Monday, June 22, 2015

Earl Norem, the King of Adventure Sleaze!

The great Earl Norem passed away last weekend, at 92. Norem was the top illustrator of the adventure sleaze mags of the Fifties and Sixties. The newsstands were full of these rags, which paired junk fiction of the lowest brow with provocative large illustrations of busty, scantily clad babes engaged in various acts of over-the-top violence.

The publisher of most this marvelous trash was none other than Martin Goodman, who was also the founder and publisher of Marvel Comics. Comic books were low-profit enterprises back then. The big money was in porn, and this was the foundation of Goodman's vast publishing empire His son, Chip, held on to the porn mags long after the family foolishly sold Marvel, finally selling the last ones in 1993, just before the internet wiped out the titty mags.

Norem began painting for Goodman's magazine line when he returned from WWII. He was prolific and fast. Working in acrylic paint, he provided hundreds of covers and double-page illustrations for softcore sleaze mags like Stag, Men's Life and Men.

Before internet porn, teenagers had to go to great lengths to score masturbatory material. If a boy couldn't steal girlie mags from his old man, he had to make do with whatever newsdealers would sell him. Goodman recognized this lucrative untapped market, and thus was the adventure sleaze magazine created.


The big selling point of these rags were the illustrations of bodacious babes, as uncovered as Goodman could get away with. Imagine how many thousands of teenage horndogs drooled over the "Man Hungry Nymph Who Stole Red China's Secret Super-MIG"! Goodman no doubt paid Norem more for the paintings than he did for the stories themselves!

My introduction to Norem came much later, in the Seventies, when he became the go-to cover artist for Marvel's magazine line, which featured titles like Monsters Unleashed, Dracula Lives and The Savage Sword of Conan. Goodman was long gone, as were the adventure sleaze mags. Marvel put out a dozen magazines a month to try to grab some of competitor Warren's audience. Marvel's publisher was now Stan Lee, and he recognized that Warren's covers often sold the magazine, which frankly, were full of less than stellar material. Warren shelled out top dollar for the covers of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella by A-list talent like Frazetta, Jeff Jones and Richard Corben. Marvel couldn't (or more likely, wouldn't) pay for that kind of muscle, but here was old friend Earl Norem, waiting in the wings.

I didn't much care for his Marvel mag covers, to be honest. But they led me back to the work of his sleaze mag heyday and that stuff simply blew me away. I found piles of them at Kay's Books in downtown Cleveland, priced for a few cents each.

Norem's death reminded me that he also painted the cover for The Silver Surfer graphic novel in 1978. Or, rather, he re-drew (or, I guess, re-painted) the original Jack Kirby cover. Above left is the Kirby original, later inked and colored by parties unknown. To the right, is Norem's reinterpretation. It's a pity he is associated with this book, the backstory of which is one of the saddest tales in Marvel history.

This was one of the first original GNs. It came out the same year as Eisner's Contract With God, commonly considered the first original graphic novel. It's not, but it was Eisner who coined the term "graphic novel," for better or worse, and jumpstarted the current GN Golden Age we all now enjoy.

The Silver Surfer
GN is a tepid re-hash of Kirby's original Surfer-Galactus story that was such a cult hit a decade earlier, and which Stan desperately clung to as proof that he could actually write (he couldn't), even though, of course, he DIDN'T write the original FF Trilogy. Kirby did. Lee just filled in the word balloons with hokey dialogue, based on Kirby's detailed margin notes.

The Silver Surfer was the first book Stan "wrote" since 1971 when he was promoted to Marvel publisher. It came on the heels of his infamous Origin of Marvel Comics, where Lee first made the outrageous claim that he was the sole creator of all the great Marvel characters, a brazen lie that infuriated Kirby.

The Silver Surfer GN is a soapy weeper, minus the FF, and with an added romantic interest (!) and a cosmic sex scene (!!) with Stan, as usual, striving mightily to be deep, and failing spectacularly. It's Lee at his absolute worst and his dialogue is even worse than usual. It's better than the Surfer comic book series, thanks to Jack. Not a high bar, since those Surfer book are the dreariest of the Silver Age, a turgid mess of a series, with Stan fucking up a cult hit with tiresome allegories as obvious as a hammer blow to the head. The actual politics behind those allegories are totally mainstream and craven. It's Stan, the middle-aged cool dad trying to "rap with kids." When the book was mercifully canceled by Martin Goodman, Stan bawled endlessly about how brilliant it was, and that it failed commercially because, although college kids loved it, the stupid 11-year-old readers just didn't "get it." He repeats this fantasy to this day. No Stan. Your Silver Surfer wasn't too deep. It just sucked.

This GN is the final "collaboration" between Lee and Kirby. It's not a great book, although the art is Jack's best of his late period. Lee & Kirby bickered throughout, with Lee audaciously demanding changes to the art. Kirby's second Marvel contract ended with this, and, fed up with Lee's lies and shameless gloryhogging, and tired of being denied the compensation he so deserved, he would never work again for the company he essentially created. The Marvel Age ended right here, with the publication of the Surfer GN. So, too, did my interest in mainstream comics.

