Friday, April 30, 2010

Who's Livin' Larger: Sekowsky or The Sailor?

Vote now! Polls close Monday night at midnight.

Don Newton: No Stranger to Phantom

Don Newton was one of the premiere artists on THE PHANTOM about 30 years ago. Here's a page he did.

I was vaguely aware of Newton's work, through some late-career work he did for DC, and I'm not even sure if I'm a fan right now, but BACK ISSUE magazine's article in # 19 on the artist was quite fascinating, and the guy definitely is talented and he has some kind of mystique......

.......As does The Phantom. It's a character I always wanted to like more than I do. It's one of those characters that has lots of promise but the execution is never quite there once you get past the lush painted covers. I think The Shadow was more successful in its various comic book configurations (except, hilariously, the Archie Comics incarnation: too bad Archie never attempted their take on The Phantom, that would've been wild, Lucy!)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

History is About to Repeat Itself: Highly Anticipated State-of-the-Art Marvel Superhero Sequel vs...Medieval Man With Sword and Steed

DMX says: "Here we go again.....!"

Six years ago, my buddy RICH CARRADINE and I spent the first part of 2004 shaking our heads, wondering, "What was Disney thinking?" Disney was releasing one bomb after another (HIDALGO, HOME ON THE RANGE) and they were trying to get people fired up about their big summer "blockbuster," KING ARTHUR (starring the supernatural box office draw Keira Knightley). Guess which week they chose to release KING ARTHUR? Why, at the very same time Sony released SPIDER-MAN 2 -- only the sequel to the biggest opener (and one of the highest-grossing films) of all time.

It begged the question: if you're a tween and you only have $15 allowance that week, which movie are you going to see? The biggest sequel of your lifetime with the coolest superhero in comics? Or some ancient legend with men on horses? Needless to say, Disney took a bath, a shower and a moist towelette on KING ARTHUR.

Well, you'd think the movie studios would employ some common sense and learn from history....but (cue DMX) here we go again! Start praying for Universal Studios. Universal is already suffering from financial woes...and things are about to get woeier!

Last year, Universal's only hit was a surprise (FASTER & FURIOUSER) and film after film they released crashed. Now, hot on the heels of IRON MAN 2, which will open May 7, Universal will release---you guessed it!---Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD, (Starring Russell Crowe!!! And Cate Blanchett!!) on May 14!

"OH, BOY! REALLY? You mean, instead of seeing superheroes shooting repulsor rays and robots destroying a city and stuff, I get to see a guy shoot bow and arrows at an army of men on horses? Mommy, take me to see ROBIN HOOD now!!!! Pretty pleeeease!"

Not gonna happen!

I'm not making an aesthetic judgment here. I'm not saying that ROBIN HOOD is going to be a bad movie. I'm sure Ridley Scott has come up with a sensitive portrayal of this hoary old story that will make ROBIN HOOD the AMERICAN GANGSTER of folk tales. I'm just questioning whether this is the kind of material you really want to pit against IRON MAN 2, which is most likely to be the highest grossing film of the year. One thing is for certain: the executive who greenlit ROBIN HOOD should start floating out his resume and packing up his cubicle...he/she has some professional June Gloom in the forecast.

IRON MAN 2, I'll see you in the theaters on opening weekend! And ROBIN HOOD, buddy, I'll catch up with ya on DVD in August!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Other Side of "The Other Fish in the Sea"????

Here's a hot one! In my upcoming CARTOON FLOPHOUSE comic book, I have a batch of gag cartoons on the horrors of the dating scene that I created shortly after breaking up years ago with a formidable girlfriend. They're called "The Other Fish in the Sea," and they were originally published in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in the late '90s.

Well, that same ex-girlfriend (also a cartoonist) recently posted a Facebook page devoted to HER gag cartoons of the horrors of the dating scene. Ha, ha! Two can play at that game!

The difference between our approaches are glaring: her cartoons are refined, sophisticated, and they're hip and contemporary, with references to hip stuff such as Facebook and blogging, while my cartoons are crude, aimed at the philistine contingent, and they were created before Facebook and blogging were twinkles in their papas' eyes! (Hey, opposites attracted, OK?)

