Thursday, April 26, 2012

Back in the early days of comic book publishing one of the reasons the books were printed at all was to aid in securing bulk mailing rights for items that could not normally go through the mail and to sell novelties. If you collected comics back in the 1960’s or earlier you would be offered 1,000,000,000 toy soldiers for only $1.99!! Or SEA MONKEYS…whatever they were. You could buy X-Ray Specs or sell SHOES. You could avoid being a 98 pound weakling who was always getting sand kicked in his face. The variety was endless. Looking back on it these advertisements are pretty funny. But in the days of Yore (or even mine), comic ads were big business. Here are some of my favorites from the 1940’s and 1950’s
Because western heroes never left the prairie without their trusty flashlights.
“Johnny put your hand grenade away and do your homework.” …yeah…that’ll work.
This is severely creepy!
Hey kids! Find Uranium! Irradiate your friends! Raise cancer rates for the whole family!!!
Because guys really love gals who can tickle their ivories! (did I say that?) And how’s THIS for political correctness?
“Fat folks”? really….REALLY??!! You can’t make this stuff up. That’s 30! Mitch

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Does Crime Pay?

In 1942 a new comic called Crime Does Not Pay book hit the stands. It was created Charles Biro and Bob Wood. Crime Does Not Pay was the first 'true crime comic book published. By the end of the Second World War this book would boast monthly sales of 800,000 copies. Just as this book was peaking the popularity of the Superhero in Post War America was on the wane. This opened up an opportunity for a new genre to vie for domination of comic book sales for the next decade. Crime Comics.

With sales of Crime Does Not Pay increasing other publishers sought to gain a piece of the market and soon they were launching their own titles. This competition led to an increase in violence and gore, as they each tried to grab the public's attention.

Crime Based comics of the time (1942-1954) in the pre Comics Code days were often graphically violent and, even though the criminals eventually were caught, glorified crime. The books were also meant to titillate the young male audience that read them through the generous use of Good Girl Art (also referred to as GGA or “headlights”).

Eventually, these titles became the target groups that claimed comic books contributed to the rise of juvenile delinquency and illiteracy. After the publication of Dr. Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and investigations by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, the industry adopted a strict code administered by the Comics Code Authority.
Among other things a Comics Code approved book could not use words like “Crime” , “Horror” or “terror”. In addition Good Girl Art was strongly toned down, vampires, ghouls , werewolves etc. Could not be used and violence was sanitized across the board. In short Crime Comics were effectively “castrated”.

EC Comics, publisher of (among other titles) Crime SuspenStories was particularly hard hit by the new governing body and after a brief foray into less controversial genres went belly up.

Crime comics from this period remain highly collectible items and often fetch high prices in upper grades.
Today Crime Comics have made something of a comeback with titles such as “100 Bullets”, Brubaker’s “Criminal”, “Road To Perdition” and even “Gotham Central”. Proving that while crime may NOT pay, it is certainly profitable in the comic book business!

That’s 30!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fiction House

When one looks back on the Golden Age Of Comics , generally considered to have been from 1938 (Action #1) and ending with Showcase #4 (1956), it is easy to think of the big three publishers DC, Timely and Fawcett. To be sure those companies DID dominate the early days of what we would come to recognize as the modern comic books. Superman, Batman, Captain America and Captain Marvel among others are all enduring characters who began during the Golden Age and were published by “The Big Three”

However it would be less than accurate to think of “The Big Three” as the only successful publishers of the era. MLJ would be a major factor with Pep, which began as a Superhero title and would later feature a new character named Archie Andrews. EC comics would dominate the latter part of the Golden Age with more adult fare like “Weird Fantasy” and “Tales from the Crypt”. In fact there was a litany of publishers. Quality, Sun, Better Publications, Harvey, Kosmos and Nita just to name a few.
Comics were everywhere. Superman and Captain Marvel regularly sold well over a million copies per month! Today if a comic book title tops 150,000 copies sold in a month it is at the very top of the charts.

Why? Because during the Golden Age comics were sold in literally TENS of Thousands of locations. Every little candy store and news stand in the country (and many international) had a comic book rack. Today comics are largely sold in a couple of thousand comic specialty shops and over the internet. During the Second World War almost 40% of all printed material shipped to the military was COMIC BOOKS. It was a period of popularity in the hobby that has never again been approached. It was a BOOM.

DC, Timely and Fawcett along with the 45-50 other publishers of the time would produce nearly 700 titles during the Golden Age.

And there was Fiction House.

Fiction House was a Comic Book publisher that began life in the 1920,s with a line of Pulp Magazines. Their early publications focused primarily on Aviation and Sports. Fight Stories was a particularly popular title during the 1920’s and focused primarily on boxing. Over time Fiction expanded their pulp line into other genres such as Westerns, Romance, Detective and Science Fiction. The covers often featured GGA (Good Girl Art) with leggy scantily clad females often having nothing to do with the stories therein.
By the late 30’s the Pulp market was starting to decline due to the rising popularity of the infant comic book industry in the wake of such characters as Superman and Batman. Fiction House made the decision to add a line of comic books to their offerings and released Jumbo Comics #1 in September of 1938. Jumbo Comics was not an in house creation. In fact the company purchased it whole from Eisner & Eiger. They were “packagers” of comic books and would sell fully finished product to publishers looking to enter the comic book field.

