AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON—Hail the Vision! But will we see Adam Warlock in the MCU?

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS (later—I’ll warn you when) for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

This is not a review of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have been more than enough reviews. This is more of a personal response.

AOU poster screen

But firstly… about those reviews. A fair few critics have disliked this film, the second in the Avengers series. Rotten Tomatoes, summing up, reckons it scores 74% positive, averaging 6.7/10, with the “professionals”.

The first one, in 2012, got an impressive 91%, or 8/10.

The figures from the viewing public are more consistent. 91% liked the first Avengers flick, only dropping to 89% this time around.

While I still think the first one has a massive amount to recommend it, Age of Ultron seems like the better film to me. Maybe the critics are getting superhero fatigue.

AoU is admittedly a bit overstuffed. There are just too many good things in it, and the length had to be trimmed back, so a few scenes feel truncated and crammed in. It’s a bit of a bludgeon first time around too. Possibly 3D did the film no favours. It may have contributed to the disorienting effect of the fast-paced action scenes. It was at my second viewing, in 2D, a week or so later, that I really fell in love with the film.

One of the best things in what could be the best Marvel film yet is the origin of the Vision.

For a lot of comics fans of my generation, the character has been quite a favourite. Roy Thomas’s original stories—starting in 1968—were good, classic superhero stuff when I was a kid. Steve Englehart developed the Vision later, as he did so many other Marvel mainstays, keeping them interesting for maturing readers.

When I found out the Vision was going to be in the second Avengers film, I sent Joss Whedon a tweet: “Thanks for putting the Vision in your film. Now please don’t f*ck him up.”

And Joss didn’t.

(He usually listens to me, I find.)

AOU Vis 01

The Vision’s origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is similar to its comic-book sources in many ways. This being the MCU, it is also substantially different. As they often do, Marvel has struck a good balance here. They may change the facts of a story quite substantially, but they manage to remain faithful to the spirit of the comics. As with the first Avengers film, I don’t think anyone but Whedon could have pulled this particular one off—or nowhere near so well.

A possible point of contention: no Hank Pym in Age of Ultron. This bothered me when I heard the news, which was long before seeing the film of course. Teaser images and mini-trailers showed pretty clearly that, in the MCU, Tony Stark was Ultron’s “dad.” How could Ultron be created by anyone other than his comic-book “father,” super-hero science whizz Dr Henry (Ant-Man, Giant Man, etc.) Pym?

Yes, it bothered me. For about five minutes. Maybe a few days, in real time.

A little reflection and it became clear why it had to be Tony “I am Iron Man” Stark who creates the MCU’s Ultron.

It was clear that there would be, could be, no Hank Pym involved because there are already two super-hero-scientists in the MCU’s Avengers—Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. No room for another one. It’s that simple, it seems to me. It was OK to fill up the pages of Marvel’s ever-expanding (at the time—the 1960s) comic-book line with super-scientists, both heroic and villainous. The repetitive trope would have worn pretty thin with MCU audiences. And the Avengers films couldn’t afford any more clutter. Joss Whedon was already juggling a large cast, and not without some difficulty.

(Also, as Whedon has said recently, Hank Pym was already taken, by Edgar Wright—at least, back then he was; Peyton Reed is director of the Ant-Man film which will be out soon—which must have made Whedon’s decision easier.)

So I relaxed and figured that Joss Whedon would find a way to make it work without Pym.

And yes, the MCU Vision’s new origin is extraordinarily well done. Better than I could have hoped for. It’s still tied in inextricably with Ultron’s origin, as in the comics. But it is both more credible than the comics, in a general sense, and more satisfying, specifically, in how it ties in with the MCU’s meta-story in unforeseen (exciting!) ways.

And that’s where things get really interesting. That’s where my narrative shifts to another old favourite character, Adam Warlock. Many of us have been led to believe that we will be seeing Warlock in the Marvel films sooner rather than later. Bear with me while I rehearse some background material, before getting to the meat of this.

(No film spoilers in this section. Maybe a hint of one…)

Warlock crucified 02 Starlin

Like the Black Panther, the Inhumans and the Silver Surfer, Warlock started out as a supporting character in the Fantastic Four comic of the 1960s.

The credits of Fantastic Four 66, September 1967, simply informed readers that “Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby have done it again!” Scripter/editor Lee was blurring the distinction between writer and artist, partly to acknowledge what a large contribution penciller Jack Kirby was making to the plots of the stories. In many cases Kirby was also creating those new supporting characters, both the endless stream of new bad guys the comics obviously required, and others. Some of these others were a lot more ambiguous—they might fight against the heroes at first, only to switch sides later.

The major new character in FF 66 & 67 does something new in the Marvel universe—though quite similar to the Silver Surfer some months before. He fights against his creators, but not against the Fantastic Four. Uniquely, our heroes don’t even meet him.

In FF 66 we meet those creators, the Enclave—a bunch of sinister scientists who have hidden themselves away in order to create a perfect new artificial being. Having kidnapped Alicia Masters, the blind sculptor, they tell her that their motives are noble. In fact they wish to use their new creation to rule mankind.

Here they are in flashback, next to the creature’s gestation chamber. Doesn’t it look a lot like the one the Vision emerges from in Age of Ultron? Hmm…

FF 66 cradle

In FF 66, their super-powered creature has woken and emerged from his Life-Cell Tank too soon, before the Enclave could establish control over him. He has been fighting off their attempts to recapture him. They can’t even get near him. Neither the Enclave crew nor we, the readers, get to see this being until a long way into the story. He is also nameless, being referred to only as “Him”.

Like the monster in a low-budget movie, he is glimpsed only as a shadow, or a burst of light and Kirby-krackle energy. But Kirby, of course, is not keeping him out of sight for budgetary reasons. It wouldn’t cost him even one new pencil to draw Him in a few panels. He is teasing his readers, having learned the value of antici…

…pation. In fact, throughout FF 66 the creature is not seen at all. Then on page 10 of no.67, Alicia confronts him—but he is now inside a cocoon, waiting to be fully born, so he remains hidden.

FF 67 page 10

Even after emerging from the cocoon, he stays off-panel as he continues to wreak destruction on the Enclave’s secret HQ. The Fantastic Four, having found their way there and rescued Alicia, escape without finding Him. On page 20, the 40th and final page of the story, the “monster” is seen at last, as he confronts the scientists who made him.

FF 67 p 20 Him

He is golden, beautiful, more of a god than a man or a monster. (In 1967, was Kirby’s imagination already turning to the creation of new gods?) After the final confrontation, having announced that our planet will not be ready for him for another millennium, he flies off into space.

He doesn’t get far.

Thor 165 cover

In Thor 165, June 1969—another Lee/Kirby production—after a mishap in outer space, Him finds himself back on Earth, in another cocoon. Waking from this, the still immature being decides he needs a mate, and fancies Thor’s lover, the Lady Sif. This provokes the god of thunder into a violent condition called the Warrior Madness, in which state Thor beats Him within an inch of his artificial life (Thor 166). He retreats into another cocoon and once again blasts off into space.

Somewhat matured mentally and emotionally, the perfect artificial man hatches again in a new comic, Marvel Premiere (1 & 2, 1972) by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. He begins a series of adventures on a very imperfect artificial planet called Counter-Earth. It’s so imperfect it’s almost exactly the same as the world we live in. This is where Him becomes Adam Warlock, and gains the green Soul Gem in his forehead—a gift from Counter-Earth’s god-like creator, the High Evolutionary.

MPrem 1 cover

Warlock’s role on Counter-Earth is to be a super-hero Messiah, saving mankind from the satanic Man-Beast (and of course, from its own base nature). He was promoted to his own comic, but like other superhero comics which tackled the Burning Issues Of Our Time (e.g. the Silver Surfer and DC’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow) Warlock was not to last. After 8 issues, it was cancelled, and the storyline concluded in The Incredible Hulk 176-178 (1974).

Back in those far-off days, I initially fell for the messianic Warlock. In retrospect I later felt the grafting on of Silver-Surfer-like characteristics was all a bit clumsy and second-hand. Still, when Warlock was actually crucified in 1974, one had to admire Marvel’s chutzpah, and then to see him resurrected…! Subtlety was rarely a feature of Marvel comics, and they certainly didn’t want anyone to miss the Jesus comparisons here.

(How very different from the home life of our own dear Superman—before Messiah Man Of Steel, anyway.)

Warlock crucified

Most of all, though, I was a fan of Jim Starlin’s revived Warlock (in Strange Tales, then again in his own comic) whose adventures spanned 1975 to 1977. Here, the apparently helpful and empowering Soul Gem on his forehead was revealed to be a soul vampire. This—especially to a fan of Michael Moorcock’s Elric, and his soul-stealing sword Stormbringer—should perhaps have seemed like yet more ripping off of other people’s ideas. Somehow Starlin pulled it off as what I saw more as homage (though later I was to discover that Mike Moorcock himself saw it as straightforward stealing of soul-stealing).

Warlock soul stealer

Jim Starlin took his grim Warlock through some fairly hard-hitting outer-space adventures, but there was also one detour into outright satire. How many readers spotted the parallels between this scene and the comic-book industry?

Warlock diamonds

This saga culminated in a Big Confrontation with Starlin’s purple-skinned uber-villain, Thanos, in which Warlock teamed up with the Avengers, Spider-Man and the Thing from the Fantastic Four. (Avengers Annual 7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2, 1977). Warlock met Thor again, who remembered him from before—and the Thing for the first time, since they had not actually encountered each other in FF67. Warlock even met the Vision… which is moderately interesting, as we shall see below.

In this story, Warlock’s Soul Gem was revealed as one of the six massively powerful Infinity Gems. Thanos had stolen the power of all six gems, to use in his universe-destroying schemes.

Which brings us back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the Infinity Gems (or Stones as they are known here) are a major plot device linking the movies together.So is Thanos, for that matter, since his teaser appearance at the end of the first Avengers.

