Category Archives: comic book heroes

About Bruce Timm

“Today I thought I would tell you about Bruce Timm.”

“Bruce Timm?  Who the heck is he?”

“You know. That artist with that style… you know, the Batman guy.”

“You mean he played Batman?”

“No.  He designed Batman; The Animated Series.”

“Oh, that guy… the guy who draws girls really good.”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

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“He gave all the DC heroes their modern, animated look… their style and flair.  He made them angular, immediately identifiable, and powerful.”

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“Yeah, I think he not only did the Batman cartoon, all film noir and retro-cool, but the Superman series that followed it, the Justice League, and all the cartoon series and movies that went along with those.”

“But that’s not all he did, either, is it?”

“No, there’s more.  He wanted to be a comic book artist, but before he got into animation, Marvel and DC turned him down.”

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“I heard he worked at Filmation for a while.”

“Yes, he got a chance to draw and design characters for Blackstar, Flash Gordon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra; Princess of Power, and the Lone Ranger.

“Dang!  He was busy.  But only superhero stuff?”

“In 1989 he went to work for Warner Brothers.  He worked on Tiny Toon Adventures.”

“That Spielberg/Bugs Bunny thing?  The one with Buster and Babs Bunny?”

“Yeah, that one, believe it or not.”

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“Tell me more about the girls.  I want to hear about him drawing girls.  Wonder Woman in Justice League was hot.”

“Showing you is probably better than telling you.  Be prepared to cover your eyes, though.  He liked to draw the female figure nude and semi-naked.”

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Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics.

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“I like how he draws pretty girls.”

“You would.”

“He’s the artist you wish you could be, isn’t he?”

“Pretty much.  He’s about four years younger than me.  If I had gone the comic-book artist route instead of becoming a public school teacher, our careers might’ve been parallel.”

“Except he has talent.”

“Yeah, there’s that.”

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The Ultra-Mad Madness of Don Martin

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Born in 1931 and lasting in this crazy, mixed-up world until the year 2000, Don Martin was a mixy, crazed-up cartoonist for Mad Magazine who would come to be billed as “Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist.”    His greatest work was done during his Mad years, from 1956 (the year I was born… not a coincidence, I firmly believe) until his retirement in 1988.  And I learned a lot from him by reading his trippy toons in Mad from my childhood until my early teacher-hood.

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His style is uniquely recognizable and easily identifiable.  Nobody cartoons a Foon-man like Don Martin.

The googly eyes are always popped in surprise.  The tongue is often out and twirling.  Knees and elbows always have amazingly knobbly knobs.  Feet have an extra hinge in them that God never thought of when he had Adam on the drawing board.

And then there is the way that Martin uses sound effects.  Yes, cartoons in print don’t make literal sounds, but the incredible series of squeedonks and doinks that Martin uses create a cacophony of craziness in the mind’s ear.

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And there is a certain musicality in the rhyming of the character names he uses.  Fester Bestertester was a common foil for slapstick mayhem, and Fonebone would later stand revealed by his full name, Freenbeen I. Fonebone.

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And, of course, one of his most amazingly adventurous ne’er-do-well slapstick characters was the immeasurable Captain Klutz!

Here, there, and everywhere… on the outside he wears his underwear… it’s the incredible, insteadable, and completely not edible… Captain Klutz!

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If you cannot tell it from this tribute, I deeply love the comic genius who was Don Martin, Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist.  Like me he was obsessed with nudists and drawing anatomy.  Like me he was not above making up words with ridiculous-sounding syllables.  And like me he was also a purple-furred gorilla in a human suit… wait!  No, he wasn’t, but he did invent Gorilla-Suit Day, where people in gorilla suits might randomly attack you as you go about your daily life, or gorillas in people suits, or… keep your eye on the banana in the following cartoon.

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So, even though I told you about Bruce Timm and Wally Wood and other toon artists long before I got around to telling you about Don Martin, that doesn’t mean I love them more.  Don Martin is wacky after my own heart, and the reason I spent so much time immersed in Mad Magazine back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

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Tarzan and the Timeless Valley of Nostalgia

There was a time when Tarzan was one of the ruling heroes of my boyhood fantasies of power and self-fulfillment. And, while Tarzan was a cartoon show on Saturday morning, comics by Burne Hogarth, movies in the theater in color with Mike Henry, or a weekly series on TV with Ron Ely, he was always Johnny Weissmuller to me. Weissmuller who played both Tarzan and Jungle Jim in the Saturday afternoon black-and-white movies.

