by KC Carlson
I don’t know what it is about winter illnesses, but it seems like I get something brand new every year. (This year it includes hallucinations — spiders! — waking up soaking wet [but not feverish] every morning, and the warping of the timestream. Every time I think I’m feeling better — POW! — I’m sick all over again, six hours later.) I guess we’ve been so successful in killing off (hopefully), for good, many of the traditional childhood illnesses that plagued us for decades that the bad bugs have to come up with something more sinister and ooky every year. And by bad bugs, of course, I’m seeing the old animated (by Tex Avery) evil insects who came afoul of Raid pesticide in the classic commercials. (Of course, using all that Raid back then may be part of why we’re all sick now.) Anyway, being sick sucks because we miss work, can’t play, fall asleep every seven minutes, or can’t write about comic books for more than seven minutes at a time. (And, boy, does falling asleep while typing really bolster the old self-confidence!)
So, the intelligent reader may be asking, what does being sick have to do with comic books?
Chances are you might have been sick in bed when you read your first comic book. Or it might have been the first time you had the opportunity to re-read your stash of comics, all at once. (If you had measles or chicken pox, you weren’t going anywhere for awhile. So, hope you had plenty of reading material!) Plus, inevitably, you got exposed to “new” comic reading experiences. Since you were too sick to go out and buy your own, you had to rely on mom or pop to get your comics — and sometimes they didn’t exactly follow instructions.
[Fred Hembeck once published a hilarious strip about reading comics while being sick as a kid. His mother stopped at a drug store on the way home from a doctor visit and parked by the front window so he could give a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as she held up different comics in the store window. Now, that was a great mom!]
My mom was pretty good about getting me stuff also — she knew I liked DC Comics, especially the Superman titles, Justice League of America, and The Flash, and she knew I liked Sugar and Spike (she did too!), so I got a lot of those, as well as various Archie comics, which she also liked. After the Batman TV show debuted, she brought home lots of Batman comics, which were okay, but I didn’t really appreciate them until later.
While I was sick in bed as a child, I read my first Imaginary Story. My first Death of Superman story. My first Bizarro story (love at first sight). I first discovered the magical hold comics could have when I read Adventure Comics, starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, while I had the measles. (I looked like I fit right in.) And I read a lot of really strange Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane stories. When I was sick, I read and re-read all my Justice League and Flash comics, and I was fascinated when my mom would bring home an occasional (not requested) Green Lantern or The Atom comic. Or even better, a Teen Titans or Challengers of the Unknown. Or best of all, House of Mystery starring Robby Reed and Dial H for Hero. These always made me feel better, even if I couldn’t get out of bed yet.
A COMIC THAT MADE ME SICK
One day when I was sick in the winter of 1965, Mom brought home this comic book:
It was my first Marvel comic book, and it was a pretty traumatic experience. Marvels didn’t always have the best distribution in my area, so I wasn’t used to regularly seeing them. So when my mom brought one home with a batch of DCs I already had, I was pretty disappointed, but I tried not to show it. Luckily, they knew us at the store where she got the comics, so in a few days (when new comics came in), she was able to trade the DC doubles for new ones I didn’t have.
I kept the Tales to Astonish. And I really tried to read and enjoy it. But I couldn’t. Back then, TtA featured both Captain America and Iron Man in separate 10-page stories. I didn’t know either character, but I could figure out that Cap was a good American hero from his costume. But Iron Man — at first I thought he was a robot! Except not as cool as Superman’s robots. Since both of the stories were serialized, I had no idea what was going on. Cap was fighting some big robot called the Sleeper. (What a dumb name!) Iron Man’s friend got turned into the Freak. (Another dumb name!) Plus, for a minute I thought the Sleeper and Iron Man knew each other because they were both robots, and… well, I got so frustrated with the comic, I think it made me cry. (I was eight.) Stupid comic!
Eventually, I stumbled onto an Amazing Spider-Man comic somewhere, and I really liked that. Spidey was funny and had good villains (mostly), and I could relate that he was kinda nerdy. So Spidey ended up being my “gateway comic” into the Marvel Universe, and it was my favorite Marvel comic until I discovered the Avengers. (I liked that they always argued with each other. Boy, that didn’t get old…)
Eventually, in my teens, I started collecting Marvels. And I know exactly when. It was the same month that Fantastic Four #100 was published (cover date July 1970). By then, I had two paper routes and was rolling in dough (at least for a 14-year-old), so I started buying all of the Marvel superhero books beginning that month. Eventually, I went back and collected most of the back issues. (At least the ones I could afford. I remember once seeing a Fantastic Four #1 for $10 and a Daredevil #1 for $6 and thinking “I’ll never spend that much for a comic book!” The regular cover price of comics at that time was either 12¢ or 15¢.) And when I re-read that Tales to Astonish later, it wasn’t so bad. Although I still hated the Sleeper. And of course, Stan did endless stories about it. (Even worse: Jack Kirby quit Marvel two months after I started collecting Marvels. Somehow, I felt responsible.)
Reading comics in a sickbed may be close to a universal shared experience for many people. I know that it was a pivotal moment in many comics creators’ lives, when they made a childhood decision to actually figure out how make comics. I’ve read numerous biographies where that life-changing decision came while in a sick bed. Unfortunately, being sick this week meant that I wasn’t really able to properly research all these comic book and newspaper creators, although I know Dick Giordano’s and Len Wein’s early histories by heart. If you can think of others, please help out in the comments below.
