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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

0059: ...Or, as they say, "It nearly killed him!"

NOTE: Despite having a large collection of comics and related material, comparatively little of it contains lots of gore. Because of that, I never developed a protocol for when a trigger warning would be appropriate. The current post doesn't have any bloody images, but it does have a song title that's not for the easily queasy or the professionally outraged. And if you don't recognize the punchline referenced in the post title, then maybe you should just enjoy the pictures. Or maybe you should read on, you might learn something.


Most science fiction fans probably know Swiss surrealist painter/sculptor H.R. Giger as the designer of the Aliens made famous in Ridley Scott's films. They are one of three works that, perhaps unfairly, overwhelm the visibility of his enormous body of original art, books and lithographs. The others are the record jacket art for Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery" and a poster of a painting entitled "Penis Landscape" that was included in the Dead Kennedys' LP "Frankenchrist". That poster resulted in an infamous trial in which a district attorney running for office tried to prosecute lead singer and label head Jello Biafra for distributing "harmful matter" to minors. The charges and the incoherent arguments to support them were ridiculous, but the expectation was that all parties would plead guilty to avoid the cost of the trial and to bargain for lesser penalties, while the prosecution enjoyed a taxpayer funded election ad. They had not reckoned on Baifra's capacity for spite and righteous indignation. At the cost of his marriage, the acrimonious dissolution of his band and over $50,000 in legal fees, he fought the charges. A deadlocked jury sent the decision back to the judge, who threw the case out as frivolous.

The use of Giger's art was unusual at the label, Alternative Tentacles, whose bands usually found artists for record packaging closer to home, occasionally from their own members. Montage artist Winston Smith provided art for many of the Dead Kennedys' projects and continued working with Biafra on his solo projects, beginning with the spoken word albums "No More Coccoons" and "High Priest Of Harmful Matter".

Eventually, other bands recording on Alternative Tentacles took advantage of the fact that one of its most famous vocalists/lyricists was without a band. Musicians recording elsewhere formed splinter groups as an excuse to record with him. In the span of a few years he had released albums with NoMeansNo, D.O.A., Mojo Nixon, Lard and others. In 1991 he released an album called "Tumor Circus" that became the name of the group assembled to record it. That was primarily Biafra, Charlie Tolnay (of the band Lubricated Goat) and three members of Steel Pole Bathtub.

The album was accompanied by a 7" single of two non-album songs, "Take Me Back Or I'll Drown Our Dog" and "Swine Flu" backed with the album track "Fireball". By the end of the year, one more previously unreleased recording came out with an unusual bit of a bonus.

































Horror writer Clive Barker allowed the art seen in the first scan above to be used for the sleeve. Instead of a standard square paper envelope into which a single would ordinarily be dropped, the sleeve was printed as a single 7.25" X 14.50" piece of paper folded in half and held in a clear plastic sleeve. That was what enabled me to flatten the sleeve out and make the scan used here. The art originally appeared in the book "Clive Barker: Illustrator", published earlier that year (1991) by Eclipse Books in both hardcover and paperback. The second scan shows the A-side label with the song title, "Meathook Up My Rectum" and explains why the B-side is so difficult to play. As it turns out, Barker provided an original sketch recreated as an etching where the B-side would be. I apologize in advance if there are devices on which this doesn't appear.

This came out while Barker's stories were being adapted for the Eclipse Comics anthology "Tapping The Vein" and Marvel's Epic line was publishing both a "Hellraiser" and "Nightbreed" series. He had also written the introduction to the trade paperback of Sandman's "A Doll's House". In another two years the Marvel Razorline imprint would briefly publish stories written by James Robinson, Elaine Lee and Fred Burke from concepts provided by Barker. So, as unlikely as it sounds, "Meathook Up My Rectum" became one of the most mainstream releases on the label in the early 90's.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

0058: "Early Days of Triiumph"

[Silver Age Marvel History Part 7 -- see ADMIN03 ]

In the first half of the 1970's, as I entered elementary school and began getting my own comic books, reprints were ubiquitous. Marvel and DC were beginning to dominate the racks. They each published ongoing reprint titles (DC only briefly, mostly in 1973), printed double- and triple-length comics mixing new lead stories with reprint back-up stories, published lines of tabloid-sized treasury editions and on rare occasions licensed select old stories to book publishers. That was the only way you could find comic book stories in a large bookstore; if anyone other than the comic book publishers printed them.