I can't tell if any of her cartoons are directly aimed at me (although the guy on the cover of her album may have my boyish good looks.....but you'd have to ask her!), and I don't think mine were specifically aimed at her either----more like my riffs on romantic disappointment in general from a bunch of inspirations....

.......In fact, there's never any shortage of inspiration! Look no further than Larry King's marriages, ripped from today's headlines!

These here are some of my "Other Fish in the Sea" toons (and no, they do not feature Aquaman or Old Ironhead!):

Sunday, April 25, 2010

News to me: ONE DAY AT A TIME star was son of cartoonist Henry Scarpelli

I was reading this article about ARCHIE COMICS introducing a gay character to its cast, and as it turns out, longtime Archie artist HENRY SCARPELLI, who died on April 4, was the father of GLENN SCARPELLI, the kid from ONE DAY AT A TIME. Remember this guy?

Here's an excerpt from that article:

One person with a personal interest in Archie's new friend is actor Glenn Scarpelli, who is best known for his long-running role as Alex Handris on the hit television situation comedy "One Day at a Time."

Besides being gay and happily married to partner Jude Belenger, Scarpelli is the son of Henry Scarpelli, who worked for Archie Comics for 40 years, including some strips featuring his famous son, before his death on April 4.

"I think it's awesome. I actually think Archie should have married Jughead in the first place," he laughed. Of Kevin 's debut, he said, "My dad would have liked it, too."


Funnybook Eye Candy: Love this LI'L LULU cover!

Delicious color scheme....and that crazy quilt is a masterpiece of abstract art in itself!

Astonishing Tales Featuring...THE DOORS???

In my conversation with RICH BUCKLER, artist and creator of DEATHLOK THE DEMOLISHER, which ran in ASTONISHING TALES in the early '70s, for BACK ISSUE magazine #25 (Nov. 2007), we discussed at length the connections between this series and the seminal kings of dark pop, THE DOORS.

It was an amazing conversation. Buckler was at his best, articulating his influences on the feature, which comes from all kinds of sources. (I consider this interview one of my crowning achievements for the magazine, by the way, if you haven't read it.)

DEATHLOK THE DEMOLISHER is awash with references to the legendary L.A. group, down to some story titles swiped from song titles, including "Break on Through" and "Five to One." Keep in mind that when those ASTONISHING TALES comics came out, it was the early 1970s, about two years after Doors front man Jim Morrison passed away.

That's the wondrous thing about art of any stripe. You can be influenced from sources that might not be the obvious for a futureshock title such as DEATHLOK THE DEMOLISHER, which was stuffed with ideas and filled with a depth and a vision that was well ahead of its time (and ahead of the year 1990, when this tale takes place).

In turn, Buckler's cyborg storyline (all 11 issues, co-written with the great writer DOUG MOENCH), in which the title character revisits his past and grapples to retrieve his humanity, clearly provided a blueprint for one of the best sci-fi movies of all time (IMO):

(Not to be confused with the two piss poor sequels, TV show, and lame comics this 1987 movie in turn inspired).

Inspiration is a wonderful thing, especially when it informs something indirectly and not so on the nose. It would've been too on the nose if Buckler had also done some cosmic comics based on The Doors themselves back then (remember those KISS comics?). Then again, it probably would've been pretty damn sweet!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Big Sekowsky: This Dude Abides!

April 2010 has turned into Mike Sekowsky Month for me. After the rollicking good time known as the graphic novel compilation CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS, reprinting mid-1960s JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA stories, I'm reading SHOWCASE JLA VOL. 1 which is wall-to-wall Sekowsky. Or maybe the phrase is wall-to-off-the-wall Sekowsky.

I should extend the tribute to Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky Month because the writing is top-notch in a loopy/campy/surreal vein and it's obvious to me now (finally!) where Stan Lee got some of his writing tricks. Lee took it up a notch, but there's definitely a sense of mirth running through these JLAs that anticipated Marvel (the ancient turtle known as "Old Ironhead," anyone?) and some Marvel words such as "magneto" (here it's the magneto-bubble gun).

The Fox/Sekowsky JLA smackdown: highly recommended, folks!

By the way, if you're wondering who that non-superhero dude in the bottom right corner is, that's SNAPPER CARR, a James Dean-esque hipster beatnik dude with the crazy lingo who is "an honorary JLA member." Like, wow, Daddy-O!

