Friday, June 30, 2006

Amazing Heroes Swimsuit Special 1990

AMAZING HEROES was one of my favorite comics related magazines (and not just because they published my first ever article!). Put out by the otherwise elitist Fantagraphics, the folks who bring you THE COMICS JOURNAL, AH was a surprisingly fun, upbeat publication with emphasis on silver age classics and modern, mainstream independent comics. In spite of a revolving door for its editors, the mag maintained an enjoyable standard of quality for quite a few years and included annual special issues such as a preview issue and a swimsuit issue. In this case, the swimsuit issue was just an excuse for artists to turn in illustrations and cartoons of characters in various stages of undress, sometimes to plug a project but more often than not just for fun. It may not sound like much but it had a joy for comics that’s missing in today’s WIZARD-dominated marketplace. Take a look at some art from the 1990 AMAZING HEROES SWIMSUIT SPECIAL.

The cover features Reed Waller and Kate Worley’s OMAHA, THE CAT DANCER looking rather more discreet than usual. Mario Hernandez envisions Harvey Comics LITTLE DOT all grown up and in need of therapy. Friend Fred Hembeck presents the delightful tableau in which NANCY’s world crosses over with that of DENNIS THE MENACE (with a side of LITTLE LULU and even PETEY PARKER!). Rich Howell offers Disney’s Malefecent and her day at the beach while Neil Vokes pokes fun at Marvel’s X-Calibur and Janet Hetherington shows off snapshots of DC’s TEEN TITANS. Finally, leave it to TV’s Bruce Timm to resurrect ANGEL AND THE APE on the sand! Also in this issue were Batton Lash, Don Simpson, Charles Vess, Marc Hempel, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ty Templeton, Scott Shaw! And a whole lot more including more Hembeck and Timm! These things go for a song when you can find them and they’re lots of fun on a hot summer day whether you make it to the water or not. Surf’s up!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sophie (Ace) Aldred

It’s being reported that departing DOCTOR WHO companion Billie Piper (age 23) has been granted a six figure advance for her autobiography. That right there, more than anything else, sums up the difference in levels of respect given to the current DOCTOR WHO and the waning days of the original series. You see, Sophie Aldred, the seventh Doctor’s final companion in the original run (ominously absent from his pre-regenerative appearance in the 1996 TV Movie) wrote HER autobiography (with Mike Tucker) and I doubt she got anywhere near that much money for it. ACE came out the same year that the revival attempt occurred. An oversized picture book, it details not only Sophie’s life and career but also extensive reminiscences of the final seasons of the venerable BBC series. Ace was not your typical sounding board companion fit only to be kidnapped by Silurians or Daleks and rescued by the eccentric time lord. No, Ace was more like Rico, the MADAGASCAR penguin. She liked to blow things up! As written, Sophie’s character was "rebellious, moody, streetwise and lionhearted…" More so than most companions, she was an active participant in the stories, not just a victim. Even in those final days of the original run, in spite of complaints of violence and just plain bad writing, Ace was a unique, welcome addition to the legend and her memoirs are fun and realistically told in this coffee table book with lots of personal photos. The seventh Doctor may not have been the most popular but he adds to the mix to make the amazing popular ninth and tenth Doctors that have enabled Billie Piper’s TV success. I’ll probably read Billie’s book but I’d rather see a book entitled THE DOCTOR’S COMPANIONS. After all, everyone has a story that only time will tell.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Lennie Weinrib's The First Nine Months...

