Wednesday, July 4, 2018

0065: No More Hanging Around

I know it's been awhile since this blog had a genuine entry, but unlike Spider-man (below) I haven't just been hanging around. My computer finally crapped out on me after years of service. Well, after wrestling with the software of a new computer (a brand new model which wouldn't accept scans from my copier but had factory default settings for sending and receiving faxes?!?), I thought that the first item I would use to catch up with would be this comic book themed birthday card.


Fitting for comics, the interior is more of a visual gag than a message:

Bringing these visuals to readers used involve scanning from a copier to my PC, editing and saving the images with easily organized labels and then extracting images from that set of scans while composing these posts. Pretty much three phases involving almost as few steps. It's now about five or six phases and I'm not certain what I'll need to do to streamline the process. The good news is that it might be easier to create photos for solid objects in addition to flat surface scans. Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

ADMIN04 A few notes on the death of Tom Wolfe

If the recent Royal Wedding and school shooting haven't driven you from news coverage, you may have heard that Tom Wolfe died last week (May 14), but it's worth noting here because of the unusual footnote he became in comics history.

Just when Marvel was going through a renaissance with the introduction of The Fantastic Four and subsequent stable of new characters, Wolfe was establishing himself as a journalist and Andy Warhol was gaining national attention for his ideas about how images work on the collective consciousness of a culture. While Roy Lichtenstein famously stole art from panels of comic books to pretend that they were his own ironic commentary, Warhol's paintings of known pop culture figures such as Popeye were about the shared experiences of the viewers. When he revealed his series of soup can paintings in the summer of 1962, Marvel introduced Thor, Ant-Man and Spider-Man, as well as Dr. Doom. In just the few previous years, Wolfe had moved from a newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts to writing for the New York Herald Tribune. By the end of 1962, three things happened to change each of their lives. Marvel's problems with introducing super-hero titles [ see The Post Anniversary ] went away; a gallery owner suggested that Warhol make art using serious subjects, resulting in his "Death and Disaster" series; and a newspaper strike in New York began (lasting until the end of March 1963), prompting Wolfe to seek freelance work for magazines, specifically Esquire.

To give some frame of reference for how these things were significant, let's start with Marvel. From the summer of 1957 on, their situation required them to cancel one title in order to introduce another onto the racks. In 1960, they cancelled two in order to revive two others cancelled in 1957. They also began playing with the frequency of publishing some titles and in 1961 cancelled two but added three new ones, including "Fantastic Four". In 1962, one was cancelled to introduce "The Hulk" and another was cancelled to bring back "Two-Gun Kid". During those three years, of the four new titles and three revivals only "Fantastic Four" and two revived westerns were still published by the end of 1963. Contrast that to the one year period beginning in December 1962. With four cancellations and four new titles, one of them, "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos", lasted until 1981 and "Amazing Spider-man", "Avengers" and "X-Men" continued (with interruptions and re-numberings) into the present. That's a greatly improved track record, which continued when "Daredevil" was introduced the following year and soon all of their super-hero titles were being published monthly.

Warhol acquired his first Factory workspace in 1962 and in 1963 had it redone in silver and reflective surfaces, making it a notorious hangout for scenesters and creating a network that discussed his work in influential circles. His "Death and Disaster" images were mentioned everywhere, so that when the President was assassinated in November the series made Warhol seem eerily prescient. People who may have previously been amused or charmed by his work in the past would later actively seek to know what he'd work on next.

Tom Wolfe's work for Esquire took on a casual approach he wouldn't have used for newspaper journalism, and when its editor published a personal communication from Wolfe in the place of an article in late 1963, Esquire's readership could read Wolfe almost without a filter for the first time. The title of that letter-turned-magazine-piece was, believe it or not, "There goes (VAROOM! VAROOM!) that Kandy Kolored (THPHHHHHH!) tangerine-flake streamline baby (RAHGHHHH!) around the bend (BRUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM......" The article he was supposed to be submitting at the time was meant to be about customizing cars and amateur racing enthusiasts. That explains the reference to "tangerine-flake"-- metal flake paint was not only sparkly and attention grabbing but at the time it was difficult to apply by spraying (technological advances since then have made it easier), so it was a sign among aficionados of a gear head willing to make the extra effort to carefully apply the temperamental substance by hand. Unfortunately for Wolfe and the Esquire editor, the November 1963 article came in the wake of Timothy Leary (and Richard Alpert) being dismissed from Harvard over their experimentation with LSD earlier that year. As information about the new substance gradually reached the general public through commercial mass media that didn't have the firmest understanding of psychopharmacology, there was a lot of talk about citrus and sugar cubes that left the average Joe Lunchpail thinking that anything colorful and sweet and therefore likely to appeal to children might be hiding a chemical that will melt their brains. Now go back and read that title again. You can begin to see how Tom Wolfe was going to be cast against type as the decade wore on.

