Wednesday, September 19, 2018

They weren't called 'Atlas' because they held up well.

I've been reading a lot of 1950s Atlas Comics from the war/spy genres recently and have begun to notice some peculiar recurring ideas. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me that much to find similar ideas repeated again and again in the comics, but these four tropes were a bit surprising.

Trope the first: Women Must Die!

This one came specifically from reading a bunch of issues of Kent Blake of the Secret Service back-to-back. Kent Blake's stories were usually set in Washington DC but would send him all over the world to ferret out communist spies. Sometimes the stories were established as a mystery to make the reader guess which suspect might be a commie. Frequently, the spies would die in the climax.

What's amazing about the Kent Blake series is how often the spies turn out to be woman and that the series almost always kills them. If the spy is a man, he might die or he might be captured. If the spy is a woman, statistically she is almost certain to die (so far I've read only one story where the woman spy is taken alive). It's not that the character of Kent has a thirst for women's blood - they tend to fall off roofs or be murdered by their male associates. There was something which convinced the Kent Blake creators that women were soft on communism and therefore deserving of death.

But even the women on Kent's side tend to be picked off, be they Iranian women or Korean women, simply associating with Kent is a good way for women to enter an early grave. In one story, Kent has a girlfriend named Gale who invites him her to home for a vacation (which naturally leads to a "find the commie" plot that ends with a woman spy dying). Gale wants to marry Kent; that's enough to make Kent want to get as far away from her as he can. Totaled up, Kent Blake has a pretty strong misogynistic streak within it. It makes you wonder if Mickey Spillane were still writing for Marvel in those days.

Trope the second: Peace Is Hell!

Now and then a character in a war comic might wistfully wonder, "can't we give peace a chance?" The plot will almost always demand, no, you cannot. There are some stories set during the Korean War where communist soldiers realize "the American way" is superior and will defect to the other side (usually executing a few of their fellow commies to prove themselves), but usually when a soldier in one of these stories thinks something outrageous like "communists are people too," the story will go out of its way to prove him wrong, wrong, wrong by having the communists commit terrible atrocities, disobey the rules of war and prey upon the soldier's weak-minded egalitarianism. By the climax, the peace-minded soldier will have learned his lesson (the only good red is a dead red) and will probably die in a suicidal strike against the communists.

Trope the third: We Have Met the Enemy!

It would be wrong to think the Atlas Comics glorified war. I mean, they did, but some of the time - particularly pre-Code - they told a number of "war is hell" stories where good men die senseless deaths, sometimes killed by munitions dropped by their own side. Still, you almost never saw a story where the United States Army were the bad guys...

...Unless you count stories set during the US Civil War. The one time where it is acceptable to depict the United States as an unjust aggressor battling a noble people? That would be the time they had to fight their own rebellious citizens, y'know, the ones who believed in racial superiority and the principle of owning other men as property; that never comes up in the Atlas stories, as you can well imagine. Virtually every Civil War story is some variant on "Lost Cause" hogwash and ends up taking the centrist position of, "gosh, there were very good people on both sides." There's something very unsettling about the one scenario where the US Army are allowed to be the bad guys is when they were battling a tyrannical slave state.

Trope the fourth: Yellow Fever!

Atlas Comics had a whole cottage industry of war comic book features starring a pair of vitriolic best friends, two manly men who would always be bustin' each other's balls while going on consequence-free adventures in the middle of a war zone. That is, they were basically rip-offs of the characters Flagg & Quirt from the film What Price Glory? and were often written by Hank Chapman.

Within those stories there were a number of notable female villains - Asian women often dressed in military garb (but just as often showing off their cleavage) whom our heroes would spar with time and again, never killing them despite their deadly possibilities. They were essentially ersatz Dragon Lady copies. Some of these ladies appeared so frequently they would fight the heroes in more than one story per issue!

Combat Kelly and Cookie Novak had Yalu River Rosie, the Panther Lady, Muktong Molly and Korea Katie; Battle Brady and Socko Swenski had General Olga; Iron Mike McGraw and Gunny Gorski had Chee; Battleship Burke and Salty Smith had Hungnam Hannah (I commented about her before). That's everyone I've found so far. Obviously there was a bit of the ol' fashioned western interest in Orientalism, particularly on the exoticism side. It also seemed to provide a means to belittle the USA's communist adversaries: "Hey, dem commie dames jus' wanna tough 'Murican guy tah put 'em in der place."

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Great Marvel Hoax

Currently I'm reading the book Bunk: The True Story of Hoaxes, Hucksters, Humbug, Plagiarists, Forgeries, and Phonies by Kevin Young and it is quite a fascinating read as the author attempts to connect the various kinds of frauds people perpetuate. I thought of this book when I recently bought an issue of Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes magazine featuring Apeslayer.
You know, Apeslayer! That great Marvel science fiction hero Apeslayer! Surely every Planet of the Apes fan remembers Apeslayer?

Marvel's weekly comics in the UK always had a conundrum - how to fill their pages every week when the US comics they were publishing only came out once a month? You might be able to divide a monthly comic into four issues (filling up the rest of the book with text features or installments of other Marvel characters with a similar audience), but it would take just one month with five shipping weeks to throw you off your schedule. Therefore, the closer the UK's first issue release date was to that of the original US first issue, the quicker they'd exhaust their supply.

In the late 1970s when Marvel UK faced this issue on Star Wars they simply published original material. The audience for Star Wars was so vast - and so instrumental in Marvel staving off the market implosion of the late 70s - that they could justify the expense. But two years earlier in 1975 when Planet of the Apes ran low on US material there was just one thing to do: hoax their way out.
The editors of Planet of the Apes took Marvel's hero Killraven and edited his name into 'Apeslayer' then darkened his hair and modified all Martians/Martian slavers into apes. Frankly, they spent so much time touching up the art and text they might almost just as well have printed new stories! But at least it meant they didn't have to plot any new stories.
"...The War of the Worlds-- I mean, Apes!"
This hoax was a pretty flimsy one and I have to assume a number of UK readers didn't fall for it. I mean, the kind of Martian technology seen in Killraven was a lot more advanced than what the Planet of the Apes apes were utilizing. Also, if they were an astute Marvel Comics fan, they'd already read those Killraven stories on first publication and would have put two and two together pretty fast.

Apeslayer! When your comic must be delivered in 30 minutes or less!




Sunday, September 9, 2018

Creator credits for Iron Fist (Season 2)

Hey, that was an improvement... is the very least you can say.