As a teenager I learned more about the histories of the comics published by the two remaining majors, long before I knew the histories of the companies themselves. I found that by organizing a publisher's titles by their cover dates I could get a rough idea of when the  cover prices changed. I also noticed that the trade dress designs weren't just random decorations but that they would change simultaneously across the line and enable me to find other stories by my favorite creators or with my favorite supporting characters. I also learned that the diversity of formats I had grown up with hadn't always been the norm. Just a few years before I started reading, both Marvel and DC had exactly two price points. The standard comics for each had 32 interior pages for 12¢ (from roughly late 1961 to early 1969, then 15¢ until 1971). For DC, the larger price point was 80 interior pages (with a rare exception) for 25¢ and consisted almost entirely of reprints. For Marvel, they began at 72 pages for 25¢ and halfway through the decade dialed back to 64 pages for the same price. Despite the disparity in production costs, they did this with comics that were entirely new, entirely reprints or some combination of both. There was no public rationale for this, no manifesto explaining their reasons; you either bought what was on the rack or you didn't and two months later it wouldn't matter because any unsold comics would be destroyed. The publishers hoped that whatever they offered you was something that you wanted more than you wanted the quarter. However, it could be that Marvel was selling a brand identity as much as Spider-man stories. They had witnessed DC launching the 80pg/25¢ format when standard comics were still 10¢ in 1960 and keeping it even after the standard went up to 12¢. When they introduced their own line of exactly two annuals in 1962, one was all new and the other all reprint. Both were the same length and price: 72pg/25¢.
When the standard price at both companies rose to 15¢ in early 1969, they each chose again to keep the price of their longer format at 25¢ but this time DC was forced to reduce their page count to 64 pages in order to do that. A few had short stories or framing sequences of new material, but they were still primarily reprints. Marvel by that time had both a small line (fewer than ten) of summer annuals with new lead stories and features and reprint back-up stories, but also had several bi-monthly all-reprint series the same length and price. The summer annuals as of that year were all-reprint and wouldn't have new material again until 1976. [The quarterly Giant-Size comics published in lieu of annuals in 1974-1975 are a whole other breed; if I live long enough to cover all the Silver Age reprints, I would love to pick apart the Giants.]

In 1971, with another price increase looming, the 25¢ price point shrank to 48 pages at both companies, but at DC they decided to make that the standard format (for a year, anyway). Their last four Giants were 64pg/35¢, overlapping with the introduction of their 96pg/50¢ "Super Spectacular" format and the introduction of B&W magazines, digests and tabloids at both companies. For me, that diversification of formats is the demarcation between the Silver and Bronze Ages.

The cover above is my personal copy of MARVEL COLLECTORS' ITEM CLASSICS #3 (06/66). It represented a shift in the role of special format reprints. The first in 1962, STRANGE TALES ANNUAL #1, reprinted all suspense stories. The second in 1963 was STRANGE TALES ANNUAL#2 with a new Human Torch story followed by more suspense reprints, but that same year the first Fantastic Four Annual  included a reprint of the first 13 pages of FF#1, the start of Marvel's Silver Age super-hero roster. By the summer of 1964, suspense stories had just been phased out of the standard Marvel comics, so the reprint special for that year, MARVEL TALES ANNUAL #1, reprinted the super-hero origin stories that followed FF#1. It had the first six pages of the first Hulk story, the first Thor and Spider-man stories and both the first appearances of Ant-Man and Iron Man and excerpts of their upgrades (Giant-Man identity and stream-lined armor, respectively). It also had the first six pages of the first Sgt. Fury story, acting as an origin for his title. While Sgt. Fury wasn't exactly a super-hero title, Nick had already made his present day appearance in FF#21 and was fixed in the new burgeoning continuity. There were also no other war titles at the time; the last one Marvel published had been BATTLE #70, cancelled in 1960 to make way for Archie knock-off MY GIRL PEARL. Speaking of which, the four remaining teen humor titles had been represented by MILLIE THE MODEL and PATSY & HEDY Annuals, but there was no Annual or other reprint title for the three remaining westerns, the only other surviving genre in 1964. There was definitely a concerted attempt to convey the feel of the super-hero books onto the westerns, beyond just having Jack Kirby covers. Letters pages were added to all titles in late 1964. RAWHIDE KID #45 (04/65) presented a newly retold "Origin" story. KID COLT OUTLAW #121 (03/65) featured a crossover team-up with Rawhide Kid and #125 (11/65) had Two-Gun Kid. But in late 1965 the short five page back-up stories were replaced with reprints. By that time there were eleven monthly titles and five bi-monthly titles to put out, not counting the three new reprint series and various specials. Western back-ups weren't the best use of an artist. Then, out of the blue, beginning in the summer of 1966, three consecutive issues of KID COLT OUTLAW #130 (09/66)-132 (01/67) became 64pg/25¢ reprint specials, although only the first used the trade dress common for the annuals at the time. It was one of several "testing the waters" events that both Marvel and DC toyed with in the latter half of the '60's.

