Comic Book Artist #5 Summer 1999/Alter Ego vol. 2 #5 (magazine review).

I was kind of lucky to get the subsequent issue of Comic Book Artist # 5 Summer 1999/Alter Ego vol. 2 # 5 last year and it is a massive read so will be picking out what I see are the highlights. The main emphasis for ‘Comic Book Artist’ back in 1999 was ‘DC Comics; 1967-74’, when the transition from the old writers and artists teams to the new people. As revealed here, DC Comics was rather ruthless in how it dumped its old creators, more so when they asked for a raise or any company benefits, like sickness and retirement. All they saw them was as long serving freelancers and easily replaced.

I’m not saying the other comicbook companies might be any better but this really shows American companies ruthlessness worked back then. As Carmen Infantino also discovered when he was summarily dumped a few years later as publisher in 1976 because he had no personal contract. The inside stories, not to mention corrections given by pros in this issue’s letters pages also gives reason why interviews and histories need to be recorded. No wonder the history of British comicbooks is so sketchy in comparison.

There really is so much here. The interview with Irwin Donenfeld, DC Comics’ editorial director in the 1960s, is more revealing by what he wasn’t involved with and the need to get the same kind of audience that Marvel was achieving. You can read a lot between the lines from what he said, especially where he thinks having covers that stood out boosted sales but I think I would counter-argue that there was also a level of fan loyalty to sustain it. Having the top bosses meeting twice a year for card games and golf might be frowned upon today in terms of what was said behind the scenes in terms of whether any monopolisation might have been going on.

There are so many interviews in here from Gil Kane to Sergio Aragonés but I suspect the main selling point when this issue first came out was an interview with Neal Adams about DC Comics when he arrived there in the late 1960s. Having read his ‘Deadman’ stories last year, I did wonder on some of his art decisions and from this interview, Adams said he was experimenting with panel composition at the time, so looks like I unconsciously picked up on that.

Some interviews here are a surprise. I hadn’t heard of Howard ‘Howie’ Post (1926-2010), although I think I only saw a couple covers of his ‘Anthro’ comicbook for DC Comics. Jon B. Cooke’s interview with him gave a lot of insight into the cartoon aspects of comicbooks and when he switched to animation and teaching. Never begrudge an interview if you don’t know the person involved as they might surprise you.

I had to smile at the interview with comicbook artist Sam J. Glanzman (1924-2017) because, at the time, he corrected some errors about his career given by others but was almost a car crash for interviewer Jon B. Cooke because he didn’t understand what he was being asked about the editors he worked with. Cooke was looking for any comments of working relationship and all Glanzman did was hand over his work and get the next assignment. To be fair, this interview was conducted through the post and, having done interviews similar myself, you tend to set a list of questions that gear more than a yes/no reply. I did manage to read some of Glanzman’s ‘U.S.S. Stevens’ strips in the rare and hard to get ‘Joe Kubert Presents’ recently, largely because of earlier reading about his work so have a better appreciation now.

The interview with Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017) made me realise what a geek he was, not to mention a little naïve as he literally broke into comicbooks. The same can also be said for Mike Kaluta, although the most telling remark was from one of his heroes, artist Roy Krenkel who told him, ‘Don’t study from my work because you’ll just learn my mistakes!’ That has to apply to any medium. If you do choose to do such a thing, its best to learn from a cross-section of people before you find your own ‘voice’ in the medium you’re using. Before you ask, my own copying phase ended in my early teens but it was mostly with ideas than depiction or writing.

Flipping the mag over, Alter Ego vol. 2 # 5 is the last in this issue as volume 3 was about to come out as its own title. For this ending, editor Roy Thomas has a look at a certain Batman and how co-creator Bill Finger had been neglected. When you consider how the late Bill Finger now gets co-credited with the creation of the Batman with Bob Kane in the recent films, shows how far back the discussion here and later has ensured his work and important contribution has now been remembered.

The letter pages have also been some wry smiles over Rick Jones receiving a sixth finger and its removal, not by amputation but eraser in Avengers # 96 drawn by Neal Adams and the Crusty Bunkers and even writer Roy Thomas regrets not statting the mistake. I tried goggling the time Jack Kirby did the same to Reed Richards in the splash page of the ‘Fantastic Four’ when he stretched out to the baby Franklin Richards to get the # 88 but came up with the Human Torch in FF # 3 as well so its hardly unprecedented. There’s always a toss-up as to whether it was intentional, seeing if editorial was paying attention and corrected it in inking or what. Looking at it again here, even flopping the page (that is, mirroring the page so it faces the opposite direction) wouldn’t have made much difference to thumbs let alone 6 fingers but just someone forgot.

Finally, an interview with Bill Finger’s son, Fred, also now since deceased, gives a deep insight into his late father. Finger should also be fully acknowledged for the creation of the original Green Lantern, Hawkman and Wildcat whenever they appear in the media. Without those, then the later versions would not have existed.

If ever there was a reason for seeking early issues of TwoMorrows’ magazines, this issue is it. If you’re lucky enough to see them, buy them. Comicbook history needs to be kept alive.

GF Willmetts

March 2023

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 128 page illustrated magazine. Price: . ISSN: 2330-2437. Direct from them, you can get it digitally for $ 5.99 (US))

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