Friday, 16 December 2011

I was quoting Joe Simon on Wednesday, the day he died. He was 98.
LA Times Obituary
Simon died Wednesday night in New York City after a brief illness, according to a statement from his family, and his death adds a solemn final note to the 70th anniversary of his greatest creation, Captain America, who leaped across the big screen this summer with the Marvel Studios film "Captain America: The First Avenger." The film grossed $369 million in worldwide box office and earned strong reviews despite early skepticism about the 21st century pop culture potential of a Roosevelt-era character who looks like a walking American flag.
The obit talks about the '40s and jumps to the 60s. No mention of the romance stuff. they use that great photo of him and Kirby though.

As hinted earlier, I'm going on tour for a couple of weeks. I still don't have ALL the dates, but things are starting to fall into place. I'll be in Angouleme from Thursday Jan 26 till Sunday Jan 29.I'll be interviewed onstage by Paul Gravett somewhere in there. Then you can find me in Paris, where I'm supposed to be doing a signing between Monday Jan 30 and Weds Feb 1. Then it's off to London where I'll be appearing at Gosh on Friday 3rd Feb. But Phone up and book a seat as they will be limited. I'll do a version of the stand-up picture show I did in one of the studio stages of the Sydney Opera House back in August. Here's a photo from it that may not have been online before. Obviously it won't be a huge big cinema-size screen at Gosh, but I'll make up for it in other ways. Well, you know what I mean. I tried something similar in Spain recently and the sound wouldn't work for a short film I had (nothing works in Spain- I had the nerve to say that and everybody applauded. 'Yeh, you tell em, they won't listen to us!'), so I had to improvise a voice over, which turned out to be funnier that the original anyway. You never know.

More details later.

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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Charlotte Brontë manuscript bought for £690,000 by Paris museum
Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits purchases miniature booklet created by author when she was 14 at auction
The manuscript is set in Glass Town, a fictional world created by the teenage Brontës, and contains 4,000 words over 19 pages small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. Formerly in a private collection and previously untraced, it contains ideas later fleshed out in Brontë's novels.
One scene, says Sotheby's book specialist Gabriel Heaton, anticipates one of the most famous episodes in Jane Eyre, in which Bertha, Mr Rochester's mad wife, tries to kill him by setting fire to the curtains in his bedroom.
There's a photo of the little wee book at the link. Isn't that amazing.


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

It's just comics- part 14

My copy of Michelle Nolan's book, Love on the Racks, took a whole month to get to me from, otherwise I'd have given it a proper mention here earlier. Nolan is especially good on statistics and at highlighting the loony business manoeuvres that led to what she aptly calls 'the Love Glut,' which I want to examine in a minute. Her book is a fine summation of all the printed evidence, including her collection of comics going back to the beginning, as well as stuff from before that, from the romance pulp magazines. We still need a book that examines the art and puts more names to the people who made the things, but we can't have everything all at once. The subject is woefully understudied and we need to take one step at a time. Nolan's book lays the foundations. It marks out the territory in very logical order and any further advances would have to refer back to this. It's 200 pages of solid information which I consumed over a few days.

The timeline of the romance comic can be divided cleanly into *three* separate phases. Firstly there is a rise to a market glut from 8/1947 to mid 1950, following which there is a collapse. Not a complete discontinuity, but the sudden wiping away of over 60% of the furious activity. then there is a second phase, 1951 to April 1955 which is the month that introduced the stamp of authority of the Comics Code Censorship body. Thus the history of comics comes to a crucial divide where we must talk of of 'pre-code' and 'post-code'. Many companies were forced out of business in 1955 and '56 and in general, much that could previously be written and drawn in a romance comic was now proscribed. The first phase was the most experimental and intriguing from our perspective, as I have attempted to show in previous posts. By the second phase the nature of a romance comic was more narrowly defined, but remember that this phase includes the Toth and Frazetta stories I've already described. By the third phase it was reduced to a set of cliches and it becomes very hard to find worthwhile exceptions. It's this phase that we picture when we think of the romance comic; it's the one we see quoted in the Lichtenstein paintings.

How to make a glut : a study of the loony business side of comics. This is how Marvel did it. Marvel were the first to follow Simon and Kirby's initial success with the genre (see my part 4) with My Romance #1, a whole year later in Sept. 1948. They had four romance titles going by Jul 49, and between then and jan '50 they added another 27 individual series. Some of them had interesting, one-word titles:

Faithful #1, Nov 1949; Loveland #1, Nov 1949

Cupid #1, Dec 1949; Honeymoon #41, jan 1950

If you can get close enough to that last title (click to enlarge) You'll notice it has a number 41 on it. The First forty issues were a humor comic titled Gay Comics. My understanding is that a publisher could save itself the expense of paying for a postal permit for a new title by using the numbering of a discontinued one. Thus Marvel did not officially cancel the Human Torch but continued it under the new title Love Tales #36 (5/49). In the scramble to get as many love books onto the market as possible they turned their extant superhero titles into romances. Blonde Phantom became Lovers #23 (5/49), Sub-Mariner became Best Love #33 (8/49)(see my part 8). The last one standing, Captain America, was turned into a horror comic (10/49).

Publisher Fox used this technique extensively. There's a wicked humour to making a list out of these, so I'm going to quote them all, and if you are a lover of insanity it's worth working through: Meet Corliss Archer became My Life with #4 (9/48); Zago, Jungle Prince became My Story from #5 (5/49); Zegra (a jungle girl) became My Love Life with #6 (6/49); Phantom Lady became My Love Secret with #24 (6/49); Rula (another jungle girl-this was an earlier fad) became I loved with #28 (7/49); Western Outlaws became My Secret Life with #22 (7/49); Western Killers became My True Love with #65 (7/49); Jo-jo became My Desire with #31 (8/49); Western Thriller became My Past with #7 (8/49); All Top Comics became My Experience with #19 (9/49); Captain Kidd became My Secret Story as of #26 (10/49); Women Outlaws became My Love Memoirs as of #9 (11/49); Murder Inc. became My private Life as of #16 (2/50). And to meet what they imagined was an insatiable demand for love comics, they also started a few at #1. Altogether Fox had 21 Romance comics in the market.

The art in those books is, as far as I've seen, all dreary and clumsy and if you look at too much of it you'll lose the will to live. The covers on the other hand are always striking though rarely in a pleasant way. They invariably shout 'FOX' just from the feeling they leave you with. Sometimes it's a feeling of imminent mayhem.

My Love Memoirs #11 feb '50 My life #13 mar '50

Other times the mayhem's already under way.

My Secret Romance #2 Mar'50, My Great Love #3 Feb '50

But whatever's going on, it's never any of that sweet stuff you see on the Marvel covers above.

My Intimate Affair #1 mar '50, My Love Life #9 dec '49

You don't need a business degree to know it was all bound to go wrong. The funniest account of the glut and the fall-out appeared in, of all places, a romance comic book. Publisher EC's contribution to the love genre was remarkably restrained and also short-lived. It consisted of fifteen issues under three different titles. This was their final offering.

Modern Love #8, Aug 1950

In which they reveal quite early their delight in mockery that would later be their salvation. In the oddest story ever to appear in a romance comic, Gaines and Feldstein lampooned the Love Glut. It was drawn by Feldstein in his usual charmless and wooden manner. The old geezer on the left is supposedly the EC publisher; he's having an affair with a sweet young thing and he has decided to put love into the comics:

It's a brilliant idea and all the women in America have got to get a copy.

But that's not enough. We don't need the stupid crime comics!

Let's take everything we publish and turn it into a romance comic!

Now Feldstein introduces caricatures of his rivals. First Victor Fox, here named V.Wolf.

Here's Lev Gleason (Love Greasin), publisher of the enormously successful first Crime comic, Crime Does Not Pay. He actually only published two romance titles, one of which would run for 57 issues all the way into 1956.


The returns start coming in:

Fox is feeling the pinch

Jack Lyman and Joe Curry, alias Simon and Kirby. In this version they've followed EC into the Love Glut. The public isn't to know the truth of such matters. Two panels later they throw themselves out the window to their deaths.

The sums are done and it's looking ugly:

A gun is produced and everybody commits suicide. exeunt

whole 8-page story link

When market congestion caused the roof to fall in, Marvel cut its 31 romance titles down to 7. Quality cancelled all 14 of its titles and brought back three of them six months later in 1951. The other companies either scaled down the romance thing or got out of it. There were even a couple who had published moderately before the glut and continued moderately after it. But what about Fox? Fox got rid of all 21 of its love books, mostly by converting them into other genres: My Love Affair became March of Crime at #7 after only six issues; My past continued as Crimes Inc after #11; Women in Love became Feature Presentation after four issues; My Experience changed again, this time to Judy Canova after #22; My Love story became Hoot Gibson; My Great Love became Will Rogers Western; My Secret Affair became Martin Kane , Private Eye from #4; My Secret Romance became Star Presentation from #3; My intimate Affair changed to Inside Crime; My Private Life became Pedro Fox at #18 after previously being Murder inc. ; And Murder inc. got a comeback, following the numbering of My Desire at #35.

It is argued that it was the Love Glut that put Fox out of business. Joe Simon said of Victor Fox:
"The man was insane, absolutely insane. He would go off on a speech like, “I’m the King of the Comics, and I’m not playing school here with chalk on the blackboard, I’ve got millions of dollars tied up in this business!…The man was mad.” He was a “short, round, nattily dressed man in his late forties, with a rasping voice that would shrill to frightening crescendos when he was excited. And he was excited often."
Like the EC chaps, Will Eisner also drew Fox under a pseudonym, Vincent Reynard. This was in his 1986 book The Dreamer and accounted for Fox's earlier bandwagon jumping when he published an imitation of Superman , titled Wonderman (here changed to Heroman, just to help muddle our memories forever) and got thoroughly sued for it.

He's the sort of publisher that if it wasn't one thing that put him out of business it would have been another.

Ken Quattro's detailed account of DC vs Victor Fox


Monday, 12 December 2011

The publisher of the Dapper John App is Panel Nine, an imprint (do we say imprint when talking of apps?) of operating out of Tokyo. The guy behind that is Russell Willis. Russell goes all the way back to the Brit comics small press of the early 1980s. In fact, one of his publications was obliquely mentioned in the Big Alec book in the How To be an Artist chapter. He had interviewed David Lloyd in the first issue of his little journal Infinity. I picked a fight over something David said and the argument continued in each issue of the magazine after that. I was argumentative in those days. Russell was interviewed at in Sept 2008 when he released a nostalgic ninth issue of Infinity, being the one that had remained unpublished since 1985, containing final salvos from both Campbell and Lloyd. Some of his lines in the interview take me back to the ramshackle but vital small press days.
"The first issue was 40 copies, photocopied then stapled on the steps of Central Hall where the Westminster Comic Marts took place. I met a brash, young Warren Ellis (while) stapling on those steps.
(image from the 1993 Fantagraphics intro pages, contained on the app, see yesterday)

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Sunday, 11 December 2011

And here it is! This exists only as an app! Whatever an app is. This is one of my earliest books. It was last published all in one place in 1993. All the extras take the page count up to twice the original!

Itunes USA*******UK******Australia

In the Days of the Ace Rock'n'Roll Club was a book, or an ongoing series of 7-page stories which I drew between March 1978 and March 1979. The stories interlocked in various ways, with characters from one piece showing up in another. The 'arc', as we say nowadays, came to a logical conclusion after the eighth story, by which time Dapper John had emerged as the main character. A proto-Alec MacGarry appears as the second key character. It was in these pages that I started to get the idea of using autobiography as a starting point for a big serious book.

(The artistic observer might notice that this is where I started all that experimentation with the zip-a-tones.)

I had self-published an earlier book in 1975 (when I was 19) and with that I had realized the hard fact that I knew no way of selling 500 copies of a book. Unwilling to venture into that again, but still clinging to the notion that I was a comics author of some merit, the completely finished art for the ACE book sat on the floor of my Southend bedsit in a neatly folded bright blue plastic laundry bag for the next three years. The parts first saw the light of day in the years 1982-83, in random sequence, in a variety of small press photocopied booklets. Alan Moore was writing a review column (in addition to his many more important endeavors) in 1983 and he reviewed one of these little chapters. This was the first contact between me and Alan, and well, you know where that led.

The package contains, in addition to the core stories, all the relevant small press covers, with their hand-colouring, the Alan Moore review in full, a couple of 7-page tangent stories, all the extra introductory pages in comics form both for the Harrier 1988 printing (cover and six pages- never reprinted), the Fantagraphics 1993 collected edition (cover and three pages, which was the last time I ever drew Dapper John until the cover for the App above), a wise introduction by me at the front and a decent interview with me at the back in which my editor attempts to extract exactly what that 'Rock'n'roll' thing was all about. There is a selection of old photos and news cuttings relating to the subject, with a running humorous commentary by me. And the interview is adorned with some previously unseen pieces of painted colour art. My editor was so pleased with all the extra stuff I supplied that he bought me an ipad! Now I can find out what an app is. When I get the thing off my daughter Erin.

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