My love for King Kong stems back to the 1950′s when the RKO Pictures catalog first came to television. That group of films was relentlessly screened by WWOR Channel 9 in New York as part of their “Million Dollar Movie” format. It offered proto “monster kids” like myself an opportunity to see the great gorilla trilogy of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young as many as 7 times in one week! What a wonderful way to imprint young brain cells forever.
My early 1970’s film writing professor’s cringed at my glowing critiques of Kong, a film they clearly considered high camp but the ensuing years have looked on it with a kinder skew. The world at large seems now more likely to agree with my view that it is as an elemental example of cinema where unfettered imagination and technical talent converges.
Alternately, I became a fan of Doc Savage fiction back in the 1960’s when Bantam Books revived the series in paperback format adorned with spectacular James Bama cover paintings. At the time I had no idea they were reprints of pulp books from thirty years earlier. Much like the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars and Earth’s Core novels I was devouring concurrently, they were exciting and timeless stories aimed pretty squarely at a boy my age.
Two On An Island…
To celebrate these fortuitous 1933 births Altus Press will publish a pulp inspired tale bringing the two titans of American pop culture together. Scheduled for release in March Doc Savage: Skull Island will be the fifth installment of the company’s Wild Adventures of Doc Savage series and will be penned by neo-pulp and comics author Will Murray (aka Kenneth Robeson). Murray has been the leading legacy author of Doc Savage stories since he completed several of Lester Dent’s outlines for Bantam books.
Cover art will be rendered by Joe DeVito who is no stranger to the octogenarian characters. DeVito previously illustrated Kong:King of Skull Island, which is available for your iPad or Nook tablet, and has supplied art for Altus Press’s previous Doc Savage extrapolations.
The new story will take place in flashback after Kong’s fall from the Empire State building which also serves as Doc’s NY headquarters. Doc relates his first encounter with the outsized gorilla in the 1920’s which Murray notes will interconnect with Savage’s familial backstory. “I knew it had to be written with reverence for both of these immortal characters. So I used the locale of Skull Island to tell a larger story, an untold origin for Doc Savage. It all started back on Skull Island….”
Bama – Lama – King – Kong…
It’s interesting to note that Bama also illustrated the cover of Bantam’s first paperback edition of the Kong novelization. I still treasure my well worn first printing, purchased off the local newsstand back in 1965.
Should you not already own it, Brian M. Kane’s book James Bama – American Realist pulls the artist’s key works (including his art for the classic Aurora monster model kits) under one cover. It’s beautifully printed and offers a look at some of the photographic model poses Bama worked from for the Doc Savage paintings. I was fortunate enough to grab a signed and numbered deluxe slip-cased edition (with DVD) when it was first published in 2007, but hardcovers are still out there for a reasonable price. Highly recommended to say the least.
This mash-up of two of my favorite adventure characters is an irresistible lure and I’m personally hoping it’s a grand slam rather than an offbeat footnote in their histories. I will admit to a bit of wariness based on the need to keep the power and mystique of these archetypes unmarred. Nonetheless this is one of the few books in recent memory I can say I’m eagerly awaiting.
Methinks old school fans like myself facilitated the faster than a light sabre sell out of the first issue of Dark Horse’s new Star Wars comic book. Don’t despair reprints will be on the way in early February and you should plan on getting yourself a copy before that sells out too.
The series begins in the months immediately following A New Hope: Episode IV (or simply STAR WARS to us geezers) and will track the narrative through a five year period. All of the classic cast, Luke, Leia, Han Solo and Chewy, R2D2 and C3P0, is well represented throughout the issue. Writer Brian Wood offers a smart balance of dialog, exposition and action as the rebels seek to stabilize the still shaky force. He fleshes out the characterizations as Luke and Leia assess their victory at Yavin as well as the losses of their loved ones. Han and Chewbaca discuss the crimps fugitive status puts in their black market business and it’s particularly interesting to see Lord Vader get called on the carpet for the ultimate destruction of the Death Star. There are also nods to post 1977 revelations, so the book jives with the nearly 40 year plot expansion.
