Monday, February 01, 2021

What Was the Best Comic of 1961?

by BK Munn

I've seen some press for an upcoming repackaging of Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four #1, the comic book that arguably launched the Marvel brand of superheroes. The new book tries to place FF1 in its historical context by reprinting it alongside the other Marvel/Atlas comics that were published in the same month, presumably to show what an major departure the title was. Of course, comics historians who have studied the period know that the Fantastic Four is not really a major departure for Kirby, being an extension and articulation of several themes from his previous superhero, science fiction, and romance comics work. Far from being revolutionary, there's a case to be made that the Fantastic Four isn't even the most interesting comic book Kirby himself created that year! Sure, its importance in paving the way for the revival of superheroes at Marvel can't be understated, but most would agree it's not the greatest comic book, even for a kids' comic, and it would be awhile before the title of "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" would even be remotely applicable. Which leads me to ask, what was the best comic of 1961?

In the sphere of U.S. children's comic books, there were many contenders in 1961. Dell published all-time classic stories by John Stanley and Carl Barks, and had many good-looking adventure comics like Tarzan. National was cranking out handsome and entertaining comics drawn by the likes of Curt Swan, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth and Carmine Infantino. Archie had Dan DeCarlo and Harry Lucey. The list goes on.
And what about comics intended for an older or more general audience? There weren't many graphic novels published in 1961 (although there were some), but the world of U.S. magazine and newspaper comic strips was having a banner year. Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine was going strong in '61 and you could walk into any bookstore and buy a collection of great comics by immortals like Charles Schulz (Peanuts Every Sunday) and Walt Kelly (Pogo a la Sundae). Any daily newspaper was chock-full of masterful soap opera and adventure storylines by greats like Milt Canniff, Frank Robbins, Harold Gray, Chester Gould, and many more. Johnny Hart's "B.C." had just started to hit its stride and Jules Feiffer, a graphic novel pioneer, had just published a new collection of his decidedly-adult Village Voice strips, "Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl." And don't forget, Jack Kirby was winding up his "Sky Masters" sci-fi strip at the same time as FF#1 was hitting the stands.
Looking further afield, Franco-Belgian comics were having a good year. The first Asterix album by Goscinny & Uderzo came out in 1961. Herge was serializing masterwork "The Castafiore Emerald" in his Tintin magazine, having just released the sublime children's classic "Tintin in Tibet" the previous year. Franquin had put out a new Spirou: "Z comme Zorglub." There were also a ton of lush adventure strip albums by the likes of Uderzo, Jij√© (assisted by Jean Giraud), Jean Graton, and others. Elsewhere, Argentine artists like Alberto Breccia, Solano Lopez, and Hugo Pratt were breaking new ground in work for various UK and Spanish-language publishers. In Japan, the gekiga movement was underway, with Yoshihiro Tatsumi creating gritty noirish manga in a new style. Hideko Mizuno published her breakthrough shojo manga “Gin no habira” (Silver Petals), Leiji Matsumoto published his first sci-fi epic, "Denko Ozma," and among many other things Tezuka published his "Captain Ozma" (no relation!) in 1961.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Comics in Film: Robert Crumb's "Despair" in Smithereens

by BK Munn

Comics in Film: Smithereens (1982). 

Billy reads a copy of Robert Crumb's Despair while his romantically-linked bedmates, manic pixie punk girl Wren (Susan Berman) and washed-up rocker Eric (Richard Hell) argue. Even though the girls are crazy for him, Eric is so broke he has to live in a shitty apartment with Billy, a dumb loser who no girl is dumb enough to hook up with. Billy is so dumb he reads only comic books, like this classic existential Underground Comic from 1969, one of many cultural signifiers in the film, set in the blighted NYC of the day, for the ennui and emptiness of the scene and the lack of options for young people, especially young women. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Recent Flexi-disc Comic Books

The greatest novelty publishing format mixes two of my favourite things: comics and records. There was a brief vogue for including flexi-discs in comic books during the 1980s. Famously, Alan Moore recorded as part of combo The Sinister Ducks and released a flexi, "March of the Sinister Ducks"/"Old Gangsters Never Die", in Critters #23 (1988). Issues of Nexus, Scout, RAW, Femforce, Mad, and many others included similar stunts. With the resurgence of vinyl, the flexi has reappeared and the combining of comics and records has also made a comeback, usually in comics with a music connection or as stand-alone marketing gimmicks added to record packages by musicians. Here are some recent flexi-discs included in comic books from the last few years:

Ed Piskor / Jorun Bombay, Hip Hop Family Tree #12 (2016)

Publisher's blurb: "Too many incredible milestones in this issue to name! LL Cool J makes a record with Rick Rubin and Def Jam. KRS One gets arrested and meets his future DJ. The Fat Boys and Run DMC headline the first national Hip Hop tours. Just to name a few. PLUS: This issue comes with an exclusive flexi disc of hip hop gold!" [flexi-disc by Jorun Bombay: "Hip Hop Family Tree"]

