Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TONY'S TIPS #225

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Behaving Madly by Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe, a history of the MAD Magazine imitators of the 1950s and 1960s; Last Girl Standing, the autobiography of comics legend Trina Robbins; and Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Power Man Volume 2 with a new introduction by me and stories by me, Len Wein. Don McGregor, George Tuska, Ron Wilson and more!

TUESDAY MORNING THIS AND THAT

CAPA-Alpha, founded by fandom legend Jerry Bails in 1964, was the first amateur press association (APA) devoted to comic books. Issue #626 [December 2016] was K-a’s final print mailing. Acting Central Mailer Merlin Haas oversaw that 216-page mailing. There were just over two dozen apazines from 18 of then-current 24 members.

The cover shown above was by Douglas Jones aka Gaff, K-a’s Central Mailer. Haas stepped in while Gaff was recovering from a series of health problems. From what I’ve been told, the apa continues in an electronic format of some sort.

Before the coming of the Internet, CAPA-Alpha was the place to be for comics fans. At its height, it might have had as many as sixty members plus another dozen or so fans waiting on the wait list for an opening. Some of those on the wait list would contribute to the zine, even though they could not be guaranteed a copy of mailings in which they appeared. Some mailings were well over 500 pages. I apologize for not being more specific. My only connection with K-a in the past decade or so has been limited to receiving apazines from friends who were still in the ever-aging association.

I was recruited to join CAPA-Alpha by then Central Mailers Don and Maggie Thompson. It was exciting in those pre-Internet years and I was on and off the roster for decades. I was even a member after I became a comics professional.

What dulled my interest in K-a was technology. I’d write zines of twenty pages or more, paste them together with whatever art I could find, take them to the local Mail Boxes Etc, print off however many copies were required plus some extras, mail the required copies to the Central Mailer and then wait months for some kind of feedback. It was like unto watching paint dry.

Then I started writing online columns, culminating in this bloggy thing of mine. Less work. Easy publication. Instant response from my readers. I was done with apas forever, even electronic versions thereof. This bloggy thing suits me much better.

Still, in its day, CAPA-Alpha was where I made lots of friends that I cherish to this day. Where I learned a lot about comic books from before my time and from across oceans. Where I honed my craft as a writer. I’ll always honor it for those things.

CAPA-Alpha deserves to be remembered and honored. It’s too bad the Eisner Awards don’t have a Fan Hall of Fame. Because K-a deserves to be in it. Heck, when you consider how many comics professionals got their creative starts in K-a, I don’t think it would be out of line for the apa to be named to the existing Hall of Fame.
                                                                              

Reading A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison by Nat Segaloff [NESFA Press; $35] was like spending a long evening well into the dawning hours with my friend Harlan. Ellison gave Segaloff unprecedented access to his history and world. What emerged was a definitive biography of a man who is arguably the greatest writer of our time.

From Harlan’s earliest years to his present-day circumstances, this book tells all without holding back even the ugliest moments of a life lived large. I’m fond of saying that we are all the heroes of our own stories, but Ellison has the courage and integrity to talk about even the roughest edges of his personality. It’s a stunning story that, ultimately, made me love my friend even more than I did before I started reading.

Sidebar. In one sense, I owe Harlan my life. When I first moved to New York to work in comics, I lived in a tiny basement apartment in Brooklyn. My cheap-ass landlords had managed to divert most of the house’s heat to the upper floors of the house. I had no thermostat to control the heat in my part of the house and so had to spend my nights either buried under every blanket and coat I owned or at a small writing table I would move in front of the electric stove. I would write in front of the stove’s open door.

One day, before I started coming into my own as a writer, I felt so terribly alone that I planned to use my next paycheck to fly back to Cleveland for good. Then I started reading, re-reading really, Harlan’s introductions to the stories in his Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions anthologies. Just the introductions. Which so often spoke of the nobility of the writer. Ellison’s words were inspirational. I stuck it out and I’ve kept at this writing thing ever since.

Are there some contradictions in this account of the writer’s life? Of course there are. He’s a storyteller and stories change as they age. Like fine wine. But there is a core truth to every one of his  stories, both the ones I heard from Harlan himself and those I was just “hearing” for the first time. Imagine my delight when Harlan spoke about a story he wanted to write based on an old joke when I realized I’d already a story based on the same joke. I guess, over my years of reading his work and being blessed with his friendship, I learned a thing or two.

A Lit Fuse is a magnificent biography. I hope it receives a whole bunch of awards. Because it deserves them.

ISBN 978-1-61037-323-4

                                                                              

From the U.K., Commando #5019 features a brand-new, 63-page story. “Tank Commander” is by Ferg Handley with art by Vila. Tanks seem to be a popular subject in this long-running anthology series. Note the “Tank War 1939-45” block next to the logo.

