For a special weekly series during the month of June, guest columnist Dane Hill shares his experiences as a gay comics reader and the power of being represented. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.
To end Gay Pride Month on a fun note, I thought I would do the ultimate comic geek exercise and count down the hottest men in comics, according to my personal gay southern-grown tastes. So, without further ado, Dane’s Top 10 Hottest Comic Book Characters. Or Dane’s Comics Boyfriend Wish List:
10. Lightning Lad (Garth Ranzz) / Karate Kid (Val Armorr)
Ok, I’m cheating here. Sue me. The Legion of Super-Heroes is what got me started in this hobby. Of all the Legionnaires, Lightning Lad and Karate Kid stories gave me the most thrill. LL’s costume is probably my favorite costume of all-time. While Karate Kid was my favorite Legionnaire, period. [pauses to think] Hmm, you could just as well add Ultra Boy, Timber Wolf and Element Lad to the list. Colossal Boy was pretty cool too. Ah hell, just say half the male Legion and be done with it. Long live the Legion! (Favorite artist: Neal Adams and Mike Grell)
9. Sunspot (Roberto “Bobby” da Costa)
The New Mutants was my favorite series and what introduced me to the Marvel Universe. I got in on the ground floor when they debuted with a graphic novel. And while southern-bred Cannonball should have been more my type, I was always attracted to Sunspot, a beautifully dark-skinned and lean South American who turns into a silhouetted strong man crackling with power when energized. His look was perfection. And his hot-headed loner attitude pinged my young gaydar. (Favorite artist: Sal Buscema and Bob McLeod)
8. Hellstorm (Daimon Hellstrom, aka The Son of Satan)
The ultimate bad boy. I mean, he’s the son of the Devil for pete’s sake! Oh, and his costume is to be shirtless. Yeah, I’m shallow. But I’ve always taken notice of his appearances. (Favorite artist: the dude’s half-naked, I’m not picky)
7. Falcon (Sam Wilson)
One-time partner to Captain America, he was one of the first action figures (Mego!) I played with. I remember finding the openness of his costume completely fascinating, and constantly peeking underneath the costume all the time. To this day, I find that Mego figure more titillating than the character in the actual comic. Yeah, I’m a weirdo. (Favorite artist: Mego)
6. Angel (Warren Worthington III)
I mean, come on… he looks like an angel, for God’s sake! Rich and classically handsome features. Did I mention he has wings and LOOKS LIKE AN ANGEL?? (Favorite artist: John Byrne and Alan Kupperberg; favorite costume: red with golden halo symbol on chest, blue variant costume a close second)
5. Iceman (Robert “Bobby” Drake)
A sentimental favorite from his Spider Friends days. A jokester who’s never quite grown up. Cool and handsome, plus how slick are those ice slides of his? Not to mention, at one point when he iced down, he was shown in his skivvies! Bobby is the fun boyfriend that I would enjoy taking home to Mom to torment. (Favorite artist: also John Byrne and Alan Kupperberg)
4. Kevin Keller (Kevin Keller)
As American as apple pie, new to comics but already a fan favorite. He’s the Mr. Popular we all crushed on in high school, or wanted to hang out with after school. Smart, athletic, handsome. Oh god, just ask me to the prom already! (Favorite artist: Dan Parent)
3. Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier)
Comics’ first openly gay man. A second-rate character who exploded onto the A-list when he came out of the closet. Once a hot-headed and self-absorbed mess, he’s matured over the years into the no-longer-eligible bachelor we see today. Plus, what’s up with his exotic elvish features? Yum! (Favorite artist: John Byrne)
2. Superboy (young Clark Kent / Kal-El)
An orphan with a tragic history, mysterious and full of unmatchable powers. Searching to find his role on this new planet, while discovering the extent of his abilities. I’ve always enjoyed following Superboy more than Superman, if that makes sense. Mainly because of his Legion of Super-Heroes membership. Alien or not, sign me up. I’ll take me an alien boyfriend if they come looking like him! (Favorite artists: Neal Adams and Mike Grell)
1. Captain America (Steve Rogers)
THE perfect All-American man for the guy looking for someone with old-fashioned values. Well, those values don’t come any truer than someone displaced from that actual era where the term “old-fashioned” comes from. If he wasn’t the perfect boyfriend before, once the equally perfect Chris Evans was cast in the role of Cap for Hollywood, there was no other character that could begin to compete with this hunk of gentleman. Hmm, Steve and Dane Rogers-Hill… I like the sound of it! (Favorite artists: Mike Zeck and John Byrne)
Honorable Mention: Spider-Man (Peter Parker)
Down-on-his-luck nerd, who just so happens to be a hot adorkable genius. Sure, the whole spider thing is a little creepy. But damn, he fills out the tights nicely. And funny as hell. Gotta love a man with a great sense of humor. Still, my phobia of spiders drops him out of the Top 10, which is par for the course for his luck anyway. (Favorite artists: Todd McFarlane and Ron Frenz)
Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.
