie’ found the lad based at an RAF base when a daring raid by the Airmaidens occurs. Following the planes home Airboy is captured and tortured but his stoic bravery inspires the warrior-women to defect…

This simple but evocative tale was followed in by a sequel in Air Fighters Comics volume 2, #7 (April, 1944). ‘The Death Lights’ with Kida in full artistic control, deals with a new Nazi beam weapon that Airboy fails to destroy. Captured once more he is rescued by the Airmaidens, now a crack allied fighter squadron.

They didn’t meet again until 1946 by when Air Fighters had changed its name to Airboy Comics. From volume 2, #12. ‘The Return of Misery’ features the ghostly spirit who claims the souls of downed airmen, imprisoning them in his eerie flying dungeon “the Airtomb”. Entranced by the monster Val is rescued by the valiant lad, but in the end no flyer ever escapes Misery…

‘An American Legend’ from Airboy Comics volume 3, #6 (July 1946) sees Kida growing fully into his own lush yet chiaroscuric style (this book is printed in black and white, which makes the art even bolder than the often muddy-coloured original comics). In this tale Airboy finds an old war buddy and Val has been brainwashed into committing crimes, leading him to end the villain responsible with typical military efficiency.

This slim tome concludes with the last Valkyrie tale of the period: a lacklustre script that was more concerned with the rise of “the Reds” than character or plot. It is notable however as an early experiment in crossover continuity. ‘The Wind of Battle’ (Airboy Comics volume 3, #12: January 1947) pitted Airboy and his occasional ally in battle against the “Asiatic” tyrant Black Tamerlane.

The story ended with the pair in the villain’s hypnotic clutches and the back-up star Skywolf (a feature of the comic since the Air Fighter days) was seconded to wrap up the saga in his own strip – a riotous action romp that dotted all the “i’s” and dotted all the “t’s”.

Airboy folded with volume 10, #4 (May 1953) and wasn’t seen in new material until Eclipse Comics revived the character and cast in 1986, and this little gem from that crusading guardian of Popular Culture Ken Pierce may well have been instrumental in that splendid return.

Although still readily available through online vendors and comic shops, the reproduction in this book is poor in places even if the quality and excitement shines through. It’s well overdue for a revamped re-release now that it can benefit from all the advances of modern print technology. I eagerly await such a volume especially if room can be found for all Kida’s efforts and not just the most sinister and sexy ones…
© 1982 Ken Pierce Inc. Subsequent © whoever owns the trademark now.

Babel #2

Babel #2
Babel #2

By David B., translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56097-809-1

The second release (I hesitate to call it a volume, as the format, though bold and wonderful, is more than a magazine but less than a book) from the eclectic and surreal ongoing masterpiece of French creator David B. continues the startling, intimate tale of the artist and his family through the most evocative years of recent history.

Printed using only black and red screens, the tale resumes with the artist recalling how, as children, he and his brother became obsessed with all the far-flung wars as seen in their grandfather’s old issues of Paris Match. Especially affecting were the pictures of the natives of Papua, New Guinea…

Years later, as a teenager he reads more of the Papuans and tries to apply their striking beliefs and convictions as he comes to terms with his brother’s crippling epilepsy. Via surreal and introspective diversions, the artist arrives at a point where he can picture how the Algerian conflict (ongoing during his childhood) might actually be unfolding…

David B is a founder member of the groundbreaking strip artists group L’Association, and has won numerous awards including the Alph’ Art for comics excellence and European Cartoonist of the Year (by the Comics Journal) in 1998. His seamless blending of artistic Primitivism, visual metaphor, and high and low cultural icons makes this work (the 8th book of his “Ignatz” saga) a mesmeric and darkly lyrical treat for anyone who needs more meat in their narrative.

Wrapped in a fabulous gate-fold wraparound cover with a fascinating strip exploring the cultural significance of the horse to the Native American (part of the Acta Zoolologica sequence that describes “psychopompic” animals) this is not a book for everyone, but for the open-minded it offers truly magical experiences.