Friday, April 23, 2010


A shout-out to a best friend and one of the best peeps in comics (if not THE best, in my top two....and I can't remember the other guy!)Today is a very special day for Mr. JAVIER HERNANDEZ, creator of EL MUERTO, AZTEC ZOMBIE! So in his honor, I'm running a gallery of some covers that I know he digs! Happy birthday, Javy! You're the greatest, buddy!

The money our government would've saved on two wars if we had just sent the Ghost Rider to go fight Al-Qaeda!

Wow! Just like in the movie!

Yikes! Someone wake up Stan Yan and get him out of there...FAST!

Here's my personal favorite, Javy! But don't tell Steve Leialoha!

NOT a rip-off of JAWS....AT ALL! Listen, misfit! Did JAWS have a dolphin-killin' bastard named Phillips in it?! THANK YOU!

Even in the late 1970s, our freeways had gridlock! Here's one of your favorites, Javy! The Ghost Rider keeps things local!

Huh? I missed the memo which announced that the Orb had joined the X-Men!

Enjoy your big day, Jav! Have a good one!

DMX says........."Here We Go Again!"

If releasing that GREEN HORNET movie (starring Seth Rogen) on Christmas this year would've looked like deja vu, recall that on Christmas 2008, another comic book-based movie about an urban superhero in a mask: Frank Miller's take on THE SPIRIT (ugh!), wnich came and went faster than you could say, "Hey, Denny Colt! I like your red tie!"

So it seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to unleash GREEN HORNET during the warm and fuzzy, family-minded X-Mas season. That same month of Dec. 2008 was not kind to PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL either. The Punisher is a Marvel superhero who is basically a rage-filled vigilante with a machine gun. That's probably more of a Valentine's Day movie (as in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre...)

Well, yesterday, word came in that, reportedly, some very bad buzz now has Sony moving GREEN HORNET to mid-January (the studio claims that it's to allow for a 3-D conversion -- all the rage in 2010!) although I doubt the move will do much for what seems like a doomed enterprise. Who knows what can save a HORNET movie as seemingly miscast as this one? (The Shadow knows????).

But don't be surprised to see Hollywood executives making such boneheaded decisions as remaking THE SPIRIT and calling it THE GREEN HORNET! Why, just last week, a much-hyped, controversial R-rated adaptation of a post-modern graphic novel, featuring a group of superheroes, hit screens and underperformed at the box office. Evidently, the movie was abandoned beyond the hardcore fanboys who went out the first night....despite the fact that it was selling hundreds of thousands of the graphic novel in the weeks leading up to the film's release, with the movie version's advertising spreading the bold yellow-and- black logo all over the nation! No, NOT the WATCHMEN movie......that was LAST spring! I'm talking about KICK-ASS!

So as you can see, Hollywood history (even recent history) tends to repeat itself.

If there's one thing to learn from this, it's that Hollywood never learns!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Here's some classic ROM: SPACEKNIGHT!

A cool way to wrap up a long day. Knighty-knight!

ROM: SPACEKNIGHT meets the art world

Pretty funky, eh?

I believe this guy does murals in Scandanavia:

My Comic Book Panel Appearance: Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, April 1, 2010

After creating so many comic book panels, it felt good to be in one for a change!

Let me set the stage. Twenty-one days ago, I was in the city of San Francisco, California, on the cusp of a blow-out birthday weekend that included a fellow cartoonist's art show, trips to the Mission, Mitchell's and Marin County, and, uh, Wonder Con nonsense. But the reason I went up to the Bay Area in the first place is because I was invited to speak on a panel called "People of the [Comic] Book" at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (which is kind of like San Francisco's answer to the Skirball Cultural Center). The panel was billed as such:

"Join artists Miriam Libicki (jobnik!) and Michael Aushenker (Cartoon Flophouse), as well as scholars Craig Kleinman, Joel Schechter, Lou Schubert, and Rabbi Harry Manhoff, for a roundtable discussion about the connection between Jews and comics, both past and present."

(By the way, I hope I was invited to help represent the 'present,' not the 'past!')