Norem's cover here is a dud. The combo of a Norem painting over a Kirby layout doesn't work at all! Guess Lee, typically, felt the cover needed more of a "book" feel than Kirby could provide, so his hokey doggeral could be "properly" showcased. Wrong call again, Stan!

I remember buying this at the chain bookstore in the mall. You never saw comix in regular bookstores then, so it really stood out. I also remember thinking, man, this cover sucks.

I prefer to remember Norem at his best.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

CAKE this weekend!

Chicago's big alt-comix showcase is this weekend, Sat & Sun, at the the Center on Halstead. I'll be tabling and paneling. I'll have a full array of books and original art. Stop on by!

Just returned from New York City and the first promo for the new TRASHED graphic novel. Here's the cheap promo review copy of the book. And this one is really an uncorrected proof. No color, rotten paper, no editing or corrections at all. Little leery of letting something this rough circulate, but Abrams wanted something for Book Expo, the book industry's big trade show. 

The Abrams booth. Very cozy.

Hovering overhead, Abrams' gold seam. That's right, bitches, I've got  Wimpy Kid money behind me!

At the Abrams' garden dinner party. 

I was on a graphic novel panel with three other creators. Completely different works aimed at completely different age groups. Nice crowd. One woman, a librarian, helpfully pointed out that there already was a book about being a garbageman, released in 2013. I responded with an evil grin that my first garbage stories were published eleven BEFORE that, in 2002, and then again as a webcomic in 2009 and 2010. Wotta asshole. What was that about? Trying to embarrass somebody in a public forum?

Did a signing at the Abrams pod afterwards. Maybe 20 people lined up to get signed copies of the shitty review copy. Reflexively, I add a drawing to the title page, along with my signature, just like I do in Europe, where it's expected. The Abrams folks stared at me in disbelief. "You're doing a DRAWING???" my handler asked, in shock. "It's no problem," I answered, and it wasn't. I'm still putting the finishing touches on this book and after 6 months of marathon drawing, I'm in peak form. Besides, it was only 20 people and I've signed for 100 at single stops in France! But word spread fast, and the line grew to 30 and stayed there as more joined it. Still no problem, but the Abrams folks were freaking out. "We don't want you to hurt your hand!" Hilarious.

After an hour, they shooed everyone away. Cracked me up. But hit me up at CAKE and you'll get a drawing. No TRASHED yet– it's out in the Fall– you'll have to wait for SPX and NY Comicon for that.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

45 years ago today: Ohio State University and the Six-Hour War

  Above: back in the days when we stood up to armed state. But not without a terrible cost.

A lot is being written about Kent State, and rightly so. Forty-five years ago, the Spring of 1970 was the boiling point of a decade-long revolution that made the nation tremble. It bubbled over at Kent State University on that horrible afternoon of May 4, when the military turned their guns on unarmed students and opened fire. A volley of 67 rounds in 13 seconds, killed four students and wounded nine others. 

I started at Ohio State  eight years later, part of an entirely new generation and an entirely new era. Even so, the Kent shootings were still a hot topic on college campuses, and an unhealed wound. But what I heard over and over, from those who witnessed what went down, was that Kent was a tragic anomaly. The anti-war protests there were relatively small  and far less violent compared to those at Ohio State University.  OSU had twice the number of students as Kent and was in the middle of Columbus, a major city, not in an easily sealed off college town. It is also the state capital, which made it an ideal location for mass protests. It was rumored that Ohio State in Spring 1970 was a war zone, involving over 10,000 protestors facing off against 5,000 armed troops. It was the largest and most violent campus protest in the nation. But I could never get the details of what occurred in the Spring of 1970 at OSU, just hints of something called... "The Six-Hour War." 

The problem was, the school paper, The Lantern, which I worked for, suspended publication  for several weeks when the university was closed in 1970 due to the riots. It was a university publication, made on campus and printed at a university printing plant. No paper, no documentation. The Lantern archives yielded some of the story, but not all. There were accounts of tensions building, and then just as the shit hit the fan, a blank. It's the classic move by the authorities, one repeated throughout history: muzzle the press and control the peasants. Oh sure, there was a daily paper in Columbus, the dreadful Columbus Dispatch, but it was a rightwing rag run by an entrenched One-percent clan (still is, in fact).  Its coverage was heavily slanted, to say the least. And local tv news in 1970 was just as stupid and low-quality as tv news is now. 

Recently, however, I discovered the documentation I was looking for all those years ago. The Ohio State Libraries have digitally archived the yearbooks of the past 50 years. Usually, these are full of typical collegiate fluff: Greek Week parades and stiff group photos of the Engineering Club  etc. The remarkable 1970 edition, however,  featured a lengthy section detailing what happened in Spring 1970, full of photos that couldn't run in the shuttered Lantern. This is supplemented by archival copies of the Ohio State Alumni News, a monthly publication that reported on the riots and the aftermath as the events unfolded.