So, comic books and childhood illness. They go together like Superman and Batman (oops, not any more). Okay, like Booster Gold and Blue Beetle (except one of them is dead). Or maybe like Wonder Man and the Beast (nope, one of them is insane). Okay, maybe those are bad examples, but you gotta forgive me — I’ve been sick this week.
WHO’S WATCHING THE REFRIGERATOR?!
In other news, Wednesday (yesterday) was Alan Moore Day, as we got to see the solicitation in Previews of one of Alan Moore’s old Supreme scripts, finally going to be illustrated — by Erik Larsen. Reportedly (although this may not be correct), the script was recently found under Rob Liefeld’s refrigerator, where it was keeping the ‘fridge from wobbling. There was no immediate word of what will be used to replace the now-absent script, so perhaps Liefeld will have to put up with wobbly veggies and ale for a while.
Something else happened to bring up Mr. Moore’s name on Wednesday, but I’m having trouble recalling it….
Oh, yes, you may have heard that DC officially announced their Before Watchmen project, after months of speculation. In fact you may have read that right here.
DC has certainly stacked the deck with Top Name creators for the project, like Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, J. Michael Staczynski, Adam Hughes, Adam and Joe Kubert, Amanda Conner, J.G. Jones, Lee Bermejo, and two guys associated with the original Watchmen — Len Wein (original editor) and John Higgins (colorist). Two names closely associated with the original Watchmen graphic novel are not involved. Artist Dave Gibbons declined to participate but gave his blessings in a statement. Writer Alan Moore also declined to participate, and not surprisingly, he was not thrilled that this was happening. Anybody who’s been around comics for more than a day probably knows why. (If you don’t, try searching for “Alan Moore’s disagreements with DC Comics”. Warning: Make sure you have a couple of days free before attempting this.)
Later that day, a large portion of the internet melted, as fans were not shy about sharing their opinions on the announcement. (Nor, reportedly, bothering being civil with each other. What a shocker.)
My random thoughts:
Wow, that’s a pretty powerhouse lineup of talent for Before Watchmen. One might ask why DC didn’t bother to line up that much talent for the New 52. Not that one would be expecting an answer.
Isn’t it interesting that this project got underway probably seconds after the door hit former DC Publisher Paul Levitz on the way out?
A lot of fans have noticed that the original Watchmen series was only 12 issues. Before Watchmen will consist of at least 35 comics. C’est la vie.
Also, will DC “Hold the Line” at $2.99 for this? Probably not if Warner corporate has anything to say about it. After all, they’re not just going to give these things away, are they?
Re: the length of Before Watchman. With the failure of the Green Lantern film as a potential tentpole for a new wildly profitable series to replace Warner’s beloved Harry Potter series, wouldn’t seven different Watchmen prequel series be great bait? (Although, while the Watchmen film was loved by many fanboys, didn’t most of the general public just scratch their heads? Seriously, I think Warner would do much better with an animated Watchmen Babies series for TV!)
Part of the reason that I’m so cynical about Watchmen is because I started working at DC Comics around the time of that long wait between Watchmen #11 and #12. Because of that, I’m a proud owner of a first-generation photocopy of the legendary “Al Gordon ashcan” for Watchman #12. You see, Al Gordon, as well as being a legendary inker for decades*, was also in the running for being the most legendary Watchmen fan, ever. He would pester any DC editor he could find to send him advance photocopies of the Watchmen issues before they were published. The wait between #11 and #12 was obviously driving Al crazy, as he was calling DC every day wondering were his photocopy was. He managed to tick off several people. So, some unidentified DC staffer made sure that Al got the very first photocopy of Watchmen #12 — but not before that mystery person gathered together a bunch of other unidentified DC folks (possibly named Carlin, Helfer, and Bove) to alter the photocopy. Dialogue was re-written and re-lettered. Panels and pages were out of order, and some were from previous issues. Key pages of the story “unfortunately” got jammed in the photocopier and “smeared out” key story points. Plus, Al’s copy was completely missing the last few pages (DC probably hadn’t gotten them yet), although “The End” was carefully lettered on the last page he was sent.
*Al Gordon is probably more legendary for keeping DC’s editors on the phone for hours. See original Ambush Bug specials edited by Michael Eury for more information.
A few other copies of the ashcan got smuggled out of the offices. I’m pretty sure that both Alan and Dave got a copy along with the explanation. It was one of the greatest practical jokes in comics. I enjoyed its postmodern, dada, auto-destructive take on the series, and I actually prefer some of it to the real issue. (I think Watchmen was the greatest 11-and-a-half-issue miniseries ever.)
These new guys will have to go some to top that.
I never got to work much with Alan Moore while at DC, although I did have to call him with some questions when I was putting together a collection of some of his work (either Swamp Thing or V For Vendetta — both were plagued with crazy production problems), and although I was racked with nerves, he was most generous and gracious with me, although at odds with DC’s management by that point. I did get to work with the amazing Dave Gibbons on the two Amalgam issues of Super Soldier (Superman smushed up with Captain America) — two of the comics I am most proud to have worked on. I can see both sides of the issue, and it’s too bad that creators’ wishes are often overlooked by corporate property owners focused on profit instead of art.
KC CARLSON SEZ: And now the spiders are crawling out of my eyeballs… Is it possible that I hallucinated this entire column?
WESTFIELD COMICS SEZ: KC is obviously delirious. Not that you could actually tell the difference. We are not responsible for him, or what he types — real or imaginary. No way. No how.
Editor’s Note: KC also wrote about Walter Simonson’s recently announced original graphic novel for DC, The Judas Coin, over at Comics Worth Reading. Take a look and learn more about this exciting project here!
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.