People Whose Work I Admire Who Died in 2008

December 28, 2008 - Leave a Response

In 2008 we took some heavy losses.

Steve Gerber (September 20, 1947 – February 10, 2008);  idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Thomas M. Disch (February 2, 1940 – July 4, 2008); suicide

David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008); suicide

Guy Peellaert (April 6, 1934 – November 17, 2008); cancer

4SJ Ackerman (November 24, 1916 – December 4, 2008); “old age”

And Arthur Clarke, Bettie Page and Dave Stevens went too. Here’s hoping we don’t lose any more in the next few days. And here’s to a 2009 where fewer folks like these pass. Cheers, gang. Many happy returns.

UPDATE: It looks like I spoke too soon. pulp and SF illustrator Edd Cartier’s death was announced after I wrote this.  Fingers crossed, that’ll be all.

A New Beginning, of Sorts

December 20, 2008 - Leave a Response

I’ve reserved this blog space for some time now with the hope of writing new content. We’ll see how that goes. For the short term, though, I’ve been adding the columns that I wrote several years ago under a different name for Nyxx Underground, backdated on the blog to the dates they were originally published (according to my records, at least). They’re rather long for blog posts, but keep in mind they originally had a rather different purpose in mind. I liked the column, it’s a pity circumstances didn’t allow me to continue then. My hope is that I’ll do more similar things here in the future. For now, enjoy the re-runs!

Mantlo and Golden’s MICRONAUTS

July 6, 2005 - Leave a Response

Issues 1-12

Now that the bloom’s off the rose a bit on this summer’s final outing of Star Wars and it can all be looked at with a bit of retrospect, there’s a need for a new fix. To me, it’s worth going back to that initial boom to scoop up stuff that’s been buried by over 25 years of imitators and johnny-come-latelys. In 1978, due almost solely to the success of Star Wars, science fiction experienced a renaissance in popular culture. It stuck after that to the point where we scarcely think twice about how prevalent it is. If you begin to take the current crop of science fiction for granted, though, there’s nothing so humbling than to look back at just how much came out in a three-year period after Star Wars in film, on TV, and in the comics: Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon (the movie and the cartoon)… and The Micronauts. Mantlo and Golden’s twelve issues together on Micronauts are some of the most fun space opera that you could hope for. Sadly, due to licensing issues, it seems pretty unlikely that these issues will ever see print again, but they should be easy enough to track down. All the issues in question were also reprinted in the four issues of Micronauts Special Edition in the mid-80s, which are convenient because there are fewer issues to collect. They’ll be worth your while if this sort of swashbuckling space action gives you a bit of a buzz.

How it All Began

Before the comic book, The Micronauts were a line of toys produced in the US by Mego, who also made Barbie-sized dolls of Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and the DC and Marvel superheroes in the ’70s. The Micronauts line began in 1976 — just prior to Star Wars — and were unique for their variant color schemes and interchangibility. Some of the toys (such as Baron Karza and Force Commander) had magnetized ball-and-socket joints, so their limbs could be switched around. The toys were very successful.*

A MEGO Micronauts ad, from the Mego Museum

A MEGO Micronauts ad, from the Mego Museum

According to an article he wrote for Comics Journal #40 in 1978, comics writer Bill Mantlo first found out about the toys when his son Adam received them for the previous Christmas. Mantlo was intrigued by the toys’ names and lack of background, and approached new Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter about the possibility of a Micronauts comic book. After some confusion about who would draw the book — Jack Kirby, George Perez and Bob Hall were all considered, but unavailable — relative newcomer Michael Golden (whose previous work included some back-up strips of Batman and The Demon, and a brief run on Mr. Miracle, all at DC) took the job. In a contemporary interview with British fanzine BEM, Mantlo explained: “[Golden], I, and [then-]editor Bob Hall began plotting the first twelve issues (yes, we plotted the entire epic, from Karza’s triumph to his downfall) at the start, so the Karza epic would be finite.”

*As with many things, this is only part of the story. Since this is about the Micronauts comic, I don’t feel the need (nor the qualification) to explain the Japanese origins of the toys, or their various incarnations. There’re sites around that will happily oblige, though…

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The Norm Breyfogle Interview – Part 3

June 24, 2005 - Leave a Response

Holy Terror

Batman: Holy Terror

MO: I’d like to ask you about the Holy Terror book you did with Alan Brennert, who’s another one of my favorites.

