Monday, 30 March 2009

Gene Day

It's only old fans like me ( and presumably you ) who know the name of Gene Day these days. Which is a shame, for as anyone who watched his development from Star*Reach to Bizarre Adventures to Epic Illustrated to Master Of Kung-Fu knows, he was going to be one of the greats.

Howard Eugene Day was born in Canada in 1951. He worked with Cerebus The Aardvark's Dave Sim on various canadian underground publications, as well as a few of Skywald's horror books like Psycho & Nightmare. He also did a lot of strips for Mike Friedrich's Star*Reach & Imagine. Like this one:

And this one:

Gene got his big break in 1976, inking over Mike Zeck's breakdown's on Master Of Kung-Fu, then eventually becoming penciller on the strip by 1981. His style was incredibly dense, realistic & detailed, and his inking nearly as rich & photographic as Wally Wood's. Here's some classic Shang-Chi, showing Gene's absolute mastery of design:

Gene died in 1982, a victim of a coronary in his sleep, at the shockingly early age of 32, and because Master Of Kung-Fu will probably never be released in 'Essential' form, his work is more or less lost to both old & new fans. Which is a real shame as, if he'd lived, we'd be talking about him in the same breath as Neal Adams or Alex Ross.
I just found out while writing this, that there is an award in Gene's name, awarded to Canadian self-publishers of merit: A fitting tribute, but it's a pity he never got to see it.

Enemy Ace

Enemy Ace was a great series that ran in various DC war books throughout the Bronze Age. Written by Bob Kanigher & illustrated by Joe Kubert, it was set in World War 1 and followed the adventures of Hans Von Hammer, Germany's greatest fighter pilot in the War To End All Wars.

Von Hammer is one of comics' greatest conflicted hero's. Feared as much by the young fliers who serve with him ( who refer to him in hushed whispers as The Human Killing Machine ) as by his enemies ( to whom he's known as The Hammer Of Hell ), he's an unutterably lonely man.
Born into nobility, and with no talent for anything other than fighting & killing, he spends just about every episode torturing himself over the destruction he causes, and waiting, almost eagerly, for the day when it'll be his turn to be shot out of the sky.
He also considers himself one of the few men to be fighting the war with honour, constantly giving enemy pilot's another chance to live, as if he was fighting some kind of duel. The fact that, often, his enemies lack the same mercy is immaterial to him.
Von Hammer has no friends, and though women are always attracted to his mystique, it never takes too long before they're fleeing from his arms & the scent of death that always surrounds him.
His only companion is a mysterious wolf he hunts with in the depths of the Black Forest, a companion that may only exist in his tortured mind, or may even be the spirit of Death itself.

Not exactly cheery stuff then. But it's also incredibly readable. Kubert, here at the peak of his powers, draws Von Hammer as everybody's idea of a german aristocrat, with a kind of cruel, distant sadness about him, and although each episode is more or less the same story ( Von Hammer always walks with the wolf, his pilots always talk about him, he always regrets winning the battle ), Kanigher does ring the changes enough to keep you reading. There are interesting visual concessions to the superhero book too, both in Von Hammer's Hawkman like headgear, and in colourful villains like The Hangman, Steve Savage & St. George.
But in the end, it's Rittmeister Von Hammer and his endless, lonely war that keep you reading; He's just one of those characters that stays with you.
Here's a great episode: The Devil's General. For more, get Showcase Presents Enemy Ace. And quickly, for the sky is killer of us all...

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Stories We Never Got To See: Kestrel Falconer

When Marvel Preview became Bizarre Adventures, two things happened. Firstly, the newsagents in my town started to stock it regularly, clearly under the impression that it was a porn mag, and secondly, new editor Lynne Graeme trailered what was coming up in a section called Sneak Previews. For what seemed like ages, she plugged an upcoming epic from Steve Bissette by the name of Kestrel Falconer. Here's part of one piece:

And here's Steve's breathless precis for his story:

Me, I was sold. I couldn't wait to read this thing. Unfortunately, it never happened. Time passed, Denny O'Neill took over editorship of Bizarre Adventures, and Kestrel Falconer was never mentioned again. So what happened?

Well, it's one of those fascinating sidenotes in comics' history, that shows how often we don't get to see potentially interesting projects.
According to an interview Bissette gave to Rich Arndt in 2005, Lynn Graeme was what you might call a 'hands-on' type of editor. Over to Steve: " Any time she would accept an idea I proposed, she would want to write it. " The idea of the lead character Kes was that she had the ability to travel through time, without the aid of a time machine. Steve again: " My premise was that she was following this young man who was a scientist through time. The 'hook' was that he was causing all the mass extinctions ( as a result ) of his experiments. There was also a romantic hook, in that he was very handsome, quite charismatic, and Kestrel was attracted to him, but repulsed by his amorality and sociopathic behavior."
Graeme apparently loved the idea, but wanted to do the script herself. She proposed a further twist, where Thayer was a racist, intent on wiping out african-americans, moving the story more into the modern day and away from the prehistoric scenes that Bissette actually wanted to draw. Begrudgingly, he agreed to the changes.

Months passed without a script arriving however, as Graeme & Bissette communicated back and forth, she demanding artwork, he replying that he still had no script to work from. By December, Lynn Graeme had left, or was pushed, from Marvel, and didn't work in the industry again. According to Bissette, Kestrel Falconer took place at a strange time for Marvel, with people being hired & fired all over the place, and I'm not disparaging Lynn Graeme at all here. ( In fact, I'd love to hear her side of the story ) But it is a shame we never got to see Kestrel Falconer, 'cos it sounds great.

Friday, 27 March 2009

A Frog Is A Frog

Back when Marvel Preview became Bizarre Adventures and Denny O' Neil took over as editor, they abandoned the single character format and did a few themed issues, including this one titled Violence. There actually wasn't a bad story in this book (and not a whole lot wrong with the cover either), but the best story was Steve Perry's & Steve Bissette's A Frog Is A Frog.
This forgotten little 10 pg strip is one of the great stories about adolescence, and if, like me, you have the odd (otherwise intelligent) friend who still thinks comics are all POW! WHAM! BIFF! sub-literate drivel for children, this is a great one to throw at them.
But bear in mind, real life is not like any comic book story at all...including this one...