Comics Unmasked at British Library

The British Library’s exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK runs through August 19. (Parental guidance required for visitors under 16 years.)

Comics Unmasked is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics, showcasing works that uncompromisingly address politics, gender, violence, sexuality and altered states. It explores the full anarchic range of the medium with works that challenge categorisation, preconceptions and the status quo, alongside original scripts, preparatory sketches and final artwork that demystify the creative process.

Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Grant Morrison (Batman: Arkham Asylum) and Posy Simmonds (Tamara Drewe) are some of the stars of an exhibit that stretches back in time to encompass 19th-century illustrated reports of Jack the Ripper, and medieval manuscripts.

Cheryl Morgan and James Bacon have toured the exhibit and written up their impressions.

comics-unmaked-british-library-01-628x840 COMPRESSMorgan looked for the message in the physical display as well as the literary themes in “The British Library Does #ComicsUnmasked” –

Finally, as we have got onto gender issues, I note in passing that the exhibition space is littered with mannequins dressed as political protesters and wearing V for Vendetta masks. What Alan Moore thinks of that, I shudder to think. On close examination it is obvious that many of the mannequins are female. However, they are small-breasted (especially in comparison with comic-book women) and are all wearing androgynous outfits comprising jeans, t-shirts and hoodies, plus the undeniably male Guy Fawkes masks, and that makes it look like all of the figures are male. I found that rather off-putting.

Morgan also notes there is “a remarkable suffragette poster that I suspect will horrify most modern social justice campaigners.”

Forbidden Planet hosts James Bacon’s text and many photos – “James Reports From the British Library’s Superb Comics Unmasked” includes a photo of that dread poster, by the way. And offers these insights into what the curators are trying to achieve:

Along with Paul Gravett are co-curator John Harris Dunning, Adrian Edwards and Roger Walshe of the British Library. Walshe repeatedly says that he is not apologising for what is on display; this is a strong exhibition that some might find alarming, controversial, but the message here is that comics are not just for kids, and the exhibition is about the message of the media of comics, not any particular genre. Yes, comics are fun, they are a pastime, they are beautiful, they are fantasy, they are powerful, they are a true form of literature, imparting dangerous thoughts and ideas, asking questions of the reader, forcing reflection and consideration, or making laughter.

Credit Sought for Batman Co-Creator

List me among the last to learn that Bob Kane, credited as sole creator of Batman, was not the originator of many key elements of the comic. A fellow named Bill Finger named major characters, came up with notable villains, and wrote lots of the stories. Fans are clamoring more loudly than ever for DC to give him proper credit. Batman News reports –

During a recent WonderCon Anaheim panel for Batman’s 75th anniversary, an audience member asked panelists for opinions about the fact that writer Bill Finger does not get a creator credit alongside Bob Kane, who is credited as the legendary character’s sole creator even though Finger came up with defining qualities for this character before Kane ever signed his first contract to produce the Dark Knight’s adventures. Finger wrote the first Batman story, his tragic origin, and hundreds upon hundreds of comic book stories for more than a quarter of a century. He named both Bruce Wayne and Gotham City, he created Commissioner Gordon, he developed many other supporting characters, he created or co-created one fantastic villain after another, and yet he died broke and relatively unknown more than 40 years ago….

This fall, the Warner Bros. television series GOTHAM will feature many Bill Finger creations, including the city itself. Will the series that carries the name he gave to Batman’s city credit him in any way?

A commenter filled in newcomers on the comic’s ancient history.

Not a huge evil conspiracy, just a little personal evil one. Bob Kane took credit for Finger’s work. When DC found out about Finger, they hired him directly rather than letting Kane continue to skim off a large chunk of Finger’s earnings.

