Mt. Rushmore Of Comic Book Artists – Part 2

Monday , 31, August 2015 Comments Off on Mt. Rushmore Of Comic Book Artists – Part 2

Note: I originally wrote this as a single post, but it turned out to be much too long for a single reading, so I divided it up into 4 parts; 1 for each artist. Part 1 contains my intro to the article (which you may find helpful if you have not read it yet) and features Jack Kirby.

Mt. Rushmore of Comic Book Artists - Jack Kirby and John Byrne

John ByrneJohn Byrne – I have a good friend who hates the art of John Byrne with almost the same level of intensity that I love it. That has made for some interesting “discussions” over the years, lol.

Cover to Marvel Team-Up #59 by John ByrneMy first exposure to Byrne’s work was in the pages of Marvel Team-Up, which usually featured The Amazing Spider-Man as the regular character teamed up with a guest character such as The Human Torch, Werewolf by Night, Captain America, and the X-Men, among others. My favorite Spider-Man artist had always been another of my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artist choices, but Byrne became a very close second for his depiction of the wallcrawler.

Cover of Doomsday+1 #1 by John ByrneDiscovering Byrne had done work previously for Charlton Comics, I hunted the back issue bins for copies of Doomsday+1 and E-Man, which contained Byrne’s Rog-2000 back-up stories, both of which I loved and it was fun to see the evolution of his art and that he kept so much of what made his work special to me, even as he was improving.

Byrne soon became the regular penciller on The X-Men comic book, but I didn’t realize it right away because I didn’t read X-Men at the time and hadn’t since the title had been cancelled years earlier when another of my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artist choices had been the artist. Almost immediately, X-Men became a comic book I purchased regularly, first because of Byrne’s art and soon because the stories were interesting in a way they hadn’t been for years.

Before long Byrne was pencilling other books like The Avengers and, my favorite, Captain America. I wanted Byrne to stay on Captain America for the rest of his life because he portrayed Cap in exactly the way he should, even, in my opinion, improving on Jack Kirby’s version. But alas, it was not to be.

Captain America spread by John Byrne

 

 

Cover of Fantastic Four 236 by John ByrneIn the early 1980’s Byrne began a five-year run as the writer/artist on the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Comic Book”, the Fantastic Four. In his own style, Byrne would revisit some of the great characters and storylines first introduced by Lee and Kirby some twenty years prior. But he also added plenty of his own on both counts and made this reader fall in love all over again with the First Family of Marvel Comics. During the early to mid-80’s Byrne also wrote and pencilled Alpha Flight, provided art for the first two issues of The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, and wrote and pencilled 5 issues of The Incredible Hulk.

In the mid-1980’s Byrne left Marvel Comics and went to work for the Distinguished Competition (DC Comics)  in one of the largest-hyped talent moves since Kirby left Marvel for DC.

In 1985 and 1986 DC Comics published Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue massive company-wide crossover series which had one goal; to simplify and restructure the comic book company’s almost 50-year convoluted history of characters and storylines and reduce all stories to having taken place on one earth, rather than the multi-dimensional and sometimes time-fractured stories that plagued writers who had to deal with so much baggage.

Superman super-punch by John Byrne

 

Cover of Time Magazine featuring Superman by John ByrneThe flagship character of Superman was no exception to this restructuring and John Byrne was chosen to repackage DC Comics’ most visible superhero. As writer/artist, Byrne made many changes to the character and his history, as well as reducing his power levels from almost god-like to merely superhuman. His version of Superman earned his work a spot on the cover of Time Magazine as it observed the 50th anniversary of The Man of Steel.

About 2 years after revamping Superman for DC Comics, Byrne returned to Marvel and worked on several of their titles including The Sensational She-Hulk, Iron Man, West Coast Avengers, Namor, The Submariner and The Star Brand. In the early 1990’s he joined Dark Horse Comics and was responsible for originating creator-owned works such as Next Men, Babe, and Danger Unlimited. From the early 90’s to 2011, Byrne did work for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and other publishers. In 2015, John Byrne was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.

Various covers by John Byrne

Bonus: best inker for Byrne’s pencils was Terry Austin.

So there’s my second choice for my Mt. Rushmore of comic Book Artists. Stay tuned for part 3, or subscribe so you won’t miss it.

Sometime late yesterday, Thursday, August 27, 2015, this blog crossed the 10,000 visitors line!

10,000 number with fireworks

In reality, that’s not all that great. It’s taken 2 full years to reach that number. Most popular blogs do that number in one week or even one day, so I know the reality of that number.

But still, it’s a kick just getting to that number!

Thanks to all who subscribe and/or visit this blog. Now, on to the NEXT 10,000 visitors!

Note: I originally wrote this as a single post, but it turned out to be much too long for a single reading, so I divided it up into 4 parts; 1 for each artist.

