My Comic Book Life: Part 1, The Lay of the Land

I’ve been on a quest for about 16 years researching my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s life and work. In the halls of the Court of Comic Book Land I’ve encountered Courtiers who would flatter one out of the few gold pieces held. I crossed swords with an Evil Wizard who is still lurking about. And I thought I had found the one true Knight but he turned out to be a rusty Tin Man without a heart, no brain and poor thing, is cowering in the bushes–and I thought I was the scaredy cat! On the other hand I have gathered at the roundish table several brave and true Knights who will don their armor and do battle for me. I’ve also found a few Wise Men and Women that shine a light upon the sometimes dark path. I would never have gotten this far without the Allies of surrounding kingdoms who have helped to keep me in bread and wine. The best part of the journey is the Good Companions well met who keep my spirits up. And a good thing too as I’ve fallen into the mire more than a time or two, lost my way in the deep woods and been knocked off my steed into the dust. In the requisite skirmishes for the Kingdom of Comics I’ve lost a couple of battles here and there and made one or two enemies.

Cover of AlterEgo magazine, August 2009.

Cover of AlterEgo magazine, August 2009.

I am the proverbial fool from the Tarot deck stepping off into the void whistling a tune, a juggler trying to keep all the plates spinning and Dorothy blithely skipping down the Yellow Brick Road. But somehow through all the ups and downs I’ve managed to keep going. A good friend who knows most of the gritty details recently asked me if I would describe myself “tough as nails.” Not by a long shot! I’ve cried buckets and like a mealy mouthed Melanie from GWTW fallen on the fainting couch for months after being pushed out of the cafeteria by the mean girl table. It takes courage and a spirit of adventure to keep going forward in the face of impossible odds. There is a difference between being tough as nails and having courage and an adventurous spirit. The difficulties I’ve encountered have helped me feel in my bones the inherited DNA of the Major’s determination throughout his life to courageously face the enemy in battle and in life. I have refused to give up and now here we are near the end of this journey with a book of the Major’s adventure stories, The Texas-Siberia Trail recently published by Off-Trail Publications, a biography of the Major’s life in the making with Gerard Jones as a co-author who is one of the best writers and historians in the industry, and several other exciting media projects in the works.

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In the process of organizing my overwhelming mounds of research for our upcoming bio, Lost Hero, The Adventurous and Tragic Life of the Man Who Invented Comic Books I’ve discovered bits and pieces that reveal some of the moments from the long journey. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll showcase some of the people who have helped me along the way and their thoughts about comics and comic book history. I’m beginning with a post from my friend Francis DiMenno. Francis is an erudite Harvard graduate and a librarian who loves comics. He wrote his thesis on Comic Books and he was one of the first scholars I interviewed about comics history at least 10 years ago. Francis reveals the basics of how the industry began and who was there. He discusses the connection between the pulps and the comics. Since the Major is an important link between the two it’s fitting that we start our journey with his post. Feel free to add your own thoughts about How It All Began.

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Why I Love My Local Comic Book Store

My local comic book store, Escapist Comics on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley, CA is right down the hill from me. It is in an elitist neighborhood of million dollar plus homes not far from the grand old Claremont Hotel. There’s a small section of commercial establishments on Claremont including the infamous Star Market where it is a badge of honor to be one of those with an account. You know you’ve arrived if you’re able to remark on the eccentric bookkeeping thereof. Several doors down you can get the best BLT ever (and this from a southerner) in Semifreddi’s bakery not to mention their superior baguettes and such.

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Last year, when I first encountered Paul Purcell, the manager at Escapist, he wasn’t clear who the hell I was or why it mattered but true to the inclusive People’s Republic of Berkeley view of life, he was enthusiastic and welcoming. The store is a classic comic book store—cluttered, unkempt and a little overwhelming for the novice. It has the timeless air of all the bookstores that ever were of the possibility of being lost in the imagination rampant on the shelves.

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It is cheering to come into the store and see neighborhood dads with their kids, academic types from nearby UC Berkeley and comic book aficionados of all kinds and persuasions. The staff is friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Every time I come in searching for just the right gift for the small children on my family list or teenagers who help me with heavy lifting or birthday presents for friends, someone on the staff knows exactly the perfect item. I am always happy when Jessica is there because I know she understands my loss at the sheer volume of material and will steer me in the right direction. That’s a wake up call, you comic book guys—hire women!

My friend Kim Munson, artist, art historian and comic book historian pronounced Escapist a treasure trove upon coming to the recent event that Gerard Jones and I held there. Kim managed to snag some Jack Kirbys she was in search for and was more than happy to have made the trek to our little corner of the world. (And if you don’t know who Jack Kirby is, you will soon enough if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case of his heirs vs. Marvel about creator rights.) Escapist is indeed a treasure trove and just about anything you could possibly want is there from books to please the children in your life to the obsessive comic book fan.

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The estimable Jim Friel holds forth in the loft and has the keys to the vault for those who are serious collectors. Occasionally he has some pulps and understands the equally obsessive nature of those who collect in that genre.

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Several months ago at Escapist I met Kurt Wiebe, co-creator of Peter Panzerfaust and the Rat Queens—a terrific series that is feminine friendly in all the right ways and has a wonderful story line. I would probably not have come across his amazing work otherwise.

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Paul and the gang made the store available to my co-author of MWN’s bio Gerard Jones and me on Saturday, June 21st. Mel Gordon, an author of a wide variety of books from subjects like the Stanislavsky method to Weimar Germany came to lend support along with Thomas Andrae, notable comics scholar. They were co-authors on  Funny Man, a book about a series created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster of Superman fame. Tom has written a number of books on comics history and will soon have a book out with a whole new view of Siegel and Shuster. I was happy to have them in the front row to help with gaps in my memory about dates and such. Marc Greenberg, one of the smart guys in the intellectual property know how, a lawyer and a writer was there with his wife the afore mentioned Kim Munson. I was interviewed by Kim for the Comics Alternative blog and I really appreciated her insights. My cycling buddies, neighborhood friends, writing pals and interested comics fan all showed up to cram the place all the way to the door. It was standing room only and couldn’t have been a nicer crowd.

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I did a little short history of my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, his military career and his pulp adventure stories.

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Then I read a few excerpts from the recently published collection of some of MWN’s adventure stories, The Texas-Siberia Trail published by John Locke of Off-Trail Publications. John does a super job with publishing pulp reprints. The stories we chose for the reprint are based on the Major’s real life adventures in the military on the Mexican border chasing Pancho Villa, in the Philippines fighting the Moros and in Siberia during the Bolshevik Revolution. My friend and brilliant artist Howard Cruse drew the inside cover depiction of “the Major.” John and I contributed Introductions and the ever wonderful Michael Uslan, producer of all the Batman movies along with Gerard Jones gave us great blurbs for the back cover. It’s doing well and has gotten great reviews on Amazon. Here’s how you can get yours.

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It was one of those times when all the right ingredients are there—perfect place, great group of people and at just the right moment. Everyone listened intently and asked interested questions after Gerard held forth about our upcoming bio on the Major. It was pretty close to comic book and pulp nirvana. And watched over by none other than Batman and Robin!

