It’s May 1, 2015 and the April A to Z Blogging Challenge is completed. For those of you not knowing what that is, you blog in alphabetical order posts each day, minus Sundays for good behavior, from A to Z.
You can choose a theme or just seat of pants it. I chose comic book creators from around the world. Why? I grew up reading comics and I see them as being a part of why I read as well as I do, am as creative, and just plain goofy at times.
I learned a lot during the challenge, and not just about comic books, comix, albums, manhua, manga, or any other names they are called, oh yeah, Komiks.
I learned geography, cultural history, world history, societal influences. All of this learned while researching comic books. Each nation had commonalities that one might be surprised about. Comic books are treated differently depending on where you are in the world.
In the US they are still seen as a children’s book. They are far from that now. Very far. In other parts of the world they are seen as art work, graphic literature, which is what I like to call comic books, and they are not always about superheroes.
If I were teaching right now I would use an A to Z format to give students a way to learn those aspects I mentioned learning earlier. By researching something they are interested in, sticking to the challenge without wavering, and marking the countries, regions, provinces, or cities you visit, you learn a great deal, and through that joy of learning you remember those things as well as realizing learning can be fun.
Some will think I am stretching how much I learned about geography, cultural history, world history and societal influences but I’m not. Graphic Literature is a way people express themselves. Through fictional superheroes a person can tell a controversial societal or political issue using a down and out weakling who becomes a hero and then fights against the superficial popular hero who is really fake and a sham and scam underneath.
That’s how one gets away with telling certain stories in countries where one might be imprisoned or executed if coming out against the ruler of the nation.
Through this challenge, one I decided on at the last moment, and had no real idea of a theme until the very last moment, I’ve come to realize some priorities in life.
It’s no longer April, but I encourage any of you to do this challenge even now. But let me give some advice. If you are going to do an around the world thing, be careful. Some of those letters are tough to find people. Not many places for the letter X.
I’ll leave you with some last images of a book that was one of my favorites books, Ruse, by a company called CrossGen, which is now owned by Marvel Comics. A book about a Sherlock Holmes type character with a female Watson type. Powers in the book, yes, but one of the most beautiful pieces of artwork series ever.
Today’s walk into Graphic Literature will be a simple one. A retrospective about one man and it will be short. We’re headed to Romania. No fluff, let’s get to it.
Sandu Florea (1946-).1 His career goes back to 1968 with a children’s magazine Luminiţa and a series, Păcală.
Perhaps what is truly his moment in Romanian comics’ history comes in 1973 with Galbar. This is thought to be the first science fiction comic book in Romania. Considering all the art I’ve seen while researching for this article that’s saying a lot.
He wasn’t simply a science fiction guy. Part of his large catalog in Romania is the retelling of Romanian history through Graphic Literature, winning a Eurocon, science fiction convention, award in 1980.
Problems began for him in communist Romania when in around 1984 he requested to leave for the United States where his two brothers were living. His right to publish was revoked and he had to use pen names to work. After the 1989 revolution, he returned under his own name.
Not long after we find him in New York. And soon after he was inking comics for Marvel Comics such as Conan, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, and many others. What’s an inker? You have an artist/drawer/penciler who draws the books, then the inker goes over those lines to make them look finished and polished and so the printing can actually pick up the images. He even did work at DC on the characters Superman and Batman. Some might be surprised to hear he also worked on two books for Dark Horse Comics called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
When asked what has been his favorite title or character to work on Florea did not hesitate to say Batman, having worked on Batman R.I.P. and other stories. This according to an interview at the 2011 New York City Comic Con.2
Qatar is not the place to really go looking from Graphic Literature in the vein in which I am interested in at this time. I therefore headed to Quebec. I thought about provinces in China, but I thought a little closer to home would be easier. Have I ever told you how foolish my ideas can be?
Did I tell you I tried creators from Queens, New York? Not so easy either.