By Scott Shaw!
Back in the late 1980s, when he was drawing such titles as DC’s Doom Patrol and Marvel’s Punisher, I ran into Savage Dragon creator-to-be Erik Larsen at a San Diego Comic-Con, where I complimented him on his “cartoony” drawing style. But instead of accepting my kudos, Erik – never the sort of person to mince words – made a sour expression on his face and said something to the effect of “Actually, I’m trying as hard as I can to dump that style. It’s costing me work!” Fortunately, Erik eventually changed his mind, and that’s why Savage Dragon is one of my favorite funnybooks – even when it’s deadly serious, it’s delightfully outrageous, exaggerated and somewhat ridiculous looking. It’s just what I dig in a superhero comic, which in my opinion should look outrageous, exaggerated and somewhat ridiculous – just like the concept of brightly costumed flying men, super-strong women and wall-walking whatchamacallits.
I recently had dinner with a fellow cartoonist whose work I’ve admired for a long time, Joe Staton. Joe’s one of those rare cartoonists who has drawn everything from Green Lantern to E-Man to Scooby-Doo and all with equal expertise. We discussed our styles, both of which share a humorous bent. He explained that his current gig, drawing the syndicated Dick Tracy comic strip written by Mike Curtis, was the perfect assignment. Not only was Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould his original inspiration to become a cartoonist, but Joe was also getting more than a bit tired of dialing back the cartoony-ness of his style when drawing superheroes and the like. The audience for those comics apparently prefers a darkly photorealistic approach over “light ‘n’ fun”. With Dick Tracy, Joe can get paid for drawing what he loves to draw – and he does it damn well, too.
Both of these stories about cartoonists whose careers both included stretches in which they were forced to draw much “straighter” than they’d have preferred — have happy endings. And those just don’t happen nearly often enough, at least not often enough for the funnybook industry. But then, I’m a cartoonist.
Back when I was growing up, nearly all comic books and comic strips were drawn in “cartoony” styles, no matter how dead serious their storylines could get. Here are just a few my favorite cartoonists who drew “straight” material in decidedly less-than-serious styles: Dick Sprang (his square-jawed, Dick Tracy-esqe Batman and giant typewriters); Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (of their work on Metal Men, Wonder Woman and “The War That Time Forgot” in Star Spangled War Stories, cartoonist Evan Dorkin once observed that Andru and Esposito’s characters all looked “insane”); Jack Cole (his Plastic Man was equal parts superhero and humor strip while his crime and horror stories were only slightly less outrageous); Steve Ditko (The Amazing Spider-Man, “Dr. Strange” in Strange Tales, Blue Beetle and The Creeper – all cool, all weird, all cartoony as hell); Ramona Fradon (her “Aquaman” in Adventure Comics was cartoony but warmly beautiful, her Metamorpho was the only version that worked visually); Jack Davis (his style was as much at home on straight horror in EC’s Tales From The Crypt as it was in Mad); Mike Sekowsky (his Justice League Of America featured the widest Superman ever); Marie and John Severin (this sister-and-brother act was known for comedy but produced Marvel’s wonderful Kull The Conqueror together); and Jack Kirby (whose resumé spanned every style and genre – from Captain America to “Earl The Rich Rabbit” – while always remaining uniquely himself).
