Sunday, 31 August 2014

How Howie Made It In The Real World

The Odd Comic World Of Richard Corben was released by Warren in 1977, and was a collection of Corben's then hard to find early underground work, back when he was still signing his strips with the
( very apt, as you'll see ) pen name of 'Gore'.
From it, here's a cast iron classic, How Howie Made It In The Real World. It's sort of a '70's version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and can be read as a non-too subtle allegory on society, a retelling of the Adam & Eve story, or just as a rip-snortin' sci-fi yarn with a killer punchline. The choice is yours...

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Thundarr The Barbarian

Thundarr The Barbarian was the world's first Post-Apocalypse / Sword & Sorcery Saturday Morning Cartoon, and though it's not quite as great as you might remember, it's still worth looking at for a whole bunch of reasons. Principally, that it was co-created by Steve Gerber, with scripts by him, Marty Pasko & Mark Evanier, and was designed by Jack Kirby & Alex Toth.

The basic set-up of Thundarr is, well here, let's see the opening of the show, with suitably breathless narration:


Gerber took the idea of a barbarian series to Joe Ruby ( Ruby/ Spears ) a couple of years after leaving the comics biz. The two put Thundarr together and pitched it to ABC, who at the time were considering both Spider-Man and Daredevil series'. Thundarr won out basically because kids weren't particularly interested in seeing another Spidey cartoon, and the relatively unknown DD was as much of a risk as the slightly more original barbarian hero.
Not that TV executives really knew what they were being offered. In a 1981 interview for Comics Feature, Gerber remembered: ' We had a lot of problems at first, because no one at the network really knew what sword and sorcery was. We kept hearing things like, ' Yes we want it to be sword and sorcery-just like Tarzan!' And you just sort of stare blankly and ask them, 'Where are the swords and where is the sorcery in Tarzan?' They saw the superficial resemblance of the half naked hero and the savage setting and that was it. '

And there were other problems. Regarding characterisation: ' Ariel ( for instance ) was supposed to be more sophisticated, and a little bit bitchier, more colloquial and sardonic, than she's currently portrayed. The new TV rule of thumb is that all characters in a series must be likeable - all the time. This seems to apply to prime time as well as Saturday morning, and perhaps more than any other factor, it probably accounts for most network programming being very nearly unwatchable. You're being presented with mannequins, not characters. '

So Thundarr is a one note hero, whose defining characteristic is that he's ANGRY! ALL! THE! TIME! while Ariel seems ridiculously willing to put up with his, at times, outrageous sexism, and the animation is unfortunately a bit cheap and bland looking, as most cartoons were at the time.
But what Thundarr does have going for it is that the episodes are nicely fast paced adventures, with none of the, to quote Gerber again, ' kind of cloying preachy mealy-mouthed social consciousness crap that hobbled shows like Shazam, Isis and for a time Super Friends. We wanted to do adventure, suspense and in so far as it was allowed, horror- in other words to remain true to the spirit of the sword and sorcery genre. '

Thundarr also has a musical score that goes for broke every time, being massively exciting and epic even if nothing is happening, plus you get the fun stylistic push-me pull-you of Gerber and Kirby on the same screen. Like the first episode, where wizard Gemini ( an obvious Kirby creation ): 

Brings to life the surprisingly well-preserved Statue of Liberty ( an equally obvious Gerber schtick ):

Then there's gags like this one, where Ariel tries to explain to Thundarr what a ' Moo Vee' was:

Or dialogue exchanges like my favourite from the episode Raiders Of The Abyss:
Ariel: Don't be silly, Thundarr. The wizard was a nice old man.
Thundarr: Wizards are never nice! And Barbarian's are NEVER silly!!!

Or from the same episode, where the gang have rescued some humans from being strung up like beef:
Thundarr: Now you can live in peace! And the right side up!

And of course there's the guy with the lampshade on his head...

So fun, fast paced and gently subvervise. All Thundarr needs is a big-budget remake now.
" Ariel! Ookla! RiiiIIDE!!!!! "

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Jack Kirby's Spirit World

One of the many ways Jack Kirby tried to drag comics kicking and screaming into the future while at his time at DC, was the idea for a new magazine line. Not just with larger scale Black & White versions of their characters like Marvel's, or just horror like Warren, but a whole line of all kinds of genres, and with higher production values, more comparable to National Lampoon than Creepy or Monsters Unleashed.
The creative people at DC loved the idea, the people with the purse strings weren't so keen.
Eventually, the concept morphed down to just one issue each of gangster book in The Days Of The Mob and this, probably one of Kirby's strangest projects. Both magazines were released disinterestedly in 1971, and promptly vanished without trace.
With assistants Mark Evanier & Steve Sherman, Kirby produced the entire book solo ( the DC bean counters stating there was no money for other writers or artists for the venture ), and though at the time, especially compared to the variety you got in a Warren book, it realistically wouldn't've stood a chance, now it's a welcome mess of Kirby at his bat-shit craziest.
Behind a Kirby / Neal Adams cover, you get a bunch of comic strips, not all of them completely successful. The ostensible host of the book, Dr. Maas, isn't in the same league as DC's horror hosts Cain or Abel, nor is he meant to be, though the best stories ( The Screaming Woman, House Of Horror ) do have some wonderfully creepy imagery in Jack's blocky Fourth World style, and are actual stories rather than brief incidents.
Of course, Kirby had done mystery comics before, Black Magic for instance, but this is a step beyond those kinds of books, and anyone who has trouble with Kirby's writing style is going to have a tough time here, as this is pure, undiluted Jack, and an unwary reader not skilled in comics styles would struggle even more, I think.
The fumetti and collages are even more insane, my favourites being the telepathic journey to another planet Children Of The Flaming Wheel and the beautiful, eerie poster Souls. Imagine what Jack would've done with our technology now.
Oh that's right, you can't imagine that. You're not Jack Kirby.