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Friday in the Embassy

This happens to me a lot. Maybe it happens to you too.

Most of the people I know are not terribly interested in comics…. or old SF television shows, or pulp magazine characters, or the Wold Newton family tree, or any of the other fannish hobbies I have. I was fortunate enough to find a girl that shares a great many of those interests and marry her — but really, apart from Julie, the people in my life are just not plugged into that stuff. The closest people we know who speak fluent Geek are Mike, in Kent, and Kurt, who lives in Tacoma. Quite a ways away from us, really, and both of them we ‘met’ through the internet, without which our paths might never have crossed.

So what generally happens is that, for the people around us, Julie and I are the Geek Ambassadors. Not a week goes by that I don’t get asked something like, “What was the name of that show with Dack Rambo as that Zorro guy?” or “Wasn’t there a Justice League cartoon in the 60’s, too? I mean, before Super Friends?” or “I had this comic once when I was a kid, it was kind of weird, not Superman or Batman, it was this Conan-type guy running around with a blind kid and his dog. What was that?”

The scary thing is that I almost always know the answer. Sword of Justice, starring Dack Rambo as vigilante-by-night Jack Cole, ran one season on NBC in 1978.

Dack

Yeah, the Justice League was one of the short-subject cartoons rotating through the Superman-Aquaman Hour in 1968, along with other DC stalwarts Flash, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Teen Titans.

Filmation

Hercules Unbound, DC book that came out in the late 70’s from Gerry Conway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and Wally Wood.

2218_4_01.jpg

Actually, it’s not scary… it’s mostly kind of sad.

Julie is getting to where she’s almost as good at this as me, but more often she’ll come home and say something like, “Alfonso swears up and down that there was a Smallville show on before the one on the WB. Was there?”

Well, sort of. If you count Superboy, the syndicated series with John Haymes Newton (later Gerard Christopher) and Stacy Haiduk that the Salkinds produced in their effort to milk the last dime out of their Super-rights after Supergirl tanked. But all of you already knew this, hell, it just came out on DVD.

Superboy

I’d bet all of you already knew it anyway. Probably at least half of you could have rattled off those answers as quickly as me, and I’ll bet someone out there is gearing up to point out that Walt Simonson also worked on the DC Hercules and that really, the Salkind Superboy shouldn’t count as a proto-Smallville because the action mostly took place in a city setting… and so on. It’s what we do.

What brought it to mind, though, is that this last week, I finally got around to reading something I’d wanted to for years and it all came about because of this geek-ambassador thing.

We were at an evening class at church, and our pastor asked what was new. I explained that I’d had a little field trip for my cartooning students to a local comics show that was a bit of a bust as a field trip, hardly any turnout at all, but I’d done a little shopping so it wasn’t a total loss.

“What did you get?”

“Tarzan, mostly.” I shrugged and grinned.

“Really!” The reverend perked up. “Tarzan comics? I have a mental picture… I know this from when I was young, it’s on the tip of my tongue… Johnny Weissmuller? Was he the first Tarzan?”

I couldn’t help myself. It’s a reflex. Maybe a disease. “No, in movies that was a man named Elmo Lincoln… we have it on DVD at the house, actually, Julie gave it to me for Christmas.”

Elmo

My bride, who was sitting a couple of feet away, giggled and drew an imaginary score mark in the air. I flushed. “But yes, Weissmuller probably was the most famous guy to play him. These comics, though, I wanted because Joe Kubert drew them. Kubert’s probably one of the cartoonists I admire the most in comics. He’s had an amazing career.”

Tarzan

“What makes you say that?” One of the things I like about our pastor is that Sharon is endlessly curious about everything and everyone; she has a busy, restless intellect. My admiration of Joe Kubert’s career had caught her interest and by now a couple of the others at the table were listening too.

“Well, for one thing, he made his rep in comics largely without doing too many superheroes. Kubert specialized in macho, two-fisted adventure stuff. Sgt. Rock, Tarzan, characters like that. And he founded a school, the only accredited school for comics and cartooning in fact, and he’s continuing to produce work today that’s widely regarded as top-of-the-line. Won a bunch of awards not too long ago for a book about the conflict in Sarajevo… a true story, a documentary, done in comics form.”

“That sounds really interesting,” Sharon said, and meant it. “A while ago someone gave me a comic — well, not a comic, it was a real book, a paperback, but it was in comic-strip form –”

This is what the uninitiated say when they mean ‘graphic novel.’

“–only it was all about the Holy Land, the things going on over there. It was really quite extraordinary. I ended up sending it along to a friend of mine living over there.”

“Palestine?” I guessed. It really wasn’t much of a guess. The documentary OGN genre’s a pretty short list. There’s Kubert and there’s Joe Sacco and that’s about it.

Palestine

“Yes! That was it!” Sharon beamed, and added, “The Sarajevo one sounds interesting too, I’d like to see it some day.”

So when I saw Joe Kubert’s Fax From Sarajevo on Amazon for cheap the other day, I bought it, thinking I’d pass it along to the reverend. Well, it arrived yesterday, and since I’d read about it for years but never actually READ it, I glanced through it and was instantly entranced.

Sarajevo

This is really a magnificent book, deserving of every award it’s gotten. I had a vague idea that it was about refugees in Sarajevo during the war, but it’s far more personal than that.

What I did not know was that Ervin Rustemagic, whose story Kubert gives us in this book, was a comics guy. He was a publisher in Sarajevo, the founder of Strip Art Features. He KNEW Kubert. And as things in Bosnia slowly went to hell, Rustemagic would send updates on his office fax to Joe and Muriel Kubert, a running diary of the horrors they endured. As Kubert says himself in the introduction, cartooning is what he knows, it’s how he enters the world. And Joe Kubert made himself a promise then, as this was happening, that he would document these terrors the war inflicted on his friend Ervin the only way he knew how — through comics — and present them to the world and MAKE people pay attention.

Fax From Sarajevo is the result, the promise kept. It is a truly amazing piece of work and it is vintage Kubert from start to finish. Just as a piece of visual art the book is a masterwork. The compelling story, and the fact that it’s true, raises it to greatness. This is a reviewer’s nightmare of a book to write about, because really all there is to say is, “It’s good. Buy it. Read it.”

So. It’s good. Buy it. Read it. I’m glad I did. About time this post in the geek embassy’s good for something. Otherwise I probably would have continued to put off reading this book as “one of the things I’ll get to someday” and never do. Except now I have to buy another one, damn it.

See you next week.

17 Comments

Can you really call a comic a documentary? I mean, it can be a true story, but… everything has to be re-created, both dialogue and images, so it seems like it would be more “creative non-fiction”. Or biography, if it is a persons tale. You know what I mean? Like, if a movie is a true story that has actors playing the roles, we don’t call it a documentary.

Jordan D. White said … “Can you really call a comic a documentary?”

Technically you’re right. But in writing these columns I often find myself going for the shorthand version. Usually I will just say “comics” rather than “mainstream superhero comics,” “art by” rather than “pencils and inks by,” and so on. Sometimes it gets me into trouble.

Really what the book is, as far as I can tell, is the most accurate adaptation Joe Kubert could make of the story Ervin Rustemagic told him by fax. Many of the faxes are reproduced in the book, there’s an end-notes section at the back of the book for each chapter with photo reference… So really you’d call it “A comics adaptation of Erwin Rustemagic’s epistolary account of the war in Bosnia and how he and his family lived as refugees for over a year as they tried to escape Sarajevo.”

There really isn’t a good word that sums that up quickly, so like we usually do in comics, I stole one from movies. “Docu-drama” doesn’t have enough power, it sounds like a Lifetime Original woman-in-jeopardy thing. “Biography” didn’t seem quite right either and there are a zillion comics biographies, anyway… I wanted something that had some real power to it, that conveyed the uniqueness of the work that Kubert and Joe Sacco are doing and had that in-your-face, war-torn horror, news-correspondent vibe. And “documentary” just seemed like the right word, it wasn’t as dry as “non-fiction account.”

So yeah, Jordan’s right. But I did have a reason for calling it that, I didn’t just pull it out of a hat.

Did Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez or Joe Kubert ever do work for Marvel? If not it seems like such a waste.

Did Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez or Joe Kubert ever do work for Marvel? If not it seems like such a waste.

How so? “Because Marvel comics are more realistic”? That’s a lousy excuse…

Kubert’s my favorite artist ever more of the time than anybody else is my favorite artist ever. To my mind, Enemy Ace is the best thing that DC comics ever published.

And it just blows my mind how GOOD his current stuff is, with Fax from Sarajevo bein’ on top of the heap. Very moving. Very scary. Feels true.

How so? “Because Marvel comics are more realistic”? That’s a lousy excuse…

No, that’s not why. It’s just that I think it’d be really cool to see them do characters like Spider-Man, X-Men, FF, Cap, Ghost Rider, etc.

Did Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez or Joe Kubert ever do work for Marvel? If not it seems like such a waste.>>

Maybe he meant it was a waste for Marvel to keep publishing…

Kubert did work on Ghost Rider (covers mostly, I think) when his sons were on the titles.

Here’s a list of Joe Kubert’s Marvel work :
http://www.maelmill-insi.de/UHBMCC/NAMK10.HTM#N583
(beware, some reprints are also included)

A Joe Kubert Nick Fury would be neat, I guess.

It took a few hours, but I think I remember a Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez Marvel piece. If I’m not mistaken, he did the red and green spandex, hip-rocket, sunglasses-less version of Wonder Man for the OHBOTMU. I think that might be all.

…and Joe Kubert on Nick Fury is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long while. I’d buy it.

Some of those tidbits I had known, but I can’t recall ever hearing of Hercules:Unbound before.

It’d be interesting to read a rundown/overview of the whole Sword&Sorcery/Barbarian craze that was big during the seventies to early eighties (from Marvel’s Conan up to Thundercats, I think?), could even tie it in with Blackstar coming out on dvd!

JR said …Some of those tidbits I had known, but I can’t recall ever hearing of Hercules:Unbound before.

It’d be interesting to read a rundown/overview of the whole Sword&Sorcery/Barbarian craze that was big during the seventies to early eighties (from Marvel’s Conan up to Thundercats, I think?), could even tie it in with Blackstar coming out on dvd!

The DC Hercules was actually a very cool book. It was the adventures of Hercules, but set in a post-World War III world, an Earth-after-the-disaster, Mad Max kind of setting. Ran 12 issues, and you can find the last two reprinted in the trade paperback “The Art of Walter Simonson,” along with a lot of other cool oddities and early work Simonson did for DC. That’s out of print too but marginally easier to find than back issues of Hercules, I imagine.

I actually did a partial overview of the sword-and-sorcery stuff in the third or fourth column I did at the old site, you can find it in the archives here: “Friday in a Fantasy World.” But it might be time for a full-on survey of the stuff.

Really though, the craze was confined to Conan. Every knockoff died in fifteen issues or less, and many didn’t even make ten. That was more the focus of the column — why do we eat the stuff up everywhere BUT comics? There’s a huge overlap in the audience, a lot of comics people are also into Tolkien and Howard and Burroughs and D&D and so on, but they don’t want comics about any of those things. It has always struck me as odd since so many of those attempts — Tarzan, Kull, etc. — have been good to out-and-out great. But if it’s not Conan, fans aren’t buying.

Okay, I’ll have to look for that later then. When I was a kid I can remember there seeming to be a period where there was always a fantasy warrior cartoon on the air (Blackstar, Thundarr, He-Man, She-ra, and Thundercats) and usually either tie-in or similar looking comics on the stands. Both the toons and the comics just seemed to vanish at some point.

I am interested in downloads of the Hercules Unbound comic for one of my projects if you have any. Please reply via provided email.

Did you know that the voice of The Atom in the 1960s cartoons was Pat Harrington? Yeah, Schneider from ONE DAY AT A TIME.

And speaking of SWORD OF JUSTICE, do you remember the messages that Dack Rambo’s character always left for the bad guys to read once he brought them down?

I did get the Herc-unbound downloads and I added them to the Thundarr the Barbarian Yahoo group

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Age_of_the_Broken_Moon/

Where I am still adding the rest of the Kamandis and so on. I am adding the Atomic Knights into another group.

Incidentally, I was once a Kubie myself, before my financial aid failed. And the only comics I ever did were self-published. I’d still like to get some of my stuff out somehow, though.

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