Feb
15
2009

Five For Friday: High Bidder

buddy_truck

Each week, over at ComicsReporter.com there’s a feature called “Five For Friday” in which readers are asked to submit a list of five answers to some comics-related question.  This week’s challenge:

Name Five Items Not Primarily Weapons That Only Exist In Comics You’d Bid For Were They To Magically Appear On eBay.

You can check out all the responses at ComicsReporter.  Here are my answers:

  • Buddy Bradley’s Kaz-designed truck (AKA: “The Polio-Mobile”)
  • The Sea Hag’s magical flute
  • The “Frost Axe” LP from “Black Metal”
  • The Rocketeer’s jet pack
  • A Dagwood sandwich actually assembled by Dagwood

Feb
12
2009

Parallel Universes in Comics*

(* No, not the dopey “DC multiverse” kind.)

So, here’s another bookmark I found in my recent organizing: Evidence of a Parallel Universe.  This is from waaaay back, but the reason I bookmarked it wasn’t necessarily for its scientific import: like most comics folk, my brain has pretty much one track–and it’s comics.

When I saw this article, and a flurry of others around the same time on this topic, what I thought of was not the stunning scientific and philosophic implications of possible evidence in favor of the multiverse theory of reality, but rather, I began ruminating on what sorts of parallel universes there might theoretically be in which the history of comics is almost–but not quite–the same as it is in our world.  Here’re some parallel “comics universes” I’d like to see:

World of Less-Cutesy Manga

Nowadays Manga is ubiquitous, but it wasn’t always so.  American and Japanese comics developed in parallel, but in near-total isolation.  Much of early Manga, though–and particularly that of Osamu Tezuka, the “father of Manga”–was heavily influenced by the work of Walt Disney.   The Disney studio was of course the dominant animation house when this crossover was occuring post-WWII… but it didn’t have to be.

In the early days of American animation, Disney was in close competition with another animation house, Fleischer Studios, for dominance of the market.    The latter procuced the Popeye shorts, the early Superman cartoons and many others including Betty Boop.  The Fleischer Studios  had a very different aesthetic than Disney; their character designs were rarely “cutesy” and some of their cartoons were downright bizarre.  For example, check out this 1933 version of Snow White starring Betty boop and featuring everything from a rotoscoped Cab Calloway to a team of dancing skeletons.

So, here’s the first parallel universe I’d like to explore: a world where the Fleisher Studios–not Disney–was the dominant American animation house and was the big influence on Manga.  I wonder if there was more of this in the mix in the ’30s:

betty_boop_in_snow_white

… and less of this:

1_snow_white_with_little_bird

… whether we might have a whole lot less of this these days:

manga4-791212

World of Less-Whiny Indy Comics

Todays non-superhero comics are (thankfully) bursting at the seams with stories of all stripes, but it arrived at this state via a path originiating with the underground cartoonists of the ’60s and then moving from there through an unfortunate developmental stage in the ’90s that was populated with more than its share of sissified self-confessional autobio comics.

Yeah, sure there are deniers, but the intertwining between indy comics and autobio seems pretty obvious to me and its modern roots seem to pretty obviously be in the ’90s.  Just as a test, try naming the most successful GNs you can think of off the top of your head.  I’d go with maybe Blankets, Jimmy Corrigan, Cancer Vixen, Persepolis, Maus and Fun Home.  The only one of these that isn’t autobio/memoir is Jimmy Corrigan.  And, yeah, I guess I’ll wimp out and not “name names,” but I’ll let Heidi MacDonald and Katherine Farmar do it for me, since I’m a cartoonist myself and pissing off my peers is kind of a bad idea.

How did we get here, though?  My one word answer is this: Crumb.  Of all the ’60s underground guys, Robert (now just “R.” apparently) Crumb is the one who’s had the most lasting influence on the non-superhero comics that followed him.  He’s the one who established the template of the whiny, nerdy, no luck with the gals, lost in nostalgia, 78rpm record-listening, self-confessional cartoonist.  But what if he hadn’t been the one with the lasting influence?