And, among the now-traditional MCU “Easter Eggs” of recent times, we saw what seemed to be Warlock’s cocoon in the Collector’s collection as far back as the post-credits scene of Thor 2. And there it was, in the same place, in the film Guardians of the Galaxy. Warlock fans in all four corners of the internet rejoiced. Surely here we had evidence that our golden lad was heading for the big screen, perhaps in GOTG 2.

Sif n coccon

But hold on… James Gunn, director of both GOTG and the closing scene of Thor 2, has said different things about this cocoon as time has gone by. Firstly, he said that he threw a few fairly random cool things from the Marvel Universe (and elsewhere) into the Collector’s cases, and the cocoon from Warlock’s comic-book appearances was one of them. For instance, if the quotes in this article are accurate, he actually stated the cocoon was Warlock’s, at the time GOTG was released:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/guardians-galaxy-james-gunn-confirms-that-adam-warlocks-cocoon-1459695

“There are the slither creature from my movie Slither behind The Collector, those guys are pretty obvious. You have Adam Warlock’s cocoon, you have all sorts of other characters from Marvel movies.”

Later however he pulled back from this position, saying that it was just a cocoon which resembled Warlock’s.

http://www.slashfilm.com/james-gunn-new-guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-characters/

http://comicbook.com/2014/11/18/james-gunn-on-if-there-were-beta-ray-bill-and-adam-warlock-easte/

A quote from the second page above: ‘”You have what’s commonly known as Adam Warlock’s cocoon, which is based on Adam Warlock’s cocoon but which I really didn’t intend to be Adam Warlock,” the director admitted.’

At first, I took this with a pinch of salt. Gunn, I thought, was just teasing us. But—months before seeing Age Of Ultron—a process of niggling doubt began, and this was the sort of thing that was going through my head:

The Vision is a synthetic humanoid, resembling a human with red skin, but actually an artificial being, the product of super-advanced Earth science. Created for an evil purpose, he has developed a will of his own, rejected his creator’s designs, and is going his own way. He turns out to have emotions and ethics very similar to the best a true human could aspire to. Also, he’s a heavy hitter—Thor-type strong—and he can fly. Not only that, but he has a neat golden gem stuck in the middle of his forehead, which absorbs solar energy, and can blast it back out again as extra villain-zapping power.

Adam Warlock on the other hand is a synthetic humanoid, resembling a human with golden-orange skin, but actually an artificial being, the android product of super-advanced Earth science. Created for an evil purpose, he has developed a will of his own, rejected his creators’ designs, and is going his own way. He turns out to have emotions and ethics very similar to the best a true human could aspire to. Also, he’s a heavy hitter—Thor-type strong—and he can fly. Not only that, but he has a neat green gem stuck in the middle of his forehead, which can blast forth extra villain-zapping power.

The list of similarities, in other words, was long. Perhaps too long. As with Hank Pym and the Bruce’n’Tony team in Age of Ultron, maybe I just had to face the facts: the MCU ain’t big enough for the both of them.

Having had that thought, James Gunn’s strong denial really seemed to set the seal on it: Warlock wasn’t going to be in GOTG 2. He probably wasn’t going to be in the MCU at all.

And now, I must repeat my SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t seen AoU yet and don’t want a major plot element revealed… come back another day.

1827_Vision_AAofU_50

So, if you haven’t seen the film yet, you have now gone away? Good. Let us steam into the final act of this post.

Now we have seen Age of Ultron, and we know that in the MCU, the Vision doesn’t just have a solar battery set in his forehead, he actually has an Infinity Stone. Just like Warlock has in the comics. The Vision’s Mind Stone has even been seen to steal people’s wills, not entirely dissimilar to how Warlock’s gem stole their souls.

And if logic and James Gunn’s denials had pretty much implied it before, surely we now know it’s true: the MCU definitely isn’t big enough for the both of them. The MCU Vision has just too many many things in common with the comic-book Warlock. With the addition of an Infinity Stone, he very nearly is Adam Warlock, in everything but name.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent the MCU from having a different version of Adam Warlock. But in my view, they have made him basically redundant and are not likely to go there. Anything too far removed from the “real” comic-book Warlock would probably be seen as too much of a disappointment.

It seems very likely that Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige planned from way back that the MCU Vision was to be an amalgam of the Vision and Warlock—and decided that this meant Warlock himself could not be in the MCU.

In which case, James Gunn may have made a bit of a mistake with that cocoon.

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s likely that an error on that scale would happen in the tightly planned MCU continuity. Isn’t it more probable that the whole thing was a big tease, a neat bit of misdirection?

I’m not the only one to see the Vision / Warlock similarities, and draw some of the same conclusions (though I would like to state that I came to my own conclusions before seeing anyone else’s). See for instance Latino Review’s Marvelous Daze, captainzach616, and a few other perspicacious commentators online.

http://www.latino-review.com/news/marvelous-da7e-93-seeing-adam-warlock-and-details-on-martin-freemans-role

https://captainzach616.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/the-vision-warlock-theory/

avengers-ultron-vision

If Warlock had arrived in GOTG 2, the combination of outer-space settings and the CGI-rich magic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would’ve done him proud. I was looking forward to seeing him as one of the Cosmic Characters inhabiting the farther reaches of the MCU. So again, as quite the fan, after I had the Big Realisation that Warlock was not likely to appear, a feeling of disappointment descended. And this lasted longer than the five minutes allocated to Hank Pym and his non-appearance in AoU.

But that was before I saw Age of Ultron, which at the same time as twisting the knife in the wound—making it pretty certain that we really won’t be seeing Warlock on the big screen—paradoxically also takes away most of the hurt. Because having seen the MCU’s Vision portrayed so well, I am almost completely happy. If we speculators are right, and we are to have no MCU Warlock, there is still a sense of loss. But with what we have been given, I think we should feel intensely satisfied.

If it had to be either Warlock or Vision, all else being equal, I couldn’t really say which I‘d rather lose. But, with the Avengers having such primacy in the MCU, and Vison being so much a part of Avengers mythology, Whedon and Feige have probably reached the only possible conclusion. Having two such similar characters in the MCU really could not have worked. And giving the Vision an Infinity Stone was a stroke of genius. (Sadly, Joss’s parting stroke. But that’s not today’s topic.)

AOU vision 03

Finally, a few more ramblifications…

Thanos planted the Mind Stone on Earth in the sceptre he gave Loki. His original plan was that Loki would lead a successful Chitauri invasion of the planet, after which Thanos would presumably come and get what he wanted.

Whatever else Thanos wants from MCU Earth—and as far as I can recall we really haven’t had any hint of that yet—we can assume he wants his Mind Stone back. He is, after all, trying to collect the set.

So, sooner or later Thanos will be coming to get the gem out of the Vision’s head. People are already speculating that Thanos might kill the Vision. The MCU has shown that it is willing to kill off a new character pretty quickly.

Which raises another intriguing possibility…

Maybe the Vision doesn’t so much die as… goes into a cocoon and comes out… changed…?

Nah! That’s not going to happen. The Vision isn’t that similar to Warlock. I don’t believe Marvel intends to evolve him into Warlock, in any literal sense.

But maybe he will be almost dead and in need of a Warlock-style resurrection. Similar to this classic Roy Thomas / Neal Adams story in Avengers 93 (1971).

Vision dead

So… here’s a bit more speculation that might just be closer to home. Maybe the Vision looks pretty much deceased, but the Avengers figure out a way of rebooting his synthetic life-force—effectively, of bringing him back from the dead.

Conventional operating theatre techniques are useless—they can’t operative on his super-strong body, and on the inside it is nothing like a human being. Maybe if they had a super-hero who could shrink down to tiny size and actually go inside the Vision’s synthezoid body, and find the right part to repair…

He’d have to be strong and resourceful enough to fight off the automatic defence mechanisms he will meet in there. Perhaps he’d benefit from having some tiny allies…

No, that’s too crazy, isn’t it? That kind of thing might just work in a 1960s Raquel Welch movie, or a comic book… but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when are you ever going to see a tiny weeny super-hero like that? Never going to happen, surely ?!

AoU Antman

Ant-Man MCU 01

PS: Beta Ray Bill… in the Marvel comics he’s an orange skinned non-human who is so noble he can lift Thor’s hammer.

The MCU Vision is a red-skinned non-human who is so noble he can lift Thor’s hammer. You see where this is going…

Is the MCU big enough for both of them?

Anyway, this is only fun-packed speculation, and we could still see Warlock and/or BR Bill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But as they say in the funny papers… I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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FRITZI AND PHIL & NANCY AND SLUGGO (1942)

Ernie Bushmiller with a couple of gags about words… and other stuff.

Researching my magnum opus on the Ben Day dot, looking for some 1940s Sunday strips to put under the microscope, the first pages out of the box were from the St Paul Pioneer Press, November 8th 1942.

By pure dumb luck I found myself reading a genius page by Ernie Bushmiller. Two half pages, in fact, starting with Fritzi Ritz. Fritzi of course used to be a carefree flapper. Then she was Nancy’s Aunt Fritzi, living with her rotund niece for reasons never explained (though Unca’ Mickey and Unca’ Donald would probably have understood).

By 1942 Nancy had her own Sunday strip (it started in 1938) and it was often (not always by any means) on the same page as Fritzi’s. Then Nancy was in more papers and Fritzi was in fewer, until Fritzi finally bowed out in 1968.

Both these strips are about language. The Fritzi gag, involving longstanding boyfriend Phil Fumble, is pretty good.

It’s the Nancy strip which I find really outstanding.

Citizens of the USA & elsewhere often think that we British, subjects of Her Majesty, obsess endlessly about the issue of Class.

Here, in a riff on My Fair Lady, is the Queen of Manhattan trying to educate her boyfriend Sluggo how to talk proper.

If the final gag isn’t about Class (though a very NYC take on the subject) then as I’m sure one will agree, it ain’t about nothin’, buster.

FRITZI RITZ Nov 8 1942 St Paul Pioneer Press 144dpi

NANCY Nov 8 1942 St Paul Pioneer Press 144dpi

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BEN DAY DOTS, PART TWO

ALSO LICHTENSTEIN, HALFTONE AND POLKE DOTS… plus the ones in the comic books.