Canada went through some interesting things during WWII much like other parts of the world. Oddly US books were banned from being imported for economic reasons, but could be reprinted. This allowed for a Golden Age of comic books in Canada. Canada also went through the 1950s censorship issues much as the rest of the various Western Hemisphere.
I want to start today with a man named Joseph Michel Roy (1921-1996), better known as Mike Roy or Michael Roy. Researching about artists born in Quebec had been tough until the wee hours and I found this man. And did I find a creator or what?
Born in Quebec he headed south where he ended up in New York at the School of Industrial Art, also known as the High School of Art and Design. For those outside of the United States, think ages 14 or 15 up to around 18. The school produced several comic artists from this time period. During Roy’s particular time he was the first to get the break.1
In 1940, while still in school, Roy writes, pencils (draws), and inks the short story Tigerman2 in the comic book Daring Mystery Comics3.Daring Mystery Comics was produced by Timely Comics, the predecessor to Marvel Comics.4
According to a high school friend of Roy’s, another Timely Comics artist Allen Bellman, he recalls Roy working on a Sub Mariner comic will still in high school, although it is not mentioned in a list of his works. The incident sticks in Bellman’s mind because Roy was then a big shot and hero because he had actually done what they all wanted to do.5 One thing to keep in mind is, Roy went to work for Bill Everett as his assistant and that may be why we don’t see Roy’s name on work for that particular issue. Or it could be that issue has slipped through the cracks.6
Roy did a lot of Timely books, Captain America #60 being of course being of interest to me where he had the lead story. But there were later books I found insanely amazing to find he worked on. Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners from the 1950s. The Twilight Zone from the 1960s. Buck Rogers and the 25th Century in 1980.
All of these are interesting and great but then we have a few things where Roy stands out.
Mike Roy’s Comic Strips
Roy has a tie to one of the most famous detectives in literary fiction, Mike Hammer. No, you won’t see Roy given credit for Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, but you will find his name with the comic Mike Danger in 1947, the first go round of Mike Hammer. It failed and Spillane, in three weeks, turned out I, the Jury.7
We then find Roy on The Saint comic strip which began it’s run on Septemeber 27, 1948, written by Leslie Charteris. Yes, The Saint as in Simon Templar with George Sanders in the old movies and Roger Moore in the TV series.8
Then we see him once again, in the detective genre with the Nero Wolfe comic strip from 1956 to 1958.9
Mike Roy’s Native American Interests
Mike Roy was very interested in Native American culture. His strip Akwas from the 1960s showed this. It was set historically pre Columbus. He attempted to keep the strip in print by giving her super powers toward the end but it didn’t save it.10
Screaming Eagle, a graphic novel was Roy’s final work, published in 1998 after his passing.
“SCREAMING EAGLE tells a mythical version of Native history—from the early pioneering days to the end of the Indian wars. Not coincidentally, that period coincides with the life of the story’s fictional hero.
At the onset, white trappers shoot a bald eagle, then the boy Screaming Eagle. The eagle’s and boy’s spirits merge and Screaming Eagle comes back to life. He now has the power to turn into his namesake guardian spirit.
Screaming Eagle becomes the focal point for this simplified version of events. He’s there to counsel people in war and peace. He’s the embodiment of all the great Indian leaders, from Tecumseh to Geronimo.”~Robert Schmidt.11
Mike Roy also co-founded a museum of Native American and Eskimo art.
To end I will mention a creative duo specifically for Canadian Graphic Literature. writer Mark Shainblum and artist Gabriel Morrissette. They are at least close to today but their work on specifically and obviously Canadian superheros is why I want to mention them.
The two created Northguard, an almost accidental hero in the fact he was really just doing his job and ended up being a costumed hero. The book was a serious effort during the 1980s to have home grown superhero comics with heroes having Canadian identity throughout, not just in name only. He also had a partner called Fleur de Lys from the emblem on the Quebec flag. The two appeared on Canadian postage stamps.12
There are successful Canadian comics but rare. With the amount of American comics and with a population that cannot support so many comics it’s difficult to create and maintain a publishing system. There are efforts and I may talk about them another time. But that’ all for today. Return to Top Click the link below to learn about comics in the Philippines. Did WWII help or hinder their comic book culture? How about the rule of Marcos?
