Saint Nick’s Naughty and Nice List–a 4-part serial

Although there were a few family members who had grand visions that DC was going to canonize the Major in the recent documentary on the 75 years of DC, Secret Origin, yours truly was not among them. I’m just relieved that DC/WB included him and were nice! Thank you again, Sean and Mac.

Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was called Nick at least by the time he was attending Manlius Military Academy in upstate New York. Several items in the yearbook from 1911 identify him with that nickname. Evidently he was also known for being quite elegant in his dress, once again disproving the French boulevardier’s cape and hat story. Sorry about that Gerard.

Here’s how I came to share a “nick” name with the illustrious grandfather. At birth I was given an unwieldly name four times as long as I was, encrusted with the ancient European connections from both sides of the various ancestors. Left in the care of my southern maternal grandparents since both my parents were in New York, (it’s complicated) Granddaddy Pickens who named everything and everybody in his own dry way immediately referred to me as the Wheeler-Nick. This promptly got shortened to Nick and Nicky and that’s what I’ve been called my entire life no matter which gentleman came along and attached his name to mine. Although I am an ardent champion of Grandfather Nick’s creative energy I know he wasn’t a saint and since I’m pretty clear I’m not a saint we’ll leave it to the real Saint Nick to imbue his spirit forthwith for the season.

Santa's Reality © respective holders

The following is all about giving fun to someone else. Wasn’t that the idea for comics in the first place? None other than Pete Marston, son of William Moulton Marston of Wonder Woman fame recently stated that he felt the Major was well aware of how important it was to cheer people up in bad times. I’d like to think that is so.

Giving is a two-way street. If you purchase from the heroes and heroines toiling away in publishing as the publishers, creators, writers and artists you give them a gift as well and believe me, they deserve it!  One of the things I love about comics and pulps is that almost every one of the incredibly prolific and creative people I’ve met is fun and unbelievably nice.

So fellow procrastinators and harried over-worked bohemians–take heart! It’s not too late to get things together for the seasonal gift-giving. You know you’re going to buy at least a few gifts even if you’re pinching pennies so think about spending them wisely and well. I’ve left out some of the obvious gift choices because they’re being touted non-stop by the giant machine of hyperbole. Herewith the Un-saint Nick’s quirky list of books, pulps and comic books for all those who’ve been Naughty or Nice. You know very well who and what you are.

Part One–Big Art Books and Collections

Grab anything from The Library of American Comics run by two incredibly talented guys—Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell. Check out this photo of them at the IDW booth from NY Comic Con 2010. The Library of American Comics provides archival editions of newspaper comic strips. The books are all beautifully accomplished and award winning productions. With everything from Blondie to Rip Kirby you’ll find something here for everyone on your list. Clicky on the pic to go right on over to their gorgeous site with Bruce’s informative and fun blog as an added bonus. I love these guys.

© The Library of American Comics

This book Shazam by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear grabbed my eye in The Bookloft, one of our favorite local independent bookstores. I want this book myself so I know you will too. How can anyone resist anything that the extraordinarily talented Chip Kidd puts his hand to? Only his nibs Mr. Kidd could get away with entitling a book Shazam and he has the plaid pants to prove it. You know where to click.

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The prolific (in more ways than one) Craig Yoe is also represented at IDW with beautiful books. I keep talking about his book on Milt Gross which has a perfect combination of artwork and prose to keep you entertained for hours. Craig also just finished a book on Frankenstein that is sure to be great fun. Mr. Yoe turns out so many amazing books on comics that it is hard to keep up. Check out his site for more beautiful graphic books on comics.

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David Saunders whom I’ve just discovered and written about in a previous post is so talented and his beautiful art books on the pulps are on a par with anything out there. His father Norman Saunders was a great pulp artist and I love David’s heartfelt book about him. David’s newest book is on H. J. Ward another of the great pulp artists. David has some terrific yarns about Ward when he worked for Donenfeld in the Spicy pulp department. It’s all done with beautifully reproduced artwork. The click will take you to the publisher’s site.