Most story pages in Commando have two half-page panels. There are some splash pages and some with three panels, but two panels is the most common. Roughly speaking. Going by the old American standard of around six panels per page, that means the Commando stories are the equivalent of a 21-page story. That length gives its stories room for plenty of character drama in addition to the many battle scenes.

This story has two protagonists even though they never meet face-to-face. Sergeant Jack Taylor’s tank crew are killed in a massive German blitzkrieg offensive just prior to the retreat to Dunkirk. Taylor recruits a new and thoroughly inexperienced crew and must choose between getting revenge for his old team or protecting his new one. The German officer who led the offensive is determined to
see all of them dead. It’s a gripping battle tale that would have been shorter, but not out of place in the DC Comics war titles of the 1960s.

                                                                            

For several years now, I have been getting the Phantom comic books  by Frew Publications sent to me from Australia. As with Commando, I’m considering adding a reoccurring bloggy within the bloggy that would cover these comics. Does “Phantom Fridays” sound like something you might enjoy?

What you see here is Giantsize Phantom #1. It contains five action hero stories reprinted from the 1950s and one new story starring a hero from that era. The Phantom was the biggest Frew star, so most of the other heroes copied various elements of The Ghost Who Walks and his mythos. Besides a Phantom reprint, the roster consists of Catman and Kit, Diavolo (who got his start from a rejected Phantom story revamped to star a new character), the Phantom Ranger (set in America’s Old West, Sir Falcon (the new story featuring an updated version of the hero) and Jimmy Gray alias the Shadow (no relation to the classic American pulp magazine hero). Though derivative and often crudely written and drawn, these rare reprints are interesting for their historical value and perfectly readable adventure hero yarns.

I’m not sure how often Giantsize Phantom will be published, but I have asked my Australian supplier to include future issues with my shipments of the regular Phantom comics from Frew. I look forward to more of these lesser-known Australian adventurers.
                                                                               

Cleveland sports fans are used to bad days and years, but there was never a more tragic day than the day when popular Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a Carl Mays fastball  and subsequently died from that injury.

Molly Lawless’ Hit by Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball [McFarland; $14.99] is a nonfiction graphic novel telling the life stories of both Chapman and Mays, the years leading up to that deadly moment and the aftermath of the event. It was published in 2012, but somehow escaped my notice until now.

This is a riveting work that brings the history and its players to life. Chapman was beloved in Cleveland and in the clubhouse. He and some teammates formed a singing group that would perform at various functions around town. He married the lovely daughter of a business leader and, in off season, ran his own business. He was a baseball superstar in every sense of the word. Had his career and life not been cut so terribly short, he’d be in the Hall of Fame today. He played just nine years and the minimum requirement, which has only been waived once, is ten.

Mays was not at ease in social settings, nor was he beloved by his teammates. He’s been painted by some as a villain who deliberately beaned Chapman, but Chapman’s book does not embrace that scenario. At the time, to save money, umpires were ordered to keep baseballs in the game as long as possible. The result were balls so scuffed up that pitchers couldn’t always control their pitches. Mays, whose stats could have otherwise put him in the Hall of Fame, has forever been defined by that one fatal pitch.

Lawless delivers a solid graphic novel that brings these forever-linked players and their era to life in great detail. She puts the deadly moment into perspective and, in doing so, makes the reader feel the tragedy all the more keenly. I will definitely be seeking out more of her work.

ISBN 978-0-7864-4609-4

That’s all for today. Come back tomorrow for another installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Monday, September 18, 2017

MONDAY MORNING THIS AND THAT

My “stuff waiting to be reviewed” box is getting full, so let’s see if I can make it a little easy for Old Man Tony to lift. We begin with some information I recently learned from Edward Bebee on the DC History mailing list.

Regular readers of my columns know I'd love to see DC Comics do collections of their Adventures of Bob Hope and Adventures of Jerry Lewis comics of the 1950s and 1960s. The usual response is that DC doesn’t own the rights to those comics. My usual response to that is, given the considerable charitable efforts of those gentlemen in their lifetimes, a charitable component to such collections might be of interest to their estates. There are a lot of great artists and writers who worked on those titles.

As it turns out, the copyrights on some of those comic books have never been renewed and may be in the public domain. Which means DC or another publisher could reprint them. However, there are likely trademarks on the names of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Any interested parties should talk to an attorney first and then,  just because it’s the right thing to do, the estates of Hope, Lewis and Martin.

Bebee reported that Paramount Pictures Corporation filed copyright renewals on The Adventures of Dean Martin #1-27, 29 and 37. Which means issues #28, 30-36 and 38-40 are theoretically in the public domain with, also theoretically, the entire run of The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. Bob Hope (or his representatives) filed copyright renewals on the entire run of The Adventures of Bob Hope.

