Friday, February 26, 2010

Coming Attractions: Gerry Conway

Gerry Conway, a most excellant writer of comics when I was still reading them, and numerous TV shows after I stopped watching TV, will be paying us a visit. This is the same Gerry Conway who co-created The Punisher and killed off Peter Parker's gal Gwen Stacy, not the Gerry Conway who drummed for Jethro Tull... Stay tuned.

Something for Nothing


I imagine that if I were stranded on a desert island (with neither Ginger, MaryAnne nor Kate Austen) I would fashion something to write with and hunt up flat surfaces to write upon and conjure in my fevered brain the vision of someone someday somehow discovering what I wrote, which is to say that once the sickness of Must Write takes hold, most of us do it even without a discernable audience. After all, how many non-writers "write" for no audience now? No one reads your blog. "So what?" they mutter to themselves. "I'm not writing to be read." A delusion, of course, but no matter.

The point, if there must be one, is that anyone insane enough to bare innards thus does so because of some twisted exhibitionistic tendency. Nowhere is this more apparent than with genuine writers who call off asides to readers in near-desperate attempts to make sure that someone is listening. I dare say the writers I admire most do this from time to time. More's the pity.

The conclusion, if there must be one, is that I woke up this morning aware of my own need to peek beneath the curtain before it rises, to check Google analytics on occasion to see who is listening and on other occasions (this occasion, here, now) to make certain that my island has "others" on the southside of the lagoon.

So:

If you subscribe to this blog (free, just follow the instructions in the right-hand window) and stay here for 30 days or more, I will send you one of my comics for free, signed if you like. You just need to mail me a large enough SASE. That's the deal.

Something for nothing. Well, not exactly nothing--something for effort. The signed comic will be the one pictured, with a cover by Gray Morrow interior art by Dave Cockrum.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Am Gene Colan's Dawg


The below is an interview that I just gave to John Hogan, the editor of GraphicNovelReporter.com, regarding The Invincible Gene Colan (Marvel Entertainment), which I believe is just weeks away from shipping.

When and how did you and Gene meet?

I met Gene at the first MarvelCon in New York City in 1976. I was 15 and Gene sketched a little Captain America head for me in the program book. Those were the good old days—guys like Gene and John Buscema and John Romita doing free sketches for kids. It was like being at the Yankees’ dugout in ’51 with a pen and a baseball.

How did you first get involved in comics professionally?

I read and collected comics as a little kid starting in 1966, then became a fanzine contributor as a teenager. When I was in my 20s, my local comics shop (The Comic Book Emporium in Union, NJ) went up for sale so I bought it, renamed it “Clobbering Time” then opened two more shops. I had frequent guest artists coming in to sketch for my customers and befriended several of them. I was also writing for ComicScene and Wizard and making new friends. So one thing lead to another and in 1994 Jim Reeber and I launched Aardwolf Publishing with the help of Dave Cockrum and Gray Morrow.

You’ve been working in the comics industry for decades now. Do you enjoy it as much now as you always did?

Now that I’m back to freelancing I enjoy it more. I was frustrated as a full-time professional. It was political instead of creative. I suppose everything is when you get too close.

What is the industry like now versus when you first became a part of it? Has it changed for the better?

From what I can see, it is more political than ever. Business is always about making money but there was more of a sense of fraternity in the ‘70s, when I started hanging around. I suppose you had jerks then, too, but I didn’t know them.

You do a lot to acknowledge the impact and importance of comics’ legends, recently with both Colan and Dave Cockrum. Does the industry as a whole do enough to recognize its classic talents?

You can’t personify the industry—there’s just individuals doing what they do. In the 80’s, Neal Adams set a great example for the rest of us; he wasn’t only about his own pocket—he was willing to invest in helping two impoverished old men who’d created Superman and seen little for their efforts. Today, it’s a little easier on old timers, but not much. Most of them didn’t get their due, let’s face it… People pretend to be rebels today, but real rebels, as I see it, run the risk of rejection, of disapproval. The old guys—some of them like Ditko and Gerber—risked shock, disgust, outrage, censorship... The new rebels might be willing to risk rolled eyes and yawns but outside of Alan Moore, I don’t see risk takers—not creatively and certainly not when it comes to watching out for the guys who came before them.