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Escapist may not look exactly like the ideal of what people think they want in a comic book shop but I think it comes the closest to the ideal of what everyone says is important in a book shop to come back again and again–a friendly knowledgable staff, interesting events with the best people in the industry from classics to new innovative material and an unbelievable inventory of almost anything you could possibly want.

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Gerard and I were grateful for the opportunity to give our “show”a tryout in such a friendly space with good friends and colleagues to support us. Creative people need venues to present their work. How wonderful is it to do so in your very own neighborhood in such a welcoming space. Thanks guys! Support your local comic book and independent book store. I mean it.

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Pensacola Pulps and Comics

I came “home” to the Gulf Coast for a few months this winter and for the first time my two lives intersected. Thanks to Danny Fingeroth I attended Wizard World Comic Con in New Orleans and this past weekend I presented at Pensacon in Pensacola thanks to Mike Ensley, the organizer. In between I attended an exhibit of Pulp Covers and a lecture by Dr. David Earle, a pulpster pal at the University of West Florida.

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I love the pulps especially as grandfather Nick aka “the Major” wrote some wonderful stories for these popular magazines. John Locke of Off-Trail Publications has just published a collection of some of the Major’s best stories. The Texas-Siberia Trail traces the Major’s real life experiences as imagined in his fiction. I’m on the trail now to make sure everyone knows about the book. It’s been fun to hang out with comics and pulpster guys right in my very own back yard.

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I’ve known David Earle for a while and I’m always impressed at the amount of creative energy he manifests but I’d never heard him give a talk. I was quite impressed after hearing his lecture and slide show on Pulps. He led us through the history and importance of pulps in an erudite and witty commentary to the beautiful accompaniment of covers. The little known story of the Pulps is a missing piece of the history of literature and popular culture in America. The audience—students and general public—was very enthusiastic and asked great questions afterwards. That’s always a good way to tell if your message got across.

Patrick Belk and Dr. David Earle.

Patrick Belk and Dr. David Earle.

I coerced my adult nephew Will Lomers into accompanying his aunt Nicky and we went to the exhibit, which was stunning. Nick Croghan, the Gallery Director at UWF organized the exhibit and David Earle contributed magazines from his extensive collection. Students from the Art Department and English Department participated as well as Patrick Belk’s Pulp Magazines Project. I was particularly impressed by a timeline of the pulps and the intersection of comics created by grad student Rachel Johnson. It’s amazing to see the timeline in such a beautiful graphic format covering an entire wall. Someone needs to give this girl a grant because it definitely should be accessible and online!

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The next week when we were at Pensacon quite a few fans stopped by our table and remarked on the exhibit—how great it was and how much they learned from it. I was also impressed chatting with David’s students and discovering the depth of knowledge they all had about the pulps. Our plan to take over the world with pulps is working! Kudos to everyone involved.

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Beginning on Friday, February 21st I spent 3 days at Pensacon. This first time comic con in Pensacola was a huge hit with the crowds much larger than expected. The venue was at the Bay Convention Center in downtown Pensacola and things went fairly smoothly and for a first time event was truly amazing. Mike Ensley has done an outstanding job and the staff and volunteers were exceptionally helpful and anxious to make things work well. There were some incredible guests including Walter Koenig of Star Trek, Billy Dee Williams of Star Wars, the legendary comics artist Neal Adams and many, many more. Congratulations to Mike and his team.

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Jeffrey Shanks, David Earle and I presented on a panel—From Pulps to the Comics. Jeff is a pulp and early comics scholar and it was great to have his input on comics history. He is a Robert E. Howard award winner and has published a number of popular and scholarly articles on pulp writers like Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He’s also a totally nice guy with a terrific family and he has a new book about Zombies!

And don't you forget it!

And don’t you forget it!

David Earle, an associate professor in the Department of English at UWF is a pulp historian and lectures frequently on pulp history. He has written two books on the subject: All Man! Hemingway, 1950’s Men’s Magazines, and the Masculine Persona and Re-covering Modernism: Pulps, Paperbacks and The Prejudice of Form. You can tell he’s no slouch in the intellectual department.

Yes, David I said that...

Yes, David I said that…

We had a very lively and fun panel so much so that at times I had to channel my inner Steel Magnolia to get in a word over Jeff’s and David’s rampant enthusiasm! Not to worry, I can take care of myself. We all enjoyed it so much we plan to do it again whenever and however. The panel sparked a lot of discussion about the intersection of comics and pulps afterwards between us and the following two days we spent hanging out talking to fans and explaining how pulps contributed to the comics.

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The Major is the human face of that contribution since he brought pulps to the comics literally in the form of the magazines to the office on Madison Avenue to inspire everyone and figuratively in the titles of the new comics magazines—Action, Adventure and Detective Comics.  You can see so many concepts from the pulps in the early comics of New Fun through the various genres and the types of heroes created.

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William Lampkin of Pulp.net joined us on Friday. What a wonderful guy. I’ve been using his website as a resource since day one fifteen years ago so it was great to meet him in person and hang out and have big fun. If you don’t know the site you must, must check it out. It is one of the best sources of all things pulp related.

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The events in New Orleans and Pensacola are the first time I’ve had so much personal interaction with the fans. I really enjoyed talking to people. Everyone seemed fascinated by our stories and by the second day Jeff, David and I had a good spiel going that was a direct line from our panel.

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I loved seeing so many families with small children. There were some adorable kids in costume including the world’s tiniest Wonder Woman! I don’t like to take pictures of small children for obvious reasons but she was our very favorite. There were the usual costumes from comics and movies that you expect so one of our other favorites was this amusing fan dressed in 1950’s over the top golfing attire with oversized bag. That’s Mr. Shanks participating in the fun.

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I finally had a chance to see a little of the show on Sunday and got to talk to Neal Adams. That was a very special treat as you can imagine. Bob Wettemann, my military guru sent young Lieutenant Alex Jack to find me. Alex is the real deal so it was fun to talk about the Major’s military exploits with him.

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I also discovered this creative crew from Inverse Press of Mobile, Alabama, my home town and the original home of Mardi Gras, I might add. This is one of the best parts of being at comic cons– meeting emerging artists and writers. Inverse is a talented group producing independent comics and I was impressed. It was great to meet them and see that the spirit of my grandfather’s vision of creating original comics lives on.

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I had a super good time with much thanks to one and all. My favorite moment was meeting the incredibly talented, energetic and prolific Joe Lansdale. I’m the one in the tiara! It’s off to the next events and shows getting the word out about the Major’s adventure stories and the beginning of modern comics!

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Don’t forget to buy a book!

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New Orleans Comic Con

Comics, New Orleans and long time friends—Is there anything better than this? I spent the past weekend in New Orleans staying with my childhood boyfriend and his superlative wife whilst attending Wizard World ComicCon New Orleans. CBF and I have been friends for a very long time since our early summer days of swimming, sailing and the like on Perdido Bay next door to one another in our grandparents’ beach cottages.

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Danny Fingeroth, one of the great moderators of all time was our fearless leader for a fantastic event. Dr. Travis Langley, Batman historian and his cohort Eric Bailey, a seriously smart guy and second to none along with the marvelous Marv Wolfman and I managed to do our very best in a couple of panels talking about our favorite subject—comic book history. But you knew that didn’t you.

