Friday, December 24, 2010

Alfredo Alcala's...Voltar

One of the most spectacular strips ever produced, Filipino artist Alfredo Alcala's Voltar made his first appearance in Alcala Fight Komix in July of 1963. Traditionally, comic book production was a team effort used to maximize the profits for its publishers and capitalize on popular artists in the field. So when an epic adventure on the scale of Voltar was written, pencilled, inked, lettered, and published by a sole individual, it makes this achievement all the more unbelievable when readers encountered the pristine quality of the work. Done in a lush etched style, it rivaled the work of the old master showcasing the most detailed penwork ever to appear in comics. Astonishing double page spreads graced every chapter that simply baffled the mind considering the effort Alcala devoted to these monumental illustrations, even spawning the artist to develop a special fountain brush to embellish his pages.

A blend of legends, myth, and history, Voltar is packed with savage beasts and strange creatures as our hero travels through ancient cities overrun with wild barbarians on his quest for truth and justice. Alfredo weaved a delicate tapestry of brave deeds and costly betrayals, with his outstanding characters that encompass all the emotions so wanting in other comic features of the day. Alcala's moody mythological tales were always filled with a tremendous presence whether he is rendering a lovely damsel in distress, or a crafty old wizard set on defeating our wandering hero. Winner of the prestigious Society of Philippine Illustrators and Cartoonist Award numerous times in the early 1970s, Voltar also captured the attention of American fans taking first place in various science fiction show events and published in the historic Hannes Bok Memorial Showcase of Fantasy Art.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Buried Treasure: Johnny Reb and Billy Yank

When the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate wanted to explore both sides of the American Civil War in a new Sunday feature, the adventures of Johnny Reb and Billy Yank was born. An interesting attempt to try new themes in newspaper strips, it was first released on November 18, 1956, and published in a little over sixty papers at its height of popularity. It showcased with their symbolic names a Southerner from Virginia called Johnny Reb, and his New England partner for the series, Billy Yank. When starting out the soldiers exploits were told one North then South, switching back and forth evenhandedly taking turns with the stories. Later on there came a preference for the Southern character, so the strip title was shortened to Johnny Reb, now focusing more on the Confederate hero. Written by Ben Martin and drawn by the talented Frank Giacoia, the team did equally well on elaborate battle scenes, or quieter moments, often using many historical personalities from the period. One of the last full page Sunday strips, it was also ghosted at times by other famous artists like Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert. But after three years, and twenty complete tales, the public seemed to lose interest, preferring newer features hitting the market, so with less circulation and fewer papers the series suddenly ended in May of 1959.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Make Mine Marvel: Daredevil

Matt Murdock was the son of boxer "Battling" Jack Murdock, and though of athletic build, he was a bookworm taunted by his peers with the nickname "Daredevil". One day Matt saved a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, but was struck by a radioactive crate that had fallen from the vehicle that caused the boy to lose his sight, though his other senses were greatly enhanced. Desperate for his son to become a lawyer despite his injury, Jack decided to throw his last fateful fight to finance his son's education. But the night of the bout, Jack reneged on his promise once he saw young Matt in the crowd, which cost the boxer his life. Donning a black-and-yellow costume and adopting the name Daredevil, Matt sought to avenge his father's death against the crime syndicate and to serve justice after hours outside the court of law. Changing his costume to a red one-piece in issue #7, Daredevil's senses are so alert he can read a newspaper by touching the ink on a printed page, can hear a liar's false heartbeat, or know how many bullets are in gun just by its weight. With his radar sense and incredible strength this "Man Without Fear" has become one of Marvel Comics most enduring characters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Foreign Favorites: Corto Maltese

Created by the talented Italian artist, Hugo Pratt, Corto Maltese became one of the most popular adventure strips in France and Belgium. A spin-off from an earlier story, Corto Maltese first debuted in the French weekly Pif-Gadget on April 1, 1970. For a salty tale of the sea, Corto is an unfortunate captain without a ship, a man without a country who always sides with the rebels and oppressed in every battle. Set around 1910, his escapades lead him from South America, to Europe to North Africa, fighting in numerous conflicts, seeking treasure, and often trying to save his skin from the magic and witchcraft that permeates the heavy atmosphere of the strip. The supporting cast such as the pirate captain Rasputin, Irish lass Banshee, Professor Steiner, and the lovely Venexiana Stevenson are just a interesting as the main character when they appear in these swashbuckling episodes. After four years, Pratt decided to move on to other projects, but continued to return to the feature, now being published in a full color format for its many reprints. Translated into a half dozen languages, Corto Maltese proved to be a popular figure around the world, inspiring extensive studies on the seafarer and an animated series for television.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jim Aparo's "Masque of Mirrors"