In fact, I’ll never forget the smile that spread across Jack’s face, sometime during my first visit to his home, when I told him that he was my favorite cartoonist. And to most of us who turn blank pages into stories and artwork, “cartoonist” is the label we prefer. After all, we write and draw cartoons. I’ll even bet that Hal Foster – whose Prince Valiant syndicated Sunday strip was about as realistic as any famous funnies pages feature ever – referred to himself as a “cartoonist”. (Hey, Foster was a dues-paying member of the National Cartoonists Society for many years.)
But then, in the mid-to-late 1960s, Neal Adams came along. Although Neal’s first published comic book work appeared in an issue of Archie’s Joke Book, he had a background in the sophisticated comics-format ads of the fabled Johnstone and Cushing ad agency and the Ben Casey syndicated comic strip. After drawing a slew of Superman-related covers for DC editor Mort Weisinger, Neal went on to stellar gigs on “Deadman” in Strange Adventures, “Batman” in Detective Comics, X-Men and The Avengers. Suddenly, everyone was raving about how “realistic” Neal’s style was. By the time Jack Kirby’s first “Fourth World” comics debuted at DC, the “King Of Comics” found himself sharing his position of industry importance with Neal Adams.
So, what is “realistic”, anyway?
Well, it sure ain’t Neal Adams’ drawing style. Neal’s art is impeccably executed, but it’s an idealization of reality as seen through a perspective from Madison Avenue. The work of the great Russ Heath is certainly a bit more realistic, but Russ’ approach to drawing – even at age 85 (!) – is still too fastidious to be considered realistic. I suppose Alex Ross’ work is about as “realistic” as comic books get… but his dynamic poses, staging and compositions are anything but everyday. And isn’t “realistic” supposed to reflect the “real world”? But one thing’s for sure: ever since Neal Adams entered the world of comic books, the ability to draw in a “realistic” style has been the goal of many – in my opinion, too many – comic book artists. (Please note that I avoided using the word “cartoonist”.)
A few years ago, I displayed my work at the Long Beach Comic-Con and the pro set up at the table next to me was a talented young guy named Joshua Middleton (NYX, Superman/Shazam: First Thunder, many covers). I’ll admit I was unfamiliar with his artwork, but after witnessing the rabid demand for his originals, I studied up on Josh and his approach to drawing comic book art. My impression is that he shoots specific photographs that relate to the scripts he illustrates, uses PhotoShop to trace them, adds backgrounds and props, inks the tracings and, with his impeccable color sense, paints each image digitally. If that’s not accurate (and it may not be, considering my aversion to technology), I apologize to Mr. Middleton, but the final result is some very impressive “realistic” art, even if the pages of original artwork that Josh was selling hand-over-fist to an eager following did resemble extremely well-drawn coloring book art.
Here’s the big issue I don’t understand. How come the average person out there is resistant to reading a “straight” comic book like Watchmen, Marvels or The Rocketeer but loves humorous comic strips like Peanuts, Calvin And Hobbes or Mutts? And how come faithful comic book readers’ tastes seem to be the opposite, flocking to the straight stuff yet shunning the funny stuff like the plague? (I’ll never forget the year that Keith Giffen, J. M. Matteis and Kevin McGuire’s Justice League Of America received an Eisner Award nomination for “Best Humorous Series”. Sheesh!) If the world of comic books paralleled the real world, Bongo’s Sergio Aragonés Funnies would be America’s best-selling comic book – and deservedly so, since it’s written and drawn by the World’s Best Cartoonist – instead of being a mere niche title!
