Wednesday, June 28, 2017

0030: He Built This City (and he did a better job than Starship)

In the fall of 1983, the Los Angeles-based band X released the album "More Fun In The New World". It was sort of an ending to the first phase of their career. Ray Manzarek (better known as the keyboardist for the Doors) had produced all four of their albums at that point and this would be his last with them. It was also their last really punk flavored studio album. The next album would come out almost two years later and sound more polished, after playing and recording as country/folk group The Knitters (which more accurately foreshadowed the direction of the band from the late 1980's onward). Of course, in the spring of 1984 no one would have that perspective of hindsight, and to those attuned to the innovative in pop culture, "More Fun In..." was simply the latest album by the band most associated with the letter 'X'.

The reason I mention all this is because while futzing about [and I can't help but notice that the word "futzing" is not highlighted by that damned Spellcheck feature] looking for any early Mr. X materials not included in the recent Dark Horse Trade collecting Volume One (1984-1988), I found the issue of "Amazing Heroes" on the left. It's #48, June 1st, 1984 (it was coming out twice a month back then). If you'll note the date, then you'll realize that the black-and-yellow clock image is not a Watchmen reference. You might have to be a little more alert to realize that the hands are set at ten o'clock-- and that the letter 'X' is the Roman numeral for ten. Yeah, I know. I had been patting myself on the back for noticing that the crossed searchlights formed an 'X' when the clock face suddenly hit me and it became clear to me that the searchlights were a red herring.

The issue contains a ten-page article, in black and white by "Ace" MacDonald, who probably had the recent album in mind when he (or his editor?) entitled the article.

Patrick Cowley was an early proponent of EDM, purely electronic dance music. He was based in San Francisco and released his second solo album, "Megatron Man", on the small Megatone Records label in 1981. Megatone didn't have the means to manufacture and distribute their titles overseas, but the nature of the early EDM movement is that it had small pockets of ardent support scattered all over the world. Collectively that meant many potential sales but required licensing the album in about a dozen different countries to small labels also comfortable with pressing and distributing small quantities quickly. All of the other labels used the crude black and white jacket art by Jim Saunders except the Canadian label Attic, which replaced it with a full color painting by Dean Motter. That LP (Attic LAT 1132), released in 1982, is now considered the first public appearance of Mr.X. When the label Unidisc reissued the album on CD for Canada, they combined the two different cover art pieces into a single image for the inlay card. For some reason, the painted cover is reproduced in B&W in the original Vortex trade paperback "The Return of Mr. X" (ISBN# 0-921451-008, December 1986), despite the fact that it reprints the first four issues of the series in their original color.

When ibooks (the publishing company, not to be confused with the iTunes app iBooks) reprinted the first series in two volumes, they reproduced the cover painting in color, but somewhat smaller. In Volume One (ISBN# 0-7434-9334-6, October, 2004) it appears on page 8 with a wide black border on all sides. The text that appeared on the right side of the LP jacket is eliminated so that the image would more closely fit the dimensions of the book, a smart move undercut by the borders. Also, the color obscures details visible in the B&W version from Vortex.

The Dark Horse trade (ISBN# 978-1-50670-265-0, May 2017) reproduces the art in color with more of the detail and texture retained. It appears on page 6 in full bleed (the image extends to the edges of the page), but the left and right edges are shaved off. I might just have to find a copy of the vinyl.

Also on this page from the Vortex trade is the Paul Rivoche cover for "Vortex" #2 (03/83), the publisher's first title. It was a B&W anthology (although the cover was originally in color) and there was no Mr. X story inside, despite him being on the cover. That art appears in color and without the trade dress in the ibooks Volume One on page 10 and with far thinner white borders than the LP art got. It also makes page 10 of the DH trade, full bleed again but intact, also in color and before trade elements were added. Advantage Dark Horse.

There's much more comparing and contrasting to be done with the trades, but I've got to hunt down some more original source material. Sleep well. Or not at all.

Monday, June 26, 2017

0029: Surprisingly, It's Not About Cuba

The comic book was called "Xenozoic Tales", but it isn't too often that a small press, creator-owned comic gets optioned for a Saturday morning cartoon. On several occasions, creator Mark Schultz marketed the feature under the name "Cadillacs And Dinosaurs" because that pretty much sums up the visceral appeal of it if not the full premise. In a post-apocalyptic future, the Earth is overrun by vegetation while humans go underground to survive. When their descendents emerge centuries later, they find dinosaurs roaming around and have to rediscover forgotten technologies to survive.

The entire series was done in black-and-white, starting with a 12-page story in the Kitchen Sink anthology DEATH RATTLE #8 (12/86) which lead right into XENOZOIC TALES. After finishing 8 issues in two years, XT took the first of what would be several extended gaps in its publishing history. During that time Kitchen Sink published the first trade paperback collection, entitled "CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS", in the summer of 1989. It compiled that first story and ones from the first four issues, but in order of occurance. Remember, despite their difference in size, Marvel and DC were still relatively new at publishing their own paperbacks and hardcovers, but Kitchen Sink had been getting books into mainstream bookstores since the 1970's. Thus, the trade collection reached a larger potential audience than the comic, getting on shelves in counties that didn't even have comics specialty stores, let alone one that prominently displayed smaller publishers. And the comic wasn't sold at newsstands or convenience stores. Hence, more people came to know the feature by the name of its trade collection. Issue #9 followed the trade but #10 didn't come out until 1990, followed by the second trade, "DINOSAUR SHAMAN", collecting XT #5-8, in the fall.

Between the second trade and the resumption of the series, Marvel's Epic Comics imprint reprinted the first six issues of XENOZOIC TALES in color as a monthly series, but under the title CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS, since the Kitchen Sink series was still going on. #11 came out in 1991, #12 in 1992 and months later CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS 3-D #1 (07/92), with an ad for C&D Candy Bars! Since the 3-D comic processed one story apiece from XT#6 and 7, this meant that new issues were now coming out annually and that the next year, the biggest year of all for the feature, would be the first without a new issue. In the summer of 1993, the third trade was released, "TIME IN OVERDRIVE" at about the same time as a second edition of the first trade (with new cover art) was printed. In September the animated television series "CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS" began being broadcast on CBS Saturday mornings, lasting 13 episodes until it was replaced in the spring by "CONAN AND THE YOUNG WARRIORS", which also lasted 13 episodes. It spawned a line of Tyco Toys, including characters, dinosaurs, vehicles and playsets. Kitchen Sink even published a color comic: CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS SPECIAL TYCO TOYS EDITION in December reprinting a story apiece from XT #1 and 9. And while all of that activity was buzzing about in the fall of 1993, the album was finally completed.