I have to admit, I didn’t identify with the character of Tarzan as much as I thought of myself like the character “Boy”, played by Johnny Sheffield in movies like “Tarzan Finds a Son”. It was a significant part of my boyhood to imagine myself being like Boy, free from practically all restraints, able to gad about the dangerous jungle nearly naked with monkey pals and no fear. If I got into trouble by believing my skills were greater than they really were, I would save myself with ingenuity, and, barring that, Tarzan would rescue me. And, believe it or not, sometimes there were fixes that Tarzan got into that he needed me and Cheetah to be creative and get him out of. I knew in my heart that one day real life would be like that, especially once I grew into Tarzan and stopped being just Boy. That idea was in my head so loudly that several times I went to Bingham Park Woods, stripped down, and played Boy in the Jungle.

As in the previous essay about Heroes of Yesteryear, I learned important things from Johnny Weissmuller on Saturday TV. He taught me that all you really needed, even in the darkest jungles of Africa, was confidence and courage. You could stand up to any deadly danger without the protection of any armor, practically naked, in fact, if only you had that heroic goodness of heart. The little boy I was then still believes that whole-heartedly even in the aging body of an old man.

So, Tarzan continues to live in my memory, a part of me, an essential part of my education. He is me and I am he. But only in my mind. Me in a loincloth, swinging on a vine now… and probably going splat like an overripe melon on the jungle floor… well, that is too ridiculous to even imagine being real anymore. Yet he lives on in me. And he battles the metaphorical leopard-people of modern life through me. Unarmored. Confident. And unafraid.

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How It Should Be… According to Mickey

A 1951 Schwinn Spitfire like mine in 1963 when the world was golden.

My bicycle was red. It was red and looked just like the ones that Captain Kangaroo had in his commercials that we watched on a black-and-white TV every day before we walked or rode our bicycle to school, across town a whole long seven blocks away. After school I could ride it out a whole mile and a half to Jack’s farm with Bobby and Richard and Mark the preacher’s kid to go skinny dipping in the cold creek in Jack’s South pasture. Jack was younger than any of us except Bobby. And it was a golden age.

Spiderman comic books and Avengers comic books cost twelve cents to own, but they were forbidden. And as much as we sneaked them and passed them around until they fell apart, usually in Bobby’s hands, we never knew that Dr. Wertham had gone to Congress to make our parents believe that comic books would make us gay and violent. He was a psychiatrist who wrote a book, so even if you didn’t believe him, you had to worry about such things.

I believed in Santa Claus until 1967. And after I found out, I only despaired a tiny little bit, because I began to understand you have to grow up. And adults can lie to you, even if they don’t do it to be mean. And the world is a hard place. And the golden age ended in November of 1963 when JFK was assassinated.

In June of 1968 I rode my bicycle out to the Bingham Park woods, Once there, I took off all my clothes and put them in the bicycle basket, and then I rode up and down the walking paths through the trees with nothing between me and God but my skin. I had a serious think about how life should be. All the while I was terrified that someone might see me. I was naked and vulnerable. A mere two years before that I had been sexually assaulted and was terrified of older boys, especially when I was naked and vulnerable. But I was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson. They were repeated World Series winners. And they beat the Yankees in the series in 1964. And more important than that, cardinals were the little red songbirds who never flew away when the winter came. You don’t give up in the face of hardship. You face the trouble. No matter how deep the snow may pile up.

And in 1969, the first man to walk on the moon showed that a Star Trek world was in reach of mankind. Star Trek was on every afternoon after school. I watched a lot of those episodes at Verner’s house on his family’s black-and-white TV. The Klingons were always bested or beaten because the crew of the Enterprise outsmarted them. You can solve the problems of the universe with science. I know this because of all the times Mr. Spock proved it to me not just by telling me so, but by showing me how you do it. And what you can achieve is greatly enhanced if you work together like Spock and Kirk and Bones… and sometimes Scotty always did.

