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Tag: Frank Miller

Comic-Shop Memories: Fog Hollow Comics, Phoenix, Ariz., 1986-87

Old Town Scottsdale is the kind of place where tourists like to overpay for snakeskin cowboy boots, extra-hot salsa, cheap turquoise jewelry and elaborate Kachina dolls. On the plus side, you can just as easily find some really good tacos and cold Mexican beer.

My family moved Oct. 2, 1986, to Scottsdale, Arizona. We lived in a home in what was then the north edge of town, somewhere between Shea Boulevard and Cactus Road, just west of 92nd Street. My comics collection at the time fit in one long box.

Of course, the first thing I did was consult the phone book for a nearby comics shop, finding several listings but none nearby. The first one I found and the closest was Fog Hollow Comics, located at 3215 E. Thunderbird Road, almost nine miles away. (Thanks to the AZFandom.org folks for recalling its name!) It’s still today an 18 minute drive, without traffic, each way, from our old address. So it wasn’t convenient, but at least it was a place I could make it to once my perception of what’s too far away to drive to adjusted to Arizona standards.

At the time, there were no freeways in the area. Phoenix and Scottsdale were massively spread out areas with nary a two-story building in sight. It was, truly, a city built more for cars to live in than people. And being on the edge of Scottsdale made pretty much everything you wanted to do, aside from going to the grocery, a trip of 10 or more miles on surface streets with lights that never synched up except to ensure you hit every single one in red.

Not the actual car I owned, but a photo of the same model and color. It had the original floor mats, 4-speed manual transmission and ran on regular gas — back when you could still buy such a thing.

Nonetheless, with two younger sisters and two working parents, my drivers license made sure I was kept busy dropping off or picking up somebody around the entire north quarter of Phoenix in a yellow 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Thank god it had a tape player. It did not have AC. That deficit’s seriousness would not make itself fully known, however, until the following spring and summer. Either way, it was a lot of time spent in the car.

At the time, I was buying pretty much only Marvel comics. I knew exactly which ones were coming out each week, thanks to Marvel Age Magazine, and I had them on subscription at Fog Hollow — my first pull file. Money was tight, so I’d calculate the exact cover price minus the discount plus the sales tax to ensure I could pay for my comics before making that drive. More than once I paid for my weekly haul to the penny.

Fog Hollow was located in a strip mall suite and, unlike many comics shops, had large windows on two sides of the space and was therefore bright and open and inviting. There was the usual back-issue bin in the center, with new releases on racks around the edge. Under the back-issue bin, behind a small door, was where the subscriber books were kept.

I remember on my first visit finding at least two comics that eluded me in Edmonton and really shouldn’t have: X-Men #192 and Power Pack #27. The former I just never could find in any of the back issue bins at the shops I frequented despite being only a couple years old and all the issues around it being easy to find. Power Pack #27 was part of the Mutant Massacre storyline and had sold out instantly in Edmonton, but was still racked in the new comics when I rolled in to Fog Hollow. That made me happy, and I was a steady customer of the shop through the summer of 1987, when it closed.

I remember stopping in on Friday afternoons to pick up my books. (New comic-book days on Wednesday were not a thing at that time — at least not one I was aware of.) I’d take home the comics I was reading at the time — from memory, standard Marvel stuff, such as X-Men, The New Mutants, Alpha Flight, The Amazing Spider-Man, Classic X-Men, X-Factor, Marvel Saga, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, The ‘Nam, Strikeforce: Morituri, Power Pack, some New Universe titles and Cloak & Dagger — and would spend most of the evening after dinner reading, re-reading, admiring and thinking about the new books. I didn’t have anything else to do, really.

Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (Feb. 1987) is one of my all-time favorite comics. Cover art by Mark D. Bright.