The newly svelte Mark Evanier brings us the sad news of Lennie Weinrib’s passing. In the sixties and seventies, Weinrib’s voice (or should I say voices) seemed to be everywhere but most of us probably remember his ultra-friendly H.R. PUFNSTUF voice. Mark offers memories of his good friend at his site. One of Lennie’s lesser-known performances can be found on this record album, THE FIRST NINE MONTHS ARE THE HARDEST. As always, please pardon my scanner’s limitations when it comes to scanning LPs. Released around 1964, this is essentially a series of skits a la the best-selling FIRST FAMILY albums only here dealing with pregnancy, still considered a bit of a risqué subject at the time. Lennie stars opposite Joyce Jameson, an up and coming starlet who never quite arrived. Joyce had apparently worked with Lennie on stage in the Billy Barnes Revue. The album was written by the team of Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, already veterans and just a couple years away from creating my favorite sitcom, THAT GIRL. The great Carl Reiner directs. It’s been years since I’ve listened to this so I’m sorry to say I can’t offer any details. Based on the hilarious liner notes, I’d have to say it’s a rare gem of comedy but I can’t even plop it on the old turntable and hear Lennie Weinrib’s voice again tonight because my turntable’s been broken for several years. It’s a good picture of Lennie on the back though. He looks happy. I hope he stayed that way. He certainly made a lot of us feel that way over the years.

Movies That Fell Through the Cracks # 12

FEAR IS THE KEY was a major release in 1972, not some drive-in quickie. Based on a book by Alistair MacLean, the man who had previously created such hits as THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and ICE STATION ZEBRA, this was a non-stop, thrill-packed, suspenseful chase film that, quite frankly, I barely recall anything about. The ad doesn’t help, seeing as how it’s one of the worst designed film ads I believe I’ve ever seen and gives you very little clue as to what the picture offered. Same with the title. Sounds okay but what exactly does it mean? FEAR IS THE KEY to what exactly, y’know? Barry Newman starred, fresh from his cult car chase picture, VANISHING POINT (which I didn’t see until years later). His leading lady was Suzy Kendall, a mod sixties flavor of the month here on the last minutes of her fifteen. Newman would go from here into one of my all-time favorite TV lawyer series, PETROCELLI, based on his unpretentiously titled film vehicle, THE LAWYER. After that, he kept working and is still a nice surprise to see in a film today but he’s never above the title anymore. Kendall, married for a time to Dudley Moore, was little heard from in show business again. MacLean would bounce back to an extent with FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE toward the end of the decade but his brand name seems to have faded with his death soon after. This film faded from memory almost before it finished unreeling. It's out there on video and DVD but you might look right over it without even realizing it.

Kirk Alyn

Kirk Alyn was a small part actor from the early thirties on who is remembered today chiefly for one role…but what a super role it was! Alyn became the first live-action, on-screen incarnation of SUPERMAN in the 1948 15 chapter serial of the same name. Now you young whippersnappers might not be familiar with serials. A movie serial was a short (usually two reels, about twenty minutes) film that, along with cartoons, newsreels, travelogues and assorted short subjects, usually preceded the movie you actually paid to see back in the early half of the last century. They were usually action based melodramas—westerns, spy thrillers and the very first comic book movies! The idea was that if you liked this week’s chapter, you would want to return to the same theater the following week to see what happened to the hero after the inevitable cliffhanger (sometimes literally in a serial!) ending. For many years, pre-television, it worked. For the record, this was all before my time but it sure sounds fun!
