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.
Welcome to the ninth Comic Book Coffee collection. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.
41) Ramona Fradon & Mike Royer
We have selected panels from Plastic Man #14, penciled by Ramona Fradon, inked by Mike Royer, and written by Elliot S! Maggin, published by DC Comics with an Aug-Sept 1976 cover date.
It’s a late night at the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Chief tells his secretary Sundae to put on some coffee while he briefs his agents about a dangerous new threat to national security. The Chief details to Plastic Man, Woozy Winks and Gully Foyle the gruesome origins of the oozing menace known as “Meat By-Product… The Dump That Walks!” By the time the Chief is finished describing this monstrosity in excruciating detail, Plas and Co are so completely grossed out that when Sundae attempts to serve them coffee, donuts and cream-filled Danishes, they’re ready to toss their cookies.
I love Ramona Fradon’s artwork. She has such a distinctive, unconventional, cartoony style. She brought a very offbeat, fun, comedic sensibility to Metamorpho the Element Man, the character she co-created with writer Bob Haney and editor George Kashdan in 1965. That definitely made her very well-suited to draw Plastic Man a decade later. Fradon stated in interviews that he was one of her favorite characters to have worked on.
Fradon is inked here by Mike Royer. Fradon loved Royer’s inking of her pencils on this story, and has said she wishes they’d had other opportunities to work together. It’s certainly a great collaboration.
In the November 10, 2017 strip, Iris is having late night coffee with her boyfriend Zak. Iris and Zak had previously dated, but she wasn’t certain if they should be together, since she was several years older than Zak. However, following her break-up with Wilbur she decided to give her relationship with Zak another shot.
Paralleling this, in the December 5, 2017 strip, Wilbur has returned home from his travels abroad. Over morning coffee (complete with a Hello Kitty coffee mug) he is catching up with his daughter Dawn. Wilbur had a disastrous time in Bogota, where a woman attempted to scam him out of his money. This has left him wondering if he should try to get back together with Iris, not knowing she is now involved with Zak.
Jumping forward a year to the November 26, 2018 strip, Mary agrees to foster Libby, a one-eyed tabby cat. Libby is definitely a mischievous kitty, and when Mary tries to have her morning coffee the tabby knocks over her milk. Mary ultimately cannot keep Libby, because her boyfriend Jeff is allergic to cats. Fortunately Mary’s neighbor Estelle agrees to adopt Libby.
I liked the Libby storyline. Libby reminds me of Champ, one of my girlfriend Michele’s old cats. Champ was a one-eyed cat as well, the runt of the litter. She was a sweet & affectionate kitty, and we were sad when she passed away from old age.
I’ve been a fan of June Brigman’s work ever since she co-created Power Pack with Louise Simonson at Marvel Comics in 1984. Brigman has often worked with her husband Roy Richardson, an accomplished inker. June and Roy have been drawing Mary Worth since 2016. They both love cats, so I’m sure they enjoyed introducing Libby to the strip. Please check out their awesome cat-centric sci-fi series Captain Ginger written by Stuart Moore from Ahoy Comics.
43) Mark Bright & Bob Layton
Iron Man #228, layouts by Mark Bright, finishes & co-plot by Bob Layton, script & co-plot by David Michelinie, letters by Janice Chiang, and colors by Bob Sharen, published by Marvel Comics in March 1988.
One of the qualities of David Michelinie & Bob Layton’s runs on Iron Man that I have always appreciated has been their ability to write Tony Stark as a flawed, sometimes unsympathetic person while keeping his actions completely in character and believable. Unlike some of the writers who followed them, they never had Stark acting in a wildly implausible manner simply to advance the plot.
Witness the now-classic storyline “Armor Wars” which saw Stark desperately attempting to destroy the technology he developed that was now in the hands of others. As the story progressed, Stark became more and more obsessed, manipulative and ruthless, but the execution of this made it feel this progression was genuine.
Iron Man #228 sees Stark planning to attack the Vault, the federal penitentiary for incarcerating super-powered criminals, in order to destroy the Guardsmen armor that was developed from his technology. While planning their assault, Stark and his close friend Jim Rhodes stop at a nearby greasy spoon for some coffee. This scene by Layton, Michelinie and Mark Bright allows for a momentary pause in the action, enabling us to see the friendship and rapport that exists between Stark and Rhodes.
There’s very nice lettering by Janice Chiang on display here. I love her work, and can usually spot it in an instant.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Stark’s anecdote, though…
“Took me three weeks to get rid of the blueberry stain. Had to tell the guys at the gym it was a tattoo.”