Kane was 21 when he “created” Batman. He signed a contract with National that was very similar to the one Siegel & Shuster signed for Superman. When the character because a success, Kane went back to the publishers and told them he was only 17 when he signed the contract, making it legally invalid and forcing them to sign a new agreement that was far more lucrative for him, including the provision that he would always be credited as the sole creator of a character to which he contributed almost nothing (virtually every panel of the first Batman story was traced from elsewhere). His claim to having been a minor was false, but he knew they couldn’t prove it, since his birth certificate had “disappeared” from the city’s hall of records sometime prior; one of his relatives did that to make sure he wouldn’t get drafted (it happened a lot after WWI).

One of Bob Kane’s angriest critics also charges him with widespread plagiarism and displays copious examples on this webpage.

Some More “Lost Fandom”

By James H. Burns: Howard Smith — New York journalist, filmmaker (including 1977′s Gizmo, displaying a fascination with unlikely inventions), and a radio host – passed away Thursday, May 1. (See “Howard Smith, Trend Spotting Columnist, Dies at 77” by Paul Vitello in the New York Times.)

Friday morning, I wrote the following at the New York Radio Message Board. But it didn’t occur to me until this afternoon that if Smith was visiting a few comic book — and perhaps other — conventions in the late 1970s, he may have been contemplating making a film about the convention scene. Such a documentary might seriously have altered the history of fandom, or at least made more folk aware of conventions and the like, years earlier…  Of course, Smith might simply have been checking out a new, possibly fun event he had just heard about, as so many of us once did!

“Many of Smith’s interviews are available as CDs, and some times podcasts, at www.thesmithtapes.com/  (These include conversations with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, James Taylor…)

“But also of interest:

“Smith could be modest.

“I met him in the late 1970s, at one of Phil Seuling’s comic book shows (variably at the Statler Hilton, the Commodore, the Americana Hotel — but at that point in time, the Taft, over at 50th Street and 7th Avenue).

“For a while, the fantasy convention scene went well beyond an interest in the four color arts, or science fiction, or Star Trek

“In that pre-internet era, there was no telling whom you might meet walking the dealers room or, at the multi-day events, the hotel corridors.

“It was almost as though the vibes of a different kind of jungle drum had echoed throughout the Tri-State area, and many with an interest in the fantastic (or unusual) appeared to check things out.

“One could turn from a conversation with a leading nuclear physicist, to musician Ruben Blades saying Hello from across a pile of comic books (years before, of course, he ran for president of Panama), bump into an actor one had just seen Off Broadway, and then be surprised by the appearance of a Show World  stripper, in her civvies, as she perused a pile of paperbacks.

“I think Smith was a little stunned that I recognized him from a Tomorrow Show guest shot with Tom Snyder, promoting his documentary film, Gizmo (about unusual inventions).

“But then he was perfectly pleasant.

“We spoke a few times, perhaps also by phone, and never, ever did he mention the groundbreaking work he had done as a columnist a decade earlier (as I just learned about in the Times obit).

“Nor did he mention his far more famous movie, which he co-directed, Marjoe, one of the only documentaries then or now, to receive major theatrical distribution (and which also won an Oscar).”

Charley’s War To End All Wars

James Bacon’s verdict is that the finest war story about The Great War is a comic. It’s Charley’s War, originally published over three decades ago, and now reprinted by Titan Books as a 10-volume set, with commentary, essays, photos and reference material.

James’ review of Charley’s War, posted at Forbidden Planet, benefits from the perspectives of his recent conversation with writer Pat Mills.

His review is also partly autobiographical — James’ father bought the comic as it came out in the late Seventies and early Eighties and he was deeply influenced.

Even as a boy, a child, one could see the good and the bad. Mills was able to craft a depth to his characters, so one could feel the broader conflict, and see the horrors in individuals, and it was clear they were part of an overall system, driven by class and a pox on the ordinary soldier. The writing captures a broader perspective for the reader, bringing elements that are unknown in my case, or less known to bear, and the treatment of soldiers so horrible, and yet as a boy I could understand that sometimes the enemy is not the coal-scuttle helmeted stormtrooper, who occasionally would be portrayed as just as hapless as some of Charley’s buddies, but the officer class, the system, the cowardice within and how empathy for humanity is something that friends understand but the class system wants to destroy.

[Thanks to James Bacon for the link.]

