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Mar. 5th, 2008

Nurses of the 407

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Nov. 1st, 2007


One of my favorite things to do once I've read a comic book, is to go back and read it again, looking for any subtle (or not so subtle) secondary meanings or references. I especially like the visual ones, since I'm a visual kinda guy.

These can range from street names to background characters to lines of dialogue to just about anything that refers to something else besides what is going on in the story. For example, Todd McFarlane is notorious for including images of Felix the Cat in the background in many of the stories he drew. I refer to these as inside jokes or injokes. They almost always do not have anything to do with the story being told, so if you don't recognize them, you don't miss anything in the story. But if you do recognize them, you get added enjoyment out of the comic book.

There is a literary term which comes close to what I mean, but doesn't exactly cover all the instances I mean. The term is metafiction. The Simpsons TV show is a prime example of metafiction. Check out Wikipedia for a good description and examples of metafiction.

The extra bits that I look for in comic books is even a bit wider than the definition of metafiction given there. These extra bits include characters, drawings, lines of dialogue, names, images, and more. Artists will many times include characters in crowd scenes which are from another title or even another company. A writer will quote a line from a popular movie or character and sometimes just slightly twist it. Many times they will insert comics creators or other real people as characters in the story.

So, beyond looking for and enjoying the occurrences of "injokes", I collect them. There are thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of these that appear in comic books since the 1960s. Sometimes they are built right into the story as when the Fantastic Four meet the Marvel Comics staff in Fantastic Four V. 1 #176 in 1976. Many of the artists, writers and staff of Marvel appear and if you didn't know they were drawings of real people, you could still enjoy the story. But seeing how they are portrayed and how they interact with others gives you a feel for how the writer and artist of that issue, see their comrades.

Some of these injokes are just names on headstones in a graveyard. Where others are elaborate spoofs that last for issues. Terry Austin had a running story line about Jack Abel being accused of murdering Howard Chaykin in a series of newspaper headlines. The story of what happens next continues over at least 10 different comic books.

One of my favorites if from Master of Kung Fu #17 (April 1974). In the first 3 pages of that story, three thugs attempt to mug Shang Chi. The three creators of the issue [Steve Englehart; Jim Starlin (co-plot) (Script), Jim Starlin (Pencils), Al Milgrom (Inks)] put themselves in as the thugs. Starlin and Milgrom even draw the thugs with their own faces.

Here is the entire sequence.

My interest in this type of thing even covers when real people (like political figures) appear in comic books. Here is one where President John F. Kennedy's Press Secretary Pierre Salinger appears in a Thor story; Journey Into Mystery #96 V. 1:

The Real Salinger:

The tough ones are where an artist will have graphitti on the wall, and you don't know if it refers to friends of his or are just random. Since I know a lot of comic book history, sometimes I can just check Jerry Bails' Whos Who to get an idea who the names might be in reference to.

I also collect homages where artists have copied the layout and design of a cover from a previous comic book and use it for something new. The cover to Fantastic Four #1 has been "homaged" many times, including on a Simpsons comic book.

So, from time to time, I will be presenting examples here on this page. But if you know of any, please let me know, no matter how simple. I am sure there are tons that I do not know about.

Oct. 20th, 2007

Schlock Meister Myron Fass

Myron Fass was probably the biggest schlock meister in magazine publishing in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He published anything that would sell 20-30,000 copies and even some that didn't. His companies magazines would use public domain photos and even ones from the USSR as they wouldn't sue in the US courts. much of what he published was made up or plagiarized. Truth or facts were not important, only what sold.

His partner until the fall of 1977 was Stanley R. Harris who now publishes as Harris Publications. They both ran the company best known as Countrywide Publications together until Myron pistol whipped Stanley and they split. The magazines published by Fass became even sleazier once Harris left.

Fass was well known for capitalizing on celebrity deaths, including Martin Luther King and Elvis Presley. It was typical of them to put together a magazine over a weekend. They usually had the magazine on the stands within days. He also did unauthorized magazines on live celebrities like The Beatles, John Denver, Farrah Fawcett, Jacqueline Kennedy, Led Zepplin, and Priscilla Presley.

The comic books he published ranged from a standard format superhero (Captain Marvel), to black & white erotic magazines (Gasm) to horror reprints/cheap knockoffs like Horror Tales, Weird and Witches Tales (Eerie Publications). All cheaply done with no respect for royalties, rights, or quality. You'd think that he'd have a little more respect for comics since he once was a artist in the Golden Age.

Under at least 10 different company names, he published an uncountable number of magazines. His men's mags had titles like Jaguar, Erotica, He & She, Him & Her, Flick, Duke, Photo-rama, Pic, Photo, Poorboy, Stud, and Buccaneer.

Most of his magazines gave you a clue to their contents with their names The American Horseman, Ancient Astronauts, .44 Magnum, Acid Rock, Choopers, Clones, Crime, Cycle Illustrated, Dog Show, Gun Pro, Kong, Mobs and Their Gangs, Murder Squad Detective, Official UFO, Outdoor Sports Life, Punk Rock, Space Wars, Street Car Racer, Hall of Fame Wrestling, True War, and many, many others.

So why should you care? First, millions of people bought his magazines. He must have touched something that people wanted to know about. If we can find out what he published we have have an idea of the trends of popular culture. Since he sold so many magazines, and most people believe everything they read in print, he must have influenced millions of people.

