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Thursday, March 28, 2019

C2E2 2019 - a Review

It was a day two years in the making, and it did not disappoint! In April 2017, I joined my friends Mike and Robert from Back in the Bronze Age (and formerly staff writers at Bronze Age Babies), along with one of their frequent commenters, Joe, at the C2E2 comic convention in Chicago. We couldn't pull it together to meet again in 2018, and alternate plans to meet in Indianapolis also did not materialize. But never say never, and through Joe's prodding we made it happen a few days ago. But the surprise of the day was the appearance of Colin Bray, all the way from England! Colin had been a mainstay at the BAB and then moved over to participate in the shenanigans at BitBA. On a whim, one day Joe offered Colin and Steve from Steve Does Comics to come on over - Joe would pick them up at the airport and put them up for a few days. Colin took that bait, and it was a total pleasure to meet him and to spend a few hours sharing our love of the Bronze Age, though separated by an ocean.

Robert came up from southern Indiana and spent the night with us on Saturday. He and I enjoyed a great breakfast at Lumes Pancake House in Frankfort, IL, then journeyed the rest of the way to McCormick Place on Chicago's lakefront. The other car with Mike, Joe, and Colin arrived just minutes after ours, and after some greetings and quick catching up we were able to pose for this team photo outside Neal Adams's booth.

Robert, Doug, Colin, Mike, and Joe at C2E2, March 2019
The initial exchange of pleasantries over, we headed out to the Artist Alley. I'd had in mind that I'd like to continue to fill my copy of Les Daniels's Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics with creator signatures. I was put off, however, that many of the bigger names were charging for their autographs. While I understand that practice, it did sour me a bit. There were some creators, however, who offered a free signature in exchange for any size donation to the Hero Initiative. I thought that was worthwhile, although I did not do that with anyone. So my initial goal of securing signatures from Art Adams, Neal Adams, Rob Liefeld, Kevin Nowlan, George Perez, and Marv Wolfman fell somewhat flat. My choice - I do not mean to cast blame toward any of those creators.

I did, however, meet Joe Staton. Joe's famous in my personal history for his work on the Justice Society revival in All-Star Comics in the mid-70s, and then on Green Lantern around the same time. My favorite Marvel job of Joe's is his inking of Sal Buscema in Avengers during the "Celestial Madonna" arc. Joe was at his table with his wife, and they were quite kind and friendly. I'd been on Joe's website ahead of the con in order to see what kind of prints he might have for sale. I'd seen a JSA print and really hoped that he'd have it. Lo and behold, he did! But when I asked about buying one, his wife said that I was going to get the last one! Score! I was quite happy to take it off their hands, and Joe happily signed it to me, along with my copy of the Huntress: Darknight Daughter tpb I'd brought along. I thanked Joe for the hours of fun he'd given me, and he seemed humbled by that. But I think it's important that we share our gratitude when we can.

After roaming the Artist Alley some more, and deciding I didn't want to wait in the very long line to greet Wolfman and Perez, I eventually made my way to the vendors. Those who've followed me through the years know that in 2014 I sold almost all of my comics and memorabilia collection. Having done so, it changes one's mood a bit at a large comic convention. I used to hunt for the Marvel Legends I'd missed, and there was a time long ago when trying to fill out my complete run of Avengers, volume 1, was really fun. Now, though... I often walked right past those vendors, sometimes with a longing glance, yes, but often with little notice. The places I did seek out, however, were those dealers specializing in trade paperbacks and hardcover collections, or at least with a significant stock. Once finding those folks (notably Torpedo Comics), I then hoped for the somewhat traditional group pricing. And did I find it!

