Friday, 10 October 2014

Unintentional Haiku in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

haiku in the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy - douglas adams
Who doesn't love a good haiku? Somehow anything seems that much more profound and meaningful when it’s in the form of a haiku.

A haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, which expressed in its simpler English form, is a short poem of three lines each with 5, 7 and 5 syllables in each line respectively. There is some disagreement about this, all to do with the difference between Japanese on and English syllables and the form should include some seasonal reference and also juxtaposition, but we are looking for unintentional haiku here, so let’s just concentrate on the syllables.

So haiku have rules that make them what they are, and anything that can be broken down into rules can be broken down into code. It was only a matter of time before some clever person thought of a way of putting computing and haiku together. Programmer, Google employee and one-time They Might Be Giants drummer Jonathan Feinberg has used a simple Python script to find accidental haikus in any piece of text, so you can cut and paste literally any text into it and it will do it’s very best to find a haiku in there for you. The clever little bit of code breaks down any lump of text and searches for sentences or groups of sentences where words fall in groups of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. The more text you put in, the greater the chance of it finding a haiku for you.

To demonstrate, if you paste in the entire text of the first Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book by Douglas Adams into it, it will promptly find NINE accidental haiku including –

The man looked away.
Again a kind of sadness
seemed to cross his face.

Profound? You decide. Try pasting in any large chunk of text, it will find a meaningful moment you may have missed. Welcome to the wonderful world of the unintentional haiku.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Have Jack Kirby's kids sold out?

jack kirby thing amicable resolvin time

Jack Kirby created more iconic characters before breakfast than anyone else did in their entire lifetime. Captain America, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, even Groot was originally one of his. He was treated shabbily by the people who continued to use characters. He died 20 years ago. His family tried to take legal action to regain the rights to the characters their father created that were now making billions of dollars for other people.

News broke a couple of days ago that this long running legal dispute between Jack Kirby's heirs and Marvel/Disney has finally been settled. The official line in a joint statement from the heirs and the Walt Disney Co subsidiary was -

Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honouring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.”

Since then a few people have contacted me asking for comment, some have suggested the Kirby estate have sold out, that they should have taken it to the Supreme Court. Sure, it would have been interesting to see what happened, if they had won it would have had massive repercussions (see my earlierpost) so I can see how some people see this as a bittersweet end to the story.

Jim Sterenko said on twitter-
Glad the Kirby estate will benefit financially, but a positive Supreme Court decision would have affected all creators!
...and he's right of course, if this had gone all the way, it would have set a precedent and that's why some are lashing out at the decision as the wrong thing to do.

So should the Kirby estate have settled with Disney? Have Jack's kids sold out?

Since people have asked - here's my opinion - it's none of our business. Leave 'em alone! This is exactly what Jack would have wanted, for his family to benefit financially from his creations. It's well documented that providing for his family was incredibly important to him, this does that. Marvel making sure the Kirby kids get a slice of the pie is the right thing to do, should have happened years ago, shouldn't have required them to get the Supreme Court involved, shame they didn't manage it while Jack was alive, but this is probably the very nearest we will get to a happy ending. This settlement finally opens up the way for Marvel/Disney to give Jack Kirby's name more prominence. Let's all be happy for them and get on with the job of making sure Jack Kirby gets the recognition he deserves for creating so very many of today's most popular comic and film characters. Maybe we can see a CGI cameo from Jack in a Marvel movie? His name in really, really big letters in the opening credits? A bio-pic telling the remarkable story of Kirby's life? Kid's actually knowing that Jack Kirby created the characters they have on their t-shirts, lunch boxes and in their video games?

I hope Lisa, Neal, Susan and Barbara can now be left to celebrate their dad's work, enjoy their lives without wasting any more time on legal battles and have an absolute blast enjoying whatever the settlement was. They deserve it, they are entitled to it and let's repeat this for emphasis - it's what Jack would have wanted. 

jack kirby life at best is bittersweet

The Jack Kirby Museum had this to say on the subject-
The trustees of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center are delighted with the out-of-court settlement arrived at today“Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.” between the Kirby Family and Marvel/Disney. As an entity dedicated to promoting the study, understanding, preservation and appreciation of the work of Jack Kirby, we view this as a day of vindication for Jack as an artist and writer of extraordinary talent who literally shaped an industry through the force of his imagination. Although Jack cannot be here to witness this historic moment, we know that, somewhere out there in the cosmos, he is smiling a humble smile of satisfaction at this long-awaited outcome.”