In publisher TwoMorrows' "Modern Masters Vol. 15: Mark Schultz" (2008, pages 58-59), Mark Schultz tells an interviewer that he met musician Chris Christensen at a San Diego Comic Con sometime after Christensen had written the music for a vinyl picture disc of songs tied to Will Eisner's Spirit. He was also a fan of XT and the two agreed to work on a concept album as a companion to the comic. Taking their cue from the vehicle designs in the comics, they initially recorded covers of early rock standards and gradually wrote enough originals in compatible styles that the covers were eventually unnecessary. They started recording these in September, 1990 and finished in October, 1993. All the songs on the finished disc were co-written by Christensen and Schultz and in some cases with Robert Haimer ("Liturgy"), Don Wittsten ("This Land", "When You Come Back Home"), Scott Rosner ("Fracture") and one with Haimer and Bill Mumy ("Into The Vaults"). Mumy is probably best known as an actor (as Will on "Lost In Space" and Lennier on "Babylon 5") but has worked in music (with Haimer as Barnes & Barnes) and comics for years. He plays guitar on tracks 5, 10 and 12 (with Max Allan Collins on organ). Miguel Ferrer narrates the opening track, "Liturgy".

The overall effect is that of a very capable bar band; fine listening but only a few songs are all that memorable. It was made in the US by Graphitti Designs, better known for their T-shirts and high-end limited edition versions of books from other publishers. The good news for the curious is that it's now available for streaming from from nearly every outfit that streams music. It's about an hour long, with the highlights being "Liturgy", "Step On The Gas And Go", "Into The Vaults" and "Cadillacs And Dinosaurs". The CD was released in 1994 while Topps Comics was publishing a 9 issue series called CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS, presumably to ride on the success of the cartoon that had already been cancelled. The Topps series was written by Roy Thomas and featured a variety of artists but Schultz wrote only a bit of text and his art appeared only as bits and pieces reprinted within short articles. For their part, Kitchen Sink selected DEATH RATTLE #8 as one of three comics reproduced for their 25th Anniversary (the others were BIZARRE SEX #9 with the first Omaha story and Robert Crumb's 1972 THE PEOPLE'S COMICS). The year ended with a new issue #13, but #14 took another two years to come out (indicia dated October 1996, but reaching direct market stores in December). And that was it. Schultz stayed busy with other things but he hasn't been too quick to say the dinosaurs have gone extinct again. There's been a two volume compendium from Dark Horse and one volume from Flesk. Aside from collecting the Topps series, there's not much left to do with the existing material. Except listen.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

0028: Ta-booted

Collectors like their anniversaries, that's for sure. Tenths, Hundredths, Fiftieths; any excuse for a nostalgia party is as good as any other. So, while I was digging through some anthologies looking for more bits of Mr. X appearances to blog about, I found an item that would be experiencing its 25th Anniversary this year-- would be, except for the fact that it never happened.

From 1988 to 1992 Stephen R. Bissette published eight issues of TABOO through SpiderBaby Grafix & Publications. TABOO was an anthology devoted to horror that was unlike anything else at the time. Each issue was a trade paperback running over 100 pages with painted covers, no ads, mostly in black and white, but with some sections in color and occasionally changing paper stock if that was appropriate for the story. It launched Jeff Nicholson's "Through the Habitrails" (after a brief preview in Dave Sim's "Cerebus") and Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's "From Hell". Moore one wrote about "From Hell" that "without the existence of TABOO it would not have been written." It was where Charles Burns' "Contagious", the original version of his "Teen Plague" story which in turn was expanded into the series "Black Hole", was originally published. So, it seemed an ideal place for Neil Gaiman (writer of "Sandman") and Michael Zulli (artist of "Puma Blues") to serialize an adaptation of "Sweeney Todd".

Michael Zulli's contributions to TABOO:
in #2 (1989) "Mercy" 6pp
in #3 (1989) cover, "We Are All Flesh", oil on panel board
in #4 (1990) "Babycakes" w/Neil Gaiman, 4pp
in #5 (1991) "Again" (with Ramsey Campbell, 27pp
and back cover "My Only Love", watercolor and pastel
in #6 (1992) "Holly's Story" with five-year-old Holly Gaiman, 6pp
in #8 (06/95) back cover, "Night Gaunt"
[not in #1,9 or the 1991 Especial]

Also in #6 is Neil Gaiman's 4-page "Blood Monster", drawn by Nancy J. O'Connor.

On the left is the first page of a coverless 16-page pamphlet included loose (under shrinkwrap) with issue #6. Below is the pack page. Although known as a 'preview' of the serial, there are no completed pages. There are a handful of portrait sketches by Zulli but even more public domain period illustrations and mostly text quoting from 19th Century versions of the story with
historical context by Gaiman interspersed throughout. There are some databases that list this as "Penny Dreadful", the name given on the inside on p.2.

In issue #7 (1992), the serial starts with a Prologue in which Zulli draws himself and Gaiman scouting locations so that the period architecture could be drawn accurately once the actual story begins. At least one key structure had been relocated since the events on which the stories were based happened and some of the dialogue involves explaining how and why that was, and how the London of their adaptation will look different from the London of today. The Prologue is 26 pages, not including the text introductory page which gives a capsule take on the 16-page preview and pocket resumés for Gaiman and Zulli.

And that was it. There was a color 24"X35" poster for the serial advertised in the back of issue #7, $12.95@ or, for one of 500 signed copies, $19.95. Despite assistance from Kevin Eastman and Tundra, TABOO was cancelled. Three years later, after Tundra merged with Kitchen Sink, TABOO was revived for issues #8 and 9. Some of the contributors from the SpiderBaby days returned, but "Sweeney Todd" did not play out.

About five years ago, Bissette unearthed a case or bundle of the "Penny Dreadful" pamphlet and began including them free with back catalog orders for various things he had published over the years, such as "Tyrant". Putting that many mint copies into circulation downgraded it from "ultra rare" to "still pretty friggin' rare", especially when compared to the print runs of virtually any other Gaiman project. So, if somebody is selling it for more than you'd spend on comics in a month, caveat emptor. It's definitely unique text and a fascinating, if brief, read about how durable a good murder story is. But if they're selling it as though it were a rare comics story, give them the skunk eye and walk away. They don't know their own product.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

0027: It must be a collectors' item; it says so on the cover

So far, I've done three extra-wordy posts about the development of the giant/annual format at Marvel and DC in the Silver Age. If you haven't seen them, they are the only posts that have been tagged with the label "publication history" to date. You can read them by clicking on that term at the end of this post, or come back at any time and click on the same term under the list "Name Yer Poison" on the right. If you have read them, let me give you a quick recap: After the Comics Code Authority was implemented at the end of 1954, both Marvel and DC spent the rest of the decade publishing only one format of comic book, 32 pages plus covers for 10¢. In June of 1960, DC released an 80-page Superman Annual acknowledging their 25th Anniversary which reprinted recent stories answering frequently asked questions about Superman's history. Despite the higher 25¢ cover price it sold well enough to justify releasing a second "annual" five months later. The following year DC established a pattern of not releasing one company annual per year (as they had in the 30's and 40's), but three 'annuals', twice a year. One would be Superman, one would be Batman and the third would vary. The next year after that, Marvel introduced their own 72 page annuals with two titles right after DC's June wave. One of those, the first Millie the Model Annual, was filled with original material instead of reprints. The other, for Strange Tales, reprinted suspense and fantasy stories from titles which were in the process of being converted into super-hero comics.

