Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead # 16, 17, 18 & 19

These books act as an encyclopedia of characters who have died in the Marvel Universe. They are a companion to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but for some reason I couldn't get those at my local Wackers drug store or the used book shop that had comics in my town. Just the "Dead" ones.

Each entry has many images of the character along with their stats, history, powers, etc... and of course, the way they died. I loved reading all the stats. You can learn everything you need to know about every obscure character in the Marvel Universe. Which helped turn me into an ├╝ber-geek and further ostracized me from my friends who were more interested in football.

I'm still amused by reading the "Stength Level" entries for everyone:

But these books also taught me a lot about drawing and writing.

Each entry begins with a full-body shot of the character in costume. As you flip through the pages, you get a variety of ways of drawing super-heroes by practically every artist that worked for Marvel in the '80s. Being a 5th grader in a small town, I didn't have access to life-drawing classes of any kind. But I had these comic books, which became my first lessons in anatomy and drawing while the artists became my silent drawing instructors. I studied how the muscles connected to each other, and how they changed shape with different poses. I learned proportions, shading, expressions, and even a bit of how clothes hang on a body. Marvel Superhero comics are great for a beginner course in anatomy, because the muscles are exaggerated while the drawings are paired down to the essential lines needed to define those anatomical distortions. And the "House of Marvel" style dictated an overall blandness that made many of the artists adhere to more "realistic" style. By the time I started learning real anatomy, I already had a strong foundation of how all the muscles and body parts fit together.

The backstories and stats of each entry made me realize that characters are more than just a costume-design and an alter ego. Good characters, of any kind, need a fully realized history. Not only could a character actually die, but they also had spouses, relatives, friends, hometowns and occupations. Who needs Creative Writing 101?

I learned that Baron Blood is survived by a grand-nephew named Kenneth Chrichton; IT, The Living Collossus had a day-job as a special effects designer; Hyperion II used to be a health club manager; The Living Monolith is a widower; and there is "allegedly" a widow left by the Purple Man:

This got my young mind thinking about how even these heroes and villains, that I'd barely even heard of, had a full life outside of their brief appearances in the comics. I soon began writing long backstories for the hundreds of characters I was inventing in my own sketchbooks:

I loved how the wrap-around cover designs all connect to make one image of a graveyard full of Marvel ghosts. I still think about this when I'm working on the layout for one of my own books.

And finally, these books have the added bonus of giving lessons in bad costume design. The '80s Marvel Universe was in serious need of a Tim Gunn.

(what is with those little bat-wings on his ankles?)

Though, it wasn't long before I was asking my mom for real anatomy books and art lessons, these books were a big part of the beginning of my education as an artist and cartoonist.

Side note- There's something about Hammer and Anvil. Their marital status is "unrevealed." Perhaps if they'd been given the civil right to marry each other, they might not have turned to a life of crime.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #192

I don't remember what the first comic book I read was. My older brothers had some, which I would once in a great while be allowed to hold in my grubby little hands, so it was probably one of theirs. I do, however, remember exactly what the first comic I bought was. The Uncanny X-Men, issue #192. Up until then, I had spent my allowance mostly on candy and Star Wars cards, and maybe G.I.Joe figures. My interest in comic books had been growing, though, and I regularly looked at the spinner rack of comics at the local Meijer grocery store. In 1985 I decided I'd finally spend my allowance on buying my own comic books.
I think I had already been drawn to the X-Men, for no particular reason, other than they seemed very unusual; so different from the Spider-Man and Superman comics. The X-Men were weird. I had a couple dollars to spend, and I kept looking at all the comics, trying to decide what I'd buy, and my eyes kept returning to the X-Men. Issue #193 - a special double sized issue, with a spectacular battle raging across the cover, had just come out. The thing was, #193 cost $1.25, while all the other comics cost 65 cents. So I figured purchasing issue #192, despite it not looking as cool, would leave me with money left over to buy some candy. Or Star Wars cards.
Looking at it now, this is a pretty unusual issue to be the comic that would instantly convert me to an X-Men reader and general Marvel zombie. Wolverine only appears in a couple panels, and he's just standing there. Magus, the super techno alien father of the New Mutant Warlock, shows up, and really, I can't have had any idea who he was or what he did. There's already some Chris Claremont space-time bending sub plot. And despite some good action, a lot of the issue seems to be fairly verbose.

I think there's lots of reasons that this issue would be so attractive to my young ten year old self... the alienation of the mutants, the fact that Rogue had never been kissed (just like me!), the powerful heroes lacking confidence, who are just waiting for the world to wake up and see how great they really are. All the things any kid with a martyr complex would relate too.
Visually, John Romita Jr's art is deceptively strong. There's some great panels in this issue, and page compositions that are striking and dynamic. The story itself seems to move along quickly, even though the issue reads as if it were longer than the 22 pages of content.
Above all, though, what this issue does is hint at something more. I couldn't help but wonder how Colossus and Rogue would gel with the team, or how Nightcrawler would handle the mantle of leadership, even though I didn't really understand what this team was. I wondered why people hated mutants, and who this professor guy was. I was intrigued by this really bad-ass Wolverine character who's so awesome that he can't even be the leader because he's so awesome.
Looking at it today, I would almost think this comic would be too dense and convoluted for a ten year old kid to really appreciate, too dependent on back story to stand alone as a single issue, too strange to pull someone in after reading just one issue. For me, it came at the exact right time, I guess, and did just the right things to my developing brain, and its importance is seared deep into my psyche. It was just what I needed.