Our trip today into Graphic Literature takes us to Komiks. We could venture back to days when pictures and words were put together and people now call them cartoons or comics or as I prefer, Graphic Literature, however I want to jump ahead maybe 30 or so years. My goal today is to see if we can go from the past to the present and connect the artists and writers along the way.
You may have heard of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon or Six Degrees of Separation. The goal is to connect Kevin Bacon to any other actor in six steps or less. Let’s see what we can do with the creators today.
After the Spanish
It’s after the Spanish-American War and there is some American influences filtering in.1 On January 11, 1929, Liwayway2 magazine published a character named Francisco Harabas, better known as Kenkoy3. Created by writer Romulado Ramos and the man who would become known as the father of Filipino Komiks, Tony Velasquez (Oct. 29, 1910-1997)4.
A little about Kenkoy. For one thing, the character is such a part of the culture the word kenkoy is actually an official part of the Filipino language now meaning joker or jester. That should tell you something of the character himself. However, his life as a bachelor did not last forever, he eventually marries Rosing, a very classy and classic woman of the Philippines. The two remind me of Dagwood and Blondie in their differences of appearances and overall demeanor, created in 1930.5 With seven biological children and one adopted mute, but wily child later they were a happy, if not crowded, family.
Kenkoy is said to be the originator of Taglish6, which is English and Tagalog7 mixed as a language, you may notice it on social media if you know anyone from the Philippines.
A sad note about Kenkoy. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in WWII, Velasquez was forced to use Kenkoy as a propaganda tool. He refused but was convinced by the then Philippine President to use it for the promotion of his health program instead of war propaganda. I suppose it served the same purpose.8
Velasquez was the mentor to someone I found very interesting. As I have of others in the southern hemisphere on the other side of the earth.
Let’s go to Mars.
Mars Ravelo (Oct. 9, 1916-Sept. 12, 1988), was an illustrator and creator of great note.9 Ravelo wore many hats through his Komix career and became known as the “Father of Filipino Komix Superheroes”. I guess you can see why I am interested.
I want to mention two characters. One with a bit of conflict about her history. Darna, originally named Varga.10,
“You know I thought of creating Varga as a counterpart of Superman. Male on the part of the Americans, female on our part. Isn’t that okay?”~Mars Ravelo11
Varga was created just before WWII broke out, around 1939.12 Some say Darna is a rip off of Wonder Woman who first appeared December, 194113 in DC Comics14. Darna’s alter ego is the mortal Narda. For one to become the other they must shout the name of the one they are not. The power to do so in the original origin came when a white stone crashing to earth from the planet Marte was swallowed by Narda to keep it hidden from her friends. With the change between characters being by the shouting of a name, inspired by Captain Marvel (1939), Revelo’s claim would seem to hold up.
Then we have Captain Barbell, May 23, 1963. I have to say this one has an interesting origin. Revelo’s openly spoofed Komik of Captain Marvel, who is now known as Shazam, due to legal issues.15With powers given to a mortal through a golden barbell while shouting the words Captain Barbell. I know it sounds a little cheesy but the powers are given to various people over the years and is quite interesting. Revelo had not intended for the character to be quite as heroic as it turned out to be, but the popularity forced his hand. And it took me about as long coming to this point of writing this part to get the rhyme of Captain Marvel and Captain Barbell. Don’t hate me because I am slow, hate me because I am beautiful. Okay, so I have a sense of humor.
Mars Revelo was a writer, editor and more, but he needed someone to be his artist.
Darna Comes Alive
Enter Nestor Redondo (May 4, 1928-Sept. 30, 1995). Oddly, or funnily, Redondo studied architecture when he was young.16 Why odd or funny? I’ve found this to be true with many Graphic Literature artists before. Many writers and editors have said it seems to be a plus in their backgrounds and detail work. But that’s perhaps for another article.