Roy Thomas: creator of the title "The Fury of Iron Fist" (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974); of the title "Heart of the Dragon" (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974); co-creator of Turk Barrett, a gangster (Daredevil #69, 1970); of Luke Cage, a Harlem-based hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972); of Iron Fist, alias Daniel Rand, orphaned at the age of ten and raised in the city of K'un-Lun, where he trained in the martial arts to become their greatest warrior, passing every test and trial before him until gaining the power to channel his chi into his fist, making it superhumanly powerful; Iron Fist called a "living weapon"; Wendell Rand and Heather Rand, Daniel's parents who perished nearby K'un-Lun; Harold Meachum, Wendell's business partner who betrayed him and had Wendell and Heather killed; K'un-Lun, a hidden city found in the Himalayas which exists within another dimension and only connects to Earth at intervals spaced years apart; of the Iron Fist costume with open chest, green garments with yellow mask; of Yu-Ti, the ruler of K'un-Lun who oversaw Danny Rand's trials (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974); of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist; Lei Kung the Thunderer, Daniel's K'un-Lun mentor in the martial arts; of the Thunderer's insignia (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974)

Chris Claremont: creator of the title "A Duel of Iron" (Iron Fist #1, 1975); of the title "The City's Not for Burning" (Iron Fist #3, 1976); of the title "The Dragon Dies at Dawn" (Iron Fist #9, 1976); of the title "Target: Iron Fist" (Iron Fist #13, 1977); of the title "Morning of the Mindstorm" (Marvel Premiere #25, 1975); co-creator of Colleen Wing and Misty Knight as allies (Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32, 1977); of Davos, a resident of K'un-Lun; of the Steel Serpent brand; of Misty Knight's background as a police officer (Iron Fist #1, 1975); of Daniel Rand being disliked in K'un-Lun as an outsider; of Daniel's K'un-Lun surname 'Rand-K'ai' (Iron Fist #2, 1975); of Davos working with Joy Meachum; of Misty Knight's bionic right arm (Iron Fist #3, 1976); of Colleen Wing following the path of bushido and wielding a katana (Iron Fist #7, 1976); of the Golden Tigers, a Chinese-American street gang which engages in gang wars and battle both Iron Fist and Davos; of Chen Wu, one of the Golden Tigers (Iron Fist #8, 1976); of Davos siphoning the Iron Fist from Danny Rand into himself (Iron Fist #14, 1977); of Davos as Lei Kung's son; of Davos nearly killing Iron Fist by draining his chi (Marvel Team-Up #63, 1977); of Davos training alongside Daniel Rand to become the Iron Fist; of the Iron Fist as a title which many have held over the centuries (Marvel Team-Up #64, 1977)

John Byrne: co-creator of Davos, a resident of K'un-Lun; of the Steel Serpent brand; of Misty Knight's background as a police officer (Iron Fist #1, 1975); of Daniel Rand being disliked in K'un-Lun as an outsider; of Daniel's K'un-Lun surname 'Rand-K'ai' (Iron Fist #2, 1975); of Davos working with Joy Meachum; of Misty Knight's bionic right arm (Iron Fist #3, 1976); of Colleen Wing following the path of bushido and wielding a katana (Iron Fist #7, 1976); of the Golden Tigers, a Chinese-American street gang which engages in gang wars and battle both Iron Fist and Davos; of Chen Wu, one of the Golden Tigers (Iron Fist #8, 1976); of Davos siphoning the Iron Fist from Danny Rand into himself (Iron Fist #14, 1977); of Davos as Lei Kung's son; of Davos nearly killing Iron Fist by draining his chi (Marvel Team-Up #63, 1977); of Davos training alongside Daniel Rand to become the Iron Fist; of the Iron Fist as a title which many have held over the centuries (Marvel Team-Up #64, 1977)

Gil Kane: co-creator of Iron Fist, alias Daniel Rand, orphaned at the age of ten and raised in the city of K'un-Lun, where he trained in the martial arts to become their greatest warrior, passing every test and trial before him until gaining the power to channel his chi into his fist, making it superhumanly powerful; Iron Fist called a "living weapon"; Wendell Rand and Heather Rand, Daniel's parents who perished nearby K'un-Lun; Harold Meachum, Wendell's business partner who betrayed him and had Wendell and Heather killed; K'un-Lun, a hidden city found in the Himalayas which exists within another dimension and only connects to Earth at intervals spaced years apart; of the Iron Fist costume with open chest, green garments with yellow mask; of Yu-Ti, the ruler of K'un-Lun who oversaw Danny Rand's trials (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974)

Ed Brubaker: co-creator of Iron Fist taking the place of Daredevil (Daredevil #87, 2006); of Orson Randall, Danny Rand's predecessor as Iron Fist; of the Crane Sisters, allies of Davos (Immortal Iron Fist #1, 2007); of the Iron Fist's chi being channeled through different weapons; of Orson Randall's trenchcoat and chi-firing pistols; of Wu Ao-Shi, a female Chinese Iron Fist called 'The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay (Immortal Iron Fist #2, 2007); of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon; of Wu Ao-Shi falling in love with a fisherman (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007)

Larry Hama: co-creator of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist; Lei Kung the Thunderer, Daniel's K'un-Lun mentor in the martial arts; of the Thunderer's insignia (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974); of Joy Meachum, Harold's daughter (Marvel Premiere #18, 1974); of Ward Meachum, a relative of Harold and Joy; of Colleen Wing, a Japanese woman, ally and sometimes love interest of Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #19, 1974)

Matt Fraction: co-creator of Orson Randall, Danny Rand's predecessor as Iron Fist; of the Crane Sisters, allies of Davos (Immortal Iron Fist #1, 2007); of the Iron Fist's chi being channeled through different weapons; of Orson Randall's trenchcoat and chi-firing pistols; of Wu Ao-Shi, a female Chinese Iron Fist called 'The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay (Immortal Iron Fist #2, 2007); of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon; of Wu Ao-Shi falling in love with a fisherman (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007)

Doug Moench: creator of the title "Citadel on the Edge of Vengeance" (Marvel Premiere #17, 1974); co-creator of Joy Meachum, Harold's daughter (Marvel Premiere #18, 1974); of Ward Meachum, a relative of Harold and Joy; of Colleen Wing, a Japanese woman, ally and sometimes love interest of Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #19, 1974)

Len Wein: co-creator of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist; Lei Kung the Thunderer, Daniel's K'un-Lun mentor in the martial arts; of the Thunderer's insignia (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974)

David Aja: co-creator of Orson Randall, Danny Rand's predecessor as Iron Fist; of the Crane Sisters, allies of Davos (Immortal Iron Fist #1, 2007); of the Iron Fist's chi being channeled through different weapons; of Orson Randall's trenchcoat and chi-firing pistols (Immortal Iron Fist #2, 2007)