I had met the moderator, Dr. Lou Schubert, at last year's APE Convention, where he bought a bunch of my books and extended the invitation to take part. He also appreciated my extensive article on The Golem in comic books (particularly Marvel's STRANGE TALES Golem) for BACK ISSUE # 36. Dr. Schubert is a delight and I'm grateful that he invited me to participate in two versions of this panel. Here is the video from that April 1, 2010 panel, in a program that featured a few authors and eggheads, another cartoonist, and myself.

I'm not sure whether the discussion will settle anything (although it is unfortunate that they ran out of film right before I presented my solution on how to save the comic book industry and my formula on how to cure dandruff----I had been working on both!)

I think the people on the panel were just getting warmed up by the time this thing came to a close, but at least we covered way more ground in our discussion than the reprise of this panel which took place on Sunday, April 4, at 12:30 p.m. (pictures to come in a future posting on Part 3 of Wonder Con Weekend). Man, as soon as we finished our introductions, it was time for the next panel. Golem, Golem, gone! Such is the wonder of Wonder Con!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An article in JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR # 54 makes a good point....

In the current KIRBY COLLECTOR # 54, there's an excellent article called STAN AND STEVE AND JACK by ROBERT L. BRYANT, JR. that makes a point that myself and my BACK ISSUE brudda JERRY BOYD have made until we were both blue in the face! The subtext behind it is that the creation of Spider-Man, a throwaway character who originally appeared in the last issue of a canceled comic (AMAZING ADULT FANTASY, renamed AMAZING FANTASY, #15), was a collaboration. And that if you took out one of the three men who were key to Spider-Man's creation, it would not have been the same character (and, most likely, not a classic or success).

In short, the article details how writer STAN LEE had an idea for SPIDER-MAN (then SPIDERMAN), which may have originated as a pitch from artist JACK KIRBY. Kirby drew a few pages of a Spiderman character that did not resemble the final character in any way. Rather, this Spiderman had a generic costume and was more like Kirby's The Fly from Archie Comics. This Spiderman also had a very generic and cliche (and lame) origin: a kid with a magic ring turns into Spiderman.

Lee's instincts were sharp enough to realize that this Spiderman was not working. So he yanked the assignment away from Kirby and gave it to artist STEVE DITKO, who effin' ran with it. He designs the Spider-Man we know, who wears a full mask (unheard of) and looks like a weird creep, covered in webbing with webs hanging out of his armpits! A bizarre sci-fi back story involving an irradiated spider (straight out of one of Ditko's horror anthology pieces) was dropped into the mix. Steve was firing away on all cylinders, and then Stan added his hocus pocus to the plot and final dialogue. 'Nuff said? NO! WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

So Steve whips up this cover for AMAZING FANTASY # 15, the big debut of SPIDER-MAN. He shows it to Stan, who doesn't dig it AT ALL! And with good reason - while it might make for a good Ditko panel, it's not a great Ditko cover. For Ditko, it's a somewhat pedestrian image, and if Ditko fans are honest with themselves, they know he could have done way better. See for yourself!

Stan's instincts were tingling again. Unhappy with the Ditko cover, he re-assigns the cover to Kirby, who knocks it out of the ballpark, creating the classic cover we all know---dramatic and atmospheric----using Ditko's unique and iconic Spider-Man design. (Kirby's cover is 100,000 times better than Ditko's cover, in my opinion, even though Ditko's art is better suited for the lean, weird characters of Spider-Man and Peter Parker than Kirby's bombastic, chunky, often heavy-handed art ever was). Here's the final, classic Kirby cover of AMAZING FANTASY # 15 (which is up there with the first Superman and Batman covers in the pantheon of great superhero debut):

"So what's your point, Aushenker?" You say. "It's obvious that Ditko is the key creator here!"

NO! The answer is that Ditko, Lee and Kirby are the "key creator" here. Because if you take out any of the three's contributions to the creation of SPIDER-MAN, there's no guarantee that it would have been a legendary, game-changing moment in comics that it was.

The naysayers love to slam Stan Lee as merely the guy who filled in the dialogue after Ditko did the heavy lifting (like that machine Spider-Man struggled to lift in #33) of designing the characters and laying down the narratives. There's a whole school of comic book readers who excoriate Lee for exploiting artists such as Ditko and Kirby while he rode on their backs. But even if his camp is correct, and Lee only filled in the words after the fact; even if Lee added 15 percent to Ditko's 80 percent, it's that very collaborative makeup (plus---what---a 5 percent contribution from Kirby via his false starts and his solid cover?) that led to the creation of one of the greatest characters ever created.

