Tag Archives: comic book

Happy Birthday, Carl Barks

Carl Barks was born on March 27th, 1901. So, today is his 118th birthday. If you have no idea who I’m even talking about, then you were never a kid and a comic book fan in the 1960s. Carl Barks is both Uncle Scrooge’s father and Donald Duck’s stepfather.

Carl is a personal art hero of mine. I grew to adulthood on the adventures of his plucky ducks doing duck adventures in Duckburg. I have written about my devotion to Carl in this blog before. In fact, here is the link; https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2014/09/27/carl-barks-master-of-the-duck-comic/

That’s essentially true. A large part of my character as a junior high school English teacher was based on what I learned about mentoring from Scrooge McDuck and about teaching important facts from Gyro Gearloose.

Carl was not immune to criticism. Cartoonists get blow-back, a fact of life. But he overcame it with a wry sense of humor and interesting views of how you pursue goals in life. He had a firm sense of fair-play and justice. You could get actual morals to the stories in a Carl Barks’ duck cartoon.

The characters were not perfect. They all had glaring flaws, the heroes right along with the villains. Of course, the villains never learned to change their ways, while the heroes often learned to improve themselves by working on the weaknesses, and it wasn’t all about becoming a gazillionaire (a term I think Barks may have invented).

I even learned a good deal about adventure story-telling from Carl Barks’ comic books about Duck people doing ducky stuff that was really about people doing people-y stuff in the real world. Yes, people in the world around me are very Carl Barks’ ducky.

So, happy birthday, Carl. 118 years young. And he’s only been gone from our world since August of 2000. He still talks to me and teaches me through his Duck comics.

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Wally Wood

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A self-portrait by Wallace Wood.

I am a bit of a cartoonist for a reason.  I started drawing cartoons at the age of five.  I read everything in the Sunday funny pages, not just for the jokes.  I poured over the drawings and copied some.  I drew Dagwood Bumstead and Blondie.  I drew Lil’ Abner and Charlie Brown and Pogo.  Cartoonists were heroes to me.

But my parents wanted to protect me from the evils of comic books.  Superheroes were off limits most of the time.  Things that are associated with evil were out of the question.  So Daredevil was beyond reach.  And Mad Magazine was full of socialist ideas and led kids down the dark path of satire.  So the truth is, I didn’t discover Wally Wood until I was in college.  His corrupting influence didn’t take hold of me until I was older and full of hormones.  Ah, youth and the propensity for sin!  Wally taught me that cartoons could be real.

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Wally Wood was one of the original artists working for EC comics who formed Mad Magazine with it’s spoofs and irreverent humor.  Wood worked together with the Great Will Eisner on the Spirit.  He went on to work for Marvel on the comic book Daredevil where he innovated the red suit and double-D logo, as well as doing the primary story-telling that brought that comic book from the bottom of the Marvel stack to almost the very top.  His work on Daredevil resonates even until today where there is now a big controversy that the popular show on Netflix does not list Wood among the creators of Daredevil in their credits.  I must remember to complain about that later.

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But the thing that drew me to Wood more than anything was the realistic style that he brought to the unreal realm of cartoons.  The man could draw!  He did marvelous detail work and was a leader in the development of dynamic composition in an artistic industry that tolerated and even often encouraged really poor-quality drawing.  He took the comic book from the age of the glorified stick figure to an age of cinematic scope and know-how.  Here it is revealed in his classic break-down of innovative comic-book panels;

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But it is also important to realize that the more power you put into art, the more it can blow up and hurt people.  Wood had a dark side that went a bit darker as he went along.  He had an issue with the kind of false front comics had to throw up in front after the anti-comics crusade of psychologist Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of Innocents.  He is probably the artist behind the cartoon poster The Disneyland Memorial Orgy.  He started his own cartoon studio that produced increasingly erotic and pornographic comics like Sally Forth, Cannon, and Gangbang.  He became increasingly ill, lost the sight in one eye, suffered severe headaches, and eventually committed suicide in 1981.  With great power comes great responsibility, and we are not all superheroes in the end.  But I will always admire and emulate the work of this great artist… and selfishly wish he could’ve lived to create more of the wonderful art he gave us.

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Supergirl (Another Review from the Uncritical Critic)

20151029_124840I watched the new Supergirl TV show on CBS via the internet, and I have to say… Wow!  Now, I am not that big of a Supergirl fan.  The comic book from my overly-massive comic book collection from 40-plus years of being a juvenile reader at heart is the only example I can find to illustrate Supergirl.  And I only own that one because my eldest son wanted it at age 11 because of the bare-midriff dress in the cover illustration.  I have never been all that fixated on Kara Jor-El’s belly button myself.  But don’t get me started on a discussion of superhero babes with bare body parts in comics… well, because I will end up telling you things about myself I really don’t want you to know.  But I do know enough of the Superman mythos to appreciate what the TV show has done with this character.

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Superman himself has been a part of my life ever since I can remember.  I remember him in black-and-white as George Reeves from the time I was first allowed to pick TV shows for myself.

So, I watched this Supergirl show last night in spite of the fact that critics I have read basically hated it.  I don’t actually understand their disdain.  It had everything I love about comic books.  The characters were simply drawn and two-dimensional, which is exactly what a comic book character should be.  Kara was given a back-story that matches the comic book mythos quite well, and yet, other characters like Jimmy Olsen and her adopted sister are clearly innovative and new.  The villain was life-and-death terrible in the way that comic book villains are supposed to be.  He even died at the end of the episode as comic book villains are supposed to do in order to surprise us when they come back to life as comic book villains always do sooner or later.  Everyone seems to love the CW’s newest version of The Flash on TV because it has that distinctive funny/violent comic book bravado about it.  So why didn’t they see the same thing in this new show?  I think, with time, this new show will prove them wrong.  I like the lost-little-girl-turned-superhero story presented in this first episode.  I went in expecting not to like it, and was bedazzled and befuddled and be-everythinged  that you want this kind of show to do to you.

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I will not try to tell you that you should watch the show.  If you are comic-book nutty like I am, you have probably already seen this show, and nothing I could say or do would have a ghost of a chance of keeping you away from it, if that was what I wanted to accomplish.  And I know that many people hate this kind of thing with a passion.  But, being honest here… something I am sure you are aware I rarely ever intentionally do… I want you to watch it so it will become popular and stay on the air.  After all, a TV show like this will generate more dolls and toys to collect.  Ta-ta-ta- TAAAH!!!

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It’s a Nerd Thing

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Last night my family and I finally got to see the new Avengers movie.  For me, it was a religious experience… even my wife, who never discusses my comic-book obsessions without raising at least one eyebrow, likes the Avengers movies… so I was able to share this sacred ritual with the whole family (minus the son in the Marine Corps who has already seen it.)  The new wave of Marvel movies is a godsend.  They are something that feeds my story-addicted tapeworm in ways that movies never have before.  It meshes with my need to read comic books

If you hadn’t figured out the nerd facts by now, I am a comic book collector.  I used to subscribe to Avengers, two Spiderman books, Iron Man, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, the X-men, Daredevil, and Howard the Duck.  Shamefully that is not a complete list.Avengers4

A key to my love of the new Marvel movies is that the films actually consider the old comic-book story-lines while at the same time being willing to take the risk of changing the relationships between characters, inventing new characters, re-imagining old characters, and even (shudder) killing off characters.  (Of course you realize, in comic books, all heroes eventually die, but none of them stay dead… through the miracle of comic book story-telling… Selah!) Avengers1

Okay, now here’s what we comic-book nerds call a spoiler alert.  This movie we saw last night provided changes to the Marvel universe that positively thrilled and enchanted me.  Hawkeye, the bowman with entirely self-taught swashbuckler skills and no super-powers was revealed to have a wife and kids.  His lady-Avenger friend Natasha, the Black Widow, has apparently known about the family all along and is even friends with his kids.  Where once we presumed a romance between the two, we now find a redefinition of the relationship that changes everything.  It even allows the story to set up a tragic romance between Natasha and Bruce Banner where she utters the classic line, “We are really both monsters,” in a very tender and heart-wrenching moment.  The line is later repeated by Tony Stark to the Hulk, creating a beautifully done theme of the duality between hero and monster, hero and villain.Avengers3

Two new Avengers are introduced and their tragic back-story is added to the hero vs. villain, hero vs. monster thematic mix.  When I first started reading Avengers comics in the barber shop in my home town back in the 60’s Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, were already a fixed part of the Avengers, but their complex and convoluted back story as mutant children of Magneto raised by Gypsies had not yet been developed.

These beloved characters have always had a sinister side.  You never knew for sure if you could trust them or count on them.  They were children of Magneto and had been a part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  Wanda’s powers were dark, unpredictable, and potentially world-consuming.  In this movie they are given a different back story, attached first to the Hydra villain Baron Strucker, and then to the ultimate villain of the piece, Ultron himself, the indestructible and omnipresent metal man.

The final piece of the delicious Avengers 2 pie is Ultron himself.  Much like Thanos in the first movie, Ultron causes nerd-spasms in the love organs of comic-book nuts like me.  Especially when such love and care was taken to get the story right.  In the comics he was created by Hank Pym, also known as Ant-Man, and the movie changes his creator into Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.  But the essential angst of the character, a Frankenstein’s monster sort of story, is still there.  He both loves and hates his creator.  There is an extended metaphor in Ultron’s eventual creation of the more human-like android Vision.  Ultron keeps alluding to Pinocchio by repeating the phrase, “There are no strings on me,” and the Vision is portrayed as his attempt become a “real boy”.  Yet, it is still a Frankenstein story.  Just as Stark is afraid of his creation and fears his own destruction at Ultron’s hands, Ultron is most afraid of Vision, and the final piece of the Ultron personality is regretfully extinguished by Vision.

Now that my book report on this movie experience is drawing to a close, it is safe to conclude that the reason I loved it so much, besides the fact that I could share comic-book lore with my non-comic-book-reading family, is the depth of ideas in this movie, and the chance it gave me to reconnect with old stories, re-percolate them, and brew something entirely new.

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Krazy Kat

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I told you before about a cartoonist from ancient ‘Toon Times named Fontaine Fox.  He was a master, and I acknowledge him as one of my greatest inspirations.  But he was not the original master mentor for my teenage ‘Toon Training.  That honor goes to the inestimable George Herriman.  He was the Krazy Kartoonist who died more than a decade before I was born, yet, through his Kreation, Krazy Kat, did more to warp my artistic bent into Krazy Kartooniana Mania than anybody else.  I discovered him first.  I found him through Komic books and the Kard Katalog at the local library.  I own a copy of the book I pictured first in this post.  It is the first Kartoon book I ever bought.  I couldn’t post a picture of my actual book here because I have read it so often in the past forty years that the Kover has Kome off.  It is now more of folder of loose pages than a book.

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Krazy Kat is a newspaper Komic strip that ran all around the world from 1913 to 1944.  Comics Journal would rate Krazy Kat as the greatest work of Komic art of the 20th Century.  Art critics hailed it as serious art, and it fits snugly into the surrealist movement of Salvador Dali and others.  It has been cited as a major influence on the work of other artists such as Will Eisner, Charles M. Schulz, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Bill Watterson, and Chris Ware.

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The centerpiece of the strip is a love triangle.  Krazy Kat the Kharacter is a feline who may be female or may be male but is definitely deeply in love with Ignatz Mouse.  The Krazed rodent hopped up on seriously stinky fromage (cheese to us non-French speakers), is Konstantly throwing bricks at Krazy’s head… obviously out of serious disdain, however, Krazy sees it as a confession of love.  Offisa Pup, the police watchdog, wants to jail the malevolent mouse for battery and protect the precious Kat, whom he obviously loves with an unrequited love.  Explanations are superfluous in the weird world of Krazy Kat.  How can I explain the charm, the humor, the good-natured violence of a strip such as this?  There are echoes of it in Tom and Jerry animated cartoons, but nothing like it really exists anywhere else.  Krazy has her own unique language, a language that you naturally learn to interpret as you read the strip.  Ignatz exhibits psychotic frustrations that he takes out on the world around him in our name, that we might experience hubris at his expense.  And what’s with that mysterious sack of “Tiger Tea” that Krazy carries about and keeps a Klosely guarded “sekrit”?

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I honestly hope you will give Krazy Kat a thorough “look-see”.  Because if you like Kartoons at all… and it doesn’t have to be the Krazy Kooky love of a seriously overdosed addict like me… you will fall desperately in love with this one.   It is a world of its own, a superbly superfluous abstract anachronism.  It is a surrealist’s dream of fun with puns and tons of buns… or something like that.  Simply put… read it and don’t like it… I dare you!

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Comic Book Fever

I have long wanted to tell my stories in comic book form, a thing that causes no little difficulty.  Problem one, my arthritis makes 64-page stories difficult, let alone the hundreds of pages needed for a graphic novel.

I do have a couple of things that I have worked on over the years, though.  Here are a couple of things;

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Sorcerer’s Duel is a tale of Dungeons and Dragons players, while Hidden Kingdom is a sword and sorcery tale set in the tiny world of fairies and mythical creatures (made small over the centuries by the disbelief of most humans).  Both are graphic novels that will probably never see publication.  I can expose them on this blog, however, and maybe generate interest in my fiction.

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Making Fan Art

My homage to “the Ghost Who Walks” was carefully chosen.  I scanned my Phantom comics from Charleton looking for the right pose.  I found an image of him punching toward the viewer.  I thought, “Why don’t I put that view on horseback and have him riding toward me and punching.”  Why did I think that?  Who knows?  As an artist, I’m kinda erratic and crazy that way.  I guess that’s why I claim to be a surrealist.  I do believe all comic book artists have to be surrealists to do their job.  That’s true whether they do super heroes, ducks who hoard money in vaults and wear spats, pigs who wear a coat and a tie but no pants, or alien monsters hungry for the nearly naked flesh of Dale Arden.  Uh… maybe I’m revealing way too much about my thought processes here…  So here’s step one, the pen and ink.

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Then I had to give it some colored pencil treatments.  Black and white with crosshatching is cool, but it is also like bare bones, without life and energy.  So I used the powers I have over cheap Roseart pencils and madly scribbled in colors carefully balanced to show just how truly chaotic my perceptions of action and adventure really are.

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Now, I know the Phantom’s horse is either black or pure white, depending on which version or generation of the Ghost Who Walks is being depicted, but I did a yellow horse.  I know… I know…  I did pansy colors when I really should’ve gone fire red or all bloody crimson.  I’m completely violating continuity.  But I never completely do what I intend to do.  If I don’t screw it up at least a little bit, then it really isn’t me.  Besides, what else is there to yell at myself about and twist words around to make it sound like I’m being all comedically gifted and funny?

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