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.