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Friday, November 30, 2018

The Unmistakeable Forms of George Tuska

What's your experience with the art of George Tuska (1916-2009)? When I think of Tuska's career, my attention tends to focus on Daredevil, Iron Man, and the Champions. Those were the books where I most often encountered his pencils, often inked by Vince Colletta. As I grew older and my collection began to reach back into the Silver Age, I found that Tuska had done work on some of my all-time favorite titles, including the Avengers and the X-Men. And how many of you remember the DC Super-Heroes comic strip of the early 1980s? Tuska.

I've always found Tuska to be a serviceable storyteller. While I'd never list his work among my favorites, I don't want to go so far as to merely say I "tolerated" him. No, it's more than that. There's a sort of "comfort" in his work, a familiarity that I do not find off-putting. As a comics reader with several decades of experience behind me, what I now find charming are Tuska's "stock poses", those movements and contortions that you will always find in a George Tuska superhero mag. I think the images below serve to show what I'm writing about -- enjoy!


*Thanks for checking out this space all week. Beginning Monday, I'll begin what should be my regular schedule. When you return in three days, look for a review of Ross Andru's Amazing Spider-Man Artist Edition. Then on Thursday we'll discuss John Byrne's Star-Lord. Have a wonderful weekend!  -Doug

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Shadows in Zamboula - a Review from Savage Sword of Conan 14

From time to time, I hope to do full reviews of Bronze Age stories presented in the black & white format. Today we're going to trip back in time not only to the Hyborian Age, but back a couple of years to the final months of the Bronze Age Babies blog. The post below was written right around six months before we ceased publication. By then, in an effort to streamline my reviews (read: make it a little easier on myself, as opposed to doing a full plot synopsis on a 30-page yarn), I developed a concise format of recapping the plot in 100 words, followed by a Good/Bad/Ugly commentary style. One note: I've since reread this rendition of "Shadows in Zamboula", and I'll stand by other commenters who feel that Tony DeZuniga deserves the lion's share of the credit for the art chores here. See how you feel about it.

The post is presented here in its original form, so please don't feel like you're coming into the middle of a conversation. Here is a link to the original publication; there were 19 comments on the review - a pretty healthy conversation!

I hope if you're seeing this for the first time, you enjoy the experience -- you can leave a comment below with any praises and pans!


Savage Sword of Conan #14 (September 1976)(cover by Earl Norem)
"Shadows in Zamboula"
Roy Thomas-Neal Adams/"the Tribe" (although databases credit Tony DeZuniga on the inks)

Doug: A little over a month ago I mentioned in a comments section that today's review would be coming your way. I said then that I'd originally intended to do a Thor issue from the first few post-Kirby offerings. Noticing that Neal Adams was the first artist on the post-Jack scene, I was drawn to that 2-parter. However, upon leafing through those two books and seeing the odd combination of Adams with Joe Sinnott's inks I was pushed away. Eyeballing the shelves in my comics room, I was reminded that it has been years since we ran a Savage Sword of Conan review (we've only done two in our long history here), so I zeroed in on the spines of the four collected volumes I own. I decided just to grab the second compilation and see what lurked within. Of all the stories inside, only two were not penciled by John Buscema. Since he's sort of the Conan go-to artist, I wondered about finding something different so I checked out first the Gil Kane story and then the Neal Adams tale. If you ever ask me to pick between those two artists I'm going to choose Adams 100% of the time -- no question. So here we are.

Doug: I've said it before, but some of the things I'd snatch up had I a time machine and a fair amount of cash are Marvel's various Bronze Age B&W magazines. The art is so spectacular -- from the limited amount of material I've seen, there weren't many misses in terms of quality. The inks are lush, and the use of wash, zipatone, etc. really give some great textures that the coloring of the day simply could not provide. If you've never laid eyes on these "essential" Savage Sword books (I lower-cased that, as these are published by Dark Horse, not Marvel), I'd encourage you to seek them out. They are thick, and a sight to behold.

