Tag: Jack Kirby

Brainiac On Banjo: To Ramona

Brainiac On Banjo: To Ramona

I’ve heard you say many times that you’re better than no one and no one is better than you. If you really believe that you know you have nothing to win and nothing to lose, from fixtures and forces and friends your sorrow does stem that hype you and type you, making you feel that you gotta be just like them. “To Ramona,” written by Bob Dylan

Back in the post-WWII days when 10 cent comics cost a mere 10 cents, there were but a handful of ongoing superheroes, all of them were published by DC Comics, and each had a very distinctive look. Not the razor-sharp nearly photogenic linework of artists like Curt Swan and Carmine Infantino, but highly stylized and not quite real-world: Wayne Boring’s Superman, Dick Sprang’s Batman and Robin, Russ Andru’s Wonder Woman, George Papp (and, briefly, Jack Kirby’s) Green Arrow, and Ramona Fradon’s Aquaman. They maintained and advanced the standard for comics’ most enduring characters.

Of course, this was seven decades ago. Time seems to move on and, now, the last of these famous artists has left the building. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: To Ramona”

Brainiac On Banjo: Five Comics Tropes I Want Back!

Brainiac On Banjo: Five Comics Tropes I Want Back!

Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails, let’s go backwards when forward fail, and movie stars you thought were alone then now are framed beside your bed — “Everything Old Is New Again,” written by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager

Every commercial storytelling medium that achieves any sort of longevity finds itself inventing recurring themes and concepts, often inadvertently. The kids today call them “tropes” but I’m old enough to remember when they were simply called “do that again so we can pay our bills.”

This is not to suggest comics have abandoned the trope motif. Nothing could be further from the truth — except Donald Trump. If we stopped using all the contemporary comics tropes we’d have nothing but panel borders and staples. But I miss the occasional use of a number of little used or ignored formats and concepts. I’m going to list a mere five; I’d do more if I had a functional attention-span and this wasn’t a holiday weekend.

5. Backgrounds

There was a time when most comics stories had backgrounds, unless they were inked by Vinnie Colletta. You know, stuff going on or simply being there to establish environment or allow for some foreshadowing. Some artists would drop “eyeball kicks” into their backgrounds to lighten the mood. Let us not forget that minimizing or not drawing backgrounds is a great way to pick up deadline time.

Now we have computers that deploy palettes that contain three million more colors than the naked eye can distinguish. We can go apeshit with our computers and the color artists have a lot more range and so it is intuited that the need for filling space with backgrounds isn’t necessary. Well, not to this guy. Let’s cut back on the cutting back on backgrounds. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Five Comics Tropes I Want Back!”

Brainiac On Banjo: A.I. Swiping Honored By Government!

Brainiac On Banjo: A.I. Swiping Honored By Government!

I’m a substitute for another guy. I look pretty tall but my heels are high. The simple things you see are all complicated. I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated. — Pete Townshend, “Substitute”

I’ve just done a couple of conventions over the past several weeks — C2E2 in Chicago and the always-fantastic Ithacon in – surprise! – Ithaca, New York. As always, I enjoyed pressing the flesh (in a neighborly way), signing a shitload of comics, including the ones I forgot I worked on, and talking with a lot of friends old and new. Even though my life has been one massive comic book convention that has lasted 54 years and counting, it’s a collegial environment chock full of swell folks.

Whereas I did not conduct a formal survey, it is safe to say the major topic of general conversation was “Artificial Intelligence.” No, not the type commonly used by our politicians in the southern states, nor the type often used in the corporate suites of many publishers. I’m referring to the computer devices that create imitations of the works of artists and writers all over this rapidly-boiling planet of ours. I suspect if some binary-workers created software that provided abortion care, our governments would be all over that as well, but ramming some people’s religious “values” such as matricide down the throats of those with differing religious values is a well-known diversion for our nation’s judicial systems. But, I think I digress… therefore I am. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: A.I. Swiping Honored By Government!”

With Further Ado  #238: Red, White, and Nostalgic

With Further Ado #238: Red, White, and Nostalgic

When Jack Kirby returned to Marvel Comics in the mid-70s, it was a big deal. Marvel Comics told me, and my friends, it was a big deal, and our local comic shop owner, Kim Draheim, told us too.

And it’s almost pop-culture heresy to write this, but at that time – we just didn’t get Kirby.