It's a fascinating episode of largely forgotten history. 


Political  forces come to a violent head in early 1970. The previous Fall, the details of the My Lai Massacre shocked the nation to its core. On the heels of this unprecedented war crime by American troops, the Nixon White House orders the elimination of student deferments and the first draft lottery, held in December 1969. Just like that, tens of thousands of college students are in danger of being drafted and shipped off to Vietnam, as soon as their current deferments expire. Tensions on the Ohio State campus rise to a dangerous high. The university, the largest in the state by far, with 50,000 students, is a powder keg.

There are other forces at work, too. The emerging Black Power Movement is very active at OSU, as are also other groups who want academic reform of the stodgy scholarly norm. The old guard that runs the university is unsympathetic to both. As winter turns to spring and the weather warms, students take to the streets to demand change.

March 13: It begins with a Black Power protest on Ohio State's vast campus green, the Oval. Several hundred rally for the establishment of a Black Studies Department. They march to the nearby Administration Building to present a list of demands. OSU President  Fawcett refuses to see them. Enraged, the protestors, upwards of 100, storm the building, smash windows and ransack the offices. The Highway Patrol rushes to campus (above) and clears the building.

April 13: 1,700 students march from campus down High St., the major north-south artery through the city, to the Statehouse downtown, to protest rising tuition. The governor at the time is a hardline Republican, James Rhodes, the man who will, in a few short weeks, order the National Guard to crush protests at Kent State University. Rhodes, running for a US Senate nomination, wants to play to his Republican base and show these hippies who is in charge. It is a calamitous blunder that will result in a bloodbath. But the march in Columbus this day is peaceful, with no opposition from police. In fact, Columbus cops stop traffic to allow the march to pass!

April 20: There is a massive student walkout to protest for academic reform and against tuition hikes. 

April 24: OSU President Fawcett lashes out publicly at student protestors, and declares they "represent less than 1 percent of the student body." This does not got over well. The stage is set for...


April 29: At noon, 2,000 students rally on the Oval (above). 

President Fawcett panics and summons the Highway Patrol to break up the protest and secure the campus. Ohio State, at that time (and in my time) is its own municipality, with its own police force. Columbus Police have no arresting power on campus, only on the surrounding perimeter, which is the City of Columbus. The small campus police force is completely outmatched, especially in 1970 when it isn't militarized as it is today. The only legal option available to the university president is to call in the State Highway Patrol.... or the National Guard. Fawcett would have been better off with the Guard. The Patrol wades into the Oval crowd swinging billy clubs, cracking skulls and arresting anyone who refuses to immediately disperse. The crowd scatters.

3:30 pm: As the Patrol is breaking up the Oval rally (above), 3,000 students mass at the Neil Ave. entrance to campus, several blocks away (below). 

Suddenly, undercover cops of undetermined pedigree materialize (above) and try to drag away student leaders. Campuses are rife with undercover operatives: FBI, CIA, various state law enforcement agencies, all trying to infiltrate and/or get the goods on student protest organizations. As the undercover cops make their move, much to their surprise and chagrin, the crowd explodes in a riot, and the undercover cops suddenly find themselves surrounded by an angry mob, who free the student leaders and pummel the cops. The Highway Patrol races across campus to their rescue and are met with a barrage of rocks, bottle and bricks, pulled from campus walkways. The Patrol fires tear gas into the crowd (below). 

4 to 8 pm: There are running skirmishes around campus. Ohio State is huge. The main part of campus is a mile from north to south, and is home to 50,000 students.  The Patrol races about campus. But when it chases off one group, three more materialize on the other side of the university. Protestors hurl rocks and bricks from campus windows. The protest quickly grows in size and intensity. Clouds of tear gas waft down campus streets. Protestors storm Derby Hall and Denny Hall, break furniture and hurl it at Patrolmen who pass beneath building windows.

A group of 1,000 attempt to storm the Administration Building but are repelled by the Highway Patrol.

Then the Columbus cops (above) join the fun! They can't come on campus, but they're itching to teach these student punks a lesson. They patrol the sidewalk on High St. bordering campus (above) hoping to catch any protestors that flee across the university boundary.  For reasons unknown, they march in force up 15th Ave., the residential Frat Row, and inexplicably fire large volleys of tear gas at the frat houses and apartments that line the street. Residents flee the gas which now fills their rooms and mass in great numbers on High Street (below), the 2-mile long commercial district of shops, bars and eateries that borders campus' eastern edge. 

At 6:30 pm the university administration abandons the Administration Building and is escorted  by Patrolmen to West Campus, a mile away from Main Campus, where they set up an emergency HQ.

Meanwhile back on High St., traffic is snarled by the crowd, and Columbus cops move in (above) to arrest and club students, deciding this is an illegal protest, rather than peaceful residents with simply no where else to go. The situation quickly becomes the riot the bungling cops were intent on preventing! They get to crack heads after all, but it quickly proves to be more than they counted on. The cops are soon surrounded by the swelling crowd of several thousand now-angry students and are cut off from retreat. Reinforcements from all over the city speed to their aid. Every cop in Columbus rushes to the University District.

