Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Norman Saunders: Monster for Sale

Norman Saunders is probably a pretty familiar name to most visitors to this blog. Amongst citizens of Geektown, he is best known for painting the Mars Attacks card set for Topps in the early 60s. My first encounter with his work was the set of Batman cards that my uncle handed down to me. I haven’t a clue what happened to those cards, and I’d give almost anything to see them again.

What people might not know is that Saunders did a lot of painted covers for pulps and comics. Perhaps his comic book work is not discussed much these days because, he never worked for either Marvel or DC. He provided a series of spectacular covers for Ziff-Davis’ short-lived comic book line (I’m still not certain if any covers were used both for pulps and comics – anyone know?) and a few for Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated, as the reprinted titles evolved from line drawn to painted covers.

One of Saunders’ painted covers recently sold at auction. The cover to Classics Illustrated #26 is astonishing. First of all, it grabs your attention because it deals with an oft-forgotten passage from Mary Shelley’s book, as the Monster flees across the Artic ice. Those only familiar with the Universal movies might be wondering what in the name of Boris Karloff is going on. Secondly, the image of the Monster is perfect – looking much more like a 19th century brute rather than the patchwork creation of the movies. This is a beautiful, beautiful example of Norman Saunders’ work and it’s easy to understand why it sold for more than $13,000. Although, when compared to the prices paid for by other covers drawn by the ‘greats’, this was a bargain.

Why or why did I have to buy a new house and procreate???

Friday, November 23, 2007

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Out of This World #4

Every Ditko fan knows that if you want to see some really great work by Ditko, you’ve got to check out Charlton. Some of Charlton’s 50s titles are not really on the fanboy radar screen, which is too bad because there’s some great stuff in there. Out of this World is definitely one of the coolest of Charlton’s late 50s offerings. I’ve found these books to be very tough to track down and often command high prices.

The whole series features awesome Ditko covers, and among the best is issue #4. It is the mixture of concept and execution that makes it a real attention grabber. The black and white right side of the cover may have come across as dull, if not for feeling of ‘motion’ that Ditko infuses. Our victim’s body language is superb as he is at that moment of confusion (just before fear) when he does not understand what it happening. Ditko adds a really nice touch with the hat falling off, as we don’t know in which dimension it will land. I also love the street sign – the kind of thing that Bob Powell did all of the time. The Out of This World cover gallery is a perfect example of how to draw effective covers, but this one really connects with me and I’d love to track down a copy.

Review: Green Arrow - Black Canary Wedding Special

Considering the creators know that we’ve been waiting 40 years for this moment, I’m more than a little disappointed with the book. I’m left feeling that the best they could come up with is a riff on the first Fantastic Four Annual. The dialogue may be more irony-tinged than what we saw back in ’66, but the overall template is the same. Perhaps it is an homage and if so, that’s cool but it lacked the charm that someone like Darwyn Cooke might have brought to the table. I’ve actually really enjoyed most of the new Green Arrow series (I own the first 5 or 6 trades), but this just has a different tone.

Winnick is misfiring on all cylinders here, going through the motions of clich├ęd pre-wedding jokes and innuendo with topics such as forced abstinence, male strippers. Amanda Conner’s super cutsey faces just do not work for me (where are you Phil Hester?) as every woman looks like Katchoo. Two double page spreads are meant to impress, but result in bringing the proceedings to a stiff and awkward halt. Interesting ending though – I just hope they are not pulling a Travis Morgan stunt again. All in all, it was not worth the h40-year wait - let's hope they renew their vows in a quiet, rainy ceremony in Seattle soon. I'm sure the flowers will be nice. Grade: C-

Friday, November 16, 2007

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: House of Mystery #277

DC pulled the old Charlton bait and switch with this one. One of the strongest Ditko covers in a decade, but not a single pencil mark from the Sturdy One inside. Oh well, this one is worth tracking down for the cover alone, although it does have a nice little Pasko/Chaykin tale from which I learned my first Shakespeare lines. That's all obiter dicta, as the cover's the thing here. Wow, just wow. It was very powerful stuff, showing that Ditko was a master of design and atmosphere (a mixture of oppression and claustrophobia).

