Steranko history of comics book 2

série: Etude Comics
dessinateur / scénariste: Steranko James
éditeur: Supergraphics EO 1972
genre: Etude
classement: biblio1
date: 1972
format: broché, grand format
état: TBE
valeur: 30 €
critère: **
remarques: the Steranko History of Comics, volume 2,
120 pages, N&B

Introduction by J. Steranko

- Comics (= visual storytelling) has been recognized as an art
whose validity had been confirmed by mass opinion,
one thing is certain, comics belong to the people
- Comics' precursors for imaginative stories have been:
Shakespeare (midsummer night's dream), Swift (Gulliver's travels)
as well as Jules Verne, Edgar Poe, Kippling, H.G. Wells but also Homer
- this volume 2 mainly studies the history of the "Funnies" (1930's),
Otto Binder was the master writer of comics,
he created various characters and produced 50'000 pages of comics
as well as 218 stories for other publications,
he opened the Binder Art Studio in New York

1) Captain Marvel

- captain Marvel was born of mythological sources whereas
Superman was based on a foundation of science fiction
- created in 1940 by Bill Parker and Otto Binder as the writer
as well as Charles Clarence Beck, then later by Jack Kirby
as the artists in Whiz Comics Magazine,
- captain Marvel was made out of a little orphan boy called Billy Batson
who got his mighty power from an old wizard, he revealed to Billy
the secret of this power resulting from the magic word: SHAZAM =
- Salomon for wisdom - Hercules for strength - Atlas for stamina -
- Zeus for power - Achilles for courage and Mercury for speed

- originally called captain Thunder, the superhero was soon
renamed captain Marvel (perhaps inspired by the success of
Marvel Mystery Comics), he was mainly fighting against the villains:
dr Sivana (the world's maddest scientist)
and his pretty evil daughter Beautia
- the style of captain Marvel (also written in script
for broadcast programmes) was very simple, expressing
the continual wonder of childhood and
yet it became an enormous success,
- this success originated perhaps in the element of humour
which was added to the stories, making the strips a satire
of the super-straight adventures of the super heroes,
it stopped in 1953
- captain Marvel produced by the team Binder-Beck has become
the hottest selling super hero of the Golden Age
- in 1941, Beck opened his own art studio and additionnaly
to captain Marvel created following further characters:
- captain Tootsie and Tom Travis

- a further particularity to captain Marvel was the linear style
created by Beck which could be easily imitated,
this style contributed for the strip's unusual consistancy
which was not the case with Superman and Batman with a wide
spectrum of variations weakening the impact of the total image
- a complaint was raised in 1945 by Superman Incorporated against
Fawcett Publication for unfair competition caused by captain Marvel,
- captain Marvel won the case because Superman was not
sufficiently copyrighted, in the final run however,
Fawcett Publication stopped publishing captain Marvel
to cut the costs for this legal battle
and settled out of court with Detective Comics
- best covers in Captain Marvel's magazine Nos 6, 47 and 60
and Whizz Comics Nos 9, 33 and 153

2) the Marvel Family

- captain Marvel Junior (= first Super Boy) appeared in 1941,
the notion of a super-powered boy who physically remained a boy
was immediately accepted by comic readers,
further characters of the Marvel Family included:
- Mary Marvel - Three Lieutenant Marvels - Aunt Fanny Marvel -
- Uncle Marvel - Bulletman and Black Adam (appeared only briefly) -
later a funny character was also created:
- Hoppy, the Marvel Funny who became captain Marvel Bunny
- the main villain was Captain Nazi (a somehow attractive villain!)

all these characters were presented in magazines like:
- the Marvel Family, Master Comics or Wow Comics

publishing companies of the Golden Age were:
- Centaur - Detective Comics (D.C. National) - Fawcett -
- Timely - Quality and Archie Comic Group
n.b. National Publications led the field with the Archie Comic Group
in second place, Quality tied for the number 3 with Timely,
Fawcett and Harvey Book

