Justice League of America #50 (December, 1966)

Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?

— P. F. Sloan, “Eve of Destruction”, 1964

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

— Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler and Robin Moore, “The Ballad of the Green Berets”, 1966

By October, 1966, United States military forces had been operating in Vietnam for over a decade, though mostly in an advisory role for much of that time.  Beginning in 1961, however, President John F. Kennedy had greatly increased the number of American troops stationed in the region; and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, had used the authority of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed in August, 1964, to escalate…

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Examining Progression and Perceptions Post 1800. 5th April 2017. 10am. UCLan. Foster Building. Preston.

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On the 5th April 2017, myself (Joshua Lowe) along with Carrie-anne Phillips, Andrew Ellis, Charlotte Beasor, Michelle Heaton-Bentley, and Rhyanon Ejraee will be presenting Seminar Papers as part of our MRes History Degree course. This Academic Conference will be starting at 10am in Foster Building on the University of Central Lancashire Campus. I have added a map below:

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Foster Building is located within the blue zone in the bottom left.

The programme of papers is available here. I hope that you can attend.

Examining Progression and Perceptions Post 1800

April 5th 2017

Foster Building

Panel Time 9.30 – Welcome
  10.00 – 10.15 Opening Remarks – Máirtín Ó Catháin                                                                                    Mitchell and Kenyon Theatre
1 10.15 – 11.15 Mitchell and Kenyon Theatre

 

Cultural Perceptions

 

Chair: Caroline Sharples

 

Joshua Lowe Smut and Trash: The Nazi Party Vs The American Comic Book Industry

 

Carrie-anne Phillips History on Film: A look at the Holocaust on Film

 

2 11.15 – 11.45 Mitchell and Kenyon Theatre

Political Continuity and Change

Chair: Stephen Meredith

Andrew Ellis Thatcher and Blair: Continuity or Change?

  11.45 – 13.00 Refreshment Break
3 13.00 – 14.30

 

 

 

 

Foster Building Lecture Theatre 2

Gender Morality

Chair: Billy Frank

Charlotte Beasor The Feminism of contagion: The Ladies National Association and the Contagious Diseases Acts

Michelle Heaton-Bentley Women, morality and the law: Annie Besant’s custody battle

Rhyanon Ejraee Who saved the children?: German and Spanish refugees

16.00 – Close

 

Brave and the Bold #6: ‘Bigly’

There are two things that I know to be true:

  1. Comic books are a perfect expression of politics, history and culture.
  2. Watchmen exemplifies this idea better than any other comic.

The seminal work by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore has been praised, scrutinised, analysed, revered, parodied, put on film, and is the only graphic novel on the ALL- TIME 100 Novels list. Set in a world where the Vietnam War ended in a quick American victory due to the intervention of the superhuman Dr. Manhattan, where Nixon is still president in 1985 due to the repeal of the 22nd Amendment, where morals are skewed, where the keys to power are killed for, and where the very idea of the American dream has become an American nightmare, Watchmen still stands as a horrifying mirror to a world that might have been and a world that may well be happening now.

If you have been living under a rock you will not know about a recent event that has happened in American politics. Everybody else will know about this, but for you rock dwellers here is Donald J. Trump:

Now, Donald is a corrupt, morally skewed, power hungry, sexist, pig, and the current president of the United States after his inauguration yesterday. I do not have any positive views of him and the fact that he got into power confounds me to this day. He is a bully and a charlatan who got to his position by appealing to the lowest common denominator, and insulting (and even threatening) anyone who got in his way.

‘What does this have to do with Watchmen?’ I hear you ask. Well, my good friend Arlen Schumer, illustrator and comic book historian extraordinaire was hired by The Outline to illustrate a new parody of Watchmen called Who Watches the Men? that fits in to and comments on the new United States of Trump:

YOU CAN READ THE COMIC HERE.