Follows on from Part One: Roy Lichtenstein, the man who didn’t paint Ben Day dots

Many of you reading this post will know what Ben Day dots are… or at least, you might think you do. They are the yellow, red and blue dots used in cheap printing to make lighter tones of those primary colours, and secondary colours like orange, green and purple. Yes… I used to think so too!

CA 104 d

The familiar Ben Day dots. Or… are they?

Ben Day dots are not exactly a common topic of conversation in households across the land, but thanks to Roy Lichtenstein, they have had a new lease of life. When they come up, it is very likely that they are associated with Lichtenstein’s name and art.

After all, he was the man who created the single best-known Pop Art style using those dots—a style which has come to define for many people how both Pop Art and comic book art look since the early 1960s.

Previously on this web site I asserted that Roy Lichtenstein did not, in fact, paint Ben Day dots. I illustrated the point with a simple comparison of two pictures. I showed some dots from a comic book and some of Roy’s dots and suggested that they did not look all that alike. I suggested that Roy painted “Roy Lichtenstein dots,” something of his own invention. I will revisit Roy Lichtenstein dots in more detail in a later post

Romita benday detail

Comic book dots. Magenta colour, regular “square” grid (Art by John Romita)

Girls' Romances 105 M-maybe dots square

She’s so square

Roy L Sleeping Girl dots detail_100dpi_brighter

 Roy Lichtenstein dots (detail of Sleeping Girl, 1964). Scarlet colour, offset grid (no squares), exaggerated size.

M-maybe dots square

Triangles, hexagons… no squares

In fact most academic writers on Lichtenstein agree that he painted dots “derived from” or “similar to” the Ben Day dots of the comics. It is mainly journalists and non-professionals who actually state outright that he painted Ben Day dots. Or, more commonly, Benday dots. Or… hang on, Wikipedia currently has an entry on Ben-Day dots, with a hyphen. Webster’s online has “benday.”

OK… how are we spelling this, exactly?

Like pretty much everyone else who ever wrote about them, I originally called the dots in the comic books Benday dots. Most of the time that’s how they are referred to. In printed interviews with Lichtenstein, from early on, this spelling was used. In his 1946 booklet How Comic Strips Are Made comic strip scripter Russ Winterbotham refers to the “the Benday process” and the “Benday room” where it was done. Marie Severin’s colour guide for the cover of the EC comic Weird Science Fantasy no. 25 (cover date September 1954) refers to “Benday” in the margin notes. Adam Gopnik, in his dissection of comics and art in High & Low (1990), calls them Benday dots.  So does Harry Cooper in his essay ‘On The Dot’ in the catalogue of the Tate Modern’s 2013 Lichtenstein retrospective.

However, looking into their history, I soon found out they really ought to be called Ben Day dots—two words, both capitalised, no hyphen. (I have gone back and corrected my original post.)

Why Ben Day? Luckily that’s an easy one to answer. They were invented in 1879 by a man called Benjamin Henry Day Jr, and the company he founded to market his invention was called the Ben Day Company.

After that everything gets more complicated. In fact, whereas I thought I knew a lot about Ben Day dots, I found that most of what I knew was wrong. Starting with the Ben Day dots on the pages of the comics themselves. It turns out they aren’t really Ben Day dots either—not if you want to be really accurate about it.

So… what actually are Ben Day dots?

Firstly, something which they are definitely not—halftone dots. Ben Day dots and halftone dots are often referred to as if they were interchangeable, or Ben Days were a type of halftone. Neither is strictly correct, though even Roy Lichtenstein was known to have made this rookie error.

OK… what is a halftone dot?

The halftone screen was perfected in the 1880’s (after many failed attempts at something similar). It provided a method for breaking up a continuously toned image, made up of shades of grey—such as a photograph—into thousands of tiny black and white dots. (A similar process can be applied to colour images, but let’s keep this simple and 19th century.)

And yes, a photographic print is already made up of a lot of very very tiny dots—but they are irregular in shape and greyness and too tiny to be of any use in printing the photo. They effectively make up continuous grey tones, as far as both the human eye and the printer’s engraving process are concerned.

Halftone screening was needed because continuous grey tones could not be printed by simple, cheap letterpress printing, of the kind used for newspapers, magazines, comics and most packaging. Letterpress either prints black (or solid colour)—where metal coated with ink meets paper—or leaves a white area, where no metal presses on the paper, and no ink transfers.

Letterpress can handle a line drawing, words set in metal type, or a solid block of black (or another colour). Before halftones, a photograph could not be transferred effectively to a printing plate. In the acid-etching stage of photoengraving, the metal printing plate would keep only the darker parts of the picture as a solid printing surface—printed black in the image shown below. The lighter areas would make a crumbly mess which would literally break away from the metal, leaving non-printing areas—white in this example.

DALGIN 46 05sDALGIN 46 04A photograph and an unscreened print 

(taken from the book Advertising Production by Ben Dalgin, 1946)

The original version of the half tone screen was made by engraving two pieces of glass with parallel lines of mechanical exactitude, very close together. These were filled with black paint, leaving clear lines in the glass between black lines. When the pieces of glass were placed at right angles to each other, the resultant “screen” allowed light to pass through a regular grid pattern of clear squares, acting like thousands of tiny pinhole cameras.

DALGIN 46 03

Close-up of part of a halftone screen (from Dalgin)

Placed at the correct focal distance from a photograph or negative, the screen could be used to project a clear image in which the grey tones now appeared as patterns of dots. Pale greys became regular areas of small dots, darker greys were made up of larger dots, mid tones looked like a tiny chequerboard, and darker greys were white dots on black. With good technique, white remained white and black black. A positive or negative image could be made, according to requirements.

DALGIN 46 02

The same image printed after screening

This image was suitable for letterpress printing. The number of lines per inch (or lpi) used to create the dots was varied according to the final print quality. Glossy magazines might use 150 or even 200 lpi. Printing on newsprint most commonly used 65 lpi in 1946, according to Dalgin.

DALGIN 46 01

Detail of the halftone image, from Dalgin

Joseph P KennedyClose up Joseph P Kennedy

Another fun one. This is Joseph P. Kennedy—JFK’s dad

The key thing about halftone dots is that they vary in size. Ben Day dots, as we shall see, are all the same size in a regular pattern. Halftone dots create the illusion of continuous shades of grey. Ben Day dots are intended to create an illusion of areas of “flat” tone or colour.

Sigmar Polke is probably the best-known artist to incorporate halftone dots, blown up to large (easily visible) size, in his work. Quite different from Roy L’s dots, as you can see.

Polke Bunnies 1966

Polke dots—Bunnies, 1966

Roy Lichtenstein used some halftone-like, varied-size dots later in his career, but for the first few years his style was based on uniform dots similar to those produced by the Ben Day Process.

Self portrait 1978s

Roy Lichtenstein, Self Portrait, 1978

So are you finally going to tell us: what are Ben Day dots?

Of course. In Part Three… coming soon.

All about Ben Day dots—honestly. And, if the dots in the comics aren’t really Ben Day dots… what the heck are they? All will be revealed.

Plus some great pictures like this:

Thor 154_144dpi M print

Oh, isn’t he Mighty Thor?

No, he’th fine. He got a new thaddle.

Back to Part One: Roy Lichtenstein, the man who didn’t paint Ben Day dots

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LI’L ABNER AMONG THE EUROPEANS… 50 YEARS ON

1965 was a key year for comics, reflected in Al Capp’s funny piece from Life   

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 cover

The world’s second-largest comics convention takes place in Lucca, Italy, and has been running since 1966. According to Wikipedia, Lucca is larger than France’s Angouleme festival (running since 1974) and only Japan’s Comiket (started 1975) is bigger than Lucca.

Originating as the Salone Internazionale dei Comics, Lucca’s first incarnation actually ran from 1966 to 1992, transferred to Rome from 1995 to 2005, then a new version (Lucca Comics and Games) started in 2006, back in its “home town.”

In fact the Secret Origin of Lucca is that the Salone Internazionale actually began a year earlier, in 1965, in another Italian town, Bordighera (footnote 1). This means that Lucca’s “true” 50th anniversary was in February of this year, 2015. It was celebrated here and there (2), (3). The success of Bordighera/Lucca undoubtedly helped stimulate similar festivals around the world, and led directly to the founding of the magazines Linus in Italy and Charlie in France (2).

poster 65

There had been outbreaks of seriousness about comics before, especially in France and Italy. Bordighera’s Salone was the first large-scale attempt to bring comics creators and academics together to discuss the medium. As the Salone’s own catalogue has it, it was “organized by the Institute of Education of the University of Rome, by the Centre for Sociology of Mass Communications and from the Archive of the Italian printing Comics (?) in partnership with Comics Clubs and with the Centre d’Etude des Littératures of Expression Graphique, under the patronage of the Municipality and of the Local Tourist Board of Bordighera.” (4)

It goes on to say how the event will benefit from: “The different interests and different backgrounds of the creators (scholars of communication and cinema, psychologists, sociologists, teachers, cartoonists, filmmakers, doctors, photographers)…” It is reasonable to suggest that the prevailing flavour of this mainly Italian gathering, at this time, could not have been anything other than significantly left-wing—if not out-and-out Marxist.

The Steering Committee included French film director Alain Resnais and Italian historian/academic Umberto Eco. Eco was yet to write the novel that made him famous throughout the world, The Name of the Rose (1980). But he had published Apocalittici e Integrati (Apocalyptic and Integrated: Mass Communications and Theories of Mass Culture) (5) in 1964. This book included the essays “The Myth of Superman” (6), “A Reading of Steve Canyon” (7) and “The World of Charlie Brown” (8).

Resnais was sent to the USA to recruit comics creators to attend the Salone. Al Capp, writer and artist of the highly successful newspaper strip Li’l Abner (assisted by a full-time team of helpers in both departments) was one of those invited.