© 2006 David B. Book edition © 2006 Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press.

Mister Men

Little Miss Stubborn and the Unicorn
Little Miss Stubborn and the Unicorn

LITTLE MISS STUBBORN AND THE UNICORN
ISBN: 978-1-4052-3791-8
MR. STRONG AND THE OGRE
ISBN: 978-1-4052-3792-5

By Roger Hargreaves, written and illustrated by Adam Hargreaves (Egmont)

Just because things look simple doesn’t mean they are. The superbly pared down stories and art of the Mister Men as crafted by Charles Roger Hargreaves (1935-1988) from 1971 whilst working as an advertising Creative Director are a prime example of how much effort is needed to make things seem easy.

Colourful and simplified to the point of abstraction, the first book Mr. Tickle told a solid, if basic story that instantly captured young minds, and spawned a global franchise. Within three years the series had been turned into a BBC television series (narrated by the wonderful Arthur Lowe) starring one character of the burgeoning cast per episode. The books had sold over a million copies at this juncture.

By 1976 Hargreaves had left his job and turned to full-time cartooning. In 1981 he launched the ancillary Little Miss (adapted for television in 1983) series, which continued the tried-and-tested formula of a simple picture-story starring a character whose name perfectly described them. As well as the 46 Mr. Men and 39 Little Miss books he also produced 25 Timbuctoo books, the adventures of John Mouse and the Roundy and Squary series. With more than 100,000,000 books sold he is Britain’s third best-selling author. The books have been translated into many languages: some are not available in English at all.

When Hargreaves died of a sudden stroke in 1988 his son Adam took over the franchise, creating new characters until 2004 when the family sold the rights to an entertainment company.

The two examples included here, Little Miss Stubborn and the Unicorn and Mr. Strong and the Ogre are both products of the second generation with glitter-enhanced covers designed to further captivate the young reader. In the former our heroine lives up to her name by disregarding all the evidence and refusing to believe in Unicorns, whilst trusty Mr. Strong has to be rather firm when a trio of boisterous ogres start rough-housing and annoying people…

Thirty-two pages with sparkly covers, divided equally into easy-to-read pages and colourful illustrations, designed for small hands, these addictively collectable books are a great reading experience and a marvellous stepping stone to a life-long love-affair with books and comics. Every child should start here…

 

Both © 2008 THOIP (a Chorion company). Printed and published under licence from Price Stern Sloan, Inc., Los Angeles. All Rights Reserved.

Bob the Builder: Roley and the Woodland Walk

Roley and the Woodland Walk
Roley and the Woodland Walk

Illustrated by Craig Cameron (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-3750-5

One of the absolute best bits about being a comics fan – or any kind of collecting hobbyist – is the semi-obsessive thrill that comes from chasing a set. We’re all suckers for the thrill of hunting a missing number and that’s all the better if the book in question is a great read and visually memorable.

And it’s never too early to start. Roley and the Woodland Walk is a surprisingly well written book for the very young based on the popular TV series featuring the affable steamroller and all the animals in Sunflower Valley in a delightful comedy of errors, with sensible Bob once again having to come to the rescue.

Designed for small hands, the book is 34 pages plus covers and has 13 lavish, eye-catching full-page illustrations. It is number #5 in the Bob the Builder Story Library, cunningly enumerated on the spine, and has ads for the other titles in the back, just like all the best comics do (eight to collect, so far, kids!).

In our electronic, post-literate culture, kids need every aid and inducement to pick up the reading bug, and these lush little pictorials are a perfect primer for a life of reading comics and books. They’re also superbly well crafted and re-readable if you’re the adult having to narrate them at bedtime.

Gotta Get ’em All!

© 2008 HIT Entertainment Limited and Keith Chapman. All Rights Reserved.

