Tag Archives: Marvel Comics

You- -You Can’t Resist This Month’s Great Cover

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He is considered one of the greats of the Silver Age (1956 – 1969) of Comic Books. He helped hone the image of DC Comics in an effort to compete with the upstart Marvel Comics. (Make Mine Marvel! Whoops. Sorry. I’m a Marvel kid, what can I say?) He was Carmine Infantino and I never really cared for his drawing style.

Yes, I acknowledge he was a good storyteller and overall a good artist. I was just never moved or excited by his work. Especially in the later years of his career, when I thought his people looked too stretchy.

As I enter stock into Nostalgia Zone’s online catalog, I get to check out lots of comic covers. I have had several catch my eye and I note them for future inclusion in my great covers series. Well, whose cover should have caught my eye just recently?

Carmine Infantino’s.

This month’s cover makes excellent use of the entire page with Infantino’s drawing of Death passing quite a ponderous amount of gas. Will The Flash be overcome? Will he die? Will he get the giggles due Death’s nasty farts?

Probably not any of those. (Well, maybe he’ll chuckle to himself a little.)

I also like the use of color. According to comics.org the colorist might be Jack Adler, but they aren’t sure. The green isn’t just one shade, nor is the figure of Death. Trading the traditional black outline look for using two shades of blue, with the darker blue replacing the black, gives the figure a ghostly feel. It’s a nice touch.

I may not be a fan of Infantino’s work in general, but I think this one (and several covers done for the Batman series) looks very good.

Packing Peanuts!

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The Transformation Of Four Artists

In comic books, if an artist is good (and maybe a little lucky) they can have long careers, sometimes decades. A lot of factors are at play. Can they draw? Can they convey the story visually? Can they meet deadlines? Do the fans like their work? Can they keep looking fresh?

Some artists change their style, which can cause some chagrin for some fans. Just a couple months ago, on a Facebook comic book fan group page, a member posted two images of the work of John Romita Jr. One was an early piece of his from an issue of The Dazzler, the other was a Superman cover from a few years later. The fan wondered what happened to Romita Jr.’s work. Why had it gotten so different and, in their opinion, so bad?

The thing about art is that it’s really subjective. It depends on what you like. The John Romita Jr. discussion fostered plenty of disagreement. Folks were arguing about which period of Romita Jr.’s work was better. There were lots of opinions attempting to justify each person’s position, making consensus difficult.

What do I think? Later John Romita Jr. illustration is better.

The answer to what happened to John Romita Jr.’s work, and I’m speculating here, is that he appeared to have decided to stop trying to conform to a formulaic comic book style and started drawing in his style. And, in my opinion, his work got so much more interesting.

Romita Jr. is one of four artists that come to my mind as examples of embracing their own style and achieving greater artistic heights. The others are Barry Windsor-Smith, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Mike Mignola. They are each examples of artists coming into the industry with a look that wasn’t especially interesting (not bad, just not interesting), and then developed into great and unique artists.

Barry Windsor-Smith

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So much Jack Kirby (and some Jim Steranko), but where is Barry Windsor-Smith?

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Some Windsor-Smith is beginning to break through.

Barry Windsor-Smith started working for Marvel in the late 1960s. His Jack Kirby-like style endeared him to Stan Lee. That got Windsor-Smith’s foot in the door, but then he began to adjust his style and moved away from producing work the looked like Kirby to work that had elements of Joe Kubert and Moebius, but was becoming more an more his own look. His progression in the ’70s and ’80s right through the 2000s is nothing less than astounding.

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Brilliant!

Bill Sienkiewicz

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It’s good, but very Neal Adams-ish.

When Marvel Comics’ character Moon Knight received his own title in 1980, Bill Sienkiewicz was the artist at the helm. He had done a few Fantastic Four issues as well and he had a decided Neal Adams style. As his work continued on Moon Knight, the Neal Adams influence began to fade and what Sienkiewicz began to produce would lead to a style that, although having similarities to illustrator Bob Peak’s work, really was all his own and very innovative in the field of comic books.

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Now that’s some Bill Sienkiewicz!

His work may not have pleased purists, but it brought comic book art into a whole new strata of illustration.

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Brilliant!

Mike Mignola

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It’s not quite right.

