Sunday, July 29, 2012

Comic Cover as Comic Page

In the days at Marvel, before Jack Kirby brought the company back from the brink of destruction by introducing superheroes into the mix, it was a fairly common practice to use a certain cover style. Sometimes the artists would create a cover that was produced in a panelized illustration, almost as if the cover were a miniature comic story all its own. This was effective in whetting the appetite of the prospective buyer and getting that reader to pick up the book to continue the story. It must have been relatively successful it creating sales, because both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko would create such covers from time to time. Lee and Goodman must have approved, because it was almost a trademark at the company. Perhaps they even encouraged it, the way Julie Schwartz encouraged gorilla covers at DC when it was noticed that covers featuring talking gorillas tended to sell out.

This cover is from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #4. It's not the last time this kind of panelized cover was used on an early Marvel Comic, but it is one of the most extreme examples of such on a title after superheroes had taken over the company. Ditko referred to this form a few times afterward, but never again in just such a manner.

The cover to this book is one of the most recognizable of the early issues of Spider-Man. And I think it must have sold very well, because it's one of the most common issues that I would run across in my days as a dealer of back issue comic books. It was rare that I didn't have at least one copy of this issue in my back-issue stock. So the cover art obviously did its job. Why Marvel's artists trended away from it I cannot say. Perhaps they hit a point at which they began to look upon it as dated and archaic. I don't know.

My personal copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #4. What a great villain Ditko created in The Sandman!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

FRONTLINE COMBAT #14

I just got another old EC for my collection. This one is FRONTLINE COMBAT #14 with a cover and first interior story illustrated by Wally Wood. Also in this issue is a great Civil War yarn drawn by Jack Davis. I was surprised to see a story by Joe Kubert in here. He certainly was someone who would have fit right in at EC, but I don't recall seeing his work in any of the EC books I've owned in the past. And there's a beautifully drawn WWI story by George Evans who excelled at illustrating tales of the flying aces.

Nice Wally Wood cover. A bit of a departure from his regular style.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stealing Ditko's Thunder and the Sweat of his Brow

One rumor surrounding the departure of Steve Ditko from Marvel and his relinquishing of the reins of his title The Amazing Spider-Man is that there was contention over the developing plot concerning the Green Goblin.

The popular story (and unfounded rumor) maintains that Ditko wanted the secret identity of The Goblin to be revealed as a total unknown--a nobody, if you will. This same story goes that Stan Lee wanted the Goblin's secret identity to be revealed as Norman Osborne for which the continuing story had been leaving hints. This story is made semi-believable by the myth that Stan Lee was actually writing the book. But it was Ditko who was writing The Amazing Spider-Man and he had not been building up the clues pointing to Osborne for nothing.

Another reason this false story is believed by so many comics fans is that Ditko had already used that plot device in another storyline involving the Goblin. Ditko had introduced a continuing shady character called The Crime-Master and he actually did follow that storyline out to the conclusion mentioned in the myth about why he left the book. In issue #27 of The Amazing Spider-Man, the Crime Master is finally cornered and shot to death by police officers. When they unmask him he turns out to be nobody, a character no one in the series had ever seen without the mask. It was a brilliant stroke on Ditko's part, especially considering that he had left clues that the villain was someone known within the continuity of the book. Ditko was skilled at surprising the readers. This is not an easy thing to do with the formulaic mechanisms of super-hero comics.

Having used this plot device once, there is no reason Ditko would turn to it again less than two years later to wrap up the Green Goblin storyline. He had already played that one out in the Crime-Master series, and I'm sure he wasn't interested in leading his fans down that same path once again.

During the last years of Spider-Man, Ditko did excel at creating villains who were mysterious, who were unknown, and had the readers chomping at the bit to know the bad guy's true identity. He did this with his arguably greatest villain, the Green Goblin. He followed it up with the Crime-Master. And he did it a third time in what became his penultimate work, the Master Planner story arc in The Amazing Spider-Man issues #31 through #33. And in that one he played the story like a fine instrument and the secret identity of the mystery villain was revealed to be...a well known villain from past issues of the book (Doctor Octopus). It was a stroke of pure brilliance.

So while the cycle of good versus evil, of the super-hero versus super-villain, was one that Ditko was, by necessity, going to use over and over, he was not a writer to repeat himself at as fine a point in the plot as to use an exact device quick in succession. If he was going to reveal a secret identity again, it was going to be something different--not a rehashing of a storyline he'd used so recently.

After Ditko left Marvel, his creations continued to make vast sums for the company. Indeed, the stories he'd left behind as his legacy were mined again and again by creators far less gifted. Just look to the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 to see how even small details he added to stories were stolen to produce work credited to others in later years.

But let's put to rest once and for all the myth that Ditko abandoned his most powerful creation, The Amazing Spider-Man, over a quibble with his editor concerning the secret identity of the Green Goblin. Ditko had always intended that it was Norman Osborne. That may have been a surprise to his editor, and to his fans. But it was the plan all along for Steve Ditko.

It obviously took a far more egregious moral crime committed against him to make Ditko walk away from his characters. The nature of those crimes we can only surmise from the clues left behind. And those clues are far more serious than a silly comic book plot. And the villains far more evil than Norman Osborne, for they are real, and their crimes continue even today, years after Ditko walked the high moral ground and took his leave of Marvel and the thieves who robbed him.

But I know the identity of the hero in that sad story, and his name is Steve Ditko.

Who's Hiding Behind the Mask?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There's a Word for It: Garbage.

A couple of new strangers tried to get me to read their new self-published novels. Ugh. 

You folk who are doing well with your self-published novels and short stories: You know what you're good at?

You're good at promotions.

Because you GOTT-damned sure can't write.

Please, stop what you're doing. You're just hurting literature.


Two well-known self-publishers of total shit who were good at promotions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trying to Start the Fire

Whenever I look at the comics that Steve Ditko produced for Charlton and DC just at the time he was leaving Marvel, I cannot get over the fact that it appeared that he was doing his damndest to rekindle the magic he'd conjured with Spider-Man.

His recreation of the old Blue Beetle character at Charlton was inspired, as was his character The Question. Both of them live on today not only as major properties at DC, but also as parodies from The Watchmen as envisioned by Alan Moore.

And when you look at The Creeper, it also seems obviously rigged to try to catch the mojo of Spider-Man. More than the brother team he pitched at the public called The Hawk & The Dove.

I think the problem was that each of these characters, with the possible exception of the Blue Beetle, were so philosophically heavy handed that the public just couldn't find anything attractive in them beyond Ditko's unique style of drawing and the iconic figures he created to house the fascist souls with which he invested them.

Still, they're all around these days. They pop up here and there. I haven't looked at the modern comic book scene in a long time, but the last time I checked it seemed that The Question still had his own title, and maybe even the Blue Beetle.

But for a time it looked as if Ditko could grab that brass ring one more time. Alas, lightning rarely strikes twice. Especially when it started a fire as bright and as intense as The Amazing Spider-Man.

BLUE BEETLE #1 from Ditko (at Charlton Comics). Another iconic costume, plus an enduring mystery man: The Question!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Selling the Canoe

Since we bought Carole the kayak, and since I will be getting one soon for myself, we're selling our canoe.

It was a great boat, but we've found that we much prefer using kayaks to canoes. For one thing, kayaks are lighter, and much more maneuverable. Canoes have their advantages, but for the kinds of paddling we're going to be doing, kayaks are the future for us. Mainly since Andy doesn't go along with us anymore and we just don't need the extra capacity.

So, here are photos I took today so that we can list our canoe on Craigslist and sell it off to someone who will enjoy it as much as we did.

14-foot Old Town canoe. Regular wear from moderate use.

Two paddles and two life vests included!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

BATTLE-GROUND

Battle-Ground was an Atlas war title (obviously). I bought this copy for the Russ Heath cover. Heath is one of the best comic artists who worked the industry, in my opinion, and is well known for his work on various war stories. He was a long-time artist on the Sgt. Rock series at DC.

This issue came out in 1954. Occasionally Goodman and Lee would land art from the EC artists. I'm not sure, but I think this issue came out around the time EC was having trouble from HUAC. During the time just before and just after EC's titles ceased publication (save for MAD which became a magazine to avoid the Comics Code Authority), many of the EC artists showed up doing work for Atlas. Of course some could not remain there because Atlas just didn't pay the rates they were accustomed to making at EC, which were among the highest in the industry.

But from time to time you'd see Jack Davis, John Severin, and even Bernard Krigstein showing up to produce stories for Goodman and Lee.

I was surprised at the quality of work in this issue of BATTLE-GROUND. I may end up having to purchase some more of these Atlas war comics.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Old Short Story

Here's a story that I wrote when I was very young. I found it on an old floppy disk. I never sold it, but I recall sending it out a few times.


                 
“It's Not a Blessing, She Said”
by
James Robert Smith
                                 
"I have a hole
in my soul"


     It was the only part of an old poem Ty had kept. He'd written lots of them, when he thought that he might actually be good at it. But, when he viewed them, really held them up to the light that glittered off of lines worked by truly talented poets, he gave it up. In fact, he had bundled them all in brown grocery bags and had burnt the lot in the bed of a kid's American Flyer red wagon. Afterwards, he'd felt bad about it because there had been a great black spot in the floor of the wagon. He'd painted it over and had even slapped down a coat of lacquer, but the damage had been done. Ah, well.
     Ty was good, however, at picking out the rising stars, even if he was just a cold lump of stone, himself. If he had a talent, it had been in choosing the gems out of the piles of lesser rocks that littered the artistic landscape in the city. Had he not singled out the work of most of the finest artists who had risen out of their various scenes in the past ten years? Yes, as a matter of fact, he had. He had, after all, a hole. In his soul.
     That's what you do when you have a big, gaping space in yourself. You try to fill it up. Ty had done his best to fill it with whatever he'd ached to do. The poetry, yes, because he thought it would be easy to lay the words down into something pretty, something ugly, something...well...alive. But they'd been cool lumps, lukewarm duds, uninteresting bits. So.
     He'd tried his hand at any number of things. When he had thought he could do anything, he had haunted schools, enrolling in classes for drawing, for painting. He couldn't draw a convincing line, and he had no eye for color, nor for composition. But he had yelled the loudest and pointed accurately at that Clark fellow who was now all the rage everywhere. Clark thanked Ty often for that initial acknowledgement and publicity.
     The local theatre was once something more than a place to sit before and watch. He'd tried his hand at acting, and had found his pacing dull, his emoting convincing no one, least of all himself. Dance: his movement was clumsy. Other students had actually laughed at him, and he'd laughed with them, for he was an oaf, wasn't he?
     When he had turned his hand to clay, he knew at the first touch that all it would ever be to his own hands was just that: clay. He was thirty years old by then, old enough to know he was just fooling himself. Why bother? His column was read in a growing number of newspapers, and he was well received in all of the city's artistic circles. Some feared him, though few, for he was kind to those who, like himself, had no talent. It was a rule with him to say nothing when nothing of good could be said.
     He had a hole in his soul, and he filled it with art. But the ache was still there, and there was nothing to soothe it, which was what he had always feared.
     And then he met Allegra.
     He noticed her at a midnight showing of paintings by that amazing fellow, Hauer. They were dark paintings, and the midnight showing made their impact all the greater. Ty admired that kind of thinking in an artist; a perception that went beyond the first art and transcended it. He had to admire such a move on the part of the young man. And Hauer had even salted the premiere with a number of his friends: people whose appearance was unsettling enough to further effect the emotions of the viewers; dark little people who oozed among everyone, moaning--it was a nice touch.
     In the back of the crowd, he'd seen Allegra. She all but merged with the shadows, it seemed, fading in and out, her white face a small disc where her eyes were sunken thumbprints gouged in pale clay. She'd noticed him staring at her, to the point that he was almost ignoring the paintings, and so Ty had gone to Hauer, to ask.

  
     "Who is she?"
     The young artist looked to where the critic indicated, a corner where the low lighting did not reach, where two canvases hung, further pointing the way to where the lady slouched in her gypsy shawl. "Oh." Hauer's lips curled into that sly smile of his. "I only just met her. Allegra's her name. Cousins, I think. Yes, Cousins. She hangs about the clubs, and comes to some of the shows. Vance knows her better than I do." Someone else was tugging for Hauer's attentions and he had turned to leave.
     "Er," he said. "Would you like to be introduced?"
     And so it was.
     After they had met, Ty invited Allegra to go out, to have a drink in one of his haunts. She had agreed, and the two of them left the gallery, Ty pausing only long enough to let Hauer know that he approved of the gallery showing and that everyone who read his column would soon know of this approval.
     That night, leaving the dim glow of the exhibit hall, Ty had put his hand at Allegra's elbow, ushering her out. There in what light there was before they descended into the night, he took a long look at her face. For a moment, he examined her features, trying to decipher the strange puzzle of his sudden attraction. She wasn't beautiful in any conventional sense; but Ty's friends had often kidded him about his taste in lovers. He had often been attracted to people many others thought were plain, or even ugly. Allegra had a round face, large black eyes, thin lips below a long, straight nose. Her hair was black, and not that full, but it shined as the door closed. Outside, there had been a gust of wind, and he had smelled her, and he had ached with wanting her.
     "Have you been in town for very long," he asked her.
     "Oh, yes. A very long time," she said, her voice almost as quiet as a whisper.
     "You said you'd heard of me. You must read my column."
     "I didn't say I'd heard of you. I said I'd heard you. I've been hearing you for years, now, getting louder and louder."
     "What do you mean?" He could see his breath puffing out, illuminated by the streetlights just on the far side of the campus; colder than he'd thought.
     Allegra drew her right hand out of the black shawl wrapped loosely about her shoulders, her white cotton blouse bright there in the night, only a little less pale than her skin. She pointed and slowly brought her index finger down on Ty's chest, poking with her sharp nail. "You have a hole," she whispered. "In your soul."
     Ty froze. His breath stuck in his throat. His heart, it seemed, stopped beating, and the bottom fell out of his stomach. Before he could ask her how she knew of his little poem, she spoke.
     "I've heard you calling for a long time, I told you. I have what you need."
      He didn't take her out, then. He took her home with him, to his townhouse in a renovated mill building, and of course there was no debate, and of course they made love. At first, she had felt cold to his touch, but in the end she was hot: their sexual performance was grand, the finest Ty had ever received and the most passionate he had ever given. He couldn't recall the orgasms, but there must have been many, he decided when he awoke late, late in the following day. The sun, through drawn curtains and closed blinds, was already rusty with its waning. When Ty had reached out to touch Allegra, where she lay bundled beneath thick blankets, she called out and pulled him down. "Fuck me," she said. The sun closed its great eye and night came and Ty lay exhausted, amazed.
     "Where did you come from, Allegra? I've lived in this city all of my life. It's not that large a city. I know I would've heard of you, would've seen you somewhere in some gallery or at a play. Somewhere. You can't have always lived here." He watched her now as she rose and padded to the bathroom where she started the shower, water hissing down on the porcelain.
     "I'm telling you the truth, Ty. I've always lived here, it seems. I've haunted this place for many, many years. But I only came out when I heard you calling." She stood there in the doorway, shadow making her face a black mask.
     "Are you here to plug the hole in my soul?"
     "No. I'm here to lift the veil from my own." She turned and entered the stall, and Ty followed her, wanting more, wanting answers to her puzzles.
     A little angry, he drew back the door to the stall and stepped in, expecting hot water, at least warm water, but finding the shower blasting cold down on him. He gasped and tried to step away, but Allegra already had him by the wrist and her grip was strong, inhumanly powerful, and she drew him in, the breath going out of his chest with the shock of the cold water. His other wrist was then in the vise of her fingers and she pulled him down to her, close to her, in toward her gaping mouth.
     And she bit him. What else could she have done?
     She bit him, and there was an icy pain, and she drank deep of him. For Ty, there was only an instant of terror, and then it was like the sex; it was cold at first, and then warm building to an imagined heat that burned out of him and into her and back to him until he enjoyed it beyond anything he had known. He fainted.
     When he woke, she was with him, still. For some reason, he had thought she would have left him. Her face hovering over his, she saw the question in his fading eyes.
     "No, Ty. I wouldn't leave you. Not yet. Not now."
     "Am I going to die?" Now it was his voice like a whisper.
     "You are going to leave behind your life and start over."
     "Why are you doing this to me?"
     Again, she pointed to his chest, touching down with that hard, laguered nail above his heart. "There. I heard it calling out to me. I've been here for so very long, and I cannot leave until I hear just such a call as you have made."
     "Leave? You are going to leave me!" He tried to sit up, but found he hadn't the strength for it. She didn't even have to restrain him.
     "Yes, I am going to leave. Just as the one who made me left me so many years ago. I'm going to remake you so that you can go on haunting this place as I have."
     "Do you love me?" he asked.
     "There is no love in us. There's only desire. Once, I had the same desire that burns in you. A hunger for something beyond my ability to do or possess. When I heard your hunger, I listened, and I waited until I knew it was coming from you.
     "In a while, when I have done with you, I am going to give you this thing that I have. You know what I am. Understand: you will outlive all you now know. You will forget them, in fact. You will exist for so long that everyone who is familiar to you now will be forgotten by you. There will only be you and the desire, yourself and a new hunger."
     "Where will you be, Allegra? Where will you be?"
     Her lips were brushing his neck again. Soft. "I will be gone forever." She licked him. "It will be good for me," she said.
     Allegra squeezed him like a ripe berry, taking his life and giving back something else. Her last words were like a hollow echo to him. "It's not a blessing," she said. He died. He awoke.
     Allegra was gone.
     He lay there cold and alone for two days. His phone rang. Once, someone knocked. Ty recognized the presence on the far side of the redwood door as someone who had been a friend not so many hours before. Now it was just a human being over there, and he was not so interested in it.
     Ty didn't try to find Allegra. It was just as she had said. She was gone, gone.
     His editor phoned him from the syndicate to ask where the new column was. Ty informed him that there would be no further columns. There was no point in it.
     Hauer's exhibit was still up, of course. Ty went there, to see, to confirm what he suspected. The canvases were blank. They were not white, nor black, nor grey. They were blind spots beyond which he could not see: mysteries for him, never to be solved. He went to the theatre where Vance, a director and old friend was preparing a new play. Musicians were in the well, and he could see them working at their instruments, puffing, sawing away, manipulating damned things with light fingers: he heard nothing save the wheezing of their lungs, the scraping of their chairs on the floor.
     "No. No."
     "It's not a blessing, she had said."
     He had had a hole. In his soul.
     Now, he had a hole.
     And he waited...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gayest. Cover. Ever.

One of the artists very important in the history of the company that was variously known as Timely Comics, Atlas Comics, then Marvel Comics, was a fellow named Joe Maneely. He was widely considered to be one of the finest artists around by other such draftsmen working in the comic book industry.

While Maneely was working at Atlas (which would later be known as Marvel Comics), it was well known that he was indispensable to Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee. Whatever Lee needed, Maneely could do it. Knights in shining armor? No problem. Cowboys and Indians? Fine. Cops and Robbers? Johnny on the spot. Cartoony kids' comics? That, too.

And it wasn't just that Joe Maneely could create any kind of character that Lee asked for, he could do it on deadline and with a style that floored just about everyone who viewed his work. In later years, it would be the gentleman genius we know as Jack Kirby who would serve this purpose for Stan Lee. But in the mid 1950s the well-spring of creativity at Atlas Comics was Mr. Maneely.

Maneely died young under mysterious circumstances. After working late he was making his way home via light rail. It was assumed that he stepped out of the car for a breath of fresh air and, in his exhausted state, fell between the cars and was crushed under the wheels of the train.

And it was just as Maneely was about to break out of the Atlas ghetto. He had been noticed by DC Comics and was about to gravitate to that company for the much larger paychecks they offered top talent. And they had apparently come to consider Maneely as top talent.

I don't have much of his work in my collection. And one of the most infamous pieces of artwork he produced was the cover for TWO GUN KID #29. Widely considered to be one of the most unintentionally gay covers ever produced for a comic book. So, I nabbed one for my collection. Just for the Maneely art. I swear.

Gayest mainstream comics cover ever. Art by Joe Maneely.

"What Did They Hunt?" Indeed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Exertion

I love to hike and backpack. But sometimes when I'm laboring up a giant freaking mountain in the heat with a heavy pack on my back and I still have a couple of thousand vertical feet to climb to the summit I stop and say "WHAT THE HAIL AM I DOIN' THIS FOR??!!!!". But then I get to the top and Mother Nature flashes me her goods and I know it's all worth it.

Mother Nature is a hottie.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why are You so Grouchy?

"Why are you so grouchy?"

People ask me this all of the time.

I used to know a comic book artist who ended up being revealed to me as a neo-Nazi who thought that all leftists were unhappy grouches. He was always a very happy fellow. I can't imagine the dreams that goose-stepped through his mind.

At any rate, I only seem grouchy much of the time. These people don't get to see me when I'm hiking and exploring the forests and mountains. They don't witness my wife and me paddling down a crystal clear spring run in sunny Florida. They don't hear me whoop with joy as I stand on a mountain pinnacle after scrambling to the summit to see the view at the top.

These folk also don't see me smiling as I labor on one of my novels or short stories, feeling joy as I figure out how to piece a yarn together to make it work.

That said, I concede that I have a realist's view of what we have done to this world. And having figured out what we have done and how we act, I see no happy ending for the world as we know it, nor for the companion creatures who have walked this globe alongside us for the past few thousand years.

Too late. Too late. Too late. The time to complain was when they were passing the laws that allowed this obscenity.

When People ask me why I'm always so grouchy (in truth, I'm not, but I seem so to them) I have to tell them that it's because I read widely and am aware of what we have done to Mother Earth and to our own societies and to one another and I clearly understand what is going to happen next.

We have been proceeding down a path that is leading to destruction. No one cares that soon there will be no whales plying the seas. No one cares that soon no tigers will be left to stalk the snows of Siberia or the mangrove swamps of India. No one will do what it will take to keep the tiny pika alive and comfortable in their alpine world. We will all stand aside and watch as the last wolf howls alone, trying to find companions who are no longer there. Not a single person will stand in the way as oil is pumped out of the Earth's violated skin, as gas is spat out by spewing polluted water into our aquifers, as our mountains are torn down and their shattered summits packed into watersheds that will flow no more. People will stand and nod while our marshes are drained and soon the birds that once filled our skies will all lie like dried and fluttering husks in the dead air.

Grouchy? Not really. I just see what's coming down the pike. At the end of that road is a big gaping pit called Extinction. We're headed there at break-neck speed.


My fellow Americans.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Waiting (and Hoping) for the Self-Publishing Implosion

As I labor away on my latest projects, I take the time to mention something about ebooks.

So far, the ebook deal seems to be a good one for publishing in general. I still prefer real books and I will continue to almost exclusively buy paper books from most publishers. I shudder to think of a world without bookstores.

I will, however, buy some ebooks from small presses. I've landed some really good books from small press publishers in ebook format and have enjoyed most of those books immensely.

I continue to boycott all self-published books. I have yet to read a self-published novel that wasn't a piece of shit. I will not buy any more of those damned things and I will not download any more free self-published stinkers.


Face it. If you can't find even a small press publisher who likes your work, then you really aren't producing anything worth reading. You losers are all a bunch of pimples on the ass of commerce. Stop it, please. I'm still hoping to see you all back on the unemployment lines looking for work again at the earliest opportunity. The fad is, I hope, fading away and we will soon see this all as a very bad chapter in the history of publishing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Favorite Post-1980 Films

A list of the best movies I have seen since 1980. Why 1980? Because I said so.

Philip Baker Hall as Sydney, retired hit man. What a voice!


1: THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Finest movie of the lot, I figure. The best unfolding of a protagonist I've ever witnessed in a film. Pure brilliance all around...director, cinemaphotographer, actors, etc. What made the film for me? Daniel Plainview. As a man, both admirable and horrifying.

Genius at work, all around.

2: BLADE RUNNER. Before THERE WILL BE BLOOD, this was my all-time favorite film. Everything meshes in this one. The imagined world is synchronized perfectly, the logic flawless. I've read that some scenes were cut from the movie, for the better, I feel, if interviews with actor Joe Turkel are correct. As it stands, the movie is pure genius all around. I can't say enough good things about it. The clincher for me from being merely a good movie to one of a great work of art was the performance of Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty.

A brief moment of Rutger Hauer's stunning performance.

3: BLUE VELVET. For years I couldn't decide if I liked this film better than I liked BLADE RUNNER. For whatever reason, I settled on placing this one in the #3 spot. David Lynch hit his stride as a filmmaker with this movie. Again, there's nothing about it that I could even begin to criticize. It's so rare for me to experience a movie that I find to be perfect in every way. This is one such film and every time I see it I am amazed at the perfection of it.


A truly human villain.

4: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. For years, my favorite contemporary American writer was Cormac McCarthy. No one translated the experience of the USA so simply and so brutally as McCarthy. I've written before that I liked him best when he was something like a secret discovery for me. Few people seemed to know who he was when I mentioned his work. Things changed, of course, when the Coen Brothers produced this bit of brilliance. The script and the acting are--once again--flawless. The stars of the movie are shown just enough and perfectly, and the character actors mesh well with the continuity of the story.



A version of Satan worthy of John Milton's original vision.

5: O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?. Yeah, a comedy. But it's more than a comedy for us all. Here is modern American history laid out with humor and with pathos. Another stroke of genius from the Coen Brothers. Packed cheek by jowl with great lines and even greater scenes. I could likely fill this list with Coen Brothers movies.

Cyclops was never so much fun or more accurately portrayed.

6: HARD EIGHT. One thing I love in a good film is how characters with whom one would not wish to spend any time at all in real life can be made to be not just interesting, but sympathetic. Here we are treated to a protagonist who is a retired hit-man for the mob, a near-brainless drifter and inept con artist as his adopted ward, a stupid prostitute as girlfriend of the ward, and Samuel L. Jackson doing a turn as a head of security who is far more stupid than he seems. Not a decent person in the lot, really, but you end up having a great time with them.

Just perfect.

7: THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Goddamn, I'm sorry, but I have to put another Coen Brothers creation here. This film is, without any doubt whatsoever, the funniest damned movie I have ever seen. In a very twisted sort of way, it's like a diseased and horrible version of a classic I LOVE LUCY episode. One misinterpretation and misunderstanding follows another until nothing is left but the ability to laugh at what is going on. There is not a wasted second in this movie, and the parade of fine actors is astounding. This movie is one reason that I hold John Goodman in such high regard as an actor. This film, and BARTON FINK which is another Coen Brother movie but I'm not going to give those brilliant fuckers another chance to make my top-ten list.

Funniest movie. Ever.
Ever, dude.

8: THE STRAIGHT STORY. Directed by David Lynch. But frankly, if you're a fan of his more experimental work, you'd never know it. I love this one. It's a movie about regular people who are not rich, are not powerful, are not terribly smart. It is based on the true story of Alvin Straight who drove a riding lawnmower for many hundreds of miles so that he could see his brother one last time before he died. There is more emotion and power packed into this little film than in any thousand big-budget efforts out of Hollywood. The star, Richard Farnsworth, actually was dying when the film was produced, adding more than we could ever know to the power of his performance.

The bar scene. Amazing.

9: DOWN BY LAW. Jim Jarmusch is another one of my favorite directors. I don't know if any of his films have broken out to be big moneymakers, but I will assume that his financiers are happy with the returns because he does seem to keep making movies. This one is effective as both a drama and a comedy, dealing as it does with three total losers who end up escaping from prison in a Louisiana swamp. The  first time I saw it I kept expecting one or more of the characters to do something horrible, for the film to become what most American prison movies end up being. But the characters end up not being monsters at all, but just relatively decent human beings who only want their freedom without hurting anyone. It's a great little movie.

The treasure is in the details.

And there I'll end my list. I don't feel like finishing it off as a top ten. Fuck it. Be happy I let you know what my top nine favorites are.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ditko Evolves

Steve Ditko came up with some stunning cover artwork during his tenure at Marvel Comics. I've always liked the cover to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #23. It was bold and creative in a way that harkened back to the efforts of Jack Cole on his near-genius creation, PLASTIC MAN. Ditko was, in his own style, toying with anatomy and kinetics in a manner that hadn't been effectively executed since Cole's departure from comic books.

This is a scan of my personal copy. Despite the fact that I assembled my collection intentionally as a low-grade affair (so that I could read the darned things without worrying about hurting their "value"), I think I'll upgrade this copy sometime soon.

Ditko channeling Jack Cole.

Friday, July 13, 2012

THE COALITION, PART II (coming soon!)

Coming very soon from the mind of that madcap genius, Robert Mathis Kurtz, Part 2 of the THE COALITION zombie series from Severed Press!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

King Kirby Does Giant Gorilla!

Still writing. I don't see a break to write any detailed trip reports or essays for a bit. Maybe one about comics if I can steal a couple of hours.

In the meantime, more good stuff from King Kirby. This almost-Kong cover for Journey Into Mystery #65 is a real winner. This comic appeared right around the same time as Fantastic Four #1. Kirby had been telling Lee for several years that he could save Martin Goodman's comic outfit if they'd just cut him loose and let him create some new superheroes for the company.

Lee and Goodman finally relented and Kirby made history.

But the credit and the money were stolen from him.

Gorilla covers sold comics in those days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Busy writing novels.

In the meantime, enjoy more fantastic pre-hero Marvel coolness from Jack Kirby:

TALES OF SUSPENSE #8 with killer Kirby cover!!! Jack Kirby saved Marvel Comics and made them worth billions of dollars! He and his heirs were robbed!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Missed Deadline and Migraines

I really learned a good lesson during the period when I wrote for the comics industry. And that lesson was writing for deadline. You make a commitment as a writer and meet it. Later, that lesson came in handy for reviews and short story requests.

This month I missed my first deadline. It's because of the workload I have at my regular job, and impresses on me that I really need to get free of that to make my final push as a professional writer--to be a writer full time. I've achieved all of my other writing goals, but that one eludes me.

To try to make up for the missed deadline I spent quite too much time behind the keyboard this past weekend as I did my best to get the word counts to where I wanted to see them. By Sunday afternoon I was feeling weird, my head was pounding and my left (good) eye was aching like Hell. (I'm legally blind in my right eye and so my left eye strains to take up the extra work).

Since I hadn't had a full-blown migraine in well over a year, I didn't realize that's what was hitting me until I was well into the attack. I ended up passing out for several hours. One of the classic symptoms I suffer when I get one are lights and shapes in my line of sight. This is generally followed by nausea and headaches so debilitating that sometimes they make me pass out.

I slept right through the worst of it, but at one point my optic nerves were apparently firing full blast. I felt that someone was shining a bright flashlight directly onto my eyelids and this woke me in the night. I literally thought someone was in my bedroom shining a flashlight in my face. After that, things got better and I was able to go in to work today after taking some pain killers.

This afternoon I fell asleep for three hours right after getting home. Woke up and chipped away again at the novel. It's almost done.

A writer's life.

Wake me when it's over.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Carole's New Kayak, Brief Visit to See Family

I took a brief break from the novel to run out to pick up a kayak for Carole that we found on Craigslist. While on the run out, we stopped by to see my nephew and his family before rushing back to the house.

What did I see today with my one near-sighted eye and my one blind eye?

Our truck with our new (well new for us--it's a used item) Wilderness Pungo 120 kayak.





My nephew Mark and his wife Michelle.

My grand-nephew Harris and his tiny doggie Mimi.

My grand-niece Madison.

My grand-nephew Nolan.

This is Pepe. She is really sweet. And really small.

This little fellow is their totally fucking insane hamster. Do not put your hand in there or he will bite the shit out of it. Do not put your finger through the bars of his cage or he will bite the shit out of it. Do not put your nose to his cage or he will bite the shit out of it. He spends half his time climbing up and down the bars trying to figure out how to get out or just doing his goddamndest to bite through the metal. He is totally fucking insane. If he got out I am convinced that he would run right up to the nearest living thing and bite the shit out of it.

This is Sassy, their cat. She's pretty normal.

Tiny dog. I've forgotten its name. Very sweet and very damned tiny.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Strange Tales #94

Here's another issue of STRANGE TALES in the days before Marvel turned over to the publication of superhero comics. A wonderful cover by Jack Kirby with interiors by the team that was the glue holding Marvel together in those days.

"Save Me From The...WEED!" Yeah, I'll post details of that one tomorrow.

I've never read what the pay rate was at Marvel during this period, but it must have been relatively decent. Not as good as the rates at DC, but better than the money being paid at the other publishers who were hanging on. TV had all but killed off the pulps by this time and comics were at the end of a decline that was only then being reversed by the reemergence of the superhero genre at DC.

Even as this issue hit the stands, Goodman and Lee were already planning to load their publishing schedule with superhero stories to test the waters. They knew they had a good man at the helm to do so: Jack Kirby, who had a long history of creating superheroes both for Marvel (Capt. America) and DC (Challengers of the Unknown, Manhunter, the Newsboy Legion, etc.).

But for the next few months Marvel would continue to survive on the titles that were keeping the company (barely) afloat: monster comics, science-fiction comics, westerns, and a few romance/girl titles. Yes, there were once comic books for little girls that weren't published by Archie.

To Paraphrase Peter Finch...




I couldn't resist:



Friday, July 06, 2012

Rarity of Early Marvels, in My Personal Experience

I grew up around old comic books. My dad owned jillions of them, blah-blah-blah. You guys have heard the story and know the drill.

I followed that childhood by being a dealer in rare comic books for most of my adult life, stopping only when I was 38 years old.

So I saw a shitload of great old comic books in my day. Always my favorites were the creations of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko at Marvel Comics. Kirby and Ditko did it all, and all by themselves (no matter what bullshit lies you may hear).

People talk about how rare and difficult various books are to locate. When it comes to early Marvels, almost all of them are hard to find in near mint or mint because of the low-grade cover stock they used which resulted in what was to be called "Marvel chipping" in later years. That is, the covers became brittle and chipped away at the edges as time passed. You do sometimes find them in perfect shape, but this is extremely rare.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. What I want to talk about is the general rarity and availability of the various key issues in any grade at all. I always noticed that some books were very hard to find in any grade whatsoever, while others were relatively easy to locate. This was due, of course, to the number of issues that sold on the stands and which were subsequently available to be purchased as collectibles.

So, I'm going to list the key early Marvel books in order of how rare the key books were for me to find and purchase. Keep in mind---that this is subjective. The results were how hard the books were for ME to find and purchase. Other folk in other parts of the nation may have gotten different results.

The single rarest early Marvel superhero book was the first one:


Fantastic Four #1. In all of my years of experience of dealing old comics, I don't think I ever had but six of these in my stock. That's even counting my dad's days of dealing old books when that particular issue was only a few years off the stands. In our neck of the woods (the South), it was, and remains, an almost impossible find.

Next on the list would be Tales to Astonish #27, the first appearance of Ant Man. Now, when this story was first published it was just part of the general stock of monster/sf stories written and illustrated by Jack Kirby. But when Kirby was ordered to create more superheroes to capitalize on the DC superhero revival going on there, he reached back a year or so and turned Henry Pym, scientist who could shrink himself into something new: Superhero Ant Man, alias Henry Pym. This book was always very hard for me to locate. I owned maybe eight copies in all my days as a comic dealer.


Third has to be The Incredible Hulk #1. Now, this book was a Kirby brainchild all the way. And it had some really dynamic covers. Especially that first issue. But let me tell you--it was always among the very toughest of issues for me! Only a few times did that book ever cross the threshold of my shops. I found about the same number of these as I did of the first appearance of Ant Man, but generally in lesser condition for some reason.


Fourth toughest would be Tales of Suspense #39, the first appearance of Iron Man. Another Jack Kirby creation, Kirby brainstormed the character, did the layouts and rough dialogue for the book, then handed the project over to Don Heck who tightened up the pencils and turned in the final project. Because this book was one of the issues where Marvel introduced a new superhero within the confines of their old monster title, it was always one of the tougher ones for me to find. I've owned more than a dozen of them over the years.


Next would be Journey Into Mystery #83, the first appearance of The Mighty Thor, another concoction of Jack Kirby's. At this point Kirby and Ditko were being given the chance to produce new superhero books within the numbering of the science fiction and horror comics they were already writing and drawing for Marvel. Sales of Journey Into Mystery must have been good, because this was a book that was never particularly hard for me to find. I've owned somewhere between two dozen and three dozen copies over my career as a dealer.


The following superhero books were always relatively easy for me to find. That is, I owned dozens of copies of each issue of the rest of these books over the years. Which is hard to believe, considering how much some of these books sell for.

Amazing Fantasy #15 introduced The Amazing Spider-Man. I've owned a LOT of these in my day. So many that I've lost count. It was rare that I didn't have at least one copy in stock. The same goes for The Amazing Spider-Man #1. There were times when I owned as many as five copies at a time. They were not--in the grand scheme of things--rare. They were always in high demand, of course, but not what I would term "rare".



The Avengers #1 was another one that was not particularly difficult to find. Copies would stroll through the door fairly often. Ditto Strange Tales #101 which did not introduce the Human Torch, but gave him a comic book where he could have solo stories without the rest of the Fantastic Four. The Torch was created by Carl Burgos who later tried to sue to collect possession of his creation, to no good effect. He died without having reclaimed his property from Marvel. Also fairly easy to nab was Daredevil #1 which was considered the dog of early Marvels. Sometimes DD #1 was a really hard book for me to just get rid of. They were never in high demand.

And X-Men#1 was another book that was easy to find, but also very damned easy to sell. This was because the later X-Men incarnation was so damned popular--it made those early issues must-have for collectors with deep pockets.  Tales to Astonish #35 was another one that was hard for me to sell when I landed them, because no one considered it the first appearance of Ant Man--it was just his first appearance "in costume" and therefore was a hard sell in the early days of collecting. These are all books that I probably bought and sold a hundred times each (or more) over my days as a comic book dealer.




Thursday, July 05, 2012

Busy!

Be careful what you wish for.

I've always wanted to be a busy writer. Lately I have so many writing projects that I can't find the time to go hiking, which is my great leisure time passion.

But I want to go hiking!
 I've got so many projects staring me down, from short stories to novels, that my free time is completely dominated by the keyboard and the word processor. For the next few months, at least. I've promised my agent a new novel to shop around, and that one looms large just now.

Oh, well. I asked for it.

"Get busy writing!" Says Sophie Cat.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

We've Wrecked It All

Well, I'm convinced (and have been for some time) that we've finally ecologically wrecked the globe. There are far too many humans on this planet consuming far too much of its resources for the natural world to recover. Whatever hope I had that things could ever get better for Mother Earth were dashed years ago.

Visit your National Parks. See them before they're ruined.

So my advice to those of you who give a damn is the same advice I've been giving for some time now:

Go out and see the wilderness!

It's not all gone, just yet. There are places that appear to be relatively untouched, so if you want to experience what looks to be unspoiled wilderness, then you still have a small window of opportunity to do so.

For while longer the water is still pure.

Go to one of our great National Parks near you, or to some far away. Just now you can still hike and camp in forests and on river banks and mountain peaks and in canyons where the green things still grow and the wild things still roam. We'll have this for a short time, anyway.

And there are hundreds of wilderness areas all over our nation where you can go to find genuine solitude. I've been to many places where the only unnatural thing that can break the murmur of the woods is the faraway gravelly scratch of a jet flying high in the sky. And sometimes you can get lucky and such a thing won't  happen.

Smoky Mountain elk...for now.

Your kids likely won't  know what that's like, I'm afraid to say. At the rate things are unraveling, I doubt there will be anything like what we now have available to them or to their children. Our wild megafauna are dropping away like dominoes, one after the other. In a little while there will be no grizzly bears, no wolverines, no wolves; elephants will not roam the plains of Africa, and lions will be only a memory. Whales are going to vanish one by one until we have only their images in books.

The big trees are going, going....

Our forests are going to strangle in drought and heat and succumb to hoards of invasive insect pests. Our wetlands will dry up and burn. The birds we take for granted will fade away and come no more to roost in trees that remain or go to nest along lakes that will be fouled forever.

So now, while we still have a few places left; while we still share the globe with some of our wild companions--go out and see them. They'll be leaving soon, and they'll never come back.

They're fading fast. You'd better hurry to say goodbye...