Monday, August 10, 2020

Apprentice

If you are a reader of Green Lantern comic books, or if you saw the tragically under-appreciated 2011 Green Lantern movie, or the even more tragically ignored 2012 Green Lantern: The Animated Series, then you know that Green Lantern isn't the only one of his kind.

GL is part of a corps of interstellar heroes that act as a galactic police force protecting the galaxy. Each is issued a power ring that is so technologically advanced that it seems like magic.

Tales of the Green Lantern Corps ran as a backup feature in the Green Lantern comic book, and featured stories about Green Lanterns other than the one from earth.

This 6 page story from Green Lantern #162 features some gorgeous artwork by British Doctor Who and Watchman artist, Dave Gibbons.









Friday, August 7, 2020

Firestorm Explosion!




I mentioned previously that ROM Spaceknight was my favorite all time comic book. I talked about my reasons for this, but one reason that I forgot to list was, “I started with issue number one.” Being able to start with a character from their first issue was something that I hadn’t done before. These days (at least, I think this trend continues) comic books are constantly restarting with issue number one. First issues enjoy a boost in sales. So, publishers have gotten into the habit of printing a lot of them. It didn’t used to be that way.




Or, maybe it was … DC introduced a lot of new titles in the mid 70’s as part of what was: the DC Comics Explosion! In fact, while I said that I had never been able to start a series with its first issue before ROM, that isn’t actually true. I got in on the first issue of: Firestorm! Firestorm looked to be amazing! Firestorm was going to be my superhero! He was even featured in a “Publishorial” by publisher Jenette Kahn! But, alas … it was not meant to be. Firestorm was canceled after only 5 issues in what is now called: the DC Comics Implosion!




A bunch of titles (around 30) were canceled. If I understand things correctly, a huge blizzard in 1977 in New York caused distribution problems and a huge dip in sales, and Warner Brothers (who owns DC Comics) ordered the cuts upon seeing the massive drop in sales numbers.




So, it seems, Killer Frost did defeat Firestorm after all.


Thursday, August 6, 2020

Comic Books In The Grocery Aisle

 As a kid growing up, it wasn’t unusual for my mom to make a visit to the corner grocery and emerge with a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, and a comic book (for me.) Grocery stores and newsstands, and other general magazine vendors used to carry comic books along with their other magazines. However, by the late 80’s comic books were nearly impossible to find in these outlets. Have you ever wondered why?

To answer that, I need to talk a little bit about economics and share a bit of comic book history. It’s June 1938: Action Comics #1 arrives on newsstands, and the world as we know it is changed forever. Now, the world has: Superman – the world’s first comic book superhero. Action Comics #1 carries a cover price of 10 cents. Life Magazine also carries a cover price of 10 cents.



Jump ahead in time 20 or so years. I give you another landmark comic book as an example. November 1961: Fantastic Four #1. Marvel Comics enters the superhero game, and gives Superman some real competition. Comics are going to get good now! Fantastic Four #1 carries a cover price of 10 cents! Life Magazine carries a cover price of 20 cents! Other magazines have doubled in price, but comics have stayed the same!



One final jump, another 20 years and another landmark. December 1981: Moon Knight #14. Comics have increased their prices steadily over the past 20 years. Moon Knight #14 carries a cover price of 50 cents! That’s 5 times the price of comics from 20 years ago. Life Magazine now carries a price of 2 dollars! That’s 10 times the price that it was 20 years ago! Comic book prices are not keeping up!



But, isn’t cheaper, better? Isn’t this better for the consumer? Yes, and no. It is better for the consumer, in theory, yes. But, it’s not a good thing for the vendor who sells the comic books. If you are the owner of a store and you have only so much display space to offer a product, you have to weigh your options. All other magazines provide four times the profit potential compared to comic books. Simply put, comic books were a waste of space.