Among the cool items I procured at this shop: A copy of X-Men #141 that I scored for a whopping 50 cents in the back-issue bin, and later took to the 1993 San Diego Comic-Con to be signed by both Chris Claremont and John Byrne; a second printing of The ‘Nam #1, as I was completely in love with this series and the great Michael Golden art; Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1, which was easily one of my most re-read books for the next year; and a copy of the first printing of the Wolverine TPB, collecting the original miniseries by Claremont and Miller, costing me a whopping $4.95, plus Arizona sales tax. (A quick note: I had a tough time adjusting at first to sales tax because there was none in Alberta. There, if it cost 99 cents and you gave them a dollar, you got back a penny. In Arizona, if it cost 99 cents, you had to hand over $1.07.)

Cover to the first printing of the Wolverine trade paperback, which collected the four-issue series by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller and Josef Rubinstein for the first time. Cost me all of $4.95!

Fog Hollow was run by a woman named Susan Putney, whom I later realized wrote a graphic novel for Marvel called Spider-Man: Hooky, that was drawn by no-less-a-great than Bernie Wrightson. When I eventually acquired a copy, I really enjoyed it. I also found a site that referenced a quote from former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who said he really liked Putney’s work and thought she could be good — but she kind of vanished after Hooky and Shooter himself was out at Marvel around the same time.

Cover to Spider-Man: Hooky, published in 1986. Art by Berni(e) Wrightson.

A little Googling reveals Putney also wrote a science-fiction novel called Against Arcturus that was published in 1972 as a a flip-book paperback with Time Thieves, by no-less-a-great than Dean R. Koontz.

From Google, the flip covers to Against Arcturus and Time Thieves, published in 1972.

I remember she would ring up my sub titles and give me a knowing “good reads,” especially the third week of the month when X-Men, The ‘Nam and Marvel Saga all arrived.

I also remember lusting after the copy of X-Men #94 displayed behind the counter. I recall her mentioning how she’d already sold one to a kid who paid the $100 or so the book cost in cash. You never know what a motivated kid can do.

There was an arcade-style video game in one corner, that played a music loop the staff had memorized and timed down to the second. And I remember one time the staff opening a box from the distributor that included fresh copies of First’s Lone Wolf & Cub reprints. I was not yet smart enough to pick those up, but the staff was sure excited.

Later that summer, I remember coming in to pick up my books one Friday afternoon and Susan was upset, said that the store was closing and subs’ orders had been transferred to another store, called AAA Best Comics, over on North Seventh Street — even farther away from home. It was sad, she was nearly in tears. I said thank you, I had really enjoyed shopping at the store and was sorry to hear it was closing. I didn’t know what else to say — I was only 17 years old.

I proceeded to get into my car, and trek on down to AAA Best Comics, which was a fixture in my life for the next eight years or so.

And I think I may track down a copy of Against Arcturus.

But before that, my next post will feature a detour to the longstanding champion of Phoenix comic-book shops, also sadly no more. Stay tuned.

Star Trek (Marvel) #5 (Aug. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek (Marvel) #5 (Aug. 1980), by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.

“The Haunting of the Enterprise!”
Writer:
Mike W. Barr, with plot assist from Denny O’Neil
Artists: Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editors: Denny O’Neil & Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

With Marv Wolfman gone, Mike W. Barr and Denny O’Neil step in to wrap up the tale started last issue, with inauspicious results.

The issue starts off with the Klingons vaporizing a Starfleet Ensign with a phaser, prompting Kirk to do the same to one of the Klingons. During the brawl, Spock is knocked out with a chair to the head and taken captive by the Klingons as the shields go down and both sides beam back from the haunted house to their respective ships.

An ensign gets phasered, and our eyes suffer for all the orange, pink and purple on this page.

Spock learns from his captors that they are interested in the new warp engines on the Enterprise and they have a secret weapon to use. On the Enterprise, Raytag hints the girl from the haunted house knows what’s going on, though she denies it.

Monsters begin appearing throughout the Enterprise, terrorizing the crew. Bones does a scan of the girl and finds something unusual.