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I love New Orleans. It’s my city and I’ve been there all my life so it was especially fun to be there with pals from my “other” life. We got excellent recommendations from my New Orleans friends for places to eat and ended up Saturday evening at one of those–only in New Orleans–family restaurants called Tommy’s Cuisine. Of course the food was delicious.

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I also managed to sneak in coffee and beignets at the Café Du Monde, corny and touristy as it is. I swear there is no better café au lait anywhere. Sorry Starbucks. I got in a good sugar rush from the beignets and that fueled me back to Perdido Sunday morning. Walking around Jackson Square hearing the bells ringing from Saint Louis Cathedral was the perfect end to a fun comic con in New Orleans.

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I was somewhat nervous about my panels as they were a little out of my usual area but Danny and Travis are excellent moderators and kept things moving along. Thanks to the fantastic Caitlin McGurk at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University, I had some very cool copies of the Major’s early comic books to show the guys. Travis is doing an amazing job of getting the word out about Bill Finger’s contributions to Batman so I learned a lot as always. It was great having Marv Wolfman there with his long time experience writing for Marvel and DC. There’s nothing like hearing authentic experiences of someone like Marv.

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And I sold books! Danny left me in charge of his table and a couple of fans got some really great deals on his books—Sorry about that Danny! I had the first books available of the Major’s Adventure Stories The Texas-Siberia Trail just published by John Locke of Off-Trail Publications and I even had some fans that came from Gulf Shores who knew I would be there. That was a first time for me. It was fun to see everyone on the floor with a lot of terrific costumes. It certainly wasn’t anywhere near the madness of SDCC or NYCC but it was Super Fun and of course, southerners are incredibly polite. There was also the usual go cup carrying on which you certainly don’t see anywhere but in New Orleans.

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My favorite moment of the entire event was a little boy about 4 years old in a Superman Tee shirt and red cape running around whooping it up. I didn’t take a picture because of the weird things that happen these days so I leave it to your imagination. Let’s just say it was a real schmaltzy and lovely moment.

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Thanks Danny for having me be a part of this wonderful event. See you in Pensacola at Pensacon on Friday, February 21st at 4:30. David Earle, Jeff Shanks and I will be talking about the Pulps to the Comics and yes, I have books!

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Super Women and Men

Truth be told I was more than a little worried about taking on Wonder Woman. By that I mean writing about her with any semblance of knowledge, not to mention writing about Trina Robbins, Ramona Fradon and Mary Fleener, three amazing women comics writers/artists. I wrote an article for Women’s eNews on the panel and exhibit Wonder Women: On Paper and Off at the Women’s Museum of California in San Diego Thursday evening of Comic Con. There was a lively crowd and the conversation ranged far and wide over the contributions of women to the comics industry and Wonder Woman as an icon.

The panel: Mary Fleener, Ramona Fradon and Trina Robbins.

The panel: Mary Fleener, Ramona Fradon and Trina Robbins.

I have my niche of knowledge from researching the Major. Even though I’m a family member this is not personal reminiscence. There are tons of family members who can do that if they choose. I’m a writer and historian by profession and I love the Major’s creative work—the pulps and the comics. What’s interesting to me are the real facts of his adventurous life and how that affected his incredible output in vastly different genres. I’ve spent about 14 years on this path so it was with some trepidation that I jumped into the gender fray by holding Wonder Woman aloft.

© respective holders.

© respective holders.

The minute I came across an online mention of the panel, Wonder Women: On Paper and Off, I was determined to be there. With much thanks to Jackie Estrada and my pulpster writer pals, Laurie Powers and John Locke, I managed to do a racing tour of San Diego Comic Con 2013 with support in the pit to keep me on the road as it were. And yes, driving through L.A. is utter hell. Sartre had it wrong. Hell is being on the 405 inching along for hours thinking, why am I here? I’m guessing you L.A. people know that you have reached the point of no return in this regard. Needless to say, I will never do that again!

On the floor.

On the floor.

In spite of the crowds, noise and media hoopla, San Diego Comic Con is that moment when everybody who loves comics gets a chance to catch up with one another and talk shop. What could be more fun than talking shop about comics? I enjoyed seeing everyone brief as it was and meeting new friends.

Joe James and J.C. Vaughn.

Joe James and J.C. Vaughn.

J. C. Vaughn at Diamond always keeps me on the right track and I met Joe James who is a lovely and talented man. In one of those typical Comic Con woo woo moments, J. C. was telling me all about Grant Geissman, musician, writer and artist and lo and behold I met him an hour or so later when I was with David Armstrong, (he of the vast comics history film archives). IDW just published Grant’s absolutely gorgeous book, Feldstein: The Mad Life and Fantastic Art of Al Feldstein!. It’s a must have and besides being smart and talented, Grant’s a very witty guy.

Batton, hard at work signing.

Batton, hard at work signing.

I got a quick hug from Jackie in the midst of her massive campaign to keep Comic Con on track and running smoothly and it was great to talk with Batton Lash for a few moments as well. I managed to snag an autographed Archie from him for one of my favorite teenagers who was in ecstasy upon my arrival home with book in hand. There was the usual conversation with her about how difficult it is to buy a comic book. What is the deal with that? I simply don’t get it but that’s another conversation.

Arlen doing his cosplay and Rand attempting to maintain composure.

Arlen doing his cosplay and Rand attempting to maintain composure.

While roaming around looking for good Comic Con swag I found Arlen Schumer and Rand Hoppe of the Kirby Museum doing their version of cosplay. I also managed to pick up a Superman Comic and magazines of Alter Ego along with a moment to chat with John Morrow at the TwoMorrows booth. I missed Mike Catron but caught up with Gary Groth at Fantagraphics and of course Jim Salicrup at PaperCutz keeps me on the straight and narrow. I am listening Jim, I promise!

Jim Salicrup and me.

Jim Salicrup and me.

In the late afternoon I met up with my best pal, Brad Ricca and that gentleman scholar, Jeff Trexler, Esq. Brad was signing his book about Siegel and Shuster, Super Boys that everyone is talking about. I got two! If you’ve been in a cave somewhere for goodness sake’s check it out! You can tell from the photo, it was near the end of the day.

Jeff, me, Brad and Colonel Mustard in the library.

Jeff, me, Brad and Colonel Mustard in the library.

As if that wasn’t enough, I met Lillian Laserson, my favorite lady lawyer and we escaped the throngs and headed to the Wonder Woman panel. I was so pleased to meet Trina Robbins whom I have long admired. As far as I know she is one of the few historians of women in comics. She has a new book coming out soon called Pretty in Ink, her definitive look at the history of women in comics. That’s a must have as well.  I didn’t know Mary Fleener’s work so it was great to meet her and hear her talk about how she became a comics artist. Her style, which she refers to, as cubismo, is colorful and dynamic. What a wonderful artist! Ramona Fradon is a grand dame of the comics world and her stories about working in the male dominated Super Hero world of DC and Marvel were every bit as fun and fascinating as the stories the guys tell.  More lady panels, please!

Ramona explaining Hermetics, Tantra and alchemy in comics!

Ramona explaining Hermetics, Tantra and alchemy in comics!