HANS ZIMMER & JUNKIE XL, "There War Here" (2016)

Inserted into a special edition of Birth.Movies.Death, the magazine of soundtrack label Mondo Records. Publisher's blurb: This March titans tussled as BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE exploded into theaters. To celebrate the long-awaited team up of the world’s finest superheroes, BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. published a special collector’s issue exploring the histories of the characters in comics, cartoons, TV shows and movies. From ACTION COMICS #1 to the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. tells you everything you need to know to watch Batman and Superman square off.
As a bonus we are randomly inserting limited flexi discs featuring a track from Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's epic BATMAN V SUPERMAN score into copies of the magazine. Only 2,500 exist! The issue features the secret history of Wonder Woman, an appreciation of Prince’s classic Batdance and an essay by comic book legend Mark Waid reminding us “Why Superman Matters.” This spectacular collector’s edition boasts a dynamic wraparound Mondo-designed cover by Oliver Barrett, and inside it features an exclusive gallery of Mondo’s most exciting DC Comics artwork, reprinted in full page, full color glory!

CHARLY BLISS, Guppy: Issue One (2017)

Publisher's blurb: "Now you too can experience one of the year's most critically acclaimed albums ... in comic book form! Barsuk Records and Charly Bliss are pleased to present Guppy: Issue One, a limited-edition 16-page full-color comic that's a companion piece to Charly Bliss' debut album Guppy. Not only does this comic include artwork by noted indie comic book artists Sadie DuPuis (of Speedy Ortiz), Michael DeForge, and cover art by Noah Van Sciver (amongst others) but it also includes a flexi-disc with two previously unreleased tracks from the Guppy sessions, "Golden Age" and "Special", along with a download code for digital enjoyment. The comic book is limited to 500 worldwide and each are hand numbered."

FRANCESCO DE MASI / ANOTHER DEAD JUNKIE, The New York Ripper theme (2017)

This comic book adaptation of The New York Ripper, the 1982 Italian giallo film directed by Lucio Fulci, contains a signed-and-numbered 7-Inch New York Ripper flexi picture disc soundtrack featuring Francesco De Masis' theme music from the original soundtrack performed by Another Dead Junkie.  Flexi art by Pat Carbajal, with colours by Bruna Costa. Comes in a plastic sleeve with liner notes insert, featuring the original poster art from the original theatrical release.

Denzel Curry, Unlocked (2020)

Publisher's blurb: "Earlier this year, Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats put their heads together and emerged with a clever project, Unlocked. It was first released as a short film/long-form music video, in which a collaborative album between the two leaks online, so the two have to virtually traverse the internet to recover it. The next day, they released the songs from the film as a new album of the same title. Now, Curry and Beats are dipping back into the Unlocked well, as they are gearing up to release the project in comic book form.

The plot of the comic comes courtesy of Psycho Films, and the 48-page book will be illustrated by Sam Hochman, Joey Prosser, Forrest Whaley, Justin Johnson, Chaz Bottoms, Malik Bolton, Rachel Headlam, Borboev Shakhnazer, and Asekov Tilek. Additionally, the book will include a vinyl flexi-disc insert of the single “DIET_.” "

Monday, September 28, 2020

Illustrations from Capital and Labor by Paul Krafft, 1907

Capital and Labor by Rev. W.S. Harris, with illustrations by Paul Krafft. This 300-page manifesto from 1907 is written from the point-of-view of a Christian socialist, so it's not exactly a revolutionary tract. It is questionable for instance on the matters of homelessness, sex work, suffrage, colonialism, race, and a host of other issues. It is, however, a colossally wonderful artifact, and the illustrations, including many steel-plate engravings by the artist Paul Krafft, are Biblically epic in scale and execution. The American author, Reverend William Schuler Harris (1865-1956), is also the noted author of two science fiction-tinged books that predate the Christian fantasies of C.S. Lewis: Sermons by the Devil (1904) and Life in a Thousand Worlds (1905). The artist Paul Krafft (1877-1953) was a German emigre who did work for many New York and Philadelphia publishers. Published in Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The First Use of Multiverse in Comics?

Notes on "The Multiverse, Part1"

Parallel worlds, counter-Earths, and alternate dimensions have been with us in the comic books almost from the outset. In the world of DC Comics, Wonder Woman encountered a parallel world as far back as 1953 in "Wonder Woman's Invisible Twin" (WW #59), and The Flash famously introduced the concept of Earth-2 and jump-started the DC multiverse with "The Flash of Two Worlds" in 1961 (Flash #123). But when did the phrase "multiverse" first get applied to the infinite number of parallel worlds inhabited by the superhero characters of Marvel and DC?