Part of the reason for tentative experiments with format surely had to be the zeitgeist of the decade. Asking why and pushing boundaries were the order of the day in business, academics and art; comics had always been an 'adapt or die' industry, jumping on fads and exploiting trends. If you as a publisher didn't look for something new and different in 1966, you could bet your readers would. Another part of the explanation was probably the mid-season television debut of the "Batman" series in January. [For younger readers: before cable and multi-platform viewing there were three(!) American commercial broadcast networks and most of their new shows began in September each year. A typical season was 35 episodes, but if the first dozen of those perform badly in the ratings (and every year a few shows do) then it will be prematurely cancelled and replaced in January with a series reserved for that purpose.] "Batman" was a replacement series and ran two episodes a week for 17 consecutive weeks. The second season was 30 consecutive weeks- 94 episodes in a year and a half. It was a pop culture phenomenon and DC, who were already publishing two 80pg Giants of BATMAN every year responded only by squeezing a third into their schedule in 1966. Most of their capitalization on the success of the TV show took the form of licensed products and increased sales of their existing titles. Bizarrely, they never increased the frequency of the main title. To put things in perspective:

DC Comics began 1955, their implementation of the Comics Code, by publishing:
  • Ten monthly comics titles
  • Twelve titles that came out eight times a year (the equivalent of eight monthly titles)
  • Twenty-two bimonthly comics titles (the equivalent of eleven monthly titles)
44 titles, averaging 29 shipments a month (not counting one Rudolph comic at Christmas),

DC Comics began 1966, when the Batman TV show debuted, by publishing:
  • Six monthly comics titles
  • Eighteen titles that came out eight times a year (the equivalent of twelve monthly titles)
  • Twenty-four bi-monthly comics titles (the equivalent of twelve monthly titles)
  • Twelve monthly 80pg Giants (the equivalent of 2.5 monthly titles)
Not counting the giants, that's 48 titles averaging 30 shipments a month. That's not much growth for a pop culture boom and Marvel had nearly doubled their own output since 1958, on top of having increased sales per title. The really bizarre part of this is that the remaining monthly titles were BLACKHAWK, which had been acquired from Quality after 1955, and five pre-Code anthologies, including the three oldest titles they published: ADVENTURE, DETECTIVE and ACTION. Of their other pre-Code titles, all the super-hero titles at that time were published eight times a year. Of the titles introduced since the Code was implemented, only JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, GREEN LANTERN, LOIS LANE and FALLING IN LOVE were eight-per-year titles. Yet, neither DC or Marvel had introduced an anthology title since Marvel's AMAZING ADVENTURES in 1961, excepting reprints [DC acquired the last two titles from the defunct publisher Prize Publications in 1963, both romance anthologies]. LINDA CARTER, STUDENT NURSE and HULK were cancelled, but all Marvel's other new titles since 1961 started as bi-monthly and became monthly before 1966. Why DC had such deference for their anthology titles is curious enough, but denying monthly status to SUPERMAN, BATMAN, JLA, FLASH, etc. is mystifying. The anthology titles by that time weren't still true anthologies anyway. In general, they had a lead story and a back-up. ADVENTURE had been running reprints as back-ups to their Legion of Super-Heroes stories since 1963 and during 1966 would eliminate those to publish issue length LSH stories until 1969. The attention brought by a television series would be the perfection situation for releasing material more frequently, but none of those titles would go monthly until the 1970's, and even then only some of them.