I do love this community and I’ll say right up front that the gender flaps as far as I can tell are not about men vs. women. Most of the guys I know in the industry are really great, promote everyone and everything across the board and there are some guys writing and drawing fantastic main female characters so that’s not the deal here and please, let’s not go there.  That was not the gist of the conversation at the panel either. Basically it’s about giving women more opportunity in the industry, because it’s a proven fact that women will gravitate towards comics by women. If you don’t believe me, here’s an article by friend and colleague Danica Davidson that spells it out very simply. The more women creating comics and characters, the more female readers and voila, a larger more diverse community from which the big guys can still make oodles of dough. I think it’s referred to as the win/win.

DC and Madness.

DC and Madness.

As for the topic of overly sexed and overly maimed and killed women in the Super Hero comics, or as Gail Simone coined, “Women in Refrigerators” syndrome, well, I don’t think anyone will win hearts and minds there so let’s start with some diversity.

Photo op.

Photo op.

What about Wonder Woman? Unfortunately DC seems unsure exactly what to do with Wonder Woman to update her, bring her forward (please not the sweat pants!) and remind us of her origin story. According to Trina Robbins, it shouldn’t be that difficult because she fits the classic hero myth.

respective copyright holders

respective copyright holders

For those of you who don’t know and don’t care about the ins and outs of the corporate world, I do not own even a spec of dust of DC. However, since it was my grandfather’s vision I do care what and how they’re doing with that vision. If the Super Heroes are the stuff of movies where’s our Wonder Woman movie? How about it? Woman up DC!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Need a Hero…I’m Holding Out for a Super Hero Till the End of the Night

Welcome to our guest blogger, Vanessa Verduga for her pov on how she has been influenced by comics history, the Major in particular and her creation of a new female Super Hero. I love her enthusiasm and find her take on the various media refreshing. It’s good to get a different view and it’s definitely food for thought! NWN

For years, the comic book medium and recent movie adaptations have been exploring the question, “What makes a superhero?” Boys and girls are quick to say the “powers”, the “skills” or in Iron Man’s case, “the money” makes the hero. And maybe when I was a kid, I felt the same way, although I was a bit “eccentric” and liked El Chapulín Colorado best, who was “more agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than a lettuce, his shield is a heart.”

El Chapulin Colorado

As I grew up, and I think as all comic book fans grow, we tend to redefine what a hero means to us. Eventually, we realize that the magic is not in the super powers or in the fantastic world, but in the writing, in the character development, and in the meaning of the story–what this superhero stands for in life. And only as an adult did I realize that my heroes, my “superheroes” in comic books, were not aliens, men in iron suits or, building-hopping spider mutants. They were talented people who loved storytelling.

One of my heroes was Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the founder of DC Comics.  Everyone talks about Stan Lee, Bob Kane, and Will Eisner and their credit is deserved, but I do feel as Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was such a modest guy, his talents, and his contributions to the medium, are sometimes passed over by the mainstream. The Major was not only a writer of pulp fiction (the hard and underground story telling that later birthed comic book writing) but was also the creator of the modern comic book.  After his more down-to-earth career as the youngest major in the U.S. Cavalry, and an inventor, he took flight and created the American comic book company National Allied Publications, which would eventually evolve in D.C. Comics.

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A lot of guys in comics, especially early comics, had the world’s greatest job. They could create archetypes, draw primitive character sketches, and have fun with those extra pulpy story lines. (This, of course, was long before corporations cared about character continuity.) So imagine what it was like for a pioneer like Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson to go beyond just drawing and writing cartoon strips, and actually create an untested idea, the new “medium” of comic book entertainment. This was in the Great Depression era, mind you, back when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was grabbing up all the gold and when the “super villain” meant the Nazi Regime. Really complicated times!

It took a radical entrepreneur like the Major to make his company work. And I really believe that at the heart of his adventure was a love of storytelling. And not just book storytelling as in The Great Gatsby or The Lord of the Ring, but pictorial storytelling, the stuff kids enjoy. He must have been a kid at heart with a wondrous sensibility for teens and for grownups who loved escapist fare, pulpy picture books that had a completely unique market.

© respective holders. From Jon Berk Collection.

The Major was adamant about the potential of comic books and if he only knew just how accurate his “prophecy” was for graphic short stories in the 20th and 21st century, well, I think he would have been blown away—especially by how serious and passionate comic book fans are nowadays. I think times of depression or recession DO actually contribute to the popularity of escapist entertainment, such as comic books and superheroes. If movies are a reflection of society’s most cherished hopes and deepest fears, then superhero stories perfectly capture the planet’s current mood of uncertainty and dread. Everyone wants a Hero nowadays, in uncertain times when we feel powerless. We would rather think about hostile aliens, mad scientists, and clown princes of crime than about the disastrous economy or higher crime rates. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Superman was the first beloved mainstream superhero, who debuted right in the middle of tragedy—the 1930s.

Now Superman is being rebooted for the umpteenth time, and re-imagined by 300’s Zach Snyder, who is, in my opinion, at best, a hit or miss director in love with visuals and green screens but fearful of human interaction, or “real acting.”

From movie plot.com

I think in many ways, superhero movies are made for a society that has basically given up.  A society that has given up on legal justice and is now asking for a vigilante to save them.  In the creation of Justice Woman, developing her “mythos,” I wanted to create a character that is so intent on living in a just world that she is willing to fight against corruption. She is an avenging angel of sorts, because she goes beyond the law to expose criminals and protect innocent people. However, she still holds true to the ideals of superheroism, in the spirit of Superman, Wonder Woman and the others from the Greatest Generation era of entertainment.

Vanessa Verduga as Justice Woman

My background in law influenced some of Justice Woman’s personality and motivations.  She is a rising attorney who became disillusioned because of the corruption around her, caused in part by big business, by the good old boys club who run the courts, the legislature, and even the executive office. It’s no coincidence that movies today are a reflection of society and do seem to capture the current mood, politically and economically speaking.

And for a while everyone was wondering why Superman was coming back, and why they would reboot it even after WB/DC just released a not-so-great movie a couple of years ago. The answer was obvious to me; Superman is the American dream and he is appearing as our collective conscience. The original Superman debuted during a particularly dark time in the world’s history. Today we’re once again battling recession, war and violence. Society cries out and superheroes are coming out of the woodwork—which is a good thing.

Of course…as a female comic book fan, and a feminist, I do lament that there are STILL no strong lead female characters in comic book movies. They are emerging in the comic book medium, but in movies we seem to have stalled out. We’ve re-launched almost every franchise in the public consciousness EXCEPT lead superheroines, like Wonder Woman, one of my favorites.

© respective holders.

What we’ve observed is a mass market run of male heroes and SUBMISSIVE female sidekicks. I mean, seriously guys, how many more female sidekicks do we need besides Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, and all the others? We do have The Black Widow who’s not really submissive…more like pissy-faced, and far more concerned about looking sexy than portraying a real character. I believe that D.C. Comics has ruined Catwoman by filing off her edge (which Michelle Pfiefer did very well in the 1990s) by giving such a scenery-chewing role to the likes of Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway—great actresses who excel in playing WEAK WOMEN.

