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Blood of the Virgin by Sammy Harkham review — Painfully Honest Scenes From a Marriage

Pantheon edition of BLOOD OF THE VIRGIN

Blood of the Virgin. Sammy Harkham. Pantheon, Penguin Random House. New York. 2023. 296 pp. $30.

A quick and apt description of the comics created by Sammy Harkham would be “painfully honest.” While this sentence alone may not mean very much to the vast sea of potential readers, it will resonate with many, not only the comics aficionado but the general reader. This particular work is at the masterpiece level when it comes to full-length graphic novels. Fans and critics alike have been patiently waiting for the various parts they’ve read published elsewhere to all come together and so here we go: a story about Hollywood, its underbelly; in fact, the exploitation scene of the 1970s. Our anti-hero, Seymour, working at one of these cheap movie studios and patiently waiting his turn, has been promoted leaving him in charge of his own movie. This level of responsibility, and relative notoriety, easily consumes him threatening an already shaky relationship with his wife, Ida.

Over a decade in the making.

Like any worthwhile graphic novel project, this book has been many years in the making. The bulk of the book was created in installments and appeared in the author’s own self-published comic book, Crickets, as well as his legendary ongoing comics anthology, Kramers Ergot. Anyone who seriously follows the indie comics scene will at least be aware of Sammy Harkham. Diehards will closely follow his every turn. And, for the vast majority of readers, this will be the first time they are exposed to this work.

Oh, Little Piglet!

Harkham’s cartooning style is a classic approach in the great tradition of working from reality and paring away to the essentials. This style fits in with great comics from the last century like MAD Magazine. It’s a very readable style that embraces personal moments between characters. We see Seymour and Ida, over and over again, at their best and worst. We certainly see plenty of Seymour at his worst. The stage is set early on with the big hint that Seymour doesn’t appreciate his wife and maybe the same goes for Ida. We proceed waiting for the other shoe to drop. The whole business with exploitation movies may as well be one big MacGuffin compared to what happens to these two. Harkham makes us care over and over again.

Hollywood, then and now, has always been a tough business.

Hollywood looms large over everything. That can’t be denied. Seymour is in the storytelling business, even if it’s a very small and cheesy slice of it. Maybe he just needs to be a part of it, a way to live forever. It’s more than half way into the book before there’s any mention of why Seymour does what he does. He claims to love horror movies. Even the cast he’s directing admit they love rock bands more than movies. Maybe Seymour loves the movie-making process more than just movies. That remains a question. Seymour himself remains a question.

Kvetching and kibitzing at Canter’s Deli.

Seymour’s story is about a young man who must do something. If it isn’t making movies, then maybe it would be making comics. Throughout the book, we see him following his passion of making something of himself. He doesn’t really know all that much about movies, about women, about the world around him. All he really knows is that he must do something. One epiphany may lead to another but, while you’re busy living your life, it can look like one big mess. And it is a mess. As Ida puts it, “Even at its best, life is just really annoying.” In the end, Ida and Seymour are an immature young married couple who can’t afford yet to fully appreciate each other, themselves, or even their child. Such is life and Sammy Harkham manages to strike the right chord with each and every painfully honest key.

Is it worth turning your life upside down for five minutes of faux wisdom?

It’s funny how a story that spans a few weeks can take fourteen years to complete. Such is the nature of bringing to life a fully-formed comics masterwork. If you are among the select number of comics aficionados who have diligently followed this story as it came out in issues of Crickets, and think you’re done with it, I encourage you to read the whole thing through now in its collected form. It may not be as you remembered it. Maybe it’s not, at its core, a story about storytelling. Well, that’s only part of it. After giving this a read from beginning to end, I stand by my interpretation that it’s a steady and deliberate look at callow youth trying to make sense of it all. It’s certainly not only about Hollywood ambition. If it was, Harkham wouldn’t have devoted an entire issue of Crickets to Ida’s sudden detour, her visit to see her parents in Auckland.

Portrait of a Young Couple.