You might wonder why I shared Moon Knight #14 as my choice of landmark comic book along side the likes of Action Comics #1 and Fantastic Four #1. Moon Knight is a character that many won’t recognize, and the 14th issue of a comic doesn’t seem important. But, Moon Knight #14 was important because it was the last issue of that comic sold on the newsstand. Beginning with Moon Knight #15 the title would be sold exclusively in comic book specialty stores.

That’s a huge deal. I remember at the time, I was angry. Why would Marvel choose to remove a comic from the shelves of my local grocer? I didn’t have access to a comic book store. Why would Marvel cut me off? This was unfair! Or so I felt, at the time. But, Marvel wasn’t doing this to spite the consumer. They were trying to save their industry. Marvel was reacting to the comic book’s rapidly diminishing distribution as more and more newsstands and similar markets dropped comic books from their store shelves.

Comic book publishers needed to switch to a comic book exclusive venue, a place where comic books could be sold without competing for shelf space with other more expensive magazines. This transition did take effect, but not without it’s problems. The move to a collectors’ exclusive market resulted in comic book publishers employing gimmicks to attempt to sell comics in greater numbers to offset the loss of overall distribution. This didn’t work out so well and the comic book industry crashed in the mid 90’s.

The comic book industry didn’t want to take comic books away from store shelves. They didn’t choose to lose a major source of distribution, but way back in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, as other magazine publishers increased their pricing, comic book publishers made a choice to keep their prices low (reducing page count instead of raising prices.) They did it because the general public view of comic books was that it was a medium for children, and prices needed to stay low to keep comic books accessible to children. It was a nice idea. It didn’t work out.



In recent years (beginning in 2018 and continuing today) DC has attempted to regain a presence in the general market. They are publishing 100 Page Giant comics. 100 pages at $4.99 to make sure the pricing is in step with other magazines on the shelf. I don’t know how well these forays into the general marketplace have been, but I wish them luck. I want kids to be able to get a comic book from their mom the way that I did as a kid. Without this, I fear that in another 30 years kids won’t even know what a comic book is.


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

George Perez -- Super Team Artist Extraordinaire!

I know that I said that ROM would be my last character/artist pair feature, but here is just one more. *Character/Artist Special Edition* -- Best all around artist for super-team comics featuring: The Justice League of America, The Avengers, The New Teen Titans, and the X-Men! -- I give you the art of George Perez!










Monday, August 3, 2020

I Flew With Superman!

The comics in my collection span a ten year time period from 1974 through 1983. That period plus a few years on either side is collectively known in comic collector circles as: the Bronze Age. (Comic Book Historian Alex Grand places the Bronze Age of Comic Books from 1970 to 1984.)

Throughout the Bronze Age of Comics one artist was most associated with the look of DC’s most iconic character: Superman. That artist was Curt Swan. He drew Superman for the entire time that I was reading comics from age 9 to 18. What’s more remarkable is that Swan was also the face of Superman for the entire Comic Book Age prior to that: the Silver Age. Truly, when it comes to artists and comic books, Curt Swan and Superman were synonymous.

You might remember that I identified Jose Luis Garcia Lopez as my favorite Superman artist. I did, but not because Lopez is a “better” artist for Superman than Swan. Quite the opposite. I think that Swan was so connected with the Man of Steel, that I just yearned to see something different over the years. If Swan had moved to another title, (I vote Wonder Woman) I would have eagerly followed him. I find his artwork to be beautiful. (Especially, his eyes. Swan draws great eyes.)

Given how inseparable Swan and Superman are, I find this 10 page back-up story in Superman Annual #9 to be especially touching. Given the way the credits are listed, I believe Curt took this story idea to his editors and asked if he could do it. Also, this is one of the rare examples (It might be the only example in my collection.) of the artist inking his own pencil work. So, this artwork is 100% Curt Swan. The story is clearly a labor of love, and it’s one of my favorites.