8:30 pm: Columbus cops again march up 15th Ave. The retreating students shower them with rocks and bottles. Several molotov cocktails are thrown.

9 pm: The mayor issues an immediate curfew.

11:30 pm: Gov. Rhodes, ever the law-and-order tough guy, sends in the National Guard (below), bayonets drawn, to secure the university. Students retreat to their dorms and apartments. An uneasy calm settles over campus.

The tally for the day: 300 arrests, 32 police injured, and an undetermined number of students injured, including three who received gunshot wounds from persons unknown! Perhaps the cops, but more likely rightwing thugs opposed to the students. The university immediately suspends all the students who were arrested.

Not sure why it became known as the Six-hour War, since it really was more like an 11-hour War. 

Then... the shit really hit the fan.


Up until now, the protests mainly concerned academic beefs and the violence was a reaction to ill-thought-out strongarm strategy by the cops. A peaceful gathering turned into a large-scale riot, thanks to the bungling thugs in the Highway Patrol and the Columbus Police. All that was about to change.

April 30: President Nixon admits publicly that the US has secretly invaded Cambodia. Instead of ratcheting down the war, as he had promised to do, Nixon is escalating it!

Colleges across the country explode in anti-war anger. Every university in Ohio roils with large protests. It truly feels like society is on the brink of collapse. 

10 am: The Oval fills with 4,000 student protestors, by far the largest demonstration yet, but is peaceful, with only speeches and chanting. Then the Guard, fearing another outbreak of violence, opens fire with tear gas (below) and, once again, incites the violence its commanders want to prevent!  The battle is on! Large groups of students shower Guard units around campus with rocks and bricks. Windows and cars are smashed. Fires are set. 

1:30 pm: The Lantern reports a student is wounded in the leg and hand by "sniper fire." It's again likely that an outside party is responsible.

1:45: Guard retreats off The Oval.

7:20: Explosion and fire in Brown Hall causes extensive damage.

Improvized gas mask (above)

The Guard moves onto High St. (above), firing more gas. Great clouds of it hang over campus. 

Skirmishes continue until sundown. 

And, of course, when in doubt, arrest (above) the news photographers! 

May 1: Nixon infamously calls anti-war protestors "bums." The next few days see random skirmishes, but campus is relatively quiet. 

The administration and police are more concerned about "outside agitators," particularly the dread possibility of "black militants." Virtually every campus administration in the country has similar fears. The Students for a Democratic Society indeed has a presence at Ohio State, and it's likely that operatives from the national HQ visited Ohio State. A friend of mine from Ohio State reports that his mother, in 1970 a 38-year-old grad student, was involved with the SDS. She helped fund their activities by passing bad checks at various Columbus banks. She looked like an average, upstanding housewife, so she was able to fool "the Man!" SDS has a safe house on 17th Ave., a mile from campus in a hardscrabble lower-class neighborhood, that they use as an HQ. The cops never discover it.

"We know at least four of the black militants operating on campus are from California," warns Columbus police chief Dwight Joseph. "They are professional infiltrators."

Black student leaders accuse the Guard and Highway Patrol of targeting black men in student protests.

May 2: The Ohio State ROTC holds its annual Spring march on the intramural fields, thumbing its institutional nose at campus unrest. Naturally, it's a debacle as several thousand student protestors swarm the event (above) and ruin it. 

May 4: News of the Kent State shootings sends students at virtually every college campus in the country into a rage. A nationwide student strike is called and OSU protestors shut down the university, blocking building entrances and campus roads. Fights break out all over campus when some students try to break the blockade and go to class. A dozen fires are set. Dozens of false alarms are called in to confuse the police. The Guard rushes to and fro trying to drive off protestors and are met with heavy volleys of rocks and bricks. Clouds of tear gas seep into buildings and drive out the few staff that dared show up for work. Lord Hall is firebombed, causing extensive damage.

May 5: Skirmishes continue throughout the day.

May 6: Many university employees refuse to report to work, fearing for their safety. Guard and students engage in pitched battles all over campus. Guard attempts to keep the large crowd, many thousands, confined to the Oval. Regular attempts are made to break the Guard lines. One succeeds and students pelt Adminstration Building with rocks and bricks, smashing the windows. Guard eventually drives them off. 

Campus records are removed under armed guard and taken to a secure, off-campus storage facility.

5:30 pm: After three days of escalating riots, and with no end in sight to the violence, President Fawcett closes the university.   Several large protests break out around campus in response to this decision. Students are given but 12 hours to leave campus and the surrounding student areas of Columbus. Anyone remaining in the closure zone will be arrested. 

7 pm: The Oval is deserted. Students pack up and flee town before the 9 pm curfew.

449 other universities close in response to violent protests in the weeks following Kent State, including every state university in Ohio. Close to 500 others shut down when students walk out en masse. Many do not re-open that year. It is the only nationwide student strike in US history and it brings higher education to a total halt. 

