Sunday, 19 March 2017

Bernie Wrightson

I was saddened to hear today about the passing of the great comics artist, Bernie Wrightson. He was probably THE greatest post-EC Comics horror artist and his loss at the age of only 68 is a tragic blow to the comics community. His beautifully detailed and eerie artwork was one of the signature styles of the Bronze Age, often imitated, never equalled. I'm sure there are plenty of obituaries rising up from the fetid swamps of the internet today by people far more qualified than me to comment on his life, so I'll just make do with sharing some of my Wrightson collection. I'll start of course with the iconic Swamp Thing...
Swampy was probably one of the most important new DC characters of the Bronze Age. In a time when the dreaded Comics Code Authority was beginning to loosen its vice-like grip and supernatural characters began to flood the market place, the Swamp Thing strip led the way for more intelligent and innovative horror comics to make their mark. With co-creator Len Wein, Wrightson only produced ten issues of the regular comic ( as well as the "pilot" story in House Of Secrets #92 ) but what an amazing run it was! Exploring just about every classic horror theme in those ten issues, Wrightson's moody and intricate brushwork, full of shadows and grotesqueries, at times resembling antique woodcut illustrations, set the bar so high that few could follow.
( The above is one of my all-time favourite comic covers  -  a Universal monster movie reanimated in four colours )
Swampy didn't speak much, but when he did you certainly noticed...
Away from comics Wrightson was also much in demand as a book illustrator, with his beautiful work on an edition of Frankenstein being probably the greatest showcase of his skills. The illustration above and the next one feature in The Studio, the gorgeous art book put together by Wrightson with his contemporaries Barry Windsor-Smith, Mike Kaluta and Jeff Jones. You can see a far more comprehensive run-down of his Studio pieces at Pete Doree's wonderful Bronze Age of Blogs.
And just for a change here's a rare case of the artist tackling some super heroes, specifically the Hulk and the Thing in The Big Change, a collaboration with Jim Starlin...
And back to horror with Stephen King movie adaptation Creepshow:
I'll finish with Wrightson's take on Will Eisner's The Spirit, a lovely tribute from one master to another.
RIP Bernie and thanks for all the nightmares...

Soundtrack: Motorvatin' -  22 Rock And Roll Classics by Chuck Berry
( Another sad loss  -  the great showman and rock 'n' roll innovator the world lost yesterday at the age of 90 )

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Comics Cavalcade

As blog buddy John Pitt recently pointed out, I haven't posted anything about comics here for far too long  -  so here are some recent-ish acquisitions, starting with a comic I've been after for many years, Fantastic Four Annual #3 from 1965. This issue, of course, features the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm and was kind of a big deal back in the day. As well as bringing us the happiest day of Reed and Sue's lives it also serves up a massive slug-fest featuring the majority of the Marvel Universe at that time... even including Lee and Kirby! The cover hints at the madness within and I especially love the fact that Nick Fury turns up twice in this image in both Howling Commando and Agent of SHIELD guises  -   a neat trick :-)
This copy is a tad battered around the edges ( a bit like myself ) but it only cost me £20 ( I knocked the dealer down by £5 ) so I was pretty happy, as '60s FFs are usually ridiculously over-priced nowadays.
Next, some more FFs, this time from the early '70s when "Big" John Buscema had taken over art duties and Stan Lee was writing his last few issues, aided and abetted by the likes of the late Archie Goodwin.

By this point there was a constant shuffling of familiar elements and characters ( the Inhumans, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, even the less-than-stellar Diablo ) which only went to show how untouchable Lee and Kirby's tenure had been...
I notice Galactus had forgotten to put his trousers on again, see below. Maybe it's those harsh solar winds blowing around his nether regions ( steady! ) that make him so grumpy. And, of course, the fact he's only snacked on a couple of asteroids today and could really do with something more filling... like the Earth...

And here's some more Lee and Kirby wonderment with everybody's favourite Asgardian ( apart from the lady Sif, of course ) fighting the Super Skrull, of all agonisin' alien antagonists...
Page one of said issue below features some lovely inks from the much-maligned Vince Colletta who always added a touch of class to Kirby's pencils on the Thor strip.
And, in my customary disorganised manner, here's the issue before that one  -  the cover seems to be a collage of images from the interior artwork, leading me to believe that some kind of Dreaded Deadline Doom had led to a last minute substitution.
In another corner of the Marvel Universe we find another comic I've long been searching for, Marvel Premiere #3 ( July 1972 ), featuring the return of Doctor Strange...
Doc's own comic, the venerable Strange Tales, had been cancelled back in 1968 but the recent return of the Master of the Mystic Arts as part of The Defenders showed there was still a market for magic so he was granted a try-out run in Marvel Premiere. The creative team for this first issue was the slightly uncomfortable but highly groovy pairing of Stan Lee and Barry Smith. "Bashful" Barry imported a lot of his pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau leanings from his work on Conan The Barbarian, while The Man wrote in his usual flowery, faux-mystical style with Hoggoths and Raggadors all over the place. It was unsurprisingly a short-lived experiment but fun while it lasted.
And speaking of that sullen, sword-wielding barbarian...
Barry Smith had long gone by this 37th issue of Hyborian hijinks and "Big" John Buscema ( him again! ) was now the regular artist. However, this issue was a one-off, featuring the superior stylings of  "Nefarious" Neal Adams, popping up for ( I believe ) his only time on the colour Conan mag. This story was apparently intended for Strange Tales but, due to that B&W title's early sales dips and stumblings, it wound up in CTB, short of half a dozen pages. I wonder if the full story was ever published?
Finally, just so I'm not accused of a Marvel bias ( as if! ), here's DC's short-lived attempt to turn one of its oldest titles back into the anthology it started out as...
This "Dollar Comic" ( comics for a dollar! whatever next? ) was a pretty good package, featuring six stories in its 68 pages, with no ads. I mainly tracked this down because it was supposed to feature the "Last Battle" in the post-Kirby New Gods series. Of course, it's nothing of the sort as Orion and Darkseid have the usual, inconclusive Oedipal scrap which ends on a cliffhanger. Ho hum. As well as the New Gods, the other strips in this issue are some fun but dated-even-in-1978 adventures of the Flash, Deadman and Wonder Woman; and a cute spaceship romance for Green Lantern with some typically lovely Joe Staton artwork. Speaking of artwork  -  isn't that Jim Aparo cover fantastic? They really don't make 'em like that any more! And, is it just me, or is the Elongated Man tickling Darkseid under the chin? I look forward to seeing that happen if old granite-puss pops up in any forthcoming DC movie. Zack Snyder, are you listening???

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Are you ( Doctor Who ) Experienced?

2017 will prove to be something of a bitter-sweet year for Doctor Who fans: there will be 13 new episodes this year ( yay! ) which will lead up to the swan-song of the wonderful Peter Capaldi ( boo! ), while this Summer will sadly see the closure of the equally-wonderful Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff ( double boo! )...
We've visited the DWE many times over its five-year existence and always had a great time, exploring its dazzling array of Doctor Who props, monsters, sets and general Gallifreyan goodness. In fact we all went down to Cardiff Bay on James' 17th birthday last September and had the above photo taken by a passing Raston Robot Warrior. Or it may have been a member of DWE staff...
It seems a real shame that such a well-loved and supported exhibition will soon find itself homeless. As well as bringing joy to the thousands of fans who come from all around the world to step through the exhibition's dimensionally-transcendental doors, the DWE is also surely a great boost to Cardiff's economy. Well, we weren't the only people thinking along those lines. A lovely lady named Bex Ferriday set up a petition via the pressure group 38 Degrees to highlight the er, degree that people love the DWE and want to protect it. Nearly 12,000 people ( me included ) signed the petition to urge Cardiff Council to save the exhibition in one form or another and hopefully keep it in the spiritual home of modern Doctor Who  -  Cardiff. We went down to Cardiff Bay last Saturday with a few like-minded Whovians to hand over the petition to the DWE manager, ahead of a formal hand-over to the council at a later date. We had a very positive meeting with the exhibition's boss who was very hopeful for the future and was at pains to stress that the council shouldn't be seen as the bad guys in this situation. Hopefully some good will come from all Bex's hard work but at the very least we had demonstrated the love and support people have for the DWE.
After that, Sarah and I had a great day in Cardiff Bay and also in the city centre, even though the weather was typically Welsh in its "changeable" nature. I'll just finish with a few more photos from the Doctor Who Experience...



And finally Esther, some wonderful examples of the great Christos ( "Chris" ) Achilleos's artwork from the 1970s Target Doctor Who books. What a treat to see a collection of these lovely pieces!
Soundtrack: My Woman by Angel Olsen

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Mega 2016 Catch-Up - Amazing Amsterdam!

Just a few photos from my trip to Amsterdam last May with my mates Glenn and Rob. As mentioned in a previous post we were mainly there to see The Dandy Warhols but we also managed to spend a few days seeing the sights of the beautiful Dutch city. Here are Glenn and I posing in front of the obligatory canal with the equally obligatory bicycles...
More canals and more bikes...
And, of course, trams...
We were staying a 20-minute tram ride from the city centre and they were definitely the best way to get around. And when we got to the centre we found such lovely places as these:
The Royal Palace in bustling Dam Square with added middle-aged Punks

More lovely buildings and waterways

Above is the stunning Rijksmuseum. We didn't have time to properly investigate this huge museum / art gallery / cultural centre but we had a great time wandering around its grounds and just generally hanging out in the neighbouring park and gardens...


( Who let this idiot get in the water? )

 We met a familiar face outside the Van Gogh Museum...
And, of course, Rob had to mess about in the fountains :-)

We had a look around the train station, much to rail enthusiast Glenn's delight...
"Trains!" ( Double-decker ones at that... )

And from the train station we headed down to the waterfront ( not a cue for a Simple Minds song )

I was very tempted to hop on board this ferry and investigate the other bank but we didn't have enough time. And there wasn't enough time for this either:
The infamous Red Light District was certainly eye-opening!
And here's a friend I made at the hotel who helped me eat my breakfast.
All too soon we had to head for home but it had been a fantastic long weekend in a truly beautiful, friendly, laid-back city. It was my first trip abroad for 9 years so I really appreciated the experience and the great company. Hopefully I'll be able to take Sarah there sometime  -  Amsterdam is just too awesome to keep to myself!


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