October 25, 2012
Chamber of Chills, comic book, DC Comics, Easter Island, Easter Island statues, Ewen Callaway, House of Mystery, Jack Kirby, Kirby cover, Marvel Comics, Moai, moving statues, Scientific American, Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, walking statues
Any kid who read comic books in the 1950s and ’60s– and what kid didn’t?– had to have read a story or two that involved Easter Island statues either being alive or being brought to life to attack mankind. These statues, properly called Moai, were built between the years 1250 and 1500 and they are huge. Hewn from rock quarried on the island, they can be as tall as 33 feet– almost as high as a three-story building– and weigh over 80 tons. There are over 850 of these amazing statues scattered over the island. Some are buried in the earth up to their necks, but their bodies are under the soil, ready to erupt from the earth and smush us whenever they feel so inclined.
These Moai originally sported red stone hats, made of a different stone than the bodies, but that’s something not essential (as if anything could be) to this little post.
But comics with walking Easter Island statues were guaranteed to creep out the bravest kid and, most importantly, get his money out of his pocket and into the cash register!
Here’s a classic example, drawn by Jack Kirby for DC Comics’ House of Mystery, cover date April, 1959:
Here’s another Kirby cover, this time drawn for Marvel/Atlas’ Tales to Astonish, cover date February, 1961:
Here’s a third from either Ron Wilson or Larry Leiber for Marvel’s Chamber of Chills, cover date July, 1974:
And finally, another Kirby example from Marvel’s Tales of Suspense, cover date April, 1962:
Why am I bringing this up? Because I just read a Scientific American article by Nature writer Ewen Callaway which describes how the folks living on Easter Island got these ungainly statues from the rock quarry to the platforms made for them. Evidently, they walked them into place!
Here’s a YouTube video of this being done and you have to admit, it’s rather creepy!
August 15, 2012
Comic Books, Old Jobs
575 Lexington Avenue, 635 Madison Avenue, bekkouri, comic book art, Conan, Conan the Barbarian, electric eraser, Florida, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Marvel Bullpen, Marvel Comics, Naples, New York City, Newark, Silver Surfer
As a high-school kid, I’d fly up from Naples to New York City in the summers to do what I could at the comic-book publishers there. DC and Marvel were the biggies. DC was at 575 Lexington Avenue, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day; they were corporate. Marvel, over at 635 Madison Avenue, was more welcoming.
The wonderful man who took me under his wing, for some reason, was John Buscema. He was big, bearded and a bit scary at first to a green kid. And, man was I green. Within a few minutes, though, I realized that Mr. Buscema, in spite of his being a “real” comics artist– and one of the very best– was also a sweetheart and remembered what being green felt like. I worshiped him. I don’t know if he usually worked at the Marvel office, or was just there hanging out, but I was glad he was around!
He didn’t give me a lot to do and what I did do I probably did to excess. I bought an electric eraser and some various eraser sticks for it and reported in every day. I remember cringing whenever I saw a Jack Kirby page ready for erasing after being inked. Mr. Kirby drew with the softest pencil imaginable on a plate-finish board and it was all a smudgy grey-graphite mess for me to clean up!
The prime memory I have of that time was the day artist Gil Kane came to the “Marvel Bullpen,” which wasn’t a bullpen at all. I worked in a crowded closet using a cardboard box for a drawing table. Mr. Kane sat at one of the real drafting tables in the bigger room and started roughing out something in pencil. I sneaked over to watch, and was stunned. Kane could draw faster than I could think. It shattered me. I slunk back to my little closet and burst into tears. Here’s one of Kane’s rough sketches found on the Web:
Mr. Buscema found me and sat me down for a lecture: “Jimmy, we get paid by the page, not by the hour; no salary in this business. Gil’s fast and good because he’s smart and talented, but also because he’s been doing this for 25 years. Don’t over-react; you’ll get there.”
But I knew in my heart that no; I would never get there. I didn’t want it bad enough. As I went back to Newark that evening I knew my comic-book career was over before it really started. But I also knew that I had gained a friend who was a rare person; a giant with a giant heart.
John Buscema was called the Michelangelo of comics and take a look at some of his work to see why. His anatomy’s as good as Kubert’s and his ability to frame a scene is almost scary. He also had some of Jack Kirby’s ability to convey power and force:
A wonderful man; best known today, I guess, for his work on the early Silver Surfer and Conan the Barbarian.
The wonderful coloring on this Buscema Conan drawing is by a fellow in Morocco who goes by the name of bekkouri, and he did a stunning job:
And I still have my old electric eraser:
August 4, 2012
Comic Books, Strange and Pointless
1960s, 1960s cost of living, comic book price increases, DC Comics, Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics
Here’s the announcement DC Comics had on their inside front covers in December, 1961, announcing their 20-percent price increase to twelve cents an issue. I can clearly remember that, though I was only nine years old at the time. Notice the prices of other items DC mentions in this “letter” to the boys and girls who bought the comic:
Of course, the other comic publishers quickly jumped on the bandwagon; Dell Comics, who outsold everyone with their Disney/Warner Brothers-licensed comics and movie/TV-adaptations, went to fifteen cents for a 36-page comic earlier in 1961, at least for a while. From the sales figures I’ve seen, and some folks have published a lot of info on this, sales of comics went into a decided slump after this increase and the slump lasted for a long time. Marvel had just begun their superhero output with the Fantastic Four, but one of their pre-hero monster comics lost 30-percent of its sales.
Today, when a DC or Marvel Comic costs three or four dollars, a couple of pennies doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was to a kid back then.
For our younger readers, here are some common prices and such from 1961, by way of comparison:
Average cost of new house: $12,500.00
Average income per year: $5,315.00
Cost of a gallon of gas: 27 cents
Average cost of a new car: $2,850.00
23″ black-and-white television: $219.99
Bacon, one pound: 67 cents
Loaf of bread: 20 cents
Eggs, per dozen: 30 cents
Ounce of gold: $35.25