Why the love of a career in Komiks, with possibly check to prayer to check life ahead? Blame his father who would would bring him American comics. An addiction began for titles such as Flash Gordon and Captain America as well as Buck Rogers and Superman. Little did that boy or his father know what was in the future.17
Then it happened. Mars Revelo came calling and Redondo drew the first issue of Darna. You’ve seen his work above on Darna. Now here are some other pieces. Notice the work commissioned for the promotional comic version of the MGM movie Quo Vadis. The movie studio wanted Revelo to come to the US to work for them after seeing his talent, but he didn’t think he was ready.
But the Philippines could not hang on to Nestor for much longer.
The Filipino Invasion
Through the talent and popularity of fellow Filipino artist Tony DeZuniga, Nestor Redondo and several of his friends came to the notice of DC and Marvel.18 You can call this the Filipino Invasion.
Redondo worked on books for DC such as Phantom Stranger and Swamp Thing. As well as Red Sonja and Savage Sword of Conan for Marvel Comics.19
What he was most proud of or perhaps most passionate about was his work distributed by Open Doors20, a Netherlands-based organization. Being very religious he worked on beautifully illustrate stories of the Bible to be distributed to countries and areas where the Bible was restricted.
After the mass exodus of so many Filipino creators it’s difficult to make the connections from Filipino to Filipino as I have wanted to. In part this is because so many left in 1972. Why did so many leave at that time? September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos, nearing the end of his term as president, declared martial law. Things got bad.
“From what I remember, the local komiks companies set up their own Comics Code (but they were a self-governing body), just so that the government won’t get involved and censor all their works. But just like the Comics Code, they did restrict stories that showed too much horror, sex, and violence. Which, could be, partly the reason why our horror komiks artists looked for greener pastures and found it in the US market.”~Budjette Tan of Trese
Much like other countries where the government takes a strangle hold on any type of media that may influence the population, the comic book industry suffers greatly. If that hold lasts for a long time, decades even, a generation of culture does not inherit a long standing tradition. That’s what happened in the Philippines. Then Komiks became mostly photocopied and stapled together by the creators themselves and sold by the creators as well, many depended on the various conventions that are held each year.21
But now the industry requires greater quality to gain an audience. They all expect Marvel and DC quality.22
Now there is an effort to revitalize and bring the industry back home. In every aspect of visual entertainment you will find Filipinos, Pinoys. That’s paraphrasing Whilce Portacio. If you are a comic book fan anywhere in the world you very likely know this man’s name.
Born in the Philippines, but with a Navy dad he bounced or bobbed around until finally settling down at the age of about two and growing up in San Diego, CA. That’s where at the age of ten, his neighbor’s wife made it possible for Whilce to come into possession of her husband’s comic book collection and Whilce became a student of Jack Kirby and Neal Adams through books he never would have had otherwise.23
How did he make it to the big time? Through the help of another? No. He attended his first San Diego comic book convention, showed his samples to Marvel Comics editor Carl Potts24 and he was next inking Alien Legion25. The best I can tell, the original series.
Then came inking Longshot. Then Punisher. In an video interview Whilce talks about how he got his shot to become a penciller, the guy who does the drawing the inker inks over. He said he would ink the Punisher then flip the sheet over. You have to understand the sheets are huge for working on and then shrunk down for printing. He would then draw his on pencil work on the back. While the editor of Punisher would be holding up the page to check out the inking, the assistant editor would see the pencils and say, “Hey, look at this.”
X-Men, Iron Man, and others. you name it he did it. Then he was one of the magnificent seven that started Image Comics and worked on books like Spawn. Not big enough, how about Batman? Oh, and if you don’t know who Image Comics is, think where The Walking Dead began.
That’s all great and good but the main reason I mention him today is his efforts to bring pride back to the art form in the Philippines. To do that he has partners who will be helping to back a studio system in the Philippines with Portacio acting as art director.26
I can imagine who the backers are. His thoughts are the Philippines could be the next Japan for many aspects of the industry from comics to animation. One advantage is the Filipinos already speak English and tell stories in English.27
Why no art by Whilce Portacio? That’s not the reason I mentioned him, although listening to him he is the man to learn from. I would love to be a student of his. But the reason I mention him here?