This story is exploring the existential crisis we all must confront. Is Seymour going to find salvation in the movie business? Unless he’s really serious about seeking out what is most artful in the horror movie genre, then maybe he’s just as likely to move on to other pursuits. But, at this particular point in time, movie-making is his thing. What is it that matters most to Seymour? Even with his movie passion supposedly locked in, he would be hard pressed to articulate what his priorities are. Other readers will have their own opinions. This is one of those special graphic novels that genuinely invites its own book club! Who knows, maybe Blood of the Virgin will ascend to that most coveted of heights: spoken in the same breathe with Maus and Persepolis. It’s that good!

Blood of the Virgin is now available for pre-order. The Pantheon collected edition comes out May 2, 2023.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, Kramers Ergot, Sammy Harkham

Jerome Charyn on Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and Hollywood Heartbreak

There’s that moment in Citizen Kane, after Kane has lost it all and he turns to Bernstein, his right-hand man, and Kane says, “If I hadn’t grown up wealthy, I could have been a great man.” It’s a wonderfully odd thing to realize that, if only you hadn’t been given everything in the world, you just might have amounted to something. That’s one way of reading it. In this case, the ultimate answer may, like so much in this film, remain a mystery.

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Director Interview: Animated Short THE CLEARING

A marriage on the rocks about to implode.

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SILVER creator Stephan Franck interview – A Meta Pulp Universe!

Silver: Of Treasures and Thieves, Book I is out as of October 25, 2022, published by Abrams. It is a deluxe hardcover edition and quite the immersive treat for anyone who loves a good yarn, especially one that takes much of the good stuff from pulp fiction and gives it a good tweak, a veritable mashup of adventure lore and vampire gore.

The meta pulp universe of Silver.

There’s no doubt that Stephan Franck has created something very special with Silver, a graphic novel set in a pulp noir universe of misfits, criminals and, of course, vampires. During our interview, I drive home the theme that much of the charm of this story is the journey and in the telling. This is absolutely an adrenaline-fueled adventure tale while also simply being a dazzling and mesmerizing play of words and images. The beauty of it all is that Franck has created a set of characters that you can really root for while, at the same time, is playing with tropes and just having fun. You can care about the characters or you can just curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the style.

Stephan Franck at the drawing board.

Part of the pitch to this book is a comparison to the vibe you get from Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the original Ocean’s Eleven. These are two very different animals but, at the end of the day, we’re talking about a high level of entertainment, be it high or low art or a mashup of the two. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has never gone out of print since it was first published in April 1897. It was a bestseller in its day and is regarded as high art literature. Ocean’s Eleven was a big hit when it first appeared in movie theaters in 1960. It is an American heist film directed by Lewis Milestone and made the stars of the movie famous as the Rat Pack. It is one of those movies with a high level of irony that seemed to want it both ways: not to be taken seriously and yet leave you guessing. In a word, it was all about atmosphere. Take these two entertainments and roll them up into a fine paste and you’ve got yourself a gooey and frothy mix of the sinister and the ambiguous. Just the sort of clay to play with when looking to create the next pop culture mashup.

Think about pop culture in the last few decades, starting with, say, the treatment of Batman by Frank Miller, in The Dark Knight trilogy. There’s one of your finest examples of what has come to be accepted as working in an “elevated genre.” That’s the whole point. As Franck states, the idea is to “tell the most universal stories in the weirdest way possible.” And that’s what Silver is all about. You’ve got soldier of fortune types at odds with vampires. What could go wrong, right? Except for a roller coaster of a story for your delight.

Be sure to keep up with Stephan Franck here and here. And seek out SILVER, published by Abrams.

I hope you enjoy this video podcast. And, as always, a LIKE, SUBSCRIBE and/or COMMENT is always appreciated.

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BIG RED by Jerome Charyn book review — Rita and Orsie and Old Hollywood

BIG RED. Book cover art by Edward Sorel.