How do you define Gene Colan’s influence on comics?

Gene was cinematic in a time when artists were still Kirby-esque. He was terribly important.

What made you decide to do a book on his art and his life at this point?

Gene came to me and said that he wanted to retire; he asked if I would negotiate a retirement package with Marvel for him and I agreed to. What I did for the Cockrums is fairly well known among the older generation of comics’ creators, and Gene and I have been friends for decades, so it made sense that he came to me. The Invincible Gene Colan was part of the deal; Marvel allowed me to reprise what I had done with The Uncanny Dave Cockrum collection; they said they would publish it and give all profits to Gene. It was a win-win for everyone.

How is Gene doing now? He continues to work—is he going to be involved in promoting the book?

He’s out there to the extent that his health allows him to be out there.

Does any of Gene’s work stand out and particularly resonate with you? Was there any series that you consider definitive in terms of his style?

Despite the fact that I created Snaked and write what Barnes and Noble and others have described as “dark fiction,” I am not a horror reader. So I was never a Tomb of Dracula fan. But I believe Gene was at his best there—he had evolved from Daredevil into a place where he could stretch the limits. I personally preferred DD and Iron Man and especially his run on Captain America, but that’s because I prefer superheroes. Gene’s style, as I said, is cinematic. He goes beyond the necessity just to tell a story—he infuses his visual storytelling with mood. Most comic artists recognize that but are incapable of producing it; they wow you with fantastic figure drawings, but there’s no soul. With Gene…It’s a feel that he has, I think—not something that can necessarily be learned. We recognize and adore certain writers by their voices. With artists, it’s by their taste.

What are you working on next? What other projects can we expect from you?

I continue to write fiction and find different vehicles for it. My next book will be a collaboration with Jeffrey Catherine Jones. You can see my current projects—including some signed and remarqued copies of The Invincible Gene Colan—at www.aardwolfpublishing.com

Steve Englehart Breaks His Silence

Steve Englehart speaks to us about The Point Man (just reissued from TOR)...


Meth: Anyone reading The Point Man can see the Marvel references, the pop culture and soap influences...but why a d.j.?

Englehart: Why not? But I suppose the answer is, d.j.'s in those days were hands-on performers, kings of their markets, running their own shows--thus, a guy primed to be an action hero coming out of the normal, non-action world.

Meth: Why reissue The Point Man... and why now?

Englehart: It's the jumping-off point for the Max August series. I wrote The Long Man to work without a reissue, because I didn't know if there'd be one, but Tor wanted it, so it adds a lot to the picture... As to why now, I'd have preferred it a year ago.

Meth: You had time to revamp the book but only adjusted the protagonist's age. What were some of the other elements that you considered playing with?

Englehart: None. I stand by what I wrote then, with no need to fix anything--and it does insure that the 1980's are completely authentic. The Point Man captures pretty well what life was like then, and that's important in the overall scheme of the series.

Meth: If memory serves, you wrote this around the same time that you were contributing to Byron Preiss' Weird Heroes anthology. That was an excellant series--and you were in impressive company. Other than Aardwolf Publishing, I don't see anyone doing illustrated fiction anymore. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Englehart: It's a shame. Weird Heroes was fun.

Meth: I grew up on your Avengers and Captain America work. Did you prefer writing any titles?

Englehart: I liked pretty much every series I wrote, because I was in a position to make them likeable, for me and hopefully for you.

Meth: Why did you leave Marvel?

Englehart: Editorial interference.

Meth: If you were assembling a bullpen from any writers, editors, pencillors and inkers either living or dead, who would you select?

Englehart: Sorry, I'm not into comics any more. I'm all about novels.

George Harrison: When I'm 67


George would be 67 today. I suspect he was so terribly important to me as a lad because he transcended the Beatles. I read the Bhagavad Gita because of him. At 14. This is love.