- this chapter 2) mostly handles the environment to which
writers and drawers were confronted in those days,
especially mentioned is the story of the Binder family
(creator and producer of comic strips at the Binder's Art studio)
being the first family of comics that changed the course of comic history
- also worth mentioning was Binder's mass production method
by broking down the composition of comic page into four categories:
a) roughs (layouts)
b) 3 pencil settings (backgrounds, secondary and main figures)
c) 3 ink settings (backgrounds, secondary and main figures)
d) lettering
- therefore each most appropriate artist would work on a piece work basis,
however sometimes they developed into practical systems
which could never improve the design although commercially succesful,
they were artistically unsuccesful!

best covers:
- in Master Comics, pages 24 and 27
- captain Marvel Junior cover No. 7
- Wow Comics (funny animals), page 37
- Mary Marvel, page 35
- the Marvel Family, page 35
n.b. in this section, there are possibly too many details
which are not necessarily interesting for the normal readers

3) the Costumed Co-Stars

- story about the life of the publisher Wilfred Fawcett
who started operations by selling a pocket book of gags and jokes,
Fawcett entered the comic's stage by publishing "Whiz Comics"
with the Whiz kids which made Fawcett a leading publisher
in the Golden Age history of comics,
Whiz Comics proved to be one of the most succesful magazines
incomic publishing history
- a similar character to Mandrake was also created:
IBIS the Invincible (he had however not the best
impact as a super hero)

- two succesful characters developed in Fawcett's comics:
the Spy-Smasher fighting the villain "the Mask",
ultimately Spy-Smasher went mad and had even
to fight against captain Marvel,
Spy-Smasher was somehow replaced later by Captain Midnight

- two other characters debuted along with captain Marvel:
the Golden Arrow (a western hero using a bow and arrow) and
Lance O'Casey ( a red-haired sailor),
they were drawn in Nickel Comics by Peter Costanza
during his debut in the comic world
- a famous character of that time was "Bulletman"
(the arch-enemy of crime),
Bulletgirl joined him later as his accomplice
- Bulletman can be classified as a super hero with
a particular gimmick being a gravity helmet (he had some
similarities with the human torch and the Flash)

other characters were:
- Master Man (another Superman)
- White Rajah (a Kiplingish character)
- Jungle Twins (take-off of Burrough's Tarzan,
Twins being the cousins of lord Greystoke)
- Captain Venture (a Flash-Gordon type)
- Warlock, the wizard
- Minute Man (the star-spangled avenger known as the one man army)
- Mister Scarlet (a red-clad reformer somehow inspired by the shadow)
- the Hunchback (spine-chilling figure of the night, originating
from the circus folk somehow like a freak)
- the Phantom Eagle (a supernatural flying character)
- Don Winslow of the Army (made also a first appearance
with Joe Millard as the writer and Carl Pfeufer as the artist
- Hopalong Cassidy (the movie cowboy)
- Tom Mix and Bob Steele were 2 other western characters

- in the early 1954, Fawcett relinquished their position as one
of the top comic producers in history, the magic was gone
best covers: Spy-Smasher No. 2 (p. 40),
captain Midnight No. 43 (p. 41), Master Man (p. 43),
Slam Bang Comics (jungle King, p. 43),
Nickel Comics (Bulletman, p. 45 and 46,
Wow Comics (mr. Scarlet No.3, page 50)

4) Military Comics (aerial adventures, the air battles)

a) the Blackhawks
- 1941 creation of the Blackhawks (angels of vengeance and
messengers of destruction to all evil and injustice),
invented by Charles Cuidera (influenced by Caniff)
and by Reed Grandall as the drawer,
their coming was a cardinal event in the history of comics because
- contrary to the super heroes - they had a firm basis in reality,
in fact they represented a new breed of fighting man,
the 20th century flying knight

- members of the Blackhawk family:
André the Frenchman, Stanislaus the Polish, Hendrickson the Dutchman,
Olaf the Swede, Chuck the American, Chop-Chop the mad Chinaman,
- each character had his special skill in the flying squadron,
one main difference with the other super heroes was the fact
that Blakhawk carried a gun and used it, also curiously
they wore he German outfit: Gestapo's hat and black boots

- they were accompanied by many voluptuous women such as
Red Laura, Queen Bee, he Black Tigress and Satana
- their camaraderie was unequaled and they epitomized
the "gang" format more than the justice society
- Reed Randall was very skillful with the human figures
which were imbued with classic grace and inspired beauty,
he was also a mastery of human anatomy with faces explosively
expressive, especially his women were wonderfully drawn