Doctor Strange #180 (05/69), page 10

In the article itself, Wolfe profiled (and no doubt introduced to much of Esquire's readership) cartoonist Big Daddy Roth, whose Rat Fink character and others would appear in paid ads in comics during the 60's, and George Barris, who created the Batmobile for television a few years later.
It was collected with 20 other essays into the book "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby", published in 1965. The notoriety fueled a demand for more work written in its more personal "New Journalism" style and in less than two years he had written the pieces that would be compiled as "The Pump House Gang"(1968).

Perhaps giving in to the inevitable, he went on the road with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to document their antics and speculate on their motives, resulting in the book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (also 1968, same day in fact-- August 20).

Doctor Strange #180 (05/69), page 11
Both books came out about a month after the U.S. release of the Pink Floyd album "Saucerful Of Secrets" (July 23rd; June 28th in the U.K.) featuring Doctor Strange (and the Living Tribunal) on the cover using art from Strange Tales #158 (07/67). As of the spring of 1968, Strange Tales stopped devoting half its pages to S.H.I.E.L.D. stories when Nick Fury & company moved to their own new series and the old title was renamed after Doctor Strange. Roy Thomas was writing the series and had just completed a Dormammu story (#171-173) that returned Clea to the cast when the Floyd album came out in the U.S. That means that the next story, a multi-parter involving Asmodeus and the Sons Of Satannish (#174-178 and Avengers #61) had already been plotted and the first issue printed when Wolfe's two books were released. The next issue after that would be #179, due to ship in January with an April cover date if the series continued publishing monthly on time. Thomas had a lot on his plate in the late 60's and I'm not sure how far in advance his scripts were written, but the lead couldn't have been too long, since Marvel then seemed much more of the moment than DC, whose idea of counter culture figures at the time was more like beatniks from an episode of "Ozzie and Harriet" or "Dobie Gillis" (whose comics they published). In August of 1968, Warhol revealed his first works since being shot in June. One was a portrait of Happy Rockefeller, the wife of then-Governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller. Aside from the unnatural pink color scheme, there didn't seem to be anything ironic or metaphoric about the image at all. In every other sense it was a straightforward portrait of someone who didn't hold any office nor was known for any particular works-- she was famous for being famous, the kind of celebrity Warhol had and would always find fascinating. It was a glimpse into a direction Warhol's work would take in the next decade. Instead of familiar objects and icons or the manufactured celebrity of his Factory denizens, he would reproduce and alter the images of existing celebrities by the score. When Roy Thomas read passages in "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" describing Kesey and his cohorts reading Marvel comics on their bus, he knew he wanted to capitalize on being mentioned in a best selling book, regardless of the context. At any other time he might have given a cameo to the Pranksters (or some fictional proxy group created for that purpose) but the more innovative and up to the minute idea was that of the journalist as participant/celebrity. For the next story, Thomas worked Tom Wolfe himself into the script. It wasn't so far fetched; Wolfe lived and worked in New York, as did Doctor Strange. The two pages above show the extent of his cameo, with Strange mentioning to Clea that he hadn't seen Wolfe since 1964, which sent me scrambling through the first two years of "Strange Tales" to see if Doc interacted with anyone named "Tom", "Mr. Wolfe" or even a newspaper reporter, any disposable background character that Roy Thomas could slyly  imply had been Wolfe all along. I also checked out Doc's guest appearances that year in Fantastic Four #27, Journey Into Mystery #108 and a cameo in the first Spider-Man annual. I could have saved myself some time by reading the introduction Thomas wrote for Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange Vol. 4 (12/09).
Did you catch that? Thomas confused Wolfe's first book of essays, "The Kandy-Kolored...", with his book on Kesey, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test". That's probably, as I had suggested above, because in the context of the time in which it came out its title subliminally suggested a connection to LSD and therefore to Doc (by virtue of the psychedelic LP jacket).

