Friday, May 13, 2022

Thing sketchbook, part 25

It's the 25th installation of the (very popular) Thing sketchbook series! That means we've seen around 125 of these beauties so far. Let's see what these five look like, who they're from and where I got 'em!

Stan Sakai - Comic-Con International 2019

Stan Sakai is a legendary artist who has spent the last few decades working on Usagi Yojimbo, which is an absolute masterpiece. I found him at his usual spot at Comic-Con in San Diego and thought I'd take a chance to see if he would draw the Thing in the ol' sketchbook. I handed him the book and paid the money, and then the negotiation began. At first he said he didn't want to draw the Thing, but thought about it for a minute and asked if he could draw his famous samurai rabbit as the Thing, and of course I agreed. This is one of the stranger entries into the sketchbook, but it's Stan Sakai, it's Thing-like, and I'll take it.

Julie Sakai - Comic-Con International 2019

Julie Sakai, artist on the Chibi Usagi feature and Stan's wife, was at the table with Stan while he drew his sketch. After he was done, we slid the book right over to her and she drew this lovely Usagi-as-the-Thing color illustration. It's like Usagi is dressing up as the Thing for Halloween, and I heartily approve.

David Lloyd - Comic-Con International 2019

David Lloyd had a booth across from New England Comics' space at this show, so I kind of staked him out all weekend. Toward the end of the show, I found a time when he didn't have a crowd in front of his booth and I made my move. Lloyd, of course, is the artist on the classic V for Vendetta, and it was a pleasure to get to talk with him about comics while he sketched this rather spooky-looking Thing.

Alexis Ziritt and Ian Nichols - New York Comic Con 2019 and Rhode Island Comic Con 2019

Is this the Thing from Hell? If so, he's my favorite demon ever. Alexis Ziritt, who draws such wild stuff for books like Space Riders, started this sketch off with a flaming skull that is something of a trademark for him. My pal Ian Nichols finished it off by adding some colors and a wide frame for this Ghost Rider-esque Ben Grimm.

Okay, there are admittedly some very different Things in this entry. Let's wrap it up with a more traditional-looking Thing:

Art Baltazar - New York Comic Con 2019

Art Baltazar makes really wonderful kids comics like Tiny Titans and Aw Yeah Comics, and it's easy to see his broad appeal with this marker-and-crayon, very happy Thing sketch. Ben is so happy that it looks like he's beginning to unravel a bit! I saw Baltazar drawing sketches and I very tentatively approached him about joining the book - it's always a bit nerve wracking to barrel your way toward a booth with a book in hand - but he agreed to draw something and that's how we ended up with your good pal Ben here.

We're nearing the end of 2019 in the sketchbook - I hope nothing comes out of left field to really disrupt convention sketches in the near future. Er, I'll see you all next time!

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Thing is Marvel's best title! Here's some original art from Tom Reilly!

Let's take a minute to talk about how great Marvel's new Thing series is. The six-issue series, the character's first solo title since 2006, just wrapped up and I can't recommend picking this up highly enough.

Everything you love about the Thing is on display in this title. If you love the classic Thing - the good-hearted, brooding, never-say-die strongman, then you will love this book. If you love the more current interpretations of the Thing - the more polished, self-aware version, you will love this book! Walter Mosley, the best-selling crime novelist, seamlessly weaves new characters in with old favorites, adding to the title character's mythos while remaining true to his roots.

Artist Tom Reilly draws the Thing in a perfect blend of Kirby, Byrne and Wieringo. He makes him look tough without drawing him like a 12-foot, can't-fit-in-a-room monster. And he draws every page! All six issues are drawn by the same artist.

Does this series have team-ups? Yes! Does it have classic Fantastic Four characters? Yes! Does the Thing get all moody? Yes! Does the Thing punch a whole lot of people? YES! Let's look at some of the examples:

During one fight, the Thing punches a guy so hard his shirt blows up!

During another, he punches three villainous characters at once - including one with his head!

The Thing even manages to get his shots in at the Hulk! It really has a little bit of everything. You need to read this book!!

When Reilly announced that he would be selling some of his artwork from the series, I knew that I had to get a page. I ended up with two really amazing pieces from the series, and here they are for all to see!