The titles Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense converted from bi-monthly to monthly status in late 1960. Even before then, the improved sales of the new Kirby/Ditko look on the Goodman titles had made selling ad space easier. The story content in these books was typically 23 pages of comic art (split among five stories), a two page text story (required for cheaper mailing rates on subscription copies) and either paid ads or in-house ads. DC had far fewer ads and Dell rarely had any. With fewer titles on the stands, the publishing group that would become Marvel again in 1961 needed revenue where they could find it. Upgrading those four books to monthly frequency brought Marvel from eight titles a month to ten titles a month. Something else that happened is that the stories lengthened. While still totalling 23 pages of comic content, they would now fall into a four story pattern: 7 pages, 6 pages and two 5 page stories. The next phenomenon was to try to cultivate recurring characters. Initially it would be the monsters or invading aliens and the scientists who defeated them. To flesh out their parts and give them something resembling a personality, those characters would occupy the 6 and 7 page sections and they would be packaged as a two-part story. Sometimes they would combine the 6 or 7 page section with a 5 page section. Conveniently, Stan Lee was editing all these titles, so if someone came up with an idea for a lead feature, free-standing stories could be shuffled into another title to make room without having to worry if they would fit elsewhere. Although it couldn't have been developed for this purpose, this system of standardized lengths made it easy to insert super-hero stories into these titles as lead features without having to totally overhaul the look and feel of the titles. The first Ant-Man, Human Torch and Thor stories were 13 pages, followed by two 5 page stories of the sort those series had always published. The first Spider-man story was broken into 6 and 5 page chapters.

The cover of my copy of Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1

By the end of 1961, the addition of bi-monthly titles "Linda Carter" and "Fantastic Four" raised the average release schedule to 11 comics per month. When the first Marvel annuals came out in 1962, "Fantastic Four" was upgraded to monthly. The last issue of "Amazing Fantasy" (#15, with Spider-man) had the date August on the cover, but September in the indicia. Editorial content inside announces the intention to continue publishing Spider-man in that title. For all of its prior existence, the title had been monthly, but if it was falling into a bi-monthly schedule on odd-numbered months, then it would have been switching places with the "Fantastic Four". Instead, it was cancelled and that spot was taken by the return of "Two-Gun Kid", redesigned to resemble a super-hero title, complete with mask and secret identity.

1963 began on a down note, with the Hulk series cancelled and Kirby temporarily leaving the Thor feature, both in the first week of January. However, it was also the introduction of the Watcher (with The Red Ghost in FF#13). And after that the rest of the year was filled with incremental moves towards the new Marvel identity. Starting in February, the "MC" box was dropped in favor of a rectangular box in the upper left corner of all the covers, including the western and humor titles. Each box would include a a portrait of that title's main character(s), something that was now possible since every title had a lead feature with a recurring character (except "Love Romances", which used a generic couple). The box also had the words "Marvel Comics Group" and the 12¢ price, which previously appeared in a large circle almost anywhere in the upper third of the cover. Now, even when comics were fanned on a newsstand rack, readers would be able to find the characters they wanted and would connect those characters with the name of a publishing group. A week later, Iron Man fought a villain named Dr. Strange just two months before a hero named Dr. Strange debuted in April. Between those two stories, in March, Sgt. Fury makes his first appearance in his own title and the Wasp is introduced in the Ant-Man feature. Hank and Jan cross over into FF#16 in April just as Spider-man gets his first issue-length story in AS#3. Even so, he still gets no respect: Dr. Octopus calls him "Superman". In May, "Love Romances" (Marvel's only remaining romance title and only anthology without a committed lead) and "Gunsmoke Western" (which had become redundant to "Kid Colt Outlaw") were both cancelled, leaving two bi-monthly slots on the schedule. Right after that, Iron Man fought the time travelling Mad Pharoah two months before the Fantastic Four fought Rama-Tut. (Hunh. Seems Tony's got the drop on everybody back then.)

Inside front cover of MCIC #1

At this time, DC began following suit by converting more genre anthologies to recurring feature titles. They had done it before in 1959 (with Mark Merlin, Space Ranger and Adam Strange) and did it again in 1963 (with Eclipso and Doom Patrol). They also decided to spread out their annuals a bit in order to have them compete with Marvel titles rather than each other. "Batman Annual" #5 was moved up to late May, followed by a second Lois Lane and seventh Superman in June. Marvel responded by putting more comics out without increasing their total number of titles. Three titles began shipping monthly, two of them for a four-month period ("Patsy Walker" and "Modelling With Millie") and the other ("Amazing Spider-man") permanently. Also in June was MILLIE THE MODEL ANNUAL #2 and STRANGE TALES ANNUAL #2, both "72  Big Pages" for 25¢, both published by Vista Publications, Inc. Millie was more of the same, albeit with a few ads. The "Strange Tales Annual" had some significant differences, the most obvious being an 18-page new story featuring the Human Torch (who had been the lead in the monthly "Strange Tales" for a year at that point) with Spider-man. That was followed by one story reprinted from "Strange Tales", but the other nine all came from "Strange Worlds" #1-3 and "Worlds of Fantasy" #16, two titles that had already been cancelled in 1959 shortly after these stories originally appeared. [It's off topic, but from the first annual, all but two stories from "Journey Into Mystery" #55 would be subsequently reprinted, either in 1970's comics, the Monster Masterworks trade paperback or Marvel Masterworks for the various titles. From the second annual, only two stories had ever been reprinted, at least in the U.S. so far.]

In July, Marvel added two more annuals with the "72 Big Pages" banner. PATSY AND HEDY ANNUAL #1, starring Patsy Walker and Hedy Wolfe, was mostly reprints from 1958, from Male Publishing Corp. The other was a bombshell: FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1, from Canam Publisher Sales Corp., began with a new 37-page Lee and Kirby story in which the Sub-mariner finally finds the residents of Atlantis he'd been searching for since he regained his memory in FF#4, tells his origin story for the first time in the Silver Age, wages war on the surface world and promptly loses his people again. There was also two pages of FAQ's, a now famous diagram of the Baxter Building, and a 6-page retelling of the story from "Amazing Spider-man" #1 about his meeting the FF but told from the FF's perspective (by Kirby with Ditko inks). Scattered throughout are 11 pin-ups forming "A Gallery of The Fantastic Four's Most Famous Foes!" which was in fact every opponent from the first 17 issues with a capsule description and the issue number of their first appearance. It ends by reprinting the first 13 pages of FF #1, which explains why Marvel's flagship title at the time was the only major feature prior to this annual not included in the first issue of Marvel Tales. There were only two in-house ads on the interior pages, one with the cover of "Strange Tales Annual" #2 and a more generic one for "Amazing Spider-man" and a new title, "The Avengers", shipping the same week as the FF Annual along with the first "X-Men". Busy week.

