Captain America

Comics Lose Two Original Innovators

Two of the true innovators and original pioneers of the comic book industry died recently.

Jerry Robinson died Wednesday, December 7, at the age of 89. Robinson will forever be most linked with the 1940 creation of Batman’s nemesis and possibly the first super-villain, The Joker. During this time, he also co-created Robin the Boy Wonder to be Batman’s sidekick, which established what soon became an iconic narrative device for superhero comics, and of course the inevitable wave of sidekick imitators. As if forever changing the superhero genre wasn’t enough, he also created another iconic element of Batman, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred. Following his genre-defining work in superhero comics in the 1930s and ’40s, Robinson went on to fight for creator rights (notably in support of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman), write The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (one of the earliest publications to detail the history of the art form [Dark Horse Comics published a revised and expanded edition earlier this year]), as well as establish CartoonArts International, a syndicate that helped create distribution networks for political cartoonists around the world. He is the only person to have served as President of both the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), and also served as guest curator for several art galleries hosting shows featuring comics art.

Joe Simon died last Thursday, December 14, at the age of 98 of an undisclosed illness. In late 1940 with his partner Jack Kirby, Simon created Captain America, one of the first and certainly the most influential superhero meant to stir up patriotism as the United States considered involvement in World War II. The first issue of Captain America Comics, released in December 1940 (cover-dated March 1941), brazenly featured Captain America slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw right on the cover. While Hitler now seems like a comic book villain, he was then a real-world political leader. With nearly one million copies sold, it was considered an instant hit and got the attention of Nazi sympathizers and anti-war activists who wrote angry and even threatening letters. Flag-draped superheroes soon came out of the woodwork but few could compete. Simon served as head editor of the Marvel Comics precursor, Timely Comics, during this time, but soon moved on with Kirby to create a brand new genre for the comics art form: romance. Now frequently satirized, romance comics were a massive hit and brought in a whole new demographic. The two were also pioneers in establishing the horror and true crime genres in comics, which were also huge sellers. Simon went on to consult for Harvey Comics in the 1960s, helping to develop then new characters Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. Simon also wrote two autobiographies, The Comic Book Makers and this year’s Joe Simon: My Life in Comics.

Indicative of how small the industry is and was back then, the two shared studio space in New York City for a time.

Comic Book Movies and TV Shows for the Rest of 2011

Well the big summer blockbusters are all done. But that doesn’t mean comic books are done invading pop culture entertainment. I always think the source material is better, but checking out comic book adaptations, whether TV or film, can be a good way of sampling. Here’s what’s coming down the pike for the rest of 2011:

Piled Higher and Deeper: The PhD Movie – Live action comedy about graduate college.

The Walking Dead returns to AMC this October

The Walking Dead Season 2 – Live action horror TV series about a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

Batman: Year One – Animated feature-length movie about the noir-ish retelling of the early days of Bruce Wayne’s superhero career.

  • Schedule: Released on DVD, Blu-ray and for download on Tuesday, October 18.
  • Based on one of the seminal DC Comics graphic novels, Batman: Year One by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli. The story was originally published in Batman comic books in 1987.

X-Men Anime Series – Animated TV series imported from Japan featuring the mutant superheroes Cyclops, Wolverine and others fighting for a world that fears and hates them.

  • Schedule: 12 episodes starting Friday, October 21 at 11 PM Eastern on G4.
  • Based on various X-Men comic books and graphic novels published by Marvel Comics over the years but specifically narrowing in on New X-Men by writer Grant Morrison and various artists, as well as Astonishing X-Men by writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Season 2 – Animated TV series about Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and their superhero friends fighting evil.

  • Schedule: 26 episodes starting on a Sunday in October at 10 AM Eastern and Pacific on Disney XD
  • Based on a whole slew of Avengers and other comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others, as well as The Kree-Skrull War by writer Roy Thomas, artist Neal Adams and others, and Secret Invasion by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Francis Yu, published by Marvel Comics. Plus there’s definitely inspiration taken from the Iron Man movies.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws

Green Lantern: The Animated Series Season 1 – CGI animated series about a sci-fi superhero with cosmically powered jewelry.

  • Schedule: This was originally set to debut last week but now a preview is going to air this Fall, possibly in November, with the full 26-episode season to start in Spring 2012 on Cartoon Network.
  • Based on countless Green Lantern comics but more specifically this summer’s Green Lantern movie and recent Green Lantern comic books and graphic novels by writer Geoff Johns and others published by DC Comics.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn – CGI animated 3D feature film using performance capture technology. It’s about a plucky journalist and his dog going on a globe-trotting treasure hunt.

