Super-duper up-close detail of an #illustration I just finished for work. Probably shouldn’t show the whole thing until in publishes, so here’s a tiny bit of it. Had a lot of fun painting it.
The Story of Marvel Comics by Sean Howe
(This is not a proper review, merely a topically linked series of comments. It is a collection of drastically pruned, cleaned up (but not polished) preparatory notes I made during and after reading. My intent was to write a formal review but I couldn’t maintain a focus on it. So I’m giving up. It’s a good book! Liked it, but every time I start to write, I stray from a straight review into a personal history of comics-reading delights. That is certainly of no interest, unless you want to know why I think “Howard the Duck” and “The Micronauts” were the best comics I read as a tweenager in the 70s. See? Sounds dreadful, even to me.)
Intro: I was a young mainstream comics consumer from mid-70s to the late 80s, and many of the artists, writers and story lines covered in the first three quarters of the book are personal touchstones. As a youngster aspiring to be an artist, some of those comics were very important to my personal history. It’s the stuff I really loved as a kid.
Note: The author reveals some behind-the-scenes insights that have prompted me to re-read some of my old comics to match my foggy but fond remembrances with some of the anecdotes. I approve of a book that motivates me to crack open that old shoebox full of Howard the Duck comics!
Note: I didn’t last long as a Marvel reader after Jim Shooter’s reign as editor-in-chief, so as “The Untold Story” moved on through the 90s it became harder for me to pay attention. Many of the artists, writers, editors, story lines, and corporate villains featured thereafter are unfamiliar or completely unknown to me.
Note: Still, I liked reading about the office shenanigans, just for the sheer voyeuristic charge. There are some good bits in there that kept me plugging along.
Other grouped together stray thoughts:
Stan Lee: As is the case with every book, article or story about Marvel, there is the constant presence of the great Stan Lee. He is virtuous, he is desperate, he is creative, he is an anti-hero, he is shifty, he is cunning and clever, he is out of his depth, but above all –– to his readers –– he is your best friend who doesn’t know who you are. I come away from accounts of his career with feelings of admiration and sadness. He fared much better than his most famous partners, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and possibly not deservedly so, but he has not fared as well as he should have.
Stan Lee B: My impression of Stan Lee from this reading is that he has been a well-paid (but not well-paid enough) figurehead on the juggernaut that Marvel has become. He hasn’t be a creative force or an influential voice in the production of the actual comics product since the mid-70s, but he’s always standing close enough so that he’s not forgotten. That’s a good thing.
90s Marvel, or Yes, I’ve heard of Image Comics: I wasn’t paying attention to mainstream comics when the Image guys became a force for Marvel, but on the recommendation of friends I sought out some books drawn by some of the soon-to-be Image founders. I couldn’t believe that Marvel’s top comics were being drawn by guys who couldn’t draw. I was not a fan of the 90s style, if that isn’t clear.
Note: I checked out the Image comics a year or so after they began publishing and they were still definitely not my cup of tea. The exception was “Savage Dragon” which was beyond awesome. The only books I sought out in the late 90s, early 00s (the time “I wasn’t reading comics anymore”) were Hellboy, Acme Novelty stuff, and Savage Dragon.
Note: I don’t read (new) comics any more. I can’t afford them. Occasionally I will check out a collection of contemporary comics from the library, and they’re usually pretty good but I don’t find much inspiration in them. What does this have to do with the book? Fuggit. I quit.*
*This is the moment I decided to NOT write a review, preserved as I typed it.
I’ve been reading but not finishing a lot of books, but I’m getting near the end of two of them – East of Eden by Steinbeck and Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser. The trouble is they’re both so brilliant I’m finding hard to think of anything more to say than “READ THEM!” But, I’ll try to come up with something.
I do have a couple nearly done reviews of western adventure novels awaiting the final edit and that moment of stockpiled courage that allows me to hit the “Publish” button.
Hopefully, courage and completeness will again converge soon.
A Nightmare Autographed, or The Archeology of Anxiety. Second draft.
When I was a child this comic gave me bad dreams. Just look at the cover. Superman, branded on the forehead, slumped on the ground, aging and withering in agony as a crowd of people look on, helpless and horrified. The most horrified witness was six-year old Me. I’m certain my parents didn’t mean to inflict trauma when they spent 25¢ on a Superman comic for their son, but they did. And there were a couple of midnight visits to my bedroom to reassure me that Superman was alright. See? He’s okay at the end of the story.
The interior pages also contained tormenting images.