The scans for this post are from the first issue of MARVEL COLLECTORS' ITEM CLASSICS, which was released in October of 1965 after the six annuals for that year. It differs from them in a few respects: the banner calls it a "Bullpen Book" instead of an annual, and the indicia claims it will be published "quarterly" (by Animated Timely Features, Inc.); it's only 64 pages; and the inside front cover has the staff credits with B&W art details to form a kind of contents page. Here's the real contents:

  • Reprint FANTASTIC FOUR #2 (01/62) "... Meet The Skrulls From Outer Space!", 24pp
  • Ad (see third scan below), also in FF#46 (01/66)
  • Reprint TALES TO ASTONISH #36 (10/62) [Ant-Man] "The Challenge of Comrade X!", 13pp
  • Reprint JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #97 (10/63) "Tales of...Asgard!", 5 pp
  • Reprint AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3 (07/63) "...Versus Doctor Octopus", 21pp
  • Inside back cover: ad for Famous Artists Schools Studio with Albert Dorne
  • Ad for Mike Marvel System (bodybuilding), still at 285 Market St.
From page 25 of Marvel Collectors' Item Classic #1

One of the items in those contents was the first installment of the "Tales Of Asgard" back-up feature, which began running one month after the FF Annual. Funny story? That was about the time that, despite everything I described going on at Marvel in 1963 up to that point, Goodman was seriously considering discontinuing the line of comics and just publishing magazines and paperbacks. But that story is going to have to wait.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

0026: 'Twas Video Killed The Beast?

On the last day of March of this year a boxed set of CD's containing the collected works of the band Radio Stars was released. Entitled "Thinking Inside The Box", it was their first multi-disc collection and likely their last ever release. They simply didn't produce much in the studio, owing to the fact that they were made up of people coming from and on their way to other projects. The bulk of their recordings come from early 1977 to mid 1979, a volatile and extremely fertile period in British rock and pop music. They reunited briefly in 1982 for live shows.

After releasing three singles during 1977, Radio Stars ended the year with their first album, "Songs For Swinging Lovers"(Chiswick Records WIK 5), a limited number of which included as a bonus a "Greatest Hits Album" (Chiswick Records PROMO 2) that turned out to be a 7" single combining their first two A-sides, "Dirty Pictures" (on the left) and "No Russians In Russia" (below). Each side is illustrated with a cartoon by designer Phil Smee.

Clearly, Smee would have been right at home in Viz Magazine (no relation to the U.S. manga publisher). Callously offensive images or sleazy subject matter are ripe for the comedic approach, and it's likely that Smee would have made a name for himself for years in a venue like Viz if he hadn't already found a more lucrative career designing sleeve art for numerous bands. Cartooning seems to have been more of a hobby that came in useful at times like this, such as Nick Mason's cover for Pink Floyd's "Relics" or Chris Dreja's cover for the Yardbird's "Roger The Engineer".

I bought this used in a generic sleeve apart from the album, so there really aren't any available credits apart from what anyone could look up regarding the original singles.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

0025: Hello, Motter...

...Hello, Fodder? Fodder for the blog at least. Last week I promised to find some obscure bits of early Mr. X that weren't included in the recent paperback edition of Mister X Volume 1 from Dark Horse. I found just that in a fund-raiser one-shot from 1986.

The name Artworx has since been appropriated by numerous Canadian businesses, including a glass-works studio in Barrie, a tattoo parlor in British Columbia and a home improvement advisor (sort of like the American Angie's List) in Toronto. The address listed in the indicia is about a half mile from Seneca college, in North York, according to Google Maps. The wraparound cover is a group effort, laid out by Anthony Van Bruggen with the characters' creators or featured artists drawing the individual characters. The complete credits can be found on the scan of the inside cover, below. For this post, I should point out that Dean Motter drew Mr. X (or "X!", as his sunglasses would have it) and the colors were provided by Paul Rivoche. Ken Steacy provided the colors and the logo for the project was done by Ken Steacy.

I don't know if it's a coincidence that in the 90's Toronto had a band named Pecola whose drummer was also named Gideon Steinberg (the editor who wrote the text piece for the inside front cover). If so, it must also be a coincidence that their bassist was named Craig Thompson, since the comics creator Craig Thompson ("Blankets") was working in Oregon at the time.

Anyway, Motter drew the Mr. X art seen below, from page 36 of the 40 interior pages, all B&W. This was for the same price as a Cerebus comic at the time, and they ran about 28 interior pages.

The scene looks like it may have occurred before issue #1, two years earlier, as Mr. X returns to Somnopolis. (He's already nomadic when the series starts.) Although this came out in the summer of 1986, I'm confident I've got some stray bits from even earlier.

I'm going to be sifting through more fanzines and benefit comics, as well as general anthologies. We'll see what gets caught in the Sieve.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

0024: The Other Man Who Fell To Earth

Sure I miss David Bowie. But I can't help but worry about Mike Allred. A year ago, during the months after Bowie's death as the current "Silver Surfer" series kept getting delay after delay during the character's 50th Anniversary, I would often wonder if Allred was rocking in the fetal position somewhere. Bowie and early 70's glitter rock in general infused some of Allred's most successful work, such as "Madman" and "Red Rocket 7". Naming a regular cast member "Mott the Hoople" is not subtle. But there's always been a lot more to Allred's stories than a fruit salad of pop culture allusions. Witness: "Astroeque".


Dark Horse is still selling this on their website. I have no clue about its Netflix availability, but that's the perfect outlet for a movie like this. The budget is so low and so many of the cast and crew are closely ( and often literally) related that the line between "experimental film" and "home movie" blurs. According to an interview in "Modern Masters Volume 16: Mike Allred" (TwoMorrows, April 2008), Allred states that the version included as a bonus on the "G-Men From Hell" DVD is the "full screen" (meaning chopped down to the shape of a TV screen) version with sound that wasn't mixed properly. This version, released on NTSC VHS in 1998, is the version he would have preferred they use.

The movie itself, made in 1996, looks in retrospect like a rehearsal for a specific scene from Red Rocket 7, without costumes. This movie, the LP-sized comic book mini-series and the album on CD (featuring Allred's band The Gear) all feel like parts of a multimedia project, in which no one part is completely redundant to the others. Of course, that also means that no one part is complete in itself. I would recommend the film with the caveat that one should watch it both before AND after reading the collected "Red Rocket 7". The album supplements both but stands on its own as a musical work if not as a story; I would save the album for last. The comic series is the best of the three but it has a way of making parts of the movie that are ambiguous become much more specific. The movie plays on the viewers' imaginations more. Reading the comic first has the same effect as watching a music video (remember those?) before hearing a song in the context of an album as audio alone. Without the video, a piece of music can provoke different images in the imaginations of different people. After seeing it, that's the image that comes to most peoples' minds. I will say that watching the movie was much more enjoyable after reading the comic, but less thought provoking.

Monday, June 12, 2017

0023: "From The Glorious Past..."?

