Saturday, March 31, 2012

NEW ON THE BOOK SHELF! This is just a cursory glance at the books I've been reading lately. In only the last few months, I've read two books which now belong to the list of my all-time favourites; this past December it was Sterling Hayden's WANDERER and now the newest addition is Kevin A. Codd's TO THE FIELD OF STARS: A PILGRIM'S JOURNEY TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA. My recent obsession with the famous "El Camino" or "Way of St. James" pilgrimage from Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain has led me to read a couple books on the subject. Fortunately, the first one was Codd's magnificent chronicle of his own camino in 2003. It is beautifully written with a sense of immediacy and vivid descriptive style which made it a page-turner for me. Reading this book puts one right there on the road with Codd as we experience his moments of crankiness and joy from his descriptions of everything from spiritual eurekas to snoring pilgrims in the bunk above, from the vast casts of eccentrics he meets along the way to his painful battles with blisters and tendonitis. This is a book I seriously could not put down. If you've seen the Emilio Estevez-directed film THE WAY starring Martin Sheen, you HAVE to read this book! It's undoubtedly become one of my favourite books of all-time.
THE ALL-STAR COMPANION (4 Volumes) by Roy Thomas. There has simply never been a more comprehensive study of Justice Society of America: the first super-hero team in comics. And Roy Thomas may be their number one fan! After breaking into comics as a writer, Thomas eventually succeeded Stan Lee as the Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics before moving to DC in the early 1980s to launch THE ALL-STAR SQUADRON title which focused on retroactive tales of all DC's heroes banding together at the start of World War II. The four volumes of this book series chronicle the very beginnings of the JSA in ALL-STAR COMICS #3 in 1940 through the wilderness years of the fifties before their re-emergence during the "Silver Age" with their annual summer JLA/JSA team-ups in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Basically every appearance by these heroes (from what was then known as Earth-2) is examined as well as fascinating tales of stories which were written and drawn but never published. There's tons of rare and unseen artwork from some of the greatest artists in the comic book field past and present with many different authors contributing chapters on a variety of subjects. Simply indispensable!
DOCTOR DEATH VS. THE SECRET TWELVE (2 Volumes) by Harold Ward with Will Murray is a glimpse of the glory days of pulp fiction. These two wonderful books are NOT reproductions of pulp magazines but each story from the DOCTOR DEATH MAGAZINE which began in 1935. The books do include illustrations from the pulp issues, however. Dr. Death of course is your garden-variety evil genius bent on ruling and/or destroying the world with such marvelously macabre tactics as reanimating the dead into unstoppable zombies. Volume One containts the classic stories "12 MUST DIE" (hello, Juggalos), "THE GRAY CREATURES" and "THE SHRIVELING MURDERS". How great are those titles?!? The second volume contains two stories that were never published and not known to exist until recently: "WAVES OF MADNESS" and "THE RED MIST OF DEATH". These pulps are crammed full of blood, guts and mayhem and make for a delectable read.
Aaron Christensen has put together a tome entitled HORROR 101: THE A-LIST OF HORROR FILMS AND MONSTER MOVIES VOL. 1 which is something of a primer for horror novices. The book attempts to provide a list of "must-sees" for any newcomer to the horror genre with essays on one horror film provided by a different author. Christensen compiles a group of horror films which, while providing nothing new to those of us who make horror films a study, is a fun read which will certainly come in handy to those unfamiliar with this genre and these films. From ALIEN to THE WOLF MAN, this book is as good a place to start as any.
David Pirie has updated his classic study of the British horror film with A NEW HERITAGE OF HORROR: THE ENGLISH GOTHIC CINEMA. The original book is one of the monuments of early horror film scholarship and this new edition proudly pastes Martin Scorsese's rave review on the cover: "The best study of British horror movies". If Scorsese said that about a book I wrote, I'd plaster it all over the front cover too! The author has expanded his original work and brought it up to the present day. If you've never read the original, this is your chance to get up to date!