Terra-Man – a villain dressed like a black-hat cowboy riding upon a winged horse – erupts from a movie screen and flies over a terrified audience. A man is given a ghastly green chest X-ray, exposing his grisly rib cage. The artist draws vivid close-up of Superman’s ancient face, the brand still a bloody crimson red on his forehead.
In one disturbing sequence, Terra-Man pulls a gold tooth from the back of his mouth and throws it directly onto the “S” on Superman’s chest. The gold spreads out, engulfing the “S”, then his chest, his torso. Superman tries to fly away but the gold blob covers his entire body and he falls to the ground, landing awkwardly on his face. By the look of it I’m certain that Superman’s neck is broken.
This may sound fanciful but I remember, back when I was a tyke, eating breakfast with this comic spread out next to my plate. My parents built a child-size countertop against a wall in the kitchen where I ate my breakfasts, drew pictures and looked at books. I left the comic right there, and off to the school bus stop I went. When I got home the comic was gone. Mom didn’t know where it was, she said. It will turn up. It didn’t.
I mourned. It was a scary book, but I liked that scary sensation. I liked the monster movies they showed on TV on the weekends, I liked the wicked witch in Wizard of Oz, I liked Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster, and I liked that creepy Superman comic book. But, eventually, I forgot about it. Old fears are replaced with new fears, I suppose, and the things that scare six-year olds are buried beneath the weight of adolescent dread and adult worry; only the occasional shifting of sands reveal to us the archeology of our anxieties.
35 years later, while cruising the internet and shifting the hell out of some sand, I happened upon an image of the cover of Superman #250. I flinched and I flickered out of the real world and found myself sitting somewhen else, in the early 1970s, at that counter in my parents’ kitchen. My tiny hand held a plastic fork, there was a half-eaten waffle — pre-cut by my mother — and Superman #250 was open to the page with the X-ray. Trying to brush away a veil of hour-glass sand, I gazed upon almost-remembered drawings that moved from wonderful to strange to frightening.
I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and slumped back into the 21st century, but I brought with me the impressions of the gold tooth scene, the X-Ray, Superman’s scarred forehead and senescent face, and the flying horse in the theater. The visions weren’t clear but their shapes moved through the fog and their ghosts whispered. I wanted to re-visit these specters of childhood past.
I found a copy for sale online, it was about 3 bucks. I bought it. It has been on the wall by my drawing table for several years now because the thrill and horror of Neal Adams’s illustration is still sharp for me. But the gold tooth scene, the green chest X-Ray and the flying horse in the theater are not as dynamically frightening in maturity as in reverie. I understand why those panels seemed weird to a small boy and my memory believed they had been drawn by Goya and inked by Bernie Wrightson. Alas, the art of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson delights, but does not reach the frightened inner-child that Adams’s drawing still firmly throttles.
I’m not the kind of person who gets excited about autographs. I have no interest. My collection of signatures is small, and in almost every case, they were acquired incidentally.
The autographs I sought out:
1) When I was 11 years old I stood in line at a mall to get the autographs of Anthony Daniels and Dave Prowse.
2) I bought a book of Boris Vallejo paintings at a comics convention in the early 80s and he signed it for me.
3) Will Eisner autographed a book, also in the early 80s.
4) And, just a week or two ago, the great Neal Adams signed this battered old pamphlet.
When the opportunity arose to see Neal Adams and possibly ask for an autograph, I balked at first. Not my thing, really; and my Neal Adams collection is extremely thin, consisting only of a few smelly, yellowed, well-read comic books. I own absolutely none of his more famous, highly regarded works. No Batman, no Green Lantern, and – much to my regret – no Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (God! I want an original copy of that. Autographed!) I do not possess a Neal Adams book, the monetary or personal value of which might be enhanced by the signature of the artist. That’s what I thought.
But, in a quiet moment at home, sitting at my desk I looked at the comic pinned to the cork board and considered that this might be a rare opportunity to have a nightmare signed by one of its creators.
Now, this is my favorite autograph.
Afterword: Neal Adams is the perfect blend of humble cartoonist, arrogant artist, salesman, outspoken opponent of “The Man,” slayer of windmills, comedian, nice guy, mad scientist. He told stories, he cracked jokes, he sold prints. If you should ever have the opportunity to hear him speak or to speak with him, I would recommend it.
Okay, now we can start playing Xmas music-Thnx for holding off to help avoid burnout-but only THIS album!