This page is from the first issue of the series, and it features a lonely Ben Grimm wandering the expansive halls of an empty Baxter Building. Ben is taking a piece of material for Reed to analyze, and he trudges through the building's many different rooms to get to his destination. I love how moody all of these panels are, and they really lean into the FF's sci-fi background.

Here's our main character as he makes his way through his weight room...

...and finally he arrives in Reed's lab.

I love brooding Thing. It's part of his character, and it's that emotional resonance that makes the character so compelling. The shadows in this panel really hammer that home. Plus, check out that Kirby Krackle!

The next page is from the fourth issue, and is a full-page spread, albeit with a lot of empty space surrounding the relatively tiny characters. I absolutely love this one. But wait! If you look closely, you can kind of see more images on the other side of this page...

That's because, unbeknownst to me when I bought it, the Thing page was drawn on the back of another, entirely different page? I sent a message to Reilly to ask about it, and it seems that he simply ran out of blank pages while drawing the Thing series, so he drew the issue 4 spread on the back of a Crow pitch that he had taken to show off at conventions as a sample page. This was an unexpected bonus on an already great piece of art.

I know that it's probably hard to take my recommendation at face value, because I will read (and probably enjoy) just about anything Thing-related. But this series is truly a brilliant piece of superhero storytelling, and you honestly should run out and grab it right away. Everything there is to love about the Thing is in this six-issue series. I can only hope that a sequel is in the works!

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Visiting Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum - in real life

The Sanctum Sanctorum, Dr. Strange's mystical home with the signature rose window at top, is one of Marvel's iconic landmarks in its comic book universe. Like some other Marvel buildings, the Sanctum Sanctorum also has a real-world address in New York City's Greenwich Village. On a recent trip to the city, I decided to seek out this location to see how it stacked up to its comic book equivalent.

Back in 2018, after spending the day at the New York Comic Con, I took to the streets to see if could find the Baxter Building, home of the Fantastic Four, at its 42nd and Madison address. In February of '22, I found myself near the Washington Square Arch, saw a sign that told me I was in Greenwich Village, and decided that it was time to add another stop on the Marvel Universe tour.

Writer Roy Thomas first gave Dr. Strange's residence its street address, at 177A Bleeker Street - it also just happened to be where Thomas lived for a while. Growing up reading the comics, I had no idea where Greenwich Village was in relation to anything else in NYC, but the name gave it a special significance, I thought, and subconsciously associated it with a gentrified, somehow fancier and more residential section of the city. As it turns out, it's just, a different part of Manhattan.

After checking out the Arch, I walked a few blocks and found myself on Bleeker Street. This is a street that Simon and Garfunkel sang about, too, so my expectations were great. I soon found myself at the 100-block of the street, and there, before my very eyes, I found...

...a crappy bodega and some apartments?!

So here it is, the famed home of Dr. Stephen Strange, and also a place where you can get some scratch-off tickets and a nose ring, probably at the same time. There is no longer a 177A designation, either - 177 is as close as you'll get today.

Of course, it's important to remember that Dr. Strange is a sorcerer, and what better way to keep a low profile than to disguise your three-story mansion as a red brick tenement? That must be it - it's all a facade whipped up by Strange, Wong, or any one of the building's other magical tenants. Knowing this, and respecting the magician's code, I declined to investigate further, knowing that it was important to keep up the illusion.

Okay, now that that's over with, let's look at a few other New York attractions, some of which are also featured heavily in the world of comics. Here's the aforementioned Washington Square Arch!

Enough of that. Let's see if we can find a comic book shop nearby. Not too far away was Forbidden Planet, which I believe is the only branch of this UK store located in the United States? Anyway, this was a very cold day in February, and I was happy to walk around inside for a little while.

The store wasn't exactly what I expected - there was a lot of space devoted to toys and maybe not as much to comics as I had hoped to see - but it was still a fun experience. I've really only been to the bigger chain stores in NYC, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of the independent shops on my next trip. Of, and maybe Avenger's Mansion or something like that.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Spider-Man visits Pittsburgh in Amazing Spider-Man 292

A while ago, I wrote about a two-issue story in which the Avengers visited Pittsburgh, and of Thor's quick stopover in the Steel City. Both were fun, even if they mostly only featured generic references to the city. When I saw that 1987's Amazing Spider-Man #292 had Pittsburgh as its backdrop, I had to grab it and take some pictures. Let's see what awaits our hero!