If you would like to know more about Jack Kirby, visit the Jack Kirby Museum website.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A rather NICE convention

NICE comic convention, 
Bedford Corn Exchange, 
13th/14th September 2014

I'm back home from the NICE comic convention, having survived the horrors of the M6 motorway, service station sandwiches and my own poor lane discipline.

It was a complicated weekend. My oldest daughter, Chloe, was moving down to London to begin studying at the University of Westminster, so I was helping her move in too. I dropped John Watson off in Bedford on the way down, stayed Friday night in London then left my wife and daughter to settle in, drove back up to Bedford for the Saturday, stayed over for the con Saturday night, then after my last panel on the Sunday I drove back down to London to pick up my wife, then drove back up to Bedford to pick up John and then home. People had come to the con from Eastern Europe and done less driving than me. For more info on the organisation and smooth running of this expedition, see John's blog when it goes up which will almost certainly use the words fail and epic several times.

If by some miracle you're still reading this after that fascinating insight into my travel arrangements, I owe it to you to about the convention. This was the third outing for the NICE comic-con and the second time at the Bedford Corn Exchange. I didn't see any actual corn exchanged, but plenty of comics & pieces of art changed hands. NICE is a smaller convention than the London ones I've been at recently, but in this case less really was actually more. If your circumstances only allow you to do one or two comic conventions in a year, the smaller ones are where the joy is.

NICE Comic Convention Bedford
NICE comic con - Main Hall
The guest list was as good as, if not better, than many much larger cons. Imagine the difference between seeing your favourite band at an intimate gig in a small, exclusive club, standing right in front of them, chatting to them in the bar afterwards, and seeing the same band at a massive stadium gig where you queue for 4 hours to get in, you're sat so far away the band are tiny specks in the distance, you pay £47 for a warm Fanta and you end up watching most of it on the video screens. NICE was the small, exclusive club, up close and personal with your favourite artists and writers, no massive queues and the Fanta was reasonably priced and ice cold.

After missing the Saturday morning, I got there just after midday. Chris Thompson (of was doing the majority of the panels, I had the last panel at 3 with Kieron Gillen, Dave Kendall, Mike Carey and Jamie Delano talking about Satire in Comics. I imagine a video of it will surface at some point and you can watch as we explain how to overthrow an oppressive regime using some A4 sheets and a marker pen. It was a good discussion and interesting to have a subject to talk about that was a step above “Who'd win Thor or Hulk?”. I caught most of the Carlos Pacheco Career Retrospective panel and was glad I did. Panels were announced via a tannoy that had obviously been borrowed from British Rail, but Jeff went old school and just whistled VERY loudly to get everyone's attention, which seemed to do the trick.

Chris Thompson talking to Carlos Pacheco
Chris Thompson talking to Carlos Pacheco
Also had a nice chat with Jamie Delano, well known for writing comics in the 80s, he now has a couple of novels out and runs his own independent publishing house - Lepus Books 

Jamie Delano, John Watson and Russell Payne
Jamie Delano, John Watson and Russell Payne
The evening meal at the Bedford Rowing Club was arguably even better than the con itself , the organisers put on some great food, a band played (COSMIC RAYS featuring Charlie Adlard, Phil Winslade, and Shane Chebsey – they have an album out soon!) and stayed up until the early hours chatting about comics with a bunch of artists and writers. Had a very early morning chat with Steve Dillon about old movies, then gave up and went to bed at 4am and spent 10 minutes trying to get my keycard to work before reception re-activated it for me. I hate keycards, what happened to keys? By 4:30am I was sound asleep.

I ended up sharing a hotel room with Chris, which made a certain amount of sense since we were both doing panels, but it's always a bit dicey sharing a hotel room with a relative stranger, especially at a comic convention. You never know if you're going to wake up to someone talcing themselves down before trying on a rubber cosplay outfit or be kept up the whole night arguing about what the final episode of Quantum Leap really meant, but Chris was good company and had awesome stories about meeting Will Eisner and Jim Sterenko. Unfortunately for Chris someone woke Chris up in the early hours (about 4:30am) snoring, but despite this he still managed to be alert and professional the next day.

