Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dick Siegel,1955-2018

by BK Munn

The writer and cartoonist Dick Siegel died June 22 in Manhattan after a short illness.

Richard "Dick" Siegel was born May 27, 1955 in Los Angeles and attended Parsons School of Design in New York. A lifelong fan of comics and science fiction, some of his earliest work was as a writer and designer of several books packaged by Push Pin Studios. These include Alien Creatures and Fantastic Planets, illustrated with stills and posters from classic science fiction films and tv shows. He wrote and drew a comic strip parodying classic film called "The 4:30 Movie" for The SoHo Weekly News and was the author of two satirical works of fiction. He was for many years a chief contributing writer to the Weekly World News, where he also created the comics features Spy Cat (with artist Ernie Colon) and Matthew Daemon, Seeker of Obscure Supernaturals (with artist Mike Collins). Siegel had an extensive low-budget filmography as an indy cinematographer and director, produced and directed interviews for The National Enquirer, and wrote the screenplay for Shadow: Dead Riot, among others. He was the creator of the webseries, Smash Moron, Intergalactic Dolt.

Besides freelance work for a number of outlets as a journalist, humour writer, and pop culture historian, Siegel worked as a senior writer and the online editor for The National Enquirer from 2008 until 2015. 

For many years a resident of Staten Island, Siegel is survived by two sisters.


A 2010 GQ profile of the magazine's staff, from around the time the Enquirer was seriously being considered for a Pulitzer for its coverage of the John Edwards political scandal, focused on Siegel and his boss Barry Levine, and establishes Siegel's comic book fan bona fides:
Edwards was the first major story the Enquirer broke online. "We're the last of the Mohicans in terms of discovering our Web site," Levine says. They caught Edwards at the Beverly Hilton after that week's paper locked; worried that Edwards would attempt to spin the story before next week's edition, they posted the story on the Web site on Tuesday morning.The Enquirer's full-time Web staff consists of one guy. Dick Siegel is in his fifties, works out of a cubicle decorated with colored comic-book covers from the '60s; the fact that he's an obvious pop-culture junkie ("I was able to write Fess Parker's obit, or 90 percent of it, off the top of my head, which is scary") makes him the ideal man to run the Enquirer's Web site, where Old Hollywood types—Natalie Wood, Ingrid Bergman—tend to get more hits than Justin Bieber and the Jersey Shore kids. (By way of illustration, he pulls up a recent blog post, sourced to Carrie Fisher's Twitter, about speed fiend eddie fisher.)

"My forte is not journalism," Siegel says. "I'd be fired. I had been working at the late, lamented Weekly World News. That was after my film jobs—I'd been an independent-film cinematographer. Really bad horror movies. Including one that I wrote, about zombies at a women's prison."

He tells me that the Weekly World News gig was good training for what he does now. You learned to write short stories, in AP style, even if they concerned the travails of Bat Boy, "and present them in a serious manner, even if the punch line was a joke."

But it makes sense that someone with Siegel's background wound up at the Enquirer. The tabs are a form of rogue pop culture. They're vehicles for celebrity adoration, but they burrow, termitelike, into the sanctioned narratives of American fame. They're camp—a form of fantasy that revels and resists. They're a comic-book, zombie-movie draft of Hollywood history, right down to the zingy sobriquets.

"It's like professional wrestling," Siegel says. "When we wrote about Tiger Woods's wife, we always described her as 'livid,' so now she's always 'livid Elin.' And Rielle Hunter is 'the New-Age Temptress.'"

"Heroes and villains, in primary colors. That's what separates the giant scandals from the everyday scandals," Levine says, explaining to me why Tiger Woods and Edwards, stepping out on his cancer-stricken wife, were tabloid rocket fuel. "If somebody is a hero and they do something unthinkable, something unconscionable, if the betrayal is so overwhelmingly dirty and sickening, that's what makes what we do."