By the time the Asmodeus story had played itself out, the sales of "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Doctor Strange" were starting to dwindle. The New Year's Eve story planned for #179 was replaced by a reprint and instead ran in #180, released in February with a May cover date, as was S.H.I.E.L.D. #12. Both titles would get used to skipping a month from that point on. Marvel's other two-feature anthologies, "Tales Of Suspense" and "Tales To Astonish", had each been successfully split into two separate titles but "Strange Tales" hadn't been so lucky. With a price increase looming, a decision was made to reduce each title to bi-monthly status rather than cancel them immediately. The next issue of each came out in April with a July cover date, mere weeks before both Marvel and DC raised their cover prices to 15¢. Each lasted two more issues.

Incredible Hulk #142 (08/71), page 10
A year later, in the spring of 1970, New York Magazine published Tom Wolfe's article "Radical Chic", which by the end of the year was combined with a second piece as the book "Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers". The focus of "Radical Chic" was that after a decade of social problems previously hidden being exposed and targeted both by government and grass roots organizations, Wolfe believed he was witnessing a wealthy leisure class affecting postures of the radical left, not because they had any understanding of or empathy for their causes, but because they found the drama entertaining.

Roy Thomas had taken over scripting "Incredible Hulk" as "Doctor Strange" was winding down. He was still writing it two years later and apparently saw it as the perfect vehicle for a second nod to Wolfe. After all, the one situation the Hulk hadn't yet been in was having a group of socialites making a pet cause out of him. The single issue story from #142 involves a couple named Reggie and Malicia Parrington who throw a fund-raiser for the Hulk's legal defense (which--spoiler-- he completely fails to grasp) in order to one-up Leonard Bernstein's support for the Black Panthers the previous year, which was the basis for Wolfe's article. Their daughter Samantha hates the fact that her parents ignore serious issues impacting more people, such as women's rights, and leaves the party. Meanwhile, the Enchantress (prevented by Odin from leaving Asgard) sees this as an opportunity to get revenge on the Hulk (for issue #101) and imbues Samantha with the identity of a Valkyrie she had previously stolen as a disguise to attack the Avengers [in Avengers #83(12/70), also written by Roy Thomas].
There's several contemporary references going on here. Let's start with the first panel. The stage play "The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Man In The Moon Marigolds" was already five years old when it came to New York (off Broadway) in 1970, but won the 1971 Pulitzer for Drama (probably announced in April when this story should have been already scripted). I'm not sure who "Harold" is supposed to be, but Paul Newman produced and directed the film version, which came out at the end of 1972. Without the Hulk, by the way. The mention of "I Am Furious (Green)" is obviously a take on "I Am Curious (Yellow)"(1967) and lesser known companion film "I Am Curious (Blue)"(1968) by Swedish director Vilgot Sjöman. It wasn't even the most outrageous abuse of the title; that would be Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #106 (11/70) with its own radical chic cover story, "I Am Curious (Black)", in which Kryptonian technology turns Lois black for a day or so.
Incredible Hulk #142 (08/71), page 16