John Romita Jr.: co-creator of Typhoid Mary, Mary Walker, a woman with multiple personalities who wields a machete; Typhoid Mary sent to monitor a super hero, her 'Mary' persona develops a crush on him (Daredevil #254, 1988)

Ann Nocenti: co-creator of Typhoid Mary, Mary Walker, a woman with multiple personalities who wields a machete; Typhoid Mary sent to monitor a super hero, her 'Mary' persona develops a crush on him (Daredevil #254, 1988)

Travel Foreman: co-creator of Wu Ao-Shi, a female Chinese Iron Fist called 'The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay (Immortal Iron Fist #2, 2007); of Wu Ao-Shi falling in love with a fisherman (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007)

Jason Henderson: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a member of the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1, 2010); of Colleen leaving the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3, 2010)

Ivan Rodriguez: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a member of the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1, 2010); of Colleen leaving the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3, 2010)

Tony Isabella: co-creator of Misty Knight, an African-American detective who encounters Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #21, 1975)

Arvell Jones: co-creator of Misty Knight, an African-American detective who encounters Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #21, 1975)

Jay Faerber: co-creator of Iron Fist battling the Hand; of the Hand seeking to control Iron Fist's power (New Warriors #7, 2000)

Jamal Igle: co-creator of Iron Fist battling the Hand; of the Hand seeking to control Iron Fist's power (New Warriors #7, 2000)

Charles Soule: co-creator of Sam Chung, a Chinese-American man (All-New All-Different Marvel Point One #1, 2015)

Ron Garney: co-creator of Sam Chung, a Chinese-American man (All-New All-Different Marvel Point One #1, 2015)

Archie Goodwin: co-creator of Luke Cage, a Harlem-based hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972)

George Tuska: co-creator of Luke Cage, a Harlem-based hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972)

John Romita: co-creator of Luke Cage, a Harlem-based hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972)

Bill Everett: co-creator of Matt Murdock, alias Daredevil, a costumed crimefighter (Daredevil #1, 1964)

Frank Miller: creator of the Hand, a clan of evil ninjas who battle Daredevil (Daredevil #174, 1981)

Stan Lee: co-creator of Matt Murdock, alias Daredevil, a costumed crimefighter (Daredevil #1, 1964)

Marshall Rogers: co-creator of Colleen Wing and Misty Knight as allies (Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32, 1977)

Travel Foreman: co-creator of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007)

Brian Michael Bendis: co-creator of Typhoid Mary wearing black leather (Daredevil #46, 2003)

Marco Checchetto: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Kurt Busiek: creator of the title "This Deadly Secret" (Power Man and Iron Fist #99, 1983)

Antony Johnston: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Michael Lark: co-creator of Iron Fist taking the place of Daredevil (Daredevil #87, 2006)

Andy Diggle: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Jo Duffy: creator of the title "War Without End" (Power Man and Iron Fist #83, 1982)

Alex Maleev: co-creator of Typhoid Mary wearing black leather (Daredevil #46, 2003)

Gene Colan: co-creator of Turk Barrett, a gangster (Daredevil #69, 1970)

Friday, August 31, 2018

RIP: Marie Severin

When it rains, it pours.

I can't say I ever followed Marie Severin's career closely, but she was a talent I took notice of primarily because she was one of the only female comic book creators of the 50s/60s who people remembered, spoke of, and was still in the business. Much of her early career was spent as a colorist and she became not only one of the few lauded female comic book creators, but one of the few lauded colorists in the business. Her work coloring for EC Comics in particular has been lauded again and again. I certainly appreciated the effort she went to recently to recolor some of her early work for the Bernie Krigstein collection Messages in a Bottle (that's Reed Crandall art above, colored by Marie Severin).

Marie Severin put in a lot of time as an artist on Marvel's Sub-Mariner and Incredible Hulk, although she seemed most pleased to tackle humour. Above is a cover she drew for Marvel's Tower of Shadows, one of the earliest places I saw her artwork.

Her brother John Severin was one of the greatest inkers comic books have ever produced. There were a few times where the siblings were privileged to team up on projects, such as the Kull comic above, penciled by Marie & inked by John. In interviews, Marie would frequently call those Kull issues her favourite experience working at Marvel because was working with her brother. She was a talented woman and by every account an extremely likeable person. Rest in peace, Ms. Severin.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

RIP: Gary Friedrich

Comic book writer Gary Friedrich has died.

Friedrich had plenty of detractors during his career, but I've never had the heart to be one of them. Sure, he wrote the fascinatingly-misguided Gunhawks series for Marvel and he was never well-suited to super hero material, as his turns on Incredible Hulk, Captain America and X-Men proved. He also struggled as the follow-up to Jim Steranko's Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., telling stories which were visibly straining the efforts of artist Frank Springer to emulate innovative storytelling.

Yet Friedrich did have some talent when outside of the typical super hero format. He wrote all of Marvel's 70s-era war comics: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders and Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen; sometimes he did very well in that genre with thoughtful parallels to the contemporary situation in Vietnam. Other times he missed the mark.

His western work - outside of the aforementioned Gunhawks - had a bit more pep than most Marvel westerns and he toiled for a time on all of Marvel's big names - most prominently the super hero-esque Ghost Rider but also Kid Colt, Outlaw, Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid and the revival of Outlaw Kid. His Monster of Frankenstein was very good and he's definitely going to be remembered for his creation of the Johnny Blaze version of Ghost Rider, hands-down his most significant contribution to Marvel Comics.

Followers of this blog may recall I reviewed Friedrich & Ditko's Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men #3 and rather enjoyed it; I also covered his Fright #1 and poked fun at some bad continuity in one of his Rawhide Kid stories.

Rest in peace, Mr. Friedrich.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Rest in Peace Russ Heath

Russ Heath died three days ago, 91 years of age. He was one of the last few remaining artists who worked on Atlas Comics in the 1950s and Atlas, as my blog archives will bear out, is a passion of mine.

Heath's earliest art is barely recognizable with his eventual style but he did find his footing extremely quickly. From the 1950s to the 2010s, he had an immensely well-honed style with very clean lines but plenty of detail. As an artist who worked for the major comic book publishers, his style of realism wasn't a terrific fit for the kind of super hero comics which overwhelmed the industry from the 1960s onwards but the few times he did delve into super heroes he made it work.

Heath is going to be best-remembered for his war comics work (particulary DC's Sgt. Rock) but I enjoyed his Atlas horror comics the most. His art had a way of appearing light and almost humorous about ghastly subject matter, but when the time came to convey something horrific on the panel, he always came through. The above from "On with the Dance" (Menace #2, 1953) was the first of his horror stories I read and remains a personal favourite; from then on, I always paid close attention to any story bearing his signature.

