Thursday, November 24, 2011

Alvin Hollingsworth…creator

I have a soft spot for creators. Musicians, Actors, Writers, Artists….whatever. They don’t even have to be particularly GOOD creators. Just the act of creating has a value that cannot be calculated and adds immeasurably to our collective self exploration. Carl Sagan once postulated that we humans are one of the organisms through which the Cosmos knows itself. If in fact we are the “eyes of the Cosmos”, creators facilitate that sight by making the colors richer, the textures fuller and the music just that much sweeter.

As a comic collector I have a special fondness for the people who give us our comics. Of course we all know about the giants from the past like Jack Kirby, Curt Swan, Bob Montana, Seigel and Shuster, Joe Simon and so many more. Today we have the likes of Ed Brubaker, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and an entire generation of creators who consistently push the medium to new heights of creativity.

I am always happy when I discover a new or forgotten creator. In this case it was the latter, His name was Alvin Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth drew comics in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He had a nice clean and very realistic style that was more along the lines of what you might have seen AFTER 1970. He often inked his own work. Alvin was definitely ahead of his times.
He worked on titles such as Wings, Rulah, Jungle Goddess, Master Comics, Witchcraft, Mysterious Comics, and Romance Comics such as Youthful Romances.

In fact after he retired from the Comic Book field, Hollingsworth became a renowned fine artist and taught as a college professor at the University of new York and Hostos Communtity College. His subjects included the civil Rights for women, Jazz, and dance among others.

Alvin left us in July of 200 at the age of 72.

Hollingsworth was African American.

I mention this because the Golden Age of comics was hardly “golden” if you were an African American. Like so many areas of American life, people of color were either excluded entirely or made use of only as a stereotype. It may be hard to believe today but it was not until 1948 that a black man was allowed to play Major League Baseball and it would be nearly another thirty years before an African American was hired to MANAGE a team in the majors.
Hell, it was not until 1968 that TV saw it’s first interracial kiss. And even then Kirk was only kissing Uhura under the command of an alien influence and doing his best to resist it! Now I don’t know about anyone else but *I* would not have to be coerced to kiss Nichelle Nichols!
In the world of comic books we did not see men and women of color as leading characters or heroes in comics until the late 60’s and early 70’s with the likes of The Black Panther, Luke Cage, The Falcon and Storm. Old prejudices die hard.

So back to the 40’s and 50’s and the world of Alvin Hollingsworth. African Americans were almost completely non-existent in comic books. When they DID appear it was in the most demeaning and stereotyped manner. Bug eyes, grotesquely large lips, and huge ears. These depictions in NO WAY resembled any person of color who ever populated this planet. Worse than that, African Americans were portrayed as lazy, superstitious and cowardly. All completely untrue and unfair stereotypes.

If that was how FICTIONAL characters were treated one can only imagine how many doors were closed to African American creators at the time. The odds were not particularly good.

But every now and then someone comes along who beats those odds. Hollingsworth was simply too talented to be denied.

And he also had the opportunity to portray African Americans as beautiful, dignified people in Fawcett’s experimental title Negro Romance.

Romance comics were coming into their own around 1950 as the Superhero wave of the Golden Age was going into decline. Fawcett’s other romance titles were selling very well and editor Roy Ald, a Caucasian editor by the way, decided to take a shot at targeting an African American audience made up largely of females! Ald had worked with Hollingsworth when the latter was a very young man and the two got along very well and became close friends. Ald actually wrote the book while Hollingsworth did the pencils. It is unknown whether or not Alvin inked this book but given the fact that he was also a capable inker it is likely that he did this as well. Hollingsworth and Ald portrayed African Americans in a far more complementary, if (you will excuse the pun) romantic, light than other comics. These were attractive, educated and desirable people. If the characters were somewhat sacirine, so were the white characters in Fawcett’s other romance books. (In fact MOST Fawcett characters tended to be a bit…bland. Captain Marvel lead the pack!)

It is not known if Hollingsworth did ALL of the artwork in Negro Romance but he did pencil a great deal of the book.

Although Negro Romance only lasted three issues the mere fact of it’s existence is remarkable and reflects the talent and sensitivity of the men who created it.

