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CSBG Archive

Cross-Hatchings for February 2012

More bits and pieces. Bookstore finds, a couple of thoughts about the Before Watchmen thing, and some odds and ends that arrived in the mail. (Normally I would never do two of these in a row, but to be honest, this is really the second half of last week’s column that was in progress before our home computer went dead.)

*

Bookscouting oddities of interest: You know, we don’t just trawl through old bookstores for cool stuff when we travel. We do it close to home, too. Here are a couple of interesting comics-related ones we turned up over the last couple of months.

The one that intrigues me the most is the one we found at a Goodwill not too long ago. It’s one of those hardcover British comics annuals; the kind that look vaguely like a children’s book with the cover illustration printed right on the glossy binding boards itself, no dust jacket.

This is the Warlord annual for 1983, from British comics publisher D.C. Thomson. “Code Name: Warlord” is the headliner that gives the book its name, an ongoing strip about one Lord Peter Flint. Flint is about equal parts James Bond and Sir Percy Blakeney, and the series recounts his adventures fighting Nazis during World War II. Warlord was a weekly comics paper that started in the late 1970s and went on to the early 1990s. It was apparently a pretty fair hit for Thomson and spun off several other war-adventure strips… like Bullet that featured Lord Peter’s nephew, Fireball.

The Warlord for Boys Annual is basically a big anthology collection of various stories featuring Flint and his cohorts Union Jack Jackson, Wild Bill Butcher, the Fighting Condor, and others, along with some interesting photo-features like “Front Line: Norway!” and stuff like that. The whole thing is very much in the spirit of the old 100-page war books from DC, but in hardcover.

Except for the British one being in hardcover, these two books are peas in a pod.

The interesting thing about it to me– apart from the fact that I’d never heard of these British war comics before– is that it’s printed in color, but not full color. They use duotone… or “black plus one,” as we refer to it down at the printshop. The 1983 annual variously uses red, orange, yellow, and blue as the second color and it’s really very striking.

Always liked this technique for comics, ever since I saw Terry Beatty trying it in MS. TREE years ago.

What’s frustrating is the total lack of creator credits of any kind. Nowhere on the internet have I been able to find any kind of listing for who worked on Warlord. The stories are mostly just straight-ahead war action, but the art is often breathtakingly good. “Code Name: Warlord” itself looks a little like something by John Watkiss, but I’m just guessing, and apart from that I don’t really even have a guess for any of the other art styles. But a lot of the art in the book is very cool, particularly “Fighting Condor.”

Here are a couple of pages from FIGHTING CONDOR. The photo doesn't really do it justice. I wish I could give credit where it was due, because the art job on this is outstanding, especially since I don't think you could do this kind of color job digitally back then. Someone had to do some tricky darkroom separations and maybe even actual hand-cut acetate overlays on this.

You can find these from various online dealers for anywhere from five dollars to forty, but I’m damned if I can tell you what makes the high-priced ones collectible. But for the curious among you, there are a couple of the Warlord annuals available used from Amazon and AbeBooks for not a whole lot of money. If you should happen to like old-school war books, there are worse ways to spend your comics dollar.

Another recent find that pleased me a great deal was this one.

Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom, by Winston Lyon, from April of 1966.

This is an original novel, that the back cover would have you believe is done completely in the spirit of the old Adam West show.

And it is…. kind of. But “Winston Lyon” was a pseudonym for comics vet Bill Woolfolk and he couldn’t help bringing some real chops to it. So what you got was an odd sort of hybrid between campy Adam West Batman and tough late 1940s-early 1950s Batman, where the plot is a bit goofy but there’s real jeopardy and menace as well.

It also has the distinction of being, as far as I know, the first ever prose adventure featuring Batman. I’d had this book before but lost it in a move years ago, so I was very pleased to be able to replace it; found it for two dollars at a used bookstore a couple of months back.

Woolfolk also did the novelization a few months later of the 1966 Batman movie, under the title Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome, and the two are occasionally confused.

THIS is what Fearsome Foursome looks like, if you were wondering.

But “Three Villains of Doom” is an original, and it is a much better book. Worth a look if you should happen to run across it.

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Before BEFORE WATCHMEN: As my former cartooning students get older and go on to high school, quite a few of them come back to me for advice on their senior projects, particularly if they involve writing or drawing (several of them have done ‘zines, for example.)

Tiffany, whom some of you may remember from this Tamora Pierce column years ago, is graduating high school this year. She chose to write a full novel as her senior project, and as part of that process she also had to turn in a research paper on the business of writing and publishing. She interviewed me as part of that research and at one point I said this:

“Writers, in my experience, are really nice people, very generous in terms of helping out other folks in the business and sharing what they know. Editors too, really– most of them are writers themselves, they get it.” I paused. “But publishers are sharks. Given half a chance they will screw you right into the ground. Don’t EVER sign any kind of a publishing contract without having a couple of other people– ideally one being a lawyer you trust– look at it. Always, always remember that 99 percent of all publishers are functional sociopaths.”

Tiffany started to giggle at my vehemence.

“No, seriously,” I went on. “Even me, with my piddling little magazine jobs over the last twenty years, I’ve got horror stories. So do most of my friends who are working writer types. Even the publishers that aren’t actually evil, even the nicer ones… well… they’re still business people. Bean counters. Literary merit, art, that’s not even on the table for them. When you are dealing with a publisher you have to look at it like you are running a business out of your home. And never forget it’s a business full of people who prey on naive creative types, people who live for finding a young writer or artist who’s starry-eyed about having their first book published. Honest to God, they’re like the Hollywood pimps that cruise the Greyhound stations for runaway teenage girls. ‘Come on baby, I’ll put you in show business.’ ”

Sometimes even if you're NOT naive a publisher can still find a work-around to screw you.

Tiffany was laughing outright now. “Is it really that bad?”

“Pretty much.” I scowled. “The thing to remember is that to them you, your work… it’s a commodity. You’re something they buy in order to manufacture their actual product, which is an audience. That’s why so many idiots from TV or wherever get book deals, it’s why you see stuff in bookstores that just makes you wonder what the hell. Because somehow, in some business meeting, someone thought there’d be an audience for that. And the thing is, they would much rather be able to push a button and just have the books manufactured somehow, they hate dealing with creative people. If they could do it without you they would. Never forget that.”

Needless to say, when DC made the Before Watchmen announcement, that conversation was what I instantly flashed back to. I’m ambivalent about the whole idea as far as any artistic merit is concerned, but I’m not the least bit surprised that DC is doing it. (I admit that I’m a little surprised they’ve waited this long; I figured this was something that would have come along with the movie.)

Comics as we know them were pretty much BUILT on the idea of screwing the creative types, from Siegel and Shuster on up.

Anyone who says the idea of DC doing new Watchmen books came as a shock hasn’t been paying attention. This is what big publishers do… and God knows it’s especially what big comics publishers do. Somebody somewhere at Time-Warner looked at what books had sold well for DC and Watchmen is what the spreadsheet told them. These prequel books could be good, they could be terrible. But either way, it’s smart business. They’ll sell. That’s all DC cares about. The idea that Alan Moore’s feelings ever were a consideration to them is laughable, and I think everyone who works in comics knows that. Even –probably especially– Alan Moore.

*

The Exception:
I have to add, in fairness, that I went on to tell Tiffany, “There’s one exception to this rule, and that’s small-press publishing. Small-press people, non-corporate publishers, are usually the flip side of the coin– they’re really idealistic, they got into it because there was no big publisher that could accommodate their idea, whatever it was. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you still have to be careful about getting paid because they tend be shoestring outfits that don’t last. But… if you run across a small-press house that’s got amazing creative types, and maybe just one hard-headed bean-counter person to keep them honest, you can see some truly great things happen. Those are the publishers that you pray you get to work with.”

Small-press RULES. Especially when it manages to combine both ethics AND financial smarts.

It’s true. I have as many real-life examples of this phenomenon as I do of corporate publishers behaving badly.

For example, out of the blue, just because I’d mentioned in this space and in CBR’s Best of the Year that Graphic Classics was doing superlative work and it was something people should support, I got a really nice email from publisher Tom Pomplun.

And also …a case of comics for my cartooning students.

And they were a big hit, I can tell you. Really I just wanted an excuse to run this picture, which always makes me smile.

He didn’t have to do that. Big publishers NEVER do things like that. But small-press folks do nice things for my students all the time. It’s almost routine.

So when I or anyone else starts carrying on about publishers being artistically and morally bankrupt, you always have to add the rider, “….except for the indie small-press guys. They’re usually pretty cool.”

*

And that’s all I have, this time out. See you next week.

17 Comments

nice article love the publishers are sharks comment which given what dc is proving by deciding now to do more watchman and thus keep the characters out of alans hands finaly. after all that picture of black lighting by black vulcan kind of proved how some publishers if they can to make their money including in the comic industry will take a chance to do so.

I had a few of those British hardcover “for boys” books back in the 1970s, when I lived in Germany. They had some war stories, some “true-life” adventure stories (based on historical figures – I very much doubt their veracity), some humor stuff (that was where I first learned that “pong” meant a bad smell), and some oddities – I remember a story about a badger that was chock full of facts about badgers. I don’t remember any duotone – they were in black and white, as far as I can remember – but they were pretty cool. I wish I knew what happened to them – my parents’ new house flooded a lot, so they probably got destroyed in one of those after I had moved out.

Judge Fred MANSON

February 4, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I have searched on the web the missing informations about the weekly “Warlord” war comic book. Except that there was a run of 627 issues, it seems that there is no authors mentioned in the comic book.

As I have a contact at DC Thomson, I will try to have these missing informations. But I can not promise to have them.

Hmm, the TOMMY is the crimeworld’s top award (and it’s nice that they recognize each other, y’know?). Could that be where TOMMY Elliott got his name?

Oh hush, it’s possible!

I would be interested in your thoughts on those massive new-ish “Mammoth Book of” comics anthologies. I got the war volume because I saw it half price, even though I was dubious. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was, and it introduced me to a lot of great stuff I hadn’t seen before, including a lot of those great anonymous British war comics from the 70s/80s. I’ve been tracking them down ever since. Even in that collection, they couldn’t find any credits for the British comics.

The other thing that really blew me away was Sam Glanzman’s documentary-style Dell war comics, which are phenomenal. Someone needs to reprint all of those.

Greg,
As always your column is a great read. The annuals were a common stocking stuffer here in Australia. Thankfully I usually got the Doctor Who ones and not something like Dempsey and Makepeace (yes they did Annuals for everything!) In the last 10 years the BBC DVD releases of Doctor Who Episodes have included PDFs of the Annuals. See here for an article on the annuals: http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Doctor_Who_annual. The other special feature on the DVD’s has been a short documentary series about each Doctor’s comicbook adventures called: “Stripped for Action” which has a lot of the writers and artists that worked on the comicbooks from the early 60s. Its up on youtube if you look for it.

Hey! A Ms. Tree mention! Love those old books.
I hear there’s rumor of them coming back in collections.

Also like your words about the business end of the publishing world.
I work in the art/music world, and it’s the same thing, beginners don’t learn until their first burn.

I would be interested in your thoughts on those massive new-ish “Mammoth Book of” comics anthologies.

Talked about them a little here, a few years ago. (Scroll down a bit.) But if I can get anything in bulk, for cheap, I’m usually in favor of it. We’ve been all about the omnibus-type collections here lately…. the one I’m reading now, The Big Book of Adventure Stories, is one of the best I’ve run across. I like all of Penzler’s Big Book of… pulp collections, but with Adventure I really almost feel like he said, “Hey, let’s do this one for Hatcher.” Click the link and you’ll see… It’s like one-stop shopping for me.

And Sam Glanzman is THE MAN. I saw him on a Golden Age panel at a con a few years back and someone asked what he thought his best work was. He shot back, “I’d like to think I haven’t done it yet.”

“Sometimes even if you’re NOT naive a publisher can still find a work-around to screw you.”

In the case of Black Vulcan, I believe they found the work-around IN THEIR PANTS! (for all the Harvey Birdman fans out there)

As I recall, the Ms Tree new collections were announced by the new incarnation of First Comics (speaking of publishers and screwing over the talent….). I am quite interested, as those books are pretty cool. First thing I thought of when you mentioned duotone.

From what I understand, Paul Levitz was a big reason nothing was done with Watchmen previously. I can’t remember if he was still DC publisher when the movie was coming out. Levitz being a creative type himself certainly ties in to your other statements on writers and editors.

Great column as always, Greg.

The early Spider-Man UK comics were also printed mostly in duotone. I bought a bunch of them very cheaply in the early 90s when I was in my first flush of comic-buying, which means that my Lee/Ditko Spidey was in black, white and pink, much like the pics above.

If it’s the 80s and DC Thompson, chances are there would be a fair amount of crossover with the writers and artists on 2000AD. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some ancient Grant Morrison or David Lloyd stories hidden in those Warlords…

“And it is…. kind of. But “Winston Lyon” was a pseudonym for comics vet Bill Woolfolk and he couldn’t help bringing some real chops to it. So what you got was an odd sort of hybrid between campy Adam West Batman and tough late 1940s-early 1950s Batman, where the plot is a bit goofy but there’s real jeopardy and menace as well.”

Actually, by the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, the series had already started featuring giant pennies and trips to other planets. They had him teaching courses on criminology and testifying in court in his cape. Of course, they also had a kid sidekick in leprechaun shoes, shaved legs, golden cape, etc.

http://www.thrillingdetective.com/eyes/batman.html

Characters actually died during the course of the first season. Jill St.John’s character Molly is disintegrated in the Bat-Nuclear reactor in the 2nd half of the first episode, “Hi Diddle Riddle/ Smack In The Middle”. A Diamond exchange security guard is instantly frozen to death in “Instant Freeze/Rats Like Cheese”, Two mafia hit men (Victor French and Bill Phipps) kill each other with machine gun fire gunning for the Dynamic Duo in “Zelda The Great/ A Death Worse Than Fate”. If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think there were any deaths depicted in the second or third seasons.

http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/reply/374335/Batman#reply-374335

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February 5, 2012 at 12:05 am you mention:

Big Book of Adventure Stories

It features The Cisco Kid; Sheena, Queen of the Jungle; Bulldog Drummond; Tarzan; The Scarlet Pimpernel; Conan the Barbarian; Hopalong Cassidy; King Kong (with implied appearances of Doc Savage and the Shadow); Peter the Brazen, Singapore Sammy, Richard Hannay, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Zorro; Allan Quatermain, and The Spider . (An earlier Penzler colleciton featured a tale of the Saint, Simon Templar.)

In his intro to the Zorro story, Penzler, the editor, notes Zorro as a forerunner to the Shadow, the Lone Ranger, and the Green Lantern. That surprised me. Perhaps he anticipated the 2011 Green Lantern film would do well? Of course, some Green Lantern merchandise has still reached stores (greeting cards, toys, etc.), so Penzler perhaps anticipated some recognition.

This book also reminded me that although we seem to have quite a few “classic monsters” (Stoker’s Count Dracula, Frankenstein Monster, Mr. Hyde, etc.), “classic adventure heroes” seem rarer. By “classic” I tend to mean preceding 1938. On the other hand, some of the “classic” adventure writers did produce sequels, which the “classic” horror writers seem to tend not to (Bram Stoker did not write a sequel to Dracula, Mary Shelley did not write a sequel to Frankenstein, etc.).

Just like to second what Gavin was saying there; basically anyone who worked in British comics (DC Thomson was based in Dundee, Scotland; it’s best known comics are Beano and the Dandy) would’ve worked on those comics e.g. Alan Grant, Pat Mills, Gerry Finley Day etc Possibly Dudley Watkins?? But almost certainly not Grant.
The Annuals tended to continue long after the comics concluded probably using up old inventory and some of that stock would’ve been very old possibly late 50s /early 60s at the oldest?

Of course Grant, Mills, and Finley Day worked mainly for Fleetway, roughly Marvel to DC Thomson’s erm, DC?!?
So I’m probably wrong!

The two Warlord annual covers and the 2-page Fighting Condor extract are unmistakably by the stylish Ian Kennedy. He did a lot of war stuff, including the digest-size War Picture Library/Battle Picture Library long running series.
Kennedy also did a few stories for IPC/Fleetway’s Battle, which was the rival of DC Thomson’s Warlord.
Battle was set up by Pat Mills & John Wagner in 1975 (you may have heard of them!) & was instrumental in leading to the formation of 2000AD (you may have heard of that!) in 1977.
Kennedy also did a few stories for 2000AD – an early ‘Mach 1′, a Judge Dredd cover or 2 spring to mind – plus Starlord; Dan Dare in the revived Eagle, etc.

* Oh, on the issue of credits: 2000AD was, I believe, the first UK weekly comic to regularly credit creators.
The attitude of UK editors/publishers was even more “Screw the artistic talent, they’re just hired help, pay them peanuts, no royalties, and keep them anonymous!” than the USA equivalent – think an industry full of the worst traits of Weisinger, Goodman, etc.
It’s probably the main reason why so many of the top UK talent on 2000AD – Bolland, Gibbons, Moore, Davis, Morrison, Millar, etc – invaded American comics in the 80s and 90s onwards.

* Colour covers/black & white interiors plus duotones on annuals & summer specials – that’s the deal with UK comics. Even the Marvel 70s UK reprints were B/W and duotone interiors; covers became glossy c.1974.
Why the 2 comics traditions diverge either side of the pond, I’d love to know: USA has always been monthly publication, plus colour interiors; UK weekly, plus B/W interiors. Any ideas, CSBG people?

Thanks Pete for putting a bit of flesh on my bones! Also, like your thoughts on the divergence between US an UK comics. Also find it weird that basically US and UK comics started broadly similar; that is, anthologies of funny strips.

@PB210: I’d guess it more likely that it was a misprint, and Penzler intended to write the Green HORNET, as that character seems to stem more from Zorro than GL (any GL).

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