Spock learns the Klingons encountered a damaged starship weeks ago and found as the sole survivor a “horror film archivist.” To earn his willing cooperation, they create a “construct” of his dead wife. The Klingons then put him in a new “thought-enhancer” machine, which tapped into his brain and brought to life the monsters in his dreams.

The plot stands still, but Cockrum and Janson deliver a few panels of nice art.

More monsters plague the Enterprise as the plot treads water, while Spock get close enough to the film archivist to mind meld with him and project a warning to the Enterprise to kill the girl. Bones figures out she’s made of the same stuff as the monsters and is therefore not real, so he pulls out his phaser and disintegrates her.

Fast decision by Bones, and more eye-cancer inducing color holds.

Meanwhile, Raytag is revealed as being the receptor for the images on the Enterprise, and a sudden power surge kills him in the bring.

Finally, some fun! The monsters are unleashed on the Klingons.

This wakes the film archivist, who unleashes his monsters on the Klingon vessel instead. Spock frees him and they transport back to the Enterprise and hightail it out of Dodge.

And the transporter saves the story once again. Maybe.

After dropping off the film archivist at Starbase 16, the Enterprise is off to its next mission.

So, any hope that the previous issue evoked in readers that this series was going to work were seriously shot down by this issue.

It’s easy to be too hard on Barr and O’Neil here, as they obviously came in at the last minute to plot their way out of a pretty odd setup. But their solution just treads water and meets only the minimum standards for resolving this story.

The “film archivist” bit is the weakest — neither he nor the image of his dead wife get even a name in this issue. The Klingons also appear to be the dumbest creatures in the galaxy if this is their plan for getting intel on the new Starfleet engines. Bones deciding in the course of a panel to phaser the girl into oblivion is seriously out of character, while Spock is reduced to a source of exposition and Kirk just shoots things with his phaser. There’s little charm and even less humor in this tale, which clearly sprouted from Wolfman’s real affection for old movie monsters. Also, Raytag’s story goes nowhere, and the death of the ambassador from last issue has no impact or part to play in the story’s conclusion.

The art veers away from Cockrum shining through to being more about Janson’s finishes, and their styles just don’t gel here. There is not much action of interest in this story and little room for the visual storytelling to explore the idea of monsters in space in any interesting way. The lettering and coloring also were off this issue – the splash page alone is an impossible-to-read assault on the eyes.

The cover, at least, is an improvement — no surprise considering it’s penciled by Frank Miller. This issue came out several months before Daredevil #168 introduced Elektra to the world, but you can see Miller moving that direction with his femme fatale composition and the classical look of the nameless girl’s sandals. Again, though, Kirk and McCoy are small on the cover and the ghostly image of Spock gets a bit lost in the purple on purple color hold. Perhaps another color would have worked better.

Wrapping up this issue is a letters page with answers from Barr, who was obviously slated to take over regular writing on the series. No real revelations this time, but Barr shows real enthusiasm for Star Trek comics that will really come to benefit readers only after the license moves to DC Comics.

Comic of the Day: Howard Chaykin’s Marvel Premiere #32 (1976)

Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976)

I’ll be heading down to the comics shop today to pick up Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss II #1, which I’m sure will be worth the effort. I’ve been on a bit of a Chaykin kick lately, so today I’ll offer a quick look at an oldie I picked up on a recent trip: Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976), featuring Monark Starstalker!

This is an early effort by Chaykin as both writer and artist, and it unfortunately shows. The good stuff is the artwork, which is sleek and well-designed. It’s pretty unusual stuff for Marvel at the time, though the style seen here would become more familiar with both Chaykin’s later work and Frank Miller’s style on his original Daredevil run. The individual panels and pages are well-designed and look decidedly un-comic-book-y for the era. Chakyin goes heavy on the blacks and it looks most like Chaykin’s work on Star Wars #1. (I believe Roy Thomas stated in an issue of Alter-Ego that I don’t have handy to confirm that it was this issue that prompted the Lucasfilm folks to specifically request Chaykin draw the Star Wars comic.)