George will be celebrated at a public party today at 6PM, at George's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of Capitol Records Tower Building, 1750 N. Vine Street, Hollywood. Apple Scruffs and other fans will place flowers and birthday messages around the star. The event is sponsored by the Alliance for Survival peace group. If I were in Los Angeles, I would attend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meth on Steve Englehart


Steve Englehart was a very terrific writer of comics at a time when I was reading nothing but. I'm conducting a brief interview with him regarding his Max August series for this blog. Should be ready by tomorrow.

Englehart began his pro comics career assisting art legend Neal Adams on Vampirella #10 (Warren Publishing, 1971) and later became a writer at Marvel under Roy Thomas, where his plots and dialogue were, more sophisticated--and far more fun--than most of what his contemporaries were doing. To this day, my favorite Captain America run was his, especially that forever memorable resolution of the 1950's Cap/Bucky conundrum with a plotline that also hit on the racial issues of that period (issues #152-156).

Englehart and Frank Brunner (who illustrated the cover of my own Wearing The Horns for Aardwolf Publishing), created a multi-issue storyline for Dr. Strange (Marvel Premiere #14) in which a sorcerer named Sise-Neg (Genesis backwards) travels back through history, collects magical energies, then finally reaches the beginning of the universe only to become omnipotent and re-create it, leaving Dr. Strange to ponder whether this was, paradoxically, the original creation. Story has it that Stan Lee (then EiC of Marvel) ordered the pair to print a retraction to avoid problems with religious leaders, saying this was not "God" but a god... and that Englehart and Brunner penned a fake letter from a fictitious minister praising the story, then mailed it to Marvel from Texas. Marvel unwittingly printed the letter and dropped the retraction order.

Salt in Stanhope Cancels Steve Forbert

5:12 PM: This note just arrived from Steve Forbert's management:

"Forbert is off for tomorrow per the venue and rescheduled for 3/11"

That gives you Meth readers more time to catch up on Steve's old songs and YouTube videos. March!

Neither Snow Nor Hail Nor Gloom of Night Shall Stop Steve Forbert from Playing New Jersey


The good folks at Salt in Stanhope, NJ didn't know whether the "paralyzing storm" that's looming would stop Steve Forbert from showing up at his sold out engagement tomorrow night... So I just hung up with Steve's management. "He'll be there," promised Brad.

Clifford Meth will, too--snowshoes and all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Steve Forbert: A Moving Picture Is Worth 1000 Words


I mentioned Steve Forbert the other day and some of you said "who?" so watch this and then we'll continue the conversation.

Mike Henderson: Art Worth Owning


The extraordinary young artist Mike Henderson has just finished 150 unique sketched-on bookplates for the new Hank Magitz book, which he also illustrated (and ya'll know how much I dig mean old Magitz). The book's introduction is by Dictators' frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba and the cover is by Kelly Freas. What're you waiting for?!

Be a smart cookie: Don't just get this book because I tell you it's a great read--get a sketched-on bookplate before young Mike becomes a household word and you're forced to pay ten-times what they're going for now to some bottom feeder on Ebay. I was getting sketches from Jim Steranko and John Romita Sr. and Gene Colan 30 years ago. Know what they're worth now?

Speaking of Colan, here's the master weighing in on young Henderson: "Mike has caught my imagination. There's a drama there that is compelling. His linework is economical and sharp yet one sees all the curves. There's magic in that!"

Stan's Back?

A teaser banner ad at ComicMix proclaims, "Stan's Back." It use's Stan Lee's inimitatable signature. And when you click on the ad, that's all it tells you. Stan's back. Good tease. So what's up?

I emailed Stan this morning. His reply, "Funny thing is-- I didn't even know I'd been away!" Good reply.

Stan promised me an interview when he's ready to unveil the story.

And what's this have to do with Kars4Kids?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Romeo’s Back: The Return of Steve Forbert


He was only the most exciting new singer/songwriter to arrive on New York City’s still-hip folk scene in 1977. And 33 years later he’s still the most relevant. Whether you’ve heard him recently or not.

