comic books that changed my life #5

Well, I’m doing it! I’m crossing over into DC Comics territory. I was a Marvel Comics kid who would rarely pick up a DC title back in the early days of my collecting. For some reason, Batman and Superman and all those other DC characters didn’t interest me back then. I took the motto “Make Mine Marvel” to heart in those days. As I got older and more serious about collecting, I worked my way into the DC Universe. That, as they say, is a story for another time.

This was when I mainly bought comic books with exciting covers. But, I also liked the monster stories. (The first title of this blog series was Werewolf By Night, after all.) Because I liked monsters so much, I laid down my hard-earned 20 cents and purchased this DC comic book, The Demon #13 (Oct. ’73).

The Demon was a series created, drawn, and written by the great Jack Kirby. Kirby was king. He was the major talent behind the creation of the language of comic book art. He was a pioneer. He is probably the most influential artist in comic book history and, for years, I thought he sucked.

That’s right. I couldn’t stand his stuff. In my formative years as a cartoonist, I couldn’t understand why he was the king. As I worked to improve my drawing skills, I kept looking at his work and thought it was crap. “He can’t draw!” I would think.

Kirby couldn’t draw anatomy well. Look at the hands he’d draw. How many knuckles does a human hand have? How long is a thumb compared to the fingers? Who has squared off fingertips?

I could go on, but I’m saving my Kirby dissertation for a favorite comic book artist blog series.

Suffice to say, I did eventually come to appreciate the greatness of Jack Kirby’s art.

The Demon #13 might have been the first DC Comics title I’d ever purchased. It was certainly one of the very first. As far as I can remember, I bought it to take on the family vacation. Each year, my family would head out to a lake cabin resort near Spooner, WI for a two week vacation. This issue was one in the stack of comic books that I brought along to kill time during the long drive from St. Paul. I don’t recall any of the other issues.

The Demon is one of my favorite characters and issue #13 is from his original series. This was long before the Demon started speaking in rhyme. That’s the one thing that annoyed me about the later incarnation of the Demon. I like the Hell aspect and that the Demon is kind of evil while still being a good guy. I like his alter-ego’s name, Jason Blood. So cool.

The art I’ve selected from this issue are all full page illustrations, with one exception. In fact, one is a two page spread!

The cover (see above) has an interesting use of color to help direct the eye. Your attention is drawn to the Demon and his two adversaries. The monsters are less significant, but still important. And the Demon’s declaration, “I’m unleashing every terrible thing your mind can think of! Can you take it?” makes one wonder if he talking to his adversaries or is he talking to us? Perhaps both.

The two page spread is chock full of Jack Kirby goodness. Some of his best work is this big drawing stuff. It’s big, spectacular! And Kirby was very good at making sure that the design didn’t leave the reader confused. The storyline continues to flow through the dramatic art.

There’s also that black dotted cosmic fire thing the Kirby was so fond of using. I don’t know if he invented it, but it sure seems like a signature tool of his. And countless Kirby-influenced artists (myself included) have used the same effect.

Incidentally, note the name of the villain, Baron Von Evilstein. That’s fantastic! With a name like that how could you not be evil? That name can’t help but pigeon-hole a fellow. Even if he wanted to be a philanthropist, how could he while named Evilstein?

So, the next page I’ve selected is the first page of chapter two. It introduces “the Monster”. A not so subtle take on the Frankenstein legend. Kirby’s version was created by Baron Von Evilstein.

The Monster is huge. And I love the metal bars that protrude from him. Maybe not quite the same as the flat-headed creature that Boris Karloff brought to life, but the similarities are there.

There’s a single frame that I’ve included that has its focus on the creatures hands. The hands are stretched out imploringly to a woman he sees as a friend. It brings to mind Karloff’s so expressive use of his hands in his portrayal of the Monster. No other actor who played the Monster ever came close to Karloff. Part of the reason for that, I think, is due to the way Karloff used his hands.

Speaking of hands, this brings me to the final piece I’ve included. It’s the first page of chapter three. Kirby sums up the action of the scene while deftly bringing in the Demon. That’s a pretty cool hand there. We’re in for some action!

So that’s the first DC comic of this series. There will be others. The one that convinced me to start collecting DC. The one that hooked me into Batman. The one that got me interested in Superman. And more. But you’ll have to wait.

fat britney?

Ok, I may be a little late here, but, I had to weigh in on this Britney Spears thing. I’m not going to defend her completely unprofessional meltdown at the MTV video awards spectacular (sarcasm). She blew it. She has only two talents: dancing and lip-syncing (nobody actually thinks she can sing, right?). And she has one asset – her looks. Those three things are all she has and they got her pretty far. Until that night.

Well, actually, one of the three things didn’t fail her. Her looks. That’s what I want to address here. I was astounded by how many people got on her about her being fat! Fat!?! Jay Leno, for one, made quite an issue of her supposed heft. (I do give credit to Kevin Eubanks, Jay’s bandleader, for speaking up and saying she’s looked pretty good. David Letterman, also, said she looked good.)

Britney Spears looked great. Sure, her body has changed a little from what it had been before she had children, but how can anyone say she’s fat? But that’s what Leno, Roger Friedman (Fox’s entertainment critic), and, even, Carrot Top (that freak) all suggested.

So, here’s a picture of that fattie, Britney Spears.

Appalling, ain’t it?

I’ve compiled a few examples of past sex symbols, who would be considered fat today.

Elke Sommer – disgusting!

Dyan Canyon – gross!

Ann-Margaret – oh, no!

Ursula Andress – that’s so bad!

Raquel Welsh – no, no, no!

Marilyn Monroe – she’s a sex symbol?

It’s that Britney’s fat talk we get from people like Jay Leno, who isn’t very thin himself, that can lead to the unrealistic expectations on how women should look. Most women would love to look like Britney Spears, but when she’s accused of being fat… Well, are these examples, below, what we’d prefer women to look like?

Kate Moss – mmmm, those elbows can cut glass!

Mary-Kate Olsen – thighs the width of my wrist are so sexy!

Nicole Richie – skeletons turn me on!

So, let’s see Britney again.

How fat does she look now?

bridge collapse 8/1/07

A friend of mine who lives in Arkansas sent me an email to make sure that my loved ones and I were all right. Here’s the response I sent him…

Hi, Bill.
I thought I might hear from you. Yes, everyone is ok. I don’t use that bridge in my commute to work, but I used to.

Amy was on that bridge just within the last two weeks. Very scary when I think of how this could have happened at anytime.

Our son, Hayden, had his four year check up yesterday. The appointment lasted much longer than we had anticipated, so I took the whole day off. He’s good, no worries. So, it wasn’t until this morning, when I parked where I normally do when going to work, that I was able to walk over to the bridge and have a look. It was about a half hour walk to the bridge and I didn’t see much when I got there. The authorities won’t let the public get very close.

I did see an empty I-35W. That is an eerie site. It’s always flowing with traffic, especially at 7am. Then I could get around to see the south end of the collapsed bridge. I could just see the underside of the bridge sloping down at about a 45 degree angle. That ain’t right. Sen. Klobuchar is right, bridges should not just fall down in America.

I imagine that at some point, after the recovery effort is complete, the public will be able to get a closer look.

It’s really something. We’ve seen tragedies happen before. Since Amy and I moved into our house in 2000, there’s been the Columbia space shuttle accident, Sen. Wellstone’s plane crash, the tsunami, 9/11, Katrina. Events that pull the country’s and the world’s attention away from the everyday. For us, Amy and me, the Wellstone death had hit closest to home, but not as close as this. I may have voted for Wellstone in 1992, but I used to drive over that bridge everyday.

It’s not just some bridge in some remote area or somewhere I’ve never been. I knew that bridge very well. If this accident had occurred 8 years ago, I might very well have been on it. If it had happened two weeks ago or so, Amy could have been on it. (Not to mention the hundreds of other times we’ve driven over that bridge.) That’s really close. Too close.

I heard a story this morning that I hadn’t heard in all the coverage in the last day and a half. Apparently, there was a fellow trapped in his car and rescuers just weren’t able to get him free. He was still alive, but he wasn’t going to survive. Someone in the crowd of people trying to help handed the man a cell phone, so the man could call his wife and say goodbye. I can’t help but think of my wife, Amy.

Now, not to get all political on you or anything, but I wonder how long it will take for someone to blame Bush. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

Sorry about that last part. I needed to insert that. I was getting a little too emotional for my liking.

Anyway, we’re ok. The bridge will be rebuilt. Maybe our infrastructure will be getting the serious attention it deserves. And, hopefully, the final death toll will be mercifully low. Our hearts break for everyone touched by this tragedy.

Hug your family, kiss your wife.
Your friend,

comic book that changed my life #4

Jeepers! It’s difficult to keep a blog going. Let alone continue this series on comic books that have changed my life. But, undaunted, I present the fourth installment.

As I’ve stated before, this series deals mainly with the art of comic books. Not so much on the stories. The issues I’ll talk this time about are The Defenders 18 & 19 (Dec. ’74 & Jan. ’75). Mostly about issue #19.

Let’s start with the covers. Both penciled by the fantastic Gil Kane (I’m unsure who the inker was). Gil Kane must have done half of all the covers of Marvel titles during that time period. And looking at his work, it’s easy to understand why. His dynamic drawing style was perfect for pulling in the buyers. I just might have to do a perspective on Gil Kane’s covers one day.

The cover of #18 is good. It’s not quite the best Kane could do, but it does set up the battle of two super-powered groups very nicely. Issue #19, however, is very good. Our defeated heroes strew over a rubble pile in the foreground, their conquerors in the background. Look at the Hulk. Look at his hand. That is classic dynamic Gil Kane stuff! That’s the kind of cover that makes you want to get the book. And when I as a kid, I did.

These two issues also give me the opportunity to address the influence an inker can have on the art of a book. Both issues were penciled by Sal Buscema, younger brother of the brilliant John Buscema. Although, never quite achieving the level of his older brother, Sal was a good and capable story-teller. And in issue #19, he has a transcendent moment. I’ll get to that later.

The inker! Ah, yes, the inker. They aren’t simply tracers as one of the running jokes in ‘Chasing Amy’ suggested. A good inker can bring up the level of the penciler, just as a bad one can bring a penciler down. Some inkers work better with certain pencilers, but not well with others.

Here’s a great example of how an inker affects the finished art. Issue #18 was inked by Dan Green. Green was a good inker. Issue #19 was inked by Klaus Janson. Janson, when paired with the right penciler, was great. I’ve selected two panels depicting the Hulk, one from each issue. The first was inked by Dan Green. The second by Klaus Janson. Note the flatness of Green’s Hulk. Compare that to Janson’s Hulk. Janson’s Hulk looks alive, real. Both panels were penciled by Sal Buscema, but the Janson inked panel elevates Sal’s pencils from good to great. No, the inker is not just a tracer.

There’s a nice sequence of panels depicting Dr. Bruce Banner defusing some mini nuclear bomb device. Sal and Klaus do a good job of showing how the tension filled moments are bringing Banner into transformation into the Hulk. He must defuse the bomb and stave off becoming the Hulk at the same time. I’ve included part of the sequence here…
Now that transcendent moment I mentioned earlier. It’s in issue #19. It’s page 17. The whole page is top-notch design, layout and storytelling. Sal and Klaus really cook on this page. The Defenders have regrouped after their initial defeat at the hands of the Wrecking Crew. These super-powered bad guys are still basking in the afterglow of overconfidence when the Defenders fight back.

Thunderball (one of the bad guys) seems to have gotten the better of the Hulk. He comes at the Hulk filled with bravado, believing the Hulk can be easily defeated again. Thunderball is wrong. The Hulk catches the wrecking ball weapon, crushes it with one hand, and sends Thunderball flying. The sequence is so dramatic. Just look at the third panel. The shadow of the wrecking ball half covers the Hulk’s face, but the Hulk doesn’t care. He’s angry. Very angry.

Each panel is perfectly timed. Thunderball slowly realizes that the Hulk will not be defeated and that he’s gonna get his butt kicked. The page builds so well until, in mighty Marvel fashion, it culminates in the final “Nuff said!” Brilliant!

More will be coming. I may even take my first step into DC Comics territory.