Kurt Schaffenberger: The Definitive Lois Lane Artist of the Silver Age

Welcome to the latest round of Super Blog Team-Up. We actually have TWO topics this time, “What If?” and Creators. I decided to spotlight a creator, because coming up with “What If” scenarios for how certain comic book stories could (or should) have gone is just too depressing. (What if Armageddon 2001 had used the original planned ending where Monarch was revealed to be Captain Atom? Sheesh, don’t get me started, we’ll be here all day!)

*AHEM!* So which comic book creator am I going to be spotlighting? The answer is Kurt Schaffenberger.

Kurt Schaffenberger, whose career stretched from 1941 to 1995, was born on December 15, 1920, meaning that TODAY is the 100th anniversary of his birth. I could not think of a more appropriate creator to blog about.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #42 (July 1963) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Much of Schaffenberger’s work for the first decade and a half of his career was for Fawcett Publications, drawing Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, the Marvel Family, Ibis the Invincible and other features. Regrettably, due to the lawsuit by DC Comics alleging that Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman, Fawcett ceased publication in late 1953. For the next few years Schaffenberger found work at publishers Lev Gleason, Premier Magazines and American Comics Group.

Then in 1957 Schaffenberger was offered work by none other than DC Comics, the company that had put his previous regular employer out of business. Otto Binder, who had been one of the best writers at Fawcett, quickly found work at DC (the irony of DC suing Fawcett because Captain Marvel was supposedly too similar to Superman, and then hiring the main writer of Captain Marvel to work on Superman, has been noted over the years). Binder then went on suggest that DC also hire Schaffenberger.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #1 (March-April 1958) written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Schaffenberger’s first assignment at DC was drawing Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane commencing with its debut issue, cover-dated March-April 1958. Schaffenberger drew nearly every issue of Lois Lane up to #81, a decade-long run. It was Schaffenberger’s work on this title that gained him a great many fans, and he is often regarded as the best Lois Lane artist of the Silver Age.

I have to admit, I am typically not a huge fan of the Superman stories from the Silver Age edited by Mort Weisinger. A significant part of my dislike is due to the depiction of Lois Lane. The character had started out in the late 1930s as a tough, intelligent, driven investigative journalist. However, by the 1950s, no doubt due to the conservative political & social climate in the United States, Lois had been reduced to a shrill, catty, manipulative shrew who constantly schemed to trick Superman into marrying her.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #65 (January 1965) cover by Kurt Schaffenberger

Having said all that, I feel that Schaffenberger’s fun, cartoony style was a really good fit for all of the zany antics that occurred with alarming regularity in those Superman stories of the Silver Age. So I love Schaffenberger’s art on Lois Lane. The stories in that series were so ridiculous and over-the-top that they definitely benefited from his style.

Personally speaking, I find the crazy, dysfunctional misadventures Lois and Superman and everyone else got up to during the Silver Age a lot more palatable when drawn by Schaffenberger, because his artwork makes all of it feel genuinely comedic.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #44 (October 1963) drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Even when Lois and Lana Lang were acting horribly bitchy towards each other, fighting over which of them would get to marry Superman, as rendered by Schaffenberger their quarrels felt more humorous than sexist.

Schaffenberger certainly made Lois a very expressive character, investing her with a great deal of personality. This is very well demonstrated thru the model sheet of Lois by Schaffenberger seen below that saw print in Superman Family #164 (April-May 1974). It showcases how he drew the character throughout the 1960s. Schaffenberger definitely gave Lois a wide range of emotions.

The many faces of Lois Lane, courtesy of Kurt Schaffenberger

Also, Schaffenberger’s depictions of Lois were beautiful. Considering the fact that he had to work within the very restrained standards of the newly-established Comics Code Authority, and the staid fashions Lois typically wore (soooo many damn pillbox hats!) he was very successful at drawing a genuinely sexy Lois.

Stories would occasionally see Lois dressing in various period costumes. Schaffenberger always did a superb job on these, investing them with rich detail. For example, in “Lois Lane — Queen and Superman – Commoner” written by Leo Dorfman from issue #67 (Aug 1966), as part of a really convoluted scheme a gang of crooks kidnap Lois’ sister Lucy and force Lois dress up and act like famous historical monarchs. Schaffenberger excels at drawing her as these various queens. His depiction of Lois in the guise of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile is especially alluring.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #67 (August 1966) written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

By the time Schaffenberger’s run on Lois Lane concluded it was the late 1960s and American societal mores had definitely loosened. Schaffenberger began drawing Lois wearing less-conservative clothing.

In “Get Out of My Life, Superman” written by Dorfman from issue #80 (Jan 1968), Schaffenberger’s penultimate issue, we see Lois, furious at Superman for having forgotten her birthday (the image of a distraught Lois finding Superman sitting in a rainy junkyard pounding old cars into scrap is hysterical) breaks up with him and leaves town. Before departing Metropolis, she buys a whole new wardrobe and modes a few rather (for the time) risqué outfits. As always Schaffenberger does a fine job.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane (January 1968) written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

I am going to quote comic book historian Mark Voger regarding Schaffenberger’s work on the Lois Lane character and comic book…

“Kurt, that rascal, never shied away from rendering the feminine form in all of its natural, linear beauty. Lois had one tight waist, rounded hips and pin-up perfect gams (always in heels). The artist often poked fun at his own heroine when he depicted the gamut of emotions she couldn’t mask: curiosity when on the scent of a “scoop”; jealousy when Superman paid too much attention to rival Lana Lang; anger when confronting him about said crime; elation when wrapped in the Man of Steel’s bulging arms.”

Oh, yes… Schaffenberger also excelled at illustrating the numerous incredibly bizarre circumstances in which Lois regularly found herself embroiled. Seriously, WTF is going on with the cover to issue #73?!?

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #73 (April 1967) cover by Kurt Schaffenberger

In early 1968 DC moved Schaffenberger, against his wishes, over to the Supergirl feature in Action Comics. Even though he was not enthusiastic about his reassignment, he nevertheless continued to do professional work, turning in nice art on those Supergirl stories.

Soon after this, Schaffenberger was unfortunately fired by DC after he supported the attempt by several freelance writers to unionize. In the early 1970s Schaffenberger drew a few stories for Archie, Marvel and Skywald. His aptitude for rendering beautiful women made him a natural fit for romance comic books.

“Mr. and Mrs. Superman” from Superman #327 (September 1978) written by Cary Bates, penciled by Kurt Schaffenberger, inked by Joe Giella, lettered by Jean Simek and colored by Gene D’Angelo

In late 1972 Schaffenberger again gained work from DC, and throughout the Bronze Age he was a regular presence in the various Superman titles, drawing stories featuring various members of the supporting cast. Unlike in the 1950s and 60s, Schaffenberger now often provided only pencils, rather than full artwork. He was paired with several different inkers, often with variable results. This offers another valuable demonstration of the importance of the inker in the look of the finished art.

Schaffenberger finally had the opportunity to once again draw Lois Lane regularly when he became the penciler on the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” back-up stories that starred the Clark Kent and Lois Lane of Earth-2 after they married.  Initially appearing in Superman #327 and #329 (Sept and Nov 1978) the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” feature then migrated to Superman Family, where it ran in nearly every issue for the next five years.

“Mr. and Mrs. Superman” from Superman Family #205 (January 1981) written by E. Nelson Bridwell, penciled by Kurt Schaffenberger, inked by Dan Adkins, lettered by John Workman and colored by Adrienne Roy

“Catch a Falling Star” from Superman Family #205 (Jan 1981) offers a good example of Schaffenberger’s work on the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” stories. Here he is inked by Dan Adkins, probably one of the best embellishers he received during the Bronze Age. Schaffenberger does a fine job penciling E. Nelson Bridwell’s story. Schaffenberger’s storytelling imbues Lois and Clark with a great deal of personality & emotion and effectively communicates the depth of their relationship.

I’ve always found the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” stories to be very enjoyable, and I hope one of these days they DC collects them together in a trade paperback.

Oh, yes, one other thing about Kurt Schaffenberger: even his signature was a work of art! Take a look below…

If you would like more information about Kurt Schaffenberger, I recommend Mark Voger’s book Hero Gets Girl! The Life and Art of Kurt Schaffenberger. It is unfortunately out of print, but a digital edition is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.  Additionally, the recently released Alter Ego #166, also from TwoMorrows, contains a transcript of an informative panel discussion with Kurt Schaffenberger and his wife Dorothy from the 1996 San Diego Comic-Con.

Also, for the perspective of someone who read some of these comics when they first came out, head on over to Alan Stewart’s excellent blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books for his look back at Lois Lane #62 (Jan 1966).

Kurt Schaffenberger passed away on January 24, 2002 at the age of 81. Schaffenberger is, in my mind, unfortunately a rather underrated artist, and I feel he is due for a reappraisal. I certainly encourage everyone to seek out his work.

Thanks for reading. Here are the other Super Blog Team-Up entries:

SBTU Red

SBTU Gold

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Richard Corben: 1940 to 2020

Longtime illustrator and comic book artist Richard Corben passed away on December 2, 2020. He was 80 years old. While I cannot say that I was a huge fan of Corben, I was certainly aware of his work, and I enjoyed it whenever I saw it.

I believe the very first time I saw Corben’s art was on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #33, published in June 1990 by Mirage Studios. In the early 1990s the TMNT series had a number of independent / non-mainstream creators doing story arcs or one-off tales. With hindsight, these probably offered me my first major exposure to creators outside of the Marvel and DC superhero ghetto. “Turtles Take Time” was a wild, entertaining time travel story written by Jan Strnad which Corben did a brilliantly hilarious job illustrating.

By the late 1990s I must have become much more aware of Corben and his work, and I picked up the Heavy Metal Fall Special 1998. Topped by a beautiful yet macabre cover painted by Corben, this special reprinted a number of the stories which he drew for the Creepy and Eerie horror anthologies from Warren Publishing between 1974 and 1977.

The selection of stories collected in the Heavy Metal Fall Special 1998 definitely presented the various aspects of Corben’s work. For example, “You’re A Big Girl Now” from Eerie #81 (February 1977) written by Bruce Jones demonstrated Corben’s aptitude for drawing beautiful women. In this case, to be specific, a very beautiful giant woman.

“Within You… Without You” from Eerie #77 (September 1976), also written by Bruce Jones, showcased Corben’s skill at rendering dinosaurs, fantastical prehistoric landscapes, and high tech sci-fi elements.

Another series that Corben worked on was the five issue Cage miniseries published by Marvel Comics in 2002 under their Marvel Max imprint. It was written by Brian Azzarello, lettered by Wes Abbott and colored by José Villarrubia. I wasn’t all that into the story, but I nevertheless enjoyed Corben’s artwork. Again he demonstrated his versatility by drawing an urban crime / “blaxploitation” type of adventure.

Although Cage was a”mature readers” miniseries apparently set outside regular Marvel continuity, Corben’s redesign of Luke Cage very soon became the default version of the character, and was seen when he appeared soon afterwards in Alias and New Avengers.

All of this is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Corben was a prolific artist whose career stretched across half a century.

Richard Corben was a longtime contributor to Heavy Metal, and the magazine featured an obituary on its website. There is also an insightful 1981 interview with Corben archived there.

Earth Shattering Disasters: the perfect comic book for 2020

I went over to JHU Comic Books in Manhattan on Tuesday to buy the latest issue of Alter Ego magazine from TwoMorrows Publishing, and to look for a few other things. Due to Covid-19, this was only the fourth time since March that I’ve set foot in a comic book store, so I decided to spend some time browsing. Skimming though the back issue bins, I came across this:

Yes, I could not think of a more appropriate comic book to read in the year 2020 than one entitled Earth Shattering Disasters! Sadly there were no pandemics, economic meltdowns or murder hornets within these pages, but still plenty of interest to the comic book aficionado.

DC Special was an anthology series published by DC Comics from 1968 to 1971 and then from 1975 to 1977, running for 29 issues. Most issues of DC Special were reprints that centered around themes such as Wanted! The World’s Most Dangerous Villains, Strangest Sports Stories Ever Told or Super-Heroes Battle Super-Gorillas, or that spotlighted the work of specific creators, namely Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert.

The final three issues of DC Special contained brand-new material. DC Special #28 (cover dated June-July 1977) seems to be a thematic sequel to the all-reprint issue #18, which was sub-titled Earth Shaking Stories. This time, though, Earth Shattering Disasters contained three brand new stories.

The dynamic cover to DC Special #18 is drawn by Al Milgrom, then only 27 years old, who at the time was working as an editor and artist for DC Comics. Having grown up seeing Milgrom’s work for Marvel in the 1980s, it’s interesting to now see an earlier example of his work featuring DC mainstays Batman and Aquaman. If you squint, you can also make out a trio of Legion of Super-Heroes members in the background.

Opening this issue, we come to a table of contents page drawn by the great Jim Aparo. It took me a bit of time when I was younger to develop an appreciation for Aparo, but since then I’ve come to regard him as one of the very best artists DC had in their employ during the Bronze Age.

By 1977 Aparo was already well-regarded for his depictions of both Batman and Aquaman, having drawn numerous stories featuring those two characters over the previous decade. This is, however, one of the very few times Aparo drew anything involving the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s nice to see his depictions of Timber Wolf, Phantom Girl and Brainiac-5, even if it’s only a single image.

The first story, “And the Town Came Tumbling Down,” has Batman facing Quakemaster, a disgruntled architect who threatens to destroy Gotham City with man-made earthquakes. This tale is interesting in hindsight since a little over two decades later in 1998 DC Comics would do a massive year-long storyline involving Gotham City being devastated by an earthquake. Of course, back in 1977 comic book stories were much more self-contained, and this is very much a one-off tale. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see Batman face off against a brand new villain rather than encountering one of his regular foes like the Joker or Penguin for the umpteenth time.

“And the Town Came Tumbling Down” is written by Bob Rozakis, who did a fair amount of writing for DC between 1975 and 1989, although nowadays he better known for his nearly two decade stint running DC’s production department.

Pencils are by John Calnan, an artist who is probably not too well known nowadays. Most of his work for DC was on their anthology titles, but he also drew a number of Batman issues in the late 1970s.

Calnan is inked by Tex Blaisdell, an artist who spent most of his career working on syndicated comic strips. Blaisdell was often paired with penciler Curt Swan on the Superman titles during the Bronze Age, which was unfortunate, as I really don’t think their styles meshed well. Blaisdell’s inking definitely feels like a much better fit over Calnan’s pencils. The two of them turn in a good, solid job on this story.

“A Creature of Death and Darkness” opens with Aquaman facing off against modern day pirates, but the action soon shifts to a battle with a humongous blob-like creature that threatens to consume the Hawaiian Islands.  The story is written by Gerry Conway, a prolific creator at both Marvel and DC during the 1970s and 80s.

This story is notable for being the very first DC Comics work by Don Newton. As with a number of his Bronze Age contemporaries, Newton got his start at Charlton Comics.  Having honed his craft on Charlton’s horror anthologies and The Phantom, Newton then moved into the “big leagues,” so to speak, becoming a regular artistic presence at DC Comics until his untimely death at the age of 49 in August 1984.

Newton is inked here by his friend and neighbor Dan Adkins. Starting out as an assistant to Wallace Wood in the mid 1960s, Adkins went on to do some superb inking over a variety of pencilers such as Gil Kane, Paul Gulacy, P. Craig Russell, Curt Swan and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Adkins also occasional did full artwork, both in comic books and on magazine covers & illustrations. The collaboration of Newton and Adkins certainly works well on this story.

The final entry in this issue, “The City That Stopped Dead,” is the primary reason I picked this up. I’m a huge fan of the pre-Crisis Legion of Super-Heroes.

I’d never read this story before. The only time it’s been reprinted was in Legion Archives Volume 13, which had a low print run and currently goes for between $300 and $600 from various online retailers! Um, no thank you! It’s much cheaper to just search out the original issues, which is exactly what I did.

This is an early Legion story by Paul Levitz, who would later go on to write some of the team’s all-time greatest adventures in the 1980s. Levitz is often upfront about the fact that his later Legion of Super-Heroes work was better. Nevertheless, considering he was only 21 years old when he wrote “The City That Stopped Dead,” it’s a pretty good effort.  The Legion’s five on-call members leap into action to save 30th Century Metropolis when the city’s Fusion Powersphere is sabotaged, causing a catastrophic blackout.

Penciling this one is Arvell Jones, one of the members of Detroit comic book fandom who entered the comic book biz in the 1970s. Jones drew a number of series for DC and Marvel, most notably a two and a half year run penciling All-Star Squadron in the mid 1980s and the first six issues of Kobalt from Milestone / DC in 1994.  He did a nice job on this, so it’s a shame that he only drew a couple of other Legion issues after this.

Inks are by future Iron Man and Valiant Comics superstar Bob Layton. At the time Layton was only 24 and, as with several of the other creators on DC Special #28, early in his career. Nevertheless, Layton’s inking here is already polished, displaying the artistic flair that he has consistently demonstrated in the decades since.

DC Special #28: Earth Shattering Disasters is the sort of comic book that if I had been old enough to buy it when it had come out I would have enjoyed it. It has some of DC’s best characters in a trio of exciting stories written & drawn by a line-up of talented creators. Plus you got 34 pages for 60 cents! Adjusted for inflation, that’s $2.58 in 2020 money. That’s a great value, considering nowadays you can’t find a 20 page comic book for less than four bucks!

So, yeah, if I had been ten years old when this was released in the Spring of 1977 (as opposed to ten months old, which is how old I actually was back then) I’m sure I would have eagerly snatched this off the newsstand. As a 44 year old reading it in 20202, I can still enjoy it. It’s a product of a slightly less complicated era, a time when comic books already featured a high degree of craft, yet were still more accessible.

I realize the industry has changed a great deal in the last 40 plus years and that the market now usually requires stories that are decompressed and “written for the trade,” as the saying goes. Nevertheless, I miss these types of “one and done” tales.

Of course, that’s the great thing about back issues (and, consequently, collected editions of vintage comic books): there are literally decades of older material out there for us to enjoy.

Some more Comic Book Cats highlights

Since July I have been posting Comic Book Cats entries daily on the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The object is to see how many different pencilers I can find artwork by featuring cats. These posts are being archived on First Comics News. Here are 10 more highlights, taken from entries 51 to 100.

Frank Robbins

House of Mystery #241, drawn by Frank Robbins, written by Jack Oleck and lettered by Ben Oda, published by DC Comics in May 1976.

“Paid in Full” is described by House of Mystery host Cain as an “eerie black cat tale.”  Hold-up man Cass, wounded in a shoot-out with the police, hops a freight train out of town.  Coming to in Kentucky, he is nursed back to health by elderly Martha Wright, who lives in a cabin with her cat Lucifer.  Unfortunately for Martha, Cass realizes she is a witch and threatens to shoot Lucifer if she does not use her magic to conjure up money for him.

Cass then orders Martha to give him “a new face, a new body” so that he can evade the police.  She creates a formula that will do this, and the criminal thanks the old lady by murdering her.  Burying her in the woods, Cass downs the formula.  It does indeed give him a “new” body, one that is only six inches tall.  And waiting for the now mouse-sized Cass is a very angry Lucifer, ready to enact revenge.

I know that my experience with Frank Robbins’ work parallels a number of other readers, in that initially I disliked it, over time I gradually learned to appreciate it, and now I now really enjoy his art.  I feel Robbins’ work was more suited to war, adventure, mystery and horror stories than superheroes.  DC’s horror anthologies were the perfect venue for Robbins’ talents.  He definitely drew the heck out of “Paid in Full,” rendering an atmospheric little tale that is capped off with a strikingly ferocious black cat on the prowl.

Tania Del Rio & Jim Amash

Sabrina the Teenage Witch volume 2 #58, written & penciled by Tania Del Rio, inked by Jim Amash, and colored by Jason Jensen, published by Archie Comics in August 2004.

Archie Comics decided in 2004 to take Sabrina the Teenage Witch in a manga-inspired direction, with stories & artwork by newcomer Talia Del Rio.  This direction lasted for 42 issues, with Del Rio working on the entire run.  She was paired up with frequent Archie inker Jim Amash.

In this scene from Del Rio’s first full issue, Sabrina is bummed at having been chewed out by her aunts for coming home late from a date with her boyfriend Harvey.  Unfortunately for Sabrina, matters soon become even worse, as her cat Salem reminds her that she has a report due at school tomorrow.  As a despondent Sabrina conjures up a can of Zap cola and sets to work on her report, a less than sympathetic Salem observes “It’s going to be a LONG night…”

Joe Eisma

Faith #10, drawn by Joe Eisma, written by Jody Hauser and lettered by Dave Sharpe, published by Valiant Entertainment in April 2017.

The various enemies of Faith Herbert, aka Zephyr, join forces to gain revenge on the telekinetic superhero.  Among the members of the nefarious Faithless is Dark Star, “a parasitic psiot entity currently trapped in a cat.”  Dark Star may look cute and cuddly, but trust me, he’s a major @$$hole.  Just don’t give him any champagne.  He gets drunk REALLY easily.

Faith was a really good comic book series.  Jody Hauser’s stories were both poignant and humorous.  She did a great job developing Faith Herbert’s character.  The artists who worked with Hauser on the miniseries and ongoing all did high quality work.

Joe Eisma has also drawn Morning Glories for Image Comics and several titles for Archie Comics.  He is definitely very adept at drawing teenage characters.

Auraleon

Vampirella #32, drawn by Auraleon and written by Steve Skeates, published by Warren in April 1974.

This back-up story features an early appearance by Pantha, the lovely feline shape-shifter who would go on to become Vampirella’s close friend.  This beautifully illustrated page sees Pantha transforming from her panther form back into her human self.  Pacing along beside her in the final panel is a black cat, who perhaps recognizes her as a kindred spirit.  After all, black cats have often been described as “mini panthers.”

Auraleon, full name Rafael Aura León, was another of the incredibly talented Spanish artists who worked for Warren throughout the 1970s.  He was one of the most prolific artists at Warren, rendering stunning, atmospheric work.

Auraleon also illustrated stories in various genres for Spanish and British publishers.  Tragically, Auraleon suffered from depression, and he committed suicide in 1993.

George Papp

Superboy #131, drawn by George Papp, published by DC Comics in July 1966.

“The Dog from S.C.P.A.” sees Krypto the Superdog joining several other super-powered canines as a member of the Space Canine Patrol Agents.  Krypto must rescue the other members of the S.P.C.A. from the clutches of the Canine Caper Gang.  The two sides fight to a draw, at which point the Gang agree to leave if Krypto promises to take them “to a new world, where there aren’t any canine agents.”  Krypto agrees, and the desperado dogs are elated at the thought of being able to carry on their larcenous activities unhindered… until they discover that Krypto has taken them to a planet with a different sort of S.P.C.A., specifically the Space Cat Patrol Agents!

What a great twist ending!  I’m just a bit disappointed that we never got to see Atomic Tom, Crab-Tabby and Power Puss team up with Streaky!

George Papp was one of the regular artists on Superboy from 1958 to 1968.  Among his other credits, Papp drew some of the early Legion of Super-Heroes stories and co-created Green Arrow with Mort Weisinger.  Unfortunately he was one of several older creators who were fired by DC Comics in the late 1960s when they requested health & retirement benefits.  Papp then went into advertising.  He passed away in 1989 at the age of 73.

Reed Waller

The Complete Omaha the Cat Dancer Volume 4, cover artwork by Reed Waller, published by Amerotica / NBM in 2006, reprinting Omaha the Cat Dancer #10-13, written by Kate Worley and drawn by Reed Waller, published by Kitchen Sink Press in 1988 and 1989.

My girlfriend Michele Witchipoo is a huge fan of Omaha the Cat Dancer.  She recommended that I spotlight Omaha in Comic Book Cats.

Omaha the Cat Dancer was created by Reed Waller in 1978.  Omaha initially appeared in several anthologies throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s.  An ongoing series began in 1984, and with the second issue Kate Worley became the writer. Waller and Worley collaborated on Omaha for the next two decades.  Worley unfortunately passed away in 2004. Subsequently her husband James Vance worked with Waller to complete the series.  Omaha was ultimately collected in eight volumes by Amerotica / NBM Publishing.

Omaha the Cat Dancer is set in a universe populated by anthropomorphic “funny animal” characters and is set in Mipple City, Minnesota, a fictionalized version of Minneapolis.  It stars Susan “Susie” Jensen, a feline who under the name Omaha works as a stripper and pin-up model, and her boyfriend Charles “Chuck” Tabey, Jr. aka Chuck Katt.  Initially conceived by Waller to protest against censorship and St. Paul’s blue laws, the series evolved into a soap opera.

As you can no doubt tell from the premise, as well as from Waller’s artwork, there is a great deal of sex and nudity in Omaha the Cat Dancer.  Although explicit, these elements are often utilized in the service of telling the story and developing the relationships between the characters.

B. Kliban

Cats by B. Kliban, written & drawn by Bernard Kliban, published by Workman Publishing Company in September 1975.

Bernard Kliban’s 1975 collection of cat cartoons has been referred to as “the mother of all cat books.” The book was a massive bestseller, and today Kliban’s iconic depictions of felines are recognized the world over. This cartoon from that book all-too-accurately captures the experience of becoming a “cat person.” You start off with just one, and the next thing you know…

Kliban’s cartoons also appeared regularly in the pages of Playboy for throughout the 1970s and 80s. He passed away in August 1990 at the age of 55.

Don Heck

Journey Into Mystery #62, drawn by Don Heck, published by Atlas / Marvel Comics in November 1960.

“There Is a Brain Behind the Fangs” is such an odd little tale. I’m just going to use the Grand Comics Database’s description:

“A man is convinced that dogs are secretly planning to take over the world. His friend hypnotizes a dog and proves that it cannot understand complex questions. Neither suspects that the dog has been hypnotized by the cat.”

Yes, that’s correct, dogs are planning to take over the world, but the actual masterminds behind the scheme are cats! That sounds about right.

Say, the cat in this story sort of resembles my own cat Nettie. You don’t think…? Naah, it couldn’t be!

Seriously, this story features some nice art by the often-underrated Don Heck. As has often been observed, Heck’s strengths lay outside of superheroes, and as that genre came to dominate comic books he was unfortunately asked to work within it more and more often. Heck’s work in mystery, horror, war, romance and Westerns was always very effective. As seen on this page, he was certainly adept at illustrating animals such as dogs and cats.

Kelley Jones & Malcolm Jones III

Sandman #18, penciled by Kelley Jones, inked by Malcolm Jones III, written by Neil Gaiman, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics in November 1991.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve read Sandman. I had the first few trade paperbacks, but I lent them to someone over a decade ago, never got them back, and haven’t seen them since. So I had to be reminded of “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” from issue #18, which several people suggested I showcase. Here is a page of that story, taken from the digital edition. One of these days I should replace my copies of the physical books. Fortunately the trade paperbacks are easy to find.

Kelley Jones is yet another of those artists who when I first saw his work I was not especially fond of it, finding his figures to be grotesque and distorted. However, I very quickly came to appreciate Jones’ art. He excels at creating moody, atmospheric scenes. As seen here, he also draws some wonderfully detailed, expressive cats. Inking is by Malcolm Jones III, who was also paired with Jones on the Batman & Dracula: Red Rain graphic novel.

Gus Arriola

Gordo by Gus Arriola, published on November 6, 1977.

Comic book creator and fellow cat-lover Richard Howell introduced me to Gordo, the newspaper comic strip created by Gustavo “Gus” Arriola that ran from 1941 to 1985.  The series chronicled the life of Mexican bean farmer, and later tour guide, Perfecto Salazar “Gordo” Lopez. There were a number of animals that appeared regularly in Gordo, including three cats: an orange tabby named Poosy Gato, a black cat named PM, and PM’s kitten Bête Noire.

In this Sunday strip, we see Poosy trying to figure out a new place to take a nap, since he’s bored with all of the usual locations. Arriola definitely draws a cut cat and invests him with personality.

Arriola passed away on February 2008 at the age of 90.

Thanks for stopping by. Once again, please remember to check out First Comics News for the rest of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Daily Comic Book Coffee archives.

Doctor Who reviews: The Lovecraft Invasion

The audio play Doctor Who: The Lovecraft Invasion was released by Big Finish in late July. However, given some of the subject matter, with Halloween right around the corner, now is certainly an appropriate time to discuss it.

Written by Robert Valentine and starring Colin Baker as the Doctor, The Lovecraft Invasion begins in medias res, with the Doctor and companions Flip Jackson and Constance Clarke, accompanied by bounty hunter Calypso Jonze, fleeing through the corridors of Titan Base in the 51st Century. As always, the Doctor and friends reach the TARDIS just in the nick of time, but they have a formidable task ahead of them. The Somnifax, a mind-parasite capable of turning its host’s nightmares into physical reality, has escaped Titan and is fleeing simultaneously into the solar system and back in time.

The Doctor tracks the Somnifax to Earth, specifically Providence, Rhode Island in January 1937. The parasite has entered the mind of weird fiction writer Howard Philips Lovecraft, drawn to him by both his fantastically bizarre imagination and his virulent xenophobia. The combination of these two elements will enable the Somnifax to manifest unspeakably destructive nightmares with which to wipe out humanity.

Jones, who has been tracking the Somnifax, has technology that temporarily inhibits the Somnifax’s ability to manifest Lovecraft’s fantasies, but unless the parasite voluntarily leaves there is no way to trap it. The Doctor and Flip utilize Jonze’ technology to enter Lovecraft’s mind and fight the Somnifax in the mental landscape.

H.P. Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 to March 15, 1937) met with very limited success during his own lifetime, but posthumously became one of the most hugely influential figures of 20th Century horror and science fiction. Lovecraft’s so-called “Cthulhu Mythos,” with its eldritch abominations, ancient forbidden texts and themes of existential cosmic horror, has served to inspire innumerable writers and artists over the past 70 years.

That being said, Lovecraft is also a very problematic figure. Throughout his correspondence he regularly espoused extremely racist views.  Within his fiction the repeated threats of humanity being physically and ideologically corrupted, of being replaced by “the Other,” is heavily influenced by his own personal fears of miscegenation and immigration destroying the Anglo-Saxon race and culture in Europe and North America.

As this story itself points out, Lovecraft is one of those writers who people often discover in their teenage years, enthusiastically devouring his works, only to subsequently learn of his reprehensible real-world ideologies.  Such was my experience. Reading Lovecraft’s stories in middle school, I found them both brilliant and terrifying. My enthusiasm for him was later dampened when I learned more about the man himself.

I read the hell out of this book when I was 14 years old

The Lovecraft Invasion feels like a very timely work, and not just in addressing the reprehensibility of racism.  It delves headlong into the question over whether or not it is possible to separate the writer from his or her writings.  The Lovecraft Invasion was recorded by Big Finish on 29-30 January 2020, at which point the debate over Cancel Culture was already raging, but in subsequent months it greatly intensified due to such occurrences as Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling making remarks that many regarded as transphobic.

Within the audio play itself, the Doctor offers his own (fictional) example of disenchantment, relating how in later life he learned that one of his favorite childhood authors went around blowing up entire planets for a hobby, and afterwards the Doctor found he was unable to revisit the books he had once enjoyed.  Awareness of the author’s real-world activities had forever poisoned those books for the Doctor.

I do not know if there is a definitive answer to be had to this debate.  I think probably it needs to be left up to the individual to decide for himself or herself whether, having learned unpleasant facts about a creative individual, they can still enjoy the works of art that person created.

While I do appreciate how vehement and well-articulated the Doctor’s rebuttal of Lovecraft’s bigotry is, I wonder if perhaps the story is a bit hard on the man. It could have been observed within the story that even though Lovecraft’s views were reprehensible, he was hardly an outlier. The unfortunate fact is that he was actually very typical of his time, and a great many Americans in the 1930s possessed strongly racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.

Nevertheless, Valentine’s script does not make Lovecraft a wholly unsympathetic figure. He is shown to be a man haunted by the fact that both of his parents died in an insane asylum, and terrified that he is destined to follow that horrifying path himself.  And in the end Calypso realizes Lovecraft is a figure not to be hated, but rather pitied.

Like it says in the Necronomicon, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” … nope, sorry, Google Translate hasn’t got a clue!

One aspect setup of The Lovecraft Invasion feels that Robert Valentine drawing a deliberate contrast against both the real-world figure of Lovecraft and his fiction. There were practically no female characters in Lovecraft’s fiction, the majority of his protagonists being middle-aged conservative, celibate scholars.  In this audio play the Doctor is traveling with two women, Flip and Constance. A third woman, Calypso Jonze, joins them.

Coming from the far-distant future of circa 5000 AD, Calypso identifies as a mixed race, pansexual, trans, non-binary individual with extraterrestrial ancestors. Valentine acknowledged that he created Jonze to embody literally everything which terrified Lovecraft.

So, while the Doctor and Flip are exploring Lovecraft’s subconscious mind, in the real world Constance and Calypso, two assertive, independent women are left to look after him, and to challenge his attitudes towards both race and gender.

Miranda Raison, Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood

The cast of The Lovecraft Invasion all do good work. In the past I have often commented on how much I liked Colin Baker’s underrated portrayal of the Sixth Doctor on television, and how I have really enjoyed him in the Big Finish stories, where he has been given high-quality scripts with which to work.  Once again Baker turns in a powerful, passionate and entertaining performance as the Doctor. It is absolutely a joy listening to him.

Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood are good as Constance and Flip.  This is the first time I’ve listened to a Big Finish story with this particular TARDIS team, but I enjoyed it, and I think I will download some more adventures with this cast. The contrast between Flip, a teenager from 2010, and Constance, a war widow and member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service from Britain in 1944, is interesting, and it allows for some dramatic interactions to occur between the two women, as well as in their interactions with the Doctor.

The Sixth Doctor has a brash, forceful personality, and so the idea of pairing him with two female companions is a novel idea.  I think it allows for a slightly more equal power dynamic than you see when this Doctor is traveling with just one companion.

Robyn Holdaway as Calypso Jonze is more difficult to judge, since this is the character’s first appearance, and introduced mid-story it’s difficult to get too much of a feel for background or motivation. I do think Calypso has potential, and I would not be surprised if she, um, I mean they appear again. (Sorry, those non-binary pronouns take some getting used to. No offense is intended.)  I bet Calypso Jonze and Jack Harness would get on like a house on fire.

Alan Marriott voices the dual roles of Lovecraft and his fictional creation Randolph Carter within the mindscape. It is generally agreed that Carter was Lovecraft’s fictional stand-in for himself, a more heroic, handsomer, athletic version of the man. Marriott does a good job performing Lovecraft and Carter as very similar but nevertheless distinctively different.

British musical theater actor Jonathan Andrew Hume voices the Somnifax within Lovecraft’s mental dreamscape, giving a rich and sinister vocal performance.  The Somnifax assumes the guises of the malevolent elder gods Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu, allowing Hume to really chew up scenery of the audio landscape.

The cast of The Lovecraft Invasion… and their good friend Cthulhu!

Although not perfect, The Lovecraft Invasion is definitely a well-written, atmospheric, thought-provoking and enjoyable audio play with several strong performances. Valentine’s script certainly offers a distinctive and unconventional way of having the worlds of Doctor Who and the Cthulhu Mythos cross over.  Rather than simply importing the Elder Gods et all, the mechanism devised by Valentine allows for the story to effectively utilize Lovecraft’s creations while offering commentary on both the man and his writings.

Seven spooky songs for Halloween

Several of my fellow bloggers have been suggesting music to listen to during the Halloween season (check out The Telltale Mind all month for 31 creepy Song of the Day entries) so I thought I would chime in with a few of my own. Here are seven spooky songs for your eerie entertainment…

The Last Dance – Dead Man’s Party

Dark wave band The Last Dance did an excellent cover of Oingo Boingo’s 1986 song “Dead Man’s Party.”  Released on their 2003 album Whispers in Rage, The Last Dance took the song, which I felt originally had a sort of playful quality, and gave it more of an edgy tone.

Fun fact: “Dead Man’s Party” contains the following lyrics:

“I hear the chauffeur comin’ to my door

“Says there’s room for maybe just one more”

That’s a reference to a iconic ghost story with several variations that dates back to the “The Bus-Conductor” by E. F. Benson published in 1906. Among the various adaptations of this tale are an episode of The Twilight Zone and a Golden Age comic book story with a Jack Kirby cover.

Depeche Mode – Memphisto

This eerie instrumental was released in 1990 by Depeche Mode as a “b-side” to the single of their hit song “Enjoy the Silence.” Speaking with Poster Seductores magazine in 1990 the band explained the song thus:

“We like cinema and we like to create special [atmospheres] with our music. In a way, ‘Memphisto’ is our homage to that esoteric cinema.”

In an April 1993 interview Depeche Mode guitarist & keyboardist Martin Gore revealed the origin of the song’s title:

“It was the name of a make believe film I invented about Elvis as the devil.”

Misfits – Dig Up Her Bones

The punk rock band Misfits have been heavily influenced by horror movies, and the group has released numerous genre-themed songs. “Dig Up Her Bones” is from American Psycho, the 1997 album recorded by a new line-up assembled by bassist Jerry Only and guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. The vocals on “Dig Up Her Bones” are by Michael Graves. The video for “Dig Up Her Bones” utilized clips from the 1935 horror movie Bride of Frankenstein.

The album cover for American Psycho featured band mascot the Crimson Ghost painted by Basil Gogos, the artist who created numerous striking covers for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland for Warren Publishing. Jerry Only was a childhood fan of Gogos’ work and commissioned him to do several paintings for the band.

Paralysed Age – Bloodsucker

Gothic rock band Paralysed Age’s song“Bloodsucker” was first released in Germany on their 1992 debut album Christened Child. It was subsequently re-released in the United States on the album Empire of the Vampire. This uptempo song is an ode to the mythic vampires of Central European folklore and 19th Century gothic horror literature.

John Carpenter – Assault on Precinct 13 main theme

Assault on Precinct 13 is, strictly speaking, not a horror movie. However, I have always found it pretty damn scary. Writer / director John Carpenter has described his 1976 movie as having been inspired by the Howard Hawks’ classic Western film Rio Bravo. Myself, I’ve always felt that Assault on Precinct 13 was sort of the equivalent of Night of the Living Dead with a street gang substituted for the zombies.

Whatever the case, the opening theme of the movie, composed by Carpenter himself, is a genuinely atmospheric piece that effectively sets the tone for the next hour and a half of cinema.

Switchblade Symphony – Witches (Temple Of Rain Mix)

Gothic / dark wave band Switchblade Symphony were only together for a little over a decade, from 1989 to 1999, but nevertheless managed to make a lasting impression, and a well-remembered. The original studio cut of “Witches” was on their 1997 album Bread and Jam for Frances. This version is contained on the 2001 disk Sinister Nostalgia, a collection of remixes.

Iron Maiden – Dance of Death

“Dance of Death,” taken from the 2003 album from heavy metal band Iron Maiden of the same name, was inspired by the final scene of Ingmar Bergman’s iconic 1957 film The Seventh Seal. Written by guitarist Janick Gers and bassist / keyboardist Steve Harris, this eight and a half minute long “Dance of Death” is a moody song that demonstrates Iron Maiden’s musical versatility.

I hope you enjoyed all of these. Feel free to share your own suggestions for Halloween music.

Writing is difficult

I haven’t done any blogging in the last few weeks. For those who have actually been wondering what the heck I’ve been up to, here’s the nitty gritty…

Back in January 2016, when David Bowie passed away, I blogged about how his death had motivated me to finally start working on a horror / sci-fi novel I’d been planning out in my head for the previous few years. Well, I had a lot of trouble staying focused on it, and I ended up only writing about 50 pages over the past five years, which is a really horrible pace at which to be going.

The problem I kept experiencing was that when I was planning this novel out in my head the scenes played out like a movie.  However, whenever I sat down to write, I had a tremendous amount of difficulty finding the right words.  The sequences that followed effortlessly in my mind were excruciatingly difficult to type out in the word processor.

I guess that I kept expecting that if someone was a good writer it would go like this…

And for me, instead, it has always been like this…

So what happened?  Well, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18th, only a month and a half away from the Presidential election. I just knew that I was going to be waking up to an absolute shit-storm on the internet.

I finally sat down and started working on my novel again on September 19th because was desperately trying to avoid the news and social media. I already had all the info I need to vote, so I didn’t see the benefits of getting extremely depressed by things that are totally beyond my control. I thought if I focused on my writing I could get out of my head and try to accomplish something for myself.

That morning it took me about three and a half hours to write five pages. I felt so slow. I’ve been told that I am a good writer, but it doesn’t come easily to me. Usually it’s like pulling teeth. So I went on Facebook and posted about this, asking if any other creative types have this problem.

I was reassured when a lot of people responded with encouragement, including several published writers with impressive lists of credits to their names. They assured me that, yes, writing can often be very difficult, and writing five pages in under four hours is actually very good.

Most people encouraged me to try to work on my fiction every day, to write something, even if it was only a few sentences. I’ve been trying to do that, and except for one day I’ve been successful. I’ve managed to write a little under 40 pages in the last two weeks, which is definitely much better progress.

So that’s what I’ve been busy with. As my friends advised, some days the writing comes very easily, and others it’s extremely difficult. But I’m trying to stay in that daily routine. I have no idea if what I am writing is any good, but at least I am making the effort.

Comic Book Cats highlights

I did 100 entries of The Daily Comic Book Coffee on the Comic Book Historians group at Facebook. I decided to switch things up after that, and began posting Comic Book Cats. Each day I post cat-centric comic book artwork by a different artist.

Comic Book Cats is being archived on First Comics News. But here are 10 highlights from the first 50 entries.

Steve Ditko

Ghostly Tales #85, drawn by Steve Ditko and written by Joe Gill, published by Charlton Comics in April 1971, and Speedball #10, plotted & penciled by Steve Ditko, inked by Dan Day, scripted by Jo Duffy, lettered by Jack Morelli and colored by Tom Vincent, published by Marvel Comics in June 1989.

Steve Ditko drew a number of stories with cats throughout his lengthy career.  Here is artwork from couple of them.

The first page is from “The 9th Life,” one of the best stories that Joe Gill wrote for Charlton’s horror anthologies.  Ditko did really good work illustrating Gill’s story.

Michael Holt rescues a stray black cat and takes it back to his apartment in the slums.  Michael is depressed about the state of the modern-day world.  The black cat is apparently a shape-shifting witch named Felicia, and she offers to transport Michael back to the past.  Michael agrees, but soon discovers the “good old days” were not so good, with tyranny and disease.  Returning to the present day, Michael realizes that he needs to actively work to make the world he lives in a better place.  He is reunited with Felicia, who joins him on his path of fighting for a better world.

The second page is from the last issue of the short-lived Speedball series.  The laboratory accident that endowed Robbie Baldwin with his kinetic energy powers also gave those same powers to Niels, a cat who belonged to one of the scientists at the lab. 

A subplot running through the Speedball series was Robbie’s repeatedly-unsuccessful efforts to capture Niels.  Getting a hold of a normal feline who doesn’t want to be caught is difficult enough as it is; give a cat bouncing superpowers and the task becomes nigh-impossible!

Dwayne Turner & Chris Ivy

Sovereign Seven #7, penciled by Dwayne Turner, inked by Chris Ivy, written by Chris Claremont, letter by Tom Orzechowski and colored by Gloria Vasquez & Rob Schwager published by DC Comics in January 1996.

I spotlighted Chris Claremont’s Sovereign Seven in a couple of Comic Book Coffee entries.  It was a fun series, so I’m happy to take another look at it.

In this issue Finale of the Sovereigns is caught in the middle of a struggle between international mercenary Marcello Veronese and his fugitive quarry.  Pursuing the sword-wielding fugitive, Finale enters a doorway, only to find herself in the Crossroads Coffee Bar & Inn on the opposite side of town.  Crossroads once again lives up to its name, serving as a portal to different places, dimensions & times.  Greeting the stunned Finale is Lucy the cat, who is apparently dressing as Supercat for Halloween.

I purchased the original artwork for this page from Chris Ivy at New York Comic Con in 2015.  The close-up panel of Lucy on the original really demonstrates Ivy’s very detailed and delicate inking.

David Mazzucchelli & Richmond Lewis

Batman #406, drawn by David Mazzucchelli, written by Frank Miller, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Richmond Lewis, published by DC Comics in April 1987.

I must have read the Batman: Year One trade paperback a dozen times in high school.  To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite Batman stories.  Many of the images from this story have burned themselves into my consciousness.  So as soon as I decided to do Comic Book Cats, I just knew I was going to spotlight this page. 

A pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle, her roommate Holly, and their menagerie of cats being awoken at 5 AM by the GCPD’s corrupt, trigger-happy swat team attempting to kill Batman by dropping bombs on him.  Of course the cats now want to be fed, even though it’s much too early!  I’ve always thought David Mazzucchelli did an especially good job on this page.

This is actually scanned from the trade paperback, which was re-colored by Richmond Lewis.  As has been astutely observed by colorist Jose Villarubia, newsprint has a different texture from the paper used in TPBs, and the result is that coloring done for the former will not reproduce accurately in the later.

Batman: Year One is apparently one of the very few times when the original colorist was asked to do new coloring for a collected edition.  Lewis’ work for the Year One collection is outstanding, and I’m grateful that for once DC Comics actually went the extra mile.

Rachel Dukes

Frankie Comics #3, written & drawn by Rachel Dukes, published by Mix Tape Comics in November 2014

Rachel Dukes’ mini comic Frankie Comics is absolutely adorable, a really cute look at quirky cat behavior.  I met Dukes a couple of times at Mocca Fest, where I picked up copies of the first and third issues.  I still need the second one.

In this two page sequence Dukes demonstrates that Frankie has a very cat-like approach to “helping” out his humans.

Dukes showed me a photo of the real-life Frankie, who looks very much like one of my two cats, Nettie Netzach.  Judging by the antics Dukes portrays in her comic, they also act alike.  Michele suggested they could be long lost sisters. You never know.

Bob Brown & Don Heck

Daredevil #109, penciled by Bob Brown, inked by Don Heck, written by Steve Gerber, lettered by Artie Simek and colored by Petra Goldberg, published by Marvel Comics in May 1974.

This is not technically a cat page as it does not feature any examples of Felis catus, aka the domestic cat, but I am showcasing it anyway.  Because, honestly, the dramatic arrival of the stunning Shannah the She-Devil accompanied by her pet leopard and panther is a pretty damn impressive cat-related image.

Bob Brown is one of those good, solid artists from the Silver and Bronze Ages whose work often flew under the radar, but who you could always count on to turn in a professional job.  Over the years I’ve developed more of an appreciation for Brown’s work.  He is effectively inked here by Don Heck, another talented, underrated artist.

Rachel Smith

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #13, written & drawn by Rachael Smith, published by Titan Comics in August 2015.

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was eight years old.  Over the decades a few different cat-like aliens have shown up on the British sci-fi series, as well as in the various comic book spin-offs.

Several issues of The Tenth Doctor comic book series contained a humorous back-up strip featuring the Doctor and his cat Rose by Rachael Smith.  Yes, the Doctor named his cat Rose; he really was hung up on Billie Piper, wasn’t he?  In this installment Rose convinces the Doctor to try speed dating.  Of course, this being Doctor Who, things go horribly, hysterically wrong.

British artist Rachael Smith has also written & drawn several creator-owned graphic novels.

Joe Staton & Freddy Lopez Jr.

Back Issue #40 cover drawn by Joe Staton and colored by Freddy Lopez Jr, published by TwoMorrows Publishing in April 2010.

Back Issue is a magazine edited by Michael Eury that takes an in-depth look back comic book from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.  Each issue has a theme, and BI #40 spotlighted “Cat People,” i.e. cat-themed characters of the Bronze Age.  One of the characters examined in this issue was, of course, Catwoman.

The cover illustration of Catwoman and her black cat prowling the alleys of Gotham City is by one of my favorite artists, the incredible Joe Staton, who had previously penciled two key Catwoman stories, DC Super Stars #17, the origin of the Huntress, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth 2, and The Brave and the Bold #197, which revealed how Bruce Wayne and Seline Kyle fell in love and married.

Staton has drawn a few cats in various stories throughout the years.  I’ve always liked how he rendered them, with his cartoony style always giving them genuine personality.  That’s certainly the case here with Selina’s feline companion.  Freddy Lopez Jr’s coloring is very effective, as well.

Back Issue, along with many other great magazine & books, can be purchased through the TwoMorrows Publishing website.

Dan DeCarlo

Josie and the Pussycats #54, drawn by Dan DeCarlo and written by Frank Doyle, published by Archie Comics in April 1971.

“The Cat Woman” is drawn by Josie and the Pussycats co-creator and longtime Archie Comics artist Dan DeCarlo.  This story sees the scheming Alexandra becoming convinced that her cat Sebastian is being taken by Josie as “bait” to lure in handsome Alan M.  After all, Alexandra deduces, that is exactly what she would do if the tables were turned.  Tsk tsk, jealous people are always projecting like that!

It turns out that the real reason why Sebastian keeps wandering over to Josie’s house is because she has a wall calendar with a photograph of a beautiful female cat!

DeCarlo always drew cute gals, and as seen here he also did a good job with cats (the actual four-legged furry kind, as opposed to the kind who play musical instruments) investing Sebastian with a lot of personality.

John Gallagher

Max Meow: Cat Crusader, written & drawn by John Gallagher, published by Penguin Random House in 2020.

In the great city of Kittyopolis, aspiring feline journalist Max Meow takes a bite out of a giant meatball from outer space and gains super powers.  Donning a costume, Max becomes the heroic Cat Crusader, who protects Kittyopolis from menaces such as giant killer cheeseburgers.  However, being a hero is not as easy as it might appear, something that Max must learn the hard way.  Will Max save the day, or will the Cat Crusader be defeated by that rotten rodent, the despicable Agent M?

Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a funny, adorable graphic novel for younger readers by John Gallagher, who previously worked on Buzzboy and Roboy Red.  He is also he is art director for Ranger Rick magazine, published by the National Wildlife Federation.  As explained on the Max Meow website:

“John learned to read with comics, so he is more than excited to share the magic of reading, fun, and imagination with the young readers of the world.”

Curt Swan & Stan Kaye

Action Comics #266 cover penciled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye, published by DC Comics in July 1960.

Curt Swan was the primary artist on the various Superman titles from the mid 1950s to the mid 1980s.  It’s inevitable that at some point or another during that lengthy period Swan would be called upon to draw Streaky the Supercat.  Here is Swan’s cute rendition of Streaky zipping through the sky, along with Superman, Supergirl and Krypto the Superdog.

The inks are by Stan Kaye, who had previously been the regular inker over Wayne Boring’s pencils on Superman for a decade and a half.  Swan and Kaye were often paired up in the late 1950s and early 60s, drawing numerous covers for Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman and World’s Finest.

The identity of the colorist for this cover is probably lost to time, which is too bad, because whoever it was did a really nice job.

I hope you found these interesting and informative. Please remember to check out First Comics News for the rest of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Daily Comic Book Coffee archives.

Joe Giella comic book mail call

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic all of the major comic book conventions are cancelled.  It’s unfortunate, but certainly understandable.  “Con crud” is a real thing at the best of times, and any huge comic con would be a major health hazard.

I enjoy going to comic cons for the opportunity to meet creators and get their autographs on books that they worked on.  Obviously that is NOT happening this year.  So this summer I contacted a few creators via social media and asked if I could mail them books to get signed.

One of these creators was longtime artist Joe Giella.  I reached out to him via his son Frank Giella, who I’ve known for a couple of decades.  I’ve gotten a couple of things signed by Joe in the past, but I had a few others I was hoping to have him autograph, so I asked Frank if I could mail them to him to pass along to his father, and he very kindly agreed.

I sent Joe Giella a few Bronze Age comic books.  I don’t have any of the really classic issues he worked on for DC Comics in the 1950s and 60s since the majority of those are out of my budget.  Whatever the case, I’m happy I had the opportunity to get these books signed.

All-Star Comics #73 (July 1978) has Giella inking the pencils of Joe Staton, another artist whose work I love.  The writing is by Paul Levitz.  I only got into the 1970s revival of the Justice Society of America in recent years when I picked up the trade paperbacks, but I immediately became a fan.  I guess I’ve always liked the JSA a bit more than the Justice League because the JSA members don’t have their own solo titles, which enables more character development to take place in their series.  Also, the Earth-2 setting allowed the original JSA members to age, and to mentor a new generation of heroes, which I enjoyed.

Joe Giella began working for DC Comics in 1949, and some of the earliest characters he ever drew for them were the members of the JSA.  Then in the early 1960s Giella was one of the artists on the stories that introduced the Earth-2 concept and which brought the JSA back into print for the first time in a decade.  Given his historic connection to these characters, I was glad to have him autograph All-Star Comics #73.

Captain America #182 (Feb 1975) was a rare Marvel Comics job by Giella.  He inked a few odd issues for Marvel during the 1970s, as well as doing full artwork on various one-off projects such as a few t-shirts and The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook, which was an actual thing.  Here Giella is inking Frank Robbins.  This was during the period following the classic “Secret Empire” storyline by Steve Englehart when a disillusioned Steve Rogers abandoned the Cap identity and became Nomad.

I know that my experience with Robbins’ work parallels a number of other readers, in that initially I disliked it, over time I gradually learned to appreciate it, and now I now really enjoy his art.  I feel Robbins’ work was more suited to war and mystery and horror stories than superheroes, but even on the later genre I find there’s quite a bit to appreciate.  I think Giella did a very nice job inking Robbins on this issue, and I wish they had worked together more often.

Superman Family #200 (March 1980) was a really fun “imaginary story” written by Gerry Conway.  Set 20 years in the future (late 1999 to be specific) it featured Clark Kent and Lois Lane married with a teenage daughter named Laura.

There were several art teams on Superman Family #200.  The portions of this issue that Giella inked were penciled by Bob Oksner, another great artist whose work I have grown to appreciate in recent years.  Oksner & Giella made an effective art team.  That’s another collaboration I wish we had seen occur more frequently.

Finally, here is the variant cover that Giella drew for the sixth issue of the Archie Meets Batman ‘66 miniseries published by DC and Archie Comics (March 2019).  Giella is apparently the oldest living Batman artist, so I really wanted to have him sign something featuring the Dark Knight of Gotham City.  This cover is a nice piece which demonstrates that Giella, now in his early 90s, is still going strong as an artist.

Thanks again to Joe Giella for autographing these books, and to his son Frank for arranging everything.

Sovereign Seven: The Saga of Cascade and Maitresse

Earlier this month while recovering from nasal surgery I started a re-read of Sovereign Seven, the comic book series written by Chris Claremont that was published by DC Comics between 1995 and 1998.  Sovereign Seven ran for 36 monthly issues, two annuals, a Sovereign Seven Plus Legion of Super-Heroes special, and two short stories in the Showcase anthology.

Sovereign Seven was unusual in that it was a creator-owned series, yet it was set firmly within the DC Universe, with appearances by numerous established characters such as Darkseid, Superman and Power Girl.  I cannot think of any other comparable arrangement before or since at either DC or Marvel.

I hadn’t looked at most of these issues in almost a decade.  Reading them again, I found the series is still interesting and entertaining.  Claremont did some good work with pencilers Dwayne Turner (who co-created the characters), Ron Lim, Jeff Johnson and Tom Grindberg on these stories.  Inking was provided by Jerome K. Moore and Chris Ivy on most issues.

The Sovereigns are a group of aristocratic refugees from different parallel Earths whose worlds had all been conquered by the mysterious Rapture. They were gathered together by Rhian Douglas, aka Cascade, who was fleeing from her seemingly-tyrannical mother Maitresse.

We never learn the precise nature of the Rapture, but in issue #15 Cruiser describes it as “the bliss of blind, unreasoning submission, without a soul to call your own, without the responsibility that comes of making a moral choice.”  That actually brings to mind the Anti-Life Equation from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World epic.  Whatever it is, the Rapture has conquered & corrupted innumerable worlds across the continuum.  As explained by Reflex in S7 Annual #1, “The Rapture has cost us everything and everyone we hold dear.”

The main setting of the series is the Crossroads Coffee Bar, situated at the intersection of three states, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. Living up to its name, Crossroads also contains portals to other dimensions. Crossroads is run by enigmatic, immortal sisters Violet Smith and Pansy Jones. It is here that the fleeing Sovereigns find sanctuary and employment.

One of the most intriguing aspects of S7 was the relationship between Cascade and Maitresse.  Claremont is rightfully recognized as one of the first comic book writers to script three-dimensional, strong, independent female characters.  His work with Rhian Douglas and her mother Morgan continues in that vein, resulting in pair of fascinating characters in a deeply dysfunctional family dynamic.

Rhian and Morgan come from an Earth in a reality where the entire solar system has been imprisoned behind an impenetrable barrier, all to keep Maitresse from escaping.  Cascade first learns of other realities when telepath Taryn Haldane, aka Network, makes contact with her.  Cascade uses her teleportation power to join Network. Exploring the multiverse together the pair locates the other five Sovereigns, rescuing them from the Rapture.

Cascade’s greatest fear is that her mother will find a way to follow her and escape imprisonment.  As seen in Annual #1, the entire fabric of reality on Rhian’s Earth is subject to the moods and temper of Maitresse.  An outraged Rhian lectures her:

“The world’s not some toy, created for your amusement! You can’t just change things – alter peoples’ lives beyond recognition, even destroy them – on a whim. It’s cruel and wrong and I won’t be a part of it any longer!”

Later on in issue #3 Cascade describes her mother as “the essence of all that’s evil” with seemingly only the Rapture itself a greater menace in her mind.

Indeed, at first the evidence appears to back up Cascade’s claim.  We do see Maitresse completely rewriting the fabric of reality on a continual basis on her Earth, and in the first issue she casually immolates her trusted adviser Morgrin for disagreeing with her.  Maitresse, believing that her daughter has betrayed her and become corrupted by the Rapture, is more determined than ever to escape her imprisonment, no matter the cost.

However eventually we begin to see evidence that Cascade’s perception of her mother is not entirely accurate.  In issue #27, during the cosmic upheaval of the “Genesis” crossover, Cascade and Maitresse have their locations swapped, with Rhian imprisoned behind the barrier on her alternate Earth and Morgan joining the other Sovereigns at Crossroads in the DCU.

Having been told repeatedly by Cascade that her mother was their “greatest foe,” the rest of the Sovereigns are very surprised when Maitresse saves them from an attack by the Female Furies, and afterwards lays down in a bed of roses, serenely contemplating the beauty of the natural world.

Cascade soon returns to Earth, with Maitresse once again imprisoned behind the barrier.  At first Rhian cannot believe that the other Sovereigns are now questioning if her mother truly is the menace that she claims.  In issue #31 she angrily challenges their skepticism by asking “If she wasn’t so great a villain, why else would she have been imprisoned?!” However, soon after an event occurs which shakes Rhian’s beliefs to their very core.

In issue #35 the Eristoi, insectoid servants of the Rapture, arrive on Earth.  Cascade comes face to face with their leader, who mind-links with her.  Through this connection, Rhian discovers the true, tragic history of her world.

Rhian’s mother Morgan was her Earth’s greatest hero and protector.  Morgan learns the Rapture is coming to claim her world.  Donning the armor of Maitresse for the first time, Morgan flies up into outer space to confront the Rapture.  Unfortunately not even Morgan is able to stop the Rapture, which fires a devastating beam of energy at the Earth.  Every single living being on the planet is killed except for Morgan and her unborn daughter Rhian.  The Rapture, realizing that Morgan is the one foe who might ultimately defeat it, creates the barrier that surrounds the solar system, imprisoning Morgan for all eternity.

Finally coming out of the psychic link, Cascade is horrified at what she has learned.  Chastened, she explains to her friends:

“My mother. I was so WRONG about her. I believed her to be evil because from childhood I watched her play with our world and all its people as if it were her toy. She would reshape everything, on a whim, without hesitation or regret. And I hated her for it. It never dawned on me that everything I saw was a figment of her imagination. She was playing with ghosts.”

And so we learn that Maitresse, rather than a being of “ultimate evil,” is in truth a sad, lonely woman haunted by her monumental defeat, traumatized by her failure to save her world, and now driven by only two goals: to protect her daughter, and to escape her prison so that she can defeat the Rapture and avenge her fallen people.

Several years ago Chris Claremont was doing a signing at Midtown Comics.  One of the books I got autographed by him was an issue of S7, and I told him how much of an impact the revelation of Maitresse’s true history, and Cascade having to reevaluate her entire relationship with her mother, had affected me as a reader.  I forget his exact response, but I believe he mentioned something about wanting to address the the relationships between parents and children.

Thinking about it, I feel that the reason why it is such a moving development in the story is that it feels both authentic and earned.  Set aside the superpowers and the cosmic menaces and you have a mother and a daughter who have a great deal of difficulty understanding one another.  That sounds like a lot of families, doesn’t it?

In the final issue of Sovereign Seven it is revealed that the whole story was apparently a work of fiction written by two women, one of whom is the “real life” version of Morgan Douglas, and that she created it for her young daughter Rhian.  That is an interesting twist, the idea that Morgan would write a narrative in which her own daughter would misunderstand her and believe her to be the villain.

Perhaps Morgan was attempting to work through her own feelings about the role of a parent, her fears about the mistakes she might make, the difficulty she foresaw in trying to find a balance between being a responsible adult guardian to her daughter while still giving her enough independence and room to grow into her own person?

Looking at all of this from my own personal perspective, I realize that when I was younger I did not really appreciate my parents.  I felt they were too strict, too overprotective, and I resented them for being controlling, for trying to tell me how to live my life.

Now, as an adult, I am able to perceive that my mother and father were trying to be good parents, that they did have my best interests at heart, and that raising me and my two sisters was a very difficult task.  Perhaps their failure to understand why I made certain decisions was rooted not in them being uncaring or mean but instead in them having grown up in very different social and economic circumstances.

I can also look back at my own actions and now realize that there were occasions when I probably should have paid more attention to the advice my parents were giving me, to tried to understand the benefits of their own experiences that they were attempting to pass along so that perhaps I would not make the same mistakes.

Yes, there are definitely still things about my parents that I disagree with, but I do feel like I have a better understanding of and appreciation for them.

That is one of the qualities of Chris Claremont’s writing which I appreciate, that his characters who are real, believable people. His stories offer the opportunity to examine my own thoughts and actions, as well as the world I live in, through a different lens, an alternate perspective.  That is a valuable gift.