- best covers:
Military Comics (Blackhawks), Nos 16 and 27,
Modern Comics (Blackhawks), No. 70
and Blackhawk Magazine No. 24

b) other flying characters:
- the Air Fighters (which were not very popular)
- the Black Commander (which was in fact a super plane
in the shape of a bat)
- Airboy (drawn by Fred Kida, he was the second greatest flying hero
after Blackhawk, he piloted mainly the Black Commander)

- one of the best villains fighting Airboy was the
raven-haired woman aviator Valkyrie (similar to Dragon Lady)
and her Airmaidens, ultimately they changed side
and became the allies of Airboy,
- Kida also created the Iron Ace, a knight clad in chain mail
and armor plate with a two-handed broadsword

- Harry Sahle created the Bald Eagle which was probably the
weakest flying hero of the series,
Bald Eagle had lost his hair in an aerial battle
and was piloting the Flying Coffin
- the Flying Dutchman, the orange air corsair, the story was of course
taken from the 17th century English legend,
with the Flying Dutchman being captain Vanderdecken,
with his ghost ship sailing for eternity
- the Black Angel was a flying heroïne, she was one of the sexiest
heroïnes in comics and faced her Nazi counterpart: the Baroness Blood
- Sky Wolf has a savage appearance with a white wolf's head
like a hood or a cowl (large hood), he was the answer
to Blackhawk but he was somehow outclassed by Blackhawk
- another particular character was the Heap, a flying monster,
neither man or animal, a formless slime monster that learned
to feed on the oxygen taken from the veins of living creatures
- the Heap became a strip of nightmare brutality
(a kind of Frankenstein), but the series took also
on mythic proportions with religious implications,
the Heap was persecuted and died for his sins, he had
to return from the dead as the immortal Heap to save mankind,
he was a genuine original and his series were nevertheless
masterpieces, it lasted 10 years from 1943 to 1953
and was mainly designed by Mort Leav

further relatively famous series included:
- Skyman, one of the most succesful avenging aviators,
he became America's national hero and was created by Gardner Fox
- captain Midnight, had the habit to capture his enemies shortly
before midnight, he wore a winged clock as a symbol
- Bill Barnes who became the Phantom Flyer

- one famous magazine of that time was "Wings Comics",
edited by Fiction House with magnificent covers,
it contained a further flying hero: Captain Wings, the mystery pilot,
other titles were:
- Suicide Smith - Jane Martin, the war nurse (adding a little sex appeal)
- Grease Monkey Griffin (was a token humor strip) - the Skull Squad -
- the Ghost Patrol
other flying characters, mainly used as fillers, did not have
the same impact as the above ones, are however worth mentioning:
- Rackham, the dwarf pilot - the Flying Fool (running an aircargo service) -
- Wing Turner, the test pilot - Buzzard Barnes - Sky Devils -
- Red Hawk, an American Indian flying hero - Skyrocket -
- the Blackbird - War Eagle - Death Patrol (the foreign legion of the air) -
- the Sky Sheriff - Sky Ranger - the Phantom Falcon - Bomber Burns -
- Spitfire Comics - the Firebird - the Flying Fox - captain X of the RAF -
- the Guardian Angel - Captain Aero - Captain Flight

some other famous heroes were also involved in air adventures:
- Tailspin Tommy - Barney Baxter - Johnny Hazard - Steve Canyon -
- Terry and the Pirates - Don Winslow of the Navy - Smilin' Jack -
- Ace Drummond - Scorchy Smith - Connie - Skyroads

best covers:
Air Fighters (p. 64/65), Airboy Comics (p. 67/68), the Heap (p. 70),
Contact (p. 71), Spitfire Comics (p. 72), Captain Aero (p. 74),
Captain Flight (p.75), Air Ace (p.76), Wings Comics (p. 78/79)

5) Police Comics

- one famous character was Plastic Man, sultan of stretch,
who was all parody and satire, he was a genuine original,
the strip started 1941 in Police Comics magazine
by Jack Ralph Cole up to 1956,
- in 1942, Plastic Man got a companion: Costar Woozy Winks who
was protected by the power of nature such as storm and earthquake

- before drawing Plastic Man, Jack Cole created "little Dynamite",
a uniformed policeman who looked like Dick Tracy,
other strips were the Comet and Silver Streak, however Plastic Man
was a masterpiece of kitsch although Cole's style was rather simple,
but the concept behind Plastic Man was wthout precedent
bearing in mind that in the 40's plastics were considered
a kind of miracle product!

- ultimately, Cole also collaborated in "Plaboy" contributing
heavily to Playboy's humor, Cole being a natural humorist,
with the characters of Plastic Man and Woozy Winks,
Cole was really telling something about himself, Cole died
unluckily in 1958 at the age of 43 committing suicide
>> p. 86 special article by Cole: how to draw cartoons
>> best covers: Plastic Man No. 1 (p. 81), Police Comics No. 26

6) the big super hero show

- the history of the Quality Publication set up by Everett Arnold
who produced a rainbow of heroes and heroines in his comic books
starting with "Feature Comics" in 1937
- Arnold soon realized that the writers were even more important
than the artists (n.b. but only for quickly drawn comic stories),
however, one of the big artists working for Quality has been
Bill Eisner with "the Spirit" but there was far and wide
an incredible profusion of comic characters, the most famous ones:

- Doll Man, started in 1939 and was Quality's first hero, he was
to become the miniature Manhunter and was drawn mostly by Al Bryant
- the Ray, the lightning man (one of the best costumed super hero),
he was created by Lou Fine (Louis Kenneth Fine) who was one of
the "finest" artists of that time, Lou Fine, the draftsman became
also Lou Fine, the educator, especially for anatomy lessons,
he also produced:
- the Black Condor, a flying enemy of all evil appearing in Crack Comics

further feature fillers of Qualité Publication were:
- the Spider Widow (grandmother of terror)
- the Raven (wearing a black raven's cowl)
- the Swing Sisson (combining the story with jazz music)
- the Jester (an inexperienced policeman)
- the Clock (a kind of crimebuster similar to the Spirit)
- the Spider created by Paul Gustavson,
became later on the famous Spiderman
- Madam Fatal, comic's first transvestite crimeslapper
- Captain Triumph by Alfred Andriola, was a combination
of strange Twins having the powers of flash and invisibility
- Uncle Sam, created by Will Eisner appeared 1940 in National Comics
(before captain America and was therefore comic's first patriot
wearing a tall red, white and blue silk hat inspired byFirst World War
recruiting poster "I want you" and from pulp story "Operator 5",
it lasted however only until 1944
- Quicksilver, a noble king of speed
- Wonderboy, the kid with superstrength from another planet
- Paul Bunyan and his blue ox representing the folklore department
- Merlin the Magcian with miraculous power, inherited
from his ancestor in King Arthur's court

some new characters also appeared in a new magazine
titled "Hit Comics" with some of the most exciting
and best drawn covers of superheroes:
- the Red Bee, using a bee as his deterrent weapon
- Neon, the Unknow using a mysterious neonic ray
- Hercules, exploiting the mythological muscle character
- the Swordfish, inspired by Captain Nemo of Jules Verne
- Kid Eternity who had the power to call on any person
in mythology or history and thus became
a combination of heroes and history lessons
- the Human Bomb (inspired of the Human Torch) whose touch
(his explosive fists), was more devastating than dynamite,
when not in action, the human bomb had to wear
a pair of protective gloves

then there were a series of humorous strips confirming
the new humor trend in comics such as
- Pen Miller, a comic artist who used
both his pen and his fists to fight crime
- Flatfoot Burns, a comic policeman
- Candie, a female character
- the Barker, a circus character
- Molly the Model Breezy and Granny Gumshoe

- new comic concepts were also innovated with various other
characters such as (mostly issued in romance magazines):
- Torchy, he blonde bombshell who was possibly
the sexiest comic strip
- Buccaneers and Girls in Love

but the parade was now nearly over, it was 1956

best covers:
>> p. 91 Feature Comics: the Doll Man (1940)
>> p. 92 Feature Comics: the Doll Man (1945)
>> p. 92 the Doll Man (1942)
>> p. 95 Smash Comics: Midnight No. 39 (1943)
>> p. 95 the Spirit No. 18 (1949)
>> p. 97 Crack Comics: the Black condor No. 21 (1942)
>> p. 97 Crack Comics: captain Triumph (1943)
>> p. 100 National Comics: Uncle Sam No. 33 (1943)
>> p. 101 Uncle Sam (1943)
>> p. 102 the Red Bee
>> p. 103 Hit Comics: Neon No. 9 (1941)
>> p. 108 Military Comics No. 14 (1941)

7) the Spirit by William (Bill) Eisner

- born and died on 2.6.1940 out of the detective and
criminologist Denny Colt, the Spirit wore a black domino mask,
he was soon to be accompanied by the blonde Ellen
and by his official cab driver, the negro Ebony White,
Spirit's home was the Wildwood Cemetery
- the main villains were dr. Cobra, Mr. Midnight, the Mastermind
and the Black Bow

Eisner's first characters were developed 1936 with
- captain Scott-Dalton, a scientist-explorer
- the Flame, a pirate
- Harry Karry, a secret agent
as well as later on Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic,
then Eisner opened his own studio (Editors Press Service)
and started to work for Wow Comics with
- Hawks of the Seas (a series about Carribean pirates),

- the Spirit strip was first published in Police comics
and finally in 1940 the Spirit got his ultimate shape and was to
become one of the fre really "adult" strips in the history of comics

- Eisner's brand of neo-realism was based upon real-type people
in real-type situations, he translated his heroes into intricate
character studies of caricature roles played by urban men,
Spirit tales began to read like human interestnews stories
- Eisner exploited the problems of human frailty
(n.b. frailty = weakness in character or morals)
but the Spirit's conspiracies were always explosive with comedy
and poignancy, Eisner never missed an opportunity to also
satirize commercial ventures, his inspiration came mostly
from reading short stories which is being reflected
in the Spirit's strip (mostly written in short stories too)
and influenced also by the style of Hitchcock

- the Spirit became a hero worthy of Hemingway
but the sexiest females ever to slink across a comic page
(n.b. to slink = move smoothly and quietly with gliding steps,
in a stealthy or sensuous manner like a fox),
were Eisner's women drawn with real character and the crueler
the villainess, the more attractive Eisner ever made,
one of the most popular figures was the witch Hazel Macbeth

- the graphics were a superb world of black comedy,
especially the title logos of the Spirit were drawn
in ever changing original designs (see page 114),
rarely had expression been under such complete control,
Eisner was a scientist in the realm of precise comic timing,
an artist who made virtually every pratfall
a summary of the human condition
(n.b. pratfall = an embarrassing failure or mistake)

- in his graphics, Eisner made also much use of he film technics
(high-angle, etc) with long shadows streaking along pages,
but Eisner's real genius laid in the fusion of illustrations
and scripts as well as in the superb physical telling
of crisp, incisive stories, his graphic virtuosity remained
practically unchallenged, the Spirit series finished on 28.9.1952

>> again a good documentary well-illustrated book
with some quite interesting chapters such as
- captain Marvel
- the Flying heroes (well-designed covers of air battles,
especially in the Wings Comics)
- the Spirit

- a second documentary vollume revealing the incredible
profusion and variety of American comics, but also
a hard lecture except for the interesting illustrations


a) front cover (from right to left and down):
- captain Marvel - the Spectre - Neon the unknown ? - Skyman -
- the Ray - Spiderman - captain Midnight - Thor - captain America -
- the Spirit - the Spysmasher - Nick Fury (S.H.I.E.L.D) -
- Sheena - Plastic Man - the Black Angel or Cat Woman

b) back cover (from right to left and down):
- the Human Torch - Superman - the Doll Man - Uncle Sam -
- captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel - Batman - Airboy -
- the Black Hawks -
- the Blonde Phantom (in the Spirit)- Mr. Scarlet -
- Bulletman and Bulletgirl - the Silver Surfer -
- Hawkgirl and Flash the fastest man alive

- captain Marvel
- best supporting characters by Joe Kuber
(Johnny Thunderbolt, Starman, Dr. Midnite, Sandman,
Spectre, Atom and dr. Fate in the hand of Hawkman
- Nick Fury

Copyright 2008 - 2023 G. Rudolf