Among Crumb’s contemporaries were folks who were 180 degrees from him both in their personalities and in the comics they produced–people like S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams and Spain Rodriguez.   Spain’s comics, for example, drew on the artist’s experiences on the road as a member of the biker gang, the Road Vultures.  His main character, Trashman, didn’t spend his time moping about women or reminising about ragtime music; he was too busy blastin’ on fools!

So, here’s the second of the comics parallel universes I’d like to see: a world where the lineage of the modern indy comics scene was rooted in a ’60s underground dominated by bad-ass psychedelic shit-kickers, not self-confessional autobio.

autobio_chart

World of Skinnier, Sweatier Superheroes

This one’s pretty obvious, but…

Open pretty much any superhero comic book today and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter at least one character created by Jack Kirby–and, more important, the basic “visual language” of superhero comics you’ll be looking at has its origins in Kirby’s work for Marvel in the ’60s.   Almost the entire stable of Marvel’s key characters originate in the fertile brain of Jack “King” Kirby: Iron Man, The X-Men, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four.  Only two of Marvel’s top tier characters, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, were penned by a different artist: Steve Ditko.

Ditko was a man of strong–albeit unusual–convictions, and something (no one really agrees on exactly what) ruffled his feathers at Marvel and he left, just 38 issues into the Spider-Man series.  Kirby, though, continued at Marvel and pretty much everything that came after in the superhero genre would wind up owing a heavy debt of influence to Kirby’s aesthetic.

What, though, if things had been reversed?  What if Kirby left early and Ditko remained?  That’s the third parallel comics universe I’d like to explore: a world where the work of Steve Ditko, not Jack Kirby, establishes the basic “template” for modern superhero genre comics.

I think you’d see three main differences between this world an ours.

First, most obviously, an aesthetic difference.  Kirby’s characters look huge, even when they’re printed in a 2 x 3 inch panel.  They’re big, they’ve got mass, they’re impossibly burly.

They’re also drawn in an incredibly dynamic way, seeming to almost leap off the page:

You can’t blame Kirby for it any more than blame Led Zeppelin for Whitesnake, but clearly all paths to this kind of depiction of the male form go through Kirby:

Ditko’s characters, on the other hand, tend to look a little underfed by today’s standards.

Second, I think we’d see a de-emphasis on physicallity and a bit more emphasis on the psychological.  As much as I love Kirby’s characters from a design standpoint, I find it difficult to really ascribe to them much of an “inner life,” no matter the quantity of Stan Lee-penned thought balloons.  On the other hand, Ditko–possibly because of his background in horror and SF comics–seems intensely interested in his characters psychological states.  I find it relatively easy to see a character like Peter Parker, as drawn by Ditko, as someone with actual inner mental states.  (I suppose it helps that a lot of Ditko’s characters are kind of bug-eyed crazy and sweaty looking as well!)

Third–and finally–I’d bet comics in this “universe” would make a lot more use of the diagramatic/iconographic properties of the art form.  As much as I love a lot of Kirby stuff, I find Ditko’s work more interesting, partially because of his tendency to draw non-literally and mix realistic drawing with symbology.  Probably the best-known example is the famous Spider-Man “half-masked face.”

My favorite example of this, though, is the (in)famous scene from Witzend #3 in which Mr. A allows a criminal to fall to his doom.   Note how in the first panel Mr. A is knocking “Angel” off the roof onto a flag pole below… yet, in all of the following panels, Ditko manages to place the pole in our view, often directly between the two protagonists.  Literally, this is obviously not where the flag pole is spacially in the scene depicted, but in a daigramatic way that’s where the needs to be, with the criminal’s life visually hanging in the balance.

2270913522_7ee8e20494_b

Feb
08
2009

Sketchbook 02/08

Yeah, I know: more hands.  What can I say?  I’m a creature of habit.  That’s Barack Obama’s hand in the upper left, taking the oath of office.

sketchbook_020809

Feb
07
2009

The ‘Nancy’ Weird Comic Strip Generator

So I was cleaning out my browser bookmarks today and among the things I encountered was this old post over at Blog Flume about a Wendy’s kids meal toy that allows you to generate a Peanuts comic strip by inserting pre-printed panels into a little “frame.”