In the posts "The Lost Anniversary" and "The Post Anniversary" I wrote about Atlas Comics' reinvention as Marvel and the first issue of the Marvel Tales reprint series in 1964, respectively. The two aren't unrelated. Before 1960, most comics publishers (and readers) viewed reprinted stories as matters of dishonesty or ineptitude because, frankly, those were exactly the reasons behind reprints in the Golden Age. A more straightforward form of 'content recycling' was to take a few remaindered or overrun copies of comics past their cover date and bind them, three or four at a time, in a new cover and sell them for 50-75% of their original cover price. EC Comics made several of these. In fact, the first three DC annuals from 1936 to 1938 were very much like this, either rebinding existing pages or printing them from the same plates. That third one came out at about the time that the original owner went into receivership and his share was bought out by his distributors. Almost immediately, they added a fourth title, Action Comics, which introduced the character who would symbolize their company, Superman. The first two titles, already renamed More Fun Comics and New Adventure Comics, switched from a 'volume and issue' numbering system (with a new #1 each year) to a whole numbering system. The title they jointly owned with the previous publisher, Detective Comics, carried on and became the publisher name for all four series. In 1939 and 1940 they published annuals of new material, still 96 pages for 15¢ at a time when their standard format was 64 pages for 10¢. They continued every year until the mid-40's, when M.C. Gaines (editor and minority owner of the All-American imprint) left to create a new publishing company, Educational Comics. He took with him some trade dress elements and the feature he initiated, "Picture Stories From the Bible", and sold his share of the company back to DC's owners for the stake he needed. When he died a few years after that, his son took over the floundering company, renamed it Entertaining Comics (or EC) and radically overhauled its roster (imagine replacing PBS Kids or Disney, Jr. with Cartoon Network's Adult Swim). Some of the cash flow problems were addressed with the aforementioned "annuals" rebinding old comics.

By the time Gaines left, DC had
already begun publishing the quarterly "World's Finest Comics" and "Comic Cavalcade" at 96 pages, then shrunk to 80 pages. When war time paper restrictions were lifted, smaller companies put out giant issues, some over 250 pages, often rehashing past failures and in some cases stealing older stories from other publishers, gambling that no one would notice. Martin Goodman's Marvel companies didn't seem to bother with annuals. The only examples I can find are B&W 128-page reprints of "Captain America" (early 40's), Marvel Mystery Comics (mid-40's) and Kid Colt Outlaw (early 50's), all for Canada. That changed after 1957, when both their rack presence and market penetration were compromised.

On the right is my personal copy of Marvel Tales Annual #2 from 1965. The situation at the time is best summed up by the blurb, "From the glorious past, when the Incredible Hulk was featured in his own magazine...", which was a whopping three years earlier. The other headliners were only two years old. In fact, the oldest story here is a five page suspense story used as filler and originally published less than a year before the Hulk story. Let me see if I can present more of a coherent timeline.

  • The popularity of super-heroes wanes in the late 1940's. Goodman's first comic book series, "Marvel Mystery Comics", is almost ten years old when it drops super-hero features, replaces them with suspense stories and changes its name to "Marvel Tales". A year later the 'Marvel' group identity begins to change into the 'Atlas' group identity.
  • During the 1950's, the Superman television show (1952-1958) causes the already enormous readership for Superman to become almost as permanent a part of popular culture as the character himself. He, Batman and Wonder Woman are the only DC super-heroes left with eponymous series as well as each having the lead feature in an anthology (although WW's anthology, "Sensation Comics", spends its last year as "Sensation Mystery" during the Superman TV show's first season).
  • Atlas tries unsuccessfully to revive its three biggest super-heroes, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America, in 1953-1954. Probably due to the bad publicity of the Congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency, "Young Men In Action" and their individual titles are cancelled by the end of the summer, except Sub-Mariner which lasts an additional year.
  • By the end of 1954, the Comics Code Authority is formed by a coalition of publishers to regain public trust. EC is scapegoated and when participating publishers begin using the CCA stamp starting with early 1955 cover dates, EC replaces its "New Trend" titles (1950-1954) with "New Direction" titles, futilely attempting to play by the new rules. By the end of 1955 they abandon comics and publish B&W magazines with comic art, such as "Mad".
  • To find out what kind of features will sell in the new CCA climate, DC creates "Showcase" (a 'try-out' series) in 1956. The first year is a failure except for issue #4, which introduces an updated, scientifically rational version of a Golden Age super-hero, The Flash. More such reworkings of super-hero characters follow over the next five years.
  • In 1957, after Goodman dismantles his own Atlas distribution system the distributor he intends to use for his own comics is put out of business by legal problems. Sitting on a large inventory he must move, he accepts a deal from Independent News which is controlled by DC's owners. It reduces the number of titles he publishes by 80% officially and was rumored to have prohibited super-hero titles unofficially.
  • In 1958, Jack Kirby quits DC acrimoniously and works for editor Stan Lee at Goodman's shrunken group of publishing companies. The Superman television series ends.
  • In 1959, the DC series "The Brave And The Bold", which had been a period adventure anthology (knights, vikings, musketeers, etc.) for four years suddenly adopts the "Showcase" approach of devoting each issue to a single, temporary feature. Most are super-heroes.
  • After twenty years, Superman has accumulated a large recurring cast and an increasingly byzantine backstory, mostly due to retroactive elaborations about his home planet and childhood. The most frequent questions from readers are usually dealt with by running newly scripted and drawn retellings of key points of his life. In 1960, for the company's Silver Anniversary, it is decided to run an 80 page collection reprinting the most requested Superman stories. It will cost 25¢ at a time when 32 page comics cost 10¢ [2.5 times the pages, 2.5 times the price.] Although the stories cover the span of his life, they were all originally published during the previous five years. The only new material is the cover, a 2-page map of Krypton and a modicum of editorial content. It ships in June with no cover date and DC's owners control the distribution, so they are intending to let it sit on racks until it sells. They needn't have worried; it sells out rapidly. So much so that a second "annual" is released in November.
  • In 1961 Marvel adds the letters "MC" to its cover, finally asserting a group identity and begins to try recurring adventure heroes in their suspense comics. DC, having successfully launched several new titles from "Showcase" and "Brave And The Bold", including "Justice League Of America", expands the concept of their now twice-a-year "annuals".
Page 24, following the X-Men story, Angel hosts a T-shirt ad.

In June, on three successive weeks, they released  a "Secret Origins" Annual, a third Superman Annual and their first Batman Annual, all in the format used in 1960. New covers, one or two pages of new features and reprints of 1950's stories translated to brisk sales. The Secret Origins volume had two "Showcase" alumni, Adam Strange who got the lead feature in "Mystery In Space" in 1959 and Challengers of the Unknown, who got their own title in 1958. Batman and Superman appear in their first "World's Finest" team-up. The rest of the reprints are Silver Age origins of Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, all of the original JLA except Aquaman. A text story gives the origin of Green Arrow, who joined a few months before the annual. By September Marvel introduced the Fantastic Four. Although they didn't wear costumes, they were essentially a super-powered version of the Challengers of the Unknown, created by Kirby the year before he quit DC. It's long been assumed to have been a reaction to DC's sales of the JLA comic, but that had only been out a year after debuting in "The Brave And The Bold" and the first issue of JLA came out between the first issues of "Green Lantern" and "Rip Hunter", which were both introduced in "Showcase". Since all three proved their commercial appeal in the try-out titles and DC wasn't going to hand Goodman their sales figures (and the title didn't include a Statement of Ownership in its first year), how did Marvel know which of the three sold best? Well, when your biggest rival only releases three giant specials for the summer and two of them tie into five titles they've been selling for 20 years and the third ties into a title they've recently introduced, they sort of ARE telling you their sales ranks, if not the actual quantities. Right after the first FF comic shipped, DC raised their standard comic price to 12¢, meaning that the 80 page Annuals should have gone from 25¢ to 30¢ to remain proportionate. However, in November, DC released a fourth Superman and second Batman Annual, still adhering to the same formula and still only a quarter. That decision to make the cover price a less malleable part of this new, second format was not lost on Marvel.