While this looks great, it’s a complete mess to read. The story nominally involves a guy named Monark Starstalker, who’s a kind of bounty hunter pursuing a target on a remote planet. It’s a simple premise, but it gets bogged down in clunky exposition intended to inject a sense of reality into this world. The character is a prototypical Chaykin hero: hard-boiled, tough and irresistible to the ladies.

This book is also awfully murky looking — the heavy inks just didn’t translate well into the printing processes used for comics at the time. It’d be nice to see this done on better paper that could present the images more sharply and vividly.

Christmas comics: Sin City: Silent Night (Nov. 1995)

Writer and artist: Frank Miller
Cover colors: Lynn Varley
Editor: Bob Schreck

There’s not much to say about the story in this issue, which can be summed as follows: Marv walks through a snow storm to a barred doorway that leads down to some kind of dungeon. He gives some cash to a woman dressed like a Nazi, who shows him a cell where a small and very scared young girl looks back at him. He turns on the woman and her armed thugs, shooting them dead right quick. He opens the door, tells the girl, Kimberly, that it’s OK and she’ll be home with her momma soon. He scoops her up and carries her out and back into the snowstorm.

This story is told completely in silent splash pages, with only one dialog balloon in the whole issue. That prompted a lot of howls at the time this was released since “reading” this black and white comic takes only a few minutes and it cost a then-whopping $2.95. But that belies that fact that it’s 26 or so pages of Frank Miller Sin City art, which has always been worth the price of admission alone. I always thought this was Miller’s attempt to do for snow what he did for rain in the first Sin City story. Was it a cash grab, as some have charged? Maybe, but again it’s Frank Miller art and there are few comics at the time where the entire package was worth $3, let alone just the art.

Of course, this ain’t the most happy, touchy-feely holiday story ever — but Marv’s good deed does stand out as a worthy gift considering how tough and hard-boiled every day is in Miller’s “town without pity.”

Finding a home in my brain for “The Spirit”

“The Spirit,” which adapts Will Eisner’s beloved strip and features the solo directorial debut of Frank Miller, is by pretty much any common standard a complete flop. After two weekends in release — one of them an extended holiday weekend — the film has grossed about $18 million domestic and $3 million international. The reviews have been savage.

But what’s been sinking in with me since I saw it sometime last week was how similar watching this movie is to reading a Frank Miller comic book. Yes, it’s jarring and over-the-top and falls short in telling a story the way moviegoers expect, but it’s also fascinating to watch Miller put his style up on the screen so completely untouched. Doing so also puts Miller’s flaws on display. The same was true in “Sin City,” where the telling of three stories in one film emphasized their similarities in a way reading the comics one at a time did not, though the overall result was a more conventional film.

But “The Spirit” fits right into Miller’s recent work. Since “The Dark Knight Strikes Again,” Miller’s work has polarized fans as he stripped away the elements that grounded his work in the real-world milieu most fans prefer in favor of an unapologetically primal pulp style. Miller has largely abandoned superheroes as a vehicle for expression, going for the gut reactions evoked by pure sex and violence. In some cases, such as All-Star Batman, this goes so far against the audience’s expectation for comics (and the movies based on them) to plumb the hero’s soul and to establish their actions as occurring in the real world. “The Spirit” is much the same — Miller’s happy to have his hero beat up bad guys and make femmes fatales swoon because that’s his job. The villains, similarly, have little to no motivation beyond their fueling their own basic urges for power, money and sex. (Though it is interesting that Miller used the same formula Marvel does for its movies by connecting the origins of the hero and the villain.) The result is a story that lacks the depth commonly expected of comic books and movies in favor of the gut-level reactions to Miller’s intentionally provocative depictions of sex and violence. Miller’s love of breaking taboos is, in its way, admirable, even as I sometimes wish he’d get past pushing those buttons for their own sake.