SUPERMAN arrived late as a serial for some reason, preceded by BATMAN, THE PHANTOM and even rival CAPTAIN MARVEL! When he did arrive, however, it was in the personable person of Kirk Alyn who made the part his through two serials, a total of thirty chapters. Married to marvelous deadpan comedienne Virginia O’Brien, Alyn had been working steadily in vaudeville, B westerns, gangster melodramas and even other serials for some years but to the general public was a relative unknown. His winning, energetic performance as both Clark Kent and Superman made the character believable and tied him to it forever more. His supporting cast included the lovely Noel Neill in her first appearances as the spunky Lois Lane and former Little Rascal Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen, a character taken largely from the radio series at that point. The special effects were, like everything else on a serial, produced quickly and cheaply but when Superman flew, it was shown with cartoon animation which, perhaps surprisingly, worked!
Alyn returned for ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN, loosely based on a popular long-running story arc from the radio version of SUPERMAN but here featuring Lyle Talbot as the screen’s first Lex Luthor. (Talbot turned up in one of my favorite TV gags in the 1960’s. On the always surreal GREEN ACRES, the Douglases were visiting the fictional governor of whatever state would name a town Hooterville. Lisa says "Don’t I know you from somewhere?" and the governor, played by actor Lyle Talbot, responds wistfully with, "I used to be Lyle Talbot!")
After this, Kirk Alyn became the Quality Comics hero BLACKHAWK for fifteen chapters. Supposedly he was offered the television version of SUPERMAN but turned it down due to the effects of typecasting he was already seeing. George Reeves was given the role in the short feature SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN that served as a sort of pilot for the TV series.
IMDB lists Kirk in a number of unbilled small roles after that dribbling out in the early sixties. In 1971, even though his version of the Man of Steel was by then largely forgotten, the retired actor wrote and self-published his memoirs, A JOB FOR SUPERMAN, and sold autographed copies of the book via mail-order. The oft-mentioned nostalgia boom brought Kirk new celebrity as he was a welcome presence at film collector and comic book conventions, often arriving with his own telephone booth for changing into you-know-who.
In 1977, Alyn and Neill were called on for a nostalgic nod in the big-screen mega-blockbuster in the making SUPERMAN. The pair were to play the parents of young Lois Lane as she witnesses the teenage Clark Kent outrace a train. No stranger to self-promotion by this point, Alyn milked the opportunity in both the regular press and the fan press making the scene out to be perhaps bigger than it was. In fact, in the finished film as originally released, his role—along with much of that scene—was for all intents and purposes, cut! Restored in the original two part TV airing and a later DVD edit of the film, the scene is cute but it isn’t much and was probably a tad too self-referential for its own good. Probably a good idea that it was originally cut. Alyn worked the convention circuit after that brief return to the spotlight but he also returned to acting, appearing in a low budget horror film as well as in some of Jim Harmon’s new old-time radio style productions in California. Kirk Alyn died in 1999 with the inevitable headlines that said SUPERMAN PASSES!
Today Brandon Routh debuts as the new Superman and by all accounts it is a stunning debut! Whether or not he knows it, however, Brandon has Kirk Alyn to thank for being there and doing it first! As you can see from the picture above, Kirk even got the T-shirt!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It's Ray Bradbury's Fault

