Archive for April 2010

Comic Art Friday: Sittin’ on the dock of DuBay

April 30, 2010

Before we get into the meat of today’s Comic Art Friday post, let me remind you all that tomorrow (Saturday, May 1, 2010, for those who may stumble upon this missive in the distant future) is Free Comic Book Day. If you drop by your participating local comic book shop, chances are excellent that you can walk away with a free comic book, selected from an array of special editions generated by comic book publishers just for the occasion.

(If you’re polite, and your local comic shop proprietor is a decent sort, you might be able to wangle a couple or more freebies. But don’t get all greedy. And be sure to say “thank you.”)

Daredevil, pencils by comics artist Trevor Von Eeden

Today’s Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of Bill DuBay, a longtime comics writer, artist, and editor who passed away earlier this month following a battle with cancer. He was 62 years old.

DuBay worked for most of the major (and several minor) comics publishers during his career, but he’s best remembered for his tenure as writer-editor for Warren Publishing’s line of magazine-sized comics — Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella, plus the reprint series featuring Will Eisner’s The Spirit — in the early 1970s. DuBay later helmed Archie Comics’ brief, unsuccessful attempt to launch a superhero line in the 1980s, and edited Western Publishing’s juvenile comics. Like many comics pros, he eventually moved on into animation, working for Marvel and FoxKids on their various TV cartoon series.

Although I was a major Vampirella fan back in the day, when I think about Bill DuBay I think first about Thriller, that mad and wonderful DC Comics series from the early ’80s. DuBay was the writer DC brought in to finish out the book’s run, after cocreator Robert Loren Fleming walked off the project after seven issues due to a plethora of editorial challenges. The series’ other cocreator, artist Trevor Von Eeden, bolted after issue #8, leaving former Warren stalwart Alex Niño to draw the last four stories written by DuBay.

To be frank, the last four issues of Thriller concocted by DuBay and Niño don’t stand up to the first seven by Fleming and Von Eeden. The eighth issue, written by DuBay from Fleming’s outline and illustrated by Von Eeden, falls somewhere in between. As weak as the conclusion of Thriller might have been, however, I’ve always been grateful to DuBay and Niño for at least attempting to resolve a storyline that (and I’m being honest here) they didn’t fully comprehend. (I’m not sure anyone other than Fleming and Von Eeden really understood Thriller completely. I’m including myself among the semi-mystified, even though I was among the series’ few loyal readers.) The run may have ended badly, but at least it ended — instead of just stopping in midstream when its creators left.

Anyway, the dramatic drawing of Daredevil at the top of this post is the work of Trevor Von Eeden. It seemed appropriate to run it today, as I’m thinking about the late Bill DuBay… who, like Matt Murdock’s Man Without Fear, was something of a daredevil who often found himself working (as on Thriller) without a net.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

P.S. Spread the word: Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day!

You’re a good commodity, Charlie Brown

April 27, 2010

This just in via Sopwith Camel…

The E.W. Scripps Company, the struggling one-time media giant whose newspaper empire has in recent years been shrinking as if it had been dunked in ice water, today sold its subsidiary United Media Licensing for $175 million.

United Media‘s best-known property is Peanuts, the seminal comic strip created by the late Charles M. Schulz. The company’s new majority owner is Iconix Brand Group, the marketing force behind Joe Boxer underwear, London Fog raincoats, and Starter athletic wear.

I’m guessing that Charlie Brown’s baseball team will be sporting Starter jackets this season. And, I suppose, Joe Boxer supporters. Although that’s probably more information than you wanted.

The local angle here is that Schulz’s family buys into the deal for a 20 percent stake in United Media. This will give the Schulz heirs some degree of ongoing control over Peanuts licensed merchandise, which racks up gross sales in the neighborhood of $2 billion annually. That shakes out to net revenue of approximately $75-90 million. Not too shabby a legacy for a cartoonist working out of an office in an ice skating arena in Sonoma County, California.

By the way, if you’re ever in town, stop by the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. Run by Jean Schulz, the artist’s widow, the museum always has fascinating and entertaining themed collections of original Peanuts strips on display. The museum also frequently hosts special exhibitions and educational programs, including its popular Cartoonist-In-Residence series the second Saturday of each month. Recent Cartoonists-In-Residence have included Keith Knight (The K Chronicles), Scott Kurtz (Player vs. Player), and Brian Fies (Mom’s Cancer). Plus, there’s always the off chance that you might bump into Paige Braddock, the Eisner Award-winning creator of Jane’s World, who’s the creative director for Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates and the mastermind behind all of the Peanuts licensed merchandise you see everywhere you look. (Somebody has to be.)

I have a feeling that Snoopy and the gang will quaff a root beer or two over this latest bonanza.

Comic Art Friday: Phantom Lady is a “Heart Baker”

April 23, 2010

When I first conceived the Bombshells! project two years ago, I believed that I had a relatively narrow commission series ahead of me. After all, how many comic book heroines existed before 1960, the arbitrary parameter I set? Surely not that many. I jotted down the dozen or so names that came immediately to mind, and called it a day.

As it turned out, the field of potential Bombshells! proved more vast than I anticipated. Today’s featured artwork brings the series to the quarter-century mark. My going research into heroines from comics’ Golden Age has yielded enough candidates to triple that number.

So many Bombshells!, so little cash.

Phantom Lady, pencils by comics artist Michael Dooney

Phantom Lady appeared near the top of my original Bombshells! list. Given her stature among the most popular and influential heroines of the 1940s, I reserved her appearance for one of my favorite “good girl” artists, Michael Dooney. Mike’s third entry into the Bombshells! arena ranks with his best. (You can click the image above for a better view… and you should.)

One of the earliest costumed heroines, Phantom Lady premiered in Police Comics #1 (August 1941). After a 23-issue run in that publication, the character’s creators, the Jerry Iger Studio, moved her adventures from Quality Comics, their original publisher, to Fox Features Syndicate, where Phantom Lady headlined her own title. It was during her Fox tenure that Phantom Lady’s stories began to be illustrated by Matt Baker, the artist most closely associated with the character. Baker’s voluptuous cover depictions of Phantom Lady inspired the moniker “headlights comics” (I leave it to you, friend reader, to figure out why), and drew the ire of Congressional crusaders bent on stamping out the comics industry.

I suggested the punning tagline “Heart Baker” for Phantom Lady’s Bombshells! spotlight, to acknowledge Matt Baker’s contribution to her legend. Michael Dooney grabbed onto that idea and ran like the wind, adding his own clever touches to the piece, including the shark face and “autograph” on Phantom Lady’s bomb — two period-accurate details from the World War II era. Which makes sense, given Mike’s penchant for creating authentic bomber nose art.

By the way, the device Phantom Lady wields here is her signature “black light” projector, which she uses to blind her adversaries. That always seemed to me like overkill. If you catch my drift.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Rest in peace, Alicia

April 22, 2010

Although I’d known for several days that this development was imminent, it still grieved me to read the news that Alicia Parlette died from cancer today at the tragically young age of 28.

I first wrote about Alicia nearly five years ago, shortly after her blog Alicia’s Story began to appear on SF Gate, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time, Alicia was 23 years old, and recently employed by the Chronicle as a copyeditor. When she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer — alveolar soft part sarcoma — in March 2005, Alicia’s superiors at the Chron offered her the opportunity to write online about her journey through treatment. Her memoirs were poignant, inspiring, heart-crushing, and real.

By early 2007, Alicia’s health had deteriorated to the point that she was no longer able to maintain her position at the Chronicle. The paper allowed her space to continue her blog, but updates grew infrequent, and stopped altogether in August of that year. Readers were left to wonder how Alicia fared in her ongoing battle with her aggressive disease. From time to time, some blogger would throw out a mention of Alicia, or a public plea for information about her welfare, but for the most part, those of us who had come to care about her through her writing could only speculate… and pray.

Over the past couple of weeks, news surfaced, via the Chronicle and other media, that Alicia had entered hospice care. By all reports, she faced the end of her young life as she had faced the obstacle that would eventually overwhelm her — with courage, determination, laughter, and an indomitable spirit.

Today, shortly before noon, that spirit departed.

If you read this blog often, you know that cancer is a fighting word here at SSTOL. My wife — known in this space as KJ — was first diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2000, and with a metastasized stage of that disease in March 2007. We live daily with the spectre that touches far too many lives.

We never met Alicia Parlette, but we felt as though we did. Thousands of others out there in the electronic ether felt the same. Our hearts beat heavily today.

May those who loved Alicia in life find peace in her memory.

And let’s all do what we can to kill this monster called cancer…

…before we lose many more Alicias.

To sleep, Peru Chanchamayo to dream

April 21, 2010

Generally speaking, I prefer a pungent, bold-flavored coffee to kick-start me in the morning. (Because if you’d ever seen me in the morning, you’d know that I need all the kick-starting I can get.)

Over the past few weeks, however, my morning brew of choice has been the latest seasonal coffee offering from Starbucks: Peru Chanchamayo. Yes, I know — it sounds like one of those faux-Mexican monstrosities Taco Bell keeps churning out. But in fact, it’s a smooth-drinking, mellow coffee that’s so subtle as to be almost unobtrusive. Not what I’m usually after first thing in the day, but it’s a welcome change of pace.

Peru Chanchamayo follows its earthy, herbal aroma with a light, nutlike flavor. The combination lingers pleasantly on the palate, making this a coffee equally suitable for sipping over long, leisurely mornings or with an evening dessert. (I’m not a nighttime coffee drinker, but I know that some of you are.) It lacks the brightness and acidity of my favorite varietals from Kenya and Ethiopia, but there’s something about Peru Chanchamayo I find appealing enough to have purchased two bags in a row… something I rarely do, given my mercurial tastes.

Like most Starbucks seasonals, Peru Chanchamayo is available for a limited time. So, while they still have it on the shelves, get yourself down to your local House of the Naked Fish-Tailed Lady and pick up a pound. I think you’ll enjoy it.

You can tell the barista your Uncle Swan sent you.

Through being Carl

April 20, 2010

I was surprised and saddened to read earlier today that Carl Macek passed away suddenly this past weekend.

To millions of anime (that’s Japanese animation, for the benefit of the uninitiated) fans, Macek gets credit — and, judging by several of the comments I’ve read at various online tributes, a considerable amount of abuse — for helping mainstream anime into American culture, through repackaging such series as Robotech for Western audiences. He also produced several of the English-language versions of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, including the classic My Neighbor Totoro.

My unbridled affection for Miyazaki aside, I’m not a rabid partisan of anime (or “Japanimation,” as we called it back in the day) produced for television. I grew up with such early examples of the genre as Gigantor and Speed Racer, but I always preferred the Western flavor of the animators’ art. Thus, it wasn’t his work in promoting anime that earned Carl Macek his pedestal in my mind’s hall of fame. Rather, it was one of his more obscure efforts, relatively speaking — his 1981 book, The Art of Heavy Metal, The Movie.

Regular visitors here may be aware that, in addition to this humble blog, I’m also the author of the Heavy Metal online reference page on Squidoo — one of my own more obscure efforts. So, Mr. Macek and I, although we diverged in our passion for (or indifference to, depending upon which of us you’re addressing) anime, shared a fondness for this strange little gem of an animated film that didn’t originate in Japan. (In fact, many people who are familiar with Heavy Metal don’t realize that the movie was a Canadian production, and that most of its segments were animated outside the United States.)

On the DVD release of Heavy Metal, Macek’s reading from his book serves as an audio commentary to the film. As a voice actor and narrator myself, I don’t find Macek’s dry delivery all that scintillating,  but he provided a number of interesting facts about the film that proved helpful when I compiled the Heavy Metal reference page. I consider myself forever in his debt, and I regret that we never had occasion to meet so that I could express my gratitude in person.

Thanks, Uncle Carl, wherever you are.

Comic Art Friday: The WonderCon job

April 16, 2010

I know, I know… I’m a week late with the annual WonderCon post. It’s been busy around here. Learn to deal.