Galactic Odyssey by Keith Laumer. Not really a review, but a short essay about my reading experience. (First draft)
I started reading “Galactic Odyssey” many, many years ago. I bought it because I liked the cover – Richard M. Powers is a favorite sci-fi cover artist and designer – and it cost only a buck or two. I zipped through half of it, and I was having a good time, but the book went missing. So mysterious and complete was its disappearance that I was certain I must have left it in a coffee shop, or it likely had fallen from its perch in the front pocket of my bag as I went about my daily journies. Gone forever.
A year, maybe two years passed. As I worked on a rare but thorough house-cleaning, I found the book behind the sofa. I tried to continue reading from the bookmarked spot, but I was lost. I remembered characters but the plot was a puzzle.
I started over, but I couldn’t drag my eyes across more than 10 or 20 pages. I knew the course of every sentence once I began it, but had to plow through each one to recall the course of the next. I was battered into boredom by a sense of deja vu dulled by the knowledge that, indeed, I had been there before. I couldn’t tolerate that for another 80 pages; it was too far to go to tread new ground! I set the book down, walked away, and waited.
Galactic Odyssey moves in unreasonable lurches; time, distances, situations shift, compress and expand – not in smooth progressions – but in sudden, enormous jerks. ”Five years later…” it will surprisingly say at the beginning of a paragraph. Or, “…after traveling to the outer fringes of the Milky Way and searching ten planets for his kidnapped bride, our hero became discouraged and settled down to live his life as a librarian on small moon of Jupiter until, one day, five years later…”
That is an exaggeration, but it’s not much of an exaggeration. The storytelling style gives the reader the sensation of excitement and a fast pace. But might it be, instead, the sign of a restless, undisciplined and sloppy writer?
Five years later I found the book under a pile of other books on my drawing table. A quick skim of the first chapter gave me only a vague sense of familiarity. As happens with so much of what I read, I had forgotten nearly all of it. Cool! It’s just like reading a new book.
My recommendation? It’s pretty good light reading. I got through it in a few hours of focused reading time. I get the feeling that the author was making it up as he went along, and never looked at what he had typed the day before. Nothing wrong with that. It was reckless fun and funny in spots.
(Ha! I just realized it took me about, what?, eight years to finish a book that I read in less than a day. Weird, huh?)
I give it a B minus. Pretty good! Great cover, tho.
Been listening to this group for a while. Catchy tunes with a bit of humor. A few good albums. Kinda folksy.
Sagebrush Bandit by Bliss Lomax, a review. (First draft)
I believe that if you stop reading a book one or two chapters before the end, it will often be a far better experience than if you carry on and read the whole thing. Partly, this this lie is a gift for myself, since there are so many books I have enjoyed reading but never got around to finishing. I will sincerely say “The Grapes of Wrath,” is one of my favorite novels, but I will not mention that I haven’t glanced at the last 80 or so pages.
Sagebrush Bandit –– with such a typically banal Western novel title–– you might think it would be bad from the get-go, but I thought it was great, as in “Great!” At the halfway mark I started having a conversation with myself that went, “Is this the best book I’ve ever read? Maybe not the best ever but, wow, possibly the best Western I’ve read. I can’t wait to see how it ends!”
The story follows a complicated but well defined plot that smartly twists along but never loses appeal… until it loses all appeal. My dumb and not wholly-accurate summary:
A bandit, disappointed with a curiously small score after a bold bank hold-up, decides he wants to clean up his act, become a better person, and go straight before he goes too far. But he’s not quite sure how to go about it. Then he reads a newspaper report about his robbery that indicates he got away with much more money than he did. After some thought he deduces that the bank had so little money because the banker had been embezzling.
The bandit returns to the scene of the crime, confronts the banker in private and offers the deal: “I won’t rat you out if you help me build a business in this town and become a respectable and helpful citizen.” The banker can’t tell on him, and he can’t tell on the banker. It could work, but the banker doesn’t believe the bandit is sincere, and he worries that the bandit will show his true colors at some point in the future and leave him to take the rap.
The tension builds nicely as the bandit moves into business and builds respectability and trust. The banker grows more fearful as the time passes. The bandit befriends another young man who is sure there’s oil in the ground near town and they embark on a venture to create an oil company, which also requires the banker get involved in the business. (There’s an interesting overview of the processes of finding and extracting oil in the late 1800s, and it’s eye-opening as to how much work had to be done and how much money had to be spent just to find out if there truly was oil in a likely spot. The novel is educational, too!)
