Wednesday, December 26, 2007

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Hank Ketcham

The National Cartoonist Society is not a guild or union, although they have joined forces from time to time to fight for member's rights, and regularly use their artistic talents to help worthwhile causes. Membership is limited to established professional cartoonists, with a few small exceptions of outstanding persons in affiliated fields. The primary purposes of the NCS are to advance the ideals and standards of professional cartooning in its many forms. To promote and foster a social, cultural and intellectual interchange among professional cartoonists of all types. And to stimulate and encourage interest in and acceptance of the art of cartooning by aspiring cartoonists, students and the general public. Here is another short biography of past NCS member, Hank Ketcham, that sadly passed away in June 2001, thought his world famous strip, based on his first son, still survives today, the wonderful Dennis the Menace.

Born - schooled in Seattle. Introduced to exciting world of Andy Panda and Pinocchio at Walt Disney. Served full hitch in Washington, DC Navy During World War II - editing, drawing and writing. Became a "Wednesday regular" New York City freelancer. Moved west to Carmel where the Menace was created. Awarded the silver Billy de Beck trophy in 1953. Toured USSR in '59, searching for cartoon exchange program, but soon discovered Switzerland and remained a Geneva resident for eighteen glorious years, returning to the beach of pebbles with Rolande and two ragamuffins in 1977, where we've been living happily ever since. Now it's on to the wondrous world of Matisse and Picasso...!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Gil Kane

The National Cartoonist Society was created in 1946 when groups of professional cartoonists got together to entertain our troops. They soon found out that they enjoyed each other's company so much they decided to get together on a regular basis. Today, the NCS is the world's largest professional cartoon related group with over five hundred of the world's major cartoonists, working in all branches of the profession, including newspaper comic strips and panels, comic books, editorial cartoons, animation, gag cartoons, greeting cards, advertising, and magazine and book illustration, just to name a few. Past and present members have contributed to their NCS profiles of there many artistic achievements, and I thought I would start out with a Marvel and DC fan favorite, the late great Gil Kane who passed away in 2000. Winner of the Silver Plaque Award in 1977 for best story strip, Star Hawks, here is Gil's review in his own words.

Born in Riga, Latvia, on April 6,1925...Came to U.S.A. at age three. My creative attitudes shaped in part by the romantic fantasies prevalent in films...comics...pulp literature...big band jazz...etc. Started as a pro at sixteen...Service in the Pacific during World War II. For a while I worked with director Garason Kanin when he was involved in T.V...I created drawings which staged the action and composition for every foot of film. Published a magazine and developed and published an experimental paperback series with a character named Blackmark for Bantam books. At one point or another I've drawn virtually every major adventure strip character from Batman to Flash Gordon.

Have a wife Elaine, and three great kids, Scott, Beverly, Eric. We live in hilltop house in Wilton, Conn. Recently won NCS award for my work in comic books. My interests range...Theater, Ballet, Psychology, Literature, and I've just gotten into serious music. Ran NCS shoptalks, and am on Professional committee.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Neal Adams' Continuity Comics

Back in late 1984 Neal Adams created his independent comic publishing company, Continuity Comics, which only lasted until 1993 when the books were canceled during his infamous Rise of Magic cross-over series. His line dealt mainly with serious super-hero titles like, Armor, Crazyman, Megalith, ToyBoy, The Revengers, Cyberad, Hybrids, Shaman, Earth 4, and other characters that were all developed by Adams, not to mention his space exploring rabbit, Bucky O’Hare. But a hand full of these titles did achieve some small success, enough so, that three of his creations, Samuree, Knighthawk, and Valeria the She-Bat ended up being published by Acclaim’s Windjammer line. A few years earlier, Adams had developed Ms. Mystic for Pacific Comics, which was an attractive strip he drew, but none of his characters in their later Continuity incarnations lasted over twelve issues or so. The first problem was Adams’ publishing schedule on the titles were always dreadfully late, on average one to twenty-four weeks, and I believe a book or two went even a year without an issue! That alone would kill any comic company’s orders by the combined frustration of retailers and collectors going crazy just to get their issues. Second, there was almost no plot based stories, wooden dialogue, and very shaky character development, which added up to some pretty mediocre comics overall. Third, Adams as well as the other publishers like Marvel and DC at the time were caught up in the new comic speculators buying habits for those wild “variant covers” that bombarded the comic stands. Tyvex and die-cut covers were all the rage, as well as glow-in-the-dark, optic illusion, hologram, multiple image covers, pull-out posters, thermal images appearing from the heat of your hand, chrome or gold plated covers, sticker clues to complete pages inside, and of course bagged comics with trading cards, were just a few of the many gimmicks that were being promoted.

But for all the negative talk I’ve heard about these comics and their creator, one small factor remained in my mind and is the only redeeming factor for my money - the great artwork. Now, I always enjoyed Adams’ unique style (thought it seemed to be based much on Stan Drake to me) and fondly remember as a child drooling over Adams’ Batman covers in those plastic 3-packs DC produced in the early seventies. But I was surprised to see how a style that appears complex can be reproduced by so many people. Maybe his style is not so unique after all if any number of artists can create his look, and is that even a good thing to do in the first place?

I recently picked up an almost complete set of Continuity Comics and was shocked by the number of artists and inkers who could "ape" Adams' look, perhaps maybe as well as their mentor in Continuity’s "house style". Some artists are better at it than others, but I like Dan Barry, Vicente Alcazar, Mike Deodato Jr., Trevor Von Eedon, Ernesto Infante, Clark Hawbaker, Mark Texiera, Dave Hoover, Richard Bennett, Terry Shoemaker, Malcolm Davis, AndrĂ© Coates, Tom Grindberg, Bart Sears, Esteban Maroto, Michael Netzer, and Sal Velluto. That’s just seventeen guys, and I stopped counting , who have a good “feel” for Adams’ style, and some of these artists I’ve never even heard of. And there is even more wonderful artists that I have not listed. How did that happen? If you can draw like Neal Adams shouldn't you be able to work for Marvel, DC, or any other company today? But how could you not look like Neal’s work if you have a swipe file from all his prior works, to well, SWIPE from, which makes it look correct since they’re his poses. And to top if off, Adams did lay-outs and inked many, if not all, the faces and touched up most pages to give them his seal of approval. Other artists that I enjoyed, but worked rather in “Adams” spirit than a literal line rendering were Brian Apthorpe, Mark Beachum, Aron Weisenfeld, Walter McDaniels, Kevin Nowlan, and Michael Golden. A shorter list by far, however that may be a good thing, to illustrate a little different and stand out in this comic company.?

Perhaps is was the crisp work of the inkers who helped save the day, making all these pages work, like the talented Rudy Nebres, Ian Akin, Brian Garvey, Alberto Saichan, André Klasik, Del Barras, Art Nichols, Bill Sienkiewicz, Romeo Tanghal, and John Nyberg. Some wonderful artists themselves in their own right, combined with quite a pool of talent from all the creators mentioned above. At least the production values on the books were always very good, being printed in Canada on high quality paper stock. And over all these tales, Adams constructed the plots and left the writing chores up to the much overworked, Peter Stone.

Now, as mentioned, the stories were pretty thin all around and in the cross-over series Deathwatch 2000 they got down right “preachy” with Adams’ villains using attacks based on global warming from chlorofloro-carbons to destroy the ozone layer, or used overpopulation, pollution, radiation sickness, and manipulated mankind’s other self-inflicted destruction. Whatever that might be? Zany situations were really going on when you combined weird stellar characters, mix in some BEM aliens, a dash of robots and a pinch of hardware, and finally a huge gun toting talking dragon! But even with all that insanity, for some crazy reason I still found these books enjoyable. Looking to the letter pages and a couple web sites, maybe I wasn’t the only one that liked these titles. Armor appeared always to be hands-down the most popular of the heroes, but was still unable to “jump ship” to Windjammer. Perhaps some day these character will be resurrected so we can see how Neal Adams’ vision for Continuity Comics would have finally ended.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Art of Esteban Maroto

