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Quote of the Day | Disposable vs. dark

“Sadly, the lesson that was gained from these books was not that comics didn’t need to be hacked-out, disposable, interchangeable stories but could be well written and relevant. Instead what happened was every superhero comic, whether it lent itself to the transformation, or not, was made grim and gritty, which meant more violence, more sex. more trying to fit the superhero world into the real world.”

John Rozum, putting the Grim and Gritty Era into historical context.

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Take a walk down memory lane to DC’s production department

Freelancer Mike Catron doing some typing, circa 1979

Todd Klein has posted a fascinating set of photos of the DC Comics production department circa 1979, taken by artist José Luis Garcia-López. Klein supplements the grainy, black-and-white photos with his own memories of working for DC in the late ’70s and throws in some anecdotes about the staff as well. Klein also plays history detective, puzzling out the date of the photos from the tiniest visual clues, and he also notes the staff who are not in the photos because they were laid off during the DC “Implosion.” The photos will evoke a certain nostalgia from those of us who remember how things were done in the days of paper (rubber cement, blue pencils, and photostat machines), and they should be interesting to anyone who wonders how they made comics in the pre-computer era. Todd has posted more photos, including a vintage shot of actor Christopher Reeve visiting the offices.

(via Blog@Newsarama)

Donald Duck comic recalled in Germany after ‘Holocaust’ printing error

A production error in a reprint of a 1972 Donald Duck story led a German publisher to recall the comic after the word “Holocaust” mistakenly appeared in place of “Congratulations.”

Spiegel Online reports the error crept into a panel in the Carl Barks story “Where’s the Smoke?” in which a Duckburg dignitary honors a team of firefighters for pinpointing an “awesome” blaze. However, instead of using the word “fire” or “inferno,” the legendary cartoonist went with the phrase “awesome holocaust!”

Fast-forward some 40 years, when, according to German publisher Egmont Ehapa, “holocaust” wasn’t thoroughly removed from the original English text, resulting in the dignitary praising “our brave and always alert fire lookouts! Holocaust!” in the latest reprint.

The publisher quickly recalled copies of Micky Maus Comics #6, which was released on May 8, and blacked out the offending word by hand (as you can see above). However, The Telegraph reports the incident prompted humorous allegations in the German press about the political leanings of Donald Duck, “and revealed the occasional perils of reusing aging cartoons in different cultures.”

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Comics A.M. | Convention organizers fight to save Javits Center

Jacob K. Javits Center

Conventions | A group of 21 events companies, including New York Comic Con and BookExpo America organizer Reed Exhibitions, are opposing a plan by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to tear down the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. In a letter to the governor that was also distributed to 600 other officials, the Friends of Javits said they would not patronize the much larger venue that’s to be built in Ozone Park, Queens, primarily because of its distance from Manhattan. [Crain's New York Business, via ICv2]

Conventions | Comic-Con International is just six weeks away, and you know it’s coming when Tom Spurgeon posts his annual list of tips for enjoying the convention. It’s a wealth of information, compiled over 17 years of con-going, so go, learn. [The Comics Reporter]

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Fantagraphics brings back Stromberg’s Black Images in the Comics

Comics have long been home to a variety of races, be it alien or underground or from an alternate dimension. But in the 100-plus year history of comics, one of the toughest for creators to portray accurately is that of black characters. And now Fantagraphics is putting back in print a key work examining that strained relationship, Fredrik Stromberg‘s Eisner-nominated Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History.

Originally published in 2003 but long out of print, Black Images in the Comics  surveys the depiction and characterization of blacks going back to early comics like The Katzenjammer Kids to startling portrayals in Tintin in the Congo and The Spirit, all the way to their induction in superhero comics with the likes of Black Panther and John Stewart and the empowering comic strip series The Boondocks.

In this new collection, Stromberg has added over a dozen new entries in the encyclopedic-like presentation of Africans through comics’ history. The foreword by the author of Middle Passage, Charles R. Johnson, adds much to the overall understanding of the book.

The world needs more photos of Jack Kirby dancing

I love old photos of Jack Kirby for many reasons, not the least of which is, in his day, he was one suave-looking, pipe-smoking gentleman. But Sean Kleefeld points us to Greg Theakston’s Facebook gallery, where we’re introduced to another side of the Kirby: the dancing King, bustin’ a move with wife Roz and, at a Comic-Con party, with a belly-dancer. There’s also a nice shot of he and Roz sitting (apparently at the same gathering where they danced). You can see all shots here, and visit Theakston’s gallery for many for great photos of Kirby and others. Now I’m off to start f-yeahkirbydancing.tumblr.com.

