THE COMICS # 2

eating the violin 40per

“Relativity theory in 1905 announced
the dissolution of uniform Newtonian
space as an illusion or fiction, however
useful. Einstein pronounced the doom
of continuous or rational space, and the
way was made clear for Picasso, the
Marx Brothers, and “MAD” magazine.”
…..Marshall McLuthan, Understanding
Media.
PART 2

It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that comics from America started appearing intermittantly in small papershops and sweetshops in England and Ireland. These usually came as ballast in the holds of ships and although they proliferated in dockland cities such as Liverpool, in Ireland, American comics were fairly rare items in the grand scheme of things.In the way Pokeman cards would be traded today by children, American comics gained an almost talismanic status among those children with their noses to the wind. It wasn’t even that simple either.There was a pecking order of desire. Anyone could get their hands on Harvey comics with characters such as Ritchie Rich or Casper the Friendly Ghost. These could be bought relatively easily in Woolworth’s, as could copies of Classics Illustrated. The former were definitely “kidsstuff”, and the latter were sturdily educational tomes, trading a respectability based on their interpretation of the classics of literature. These were worthy enough efforts in their own right and their production values with full colour {albeit on newsprint} printing ,their glossy covers and their tidy book-like size ,seperated them from their less colourful ,if more robust, home- grown counterparts. But these would gather at the bottom of cardboard boxes under beds in great profusion. They were relatively easily chanced upon. The ones to really look out for initially were those produced by D.C. National. This was the homeplace of the first superhero line.The front runners such as Superman, The Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern and a veritable colourful cornucopia of superstars in skin -tight colourful underwear, muscles rippling, and saving worlds at the drop of a hooded cowl. Exciting stuff indeed! These had much more heft to them in the scheme of things and would be traded on long summer evenings to the value of one Superman to three Classics Illustrated.
Of course , having been deprived of any kind of American comics, we were all unaware of the furore that had greeted the groundbreaking E.C. Comics earlier in America
when they were held up as bad examples to the young and actually an encouragment to every juvenile ill that might afflict American youth, from rape , murder and even {dare I say } drug taking. Rock and roll music was having the same bad press, but as in all these things, the forbidden fruit was always the most attractive.While rampant McCarthyism in America attempted to completely geld the form, an exhibition calling to eliminate these comic books toured in Britain. On seeing the “made in the U.S.A.” exhibit, Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, requested ,”Pass them over, I should like to read some horror comics”.The only thing that survived to cross the ocean from the E.C. stable was the satirical Mad Magazine{basically a distillation of the wholeE.C. ethos in a new “adult” magazine format }”Mad” lampooned everything that was sacred to the scared morality of the grey generation.It even went on to lampoon itself and the” usual gang of idiots “who produced it . As the EC line was scape- goated in the earlier comic witchhunt, Mad was to go on and inspire a whole generation of cartoonists and artists to produce the free-wheeling hippy underground comix of the the next two decades and mete its revenge in the counter-culture of the 1960’s which it inspired..

One of the Mad magazines I can remember had the “What ,Me Worry Kid “,Alfred E. Newman atop the Empire State Building , surrounded by apes in bi-planes as a parody of the King kong movie.
Otherwise, it was a matter of hunting down the rare paperback reprints of earlier issues.1950's ditkoIt was around this time that I became fascinated by the comics.Small paperback books reprinting the earliest Mad comics from the 1950’s could be found, and these filled in a lot of holes in my knowledge.It wouldn’t be until the advent of the hippy comix that a publisher would have the idea to actually try reprinting the other horror and science fiction comics