The second panel shows someone looking to benefit the X-Men "if I can find them". This refers to the fact that Roy Thomas returned to writing the X-Men for it's final year of new stories. The last one, #66 (03/70), guest-starred the Hulk. Marvel wanted to cancel the title. Thomas convinced the owners to remove the X-Men reprints from "Marvel Super-Heroes" (which they shared with Daredevil reprints) and replace them with Iron Man reprints from "Tales Of Suspense" and return to publishing X-Men as a reprint book with #67 (12/70). Thomas would eventually bring back the team as guest stars in various titles he either wrote or edited beginning in 1972. Finally,  Wolfe himself appears in panels 3 and 5.
Wolfe comes back a few pages later after the Enchantress has transformed Samantha and compels her to return to the party to attack the Hulk.
The Valkyrie persona was used once more by the Enchantress in an early Defenders issue, #4 (02/73), this time written by Steve Englehart but edited by Thomas. In that case, the Valkyrie identity completely overwrote that of a woman named Barbara Norris who had been driven insane by one of Doctor Strange's enemies. The Defenders objected, since Norris was unable to consent to the transformation and much of the next ten years of the series was spent trying to reconcile the new Valkyrie character's split identity. Parrington was brought back as the Valkyrie for a 12-issue Defenders series in 2001 and was joined by her parents for the sequel "The Order" in 2002.
Tom Wolfe, however, would only revisit Marvel as a trivia question or in a veiled allusion from mischievous writers to nostalgic fans. Of course, I haven't bothered to reread 40 years of letters pages to see if he wrote in to them. Tell you what; if you find such a letter, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

0064: The Jigsaw's Up #1

The reason, I suspect, that there isn't a comprehensive database for licensed products featuring popular comic book characters is that one of the cardinal organizing principles would be the art credits and there is often no record of who drew what.

It's true that there's an enormous volume of individual pieces to track, but that's also true of comics themselves and there are and have long been checklists and price guides of every comic from a given publisher, big and small, either in print or online. These often include art and/or writing credits, but for some users that might not be necessary if their only interest is in a particular character or genre. With licensed products, however, there is no story, per se, although one might be implied. What you get is a character (or  several) in a pose or scenario either lifted from a previously released publication or newly drawn to meet the standards of whoever the publisher's Art Director is at the time. For licensed super-heroes, the thinking for decades was that they were most appropriate for products intended for a market of children. For that reason, fan favorite artists who appealed to those readers who bought and read the largest number of comics, most frequently and consistently, were passed over in favor of artists inclined to give the characters an even softer and friendlier look than they would ordinarily have. Who were these artists? Good question. When the art is reproduced from a print publication it's usually easy (if time consuming) to verify the artist. Original art and exclusive images, which should be more desirable, are ironically more difficult to tie to an artist. License holders don't want to field questions about artists they've never directly employed or even met, so they prefer the work not be signed. So, it becomes a detective game of educated guesses and shots in the dark.

Let's take the Incredible Hulk jigsaw puzzle, whose box lid is pictured above, as a case study. It is clearly a children's product, starting with the fact that it is a 100-piece puzzle [technically 108 pieces]. The same manufacturer, Rainbow Works, also makes 500- and 1000-piece boxed jigsaw puzzles of more conventional landscapes and flower arrangements. Secondly, the normally scowling Hulk merely has a furrowed brow and the kids in the school bus window, far from panicking about being in the grip of a giant green monster, seem happy to see him.

Next, check out the side panel above. There are two copyright dates, 1981 and 1988. The finished product should have the later date, but the earlier date invites two possible explanations. Either this same puzzle was released in 1981 and this is a reissue of the same puzzle in a new package; or the artwork was taken from some other product or book originally published in 1981 and used again to make this jigsaw puzzle in 1988. So we're probably looking for someone Marvel would ask to draw a no frills Hulk picture circa 1981.

For Marvel, 1981 was a freaky little year. In the two years since cancelling roughly two dozen titles at the beginning of 1979 around the time of a price increase (to 40¢), Marvel had ended its relationship with Simon & Schuster, whose Fireside imprint published paperbacks reprinting Marvel comics stories (mostly Silver Age) from 1974 to 1979. However, they also published an exercise book, a cook book, "How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way" and several books of puzzles, all of which licensed images of Marvel characters. The puzzle books must have proved popular enough to justify the new series FUN AND GAMES #1 (09/79)- #13 (09/80), a newsstand comic book filled with similar puzzles using art often credited to Owen McCarron. McCarron was a Canadian cartoonist who was a fixture of Canadian newspapers for decades, but also did sporadic work for Marvel in addition to the FUN AND GAMES series. In light of his familiarity with the characters and the disappearance of outlets for his art like the Fireside trades and the subsequent comic book series, it makes sense that Marvel would turn to McCarron for licensing images in 1981. There are other candidates, of course, many of whom will remain forever anonymous, but this art is very much in his style. His take on the Hulk follows the look that John Romita, Sr. (who was Marvel's Art Director during most if not all of McCarron's projects with Marvel) approved for licensed products in the late 70's.

If we're willing to assume that McCarron is the artist, that still doesn't explain why the image was copyrighted for 1981. It's worth pointing out that the date doesn't refer to the design of the logo, which is itself a form of intellectual property. The "Incredible Hulk" comic book series used a 'stone block' motif for its logo from the time it took over the "Tales To Astonish" title as of #102 (04/68) through #128 (06/70), except for #109 (11/68). #109 had a stylized logo the was later tidied up and used as the regular logo for #129 (07/70)- #313 (11/85) and is the one that appears on the jigsaw puzzle box. I should note that it was only used on the monthly series. The Annuals used the 'stone block' style logo from 1969 to 1994 (with three exceptions I'll explain in a moment) for some reason. It was also used for the single Giant-Size Hulk (1975) and Marvel Treasury Editions #5 (1975) and #17 (1978). His remaining three solo volumes of MTE (#20, 24 and 26) used a "Rampaging Hulk" logo similar to the one often used on the B&W magazine. Even the reprint series "Marvel Super-Heroes" used the 'stone block' logo from #56 (03/76) until its cancellation with #105 (01/82), The only Annuals not using the 'stone block' style were the first (1968), with its unique (and notorious) logo integrated into the art by Jim Steranko, and #14 (1985)- #15 (1986), which had the same logo used on the monthly series for #314 (12/85)- 339 (01/88). Oddly, shortly before the jigsaw puzzle was marketed the monthly series reverted to the 'stone block' logo and kept it for the rest of the run of that incarnation of the title, except for a handful of issues that temporarily adopted the 1962 logo for nostalgia purposes. There's no reason to think that the logo, if it also accompanied the art in 1981, would have been copyrighted for that year specifically after being in continuous use for a decade. I'm also curious as to why they might use that particular logo on the jigsaw puzzle box in 1988 when the comics had not only discontinued its use but had used two other logos since then. It's not actually part of the art used to make the puzzle; it only appears on the packaging.

The next step to finding a possible source for the art was to research other products from the manufacturer. Rainbow Works gave the puzzle a product number: 75913-2. One thing I found about their products is that the '2' that comes after the dash isn't an ordinary UPC suffix. Some of their products have two-digit numbers after the five-digit index. The other thing I found is that products of theirs in the 75900 series of indices have copyrights ranging from 1968 to 1992 but that the numerical order of the indices is unrelated to the chronological order of the products. Also, several indices have more than one suffix, indicating different products. But most importantly, most of those products were framed tray jigsaw puzzles. Those are sold assembled with the outermost edge of the image uncut and glued against a heavy cardboard backing and the interior pieces loose. It wouldn't surprise me if the Hulk image had been used for a framed tray puzzle in 1981 and revived in 1988 for a boxed puzzle to sell it through different channels. I'd rather know for certain. The image may have been made for a Whitman/Western coloring book or some other child-targeted product.

If any readers own or know of an earlier use of the above image, please leave a note to that effect in the comments. Even a later use would be interesting, and possibly provide a lead to earlier licensees.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

0063: Pay As You Glow

The comic scan on the right is from a 1974 promotional comic printed by Custom Comics, Inc. There is no indicia per se, just that date, name and the address "10 W.19th St., N.Y.C." on the bottom of the second page. There's also no cover in the sense of a slick paper outer cover carrying trade dress such as a publisher name, price, date, distributor's mark,  etc. The yellow strip at the bottom does indicate the region where it was intended to be given away; the same cover (and I have to guess the same interior) was used for Pennsylvania and Southern California.

"Massachusetts Electric" is self explanatory. For those of you outside New England, "Granite State" refers to New Hampshire and Narragansett is in Rhode Island. The same title was used for promotional comics with different covers, albeit with the same nuclear family. [That both is and isn't a pun, so I'm now wondering if it would have made a better title for the post.] I've found some of those other covers online stamped for other regions.

The whole thing is 16 pages, a roughly even mixture of schematics and stock commercial art illustrations mixed with panels forming a story that I'm willing to bet were drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger. In 1974, Schaffenberger became a focus of attention when DC combined three titles (SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN, SUPERMAN'S GIRLFRIEND LOIS LANE and SUPERGIRL) starring characters he had drawn, at one time or another, into a single extra-length title SUPERMAN FAMILY. It prompted the obvious question, "If you have three series you were going to cancel for flagging sales, what makes you think that the fans of each (let alone more fans) will pay more to get any one of them?" Well, somebody did because SUPERMAN FAMILY lasted another eight years. After the Three Mile Island incident in the late 1970's, these pro-nuclear energy tracts (which had been common since the 1950's) gave way to pro-computer (and pocket calculator) tracts sponsored by Radio Shack. By then, it became more common for the creative teams to be credited, which is helpful when dealing with artists who aren't quite as instantly recognizable as Schaffenberger.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

0062: Peace On Earth-Pig

I've got one more Christmas item this year and this one you may have seen before. Dave Sim and his background artist Gerhard mass-produced cards as a thank you to retailers who carried Cerebus, but signed them individually. My guess is they threw in a copy when giving gifts to friends and family, but for those of us getting the comics to the readers the card was the gift. It was just a small acknowledgement that we weren't forgotten in the machinery. It shows up on internet searches (try Google Image) and the blog A Moment Of Cerebus claims the art and lettering appear in CEREBUS #201 (12/95) (I'll take their word for it; my copy is in storage). I've reproduced mine here with the signatures:

This month is the 40th anniversary of Cerebus and it would behoove (or besnout) you to check out the first to volumes of the trade paperbacks. I haven't seen the recently remastered editions but they've been described as having crisper images, which would be an asset in the second volume ("High Society") where the art really stepped up. The first volume ("Cerebus" or "Swords of Cerebus") may look cruder by comparison, but it's still brilliant. It's also essential for anyone who's a fan of Barry Smith's Conan.

Enjoy the holidays and read some comics.

Monday, December 18, 2017

0061: Merry Scratchmas

I wasn't planning on new posts until after New Year's, but I've come across some Christmas themed cards from my days in comics retail many years ago, and while they're all nice little bits of art you wouldn't ordinarily come across unless you specifically did an image search on the internet, there was one that was extremely unlikely to have been seen outside of a small number of people.

When I managed a comic book store, some of my regular customers were professional artists. That wasn't too surprising, since we were in a suburb (or exurb) west of Boston and south of Cambridge in Massachusetts. Before the physical world abdicated to the internet, book publishers liked being where the colleges were and illustrators liked being where the publishers were. Chatting with your editor about tweaking a recently submitted work to their satisfaction is a lot easier to do over the phone if you're a prose writer, not so much if you're a graphic artist. Also, before the internet that's where all the killer used bookstores were located and there were dozens and dozens of them back then. Cheap reference material!

Anyway, one of my regulars was Doug Smith, an artist who specialized in scratchboard, a technique that could almost be described as two-dimensional sculpture. The lines are scratched into a surface with varying widths and depths to produce a range of textures that would be difficult to produce with a pencil. In the hands of an amateur, the results would look like a child's carved potato stamp. In the hands of a professional-- well, just see for yourself:

Doug printed his own Christmas cards, making a new one each year. If the style looks at all familiar to fantasy fans, it should. Doug did the covers for numerous Gregory Maguire novels. Many of them, such as the original "Wicked", were die-cuts, meaning that he drew the ornate cover with the title and space to accommodate necessary trade elements plus a hole revealing a portion of a full page illustration beneath the cover. He also did spot illustrations. When "Wicked" was adapted into a stage musical, new printings of the book carried a new cover with the far more minimal art from the theatrical posters. Doug's art wasn't forgotten by fans of the books, though. Among other things, his artwork secured him a brief entry in the Oz Wiki.
Below is the interior of the card:

Occasionally Doug brought by original art to the store, either his own going to or from a print shop or pages of comic art he had acquired. I remember him showing me Kirby pages and some of Hampton's "Silverheels", which was more of a thrill than I thought it would be. I had only seen it serialized by Pacific Comics. The original watercolors were really beautiful.

If you'd like to see a wider range of Doug Smith's own beautiful artwork, below is a link to:
his own page on Behance .