I bookmarked it not just because it’s cool (which it is), but also because it reminded me of something I made many years ago when I was teaching at the North Carolina Governor’s School and had access to lots of  “real” art supplies: a mix and match Nancy strip generator.

The genesis of this item was a weird piece of cardboard I’d found with an ocean image printed on it.  I just started messing around with it and among the things hanging around the studio that caught my eye were a bunch of photocopied Nancy strips.  (I can’t remember why now, but having a bunch of Nancy strips around requires no justification in my opinion.)  Anyway, what emerged was this item:

nancy_1

Each of the “panels” is made of some cut-out images from a comic strip glued to a clear acetate sheet which can be pulled up and out of the frame by the black “handles” at the top (the one on the left has fallen off) and rearanged.  It’d have been nice to have more “panels” to use other than just these three, but hey, what can I tell you–I was working on this on the taxpayers’ dime!

Here’s another possible combo. You get the idea…

nancy_2

Jan
25
2009

Thor Pinup

Here’s yet another pinup I’ve done to send along with my art dealer up to the New York Comic Con in a few weeks.  This piece is based on a panel from Thor #337, the first Walter Simonson issue.  Simonson’s run on Thor was one of my absolute favorite series when I was a young comics-reading kid in the ’80s–and, unlike a lot of the stuff I liked back then, it actually ages pretty well.  It’s still a great read.

thor

Jan
22
2009

Pinup: Alpha Flight

The New York Comic Con is fast approaching.  Alas, I’ll not be going in person; however the good folks from A Cosmic Odyssey, who sell my original art work, will be attending.  I sell at least a page or two of original art from my graphic novels at each “indie” convention, like SPX, but at big mainstream cons like Heroes Con in Charlotte, for example, I seem to have better luck with superhero stuff.  Consequently, I try to drum up three or four superhero pinups–albeit, drawn in my rubber arm/button eye style–to have on hand for events like that.  Here’s one I just wrapped up–a pinup of the classic ’80s John Byrne Alpha Flight:

alpha_flight

Jan
20
2009

Obama’s Spider-Man Reference?

While the current Obama/Spider-Man buzz making the rounds is Marvel’s (supposedly pretty ham-handed) “guest appearance” by Obama in a current Spider-Man issue, here’s something a bit more subtle that recently caught my eye.  Last Sunday’s Parade Magazine newspaper insert contained a contained a letter/essay from Obama to his children entitled “What I Want for You — and Every Child in America.” In that essay was the following passage:

“…with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.”

Maybe it’s just the fanboy in me, but the first thing I thought of was, of course, this:

spiderman

Or, as it later often appeared both in the comics and in the films:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Jan
15
2009

Ricardo Montalban R.I.P.

It’s been a grim week or so: first Ron Asheton, now Ricardo Montalban.  As slashdot remarked, “The voice of Rich Corinthian Leather is silenced, but we still have the memories.”

khan

Jan
15
2009

Sketchbook 12/15/09

condi

Jan
14
2009

Sketchbook 1/14/09

One of the items we received for Christmas this year was a subscription to Vanity Fair magazine.  Other than knowing the name of the publication, I didn’t really know much about it before now.  Having now received and read two or three issues, I can say two things: it’s a good magazine, and it’s a weird magazine.  A typical issue might contain a lengthy political article by someone well-known, like say, Maureen Dowd; a few other “serious” essays; a photo spread of some half-naked movie star; and about a thousand fashion ads, several of which are those stinky perfume ads.  It’s hard to know quite what the magazine’s focus is, but given that I like all of the above things (other than the ads), I’ve been for the most part enjoying having an issue arrive every month.

Now to the important part, though: is the magazine any good as sketchbook fodder?  For hands, no.  Most of the hands featured in the magazine tend to be found in fashion ads and are usually stiff and posed, as opposed to the more natural hand gestures I usually doodle from in Time magazine.  Vanity Fair, though, does present ample opportunity for me to work on one of my other weak areas: drapery and folds.  Here’re a few examples from the last few days:

sketchbook_011409

Older posts «

» Newer posts