Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top 10 Defunct Comic Book Publishers: EC Comics

The grandfather of all gone but not forgotten publishers closes out our ten week run of the “Top 10 Defunct Comic Book Publishers” posts, with one caveat (see below).

In 1944, All-American Publications merged with DC Comics and its former editor, Max Gaines retained rights to the comic book Picture Stories from the Bible, and began his new company (known as Entertaining Comics) with a plan to market comics about science, history and the Bible to schools and churches. You see, a decade earlier, Gaines had been one of the pioneers of the comic book form, with Eastern Color Printing's proto-comic book Funnies on Parade, and with Dell Publishing's Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics, considered by historians the first true American comic book [check out my long running sidebar over there on the upper left side of this page].

Sadly, Max Gaines died in 1947 in a boating accident, and his son William inherited the company which is commonly known as EC Comics. William Gaines began to introduce series focusing on horror, suspense, science fiction, military and crime fiction. His editors, Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman, gave assignments to prominent and highly accomplished freelance artists such as Johnny Craig, Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, Will Elder, George Evans, Frank Frazetta, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, Bernard Krigstein, Joe Orlando, John Severin, Al Williamson, Basil Wolverton, and Wally Wood. Kurtzman and Feldstein themselves also drew stories, which generally were written by them and Craig, with assistance from Gaines and other writers including Carl Wessler, Jack Oleck and Otto Binder.

EC Comics enjoyed great success with its fresh approach and the company pioneered in forming relationships with its readers through its letters to the editor and its fan organization, the National EC Fan-Addict Club. While their innovative stories were sensational, the art itself was also highly regarded. In fact, superior illustrations of stories with surprise endings became EC's trademark. They tackled real world topics such as racism, sex, drug use and perceptions of the American way of life in titles as diverse as Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Crime SuspenStories, Two-Fisted Tales, Frontline Combat, Piracy and Shock SuspenStories.

As everyone knows, in the late 1940s, the comic book industry became the target of mounting public criticism over the content of comic books and their potentially harmful effects on children. In 1954, the publication of Dr. Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and a highly publicized Congressional hearing on juvenile delinquency cast comic books in an especially poor light. At the same time, a federal investigation led to a shakeup in the distribution companies that delivered comic books and pulp magazines across America. Sales plummeted, and several companies went completely out of business.
Gaines called a meeting of his fellow publishers and suggested that the comic book industry gather to fight outside censorship and help repair the industry's damaged reputation. They formed the Comics Magazine Association of America and its Comics Code Authority. The CCA code expanded on a previous trade group (Association of Comics Magazine Publishers) restrictions and began to rigorously enforce compliance, with all comics requiring code approval prior to their publication. This was not what Gaines had intended and he refused to join the association. Among the Code's rules were that no comic book title could use the words "horror", "terror" or "weird" on its covers; so many distributors refused to handle EC Comics, Gaines immediately ended publication of his primary horror and crime series on September 14, 1954 and he shifted the focus to more realistic comic book titles, including Impact, Valor, Aces High, M.D. and Psychoanalysis (known collectively as the New Direction). Since the initial issues did not carry the Comics Code seal, wholesalers refused to carry them. After consulting with his staff, Gaines reluctantly started submitting his comics to the Comics Code; but his attempted revamp failed commercially and after the fifth issues, all New Direction titles were canceled. EC Comics was all but out of business when a side project for Kurtzman began buoying the company's fortunes and became one of the most notable and long-running humor publications in history. MAD hit newsstands just as satire became an industry rage in 1954 and although other publishers instantly started knocking off imitations, none had the “sea legs” of MAD, thanks to Kurtzman, Orlando and Feldstein. Removed from the binding strictures of the CCA, MAD carried the company through its troubled period, and the magazine has endured for decades.

So that's my top ten publishing powerhouse from the past (in no particular order): Charlton Comics, Crossgen Comics, Dell Comics, Eclipse/First/Pacific Comics [tie], Fiction House, Gold Key Comics, Harvey Comics, Kitchen Sink Press, Warren Publishing and EC Comics. They helped generations of kids while away pleasant hours, hopped up on imagination, and fueled by the talents of some of the industry's greatest creative minds. But before we throw in the towel; I'm calling an audible, and leveraging in one last pick as an impromptu  "honorable mention" nominee. Come back next week for the bronze age reveal, right here in the Catacombs!

Monday, August 29, 2011

FemShep Follow-Up!!

Bioware has announced that their "Choose the Official" Female Commander Shepard contest has ended, or rather their SECOND contest has ended, with the redheaded "gal" (pictured; right) getting the most fan votes. This version will be included in a major marketing campaign, on the Mass Effect 3 packaging itself (due March 2012) and she will also receive her very own ME3 game trailer to debut shortly.

I posted a link to the Facebook page a month ago, and at that time the blond female Shepard emerged as the winner by a landslide, but a very vocal minority bitched, griped, moaned, complained, groused, whined and otherwise vented incessantly, until the wussy folks at Bioware decided to screw all the original voters and simply have the public vote yet again; the second time to determine what "HAIR COLOR" was the preferred choice. Like, the blond version that had easily won the majority of votes the first time didn't actually decide this for them - DUH? Oh well, the deed is done and here is your glimpse at the winner(s).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Alpha Flight Continues ....

At Saturday's "Pint O' C.B." panel at the Fan Expo Canada Convention in Toronto, Marvel announced some really good news for writers Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak and artist Dale Eaglesham AND fans. The current eight issue Alpha Flight mini-series just got upgraded to an ongoing monthly title.

With only three published issues (plus a Point 1, which I skipped) I've enjoyed this book quite a bit. It's been terrific having the entire original team lineup restored from the classic Alpha Flight #1 (Aug.1983), regardless of how many storytelling hoops had to be implemented to accomplish this. The Alphans have also been reintroduced in their classic costumes, with a very minor (& superior) tweak for Marrina only.
This publishing change is an acknowledgement of the talent and quality of work that Van Lente, Pak & Eaglesham have brought to the new series, and thankfully fans have responded in kind. Orders were sufficient for Marvel to make this call before the mini had even run its course. The creative team is sticking around too, so we can expect more thrills with the Canadian superheroes for some time to come. If you haven't given Alpha Flight [2011] a chance, please consider trying it out. Thus far it's easily accomplished two otherwise seemingly divergent tasks. It has been one of the best contemporary superhero titles that Marvel has been issuing (a standout feat amidst three dozen event books) and it has the innate mechanics of a classic Marvel series; proving that both tasks can be done with the right creators involved. Highly recommended!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lee Granger, Jungle King in "The Plot Against Thora Brandon" (Fawcett;1940)

Today's golden age comics story is primarily offered as a test (see below), so I'm hoping for a little feedback on this post from friendly folks who read it. Feel free to speak up! Lee Granger (aka Jungle King) was a Tarzan-clone with a twist, instead of being cut from the "noble savage" model, Jungle King was a scientist who used his genius to make the jungle a better place. Among his notable accomplishments, besides protecting the jungle from all manner of dastardly villains, was to convert a native Pygmy village into a modern town, and he taught a lion named "Eric" to speak English. Not too shabby for a short run character!

He appeared in two titles published by Fawcett Comics, Slam-Bang Comics #1-7 and Master Comics #7-10. "The Plot Against Thora Brandon" is from Slam-Bang #7 (Sept.1940), written by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by Jack Binder. The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. I have all of the published Jungle King stories available, but they were all scanned from microfiche files and the quality of these scans varies wildly. Many are of such poor visual quality that I've refrained from posting them and I haven't run out of better quality stuff anyway, and won't for some years, thanks to "Zu-Gogo"; so here's the deal. Take a look at this story and if it doesn't bother you seeing slightly blurry material (most appear worse than this story), I will try and work more of these obscure golden age jungle characters into the Catacombs lineup from time to time. The ball is in your court, so let me know your opinions and thanks in advance for visiting. Enjoy!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Gal" Friday! Violante Placido

Italian actress and singer, Violante Placido appeared alongside George Clooney in the 2010 drama-thriller The American and she has been cast as “Nadya” in next years Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a sequel to the 2007 film Ghost Rider based on the Marvel Comics character. She released her first album in 2006, most of which was recorded in English, and all of the tracks were written by herself.

If you haven’t seen The American, I highly recommend that you do so. The film is an excellent thriller about a gunsmith (Clooney) who becomes involved with a prostitute while he’s building a custom-designed sniper rifle for an assassination, and being stalked by unknown assassins. Placido generously shows lots of nudity in the movie, and to describe her as merely “beautiful” would be a serious understatement. I was unaware of her before viewing this flick, but I’m gonna keep my eyes peeled for her henceforth. Pun intended! For now, I’m adding her to the Catacombs as this weeks official “gal” Friday selection.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

At the Movies: Conan the Barbarian

I just read an interesting article written by one of the screenwriters of "Conan the Barbarian" starring Jason Momoa. The newly released film hasn't been well received overall and the script doctor falls on the pungee stick in a minor mea culpa over the flicks reception.

I liked the new Conan movie well enough, and felt that Jason Momoa looked exactly like the silver & bronze age realization of the fictional Cimmerian of Robert E. Howard's original pulp stories that many Frank Frazetta paperback book covers and Marvel Comics introduced us to in the 60's and 70's, but that is exactly what was wrong with the guys currently tanking movie. The filmmakers opted for appearance over substance.