The visuals are the one part of the movie that even the reviewers will admit are impressive to look at. Some of the things that are the most jarring in a movie — such as the scene with the Octopus and Silken Floss wearing kimonos — would work just fine in a Miller comic book. The background that changes from glowing red to a rising sun image, and the cartoonish figure of Samuel L. Jackson chopping a henchman in half with his samurai sword are so Miller-esque you can imagine the panels and the layout of the page with ease.

The way Miller sticks to a comic-book style of storytelling — especially at the start of the film, with its dense first fight between villain and hero and minimal exposition — reminds me of the dense, quick-action start to many a comic book. While readers can follow a story at their own pace and re-read panels or pages as needed to catch up, film and its audiences are much less forgiving. Given the way Miller slaps the audience around in the opening 20 minutes or so, it’s no surprise that viewers and critics gave up on finding a way into this bizarre, hyper-kinetic world.

By now you’ve probably guessed that I’m working up to saying I admire the film in a strange way — and I do. This is a film that is so comic-booky through and through, that it’s a taste that’s as refined and difficult to acquire as the most continuity-intensive superhero comic book series. This is a film made from and for the purer fringes of the comic-book culture and esthetic — and it is about as far from the standards of mainstream moviemaking and its audiences as you’re likely to get. I do lament that Miller’s vision of The Spirit completely overwhelmed the charm and wit of Will Eisner, but it’s been obvious from the first that that would have to wait for another time.

So is the movie bad? From almost every conventional standpoint, the answer is yes. But the parts of my head that really enjoys the occasional Heavy Metal story because it has nudity and violence, or Howard Chaykin’s “Black Kiss,” or the extreme violence of Simon Bisley’s artwork, and secretly cheers even the most childish of Miller’s anti-censorship rants, finds a lot to like in “The Spirit” — and is glad it got made.

Three “Spirit” prizes come to visit … [giveaway]

Just in time for Christmas and the release of the film, I have three copies of “The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion,” by Mark Cotta Vaz to give away, courtesy of the publisher, Titan Books, and the most excellent Tom Green. The book is definitely worth a look through for fans of Miller, Eisner and the movie — even if the movie itself turns out to not be to everyone’s taste. But to get a shot at winning, you’ll have to wade through me prattling on about some stuff and then answer a couple questions.

The film seems to be losing the battle of the critics so far, which is both unsurprising and still disappointing. I haven’t seen it yet myself, so I’m hoping there’s something about it — the tone, or simply embracing its own goofiness, if need be, that makes the experience fun.

I feel more invested in this movie than usual, as I’ve been writing about it for what seems like forever. I chatted up producer Michael Uslan at a party Oddlot Entertainment threw to announce the pic at Comic-Con in 2006, and managed to ask Miller about adapting Eisner’s short stories into a feature film (he said he was working on it). I did a set visit in November 2007 for Newsarama that produced three stories on the film; I did a short interview with producer Deborah Del Prete last summer about shooting in Albuquerque for a Variety special on New Mexico; and, coming up shortly, a piece on the film’s visual effects for Animation Magazine. Through that time, I’ve been impressed by the way the film is being made. The project was put together independently by Oddlot, who shopped it around, saying “this is what we’re gonna do, take it or leave it” and got Lionsgate to bite. This was the first feature film to shoot at the booming Albuquerque Studios, a brand new state of the art facility. The set visit was in a lot of ways less impressive, given that all there was to see was a huge greenscreen-draped studio and a few bits of scenery. It was cool to see an old-fashioned delivery truck with the logo “Ditko’s Deliveries” stenciled on the side, and to chat briefly with Gabriel Macht in costume. Unfortunately, none of the films’ femmes fatale were on set that day.