Black Panther, with the Golden Frog and all that, was a nutty book and nothing like the Don McGregor Panther series we had so thoroughly enjoyed.

The Eternals was kind of fun, but it seemed so set apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe. And when one hero finally showed up, the Hulk, it was a just robot. What a rip-off!

Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy kind of turned into a punchline in our comic shop too.

• Most disappointing was Captain America. For years were riding along with Steve Englehart, exploring big ideas about patriotism and forgotten corners of the Marvel Universe. Sal Buscema’s Sharon Carter was the very best super-hero girlfriend at that time, and we grew to love her too. And the Nomad saga, despite swapping artists at the end, was the first (and still the best) of many super-hero identity fake outs.

At first, when Kirby burst back onto the Marvel scene, especially with the Madbomb issues in Captain America, we were intrigued. It made sense that Jack Kirby should get another crack at the character he co-created (with Joe Simon) all those years ago.

But oh, so quickly, we lost interest. Why did Cap all of a sudden talk like my grandfather? Who was this new female lead, revolutionary Donna Maria Puentes, anyway? Where was Sharon? And although I’ve come to really enjoy it, Kirby’s bombastic art – at that time – just wasn’t doing it for me. My friends and I weren’t mature enough to get it. “Why couldn’t he draw more like Neal Adams?”, we wondered. Continue reading “With Further Ado #238: Red, White, and Nostalgic”

Weird Scenes #119: Spaaaaaaaace Farce!!!

Weird Scenes #119: Spaaaaaaaace Farce!!!

Oh, holy crap!

Last week, outgoing Vice President Pence proclaimed “We just returned from the Oval Office and so it is my honor, on behalf of the President of the United States, to announce that henceforth, the men and women of the United States Space Force will be known as ‘guardians.’” Hmmm. From this, I gather our soldiers, sailors, air people, and Marines no longer have to be troubled with guarding anything.

Upon hearing this pronouncement, Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn whimsically tweeted, “Can we sue this dork?” Others — many others; maybe everybody who ever saw these movies or and/or have ever read the very long-running Marvel comic books of the same name — asked if either Groot ( the tree who only says “I Am Groot!”) or Rocket Raccoon (who is a raccoon) would be the United States Space Force mascot.

The government pointed out that they’ve been using the term since 1983 when they appropriated the name “Guardians of the High Frontier.” That’s nice, but the Marvel Comics trademarked property “Guardians of the Galaxy” debuted in 1969. For that matter, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created a super-hero for DC Comics named “The Guardian.”

This is hardly the first time the United States Space Force has been accused of purloining intellectual property. Their logo is a pathetically obvious (or hysterically oblivious) swipe of ViacomCBS’s Star Trek, which has been in continuous use since 1966 and, as of this writing, is in use on five separate current and ongoing television productions.

The United States Space Force already has a major problem: many people, including this cynic, find it impossible to utter the name without triggering the giggle-reflex. That’s a really dumb name for what we’re told to accept on faith is a serious use of 16,000 troops and a 2021 budget of $15,400,000,000.00. Prior to their creation on December 20, 2019 (happy birthday, I guess) “Space Force” had been used as the name of the new Steve Carell / John Malkovich situation comedy, which is presently filming its second season. This television series was green-lit by Netflix in January 2019, almost a full year before the creation of the United States Space Force.

Carell’s character, General Mark R. Naird, doesn’t seem to know the details of the Space Force’s mission. What a coincidence! We’ve never been told what purpose is served by the United States Space Force, if any. Is there reason to believe we will be fighting some sort of war in space? With whom? The Russians? Japan? The Klingon Empire? As an occasional tax-payer, I’d like to know something about what we’re getting for our bucks, other than a big wet kiss on the ass of our outgoing Idiot-In-Chief.

There’s good reason why we should take our sundry defense services seriously. Combined, they provide the security blanket for the United States of America, which is a lot more than I can say for our current president. To put a decimal point on this, the budget for our Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2020 is in the neighborhood of $721.5 billion — not counting the black budget stuff. In real estate parlance, that is known as a high rent district.

I guess that compared to $721.5 billion, $15.4 billion is just a fart in a blizzard. Sure, we’re spending a hell of a lot more than all that on Covid research and relief, but we’ve already lost almost as many Americans to Covid as we did in World War II, and it’s disgustingly likely that before this is over that number will eclipse American WWII deaths. So I understand where that money is going. Such expenditures are understandable and clearly benefit the greater good.

