January 10, 2016

For a precious few dates in my life, I can exactly pinpoint where I was at the time. I still remember sitting in an ill-lit room, doing integration tests before a big software release. We largely played music that day.

(from the quite glorious Bowie by Mike Allred and Steve Horton)

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Tintin Rocks (Or “Rocked”)

In December, 2017 French heavy metal band Shinray decided to shake up some social buzz by recording a rocking version of the theme to the classic Tintin cartoons. In their video, they dressed up as the characters from the cartoon and the comics, with the amazing effect of having Captain Haddock on guitar, and Professor Calculus on drums (you’d get hard of hearing from less…). I think it’s cute.

Judging from their website, though, Shinray didn’t do that much since…

(Thanks to the wonderful Facebook community, La Franco-Belge, which celebrated its 10th anniversary only last week. Huzzah!)

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December 8, 1980

People my age will probably always remember this date as the day the sixties finally died, and the world lost some (a lot) of its innocence. John Lennon, late of the Beatles and one of the major figureheads of late 20th Century counterculture, was shot on the steps of his own home.

To remember this, and not deviate too much from comics, here are some pages about the “Boss Beatle” from The Beatles Complete Life Stories, as published in September 1964 by Dell (so way before Yoko).

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All Hail The Handsome Doctor

Back in 1949 serums were the talk of the town when combatting diseases, which lead to feats of heroism like in the above advertisment strip for Gillette safety razors (with a compartment for used blades!). And when I’m talking about heroism, I don’t mean the brave pilot who landed outside of the landing strip, but I’m referring to the rugged doctor, of course.

This strip brings up so many questions :

  • How does it take 8 hours to administer 200 serums?
  • Why does that doctor insist on shaving for an interview on the radio?
  • “You flew the serum! Why…” — because she’s a pilot?
  • What’s “M-m-m-m Handsome” and how can we get this more cringe?
  • Were there antiserumers back then?

Anyway. Luckily we’ve come a long way and gender bias is a thing of the past!

(Image from Fantastic Novels vol. 2, issue 6 – March 1949)

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It’s the comics that’s the problem!

Just like social media and the iPad these days, Pokémon and Heavy Metal and horror movies before that, comic books are at the root of all that’s wrong with kids. I wouldn’t know what’s wrong with kids, but even Socrates had a few things to say about them.

Anyway, thanks to the efforts of Frederic Wertham c.s. we know that it all boils down to comics, their sordid subjects and lurid images. But even years before Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent (1954) people knew it was better to burn them, as is suggested in this fragment from 1948’s Pitfall by the lead character, married insurance adjuster John Forbes, who later (and I quote IMDB), “falls for femme fatale Mona Stevens while her boyfriend is in jail and all suffer serious consequences as a result.

But, like I said, it was all because of the comics.

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Now that’s what I call ephemeral (also, stamps)

I’ve writtten before (quite a lot, actually) about collecting stamps about comics, and I’ve written about counterfeit stamps, fake stamps, satirical stamps and collectibles looking like stamps, but this is going one step further.

Turns out in 1964 comic artist Marie Severin (Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Not Brand Ecch) was asked to design a number of stamps to be included in Marvel comics, as an early precursor of the mid-1970 Marvel Value Stamps that led countless gullible young readers to cut up their comics and thus destroying their later value (ooh, shudder).

Severin designed 36 stamps, which were later divvied up by a collector. Recently, a set of five stamps featuring, amongst others, Captain America and the Rawhide Kid, were auctioned off for 1320 USD, each in their own frame with faux copper nameplate. I’m not sure if the owner got tired of them or something, but they’re already back up for sale. For 2000 USD. Even Picassos don’t become more valuable by 50% that fast.

Still, they’re quite nice sketches. I love how she painstakingly added the perforation.

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He’s a hulk, and a menace!

Thanks to the services of some good souls that shall remain anonymous, I came across a number of issues of the early 1980s Marvel UK run of The Incredible Hulk weekly, which mainly consisted of black and white reprints of Hulk stories from the late 60s along with some editorial content and posters.

What struck me, though, was that the comic also ran a half-page strip chronicling the mishaps of a hulk-like boy who also looked a lot like one of the mainstays of British comics, straight from the pages of the Beano, spiked hair and stripey top included. Apparently the general mood in the British comics industry was mellow enough to allow Marvel to parody Dennis the Menace without DC Thomson even clearing their throats.

The strips were made by Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett, who also did strips like Earth 33 1/3 or The Fantastic 400 in other Marvel UK weeklies. And my inner child kinda likes them. Especially the huge belch.