Unlike the Avengers and Thor issues, this Spider-Man story is chock full of mostly accurate Pittsburgh references. and we start out with downtown Pittsburgh, the Allegheny River, and Three Rivers Stadium! The stadium would have had to be about ten times its size to look like this from downtown, but I'll allow it. And we also start off strong with references to both the Pirates and the Steelers, longtime tenants of the all-purpose stadium.

Spider-Man then somehow swings past the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning, which is miles away and is not surrounded by any buildings he could really swing from, but, well, okay. Spidey is following after Mary Jane Watson, to whom he has recently proposed, but apparently MJ needs time to think it over by talking with her sister, who lives in Pittsburgh. This is the first time I learned that MJ even had a sister! Who is this mysterious sibling who for some reason lives in Pittsburgh? Why didn't she live with their Aunt Anna in New York City? Questions abound.

This issue is basically just one Pittsburgh reference after another. I love 'em, of course, but I wonder why writer David Michelinie and artist Alex Saviuk decided to make this issue one big travelogue. Here we see stately Mellon Square...

...and now we're at Point State Park. Wait, this is basically where Spidey was on page one, across the river from Three Rivers Stadium. Why did he swing to Oakland just to turn around and go all the way back know what? Never mind. I'll just enjoy this for what it is. It looks like Saviuk drew the fountain at Point State Park, but the water got colored green like a tree. I'll admit that I do not know if the fountain was running in '87. I guess there could have been a tree there back then.

What's this? The Gateway Clipper over MJ's shoulder? Why yes, it is!

Peter and Mary Jane discuss her sister's plight as they take a stroll through the park, where MJ mentions the nearby Duquesne University.

Meanwhile, there's some shady business going down at a nearby industrial park. This might actually be the industrial park off of the 31st Street Bridge, which has since been retrofitted into the 31st Street Studios television soundstage.

But the main story takes us back to Duquesne University. I think this is supposed to be the Old Main administrative building?

Both the Avengers story and this one pay special attention to the Liberty Bridge, which is right off of campus, as opposed to the Ft. Pitt Bridge, which I think is more visually appealing. It seems that the Spider-Slayer is also in the 'burgh, which is tough news for Peter. I guess using the Liberty Bridge makes sense when you want to bring in that ultimate Pittsburgh visual reference...

...the Duquesne Incline! I suppose it is pretty iconic. But I think that those not from Pittsburgh might be overthinking how much it's actually used anymore.

At the top of the Incline is, of course, scenic Mt. Washington, which is also name dropped in this issue. They made sure to name pretty much every location in this book.

"We didn't get the opportunity to see the Incline car well enough on the last page. Put it in again."

Wait, "the trolley"?! I take back everything good I've said so far.

So Mary Jane has a sister, and also two young nephews?! And one of them is, I guess, a die-hard Pirates fan, even wearing the '70s-style pillbox hat? Do we ever see these people again?

Our last scene for the book takes place at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Mysteries solved and villains defeated, Peter and MJ head back to New York.

But not before Mary Jane accepts Peter's marriage proposal! Wait, what? What I thought was a throwaway issue is actually one of some spider-historical importance! It's actually the issue that leads directly into Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 - the wedding issue!

The back cover confirms it! I had no idea.

This whole issue was a pretty wild ride and I'm glad that I picked it up. It managed to squeeze in over a dozen Pittsburgh references in just over 20 pages. I'd love to find and share Pittsburgh in other comics, too, so if anyone has any suggestions, send 'em over!

Monday, March 14, 2022

Planet Comics #3 now on Kickstarter!


Is it that time again? It is! It's once again time for a new issue of Planet Comics, your favorite oversized sci-fi anthology pulp comic tribute of the 21st century! It is all of those things.

