Friday, September 28, 2007

Alfredo Alcala - Hulxploitation!
























A Very Personal Hell written by James Shooter with art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala from The Hulk magazine, 1980.

Alfredo Alcala is another one of those extremely prolific Filipino artists with a uniquely detailed style. You can always pick out Alcala’s work by noticing his use of shading that includes intense cross hatching combined with some charcoal looking tones. Some of his more unusual works include a graphic novel adaption of the adults only blaxploitation novel Daddy Cool by Donald Goines. He was also the illustrator of the short lived series Voltar, a lushly detailed fantasy epic. Marvel’s magazine version of Nightmare on Elmstreet from the 1980’s was also drawn by Alcala, making it even more enjoyable and surreal than the actual films.

One of my favorite pieces by him was a collaboration with John Buscema on a Jim Shooter scripted piece for Hulk Magazine. From the looks of it, it seems to me that the first half of the story was roughed out by Buscema, while the latter half was completed drawn by Alcala. This is because the second half has less of the staged , typical Marvel look and more of an underground feel to it. I’ve posted a few of these pages here, but not the whole story (it’s 33 pages long).

While I’ve never been much of a fan of mainstream superhero comics, I think I can say with confidence that this might be one of the all time strangest contributions to the genre. The Marvel black and white magazines of the time, in competition with Warren’s line, attempted to appeal to a more adult audience. This was also true for HULK magazine, resulting in a different look and writing style than the actual standard comic book at the time.

In …A Very Personal Hell, writer James Shooter has created a story that looks more like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver than it does the Typical Marvel Universe. Set in a seedy version of New York City, the comic actually has the feel of a campy exploitation movie along the lines of Basket Case.

Typically, Marvel shies away from any discrete sexual overtones. Not so, in this case. Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner is staying at a YMCA. Here is the basic plot:

While taking a shower, two homosexuals attempt to rape him. A nude Banner is able to resist his anger and escape into a back alley. There, he breaks down and cries against a brick wall. Soon, aggression takes hold and Banner is transformed into the rampaging green beast. After falling down some steps, the Hulk finds himself in the basement apartment of an emaciated drug addict who is stoned on acid. She immediately takes a liking to the Hulk, who she calls Sam. When her abusive boyfriend returns, the Hulk socks him in the face. The woman then offers herself sexually to the Hulk, but ends up passing out. The Hulk turns back into Banner and leaves the apartment in search of a job.

Roaming the streets of NY, he ends up entering a brothel where a half nude woman offers him the opportunity to hand out fliers on 44th and 7th. He turns down the position quickly! Back on the streets, he ends up being picked up by a pretty business woman. It soon becomes clear that this woman has some damaging psychological issues with her mother and is desperate for a man in her life. She helps Bruce find a job as a dishwasher and soon after lures him up to her apartment. They make love.

Meanwhile, the Hulk returns to save the drug addicted woman from her sadistic boyfriend. After busting down a burning building, Hulk turns back into Banner and returns to the apartment of his newly found love interest. It’s too late. The tormented woman has committed suicide! She does leave a note though and $1,000 dollars for Banner. Anonymously, he leaves the money for the burnt and bruised drug addict lady who is now bandaged up in the hospital.

The whole thing is outrageous, and James Shooter’s attempt at “reality” here is laughable. Still, the artwork by Alcala fits the story perfectly, adding just the right of melodrama and mood. For Marvel, this is escapist entertainment of a different type, most likely not to be repeated too many times over. But sometimes bad writing and good art can click in just the right way! Case in point.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

Angel Trinidad Jr.












The Samurai Condemned to Live
From Elvira’s House of Mystery #2
DC Comics, 1985
Script: Robert Kanigher
Art: Angel Trinidad Jr.

Angel Trinidad Jr., is one of those cartoonists you may have never heard of . He created artwork for approximately ten short stories for DC Comics between 1981 and 1986.* According to Jerry Bails’ Who’s Who of American Comic Books, the only other artwork he is credited for are three “classics illustrated” type adaptations for Pendulum Press from 1974-76. Most likely though, Trinidad created a broader body of work in the Philippines.


His association with American comics began through the Redondo studio’s connection with Vince Fago in the 1970’S. Fago, an American cartoonist, known for his funny animal comics and editorial position at Marvel (proceeding Stan Lee) was impressed by the work of Nestor Redondo. Intent on compiling comics adaptations for adaptations of literary classics, he employed artists such as Alex Nino and Angel Trinidad Jr. For Pendulum, Trinidad illustrated The House of Seven Gables, Great Expectations and The Sea Wolf.


