Category: Books

With Further Ado #141: Discussing “Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books”

With Further Ado #141: Discussing “Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books”

At Ithaca College, I teach a business course called Hidden Entrepreneurs. In this class, we explore and dissect entrepreneurial lessons from the lives and activities of non-traditional entrepreneurs.  These are the folks who are NOT on Shark Tank. These people are the often unrecognized entrepreneurs who nonetheless “make it happen.” Their stories are amazing, and there is so much to be learned from studying them.

Author Ken Quattro has done me one better in his brilliant new book, Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books. This new book details the lives and careers of black comic book creators.  Some are astonishing, some are heartbreaking, and they are non-traditional artists.  Their stories, for the most part, have been forgotten in the mists of time. So, it’s all the more important that historian Quattro, a real life comic book detective, has hunted down all the information and connected all the dots.

Quattro has done this all in a fun, engaging book. The stories of these artists’ trials and tribulations are almost all more interesting than the short comic stories included in this volume.   It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, though. His The Comics Detective site is brilliant and always informative. Continue reading “With Further Ado #141: Discussing “Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books””

With Further Ado #139: Uncle Lev Made Comics

With Further Ado #139: Uncle Lev Made Comics

Much has been written about comics legend Stan Lee lately.  Casual fans and hard-core comic aficionados have been debating which authors are ‘getting it right’. Was Stan a brilliant creator that fans of current cinema (and streaming platforms) recognize as the guy who started it all?  Or was Stan a rotten, self-promoting glory-hound that elevated his own story to the detriment of his partner and co-workers?

After enjoying John Morrow’s Stuf Said, Danny Fingeroth’s A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee and Abraham Reisman’s True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee I think I have a pretty good understanding of it all. Maybe you do too.

Now that we’ve got that one solved, I must admit I didn’t know much about comics publisher Lev Gleason. In some ways – he may have seemed like a proto-Stan Lee.  Gleason was, among other things, the publisher of Lev Gleason Publications, producing comics like Daredevil, Silver Streak, Boy Comics (this one starred Crimebuster and is one of my dad’s favorites) and the wildly successful Crime Does Not Pay.

And like Stan Lee, Lev Gleason made it clear was the big cheese behind these efforts. He even plastered his  name (and the company name) on his comic covers.

I have learned that Lev Gleason’s personal story is a fascinating one. He was an entrepreneur and a crusader. He was flamboyant and generous. He learned how to pivot and how to do it quite often.

But unlike Stan, Lev’s extended family didn’t really celebrate or even understand his connection to comics.  And that’s why it’s all the more incredible that Lev’s great nephew, Brett Dakin just wrote AMERICAN DAREDEVIL: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason.

Dakin, who isn’t really a comics fan, aggressively researched Gleason’s life. The pursuit of truth took him everywhere -from newspaper articles to old comics to FBI files!

I enjoyed Dakin’s book so much that I invited him to speak to one of my Ithaca College classes. As Gleason was both a tireless entrepreneur and a pillar of the Golden Age of comics, he fit right in to the topics I teach.

The students seemed to get a lot out of meeting him (via ZOOM) too.

But I don’t have to explain that you. Check out what some of my Ithaca College students had to say:

“Hearing about Brett Dakin’s experience of writing his book and learning more about his great-uncle was very interesting!” said Alexis Davis. “He is a prime example of how with dedication and passion, you can accomplish a lot even if it isn’t within a profession you are familiar with.”

“”Something that Brett said that stuck with me was ‘there is learning through doing and experiencing’ and I think that’s something so important to remember,” noted Jade Rynar.

“Learning more about Brett’s investigation into his great uncle’s life, through searching archival publications and reconnecting the pieces of his personal life, really made me realize the importance of historians in the documentation of our pop culture,” said Quinten Hernandez, who is in his senior year.

“Brett gave an inside look into the comic book world with an outside perspective”, wryly observed Tess Kneebone , who is also a senior.

This is great book for folks who love the Golden Age of Comics and for those who enjoy entrepreneur’s stories. And who knows ? Maybe American Daredevil- the Lev Gleason story will make it to Netflix one day- just like all those Marvel characters. Wouldn’t that be something?

 

 

With Further Ado #138: Volume Four of Sex and Horror

With Further Ado #138: Volume Four of Sex and Horror

You’d think for St. Patrick’s Day I’d find a way to sing the praises of my Irish heritage with some pop culture twist. Well, I hope you all enjoy the holiday today and find some way to enjoy green beer and corned beef.

But today I am celebrating the other, more dominant side of my ethnic heritage. I’m mostly Italian. So instead let me laud the praises of Korero Press’ fourth volume in their Sex and Horror series.

