Friday, May 30, 2008

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Dan Piraro

Another wacky member of the NCS is the popular shtick man, Dan Piraro. Here is his zany biography in his own words from a few years ago...Dan Piraro was born in the latter half of the 20th century to a pair of small-town game show hosts in the American Midwest. When not being forced to attend church or Catholic school, he was left alone in the family trailer home with his eleven siblings, five dogs, and a mysterious man named "Betty." At the age of eighteen he fled to Dallas, with little formal education and no job skills. Shortly after his parole in 1985, he got into cartooning and has been unable to escape since. He has been married to a woman well out of his league since 1980 and they have two children of similar gender.

Bizarro was first syndicated by Chronicle Features in 1985, then moved to Universal Press Syndicate in 1995. There have been to date nine Bizarro collections published domestically, as well as a lunchboxful over seas. There have been a number of T-shirt, calendar and coffee mug deals over the years, the memories of which are still too painful to discuss. As of this writing, no one has had the courage to bestow an award of any kind on Piraro for his cartooning efforts, although a colleague once described him a s a pleasant person with adequate manners.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Howard Chaykin

Continuing in my series of NCS artists is the talented writer and artist Howard Chaykin, whose innovative storytelling techniques and often controversial choice of subject matter have made him a world wide success in his comic works. Chaykin’s main influences are the classic magazine illustrators of the fifties such as Robert Fawcett, Al Parker, and many others. Here is the creator's bio in his own words. --- Born in the early 1950s, in Newark, New Jersey. Raised in Brownsville and East Flastbush in Brooklyn. Finally saw a real tree when I was removed to Queens. Tilden High School, Jamaica High School. Spent what should have been my college years bumming around the States, having a much better time than you did. Started in comics as Gil Kane's assistant. Moved on to assist Wallace Wood, Gray Morrow, and Neal Adams. Freelanced since 1974 for every company in the business. Pioneered the graphic novel in the United States with EMPIRE, THE STARS MY DESTINATION, and THE SWORD OF HEAVEN. Created AMERICAN FLAGG! and TIME(SQUARED). Served as Executive Script Consultant on THE FLASH and VIPER TV series. I freelanced in features, pilots, and episodic television. Outside of comics my primary interests include Jazz, from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, and crime fiction. I live a quiet life in the San Fernando Valley, living down a youthful attitude problem that continues to haunt me.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

More Horrible Collecting Habits

Everyone enjoys a good scare now and them, and that goes for collecting original art from the scores of horror titles that have been with us for over sixty years! My earliest pages in collecting originals came from those wonderful DC horror anthology books that were popular in the seventies by some Filipino artists that really set the mood in those twisted tales. I always enjoyed collecting horror memorabilia whether it be comics, movie posters, or other paper items. But one fateful day I discovered a stack of original horror art at a local comic convention. I was instantly hooked on this one-of-a-kind collectible, which seemed to me to be the best kept secret in comic fandom -- obtaining the art itself.

In the 1940s a few brave publishers experimented with horror subjects in the starring role like Prize Comics' Frankenstein and Hillman's bush creature, The Heap, (which eventually inspired both the Incredible Hulk and Swamp Thing many years later), but Avon's one shot comic Eerie from 1946 is debatably the first true "horror" book. Seeing profits in this budding new genre, other comic companies quickly followed suit developing a host of creepy and crawly characters to scare many kid right out of their socks for years to come.

However, the real explosion in fright comics came from William Gaines EC Comics line. His trio of horror titles, Tales of the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, and The Vault of Horror debuted in 1950 and really started the ball (or head) rolling! Following the lead from the strange late night radio shows hosts of the time, these anthology books were introduced by weird supernatural narrators such as the Crypt-Keeper, the Old Witch, and the Vault-Keeper. Most collectors will agree that EC produced the best comic art of all time rendered by the likes of Wood, Severin, Ingels, Davis, Feldstein, Ingels, Crandall, Kurtzman and many others, who collectively started the most successful horror craze in comic history.

When other publishers couldn't compete with the superior artwork, story, and black humor of the EC books, they tried everything they could to make a difference by using excessive gore, violence, and other shocking effects to try to produce better sales. This trend, coupled with Dr. Fredric Wertham's attack on comics in his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, helped fuel a U.S. Senate investigation into comic books and their alleged connection tothe growing juvenile delinquency in the country.

All the comic publishers quickly realized the ramifications of this modern day "witch hunt" and developed the Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval to better help police their own industry. Though the original investigation was focused more on the very popular and violent crime comics, it also took a heavy toll on the horror genre as well, stopping any references to zombies, vampires, ghouls, werewolves, and other classic horror characters. The Code even banned the words "terror" and "horror" from any comic book title, which effectually killed off all the booming fear books of the day.

But you can't keep a good genre down, so spook comics did bounce back in the early 1960s with Atlas Comics' Lee and Kirby stories of space born "big foot monsters" attacking mankind, following closely the science fiction creature features of the time. There still were a few watered-down horror titles hanging around, including Ghost Stories from Dell and Gold Key's Twilight Zone that still made decent sales. When the Code restrictions were revised in late 1971, National, Marvel, and Charlton launched loads of gritty new titles bringing back all the ghouls and goblins that were so missed by the fans. Many publishers even developed their own wicked legion of narrators as modern day "horror hosts" to present their scary new storylines. A favorite of mine were Uncle Creepy, Cousin Eerie, and the beautiful blood-sucker from Draculon, Vampirella, from Warren's excellent collection of books. Launched in 1965 James Warren's graphic black-and-white horror titles luckily escaped the Comics Code since they were carefully issued in the larger magazine format to avoid any censorship.

If EC was the high point of the Golden Age of horror comics, most would agree that Warren's fantastic collection of artists and writers from around the world created the finest terror tales of the Silver Age. Bringing back many of the original EC creators, Warren also tapped new talent from Spain (Maroto, Aureleon, Gonzales, Torrents, Ortiz, Sanjulian) and the Philippines (Nino, Cruz, Alcala, Nebres). But even now, renowned authors like Stephen King and Clive Barker have made their mark with recent developments in modern horror comics, though today it's a small share of the market when compared to the "gory days" of the past.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Dick Ayers

Richard B. (Dick) Ayers is greatly respected in the field of comicdom for his dramatic storytelling techniques and prolific output as a jack-of-all-trades in all types of production. Dick was active in penciling, inking, lettering, and even as a colorist for most of the major comic publishers over his many years at the drawing board. Ayers was also the first artist in Marvels' famed star "artists bullpen", working with Jack Kirby and many other talented creators helping to shape the "The House of Ideas" most popular landmark titles. Still working today as a full time artist, could also find time to teach at the Joe Kubert School and provide a few art classes at the Guggenheim Museum. Here is his short biography from a few years ago he supplied to the National Cartoonist Society from an artist that need to be acknowledged as one of the early greats at Marvel.

Born April 28, 1924 in Ossining, New York -- in the Air Corps from 1942-1945, first comic strip "Radio Ray" in my Army newspaper in 1942. Did nose art on B-26 bombers, art schools from 1946-1948 -- illustrating comic books since - some titles: Jimmy Durante, The Ghost Rider, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Jonah Hex, The Human Torch - over forty thousand pages (50,000 plus now) -- inked syndicated strip "Sky Masters" -- awards National Cartoonist Society best comic book in 1986 -- Orlando Ignatz award in 1991 -- Kansas City Lifetime Achievement award in 1993 -- Blessed with a lovely wife, Charlotte Lindy, daughter Elaine, sons Stephen, Richard and Fredrick, and three granddaughters, a grandson and a step grandson - still reside in White Plains, New York.