Meanwhile, Marvel was not only producing their super-hero stories more frequently they were repackaging the earliest stories for new readers who came in late. When the first MARVEL TALES came out there was also an all-new AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 and a second FF Annual reprinting the first appearance of Dr. Doom from FF#5. When the second MARVEL TALES came out in 1965, the third FF Annual (reprinting FF#6 and 11) and second Spider-man Annual (reprinting AS#5, the first story from AS#1 and the second story from AS#2) were joined by the first annuals for JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (reprinting Thor stories from #'s 85, 93, 95 and 97) and SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS (reprinting #'s 4 and 5, plus a two page feature from #1). The MARVEL TALES itself reprinted the first issues of X-MEN and AVENGERS and the origin story of Doctor Strange from STRANGE TALES #115. There wasn't much else that would fit the 'Secret Origins' format they had carved out for the book. Dr. Droom (who preceded the FF in AMAZING ADVENTURES) had a first appearance they could have used, but not an origin story. More to the point, he never made it to 1962. The Human Torch feature in STRANGE TALES wouldn't have had an origin separate from the one for the rest of the FF already reprinted in their annual. Chronologically, the next new feature would be Daredevil, whose first story wouldn't physically fit in the remaining pages. After that, the origin story of Captain America had just appeared months earlier in TALES OF SUSPENSE #63 (03/65), and the first S.H.I.E.L.D. story more recently in STRANGE TALES #135 (08/65). The Submariner feature had started the same week in TALES TO ASTONISH #70 (08/65), but his origin had been in the first FF Annual and it seemed excessive to reprint a 37-page story just for the flashback sequence. Instead, the remaining pages were filled with the final ten pages of HULK #3, a random suspense story from AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #8 and four in-house ads. It became clear that the titles and features they had were too successful for Marvel to need enough new ones to fill a 72 page special with origins and first appearances every year. Finally, a nice problem to have.

With the summer past, Marvel planned to forego annual specials of reprints and instead publish a regular quarterly special of early stories called MARVEL COLLECTORS' ITEM CLASSICS. As their first year-round series of specials it would be 64 pages instead of 72. It focused on the best sellers, with the first issue reprinting FF#2 and AS#3 with enough room left over to reprint the second Ant-man story, the first "Tales of Asgard" back-up and a house ad. The second issue reprinted the next installments of FF, Spider-man and Ant-man, but replaced the "Tales Of Asgard" with paid ads and changed the indicia to read "published bi-monthly". While it was on the stands, the Batman TV show debuted, the impact was almost immediate and the third issue (see above scans) was different. When combined with the revised MARVEL TALES, which would ship the following month, they would reproduce all the super-hero features Marvel introduced from the Fantastic Four to before X-Men/Avengers, as close to chronologically as space permitted. They did this by splitting the two best sellers between them: FF stayed with MCIC, Spider-man went with the new MT. They then shuffled the Ditko and Kirby art. Since MCIC had FF, MT got the Human Torch and Thor. Since MT had Spider-man, MCIC got Doctor Strange and Iron Man (which had variable artists, including both Kirby and Ditko). This left enough wiggle room in MCIC for short pieces (like the Watcher back-ups from TALES OF SUSPENSE) and the question of what to do with the short-lived Hulk series answered itself. The six issues, which were originally published with chapter breaks in some issues and short stories in others, would be serialized. The first two MARVEL TALES Annuals had already used such segments, MCIC would just complete them.

As with the first two issues, the third issue would employ a composite cover using the covers of the comics where the reprinted stories originally appeared. MARVEL TALES would also adopt this method starting with its third issue as well as using the inside front cover to describe contents and production credits. The rest of the contents are:

  • Reprint FANTASTIC FOUR #4(05/62) "The Coming Of... Sub-mariner!", 23pp
  • Reprint TALES OF SUSPENSE #40 (04/63) [Iron Man] "~ Versus Gargantus!", 13pp
  • Reprint STRANGE TALES #110 (07/62) [Dr. Strange] "~ Master Of Black Magic!", 5pp
  • Reprint TALES OF SUSPENSE #49 (01/64) [Watcher] "The Saga Of The Sneepers!", 5pp
  • Reprint INCREDIBLE HULK #3 (09/62) "Banished To Outer Space", 11pp
The remaining seven pages and both sides of the back cover were all paid ads.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

