Friday, December 23, 2011

DCnU: Quality Watch 2


(1) Col. Andrew Lincoln, (2) Lady Blackhawk, (3) Attila, (4) Kunoichi, (5) the Irishman, (6) Wildman, and (7) Canada.

My profile for the new Blackhawks is up at Cosmic Teams! This series got off to a rocky start before it even hit stands. The initial creative team of Chuck Austen and Ken Lashley did not end up (fully) doing a single issue of the series. Initial reviews of the book were very mixed and I don't think anyone was wowed. Personally, I was disappointed at first that this was an entirely new Blackhawks, with no homage whatsoever to the classic team. But it has a charm all its own if you can read it on those terms. Mike Costa, ultimately wrote it; he had experience with G.I. Joe for IDW, and his Blackhawks reads somewhat in that vein. Message board chatter at DC seems to indicate that some readers have followed writer Mike Costa into this book.

Cover of Blackhawks #5
Nobody expected this series to sell like gangbusters, and the first issue ranked 77th in sales, with  36,013 copies. This was in the bottom five of the "new 52." Issue #2 came in at number 86 with an estimated 28,534 copies.

Also note that this is the first time that the book has been titled in the plural.

Solicitations for January's issue #5 have ramped up speculation, as it looks like the classic Lady Blackhawk might be making a return. This seems more in line with the "give them what they want" philosophy of the new 52.

Read more at Cosmic Teams.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Feature Funnies #1 and Police Comics #1 for sale on ebay

I stumbled across two key Quality Comics on ebay today. The first was
October 1937
Quality Comics' very first issue, Feature Funnies #1. This issue had no super-heroes. They wouldn't start trickling in until Busy Arnold launched his second title, Smash Comics, in 1939. Instead, this issue was filled almost entirely with reprints from the three syndicates with whom he had partnered. The CGC graded price of $1,250 on this book seems in line, but I'm no expert! I recently bought Feature Funnies #2 in a coverless condition. It was not $1000. (In fact I gotta get that scanned—there's no high res version at the DCM...)

The second book on ebay is Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941) the legendary first appearance of Plastic Man and Phantom Lady (also the Human Bomb and Firebrand).

The asking price here is $1549 but it lacks a hard grade. The seller has many Golden Age books for sale, so one might presume that he is savvy about the condition vs. price. He mentions that it WOULD be Fine if not for some damage. I don't buy these sorts of things often, but is it really the buyer's job to suss out the real grade on a comic being sold by an experienced collector?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

DCnU: Quality Watch

Yesterday I found two all-new Quality Comics standards in the pages of my Wednesday haul. The stunning spread below featured the unexpected return of the War Wheel (times two!) in the pages of Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #4. The War Wheel has always been a bane to the Blackhawks and first appeared in Quality Comics' Blackhawk #56 (Sept. 1952).

I have a real soft spot for this book, its lead character, and for the Creature Commandos. Ironically, this book's story is linked to others written by the creators of the next series I'm going to mention, The Ray. S.H.A.D.E. played a central role in all of Palmiotti and Gray's post-Infinite Crisis series, including those that dealt with the Freedom Fighters.
The War Wheel returns in spades, flanked by an army of G.I. Robots, in Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #4. Art by Alberto Ponticelli. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quality Comics: Further Reading

Now that you've read the Quality Companion cover-to-cover several times, you might be wondering if there's anything else on this Earth to read. (Incidentally, all of this information will continue to reside, in most up-to-date form, under the Resources tab at the top, too.)

Stop One: Alter Ego

Go to the source. See the  TwoMorrows Bibliography, which lists the relevant issues of Alter Ego that feature Jim Amash's original interviews and other Quality-related articles. Most of those issues are available for digital download.

And it couldn't be easier for you to start clicking on the Online Resources.

Stop Two: Defintive Works

Park yer carcass for a weekend with these books in your hands. The following publications are definitive and recommended works.

