Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Credit Boxes in Comic Books

Something occurred to me as I was paging through the beautiful new Spirit #1 last week. I wasn't surprised that the artwork was fantastic; I've come to expect simplistically superlative work from Darwyn Cooke, whom I consider to be one of the modern day Masters of Comics. I also wasn't surprised that the bold coloring meshed with the artwork like hand in glove; colorist Dave Stewart also teamed brilliantly with Mr. Cooke on DC's The New Frontier a couple of years back and I'm hoping they remain a team for quite some time to come. What occurred to me was that, if this were an earlier era of comics, I wouldn't as readily know the identites of that masterful artist and that brilliant colorist.

Back in the Golden Age of comic books in the 1940s, only the boldest artitsts (or the most contractually savvy) signed their work. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby rarely remained anonymous, and Will Eisner's byline always accompanied his work on The Spirit. In the early 1950s, as a great deal of the creative energy of comics retreated into a metamorphic coccoon, I would estimate that even fewer artists signed their work than in the 1940s.

Then came the Renaissance. Beginning (in spirit) with DC's Showcase #4 in 1956 featuring The Flash and with Marvel's Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and continuing throughout the 1960s and right up to the present day, the creators of the comics began to stand out in front of their creations rather than be told by the publishers to hide behind them. By the late 1960s it was rare to come across a mainstream comic that did not give credit to its writer and artist.
Editor Stan Lee at Marvel went even further and regularly credited the letterer of the story, a bandwagon DC would not jump onto until the mid-to-late 1970s.

By the end of the 1970s, it was regular practice for all creators in Marvel and DC comics to be credited, including the letterer and the colorist. I was grateful for the information, because I finally learned the name of the previously-uncredited man whose title lettering had entranced me for years. (That man was the great Ben Oda, who had been lettering in comics since the 1940s when he worked with Simon and Kirby. Mr. Oda was the subject of a Hayfamzone Blog article all his own a while back, and please go to the October 2006 Archives if you want to bask in that reminiscence one more time.) It was a treat for me to get to link letterers' styles with their names, much as I had been doing for years with artists and their styles.

At first I balked at the inlcusion of the colorist's name in the credit box. I mark that off as a folly of youth, especially as I now can look at the bold vibrance of the palette of a Dave Stewart and come to an appreciation of its uniqueness.

Can a credit box go too far in its inclusiveness? To my way of thinking, an administrative post like publisher maybe should be relegated to the indicia and stay out of the credit box. And I'm on the fence as to whether assistant editors belong in the box. But the most recent addition to credit boxes far and wide was a well-deserved one; in just the past year or so, cover artists have started being named there. I appreciate that!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Letter to The New York Times

The Masters of American Comics museum exhibit has been a recurring subject here in The Hayfamzone Blog. Four of the inaugural articles back in August discussed the exhibit's stay at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and in November I wrote about seeing the comic book portion of the exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City. (And, by the way, any newcomers to our humble little blog can read all of my postings back to the very first five-watt entry by clicking on the Archives links that can be found over on the right side of this page.)

Back around the time that the exhibit opened in New York City, The New York Times printed an article having to do with the exhibit. I already linked to that article in my earlier posting, but here is that link again. The article struck me not as a fair-minded review of the museum exhibit but rather as a (failed) attempt by the author at self-aggrandizement. I was absolutely infuriated that such a rambling and unfocused and generally poor write-up was what The New York Times was serving up as an invitation to an exhibit that I had found to be excellent.

So infuriated was I that I dashed off a letter of comment to the newspaper. They won't be publishing it so here, for your edification, is my letter to The New York Times.

To the Editor:
Re "See You in the Funny Papers" (Weekend Arts article,Oct. 13):
Should a review of a museum art show be a descriptive record of the works that are included in that show, or should it be a lament for artworks that were excluded? The writer of your review of the "Masters of American Comics"exhibit at the Jewish Museum and the Newark Museum seems more concerned about informing us that he lunched with an artist who was not in the show rather than giving a thorough accounting of the actual exhibit. Your reviewer at once parades a contempt for the artform of comic books (when he ridicules the work of artists who replaced his brunch-buddy in the show as "half-baked...superhero comic artists" when in fact geniuses of comic book artwork like Joe Kubert and Lou Fine who have been added to the show's roster since its Milwaukee incarnation are some of the finest craftsmen ever to have their artistry grace the pages of a comic book) and a faux familiarity with it (when he lavishly bestows upon an undeniably excellent artist the appellation "Picasso of the Comics" as if that individual were widely known by such a title). The most egregious effrontery perpetrated by your writer, however, was his relegation of the great Jack Kirby to a dismissive last-but-not-least pole position in the article. Jack Kirby is regarded far and wide as "The King"of comic book artists and viewing his artwork was my main reason for visiting this museum exhibit. If your readers seek an informed portal to the world of comic books, I hope they will visit my comicblog at www.hayfamzone.com.
The newspaper won't be publishing my letter because I sent it to them almost a full two months after the article in the crosshairs saw print. Whoops! In an automated response I received after emailing my letter, it was explained that letters to the editor that are printed usually refer only to articles printed in the previous ten days. It took me a little longer than that to cobble my missive together; as any of you who have ever personally climbed into the hayfamzone know, the pace here is at all times head-spinningly frenetic and sometimes it takes a bit of time to get things done. I wanted at least to share my letter with you faithful readers, however, and now I have.
I announced at the startup of The Hayfamzone Blog that this corner of cyberspace would be an outpost of positivity and uplift, and for the most part it has been. Thank you for bearing with me through the rare exceptions to that mission statement such as the recent Tragedy in a Comic Book Store blog entry and today's Poser in Black and White (sometimes I wish I could double-title my entries!).
The Masters of American Comics exhibit continues through 28 January 2007 at the Jewish Museum and the Newark Museum, and I encourage everyone able to attend to do so.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Original Comic Art Commissions

