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TAR-zn

Tarzan The Centennial Celebration coverAndrew A. Smith at Scripps Howard News Service reports that “the legendary Ape-Man first saw print 100 years ago in the pulp magazine The All-Story, and Titan Books is celebrating with a gorgeous hardback, Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration ($39.95). Written by Scott Tracy Griffin, one of the foremost Edgar Rice Burroughs experts extant, Centennial covers aspects of the fabled adventure hero from print to movies and everything in between.”

Smith continues: “Griffin gives a chapter to each to the novels, along with sidebars on various aspects of Burroughs and his Ape-Man, from how Burroughs pronounced his hero's name (TAR-zn), to ‘How to Speak Ape,’ to the history of the legends of dinosaurs in Africa that informed the lost land of Pal-ul-don in Tarzan the Terrible. Roughly the second half of the book is individual chapters on Tarzan in comic strips, comic books, radio, TV, movies, collectibles, conventions and the many other facets of the Ape-Man and his creator. All of this info is lavishly illustrated.”

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

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?

W.AIn The Lost Art of Zim, famed cartoonist W.A. Rogers (1854-1931) responded to the question of where he got his ideas thus: “They might as well ask of a farmer, ‘Where did you get all that corn?’ The farmer could tell you that he planted it and broke his back hoeing it; otherwise, the crop would fail. The cartoonist plants his garden with carefully selected facts. No matter how dry these little seeds may seem, he knows that with proper cultivation they will produce a crop later on. There lies the whole secret of a cartoonist’s bag of tricks laid bare.”

Herbert Johnson photoIn the same vein, in the same book, here’s another early twentieth century cartooner, Saturday Evening Post’s Herbert Johnson: “Cartoon ideas come to me as the result of deliberate cerebrations and constructions. When I am absolutely up against it, the editor sometimes gives me an article to illustrate, an editorial to read, or suggests something which helps. This is rare, however. A cartoonist is expected to hit ’em out. The editor may tell him when to bunt, but doesn’t bat for him.”

Finally, there’s me: Where do I get my ideas? Schenectady. (Dunno where I heard that, but I’ve always liked it as an idea whose time has come.)

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

SKIPPING SPAM

Although I like peanut butter (the crunchier, the better), I haven’t bought Skippy peanut butter for years. I’m boycotting it because the original brewer of the spread stole the name from Percy Crosby’s famous comic strip about an energetic 7-8 year old boy named (right) Skippy. Crosby’s Skippy was enormously popular, so the peanut people thought it would help sell their confection. They even stole the wood board fence that served as a logo in Crosby’s strip and slapped it on the peanut butter jar for a label. Crosby never gave them permission to use the name; nor did they ever compensate him for it.

His daughter, Joan, has been waging a battle against the Giant Nut Corp for decades. (For chapter and verse on this heist, visit Harv’s Hindsight for April 2004 at the Usual Place — ahem, RCHarvey.com — where the whole sordid history is painfully reviewed.)

Today, bad news arrived here at the Rancid Raves compound, brought by the venerable Associated Press. I’ve been an enthusiastic user of Spam, the tinned meat concoction, for generations. For years, it was my daily sandwich. (The flavor was just nondescript enough that it never disappointed.) Now — tragic! — I read that the maker of Spam, Hormel, has bought Skippy. The idea is to “increase Hormel’s presence” in supermarkets and in China. Skippy is the leading peanut butter brand in China, where Hormel is trying to build up its Spam biz for years. Skippy will no doubt help.

In this country, Skippy peanut butter is offered in 11 varieties and has about 17 percent of the market. The market leader is Smucker’s Jif (which I buy) with 37 percent.

So now that Hormel is an accomplice in the Skippy theft, must I give up Spam?

Below is the first Skippy cartoon. He started as a single-page feature in the old Life humor magazine, and the page reproduced here is “Skippy, No.1,” which appeared in the issue for March 22, 1923.

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

MR. TARDI DECLINES TO ACCEPT

Jacques Tardi photo

Jacques Tardi, one of France's most famous cartoonists, turned down the country's highest civilian honor. On January 1, he was named among other recipients of the Legion d’honneur, but he refused it. Quoted at bbc.co.uk, Tardi explained: "Being fiercely attached to my freedom of thought and creativity, I do not want to receive anything, neither from this government or from any other political power whatsoever. I am therefore refusing this medal with the greatest determination."