Andelman, Bob. Will Eisner, A Spirited Life. Milwaukie, Or.: M Press, 2005. This is the authorized biography; it's pretty much the final word on all things Eisner.

Black, Bill, ed. Golden Age Greats Spotlight, vol. 2. AC Comics, 2007. Reprints loads of complete Quality Comics stories.

Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2000. Though it is fictional, Chabon's own Golden Age research shines through in this Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

Eisner, Will. The Dreamer: A Story from the Birth of Comic Books. Princteton, Wis.: Kitchen Sink Press, 1986. This story was written as an allegory to Eisner's early days with Iger and Quality.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Plastic Man and Blackhawk Foldees (1966)

Get ready to LOL, cuz here come those lovable DC Topps Foldees from 1966! See those for Plastic Man and Blackhawk after the jump...

I've owned the whole set for some time now and just realized that these were in there. If you want to know a little more about it, or see the whole set, visit the page on Cosmic Teams! and see the slideshow.

This card set had 44 total, and collecting them was a lot of fun but challenging. Many of them were folded endlessly and suffer from it. The gems are those cards that have never been folded. Foldees were cards with three perforated panels that could be folded over in various combinations that produced supposedly humorous results. Super-heroes were on one side, and other characters on the other. 2-1/2" x 4-11/16". From packs of Topps bubble gum. Unfolded cards are still perforated, but you can tell by testing them if they have been bent.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mark Evanier discusses Blackhawk and Plastic Man

The writer on his turn with the Quality legend, and on the Plastic Man cartoon!

Conducted by Mike Kooiman on 17 November 2011

An homage to Mark Evanier, drawn by his writing
partner, Sergio Aragonés. The two have produced
The Spirit (for DC) and Groo.
Writer Mark Evanier is probably familiar—if not by name, then by the characters he has written—to many cartoon and comics fans, having written for various publishers, producers and networks since the early 1970s. He was a friend to Jack Kirby and was involved with Kirby’s "New Gods" comics for DC in the early 1970s. Evanier is also a frequent collaborator with Sergio Aragonés and a contributor to the Jack Kirby Collector. As a writer, his work for DC Comics is relatively sporadic, but he made a great impression on me and many other fans with his reinvention of Blackhawk in 1982, with artist Dan Spiegle. Over the course of the series, Evanier often revealed behind-the-scenes details about producing Blackhawk, but my talk with him unearthed some fascinating caveats, and other things that I didn’t expect to learn!

Mike Kooiman: Tell me what you’re up to now…

Mark Evanier: Right now the main thing in my life is that I’m writer/producer/voice director of the Garfield cartoon show, seen on Cartoon Network and hundreds of other channels around the world. I’m writing another "Groo" project with Sergio Aragonés for Dark Horse, and I’m writing another new comic that I can’t talk about yet and I’m writing a screen play… I guess all sorts of different things.

MK: How long has it been since you’ve done any work for DC?

Evanier: I’ve done a few forewords—introductions to reprint collections but I haven’t written any comics for them for about two years. I did The Spirit comic for them for a brief time …

MK: I confess I haven’t read the ones you’re written but they’re on my agenda!

Evanier: In those, the stories were all by Sergio Aragonés, I just did the dialogue. It was the same series that was begun by Darwyn Cooke.

MK: You first worked with Dan Spiegle on Scooby Doo... Mystery Comics at Gold Key?

Dick Giordano's Cover Art

The cover of this book was illustrated by the late, great Dick Giordano. It was actually commissioned by Roy Thomas a few years ago when Roy and Jim Amash had originally begun planning the book together. Due to his schedule, Roy had to back out of the project, but since the cover was already in house and everyone liked it, it remained as the cover.