Capp was a complex, in some ways self-contradictory character, as you can read about in many places (9). A relentless self-promoter, he also had another career outside of the comics. Li’l Abner’s huge readership and his own mordant wit gave him an “in” to the other media. On TV, Capp appeared several times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show and elsewhere (10). He even had his own radio show for some time.

By 1965 Li’l Abner’s glory years were behind him, and Capp’s early left-liberal politics were in the process of swinging hard right, as he reacted against the new cultural prominence of student leftism and hippies in general (11).

Capp wrote up his encounter with the Bordighera festival for Life magazine. I quote below from my own copy, which is in fact Life’s International Edition, Vol. 38 No. 11, June 14th 1965. The US edition carrying the piece (April 30th) did not have Capp’s drawing on the cover—they went with a picture of an unborn foetus instead, perhaps calculating that it would sell more copies. American readers were thus spared one of Capp’s hidden sexual images, or at least the colour version (which is the only place where it becomes really obvious).

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 Boy

See also a number of trees in the vicinity of Li’l Abner’s home town, which allegedly depicted genitalia in their bark. Evidently Capp enjoyed sneaking these images past his editors. The opportunity to get one on the cover of a major American institution like Life must have tickled him greatly. How disappointing must it have been that only the rest of the world got to see its full glory?

Much of Capp’s wit in the article itself is somewhat more sophisticated than that might suggest. He has a nice line in self-aggrandisement, sometimes disguised as self-effacement. Curiously he never quite identifies his hosts as the Communists, or at least fellow-travellers, which he must have known they were. Maybe he felt it was implicit? Unless, perhaps, it really did escape his notice? Or possibly an editorial hand at Life trimmed some of Capp’s comments? It is unlikely we will ever know.

At any rate, I present the text and illustrations here as they originally appeared, schoolboy humour and casual sexism intact. Some of this piece remains amusing in the way Capp intended. Other parts may entertain for different reasons. But there may be more than just amusement to be had.

This is an oblique look at a moment in comics history when some of the foundations of today’s thinking about the medium were being laid down. After this moment, Li’l Abner endured a fairly steep decline until its overdue demise in 1977. Two years later, plagued by ill health, beset by claims of sexual misconduct, the millionaire Al Capp died—reportedly a lonely and bitter man.

Fifty years on from that moment, comics today bring us an unprecedented diversity of reading, including—alongside the highly personal and the superheroic—more and better quality reprints of past classics than ever before. Li’l Abner definitely has a place amongst the latter. Happily today’s readership is not limited to the intellectuals, of whatever political leaning. But the cultural and academic legitimacy that Bordighera demanded for the medium has at least partly arrived.

Capp, as you will see, valued the admiration of his strip by fellow writers—authors of successful prose works whom he saw as legitimate cultural figures. It’s a shame he couldn’t participate in a different level of appreciation of his work from the intellectuals of Bordighera, but probably inevitable. There was more than a straightforward political divide between them.

