Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Comics Code, Part Three: "This is Not What I Had In Mind"

In our last episode: Driven by public outcry spearheaded by Dr. Frederic Wertham, the United States Senate called subcommittee hearings to look into a possible connection between comic books and juvenile delinquency. Though the subcommittee decided that no legislative action needed to be taken, they also suggested that the comics industry police its own content…

So I seem to remember stating last time out that the Senate subcommittee hearings weren’t witch hunts. But that doesn’t mean that a witch hunt did not occur. Outside the even-headed bounds of Federal politics (where any kind of censorship law would, let’s face it, be a tough win for anyone), things were downright ugly for the comics industry. Comics creators found their social circles shrinking, as people no longer wanted to be associated with someone who worked in such a foul industry, peddling poison and smut to kids.

Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit and, later, some of the greatest graphic novels of the 20th Century) tells a story about being at a dinner party and striking up a pleasant conversation with a stranger. They were hitting it off well, it seemed, but then Eisner told the man that he made comics for a living. “How unfortunate for you,” his new friend said, and stalked off without another word.

Stan Lee (who was working as a young writer/editor for Timely/Marvel at the time) has an even better story: he was once told off by the neighbor of one of his co-workers when the man found out that Lee was a comics editor (the co-worker being in the closet about what branch of commercial art he worked in). Later, the neighbor was arrested for smuggling guns to South American rebel armies. So even scumbag gun-runners thought that making comics was a reprehensible way to make a living!

But it didn’t stop with simple suburban ostracism. The mothers driven to action by Wertham and his fellow anti-comics spokesmen were particularly vociferous in public, too. Why just react when you can OVER-react, after all? More comic book burnings occurred, and a hue and cry went up that just kept building. This public outcry inspired political action, as well. In the two years following the Senate’s 1954 decision, something on the order of 14 states wound up passing some kind of legislation governing (or outright banning) the sale of crime and horror comics. Of course, they needn’t have bothered. By the end of 1954, the crime and horror books were already gone.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And Now, A Few Words From Eric Powell...

Taking another, slightly more connected, detour from our on-going history of the Comics Code, we bring you Eric Powell's not-entirely-fair-but-entirely-Dork-40-endorsed message in favor of creator-owned funnybooks...

Warning: this video violates the Comics Code Authority guidelines, and should not be viewed by anyone under the age of 18 without express permission from a parent, legal guardian, or tight-assed 1950s psychiatrist.

(There. That oughtta draw the kids like moths to a flame, and-- What? The keyboard's still on?! Shit!)

Enjoy the naughty man's comment's... after the jump!

EDIT (February 2nd): Don't bother hitting the link. Powell's taken the video down. See the rant I'm about to write somewhere above for the full story...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

RIP: The Human Torch

So tonight we’re gonna be takin’ a short break from our history of the Comics Code to honor a fallen hero. Because this week, we witnessed the passin’ of Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, who died savin’ the world from the evil insect hordes of the Negative Zone.

We’re all big Fantastic Four fans here on the Dork Forty, and so anything bad that happens to one of the FF hits us hard. We’ve seen ‘em through divorce, miscarriage, heartbreak, Tom DeFalco, She-Thing… All kindsa horrible stuff. So you can imagine what the actual death of a team member has done to our fragile psyches. There’s some saaad nerd wranglers mopin’ round the punkin patch this week.

Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. We’re all growed-up funnybook fans here, and we know how this sorta thing goes. Super heroes die all the time, and they always come back. And the FF do have that big 600th issue comin’ up in about a year, so…

It’s easy to become jaded. Cynicism’s bound to run high when death is trotted out as just another tool in the storytelling box. And lord knows that funnybook fans are not the best people in the world at waiting to see how something goes before passing judgment. These kinds of stories always get big sales hype beforehand, and that often leads people to decry them as crap long before they ever see print. And, you know, sometimes they are.

But sometimes they’re not, and that’s important to remember, too. The death of a major character doesn’t automatically make a story bad. It’s a storyline, just like any other. We know the Torch will be back, sure. But we also know that Doctor Doom won’t take over the Earth, and that Galactus won’t eat it. Super heroes are, on the grand scale, a very predictable genre. It often doesn’t matter if we know how the story’s going to end, as long as it’s told well along the way. And this story was told very well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Comics Code, Part Two: Funnybooks On Trial

So if you’ll recall our last episode, Dr. Frederic Wertham had lead a movement to clean up the funnybooks in the name of preventing juvenile delinquency. People got so worked up over it that, in 1954, the Senate called for hearings to investigate the question…

Opening Shots Fired Over Kirby’s Bow

The tone for the hearings was set by Richard Clendenen, Director of the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, who went into some detail on a story called “Sanctuary” from an issue of Black Magic…
You will note that this shot shows certain inhabitants of this sanctuary which is really a sort of sanitarium for freaks where freaks can be isolated from other persons in society. You will note one man in the picture has two heads and four arms, another body extends only to the bottom of his ribs. But the greatest horror of all the freaks in the sanctuary is the attractive looking girl in the center of the picture who disguises her grotesque body in a suit of foam rubber. The final picture shows a young doctor in the sanitarium as he sees the girl he loves without her disguise. The story closes as the doctor fires bullet after bullet into the girl's misshapen body. Now, that is an example of a comic of the horror variety.
If I’d been a comics publisher in attendance, I might very well have crapped my pants right there.

But after that ominous opening, things lightened up a bit. The senators got into a pretty hysterical discussion of the comic strips they liked when they were kids, and briefly talked about whether the comics of the day were better or worse than the comics of their childhoods. For a few minutes there, it was like Fanboy Night at the funnybook store, albeit conducted in the very formal and wordy style of the period’s Senatorial discourse.

Overall, though, things looked pretty grim for comics. The gist of the anti-comics argument put forth was that comics were a very effective medium for education, so comics that dwelt on crime and violence would educate the children who read them in crime and violence, impeding social development and even inspiring abnormal sexual habits.


Monday, January 24, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Comics Code, Part One: Seduction of the Innocent

So it seems that our long national funnybook nightmare has ended. Early last week, DC Comics announced that it was pulling out of the Comics Code Authority, to be followed just a few days later by Archie, the Code’s only other remaining member. We can only assume this means that the Code itself is no more, bringing an end to more than 56 years of self-imposed censorship in the comics industry. The actual, practical effects of the Code’s demise will honestly be negligible, but it’s an historic event nonetheless, and one that’s made me want to take a moment to reflect upon the Code’s history, its affect on the comics industry, and where we go from here.

Wertham is SHOCKED by SHOCK!

But any discussion of the Comics Code has to start with Dr. Frederic Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham was what we’d call a “celebrity witness” today, testifying in a number of criminal cases (including the trial of serial killer Albert Fish), writing helpful articles and books on the psychology of children, and making television appearances throughout his career. But he wasn’t just a glory hound. Much as he’s (justifiably) demonized in funnybook fan circles, Wertham was a humanitarian and genuinely-concerned social crusader. He abhorred violence, and wrote on the ills of racism; his opinions on race were even brought as evidence in the landmark Civil Rights case Brown vs. Board of Education. He also ran a psychiatric clinic for the underprivileged in the late 1940s, which is where he became interested in comic books.

He often dealt with juvenile delinquents in his clinic, and Wertham noticed that many of them talked about how much they liked comics. He had a deeper understanding of the socio-economic factors that lead these kids to crime, writing in 1954 that “to understand a delinquent child one has to know the social soil in which he developed and became delinquent or troubled.” And yet, most of his public rhetoric boiled the problem down to one simple concept: comics turn kids into criminals.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dork Links: The Mindless Ones Go Drinking With the Super Heroes

Absolute genius from the Mindless Ones, as they go out drinking with an assortment of super heroes. The Captain America section alone makes the link worth clicking:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Matt Fraction's Blue World

Casanova: Gula #1
by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon

The full-color reprints of the second Casanova series start here, and are just as gorgeous as the first. Granted, it’s hard to get around that shocking cobalt blue monotone the original was done in, and this is still a very (VERY!) blue book. But colorist Cris Peter handles the challenge well, complementing the blue with some very nice yellows and pinks. Like the “Luxuria” remasters, the book somehow looks much like it did on original publication, only moreso. Particularly nice is some of the shading Peter gives to Fabio Moon’s artwork. Fabio’s work is less angular and more organic than what his brother (Gabriel Ba) turned in on the first series, and in places the colors really bring that quality out.

But I was most looking forward to re-reading “Gula.” [SPOILER] This storyline has, hands down, the best twist ending I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been dying to re-read it so I could look for any clues Fraction may have planted along the way. This ending is so good, and I so don’t want to ruin it, that I am, as you can see, even spoiler-texting the fact that it HAS a twist ending. So if you haven’t read all of “Gula” before, and you’re still reading this right now, do yourself a favor and stop. [/SPOILER]

Seriously. If you haven’t read all of “Gula” before, and think there’s any chance that you might, do not look at the spoilered text below, whatever you do. And this isn’t some “Monster at the End of This Book” enticement to keep reading. You will ruin the story for yourself if you read the next few paragraphs. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Thor the Mighty Avenger #8 (of 8?)
by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee

And so it ends. Marvel (rather laughably) tacked a “limited series” banner on the cover of this final issue of Thor the Mighty Avenger, I presume to somehow save face, but to no avail. This was an on-going series that was cancelled due to low sales. Which is sad, but (let’s face it) not entirely surprising. Because, while I think an all-ages Thor romance comic is a fantastic idea… The vast majority of the people who ever actually saw an issue of this thing on the rack for sale probably didn’t.

So maybe if Jane Foster had worn a thong more often…

Or if Thor had ripped more dudes in half…

Or if the artwork was uglier, with more bulging veins…

Or if the covers had featured a big ugly crossover banner for something called Banishment! or Godwar: the Aftermath…

… it might have moved more copies. Because that’s what sells to the comics shop market of men between the ages of 20 and 45. If it ain’t got tits, ass, brooding, and blood, it ain’t gonna sell in your average funnybook store.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Return of the Verbose Bastard: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

So now it’s time to start running my mouth again. As I mentioned somewhere a few posts back, my day job’s been keeping me off the nerd farm the last couple of weeks, but now I‘ve finally had a day off and feel much more like sitting in front of a keyboard writing about the funnybooks. I hope you enjoyed the “Why Kirby Was King” feature in the interim; I certainly enjoyed posting up all that gorgeous pop-comics genius. There’s plenty more good reasons why Kirby was the King of Comics out there, too, so I‘m sure you‘ll see it again someday.

But for now... I’ve got a nice little pile of comics I haven’t talked about yet, and I need to plow through them. Later, I’ll do some long-form reviews of select titles. But for today, it’s bulk reviewing, fast and dirty. Because, as I’ve said before… Everybody loves a Quickie.

Uncanny X-Men #531
by Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, and Greg Land

I dropped Fraction’s X-Men book a while back, tired of the actual storylines being delayed and diverted by all the crossovers and such. I was reading it for Fraction, quite frankly, and could give a rat’s ass about the larger X-Universe. But I decided to try an issue on a whim, just to see how Kieron Gillen’s co-writing gig was going, and was shocked and delighted to find a story dealing with… the very plotlines I was enjoying back when I decided to stop reading the title! I didn’t even feel like I’d missed very much, to be honest. Kitty Pryde’s back, and I still don’t care, but otherwise…? All the important stuff’s right where I left it.

The plot, other than the on-going “mutant flu” storyline, deals with Lobe (love that name!), a hyper-intelligent villain who’s selling designer drugs that give the user mutant powers for the duration of the high. Awesome. There’s also some nice stuff about Emma Frost trying to deal with the captured Sebastian Shaw that I liked quite a bit. I like Fraction’s take on Emma as a not-very-good person trying to be better and not always succeeding. Some of her dialogue here feels a bit too “nobody really talks like that,” but I like the character work nonetheless.

Will I keep buying after this? Probably not. This was a fun diversion, but not fun enough to pay four bucks a pop for it. I didn’t miss the book when I wasn’t reading it, and probably won’t miss it in the future, either. I might pick up a trade or something, if I can find one that‘s not rendered incomprehensible by crossover crap. But if not… ah well.

Grade: B-

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why Kirby Was King VI!

He got GOD HIMSELF to sit for a portrait!

Not once...

(click to embiggen)

Not twice...

(click to embiggen)


...And the last time, he tossed in a big ol' 3D Ball of Hell!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Kirby Was King V!

Normally, you have to do drugs to see shit like this!

I don't know what it is... But I like it!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Grant Morrison @ Steve Cook's Alternity

Back in 2002, funnybook scribe extraordinaire and Dork Forty patron saint Grant Morrison performed a dramatic reading, with musical accompaniment by Ysanne Spevack, for the opening of an exhibition of artwork by sometime-funnybook-design-wizard Steve Cook. It's an odd thing, as you'd expect, based on one of Cook's paintings. I'm going to have to listen to it again to fully appreciate it, but on first run-through Morrison seems to be riffing on Britishness by way of American icons and the cosmological preoccupations underlying most of his work. Bizarre and funny and not the least bit afraid of slipping over into pretentiousness (though I think it avoids that for the most part), this really brightened my morning, and so I thought I'd share it along to you, my faithful readers...

Alternity Performance from Temporal An0maly on Vimeo.

Many thanks to Bleeding Cool for posting.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Kirby Was King III!

Monsters that walk like men!
While wearing pants!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Monster Channel

So it's been a little quiet here on the Dork Forty this week. My apologies; the day job's been keepin' me too busy to get much nerd farmin' done. But I did wanna pop in tonight to mention that one of my favorite websites, 100 Years of Monster Movies, has done somethin' pretty special: it's transformed itself (no doubt via vile sorcery or mad science of some kind) into The Monster Channel!

Hit that link above, and you'll enter a world of 24-7 live streaming monster movies! All the grade-z public domain horror movies, classic movie ads, and monster culture music videos you can stand! MORE, even! Monster Channel launched on January 1st, and I haven't had too much time to watch since then, but what I've seen has been impressive. I caught part of Penny Dreadful's horror host documentary, a bunch of my favorite bad movies, and saw a Hasil Adkins video (the true sign of class)! It's like Chiller, if it was run by people with taste!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shaky Kane Unraveled

So somebody's done a short documentary interviewing Shaky Kane, legendary British funnybook artist and illustrator of one of the year's best comics, Bulletproof Coffin. Kane covers such topics as Grant Morrison, Jack Kirby drawing in a foxhole, and UFOs. It's funny, bizarre... and entirely fictional. Except for maybe that story about Simon Bisley and the Dangerous Punk Rock Night Club. Because that totally sounds real...

Shaky Kane - Unravelled from Temporal Anomaly on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dork Awards After-Party

So now that the big fancy awards show is over, we can all just sit down and talk like folks about the funnybook scene of 2010. The highs, the lows, the trends and surprises, the books we missed readin’ here on the Dork Forty… In fact, let’s start there…

The Ones That Got Away

Nobody can read everything, and there were some mighty good funnybooks I missed out on this year. The biggest, to my way of thinking, has to be James Stokoe’s Orc Stain.

click to embiggen
A grungy epic fantasy series, this book somehow sailed under my radar til the year was almost over. And I still haven’t read it. The trade’s on order, mind you, but all I’ve gotten my hands on are some free online sneak previews and ten incomplete pages of a story Stokoe put up on his blog ( I like what I’ve seen, though, and I’m looking forward to more. The art’s cartoony-gorgeous and insanely detailed, and it just overall looks like the kind of funnybook I live for.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dork Awards 2010: Best Funnybook

…And so we come to the end of the 2010 Dork Awards. The grand finale. The big award that everybody (all five of you) have been waiting for…

Best Funnybook

I suppose that, really, this is the award for “best on-going series” or some such, since single issues, OGNs, and mini-series have already been honored. And on-going series are different, an art unto themselves with different problems and strengths, and different writing tricks to play. But “Best Funnybook” just sounds better, so let’s go with that.

One of the great advantages of the on-going series is the open-ended storytelling format, which allows a writer to develop his characters slowly over time, and in greater depth than even a novel allows. The flip-side of that, of course, is serial characters that run on for too long, as is the case with the vast majority of the big corporate super heroes. Writing those properties is a neat trick, requiring constant slight reinvention to keep things fresh, but always keeping an eye on the status quo to ensure that things don’t wander too far off from the original concept.

So that’s what I look for in on-going series. And with that in mind, let’s take a look at the nominees, the first of which tosses all that right out the window…

by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle

The only web comic to make the 2010 Dork Awards. Axe Cop is a humor comic written by 5-year-old Malachai Nicolle and illustrated by his 29-year-old big brother Ethan. I cannot begin to express how howlingly funny this strip is. The stories and characters are pretty much the sort of thing you’d expect a 5-year-old to come up with, but Ethan gives his brother’s ideas the sort of narrative flow and polished appearance a little kid just isn’t capable of. That combination of professionalism with unbridled childhood creativity is what makes the strip work. It puts me in mind of The Tick, and that is high praise indeed.