Category: Books

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”

With Further Ado #101: Books for the Beach, Summer Reading

With Further Ado #101: Books for the Beach, Summer Reading

Although I’ve reverted back to being a “Lake Guy” rather than an “Ocean Guy”, after 25+ years sunning myself at the Jersey Shore, I still just love burying my nose in a book on the beach. What could be better?  Here’s a few of my recent favorites:

 

The Fantastic Paintings of Frazetta
By J. David Spurlock
Vanguard Press
Trade HC ISBN13: 9781934331811  $39.95 • 120 pgs
DX LE ISBN13: 9781934331828  $69.95 • 138 pgs plus slipcase

There’s something about paintings and summertime that seem to go together. Is it true that we have more time during the summer and can enjoy art more leisurely?  I always tell myself that. But then again, I always tell myself that an occasional dessert won’t ruin my diet.

Vanguard’s new Frazetta book presents his “greatest hits”, and a few rare ones, in a spectacular format.  They are big and bold, and writer J. David Spurlock provides a virtual cornucopia full of backstories and the behind-the-scenes tales.  It’s a great way for long-time fans to celebrate a favorite or for new fans to get to know a unique American artist.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #101: Books for the Beach, Summer Reading”

With Further Ado #93: Why the Industry Needs Paul Kupperberg’s How-To Book

With Further Ado #93: Why the Industry Needs Paul Kupperberg’s How-To Book

There’s this photo that’s posted on a museum website that makes the rounds on the internet from time to time. It shows a modest drafting table and a dingy chair in an unglamorous office.  It’s nothing fancy.  And at first glance, one might be inclined to think that the artist it belonged to would never create anything imaginative or enduring.  The space is so uninspiring. But it belonged to Jack Kirby. It’s almost hard to reconcile that so many brilliant ideas sprang from the imagination of one man, despite his meager studio.

But then you realize that all the fancy tools and studios don’t matter. It’s all about the personal creativity and the discipline of an individual.

That’s one of the reasons I am so enamored with this new book: Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics. This one isn’t about the fancy tools needed to create. This is not a how-to about getting a fancy new software program, or even formatting scripts in one particular way. This new book gets to the heart of things and provides solid, useful guidance in memorable ways.

Paul Kupperberg is a long-time comics author, having written so many of my favorites.  I was excited to see him sharing his insights. After reading this book, I asked him about his fresh approach. Continue reading “With Further Ado #93: Why the Industry Needs Paul Kupperberg’s How-To Book”

With Further Ado #092: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 2)

With Further Ado #092: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 2)

Let’s start with a beer. Shall we?

In the old days, Miller Lite TV Commercials presented the world as one big party for adult men. The long-running, phenomenally successful marketing campaign featured retired sports stars laughing, drinking and teasing one another. It was kind of a secret fraternity that wasn’t so secret. Anyone could join, and all you needed was Lite beer. It was fun, playful and good natured.

Among all the sports stars, two decidedly non-sports celebrities stood out – comedian Rodney Dangerfield, enjoying a bombastic second act to his career, and mystery writer Mickey Spillane.

Mystery writer Mickey Spillane? Really? We think of celebrity fiction writers, and it’s hard to conjure up their image.  F. Scott Fitzgerald? James Patterson? What do they look like? I guess most of us know what Stephen King or J.K. Rowling look like. Maybe we all would recognize Hemingway or Truman Capote.  But America was drinking beer and kidding around with one particular writer. Mickey Spillane was in our living rooms –  during every commercial break – when we were watching sitcoms and ball games, for years and years. Continue reading “With Further Ado #092: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 2)”

With Further Ado #091: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 1)

With Further Ado #091: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 1)

I like a lot of detective heroes found in books, movies and TV shows. Part of the fun of an adventure with any of Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, Pete Fernandez, Spenser, or Myron Bolitar is that I think it would be fun to hang out with that guy.  Even the heroes who are a bit prickly, like Sherlock Holmes or Stumptown’s Dex Parios, would still be a riot to run around with for an adventure or two. They are all so likeable.

But I never used to like Mike Hammer, the toughest of the tough guy detectives.  I knew he was a big deal and his novels, written by Mickey Spillane, were successful. I would learn later that, at one point, Spillane was the world’s best-selling author, having written seven of the top ten best-selling novels. It turns out that it happened was when he had only written seven novels.

Yes, this guy Spillane was seven for seven. Incredible, right?

I think that, initially, the character Hammer was just too brutal for me. He gave the bad guys what they deserved, however gruesome.  He always “colored outside the lines” of both the legal system and good taste. Unlike that classical 1930s and 1940s detective who would walk down those mean streets like a modern day knight of the round table, adhering to a personal code of honor, Spillane’s Mike Hammer took it way over the edge.

But my perception changed when I started reading the “new” Mike Hammer novels.  After an incredible writing career, and second act in a long-lived Miller Lite advertising campaign, Mickey Spillane left behind a treasure trove of partially-finished stories, and story ideas, that he only trusted one man to finish – Max Allan Collins.

Max Allan Collins has emerged as one of the top mystery writers in his own right. He’s incredibly prolific, and it’s astounding that he never seems let his level quality slip; not in any of his novels (Nate Heller, Quarry), comics (Ms. Tree, Batman), adaptations (CSI, Criminal Minds) and comic strips (Dick Tracy, Batman.) You might also know he was the guy wrote the brilliant graphic novel, The Road To Perdition, which also became a movie starring Tom Hanks. Continue reading “With Further Ado #091: Down These Mean Streets with MAX ALLAN COLLINS (part 1)”

Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!

Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!

Famous 1st Edition #C-63, New Fun Comics #1, published by DC Comics, 2020, in hardcover $19.99.

The very first thing that impressed me about the release of Famous 1st Edition #C-63, the first in four decades, is that the subtitle below the logo is “Limited Collectors’ Platinum Mint Series.” Holy crap! It’s Limited, it’s Platinum, it’s also Mint… and it’s a series?

So I looked it up. DC published a bunch of “Famous First Editions” reprinting the first issues of most of the usual suspects: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash Comics, All-Star Comics. Don’t ask me to explain how their numbering system worked; I figured it out with the intent of explaining it, but my head still hurts and it really isn’t important. The number isn’t on the cover, and, anyway, there can’t be a second Famous 1st Edition edition of New Fun #1. What I did’t realize, or maybe I forgot, is that before this Famous 1st Edition Limited Collectors’ Platinum Mint Series book DC had published issues as “Golden Mint,” “Silver Mint,” “Bronze Mint,” and Blue Ribbon series, the latter doubtlessly just to piss Archie Comics off. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #082: This Is Fitting… And About Time, Too!”

With Further Ado #087: Scary Times:  Hung, Drawn and Executed

With Further Ado #087: Scary Times: Hung, Drawn and Executed

These are scary uncertain times, that’s for sure. If I had my druthers, I’d experience my scariness in ninety-minute cinematic chunks, i.e. with monster movies, rather than with a real life pandemic.

One of my favorite parts about monster movies has always been the posters. In fact, during my Screams & Screens movie series, where we celebrate both the best and worst in horror movies, sometimes the best part of the whole thing is the movie poster.

So, you can imagine how much I’m enjoying social distancing as I curl up with another fantastic book from Korero Press, Hung, Drawn and Executed – the Horror Art of Graham Humphreys . This is the perfect coffee table book …if you live in Castle Dracula, but it’s a real treat for those of us who live in less spooky homes too. Continue reading “With Further Ado #087: Scary Times: Hung, Drawn and Executed”

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

In my career as a comic book editor-provocateur, I have had the privilege of assisting the birth of several remarkable projects. Two such projects were offered to me by the same team: writer/artists Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel. Oh, sure, they went on individually to do brilliant stuff such as Blood of the Innocent, Tarzan, The Sandman, Gregory, Frankenstein’s Mobster and The Escapist, but all that happened after I received their pitch for Mars.

I was editor-in-chief at First Comics, and I was specifically looking for a project that was completely original and produced by “newcomers” (quotes are due to that “overnight sensation” thing). Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson, our art director and production manager respectively, tossed the Mars proposal onto my lap and said “read this.” Not “read this, please” or “I think this is what you’re looking for;” nope, just read this.

I did, and then I called Wheatley and Hempel. As I recall, their agent was noted comics writer, marketer, publisher, and all-around swell guy Mike Friedrich. Quite rapidly, we had a deal.

After the first issues were finished and we started our promotion work, one of the major comics distributors – there actually used to be over a dozen! – told me I was making a big mistake. Nobody heard of these guys. I pointed out that nobody had heard of Mark Twain until he got published. I was told the story lacked commercial appeal. I responded, “how do you know they aren’t mutants?” Yeah, back in those days I could be quite stubborn or, as I prefer to think of it, an asshole for the cause of good.

We published the series and it became a cult classic. My definition of a cult classic was a highly regarded comic book whose sales were outflanked by the comp list. Mars did well enough and if it sold in those same volume today it would be a twice-weekly book, but the numbers weren’t likely to confound Alan Turing. It had enormous word-of-mouth going for it as well, and that inured to the benefit of the First Comics legend.

Flash forward six years to 1990. Despite the fact that Hempel was hospitalized during his time on Mars, they pitched me another project. By this time, I was a group editor and director of editorial development at DC Comics, and my job was to boldly acquire weird shit that no one had acquired before. I heard their pitch for Breathtaker in a backroom at some huge comics convention. I went for it in a heartbeat, my boss Dick Giordano was ecstatic about it (Dick had a great eye for weird shit), and we produced and published Breathtaker… Despite Hempel’s return to the hospital.

But that’s when things got dicey. Our publisher, Jenette Kahn, a fine person who had earned my respect several years before she got into comics, took one look at the cover and said it seemed like we were mocking concentration camp victims. It’s 30 years later, and I still don’t get that. But word got out that Jenette didn’t like the book. Well, that’s not true. She didn’t like the cover, and she could have called for a new one, or she could have canned the book outright. She did not, but our crack marketing department saw the onus as clear as day.

DC’s marketing director had a reputation for not putting much muscle behind comics that didn’t have a batcape and didn’t kill off anybody important. When Breathtaker was released the only people who knew about it were Wheatley and Hempel’s relatives and those friends of mine who remained amused by my incessant bitching. Despite this, the books sold well, and it got itself a trade paperback collection, which I believe went through a few printings.

Still onus-laden, Mark and Marc got the rights back – eventually. We reprinted it over at IDW in 2005, which was about the time something really interesting happened. The Normal Rockwell Museum was putting on an exhibition of some two dozen graphic novels, and Breathtaker was among those selected. We had an entire wall in their truly breathtaking museum. We were invited to the opening and they even threw us all a wonderful feast – after which many of the museum curators brought out their personal comics for us to sign.

From time to time, the museum put together a travelling version of the exhibit, and it’s still going on. According to the press release,

“Wheatley and Hempel’s Insight Studios Group will mount the “Breathtaker Exhibition,” which was created by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and will appear at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. With more than 90 original works of art, the exhibition explores the creative and physical processes that were undertaken during the original production … The exhibition will be on view August 24, 2020 through October 30, 2020.”

I should point out that McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland is just outside of Baltimore, near the abodes of the Breathtaker creators. That is sweet.

I should also point out that Breathtaker is being rereleased in collected edition by my old, old buddy Nick Landau (thanks for the sexy Hitler comic, Nick!) and his Titan Books imprimatur. Oh, and while I’m at it, I will point out that Titan is issuing an all-new companion comic, I guess for those of us who have all-new companions.

For me, this is seriously cool. Mark and Marc have been two of my closest friends, and I remain in awe of their work. If you haven’t read Breathtaker, Landau is about to make it easy for you to correct that.