Big Red. Jerome Charyn. Liveright. New York. 2022. 304pp. Hardcover. $28

Orson Welles was a magician in the truest sense of the word. He loved to dazzle an audience. And he was utterly fascinated with the process in which to dazzle. Many an entertainer and creative loves magic. To excel in this conjuring art form requires skill, passion, and no small amount of ego. And so it makes sense that such an inquistive novelist as Jerome Charyn, one who loves magic and is intrigued by magicians, not to mention movies, should pick Orson upon which to build a novel. Add to that the fact that Welles was married to one of the most beautiful and enigmatic of movie stars, Rita Hayworth, and you have the perfect framework for a tale about Old Hollywood.

The Boy Wonder

Orson Welles portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue 1945

Throughout the novel, Orson Welles is called, “The Boy Wonder,” as much in honor of his genius as a dig at his excess. Welles was, in many respects, one of a kind, an outsized force of nature, untamed and undisciplined, and therefore an imperfect maestro. He was a masterful filmmaker, creating unique imagery, capturing compelling performances from his fellow actors, but prone to missteps in his lavish storytelling. He was also sloppy in his personal relationships, as Rita Hayworth, aka “Big Red,” could attest. However, as Charyn comes back to again and again, there was no director quite like him. This is a novel about art colliding with life and vice versa. Orson Welles seemed to be able to better tolerate the burden of celebrity than his spouse, Rita Hayworth. But even The Boy Wonder had his limits. Charyn plays with these dynamics, these contradictions, repeatedly bringing home the fact that a big, flat footed and insecure man, no matter how talented, was perpetually bending to the pressures of being a Boy Wonder. And if the pressure should prove too much for someone as flamboyant as Welles, then how must it have been for someone so shy and demure as Rita Hayworth?

The true nature of one Rita Hayworth, with her own nickname, both a tribute and a put down, gets to the crux of the matter. Charyn brings out the fact that the real person behind the name wears the name of Big Red like an albatross around her neck. In a moment of passion, the nickname can praise just as quickly as it can cut. Who can live up to all the larger-than-life expectations? Not Rita, or Margarita, the girl who lost her childhood to a father who exploited and abused her, making her his dancing partner by age twelve, the two of them working as a duo in casinos, treating her as if she were his lover. The abuse had left her with little of a voice, a life of depression and despair, even though she had honed the skills, from an early age, of a great entertainer. Charyn provides the reader with a portrait of a formidable beauty with the soul of a frightened child.

Rita Hayworth in 1946’s Gilda.

Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth were married from 1943 to 1947. Much of the novel focuses on the dynamics of this mismatched couple. It was in star power that Hayworth held her own, and even eclipsed Welles for a time. But her shyness seemed to cancel out her extraordinary beauty. Charyn places a unique character, Rusty Redburn, right in the middle of the action, someone who manages to navigate her way between the two and provide special insight on them. Rusty is a young aspiring writer who stumbles into work on the Columbia lot and, by a set of circumstances, ends up working as a private secretary to Rita Hayworth while also serving as spy for studio boss Harry Cohn. Rusty learns it’s important to keep a close eye on Big Red, as well as Welles, but she does as she wants and maintains her loyalty to Rita and Orsie. Over the course of the novel, with Rusty’s vantage point, a rollicking story unfolds tracing the trajectory of two of the strangest and most magnificent of Hollywood icons.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

Mise-en-Scène or Depth of Field technique in CITIZEN KANE

As true to form as ever, Jerome Charyn tackles the man behind the celebrated cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane, and his power to fascinate an audience as well as hurt those he was supposed to love. Charyn, a great fan and scholar of cinema, with a journalist’s instinct for a great story, has made the most of his subject for his latest novel, filled with his signature use of imagery and metaphor. Charyn, the magician with words, delivers various breathtaking moments once all the chess pieces to his tale are in play. One of the greatest is when Orson Welles, at loose ends and in need of an adrenaline rush, mounts a full-scale circus in the middle of Hollywood. It is one of the most surreal and entertaining tributes to Hollywood and unfettered creativity you will ever read. It may seem a pity that Welles, the man, was unable to live up to the myth. It was a legend he himself helped to perpetuate and which choked him at every turn. Of course, no one, not even a magician, would ever have survived unscathed from all the bright lights, noise, and hype. Charyn brings home the point that it is this grand illusion that will forever fascinate and captivate, prone to ensnare an audience and actor alike.