Are the vast majority of modern comic books going for a dark and/or photorealistic approach to storytelling because their publishers think they’re competing with the various live-action films? Or instead, are they trying to attract the attention of live-action filmmakers?
Fortunately, there are a few cartoonists left who “get” it. Kyle Baker (The Bakers, Special Forces and Deadpool Max), Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show, Thor The Mighty, Snarked! and Popeye) and Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier, Richard Stark’s Parker and now, Before Watchmen) – and the aforementioned Erik Larsen and Sergio Aragonés are all delivering comic book stories with a much welcome (for me, at least) cartoony touch.
Maybe some of them can answer this question better than I can: since when was a flying man any more “realistic” than a talking duck?
Next up: “Why I Don’t Dig Superhero Movies!”
Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become… The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for KaBOOM!
For a special weekly series during the month of June, guest columnist Dane Hill shares his experiences as a gay comics reader and the power of being represented. Read Part 1 here.
As the ’90s rolled in, so too did college in Virginia. And those years quickly came to be the darkest of my life.
To this day, when I reflect on them, an echo of those days’ pain hits me from the past. Think of times when you’ve felt forced to travel some place where you had no desire to go. Now consider having to stay in that place for four years. It was maddening! Like glass in the brain. Honestly, I have no idea how I was able to stick it out and get my degree. It took five and a half years in the end, including a much-needed semester off just to regain a sliver of sanity, but I did it.
At the time though, those first couple of years in particular, I wanted to be anywhere but there. No one suspected the secret clawing to get out of me. I hid it well. But, I was a pressure cooker without any relief valve, and a breakdown was slowly building. To make matters unbelievably worse, my roommates were about as straight as they came. Hell, two of them — two very large, very southern fellas — were actually on the university football team! It didn’t help either that I’d developed an unrequited crush on one of the others.
Meanwhile, there remained little to no gay visibility, comics or otherwise, to toss me a lifeline. I was a starved squirrel looking for nuts in a barren landscape. Not that I would have found time to read any. My escape into the world of comics was curbed by necessity. Studies became the priority. Not to mention the lack of steady income. I was on my own for the first time in my life. learning to navigate the world of personal finance and responsibility. Testing my discipline each week was a tiny comic store on the outskirts of campus. I’d make the occasional jaunt over to it just to get off campus and see some old “friends”. Maybe walk back with three or four titles that piqued my interest in my weaker moments. All the while, my secret was eating away at the inside of me more and more, week by week.
And that’s what made Northstar’s coming out so special. During my second year of college, in a hobby that I’d grown up with and was passionate about, there finally came a release that helped cool the pot that boiled over.
Here’s a sad secret though. When that pivotal issue of Alpha Flight did finally come out… I missed it! The title had been off my radar for years by then. By the time I’d heard the media uproar about the story, the comic shop had sold out. Even if it had not though, I would never have had the guts to buy it. Imagine if one of my roommates had discovered the issue hidden away in my room, my own scandalous stash of “porn” under the bed. I honestly don’t remember when I actually got around to reading the story. Months? Years later? Remember, this was before the internet and eBay made everything so ridiculously accessible. But none of that mattered at the time. The fact was that a well-known hero was gay, and that was good enough for me. In my mind, he was instantly the best character in comics.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Northstar as a character wasn’t anything special. To this day, he’s near exclusively known as “the gay super-hero”. Not known as well as someone like that bad-ass canuck with claws. Or that tragically funny guy with webs. Or that old-fashioned patriot with a shield. No hero-framed descriptor makes you think of Northstar. (The speedster with pointy ears? No. The twin brother with attitude that runs and flies super fast, and has a semi-cool starburst costume? Lame.) No, he was a third-string character on a second-rate team. In their heyday, Alpha Flight, a team born in the late ’70s, wanted to be the next X-Men, but never quite took off in popularity the way those other mutants did. Ask AF’s fans though and you will hear plenty of fond memories of the team, but the title never quite made tent-pole status for Marvel. Try to think of any impact character from them other than Northstar. Go on, I’ll wait….[pauses to watch Glee]….Ok, I’m back. Anything? No? That’s what I thought. The single most defining event from some 130 issues of the title was that one of its characters came out of the closet.