I believe it was 1975 when I saw this article, a two page piece by Ray Bradbury in LITERARY CAVALCADE magazine at my high school. Bradbury was already my favorite writer with a boundless imagination unlike any before or since. I had devoured THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and S IS FOR SPACE while FAHRENHEIT 451 quickly became my favorite novel. I had even read several of Ray’s nostalgic newspaper articles about Tarzan and the Wizard of Oz and all of the brilliant and terrible things that influenced his work. This piece, though…this two page piece at the back of the magazine, was what cemented in my mind my desire to be a writer. After reading this, I knew that I wanted to be crazy and insightful and humorous and romantic and poetic and think things no one had thought before. This was the moment. This was the muse that made me fan the flames of that desire. Yesterday, as I continued in my job search, I began preparing a writer’s resume and, while I may not have made a living at it (yet) I found that I had written and even published much more than I had realized. Thanks to Ray Bradbury, I really did become a writer. Thanks to Ray Bradbury, I am a writer!

The Adventures of Superboy-1961

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY was supposed to be producer Whitney Ellsworth’s solution to how to continue the successful ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV series in spite of its star’s death in 1959. This 1961 pilot starred Johnny Rockwell and was produced and directed by the same folks who did the original series. Missing, of course, were Lois, Jimmy and Perry but in there place you had Lana Lang and Police Chief Parker. A half season’s worth of scripts were commissioned and one was chosen to shoot. Although it never aired, modern viewings reveal it to be well acted and of good quality. The whole story of the aborted project can be found in the book pictured here (along with the equally bizarre story of SUPERPUP). Although cheaply printed, author Chuck Harter’s book offers tons of screen shots and behind the scenes photos of both projects along with more detail than you might think possible at this late date. Rockwell, an acting student of Agnes Moorehead (and I read somewhere a friend of Hugh Hefner) was 23 years old at the time and gives a suitably boy scoutish performance as both Clark Kent and Superboy. The overall feel of the project is that of Andy Taylor’s Mayberry invaded by gangsters and a superhero. That small town vibe was popular all over the television landscape at that time so what was the problem? Why didn’t we see several full seasons of super heroics from Rockwell, Ellsworth and friends? According to the book, the bottom line seems to be that it was squashed by the sponsers when they reasoned that they could continue to syndicate and profit from the George Reeves originals without having to pay for any new production.
The book presents a summary and detailed information on the making of ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY pilot and the author even found Rockwell for a great then and now picture. There's even a detailed summary of each of the unproduced scripts for the series! The whole concept was a missed opportunity perhaps but an interesting bit of Super-trivia in the week in which, at long last, SUPERMAN RETURNS.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Just a quick break between Internet coolness to thank those of you who have taken the time to contribute to the blog donation box since I lost my job. It is all a great help and I promise for my part to continue to offer up nostalgic goodness on a daily basis. For those of you who have been wanting to contribute via credit card and could not, we are now set up with Paypal to accept credit cards, too. I had a second job interview with a major US retail chain today but had to pass when offered the position as the salary was only HALF of my previous job UNLESS I could also sell incentives to get weekly commissions. In other words, you'd never know exactly how much you'd have in any given paycheck. If you were off a week on vacation and had no chance for the commissions, you'd fall way behind in bills...and I'm already way behind. Since my creditors don't operate like that, I can't either. I don't know what Rad...ah-ah-ah! No names! I don't know what that company is thinking! I've got a half dozen more resumes out there and looking for more. Cross your fingers and, once again, thank all of you who have already contributed and all of you who will now that we take credit cards. You are ALL just the best!

Shoe Fetish Comics Ad-1977

I’m not sure who wrote or drew this ad found on the back cover of many comic books in 1977 ( a couple poses seem familiar but could be swipes) but I guarantee you that someone involved in its creation had a shoe fetish. On the surface level, this ad bears some resemblance to the well-remembered Hostess ads from the same era but instead of an established character to hawk their product, the Intermark Shoe Company invented their own-the AAU Shuperstar. Seriously. Shuperstar. First of all, because of the ridiculous spelling this attempted pun makes the hero sound tipsy! The ad itself is typical. In six panels it’s established that an evil guy is attempting to destroy the world. Why? Not important. We only have six panels, remember? Anyway, the hero arrives, stops him and is thanked by the public at large. Okay, now let’s look at this a tad closer, okay? To be blunt, there are no less than 17 foot or shoe references in those 6 panels not counting repeat references! 17! The evil villain, Missile-Toe, claims to have enough poison in his boots to destroy the world. The AAU Shuperstar (cringe!) swooooshes in, zaps him with some kind of unexplained foot rays that light up the sky, then kicks him causing him somehow to completely vanish from existence. All the while, he is being taunted by the so-called hero who tells him to "Kiss my foot!" Finally, and presumably after Shuperstar (shiver) had completely killed the baddie, two young children arrive to worship the haughty looking so-and-so, giving full credit to him and his shoes for saving the world. The fine print tells us that the product is "available in fine department, shoe and specialty stores everywhere." Now what exactly is the message here? That AAU shoes can save the world? That it’s okay to kill the bad guys? That other kids will look up to you if you wear AAU shoes? That you can publicly tout your shoe fetish and still be loved? Who knows? Did the AAU Shuperstar (UGH!) return in other ads? Is this shoe company even still around? With ads like these, I’d be surprised.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

