Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Problems With Reportage: Marvel Comics, January 1966

I've always found it highly frustrating, that some of the attacks on Stan Lee in the now legendary Stan Lee vs Jack Kirby flame wars centre around articles such as this two parter, mainly because Lee, and Kirby for that matter, had zero control over what was going to be written about them in newspapers and magazines.  Reporters would visit the Marvel offices in the 1960s and 1970s and find Lee, who was articulate, engaing and entertaining, and write their stories accordingly.  Perhaps if Kirby was in the office a bit more often he'd have gotten some more print ink.  

I have no doubt that Lee would mention his artists, and other writers, in the same way that I have no doubt that such mentions were merely edited out of the finished product for space reasons.  Plus who, back then, really cared about the artists?  Only those in fandom...or did they?

This is a two part article, written about Marvel Comics in the first week of January 1966, meaning it would have been in the works in late December, 1965.  At the time Marvel were still the new kids on the block but were smashing the devil out of the established companies, such as DC, Archie and Charlton.  Thus they were newsworthy.  People wanted to speak to them and, unlike the editors at DC and the like, Stan was very approachable and seemed, to use an old expression, hip.  The comics Marvel produced at the time were fresh, exciting and totally unlike the fare being offered up by the competition.  More importantly, Marvel, via Stan, credited the artists and writers, along with letterers and colourists, giving the public, and fans, a vital insight into who was doing what.

With that in mind you'd expect that if a fan, as opposed to a reporter whose knowledge of comic books was limited to the likes of Superman and Batman, was given access to Marvel then they'd write about all aspects of it?  If so then prepare to be proven wrong.

This two part article was written by Don Thompson.  Don was at the forefront of comic book fandom back in the 1960s (and beyond), along with the likes of Bill Schelly, Jerry Bails, Roy Thomas and the rest.  Don's name stood high above the pack, both as a writer (he was the primary editor/writer on the seminal All In Color For A Dime) and as an organiser.  People flocked to Don, and his wife Maggie, and saw them as being the founders of organised comic book fandom.  Don knew his stuff, he more than knew who Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Dick Ayers and the rest were, but this two parter mentions Stan Lee and Charles Goodman.  Even Roy Thomas gets a look in.  Not a mention of the artists.

This isn't a criticism of Don Thompson, just an illustration of what the reality of newspaper reportage is.  Even if Don wanted to mention the artists he probably wouldn't have had the space.  We don't know what Stan told Don, perhaps he mentioned his collaborators, perhaps not.  But Don would have know who they were all the same.

So, next time you hear someone taking a shot at Stan Lee, or Jack Kirby for that matter, over an interview, either current or vintage (in Jacks case, they're all vintage), keep in mind that it doesn't matter what the interviewee says, what is printed is totally up to the interviewer and the editors.  And if they think that something is irrevelant, or dull, then it's not going to see the light of day.  Cry all you want, but if Don couldn't get them in (and we don't know if he tried) then who could?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Original Art Stories: Panel By Panel - Phil Belbin

Most people are very familiar with John Ryan’s ground-breaking book Panel By Panel and it's very distintive cover, but how many people have ever seen the concept sketch?  Published in 1979, Panel By Panel was the first, and still one of the best, books devoted to the history of comic books in Australia.  Since then other books have come along, notably Comic Books in Australia and New Zealand in 1994 and Bonzer: Australian Comics 1900s – 1990s in 1995.  Ryan was first though and his research is still the yardstick that many people measure themselves upon.  He communicated with many artists and writers and spent years tracking people down.  Just prior to his untimely death in  December 1979 he was still tracking people down and making arrangements to speak and correspond.  There was a personal cost to his research though, but that's a post for another time.

When Cassell, the publishers of Panel By Panel, approached Ryan about the book he had a definite idea of who he wanted to draw the cover – artist Phil Belbin. Born on the 9th of August 1925, Phillip Belbin started his art career at the Sydney Sun in 1942, working in their art department.  He served with the R.A.A.F in World War II from 1943 to 1945, which took him away from art.  Once the war ended he went to work for Frank Johnson, remaining there until 1950.  He also joined K.G. Murray in 1947 which would prove to be his steadiest employer.   He remained with Murray until the 1970s, drawing covers, cartoons and doing art corrections.  He’s well known to collectors of Gredown comics as being one of their stand-out cover artists.  As well as comics, Belbin also worked in the commercial art world, he was fast, reliable and very, very good, thus he was perfectly suited to be the cover artist for Panel By Panel.