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The multi-talented Denis Kitchen, one of the grand oldish men of underground comics–hard to believe old and underground comics could be in the same phrase–seems to be everywhere these days talking about his incredible adventures. Denis won an Eisner at this year’s Comic Con for his beautiful book on Harvey Kurtzman and he has his own book The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen. If you have a chance to hear Denis speak I would not miss this opportunity to hear first hand about the underground world of artists like Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb not to mention the inimitable Will Eisner and all the great tales Denis has of his life in comics.

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For kid friendly browsing you can’t go wrong at Papercutz run by another of the great gentlemen publishers, Jim Salicrup. I have one of their Nancy Drew graphic novels that I love. There are tons of options here to please the finickiest non-adult person on your list. And if you’re still not sure, get a gift certificate and let Mr. or Miz Picky do his/her own shopping. Their books are high quality at great prices.

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And don’t forget the classics like Comic Book Culture: An Illustrated History. This beautiful book by Ron Goulart is one of the first books I purchased about the comics. It is still a great book with striking artwork and well-written prose. Ron’s knowledge of this genre is first-hand as he knew and befriended so many of the early pioneers of the game. His stories are often original source material so you need this book if you’re at all serious about your comics’ history.

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If you want a splurge or you want to woo someone (hint, hint)–anything remotely affordable by the astoundingly gifted Steranko will do the trick. I had a hard time choosing a representative piece of artwork. The man is so talented in a variety of genres. Here’s a link to a wonderful site (The Drawings of Steranko) that also provides lots of links like Amazon where you can do your Santa Claus deal. Steranko rates in my book as the Maestro.

© Jim Steranko/respective holders

I’m placing Archie Comics here in the big book department but they are also Affordable Luxury. For Archie’s big book, Archie Marries… Michael Uslan and Stan Goldberg have created this luxurious book featuring all new stories about Archie and the gang. Michael took the idea of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken and applied it to Archie and Veronica and Betty. It’s a huge hit and you’ll want this book. I do. If you catch Mr. Uslan as he flies hither and yon and get him to sign your book, Santa will get a well-deserved big smooch.

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Finally I’m including the venerable Bobs here. Robert Beerbohm’s online bookstore BLB Books has thousands of affordable collectible comic books but he also has plenty of splurges for the serious collector on your list. I bought a nice Wonder Woman for one of my few gal pals who is into comics that was very reasonable but I saw plenty of others of the drool only category. If I were you I would email Bob and communicate with him directly if you’re planning on investment grade presents. Best to get knowledgeable advice from those in the know and Bob is your man.

The other venerable Robert is Overstreet. His 40th Overstreet’s Guide just came out. That’s a phenomenal accomplishment and Bob’s your man here as well. The Overstreet Guide is for the person on your list who is serious about collecting comics and you might want one for yourself too. Published by Gemstone Publishing with scholar and gentleman, JC Vaughn at the helm, you can find new and back issues of their prolific output for fans and collectors from their various publications which also fits nicely in the Affordable Luxury department.

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Part Two: Must Have Books by Writers and Artists

I’ve put various links onto the pics such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble or the publisher’s site but you should also visit your local independent bookstores and comic book stores. You can check out a few comic book stores listed here on the blog with links. Abrams seems to have quite a few of my favorite books on comics but the top of the list has to be Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics by Christopher Couch. Christopher is a dedicated writer who loves his subject matter. The book was written in collaboration with Jerry Robinson who is not only a gentleman in every sense of the word but has been a champion of artists’ rights thus the Ambassador title. This wonderful book filled with great illustrations is a fount of information about Jerry’s amazing career in comics. For those of you who are Batman aficiaonados you need this book.

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Danny Fingeroth has wonderful how-to books with TwoMorrows press (see Affordable Luxury) that are excellent choices but my favorite of his is Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero published by Continuum. It is a deeply intelligent book that gives you a much greater understanding of the contribution of Jewish immigrants to the comic book industry and Danny’s thoughts on how that came about. I truly loved this book and it made me appreciate even more what a smart and talented guy our Danny happens to be.

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Of course, Gerard Jones should be on your list. His book Men of Tomorrow is a classic even if he did get the information wrong about the Major. I’m not holding it against him because there is so much information in here that sheds light on the entire industry and how it evolved although I’m not so sure evolved is the best word here. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating—what I especially like about MOT is the way Gerard places everything within historical context. It makes a big difference in one’s understanding of the rise of this hugely popular cultural phenomena. Gerard also has other wonderful books on pop culture like Killing Monsters, The Beaver Papers and Honey I’m Home among many others which you can find on his very own Amazon page.

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Howard Cruse is a dear friend so if you don’t know his work you may suspect my gushing. However, my 80ish grand dame of a mother-in-law whose usual bedside table reading consists of Jane Austen and the latest literary environmental guru has pronounced Howard’s graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby as one of the best books she’s ever read. So there you have it. Howard’s beautifully written and beautifully drawn book about being gay in the segregated south has just been re-issued by Vertigo (an imprint of DC) with a haunting new cover by Howard and an intro by Alison Bechdel of Dykes to Watch out For (another book that’s on my personal Santa list). I never go against anything the grande dame pronounces and neither should you if you know what’s good for you.

The new cover.© Howard Cruse

My dream team would be a collaboration between Marc Rosenthal artist extraordinaire and one of my favorite writers, Tom DeHaven. Marc’s art is reminiscent of a much earlier style that has an updated graphic look. Marc and I agree that some of the newer graphic novels and comics are simply dizzying to look at in the style of a Baz Lurman film at his most indulgent–Vertigo meets Moulin Rouge.

© Marc Rosenthal

I’ve gone on about Tom DeHaven’s writing before. He writes like one of the heroes of the 30′s and 40′s–clean and sharp and takes you right there. His latest book on Superman called Superman, Our Hero on Earth is quite simply wonderful. I’m in the midst of reading his earlier fiction books, It’s Superman, Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies and Funny Papers and they are sublime. More about that in the spring. If you know what’s good for you, track down these books and get them now before they cannot be got. I’ve helped you out with links.

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Speaking of Supermen, if you want to encourage someone to be a lot smarter about comics then you should check out Mel Gordon and Tom Andrae’s latest book on Siegel and Shuster, Funnyman. It’s all about their Jewish hero Funnyman which I vaguely knew about and this book is a must read to get a broader picture of Siegel and Shuster and their careers. Knowing Tom and having heard Mel speak you can be assured it will not only be smart but a great read.

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Finally, if you want to be au courant and on the cutting edge I’d check out Batton Lash’s fabulous comics Supernatural Law. They are beautifully drawn and the stories are great–absolutely hysterically funny! Batton is right up there with the best of the best and you would be wise to be collecting him right this minute. Buy his book on Amazon or get the comics from Exhibit A Press. Get several and you’ll be a super hero/heroine. And you can even like Supernatural Law on the Facebook. Better do it fast or you’ll be trailing behind the in-the-know crowd.

© Batton Lash

Part Three: Affordable Luxury

Adventure House as I’ve noted before is run by one of the gurus of pulps, John Gunnison. He has a huge selection of reprints and books about the pulps. They’re all enticing and in affordable price ranges. You’re going to get lost looking at everything so have fun wandering the stacks. John also has periodic auctions for serious buyers and again, I would communicate with him if you get to the investment level. You could just about do one-stop shopping here for your pulp enthusiasts but you don’t want to miss Bold Venture Press or Blood ‘n’ Thunder.

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Blood ‘n’ Thunder Publications run by the knowledgeable Ed Hulse has back issues and the current issues are very affordable and quite handsome magazines about the pulps. I’m currently reading Ed’s Blood n Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps which is top-notch. Even though I’ve been collecting for a while, I needed some guidance and this is the right place to start. You can find these at the Adventure House site.