I've only made one trip to San Diego Comic-Con (and I probably won't ever go back) and was present at the 2009 SDCC ceremony where Heath was presented with the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame award; it was easily the highlight of the entire Eisner ceremony. After his name was announced, Heath took a very long time to shuffle up to the podium, accept the honour, and with little more than a terse 'thank you' departed. I visited his booth the following day to congratulate him on the honour and to purchase one of his prints, which he autographed for me.

With 60+ years of comic book art credits to his name, Heath has left behind an enormous legacy. Among that legacy are several pages of original comic art which is now in possession of my employers, the University of Calgary Archives & Special Collections. Heath is going to be remembered.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Finding One's Meaning in the Video/Movie Guide

Before resources like the Internet Movie Database existed, your best hope for understanding the length, width, breadth and height of filmdom was through one of many video/movie guides. They were ubiquitous, not only on bookstore shelves but even convenience store racks. They tended to range about 1000 pages and were printed on cheap newsprint with easily-smudged black ink. Depending on the design, you could fit 8-10 films on a single page as they didn't offer complete cast lists and only the briefest of plot summaries. Critical commentary was frequently limited to the star rating chosen by the editors, but sometimes they would pause to note something particularly wonderful about a film. Better still, there were those terse put-downs of movies, a devastating slight against the film which could settle the picture's reputation in your mind with only a single line of text.

I loved those books.

We had a few video/movie guides as I was growing up. I'm not sure when I began taking an interest in them, but around the age of ten I was leafing through them. By the age of twelve I would read them practically cover-to-cover. I particularly enjoyed guides which were sorted by genre; you could tell where the 'science fiction/fantasy' section was from the dark smears on the outside leaves, worn down from the hours I had spent pouring over them. Likewise, you could easily find the 'western' section by its pristine white pages.

Even if the book were simply an A to Z of film, there were particular places in the alphabet where I would pause. Having an interest in science fiction, 'space,' 'star' and 'invasion' were good places to search. I read with fascination about movies from the horror genre, always certain I would never have the stomach to sit through one. I began to have a sense of what exactly was out there in the world of film and what was considered good or bad within it. I didn't truly become a film aficionado until I watched my first Alfred Hitchcock picture, but even at the time, movies fascinated me. Renting a movie was still a novelty in those days, a rare treat. Boning up on what existed in the world of film gave me ideas of titles to locate at our local video stores.

Of course, there was one movie I held in esteem throughout my childhood, a picture which figured in many of my earliest memories. I can remember the sense of crushing disappointment I had when I made a point of looking it up in the video/movie guide one day. To my horror I read this:

Star Wars (1977)

I was speechless. 1977??? How could it be? I was certain I had seen the movie copyrighted to 1978. Perhaps I had simply owned a Kenner Star Wars toy with a 1978 production date, but somehow, at some point, I had believed Star Wars first came out in 1978. I compared one video/movie guide to another and each confirmed the fact: Star Wars had been originally released in 1977. A year before my birth. A year and a few months, in fact.

I was young enough at the time that I still played with my Star Wars toys and scoured used toy sales for other kids' cast-offs. Marvel Comics' Star Wars was the first comic book I began avidly collecting, attempting to build a complete set of issues. I didn't watch the movies too frequently (the only copies my family owned were those we taped off television in the late 80s) but we watched them at least once per year. At the time I made my discovery about the year of Star Wars' release, Star Wars was still an active presence in my life and would continue to be so until I went to college.

I realize now that I had been so willing to believe Star Wars had come out in 1978 because I was attempting to attach some higher meaning to my affection for the movies. It wasn't enough, apparently, that they were just good films - I wanted to believe Star Wars and I had come into the world together, that there was something verging on the spiritual about my connection to those motion pictures. And there wasn't, not really.

I'm hardly alone in this; certainly not alone in an irrational fervor about Star Wars, but I, like most of us, was trying to figure out my place in the world, a sense of meaning and purpose. I had no concept of what I would do for a living until after my high school years, so I frequently looked to my hobbies to define myself.

Even after I found my career, I flirted with the idea that my hobbies somehow revealed cosmic truths about my identity. There's a website called Mike's Amazing World of Comics which enables people to sort comic book releases by month & year. Visitors are encouraged to use this feature in order to find out what comic books were on sale the month they were born. How could I resist finding out? As a comic book fan, as someone who wound up being employed by Marvel Comics for eight years, surely there would be something there that would... explain who I am. Some piece of the puzzle. That I would click on the 'filter' button, see my favourite comic book story was printed the same month I was born and exclaim, 'Aha! It all makes sense!'

Okay, I was born the month Michael Korvac died. That's... something...?

There were some decent comic books published the month I was born. None that I would consider to be 'great.' And anyway, my favourite comic book story was first published when I was four years old.

It's a human thing to want to find patterns. Everything from astrology to numerology to fortune cookies are designed to appeal to our disbelief in randomness, our mistrust of coincidence, our willingness to find or invent purpose and meaning in items which are inconsequential.

I am grateful, then, to my family's video/movie guide for teaching me a lesson about my identity. If I had been born the same year as Star Wars, I fear I would have internalized that information and forced it to remain part of my identity as I grew up. It's good that I realized I was in error and rejected the idea. It's better to have your eyes open, searching for meaning than to center your life around a fanciful lie you want to believe. It was certainly easier for me to let go of Star Wars in college because I had disconnected myself from the idea that it held a place in my origin.

When my older sister turned 30 my parents were struggling to find something to tack-on to her birthday present that year, when they decided to simply buy her the movie which won the Academy Award for Best Picture the year she was born. Amused by this, I checked up to see what had won the Award in 1978: The Deer Hunter. I had never seen it but knew it wasn't exactly a happy film. I let my parents know that I expected them to buy me a copy of The Deer Hunter when I was thirty and they did - but I don't think I discovered anything more about who I am from that motion picture. Nor did I expect to. "This is this," philosophizes De Niro's character in The Deer Hunter, and that pragmatism has some weight. Movies are movies. Art is art. Art might help you find the tools to express your identity, but you and the art are not the same thing.

"See this? This is this. This ain't something else. This is this."

I've looked beyond popular culture to world events to see what was happening in 1978, what kind of environment I was born into, something which might give me a greater sense of identity. I suppose I feel like a blank slate; I no longer identify myself by the media I consume. How then do I define myself? Through my Christian faith? But how has my faith journey been unique? Having been born into a Christian home and never rejected faith, hasn't it always been there?

And then this year I finally found something which happened in 1978 that might help me make sense of my identity going forward. It wasn't rooted in popular culture or notable enough to earn a footnote in a newspaper. But it was rooted in my family and in faith.

Forty years ago, my aunt & uncle went to Angola to serve as missionaries.