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments or email and I’ll add them in.

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Independence Day, America! Not bad for 235 years old.

During World War II, there were tons of patriotic superheroes popping up. The first was The Shield but Marvel’s Captain America was the big hit that brought the parade of copy cats and twists on the theme. The first issue of Captain America Comics famously featured Cap slugging Adolf Hitler months before the US officially entered the war. Although there had been plenty of tactical and policy support from the US, a lot of Americans were against getting involved. The American propaganda machine was revving up to win support for active participation, and the use of a real world villain like Adolf Hitler in the still-young superhero comic was unique. Comic books had never taken such an overt political stance on current events. The comic was a huge hit and soon the original hits Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel were following Captain America’s lead. Within months, every superhero ever was a dyed-in-the-wool patriot, even characters who had no reason to fight so passionately on behalf of the United States, like the undersea hero Namor the Sub-Mariner.

Here’s a parade of some of the flag-themed heroes during those times. Happy Fourth!

The Shield (created by Harry Shorten and Irv Norving; first published by MLJ Magazines, January 1940)

Captain America (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; first published by Timely Comics, March 1941)

The American Crusader (created by Max Plaisted, first published by Standard Comics, August 1941)

The Flag (created by Aaron Wyn (?); first published by Ace Publications, October 1941)

Fighting Yank (created by Richard Hughes and Jon Blummer; first published by Nedor Comics, September 1941)

Miss America (created by Otto Binder and Al Gabriele; first published by Timely Comics, November 1943

(Pics provided by ComicBookDB.com and Comics.org.)

Free Comic Book Day 2011 is this Saturday

Do you want FREE comics? You’re in luck! This Saturday, May 7, is Free Comic Book Day!

After enjoying the new Marvel Studios movie Thor opening this Friday, head out to your local participating comic book shop and get yourself some all-new comics for absolutely nothing. It’s a great way to discover comics for the first time, get back in to them if it’s been a while, or just celebrate the American art form of comics! (It’s also a great way to prepare yourself for the other big comic book movies this summer: Priest (May 13), X-Men: First Class (June 3), Green Lantern (June 17), Captain America (July 22), and Cowboys & Aliens (July 29).)

You can get exclusive comic books made just for Free Comic Book Day featuring the Amazing Spider-Man, Avatar the Last Airbender, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Green Lantern, Betty & Veronica, Darkwing Duck, Kung Fu Panda, Richie Rich, the Dark Crystal, the Simpsons, Captain America, Thor, Inspector Gadget, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Tick, Mickey Mouse, Young Justice, Batman: the Brave & the Bold, and so many more. See here for a complete list of free comics available at participating stores.

Lots of stores are also holding special sales and events including signings with comics creators.

Locally, comic stores all around Los Angeles County will be celebrating with free comic books, discounted comics and graphic novels, guest appearances by comic book artists and writers, and more! Additional announcements will probably be announced this week, so keep your eye on your favorite store’s website or Facebook page.

Some stores have really pulled out all of the stops:

Golden Apple on Melrose will be open an hour earlier than normal for the big day. Starting right at 10 AM, there will be comics creators giving free autographs and sketches all day, plus 20% off everything, free Lipton Brisk Green Lantern tea & hot dogs, free Priest movie stuff, a bounce house for kids (!) and more! Creators signing: 10 AM – Top Cow Productions president Matt Hawkins, writer Jeff Cahn (Red Spike), writer Owen Weisman (Samurai’s Blood) and cartoonist/animator Scott Shaw! (The Flintstones, Simpsons Comics); 12 noon: actor/writer Walter Koenig (Things to Come); 2 PM – writer Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Super Dinosaur) and artist Jason Howard (Super Dinosaur); 4 PM – writer Marc Andreyko (True Blood: Tainted Love, Let Met In: Crossroads), and writers Brian McCarthy & Michael Lent (Brimstone).

At Earth-2 Comics both store locations will have plenty to do, like free sketches from 10 AM to 12 noon by Todd Brocasso Harris (in Sherman Oaks) and Justin Rodrigues (Northridge). Then from 12 noon to 2 PM, writer and DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash), and writer and Executive Vice President of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb (Batman: Hush, Spider-Man: Blue) will be available for autographs in Sherman Oaks. The two will be at the Northridge location from 3 to 5 PM. The store will also have an Earth-2 exclusive Green Lantern comic.

