Monday, July 31, 2006

Realm of the Squirrel-Man

Okay, too many coincidences are guiding my hand on this particular post.

Nearly 30 years ago fanzines were as much of a regular purchase for me as comics books and Warren Monster magazines. I picked up nearly every issue of RBCC and JFFJ that I could get my hands on, just to name a couple. Sometime in 9th grade Jim Ritchey III (he was in 10th) started championing the idea of doing a fanzine of our own. He and Dave Newton had put out a Mad-magazine type xerox mag called "Flipped!" when they were in 8th grade and assured us it would be a snap. Unfortunately for JR III, (who was a bit of a perfectionist) we all finshed our shorter back-up stories long before he was halfway through his epic 12 pager. I took the stance that if we didn't get our mag --now called Realm--out by the end of our sophmore year that we might never get it out. We staged a bit of a coup, (...sorry JR III.) moved all the stories up a rung and thanks to the 60$ my parents put up for the printing, and the cigar-chompin' printer who liked me enough to stay open til 2 in the morning, we came to school the week before the start of summer vacation with 300 copies of our 30-page fanzine of comics and science-fiction stories.
...And even though we were 10th graders, our magazine still had a pro-cover by Scott Hampton! (Unbelievably, Scott sold classmate and magazine contributor Pat St. Amour this great piece of original art at a convention --done when Scott was only 16--for only 15$! When the rest of us saw it we all agreed it should be the cover. Pat did the logo as well.)

The back cover was done by another classmate and contributor, Rik Lowe --though he signed it Rik Alan. (Think he was into Barry Smith much?)

The inside front cover was created by Pat St.Amour as well...also done when he was just 16! (Pat went on to have art featured in Heavy Metal magazine in the mid-eighties and still paints today.)

My big-ass contribution to the mag was the first back-up story featuring a character that I had created a few years earlier (in 1975) that was basically a spoof of Spider-Man; the continuing chronicles of a guy named Dewey Dimpster, known to [some of] the world as The Astonishing Squirrel-Man! The humor was very much along the lines of The Tick (but way before)...The storyline built to a climax that had the half-baked hero mixing it up with a delusional homeless man who calls himself The Chameleon (because he thinks he can turn into different people and things). Few people stop to watch the fight, less than that even care --just another day in New York City. Here's the first couple of pages...before I ran out of time and zip-a-tone.

(Man, my lettering really sucked!) I was just goofy enough back then to get some of the industry professionals of the day to whip up some sketches of ol' Squirrelly in attempts to smear some added credibility and/or legitimancy on the character. So here's a couple of never-before seen pro-sketches of S-Man now...both done around in 1979-'80. ( I'd have one by John Byrne here too if he wasn't such a jerk to his fans back then...)
First by the late, great Gil Kane! (who was super-nice and genuinely seemed to like the character.)

Paul Gulacy thought it was kinda funny too. I paid him for the sketch at the Atlanta summer con, but he ran out of time doing an impromptu Elvis Costello album cover and he wound up having to mail it to me (It showed up at my parents about a month later). I was really flattered that he put so much time and detail into it.

While in college in 1981 I started thinking about redesigning the character for animation. I think the old MGM Rudolph Ising cartoon The Lonesome Stranger had been on TBS that morning and wound up being an influence on this proposed retooling. (However my instructors --already annoyed that I tried to give half the assignments they gave me an animated slant-- assured me then and there that "animation is a dead art's way too expensive and time consuming for anybody with any sense to care anything about it ever again". My last day of school they advised me that I had lots of potential, but I needed to "grow up and forget about the Flintstones". I couldn't leave fast enough.)

Then for 20 some odd years the drawings sat in a drawer...but in the summer of 2004 wound up pitching some older properties of mine including Squirrel-Man to Cartoon Network. I worked up some new materials for several show pitches (including the first piece in this post) including one I co-created with Dave Newton in 1983 The Savage Fish, and let 'em fly. Initially they were shot down, but there may be some hope yet.

So, a couple of months after my pitch I heard that Cartoon Network was working on a new show called Squirrel Boy. I inquired and was assured it was just a coincidence, and that he wasn't a Superhero or anything, -- just a dumb fat kid that hangs out with a squirrel. Still, any character called Squirrel-blank didn't make me feel any better, coincidence or not. NOW I pick up the latest issue of Marvel's The Thing (#8) and there's a character in it called Squirrel-GIRL and she IS a Superhero, and can communicate with Squirrels and junk.
I figured --that tears it...I'd better get on on the stick before there's a lawsuit...and I lose. (plus it's also an excuse to show the Realm art, and the unpublished Gil Kane and Paul Gulacy pieces to boot!) There's some other big pieces I did of SM and some Kirby-style cosmic villians my senior year of High school...If they don't make me puke when I finally find 'em I' ll take some pictures and run 'em in a later post.

So, for now...and for what it's worth... ta-dah!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Wacky Lord of Latveria

Ah, the Good Doctor. The undisputed leader of Latveria. Voted Big #1 more than once on Marvel Comics' all-time most villianous list, his list of recorded grievances agianst humanity if compiled would be longer than my arm. There is much I could write about the vexed son of a gypsy and sorceress...the complexity of his tortured character, or the cold darkness that surrounds his soul --or maybe even that he's marched straight into Hell more than once to retrieve his mother's soul, or that he's been one of the few mortals on earth to have ever had (albeit momentary) control over the Silver Surfer's power cosmic!
Yeah, I could... but that stuff wouldn't be nearly as good a goof as some of these incidents...

Victor Von Doom! Introduced to the world by the team of Lee & Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four #5 as the ultimate armored arch-villian. An old schoolmate of the FF's leader Reed Richards, he became the perfect Professor Moriarty to Richards' Holmes. The indesputable and and aboslute Monarch of the Universal-Studios-looking Latveria, located somewhere in the heart of the Barvarian Alps. He would often stride around the tiny kingdom like Walt at Disneyland after closing. The genius of Doom can only be matched by his ego --and both are reported to be off the charts. (And yet he has at times been misused and miscast, his character maligned with overwritten hackneyed monologues and psuedo-scientific gobblety-gook.) It's a green-faced Doom that stares down at our heroes, dwarfing them on this, his very first appearance and comic cover.

...And right off the bat, the indignities ensue. For at virtually the same time that FF #5 was on the stands, this crazy Space-monkey made off with Doom's mask and ran amok in the pages of Tales of Suspense #31! (The really sad thing here is the Monkey got the better, more Doom-y color scheme. Oh, the unimaginable insolence... grumble...infantile mockery of it all!

(Off-topic FYI--More often than not...If it was a Jack Kirby monster from this period of time more often than not it wound up being colored orange (--Unless it was a that case it was usually grey.) An orange critter practically guaranteed a colorful (yet still limited) panel balance. That's also why Ben Grimm be orange.)

Meanwhile there's the unmatched audacity of that smug son-of-a-bitch Reed Richards. Ever the fate-of-the-world-in-the-balance prankster Reed (reportedly the world's smartest man) has bested Doom on a number of occasions, but usually not by out-thinking him per se --he just tricks 'im! (In fact a lot of FF stories end with Reed just having to bluff his way out of whatever danger faces mankind.) Here's one of my particular faves, where Reed challenges Doom to a test of the death! (basically)... But not before he drugs poor Vic with a hallucinigen during a phoney toast beforehand. (...from Fantastic Four Annual #2)

So, (I love this part) Vic goes home to Latveria and never picks up a newspaper or listens to the radio or watches tv again. No more plans for world domination or ultimate power schemes. No more time machines or tidal wave makers or phone calls to the devil. Nope. It's time to use his unlimtied power to sit on his ass and play host to kind of a Latverian "Who's got talent? " with himself in the Simon Cowell role. When an aspiring magician inadvertantly breaks the "spell" that Richards put him under months ago...(...from Fantastic Four#39)

Yeeeeah, Gidda loada dem apples Mudda-fugga! You just been Punk'd --Fantastic Four-style!
And what great reward awaits the magician who helped Vic see the light? Bestowed! --Buddy Rich-style! (As in "...I got the backa my hand for yer effin' brain is what I got for ya!")

You gotta hand it to Richards for sheer audaciousness. Here's a man who's smart enough to know that when the fate of the universe hangs in the balance, it's time to roll up your sleeves and take scissors to your comic books! Reed embraced this philosophy from very nearly the beginning as demonstrated here way, way back in Fantastic Four #2 when he and the rest of the FF report back to the Skrull Hi-commander --as Skrull soldiers "in disguise"...

I can only guess that being drawn by Kirby to begin with must make it harder to differentiate between photographs and panels clipped from a newsprint comic book...(Sheesh! That's some plan, Stretcho!) So ol' Reed musta hung onto those old comics with the missing panels because years later when the chips are down and Doom has gotten all Superfied and is running around in a giant-size form, guess where Reed turns for strength and inspiration? (No, not the Bible!)
(from World's Greatest Comic Magazine #12)
Yup, Reed goes right back his stash of clipped-up Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery comics. (Okay, I honestly don't know what's weirder here...the fact that Reed knows all these obscure "comicbook" monsters by their names and subtitles, or that Doom does. ...Okay, Doom.)

So, both these guys read the same "comicbooks", eh?

The audacity! The insufferable insolence! But such indignities don't end just with the accursed Fantastic Four. A multitude of super-powered interlopers have managed to be a thorn in the side of the Latverian Godfather. Daredevil himself has been a irritant more than once...There was that time that Doom managed to switch bodies with ol' Hornhead for a spell. (...from Daredevil #38)

Hey, it's lots easier to snap your fingers when you're not wearing metal gloves...

Later when Doom's Henchmen grab who they think is Daredevil in the street, their out-of-body Boss let's 'em know who signs their paychecks in fairly short order.

Hornhead eventually has to (as Doom) basically declare war on the countries bordering Latveria to get Doom to cooperate...and cooperate he does! In fact he comes a-runnin'...especially since one of Latveria's neighbors is allied with Red China and he's way-afraid of being "overrun in hours by Red Chinese!"(In fact, that's all He thought about during the cab-ride over!)

It amuses Doom to be beaten? Hyok! Wotta riot!
Of course, I love Wally Wood art from the ground up...But when Doom first faced off against the Red Skull in Astonishing Tales #4, Wally gave us an unusual glance at some of Doom's noctural habits. Nothing like a soft beddy-bye when you're wearing body armor.

Ahhhh, he had it comin'... (So, Vic takes off the gloves but sleeps with the mask on?)

Okay, I saved the best for last...There was this time in 1973 (that just happened to coincide with zenith of blaxploitation cinema) when Doom came up agianst Marvel's premeire jive-talkin' Superbad-ass Luke Cage, otherwise known as Power-Man! Cage virtually hijacks one of the FF's aircraft to go and beat on VVD in his own castle no less. And why you ask? Simple. Doom owes Cage money...two hundred big ones...yep...two hundred big-buckaroonies... 200$!! (...From Hero For Hire #9!)

Say, how much was jet fuel in 1973?

(I should note that this is the the only time I can ever remember a large black man calling Dr. Doom "Honey".)

So Cage was just startin' to clean Doom's clock when the
Big Orange here shows up to do Vic in. Cage knows he can't get dough from a corpse, so he shifts gears and keeps Orangey from blowing out Doom's ...uh...pilot light.

Doom laughin'?...And nobody danglin' over a lava pit or nothin'? Creepy. Plus it looks like all the furniture in Castle Doom is chock-full American currency (much like the furniture in the Addams Family house was.)

Perhaps it was incidents like these that had a direct effect on prompting this next out-of-character royal endorsement.

Bah...That's quite enough indigination and contemptuous impudence for now!
Doom turns and heads back to his castle...walking under the curved archway visible in almost every Frankenstein movie...

(All characters copyright Marvel Comics Group.)
(Which reminds me --I've always thought that Jack Kirby's Latveria looked a helluva lot like Universal-International's fictional Frankenstein village of Vassaria. We know at least some of Jack's inspiration came from stuff he saw on the TV set he left on all night while he was working...and a good number of the Universal Horror films were on NYC Television all the time when he was working on these early concepts. (Not to mention Jack saw villages like that for real in WW2.) In fact, the very name Latveria seems almost like a combination of the words Latvia ...and Vassaria! Coincidence?...Y'never know...)
But here's to Stan, Jack, and their Pinnacle of power and pomposity... Long may he reign.
(Maybe next time we talk about what's under the mask...and according to whom.)

My thanks to Robert Pope & Tony Aguirre for supplying some of the comics and insights used in this post.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

San Diego Con 2006

Okay, some of you have noticed I've been a little lax in my postings as of late. Well I've been busy with different projects, and I found out just a week before it started that Adult Swim wanted me to attend the San Diego Comic-Con. Naturally I had to scramble to make room in my schedule, but there was no way I wasn't going if invited. With a conservative estimate of 125,000 attendees it was more than ever a total sensory overload --and virtually impossible to see or do everything the show offers. I missed the Ed Roth movie premiere (though it was reported to me by TCM's John Miller that it was really worth seeing --despite a considerable amount of lackluster Rat-Fink after-effects "animation") and the Lost panel, but I did get some face time with tons of other industry professionals including Robot Chicken's Seth Green, Tom Kinney (Mr. Squarepants) and the great Ray Harryhausen himself.

Of course it wouldn't be Comic-Con without tons of announcements and revelations. Sam L. Jackson and cast were on hand for a preview of the internet-born Snakes on a Plane flick, Batman master Bruce Timm inadvertantly announced that his next project for Warners is (apparently) going to be The Death of Superman, animatic clips from the upcoming Simpsons movie were shown to the public for the first time, Robert "Triumph" Smigel hobnobbed with John Kricfalusi, and Sam Raimi and the entire cast of Spider-Man 3 showed up with a new Venom-fueled extended trailer and lots of fresh insights about the film. Kirsten Dunst let it slip her character Mary Jane Watson will be made off with by Topher Grace's Vemon at some point in the film. (It was even hinted that Bruce Campbell may have an as-yet-unannounced role as the old-school Spidey Villian Mysterio!) 5 new posters featuring the film's main players were unveiled --here's what the Topher/Vemon one looks like at least...

