Friday, August 18, 2017

0047: I'll Take Manhattan Minuet

For people of a certain age, often their first exposure to either jazz or classical music was the incidental background music in Warner Brothers cartoons. These seven or eight minute shorts were created to be shown in theaters as part of a program of short films that preceded the main feature film. In no particular order, movie-goers arriving for the full program would see a newsreel, a cartoon, a serial chapter, a musical short (often a sing-along), trailers and/or other bits as well. Depending on the year (or desperation of the theater) there might be a raffle held live in the theater or a charity appeal. After all that, the feature film (often 70 minutes long) would begin. By the mid-1950's television had seriously cut into the movie industry's cash flow and it responded by competing with spectacles it knew television couldn't provide. Wider screens, brighter colors, longer features and so forth was what studios invested money in and theaters who wanted to show the best of what was available needed cash for up to date equipment. They couldn't to that by scheduling fewer screenings of longer movies, soooo... bye-bye shorts. While newsreels and trailers mouldered until they could be repurposed as kitsch, cartoons and serials were more easily packaged for television. By the time one generation of children had seen twenty years worth of a studio's back catalog several times, a whole new batch of children would become old enough to discover them. Everyday after school throughout the 1970's there was always one channel or another that aired an hour or two of theatrical shorts with what I didn't know were seriously outdated pop culture references. I can quote many of them to this day.
Booklet cover.

On a good day you could be lucky enough to watch Fleischer Studios stuff, although you never saw Superman or Betty Boop except on PBS. Popeye was often what made it into syndication packages. If you were unlucky it was the Popeye cartoons from the early 1960's and you got a little more fresh air that day. MGM's "Tom and Jerry" and anything by Tex Avery made life worth living, but the Warner's stuff for some reason always had the best music. They even came out under imprints called "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes". The secret was Carl Stalling. After Walt Disney completed "Steamboat Willie", the first synchronized sound cartoon, he hired Stalling (who played music live in theaters over silent movies) to retrofit music onto two earlier silent cartoons. The two went on to launch a line of "Silly Symphonies" cartoons. Shortly after that he joined Ub Iwerks when Iwerks formed his own studio (although Disney was a major client of theirs). But when Iwerks' studio was absorbed by Leon Schlesinger (in 1936), Stalling began a run of an estimated 1000 cartoon scores over the next two decades.
Inner side of jewel case inlay card.

Stalling had an amazing talent for writing scores that he could mentally synchronize to an animation script. That's not completely impossible; unlike live action films, animation scripts are plotted out to the second in order to estimate the total number of frames and therefore man-hours to draw and shoot them. Since Stalling would conduct the recording sessions he could certain that the music would be played at the tempo he intended. So, not impossible, just inhumanly difficult. To produce score at this pace, Stalling drew on his experience playing live and spontaneously over silent movies. His 'compositions' were often patchworks of quotes from classical works both well-known and rarely heard elsewhere, mixed with hooks from popular songs of the day. His own original writing linked one to the next creating the illusion of these unrelated parts being conceived as a whole work. A real godsend for Stalling was the emergence of Raymond Scott in 1937. Scott had been the pianist in his brother's band but the lively evocative pieces he wrote, while popular with audiences, were murder on musicians accustomed to improvisation and looser arrangements. They required precision. So, Scott formed a "quintette" (not counting himself) and rehearsed them relentlessly. The results were regular radio appearances and numerous records. He spent most of World War II as the music director for the CBS Radio Network and by the time he left for Broadway he had gotten enough of his compositions on the air to provide Stalling with the quotes and cues for over 100 Warner Bros. cartoons.
Outer side of jewel case inlay card.

The music on this CD is played by The Beau Hunks Sextette, a Dutch ensemble originally formed to reconstruct and perform the lost scores to Hal Roach films (their name comes from a Laurel & Hardy film). They went on to record them and when they decided to remain a performing entity in their own right, the first composer they tackled outside the original project was Raymond Scott. Their first album of Scott music was "Celebration On The Planet Mars", released after Scott's death in 1994. For some reason, on the original Dutch release the band is identified as The Wooden Indians, but when this album, "Manhattan Minuet", came out in 1996 on the Basta label, it also reissued the 1994 with the Beau Hunks name. According to the liner notes, the recording was done with the cooperation of the Preservation Committee of the Raymond Scott Archives, whose advisory board includes several musical luminaries: Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), David Harrington (Kronos Quartet), Dick Hyman, Robert Moog, Andy Partridge (XTC), Henry Rollins and Hal Willner.

Sharp eyed comics fans have already recognized the artist responsible for the distinctive art on these scans, the primary reason for including this CD on the post. I'll quote the last two paragraphs of the booklet.

The Acme Novelty Library was a phenomenon of craft intersecting art in the 1990's that is unlikely to ever be equaled, certainly not in my lifetime. The first ten issues alternated size and shape so radically from one issue to the next that I pity any collector trying to track them down in their original forms. It then briefly became a series of thin paperbacks of uniform size, then hardcovers. Ware's projects have been few and far between in the past decade, peppered by occasional New Yorker covers. I don't know if that's just to keep a toe in, or to maintain name recognition or if Françoise Mouly has nude pictures of him. But when a project does surface, like 2012's "Building Stories", it turns heads and occasionally even induces hernias. I love Ware's stuff and would pick up oddball items simply because they had unique art of his. I can't know when I'll next come across some, but when I do I'll make a point of sharing some images with you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