Regrettably, I never drew the connection between this art and the issue from which it drew inspiration: All-Star Comics #4. Roy pointed this out to me after the Companion's publication. At some point there was also talk of redrawing Uncle Sam's hand to come in front of the building, which would have been less true to the original cover's art.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Paul Gustavson Stamps from Finland

Paul Gustavson was a prolific contributor to the Quality Comics legacy. His artwork is often dismissed or overlooked in favor of the "greats" like Fine, Cole and Crandall. But I love his work.  The artist was honored by his homeland, Åland, Finland, in 2011 with a series of stamps that feature three of his super-hero creations!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Blackhawk: The 1970s

George Evans redesigned the Blackhawk uniform for a new decade, primarily adding the color red, and the zip-front jacket (frequently worn unzipped—sexy '70s style; from Blackhawk #244 (1976). Art by George Evans.
The 1976 regeneration of Blackhawk was written by Steve Skeates for most of its run, and was edited by Gerry Conway, with assists and story editing by Jack C. Harris. George Evans was the sole artist on the first tale, then he became the finisher over Ric Estrada's art.

DC chose to keep this team's true origins (and continuity) a bit mysterious. No doubt the property posed a similar problem to any of DC's other long-running features: how do you explain the true age of these characters if they were active in the 1940s? In 1976, DC's answer was that the Blackhawk team began in the 1950s (1957 if one mirrors the start of their DC career). The 1970s Blackhawks could not have been from Earth-X (which was overtaken by Hitler), and the 1980s revival was later defined as the Earth-One team.

The Earth-One Justice League appeared in the 1960s Blackhawk, which would place them on Earth-One as well. That was probably the logic at the time, but later Mark Evanier's Blackhawk was explicitly defined as the Earth-One team. Another anomaly was Roy Thomas' use of the characters in All-Star Squadron, where they were on Earth-Two during World War II.
You didn't realize Blackhawk continuity was such a mess, did you? But if one isolates Blackhawk's DC adventures from 1957-1977, they fit easily into Silver Age Earth-One continuity. There are reasons for this in the narrative below.

In the letters column of Blackhawk #244, Jack C. Harris penned a classified memo of sorts which "speculated" about the Blackhawks' origins:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quality Companion Delivery Update

UPDATE! Guess what I got in my hot little hands yesterday???

The book has shipped from the printer! This means it will be finding its way to distributors and retailers very soon.

For Wednesday comic book shoppers, that means you might see it in two weeks, on December 14!

Regardless, anyone who wants it should have it before Christmas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Spirit: First Appearance on ebay

The origin splash page, from 2 June 1940.
Art and story by Will Eisner.
This scan from the Spirit Archives.
I just know you've got $4,500 lying around that you're not telling me about. Buy it now!

The first edition of The Spirit Section has been available on ebay for a number of weeks now, won't you give it a home?

Indeed this hard copy is probably very rare. I couldn't even find another one of these at Heritage Auctions. Jim Halperin at Heritage was a great help to me when I was researching the book. In writing the Companion, my access to The Spirit Section was limited. Unlike the other Quality books, which are well represented at the Digital Comics Museum, the Spirit selection is very spotty. Sure, you can find lots of reprints of the Spirit, but this made chronicling Lady Luck and especially Mr. Mystic more difficult than other heroes. I feel I accomplished the task, though, cobbling up enough of the originals, plus reprints from editions by Kitchen Sink Press and others. Because The Spirit Section was inserted into newspapers, it was probably thrown out with the newspapers a lot. That said, there are always editions available on ebay for under $40.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Quality Implosion

A Graphic Look at Trends in Publishing

While researching the Companion, I found it necessary to make certain charts to help me identify trends in the publishing history. I did this for many different sets of data, like the anthology issues, the individual features, and in this instance the series themselves. This also helped me read all the comics in a chronological fashion: month-by-month instead of title-by-title.

Click to view in a new window.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Toonopedia: Quality Stuff

Although the news isn't breaking, I just learned that Donald Markstein, the webmaster behind Toonopedia has been struggling this year with serious health problems. The site was down for a while, but is back up! I had hoped to talk to Don about his site while writing my book but now I understand why he might not have responded to my inquiries.

During my research for the Companion, I frequently found gems of information on Don's site that were unique. His long history and fandom of comics availed him of certain knowledge that is preserved by this site. Although he does not attribute any of the facts in his entries to sources or conversations, I trust his information. Nobody with a passing knowledge of comics could write the things found at Toonopedia.

To honor him, I've copied his Quality Comics related pages for you. This list also inspires me to do some new posts about Quality's humor and adventure strips. (The book's character profiles cover super-heroes only. It would take another whole book to do the rest!) Visit Toonopedia:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lady Blackhawks

Today many DC fans know Zinda Blake, the Lady Blackhawk thrust forward in time to become the brassiest member of the Birds of Prey. But before her debut in Blackhawk #133 (Feb. 1959), there had been several aspirants during the Quality era...

The first “lady Blackhawk,” Sugar, from Military #20 (July 1943). Art by Reed Crandall.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Blackhawks of Earth-One

The Evanier/Spiegle Run, Blackhawk #251-273 (1982-84)

I was completely unprepared for just how good this series would be. I've always been a fan of Howard Chaykin's late 1980s revival, but this one went under the radar. Evanier and Spiegle were in top form throughout this series. If DC is listening, this run is a prime candidate for collection.

From Blackhawk #251 (1982). Art by Dan Spiegle.
The 1982 reboot by longtime collaborators Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle re-envisioned the Blackhawks in a more streamlined fashion, taking all the most prominent aspects of the original wartime adventures and adding a more human dimension to the pilots themselves. The series lasted for 23 issues and appeared to be relatively successful despite its lack of promotion. On his blog, Evanier claimed that,

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Interview with Will Eisner about Blackhawk

Blackhawk #260 (1983). Cover art
by Howard Chaykin.
In reviewing this revival of Blackhawk for a new series of profiles, I unearthed the following interview, which adds to the mythos surrounding the creation of “Blackhawk,” which artist Chuck Cuidera consistently maintained was his creation, and specifically not the creation of Will Eisner. 

This 1983 interview with Eisner precedes all of the documented accounts made by Cuidera on the issue. The first of these wasn’t until 1999, the year that Cuidera publicly claimed sole creation of “Blackhawk.” There is anecdotal evidence told to Jim Amash by industry professionals that Cuidera made those same claims as far back as the 1950s/60s. In characterizing Cuidera below, Eisner was probably dancing around his true opinions. Cuidera, on the other hand, rarely minced words on the subject, and held some disdain towards Eisner (again, both witnessed and transcribed by Amash). Naturally, this issue is covered more in the Quality Companion! Read Jim Amash's interviews with Cuidera and Eisner in Alter Ego #34 and #48, respectively.

Written by Cat Yronwode, originally published in the letter column of Blackhawk #260 (July 1983).

Ask the average comic book fan of today who created the Blackhawks and you will get a vague answer. "The Blackhawks? Uh ... didn’t Reed Crandall do them originally... or was it Chuck Cuidera? …no, Reed Crandall ... it was Crandall... I think."

Monday, October 31, 2011

QC Bibliography: Online Resources

If you'd like to whet your Quality appetite some more with some great web reading about the publisher, here is the portion of the Quality Companion's Bibliography that calls out meaty online resources.

Some of these sites are maintained by webmasters who spoke to me and added some great depth to the book. There's some great academic level resources here:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

About The Quality Companion

A page from the Cosmic Teams! Justice Society section.
For me, the Quality Companion began online as an extension of my site, Cosmic Teams!
After years after years of Justice League and Legion craziness, my obsession with the DC Comics super-teams led me to a deeper appreciation of the Justice Society, and then into the entire Golden Age of comics. For a DC fan, this extends into the other properties now owned by the company: Fawcett Comics and Quality Comics.

I began covering those heroes cursorily, including skeleton data, and gradually came to realize that the characters of Quality Comics would make a great new "module" on my site. The more I dug, the more obscure heroes I found. I quickly realized that such a project would be gargantuan (perhaps even larger than the site itself, which took over 10 years to grow to its current state).

So I emailed Roy Thomas. As editor of Alter Ego,  he was the face (to me) of TwoMorrows. Roy told me that yes indeed, they had contemplated doing a book about Quality, but they needed some key elements to bring it together. I volunteered.

Then... silence. (I later learned represented the time for which it took for TwoMorrows to secure the go-ahead from DC. It seems that publishing a book is more delicate than a fanzine).

About a year later—precisely one week after I'd moved from self-employment back into a full-time job—the message came to my inbox: Publisher John Morrow asked  was still game to do that book? Heck yeah!

What followed was an unquantifiable journey that consumed every ounce of my free time for an entire year. I read every single available Quality super-hero story (available from the DCM), I researched at the library, and I wrote. And I wrote. Several delayed deadlines later, the tasks continued to mount. Along the way, the book's original designer was forced to back out, and being a publications designer myself, I was eager to do my own book. While that might not have been the right decision for my sanity, it's resulted in a product for which I'm fully accountable.

Jim Amash, my co-author, provided invaluable assistance as editor and consultant. Simply put, he is the deserved co-author of the book because his material (originally published by Alter Ego) provides the entire backbone of my narrative. I was allowed free reign with his material (and the artwork published with it). Jim's work, in the form of interviews, is cited throughout the book but I needed to reconfigure it into a series of stories. Basically, I took all of his text out of Alter Ego and broke it into usable bits, copy/pasted it into chronological and thematic skeletons, and then wrote and researched around it.

The Quality Companion leaves out scads of details that can be found in Jim's original interviews. I hope that fans will seek them out, as they are colorful accounts of the Golden Age of comics. A list is provided in the Bibliography of the book, and reprinted here.

I'll be posting other things that didn't make the cut here. I've created lots of databases, charts and spreadsheets for which we had no room. The Quality Companion is the tip of the iceberg. The Quality Companion Companion will keep the story alive.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Quality Companion: Writing and design is complete!

Pre-order now! Final book out in November!
Cover illustrated by the late, great Dick Giordano.
Hi, fans,

I finished the book this week and shipped it off to the publisher, TwoMorrows!

This is exciting, the culmination of a whole year's writing and research and digging for images. I'm really proud of the final product.

There were a few tweaks since the original solicitation. Best of all, the book now features 64 pages of color—10 original Quality Comics stories. They run the gamut of characters and creators, and it looks fantastic.

In addition to Jim Amash's awesome Golden Age interviews, I was able to personally talk to James Robinson, Len Wein, Roy Thomas and John Arcudi about their use of Quality Comics characters at DC.

There's lots of original art, provided courtesy of the owners, most of whom I found at Comic Art Fans.

The largest part of the book is the "Who's Who" style character profiles. Sadly, the two entries that required the most cuts were Blackhawk and the Spirit. I was able to cover Blackhawk's Quality years pretty comprehensively, but had to skim over the DC publications. The profile is still eight pages! Not to worry, though, this blog is meant to bring all that information to you eventually!

For the Spirit, it was simply indefensible to repeat the research that's already been done on this character. This profile in our book is even more brief than Blackhawk (3 pages still!).

Curious? Take a look at the Table of Contents!

QC Bibliography: TwoMorrows

These were the primary sources of Quality Comics information published by TwoMorrows:

Alter Ego #12 (Jan. 2002). Interviews with and about editor Gill Fox
  • Amash, Jim. “Gill Fox: Quality Control.” 5-39.
  • Thomas, Roy. “A Matter of Quality.” 2-4.
Alter Ego #17 (Sept. 2002). Lou Fine issue…
  • Amash, Jim. “A Fine Influence…” 9-14.
  • —. “…And A Fine Family!” 15-33.
  • —. “Murphy Anderson on Lou Fine and Fiction House.” 34-44.
  • Beaulieu, Dennis. “Lou Fine—A Comic Book Artist of Quality.” 3-6.
  • Toth, Alex. “Toth on Fine.” 45-46.