How to Draw Kung Fu Comics

How to Draw Kung Fu Comics
How to Draw Kung Fu Comics

By Cheung, Man Wai (DrMaster Publications)
ISBN13: 978-1-59796-069-4

I’ve seen a lot of “How To…” books in my time and this new edition of a tract first published by ComicsOne Corp. in 2004 is definitely one of the best; although I have to say right from the outset that this is not about the specific creation of Japanese style Manga.

This book reveals the creative philosophy and secrets of comics produced for the Hong Kong market, and, superficial resemblances notwithstanding, there’s a world of difference. Almost exclusively a martial arts themed industry, the Hong Kong drawing style concentrates on a (relatively) representational interpretation of the perfected human form, more akin to the superhero anatomy of Burne Hogarth, Gil Kane and John Romita Senior, than the expressionistic abstractions and formulations of Manga or the edgy East/West amalgam that typifies the Manhwa of South Korea. Western superhero artists could learn a lot from this book.

The book itself covers all the accepted basics, Conceptualisation, Drawing and particular effects, Character Design, Illustrating Scenarios, (you and I would call it drawing the script), Scriptwriting for Kung Fu comics, and even proper speech-balloon placement.

Their chapter on Perspective is one of the clearest that I’ve ever seen, and does the reader the decency of baldly revealing that getting it right is actually damned hard work, and that it really does matter: something a lot of books – and tutors – are pretty reluctant to admit.

Superbly, copiously and relevantly illustrated throughout, the book also contains a tutorial section and an extensive gallery-come-swipe-file. In fact my only quibble (and there’s always one) is that the entire interior is in economical black-and-white, whereas the crowning glory of the comics themselves is lush and lavish multi-media colour. It’s a shame a glossy insert wasn’t in the budget.

© 2005 DrMaster Publications Inc.

MOME 11: Summer 2008

MOME 11
MOME 11

By various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-916-6

The summer volume of the alternative, cutting edge cartoon-arts anthology presents even more new creators to augment the fabulous regulars behind a compelling cover by European creator Killoffer- plus a fascinating extended, illustrated interview with typographer and artist Ray Fenwick whose telling vignettes are peppered throughout this book.

After a cool spoof of ‘Poker Dogs’ by Kurt Wolfgang, the book proper opens with a silent chiller entitled ‘5:45 AM’ by Al Columbia followed by the exceptional (and equally wordless) ‘Einmal ist Keinmal’ by cover artist Killoffer. The sixth part of Wolfgang’s ‘Nothing Eve’ follows, and although still compelling visually, the protracted story-plot is becoming a distant memory – hopefully a future collection will allow the full power and verve of the narrative to compete fairly with the magical illustration.

Nate Neal channels classic Underground Comix of the Sixties with the portmanteau strip-jam ‘The 5 Simple Cosmic Do Dats’, and Ray Fenwick’s ‘Truth Bear’ tells it like it is before the superb Eleanor Davis takes the breath away with ‘The 10,000 Rescues’ another silent strip featuring those plucky li’l gals Dot and Louisa.

Dash Shaw returns with the mesmeric ‘The Galactic Funnels’ followed by the returning John Hankiewicz, who provides a disturbing moment in Jazz history entitled ‘Those Eyes’. Émile Bravo’s ‘A Question of Human Resources’ provides a typically Gallic view of Workers and Politics whilst Andrice Arp’s seductive full page illustrations ask ‘The Question is “How Did This Happen?”’, ‘The Problem is “What Do We Do Now?”’, ‘How Much Longer is This Going to Go On?’ and ‘How Many More Times is This Going to Happen?’

‘Shoes’ from Conor O’Keefe is a wistful, faux elegiac watercolour strip reminiscent of the very beginnings of our art form, followed by the aforementioned Fenwick interview, after which O’Keefe returns with ‘Fly’. ‘Million Year Boom’ is a chilling cautionary tale from Tom Kaczynski whilst Paul Hornschemeier offers an illustrated prose vignette ‘The Guest Speaker’ to accompany the ninth part of his urban saga ‘Life With Mr Dangerous’, which follows. Closing this volume is Ray Fenwick’s trenchant ‘Cre-A-Tor in “Trial & Omni-Error”’.