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PULP POWER: The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Art of the Street and Smith Universe review

Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Art of the Street and Smith Universe. Neil McGinness. Abrams. New York. 2022. Fully illustrated, hardcover. 352pp. $58.50

Walter Gibson was the writer behind the masked hero, The Shadow. Writing under the pen name, Maxwell Grant, he developed a character that seemed to emerge on its own, out of the confluence of pop culture media, circa 1930: pulp fiction and radio. The character was a strange mix of mystery and daring, part of something bigger, and a sign of things to come. The strangeness begins with the eerie voice warning that it sees all: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” followed by a shrill cackle. Such an otherworldly introduction to adventure was like mana from heaven for the millions of beleaguered radio listeners across the country confronting the dire reality of the Great Depression. Stranger still, at that point, there was only the weird voice to introduce the mystery hour–but the voice had become the star! Overnight, people wanted more. Who is The Shadow? Where do I get The Shadow magazine? This would lead to perhaps the greatest scramble ever to flesh out a popular character that did not yet exist!

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

The Shadow went on to become the leading product of the famous Fiction Factory, founded by Francis Street, a bookkeeper, and Francis Smith, an aspiring writer in the 1850s. Street and Smith bought the New York Dispatch, a newspaper focused on news, and turned it into the New York Weekly (1858–1910), a newspaper focused on fiction, the foundation of what was to become the Street and Smith publishing empire. It was when this publishing house decided to step into creating radio shows that The Shadow emerged out of the ether. Pulp Power covers this phenomenal enterprise providing the reader with an in depth look at the origins of America’s first pop culture icons: The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Justice Inc., the trailblazers that would inspire Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, even the whole ball of wax at Marvel and DC Comics. Thanks to this generously illustrated book, with engaging writing by Neil McGinness, the original glory days of American pop culture come to life for the reader in this unique collection showcasing dazzling covers from pulp fiction, comics and movies, along with assorted ephemera.

The Shadow magazine

Getting back to The Shadow, if there is just one character to represent the exuberant creative force at play in the early years, it has got to be this strange, yet beloved, fellow. It’s fascinating to consider how much this character is so much of its time, and defies being easily bounced around various media until it finally settles into what works. Ultimately, a lot is working; it’s just a matter of doing justice to the material. You won’t be seeing a major motion picture anytime soon, until maybe you do. What you can count on is The Shadow thriving in prose and in audio. Perhaps that’s simply because The Shadow is so much a creature of the night, a mysterious force not to be observed too closely. He also has his specificity. He’s a New Yorker, and don’t you forget it. Thankfully, Neil McGinness does take a close look for the sake of better understanding the attraction. Essentially, it comes down to quality storytelling, which can’t be faked; it involves so many factors coming into place; and runs best with one determined author.

The Shadow comics

The Shadow’s original author, Walter Gibson, followed a tried and true formula, a five-point plan that never failed: a main crime; a problem arising from the main crime; a secondary crime that serves to complicate matters; an attempted third crime to thwart the investigation which is foiled by the hero; and the climax which reveals the villain, the trick, the true nature of the crime. It is a ticket to endless variations and served Gibson well as he went on to write nearly 300 Shadow novels. Not only that, Gibson was sensitive to literary refinements. In fact, The Shadow is closely based upon Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a hero but a dark hero. A crime fighter as grim and merciless as the worst criminal. This is a complicated character shrouded under layer upon layer of ambiguity. . .while, at the same time, just a fun thrill.

Orson Welles portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue, 1945

The Shadow radio show ran for 17 years, from 1937 to 1954. Orson Welles, then only 22 years-old, served as the first voice of the character in 1937. Welles was quite busy with his own Mercury Theater and would do the show with no rehearsals. He just did it and he proved to be one of the best of the actors to take on the role. This was around the time that Welles was at his hottest: a year later, he would make history with his War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. It’s a nice touch to see included here in this book a photo of Welles at the height of his success, a portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue in 1945. It’s a masterwork of a photograph, complete with all of Penn’s still life magic–and a fitting companion piece to the magic and mystery that is The Shadow.

