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Marvel’s most important characters … in 1972

Sean Howe, the author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, regularly shares artifacts from Marvel’s history on his Tumblr, and this week he posted a memo from 1972 that details where the characters fell in the pecking order–with each ranked as “very important,” “important” and “not as important.”

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58 years ago, one Illinois city cleared out ‘unhealthy’ comics

Gene Autry Comics #94 (December 1954)

It was January 1955. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House, Adventures of Superman was on television, and in sleepy Galesburg, Illinois (population 31,425), the local Exchange Club had seized upon one goal: the eradication of comic books that might fuel juvenile delinquency.

Writing for The Register-Mail, Galesburg County Library archivist Patty Mosher delves 58 years into the city’s past when, spurred by a National Exchange Club circular, the men of the local service organization set off to root out objectionable publications that targeted children and teens.

Sure, the “Galesburg cleanup,” as it became known, wasn’t as flashy as the mass burnings of comic books seven years earlier in Binghampton, New York, or as officious as the Cincinnati Parents Committee’s annual ratings reports.

But by gosh, it was well-organized!

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Comics A.M. | Turkey lifts ban on thousands of books (and a comic)


Censorship | At least one comic, alas unnamed, was among the thousands of books removed this week from a Turkish government restricted list. Most of the bans were widely ignored anyway, but Metin Celal Zeynioglu, the head of Turkey’s publishers’ union, pointed out one important effect of lifting them: “Many of the students arrested in demonstrations are kept in prison because they’re carrying banned books. From now on, we won’t be able to use that as an excuse.” [The Australian]

Publishing | Tom Spurgeon’s latest holiday interview is with Shannon Watters, the editor of BOOM! Studios’ children’s comics line, which includes Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors and Peanuts. [The Comics Reporter]

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Comics A.M. | Ohio’s Superman license plate moves closer to reality

Superman specialty plate

Comics | Ohio drivers moved a little closer to getting their Superman specialty license plate Wednesday as the proposal was outlined for a state Senate committee. The bill, which already passed the state House, is on track to go to the full Senate for a vote before the end of the year. The Siegel & Shuster Society launched the campaign for the plates in July 2011 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel in 2013; the character, which debuted in 1938, was created six years earlier in Cleveland by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The original plan for the plates to include the slogan “Birthplace of Superman,” that met with objections from Warner Bros., which insisted he was born on Krypton. The legend will now read, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” [Plain Dealer]

Manga | Tony Yao summarizes a recent article from The Nikkei Shimbun that analyzes the readership of Shonen Jump, which is 50 percent female despite the magazine being targeted to boys (“shonen” means “boy” in Japanese). They break down the popularity of series by gender and discuss how the female audience affects editorial decisions. [Manga Therapy]

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Hostess, a little piece of comics history, is going out of business

Hostess Brands, the long-struggling wholesale baker whose offbeat ads for Twinkies, CupCakes and Fruit Pies were a staple of American comics from 1975 to 1982, will close for good next week in the wake of a crippling nationwide strike.

The Irving, Texas-based company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January, announced this morning it will sell off all of its assets because not enough striking workers met its Thursday deadline to return to work. Plant operations already have been suspended, but Hostess retail stores will remain open for several more days to sell already-baked products.

“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” CEO Gregory F. Rayburn said in a statement. “Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders.”

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union went on strike Nov. 9 after the company imposed a contract that would cut wages by 8 percent and benefits by 27 to 32 percent, leading Hostess to permanently close three plants on Nov. 12. Executives warned that if a sufficient number of employees didn’t return to work by Thursday at 5 p.m. ET, it would seek permission from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to liquidate the company. ABC News reports that if the motion is approved, the shutdown could begin as early as Tuesday.

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Unpublished manga by teenaged Osamu Tezuka discovered

An unpublished manga drawn by the legendary Osamu Tezuka when he was a teenager was discovered at a used bookstore, where it was purchased in April by Tezuka Productions for $37,000.

According to Anime News Network, which translated reports from 47News and FNN, the 19-page comic was created immediately following World War II and just before Tezuka made his professional debut. The Astro Boy creator had given the work to a former classmate, who held onto it for more than 60 years. Harumichi Mori, head of the Tezuka Productions archives, said they were unaware of the comic until its discovery at the bookstore.