Free Comic Book Day 2011 (by Darwyn Cooke)

Meltdown Comics will be holding amazing special events all day long! From 11 AM to 3 PM, including a free screening of Jim Henson‘s classic movie The Dark Crystal and life-sized Skeksis statues used in the original 1982 movie! Writer Brian Holguin, who wrote a new Dark Crystal story in the free comic book flip book released for Free Comic Book Day, will be on hand for autographs, as will David Petersen, writer/illustrator of Mouse Guard, which makes up the second half of the flip book. Plus free posters, prizes, giveaways, and gourmet grilled cheese from The Grilled Cheese Truck. At the same time, from 11 AM to 2 PM, Jason JFish Fischer of Studio JFish will be present to sell his new underground comics, the adults only Junqueland #1, art anthology Fine Literature #2, and fantasy/adventure Jaephisch and the Dark Rainbow Chapters 1 & 2. At 1 PM, Shane and Chris Houghton, creators of the all-ages comic Reed Gunther, will hold a comics creating class just for kids. From 2:00 – 3:30 PM, writers Jeff Cahn (Red Spike) and Owen Weisman (Samurai’s Blood) of Benaroya Publishing will be signing. Finally, at 4 PM in the Meltdown Gallery, there will be a Graphic Noir panel with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov (Echoes, Tumor) and writer/artist Kody Chamberlain (Sweets, Punks: The Comic), as they discuss their creative processes and influences, followed by a brief signing.

Burbank’s House of Secrets will be going all day long, from 11 AM to 7 PM. From 12 noon to 2 PM, they’ll have Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and Sherm Cohen, cover artist of the new SpongeBob Comics.

The Comic Bug in Hermosa Beach has a ton of creators lined up, scheduled for 12 noon to 3 PM giving free sketches and autographs in addition to huge sales and live super-heroes for photo ops. Their line-up will include writer/artist Mike Mignola (Hellboy, Baltimore), writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre), TV & comics writer Christopher Yost (Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, New X-Men), writer Joshua Williamson (Fractured Fables, Yo Gabba Gabba Comic Book Time), writer/letterer Richard Starkings (Elephantmen), animator/artist Phil Ortiz (The Simpsons), Jeff Stokely (Fraggle Rock) and lots more. Artist Joe Benitez (Lady Mechanika) will be there 3 – 5 PM.

Collector’s Paradise Comics & Gallery in Winnetka has a full day of events planned, including featured guests like Whilce Portacio (Wetworks, Artifacts), Tomm Coker (Undying Love, Daredevil Noir), Joshua Fialkov (Tumor, Echoes) and a lot more giving autographs and/or sketches to raise money for the non-profit organization The Hero Initiative from 12 noon to 3 PM. Plus the store will be having its biggest sale of the year, costumed superhero characters, and the Calbi gourmet food truck.

Read more on the history of Free Comic Book Day… (more…)

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Short Story

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year last Friday. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and I’ll also give you a link to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Short Story category, kind of the equivalent of the Oscar for Best Short Film.

Best Short Story

Take a closer look with the click through: (more…)

Make your own comics at Marvel.com – like this one but probably better

My comedic genius at work. Click image for higher quality version at Marvel.com

Hey, look what I made!

Marvel.com has a fun little program where you can create your own comic strips and comic books using clip art. It’s kind of a limited selection but it’s plenty to tinker around. I’m sure younger kids would have fun playing around with it and sort of learning how comics are made (more or less). You can pick Marvel characters like the three I picked above, as well as the X-Men’s Wolverine, Beast and Colossus, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, a few villains, and more. You can choose your panel layouts, pick your backgrounds, speech balloons, type in your own dialogue, and add sound effects.

If you sign up with an account, you can build a portfolio, save the comics at Marvel.com, save them to your computer as PDFs, and email them to friends. Marvel.com apparently saves all of them on their website. There’s a gallery here where you can see some fun comics posted, although it doesn’t look like they display ones created without setting up an account since I don’t see mine there. Other users can rate and leave comments for each comic.

I don’t know when this was added but it’s a fun feature. Maybe I’ll torture you with more of these.

Copyrights and comics

As a preview to their upcoming Comic Book Comics #5 by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, Evil Twin Comics has posted a 6-page excerpt titled “The Grabbers”. It does an excellent job encapsulating and presenting copyright law and how it has effected the history of comic books. The piece focuses on Superman, so this is a great prequel to that BBC Superman documentary where we see Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster a few years after the events depicted at the end of this comic.

The comic also covers the legal shenanigans involving Bob Kane (Batman co-creator), Bill Finger (Batman, Robin and Joker co-creator), Jerry Robinson (Robin and Joker co-creator), Joe Simon (Captain America co-creator), and Jack Kirby (co-creator of Captain America and half of the rest of the Marvel Comics superhero universe).

What’s amazing (and kind of sad) is that a lot of these legal battles are still being fought.