Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Two Favorite Comic Stories

As a kid, I loved superhero comics. As an adult...not so much. Except, of course, in the realm of nostalgia. I still adore those comic stories that inspired and fascinated me as a kid and enjoy looking at them through the lens of decades of history.

My two favorite superhero comic book yarns were written and illustrated by (of course) my two favorite creators of that period of my life: Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. I won't get too much into the history of the pair of stories that so influenced me, except to reiterate that Steve Ditko created, wrote, and illustrated The Amazing Spider-Man; and Jack Kirby created, wrote, and illustrated the Fantastic Four. Neither man had a "co-creator"--just an editor.

I've also covered both of these stories in past essays here in my blog. So I'll just list the stories and the issues in which they appeared and leave my earlier words to stand; and perhaps add some depth to those essays on another day.

The first of these great stories was the Master Planner story arc that ran for several issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. This is, as far as I'm concerned, the finest super-hero story ever done. Ditko outdid not only himself with this adventure, but all other super-hero comic creators before or since. A few have come close to capturing the depth and breadth of what he was achieving, but no one has surpassed the sheer power of this tale.

When he was allowed, Ditko could create some of the finest covers being done in comics.

Yeah, the fans had never seen Spider-Man done like this.

Despair was never portrayed quite like this. Someday I need to do a study of the way Ditko utilized the imagery of water in his comics.
Years later, after Ditko had left his employment at Marvel Comics and abandoned his amazing creations there, his former colleague was winding down his own tenure at that company. Jack Kirby pretty much created not only most of the characters at Marvel, but the company itself. No one else was as important to that company as Jack Kirby. I have studied his run on his most popular title there, FANTASTIC FOUR, and always noticed that he seemed to let up on the gas after the "Him" storyline in issues 66 & 67. Further research led me to the conclusion that his editor there had wrecked his story, almost completely nullifying its effectiveness and mucking up the dialog pretty much beyond belief. Thereafter, the explosion of creativity that Kirby had lavished on the book to that point ceased. The stories were still excellent and the art was still the most dynamic around, but there were almost no new characters coming out of the book. Kirby was, I am convinced, fed up with seeing the sweat of his brow being capitalized by his employers with nothing for him beyond his page rate. Further, not only was his intellectual property being robbed from him, his stories were often being mangled by the ego-mad idiot editor under whom he worked. Thus, the flow of new properties to his bosses slowed to a trickle.

Then, in issue #90 of the title, a new story arc appeared. The Skrull/Slave arc. It could be argued that the plot was partially based on the germ of an idea from the TV series Star Trek. But beyond that it was all classic Kirby. Kirby had always been fascinated by mob characters and science fiction. And so he plunged his comic book alter-ego, Ben Grimm, into a long story steeped in mob culture and a pure science-fiction, planet-spanning adventure. It was, I now know, Kirby's fond farewell to his character of Ben Grimm as he planned his move away from Marvel and to fields greener for his creative energies.

Symbolism. One of Kirby's earliest creations for Marvel was the alien race, the Skrulls, who were shape-shifters. Here, he is tricked and kidnapped by a Skrull posing as his friend, Reed Richards. Fooled again, sucker!

Ben Grimm, in chains!

One of the most effective and dramatic covers I've seen in superhero comics.

The finale. Torgo was the major character (I can't say "villain" because he truly was not such) that Kirby created for this story arc. However, for all the emotional power of Torgo, Kirby chose to give him a kind of generic android appearance similar to the kind of thing he'd been handing off to his employers since issue #68 of the title. Let them create their OWN unique images to exploit!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Revolutionary, a New Project

Just a bit of one of my new projects. More as it develops.

By James Robert Smith

And if there's any hope for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there's any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara.
Phil Ochs

I look at the face in the dingy mirror. It’s a good face. Different from the others I wear, but a good one all the same.

Simon B. calls it the Hyde-Super-Jekyll Effect. Refers to me sometimes as "the good Mr. Hyde". But others don’t call me that. The folk call me The Revolutionary, or The Insurrectionist. As if I’m the only one.

And that’s okay. I suppose I’ve been called worse. And it’s not entirely accurate. I didn’t start out wanting any kind of revolution, or much in the way of social change of that sort. All I was after—and all that I’m still after when you get right down to it—is justice. If the result of my efforts is a mass revolution; well, they had it coming.

My Mr. Hyde face is gone. I stand before that grimy mirror in that filthy bathroom and gaze into the water-spotted, rust-pocked surface. If I ever showed this face, none would be likely to forget it. The dark hair, almost black, is not long: barely touches my ears and the back of my neck. The nose is strong and was formerly aquiline; but it’s obviously been broken a few times—three that I can recall. These lips are like thin, darker lines drawn across that square chin, below strong cheekbones that look born of some Navajo chieftain. And the eyes—piercing as any, black like polished jet.

A pity that no one ever sees that face—other than myself and Simon B. and a few who find themselves targeted by me. Everyone else—all everyone else sees is the mask. Not this flesh and blood mask, but the one that I wear made of synthetic cloth, shatterproof plastic, plexiglass lenses.
I’m a sight all dressed up in my outfit of black cloth.

The underground rags say I’m a superhero. The real deal. Fantasy come to life. Kids apparently adore me and draw pictures of me in notebooks. There would probably be posters of me for sale in comic book shops and toy stores if the authorities allowed those images to be marketed. But they don’t think
I’m a superhero--or any kind of hero.

The media, and their puppet-masters, call me a terrorist. They say I am, at best, a super-villain made flesh and blood. They say that I am a criminal and they scream for my head. They’re right, too. I want my enemies to think of me that way.

I want them to live in fear, to be terrorized. I want them all to piss their pants every time a board creaks in their Victorian mansions. I want them to shit their britches each time an unexpected movement enters their peripheral vision when they’re in their penthouses.

And then I want to kill them all.

I’m very good at that, as they have discovered, and as they are going to continue to learn.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I Love Yellowstone

There are plenty of reasons to love Yellowstone National Park. Too many to list, actually. But right at the top is that there is so much wilderness there between the Park roads that there is a ridiculous amount of wildlife. Specifically, there is tons of unspoiled habitat for megafauna. You know...the big stuff. Big herbivores and big predators.

Someday I'll go back. Not in 2015. We're going to Glacier in 2015. But maybe in 2016. We'll see.

You have to love this place. Carole and Andy and I were walking back to our room and what's in the parking lot eating greens? A giant bison. We gave him a wide berth.

Part of the giant elk herd that got between me and my family as we were hiking back to Mammoth Hot Springs. We had to wait for it to pass before we could link up.

I took this photo of this griz from a VERY great distance. This is a digitally enlarged image taken with my most powerful telephoto lens. This bear had dug a bed for itself in the bank of the Lamar River and was completely sacked out. Why wouldn't he be comfortable? Who's going to mess with him?

Actually in the area between Grand Teton and Yellowstone. A bull moose.
Again...this was just outside Yellowstone. This was the only black bear we saw in the Yellowstone/Teton area. It is, as you can see, a brown phase black bear. I wasn't as close as this photo makes it appear. He was feeding heavily on something low to the ground as he walked along. I never saw what it was and he never once lifted his head. He was just vacuuming whatever goodies were growing there.

Bison in a dust wallow. Hayden Valley.

And it's not just the animals. A boiling hot lake, ladies and gentlemen. A. Boiling. Hot. Lake. Give me a break.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dumb Stuff

I've done some really dumb shit in my day. Looking back on life, I can hardly believe any boys survive childhood. Even the mildest of us do stupid freaking crap that ought to kill us off by the millions before we even hit puberty.

But it doesn't stop with the end of childhood. Oh, no.

Yesterday I was sick. Really, really sick. Could hardly sleep last night for the pain and constantly hacking up bloody phlegm. But come the alarm clock, what do I do? You got it. I got dressed and went to work.

Dumb. GodDAMN, that was dumb.

Now I am even sicker. So I am going to type this, take a shower, climb into bed and go to sleep. If I wake up this sick in the morning I will head to the doctor's office instead of work.

Go home, Bob. You're dumb.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Charlotte Comic Con

I went to the twice-a-year Charlotte Comic Con today. I always have a good time there, but I rarely sell any of my books there these days. But I keep going because I have a good time and like meeting up with my comic book artist pals.

Getting my stuff set up with Cavewoman creator Budd Root.

At the artist alley with Buddy Prince and Andy Smith (no relation).

The place was packed.

There is now a separate room for toy dealers.

Don't ask, because I have absolutely no idea.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My Favorite Video

Ever since I got my first digital camera in 2004 I've been making short videos of the places I visit. I don't use the video option a lot, because I feel that the moment has to be just right. Mainly I'm just happy taking photos.

But one winter day I was hiking in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area with some companions. There had been recent cold and snowy weather and we wanted to experience some of it up on the rim of the gorge. Down in the valleys there was still snow on the ground, but it was melting. As we climbed up into the higher country, around 3,000 feet or so, it was still below freezing and the winter precipitation that had fallen the previous days had not melted. So we were greeted with classic winter scenery the higher we hiked.

I made the horrible mistake of wearing my summer hiking boots. They would have kept my feet warm under normal circumstances, but I'd hiked through rivulets of melting snow to get to the high country (down lower where the snow was melting). Thus, my feet got soaked, and then frozen up where the temperatures were still below freezing. I have not repeated this mistake and never will.
One thing that had happened right at the end of the storm was that the snow had turned briefly to freezing rain and sleet. This meant that on the mountaintops we were hiking atop seven or eight inches of snow shielded by about an inch of frozen sleet. The trees were coated in this stuff, too. It was indeed beautiful to look at and fun to walk on, especially as I had come equipped with my Yaktrax to keep me from slipping.

Then, along a high ridge, the temperature and the sun suddenly combined to begin breaking up the ice. For several magic minutes the forest was full of the symphony of shattering ice. I've never heard or seen anything like it and I often wonder about the confluence of events and perfect timing that put me in that spot at that particular moment. It was especially nice as I had separated myself from my babbling companions so that the only thing speaking in this video is Mother Nature.

Crank the sound up if you want to hear it the way I experienced it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Comic Gods

The comic book gods were kind to me today because I received two books from two of the masters of comic book storytelling: Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

The Kirby book is a Golden Age comic; JUSTICE TRAPS THE GUILTY #22. This was published by the Hillman outfit who published until 1953. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby did a lot of work for them, mainly for their crime and police publications. This issue only features a Kirby cover, but it's pretty nifty. Inside is some art by Mort Meskin who sometimes illustrated so much like Kirby that when I was a kid I would get Meskin confused with Kirby.

Classic Kirby cover!

The other book that arrived on my doorstep is the new effort from Steve Ditko. Ditko is closing in on 90 years old but is still producing new comics! His right wing rants are the opposite of the way I interpret the world. Some of my friends ask me how I can enjoy his work when he obviously has nothing but contempt for those whose views are as far to the left as my own. All I can tell them is that I have always identified with his positions on responsibility and the similarity of the black and white world of good and evil. (Of course what I would see as "wrong", Ditko would see as "correct".) Still and all, I never tire of his work and enjoy it so much that I was one of the supporters who tossed in money for the Kickstarter campaign that resulted in the production of this nifty 32-page comic.

Steve Ditko's latest!