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The Secret Sauce – The More Things Change

posted on March 29, 2017

When Crankshaft graduated from Funky Winkerbean and I was looking for an artist to illustrate my cantankerous bus driver’s story, the first and only person I sought out was a fellow art student from Kent State University named Chuck Ayers. He turned out to be the perfect choice and Chuck and I have shared a lot of adventures together riding Crankshaft’s bus. Later, when I decided I could use some penciling help on Funky to help me get a jump on both Funky and Crankshaft’s calendar, Chuck came on board to pencil Funky as well. The combination of Chuck pencilling, with me inking, lettering and cleaning the studio worked so well, that he just stayed. But, as rewarding as it’s been working together, nothing goes on forever, so when Chuck came to me and said he wanted to leave the strips to do other things…

I wished him well and then sought out the first and only artists I wanted to have replace him.

In fact, they’d been on my radar for quite some time. When my son was little, we used to watch the Batman Animated Adventures on TV together. It was truly breakthrough work and I soon became a fan as well of the the art in the comic books that spun off from the show. Two of the artists in those books in particular stood out to me, Dan Davis and Rick Burchett. Both artists are Eisner Award nominees and Rick is a three time Eisner Award winner, Haxtur Award winner and Eagle Award nominee. Dan was the one I tapped to be the new artist on Crankshaft and, as you can see from the Sunday page included in this post, he’s making me look pretty smart. Dan has picked up on Crankshaft without missing a beat, and, if it didn’t say Batiuk & Davis instead of Batiuk & Ayers under the logo, I sincerely doubt that anyone would know that anything had changed. Dan’s work first appears with the April 2 Crankshaft Sunday.

Once again I’m working with a southpaw.

Similarly, Rick has moved right in on Funky and, again, as you can see from the enclosed Funky daily strip, made it seamlessly his own.

As before, Rick is only doing the pencils after which I jump in with the inking, lettering, studio cleaning and, of course writing both Funky and Crankshaft. Actually, Rick has already appeared in Funky having been onboard for two of the comic book covers that later this year will be auctioned off to raise money for the Lisa’s Legacy Cancer Fund. Rick’s work first appears with the May 28 Funky Sunday, and I’ll have more to say about working with him and our process as we get closer to that date.

And, as it turns out, Chuck isn’t leaving Funky altogether. Apparently, you can take the artist out of Funky, but you can’t take Funky out of the artist. So Chuck and I will still be working on selected story arcs down the line. This is one of those rare examples in life of being able to have your cake and eat it too, and I couldn’t be happier as I move forward on Funky and Crankshaft with these titanically talented artists. I’ve always loved comic books and having a couple of comic book pros to work with is going to bring a renewed energy and will help me take the work to a new level. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and as Crankshaft would say, there’s a lot of history ahead in the future.

The Batty Batom Bullpen

posted on February 9, 2017

When I decided to introduce a home front story arc into Funky about his wife Holly completing their son Cory’s comic book collection while he was stationed in Afghanistan, I knew I wanted to show a bunch of the comic book covers in the Sunday strips. Since it was going to be several covers and since I didn’t care to get sued by either DC or Marvel Comics, I decided to use some superhero characters that I had created when I was in the fifth grade. It was obviously one of my more prolific periods because there were a lot of them, folks. And then I thought, and this is the second best part, why don’t I ask some of my favorite comic book artists to bring my characters to life by creating the covers for me? Why that idea is so crazy that it just might work… and it did! Spectacularly! The covers that resulted were simply amazing and ranged from the star spanning Starbuck Jones to the elusive and mysterious Blue Astra. I called them Batom Comics because that was what I had called my comic book company back in the sixth grade.

And now comes the best part. Heritage Auctions, the premier auction house in the world for this type of graphic art, has agreed to auction off all of the covers and donate the entirety of the proceeds to the Lisa’s Legacy Fund for Cancer Research created by University Hospitals in Cleveland. If you saw the covers when they ran in the Funky Sunday strips, then you know just how cool and beautiful they are, but if you somehow missed them (and what’s up with that?) you’re going to get a second chance. All of the covers have been cached on this website in a section that we’re calling the Komix Korner Gallery or just Gallery on the menu bar. Starting today, we’ll begin showing you the covers again one at a time so you have time to properly savor each one. We’ll be uncovering a new cover every two weeks until all of the covers created by the titanically talented twenty Batom Bullpenners stand revealed just prior to the Heritage’s auction that will be taking place on November 16th and 17th in Beverly Hills and online.