Three Judges

Sunday was quieter, not dead, but quieter. Not too many cosplayers either, although there were three Judges wandering around keeping things under control. The Barry Kitson Retrospective panel was great, really enjoyed chatting to Barry about his career, I just sat back and listened really while he talked about how he started out in comics and the tons of titles he's worked on over the years. Hopefully some videos will surface soon of all the panels, they were being recorded by a few different cameras, I'll post links if I spot them.

I left John at the hotel while I drove down to London to pick up my lovely wife, telling him I'd be back to pick him up at 7:30, by which, of course, I meant 9:00.

Thanks to Jeff and Bub Chahal and all the convention staff for one of the most enjoyable comic conventions I've attended. If you get the opportunity to go to NICE 2015, I'd recommend you seize it.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

NICE comic convention 2014 - 13th & 14th September 2014 - Bedford Corn Exchange

I'll be at the NICE comic convention in Bedford this weekend, hosting a couple of panels and generally hanging around. I'm doing a "Satire in Comics" panel with Kieron Gillen, Dave Kendall, Mike Carey and Jamie Delano on the Saturday at 15:00 and the "Barry Kitson Retrospective" with, not surprisingly, Barry Kitson at 13:00 on the Sunday.

NICE is a great convention, much more intimate than the bigger conventions, with a stellar guest list and the sort of atmosphere where you actually get a chance to meet people and chat to them without queuing for 17 hours and paying £65 for a photo. As well as those mentioned above, guests include - Adi Granov, Carlos Ezquerra, Charlie Adlard, David Hine, Garth Ennis, Ian Churchill, Alan Davis, Steve Dillon and John Wagner. If you like comics and you can physically be in Bedford, you would be actually insane not to attend.    See the website for more info.

The website ticket office is closed now, but tickets will be available on the door.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

I'm now 100% self-employed. I no longer work for the man. I'm a free agent, unshackled and footloose. I find my new boss is not only very generous, fair and attractive but we see eye to eye on nearly everything and he lets me have long lunch breaks and days off at short notice. With more time on my hands, I'm actually getting things done.

For one thing, after being a member for ages, I finally uploaded a few convention sketches onto my Comicartfans account today.

Roger Langridge Fin Fang Foom
Bryan Talbot Thor Joe Jusko Thor

If you don't know it, comicartfans is a great site, basically a repository for art collectors to upload, share and compare their original art and commissions. It's a fully searchable database of thousands of images, convention sketches, published and unpublished comic art and art commissions.

Apparently there are 223 pieces on there with my name on them, mostly lettering and titles. The most recent is a very nice Trevor VonEeden cover commissioned for Aidan Lacy's "Re-Legion" series

Trevor VonEeden Russell Payne Legion of Superheroes

At the risk of stating the obvious, if you're a fan of comic art, you should join

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

London Film and Comic Convention 2014 review

London Film and Comic Convention 2014 LFCC
Russell Payne at the London Film and Comic Con 2014 LFCC

I was a guest at the London Film and Comic Convention this past weekend, manning a table for the Jack Kirby Museum and trying to drum up a bit of work. I was travelling from Blackpool with Marvel and DC cover artist John Watson and musician/writer Darrell Till in my surprisingly roadworthy car. We were all staying at the Ibis Shepherds Bush, which was better than expected, with great parking and some particularly impressive wallpaper in reception. The convention was about half an hours walk up the road to Earl's Court.