Steve Forbert is currently touring his just-released studio LP “Down in Flames,” 39 new studio and live recordings that open with the 13-track, refurb’d version of his until-now unreleased 5th LP. Those never-heard tracks—historical monuments for diehard Forbert fans—were originally produced for Columbia Records in 1983. But Columbia didn’t like the record and asked for another one. Steve said no. Then Columbia sat on the album, refusing to release it, and refusing to let Steve release it, locking this important 28-year-musician into a nightmarish legal entanglement that prohibited recording, then setting our boy from Meridian, Mississippi loose on an unexpected path: the one less travelled by. As Hunter Thompson observed, it was the dead-end loneliness of a man who makes his own rules.

Steve Forbert is to folk rock what Alan Moore is to comics, what Charles Bukowski was to poetry, what Harlan Ellison was to science fiction. He is unique. He is uncompromising. He is a very stubborn man. And his music—that always cogent songwriting and those emotive, mesmerizing live performances—are simply wonders to behold.

Do yourself a favor, Jack: pay attention to this kind of guy.

Click here to see Steve Forbert’s current tour dates, or here to visit his new website… or here to read a piece that I wrote about Steve six years ago. If you're too young to recall "Romeo's Tune" and the like, you're about to strike gold; and if you're a middle-ager like me, it's time to fall in love all over again. You can thank me later.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

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The Quiet Passing of Eric Aryeh Mahr (1955-2010)

I was broken hearted to learn of the loss of my friend and colleague Eric Mahr. This was as fine a man as I have known--unassuming, straight, simple and kind; an ehrliche Yid whose passing has effected me more than I would have guessed.

I learned that Eric had left us from our mutual friend Michael Netzer, whose telling of the story makes it difficult to breath.

Eric and [his wife] Jody flew to Buffalo, NY, last week to attend the funeral of Jody’s father… and another one of Eric’s uncle. Eric was very close to both. Way too much sorrow and grief for one family, one man, to suffer at once. One funeral after the other. But Eric was almost done. Only one more eulogy for his uncle left to give. His heart, ripped into shreds, pressed on with love, grief, memories and praise. At the grave. Pressed on so hard that it couldn’t press on anymore. That’s when Eric collapsed. Giving the eulogy at his uncle’s grave. His heart. His soul. Collapsed at the grave...Way too much sorrow. (read more here)
Eric bridged many worlds--comics, Torah, publishing...many more. After moving to Israel from Buffalo, NY, he single-handedly established and maintained a comics-publishing niche for observant Jews. We spent time together at San Diego ComicCon and I later had the great merit to edit Balm in Gilead for his MW Publications. I recall Eric phoning from Israel in 2006 while small Israeli communities were under constant attack during the Second Lebanon War; he was deeply concerned and humbly asked if I'd contribute to a publishing project to help children who were living in shelters, having been made homeless by the bombs. This project meant so much to him. Everything he did meant so much to him.

Forgive me, my dear friend Eric, for not showing you the tremendous respect in this world that I'm sure you'll find in the next.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's A Lie. Paul Isn't Dead.


The first celebrity I recall hearing a rumor about was Paul McCartney. Paul was dead. Worse, the rest of the Beatles were covering it up. Paul had been replaced with a look-alike named Billy Shears. John Lennon had slipped in the clue “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. There were clues everywhere. But it wasn't true.

I suspect the story hurt some real people in McCartney’s life, not just insipid groupies hoping to land Sir Paul—but at the end of the day no real harm was done. The rumors of Paul’s death had been greatly exaggerated. If anything, perhaps another few million LPs were sold.

This isn’t the case with the rumor mill today. Yusuf Islam (the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens) gets accused of supporting terrorism by an understandably freaked out public who, following September 11, were just coming to terms with the clear and present danger of Islamic fundamentalism. It didn’t matter that everything this musician stood for to that point of his life was rooted in art and humanitarianism; John Q Public had a celebrity it could burn at the stake. The result: Yusuf was denied access to the United States.

It used to be the broad brush of communism that celebrities got painted with. The Hollywood Blacklist, which expanded into the entertainment blacklist, deprived livelihoods to scores of actors, writers, directors and musicians after initially targetting screen heroes like Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Good folks were denied employment not necessarily because of their political beliefs or associations, but because of suspicion.

Today, the rules have changed. Socialists are awarded professorships at Harvard and radio talk shows and seats in Congress.

Want to hurt a celebrity now? Paint him gay. And do it on the internet.

New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez saw this happen not long ago. More damaging in many ways than his steroids admission was that photoshot in Details which heralded speculation that the star infielder must be a corncob cowboy. Comments on sports websites like Deadspin concluded that because A-Rod was pictured kissing himself in a mirror: "A-Rod would very much enjoy a copy of Details magazine up the wazoo" and "they followed him to the abandoned shack that he goes to to have sex with strange and diseased men." ESPN writer LZ Granderson attributed the attitude to fan jealousy and homophobia. I disagree. It’s jealousy and homopolitics. It’s the new gay agenda.

For some gays, it’s not enough to demand equal rights. There's a nagging insistance that everyone’s a member of their party. That’s why when someone like boxer Hasim Rahman offhandedly accused opponent Lennox Lewis of using “gay moves,” the one-percenters built a rumor and ran it up the fagpole.

The truth behind most gay rumors is that they are rarely true. Like the communist accusations during the Red Scare, these rumors serve not-so-well-hidden agendas: those of the rumor starter and the minority lobby who benefit from spreading it. Someone—an enemy most likely, a female most likely—planted one of these rumors in the virtual locker of Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Kordell Stewart in 1999. Imagine Stewart’s chagrin being forced to confront his teammates—as he did in a private—with “You'd better not leave your girlfriends around me, because I'm out to prove a point.”

Remember when someone targeted Met’s catcher Mike Piazza? There’s no question in my mind that the fag tag lost our power hitter some serious money in endorsements that year. Perhaps for the rest of his career. Who was behind that rumor? Follow the money.

Following his 1991 disclosure of his HIV status, Magic Johnson had to appear on the Arsenio Hall Show to tell Hall (and the audience), “I'm far from being homosexual. You know that, everybody else who's close to me understands that.” Johnson’s career was coming to a close; his endorsements certainly weren’t coming in after the AIDS story. Why deny being gay? Because it wasn’t true! And no one wants to be accused of that if it’s not true.
It’s not a crime to be a Muslim either. But how quick was our president to deny that story?

Which brings me to Ovie Mughelli. As I recently noted, some skunk with an agenda and no sense of decency just went after the Atlanta Falcon’s fullback claiming to be Ovie’s ex-lover. Where did he do his outing? On the website of a no-name blogger (who can barely string sentences together) with her own clear agenda. The next thing you know, it’s a running wildfire on the Black Gay Chat boards and blogs because they have an agenda, too. No validation. No proof. But they treat it like gospel.
Ovie says it’s not true. And he has a daughter. And the women he dates are smoking hot.

Will the rumor cost Ovie endorsement deals? Definitely maybe. But as Meyer Lansky pointed out, “When a man loses his money, he loses nothing; when he loses his character, he loses everything.” That in mind, I was heartened that Ovie didn’t take the bait, didn't dignify the rumor with a dramatic response. He shrugged and said sorry--you've got the wrong man. As I see it, #34 is a class act.

Other’s see it, too, apparently. Pine Crest School’s students just awarded their first-ever Earthman’s Pro Football Eco Player of the Year award to Ovie. The replica of the football is being made with recycled glass fused in a kiln and mounted on recycled wood. “Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli is teaching youngsters the importance of caring for the planet,” said a spokesperson for The Earthman Project, a nonprofit founded by Lanny Smith, the 2006-2007 North American Environmental Educator of the Year. Ovie’s own foundation works with environmental leaders to develop football camps, green speaking events and eco-challenges that educate 8- to 17-year-olds.

As my friend Kurt Vonnegut noted in “The Unicorn Trap,” life comes down to a singular struggle: It’s the wreckers against the builders. There’s the whole story of life!

And Paul still isn't dead.