Of course, it’s natural to not immediately understand the ultimate impact of some random event that changes the way we look at the world. Usually not until you reflect back on it years later in its historical context. Northstar was certainly not like The Beatles exploding onto the cultural scene. Or Apple’s iPod changing how we buy music. But he was very much a turning point for gay visibility in comics. He’s the “Grandfather of Super-Hero Gays”, if you will. (I’m sure he’d just adore that moniker.) Not impacting the entre industry or fanbase as a whole by any means. Just a very under-represented segment of that fanbase that desperately needed an arm thrown across their shoulder to reassure them that they are ok too.
The majority of fans seemed to take the reveal in stride, which in itself was incredibly encouraging. Which made Marvel’s backpeddling all the more baffling. For that matter, popular opinion from those who had read the issue seemed to be that, while Northstar’s coming out was long overdue for a mainstream super-hero character, the story itself was poorly written and didactic. When I did finally got the chance to read it, for me, the issue read like Shakespeare. I was so overwhelmingly taken by the simple fact that a Marvel hero, one I’d grown up with, had actually said he was gay. This disconnect between the “straight” readers and me just highlighted how deprived I’d been for some kind of visibility. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. What I had in my hands was a diamond, and I eagerly awaited further revelations into Northstar’s life.
So, as each new Alpha Flight issue came and went (and I made damned sure to buy those issues!), and no more of Northstar’s sexuality was mentioned, hope ebbed with each passing month until all I felt was resentment at Marvel’s treatment of the character. It was something of a betrayal. The final insult was the Northstar mini-series that came out after the Alpha Flight series ended. Exactly what purpose did Marvel think it served when it completely disregarded his sexuality? Would you create a new-born mutant mini-series, but ignore the fact that he has powers? Cowards. Maybe Marvel felt that the character was too high profile, and tried to shove him back in the closet.
And yet, just a year or so later, from that point going forward I’ll call “After Northstar Announced Love” (um, I’ll work on that), writer Peter David came out with a gay character of his own in his book The Incredible Hulk. Coincidence? Who knows? Perhaps David was influenced by Northstar’s revelation when he made hero Hector gay. Maybe when Northstar’s hullabaloo came and went, he thought to himself, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. World didn’t end. Marvel got a lotta press. Let me just slip in another little side-character into my book who’s also interested in some mano-on-mano, and see where it leads…” And thus, Gay Hector was born. I didn’t know, that was me pure speculating on my part. David may have had the character’s sexuality planned long before Northstar jumped out of the closet and yelled yoohoo. It’s entirely possible that David was blindsided when beaten to the punch by that egomanical Canadian speed freak (hmm, maybe that’s his descriptor).
At any rate, thanks to Hector, I made sure to pick up every issue of the Hulk series, just in hopes of catching him in a panel or two. Yet, knowing there’d never be much when I opened the pages. But, you know what, when you’re starving, any little nugget looks like a feast. Hector’s role was such a small one though that I honestly don’t recall much beyond loving new artist Gary Frank’s pencils, and the Pantheon being a gaggle of demi-gods helping Hulk out or being his entourage or something. The highlight I can recall was a quick meeting between the recently out Northstar and Hector, shooting the breeze. And yes, as everyone suspects, all gays know each other and hang out together. So of course Hector would be hanging with Northstar at some point. (Excuse me while my eyes roll out of my head.) Still, it was a fun little moment that also served to highlight just how very few characters in this massive universe were actually gay at the time. Two. Out of how many hundreds or thousands of chatacters. Two. A third-stringer, and a….tenth-stringer? (Hello hello hello hello…. Anyone else else else else…. Echo echo echo echo….) Still, Hector was another tiny lifeline that gave me a taste of renewed hope every month, so I commend Marvel for that effort.