LFCC Batmobile

Earls Court is hot. Not in the “hey what a hip and happening place!” kind of hot, temperature hot. Maybe it was built before air-conditioning, but the humidity in there made the Eden Project rainforest dome look like the freezer aisle of Morrisons. It was so hot someone cosplaying as Iceman actually melted. Earls Court is also big, a cavernous sprawling aircraft hanger of a space, over 2000 tables, acres of floor and even then the event was split into two halls, the actors, authors and merchandise in the main Earl Court and the comic artists and writers, video games and two Batmobiles in Earls Court's second hall. We were in Earls Court 2, with the Batmobiles. This is a big convention, big venue, big guests and big queues. A preview evening on the Friday followed by two long solid days of talks, photo sessions, signings, sketching, cosplay and very expensive hotdogs or as Earls Court food venders like to call them - “Sausage in a sub roll with onions”

David Hine, Russell Payne and John Watson at LFCC

The Friday night preview was a new concept to me, the event opens from 6pm to 9pm on the Friday evening, with the really keen fans paying to squeeze an extra few hours out of the convention. I had one pre-con commission this year, a girl emailed and asked me to draw “a fat Superman and Batman” for her, so I set up my table between John Watson and David Hine and eagerly awaited her. She never came.

Stan Lee talk at the London Film and Comic Convention 2014

I chatted to one man who had flown in from Poland especially to see Stan, and was overjoyed to have briefly met the man and got his photo. I have some misgivings about the way Stan has hogged the limelight, often at the expense of artists who had more input then him into the characters he is so famous for, but you can't deny the affection so many people have for him, or the unique accomplishment of crossing over from being "famous in comics" to just being "famous".

Stan Lee's talk was a rare opportunity to see him in Europe, allegedly the last European con he'll ever do, so I went along but he didn't really say anything I'd not heard before, I'm sure he does loads of these appearances, and has a fine collection of anecdotes and stories he can roll-out no matter what the questions actually are. If I've heard “I saw a fly climbing down the wall and thought What a cool idea for a Superhero” once I've heard it a million times, not one mention of Jack Kirby either, but the crowd loved Stan and despite his advancing years and increasing frailty, he came across very well, joking with the audience, pausing for applause and laughs that the 2000 strong crowd supplied.

LFCC had an exclusive Stan Lee Funko Pop Vinyl figure too, they've done loads of different Stan Lee ones now, one for each big convention, but there's not a single Jack Kirby Pop Vinyl figure, heck I'd buy one......

Stan wasn't the only big name at LFCC though, it was packed with celebrity guests, I'm used to hanging out with comic writers and artists, but the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) was part of LFCC so there were plenty of other Authors there too- Charlie Higson, Malorie Blackman, Robert Rankin and loads more with an emphasis on fiction for younger readers, hence the Y in YALC. Had a great chat with Robert Rankin, I loved the Brentford Trilogy as a kid so it was interesting chatting to someone who had a real influence on my writing, especially the style of Morris Telford, Robert told me he's working on another Brentford Book, wish I could remember what he said it was called.....

Russell Payne and Robert Rankin

Russell Payne and Robert Rankin at LFCC

One other major highlight was that the organisers of LonCon3 had a couple of big shelving displays with free old science fiction books on them. A "help yourself" sign was a dream come true for someone who loves rifling through secondhand book stores for old Clifford D Simak books, I came home with a stash that would have taken me months of old book shops to find. Looking forward to reading them. 

David Hine came back from the LonCon stall with his own stash of old sci-fi books too and we had a great chat about the joys of vintage science fiction. Well done to LonCon for having such a generous and innovative way to promote their convention, I can't go this year, but I'll hopefully be on the guest list for LonCon4.

And of course the F in LFCC meant lots of movie and TV guests too, Stan Lee's bodyguard went off with the key to the Comic Zone Green Room, so some of us Comic Guests went over to the other Green Room and found ourselves sitting with the cast of Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Odd, but cool odd. Milo Ventimiglia introduced himself to me, I knew him from Gilmore Girls, but he was in Heroes too, and I'm sure a lot of other stuff. My wife and daughters love Gilmore Girls, it's being re-run in the UK every evening now on Channel 5 so I was used to seeing 2001 Milo, while 2014 Milo has a big black beard and looks about 13 years older, but he was a super nice guy, he recorded a quick "Hi there" for one of my daughters, who now watches it on a loop on her iPad.

