Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Justice Ink

Most of the toys and games of my childhood were given away, thrown away, or sold when my parents moved out of our old house. But I held on to a couple of boxes filled with memorable junk, most of which is, of course, comics-related. I'll probably write about most of it in future posts. But I was sorting through one of the boxes last weekend, and made a pleasant discovery that I want to tell you about right now.

One item that I knew was in the box was this Batman utility belt from 1966. A mere 25 inches long (though the still-stretchy elastic band extends it up to 30 inches), it fit around my waist comfortably when I was in second grade. It's in amazingly good condition, considering that I remember wearing it while running around playing Batman in the backyard. It's well-constructed, made from yellow vinyl with metal snaps on the buckle and two of the pouches. There's no company logo or trademark notice on it anywhere, which pleased me as a child (after all, the real Batman didn't have trademark notices on his equipment) but surprises me as an adult.

But what surprised me most is what I found in one of the pouches: a bunch of Fleer bubblegum tattoos of the Justice League of America, circa 1969. I remember buying these from a vending machine at the supermarket, but I had no idea that I still had them. The colors are still bright and vivid. Most of them are reproductions of artwork from the actual Justice League comic book, by Dick Dillin, Joe Giella, and Sid Greene.

Some online investigation revealed that there were twenty-seven rub-on tattoos in the series, depicting the entire pre-1969 JLA except for Aquaman. In total, there were six images of Batman, five of Superman, three each of Flash and Green Arrow, and rwo each of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, and J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. I have twelve (plus two duplicates of Batman and Green Lantern). You can see the whole set if you click here, then scroll down to the "1969" section.

I found some online auction sites that suggest there is a collectors' market for these, although most of the ones I've seen for sale include the wrappers and the gum. I didn't save the wrappers, and I never even thought about saving the gum. In fact, I still don'r want to think about it. Forty-year-old bubblegum?



Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Did He or Didn't He...?

Here's an oddity. Superman #127 (the February 1959 issue) included a story titled "When There Was No Clark Kent." It had a typical plot for the era -- While working on a story for the Daily Planet, Clark is apparently killed in a factory explosion. Superman tries to carry on without a secret identity, but the lack of privacy and the constant requests for his assistance convince him that he needs his second life as Clark. So, he concocts an elaborate (but plausible) story of how Clark survived the accident, and the status is quo once more.

But the last panel of the story is peculiar. At the very end, in response to nothing at all, Clark thinks "He sure will!" Who is this mysterious "he," and what is it exactly that "he" will do? Is this a cliffhanger ending, suggesting a possible sequel?

I first read this story in 1967, when it was reprinted in Superman #197. Clark's thought balloon was missing from that reprint, carefully removed by an observant editor. In the eight years that had passed since the story was first published, did "he" complete whatever enigmatic mission that Clark had promised? Or was this part of a conspiracy to cover up "his" activities? If so, it failed, because the story was reprinted a second time in 2005, with Clark again assuring us that "He sure will!"

If Superman himself tells me that "he sure will," I have to believe it. Maybe "he" already did. If we only knew who, what, and when, we could be prepared. I don't know about you, but I'm going to keep looking over my shoulder.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cartoonists in a Nutshell

Way back in the Dark Ages, 1977 to be precise, when I was a freshman at Hofstra University, a magazine called Nutshell published an article entitled "What Doonesbury Hath Wrought." It had profiles of seven talented college newspaper cartoonists, and predicted bright futures for each of them.

I saved that article for the past 35 years. It's time to take another look at it.

I recognized two names immediately: syndicated editorial cartoonist Kevin Kallauger, aka KAL, (whose name was misspelled in the article) and author/illustrator/cartoonist Bob Staake. The other five, I had to look up online.

Steve Blevins is now the "Owner, President, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer" at Saxdragon Studios in the Washington, DC area.

Paul Duginski is a graphic journalist for the Los Angeles Times.

Mark Mayerson has been working as a television animator, writer, director, and producer, and teaches animation at Sheridan College in Ontario.

Mark Segelman (whose name also seems to have been misspelled) went in a completely different direction. He's a practicing attorney in San Francisco,CA, though he appears to continue to cartoon as a hobby. He also plays the ukelele. (By the way, Mark's musical pun cracks me up every time I look at it. What can I say? I have a weakness for wordplay.)

I haven't found anything online about Erika Farley (assuming that her name wasn't misspelled) of Emerson College. She might even have a different name now. If you know Erika (or if you are Erika, and found this page while googling yourself) please use the comment link below to send us an update.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Private Hero

Several years ago, a former high school classmate sent me the following story by e-mail. She had heard that I was a comic book collector, and asked me for help.

* * * * * * *
For many months now I have been searching for a very old comic book: Heroic Comics, issue #39, dated November 1946. When my Mom was 5 years old, she and her older brother were playing at a park in the Bronx. She asked her brother what the sign by the lake said, as she couldn't read yet. He told her the sign said "Free Ducks." (It actually said "Caution, thin ice" but he didn't read either... ha ha.) She went out to get a duck, fell through the ice, and almost drowned. A Merchant Marine who had just been discharged saw what happened and ran out to save her. This was all later written up in the newspaper and eventually made it into the Heroic comic book. My parents are both deceased now, and the only copy I have is in really poor shape. I thought it would be great to get a hold of this to show my own children, and have spent many years looking for a copy.
* * * * * * *

Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, February 18, 1946
Heroic Comics (called Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics from issue #1 to #15, and New Heroic Comics from issue #41 to #97, the last issue) began in 1940, and was published by Eastern Color Printing, the company that published the first comic book, Famous Funnies #1 in 1933. The early issues of Heroic featured forgettable superheroes such as Hydroman, Man O' Metal, Music Master, and Rainbow Boy. Eventually, the magazine switched to telling stories of real-life heroism, usually military, in comics form. It was during this period that the story above caught the eyes of the editors.

I found a dealer in California who had the issue she wanted, and she bought it to keep with her family records. Some time later, I found another copy at a convention, and purchased it for my own collection. The entire run of Heroic Comics is now in the public domain,  and many of the issues can be read online at the Digital Comic Museum website.

Here is the story of young Rose Marie, and merchant seaman David Sperling of Brooklyn, NY, her own...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Star of Screen, Stage, and Sunday Funnies

There were many tributes printed last month when television actor George Lindsey passed away. Most people remember him for playing "Goober" Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show from 1964 through 1968, a character he continued on the programs Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee-Haw.

But I haven't seen any mention of George's venture onto the Broadway stage. That's most likely because it didn't happen in real life, but only on the comics pages.

In an arc that ran from September 19, 1965 to January 9, 1966, Leonard Starr's wonderful comic strip Mary Perkins On Stage told the story of an actor named Claude Harper (read: "clodhopper") who had been typecast in the role of "Gopher" on the TV sitcom "Corncob Corners." When the show was canceled, Claude took a role in a Broadway play starring the strip's title heroine and a good-looking but talentless television idol named Rod Damian.

Claude flew his fiancée, Corrie, to New York City so that they could be married, but the pretty country girl caught Damian's eye, and he was determined to make her the latest in his long string of conquests.

Did the sweet and naive Corrie fall for the phony charms of the narcissistic actor? Did true love win out? How did Mary's meddling influence things? You can find the surprising answers in Volume Seven of the Classic Comics Press reprint series, Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins On Stage.

"Grits 'n grunts?"
Next to the strips of Milton Caniff, this soap opera strip about the world of show business is my favorite dramatic strip. Starr's artwork is crisp and detailed, and he captured the expressions of George Lindsey -- both facial and verbal -- perfectly. All of his characters were interesting and well-developed. I'm partial to the later years myself, but the entire series was an often overlooked masterpiece.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Super Shindig

Next week is the annual four-day Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois. As the only place in the United States named Metropolis, and with the approval of DC Comics, this small town officially declared itself the hometown of Superman in January, 1972. They issued a special commemorative magazine, The Amazing World of Superman, to mark the occasion, erected a statue of Superman, and started a Superman Museum. There were plans to build a huge Superman theme park, but they fell through. But the town does host a huge Superman festival every year at this time. I've never been there, but maybe someday...