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Check that bought Superman rights sells for $160,000

The $412 check written in 1938 by Detective Comics to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for, among other things, the rights to Superman sold last night at auction for a whopping $160,000. The piece of paper has been described as “the most important $412 in comics history” and “possibly the most important pop-culture artifact known to exist.”

“The concept of the superhero was born with Superman,” Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of auction website ComicConnect, told Reuters. “That $130 check essentially created a billion-dollar industry.”

Signed by Publisher Jack Liebowitz, it included $130 for the Man of Steel, with the remaining $282 serving as payment for stories contributed to Detective Comics, Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics. Liebowitz misspelled the last names of both Siegel and Shuster, leading them to endorse the check twice.

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And then there was that time a tuxedo-clad Jim Lee rode a camel

Jim Lee and friend, circa 1997

File under “Oh, Right, the ’90s”: Over the weekend Scott Dunbier, former executive editor of Wildstorm and current special projects editor of IDW Publishing, tweeted a photo from a late 1990s New Year’s Eve party of  a sharp-dressed, if “a bit tipsy,” Jim Lee … riding a camel. Lee, the Wildstorm founder turned DC Comics co-publisher, added only, “Doing my Nixon.”

Kickstart My Art | The Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes

Comics historian Jess Nevins first came to the attention of many fans for his amazingly complete annotations of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Projects like that led to his creating The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana and The Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes. Now Nevins is hoping to complete his trilogy of heroic history with The Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes, cataloging “every hero of the Golden Age. Yes, all of them.”

To do that will require some expensive research, so Nevins has created a Kickstarter page to help fund it. “There’s really only one place to do the kind of research necessary for this project,” he explains, “and that’s Michigan State University, in East Lansing. I’m estimating that I will need to spend at least two weeks at Michigan State to get all the necessary research done, and that will be expensive. (Air fare, hotel, rental car, incidentals — they all add up, and quickly). Moreover, I will need to pay for professional web design for the accompanying web site, and that, too, is not cheap.”

If he reaches his goal of $6000 (he’s almost halfway there with a little less than a month to go as of this writing), he promises to “make the entire manuscript free online, as a professionally designed website, similar to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. You’ll be able to buy copies of the book as print-on-demand, but it will be permanently available, for free, to the world.” There are of course pledge incentives and Nevins will add additional stretch goals should the project pull in $6,000 quickly. [UPDATE: He's reached his initial goal, so keep checking the link for additions.]

Comics A.M. | Little Lotta artist Sid Couchey passes away

Sid Couchey

Passings | Artist Sid Couchey, an illustrator who brought many a Little Lotta story to life during the halcyon days of Harvey Comics, passed away March 111. He was 92. Couchey’s long career stretched from serving as an assistant to Superman co-creator Joe Shuster to steady if uncredited work in a number of comics during the 1950s, Harvey in the 1960s and 1970s, and a whole second career as a local-interest cartoonist, drawing comics about Champy, Lake Champlain’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster. He also may have been the first artist to embed a real-life marriage proposal in a comic. [Press-Republican, via The Comics Reporter]

Creators | Heidi MacDonald talks to Brian K. Vaughan about Saga, his general absence from social media, and jumping from Marvel and DC to Image: “I think at the end of the day I really believe in creator owned books, I wanted to do a book that the artist and I could own and control outright and as much as I loved the other companies I worked for in the past, I feel that Image is one of the few companies left that I would consider having a real creator owned contract.” [The Beat]

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Comics A.M. | Middle-school mother objects to Dungeon series

Dungeon Monstres

Libraries | A middle school library in New Brunswick, Canada, has been asked to remove Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series for review after the mother of a 12-year-old student complained about the depictions of sex and violence in one of the volumes. The CTV News reporter goes for the easy gasp by showing the scenes in question to a variety of parents, all of whom agree they don’t think the book belongs in a school library, and in this case the mom has a good point: The book received good reviews but is definitely not for kids. [CTV News]

Publishing | John Jackson Miller has been looking at the fine print in old comics — the statement of ownership, which spells out in exact numbers just how many copies were printed, how many were sold, etc. One of the highlights is Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge, which sold more than 1 million copies, making it the top seller of the 1960s. “It’s meaningful, I think, that the best-seller of the 1960s should come from Barks, whose work was originally uncredited and who was known originally to fans as ‘the Good Duck Artist,'” Miller concludes. “Fandom in the 1960s was bringing attention to a lot of people who had previously been unheralded, and Barks is a great example. He changed comics — and now comics were changing.” [The Comichron]

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Check out Coconino’s classic comics collection

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.

Cleveland airport display to celebrate city as Superman’s birthplace

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

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.

The historical context of DC’s ‘We Can Be Heroes’ Initiative

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.

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Hostess, offbeat staple of ’70s and ’80s comics, to file for bankruptcy

Wonder Woman in Cooky La Moo on Broadway

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.


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