Friday, June 15, 2018

Investigating Comic Books in Canada: Maclean's Magazine, 1948

I finally picked up a physical copy of this Maclean's Magazine article from 1948. The 5-page article "What About the Comics?" by Sidney Katz appeared in the December 1st issue and for its time was a quite thorough look at the moral panic over so-called "crime comics". For the article, Katz corresponded with the New York psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, author of the anti-comics diatribe Seduction of the Innocent, and quotes an armload of other thinkers on early childhood education including Dr. Spock. The article also touches on the crusade to have the sale of crime comics criminalized, and looks at the use of religious and educational comics in the classroom, mentioning many of the then-popular U.S. comic book titles and features along the way. The article is one of the earliest published in the international "mainstream" media to treat with this subject, and comes across as fairly balanced (Katz went on to specialize in award-winning journalism with a focus on psychology and mental illness). The article is well-documented and often-cited in the study of anti-comics literature, and is even still available on the Maclean's site to subscribers, but it's nice to have my own original copy. The best part is the staged photo of the kids reading the comics in front of a Maclean's newsstand. I like to imagine this was photographed in the lobby of the Maclean's building at 481 University Ave in Toronto, perhaps using the well-dressed children of the photographer. The sale of crime comics was criminalized in Canada in 1949 as a result of The Fulton Bill.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Notes on Guelph Comics History, Part One

I'm starting to do a little bit of research into my hometown's hidden comics history as preparation for writing about our homegrown comic book company, the late, lamented, Tragedy Strikes Press.  Below we have two images from the Guelph Mercury newspaper archives, housed at the Guelph Public Library. The first is a gathering of kids trading (mostly coverless?) comics at the library in 1976. It looks like that may be a Superboy comic face up on the table, but I can't identify anything else. The second photo was taken at the first comic shop I remember going to in town, Card N Comics (located on the same street I have a business on today!), and one of the principles in Tragedy Strikes Press, co-owner Fiona Kenny. What a wonderful random sampling of the comics culture on display in that shop!

Caption: "Comic Swap Serious Business"
Notaton: "This photograph shows Sean McCarthy, Sean Hayes, Dafydd Waters, and Derek Booth taking part in a comic book trade at the Guelph Public Library."
Guelph Mercury, November 24, 1976

Caption: "Spidey, Old Buddy"
Notation: "This picture shows Fiona Kenny of Card N Comics, putting an affectionate arm around Spider Man."
Guelph Mercury, January 7, 1984.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Completely Bonkers Story of How Uncle Scrooge Creator Carl Barks Also Created Lost in Space

It may be entirely apocryphal, but fan lore has it that Carl Barks pitched a Space Family Robinson comic to Gold Key editor Chase Craig around 1960, based on the then popular Disney film adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson. Barks' duck stories were full of science fiction elements and the Disney connection is a no-brainer. The actual comic debuted in 1962, written by Del Connell and designed and drawn by Dan Spiegle. When a tv series called Lost in Space featuring a family of marooned-in-the-stars Robinsons started in 1965 on CBS, the publisher and network came to an agreement that the comic book could use the Lost in Space title, since it seemed there was a clear case of influence, if not outright plagiarism involved. So now there is a new Lost in Space on Netflix. Do we owe it all to Carl Barks?

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Seth Profile in Toque Magazine

From "Seth's Art of Preservation" in Toque #3, Winter 2018. Text and photos by Chris Tiessen.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Kirby on Unions and Efforts to Organize Comic Book Artists

Kirby was very much of his times in the post-War world. Although many of his heroes seek solutions in collective action, many of his early characters were individualists and his themes tended towards the little guy against vast conspiracies... 

From the Comics Journal interview with Gary Groth...