Page 35, following the Hulk story.
Marvel raised their own standard prices when DC's November annuals came out. Their problems distributing the Hulk followed in the spring of 1962. To fit the new Hulk title into the schedule they cancelled "Teen-Age Romance", which wasn't a huge seller, but it was at least allowed onto the stands. Rather than risk losing another mediocre seller from the racks in order to publish a potential hit that no one will see, Marvel decided to put their new super-hero features into their existing anthologies. The first three were on the stands in June when the next wave of DC annuals hit: "Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane", then Superman (#5) and Batman (#3). Lois had a four-page back-up feature in the "Superman" title in 1944-1946. When WWII ended, popular culture was filled with images of returning soldiers reentering the workplace and working women becoming homemakers. Lois remained a regular cast member in Superman stories, but the solo feature was cancelled. In 1957, two issues of "Showcase" were followed by her own series in 1958.

Page 44,  after the Doctor Strange story
At this point, "Showcase" had reached its 40th issue and except for four issues in its first year, every feature introduced either took over a former anthology title (Space Ranger and Adam Strange) or started its own title. What Marvel could have really used, apparently, was a try-out book of its own. However, since introducing new titles was off the table for the foreseeable future in the summer of 1962, what would be the point? Any new feature that sold well would just have to be shoehorned into an existing title anyway, which is what they were already doing. So, instead of launching a try-out title, Marvel produced its own annuals, beginning in 1962. What neither DC nor Marvel could have known at the time is that Showcase #41 would be the start of a dry spell that began with an attempt to turn the long-running back-up feature "Tommy Tomorrow" into full-length stories but wound up being the last new stories with the character until 1977. He would never have his own feature again. For the next five years most of their successes were features introduced elsewhere (Teen Titans, Enemy Ace, Spectre, etc.) with one exception: The Inferior Five. Marvel might have been painted into a corner with regards to increasing their cash flow using the modern annual format, but at least they didn't wind up believing that the try-out format is somehow magic or fool-proof.

The first two Marvel annuals were "THE BIG MILLIE THE MODEL ANNUAL" from Male Publishing Corp. and "THE BIG STRANGE TALES ANNUAL" from Atlas Magazines, Inc., both out in July with Marvel's second batch of September cover-dated comics. Both had 72 pages for 25¢. Unlike the typeset font used on their standard 32-page comics, these first annuals have "#1" and "1962" (no more specific date) hand lettered on the covers. Millie carries the blurb: "All-New Stories", which start with a retelling of Millie's 'origin' story. Some of the "All-New Stories" are pin-ups, a regular mainstay of the ongoing series at the time. The Strange Tales is all reprint, except the cover, so its blurb reads, "Triple Value!" Why triple? Marvel comics at that time were all 32 interior pages (plus glossy covers), but usually about 24 of them were comics art. In 1962, two more pages would be a text story in order to meet an arbitrary standard of the Post Office for a lower postage rate on subscription copies. The remaining six pages would be some combination of in-house ads (like the ones appearing throughout this post) and paid ads. However, the first Strange Tales annual had no ads and no text. Marvel wasn't selling subscriptions to titles that came out once a year, so they weren't mailing them anywhere. It was 72 pages of story, albeit in 4 to 7 page increments. That's three times 24, hence "Triple Value!" (at double price). All the reprints come from 1959-1960 and from the four titles that will eventually be converted to super-hero anthologies: "Journey Into Mystery", which had just debuted Thor, "Tales To Astonish", which had just debuted Ant-Man (in costume), "Strange Tales" itself, whose next issue to follow the annual will debut a new "Human Torch" solo feature and "Tales Of Suspense", which will debut Iron Man around Christmas.

After the Marvel annuals hit the stands, The US Postal Service experienced a massive internal sting operation in August involving narcotics going through the mail under false cover. Preventing that from happening again required closer scrutiny of any business using bulk mailing rates. While neither Marvel or DC was doing anything illegal involving the mail, executives at DC had Prohibition-era mob connections that might have been inadvertently discovered by Feds looking for something else. It might be a coincidence, but Marvel would no longer suffer from sabotaged distribution of super-hero comics as they had months earlier with the Hulk. It was too late to save the Hulk comic (it would be cancelled right after New Year's), but Marvel could now make plans to start new titles again.

Page 50, before the Avengers story
In November of 1962 DC published the last issue of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" as an 80-page Annual. They had published the previous 12 issues annually, but in whatever the standard format of the time had been. Apparently, since this was the last issue, they had developed more trust in the form than the substance. They also released annuals for Batman (#4) and Superman (#6).

In December, "Linda Carter, Student Nurse" is cancelled to make way for "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Tales Of Suspense" takes on Iron Man as its  lead feature. In March of 1963, "Incredible Hulk" is cancelled to make way for "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos". Then, both the standard line and the new annual format will expand.

Finally, I want to detail the contents of Marvel Tales Annual #2, published by Non-Pareil Publishing Corp. in July, 1965 while Marvel was shipping comics cover dated September and October.

  • Cover: (see first scan above)
  • Inside Front Cover: Ad for Famous Artists Schools Studio with Albert Dorne
  • Reprint X-MEN #1 (09/63) "X-Men", 23pp
  • Ad for T-shirts. (see second scan) It's not a coincidence that Angel is modelling a T-shirt in an ad following an X-Men story. This house ad was made specifically for this comic, as evidenced by the code "MT-2" in the corner of the coupon to the left of the word "T-SHIRTS".
  • Reprint HULK #3 (09/62) "The Ringmaster", 10pp This is the first appearance of the villain, but there's no origin story here. It's just the third story from that issue. The Hulk's origin was in the previous issue. Eventually, the whole six issue series will be reprinted in installments like this.
  • Ad for 1965 Annuals (see third scan) It says "On Sale Now!", although the Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man (along with Millie the Model) probably came out a month after they were intended. Marvel published four annuals in 1963 and 1964 but eight in 1965 and had to spread them out.
  • Reprint STRANGE TALES #115 (12/63) "The Origin of Doctor Strange", 8pp
  • Ad for Stationery Set (see fourth scan) This ad is also specific to this issue; note the "MT-2" code on the right border of the coupon.
  • Reprint AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #8 (01/62) "A Monster Among Us", 5pp
  • Ad for current comics (see fifth scan)
  • Reprint AVENGERS #1 (09/63) "The Coming Of The Avengers!", 22pp
  • Inside Back Cover: Ad for Mike Marvel System (bodybuilding)
  • Back Cover: Ads for Slimline Co. (X-Ray glasses) and Best Values Co. (coins)
It's worth noting that the three companies advertising on the back and inside back covers all have the mailing address 285 Market St., Newark, NJ.

