Monday, December 29, 2014

Why I Don't Give Up on Facebook

If you've been reading here, you know that the Facebook Monolith  froze my page because Derf Backderf "sounds like a fake name." Just like that, poof, went 4,000 friends and eight years of content. I had to open a new page using John Derf Backderf, under my legal first name that no one but my Mom uses.

700 friends quickly located me, with more every day, but the whole thing is pretty fucking irksome. The Library of Congress lists me as Derf Backderf, but Facebook won't? What a joke. And, of course, it drove home just what an unreliable entity Facebook is. Many urged me to just bail altogether and stick with Twitter, which I use, and Tumblr, which I don't. I like Facebook, as do many of my comix brethren. 

That's right. An unsolicited message from Kitten Natividad, the star of Russ Meyer classics Up and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens!

Obviously, Kitten encountered the same problem. 

Look What I Got for Christmas!

Christmas present to me. Three issues of Stars & Stripes, two from early 1944, and one from 1945, a special "Germany Surrenders" extra. All with Bill Mauldin Willie & Joe cartoons! People who follow my musings know what a huge Mauldin fan I am.

The two from 1944 are Mediterranean Editions, published out of the Italian S&S office in Naples, which served as Mauldin's base, since he was a soldier assigned to the 45th division there. Both issues are just before the Anzio invasion. The landing was a boondoggle and Allied forces were pinned by 100,000 Germans who held the high ground and shelled them continuously for months. There were 44,000 casualties until the Allies finally broke out in May. For Mauldin, though, who commuted back and forth to Anzio from Naples in his famous personal jeep, it provided tons of material. "If you liked ironies," he said, "that beachhead was a cartoonist's goldmine."

Note the crappy printing, using whatever supplies and ink could be scrounged up. Something Mauldin writes about in detail in his autobiography The Brass Ring. It's fun to look at these things, knowing that Mauldin personally babied them through the press run. 

The May 8, 1945, extra was printed at the Times of London! It's on thick paper, almost a magazine weight. Obviously meant as a keepsake. Or perhaps the editors were so overjoyed that the Nazis threw in the towel, they just decided to damn the expense.

But it's the cartoon that's remarkable. It's on Page 2, as usual, even though Willie & Joe was the most popular feature in the paper.  Usually, the Mauldin cartoon ran by itself, but here the editors, as editors are wont to do, decided to bundle them all together, since they all deal with the German surrender. Dick Wingert's Hubert, on top, was a lame gag panel that, believe it or not, lived on as an even lamer syndicated feature for another 50 years. On the bottom is Private Breger by Dave Breger, another gag panel, best known for coining the phrase "G.I. Joe." It, too, inexplicably lived on as the syndicated Mister Breger until 1970. Both are described as "popular" with the troops, but are today obscure and forgotten. They were pretty obscure as syndicated features, too. 

However, I like the contrast with the Mauldin cartoon, scanned here from my Fantagraphics box. Hubert and Breger both offer mild gags that are head-shaking examples of lameness, especially given the scale of the news of Germany's surrender. This is the best Wingert and Breger could come up with? Mauldin, however, gives the G.I. reader a dose of his classic 
cynicism. Yeah, sure it's over. Wonderful. You can still get killed, boys. Note also the "Th' hell with it..." Remember, this is the goody-two-shoes Forties, when a "gosh darn it" was considered risqué for newspaper publication. Mauldin had the chutzpah, and the status, to get this expletive by both editors and army censors, on the biggest day of Stars & Stripes' publication history! 

The following day, Mauldin opened his copy of Stars & Stripes and was stunned to read he had won the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning.

This May 8 cartoon was also the last great Mauldin wartime cartoon. He spent the remaining two months of his hitch scribbling cartoons about exhausted soldiers waiting to ship home. He grew ever more frustrated with his work and felt he had "lost it" now that the fighting was over. But looking back now, those cartoons reflect the everyday reality of his dogface audience: the big celebration, then months of red tape and boredom. My old man, a sailor on the battleship USS Arkansas, cooled his heels for 8 weeks on the Treasure Island base off San Francisco, because the Navy lost his discharge papers. They also cut off his pay, since he officially didn't exist. That's a Bill Mauldin cartoon right there! 