I am so psyched for a possible Wonder-Woman movie and yet am really nervous at how all those Mad Men in Hollywood would handle a reboot. I have heard from the grapevine that Wonder Woman may make an appearance in the next Man of Steel movie, which will, unfortunately, be directed by Snyder. I don’t think Snyder’s THAT much less talented than Joss Whedon of The Avengers fame. I just dread how these big shots are treating women in their films. They are eye candy, they are reactionary characters, they kick ass and everything…but they’re not that deep. And my friends, Wonder Woman was deeeep!

Lest we forget Wonder Woman was an Amazon Warrior, trained to kill, and suddenly plunged into a world where men were in charge. She had to adjust to this foreign world and, frankly, she has the capacity to be a real monster if she wanted to—or at least a real ball buster for sexist guys who would rather stare at Scarlett Johansson than watch a movie with a strong female voice. There is a world of potential with Wonder Woman, and a full movie needs to be made by a woman—or at least someone who gets the female ego. I love Jane Campion…if anyone could lure her out to do one comic book film, I could die a happy girl. (And hey, before you laugh at that idea, Kenneth Branagh did Thor!)

The time is nigh for strong comic book heroines to come back into mainstream movies and bring some hope to little girls. We’re coming very close…we have Lady Gaga, a strong, powerful female…but alas, she has no superpowers and doesn’t really fight bad guys…she sort of just hatches from eggs and what not.

This is just one of the many reasons I created the Justice Woman web series and developed a strong female lead. Everywhere I looked in comic books I just wasn’t seeing anyone inspiring or really powerful that I could look up to as a symbol for hope. Growing up in the Bronx, and having seen firsthand how bullies and corrupt politicians influenced the society around me, I really needed someone strong, someone to reassure me that the world wouldn’t crush me—that justice was a force more powerful than greed.

For a time, Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Wonder Woman served this niche pretty well. However, by the time her show ended comic books were shrinking back into the medium and moving away from TV—relegated to cartoons. I wanted to give people some hope that there were still superheroes among us. And most importantly, they don’t all look the same. Sometimes justice comes in the form of a Latina woman, dressed in spandex, not looking anything like Superman, but still getting the job done.

Holy Spandex, Batman!

Am I cracking jokes about wardrobes? Yes, I am! As a feminist as well as a comic book geek, I have to walk a fine line between satire and social relevance. I do admit to loving the pulpiness and the outrageous visuals and humor of the original Batman TV show, which sought to recreate the National Allied Publications universe in a very gaudy, gay and funny way. And a lot of people tell me they’re surprised at how funny Justice Woman is, for being a dramedy and live action comic book series. I could have stopped at cheesy.

However, a purely comedic show with no topical relevance isn’t going to do much to advance feminism, or serve as a symbol of hope for women who will hold out for heroes.  I want Justice Woman to touch on relevant issues, stuff that kids and adults are facing. I want my fictional character to live in our real world, to reflect the injustices that we see and can’t reconcile. All the while she is fighting in the real world, she still keeps her commitment to justice, her humor and wit, and her happiness. She stands for something.

I know that giving the show an edgy comedic element challenges some people who are used to Christopher Nolan’s work. My view is that comedy is a weapon—you might even call it a super power. I think we as social activists can say so much more when we temper our outrage with comedy. People listen after a good laugh. Criticism seems much less harsh when you crack a teasing joke. Sometimes making people laugh is the only weapon we have. (Technically Roger Rabbit said that, but he was at least an animated action hero if not a superhero)

So yes, I am holding out for a heroine on the big screen even while I play one on the small screen. Dreaming big and rising to challenges…it doesn’t make sense to some people. But it’s what comic books have taught me my whole life. To hope, to fight and to aim big. I’ve seen it not only in pictorial literature but even in the real world, with heroes like Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who proved that the impossible is possible even in the worst of times. If the Major can create an entire medium while the country was in shambles, I am confident our generation can create a strong female superhero worthy of comparisons to Wonder Woman, even if this seems to be the age of recession and of post-feminism stupidity. Until the next Wonder Woman emerges, Justice Woman answers the call of the country who is desperate for a new breed of socially-conscious hero. And Justice Woman is whipping crime into submission and opening people’s eyes as we speak!

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Oh Superman

Everyone in the know and not so much has blogged and posted and ranted and raved about Man of Steel. Within the comics’ community and serious fans it has reached the level of the battle between General Zod and Superman in the last part of the film. I had planned to do a somewhat casual version of my thoughts on the movie but along the way I got caught in the fervor.

From aintitcool.com

I, too, have a passion for Superman that is personal. I grew up with the understanding that my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson had something to do with Superman. In my childish memory that translated to—my grandfather created Superman but it was somehow taken from him. Obviously the Major didn’t create Superman but there is much that he did create including founding DC Comics for which he has received little credit even among many in the comics community who should know better. The oral traditions of comics’ history have perpetuated a lot of myth that is constantly being repeated without solid research or scholarship. The irony of Superman is that he exists within a context of injustice and always will. That is a fact that cannot be ignored.

The Major c. 1948 in Sweden. © Finn Andreen.

Archetypes exist within the natural world as forces of nature and become anthropomorphized by becoming gods and goddesses and in popular culture, super heroes and various stars of media. Thus the natural forces of sexuality and love translate to Aphrodite in the Greek world and later Venus in the Roman world. Today our Venuses are airbrushed, photoshopped and surgically altered perfections of stardom. Goddesses whose beauty, we mere mortals cannot attain. One of my mentors, a Jungian scholar, Alice O. Howell often said, that the archetype has an energy that is so strong that identifying with it from the ego is dangerous. In other words, it’s best to appreciate the archetype but don’t get caught up in it. You’re not Superman and never will be.

H.J. Ward painting of Superman © respective holders.

In late January I participated on a panel led by Larry Tye, author of Superman, which I have noted in an earlier blog post Superman Sunday. Jim Shooter stated succinctly that Superman is always good. That statement resonated with me and that is the essence of the archetype and the essence of the intense pros and cons of the film. The conflict surrounding Man of Steel that has caused so much comment is about the archetypal nature of Superman, his innate goodness and if we, in our culture still believe in the value of goodness. Whether or not your sense of the movie adhered to that theme is exactly the point.

Jim Shooter, Larry Tye, Sam Norwich © NWN

I won’t repeat the various points of view but I’m providing links to some of the main contributors. Mark Waid, a well-respected writer for DC and a contributor to the Superman myth had a strong reaction to the film and came in for serious heat in the world of Twitter, Facebook, et al. Mark’s intimate creative involvement with Superman makes for a passionate opinion and it’s well worth a look here. Russ Burlingame has his take on the pros and cons of the movie including Mark Waid in his blog on ComicBook.com and gives a nice overview of some of the issues.

From movie plot.com

Michael Netzer, an artist for both DC and Marvel who has Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider Man in his credits also has a blog that lays out some of the thoughts and consensus of the comics’ community, which continues to be constellated around the corporate lack of giving credit to creators especially Siegel and Shuster. You can read it here and it’s worthwhile to take the time with some of the excellent links he has. Tony Isabella whom I consider a pal and for whom I have immense respect has one of his usual straight shooting posts about his thoughts on the subject, which you can find here on Tony’s Bloggy Thing.