Sounds like it could be the punchline to a dirty story. Whatever the set-up might have been, I doubt the Comics Code Authority would have approved!
44) Bob Oksner & Vince Colletta
This page is from the Lois Lane story “A Deadly Day in the Life” penciled by Bob Oksner, inked by Vince Colletta, written by Paul Levitz, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Jerry Serpe. It appeared in Superman Family #212, published by DC Comics with a November 1981 cover date.
The relationship between Lois Lane and Superman in the Bronze Age was certainly somewhat of an improvement from how it was handled in the 1950s and 60s. Lois was at least somewhat less catty and scheming and manipulative than she had been previously depicted, and Superman appeared to genuinely care for her.
At the same time, looking at in from a 21st Century perspective, it becomes much more obvious that Lois is in a relationship with a man who is actively hiding a major part of his personal life from her, and who regularly gaslights her whenever she comes close to uncovering the truth.
Nevertheless, given that the Bronze Age writers were required to maintain the Lois Lane-Clark Kent-Superman love triangle, they did fairly good work. Paul Levitz writes Lois and Superman as two people who are comfortable with each other. Bob Oksner’s background drawing romance and humor stories made him well-suited to penciling scenes like this. Likewise, Vince Colletta’s own work in the romance genre results in an effective inking job.
Plus, I love the novelty of Superman using his heat vision to brew a cup of coffee for Lois. Jim Thompson sent this page my way. Yes, this IS from the same story he spotlighted where someone hurls a grenade into Lois’ bathroom while she’s taking a shower, and she tosses it back out the window before it explodes. Good thing she had that cup of coffee beforehand!
45) Stuart Immonen & Jose Marzan Jr
As a follow-up to our last entry, these pages are from Adventures of Superman #525, penciled by Stuart Immonen, inked by Jose Marzan Jr, written by Karl Kesel, lettered by Albert DeGuzman, and colored by Glenn Whitmore, published by DC Comics in July 1995.
Prior issues of the Superman titles had introduced to Clark Kent’s old high school rival Kenny Braverman, who gained superpowers and joined a covert government agency… you know, like pretty much everyone else in comic books eventually does. Braverman, who adopted the identity Conduit, learned that Clark was Superman and attempted to murder all of Clark’s friends and family. In a final battle with Superman, the hate-filled Conduit’s powers consumed his body, killing him.
In this issue Clark is reunited with Lois Lane, who he believed had been killed by Conduit. Clark explains to Lois that he is seriously considering giving up his secret identity to be Superman full-time, to prevent anyone else from being in danger due to their association with him.
Lois tells Clark she wants to go get a cup of coffee in the nearby town, but with one proviso: Clark needs to do it a Superman. Changing into the Man of Steel, he goes to a nearby diner to order a cup of coffee, only to discover that everyone is ill-at-ease around him. Some people are expecting a super-villain to attack any minute; others simply don’t know how to act around him.
Meeting up with Superman outside of town, Lois explains to him:
“You NEED a secret identity. It’s what protects you from people… and it’s what connects you to people. Under that costume you’re Clark Kent — you’ll always be Clark Kent. You can’t live without him… and neither can I!”
I feel that the post-Crisis continuity improved Lois Lane’s character a great deal. As I explained before, I was never overly fond of Lois. I couldn’t understand why Clark / Superman wanted to be with her. Even the efforts to make her less of a caricature in the 1970s were hampered by the need to maintain the Lois Lane-Superman-Clark Kent love triangle. I think a clean break was needed for Lois, and Crisis provided John Byrne with that opportunity.
Of course, having subsequently read some of the original Siegel & Shuster stories, I now realize Byrne was actually returning Lois to her original conception, the intelligent, assertive, tough-as-nails investigative reporter of the early Golden Age, and away from the catty, scheming version that existed in the 1950s.
I also like that Byrne had Clark wanting to win Lois as himself, not as Superman, because Clark Kent was his real self, and “Superman” was the secret identity.
Byrne’s work with Lois and Clark definitely set the stage for Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens and others to write the characters in an interesting, adult relationship, and for Lois to finally learn that Clark was Superman.
In this issue Karl Kesel does really good work with the couple. The artwork by Stuart Immonen & Jose Marzan Jr expertly tells the story. And, wow, that coloring by Glenn Whitmore on page 19, with the sun setting in a dusky star-filled sky, is beautiful.
I know there are fans that are older than me who grew up on the Silver Age or Bronze Age comic books and did not like the changes made to these characters. I can understand that. I can only say that I read these stories when I was a teenager. So for me this will always be MY version of Lois and Clark.