It’s a great feeling to think that those characters from way back when are going to make a real world contribution to the fight against cancer. To learn more about the Lisa’s Legacy Fund, go to Lisa’s Legacy on this site.

Flash Fridays – Showcase # 8

posted on October 24, 2014

Showcase no.8

The cover to Showcase number eight featured the second appearance of the Silver Age Flash (henceforth I will eschew the use of the appellation Silver Age since for my money this is the Flash… period). It’s an Infantino/Giella cover and, if I didn’t already know who had drawn the cover, I’d have sworn it was by Gil Kane. Which, of course is why Heritage Auctions has never asked me to moonlight as one of their art experts. Still looks like Gil Kane though. This only serves to underline the fact that everyone is still working to get a handle on the character’s look (and anatomy, it sorta looks like he just broke his right leg). The thing I find most interesting about the cover is that it has absolutely nothing to do with either of the stories inside. At no point in either story does a villain or anyone else for that matter point a finger at the Flash and say that he can beat him with one finger. Kind of odd for a Julie Schwartz edited book but there you have it anyway sports fans.

Moving on from the mysterious cover to nowhere, we come to The Secret of the Empty Box which follows a pretty typical pattern for the super hero stories of this era. It’s a four beat piece with beat one being the set-up, beats two and three showing the villain best the hero and beat four when the hero figures things out and captures the bad guy, with the ends being wrapped by the B story which in this case is the relationship of Barry Allen and Iris West. Bob Kanigher, the story’s writer, does a nice job using the front part of the B story to humanize Barry’s character and show off some speed tricks at the same time as he helps a young girl who has dropped her ring in a grate in the sidewalk. It’s a nice establishing bit that walks Barry right up to his meeting with Iris and the problem posed by the villain. A mysterious box has shown up in the Central City Square with apparently no way to get inside. Iris has phoned Barry to meet her there and because he helped the little girl recover her ring he predictably arrives late. He immediately deduces that that box is a ruse to distract from a crime being committed elsewhere and rushes off to find it. Again Kanigher demonstrates the Flash’s speed by having him change to his Flash garb in an arcade photo booth so fast that he can’t be captured in a photo. Also again proving that the Flash is faster than film.

The Flash captures the villain who as we learn later is merely one of two henchmen working for the main villain. The best thing about the villains are their costumes which consist of top hats, tails and a mask, but there’s no emotional investment in the character. Actually, there’s no character in the character. We’re not given a name, a backstory or even a motive (other than greed) for the showy thefts. As a result, the character became a one-off never to be seen again.

Contrast that with the villain in the second story The Coldest Man on Earth and the difference and the difference is pretty dramatic. Here we have the first appearance of Captain Cold who not only has a cool name but an equally cool Infantino designed costume and even cooler backstory. In it, Len Snart, a small time crook looks for a way to up his game by developing a weapon to defeat the Flash. Just a slight digression here… science and technology ruled the 1950s and to someone growing up in that era they were the magical answer to the world’s problems. That could also be flipped to science and technology proving the world’s undoing if used badly. So any skinny premise that involved science, even bad science, was granted plausibility by the comic book readers of the day. We, of course knew better, but if the writer involved science, sometimes just the word science, the audience would immediately buy-in for the sake of the story. Science and technology just provided a reasonable jumping off point. So when Len Snart bones up on cyclotrons, breaks into an actual cyclotron and jiggers it to turn his homemade gun into a weapon that can among other things freeze people into a block of ice, we were pretty much okay with that (my dad, other the other hand who was an engineer, didn’t think very much of the book in part because he knew way better. More on this later on down the line.) Unlike the villain in the first story whose feats go unexplained, Len Snart aka Captain Cold now has a raison d’être. The story then follows the almost catch, almost catch, finally gotcha pattern, but it’s done with a villain we can believe in and for whom we can feel something, and, most importantly, would like to see again. With this story, writer John Broome starts writing the bible for future Flash stories to follow.

One thing I found interesting is that in the last two panels we find that Barry Allen has a lab partner named Stan. This is the first and last time we’ll ever see Stan, but I’ve often felt that there was a story there, narrated by Stan, just begging to be told. Maybe someday.

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