Someone raised the question of who I would choose to be on my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artists. That is, which four comic book artists did I feel should inhabit the hallowed designation of being worthy of having their faces carved into the rock face of a mountain.

That’s a tough question for me, because I’ve been a fan of the comic book artform for 55 years and have enjoyed the artwork of many, many different artists, some of them who were artists before I ever picked up my first comic book, who I discovered over the years of reading older comic books.

Pile of comic books spread out

Men like Will Eisner, Steve Ditko, Reed Crandall, Jim Steranko, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Frank Miller, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Curt Swan, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Arthur Adams, Tim Sale, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Jim Aparo, Bryan Hitch, Jim Lee, George Perez, Marshall Rogers, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Bob Layton, Adam Hughes, Terry Dodson, Nick Cardy, Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin, Gray Morrow, Alex Ross, and Lou Fine.

Women like Colleen Doran, Fiona Staples, Ramona Fradon, Marie Severin, Wendy Pini and Amanda Conner. (Just a note; there aren’t fewer women on my list because I like women artists less, but simply because there have been fewer women artists throughout the industry, especially in the early years. Thankfully, that’s been changing in the past several years.)

But I’ve narrowed my list of favorite artists down to the required four and I thought that today, being what would have been the 98th birthday of Jack Kirby, was a good day to post this first part since Kirby himself leads off my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artists.

Mt. Rushmore of Comic Book Artists - Kirby

Remember, this list is totally subjective and reflect my tastes. Your mileage may vary and I accept that truth for you.

Jack Kirby, black and white portraitJack Kirby – They didn’t call the man “The King” or Jack “King” Kirby for nothing. Although Kirby began working as a comic book artist in the early 1940’s, my first exposure to him was in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1962 at the age of 7. At the time, I was a huge fan of DC comics, which featured Superman, Batman, and Justice League of America.

I remember the cover of Fantastic Four grabbed my attention on the spinner rack at the Rexall Drug Store because it almost seemed so alive with action! DC comic books seemed static in comparison to the dynamic elements of a what I would later identify as a “Kirby cover” and the story within was no exception! The action almost seemed to leap off the panels in the story and the characters were never short on expressing their emotions, both in words (thank you, Stan Lee) and in the artwork of Jack Kirby.

Cover of Fantastic Four #82 by Jack KirbyI would follow the artwork of Kirby in other Marvel comic books like The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers and many, many others in the Marvel Universe and then, in the early 1970’s over to the DC Comics line where he introduced “The Fourth World” storyline with books such as New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People, as well as picking up the Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal book and bringing it into The Fourth World. Kirby would return to Marvel in the late 1970’s, do some film and animation work in the early 1980’s and then did some periodic work for DC Comics and created some titles/characters for Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics, as well as some work for Topps cards.

On February 6, 1994, Jack Kirby died from heart failure in his Thousand Oaks, California home. The worlds of the comic book industry and fandom alike mourned the loss of this man who seemingly was an endless well of creativity and talent.

Cover of The Avengers by Jack KirbyPart of the fun of Kirby’s work was watching how it morphed and changed and grew and matured through the years. When I was finally able to access back issues of Captain America comic books from the 1940’s I was floored with how different Kirby’s art was in contrast to my first exposure to him in the 1960’s, but it was exciting to see how he became better and better through the decades. Kirby was also the first comic book artist, that I know of, to combine his drawing with photographs, creating some spectacular images that would just leave you with a feeling of astonishment.

It was a testament to his talent that Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee would encourage new artists to emulate Kirby in their work. Not to copy his work but to copy his style in their work; to look at how Kirby drew covers that pulled the eye where you wanted it to go, to study how Kirby would emphasize storytelling in his panels and pages and placement of action and characters within those panels and pages.

In the perhaps high hundreds of comic book artist interviews that I‘ve read over the years, almost every one of them, without fail, have credited Jack Kirby with having an influence on their work and style. He was, indeed, “The King” and will most likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

Jack Kirby art on a photograph

Bonus: best inker for Kirby’s pencils was Joe Sinnott, while worst inker was Vince Colletta.

 

So there’s my first choice for my Mt. Rushmore of comic Book Artists. Stay tuned for part 2, or subscribe (in the upper right-hand corner) so you won’t miss it.

Throwback Thursday – Four Favorite Females From 2000

Thursday , 27, August 2015 Comments Off on Throwback Thursday – Four Favorite Females From 2000

Today’s Throwback Thursday features four favorite females from 2000.

Four Favorite Females From 2000

From left to right; my step-daughter, Amber; my wife Cindy; my daughter, AnnMarie; and my mother-in-law, Kay. I know it’s hard to believe so much beauty could be assembled in one spot, but here’s photographic proof!