As a bit of background, many Italian comics aren’t anything like domestic (U.S.) comics. During the U.S. Silver and early Bronze Ages (in the 60s and 70s), Italy’s fumetti sexy comics were all the rage. They typically showcased lurid and suggestive covers and then black and white interior stories.

To me, they all seemed one step over from those scary Hammer Films of the day. That mix of scary stuff with attractive women that serves to titillate and repulse the viewer all at once.  The brilliant part is that they used magnificently skillful artists.

The British Publisher Korero Press kicked of this  series with a volume devoted to Emanuele Taglietti. Like the smell of red sauce wafting from your favorite Italian Restaurant – Korero has been beckoning me to come back for more.

This volume is a little different. Instead of focusing on just one artist, in this one we’re exposed to (emphasis on exposed) so many skillful artists:

  • Alessandro Biffignandi and his covers for Messalina, la dea dell’amore (Messalina, the Goddess of Love) follows the ancient adventures of a Roman Empress.
  • Il Vampiro Presenta ran for 123 issues, and features covers by Fernando Carcupino and Karel Thole.
  • Fradiavolo (Brother Devil) , subtitled Storie di Briganti (Tales of the Brigands) showcases the art of Eros Kara Pintor.

These illustrations are fantastic in the classic sense of the word, but they aren’t for the squeamish. In the old days, I’d advise you to hide this book if your mother came for a visit.

But still – it’s deliciously repugnant fun and yet another chapter of Geek Culture to dive into and learn about.

With Further Ado #135: Comics (M)Ad Men

With Further Ado #135: Comics (M)Ad Men

I don’t think this week’s review will be at center of a firestorm like last week’s review of Abraham’s Riesman’s The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee.  As you may have read, the “controversial” biography  is another deep dive Stan Lee biography.  And in this arena with so many passionate fans, everyone has an opinion. It certainly has generated heated discussions.

On the other hand, Fantagraphic’s Comics Ad Men by Steven Brower is also the type of book that I’m eager to read, but somehow had escaped my notice.  It came out in 2019, but I just learned about it and I snagged a copy last month.

Stan Drake Art

Many comic professionals don’t do just one thing.  In the up-and-down world of creatives, it’s generally important to be able to work on different types of assignments, sometimes in different industries. When one thing gets slow, there’s a need to work on another.

Neal Adams Ad Work

Steve Brower has assembled a top-notch showcase of comics artists that produced traditional (and some non-traditional) advertising.  There’s wonderful examples of from artists like Neal Adams, C.C. Beck, Stan Drake, Creig Flessel, Noel Sickles, Basil Wolverton, and so many more.

Brower also provides some background to help readers understand those halcyon Mad Men days of advertising firms.  There are fascinating stories about DDB, Young & Rubican, McCann Erickson, Leo Burnett and Johnston & Cushing. This informative look into the past is peppered by industry luminaries like Joe Kubert and one of his students-turned-pro, Thom (Love and Capes) Zahler.

Frank Robbins Art

In that classic age of ad agencies, Westport, Connecticut was a bedroom community for Madison Avenue . But I also learned here that there was an artist’s drop off spot in that town. Illustrators could drop off their work late at night. It would get to the agencies by 10 am., and then they’d get their next assignments later day.  Who needed email, Dropbox or Slack?

 

 

 

With Further Ado #134: Believing the Truth – A Look at the New Stan Lee Bio

With Further Ado #134: Believing the Truth – A Look at the New Stan Lee Bio

Maybe it is all about the marketing. I’ve been very surprised by the vehement reaction of many fans to Abraham Reisman’s new Stan Lee bio True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. The cover, designed by Barbara M. Bachman, showcases a less than flattering photo of Stan*.  The whole look, in fact, seems to evoke the feeling of dread that fills us when we realize there is an exposé of a beloved figure, designed to shock us with all the awful disclosures.

In fact, the pre-publication reactions I’ve seen to this book in some online fan groups have resulted in online cat fights. Some fans say they have no need to ever read that trash, while other collectors and fans, who may already think of ill of Stan Lee, are eager for more fuel for their ire.  I interjected a few times with posts like, “I’m reading it now. That’s not really what it’s about”.  But when a person is in the heat of an argument, they don’t want to listen to that sort of thing.

I’ve read it and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Like 99.9% percent of people of who have walked the earth, Stan was a guy who did some good things and did some less-than good things.  And while I will say this book isn’t a tell all, it does provide a frame of reference to better understand motivations at different stages of his life. If anything, I would say that the book shines a new and harsh light on many of Stan’s family members and business associates.