So, what is the way it should be? What did Mickey decide while naked in the forest like a Dakota Sioux shaman on a spirit-quest?

JFK’s 104th birthday was on May 29th. Dr. Wertham has been dead for 40 years. Bob Gibson was 85 when he passed away in October of last year. Captain Kirk turned 90 in March of this year.

The Golden age is long gone. There is no single set of rules that can clearly establish how it should be now. But I like those ideas of how it should be that I established for myself while naked on a Schwinn Spitfire in a forest long ago.

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Comic Book Heroes Who are Older Than Me

I don’t know if you know this, but I am in reality older than Spiderman. I am also older than the Fantastic Four. All of the Avengers except for Captain America are younger than me. Well, you could argue that Thor and Hercules were around longer than me. And the Sub Mariner, And the original Human Torch, the one that Ultron would eventually turn into the Vision. But I am turning 65 this year, and only the Golden Age comic-book characters are actually older than me.

Superman, from the date of his actual creation, not first publication, is turning 88 this year. Schuster and Seigal drew the first Superman strips in 1933.

At the beginnning of June, 2021 the Spirit will be 81 years old. Created by Will Eisner in 1940 the Spirit got an entire full-color page in more than 20 newspapers with a total circulation of more than 5 million copies nationwide. Denny Colt got his super crime-fighting powers by basically being a ghost, back from the dead to punish his killers and other criminals every Sunday until 1952.

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Sheena, Queen of the Jungle is turning 83 this year, being created in 1938 by Jerry Iger working with Will Eisner, among others. She looks pretty good for her age. But, consider this, she is based on the character Rima the Jungle Girl from William Henry Hudson’s 1904 novel Green Mansions. Rima, if she had become a comic book character too would be 117 this year.

The Shadow, too, is pretty damn old. He celebrates his 91st birthday this year if you consider his pulp fiction origin in 1930. He was also the narrator of a radio show before actually becoming a comic book hero. The old man of this essay was a billionaire who could become invisible thanks to his mind-control powers. And he also had peerless martial arts prowess. He is an obvious inspiration to Bob Kane’s Batman.

Batman and Robin, as understudies to the Shadow are virtually the same age. Batman was created in 1939 in Detective Comics, and Robin would appear for the first time before the year was out. That makes them both 82 years old this year.

The first time they appeared in their own title was in 1940, so that makes the Joker, Alfred Pennyworth, and Catwoman 81 years old.

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Alex Raymond’s imitation Buck Rodgers comic, Flash Gordon, first appeared in newspapers in 1934. That makes Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov all celebrate their 87th birthday this year.

The Green Hornet is 85 years old.

Wonder Woman is 80 years old.

So, even though I am old and creaky, reading comics with the older superheroes in them makes me feel like a kid again. An old, creaky kid.

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The Return of Muck Man

Since I have so far miraculously survived the 2020 pandemic, I have nothing better to do then to relate the whiff-a-typical story of the world’s smelliest superhero as he makes his semi-triumphant return to the public eye… like a horrific mud-ball to the face.

If you recall the newspaper accounts of mild-mannered reporter Dark Bent, or even if you don’t, we recall that Muck Man was put into a community-imposed exile until such time as he would actually take a bath with soap and water. Being unable to find soap and water that was even willing to get within a quarter mile of him, MM started with sand baths in Death Valley until he was finally able to sand-blast away the outer hard crust of his personal odor.

You need to remember too at this point that MM’s super power is olfactory based. He alone among heroes had a personal stench so powerful that criminals would swoon into a coma at the mere mention of his name.

But after significant sand-baths, and once that horrific outer layer was gone, the water spirits were unable to determine who MM really was, and so allowed him to bathe in Lake Michigan where the water’s own funkiness managed to partly hide MM’s rancid smell. His super-scent finally hidden in the folds of Lake Michigan’s highly-polluted, almost water-like contents, MM’s country-encompassing foulness no longer was detectable to MM’s arch-nemesis.

The Monkey King, Dumbold J. Trumpaloo.