Speaking of classic horror film books, Jonathan Rigby has brought out a new book to place alongside his classics ENGLISH GOTHIC and his more recent sequel AMERICAN GOTHIC which exhaustively examines the English and American horror films respectively. This time out he's written STUDIES IN TERROR: LANDMARKS OF HORROR CINEMA which focuses individually on 130 key horror films in the history of cinema. Arranged chronologically, Rigby devotes two pages to each film starting with THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) all the way to OUTCAST (2009). Obviously not meant as an in depth analysis, STUDIES IN TERROR is more like a bunch of horror hors d'oeuvres served up by one of the most respected experts on horror films around today. Rigby's book is a treat. Scamper out and buy all these books, children. They're good for you and magically delicious!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

LATELY I'VE HAD A TASTE FOR 30s and 40s PROGRAMMERS - WHAT WITH THE TARZAN FLICKS AND "OLD DARK HOUSE" VIEWING EVIDENCED IN THE LAST TWO POSTS. NO BUNUEL OR BERGMAN OR KUROSAWA THIS WEEK. And among these B-programmers are some Charlie Chans as well. Sometimes considered the best among them is CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND (1939). Earl Derr Biggers' great detective from Honolulu is still to be found at 20th Century-Fox so the production values are higher than we'll find once Chan moves to "Poverty Row" at Monogram. Sidney Toler, of course, has taken over quite capably as Chan from Warner Oland and we also have boyish Sen Yung as Number Two Son after Keye Luke's more mature Number One Son earlier in the series. Both Toler and Yung came aboard at the same time in an earlier film. The background of the film, as evidenced from the title, is the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair at Treasure Island; this is the lesser-known counterpart to the famous 1939 New York World's Fair with it's iconic Trylon and Perisphere and "The World of Tomorrow". However, we hardly see any of Treasure Island in the movie as it is not a focal point but merely a background notion. The real meat concerns an otherworldly occultist/spiritualist named Dr. Zodiac who is rarely seen by the general public and wears an eerie face mask and a turban. Flying into San Francisco's Treasure Island on a clipper ship, fellow passenger/Chan acquaintance/mystery novelist Paul Essex (Louis Jean Heydt) keels over dead of an apparent suicide after receiving a radiogram from Dr. Zodiac threatening "disaster if Zodiac obligations ignored". It is discovered that Essex's briefcase containing a manuscript of his mystery novel concerning a fake mystic has gone missing. Down at the police station, Chan's friend Deputy Chief Kilvaine (crusty old Donald McBride) introduces the sleuth to crusading reporter Pete Lewis (Douglas Fowley) and Chan's old friend stage magician Fred Rhadini (Cesar Romero). Both men are out to expose charlatan table-tappers and Dr. Zodiac is tops on their hit list; they suspect Zodiac is behind the recent suicides of three men who were his clients and Chan begins to suspect that Essex may be number four. Chan, Lewis and Rhadini goe to Dr. Zodiac's mansion in the guise of a "consultation" where they meet the turbaned mystic with the false face who sees through their motives and requests their departure at gunpoint. Later that night at a party Rhadini is throwing at the Hawaiian Club on Treasure Island, we are introduced to Pete Lewis' girlfriend Eve Cairo who is also Rhadini's magical assistant and a true psychic who defends Dr. Zodiac as genuine and not a fake. During the party, an ornate knife is thrown at Chan and just misses him. After the party, Chan returns through the fog to Zodiac's mansion (as a black cat walks across his path) and is met there first by Lewis and Rhadini and then by Number Two Son Jimmy (Sen Yung). Zodiac is nowhere to be found but the detective soon discovered files containing blackmail information supplied by Dr. Zodiac's many clients in all states of the union. Chan burns the damaging information with the explanation "Am asking flames to keep secrets of many unfortunate people". The next day Chan tries to trap Dr. Zodiac by having Rhadini issue a challenge in the newspapers to match their psychic/magical powers at Rhadini's nightly performance. Zodiac agrees to appear in a mysterious note written on the back of the last page of Essex's manuscript pinned to the theater wall with an ornate knife. As the magic show begins, Dr. Zodiac mysteriously appears in the theater and makes his way to the stage. The theater lights are doused as Rhadini leviates Eve Cairo above the audience's heads; just then Dr. Zodiac is murdered by a "pygmy arrow": the very maguffin used in Paul Essex's manuscript! Chan asks everyone to resume their places in order to see where everyone was by having Rhadini once again do his levitation trick. With Number Two Son Jimmy standing in for Eve Cairo on the levitating platform, the lights once again go out and Rhadini is struck down by a knife!
CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND moves at a lightning fast clip (provided by director Norman Foster) which doesn't allow time for any lulls. I've always found Sidney Toler quite good as Charlie Chan and not a patch at all on Warner Oland; I may even prefer Toler but I'm still not sure. A few more Chans under my viewing belt will help me decide. As always, when Charlie Chan films include anything remotely suggesting the horror genre I become much more interested and TREASURE ISLAND does that quite well with several scenes involving seances (a favourite device in several Chan films including CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM and BLACK MAGIC aka MEETING AT MIDNIGHT). The extremely creepy Dr. Zodiac in his unmoving false face mask is genuinely unnerving and a great visual. Of course, added interest is generated by the theory held by many that this film may have actually been seen by the actual Zodiac Killer who terrorized 1969 San Francisco well into the 1970s; many of the real Zodiac's methods (cryptic notes, newspaper challenges, masks and disguises and the name "Zodiac" itself) are shared with the Charlie Chan film. Another interesting theory (provided in a special feature mini-documentary on the dvd which compares the film with the real life killer) mentions that Cesar Romero also played the Joker on an episode of BATMAN broadcast in January 1967 entitled "The Zodiac Crimes" which also includes some ideas used only two years later by the real life Zodiac Killer including sending coded messages to the newspapers. It is by no means a stretch to posit that whoever Zodiac was he may have quite easily watched both a TV broadcast of this old Charlie Chan movie as well as the recent BATMAN episode and used some of the ideas set forth therein. We'll probably never know but this conjecture certainly adds an added mystique to CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

DARK AND STORMY NIGHT (2009) IS A LOVING SPOOF OF "OLD DARK HOUSE" MOVIES WHICH REACHED A CRESCENDO IN THE 1930s AND 1940s ON MOVIE HOUSE SCREENS. Written and directed by Larry Blamire (who brought you 50's sci-fi horror parody "THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA"), the film has a sparklingly witty script and engaging performances. The viewer's enjoyment of the film is probably connected quite closely with a fondness for this type of movie which reaches back to the silent film era ("THE CAT AND THE CANARY" (1927) being a prime example) and even farther back to the Mary Roberts Rinehart stage plays. Blamire himself is obviously quite fond of them and that's what makes this such a winning picture. In fact, while THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA was quite cute it didn't really have the laughs whereas DARK AND STORMY NIGHT is genuinely quite funny. The tone and timing of the writing is spot on and the actors carry off their lines with relish and finesse. All this makes NIGHT Blamire's best film yet.
