Tag: Dick Giordano

With Further Ado #153: Toxic Fandom – 60s Style

With Further Ado #153: Toxic Fandom – 60s Style

Art by Sean Lewis

It’s a strange paradox.  You can love Star Wars but hate all the recent “Star Wars movies. You can be a passionate Batman fan but not buy a single issue of current Batman comics.  Star Trek might be your favorite thing, but you can still vehemently loathe the most recent Star Trek TV series. And you might even be hate-watching them each week.

All this opens the can of worms as to who “owns” characters and  intellectual property (IP)? Is it the creators? Corporations who buy the IP from creators? Or is it fans?

Look, I get it. It’s easy to understand each side of the argument, and I find myself hopping from one point of view to the other depending on the particular fandom.

And in certain fandoms, the fans get very pointed and passionate.  Star Wars fans, for example, can articulate their hatred of certain movie executives and directors with a high level of understanding that one might expect in academia or at The Hollywood Reporters internal meetings.

I was surprised to see this level of toxic fandom in 1967 in an issue of a “less popular” comic…that was about to close up shop.

“If I Had a Thunderbolt In Mine Eye…”

Thunderbolt was a unique superhero series that was ahead of its time.  As noted on the covers of this Charlton series, Thunderbolt was in reality Peter Cannon, a reluctant hero who was trained by in the mysterious ways of Asian spirituality. He learned to unlock the power of the “90% of the human brain that lay unused”.  Unlike typical 60s heroes, Thunderbolt would often lament that solving problems via superhero fisticuffs wasn’t the best way.

Even if you never read a Thunderbolt comic, you may feel like you know the character. One reason is that Thunderbolt sort of borrowed his costume design from the Golden Age Daredevil, created by Charles Biro and Lev Gleason. (And have you read Bret Dakin’s bio of Lev Gleason yet? It’s been nominated for an Eisner.)  The character lived on recent, subsequent iterations in both DC and Dynamite comic series.  And, most famously, Ozymandias, the Watchmen character, was based on Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #59

For a couple years in the mid-sixties, Thunderbolt was published by Charlton Comics.  Each issue was signed by the mysterious PAM. He had a distinctive, almost Alex Toth-ian style, heavy on drama and storytelling.  At the time, PAM’s true identity was a better kept secret than Thunderbolt’s true identity. PAM was actually a NYC local, originally from Park Slope in Brooklyn:  Peter A. Morisi who had a whole ‘nuther career as an NYPD policeman.  In addition to Thunderbolt, PAM worked on several other series, including Vengeance Squad and created Johnny Dynamite.

The numbering was a bit wonky for Thunderbolt comics. It all officially started with issue #51, but by issue #59, in an Elvis-has-left-the-building moment, Morisi only supplied the cover.   The interior Thunderbolt story was written, penciled and inked by Pat Boyette.

Boy, were fans steamed!

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #60

I recently rescued a copy of Thunderbolt #60 from the bargain box at Fat Cat Comics in Binghamton.  The cover is fascinating as it showcases, in a last-ditch effort, an entirely new logo.   The series is edited by Dick Giordano, and both the lead and back-up features are written by Denny O’Neil.  The back-up series is an odd one, deserving a whole column of its own, and is illustrated by Jim Aparo.   With three major (future) Batman creatives contributing to this issue, it almost should be filed under “B”.

And in this last Thunderbolt issue, it’s astounding to see the fan letters commenting on the previous issue, #59. These fans were NOT HAPPY with PAM’s departure in that issue, nor with Pat Boyette picking up the art chores. They let editor Giordano have it with both barrels.

 

Like fans today (fans of Star Wars, Doctor Who, etc.) these fans knew their stuff and weren’t afraid to let the “higher ups” and the world at large, know how they felt!

Brainiac On Banjo #104: The Great Buck Rogers War!

Brainiac On Banjo #104: The Great Buck Rogers War!