I also chatted to the actor Curtis Armstrong, who was in 80s Bruce Willis vehicle Moonlighting and more recently "House". Meeting Curtis was a bit of a personal highpoint, if you'd have told a 16 year old me I'd be a guest alongside Bert Viola from Moonlighting, I'd have been awestruck. Curtis was, and is, one of the finest actors ever to appear on film and his performance as "Booger" in the Revenge of the Nerds movies will one day be recognised by the establishment as the monumental triumph that it was. Wish I'd talked to him about Harry Nilsson though, he's a big fan apparently. Maybe next time.

author Russell Payne and the actor Curtis Armstrong

Lots of others too, but it would just be a list of names, those were the ones I really chatted with. I had a quick chat with Bambos Georgiou who had some really nice recreations of old comic covers, including many Jack Kirby ones, a nice alternative to owning original art for those who can't afford the original originals.

All the Comic Zone talks were cancelled, so I didn't do my Kirby panel, but it was so extremely busy and there were so many things going on that every talk you attended meant deciding not to go to something else, so I don't think anyone really missed out. I did get to chat to people like Steve Rude, Mike Mayhew and Bryan Talbot about Kirby though, so I was happy.

I spent the vast majority of time just behind the table though, trying to tell people about the Jack Kirby museum, and in a moment of egotism, I started doing free sketches for people, which I realise now was unfair on all the other artists who were trying to sell sketches. How could they be expected to get people to pay when I was giving way work of this quality....?

So all in all I really enjoyed LFCC, it had easily the most impressive lineup of any convention I've ever been to, and so much going on it was nearly impossible to see it all. There were clearly some logistical problems, but given the scale of the thing, that's inevitable, and spending a bit of time behind the scenes you could see how hard people were working to make it happen. Cosplay played a large part, and it was frustrating to see so many people dressed as Jack Kirby characters, who had no idea who Jack Kirby was, but that's why I was there and hopefully I did something to address the balance.

A big thank you to the father/daughter team of Mike and Cassandra Conroy who organised the Comic Zone part of the event, neither of whom I saw stop or sit down all weekend, and to everyone who came over to say hi and talk to me. I'll be at the NICE convention in September, maybe I'll see you there....

You can read John Watson's version of events here on his blog, it's funnier than mine.....

Monday, 14 July 2014

Exclusive Jack Kirby FUNKO POP VINYL figure

At the London Film and Comicon this weekend, there were tons of Funko POP VINYL figures, including one for the star guest Stan Lee, but no sign of a POP VINYL Jack Kirby. There should be.

So I photoshopped one. A fantastic use of an evening.........

Jack Kirby Funko Pop Vinyl Figure - Available nowhere

C'mon Funko, get one made?

Home again....Home again.....

Jiggety Jig.

Just back from the 2014 London Film & Comic Convention, a packed but worthwhile weekend of chatting, sketching and free books. I love free books. Especially free vintage science fiction books.....

Most of the weekend I was sitting behind a table - so this was what I saw of the con-

..but I did get a few breaks and got to hang out in the green room, so met lots of interesting writing/acting folk - had a quick chat with the sartorially resplendent Robert Rankin, author of the Brentford Trilogy, a series of books I absolutely loved years ago, and the actor Milo Ventimiglia who very kindly recorded a quick video hello for my daughter, he seemed like really nice guy. Had cheese and biscuits sat with Billy Dee Williams and Kenny Baker and a bunch of people from Game of Thrones, which I've never seen but is apparently very popular..... met Curtis Armstrong too and got a bit starstruck....I'm in danger of this just being a namedropping exercise so.... more later. Need sleep.

Russell Payne at LFCC 2014


Batman at LFCC 2014

London Film and Comic Convention 2014 LFCC

Authors Russell Payne and Robert Rankin

Thursday, 10 July 2014

London Film & Comic Convention Friday 11th to Sunday 13th July 2014

Stan Lee, Carrie Fisher, John Hurt, Bernard Cribbins, Malorie Blackman, Charlie Higson .....and me will all be appearing at the London Film & Comic Convention this weekend. I'll be on a table in the Comic Zone and doing a panel about Jack Kirby on the Sunday.

I'll be plugging membership of the Jack Kirby Museum and will sign anything you bring to me that isn't legally binding.

Tickets will be available on the door, if you get chance, come along and say hello, it's an amazing lineup of guests and promises to be a great weekend. A photo with Carrie Fisher is £65, I'm prepared to have my photo taken with you for the knockdown price of 65p, just 1% of the price of Carrie, this special offer only available at LFCC this weekend.

