Call it serendipity: I was poking around looking at something else, and somehow I stumbled on the Coconino Classics website, a stunning treasure trove of early comics. The site includes beautifully designed sub-sites for a number of artists, including Krazy Kat creator George Herriman and Little Nemo creator Winsor McKay, that feature biographies, bibliographies, and generous samples of their work. Artists from the pre-history of comics, such as Hokusai, George Cruickshank and Rodolphe Töpffer, and more recent creators such as Rube Goldberg and George McManus get more modest pages that still include digitized versions of their work and the occasional article by comics scholar Thierry Smolderen.
It’s all part of a larger site, Coconino World, that features contemporary as well as classic comics. It’s a French-language site, but much of the text is translated into English, and of course the comics are in their original languages.
If everything goes as planned, by this summer visitors arriving in Cleveland by plane will be greeted by a display marking the city as the birthplace of Superman.
The Plain Dealer reports Cleveland City Council was expected last night to approve a proposal by the Siegel and Shuster Society to install a permanent display in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport 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.
The display, which is expected to cost between $40,000 and $50,000, would include a larger-than-life statue of Superman, facts about his creation and related sightseeing information, all under the familiar logo and the words “Greater Cleveland’s Greatest Hero” and “Did You Know Superman Was Born in Cleveland?”
An anonymous donor has already given $5,000 toward the project, and organizers hope to raise more from Superman fans. Donations can be sent to: The Siegel and Shuster Society, 7100 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, Ohio, 44103.
Today, DC Comics announced its new “We Can Be Heroes” campaign to benefit Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps for famine relief in the Horn of Africa. According to the press release, the initiative is a two-year, multimillion-dollar humanitarian campaign featuring the Justice League’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.
While the initiative was unveiled just this morning, this is not the first time comics publishers have used superheroes to help benefit charities seeking to end hunger and famine in Africa. Although organizations have been collecting donations for famine and disease relief in Africa for decades, one of the worst famines in recent memory occurred in Ethiopia in 1983-1985, which inspired the charity singles “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World” from the music supergroups Band Aid and USA for Africa, respectively.
Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson picked up on the “jam piece” idea for comics: a book featuring numerous creators to raise money for East African famine relief. In 1985, Starlin pitched Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, who recruited Uncanny X-Men editor Ann Nocenti and writer Chris Claremont, and from there, the project continued to expand. Titled Heroes for Hope, the comic featured the X-Men in an adventure that eventually brought them to Africa, where they faced a god-like entity who feeds on human despair. In fact, Starlin details the entire process in a September 2011 blog post that includes a full list of the creative team, which included Stan Lee, John Romita Jr., Harlan Ellison, Frank Miller, Stephen King and Alan Moore.
Hostess Brands, whose quirky full-page ads for Twinkies, CupCakes and Fruit Pies were a hallmark of American comic books from 1975 to 1982, is expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as early as this week.
The Wall Street Journal reports the move will be the second significant court restructuring for the wholesale baker and distributor, which employs about 19,000 people and carries more than $860 million in debt. The Irving, Texas-based Hostess, formerly Interstate Bakeries Corporation, has been struggling since it emerged in February 2009 from four years of bankruptcy proceedings. High labor costs and rising prices of sugar, flour and other ingredients are being blamed for its financial woes, which include more than $50 million owed to anxious vendors.
Although the company’s brands include Drake’s, Dolly Madison and Wonder Bread, it’s perhaps best known — certainly to comic readers of a certain age — for its Hostess line. The snack cakes became a staple of American comics during a seven-year advertising campaign that featured such characters as Aquaman, Archie, Batman, Bugs Bunny, Iron Man and Spider-Man in one-page adventures in which Hostess products played a key role.
In the aptly named “Fruit Pies for Magpies,” three would-be thieves are distracted by (you guessed it!) Fruit Pies, providing Batgirl with an opportunity to lasso them. In another installment, Captain America saves Nick Fury from the steely grip of “the Trapster’s goon” by hurling his Fruit Pie-covered shield at the criminal. And then there was that time Captain Marvel lured a giant flea market-eating flea — let that soak in — into a net by using Twinkies as bait.
Tomorrow’s Heroes has an archive of 204 Hostess ads, if you’re looking to kill a little time.
Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s senior vice president of publishing, has begun digging into his archives for The Marvel Age of Comics, his new Tumblr blog devoted to “rarities and original art from the formative days of Marvel.” It launched just yesterday, and there’s already some terrific images, including a page of original art from 1941′s Captain America Comics #6, John Byrne’s character sheet for Kitty Pryde and, above, Jim Steranko’s Christmas card from when he was working on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Retailing | The inventory Arizona retail chain Atomic Comics, which abruptly closed its four locations in late August amid the bankruptcy of owner Michael Malve, will be sold at auction
Jan. 3 Jan. 10 in Phoenix, both live and online. Known nationally for its in-store signings, innovative marketing and sheer size, the 23-year-old chain gained international exposure last year when its name and logo were featured prominently in Kick-Ass, the film adaptation of the comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. Photos of the inventory to be liquidated can be found on the website of the auction company. Update: The date of the auction has changed to Jan. 10. [Sierra Auction Management]
Publishing | Tim Stroup, co-founder of the Grand Comics Database, recently dug up some old comics sales figures from the 1940s; John Jackson Miller analyzes them and reaches an interesting conclusion: “comics may be reaching far fewer eyeballs, but it’s a more profitable business to be in today.” [The Comichron]
Characterized by Matt Fraction as “the most important $412 dollars in comics history,” the check written to a young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, in part, for the rights to Superman, has surfaced among the items for an upcoming auction.
“Have you ever made a business decision that haunted you?” writer Gerry Duggan tweeted Monday, pointing to images of the check. “This piece of true comics history will make you feel better.”
Indeed that check, written March 1, 1938, by Detective Comics Publisher Jack Liebowitz, has been key to several legal and moral disputes, the first beginning barely a year after its signing. (Bleeding Cool notes an April 6, 1939, stamp on the back for the U.S. District Court of New York, suggesting it was entered as evidence in DC’s copyright-infringement lawsuit against Bruns Publications over the Will Eisner-created Wonder Man.)
It’s no secret that Golden Age comics were full of racist imagery, especially Golden Age jungle comics. But Steve Bennett at Super ITCH pointed out something today that I hadn’t noticed in the examples that I’ve read. Like most jungle girl comics from that time period, Rulah the Jungle Goddess is racist at its very concept: “a standard-issue bored thrill-junkie/society-girl aviatrix who crashed her plane in Africa. There she saved a tribe from a tyrant’s rule who were so grateful the natives dubbed her Rulah, Jungle Goddess and made her their ruler.” A couple of things differentiate Rulah from similar comics, though.
Supergods, his new prose book on the subject of superheroes, isn’t the least bit confusing. It is, however, slightly confused.
While the book eventually earns its self-help book-sounding subtitle of “What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human” in its closing chapters, that subtitle is a poor distillation of the actual contents of the book, which are a bit scattershot.
Supergods is partially a history of American superhero comics (and their British reflections). It’s partially a biography of Grant Morrison and his career in the comics industry, which naturally overlaps with the first concern at a certain point. And it’s partially a cultural history of the concept of the superhero in the 20th and 21st centuries, with the Promethean subject of what superheroes can teach humanity shining through here and there.
Morrison is an excellent writer, in prose as well as in comics-scripting it turns out, and the pages of the book are fiercely passionate, vibrating with authority and conviction on their subject, and thoroughly encrusted with often lyrical sentences and clever, even brilliant turns of phrase.
Despite these considerable virtues, the wandering mission makes it a frustrating read, as does the fact that Morrison’s many tics come to the fore almost immediately, and can make for a rather uncomfortable read (perhaps especially for those of us who have heard versions of many of these stories before, and from different perspectives).
In an ironic footnote to comics history, the Comic Magazine Association of America has given the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund the rights to the iconic Comics Code Seal of Approval.
The CMAA administered the Comics Code, a self-censorship scheme agreed upon by publishers, from the 1950s until January 2011, when it was officially disbanded. For most of its existence, the code was enforced by distributors, who would not carry a comic that did not bear the seal. Dr. Amy Kyste Nyberg chronicles the rise and fall of the Comic Code in a nice article on the CBLDF website.
Now the seal goes to the CBLDF, which dedicates itself wholeheartedly to fighting censorship — and even more appropriately, the transfer was announced during Banned Books Week! In keeping with its mission, the CBLDF will not put the seal on comics but instead emblazon it on T-shirts to raise money for the protection of the First Amendment rights of comics creators, publishers and readers. Said CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein, “It’s a progressive change that the Comics Code seal, which is yesterday’s symbol of comics censorship, will now be used to raise money to protect the First Amendment challenges comics face in the future. That goal probably would have been unimaginable to the Code’s founders, who were part of a generation of comics professionals that were fleeing a witch-hunt that nearly trampled comics and any notion that they deserved any First Amendment protection.”
As Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort notes, 50 years ago today, The Fantastic Four #1 debuted, beginning a 102-issue run by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby — an unfinished issue was completed in 2008 — and giving birth to the Silver Age of Marvel Comics.
Given Marvel’s recent legal victory in the bitter copyright battle with Kirby’s heirs, the anniversary is undoubtedly a bittersweet milestone, but an incredibly important one all the same. Happy 50th to “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” and the Marvel Universe as we know it. And thank you, Lee and Kirby, for the Fantastic Four and much, much more.
Retailing | Although the 14th volume of The Walking Dead wasn’t released until June 21, it still managed to secure the No. 2 spot on BookScan’s list of graphic novels sold in bookstores that month, behind the 51st volume of Naruto. It’s the ninth consecutive month that at least one volume of the horror series has appeared in the BookScan Top 20, a run that began as marketing geared up for the AMC television adaptation. [ICv2.com]
Publishing | Darwyn Cooke has announced that the release of Parker: The Martini Edition will be postponed for a few months, and takes full responsibility for the delay. The book is now scheduled to debut at the Long Beach Comic Con in October [Almost Darwyn Cooke's Blog]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller looks at the history of comics numbering, which he traces back to dime novels of the 19th and early 20th centuries: “Comics are anomalous in American magazine publishing because most comics don’t use volume numbers and issue numbers that roll over ever year; rather, the numbers keep on going. In that, our numbering is much like that used for the cheap, disposable fiction of the earlier days.” [The Comichron]
Comics critic Paul Gravett has a peek at SVK, the new graphic novel due out from Warren Ellis and D’Israeli, as part of an interesting article on comics that trick the eye. SVK, which was announced last December, is a graphic novel with a hidden agenda, so to speak: The private thoughts of some characters are invisible on the printed page until the reader shines an ultraviolet light on them, at which point they appear in thought balloons. Gravett shows a few examples of this and then goes on to some interesting historical examples of other comics that use concealed content, including 3D comics, vintage newspaper strips that used invisible ink, and a comic that flips upside-down halfway through.
Broadway | Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the retooled $75 million Broadway musical, took in $1.7 million for the week ending this past Sunday, which is above the $1.2 million the producers have indicated they need to reach to stay viable. The amount made it the No. 3 musical for the week, after Wicked and The Lion King. [Associated Press]
Legal | Robert Corn-Revere, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s general counsel, discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. EMA, which sought to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. He notes that the court drew upon the history of comic book censorship in reaching its conclusion to reject the ban: “Citing the amicus brief filed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, it noted the crusade against comics led by Dr. Frederic Wertham and observed that it was inconsistent with our constitutional traditions. The Court traced the history of censorship that targeted various media directed toward the young and held that restricting depictions of violence could not be justified under established principles of First Amendment law.” [CBLDF]
Retailing | As the bankrupt Borders Group weighs competing bids, Barnes & Noble — the largest book chain in the United States — reports a loss of $74 million for the fiscal year, in part because of heavy investment in its digital initiatives. However, the company saw a 50-percent sales increase at BN.com, fueled by Nook devices and digital content sold through the Nook Bookstore. [Publishers Weekly]
Passings | Lew Sayre Schwartz, one of Bob Kane’s ghost artists on Batman and Detective Comics, passed away June 7 as the result of an injury suffered in a fall. He was 84. Schwartz drew as many as 120 Batman stories between 1948 and 1953, all signed “Bob Kane,” before leaving comics after a junket entertaining troops in Korea. Eddie Campbell quotes Schwartz as saying, “’When I got back, I couldn’t stand drawing another page’ of Batman.” He went on to work in television advertising, co-founding the commercial production company Ferro, Mogubgub and Schwartz. [Mark Evanier, ComicMix]
Conventions | Scott Lewis looks at the plan by Mayor Jerry Sanders to pay for the $500-million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center: the Convention Center Assessment District, an entity that will add an additional 3 percent tax on room bills for hotels downtown, 2 percent on those out to Mission Valley, and 1 percent on those farther away. [Voice of San Diego]