which preceeded the Mad satirical comic and laid the groundwork for that kind of anti-establishment thinking. That wouldn’t happen for at least another ten years though. In the meantime there were the superhero comics.If D.C. Comics were the respectable face of American comics, Marvel Comics were the punk rock of their time.They seemed simply weird to begin with. For one thing when they first appeared, the paper they were printed on seemed even cheaper than their Superman National D.C. counterparts. This wasn’t simply down to a cheaper printer. The colourists working on the pages used a more subdued palette of colours, so instead of the usual vibrant dayglo primaries, we also got lovely subdued suedes and washed out purples.There was a gothic look and feel. This is ‘nt sometimes recognised as an important contribution to the Marvel success story because this atmosphere was all but abandoned when these comics were later reprinted in a variety of glamourous and wildly expensive coffee table books.
ditko sci fi 1950'sThat first impression having been made, it also became apparent that there was a whole new attitude involved.
spiderman annual #1enfant terriblemarvel tackles racismditko's weirdest villians..including the mad green goblinthe x-men templategetting cosmic with the fantastic four
THE MERRY MARVEL FANZINE, HEROES UNLIMITED,AND HOW COMICS FANDOM BEGAN IN IRELAND IN THE 1960’s
50 per  Mcic01 number 1 Mcic07white cover 50 per Mcic09burst through cover 50 per Mcic15hatemonger 50 per Mcic18 ff enfant terrible50per Mt01 marvel tales #1 50 per Thor136 tobecome an immortal 50 per Tos80 red skull c cube 50 per Tta_60giant man hulk 50 perThe intuitive masterminds behind the whole Marvel phenomena were basically three creators. Stan Lee would be seen as the main promotor and writer, but even more important were the two artists,Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. There were lesser lights in the Marvel firmament, helping on the more bread and butter artistic chores, but these two artists literally visualised the entire Marvel look and feel. Both Kirby and Ditko, delved into their european immigrant backgrounds for stories of legend and the grotesque, and parlayed them through their own experiences of growing up in the American Depression era through the rise of Hitler’s obscene legions right through to the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950’s to the nuclear threat of the atomic bomb and the fear of the Russian bear in the American mindset of the 1960’s.These ideas filtered through in the form of monster stories. Them -and -us scenarios , empowering fantasies, invasion threats{from space or elsewhere} the new sciences, quantum physics and anything else of fact , fancy or imagination that a good yarn could be woven around.These were mini films, populated with stock story characters bearing all all the facial and physical traces of their creators’ origins.weird ditko Both Kirby and Ditko employed entirely distinctive and personal rendering styles rooted firmly in their very different personalities. These men weren’t simply ciphers churning out funny books. Their works each had an easily identifiable characteristic which could be recognised at a glance.Kirby was by far the most prolific.This man was fast!He could virtually lay out a page as another man would write.In fact when the Marvel line of comics expanded ,for some time it was Kirby’s responsibilty to visualise virtually every page that saw print in any given month.He may not have personally finished them all , but his imprint was on every drawing.Kirby’s work was the most dynamic ever seen in comics and the entire “look” of modern day comics graphics can be traced from his desk.Having spent years on his craft from the days of World War Two when he created Captain America,he could now employ the most dynamic action techniques, using dramatic foreshortening and action sequences of power and grace previously unheard of in the medium.Ditko’s style, in contrast was quieter and came across in the fashion of a carefully rendered woodcut, the like of which could easily have embellished a Grimm’s fairy tale from the golden days of fine book illustration.Most of that glorious detail is sadly lost in the plethora of reprints of this work.Although Kirby designed the look of Spiderman, Ditko’s design and rendering of Marvel’s figurehead character is the definitive one . He set it all down on paper from the character’s inception in Amazing Fantasy #15 right through virtually the first forty issues of the Amazing Spiderman comic which followed the initial enthusiasm shown for the character.Bad as the newsprint was in the production of these comics, most of the detail survived. It’s the nature of the medium that most of the original pre-printed artwor k was executed twice-up in size to accomodate the printing processes then, and because of this the artists worked within certain constraints where detail was concerned.Strangely, a lot of this atmospheric detail is actually lost in a lot of the very expensive reprint books that subsequently appeared years later.These are now prepared on the best of paper stock , but have lost much of the atmosphere of the originals.The actual linework is saved for the most part, although some elements of the finely feathered penwork have been erased. As if to compensate, there is much beter colour registration with virtually no overbleed in the colouring, but the actual colours are not as subdued.
