Monday, September 28, 2009

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Leonard Starr

Featured here is the brief NCS bio for one of the most popular illustrators of the soap opera strip genre, the multi-talented Leonard Starr! Born in New York, started doing comics in 1942 while still at Pratt Institute. Did a lot of advertising from about 1950 until I created "On Stage" for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate in 1957. Wrote and drew the feature until 1979, at which time I was asked to revive "Little Orphan Annie", now called simply "Annie" to make it seem less dated and to reflect the highly successful Broadway musical. Created "Kelly Green" with Stan Drake in 1980 for Darguad Editeur, Paris. Started writing television scripts in the early 1970s and in 1984 I was asked to develop and write the "bible" for the animated television show "Thundercats", and also act as the story editor and head writer. Moved to Westport, Connecticut in 1970 where I still live today.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Direct Currents: Challengers of the Unknown

Four brave men living on borrowed time make up the adventurous team known as The Challengers of the Unknown that debuted in DC's Showcase #6 from January 1957 by Jack Kirby and Wally Wood. The fearless four Challengers or "Challs" they were often called were, Red Ryan a daring mountaineer and daredevil stuntman; Ace Morgan the high-flying jet pilot; heavyweight boxer and world wrestling champ Rocky Davis; and Prof Haley rounded out the team as a deep sea diver and scientific genius. A group of complete strangers that somehow survived a deadly plane crash together, that all mysteriously had their wrist watches stop at the exact moment, which lead them to believe they were chosen to dedicate their unique skills to help others in their "second chance" at life! From their Challengers Mountain base loaded with high-tech equipment deep within an extinct volcanic crater in Wyoming, the Challengers defended Earth against outer space alien threats to various super villains like the bizarre Multi-Man or the infamous Legion of the Weird. With at least ten different series over the many years at National with some early fantastic and then just average writers and artists producing the stories, the "Challs" still endure as this team uses every last minute fate granted them to benefit mankind.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Comic Art Legend: Jim Aparo

After attempting to break into the comics field in his early twenties, Jim Aparo ended up in advertising and commercial art for a few years doing fashion and newspaper ads while continuing his efforts to do comics. His first published comic work was a strip feature he created for free(trying to get some publicity) entitled Stern Wheeler, before he finally got his chance with the new editor of Charlton Comics, Dick Giordano. A self taught artist, Aparo could do it all; pencil, ink, and even letter his own pages, enjoying the complete control over of his own work. How many artists do you know that enjoy lettering their own pages, but Aparo thought it helped his layouts to place his own word balloons. Starting out at Charlton with a humor title, drawn in a cartoon style, Jim quickly worked in many genres including, science fiction, horror, romance, mystery, super-hero, and Westerns, to name a few.

Nothing was beyond this artist's skill with pen and brush rendering his realistic characters and splendid detailed backgrounds. Giordano was wise enough to give Jim a free hand in his storytelling techniques, letting the draftsman draw in a smaller format than the rest of the company and try welcomed new experimentation in layout and design. Aparo could produce one completed page a day, and was lucky enough to stay on this schedule throughout his career to keep the artistic quality at it's peak. Aparo stated his favorite work at Charlton had to be the pages he drew of Lee Falk's jungle hero, The Phantom, but he also illustrated lesser know characters such as Nightshade, The Wanderer, and Thane of Bagarth, just to name a few. When Giordano decided to make a move to DC Comics in the late sixties, Aparo soon followed him, taking over the artistic chores for Aquaman, while still doing Phantom stories at Charlton. Since both the books were being published on a bimonthly schedule, he was able to keep busy each and every month, though the page rates were dramatically different from the two companies!

The Phantom Stranger was Aparo's next venture with National, requiring him to do much more reference for these wild exotic stories about a mysterious world traveler of the occult. Being able to stay fresh was one of Jim's high points, since he enjoyed the character so much, every issue got more elaborate with his attention to details on the landscapes, architecture, vehicles, and clothing of the time period. Picking up influences from Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, and the famed EC artists of the past, Jim crafted his heroes in a lean muscular style and used a unique tilted point of view to help emphasise the action. The short-lived revival in Adventure Comics of The Spectre was a fan favorite that helped the artist "push the envelope" even further on his dramatic photo-realistic style, before moving on to his most popular character.

Aparo is best known for drawing The Batman for ten years in almost one hundred issues of The Brave and the Bold. This team-up book had the Caped Crusader meeting a new DC hero or villain every month, with the Creeper and Joker being just a few of Jim's favorite recurring side-kicks. About this time, Aparo started drawing celebrities into the pages, as a running gag with his editor, and dropping subtle clues about who would be the next monthly co-star for the many young readers enjoyment. Once The Brave and the Bold was eventually cancelled Aparo created another super-team book with Mike W. Barr, Batman and the Outsiders, which had the artist finally do pencils only for the first time in his long career on the last few issues. Aparo continued to work on his beloved Batman titles, did hundred of covers for DC Comics, Green Arrow and other special BAtman related projects before his retirement from the industry. A giant in the field of comic art, Jim Aparo made an impact that will be felt for many years to come.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Paul Norris

Paul Norris is probably best know as co-creator of Aquaman for National Comics, but he also worked in pulp illustration, and newspaper strips with his popular King Features strip Brick Bradford. Here is his short bio from a few years ago...Born on April 26th 1914 in Greenville Ohio. The '88 Album closed out my career as a cartoonist. Retirement is all that I had hoped it would be... spending the golden years with Annbeth, fifty six years and counting... taking pride in the success of our sons, Michael and Paul, in their chosen fields... and doting on our six grandchildren... playing as much golf as aches and pains can permit... feel fortunate that my life was spent as a cartoonist... what a job!! You could sleep in on those rainy mornings... the talented people I have known along the way... a real bonus.