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Comics: David’s Dad’s Movie by Doogie Horner

The comics in the spotlight this time around are by Doogie Horner, a great illustrator who I first took notice of for his book cover design (illustration by Jeremy Enecio) to the madcap fictional adventures of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Hope Never Dies.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It was shortly after spotting that book that I noticed another one with Horner credited for both illustration and design, a comedy mashup of Jane Austen and zombies! Maybe you’ve seen both of these iconic covers.

This Might Hurt a Bit

But it hardly ends there for Doogie Horner. Along with an impressive creative portfolio of graphic design, illustration and comics, he is also an author and a stand-up comedian. The great thing about whatever Doogie Horner does is that he’s very dedicated. His young adult novel has been well received, This Might Hurt a Bit. And you’ll just have to see for yourself how he tamed a hostile crowd when he was a contestant on America’s Got Talent!

Alright then, I’m very happy to bring to your attention this comic, a sweet story of a boy trying to connect with his dad. Or maybe it has more to do with the kid’s curiosity getting the better of him and his forcing his way into seeing a movie he was told would be too scary for him at his age. Yeah, that’s definitely a big part of the story. Spoiler alert, the movie was scary but not too scary. It depends upon how scary you think The Terminator is for a kid around five years-old. Okay, definitely parental supervision is in order.

The point is that this comic manages to do a lot of things right. It’s funny and engaging for any age. But, most importantly, it flows very well. This is a gentle narrative, told by a child, while maintaining a hip and upbeat sense of humor. The drawing style has a child-like, as well as elegant, simplicity.

So, this is an easygoing look and feel–and that’s actually not easy to do. It takes time to get that natural vibe going. Just ask Doogie Horner. He made it look easy to win over a hostile audience, something easier said and done, but he knows what he needs to know. Part of it is dedication to craft; part of it is learning from past mistakes; and part of it is simply not taking no for an answer. I get a sense of that spirit in this father and son story. Check it out, along with a bunch of other wonderful comics on Doogie Horner’s website.

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Interview: Comics Artist Brandon Lehmann

Comics artist Brandon Lehmann

First off, I invite you to read the review I wrote for The Comics Journal to the book in question, G-G-G Ghost Stories. That will add to the enjoyment of the following interview with the creator.

There are details in Brandon Lehmann‘s comics that will come back and reveal themselves upon another reading. Look closely and you’ll see, tucked away amid the backdrop of a mega-bookstore, copies of Brandon Lehmann’s new book, the recently released, G-G-G Ghost Storiesin the panels to his story, “The Werewolf Expert.” Another reading will reveal a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capicorn, in the hand of a child, a secondary player in this finely-crafted farce. The key idea here is the subject of creating such a thing as a “finely-crafted farce,” and why quality will win out in the end. Lehmann’s sense of humor is an absurdist and existential sensibility. Lehmann has been making comics for about fifteen years featuring observational and satirical work. In this new book, he focuses in on playful use of horror tropes. For this interview, we met at Seattle’s Smith Tower, a favorite haunt of erudite cartoonists and, of course, ghosts. We begin this conversation just as I sit down to join Brandon. I notice pot stickers have already been ordered. (We staged a bit of a humorous intro. You’ll see what I mean if you view the video.)

Hey, Brandon, well, I see you’ve started without me, as usual. Nice to run into you this way.

I just hang out up here in Smith Tower and read my own comics.

G-G-G Ghost Stories by Brandon Lehmann

So, what have we here (picking up a copy of Brandon’s book). Is the proper pronunciation just as it reads, G-G-G Ghost Stories?

When I named it, I was hoping for some awkward interactions at the sales counter. “I’ll take, G-G-G Ghost Stories, please.”

That would be a Scooby-Doo influence, right?

Yeah.

Interesting that we’d find ourselves in Smith Tower since, as everyone knows, this place is haunted.

Yeah, we saw a couple of ghosts on the way in. I was like, “Ahhh, it’s a g-g-g ghost.”