Around that same time, a new wave of mainstream and cult-fave independent titles came to market. I personally refer to this period of time as my Silver Age of Independents, what with the introduction of Bone, Cavewoman, Wandering Star, Penthouse Comix (ironic, no?), and the stunning Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore. Beautiful art and richly written characters, the two female leads Katchoo and Francine appeared to be in an obvious relationship together. The book was so well produced, that I didn’t mind overlooking the detail that Francine didn’t consider herself gay. The story spoke for itself, and became part of the fabric of this newly evolving gay era of comics.
My college years were also a time of immense transitions and shake-ups within the industry. A handful of the most popular artists of the day split from Marvel and formed their own company Image Comics. Another upstart company called Valiant Comics took fandom by storm. Between Image and Valiant, the “Big Two” were put on notice that they had better up their game if they wanted to keep their market share. Soon though, as if the pendulum had swung the other way, distributors fell and comic shops nationwide closed their doors. The entire market had come crashing down seemingly overnight. Valiant was gone within a few years, and Marvel had declared bankruptcy. The industry was in shambles, along with my life.
By that time though, the notion of comics being strictly for kids had become archaic, ever since Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns turned the industry on its head and toward a darker path in the mid-80s. The medium progressively grew up over those years. Stories became grittier, more real than fantasy, and thematic license expanded to the point that soon nothing seemed off-limits, punctuated by the mid-90s by writers like Garth Ennis with his hyper-violent signature style that made him a household name with fans on books like Hellblazer, Hitman, and his magnum opus Preacher. By comparison, the reveal of a gay character seemed positively tame.
Simultaneously during this time, the Comics Code Authority was showing its age, cracks forming in its foundation. How do you regulate an industry whose most popular products are increasingly breaking all the rules, rules that you are meant to enforce? When a market aims for adults, the rules for kids become irrelevant. Advertisers cared less and less for the Code’s seal on a book’s cover, and by the early 2000s, Marvel announced that they would no longer submit any of their titles to the CCA. By 2011, the Code became defunct, for years having been less a true review arbitrator and more a simple licenser of its trademark seal to anyone who still wanted to slap it on their cover, family-friendly Archie Comics being the final hold-out.
On the bright side, thankfully, my craving for visibility was making real progress in the 90s from another industry – Hollywood! Movies like The Birdcage (which I HATED at the time with its over-the-top effeminate caricatures of gay life, but audiences made it an unexpected blockbuster) and In & Out (which I LOVED and became a modest hit, but then gay audiences found it unappealing with it’s tamed utter lack of passion between the supposedly gay leads…I couldn’t win!). TV also stepped forward in big way with Ellen DeGeneres coming out of the closet both in real life and on her show as the first gay TV lead. That episode was a ratings juggernaut, once again proving that mainstream audiences were ready for gays. Then came ratings smash hit Will & Grace (aka Jack & Karen), which changed everything. If there had been any doubt left in Hollywood’s mind that “gay” wouldn’t play, then that notion went out the window with this widely popular show. Despite the collapse of the comics industry, gays unabashedly found their way into my living room and everyone else’s.
History will look back on the 90s as the turning point for gay rights on a cultural impact level. Mainstream audiences were given glimpses into that culture through different mediums, gays came out of the closet more and more, and understanding slowly grew with each new movie, person, TV show, or comic that introduced yet another example of gay life.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! In terms of gay visibility in comics, the 90s mostly felt like snack after snack after snack. When would the real meat hit our tables?? Well, along came the 2000s, and gay representation would finally explode in ways undreamt of less than a decade earlier…
Southern grown Dane Hill has worked in the dot-com industry for the past 15 years, having put his Drama degree from the University of Virginia to good use. His passions have been comic books and baseball since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Two of the true innovators and original pioneers of the comic book industry died recently.