In other threads of the tale, the bandit takes an interest in two women. First, his partner’s girl. She is cast in the mold of a pure hearted lass but she rises above the cliche of goody-two shoes cardboard cutout; and I should mention that she also happens to be the banker’s daughter, which might seem like it’s too much, but it works well. Second–– another possible cliche the author fleshes out nicely–– the bandit falls for a beautiful wealthy widow who raises racehorses and runs a ranch. She is wise and canny with a bit of a mean streak, and she finds the bandit attractive because she senses he is more than a social ladder climber. The women are both strong characters and handled with as much panache as the male leads –– very refreshing in a Western penned in the 50s.
As relationships evolve and secrets bubble crudely to the surface, the bandit begins to demonstrate that perhaps he hasn’t completely turned from the outlaw’s life, and there may be more sinister subconscious tendencies at work in his schemes. Excitement builds as the uncertainty of the outcome entices and the potential of the literary symbolism feels dark, heavy and ready to blow.
Sadly, it all blows dark and heavy into the toilet. Gosh, it was great, until those last 20 pages.
Coincidence, convenient departure, timely deaths and fortunate misfortunes befall everyone who might trip up the bandit in his hope for a reformed life. He gets the girl, comes clean, becomes a success and we are reassured that all will be forgiven. I can’t think of any comparable entertainment experience that shifted from so good to so bad in the final stretch.
Ah well. Great cover, tho.
I’d read another Bliss Lomax novel, but I’d do it with the intention of stopping two chapters shy of the finish.
Afterword: I just did a quick search on Bliss Lomax and I see that was a pen name for Harry Sinclair Drago, who was a popular western writer up until the 70s. He wrote close to 130 books, so I’m sure there’s a really good one or two in there.
Using Tumblr now and then to make few notes on books I’m reading. I have a habit of forgetting what I’ve read or forgetting what it was about.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I found a small group of western novels by Jack Cummings at the library. I know, you’ve never heard of him. Me either. I haven’t found anything about him online, other than simple lists of his work, so he remains a mystery.
I first checked out “The Surrogate Gun,” and it was terrific. I plowed through their collection in no time and they were all pretty good. In his better books, there is more humor than in the standard western novel. It’s not comedy by any stretch, but his characters fall outside of the cliche or offer an interesting variation.
A few years ago I found three more of his books at a used-books store and, for about a buck and a half a piece, I bought them. But I put them on a shelf and soon they were buried behind a few other things and I forgot about them. This is prety common for me and I have a lot of books I’ve never read.
So, when I was searching the shelves for a book, the first tier collapsed and revealed a row of unread westerns in the back. There were quite a few in there. I reached in and pulled Lynch”s Revenge” out of the rubble. “Oh yeah! I forgot about these. This guy is great!”
Well, this one wasn’t so good. It would have been great at about half the length! A short and slightly inaccurate summary might go:
This guy gets scalped but lives, okay? Understandably peeved, he decides to take revenge on the indians. So, he starts killing and scalping indians. The indians react by slaughtering homesteaders. The scalped guy is then set upon by a lone Texas Ranger who has to stop him so that the Indians will calm down. The Ranger and the scalped guy end up having to join forces to save a small town (and their mutual love-interest) from the marauding Indians.
Gosh, looking at that it sounds great! Well, it has some good bits but it kind of wore me out. What bothered me the most was even though it was explained early on that the scalped guy was responsible for the indian uprising, every character they ran into along the way mentioned it at least once. I got the impression the author was padding out the story to get the page count up.
I will confess the last 20 or so pages brought the story to a satisfying end and I felt better about it when I got there. So, not that terrible, but a little tedious.
I’ll give it a C+, just because it did have some funny bits. (I’m reading another of his books and it is MUCH better.)
Made With Paper
Today, on my trip to the flea market, I found this! “Paul Revere’s Ride” was sitting there, bare-naked in a cardboard box, basking in the hot sun. Such a neat painted cover!
Published in 1957, I bet it has ne’er seen the inside of a wretched plastic baggie, for it is yellowed, brittle, beautiful. And the smell? It has an odor of such dignity that if you closed your eyes and peel back the cover, you might imagine you were in front of a pharoah’s tomb as the door is pried open for the first time in 4,000 years and the airs of ancient Egypt are exhaled.
What a huge and bewildering surprise it was to find that the treasure within is an entire story drawn by the Great Alex Toth! And all this for less than the price of a brand-new comic.
Can’t beat that!
Made With Paper
If you were a boy of 13 in 1927 this would be your fave album. I love it!
Small bit of an #illustration bumped up HUGE!