© Blood n Thunder

Bold Venture Press is also a favorite site with reprints and books about the pulps. Rich Harvey promotes the art of gorgeous graphics and my favorite man about town, Jim Steranko is represented there as well with his illustrations in Compliments of the Domino Lady. I absolutely adore the book featured below, Deadly Dames edited by Gary Lovisi-”Sometimes the last man standing is a woman…” You know exactly who needs this book.

© Bold Venture Press

I am also a big fan of the upstart publishing group I Know Joe Kimpel. My pal Mario Van Buren is there and they have a variety of new works in a variety of price ranges. You should check them out if you want to know what’s going on with upcoming younger artists cause you don’t want to be left out of the loop. Ditto The Strangler Brothers with fantastic artwork by Melinda Davidson and delightfully weird stories by Judge Leverich and Josh Frankovich.

TwoMorrows Publishing run by two superb southern gentlemen—John Morrow, publisher and Roy Thomas, editor emeritus glorious is the perfect one stop shopping. They have a ton of books by everyone we all know and love which are very reasonably priced and aimed for those who want to learn more—count me in. Besides the current issues they also have back issues of Alter Ego, which are collectors’ items in themselves with great articles by among others, the renowned punster, kindly curmudgeon Jim Amash about anyone who is or was anyone in comics. We love them cause they did such a knock out job on helping people learn more about the Major and his contributions to comic books in issue #88 which you can still obtain. Here’s your clicky pic.

© TwoMorrows Publishing

Speaking of Sir Roy Thomas you should check out his book The All-Star Companion, Vol. 4. I’m definitely going to because it “features, along with other info about the Justice Society and Roy’s 1980s revision of it, an article on M.C. Gaines’ International Crime Patrol of the late 1940s.” Roy, like the true gentleman he is, never goes on about himself. So if he tells you something you best jump on that bandwagon because it is for your benefit. Roy is one of the legends of comics so you won’t go wrong with anything that has his name upon it.

© TwoMorrows Publishing

I managed to track down a couple of paperbacks written by the renowned Max Allan Collins. They may be out of print but you can still find them and they’re not hard on the pocket book. I love these books as they have some passing connection to my passion. The detective is none other than the son of the founder of “CD” Comics, “the Colonel.” The first murder A Killing in Comics is a fictionalized version of the fracas around just who owns Superman-oops-Wonder Guy. Donny Harrison the publisher of Americana Comics gets impaled on a birthday cake knife. Need I say more. I’m just envious that I didn’t write these myself. There are at least one or two people in the comics industry who deserve a writer’s take on their justice league desserts!

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And once again, in the kid-friendly department Archie Comics led by Nancy Silberkleit, Jon Goldwater and Victor Gorelick are doing a truly amazing job with their latest comics. They’ve got some of the best writers and artists around like Alex Simmons, Jim Amash, Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz among others with the heroic Mike Pell at the editorial helm. You can buy online, buy a subscription, buy books. There are several different age groups here that you can buy for including adults who love the nostalgia. It won’t break the bank and what a pleasure to give and of course, receive.

© Archie Comics

I also ran across City of Spies, this fantastic graphic novel in The Bookloft and although it is aimed for the pre-teen or tween set I immediately wanted it for myself. Don’t go there! Santa’s helper dually took note so I’m hoping that I can be good all the way up to the 25th in order to get one in my stocking hung by the chimney with care. The artwork by Pascal Dizin is beautiful and the writing by veteran screen and mystery writers Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan seems like great fun.

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I won myself at least 3 big gold stars for gifting Chris Hart’s book on Drawing Vampires: Gothic Creatures of the Night to my family favorite 13 year old. She was in ecstasy and for the moment I was the most wonderful person in the world. You can be one too if you check out any of his books for kids (and I suppose adults as well) teaching them how to draw Manga and other popular styles.

© Chris Hart

And there you have it. Remember to click on the pics and solve all your Santa Claus problems immediately. Stay tuned for the final installment, which reveals how Santa goes Buddhist to extol those who have been nice and dole out karma to those who have been super naughty.

About Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

Writer/Editor and Publisher for over 20 years with a Master's Degree in Classical Greek Mythology and Theatre. Perfect for writing about Comics!
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