I'll be sitting next to Marvel & DC artist John Watson, who will have some pretty great original art for sale, see his blog for details.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Marvel Comics vs Jack Kirby - Could Marvel lose?

In the next few days the US Supreme Court should decide what they are going to do about a legal dispute involving the 1976 Copyright Act, the outcome of which could have an unprecedented impact on creative/entertainment industries. It’s the long running, possibly cosmic, definitely epic battle between the Jack Kirby Estate and Marvel/Disney.

During a career that spanned seven decades Jack Kirby created or co-created so many of the characters that appear on our movie screens, t-shirts, lunchboxes & novelty bathrobes today. Captain America, Thor, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Black Panther, the Inhumans, New Gods … I could go on all day, Kirby was behind them all. He was the most influential artist in comics history & his properties have made more money over the years than the work of any other single person, alive or dead.

Jack Kirby died in 1994.

Before his death, there was bitterness between Kirby and his former employers. As soon as left Marvel, he tried to sue them for ownership of the characters he'd created, the legal dispute lasted years and ended in Marvel’s favour. He saw others making fortunes from his creations while he felt treated like a hired gun, not given the recognition, respect, or financial reward, that he deserved.

Today, Kirby continues to lack recognition for the work he did, the characters he created and the incredible influence he has on so much of our modern media.

His four children (Barbara J. Kirby, Lisa R. Kirby, Neal L. Kirby, Susan N. Kirby) have tried a few times to take legal action to reclaim some of the copyrights on characters their father created. With the help of intellectual property attorney Marc Toberoff, they filed 45 copyright-termination notices in 2009. Marvel countered with a lawsuit, which all led to the 2011 ruling that the Jack Kirby creations in question were defined as work for hire and not subject to copyright reclamation. In August 2013 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision. Rounds one and two to Marvel. Kirby down but not out.
It is hard to imagine a monopoly like Marvel/Disney ever losing a legal battle, but maybe this time the Kirby Estate have a chance. Why? Because this time round they have the backing of some powerful allies in their corner-

  • Bruce Lehman - Former chief adviser to President Bill Clinton on intellectual property rights, he was responsible for significant changes to United States patent laws.
  • Ralph Oman - Former U.S. Register of Copyrights and Professorial Lecturer in Intellectual Property and Patent Law
  • The Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)
  • The Writers Guild of America (WGA)
  • The Directors Guild of America (DGA)
  • Marc Toberoff – He’s still here. Attorney specializing in copyright and entertainment litigation. He was the guy who represented Superman’s co-creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster against Warner and DC Comics over the original copyright to Superman. 

Toberoff has tried before for the Kirby Estate a few times over the last decade, with Marvel coming out on top each time, but now it seems like the tide is turning. The Hollywood guilds, unhappy that the 2013 appeal court ruling that favoured Marvel sets a dangerous precedent and could have repercussions across the creative industries, want this case to be heard by the Supreme Court.

If the case gets upheld, potentially Marvel could lose the rights to key characters like the Avengers, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Characters that are the foundation of just about every successful movie they have ever done. Without Jack Kirby characters, the Disney/Marvel superhero franchise falls apart. Even if Guardians of the Galaxy does well, see if you can guess who co-created Groot?

The ruling would also set an interesting precedent, especially for all those artists whose pre-1976 works continue to make a lot of money for companies while they see little revenue from them. Whatever happens, it’s one to watch. Unsurprisingly, I’m rooting for the Kirby kids, if this case gets heard, and if the Kirby kids win, it will rock the foundations of Marvel and Disney in a way that would make their father proud.

To find out more about Jack Kirby visit The Jack Kirby Museum & Research Centre

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Car Boot Comics

In a bid to rid my house of decades of accumulated junk, I attempted a car boot sale at the weekend. For the right person, my stall was a treasure trove of old science fiction novels, comicbook memorabilia, Dr Who toys and several misprinted copies of the best-seller “Morris Telford’s Salopian Odyssey”. Correctly printed copies are still available in all good book shops.

