Saturday, April 29, 2017

0005: You Will Believe A Man Can Spread Smooth Or Chunky

The first image below is a scan of the last page of Green Lantern #196 (01/86), which, if the contemporary fanzine checklists can be trusted, shipped on September 21st, 1985 and was on newsstands for sale by October17th. I mention these dates because, if you enlarge the image, you can find an expiration date for this offer near the bottom. The first 500 people to purchase a 12-issue subscription from the titles offered before December 31st, 1985 would receive a free copy of the "Fifty Who Made DC Great" comic. In standard comic book dimensions for the time, this one-shot had a slick-paper cover and 56 interior pages on heavy stock paper. The presentation was as text-and-illustration (not panels and word balloons). It had a suggested retail value of $2.95 U.S. (or $5.50 Canadian).

The actual comic had a cover almost identical to the picture in the ad except that the zipatone color effect was the same on Clark's skin as it was on the background. Also, the U.S. and Canadian prices were clearly visible in the lower left hand corner. Much more interesting was the particular set of 50 names chosen to explain DC's 50 years as a major fixture of comics publishing. That list can be seen in the scan of the inside front cover on the right above.

As some wags pointed out at the time,"Detective Comics" was the name coined for an anthology comic book series and the company created to publish it in 1937, not 1935. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (p.5) began publishing comics with New Fun #1 (02/35) using the publisher name National Allied Publications, Inc. By the end of the year he changed both the title and publisher name, beginning with More Fun #7 (01/36) now from More Fun Magazine, Inc., without dramatically changing the content. He also added a second title and publisher, New Comics #1 (12/35) from National Allied Newspaper Syndicate, Inc. Midway through 1936 trouble with his distributor led him to ask another distributor, Independent News, to carry his titles. I'm not certain if he was aware that the principle owner, Harry Donenfeld (p.6), had acquired several mismanaged publishing companies and/or their intellectual property in lieu of cash to cover their unpaid bills. Sometimes Harry would have preferred the cash but there were examples of Harry's employees turning lackluster pulp sales into successes simply by approaching the business more professionally. Wheeler-Nicholson was a notoriously bad businessman and a prime candidate for such an acquisition. Donenfeld and his accountant Jack Leibowitz (p.7) gave Wheeler-Nicholson a few conditions to meet for them to distribute his comics. His two titles were then published by Nicholson Publishing Co., Inc. and printed by a company owned by Donenfeld instead of World Color Press (p.29; ironically, all of DC was printed at WCP starting in the mid-50's.). After a few months, Independent became convinced they were serious and two final changes were made: New Comics became New Adventure Comics  and a third title was created to be jointly owned by Donenfeld, Leibowitz and a financier named Paul Sampliner with a controlling ownership by Wheeler-Nicholson. This was Detective Comics, of course, and because of the joint ownership situation they created a separate company (named after it) to publish it. One year later, Wheeler-Nicholson declared bankruptcy and Independent News acquired both Nicholson Publishing Co., Inc. and his interest in Detective Comics, Inc. DC Comics really began in the spring of 1938, more than three years into its own history.

The critical roles played by many such people in the company's administration explains why they are listed among far more familiar names of writers and artists. What is less obvious is why so many slots on the list are filled by film actors and their studios. Jerry Siegel (p.8) and Joe Shuster (p.9) have each done more than just Superman. Bob Kane (p.10) and Bill Finger (p.11) have each done more than Batman and Marv Wolfman (p.48) and George PĂ©rez (p.49) more than New Teen Titans. But is there any reason to give Adam West and Burt Ward each their own spot (34 & 35)? Or Ilya and Alexander Salkind (42 & 43)? If Bud Collyer (p.21), Kirk Alyn (p.22), George Reeves (p.25) and Christopher Reeve (p.44) each played Superman, how could all four of them be indispensable? I understand the nod to Fleischer Studios (p.20), but how is Hanna-Barbera Productions (p.41) any more significant than Filmation? Or Kenner (p.53) action figures any more significant than Mego? Frank Miller (p.50) is included largely on the strength of "Ronin". Remember, his "Dark Knight" mini-series didn't start until the following spring. The mini-bio says he's "currently at work on a Batman graphic novel" and has to mention the four years he spent working on Daredevil for Marvel to explain who he is. Yet, where is Gil Kane? Creig Flessel? Even Gaspar Saladino played a bigger part in the history of DC as a company than Superman Peanut Butter (p.52). And it certainly wasn't Helen Slater (p.51)'s fault, but the Supergirl movie was not a rip-roaring success. Why not Joe Orlando or Jenette Kahn? There must be a centenary observation in the conceptual stages (we just passed 80 years in 2015) and I hope that any sort of list based on that number starts taking a close look at how these choices are prioritized. Listing them in a vaguely chronological order as they have been here is actually the smartest aspect of this project. It avoid the sniping that would result over those early creators whose difference in importance is a matter of hair-splitting anyway or squabbles over the apples-and-oranges comparisons of individuals and institutions, creators and management and work done in different media. You shouldn't have to choose which Marx Brother is funniest to know that any of them are funnier than the Ritz Brothers.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