Looking at some other DC licensed comics of the era...

Cooga Mooga Products, Inc. filed renewals on Pat Boone #1-3 and #5. The fourth issue might well be in the public domain.

DC filed renewals on the entire twelve-issue run of Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners. They did the same for the nine-issue run of The Adventures of Alan Ladd.
Bebee could find no renewals for The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis #1-26. DC history buffs know several of those issue were “modernized” redrawn with all references to the classic TV series removed. The altered stories were published in Showcase #81 [March 1969] and the four-issue Windy and Willy.

Not to get too political here, but, for all the right-wing moaning about “Hollywood values,” those values have always included great charitable efforts by its performers and studios. Hope donated his talent and more to the USO. Through his Labor Day telethons, Lewis was the public face of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Comics creators and their publishers have proven themselves just as generous on numerous occasions. I think those charitable activities could be the hook to reprinting some great licensed comic books of the past. I’d buy them.

                                                                                  

Would you like to see regular reviews of the British comics digest Commando? I subscribe to the weekly 68-page war comics series from England and have been enjoying it a great deal. Each issue contains a 63-page anthology story set in various wars. Each month’s worth of issues has two new stories and two reprints.

Commando #5018 takes the concept further with “Time-Wrap Warrior” by Mike Knowles with art by C.T. Rigby. Originally published as #1294 [February 1979] and reprinted in issue #2604 [February 1992], this is an honest-to-gosh science-fiction story in which a man from the future travels back in time to foil the plans of four villains from his era who want to change history. The action ranges from the Roman invasion of Britain to England’s Middle Ages to World Wars I and II. It’s a solid comics adventure.

Each reprint issue of the title contains this note: Some language in early Commando reprint stories may not seem as acceptable as it was when first published. The material has been included to place the story in the context of time. It is in no way intended to cause offence by doing so.

                                                                                 

Nozomu Tamaki’s Don’t Meddle with My Daughter Vol. 1 [Seven Seas; $12.99] is a manga series about a teen super-hero and her mom, who used to be a super-hero and still has her powers. This is the kind of series that is just plain wrong on so many levels and which is still fun.

Though the name is never explained, Don’t Meddle has this nefarious organization called Blowjob. It has a lot of physical comedy based on large breasts and nudity. It’s one of those Japanese manga that makes you shake your head in disbelief. There were times when I was ashamed I enjoyed it as much as I did. And yet...

The mother-daughter relationship is both heartwarming and humorous. The current Eighth Wonder doesn’t realize her mom was the previous Eighth Wonder, though it should be obvious, and is somewhat jealous of her predecessor. The mom thought the super-hero stuff was in her past, but will do anything to protect her daughter. Throw in some mystery as to the daughter’s dad and, in between the risque humor, you have an intriguing super-hero soap opera. I’m going to continue reading this series for at least another volume or two.

ISBN 978-1-626925-32-8

                                                                               

Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness [Seven Seas; $13.99] is the artist’s breathtakingly honest tale of her battles with depression and sexuality. At 28 years old, Kabi is adrift in her own life. She goes from job to job. She is looked down upon by her family. She doesn’t know where she’s going and this frequently plunges her into crippling depression. She doesn’t present herself well in dress or demeanor. Adding to that, she has never had sex, something she feels she must experience.

Creating manga turns out to be Kabi’s salvation, at least in that she has finally found her passion. The desire to face her sexuality and finally have sex drives her to an escort agency. This graphic autobiography recounts her experiences.

Kabi’s courage in telling her story with all its embarrassments and other fears is nothing short of stunning. Inappropriate as it would be, I found myself wanting to hug her and maybe lessen her obvious pain in some small way.

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a powerful graphic novel. When I finished reading, I wanted a sequel in which Kabi achieves the happiness and normalcy she craves. I want things to be good for her. Any graphic novel that can make me feel this strongly for its  protagonist is one I have to recommend to adults and older teens. I hope next year’s Eisner Awards judges consider nominating it in the categories in which it would be eligible.

ISBN 978-1-626926-03-5

                                                                                 

The Bronze Gazette #79 [Summer 2017; $10] is another must-read for Doc Savage fans. The cover is an amazing Bob Larkin painting that was commissioned by publisher Terry Allen. It shows Pat Savage, Doc Savage and a classic Hollywood style werewolf. Inside, there are articles on two unforgettable women who appeared in Doc Savage novels, the scoop on Will Murray’s next Doc Savage novel, a piece on Bantam Doc Savage novels that never appeared, conversations with the fan Sisters of Bronze, a look at a female adventurer inspired by Doc Savage and more.