GROTH: Who did you deal with at DC? Did you have an editor that you dealt with directly?
KIRBY: They had several editors. I dealt with Mort Weisinger, Julie Schwartz, and Murray Boltinoff.
GROTH: Can you distinguish between the editors? Did they have different approaches?
KIRBY: They were different personalities certainly, but they were all great to get along with. We’re still good friends. Mort Weisinger is gone. When we first moved to California, Mort Weisinger came to visit us.
GROTH: What kind of man was he? I understand he was a tough taskmaster.
KIRBY: Everybody was a tough taskmaster. Mort Weisinger wasn’t a particularly tough taskmaster. He was trying to do an editor’s job. Comics have a caste system — an editor has to act in a certain way, an artist has to be humble, right? An artist has to be humble, an editor must be officious, and a publisher must be somewhere out in the galaxy enjoying godhood. It was a caste system, pure and simple. And it was accepted that way. Nobody thought of contracts, nobody thought of insisting on better deals.

GROTH: Did you assume when you did a book — any one of the many books you’ve done — did you assume that the publisher owned it? Or did you think about it a little later and think, wait a minute, I did this and I didn’t have a contract, and I don’t see why he should own it 100 percent.
KIRBY: No, I was growing up and becoming aware of those things. Joe Simon knew about those things.
GROTH: At the time you just assumed that the publisher owned it?
KIRBY: Yes. I assumed that he took it, OK? [Laughter.] I assumed that he took it, and I didn’t have the means to get it back. In other words, I didn’t save my money for a lawyer. I was a very young man, and saved my money for having a good time.
GROTH: I understand that sometime in the mid-’50s Bernie Krigstein tried to start a union among comic book creators. Were you aware of that?
KIRBY: I was aware of it. It was something that I knew would fail.
GROTH: But you didn’t go to any meetings?
KIRBY: No, no. Unions almost had the connotation of communism.
GROTH: You were wary?
KIRBY: Everybody was wary. Remember, this was a time when communists marched through the streets, waving flags and shouting. The unions did the same thing so you began to associate them. I’m speaking now as a human being, not as a businessman — the unions are great. The unions are great for the working people because they protect you, but I didn’t see them that way as a young man. First of all, the papers would connect them with thee communists — labor unions were communists.

And Joe Simon on Fighting American, from Wikipedia and the intro to a 1989 Marvel collection: 

Simon said in 1989 that he felt the anti-Communist fervor of the era would provide antagonists who, like the Nazis who fought Captain America during World War II, would be "colorful, outrageous and perfect foils for our hero." He went on to say,
The first stories were deadly serious. Fighting American was the first [C]ommie-basher in comics. We were all caught up in Senator McCarthy's vendetta against the 'red menace.' But soon it became evident that McCarthy ... had gone too far, damaging innocent Americans.... Then, the turnaround, [as] his side became talked of as the lunatic fringe.... Jack and I quickly became uncomfortable with Fighting American's cold war. Instead, we relaxed and had fun with the characters

Friday, October 27, 2017

Working Class Heroes: Humphrey Bogart and the Steel Fist

I have to thank Humphrey Bogart for helping me find out about another working class superhero. Here's Bogey reading a copy of Blue Circle Comics #3, published in the Summer of 1944. It is cover dated September and has a great image of the mermaid superhero Aquamarie punching an octopus who looks like Hitler. 
At the time, Bogey had just met Lauren Bacall on the set of To Have and Have Not and was starting his whirlwind affair with her. The movie came out in October 1944 and Bogey & Bacall were married in the Spring of '45. I'm assuming the photo was taken sometime around then, but I haven't been able to find a source or date for it. 
It's a great comic, published by one of the smaller comics publishers of the time, and only lasting for a handful of issues. The main draw for me today is a strip by HC  Kiefer featuring The Steel Fist, a crime-fighting factory worker . His secret origin is that Nazis try to blow up the steel plant where he works and when he gets in their way, they stick his hand in a vat of molten slag. The spirit of Justice appears (she looks like the Statue of Liberty) and magically makes his steel hand fully useable. Naturally, he puts on a dumb costume and goes around smashing spy rings and beating up saboteurs, and in this issue he gets a taxi driver side-kick who hits people with a thermos.
As I've discussed before, actual working class superheroes are pretty rare. Most superheroes are millionaires or royalty or work for the government. But not Tim Slade, the Steel Fist! Thanks Bogey!

Read the whole comic Bogart is reading here.

Read The Steel Fist's origin here.