0004: Wolvertunes

First of all I think appreciation is due to Monte Wolverton, who has done so much over the last thirty years to curate his father's enormous body of work. If you only know Basil Wolverton from his humor pieces and have a chance to read the oversized "Spacehawk" collection published by Chronicle, jump on it. It shows that, very early in his career, he had the sense of perspective, layout and pacing necessary to be a comics legend. It was only later that his name became synonymous with the sort of anatomically tortured doodles that filled "Mad", "Plop!" and various trading cards. I thought I had a well rounded if incomplete knowledge of his output when I came across this 7" vinyl record in the 90's. I picked it out because of the 3-D art of course, but was curious as to which band had the good (?) taste use Wolverton for the sleeve art. I was also curious as to whether it had been properly licensed. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the recordings were of Wolverton himself. Not only that, but the images were previously unreleased and provided by Wolverton's estate, then processed by 3-D Zone, Ray Zone's company responsible for publishing numerous 3-D comics throughout the 80's and 90's.

Here's a scan of the entire package:

 As you can see from the scans, there are no song titles. In fact, the only way I could distinguish the A-side from the B-side was from markings scratched into the trail-off grooves.

 The tracks on the A-side are:

  1. ) 0:29 (spoken introduction)
  2. ) 1:03 Ja-da
  3. ) 0:50 Has Anybody Seen My Girl?
The song "Ja-Da", written by Bob Carleton at the end of World War I, is here only as the chorus. If this was recorded in the late 1940's, when Wolverton had a radio show, it might have been inspired by a 1947 version by Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee. He also might have been singing it from memory, which would explain the missing verses. "Has Anybody Seen My Girl?" has been reworked many times from its first appearance before the war until the mid-20's. Wolverton's own personal tweek ("But oh, what those five feet could do...") evokes a mental image of a five-legged freak from one of his drawings.
 The tracks on the B-side are:

  1. ) 0:20 (spoken introduction)
  2. ) 3:06 I'm Always Chasing Rainbows
  3. ) 0:06 (quip)

The song "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" also dates back to World War I. The lyrics were written by Joe McCarthy (no, not THAT one) to a tune by Chopin, although it's credited to Harry Carroll who arranged it for vaudeville audiences. There were numerous recorded versions of this song including three different versions that became hits in 1946 alone, which probably prompted this version. Wolverton's radio show was on just a few years later.

The spoken bits are oddball humor. I'm hoping that any surviving recordings are preserved (if they still can be) and transferred to digital storage so that they can be put online. I'm sure that getting clearance for popular tunes, even excerpts or parody versions, must be a nightmare. It may need to be exhibited at a museum of broadcasting history of some sort.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

0003: Past Futures

The cover scan below is from the 1989 promotional comic "Dark Horse Futures" (hence this post's title).

A quick Google Image search shows several instances of this cover ("...from Hard Boiled by Geof Darrow", according to the inside front cover), but no other possible sources. That suggests that the art is unique but with all the websites dealing in original art these days I'm sort of surprised that it hasn't shown up in any other form on the internet.

Anyway, Hard Boiled went on to become pretty famous, as did many of the features in this 32-page newsprint promo. Only the front cover is in color, the rest in B&W. Some of the titles touted were already being published when this came out (Concrete, Aliens, Flaming Carrot, Mr. Monster, etc.) and others were imminent. A few, however,,, well, I admit I have no idea what happened to them. (This is the point where Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland burst in and say, "Hey gang, we've got everything we need to start our very own rumor! My uncle will let us use his barn, and we can sell tickets!") Cast your rheumy third eye on this little oddity:

A six-issue color series? Not that I ever saw, and I ravenously seek out whatever I can find from those first ten years of Dark Horse. I don't even remember seeing ads for that. In cases like this (and there are a lot of them once you start digging into old fanzines and publisher solicitations) there are several possible explanations:

  • The project surfaced under another title.
  • The project was brought to another publisher.
  • The project was eventually published in a different format.
  • Any combination of the above three
  • The project was abandoned altogether.
  • The project was brought to a different medium other than comics.
If I had to guess, I'd say 'abandoned'. The inside back cover of the promo has a mail order form for DH back issues. The most recent issue of Dark Horse Presents offered on it is #30 (06/89), which contains a 15-page collaboration by Luke and Norwood called "Project Overkill". There is no masked hero in it and no one mentions the name "Equinox". The next Dark Horse credit I can find for Luke is five years later when he works on several "Comics' Greatest World" titles. Norwood had more credits in the intervening time, mostly on features tied to movies (Aliens, Predator, The Abyss). That shouldn't be surprising, since they were both working in film and TV before and after this. They both worked on the TV movie sequel to Disney's "Not Quite Human" and Norwood provided storyboards for "Abyss", "Honey I Shrunk The Kids", "Star Trek IV" and "Terminator 2". They both still straddle the worlds of film and comics, each having worked on different animation projects for Marvel and DC in the last five years.

So, whither Equinox Prime? I have no idea what happened to it, but if you think you may have spotted it in another form (or if you ARE Eric Luke or Phillip Norwood), drop a line in the comments. I may post other orphan projects in the future (including from this same promo comic) but the next post will be audio or music related again.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

0002: Yackety Sax

I mentioned Richard Sala in a previous post. In addition to having a Fantagraphics series "Evil Eye" (which, after 2003, transformed into a series of original graphic novels), Sala was probably the first self-published comic book artist to reach more people through television than through comic book stores. His cryptic, creepy "Invisible Hands" segments were among the more memorable parts of MTV's Liquid Television, which also launched "Aeon Flux" and "Beavis and Butthead". Prior to that his work appeared mostly in three- or four-page stories in anthologies from Kitchen Sink ("Twist", "Blab!") and Fantagraphics ("Prime Cuts", "Street Music"). After "Liquid Television", Sala became the first guest artist to do a published Madman pin-up in Tundra's "Madman Adventures" #1. (To understand what a big deal that was, there eventually became so many pin-ups by head-lining guest artists that they became the basis for two sets of trading cards.)

So, you can imagine my delight when I found a newly produced radio play acted out by some of my favorite musicians which was not only scripted by Jack Kerouac based on one of his lesser known novels, but accompanied by a book illustrated throughout by Sala just as "Evil Eye" had stopped publishing regular issues. Packaged as a book-and-2CD set by Gallery Six in 2003 (ISBN# 0-9729733-0-3), "DOCTOR SAX AND THE GREAT WORLD SNAKE" is worth seeking out, with poets Robert Creeley and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and rocker/"Basketball Diaries" author Jim Carroll being joined by Kate Pierson (B-52's), Bill Janovitz (Buffalo Tom), folkie Ellis Paul and new-waver Graham Parker. Despite the collective musical talent there, they're only providing voices. The score is appropriately jazz oriented and provided by a small combo led by John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin and Wood). The 144-page book includes the full script and full page illustrations. I don't know if either the book or audio portion have ever been made available separately, but unless you get the packaging that holds them all together, you wouldn't have seen this illustration of the town where the story is set:

The thin grey horizontal lines you see in the center of either side of the picture are the slots where the CDs are normally held. I've removed them for this scan to get an unobstructed view, obviously.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

0001: Every band starts with a cover

Anyone with a large comics collection sooner or later stops counting them. Having an approximate number is necessary, if only to avoid losing perspective completely, but having an exact number becomes pointless. Think of it; if you're having a conversation with someone, even a fellow collector, are they going to visualize a difference between 23,586 comics and 23,587 comics? Who is that number for? It's not for you. If you've made that much space in your life, physical or otherwise, for comics you're not going to suddenly stop when you've reached a particular arbitrary number. You're going to stop when you can't open the refrigerator.

Large collections lead to metaphors, which can be even more efficient than numbers when trying to communicate to others a sense of scale. For some people, all big numbers mean the same thing. Sad but true. My collection passed the point of "grains of sand on the beach" years ago. Trying to impose organization on it often feels like running a sieve through it and seeing what grains haven't sifted through (i.e., what meets the criteria of your search). This month I've been pulling Canadian publishers. Last month it was Richard Sala and Donna Barr. Or course, when I am tracking down comics in a given category I always get sidetracked by some oddball item and it's long past the time I give them a venue all their own. Hence the blog.

The first item is one I had considered posting on April's Fool Day but I didn't want the first post to imply that the tone of the blog was to be misleading. I will say that the comic below is a scan of the actual item from my collection, not a downloaded image I found on the internet. Second, it is a genuine, bona fide 1960's collectible... just probably not the one you think it is. Look at it reeeallll closely. I'll respond to any guesses in the comment section.

Previously on "Sieve Eye Care"...