Until we have evidence to back up both the concept and the expenditures, the United States Space Force will be commonly perceived as Donald Trump’s vanity project with its marketing elements ripped off from those who have been fostering our sense of wonder without the benefit of any tax dollars whatsoever.

In other words, the United States Space Force is little more than a joke.

But the joke is on us.

With Further Ado #121: The Beauty and the King

With Further Ado #121: The Beauty and the King

Well, it’s taken long enough, even if it’s not quite right.

I finally saw the recent movie Seberg staring the miscast Kristen Stewart.  Jean Seberg’s life was tragic.  There is no denying that fact. In true Icarian fashion, she flew too close the sun, but it wasn’t her pride that did her in. It’s clear she was the victim of the harsh realities of the old Hollywood system (suffering abuse from director Otto Preminger) and the cruelties of a misguided FBI driven by the obsessive J. Edgar Hoover.

I know a little of her story.  I’m no expert and everything I learned about actress Jean Seberg came from two sources:

  • Way back when, I listened to a professor’s lecture before Breathless in a Cornell film studies course. I couldn’t officially fit that course into my college schedule, but my buddy Paul Haskell snuck me in. (Thanks again, Paul.)
  • Karina Longworth’s excellent You Must Remember This podcast. Longworth took a deep dive last year with a multi-part series examining the intertwined careers of Jane Fonda and Jean Seberg. As always, her meticulously researched podcast was, as it usually is, very educational and addictively entertaining.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #121: The Beauty and the King”

With Further Ado #109: Dropping by the Frazetta Museum

With Further Ado #109: Dropping by the Frazetta Museum

I’ve been meaning to visit this spot for way too long. And that’s all the more reason I’m ecstatic I was finally able to make it out to the Frazetta Art Museum this past weekend.

This privately run museum, located in the middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania, was still surprisingly easy to get to. It’s just a few minutes off of Interstate 80 in the charming town of East Stroudsburg.

The museum is run by one of Frazetta’s children: Frank, Jr.  Although, he was quick to tell us, he’s not really a junior but “everybody” just calls him that.  When we arrived, my wife and I started walking about, but as soon as Frank, Jr. had finished with the previous guests, he stepped right on over to give us a guided tour.

That really made it special. The framing of Frazetta’s life and career was deeply fascinating, but Frank Jr. was able to deliver the highlights without getting too deep. On the other hand, even a long-time fan like myself learned a few new things. And Frank Jr. was able to provide so many humanizing details to Frazetta from the unique perspective of a son.  I quickly reached the conclusion that Frazetta’s temperament and disposition was very similar to many of my Italian relatives.

The whole museum is laid out smartly – starting out  with two display cases of paperbacks with Frazetta covers, and then showcasing Frazetta family portraits, his early work, the most famous paintings and even a recreation of his studio. His camera collection (it turns out he was a passionate collector) is on display and just makes the great talent Frazetta seem like a more ‘real’ guy. Continue reading “With Further Ado #109: Dropping by the Frazetta Museum”

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 #031: Kirby and Lee: Stuf’ Said  by John Morrow

With Further Ado #031: Kirby and Lee: Stuf’ Said by John Morrow

“It’s complicated” is a simple term that’s creeped into all facets of our lexicon. It’s now become something more than just a placeholder of a particular status category on social media. But let’s face it; whenever we deal with real people who live on planet Earth, things tend to get complicated. There are no simple answers.  Even the shades of gray have shades of gray.  And that’s the proper mindset for jumping into John Morrow’s phenomenal new book Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said.

This book is a fascinating deep dive into contentious relationships between the men, and women, who would shape what pop culture now regards as the Marvel Universe.   There are so many questions: Who contributed what? Did the writer actually write the stuff? Who came up with the ideas originally? Why didn’t everyone get along better? Marvel now generates billions of dollars in business, so we have to wonder if all involved had been compensated fairly? (Spoiler alert: “no”.)

There seems to be a lot of excitement for this book.  “John Morrow has done it again,” said Emil Novak, Sr, a pioneering comic book retailer since 1969.  Stuf’ Said chronicles the perplexing conversation of who fundamentally created most of Marvel’s comic book characters.  And the results will change your thoughts and history forever.”  Continue reading “With Further Ado #031: Kirby and Lee: Stuf’ Said by John Morrow”