Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GENE COLAN (1926-2011)

While preparing last week's article on the late Lew Sayre Schwartz I learned of the death of Gene Colan. Colan was a giant of comics art, and I regret that it took me so long to appreciate him. As a kid, I shied away from Colan's work. This was the early '80s, and I preferred the clean lines of a John Byrne or Mike Zeck. I didn't care for Colan's pencil work, which was too moody for my taste...shadowy, seemingly loose and muddy. And that wasn't just his contemporary work, which then was NIGHT FORCE for DC. Even in my quest to own every issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, I hesitantly bought issues from his two year run. Whatever it was that made him a Marvel Comics mainstay in the '60s and '70s, I wasn't seeing it. It only took me about ten years to appreciate Jack Kirby, but 20 for Colan.
Colan, like most artists of his era, was a devotee of Milton Caniff. According to Tom Field's biography of Colan, his favorite strips were Caniff's TERRY & THE PIRATES and Colton Waugh's DICKIE DARE. 'Dickie' was the strip created by Caniff before 'Terry'. "I can even remember the smell of the newsprint," he told Field, "I'd put the paper right up to my face."1 In addition to Field's book, Colan gave several career-spanning interviews over the past decade. What follows are his salient remarks about Caniff...
Terry & the Pirates, 5/11/1937

Gene Colan's art is known for its use of shadows, inspired by film noir and Caniff's chiaroscuro. "[Caniff's] work always inspired me. I would go for the Daily News every week, the weekend edition with the full color page of his work and I was just drawn to it like a fly to flypaper. I loved his stuff. Just loved it. And I guess that was my biggest influence. There were so many other great artists like Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, and they were really fine illustrators, but Milton Caniff had a very solid black and white look and since I loved to do things so heavily in black I was attracted to it."2
Terry & the Pirates, 2/17/1945

"He used heavy blacks in the folds of the clothes. His room interiors, his exteriors I just loved his work. I never met him. The closest I ever came I saw a picture of him in the news paper and I’d imagined him not anything at all like the way he was. I pictured him like Terry."3
Terry & the Pirates, 5/24/1945

The work of Caniff and other cartoonists was a foundation, but Colan gradually developed his own signature style. "I always loved [Caniff's] work," Colan told the Comics Journal, "[I]t was loaded with shadow work. But you get your own ideas as you go along. Somehow or other, [my own drawing] glided into something else, unconsciously. Like handwriting. You don’t know why you write your name in a particular way. But that's the way you write it. You don’t know what brought that about."4
Some very Caniff-esque Colan panels from 'My Greatest Adventure' #74 (12/1962)

"He did everything within a border," said Colan of Caniff, "a straight border. Everyone in those years did it that way too. I started out doing it that way. After a while, I noticed that you could get more action in it if you changed the shape of the panel or eliminated them all together."5

Caniff was a "wonderful artist," Colan said, "very original. Several people have imitated Caniff's style to a 'tee'. Lee Elias drew very much like Caniff. Biggest compliment that anyone could give you." 5
The old man on the cover of the same issue is decidedly Colan

1Field, Tom; Colan, Gene; "Secrets in the shadows: the art & life of Gene Colan", 1995, TwoMorrows; This book is rare and out of print, but can be read via Google Books. Field's comprehensive obituary of Colan is found here.

2Stroud, Bryan; "The Silver Age Sage Interviews Gene Colan"; The complete interview here.

3 Previews; "Gene Colan: Comics 'Iron Man'"; The complete interview here.

4Rodman, Larry, "The Gene Colan Interview", The Comics Journal; The interview is here.

5Neal, Raymond, "Comic Legend Gene Colan", UGO Entertainment; the interview is found here

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Lew Sayre Schwartz died a couple of weeks ago (June 7th). Schwartz is best known as one of several early Batman artists who were anonymous to comic book fans for years because they did "ghost" work for Bob Kane. Kane, co-creator of Batman, outsourced his Batman work to other artists, but then signed his own name. Schwartz worked for Kane from 1948-53.1 Schwartz moved on to ghosting a couple of comic strips before going into the advertising field and producing commercials. In 1982, he produced a documentary on Milton Caniff, but his association with Caniff started long before that.

TwoMorrows publisher Jon Cooke did a comprehensive interview with Schwartz for Alter Ego2. Schwartz told Cooke that he grew up loving the comic strips, and got turned on to Milton Caniff's work at age 13. He began a youthful correspondence with Caniff, which evolved into Caniff being something of a mentor and father figure to Schwartz. Though Schwartz never made a name for himself in strips, he worked on staff at King Features both before the war and during the 1950s. Schwartz joined the National Cartoonist Society in 1946, in the first year of its founding by Caniff and others. To Schwartz, comic books were inferior to comic strips, and he didn't mind that his Batman work was anonymous. In Alter Ego, he and Cooke had this exchange:
SCHWARTZ: I didn't mind at all the fact that nobody knew about me. In some respects, I didn't want Caniff or Alex Raymond to know that I was drawing "Batman," and they were friends of mind.
COOKE: Really? You didn't even tell Caniff that you were drawing "Batman"?
SCHWARTZ: Never...I never told Milt.
COOKE: Were you ashamed?
SCHWARTZ: At that particular time it was beneath my status...or my objectives. Let's put it that way.

Even after Schwartz left comics, the two kept in touch. As told in the documentary, as well as the Cooke interview and R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography, Caniff helped him out of a non-comics jam. Schwartz and his production company were working on the title sequence for Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove." Fearing the film's sentiment, the military had cut off their cooperation. The problem was, Kubrick needed footage of the atomic bomb explosion for his ending. Kubrick asked Schwartz if he had any contacts, and Schwartz said "I only know one guy." Caniff, from his WWII work and post-war military boosterism, especially of the Air Force, was a friend of the military. "Why don't you ask me for something hard," Caniff said. He then a called a general who then talked to Schwartz and had only question, "Do you need 16mm or 35mm?"

Schwartz self-financed a documentary about Caniff in 1982. It includes Schwartz interviewing Caniff (see picture at top) as well as Noel Sickles, Mort Walker and others. It may be the only video interview footage of Sickles in existence. The documentary relates many interesting anecdotes and is a nice look at Caniff at age 75, still plugging away at his craft. The video is bookended by fellow Eagle Scout Walter Cronkite, giving due praise to Caniff as a national treasure.

I'm racking my brain trying to think of where and when I met Lew Sayre Schwartz. It was at a comic show in 2002. I'm not sure what we talked about as the memory is very fuzzy. He had a copy of his Caniff documentary, but none for sale. He said I could order one from him and he'd mail it to me. He sent me a postcard after receipt of the check, letting me know they were doing the transfer to VHS and would mail it out soon. Lew Sayre Schwartz was a very nice guy who led an interesting life.

The Caniff documentary was only sold briefly by Schwartz himself, but there was no commercial release. Schwartz followed up his Caniff documentary with one on Norman Rockwell. DVD copies are available here.

1Schwartz's earliest Batman work has been collected in Batman Archives volumes 6 and 7. Volume 6 can be found for $25-40, but 7 is rare, going for around $100.

2Alter Ego #51 from TwoMorrows Publishing can be purchased here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


In anticipation of meeting comics legend Jim Steranko at this year's Cincinnati Comic Expo, I pulled out an old issue of Mediascene. Mediascene (formerly Comixscene and later Prevue) was Steranko's bi-monthly periodical that had features and news on comics and genre movies. It was a pioneer in the comic book news field, treating comics as a serious subject a decade before the Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes came around. The issue on hand is #19, from May-June, 1976. Here are some clippings that present an intriguing look at the industry of 35 years ago!

Mediascene was printed like a newspaper, in two tabloid-size sections. The picture above was the cover to the second section, cover comics news. I was shocked to see not only the picture but the article. The 'Superman vs. Muhammed Ali' comic1 is a now-legendary art job by Neal Adams, in which real-life super hero Ali and Superman join forces. It was just reprinted last year in two separate hardcover editions. So, what happened to Kubert between the above blurb and the book's publication in December 1977?

Legendary letter, John Workman, told 'Comic Book Artist' magazine that Ali's people didn't like Kubert's art. DC Comics sent them samples of other artists to choose from, and the one they preferred was Kurt Schaffenberger. DC convinced them to go with fan-favorite Neal Adams over the dependable but less dynamic Schaffenberger.2 Deferring to the master, Adams has obviously used Kubert's drawing as his cover layout.

Just a snippet of a long article on editorial changes at DC and their new royalty policy. 'Hey, comic creator, thanks for creating a new character that we will print and merchandise in perpetuity. Here's $10. Save it, and in 30 years buy a statue we've made of the same character. And hey, free cake beats profit participation any day.' Still, it was the best deal going. The "Colletta" referred to in the article is Vince Colletta, who had just been named DC's Art Director, a post he would hold for the next three years.Many may scoff at this praise for Colletta, generally derided as an inker, sacrificing quality in pursuit of speed. I've never been a Colletta hater, though his habit of erasing out some pencils was odious. A fresh look was taken at Colletta's work in this book from last year. What interested me is the idea that now that he wasn't on a deadline crunch, his inking would be better. Well, did it get better?

The rumored story was either heavily edited or went unpublished. The only romance book DC had in 1976 was YOUNG LOVE. At the time of this issue of Mediascene, Young Love was in the middle of an 8 month hiatus - 11/75 - 8/76. All the issues carried the code seal, and the book was cancelled the following April.

After DC stopped publishing Tarzan comics, Marvel started publishing them about three months later. So, what happened to the Burroughs' comics company announced in the article? According to a 2010 message board post from Evanier - "It may interest folks that when H-B took the rights away from Charlton, their initial plan was to start a new company called Hanna-Barbera Comics and publish books themselves. They went out and found that the major comic book distributors (mainly Independent, which was DC, and Curtis, which was Marvel) had such a lock on newsstand distribution that it was impossible to get space on the newsstands. A few years earlier, the Edgar Rice Burroughs company had the exact same experience when they took the rights to Tarzan away from DC and tried to start their own company. Like H-B, they ultimately had to admit there was no way to get their product distributed and they sold the package to Marvel...and regretted it."

This blurb mentions four DC books that have been shelved for the moment. MISTER MIRACLE and BLACK LIGHTNING did later appear, but what of the other two? I'm guessing PANZER was a war book, but what could SEXTET have been? The same article mentions a new Seven Soldiers of Victory title that never emerged, as well as the news that Detective Comics was going bi-monthly.

I hope "The Star Wars" works out for Roy and Howie. If the movie tanks, maybe they can make a go of the comic anyway.

In other movie news, Superman is in pre-production. According to Mediascene, Marlon Brando has been signed to play Jor-El. "[DC Comics President] Sol Harrison told us he would like to see either Telly Savales or Gene Hackman appear as Lex Luthor. Burt Reynolds is still not signed for the title role, and as more time passes, his possible involvement in the film diminishes." Oh, Burt and Telly...why oh why did we have to wait until "Cannonball Run II" until you found a project to do together?!?

Finally, the issue ends with a nice two-page spread detailing the opening and curriculum of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. The school recently celebrated its 35th year by changing it's name to The Kubert School. I'm guessing with all the work that went into founding the school, Joe wasn't too upset with losing the Muhammed Ali job!

1Yes, the real title of the comic is "All-New Collectors' Edition" #C-56. But then, you knew that already.

2Workman, John, "Ringside Seat", Comic Book Artist Collection, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2000

MEDIASCENE 19, May-June 1976, published by Supergraphics. Jim Steranko, Publisher and Editor.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


watch auctions of Milton Caniff-related items pretty regularly. A majority of them go unbid, usually due to the seller's inflated expectation of what something is worth. For example, there are currently three separate auctions for Steve Canyon Magazine #18. The condition of the books are about the same, but the starting bids are $16, $20 and $35. A nice copy can be generally had for $7-10, so it's no surprise these auctions will likely come and go without a sale. This week we'll look at interesting items that weren't overvalued, but still went unbid.

The J. Halpern Company, also known as Halco, was one of the 'Steve Canyon' licensees during the time late 1950s television series. Halco was a Pittsburgh-based toy company that made, among other things, costumes and dress-up clothes for kids. This first item is a Steve Canyon Halloween costume, produced under the "Super Halco" brand hame. This is the only example I've ever seen of this costume, and it appears to be in terrific shape. It was a steal at $10, but was not bid on.

Also from Halco, this children's dress-up Steve Canyon flight suit. The seller noted how he had a hard time finding any information on it, and no wonder. This only other time I've seen one of these is in the database of the Cartoon Research Library. The seller thought it was from the 1940s, but it's from 1959. The seller was correct in describing it as "quite rare." Not bid on, but it was a good deal at $29.00

'Terry & the Pirates', like many comic strips in the '30s, was also a radio program. Every afternoon, millions of fans, including Milton Caniff, followed the 15-minute installments of Terry, Pat and company. One common gimmick involved sendaway premiums for the program's listeners. This one comes from late in the show's run, from the show's sponsor, Quaker Oats. The brass base has adjustable bands with small images of dragons and brass band holding the aluminum tube on top. The rest you must glean from the vintage ad. I'm not too sure what a colloid is, but I think it's a microscopic particle or something. Hake's price guide puts this item between $100-200, but it went unbid on at $40.00.

Most cartoonists who did speaking engagements would incorporate a "chalk talk," a drawing demonstration on a board or large sheet of paper. By the 1980s, when this piece was created, Caniff had five decades of chalk talk experience. According to the seller, this was done in Dayton, Ohio. Caniff must have been delighted to be in front of a hometown crowd. This was one of three sketches up for auction. This one of Steve Canyon went unbid at $400, though another 'Canyon' character, Cheetah, did sell at that price.

From our "half a Terry is better than none" department comes this partial Sunday page. This one is frpm October 4, 1942. According to the seller, it's from the estate of the late Marvel Comics great Don Heck. This one has been relisted several times, first for $1200, then $950 and $900. Now it's back to $1200!?! I did see another partial from '43 that sold for $820. This one is the victim of high expectations.
Minimum bid of $1200.