And, there must be a ton of untold, fascinating stories from people who worked for him, just by considering the ones I heard so far.

So, if you worked there or know anything about him, I'd love to hear from you. Him and his companies are an ongoing research project for me. I'll be sure to keep you updated as I progress.

Oct. 18th, 2007

Scanner Marks

You might have noticed, in the three comics scans I posted yesterday, a little fuzziness in the lower left corner of each scan. That was where I removed the mark (logo) of the person who scanned the pages.

This is one of my pet peeves. I cannot believe the arrogance and ego of people who put those on scans. Its as if they were dogs pissing on a fire hydrant marking their territory. Especially egregious are the ones who put a large mark over some of the artwork.

Who do these people think they are? They don't own the work. All they did is take a picture of it. It's like taking a photograph of the Mona Lisa and saying look what I did. I know they think they have some kind of ownership since they did the scanning and think they need to be recognized, or that someone will steal their work and make some money that they might have made. But, they are stealing someone else's work and making money off it, and they are trying to stop others from doing the same thing. They are not respecting someone else's copyright, but they think it is alright to try to get something out of it. What a bunch of pricks.

I make sure not to send people to anybody that does that. And I sure as hell don't give them any of my money.

If they want to get credit for the scan, they can add a page to the work and take credit. But sure as hell don't mark the work you are scanning.

The same goes for the people on ebay who scan covers/artwork and then put a "watermark" on the image. I always skip their auctions automatically.

I can understand an artist who posts his images to the web for sale doing that. He owns the rights to the work and should be able to control his work how ever he wants. In this day and age, it is probably a futile gesture, but do what you think you need to do.


Rant for the day done.

Oct. 17th, 2007

Comic Books: Art and Writing

The Art form of comics is truly unique in that it combines two art-forms (art & writing) to form a third (comics).

After all my years reading and working in comics, I have come to the conclusion that comic book fans can be separated into 2 broad categories:

1. Those that read comics for the art.
2. Those that read comics for the writing/plot.

We all know that the best comics are a combination of good writing and good art. Of course like everything else in the real world, this is a continuum. Some fans can stomach really bad writing if the art is exceptional and vice versa, while most will get turned off by incoherent storytelling in the art, no matter how sharp the dialogue is. And of course, "good" is a matter of taste to some extent. I don't really like most cartoony style art and prefer the classic realist/illustrative style.

You can tell which camp a comic fan falls into by asking a simple question. Would you rather read a poorly written comic book with good art, or a well written comic book with poor art. I've had a few people who answer that question with a "depends", but I always figured they just haven't thought much about the question.

I fall firmly in the Reading comic books for the Art camp.

So, most of my posts will focus on that aspect of comic books. Though I do have one writer who's work I will search out no matter who the artist is, JMS, J. Michael Straczynski.

- - - -

Recently I was reading an old issue of Wonderworld #8 (January 1940) from a CD ROM and ran across a cute 2 page story that I have never seen mentioned before. It showcases my above conclusion. Most writing in in Golden Age comic books is usually pretty simple and poor, but you have to remember who their target audience was. But the story "At Coney Island" showcases the talent of the average Golden Age artist. The Grand Comic-Book Database (GCD) doesn't list the artist or writer, so I don't have any clue who might have done it.

I couldn't resist displaying the Lou Fine cover too. Click on each pix for a bigger image. There are even larger images of these pages on my web site (TLS Web Site link).

Now the interesting thing about this story is the storytelling technique in the art. I'm sure you noticed that the artist broke conventions by having Don Quixote fall out of the roller coaster car and then back into it in the three panels on the left of the second page, while passing through the middle panel. But did you notice that the whole roller coaster track on that page is continuous from the first panel to the last? The page is even designed so that if you follow the track, you will follow the flow of the story exactly too. It is obvious that page 2 of the story is the whole reason for the story at all. I'll bet that the artist got the visual idea for page 2 and created the story to fit it.

I also like the way Sancho, Don Quixote's side kick, bounces from the first car to the last and back again. And that the passengers end up in different cars than where they started. It all adds to the sense of speed and movement in the story. To say nothing about the fact that the woman starts out wearing a green dress and her husband a blue suite, but in the last panel the woman ends up wearing blue and her husband green. The ride was so erratic that they switched clothes? Probably just a colorist mistake, but interesting none the less.

This is the kind of thing I like and collect in comics, playing with the form and having more than just a surface level of meaning. I'll showcase more art like this along with metafiction type occurrences in future installments. I'd love to hear about others if you know of any.

Oct. 16th, 2007


You should know:

1. I'm an information junkie.
2. I'm an accumulator. Not just a collector, but an accumulator of my interests.
3. I have a scientist's world view.
4. I'm a very private person. I've heard that I would be good for me to open up more, so this is an experiment.
5. I'm cynical.
6. I'm a firm believer in SF writer Theodore Sturgeon's Law that 90% of everything is crud. What makes life worth living is searching for that other 10%.
7. I lack the discipline to focus on one of my interests for a long time. So this blog will jump around on various topics that interest me. I'll try to tag everything to make it easy for any readers.

Since I am an information junkie and an accumulator, over the years I've collected a lot of knowledge and stuff on the history of comic books, men's mags, science fiction, comic book fandom, comic book retailing and my other interests. My plan is to pass on some of that information and observations. I hope you will enjoy and get something out of some of them.

I look forward to your comments.