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Dark Knight 10I picked up nos. 10 and 11 of this title a few weeks ago, and I must say, I was (and am) pretty much put off. Artist David Finch’s storytelling is mostly okay: a few pages descend into incomprehensibility because of extravagant layouts, but there are some very nice passages, too—Batman comforting one of the child victims, f’instance. It is Gregg Hurwitz’s story that troubles me: it seems that the Scarecrow is kidnaping small children and scaring them into a trance.

My problem with this concept is probably entirely personal—and topical. Our local paper, the Denver Post, recently did a week-long series, Failed to Death, about how the county mechanism isn’t adequate for preventing child abuse. Since 2007, 175 of Colorado’s children have died of abuse and neglect — beaten to death, starved, suffocated, or burned. Monstrous depravity.

And when I think that the last experience of life for these children is pain and merciless cruelty, I weep.

And I don’t see how such barbaric abuse can be the subject of a Batman story arc.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics
By Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan
176 8.5x11-inch pages
b/w with a color section

A book about Marie Severin is a long-overdue tome. She’s been working in comics for over 50 years: she started in the early 1950s by coloring EC Comics (adding an emotional dimension that sometimes expressed her discomfort with a horror story), and then for 30 years, she worked at Marvel — everything from production to coloring to penciling, inking and art direction, doing preliminary cover sketches among other things (like actually drawing comics, in case that isn’t obvious).

Marie0001Cassell begins the book: “This book is a tribute to one of the icons in the comic book industry ... In an industry dominated by men, Marie Severin made her mark in a way that few, if any, of her male counterparts have equaled. She was not the first lady in comics ... but she is unquestionably the first lady of comics. She shaped the way we saw and thought about comics for multiple generations.”

Cassell assembled the book’s text from numerous interviews with Marie and her brother John, plus Stan Lee, Al Feldstein, Jack Davis, and numerous other artists and friends, all carefully — feelingly — orchestrated into a symphonic acclamation.

Marie0002Throughout the book are many photographs and scores of caricatures and the comedic sketches Severin was famous for—an plentiful visual explanation of why Stan Lee called her “the mirthful mistress.” Indulging her penchant for humor, she worked on Crazy, Coneheads, and Not Brand Echh, Spoof, plus various special projects.

Although noted for comedy and coloring, parody and caricature, Severin also occasionally drew superhero books, straight, without a grin—Crime Suspenstories, The Cat, The Avengers, Captain America, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man titles, Submariner, and Thor, to name a few that she both penciled and inked.

 An index of her comic book credits—penciling and inking interiors, covers, coloring, and writing — completes the package, altogether a delightful book.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour
Edited by Jim Amash and Eric Nolen-Weathington
192 8.5x11-inch pages, 96 in color

Matt Baker is the Golden Age artist everyone’s heard about but no one knows about: everyone knows that he was one of the few African Americans working in comics in the 1940s and 1950s and that he drew gorgeous women in a surpassing style, but no one knows much more. A long-awaited and expertly accomplished treatment of an admired but mysterious master comic book maker, this volume delves into both his artistry and his biography. Unconventionally, the book begins at once with Baker’s pin-up heroines: no preamble, no title page — nothing bookish or bibliographic — the first page reproduces the Baker0001-2most famous Good Girl Art of all time, that cover rendering of Phantom Lady whose battle togs are designed to plunge from her clavicle to her navel in order to display her nearly naked chest. This titillating spectacle is followed by a Phantom Lady story, another of her covers, another story and cover, then a Sky Girl story (she wears conventional waitress garb, but her dress is always blowing up to reveal shapely legs).

Then comes the text, amply illustrated with Baker drawings and photographs of a gorgeous black man (all obtained from Baker family members, who have carefully prohibited their reproduction elsewhere). Alberto Becattini supplies the basic biographical text, culled from sources scattered hither and yon, and amplified elsewhere in the volume by a 2004 Jim Amish interview with artist’s nephew, Matt D. Baker, and his half-brother, Fred Robinson, and interviews with Baker’s friends and co-workers, accompanied by numerous drawings, many previously unpublished. Becattini and Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. provide an annotated index of Baker’s professional work, arranged alphabetically by comic book title and amply illustrated with cover art and interior pages.

The book includes several samples of the syndicated comic strip that Baker drew for a short time, Flamingo, about an exotic dancer (no, not a stripper) and concludes as unconventionally as it began, this time with a Canteen Kate reprint in color and two stories shot from original art — Kayo Kirby (manager of a female wrestler) and Tiger Girl.

More than seductive, his pictures of girls revealed a sense of humor — with a turned ankle, or raised chin.

Born in 1921 in North Carolina, Baker became a professional comic book artist at the tender age of 23 — an extraordinary achievement for an African American in those days of aggressive segregation (and therewith, a ringing testimony to his talent early on). He joined the Iger Studio on the strength of a single sample of his art, Jerry Iger said — a color sketch of “naturally, a beautiful gal!”; his first published art appearing in Jumbo Comics No.69 (November 1944). Once established as a good girl art practitioner, Baker took assignments illustrating stories in pulp magazines, and in 1955, became art director of an early Playboy imitator, Nugget. Afflicted as a boy with rheumatic fever that weakened his heart, Baker died in 1959 of a heart attack — just a short 15 years into a career that might have been even more stunning than it was.

This volume, with its insights and careful documentation, is a thorough treatment of one of the industry’s most remarkable artists. We’ve longed for it for a long time, and we recommend it highly, without reservation or quibble. Lots of pictures, ample demonstration of Baker’s mastery of his medium. A well-designed book that seems to spare no expense to capture and convey the essence of the artist. The color pages are shot from comic books and are not noticeably retouched or reconstructed: this is Baker’s work as we saw it when it first hit the newsstands.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


Prehistoric Peeps coverLost Art Books, which brought us The Lost Art of Zim (see the post below), has an inventory that includes several other notable works about artists or cartoonists, including: The Lost Art of Frederick Richardson (a newspaper artist in the 1890s whose illustrations for the Chicago Daily News were incredibly detailed), The Lost Art of E.T. Reed: Prehistoric Peeps (recording Reed’s discovery of a comic goldmine in anachronistically combining drawings of prehistoric men and dinosaurs with modern life), and two volumes of Heinrich Kley drawings. Dover did a couple volumes of Kley drawings many years ago, but these two Lost Art Books add many more to the store, including many in color. Forthcoming in 2013, it sez on the website, a tome that reprints all of Matt Baker’s delectable and thoroughly decent Canteen Kate -- a coincidentally happy event that will juxtapose delightfully with the Matt Baker book just published by TwoMorrows.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


The Lost Art of Zim coverThe Lost Art of Zim: Cartoons and Caricatures
By Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman
edited by Joseph V. Procopio
128 5.5x8.5-inch pages
b/w text and pictures
Lost Art Books, an imprint of Picture This Press

If Zim didn't invent "bigfoot" cartooning in America, he was at least the foremost practitioner of the form during his career on the staff of the humor magazine Judge, roughly 1885 - 1910. He continued freelancing his cartoons and various writings until his death in 1935 at the age of 73, and he also conducted a correspondence course in cartooning and, in 1910, produced an instructional tome on the subject, which Joseph Procopio has now carefully reproduced in the book at hand, adding to its pages from an earlier (1905) Zim effort, This and That About Caricature.

The book brims with sound, practical advice about drawing — some of it, like the caution against having lines overlap in a picture, not readily available elsewhere anymore. But Zim infiltrates the how-to’s with other valuable tidbits:

“In the first place, try to forget that you are a great artist and lead a natural life. Don’t be too eccentric. Be like other poor mortals who love to earn an honest living, and the world will love you the better for it.”

Zim page“When you make a character sketch, be sure to append an appropriate foot. ... It’s the proper treatment of details that earns big salaries.” Illustrated with an array of different footwear.

 “Refrain from caricaturing acquaintances unless you are sure they are not of a sensitive nature, else you may incur their enmity. If they are sensitive or vain, they do not deserve the attention of your pencil or pen. You may ridicule, but don’t offend.”

“Sage advice,” saith Procopio, “on a variety of esoteric subjects, including Swiping, Booze and Bohemianism, Dealing with Editors, and Cartoonists and Marriage."

About Bohemianims, Zim cautions: “To follow this life in its true sense is all very well, but the average art student is quite apt to mix it up too freely with beverages of amber and more ruddy tints — a nerve-wrecking and career-destroying course.”

And marriage: “In the face of the facts before me, it would be safe for me to state that a man, to be successful in any matter he undertakes, should be either married or unmarried.”

“The main point in the profession is ‘The Lead Pencil.’ Whenever you sketch in public, in order to throw your audience off the track and make them think that you are a full-fledged caricaturist, always wear a reckless air and a common twenty-five cent necktie.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


On my weekend sojourn in Washington, D.C. for the convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, I spent a couple of hours in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, looking at original art for the first Spider-Man story, which was donated by “an anonymous” person. Ditko?

Judging from the evidence at hand, Ditko submitted his work to Lee in its penciled state. In this inaugural two-part Spider-Man tale, Lee asked for three adjustments, two of which would have required re-drawing a panel or whiting-out offending visual elements. But the original art for the pages I contemplated featured no paste-overs and no white-out, which would have been visible if the adjustments had been made after the art had been inked. So Lee was looking at the penciled pages, which Ditko adjusted according to Lee’s directions when he inked. Or, as it happens, did not adjust.

Lee made his suggestions in pencil in the margins. The notes have been erased but they are still discernable. The first one occurs on page 3 of Part One (below, left). The eighth panel shows a speeding automobile that almost runs over Peter Parker because he is so absorbed in thought that he is oblivious to his surroundings. The penciled art apparently included an arm protruding from the interior of the car, and that, Lee thought, implied that the car was being drive recklessly, so he asked Ditko to remove the arm so as not to suggest to young impressionable readers that reckless driving was acceptable. And Ditko removed the arm, as we see in the accompanying illustration. LeeDitko0001

On the last page of Part Two (on the far right), Lee’s comment focuses on the sixth panel. Here, he asks that Ditko “lift up” the second policeman’s head. In the original, apparently the second cop’s head is lower down in the panel — or perhaps just smaller. “Lifting it up” enhances its visibility, and Ditko complied with the suggestion.

But the other comment Lee made, his third instruction, Ditko ignored. On page eight of Part Two (below), Lee’s penciled comment is next to the third panel: “Steve, omit crook! Show door slamming!” Ditko quite sensibly LeeDitko0002ignored this command. He probably ignored it because omitting the crook would remove the visual interest in the panel: a vertical line indicating closed elevator doors is scarcely a dramatic picture, and the scene demands some drama, coming, as it does, at the end of a presumably heated pursuit.

Ditko may also have realized that the crook’s face, which establishes his identity at the end of the story (look again at the previous visual aid), needs a little more exposure than even the close-up of the next panel supplies. The figures of the crook in both second and third panels are small, but the heavy eyebrows provide a quick and certain means of identifying him. The profile in the fourth panel confirms in detail the distinctive eyebrows, but profiles, as a general rule, are not useful in identifying anyone except in profile; and the crook at the end does not appear in profile. Without page eight’s several exposures of the crook’s face, including the detailed profile, we might not be equipped to share Spider-Man’s moment of recognition at the end, and the story with its heart-rending moral lesson would be substantially spoiled. Ditko was right to ignore Lee’s dictum here.

Judging solely from this instance — perhaps the only “documentary evidence” we have — Lee, as editor and scripter, influenced how Ditko told the story that Lee plotted, but Ditko did the actual storytelling, enhancing its emotional highs and lows, and he didn’t always do what Lee wanted him to do. Ditko is clearly the better storyteller; Lee’s advice is either off the mark or almost superfluous.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


Warren Buffett photo


Warren Buffett, the nation's Wall Street icon, went on a newspaper spending spree this year, reported the New York Times. “He bought more than 60 newspapers from Media General and a small stake in the newspaper company Lee Enterprises, a chain of mostly small dailies based in Iowa. At the time, he stressed that he had great confidence that newspapers would continue to be solid investments for decades to come: ‘I think newspapers in print form, in most of the cities and towns where they are present, will be here in 10 and 20 years,’ Buffett said. ‘I think newspapers do a good job of serving a community where there is a lot of community interest.’ Buffett has purchased 63 papers and a 3% stake in Lee Enterprises.

Buffett being the economic bell wether that he is, we must all, now, take heart.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


Jack Ohman self-portraitJack Ohman, who’s been at the Portland Oregonian for nearly 30 years, has taken the editoonist chair at the Sacramento Bee.The Bee pursued Ohman. He will take the perch left vacant when Rex Babin died last year. As it happens, Ohman and Babin were good friends. And Ohman was thinking about leaving the Oregonian. And the Bee’s editorial page editor, Stuart Leavenworth, was actively looking for a new staff editoonist.

Rob Tornoe, reporting in Editor & Publisher (December 2012), wrote: “For Leavenworth, the role of the editorial cartoonist is more essential now to newspapers than it ever has been, and he knew that even though he would never be able to replace Babin, it was important to preserve the power and irreverence of his voice in the community.”

Tornoe quoted Leavenworth: “Rex had a really strong commitment to doing local cartoons, and since he passed away it’s been such a huge loss for our pages. ... Readers not only miss Rex, they miss a local cartoonist. It’s going to send a big jolt of energy to our readers when Jack starts in January.”


For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com