The story is only one page and it is fairly simple, set on January 20th 2017, Anthony Weiner (replacing Rorschach) walks past Trump tower and writes in his journal his feelings of sorrow at the political events taking place. The dialogue used does not differ to greatly from the original Rorschach test, references and jokes replace some of the lines but it still reads the same. This feels like a missing Watchmen page and probably the closest thing to a modern Watchmen sequel.

The writing is what you would expect from a political satire, an exaggeration that is a little cheesy but it works. The main centrepiece of it though is the artwork. Schumer not only depicts the characters perfectly (just look at that ‘Bigly’ panel and tell me that should not be a protest sign), but he also manages to pay tribute to Gibbon’s art whilst still having his own style.

There are some brilliant touches in terms of the artwork too, especially on Trump himself. The golden cape is something that I would have no way have been surprised by if it was worn by Donald himself, the terrifying close-up of his sweaty face as I mentioned in the previous paragraph is like something out of a horror comic and really elevates the feeling of dread a lot of us feel due to this event. The final panels really sell it though. A sorrowful Ted Cruz bathed in the light of his small television screen looks on in shock, as were and are many of us.

There are some drawbacks though of course, as popular and pervasive as Watchmen is, this would only really work for an audience that recognises the graphic novel and its artwork. I also think that the finished colouring is a little washed out, and I understand that they were going for that authentic Watchmen look but having seen the original colours that Arlen wanted the finished product does not have the same energy.

To round this off here is a final illustration by Arlen, and if you haven’t already please check out his Silver Age of Comic Book Art book.

What are your thoughts on Trump, political satire and/or this parody comic? Please leave your comments!

Brave and Bold #4: Landscape: The Greatest Vietnam War Comic Ever Written.

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On the firing line — 

“Your mouth is dry, your palms are moist on the rifle stock. You’re ready — but you’re staking your life! From valley forge to Viet-nam, this is the heart pounding plunge into war… and we’re giving it to you! Can you take the excitement of authentic battle action with no punches pulled? Then you better dig in! This is real! This is the way it is! This is –”

BRAVE AND BOLD!

A lot of people coming to this site will most definitely be more well versed in the world of superhero comics than the world of war comics. However, in the dissertation I wrote back in 2015 I put a focus on comics that depicted the Vietnam War. The piece was titled:

Blazing Combat: American Comic Books and the Depiction of the Vietnam War Soldier 1964 – 1975. 

Before the research had begun for this piece I had never read the stories included in Blazing Combat. In fact, I had never even heard of the book before 2015. The series lasted a mere 4 issues from 1964 to 1965. It was an anthology comic that featured multiple different war stories. A Vietnam War story lead each issue. It was firstly banned from army bases and then cancelled completely in 1965 due to its anti-war stance, at a time where such a stance was not popular. One of its main controversies came from the issue that we are going to look at today. Please allow me to introduce you to LANDSCAPE.

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Most American combatants were troubled by the South Vietnamese, despite the official rationale being that the American aim was to help them, most G.I.s found them hostile, confusing, frustrating, and treacherous. As noted in Jayne S. Werner & Luu Doan Huynh’s The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American Perspectives: Extraordinary conference Papers, they did not see themselves fighting for South Vietnam and saw it as a worthless country.

LANDSCAPE brings the inhumane treatment and misunderstanding of the Vietnamese to life in quite brutal, realistic imagery. As Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith’s book The Power of Comics suggests, this story may well be the main reason why the series was banned from army bases, and eventually cancelled, due to its condemnation of the brutality towards civilians.

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The story focusses on the innocent, elderly, South Vietnamese villager, Luong. The reader grows to sympathise with his, and realises that all he wants to do is to tend to his rice. The war is ruining his simple livelihood and he wants no part in it.

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A battle ensues between American and South Vietnamese forces, against the Vietcong. The Vietcong escape through a rice paddy and a flamethrower is readied to clear them out. Luong throws his hands up and refuses. He grabs the arm of a soldier and yells at him. He is caught in the crossfire and shot dead. This display of brutality is shocking and can be transferred to our current times to show the blatant disregard for innocents in conflict. Robert D. Schulzinger describes this perfectly in A Time For War. The misery of ordinary Vietnamese contributed to a deepening sense that the very people the Americans had come to help had their lives ruined by them.