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Beware of the inheritors!

In a recent installment of No Such Thing As A Fish, one of my favourite podcasts, my attention was drawn to this case, which involved an elaborate scheme to claim the inheritance of fabled swashbuckler (and onetime Plymouth mayor) Francis Drake, which was supposed to be held back surreptitiously by the British government.

To cut a long story short, Oscar Hartzell, the organizer of the grand claim was charged with racketeering and swindle along with seven of his cronies, and after a long trial locked up in a mental institution (see this rather amusing article from the Jan 24, 1937 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, only one of the many that were written about this case that got international attention.

This quaint little story reminded me of that other famous case of a treasure left behind by a legendary pirate and claimed by his supposed inheritors. Red Rackham’s Treasure was first published in Le Soir in 1942, some five years after the whole Drake kerfuffle. The scene with the inheritors has no bearing on the rest of the story, and only provides a droll action scene with Haddock and the Thompson twins, so why include it in the story if not to remind readers of a well-documented case of a few years earlier? Naturally, there’s no way of proving that Hergé actually knew of the Hartzell claim, but it would be a nice story in itself if he did. If only because Hartzell convincingly looked like a Hergé characer.

Incidentally, the Rackham claims involved a party able of dealing a swifter type of justice than the court. Blistering barnacles, I think we all could do with a Haddock in our lives at times…

(imagery from Hergé’s Red Rackham’s Treasure, Methuen 1959 edition. Tintin © Hergé / Moulinsart 2021 – All rights reserved)

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When talking to God, use bubbles

On the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the foundation of the Premonstratensian order, the (now defunct) Parc Abbey in Leuven opened its freshly restored rooms to the general public. It proved to be a strange look into what was considered to be bon genre some 250 years ago, with almost psychedelic wallpaper and some of the most over the top stuco ceiling decorations I have ever seen.

Much of the artwork (by 17th Century master Jean-Christian Hansche) celebrated aspects from the life of St Norbert of Xanten, the founder of the order. In the dining room, one of the cassettes in the ceiling showed how Norbert was struck by lightning one day and decided to turn his life around from a future as a regular church functionary to a life of penance, prayer and service. What’s cool about this image, is that Norbert’s words (“Domine, quid me vis facere”, or “Lord, what would you have me do”) are shown in some kind of speech bubble, but one that also makes clear to whom the utterance is directed.

I also discovered a similar scene in one of the quite splendid stained glass windows of the abbey’s cloisters (by 17th century artist Jan De Caumont). It shows Norbert presenting his chosen successor to lead his Order to Christ, saying “Hunc a te Domino mihi commissum tue S.S. Maiestati repraesento”. The speech bubble in this case has more of an illustrated ribbon, rising to the heaven, which constributes to the pomp of it all. And, as can often be seen in early speech glyphs, the speech is very much attached to the speaker’s mouth, rather than ending in the direct vicinity of his head.

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Pictures say it all

I used to think Green Arrow was one of the sillier characters of the DC Major Arcana, with his King Of Hearts beard and his arsenal of quirky arrows. But it turns out (and thank you, arrowheads anonymous who brought me up to speed) that over the past 80 years some great stories were made featuring the Emerald Archer (there’s no word in A that can replace “Green”, apparently). The recent 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular (gotta love these superlative blancmanges) has quite a few, covering all kinds of aspects and interpretations of the character that you don’t seem to get in Batman or Superman anthologies that seem to be limited to a growing codification of their main character.

The best story in the book, however, only features Green Lantern in a very cursory way. In Tap, Tap, Tap, writer Larry O’Neil pays homage to his father Denny, one of the geniuses that essentially made the DC universe the way we know it today. It’s a very fragmented story, focusing on key moments in O’Neil’s life (beautifully rendered by Jorge Fornés, slowly but surely my favorite artist of the moment). What makes it very special  is that the only language it uses, is the “Tap, tap, tap” of typewriters of various kinds.

All dialogue balloons contain visual references to comic characters that played an important part in O’Neil’s life, as well as important milestones (and sometimes both). But the best part is that the shape of the balloons mirrors the message, making the story essentially six pages of just gripping visuals. The irony of which, as it is the life story of a man who made his living writing words, should not be lost on anybody.

Even if you rarely buy superhero comics, get this book. It’s not grand in its aspirations, but it has some mighty great stories, and not in the least this moving send-off of one of the truly greats by his own son.

(Illustrations from the Green Arrow 80th Anniversary 100-Page Spectacular, © 2021 DC Comics)

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