For more than three decades now, “people” have been trying to figure out what to do with Buck Rogers, America’s first major science-fiction hero. Buck, then named Anthony, first appeared in Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella “Armageddon 2419 A.D., as published in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The story was noticed by National Newspaper Service syndicate president John F. Dille, who hired Nowlan to turn it into the first major science-fiction newspaper comic strip. The strip debuted on January 7th of the following year, some six months after the initial pulp magazine appearance.

Buck Rogers was a hit. An enormous number of merchandising and licensing deals ensued and Buck was seen in toy stores, a movie serial (starring Buster Crabbe), a radio serial, several television shows, and comic books. The other newspaper syndicates jumped on the Buckwagon, offering us Brick Bradford, Don Dixon, Drift Marlo, Space Cadet, and the spaceman whose fortunes eclipsed them all, Flash Gordon. Buster Crabbe starred in the three Flash Gordon serials as well.

As the realities of the real space program captured the world’s attention, spaceman stories began to look naïve; their sense of wonder was co-opted by reality. Buck’s adventures were drawn by some truly top-notch artists, including Frank Frazetta, Howard Chaykin, George Tuska, Gray Morrow, and Murphy Anderson, following in the footsteps of the originating artists, Dick Calkins, Russell Keaton and Rick Yager, but by the time we tossed beer cans on the moon Buck was but a cultural memory. A vaguely successful television series started up in 1979 and lasted two years.

This has not kept people from trying to bring Buck back. Not at all. But such efforts were hampered by recent lawsuits claiming Buck Rogers had lapsed into the public domain. The Dille Family Trust had gone blooie, and a judge ruled they were not eligible for bankruptcy relief.

After three years of listening to the crickets chirp, Legendary Entertainment said they were doing a movie, and Flint Dille, an accomplished television writer and grandson of John Dille, got on board. Brian K. Vaughan is writing the script. And, lo and behold, George Clooney is an executive producer — prompting rumors that George would play the lead. As much as I like Clooney, this is nearly laughable. Dr. Huer, the not-mad scientist of the series, would be more acceptable but I doubt George is likely to shave his head for the part. Bill Murray might, but he rarely returns phone calls. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #104: The Great Buck Rogers War!”

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.

Brainiac On Banjo #061: Charlton Comics Goes To War!!

Brainiac On Banjo #061: Charlton Comics Goes To War!!

The Unknown Anti-War Comics!, by Steve Ditko, Ross Andru, Joe Gill, Denny O’Neil, Pat Boyette and others, edited by Craig Yoe • Yoe Books!-IDW • $29.95, 226 pages

Back when the three of us were laboring over at the DC Comics factory, I was blessed with having my office between those of Denny O’Neil and Archie Goodwin, two of the finest comics practitioners in American history. If they were to be branded A-listers, we would need to invent a new first letter for our alphabet. I’m going to start with Archie, but don’t worry. Denny comes into this story later.

Back around 1992 and 1993, Archie and I started frequenting a swell midtown restaurant where New York Times executives often brought advertising clients. Remember, this was about 16 years before Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau put our beloved medium on the legit. Usually, our passionate conversations revolved around two subjects: frighteningly radical politics, and comic books; particularly EC Comics. To the chagrin of the over-wrought suits sitting within eavesdropping distance, we would conflate the two.

Of all of Archie’s massive achievements as a writer and an editor, my personal favorite is the four-issue run of Blazing Combat, the black-and-white war comic published by Jim Warren with the Frazetta covers and interiors drawn by Alex Toth, John Severin, Reed Crandall, Joe Orlando, Gene Colan, Wally Wood… you get the point. The series was influenced by Harvey Kurtzman’s Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat for EC Comics, and all the above-mentioned artists had drawn stories for Kurtzman. Archie was too young to have written for them, but he was a member of the EC Fan-Addict Club (fan-addict > fanatic, get it?). Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #061: Charlton Comics Goes To War!!”