The campaign for Planet Comics #3 is now live on Kickstarter, and I hope that you'll check it out if you haven't yet. There's a little over a week left in the campaign, and the book has reached its initial goal. Let's take a look at some of the art and stories that will be included in this new issue!

This issue starts off with a main cover by Nickolej Villiger! Nickolej is such a great talent and I'm sure you'll be seeing more of his work in the near future!

The Kickstarter-exclusive cover for this issue is by Hilary Barta, who has drawn so many weird and funny comics over the past few decades. I love his work on Radioactive Man from Bongo Comics!

The Bulwark is back with another new chapter int his issue. Andrea Schiavone once again provides the art. He brings so much to this story and the book! I'm lucky to have him drawing the lead story.

Jeff McComsey's "The Old Man and the Sea of Love" returns again as our other continuing story. More tales of big adventure on the high sea await!

There are a few new stories in this third issue, as well. The first has a weird western flavor provided by Joey Esposito and MoraMike. This story is called "Nixon: Small World."

I'm really excited about this short story from Grace Gilbert and Guillaume Deloizon, "Julián in Space." Grace is a former student in one of my comic book classes and she's a really great storyteller! Guillaume's art is so unique, especially in a book like this, and I think it adds such an interesting flair to the publication.

And get ready for this...Duane Redhead and I are creating a new Teddy and the Yeti story for this issue! This will be the first new T&Y story since 2014. I'm so excited to bring these characters back for the first time in a while.

I'm also printing a blank sketch cover edition for the first time in the series. My pal Ian Nichols is offering up his services to draw sketches on these covers as one of the limited rewards! So you can get some bona fide original art with this campaign. I'm really looking forward to seeing some of these covers with pencils and ink on 'em.

This issue will probably end up being a few pages longer than the previous one, which will mean that issue #3 will be the biggest one yet. I'm grateful for the support this book has gathered in the past and I hope for at least a few more issues to come. Please spread the word that Planet Comics #3 is now live! Pledge if you can! Write me weird comments below this post!

Sunday, February 20, 2022

I finally went to the Comic-Con Museum

For the last 15 years, Comic-Con has grown from the pinnacle of pop culture conventions into something larger - a sprawling juggernaut that has become a celebration synonymous with comic books and pop culture in general. The folks at Comic-Con International, looking to expand the event's influence with a permanent, year-round location, announced the creation of the Comic-Con Museum a few years ago. I became a member in 2018, and in 2019, the newly repurposed building in Balboa Park opened for a preview of sorts during the '19 convention, ahead of its grand opening a year later.

The grand opening, of course, did not happen as planned, and it's fair to wonder, after two years of not having a regular convention and all of the revenue that streams from that, what the resulting limbo has done to both budgets and plans. In a lot of ways, it seemed that 2020 was going to be the pinnacle of Comic-Con, where it would really flex its muscles and become something more than a week-long experience and start having even more of an influence on San Diego with its permanent residence. Now, who knows? I'll be interested to see how the 2022 show handles what would otherwise be 150,000 people in close quarters with one another.

I didn't make it to the 2019 museum offsite, which featured a lot of Batman memorabilia, while it was open. I never made the time to break away from the convention center to travel the 15-or-so miles to Balboa Park, where the Comic-Con museum sits among other sites of interest. It's never easy to get to offsite events during the show, and the idea of taking an hour away from the convention just for traveling was too much for me at the time. Hindsight being what it is, I wish that I had started or finished a day at the museum back then.

2021 was different, though. After the Special Edition show ended on Sunday, I knew what I'd be doing at 10:00 on Monday, and I traveled to the museum to finally check it out. I arrived about 15 minutes after the museum opened, and I was one of the only visitors for much of my time there. It was a little weird to get the museum almost all to myself, but I was able to talk with some of the staff as I wandered the three floors, which certainly added to the experience.

One of the first things I saw upon entering was the cardboard sculpture display, which showed off these amazing creations, mostly built by children, using cardboard boxes.

Most of the sculptures were labeled with the names and ages of the creators. It was really something to see a beautifully designed, life size figure that ended up being made by a 10 or 11-year-old kid. It was all really impressive!

This Hulkbuster Iron Man was the biggest sculpture on display.

Just check out Black Manta's weapon. Sheesh!

At the very end of the display was this Comic-Con Museum logo. There was a lot of stuff that I loved seeing here, but the cardboard display was probably what impressed me most.

Also in a prominent location were these, and other costumes, which I soon learned were from the Comic-Con Masquerade events from years past. This means that these costumes were also fan-made, and given to the museum to display.

At least thematically, I think this worked really well. Rather than just being a museum for pop culture stuff, they're obviously trying to make it something that feels like Comic-Con and includes some of the best parts of the convention.

Years ago, when Comic-Con had a gallery at the San Diego Public Library (which was pretty clearly a lead up to the museum and its permanent display place), I remember seeing a display of Comic-Con program cover art. I wish that that display had a permanent place here at the museum. I'm sure they've got it around somewhere, and I know that there's never enough space for everything, but having a permanent display of Comic-Con history is something I think they should have.

After seeing the costumes, I checked out the Archie Comics display. Beyond just artwork and collectibles, this wing had a 1950s Archie motif to it.

This display felt a little more random to me than some of the others, without a clear purpose, but there were still a lot of great pieces or art to see.

There was also a small section dedicated to the real-life Archies musical group.

The Gene Roddenberry exhibit was what I was most excited to see, and it inhabited the most prominent location on the museum floor. The display was created so it looks like you're entering the ship through a corridor. On the floor you'll see multicolored lined. Each of these lines included events from Roddenberry's life on them, and you could follow them throughout the exhibit.

I don't know if these costume props are the originals (there was nothing indicating that they were), but they were still great to see.

The Gorn! 

The uniforms, though, were labeled as originals from the various shows. Here we have a Next Generation uniform with Discovery uniforms on the bookends.

Why was this chair roped off? Why wouldn't they let me sit in it? Outrageous!

I believe the Talosian in the middle is from an episode of Discovery, not the pilot episode "The Cage" from the '60s.

After making my way through all of the Star Trek items, I walked upstairs to the Creator's Lab that doubles as a classroom space. I'm sure that those at the museum are itching to use this space more fully, and hopefully they'll get a chance soon. 

The space held costuming materials as well as these models - I don't know who will be able to use this space when it's more widely open, but what I did see was very impressive!

On the drawing board, figuratively and literally, is Captain Carter, Marvel's new What If...? character.

Around the walkway along the third floor, I saw a number of original drawings from Addams Family creator Charles Addams. 

Most of the art dealt with subjects other than the Addams Family. This was my favorite of the dozens of framed pieces on display.

But there was, of course, plenty of Addams Family artwork, too.

I saved the Pac Man exhibit for last. This display felt secreted away in its own cubbyhole, the all-black background from ceiling to floor making it seem apart from everything else. It kind of looks like an arcade from the outside.

There was a lot of memorabilia to see. I think these items were under glass to keep onlookers from getting Pac Man Fever.

The exhibit itself felt a little bit light on content, but these design documents looked pretty cool.

Tucked away in one corner was this really awesome Pac Man pinball machine! I had never played this game before and spent a few minutes with it. The machine was set to free play, and since I was the only one there, I might have played more than my share. It was a lot of fun.

I absolutely loved getting to finally see this museum. There's a lot of potential for exhibits, programming and other types of outreach at this place. It feels like a grab bag of Comic-Con which is exactly what I was looking for, even after leaving the truncated convention just a day earlier. I would love to make it back here the next time I'm in town.

This trip to San Diego allowed me to see a number of things that I normally wouldn't be able to, and I'm really happy to have not only had the chance to get back to this town, but to also explore some things a little more. Before I left, I made one last stop - to the Cat Café in downtown. The cats had moved across the street since the last time I was there.

But they still had cats. I think this guy got adopted just a couple days after I was there.

As I was leaving my parking space, I saw the Peacemaker banner coming down from the outside of the hotel. It's a Comic-Con tradition! I don't know what 2022 will bring for Comic-Con. I know that the organizers are planning on having a show in July. No matter what happens, I was really glad to be able to see the city, the convention, and some of the surrounding area again for the first time in what felt like a very long time. Here's hoping for better days ahead.