Sunday, February 23, 2020

Original Art Friday 1/10/2020 Basil Wolverton!

I was considering spending my Friday destroying the EPA, speaking nothing but word salad and sniffing a lot, but since I am but a lowly writer and not the President of the Friggin' United States, I suppose I will have to eschew such pleasures for another edition of ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY. Yes, that one very special day of the week when I share another fine artwork from my scary accumulation of "stuff"...

Today I offer another fine work by the amazing Basil Wolverton. Because who doesn't love looking at a jovial fellow with a scary set of handsy eyebrows? Apologies for the slightly fuzzy photo, the illustration came framed, as such illustrations sometimes do, and I want to keep it that way. I kind of like the idea that this hung on someone's wall in what I assume was a place of reverence before it hung on mine...

So, what else can be said about Mr. Wolverton? Well, plenty if you read "Creeping Death From Neptune" and "Brain Bats of Venus", volumes 1 and 2 in the Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton. Both volumes are crammed with amazing Wolverton art, along with a remarkable amount of scholarship, much of it derived from Wolverton's notes and letters involving his working life.

The latest volume, "Brain Bats", is especially compelling and in many ways, quite sad. Because it is clear, from the voluminous correspondence Wolverton exchanged with various editors and publishers over years, that Basil took a lot of shit during his career. Dickering over content, money, being told that a publisher, on a whim, decided that previously acceptable Wolverton artwork was now suddenly UNacceptable... it's not so much that these things happened, but that they happened so often to this immensely talented man.

Which isn't to say that success wholly eluded him in his lifetime. His creation "Lena the Hyena", winner of a Li'l Abner "World's Ugliest Woman" comic strip contest, made the cover of Life Magazine, and later he made a decent living drawing truly horrific scenes of mayhem drawn from the Book Of Revelations for the Worldwide Church of God. (A fine hardcover collection is out of print, but available on Kindle at Amazon.) But at the same time he was doing countless caricatures of local radio station employees (!) and selling drawings like the one below for $15 to publications like "Joker" and "Humorama." They're really cool, but... imagine what Wolverton might have created with a little more wind at his back.

But we'll have to settle for what we have, which is crazy genius! And lots of it! That's good enough, at least for one Friday...

Original Art Friday 1/17/2020 Jimmy Hatlo!

Once again it's Friday, the kind of Friday men and women dream of, a Friday like no other, except all the other Fridays featuring ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY, the plucked-on-a-whim day of the week when I share a piece of (mostly) comic art curated from my personal stash.

Today we turn back the calendar to 1943, a more innocent time when... wait a minute, that was in the middle of World War 2! Hardly more innocent! But despite the war clouds, comic strips continued to be produced, including the very popular "They'll Do It Every Time" by Jimmy Hatlo.

Hatlo came up with a semi-unique formula for his comic, which for decades poked gentle fun at the foibles of folks from all walks of life. Emphasis on the "gentle"... no one called anyone "dopes and babies" in Hatlo's world! Essentially a cartoon version along the lines of Reader's Digest's "Life In These United States", Hatlo captured the amusing quirks of the workplace, married life, kids and everything in between.

He also found a fantastic story generator by soliciting anecdotes from his vast reader pool, ensuring he would never run out of gags. Hatlo would give credit for each idea with a "Tip O' The Hat", further ingratiating the strip to his fans. I would be happy to pontificate further, but this quote from the ever-accurate Wikipedia says it better than moi...

"In an opinion piece for the July 22, 2013, edition of The Wall Street Journal, "A Tip of the Hat to Social Media's Granddad", veteran journalist Bob Greene characterized Hatlo's daily cartoons, which credited readers who contributed the ideas, as a forerunner of Facebook and Twitter. Greene wrote: "Hatlo's genius was to realize, before there was any such thing as an Internet or Facebook or Twitter, that people in every corner of the country were brimming with seemingly small observations about mundane yet captivating matters, yet lacked a way to tell anyone outside their own circles of friends about it. Hatlo also understood that just about everyone, on some slightly-below-the-surface level, yearned to be celebrated from coast to coast, if only for a day."

Aside from the premise, Hatlo was a flat-out excellent cartoonist. His expressive faces and figure work captured the often harried and befuddled characters of the strip perfectly. Amusing premise, nice art... I love it when a plan comes together!

Hatlo passed away in 1963, but the strip was continued by artist Al Scaduto, also a fine cartroonist, until 2008 (!). That's a heckuva long run... but this was a heckuva fine cartoon!

Original Art Friday 1/24/2020 - Mike Sekowsky!

Among the litany of things I don't understand, I REALLY don't understand the 24 hours cable news trope of cutting off interview segments with "we're out of time, we'll have to leave it there." Out of time? The channel is on 24 hours a day. They've got nothing BUT time. They can't slide a commercial down two minutes? Compress the time spent rolling out the usual gaggle of gabbers to discuss what was just discussed?

Well, today I've got nothing BUT time, because it's ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY, that singular day of the week when I share a piece of (mostly) pen and ink glory from the MV collection...