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The script for this issue was written by Archie Goodwin and the art was done by Joe Orlando. This story should be celebrated alongside the great stories that Marvel and DC were bringing out in the same era. If there is one comic book story that has inspired my research, my serious look into comic books as history, it is LANDSCAPE. The fact that a story this beautiful, raw, and honest exists on the comic book page is proof of the true artistry of comics and how important the stories contained are to our history and culture.

Thank you for reading,

Joshua Lowe.

 

Brave and Bold #3: Dear Mr. Ditko

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Welcome once again to Brave and Bold. Today I would like to talk about one of the greatest artists of the silver age. He is the incomparable Steve Ditko. Despite placing an image from Mr. A. at the top of this article, I am going to avoid discussing the politics of the man. This is an article that will focus on his art. Although his personal life did have an effect on his work, I am not an expert on Ayn Rand. I have never read her work, and I do not know enough about Ditko outside of his art to feel capable of presenting an analysis of his politics. So, with all that out of the way, let us delve into the world of Steve Ditko!

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No discussion of Ditko would be complete without discussing The Amazing Spider-Man. Spider-Man is one of the first superheroes I ever loved and Ditko’s art on the character is one of the main reasons for that adoration. Peter Parker was not a pretty boy, he did not even take on the call to superheroics once he got his powers. Parker was flawed, unconventional, down on his luck, and most importantly, he was us. It is my belief that Ditko is the main man behind the creation of Spider-Man. Robbie Reed’s work on Ditko for his site Dial B for Blog certainly agrees with my assessment: ‘Mr. Ditko DOES have an auto-biography. I’ve read it, and I bet YOU have too! As you’ll soon see, it’s called THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.’ http://www.dialbforblog.com/archives/695/

It is certainly undeniable that Stan Lee had the initial spark to create a superhero based on a spider. However, without the injection of Steve Ditko’s DNA into the character of Peter Parker, it is my belief that Spider-Man would have failed. As you will see below, the comparison between Ditko and Parker is very clear. I will not give Stan Lee no credit at all, that would be unfair, he did make Marvel great with his marketing sense. Spider-Man though, is the achievement of Steve Ditko. Lee just worked some dialogue in. Everything that we love about the character of Spider-Man, everything about the down and out teenager behind the webbed mask, comes from those 38 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man that Steve drew and plotted. His art style is unique, inspired, and beautiful, and all the credit and profit that Stan Lee has enjoyed from the webslinger truly belongs to Ditko. Stan came up with the name, Ditko did the rest. I hope one day everyone will believe that and see it as true.

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The other character that Ditko is most known for and has thankfully been given more credit for is the master of the mystic arts, Dr. Strange.

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Now, I will admit that I am much more well versed on the adventures of Spider-Man than I am of the adventures of Doctor Stephen Strange so I will purely focus on the art for this section. As you can see in the image posted above, Ditko’s use of space and shapes creates dynamic and fascinating worlds and scenes like nobody else ever could. In these lines and shapes Ditko demonstrates a dream-like world on the page. It truly is magical to look at and every time the image is viewed, something else jumps out at you.

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Here is a story page from Dr Strange by Ditko. His ability to show the passage of time and space in his panel work and his use of negative space is utterly incredible. If the upcoming Dr. Strange movie can even capture a miligram of the magic that went into this art they will be onto a winner. However, pages like this one do prove that comics are not just storyboards, they are not just movies that do not move. The images shown here cannot be done in any other medium and nobody has been able to match the artwork that Ditko did on Dr. Strange. Then… with no warning, Ditko left Marvel, but his artistry and brilliance went over to Charlton and created some of the greatest characters that DC now owns.

