Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Suspect the Drawing Was Not Random

I was looking through Action #42 (November 1941) and came across this announcement:

That third prize winner's name sure sounds familiar, and it's not as if it's a common one.  George Kashdan was a long-time editor at DC.  According to his bio at Wikipedia, he was born in 1928, so he would have been 13 at the time.  So maybe this was just an early example of a fan who went on to work in the biz?  Uh, no, I don't think so:

In 1947, after having written two comic-book scripts for DC Comics, he was hired as an editor at that Manhattan-based publishing company, where his brother, Bernard Kashdan, was a business executive who'd joined the company in 1940.
(Italics added for emphasis)
Of course nowadays it is common for such contests to exclude employees of the company involved and their families.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Marvel Covers

The Marvel covers did not start out all that different from the DC covers, although that soon changed.  The early Fantastic Four covers featured the characters demonstrating their various powers:

The characters are so iconic to us these days that it can be hard to remember that back in 1961, kids had no idea who the FF were, or what they could do, so it was important to give them an idea quickly.  As I have mentioned in the past, this may be the real reason the early FF issues started out with them squabbling; so that they could demonstrate their powers early in the comic.  It's also why the early X-Men stories opened with them in the Danger Room.

Spiderman's powers were a little less interesting visually, and so the early covers often featured the villain's unique abilities:
This is very much like the situation with the Flash, where the rogue's gallery became the focus of the covers.  And, of course, Daredevil:

At first, the Iron Man covers in Tales of Suspense featured his powers:
But that pretty quickly changed and the covers became another "villain of the month" gallery.
A similar thing happened with the early Thor issues; at first there seemed almost an "isn't he gorgeous" aspect to them:
There are two very big differences between the Marvel covers and those of DC.  First, the Marvel covers were much less likely to have speech or thought balloons on them; even as early as FF #2, Stan was content to let the picture tell the story.  In fact, there is not a single speech balloon on a Daredevil cover until #34; the next one appears on DD #57.

However, they had oodles of the Lee hyperbole.   The other difference is that the Marvel covers often featured the hero beaten:
Although the DC covers often featured the hero in a death-trap, implying they had been previously beaten, they seldom featured him prone and apparently lifeless.  One of the few exceptions I can think of is this cover:

Actually there are a couple other Flash covers like that, but they came towards the end of the 1960s.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cover Comparisons

This is something I've been mulling over for awhile.  Obviously every character is different, and presents different challenges for the editor and cover artist(s).

The Atom, for example, is tiny.  So Julius Schwartz had Gil Kane create covers which presented the Atom in a difficult situation, often precisely because he was so small:

Obviously, no other character could find themselves in those particular situations--menaced by a Venus flytrap, about to be sucked down the drain, or sealed inside a wristwatch.  There were many other similar covers, with the Atom stuck to the tire of a speeding vehicle, or strapped to a grenade, or menaced by a cat.

With the Flash, at first the covers emphasized his incredible speed, as in the famed cover to Showcase #4:
He's running so fast that he's actually popping right off the film.

But there are limits to that approach, and so Schwartz and Carmine Infantino began emphasizing his colorful villains:
Indeed, of all of DC's superheroes in the Silver Age, the Flash had by far the most interesting rogues' gallery, while the Atom had hardly any costumed villains.  Again, some of this may be due to the nature of the superpowers.  The Flash's ability is so strong that it almost requires a lot of trickery, while the Atom's power is much more limited and thus he was more likely to encounter common criminals.

With Green Lantern, Schwartz and Kane went more with puzzle covers.  How can this be happening, and how can GL get out of this situation?
With Hawkman, Schwartz and Murphy Anderson tended to emphasize fighting scenes, particularly with the Winged Wonder using some of the medieval weapons and armor he favored:
I'll try to take a look at some of the Marvel covers next.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Carl Barks and the Nautical Theme

I have been reading a bunch of Carl Barks' magnificent Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories lately and one thing that caught my attention was how many of his tales either took place on ships, or featured a long voyage.  There are a number of possible reasons for this. For one thing, ships offer plenty of danger, from shipwrecks to storms to pirates.  Plus, his stories frequently featured worldwide travel and it is easy to forget in the jet age, but ships represented the most common transport across the world's oceans well into the 1950s.  For example, when my parents returned from Germany in 1955 with baby Pat in tow, it was on an ocean liner.

I first noticed this theme while reading a couple of Uncle Scrooge stories, which take place almost entirely onboard.  The Flying Dutchman, from Uncle Scrooge #25 (shown here as reprinted in US #87):

And All At Sea, from US #31:

In the former story, Uncle Scrooge has purchased the assets of a former shipping line, in the hopes of uncovering information that will lead him to the title ship, which vanished with a cargo of gold bullion.  In the latter, he has made a fortune selling rubber to the island nation of Bantu, but they insist on paying him in gold, and he reasons that the safest and cheapest way of getting it back to his vault in Duckburg is via a windjammer.

But the coincidence of reading those stories aside, once I started looking into it, I was surprised I hadn't noticed it earlier, because Barks went with nautical stories from the word go.  Indeed, the very first Barks' Donald Duck adventure was Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold from Four Color #9 (2nd series), and the first glimpse we get of the title character is here:
That story, which follows roughly Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, has the boys battling it out with Black Pete for Captain Henry Morgan's treasure.