Today it's a page from the silver age, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #23, drawn by the prolific Mike Sekowsky. I must admit that while I appreciate his craft, I've never really warmed to Mr. Sekowsky's style. Still, he met the challenge of drawing these crowded panels with aplomb...

But that's not why I LOVE this page. It's the idea that the story could be slowed down for our very smiley heroes to gather and give Snapper Carr a birthday party, complete with dee-licious looking cake. Snapper gets choked up as he "goes ape" and gobbles cake with his "chow choppers", heroes send congratulatory telegrams, and all is swell.

Indeed, everyone here seems to be in an especially exuberant mood. And why shouldn't they be? They're superheroes with unbelievable powers AND cake. Green Lantern even sports a grin when he learns that "winged bee men" are attacking the "tower of jewels", which I admit is a pretty amusing concept, but still theoretically criminal. Just another day for the Justice League!

So enjoy this Friday's slice of joy... unfortunately I've run out of time and will have to leave it here...

Original Art Friday 1/31/2020 Chris Warner!

Hard to believe January is almost over, but so much has happened! We went to Vegas! I stared into space! I wrote stuff! And as this week rolls toward oblivion, it is once again time for ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY, the one day of the week when I share of page of original, mostly comic book related art wrenched from my greedy little mitts and scanned for your pleasure...

Today I exercise my personal prerogative once more with a page from THE AMERICAN #1, circa 1987, illustrated by the amazing Chris Warner. This was, in fact, my very first published comic, and wow, did I have the perfect creative partner in Mr. Warner.

It's unfortunate that some of the zip-a-tone has started to discolor, but Chris's artistry still shines through. I wrote that a bomb explodes, with the freeze-frames of reaction, but that was the easy part. Chris ratchets the drama and impact to eleven with his dynamic page layout, perfect faces and exceptional figure work. In other words, I got no complaints!

I can't remember how it was decided, but we went with letterer Bill Spicer for this issue, and he did a great job... but I learned later that Bill would letter his balloons on paper and glue the cut-out pieces to the penciled page, pre-inks. And that drove Chris a little nuts. Working his pen around the slightly raised surfaces was ultimately too complicated and we switched to using letterers who worked directly on the page soon after this.

I generally prefer looking forward and not back, since not all my memories of my past work are as positive as this... but I'm still very proud of this book and happy to say that I remain pals with Chris Warner, editor Randy Stradley and Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson to this day. Of course it's early yet... 😬

BTW, if you have any interest in the stories, the entire American catalog was "omnibused" back in 2005 and is still available from our friends at Amazon...

Okay, back to it. I think there's some more space that needs staring at...

Original Art Friday 2/7/2020 Tom Yeates!

Some may chart the decline of Western civilization with the election of one politician or another, but me? I say things started going to hell when they stopped lettering comic-book art directly on the pages and switched to (mostly) computer generated overlays. Because that's how I ROLL, especially on ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY, that one glorious day of the week when all else is shunted aside for a display of another page of art wrenched from the shelves of the MV archives...

Today it's a really, really nice page drawn by the amazing Tom Yeates, from a Tarzan story that appeared in Dark Horse Presents #143. I don't have the full story at hand, but it appears Tarzan and his lady-friend have run into a bit of a squall... but I have a feeling Tarzan will pull out the save.
Sometimes I'm asked, Mark? What sort of knot would YOU employ when lashing a lady to a mast?

And after I ignore that non-sequitur (but the correct answer is a Buntline Hitch, of course), the next question is usually, what the hell were you thinkin' when you picked up that one piece of art over another? Well, sometimes I'm trying to fill a gap in my "I want one great example of art by all my faves" obsession. Sometimes the price is right. And sometimes, like with this page, it just tickles my art-bone. The kinetic energy of the water, produced by an expert manipulation of the duo-shade process and just good drawing, knocked me out.

Plus the doggone lettering is on the doggone page!

For those intrigued enough to explore further, check out Mr. Yeates' website at, where you'll find all sorts of great work, and you can learn more about Tom's impressive career. Meanwhile, gape for a bit at this lovely example, then go back to lamenting the fall of Western Civilization at your leisure...

(ADDED: because credit should go where credit is due! Story written by Tom Yeates and Stephen Bissette, drawn by Yeates, lettered by Steve Dutro and edited by Randy Stradley.)

Original Art Friday 2/14/2020 - Bob Powell!

What a week! The Swamp Thing Complete Series blu-ray is officially Amazon's #1 choice for things key-word "Swamp Thing" (not exactly the HIGHEST bar, but okay), but since it's ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY, why not celebrate?!

Yes, Original Art Friday, the one day of the week when, if I'm computer and internet adjacent, I offer up a page of (mostly) comic book art dragged up from the depths of my personal nightmare, AKA over-stuffed collection.

And since on top of O.A.F. it's also V.D. (Valentine's Day, dammit), let's go for something wholly appropriate... with this lovely page from the emotionally searing First Love Illustrated #79. Published by Harvey circa 1957, today's tale was written by an unfortunately anonymous but obviously romantic scribe, and drawn by the late, great Bob Powell.

I think the most impressive thing about this page is how Powell only needs 7 panels to take Joan from "new student at the Belmar Dancing School," to first kiss with her "dark and mysterious" teacher Pedro, to being so lovesick over "Senor Arbon" that she's considering leaving with him for Central America (!) on a dancing tour! Aside from the intimation that Joan must have been living a mighty unfulfilled life pre-Belmar, she also must have been one hell of a student to go from novice to professional in three panels. But when young(ish) lovers are "dancing on clouds" to a "glorious symphony of love"... well, I guess she was driven. As for Senor Arbon's dark and mysterious motivations... well, you'll need the rest of the story for that, and I don't have it!

Artist Bob Powell was one of the better craftsmen back in the day, enjoying a career that spanned the golden age of comics into Marvel in the 1960's. He was perhaps best known for Sheena of the Jungle and Cave Girl, which highlighted his sensual, clean illustration style. Here, with First Love, I really appreciate his sharp line and ability to convey emotion through body language. It's just nice, solid work, and designed to be colored (which might explain Joan's bee-sting lips, which I'll bet were a fulsome shade of red in the printed comic).

Personally, I hope Joan followed Pedro to Central America and together they embarked on a fabulous world tour, dancing so gloriously that elderly audiences still remember the night they entered a "new and magical world, where lovers waltzed on clouds." Because I can imagine a lot of OTHER less seemly outcomes, none of which are appropriate to explore on this lovely V.D. (Valentine's Day!)...

Original Art Friday 2/21/20 - Russ Heath

Yes, friends, it's Friday yet again... February is winding to a close, March is roaring in like a lion, and there's a bear wandering around Monrovia, California. If there's other news, I'm of a mind to ignore it today and instead proceed directly to ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY, documenting my exciting adventures in having a lot of original art strewn around.

Today, I go back to more genius from the brilliant RUSS HEATH, with this page from Our Army At War #243, from 1972. Here, Sgt. Rock makes a perilous approach toward a farmhouse. Tragically, his pursuit of information results in someone losing their dagger in the back of the poor guy Rock's slappin' around. Heath's mastery of the human figure and his pristine inking makes for another lovely, dramatic page.

When someone tries to tell me that comics are movies on paper, this is the sort of page that proves there are substantial differences. In a film, Rock's attack on the guy, the knife, then the creep-up on the farmhouse would all be told in continuous motion. (Unless Michael Bay is directing, in which case it would be done in fifty pointless cuts and tracked with Motley Crue music.) Here, Heath is choosing the high-points of each action, and in my opinion throws down even more drama by picking those moments.

My only caveat for this page: the lettering decision in the panel on the bottom lower left. The decision to attempt to break "I wasn't flippin'!" from the other dialogue within the same balloon is just confusing. And maybe Heath inked in the balloons before the lettering was added, but there's a lot of empty space at the bottom of the dialogue in almost ALL of the panels. What up with that?! John Constanza's lettering is usually flawless so I'm bamboozled...

But it doesn't prevent me for admiring another piece of Heath greatness. And pulling myself off bear watch long enough to share it with the world!

Friday, January 03, 2020

Original Art Friday! 1/3/20 Gil Kane & John Severin

Maybe my playlist of The Doors "The End," Springsteen's cover of Edwin Starr's "War" and Country Joe's "Fixin' To Die Rag" wasn't the best audio choice this morning, but all those dark feelings shall abate as we do a deep dive into ORIGINAL ART FRIDAY! That magical moment when I share yet another piece of art from the MV library...

Today it's a cool cover drawn by the inimitable Gil Kane (I know, I've tried to imitable him!) and inked by the equally awesome John Severin. Two legends of comics, together on the same page! Sadly the art page itself has seen somewhat better days, but the genius of design and figure drawing is still wildly evident. I especially like the sense of action we get from Two Gun (he's the guy in the dust) as he rolls over to surprise those two owlhoots with his blazing six guns.

But a moment, if you will, to consider the fates of those two clearly bad gents. Was their destiny written early in their lives, or was it some tragic turn that led them to a life of crime and the attempted murder of a Western hero wearing a Lone Ranger mask? These two woke up that morning, pulled up their pants, tossed back coffee (or maybe whisky), then strapped on their gunbelts never anticipating the grim fate in store for them. So yes, take just a moment to remember these long dead hombres, whose names I don't have since I don't own this book... okay, that's long enough.

Two Gun Kid was one of several Marvel Western "kid" comics (alongside Kid Colt Outlaw, Rawhide Kid, Outlaw Kid and Kid Kid the Kid -- sorry, on that last one I kid!) that survived well into the 70's and off and on since. I had not kept up on recent (i.e., the last 25 years) events in Mr. Kid's life so I was perplexed to read in the ever-accurate Wikipedia that in 1995 Two Gun fought a battle with weapons he brought back from the future (!), was rescued from time travel limbo by She-Hulk (!!), then joined the Avengers! 😳

Well, sorry, but he'll always be simply Two Gun to me, blasting "too slow hombres" from the dirt and wishing he had a TV show like that dumb Long Ranger guy...