5 Fingers of Death

Here is the film that started the whole US martial arts boom in least in my part of the country. 5 FINGERS OF DEATH(1972) starred Lo Lieh and had been playing for a week or so when a friend talked me into seeing it at the Grand in downtown Cincinnati. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was unusually crowded. Even though it was rated R and we were 14 (his mother took us. Sheesh!) it seemed to be mostly kids. The Chinese film was violent, exciting and unlike anything most of us had ever seen before .It left us wanting more. It ran for several weeks and then came news that former TV star Bruce Lee would be opening soon in one of several martial arts oriented films he had been making in recent years in Hong Kong (my friend and I had wondered whatever happened to that guy!).Cool! Bruce would very quickly eclipse Lo Lieh in the brief time he had left before his untimely passing. Lo Lieh (or perhaps more accurately Lieh Lo) went on to appear opposite steely eyed Lee Van Cleef in the amusing martial arts spaghetti western, THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER. He made plenty more films before his own 2002 death but none that ever took him to the heights of that first US exposure. A year after 5 FINGERS OF DEATH nearly every urban theater was running martial arts films on a regular basis but apparently, that film's distributors weren't that confidant in their own product. If you notice, the face on the guy in the ad (originally colored red on the poster) is not clearly oriental but, in fact, ambiguous enough to be African-American! Looks like they were trying to convince folks that this was a blaxploitation film instead of a Chines import in order to ensure better box office! Although little seen today, this is NOT a movie that fell through the cracks. In fact, you can order it here: Super Strange Video

Hollywood Heroes

Today’s offering is HOLLYWOOD HEROES byDavid Hofstede. In a way, it’s similar to the IMAGINARY PEOPLE book we covered recently. Instead of capsule histories of hundreds of characters, however, this one presents full chapters on only thirty and they aren’t necessarily imaginary. To be precise, HOLLYWOOD HEROES covers:

1-King Arthur
3-Billy Jack
4-James Bond
5-Buckaroo Banzai
6-Davy Crockett
7-Dirty Harry
8-Wyatt Earp
9-Henry V
12-Joan of Arc
13-Indiana Jones
14-Captain James T. Kirk
15-Bruce Lee
16-The Lone Ranger
17-Mad Max
18-Audie Murphy
19-Eliot Ness
20-General Patton
21-Robin Hood
25-Luke Skywalker
29-Dick Tracy
30-Zorro As with any endeavor of this type, it’s hard to argue with who was chosen but you wonder why other heroes weren’t. Where’s Doc Savage, for example? Sure, he only had one movie but he had a long run of pulp novels, a comic book and a radio series. Buckaroo Banzai, no disrespect intended, had one movie, one comic book adaptation, one aborted sequel and a never made TV series that hadn’t even been considered when this book came out in 1994. Certainly Audie Murphy was a real-life war hero (and another of my mother’s favorite movie stars) but, having appeared as himself in only one film, how does he rate over, say Roy Rogers? Roy’s inclusion, though, would have opened the whole B Western can of worms, wouldn’t it? Okay, then, how about the Mexican wrestling heroes? Surely "Hollywood" is not being used as a limiting term here as nearly all of the Hercules films listed are Italian!
As I said, it’s easy to kibitz. The content of the actual chapters makes for an interesting little summary of the characters’ on-screen incarnations, though. It's interesting to see, in the case of Patton for example, the other films in which the real-life general appeared besides the classic with George C. Scott. Watch out for occasional misinformation, however, such as the fact that the final Billy Jack movie went unreleased and is impossible to find. Hmmm…I saw it at the Florence Cinemas here in Kentucky back in 1978 (Lucie Arnaz was in it!) and I saw it a few weeks back on the DVD shelf at Best Buy! Overall, even though it would benefit from a few more pictures, HOLLYWOOD HEROES is a nice, breezy compilation of good guys and the films, series and TV movies they’ve appeared in. Just double check any "facts" you find in it before going on record.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Paypal Plea

Just a reminder that if you enjoy BOOKSTEVE'S LIBRARY now would be a good time to donate a little by hitting the Paypal button at upper right. There isn't really a lot of overhead here but I'm still unemployed with bills piling up and groceries thinning. In between job searches, I've managed to post more than normally this past week and I hope to get in to Cincinnati for more Christa Helm research by mid-week. Any and all donations would be greatly appreciated by your humble librarian. Thanks!

Rare Jim Aparo Comic Strip

Comic artist Jim Aparo never seemed to get enough respect when he was alive. My wife and I met him in Chicago at one of the first conventions he'd ever done and he seemed starved for attention. A nice man, very talkative and friendly, his death last year brought some people to the belated realization that his Batman was the definitive seventies version. Here are some sample comic strips that originally appeared in the late, lamented, absolutely marvelous weekly comic strip newspaper THE MENOMONEE FALLS GAZETTE. ZIP TYRO was an unsold sixties comic that bore some resemblence to England's JEFF HAWKE astronaut comic strip. Note that the artist's classy signature is already present. If ZIP TYRO had been successful at all Jim might never have been at Charlton to follow Dick Giordano to DC...and BATMAN.


