Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Is Mega Minion Jerry...just the Thing?

Okay, so I'll admit that I don't get the Minions. I recognize that they're a cultural phenomenon, part of a blockbuster movie franchise, and in ten years, kids who grew up watching the characters will write academic papers on them, but my eyes just get a bit glossy every time a commercial for their latest appearance comes on. That's okay, because not everything has to be made for me, but I've generally done my best to ignore Despicable Me and any of the offshoots of the last however many years.

But when I see the Thing, I take notice, and let me tell you, the Thing appears in the new Despicable Me 4 movie that comes out...when does it come out? Soon? I'm assuming it comes out soon. The point is, one of the Minions is clearly the Thing.

Thirty seconds of searching tells me that the Thing in this movie is called Mega Minion Jerry, and that he is part of the Mega Minions, a group that forms a superhero team after gaining powers from an experiment. One of Jerry's powers is apparently the ability to eat lots of things (suspiciously also like the Thing). So, okay, we have a rocky superhero with blue overalls and a slightly lighter than orange complexion. This is the Thing.

The Minions also have a pretty good presence in the toy aisle. Your friend (and mine) Larry sent me this image from a recent shopping trip:

Jerry also, apparently, barrels things over. He clobbers them, if you will.

So the only question that remains, then, is how official is this connection? The Minions have that gobbledygook speech pattern, right? Will this one say "it's clobberin' time" or something like it? Does one of the other Mega Minions stretch? Will Jerry develop a terrible smoking habit?? Do I have to actually watch this movie to find out?!

I haven't bought any of the toys yet. I'm considering it.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

My first "Helmet Thing" original comic art (please congratulate me)

In the early-to-mid-'90s, the Thing wore a helmet. This "battle damaged" Thing redesign made him, I suppose, both more extreme and more X-TREME, which fit for the time (though the helmet was originally designed by Jack Kirby and made a very brief appearance in the early issues of the Fantastic Four series). And while I hated the look at the time, I've come to feel a bit of nostalgic appreciation for it, though, to be clear, I NEVER EVER want the character to adopt the look again.

I've never been able to find any helmet Thing original artwork - at least, nothing I've been able to afford - but that streak came to an end recently when I managed to grab a page from Marvel's Cage series, which ran from 1992-93 and starred former FF member Luke Cage. Let's take a look at it! 

This is a great page for the following reasons: it's full of action, it prominently features the Thing, all of the dialogue balloons and sound effects are still pasted to the page, and most importantly, THE THING IS WEARING HIS HELMET.

Here's the cover to the issue from which this page comes. The Cage series ended with issue 20, so this is one of the final pages from the series.

In the issue, Luke Cage has been possessed by the villainous Bogeyman, and the Thing and the Human Torch set out to free him from the nefarious influence. The battle takes the three to the piers of New York City.

If I had to guess, I'd say the Bogeyman was meant to be Venom-like in its portrayal. The villain tries to possess the Thing, but OH-HO! It's not to be because of his VERY IMPORTANT HELMET! Nice!

The page is pencilled by Scott Benefiel and inked by Frank Turner. The letters come from John Roshell and Comicraft - the company had just been founded a year earlier. This is a very early example of digital lettering in the comic book industry. In this instance, the letters were printed, cut out, and pasted to the art board. I think it really adds something to the artwork, though I understand why it doesn't happen anymore. 

In the end, our Fantastic Four duo are victorious, mostly because the Thing punched a lot (and very well). I guess Johnny keeps Luke Cage from flying off into the stratosphere by flying up to grab him.

There's just one editorial note on this page, next to the last panel, and it's a note for the colorist to make Johnny's forearms blue, as he's turned off his flame to that part of his body as he grabs his pal Luke.

This is a really great page that makes a unique addition to the collection. It's my first page of original art with the Thing in his helmet! This is a reason to celebrate.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Mezco Toyz One:12 Collective Thing figure

The Mezco Toys Fantastic Four set came out in November of '23, featuring all four members of the superhero team (plus H.E.R.B.I.E.) in a boxed collection. This was part of the company's One:12 Collective line, a series of high-quality action figures from a number of different licensed properties. I can only imagine this means that these figures are produced at 1:12 scale.

All of Mezco's sets come with deluxe features and accessories, and they are all priced at a number that will probably make your heartbeat increase a little before adding a set to your cart. The Fantastic Four set is priced at $420, which means each figure is priced at over $100. I waited a while to see if buyers were purchasing these sets to break them up and sell the figures individually, and that's just what happened. I was able to get Ben Grimm for $150, which was not nearly as high as I expected the markup to be. I love the FF and in a perfect world I'd have the complete box set, but I'm more than happy to spend a lot less and get the Thing. Let's take a look at this figure!