Friday, June 9, 2017

0022: Julie Schwartz's Been Workin' For The Drug Squad

Forget Scorpio, Vera Lynn and laughter for a moment. Does anybody here remember the Protector?

When DC launched their "New Teen Titans" series in 1980 it provided them with the biggest hit they'd had in years. The characters began making guest appearances in other titles, starred with the X-Men in what turned out to be the last Marvel/DC crossover for many years, were the subject of the seventh ever DC mini-series (ahead of most of DC's most famous Silver Age characters), hosted free 16-page insert previews for three other titles, made the covers of fanzines, etc., all in less than three years. Also during that time was a two-part story called "Runaways" (#26-27) about children caught up in drug and prostitution trade. After it shipped, according to Marv Wolfman in an article by Kim Metzger (in Comics Collector #3, Spring 1984), DC was approached by Steve Jacobs. Jacobs was a special consultant for the U.S. Customs Bureau, which had been behind a successful collaboration with Marvel doing public service comics with corporate sponsorship. While the White House was hoping to use characters best known through television (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) for an anti-drug message, those characters were constrained by pre-existing licensing commitments. Besides, said DC, they're no longer our best sellers. Showing Jacobs the "Runaways" story, it was immediately obvious that a more kid-friendly version would be perfect. Keebler would be the sponsor. The only problem? Nabisco had already licensed images of Robin along with Batman. Also, Jason Todd was being introduced in Batman stories with plans for him to be a second, concurrent Robin. The solution? Rework Robin  into a new character called "The Protector". Change the costume and hair color (but not the actual style) and keep everything else. After the Keebler comic began circulating, collectors began snatching it up. Unlike most public service comics, this one was written and drawn by the same team making the best selling monthly title. To ensure that they reached their intended audience, DC created a commercial direct market version fans could buy at comics stores. The American Soft Drink Industry sponsored a second issue and IBM sponsored a third in early 1984.

Later in 1984, Kid Flash and Robin left the group, Robin returned as Nightwing, the series spun off a direct market only second title and the newsstand title began laying the groundwork for Crisis On Infinite Earths the following year. Flash forward to late 1989. Jason Todd has been dead for three years. Tim Drake has just been introduced and will become the third Robin in late 1990. The newsstand Titans title became a reprint series after Crisis. George H.W. Bush is in the White House and while the rhetoric of protecting children is up, any notion of proactively doing something that might actually protect a child is treated like maggoty roadkill. It's for the private sector or not at all. Thus, in steps DuPont Pharmaceuticals:

And you'll notice that it's presented by... Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the very characters whose prior commitments steered the previous project towards the Titans. Forget that Tim Burton version that was ubiquitous everywhere else in 1989, this kid-friendly Batman even wrote the introduction.

You'll also notice that there's no mention of government involvement in the indicia. The contents are 16 B&W pulp pages of mazes, word searches and other simple puzzles which, if they were used in conjunction with prepared instruction, would be a good way to reinforce lessons about the importance of treating prescription drugs cautiously. Unfortunately, there is no indication anywhere that prepared lesson plans or outlines are available to interested parents or educators. Inside, you'll not only see the heroes on the front, but the Flash (in Barry Allen's costume, not the similar one worn by Wally West at the time), as well as these two guys:

That's right; both Robin and the Protector. Why? These comics were prepared for elementary school children. The Protector hadn't been used for over five years. While the children reading this might have been born then, they couldn't have been old enough to be reading anti-drug comics aimed at pre-teens. Or reading at all. Nobody would know who this character is. Even I had to look up his name and I flipped through those three Titans comics less than a year ago. So, congratulations, you've just seen his only appearance besides those three comics and a Secret Files in the year 2000.

On the bright side, you can feel free to enlarge these, print them out and color them to your heart's content. I'll be using scans of the other pages should things get slow. That might be a while. I keep tripping over oddball stuff around here.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

0021: Morris Dances While Charles Burns?

No, it doesn't stand for "Eerie Type of Adaptation".
Officially it's Ernst Theodor Wilhelm, but it's enough if you don't confuse him with Heinrich. Heinrich was the 19th Century psychiatrist whose stories inspired the Scissormen from Grant Morrison's tenure writing "Doom Patrol". E.T.A. Hoffman was the supernatural fantasist famous for writing "The Sandman", which in no way resembles the Neil Gaiman series. He's even more famous for two other works adapted for other media. One, "Tales of Hoffman", was a collection of stories that inspired an opera by Offenbach. The other, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", inspired a ballet by Tchaikovsky.

Earlier in this blog I mentioned Richard Sala's greatly increased visibility due to MTV's "Liquid Television" animation anthology series. Charles Burns also had segments on the show, but he had already been a known quantity in alternative comics for nearly a decade when it first aired. He was a contributor to the original RAW series and created two of the books on its tiny imprint. In retrospect, if the Mark Morris Dance Group wanted to relocate Hoffmann's creepy mix of the supernatural and social anxiety to a 20th Century suburb, Burns would be the perfect choice. But with the 1986 stage version (based on illustrations by Maurice Sendak) circulating on cable and VHS, getting people to watch this would be an uphill climb, although this would benefit from the contrast. It's not my favorite production. (Rotten Tomatoes has no score for it whatsoever; the 1986 version gets a 72%, which is about right. In both cases, the design is the strongest asset.) Filmed in 1992 as "The Hard Nut" and broadcast on PBS' "Great Performances" on December 16th of that year, Elektra/Nonesuch released it on VHS the following year and on DVD in October 2007. It does still occasionally get rebroadcast. I thought I saw it on one of the more adventurous commercial cable channels, but that might have been a feverish dream. Anyway, it does get nearly the love that the Nureyev version gets. Still, get a load of that Pee-Wee's-Playhouse-meets-Kafka version of the Nutcracker doll being held by Drosselmeyer on the production still:

If anybody sees one of those on Etsy, let me know. And that's actually the 2005 cast, not the cast on the video. I wonder if it's the same prop, or else... they might have produced multiple copies for road productions! Aw, man, now I want one. I don't know why, though. It's for the Mark Morris Dance Group, which means a hundred guys have already put their Mouse King in it. You know what? I'm good.

Now, being a comics oriented blog, I suppose I should make more of the whole Nutcracker/Pinocchio/AstroBoy lineage, but that would involve dragging in a lot more research material (and becoming more fluent in German, Italian and Japanese beyond ordering a meal and finding a hotel), so I'll just weasel out of it by saying that I want to stick as closely as possible to whatever is already in my collection. and there'll be another bit of it later this week.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

0020: Or more appropriately, "00XX"...