Page excerpt from “The Lfyt”

I think of a lot of your work, like the “The Lfyt,” as being mini-masterpieces. Do you sometimes think in those terms, “I’m going to create something that’s so spot on that everything works perfectly.” Does that make sense to say that?

Yeah, I always feel that when you’re working on a book, especially, you can get into this mode where everything you do just works. And then, when you finish a book, I have this period where I just struggle and I can’t seem to draw anything. But when I’m making a book, I can set a schedule, everything works on the first try for some reason. If that makes sense.

Page excerpt from “The Werewolf Expert” story from G-G-G Ghost Stories

It does make sense. I’m a certified cartoonist myself, as you know. Now, tell us about “The Werewolf Expert,” the longest work in the book.

There’s a trope in horror movies and TV shows where someone needs to seek an expert on the occult and it’s always someone who it doesn’t make sense would be an expert. Like, you’ll have this guy who works at the bowling alley as a mechanic and, for some reason, he’s a vampire expert. In “The Werewolf Expert,” someone consults a Barnes & Noble bookstore employee, and it’s the employee’s first day. And they shouldn’t know anything about werewolf lore but part of the B&N orientation training is that they teach all about werewolf lore. That employee knows a lot but eventually he consults his supervisor and she knows even more about werewolves to a ridiculous degree. So, it just keeps building on that premise.

Desperately seeking werewolf advice.

How would you describe your humor?

It’s absurdist and existentialist. There’s a lot of gags in the book that you can repeat with a similar premise. For the story we’re discussing, there’s a gag that I use a lot. The story is progressing from one point to another and then I’ll throw a wrench into it. And it will spin off in an insane degree. For instance, the bookstore customer seeking advice has a daughter named, Shawnda. He begins yelling at her, she’s off camera. Later, we see her and there’s more of this yelling. That sort of silly exchange is something I like to do in my work.

Panel excerpt from Brandon Lehmann’s Instagram.

There’s a beauty to your work. The humor is consistent. The art is consistent. You must go through a slew of experimentation before you hit upon what works, what’s on point.

The whole concept of the book is classic ghost stories. So, that’s the anchor. We’re dealing here with stories everyone is familiar with in one form or another. The story, “The Lfyt,” we were just talking about, is based upon a popular ghost story about picking up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a ghost. Another good example is “The Viper,” another popular children’s ghost story. The tension builds as he keeps calling and announcing when he’ll arrive. In my story, it turns out that “The Viper” is a guy with a thick German accent, who is just an innocent window wiper.

I didn’t know about that children’s ghost story. The actual one, not your satire!

Yeah, it’s real. There’s also one entitled, “Okiku,” based on a popular Japanese ghost story about a woman who was murdered because she refused to become a samurai’s mistress. She had been thrown down a well and, each night, she appears to seek her revenge. That was actually the basis for the Ringu movies. There’s the books. It was also on stage, as kabuki theater. So, yeah, I gather up all these ghost stories and given them my own spin.

Well, I’m sure this will intrigue readers. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Where is a good place to find your work?

One good place is my own site for Bad Publisher Books. You can also find me on my Instagram: @brandon.lehmann. And you can find it at various bookstores. In Seattle, there’s Fantagraphics Bookstore, Elliot Bay Bookstore and Push/Pull. Lots of places on the net, like Birdcage Bottom Books.

Thanks, Brandon!

Thank you, Henry!

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Filed under Comedy, Comics, Ghosts, Interviews, Seattle

Spider-Man and El Sorprendente Hombre Arana

El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128

I’m eager to get a better grounding on Mexican comics. That said, I’m always up for a bit of a detour. That led me to some Mexican Spider-Man. Now, this one particular issue has grabbed a lot of attention in the last few years. Welcome to El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128. Of course, the image is quite striking and has all it takes to stir up comics fans: Gwen and Peter getting married! Here are pages from inside the issue. But there’s more than meets the eye. . . .