Agents of the Night

By James H. Burns: In 1983, I was stunned when I called Rich Buckler, who had just taken over as editor of Archie Comcs’ new super hero line, and he told me that there was no need for a reintroduction.

Rich was the noted comics artist and creator who had had a lengthy run on Marvel’s Fantastic 4, as well as contributing to several other super hero and science fiction  titles. (His origins, in fact, went back to Detroit fandom, in the late 1960s.)

In 1979, Rich said, I had made a big difference in his life, at a rather crucial time, when we had a long conversation at Ojohn’s Restaurant on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. Buckler and I were both part of a loosely knit group of writers, artists and genre enthusiasts who gathered at Dave Miley's once-upon-a-time comics and bookstore on Carmine Street (just off Bleeker, around the corner from 6th Avenue.)

Dave himself should be famous as the manager of what had to be one of the very first comics oriented shops in America, in 1968, on St. Mark's Place in the East Village. Just a short while later, Miley would begin a long association with Bill Morse when the latter opened the Village Comics Art Shop (whose most famous location was on 6th Avenue (the Avenue of the Americas) near West 4th Street, just a few doors down from the Waverly movie theatre.

(Morse could be counted as one of the original comic book dealers, is a long time bibliophile,  and is well known in Edgar Rice Burroughs fandom. Both Morse and Miley have also been involved in publishing ventures.)

Dave's store on Carmine was his first solo effort, and wound up being, for a while, a kind of ad hoc salon for lovers of fantasy and science fiction. (Legendary fantasy artist Roy Krenkel, for example, was an occasional habitue of the store, pontificating pleasantly on a variety of topics, including his wish for a planet he named Plumpus 9, inhabited solely by the hefty women he favored...)

There were more than a few late night conversations that ended with a bunch of folks crashing in Miley's apartment in the back.

Rich Buckler in 2008. Photo by Luigi Novi.

Rich Buckler in 2008. Photo by Luigi Novi.

When I ran into Rich Buckler again a few years ago at a New York comic con, I was even more astonished when -- after his lovely and unexpected proclamation of decades earlier -- he had no idea who I was!

("I must not have been wearing my glasses!" Rich said later.)

But far more importantly, I hope some people remember Buckler's name tonight, when his Deathlok character appears on Marvel's and ABC -TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The cyborg was created by Buckler, and co-developed by writer Doug Moench, for editor Roy Thomas, debuting in Astonishing Tales #25, in 1974.

It seems the television incarnation of Deathlok may be based on later versions of Deathlok evolved by others, but Buckler’s inspiration is also significant, for there are genre historians who belive it was an influence on both the Terminator and Robocop.

Rich, ultimately, has contributed to virtually every major super hero mythos for both top American comic book companies, and is now exploring fine and other arts (particularly with what he calls his "New Surrealism"), as can be seen at his website, www.richbuckler.com/

In the early 1970s, Deathlok was a concept in his sketchbooks that had been long-a-borning.

As Buckler discusses in his 2010 multi-part memoir, courtesy of Daniel Best’s “20th Century Danny Boy” website:

"The concept would have elements of Mind control, military black ops, terrorism, science gone mad, and a dark apocalyptic future scenario with a main character who was a computer-programmed assassin gone Rogue... It seemed to be a time for the creation of a new archetype -- one that would reflect the technological age we all were headed into (or, rather, the future that our world leaders seem to be making sure we are heading into...)”

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Kickstarter Funds Comic-Con Book

Alan Moore and Jack Kirby in 1985.

Alan Moore and Jack Kirby in 1985.

Jackie Estrada needed $18,000 of pledges to publish Comic Book People, a hardcover photo tribute to 40 years of Comic-Con. Her Kickstarter appeal was a complete success – by yesterday she’d received $28,360 in pledges from 438 backers.

Estrada has been taking photos at comic book conventions for decades. Comic Book People will publish 600 shots of comic creators and other notables from the 1970s and 1980s. Most will be in black-and-white, but there will be a 16 page color section.