Of course I did not know Alvin Hollingsworth and have only ever seen a few pages of his work. But he was a man and like many men I HAVE known, Alvin overcame great odds and I am sure he paid a personal price for that. He left the world a bit richer and more beautiful than he found it. And he made a powerful statement without blowing anything up to do it.

Alvin Hollingsworth was a creator.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving

That’s 30!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Sometimes you find moving and poignant moments in the places you least expect it

It was the last day of NYCC. And on a whim, on my way out my I suggested to my daughter Alyx that we might take in the retrospective on gene Colan going on in one of the side rooms. I have always been a great fan of the great Gene Colan. I always thought of him as more than just an artist.

I had always seen him as a consummate story teller. He did more with shadow and light to create the full range of human emotion than perhaps any comic artist in the history of the medium. For you younger readers who may not be familiar with gene’s work, I strongly urge you to check out any reprints you can get your hands on.

He was perhaps most famous for his work on Tomb Of Dracula, Iron Man and Daredevil but he was highly prolific and those titles represent only the tip of the iceberg. Along with Jack Kirby and Curt Swan, Gene was a giant.


What really drew me to the panel was the fact that Don McGregor was speaking. I had always loved his work on Killraven in Amazing Adventures. He had created truly three dimensional characters with all the beauty and warts that flesh is heir to. His run on Amazing Adventures was very much ahead of it’s time and stands up today as a thoughtful and deeply textured science fiction epic. Frankly I wanted to see if Don was as…human…as his writing.

The panel was not crowded. There may have been 50 or 60 of us there. Mostly “old timers’ like me. A few younger fans were there as well. But that intimacy only added to what was to follow from a remarkable man.
I am here to tell you that Don McGregor may be the MOST human being I have come across in decades. He spoke for some time about his close friend, Gene Colan, telling more than a few funny stories. There was nothing maudlin or self pitying in his recollections. On the contrary, Mr. McGregor allowed those of us in the room to celebrate his friend’s life and work in a very intimate way. He gave us all a gift. Don made us feel as if we are also friends of Gene. I do know this. Mr. Colan was a very fortunate man to have a friend like Don.

It was impossible not to see the deep feeling Don has for Gene and if he was able to stay clear eyed, he was about the only one. Let me just say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. In fact Alyx (jaded college student that she is) had a good cry with him after the presentation and he was genuinely moved by my daughter’s empathy.

So human.

As you start to get older you can’t get away from the fact that you are going to lose people who you love. There is no getting around this fact. It is one of the more bittersweet aspects of life I think. There is a special poignancy when it is the loss of a FRIEND. We choose our friends with great care, especially those we share a lifetime with. If you are lucky, you have one friend like that. I am doubly blessed that I have two.

Listening to Don remember his friend made me realize all over again just how dear my old friends are to me…and that one day one of us will be leaving that close knit circle.

So thank you Don.

Thank you for sharing your humanity and memories of your friend.

Thank you for moving my child to tears.

Thank you for reminding me of how precious my friends are to me.

And thank you for being so damned human.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Some post NYCC observations.

While NYCC has become a multi-media, multi-genre event ranging from live performance to movies, TV, Anime, Sci-Fi and more, for me it has always been about the COMICS. As usual I was very quickly reminded that big shows are generally not the places to shop for older comics if you are looking for a bargain.

YES there are MANY comic bargains at large shows such as NYCC. There are endless $1 boxes stuffed with GREAT reading. Modern comics tend to be heavily discounted and trade paperbacks/hard cover collections are slashed by over 50% by Sunday. You can even find decent prices on LOWER GRADED Silver and Golden Age Comics.

BUT if you are looking for higher grade or scarce Silver/Golden Age books steer clear. Even Mid Grade books tend to be over priced. The dealers are also less inclined to make deals at a big show than they are when I see THE SAME guys at smaller shows all year!

I went to NYCC with a very specific shopping list this year. I wanted high grade (VF or better) copies of Batman #227 and Detective #441, and a Fine copy of Laugh #61. I also wanted to get a copy of Vampirella #1 (1969) in VG or better condition. While I found all four books at the show, the prices on the first three were not only over Overstreet guide, but WAY over! Consequently I only purchased the Vampi at the show.

I will get into some of the reasons for the over pricing later in this column.

