Thursday, April 30, 2009

Artist Spotlight - Jack Kirby

In the world of comic books, one man stands head-and-shoulders above all the rest and is truly deserving of his nickname, the King. That man is none other than Jack Kirby.

To be honest, in the late 1970s and early 1980s I found his art to be simplistic and stylized when compared to the more realistic work of John Byrne or Neal Adams. But as I began to branch out more and to understand the history of the industry I've come really come around.

From his modest beginnings growing up in New York's Bowery, Jacob Kurtzman used art as his "ticket out of the slums." As Jack Kirby, he either created or helped defined almost every major genre in the comic book field.

Much of his early work was done with writer Joe Simon. In 1941 they created the super-hero Captain America for Timely, which would later become Atlas and, ultimately, Marvel Comics. Over the next 15 years the two would go on to create and collaborate on Boy Commandos, a war comic, for National Comics (later DC); Stuntman and Boy Explorers for Harvey; crime stories in Real Clue; the teen comic My Date; the Romance genre for Crestwood/Prize Comics including Young Romance, Young Love, Western Love, Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty; a western called Boys' Ranch; and Fighting American, a super-hero parody for Crestwood.

When you figure in that both men served during WWII in the middle of this run, it's a pretty amazing, creative and productive run.

According to Been Publishing, I'm Back:

The next step was to become publishers themselves. In 1954, as the rest of the industry was retrenching due to the public furor over comics and juvenile delinquency, Simon and Kirby launched Mainline Comics, to minimal fanfare and mediocre sales. With titles like In Love, Foxhole, Police Trap and Bulls-Eye, they had all the popular genres covered. They were the most successful and well-known creators in comics history. And they failed miserably. Most titles lasted only four issues.

With the failure, the team split up to make each his own way in the new, post Comics Code, comic book landscape. Romance comics survived. Kirby did lots of strips for Harvey. (Simon and Kirby are listed as editors of some of the Prize/Crestwood romance books through 1957. Then it's just Simon - who also returned to drawing stories about 1960. Simon also went on to create Sick Magazine, a long-running Mad imitation.)

After the failure of Mainline, Kirby would continue to do work for other major publishers until 1959. Notable work from this period includes Challengers of the Unknown for National/DC and the newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force, which was inked by Wally Wood for the first 8 months.

What came next is the stuff of legends. Kirby hooked up with Stan Lee at what was then Atlas, later Marvel, and started doing mystery, science-fiction, western and romance work. But the times were changing once again, and in 1961 with the advent of a new super-hero boom, Lee and Kirby were major players in kicking off what is generally called the Silver Age of Comics.

In short order, Lee and Kirby collaborated on creating The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Iron-Man, Thor, The X-Men, The Avengers and brought back Captain America. Throughout the 1960's Kirby is now credited with playing a leading role in making Marvel a creative force. And while Kirby was responsible for developing the 'house style' he wasn't getting the credit he felt he deserved and was unable to share in the profits. So he chose to move on from Marvel and his partnership with Stan Lee to new, creative outlets.

Next was stint at DC where he created an epic 'Fourth World' consisting of New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle. While wildly creative, none lasted more than a few years and he moved on to Komandi, OMAC and The Demon before deciding to jump back to Marvel to create a Silver Surfer graphic novel in 1978.

During his last years he dabbled in Saturday morning cartoon shows and a couple of independent comics, but was generally happy to be be the "elder statesman" for the industry. And although I'll never get a chance to meet him, I'm sure I would have enjoyed sitting down with him and hearing one of his many stories about the war or his creative endeavors. Below you will find but a few examples of Jack's artistic prowess. Enjoy.

A small GALLERY of Jack Kirby Art pulled from the Internet

All art and copyrights are the property of their respective owners

Next Up: Will Eisner

Cheers! - Jason

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Boiling over on Blanton Boulevard - Part 1

Story and characters © Jason Cassee 2009

Newt has the unfortunate appearance to match his nickname – slick, oily skin and bulging eyes. But behind the fa├žade, he is an even better match with his true name: Newton Galileo Oppenheimer. This morning, Newt is on a mission, and so focused on getting to the shop early that nothing is going to get in his way, or put a damper on his day…

Thadeaus Eugene Glick III can’t believe his luck this day, but then Thad is in disbelief much of the time. Thick and solidly built, his bowler is pulled low over heavy brows and dark intimidating eyes. Thad arrived at an empty trolley stop, a first for him, which almost certainly assures him of a seat this time. Smiling, he savors this small victory, one that makes the extra 3 blocks to this spot –a stop before his typical boarding – well worth the effort. He chuckles to himself almost gleefully, rubbing his hands together and shifting his feet in the chill morning air…

Birgitte Espinoza, known as Bess to her friends, is distracted by her aching left knee. She can’t think of anything else as she slowly makes her way up a short side street toward the trolley stop. She mutters to herself as she works her way forward, one painful step at a time. “Why does it have to hurt this much today?” she mutters. “Today, of all days.”


It’s late fall, 1978 and Newt sits in a half-empty classroom on a dreary, stormy day. Half empty because Miss Jenny is out again with early morning sickness. And made doubly dreary as he and his fellow students are subjected to the grainy movie that is showing on the tattered sheet hung over the green, flaking chalk board.

As bad as this is, the real miracle was that the movie is showing at all. If Newt hadn’t been able to get the finicky projector working, the kids would now be hunched over their science textbooks for the umpteenth time this month. But after 10 minutes separating frayed power cord wires, the film is now clacking its way over the reels and, blessedly, there is something more to do than sit and read once again.

Miss Jenny has been out so often that much of the class now finds other things to do during third period. And nobody seems to notice, or much less care. This morning is just another example. No substitute has been found and fifteen minutes ago old Miss Johnson, the school secretary, made a most cursory stop by the room to inform the few students left that they should again pull out their books. That is, unless someone is “industrious enough to get this going” she challenged while dropping the dented, steel film disk on the table.

So now Newt is shifting between watching the old black and white piece - something about electricity - and peering dejectedly at the drenching downpour outside. Nearly despondent, he finds himself wondering, “What am I going to do?” Of course, things now take a turn for the worse.

“That looks like Newt.”

Newt turns back to the screen to see lightning flashing behind a lumbering, monstrous figure stumbled towards him on the screen. Likely, it is a cut-scene used to illustrate some basic electrical principle, but the figure on the screen breaks the somber mood like a clanging bell.

From behind him, the snickering grows louder. The girl to Newt’s left turns from the screen, squints at him over round, rimmed glasses and laughs shrilly. “It really does look like you,” she confirms.

From the group at the back he hears Billie Heaton yell “Hey, Newtonstein. I didn’t know you were a movie star. Can I have your autograph?” And he rises from behind his desk and plods forward, arm stretched in front of him mimicking the visage on the screen.

“Newtonstein. Newtonstein.” rings, jeeringly around the classroom.

Newt flushes crimson and finds he is unable to speak. Sobbing, he stumbles from his chair, trips over a leg and staggers for a few steps. The lurching and stumbling only reinforce the connection to the image just witnessed and brings a fresh fit of laughter and jeering.

Without stopping for his books or coat Newt runs for the door followed amidst the din. Jerking the knob toward him his shaking fingers slip and he thumps to the floor prompting another wave of laughter. Tears stream down his face as regains his feet and quickly escapes into the hallway.


To be continued...

Cheers! - Jason

Check it Out - Remembering Pontiac...

For you brand enthusiasts out there (yes, I'm definitely one of you!) Advertising Age published a visual retrospective on Pontiac Ads Through the Ages as a tip of the hat to the soon-retiring nameplate. Sad to see another storied name go the way of the Dodo, but it's just more proof that Darwinianism-like "natural selection" is also at work in the not so natural world too.

Cheers! - Jason

The MMOB Daily Quote - William Randolph Hearst

A couple of weeks ago I did a MMOB Daily Quote birthday recognition for Joseph Pulitzer, one of the dueling newspaper mega-moguls from the last century. Today, because he was born on this date in 1863, we get the other one: William Randolph Hearst.

You are likely familiar with the lead character patterned after Mr. Hearst portrayed by
Orson Welles in the 1941 classic Citizen Kane. Here's the bio on William J. from Wikipedia:
William Randolph Hearst I (April 29, 1863 – August 14, 1951) was an American newspaper magnate and leading newspaper publisher. The son of self-made millionaire George Hearst, he became aware that his father received a northern California newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, as payment of a gambling debt. Still a student at Harvard, he asked his father to give him the newspaper to run. In 1887, he became the paper's publisher and devoted long hours and much money to making it a success. Crusading for civic improvement and exposing municipal corruption, he greatly increased the paper's circulation.
Moving to New York City, he acquired The New York Journal and engaged in a bitter circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer's New York World which led to the creation of "yellow journalism" — sensationalized stories of dubious veracity. Acquiring more newspapers, Hearst created a chain that numbered nearly 30 papers in major American cities at its peak. He later expanded to magazines, creating the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.
He was twice elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated in 1906 in a race for governor of New York. Nonetheless, through his newspapers and magazines, he exercised enormous political influence, most notably in creating public frenzy which pushed the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898. His life story was a source of inspiration for the lead character in Orson Welles' classic film, Citizen Kane.
And now, some notable quotes from this ambitious, muckraking sensationalist who was also responsible for the never-completed castle in San Simeon, California that bears his name.

“You must keep your mind on the objective, not on the obstacle.

“The coming of the motion picture was as important as that of the printing press.”

“Try to be conspicuously accurate in everything, pictures as well as text. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more interesting.”

“In suggesting gifts: Money is appropriate, and one size fits all.”

“You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.”

“You can crush a man with journalism.”

“News is something somebody doesn't want printed; all else is advertising.”

“Putting out a newspaper without promotion is like winking at a girl in the dark -- well-intentioned, but ineffective.”

Cheers! - Jason

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The MMOB Daily Quote - Jay Leno

Today's birthday celebrant and notable quotable is "chinny" funnyman Jay Leno.

Here's what
Wikipedia has in it's Bio on Mr. Leno:

James Douglas Muir "Jay" Leno (born April 28, 1950) is an American stand-up comedian, television host and writer who succeeded Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show in 1992. Leno will continue to host The Tonight Show until May 29, 2009; Late Night host Conan O'Brien is his scheduled successor. Beginning this fall (2009), he will have a primetime talk show, tentatively titled The Jay Leno Show, which will air weeknights at 10:00 PM ET (9:00 PM CT), on NBC.

Here are some quotes from the affable Mr. Leno:

"Bush reiterated his stand to conservatives opposing his decision on stem cell research. He said today he believes life begins at conception and ends at execution."

"Here's something to think about: How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'? "

"I think high self-esteem is overrated. A little low self-esteem is actually quite good. Maybe you're not the best, so you should work a little harder."

“I went into a McDonald's yesterday and said, "I'd like some fries." The girl at the counter said, "Would you like some fries with that?"”

"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Teach a man to create an artificial shortage of fish and he will eat steak."

"You cannot be mad at somebody who makes you laugh - it's as simple as that."

Cheers! - Jason

Monday, April 27, 2009

The MMOB Daily Quote - Rogers Hornsby

I've been itching to focus on another baseball great since posting about Tris Speaker earlier this month. Well, because he was born on this date in 1896, today I get my chance to focus on another member of baseball royalty, Rogers Hornsby.

Like Tris, Rogers has one of those great names that is at once unique and recognizable. His nickname
"Rajah" is both a tip to his first name and his grand style of play. He broke into the bigs with the Cardinals in 1915 and amassed seven batting titles over 22 years playing for the St. Louis Cardinals (1915-1926, 1933), New York Giants (1927), Boston Braves (1928), Chicago Cubs (1929-1932), and St. Louis Browns (1933-1937). He topped the magic .400 batting average three times during his career. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942, which also has this to say about him in his Baseball Hall of Fame Bio:
Rogers Hornsby's .424 mark in 1924 is a National League record for the 20th century and his career average of .359 is the highest ever in the National League. The Rajah, a two-time MVP and two-time Triple Crown winner, was the player-manager of the Cardinals' first World Championship team in 1926 and was the first National League player to hit 300 home runs.

If you aren't familiar with Rogers here's a
short video bio also available at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here are some quotes from the Rajah pulled from various Internet sources:

“People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

“I don't want to play golf. When I hit a ball, I want someone else to go chase it.”

"Any ballplayer that don't sign autographs for little kids ain't an American. He's a communist."

"I'd rather him (Grover Alexander) pitch a crucial game for me drunk, then anyone I've ever known sober. He was that good."

"I've always played hard. If that's rough and tough, I can't help it. I don't believe there's any such thing as a good loser. I wouldn't sit down and play a game of cards with you right now withing wanting to win. If I hadn't felt that way I wouldn't have got very far in baseball."

"To be a good hitter you've got to do one thing - Get a good ball to hit."

Cheers! - Jason