NB: It was a lot of fun. I was able to obliquely tap into my own previous Christian fanaticism. I’ve got some comics that I drew when I was 15, 16 years old where I drew Batman as a Christian. He actually prays before a fight where he has to fight like a hundred guys. And of course, he beats ’em all [laughs]. Well, actually he gets saved by the cops before he beats ’em all. But they don’t beat him [laughs]. Yeah, like Jesus would condone beating the crap out of guys. But, yeah, Holy Terror. Holy Terror was the first elseworlds book. [Gotham by Gaslight, drawn by Mike Mignola] wasn’t called elseworlds, but really was the same [concept]. [Terror] was really the second, but the first one with the logo. I liked the whole “elseworlds” concept. It’s too bad DC killed that. There are so many more things that could be done. In fact, there are a number of my own proposals that I thought would have been wonderful as “elseworlds” concepts that DC didn’t pick up. I guess they were getting deluged with elseworlds concept titles. Creators love that — it’s a new feel. You can do the same character, but it’s like you’re creating it yourself. For instance, one of mine was going to be tentatively called “Batman of the Apes”, where instead of Lord Greystroke, Bruce Wayne’s father would crash a plane in the jungles of Africa and he’d be raised by apes. I didn’t have it all worked out, but basically, there’d be another experience of a bat that would have him start dressing up as a bat to avenge the death of his parents or something. That would have been wonderful.


Atomflash designs, from Norm Breyfogle: Retrospect

There was one I was considering calling “Atomflash” which was a combination of the Atom and the Flash. The Atom and the Flash have a long history of teaming up together — there were some stories by Alex Toth. I had great visuals worked out. God, it’s been too long since I’ve thought about it. The main character’s name was a combination of Barry Allen and Ray Palmer. The whole point of the story was that I’d be able to draw these wonderful visuals. [The symbol] on his chest was a combination of the Flash symbol and the Atom symbol. Like the electron going around the nucleus of an atom. He breathed miniaturized air. He communicated with macroscopic people through radio electronics, because he’s just “at point” (invisible in size).

MO: Some of these elements seem to evoke Ant-Man. This is neat.

NB: What was neat about it for me as an artist was that he would have all the neat visuals of The Atom, because instead of being stuck in one area, he would be able to see a lot more terrain; with his super-speed he could move much more quickly. [My proposal illustrations] were drawn not as segments of the story, but just to show what kind of visuals were potential. Even the Atom stories have never really been drawn like that. When the Atom shrinks, he’s either six inches tall and throws his weight around — literally, he beats people up — or else he goes into the subatomic realm. He’s never right in between, “at point,” where it’s the most interesting scale to draw. Since DC turned it down, I’ve decided to write a novel based on the concepts, if not the exact same character. I’ve got it halfway written now.


Atomflash in context, a proposal illustration from Norm Breyfogle: Retrospect

None of the original visuals are going to be involved. Like I said, DC was being deluged with elseworlds concepts. Plus, they didn’t really like my idea in that it was a combination of two characters in one. The traditional element of elseworlds is that you might use two characters, but they’d remain separate characters. This would be the first time two were combined in one. Yet, I thought it was ideal, because the Atom and the Flash are arguably both the most science fiction-oriented of the DC superheroes. Superman’s obviously science fiction too, but he’s got so many powers, he’s almost into a god realm. But these guys have one incredible power [each] that have been used in science fiction stories for a long period of time. Like H.G. Wells wrote in his short story “the New Accelerator” back in 1905. I think they should have kept going with the elseworlds titles. I guess they weren’t selling — it must be that, I’m not sure what else it could be. It’s disappointing that the fans didn’t find it as interesting as the creators.

MO: There was that year where all the annuals were elseworlds stories. Maybe they burned out then?

NB: I don’t know about that. If it was long enough ago, maybe they could bring it back now.

MO: I remember seeing a drawing you did of the Creeper that was part of a series proposal? How did that come about?

The Creeper, from the unrealized late 90s series

NB: It was in the late ’90s. It wasn’t that long ago. I guess it was like ten years ago almost. I heard through my agent — Mike Freidrich was still my agent — that DC was open for a Creeper proposal. So Pat McGreal and I put together a Creeper proposal. They didn’t go with it, of course. Otherwise you would have seen it. There were a lot of other drawings too — there were two production drawings of the Creeper. You probably just saw the costume design?