-Jeffrey Brown

Thursday, March 26, 2009

where did everybody go?

I'm thinking about another post for this blog.
Is anyone else still on here?
It's like a ghost town.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fear of MAD

When I was a kid growing up in Chicago in the 1960's, my next door neighbor, George Perhatch, was an avid collector of MAD magazine. We were good friends (we were both around 6 or 7 years old) but I did not share his interest in MAD, at first. MAD used to scare me. I was still at an age where I took everything seriously, or at face value. I used to tell Georgie that everyone in MAD seemed to be mean to each other. In one of Georgie's paperback book collections of MAD, I remember a panel where a little girl had a little boy tied up and gagged. To me it was horrifying. She had him laying on his back, and was pressing his head down, so it would get hit by a toy train as it went around the track. I knew it was a gag, but I took the situation seriously. I knew it would still hurt. How could that little girl do that? It was inhuman!

MAD magazine gave me a headache. It actually made me queasy. And Alfred E. Neuman's smiling face on the cover- It really bothered me that he seemed happy, indifferent to the cruelty I saw inside the pages. I just couldn't understand.

I even developed a fear of MAD. It was like a fear of the unknown. Mad seemed to endorse cruelty. It got to the point of where I couldn't even look at them because it stimulated either fear or disgust. Georgie picked up on this. One time we were "camping" in his back yard, in a small tent. When I was inside the tent, Georgie went inside the house and came back with an armload of MAD magazines, and unzipped the entrance and threw them all inside. I couldn't get out! I backed up in fear all the way to the back of the tent and couldn't get out! The memory is burned in my head.

To make matters worse, George kept pointing out that I kinda LOOKED like Alfred E. Neuman, and it bothered me to no end. His mother, not knowing of my neurosis, agreed!

I'm totally intrigued by those old publications now, but it took a long time for me to come to terms with the twisted ideas of MAD magazine.

It's strange to me, that today I am a cartoonist who specializes in MAD-like artwork.

-- Pat Moriarity
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Weird War Tales #49

I loved all that Weird War stuff, with Jake the Robot and the Creature Commandos. The only DC books I ever really read were the seventies "horror" comics, usually the titles involving war of some sort. therefore, I give you the mystery and madness of... Weird War Tales #49

This issue begins with a competently drawn, relatively straightforward, story about how terrible it is to have to shoot children if they're wearing an enemy uniform. You'll have to read it, I have no interest, at the moment, in arguing whether shooting children is a good idea.

What I do want to talk about is Hostess Fruit Pies. Here we have a classic example of the Green Lantern learning about the Fruit Pie Scene. Let me tell you the fruit pie scene is where it's at, it's happening, it's now.

"I'm what's going on, and you're what's going down." Don't be surprised if you and I ever meet and this phrase slips from my lips within five minutes. I've made a vow to say this to every single person I meet from now on.

The "plot" of this ad involves Dr. Live (spell it backwards) shrinking the Green Lantern down and putting him in a jar with a bunch of other small people. The Green Lantern uses his uh... green... lantern, to reverse the process so the people can resume their sales pitch for fucking fruit pies.
A. If Green Lantern could reverse the process that easily why didn't he just clobber that bow-tie wearing motherfucker as soon as he walked in the door.
B. That one guy didn't mind being small and in a jar? The only thing that bothered him and his compatriots is that their mouths were too small to eat fruit pies? Wouldn't a mouth be able to nibble off at least a little fruit pie at any size? You don't have to eat fruit pies whole you stupid son of a bitch.

I don't understand why Dr. Live can't just talk forward like everyone else.
Anyway, on to why I wanted to show people this book.
The Day After Tomorrow drawn by Steve Ditko and Vince Coletta.

That's it. A cautionary tale for the youth of today who are looking for a new, happening sound. Kids that want to follow glowing hippies around the wasteland. Those hippies are freaking radioactive you arrogant punks! Stay away from the hippies!
and after that we have another boring ad.

URCH... back up a second and check this out.

I can't find any Kotter comics in the back issue bins anywhere. They must be so great that the people that own them won't give them up. I wonder how many Kotter comics there were. I know Horschack ended up in the Watchmen, I wonder if any other sweathogs got their own spin-off comics.

The last story in the comic, Mark Of The Conqueror seems to be cashing in on another popular sci-fi story but I just can't place it. It's about a PLANET full of APE like creatures. Man, it's on the tip of my tongue.
This handsome fella is named Torin and much like Wu-Tang, he ain't nothin to fuck with. He likes to talk about how terrible he is and how his first born son will take over the dictatorship when he dies.

He also likes to blow away the wolf faced creatures that live out in the wilderness.
Check out how that one werewolf monster's head is blowing right off his shoulders, harsh.