He’s bringing a culture back home.
One thing Whilce said way back when in an a show hosted by Stan Lee when asked about when he knew he wanted be an artist he said the first grade. And here is the best part of why. The teacher had given the class paper and crayons. As she went around the room she told each student something like that’s nice, and then would ask what are you drawing? When she got to Whilce, she said, “Oh, did you see the Saturn V rocket launch yesterday?” It clicked. She knew what he had drawn. Yes, a teacher gave him confidence with just a few words.
Oman may have some creators but I didn’t find any in my basic search. I do a decent search for a time then I move on. That being said, do you know how many countries start with the letter O? You got it, one. I decided to go with a province. Yes, I thought about searching in other languages to see if a different spelling came up for a country, but this is a fun project for me, and I do enough translating as it is.
Normally when doing a history I go in chronological order. I thought I would change it up a bit today. We’re going with two creators only. We’re going back in time. From end to the beginning. We’re going north. We’re going maple leaf country.
We’re going Canada.
To be precise—we’re going Ontario.
A lot of times when you start with the newest you end up talking the least about something in history. That has been especially true for Graphic Literature.
Today if you think that, you are wrong. Wrong in a big way. So wrong that wrong is not even enough of a word to say how wrong you and I are.
The Midas Touch
At the age of 39 Jeff Lemire is likely to tell you to be included with our later creator in an article would have been an impossibility. But maybe the reason he is, is because no one ever asked him that if it was possible.1After all, there are a lot of accomplishments out there that when asked of the people that did them, they say, no one ever told me I couldn’t.
I don’t know if Midas Touch applies here but when you start your career self-publishing your first comic, win an award, then go immediately into a company where Alan Moore, legend, is putting out a volume of his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and when an award with a series with that company, I think Midas Touch fits.2
“I like to tell stories that make people feel something. It takes too long to make comics to just do frivolous or throwaway work. I’m trying to create real emotion on the page.”~Jeff Lemire3
Reading more and more about Lemire you discover one thing about him, creating comics is the important part of his profession. Even with the recent blow up of his world with Sony optioning a comic project from Image Comics, Descender, he hadn’t even put out the first issue of yet, he made sure during the negotiations his role, his time, and his freedom was in creating the book he wanted. He got that deal.4That’s power. That’s talent.
Lemire is not your typical superhero storyteller. In truth that’s not his go-to element. Can he do it? He’s written, Batman, the Justice League, and Superboy. Yes, he can do it, but he’s likely to take them out of that super environment.
His early work, such as the Eisner and Harvey Award nominated Essex County Trilogy5 and even the graphic novel, Underwater Welder6 set characters in Canadian settings away from urban areas and mega-powered heroes.
With Underwater Welder he did some interesting work with the art. Yes, he likes to do all of the work on a book if time permits. Above water he has sharp, distinct lines, while below he has the looser imagery. And there is a purpose.
But I am here to see where he goes for the hero stuff. Call me selfish, I’ve learned about what he does, listened to a number of interviews, one of them above, to see consistency of his character over the years and of his devotion to the story and not to the sells or the fame. Now I want to talk about bookes he has worked on that I can geek out about. And seeing as today is the one year anniversary of this site, I’m going to enjoy and share what I like.
The big moment.
The graphic novel The Nobody in 2009 brings Lemire to DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. A retelling of the Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Lemire does all the work on the book except for the lettering.7
Now onto something more mainstream as far as what an average comic fan might now, Jonah Hex.8 I know, you are wondering who he is. Think of the Josh Brolin movie that came out. Lamire did the art on the Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti scripted book.9 The huge part here is the Jimmy Palmiotti part, former partner of Joe Quesada who became the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics for over a decade and eventually promoted to Chief Creative Officer.10 In other words he, Lemire had a cool moment there.