0046: Turn On Your Magic Beams

When Jack Kirby left DC in 1958, they were publishing PETER PORKCHOPS, FLIPPITY AND FLOP, FOX AND THE CROW, THE THREE MOUSEKETEERS and SUGAR AND SPIKE. He hadn't been working on them but there had always been a sense that there was a selection of anthropomorphics (called "funny animal comics" back then) that would appeal to small children just learning to read but able to follow simple stories from the actions of the characters. Once they learned to enjoy reading, they were potentially part of the audience for the comics Kirby did work on: westerns, war, romance, super-heroes, science fiction and more besides. He took that versatility to Marvel while it was in the process of rebuilding after massive cancellations. In its scaled down and informal state, he made an enormous impression on its eventual, more fully formed identity. That new identity slowly, gradually started eating DC's lunch, so to speak. By the late 1960's Marvel was in a better circumstance to expand than when Kirby joined them and an infusion of new talent at both companies allowed for new titles and characters to emerge rapidly. During 1967 and 1968, Marvel began ten new ongoing titles and DC began 16. By the end of 1969, Marvel was still publishing five of theirs. DC was publishing only the final three (all of which began with 1969 cover dates) and DC SPECIAL, which had no regular feature. The price increase (from 12¢ to 15¢) that year had something to do with it, but it was still clear to observers that, even if Kirby was still a big fish, that Marvel was no longer a small pond. If he wanted to his new ideas to be noticed he'd have a better chance creating them in his own space rather than trying to shoehorn them into Marvel's mushrooming continuity. Despite Julius Schwartz' efforts to place DC's super-heroes into the same setting, the deeply Balkanized mindset of the company regarding editorial duties made that an uphill battle. Stan Lee, as Marvel's sole editor-in-chief for years, was able to shoot past him towards that goal. But this situation provided an opportunity for Kirby to write his own stories and to plot them in ways that didn't require him to keep track of events in the other books. In 1970, he returned to DC.

The sales of SUPERMAN"S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN weren't great, so Kirby could use it to introduce his new characters. A few months later his new titles, FOREVER PEOPLE, THE NEW GODS and MISTER MIRACLE (along with some stories in SUPERMAN'S GIRLFRIEND, LOIS LANE) formed the first leg of his Fourth World epic. There were also some random horror short stories and two aborted B&W magazine titles during this time, but for two years the Fourth World became the way Kirby was defined to fans. They're still easily the most frequently reprinted stories of his from the 70's. At the time, though, DC considered them beautifully drawn failures. Jimmy and Lois went back to their dreary pre-Darkseid lives until 1974 when poor sales forced them (and SUPERGIRL) to combine into the triple-length (later double-length) SUPERMAN FAMILY. The first two Fourth World titles were cancelled and MISTER MIRACLE became more of a super-hero series as it entered the second third of its existence.

Overlapping the end of the Fourth World was the start of DEMON and KAMANDI, followed in 1973 by reprint titles CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN (resuming the old numbering), BOY COMMANDOS and BLACK MAGIC. Because DEMON and KAMANDI were (mostly) monthly, Kirby's output had actually increased while he juggled three settings instead of three books with a shared setting. Although lovingly remembered by artists, DEMON started to falter. MISTER MIRACLE followed. To replace them, DC issued a collaboration between Kirby and his estranged long-time partner Joe Simon. It was big enough deal that a new job code sequence was created for it, SK-1 for the story and SK-2 for the cover. The project was THE SANDMAN and it was... different. It certainly wasn't the Golden Age hero that the pair had taken over in 1942.

About a year after Kirby's return to DC, the last of the anthropomorphics and even the 'teen humor' titles were cancelled. Aside from a single issue of LAUREL AND HARDY and a single delayed issue each of SWING WITH SCOOTER and DATE WITH DEBBI, there wasn't much being offered for young children after 1971. In fact, by the end of 1973 the only humor comic they had for any demographic was PLOP!. Simon's own satirical PREZ was being cancelled and DC didn't seem to be happy with many of Kirby's ideas, but the Golden Age reprints of their work used to expand comics for the "Bigger and Better" and "Super Spectacular" formats seemed popular enough. They could milk nostalgia, but the whole reason Kirby left Marvel was to do something new.

That 'something new' was a colorful, kid-friendly hero whose modus operandi was inspired by an old name. Unlike Wesley Dodds, the new Sandman was exactly that-- no secret identity and he travels through people's dreams. The specifics of the hows and whys (and the whats and the wheres) were as fuzzy as the who. Wise cracking monster sidekicks Brute and Glob (controlled with a Hypnosonic Whistle) help him come to the rescue of orphan Jed-- and that's all readers need to know. Drawn and edited by Kirby with a script by Simon, the indicia gave "Quaterly" as the official frequency and the cover date read "Winter", but the story ended without an on sale date for the next issue (a standard practice at DC at the time). Months went by during which the monthly KAMANDI soldiered on alone, joined in the summer by the bi-monthly OMAC, THE ONE MAN ARMY CORPS and Kirby's often overlooked stint on OUR FIGHTING FORCES #151(10/74)-#162(12/75).
When SANDMAN did return at the beginning of 1975, Joe Orlando was the new editor, Michael Fleischer was the new writer and Ernie Chua was the new artist. The only holdover from the first issue was inker Mike Royer. Simon and Kirby had split again, although both contributed series proposals to FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL (a monthly 1970's version of SHOWCASE). Kirby offered ATLAS (#1), MANHUNTER (#5) and THE DINGBATS OF DANGER STREET (#6) and Simon offered THE GREEN TEAM (#2) and THE OUTSIDERS (#10).
A clue to what happened with the SANDMAN series might lie in Joe Orlando's job codes, clearly visible throughout the series.