1965 was a moment, arguably, when yesterday’s myth-maker met the new myth-builders. And they didn’t speak each other’s language.

~~~

HOW LI’L ABNER BECAME THE INTELLECTUALS’ DELIGHT

My Life as an Immortal Myth

by AL CAPP

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 illo 01 screen

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 illo 01 caption screen

I have never actually seen a French New Wave movie, because of my con­viction that they are all Doris Day scripts filmed backward: film a Doris Day script backward and you’ll begin with Rock Hudson leaping out of her bed and refusing to be talked or tricked back into it. This, I have gathered, is the plot of all French New Wave movies.

Nevertheless, when my secretary dubiously held up a phone call from “a Mr. Allen Renay” one day last summer, I instantly recognized the name: Alain Resnais, one of the most revered of the New Wave French film directors, darling of the Art Cinemas that provide espresso in the lounge, served by the ex-poet laureate of Ka­tanga. I said to put the call through. A heavily accented voice said, “I have come from France in the hope of seeing you.”

Even though I didn’t know exactly which films Resnais was celebrated for, I’m always thrilled to talk to any celebrity, especially one who thinks I’m one. I invited him to drop over.

A tall, slim, melancholy young man appeared. He said he was overcome with emotion at being in my presence. Now this isn’t said to me often. To tell you the truth, it’s never been said to me. I was so overcome with emo­tion that all I remember was the main drift of our talk. As I recall, it went something like this: “All I know of storytelling I have learned from my study of your immortal myth.”

“Look—I’m the one who does Li’l Abner,” I said.

“America’s one immortal myth,” said Resnais, “and the dominating artistic influence of my life.”

I excused myself, and from another room called a Broadway producer I happen to know. I hadn’t seen much of him lately because he’d been going with a girl who is crazy about foreign movies. I asked him what Alain Res­nais was famous for.

Last Year at Marienbad,” he said.

“What was it like?”

“It was the world’s longest wall­paper commercial.”

I rejoined my guest. “It’s hard to believe that the man who created something like Last Year at Marienbad could ever have studied Li’l Ab­ner,” I said, “and still created some­thing like Last Year at Marienbad.

“I am not unique,” he replied. “In advanced European intellectual cir­cles the study of Capp is considered as vital to the creative dramatist as Becket or Ionesco.”

I began wondering if Last Year at Marienbad might not be the world’s greatest wallpaper commercial.

“Groups have formed in Paris, Rome and Brussels to study your myth and your mind. We have col­lected every instalment, since it first appeared in August 1934, of your gigantic mosaic. The sophistication and universality of Li’l Abner tran­scend the sectionalism and naïveté of such inferior attempts as Huckleberry Finn.”

I usually get fighting mad when anyone downgrades Mark Twain, but Resnais did have a way about him. The fightingest retort I could think of was “Aw shucks.”

Resnais arose. “I should go,” he said, reluctantly. “Such worship must embarrass you.”

“Hell, no,” I said. “People over here like my stuff all right, I guess. But as for worship—to be honest with you, I haven’t had enough of that, exactly, to know how I like it.”

My guest sat down again. “When I return with the news that I found you, that you received me, my col­leagues will demand that I repeat ev­ery word, re-enact every gesture.”

“That ought to be easy,” I com­forted him. “I’m not much at gestur­ing.”

“Naturally one so accustomed to the world’s reverence cannot realize how important is every nuance of voice, every flicker of eyelash. They will devour it all! Yes—I must make of my mind a camera.” And then he seemed stricken by a bitter thought. “If I had a camera—could I have dared ask permission to record a typ­ical hour or two of your daily life?”

“Sure you could,” I said with the graciousness of one who has nothing to lose by it, “if you had a camera.”

“Marvelous!” said Resnais, leaping up. “I left it outside the door. It will be,” he gloated, “the record of a visit to a shrine.”

Resnais returned, lugging his equip­ment, and began to follow me, filming my every movement for several hours—lunching, answering the telephone, drawing. At the end of the afternoon I apologized for having such a drab day. But if it was a typical one he wanted, I said, that’s how they went.

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 illo 02 screen

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 illo 02 caption

Resnais assured me that my every casual scratch would have a world of meaning for the Capp cult, and be of inestimable value—especially at this time, when the members were all pre­paring their papers on my mind and on my myth for the First Internation­al Exhibition of the Comics, to be held at Bordighera, Italy.

“The first international what?” I asked. Anyone would have.

Resnais explained: Hundreds of sa­vants, sociologists and social histori­ans from all over Europe would meet in congress at Bordighera, on the Ital­ian Riviera, from the 20th to the 24th of February, to discuss the flower of American art and literature, namely the American comic strip. Just which comic strip would be honored as the fairest flower of all, Resnais smiled, I could certainly guess. He would not presume upon my hospitality to make such a request now—but if I would entertain the thought of at­tending, my presence would make of the congress a historic literary event. So fervent was that hope, he said, that a certain “honor” (he never was spe­cific about the “honor,” but I got the feeling that it was made out of solid gold, and of pretty good size) was being prepared for me. He again said something nice about my immortal myth and left.

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 photo Resnais screen

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 photo Resnais caption screen

Through the summer and fall, more letters came from Resnais, in Paris, telling me of the burgeoning plans for the fete at Bordighera, and hoping I would make a favorable decision. “You are the one person,” one of them said, “whose flying and accom­modations the congress will take care of.” I thought of framing that letter as the first instance in modern history of a Frenchman offering an American anything free. (It turned out later not to be suitable for framing. When I was getting ready to submit my ex­penses after my return, my secre­tary pointed out that, although Res­nais’ handwriting was graceful, it was tricky, and I had mistaken the phrase “living and accommodations” for “flying and accommodations.” We filed the letter under “Nine Hundred Dollar Misunderstandings.”)

I was about to cable Resnais that I accepted the invitation, would ar­rive the night of the 19th and gladly remain for the four days of the con­gress. But my secretary pointed out that, months before, I had accepted an invitation to address the Colorado Press Association in Denver, at noon on the 19th—an irrevocable commit­ment. I studied airline schedules and the schedule of events at Bordighera. The congress was to be composed of two days of speeches followed by two days of an exhibition of cartoons at the Palazzo del Congresso. So, I ca­bled a proposal to Resnais:

If the schedule could be reversed, the two days of exhibition put on first, and the really meaty stuff—the speeches about me and my immortal myth—held for the last two days, I could be there when they needed me, and vice versa. It would be hell, but it would be possible.

I never heard from Resnais again, but on January 18 a delighted reply did come from a Dr. Romano Calisi in Rome, on stationery emblazoned “Salon Internazionale dei Comics.” Under the doctor’s signature, typed all in capital letters, was his title—THE DIRECTOR. THE DIREC­TOR (12) suggested that if I arrived in Mi­lan by noon on the 20th, a car and driver would be waiting to zip me to Bordighera. I noticed that six hours were allotted to this zipping. On the 21st, refreshed by a night’s sleep at my hotel, I could exhibit myself at the first major event: A Round Table Discussion of Comics as Classic Art, Comics as Social Criticism and Com­ics as Social Science.

There was, however, no mention of which hotel. Nor was there, as late as the morning of the 18th of February, any reply to our queries to Rome. There wasn’t time enough to risk ca­bling again, and so I put in a call to THE DIRECTOR in Rome. Now, I don’t speak Italian and I didn’t know whether THE DIRECTOR could speak English. It was clear, however, from his letters that someone in his office could, and so I instructed the overseas operator to make it a person-­to-person call to anyone in THE DI­RECTOR’S office who spoke English. In less than an hour the operator told me my party was on the line. A man’s voice said, ” ‘allo, ‘allo.” I said, “Do you speak English?” The man said “Si! You spik Inglis?” And that was the last thing from Rome that made any sense to me until, after a long, operatic and utterly incomprehensible conversation, the operator came back on the line to announce, “The charges on your call to Rome, Italy are $24, plus tax.”

I said I didn’t think I ought to be charged anything for the call because it made no sense. She replied that she was only paid to put calls through to Rome, not to make sense out of them.

Some phone subscribers just sit there and foam at the mouth at some­thing like this, but not us public serv­ice crusaders. After some hours of spirited repartee with a long series of haughty operators and icily regal su­pervisors, I put in a person-to-person call to New York to Fred Kappel, president of A.T.& T.—and I made it collect. I felt that a simple long-dis­tance, person-to-person call to Mr. Kappel from Al Capp, even if he rec­ognized my name, might not seem urgent enough. But that a long-dis­tance, person-to-person, collect call from Al Capp would be too pitiful, somehow, to ignore.

Mr. Kappel’s office accepted the charges. His personal secretary said that he was attending a business meet­ing out of town and asked if she could do anything for me. I said I would prefer to speak to Mr. Kappel. She said he was somewhere that couldn’t be reached by phone. At that moment I felt a kinship with Mr. Kappel and with his secretary.

She heard my story out, expressed regret for the inconvenience, and said she’d do something about it. In about 30 seconds she called back to report that the $24 charge would, of course, be canceled, and again expressed her regret for the inconvenience. Five minutes later, a vice president of the phone company called me from New York and expressed his regret for the inconvenience. An instant later, the phone company’s traffic manager called me and began to express his re­gret for the inconvenience—until I assured him that the inconvenience that operators had caused me was nothing compared to the agony the brass was now putting me through.

The phone company finally stopped apologizing to me long enough for me to start my journey from Boston, Mass. to Bordighera, Italy, by way of Denver, Colo. Although I didn’t know where exactly on the Italian Riviera I was expected, I didn’t an­ticipate much more trouble finding the hotel than a slow ride down the main stem of Bordighera. Resnais had described it as “a sleepy little town, with a nice hotel” in one of his early letters from Paris. Thirty-six hours later I realized he was the sort of observer who would describe Atlantic City that way.

When I staggered off the plane in Milan I was met by my driver, a brisk little Italian-Americanophile in his 30s. He wore a button-down shirt, a crew cut, a Goldwater button and a Hertz cap. He was pleased by the sound of his accentless English—picked up, he told me proudly, not from books, but from life—from his American clients—and by the oppor­tunity to use it off-season. He looked reproachfully at the gray noon sky.

“Wouldn’t you just know it,” he said—the quotation marks were al­most visible—”a total absence of sun on a day planned for sightseeing.”

I said the only sightseeing I planned was to try to keep my eyes open until we got through the airport to the car. Then I planned to collapse.

“I don’t get it”—the quotation marks again—”if not to sightsee, why the disembarking at Milan—six hours and $79 from Bordighera?” He hand­ed me a Hertz rental contract for my signature. “If you landed at Nice,” he said, “it would have been less than an hour and four bucks away.”

It was then, I think, I began to wor­ry about THE DIRECTOR.

The driver, although starved for an American to talk American to, shut up and let me sleep. However, he kept a hawk’s eye on me from the rear­view mirror, and whenever during the six-hour drive I showed a momentary quiver of life, he seized that moment to offer me hasty morsels of conver­sation. Once he caught me shifting sleep positions and remarked that he admired Americans—all Americans —regardless of race, creed or social position. Mainly what he admired about Americans was their democ­racy, so different from the snobbery of Europeans. That sent me back to sleep for an hour, when I grunted and stirred again.

“Being from Boston,” he resumed hurriedly, “you must know a client of mine. Not so much a client as a dear, intimate, personal friend. Mr. Cox? A director of the Wall Street Journal.”

I said I knew the Wall Street Jour­nal all right, but Mr. Cox was not a dear, intimate, personal friend of mine.

After that he continued to be civil to me, but made no further effort to talk until, approaching Bordighera, I announced that I didn’t know the name of my hotel.

“But maybe you do,” I said. “It’s the nice little one.”

He said there was something like a hundred nice little hotels in Bordi­ghera. The nicest, of course, was the new De la Mare.

Then that, I decided, should be it. And it certainly should have been, because the one it turned out to be instead was an ancient rotting pile, more suitable for an Italian TV ver­sion of the Addams family than for human habitation. The lobby had the melancholy air of the waiting room of an unpopular Roman sportinghouse.

The little old desk clerk told my driver in Italian (and my driver told me in English) that most of those at­tending the congress were guests of the hotel, but were not in at the mo­ment. They were now at the Palazzo for the grand conclusion of the cere­monies and the closing of the exhibi­tion. However, he added cheerfully, they would soon return to pick up their baggage, for they had all checked out and were leaving that night.

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 illo 03 screen

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 illo 03 caption

I told my driver to tell that crazy little old desk clerk it couldn’t be true!

The clerk shrugged, and pointed to a mountain of luggage ready to go.

My driver was ready to go, too. For the last few minutes he’d become even less eager to talk his English to me, or to talk to me at all. And I could understand it. I’d feel the same un­easiness about an Italian who had rushed from Milan to, say, Asbury Park, to look for a hotel he didn’t know the name of, to attend an event that was over.

Just then, a man leaving with two bellhops—one carrying bags, the other photographic equipment—stopped, stared at me, came over and said in English:

“You’re not Al Capp?”

I said, as luck would have it, I was.

He identified himself as an Ameri­can photographer, who was returning to Rome after covering the congress. There had been rumors, right up to the end, that I might turn up.

I snarled that I’d turned up pre­cisely when I’d promised to, and they’d promised they wouldn’t begin until I did. As a matter of fact, they’d claimed they couldn’t!

The photographer said he spoke Italian and would phone the Palazzo, on the chance it hadn’t yet closed, and ask somebody from the congress, if anyone was left, for an explanation, if there was one.

He suggested that I not check in, but wait in the hotel’s bar. Nobody was there except a couple of cartoon­ists from New York: Lee Falk, who does The Phantom, and Alfred Andri­ola, who does Kerry Drake. I was as­tounded. Falk and Andriola were not.

“How long have you been here?” Lee asked me.

“Under an hour.”

“We’ve been here two days,” said Andriola. I thought I detected a look of envy.

“Didn’t you come here together?”

“Neither of us knew the other’d been asked,” said Al. “When Resnais came to New York last summer he told me, confidentially, that the intel­lectuals of Europe revered Kerry Drake, my immortal myth . . . .”

“He dropped in at my shrine, too,” said Lee.

“I kind of got the impression the whole deal was to be built around me,” said Al, “and I didn’t want to mention it to any of the other guys and hurt their feelings.”

“I felt the same way,” said Lee, “and now that it’s over, I can’t help wondering how I also got the impres­sion they were going to present me with some kind of ‘honor.’ I saw it as something made of gold. . . .”

“And of a pretty fair size?” asked Andriola.

“Yes,” said Lee. “Not small.”

“The thing to remember,” said Al, “is that English isn’t Resnais’ lan­guage. We must have misunderstood him. Even at that, he was a very pleas­ant conversationalist.”

“Except for those mean things he said about Mark Twain,” said Lee.

“Foreigners don’t realize how we resent any slur against Mark Twain,” said Al. “But for some reason, I didn’t get mad at Resnais.”

“For some reason, I didn’t either,” said Lee.

The photographer returned and re­ported that THE DIRECTOR and ev­erybody at the Palazzo were thrilled that I’d made it, and would extend the congress another 20 minutes in my honor, if I would rush over.

In the taxi, I asked the photographer, since he seemed to understand the Italians, why they’d agreed to re­schedule the congress to suit my con­venience, then went ahead as planned.

He said it wasn’t the Italian style to refuse such a request as mine merely because it was pompous and inconsid­erate. It was pleasanter to treat it as reasonable, agree to it and go ahead as planned.

“And let me come here all the way from America? Well, if that’s the Ital­ian style, it’s a good thing to know.”

The photographer smiled and said, “Italians figure that coming to Italy is such a good thing to do, anyone will eventually be grateful for anything that brought them there, whether or not it made any sense at the time.”

And, although I couldn’t see it then, he turned out to be right.

The Palazzo at Bordighera is a tri­umph of modern Italian institutional design. It has the antiseptic exterior of a New China leprosarium, and the lush interior of the Miami-Fontaine­bleu men’s room.

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 illo 01 screen

THE DIRECTOR, surrounded by a swarm of savants, kids, photogra­phers and one young female interpret­er, was waiting excitedly on the Palaz­zo steps to greet me. The interpreter said she hoped I’d be patient, for she was not very experienced.

I was shown through several gal­leries of original ccmic strip draw­ings, mostly American. It was a joy to see the work of artists with the genius to illuminate the absurdity or, as in the “adventure” strips, the perils of a fan­tastic but comprehensible world.

“It is sad,” I said to the swarm through the girl interpreter, “that such works are preserved only long enough to wrap fish in, while the messes created by the unbalanced and untalented are sold by the unprin­cipled as ‘real’ art to the totally bewildered.”

The girl translated this to THE DI­RECTOR. The procession stopped.

The savants held an excited conference. When they all seemed to come to some agreement, they all shook my hand and began to leave the Palazzo. “Is it agreeable, then?” asked the girl interpreter. “In half an hour? At Giovanni’s?”

I said I was game, and asked the photographer, who’d been bouncing around taking pictures, who was Gio­vanni?

“He runs a big fish place near the hotel. That’s what the girl understood from what you said—that you wanted fish. So the entire congress voted to delay their departure home until tomorrow morning, and give a fish din­ner in your honor. In half an hour.” I had to admit that was darn nice of them.

“It’s the Italian style,” he grinned, “and that’s not all. They also voted to run through the highlights of the two days of speeches you missed. That’s why the half hour. They’ve all dashed back to get the manuscripts.”

“They needn’t have gone that far,” I said.

“They will,” said the photographer, “unless you stop them. I’ve heard those speeches. There were 14 of them, none under an hour. Why don’t you suggest they mail them to you, in their rich fullness, instead of giving you mere highlights? And hold a mass in­terview after the fish at Giovanni’s—­in which you can exchange ideas?”

At Giovanni’s the photographer remained at my side long enough to make sure the girl interpreted this suggestion correctly. It was declared agreeable to the congress, so the photographer bounced off to the outer fringes of the crowd and resumed snapping pictures as the mad inter­view began.

A Marcello Mastroianni type rose, looked yearningly at the girl (not because she was anything to be yearned for, but because she was the only girl around, and he was Italian).

She quivered, and translated: “The Professor from Genoa inquires, what was your motivation for creating Li’l Abner in 1934?”

“Hunger,” I replied. “I was very hungry in 1934. So I created Li’l Abner. It became big business and I be­came overweight. Since then my mo­tivation has been greed.”

Falk, Andriola and the photog­rapher laughed. Raw truth amuses Americans. The girl translated. None of the Italians laughed. They all nod­ded gravely.

“I bombed,” I said.

“In the translation,” the photog­rapher explained, “it came out you created Li’l Abner as a protest against the greed of American big business.”

“I meant my greed,” I said to the girl. “Tell ’em that!”

She translated. The Italians nodded sympathetically. A few applauded.

“To translate her translation,” said the photographer, “you consider your pen a lance against the forces of ob­sessive materialism. You see, she likes you. The little touches she adds are making a much finer impression on this crowd than if they knew what you were really saying. Better let her handle it her way.”

She was now ready with the next question.

“The Doctor of Philosophy from Rome asks you to settle a dispute. It is his contention that Li’l Abner is not so much a hillbilly as a total vi­sion of life. His destiny contains all: poverty; an elementary sense of jus­tice; courage; absolute dependence on the material world; optimism with, however, very little ambition; fatal­ism; momism; superstition; innocent and automatic conformism; and an instinctive desire to remain eternally young. Is not this mixture of activism and apathy, of absolute conformism and a desire for personal liberty, this mirage of an unattainable future your colossal comic-grotesque, cynical-sentimental comment on the Ameri­can Dream?”

“You might put it that way,” I replied.

With a triumphant smile at a small man on the other side of the room the Doctor of Philosophy sat down.

The small man leaped up, glared at the doctor and spoke. Translation:

“The Director of the Department of New World Literature pays his re­spects to the distinguished Philoso­pher and suggests that his theory is a kettle of cabbage, since it is based upon Li’l Abner as read in transla­tion. He says the result of his depart­ment’s multilanguage analysis of 30 years of the daily instalments of the masterwork indicate that it is as dif­ficult to translate the text of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner as it is to translate the text of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Both em­ploy a subtle use of typography, cre­ating fascinating modulations which are inimitable, and therefore impos­sible to savor fully in any but the original form. The speaker therefore begs us not to bore our guest with our grotesque explanations of what Li’l Abner is to us. To settle all disputes for all time, he implores Mr. Capp to tell us what Li’l Abner is to him.”

“To me,” I said, “it’s a living.”

And that’s the way it went, until long past midnight.

The next day I left Bordighera for Rome. I was depressed. The determi­nation of Europe’s New Wave of in­tellectuals to elevate the status of a continued-story comic strip to an im­mortal myth was heady stuff all right, but such sudden enthusiasms are apt to be flimsy and treacherous. Passion­ate affirmation inevitably creates pas­sionate opposition, especially in the literary world, and next year us new immortals might be considered just another overpaid bunch of old im­morals, just as we are back home. I decided it was more comfortable be­ing a cartoonist in America than a colossus in Rome.

My photographer friend had re­turned to Rome with me, and to re­lieve my gloom took me to a party at the home of a celebrated Roman femme fatale. There, he asked me to pose with Carlo Levi, who seemed perfectly happy chatting with friends.

“There’s always a market,” he ex­plained, “for celebrity pictures.”

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 photo Levi screen

Al Capp Life Intl 14061965 photo Levi caption screen

I protested that the author of Christ Stopped at Eboli was a celebrity to me, naturally, but it seemed an intru­sion to ask him to pose with an Amer­ican he didn’t even know, and maybe didn’t want to. At that moment Levi turned, slapped my back and chortled.

“I know you very well, Capp, but maybe you don’t want to know me, if you read my article on General Bullmoose for La Stampa of Turin.”

“Somehow I missed it,” I replied. “When did it appear?”

“I’ll call Turin and get you the ex­act date,” said Levi. He did, and then gave me his card with the date scrib­bled on it. The year was 1955.

“Then you aren’t a new follower of the Li’l Abner wave?”

Levi snorted. “You mean those fel­lows at Bordighera? They followed me! Although it is true that my piece followed, by several years, John Steinbeck’s, urging that Li’l Abner be given the Nobel Prize for Literature. Cer­tainly that started a Li’l Abner wave among the critics in your country?”

“Certainly not,” I said. “They fig­ured he was trying to be funny.”

“American critics are funny,” said Levi.

The photographer was tugging at my sleeve. “[Alberto] Moravia just came in. Let’s get a shot with him.”

“Let’s not press our luck,” I was saying as he placed me alongside the author of A Woman of Rome.

“Say something to Mr. Capp,” urged the photographer.

“I’ve been reading Li’l Abner since 1934,” said Moravia, “I detect . . .”

“That’s just fine,” said the photog­rapher, closing shop. “I’ve got one more job to cover. I’ll drop you at the hotel.”

Driving back through the Borghese Gardens, I said I guessed the New Wave of intellectual attention to the comic strip in Europe wasn’t so new or fragile or faddist after all.

“Do you suppose,” I asked the pho­tographer, “it’ll ever reach our coun­try? Just think! To be treated as the equal of real writers and artists! To have each new story in Li’l Abner re­viewed by the New York Times—same as each new story by, say, Robert Ruark! To have my daily square full of cartoons discussed in the Art Re­view, as reverently as Rothko’s empty squares! It would do a lot for me with my grandchildren.” The photogra­pher said not to bet on anything like that happening, not in time to do me any good with those kids anyhow.

“Sixty million people from age 7 to 70 take us seriously enough to have read us every day for 30 years. The world has never been that trans­fixed by any top TV series, the com­plete works of Harold Robbins and Dostoyevsky, or the total output of M-G-M studios.”

“I’m afraid what that anti-Ameri­can critic said at the congress was right,” my friend replied. “Classify­ing comics as a subculture is a form of prejudice your people will never overcome.”

Were my kind, I wondered, forever to remain second-class citizens in the democracy of arts and letters?

“We shall overcome,” I said.