Okay, I don't know who this is. It's a big guy in a coat, hat and sunglasses. I ordered the Thing! WHO DO I SPEAK TO ABOUT THIS?!

After removing the coat, I found that it was all a very clever disguise that could have fooled anyone, and that it actually WAS the Thing underneath. What a relief!

The coat and hat - and all of the accessories, really - are top notch, and add some extra detail to this figure that sets it apart from a lot of the others that are out there. The coat, for example, has a small wire that runs along the seams to make it very posable. It's made of fabric and the buttons are all individually sewn on. The attention to detail is really impressive all around. This also makes me a bit anxious about breaking something, whether that's the wire or button or the tiny belt buckle. I probably have to pick a look for this figure and stick with it.

I'm usually not a fan of using fabric on figures. The Thing's shorts, for example, probably would have looked better if they were vinyl like the rest of him. They're also not attached to the leather-like belt at the top. But this is the look that Mezco is going for, so I knew what to expect. The coat is a definite exception to this rule, as it looks great.

Here's the back! The Thing stands on a blue plastic platform that has the classic Fantastic Four logo on it.

Speaking of accessories, the figure comes with a number of different and easily interchangeable heads, with various emotions. Do you want to your figure to look like the "This Man, This Monster" depressed Thing? Well, you can just swap out the "sad Thing" head and you're all set! Do you want your Thing to be in a blind, uncontrollable rage? You're also covered! The Thing comes with all kinds of unhealthy emotional states. And blue eyes, too!

There are also three sets of hands, and they work well with the other accessories that we can see below:

My favorite of these is a Yancy Street lamppost, complete with the street sign. This bends just a little and Ben can hold it with one of the sets of hands. This is the classic Thing!

There's also a steel beam that Ben can grab and bend a little, when he's feeling up for it.

This is without a doubt a great figure, and it makes for a really nice display piece. I'm still torn on whether or not the FF set was worth $420 plus shipping. The Thing stands at about seven inches in height, comes with a ton of great accessories, and is a welcome addition to my collection. Is it five times as good as some of my other, cheaper action figures? I suppose that's all academic at this point, since I happily bought it. I'm not sure I'd pay this much for anyone besides Ben Grimm.

And checking Mezco's website, I see that they make a Spider-Man 2099 figure. HECK!

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Thing sketchbook, part 27

It's time for yet another round of "let's look at Jeff's Thing sketchbook, which has become so synonymous with Jeff himself that it's difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins." I mean, I like my Thing sketchbook, everyone. WHO WANTS TO SEE SOME SKETCHES?!

Phil Hester - 2020

2020 was a light year for Thing sketches - for the reasons we all understand - and I spent some time dropping the book in the mail and sending it to folks who agreed to draw in it at their homes. I was very nervous doing this. But it all worked out, and one of the sketches I got back was this absolute gem from Phil Hester. Phil's known for his Marvel and DC books like Green Arrow and The Irredeemable Ant-Man, which is a personal favorite of mine.

In this sketch, we not only get a despondant Ben Grimm, but also the Silver Surfer flying off with Alicia Masters. The Surfer and Alicia have a history that goes back to the classic Galactus storyline in Fantastic Four 48-50, and when the FF was stuck in the Heroes Reborn universe in the '90s, the two had a brief romantic relationship in the pages of the Silver Surfer's own book. So this scene of rejection has some pretext, even though I HATE IT. But Ben and Alicia ended up back together, so I guess it's all okay in the end.

Todd Nauck - 2020

Here's another sketch that I trusted to the postal service, from the always friendly Todd Nauck, known for his work on titles like Spider-Man and Young Justice. Todd is always thoughtful and kind, and oh man did he deliver a really incredible headshot of ol' Ben Grimm here for the sketchbook. This was done around the time that Todd was drawing a lot of headshot variant covers for Marvel, including one for the Thing's own series. The blue outline is a nice touch.

Jacob Quinn - 2020

I was really happy to have my nephew Jake draw a sketch in this book. It was 2020 and I didn't have a lot of movement with the sketchbook, so it seemed like the right time to open it up to a wider audience, I guess, but also having people I know and care about personally in the book makes sense to me at this stage as well. Jake was 10 when he drew this, and honestly, he did a really great job with it, and he added a unique version for the book. I'm really happy with it.

Anna Litofsky - 2021

The spring of 2021 rolled around and COVID restrictions were still pretty prevalent; there were certainly no conventions happening yet. I was teaching a class on scripting for comics at my current university at this point, where we met once every other week in person, and the rest of the time on Zoom. There was no requirement for artistic skill to be in this class, but Anna came in with her own polished style and a great perspective. Once the end of the semester rolled around, I asked Anna if she'd be willing to draw in my sketchbook, and she agreed, producing this as we had class.

The class would go on to produce their own full-length comic, Tales of the 399, which we funded on Kickstarter. This was a really fulfilling experience for me. Anna drew the cover for the book and we've kept in touch since. She's contributed to several issues of Planet Comics and I'm excited to see where her future takes her.

Chad Kelson - 2021

This is the last of my quarantine sketches, and it comes from Chad Kelson, who has the online persona of "Metal Al" for his death metal covers of "Weird Al" Yankovic songs, if you can believe it. I met Chad at Al's Hollywood Star induction ceremony in 2018; he's also a big comic book fan and an artist in his own right, so we became fast friends.

Chad went above and beyond the call of duty with this incredible recreation that combines the Thing and Al's 1985 "Dare to be Stupid" album cover, going so far as to adding in the background album elements, squeezing them all onto a 5x5 sketchbook page.

I managed to get six new Thing sketches in all in between conventions, which I think was pretty good, all things considered. I'm...really glad the book didn't get lost while it traveled the country.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The biggest and smallest books I own

I recently bought a very large book, along with some very small books, and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, they were both comic books. These have the distinction of being the biggest and smallest books I own, so let's take a look at these record-breakers. 

In 2022, Taschen published a number of early Marvel collections, reprinting 1960s issues of titles like the Avengers, X-Men, Silver Surfer and the Fantastic Four. These absolutely enormous collections, measuring 11 by over 15 inches, are an impressive sight, and they're shipped in boxes that include additional art.

The Fantastic Four volume weighs over 10 pounds and is 700 pages long, reprinting the first 19 issues of the series and the first annual.

The publisher scanned high-grade copies of printed issues of the book.

The version I got was limited to 5000 copies. I got it for a good price, lower than its original $200 price tag. It seems that they're getting close to selling out, as my numbered copy was 4,526. There's also an absolutely ridiculous $600 version that includes features like a Thing-themed book ribbon, which, okay, I will probably never be able to afford.

The books itself is lovingly designed, with a number of pieces beyond just the 20 collected issues.

There's an introduction by FF writer Mark Waid, and some almost-to-scale scans of Jack Kirby's original art.

The pages themselves are beautifully scanned and presented. This is, honestly, an expensive presentation piece or coffee table book; there are cheaper ways to read the first 20 issues of this series without having to lug out this monstrous version.

One nice feature is that the book includes all of the material from each issue, from cover-to-cover. This means that the letters pages and ads are part of this book, which is really spectacular. The Thing clobbers at a mighty scale in this book!

I've also made some headway into my collection of Marvel Mini Books from 1966. These tiny books reside on a display shelf I'm currently working on and I think they're looking good so far!

These tiny comics - smaller than a postage stamp but with actual original stories printed inside - were sold in gumball-like machines in '66, and there were six in total. Superman actually makes an appearance in the Spider-Man mini-comic! I'm still on the lookout for the Hulk and Millie the Model comics.

A few years ago, Abrams collected these mini-books and reprinted them in (relative) gigantic format. The stories themselves are pretty bland, as you might expect, and Millie's comic has the message of "don't ever get fat!" but I still find them pretty charming. Hopefully I can pick up the other two soon. And, you know, if the $600 Taschen Fantastic Four reprint goes on liquidation any time soon...just let me know. I have no reason to show the My Pet Monster figure in the picture, but I like it, so there it is.

Oh! And they finally announced the cast for Marvel's 2025 Fantastic Four movie! I am very excited about this! I don't have much else to say except that they are almost certainly going to start filming this soon, and I really hope that some of it will be filmed in New York City, and if that's the case I am going to try really, very hard to be in this movie in some capacity. 

Lastly, here's some great Thing original art I picked up recently. This piece was created by the Inkwell Awards, a nonprofit comics organization. This year, the Inkwells took some pencils by Walt Simonson, printed out a number of blueline copies, and had different inkers ink them. The one I picked up has inks by Guy Dorian, Sr., who has done a lot of work for IDW, notably ROM. This is on 11x17 artboard and will look great...okay, absolutely anywhere, but specifically with one of my folders of Thing art. I almost didn't recognize Ben through his really sophisticated disguise.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Here's some new Thing original artwork from Paradise X: Devils!

A number of years ago, I met writer Jim Krueger at a comic book convention. Krueger wrote one of my favorite Marvel alternate reality series, Earth X and its sequels, and I made sure that I let him know that - and also how much I enjoyed how he wrote the Thing in the book.

This spawned a rather frenetic conversation between the two of us, where we both said a number of things which all amounted to, "we love the Thing!" And so this was a great moment, and one that I'll always remember. He told me that he had to stop himself from giving the Thing all of the best lines and moments in the book, which I felt was unnecessary, because there's no reason to not make every (EVERY) book about the Thing.

This past October at the New York Comic Con, I sought out some original art vendors to look for a page or two that I might buy. Now, there are different tiers of original art vendors at comic conventions. Many of them sell Golden Age Superman pages for $30,000 or Will Eisner originals for $15,000. These booths are interesting to walk past, because they contain comic book history that I will never be able to afford, but I guess it's still nice to be able to see original Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns and Jack Kirby Fantastic Four pages in person. I imagine that the goal of these vendors is to sell one single page of art for the entire show, and then buy a car or something.

The other original art vendors at comic conventions have enormous stacks of pages and color guides from the 1990s Darkhawk series, probably bought from the original artist in 1997 for $1 per page, now on sale for $200 each. These are the booths where I generally spend time at, rummaging through binders and piles to see if somehow, there's a page that I can afford that also has the Thing knocking someone's block off.

On the last day of the '23 NYCC, I spent the waning hours of the convention looking for such a page, and I found a pretty good one.

It's a page from the Krueger-written Paradise X: Devils 2002 one shot by penciller Steve Sadowski and inker Andrew Pepoy!

Not only does the Thing appear on this page, but he appears in EVERY SINGLE PANEL. And not only does the Thing appear in every single panel, but it looks like there's more than one Thing present on this page. This is a great Thing-per-panel ratio. The smaller Things are actually Ben's alternate universe sons, Buzz and Chuck. They are honorary Things and they count.

Paradise X is set in an alternate future, and here he's joined by Reed Richards (minus an arm), Mr. S (Scott Summers), Daredevil and the reborn Mar-Vell. Even though this takes place in the future, the Thing looks the same as he always has, which is correct. He's also wearing his signature blue shorts.

Here's a panel with Buzz (or...Chuck), who wears glasses. Buzz and Chuck are the children of Ben and Alicia. There was radioactive clay involved.

The back of the page is pretty standard, with some copyright information stamped near the top and artist names in the corners.

I think that I got a good deal on this page. A lot of Things for my buck. That's a new saying that we're sticking with now.

Earth X was a great story. Things got a little bogged down in Universe X and Paradise X, though I enjoyed them both, as well as the more recent series, Marvel X. They're well worth tracking down if you haven't read them, because, if nothing else, you know that they're written by a Thing-loving author. And that should be enough.

About ten minutes before I left the convention, I found some very affordable art from Alex Sanchez (who drew in the Thing sketchbook at the show). Alex inked some pages in the TMNT: Armageddon Game series, and was selling some of the pages he worked on. By the time I found them, all of the pages with the four turtles were sold, but I still did pretty well with this action-packed page. It features none other than Metalhead, along with a Triceraton and some Utroms!

And then the show was over! Talk soon, everyone!

Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Illustrated Al is nominated for an Eisner and wins a 'Ringo! award!

As 2023 winds down, let's look back at my best comic memory of the year:

The Illustrated Al: The Songs of "Weird Al" Yankovic was nominated for an Eisner award! By default, I demand that everyone recognize that I was also nominated for an Eisner! I will not be taking any questions. Also in 2023, The Illustrated Al won a 'Ringo! Award! I am a 2023 'Ringo! Award winner! I WILL NOT BE TAKING QUESTIONS.

Okay, The Illustrated Al is an anthology. A lot of talented creators worked on the book. But I was one of those creators, and I'm counting this is as a win in my book.

In July, I attended the Eisner Awards at the San Diego Comic-Con for the first time. This is what I took away from it:

It is very fancy.

People dressed up. People gave speeches. They sat at fancy tables and took home trophies.

I sat closer to the back. The ceremony lasted close to three hours. The presenters pronounced the book "The Illustrated A.I." I took home a program!

The program got bent all to hell on my trip home, but I'll still keep it forever. It's listed in the program! The Nib ended up winning the award, but I still had a fun time and was excited to attend and to have some of my work nominated.

Later on in the year, the anthology was nominated again, this time for best humor comic, and this won!

Z2 Comics, the book's publisher, held a special signing for the book at their booth at the New York Comic Con, where I got to not only feel very privileged, signing books for fans, but I also got to see the award in person. This was a big deal for me! Here I am with Josh Bernstein, the book's editor.

Some of the creators of the book took a group shot and I decided to kneel down for it even though Bill Plympton is, like, 6'6".

This was my best comic experience in 2023. I will not be taking any questions.