As for Harry Osborne and his chances of becoming a new version of the Green Goblin that doesn't suck...well, read 'em and weep...
According to the Boston Globe:"Raimi also revealed that Harry Osborn (James Franco) would become a third villain, taking on some of the powers of his father, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), who was killed in the first "Spider-Man" film.

And according to the Ain't It Cool website:- Regarding Harry Osborn. Riami said he is NOT Green Goblin II and he is NOT Hobgoblin, but something else. He wouldn't say any more than he is still very upset about his father's death and he does use his father's technology to go after Spider-Man.

Snort! All I have to say is that if after 3 Mega-buck Spider-Man movies this effin' TRUCK winds up bein' the best version of the Green Goblin on film I'm gonna be pissed!

Nuff said, True Believer!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Goat-Man with a Wrench

Yeow! What the hell was that? How many visitors to Buford Ga have asked that question while whizzing north on Buford Highway? I know I did the first time I laid eyes on him. But "Chas" --as it says on his pocket-- is a local cast-iron icon and landmark. Most of the people I know who know of him just refer to him as Chas. He stands out front of R & R Auto-parts as he has for more than 35 years, waving with rusty fingers to all who pass by.

Standing over ten feet tall on an 18 foot base, what Chas is exactly, or who built him remains a mystery. I always figured there was a Rat-Fink/Weird-o's connection there somewhere (In fact, I was going to call this post "Ten Foot Weirdo"). However, Nick --the guy I talked to when I called R & R Auto parts-- officially described Chas as "A Goat-Man with a wrench" and gave me my title. He also told me that Chas had originally been a work comissioned by Bob Slack, (the owner of R & R back then) to give customers something to look for when they drove up the then-very-rural Buford highway. Nick said he still fields several calls a week about ol' Chas (he is NOT for sale, so don't ask) and that he was originally constructed and plunked out front of R & R in or around 1972 or '73.

That he was built in the early 70's explains a lot, actually. There was a lot of big figural stuff popping up everywhere in the southeast during that period of time.. It was as if a Panama City Beach mentality had rolled inland and washed over the landscape. On unassuming South Cobb drive (in my hometown of Smyrna) alone there was: an old Chevy out front of a garage that had been ironworked into a monster car with bloody teeth in it's hood and the legs of a mannequin pedestrian hanging out of it's "mouth", and just a mile or so down the road one of the best Goofy Golf courses I've ever seen in my LIFE. Comprised of no less than 3 separate 18 hole courses, the whole place had just recently been redone to include giant jack-o-lanterns, storybook characters, monsters and several 2/3rds scale Dinosaurs (including a few based directly on the then-brand-new Aurora "Prehistoric Scenes" kits). One hole even featured a two-chambered cave (also Aurora based) with a glowing large-scale Mysterious Island-type "Giant Bird" in the second chamber. It was so cool I often wondered if I might be in a coma and just living a dream. (Especially since these fiberglass Dinos happened to pop virtually across the street from Cobb Center mall, where I saw One MIllion Years B. C. when I was four, and later that year in the same parking lot, the FULL-SIZE 1964 World's Fair Dinosaurs visited when they toured the country on flatbed trucks with the matching 25 cent wax dinosaur makers.) Okay I digress, but my point is that all this was in just my little hometown! --All within about three miles of my folks' house! It was a golden age for this kind of crap. Too bad so much of it is gone, now . Progress has claimed much of the land, and fiberglass and sustained Sunlight are ultimately a poor mix. Lucky for us Chas is welded together, so he should be around for awhile to come. I think I first saw him 1983 he was really rusty and faded with this Texas-Chainsaw thing goin' on. His delapidated state actually made him considerably more sinister. By the end of the eighties he was a real fright! When he disappeared from his original 8 foot pedestal for awhile around 1991-92 we began to fear the worst...but he soon returned, repaired and repainted with a friendlier pallette, (though even that paint-job has now faded quite a bit) and re-mounted on a much higher, less-accessable pedestal --where he still stands today...

All That Chas

Naturally Chas has been an ongoing influence on a lot of local artists, myself included. Somewhere around here I have an Ed Roth-style Chas I did in the late '80's, driving a flame-spewing, rusty hot-rod complete with customary giant gear shift poking out of the roof. If I can dig that up I'll add it later -- but for now, here's a couple of other Chas art pieces.

...part of a pen & ink piece by Tony Aguirre

...And the spirit of Chas continues! Right down the road (literally about half a mile) some other folks are getting into the act with their own home-grown metal mascot. No name-tag on this guy so we just call 'im the Muffler Man. He say Howdy!

Are there some nutty throwback outsider-advertising "Junk-Men" in your town? Send me a pic and I'll run 'em in a follow-up piece!

Bye, Folks!