Meanwhile the nefarious villain known as the absolute pinnacle of oleaginous corruption, the Monkey King, had hidden his swamp-monstery monsterness in the swamps of Washington D. C. where they were barely discernible in the midst of swamp gas and elephant ideas. His plan to take over the USA was going swimmingly. The Pachyderm Party was uniformly aligned behind him ready to blanket the countryside with toxic elephant poo. And, believing that if they could hold onto power long enough for elephant poo to fossilize into stone, they planned to dominate everything forever.

So, in secret, in his newly smell-reduced Muck Lair, Muck Man began planning the greatest stink-assault ever launched.

“But wait just a second, Dad!” cried Muck Lad. “You will be defeated again if you don’t come to the realization that your super-power and his super-villain’s power are really the same power. You can’t fight stink with stink.”

“Well, then, how do you defeat a super-evil super-villain with super-stink power coming out of his mouth directly from his very good brain?”

“Well…” said Muck Woman (who insists she is Muck Woman, NOT Muck Girl, even though she’s MM’s daughter) “You don’t fight fire with fire… you have to use water. So, get almost-squeaky-clean Uncle Joe B. to hold a convention before his about how the next president should help the country come out of the pandemic with fewer additional deaths and help the economy to recover by taxing the people who can afford to fix the problems, and let the American public compare it to the Monkey King’s elephant-poo festival. That way the villain can practically defeat himself.”

And so, according to mild-mannered reporter Dark Bent, that’s what Muck Man did to defeat the super-villain again. This time without generating a super-stench. And hopefully that will lead to a less-smelly world.

“But…” complained Muck Man, I was left holding on to the the world’s largest weaponized super-fart. And it exploded in my pants. Now, I have to live with consequences.”

” At least we can take comfort in the fact that Mickey is somehow still alive. And a cleaner world is better for all of us.” proclaimed Muck Woman.

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Tarzan and the Timeless Valley of Nostalgia

There was a time when Tarzan was one of the ruling heroes of my boyhood fantasies of power and self-fulfillment. And, while Tarzan was a cartoon show on Saturday morning, comics by Burne Hogarth, movies in the theater in color with Mike Henry, or a weekly series on TV with Ron Ely, he was always Johnny Weissmuller to me. Weissmuller who played both Tarzan and Jungle Jim in the Saturday afternoon black-and-white movies.

I have to admit, I didn’t identify with the character of Tarzan as much as I thought of myself like the character “Boy”, played by Johnny Sheffield in movies like “Tarzan Finds a Son”. It was a significant part of my boyhood to imagine myself being like Boy, free from practically all restraints, able to gad about the dangerous jungle nearly naked with monkey pals and no fear. If I got into trouble by believing my skills were greater than they really were, I would save myself with ingenuity, and, barring that, Tarzan would rescue me. And, believe it or not, sometimes there were fixes that Tarzan got into that he needed me and Cheetah to be creative and get him out of. I knew in my heart that one day real life would be like that, especially once I grew into Tarzan and stopped being just Boy. That idea was in my head so loudly that several times I went to Bingham Park Woods, stripped down, and played Boy in the Jungle.

As in the previous essay about Heroes of Yesteryear, I learned important things from Johnny Weissmuller on Saturday TV. He taught me that all you really needed, even in the darkest jungles of Africa, was confidence and courage. You could stand up to any deadly danger without the protection of any armor, practically naked, in fact, if only you had that heroic goodness of heart. The little boy I was then still believes that whole-heartedly even in the aging body of an old man.

So, Tarzan continues to live in my memory, a part of me, an essential part of my education. He is me and I am he. But only in my mind. Me in a loincloth, swinging on a vine now… and probably going splat like an overripe melon on the jungle floor… well, that is too ridiculous to even imagine being real anymore. Yet he lives on in me. And he battles the metaphorical leopard-people of modern life through me. Unarmored. Confident. And unafraid.

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More Illustrating AeroQuest

I am nearing the completion of the rewrite of part two of AeroQuest. Part of that is getting all the illustrations I want to include done. So, here are a few more that I have been working on.

For those who might be wondering, AeroQuest 1 and AeroQuest 2 are comic science fiction, and I have chosen to rewrite them with lots of illustrations since it is a work of fiction that I might’ve done as a graphic novel if only I didn’t have arthritis in my hands.