This year, I decided I would do the same.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Skrulls! is on Comixology! Right now!

Going back to 2008, this was a quasi-saga quasi-handbook one shot originally released to tie-in with the Secret Invasion crossover and I was part of the team of writers.
Skrulls! (2008) #1

Ever since the dawning of the Marvel Age of heroes, the Skrulls have been known as scheming, conniving, insidious interlopers in the affairs not just of Earth, but the whole universe. Now, get the Skrulls' side of the story! Who are they, what drives them, and what are their ultimate goals? Who are their heroes, and who are their villains? And what will become of their clash between religion and modernity - manifest in their relentless pursuit of the Earth as the final prize - when it spills over into universal mayhem? SKRULLS! helps answer these questions and gives you the clues to ask even more!

You can buy a copy at Comixology right here!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Manly Wade Wellman's Lee Granger, Jungle King!

I began talking about Manly Wade Wellman yesterday. As noted there, he worked for a while in the comic book industry. Fawcett Comics were his patrons and he did a number of text stories (some about Captain Marvel) plus a number of comic book heroes.

As I've been using this blog to occasionally feature Angola in the Comics, when I first learned Wellman had been born in Angola I wondered if any of his comic books touched upon that background. And as it turns out, he did write a jungle adventure hero character for Fawcett!

The hero in question is Lee Granger, Jungle King who appeared in every issue of Slam-Bang Comics: #1-7 (1940). When the series ended he popped up in Master Comics #7-10 (1940-41), then entered comic book limbo. Slam-Bang Comics was populated entirely by action-adventure heroes and, as comics history has always been biased towards super heroes, none of the characters featured in Slam-Bang Comics went on to fame.

The Grand Comics Database credits Wellman as authoring the first Lee Granger story (Slam-Bang Comics #1) and he said in an interview that it was the first script he ever sold to Fawcett, but none of the stories featured creator credits (or story titles for that matter) and no one is certain whether or not Wellman wrote the other tales. The art is thought to have been done by Jack Binder, but not confirmed. Essentially, these are anonymous comic book stories. The Digital Comic Museum has all of Lee Granger's appearances so I've just read through them all. You may have questions about the material:

Well, how about it? Is Lee Granger, Jungle King set in Angola? Nope. In fact it's set in a very generic kind of fantasy-land-Africa.

That's too bad. But are there interesting flashes of insight about Africa, as you'd expect from someone who was born there? No, no more so than any other jungle adventure hero series. The author might as well have been born in Alaska.

Okay. But it isn't racist, is it? Er, it's about as racist as any other comic book from 1940-41.

You're depressing me. Why even bother looking back at Lee Granger? Oh, there's a good reason: it is the weirdest jungle hero series I've ever read!

WOW! Weider than Fletcher Hanks' Fantomah? ...I meant, it is the second-weirdest jungle hero series I've ever read!

With that out of the way, let's go!

Above is the masthead for the first story and it shows you how Lee will be depicted for pretty much all of his adventures - bare-chested and clad in blue jodhpurs. We open on "noted scientist-explorer" Lee flying over "Africa's most dangerous jungle" unaware Arabs who are trying to protect their secret slaving operations have planted a time bomb on his plane. The Arab slave trade in Africa was pretty much over by 1940 but boy, it lived on a lot longer in pulps and comic books. Anyway, the bomb explodes and shatters the plane into pieces, yet leaves Lee unscathed. He has no parachute but improvises one using his jacket. That doesn't sound too likely to me, but all of this is waaaay more believable than what's to follow.

Alighting on the ground, he's confronted by a tribe of pygmies. Pushing aside the chief's spear, the spear's tip brushes against the chief's chest and poisons him. Granger works quickly to save the chief by lancing out the poison. "You are no white devil - but a white friend." says the chief. The pygmies invite Lee back to their village but the huts are too small for Lee. Lee builds himself a house from hand-crafted bricks (no idea how long it took him to do this; having built brick buildings in Africa myself, that should be the better part of a week) and the pygmies, impressed by his "wisdom" ask him for lessons. He teaches them how to domesticate zebras (quite a feat! zebras are notoriously difficult to domesticate) and how to forge iron (no idea what their spear-heads were made of previously). Then with "the acid, and these parts made from various metals, we will have electricity." Yes, within no time, Lee Granger has built electrical devices out of nothing. Soon the entire village has been revamped into brick homes and a flag with a large 'G' flies over Lee's home. Credit where due: the pygmies don't speak in any kind of 'Negro' dialogue popular in stories like these, nor are they drawn with the 'big lip' style found in other Fawcett comics such as Captain Marvel. The pygmies are more problematic in that they're physically inferior to Lee - drawn like children. It's a bit patronizing and emasculating. But let's keep going...

One day a lion attacks a pygmy. Lee saves the pygmy and ties up the lion. Bringing him to his laboratory, Lee hooks up the lion to a machine and runs electrical currents through its body. "This lion will be almost human." Lee claims. How on Earth can he know that? What is this machine? How could he possibly have built from scratch something sophisicated enough to increase an animal's intelligence to human levels? Darned if I know; but it works: the lion can speak! The now-intelligent lion takes the name Eric; he will be Lee's supporting cast going forward.

Anyway, the Arab slavers from the beginning of the tale return, but Lee, Eric and the pygmies vanquish them. The pygmy chief offers to guide Lee out of the jungle but Lee intends to remain. "Then we shall make you our king!" says the chief. Hence the series' subtitle: 'Jungle King.' And so ends the first story.

I won't go into as much detail about the other stories, especially as I have no idea whether Wellman authored them. In Slam-Bang Comics #2, the daughter of a consul general in 'Sudana' (Sudan?) is held prisoner by the bandit Boko tribe. Lee and Eric save her and the pygmies declare "We shall make her our queen!" but instead Lee returns her to her home. This establishes a pattern for future stories as Lee is constantly meeting attractive Caucasian women in the jungle, then parting ways without so much as a chaste kiss.

But now we're at Slam-Bang Comics #3 my friends and this - this is where it gets truly wild. This is the only time Lee Granger rated the front cover for one of his appearances and it might be the best of all Lee Granger stories; not saying much, right? The villains, who you can make out on the cover, are called the Djinn (after Jinn) and these bat-like humanoids threaten this month's lady-in-distress Ameera, a lost Arab girl (the demonizing of Arab men while lusting for Arab women is a well-worn trope of Orientalism). Ameera's father and tribe were all wiped out by the Djinn, so Lee prepares his pygmies for combat, arming them with anti-air weapons (spear-launchers) and a one-man aircraft (called a "flying suit") which allows Lee to battle the Djinn mid-air with his sword and shield. At this point, Lee building a flying suit from scratch should be small potatoes next to giving Eric human-level intelligence, right? But he's about to top it.