I imagined the first use of multiverse in the comics would have happened in one of the many Justice League/Justice Society team-ups that took place every year in the pages of The Justice League of America comic book, but reading through these "Crisis" stories didn't turn up any citations. Ditto for any 1960s Superman stories, so chock-full of imaginary tales, doppelgangers, and parallel worlds.

It seems The Multiverse wasn't really popularized until Michael Moorcock started using it in his Elric stories in the 60s and 70s and it took awhile to filter into comic books. The first DC use I can find is Claw the Unconquered #7 (cover-dated May-June 1976), "The People of the Maelstrom", written by David Michelinie and drawn by Ernie Chan. 

Claw #7

Over at Marvel, I couldn't find a reference until What If #10. "What If ... Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?", written by Don Glut with art by  Rick Hoburg.

What If #10

Friday, August 07, 2020

Don't Your Shoulder Blades Itch? by Vladimir Mayakovsky


Whenever a rainbow hangs down its bow 

or the sky 

shines blue 

without patch or stitch, 

tell me, 

don’t your shoulder blades — 


begin to itch? 

Don’t you wish 

that from under your jersey 

where a drudge-born hump 

used to hide, 

throwing off 

the shirt’s dull burden, 

a pair of wings 

would go winging wide/ 

Or when night 

with its nightliest stairs 

lolls along 

and the Bears — 

Great and Little — 

prowl and growl, 

don’t you feel restless? 

Don’t you long. . .? 

Oh yes, you do, 

and how! 

We’re cramped. 

And the sky 

has no bounds, 

no border. 


to fly up 

to God’s apartments 

and show 

old Savaoh 

an eviction order 

from the Moscow Soviet’s 

Housing Department! 


dug in 

among meadow 

and grove, 



in your earthly pit! 

Now then, Kaluga, 

come on, Tambov! 


like sparrows 


Isn’t it fline, 

with marriage on your mind, 

swish! — 

to wing off 

over land and sea, 

to pluck out 

an ostrich’s feather 

from behind 

and back 

with a present 

for your fiance? 


On what 

have you fixed an eye? 


By a birdie’s dot? 


soar swallow-like 

into the sky; 

it’s time you grew wings, 

That’s what! 

Here’s a good thing to do — 

no deed more audacious; 

choose a night 

and dash through it, 


to Rome; 

give a thrashing 

to a Roman fascist 

then back 

in an hour 

Or else — 

to your samovar in Tver. 

the dawn’s opened up 

and go racing: 

you see

who's faster — 

it or me? 

Buf. . . . 

all this is nothing 

but imagination. 


so far 

are a wingless nation. 


are created on a lousy plan: 

a back 

good for nothing but pains. 

So to buy an aeroplane each, 

if you can, 

is really 

all that remains. 

Like a bird then with tail, 

two wings 

and feathers 

you’ll whet your nose 

all records to beat. 

Tear off the ground! 

Fly, planes, through the heavens! 


soar up 

In a sky-bound fleet! 



stretching up like a pole, 

admire from earth 

the heavenly hole? 


show your bravery, 



Friday, May 01, 2020

Comics in Film: Apache Kid in Cronenberg's The Dead Zone

by BK Munn

Comics in Film: The Dead Zone (1983). A copy of Apache Kid #53 in a serial killer's bedroom. The comic book appears in the childhood bedroom of Deputy Frank Dodd, the Castle Rock Killer. Dodd (played by Nicholas Campbell) retreats to the seemingly derelict home where he lives with his over-protective mother, pursued by his boss Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) and precog John Smith (Christopher Walken), after Smith correctly identifies Dodd as the man responsible for a series of rapes and murders in a small New England town. The killer's room is littered with many childish features, from its cowboy wallpaper to broken toys to a rocking horse, and is part of the film's obsession with rooms and childhood. The "Cowboys and Indians" theme is repeated in another room later, when Walken's character visits the home of a millionaire with a troubled son who needs tutoring. Apache Kid #53 (really #1) was published in 1950, and is a regular western-hero-with-secret-identity character typical of the period. The cover to this issue is drawn by Joe Maneely, the main artist for Atlas/Marvel during the 1950s before his untimely death in 1958 led to Jack Kirby returning to the company and starting the revival of superheroes. Other stories in the issue are drawn by Syd Shores and Mike Sekowsky. The appearance of the comic in the film is a nice touch, playing with the Wertham-esque idea of comics as junk culture responsible for juvenile delinquency and violent and sexually sadistic tendencies. The dual-identity nature of the Apache Kid (a white boy raised by Apaches after his family was slaughtered only to witness the slaughter of his adoptive family by whites) is also a call out to the way the film plays with its many dualities: cop/killer, villain/hero, adult/child, etc. Both director Cronenberg and Stephen King, the original author of The Dead Zone, were fans of comic books as kids, and Cronenberg has talked about his childhood obsessions, including "E.C. Comics, scary and bizarre and violent and nasty—the ones your mother didn’t want you to have."