0057: Sax and Drugs

In 1978 Eclipse Enterprises began publishing graphic novels with SABRE (by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy), followed in 1979 with the graphic album NIGHT MUSIC (by P. Craig Russell) and two more graphic novels in 1980, DETECTIVES, INC. (by McGregor with Marshall Rogers) and STEWART THE RAT (by Steve Gerber and Gene Colan). All of these were clear successes, but circumstances at the time would cause the young company to change direction. Mike Friedrich's Star*Reach had stopped publishing comics in 1979 and became an artists' representation company, finding work and negotiating rates for creators, usually finding larger audiences for them than if they had published their work directly. The second warning sign for Eclipse was that Marvel began publishing EPIC ILLUSTRATED, clearly intended to be an American response to Heavy Metal and made frequent use of Star*Reach's clients. For a company like Eclipse, run by two Marvel letter column regulars (Dean Mullaney and Cat Yronwode) and at that point publishing works by former Marvel writers and artists, when Marvel itself to begin poaching in what everyone had thought was a niche market of stories for adult audiences that were neither super-hero nor counter-culture 'underground' subjects it became obvious that if Eclipse didn't expand its visibility it would become lost in the marketplace to the audience it had helped to cultivate.

In 1981 Eclipse launched an eponymous B&W magazine of comic stories and serials, offering readers 64 pages for $2.95. This was several months before shipping their fifth and final pre-ISBN graphic novel, ex-Marvel artist Jim Starlin's THE PRICE, his sequel to the EPIC ILLUSTRATED serial "Metamorphosis Odyssey". At about the same time that ECLIPSE THE MAGAZINE #1(05/81) was released, Eclipse also published a slightly smaller (7" X 10") B&W comic book compiling "Mike Mist Minute Mist-eries" that had previously appeared in a syndicated newspaper feature during 1979-1980. The Mike Mist comic was printed on cheaper pulp paper compared to the stiffer, whiter paper used in the magazine and offered 40 pages for $1.50. Despite having an earlier April 1981 date in the indicia it contained the same ad for the second issue of the magazine found in the first issue of the magazine. The reason that the ad is significant is that it means that the first issue of the magazine had already been put together and the second issue was being planned when the Mike Mist comic was compiled. (In other words, why advertise the second issue if the first issue hadn't already come out?) The same creative team behind the newspaper strip, Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty, were introducing a whole new feature in the first issue of the magazine, called "Ms. Tree".

Ms. Tree was a character clearly meant to be Mike Hammer's widow, seeking vengeance for her husband's murder in the first serial arc entitled "I, For An Eye". It was the only serial in that first issue and it was clearly conceived as a graphic novel but the noirish, pulp magazine feel of the story made it a great candidate for being told in installments. The character was even used in that ad for the second issue.

On the page immediately preceding the first Ms. Tree chapter was the far more whimsical one page story, "Loose Hips Sink Ships" by Chris Browne and Trina Robbins. Although Ms. Tree evoked the style of Depression era pulp magazines it took place in the present day. "Loose Hips..." on the other hand took place at a 1930's radio station, complete with Orson Wells as a character. Robbins' very clean, art deco-ish art was a great match for the period. It was also the kind of distinctive, instantly recognized art that any savvy editor would want to draw readers to a new anthology title. Robbins gained fame in the undergrounds and was one of several who very easily transitioned to the early independents when the direct market and other fan-oriented systems of circulation emerged in the 1970's, bypassing the Comics Code but more importantly bypassing distributors who expected audiences to serve the needs of the distribution systems and not vice versa. If you need any proof of the significance she had amongst readers, publishers and other artists at this time, you need only look at the fragment of credits taken from the cover of that first issue (see above). She's the only artist who the editors were confidant could be identified by readers using only her first name.