Jumbo Comics would feature the character that would become the centerpiece of Fiction House, Sheena Queen Of The Jungle. Sheena was created by Will Eisner of Spirit Fame and S.M. Iger. She would go on to become the very first female character to carry her own title, preceding Wonder Woman by several months. Sheena would also embody a central feature of Fiction House offerings….Good Girl Art. Good girl art does not refer to the character of the girl. In fact often the girls were NOT so good. Good Girl Art (GGA) is an artistic pinup style that features beautiful, often leggy women clothed in as little as possible.

However, Fiction House did not usually feature these women as “damsels in distress’. On the contrary Fiction House heroines were tough as nails, guns a blazing CAPABLE women who did not need the men to save them. Considering the time and the way women were generally used by other publishers, Fiction House was remarkable far sighted.

Fiction House had several big selling titles that they called their “Big 6”. They were Jumbo Comics, Wings Comics, Planet Comics, Fight Comics, Jungle Comics and Rangers Comics.

In addition F.H. had a wide range of secondary titles. Among these were Firehair, Ghost, Man O’Mars and Ka’a’nga Jungle King.
Fiction House was remarkable in another area. Their practice of non discrimination. In a era when comic books and business in general was all boys and all white, F.H. employed men of color and women. Matt baker, or maybe I should say (THE GREAT Matt Baker) who is best remembered for his iconic Phantom Lady (Fox Pub.) was a featured cover artist . Baker, who passed away from a heart attack at the young age of 39 was inducted into the Comic Artist’s Hall Of Fame in 2009.

In addition female artists such as Ruth Atkinson, Fran Hopper, Lily Renee and Marcia Snyder were major contributors in the Fiction House Bullpen.

Fiction House would ultimately fall victim to a shrinking post war comic book market and the attacks of Frederick Wertham (Seduction Of The Innocent) who castigated the company for it’s depiction of sexy females. Their last titles would be distributed sometime late 1954 or early 1955 and the company quietly went out of business.

Today Fiction House titles in high grades, particularly Planet Comics, are particularly sought after by comic collectors. Sheena Queen Of The Jungle is an enduring character still seen today .

The legacy of Fiction House as a producer of high quality comic books endures.

That’s 30!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Batman Odyssey....Yes Virginia, it's ISHTAR Bad!

Have you ever heard the expression “it’s Ishtar bad”?
Ishtar was a movie made in 1987 with Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. It was SO bad that all things bad now have to live up to the legacy of this film. Hence the term “it’s Ishtar bad”
Frankly I never thought I’d ever see anything that was actually Ishtar bad. Believe me I have searched for it. From the High Sierra to the shores of Tripoli…from Podunk to The Sands…but no…nothing Ishtar bad.

One More Day? Close but no cigar

The last three Star War Movies…ohhhh SO close to Ishtar bad. Rotten yes, but not quite THAT rotten.

Note even Aquaman The game was Ishtar bad!

Needless to say, Ishtar was pretty bad.

But now my search for the comics version of Ishtar has borne fruit. I can give a name to a comic that is truly Ishtar bad and it’s name is…
(Dramatic music cue please!)

Batman Odyssey.

Let me just sum Batman Odyssey in one word….ummmm…YUCK.

Batman working with Caveman Batman on a prehistoric BAT?

Really? REALLY??!!

This sort of thing nearly caused batman to be cancelled back in 1964! During the 1950’s and early 60’s DC decided to take batman from the streets of Gotham and into high fantasy along with some really bad Sci-fi. It got so silly that we actually saw Batman battle a living BARN in his whirlybat , Batman on far off worlds and even (yes) Batbaby!

At the very least those Batman yarns from the halcyon days of Yore were written well enough to allow you to follow the story, which may NOT have been a kindness. Odyssey on the other hand is completely incomprehensible and may actually be the single most amateur attempt at the written word since the pilot episode of “My Mother The Car”.

The characters are well…out of character. Scenes jump from one to the other with no logic. The dialogue is not only bad but does not fit into the mouths of the characters, most especially Batman’s. Of course the character has been written SO far from his core that I can’t even be sure he IS Batman.

But Ishtar bad? Surely other books have been this bad (can anyone say All Star Batman and Robin?)

Yes. And this is why. In order to be Ishtar bad the item, in this case a comic, must be created by an individual or individuals with nearly unparalleled talent. I mean Hoffman and Beatty. How much talent is THAT??
Well Neal Adams is the Hoffman, the Brando, the SINATRA of comic book artists. If Picasso was a comic artist he’d go to Neal for lessons. If Neal was a boxer, he’d have whipped Ali! That’s how great Adams is.

And to be sure his pencils REMAIN the standard. The art on this book is wonderful. Adams still draws the definitive Batman…and a pretty sexy Talia as well. The art ALONE is reason enough to buy the book.

And I do recommend that you buy the book JUST for the artwork.
However, Adams has clearly lost touch with a character that he helped to define back in the 1970’s. It was Adams as much as anyone who returned Batman to his roots as the Dark Knight. He was instrumental, through his realistic style, for removing the high fantasy from batman. He made the Bat compelling again.

In fact Adams has taken Batman SO far from his roots that I have to wonder if he isn’t doing it deliberately. Is he making a statement here? Maybe a satire? If so, he’s missed the mark and I for one don’t get it.
Still, gotta LOVE those pencils…so BUY it.

But if you are actually planning to READ it here is my advice. Take an aspirin or three because you WILL get a headache because it really is…
Ishtar bad

Oh and the thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the ownership, staff or pizza delivery guy of Comic Book Jones. So if you absolutely LOVE Batman Odyssey this review is all ME.

That’s 30!