Interior illustration by artist Carlos D’Anda and colorist Gabe Eltaeb (isn’t that Beatle backwards?) is rendered with plenty of detail and shading. D’Anda’s dark graphic edges make the art pop on the beautifully printed and color saturated pages as well as in digital format. Michael Heisler’s lettering compliments the sleek look of the layouts.
Ross the Boss…
The movie poster quality cover by Alex Ross is worth the price of admission and pencil sketch variants of it and other upcoming covers were just announced by Dark Horse today. Comic Book Resources has an exclusive look at 4 of those variants.
Star Wars #1 is a promising start, indeed a new hope. Though I thought the dismal prequels had soured me forever, I’m very much looking forward to further adventures unfurling in this graphic series. It certainly makes me wish George Lucas had chosen to tell these “in-betweener” stories when he revisited the franchise.
The issue 1 reprint is scheduled for February 6, 2013, with issue 2 hitting stores on February 13.
DC’s Dynamic Duo, The Other One…
Graciously on hand for the charitable event were writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams who discussed their early 1970’s revitalization of Batman and Green Arrow. Though the popularity of the 1960’s Batman TV series boosted the caped crusader’s profile in popular culture the “Biff, Bang, Pow” campiness and commensurate decline in quality of the actual comic books soon left the DC editors with a less than compelling character.
In 1971 Editor Julius Schwartz brought the writer and artist together with an intention to “avoid the crap.” O’Neil created a set of guidelines harking back to the stealthy crime fighter of the earliest Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson stories. Noting Science Fiction author Alfred Bester’s “obessed” characters as inspiration O’Neil outlined a psychological key to the Dark Knight persona. This consistency of personality was a giant leap beyond the “anything goes” loopy spin of DC scripts at the time. As O’Neil said during the panel talk “Batman doesn’t fight dinosaurs… doesn’t time travel.” He deliberately avoided using outre villains like The Joker, Riddler and Two-Face. Adams’ sinewy depictions perfectly complimented the reality driven stories and a real life DC dynamic duo was born.
Publisher Powerhouse Books donated copies of Leaping Tall Buildings which quickly sold out as attendees took the opportunity to have them inscribed by Adams, O’Neil and the authors. All proceeds from the event went to the benefit of Housing Works.
How It Works, How You Help…
Housing Works is a not-for-profit organization the mission of which is “to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.” The Cafe offers a regular series of talks on an eclectic number of subjects and serves to draw attention to the charity, which is exactly what it did for me. All proceeds from the cafe and the various satellite thrift shops throughout NYC’s boroughs go directly for support. Please consider a donation to Housing Works whether it be monetary, volunteer work or salable items, or drop by the cafe to have a brew and buy a book, CD or DVD.
The event was a great introduction to the programs at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and the organization’s cause. It was also a wonderful opportunity to hear the anecdotes and opinions of two respected graphics professionals, catch up with Chris Irving and share some personal remeniscences with like-minded folks. It was a sweet reminder of the spirit of early 70′s NY ComiCons and a perfect example of how fandom can come together for a good cause. Simple but effective everyday heroism. Thanks to Amanda, Director of Public Programming at the Bookstore Cafe, for the warm welcome on my first visit.
Ken Pierce of the PiercingMetal website was also on board to cover the event. He’s a long time comics fan and collector and you can read his coverage here.
Kent Hartman’s new book The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock N Roll’s Best Kept Secret (Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin’s Press) is the multi-fold biography of a group of musicians who found themselves at the center of the perfect storm during the heyday of Top 40 Radio. This loose conglomeration of players became the go-to sessioneers for West Coast music producers during the 1960’s. Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Lou Adler all counted on them for their accurate and intuitive skills during recording dates. We all know the music they helped create, but who they were is looked at in depth, between two covers, here for nearly the first time.
During the course of this history you’ll meet Bassists Carol Kaye and Joe Osborn, drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and many others. People whose names you don’t know but whose handiwork you have probably loved for 40 years. For instance, do the names Louie Shelton or P.F. Sloan ring a bell? It’s Shelton’s key guitar lick that drives The Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville,” while Sloan’s twelve string filigree adorns the intro of The “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and Papas. Others, like guitarist Glen Campbell, will be familiar. As one of the few “crew” members to rise to individual fame his biography is a cohesive thread throughout the book.