It all starts off in patented Bulwer-Lytton fashion on a "dark and stormy night" in which reporter Eight O'Clock Faraday (Daniel Roebuck: good ole Arnzt from LOST) is taking a cab to the remote spooky "old dark house" of the late Sinas Cavinder where his greedy family has gathered for the reading of his will natch. Faraday is short "toity-five cents" for the fare and cabbie Happy Codburn (Dan Conroy) insists on being paid. Hoping to get the toity-five cents from someone in the house, Faraday and Codburn knocks on the door followed by wise-cracking rival reporter Billy Tuesday (Jennifer Blaire: the slinky Animala from LOST SKELETON). Inside the storm-tossed mansion is a wacky collection of relatives which are constantly supplemented by strange passers-by who just happen to break down outside the mansion. Oh, and the bridge of course has been washed out by the storm. And the Cavinder estate has been plagued by a weird hooded "Phantom". . . and a serial killer called "The Cavinder Strangler". . . oh, and there's a witch's curse on the place from an ancestor who was burned at the stake 300 years before . . . well, these things happen in all families, I guess. There's the reading of the will and several murders, secret passages and hooded killers and all the other tropes populating every "old dark house" movies you've ever seen. It is clear Blamire has seen most of these films as their are clear homages to such films as THE CAT AND THE CANARY, ROGUES TAVERN, THE THIRTEENTH GUEST, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT, MURDER BY INVITATION and countless others. The reporters played by Roebuck and Blaire are strongly reminiscent of Wallace Ford and Barbara Pepper in ROGUES TAVERN as well as WALLACE FORD and Marian Marsh in MURDER BY INVITATION. Brian Howe as sniveling nephew Burling Famish Jr. somewhat based his characterisation on Terry-Thomas! Jim Beaver (best known from TV's SUPERNATURAL) plays a big game hunter delightfully and Alison Martin plays spiritualist/medium Mrs. Cupcupboard in the vein of similar mediums to be found in both ROGUES TAVERN and FOG ISLAND; I can find no specific verification of my theory that Ms. Martin is the sister of SCTV's Andrea Martin but the resemblance is uncanny. Most (if not all) of the cast of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA is here as well as some well-known interlopers such as Daniel Roebuck. Betty Garrett (veteran of stage, screen & television in everything from ON THE TOWN to recurring roles as Irene Lorenzo on ALL IN THE FAMILY to landlady Edna Babish on LAVERNE & SHIRLEY) makes her final film appearance here; not surprising since Andrew Parks (appearing here as Lord Partfine and as Kro-Bar in LOST SKELETON) is her son with actor Larry Parks (of THE AL JOLSON STORY fame). Making a fine cameo appearance as surly lawyer Farper Twyly is character actor Mark Redfield (THE DEATH OF POE, TERROR IN THE TROPICS, DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE {2002}). Veteran character actor James Karen (Craig T. Nelson's boss in POLTERGEIST and perennial PATHMARK supermarket pitchman) plays dotty uncle Seyton Ethelquake and Marvin Kaplan (forever known to me as fence Hymie in HOT STUFF) guests as a disembodied ghostly head at the requisite seance. If that isn't enough, beloved Bob Burns once again dons his legendary gorilla suit as Kogar. This is truly an enjoyable confection which will warm the heart of any classic horror fan. And speaking of warmth . . . the obvious affection Blamire has for these "old dark house" films is in the same league as that on display from Mel Brooks in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. You can't parody something truthfully unless you have a genuine love for it and Larry Blamire's DARK AND STORMY NIGHT is overflowing with it. This is definitely going to be required viewing for me next Halloween!

Hooked on Classic Movies

Sunday, March 25, 2012

STEAMY JUNGLE: TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934). If you don't care a bit about Tarzan movies, this is generally the one to see. The only Tarzan movie in Danny Peary's indispensible CULT MOVIES book (although Peary gives Gordon Scott's TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE the slight edge as "best" Tarzan flick), TARZAN AND HIS MATE is not to be missed if for no other reason than to see the chemistry between stars Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller and Maureen "Jane" O'Sullivan. The heat is palpable in this second installment of the Tarzan saga on the silver screen. In the first film TARZAN THE APE MAN, Jane is sequestered in her safari suit but here, a year after Jane has "gone native" in the jungle with Tarzan, our heroine has let most vestiges of western civilisation behind her . . . as well as most of her clothing! It may seem a little shallow to be focusing so much on O'Sullivan's wardrobe but frankly her brief costume is where the action is -- despite there being plenty of nail-biting action to be found in this movie. O'Sullivan's scant halter top and loincloth which leaves her side view remarkably bare would not survive into the next picture; the Hays Office would imprison Jane in a one-piece burlap sack by the sequel. Here, however, Weissmuller and O'Sullivan seldom share screen time without touching one another

and the heat generated is palpable -- particularly in the justly celebrated nude swimming scene which is only slightly less famous than Hedy Lamarr's! The relationship between Tarzan and Jane is on a remarkably equal footing with both characters portrayed as playful lovers and complementary helpmates. The pair are obviously "living in sin" despite one crowbarred-in piece of dialogue which has Jane coaxing Tarzan into calling her his "wife"; unless there's a jungle justice-of-the-peace off-camera this pair is deliciously shacking up!