Now let’s talk about the Laugh, Batman and Detective comics, which I DID purchase from Ebay right after Comiccon.

Batman #227 is a highly sought after Neal Adams cover and has been going up rapidly in both demand and price. In VF the current OS Guide has it at $89 but that is a low price. I had been tracking it on ebay auctions and VF to VF+ copies were typically going for around $200. I saw an 8.5 unslabbed (not in a CGC case) copy at NYCC for $400! The dealer would not budge below $375 so I took a pass. That Sunday I put a bid down on this copy (below) on Ebay and got it for $218. When it arrived I was extremely happy with the condition (VF+) as it was every bit as nice as the NYCC copy I passed on.
Win for me!

The copy of Detective that you see below is in VF/NM condition. I got it for $20 on Ebay. It was selling for $100 at the show. FORTY PERCENT over the guide price of $60. This was even more egregious than the batman #227 because Detective comics in this issue range have been somewhat flat over the past few years. They DO go up in value but only by small increments. The dealer would not come down below $80. Ebay gave me another win!

Finally there is this Golden Age copy of Laugh #61. Not as I have mentioned in other columns Golden Age Archie comics are VERY hard to find in any condition over VG. WHEN YOU CAN FIND THEM AT ALL! So I was more than willing to pay twice guide (Guide is $30) for this book. I found two dealers with the book. One was in VG and he wanted $100. Another had a copy in about the same condition as the scan below and he wanted $225. Again, the dealers were not inclined to make what I thought was a good deal. I found THIS copy on Ebay for a Buy It Now of $30. I did not even have to bid!

So why are dealers at large shows such as NYCC a) over pricing the books and b) showing reluctance to “deal”?

Two reasons.

First, a guide is ONLY that…a “guide”. A dealer, any dealer has every right to ask any price they like for a book. There is no rule here. A dealer will make a decision on the desirability of any given book. Often they sell BELOW guide because a given book simply won’t sell at the overstreet price. It is up to the COLLECTOR to determine if any given book is “overpriced” for HIS/HER collection. In my case, it was my determination that these books were over priced at the show. That judgement was confirmed by the prices I ultimately paid for these books online.

Second, a large show is VERY expensive for dealers to attend. Aside from the table fees, there is transportation, their time and the inevitable theft that comes with large crowds. The dealer must factor this into his prices or he does not stay a dealer for long.

Also, large shows tend to bring out casual colletors and impulse buyers who simply don’t know that it is perfectly acceptable to haggle (within reason) over the price of a book. In short, the size of the crowd creates a selling atmosphere in which the dealer does not HAVE to come down on his prices. I have purchased from many of the very same dealers at smaller shows in New Jersey and gotten a price they refused to give me at NYCC!

The next question I know is coming is “Isn’t buying comics from Ebay risky? How do you know the book is in the advertised condition?”

Valid question. In fact you Do have to be careful buying on Ebay. I NEVER bid on a book without large, sharp images in the ad. I often send emails to the seller asking for additional internal scans. However, given the feedback model used on Ebay, most sellers actually UNDERGRADE their books. They do not want to risk bad feedback. Typically the books I get are about a half grade BETTER than advertised. Also, keep in mind that dealers at a show display their high priced books to their best advantage. Often in Mylar which enhances the look of the book. You have to be careful with a LIVE transaction every bit as much as with an online purchase.

The really interesting aspect of all this back issue collecting is the fact that Overstreet does not take online auctions into account when they come up with the values they place on comics. Those values are determined by a board of advisors, many of whom are (guess what?) DEALERS! Now why oh WHY would they not want the actual price that collectors are paying to be the value used in the guide?

I wonder…espically when MOST of these same dealers sell and auction online at prices LOWER than those they use in live transactions. Again, they are entitled to charge anything they want to either online OR live. It is up to the saavy collector to get the best price.

Which is why I am giving you guys the heads up here!

By the way…I DID get my Vampirella #1 at the show (VG+) for a very nice price ($60 or 30% BELOW guide) so there ARE deals to be made at big shows. Just make sure to do your purchasing in the LAST hours of the LAST day when the dealers are more motivated to getting those last few sales before they pack up!

Again, let me emphasize that ther ARE tons of great bragains to be had at any big show. You just need to know where to look!

That’s 30!