Friday, December 24, 2010

Alfredo Alcala's...Voltar

One of the most spectacular strips ever produced, Filipino artist Alfredo Alcala's Voltar made his first appearance in Alcala Fight Komix in July of 1963. Traditionally, comic book production was a team effort used to maximize the profits for its publishers and capitalize on popular artists in the field. So when an epic adventure on the scale of Voltar was written, pencilled, inked, lettered, and published by a sole individual, it makes this achievement all the more unbelievable when readers encountered the pristine quality of the work. Done in a lush etched style, it rivaled the work of the old master showcasing the most detailed penwork ever to appear in comics. Astonishing double page spreads graced every chapter that simply baffled the mind considering the effort Alcala devoted to these monumental illustrations, even spawning the artist to develop a special fountain brush to embellish his pages.

A blend of legends, myth, and history, Voltar is packed with savage beasts and strange creatures as our hero travels through ancient cities overrun with wild barbarians on his quest for truth and justice. Alfredo weaved a delicate tapestry of brave deeds and costly betrayals, with his outstanding characters that encompass all the emotions so wanting in other comic features of the day. Alcala's moody mythological tales were always filled with a tremendous presence whether he is rendering a lovely damsel in distress, or a crafty old wizard set on defeating our wandering hero. Winner of the prestigious Society of Philippine Illustrators and Cartoonist Award numerous times in the early 1970s, Voltar also captured the attention of American fans taking first place in various science fiction show events and published in the historic Hannes Bok Memorial Showcase of Fantasy Art.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Buried Treasure: Johnny Reb and Billy Yank

When the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate wanted to explore both sides of the American Civil War in a new Sunday feature, the adventures of Johnny Reb and Billy Yank was born. An interesting attempt to try new themes in newspaper strips, it was first released on November 18, 1956, and published in a little over sixty papers at its height of popularity. It showcased with their symbolic names a Southerner from Virginia called Johnny Reb, and his New England partner for the series, Billy Yank. When starting out the soldiers exploits were told one North then South, switching back and forth evenhandedly taking turns with the stories. Later on there came a preference for the Southern character, so the strip title was shortened to Johnny Reb, now focusing more on the Confederate hero. Written by Ben Martin and drawn by the talented Frank Giacoia, the team did equally well on elaborate battle scenes, or quieter moments, often using many historical personalities from the period. One of the last full page Sunday strips, it was also ghosted at times by other famous artists like Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert. But after three years, and twenty complete tales, the public seemed to lose interest, preferring newer features hitting the market, so with less circulation and fewer papers the series suddenly ended in May of 1959.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Make Mine Marvel: Daredevil

Matt Murdock was the son of boxer "Battling" Jack Murdock, and though of athletic build, he was a bookworm taunted by his peers with the nickname "Daredevil". One day Matt saved a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, but was struck by a radioactive crate that had fallen from the vehicle that caused the boy to lose his sight, though his other senses were greatly enhanced. Desperate for his son to become a lawyer despite his injury, Jack decided to throw his last fateful fight to finance his son's education. But the night of the bout, Jack reneged on his promise once he saw young Matt in the crowd, which cost the boxer his life. Donning a black-and-yellow costume and adopting the name Daredevil, Matt sought to avenge his father's death against the crime syndicate and to serve justice after hours outside the court of law. Changing his costume to a red one-piece in issue #7, Daredevil's senses are so alert he can read a newspaper by touching the ink on a printed page, can hear a liar's false heartbeat, or know how many bullets are in gun just by its weight. With his radar sense and incredible strength this "Man Without Fear" has become one of Marvel Comics most enduring characters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Foreign Favorites: Corto Maltese

Created by the talented Italian artist, Hugo Pratt, Corto Maltese became one of the most popular adventure strips in France and Belgium. A spin-off from an earlier story, Corto Maltese first debuted in the French weekly Pif-Gadget on April 1, 1970. For a salty tale of the sea, Corto is an unfortunate captain without a ship, a man without a country who always sides with the rebels and oppressed in every battle. Set around 1910, his escapades lead him from South America, to Europe to North Africa, fighting in numerous conflicts, seeking treasure, and often trying to save his skin from the magic and witchcraft that permeates the heavy atmosphere of the strip. The supporting cast such as the pirate captain Rasputin, Irish lass Banshee, Professor Steiner, and the lovely Venexiana Stevenson are just a interesting as the main character when they appear in these swashbuckling episodes. After four years, Pratt decided to move on to other projects, but continued to return to the feature, now being published in a full color format for its many reprints. Translated into a half dozen languages, Corto Maltese proved to be a popular figure around the world, inspiring extensive studies on the seafarer and an animated series for television.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jim Aparo's "Masque of Mirrors"

With her first appearance as girlfriend and side-kick heroine to Captain Atom in issue #82, the lovely Nightshade guest starred in a few tales before landing her own backup stories in the final three books of Charlton's cosmic hero. Created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko, Eve Eden was the daughter of a U. S. Senator and a mysterious alien from another dimension, Magda, who had the ability to transform into a living two-dimensional shadow. She passed this power on to her daughter, and even though Eve had only a handful of stories, DC Comics revamped the character when it acquired the Charlton property into new incarnations that's still popular today. But it's great to see an early "Darling of Darkness" story drawn in the crisp, clean style of Jim Aparo, from Captain Atom #89 in this 1967 story entitled...