Tezuka, often referred to as the “father of manga,” passed away in 1989 at age 60.

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Return to the swingin’ ’60s with Bob Kane’s Batman paintings

If you look at all the mainstream attention Robert Kirkman is getting due to the success of AMC’s The Walking Dead, you’d think it was crazy. (Really, a comics writer on The View?) But in reality, it’s hardly the first time. In the 1960s, when the Adam West Batman television series kicked off, Bob Kane experienced his own groundswell of attention — and he loved it. Around that time, Kane started branching out from his comics illustrating to do a series of oil paintings of Batman and the primary characters in Gotham City, and took to showing them — and posing in great posed photos like the one above (via Pop Culture Safari).

It was later revealed that to create these paintings Kane had hired artists to “ghost” after him, much like he hired artists like Sheldon Moldoff to assist his comics work in the ’50s and ’60s. It’s hard to say how much of the paintings are his and how much he had assistance on, but either way they’re a unique treasure — just like these photos of the paintings and Kane hamming it up for the camera.

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Google celebrates Little Nemo in Slumblerland with incredible Doodle

As visitors to the Google homepage have already noticed, the company is celebrating the 107th anniversary of Winsor McCay’s groundbreaking comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland with an amazing interactive Doodle.

Debuting Oct. 15, 1905, the surreal Sunday comic — much like McCay — was years ahead of its time, initially following the nightly dreams of a little boy named Nemo as attempted to reach the realm of King Morpheus, who wanted him as a playmate for his daughter. Each installment ended with Nemo abruptly waking just as he was about to experience a mishap in dreamland. The strip, later retitled In the Land of Wonderful Dreams when it changed newspapers, ran until 1914 before being revived from 1924 to 1947.

Michael Cavna of The Washington Post has more on McCay, Little Nemo and the Google Doodle.

Superman Welcoming Center unveiled at Cleveland airport

Hundreds gathered Thursday at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for the dedication of the Superman Welcoming Center, a permanent exhibit honoring the Man of Steel and his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who dreamed up the superhero as teenagers living in the city’s Glenville neighborhood.

Spearheaded by the Siegel & Shuster Society, which raised nearly $50,000, the display features a Superman statue, a replica of a telephone booth, trivia, an old-fashioned television that shows images of the superhero from comics, television and film, all beneath the greeting, “Welcome to Cleveland — Where the Legend Began.”

The Plain Dealer reports that among the speakers were Mayor Frank Jackson and Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson. “My dad, my mother and Joe would have been delighted, honored and humbled at this honor,” she said. “They would love to know that millions of people going through this airport would get to see the display and know that Superman was created right here in Cleveland.”

Watch video from the event below.

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Quote of the Day | Gwen Stacy ‘was a nonentity, a pretty face’

“She was a nonentity, a pretty face. She brought nothing to the mix. It made no sense to me that Peter Parker would end up with a babe like that who had no problems. Only a damaged person would end up with a damaged guy like Peter Parker. And Gwen Stacy was perfect! It was basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy. Stan married a woman who was pretty much a babe — Joan Lee was a very attractive blond who was obviously Stan’s ideal female. And I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife, just like Sue Storm was a replication of his wife. And that’s where his blind spot was. The amazing thing was that he created a character like Mary Jane Watson, who was probably the most interesting female character in comics, and he never used her to the extent that he could have. Instead of Peter Parker’s girlfriend, he made her Peter Parker’s best friend’s girlfriend. Which is so wrong, and so stupid, and such a waste. So killing Gwen was a totally logical if not inevitable choice.”

— veteran writer Gerry Conway, in Grantland’s excerpt from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, explaining why, upon John Romita’s suggestion, they decided to kill Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy instead of his elderly Aunt May, creating one of the most memorable Spider-Man stories of all time. Judging by the excerpt, which offers a terrific snapshot of the Marvel workplace in the 1970s — prominent drug use, struggles with Stan Lee, trend-chasing — Sean Howe’s book will be a must-read. It goes on sale Tuesday.