I also brought along a small box of comics, mostly DC, mostly of little value, but a nice run of Starman was in there, some Animal Man with Bolland covers, a couple of dog-eared Graphic Novels, even the odd signed issue picked up at conventions over the years. There was a real mixed bag in there, I hadn’t really looked through it properly but I was confident there were no Golden Age gems in there, I’d have been able to smell them.

Sadly there was little interest in the comics until a dark haired boy and what I presumed were his grandparents came over and the boy started rummaging through them with all the enthusiasm of a starving man at an eat-all-you-can buffet. He spent ages looking through them, making a little pile and pestered the cash. I think he bought 5, and he was gone, another happy customer.

The day went on, I sold the hamster cage, the old sci-fi novels, the broken laptop that’s probably got all my Ebay and Paypal passwords on it, the Daleks and a surprising number of items I’d never even seen before that my children will probably be looking for next week. Not much interest in the Morris Telford books though.

Then it happened. The Grandfather and Grandmother from earlier came back. Without the boy this time. Had I sold an unsuitable comic to his grandson? Had that copy of Sexy Zombie Mutant Slavegirl I thought I’d thrown away found it’s way into the box and he’d come back to chastise me like a modern day Fredric Wertham? No. He’d got home and his Grandson had sat straight down and started devouring the comics, getting very excited about them, telling his Grandad after reading the first couple that he wished he’d bought some more.

So, and this is the moment of awesomeness,  the Grandparents had left him at their house, and without telling him driven back to me at the Car Boot sale to buy the whole box. The whole box. To give to him as a surprise. I gave them it for a few quid, it was an act of generosity and fantastic Grandparenting that deserved to be facilitated.

I wish I’d noticed which 5 comics the kid bought, but it was good to see someone getting genuinely excited about comics, and great to help someone start what could be a lifetime’s obsession. Maybe in 30 years he’ll sell them on to some other kid….. I hope so.

If you have a house full of comics you never read – Share them. Give them to kids you know, donate them to your local library and make sure they don’t just rot away in your attic. Just think about what a kick YOU would have got as a kid if someone gave you a whole box of comics.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Was Star Wars based on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World?

There are, it has to be said, some striking similarities between the two. New Gods #1 was published in 1971, Star Wars came out 6 years and 3 months later in 1977. Here’s a  few facts – 

The FOURTH WORLD is a space opera, a Greek tragedy played out among the stars with epic scope, an overshadowing war caused by previous events, complicated families & lots of zooming around in space.
STAR WARS is a completely different space opera, a Greek tragedy played out among the stars with epic scope, an overshadowing war caused by previous events, complicated families & lots of zooming around in space.

The FOURTH  WORLD has “The Source” a mysterious almost religious energy. Characters use the Source to draw power from.
STAR WARS has the completely different “The Force” a mysterious almost religious energy. Characters “Use the Force” to draw power.

The FOURTH WORLD has a  hero, Orion, who is accompanied by a happy-go-lucky, reckless companion called Lightray and trained by Highfather, an old man with incredible powers.
STAR WARS  has a completely different hero, Luke, who is accompanied by a happy-go-lucky, reckless companion called Han Solo and trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi, an old man with incredible powers.

Darkseid and Darth Vader - separated at birth?

FOURTH WORLD’s main villain is Darkseid (pronounced Dark Side) whose real son was brought up by one of the good guys.
STAR WARS main villain is the completely different Darth Vader (who uses the Dark Side) whose real son was brought up by one of the good guys.

Apokolips and the Death Star - separated at birth?

The FOURTH WORLD has Apokolips, an incredibly oppressive planet-sized regime watched over by hordes of masked soldiers. Basically it looks like a planetoid with big circles on the surface.
STAR WARS has the completely different Death Star, an incredibly oppressive planet-sized regime watched over by hordes of masked soldiers. Basically it looks like a completely different planetoid with completely different big circles on the surface.

The FOURTH WORLD has “Mother Box” an electronic device that communicates by making “ping ping” noises.
STAR WARS has the completely different R2-D2 a robot that communicates by making ping ping, beep & whistle noises.

Jack Kirby’s the FOURTH WORLD has great character names like Mark Moonrider,
STAR WARS has completely different great character names like…. Luke Skywalker.