Whether you’re new to comics, new to the areas beyond the mainstream or just want something new; these strips and this publication will always offer a decidedly different read. You may not like all of it, and perhaps the serializations should provide recaps (but don’t) but Mome will always have something you can’t help but respond to. You really should try it…

Mome © 2008 Fantagraphics Books. Individual stories are © the respective creator with the exception of “A Question of Human Resources” © 2008 Dargaud by Bravo with rights arranged through Sylvia Coissard Agency. All Rights Reserved.

Miffy Goes to the Zoo

A pull-tab and play book

Illustrations by Dick Bruna (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4062-8

Fewer and fewer people read these days. Especially kids. My wife told me a story of a friend (no kids yet) who recently bought a little girl a book for her birthday. The other mothers frowned and tutted. One kind soul offered to let her go halves on her own gift: nightmare-inducing, giant-headed fashion dolls wearing salacious outfits and hooker make-up. They were all tragically correct. The book, a golden classic of childhood, lay all but unwrapped, a single torn corner of shiny paper revealing it to be words on paper, not plastic or metal or electronic.

In a world with so many flashing distractions children now need to be seduced into reading – and that as soon as possible. Miffy Goes to the Zoo is a pop-up book for the very young based on Dick Bruna’s classic little girl-rabbit character.

When the first book Miffy Goes to the Zoo was published in 1955 Miffy (or Nijntje as she is in the original Dutch) was rendered much more realistically, but Bruna, a relentless perfectionist, refined his creation continually and by 1963 the almost abstract minimalist version we all know was finalised and the book was reissued with the artwork altered. It is this version that the pop-up book is based on.

Bruna has produced over 100 books with sales of over 80 million world-wide, Nijntje has more than thirty titles across the planet in 40 languages and the little rabbit is a global brand with toys, games, TV shows, and everything else you’d expect from such a household name.

The book themselves are 16 pages of verse and primary coloured illustration, designed small to fit the hands of children (the target audience is 4-8 year olds) and with topics children know or might experience such as schools, hospitals or shopping. In the award winning Dear Grandma Bunny (1997) Bruna even tackled loss and bereavement in a tale where Miffy’s grandmother passes away. Of especially interest here, some books such as Miffy’s Dream have no text at all, using pictures alone to carry the narrative – a perfect training ground for future comics readers.

This version has all the charm and simple beauty of the 1963 book, and the physical animations are absolutely amazing, pop-up, fold-outs, rotating images and hidden surprises and, mercifully, no electronic voices, bleeps or sound effects to distract from what is still essentially a reading device for contemplation. This kind of traditional innovation wedded to a trusted character brand is vital to getting kids hooked on books.

Perhaps if that well-meaning but naive lady had taken this along instead there might have been a less embarrassing outcome at the birthday party.

It’s never too late…

© Mercis bv, 1953-2008. Licensed by Mercis Publishing bv, Amsterdam. All Rights Reserved.

Lazytown Chalkboard Activity Book

Published by Egmont
ISBN: 978-1-4052-4017-8

I love to include both visually intriguing children’s material and articles which promote or hone creative skills as well as volumes of and about comics, and this activity book – based on the exploits of exercise superhero Sportacus on the kid’s TV show LazyTown – is something I wish I’d had when I was teaching youngsters (and even the teenagers) at the London Cartoon Centre or London College of Printing all those years ago.

This sturdy little tome is based on a successful Icelandic show which uses all the high tech beguilery of modern television to induce kids to eat well and rush about more. It is incredibly popular around the world.

Here, each page is game or puzzle with a (washable!) screen to draw and write upon with the four drawing chalks included. By combining favourite characters, basic storytelling principles and a literal hands-on approach to drawing this book could do more to make young comic creators than any number of classes and art teachers. Creating is fun and this book actively encourages that whilst enhancing the reading process. Magic!

LazyTown © and ™ 2008 LazyTown Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.