The Bronze Gazette packs a lot into its fifty pages. Its production values are superb. It’s one of my favorite magazines and, without hesitation, I recommend it to all of you.
                                                                                    

In addition to Dark Horse’s ongoing Buffy the Vampire Slayer title, the company is publishing done-in-one graphic novels set during our heroine’s years in Sunnydale. In Buffy: The High School Years - Glutton for Punishment [$10.99], needing extra credit, the Buffster and Xander sign up for a home economics class whose teacher is a very hungry and particular about what he eats tiger demon. This guy makes Gordon Ramsey look positively cuddly.

Written by Kel McDonald, the 72-page story hits the correct beats from start to finish. The characters sound like their live-action counterparts. The story has that Sunnydale High School logic to it where citizens don’t let the occasional monster send them fleeing for safer real estate. The villain is engaging from the beginning to the satisfying ending. Without giving us exact likeness of the actors who starred in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, artist Yishan Li gives us characters instantly recognizable as the characters from the TV series.

At a compact 6 by 9 inches, Glutton for Punishment would be a tasty little Halloween gift or stocking stuffer for the Buffy devotee in your life. Recommended.

ISBN 978-1-50670-115-8

                                                                            

One more for the road, especially if the road is located in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio. Written by Deb Thompson and Tonya Prater, Secret Cleveland: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure [Reedy Press; $20.95] offers ninety examples of intriguing, little-known places to see in Cleveland.

With photos accompanying each chapter, readers will learn about the Christmas Story house from the movie of the same name; the ghostly subway under the Detroit-Superior Bridge; the perhaps haunted House of Wills; a possible door to a parallel universe; a bar which has bullet holes from an alleged assassination of Eliot Ness; several hidden waterfalls and much more. You could plan years of worth of fun outings from this book.

The book would make a terrific gift for anyone living in Cleveland, but I suggest another twist on the present. Choosing from the book, offer to escort whoever you give it to on an adventure or three of their own choosing.

ISBN 978-1-68106-108-5

That’s all for today. I’ll have more reviews for you tomorrow. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Saturday, September 16, 2017

FREE COMIC BOOK FRIDAY #9

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

Free Comic Book Day happens but once a year. Every year, good old Bloggy Tony gets all the FCBD issues from his friends at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. Then he tries to read and review  all of them. He judges those individual issues on three criteria:

QUALITY: Is the material worthwhile?

ACCESSIBILITY: Is the material presented in such a way that someone coming to it for the first time can follow it?

SALESMANSHIP: After reading the FCBD offering, would someone want to buy more of the same?

On a scale of zero to ten, each of those criteria is worth up to three points. Tony awards the elusive tenth point when he deems a FCBD offering particularly worthy.


Monster High #0 [Titan Comics] features the classic monster movie-inspired Mattel dolls. This cute  franchise has spread into several other areas as well. This Free Comic Book Day issue has a 16-page story written by Abby Denson with art by Arianna Florean and Egle Bartolini.

QUALITY: I enjoyed this. It’s well-written, expressively-drawn and sets up an ongoing series.

ACCESSIBILITY: The issue has a “Who’s Who” page that introduces the main characters and the story itself is easy to follow. It’s a fun comic book that’s suitable for all ages.

SALESMANSHIP: If readers like this story, they will probably enjoy the ongoing comic-book series promoted in the issue. It also ran  ads for a Monster High official magazine and Monster High apparel. However, two other such pages were wasted. They promoted the brand but sans any explanation of the brand and without pitching specific products.

SCORE: 8.5 points out of a possible ten.
                                                                               

The Tick [New England Comics Press] stars the character created by Ben Edlund as a newsletter mascot for a chain of comic-book shops. Talk about humble beginnings for a super-hero who has since gone on to headline comic books, an animated cartoon series and two live-action series, the latest now airing on Amazon Video. I have liked some versions of this often oblivious hero better than others, but there’s no denying he and his sidekick Arthur speak to me and many other readers/viewers.

This FCBD issue presents two new stories of the Tick. One in which he throws himself a birthday party, the other in which he attends a political debate. Both are written by Jeff McClelland and drawn by Duane Redhead.

QUALITY: The birthday party is the better of the two. Amusing and even heartwarming. The political debate story had its moments, but basically fell flat on its face. However, to be fair, I’m sick of the “all politicians are terrible” position. It’s not the least bit profound. Indeed, it’s a willful ignoring of reality.

ACCESSIBILITY: There’s no real background given in these stories or elsewhere in the issue, but I’m not sure the Tick needs a whole lot of background. He’s a big goofy guy who doesn’t see things as more stable people do. You can get that much from the stories.

SALESMANSHIP: There is one ad offering previous Free Comic Book Day issues of the Tick and a second selling collected editions of his comic-book collections. There are no ads for DVDs of his animated series or his original live-action series. Indeed, neither is even mentioned in this issue.