Beyond that, I’ve met Miller a number of times. (Some day, I’ll have to get my pal Jeff to talk here about the time he asked Miller to make corrections on a piece of original art he owned.) I was most pleased to meet him at a Dark Horse Comic-Con party in 2002, when I handed him a copy of the first Variety comics special I had edited and got a quick pic, taken by DH editor Diana Schutz with my camera. I later learned Miller always does the evil-eye thing in pictures. That night, he excused himself to go say hi to “a good friend,” who turned out to be Will Eisner.

Eisner was one of the greats I never had a chance to really meet. My favorite Eisner story was in “Invisible People,” the episode in which an obit run by mistake destroys a meek man’s life while the newspaper editor refused to admit the mistake and eventually won an award for her error-free track record. I was asked to be a judge for the Eisner Awards in September 2004 (the same day I had gone to press event for the DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy and got to meet Mark Hamill and irvin Kershner — it was a good day). I had been looking forward to the opportunity to meet Eisner and perhaps talk with him a bit more. But it was not to be, as will died at the New Year, several months even before the judging. I don’t recall any of the judges discussing Eisner much in the room, but when the ceremony came around and Will wasn’t there, it was definitely a very sad moment.

Eisner and Miller’s relationship is also interesting, and I am quite looking forward to finding the time to reread “Eisner/Miller” after seeing the movie to see if the impression that these men were in tune with each other’s sensibilities was real or just an impression made larger than it really was by the very nice idea that these two creators from different generations could have the kind of collegial relationship they seemed to enjoy.

So, on to the giveaway: The first three people to answer the following three questions correctly in the comments section of this post will win a copy of the book. Be sure to use an email address I can use to contact you with when you make your post. I have to limit the contest to domestic entries, i.e., I will not ship overseas. I will contact the winners via email to get shipping info, etc. Got it? Go:

1. What year were the Eisner Awards first given out?

2. Who conducted the interviews in the 2005 book “Eisner/Miller”? (Bonus points if you can tell me what worthy comics org he works for.)

3. Which of his famous characters did Miller freely admit to copying almost directly from Eisner’s Sand Saref?

Good luck!

Early reviews blast ‘Spirit’

The premiere for “The Spirit” was last night at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and the early word is not good.

Justin Chang at Variety writes:

A slain cop is resurrected as a masked crime-fighter in “The Spirit,” but Frank Miller’s solo writing-directing debut plunges into a watery grave early on and spends roughly the next 100 minutes gasping for air. Pushing well past the point of self-parody, Miller has done Will Eisner’s pioneering comicstrip no favors by drenching it in the same self-consciously neo-noir monochrome put to much more compelling use in “Sin City.” Graphic-novel geeks will be enticed by the promise of sleek babes and equally eye-popping f/x, but general audiences will probably pass on this visually arresting but wholly disposable Miller-lite exercise.

Newsarama, which also covered the New York-based junket, is a little more polite about it:

If this film does well enough to rate a sequel, and with some more directorial seasoning under Miller’s belt, perhaps future installments could achieve the greatness this one just frustratingly teases. As it stands, “The Spirit” does a precarious balancing act juxtaposing great moments and terrible ones, leaving audiences likely be split over which makes the greater impression.

And Ain’t It Cool News skewers the film as the worst since “Battlefield Earth.” Ouch.

And now I’ve seen something that has taken the top prize from “Battlefield Earth.” I mean, I honestly thought that would never happen. And it’s not like there aren’t MANY shitty movies made every year, and it’s not like I don’t SEE many of those. In fact, friends of mine and I have recently started a “Bad Movie Night,” where we have an opening act, a main feature, and a dessert: all of incredibly bad film & TV (the last one we did featured a vampire theme, so we started with “Knight Beat” (only available on VHS, but highly recommended), we feasted on the horror that is “Lost Boys 2: The Tribe”, and then for dessert, watched the (very) little-seen, “Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special” (holy crap! Amazing!). They’re our very own “MST3K” nights.

I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve seen the film, though given my general reaction to Frank Miller’s writing the past decade I can’t say my hopes for this film are high (despite the apparently excellent technical aspects of the film) were terribly high even before reading the reviews.

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