  • J-3780 story "The Night Of The Spider", drawn by Chua for #2 (04-05/75)
  • (Note: HOUSE OF MYSTERY #228 (12/74-01/75) uses codes 3784-3787 and 3794-3795 on reprints newly edited by Orlando)
  • J-3813 story "The Brain That Blacked-out The Bronx!", drawn by Chua for #3 (06-07/75)
  • J-3848 story "Panic In The Dream Stream", drawn by Kirby for #4 (08-09/75)
  • J-3879 cover by Kirby for #2
  • J-3886 letters' page by Orlando for #2 [last element needed to print]
  • J-3888 story "The Invasion Of The Frogmen!" by Kirby for #5 (10-11/75)
  • J-3947 cover by Kirby for #3 [no LP; last element needed to print]
  • J-3994 letters' page by Orlando for #4
  • J-4003 cover by Kirby for #4 [last element needed to print]
  • J-4015 story "The Plot To Destroy Washington, D.C.!" by Kirby for #6 (12/75-01/76)
  • J-4060 letters' page by Orlando for #5
  • J-4074 cover by Kirby for #5 [last element needed to print]
  • J-4080 story "The Seal Men's War On Santa Claus" by Kirby intended for #7
  • J-4115 cover by (?unsigned, credited to Bill Draut in Amazing World of DC Comics #7 and more recently the second volume of the Jack Kirby Omnibus) for #6
  • J-4116 letters' page by Orlando for #6 [last element needed to print]
The job codes are generated when an assignment is passed out. Obviously, stories take longer to complete than covers or editing reprints. Yet, Kirby was assigned the fourth issue before the cover or letters' page for #2 had even begun. I tried to find a little information about this series from Ronin Ro's often hyperbolic Kirby bio "Tales To Astonish" (Bloomsbury, 2004), but it gives the false impression that after Kirby created OMAC that he and Simon did one issue of SANDMAN and that after that Jack refused to work on the book again. That's obviously not true, because he completed four stories from Fleischer's scripts. What could be true is Ro's assertion that the series was Simon's idea but that after the first issue Kirby no longer wanted to continue collaborating with him. That would explain why it took a year before the next issue came out. Had it been any other title, publisher Carmine Infantino would have simply handed the book to a new editor and told him to find a new creative team. There would be nothing to gain from that since the only reason for the book's existence was to sell the marquee names of the creators. It took nearly a year, but maybe fan demand eventually convinced them that the character might sell anyway. If so, why wait until Kirby returned for the fourth issue before printing the second? It's times like this I wish I hadn't stopped getting JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR just because each issue was larger than my house.

Anyway, the scans you've been reading around are taken from THE BEST OF DC (BLUE RIBBON DIGEST) #22 (03/82). The front cover above was drawn by Richard Buckler and Dick Giordano (who doubled as managing editor). This back cover was drawn by George Pérez. The inside covers have the contents, credits and indicia in front and an ad for CAPTAIN CARROT #1 in back. Everything else is a reprint except for the 18 page Sandman story intended for the unpublished SANDMAN #7. Four excerpted pages are seen in the other scans here.
While the series was being published, Kirby also did the last three issues of JUSTICE, INC. and one of RICHARD DRAGON. Also during that time, Marvel comics with October 1975 cover dates included the monthly Bullpen Bulletins Page as usual, but that particular month it had the title, in all caps, "THE KING IS BACK! 'NUFF SAID!" (The titles, before and after this, were normally silly alliteration gags that tried to use as many obscure words beginning with the same letter as possible, going as far as assigning the titles alphabetically. The August page started with 'E', September with 'F' and November with 'G'.) After SANDMAN #6, the only Kirby comics DC published were KOBRA #1 (02-03/76), which continued without him as a short-lived series, and the remaining issues of KAMANDI up to and including #40 (04/76). Robert Kanigher went back to writing "The Losers" in OUR FIGHTING FORCES. Editor Gerry Conway (since issue #33) took over writing KAMANDI with issue #38. Writing duties and editorial duties both turned over on that title several times in the first year after Kirby left and it lost its monthly status. When Jack C. Harris came on as editor the cancelled OMAC title was tied in by establishing that Kamandi was his grandson. In 1978, with Harris writing, it crossed over with Karate Kid to explain why the future of OMAC and Kamandi diverge from the future that led to the Legion Of Super-Heroes. Then came the Implosion. DC's plans to circumvent the loss of sales due to the frequent price increases of the 1970's by offering more pages (which worked well enough in 1971) went horribly wrong for reasons too complex to discuss adequately here. Over two dozen titles were cancelled in the year leading up to it (including revived versions of NEW GODS and MISTER MIRACLE) and another dozen during the three months that the page increase lasted. The last issue of KAMANDI #59 (09-10/78) was expanded by 8 pages with the first chapter of a new OMAC origin by Jim Starlin. The lead story was the first chapter of a story that would further incorporate Kirby concepts into a single continuity parallel to the other DC worlds (Earth-K?). Many of the cancelled titles, including KAMANDI, had further issues in various stages of completion when the surprise cancellations happened. Two massive volumes of photocopied pages were created (but not sold) for legal purposes. Leaked copies revealed that the next two issues (#60- 61) would have Kamandi discover a vortex that would enable him to travel to other timelines (i.e., the rest of the DCU). While there, he is grabbed by Brute and Glob, who have mistaken him for Jed, the boy who features in the Sandman adventures. In a framing story, the Sandman tells Kamandi that the story of meeting Santa Claus (meant to be published in its entirety) demonstrates that the myths in one timeline might be the reality of another.

Eventually, the OMAC back-up feature was substantially altered and ran briefly as a back-up feature in WARLORD in 1980. A year later or so, the digest above came out. The story was published again this past January as part of those final two issues of KAMANDI in the KAMANDI CHALLENGE SPECIAL (03/17). It was included in the 2013 THE JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS VOL. 2 as part of the original series, but unfortunately the nature of that collection required omitting the two issues drawn by Ernie Chua. That's why in two weeks I hope to have a post that proposes a Sandman trade collecting whatever is available for this character. I had hoped to get this post out earlier to coincide with the release of the SANDMAN SPECIAL on Wednesday, August 16th,2017, but I had lost track of the digest above. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to read the special before I get to the trade post.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

0045: How to lay an egg

Howard the Duck pretty much ceased to exist when Steve Gerber was removed from the book. In 1978, the very public dispute that Jerry Siegel had revived with DC over Superman caused Gerber to raise questions about creative control that Jim Shooter didn't want to hear. Demands for creative control sounded to management like demands for copyrights or trademarks. Gerber was off the book, which changed frequency from monthly to bi-monthly and two fill-in issues (out of continuity) were done from his notes until Bill Mantlo could write two final issues. The title was cancelled along with tons of other Marvel titles at the beginning of 1979. By that time, Gerber was long gone, along with Jack Kirby, who dropped three titles (BLACK PANTHER, DEVIL DINOSAUR and MACHINE MAN) abruptly. They worked together on the animated "Thundarr The Barbarian" television show in 1980.

