We Live In Better Times

I was accused on social media the other day of being a millennial or at least of having the millennial mentality. Putting aside the fact that I am 54 years old, far from being in that generation, that attitude is broad brush painting people born after the previous millennium ended at the close of the year 2000. (The years 1999 and 2000 were so annoying to this pedant as people kept getting the beginning of the new century/millennium wrong. They started January 1, 2001. Get it straight!) It’s a cultural constant, I think, that each generation believes the following generations just don’t get it. When talking about those younger folks, the diatribes are often prefaced by “In my day…” or “My generation…” Just ask my son. Hey, I didn’t say I was immune.

Case in point…

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Yeah, well…

I watched that show when it first aired and… We needed CGI back then, too.

I responded in that way on Facebook and then came the accusation. They accused me of needing high tech to be edgy and cool. They were probably thinking that I lacked the imagination to fill in the gaps that the limited technology left in the old days.

Actually, the show itself attempted to make up for the lack of technology by making the Hulk mute, less intelligent, and much, much, much, much weaker.

The show I’m talking about, of course, is The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982). It starred Bill Bixby who played Dr. David Bruce Banner, a physician and scientist who was searching for a way to enhance human abilities. He had been unable to save his wife after a car accident due to his lack of physical strength, so he obsessed with enhancing his own abilities. So much so, he used himself as a test subject. Boy, didn’t Jekyll and Hyde teach us anything?

Well, the experiment did give him super strength, but it also inflicted a werewolf-like condition on him. Whenever Banner was subjected to extreme stress or anger he would become a large, green monster with super strength and a bad attitude. The creature was dubbed the Hulk. Banner, believed to have been killed by the monster, then drifted across the country meeting people whom he would help out of tough situations. And there was a dogged reporter on the trail of the Hulk to add to his troubles.

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“…You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Say, you wouldn’t have a spare belt, would you?”

Right off the bat the superhero show alienated me, a young Marvel Comics fan and budding pedant, by getting the name of the lead character wrong. In the comic books, since 1962, the scientist’s name is Robert Bruce Banner. There was never any David in there. And he was called Bruce by his friends.

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Wrong! His first name isn’t David!

I put a great big black mark against the show the moment someone called him David and not Bruce. How could they get something so basic wrong? There are explanations, but I won’t get into them here. It was just the wrong name and I was not happy about it. The show started off in the hole as far as I was concerned.

In the comics, Bruce was bombarded by gamma rays when he was exposed to a nuclear test blast. A dumbass kid wandered too close to the test area and Bruce dashed out of the bunker to get the trespasser to safety. In the process, being unable to get into the ditch in time, Dr. Banner was bathed in deadly gamma radiation.

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Dr. Banner is probably thinking, “In my day, kids didn’t go hanging out in nuclear test ranges!”

He survived, but was now forever cursed to hulk out whenever under stress.

The TV show changed how David (argh) was exposed. It wasn’t accidental. It was from a machine bombarding him with gamma rays in his experiment to enhance human abilities. I’m guessing it was one of those technical limitations, due to not having CGI, that necessitated the change.

The comic book Hulk could talk. He could think. Sure, he wasn’t brilliant and he wasn’t much of a orator, but being able to do more than just roar, growl, smash through drywall, and knock over empty barrels made for a more interesting character. It opened up the possibilities for more compelling storylines than a drifting doctor who seems to always find people who need his help. And eventually the helpful hand from a growling, roaring, marginally super-strong, green brute to put the beat down on some bad guys.

“Thanks, Hulk! We were thinking of enlarging that doorway anyway.”

And now a short break from the blog for a brief aside:

By the way, the basic plot of The Incredible Hulk is essentially the same as TV’s The Fugitive (1963-1967) and Kung Fu (1972-1975). Both series’ lead characters were also drifters encountering people who needed their help. In The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble would break out his doctoring skills. In Kung Fu, Caine would bust out his martial arts moves. And each of the three lead characters in these shows was searching for something while they drifted from town to town. Kimble was looking for the one-armed man, Caine was searching for his family, and David (gahhh) was trying to find a cure for his hulking out.

Brief aside over, now back to the blog.

The show used all the techniques used extensively in The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978). There was the use of slow motion to make the action appear more impressive. Real speed might look silly. There were the foam rubber rocks that were easy to lift and throw, but were a little too bouncy. There would also be shots of the Hulk throwing bad guys 20 yards through the air. And there was the filming of a stunt person jumping backwards off a building and then running the film in reverse to make it appear the monster was jumping onto the building.

These were ways of dealing with the limited technology. And some of the techniques were admittedly pretty clever, but this just wasn’t the Hulk in my eyes. I mean no disrespect to Lou Ferrigno. He was certainly an impressive physical specimen. And he did the best he could with what he was asked to do. It’s just that his Hulk wasn’t nearly strong enough. In the comic books, the Hulk could travel miles through the air in a single leap. He could topple entire buildings. And the madder he got, the stronger he got. But, the TV Hulk, although able to throw a grown man great distances, seemed to struggle lifting a woman who was hanging from a cliff to safety.

Weeeelllll, they’re close, but these costumes just don’t work.

There were other attempts in the 1970s to bring live action super-heroes to television: The very short-lived The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979), a made-for-TV movie featuring Captain America (1979), and DC Comic’s Wonder Woman (1975-1979). Spider-Man’s and Captain America’s costumes were fairly accurate to the comics, but looked silly on TV. Wonder Woman’s costume worked much better, but that was probably due to Lynda Carter being in it.

Um. Yeah, that works.

Compare those shows with the super-hero movies we’ve been getting since the advent of CGI. Sure, they aren’t all perfect. Some of the DC Comics movies have been down right lousy. But Marvel Comics movies, for the most part, have been thrilling to this old comic book fan. Visually stunning with the characters being true to their comic book versions. The Marvel Universe films may not be exactly what I had in mind as a kid wishing for an Avengers movie, but they are virtually spot on when compared to those 70s shows.

Maybe that is the millennial mentality, but I don’t think so. Those shows were way too limited. Limited by technology. Limited creatively. Let’s face it, despite their best efforts,  the shows were lame. How many times can we see David (ugh) drift along helping strangers and hulking out? And that wig was horrible! Surely, they could have done better even with 1970s wig technology.

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Hey! That’s Jeremy Brett, my favorite Sherlock Holmes actor, in the background!

No, my generation didn’t have CGI, but it would have been awesome if it did.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Wait! Don Heck Drew This?!

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I checked two sources to confirm that Don Heck provided the pencils to this month’s great cover – Captain Marvel #5 (September, 1968). It’s his work. And it’s great.

It just doesn’t look like his style. It looks more like Gene Colan’s work. Colan had drawn the first four covers and interiors of the series, then Dandy Don Heck took over with this issue. My guess is that Heck was instructed to draw like Colan. It’s my understanding that that was a common practice in those days. A new artist would be instructed to draw like the previous artist so as to keep the continuity going, but then the new artist would be allowed to gradually let their own style come through.

Don Heck’s work gets knocked by some comic book fans as not being as dynamic as Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. And I think that is a somewhat fair criticism, but what Heck brought to the comics he drew was a stronger sense of realism. His characters may have seemed a bit stiff and static, but his anatomy drawing was much more accurate. And his action sequences were good. Just maybe not as page popping as Kirby and Ditko.

This is why I was surprised to learn that Don Heck had drawn this cover. I had assumed it was Gene Colan. But, when I was entering stock into the online catalog for Nostalgia Zone and I was adding information about the issue, I saw it was Heck who was given the credit for the drawing. And that’s why I had to check a second source.

It is his work.

And this page pops! It shows that Don could produce some quite dramatic and dynamic art. There’s the straining muscles of our hero, the stretching blue goop or whatever that stuff is, and the joyfully malevolent expression on the Metazoid’s face that all add up to a really great cover. I also like the coloring of the page, even though I was never very impressed with Captain Marvel’s original white and green costume.

Don Heck really cooks on this great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

How To Make A Great Cover, Unless Under Deadline

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In 1978, Stan Lee and John Buscema published How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way in an effort to teach young aspiring comic book artists how to draw comic books. It is an excellent, if dated, tutorial covering all aspects of creating exciting, pulse-pounding action that will leap off the page. How to draw figures, how to draw faces, how to make objects look real are covered along with page layout, composition, inking techniques, and how to create drama and the best action sequences. All in less than 160 pages.

My copy, acquired from a local library (I don’t remember if it was purchased or taken out and never returned – I hate to think what the late charges might be), has been well-thumbed, I can tell you.

I will focus on one chapter of this book in particular. I have a reason for this focus which will become apparent later.

It’s chapter eleven – The Comicbook Cover!

As an example, Stan and John focus on a cover of Nova (#12 – August, 1977). It was drawn by Buscema and, of course, it’s pretty damn good. (Hey, it’s by John Buscema. He was one of the masters.) Still, there were a few steps to go through before settling on the final design. A few quick sketches were produced using all the elements called for by the editor: Nova and guest-star Spider-Man are about to do battle in a library, in which we can see an incapacitated civilian.

 

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Stan breaks down the reasoning why the first three sketches were rejected before accepting the fourth design. One had the characters of Nova and Spider-Man too small in the design. Another had the star of the book with his back to the reader. And the third, would have also been nice to not have Spidey’s back to the reader.

Ugh! Editors. So hard to please.

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Eventually, a design was agreed upon and Buscema got to work, along with inker Frank Giacoia, producing the final piece.

The intent of this chapter is to show how important it is to create an exciting, engaging, and eye-catching cover. As Stan puts it:

“As you can imagine, the cover is probably the single most important page in any comicbook. If it catches your eye and intrigues you, there’s a chance you may buy the magazine. If it doesn’t cause you to pick it up, it means one lost sale.

“Consequently, more thought and more work go into the cover than any other page.”

It’s true. As a kid, I would mainly buy comic books based solely on their covers.

Well, the other day I was working at the comic book store (Nostalgia Zone in Minneapolis), going through inventory, seeing which books were needed for the online catalog. I came across a cover that made me pause. I stopped and showed it to the store manager. I asked, “What the hell happened here?”

Now, let me be clear. I mean no disrespect to the artists involved: Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson. Both have produced plenty of fine comic book art, including many covers.

However, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #17 (1983) looks… Well, it looks dashed off. It’s almost as though the cover wasn’t even thought about until just as the book was going to press.

Editor: “Oh, crap! We need a cover! Ed! Klaus! Draw Spidey! Stat!”

Five minutes later…

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“Ummmm. Sigh… Well! That will have to do. Run it.”

I can’t imagine this cover went through any of the process that cover of Nova went through. My guess is they were hard up against deadline and just needed a drawing of Spider-Man for the cover. Which seems strange as it’s an annual. I was always under the assumption that annuals, since they only come out once a year, have more time to produce.

But you know the old saying about assumptions. “When you make an assumption you make an ass of you and… mption?”

That can’t be right.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

The Avengers Are So Hot Right Now, So Here’s This Month’s Great Cover

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I had to go with an Avengers cover for this month, didn’t I? How could I not? Disney’s Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame is in theaters and is doing monster business. Well, I’m more than willing to jump on that bandwagon, so I picked an issue of The Avengers as an example of a great cover.

This one is a little different than what one might think of as a great comic book cover. There’s no pitched battle. There’s no image of our hero or heroes about to be or having been defeated. There’s no super-villain or group of super-villains.

It’s just our heroes gathered around their conference table. They are being dressed down by a lone man, normal, no superpowers, holding a file marked “Top Secret”. He’s Peter Gyrich and he’s from the US National Security Agency, which I suppose could be considered a super-hero or a super-villain, depending on your feelings toward government.

The Avengers’ organization has gotten too big, too unruly, and too lax in their security for the US Government. They are becoming more of a risk than an asset. They need to be more tightly controlled and to do that many of them had to go. Earth’s mightiest heroes may not have started out as a government sanctioned group, but since their founding they had acquired certain privileges and clearances and funding. If they wished to continue getting those favors, they would have to follow the rules.

The greatness of this cover starts with its excellent execution by artists George Perez (penciler) and Terry Austin (inker). It’s hard to go wrong with that artistic team-up. Perez does a fantastic job of drawing and design here. It’s not easy to incorporate so many characters, 24 in all, in such a limited space and make them all appear as though they are all standing on the same floor and have their own space. They may be a little cramped, but Perez handles it beautifully here. And he didn’t even try make it easier on himself by drawing two of the characters in their miniature states, as he could have with The Wasp and Yellowjacket.

I also like the little connections between the couples of the group. The Vision is gently caressing Scarlet Witch. The Wasp is holding Yellowjacket’s reassuring hand as he places it on her shoulder. Captain America’s hug of Iron Man… Well, maybe that’s not technically a hug.

Gyrich’s arrogance and self-confidence is on full display. He boldly stands before a gathering of super-powered beings, any one of whom could easily reduce him to a quivering pile of human flesh, and dictates the government’s terms. He shows no sign of being intimidated, at all.

The cover of Avengers #181 (March, 1979) may seem an unusual choice, but I think it’s a great cover.

And Endgame? Fantastic! Bravo Marvel! Bravo Disney!

Oh! As a bonus. John Byrne and Gene Day produced what some might consider an even better version of the cover scene as part of the story. However, theirs has only 23 characters. Can you figure out which one is missing?

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It’s Yondu of the Guardians of the Galaxy who is missing.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Two Legends Flex Their Muscles On This Month’s Great Cover

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I’m returning to Marvel Comics, my true love when it comes to comic books, for this month’s great cover. Let’s look at Sub-Mariner #20 (December, 1969). The legendary artists responsible for this action packed cover are John Buscema (pencils) and Johnny Craig (inks).

Buscema is one of my favorites. I especially like his work from the mid to late 1960s, which included The Avengers, Silver Surfer, and Sub-Mariner. When he took over the penciling of The Avengers, readers were treated to an artist approaching the peak of his abilities. His art was something like a combination of the two previous pencilers who worked on that series. First, was Jack Kirby, then Don Heck. Buscema combined Kirby’s dynamic action with Heck’s more accurate anatomy drawing.

The results are fantastic. (I have previously written in more depth about my appreciation of John Buscema’s masterful illustrating work on The Avengers.)

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By “Crime SuspenStories #22” at The Grand Comics Database. Retrieved June 12, 2008., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17904260

Johnny Craig goes back to the days of EC Comics. EC really was an excellent producer of comic books that appealed to older readers as well as the typical kid readers of the other publishers in the 1950s. Then came Sen. Estes Kefauver’s attack on comic books which he believed were leading American children to delinquency. He was particularly displeased by EC and it was one of Craig’s covers, the infamous depiction of a woman’s severed head being held by her killer, that drew much of the good senator’s ire.

Senate hearings were convened. Witnesses were harangued. Senators displayed their righteous indignation. The industry created the Comics Code Authority. EC Comics bid the world of comic books a fond farewell, turned to publishing magazines by dropping all of its titles but one, converting that title from a comic to magazine, and Mad Magazine was born anew. Thanks, Sen. Kefauver!

Well, these two excellent illustrators combined their considerable talents to produce a great cover. It’s an action cover in which the complicated hero Sub-Mariner drops in on one of Marvel’s greatest (also complicated) villains Dr. Doom. An epic battle is about to commence!

What kid could resist such a great cover? Both characters are so well drawn. I especially like Dr. Doom’s pose. Sure, he’s wearing a suit of armor, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still jump into action. This is comic books after all. If an artist can draw it, the character can do it.

I also really like the coloring of this cover, likely to have been provided by another legend of comic books – Marie Severin. The red background is attention grabbing and the use of half-toning in the grey of Doom’s armor, along with the use of white for highlighting, gives it a fairly real-looking metallic look.

The same team of artists provide the interior art for this book and it’s outstanding!

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

The Man Has Died. Stan Lee (1922-2018)

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Last December, with the input of a few friends, I had written a post commemorating Stan “The Man” Lee’s 95th birthday. Today I’m writing a brief post to acknowledge The Man’s death and his impact on my life.

I was a Marvel kid in the 1970s, when I started collecting comic books. All of my comic collecting friends were at the time. Although, I grew to appreciate DC Comics later in life, I’m still a Marvel kid at heart. Marvel Comics were just so much more exciting than DC Comics. The artwork was better. The action was better. The characters were better.

The characters were better, in large part, because they were so much more relatable than DC’s. Marvel characters had real world, often mundane, problems. Spider-Man had to figure out how to defeat Doc Ock and protect Aunt May, all while keeping his identity secret and his homework done. OK, I wasn’t fighting super-villains, but I did have homework. That relatability was one of Stan’s greatest contributions to comic books. His characters were people.

I’m aware there have been criticisms against Stan for what appeared to be his desire to be thought of as the sole creator of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, and a whole litany of other exciting super-heroes. But I think those criticisms are a little unfair. Later in his life, he was certain to acknowledge the massive contributions of such creative giants as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in those extremely creative years in the early 1960s. (And, let’s face it, without Stan Lee, how many of us would have ever heard of Kirby and Ditko?)

Stan Lee had a “gee whiz” kind of quality to his personality. He could seem a little hokey at times, but his optimism and exuberance were undeniable. It was that personality that made him the perfect cheerleader for Marvel Comics and for comic books in general. And that cheer-leading was an equally important facet to his contribution to the world of comic books, super-heroes, and, eventually, tent-pole super-hero movies. The Man not only changed comic books, he had a hand in changing Hollywood.

Throughout my youth, I would spend hours and hours reading, looking at, and studying comic books, most of them Marvel. Comic books inspired me to keep drawing, when other kids gave up and moved on to other things. I became an artist, a cartoonist. No, I never did get work drawing comic books, but no matter. It was comic books, Stan Lee’s comic books, that put me on the road to gaining this skill.

For that and the thousand of hours spent battling Dr. Doom with The Fantastic Four, or Ultron with The Avengers, or Magneto with The X-Men, I am eternally grateful to Stan “The Man” Lee.

Packing Peanuts!

No. Make that…

Excelsior!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

(This post has been corrected and updated on 11-16-18.)

A Great American Comic Book Cover

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It’s a great Captain America cover despite it showing the patriotic hero having been defeated. He may be down for the moment, but we know he’ll triumph in the end. He always does. Or did in those days, anyway.

This is the first great cover installment featuring Marie Severin as the artist. There weren’t many women working as comic book artists back then. Marie was a pioneer. And she was great. She drew, she inked, and she would color the pages of some of Marvel’s greatest characters. For this May, 1970 issue of Captain America (#125) she provided the pencils and color, while it was Frank Giacoia who inked it.

There is a hint of Gene Colan’s style in this cover and that may be intentional, because Gene is the artist for the pages within. Marie may have been trying to mimic his style. However, I’ve always been more of a fan of Marie’s drawing style than Gene’s. His work was good. Very cinematic. But there was something about how he drew people. Hard to explain.

Marie’s high achievements on this cover are two fold. First, as the penciler, she has drawn such a natural-looking pose of defeat. Cap is unconscious and limp, yet we can still he is a powerful man. She quite literally used the “S”-curve design for her drawing of our defeated hero. The face of the unconscious First Avenger is very nicely done, as well.

Second is her use of color.

(Allow me to sidetrack a bit here. There really is something about the way the comics from my day were colored that make them so much more appealing to me. It’s probably because that’s the way it was done when I first learned to appreciate comic books and so it’s more familiar to me. I like the old way of laying out pages, too. The way comic books look now is fine and a lot of the stuff is great, but I guess I just prefer the old ways.)

Marie’s use of color and heavy black on this cover are terrific at suggesting defeat and dread. Cap has been captured and is being held captive in a cold and dank castle. The blue of his uniform even seems darker with that hint of purple. The use of grey to shade his face instead of flat black is also a nice touch.

Captain America, as drawn by Marie Severin, still looks great even in defeat.

Packing Peanuts!

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