Mauldin returned, classified A1, along with generals and diplomats, and was mustered out in June. Up Front, his first  cartoon collection released by a major stateside publisher, hit the stores a month later. Heavily censored by the Army, which still maintained that power while the war raged on in the Pacific, to remove the most cutting content, it nonetheless immediately shot to the top of the bestseller list. I discovered a copy of this tome at my tiny local library in my hometown when I was 13. This began my lifelong appreciation of Mauldin.

The above cartoon is a great example of why I consider Mauldin the greatest "underground" cartoonist. Not only did he create something completely unique and groundbreaking, cartoons that stretched the limits of the genre, he was also the first cartoon "voice of his generation." But he operated, obviously, under far harsher conditions than Crumb or Groening or any of the others who attained similar status. Not only was he at war, still a mere Sergeant despite his fame, he had to deal with a military bureaucracy that wanted to crush him. This is a guy who got chewed out in person by Gen. Patton and held his ground! Crumb, as much as I admire him, would have been wheeled out of there on a stretcher and probably never published again! 

The famous quote: "There'll never be another Bill Mauldin. The Pentagon won't let it happen."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Poor Stan Lee Says No One Cares About Stan Lee.

Stan Lee is mad. Because no one cares about Stan Lee! 

"This burns me up!," rants Smilin' Stan.  "No one ever asks me, 'tell me about yourself.' All they want to know about is my characters!"

It's tongue-in-cheek, of course. But the part there that isn't answers Stan's own question. "Your" characters, you glory-hogging gasbag?

You mean the characters created by Kirby and Ditko that you shamelessly took full credit for? The ones  you lied about creating in a series of autobiographies,  at lecture after lecture, in a billion appearances and interviews you've give over the past 50 years? And if some fanboy is paying $50 at a Wizard World Con to have you scribble your name on his copy of Amazing Spider-man #100, he has to ask about your wife and kids first? Haha, what a great joke! Every time Stan opens his mouth I want to pee on his shoes. Excelsior!

Fans, according to Stan here, only ask about the books. "Hey Stan, in the X-men #52, howcum you wrote this...." he brays, citing a typical question.

Guess what, Stan? You didn't write X-men #52. Arnold Drake did! You just can't help yourself, can you?

Here's his full rant, if you can stand to listen to him:

Not un-coincidentally, here's a letter, undated, that was hand-written and signed by Jack Kirby. This was just posted on the Kirby Museum site, for obvious reasons. The Kirby Family, of course, just scored a major victory in a decades-long battle to get Jack the credit he deserves, credit long denied him by Stan and his followers, and by a succession of corporate overlords who have owned Marvel for the past 40 years.
At long last Kirby will get the credit he deserves. By everyone except Stan, of course, who will croak on and on about "his" characters until he, well, croaks.

Here's the transcript:
Captain America
Formulated in 1939 by myself + Joe Simon in Joe’s apartment _ submitted to “Atlas”
Fantastic Four – Hulk – Spiderman – Thor – Sgt. Fury
When I arrived at Marvel in 1959, it was closing shop that very afternoon, according to what was related to me by “Stan Lee”.
The comic book dept. was another victim of the Dr. Wertham negative cycle + definitely was following in the wake of EC Comics, “The Gaines Publishing House”.
In order to keep working I suggested to Stan Lee that to initiate a new line of Super Heroes, he submit my ideas to Martin Goodman the publisher of Marvel.
The line that I came up with was
“Fantastic Four” a team of Super Heroes
“The Hulk” – which was a spin off of a single story I did for Marvel
“Spiderman” grew from a different script called “The Silver Spider” which was written by Joe Simon’s brother-in-law, Jack Oleck, who is now deceased.
Joe was out of the field at that time + I utilized the “Silver Spider” script to create a single new character. This was given for development to Steve Ditko after I drew the first cover with the original costume.
Thor quickly followed + was fleshed out with the character of the original legend.
Sgt. Fury a mixture of the “Dirty Dozen”, James Bond + my own war experiences became another successful book.
I created many costumes for new “Super Heroes” such as Iron Man, Ant Man + created all related characters such as “Silver Surfer” Galactus – The Inhumans + many more which are included in the enclosed list.
To insure sales, I also did the writing which I not credited for as Stan Lee wrote the credits for all of the books which I did not control because of his relationship with the publisher Martin Goodman.
This was later changed to “Produced by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby” in some of the books.
There were no scripts. I created the characters + wrote the stories in my own home + merely brought them into the office each month.
FF published 1961
– Jack Kirby

Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Otto cover!

