Comic Book Legends Revealed #357
Welcome to the three hundredth and fifty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, discover the fascinating behind-the-scenes connection between John Carter, Warlord of Mars and Flash Gordon! Learn whether Spider-Ham’s visual design was based on Cerebus! And marvel at the longtime DC artist who drew Superman for years and still saw DC use other artists to re-draw his Superman faces!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and fifty-six.
COMIC LEGEND: Flash Gordon owes its existence to John Carter of Mars.
STATUS: True Enough for a True
In a general sense, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, Warlord of Mars stories are the basis for any number of science-fiction heroes (heck, there is a strong case to be made for the influence of John Carter on superheroes, as well, like Superman). There is certainly a heavy dose of John Carter in, say, Adam Strange (the concept of a regular Earthman being transported to a wonderous new world, whether it be the future, Mongo, Rann or Mars).
However, when it comes to the creation of Alex Raymond’s legendary comic strip, Flash Gordon, there appears to be more of a connection to John Carter than simply Raymond being influenced by Burroughs.
In 1929, Burroughs’ Tarzan character was launched in his own comic strip (drawn by the legendary Hal Foster). On the very same day that Tarzan debuted, so, too, did a comic strip based on the Anthony Rogers series of stories in Amazing Stories by Philip Francis Nowlan, with the name changed to “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D.”
Eventually, both Tarzan and Buck Rogers would be massive hits.
In 1931, Burroughs approached his syndicated (United Features) about doing a comic strip based on his John Carter character. They turned him down, saying that the time was not yet right.
In 1933, though, King Features came to Burroughs and proposed an adaptation of John Carter to compete with Buck Rogers. After all, what better to compete with Rogers than the character who inspired Rogers? The strip would be written by Don Moore and drawn by….Alex Raymond! Eventually, the deal fell apart during negotiations, as Burroughs wanted a goodly amount of profit-sharing and control over the strip.
On January 4, 1934, they wrote to Burroughs, stating, “”I am sorry to say that at this writing it seems impossible for us to arrange syndication under terms which would suit you.”
THREE DAYS LATER, Raymond debuted Flash Gordon for King Features. Burroughs always felt that King Features simply decided that it was cheaper to just do their own Mars strip instead of paying him for John Carter.
Raymond’s early Flash Gordons owed a great deal to Burroughs’ Carter (just switch Mongo with Mars and/or Venus from Burroughs’ Carter novels), but I don’t think it is fair to say that Raymond literally just turned a John Carter strip into a Flash Gordon strip. I believe that Raymond did, indeed, create Flash Gordon, but I also believe that the fact that King Features was working on adapting John Carter into a strip in 1933 – even to the point of having Raymond INVOLVED, is strong evidence that Carter was, indeed, a direct influence into the creation of Flash Gordon. You know, like King decided sometime in 1933 “Okay, we’re not going to be doing John Carter anymore, so Alex, come up with something else similar” and then just strung Burroughs along until Flash Gordon was ready to debut (perhaps to keep Burroughs from taking Carter to United Features before Flash Gordon debuted).
Gordon, of course, became a massive success, bigger even than Buck Rogers, which it was created to compete with.
With the release of the John Carter film today, though, maybe Carter will finally have his day, as well.
Thanks to Bill Hillman and his ERBzine (plus the research of Bob Barrett) for this intriguing insight into Flash Gordon’s past.
COMIC LEGEND: Spider-Ham’s visual design was based on Cerebus.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Awhile back, I did a legend about the creation of Spider-Ham and whether the character was created as a response to Dave Sim’s Marvel parodies like Wolveroach.
In the legend, Spider-Ham creator Tom DeFalco convincingly explains the creation of Spider-Ham and how Cerebus did not play a role in his creation. However, commenter Miken asked a fascinating question (well, I found it fascinating at least):
Is it at all possible that even though DeFalco didn’t have Cerebus/Wolveroach in mind when he conceived Spider-Ham that the artist chose to draw him with that in mind?
That sounded like it very well COULD be possible! So I went straight to the source, artist Mark Armstrong, the fellow who designed Spider-Ham and drew his first appearance (here is a Spider-Ham cover by Armsrong)….
Mark gave me a very insightful response regarding his design of Spider-Ham:
Others had a crack at Peter Porker before it fell into my hands. Editor Larry Hama sent me some photocopies of what some others had done. As I recall, one photocopy was of a cover (that has never been published, as far as I know) done by (I think) Joe Albelo, a cover that featured Porky Pig in a Spider-Man suit and Daffy Duck in a Daredevil outfit. The other photocopies were of sketches by a female artist whose name escapes me at the moment. But those photocopies were all experimental things. My Peter Porker design was the one that was chosen, and the one to be published.
Larry gave me the assignment of coming up with a Peter Porker that did not look like Porky Pig. Tom Defalco’s script specified how tall Peter was to be (4 heads tall, I think) so I deferred to those specifications in designing the character. I might otherwise have made the character slightly taller. Four-heads-tall seemed a little cramped to me. I would have been more inclined to go with four-and-a-half heads, maybe even five-heads tall.
As for Cerebus, I had never bought a Cerebus comic prior to doing Peter Porker. I may have seen the character in a TBG (predecessor to the CBG) ad, and it’s possible that it may have lodged in my subconscious, but my design for Peter Porker was not based on any existing character, Cerebus or otherwise. I was rather taken aback when Ward Batty did a piece that made that accusation. I struggled mightily to make the characters in that series unlike any I had ever seen.
The Peter Porker I designed and penciled was somewhat of the rubber hose variety, when it came to limbs. I liked the idea of a cartoony character. When Joe Albelo inked the character, though, he added in muscles. The character would have looked different had I been inking my own work. The proportions would have been the same, but there would not have been the bulging muscles, or the sharp elbows and knees.
Wonderful stuff, Mark, thanks so much for the response!
So there ya go, Miken. I think Mark’s successfully described the process behind Spider-Ham. Thanks to Miken for the question and thanks to Mark for the great look behind the scenes of the design of a great character.
COMIC LEGEND: DC began redrawing Superman’s face on Justice League of America covers after years of Mike Sekowsky drawing them himself.
I have written in the past about how DC during the late 1960s/early 1970s not only re-drew Jack Kirby’s Superman faces (when Superman would guest star in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen comics) but also the great Alex Toth, whose Superman was good enough for the smash hit Super Friends cartoon but not acceptable for comic books ABOUT the Super Friends (read here for more details).
In the case of Kirby and Toth, though, it is at least true that neither artist were known for working on Superman. Kirby hadn’t drawn the character before coming to DC in the early 1970s and Toth had never worked on the character during his time at DC Comics, either. So at least with those guys, there was something to be said for “their Superman is not ‘familiar’ to readers.”
What DC ended up doing with Mike Sekowsky is a whole other story.
Mike Sekowsky was the original artist for DC’s Justice League of America series.
But by the late 1960s, Sekowsky, too, saw his Superman faces begun to be replaced by other artists on the covers, like here, where Wayne Boring provides Superman’s face….
He still drew them himself inside, at least.
Within a few issues, though, Sekowsky was off the book completely (even before his Superman’s faces were re-drawn, Carmine Infantino has begun doing some JLA covers – typically not a good sign when the regular interior and cover artist begins to be replaced by other artists for the covers). Amusingly enough, his final issue featured a cover spotlighting Superman…drawn fully by Sekowsky!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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