I could go on. Was Star Wars based on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World

Kirby says - Don’t ask! Decide for yourself! May the Source be with you.

For more info, see a video of me talking about this at a BettaKultcha event.

....and to the person who commented saying Orion looks nothing like Luke, you were looking at a drawing of him with his helmet on. Here's Orion without his helmet next to a photo of Luke, you decide....

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Thin Black Line – Perspectives on Vince Colletta

The Thin Black Line – Perspectives on Vince Colletta

The tired Colletta clichés are – “you either love him or hate him”, “he polarizes opinion”. You hate him for ignoring Kirby’s pencils and leaving out stuff or you love him for his fine feathered work on Thor, you hate him for not caring enough about the art and employing “assistants”, or you love him for the letter he wrote to Marvel when Jim Shooter left.

I certainly started out in the anti-Colletta camp, a few years ago I even took a side swipe at Vinnie on a BBC blog I wrote –

I met a man called Hans today. Hans looks like Jack Kirby drew him. He has a large head, a brow overhang that juts way over his eyebrows leaving his eyes in permanent shade, a thickset square jaw, wide mouth and hands like industrial shovels. He must have been inked by Vince Coletta though as his left thumb is missing.”

Now, as well as learning to spell his name correctly, I’ve learned to appreciate him slightly more, but I’d actually say I still agree with all those opinions above to some extent, deleting-bad, Thor-good, assistants-bad, funny letter-good, so I approached the book with mixed feelings and an open mind.

It’s quite a slim volume, you’ll easily finish it in a couple of sittings, and there’s not really a massive amount of biographical detail, some interesting quotes from his family I hadn't seen before, lots of online stuff I had seen before. Art examples, and decent panel comparisons, most pages have an example panel or two, examples good and bad from across the span of his career, so giving a fair and rounded view, which I liked. Not a hatchet job that just laughed at his lazy deleting, or a love letter that ignored the negatives, it was balanced by examples of his work that showed he could be great when he had time, and gave some insights into why he often didn’t have time.

The book is split up more or less chronologically, covering stages in his career. The early chapters and the ones covering his time as art director for DC probably interested me most, nothing really new in the Kirby section, and this is a personal bias, but I would have loved to see a more detailed breakdown of what exactly happened between him and Kirby, it’s covered, but I wanted nitty gritty detail.

The titbits of information from actress and model ladyfriends are fascinating, as are the quotes from his family and insights into how his massive mortgage overshadowed his life. His family mafia connections one generation removed that he played up, and the affection with which just about everyone who worked with him has.

If you’re expecting a biography, this isn’t it, if you’re expecting a thick coffee-table book devoted to Colletta art, this isn’t it either, but neither of those things exist, so this is the best you’ll get for now, it’s a collection of anecdotes collected via phone, email, and from online forums, peppered liberally with art examples. That’s not a criticism of the research, nothing wrong with getting your source material from phones calls and emails, the title of the book isn’t misleading, it’s exactly what this is – people’s perspectives on Colletta. I’d just have liked to see more personal information on the man himself, more biographical details we don’t know, more photos from his life, more pages. In saying that though, even a hardened comic lover who has spent the last 40 years obsessing over Colletta’s inks will find something in here to enjoy, and it’s a great springboard to use as a way to open up a fresh debate with any Coletta hating/loving friends you have.

Most disappointing omission is Jim Shooter, he declined to comment on the book because he felt it would not give Colletta a fair shout, he was wrong, it does, and it left me with a renewed admiration for the man. The best bits, like the letter he wrote to Marvel and most of the Kirby panel comparisons, I'd already seen, so that probably lessened my enjoyment, still well worth reading though, I'd recommend it. An absolute must buy if you’re a Colletta fan, but also highly recommended if you’re not, maybe you’ll learn to appreciate Vinnie for what he was, the most prolific inker of all time, the man who discovered Frank Miller, a complicated man who met his deadlines even if it meant staying up all night in the poolhouse, working till he dropped, because of that he cut corners and despite that produced some work that was outstanding.

Should you buy it? You know what Kirby said –“Don’t ask.” It's available now from TwoMorrows publishing.