Happy National Dog Day

Wednesday , 26, August 2015 Comments Off on Happy National Dog Day

Today is National Dog Day, observed by those of us who love our own dogs and/or any dog.

Here’s Wolf, as a puppy, and Noisea picture of our beloved Wolf in March of 2000 when he was a puppy and our sweet Noise. Cindy already had Noise when we met in 1996, but in 2000 she wanted another puppy for Valentine’s Day. Wolf turned out to be quite a different breed than we were told, but by the time we found out it was too late; we had fallen in love with him, weird looks, behavior, and all.

Next month will mark 5 years since Wolf passed away at our cabin in 2010. It sounds strange to say it, but losing him was like losing a member of our family, but then maybe not so strange because he was in every way. I wrote about that horrible day a couple of years ago.

Noise was back with her original owner, Cindy’s son and his family, when she passed away a few years ago. She was such a sweet girl and so adorable. She accepted Wolf when he arrived as a puppy, and she accepted my grandmother’s adult cat, Squeaky, when we brought her home after my grandmother’s passing.

Bella and I the day she was rescued.Here’s a photo of Bella and I when we rescued her (or perhaps she rescued us) 4 ½ years ago. When Wolf passed away, I wanted nothing to do with having another dog. The pain of loss was so deep and so complete that I did not want to go through that again. I still don’t. But I was on the road working a lot and Cindy did not want to be at the cabin alone, so I could hardly say “No” when she put it like that.

Where Wolf was high-strung, defensive with everyone but Cindy and I, and perhaps a bit neurotic at times (and we loved him, no matter his quirks) Bella is one of the most easygoing, even-tempered dogs I have ever seen. Yes, she’ll bark at strangers or a noise outside the cabin or house (that is, after all, one reason Cindy wanted a dog at the cabin), but once Cindy or I tell her it’s OK, she settles down. Her sweet nature and cute face just beg you to hug her, and she’ll let you do so without a fuss. She has brought so much happiness and love to us.

So, if you have a dog, give them a little extra treat today in honor of National Dog Day. If you don’t, maybe consider rescuing one if you’re able, or going down to a pet shelter with a donation of some type, or an offer to walk one or two of their dogs. Maybe you can foster a dog or two while they wait to be adopted.

I can guarantee you the love you give will be returned over and over. Happy National Dog Day!

Did You Know…That Mount Vesuvius Destroyed Pompeii On This Date?

Monday , 24, August 2015 Comments Off on Did You Know…That Mount Vesuvius Destroyed Pompeii On This Date?

Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying the Roman city of Pompeii, on this date in the year 79. Pompeii was about five miles away from the mountain, and it was a resort town for Rome’s elite. It’s estimated that about 20,000 people lived in and around Pompeii at that time, and most of them were able to escape relatively unscathed.

Just after noon, a plume of ash, pumice rock, and debris shot up into the air and began falling on the surrounding area. Before long, the ash in the streets of Pompeii lay nine feet deep. Pliny the Younger witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius from across the Bay of Naples, and noted that the billowing soot, rocks, and gas looked like an enormous pine tree. It eclipsed the sun.

Mount Vesuivius

“Darkness fell,” Pliny wrote, “not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a dark room.” Even from his safe distance, he observed, “I believed I was perishing with the world, and the world with me.” About five thousand people died – most likely from a blast of blistering hot, poisonous gas, not debris or lava – and the whole city was buried under millions of tons of ash and debris.

Pompeii and the nearby city of Herculaneum were rediscovered in the 18thcentury. They were almost completely intact, buried under about 23 feet of volcanic debris. The modern science of archaeology was born with the widespread excavations of the two cities. The excavation is still ongoing today, with about one-third of Pompeii still buried.

Mount VesuiviusMount Vesuvius erupted last in 1944, and experts believe it could erupt again at any time.

Today, about 3 million people live within a few miles of the crater; 600,000 of them live close enough to the volcano that they would not survive an eruption today. Scientists monitor the volcano – one of the world’s most dangerous – around the clock and have a plan to evacuate the area in advance, if an eruption seems imminent.

 

Thanks to The Writer’s Almanac for the above.

Throwback Thursday – Lowry Park Zoo, November 2000

Thursday , 20, August 2015 Comments Off on Throwback Thursday – Lowry Park Zoo, November 2000

Cindy and I visited the Lowry Park Zoo in November of 2000. This is proof that back then I was bigger than an elephant.

Jeff, bigger than an elephant , at Lowry Park Zoo

R.I.P. Yvonne Craig

Wednesday , 19, August 2015 Comments Off on R.I.P. Yvonne Craig

Yvonne CraigI awoke to the sad news this morning that Yvonne Craig had passed away Monday evening at the age of 78 from metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her liver.

