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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Bending the elbow
Atom, a short guy punching above his weight, is an action hero, as is the Cheyenne Kid; Adam Strange is action (and romance) at the other side of the galaxy, courtesy of a zeta beam; Captain Savage is action at sea and so it goes. Action comics have also featured prominently in Central and South America.

Superman started out in a series called Action Comics and seventy-five years later is still there.

Those figurines bearing the likenesses and attributes of the comic character they're molded on are not dolls, toys, or even replicas - they're action figures. And they remain so even if you paint over them.

Maybe it would be easier to define a comic that wasn't predominantly action-oriented, like Little Audrey.

II

For those used to walking into their local video store and poring over the large Action section, this may seem puzzling. Westerns and Martial Arts and War all have their sections. Perhaps we recognise Action by its generic title convention, its wooden acting, its threadbare plot. It is harder to gauge these things when we move to a more static medium, which carries titles like War Is Hell. The tip-off that characters are not being fully nuanced is only evidenced when, for example, the crop of hacks that Tom de Falco brought to Marvel showed every character with teeth gritted.
And underdeveloped stories are those where the fight scene goes on a tad long and we barely see the main character interacting on other levels.

III

"He swung a punch but missed completely" so the oldest comics tell us. And there's Captain Dependable doing just as the caption says.
But there is a sense that the early writers were feeling their way in a new medium. Novels - especially airport novels and spy thrillers - contain action aplenty but look at this passage from one of the very earliest novels (Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding, 1742):

Adams had soon put on all his clothes but his breeches, which, in his hurry, he forgot; however, they were pretty well supplied by the length of his other garments; and now, the house-door being opened, the captain, the poet, the player, and three servants came in. The captain told the host that two fellows, who were in his house, had run away with a young woman, and desired to know in which room she lay. The host, who presently believed the story, directed them, and instantly the captain and the poet, jostling one another, ran up. The poet, who was the nimblest, entering the chamber first, searched the bed, and every other part, but to no purpose; the bird was flown, as the impatient reader, who might otherwise have been in pain for her, was before advertised. They then enquired where the men lay, and were approaching the chamber, when Joseph roared out, in a loud voice, that he would shoot the first man who offered to attack the door. The captain enquired what fire-arms they had; to which the host answered, he believed they had none; nay, he was almost convinced of it, for he had heard one ask the other in the evening what they should have done if they had been overtaken, when they had no arms; to which the other answered, they would have defended themselves with their sticks as long as they were able, and God would assist a just cause. This satisfied the captain, but not the poet, who prudently retreated downstairs, saying, it was his business to record great actions, and not to do them. [...]



Posted by berko_wills at 4:05 PM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 4 September 2004 7:43 AM NZT
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Wednesday, 4 August 2004
Announcement
For those wondering where all the social commentary went, my socio-political side has a new home called Touched By The Son.

For those only interested in comics, stay right here.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:43 PM NZT
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Sunday, 1 August 2004
Magic potion
I've always been attracted to magic and fiction is a good place to indulge this fascination without risking offence to other denominations. Reading nonsense incantations will neither extend your life nor blight the neighbour's crops, but it does entertain.

There's no way of explaining a character like Johnny Thunder and his magical Thunderbolt without these full flights of fancy.

Posted by berko_wills at 10:22 PM NZT
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Thursday, 29 July 2004
Name label
I couldn't just leave fantasy at one entry as it is so pervasive and intrinsically linked to the comics field. After all, even western characters like Kid Colt Outlaw - who drinks milk and shoots the gun from the baddy's hand rather than killing him - and battlefield characters like Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos - who don't wear helmets and have a bizarre 'war cry'- are more fantastic than realistic.

I wasn't able to follow the same patina when looking for comic book goblins and fairies and such but I did come across some great links, not all of which point to comic books exclusively. Regardless, it is the ideal medium to pick up an audience similar to the Tim Hunter lookalike.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:58 PM NZT
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Sunday, 25 July 2004
Invisible ink
Comic books were originally comic strips collected and it wasn't until the 1930's that original thematic stories were bound in this form.
Fantasy has long been a natural fit for funnybooks and there could be a number of reasons for this: the target juvenile audience have a greater appreciation for "made up stuff", if you're knocking them out on a production line then it doesn't require the research that a realistic setting does, and it is possible to show a great deal more in a couple of panels than it is to construct a film set or go into reams of descriptive prose text.

Fantasy is also one of those wondrously generic titles that allow you to have a main protagonist playing off against mythological and supernatural characters while back-up stories serve broader narratives.

Posted by berko_wills at 9:47 PM NZT
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Thursday, 22 July 2004
Nag's Head
Here's a better history of the very first comics. And they're British, people.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:54 PM NZT
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Wednesday, 21 July 2004
Shirtfront
Comics themselves began in the nineteenth century - though very near the close - with two largely forgotten characters from opposite sides of the pond.

The Yellow Kid was a mischievous urchin who wore a yellow gown (yes, a real kid rather than some gunslinger) with different wording on it. The message and the image were conflated in a way not seen since. Though those Will Eisner splash pages where he incorporates the name of the strip "The Spirit" is in that direction.

The other was Ally Sloper, a crafty curmudgeon.

Two characters across the age spectrum and, given their outsider status, possessing the common touch that made this new artform for everyone.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:56 PM NZT
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Monday, 19 July 2004
Firewater
Naturally the Americans would find a way to mythologise the nineteenth century as well, with a western comic book appearing in 1937. Their gunfighters often walked the line between hero and outlaw in, I suppose, a way that our bushrangers - were they given the same pictorial treatment - could not.

Native Americans had mainly support roles - as they did in other media - and even the heroes who wore Indian garb were often white men in disguise. And the first black western character made his debut in Gunhawks courtesy of Stan Lee.

Posted by berko_wills at 12:36 AM NZT
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Tuesday, 6 July 2004
Rationing
So the war did have an effect. Overtly patriotic superheroes* gave the troops an idealised version of themselves; not once but many times. The Shield and all who followed were literally wrapped in the flag.

[*this hyperlink points to fanboy fervour. There are mistakes in fact and grammar e.g. Doc Samson didn't have a pre-Hulk series career as an action pulp hero, he means Doc Savage. But you can't knock the enthusiasm]

But where were the grunts? (Sad Sack and Beetle Bailey came after the war so serving personnel were spared the humour of seeing the Sarge kick a guy in the heinie and send him to clean the latrines. That treat was left to future frontlines.)

Here they are, here they all are.

But, to be honest, I was looking for this link: a perspective for Retired Officers magazine.





Posted by berko_wills at 1:27 AM NZT
Updated: Monday, 12 July 2004 10:45 PM NZT
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Sunday, 4 July 2004
Bubbles
One of the biggest criticisms levelled at comics - aside from their repetitive, recycled nature - is the fact that they are dominated by one genre or type: superheroes.

I could get cute and claim that Hawkman and Hawkgirl encompass science fiction,romance, supernatural, detective and fantasy right there. They proved that the earliest superheroes - created in wartime - were not exclusively preoccupied with the ideological battle between Allies and Axis (though spy and war comics flourished, as did superheroes in the Theatre of War).

In ensuing posts I will explore the histories of non-superhero comics.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:02 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 4 July 2004 5:23 AM NZT
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