Jerry Robinson died Wednesday, December 7, at the age of 89. Robinson will forever be most linked with the 1940 creation of Batman’s nemesis and possibly the first super-villain, The Joker. During this time, he also co-created Robin the Boy Wonder to be Batman’s sidekick, which established what soon became an iconic narrative device for superhero comics, and of course the inevitable wave of sidekick imitators. As if forever changing the superhero genre wasn’t enough, he also created another iconic element of Batman, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred. Following his genre-defining work in superhero comics in the 1930s and ’40s, Robinson went on to fight for creator rights (notably in support of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman), write The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (one of the earliest publications to detail the history of the art form [Dark Horse Comics published a revised and expanded edition earlier this year]), as well as establish CartoonArts International, a syndicate that helped create distribution networks for political cartoonists around the world. He is the only person to have served as President of both the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), and also served as guest curator for several art galleries hosting shows featuring comics art.
Joe Simon died last Thursday, December 14, at the age of 98 of an undisclosed illness. In late 1940 with his partner Jack Kirby, Simon created Captain America, one of the first and certainly the most influential superhero meant to stir up patriotism as the United States considered involvement in World War II. The first issue of Captain America Comics, released in December 1940 (cover-dated March 1941), brazenly featured Captain America slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw right on the cover. While Hitler now seems like a comic book villain, he was then a real-world political leader. With nearly one million copies sold, it was considered an instant hit and got the attention of Nazi sympathizers and anti-war activists who wrote angry and even threatening letters. Flag-draped superheroes soon came out of the woodwork but few could compete. Simon served as head editor of the Marvel Comics precursor, Timely Comics, during this time, but soon moved on with Kirby to create a brand new genre for the comics art form: romance. Now frequently satirized, romance comics were a massive hit and brought in a whole new demographic. The two were also pioneers in establishing the horror and true crime genres in comics, which were also huge sellers. Simon went on to consult for Harvey Comics in the 1960s, helping to develop then new characters Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. Simon also wrote two autobiographies, The Comic Book Makers and this year’s Joe Simon: My Life in Comics.
Indicative of how small the industry is and was back then, the two shared studio space in New York City for a time.
Well the big summer blockbusters are all done. But that doesn’t mean comic books are done invading pop culture entertainment. I always think the source material is better, but checking out comic book adaptations, whether TV or film, can be a good way of sampling. Here’s what’s coming down the pike for the rest of 2011:
Piled Higher and Deeper: The PhD Movie – Live action comedy about graduate college.
- Schedule: Screenings at international colleges and universities including the official premiere at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena on Thursday, September 22 at 8 PM.
- Based on the popular webcomic PhD: Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham. Running since 1997, Cham’s comic strip is also published in several college newspapers and has been reprinted in four print collections. (Thanks to Comics Alliance)
The Walking Dead Season 2 – Live action horror TV series about a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse.
- Schedule: 13 episodes starting Sunday, October 16 at 9 PM Eastern on AMC.
- Based on The Walking Dead comic books and graphic novels by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, published by Image Comics and Skybound Entertainment. This season appears to roughly borrow from The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us.
Batman: Year One – Animated feature-length movie about the noir-ish retelling of the early days of Bruce Wayne’s superhero career.
- Schedule: Released on DVD, Blu-ray and for download on Tuesday, October 18.
- Based on one of the seminal DC Comics graphic novels, Batman: Year One by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli. The story was originally published in Batman comic books in 1987.
X-Men Anime Series – Animated TV series imported from Japan featuring the mutant superheroes Cyclops, Wolverine and others fighting for a world that fears and hates them.
- Schedule: 12 episodes starting Friday, October 21 at 11 PM Eastern on G4.
- Based on various X-Men comic books and graphic novels published by Marvel Comics over the years but specifically narrowing in on New X-Men by writer Grant Morrison and various artists, as well as Astonishing X-Men by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Season 2 – Animated TV series about Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and their superhero friends fighting evil.