MO: I remember what I saw had him on a lamppost coming down on some guys. I noticed he had a different costume — a much more shirt-oriented costume. He had a V-neck.

NB: I don’t remember one of him on a lamp post. I’ve drawn so many pages! I’ve drawn at least 5,000 comic book pages. It’s incredible when you look back on it. There’s going to be another 5,000 before I’m done, I’m sure. I wonder what the record is. People refer to Jack Kirby as possibly holding that record, but I don’t know the actual number of pages that he drew. I’m sure I’ll never beat the record, whatever it is. I spend a little too much time on each page. Although I did start early, and I did them consistently, and I do plan on doing it the rest of my life. I might be able to get a lot of them out there. Read the rest of this entry »

The Norm Breyfogle Interview – Part 2

June 23, 2005 - Leave a Response

NB: Robin’s costume was such an icon for me that when the issue came up of changing his costume — before it came up, when fans were asking for it, I couldn’t agree. I thought Robin’s costume was great. Of course, now I look back and recognize it needed a change. But what I was seeing was the colorful contrast with the dark Batman. That’s what worked. That’s what they retained too. It’s still got the yellow inside the cape and the red breast.

The (first) Neal Adams Robin costume, as drawn by Dick Dillin from JLA #92

The (first) Neal Adams Robin costume, as drawn by Dick Dillin from JLA #92

DC… I don’t know what initiated it, had been considering redesigning Robin for a long time. I remember when Mike Freidrich scripted Justice League issues…

MO: The Neal Adams-designed costume…

NB: Right. He had wings, kind of, then too [like in the Batman Family piece]. They were attached [at the wrists] and he could glide. They were considering it for a long time. They even asked the readers: ‘Should Robin have this new costume?’; you remember the end of that issue. I always said ‘Yeah! He should!’ I didn’t write in – I didn’t even think to write in. It’s funny, the stuff I didn’t do. I read the story, and looked at the art, and I’d skim the letters column, and I wouldn’t even notice some other important things that were in the books. I wasn’t that much of a comics reader then. I was more into the art and the basic story. Finally, around the Batman movies, they decided to conscript a number of artists to come up with different designs. Jim Aparo was involved, I was involved, Neal Adams was involved, Graham Nolan… there were a number of other artists that I can’t recall offhand.

MO: Many of these were assembled into [the Batman: Knightgallery book].

Some of Breyfogles Robin designs

Some of Breyfogle's Robin designs

NB: Exactly. That included some Batman redesigns too for some special issue of Batman, Brotherhood of the Bat. I did a whole bunch of costume designs for Robin, probably more than anybody else that they asked to do. I don’t really know that for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Neal Adams probably nailed down his costume pretty quickly because he’s got a lot of experience. I was still – compared to Neal – I was definitely wet behind the ears. There were certain things they did retain, even though they chose Neal Adams’ costume design. The ‘R’ symbol Robin’s got is almost entirely mine. Everybody else gave him the same ‘R’ symbol. I was the only one who changed that, gave it a bit more character, and I considered making it a throwing star too. And then the staff that he used [was my idea]. It made sense to me that if we’re trying to make Robin more ‘realistic’, we don’t like his stupid costume, and after I’d read [Frank Miller’s] The Dark Knight it was becoming more and more apparent that having a child running around with an adult – or a teenager – when he’s pretty reckless [is a bad idea]. Instead of giving him a gun, which you can’t do because of the mythos, I gave him a staff, which extended his reach so he could compete with adults. So that was mine too. I guess I’ll have to keep saying that, otherwise people will forget.
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The Norm Breyfogle Interview – Part 1

June 22, 2005 - Leave a Response

Norm Breyfogle broke into the big-time in 1987 drawing Batman in Detective Comics after starting out on some back-up strips and smaller titles for First Comics. While on Batman — in Detective, Batman and Shadow of the Bat — Norm worked primarily with Alan Grant. I’ve written a column elsewhere on this site about their first several issues together. Partly because of the success of the Batman movie, his work reached a wide audience, and Norm became one of the top Batman artists in many fans’ opinions. He left to work on Prime and his creator-owned Metaphysique for Malibu, and returned briefly to DC to work on some limited projects, including a run on a pair of Anarky series (again with Alan Grant) and the Hal Jordan Spectre series. His newest project, Relative Comics’ Of Bitter Souls, comes out in August. I spoke with him on May 15th, 2005 in Detroit.

Norm Breyfogle, May 2005

Norm Breyfogle, May 2005

Mike O’Ryan: What did you read when you were a kid?

Norm Breyfogle: A lot of science fiction. I read H.G. Wells. I read the classics: Call of the Wild, Black Beauty – I remember crying at the end of Black Beauty. I was a very emotional kid. Boy, you name it, I probably read it. I don’t have a list of ’em right in my head offhand, but it’s surprising when I look back. Whenever a new movie is made of some old classic, [I think] ‘Oh, I remember reading that.’ So, I was a pretty literary kid. I mean, I wasn’t extremely so, but I wasn’t forced into it either. I enjoyed reading.

MO: What was your first spark of wanting to do art?

NB: First one. Boy, I don’t know. That’s hard to say. It might come from my dad, because my dad had artistic ability. He still has artistic ability, although I’m not in touch with him. My mom and dad got divorced when I was three. Haven’t been in touch with him at all. I remember he would visit us for a year after they got divorced, until my mom got remarried. He did do drawings for me – did a Superman for me. I think it probably influenced me, because I was just a kid, and he was fairly decent at it.

The next thing after that would probably be seeing comic books.

MO: How early on were you exposed?

NB: I don’t know. Really early. Before I can really remember. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading comic books to me before I could read them. Superman and Batman. The TV shows reinforced the comic books. I watched the Superman TV show and the Batman TV show. I’d go out, and when I did see a spinner rack, that’s what I’d pick up. I didn’t really become familiar with so many of the other titles, or the Marvel titles, until many years later. I remember drawing Batman when I was in kindergarten. I remember that his cowl was conceptually beyond my ability to render. So I gave him a Robin mask instead! A little domino… [laughs] I wish I had those drawings now, I don’t.

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DETECTIVE COMICS by Grant/Breyfogle: Part 1

May 23, 2005 - One Response

Issues 583-594; 596-597; 601-603

By Alan Grant & John Wagner and Norm Breyfogle

1988 was a strange year for Batman.

The franchise-reinvigorating Frank Miller Dark Knight series, which made Batman much more no-nonsense and grim was two years old (summer of 1986).

The grand commercial explosion of the Michael Keaton Batman movie wouldn’t arrive for another year.

By late 1986, everyone’s perception of Batman (or at least, the perception of the editors and most of the people that were reading new comics) was that he had taken a dramatic step back into the shadows from his slightly more cheery mid-1980s incarnation. Julie Schwartz, Batman’s editor since the mid-’60s, had just stepped down and was replaced by Denny O’Neil, the writer often credited as giving Batman his shadowy mystique back in the late 1960s.

The wide holes left by DC’s Crisis series (also 1986) allowed O’Neil a great deal of editorial freedom: his first act as editor of the Batman titles was to allow Miller to write Batman: Year One (serialized in O’Neil’s first four issues as editor) which canonized Miller’s darker vision of Batman. Perhaps as a way of offsetting this, the companion Batman title Detective Comics approached the affair from a lighter and more classic angle, written by Mike Barr.* History has shown which has won out: Year One was collected into a single book almost twenty years ago, and has stayed in print since. There has been no collection of the fun-loving Barr Batman strip.

*The subject of a future column.

Barr’s successors on Detective were British writers Alan Grant and John Wagner, longtime writers of the “Judge Dredd” strip in the English comic 2000 AD. In an interview with the 2000 AD Review website, Alan Grant explained how they got the job: “John and I were working on Dredd one day when the phone went. It was Denny O’Neil to say that sales of their flagship title were the lowest ever, they were thinking of closing down ‘Detective Comics‘, but he’d been reading Dredd and wondered if we could impart any of that weirdness to Batman. We said yes, of course. He gave us a 2-issue contract, extended to a year after he read the [first] story.” The artist assigned to work with them (and who, in truth, had drawn some of the last few Barr issues as well) was a relative newcomer, an American named Norm Breyfogle.

Their work on Batman, though well-praised in its moment, has since fallen off the radar – undeservedly, since it remains some of the finest Batman material published to date. Nearly twenty years later, and with the appearance of a new Batman movie, their work on the character deserves a second look.

While I hope to discuss in depth the whole of the Grant/Breyfogle tenure on the character over time (Wagner leaves the strip relatively early on), here I’ll only be discussing the first 17 issues (the 75-cent cover-priced issues), to whet your appetite for more.

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