Wednesday, March 12, 2014
With the recent publication of Simon and Kirby Library - Horror, Titan Books has I think completed its impressive four-volume Simon and Kirby Library. I've talked about these volumes here before, but let recommend these handsome, highly readable and highly colorful volumes to one and all. They capture the work of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby from arguably their most productive period together in the later 40's and early 50's. In these immense but still relatively lightweight tomes you will find brazen street-level thugs, vile black-arts magicians, handsome stout-hearted spacemen, and colorful crime-fighting masked men.
These are the many many tropes and genres of comics which Simon and Kirby had full command. These stories have been collected many times over the years, but never in volumes so bright and readable. The only genre not yet accounted for is the Western. Simon and Kirby did some mighty ones, so I'm curious why they are the focus of a volume. Or maybe they are; I hope I'm wrong on that score.
And by the way, I love the way Titan has mimicked the faux-book cover look which Simon and Kirby used so effectively on their few issues of Harvey's Stuntman.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Jack Kirby's influence on comics is indisputable. The larger public might still be mostly ignorant that most of the superhero movies flowing from Marvel are the product of his mighty imagination, but no comics fan should be so confused. That said, one aspect of Kirby's legacy which is perhaps overlooked is what he and longtime partner Joe Simon created in the waning days of the Golden Age, a whole new genre which would go on during the next decade to become a major revenue generator for the comics industry. That genre was Romance!
When Young Romance hit the stands it brought a new kind of tale to the four-color racks, stories more rooted in humdrum reality than the outlandish yarns of superheroes which had dominated the war years, this was storytelling which plumbed the depths of a young woman's heart and cared little for the broader universe. Soap opera, a staple of radio and soon to become the core of television found its own form in comics, written and drawn by seasoned pros who had learned their craft on the wild adventures of costumed maniacs. These stories now are quaint reminders of a time when sex was all but forbidden in the public square and love and marriage between a man and woman formed the rock on which society itself was rooted.
The stories were told often from the perspective of young girls, agog with some handsome man or suffering from some slight of attention. There were girls who were pure of heart, girls who were confused, and girls who all but wanton if not for the limits imposed by common perceptions of common decency. Men were handsome and virile but often clueless or perhaps they were cold or perhaps they were nice, but always they were the singular focus. That focus proved highly lucrative as these comics sold and sold well.
The collection Young Romance - The Best of Simon and Kirby's Romance Comics from Fantagraphics gathered up a smattering of these comics in which Simon and Kirby developed and refined this formula with colorful stories which hit many of the same notes as their crime dramas, good overcomes evil, but within a more domestic and sometimes downright quaint frame. The energy so often unleashed in spades in the superhero and war and crime stories is muted here, but nonetheless these pages are far from static.
Apparently there is a second volume soon to be released which will focus on the early years of the romance phenomenon.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Having freshly feasted on the classic Night of the Living Dead , I had a hankering to re-sample Dawn of the Dead, the belated sequel to the classic horror flick. Dawn of the Dead from 1978 has a somewhat bigger budget than its predecessor and is in glorious and "gorious" color. One of the things which has long put me off about zombie movies is the gore; I'm not dismayed or shocked by it, but I find it mildly disgusting and often so gratuitous as to undermine the terror of a scene. The gore in this movie hits about the right note, over-the-top and in certain moments overdone, but by and large reasonably appropriate to the tone and themes of the movie.
For the few who might not know, this is the one which begins about the same time as Night of the Living Dead, but in the larger city of Philadelphia in which we see the steady decline of organized society by first watching a TV station fall apart, then witnessing the police become overrun by the zombie threat, a threat they clearly have no firm understanding of at all. A quartet of survivors helicopter out and find a mall (a relatively new concept in the late 70's) and discover refuge there. They work mightily and not without consequence to make the mall something of a "home" but soon are discovered by all-too-human raiders who spoil it all.
The movie is famously a commentary on consumerism and the soulless nature of modern American society, in which the acquisition of things drives most of us even it seems after death itself. Romero has created a dark dark satire which makes Dawn of the Dead a better and more interesting movie than much of the dull zombie drivel which has bombarded the market in more recent years.