Doug: So let's get this moving with a 100-Word Review of the plot, as I'm guessing few among our throngs of readers have read this particular tale.

Conan finds himself in Zamboula, warned against staying at the tavern of Aram Baksh. Allegedly men who sleep there disappear, their goods sold at the bazaar. Conan’s investigation soon leads him into conflict with cannibals from Darfar, and a bare-breasted damsel in distress. Further, a drugged Turanian soldier and an idol for human sacrifice add to the suspense. Conan is tested against a Black giant, reality-warping drugs, and the peddler of flesh, Totrasmek. A magical ring is the center of attention, for it enslaves the hearts of the opposite sex. Lies, peril, swordplay, and thievery dominate this fast-paced tale.

The Good: I sometimes feel like I need to take a deep breath when I'm reading these Savage Sword stories. It's pretty well known that John Buscema felt most at home with Conan the Barbarian. I think we could make that same argument of Roy Thomas. Sure, we all know of Thomas's affinity for the WWII-era heroes and the opportunity to retcon their histories. But he seemed to really put out with the Cimmerian. You could also add to the argument by stating how easy it must have been to work with the likes of Buscema, Kane, Adams, and the wonderful lot of Filipino artists that dot the Marvel B&W titles, as compared to lesser (and that's not really a dig) talents that might have been his partners in the four-color books. I just think there's a true comfort in the pacing, dialogue, and eventual payoff in a Roy Thomas Conan story. That being said, I know he has his detractors in the regular Conan mag, and it's been stated on this blog that post-#50 the drop-off in quality is marked. So what do I know?

Neal Adams's art is Neal Adams's art. It's beautiful. I read somewhere (maybe it was even Sean that suggested it in earlier comments here on the BAB) that Tony DeZuniga had tremendous influence on this issue. I suppose I see it in some places, but I mainly see Adams. The faces, angles of the body when walking, the motion of a turn -- some of those are specific traits that I see in Adams's pencils whether here or in a Batman or X-Men story. I also liked the attention to detail on Conan's hair. I know, sounds sort of metrosexual for a barbarian yarn. But if you've read some of the Robert E. Howard stories, Conan's hair is jet black and trimmed straight across his forehead. Adams honors that in nearly every panel. Small detail, but it adds authenticity to the portrayal of the character.

The plot, as I mentioned, was solid. It was extremely well-paced, slowing only when the tension of an action scene was required. There are some movements in the story, but I never felt that getting from here to there required me to suspend my disbelief (beyond "normal" in a sword/sorcery story) or accept any deus ex machina developments. Adams's panel layouts stayed mostly to the grid, but he just often enough mixed in a no-panel layout to keep me enthralled. There are three splash pages in the story, all appropriately placed and effective. Often the figures and/or accessories spill outside the panel's constraints, and I find that effective as well. The end panel is suitably "Conan", and left me with an "of course" smile.

An element of Conan stories is a sort of continuity-without-continuity. For example, on the first page Thomas pens that Conan is accosted in the bazaar by "one of his former Zuagir comrades". I don't necessarily need to know of that episode, but it places the thought into my mind that this Conan fellow is well traveled and well-adventured. Also, the use of city and national names gives Conan stories a "universe" feel. A Tarzan story, to draw on another major mythical adventurer, doesn't give me the same sense of geographic wonder; perhaps that's because Edgar Rice Burroughs anchored his ape-man in our own world.

My favorite part of this story was the 8-page mano-a-mano battle to the death between Conan and the Darfarian giant Baal-Pteor. The creators crafted a vignette with a great deal of tension and an outcome of which I assumed but could not be fully convinced.

The Bad: There's really not much to say here, other than I wondered about this rough-and-tumble world where barbarians stride through town shirtless and later meet and have an adventure with a beautiful woman, also shirtless. Makes me wonder why I'm sitting here wearing clothes... (no, not really). Cover up! Sheesh.

