From Comics Buyer’s Guide #1690:
“The first requisite in a historian is to have no ability to
- Marie-Henri Beyle (1783–1842), 19th-century French writer better
known by his pen name Stendhal
Comics history is exciting to me. Thanks to the efforts of so many
dedicated detectives, we are learning more each day about comics
creators and the outfits that published their work. However, even
with this enlightening scholarship, we are also getting the kind of
misinformation that corrupts the process.
Historians with agendas are always dangerous to the accumulation of
knowledge. It dismays me when people who can contribute useful
information must be taken less than seriously because of their
enlarging their own participation in events to outlandish
proportions or because of near-pathological hatred of a prominent
creator. Driven as they are by ego and hostility, their
conclusions and “facts” are suspect and will remain so.
Some would-be historians speculate endless conspiracy theories in
pursuit of their own agendas, whether to elevate one comics creator
over others or one publisher over others. Speculation can be fun,
but it is not and never will be history. Yet, in one case I know
of, a faux-historian insists absurd speculations receive the same
consideration as actual facts.
Keep in mind that even first-hand interviews can’t be taken as
gospel. Interviewers sometimes goad their subjects to claims above
and beyond reality - or, sometimes, catch them at a time in their
lives when bitterness distorts their memories.
We are all the heroes of our own stories. I am no more immune to
that truth than any one else. So, when I write about my career in
comics, I try to include as many caveats as humanly possible in my
accounts. I don’t quite have a ratings system in place, but, if I
did, it go something like this:
If I was there when something happened, I am reasonably confident
in my own mind that my account is accurate. However, I will often
include opposing accounts to give readers a better chance to suss
out the truth.
If a trusted source tells me something and it checks out with other
trusted sources and my own estimation of what may or may not have
been the case, I make that clear to my readers.
If a not always reliable source says something, I make mention of
my doubts and distinguish between those parts of such reports that
make sense to me based on my own experiences and those parts that
If I think a source is pulling something out of his or her behind,
I make note of that as well. The only time I’ll include reports of
that nature in my writings is when I think there might be a speck
of truth in them. In doing so, I mention the possibility - and
even probability - of the report being born in someone’s nether
Even when I’m sure of the accuracy of something, I don’t expect my
readers to take it as gospel. What I attempt to do is give them a
foundation from which they can build their own opinions.
History isn’t always open and shut. Some might say it’s never open
and shut. But wild speculations without foundation, facts not in
evidence, and personal agendas can only disrupt that most worthy of
The countless comics creators who made the history we study deserve
our best efforts. To give them less dishonors their creativity and
hard work. Now if you’ll open your hymnals...
There is no finer publication devoted to comics history than Alter
Ego [TwoMorrows; $8.95 per issue]. Editor Roy Thomas and some of
the best and most knowledgeable historians and writers in comicdom
bring their readers amazing interviews and fascinating information
issue after issue.
Alter Ego #107 launched the magazine’s new format. Each issue now
features 84 full-color pages chock full of great stuff. There are
interviews with Batman “ghost” artists Dick Sprang and Jim Mooney,
the first conducted by Shel Dorf, the second Chris Boyko. Though
Sprang, Dorf, and Mooney are no longer with us, all three added to
our understanding of comics history.
Tony Tallerico is interviewed by Jim Amash in the second segment of
a multi-part interview. Though Tallerico has been one of the most
prolific creators in comics, no one has sat him down for this kind
of examination of his career. For my money, Amash is a contender
for best interviewer in comics.
That’s just the first half of Alter Ego #107. Michael T. Gilbert
concludes his epic six-part series on legendary Spirit letterer Abe
Kanegson. Bill Schelly presents photos from 1960s fandom. Shaun
Clancy reaches the penultimate chapter of his five-part interview
with Fawcett editor Roy Ald.
Alter Ego is one of the very few comics magazines I read from cover
to cover. Even when I think the subject is one in which I have no
interest, Thomas and his team surprise me. It’s the must-read mag
for anyone with any interest in comics history.
By their very nature, reprints of comics have a historical value as
they frequently open windows to how we lived in decades past. DC’s
The Adventures of Superboy [$39.99] collects the first 26 Superboy
stories from 1945-1947. However, before I can discuss those tales,
I have to talk about the misinformation by omission that diminished
my enjoyment of this book, however slightly.
DC’s launching of a Superboy series without the involvement of co-
creator Jerry Siegel was but one of many examples of the company’s
often lousy treatment of Siegel and co-creator Joe Shuster. In the
case of Superboy, Siegel pitched the idea to DC and DC rejected it.
Then, with Siegel in the service, DC decided it was a pretty good
idea after all and launched it in More Fun Comics without Siegel’s
involvement or prior knowledge.
This reprint collection properly credits Siegel with the script for
that first Superboy story. However, according to comics historian
Bob Hughes, “the script is word for word from a Siegel-written
Sunday newspaper version of Superman’s origin except for the last
Hughes believes DC lifted the newspaper script, had Shuster redraw
it, and maybe had writer Don Cameron write the last couple panels.