His first big accomplishment, I think, can be seen as a very long run on Animal Man from Sept. 2011-Mar. 2014.11 Why do I say this? He took a character that had apparently no real direction for over two decades since it’s revival creator, Scottish born writer Grant Morrison12, left and turned it into not only a relevant to this day and age, but so much so Animal Man became part of Justice League United.
But the one piece of work at DC that I believe shows the companies biggest vote of confidence in Lemire is when they picked him to step in when Ann Nocenti<13 left Green Arrow14.
I’ve skipped a lot of material but I want to leave off with this one. Lemire is now writing probably my second favorite comic book character of all time, Hawkeye. Although I will give him credit for being given a big gig on a Marvel Comics book, I have to say I don’t much like the ideas he has for it.15Sometimes a fan boy wants his favorite characters to at least remain the star of the book. But that’s the fan boy in me. Old school collector guy.
Rant of the Blog Birthday Boy.
But the ideas of Marvel these days doesn’t hold anything sacred. It’s my blog birthday so I’m speaking my piece here. By Marvel killing the sacred cows so to speak, they are doing more harm than good. I see a lot of what they are doing as more knee jerk reactions to placate to hopefully making sales and get publicity over maintaining long time fans, readers. It’s going to bomb at some point. There has always been something comforting in being able to pick up an issue of Spider-Man and have some idea of who the character is. They killed Steve Rogers, Captain America, brought him back, then aged him, forcing him out of the Cap roll. He’s still in the game as a commander of sorts and picked his longtime partner the Falcon as the new Captain America. I’m okay with that last part. It makes sense. But Steve Rogers not being Captain America doesn’t. Quesada has some problems with his thinking. He thinks the costume is the character. He thinks Thor is the hammer, so anyone picking it up is Thor. Marvel is awesome, but sometimes it’s just screwed up.
One of Lemire’s first DC writing jobs was to write Superboy, but not a young Clark Kent. Long story there, convoluted and a pain in the butt to work out. It seems DC Comics can’t decide what version of it’s universe it wants to keep. Every few years or maybe a decade or so they decide it’s time to destroy everything fans knew and start over. Yeah, Superman and Wonder Woman are making out now. Lois Lane?
Whose our other Ontario comic book artist? Who did work on Superboy? Who did draw Superboy?
How about the man who created him and Superman? It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a legend.
A legend? Yes. A happy ending? Wait and see.
Drawing on paper bags and the back of rolls of discarded wallpaper, Joe Shuster did what it took to break into the world of comics. Canadian? Yes. But it wasn’t until his parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio that IT happened.16 The meeting. The chemistry explosion. He met Jerry Siegel.17 You can’t say one name without the other.
If you are not a comic book person, Siegel and Shuster might not spark something in your brain cavity. If you are then you instantly think of the Big S.
These two young men created what is considered the first superhero of sorts. Two young Jewish boys doing what geeky comic book wannabe professionals wanted to do.
The boys did something they would regret. They sold the rights to the character when they began to work for the future DC comics. At the end of their contract with DC, Shuster did a little more in comics, then disappeared from the business disgruntled with what should have been a beautiful career.
He ended up as a delivery man living with his mother. Although it is believed he did continue drawing comics under other names at times during the 1950s in less than respectable genres. But it was a buck, a living.
For the man who created not only the Superman characters we know, but also detective Slam Bradley, and Doctor Occult, it is a sad ending. An ending that found him blind an in a home when he passed away.
Apparently Siegel and Shuster were the first to have a vampire in a comic book.18 A lot of firsts for a duo that was messed over for so many decades.
I knew of the legal battles between Siegel and Shuster versus DC Comics over Superman, which gave them their byline back and a yearly pension and healthcare in the 1970s, but I didn’t know about Shuster’s leaving the business.
Will Lemire, with better relations and with creator rights more firmly in place end up doing more work in comics than Shuster? Yes. Will he create Superman? No. But I don’t think anyone ever goes out with the idea of creating the next Superman. Thinking about it, why don’t they?