Monday, October 17, 2005

Reminder and Apology

Three weeks ago I started a new job. My last job was one where I did little or nothing for days at a time. It wasn't because of my slacking off. It was because they had no work for me to do.


So I would blog. And blog. And write e-mails. And blog.

This new job is a little different in that I actually have work to do. Go figure!

So until I get everything sorted out and find time in the evening to put up new romance comic-related posts, they will be a little sparse. I apologize.

But I do want to remind you of my "free romance comics" giveaway. I've had several e-mails and posts, and I know that there are more of you out there. Next Monday is the cutoff.

Also, I mentioned Bill Draut in my last post, and I got an e-mail from Mr. Draut's daughter asking me if I knew him personally. I did not, but perhaps you did. He worked for the Simon/Kirby outfit for many years, mostly on the books they packaged for Prize Comics. If you knew him, e-mail me, please, and I'll get you in touch with his daughter.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

You're Ugly!

Jack Kirby is, without question, one of the greatest comic book artists of all time. He helped create some of the seminal characters of the last 60 years of pop culture, and his style was influential in moving comics from a bunch of newspaper strip rejects to its own art form.

But, boy, does he draw some ugly women.

Which only makes his contribution to romance comics more puzzling (maybe puzzling isn't the word... astounding?).

Kirby’s strength was his dynamic artwork. Not constrained by the smaller comic strip format, Kirby was one of the first artists that exaggerated the action, using all of what the comic page would allow (other great early examples are Lou Fine and Will Eisner). Punches flew off the page. Cars and spaceships hurtled through the void. (Corny, isn’t it?) Yet by the late 40s, not even 5 years after drawing the "Manhunter" and Boy Commandos for DC, Kirby was drawing romance comics, where there were no spaceships, no punches, nothing flying through space.

And while Kirby (and his partner Joe Simon) saw the opportunity in romance comics and they both produced them for years (with Kirby returning to them in the late-50s and 60s when he came back to Marvel), I don’t think their work was all that good. Yes, there was emotion there, and yes, they were some of the most mature things ever produced in comic book form, but they were wordy and stiff and, again, not so attractive. (At least the Simon/Kirby stories in those comics.)

John Romita, the artist on dozens of romance stories for DC during the 50s and 60s, drew beautiful women. Matt Baker drew sexy women. Alex Toth drew a very mature woman. Jay Scott Pike drew a woman with flair.

Kirby? He drew a woman that always seemed on the brink of either a screaming fit or just plain screaming or being severely constipated. (I have to admit that he drew good “bad” guys – you know, the fellow who the girl should dump so she could instead date the nice fellow.)

Other artists working for Simon and Kirby illustrated early stories in their Young Romance-family of titles, including Mort Meskin (one of my favorites), Jerry Robinson (a studio-mate of Meskin), Bill Draut, Bruno Premiani (of Doom Patrol fame), and many more. Most of these artists were not as adept at drawing super-hero fisticuffs, but they had Kirby beat with the ladies.

The covers to Young Romance and Young Love (Simon and Kirby's first two series) were line drawn at first. Very soon after their launch (issue #13 for Romance, issues #2-11, then #23-53 for Love), they started to have photo covers. Why they changed seemed pretty cut and dried.

When Timely/Atlas (which later became Marvel) jumped into the romance arena, the immediately published photo covers (which pre-dated the first Prize photo covers by a couple of months). Likely, Stan Lee (and later the publishers at Prize) wanted to make the romance comics look more like the ladies magazines on the stands (I always wondered why they didn’t make them magazine sized). It’s a good marketing tool – make your product look just like something the same potential customer would buy. (Timely/Atlas was also publishing crime comics with photo covers, another genre with numerous magazine counterparts.)

Yet another part of me wants to say that S/K realized that these line-drawn covers just weren’t cutting it, that other publishers who were coming into the romance biz had artists that were able to draw a little sexier or prettier (or in the case of Fox, smuttier).

It's difficult for me to fault the guy when it comes to his art. Kirby was terrific, one of the best.

He just didn't draw very attractive women, is all.

After Simon and Kirby split and Kirby eventually returned to Atlas (a company he hadn't worked for since he and Simon left in the early 40s after a dispute over monies owed for Captain America), he jumped back into the romance ring. Still, it wasn't great stuff, and Stan Lee realized this. Kirby only did a handful of these stories, and Lee had him drawing more of the monster and suspense (and eventually super-heroes) stories.

Yet even when he returned to a bit of the lovey-dovey stuff (I'm thinking of his Sue Storm/Reed Richards romance or Johnny/Crystal), the women still didn't look all that great. Over in Amazing Spider-Man, John Romita was drawing those drop-dead gorgeous gals, Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacey. There was no comparison.

Pardon my rambling, but I'm trying to be as gentle as possible. You don't want to badmouth a king too much, or you're likely to find yourself in the dungeon.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Free (Romance) Comics!

A couple of blogs that I really enjoy in the recent past have offered a free comics stunt. I "won" Epileptic (by David B.) from Yet Another Comics Blog (their monkey covers are tops), and I also got a nice manga book from Tangonat (I'll get around to reading it soon, I promise), and in both cases, it seemed that these people wanted to spread the word on some of the comics they enjoyed.

Well, I'm doing the same.