When I checked Diamond Comics website today for comics shipping tomorrow (Sept. 13th, 2017), the titles from IDW included the long awaited hardcover compilation of Trina Robbin's adaptation of Sax Rohmer's DOPE. Most people who recognize Rohmer's name at all probably remember him only as the creator of the fictional character Fu Manchu, the villain at the center of a string and lurid adventure novels filled with gratuitously racist supporting characters. Despite the ugly caricatures, the novels survived beyond the early 20th Century when they were written because of the nail-biting escapes from truly original death-traps that became the signature of the franchise. Every episode of "Wild Wild West" is essentially a theft of a Fu Manchu story. DOPE, however, is far more serious in tone and, while it's true that the Fu Manchu stories set an unreasonably low bar, the badly stereotyped Chinese characters in DOPE are at least human and can be differentiated. The difference was necessary to tell the story, which hinges on the complexity of the problems involved in drug use and trade. In terms of quality and intelligent examination of the topic, it's not as good as the excellent British television mini-series "Traffic" but much better than the moronic feature film based on that mini-series.

The first chapter of Trina Robbins' adaptation appeared in ECLIPSE THE MAGAZINE #2 (07/81), along with Englehart and Rogers' "Coyote" feature. By the end of 1982, Eclipse had begun publishing color comics with the DESTROYER DUCK one shot and the ongoing SABRE series. The last issue of the magazine, #8 (01/83) coincided with the color comics line shifting from Mando to Baxter paper, DESTROYER DUCK returning as a series and the debut of SCORPIO ROSE. Englehart and Rogers concluded their Coyote story in the last issue of the B&W magazine and their SCORPIO ROSE mini-series (originally intended as a Madame Xanadu origin story rejected by DC) would have been their next project but was derailed by creative conflicts. Englehart took the Coyote character to Marvel's new Epic imprint (a line of comics ostensibly tied to the EPIC ILLUSTRATED magazine but more closely aligned with their line of graphic novels) with Steve Leialoha doing the art. Rogers stayed with Eclipse, resurrecting a character he and Englehart had used in the first issue of the B&W magazine, The Foozle. After considerable delays, the first issue of the magazine's color replacement, ECLIPSE MONTHLY, shipped with a August indicia date. The cover of the first issue is at the top of this post. That's the Foozle surrounding the logo. Also on the cover are new features Doug Wildey's "Rio" and Steve Ditko's "Static", B.C. Boyer's "Masked Man" (which replaced "Ms. Tree" in issue #7 of the magazine) and in the center Trina Robbins' DOPE adaptation. The first three issues of ECLIPSE MONTHLY present the final three chapters in color, which immediately presented the question of whether the expected collected trade would color the first seven chapters, reprint the last three in B&W or present them mixed, as they were originally published. For three and a half decades that's been a pretty academic question which is now finally being answered. Logically, because Robbins had no way of knowing when she started that the publisher would shift venues from a B&W magazine to a color comic, the entire story is now being presented by IDW (under the It's Alive! imprint) in B&W for consistency. As aesthetic choices go, it's hard to argue against losing the color and not my choice anyway, but it should be stated somewhere (and why not here?) that the color job was as gorgeous as it was unnecessary. The colors in the other features were usually credited to Denis McFarling but no one was credited for the "Dope" chapters. Obviously the device you use to read this blog will determine how the colors in the third scan here will look, but in most cases it should reproduce faithfully.

It's embarrassing that it took so long for this story to be compiled. Even during the 80's most of the other features from the magazine and color comic got their own comic title or trade. The Englehart/Rogers "Coyote" story was compiled as graphic novel by Eclipse in 1984. Ms. Tree got her own series which eventually moved to Aardvark-Vanaheim and Renegade, who published "I, For An Eye" and subsequent stories as trades. "Masked Man", "The Foozle", and "Rio" all became comics titles; "Ragamuffins" became a one-shot. It's possible that the ethnic caricatures made the story a lower priority when scheduling titles to release and a year after the story ended Eclipse received an influx of orphan projects when Pacific Comics went out of business. The end of 1984 was preoccupied with completing the first Rocketeer story, "Somerset Holmes", "Twisted Tales", "Alien Worlds" and "Sunrunners", as well as picking up other projects. When 1985 began, Eclipse had launched over two dozen color comics titles in all, including one-shots and minis. When 1985 ended, of those only CROSSFIRE and MASKED MAN were still published regularly and even they would both end by April 1986. They would return in 1987, as would ZOT! But aside from rare sporadic appearances of NIGHT MUSIC, the rest of the Eclipse roster was entirely different from its first three years. I don't know if it was a coincidence, but between the end of the B&W magazine and the first issue of the color anthology, while "Dope" was in limbo between chapters seven and eight, Marvel canceled its MASTER OF KUNG FU  title. Since "the fiendish doctor" brought an ignominious end to Peter Sellers' career in 1980, those final three chapters awaiting publication were the last bits of Sax Rohmer to reach popular culture outside of the novels themselves. I don't know how much more distance was needed to consider the comic adaptation dispassionately as a separate work but apparently we passed that point while we weren't paying attention. Two years from now the original novel will turn 100 years old. I'll have to be satisfied to reread the comics in their original form.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