I'm not a Stan Lee apologist. Nor do I rule out the possibility that perhaps Spider-Man would have been even better and more successful if Ditko alone created it. (That's up for debate, as all the characters drawn AND written by Kirby and Ditko never reached the heights of commercial success that their collaborations with Lee did). But the character we all know and love is a combination of energy and events unleashed by these three beings----Ditko, Lee and Kirby----not in thirds but in unequal measures.

(If you're following a Sara Lee recipe and you're making a cake, you can't make a cake by adding 50 percent flour and 50 percent sugar, can you? No, you'll probably add a cup or two of flour and a half a cup or a few tablespoons of sugar or whatever. But the end result of these unequal measurements of different ingredients will conspire to create one yummy cake!

The camps who take sides and try to parse the percentage of contributions by each creator on a character constantly miss the point that creativity is not a democracy. One of the creators has to have the dominant drive in order for a creation to happen. If you have two screenwriters in a room, working on a screenplay, they are not taking turns pecking a key on the keyboard. One of the writers has to be the driving force, coming up with the main idea (s) to which the other adds vital contributions. One of them has to type and write up the first draft that the other writer will react or add to. It will not work if they take turns, each one alternating to write a page, and it does not happen by each screenwriter contributing 50 percent of the energy and creativity to the work, even if they share 50 percent of the final credit on the screenplay. Screenplays are just not written this way!

History does not care about who contributed how much to the creation, only that Lee, Ditko (and, in some part, Kirby) contributed to the creation of Spider-Man. Just as history does not care who contributed what to any random Beatles song---let's pick one out of a hat----I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND!

Perhaps the only men who really care about the breakdown of who came up with what are the men involved (and their estates if there's money to be divided!). The fact that John perhaps wrote and arranged 80 percent of the song while Paul perhaps wrote and arranged 20 percent of the song (or a clean 18!) is what it took to create this song called I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND that tore up the charts in the 1960s and forever became a beloved classic! Perhaps Ringo is still upset that John and Paul never acknowledged that it was HIS idea to sing the chorus on the up note instead of on the downbeat. But to the outside world, it's a big "who cares?" Because the important message that is taken away here is that the Beatles wrote and performed this great song called I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND, which generations of people will enjoy.

Likewise, beyond the fact that Lee and Ditko (with some input from Kirby) created Spider-Man, history and the general fan only cares about the finished product, the great creation, Spider-Man, who gives them much entertainment. It's not exactly fair, but remember: creativity is not always a democracy.

Role Models in Journalism: Rex Graine at the Daily Crusader

My career has long been bifurcated by journalism and comic books, and here is inspiration derived from both of those worlds: As created by Steve Ditko in 1967, Rex Graine of the Daily Crusader, who has a penchant for putting on an emotion-free mask and turning into Mr. A, a judgmental vigilante who must decide on the spot who is good and who is evil. Inevitably, street punks, racketeers, and corrupt assistant D.A.'s get there comeuppance (usually with Mr. A's darling little business card as a consolation prize).

Graine writes a column for his newspaper in which he causes trouble by standing up for basic principles, and instead of attracting admiration, he garners loathing and suspicion. Even his publisher, Henry Rath, thinks Graine is a real pain in the posterior, but he can't get rid of him (or even edit his columns) even if he wanted to. As Rath bitches: "I'd fire that arrogant, uncompromising Graine if I could! He was my brother's pet when my brother was publisher. And his condition for me taking over the paper after he died was that Graine was free to print his column his way! If I interfere or kick Graine out, I'll lose the paper! My *#@$ brother!"

Well, thanks to a glitch in some old fool's will, Rex Graine and his damning column at the Crusader are here to stay and bother the hell out of the Lew Baggots of the world. Little does that Crusader newspaper know that they're bankrolling the operations of a vigilante in a suit and a Halloween mask, but the streets sure are quieter at night and often there is not enough crime to report on page one.

Rex Graine, we salute you for sticking by your guns and not bending to corrupt politicians and society's ills.

In related news, for the sheer love of the game, here's a compelling Ditko cover featuring a self-created knock-off of his Mr. A character (and the inspiration for a certain Watchman): The Question!