The cover itself came out perfectly, from Ryan’s initial notes (ie: who he wanted to see on the cover) and the request that Belbin draw characters in the style of their original artists.  The entire project took him only a two days of actual work, from sketch to finished, coloured, art.  The tight deadline wasn’t  Ryan’s fault, that came from Cassell who moved the entire project forward and needed the finished cover for advertising purposes.  As Belbin later wrote to Ryan, “As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy assignment and I could have spent a week on it, rather than the couple of days (actual work) I had.  Nevertheless, I did have a lot of fun doing it.”

Here, for what might be the first time in a long while, if not ever, is the original sketch that Belbin provided to both Cassell and John Ryan for approval.

Oh, That Saucy Batman

Somehow I'm thinking this one slipped past DC Comics back in the day.  "Holy Fat Saggy Arseholes Batman!"

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Happy 75th Birthday Batman!

Happy Birthday Batman! Detective Comics #27, Batman's first appearance, was released to the newsstands, on this day in 1939.  Many fine writers and artists have followed the path forged by Bill Finger and Bob Kane over those 75 years, but my all time favourite Bat-Artist has to be the incomparable Norm Breyfogle.

So, here's just two of the thousands of Norm Breyfogle Batman illustrations to celebrate Bat's 75th! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Letter That Made Stan Cross, The Destruction Of Wally & The Major Revealed!

It was the letter that really made Stan Cross very cross.  For years Stan Cross had responded kindly to people writing to him requesting original art, mainly his Wally & The Major and Pudden’ strips.  He’d forward the letters onto the Herald & Weekly Times, who were the syndicate that he worked for, and they’d simply send the art off.  In a small way this accounts for the lack of early Wally & The Major strips that are in the marketplace.  Then, in September, 1955, Stan Cross learned something else was happening to his art.


For decades Stan had been sending his strips to the Herald in Victoria and every so often he’d get a handful of strips back but, on the whole, the rest were stored at the offices of the Herald.  Or so Stan believed.  The truth was entirely different, as he was about to discover.  He received another letter, a request from a Lieutenant in the RAN, asking if a strip that depicted theArunta Tribe and Pudden’s inability to operate a camera could be sent to his offices in Japan.  Stan was only too happy to comply with the request and duly wrote to the Herald asking that some colour be thrown onto the strip and it be sent out as soon as possible. Unlike most people who wrote asking for recent strips, the strip in question was a month and half old by that stage.  Nothing could have prepared Stan for the reply that he got.


“Dear Stan,” wrote Fred Lyons, the manager of the Syndicate, “I have checked on the position of your original "Wally" strips. Up until a short time ago we had that many that it was causing an inconvenience, and according to the Librarian,now we are only holding a six months supply of originals. From now on I will see that they are bundled up and returned to you. However, we have twelve months supply of blocks.

Stan couldn’t believe his eyes.  His work had been destroyed, the original art was now lost, forever.  All that remained were proofs and stats.  Stan was beside himself and immediately dashed the following letter off to Fred Lyons.

The reply would have been anything but satisfying.

The end result was that Stan Cross began to receive all of his original art back from the Herald Syndicate, starting from late 1955 with the exception coming in the form of rejected strips, which were given away or just thrown out.  Stan would also begin to refuse to send his originals out to people, preferring to send signed pull sheets instead which were graciously received by people.  He would send originals to some, not all.

Eventually Stan’s own collection of art was donated to the National Library, where it remains today, one of the largest collections of Australian cartoon art anywhere.  But for a librarian at the Herald & Weekly Times, that collection could have been even bigger.

The above strip is one of the very few remaining rejected Wally & The Major strips in existence.  Don't bother looking for it, it exists safely in my own collection.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Sketch Dave

Dave loved John Buscema a lot.  Along with Frank Robbins, Buscema is one of the main reasons why Dave elected to be a comic book artist and possibly the greatest influence that he had.  He attended Buscema's legendary classes in the late '70s and he often told me that one lesson with Big John taught him more about the art of creating comic book art, and art as a whole, than anything else he'd learned.  As a teacher, John Buscema was everything Dave craved, he was fair and firm, he had no hesitation in telling someone that their art wasn't quite there, but he'd then work with them to help them become the best they could be.  John also taught Dave the importance of meeting a deadline, to be quick but brilliant and to treat every job the same, to give it his best effort no matter how much, or how little, it might have paid.  Each artist is only as good as their last job, so a sloppy effort would reflect badly, no matter what the circumstances might be.  Dave applied those lessons throughout his career and life.