SCORE: Six out of ten points.
                                                                                 

Wonder Woman #1 [DC] reprints “Year One Part One” by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott from issue #2 of the current Wonder Woman series. In this story, we get the backgrounds of Steve Trevor and Diana before their fateful meeting.

QUALITY: This is an excellent story beautifully drawn. During this period, Wonder Woman was bouncing back and forth between a new tale set in the modern day (odd numbered issues) and this retelling of the Amazon’s origins (even numbered issue). I didn’t care for the bouncing back and forth, but that doesn’t change my positive view of this story.

ACCESSIBILITY: It’s an origin story so what you need to know is, by its very nature, built right into the story. Also, the basic Wonder Woman origin has been around since the 1940s and, though more than a few details have changed over those decades, the core origin is still in place.

SALESMANSHIP: Many of the ads are geared to Wonder Woman fans. The inside front cover has the movie poster. Wonder Woman is shown in an ad for the various Six Flags amusement parks. Another ad is for a Wonder Woman prose novel by Leigh Bardugo. There are four pages of ads for expensive Wonder Woman statues. Wonder Woman is part of an ad for DC Universe: The Exhibit, which is part of the Warner Bros studio tour in Hollywood. There are ads for collections of the two stories mentioned above. There’s a full-page “ad” for the free DC Essential Graphic Novels 2017 catalog, available at your local comics store. Wonder Woman is on the cover of the catalog.

The remaining ads: Schick’s Hydro razors, the DC Universe Online game, Warner’s King Arthur movie and DVD sets of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Xiaolin Showdown, Static Shock and the Zeta Project.

SCORE: Ten out of ten points. 
                                                                         

Time Shifters [Graphix Spotlight/Scholastic] has a 28-page excerpt from a graphic novel by Chris Grine. A kid named Luke gets a weird device on his arm, a device dropped by a trio of monster villains. He is “rescued” from them by a scientist, a robot, a dinosaur and some sort of blob creature that has the form of a human girl.

QUALITY: Clearly aimed at younger readers, Time Shifters does have some funny moments. But it lacks any real sense of peril. I wasn’t bowled over by the script or art, but it was a very readable comic book. Its intended audience should enjoy it.

ACCESSIBILITY: Very little gets explained in this excerpt. That was  not a major problem as this is the start of a longer graphic novel.

SALESMANSHIP: The inside covers have ads for other graphic novels from Scholastic. The back cover has an ad for the full edition of Time Shifters.

SCORE: Seven out of ten points.

                                                                                

Catalyst Prime: The Event [Lion Forge] is a 26-page story that sets up a new super-hero universe. A large object is on course to turn the Earth into space dust. A corporation has been working to save our planet and sends several brave souls into space to accomplish that mission.

QUALITY: Written by Priest and senior editor Joseph Illidge, this has a lot of the familiar Priest quirks I’ve come to find tiresome. Since others like his writing more than I, I deduct no points for my personal preference. The art by Marco Turini and Will Rosado is excellent. The surprise ending is quite chilling, but does remind me of Valiant’s Harbinger series to some extent.

ACCESSIBILITY: Good. I didn’t have any trouble following the story despite the time jumps, but I would found more information on the characters and the corporation helpful.

SALESMANSHIP: So-so. The inside front cover is just a big credits page. In a giveaway comics, that space should be better utilized to sell the company’s comics. The inside back cover has an ad for the first of the Catalyst Prime titles.

SCORE: Seven out of ten points.

                                                                              

Boom! Studios 2017 Summer Blast has excerpts from three titles, two of them new. David Petersen’s Mouse Guard is the lead feature. It’s followed by Brave Chef Brianna about an enthusiastic human opening a human food restaurant in the aptly-named Monster City. The third and final story is about the band Coady and the Creepies, which is “proudly presented by Lumberjanes.”

QUALITY: The Mouse Guard story is excellent. The Brianna story is fun and makes me want to see more. The Coady and the Creepies story is so-so at best.

ACCESSIBILITY: All three stories were easy to follow.

SALESMANSHIP: Pretty good. The Brianna story is followed by a one-page recipe for “Brazilian Cheese Waffle Breakfast Sandwiches” with the note that every issue of Brave Chef Brianna will contain a new recipe. There are four pages of ads for Boom! titles, but the ads don’t tell you anything about the titles. The back cover is - thank Godzilla - the last time I have to see an ad for Disney’s current Pirates of the Caribbean movie in one of these Free Comic Book Day free comic books.

SCORE: Six out of seven points.

Mission accomplished! For the first time ever, I read and reviewed all of the Free Comic Book Day comics. Yea for me.

Of course, Halloween ComicFest will be here before you know it and I’ll have another batch of free comic books to read and review. I suppose there are worse fates.

I’ll be back on Monday with more stuff.
 