They say you always remember your first. BARBARELLA by Jean-Claude Forest was the very first graphic novel that I ever read…and it was considered pretty graphic for its day. Looking at it from our jaded 21st century view, the nudity found in this 1964 publication is nothing. I mean, England’s World War II newspaper strip JANE was at least this explicit two decades earlier. Add to BARBARELLA, however, its satirical bent, sci-fi/fantasy setting and lovely artwork and you have a huge European success story. In a review quoted on this volume’s back cover, PLAYBOY referred to the strip’s "blend of sensuous science-fiction and witty mythology, luminous hallucination and perverse melodrama" and called BARBARELLA "the very aPOPtheosis of eroticism."
In the US, the BARBARELLA album was translated and reprinted in 1966 by Grove Press, an important name in the annals of publishing as they made their reputation by printing controversial, banned books. Again, just as we look at the Beatles 1964 moptops now and wonder why we ever thought that was long hair, it’s hard to imagine BARBARELLA with its toplessness, its pleasure machine, its post-coital robot sex and its lesbian villain as being all that controversial. Heck, Woody Allen long ago used a variation on the pleasure machine in SLEEPER with the Orgasmatron and if you’ve been following recent press reports, there’s a lesbian fighting crime in Gotham City these days. As far as toplessness, have you looked at cable TV lately? The robot sex...well, okay, I'll grant you that one.
I was 14 years old when I got this graphic novel, obviously a post-movie reprint edition, by mail order in 1973 and I’ll admit to being disappointed that it wasn’t smuttier. That said, I found myself engrossed in its European style. From the unusual artwork (at that age, any non-Kirby inspired artwork seemed unusual to me) and the often odd translation to the single colors that dot each individual chapter, this was unlike anything I’d seen before. Later on, as I read up on comics from France, Belgium and Italy I wanted more but, unfortunately, I didn’t read the languages and the non-superhero subject matters of many of these albums meant that they were unlikely to be translated.
BARBARELLA had, of course, been made into a big-budget major motion picture in 1968. Jane Fonda, still in full Bardot clone mode, starred as the heroine for her then-husband, director Roger Vadim (also Bardot’s ex-husband). When I finally saw it in 1979, I found it to be relatively faithful to the graphic novel with teasing sensuality, pop arty sets and dialogue that sounds like a bad translation. Actually, the film version reminds me more of ALICE IN WONDERLAND with Barbarella as Alice and many of the odd folks she meets being just as crazy as the Mad Hatter. Pre-political Jane looks absolutely perfect as the character and her uninhibited performance is fun but comes across as stilted when you remember that this woman is probably one of the greatest American screen actresses of the twentieth century. Her makeover into the controversial (to put it mildly) "Hanoi Jane" has no doubt hurt the reputation of this and many other of her films just because she’s in them.
I saw BARBARELLA, the movie, again recently on TV and enjoyed it even more than I had at age 20. It’s artsy French style now evokes a nostalgia in and of itself and even gives the impression of spoofing the styles of other pretentious directors such as Godard. Jane Fonda, long since remade again and again (although bad feelings linger) is just so young, pretty and open that you just dote on her. Even John Phillip Law’s dull performance as Pygar the blind angel now seems a considered style choice. Still, the movie to me will always be an afterthought to the wonderful experience of discovering the true BARBARELLA, my first graphic novel! What was yours?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Linda Blair-Sweet Hostage

Day after day, more people from around the world stop by here looking for Linda Blair photos than for any one other thing. I continue to be just amazed at that fact. Well, something tells me that these aren’t exactly the type of photos they’re looking for but they are lovely shots of the teen actress circa 1974. Also, here’s an article about her by Cincinnati’s legendary TV columnist (and close personal friend of often feuding Malibu neighbors Larry Hagman and Burgess Meredith) Mary Wood from 1975. The article was tied to the TV premiere of what may well have been Linda’s best starring vehicle, SWEET HOSTAGE. She plays a simple country girl kidnapped by Martin Sheen’s handsome, literate, poetry-spouting escaped mental patient. Eventually, the two grow closer and learn about life from each other, a fact that, in a TV movie, can only lead to tragedy. If anyone out there knows Linda, I repeat my offer to help with her autobiography. I don’t think she knows just how popular she is!

