Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unpublished Gems: Thrill-O-Rama

Thought I would end the year showcasing some unpublished pieces and their original printed versions if available, though in this first "Unpublished Gems" installment the book was cancelled before issue #4 ever hit the stands. This "lost" cover was from one of Harvey Comics many short-lived titles, Thrill-O-Rama, illustrated by Silver Age artist Jack Sparling. The mysterious Pirana debuted two issues earlier, trying to ride the huge wave of success from DC Comics Aquaman and Marvel's savage Sub-Mariner but never really found a following. Edward Yates, an Oceanography Institute research scientist offered himself as a guinea pig in an wild experiment designed for humans to live under water. Now transformed by a freak accident, Yates could never live on land again. Trying to see the positive side of every situation, Edward decided to use his super power for good as the Pirana (should that be Piranha) fighting crime with his new fish friends, Bara and Cuda in their only two published stories in 1966. Perhaps if Harvey Comics had spelled their new hero's name correct they would have had better luck with the title?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sensational Strips: Axa

Published by the British daily tabloid The Sun from 1978 to 1986, Axa was a science fiction strip set in the post-apocalyptic Earth year 2080. Written by   Donne Avenell and drawn by Enrique Romero, the feature revolved around a lovely high spirited woman named Axa who having grown tired of her regimented and stifling life in a protected domed city, breaks out to an unknown  wilderness with her boyfriend Jon. There they encounters mutated survivors, strange creatures, robots, aliens and other weird inhabitants in their many adventures together. Though based in science fiction, it seemed more at times like a sword and sorcery barbarian tale as our full-figured heroine ran around in her rag bikini or often to the delight or reader, topless or totally nude. Good-girl artist Romero was the perfect choice to depict the gorgeous Axa for the two thousand two hundred thirty eight dailies of the feature, usually in his three panel format. Unfortunately, no Sunday format was ever introduced, though it would have been interesting to see what Romero could have done on a larger scale based on his few comic stories. Upon its sudden cancellation in the middle of a storyline, the artist returned to draw his previous series Modesty Blaise, though I believe Axa was a better fit for his artistic talents. Axa later appeared in full color in the Spanish magazine Creepy in the mid-eighties for eight issues and had a short two book run for the American comic company Eclipse, though not with all the nudity that was a staple for the British strip. Reprinted in its entirety by Ken Pierce books in a trade paperback, the lovely black and white strip has found a new audience and appreciation over the years since its demise.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Foreign Favorites: Buck Danny

Known as the oldest of the European aviation strips, Buck Danny made his debut in the Belgian comic Spirou on January 2, 1947. Scripted by Jean-Michael Charlier and drawn by Victor Hubinon, it was a high flying strip in the mold of Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates. Buck and his hot-shot sidekick, Sonny Tuckson, were pilots with the US Navy battling the Japanese at Midway in their very first episode. After the war, the flying duo tackled various adventures from Borneo to Arabia, before signing up for action in the Korea War. Later the flying aces join the Air Force to confront the many conflicts during the Cold War. Adding a strong silent type, Jerry Tumbler, as a third member later on in the series, they often got involved in counter espionage tales fighting the lovely master-spy, Lady X. Often borrowing themes from both Steve Canyon and Buz Sawyer, the strip was always a fan favorite due to the accuracy of the machines the team flew. So popular was the strip that it spawned a series of high quality beautiful reprints from Editions Dupuis which showed off the features high-flying lovely detail.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Make Mine Marvel: The Monster Of Frankenstein

With Marvel riding high on the black and white horror magazines from their sister company Curtis Publications, The Monster of Frankenstein soon debuted in January 1973 with a title change to Frankenstein's Monster with issue #6 until it ended due to poor sales with issue #18 in September of 1975. Though Roy Thomas wanted to script the title, Mike Friedrich was chosen to write the issues with Mike Ploog assigned the artistic chores.  Basing his monster loosely after a John Romita drawing and trying to stay away from the look of the Universal monster, Ploog's moody scenes were the perfect choice as early sales were strong. The first four issues was a retelling of Mary Shelly's classic tale, continuing with a few yarns in the 1890s before the jump to modern times by suspended animation. Ploog was a fan favorite for the horror title but departed with the sixth issue, not wanting the creature in modern times, as John Buscema filled in with Bob Brown before Val Mayerik was picked to close out the series. Though Doug Moench's later tales were good, taking over from Friedrich, they never reached the popularity of the first classic issues with story and art. When the title was canceled the monster appeared in the Marvel magazines Monsters Unleashed and Legion Of Monsters and after guest starring throughout the seventies in other Marvel super hero titles, Frankenstein's monster mostly faded away with just a handful of appearances in the years since.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Society of Illustrators Profile: Haddon Sundblom

Born in Muskegan, Michigan, the ninth child of poor Finnish parents, Haddon Sundblom left school at thirteen when his mother died, as the youth he did construction jobs by day and art classes at night. Later, he studied at the American Academy of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1920, Sundblom was hired as an art apprentice for a studio and by watching McClelland Barclay and other illustrators he assimilated enough knowledge to begin getting work for himself with his first major assignment being for Quaker Oats. The artist formed his own studio in 1925, Stevens Sundblom & Camp; Henry which proved a valuable training ground for many young artists who later became successful illustrators. Sundblom's remarkable brush work and idealized sunny images made him a favorite with both advertisers and the public as he dominated the illustration field in Chicago. One of the first accounts he landed for his budding studio was for Coca-Cola as he designed his iconic scenes of Santa Clause for that company the next thirty years. Originally starting out with a jolly model for Saint Nick, Sundblom eventually aged himself into the perfect Santa role for his paintings. Producing extraordinary paintings for a number of major accounts, the artist also did editorial work, as well as nearly forty years in demand for magazines and ad agencies.