0056: The Spirit of the Holidays

It's too early for Christmas, I know, certainly for two items about a month apart.
When I posted about a rare Kirby Sandman story in mid-August (#0046: Turn On Your Magic Beams), I had considered saving it for December because it was a Christmas story, but a Sandman Special was imminently due and that 1970's character is so rarely used that I wanted to tie into it. I also realized that I might just own every published appearance of him and should put together a post outlining his history, which skips around multiple titles, spread out over decades. To give myself a little time to do that, I thought I'd take advantage of another Christmas item I found about a week ago.

The item on the left isn't a comic book itself. It's a thin supplementary catalogue (64pp) of merchandise available from Capital City Distributors. Capitol was briefly a publisher itself, launching NEXUS, BADGER and WHISPER, which were all continued by First Comics in the 1980's. Since then its publishing has mostly been premiums and brochures related to their distribution business, such as their monthly Advance Comics which carried solicitations from a variety of publishers. This supplement, "Comicopia", offers previously solicited perennial items like trades, posters, clothing, etc.

The art on the front cover is there to tie in with the release of a collection of Spirit Christmas stories originally published once a year as part of the newspaper supplement in the 1940's. The first printing in 1994 (from Kitchen Sink) sold out and a second was due out in October 1995 ahead of the holiday season. This is the same art used on the book, but the date of "89" under Eisner's signature in the bottom right corner tells me that this (a) wasn't part of the original run and (b) wasn't drawn specifically for a book published five years later.

After the newspaper supplement ended The Spirit was published (usually reprinted) in comics form by companies as different as Harvey and Warren. In the 1970's, Kitchen Sink Press began publishing reprints first as a magazine and then (starting in the early 1980's) as a standard sized comic book on higher grade paper. None of the covers from that series use this art, although it's possible that a back cover did. I don't have a complete run of the comics and the issues I do have simply run in-house ads for Kitchen Sink titles on all the back covers. I know that the magazines sometimes had wraparound covers, but I don't remember the comics having any. What I did find is that a comics and music retailer in Sweden named Alvglans was publishing a magazine sized Spirit reprint series during the 80's and this art was used for their late 1989 issue. The other issues used cover art created for the Kitchen Sink comics. If a Spirit fan out there knows of an American publication of this art prior to the 1994 book, please let me know about it in the comments.

Less than a year after this Comicopia (Vol. 2) came out, Capial City Distributors was absorbed into Diamond Comic Distributors. I don't know if there was ever a Vol. 3. Kitchen Sink only lasted a few years more than that, after which Eisner's work was brought back into print by DC under his own imprint: The Will Eisner Library, which included Archive hardcover compilations of the newspaper sections. Dark Horse has continued to keep his work available.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

0055: Syndicate Features Kings (and Queens)

I don't think I'd buy a movie on DVD simply because an artist I like drew the art on the packaging. There are plenty of DVD's and VHS tapes that have (and will) show up on this blog because I wanted the movie anyway, usually because the package artist played some part in creating the source material for the movie's subject (as with the Charles Burns costumes and set designs for "The Hard Nut" ) or was simply a good match for the art director and happened to be a comics artist. It's more rare that the artists themselves are the subject of the movie. I did have one such documentary early on, Comic Book Confidential . They're the sorts of things that I would naturally be attracted to, given my hobby. Here's a more recent one, from 2014:

The credits list 59 persons interviewed on camera and a further 18 whose interviews were to be made available online. Most of those persons were creators of syndicated newspaper comic strips, past and present, including the elusive Bill Watterson, who did the art for the front cover of the DVD box, seen above. The disc was available through the mail or by streaming at the website named on the back, StrippedFilm.com. You could very likely get it new or used, through any number of online sites you're more familiar with. I got mine by pre-ordering it through my preferred comics shop.