75 Years DC Comics by Paul Levitz

Much of the passion about Man of Steel arises out of the need to express individual freedom as opposed to the corporate mentality that none of us can escape these days. Is there a remote spot on the planet with no media connections? Within the film the statement is made that in fact, there is no place we can escape the media as shown by a sequence of cuts of people watching the same images on television in various remote spots on the planet including a yurt in Mongolia.

We’re all providing free content for the machine and a few more dollars to the gazillionaires who own the machine every time we blog, tweet, post on Facebook and all the other places to which we provide information. I’d be willing to bet that many of the same fans that loudly proclaim their loyalty to Siegel and Shuster and rage against the machine also download free media content and don’t want to pay a dime for it. There’s a pervasive sense that devalues creativity in our culture and believes that media content should be free for everyone. Anyone who works creatively today must be in relationship to the corporate entities that control content. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see Man of Steel. I wanted to see how the archetypal goodness of Superman would be presented through the lens of Time Warner, WB/DC Entertainment. Because of my grandfather’s initial vision of what popular culture could provide I always want DC to do the right thing. I want them to do good.

From cinema blend.com

I went to the movie Friday morning with Pulpster Guy who loves action movies and is also in the know about comics and all kinds of film genres from French New Wave to old Norma Shearer movies. We were not disappointed by Man of Steel either in its spectacle as an action movie or its retelling of the myth. Both of us agreed that the script was especially good throughout the initial part of the movie and we liked the way it developed through flashbacks and revealed a solid mythic birthright and the conflict that Superman must always face. The actors were well cast and gave good performances all round. I especially liked the fact that it was an emotional film without being cheesy or corny. The alien world of Krypton was beautifully realized and yes it is a darker Superman who faces the contradiction of the nature of goodness in our modern world. How do we make the choice for goodness in the face of those who would destroy things on a massive scale? Is this a Superman for our time where we give up individual freedom in order to be safe? Where is the essence of pure goodness in those kinds of conflicts? Surely it didn’t escape anyone that the buildings in Metropolis collapsed in much the same way as the World Trade Center towers and that the ashes and people fleeing from the destruction were reminiscent of 9/11? I did not enjoy the last part of the film with the usual mind numbing blowing everything up loud bone crunching action film scenario. Much, much too long and too overwhelming for my taste. But I’m a woman and the film was not intended for my demographic, which is a whole other conversation.

From Businessinsider.com

So is Superman’s goodness compromised in Man of Steel? For me, there’s no definitive answer to that question because the film presents a much more complex character than the nostalgic Superman from the past. So much has changed in our world as a result of 9/11. I don’t think you can ever dismiss the dichotomy of the context of injustice that sits side by side with Superman’s goodness. Truth, Justice and the American Way. What exactly is the American Way? A democracy where racism, homophobia, and misogyny exist in ironic contrast to the ideals of who we say we are.

From movienewz.com

And that’s one of the reasons I liked the film. That ironic sense of injustice and Superman’s ability to conquer the injustice through his goodness is what I saw in the film. You have to see it for yourself because you’ll have your own point of view about that archetypal force. Why should we even care this much about a movie? Because Superman is iconic in his goodness and it’s important that the conversation about goodness has come about as a consequence. We live in a culture that exists instantaneously and somewhat anonymously so that there are those who feel they can say whatever they wish about others including vicious personal attacks. Threatening to punch someone because you don’t like their point of view about a movie seems a little over the top to me. I’m sure I’m not alone in having experienced online bullying. The violence in our society against women, the pervasiveness of guns, the threat of terrorists who wish to destroy anyone who does not adhere to their narrow view of the world are the reality in which we live. We do, indeed, need Super Heroes to remind us to go above the fray, keep to what is right and honorable and to do good.

From business insider.com

Oh Superman…

For those of you interested in further reading, you know I have my favorite authors on the subject. Here’s my short list. And next week, I’ll have a special guest who will give us the feminine version of a super hero. Stay tuned.

For Comics History and the Creation of Superman:

Men of Tomorrow, Gerard Jones

Superman, Larry Tye

Super Boys, Brad Ricca

For Superman’s archetypal nature:

Our Hero: Superman on Earth, Tom De Haven

Disguised as Clark Kent and Superman on the Couch, Danny Fingeroth

 

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The Writing Life

The Major was a prolific, creative writer, visionary, editor and publisher. In the process of putting together his story I am continually amazed at the scope and amount of work he produced in different genres over the course of his life. Everything from low-brow comic strips to graphic representations of classic works and in the pulp genres—adventure stories with heroes of every kind–soldiers, spies, medieval knights and cowboys not to mention the serious non-fiction. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a writer and the writing life as I’ve been putting the pieces of his life together.

The Major c. 1948 in Sweden. © Finn Andreen.

The romantic picture of the lone author struggling in the garret to get the words out is a cliché but bears an element of truth as evidenced by some of the writers featured in John Locke’s artful and witty book Pulpwood Days, Vol II. However, there is also an ongoing exchange among all the writers I know and it’s not anything new. Of course there are always the petty jealousies and contretemps here and there but that’s all part of the fun in my opinion. You can’t have consistent kumbaya moments with creative egos but for the most part people support one another’s work, encourage, give advice and open doors. One of the pleasures I have in this work is the friends and colleagues who have supported me throughout in very genuine ways. Every single one of the writers I’m featuring in this post have encouraged me and provided me with a lot of information and help in my journey to bring to life the story of my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. I’m pleased to present some of their latest works.

It’s fitting and I’m sure not a coincidence that Brad Ricca’s book on Siegel and Shuster arrives on the scene at the same time as Man of Steel. Obviously someone knew what they were doing and thank goodness for that. Brad’s book, Super Boys is a well-researched and well-written book on Siegel and Shuster and the creation of Superman. I first met Brad when he contacted me about 5 years ago after the Major was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. Brad teaches at Case Western in Cleveland and had recently completed a documentary on Siegel and Shuster called Last Son. We had an immediate rapport and decided to work on a project for San Diego Comic Con with a panel on Siegel and Shuster. I respect Brad’s academic understanding and methods of research besides his being a good pal and a very creative guy. He knows his stuff and he tells a good story. I especially appreciated the time he took to include the Major as part of the story and made sure it was accurate. You can find the book on Amazon here.

William Patrick Murray or Will is renowned in the Pulp world as well as comics. He’s been researching and writing about and for popular culture for beaucoup years and doing it well. Everyone I spoke to about the pulps kept telling me to get in touch with him and when I finally mustered up the courage I found him enormously helpful and generous with his research. Will is an expert in many pulp genres especially Doc Savage, The Shadow and so much more, there are just too many books to name so here’s a link to his page on Amazon. His Doc Savage audio books with Radioarchives are very popular and can be found here. Altus Press who does a beautiful job with their books under the able direction of Matt Moring is publishing Will’s latest book Wordslingers: An Epitaph for the Western. Matt by the way, carried away the Munsey Award last year at Pulpfest 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Matt is a smart, enthusiastic guy and just the person you would want as your publisher. Knowing Will and Matt’s work I’m really looking forward to reading this book.