WonderCon 2010 took place at San Francisco two weekends ago, and while I didn’t count noses, it certainly appeared that neither the shift in dates (in previous years, WonderCon was in February) nor the inclement weather (it poured rain much of the weekend) hurt business any. On both Friday and Saturday — especially Saturday — Moscone Center brimmed to the gills with the sort of geeks, freaks, fanboys, fangirls, and fans of indeterminate gender (and, for that matter, species) that a comic book and fantasy media convention generally attracts.

This was an unusual con for me, for a couple of reasons. For one, I had a voiceover workshop on Friday afternoon that I was determined to attend, so my time at the con on that day was curtailed considerably. For another, I didn’t walk away with my customary windfall of newly commissioned art, scoring only one new piece for my collection.

Ms. Marvel and Wonder Woman, mixed media by comics artist Dan Parent

That one piece, however, is pretty sweet.

Dan Parent — longtime artist, writer, and editor for Archie Comics — created this cute commission for my Common Elements theme. In addition to being the de facto matriarchs of their respective superhero universes, Ms. Marvel and Wonder Woman share at least one other “Common Element” — both have backgrounds in the military. Carol (Ms. Marvel) Danvers is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, while Wonder Woman, in her assumed guise as Diana Prince, spent World War II as a U.S. Army lieutenant.

Not by coincidence, as rendered by the charming Mr. Parent, Ms. Marvel bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Betty Cooper, while Wonder Woman looks rather strikingly like one Veronica Lodge. Below, we see the proud creator with his newest masterwork.

Dan Parent, WonderCon 2010

And yes, that’s all I got. I had decided in advance of the convention to focus my acquisition efforts on artists whose work isn’t already represented in my collection. For whatever reason, there weren’t a lot of those artists in attendance this year. I’d hoped to make a stab at Adam Hughes’s commission list, as Adam was scheduled to make his first WonderCon appearance in five years, but work-related complications forced him to cancel a couple of days before the con. So, I made the best of the circumstances.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself thoroughly — I did. Among the highlights…

I renewed my acquaintances with a number of familiar faces in the comic art community, including Tony DeZuniga and his lovely wife Tina, Ernie Chan, Danny Bulanadi, Ron Lim, Thomas Yeates, Walt Davis, and Tom Hodges.

“Gentleman cartoonist” Keith Knight, with whom I always enjoy chatting, autographed a copy of his The Complete K Chronicles for me, as well as an anthology of his Th(ink) strips for my friend Damon.

I caught superstar artist Frank Cho in a rare unoccupied moment, and got him to autograph his latest sketchbook. I also seized the opportunity to express my appreciation for Frank’s Shanna and Jungle Girl. (Drat… I forgot to mention Liberty Meadows. I love that too, Frank.)

I rescued artist Colleen Doran‘s notebook computer, which had slipped out of her tote bag into the aisle without her knowledge. I’d love to have Colleen draw a commission for me one of these days, so I’m hoping that my act of heroic alertness will gain me sufficient favor to help persuade her into one when she has time.

One of my comic art heroes — Mark Schultz, creator of Xenozoic Tales (better known in the popular culture by the alternate title Cadillacs and Dinosaurs) — spent a good 15 minutes talking with me about his latest projects, including a single-volume collection of Xenozoic scheduled for publication this fall. Mark also signed a pair of his sketchbooks for me.

My favorite panel — as it is almost every year — was hosted by the dynamic duo of Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier, creators of Groo. For reasons utterly beyond comprehension, WonderCon’s organizers seem hellbent on shoving Sergio and Mark’s popular lovefest into a smaller venue every year. This time, we attendees were sitting practically in each other’s laps, and even more were turned away at the door, to Mark’s loudly expressed consternation.

In case you were wondering, one-time Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner still looks spectacular in person. Whoever does her makeup for those Sleep Number bed commercials, in which Ms. Wagner appears positively cadaverous, ought to be horsewhipped.

My giddy middle-aged fanboy moment: Getting my copy of Supergirl #50 autographed by Supergirl herself, Helen Slater. (I managed not to drool. I think.)

Supergirl issue 50, autographed by actress Helen Slater

That’s about it from WonderCon.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.