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What are you reading?

Savage Sword of Conan Vol. 1

Welcome to another round of What Are You Reading, where we all sit around the virtual coffeehouse and talk about the books we’re currently enjoying (or not as the case may be). Our guest this week is Wilfred Santiago, author of the soon to be released biography of Roberto Clemente, 21. Look for an interview with me and Santiago about his new book in the coming weeks. In the meantime, click on the link below to see what he and my fellow Robot 6ers are reading this week.

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Comics A.M. | Archie Drops Comics Code, Marking End of Era

Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval

Publishing | Thursday’s news that DC Comics will replace the nearly 60-year-old Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval with its own rating system was followed on Friday by an announcement by Archie Comics that it, too, will drop the Code. The two were the last publishers to abandon the CCA — Marvel withdrew in 2001, Bongo just last year — which means that as of next month, the once-influential self-regulatory body created by the comics industry in the wake of the 1954 Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency will cease to exist.  Before a series of revisions in 1971, the Code prohibited even the depictions of political corruption, or vampires and werewolves, and the use of the words “horror” or “terror” in titles.

Christopher Butcher wonders whether DC’s decision to drop the Code was made with an eye toward the bottom line, while Johanna Draper Carlson offers an overview of the CCA’s history. Elsewhere, Mike Sterling asks whether any retailers ever “experienced any kind of real-world impact of the Comics Code Authority?” And Tom Mason makes some tongue-in-cheek recommendations for DC’s new rating system, including “G – GREYING MAN-BOYS” and “R – REFRIGERATOR.” [Newsarama]

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It’s 1954 all over again

Unlikely hero: Justice Antonin Scalia

Earlier this week, around the time I finished reading David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague, the U.S. Supreme Court, it seems, was re-enacting it. Well, at least a couple of scenes.

The Ten-Cent Plague tells the story of not one but several campaigns against comics on the grounds that they were violent and bad influences on children. And, to be fair, the crime and horror comics of the time were pretty damn gruesome, repulsive enough that a lot of folks were willing to set aside the First Amendment on the grounds that the Founding Fathers couldn’t possibly have envisioned the Crypt-Keeper, and they certainly wouldn’t want to defend that. Hajdu documents a flurry of legislation banning all sorts of comic books throughout the country, mostly promoted by people who genuinely cared about children (but who also seem to have forgotten that children have brains of their own).

A similar impulse led California legislators to pass a law in 2005 banning the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18, but the law was struck down by a lower court, because apparently you can only protect youngsters from sex, not violence. This led Justice Antonin Scalia to become the unlikely hero of video gamers everywhere, as he argued on Tuesday that while the First Amendment definitely wasn’t designed to protect obscenity, it should apply to everything else, even violence.

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Terrible beauty

Refugees flee Seoul in one of Kim Sung-hwan's watercolor sketches

Refugees flee Seoul in one of Kim Sung-hwan's watercolor sketches

The JoongAng Daily News has a brief story about South Korean political cartoonist Kim Sung-hwan, who sketched vignettes from the Korean war from life as a teenager. Sung-hwan, who is now in his 70s, went on to become a prominent political cartoonist under the pen name “Gobau.” This website, by Andrew Salmon, the author of a book on the war, has more of his war sketches, whose beauty belies the horrors they depict.

Life.com’s new photo gallery: ‘In Praise of Classic Comics’

A Vietnames child reads a comic bought by Vietnamese soldiers in January 1973 (photo by John Downing)

A Vietnames child reads a comic bought by Vietnamese soldiers in January 1973 (photo by John Downing)

Life.com has just added a gallery called “In Praise of Comic Classics” that spotlights comics, and children reading comics, in photos dating back to the 1930s. Well, not just children: There’s also a photo of a bespectacled young chimp named Kokomo Jr. — I’m not making this up — lounging with a comic in his owner’s New York City apartment. I can’t make out what the title is, but the back cover features a cartoonish ad for Chesterfield King cigarettes. (Hey, kids! Cancer Comics!) It’s a great collection, well worth checking out.

Science corner: Moving pictures

From the "Hokusai Manga"

From the "Hokusai Manga"

The comics page is static, yet artists have many ways to make the characters move: speed lines, superimposed images, or simply having the character lean in the direction of motion. The 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai used another technique, placing his characters in unstable postures that often defy gravity.

Curious about how the brain detects motion, a group of researchers at Kyoto University showed images from the Hokusai Manga to test subjects while observing their brain functions using MRI. Although it’s hard to imagine reading a comic during an MRI, the researchers found that indeed, when the subjects saw Hokusai’s off-balance wrestlers and swordsmen, the parts of their brains that sense motion lit up, while his drawings of priests standing still had no such effect. Next, the researchers are planning to see if drawings of animals or even ocean waves can trigger the same response as the human figures.

Straight for the art | Superheroes meet history

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I can’t tell if this is really awesome, really funny or really offensive. It might be all three.

The end of history: An interview with Larry Gonick

The Cartoon History of the Modern World Vol. 2

The Cartoon History of the Modern World Vol. 2

For the past 30 or so years, Larry Gonick has been engaged in what has to easily be one of the most ambitious comics projects ever: The Cartoon History of the Universe. In four volumes (including Vol. 1 of The Cartoon History of the Modern World), Gonick has relentlessly relayed the history of planet Earth as we know it, from the big bang up to the the 1700s. That he’s done so in such a consistently entertaining and downright funny fashion, is nothing short of remarkable, especially considering the plethora of dull, insipid nonfiction comics that have come out in the past few years.

Now, with the publication of the second volume of Cartoon History of the Modern World he’s finally finished his magmum opus. I used the occasion as an opportunity to talk with Gonick over email about his new book — which runs from the French Revolution to 9/11 — and how it feels to finally be finished something that took up such a large chunk of his working life. Here’s what he had to say:

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What are you reading?

The Complete Peanuts: 1973-74

The Complete Peanuts: 1973-74

Welcome once again to What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is the esteemed critic and blogger Robert Clough. Rob is probably best known for his contributions to the seemingly now inert Sequart.com, though you can find most of his recent reviews on his blog, High-Low.

To see what Rob and the rest of us are reading, just click on the link below …

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Straight for the art: Lasky’s flu comic

No Ordinary Flu

No Ordinary Flu

In a remarkable bit of timing considering this week’s headlines, the Seattle and King County is offering a 12-page comic on flu pandemics created by David Lasky.

Meanwhile, back at … Union Terminal

The Hall of Justice, from Hanna-Barbera's "Super Friends"

The Hall of Justice, from Hanna-Barbera's "Super Friends"

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Alex Shebar examines the visual links between the 76-year-old Cincinnati Union Terminal and the Hall of Justice from the 1970s Super Friends cartoon and, more recently, the Justice League of America comic.

“The resemblance is undeniable, from the massive arch to the carved pillars,” Shebar writes. “They are nearly identical, right down to the colossal fountain leading to the front entrance.”

Completed in March 1933, the art deco-style train station apparently made an impact on Joseph Barbera: When Super Friends background supervisor Al Gmuer submitted a headquarters design to Barbera and ABC executives, what was returned looked a lot like Union Terminal.

“In the long run, I hated that building,” Gmuer tells Shebar. “The way it’s designed, it was not easy to draw. I had nightmares about that damn building.”

These blogs have more on Union Terminal — now home to the Cincinnati Museum Center — and the Super Friends connection.


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