Here's the cover, which I just finished,  for the Éditions çà et là 10th anniversary catalog, which will be available at the Angoulême Festival, a little over a month from now.  Éditions çà et là is my French publisher who have successfully turned Mon Ami Dahmer and Punk Rock et Mobile Homes into bestsellers in that comix-crazed country. 

French fans have particularly taken to Otto, and this is easily the most delightful surprise of my career. So publisher Serge asked me if I could do an Otto for his upcoming catalog. Unfortunately, I was way too swamped to do something from scratch, but offered this piece, originally the first cover concept  for Punk Rock & Trailer Parks and later used as a poster for a benefit for SLG Publishing. I proposed altering it for the catalog cover and throwing some color on it and Serge loved the idea. Came out pretty well, although I, of course, wound up spending as much time on it as I would have on an image made from scratch!  

Here's the original b&w piece for the SLG benefit. I drew this from scratch, off the original pencil sketch:

And here's the original (unpublished) cover, below, which isn't very good at all.

And, going all the way back to 2007, this is my very first character sketch of Otto. I hadn't even started the book yet. AT that point, the working title was The Baron. Guess the lesson here is: never give up on a good drawing!

If you're going to Angoulême, you can grab a copy of the catalog there. Otherwise, it'll be damn near impossible to procure it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

From all of us here at Derfcity HQ


My new Facebook image.

So after 8 years, Facebook banned my page, without warning. I was right in the middle of typing a post when.... blip. Gone. Just like that, 4,000 contacts and 8 years of content went poof. The reason, according to the Facebook auto-help? "Derf Backderf" sounds like a fake name. 

Which, of course, it is. My given birth name is John. Only my mother calls me that. I always hated the name, especially after a long list of toilet nicknames were swapped for it on the mean asphalt jungle of Richfield Elementary. When I got  to college I ditched it, like I did virtually all of my unhappy previous life, and became Derf. All my friends call me that, my wife uses it, as does everyone who knows me either personally or professionally and, of course, my fans only know me by that moniker.

But that's not good enough for Facebook. There's a Library of Congress file on "Derf Backderf," but it sounds funny to Zuckerberg and company so the page is gone, apparently never to return. Facebook demands scans of government-issued ID, like a driver license, birth certificate or passport with "Derf Backderf" on it, to restore the page. First of all, send them copies of my IDs? Should I just go ahead an cc random Nigerian thieves or wait for the inevitable Facebook hack? Yeah, that's not happening. Secondly, I freely admit it's not my birth name. So what? Is everyone named Chip or Buffy going to get the heave-ho? Well, ok, that would probably be an improvement, but you get my point.

So I started over. If you Facebook, look for "John Backderf" and that's me. 

I know, I know, I shouldn't bother with the damn thing at all. Sure, I do Twitter, and please follow me there. I don't bother with Tumblr, although I have an account and may start posting stuff there, or any of the fly-by-night sites you damn kids with your bongo music favor. I like how a Facebook page is designed, especially for photos. Everyone says it's worthless now, just all middle-aged housewives looking to flirt with old high school classmates, but y'know I haven't found that to be the case. I've made book deals via Facebook! It's paid off for me, and a lot of the comix guys have a big presence there. But I was too Facebook heavy. Lesson fucking learned! From here on, my Facebook page is just a repeat of what I post here, and on Twitter. In fact, look for a LOT More blog posts here.

The downside is the high asshole factor. The racist rants, the rightwing screeds, the comix fan pages where any deviation from the established dogma, whatever that is, brings a legion of trolls to life. Gawd, there's a Jack Kirby fan page that is a goddam nightmare  The boring, crazy friends who post the same fucking thing on every fucking thread. The constant bitch, bitch, bitch about every fucking thing. Starting over, as big a pain as that is, is at least a good way to clear out some of the losers. 

I tossed one troll last week. I'm fairly tolerant, but this guy was a total rage-filled psycho. He threatened that he was going to "turn me in to Facebook" just before I blocked him and, hey, looks he might have. The timing is suspicious.

Facebook has apparently pulled this stunt on others. Punk historian Legs McNeil lost his personal page. Then there was the recent kerfuffle over drag queens using stage names on their pages. Facebook relented on that one. Bestselling authors who dare to use pen names? Sorry. What Facebook wants is for people like me to set up a fan page. problem is Facebook fan pages are a total waste of time. If you want them to show up in people's feeds, which is the point of Facebook, you have to pay. Yeah, think I'll just use Twitter for that.

