Fireflash and Tongueman

Jason and Scott are big superhero fans, which is perhaps not surprising when you consider how many comic books I have around the house.  Lately they’ve taken to inventing their own heroes and drawing their adventures, much as I did when I was their age.  It bears mentioning, however, that while I did it just as an exercise in imagination and to fill the void between visits to the drug store for real comics, Jason takes a more practical view; he’s polishing up his hero (“The Changer”) to be ready for merchandising deals and a movie franchise.  In fact, I think he’s already spent half the fortune he plans to make on royalties.

Scott’s another matter; to be honest I’m not 100 percent convinced he’s taking the whole thing seriously.  His latest hero is “Fireflash,” a guy whose super-powers include shooting lightning bolts from his fingertips and accessorizing a spandex battle suit with a stovepipe hat.

fireflash

 

Still, Fireflash is downright conventional compared to his partner in crimefighting.  Oddly shaped and colored pink from head to toe, I at first thought his name was “Tuneman,” and wondered if he was a musical hero.  Scott informed me that I read it all wrong: It’s “Tongueman,” a superhero completely covered in (or made of?)  tongues.

tongueman

I’m not sure he’s worked out the details yet, but I’m guessing Tongueman’s abilities include “licking” evil, or maybe unleashing super-raspberries.  Logical “weaknesses” would include excessively hot coffee, Polish surnames and British cooking.

Not to be outdone, there’s a third member of the adventure team, namely this guy:

ff-unclelarry

 

This name was completely illegible to me, so I had to ask.  Beaming, Scott informed me it’s “Fireflash’s Uncle Larry.”  Well, of course it is.

So beware, evil-doers everywhere!  Fireflash is back to kick some bad-guy behind, and this time he’s brought Tongueman and his Uncle Larry!

Hey, I Won Something!

It’s not every day I win something, so I was excited when Rick over at “Mail It To Team Up” chose a banner I enterted in his contest to choose a new title graphic for his comics blog.

As winner, I get the banner displayed for two weeks (maybe longer if he really likes it, who knows?) and a copy of the new DVD, “DC Superheroes: The Filmation Adventures,” featuring 60s-era cartoons of Green Lantern, The Flash, Atom, Hawkman and the Justice League. Hopefully it’ll be something I can watch with the kids (we’re out of Adam West Batman episodes!).

Anyway, here’s the winning entry:

Thanks for letting me play, Rick! Now if my luck just holds with this lottery ticket, I’m all set…

Superman Fan Blog

Like I’m not doing a lame enough job already just keeping this blog going, now I’ve gone and started a new one.

For ten years now, I’ve made almost daily visits to a site called “Superman Thru The Ages” for my fix of on-line comics and discussions with fellow fans. Then in mid-November the plug was pulled and the site vanished into the Phantom Zone. In a highly uncharacteristic burst of initiative, I took it on myself to launch a new site to replace the lost one, and with a HUGE assist from my pal Ian in the UK I got up a new message board in about 72 hours. Happily it was quick enough to keep most of the old gang from wandering off forever.

I wanted to anchor the boards to a site with some sort of actual content, so I came up with the idea of a multi-author blog, something that wouldn’t depend on me entirely. Slowly but surely it’s coming together here.

Just thought I’d mention it in case my loyal readers get frustrated by the space between posts here (Hi, Aldous! Hi, Dad! Hi, Spambots! I think that covers everyone).

Lois Lane Holding Up Well, Comics Not So Much

We spent Thanksgiving in Columbus this year, so I got the chance to attend Mid-Ohio Con for the first time in nearly ten years. The show’s grown a bit over time, but not as much as I’d expected. I did learn a few things…

1. Noel Neill is a great lady. I was struck by how pretty she is even now (incredibly, she celebrated her 87th ((!!)) birthday at the Con) and how sweet. For some reason I thought she’d be taller, not sure why, but now I know George Reeves must’ve been about my height. Which is cool, I guess. She was nice enough to sign this picture for me:

noel

2. Mark Goddard, on the other hand, is taller than I expected. “Major Don West” always seemed a bit on the short side on “Lost in Space,” standing next to Guy Williams, but he looked above average height to me in person. Makes me wonder how big Guy was.

3. “Zombies” are huge. The latest thing over at Marvel Comics are books featuring their heroes in an alternate reality where they’re all undead, rotting and falling apart in all sorts of gruesome ways. Yick. But the line for the artist on these books was longer than any other line at the show, and various other artists in attendance(both professionals and those aspiring to be) were doing their own versions of zombie superheroes, Marvel and DC alike. Another sign I am completely out of touch with modern comics fandom.

4. Old comics are expensive. I know, “duh”, right? But I was surprised at how much even the books of the 70s and 80s are fetching, or rather what dealers are asking. The weird part was thumbing through long boxes and finding the occasional Golden Age book for hundreds of dollars. I’m used to dealers putting war-era issues of “Batman” or “Captain America” on the shelves behind them to establish their bonafides as “real dealers” (and maybe to make a few sales to well-heeled collectors), but it was a new thing for me to rifle through a box of books and come across issues of Superman from the 40s with a $300+ asking price. Shouldn’t these things be in a safe or something?

5. New comics are worthless. It’s not just my opinion anymore. Dealers were offering books from this year for a fraction of cover price, including some high-profile, headline-grabbing books. Is this because so many montly comics today are quickly collected into trade paperbacks, making the originals worthless? Or is it just because today’s comics are the kind of things everyone wants to see the day they come out, but nobody wants two weeks later? You know, like most new movies?

6. Old comics are not long for this earth. I know, another “duh,” but in prepping for the show, I dug out a bunch of back issues to get signed and was struck by how badly they’re holding up, even boxed and bagged. Then when I saw other fans around my age handing over their comics for signatures, comics as yellowed and crumbling as my own, it struck me how depressing the whole hobby can be. All that time and effort put into collecting stuff that’ll be gone so soon. It kind of took the fun out of the search for back issues, which leads me to…

7. E-bay and the internet are the way to go. The first shows I ever went to, back in the mid-80s, were treasure troves of old comics I’d never have had a shot at seeing, much less buying, any other way. But the internet has made those books more available, year-round, and in most cases, cheaper to boot.

So, what did I learn, in all? That there’s not much point in going to shows any more. New stuff doesn’t interest me, old stuff is overpriced considering it’s already half-decomposed and even if I get the urge to buy, I can do better on-line. Seeing celebrities is cool, but considering the ones I’m most interested in are in their 70s and 80s, there’s only so much longer I can keep doing that, either.

Which is not to say I didn’t have a good time. :-) It’s just that it’s probably going to be the last.

Mike Wieringo, 1963-2007

Earlier this month, comic book artist Mike Wieringo passed away suddenly at the too-young age of 44.

Although I only met him once, and briefly, I always felt an odd kinship to Mike. Like him, I grew up on a steady diet of superhero adventures, and spent much of my childhood drawing stories of Superman and Batman — and my own (derivative) characters — on any scrap of paper I could find. In my teens, I attended Rustburg High School two classes behind Mike’s. Whenever my classmates or teachers saw my work, the response was always the same: “Hey, that’s great” followed by, “You should see Mike Wieringo’s stuff.” From the way they said it, I knew what they really meant was, “Mike does it better,” or maybe “Thanks but we’ve already got a comic book artist at this school.”

I met Mike briefly when I was a new employee at VCU and he was finishing up his degree in Communication Arts, still a couple months away from being “discovered” by a publisher and landing his first gig in comics. I also learned we frequented the same local comics shop, though we never crossed paths there. Thus, I’m no expert on what kind of guy Mike was personally, though from everything I’ve ever heard he was a great human being.

What I can speak to, though, is Mike’s boldness and dedication as an artist. Talent is one thing; lots of us have talent. The key is persistence; pushing yourself to grow constantly, challenging yourself to move beyond what’s comfortable and be a better artist today than you were yesterday. That’s what moved Mike beyond what he was in high school — a kid like me aping the likes of Neal Adams and John Byrne — to what he became, a creator in his own right, with a style all his own.

Mike entered the industry in the 1990’s, an era defined by dark storylines where superheroes were getting killed, crippled, maimed, you name it. His style was like an antidote to all that emotional poison; it was bright and fun, featuring characters with big eyes and big feet, loose limbs and thick eyebrows. You could have called it “cartoony,” I suppose, or “whimsical” compared to what else was out there. It was new and different, and Mike found a hungry audience; fans embraced his work and made him one of the most popular artists in the business. He was assigned to some of the biggest titles in the business: The Flash, Superman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four. And of course, true to form, other artists came along to ape his style.

That’s what separates the greats from the rest of the crowd, in the end. There’s a handful of artists whose work is so distinctive any fan can spot it anywhere: Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, George Perez…and yes, Mike Wieringo. Other artists may make the quick buck imitating those guys (and have!), but in the end it’s the innovators that get remembered.

So Mike, if you’re up there reading this, I’m sorry I never made the effort to know you in high school, or beyond. Sorry I always assumed I’d have another chance somewhere down the road. But I’m also happy that you got to live your dream, that you got to meet the greats of the industry as an equal, that you got to bring so much entertainment and pleasure to so many fans.

Somewhere out there right now is a kid drawing Spider-Man or The Flash based on the fun they had reading a Wieringo-drawn comic, and dreaming of the day he’ll be a famous artist himself. Thanks, Mike, for living the dream for the rest of us, and passing it on to the next generation. I hope that, for you, the adventure is just beginning.

flyboyringo