Mike Mignola started at Marvel in the early ’80s and I was buying Alpha Flight when he took over pencils after John Byrne left the book and I was… underwhelmed. Something just didn’t look right. Eventually, even while drawing superheroes, Mignola’s style began to come through. My whelmness increased. And when Hellboy debuted, I felt Mignola’s true style had fully revealed itself.

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Mignola’s uniqueness!

John Romita Jr.

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It’s not bad, it just doesn’t quite grab me.

This brings me to the artist I talked about at the beginning of this week’s blog. I think John Romita Jr.’s career has the benefit and difficulty of following in his father’s footsteps. The senior Romita cast a very large shadow. His influence on Marvel Comics in the ’60s and ’70s cannot be overstated. The man was a workhorse and he was a large factor in establishing the Marvel look.

So, I think, when Romita Jr. started he was pretty much locked in those giant footsteps of his father’s, but he began to allow his style to come out. His doing so, in my opinion, propelled his work beyond that of his father’s.

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Junior has emerged from his father’s shadow and I’m grabbed.

 

What these four artists have in common is they all started in the industry working in the style set down by their predecessors. They were all capable storytellers, but they lacked that certain something. When each artist shook off the establishment style and embraced they own way of drawing, their work became more fresh and exciting. They became innovators and they expanded the world of comic book art.

Packing Peanuts!

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Herb Trimpe, The Hulk, And Another Great Cover

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September 1973

It really was an excellent pairing of artist and character, when Herb Trimpe drew the Hulk. During his run as artist on Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk, Trimpe was at the peak of his powers. It’s difficult to define that certain magic that comes from the perfect pairing of artist and character, but when it happens it’s awesome.

Jack Kirby and the Fantastic Four; John Buscema and the Silver Surfer; Neal Adams and Batman; John Byrne and the X-Men; are just a few of explosive combinations. (Yes, yes. Each artist produced brilliant art on other titles, but those are the best examples that come to my mind.) And, we can add Herb and Hulk to the list of great combos, because they certainly rocked together.

So, I return to the Trimpe/Hulk pairing once again (I first featured a great cover with that pairing in June, 2016). This month’s great cover, drawn and inked by Trimpe, is from issue number 167 (September, 1973) and it’s a doozy!

There’s the “Dutch Angle” applied to add drama and tension. There is speed involved in the crushing stomp the big baddie is trying to drop on our hero. I mean, look! Those are sparks jumping from Hulk’s right hand, aren’t they?

I’m not sure how impressive of a villain Modok normally is, being mainly a giant head, but, with the addition of that over-sized robot body, he looks pretty damn formidable. Obviously, the Hulk is struggling mightily with a bad guy who declares he isn’t afraid of our great, big, green hero. (But, I’m guessing the Hulk triumphs in the end.)

This is such a great, eye-catching cover. It gives Gil Kane a run for his money and his covers were consistently fabulous. There was just something about Herb Trimpe and the Hulk.

Incredible!

Packing Peanuts!

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Here’s A Few Things About Comic Books

This is going to be one of those round-up blogs, in which I comment on a number of comic book related topics. I have a few things to comment on, but not enough on each topic for a full write up, so…

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It’s real. It’s an actual comic book cover. The February 1966 issue of Lois Lane would finally address the issue of Clark Kent’s flimsy disguise. A nice suit and Buddy Holly glasses? Really? If I removed my glasses and donned a Superman costume, people would still know it was me. So, how did this disguise work in the comic books, TV shows, and movies?

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That’s me, holding the comic book in question. Geez! My toupee needs adjusting.

I read this issue (which you can buy at NostalgiaZone.com – $10 cheap!) and I’m going to spoil it for you. DC Comics doesn’t really explain how Superman keeps fooling the world.

The story in a nutshell: Editor Perry White has to leave the Daily Planet while he serves, temporarily, in the US Senate. His replacement is awfully handsome, a “dreamboat” according to Lois, but he also acts suspiciously. Lois goes on a date with him that first day after work and thinks there’s something up with the guy.

She learns he is the leader of S.K.U.L. (Superman Killers’ Underground League) and she gets roped into a plot to kill Supes. She gets Lana Lang to help her decode the instructions she had been given by this secret underground league. When the message is decoded, Superman bursts in on Lois and Lana and makes that declaration we see on the cover. Lana does admit they’ve had their suspicions.

Superman then removes his mask and he turns out to be the leader of the kill Superman club. But, he’s really an FBI agent trying to smoke out that League and he enlists Lois and Lana to help him. Continued next issue.

They don’t exactly explain how Superman/Clark Kent can fool the world with a suit and glasses.

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The sexism just oozes from the narration paragraph at the top. “The Daily Planet’s pretty reporter,” “cute nose.” Yuck!

While reading this comic book from 52 years ago, I was struck by how blatantly sexist it is in its treatment of women and Lois Lane in particular. Lane is an investigative reporter, yet she’s described as stumbling onto stories. Her immediate reaction upon meeting the new editor is to think of him as a dreamboat. And neither Lane nor Lang bring up the topic of marriage, yet that’s what “Superman” deems the best way to berate these women for their stupidity. Marriage must have been a major theme in the Lois Lane series, after all it was a “girl’s” comic.

Switching gears, a couple months back, on a Facebook comic book fan group page, there was a discussion of whether the cover of Marvel’s Fantastic Four #1 was an homage to or a rip-off of the cover illustration of DC’s The Brave and The Bold #28 (the first appearance of the Justice League Of America). Look below for a comparison.

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Compostionally the two cover are very much alike. I prefer the Fantastic Four cover, because I prefer Jack Kirby’s drawing to Mike Sekowsky’s. Although, Sekowsky’s anatomy drawing is better and FF #1 isn’t Kirby’s best cover. It’s good, just not his best.

(OK, I’m a Marvel kid. I’m required by the MMMS to always prefer Marvel covers. Even if drawn by Rob Liefe… NO! There’s no way I can do that! I must draw the line somewhere!)

At first, I thought it was coincidence. Then I learned that the Fantastic Four was the result of a mandate from Atlas Comics publisher, Martin Goodman, to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with the Justice League of America, DC’s super team that debuted just about a year earlier. Learning that bit of history has me leaning toward rip-off.

What do you think?

Finally, as part of that JLA/FF discussion, someone brought up the practice of artists copying other artists in the creation of comic books. They provided an image (see below) that certainly is evidence of copying.

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Top frame: Jack Kirby • Middle frame: Gil Kane • Bottom frame: Rich Buckler

There’s no denying the second two frames were copied from work done by Kirby in the first frame, assuming that image is the original use of that punch. You will note that Gil Kane (second frame) made a couple changes to the pose: Captain America’s left arm is held differently and his hips are turned to the right. Kane’s variation, in my opinion, makes the pose a little on the awkward side, especially the lower part of his left leg.

Gil! If you’re going to copy the master, copy the master.

Someone in the group discussion claimed that Stan Lee, himself, would hand artists frames of comic art, usually drawn by Kirby, and instruct them to copy that frame. This revelation was offered without any source citation, so it may be untrue. And it may be a case of artists just copying other artists, in this case Kirby, because the other artists may have solved a difficult problem. When you consider how quickly artists had to get the work done with looming deadlines and the need to do as many pages as possible in a day to get decent pay, copying is understandable.

Artists were paid lousy. If you could only manage one page a day, you’d starve.

Packing Peanuts!

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A Great Cover To Get Excited About

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Working for a comic book store has its moments. Sometimes you’re able to find that one issue for which a customer had been looking far and wide and for so long. There are the occasions when a little kid comes looking for advice on what to collect. (I always tell them to find something they like and collect that. Don’t worry about value, but keep it in good shape. Comic book collecting should be fun.) And sometimes we get a customer who is just damn excited to find a comic book drawn by their favorite artist. An original, not a reprint. From the early days. And it’s affordable!

That last scenario happened on Saturday. A fellow came in and found himself a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #33 (February 1966) drawn and inked by the incomparable Steve Ditko. It would be his first original Amazing Spider-Man purchase. Until that Saturday, he had been collecting reprints. The customer placed his find up by the register for safe keeping as he searched around for any other gems. That’s when I noticed the cover.

Ditko, along with Jack Kirby, was instrumental in creating the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee in the early 1960s. His style is unmistakable and, to be honest, doesn’t always work for me. But this cover caught my eye.

It was Ditko who designed Spider-Man’s look. He is responsible for what must be the second most iconic costume in all of comic books. First would have to be Superman, but Spider-Man is right up there. That’s a hell of an achievement.

The cover says it is “The Final Chapter” and we see our hero, apparently trapped, as the water rises. The cover is done simply and effectively with tension and drama. But is Spider-Man really trapped? Is he contemplating his escape? Or is he giving up and letting the flood waters take him?

Surely, our hero isn’t giving up.

The composition is straight forward and elegant. Spidey is right at the center trapped with the water is rising. What will he do? The text helps set the tension. Can this possibly be the final chapter? Is it the end of our hero?!

The reader just has to find out!

That’s an effective cover. And it is very gratifying to know the copy we had in the shop has found a loving home.

(Hmmm. It’s curious. The other Amazing Spider-Man cover I declared great also had Spidey threatened by rising water. It seems I have a thing for wet Spider-Men. I might have to call my therapist.)

Packing Peanuts!

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January’s Great Comic Book Cover Is By The King

29715I’ve said this before: When I was younger and first collecting comic books, I didn’t really care for Jack Kirby’s artwork. I did come to appreciate when I got older and had studied comic book art very closely and for a long time. Lately, I’ve been hearing other comic book collectors saying the same thing. Although they haven’t said how much they’ve studied the art, they have come to an appreciation and love for Kirby’s genius.

With this month’s great cover, I think I might have been a fan of Kirby in my younger years, if one thing would have been true. If Bill Everett would have inked more of the King’s work. In those days, Mike Royer, Vince Colletta, or Joe Sinnott were teamed with Kirby most often. They were all fine inkers, but Bill Everett, a excellent artist in his own right, seemed to really gel with his fellow comic book pioneer.

Look at that cover (The Mighty Thor #171, December 1969). Penciled by Kirby, it has many of his telltale features. There’s the round biceps, the odd-looking yet expressive hands, and those great skyscrapers. And, of course, that dynamic struggle pose between to super-powered foes. Kirby was so good at dynamic.

On this cover, there’s also a more defined anatomy. More restrained somehow. More disciplined. And I love the expression on The Wrecker’s (he’s the guy in the green jumpsuit) face. There’s something about those eyes. I attribute these elements of greatness to Everett’s inking. Everett should have been Kirby’s inker far more often. If this cover is any indication, they would have made a hell of a team.

It’s a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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It’s The Man’s 95th Birthday!

Stan-Lee.jpgThere is a podcast that my friend Douglas hosts, it’s called the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules. It’s a pop culture podcast examining music, television, movies, and all sorts of things from a Baby Boomer and a whatever that generation after the Baby Boomers is called perspective. From time to time, Douglas will gather a few contributing opinion-holders to have round table discussions on a given topic. He calls this group the “Gang Of Occasional Guest Hosts” or the GOOCH Squad. I count myself honored to be a member.

Earlier today, the GOOCH Squad, which for the purposes of this blog will include Douglas even though he’s the host and not a guest host, was chatting through Facebook, when I discovered today is the 95th birthday of a giant.

The Man.

Stan Lee.

I asked the fellows if they had any thoughts about the man who had such an influence on all of us. Each member of the squad is a life-long fan of comic books. And all of us were Marvel kids. I asked for their help in capturing just how important Stan Lee was to each of us and to several generations of comic book creators and fans.

Superhero comic books weren’t much of a thing in 1961. DC Comics pretty well had the market cornered. Their characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and others) were selling well, but other comic book publishers just weren’t making much headway. Until, as he tells it, Stan Lee, a frustrated writer working for Atlas (formerly Timely) Comics, decided to quit. But, as a last hurrah and at the suggestion of his wife, he decided to take a chance and write something he wanted to write. Not some romance, jungle, western, crime, monster, etc. story, but a superhero story.

Atlas hadn’t done superheroes since the cancellations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Marvel Boy, and Human Torch in the early 1950s, closely coinciding Timely’s transformation to Atlas.

Stan’s last hurrah produced The Fantastic Four, created with more than a little assistance from artist Jack Kirby. With that publication came the birth of Marvel Comics. And the world was changed forever.

Now, that’s Stan’s version. But we’ve heard that Atlas publisher Martin Goodman had assigned Lee and Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with DC’s Justice League of America, which debuted a year before the FF. Curious how that detail doesn’t make it into Stan’s version of history.

We should also note that The Man is a man and that there are some less seemly aspects to the history of Marvel Comics. Lee gets the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, and, or course, Spider-Man. But the talents of Don Heck, Steve Ditko, and the aforementioned Kirby in the visual creation of those and so many other characters cannot be understated. Especially, Kirby and Ditko. At times, it feels as though Stan wants the world to just remember him as the creator.

Maybe that’s not very fair. Stan would say that much of the mistreatment of artists, rampant in the industry, was out of his control. But, as Douglas points out, he needed the talents of Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Bill Everett, John Buscema, and many others to reach the creative heights together that couldn’t be achieved each on their own. Lee needed their drawing skills and they needed his words. (Although, as some comic historians have pointed out, it seems that Jack Kirby had a much, much greater hand in the development of storylines than Stan would like to admit.)

And to give Stan a little more credit, it was Marvel Comics that made certain readers saw the names of the writers, artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers in each issue. The other publishers would follow his lead and the creators would at least get some credit.

I think Stan Lee’s genius breaks in three directions: Creation, relate-ability, and promotion.

Of course there was his prolific ability to come up with so many fascinating and exciting characters, both heroes and villains. Seriously! Is there a better comic book bad guy than Doctor Doom? And he created a fantastic universe for his characters to inhabit. Yes, he used real locations, such as New York City, but he also gave us his version of Asgard and Hades. And completely new worlds such as the Negative Zone and the Dark Dimension, where lived the dread Dormammu. (Or, maybe not. It’s also been suggested that that universe creation was more the work of Kirby and Ditko.)

Stan also knew how to turn a phrase. “It’s clobberin’ time!” “Avengers Assemble!” “The Hoary Host of Hoggoth!” Whatever that was. And there was his sign off for his Stan’s Soapbox columns: “Excelsior!” (Which had a direct influence on how I sign off my blog. Look up the meaning of excelsior and Packing Peanuts will make sense.) It was also Stan’s practice to use words that might have been just a bit over the heads of us kids, so out would come the dictionaries. In fact, Douglas credits Stan’s use of such words as “ersatz” and “quixotic” with helping him pass his SATs.

The second branch of his genius was his desire to make his characters relate-able. DC’s readers might have enjoyed Superman and Batman, but they just weren’t quite like us when not out supering. Stan’s characters were human, even when being super. The FF was essentially a family with a special dynamic due to that relationship. Spider-Man had troubles at home, girlfriend problems, and homework. As GOOCH Squad member Michael so eloquently put it, “[Stan Lee’s] signature brand of realism and foibles infused into the lives of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and others set precedents and added a heretofore untapped dimension of reader identification that raised the industry bar.” Indeed!

The third bit of his genius is something obvious, but still overlooked or underestimated by most folks. Stan Lee was the greatest promoter and cheerleader the comic books industry ever had. Fellow GOOCHer, Brian, called Stan the “comic book ambassador for the masses.”

This cheer-leading is something all of us noted, but I will take it just a little bit further. Think of DC, Dell, Harvey, Charlton. What creative genius comes to mind? Comic book folks might come up with the name of an artist or writer, but not that one name. Think Marvel. You think of Stan Lee.

I will go still further. It may be different today, but not long ago if you were to ask someone who wasn’t a fan of baseball to name a player the answer you were likely to get is Babe Ruth. He was such a giant of the game that his name became synonymous with it. Inseparable. Babe Ruth is baseball.

In the world of comic books, Stan Lee occupies that same exalted ground. Ask a non-fan to name a comic book creator. The answer is Stan Lee.

Happy 95th to the Man.

Packing Peanuts!

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And a special thanks to the GOOCH Squad for their assistance.

Update 1-19-18: I recently watched the excellent documentary series Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, the first episode of which examines the beginning of Marvel Comics. After watching that episode, I feel I may have been a little unfair toward Stan by suggesting he wanted all the credit. He lauds praise on Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and he’s more nuanced about the creation of the Marvel Universe. He also acknowledges his editor assigning him to create a super-hero group to compete with the Justice League of America.

It’s a very good series. I highly recommend it.

 

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