Gerber had been the only writer to handle Howard since creating him for a Man-Thing story in ADVENTURES INTO FEAR #19 (12/73), which continued into the new series MAN-THING #1 (01/74) in which Howard fell into the void of space, supposedly gone forever. Gerber hadn't created Man-Thing, but a succession of writers on that feature turned over quickly. Man-Thing's first appearance in the B&W SAVAGE TALES magazine in 1971 was written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway and drawn by Gray Morrow and intended to begin a regular feature, but the planned second issue didn't happen. The title would eventually restart at #2 in 1973 with new material after the stories originally slated back in 1971 were mostly cannibalized. The second Man-Thing story by Len Wein and Neal Adams, for instance, had already been incorporated as a flashback into a Roy Thomas/John Buscema Ka-Zar story in ASTONISHING TALES #12 (06/72)-13 (08/72). A third story, which takes place before the Ka-Zar story but after the flashback, was written by Tony Isabella with art by Vincente Alcazar. Bear in mind, that's four writers and four artists for three stories. That third story didn't appear until it ran in the B&W magazine MONSTERS UNLEASHED in 1974, after Man-Thing had his own title, but reads as though it was drawn from an earlier, unused script. It might have been a new story, or it might have been intended for a hypothetical SAVAGE TALES #3 in 1971.

The letters' page of ASTONISHING TALES #13 told readers looking for more Man-Thing that he would be getting his own feature soon, but couldn't confirm where. "Even we aren't sure-- but it'll definitely be in one of our presently featureless monster mags, FEAR, WHERE MONSTERS DWELL or MONSTERS ON THE PROWL." It turned out to be two months later in ADVENTURES INTO FEAR #10 (10/72) with another story by Conway and Morrow, the last before Gerber was handed the feature and also the last to be under a dozen pages, a sign that it, too, might have been planned for the B&W magazines. When Gerber took over, he not only expanded the page count but the scope of the stories as well. Man-Thing was still a swamp monster, but the readers learn that the unlikely combination of events that caused its creation were compelled to happen in order to fill a need-- to produce a guardian at the Nexus Of All Realities, a point in space that enables travel to and from any of the parallel worlds. Over the course of issues #11-19, a wizard named Dakimh uses the muck monster and a gifted magical trainee named Jennifer Kale to fight demons and illusions, all of it directed by a villain named the Overlord who intends to exploit the Nexus for conquest. It is strongly implied that the army he is building to storm the other realities is populated by characters from comic books which, by 1973, had fallen out of favor with readers: war comics, westerns, period adventures, straight science fiction, etc. The only comic characters Dakimh can gather are a Sword & Sorcery barbarian (Korrek) and an anthropomorphic 'funny animal' (Howard). As the battle takes them between one reality and another, Howard trips en route and falls into the infinite void, having served his narrative purpose of establishing that comic book 'alternate Earths' need not be limited to being variant versions of super-heroes, but could occasionally cross genres without necessitating that the characters always occupy the same continuity.
One of these guys has an Oscar. Just sayin'.

Man-Thing continued his monthly series for 22 issues plus 5 quarterly Giant-Size (twice the pages) supplements. The last two included new short stories starring Howard solo, explaining that he fell back to the last reality he had come from, but rather than land in the Everglades he wound up in Ohio. The fan reaction was positive. Thus, as the sales of monster comics waned at the end of 1975, MAN-THING was cancelled and HOWARD THE DUCK began bi-monthly with #1(01/76). After a few issues it went monthly and he began to run for President. He was the cover story of FOOM #15. After only seven issues, he was granted a Marvel Treasury Edition. Do you know who didn't get one? Iron Man, Daredevil, X-Men, Sub-Mariner, Captain Marvel, any of the western characters (still being published through the 70's), Sgt. Fury or Power Man.. It's true that some of those characters got stories in the Christmas issues, but that's hardly the same as getting your own volume. And Howard's back catalog was so thin that it required that a third of the treasury be devoted to a new story, which took place between issues #7 and #8. Around the time of the treasury and the election, George Lucas was in contact with Marvel and Roy Thomas, providing materials from which the comic book adaptation of "Star Wars" could be made ready by spring 1977 when the movie was due for release. Lucas said years later that he had long enjoyed the Howard comics and it couldn't have hurt that Gene Colan had become the regular penciller months earlier. Colan is known for having a photographer's eye when creating layouts, giving individual panels the sort of innovative 'camera angles' that would catch the attention of a film school student turned successful director in the auteur-friendly 1970's. Of course, Lucas and Howard both had pretty good years in 1977. Lucas' has been well documented; Howard introduced KISS to comics, got an annual and a syndicated newspaper strip. Pretty good for a four year old character. 1978 began almost as auspiciously, with a two-issue Star Wars parody/tribute (Man-Thing, Dakimh and Jennifer Kale return as Chewbacca, Obi-Wan and Leia, respectively). Then, as mentioned above, Gerber ran afoul for trying to run a fowl and was out the door before the Superman movie even made it to theaters.

With both the color comic and newspaper strip cancelled, Marvel moved Howard to their B&W magazine line. At first, he appeared in one-page gags in CRAZY #50(05/79)- #54(09/79) and #59(02/80) [except #52 and every third issue following it, which where reprint specials]. Then, Mantlo scripted Howard's own magazine series #1(10/79)-#8(11/80) and #9(03/91), during which Alan Kupperberg (who drew the last six months of the newspaper strip from Marv Wolfman's scripts) produced a Howard story for MARVEL TEAM-UP #96(08/80) and Steve Skeates and Pat Broderick handled the majority of the three-page Howard stories in CRAZY #63(06/80)-#77(08/81) [again, except for every third issue from 64 to 76]. A one-page Howard gag by Kupperberg turned up a year later in the all humor issue of WHAT IF...? #34(08/82), but aside from a cameo in Fred Hembeck's FANTASTIC FOUR ROAST (05/82), that was it for a year. Not only was there no feature, but there were no guest appearances.