 ~~~

Notes

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucca_Comics_%26_Games
  2. http://alemontosi.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/1965-2015-50-anni-dalla-nascita-di.html
  3. http://www.afnews.info/wordpress/2015/02/21/scoop-la-guida-del-fumetto-arriva-al-web-ecco-la-presentazione-di-alfredo-castelli
  4. http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&prev=search&rurl=translate.google.co.uk&sl=it&u=http://www.immaginecentrostudi.org/saloni/salone01.asp&usg=ALkJrhgZ3eD7gFX42gI3HemXWzWkZO9l1Q
  5. Peter Bondanella’s study Umberto Eco and the Open Text: Semiotics, Fiction, Popular Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2005) summarises the essays in English, and describes some places where English translations can be found. (There is no English translation of the whole book; Apocalypse Postponed, ed. Robert Lumley (Indiana University Press, 1994) contains the introductory essay and some of the content.) Some, perhaps all, of these pieces had appeared in journals over the preceding few years.
  6. An English translation of “The Myth of Superman” appears in Arguing Comics (Literary Masters on a Popular Medium) Ed. Jeet Heer & Kent Worcester (University press of Mississippi, 2004.
  7. “A Reading of Steve Canyon” appears in Comic Iconoclasm, ed. Sheena Wagstaff (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1987). Bondanella states that this translation is cut short.
  8. “The World of Charlie Brown” appears in Apocalypse Postponed.
  9. Though Wikipedia may be all you really need. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Capp
  10. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0135439/?ref_=tt_cl_t5
  11. Anyone who hasn’t witnessed Capp in conversation with John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their 1969 “bed-in” is advised to detour in that direction immediately after reading this post. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYxFO8o-t2E
  12. The catalogue text I have seen (4) has the President, Rino Albertarelli, heading the evidently more prestigious Steering Committee, and a Chairman of the Organising Committee, Raul Zaccari, at the head of the lists. Calisi as Director of the Organising Committee is listed after the vice-president of same.
Posted in Bandes dessinées, Comics, Newspaper comic strips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE FUTURE ISN’T WHAT IT WAS – a review of Paul Rainey’s Graphic Novel, There’s No Time Like The Present

People of a certain age—especially those who spend a lot of time nurturing their comic and SF collections, and/or online—might find their lives reflected in this engaging, skilfully told tale. Highly recommended.

There’s No Time Like The Present is a graphic novel written and drawn by Paul Rainey, published by Escape Books ( www.escape-books.co.uk ) 2015.

Available from the Escape books site, Gosh! http://www.goshlondon.com, Foyles, MK Art Gallery, or order at you local bookshop by ISBN 978-0-9570694-1-1

TNTLTP cover

The first thing to say about this book is that it is a true graphic novel—not, like some other books, a graphic short story dressed up as a novel. Reading it in one sitting is, I suppose, technically possible, but you would probably want a couple of meal breaks. Possibly also a night’s sleep.

TNTLTP started life as a series of self-published comics. Escape Books have collected the story into a single hardback book, beautifully designed and produced, and this is without doubt a Very Good Thing.