Page 1 from El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128

Page 21 from El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128

As any comics fan knows, beware of teasers. Once you read the comic, it’s clear that a wedding is not exactly the main theme here. Not at all. Spoiler alert: truth is, this is only a dream sequence cooked up by the Green Goblin, the little trickster! For more details, I must direct you to the comics sleuthing by Marvel Comics editor Tom Brevoort. If you want a more detailed account, then go see Tom.

Jose Luis Duran

Back in the early ’70s, Marvel Comics decided to kill off Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. It sent shockwaves throughout the comics community. One Mexican comics publisher chose to do something about it. By what authority La Prensa was acting on is a mystery. Initially, La Prensa began with a licensing deal with Marvel Comics, which allowed for some additional stories from local Mexican talent. That arrangement took on a life of its own. So, the deed was done: 44 issues of an alternate Spider-Man reality, one with a very much alive Gwen Stacy! Hey, Gwen was just too popular in Mexico and Latin America for her to actually die! Marvel was unleashing the darker Bronze Age but La Prensa would hold it off, at least for a while. All 44 issues of these Mexican Spidey adventures were drawn by Jose Luis Duran.

What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico.

I have to hand it to La Prensa for going off in their own direction. They had an agreement with Marvel and they got pretty creative with it, maybe too creative, given how totally out of canon it was. Marvel officially kills off a beloved main character and La Prensa chose to simply do what they thought best. Perhaps what saved them was that they used relatively good judgement. It was tasteful storytelling and in keeping with readership demands. And Marvel didn’t seem to care. Anyway, only a few years later, La Prensa would go out of business. Now, we’re left with some somewhat strange Spider-Man stories.

El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #154

El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #163

So, now this very special run is a hot ticket with lots of speculation about what it’s worth these days, especially the issue with Peter and Gwen at the altar. According to comics collectors in the know: the low range: $2k; the mid-range: $6k; the high range: $25k. This gets my spidey-sense tingling all over!
  • Marriage of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy in an original story published in Mexico
  • Issues in this series divert from the U.S. storyline with Gwen Stacy surviving the events from The Amazing Spider-Man #121
  • There exists a German reprint that sells for significantly less

Issue Details

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Disney Sketchbook: Samantha Vilfort

Samantha Vilfort has been a Story Artist with Disney Animation for four years, working on Ralph Breaks the Internet and Frozen 2. In this episode of Sketchbook she draws Mirabel, the star of Encanto. (Disney/Richard Harbaugh)

SKETCHBOOK: an intimate instructional documentary series featuring talented artists and animators. Disney Plus Originals. Premieres on April 27, 2022.

Sketchbook is a new behind-the-scenes series, that features Disney top artists sharing their art process in a combination of a profile and dynamic how-to-draw demonstration. In a brief interview, I chatted with one of the featured talents, Story Artist Samantha Vilfort. She recently worked on the Disney acclaimed 2021 animated feature, Encanto. For her episode of Sketchbook, Vilfort did a step-by-step character study of Encanto‘s main character, Mirabel.

Mirabel Madrigal struggles to fit in a family where everyone has been blessed with magical powers – everyone but her. Determined to prove she belongs within this extraordinary family, she strives to contribute in meaningful ways—denying to everyone, including herself, that she feels all alone, even in her own house. Opening in the U.S. on Nov. 24, 2021, “Encanto” features Stephanie Beatriz as the voice of Mirabel and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Mirabel is a kid just trying to figure things out, someone anyone can relate with. As a longtime cartoonist, I was intrigued by Vilfort’s very natural, careful and graceful approach to the character. This is an impressive demonstration that will inspire anyone interested in drawing, whether you’re totally new or a seasoned pro. During our conversation, I had to share with Samantha the drawing I did from following her instruction on Sketchbook.

It was a lot of fun drawing along with Samantha!

Samantha gained so much inspiration as a kid drawing from a Mulan how-to-draw book. So, it all comes full circle as she has a chance now to give back to fans and guide them on their creative journey. “I firmly believe that drawing is a teachable skill just like anything else,” says Samantha. “Anyone can draw–and not just stick figures!” This is something that I love to pass on to folks every chance I get! I encourage you to seek out Sketchbook on Disney Plus!

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