Rather than delineate each player’s biography on a chapter by chapter basis or write the book as a series of interviews, Hartman intertwines their formative histories during the outset of the book. This makes for an interesting narrative as seemingly disparate occurrences coalesce to bring these folks together. A series of small serendipities and coincidences – we’d call it networking these days – ultimately converge in the recording studios of Los Angeles at just the right moment in time. We know what’s coming, but how it gets there – well that’s the entertaining part.
As a “boomer”, a life long music collector, and a musician myself, I did not come to this book without prior knowledge of many the players and some of the stories. From the Wrecking Crew’s origins at Spector’s Gold Star Studio sessions, through Don Peake’s tenure as the only white player in the Ray Charles Orchestra and drummer Jim Gordon’s sad homicidal breakdown, Hartman affords a timeline and a series of vignettes that make sense of the often incongruous pieces. His new interviews with key players add fresh information and clarification of some of the previous apocrypha. Highly recommended, The Wrecking Crew is a brisk read, filled with informational and inspirational anecdotes. Along with Always Magic In the Air, Ken Emerson’s Brill Building overview, it’s a book I’ll keep within quick reach as a reference.
Dark Horse Archives
Full Color, Hardcover, 216 Pages
Release Date: June 6, 2012
What a treat and it’s not even Halloween. On June 5, 2012 Dark Horse Comics will add the first volume of reprints of American Comics Group’s Adventures Into the Unknown to its long list of awesome archive editions. This full color hardcover tome will offer up the first four issues of this before – the – comics – code title that predates the earliest E.C. ventures in horror. Geez, it even predate me!
Let’s Get Corrupted…
Writer/Artist Bruce Jones’ in-depth foreword (“Under Forbidden Covers”) sets the stage for those unaware of the historical beginnings and unfortunate ending of the horror and crime comics genres. Adventures Into The Unknown shrewdly survived the reactionary social speculations of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and the ensuing comics code for an unbroken 174 issue run. The tales offered in Volume 1 come from a time (1948-49) when you could blissfully enjoy a creepy tale rendered in lurid detail without being labeled a “commie”, a pervert, or run the risk of being issued a legendary “JD” (juvenile delinquent) card.
Each issue is replete with several graphic stories, a text piece, a “True Ghosts of History” strip. The “Strange Spirits” page gives capsule commentary on the “many terrifying beliefs in all parts of the world” including Voodoo and Celtic Superstitions. Issues 1 & 2 introduce a recurring villain, the seemingly unstoppable “Living Ghost.” His scary countenance is not unlike the creature in director Eddie Romero’s 1970’s Filipino “Blood Island” film series with his missing proboscis and long pin-like (Pinoy?) fangs.
Gothic Ground Zero…
A unique treat in issue 1 is the graphic novelization of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Broadly influential in its time and beyond the 1764 “first” gothic novel presupposes Poe, Stoker, du Maurier and others to follow. It’s a story examined more for its influence then its quality by H. P. Lovecraft in his 1927 treatise on gothicism “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Panel for panel the art could pass as storyboards for Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, while the saturated color palette is reminiscent of Mario Bava’s set design.
In their original printing the stories and most artwork is uncredited but Darkhorse gives us the creator’s identities. Edvard Moritz, Fred Guardineer and Al Feldstein are among them. There’s a great Leonard Starr (On Stage) story in issue number 4 that has the feel of a AlfredHitchcock/Daphne du Maurier collaboration.
What? No X-Ray Specs!
Advertisements are lovingly reproduced exhorting readers to learn to play piano in one day or harmonica in 15 minutes, in the midst of brilliantly cheesy novelty classics like the “dribble glass”, “squirt ring” and “joy buzzer”.
Though low on the “grue-meter” the strips offer enough depictions of supernatural creatures, spectral and skeletal presences to keep the fantasy fan entertained. Overall, Adventures Into The Unknown: Volume 1 is a fun taste of Golden Age horror that whets the appetite for more and fits in perfectly with Dark Horse’s Creepy, Eerie, and Boris Karloff’s Thriller archives.