I’ve recently reviewed a few other books in the rapidly growing “Stan Lee Book Category”. Danny Fingeroth’s A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee was an exceptional and balanced read. John Morrow’s Kirby & Stan: Stuff Said was exceedingly well-researched and presented a detailed crazy-quilt of the public statements by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a way to better understand who did what and why they said all the (often-contradictory) things they said.

Riesman’s True Believer takes a deep dive into Stan’s Marvel years, the time that most fans, I imagine, want to know more about.  It’s clear he’s engaged in exhaustive research. He’s also a clever writer. But to me, the most fascinating parts of Riesman’s book are the details about Stan’s later years. This was “new information” to me. Riesman paints a picture of a man struggling on many fronts and seemingly, to an outside observer, making so many bad decisions and engaging in (so many) unfortunate relationships.

I remember when Leonard Nimoy died, and his frequent co-star Bill Shatner didn’t make it to his funeral.  To casual fans, this was unthinkable!  Their onscreen characters would have done anything for the other in the name of friendship. In reality, Shatner and Nimoy, were at a stage in their relationship where they were again feuding.  It probably wouldn’t have been appropriate for Shatner to attend the funeral. I believe he sent his daughters, which was deemed the right thing to do for those who really know about these things.

Likewise, with a man like Stan, it’s often difficult for fans to reconcile his humanity with the overwhelming goodness, sense of justice and heroic decisiveness that many of the characters he created and co-created embody.  But for those of us who are eager to learn more, who want to know what made our favorites tick, and who aren’t afraid to better understand their failures, shortfalls and humanity, True Believer is a must read.

***

*I kept thinking about what my favorite book designer, Chip Kidd, would’ve done with a cover like this.

With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?

With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?

As the pandemic wreaked havoc on life and so many marketing promotions and businesses this past year, there was one retro-idea that gained traction: Drive-Ins.

I love Drive-Ins. We had two in my hometown growing up, and I have clear memories of seeing so many films there.  When I became a parent, I took my girls to the Drive-In once a summer. We all had a ball. I don’t remember the movies all that well, although Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds and an Austin Powers movie come to mind.

Before Covid, Pop-Ups were becoming a hot marketing tool. It seems as if so many of the ideas behind Pop-Ups just migrated to all the 2020 Drive-ins.  And hey, as long as everyone was having fun and staying safe, it sounds good to me.

So it’s appropriate that the last book of 2020 I spotlight is all about a Drive-In: More Better Deals published by Mulholland Books.  It’s from a favorite author, Joe R. Lansdale,  and is another bumpy ride in a beat-up car on the back roads of noir fiction.

Many feel that Double Indemnity is the pinnacle of Film Noir. If you’re one of those folks, then this thriller, which has so many similarities, will lead you to inevitable and excruciatingly delicious, comparisons. Continue reading “With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?”

Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy

Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead by Bill Griffith, 256 pages, Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (print), $8.73 (digital)

Well, better late than never. When Nobody’s Fool was announced I got all excited, thinking this was a great idea from the one human on Earth best motivated to produce it. It came out about 18 months ago, I had ordered it from my friendly neighborhood comic book store, they never received it, and the whole thing faded from my brainpan. Maybe I was thinking I’d run into the editor Charlie Kochman at one convention or another — Charlie has no home and simply wanders from one convention to another.

Anyway, to make a long story tedious, I saw him a bunch of times but I didn’t put the arm on him, which is very unlike me. Finally, a little lightbulb lit above my naked pate and I went online and bought the thing. I read it yesterday, as I write this, and I’m writing this today. So you’d figure I must have liked it, right?

Well, I did. Books do not age, only readers do. But enough about me.

Almost 50 years ago, cartoonist Bill Griffith introduced his best-known and most beloved character Zippy The Pinhead in the underground comic book Real Pulp Comix #1; it was a romance story… kinda. I’d already been a fan of his work, and I thought telling a love story about a microcephalic was real gutsy. Of course, in 1971 we didn’t grasp the concept of political correctness the way we do today, but I’ll have more to rant about that anon.

The character took off and Griffith did a whole lot more Zippy The Pinhead stories. Fourteen years later, William Randolph Hearst III asked him to do Zippy as a daily strip in his San Francisco Examiner. This is amusing but not shocking; his grandfather (William Randolph Hearst-the-First) loved comic strips and was the guy who green-lit George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, which set the standard for non-sequitur humor.

Peculiarly, after Zippy’s inclusion the Examiner’s readers did not gather around the building with pitchforks in protest, so the following year Hearst-the-Third saw to it that his King Features Syndicate picked it up and pushed it nationally. Wiki says it’s in 100 newspapers, which is remarkable for a strip that doesn’t make sense to many and stars a pinhead. It’s also remarkable that there are 100 newspapers left these days, but that’s another story and a bleak one at that.