For some reason, DC never had Ditko do many covers for non-Ditko driven titles. That was a grave mistake, as this covers is stronger than 50 Ernie Chan covers. Those cackling faces are enough to give anyone anxiety. This cover has nothing to do with any of the interior stories (personally, I think it's a real stretch to link it to the 'Limited Engagement' story) , and I've often wondered if it was simply part of the DC inventory. This Ditko beauty grabbed my attention as a kid, and it still does a quarter century later.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Boob Tube Round Up

The Office
What a tease. 1 hour episodes to start the season – almost too much of a good thing. Almost. Now we’re back to 30 minutes. It’s been a good year, but a few of the episodes just didn’t quite do it for me (my expectations are waaay high). There has been a lot of classic stuff, including the Shrute B&B, Michael running down Meredith and Dwight’s Second Life flying paper salesman. I once though this was the best half hour on TV, but now I may have to lean towards:

30 Rock
They’ve sorted out what makes things work on this stuff – and it ain’t prolonged scenes in the writer’s room. Seinfeld’s appearance was ‘Meh’, but the rest of the year has been great. Jenna’s weight gain from all that pizza was perfectly played out – you don’t see shows running with a gag for more than one episode. This will be a show I’ll be happy to watch on DVD 10 years from now.

I liked the concept of a show set in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Great on-location shooting and references like ‘he’s got a girlfriend over in Algiers’ – make it all feel pretty authentic. Some decent storylines so far – nice variety. I’ve heard it’s struggling in the ratings, and that too bad as this show has promise, but they do need to help Anthony Anderson’s character down from the soapbox from time to time.

Bionic Woman
I tried it. I wanted to like it. It just didn’t happen. I just don’t find myself caring for any of the characters. I’m not sure they pick the right lead – more like the Robotic Woman. I gave up after 3 episodes.

Amazing Race
Phil still needs to work hard to regain my trust after that Family Edition fiasco. I’m not in love with any of the teams at this stage (although the Goths are fun, but saying ‘Oh my Goth’ is beyond lame. I really like this show when they test people’s ability to travel in new places (getting push onto a train in India etc…), I feel like they’ve had it pretty easy so far (Ireland ain't exactly Senegal). Here’s hoping they hit some tougher destinations soon.

Men In Trees
I’m not entirely sure why, but my wife and I have stuck with this show. This kind of thing isn’t normally our cup of tea, but we were both happy that it was returning. I’m fairly certain Anne Heche has some kind of work done on her eyes and they are kind of freaking me out. Beyond that, this show is the television equivalent of nice mug of hot chocolate. Not enough John Amos this year, though!

My Name is Earl
They’re losing me. I’d like so see more Crab Man and less Michael Rappaport. There such a thing as too many guest stars. A well placed Sparky Anderson will do the trick every so often.

Kid Nation
I have seen the future and it is lazy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

87,356th Person to Declare his Love for Sarah Silverman

Yup – I’m the 87,356th person to declare his love for Sarah Silverman. I could have seemed more hip if I’d posted this in 1999 or so. The good news is, my wife loves her too so I’ve got a co-stalker, should it ever got that far. Why all the love in the household these days? Well, it’s the Sarah Silverman Program - definitely one of the best 30 minutes of the week. After years of ill-fitting projects (School of Rock comes to mind), she’s finally found the perfect outlet for her energy. Jesus is Magic was a the appetizer, and this show is the main course.

Is she perfect? No. Yes, I know that her jokes wouldn’t be as funny if they came out of a less attractive mouth. Yes, I’m fully aware that a good number of her jokes fall flat. Yes, her relationship with Jimmy Kimmel does creep me out a bit. The thing is, when it works, it is a beautiful thing. People use the whole “Coke out my nose” line a lot, but I’m not much of a LOL kind of guy. I did almost choke to death a couple of weeks ago watching this show. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: Lone Ranger #9

I hadn’t bought any comics in several months, as part of a self-imposed moratorium while I get my finances in orders. During that period, I’ve somehow become an eBay Power Seller; a pretty sad state of affairs. I stopped by an LCS to see what caught my eye. I walked out with a half dozen new books, and will share my thoughts on the over the next couple of weeks.