I became aware of the Marvel range through the usual method of swapping or exchanging with boyhood friends.I then discovered that if I checked out one particular newsagent each week ,I could get first pick on any new arrivals.I would have these set aside and gradually buy them as I gathered my pocket money.The first few issues I can remember coming across were Spiderman #9, Marvel Tales Annual #2, and Fantastic Four Annual #2 .At the time there was no back issue market nor did anyone have any inkling of the future investment potential of these throwaway comics, so back issues were extremely rare commodities.For anyone interested, an English company{ called Alan Class and Co. Based in London}with access to a variety of American publishers was printing fat little compilations for a shilling{that would be ten old pre- decimal pence} which often included willy -nilly selections from Marvel’s 1950’s and early 1960,s output.alan class reprints #1In this way I came across many of Ditko and Kirby’s earlier works. Then like a bombshell , the latterly named Power Comics ,a vibrant new English company, burst onto the comics scene with a string of titles with names like the sound effects from Marvel’s onomatopoeiac pages..1 heroes unlimited 1 my power comics 1WHAM, SMASH, and POW.{Later followed by both TERRIFIC and FANTASTIC }.Although these had some home-grown strips by the likes of the afore-mentioned Baxendale{who had created the anarchic bash Street Kids for the Beano, and had inadvertantly influenced an entire generation}, and a few other home-grown talents like Mike Higgs and his The Cloak comic strip,most of the pages were gradually cultivated with stories from the cross-pollinating Marvel lines, whose superhero characters were busily leaping between features as Stan Lee laid out his concept of the Marvel Universe. Power Comics filled in the gaps for Marvel collectors, by reprinting the entire Marvel line from the start, albeit in black and white and in a weekly serial form. Comics fandom as it now exists, as a loose worldwide collection of enthusiasts, didn’t exist except in small growing pockets as an off-shoot of Sci-Fi in America until a Dublin fan called Tony Roche wrote to the letters page of one of the afore-mentioned Power Comics , announcing that he was in the process of writing and printing what was to be the first fan -produced magazine devoted to comics {initially Marvel Comics alone}The first “fanzine” as these little mimeographed magazines were eventually called was to be named {naturally enough}, The Merry Marvel Fanzine and began appearing late in 1966 or early 1967 .I wrote to Tony , and as a fellow Irishman we corresponded our mutual enthusiasm. I was about fourteen at the time and Tony would have been a few years older., but that’s when comics fandom in Britain and Ireland was initially spawned.The MMF ran as a foolscap sized brochure, stapled together and printed in blue ink{!!!}before evolving into a more compact sized magazine . Tony ran reviews of comics , news, artist profiles and even competitions and adverts for back issues.In this way my name appeared in issue number 2 , having won several comics and eventually subscriptions for two of the Marvel titles to be sent directly from America by winning one of Tony’s competitions.I also placed adverts for older comics which put me in touch with like-minded collectors throughout Britain. As we all became more aware of the entire comics industry, the MMF evolved into a slightly more professional little magazine called HEROES UNLIMITED which featured the first fan- art that I had ever seen.Paul N eary was the name of the artist, and his work was so good that he was eventually to work for such high -profile comics producers as Warren Magazines.At the time though, I was simply blown away by the professional quality of the work that Tony had managed to purloin for his little amateur magazine.It would be several years before I would feel confidant enough with my own artwork to submit it for inclusion in the magazines which later followed Tony’s lead.After corresponding our mutual enthusiasm for some time, Tony eventually decided to make the ninety mile trip to visit me at my home .In those days of old undeveloped roads, before motorways were the norm, this was no mean feat. One particularly rainy Sunday afternoon , Tony arrived absolutely soaking wet , a well-built big fella perched atop his tiny Yamaha motorbike. As water spilled from his clothing my mum fussed around him with hot tea and food .I can still see him before the coal fire wearing a pair of my father’s trousers while his own dried out before the flames.Tony had brought pages of original artwork and comics and his enthusiasm was infectious. We chatted all afternoon before he eventually climbed back atop his tiny little machine to make the arduous return journey before nightfall. A truly superheroic effort!! He was later to go to America and bring back interviews from such as EC Comics veterans Al Williamson and eventually to write his own personal report from the first British Comic Convention in Birmingham. This was all at a time when anything of American origin was quite exotic, and the local ATV television team clamoured around to record the event .
Some of the participants , such as Robert Poole and Ges Cleaver dressed up in homemade costumes of their favourite characters to celebrate the fancy-dress section of the event. I was too young and cash – strapped to even think of making the journey to England, but a non-stop stream of correspondance, artwork, puzzles and such poured back and forth between us in those young teenage years. I can’t remember exactly when this first flush of comics enthusiasm burnt itself out. It was probably something to do with new sensations involving friends, music and girls The truth was that that the comics were becoming a little too fomulaic again and the intimate little club which th e Marvel Universe began as was slowly unravelling as Ditko left the company in some dispute and newer glossier and slicker artisans such as John Romita Snr. took over his role.They brought a lot of glamour to the Marvel look, but that old eccentric weirdness was fast dissappearing. Spiderman was about to go to college for gawdzake, and he now had not one , but two , glamourous girl-friends, courtesy of ex-romance artist ,Romita!!! Comics were to be consigned to the cardboard box under the bed, and my interest would go through the first of many “fallow” periods as I got on with the more mundane things of life.It wasn’t until the flame was revived while browsing through a stack of San Francisco underground comix as an art student in that Leeds shop “Books”, that I realised how deeply rooted this addiction to the form would turn out to be . Something had obviously snapped, but that’s a story for another chapter………to be continued…….

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