Here are just a few of the people she plans to include:

Golden and Silver Age greats like Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Carl Barks, Bob Kane, Harvey Kurtzman, C. C. Beck, Murphy Anderson, Jules Feiffer, Gardner Fox, L. B. Cole, Alex Schomburg, Mike Sekowsky, Curt Swan, Jack Katz, Joe Kubert, John Romita, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Bill Woggon, [and] Wally Wood…

SF & fantasy authors, such as the great Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Leigh Brackett, George R. R. Martin, Theodore Sturgeon, Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, Larry Niven, Walter Gibson, Jerry Pournelle, and many more…

Her goal is to have the 160-page book ready for Comic-Con this July.

Ellison Signs at Blastoff

Inside Blastoff SMALLBy John King Tarpinian: Today, January 18, Harlan Ellison, Paul Chadwick and Ken Steacy helped celebrate Blastoff Comics 2nd Anniversary by signing their graphic novel, 7 Against Chaos .

Harlan was in good spirits as was the gaggle of fans lined up outside in the 85 degree California sunshine.  The store made sure everybody was properly hydrated by passing out water, not to mention feeding the parking meters for customers.

Being that I am a collector of fountain pens I was pleased to see that Harlan bought his case of pens and ink to sign the books with.  A class act indeed.

Since She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed decided we’d take the dogs on a hike from Ferndale Park to the Griffith Observatory, and having stood outside interacting with the attendees, I did not stick around much after that so this is a short-and-sweet report.

Ken Steacy, Paul Chadwick and The Growler.

Ken Steacy, Paul Chadwick and The Growler.

BLastoff storefront SMALL

Signing in progress.

Steacy, Chadwick and Harlan Ellison signing.

Line for autographs.

Autograph line.

Alan Moore – Last Interview?

Padraig O’Mealoid’s interview of Alan Moore addresses some serious issues — sexual violence against women, the Golliwogg/Galley-Wag. There’s also a discussion of personal matters including friction with critics and other creators.

PÓM: How do you respond to the contention that it is not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg?

AM: The idea that it is not the place of two white men to ‘reclaim’ (although I’m not certain that’s exactly what we were doing) or otherwise utilise a contentious black character, unless I am to understand that this principle only applies to white men using black characters, would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves. Since I can think of no obvious reason why this principle should only relate to the issue of race – and specifically to black people and white people – then I assume it must be extended to characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, political persuasions and, possibly most uncomfortably of all for many people considering these issues, social classes. I cannot assume, of course, that my perception of such a prohibition as self-evidently ridiculous and unworkable is one that will be shared unanimously, and indeed this would appear not to be the case.

[Thanks to James Bacon for the story.]

Burns: Cleaning Up After Cleaning Out Crime

Superhero Exhibit By James H. Burns: A thought occurred to me just a short while ago, as I was folding some shirts…

How do super heroes do their laundry?

If one’s living at Avengers mansion, presumably there’s no problem.  And elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, Reed Richards, I believe, rather famously created clothing consisting of unstable molecules, which have all sorts of uses (as well as, apparently, keeping an outfit pressed and free from soot!)

One would have to presume that Batman has all of these things taken care of neatly by Alfred, and I seem to recall that, in at least the original renditions, Superman wore a uniform made out of the blanket the Kents found him swaddled in, within his Kryptonian rocket. (Ma Kent, evidently, used sewing needles made from shards of the ship…)

But what if one isn’t as well connected, or doubly blessed?

It’s not as though one of the lesser known super-joes can just walk over to the dry cleaner, or even the local laundromat…

Do some of our favorite crimefighters, and galaxy busters, really have to stand over the sink, bottle of Woolite at hand, as they now fight grime…?

DC Comics Moving to Burbank

DC Comics will move to Burbank in 2015 , already home to its digital and administrative divisions.

DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson’s e-mail softened the blow to the staff by promising, “Everyone on the New York staff will be offered an opportunity to join their Burbank colleagues and those details will be shared with you individually, comprehensively and thoughtfully next week.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the link.]