The Ugly: The only ugly thing about this story, or any Conan story for that matter, are the baddies. Whether here with Adams or in a Big John-penciled tale (or shoot -- in my imagination as I read a Howard short story), the denizens of these mythical cities never disappoint in terms of menace. But as to any story element? I got nuthin'.

As I said at the top, do yourself a favor and check out some of these stories. You know, we often bat around "what's so great about the Bronze Age?", and we always tend to focus on Treasury Editions, Megos, the Giant-Size and Dollar Comics, etc. But these magazines are a vital component of 1970s comics history and should not be neglected as part of the larger experience.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Beauty of the Brush of Alfredo Alcala

Alfredo Alcala's work never fails to give me pause -- pause to look around an entire page or panel, pause to appreciate. One of the masters! As I said on Monday, I am no authority on inkers or their craft. But I can appreciate effort, and Alcala always included details - no short cuts, ever. In each of the examples presented below we are blessed by Alcala as penciler and inker. I'm sure many of us have thrilled to his embellishment of John Buscema's pencils in Savage Sword of Conan; here we get the artist alone, and it's beautiful work.

Images, as labeled, courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Big John Buscema - Just Noodling...

I love the artwork of Big John Buscema. But true confession - when I was 9 or 10 years old I didn't exactly take a shine to him when he replaced George Perez on the Fantastic Four. When I read the arc that began with Gorr and moved through bouts with the Destroyer, Galactus, and the High Evolutionary I was a bit miffed. I now know that my major complaint centered on the art in FF #175, where Buscema inked himself. I was such a dummy... The absence of Joe Sinnott, while obviously removing that wonderful continuity seen through the tenures of Jack Kirby, John Romita, Buscema's first run, Rich Buckler, and Perez, instead revealed Buscema's pencils the way he loved them presented - as his own. And that's what I have for you today - pure, unadulterated John Buscema. Enjoy!


This was pencil on vellum - I used to own this piece and sold it a few years ago.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Roll-Out of the Welcome Mat to Friend and Foe Alike!

Thanks for stopping or stumbling by! This is the inaugural post on a blog where I hope we'll both find a lot of fun.

For those who don't know me, I was one of the co-proprietors on the Bronze Age Babies blog that published from 2009-16. My partner Karen and I, along with staff writers Mike and Robert (and others who guest-posted from time-to-time), offered many topics for conversation and developed a wonderful community of commenters. Among the hallmarks of that blog were our reviews of comics, films, and books. Using the link embedded above or also at right, don't hesitate to go spelunking and certainly don't shy away from leaving a comment - we'll see it and respond. Since the BAB's closing, I've had a presence on Twitter using the handle @bronzeagebabies.

What I'm wishing to do in this space will have a different feel from the BAB. First of all, this won't have the frequency of posting that we offered (or endured, at some points when life tossed us curveballs) back then. I think I'm looking at maybe getting something live once or twice a week; Mondays and Thursdays seems ambitious enough to start (although come back each day this week through Friday as I jumpstart this project!). While I'd love a community of conversationalists to develop, this blog may focus more on presentation and less on queries for reader exposition. But I do hope you'll leave a note of your impression of the day's content - I'd love to have a little discourse.

So what's in store? As I type this, my initial ambition is to highlight Bronze Age artists who excelled in the black and white format. In the future, you might see reviews of full stories or of pages or even panels. I'll identify the penciler and inker, and sometimes we may just discuss that pairing  - was it a good fit? On other days you may see sketches, or pages of original art. And we won't necessarily be limited to just the Bronze Age - watch for anything from Golden Age Batman newspaper strips to Jeff Smith's Bone to pencil art from Batman comics of the last decade. While my personal comics wheelhouse of 1973-1980 may receive the bulk of attention, hopefully there will be at least a little something for everyone!

Just to give an idea of where this may go, here's an incomplete inventory from my comics library:

  • Planet of the Apes Archives, volumes 1-4
  • Savage Sword of Conan, volumes 1-4
  • Doc Savage Archives, volume 1: The Curtis Magazine Era
  • Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume
  • Batman: The Dailies, 1943-1944, 1944-1945, 1945-1946 
  • Spider-Man Newspaper Strips, volumes 1-2
...and several Marvel Essentials collections, numerous Artist Editions, etc.

If you didn't see something to whet your appetite, leave me a suggestion. If I don't have it to review, I'm not opposed to acquiring new material. And if you do have a discussion topic that's been gnawing at you, let me know and perhaps I can craft a post around your idea. I do want to be clear from the start: I am no authority on any of the above topics - not B&W comics, nor original art, and not inkers. But I hope we can all have fun in our admiration of such things and find some common ground on which to interact.

Again, thanks for the visit, and I hope to see you back again -- even as soon as tomorrow!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Repository of Reviews

  1. Batman Black and White 1 - "The Hunt"
  2. Batman Black and White 1 - "Two of a Kind"
  3. Batman Black and White 2 - "Legend" 
  4. Batman Newspaper Strips - "Their Toughest Assignment"
  5. Bizarre Adventures 25 - "I Got the Yo-Yo... You Got the String"
  6. Bizarre Adventures 27 - "Phoenix"
  7. Bizarre Adventures 27 - "Show Me the Way to Go Home..."
  8. Blazing Combat 1 - "Aftermath!" 
  9. Blazing Combat 4 - "Thermopylae!"
  10. Blazing Combat 4 - "The Trench!" 
  11. Bone 1  
  12. David Mazzuchelli's Daredevil "Born Again" Artisan Edition
  13. Deadly Hands of Kung fu 1 - "Sons of the Tiger!"
  14. Deadly Hands of Kung fu 3 - "The Trail of the Ninja!"
  15. Doc Savage 2 - "Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise!" 
  16. Dracula Lives! 2 - "That Dracula May Live Again!"
  17. Eerie 9 Retrospective
  18. Eerie 9 - "Experiment in Fear" 
  19. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns Gallery Edition 
  20. The Hulk 16 - "Masks" 
  21. Jiro Kuwata Batmanga 46 - "Clayface Encounter"
  22. MAD Magazine 147 and 184 Retrospectives
  23. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, chapter one 
  24. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, chapter two
  25. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, chapter three 
  26. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, chapter four  
  27. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, chapter five  
  28. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, chapter six
  29. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, chapter one 
  30. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, chapter two
  31. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, chapter three
  32. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, chapter four 
  33. Maus - A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, chapter five   
  34. Marvel Two-In-One 7
  35. Monsters Unleashed 8 - "Fever in the Freak House!" 
  36. Planet of the Apes 5 - "Evolution's Nightmare"
  37. Planet of the Apes 21 - "Beast on the Planet of the Apes" 
  38. Ross Andru's Amazing Spider-Man Artist Edition
  39. Savage Sword of Conan 1 - "Curse of the Undead-Man"
  40. Savage Sword of Conan 14 - "Shadows in Zamboula"
  41. Savage Sword of Conan 18 - "Rattle of Bones" (Solomon Kane)
  42. Savage Sword of Conan 24 - "The Tower of the Elephant"
  43. Savage Sword of Conan 29 - "Child of Sorcery"
  44. Savage Tales 1 - "Man-Thing"
  45. Savage Tales 2-3 - "Red Nails"
  46. Silver Surfer 8  
  47. Spectacular Spider-Man (1968) 1
  48. Spider-Man Newspaper Strips - "Kraven the Hunter"
  49. They Called Us Enemy 
  50. Vampirella 1 - "Vampirella of Draculon"
  51. Vampirella 25 - "What Price Love?"  
  52. Vampire Tales 3 - "The Kiss of Death"
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