The Djinn overwhelm Lee and carry him away as a prisoner. Ameera plans to save him with another flying suit which she somehow knows about. But Ameera doesn't intend to wear this flying suit herself - she equips Eric with it. Yeah, the talking lion is now a talking, flying lion!!! The Djinn's king offers to let Granger live if he gives them his scientific secrets. Granger refuses, of course, and Ameera & Eric fly in to save Lee at the last moment. Ameera hands Lee a pistol and he shoots the king dead with one shot. And then, because this is the last page of the story, the Djinn are just... beaten. Without the king I guess the rest of the Djinn just... don't matter?

Onward to Slam-Bang Comics #4. This time we have a small party of white people exploring the jungle when the warlike Kolu tribe attack, kill one of their party and take the remaining two prisoner (need I even mention one of the two is a beautiful white woman?). Lee and Eric head to the rescue because "It's our duty to save them, Eric. They're white people." I guess as a white guy it is kind of his mess to clean up, but the implication is that Lee wouldn't feel duty-bound to involve himself if the prisoners were anything other than white? Anyway, Lee saves the man and woman from the Kolus and helps continue their expedition, battling giant a giant gorilla. Finally they arrive at a series of ruins which they wanted to explore. This leads to a particularly bad piece of comics storytelling which I've presented above. In the first panel, the woman tries to open a door; in the second, the ceiling collapses. Without the text, you can't really tell what's happening. The doorway is just barely in frame in the first panel and the wall is just a featureless void. In the second panel, you'd assume the door and wall had exploded, not that the ceiling had fallen in. Comic books were still a young format in 1940, but comics storytelling itself wasn't; this sort of lousy storytelling is what helped ensure comic books would continue to be considered inferior to comic strips.

Slam-Bang Comics #5 pits Lee against two white hunters who want to capture Eric, as a talking lion is quite a novelty. The most notable information here is that the pygmy chief finally gets a name: Jabor. (hopefully not as a corruption of 'jabber') There's a rare appearance by a female pygmy, but for some reason all the pygmies in this story are coloured Caucasian - but the Kolus reappear and are still brown. In Slam-Bang Comics #6 we return to the kind of high fantasy camp of the Djinn story as Lee and his white-woman-of-the-month battle a woman leading an army of massive ants. In the end, Lee's ally kills the queen of the ants; on the one hand, that's a bad ass moment for a woman in a 1940 comic book; on the other hand, it's mostly done out of expediency to keep Lee from murdering a woman.

Slam-Bang Comics #7's white-woman-of-the-month is a news reporter looking for a story on Lee. I kind of like the above panel because of how non-chalant Eric is. "I was waiting for you." I'd like to imagine Eric's voice has a very flat vocal register.

Anyway, moving to Lee's new home, in Master Comics #7 the villains are the Leopard Men, Africans dressed in animal skins (likely inspired by the Leopard Society). A white woman who commands an army of elephants calls for Lee's help and there are a few notable moments... like Eric 'talking' to an elephant (we only see Eric's side of the conversation) and the above sequence where the artist suddenly attempted to channel one of Jack Kirby's inventive page layouts by depicting a Leopard Man hurled between panel borders by the elephants. At least the art is improving!

Master Comics #8 pits Lee against gold plunderers and Jabor gets a moment of heroics by blowing up the plunderers' camp with dynamite. Master Comics #9 again pits Lee against the Kolus as they build a dam to try and starve the pygmies. Finally, we get to Master Comics #10, wherein the feature is dubbed 'Jungle King,' no longer prefacing Lee's name. Appropriately, this final story looks back to the first one as Lee has rebuilt the engine from his plane. Using a newly-discovered oil well on the pygmies' land (oil and gold? those pygmies should be living large-- er, living comfortably today) Lee builds a new airplane. Never mind that a few months ago we saw Lee had built two flying suits for himself and Eric, building this new airplane is treated as a big deal. "From the air we can patrol the rgion better," Eric notes, as though they had no means of aerial surveillance. But for this final month we have a new kind of enemy for Lee to face -- very hazily-defined Europeans! Yep, by this period the comics were beginning to stand up to the fascists in Europe but weren't quite ready to call them out by name. The artist on this final story seems to be a completely different person than whoever did the previous 10 stories.

The story in Master Comics #10 ended by asserting Lee and Eric would return in the next issue of Master Comics. They didn't. They have never appeared again. And, sure, good riddance to them. These were some lazily-crafted and lazily-drawn stories, no question about it. But man, when this series went wild, as in the Djinn story, it had some promise. If the series had embraced a little more weirdness, who knows - it could have been a diamond in the rough. As it is, it's not as bad as some comic book stories of the time and genre. The talking lion Eric is appealing. That's about all I can say in its favour.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Wellmans of Angola

As someone who loves to read and occasionally write, my interest in Angola eventually led me to the Wellman family, a family of published authors with a decade-long link to Angola.

Patriarch Frederick Creighton Wellman (1873-1960) was a specialist in tropical medicine who transported his family to Angola in 1896 (at the time the nation was usually called 'Portuguese West Africa'). Three of his four children were born in Kamundongo during his nine years there. Unfortunately, Frederick was a very free spirit - a philanderer who earned the nickname "Casanova of Tropical Medicine." He and his wife divorced a few years after leaving Angola. At the same time he was practicing medicine he also published a number of novels under the pseudonym 'Cyril K. Scott.' Here are a couple of his books. His Wikipedia article also asserts he performed scientific research for the Benguela railway, though I haven't found corroboration for what exactly he did. It sounds like he was quite a 'character' as he was married four times and served in several overseas locales. And so, it shouldn't be too surprising that his four children lived pretty notable lives.

His eldest, Paul Wellman (1895-1966), was the only child born outside Angola. However, his overseas upbringing doesn't seem to have had a great impact upon his later life. He became an author but was almost entirely devoted to the western genre. Several of his novels were adapted into motion pictures, the most famous being The Comancheros (1961) starring John Wayne himself. Here's his books at Goodreads.

Second-born was Frederick Lovejoy Wellman (1897-1994). Like his father, he became a doctor. Unlike his father, he didn't go into medicine - he became a phytopathologist! His name still entertains some prestige as the Wellman Award handed out to phytopathologists is named after him.

Third-born was Alice Wellman (1900-1984). It was only late in life during the 1970s that Alice took an interest in writing. Unlike most of her family, her writing was specifically focused on her childhood in Angola. She wrote several works of children's literature set in Angola. It's a pity that by the time she began writing these books the nation was being completely revamped by the collapse of the Portuguese - the Angola she knew became a thing of the past within a few years of her first novel's publication. Here's her books at Goodreads.