Sunday, August 2, 2020

Akin and Garvey -- ROM Spaceknight

ROM has been my favorite comic book pretty much since issue number one. That’s really saying quite a lot since I wasn’t a huge fan of Sal Buscema’s artwork in general and as a comic collector, I have always been all about the artwork.

At that time of my life, I always had a sketch pad in my hands. I was always drawing. My favorite artist to imitate was John Byrne. His lines were so clean and distinct. His work had a simplistic elegance that helped me to learn and grow as an artist. Sal’s, art on the other hand seemed harsh and jagged by comparison. It wasn’t appealing to me.

So, how was it that as a comic collector who was all about the art, my favorite comic book was drawn by an artist whose art was not particularly appealing to me?

Comic books are emotional triggers for me. Certain comic book issues are connected to specific memories and events in my life. When we moved to Coulterville, we had just left my Stepfather. Chuck was an alcoholic. He wasn’t an abusive man, but he was an abusive drunk, and he was always drunk. So, we left him, and we moved to Coulterville.

As my sisters and I settled into our new home, we struggled to figure out how to feel safe for the first time in our young lives. Mom did what she could to help this process. She brought to me the succor that had always worked for me in the past, a comic book. It was ROM Spaceknight #1.

ROM was literally a knight in shining armor who had come to earth to fight an alien invasion. ROM’s enemies were the Dire Wraiths, creatures who lived secretly among us disguised as humans.

Imagine an enemy that presented itself as a friend. Imagine that your neighbor, your teacher, or your Stepfather, people you knew and trusted, who were supposed to protect and nurture you, were really evil monstrous creatures from outer space.

Now imagine that a hero with the power to see the truth, arrived to expose the monsters and save you from them, even when you didn’t know that you needed saving. That is ROM Spaceknight. I wrapped myself up inside ROM’s world of hidden monsters. ROM quickly became my favorite comic book.

ROM was the hero that I needed at that time in my life. So, it didn’t matter that the art wasn’t my favorite. ROM spoke to me. Then something awesome happened, As ROM Spaceknight approached its third year of publication. Inkers: Ian Akin and Brian Garvey began working with Sal Buscema on the artwork of ROM.

I don’t know how production art is done these days. It’s all digital, I’m sure, but back in the early 80’s everything was drawn in pencil on paper. In order for the hand drawn work to be transferred to plates for printing, the pencil lines had to be dark enough for the photo process to pick them up. They had to be drawn in ink. So, art was sketched in pencil first and then drawn over in ink.

This entire process was expedited by having different artists perform each task. Artist number one could be drawing page number three in pencil while artist number two was inking over page number one in ink. This “assembly line method” of production was twice as fast as a single artist working alone. So, that’s how things were done.

Sal Buscema had been the pencil artist on ROM since issue one, but now a new pair of artists were assigned the job of inking over Sal’s penciled artwork. There are those who will argue that an inker’s job is to reproduce the pencil lines of the layout artist as truly as possible, to make the inks a reflection of the pencil's original artwork.

Akin and Garvey didn’t do this so much. They embellished Sal’s pencil work. They made it their own. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I know that their finished work is some of the most beautiful art to grace a comic page.

So, ROM Spaceknight, my favorite comic book became the comic book that also featured my favorite artwork of all time. This escalated ROM to a level that can never be matched. ROM will always be, for me, the best comic book ever – full stop.

I have shared character / artist pairings based on iconic characters. I have given you Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. I featured drawings of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, and the Hulk. These are the most popular and recognizable characters from DC and Marvel comics.

Now, for my final character / artist pairing I want to share the artwork of my favorite comic as produced by the artistic team of Sal Buscema, Ian Akin, and Brian Garvey.

This is my very favorite comic book of all time and my favorite comic book art of all time.













Friday, July 31, 2020

Brent Anderson -- Fantastic Four

Favorite Comic Book Hero / Comic Book Artist pairings. For Fantastic Four my favorite artist is: Brent Anderson!