(l to r) Nathan Curry (rear), Neil Hamilton, Maureen O'Sullivan, Paul Cavanagh

There is, however, a story here and quite an engrossing one. Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton from the previous picture), Jane's former intended, and his hunter-buddy Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh) venture back into Tarzan's jungle a year later to pick up some ivory lying around in the "elephant's graveyard". Holt also daydreams about winning Jane back. Fat chance! After Tarzan's refuses to lead the expedition to the elephant's graveyard, Arlington shoots Timba, one of Tarzan's elephant buddies, in order that the dying elephant will lead him to the elephant's graveyard and the easy-pickins ivory. While away fishing, Tarzan is shot by Arlington who then tells Jane that her ape man has been vanquished by a crocodile. Tarzan is carried from the water by a loyal hippo and nursed back to help by his ape friends. Meanwhile, a devastated Jane goes along with the expedition who follows Timba to the elephant's graveyard. No sooner do they get there than they are attacked by savage natives known as "the men who eat lions"; these warrior call the lions to the ravine where the expedition is trapped so they can make happy meals outta them. Will Jane ever discover her lover lives? And will Tarzan recover in time to find Jane and rescue her from the lions' jaws?
TARZAN AND HIS MATE is an fun romp spiced with a lot of sex and a great deal of action which is truly suspenseful. The film also has several uneven stretches where the film seems to be marking time. However, it is still a marvelous adventure film. Director Cedric Gibbons has his one and only director credit on this film (shared with uncredited co-directors Jack Conway and James C. McKay). Gibbons is more famous as one of the greatest art directors in cinema with a ridiculously long line of art direction credits in well over 1000 movies from 1919 to 1956. The briefest list of his credits include MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1929), THE UNHOLY THREE with Lon Chaney Sr. (1930), GRAND HOTEL (1932), MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932) with Boris Karloff, THE THIN MAN (1934), MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) with Bela Lugosi, MAD LOVE (1935) with Peter Lorre and Colin Clive, the Marx Brothers classics A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935) and A DAY AT THE RACES (1937), A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), ON BORROWED TIME (1939), THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), THE WOMEN (1939), NINOTCHKA (1939), BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 (1940), THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940), DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941), WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942), THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), ADAM'S RIB (1949), THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), THE NAKED SPUR (1953), THE BAND WAGON (1953), and FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)! This is only a minute fraction of movies which Cedric Gibbons art directed. The villainous Paul Cavanagh, who makes a play for Tarzan's Jane and hence HAS to die, appeared in such films as Katharine Hepburn's screen debut A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT (1932), the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films THE SCARLET CLAW (1944), THE HOUSE OF FEAR (1945) and THE WOMAN IN GREEN (1945), THE STRANGE DOOR (1951) with Boris Karloff, HOUSE OF WAX (1953) with Vincent Price, Douglas Sirk's MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1954) with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson and his final film THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959). Poor old Harry Holt is played by Neil Hamilton, best known as Commisioner Gordon in TV's BATMAN series but also to be found in films including THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU (1929), THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU (1930), THE CAT CREEPS (1930) and the original TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932). Head of the native bearers Saidi is played by Nathan Curry who had a part to play in other genre efforts such as an uncredited "native" in KING KONG (1933), an elevator operator in Katharine Hepburn's Oscar-winning MORNING GLORY (1933), another uncredited native in SON OF KONG (1933) and a policeman in the Mantan Moreland "race" film MR. WASHINGTON GOES TO TOWN (1941).