Finally, the youngest Wellman - and the one who first drew me into investigating the family. Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) had the most prolific career of the Wellmans, writing not only novels but all sorts of short stories for pulp magazines. He also toiled in comic books, making him perhaps the first Angola-born person to work in the comic book industry? He was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1959 and one of his stories was adapted for TV's The Twilight Zone. He did occasionally draw from experiences growing up in Angola, most significantly in his first published tale, "When the Lion Roared" in a 1927 Thrilling Tales magazine - but his best-known writing was for the fantasy genre. Here's his bibliography.

More on Manly Wade Wellman tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Angola in the Comics#7: Tarzan in Luanda!

Hello and welcome back to an occasional feature on this blog entitled 'Angola in the Comics.' In this series I investigate appearances by the nation of Angola in comic books and determine how faithfully the country is represented. The assumption is that Angola will not be well-realized, so those instances where the comic book creators get particular details correct are always worth noting.

Every entry in my 'Angola in the Comics' series has been from the pages of old 'jungle adventure' comic books, which were once a very fertile genre in the comics (plus prose & film). The few appearances of Angola which I've discovered owe a lot to the simple wealth of 'jungle comics' out there; with creators constantly needing new plots, there were bound to be a few stories set in Angola just as a matter of statistics.

But up until now I haven't dealt with the king of the 'jungle adventure' genre, the fictional character who is basically responsible for the entire brand of storytelling. I'm speaking of course about Tarzan, but before I can get to his visit to Angola, first I have acknowledge the problem of Tarzan.

THE TARZAN TALK

Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in a 1912 pulp magazine story 'Tarzan of the Apes,' Burroughs' character became so popular that the author put out a regular series of new prose adventures throughout his life, novels which continued to be republished after his death - along with works by new authors. Tarzan was adapted into radio, film, television and - significant to us - comic strips & comic books.

Although Tarzan was initially based in the jungles of the Congo, Burroughs sent the character to various locales around the globe (and beneath it, for that matter). Although Burroughs wrote vividly about Africa, he'd never been there; his Tarzan adventures were as much fantasy as anything else and were enjoyed by both children and adults. With success came a legion of imitators; everyone in the 'jungle adventure' genre - from Sheena to the Black Panther - owes a debt to Tarzan for popularizing the tropes they use.

The sheer amount of Tarzan product means you're probably familiar with some of the recycled tropes even if you haven't watched or read a Tarzan story. Frequently these stories concern the adventures of a Caucasian person who lives in the African jungle (if it is named, it is almost certainly the Congo) and is almost definitely an orphan. This hero has a strong connection to the African wildlife and can even 'speak' to them. They battle ferocious predators, cruel hunters (usually poachers), greedy treasure hunters and 'savage' natives (possibly cannibals). When they lack for adventure they need only trek a miles to the east to find a lost outpost of ancient Egypt or trek north to find a valley where dinosaurs still roam. Africans in these stories who are not the hero's enemies are considered friendly, simple folk, regarding the hero with a kind of fearful awe; they live in modest thatch huts with no sophisticated technology, yet their women are modest enough to cover their chests; they can be easily riled up by an evil chief, a scheming would-be chief or an evil witch doctor.

As the decades passed by, the Tarzan series remained moribund, frozen in amber; while Burroughs had permitted Tarzan to grow and change somewhat in his novels, the films kept a very rigid status quo. Of course, the real world's Africa wasn't standing still - even as independence began creeping across the continent in the 1950s, Tarzan hesitated to change with the times. By 1970, Tarzan had fallen from favour; with almost all of Africa independent there could no longer be any pretense of his adventures as anything other than fantasy. The films and comic strips dropped off and scholars began questioning many of the assumptions and implications dating back to Burroughs' first story. Tarzan became a tainted brand, even racist.

Small wonder then, that Tarzan material since 1970 has almost all been deliberately positioned as a 'period piece,' set in the 1910s when Africa was firmly in the grip of colonialism. Eventually, the Tarzan brand became comfortable enough to address the truth of what colonialism had been and to downplay Burroughs' racist views of white superiority. The 2016 motion picture The Legend of Tarzan even went to the trouble of pitting Tarzan against one of history's great real-life villains from the Congo (Leon Rom) and team-up Tarzan with a historical African-American hero who was also in the Congo (George Washington Williams).

Perhaps a contemporary-times take on Tarzan could also be made to work if one simply did the homework on what Africa is like today. A white man brought up by apes in the contemporary Congo would be quite a different character than who Burroughs imagined; it would be an interesting challenge to deconstruct Tarzan by contemporary standards - possibly not one which the Burroughs estate would be interested in getting into.

Anyway, let's get back to Angola.

TARZAN IN ANGOLA

In January 1951, writer Dick Van Buren and artist Bob Lubbers had only been working on the Tarzan daily newspaper strip for half a year when they told a storyline set in Angola. It begins with a single line from a story fans have called "The Plaque" when a steamship bound for England explodes while said to be approaching 'the port of Luanda,' which is, of course, Angola's capital.

This leads to a lengthy arc where Tarzan searches for survivors of the ship and traces one of them into an underground kingdom of the 'swamp men,' reptilian men led by a beautiful woman (lost kingdoms of ugly men ruled by beautiful women were also a common trope in adventure fiction of the time). Tarzan finally escapes the underground kingdom and brings his English friend to Luanda, which is where Tarzan is at the start of the story fans call 'Senor Lazar.' Notably, Luanda is called a port of 'Portuguese West Africa,' not Angola. Portugal wasn't even a member of the United Nations at the time of this comic; in fact, this same year, Angola was officially declared a 'province' of Portugal, one of the means the country employed to try and hold on to Angola, even as other colonial powers were girding themselves to let their colonies go free.

Wandering Luanda, Tarzan saves a woman from being mugged, which draws the attention of Señor Lazar, a powerful plantation owner. Observing Tarzan had murdered the woman's mugger he has Tarzan arrested. To avoid standing trial for murder, Lazar cuts a deal: he wants Tarzan to capture an American whom the authorities haven't been able to arrest.

As Tarzan heads to the American's location, he passes 'Fazenda Lazar,' so props must be given to Van Buren & Lubbers for getting some correct Portuguese (but a subtraction for when they use 'gracias,' which is Spanish). Further, it's a coffee plantation, which was indeed a major crop in Angola of the time. The American turns out to be named Holt and is running a coffee plantation in competition against Lazar, which is the real reason Lazar has pit Tarzan against him. Using his sway with the authorities, Lazar is trying to tax Holt out of business. Failure to pay the taxes is the crime Holt is guilty of.