© 2017 Tony Isabella

Friday, September 15, 2017

BLACK LIGHTNING: COLD DEAD HANDS #2

This is Clayton Henry's amazing cover for BLACK LIGHTNING: COLD DEAD HANDS #2. I am in awe of this artist's talent and of the dedication being shown by everyone on Team Lightning!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

LEN WEIN

Legendary comics writer and editor Len Wein passed away a few days ago after a long series of medical ailments. I don’t use the term “legendary” lightly. Seriously, what other adjective could better describe the creator of Swamp Thing, Wolverine and dozens of other characters or the editor who championed Alan Moore’s reinvention of Swamp Thing?

Len was a friend, albeit a friend I didn’t get to see as often as I would have liked. I’m more than a little jealous that all Len’s other friends have better Len stories and tributes to share with you than I do. Yeah, I know. Poor me. But I include this smidgen of whining because I know it would have made Len laugh and that he would have made some hilarious joke that got an even bigger laugh from anyone around him. That photo at the top of today’s bloggy thing? That’s how I have always thought of Len. He had the best smile.

Len was an important influence on my writing even before I met him at a Detroit Triple Fan Fair in the early 1970s. As much as I loved and read thousands of comic books, there are only four writers that I can honestly say that I studied. Stan Lee is the one that needs no explanation. Roy Thomas because he was one of the best and the smartest writers of my formative years. Robert Kanigher because he had a terrific visual sense and such great emotional content in his stories. And Len Wein...because Len was one of the finest wordsmith in the history of comics.

Len’s writing was poetry. I read his Phantom Stranger stories over and over again. I read his Swamp Thing stories over and over. The man just had a knack for words which, coupled with his ability to create characters and tell wonderful stories, made him a writer I knew I could and did learn from. We’ll get back to that in a while. I’m trying to keep this as linear as I can because I need that kind of focus to overcome the weight in my heart.

I met Len (and Marv Wolfman and Bernie Wrightson) before I went to work at Marvel Comics in 1972. We met at a convention and they were all exceedingly kind to me and everyone else they met. They weren’t superstars back then. They were relatively new to working in comics  professionally. But, what made me admire them and, as we all got to know each other better, love them was that they never essentially changed. Occasional bumps in the road aside, they were good friends from the moment I met them and stayed that way.

When I went to work for Marvel...

Pause. Okay, I know this tribute to Len is coming off more “me, me, me” than I would like. I already warned you that all Len’s friends have better Len stories than I do. We didn’t live in the same state for more than a couple years and, after that, I only saw him every now and again. I have to work with what I have.

When I went to work for Marvel, Len was writing for both Marvel and DC. We hung out at Marvel and after work. He was always fun in an impish sort of way. In later years, he claimed to have participated  in an epic prank or, to put it another way, a clear case of abuse of a fellow employee. He wasn’t there, but he took such delight in telling people he was there I never called him on it. At least not to his face.

Marvel was moving from one floor of the building to another floor where we would have more space. Don McGregor and Marv Wolfman put me in a huge box, taped it shut and said they were going to ship me to Abu Dhabi or some such. Sol Brodsky came in, doubtless rolling his eyes at such hijinks, and told them to release me. He needed me to finish an issue of The Mighty World of Marvel or another British weekly. Len wasn’t there, but let the record show my firm belief that, if he had been there, he would have gleefully joined in this prank and/or abuse.

Getting serious for a moment...

My first comics writing job for Marvel was a disaster. I’d pitched a seven-page plot to Roy Thomas for one of our color horror comics. Roy wanted me to cut it to three pages and, instead of writing it full-script as I would have preferred, write a plot for the artist. The artist was an industry veteran who did a frankly terrible job on it. I suffered massive writer’s block, took way too long to do what should have been the work of an hour or two tops, and did an awful job. I didn’t think I was going to get any more writing gigs from Marvel.

Len had added Vampirella to his already heavy load of assignments from DC and Marvel. He asked me to come up with and write a rough draft of a Vampirella story following from whatever had come before in the series. I threw myself into that job, doing my best to ape Len’s style in doing so.

Writing that script taught me an important lesson. It’s much easier to imitate a great writer with a distinctive style than the cookie-cutter lightweights so prevalent in comics then and now. It didn’t teach me a lesson I still am struggling to master, but we’ll get to that in another paragraph or two.

Len loved what I had done. It was more than he expected and he paid me more than the rate we had agreed on. When he turned the script in, he hadn’t rewritten it to any great extent. I was so proud of that vote on confidence and amazed at what Len (and Marv) did next. They went to Roy, told him what a good job I had done and suggested he give me another shot on writing comics for Marvel. He did and I ended up writing a lot of comics for Marvel.

The bad news about this story came later. One of my friends saw me working on the script at my apartment. He asked what it was and I told him. I didn’t realize he was doing occasional production work for James Warren, the publisher of Vampirella and other black-and-white comics magazines.