The most popular Spanish artist to hit American in the early seventies was the talented, Esteban Maroto. Born in Madrid in 1942, he began his comic art career serving as an apprentice to Manuel Lopez Blanco in the early sixties. The young artist's first efforts focused mainly on the various romance comics of the time. But before long, Maroto advanced into the adventure, fantasy, and science fiction realms working with his close friends, Carlos Gimenez and Garcia Pizarro, on the Buck John and Merlo the Magician features. Though once Maroto joined the influential Barcelona art agency, Selecciones Illustrada, his tremendous skill as a draftsman and illustrator really began to flourish. Three well drawn strips, Alex, The Beat Group, and Amargo, quickly caught on with the fans due mainly to its collection of beautiful women characters. Maroto's reputation for drawing the female figure quickly made him the most sought after romance artist, especially in England. But his real breakthrough was with the strip Five for Infinity which helped clarify his unique ultra-detailed style. Always lush and decorative, his pages had a hard linear look, similar to his earlier works, but now with an appealing large scale composition. While working at the art agency, Esteban also contributed to the German feature, Roy Tiger, and created his two best known fantasy adventures, Manly, and Tomb of the Gods.

In 1971, an exciting event occurred when Buru Lan created the New English Library and published its first Dracula magazine in brilliant color. Though the oversized periodical was short on pages, it was long on new talent, with the works by Maroto, Sio, Enrich, Bea, Solsona, and other dedicated horror/fantasy artists. Maroto created an exciting sword-and-sorcery feature Wolff for this magazine’s all too brief, twelve issue run. This new horror periodical, published in both Spain and Britain, quickly made a big impact on the general public, as well as one American publisher, Jim Warren. Soon Maroto and his other talented Selecciones Illustrada peers were being showcased in the extremely popular black-and-white Warren magazines, Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella. It is thought by many that this was Maroto's "peak period" of his long and distinguished career, producing some of his finest works. Finding inspiration from his earlier barbarian tales, Esteban added more fresh experimental approaches to his drawings. His first story for Warren was the beautifully rendered Wolf Hunt, which appeared in Vampirella #14. The artist’s moody detailed pages with their beautiful women and highly textured backgrounds were an immediate hit with the American magazine's male fan base.

One of Maroto’s special artistic abilities was to draw each page as a whole composition, ignoring panel limitations in favor of combining images into one complete baroque composition. Esteban used all the greatest elements of both his earlier Manly and Wolff strips as a model for Warren's new fantasy creation Dax the Warrior, which debuted in Eerie #39. The artist knew by now what his fan base wanted, and never failed to provide them with a strong dose of sex appeal and barbarian fantasy in his elegant immaculately drawn style. Dax the Warrior had only twelve stories, that averaged a mere eight pages each, but they were always packed with lovely distressed women, horrible seething monsters, an evil wizard or witch, all cleverly reworked as mythological tales, with our fearless lithe hero, Dax.

Some stories were criticized proclaiming Maroto could not write a good fantasy tale. However, I never had a problem with his writing, because the real appeal for these few artistic gems was the combination of sword, sorcery, and sex appeal. Maroto drew almost one-hundred stories over his twelve year affiliation with Warren, but by the end, the artist's early zest for experimentation had waned somewhat, which is seen in his linework losing some of its finesse for a more hurried scratched look. But the Dax stories were always considered to be his favorite work and a collection of ten stories were later reprinted with new dialogue by Bud Lewis for Eerie #56. They proved to be some interesting contrasts from the original scripts, but enjoyable all the same.

The artist also worked for Marvel Comics illustrating their black-and-white books on characters such as Conan, designing Red Sonja's chain-mail costume, and revamping Dracula's daughter, Satana, while completing other various horror and fantasy tales. Over the years, while concentrating on his illustration work he did numerous portfolios, paperback covers, and spot illustrations for Spanish and American science fiction magazines that were later collected in a series of books. In the early nineties, Maroto returned to comics working with DC on Zatana, Aquaman, Amethyst, and The Atlantis Chronicles, before contracting with Topps , other Italian publishers, and and his latest Red Sonja covers for Dynamite Comics.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

More Seventies Comic Art Prices

Looking over my stack of old Comic Buyers Guide issues from the seventies again, I ran across an ad from a dealer by the name of Cartoon Carnival, purveyors of fine comic art, out of Glenolden, Pennsylvania. It had a a blurb where The Man of Steel looks directly at you and says that we all need to hurry and invest in original art--now! Even though thousands of comic books are published monthly, there is only ONE piece of original art created per page. We firmly believe that the art will appreciate in value even more rapidly than the comics! -- I'm sold, anyone have a time machine? The DC and Marvel pages offered looked very cheep to me, but they had this gimmick that if you bought three pages the prices went down even lower. How would you like the cover featured here to Our Love Story #19 by Gene "The Dean" Colan, for the grand sum of $18. Somebody call 911, because I think I've just just lost my pulse! When is the last time you bought a cover for under twenty dollars. What about two beautiful Filipino covers by Ernie Chan of that axe swinging Robert E. Howard hero, Kull The Conqueror #24 with Acala inks or issue #27 with Nebres inks for just $50 each. Need more Colan. WAAAUGH! Howard the Duck was all the rage and Colan strips of the famous fowl went for a whopping $25 each, while a Sunday rang up at $65. But you could have the cover to Tomb of Dracula #64 for a mere forty bucks! Go figure that out? And these weren't even the bargains - that list was enclosed with ever order, prices too low for them to print.

How about some "good" panel pages that were listed above the picture of the Mighty Thor swinging Mjolnir telling us to be sure to include $2 for postage and insurance. Let's start out with a few Dick Dillin pages from Justice League of America, from issue #102-107, lots to choose from, take your pick at $16 a page or (The Deal) three for $40 -- nice but I might spring for some Rich Buckler Deathlock pages (a favorite of mine) from Astonishing Tales #26 for the same price, or maybe more great Colan Dr. Strange artwork from issues #11 or #15 or Dracula pages from issues #38 or #43 for sixteen bucks a page. And to think that Gene's Howard the Duck originals went for the super low price (their words not mine) of $25 to $45 a piece -- makes my hands shake when compared to what else was in the advertisement. How about breakin' your piggy bank open to pay thirty America dollars for "Jazzy" John Romita Daredevil #14 twice-up originals, or just get three for $75 and save yourself fifteen dollars! Rudy Nebres' Marvel black-and-white magazine Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu went for the same price, since everybody was kung-fu fighting, those cats were fast as lightning, these prices were a little bit frightening, but I wish we still had them today. Lots of splashes went for that magic $30 price range and material by Mike Grell from Green Lantern #95 sold for the same price. Nuff said.

Good thing Spider-Man was holding those Visa and Master Charge logos or I wouldn't never been able to afford this stuff. But I know what your thinking, it's still too high, so where is the really cheep stuff? Well, they had other pages for $13 each or three for $30, like George Perez Avengers pages from #155, or try John Buscema Thor #248 art, and Keith Giffin Defenders #46 examples. For the collector on a tight budget you settle for the ten dollar pages, or three for $27, like Bob Brown pieces from Detective Comics #415, 423, or 434, or Curt Swan Superman #258 pages, before I found the least expensive bottom feeder material. If only I could get some Irv Novick Batman pages today from issue #250, 261, 263, or Flash #227 for EIGHT bucks. Great buys the ad stated, but sorry, no deal if you buy three pages on these. I don't think I would have been complaining.