Before I get down to brass tacks, let me emphasize that the "look" of the film is phenomenal. I totally bought the Hyborean Age depicted in director Marcus Nispel's film, the CGI work is terrific and at least in this respect, this version is better than Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 1982. One terrific aspect of this flick is that Conan roams throughout his world through lots of ruins, and this helped create the impression that even ages ago entire kingdoms had come and gone by the time the wandering barbarian was beginning to conquer his world. Nice touch!

The performance of Jason Momoa was okay with me, certainly sufficient enough for me to want a second chance at Conan (which I will address in a moment). Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym, brought the expected level of intensity to his central role of the movies villain, but Rose McGowan simply didn't match him as Zym's sorceress daughter. Again, she "looked" fine and she tried to seem menacing, but primarily came across as peculiar or quirky, and nothing more. Ultimately it was weak performances that tail gunned this version, with Lang being the standout exception. While I liked Momoa well enough, Rachel Nichols (while really cute & hot) was far too lightweight in her lead action role, Nonso Anozie was a joke as Artus (Conan's black pirate friend); the fictional Cimmerian wouldn't have suffered that doofus for very long before removing his head. Ron Perlman was more "touchy-feely" than iron hard barbaric chieftain (and father of Conan), in fact the entire village of Cimmerians seemed like pushovers to me.
So to the scriptwriter who laments that his written characterizations got remaindered on the cutting room floor, I say, “Listen, stupid! Adapt any one of Howard’s original stories to film and quit dicking around.” Roy Thomas understood this when he spearheaded Conan for Marvel many years ago to great effect. Don’t reinvent the wheel here; it isn’t broken. Pulp fiction is full of simple character moments, but its best when wrapped around high-adventure thrills and bloodcurdling excitement. If Conan the Barbarian somehow manages to merit a Green Lantern-style studio reprieve and gets greenlighted for a sequel, bring the new look of the Hyborean age and Jason Momoa to a more skilled director and competent screenplay doctor. This isn't supposed to be Academy Award filmmaking, just satisfying summer popcorn fare. Leave the metro-sexual melodrama in the editing room instead!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Top 10 Defunct Comic Book Publishers: Crossgen Comics

CrossGen Comics was founded by Florida-based entrepreneur Mark Alessi, who sought to create a comic book universe that was uniquely varied but also connected by a common theme. The company debuted in 2000 with CrossGenesis, a sneak-peak of the universe, worlds and characters of CrossGen’s flagship titles that were released six months later. Their publications covered a variety of genres with characters inhabiting a single shared universe known as the Sigilverse. Before any comics were written, Mark Alessi and Gina M. Villa (head of creative departments), wrote a history of the Sigilverse along with a team of writers composed of Barbara Kesel, Mark Waid and Ron Marz.
The protagonists of this first wave of CrossGen comics (Sigil a military science fiction space opera; Mystic a magical fantasy fiction; Scion a King Arthur-type adventure series; and the folklore-esque Meridian) were linked in commonality by the “sigil” that each character had received. It was a branding on their body, a marking that granted them unusual powers. The Sigil and the story of the Sigil-Bearers was a prominent aspect of the ongoing Sigilverse narrative.

Over the next three years, CrossGen released other titles: Crux, Sojourn, Ruse, and a key title Negation were released in 2001. The following year Route 666, Way of the Rat, and The Path were introduced. By 2003, numerous titles meant to expand the Sigilverse in a build-up to a crossover event called Negation War, were published that would address the growing issue of who created the Sigil-bearers. Although most CrossGen titles shared common elements, such as a Sigil, the presence of a Mentor and a member of the god-like First, their titles rarely crossed over with each other. The one planned company-event Negation War; was never concluded.

That year CrossGen Entertainment formed 11 wholly owned subsidiary companies, which represented its broad-based entertainment products and offerings. These companies were intended to act independently of CGE, functioning as interior business units while all working towards overall company goals. They published creator-owned material and became a frontrunner of Internet comic book subscriptions during this phase, but serious financial troubles quickly came to light. A scandal over free-lance creator payments exposed systemic cash flow problems, sales were affected, and creative staff began abandoning the company (including co-founder Gina Villa, artist Brandon Peterson, and writer Ron Marz). Their infrastructure collapsed after bookstore chains Borders and Barnes & Noble discontinued stocking CrossGen's collections and returned huge numbers of unsold books for credit/refund, more than wiping out their optimistically low reserves against such returns. CrossGen which had only operated from 1998 to 2004, filed for bankruptcy and ceased publishing, leaving titles such as Sojourn, Negation War, Brath and many others cancelled mid-story.
In addition to Kesel, Waid, Marz, and Peterson, creators who plied their trade under the CGE banner included Josh Middleton, Steve McNiven, Paul Pelletier, Tony Bedard, Aaron Lopresti, Jimmy Cheung, Luke Ross, Ben & Ray Lai, Scot Eaton, Dale Eaglesham, Mike Ploog, Butch Guice, Steve Epting and Greg Land.

A Visit to Geppi's Entertainment Museum (Part I)!!

While in Maryland for the past weekends Baltimore Comic-Con me and the boys took in one of the true "do not miss" attractions that was fortunately within walking distance of the hotel & convention center where we stayed.

Geppi's Entertainment Museum is located in downtown Baltimore's historic Camden Station, directly above Sports Legends at Camden Yards and adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards (part of the Camden Yards Sports Complex). The 16,000-square-foot privately owned pop culture museum chronicles the history of pop culture in America from the 17th century to today by showcasing newspapers, magazines, comic books, movies, television, radio and video games. It features a large and varied collection of memorabilia, including comic books, movie posters, toys, buttons, badges, cereal boxes, trading cards, dolls, figurines and many other items. The museum is owned by Steve Geppi, President and CEO of Diamond Comics Distributors and the majority of the exhibits come from Geppi's private collection. There was a special feature exhibit focusing on the 1975 Atlas Comics company founded by Martin Goodman after he sold Marvel Comics. The company didn't last long, and while some of their books were a tad goofy, Atlas books are certainly worthy of some attention, but hurry if you want to see that exhibit as I believe that it is winding down. Enjoy the sampling of photos that chronicles our trip to this really fun museum!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Baltimore Con Swag!!

Just in case you're curious, I'm quite happy with the swag that I purchased in Maryland during the Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend. This year I split my budget between original art and a thirty-two issue run of the bronze age series, Conan the Barbarian. I know that you're thinking the new Conan film prompted me to pick those up, but it's just serendipity that I did so at the Baltimore show. I had been meaning to get those for some time. I originally bought Conan comics way back when, but had more black & white Savage Sword of Conan issues than the mainstream monthly color series.

I have to thank art dealer Jim Warden for my purchases of three nifty pages of original John Byrne art from his Marvel: The Lost Generation limited series and the acquisition of a huge (14 x 21) original sketch of the mutant villain, The Toad, by Mike Zeck and Joe Sinnott. Jim also brought me two great sketchbooks by Byrne & Zeck. I bought a terrific pin-up book from Joe Linsner, plus a Seven Deadly Sins portfolio (featuring Dawn) also by Linsner. I got additional sketchbooks from Frank Cho, Stan Sakai and José Luis García-López, too.
I picked up an Alan Moore written mini-series from Avatar Press called "Neonomicon", that is a bit freaky-deaky. I also bought the massive "Lost Girls" hardback by Moore and Melinda Gebbie, that casts storybook characters Dorothy (Oz), Alice (Wonderland) and Wendy (Peter Pan) in a very mature context.  Adding to the adult vibe that I succumbed to in Baltimore, I was able to walk out with a DVD of "Batman XXX", which I'm told is a real "hoot", and the same new found friend set me up with DVD copy of the failed Wonder Woman TV pilot from earlier in the year. I've already watched that, and in my humble opinion,  the network in question (ABC) made a mistake in not picking up the new series option. Adrianne Palicki was wonderful as Wonder Woman, and surprisingly I liked what they had intended to do, if the show had gone to series. Bummer!
There may have been a few more odds and ends that I've forgotten, my brain is still a bit mushy from the late night drive, and that's all that I can recall for the moment. So, eat your hearts out!

Wild Boy and The Tyrant of the Jungle (Ziff-Davis;1951)

"Wild Boy and the Tyrant of the Jungle" is the lead story from Wild Boy #4 (Oct.1951); originally published by Ziff-Davis, and featuring the artwork of Silver & Bronze Age mainstays, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. The "tyrant" of the title is a former German Foreign Legionnaire who has formed a kingdom of fear and slavery in the jungle. It's up to Wild Boy and his friends Keeto & Timba, to put a stop to his reign of terror.

The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork belong to the original publisher and/or the creators and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The Baltimore Comic-Con 2011 Photo Report!!

Baltimore Comic-Con 2011 was tons of fun! I attended the show this year for the first time, along with my brother David, and our friend, Burt.  A full report will follow later this week, along with some more photos of our visit to the Geppi Entertainment Museum. For now, enjoy some quick glimpses at the crowds, a few guests, and assorted other stuff (including yours truly).

In descending order: Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson, Keith Giffen, Tim Truman, art dealer Jim Warden (pictured with me), José Luis García-López (also with me) and another shot of Jim Warden (and, you know, ME). I assume that you are all smarter than the average bear, so the assorted crowd shots are self-explanatory.