While I think the movie is overlong, it nonetheless presents us with an often hapless group of protagonists who are all to much like what many of us might be confronted with a nightmare of proportion. There is a shred of hope in this often unrelenting film, but it's a slim hope at best.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
I don't know when I first saw Night of the Living Dead, but most likely it was way back in the early 80's in the comfort of my home when I found a copy of the movie on VHS for tiny bucks. Since because of infamous snafus the movie has long been in public domain it's been nigh ubiquitous in the VHS and later DVD markets. Rare indeed is the horror collection large or small that doesn't include this 1968 classic. That sadly means the producers have made relatively little money from their masterpiece, but I'm confident that the widespread distribution of the movie has added to its reputation.
Most of the time when I've seen it, it's been a muddy print. But a few years I ago I picked up a cleaned-up DVD version, hoped to be by Romero and his colleagues a definitive version of the movie. It's certainly crisp and that adds greatly to the enjoyment of the movie. What the original Night of the Living Dead has going for it that none of its successors or clones has is true horror and relatively little gore. Much more is suggested than seen and that's always the more successful route for true terror.
What prompted my most recent viewing of the movie is finding a book by Joe Kane titled appropriately Night of the Living Dead which details the background, production, and influence of the movie over the course of the last fifty plus years. The book is fascinating in that it tells you enough without overwhelming you with endless detail. It also follows the careers of the people behind the original movie and how they have tried in the intervening decades to deal with the fame, the disappointment, and how they have from time to time tried to reap some financial reward from the reputation of the classic horror flick. The book also deals with the other zombie movies, the ones which preceded Night of the Living Dead and those which have come after -- that includes direct sequels, homages, and downright copies. The author does a great job, aided by many sidebar interviews and commentaries to put the whole zombie movie canon into some context.
The tale of the making of Night of the Living Dead is reasonably well known by most folks I'd suspect. Given that's it's small-budget and independent status set it apart from most other classic horror flicks of its kind, it has a distinctive quality. A group of friends decided it would be fun to make a horror movie and using their experience as commercial makers worked for the better part of a year filming and editing a movie which has made a lasting and ongoing impact on narrative storytelling and on the broader culture as a whole.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
I'm not alone by any means in my appreciation for Sherlock. The BBC series which cast Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern version of Sherlock Holmes aided by his own equally modern John Watson played by Martin Freeman. Both actors have moved on to significant success since this show debuted with gusto several years ago, Cumberbatch turning in a fascinating turns as a Star Trek villain Khan and the great dragon Smaug, and Freeman making a favorable impression as peripatetic resident of Hobbiton, Bilbo Baggins. Thankfully both have decided to return to the parts which made them stars.
|Brealey, Abbington, Freeman, Cumberbatch, Graves and Stubbs|
In a new trio of stories, we see the relationship of Watson and Morstan develop and its no giveaway to say their wedding is the pivotal event of the third season, in a story which adapts The Sign of Four in some very clever and imaginative ways.
I won't spoil this show too much. But it's safe to say that there are many mysteries to solve and secrets are revealed. The banter between Holmes and Watson remains fervent and crackles with wit and humor, perhaps too much at times, but nonetheless its heady and you need to keep your wits as you watch this show which bristles with charm.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Here's a juicy Bill Ward cover for the third annual Adam Stag Humor. I'm always amused when guys of Ward's generation try to draw hippies. The end product always looks like somebody disguised as a hippie. I'm reminded of Dave Berg here for some reason. Whatever, it's sure colorful and as with all Ward images of voluptuous woman, it commands your attention.
Slightly more sexy is this dandy infinity cover for the debut issue of this annual series. The little Hefner-esque pipe gives her that saucy independent female vibe despite the provocative undies.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Here's a bit of slightly forbidden fun from Bill Ward. It's his own personal take on the classic cover art for Avon's 1951 comic Reform School Girl!. Ward transformed the iconic comic cover into a very clever ad for a bookstore, a store I'd love to check out.
After doing a bit of internet research I learned that vintage photo cover had a curious origin itself. It first appeared on the comic but on a paperback
This cover is for the novel House of Fury by Felice Swados published by Avon in its paperback line. It's a very tough dame here, simultaneously tugging at her stocking and sucking a fag. That cigarette dangling precariously from her ruby lips speaks volumes about the nature of this corrupted chick, not someone to cross in the slam or out.
And here are couple of other comics for the same novel, with its original title. Both have their own pulp rooted merits. One offers a young woman appealing to heaven through prayer with her very bars forming a makeshift shadowy cross on the wall behind, while the other gives us an enticing caged and hard-bitten dame who fears neither man nor god.