The Marvel Universe is massive. Marvel comics go back well over half a century, and span thousands upon thousands of pages. Reading all of them would be a Herculean undertaking. And one man, Douglas Wolk, did exactly that, and wrote a book about it. We talked his new release All of the Marvels, and about how one of the most well-known fictional universes in the world has dealt with real-world history, like war, civil rights, crime, AIDS, Watergate, and more.
Roy Lichtenstein was one of the most successful American artists of the 20th century, and the figure most associated with pop art after Andy Warhol. Lichtenstein is known for his comics images like “WHAAM!,” pictured below, and his techniques brought be nday dots and comic-book colors into the gallery. However, Lichtenstein’s works were not his own invention: They were based on existing panels in war, romance, and daily comics. While Lichtenstein made millions of art sales, the artists he copied got nothing, not even recognition for the images they created.
This was a live talk at Rose City Comic Con with an accompanying presentation deck. Visual aides for this episode are here.
Lucy Bellwood is a cartoonist and author in Portland, Oregon. Last year her illustration of sailor tattoos went viral. We talked about nautical tattoos, their meanings, and what it means to get well-known on the Internet very quickly. We also touched on how one researches and studies history, especially in the context of tattoo myths about James Cook and a book Bellwood recommends, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret.
From 1954 until 2011 the Comics Code Authority exercised control over what could and couldn’t be in comic books. The first version of the code was one of the most restrictive content regimes U.S. media has ever known, banning subject matter such as sex, drugs, and supernatural elements such as werewolves and vampires. The Code was revised in 1971 and 1989, before slowly fading away after 2001 and then being wholly abandoned by 2011. The Comics Code Authority seal is now, ironically, owned by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
From 1964 until 2011 comic books were nominally approved by a content regime called the Comics Code Authority. The Authority grew out of anti-comic book sentiment in the early part of the twentieth century. Anti-comics advocates like Fredric Wertham portrayed comic books as filled with crime, sex, and corrupting ideas. In 1954 a senate subcommittee headed by Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver all but put comic books on trial, with Kefauver grilling EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines about the content of then-popular horror comics. The exchange would change comic book publishing forever.
Wonder Woman’s origin story is a fascinating one. Diana of Themyscira was created in 1940 by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who helped invent the lie detector, worked for Universal Studios, and who lived in a menage-a-trois with his wife, Elizabeth, and another woman Olive Byrne. Marston believed that women were inherently superior to men, and in Wonder Woman created a character whom he believed embodied the qualities the world most needed. That, and there was a lot of bondage. So much bondage.
Nowadays, comic books are mainstream. Movies about superheroes dominate the box office, and you can’t go ten feet in a major retail outlet without seeing something related to popular comics culture. This is not new. Comics and comic books have always been an integral part of American popular culture ever since the 1890s, with the introduction of the Yellow Kid, America’s first popular comics character.
The Yellow Kid (created by former Edison employee R.F. Outcault) sported a shaved head (a common deterrent for lice) and a ragged, hand-me-down nightshirt as his only garment. He eventually became a star in 1890s New York City, and his distinctive image could be found on everything from cigar boxes to cookie tins. Eventually the Kid led to a fight between newspaper magnates Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, who each tried to woo the public with their own distinct and competing versions of the popular comics character.
Before Batman, before Superman, before even the Phantom, there was the Golden Bat. “Ogon Batto” (as he’s known in Japanese) is, arguably, the world’s first costumed superhero. The skull-headed, ruff-wearing, sword-wielding hero’s backstory was one that would fit in any of the wackier comics that Marvel and DC would later publish: He was a dweller of Atlantis from 10,000 years in the future, and sent back in time to fight injustice. In particular, he battled against Nazo, the evil Emperor of the Universe.
Golden Bat wasn’t a comics character. Not exactly. He was from a form of storytelling called “kamishibai,” a words-and-pictures form of public performance popular in Japan during the first half of the 20th century. Kamishibai storytellers would set up in public spaces and tell tales of samurai, ninja, pulp heroes, cowboys, and superheroes to crowds of eager children, thrilling them with outrageous tales from the worlds of history and science fiction. The medium produced, among other characters, the Golden Bat, a superhero who proceeds Clark Kent by almost a decade.
A contemporary example of kamishibai. It is, obviously, in Japanese.
Manga Kamishibai by Eric P. Nash, which collects multiple kamishibai tales from the Golden Bat and others.
On Sunday, March 15th I had the privilege of introducing one of my favorite movies of all time at the historic Clinton Street Theater, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The organizers of the event asked me to talk about actual Arthurian legend prior to the screening, and I compared the tales of everyone’s favorite mythical monarch with something that I enjoy a great deal: comic books.
The illustration of Camelot below is by Gustave Dore and was made to accompany Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, part of the Arthurian and romantic revival of the 1800s.
Read Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of England Here.
Read “The Tale of the Fisher King,” the first appearance of the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend here.
And, just for fun, someone made a brilliant modern-style trailer for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.