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

0060: Knights and Days

This December will be the 40th anniversary of Cerebus The Aardvark, which must be the longest running self-published comic in history, at 300 issues. When I started rereading the series lately I found something not directly related to Cerebus that I had completely forgotten about.

The entire series is now available as 16 trades (except for five issues collected as CEREBUS #0 in 1993), but the early issues were reproduced several times as the print runs of issues in the 80's increased and new readers seeking out the scarcer early issues saw their prices rise. From 1981 to 1984 the first 25 issues were reprinted as a series of thin trades under the name SWORDS OF CEREBUS. Each volume would present the stories from four consecutive issues with introductory essays and a new story or feature of some kind. Those extra short stories were collected as CEREBUS WORLD TOUR BOOK in 1995. The indicia of some issues of CEREBUS published while SWORDS... was in production stated that the series was published fifteen times a year, meaning the twelve monthly issues of the original series plus three issues of SWORDS... It didn't work out that way in the long run. After the first three volumes came out in 1981, only one volume per year came out for the next three years, unless you count the second or third printings of the earlier volumes which occupied those spots on the release schedule. From 1982 to 1984, Aardvark-Vanaheim had added comics by other creators to their roster, briefly publishing under the imprint Renegade until the early 1985, after which Renegade became a separate publisher.

After a year of publishing only CEREBUS, creator Dave Sim took up two new ventures: a new imprint, Aardvark One International, to publish a new series PUMA BLUES and a trade paperback collection of the story arc HIGH SOCIETY, from CEREBUS #26-50. His decision to sell the trade by mail order only was initially ignored by comics distributors. But when it was followed in January 1987 by a trade of the first 25 issues (again) and in June by a trade of the third arc, it became obvious that the trades were selling and not just an indulgent vanity project. The distributors wanted a cut and in 1988, Diamond Comic Distributors decided to take a hostage. They threatened to stop distributing PUMA BLUES, cutting its sales by roughly a third, unless Sim used their services to distribute his trades. To keep their audience, PUMA BLUES moved to Mirage, the publisher of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. To fill their spot on the schedule and mollify Diamond, Sim created CEREBUS BI-WEEKLY, which would reprint the entire series from the beginning, including the editorial content and cover art in color and anything else ordinarily forgotten when the stories were compiled in trades.

By making the reprint series bi-weekly, distributors would be able to offer twice as much Cerebus back catalogue material as new material every month, not just twice a year. It would take about a year to recreate each trade, by which point the reprint series would possibly reach the point where the main series reached its peak sales and print run and the demand for reprints would dwindle. Realistically, it would never catch up to the main series.

The first issue of ...BI-WEEKLY (December 2, 1988) reprints the first issue of CEREBUS in its entirety, right down to the opening editorial and indicia (with the exception of the original address for the publication offices, which had since changed, to avoid confusion). Even this ad, which appeared on the inside back cover of the original, was reproduced with an added annotation above it.

I checked, and sure enough the entire portfolio could be seen on Pinterest and Flickr, which wouldn't even exist until after CEREBUS ended and a couple of decades after Sim began distributing his trades on the direct market. I don't know how many "personal copies" Gene Day held onto but now the whole world has copies, in a sense. As detailed as the art is, it isn't nearly as good as Day would become in just a few years. Despite being shut down by Lucasfilms, Day went on to ink the authorized Marvel STAR WARS series less than a year later. But he was probably first noticed for inking Mike Zeck on MASTER OF KUNG FU and, like Steranko inking Kirby on S.H.I.E.L.D., eventually taking over the pencils as well as his talent developed exponentially. Shortly before he died in the fall of 1982, he began pencilling the STAR WARS series but only completed two issues (#68-69) with Tom Palmer. One of the first new titles Renegade published after splitting from Aardvark-Vanaheim in 1985 was GENE DAY'S BLACK ZEPPELIN, compiled from small press and unpublished stories with the cooperation of his brothers Dan and David. Although some of the stories involving other creators have been included in their own trades, the exclusively Day material isn't and is overdue for reexamination since it spans his earlier, cruder underground origins as well as his better known professional fantasy work. It's just a few more years until his 70th birthday, and it would make a fitting commemoration to finally curate his work.

Previously on "Sieve Eye Care"...