I'm going to give away a pack including one romance comic from the 50s, 60s, and 70s (and one Charlton, so you can understand why I don't really care for them). I'm not sure what they're going to be, but they'll probably be some half-decent stuff, stuff that I think people who don't regularly read them will enjoy.

Send me an e-mail or post something in the comment section about why you want to read these romance comics. It doesn't have to be a 1,000-word essay, but I also don't want it to be "Put me in the raffle for the comics". Now the winner isn't determed on whether or not they write a good entry; it's more that I want to separate those who want to win from those who just want to enter. All entries will be picked out of a fishbowl by the wife (an unbiased person if I've ever met one). I'd like someone who is truly interested in reading them to get them, and I'd also like for that person to then write why (or why not) they liked them. I'll post that on the blog as well (as long as the winner okays it).

So get to it, people! I know you want to! E-mail me or post something in the comments section. You have 2 weeks (until Sunday, October 23).

Monday, October 3, 2005

Some People...

I have a counter on my site. I added it because I already have an account with StatCounter (a free site that I like quite a bit) and it was easy to do. I'm mostly interested in my business Web site (Chicago Comic Conventions), to see how many people are clicking on it, where they're coming from (to see if my advertising is effective), and how many pages they look at.

With this site, though, I don't really get enough hits in the day to make it so interesting, and this is not a money-making enterprise (well, to tell you the truth, neither is the convention). But the one very cool thing the counter does is that it will tell me what keywords people use to get to this site. There have been a few for "romance comics" and a lot for my post on ACG's "Truvision", but the majority have been for (and I'm sure you'll never guess what)... porn.

Well, not porn so much as "booty". I used the word as a title for my Wizard World Chicago purchases, and man... there's a lot of people looking for booty (and I bet most of them aren't interested in my kind).

There have also been some for interracial porn (I don't know how they got here from that), 50s porn, and, of course, manga porn.

Who would've guessed that there were that many people looking for naked pictures on the Internet?

(That's sarcasm, people.)

Of course, with this post, even more people are going to be coming here looking at this site.

My mother would be so proud of me.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Dizzy Love

In the late-90s, Vertigo (under the editorial thumb of Axel Alonso) released several different anthology titles. One, Flinch, was an ongoing series that lasted around 13 issues. A few others, however, were 4-issue mini-series: Gangland (crime stories), Strange Adventures (sci-fi), Weird War Tales (horror-war), and Heartthrobs (one word, surprsingly, and, of course, romance). Anthology titles (at least from Marvel and DC) had become nearly extinct. Marvel for almost 7 years published Marvel Comics Presents, a series that featured four 8-page stories an issue, many of which lasted for several issues, telling a longer story. They also published Marvel Super-Heroes, a reprise of their 1960s title, that would publish inventory stories that never made it to the regular series.

Neither of them (with some exceptions) featured anything particularly good.

DC last tried the anthology genre (I believe) in the 80s, with Time Warp, a short-lived sci-fi title that had some nice Mike Kaluta covers.

I think both companies understood that people would much rather read the continuing life of a specific character. Or maybe that's just what they wanted to write and draw. Who knows.

But they're not around much any more, although several smaller companies have tried it (Dark Horse Comics Presents is the first one to come to mind). None to much long-lasting success.

I suppose that Vertigo was as good a place as any to try them again. They were cutting edge there, not afraid to try different things. And while some things didn't work, they at least tried them. And I, in turn, try out their titles a lot. I'm much more willing to buy a trade from Vertigo now or buy the first issue of a series than many other publishers or imprints. They've earned that right.

The problem with some of their titles, though, is that they're quite aware of their own brilliance. There's a delicate balance between being clever and trying to be clever. Sandman was extremely clever, if not intelligent and at times quite beautiful. Rachel Pollack's Doom Patrol (and she had a unenviable task of having to follow in Grant Morrison's steps) was a mish-mash of annoying and just trying too damn hard. It fell flat.

So it was with these anthology titles -- especially Heartthrobs. It seemed that many of the writers hurt their shoulders by patting themselves on the back, these tales were so darn clever.
Yes, there were plenty of good things about them. The first issue had a story about a young, gay man who is "changed" into straightness (written by Robert Rodi and drawn by Phil Jiminez, two of the few comic creators who are "out"), the third had a cool story by Peter Milligan and a pre-100 Bullets Eduardo Risso ("Death of the Romantic"), but most of the stories were odd. And not good odd. I like odd. I'm all about odd. But these were not compelling odd (compelling odd, to me, is Crispin Glover in Back to the Future; compare that with Crispin Glover in Willard -- see the difference?).

Also, there were too many romance stories that weren't really romance stories. They were crime stories or sci-fi stories. I'm sure most of you have read various EC Comics before. You know how there would be stories about a man who loved his wife so much he had her killed and stuffed? Or people who fell in love with space aliens who then just watned to eat them? Well, to me, those are horror and sci-fi stories. Because they're about the murder or the alien. They're not about the love.

Same goes with these stories. They're not romance stories.

And I guess that's okay. I mean, look at that cover for issue #2. That doesn't really say love to me. Of course, my S&M phase was a long time ago.

I kid.

I'd just like comics to try to have straight romance or straight war or straight Western titles again. They can be good, I know it. And they don't have to try and be so damn clever.