Through a kind-of stupid sereis of events Torin finds out that the wolf faced monster is actually his first born son and...

He's been WEARING HIS SON'S SKIN AS A HAT! Ha-Ha, That's the kind of irony that only Alanis Morrisette could truly appreciate. Every time I look at that last panel I imagine that comedic trumpet womp-womp-womp noise.
And here's one last ad. Like the kids reading this comic don't already have enough "big as life, hang-ups."

Elijah J. Brubaker -Epicure, Statesman, graphic noveleer.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Crazy #61

Like most kids that grew up to become cartoonists, I was heavily influenced by MAD. So much so that I found out when newsstands got their weekly shipment. And if the boxes were still unopened when I got out of school, I'd pester their employees into hurrying up and putting them on the racks. If a new issue of MAD was out, I'd run home and plead for my parents to give me an advance on my allowance since I couldn't wait three days. One time my mother was outraged that it cost 60 cents for the new issue, as if the publishers could still afford to charge a dime but chose not to. I told her there was a thing called inflation, to which she replied, "I know. It makes garbage cost more". And this was just last month.

No, not really. It was more than twenty-five years ago. But back to the story. If the new MAD wasn't out, I'd settle for CRACKED. If that wasn't around either, I settled for CRAZY. If that wasn't out, SICK would do. If I was really desperate, I'd buy WACKO, TRASH, NATIONAL CRUMB, or one of the other myriad fly-by-night black & white 52-page kids' humor publications. I'd go down the ladder of humor magazine hierarchy so that like a methadone addict, I could get my weekly fix.

CRAZY was a MAD imitation Marvel did. This when Marvel was still a subsidiary of a company that put out imitations of every successful magazine in existence. CRAZY went a little bit further than most of the other juvenile satire mags mostly because some of the articles were things Marvel staffers tried to sell to NATIONAL LAMPOON.

One piece they published and reprinted several times that stuck with me was a parody of CASPER. The premise was that Harvey comics were tame and saccharine despite the fact that much of their audience read them only two years earlier, kind of like how second graders call first graders "babies" (can you imagine if 37-year-olds considered all 36-year-olds less mature? Anyway....)

Ed wanted the actual comic people had as a kid. I had several boxes of these magazines. Aside from getting them fresh off the newsstands, I would scour yard sales and thrift stores for them. Unfortunately, I got rid of them by the time I was in high school. I don't remember how, but I know it's not the usual stories like "my mother made me throw them out" or "I discovered girls". Luckily, I was able to find this story online, and the person who scanned it kept the stains and other damage the comic accrued over the years. I think if you click on the images, you can get versions that aren't cut off.

I like how the victims say what's happening to them in the throes of death. And I guess wife-beating and child abuse were okay for kids' material as long as the characters didn't say bad words.

This particular comic freaked me out as a kid and I hid it under my bed for an eternity (i.e. three months). I wasn't superstitious at all or worried comic characters would come to life and get me. I didn't have any belief in anything scary but for some reason I couldn't look at certain things a second time.

Another comic that bothered me at that age was "Flob Was a Slob" from MAD #4 by Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman, because of the face in this panel.
Yes, my father kept all the EC's he had as a kid, but they weren't my earliest influences, so I can't scan those.

--Sam Henderson

Friday, August 29, 2008

For the Love of a Batman

Being cursed with the name Robin, has somehow naturally drawn me towards the fine world of comix. From an early age on, I was always an avid obsession with Batman especially. One year for my birthday, my dad bought me a guitar, which I had absolutely no interest in. He could never seem to figure out exactly what to get me. To make up for the gift that would suit a youngster far hipper than myself, he bought me Batman # 101. It was a prime example of 1950's Batman It was cheesy, made no particular sense and I loved it. I figured that this issue had to be something special because of the Batman being so exposed within and on the cover. I sold it during a low point in my late teens, when I foolishly thought girls were more important that comics, what the hell was I thinking.

Batman # 195 was another landmark issue for me in my collecting history. I found a ratty copy at flea market that even had the date stamp on the cover that so many corner stores loved to deface comics with. I was stuck spending a day wandering around with the family on a horrid road trip in the back waters of Vancouver Island. It still wasn't the gritty Batman that I was used to, but at least he had more balls than the Batman of # 101. I really loved the horror aspect of the cover and the reduction of cheese in comparisons with past examples.

Neal Adams, to me, was the ultimate Batman cartoonist. He was able to inject a new kind of life into the masked man. Getting the chance to interview him on the Inkstuds, was a dream come true, even if he was insane and only wanted to talk about dinosaur bones. His take on the whole Batman mystique turned him into a different type of character. I could read Neal Adams Batman comics all day long(the awesome writing by Denny O'Neil doesn't hurt either - if anyone has his email address, please pass it along, I really want to interview him). I have gotten so into exploring the old Batman's, that I am working on getting them all bound. So far I have about 200 issues of both Batman and Detective already in the hardcover tomes I love so much and am slowly working my way back. Let me know if you have a good hook up for crap shape silver age.