Hughes adds that Siegel was definitely in the service at the time
this was done. The only difference between the new Superboy strip
and Siegel’s pitch was that the latter didn’t have young Clark in
a costume. Sound familiar, Smallville fans?
Moving on from my ire at DC for once again playing fast and loose
when it comes to the truth and to giving proper due to the creators
of their legendary characters, I can’t say enough good things about
Cameron’s original Superboy stories. He wrote all but three of the
26 stories reprinted in this book.
Cameron’s Superboy stories are short and charming. Young Clark is
a well-mannered kid, but not the milksop he would pretend to be in
his older years. He does small-town guy things with his friends.
He has fun with his classmates. Whenever possible, he keeps the
Superboy stuff quiet. He is a clever youngster with a big heart,
indicative of an era before being a “bad boy” was considered to be
a good thing.
Bill Finger’s two stories are a mixed bag. In one, Superboy helps
an inventor’s son, glossing over the fact that the invention only
works because of Superboy’s involvement. But I really like the art
team of John Sikela and inker George Roussos.
Finger’s second story has Clark becoming a last-minute substitute
date for a popular girl. Both Clark and the popular girl tug a bit
at the reader’s heart as things go badly, but both come off well.
Win Mortimer did a lovely job on the art.
The Adventures of Superboy is a book to enjoy leisurely, a story or
two at a time. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
For the adventures of another comics superstar when he was a teen,
look no further than The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 1: 1972-
1974 by Tom Batiuk [Black Squirrel Books; $45]. The hefty 462-page
volume collects the early years of the strip with a foreword by
R.C. Harvey and an introduction by Batiuk. It’s a terrific-looking
book from the days when Funky, Les Moore, Crazy Harry, and the rest
of the now-adult characters were in high school. In the interest of
full disclosure, Batiuk is my friend and occasional employer, but
I was a fan of his work long before I met him.
In those earliest days, Funky Winkerbean was a day-by-day gag strip
whose continuity was more running jokes than the human stories that
have made the strip (and Batiuk’s Crankshaft) a more intimate part
of our lives. But there’s no doubt that, even from the start, this
strip was of our world. Even when the jokes were a bit corny and
the puns a bit groan-making, it spoke to that world. You’ll find
Funky was more than a gag strip, that its references to the issues
of the day were a key component of its success.
Reading this book, I had enormous fun seeing my favorite characters
from four decades ago and rediscovering characters who haven’t been
in the strip for almost as long. Sure, here in 2012, it’s jarring
to see hallway monitor Les Moore stationed behind a machine gun,
even one that doesn’t fire bullets and plays the school fight song
when you turn the crank, but the absurd and the real did and still
do mix well in Batiuk’s work.
The Complete Funky Winkerbean is a treasure. I recommend it to you
and look forward to future volumes.
History and romance combine in Yellow Rose of Texas: The Myth of
Emily Morgan [McFarland & Company; $24.95] by Douglas Brode and Joe
Orsak. Inspired by the song that became immensely popular in the
mid-nineteenth century, this graphic novel’s title character is a
woman of color who finds freedom and love during the Texas war for
Brodie, whose lengthy credits include “award-winning journalist,”
tells the story of Texas with a historian’s attention to detail and
Emily’s story with the skill of a literary detective. We may not
know if Emily actually existed, but Brodie’s script is definitely
both plausible and entertaining. This is his first graphic novel
and I’m hoping it’s far from his last.
Orsak has drawn a number of comics projects, including comics done
for museum exhibits and several comics biographies of sports stars.
In this graphic novel, also his first, he brings the characters to
life, moving them naturally through their scenes and telling their
story with clarity and emotion. To crib from his sports comics, he
knocked this one out of the park.
Yellow Rose of Texas is a delight. It’s great to see yet another
example of the stunning variety that can be found in the comics and
graphic novels of today.
Cartoonist Kate Beaton plays with history and literature as if they
were musicians and she was their virtuoso conductor. With each and
every laugh delivered by the strips collected in Hark! A Vagrant
[Drawn and Quarterly; $19.95], I somehow felt better educated than
I’d been before I read them. From the Bronte sisters to Nancy Drew
to an assortment of clueless white males throughout history, Beaton
turns them all into instruments of hilarity.
Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant webcomic, the source of the strips in this
book, won the 2011 Harvey Award for Best Online Comics Work. Time
magazine named this collection as one of the top ten fiction books
of the year. I’ve no doubt future accolades will follow and that
they will be many.
Hark! A Vagrant is a crazy smart, laugh out loud funny collection.
It’s a book you should own, a book you should consider giving out
as a gift to friends and loved ones, and a book you should ask your
local library to acquire for its patrons. For more reasons to love
Beaton’s work, visit her website.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella