Posts Tagged ‘ Steve Ditko ’

The Man Who Loved Marvel: Pierre Comtois Charts An Empire

Today Panel Surfing gets to chat with the author of one of my favorite books on the history of Marvel Comics. Pierre Comtois wrote an endearing study of the early years of the Marvel Age in Marvel Comics In The 1960’s and discusses that book along with news of the sequel.

Jason Versaggi: Where did your passion for the source material of your book come from?

Pierre Comtois: Believe it or not, that’s a more difficult question to answer than you might think. The easy answer is that I grew up on them when I was a kid in the mid to late 1960s. An older boy in the neighborhood introduced me to Marvel comics around 1964…the first comic I ever bought was Spider-man #14…and I was hooked. After that began long years of trying to scrape enough money together to buy the 6 or 7 Marvels I wanted every month. At first it was the characters and the stories that grabbed me but as I became more discerning, I began to differentiate among the artists and soon, I could tell them apart and had my favorites. In high school, my tastes began to shift away from Marvel’s flagship titles to the more eclectic stuff led by Conan the Barbarian. As the years passed, my enthusiasm for the medium never diminished so that to this day I find that I enjoy rereading the comics in my collection as much as I ever did. However, my interest in the latest comics has slowed down since the 1980s and I find little these days that appeals to me the way comics did from the 1960s to the 1980s. My enthusiasm was such that I was still in high school when I first decided that I wanted to write a book about Marvel Comics. I’d written a paper for a psychology class about how comics weren’t just for kids anymore and that, I think, proved to be the catalyst. When I got the paper back from the teacher, every bit of white space on the title page was covered in his red ink scribblings gushing about my paper and promising a high grade for it! I got a vague idea then about maybe expanding the theme of that paper into a whole book. Not that things turned out that way, only that it was a catalyst.

JV: When were you first exposed to comics and more specifically Marvel?

Pierre: Although this neighborhood kid introduced me to Marvel, I recall that he had a stack of comics that included as many DCs as Marvels. Forget now if he recommended the Marvels over the DCs or if that was my own taste/choice…he probably did. Later, I had a cousin who loved comics too but was less discerning in his tastes. He bought everything from Thor to Sad Sack and I was able to catch up on titles like the Metal Men and Sgt Rock by borrowing stuff from him to read. One thing I did learn through that reading though was that DC didn’t do it for me!

JV: Were comics a big part of your youth and did they influence or foster a love of reading?

Pierre: When I was a kid, a lot of my time revolved around comics in one way or another. Specifically, I had to find ways to earn the money I needed to buy my favorite comics. I started by collecting returnable bottles and later walking a paper route to earn money I needed. At first I had a friend who was just as interested as I was but he soon got out of comics so I was left alone to scour my hometown on my trusty bike going from store to store looking for all the issues that I knew came out in a certain week. Although I’d developed an interest in reading before comics (I devoured the Tom Swift and Tarzan series, read a lot of books on WWII and my former comics reading buddy and I still shared an interest in science fiction) what they did was introduce me to new literary avenues to pursue such as Robert E. Howard from the Conan comic, Bram Stoker from Tomb of Dracula, or Sax Rohmer from Master of Kung Fu. 

JV: I often say Stan Lee is the 1b to Walt Disney’s 1a for who had the greatest contribution to American Pop Culture. What similarities do you see between the two imagineers? What made Stan such a visionary in the medium and how did he create such non-story related significance with the fans?

Pierre: Stan and Disney make for an interesting comparison in that both created entertainment empires based on creations from their own imaginations. But I’m not sure if the comparison can go too far. Disney seemed driven by his desire to create and use the medium of film to give his creations as wide a venue as possible. Stan on the other hand, hasn’t struck me as being terribly interested in writing comics before the Marvel age. I think it was just a job to him before that. His real interest lay in more acceptable media such as book publication…this feeling of media inferiority seemed to stay with him even into later life when he absconded to Hollywood as soon as he could get away. In between of course, he helped to create the Marvel universe as we know it. Obviously he had the talent for it and his skill as an editor and art editor was an indispensable part of that success. However, a key factor in his success was a chumminess with readers and the ability of not taking what Marvel was doing too seriously, attitudes that he likely picked up from EC Comics. Stan emulated that making fans feel like they were part of a special club whose members were in the know.

JV: If Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were the innovators of the Marvel   Universe who were the most important artists doing the yeoman’s work? Who was next most indispensible to Stan in constructing the Marvel Universe?

Pierre: For the early years, that’s easy: Don Heck! But beyond those early years there were artists like John Buscema, John Romita, and Gene Colan who no doubt helped but I think, were less involved in outright innovation than Kirby and Ditko were. The real indispensable man was a writer, Roy Thomas. I think he even more than Stan, took this new Marvel universe seriously as a coherent, interconnected entity. Where Stan could be a bit lackadaisical about continuity, Roy made it an overriding concern. He wrote stories to fill gaps in the history as much as to entertain in their own right. He brought a serious, deliberate intent to keeping things straight where Stan may never have thought too much about it.

JV: Had he not died in that tragic train accident, would Joe Maneely have been one of the founding creators of the Marvel Age of Comics? Would his style have lent itself to this new universe?

Pierre: That’s hard to say, at least to my mind. His style was nothing like Kirby or Ditko’s. But if Heck could adapt then why not Maneely? But to me, his style seemed overly rendered, dark, and ultimately stiff. There didn’t seem to be too much attempt at breaking out of the six panel grid etc. So I don’t know how Maneely would have fit in. Maybe he would have been sidelined to the dying western comics or become mainly an inker. 

JV: You examine nearly every major issue and story in the Silver Age of Marvel in Marvel Comics In The 1960’s. What were your top 5 favorite stories?

Pierre: My top five storylines were Amazing Spider-Man #s 17-19 because it encompassed everything that made Marvel so fascinating to a kid in the 1960s; FF #s 48-50 for the Galactus trilogy that opened up the Marvel universe to well…the whole universe!; FF #51 because it expressed all of the high flown ideals that were embodied in Marvel in the 1960s, it’s optimism about people and the country; Sgt. Fury #13 because it was an epic length but single issue story that perfectly captured Cap and Bucky with art and story by Stan the Man and King Kirby!; Avengers #32-33 because it featured Don Heck pencils and inks on a cautionary story that was quintessentially Marvel…something you’d never see the competition doing at the time; FF Annual #6: “Let There Be Life!” whose message again encapsulated Marvel’s values including that of respect for all human life, no matter how small or helpless. A message that seems wholly absent from today’s comics. 

JV: A number of years ago Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego Magazine looked at what might have been had Jack Kirby continued to draw The Incredible Hulk past issue #6. Why do you think the Hulk failed to catch on with readers right away? What makes the character such an enduring creation today?

Pierre: I think it failed in those first six issues because neither Stan nor Jack had a clear idea of what to do with the character. His personality and behavior changed with nearly every story. Later, when Stan teamed with Ditko on the strip for Tales to Astonish, ground rules were established that gave readers points of reference that they could rely upon from issue to issue. Also, the serial format helped new stories progress naturally from previous ones. Aside from that, the character is such a limited one, I can’t for the life of me figure out why it has continued to be popular all these years!  

JV: Who is your favorite Marvel character or title to come out of the 1960’s Marvel Age of Comics?

Pierre: Spider-Man. When I was a kid, I immediately identified with his loner status and his apparently endless list of problems! The strip also had many interesting supporting characters (including the Torch who was far more interesting here than he was over at the FF!), real world problems, colorful villains, and intricate plotting. 

JV: In your book Marvel Comics In The 1960’s one of the Jack Kirby devices you took about is his use of the larger 4 panel page. What do you think is his most important contribution to the medium for advancing a story?

Pierre: In terms of Hollywood, Kirby was about 40 years ahead of his time. For example, today’s movies are shot and edited at a much faster pace than they were in the golden age of Hollywood. The viewer isn’t allowed to hardly catch his breath, pick up plot points, or get to know the characters before the action barrels along to a thrilling, often over the top FX laden climax. That’s all pure silver age Kirby who did the same thing. It was what differentiated his comics from those of Ditko or Heck say. Kirby’s characters were constantly in motion, his stories never stopped long enough for character development of sub-plots; they carried you along like a roller coaster to their final, furious conclusion!

JV: I have always had an affinity for some of the lesser known contributions to the Marvel Age such Sgt. Fury and the trio of Western heroes. What do you think about some of the unsung creators from this period?

Pierre: If you’re looking for some comment on unsung artists of the Marvel age I would point out the number of fill in artists who worked on the Giant-Man strip in Astonish. Dick Ayers and Bob Powell are two that come to mind. They weren’t very good…or at least not on super heroes, but I do have a soft spot for the relatively awkward jobs they turned on the strip. Or Dick Ayers and Carl Burgos on the Torch strip in Strange Tales.

JV: What can you share about your upcoming follow-up book to Marvel Comics In The 1960’s?

Pierre: It’ll be called Marvel Comics in the 1970s: An Issue by Issue Field Guide to a Pop-Culture Phenomenon and will follow exactly the same format as the first volume. It will cover what I’ve termed the twilight years that extend through the 1970s an era in which the flagship titles took a back seat to newer more offbeat features. Actually, the whole project was conceived as a single book but the publisher, TwoMorrows Pubs, decided it would have been too big so divided it at roughly the half way point which was the end of the grandiose years. The new volume will be available in May, 2011.

JV: Will there be a third installment of your study of Marvel Comics?

Pierre: No, this is it.

JV: Are you planning on ever tackling the Distinguished Competition?

Pierre: No. Besides not being very enthusiastic about the subject, I don’t feel I’m qualified.

 JV: How have you come up with such great art and images for your books? Do you own any original comic art?

Pierre: All credit for the images has to go to TwoMorrows and its staff, particularly layout man supreme Rich Fowlkes who has been great to work with. I made up a dream list of the kinds of illustrations I’d like to see in the book from Marvel pages to historical photos and he’s bent over backwards to accommodate me. And if he can’t find what I want, he makes his own suggestions that usually turn out to be exactly what I would have picked. Unfortunately, I don’t own any original art…I’ve preferred to spend my hard earned shekels on buying the comics themselves! The new book though, will feature quite a few original art pages reproduced from the pencils.

JV: As we move further away from the printed comic book and more and more is available digitally to a wider, younger audience do you think that one day comics – especially the Silver Age Marvel canon – will be studied as a truly great contribution to our literary culture and break through the pop culture barrier?

Pierre: I used to think so but not so much anymore (see that high school psychology paper I mention above). I think it’s limited by the very nature of its format i.e. little pictures accompanied by word balloons. There was a brief instant of time in the 1980s with Frank Miller’s Batman Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen when it seemed the outside world was about to embrace comics as an art form suitable for adults, but that Prague Spring seems to have fallen by the wayside. Today, the comic stores are flooded with pretty much juvenile fare more suitable for youths but not for grownups. Silver age comics, particularly Marvel, I think will retain a certain pop culture cache, but beyond that, I don’t think anyone is going to take Marvel Zombies or Crisis VI very seriously. 

You can keep up with Pierre online here and be sure to look for Pierre’s new book Marvel Comics In The 1970’s this May from TwoMorrows. Don’t forget to pick up the first installment Marvel Comics In The 1960’s now to get all caught up on the story thus far. Excelsior!

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That Other Dynamic Duo: Phil Hester & Ande Parks

A few years ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Phil Hester for Comic Art Fans and thought it was high time to revisit this savvy comics pro and bring in his sometimes storytelling cohort Ande Parks. Panel Surfing was lucky to chat with this fan favorite duo about their comics creative process both as artists and as writers.

Jason/Panel Surfing: Tell me a little about each of your backgrounds growing up.

Phil Hester: I grew up in a tiny town in pastoral Iowa, and after school and marriage, returned there. My kids are attending the same high school my wife and I did.

Ande Parks: Suburban kid from Kansas. Almost an only kid.  My sister was eight years younger.

Panel Surfing: Were you both comics fans as kids? What led you to the industry?

Hester: Totally. My dad’s job called for us to move a lot, so I was perpetually the new kid wherever I went. Comics provided a kind of constant for me, and since I had an early talent for drawing, especially comics, doing so for my new classmates became a way to break the ice.

Parks: Liked comics as a little kid.  Became passionate about them in Jr. High.  They were a good, personal means of escape for me during my parent’s divorce.  I got into comics because: I didn’t know what the hell I was doing in college, I wanted to do something I liked, and I wanted to be a little part of something that was important to me… providing the same kind of valuable escapism that was so impotent to me as a kid.

Panel Surfing: Tell me a little about your artistic educations.

Parks: Almost nothing.  A little in High School.  A year plus of college, and then working my ass off on my own and with guys like Mike Manly and John Heebink in a studio outside Philadelphia.

Hester: Of course, it was born in the comics I read; Kirby, Byrne, Eisner, Ditko, Miller, Steranko, Wrightson, Staton… and on and on. I absorbed those artists more than imitated them. I wasn’t good enough to ape them, but they seeped into my bones. I went to art school and on the first day, head unbowed, proclaimed Frank Frazetta to be my favorite painter. Not my favorite current painter, or fantasy painter, but favorite painter of all time. I never lost my love for Frank, but as I worked for my BFA in drawing, my horizons expanded immensely. I went from Frazetta to Rothko. I eventually graduated with a major in drawing and minors in sculpture and painting from The University of Iowa.

Of course, that whole time I was getting a secondary education in cartooning through form letters from editors at Marvel and DC, most notably Mike Carlin, Jim Shooter, Eliot Brown, and any other editor unlucky enough to be on cold submission duty. I sent in a submission every 4 months or so.

Panel Surfing: Your styles mesh so well together in an animated film noir type of way. Talk about some of your favorite projects together.

Parks: I like Green Arrow best, because of what it meant to our careers.  It was the first chance we got to show a wide audience what we could do together.  Also fond of the stuff we’ve written and drawn together: The Wretch and Uncle Slam.

Green Arrow by Hester & Parks

Hester: I should say that I’ve been pleased with everything we’ve done, at least on Ande’s part. I still cringe over most of my work, but Ande always pulled his weight. I think a book we did for Bob Schreck at Dark Horse called Freaks’ Amour was the first time our look was really defined. Up to that point I had been trying to be a poor man’s Alan Davis or Steve Rude, and with that book and its dark subject matter we kind of cut loose and went with our instinct for flat, graphic blacks, glyph-like shapes, and spontaneous line making.

When we came together on Green Arrow we got to marry that heavy, Jose Munoz-like style with our predilection for jaunty Toth/Fradon-like super heroics. I don’t think I’ve ever done that to my satisfaction, but the uneasy marriage of our natural cartoony drawing styles with a noir approach to lighting and composition can lead to interesting results. Of course, under all that is my attempt to live up to Miller, Eisner and Krigstein storytelling.

Honestly, the job I’m usually happiest with is whatever we’ve finished last, and that’s a couple of issues of The Darkness we did in ’09, or maybe the Daredevil/Magdalena book we did before that.

Panel Surfing: You are both artists who also write…or are you really writers who can draw?

Hester: I think the latter. We’re storytellers and we work in comics. Drawing and writing are different steps in the storytelling process, but they remain on that same storytelling continuum. They’re almost inseparable in my mind. When I write, I picture how I would draw each scene. When I draw, I imagine each character’s inner monologue.

Parks: I’m much more a natural writer than artist.

Panel Surfing:  Does it make either of you a better writer being accomplished artists and vice versa?

Hester: I hope both. I definitely gives you a better command of the form as a whole to have a grasp on what it takes to be effective at each stage.

Parks: Having a visual sensibility helps as a writer.  It helps you call for shots that are effective, and actually possible!

Panel Surfing: Phil, how did it feel getting nominated for an Eisner?

Hester: Pretty cool! Actually The Wretch had just been canceled by Caliber the week before, and I was just setting it up at Slave Labor when Dan Vado called me to give me the news. I thought he was calling to tell me he had second thoughts and was passing on the book.

Panel Surfing: What was it like getting to work with writers like Kevin Smith, Judd Winick, and Brad Meltzer?

Hester: A blast.

Parks: Thrilling!

Hester: Each time a script came in it was a master class. I learned a ton from working with those guys, and Mark Millar, Greg Rucka, Brian Bendis, Robert Kirkman, Warren Ellis… really pretty much every writer I worked with. I’d have to be pretty thick to fail to pick up anything from those folks.

Panel Surfing: I loved your work on Green Arrow and especially loved the tongue in cheek Ant-Man series. If either of you could have full creative control on a character or book who would it be?

Parks: I would have said Captain America or Batman a decade ago.  Now, I just want to work on my own projects.  Making my own graphic novels is what really gets me going.

Hester: I’d actually love to return to Swamp Thing, or any of the darker corners of DC; Ragman, Creeper, Doom Patrol. At Marvel I’d love to write the Fantastic Four, or write and draw Dr. Strange or Daredevil.

Hester & Parks Irredeemable Ant-Man

Panel Surfing:  Do you guys collect other artists work? Is there any of your own work you have attachments to?

Parks: We both collect original art.  I still have quite a bit, including some great stuff that hangs in my studio and my house.  The work of brilliant artists inspires you when you feel lost.  I keep some of my own stuff.  I kept one Green Arrow splash, for example.

Hester: I’ve saved maybe twenty of my own pieces in twenty years of drawing comics, so that should tell you how I feel about my own work. I have my first Swamp Thing splash, Batman splash, a few covers, a few pages I’m proud of the storytelling on, but not too much else.

I have a big original art collection. Not one of those blockbuster key cover kinds of collections, but representative pieces from most all of my favorite artists. It’s dominated by Kirby, Miller, and Toth. Then there are my quirky predilections. Ande and I probably own 20% of Tony Salmons’ body of work. I have a ton of Zaffino. Can’t get enough Pat Boyette.

Panel Surfing: Are there any artists who were major influences on your work? Who were some of your favorite creators?

Hester: I’d say my whole career has been a failing attempt to reconcile all my disparate influences. Kirby, Ditko, Toth, all the EC guys, Miller, Eisner, Wrightson, Staton, Steranko, Krigstein… look, I could do this all night.

Parks: Miller is the man for me.  Dick Giordano was my big inking hero.  Klaus Janson, too.  I love Neal Adams, Kirby, Frank Robbins.  I like guys who do it big and bold.  I like storytellers.

Panel Surfing: What are you guys currently working on?

Hester: No drawing gig, currently, but that may change soon. I’m writing The Black Terror and The Green Hornet for Dynamite. I’m a few years into my run on The Darkness at Top Cow. I’m writing the oft delayed Golly and Firebreather at Image, and I’m wrapping up Days Missing for Archaia/Rodenberry.

Parks: Writing a bunch of stuff for Dynamite and working on a few graphic novels of my own.  I have a GN in the can, that is being drawn.  It’s called Ciudad.  It’s about a South American kidnapping.

Panel Surfing: Are there any future projects you can share now either individually or as a collaboration?

Hester: If we draw something it’ll almost certainly be together, but I think we’re committed to establishing ourselves as writers right now. I may have a new work for hire book in the works at Dynamite, and some creator owned projects from Top Cow and Image. Too soon to say, though.

Check out Cartoon Network in the fall for their TV movie adaptation of Firebreather, though!

Parks: Can’t talk about the graphic novels in the pipeline yet.

Panel Surfing: It is the Hester & Parks reunion party and you guys are having pizza and kicking back with a flick. What’s on the pizza and what are you watching?

Hester: We’re probably sitting back to back because he’s ordered sausage on his pizza and wants to watch Citizen Kane again, while I want the spinach, tomato and mushroom deep dish and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Parks: Lots of sausage and other fats.  Phil’s off his latest diet kick, and I’m saying screw it to my cholesterol.  We’re watching something big and stupid.  Maybe Caddyshack?

Hester: Maybe we split the difference and eat some Arthur Bryant’s barbecue and watch Lawrence of Arabia.

Always fun and insightful talking with Hester & Parks. For more from this talented tag team you can follow Phil and Ande on Twitter. You can also keep up with Ande Parks over on his blog and learn more about those upcoming graphic novels.

The Mysterious Marcos Martin

One of the purposes of Panel Surfing will be to showcase great artists work for both the purposes of fun and investment. On the one hand you can’t deny that Marcos Martin is one of the best artists working in the medium today. His style is in itself fun. But his work also transcends into that realm of highly desirable original artwork. The combination of his throwback charm coupled with the subjects he has worked with so far making his work very sought after. The fact that just a few crumbs of his work have made it into collections makes fans all the more hungry for this superstar’s pieces.

Martin oozes old school brilliance. He has that certain nostalgic House of Ideas “house” style that Stan Lee insisted upon in the bygone days of  ‘ol Marvel. The fact that Martin has already worked on both Dr. Strange (The Oath mini series) and both covers and interior on Amazing Spider-Man (he is currently handling art on the 2 page Stan Lee back up features in ASM) has naturally led folks to compare his style to Steve Ditko. And they’re right. The Spanish artist does have that Ditko quality but with an updated spin. Very fluid and exuberant with modern features.

Marcos Martin cover to Amazing Spider-Man #579

While his work on Amazing Spider-Man is undeniably superb my personal favorites were his collection of alternate covers he did for Marvel’s Timely Anniversary one shots in 2009. One interview he did for Comic Book Resources noted the similarity of tone between his covers and the old World War II era Works Progress Administration (WPA) posters. I love those old posters and his covers for that special project do have that same halcyon quality and maybe that is why they resonate so strongly with me. His work (as well as Chris Samnee who looks to have a similar effect going on with Thor) is work I will be looking to add to my collection in the future.

JSA Splash from the ComicArtFans.com Gallery of Keith Richard

Joker From the ComicArtFans.com Gallery of Vigo Jose y Augustin

Batgirl From the ComicArtFans.com Gallery of Raul San

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