Friday, December 30, 2011
I have my favorite comic book artists, but few of them went to the trouble to create individual scenes with the skill shown here in this single illustration. I won't even go into the pure superiority of most pulp covers over comic book covers. It could be that pulp artists were paid a lot more money than comic book artists and thus were able to devote more time to each piece of art. I can't say, as I've never delved into the details of the history of each art type in opposition.
At any rate, this illustration was for a Max Brand novella published at some point by Martin Goodman's outfit. I'm amazed at the skill the artist shows, despite the fact that he was toiling in an art form produced for a publication only held in slightly higher esteem than comics.
From the signature, I assume this was done by Boris Bjorklund, known for illustrating western pulps. He died in 1978.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Looking at that, I rather do think that it is, indeed, a glacial cirque. I'm wondering where the glacial moraines would be. I don't think it would be difficult to locate them by looking at some topo maps or, perhaps, scouting around points where a terminal moraine would have been located.
If there was a local glacier there, it looks like it was a rather big one. Far wider than some of the other glacial cirques I've seen on eastern mountains.
Bottom line is, I think it really is evidence of a localized glacier that once flowed here in North Carolina!
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
What has always intrigued me are the smaller local glaciers that were left behind when the huge ice sheets retreated. As the higher elevations of New England were revealed from beneath the melting ice, there were still some areas just high enough and just far enough north to have localized glaciers that spilled off of some few peaks, creating glacial cirques and leaving behind glacial moraines and making tarns on some of the high ridges.
The first place I ever went that had obvious signs of local glaciers was Mount Katahdin. The rivers of ice that carved out the enormous gulfs and soaring cliff faces are long gone, but if you know what you're looking at, it's obvious what forces created these features.
I've now hiked in several eastern glacial cirques, including some on Katahdin in Maine and two on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. These peaks stand 5,268 feet and 6,288 feet respectively, and so were able to retain local glaciers for a long time after the retreat of the continental ice sheets that had covered the north.
Here in the South there is almost no sign of localized glaciation. But although the enormous ice sheets never reached this far toward the equator, some of the peaks should have been able to spawn some local glaciers. After all, there are many peaks here in Tennessee and North Carolina and southern Virginia where elevations approach or exceed 6,000 feet above sea level. Surely conditions should have been right for local glaciers on some of these peaks.
Arrows indicating the two most obvious glacial cirques on Katahdin (from this perspective). Known locally these days as 'Gulfs'.
However, in my reading and research I have found that only one spot has enough evidence for such a local glacier. And that spot is on Grandfather Mountain (aka Tanawha) here in North Carolina. Grandfather/Tanawha is considered the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At 5,964 feet above sea level, it's not even in the top 20 highest peaks in the east. However, it just misses being an official "sixer" and looks more like a peak in the Sierras than one on the Blue Ridge. If any southern peak could have spawned glaciers, it seems that this would be it.
Today, there is a formation on the mountain called "the Boone Bowl". This bowl was likely carved out of the mountain by a small river of ice that formed below the summit and etched its way down the slopes, creating the enormous natural amphitheater the locals call "the Boone Bowl". I hope to be able to go there and scout it out in the next few weeks, and produce some photos that indicate some similarities with the glacial cirques I've hiked on Mount Washington and Katahdin.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Here is what the the production of the early Marvel bullpen looked like as the teams were coalescing, waiting for the day when Marvel would make the move to go toe-to-toe with DC Comics in the creation of new superhero books.
Most of the monsters created by Jack Kirby made a single appearance. He wrote and illustrated hundreds of such stories. But every once in a while he would go back to a creature he'd created before, or perhaps there was enough fan reaction (generally in the form of sales) so that Stan Lee would ask for another story featuring one or another of Kirby's monsters. So it was with Colossus. Kirby seemed willing and able to revisit this monster with this yarn: "Colossus Lives Again"!
Kirby would often break up a story into parts or chapters. He'd end with something of a cliff-hanger or story break, and continue the tale with a unique chapter title. He excelled at imaginative ways to delineate a story by way of text and balloons and sub-titles. Here we see him at work with this gimmick, but without as much flash as in some of his stories.
Don Heck was generally called upon to do one of the stories in the sf and horror books. But in this issue it was Dick Ayers who got the job. Ayers was one of Stan Lee's go-to journeymen. He was mainly an inker, working with just about everyone who did pencils for Goodman's outfit. But sometimes he was given a job to pencil. This one was just such a situation.
A typical and absolutely wonderful Ditko title page. He excelled at these things. Every time I open one of these pre-hero Marvels I find myself wondering if Ditko was perhaps challenged by the older and frankly more talented Kirby. Did he use the other man's work as a kind of goal, or a bar against which he might measure himself? I sometimes think so, and at times he met and exceeded that bar.
I love this last page. The story is one that I can see appealing to Ditko. The mindless masses too stupid and incurious to grasp a chance when it comes to them. One sees the wise, bearded philosopher-king at the end. That last panel is intriguing, too. It pre-dates both Roger Dean's and AVATAR'S airborne islands.
Monday, December 26, 2011
I've also read that Goodman constantly held the very real threat of corporate dissolution over Lee's head. If he couldn't make a decent profit from the business into which they'd both ended up, then Goodman would close down his company, sell off the intellectual assets of same, and retire. This would have left the young and ambitious Lee out in the cold. He'd always been at the editorial helm of the company and the roof over his head, the food in his stomach, and the clothes on his back depended on keeping Timely/Atlas/Marvel/etc. on an even keel.
By the late 1950s Goodman's company was basically one that published comic books. The day of the adventure pulp was gone and the corporation was almost exclusively sustained through comic books. And since there were not many chances to merchandise the dormant superheroes that lay within the Goodman vaults, it was left increasingly to Stan Lee to figure out how to keep the titles selling in enough numbers to maintain Goodman's position on the newsstands.
The pressure to accomplish this must have been maddening.
As I've touched on previously in my brief essays, Lee was a careful and adaptable editor. He would scan the publishing world to see what was moving and do his best to copy it. Under his ministrations, Marvel/Atlas was NEVER an innovator. Not once in all the days of his work through this period did Goodman's company set the standard or create a wave. Lee was forever peering over his neighbor's shoulders to see what they were doing right and aping it.
Thus, in the very late 50s and into 1960 he had his formula down. He had three reliable artists producing most of his work. Jack Kirby would produce almost all of the cover art and--what seems to me--roughly half the artwork of the science-fiction and horror comics that were keeping the company floating and Martin Goodman relatively happy. Steve Ditko followed closely behind Kirby by offering up some of the covers and his share of the interior artwork and stories. Don Heck, a very under appreciated journeyman comic artist was the third part of this able triumvirate that Lee had set up to run the company smoothly.
As Marvel's sales continued to stagnate despite this clever and successful combination of talent, the stories flowed out of the Marvel offices. All the while, Lee cast his net wide, trying to figure out how to increase sales and keep his uncle happy. What he didn't know was that he had the basic die cast. Kirby and Ditko especially were primed to produce the most amazing eruption of creativity the comic book business had witnessed since its great days of the war years. Sitting in the fertile imaginations of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko was the basis of the most profitable comic book company to emerge from the Silver Age of comics. The Marvel Universe was stirring behind the gates of Kirby's and Ditko's minds, waiting to be unleashed. DC Comics providing the impetus by reviving the almost dead superhero genre, and Stan Lee was just the man to copy it.
And he had his bullpen ready.
The menace of METALLO! Descending to Earth by way of the legendary skyhook! Kirby could knock out a great cover like this without even breaking a sweat.
Another typical story of this era of Goodman's company. Kirby would produce his three-part opening story, hand it in to Stan Lee who would concoct one of his goofy names for the monster. GOOGAM! I'm sure it's ready and waiting to be optioned as merchandise and films! Maybe a cartoon! (But Jack Kirby won't get any credit, and his heirs will be left empty-handed.)
Over the years, Marvel vacillated between covers with word balloons and those without; those sparse with balloons and those pregnant with them. This one seems unique. Just one word balloon, but very text-heavy for a comic from this period.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Typical cover from Jack Kirby. It was during this period through the late 50s and early 60s when Kirby was producing art at a truly uncanny rate. I've heard that there have been comic book artists who have been as productive as Jack Kirby, but I rather doubt those claims.
More great cover art from the King. I'm wondering who inked this one. If you know, leave a message here.
Stan Lee by and large dialogued the stories after the artists completed writing, plotting, and drawing them. He was a real card when it came to names. Alliteration was his middle name. But he also seemed to enjoy recycling character names, as he would later do with this monster. "Elektro" would later turn up as the name for one of Steve Ditko's villains, Electro, in the Steve Ditko plotted/written/illustrated/imagined masterpiece, The Amazing Spider-Man.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Well, it didn't take him too long to land several more artists to fill that creative void. Jack Kirby in particular was a workhorse unlike any other the comics industry had seen. I've read that in one year he produced well over 1,200 pages of penciled pages. This is a phenomenal pace, especially when you understand that he was also writing most of the stuff that was credited to a certain someone else. Most of the monster and sci-fi comics that Goodman was publishing were held up by the three guys editor-in-chief Lee came to depend upon: the already mentioned Kirby, Ditko, and Heck.
Often joining in to add to that triumvirate was Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers and a host of other artists who later filtered into the Marvel offices as the small company grew into a publishing juggernaut. But in those early days it was mainly Kirby, Ditko, and Heck.
This was another book I kept trying to nab on Ebay but always failed to get. There's something about the cover that I really like. It's not the monster--Kirby created some really striking monsters and this isn't one of them. I think it's just the construction of the scene that appeals to me.
I've never run across this book before, so it's going to be fun to see what's inside. I'll post interiors of some of these books after I've read them and gone through the tales.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
So it was that he knew that I was out for lots of issues of the pre-hero Marvels that I've written about here in the past. But this was a really large chunk of what I was looking for, and was--for me--a major outlay of money. Especially considering that this is the holiday season and I was already buying a lot of stuff for gifts.
But this was all for me and I caved and worked out a deal to get them.
In all, I landed 55 issues of books that I mainly needed. A few were duplicates of issues I already have, but I'll sell those off on Ebay and use the money to buy other books. So without further comment, here are some of the scanned covers of books I picked up yesterday at Rick and Dave's Charlotte ComiCon.
TALES OF SUSPENSE #1. I had tried to buy this book a number of times on Ebay in the past couple of years. But I was always outbid. Heck with that. Now I have the issue, albeit in lower grade. But that's okay, because most of the issues I'd previously bid on were in about this same condition.
TALES OF SUSPENSE #3. All of the single-digit issues of Tales of Suspense are tough to find and even harder to win in auction. This one is a very good addition to my collection.
TALES OF SUSPENSE #4. I'm now only missing one out of the first ten issues of Tales of Suspense. And I'm sure I'll be able to land a copy of that one (#2) within the next few months.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
I always have a blast at the show, the best comic convention in the Charlotte area!
While there I'll be selling and signing copies of:
THE LIVING END: A Zombie Novel.
Friday, December 16, 2011
No matter what you did, you could never bring back things like Mammoths, mastodons, glyptodons, megatherium, saber-toothed cats, etc. Those animals were completely wiped out by the advance of humans who crossed the Bering land bridge and spread across two untouched continents killing off a huge percentage of the large mammals they encountered.
But there are the surviving Pleistocene animals who can (and should) be restored to their former ranges.
Already the elk has been brought east again. True, the eastern elk is actually extinct, but the variety that now roams the forests in the Midwest, in Pennsylvania, (and now in North Carolina) is so close as to be almost indistinguishable from the type eradicated by the advancing Europeans. It would be nice to see them living in all of the eastern forests again.
A bull elk that I photographed just a few weeks ago in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Another creature that could be returned, but which probably will not be (as long as humans can be brought to bear against them) is the American bison, commonly called the "buffalo". These creatures once lived from coast to coast and inhabited every land type except for the wettest swamps and the deepest, driest deserts. And, once more, the type that once lived here in the east is completely extinct. The last woodland buffaloes in the east were hunted down and eaten in Kentucky in the late 1700s. Since then, there have been no bison here in the east.
But bison could be restored to eastern forests. There are similar animals who could easily adapt to our forests and once more inhabit them. The main barrier to their restoration is, once more, human opposition. Bison are very big animals (largest native land mammals in North America) and can sometimes be quite aggressive. Convincing easterners that our wild lands would be better off with bison than without them would be a tough sell. I think the nearest free-ranging bison to our eastern lands are in Oklahoma where the locals have learned to tread softly and understand the risks.
An almost free-ranging bison herd at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky/Tennessee. (Not true free-ranging since the borders of the area are policed against their movements.)
In the northeast, one animal largely missing from the scenery is the woodland caribou. There are still some extant in Canada, and I've heard rumors that some have been seen in Maine forest just south of the Canadian border, but those might merely be cases of wishful thinking. However, the animals are not extinct and could be returned to the forests of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont if only some effort were made to protect enough habitat to allow them to find the area once again attractive.
A huge piece of the ecological puzzle that could be restored are our extant predators. And chief among these are the Grey wolf and the mountain lion. Other than some brief and singular appearances from time to time, there really are no mountain lions remaining in the east outside of the small pocket of the animals that have survived in Florida. Allowing the mountain lion to return to the east and exist here unmolested would be a relatively easy thing to do. The hard thing would be to control the mad hysteria of the eastern humans who have grown accustomed to living in a world without such large feline predators.
The true eastern cougar is extinct. But western types could flow right into the old ecological niche with ease.
And, of course, wolves are the bane of the corporate greedheads who rule us all. To sustain healthy wolf populations you need lots of true wilderness, and true wilderness means that the lands encompassed as such cannot be exploited by mines, by drilling, by timbering, by urban sprawl. The filth who profit from the degradation of our lands always find it easy to loose their mindless rabid tools, the hunters and gun-humpers and ATV fans who scream like the spoiled brats they are when anyone champions the aim of returning the Timber wolf to its native range.
A Great Lakes timber wolf. It's only a short distance from the Midwest to the East. Let's allow them to return home.
Coyotes have been able to move back into former Timber wolf range and partially fill the ecological niche that the wolf filled. But coyotes aren't wolves and can't really do the same jobs that wolves did. And that job was to curb the growth of the vast herds of whitetail deer that fill the east from the deepest forests to the very edges of our urban areas. Many forests in the east cannot grow properly because of the sheer numbers of hungry deer who browse constantly and prevent the growth of native trees and plants. Deer are largely uncontrolled and their numbers threaten our native ecosystems here in the east. What is needed is the return of the wolf and the mountain lion.
I would love to be able to go hiking and backpacking and trekking in a restored eastern forest habitat that included woodland bison, elk, wolf, and mountain lion. Maybe one day this will happen. My suspicion is that it could happen, but only in the absence of humans. The humans will definitely go away at some point. When that occurs, I have to hope that our elderly Pleistocene friends will have survived to once again roam where they have been excluded for far too long.
For now, if you want to experience scenes of Pleistocene flora and fauna, there are precious few places where this can happen. I was lucky enough to go driving and trekking in Yellowstone National Park last year. There, the Pleistocene megafauna are still around--what remains of it, at any rate. You can stand on hilltops and see bison and bighorn sheep and elk and mule deer and pronghorns and wolves and grizzly bears and (if you're lucky) mountain lions and lynx. There are also great opportunities to see what's left of our Pleistocene pals in a number of places in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and in several of the Canadian provinces. Hell...there are places where the wolverine still roams. But here in the eastern USA, such things are only the dreams of those of us who wish to see even a portion of the biological health restored to our lands.
RESTORE, a movement to create a new National Park in Maine, restoring the Pleistocene flora and fauna as closely as possible. Of course corporations and gun-humpers and four-wheel/snowmobile fuckheads will fight to ensure that it never happens.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
I said that I'd try to post some interior shots from my latest acquisition to my Ditko collection, so here they are. I've picked out some striking images for review.
TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER is classic stuff. The stories are all told from the point of view of The Mysterious Traveler. He's merely a foil, a dour character who recounts with impassive tone the things that he has observed. This kind of thing would appeal, I think, to the Objectivist tendencies of Mr. Ditko who was, I have been told, already under the influence of Ayn Rand's twisted philosophies by this time.
I was interested to see several things in this book. First of all, the inking is different from one story to the next (all penciled by Ditko) and I have to wonder if he inked them all himself, or if the pages were handed off to others to be inked. Or it could be just that Ditko wanted to experiment with various inking styles so that he could convey differing emotions from one story to the next. It's hard to say, since I don't have the critical eye, nor the knowledge of Charlton's artist stable at that time to say one way or the other.
One thing that I can say is that I'm really happy to have been able to add this book to my collection.
Ditko is well known for using the human eye as a motif in his work. Here we see that even in the mid-1950s he was already getting a lot of power by using this gimmick.
Ever true to his individualist tendencies, Steve Ditko managed to get his name featured in many of his stories and covers. It was important to him--unlike with many other artists of this period--to let the fans know who was creating this singular work.
Ditko had a stable of interchangeable physical types that he used often over the course of his career in mainstream comics. Faces and forms that conveyed a certain kind of personality. This one, a precedent to the character we later knew at Frederick Foswell from The Amazing Spider-Man.
The character of "the old fool" was a deceptively simple display of Ditko's talent as an artist. Only someone with a great understanding of anatomy and physics could have so simply illustrated an old man bent by toil and years in so effective a manner. You can also see why this story would have appealed to a guy like Ditko and made him expend perhaps just a little more effort than Charlton's low page rate would justify. Here we see the individual as wise, while the masses are nothing more than a mindless mob: this attitude is the template of the fascist mind.
I have the impression that Ditko inked this one, but it's a lot different from the simpler style used in some of the other stories in this little volume. Once again, the comic art fan cannot be but impressed at the brilliance of Ditko when it came to putting emotion and power into each and every panel of a simple story.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
One street on my route has free-ranging bunny rabbits. I asked some of the residents about it and they told me that once, many years back, another resident released some domestic bunnies. They went feral and now the neighborhood is home to a large breeding population of them.
They're "wild", but allow you to get close. Of course the locals feed them so they're accustomed to people. I suspect that some of them are the result of cross-breeding with the native cottontails because they look like enormous Eastern cottontail rabbits.
I see this one almost every day. He's classic domestic bunny configuration and coloration. He's really friendly and totally relaxed around people. I often see him with his mouth stuffed with tufts of grass that I assume he carries off to a secret location to cache away for a rainy day, or else to line a nest.
Most of them look like this. Really big, like domestic bunnies, but with coloration more like the Eastern cottontail rabbit. I figure they're the result of cross-breeding between the two types.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
The following photos were all taken on a bushwhack hike I made with my pal Andy Kunkle in late May of this year. We drove over to the Pisgah National Forest near Old Fort, North Carolina. This particular section of forest was the very first plot of land to be declared National Forest property. Hiking in, you can tell why it was chosen. For reasons of chance and topography, large patches of forest here were never logged, or only selectively logged. Much of Mackey Mountain and the surrounding ridges and coves are home to old growth forests. These days, the forests are mainly hardwoods, but up until very recently there were also big expanses of grand old hemlock trees here, also.
And the biggest of the trees remaining are poplars, also known as the tulip tree (for its springtime blossoms). In fact, the Yellow poplar/Tulip poplar is not a true poplar at all, but is instead closely related to the magnolia family. Tulip poplars grow pretty fast for a hardwood, they grow straight and tall, and they reach impressive size for an eastern tree. While they're no match for the truly huge monster trees of the west such as Jeffrey pines, Redwoods, Sequoias, cedars, and such, they are among the largest species here in our half of the continent. Only cottonwoods and sycamores and and buckeyes and (formerly) hemlocks rivaled or exceeded them in volume.
Today, if you're out in a southeastern forest and you encounter a grove of very large trees, more than likely that grove is of Tulip (or yellow) poplars.
It was in search of just such groves that Andy and I headed up into the watersheds at the foot of Mackey Mountain/Green Knob in the Pisgah National Forest. We hiked up the steep slopes and indeed we located the big trees that we were told were there. I love walking around in classic southern Appalachian cove hardwood forests. While there, you are surrounded by life, by green, by fresh air and rich soil and clean water. If you're lucky, you'll spy some wildlife in these forests, but even if you find yourself alone there, you'll be richly rewarded for the exertion.
The earth, like a leaking sponge, gives up the fresh water it has filtered.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
They asked me for a brief bio to post here and there in some of their publications. So this is what I sent them:
James Robert Smith was born in Georgia in 1957. Currently he lives in North Carolina with his wife and son and three cats. He works full time in his day job as a laborer and in the evenings as a published author. He has sold more than sixty short stories to a host of magazines and anthologies. Smith has also written for various comic book publishers, including Marvel Comics. His first novel, THE FLOCK, was published in 2006 by Five Star Books and reprinted in 2010 by Tor/Forge Books. The film option to that book was picked up by Don (TRANSFORMERS) Murphy through Warner Brothers and is making its way to the screen. His second novel, THE LIVING END was published in 2011 by Severed Press. His third novel, THE CLAN (a sequel to THE FLOCK) was also sold to Tor Books and is forthcoming later in 2012.
Upcoming novels and collections include HISSMELINA a Lovecraftian horror novel set in the mountains of North Carolina, FOUR FROM MANGROVE a collection of sword and sorcery tales, A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS a collection of Smith’s horror stories, and THE LOST CHILD a novel of the supernatural (also set in North Carolina).
Taken in the Pisgah National Forest on a hunt for old growth forests. I got hit really hard with poison ivy on this bushwhack. Which is my fault for not wearing the legs on my convertible pants. This was in the very first block of forests ever created for the National Forest system we now know. It protected a large expanse of old growth trees on and around Mackey Mountain. Of course the hemlocks are now all dead due to the invasive hemlock wooly adelgid, but the hardwoods are still there.
Friday, December 09, 2011
So for the past few weeks I've been daydreaming constantly about getting loose from Charlotte and into the woods. One place that's on my list of probables is one of the parks Carole and I most enjoy:
Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia. Recently, it was announced that this area is now under consideration as for National Park status. It will be called (if it happens) The High Allegheny National Park. Of course energy corporations and timber companies will fight it to the death. They will do anything and everything--up to and including murder (of that I have no doubt)--to keep this dream of a new National Park from ever becoming reality.
But if any place in the eastern USA deserves National Park status, it's this area. Let's hope it comes to be.
In the meantime, I'm thinking maybe a January or February trip is in order. And hopefully, as this past February, Carole and I will encounter deep snow and we can go sledding on the sled run inside the park.
Embiggen these photos, but especially this one. Taken from the western end of the park.