One of the books I picked up was Lone Ranger #9, from Dynamite. As a big, big fan of the original Dell series, I was sufficiently interested in this series to buy the first two issues. While they were good, I wasn’t really knocked out and was disappointed by the snail-like pacing. It wasn’t bad, but it takes a lot for me to buy floppies month to month. I thought I’d give the book a second chance, and although I am happy to report that it hasn’t gotten any worse, it also hasn’t gotten any better.

I find myself a bit confused immediately as we’ve got a slightly cryptic story here, with two separate plots that I imagine will come together at some point. I’ve either entered into the middle of a story arc, or the writer is just throwing me into the middle of the action and we’ll sort things out as we roll along. We are simultaneous watching LR and Tonto help someone seek revenge and observing a bad guy stirring up trouble elsewhere. I like that technique when it works well, I’m just not so sure Brett Matthews was able to pull it off here. I feel like the first 20 pages were just window dressing. The pacing is better than the first couple of issues and things move along briskly. The climax loses some of its punch because Sergio Cariello’s choice of facial expression on the Lone Ranger just before the shocking ending. His artwork was otherwise quite solid – good storytelling a he nails the Wild West quite well. I’m also not in love with the characterization of Tonto – he just comes across as a single-note Native version of Wolverine.

All in all, it was an ok read that left me feeling dissatisfied. It’s certainly not terrible, though and it was good enough to get me to check out another issue at some point in the no too distant future. Grade: B-

Friday, November 02, 2007

Abraham Lincoln Covers

Honest Abe met and early and violent death, but his spirit lives on (often quite literally) in funnybooks. I don’t think any President has come close to Abraham Lincoln in terms of comic book covers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he more cover appearances than all other US President combined.

Let’s start with a pretty sweet and innocent cover (although some would see just a wee hint of homo eroticism here) from Classics Illustrated. As not quite a century had passed since Lincoln’s death, it’s obvious that the good folks at Gilberton do not want to disrespect the dead. Abe’s early years are the focus of this comic, and those early years apparently included some bare chested wrestling. I’ve never been to Springfield, so I don’t know if it’s still all the rage. At least, I'm pretty sure that this is a scene from his young life, perhaps it's some sort of underground cage match with Jefferson Davis. I can't recall, haven't read this one in a while.

What a difference a few years make. We are now in the 60s and ACG’s editors obviously feel that enough time has passed for the nation to heal. Here we have a mad scientist trying to bring Abe back to life, perhaps with a view to ending the conflict in Vietnam. May I just say that I love Kurt Schaffenberger and his ACG covers as Lou Wahl as so much fun that that they should be against the law. Luckily, the mad scientist work out all of the kinks in the system on people like Martin Van Buren and Taft.

From what I can tell, President Lincoln played a supporting role for a while in the Scalphunter series from Weird Western Tales. The President would send our friend Scalpy out on missions that only a white guy dressed as an Indian could pull off. I guess they had a few too many pints of Federal Ale one night and decided to do a Civil War era version of Over the Top. I haven’t read this one, but if I ever see in for sale you can be sure that it will be added to the Lincoln collection. Nice to see George Washington making a sneaky little cameo here.

Captain America’s role as the symbol of a nation obviously doesn’t sit well with the Lincoln Memorial statue, who tries to remind the U.S. that he’s the guy that kept the country together and freed the slaves by taking down Mr. Rogers. By the time the statue from the Jefferson Memorial arrived on the scene to join in the melee, Cap and Abe had settled their differences together and decided to work together to bring down HYDRA. Anyone who has ever visited the Lincoln Memorial knows very well that you'd see a lot more than just a couple of bystanders.

I have no idea what’s going here, but it's such an awesome Joe Kubert cover that I couldn't pass it up. At first, it simply looks like the Lincoln Memorial, but wait - he's flesh coloured. Maybe the whole time, the statue has simply been an enlarged Lincoln in a stated of suspended animation. In the future, pollution got so bad that Congress voted to have a space suit place on the statue to protect Lincoln until he saw fit to return to the land of the living. Many of these late 70s/early 80s Kubert covers had little to do with the interiors, so it's possible that Lincoln doesn't even make an appearance. I've got to track this one down.