With her first appearance as girlfriend and side-kick heroine to Captain Atom in issue #82, the lovely Nightshade guest starred in a few tales before landing her own backup stories in the final three books of Charlton's cosmic hero. Created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko, Eve Eden was the daughter of a U. S. Senator and a mysterious alien from another dimension, Magda, who had the ability to transform into a living two-dimensional shadow. She passed this power on to her daughter, and even though Eve had only a handful of stories, DC Comics revamped the character when it acquired the Charlton property into new incarnations that's still popular today. But it's great to see an early "Darling of Darkness" story drawn in the crisp, clean style of Jim Aparo, from Captain Atom #89 in this 1967 story entitled...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Greatest Adventure: The Doom Patrol

One of the wildest super teams to ever come from DC Comics, The Doom Patrol debuted in My Greatest Adventure #80 in the Summer of 1963 written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Bruno Premiani. Reborn out of disaster, strangers were offered another chance as fabulous superhero freaks, guided by a wheelchair-bound genius, Dr. Niles Caulder, AKA, The Chief. Actress Rita Dayton became the dynamic Elasti-Girl, being able to expand and contract her body like a gorgeous rubber band. Robotman was what's left of sportsman and race car driver Cliff Steele who's brain only survived a deadly auto crash. Larry Trainor, a jet test-pilot who flew through an atomic cloud created a radio-energy being separate from his body,The Negative Man, he can now control at will. Together with Steve Dayton, Rita's husband and one of the world's richest men, Steve can lift an elephant with just one thought wave as the mighty Mento. Scorned as freaks by the citizens they protect,The Doom Patrol use there super powers to fight bizarre menaces like the Brotherhood of Evil and Mr. 103, to save humanity from world domination.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Comic Art Legend: Russ Manning

Best know for his work on Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan of the Apes, Russell Manning was born in Van Nuys, California in 1929 and after completing high school he enrolled in the Los Angeles Art Institute. When just starting out in comics, Russ was drafted in 1950 and sent to Japan where he excelled in his map making skills while drawing cartoons for the base newspaper. After discharge from the military, Manning was fortunate to meet with Jesse Marsh who was drawing Tarzan for Dell Comics at the time, and helped him get a position with the Dell art staff. Russ drew various Western and movie related titles including the Tarzan backup feature Brothers of the Spear. His later creation called, Magnus, Robot Fighter, was a Tarzan inspired hero set in the distant future which was an instant fan-favorite for Gold Key Comics.

Chosen to succeed his friend Jesse Marsh in 1965, Manning quickly made Tarzan an exciting feature all his own, and was hailed by his many fans worldwide for his loyal intrepretations of Burrough's work. This success persuaded ERB Inc. to have United Features Syndicate pick Russ to take over the syndicated Tarzan dailystrip in 1967. Adding a Sunday page the following year, the artist was praised for his inspired stories and artwork, though unfortunately the strip continued to be a commercial failure. In 1972, Russ left the daily to give more attention to the Sunday page, which was alway his favorite, and do other Tarzan related comics on the European market. In 1979 the artist was asked by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate to illustrate the new Star Wars strip which he did until his poor health made Russ turn over the feature to Alfredo Alcala, just months before Manning's early demise on December 1, 1981.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ed Dodd...In His Own Words

Mark Trail is created by not one but several writers and artists, pooling their ideas to produce the finished daily and Sunday product. Any member of my staff may come up with an appropriate idea for a sequence. It is then kicked around by the entire group until it reaches the acceptable stage. We put particular emphasis on character in Mark Trail, and attempt to let the characters produce the dramatic quality of the stories, rather than the other way around. Once we have finished the sequence in my studio, it is forwarded to New York, where it is studied carefully by an editor of the Hall Syndicate. It is criticized and returned to us. Then we go into another story session, either accepting or rejecting the criticism...using our best story judgement.

We then write the final draft. At this point the weekly "scenes" are written, and frequently they are changed slightly, depending on both the art and dramatic quality improvement. These are also forwarded to New York for criticism, and are often changed in detail before the drawing is started. Once the weekly scenes are agreed upon, artists then lay out the art, including the balloons, in pencil. This "rough" is then turned over to the letterer who put in the finished copy. After that the drawings are completed in ink. I was born in Lafayette, Georgia in 1902. I studied architecture at Georgia Tech one year, and spent two years studying at the Art Students' League in New York. Mark Trail was started in 1946.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Eldon Dedini

I was born June 29, 1921 in King City, but really love New York. I now live in beautiful Monterrey, California. Studied art in Salinas, Los Angeles, and many museums far and wide. Graduated from Chouinard Art Institute. My early work was with the "Salinas Index-Journal" and "Salinas Morning Post" from 1944-46. I worked on Donald Duck and Mice features at the Walt Disney Studios, also "Ichabod and Mr. Toad" and "Fun and Fancy Free". Gag man and cartoonist for Esquire from 1952 to 1955, with The New Yorker since 1950, with Playboy since 1960. I received the National Cartoonist Awards for best magazine cartoonist in 1958, 1961, 1964, 1989. I now do posters and advertising. My recent book: "A Much, Much Better World". Microsoft Press. I did it all with the support of my wife, Virginia and son Giulio.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Original Comic Art Prices: 1972

You could always find a deal if you looked hard enough in the most famous comic related fanzine, The Rocket's Blast Comic Collector, and issue 90 from 1972 was no exception. As well as ads from the bigger dealers in this budding new hobby of collecting original comic artwork, there were a few private collectors with some great deals. John Vargas, out of Los Angeles was one of these "dealers" that had a full page ad selling his Silver Age pages at slightly higher prices...for the day. One of his advertisement's had a mere twenty one pages by eleven different artists, but what fantastic pages they were, from some giants of the field. Starting off at the top of the page was none other than a Jack "King" Kirby Fantastic Four #81 pg. 8 piece for $22.50, or you could have Captain America #112 pg. 16 for the very same price!

Next came two nice panel pages for $18 dollars each, one from Tales of Suspense #92 pg. 10 and The Mighty Thor #154 pg. 3. But the high priced Kirby was @$25 for a Journey into Mystery #107 pg. 7 to round out his "King" pages. Two John Romita Amazing Spider-Man pages were listed from issues #51 pg. 14 and #52 pg. 18 for the unheard of price of $16.50 each. Jim Steranko was up next with page 10 from issue 51 of Marvel's X-Men for the grand sum of $36.50, the highest price piece in his ad and a tie with Neal Adams' Brave and the Bold #85 page 4. This collector really had a "A" list of original comic art offering his Wally Wood Thunder Agents example from the fourth story of issue #15 page 5 for only twelve fifty. How about another giant in the field, Joe Kubert, and his seminal work on Hawkman from Brave and the Bold #44 page 3 for $16.50. I don't know why this guy didn't round up these gems to a whole dollar amount, but with these kooky low price, who really cares.

John Buscema's page one splash for Sub-Mariner #1 as next for $26, you must have to pay more for the splash I guess, but a Captain America piece from issue #115 pg. 13 ran only $15. Perhaps the next two covers were the best deals in print, you could either have Barry Smith's cover to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #12 for thirty American dollars, or if that's too high, settle for his X-Men #53 cover for only $25! You want more splashes you say? Well, how about two from the talented Marie Severin, take your pick of the Incredible Hulk #102 page one for sale at $26, (more than a Barry Smith cover) or the affordable example of Strange Tales #160 featuring Dr. Strange at $18, go figure? Oh, and this seller also had the first page of Iron Man #1 for only $24 by Gene"The Dean" Colan. Rounding out our ad from the past is the bargain bin prices of $7 each for Don Heck, his Avengers #35 pg. 12 or #42 pg. 8, or a nice X-Men #43 pg. 12 , but if you bought all three Vargas would knock off a buck so the set was only twenty USD.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marvel Spotlight: The Black Panther

An African king who also acts as a part time superhero, the Black Panther was introduced by the team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a minor character in Marvel Comics Fantastic Four #52 in July of 1966. After a few issues, the jungle lord was not seen until he resurfaced as a new member of The Avengers with issue #52 in late 1968. With the success of these try-out books, T'Challa got his own title starting in the sixth issue of Jungle Action in 1973 with excellent scripts by Don McGregor and powerful artwork by artist Rich Buckler. Later, one of the few black artist's in comics, Billy Graham, finished out the introductory series with remarkable energy and surprising serious story lines as the King of Wakanda spent half his adventures between Africa and America. Jack "King" Kirby returned to his creation in the late seventies for a two year run done in his unique classic style, before Marvel decided to relaunched the Black Panther once again in the eighties as a darker, grittier character with policeman Kevin Cole donning a bullet-proof costume he found in an alley to fight crime as a ruthless vigilante outside the realm of the law.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Direct Currents: The Spectre

With his debut in the Golden Age of comics appearing in More Fun Comics #52, 1945, the Spectre is one of the longest lasting of DC characters with thrilling adventures over the past sixty years. When police detective Jim Corrigan and his fiancee Claire Wilson were captured by local crime boss, "Gat" Benson, Jim was quickly knocked unconscious, placed in a barrel of cement, and dumped into a raging river. Corrigan's deceased spirit, now in a black void was traveling towards a light, but unexpectedly prevented to reach its goal. A Voice told Corrigan's spirit that his mission on Earth was not yet finished and had to return to fight evil with the supernatural powers he now possessed. As the dreaded Spectre, he confronted Benson, driving him mad, and overcame his thugs to rescue his beloved Claire. Since only Benson and his gang knew of his death, Corrigan returned to the police force, animating his body once again for his daily work as a detective. But as night falls, Corrigan unleashes his avenging spirit on the evil and wicked of his adopted city of New York. Provided with almost unlimited supernatural powers, the Spectre is capable of virtually any feat in his relentless fight against crime.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Charlton Comics... Captain Atom

The first Charlton superhero creation by artist Steve Ditko, Captain Atom, debuted in Space Adventures #33 in 1960 for a successful thirty-three issue run. A United States Air Force officer, Captain Nathaniel Adam, was offered a bitter deal after being convicted of treason. To spare his life, he was to join a top-secret nuclear research project. Wrapped in a cocoon of alien metal, placed on top of an H-bomb and detonated, our hero seemed by all accounts to be instantly vaporised. However, what actually occurred was a totally new Adam was created and transported some twenty years into the future. While the real Nathan Adam was left stranded in a void, this new creation enlisted in the military and was given the alter ego of Cameron Scott, to protect his identity as Captain Atom. The alien alloy that coated his body made our hero have the ability to fly, super strength, fire atomic blasts, and even absorb nuclear energy, though it would often cause a quantum leap into the future. Fighting his arch-enemy called Monarch,(the real Nathan Adam who somehow escaped the void), Captain Atom has been entertaining readers for many years at Charlton and later DC Comics, after they purchased the rights to all the comic company's popular stable of characters.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Fred Harmon

Born February 9, 1902 in St. Joseph, Missouri. My parents migrated to a Colorado ranch that same year. Was raised cowboy and still ride rodeo appearances and operate my own Pagosa Springs, Colorado, ranch. Have done advertising, and newspaper art. Before creating Red Ryder in 1938, my first art job was in animated cartoons, Kansas City. Married Lola Andrews. One great son, a television engineer, New York. One grandson. My home and studio are in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Member of the Society of Illustrators, New York City and charter member of our National Cartoonist Society. I had no formal art training. Besides working in comics, I enjoy doing Western oils. In 1958, I received the Sertoma Award as Colorado's outstanding citizen. Hobbies include horses and traveling in my truck-camper studio. Ambition... to keep the tubes wet and stay out of the poorhouse.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Leonard Starr...In His Own Words

What art training I had, I received at the High School of Music and Art in New York City, my home town, and Pratt Institute. I think, however, it's accurate to say that most of the knowledge I now have I acquired on my own. It's the hard way, and I don't recommend it. You find yourself struggling with basics that should be be second nature, and the backing and filling involved is a deplorable waste of time. I would have preferred a full academic background in the old tradition.Up until the time I began On Stage I did advertising and editorial illustration, and ghosted several comic strips. Fortunately, I have friends in different areas of show business, so I was able to enlist their assistance in matters of story material and accuracy when I started to draw On Stage. Show business gossip has been a valuable source of material, and most of my stories have their basis in actual incidents and personalities.

When I use an actual person, which is quite often, I have them pose for the situations in which they will appear. I enjoy this, for in addition to the realism thus gained, it gives me practice in achieving likenesses in different angles and expressions. To avoid having characters look too much like one another, especially those in the same episode, I try to make certain that they all have different head shapes, and that the hair mass on each is distinct. One of the major frustrations is the process of reproductions of art work. This varies so much, and the quality is so inconsistent, that it's almost impossible to tell how much detail and refinement of technique one should use. Even with luck, the reader rarely sees anything close the original drawing, and I don't know any way to combat this. Like most cartoonist I know, I aim for the middle, and hope for the best.

I use 3-ply paper and India ink, and since I ink almost entirely with a brush, it is thinned considerably with distilled water for easier flow. Because of this the ink won't stand much erasure, so I draw with a 7H pencil, which is light in tone but leaves a strong impression. Then I erase the pencil drawing with kneaded erasure, lighting the impression still further, but leaving a drawing clear enough to ink. This, then, precludes the necessity of erasing the finished ink drawing at all. My assistant, on the other hand, does terribly intricate background drawings with a old 104 penpoint, and ink that's barely liquid, that you couldn't erase with a sandblaster. I use a No. 3 brush for practically everything. I've always resisted switching tools once I'm "warmed up." I'm afraid it will break the trance-like state that I find necessary to produce large quantities of work under deadline conditions.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Make Mine Marvel: Dr. Strange

An arrogant surgeon who was unable to work after a terrible auto accident, Dr. Stephen Strange searched the world for a cure, ending up in the Himalayas asking advise from the mysterious Ancient One. Believing he could restore Strange, the old mystic declared him unworthy of the task, which left the doctor wandering aimlessly, before he discovered a plan to overthrow the ancient sage by his star pupil, Baron Mordo. When Mordo's plot is deftly defeated by Strange, the Ancient One relented and agreed to instruct and repair his soul rather than his hands, and eventually take on his mantle as Earth's next Sorcerer Supreme. Created for Marvel Comics anthology book, Strange Tales #110 in July of 1963, writer Stan Lee and illustrator Steve Ditko made this "Master of the Mystic Arts" not your usual superhero. Older and more worldly, the good doctor could travel the many realms of the universe in these surreal morality tales to accomplish amazing feats, that could even rock worlds with his new found sorcerer skills. Setting up in Greenwich Village area of New York City, assisted by his man servant Wong and lovely student Clea, there is no limit to the magical adventures Dr. Strange and his associates can encounter.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tatsuo Yoshida's...Speed Racer

Tatsuo Yoshida was a popular 1960s manga artist and co-founder of Tatsunoko Productions, who wanted to make a animated TV show based on his hit comic series, Mach Go Go Go. Little did we know as children that the catchy title was a clever pun on the Japanese word "go" which meant "five". The series revolved around Go Mifune, the dashing young driver for the Mach Go racing team, his elder brother and fellow driver, Kenichi, a beautiful girlfriend Michi, and the rest of the enduring cast members. Being one of the first Japanese series to be shown in America, Translux obtained the rights to adapt the characters and scripts with the help of talented voice actor and screenwriter Peter Fernandez. He created some snappy new names like Speed Racer, even though he still had a "G" printed on his shirt to confuse us for decades.

Racer X, Trixie, Spritle, Chim Chim, Sparky, and Pops Racer never failed to please its younger audience everyday after school, and not to forget that fabulous wonder car, the gadget laden Mach 5. Influenced heavily by the "spy craze" of the Sixties, Speed and his family traveled the world racing, having fun, and helping foil dasterly villains with the help of his spy brother, Racer X, and a gotee wearing Interpol agent, Inspector Detector. All fifty-two unforgettable episodes were aired on syndicated television in 1967, and continued for many years until MTV helped developed an even larger fan base. It was just about impossible not to love Speed Racer's fast-paced action/adventure stories sprinkled with colorful villains like Cruncher Block, Tongue Blogard, and Ace Duecey, just to name a few.

Later relaunched in various new television and print versions, they all paled in comparison to the original series whose impact on our young memories were hard to follow. Volkswagon even developed an animated commercial using the characters and the Children's Safety Network sponsored the construction of a full-sized real Mach 5 that toured the States with Fernandez and other members of the cast. A big budget live action motion picture that was recently released also failed with the critics and the public as well, since they strayed to heavily away from the original source material, but fortunately the original manga series and TV show has been issued on DVD for new fans to enjoy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Greatest Adventure: The Atom

Physics Professor Ray Palmer was trying to find a way to reduce matter to aid farmers in increasing their crop yield, but in his studies in size reduction, the altered matter would always explode. Palmer finally found the secret to the problem in fragments of a white dwarf star that helped produce his reducing beam, though the objects continued to remain highly unstable. Sometime later, trapped in a cave with a group of students, Palmer turned the experimental beam on himself and saved the party from a sudden disaster. A combination of ultra violent rays, cave water, and his own physiology now mysteriously allowed the professor to safely reduce his six foot frame to even a subatomic size. Developing hand controls and a costume using the star matter, Palmer can control his weight and size, and fights crime in his new alter ego, The Atom. With his first appearance in DC Comics Showcase #34 in 1962, the Atom has learned to master his size controls to great advantage, including travelling through phone lines allowing electronic impulses to propel him, or even aid doctors in medical procedures coursing though a patients bloodstream to discover the cause of their malady.