So if you're using a pen name or secret identity on Facebook, be prepared. And yes, I'm talking to you, Bono!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Digital Comix Shopping Mayhem!

Digital comix for Christmas? You betcha!

Punk Rock & Trailer Parks can be downloaded on Comixology for $8.99.

True Stories: Volume One is also on Comixology for $1.99!

And My Friend Dahmer is there, as well. $9.99.

Heck, even Mon Ami Dahmer is there! $16.99.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Discovering Eisner

This page from My Friend Dahmer is one of my Eisner cops.

We all have our teachers, in the comix biz. These days, emerging creators have a wide array of resources at hand. Scott McCloud's books are a how-to for making comix. If you're really hankering for a career in mainstream comic books you can strive to get into the Joe Kubert School. Unfortunately, as much as I loved Kubert's work, the school he founded is a stamping plant for near-identical creators. For a career in indy comix, a kid can aim for the Center for Comics Studies. 

I didn't have any of that. When I was a teenager in the Seventies, no one taught comix. I had to study on my own. My major inspirations when I was younger were Robert Crumb, Jack Kirby and Richard Corben. But those guys are gods. I never had a prayer of drawing like them, or of  even telling stories like them. They were too unique. 

Will Eisner is also a god, but for some reason, his work was a treasure trove of information. Again, this is some I have no hope of approaching, in terms of talent, but I found that his storytelling and visual solutions could be replicated, albeit in my own primitive style. 

I started to get serious about comix in the mid-Seventies, when I discovered Eisner. I'd been a comic book fanatic for four years at that point, from age 10 on. It was all superhero stuff, mostly from Marvel and DC. Both companies were starting to falter. The quality of their books was declining. Old masters like Kirby and Ditko were diminishing. The new generation of creators that had energized the Bronze Age were leaving the business en masse, for less exploitative ventures.  At 14, I was starting to get bored with the same old, same old.

In addition to being a comix dork, I was a band dork. Hard to believe the ladies fled at the sight of me, huh? I took weekly music lessons at the Falls Music center in Cuyahoga Falls, a suburb of Akron. It was a fairly dreadful place, full of small post-war bungalows and home to Rex Humbard, one of the first televangelists, whose massive Cathedral of Tomorrow complex is now the headquarters of Ernest Angley, another octogenarian tv biblethumper, who was recently exposed as a Class A perv (surprise, surprise). The Falls back then had a nice little downtown of shops, a couple blocks long. Very retro, even then. Like it was a Forties movie set. Nothing of interest, however, except for the Falls News newsstand. I think I miss newsstands more than any of the other retail casualties of the almighty intertube. These were small, cramped storefronts that, in the Seventies, carried all manner of tempting goods: sci-fi mags, monster mags, National Lampoon, sometimes comic books (although in Akron that was usually ceded to the drug stores), cartoon books, like the frequent Mad magazine collections, and other interesting paperbacks, particularly sci-fi and the plethora of pulp mag reprints like The Shadow and Doc Savage. Every newsstand in the Akron area seemed to offer different things, unlike the corporate sameness of today's stores, and I quickly targeted my favorites. Falls News had one thing no other newsstand around had: the Warren magazines. 

So when I finished my music lesson, I always made sure I had 20 minutes before Mom returned to pick me so I could duck into Falls News and grab the month's Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. These were cool, if uneven, comix mags. If they had a Corben story, they were must buys. If the entire issue was comprised of Warren's low-paid Spanish sweatshop artists, I'd have to think about it before parting with a hard-earned dollar. Then in 1974, Warren began publishing The Spirit. 

I'd heard of Eisner. He was often written about reverentially in the Rocket's Blast Comicollector and The Comic Buyers Guide. But I had never read his work. The Warren title, published six times a year for nearly three years, with that crappy brown paper, was my intro to Eisner. I pored over the stories, studied them. I tried copping some of his scenes in my own work, and was surprised I could pull it off and, although horrible and primitive, they immediately looked better than anything I had drawn before.

Classic Eisner storytelling. 

I finished high school and took a detour into political cartoons in college, flowed by 15 years of comix strip work where the lessons of pilfering Eisner weren't applicable. But in the late Nineties, when I began experimenting with long-form comix, and struggled to retrofit my cartoon style into graphic narrative. Once again I looked to Will.

My first couple longer works were rough, to say the least. I was still neck deep in my Brutalist phase, kind of a post-punk Don Martin. When I started Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, I decided to raise the bar. I pulled out my Warren Spirit collection