On May 31st, 2017 the long-awaited paperback edition for MISTER X volume 1 finally arrived in stores. Before going on to my regular comics dealer for a reserved copy, I stopped by a bookstore across the street from (and named after) a famous Ivy League university. They sell used books in the basement and the local international clientele occasionally sell things that haven't been in the area for a while. While in the stacks I overheard a young woman asking the staff for help finding specific titles which I recognized as the sort of things you'd expect to read in a college level course on communication or mass media. The last on the list was the nearly inevitable "Understanding Media" by Marshall McLuhan. Just as there are millions of schmucks in the world who recognize the phrase "To be, or not to be, that is the question..." but couldn't tell you that it comes from "Hamlet", so it is that just as many have heard the phrase "The medium is the massage" and don't know that it comes from "Understanding Media". Even though communications technology and human habits have changed considerably in the 50+ years since it was published, the book still has a lot to offer about making sense of how media work, how we use them and how our use impacts both the sender and receiver of information. The first MISTER X comics series began 20 years after it was published (or more appropriately, "XX years after it was published"). But the character had been haunting the comics community for about a year prior to that. It was very much attuned to the retrofuturist zeitgeist of the 1980's, at a time when audiences were watching remakes of "Breathless" and "A Man And A Woman", MISTER X was a combination of "Alphaville" and "Metropolis" (which itself had just been restored with a modern soundtrack and playing in theaters again). Stylistically, it was more in line with "Diva"(1981) and "Subway"(1985), actual French films rather than remakes. Like "Understanding Media", it had the feeling of being the real deal amidst a miasma of others just going through the motions. Both, ironically, argued that ultimately content is irrelevant; McLuhan did so explicitly, MISTER X did so implicitly as most of its stories became about the events orbiting the attempts of competing parties to get answers to mysteries that never get completely solved or else lead to other mysteries.

Every week this month I hope to include a little something about Mister X as I try to research to sources of every scrap of ephemera connected to him and see how much of it has found its way into my collection. Most people's favorite bit of trivia about him is that he debuted on an album cover (spoiler: I don't have it). I just found my own new favorite bit. It's not the gag panel above, although that is kind of funny. That was the cover art for "Comics Interview" #39 from 1986, which contained an interview by Marty Herzog with Dean Motter, creator of Mister X and artist of the panel above. in the interview, Motter says that he initially studied fine arts in college (in London, Ontario) but gravitated to commercial art and design. Two beneficial things came from this: an animation house in Toronto drew talent from candidates in that degree program and one of his instructors was Eric McLuhan-- son of Marshall.

This would have been in the early 1970's (Motter was born in 1953, according to the article), and Motter mentions that over the next few years, Eric kept his father's work organized and helped him prepare it for publication, going as far as describing it as "ghostwriting", which is where the interview continues in the scan on the left (taken from p.64).

Marshall died in 1980, but "Laws Of Media" was eventually published in 1988. Motter even references it in the afterword to the trade collection of "MISTER X: RAZED" many years later. That tells me that throwing together some abstract doo-dads for the dust jacket wasn't just a resumé building commission for him. He was paying attention at the time, enough that it stuck and remained stuck after decades.

I picked up the trade and the good news is that it corrects the missing and out of order pages that plagued the two-trade set published by iBooks last decade. The bad news (for me, not you) is that I now have to go through all the ancillary artwork and text and find out if there's anything unique in the old trades before I trade/sell/donate/recycle/make-post-modernist-snowflakes-from them. If I find anything, I'll let you know here.

As I said in an earlier post, I may pick something other than music for my next post on 'comics in other media', since I devoted so many posts recently to one musical group and I do in fact have a DVD lined up. I'll also be writing more about Marvel's extra-length and reprint Silver Age books and Mister X, so I'll want to balance all of that with some DC and American independents.  One source of inspiration came when Paul Simon performed recently on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He played live with Bill Frisell, who is not only a national treasure as a musician, but if he picks out his own album sleeve art (instead of delegating design choices as many artists, perhaps wisely, choose to do) then he has excellent taste in art. He has collaborated with one of my favorite comics artists on more than one occasion, so you may see him mentioned here again before the fall.

Friday, June 2, 2017

ADMIN01: Here Comes Summer

Sorry, no scans this time. This is the first time I've done an administrative post because, with summer coming I thought I'd add a little green to the background. Then, while I was at it I widened the main text area. Then I added a few gadgets and removed things that were redundant. I was almost feeling like a responsible adult until I realized that many more people are probably reading the posts on mobile devices now than when I worked on different blogs years ago. Since I don't use a mobile/smart phone, I have no idea if the changes have had a negative effect on the experience of readers who do.

So, are you a mobile device user who can't get the gadgets to work? Has your loading/response time worsened? Does the text cut off in the middle of words? Are you a PC user who doesn't have any of those problems, but the green color makes you nauseous? Any feedback in the comments below or on G+ will be seen.

Siiiiggggghhhh.... Ok, I know I said no scans and then asked for help with something, and now I feel guilty.
Since you've been accommodating enough to read this far, how about something that wouldn't have justified an entire post on its own? No need for it to go to waste. This is a chase card from a set of ALF trading cards (Topps, 1987).

You're welcome. I think.

0019: Suitable Ending

In 2006 the Action suits reconvened and recorded enough tracks to fill an album. The seven songs recorded in March 1996 (and released on the first four singles) were shuffled into the play order with the new songs. The cardboard sleeve (with new Peter Bagge art) lists all the songs in the CD's program order:

The fifth single, which didn't have Bagge and was illustrated by Al Columbia, isn't included on the compilation. At about forty minutes, it wasn't a matter of time constraints. The liner notes mention a fire in 1998, but not what, if anything besides the house, was lost. I don't know who would have the master tapes if they haven't been burned or melted. Of course, when everything you release comes out on different labels there are always licensing issues, too. I do know that Steve Fisk produced both the 1996 and 2006 sessions, but not the fifth single, so it could just be a matter of using what he could immediately access.

I should mention that the logo on the CD surface is not gold-colored. It's really reflective silver, but appears gold in the scan as a side effect of the equipment I used. Oh, and please pardon the shrink-wrap glare on the front and back cover scans. I found that by opening only the seam on the shrink-wrap that I could easily slide the CD in and out of the jacket while keeping the easier-to-clean plastic sheath. The white background on the front could otherwise get really dingy really quickly.

Unlike the singles, the CD booklet contains full, typeset credits. Rather than the trail-off grooves found on vinyl, the CD has an inner groove around the non-encoded plastic center ring that reads, "THE ACTION SUITS CD W181 IFPI LL61". The plastic center ring itself is embossed with "IFPI J763". The catalog number was PressPop Music PPM-004. There's no indication of where either the disc or booklet were manufactured, but PressPop is a Japanese company and this CD is still available on their website for ¥2,000. They also have a Buddy Bradley doll for ¥3,200. The vitals are here:

Also in the booklet are three pages of photos and this comic format advertisement by Jaime Hernandez that ran int Bagge's comic book Hate #24 (08/96). It not only has far-fetched future versions of the band and Fisk but also representatives of the four labels that released the first four singles.

And that's it for the band, as far as I know. I think my next 'other media' post might be a DVD. I have several examples of 12" records that tie into comics, but no way to scan them. I'm going to have to somehow invest in a digital camera. In the meantime, there's still plenty of comics to organize and tons of related paraphernalia I keep tripping over. I hope you find them pause-worthy.

Previously on "Sieve Eye Care"...