Comics A.M. | Sony’s PSP Comic Store to close Oct. 30

PSP Comic Store

Digital comics | Sony is shutting down its PSP Comic Store as of Oct. 30. After that, readers will no longer be able to purchase new comics from the store, although they will be able to download at least some previously purchased comics until January 2013. After that, the whole thing is just gone. Sony pulled something similar in Japan, but its new PS Vita store includes a manga service. The PSP doesn’t seem to have been a very popular medium for reading comics in the United States, but it’s too bad that those who did take a chance on it have no way to permanently preserve their comics in a way that isn’t dependent on an aging piece of hardware. [Engadget]

Publishing | The Brooklyn Daily chats a bit with Sean Howe, the writer of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, whose book includes an account of Marvel founder Martin Goodman, a Brooklynite who gave Stan Lee his first gig but was barely remembered by the company when he died. [Brooklyn Daily]

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Cleveland airport to dedicate Superman exhibit Oct. 11

An artist's rendition of what the Superman display might look like

A permanent exhibit will open Oct. 11 at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport honoring Superman and his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who dreamed up the superhero as teenagers living in the city’s Glenville neighborhood.

The project was spearheaded by the Siegel & Shuster Society, which raised about $50,000 through donations by fans to allow the idea to take flight. Cleveland City Council approved the proposal in January.

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Balloonless | Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman

It’s never too early to learn what a cesspool of shady business practices and money-driven infighting the industry responsible for creating and promoting your favorite noble champions of justice really was.

That’s the thought that kept running through my head as I made my way through Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, author Marc Tyler Nobleman’s follow-up to his 2008 Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

Like his previous work, Boy Wonder is a non-fiction picture book aimed at children. At least in presentation; I can’t imagine very young children being as interested in it as grown-ups though, and for grown-ups, there’s an excellent all-prose, six-page article marked “Author’s Note” at the end, fleshing out the more simplified story that fills the bulk of the page count with plenty of detail and discussing Nobleman’s process of research for the book.

The story of the late Bill Finger — who is, of course, the Bill in the title — doesn’t quite fit into a picture book format as easily as that of young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. There are a lot of similarities between the creators of Superman and the uncredited co-creator of Batman, including their backgrounds, the settings their stories occurred in, the impact of their creation and their unfortunate lack of participation in the rewards of that success, but Finger’s story is a lot more complicated than that of the boys from Cleveland, and lacks the natural melodrama of their hard-luck childhood and the epiphany nature of their hero’s inception (as presented in Boys of Steel, following Siegel’s own accounts, Superman’s transformation from a concept the young writer toyed with over the years into the world’s first superhero came in a sort of fever dream fit of inspiration one night).

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Blast from the past: EC’s William Gaines on decency standards

In 1954, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency began an investigation of the comic book industry and its effects on juvenile delinquency. In the course of its hearings, the subcommittee called upon a number of witnesses, including EC Publisher William Gaines. At the time, EC published a number of crime and horror comics, including The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror and Tales From The Crypt. The WNYC radio archives have posted nearly two hours of the investigative hearing with two key, but contrasting, witnesses: Gaines and psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham.

The audio of the hearing is lengthy, but while listening, it’s very indicative of the feeling toward comics at the time — Wertham goes so far as to say, “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger. They teach them race hatred at the age of 4 before they can read.”

The hearing was also where the following now-famous exchange between U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver and Gaines took place, as Kefauver held up a cover of Crime SuspenStories #22:

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75 years of comics evolution in six panels

Matt Madden created the above six-panel comic for an article by Professor Paul Lopes, author of Demanding Respect: The Evolution of the American Comic Book. Lopes is an associate professor of sociology for Colgate University, which published the article in its online magazine Scene. The New York liberal arts college not only doesn’t offer a major in dentistry (a joke surely never before stated on or near the campus), it also doesn’t appear to offer any significant studies in comics or graphic novels.

That didn’t stop Colgate from inviting Lopes to comment on how comics have grown up over the decades and how our culture has responded to them. A lot of it is introductory but the sociological context gives it a different filter to view this information, even if Lopes sometimes seems annoyed at the superhero genre and the dated stereotypes that surround it. (Although even this stance isn’t completely consistent. He opens sneering that The Avengers movie was an “aesthetic black hole” but ends confessing that he cheered while watching it.) And while he sets up the simplistic, and again, frankly dated paradigm of mainstream superhero fans vs. alternative comix readers, he does admit that “like all art, comic artworks, artists, and readers fall more along a continuum between pure mainstream on one end and pure avant-garde on the other.” This is becoming increasingly true if recent chart toppers The Walking Dead and Smile are any sign of the evolving landscape.

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