Saturday, January 31, 2009

22 Panels That Always Work

Wally would always look for shortcuts. Comics, after all, was a business--not high art. The faster he could turn out quality product, the more money he could make. Thus, over the years, he doodled up individual panel "templates." Pasted together after the fact by one of Woody's assistants (Larry Hama or Paul Kirchner I believe), the resulting visual mastercourse in comics storytelling is all over the Web already but it seemed like I should post it here, also.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Animated Wizard King

There wasn't one. Animated WIZARD KING that is. Wood had reportedly had the story of Odkin and the World of the Wizard King floating around in his head for decades. Other than a few odd sketches here and there, it finally began to emerge from his subconscious in early issues of his self-published WITZEND in the mid-sixties and beyond. With the popularity of sword and sorcery fiction and comics by 1970, it seemed a natural that Odkin and friends could make it in the movies! Animated, of course!

I don't know if there were really ever any plans for a WIZARD KING film or if these and other "animation cels" were done on spec just to try to sell the project. Ralph Bakshi's WIZARDS borrowed a bit from Wood's work and Wendy and Richard Pini's ELFQUEST clearly showed inspiration but Woody's dream, like so many in later years, was not to be.

Seen here, though, from the legendary limited edition STreet (sic) Enterprises...Ummm... OMG! I JUST now got that! Capital S and Capital T as in the last names of the two guys who comprised the company--Jerry Sinkovec and Mike Tiefenbacher. I can't believe it! More than 30 years and I just now...Ahem! Sorry...Where was I?

As I was saying, as seen here from the limited edition STreet Enterprises Portfolio of 1975 (mine's # 883 out of a print run of 2000) we offer 4 of the cels featuring scenes from the never was animated feature THE WIZARD KING. If I recall, the Odkin character was to be renamed "Weehawk."

All-Star Original Art

I've only ever possessed two pages of original comic book art and both of those are DC pages inked by Wallace Wood. One is a SUPERBOY page from the late 1960's drawn by the unsung craftsman, Bob Brown. The other, seen here, is from Wood's mid-seventies outburst of creativity at DC. It's a JSA page from issue 63 of the revived ALL-STAR COMICS with pencils credited to Keith Giffen. Studying this page, it's fascinating to me to see the use of screens (including one that obviously peeled off over the years before I got it), white paint, and the leftover blue pencils. You can see the brush strokes where the blacks were added and the subtlety of some of the lines in the faces. Just amazing when you consider that this is really (in spite of the presence of Hourman, Dr. Mid Nite, Dr. Fate and the Star Spangled Kid) a rather lackluster page. Wood--probably assisted here by Al Sirois--was apparently enjoying the JSA stories quite a bit because following this, for a few issues, he's credited with full art on the title and that's something he just did not do in those late days.
When I was managing a bookstore last year, we carried the graphic novels reprinting this run of ALL-STAR and I took great delight in opening to this page, all shrunken and colored in the reprint, and telling my co-workers that i actually HAD the art at home. They didn't get it. They said I could buy the whole book so why would I want just a page? I tried to explain why I bought the artwork and why it mattered but the outside world still just doesn't get nor understand the importance of Wallace Wood. Maybe that was always the problem.

Wallace Wood Checklist

Before we get too far into this little enterprise, I'd like to point out THE WALLACE WOOD CHECKLIST by Wood friend and biographer Bhob Stewart with Jim Vadeboncouer, Jr, published by Twomorrows in 2003. While any undertaking of this sort regarding an artist so prolific is going to be slightly less than complete, that makes it no less definitive. It is most certainly essential reading and reference to anyone truly interested in its subject. It is also still available (at a discount even!) from Twomorrows at If you don't have this wonderfully obsessive volume as of yet, go order it now. We'll wait.

The Most Original Superhero of All?

Repinted from Booksteve's Library, June 2007
Scientist Doctor Dunn worked for a secret organization known as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves). Old and dying, he transferred his consciousness into a lifelike android he had created. He was then entrusted by the organization with a cloak that imparted de facto invisibility to its wearer. Thus was born the 1960’s Tower Comics character NoMan, one of the few truly unique superheros in all of comicdom. Doctor Dunn was able to transfer his consciousness at will between various android bodies but there was only one invisibility cloak so he was constantly having to salvage it.
Other T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents included Dynamo (a Superman type with a belt that gives him super-strength), Lightning (a Flash type whose use of his speed powers speeded up his life, also) and Raven, a Hawkman type. NoMan, though, was unlike any other hero who came before him.
NoMan appeared as Ilya to Dynamo’s Napoleon Solo in twenty issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS and four issues of DYNAMO as well as in two of his own self-titled comic. Although never as popular as the Marvel or DC heroes of the day these hybrid spy/sci-fi/superhero tales are fondly remembered collectors items today. Despite a solid premise, they were always a bit light in the writing area but oh, that artwork! With Wallace Wood as their co-creator and guiding light, the Tower heroes also featured memorable work by Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, Reed Crandall (who did the very first NOMAN story), George Tuska and Mike Sekowsky, all of whom were working for other publishers at the time. Also present were veteran artists Ogden Whitney, Manny Stallman and the younger Dan Adkins who, as I understand it, actually ghosted Wood’s work sometimes in these comics.
Revived intermittently over the years (both legitimately and illegitimately), the Agents have suffered from major legal headaches which have kept them pretty much relegated to cult status. Most recently, DC has reprinted these original tales in their overpriced Archives series. If you’re tired of cookie cutter heroes, look for the reprints or better yet, track down the originals on these to check out NoMan!