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

1962: SOME FAVOURITE FILMS FROM 50 YEARS AGO. In an effort to prove that this is NOT a comic book blog (recent posts to the contrary), I thought I'd trot out the yearly list of my ten favouritest films from half a century ago. This is quite a big year since it not only contains my favourite film of all time (L'ECLISSE) but also two from my top 10 faves of all-time (LONG DAY'S JOURNEY as well), my favourite Luis Bunuel film and also my mother's favourite film. Talk about a monumental movie year! So here goes, in alphabetical ordure:
ADVISE & CONSENT - Otto Preminger's all-star political powerhouse of backroom deals and Capitol Hill hardball has the Senate investigating the President's newly nominated candidate for Secretary of State and his possible political hot potato past. Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Gene Tierney, Burgess Meredith and Walter Pidgeon head a stupendous cast.
BILLY BUDD - I'm a sucker for Herman Melville and here's an excellent film adaptation of the short story directed here by Peter Ustinov (!) and featuring the screen debut of Terence Stamp as the naive, almost angelic sailor who is pressed into serving on a Royal Navy ship where he encounters not only an onboard evil but also man's fundamental struggle with conscience, honour and duty. Truly gripping by the film's climax. The great Robert Ryan, Peter Ustinov and Melvyn Douglas head a cast of brilliant British character actors.
L'ECLISSE - The current reigning champ as my favourite film of all-time (closely followed by and sometimes switching places with Bergman's WINTER LIGHT), director Michelangelo Antonioni masterpiece about the existential crisis of modern man as well as our strange alienation from each other and a few other monumental themes of modern life. Il maestro's muse Monica Vitti and Alain Delon star.
THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL - Probably my favourite Luis Bunuel film involving a dinner party of well-to-do's who find themselves unable to leave the dining room. Ever. Baffling and intriguing as only Bunuel can be. Stars Sylvia Pinal, Jacqueline Andere, Enrique Rambal and many more.
LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT - One of my top ten favourite films. Sidney Lumet adapts Eugene O'Neill's searing semi-autobiographical play of a family's tense inter-relationships and the coping with a mother's drug addiction. Perhaps Katharine Hepburn's greatest screen role (and that's saying something) for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, the film also stars Sir Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards Jr. and Dean Stockwell.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - My mother's favourite film. The classic film of a brainwashed war hero unconsciously awaiting the code words which will turn him into a robotic assassin. John Frankenheimer directs Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Frank Sinatra, and Janet Leigh in this tense and spooky thriller. Why don't you pass the time by playing solitaire?
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE - Perhaps John Ford's final masterpiece finds a Senator who became famous for killing a notorious outlaw returning for the funeral of an old friend and, in the process, discovering some past secrets. John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles and Woody Strode star in this elegiac western classic.