 

Tardi, who created the Adele Blanc-Sec series and graphic novels about the horrors of World Wars I and II (inspired by the experiences of his grandfather and father), said he had always ridiculed institutions. Jacques Tardi trenches

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

GRAPHIC NOVELS ON THE RISE

Capote in Kansas cover

In a Chicago high school honors class, sophomores are analyzing Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood by contrasting it to the graphic novel, Capote in Kansas, by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee. The Chicago Tribune’s Diane Rado says educators’ acceptance of the graphic novel “illustrates how far the controversial comic-strip novels have come. ... Once aimed at helping struggling readers, English language learners and disabled students, [comic books] -- graphic novels — are moving into honors and college-level Advanced Placement classrooms and attracting students at all levels. There's no data on precisely how many schools nationwide use graphic novels. But no one disputes that in other markets the popularity of the comic-style books — adapted to classic literature, biographies, science, math and other subjects — is on the rise.”

For a review of Capote in Kansas, visit RCHarvey.com (the fabled “Usual Place”), Rants & Raves, Opus 170 (October 2005).

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

STAN LEE IS 90

Stan Lee at 90Stan Lee passed his milestone ninetieth birthday on December 28, and Michael Cavna at Washington Post’s ComicRiffs blog asked the living legend how it feels to be a nonagenarian. To which Stan reposited: "One bit of philosophy I made up some time ago -- it’s a bit of a paradox: everyone wants to live to a ripe old age — but no one wants to be old!"

Lee had pacemaker surgery last fall, but, said Cavna, “Lee defies a sense of seeming ‘old,’ forever moving like a human torch of kinetic energy.” When he came back from the hospital, Lee wrote: “In an effort to be more like my fellow Avenger, Tony Stark, I have had an electronic pace-maker placed near my heart to insure that I'll be able to lead thee for another 90 years!"

In a more reflective moment, Lee remembers the 1961 debut of the Fantastic Four, calling it "the turning point of my life."

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

DEATH! SEX! THE COMIC BOOK SALES BUMP

At businessweek.com, Eric Spitznagel focused on the business implications of Spider-Man’s demise in No.700 of The Amazing Spider-Man: “In comic book publishing, the decision to kill off a long-running and beloved character may seem, at first glance, like a terribly unwise business move. But when Marvel Comics released its latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man — No.700, which ends with Peter Parker, the webbed crusader's alter ego, getting murdered — the issue began flying off the shelves.”

And Spitznagel goes on to quote Axel Alonso, the editor in chief at Marvel Comics: "The sales are phenomenal. Amazing Spider-Man No.700 has sold nearly 250,000 copies in print alone; final digital orders aren't in yet. This is the best-selling comic book at this price-point of the last decade, at least."

But Marvel is scarcely plowing new ground with the ploy, Spitznagle says. Killing off major characters — usually title characters — has become “a common practice,” he notes, “which gained attention in the 1970s but reached new heights in the early 1990s, when DC Comics destroyed its most famous character, Superman, in a publishing event that fueled sales across the world.”

He goes on to list four of “the most surefire, lucrative, and reliably controversial methods that comic book creators use to gain readership and boost the bottom line”: embrace alternative lifestyles, court ethnicity, sex it up, and kill your icons.

He explains at the website noted above; and you can find a summary at the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 304).

After killing off the superhero comes the fun of resurrecting the dead guy/gal, which is almost always accomplished with as outrageously improbable a plot clank as possible. One can weary of it — as did three editorial cartoonists when Superman died. Edit3040001

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

ANOTHER SUPERHERO, ANOTHER DEATH

Spider-Man is celebrating his 50th anniversary this year by dying. Some party. At wired.com, Laura Hudson reports, somewhat bitterly, that “five years after the webslinging superhero was forced to retroactively erase his marriage to Mary Jane in a desperate deal with the devil (true story), things are about to get even worse for Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man No. 700, an issue so controversial that it inspired numerous death threats against the book's long-time writer Dan Slott. So what could happen to Spidey that would make his satanic retroactive divorce look tame in comparison?”

Amazing Spider Man 700 coverEasy: he dies. Humberto Ramos draws the death issue.

Says Hudson: “Supervillain Doctor Octopus secretly takes over Spidey’s body to become the new Spider-Man. After a climactic confrontation where Peter Parker forcibly transfers his memories — and apparently, his morality — into the mind of his body-stealing enemy to make him a better man, the physical form of Doctor Octopus expires, taking Peter with it. Reborn as a hero, but still somehow a pompous jerk, Doc Ock declares that he will become a superior Spider-Man, a turn of phrase that segues neatly into the January launch of the comic book Superior Spider-Man, starring Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man.”

Readers, naturally, were outraged. Foaming at the mouth outraged. And the Internet gives them a worldwide, cosmos-spanning place to air their fury. “In Slott's case,” Hudson writes, “this meant a long series of Twitter death threats where readers actually tagged the writer in their tweets.”

"Did I know fans were gonna be passionate about this? Sure," Slott told Hudson. “Comic fans have always been this passionate. They just haven't always had a place to put their knee-jerk reactions that was as instantaneous as the Internet."

Slott says the story has been in the works for 100 issues, eight years, and it represents a concept that is startling: “At their core, Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus are not truly that different.”

Slott explains at somewhat greater length at Opus 304 of the Rants & Raves edition at RCHarvey.com (i.e., the Usual Place).

Spider-Man will undoubtedly be back, web-shooters intact and blank eye-holes bulging. Superheroes die every other month or so, but their deaths are never permanent. Captain America died, Superman died, Batman died, the Human Torch died—but all these deaths were subsequently reversed. So we can expect Spider-Man to reclaim his body from Doc Ock someday. That’s because superhero worlds are worlds of myth, Hudson points out:

“They're worlds of enduring myths that are often elastic enough to stretch into temporary new configurations, but always seem to contract back into their original shapes. The point of stories where prominent characters die isn't that they die (they don't), but the potential for innovation that those temporary absences offer, and whatever the writers and artists manage to do with it.”

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

WILL EISNER WEEK

A Contract With God cover

At publishersweekly.com, Calvin Reid reports that Will Eisner Week, March 1-10, featured a series of events held in more than a dozen cities around the country to honor the work and career of the great comics innovator Will Eisner (1917-2005), the comics medium and the graphic novel format. Organized by the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation, Will Eisner Week 2013 also marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of A Contract With God, Eisner’s acclaimed and pioneering 1978 collection of comics short stories. Events will be held in Savanah, Ga., Arkadelphia, Ar, Portland, Or., Minneapolis, Minn., New York, San Francisco, Seattle and other towns. Events include everything from screening “Portrait of a Sequential Artist,” a documentary on Eisner, to readings from his graphic novels and panel discussions to lectures on his works. For more information and a schedule all the events slated for Will Eisner Week check out the Will Eisner website.

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

COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE FALLS OFF THE EDGE

Can’t say we didn’t see the scrawl on the wall for this. The shrinking page count over the last couple years was ample indication of the venerable fanzine’s growing financial embarrassment. And last summer, CBG, for the first time in my memory, didn’t have a booth at the San Diego Comic-Con. It was, I thought, only a matter of time.

Comics Buyer's Guide 1699 coverThen on January 9, CBG editor Brent Frankenhoff posted the bad news for Krause Publications, the magazine’s publisher: after 42 years, CBG ceased with the March 2013 issue. It’s No.1699.

When CBG reached No. 600 in May 1985, Don and Maggie Thompson, the editors at the time, took note: “In the comic-book field, there isn’t another publication that has made it to 600 issues.” Too bad, now, that Krause (or the private equity firm that owns CBG and Krause; no, not Bain) couldn’t have held off just one more issue to establish the publication’s record in a nicely rounded number, 1700.

But the decision to kill the longest-running magazine in comics fandom was made after No.1699 had gone to press. It was kaput, and that was that. No more discussion. It’s done.

The last issue is thus denied the possibility of dying with dignity. The issue contains no sentimental farewells by staff members, no round-ups of achievement to marvel at. Nothing.

Cause of death? In the realm of print, it’s the same old story: diminishing advertising revenues coupled to the competition of free content on the Web made CBG increasingly irrelevant and financially unrewarding for the publisher.

Writing to celebrate 40 years of CBG’s publication in June 2011 with No.1678, columnist Michelle Nolan comes close by remembering that when TBG/CBG began, “There was no Internet, no eBay, and no Heritage auctions. There was only CBG if you wanted to read about comics, to write about comics, and to buy inexpensive issues. And that was true for many years.”

Cartoonist and life-long comics fan Jim Engel comes even closer, when he begins his Facebook reaction to the announcement of the end of CBG by saying: “TBG/CBG was for me (as I'm sure it was for many of you) a true institution in my life, for a long time. I think my subscription began with the 5th or 6th issue, and it was a much-anticipated highlight of my week every week.”

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