My friend told Warren that I had actually written this “Len Wein” story, which wasn’t 100% accurate as Len had, indeed, done a second draft of my script. It was still mostly my work, but Len was in there as well. Warren or someone working at Warren lost their shit. That turned out to be Len’s last Vampirella story.

Then and in later years, Len was rightfully upset with me because I violated the unspoken rule of the ghost-writer. I hadn’t meant to make my involvement public, but I did. Years later, in writing on my comics career, I mentioned this Vampirella tale, figuring enough years had passed that it no longer mattered. I was wrong. Len was still sensitive about it. I felt terrible that I had upset him yet again. Unfortunately, I still have a bad habit of telling friends too much about my writing projects and it sometimes comes back to bite me on the ass.

But I did learn never to reveal my ghost-writing clients, save for the rare occasions when those clients mentioned that I was working for them. I’ve ghost-written dozens of comic books and hundreds of daily or Sunday newspaper comic strips. Even when I got stiffed by  a client, I never revealed their names or what I had done for them. I gave up ghost-writing comic books well over a decade ago and, in the newspaper comic strip industry, I’m now doing only occasional work for just one client.

Back to Len and me...

Len was my editor for a short time at Marvel and we butted heads a few times. He said Luke Cage didn’t have super-strength and that he had only been able to punch his way out of Seagate Prison because his skin was invulnerable. I thought that was a ridiculous idea on account of it would have taken years for Luke to break through that concrete wall if he didn’t also have super-strength.

Len got upset when Ghost Rider managed to defeat the Hulk in one of my stories for the former. I thought Johnny Blaze was both clever in a desperation kind of way and very lucky. Len didn’t see it the same way. We compromised by running a funny Marie Severin cartoon of what would happen if Ghost Rider had faced the Hulk without such trickery. Think “Alas poor Yorick.” We ran the cartoon in the next issue’s letter column.

And, of course, there’s the legendary industry story of how he and Marv took my brilliant notion of a buddy book called Champions starring Iceman and the Angel...and turned it into an awkward teaming of those characters with an ex-Russian super-spy, an Olympian demi-god and a cursed motorcyclist. If you don’t know the story, you can find in my introduction to the recent Marvel Masterworks reprinting of Champions...or in any number of Champions interviews...or just by attending my convention panels. The odds are good someone will ask me about Champions.

Even when Len wasn’t my editor - this was at DC Comics - he didn’t like that I established that the Gentleman Ghost was clearly a for-real ghost. He preferred the uncertainty with which he had written the character in a Batman story. Me, I went with the origin written by Robert Kanigher, the creator of the Gentleman Ghost. In that case, I think Kanigher outranked Wein.

Yes, Len and I butted heads. To be truthful, things got real hard between Len and Marv and me when they were in charge of editorial at Marvel. It wasn’t a happy time, but that’s all water that went under the bridge decades ago. I don’t think any of us were suited for either the difficulties or the responsibilities that came with our various positions. With the wisdom of age, I think Len and Marv handled them better than I did. Those bumps in the friendship road doesn’t diminish my abiding affection for both of them.

Whenever I saw Len at a convention, we had a great time. When Marv and him were at Mid-Ohio-Con, I was delighted to see the lines of fans wanting to meet them and have them sign their comics dwarf the lines of every other guest at that particular convention.

Len’s health struggles were as epic as the stories he wrote. And I don’t want to dwell on them beyond the courage and good cheer with which he faced those struggles. The last time I saw him came after one of his dialysis treatments.

It was in January, 2014. Bob Ingersoll and I had decided to travel to Los Angeles so we could see a bunch of our friends without some convention getting in the way. At  Meltdown Comics and Collectibles on Sunset Boulevard, I did a Nerdist podcast with Adam Beechen and Len. We all had a great time.

After the podcast, Len told me how he was doing - and kept smiling even through the discussions of his health - and asked me how I was doing. I was actually in a pretty good place, having entered into a fair agreement with Marvel and even though it was well before DC and I would mend our incredibly broken bridges. I had steady work and a loving family. I had more friends all over the world than I had ever thought possible. I was a pretty happy guy. Actually, I told Len I had never dreamed I would be this happy.

Len’s face lit up. He said he was worried that wouldn’t happen for me. His smile, big as always, revealed how happy he was that I was happy. I loved him more right then than I had ever loved him before and - damn it, there’s tears in my eyes - I always thought of that moment and his smile whenever I thought of him afterwards.

Awkward or not, I hugged Len. I wished I had hugged him harder and longer. But we don’t get to see the future and we don’t know when we’re saying goodbye to someone for the last time.

Len’s legacy is an epic one and deservedly so. He is remembered for his stories. He is remembered for the countless good turns he did for others. He is remembered for being a great friend and a great human being in every sense of the term.