It is both a well-observed tale of the everyday lives of unexceptional people, and a wild science fiction story involving time travel and its far-reaching implications.

From his life in the southern English “new town” of Milton Keynes—not always thought of as an inspiring location—and from our early 21st century times, Paul Rainey has crafted a story which spans if not the whole of space, time and human experience, something pretty damn close.

One of his key insights is that life in a small town anywhere in the developed world is not lived solely in its streets and buildings. Inside the head of every resident is a world of the imagination, fed both from within and by the media we consume. This in itself is not new, of course. Our Neanderthal cousins probably had some kind of imaginative life. Our Victorian ancestors read both fiction and newspapers in increasingly huge quantities. What is new is the sheer quantity, scope and immediacy of information and novel experiences available from the new media, especially the online variety. We live in a world that a few generations ago literally was science fiction.

Life in Milton Keynes, in other words, is life simultaneously bounded by the concrete realities of the town and its opportunities (or the lack of them) and unbounded by unprecedented access to worlds beyond.

And if we are already living in a science fiction world… what comes next?

Paul Rainey’s story starts with a group of Milton Keynes residents very much living their ordinary lives. It would be grossly unfair to suggest that life in Milton Keynes (or in the early 21st century) can or should be reduced to a stereotype. Rainey does not attempt to do this, though the four specific people he focuses on, connected by threads of friendship and cultural interest, are drawn from a certain demographic—one he probably knows very well.

Kelly and Cliff are friends and flatmates. “I like it when you talk about The A Team,” Kelly tells Cliff. “It means you’re not rattling on about Dr Who.”

In skilful dialogue like this Rainey tells us a lot about his cast in a few panels. His art, as others have noted, is not the greatest. But it tells the story clearly and, crucially, he draws faces which reveal the emotions of his characters to good effect.

Here’s Cliff getting his preferred reading matter home.

TNTLTP Cliff

(For those who might be uncertain, Previews is not a “glamour magazine”—or not in the usual sense. It’s a massive listing of all the comics and related paraphernalia released every month in the USA.)

Barry, in his thirties, lives with his parents, who argue about whether or not to throw him out. He collects DVDs and toys relating to science fiction in films and on TV. He is internet friends with Inspector Jive who is agoraphobic, but starting to get out of the house for the first time in ages. Barry gets pirated films from the Inspector and sometimes sells them to Cliff.

There’s No Time Like The Present falls neatly into three parts. In the first section, the four characters are young and just about getting by. This is where Rainey skilfully depicts slices of their non-affluent life, made more bearable by the soap opera and science-fiction to which they are devoted.

It might not be stretching things too far to suggest that these four epitomize some key aspects of contemporary British life. It is in fact possible to read this story as something of an allegory for the lives we live today—we in the world connected to television and the internet, that is.

Paul Rainey’s SF twist is that time travel has been invented in the near future, and is having effects in the present, as information and visitors arrive from times to come. This will inform the whole of the story, increasingly so in later chapters. One early result of this is that bootlegged future episodes of movie sagas like Star Wars and TV soaps like Emmerdale can now be downloaded from the “Ultranet”. Kelly is devoted to one particular soap, and Barry can get future episodes for her. This kicks off the neatly done storylines of Part One that bring the characters together in ways that are convincing and entertaining—funny and mildly tragic by turns.

One highlight of this section—among many—is Kelly’s agonising experiences with the formal twice-yearly appraisal process at the office where she works. This is excruciatingly well observed and nicely told. It will ring true with anyone who has been through the process. The early scenes around this are also followed up later in more ways than the reader might expect.

TNTLTP yog

This part of the story reads very much like a superior soap opera in itself. Rainey’s cast are well set up for plot elements to come. The SF content is minimal. The world of today is coming to terms with what it is learning from the future. The ground rules under which time travel works are being laid down—there are limitations on what is allowed to happen, and new regulations are being brought in to ensure that the timelines are not messed up. There is to be no sudden arrival of utopia.

Ordinary life goes on much as before, with some knowledge of future events, but information about the future is not necessarily welcome or helpful. We are shown several examples of this. A visitor from the future attempts to set himself up as something between a celebrity and a politician. He does not prove popular with the citizens of Milton Keynes. The local comic shop owner finds out he will be superseded by a branch of a big chain (which may or may not be a fictionalised Forbidden Planet) in a few years’ time. The future has been glimpsed, but cannot be fully embraced.

Whether intended by Paul Rainey or not, it is impossible to read this without reflecting on our relationship with the internet today. As with previous new media, TV especially, the net promises so much, and indeed delivers to many of us, every day, an amazingly expanded knowledge base and experience of the world. And yet, wherever (and whenever) you go on your screen, you’re still at home (or in the library, or…). When the screen goes off, ordinary life goes on. Wonderment must co-exist with frustration. And where will it lead? Is it changing us, or, more pertinently, our children? What will the future be like for generations to come in this new online world?

TNTLTP answers some of those questions in its second section—at least for its characters. Some fifty years have passed, and the aged Cliff, Barry and the Inspector now hang out together at an old people’s day centre. They don’t mingle, but sit and to watch old Dr Who, Star Wars and Star Trek, and discuss the fate of their comics and SF collections when they die—which seems not far off. Indeed, the grim reaper does come calling, though with unexpected results.

In this section, Cliff has an encounter with a car driver which gave me the biggest laugh of the book—and there are many. I can’t say any more without giving away the joke. You’ll know it when you see it. In addition, there is a bit of spot-on analysis of Ang Lee’s disappointing Hulk movie. This I will spoil for you completely by reproducing it here. Someone else noticed how dumb the gamma-ray poodle was… so, I  just can’t resist.

TNTLTP Hulk

This section is in some ways a continuation of the first. Life in Milton Keynes goes on very much as before, while the final stages of separation from the world of the future are under way. This turns out to have particular implications for some of our cast. Without spoiling this excellent bit of Paul Rainey’s plot, I will say a certain amount about one story element, as it is in some ways the single outstanding part of the story.

Due to the situation with time travel etc., Barry is given a chance—as he sees it—to change his life for the better. However he is forced to consider whether the opportunity will really make him a better person. He realises that he is facing a stark choice, and in fact by giving up his chance for self-improvement through time travel, he could in fact ironically become a better person in the here and now.

This is beautifully handled by writer-artist Rainey. And as the story goes on, we are faced with a further question—would Barry’s ultimate choice actually make him a better person? Or is that too “pat”, almost a soap opera cliché in its turn? The story offers a further chance to reflect on that, and fittingly, without offering any obvious answer.

Also, there is a scene in which old men get to dress up as their favourite Dr Who. See? Just like real life.

TNTLTP doctors

If the first two sections of the book have merely flirted with the subject of time travel, Part Three jumps in with both feet. We are off on a dizzying ride through multiple time zones, with a plot involving Kelly in particular. This storyline is somewhat less convincing than the more grounded earlier parts, but still has a lot going for it.

It is comparable, in some aspects, to two classic science fiction texts—and this is not to suggest influence or plagiarism, but to praise Paul Rainey’s ambition and achievement. The books in question are Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (1956) and Michael Moorcock’s trilogy, The Dancers at the End of Time (1972-76).

Like Bester’s outlaws teleporting through space, Rainey’s travellers “jaunt” wildly through time and place, their worlds and their lifestyles massively expanded in potential. Rainey shows us some who fully embrace this change, others who can only cope with it in limited doses.

Like Moorcock’s decadent Dancers, Rainey’s travellers can live out their lives as one long party. They can choose their location and lifestyle, and shape their own identities, in innovative ways which the past did not allow for. Gender roles blur, as indeed does gender itself when increasingly profound body modifications are possible.

Not only in the subject matter of teleportation, time travel and reality-bending, Bester’s and Moorcock’s texts are also notable—like TNTLTP—for their sense of inclusivity. Younger modern readers might find them dated in this regard, as real life has been catching up with SF to an unprecedented degree. But The Stars My Destination and The Dancers at the End of Time will live on as classic texts partly for that very reason—they expressed the Zeitgeist of the late 20th century and noted/anticipated the changes that were happening. SF, at its best, can allegorise our own times for us like no other fiction. That is not to say that it has to do this in order to be good. It is one way in which it can achieve greatness.

Again, whether Paul Rainey intended this or not, I cannot read this third section of TNTLTP without comparing this life of time travel with our own times. We have the ability to move around the world, if not at will then at least with far more ease than previous generations, and more “on impulse.” And we have more ability to choose—or express—our lifestyle, our look, our sexuality. And yet, we have limitations due to our personalities, our emotions and obsessions, our determination and courage, or lack thereof. Held together by a plot involving motherhood and jealousy, these are all in Paul Rainey’s fictional mix.

(There is perhaps an avoidance of the question of money. For various reasons Rainey’s characters seem largely unconstrained by financial limitations. In our world this is an unavoidable issue—I am thinking of travel in particular—though again we now face much smaller costs than our recent forebears did. We cannot all live like the wealthy of the 20th century did on the Riviera. Arguably we in the developed world can now afford enough of these good things that our existence can be allegorized as Paul Rainey—perhaps—does here. Or maybe he is thinking more of the world of the imagination, augmented by the internet, as he seemed to be in parts one and two. If you can afford a broadband connection, arguably “all this can be yours” without stepping outside your door.)

TNTLTP travel

At the end of the story, we shift gear yet again, to find out where all the future’s time travel and other advanced technology is leading. If not the ultimate expression of human ingenuity, the science here has at least achieved something that is clearly a huge watershed in human existence.

And like the great SF writers who precede him, Rainey knows that these big ideas mean nothing if they do not relate to the person reading the story. And so it all comes down, as with Barry earlier, to a moment of human choice for Cliff—and, the story says, for all of us in the end. There are two paths. No rush, but at some time you will need to decide. Go one way or the other.