Back in my days of robustly collecting original comic book artwork, I specialized in pages and covers from American comics. There were exceptions. I did own a British Marvel splash page, and some beautiful splash pages from the comics of the Phillipines, and one unpublished presentation piece, and a couple of originals from newspaper comic strips. But the vast majority of the pieces in my collection were pages that had been published in American comic books.

Well, there's a whole different realm of art collecting in which the collector commissions a professional artist to draw something specifically for him. The collector's intention has nothing to do with print-publication, although a modern-day website like www.ComicArtFans.com affords the commissioner a convenient opportunity to cyber-publish their holdings if they so desire.
Luckily for us fans of comic art many of those commission-collectors do choose to display their prized possessions, and it is my pleasure at this time to show you some of the fine commissioned artwork I've stumbled across while navigating through ComicArtFans.

One type of commission involves having an artist re-interpret a classic cover or interior page in the artist's own style. Collector David Mandel seems to favor having the great artist Arthur Adams re-do vintage covers for him. Click here to see the Art Adams version of The Brave and the Bold #68's cover, and click here to see the original Mike Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson cover as published by DC Comics in 1966. Then click here to see the Art Adams version of Justice League of America #60's cover, and click here to see the original 1968 DC cover.

Another type of commission involves having an artist draw a scene that was never published in an actual comic book (but the commissioner wishes it had been). Collector Randy Saitta seems to really like the idea of Batman and the Shadow teaming up, because he appears to have commissioned at least eleven (or maybe sixteen) different faux covers on simulated 1972 DC cover boards and labelled with the faux logo The Shadow and the Bat. Click here to see some great artwork by the likes of Michael Kaluta and Kevin Nowlan and Gene Colan and Howard Chaykin that you really wouldn't get to see anyplace but in Randy Saitta's ComicArtFans gallery. I might go to the extent of awarding Mr. Saitta the title of Prize Commissioner in honor of how far he has gone in his singular pursuit.

Even I, your humble host in the hayfamzone, have dabbled in the world of commissions. Back when I was a teenager, a couple of buddies and I banded together and called ourselves the Comic Art Entrepreneurs (and you're right as rain if you smell me all over that title because yes, it was I who coined the name). We would buy a table at the monthly YMCA comic book meetings and sell off our old and unwanted comics. Then one fine day we got the idea (okay, I got the idea) to publish a fanzine. We sent out letters to see who might produce drawings that we could publish in our fanzine, and it was our (okay, my) pleasure to receive a response from the superb Superman and Captain Marvel artist Kurt Schaffenberger. We worked out the details, and if you click here you can inspect the beautiful drawing that Mr. Schaffenberger drew at my request. By the way and unfortunately, the proposed fanzine never got published (sniff).

I have also had a more recent experience in the world of commissions. The duly famous Fred Hembeck drew his interpretations of two latter-day classic Jack Kirby covers for me. Click here to see the published version of the 1974 DC Comics cover of Sandman #1 and click here for a black-and-white view, then click here for the Hembeck version. Next click here to see the published version of 1970's Forever People #1, then click here for the Hembeck version. Aren't they just great?! I invite you to visit www.hembeck.com to see many more Hembeck-reinterpreted covers. And will you tell him you got your ticket to the Hembeck Zone while you were deeply embedded in the hayfamzone? I hope so.

If you know of links to any excellent commissioned artwork that you'd like to share, please do!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gifts to You from the Hayfamzone

Different individuals have introduced me to various websites on the internet that I have come to find indispensible, and I thank them for their consideration. Allow me to share with you now these excellent sites, most of which I myself learned of in just the past twelve months.

Newsarama has the latest breaking news in the world of comic books, and I keep it as the home page on my computer. Click here to see today's news.

The Grand Comics Database is where I go when I need to know information about specific comic books or artists. This site harbors a wealth of information, and its webmasters welcome additional information or corrections. Click here to visit their home page and click here to see one of the pages where they credit me with having made a correction to their database.

ComicArtFans is the mecca for collectors of original art and for artists. Owners of artwork post scans of what is in their collection, and artists post scans of their artwork. Click here for their home page and click here to see links to the various gallery rooms that I maintain on the site.

YouTube is the video-sharing website that has been splashed all over the business pages of daily newspapers lately, and they offer a goodly number of videos that would interest comic collectors. Click here for a video about Jack Kirby narrated by Mark Evanier, and here for a highlight of the 2006 WizardWorld Chicago comics convention, and here for a cleverly-set-to-video recording of the 1965 Merry Marvel Marching Society theme song.

Google Earth has no direct bearing on comic books, but I want to include in my treasure chest to you just because of how sheerly amazing it is. With this free software you can get a fairly close overhead view of any location on earth! Click here for information on how to download the program to your computer.

If there is a great website you'd like to share, please write it to me in a comment. Thank you!