The first time I saw Ms. Craig was in 1967 when she joined the Batman TV show’s third and final season as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon. The character of Batgirl was actually created in the comics as a result of the TV show’s producers wanting to add a female superhero to the show’s cast. I was 12 going on 13 and probably occupied the perfect demographic of teen boys (and maybe some dads, lol) that the show was trying to attract with the addition. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I was a huge comic book fan, and had been for years.

Yvonne Craig as BatgirlI have no idea if any other actresses were auditioned for the role, though I feel sure there had to have been. But Yvonne Craig was perfect for the role. Her dance background gave her the coordination and flexibility to pull off the fight scenes in a believable fashion, and she was beautiful, kind, caring and intelligent. Probably without realizing it, the producers and comic book writers had created an empowered female character, instead of another sidekick.

Ms. Craig only played Batgirl for the final season of Batman, though there was talk of her continuing the character in a Batgirl TV show. Sadly, that never came to be. But she took that one season and made the Batgirl character all her own.

The next time I saw her was a year after the final season of Batman when she showed up on another favorite TV series of mine, Star Trek. In the final season of that show, she played Marta, the green-skinned Orion slave girl who tried to seduce and then kill Captain Kirk. Even under the heavy make-up (which the beautiful Ms. Craig never needed) and green skin paint, I recognized the former Batgirl.

Yvonne Craig as Marta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Evanier, who had the pleasure of meeting Yvonne Craig, has a touching and humorous blog post up today about spending time with her.

Cruise ship diningWhen Cindy and I took a cruise several years ago, the only part of the whole experience I disliked was having to share our evening dinner with six other people we did not know. That’s part of the normal cruise experience, but if it had just been me on the cruise, I would have taken meals in my cabin every night! I really have no desire to dine with strangers.

I look at strangers and make up stories about their lives all the time. I sometimes even do that with people I know but don’t know intimately. I create jobs, lives, motivations and even construct secrets about strangers and some friends so that I can make them a character in a story.  But I very, very seldom feel an urge to sit down and talk to strangers.

So I thought it was out of character for me to feel a tingle of excitement and thoughts of “I might like to do that.”  when I read this article in the Washington Post about Anthony Lacey and how he makes an effort to dine with strangers as often as he can for his blog Dining With Strangers.

Anthony Lacey, 35, interviews and dines with Meredith Denbow, 29, at Jyoti in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

Anthony Lacey, 35, interviews and dines with Meredith Denbow, 29, at Jyoti in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

 

But then I figured out that these are strangers he seeks out because he wants to learn something and write something about their work or life.

THAT’S something I’ve done before. The first time was back in 2007 when my friend Michelle gave me an opportunity to interview a comic book artist (that I had almost no knowledge of or about) when he was appearing at a local comic book shop. It wasn’t really “cold” questioning, like Lacey seems to do,  because I researched him as much as I could prior to our interview and gave him some “hooks” with my questions that he could expand upon.

I remember driving to the interview and thinking, “OK, you’ve always admired Superman and Superman’s alter ego, Clark kent, is a reporter, so you’re just filling out your admiration to the complete character.”

Yeah, I have weird thoughts.

Since then I’ve done other interviews with strangers (some cold and some prepared) and I think I’ve gotten better at it, but even those have either been over the phone or at their place of business.

So, though I am not fond of the idea of dining with strangers, I could probably get into it in a big way if I was seeking out people whose jobs or careers I really had a great interest in learning about.

Could you?

One of the best X-mas gifts anyone ever gave me was a desk calendar containing 365 of Gary Larson’s Far Side comics. I laughed every day of the year thanks to that calendar!

Today, we take a moment to say Happy 65th Birthday Gary Larson!

Here’s a little background on the man and his comic strip from The Writer’s Almanac:

 

It’s the birthday of American cartoonist Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side, a single-panel comic that ran from 1980 to 1995 and became beloved for its anthropomorphic deer, birds, cats, dogs, dinosaurs, snakes, vipers, and cows, often drawn with cat-eye glasses and beehive hairdos. He grew up in Tacoma, Washington.

After college, he began drawing a comic called Nature’s Way for The Seattle Times. It displayed much of what The Far Side would perfect: a combination of attitude and irony tethered to the craft of comic art. And it had cows. Lots of cows. But it was placed next to a children’s crossword called “Junior Jumbo” and people complained, calling it “incomprehensible.” On vacation from his job as a cruelty investigator for the Humane Society, he drove to San Francisco and dropped his portfolio at the San Francisco Chronicle. They offered him a job, but wanted to change the title. “They could have called it Revenge of the Zucchini People for all I cared,” Larson said. A week later, he was dropped from The Seattle Times and The Far Side was born. Collections of Far Side cartoons have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide.

 

I know, I have several on my bookshelves at Wolf’s Haven! But this cartoon below has always been my very favorite of all The Far Side cartoons.

What’s yours?

Gary Larson's The Far Side cartoon

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