Wally Wins!

Edited from Booksteve's Library, May 2008
Here we have a nifty MAD photo of Wallace Wood (l) smiling as he wins the 1957 Best Comic Artist Award. If you know anything at all about Wood, you know that in spite of being one of the most celebrated humor and sci-fi artists of the 20th century he was not a particularly happy man. Sure looks happy here though and that's nice to see.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Europe's First Fully-Computerized Thing-1960's

Originally published at Booksteve's Library in March of 2006
When I joined Wallace Wood's official fan club, the Friends of Odkin (FOO) in the late seventies, one of the cool things the artist sent along with his basic membership kit was a leftover copy of an outdated portfolio he had made up for advertising agencies. Inside were random style samplings from sci-fi digests, comics, fanzines, children's books and toys. As a Wood fan, many of these were pieces I had seen before. One that I had not seen nor have I seen it anywhere since was this one. This is described in the portfolio as "Scandinavian Airlines announces Europe's first fully-computerized thing." Zoom in on this sucker and you'll find enough Woody goodness here to keep you occupied for awhile. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wayne Howard

Artist Wayne Howard (who died recently) was one of the first African-American artists to be successful in the comics industry. He had started out as an assistant to Wallace Wood and that shows in every line of his artwork. His machines were detailed, his women full-lipped and voluptuous, his monsters disgusting, his layouts marked by zipatone use and even his signature was a poor man's variation on Woody's trademark gothic lettering. Most of Wayne Howard's professional career was spent at the low-rent Charlton Comics and peaked in the mid-seventies with the tongue-in-cheek horror title, MIDNIGHT TALES. The first issue featured an About the Artist page that for some reason barely mentions Wood in spite of the fact that sometimes Howard's Charlton covers looked so much like Woodwork that one had to look close to tell they weren't!

Lunar Tunes

Edited and augmented from two pieces originally published at Booksteve's Library in December of 2005.

Wallace Wood died in November, 1981, but in those pre-Internet days, it was early December before I learned of it with the arrival of Cat Yronwode's BUYERS GUIDE obituary in my mailbox..just a few days before my mother's death. It was a rough Christmas. In a way, Woody was almost like family. I had grown up with his DAREDEVIL, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS and Warren stories, then discovered his MAD work in reprints by age 10 and his EC sci-fi classics as a teenager. I taught myself to draw by copying Kirby and Wood. I was an early member of his personal fan club, FOO, the Friends Of Odkin, in the late seventies and was totally blindsided by his suicide.
After his death, a number of previously unpublished pieces have come to light, the best of which was probably a picture of Nick Cuti’s MOONCHILD and a surprisingly good (and perhaps older than it supposedly was) sci-fi short story printed in THE COSMIC BOOK. Perhaps the worst were the few pages of LUNAR TUNES printed in the final real issue of Woody’s legendary independent magazine, WITZEND.
A few years ago now, David Spurlock’s Vanguard Productions issued THE COMPLETE LUNAR TUNES and did their best to put a positive spin on it. It didn’t work. Taken as it is, it’s an incomprehensible mess with more than half of it clearly screened, pasted up from Woody’s legendary "swipe" file or traced from his own earlier work. Although supposedly intended as a single piece, I’d bet anything it was intended to run…somewhere…in sections, almost like a daily comic strip. This explains the frequent punchlines that are followed by the creator’s philosophical moments before starting up again in a completely different direction a page later.
Taken in context, however, LUNAR TUNES offers a unique, disturbing look into Wood’s tortured mind just prior to his ultimate decision. He was a lonely, bitter, sad, soft spoken, alcoholic, gun loving country music fan who was beloved and admired by thousands who never even met him. After years of abuse, his body was failing him and he seems to have been trying to get his feelings out in the only way he ever seemed to succeed…in his art.
Eschewing any kind of coherent storyline whatsoever, LUNAR TUNES ostensibly stars Bucky Ruckus, from Wood's great 1967 syndicated newspaper Christmas strip--the youthful astronaut with the nifty space/time machine seen on the cover. Also traipsing across the Zipatone lunar landscape are Nudine and Pip from WITZEND’S PIPSQUEAK PAPERS, Snorky the alien from SALLY FORTH and literally dozens of the artist’s throwaway humorous freaks like those that once decorated the covers to DC’s PLOP and the overpacked crowd scenes in his MAD stories.
Wood’s oft quoted "Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace and never trace anything you can cut out and paste in." appears twice and, as stated, he clearly used it as a guide here. His vision was gone in one eye and with it, his sense of depth. Much of his other late work, including the second WIZARD KING book and the second GANG BANG porn comic he did to make money for medical treatments (the third issue was older reprints) were clearly finished by lesser assistants but this looks to me like all Wood, even if it is cut and paste. He was reaching out in the best way he could at that point but nobody saw it. Nobody knew. As I said, if you’re a Wood buff, you’ll recognize stuff from his WOODWORK GAZETTE as well as poses and layouts from a dozen or more better Wood pieces. It will also give you a bizarre look into the mind and imagination of a dying artist who just hadn’t made that final choice yet. If you’re not familiar with Wally Wood, whatever you do, don’t start here. This was the End.
My mother died of cancer that Christmas but we had been expecting that and as hard as it was, I could deal. When I opened that week’s CBG and saw a full cover of Wood art, I was at first ecstatic, then I saw the birth to death dates and I knew he was gone.

The other piece here is the unfinished front and back cover wraparound to THE WALLY WOOD SAMPLER, a fanzine project I began but abandoned in 1982. It was my way of dealing. A few years later, I lost my father in December, also. Decembers are tough. I’m still dealing.

Interestingly enough, in the early nineties, my wife and I lived in a third floor apartment in a lovely, tree-shaded area of the city here known as Wallace Woods.

Wood's School Daze (With Diplomas!)

Originally Published at Booksteve's Library in 2006
Here's a little school joke book from the mid-sixties drawn by Wally Wood with, I believe, the assistance of Bhob Stewart. As you can see from the back cover, there were 44 of these in all and obviously many were not by Wood. I don't recognize the art style in the others shown here. If these were from Topps though, as I believe they were, I'm pretty sure Art Spiegelman was there at the time and probably contributed. Since these are, after all, SCHOOL jokes, I thought this might also be a good place to run my cherished honorary diploma from the Wally Wood School of Comic Art and Applied Psychology. According to legend, Woody gave these out to all of his many assistants over the years. When, in a last ditch attempt at creative freedom, he started his latter-day fan club, The Friends of Odkin, in 1979 he signed and sent along one of these with all of the initial member packages. As you can see, Iwas Friend of Odkin # 288. Later on, one of my first email addresses was "Odkin" and a later one was (and still is)"NewOdkin." Once a friend of Odkin, always a friend of Odkin, I guess.

When Wood Was King-Rare Art

By all accounts, he truly hated being called "Wally". In fact, his close personal friends called him "Woody". He is generally considered one of the best and most influential comic book, science-fiction and humor artists in spite of a long track record of using assistants and a steadfast refusal to ever completely go commercial. He also harbored more than his share of personal demons but he always loved drawing! Look closely at the above panel and you'll see that it's signed "Woody". This particular panel comes from the issue of KING COMICS at your left. Some years ago as I was passing through one of my infrequent Popeye phases, I picked it up for the strip reprints only to discover the Wood artwork accompanying the mandatory text story. (Why was the text story mandatory in an otherwise all strip reprint title, you ask? Let's just say ridiculous postal regulations that saved comics companies a ton of money and leave it at that.)Noting that this illo did not appear in any checklists of Wood's artwork that I had...including his own "official" listing, I knew that I had something special. Assuming that this was probably not Wood's ONLY contribution to KING, I began searching for affordable copies of surrounding issues but they're rarer than whiffle hens and I never was able to check for more! When Bhob Stewart came out with his "Complete" version of a Wood checklist a few years ago, I heard about it too late to contact him in time but he was delighted to see this rare piece and said it would definitely be included in any update! Speaking of Woody and his assistants, toward the end of his life, he formed a personal fan club and agreed to provide original illustrations to all who joined the Friends Of Odkin (FOO). I joined and for years have treasured my original nude pin-up illustration of Wood's SALLY FORTH character...only to have Bhob assure me that it was probably actually drawn by an assistant, perhaps Paul Kirchner, then signed by Wood, himself. Kirchner himself later wrote to me and confirmed this. Sigh. Wally, ya big lug, you! I scanned it, put some clothes on the girl (Hey, it gets cold, y'know?) and colored my SALLY and here she is to share with you.