This bloggy thing’s for you, Len.

With thanks.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 122

RESOLVED: The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  This is why I’ve written over a hundred columns about him. Something about his short stature, but large courage, honor and fighting skills speaks to me.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I decide to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them. We’ve reached the title’s extended twilight.  We’ve seen the last new Rawhide Kid story that will appear in the now-bimonthly reprint series. This is the 122nd installment of my “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” columns.
                                                                               

Reprint editor Roger Stern returned to Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers for The Rawhide Kid #135 [September 1976]. The Kirby/Ayers cover is the original cover from issue #21 [April 1961] with some alterations. Backgrounds have been added, the Kid’s shirt is darker and the white background of the original has been replaced with a red background for the logo. The old cover copy has been replaced with new and, to my mind, stronger cover copy.

This issue reprints “The Gunmen of Sundown City” from Rawhide Kid #21. The original version ran 19 pages. This version runs 18 pages with a page cut from the second chapter of the four-chapter tale. I wrote about this story all the way back in March of 2012. You can read my comments here.

The Junior Sales Club of America gets the inside front cover with other advertisers including Duraclean International (information on buying a franchise), Grit Publishing, Charms (offering a special magic set for $3 with five wrappers from the lollipops), La Salle Extension University, Icee (with a coupon worth ten cents off the frozen treat), Hostess Snack Cakes (offering free baseball cards in specially marked boxes), 204 Revolutionary War Soldiers for a mere $2.25) and the Olympic Sales Club.

In the classified ads pages, there are 16 ads for mail-order comics dealers. That’s down one from the previous issue.
                                                                            

Before we get to the Marvel house ads, there’s a half-page ad for a “Spider-Man Action Water Glove” from Jo Mar Enterprises. The ad says it looks just like Spider-Man’s glove and shoots a thick spray water up to 25 feet by squeezing the palm. Just like Spider-Man shoots his webs. The cost (including postage and handling) is $4.50 per glove.
                                                                                      

The first of the Marvel house ads is a full-page “Put a Marvel on Your Chest” pitch for the t-shirts advertised in the previous issue of Rawhide Kid. It’s the same six shirts: Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, Thor and...Stan Lee! The gender discrimination from the previous issue is gone. Instead of man and boy size, we have adult sizes ($3.99 each) and kid sizes ($3.39 each). Progress!
                                                                             

“Superheroes Assemble!” in a full-page subscription ad. The prices are $4 for twelve issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Conan, Daredevil, Defenders, Doc Strange, Fantastic Four, Howard the Duck, Incredible Hulk, Invaders, Iron Man, Marvel Tales, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One, Master of Kung Fu, Power Man, Thor and Tomb of Dracula. Also offered is Spidey Super Stories, but that one costs $4.50 for the twelve issues.

The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page leads off with the usual “Stan’s Soapbox.” Stan announces that Marv Wolfman is leaving his editor-in-chief position for a full-time writing schedule, but keeps the fans guessing is to who will replace Marv. Last time out, the page announced Larry Lieber had returned to Marvel to be art director of Spidey Super Stories. This time around, Stan announces Larry will also be handling Marvel’s British weeklies. For a big finish, Stan plugs The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Fun Book, a $2.95 collection of puzzles, riddles and games based on Marvel characters.

Now for the news items...

Roy Thomas is relocating to Los Angeles. On his way cross country, he created What If, but the item doesn’t reveal exactly what this new title will feature.

Steve Englehart has taken up astrology. In between his writing on  Doctor Strange and Avengers, the San Francisco-based Englehart was preparing horoscopes commercially. I guess snake oil wasn’t as big a seller on the West Coast.

The next item talks about how Marvel’s Bullpen crew and freelance creators often frequent the Brillo Coffee House where the dine on the restaurant’s “famed Bunsen Burner Burger.” If the item weren’t less than complimentary, I would be wondering if this was an early example of comic-book product placement.

The final item of the page announced that Steve Gerber had gotten permission to manufacture and sell “Howard the Duck for President”  buttons. Including postage, the buttons cost $1.25 each. You could order them from Mad Genius Associates on Seventh Avenue. I may be off on the principals, but Mad Genius was a studio set-up shared by Gerber, Mary Skrenes, David Anthony Kraft and Jim Salicrup.

Sidebar. These good friends were a big help to me when I left what I have described as my “six hellish months as a DC Comics staffer” and was in between living arrangements. They let me stay there for a week or two. Which probably saved my life and certainly saved my sanity. I’ll never forget their kindness.
                                                                               

That brings us to the issue’s back cover. It was a full-page ad for Spalding baseball gloves and t-shirts. The ad is notable because it was drawn by the legendary Jack Davis.

That’s it for another Wednesday with the Rawhide Kid. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella