Sunday, April 28, 2013

Action Comics #267: letters page and more

The "Gender Through Comic Books" online class is just a few weeks from wrapping up, and it's been an interesting experience to this point.  The most interesting part of it, to me, has been the weekly interviews with various comic book creators, but not far behind that are all of the books that we're reading.  I am, of course, a pretty regular reader of comics even when I'm not taking a class on them, but I still have enjoyed getting to read some books that I otherwise might not pick up.

Case in point, Action Comics #267.  This book is among a handful of fairly well known Silver Age Superman issues, owing a lot to its memorable cover.  Even though I'm a pretty big fan of Superman in general, I wouldn't have bought this issue if it wasn't required for the course.  I'm sure that most people taking the class, if they bothered to read the book at all, just downloaded a digital copy from ComiXology.  Besides enjoying paper comics more as a rule, I'm glad that I found a physical copy of this book, because some of the extras - the letters page specifically - were worth the price of admission alone.

The book, over 50 years old at this point, is fairly ridiculous from cover to cover.  Robber Baron Lex Luthor, using what amounts to mirrors and wire, brings Hercules to the present from the confines of his prison cell in an attempt to, I don't know, rob some banks and kill Superman or something.  There's real genius in the dialogue, including Luthor's expository description, telling all who might be interested that he learned to speak ancient Latin from a "prison book".  Apparently, though, "ancient Latin" consists of using the word "thee" in the place of "you".  Poor evil king (choke!) took all of his gold.

Lois plays an interesting role in this issue.  Well, I mean, she plays the damsel in distress, of course, but she also plants a big sloppy kiss on Hercules after he saves her from a falling fake moon (really).  Afterwards, she blows him off.  "Slow down, fella!  Just because I gave you an open mouth kiss doesn't mean I actually want to see you again!"  That's fairly aggressive for the normally prudish Lois of the 1950s and '60s.  And apparently, upon seeing a picture of Superman, Hercules's clothes fly off.

The issue also includes a backup story featuring Supergirl in which she dries herself off in the above fashion.

The real gem of this issue, though, is undoubtedly the letters page.  I'm a fan of old-timey comic book letters pages for a few reasons, but even if I wasn't, this would still be something to behold.  The types of ridiculous questions that are asked and the level of contempt with which they are answered makes a great show of this letters page.  I have this mental image of Mort Weisinger sitting at a desk in the DC offices late at night, opening letter after letter and just getting angrier with each one.  "These damn kids!", he'd shout.  "I'll show them!!"

You can't go wrong with any of the letters, really, but let's take a look at some of them and see just what Superman fans of 1960 had on their minds.

First off, we have David Judd of Staten Island, New York, who asks one of the classic Superman questions.  Why doesn't Clark, who often leaves for days at a time with no warning or explanation, get fired from his job at the Daily Planet?  Because screw you, kid, that's why.  He can leave the Daily Planet office whenever he chooses.

Next up is John Poppen of Western Springs, Illinois, who wonders why people think that Superman has a secret identity.  After all, it's not like Superman goes around telling everyone that he pretends to be someone else when he's not patrolling the skies.  Well, John, just what the hell is wrong with you?  What, you think Superman is some kind of hermit?  That he doesn't have any friends?  How dare you, sir.

Bill Mason of Ontario, Canada, apparently asks a question that others have brought up before, and the editor is none too pleased to have to be answering something more than once.  I suppose the decision could have been made to just not print the letter, but no, he might as well answer it again for these damn readers.  Bill wants to know why Supergirl's skirt changes colors from red to blue sometimes.  The answer is simple, Bill.  Supergirl gets bored and also has a reversible skirt.  And besides, no one sees her anyway, so what's it to you?  Punk.

This next letter from John Pinette of St. Paul, Minnesota, is perhaps the best letter-and-response combo that I've ever seen - anywhere, ever.  John brings up the painful fact that since Superman and Supergirl are first cousins, they can't get married even though lots of other fans are apparently clamoring for it (which is pretty uncomfortable to begin with).  John, this makes a lot of sense, and you'd think that the Superman editor would appreciate what you have to say.  But no!  The editor rebukes your claim for a solution all his own.  Cousins can marry - and why not?  It's perfectly legal and there's nothing strange about it.  The primary reason why Superman and Supergirl can't get married, it seems, is because Superman is older than Supergirl.  Incest?  No big deal.  But a difference in age?  Hold on now, mister. The fact that the editor takes such pains to explain why two (first!) cousins are legally allowed to marry is eyebrow-raising at best.

"John Pinette" is the name of a fairly recognizable comedian (born in 1964, so it's not the same guy), so there's little chance that this letter writer, if he is still with us 53 years later, will find this mention if he searches for his name on Google.  But John, if you by any chance do, I would like to pass along my greatest appreciation for you in writing probably the best comic book letter I've ever come across.

Charles Johnson of Evanston, Illinois wants to know if DC preserves all of their books with some special type of gas.  No, Charles, they don't.

Here's another unbelievably great letter from Dawn Zamudio from Laredo, Texas.  Apparently, Perry White eats a fish, bones and all (perhaps in a similar fashion to Dr. Zoidberg), in a previous issue of Action Comics.  Dawn is understandably concerned about this situation, and who among us can blame her?  For starters, the editor can.  Hey, Dawn?  It's simple.  Perry White was in a universe where the fish all have edible bones.  Yes, Dawn.  THAT IS THE SIMPLEST AND MOST OBVIOUS EXPLANATION WE CAN GIVE YOU.

Lastly, here's a letter from Janice Gilbreath from Butte, Montana.  I drove through Butte a few years back.   I have no interesting story about it...I just thought I'd mention it.  Anyway, Janice wants to know how Supergirl can keep her handy Supergirl robot stashed in the trunk of a live tree and not have the tree wither and die.  Well, Janice, you're in luck, because the editor has a foolproof answer for you.  Rather than saying that Supergirl has some sort of fake tree setup, he comes up with the much more plausible answer that Supergirl simply tears branches off of live trees and sticks them onto the dead tree trunk, and that she apparently does this all the time.  Of course that's what she'd do!  Why WOULDN'T she do that?

It's interesting to note that the editor lists an address and solicits further letters at the end of the column.  After one such as this issue brought us, you'd think that they'd just announce that the column had been cancelled.  Instead, it's "see you next time, kids!"

What a great find this letters page was.  I think I'm a better person having seen it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

FCBD signing at New England Comics

Free Comic Book Day is less than two weeks away!  I've finally gotten things squared away and I'm happy to be able to announce that I'll be in Boston on Saturday, May 4th for the event.  I'll be at several New England Comics locations!  It'll be my first time spending any real time in Boston, so I'm excited for the weekend.  NEC put this graphic together to promote the day, and as you can see, I won't be alone in the festivities.  Naturally, I'll be at the locations to celebrate the release of the new Tick Free Comic Book Day publication, and as such, I'll also be sticking around on Sunday, May 5th to do an additional signing.

Also making appearances will be Dennis Hopeless from Avengers Arena, the art team from the Adventure Time comic, fellow FUBAR creators Kevin Johnson and Jennie Wood, and a number of others!  Here's my schedule for the weekend - you can click on the store locations for more information and directions:


New England Comics Quincy:
11:00 am - 2:00 pm

New England Comics Cambridge (Harvard Square):
4:00 - 6:00


New England Comics Malden:
times TBA

I'll update the times for Sunday as soon as I have the info.

I'm, of course, pretty excited about this.  It's a little funny to see my name in bold print on the poster.  Anyway, if you're in the Boston area on May 4th or 5th, stop by and pick up some free books!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Birthday Swag, 2013

Am I still allowed to use the term "swag"?  I realize that it's taken on a life of its own in the past year or so, but still feel an affinity to it because of Bender's use of it in the Futurama episode "Godfellas".  So here it stays, I suppose.  Last month I celebrated my birthday driving to Washington DC to present at a conference, so I didn't have a party as much as I just sat around thinking about how great it was that I've managed to stave off the icy grip of death for a 32nd consecutive year.  That's pretty impressive!  I wonder if it's a record or something.

Anyway, this post isn't about the finite and fragile nature of humanity - it's about what cool stuff I got for my birthday.  So let's start with the above picture, an AWESOME gift of Luxury Lane soap in the shape of some Marvel characters...specifically...THE THING!

I hadn't heard of Luxury Lane before, but now I'm preparing everyone's Christmas presents with purchases from this site.  The person who makes the soap has molds for just about every pop culture property out there.  They're very high quality, as you can see here from this close up of a Kirby-designed Thing.  You can check out more of this great soap at!

Next up is this fancy looking USB Blue Yeti Podcast microphone.  Yes, that's a long title, and yes, it does actually have the name "Yeti" in it.  I'm going to use this on Franks and Beans for voiceovers and the like - I'll post more pictures of this over on the F&B homepage sometime soon.

Hodor is one of my favorite characters in the Game of Thrones universe, so I was pretty happy that I got this shirt from the HBO store!  Hodor Hodor Hodor!  It's not even the guy's name.  If you can break away from my stunning gaze, you'll also see my dog and cat hiding in this picture.

In anticipation of brand new episodes on Netflix, I got the complete set of Arrested Development DVDs!  I was trying to hold out for a complete collection set, but with a fourth season premiering in May (after, what, eight years off the air?) it was time to break down and I'm lucky to get them as a gift. I fully expect there to be a complete collection solicited within the next 45 days.

Look, it's the newest edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations!  Just as my copy of the 17th edition was getting old and stale!

And lastly, I picked up this copy of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, which is every bit as awesome as it sounds.  It's another treasury-sized book with oversized pages and some of Neil Adams's finest work, if I can say so.  This book is one of the most recognizable of the past 40 years and, along with Superman vs. Spider-Man, probably the most recognizable of any of the treasury books.  I got a great haul of things this year.  Thanks for looking!

Monday, April 15, 2013

FUBAR FCBD signings, AHZ and beyond!

We're steadily barreling toward some big release dates for some books I've worked on.  The folks over at FUBAR central are gearing up for a push in this and the coming months, and we're all excited about what's on the schedule.  In a matter of weeks, the third volume of FUBAR, American History Z, hits shelves and it clocks in at a massive 436 pages, more than a few of which are written by me.  I've seen a PDF version of this thing and I think that it will impress.

To celebrate, a signing event, the size of which is rarely (if ever) seen in indy comics, is in the works.  Pictured above is a current list of all the shops that'll be hosting at least one FUBAR contributor on May 4th, or Free Comic Book Day!  You'll notice that there are quite a number of stores represented across the country and even into Canada.  For my part, I'll be in Boston at several of the New England Comics locations.  The Tick is obviously a big focus of this event for me, but I'll be there with FUBAR writers Jennie Wood and Kevin Johnson for part of the day and I promise to peddle our new FUBAR projects as well, including the ever-important Free Comic Book Day issue that'll hopefully be intriguing enough to convince a few people to pick up the collection.

Speaking of the third volume, the books recently arrived and were dropped off for folks like Jeff McComsey and Steve Becker to lug inside.  I hear that there were around 200 boxes of books in total, which led to some heavy lifting, I'm sure.  But oh, man, do they look great!  I can't wait to lay hands on some of these beauties.

Jeff made a social media push a few days ago and posted the above picture to Reddit, and within a few hours, the post was the #1 trending thread in the comic book category.  Jeff was a public relations madman, answering questions and selling books left and right.  And somewhere, in the middle of it all, someone started talking about me:

That was pretty strange.  I'm not sure if the post near the bottom, asking if the weird name was supposed to be hyphenated, was referring to me.  If so, I haughtily shake my fist in the air in the general direction of whoever left the comment.

The engine isn't cooling down, though.  In May's edition of Previews, we'll have a listing for the newest FUBAR project, By the Sword.  This will be a traditional comic book (as opposed to a collection) and it'll run for two issues.  The first takes place in medieval times, and I've got a Chaucer sendup to tell in that issue.  The second issues's cover is above, pencilled and inked by none other than Steve Becker, who has been really outdoing himself lately.

I'm pretty grateful to be a part of something as fun and successful as FUBAR.  Check out some of our new projects on May 4th and then again...whenever!  Seriously, we're all over the place.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gender Through Comic Books week two progress report

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had signed up for Ball State's open-registration online class titled "Gender Through Comic Books".  The class started up on April 2nd and it's met twice since then.  I am, apparently, one of around 70,000 attendees, making this (if the number is accurate) akin to a giant comic convention in its own right.

I've never taken an online course before, so I'm trying to pay attention to the structure of the course as opposed to just going along with the flow of things.  I'm taking down notes because if this is at all successful (and, heck, even if it's not) I might try to run my own massive online class one day.  At this point in the course, I'd say that things are going well.  If nothing else, I've had the opportunity to pick up some interesting comics as texts for the class:

Our first session centered around Terry Moore and the Strangers in Paradise series.  We read the first issue of Rachel Rising and the first two volumes of the SiP trades.  These trades were hard to find and I had to do some searching to come up with a copy for myself.  The stores that I checked were all out of the volumes in question, but they all had all of the other volumes, which led me to believe that others in the area are also taking this course.  New Dimension Comics at Century III mall came though for me in the end, though they were also out of stock of the "pocket" volume, which collects both of the larger format volumes into one book.  For the other issues, eBay has been busy tallying up my transactions, but I haven't had too much of a problem.

During each week, we have a live video chat with a comic book creator about the topic of the course, gender identity.  Terry Moore was on the docket last week, and this past Tuesday Mark Waid showed up.  In all, the class has had its choppy moments, and there's a lot of reading to do - along with selected comics, there's also an academic article to read every week, videos to watch, surveys to take and posts to make on discussion boards.  I can't imagine how much work this must be for the developers of this course.  After the class ends in May, I plan on trying to bend the ear of the teacher to get some tips, and we'll see where it leads.

I'll post some more updates when we're further into the class.  For now, I'm excited to be a part of this big event.  I'll bet that the creators of the books we're all buying are also pretty excited.  They must be getting a nice bump!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thing sketch cards, part 1

It's been a while since I've updated the ol' Thing sketchbook on the blog, and that's because it's been a while since I've gotten any new sketches.  But convention season is just around the corner and I'm sure to grab a few new sketches once that takes flight.  In the meantime, there's plenty of the Thing to go around thanks to the sketch cards that I'll start sharing to fill in some of the gaps.

Sketch cards don't hold the same emotional appeal that the sketchbook does, but since they do involve the Thing, I've accumulated a few over the years.  It is a nice way to collect a sketch that I otherwise couldn't; location keeps me from meeting some artists, and no matter how much I'd like, there's never enough time to pass the book around at a show.  And I'm certainly not going to trust it to the postal service on a two-way trip.  So without further ado, here's the first installment of the Thing sketch card series!

This is the first sketch card I bought, a March of Dimes eBay charity auction by none other than the great Fred Hembeck.  Fred was kind enough to put his name and the date on the top of the card so I can keep all of the important information straight.

After I got the Hembeck card, I poked around online and saw that plenty of people were selling sketch cards of the Thing, and the beast was born.  This next card is by Erik Burnham, and it remains one of my favorite cards to date.  It's the jaw, I think, that does it.

One nice thing about sketch cards is that you're much more likely to get color work than in a sketchbook.  This card is by Peter Simeti, who, interestingly enough, I would later come to work with as members of the FUBAR team.  Peter is in charge of distribution for the books, and it took me a little while to put two and two together.

I'm...honestly not sure who drew this card.  And it was never my favorite, but it sat in my eBay watched items list for far too long so I had to buy it (it was cheap at any rate).  I do, looking back at it, enjoy the pen points that must have taken some dedication to produce.

Five is the magic number for these things, so I'll end with this last one.  It's by Denise Vasquez, and at first I thought it was a pretty awesome piece of art.  But it didn't take me long to figure out that the reason I liked it was that it's a fairly blatant copy of a particularly familiar piece by John Byrne.  I don't know why it took me so long to make that connection.  Even so, I still like it.  The colors are all done in markers!

There'll be more, so don't despair, Thing fans.  Because everyone loves the Thing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The post-DC, post-conference, post-March wrap-up

Time flies and so does Superman.  My time in Washington DC for the Pop Culture Association conference is done, but the pictures and the memories remain.  Oh, the memories.

I arrived in DC on Wednesday evening and spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday bouncing between conference-related events and tourist attractions, and I had a nice time overall.  When I parked my car on Wednesday night, I saw this advertised in a nearby storefront window:

I've heard that the Superman musical is pretty bad, but still, I'd like to give it a try as hey, it's Superman, and I hear that he sings a song about beef at some point in the show.  What a shame that it's not showing for another few weeks and that it's not a bit closer.  For $15, I'd watch the heck out of it.

My presentation was scheduled for the bleary-eyed time of 8:00 in the morning, which, if you know anything at all about me, was a challenge, one compounded by the fact that I got up at 5:00 so I could drive into the city and find the hotel with enough time to register and find the conference room.  It was a long day.

The presentation itself went off without incident, I'm happy to say.  Mine was one of three presentations going on for this 90-minute session, and at the very least I didn't embarrass myself.  As I mentioned in my last post, my presentation was on Frank Miller's Holy Terror - the picture at the very top is a slide from the accompanying PowerPoint - and the possibility that the whole book was satirical in its intent.  Someone even asked me a question this time around, which was a first for me, and I even half answered it in a round about fashion.

I sat in on a few other panels over the weekend, including one that discussed using comics as teaching tools and another that looked at the nature of fandom in properties such as Firefly.  On Thursday night, the comics group hosted a dinner where I got to chat about comics with a number of other like-minded folk.

On Friday, I took the Metro into DC and saw some sights, including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where I'm pleased to say that they had on display crystals from the Fortress of Solitude.

They also had a Beast Wars display, interestingly enough.

Afterwards, I walked up Pennsylvania Avenue only to come across a line of stopped traffic on an adjacent street.  Curiosity got the best of me and I stuck around, and in a few minutes the motorcade for President Obama came rolling by.  You can't, of course, see inside any of the presidential limos, but it was a pretty fun experience nonetheless.  So I took a picture outside of the White House, along with about a hundred other people.  No sign of Biden on a dog sled.