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Ditko’s characters for Charlton continued to show his talent and he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted. One of the characters he created was the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord. As another bug based character on Ditko’s roster it would be amiss to not discuss a comparison to Spider-Man here. They are both wise-cracking, acrobatic, inventing, arthropod themed heroes. However, it appears that Blue Beetle is more like the character that Ditko wanted to create when he first tackled the Spider-Man. Kord had no powers and was totally reliant on his wits, skill, and mind. Ditko’s work on Charlton proves that he was a brilliant creator on his own and without the shackles of Marvel he could truly let loose, as he did with the other great character he developed there.

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Ditko also created The Question. His real name was Vic Sage and with a special gas, and a unique mask, Vic took to the streets of Chicago as The Question. He began to terrorize criminals and informed them that crime would not be tolerated. He worked outside of the law if he needed to and stuck to an unbending, objective standard of ethics to all men and their actions.

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In my view, his work on The Question is some of Ditko’s greatest. His command of anatomy gives all of his characters unique looks. The Question, with his short and stocky build mimics Will Eisner’s The Spirit. As you can see by comparing all of the images that have been used thus far in this article, Ditko gave every character that he created a unique look. Spider-Man’s world is ugly and twisted, Dr. Strange inhabits a world of freakish shapes and fluidity, Blue Beetle is more static and shows the struggle he has due to his lack of powers. Finally, The Question’s gas is used to present mystery and their is a claustrophic feel to the work that gives it the feeling of classic noir thrillers.

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After working for Charlton, in 1968 he spent a short time at DC Comics where he created such characters as The Creeper, and The Hawk and The Dove.

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The Creeper proves once again, the effort and skill that Ditko possesses. His hand lettering of the “HAs” gives a unique illusion of movement, and The Creeper’s movement is also unique. The use of the strange red cape that flows around the character makes The Creeper truly creepy, particularly in the second panel.

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And so we reach the final character that must be discussed when we look at Steve Ditko. Mr. A. is the fully creator owned, independent character that Ditko developed in the late 1960s. In these stories of morality, Ditko continued to demonstrate his command of story-telling through imagery. With the presentation of Mr. A. being in full black-and-white we get a brilliant glimpse into the true talent of Ditko. He is a storyteller, a visionary, a true talent, and above all else, he is my favourite comic book artist. If Steve ever reads this, I would just like to say one last thing.

Dear Mr. Ditko,

Thank you for the years of joy that your art has given me. You are a true talent and a master that belongs alongside Picasso and Van Gogh as a master of the craft.

Kind regards,

Joshua Lowe.

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Brave and Bold #2: The Silver Age of Comic Book Art by Arlen Schumer

Greetings, and welcome to Brave and Bold! As a historian and a comic book connoisseur, I have a collection of books related to comic book study and history. Today I would like to recommend to you the brilliant work of Mr Arlen Schumer. Arlen is a member of the Society of Illustrators, creating comic book style art for advertising and editorial usage, and a foremost comic book historian. He has been an inspiration to me ever since I started my research and has become a great friend of mine. In this article I would like to explore his book and give it the review it deserves.

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As Jon B. Cooke’s writing in the opening section of Arlen Schumer’s The Silver Age of Comic Book Art’s dust cover states, it is “a book unlike any ever before seen, The Silver Age of Comic Book Art is multi-talented Arlen Schumer’s dazzling pop-art tribute to the great mainstream artists working in the field of sequential art during the 1960s.”

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Arlen’s book focusses on eight brilliant artists of the Silver Age including two of my personal favourites: The great Steve Ditko, and the incredible Joe Kubert. As both of these chapters are going to be used for the work I am completing for my Masters degree I will focus on them here to show how much work and artistic flair has gone into this incredible book.

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We shall begin with his chapter on Steve Ditko. As you can see from this page, Arlen’s book is a pure visual treat for any silver age comic fan and seeing the art displayed in this way like a museum is truly mind-blowing. By replacing the original text from the speech balloons and thought bubbles with quotes from Ditko himself, Arlen creates a dynamic and exciting window into the history of comic book art and proves just how important the art is to the study of comic books as history.