At Holt's plantation, Tarzan meets José, the butler. José has a plan to raise 1,000 escudos (props for the correct currency): by winning a bullfight in the 'Plaza de Toros.' So, props for the use of bullfighting (which was a sport in Luanda in those days) but minus for again using Spanish. Confusing Portuguese and Spanish is a frequent problem I've noticed in popular culture of the 1930s-50s, such as in the motion picture Macao.

Tarzan returns to Luanda and tells Lazar he's going to be a matador so that he can win the bullfight and its bounty of 1,000 escudos so that Holt's taxes will be paid. Naturally, even though Tarzan is not a trained bullfighter he wins the match and claims the money. The woman Tarzan rescued at the start of the story - Lucia - comes to work for Holt as a secretary on the plantation.

Having apparently nothing better to do, Tarzan hangs out on the plantation as the new foreman and we finally see a few African faces among the plantation workers. Of course, Tarzan gets them to work for Holt without pay initially, so there's still something problematical about all of this. One night a panther attacks the laborers but Tarzan kills it and surmises Lazar unleashed the animal. Mere moments later, Lazar sends a mob of men with torches to assault Holt's plantation. Holt saves Lucia from a fire the mob start while Tarzan fends off the attackers and puts out the blaze.

Lazar now challenges Tarzan to a duel to the death (a fat cigar-smoking man versus the lord of the jungle? gee, whoever will win?). Tarzan accepts, even though the duel will be fought with Lazar's gun against Tarzan's bow. Although Lazar fires two shots, one of them wrecking Tarzan's bow, Tarzan throws his knife into Lazar's neck, killing him. Thus ends the problem of Lazar. Holt and Lucia decide to get married. Tarzan heads back into the jungle.

  • +1 estrela for the correct use of Luanda as a port and reasonably developed city
  • +1 estrela for using a leopard (though panther might not be quite correct)
  • +1 estrela for the correct currency, escudos
  • +2 estrelas for correctly placing bullfighting and coffee in Angola
  • +1 estrela for a few correct uses of Portuguese
  • -1 estrela for inserting Spanish the rest of the time

TOTAL SCORE: Cinco estrelas!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Looking at Agostinho Neto #1 - De Cabeça Levantada

I've been contributing to the Grand Comics Database for a few years. As I've gained confidence about my indexing abilities I've tackled a few foreign-language publications. As I'm learning Portuguese, I thought it would be especially apt to index a few Portuguese-language comic books. It isn't too easy finding Portuguese-language comics in Canada, but I tracked down a few from Brazil and a few from Portugal.

However, I had another goal in mind: to index a comic book from Angola. As I attempted to explore what was out there, it was a tricky proposition; on my visits to Angola the only place I saw was Lubango and the few comics I did manage to find were from Portugal. Much of my research indicated that what few comic books were published in Angola during their years as a colony ceased when Portugal left and the civil war erupted (people obviously had higher priorities than publishing comic books).

But with the war long over it's a bright new world. At last, I learned of the recent publication of a series of graphic novels recounting the life of Angola's first president, Agostinho Neto. As I was passing through Luanda on my most recent visit, I thought I could enlist some local help in obtaining a copy - but, to no avail. Three of the series' four volumes were available at the time, but they couldn't find any of the books for me. Finally, I located the first volume 'De Cabeça Levantada' being sold at Amazon by a vendor from Portugal and bought it. It took a few years of research, but I still wound up being the first person to index a comic book from Angola for the Grand Comics Database. here's the entry.

This comic was created by artist Osvaldo Medina and covers Neto's life up to 1961... kind of. The narrative jumps around quite often, sometimes venturing back centuries to the Portuguese's first arrival in Angola, then leaping ahead to the 1970s. You would think that as a biography it would be a very straight forward affair, but the story is constantly interrupted to explain certain historical details surrounding the various political institutions concerned, about why particular conflicts erupted over long-standing issues, how Portuguese political policies had been shaped across several decades, etc. It's a little unfortunate because it takes the focus off of Neto. The details are fine, but I feel the book would have been better served by being broken up into chapters so that those portions not directly about Neto were identified in the text as being somewhat parenthetical.

As a publication of Fundação Dr. António Agostinho Neto the book also feels a little bit like propaganda, especially when it jumps ahead to celebrate Neto's presidency rather than hold back on that development until a more appropriate time in the later volumes. The formatting of the comic is also crude, with all lettering done in the same computer-generated font and very little presented as dialogue balloons in text. In all, this is primarily a textbook, not a novel. Still, it was good practice for my developing Portuguese and I learned a lot from it. Altogether, it was good for me as a student of Portuguese, an avid learner about Angola and researcher on international comic books.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"Does this make me a good son, or a bad one?" All the Answers review

As a fan of Michael Kupperman's comic book work on Snake 'n' Bacon and Tales Designed to Thrizzle, stumbling across a new work by him immediately piqued my interest. However, unlike Kupperman's usual comics work, his latest title, All the Answers is not an off-the-wall surrealist humour book; it's the biography of his father. Normally that would kill my interest in the work, but, as I surprised to learn, Michael Kupperman's father was someone else I had an interest in: Joel Kupperman.

It's strange to discover this link between my hobbies of old-time radio and comics; Joel Kupperman appeared on the radio for many years as one of the panelists on the series Quiz Kids. Although Quiz Kids isn't really a show for me (give me Information Please), I have heard various episodes and I knew Joel Kupperman in particular from an appearances he made on the Jack Benny Program in 1946. You can hear that one right here.

Joel Kupperman had a reputation even in his childhood for being difficult and it seems as though he remained somewhat-difficult for all of his life. His past as a Quiz Kid was something he spent a long time trying to bury and Michael Kupperman considered the subject unapproachable - until near the end of his father's life when Joel suddenly began giving up information on his Quiz Kids years. From this, All the Answers was born and depicts Michael grappling with his father's history and the fact that so much time has passed that his father can't even be considered fully reliable on the details.

A large part of the book is much of what you'd expect from a graphic novel biography of a child looking back on their parent; if you've read Maus or Fun Home you'll have an idea of what to expect from Kupperman as he opens up on his personal frustrations with his father. Michael Kupperman is in a different position than those well-known books, however, because his father was a celebrity and is already known to people like me at least some people in the audience have some knowledge about the subject.

If you're principally a fan of Kupperman's humourous works you might still find it interesting to learn about his famous father's life; the story briefly links up into the 1950s quiz show scandals as well, which is a fascinating piece of history. Kupperman himself is represented by a comic book avatar who looks like he just stepped out of a Chris Ware comic; it might be an homage, but, unlike the homages seen in his other books, it isn't a joke. All the Answers is a strong piece of work, worth seeking out.