Ohio State is closed for two weeks (below).

May 9: 100,000 protestors descend on Washington DC. Nixon is whisked to Camp David for his own safety. Troops fill the White House, in case it is stormed.

May 14: At Jackson State University in Mississippi, two students are killed and 12 wounded by police during an anti-war protest, when the cops open fire on a girls dormitory.

May 19: Two weeks later, Ohio State re-opens with a massive presence from the Highway Patrol. The university is a virtual police state. Students who elect to return have to show university ID at checkpoints (below)  just to move around campus. A curfew remains in place. No outsiders are permitted on the grounds. Columbus cops stalk through surrounding neighborhoods in full riot gear.

May 20: Several top school administrators are hospitalized with exhaustion.

May 21: Violence breaks out again as a large student protest turns into a riot on High St. There is another round of window smashing, on campus and in High St. stores and bars. Mershon Auditorium is ransacked. Rhodes again orders in the Guard (above), this time 5,000 strong. Here they surround the Administration Building, bayonets out. 

President Fawcett bans any further student gatherings.

Above: Blood-n-guts football Coach Woody Hayes, whose preference would have been to arrest everyone, make them drop and give him 20, and then ship them all to Vietnam, scolds the protestors. He is ignored and mocked by some, admired by others for wading into the fray (it's football-factory Ohio State, after all!)

A group of black students attempts to tear down the US Flag flying over the door of the Adminstration Building. A group of white students attempts to protect it. A brawl breaks out between the groups. Two are severely beaten.

5 pm: Protestors again swarm onto High St. and smash store windows. Police and Highway Patrol march down the street and clear it.

6:30 pm: Rhodes again sends in the Guard to restore order.

President Fawcett calls the protestors "hoodlums."

May 25: Nearly 10,000 students rally on the Oval, defying the university edict and the Guard. Ohio State announces, while this rally is taking place, that tuition for the now-ruined Spring semester will be waived. Ohio State is declared a Free University  This gesture, coupled with the very real fear of what happened at Kent State repeating here, eases tensions. The rally, miraculously, remains peaceful.

May 28: Campus is again quiet. The Guard pulls out.

June 11: The school year ends and students depart for home. 

Later that day, Ohio State trustees vote to raise tuition.

Final tally: over 700 students arrested, four students shot, an undetermined number of students, police and Guardsman injured and treated at area hospitals, at least three students severely injured, a man badly burned when the firebomb he was making accidentally exploded, two campus buildings bombed, over 50 arsons, widespread damage to stores along High St. on two separate occasions, the Administration Building, Mershon Auditorium, Derby and Denny Halls sacked and extensively damaged, windows shattered all over campus and campus brick walkways destroyed. The state and city spent $1.5 million on riot control. That would be nearly $10 million in today's dollars. That's just for the manpower. Factor in damage to university buildings and property, damage to houses, apartments and cars, lost wages, damage to High St. stores and eateries, and the lost business they incurred, and the true cost easily triples.

When students return to campuses in the Fall, the air has gone out of the anti-war movement. For most, protesting has become dangerous business. Too dangerous. The slaughter at Kent State is a sobering gut check for many. Smaller, peaceful anti-war protests still take place, but the mass rioting and street fighting are over.

The country is exhausted, tired of Vietnam and tired of the turmoil. The war, however, groans on for four more years before the US pulls out completely.

By the time I got to Ohio State in 1978, all this seemed like ancient history. The hippies were now either snorting coke at discos, or getting rich and buying sports cars and vacation homes. The only campus protest during my four years was patriotic students who rallied on the Oval  to protest the taking of the Iranian hostages and burn the Ayatollah in effigy. The only riot occurred when drunken morons swarmed onto High St. following a Buckeyes victory over Michigan.

The only lasting impact of the 1970 riots is that the picturesque brick walkways that bisected campus had all been paved over with asphalt to prevent students from prying up bricks to use as weapons!

Times had changed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fear and Loathing at the PEN Awards

More than two dozen authors, mostly American,  have signed a petition protesting the American PEN Awards honoring Charlie Hebdo with its Freedom of Expression Award. Six are boycotting the ceremony altogether.

Why? Because, they state, the French satirical magazine  routinely mocks Muslims,  a “section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized”.

It's another example of the stubborn misconception of what Charlie Hebdo is and does. This seems to be an English language thing, because British critics of Hebdo are also numerous. Hebdo, as I've written here before, does not mock Muslims. It mocks Islam, the powerful, organized religion, especially its most fanatic extreme. BIG difference there! Hebdo also routinely mocks the Catholic Church. Hebdo is not, not, NOT a rightwing, anti-immigrant publication. It is a leftwing, pro-immigrant publication. Rightwing politics and organized religion are its two most frequent targets. 

But American critics just won't believe that. There is a maddening refusal to understand Hebdo's satire. Translating complicated satire from French is a problem, true, especially when you are ignorant of the political issues being satirized, but what is on display here is politically-correct  groupthink and pure intellectual laziness. It's also, of course, a typical display of bias against cartoons and comix by our leading Literati. Comix are lowbrow. Comix aren't to be taken seriously. It's an attitude those of us who toil away here encounter every fucking day.

“There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression,” the petition reads. 

Yeah. OK. But if you haven't bothered to properly translate the cartoons, or understand their context, how do you know it's unacceptable? This is akin, and I've written this before, to watching The Colbert Report and failing to understand it's a satire and organizing a boycott of this bigoted, rightwing hatemonger. Someone who did that would be proclaimed Moron of the Year. Yet here are our authors doing that very thing with Hebdo!

For example, Joyce Carol Oates, who has been making a fool of herself on Twitter with a stream of racist and sexist tweets,  objects to this cartoon, showing French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, as a monkey. 

“To some, cartoons depicting black women as monkeys are just so offensive we resent ‘award’. But would defend freedom of expression. If we are ‘offended’ we can just look away, not censor. But we are reluctant to give ‘award.’ (Realize others disagree),” Oates writes.

On face value this cartoon is offensive, sure, but, in fact, this cartoon is NOT what it appears to be to English speakers, like most of the Hebdo cartoons. It is, in reality, a lampoon of the far-right National Front Party of Marine Le Pen, which has been making depressing gains in recent French elections. A National Front politician posted a photoshopped picture of Justice Taubira, with the body of a monkey, and then said on French television that Taubira should be "in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government." 

No. Really!

The cartoon, which is mocking that jaw-dropping incident, is drawn as a political poster. It's calling on all far-right creeps to unify under this racist image.  "Ressemble Blue Raciste" translates to "The Racist Blue Gathering," which is a riff on Marine Le Pen's "The Marine Blue Gathering," a legislative coalition of far-right parties in the legislature. So here's the new poster for the Marine Blue Gathering: Justice Taubira as a monkey.

Get it now?

But Oates make no effort to understand the meaning. She sees the visual, wrongly assumes it's a racist slam at a black politician, and recoils. That's what's so frustrating about the criticism of Hebdo, virtually from the day of the murders. So many in the English-speaking intelligensia are just flat-out, factually incorrect in their assumptions about these cartoons. And then they dig in, like we see here with the PEN membership, and refuse to even consider that they are factually incorrect. Or they take a shot at the French, implying that the French are not as racially advanced as we are here. That's rich.

Tough, tasteless satire? Definitely. Would it appear in an American mainstream publication? Ha! No fucking way! But can you imagine if some Tea Party Congressman said this about a black cabinet member?  Think there would be a few cartoons drawn about THAT? They wouldn't be as blunt as this one, because our racial attitudes are far touchier and shaped by a history of slavery and lynchings and racist imagery, but cartoons there would be! France has a different history. We can't shovel our past, and our hang-ups, onto them, especially onto a publication that is for French audiences only. And, quite frankly, Americans should be the LAST people lecturing others on racism. Watch FoxNews lately, or spend any time with the Twitter Trolls ranting about Baltimore and Fergusen?

The cartoon was drawn by Charb, by the way, the editor of Hebdo, who was the first gunned down that awful day in the Hebdo offices.

This is an embarrassing, wrongheaded stance by people who should know better, or, at the very least, should have bothered to DO THEIR DAMN HOMEWORK and properly understand what they're boycotting before climbing atop their moral pedestal.

Beyond the false assumptions, there's something else at work here. Novelist Peter Carey, an Australian who lives in New York City, and who is boycotting the ceremony, writes in the NY Times, "a hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?”

Meaning what, exactly? That, hey, it's just a stupid cartoon magazine. It's not like it's REAL freedom of speech! Uh... lessee, eight people were mowed down by fanatics for what they said and wrote. Yeah, I'd call that a freedom of speech issue worth honoring! Jesus fucking Christ! This is the kind of pompous prick we comix folk run into time and time again. It's slowly, steadily starting to change, but some of these guys are dug in deep. 

Thank God for Salman Rushdie, who knows a little more about the price of free speech than most. He tweeted about the boycotters: "The award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character."

For stubbornly ignorant English speakers, here's a helpful website that not only translates Charlie Hebdo's most infamous cartoons, but puts them in context so the satire can be properly understood. This should be required reading for the entire PEN membership, before more of them make total asses of themselves.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Here's to Herb Trimpe

Trimpe's self-portrait from the Marvelmania collection. I always thought it was the best of the bunch. The others were Kirby, Romita, John Buscema and Gene Colan.

Lots of folks are hailing the work of Herb Trimpe, who passed away suddenly last weekend. 

I've been a Trimpe fan for decades. It's always been a small club. He was never a fan favorite in his heyday. As these things tend to be, now that he's gone, people are starting to appreciate his work.  I'm reading tons of tributes since his passing, lauding him as one of the Marvel Age "greats." That's well-intentioned hyperbole. Trimpe wasn't a great. Kirby was a great. Steve Ditko and Steranko and Neal Adams were greats, creators  who dominated the era and mesmerized comix fans. 

Trimpe... was a workhorse. And you know what? That's something to respect. Because once Kirby bolted from Marvel in 1970 and left an irreparable hole, it was the workhorses like Herb and Gene Colan and Mike Ploog and Sal Buscema who kept the former "House of Ideas" going. The fans drooled over younger stars like Barry Smith and Jim Starlin and Frank Brunner, and rightly so, but those guys could barely squeeze out a single book a month. Trimpe cranked out three, sometimes four! And they were always rock solid. 

Trimpe is remembered mainly for his long run on The Incredible Hulk, from #109 in 1968 to #193 in 1975 (a couple issues withstanding). This was NOT one of Marvel's flagship books when Herb first got the assignment. The original Hulk title, created by Jack Kirby and dialogued by Stan Lee, lasted only last six issues. It was revived a few years later in Tales to Astonish, one of the crazy double titles Marvel was forced to release due to its calamitous distribution contract in the Sixties. It was a throwaway feature, drawn by whoever was available, often working over loose Kirby layouts: John Romita, Bill Everett, Ditko, Bob Powell, Gil Kane, Marie Severin, etc. The storyline was a mess and the dramatic change in art styles and the visual look of the Hulk every few issues was jarring. In 1968, when Marvel signed with a new distributor and its monthly catalog exploded, The Incredible Hulk was once again a solo book.

Trimpe, just back from Viet Nam, was hired as a production artist that same year. Eventually, he got the opportunity to draw a couple of Marvel's godawful western and war books. His early work was clunky, but the storytelling instincts were evident. A year later, he got the Hulk gig. 

An early Trimpe Hulk, above, from #112 in 1969, a bit stiff and that anatomy doesn't make a lot of sense, and note the Kirby Krackle and copped Kirby pose in the lower left panel, but the natural storytelling instincts are evident.

It didn't take long for him to perfect the Trimpe Style. He aped Kirby's dynamic expressionism, as did all the Marvel artists of the era, but his storytelling and page layouts were distinctively his, and this is where he truly excelled. A Trimpe book was always consistent, and if the writing was good, it was a terrific read, but he was largely taken for granted. I, a kid scribbling in sketchbooks and dreaming of a career in comix, pored over comic book pages at the time, trying to figure out how to draw the damn things, and quickly recognized  how well Trimpe told a story. 

A mere year later, Hulk #131 from 1970, above, and Trimpe has improved dramatically. This page looks like a moment-by-moment exercise from Scott McCloud's Understanding ComicsThis, however, is a guy figuring it all out on his own. This is pretty sophisticated, groundbreaking stuff. There weren't many artists composing pages like this in 1970. This is one of the first books I bought. I was all of 10 years old and my life changed forever. 

And check out this fantastic double-page spread from Hulk #140, later the same year, below!

As Marvel expanded rapidly in the Bronze Age, Herb filled in on other books, whenever needed. He followed Steranko on Nick Fury. He followed Kirby and Barry Windsor-Smith on Ka-zar. He followed Neal Adams and preceded Craig Russell on Killraven. Those are some tough acts to stand in comparison to! Some of these assignments were obvious rush jobs, as well. Marvel gave him other crappy regular gigs. Trimpe had a run on Antman, possibly the lamest superhero ever, and on The Son of Satan, another unbelievably stupid concept. What I always saw in Herb's work, however, was no matter how cheesy the assignment, it was evident in every page how much fun he was having just making comix. That was rare. It was a brutal business, low paying with hard deadlines, and run by creeps. A lot of guys, more talented than Herb, just punched the clock and cranked it out. 

An interesting footnote is the book Trimpe DIDN'T get. Herb was handpicked by Stan Lee to take over Lee's beloved-but-doomed pet project, The Silver Surfer. Created solely by Jack Kirby, and then stolen by Lee when the Surfer became an unexpected cult classic with the college kids who were reading lowbrow comic books for the first time, Lee viewed the Surfer as his ticket to respectability. He filled the book with political allegories and overwrought philosophy. The result was easily the worst title of the Marvel Age, a dreary, melodramatic mess (despite Lee's insistence, to this day, that it was a masterpiece) that was a total commercial flop. It also cost Marvel Jack Kirby, who was so livid at Lee's ceaseless gloryhogging and the heist of his creation, he took the New Gods concept to DC. Trimpe was slated to take over The Silver Surfer with issue #19, after inking #18, the only issue drawn by Kirby, in order to understand how the master drew the character. Trimpe did a nice job with the inks. It was the last full book Jack drew for Marvel before stunning Lee with his resignation letter. Publisher Martin Goodman mercifully pulled the plug on The Silver Surfer shortly after. Trimpe's big chance vanished and we can only wonder what he would have done with the book, and with Lee's hokey mush. 

The folks at Third Eye selected a couple Trimpe pages to turn into glorious backlight posters in 1971.  I had this one, above,  hanging in my teenage room. These things were fantastic, either lit by blacklight or not, and you can see why they picked Herb's work. It just had that pop-art feel. Wish I had held onto these. They go for $300-400 a pop now!

So Herb stayed on the Hulk, the one book he made his own. When Trimpe was paired with veteran inker John Severin from 1971 through 1972, it was a perfect match. Severin overwhelmed most pencillers with his distinctive, scratchy inks, but his own artwork was rather stiff and dull. Trimpe provided the energy and dramatic composition. Severin smoothed out Trimpe's excesses and gave his work polish and detail. It was beautiful stuff, see below. And with scripts by two of Marvel's best young writers, Len Wein and Archie Goodwin, The Incredible Hulk was one of Marvel's best books during this period.

Look at that beautifully composed page, above. The swimming Hulk dominates the visual, but also leads the reader's eye directly to the top panels, where the narrative picks up. This is a textbook lesson in composition.

In 1975, Trimpe was taken off the Hulk, shortly before the Lou Ferrigno tv show made it Marvel's hottest property, and first big live-action hit, the forerunner of the billion-dollar films of today. I don't recall much fan outrage over his reassignment. I stopped buying The Incredible Hulk immediately.

Herb then became Marvel's go-to guy for its expanding licensed features: Transformers, Godzilla, Shogun Warriors, GI Joe and The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. These were all examples of Marvel's ever-growing commercial whoredom and a huge reason why I lost interest in mainstream comix at the end of the Seventies. Trimpe's work on these books, however, is marvelous and never hacked out. No matter the assignment, he gave it his all. Just look at this two-page spread below! Like I wrote earlier, you have to respect a guy who can make something out of schlock, and do it enthusiastically and without complaint. Yes, it was about hitting a page quota and making a living for Herb, he writes about this frequently, but the dude obviously cared. He wasn't a genius. He was a guy who, although not blessed with genius talent, tirelessly worked his craft. I like to think I'm that guy, too. I'm proud to be that guy.

In retrospect, these licensed books, as disinterested in them as I was at the time,  are insane, kitschy fun, especially GI Joe, below, which now reads like a hilarious Ronald Reagan wet dream. 

Herb was treated very badly by Marvel at the end, as were most of the Bronze Age workhorses. Everyone's been posting the diary of his last months at Marvel, printed in the New York Times, so I won't bother here. His style fell out of fashion and favor by the close of the Eighties. McFarlane and Liefeld drew everything with claws, bulging veins and body hair, and women with DDD boobs and 12-inch waists. Their pages looked like soft core bodybuilder porn drawn on panes of broken glass. It became style over storytelling and artists like Herb Trimpe were told to retire because they were stale and boring. Mainstream comics never recovered from this period, in my opinion. Hell, mainstream comics are still stuck in this period! 

But I never forgot about Herb. And when I began doing long-form comics, I pored over the comics I loved as a kid again, studied them as I figured out how to transition from stylized comic strip to complex storytelling. One of the artists I looked to was Trimpe. I could glean little from Kirby, whose work I loved, and still love, more than any other. Jack was a God. He didn't follow rules. He was an inspiration, but I couldn't learn from him. His talent was simply too monumental. Trimpe, on the other hand,  was a technician. Him I could learn from, and from similar creators like Wally Wood and even Ditko, who was a creative genius, true, but also a very precise and logical storyteller. These were my teachers.

I spent 15 years drawing wild post-punk expressionism and breaking every rule of comic strips. That was great fun, although not always successful,  but I decided to go completely traditional when I began writing books. I never felt like my work to that point was all style over substance (ok, maybe sometimes it was), but now, moving into this new genre, the STORY was what was important here, my instinct told me. But traditional doesn't have to be boring, especially when the content itself is so non-traditional.  Below is one of my favorite pages from My Friend Dahmer, employing a Trimpe-esque moment-to-moment sequence.

Trimpe's last work will be released later this summer. Crime Destroyer is written by Josh Bayer, one the smartest, punkiest creators I know, penciled by Herb and inked by the one and only Benjamin Marra. If you're not familiar yet with Josh Bayer's oeuvre, order some of his books RIGHT NOW. Benjamin Marra's, too! I've seen some pages from Crime Destroyer and it's fucking fantastic! I think it'll be one of the craziest, funnest books of the year. Look for it from All Time Comics. Josh emailed me some of Herb's pencils as they came in, and we both marveled at them, like giddy teenage fanboys, but more than that, because we both, now seasoned pros,  saw those foundational storytelling techniques I've been babbling about here, still very evident and very effective. Here's some pencils from Crime Destroyer. That panel sequence across the bottom is classic Trimpe:

Josh was devastated by Herb's sudden death, but I told him I couldn't think of a better guy to shepherd Trimpe's final book, because I can't think of anyone with a greater love for comix. Not the goober fanboy obsession with trivia and continuity, but a scholar's eye and appreciation for how comix are made. Trimpe was energized by Josh's passion and, in an email Josh shared with me, said how he enjoyed making comix again. That was a gift. I'm glad he had that. The old workhorse had one last go.

Publishing that book is a real honor. Can't wait to see it. Pre-order it HERE