In the latter half of 1978, fill-in stories scripted for Marvel by Steve Gerber were published, a solo Beast story in AVENGERS and a Lilith story in MARVEL PREVIEW. That appeared to be the end of his affiliation with them, except that he was scripting Hanna-Barbera stories for editor Mark Evanier under the anagrammatic pseudonym "Reg Everbest". All six of the H-B titles got the ax in the same cull that cancelled the Howard color comic. But Evanier (who has since written extensively about his Hollywood experiences) provided a route to animation, and "Thundarr the Barbarian". After the cartoon premiered in September 1980, Eclipse published Gerber's graphic novel STEWART THE RAT in November. The following year, Eclipse began publishing a B&W anthology, ECLIPSE MAGAZINE, and Gerber occasionally contributed to it. Back on fans' radar, DC took his scripts for a PHANTOM ZONE mini-series and Dr. Fate back-up feature in FLASH for 1982. Jack Kirby, not surprisingly, had kept busy, too. Pacific Comics published two series of his, CAPTAIN VICTORY and SILVER STAR, from 1981 to 1983. During that time, Kirby and Gerber collaborated on a personal project that Eclipse agreed to publish as their first full color comic, taking the place on their schedule of the May 1982 issue of the B&W magazine. It was DESTROYER DUCK, a clear and obvious protest for creators' rights and a specific condemnation of Marvel's treatment of Howard in Gerber's absence. Originally advertised to come out on December 15. 1981 [on the back of ECLIPSE #4(01/82)], it was probably out by February (the July issue of the magazine was due to ship in April, according to The Comic Reader that year). The issue of WHAT IF...? with the Howard page would have shipped to the direct market in early May with a newsstand 'on sale' date by the end of the month. Of course, Marvel had bigger problems than Howard. The emergence of publishers like Pacific, Eclipse and Capital had forced them (and DC) to offer collectors comics made with better materials and printing methods. Initially offering reprints and graphic novels, then special projects, by the time Marvel formed a Baxter paper imprint (Epic) Destroyer Duck had become an ongoing series at Eclipse, joined by SABRE by fellow disgruntled former Marvel employees Don McGregor and Billy Graham. Eclipse's color roster continued to slowly grow while Marvel cancelled the last of their B&W magazines (except SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN), converting the last issue of BIZARRE ADVENTURES #34(02/83) into a Baxter color comic, including an eight-page Howard Christmas story by Steven Grant and Paul Smith (who had just started work on UNCANNY X-MEN). Smith also drew Howard's half-page entry in the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #5(05/83). Butch Guice provided a Howard pin-up for MARVEL FANFARE #9 (07/83), which had a Man-Thing cover story. Then, in 1984 both Howard and Destroyer Duck disappeared. George Lucas wanted to turn his love for Howard into a movie, which would make it Marvel's first full-length theatrical feature film. Gerber was, on paper, hired as a consultant but little of his creation made it into the movie. In it, the plot centers on Howard's homeworld being another planet, not an alternate Earth, although great pains were taken to furnish scenes of his homeworld with 'duck' versions of American Earth culture. The social satire was gone, replaced by an occasional sarcastic quip. The script was provided by the producer and director, old classmates from Lucas' film school days who felt that the movie would more appropriately be animated. Every step towards getting this film into theaters seemed to involve everyone concerned second-guessing their own instincts and acting counter-intuitively, So much wasted talent, wasted money and wasted opportunity, it has become justifiably notorious in both comics and film circles. Leading into its release in August 1986, the only comics appearances Howard made in the previous three years were HOWARD THE DUCK #32(01/86) (by Steven Grant and Paul Smith again), a pin-up by Dave Sim in MARVEL FANFARE #25 (03/86) and HOWARD THE DUCK #33 (09/86) (by Christopher Stager and Val Mayerik, his original artist).

The storybook I have excerpted above was published by Grosset & Dunlap, who licensed Marvel characters for puzzle books in the late 1970's. By the way, the Read-Aloud story book mentioned on the back cover had ISBN #0448-48606-7 and the Book-And-Cassette set had ISBN #0448-48619-9. What I find strange about that is that by 1986, Marvel had expanded to publishing books and that by volume, most of them were children's books featuring many of the licensed characters which also appeared in their Star Comics and toy-based titles: Transformers, Heathcliff, Madballs, Sectaurs, Muppet Babies, etc. These came in the form of story books, paint-with-water and coloring books, activity books and so on. There was even at least one Howard the Duck sticker book called "A Walk Back In Time" (ISBN #0871-35157-9). So why was this handled by another publisher? It may have been a contractual obligation of the studio or distributor, but I simply don't know for sure.

One last note for the curious: the images scanned above were originally 8.5" X 11.0".

Friday, August 11, 2017

0044: Plectrum Is Green?

The end of September will be the 50th Anniversary of Captain Scarlet, one of Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation television series. Anderson, in post-war England, had intended to start a movie production company but needed to film television commercials to pay the bills and one with a marionette caught on and created a demand for more. Anderson himself was not a puppeteer and, frankly, never had an interest in them but he wasn't stupid. Anderson and DP Arthur Provis formed AP Films and created three series of fantasy short films (10-15 minutes each) for small children that were broadcast within larger blocks of programming from 1957 to 1960. They hired puppeteers willing to work on a budget consisting of whatever lint they had in their pockets, and that meant people who experimented with their materials, willing to rework and repurpose puppets, sets and everything else. To meet deadlines, a willingness to innovate wasn't enough, they needed a taste for it. By 1960 they were ready for something more ambitious and closer to Anderson's taste in stories: a  half-hour science fiction series about the crew of an advanced vehicle, the first of three successful series, all running 39 episodes. They were SUPERCAR (a high-speed car in the present day), FIREBALL XL-5 (a spaceship 1000 years in the future) and STINGRAY (a submarine 100 years in the future). The next series, the hour-long THUNDERBIRDS, guaranteed their place in pop culture history. With every series, the puppeteers, engineers and cameramen all worked towards the same goal: to make the marionettes look like they were moving as closely to human behavior as practically possible, to create the illusion that the viewer was watching living things act out the story.

The series that followed THUNDERBIRDS was CAPTAIN SCARLET, which took several unusual departures from the formula. Going back to half-hours and, like STINGRAY and THUNDERBIRDS, set 100 years in the future in the 2060's, CAPTAIN SCARLET was their first feature-length science fiction show in which the fantastic vehicles were an afterthought instead of the focus of the plot. The premise is that an organisation called Spectrum (with color-coded top agents) is a peace-keeping authority recognized and supported by countries participating in a World Government. Unbeknownst to them, an alien species had colonized Mars thousands of years earlier, built self-repairing automated cities and at some point disappeared without having contacted Earth. When humans create technology capable of receiving signals from the city on Mars, Spectrum is tasked with investigating to determine if the activity is evidence of a security risk. When the expedition, led by Captain Black, accidentally reacts the the city's automation as an attack and inflicts damage, the city responds with a 'retrometabolism' ray. The ray reconstructs matter to its most immediately previous shape. Thus, if a centuries old building collapses, as long as no one moves the pieces the ray will restore the building. However, when used on living things recently killed it reanimates their corpse, placing it under the control of the city's computers, who identify themselves as the Mysterons (commonly assumed to be the name of the species who built them). Returning to Earth, the now Mysteron-controlled Captain Black arranges a car crash to kill Captains Brown and Scarlet, the Spectrum agents assigned to protect the World Government President, so that they can be reconstructed under Mysteron control and assassinate the President instead. Brown is later blown up in a failed assassination attempt but Scarlet falls hundreds of feet and apparently dies intact. Instead, his synthetic body restores itself to the point before the car crash, with no memory since then and free of the Mysterons' control.
(The "S.I.G." under the band's name is the phrase often heard during the TV show, an abbreviation for "Spectrum Is Green". It was a phrase Spectrum agents would use to signify to each other that their assignment was understood and that everything was going forward. On the THUNDERBIRDS, characters would similarly use the phrase "F.A.B.", presumably because the slang word "fab"-- short for "fabulous"-- was popular at the time. Anderson admitted years later that, unlike "S.I.G.", "F.A.B." didn't stand for anything. They just needed something that sounded like jargon unique to the show.)
The first, most obvious difference between the show and its predecessors was the complete design of the puppet heads. Since 1961, the Anderson shows had been using marionettes with radio controlled devices built into the heads that enabled the puppeteers to move move the mouths, eyes and brows by remote control, which minimized the number of strings used and therefore minimized the chances of strings being visible on camera. However, the heads were proportionately too large for the bodies to be convincing as adult humans. Beginning with CAPTAIN SCARLET, the entire bodies, heads included, could be scaled closer to average adult human proportions thanks to transistors and other tools of miniaturization. Of course, this welcome innovation came with the need (and expense) of making all new sets, vehicles, clothes and other accessories.

The other obvious difference was the switch from nearly camp melodrama to a more sober, dark tone and a title character isn't a vehicle and dies during each episode more often than not. The fear of children putting themselves into lethal danger while "playing Captain Scarlet" was not an unreasonable one, leading to the stern message added to opening sequences, "Captain Scarlet is indestructible. You are not. Do NOT try to imitate him." That explains the parody of the phrase that appears on the back of the sleeve for the single in today's post.

I think is the only Hellbillys recording I have. The photo of Captain Black on the sleeve front caught my eye but finding out that they sing the closing theme song sealed the deal for me. That's another departure the series took. Instead of a catchy theme song or the THUNDERBIRDS' adrenaline-pumping march over the opening credits, almost every episode opened with some scene of carnage that enables the Mysterons to create new agents on Earth, represented by two green circles of light gliding over the surface of the affected objects or people. (Note the circles on the sleeve back above.)  The credits consisted of someone unsuccessfully trying to shoot Captain Scarlet followed by the super creepy voice of the Mysterons issuing a new threat over the same footage of the light circles gliding menacingly over various members of Spectrum. It was during the closing credits that the theme song played, a rock pop number played by an anonymous ensemble identified only as "The Spectrum", the same name as a British band releasing singles on RCA Victor in England. According to Discogs, they were the same band and there is a version of the song included on a 2CD compilation of their complete recordings released earlier this year. The Hellbillys would be a little more difficult to compile, having used about a dozen different labels over 25 years and more members than Spinal Tap or Uriah Heep. Bright note? They still have a MySpace page.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

0043: Cast Your Rice Upon The Waters

I can't remember if the first John Waters movie I saw was "Pink Flamingos" or "Polyester", but I'm pretty sure I've seen all of them, from "The Diane Linkletter Story" to "A Dirty Shame". Nowadays he's mostly writing books and hosting film festivals, but his name has been registering on my radar for years. Turning back the clock ten years, he started 2007 by appearing as a funeral director in an episode of "My Name Is Earl" in January. In February, for Valentine's Day, New Line Records released a compilation of love songs called "A Date With John Waters", a sequel to the popular "A John Waters Christmas"(2004). Both were various artists albums for which Waters wrote liner notes to songs he selected around a holiday theme.

So what to do for March when you're not Irish? Why, star in a new basic cable TV series, of course! Waters had been telling interviewers for years that he loved attending murder trials and only stopped when people started recognizing him and he became concerned about being a distraction in a serious legal proceeding. That's not to say that he lost interest in true crime stories. And the more bizarre the circumstances, the better. So, a series on CourtTV seemed a natural match. After shooting a pilot in 2006, he went to narrate 13 episodes of "'Til Death Do Us Part" in the character of "The Groom Reaper", who was sort of a cross between Rod Serling in "The Twilight Zone" and any of the EC horror hosts.

Each episode would open with the Groom Reaper at a wedding or its reception, speaking directly to the audience. Unlike Serling, however, it was always clear that he was physically there, interacting with the events, even though the other attendants never noticed that he was speaking to an invisible third party.

The bulk of each half hour episode would then consist of actors playing out a dramatized version of an actual, real-life murder case in which one spouse killed the other and was eventually caught. (They had to have been caught, because otherwise we would never have had the story.) Waters didn't write, direct or produce any of the episodes, he only performed in them, which was a departure for him. Most of his performing credits have been cameos, often in his own movies as a gag, or else voice work. After sprinkling some of those voice overs onto choice parts of the story, the episodes would end with the Groom Reaper emerging at the killer's apprehension, arrest or trial for one last wry observation before telling the viewers, "I've got another wedding to go to. I hope it's not yours."

I remember the airings to be oddly spotty, even by basic cable standards. They seemed to skip every third week  and, while many basic cable channels (like TBS or Comedy Central) will run the new episodes of original shows several times during the week (including time slots they expect to be low performing, like midnight to dawn), "'Til Death Do Us Part" had its one airing in primetime. After three months it was gone, with only half of its episodes aired. It also ran in Canada, under the name "Love You To Death", possibly to avoid confusion with the American sitcom also being produced that year, "'Til Death" (with Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher).

By the end of the year, CourtTV had been converted into TruTV, which announced that one of its guiding principles would be that they would use only genuine footage. Even though TDDUP was based on true stories it was technically scripted and shot, complete with (out of necessity) fabricated dialogue just like "Dragnet" or "Naked City" (well, maybe not just like them...). A year later, in mod-2008, it was made available as a 3-DVD set from Navarre (UPC# 787364-818198). Soon after, TruTV's claims about keeping things real proved to be disingenuous as the crime and law enforcement orientation of CourtTV was replaced with skeevy "real footage" programs about repo men, dangerous occupations in remote areas and out of work D-list 'celebrities' (Tonya Harding, Danny Bonaduce, Todd Bridges...) cracking jokes about security camera footage. After five years of failing to knock AMC (or anyone else) out of the Emmys, it switched format to comedy, including scripted shows like "Adam Ruins Everything". However much the network rubs me the wrong way, I can't get too mad at "Adam...", "Talk Show: The Game Show" or some others that have emerged since then. Those shows are at least funny, unlike the network's most aired show recently, "Impractical Jokers". It's scheduled to run 37 half-hour episodes tomorrow alone. That's not a special occasion, it's a typical day. And I would like to point out that seven of the remaining eleven half-hours  are infomercials, which frankly would be preferable to "Impractical Jokers", which is so appallingly cringe-inducing that I can confidently say that I've seen funnier things with Sarah McLachlan singing in the background.
About the promo comic itself, it's a coverless 16 page freebie that I picked up at my regular direct market comics specialty store. Scans of the first three pages are above and page 14 is on the left here. It adapts the first episode from the premiere on March 19, 2007, which aired along with the third episode. The few episodes that aired jumped around the production schedule, which is less harmful in an anthology series like this than it would be in a show with fixed characters. It cuts off half way through that episode, where the commercial break would be. In some episodes viewers were encouraged to text in which spouse they believed would murder the other in the second half. That seemed like a kind of dated approach in 2007, just as multi-platform viewing was becoming the norm.

The comic is also a DC production, whose editors were also working on "Connor Hawke: Dragon's Blood" at the time. Later in the year they would edit promo comics for Batman and Cal Ripken, Jr. (given out at Camden yards) and another for JLA and Con Edison. James Peaty was doing random fill-in issues for various DC titles then. Later he would write "Good Looking Corpse", the next to last story arc in "Supergirl" in 2011 before it was cancelled for New52. Adam Dekraker also hopped around, not only at DC but other publishers. He might be best known for working on the "Smallville" comic and did the "Forerunner" feature in Countdown to Adventure after this. Inker Dan Davis, letterer Pat Brosseau and colorist Guy Major are all DC perennials 

Monday, August 7, 2017

0042: Insider Outlier

Most comics publishers who release more than two titles every month have some outlet for advertising that they return to regularly. Today, websites are ubiquitous even though 'in-house' ads (advertisements for a publisher's titles that appear in their other titles) are still around after 80 years. In the mid-60's both Marvel and DC decided to consolidate as much news about their current and imminent releases as could fit onto a single page which they would run in all their comics that month. Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins and DC's Direct Currents took on lives of their own, outliving changes in editors and even publishers. Since most larger publishers also did commissioned promotional pamphlets as a sideline, it was only a matter of time before they realized that they could present pitches to distributors and retailers in the form of comic book or magazine sized pamphlets. Eventually these would be printed in quantities that made them available to readers. Most were free, of course (Eclipse Extra, Comico Checklist, DC's Coming Attractions, etc.), but Marvel had the bright idea of selling its ads to its fans in the form of "Marvel Age". Initially half the length of a comic for less than half the price of their newsstand comics, it expanded to full length for the same reduced price after widespread criticism and ridicule, adding previews and interviews to make it more of a biased fanzine than an ad. That was all before Dark Horse Comics even existed.

Dark Horse began publishing in 1986 and right out of the gate [the first of many horse racing puns, so brace yourself] they began using plays on their name. The very first comic they published, DARK HORSE PRESENTS #1 opens with the editorial "And We're Off!" and ends with the letters' page "Winner's Circle" (starting with contributor bios for obvious reasons). With the second issue the editorial became "The Starting Gate" and as the company's roster grew, more pages were given over to in-house ads until #12 (11/87) devoted a page to blurbs for the most current issue of each of their titles. In #13, "Starting Gate" was gone and #14 contained a four page preview section. Increasingly, news became integrated into the letters' page(s). Then, DHP ran its first "Tip Sheet" page in #19 (07/88), a mostly text account of news about the company and upcoming releases. Over the years it's taken on several horse racing related titles; it currently uses "Horsepower" and I think the previous one was "Finish Line". But a year after introducing "Tip Sheet"  Dark Horse began publishing the magazine sized (8.5" X 11.0") pamphlet "Dark Horse Insider". After 28 issues, the pamphlet was discontinued and replaced with Volume 2, a full-length comic book format filled with blurbs for each comic published that month. These frequently wind up in comic book bargain bins but the pamphlets are much thinner than magazines and harder to sell, even as clearance items. Which is a shame, since each one is a cheap little nostalgia jolt for comics junkies of a certain vintage. I found this stray one, #19(02/91), among magazines from other publishers. At only eight pages, I went ahead and scanned the whole thing. Check it out.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

0041: The Brave and The Old

Everyone who knows me knows that I'm into comics. I'm aware that this makes me hard to shop for; almost paradoxically, although there are millions of things I would like it would be difficult even for a fellow collector to know the full scope of what I do or don't already have. Besides that, it's the hunt that's half the fun. However, it makes it super easy to pick out cards. Just skip anything that specifies age and even cards designed for kids work as both a light-hearted joke and "thinking of you" acknowledgement.