After the film hit art house theaters in February of 2014, Watterson became more active than he had been in the nearly 20 years since ending "Calvin And Hobbes". He did a guest week pencilling "Pearls Before Swine" and became the subject of an exhibit at Ohio State University. The exhibit can be revisited through its catalogue, "Exploring Calvin And Hobbes". That year he was also awarded the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, which ordinarily goes to European artists.

Extras include an optional directors' commentary track (there's two directors, so that apostrophe is right where it's supposed to be), a theatrical trailer and an 86-minute interview with Jim Davis which technically doubles the length of the film. Slightly more so if you consider than a good chunk of the 12 minutes of closing credits includes listing every individual contributor to the crowd-funding for the project, hundreds of them.
[Spoilers appear below the disc image.]
You can fast forward through the contributors if you want, but don't skip the credits completely or you'll miss the surprise Kate Micucci music video that's incorporated into them. Why that isn't mentioned anywhere on the outside of the box is a mystery. There's also no booklet, but that would be a disincentive to those streaming the movie. And besides, anyone would expect the booklet to include work by any of the dozens of creators who appear in the film. They can't all fit into a little insert and I'm sure the producers knew that they'd catch hell over whoever got left out by fans devoted enough to comic strips to buy a documentary about them.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

0054: You Got The Way To Move Me

Thanks and apologies to Neil Diamond, I guess.

I haven't done a record art post in a while, nor have I done a shorter post in a very long time. I thought of a way to kill two birds with one stone. Below is the sleeve art from the band Skullflower's 7" single "Ponyland" (7:20) b/w "Fake Revolt" (5:12) on the label Sympathy For The Record Industry SFTRI 275 (US) April 1994.


The cover art is by Larry Welz (signed in the lower right corner) with color by Evan Mack. Comics fans may recognize the young woman in the foreground as Cherry Poptart, Welz' long-running character who appears primarily in adults-only comics stories. The art has been dated " '94 ", but a test pressing of the record has surfaced with the date October 15th, 1993. As per usual, the test pressing had no art because those are never intended for public circulation.

Both the band and the label got their start in 1988, but SFTRI is only one of dozens of labels the band has appeared on. There's also the matter of having a rate of personnel turnover rivaled only by Uriah Heap, Spinal Tap and McDonald's. The back of the sleeve is a photo of the band members for this record, named Matthew Bower, Stuart Dennison and Russel Smith. Nothing explains who played what instrument, or even who wrote which songs. Their publishing company, Sacred Conspiracy, is listed as the copyright holder on the label. Aside from the label's then-current slogan ("A name you can pronounce since 1988"), there are no further liner notes. There's no indication of where or when it was recorded or who produced it. However, in 1995 the band released a full length album on the same label named "Transformer". According to its liner notes, all the songs on it were recorded in 1995 except for the last two, these songs, which seemed to be tagged on to the end of the CD as if they were bonus tracks. I'm assuming that the recordings on the album are the same as the recordings on the single, and not different takes. It says that the basic tracks for "Fake Revolt" were recorded at DNA in London in Sept. 1992 with "A. DiFranco" on guitar and "Ian McKay" engineering. That's Anthony DiFranco, not Ani (short for Angela) and similarly "McKay" is not a misspelling of "MacKaye". Then, in Feb. 1993 both tracks were completed at AO studios in Millom with Barry Vernon engineering. The personnel were Bower and Smith on guitars and Dennison on drums and vocals. Actually, it would be more accurate to say 'vocalizations' than 'vocals'. There aren't many lyrics. I haven't heard this in 20 years, so I found a clip on YouTube of both songs played back to back. It sounds as though a death metal band had been listening to nothing but Galaxie 500 and Erik Satie for a year. It's still kind of gloomy but seriously mellowed out.

I have no clue as to how Welz got the job for the sleeve art. He's a Californian underground cartoonist (although he has since moved to New Mexico and sells his original art online; the best selling work of the underground is mostly available in bookstores and is no longer "underground" in any real sense). The band is British. The music doesn't evoke the character Cherry (or vice versa). It could be that someone at the label knew him, but as I said above, there's no further info on the sleeve.

Previously on "Sieve Eye Care"...