More Moore

Yesterday, I wrote of Alan Moore. If you are at all a fan of Alan Moore's work (and quite frankly I can't imagine you not being if you read my blog) I highly recommend these two remarkable volumes that came out in the summer of 2003. ALAN MOORE: PORTRAIT OF AN EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN offers 350 pages of essays, comics and illustrations in tribute to Alan. Those bowing low include Terry Gilliam (who began his career as Harvey Kurtzman's assistant!), Will Eisner, Steve Bissette and a host of international creators. There's a serious look at the first published chapters of LOST GIRLS and even new WATCHMEN art by Dave Gibbons! The other book, THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE is a typically thorough effort from Twomorrows. Written by George Khoury (and friends) this one offers an obsessive checklist of all of Moore's published works to that point along with interviews, overviews and even more illustrated tributes. There's even a color section reprinting in its entirety Moore and Don Simpson's ironically black and white (essentially) story PICTOPIA from Fantagraphics fund-raising title ANYTHING GOES. Lots of photos in this one, too, including a couple of ultra-rare beardless shots of its star! There is no denying that Alan Moore redefined comics and left the door open for others like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison to come in and redefine some more. These were but the first two books on his amazing career. I guarantee you there will be MOORE!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Alan Moore's Shocking Futures

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Alan Moore’s upcoming project with Melinda Gebbie, LOST GIRLS. Most folks whose opinions I respect are championing the project. Certainly, many respected authors have published works of erotica and/or pornography. Theodore Sturgeon, Phillip Jose Farmer, Dean Koontz and W.E.B. Griffin come to mind right off the top of my head. It was rare, however, when they put it out under their own name, leaving only the cognizanti to know the truth. I'll even go out on a limb to say that I, myself have published adult material under a pseudonym. Literate, funny and by all accounts erotic, none of that kept the bluenoses away. Moore is taking a risk and, some say, putting the dealers, distributors and store owners at an even bigger risk because his own name is just too big to be ignored. Being out of work and behind in the mortgage, I can’t see that I myself would even be able to afford it. Having read the original chapters published more than a decade ago, I’m not even certain if I’d like it if I could. I am fascinated on how it will be received, however.
Two of my favorite Alan Moore projects are the Titan volumes seen here from 1986, ALAN MOORE’S SHOCKING FUTURES and ALAN MOORE’S TWISTED TIMES. Taken from the fertile pages of the UK’s long-running weekly 2000AD, the mostly one-off stories presented here masterfully show their author’s sense of humor, his sense of wonder, his quirkiness, his originality and his quiet genius for storytelling in a bare minimum of space. Abetted by art from some of England’s best including Kevin O’Neill (who did both covers), Bryan Talbot, Paul Neary, Alan Davis and WATCHMEN’s Dave Gibbons, these are EC-style fantastic stories, capturing sometimes only the briefest moments in the lives of their protagonists, other times a lifetime.
My personal favorite is the DRAGNET/MAD parody (with Gibbons) entitled CHRONOCOPS. The narrative plays with time in ways that are a little maddening and a little ingenious. The art is a direct homage to Willie Elder! In the panel seen at left, the cops meet each other coming and going on their time travels. Later in the story, the panel repeats and we learn that the nuns in the background were ALSO our heroes! Another enjoyable piece is THE DISTURBED DIGESTIONS OF DOCTOR DIBWORTHY in which a scientist discovers an idea that will make time travel possible. Almost immediately, he is visited by his future self telling him not to do it. Their conversation is interrupted by another future self telling him that it turns out okay after all. With each passing instant, another of the doctor’s future selves arrives with a different view of history until finally…?
Not all of the stories are so light-hearted, though, as some take an Ellison-like turn for the deep and pure surreal. Moore himself offers introductions and story commentaries. There’s really no other way to describe these books than to say that they already make you realize that you’re watching a young master play with his chosen medium. As that master has moved into deeper fields with FROM HELL, V FOR VENDETTA, the aborted BIG NUMBERS and now LOST GIRLS, it’s important not to lose sight of these early training ground stories. These were what made Alan Moore the comics superstar he’s become and gave him the right--no the duty!-- to expand the medium as far as he can expand it!

Paul McCartney Books

A belated Happy Birthday to my favorite singer for the past 36 years, Sir Paul McCartney. As everyone in the free world knows by now, the knighted Beatle turned 64 on June 18th, an event journalists with nothing better to do had eagerly awaited since 1967. Although a bit troubled these days with his very public marital woes, McCartney’s life has become the stuff of legend. Today, I offer a selection of books which, when read together, probably offer a glimpse of something close to the real man while also building on the myth.
PAUL McCARTNEY IN HIS OWN WORDS offers a great portrait of where Macca’s head was at in the early to mid-seventies told as it is in transcripts of interviews with American expatriate author/broadcaster (and early Marvel Comics letterhack!) Paul Gambaccini Lots of photos I’ve not seen anywhere else also. Nothing too controversial here as Gambaccini was/is a true fan of his subject but still pretty in-depth in spots.
THE PAUL McCARTNEY STORY by George Tremlett is a 1977 paperback whose greatest asset is a 70 page timeline at the back of the book. The Beatles story is told here again but the real emphasis is on Paul as an individual and his post-Beatles projects.
PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS is a coffee table picture book (one of several) from 1977. It’s well laid out and offers a wealth of photos from the early seventies. A little fluffy on actual content but still a nice, colorful addition.
PAUL McCARTNEY THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY by Chris Welch isn’t really all that definitive. With only about 150 pages, how could it be? Still, it’s a good basic telling of Paul’s story, again with great photos. This 1984 British book’s main selling point is that it presents detailed reviews of all of its subject’s musical releases since 1970’s McCARTNEY.

BLACKBIRD from 1991 is by Geoffrey Giuliano who made a cottage industry out of exploiting the Beatles both as a group and solo. His early books were treasures of Fab Four memorabilia but by this point I wasn’t even sure he LIKED the group! This one deals more with the negative, seamier and scandalous sides of the ever-boyish superstar. It’s more than a bit sensationalized but read between the lines and there’s probably some truth there. Giuliano was initially reported to have died at the WTC on 9/11 but then later reports seemed to put the lie to that. Is he gone or were reports of his death, like McCartney’s, premature?
THE WALRUS WAS PAUL by R. Gary Patterson came out in 1996 and deals exclusively with that infamous rumor of Paul’s death. An essential part of the McCartney legend, it is glossed over in more serious biographies so it’s good to have one like this that ignores everything else and JUST deals with the bizarre "clues" in this long proven ridiculous theory that Paul died and was replaced in the group early on by an arguably more talented doppelganger.

McCARTNEY YESTERDAY AND TODAY was Ray Coleman’s excellent 1996 contribution to McCartney scholarship. The estimable Coleman had produced a near definitive biography of John Lennon previously but died the year this much thinner volume came out leaving readers to wonder if it had been meant to be even more detailed.
PAUL McCARTNEY MANY YEARS FROM NOW is credited to long-time Beatle friend Barry Miles but comes across as probably the closest thing we’ll ever see to an in-depth autobiography of Paul as it was written with his full participation. It’s sheer thickness (over 600 pages) and its rather stark cover mark this one as a serious undertaking. This came out nearly a decade ago in 1997 and Paul, never one to rest on laurels, has continued to be a major presence in the pop world and, more recently, the tabloids. In fact, he has compiled several mostly photographic histories of his own.Perhaps Miles can re-visit his subject and give us an equally thick volume two. Not soon, though. Heck, Paul’s only 64. Rock and roll started out as teenage music. Paul continues to prove that just isn’t so. Who knows what’s still ahead?