This Hallmark card licenses images in the style of the animated TV series "Batman: The Brave And The Bold" (which originally aired 2008-2011). Although there is no explicit copyright date, the mark "APR10" leads me to believe that it came out in the spring of 2010.

Measuring 5.5" X 8.0", the accompanying envelope is marked "Extra Postage Required", but I'm certain it's not for the size. My guess is that it's for the weight.

That card is printed on the same durable bond stock as many other cards, but the interior has some minor 3-D 'pop-up' effect and a prerecorded sound chip (which now no longer works).

As you can see in the upper right hand corner, the activator is hidden under the words "Press Here". Less obvious from this picture, but easily noticed when holding it, is that the sound-making device and speakers are hidden under Batman's torso.

The sound chip plays the theme to the TV series, credited to Andy Sturmer on the back of the card. Frankly, of all the audio clips a little kid could drive his parents crazy with by repeatedly pressing that button, this is definitely one of the better ones. I wish now that I had pulled this card out a few times over the years for a cheap little pick-me-up before the battery died. Instead I tucked it out of the way and kept it clean, then forgot about it until I stumbled across it last week.

For however many years Hallmark had permission to use this iteration of Batman, they made full use of it, covering every commercial aspect of a child's birthday party. They used different poses of him and different backgrounds for invitations, plastic cups, tablecloths, etc. And they've used many more iterations of Batman for their Christmas ornaments.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

0040: Clef Quest

In 1984 I was attending college in the midwest. A friend who knew I was into comics invited me to go with him on the weekend to an all-Elfquest convention a couple of hours away. I had attended huge science fiction/fantasy multi-media conventions in the northeast, but had never been to one devoted to a single comic. The main reason for holding it was that the creators, Wendy and Richard Pini, were nearing the end of the original series and a group of fans were sponsoring a pair of wolves in their name at a nearby reserve (I think; this was 30+ years ago and the specifics are kind of fuzzy). Since they were heading out (probably from Poughkeepsie, NY) to visit the wolves, they agreed to appear at an all EQ mini-con.

It was a relatively simple set-up. It took place in a portion of a hotel with a room for a Q&A session and costume contest and a separate room for dealers. It was the first time I had seen entire families cosplaying. There was more of a community vibe than at larger cons. I picked up current printings of some issues I hadn't read and probably some general interest fanzine stuff, but most of the tables in the dealer's room were stocked with more merchandise than comics (after all, it was a whole convention devoted to a series that lasted 20 issues at that point). There were metal figurines, stuffed wolves, buttons, etc. Something I wish I had known about to look for was a cassette of Elfquest related songs that was released sometime that year. I don't know for certain if it had come out before or after the convention, but if it had been released, I'm betting it would have been there.

The cassette was on the label Off-Centaur Publications, which was formed in 1980 to publish the lyrics (and presumably sheet music) of original songs written by sf/fantasy fans about their favorite mêmes, characters and tropes. They released fewer than twenty books but about a hundred cassettes. "A Wolfrider's Reflections" was a multi-artist collection released in August 1984 as OCP-32. A book of the lyrics was released in 1987 with the same catalog number.

The compact disc (the subject of today's post) was released on 1992. It follows the original program exactly. The first eleven tracks were side 1 of the cassette and the second eleven were side 2. Musically, it's pretty much solid. Lyrically, it's pretty much what you'd expect. As much as I collect both music and comics, there is a whole subculture of fandom revolving around music about comics that I never really followed closely. It was probably at its peak from 1975-1995. What I can remember about those times is that Sword & Sorcery was as ubiquitous in the mid-70's as oversized guns were in the mid-90's. Barbarian heroes were everywhere. That's the only possible explanation I can imagine for why so many of the fan recordings emerging over the next decade sounded as though they were written for a Renaissance Faire, regardless of what kind of comics/books/movies, etc. the songs were about. Fortunately, that makes a great match for "Elfquest".

When the owners of Off Centaur split in 1988 there were legal disputes that left many of their recordings in limbo. The disputes were settled in 1992, and this album made its CD debut as soon as possible thereafter. It was fortuitous timing. At that time, Elquest had been around for 14 years, with Wendy Pini drawing the entire series and co-scripting with husband Richard. The original 20 self-published B&W magazine-size issues had been reprinted in color as paperbacks by Donning and in comic size by Epic. Then the series continued as B&W comics, first in "Siege at Blue Mountain" for Apple Press and later "Kings of the Broken Wheel" for the Pinis' own WaRP Graphics. All three series were then reprinted in color by WaRP as trades following the Donning format. All that preceded an expansion program by WaRP to publish several concurrent Elfquest comic book series-- in color-- to be written and drawn by a small army of contributors, some of whom (like Barry Blair) had been long-time fans of the series. It started with two titles, "The Hidden Years" and "New Blood" in spring 1992 but by the time the plug was pulled in spring 1996 the little publisher that produced fewer than 40 Elfquest comics in 14 years had produced over 140 Elfquest comics in four years. The entire line was cancelled and replaced with a monthly anthology.

Between 1992 and 1996, the color trades reprinting the pre-1992 material were reissued in hardcover. For even a more casual fan like myself, who read the series as a combination of comics and paperbacks, the CD offered a much better way to enhance the experience of rereading the old series than the added heft of a hardcover. After all, it was recorded in 1984 and each of the songs is about, or in the voice of, the original characters, often referencing specific scenes or dialogue from the first series. For me, the highlights were tracks 1 and 12, the lead tracks of each side of the cassette format, "Children Of The Fall" and "A Wolfrider's Reflections". Also worth a listen were "Nightcrawler" and "Strange Blood". For what is essentially an upscale 30-year old fan recording, the production values are remarkably good. It should also be noted that Mercedes Lackey is a prolific fantasy writer in her own right but these recordings were made before her first full-length book was published. Julia Ecklar went on to write a jillion Star Trek novels as half of L.A. Graf. Leslie Fish, as far as I know, is still alive and performing songs as of this writing. The album can be heard on YouTube here with montages of still art and photos of cosplayers. If you want to own it in a more portable audio form, it's downloadable from several services.

Previously on "Sieve Eye Care"...