I can’t quite remember how Kirk Taylor and I came across one another. He’s a lovely man and has such a passion for his work. He introduced me to the legendary Jay Lynch and the two of them with the Wesley Morse family along with the Topps Company and Abrams as publisher have put out a really fun book, Bazooka Joe and his Gang. The cover of the book is a genuine wax wrapper just like the bubble gum! You can find it here on Amazon. Jay is an amazing artist with a long career in underground comics like the famous Bijou Funnies and he illustrated for Topps as well. Kirk was naturally drawn to this world through his design work and he has a fascinating connection with Wesley Morse, the original artist of Bazooka Joe that will soon be its own book. We’ve spoken often about our respective projects and I’m excited for him and looking forward to what comes next.

© respective holders.

I’ve mentioned Tom DeHaven quite a few times prior to this as he is one of those writers other writers speak about with a slight tinge of envy. His writing is so sharp and clean and evocative. Everyone who knows his work raves about it. He has many books to his credit which you can find here on Amazon. He interviewed me for his book on Superman, Our Hero: Superman on Earth, a terrific book that you might want to get to go with your Man of Steel adventure. His latest project is a blog, Cafe Pinfold and knowing Tom it’s going to be consistently wonderful. I encourage you to check in.

I began with John Locke’s book at the beginning of this piece and I’ll end with it. I had a tiny bit to play in doing a final proof of the manuscript and I fell in love with the book. It is such an evocative portrait of the writing life on “grub street.” John has an independent press, Off-Trail Publications and I finally got the double entrende through reading Pulpwood Days Vol II. He has published a number of beautifully executed reprints of the pulps with his meticulous and apparently boundless research. You can find some of them here on Amazon and also on the Off-Trail Publications page on Facebook. He has been one of my best resources for everything pulpish and I couldn’t have gotten as far as I did without his able assistance. More importantly John is a such a good writer with a wonderful droll wit. Pulpwood Days Vol II is a collection of autobiographical writings by pulp writers of various genres with John’s additional histories of their lives and careers. There’s nothing else like it out there and if you’re interested in what John calls “hardboiled writing stories” this is the perfect book for you. I love the cover, which contains a mystery. It appears to be an innocent setting for the writer’s work. However, revealed inside the volume we learn of the dangers of the pulp writing life and how this specific setting plays a part. It sets the tone for the unexpectedly dramatic stories in the rest of the book. See why I love the pulps? The piece as a whole is incredibly inspiring in spite of much of the difficulties of the writing life that are a part of the picture. It’s a great read and anyone who loves writing and the writing life will enjoy it.

Written permission required for use.

In spite of the cold water garret–and my grandfather had his share of those moments, which unfortunately his family often shared–he continued to write every single day. Ultimately, I think if you’re a writer, you just can’t help yourself and we are all the lucky recipients of these wonderful writers’ labors. Enjoy.

 

 

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Superman Sunday

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman! Truth, justice and the American way and George Reeves flying across the black and white screen of an early 50’s television set is indelibly printed on my brain. Like so many other children of that era, I pinned the requisite towel to my tee shirt and jumped off the picnic table in the backyard. I had some vague notion of my grandfather’s involvement with Superman and comic books, which encouraged me to demand of my kindergarten age boyfriend that I get a chance to be Superman instead of my usual role of Supergirl. And so it began.

A few years ago, my favorite Batman, the esteemed Doctor of Comics, Michael Uslan, Batman producer and author (The Boy Who Loved Batman), made an introduction to Larry Tye, author of the recent book, Superman: The High- Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. Larry interviewed me for the book about the Major’s role in the foundation of comics and his intersection with Siegel and Shuster and Superman. I’m happy to report Larry took me seriously and included a nice section on the Major in the book. You can be sure that it was properly fact checked. Larry is an excellent journalist whose career early on included the Anniston Star in Anniston, Alabama. (What is it with this Alabama thing?) His last gig at a newspaper was at the Boston Globe. Among other endeavors, he has written a book about Satchel Paige, the great black baseball player and is currently working on a book about Robert F. Kennedy. The guy is no slouch. He is also one of the most intelligent, compassionate and generous people I know. He inspires fierce loyalty.

On January 27th we had a true Super Sunday. Larry invited me to participate in a panel at the Center for Jewish History in New York City along with several others to discuss Superman at 75 in honor of Superman’s 75th birthday. I was somewhat apprehensive because of the esteemed company I would be among: the legendary Jim Shooter of Marvel and DC fame, Sam Norich, the publisher of Forward and Jenette Kahn, Hollywood producer and past president of DC Comics. I did not want to be the token dumb blonde so I re-read books I had already devoured by authors Tom DeHaven (Our Hero: Superman on Earth), Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) and Danny Fingeroth (Disguised as Clark Kent, one of the definitive books on the Jewish background of Superman). I also went through my extensive research notes about my grandfather’s place in this history and had coaching lessons from researcher and pulpster extraordinaire, John Locke, publisher at Off Trail Publications. I was determined to be super-prepared.

The Audience.

It was a classic January day in New York City—freezing cold with the winds blowing through the canyons but there was a sell-out audience and an overflow watching on a big screen. It was a stellar crowd—David Saunders, author of books on his dad Norman Saunders, a prolific pulp cover artist and H. J. Ward; N. C. Christopher Couch, professor at UMass and recent author of Jerry Robinson, Ambassador of Comics; Susan Hoeltzel, director of the art gallery at Lehman College where the beautiful painting of Superman by H. J. Ward resides, (and my best friend from Fairhope High School–yet another Alabama connection); my brilliant attorney sister, Christine Quigley; Lillian Laserson, DC alum; Jay Kogan, from DC and one of my favorite lawyers (no joke); Danny Fingeroth; Barbara Moss, she of all things Wonder Woman; Paul Levitz, president emeritus of DC whose tome, 75 Years of DC Comics will be coming out soon in 5 separate books with new material; Jim Salicrup, all round nice guy and publisher of one of my favorite sources for kids books, Papercutz; Hannah Means-Shannon, the amazing comics girl reporter; a few Donenfeld grandchildren (and yes, there is more about that) and the renowned DC editor, Mort Weisinger’s daughter Joan plus many, many more. You get the picture.

Jim, Larry, Sam

Judith Siegel, the Director of Programs made us all feel welcome and everything ran smoothly. For those of us who have attempted anything of this nature it’s quite clear that Judith is a diplomat of the highest degree and could probably run a small country. The rock star librarian from Columbia University, Karen Green gave an introduction and talked about the papers that Larry has given to Columbia. Karen’s background is truly awesome in the correct usage of the word. She’s a medieval scholar and in charge of graphic novels at the Butler Library at Columbia!

David Weiss wowed us all with his amazing photos of his father along with drawings that Joe Shuster made of his dad when they were both young single guys hanging out in the Adirondacks. It seemed pretty obvious that David’s dad was the model for Superman. David’s stories about his dad and Joe Shuster kept us enthralled and it was such fun to hear this for the first time.

Larry’s talk was a condensed version of his fantastic book. It’s really the first major book by a journalist who is not a comic book scholar. Superman is crammed with the latest research and information and a must have for anyone who is interested in Superman and the cultural phenomena. You can view the entire event online from the website of the Center for Jewish History and it’s well worth the time.

Sam, Nicky, Jenette

I was thrilled to meet everyone on the panel. I knew of Jenette Kahn but it was a special treat to be able to hear her speak so eloquently and astutely about the work she promoted during her time at DC. I loved meeting Sam Norich, and if you don’t know about the Forward, you should check it out. I’m so glad I had the chance to be on the panel with him as we might not have met otherwise. I could write an entire blog about Jim Shooter. He is indeed, legendary. I only knew a smidgen of his accomplishments and everything I have learned about him and what he has accomplished is inspiring.

The Legendary Jim Shooter and me.

The audience interaction was lively and thoughtful and even after almost two hours of the program no one rushed out. People were still hanging in talking in groups long after the event was over. And there was birthday cake!! Happy 75th Superman.

David Weiss and Danny Fingeroth share a moment after.

The most interesting part of the afternoon for me was when one of the Donenfeld grandchildren challenged me to a duel. Well, not exactly, but he did dispute that the Major, started DC comics. Just so you all know my grandfather and Jack Liebowitz were the two partners in the original company called DC comics. So whatever happened—and that’s another story that will be told by Gerard Jones and me in the book we’re writing about the Major—the bottom line is that the Major did indeed start DC Comics. It was his idea. The reason it was called DC, Detective Comics, comes from the Major’s stint writing for the pulps. The pulps are the granddaddy of the comics and my granddaddy was the one who made it happen. Keep your eyes on the skies…the truth is out there.

 

George Reeves as Superman. From tvparty.com. ©Respective holders.

Up, up and away!

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The Pulps and the Comics

The comics as we know them are rooted in that late great period of American writing known as Pulp Fiction. The pulps encompass a variety of genres including adventure tales, detective stories, cowboy tales, science fiction, romance and more. Many well-known authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ray Bradbury got their start in and continued to write for the pulps. As a writer it seems an enviable way to make a living and if you were good it was possible to do so. It wasn’t without its difficulties and the Great Depression put a dent into the livelihood of these writers as happened in so many other professions.

Watch it, big boy! © respective holders.

I became attracted to the pulps after reading a few that my grandfather, the Major wrote. From there it became a full-fledged love affair and I got the obsessive collecting bug along with the desire to know all the minutiae. I’ve learned a lot more about the pulps through some of my fellow pulpsters and there are so many fascinating stories about the writers as well as great reprints that make for good reads. My fellow dangerous dame, Laurie Powers, discovered a memoir of her grandfather, the prolific pulp writer Paul S. Powers which she edited and wrote an introduction to, entitled Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street. You can also read some of her grandfather’s tales of the Wild West in Riding the Pulp Trail published by Matt Moring’s terrific reprint press, Altus Press. Altus Press has come out with some great titles recently with the ever erudite Will Murray contributing. Matt’s books are attractive and well-done and enticing to read.

© respective holders.

John Locke’s smart and slyly amusing book, Pulp Fictioneers gives a great overview of the writers, the editors and the publishers and is a must for any serious fan. His press Off-Trail Publications has a number of my favorite books. I recently finished Outdoor Stories by J. Allan Dunn, which I love, love. They’re well-written romantic adventure stories that will transport you out of any doldrums on the high seas of life. I’m in the midst of The Land of Ophir, by Charles Beadle that is so exciting that it makes my heart race. No kidding. I have to put it down and catch my breath. Look out Avengers! Here’s a link to a review of one of Off-Trail’s latest publications, If She Only Had a Machine Gun, crime stories by Richard Credicott, which believe it or not as much of a girl as I am, I read and thoroughly enjoyed. The story behind this publication, edited by John and Rob Preston, is also a fascinating tale and will give you some idea of the passion of the pulpsters when they’re hot on the trail. Comic book geeks have nothing on these guys!

© respective holders

So how does comics come into play here. Well, for one thing, many of the artists and illustrators crossed over from the pulps to the comics. David Saunders has been researching this area of the comic book/pulp fiction history for quite some time. His father, Norman Saunders, was an artist for many of the pulps owned by Harry Donenfeld who later became the partner of my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in DC Comics, which Donenfeld ended up owning after what can be described as a very impolite takeover. David has published a couple of beautiful art books on the pulp genre, one of his father’s work and also that of H. J. Ward. And in the We’re all Connected department David gave a talk this spring at Lehman College Art Gallery about the beautiful painting of Superman by Ward that ended up at Lehman College. It just so happens the Gallery is run by my best friend from high school Susan Hoeltzel, a wonderful artist. If you’re saying to yourself, big deal–we went to high school far, far away in Fairhope, Alabama!

© respective holders.

MWN started writing for the pulps sometime in the early 1920’s with the earliest known story, “The Wolves,” appearing in McClure’s, August 1924. His last known story to appear in print was “Rifles for the Apaches,” appearing in Triple Western, Winter 1956 and was a reprint from an earlier appearance in Giant Western. There are writers who are more prolific but there are very few who spanned such a diversity of work from the pulps to comics to military strategy and writing on current events of the day not to mention his visionary articles of inventions and how he saw the future. This background in pulp fiction writing formed one of the foundations of his intentions for the new comic books. As Lloyd Jacquet noted in an essay from 1957 about those early days, “Now we had a little bookshelf in the Major’s office, … and on it were placed some of the new ideas which we were constantly cooking up…Major Nicholson’s pulp magazine background helped here, for it was a natural step from the general title of comics…to the western and the detective, aviation and so forth, that were even then the backbone of the pulp magazine sales on the newsstands all over.” Jacquet goes on to detail how Adventure Comics came about and its connection to pulp fiction.

© respective holders.

And if your impression is that’s all in the past, Michael R. Hudson and all the talented guys at Sequential Pulp, an imprint under Dark Horse Comics are doing an amazing job putting out graphic novels of some of the best known and well-loved pulps. Check out their page on Facebook. It’s very exciting to see them bring this genre into graphic form.

© Sequential Pulp

My pal Alexander Simmons, He Who Wears Many Hats, has taken the pulp genre to heart with his Blackjack comics. The main character is Aron Day (BlackJack), a black man in his early thirties, a soldier of fortune and the time is the 1930′s. You can see all the possible great story lines. I caught up with Alex last November at the Pulp Convention in New Jersey hosted by Rich Harvey. I love these comics. I gave them as Christmas presents to my younger male relatives who promptly became devoted fans as well. Not to mention that I looked like a cool Aunt! Here is Alex with one of the artists for BlackJack, a very talented Eric Battle. You have to admit, this is about as cool as it gets!

Eric and Alex. ©NWN

Lots of my favorite pulpsters were also in attendance at Rich Harvey’s annual Pulp AdventureCon in Bordentown, New Jersey. I always enjoy this event because so many of the heavy hitters in pulps are in attendance and it’s a nice intimate setting. Thanks again, Rich!

Pulps and more pulps! ©NWN

 

John Gunnison of Adventure House holding forth. ©NWN

Gary Lovisi ©NWN

Gary Lovisi with his book Dames, Dolls and Delinquents. I love this book!!!

And here they are, three of the world’s great pulpsters. Ed Hulse of Blood n Thunder, Scott Hartshorn and Walker Martin, Primo Pulp Collectors.

Ed, Scott and Martin. ©NWN

Pulpfest 2012 is just around the corner. It’s going to be a great event in a brand new venue. Here are two of the grand guys who do much of the heavy lifting for putting it together. Be sure and check out the website. I’m counting the days!

Mike Chomko and Barry Traylor. © NWN.

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