That same year I had moved to Fairfield County Connecticut, then the place to be for newspaper cartoonists. I got to know dozens and dozens of them, and I’d say these folks only had one thing in common: not a one understood why King Features picked the strip up. More than a few seemed resentful; the late great Gil Fox, one of the funniest and most courageous people I’d ever known to sit at a drawing board, once asked me to translate Zippy The Pinhead for him. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy”

With Further Ado #104: Johnny Dynamite Is Back

With Further Ado #104: Johnny Dynamite Is Back

Back in the day, I was a big fan of Ms. Tree by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty. I liked hard-boiled fiction (and still do), but this comic was different.  Somehow Collins and Beatty took everything that private-eye fans liked, jumbled it all up and delivered a new series that seemed fresh as a counterfeit sawbuck and as enticing as a nightclub singer’s over-the-shoulder wink.

Collins and Beatty developed a rapport with the readers, and soon we all began to understand the stuff that influenced their work on Ms. Tree.  Soon it become clear that it all started with the hard-boiled detective author Mickey Spillane, although there was a little Dragnet in there too.  They also revealed they were influenced by a 50s Private Eye comic series, Johnny Dynamite.

Johnny Dynamite was a character who – “ahem” – borrowed many of the attributes of Spillane’s detective, Mike Hammer. Ms. Tree comics reprinted the old Johnny Dynamite  stories, and the character Johnny Dynamite even ended up crossing paths with Ms. Tree. Eventually, Collins and Beatty created a new Johnny Dynamite mini-series (with great Mitch O’Connell covers).

And it’s taken a while, but now, in the summer of 2020, there’s an explosive new Johnny Dynamite collection just published by the good folks at Yoe Books. It’s a stunner.

I reached out to Max Allan Collins to provide some details: Continue reading “With Further Ado #104: Johnny Dynamite Is Back”

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior

Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day’s gonna be my last / Lord have mercy on this land of mine / We all gonna get it in due time / I don’t belong here / I don’t belong there / I’ve even stopped believing in prayer — Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam,” 1964

The first time I was able to have a conversation with the late Representative and true American hero John Lewis was about six years ago at the Baltimore Comic-Con. It was during set-up so the room was comparatively open and, as I was attempting to locate my booth I saw Representative Lewis behind a table. His name was on the sign behind his table — “Congressman John Lewis.” I did one of those patented Tex Avery eyeball takes.

I previously had been at the Heroes Convention at the Charlotte North Carolina Convention Center. A bunch of older white guys were walking around wearing suits that, each, could feed a family of four for three months. In the midst of that gaggle was Sarah Palin. I looked around to make sure I was at the right place because I could not believe these folks were there to add to their Funko Pops collections.

I was right; the state Republican Convention was upstairs and the comic-con was downstairs. The white men in their expensive suits looked disgusted but, to be fair, they always look that way. Sarah saw the cosplayers and beamed a megawatt smile. So you can’t say I’ve never said anything nice about Sarah Palin.

But this time, the statesman at hand was there for a comic book show. Considering he worked in Congress, seeing a couple thousand people dressed up as The Joker (including babies) was just another day at work. I approached him, he offered me a seat, and we chatted about the relationship between comic books and political organizing. It was one of those “holy crap” moments that make life wonderful.

Rep. Lewis did say I was the first to recognize him at the show. I laughed and said “Oh, just wait until the show starts.” He looked skeptical, but my prediction quickly came to pass: that was just about the only time during the show that I could see him clearly from the aisle. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #092: John Lewis – The Great American Warrior”

With Further Ado #103: Ray Bradbury & The Fan Who Came In Late

With Further Ado #103: Ray Bradbury & The Fan Who Came In Late

It’s a big year for Ray Bradbury. Fans of this incredible author are celebrating his centennial.  Later this month, in fact, San Diego Comic-Con will feature him on the cover of their Souvenir Book* with a gorgeous William Stout illustration.  It’s appropriate as Bradbury was a frequent guest and attendee of Comic-Con. (And artist Will Stout is one of the few people who has attended every San Diego Comic-Con.)

During this centennial, the prolific author, Bradbury, is very much on the mind of an industrious fan named David Ritter.  Ritter kind of joined the party late, he admits. He started getting serious about Bradbury when he turned fifty, although he read E.E. “Doc” Smith and H.P. Lovecraft growing up.

But now, he’s making up for lost time, and he’s working hard on the First Fandom Experience. Here’s how David officially describes the effort: Continue reading “With Further Ado #103: Ray Bradbury & The Fan Who Came In Late”