Of course, there are some amazing books out there about the history of comic books that are standard, academic works, but Arlen’s coffee table book surpasses all of them as it respects the art, the stories, and the history in a way that I have not seen before or since.

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You can see in every page of this book that Arlen has a passion for comic books that cannot be denied. There are some historians that have taken comic books, looked at the stories, and made some effort into making them a serious part of the historical primary source landscape, but I do not think anybody has done a better job of showing how seriously comic books can be taken as art and history than Arlen Schumer.

The copy I have of the book is the hardcover, revised edition, it is printed on glorious, high quality paper, and if you order it from his site you can get it signed just like mine: http://silverageofcomicbookart.com/

This book screams of quality, passion, history, and art. This book and this art should be looked at with the same love and reverence that is given to Taschen’s art books. I would place Steve Ditko and Piet Mondrian in the same realm of beautiful, talented artwork, and Arlen’s glorious work proves this analysis to be not only right but an undeniable fact.

So, to conclude, if you have any interest in comic books, history, or art, Arlen’s book belongs on your shelf, in your library, on your table, wherever you want to place it, you need to read it. Just like the comics that inspired it, digital images do not do it justice. I hope you love it as much as I do, and if you are still not convinced, I will leave you with Arlen’s lecture based on this very book.

Keep reading true believers!

Until next time, Josh signing off!

 

 

Brave and Bold #1: Dear Editor: The Importance of Letters Pages

Face front true believers! My name is Joshua Lowe and I would like to formally invite you to the very first post on my comic book history site Brave and Bold. Hot off the presses of the internet super highway all the way to your screen!

Today, to kick this site off, we are going to start with something a little different. We are not going to talk about art, we are not going to talk about writing, we are going to talk about the letters pages!

Now, you may be wondering, “why are letters pages important?”, “what do they say about how great comic books are?”, “what do they say about history?”, well dear reader! Allow me to show you!

One of my main eras and topics of study has been the Vietnam War and reactions to it in the 1960s, so we shall use that today as a frame work!

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Cpl. Leonard R. St. Clair’s letter from The Amazing Spider-Man #50 (July 1967)

In this heartfelt letter from an American soldier in Vietnam, we get a glimpse into the diversity of Marvel’s readership and also a glimpse into Marvel’s reach. As I have been researching the relationship between comic books and American society, letters like this are highly important. It shows a very human experience of the Vietnam War, and it is just as important as other primary sources that historians have used for centuries to demonstrate the human experience of war, society, and culture. Letters pages like this should be placed alongside diaries, and formally written letters as a viable resource.

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India Company 3/1 3rd Bn., 1st Mar. 1st Marine Div. (REIN) FMF, FPO letter from The Amazing Spider-Man #52 (September, 1967)

Sadly, Corporal St. Clair was not able to latch onto his favourite mags by merely going to a corner newstand. He was killed in action in Da Nang. Having both of these letters presents a valuable resource. The real story of a soldier and the story of a company in the jungles of Vietnam is something that you would not expect to find in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, and particularly in a letters column entitled The Spider’s Web. If these had been a letter home to a family member or something of a more formal sort, they would have been extensively studied, but because they are placed in the back of a Spider-Man book, they may have been missed by more supposed “high-brow” historians. However, here at Brave and Bold we aim to shed light on what has been considered “low-brow” and give it the true, academic light it deserves.

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Peter Tartsch’s letter from Action Comics #338 (June, 1966)

Contrasting with the very human interactions Marvel had with its readers, here is a letter from DC Comics discussing the Vietnam War. By using this as a comparison to the previous letters in this piece we can see how DC’s relation with American society was very different to its competitors over at Marvel. DC represented the old guard, and saw itself as having a certain superiority. Marvel was young and hip and much of Marvel’s success can be put down to how they spoke to their readership.

So, in conclusion dear readers when you are reading through your comic collections, please spare a moment for the letters pages. They can shed a great light on the readership of the day, and how the editors presented themselves.

Until next time!

Joshua Lowe.