TALES OF TERROR - Time for a little popcorn-munching fun with Roger Corman's portmanteau movie adapting three Edgar Allan Poe tales: Morella, The Black Cat and The Case of M. Valdemar. Starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - Classic film adaptation of Harper Lee's great American novel of a Southern lawyer defending a black man against a trumped-up rape charge while trying to teach his own kids to reject prejudice. Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, and a young Robert Duvall star in this Robert Mulligan classic.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? - The ultimate horror hag masterpiece with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford locking horns as two decaying Hollywood sisters confined to a decaying Hollywood mansion. As sick and twisted as Robert Aldrich could make it!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

THIS HAS BEEN A BAD MONTH FOR COMIC ART FANS: JEAN GIRAUD A.K.A. "MOEBIUS" HAS DIED. One of the undisputed geniuses and poets of comic art has been taken from us by that shit cancer. Working in bandes dessinees since he was 17, Giraud (or as his more widely known pseudonym Moebius) is probably one of the 2 or 3 artists one goes to first when trying to demonstrate that comic art is a legitimate artform. Celebrated the world over with fans from Federico Fellini to Stan Lee, Giraud's body of work is staggering: BLUEBERRY, THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE OF JERRY CORNELIUS, ARZACH, the Eisner-winning two issue SILVER SURFER mini-series, METAL HURLANT (HEAVY METAL) and countless other masterpieces. Here is a small sampling of artwork which is my inadequate tribute to a titan of an artist.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

SHELDON MOLDOFF (1920 - 2012): GOLDEN-AGE GREAT! I have been reading the 4 volumes of Roy Thomas' ALL-STAR COMPANION of late (which chronicles the history of the Justice Society of America -- the world's first super-hero team in comic book history), so it came as very sad news indeed of Shelly's death at the age of 91. Moldoff was there pretty much from the beginning of the golden age of comics. Shelly sold his first comic book work at the age of 17 after fellow golden age artist Bernard Bailey caught some of Shelly's chalk sidewalk drawings and asked him if he'd like to be a cartoonist. Moldoff's first sold work, incidentally, was a sports filler page appearing on the inside back cover of ACTION COMICS #1; yeah, that's only the very first appearance of Superman. Moldoff became the premier Hawkman artist and was also there for the historic first super-hero team the Justice Society of America in ALL-STAR COMICS. This makes Shelly directly involved in two of the most important comic books of all-time: the first appearance of a super-hero in ACTION COMICS #1 (although tangentially) and the first appearance of a super-hero team in ALL-STAR COMICS #3. Not many comics creators can boast that kind of Cv. But that was only the beginning. Moldoff was also one of the famous "ghost artists" on the original run of Batman; ghosting under Bob Kane's bi-line on DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN for 14 years from 1953 to 1967. In the process, Moldoff created or co-created such characters as Batman villain Poison Ivy, Batwoman, the original Bat-Girl, Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, Mr. Freeze, Clayface and Black Pirate. In the 1940's, Moldoff was a prolific cover artist drawing the first cover appearance of the Golden Age Green Lantern (in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS #16). Moldoff was also a pioneer in horror comics when super-heroes popularity began to wane. After an initial rancorous encounter bringing horror title ideas to E.C. Comics, Shelly struck a deal with Fawcett to publish such early horror titles as THIS MAGAZINE IS HAUNTED, WORLDS OF FEAR and STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES. Besides ghost-drawing Batman books under the Bob Kane bi-line, Moldoff also inked a great many DC titles including Legion of Super-Heroes in ADVENTURE COMICS over Curt Swan's pencils. After he and several other golden-age artists were let go by DC in 1967, Moldoff did work in animation including COURAGEOUS CAT AND MINUTE MOUSE. Shelly also made numerous comic convention appearances up until 2009. As a tribute, I'd like to provide a gallery of some of the wonderful artwork of Golden-Age great Sheldon Moldoff.
Some classic Shelly Moldoff Hawkman covers from FLASH COMICS
from Shelly's Batman tenure: the iconic "Dead Robin" cover
Modern rendition of the Justice Society of America
Classic Batman Family Pin-Up Page I remember from my youth
A modern character study of the Golden Age Flash
A wonderful retro Batman cover that never was featuring the Bat Rogues
Wonder Woman meets Poison Ivy in a modern drawing
Spectacular modern pin-up of Batwoman & the classic Batmobile
The Spectre in a modern day rendition
Classic Bob Kane-era Batman pose newly drawn by Shelly
The Joker in a modern character study
A classic bunch of All-Stars in a modern-day drawing
A fitting coda to this tribute gallery: modern-day rendition of Hawkman