I wish I'd written down the names of the vendors from whom I purchased - always good to toss business to good people. Torpedo Comics stands out in my mind simply because of their display. Their booth is a virtual fortress of enormous black containers, gigantic trunks if you will. These things open up, have drawers, and are really quite amazing. Torpedo Comics's booth looks like a collected edition library. But as I mentioned, I bought from a few dealers, and was tickled to be able to purchase several volumes of Dark Horse's Chronicles of Conan trades. I'd hoped to find some of their Savage Sword of Conan reprints, but those have long been out-of-print. But hey - John Buscema Conan art in color? Sign me up, any day. A couple of other trades I snagged included the JSA Elseworlds story "The Golden Age" and the fun Liberty Legion compendium featuring the Marvel Two-In-One issues. Overall, I bought 15 trades for just a hair over $5 apiece. While that made the book bag I was carrying pretty heavy, and truthfully ended up being more money than I should have spent, I feel that those dollars left my hands for great deals. At least, that's the way I rationalize it.

As at any con these days, there is always some great cosplay. No shortage of that in Chicago last Sunday. Mike took these pics and shared them with the gang. I thought I'd pass them along to you, too. The Galactus outfit is off the charts!!

In addition to comics and action figures, I owned a small collection of original art that I sold in 2015. I do love to see such things in person, and over the years have tried to simulate the experience by using my comics proceeds to purchase some of the wonderful Artist Editions from IDW. Here's a shot of one of the large art dealers, and a print that Neal Adams was selling. Love these things!

Monday was spent organizing all of my new purchases. As I've pulled comics to read, left some books out for use here on the BWBC, bought new things, etc., my book case had become somewhat messy. After C2E2 it seemed time was ripe for some reorganization. It took around an hour, and required a little thought first, pulling some things off the shelves, reorganizing an action figure display, and plotting out some future acquisitions that are on my radar. But after all that, I thought I put it back together nicely.

So all that looking, dealing, and buying is fine (and also fun). But what was most memorable about the day was the time spent with friends. I recall two years ago when I first told my wife I was heading to C2E2 with some "friends". She asked how I knew them. "The Internet" was my response, which earned me a raised eyebrow from my bride. But I think those of us here right now, and who spend time on other social media platforms know that genuine friendships can develop over the course of many years of camaraderie. My BAB partner Karen and I have long declared, and joked, that although we've been friends and colleagues for the better part of 12 years, we have never spoken to each other. Well I'm here to say that it is possible to develop rich friendships through digital communication. When Robert arrived at our house Saturday night, I anticipated some nice conversation, which I knew would take off further once we hit the road on Sunday morning. What I did not expect was the gift he brought me in thanks for my hospitality and friendship. You can see it just below:

You'll notice the copyrights at bottom left of each panel. This is actually a series of bookmarks, featuring Barry Smith's Red Sonja. Robert got this from Smith back in 1975 at a convention in Indianapolis, IN. Robert was in high school then, and had held onto this gem ever since. I was floored by his gift - what a cool piece! Truthfully, it's worth more than the stay in our extra bedroom and a hot shower - but that's what friends do. I'm thankful for the time the five of us spent and the few hours of breaks we took to just talk comics and growing up in the Bronze Age. Oh, and we're already making plans for the future!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, Chapter 3 - a Review

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History (1986) "Prisoner of War" - Volume 1, Chapter 3 Art Spiegelman

Regarding the Permanent Exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I have heard several people describe it as a downward spiral into oblivion. If you've never been there, the exhibit begins with an elevator ride to the Museum's 4th floor. The visitor then follows a narrative of the events of the Holocaust across the breadth of that level, and then descends to the 3rd floor and finally finishes at the end of the 2nd floor. Today's discussion of chapter 3 of Art Spielgelman's Maus will give us that same sense... From here on, we'll see the wartime Spieglemans begin to face escalating dangers while at the same time we see the deterioration of Art's relationship to his father.

100-Word Review
Art Spiegelman pays another visit to his father, whose OCD tendencies seem to be increasing in severity. Comments about the food, his second wife Mala, cleanliness, Art’s mother Anja, and Art’s coat frame the main story in the chapter - Vladek’s service in the Polish army as WWII broke out with Germany. Vladek was drafted, fought the Germans in Sept. 1939, was captured, and later freed. In between he spent time in a POW camp, was transferred to a labor camp, and evaded death through the help of Jewish authorities. The chapter ends on a bright note, with the Spiegelmans and Zylberbergs reunited.

The Good: In this chapter we begin to see the prejudicial persecutions heaped upon the Jews by the Germans. I say "Germans" rather than "Nazis", which opens up an issue Holocaust educators deal with on a regular basis - precision of language. One cannot simply say "Nazis" as a synonym for "Germans". The opposite is also true. So you can see that it becomes very problematic when trying to tell this story, since not all Germans were Nazis, nor were all Nazis Germans. But I'll do the best I can, as I'm sure Art Spiegelman did when trying to navigate his father's stories.

After dinner with his father and stepmother, Art and Vladek resume Art's recording of his father's story. Vladek related how his own father had schemed to keep Vladek and his older brother out of the Polish army, practically starving each of them so that they'd be denied enlistment. But Vladek, after an initial service, did not run from the draft that sent him to the front in September 1939. If you know your history, the Germans were able to overpower the Poles in around five weeks - with the Soviet Red Army also invading from the east. Vladek was captured and sent to a POW camp, his first taste of German discrimination against Poland's Jews. This vignette is very important to the remainder of the story, as we are exposed to the hatred of and double-standards for Jews under control of the German forces. We also begin to get a feel for Vladek's resourcefulness, and his luck. If you do much reading about the war, I think you'll find in survivor testimonies (and this is often true of soldiers) that the #1 reason they survived was luck. One could do everything "right" and be shot in the head at the whim of a guard; one could seemingly do everything "wrong", yet survive. The Holocaust was truly a random experience, yet awful under any circumstances.

One of the scenes I always point out to my students is that of Vladek, under the criticism and amazement of his peers, bathing in a frigid stream. His retort was that he'd be clean, and feel warmer the rest of the day, seems logical. Many of his comrades who chose not to follow Vladek's lead ended up with infections, and found the Polish winter less tolerable. Another disagreement we're privy to comes early in Vladek's imprisonment, when the Germans advertised for workers. A fellow prisoner scoffed, and said he'd never volunteer. Vladek said he'd take his chances - he wasn't going to die in the POW camp. What he hadn't foreseen was that those who did volunteer were going to become slaves working for German companies. It is well known now that many companies paid the SS a per diem for the use of Jewish prisoners as slaves. Among well-known companies profiting from this were Daimler-Benz, Bayer, Shell, Zeppelin, and Ikon. As Vladek faced this new chapter, he had a dream one night that his grandfather had come to him, telling him he would be freed on Parshas Truma. This is a wonderful occasion for readers to become more familiar with Jewish religious practices. A religiously observant Jew, we see Art draw his great-grandfather wearing tefillin (small scriptures in tiny boxes, bound to the head and arms), and learn a bit about the Jewish lunar calendar. Vladek made the acquaintance of a rabbi who instructed him about the timing of Parshas Truma - and wouldn't you know it, Vladek was freed on that day!

But all was not what it seemed, and Vladek and the other Jews who had been told they'd be free were instead sent past their destination of Sosnowiec and arrived instead at another slave labor camp. This, too, was an important vignette as it established for Vladek (and the reader) that the Nazis could never be trusted. Stories like "you're being moved to serve as industrial labor", "pack one suitcase and leave it on the platform; it will follow you to your destination", and "you must shower to be disinfected" were common lies Jews heard. What's actually the most amazing thing about this tale, though, is toward the end of it when a couple of Jewish officials tell some of the prisoners that they've bribed the Nazis to release them, as long as they have proof that they have a place to go. This seemed to rarely work out, as said bribes often just went into the SS coffers.

As the chapter concludes, Vladek is reunited with his family - wife Anja (Art's mother), son Richieu, and the in-laws - the Zylberbergs. At least as we leave today, it's a happy ending.

The Bad: As mentioned above, the story begins a downward spiral, picking up speed in its descent. If you'll recall, chapter one was filled with Vladek's life as a young man and his courtship of Anja. The second chapter saw our main characters encounter the swastika for the first time, and we learned from their perspectives stories of increasing persecution against Jews. Now in chapter three, some of those persecutions have become a reality for Vladek and his comrades. Art Spiegelman does a wonderful job detailing some of the horrors the Jews faced, and will face moving forward in the story. Emotions begin to run high from page to page as the reader is drawn in. Antisemitic incidents, certainly on the path toward genocide, become more frequent.

The Ugly: The worst is yet to come. And when you think it has arrived, it will get worse yet.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Jose Gonzalez and Vampirella - Scary Sensuality

 As I stated in my review of Vampirella #1, I have next to no experience with the character, and little with the Warren line. But there was one name I was fully aware of dating back many years, and that's Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez. I've included a few art samples, all from Vampirella, and I think you'll say that he could be considered among the masters of the comic medium. Strong draftsmanship, beautiful lines, and a photo realism on par with Neal Adams, et al.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Marvel Two-In-One 7 - a Review

Marvel Two-In-One #7 (January 1975)
"Name That Doom!"
Steve Gerber-Sal Buscema/Mike Esposito

Just last week I reviewed a color Hulk story from the Rampaging Hulk magazine, but reprinted in Marvel's Essentials line. The results were not pretty. Nope - not pleasing to the eye aesthetically nor in terms of ease of reading. Today I'll rectify that situation with the good things the Essentials line could do.

Marvel Two-In-One #7 was among the first comics I can recall buying myself. I know I'd had comics since the time I was 5, and this one would have been for sale before I hit 8 1/2. So for the sake of argument, we can just assume this was probably in that first dozen or so books that I bought myself. When this was on the spinner rack, we lived in Milwaukee. There was a drug store in a shopping plaza about a four block bike ride from where we lived. I was allowed to pedal over there alone and search for comics. Think about that in today's society - when my own sons were 8 (and that would have been roughly around 2000), there is no way I'd have let them go to a shopping center alone. Times change. Anyway, what a great cover! At the time I knew the Thing from some Fantastic Four comics I owned, but I'm almost certain I'd not had any experience with the Executioner and the Enchantress. My Thor reading hadn't really taken off, and it would be almost a year until Giant-Size Avengers #5 landed (which I loved!). But the Valkyrie. She... I knew. Between a buddy and I, we had Defenders #s 13-19, #19 of which would have been on sale near the same time as this MtiO. So I was fully aware of her weird history and behavior (at times). What, then, was to keep me from purchasing this book? Nothing!

NOTE: Because of the thickness of the Essentials, I'll be using photographs from the story pages, rather than scans. Please excuse the distortions, due to the lack of flatness of the pages when attempting to take pictures. I know - 1st-World problems...

100-Word Review:
What do you get when you toss two Defenders, two renegade Asgardians, a celestial harmonica, a down-on-his-luck attorney, and the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing together in a comic? You get this stew of Steve Gerber weirdness! Landing smack in the middle of events taking place in MtiO #6 as well as the Defenders, we find a distraught Valkyrie, her biological father, Dr. Strange and the Thing working to secure a cosmic harmonica while the Enchantress and Executioner seek to steal it, and some Sal Buscema punches. It’s offbeat, full of wonderful characterization, and just good enough to leave the reader with a smile. Twenty-five cents well spent!
The Good: Gerber writes these characters as we'd expect them to be written, and for me that's fulfilling an obligation. I've long advocated creators thinking of themselves as caretakers. Feel the need for life-changing plot points? I can roll with that. But make the characters recognizable through whatever illusion of change is crafted. Gerber's done that here. I have to say, on my recent re-read of this comic I was taken right back to when I was a 3rd grader and reading this for the first time. There was such a sense of scope to the story, and a real sense that I was happy to have been following Val's struggles with her identity in the pages of her regular Defenders mag. Because really, to have been dropped into the middle of this would not have been good. Granted, I didn't acquire and read MtiO #6 until years later, but there was enough of a recap in this issue that I could handle what had gone before with a little additional inferencing. But I loved that about the Marvel Comics of the Bronze Age, how neatly they were often woven together - there truly was a sense that you were missing out if you weren't up to speed on the happenings across the line.

How could anyone not count the Thing in their top 2-3 favorite characters? His larger-than-life personality, his craggy countenance, and his big heart are endearing. All of that's on display in this story, from his patience in working with Dr. Strange to his dedication first to Alvin Denton and then later to Denton's daughter, Barbara Norris - the Valkyrie. Ben didn't know the half of what had been going on for Val, but there he was in the thick of it all, trying to do the right thing. Ben Grimm's a man of principle and loyalty, and Gerber nails that here.

Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito turn in their usual above-average performance on the pictures. The one-page recap of previous events is nice, but the scene when the ol' cosmic harmonica comes into play is just a bit underwhelming. However, that scene is followed shortly by a nifty little slugfest between the Executioner and our hero, followed again a couple of pages later by that signature Buscema-blast (complete with a robust "It's Clobberin' Time!!"). Love it! I did like that, contributing to the comments I'd made above concerning Gerber's characterizations, Val and Dr. Strange looked just as a reader would have seen them in the Defenders of this vintage (also drawn by Sal but inked by Dan Green or Klaus Janson).

The Bad: So all praise being heaped, I have to admit I'm not the biggest Steve Gerber fan. He certainly was one of Marvel's top scribes of the 1970s, and I've enjoyed some of his work across multiple titles (MtiO, Man-Thing, etc.), but overall I find his writing on the cusp of my tolerance for the strange. I did not care for his Man-Thing stories that centered around the Nexus of Reality, and you can basically have the Marvel Presents Guardians of the Galaxy series. Despite my nostalgia on the re-read, I did have a bit of concern for that person who might have come to this as a single issue. It was confusing! There were quite a few plot points that were based on prerequisites in other comic books, and characters from three different pantheons (Defenders, FF, and Thor) all tossed together. Did Gerber make it work? Yes. Are my reservations perhaps misplaced? Everyone's mileage varies. I'll say again - I was glad that I'd been privy to the plotlines in the Defenders back in 1974, or I might have gone no further.

The Ugly: Nothing really to say here, other than to rip on last week's presentation of a color magazine in black and white, but shot from a color source. Yuck! Today's fare, apparently produced from original art or stats of that art, is fabulous. It's nice and clean, no muddiness anywhere. The Essentials is a perfectly acceptable way to read this material, when presented in this clean format.

BONUS: Here are three pages of original art from today's story, courtesy of the collectors at Comic Art Fans.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Appreciating Arsenio "Sonny" Trinidad

Celso "Sonny" Trinidad was one of the B&W masters. Whether as penciler, inker, or both, I think the samples below will show that. Here's a bit about his career, from his Wikipedia page (hyperlinks have been left in, if you're so inclined to make those jumps):

Along with a number of other Filipino comics creators in the 1970s, Trinidad found work in the American comics industry, initially for DC Comics on such titles as The Witching Hour, House of Mystery, The Unexpected, and Weird Western Tales.[5]

It was in the U.S. that he began using the pen name "Sonny" Trinidad. When he moved to Marvel Comics in 1974, he was given the moniker "Slammin' Sonny Trinidad" in the "Bullpen Bulletins".[6] Trinidad supplied full art or inks over other artists (frequently John Romita Sr. and John Buscema) on horror titles such as Vampire Tales (Morbius the Living Vampire stories written by Doug Moench), Dracula Lives!, Marvel Chillers, and The Son of Satan, as well as fantasy and adventure titles like Skull the Slayer, The Savage Sword of Conan, and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Other highlights of Trinidad's tenure at Marvel included "Hellfire Helix Hex!," written by John Warner, for Marvel Presents #2 (Dec. 1975); in addition, Trinidad inked the feature story (written by Bill Mantlo and penciled by Tom Sutton) in Man From Atlantis #1 (Feb. 1978).[7]

Trinidad was often hired to do adaptations. One of his biggest commissions was the black-and-white magazine one-shot Marvel Movie Premiere, which featured his and writer Marv Wolfman's adaptation of the 1975 movie The Land That Time Forgot. With writer Roy Thomas and penciler John Buscema, Trinidad adapted Robert E. Howard's "The Pool of the Black One" in Savage Sword of Conan #22–23 (Sept.–Oct. 1977). And with writer Doug Moench, Trinidad adapted H. G. Wells' The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth for Marvel Classics Comics #22 (1977).[7]

I think you'll agree that man left us a feast for our eyes.


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