Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Newsday Adds Comics

In an age when newspaper comics sections are quickly shrinking, Long Island Newsday has announced that it's adding a page to its Sunday comics section. In addition, it's asking readers to select the three comics that will appear there.

If you're a Newsday or Optimum Online subscriber, go here to cast your vote, and to comment on what your favorite and least favorite comic strips are in Newsday's current lineup.

The candidates for the new page are: Bizarro; Daddy's Home; Dustin; Pearls Before Swine; Prickly City; and Tundra. Personally, I wanted to vote for Frazz, Brewster Rockit, and 9 Chickweed Lane, none of which are in any NYC-area papers. But, the choices are what they are.

The poll closes on midnight, August 29. Vote now!

** UPDATE **

The voting is over, and the winners were: Pearls Before Swine, Dustin, and Tundra. All three were added to Newsday's Sunday comics section on September 5. The last one took me by surprise. I didn't think New Yorkers would go for a panel about the Great Northwest.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's In a Name?

Darth Vader! Doctor Doom! Luthor! Darkseid! Names that strike terror into the very depths of your heart. Well, maybe not. But at least they have an impact. You can tell from the sound of the name that this is supposed to be a really bad guy.

Unfortunately, not all villains were lucky enough to be gifted with such evil-sounding names. I was reading a Doctor Fate story from More Fun Comics #57 (Jul 1940) (reprinted in 2007's Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives Vol.1) in which the heroic Fate encountered a sinister sorcerer who was summoning fire-spirits to threaten wealthy victims into paying him protection money. The scoundrel's name? Mango the Mighty.

It's possible that, in 1940, most Americans outside of Florida didn't know what a mango is. Heck, I was in my twenties before I saw my first mango. But today, with half the restaurants in the country listing some sort of mango-enhanced dish on the menu, the name doesn't seem quite as eerie and mysterious as it may have back then.

In "The Mad Planet," a science fiction story in Mystery in Space #19 (Apr-May 1954) (reprinted in 1999's Pulp Fiction Library: Mystery in Space), a young married couple vacationing in space (in the distant future year of 1989) land on an uncharted world ruled by an escaped convict named Thong -- King Thong. Even in the real 1989, Thong was not exactly a name that would inspire fear and respect among prison inmates. No wonder he escaped from Sing Sing.

In 1980, DC Comics began a series called "The Creature Commandos" in Weird War Tales #93. (The panel on the left is from issue #97.) It starred a squad of monstrous soldiers recruited to fight for the USA in World War 2. The vampiric member of the team was named Velcro -- Sgt. Vincent Velcro. At that time, the product called Velcro wasn't yet a household word. I'm not even sure whether Velcro fasteners on sneakers had been introduced yet. But the product was around, and the name seemed kind of silly for a vampire. (The character has since been rechristened -- if that's an appropriate thing to do to a vampire -- Vincent Velcoro.)

So there you have them. Three characters intended to inspire terror, who ended up taking a ribbing because of their less-than-impressive names. Maybe there was a time when the names Velcro, Thong, and Mango could have sent a chill down the spine. But today, what sort of reaction do they evoke? I don't know about you, but there's only one thing they make me want to do:


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cathy Calls It Quits

AAACK! After 34 years in syndication, cartoonist Cathy Guisewite is retiring. Unlike many of her colleagues, she's chosen to retire her comic strip, Cathy, as well, instead of continuing it in reruns or turning the reins over to another cartoonist. The final strip will appear on Sunday, October 3.

I haven't read Cathy in years, since the New York newspapers stopped carrying it. Nonetheless, I hate to see a strip with such a history behind it fade away. But on the other hand, I applaud the fact that this opens a gap for an up-and-coming cartoonist to fill. Let's hope they give us something as new and different as Cathy was when it debuted in 1976, instead of the 30,000th suburban-family strip. (Some of them can be pretty funny, true, but enough is enough.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Real Deal on the Man of Steel

Last week, the news carried the story of a family somewhere in the southern United States whose home was saved by Superman. The family, who understandably choose to remain anonymous at present, was evicted from the house that they have lived in since the 1950s. While packing up their belongings, they discovered an object in the basement that must have been left by the previous occupants: a copy of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman from 1938.

Action #1 has been in the news a lot lately. In the past two years, three copies have sold for $317,000, $1 million, and $1.5 million, respectively. The family contacted ComicConnect.com and had their copy appraised. It is expected to bring in a quarter of a million at auction next month, and the bank has agreed to hold off on foreclosure until then.

[UPDATE: The issue sold at auction for $436,000 -- almost twice what was estimated. I haven't read any more about the family who sold it, but I assume that they saved their house -- or maybe bought a better one -- and are now living in comfort.]

Only about 100 copies of Action #1 are known to exist. Seven copies have turned up since all the publicity began. Though there’s been no publicity about it, I suspect that a number of counterfeits have turned up as well. As such a landmark in comic book history, the magazine has been reprinted several times. A speculator might try to pass off one of these reprints as the original, intentionally or otherwise. Here are a few tips to help you tell the difference between the real debut of the Man of Steel and the many imperfect duplicates.

In most cases, the easiest way to tell a fake is by thickness. The original 1938 issue was 64 pages long (not including the cover), 13 of which were taken up by the Superman story. Most of the duplicates have reprinted only the Superman story. The original also included Chuck Dawson (a Western), Zatara (a crimefighting magician), South Sea Strategy (a two-page text story), Sticky-Mitt Stimson (a humor strip), The Adventures of Marco Polo (the 13th century explorer), Pep Morgan (a boxer), Scoop Scanlon (a crusading reporter), Tex Thomson (a world-traveling adventurer), Stardust (a page of Hollywood trivia) and Odds ‘N Ends (a page of sports trivia).

There is one notable exception. In 1974, DC Comics reprinted several classic comic books from the 1930s and ‘40s under the blanket title, Famous First Edition. These issues were exact copies of the originals, right down to the advertisements, wrapped in a protective cardboard cover. An unscrupulous con man could remove the outer cover and claim that he had a copy of the original magazine.

But there are two keys to identifying a Famous First Edition reprint. The first is size. Our hypothetical con man will tell you that comic books in the 1930s and ‘40s were larger than today’s comics, which is true. They were the same height, and about ¾ of an inch wider. The typical Golden Age comic book is about 10 inches high by 7.5 inches wide, a little smaller than a sheet of letter-size paper. But the FFE reprint measured 13.5” by 10”, a little larger than a modern tabloid newspaper.
A modern comic book on top of a Golden Age comic. Both are the same height, but notice the small difference in width.
A genuine Golden Age comic book next to a significantly larger Famous First Edition reprint.
A Famous First Edition reprint, with the outer cardboard cover, next to a tabloid-sized newspaper.

It’s impossible to judge the size of a book from a photograph, though, if there’s nothing else in the picture to compare it to. But there's another giveaway clue. On the cover of the real Action #1, there’s a streak of reflected light on the fender of the car that Superman is lifting. In the reprint, the fender is solid green.

Ironically, if our con man had left the cardboard cover stapled to his Famous First Edition, he might have been able to get up to $10 for it from a collector. But with the cover removed, it’s not even worth a dollar.