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Illustrating AeroQuest

As I am editing and rewriting my first published novel to turn it into a novel series of at least four books, I have been enjoying rounding up and editing old artwork to illustrate it. I have been taking advantage of the fact that you can, after a fashion, plug illustrations into the manuscript and have it come through as acceptably good in the final Amazon publication.

The story comes from adventure logs of a space-fantasy role-playing game called Traveller. I played the game with small handfuls of high school kids whose player characters are now the main characters of the story (after modifications and considerable censorship.

The illustrations, a lot of them, are drawings of the characters that I did in pen and ink back in the 1980’s.

We went through multiple generations of player characters, some of whom were practically immortal, and others that died horrible deaths after a few episodes.

Most of the acting in the RPG was done for humor’s sake, and so my Sci-Fi tale turns out to be more of comedy than anything else.

Amanda is Ged’s daughter, though the player was not related to Ged’s player.

Rescuing the novel from the sorry state it was in from being an awkward first attempt at publishing done with a publisher that later had to be sued and put on trial for fraud has been an interesting and rewarding experience. These stories will never be among my best works, but they were definitely a learning experience. And rewriting them is a learning experience itself, living the story all over again with significant changes.

The places are the same, but as a satire, they had to be re-named in many instances as the planet’s names and their make-up were copied from other books and movies. But they were rewritten by the players themselves as everything was turned into comedy and farce. Hence, the planet Mongo ruled by Emperor Ming, became the planet Mingo ruled by Emperor Mong. These are obvious references that are re-named in ways that give us a laugh or a wince.

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I doubt it is obvious by just looking at these drawings, but by reducing their size, the line drawings are improved to a high degree.

Illustrating AeroQuest has been fun. Maybe, at some point, it will even prove profitable. But ultimately, it is definitely a thing worth doing.

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Ken Akamatsu

Ken Akamatsu

Japanese Manga is a complicated and difficult-to-understand thing. Of course, it is also a very beautiful art form when done well. There are many features of Japanese culture that play a prominent part in the comic book genre known as manga.

It is a strange fusion of the art of Meiji culture in Pre-War Japan and the Western influence of the U.S. Occupation forces after WWII. You read the comic from right to left, opposite to American comics, and the dialogue in speech balloons go from top to bottom rather than horizontally.

A manga by Akamatsu

I first discovered Ken Akamatsu’s manga brilliance in 2004 through Half-Price Books copies of his manga series Negima! I was reading the last two Harry Potter novels at that time and the Harry Potter-ness of the main character, Negi Springfield is what attracted me. He is a ten-year-old boy who is secretly a wizard. He is also so accelerated in school that they make him an English teacher in a Middle School where they give him an all-girl class. Of course, Negi is definitely NOT like Harry Potter. I learned that after three books worth of Negi’s magic sneeze that blows girl’s dresses off and all the other accidentally-seeing-middle-school-girls-naked jokes. Gushering nose-bleeds and the most-important girl character, Asuna, constantly ending up standing in front of the older instructor she has a crush on stark naked soon convinced me that Japanese humor and sense of adventure are very different from their American counterparts.

Negi Springfield is the little guy in the middle… Of course he’s the teacher.

The students in this ten-year-old teacher’s class are a diverse group of girls. One is a deadly ninja. Another is a dead-shot gunslinger. A third is an expert swordswoman who fights with a katana in each hand. Several of them wield magic like their teacher.

The adventures in this multi-book story are filled to the brim with magical battles, martial arts, demon summoning, Japanese festivals, and the many ups and downs of young love.

There are lots of instances of girls losing their clothing. Some of it happens in Japanese outdoor baths and spas. Some happens by magic. And some happens completely by accident.

Though, the writer seems to focus on it an awful lot.

Ken Akamatsu has been at the business of creating very similar manga stories for many years. He started in 1994 with A.I. Love You.

He has written three series since.

Love Hina came before Negima!

UQ Holder! is his current manga series.

So, I love the artwork of Ken Akamatsu. And it isn’t necessarily the story that makes it so good. The stories are chaotic and full of things that make very little sense to American sensibilities. And I do like artfully done naked girls. But the real attraction for me is something that I can’t quite name.

I just know it is there. Ken Akamatsu definitely has it. Whatever it is. (Maybe it IS naked girls?)

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