- Schedule: 26 episodes starting on a Sunday in October at 10 AM Eastern and Pacific on Disney XD
- Based on a whole slew of Avengers and other comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others, as well as The Kree-Skrull War by writer Roy Thomas, artist Neal Adams and others, and Secret Invasion by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Francis Yu, published by Marvel Comics. Plus there’s definitely inspiration taken from the Iron Man movies.
Green Lantern: The Animated Series Season 1 – CGI animated series about a sci-fi superhero with cosmically powered jewelry.
- Schedule: This was originally set to debut last week but now a preview is going to air this Fall, possibly in November, with the full 26-episode season to start in Spring 2012 on Cartoon Network.
- Based on countless Green Lantern comics but more specifically this summer’s Green Lantern movie and recent Green Lantern comic books and graphic novels by writer Geoff Johns and others published by DC Comics.
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn – CGI animated 3D feature film using performance capture technology. It’s about a plucky journalist and his dog going on a globe-trotting treasure hunt.
- Schedule: Opens in US movie theaters on Friday, December 23.
- Based on the international bestselling comic books Les Aventures de Tintin by the celebrated Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Tintin’s adventures have been translated into English as a series of graphic novels, most recently published by Little, Brown and Company. The movie specifically adapts The Secret of the Unicorn, as well as Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Crab with the Golden Claws.
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments or email and I’ll add them in.
Happy Independence Day, America! Not bad for 235 years old.
During World War II, there were tons of patriotic superheroes popping up. The first was The Shield but Marvel’s Captain America was the big hit that brought the parade of copy cats and twists on the theme. The first issue of Captain America Comics famously featured Cap slugging Adolf Hitler months before the US officially entered the war. Although there had been plenty of tactical and policy support from the US, a lot of Americans were against getting involved. The American propaganda machine was revving up to win support for active participation, and the use of a real world villain like Adolf Hitler in the still-young superhero comic was unique. Comic books had never taken such an overt political stance on current events. The comic was a huge hit and soon the original hits Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel were following Captain America’s lead. Within months, every superhero ever was a dyed-in-the-wool patriot, even characters who had no reason to fight so passionately on behalf of the United States, like the undersea hero Namor the Sub-Mariner.
Here’s a parade of some of the flag-themed heroes during those times. Happy Fourth!
The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year last Friday. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and I’ll also give you a link to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.
Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Short Story category, kind of the equivalent of the Oscar for Best Short Film.
Best Short Story
- “Bart on the Fourth of July,” by Peter Kuper, in Bart Simpson #54 (Bongo)
- “Batman, in Trick for the Scarecrow,” by Billy Tucci, in DCU Halloween Special 2010 (DC)
- “Cinderella,” by Nick Spencer and Rodin Esquejo, in Fractured Fables (Silverline Books/Image)
- “Hamburgers for One,” by Frank Stockton, in Popgun vol. 4 (Image)
- “Little Red Riding Hood,” by Bryan Talbot and Camilla d’Errico, in Fractured Fables (Silverline Books/Image)
- “Post Mortem,” by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, in I Am an Avenger #2 (Marvel)
Take a closer look with the click through: Read the rest of this entry
Hey, look what I made!
Marvel.com has a fun little program where you can create your own comic strips and comic books using clip art. It’s kind of a limited selection but it’s plenty to tinker around. I’m sure younger kids would have fun playing around with it and sort of learning how comics are made (more or less). You can pick Marvel characters like the three I picked above, as well as the X-Men’s Wolverine, Beast and Colossus, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, a few villains, and more. You can choose your panel layouts, pick your backgrounds, speech balloons, type in your own dialogue, and add sound effects.
If you sign up with an account, you can build a portfolio, save the comics at Marvel.com, save them to your computer as PDFs, and email them to friends. Marvel.com apparently saves all of them on their website. There’s a gallery here where you can see some fun comics posted, although it doesn’t look like they display ones created without setting up an account since I don’t see mine there. Other users can rate and leave comments for each comic.
I don’t know when this was added but it’s a fun feature. Maybe I’ll torture you with more of these.