It was a personal joy each time Dave was given the opportunity to ink John, especially on Conan.  If you can see any one artist in Dave's work, it'd be John Buscema, and Dave would never have disputed that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It Was 70 Years Ago Today...Ginger Meggs!

70 years ago, today, this strip appeared in Sunday newspapers across Australia.  Ginger Meggs. A timeless Australian tradition that continues to this day, and rightly so.  This strip is as fresh, and entertaining, today as it was way back then, when the world was entering another year of darkness and war.  

Arrrrr there Ginge, we love you still!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Sketch Dave!

Flowing on from last week when I stated that Dave was as fine an inker as he was because he was a better penciller than most of the people he inked, I felt it only right to show a prime example.

Ole Howard there is Dave Simons pencils and inks from 1982.  This was a convention style sketch and you can easily see Dave's skills.  The pencils are just fine, the inks are even better.  This was done at a time when Dave was establishing himself at Marvel as a inker of note.  And it still looks great.

Back over to you.  If anyone out there has a Dave Simons sketch they want to showcase, then send me the scan and the details and up it'll go.  

NEXT WEEK: Dave Draws The FF...More Than Once

Friday, March 07, 2014

Friday Sketch Dave!

I've had this idea going around in my head for a while now, and I thought that it's well beyond time that I extracted the ole digit and got to it.  After going through my art collection and scanning and rescanning, and sorting and resorting, I found that I have more Dave Simons art than I first thought I had.  Dave used to send over anything and everything, scraps of paper that he was thought were worthless, preliminaries and sketches that he would normally have thrown into the bin.  At first he couldn't see the value of it but, as time passed, he grew to like the idea and would often send me packages and we'd talk about the process of the art from his initial idea to final execution, where he took the inspiration from (which ranged from artists as diverse as Jack Kirby to John Buscema to Gustav Klimt) and what tools he used to finish the art (he loved Dr Martens dyes, for those who like to know).  

In doing this he taught me a lot about where he came from and how and why he did what he did.  I learnt that he was more at home with doing a commission from his own imagination than he was from someone's idea (at a future date I'll show a prime example of this) but he could more than draw to command if he wanted to.  I'm often asked what made Dave such a good inker and the answer I give is a simple one - as an inker he was a far better penciller than the bulk of the people that he inked.  And I stand by that, he was a stunning penciller and a brilliant inker.  It's good that he gets his due.

The first sketch from the archive is a Captain America head sketch that Dave threw into a sketch book that he sent me.  The book had no blank pages, if there wasn't a sketch already there (printed) then he drew something.  I'm glad he did, it still gives me enjoyment, and sadness, just looking at it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

How Stan Cross Saw The Critics

He was, and still is, one of the best black and white artists Australia has ever seen.  Even today, decades after his passing, people hold his work up as being the standard to aspire to, both in execution and sheer artistic ability.  Stan Cross was totally unique and his humour was unsurpassed.  I'll be blogging a lot more about Stan over the coming year, but, for now, here's a teaser of what's to come, an unpublished sketch showing how Stan viewed the critics.  God love you Stan Cross!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Call For Information: Comic Books and Murder!

I'm throwing this out for those in the know.  Feel free to pass it on to anyone who you think could be interested.

I'm working on a book about Leonard Lawson.  Other than Len himself and Bob Wood, does anyone know of any other comic book artist, writer or publisher who has been found guilty of a major crime, such as murder or rape?  I'm not limiting myself to Australia and the USA - anywhere in the world.  If you know, then details please!

I've done some deep, and serious, research for this project.  In doing so I hope to reveal that what is accepted as the truth about Lawson isn't really truth.  I've found some facts that haven't been revealed, and this book will put a lie to many, many accounts.

Naturally I'm nowhere near finished, so feel free to contact me if you want to start a dialogue.  I have a lot of previously unreported information on Lawson, but, as always, the more the better.  And thanks to those who have already sent down info.