Ultimately though, there is one place where everybody goes, real or fictional. Death is involved in TNTLTP‘s final scene, though not precisely as we know it today. The choice being offered at the end of this splendid book is perhaps not really one from the far future, but of the here and now. Like Jerry Cornelius in the film version of Moorcock’s The Final Programme, Paul Rainey is not so much looking ahead as looking around—ahead’s already here.

A metaphorical choice then, and one which isn’t as binary as it sounds. Maybe TNTLTP is suggesting that the choices we make every day, right now, are the ones which count. The present is all we really have. Are we going to embrace more of the opportunities it offers, or close down choices and limit our life unnecessarily? Get out more? Watch screens less?

And, this being a graphic novel, not a text one, Rainey brings it to a close with a suitably graphic device. We entered his excellent book via a blank white page from our world, which—like Milton Keynes—is part mundane reality, and part imagination. We have exited back to our “real” world. Between the book’s covers, we have read a superb, entertaining story which also perhaps stimulates some thought about the nature of that reality, and the lives we lead in it.

And if it has left us with some food for thought, or just with the urge to get out and meet some people… There Is, after all, No Time Like the Present.

Or, to end with another Moorcock quote, “It’s now or never… it always bleeding well is!”

Posted in Comics, Michael Moorcock | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

POP ART 1963: THE READERS OF TIME MAGAZINE RESPOND

Roy Lichtenstein based his painting I Can See the Whole Room! on a panel from the newspaper comic strip Steve Roper. It is often mentioned that William Overgard, artist on the strip, had a letter published in Time magazine (May 17th 1963) about the painting. It’s a short letter and often quoted in full.

The Legion is happy to quote it in full below, this time in the context of the whole section of the letter page devoted to the subject of Pop Art. We were unaware that the magazine had previously run a feature on Pop. (We will endeavour to find a copy!) The letters were responding to that article. We wonder if the balance in the letters Time printed reflects their correspondents’ overall balance of views, or indeed that of the US population of the time.

There were slightly more important things going on, as shown by the magazine’s cover story. Birmingham Alabama had been torn by race riots after heavy-handed police responses to peaceful demonstrations against segregation. Pop Art itself probably wasn’t saying a lot about that.

cover Time May 17,1963

Pop Art

Sir:   Pop art [May 3] is the most exciting thing that has happened in America since Little Eva tripped over the ice cubes. The Guggen­heim Museum is to be congratulated on its forward-looking policy. Fifty years from now there will be a revival of pop art that will make the recent revival of the Armory Show look pale indeed.    JASON A. SPENALZO,  Hamilton, N.Y.

Sir:   I’m not fooled. I think it stinks.    DIANE FRECHIN, Bremerton, Wash.

Sir:   As a cartoonist I was interested in Roy Lichtenstein’s comments on comic strips in your article on pop art.

Though he may not, as he says, copy them exactly, Lichtenstein in his painting currently being shown at the Guggenheim comes pretty close to the last panel of my Steve Roper Sunday page of Aug. 6, 1961. Very flattering… I think?

WILLIAM OVERGARD, Stony Point, N.Y.

illo

Illustration accompanying the Overgard letter

Sir:   Well, I’ll tell, you, it was really something ! Since we don’t allow the kids to read war comics, our first problem was to acquire suitable copies. My wife and I worked both sides of the alley for two blocks and finally came up with a couple of good ones out of a garbage can. One was Blood and Bombs and the other Guts and Glory. We started the project at 8 p.m., and by 11 we had cut out and pasted to the walls of our living room 147 panels. These ranged from a buxom nurse giving a G.I. a shot of penicillin to a Com­munist guerrilla with his intestines exposed by mortar fire.

The next day I stomped flat eleven empty cans. We stuck mostly to Campbell soup cans, but threw in a sweet potato can and a card­board chow mein container for originality. These I nailed to the walnut paneling above the fireplace. When my wife returned from her trip to a nearby drive-in, we took the hamburgers and a single hot dog and affixed them to the north wall of the dining room, then stood back and threw hot chili and beans over the entire arrangement.

No need to tell you that our new art col­lection is the rage of the community. In the past, we had envied our more financially blessed citizens for their expensive art objects. Now we not only feel their equals, but, if my civil suit for the return of two old jackets I gave to the Salvation Army is successful, I sincerely feel that we can take one giant leap up the local social ladder to a position of un­challenged eminence.   WILLIAM E. HAFFORD, Tucson, Ariz.

~~~

Oh Mr Hafford, you wag. We’ll bet you had the Time readers in stitches.

The Legion suspects Mr Hafford and Ms Frechin were more typical of the readership than Mr Spenalzo.

Mr H demonstrates the contempt with which comics were viewed by many at the time. He has failed to notice that nurses are now considerably less buxom, and Commies no longer showing their internal organs, in the comic pages, since the Comics Code Authority cleaned up their act in 1954.

The Legion says: God bless the Comics Code, china cups and virginity!

Approved_by_the_Comics_Code_Authority

Here’s a slightly better image of Roy L’s painting:

whole room

And here’s a scan of the Overgard panel from David Barsalou’s amazing web pages (the best collection of Lichtenstein’s source images bar none, at http://www.flickr.com/photos/deconstructing-roy-lichtenstein/46915622/):

Overgard panel

Posted in Gallery art, Newspaper comic strips, Pop Art, Quotations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SPECIAL GUEST STAR: JIM STERANKO (2)

Cap104 p11 detail b 200dpi

From Captain America no. 104

You will recall that in part 1 the Legion wrote about Captain America no.104 with its exciting Jim Steranko inks on one page of the beautiful  Kirby/Adkins artwork. We speculated as to how come and where Jim S had inked the page. A bit of googling was done.

It emerged that Adkins had revealed some facts in a letter to fanzine Amazing Heroes in 1989, 20+ years after the event. Having got a copy of Amazing Heroes no. 167 from They Walk Among Us (impeccably graded at Fine and reasonably priced; thanks Jon!) the Legion can now report on that Dan Adkins letter.

!SPOILER ALERT!

If you, like us, like to find these things for yourselves, here is a list of the comics concerned. Pull ’em off the shelf, have a butcher’s, give yourself the Steranko spotter’s challenge!

Or: skip to Dan’s letter below, then have a look at some lovely pics after that.

The Legion got some of the right answers but also “spotted” a few panels which Jaunty Jim never went anywhere near with his (or Dapper Dan’s) ink pot. All comics 1968, natch.

Daredevil no. 42, 1 panel

Daredevil no. 44 (Trick question; not mentioned in the letter but listed online)

Strange Tales no. 166,  3 panels (or so Dan says… read on.)

Here’s part of Dan’s letter:

DAN ADKINS Reading, PA

Adkins With the Facts

A couple of corrections for the Paul Gulacy interview.

Quote: “AH: Didn’t Steranko ink a couple of pages of [Master of]Kung Fu? GULACY: That’s right, Steranko was visiting Dan one day, looked at this Gulacy stuff and started noodling around. Actually, he only inked one full page.”

Steranko has never inked Paul Gu­lacy. Must be wishful thinking on Paul’s part. But, Jim did ink a few panels on jobs I was working on while living in Brooklyn.

They are:

Captain America #104; Jim inked heads of Nick Fury on page 11.

Daredevil #42; Jim inked panel 5 on page 12.

Strange Tales #166; Jim inked panel 3 on page 4 and inked the heads in panels 4 and 5.

That’s it. No Gulacy.

[Dan goes on to correct another erroneous statement  made by Paul Gulacy about Frank Frazetta borrowing from Dan’s swipe files. We paraphrase: “Frank Frazetta was not a swipe artist – that Roy Krenkel though…!” Well, Dan, it takes one to know one.]

~

So, the answer to our question in the previous post about how the Steranko inks came about is: he dropped round to Dan’s place in Brooklyn now and then, and just couldn’t keep his hands off.

Now, the panels in question:

DD 42:  page 12, panel 5.

DD_42 p12_Colan_Steranko_pn5_72dpi

The Legion got this one right off the bat. Once our Steranko spotter-bot was turned on it stood out like a Steranko-sized glowing thumb. An odd choice, one might think, with all those lovely Gene Colan faces and figures to be inked; but then, there is evidence elsewhere that Jim S was fond of cars.

Here’s the panel with its neighbour, so you can see some of that Colan-Adkins goodness:

DD-42 p12_Colan_Steranko

And just for fun, frantic ones, here’s the cover, which we think is a piece of sheer Colan/Adkins magic. (Check out that fabulous Popular Book Centre stamp! Sheer nostalgia for the British comics fan of a certain age. Comics are more valuable with these stamps, as you will know*.)

DD_42_cover

DD 44: Jaunty Jim allegedly inked the cover. As with Cap 104‘s Nick Fury heads, the Legion would put its money on just the DD figure being inked by Jim.

DD_44_cover

Strange Tales 166: this comic is a bit earlier, March 1968 cover date. The inking would have been done in late ’67. Here’s page 4, with very probably the only George Tuska pencils, Jim Steranko inks you are ever going to see:

ST166_Doc_p4

Panel 3: since it looks a lot like Jack Kirby, the Legion can accept that Jim S probably inked the whole panel, as Dan says.

ST166_Doc_p4pn3_small

Panel 4: Dapper Dan says Jim inked the head. The Legion can go with that.

ST166_Doc_p4pn4_small

Panel 5: did Jim also ink this Doctor Strange face? Have to say it doesn’t look like it to us. Looks like Dan A, all the way.

ST166_Doc_p4pn5_small

For your pleasure, the Legion has flipped the Jim S face and presents it below next to what we assert is a Dan A face (Twa Docs as one might put it:):

Twa Docs

Now seriously folks, did the same Jim Steranko ink those two faces on the same day in 1967? We rest our case.

And finally, just because we love Jim Steranko and we’ve had Strange Tales no.166 out of the light-proof humidity-controlled vault, here’s a page from the Nick Fury strip therein (inks pretty definitely by Joltin’ Joe Sinnott). Bona!

ST166_Nick F_smallest

Next ish: “The Awesome Answer!” (Eh? Wasn’t that it?)

* This may not be entirely true.

Posted in Comic-book art, Comics, Jim Steranko | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment