Thursday, July 26, 2012

Comic Art Legend: Frank Robbins

Born in Boston in 1917, Frank Robbins was a child prodigy who won an art scholarship at the age of nine. Having to forgo college due to the Great Depression, Frank drew for an advertisement firm handling illustrations for RKO Pictures. The artist also worked for Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration creating beautiful murals in the NBC building. Taking over the strip Scorch Smith from Noel Sickles in 1939, he found much success in the newspaper syndicate market. Asked to create his own aviation strip by King Features, Robbins created Johnny Hazard which debuted in 1944, heavily influenced by his main inspiration, Milton Caniff, which the creator wrote and drew until its cancellation in 1977. In the late 1960s when Robbin's income was shrinking due to his strips dwindling circulation, the artist worked a deal with Julie Schwartz at National Comics to write The Flash, Detective Comics, and Batman with his first story published in 1968. Having written for DC for four years, Robbins finally got the chance to showcase his unique art style in Detective Comics #416 in 1971 with the Caped Crusader taking on the dreaded Man-Bat. With most of DC's young fans being used to the realistic artwork of Irv Novick, Neal Adams, and Jim Aparo on the character, they had a hard time with Frank's loose line and exaggerated brushwork on Batman.

Even the president of National Comics, Carmine Infantino, did not care for his Batman drawings, but enjoyed the imaginative story lines the artist wrote, only editor Julie Schwartz backed and loved his moody dark style. Robbins drew various stories for Plop, Weird War Tales, The Shadow, House of Secrets, House of Mystery, and other titles before leaving DC for more appreciation at Marvel Comics. Asked to join the "House of Ideas" not for his excellent writing ability, but to illustrate a  number of their titles, Frank penciled, The Invaders, Captain America, Daredevil, The Man from Atlantis, What If?,  Ghost Rider, Adventures Into Fear, Powerman, and The Human Fly, just to name a few. Retiring from comics in 1979, Frank Robbins now concentrated on his fine art career being exhibited in various museums and galleries across the country before his passing in 1994 at the age of 77.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gold Key Comics...Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 A.D.

With his first appearance in Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 A. D., #1 in 1963, writer and artist Russ Manning created a new "Tarzan" inspired character for the distant future. After working on the Edgar Rice Burroughs character for Gold Key and the newspaper syndicate, Manning got a chance to do his own series at Western Publishing, and decided to update the Ape Man mythos .But instead of being raised by primates this time, Magnus was reared by a benevolent robot called 1A who foresaw a very grim future in mankind's growing dependence on robots. Borrowing from Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics for the first issue, Magnus is trained by 1A as a warrior to protect humans from rogue machines and the humans who used them for their own evil purposes. Trained in an advanced martial arts, our hero can break steel with his bare hands and equipped with a telepathic device to "hear" all robot-to-robot communications. Magnus is the guardian of a sprawling North Am battling space pirates, aliens, wicked robots and other various threats. With the help of his girlfriend, the lovely Leeja Clane, her senator father, Victor Clane, and a boy's club known as "The Outsiders", Magnus has many exciting adventures done in in Manning's sleek streamline style for the first twenty one issues, before Russ left the feature. Paul Norris was chosen to take over the artwork for most of the remaining tales, along with lots of reprints to round out the series ended with issue #46 in January of 1977. But the popularity of the original series spawned new issues from Valiant Comics and Acclaim Comics in the nineties and currently under Dark Horse Comics even more stories of the robot fighter are being told.


Friday, July 13, 2012

My Greatest Adventure: The Flash

One of DC Comics most popular and longest lasting characters, The Flash was unique in that he single handily spawned the rebirth of super-heroes for National Comics in the dawn of the Silver Age. The Flash first appeared in Showcase #4 in the fall of 1956 written by the inventive Julius Swartz and sleekly illustrated by artist Carmine Infantino before getting his own series in February of 1959. Mild mannered Barry Allen worked for Central City's Police department as a scientist when a freak accident suddenly changed his dull life forever. As a stray bolt of lightning struck through his laboratory window one day and shattered a cabinet of chemicals on him, Barry Allen was bathed in a weird electrifying substance. Barry soon discovered he could now move at incredible speeds, being able to sprint up the sides of buildings, vibrate his own super-charged molecules through solid matter, and other various miraculous quick feats. Designing a special miniaturized red and yellow costume concealed in his signet ring, and taking the name of his Golden Age comic book idol, this Scarlet Speedster uses his new found super powers to fight crime as the world's "fastest man alive", The Flash.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Foreign Favorites: Ernie Pike

In 1957 writer Hector German Oesterheld and artist Hugo Pratt created their war reporter, Ernie Pike, for  Argentina's magazine, Hora Cero #1. It is loosely based on the real-life reporter Ernie Pyle, who was killed in Okinawa in 1945 and made famous by William Wellman's motion picture, The Story of G.I. Joe, with Burgess Meredith in the title role. Pike acts as a narrator initially in the stories, but later is more involved in the tales that don't follow real battles, but share personal stories of tragedy for unknown soldiers created by the author. From a misunderstanding with the writer, Pratt drew the face of Pike that of Oesterheld, and since he had drawn so  much of the storyline already, they decided to just keep the character as it was. Hugo's style, unpretentious and fast, concentrated on the everyday life and death struggle of military life with its muck and mire. Originally focusing on World War II and the Korean War, Oesterheld later came back with stories of Vietnam and a more critical approach to the U.S. involvement. Without regard to the cause for which it was fought, the author used war comics to reflect his personal dislike for war itself. After a few stories, Pratt left for Europe as Argentine artists Alberto Breccia and Francisco Solano L√≥pez continued in his loose style with Ernie Pike being widely reprinted in Italy and many other countries.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Steve Ditko Gallery

Comic book artist and writer Steve Ditko is best known as the co-creator of the Marvel Comics heroes Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, as well as his significant contributions to Iron Man and the Hulk in the 1960s. Studying under Jerry Robinson at the Cartoonist and Illustrators School in New York City, he began his professional career in the early fifties inking for the Simon and Kirby studio, and honing his skills under artist/mentor Mort Meskin. Soon moving over to Charlton Comics he worked in many genres over the years including horror, mystery, science fiction and superhero titles including, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and The Question. Once leaving Marvel, Ditko drew for DC Comics creating the well received Hawk and Dove and The Creeper, before starting to concentrate on his own self-published stories featuring Mr. A. and The Avenging World, his philosophical titles thought to be inspired by Ayn Rand's Objectivism and the writings of Aristotle. A very private person, Ditko has declined most interviews or appearances since the 1960s, stating that it is his work he offers to readers, and not his personality.