About five years later, Trinidad’s work began appearing in the DC war titles. He executed these tales (usually written by the prolific Robert Kanigher) with equal skill to a John Severin or Russ Heath. Still, there is a lush, decorative element to Trinidad’s work that makes it distinct from his American counterparts. Trinidad’s background details, cross-hatching techniques, well rounded and thoroughly rendered figures are more akin to Filipinos Alfredo Alcala and Nestor Redondo.
Of the three, I tend to like Trinidad’s work the best.


Trinidad’s page design is always interesting. He often makes use of a wide panel accompanied by three long panels on a single page. This structure brings to mind Japanese folding screens, which (perhaps just by coincidence) seems to work really well in telling this particular story of ancient Japan. Another way to identify Trinidad’s art is that he often rounds out the corners of his panels. His most exciting technique is his use of montage. In The Samurai Condemned to Live, he uses this technique numerous times (bottom of page 2, bottom of page 4, bottom of page 5, top of page 6).


The montage on the bottom of page three demonstrates Trinidad’s ability to show a variety of actions in a single panel. This might also be one of the most graphic depictions of violence in a DC comic up to this point. That’s five heads being chopped off! As complicated a scene as this might be to draw, Trinidad carries it off with ease. His almost humorous sound effects that are deftly incorporated into the scene, lend it an air of whimsy, so that we are not completely grossed out.


Trinidad always penciled, inked and lettered his pages himself. In compared to many other similar DC stories, these appear more labored over and in that sense, have more personality to them. There is a tremendous amount of variation in Trinidad’s line and this combination of heavy brushstrokes with scratchy crosshatching adds a heavy depth to his work. He packs a tremendous amount of detail into each panel. At the same time, the work is never extraneous. I particularly like his lettering technique with the use of a ragged scroll to incorporate the narration into the panel.


Page 8 shows Trinidad at his fantastic best. A dragon has never appeared so tremendous in such tiny panels. The whole composition of this thing really blows me away. Just take a close look at that third panel; there is so much going on. The horse is flying through the air, the samurai is stabbing the dragon in the eye with his sword, while the dragon is attempting to grab the horse and toss the dragon out of the air. Add to this the glorious, nonsensical sound effect of TZUUUNG, and the dragon’s tongue hanging out. What we have here is a totally confusing display of fantasy brought to life in the clearest sense. Most artists would attempt to show this in a minimum of five panels and not be nearly as successful.

Illustration technique aside, Trinidad is also able to tell this story with a stunning sense of drama. And there has never been a story quite as dramatic as this one in comics. It is basically a tale where every character involved dies. For DC, this was quite unusual. Fortunately, they chose the correct artist to illustrate it! As “Myobo left a trail of corpses bhind him like shattered fish tossed aside by the shore”, Trinidad has left behind a bloody good body of work that lends a great deal of mystery about this talented, though virtually unknown, creator.


*Comic Book Artist Magazine Volume 2, issue 4 lists Trinidad Jr. as having drawn 27 strips for DC, but I have yet to find this many.

Bruce Jones: The Secret Place










The Secret Place
Written and Illustrated by Bruce Jones
From Bruce Jones’ Outer Edge
Published by Innovation, 1992.
Originally published in 1982


Today, the talented Bruce Jones is mainly known as a comics writer (for Marvel and DC). In reality, he has done a little of everything, including novels, screenplays and television. His artwork is rarely commented upon. In the seventies and eighties he both wrote and illustrated a number of short stories for the Warren Magazines and later his own line of comics published by Pacific (later Bruce Jones Associates). The titles included Bruce Jones Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds. These were horror and science-fiction anthologies in the EC vein, with an even more adult slant to them.

I have always admired Bruce’s storytelling as well as his artwork. His stories work amazingly well when illustrated by some of the most skilled draftsmen in the field. Most notably, this includes his collaborations with Al Williamson and Richard Corben. Still, I find that my favorite Bruce Jones stories are the ones that were uniquely created by him. His own artwork is somewhat of a mix between Al Williamson and Jeff Jones. It’s filled with details and realism often missing from most genre strips. His characters look as if they were photo-referenced, but at the same time, they never appear stiff or staged. This adds to the psychological horror that Bruce is the master of.



This particular story originally appeared in full color in Twisted tales #4 (1982) but was later reprinted in black & white. It is taken here from Innovation’s excellent collection of Bruce Jones’ stories entitled OUTER SPACE. This was published in 1992, along with a companion volume entitled RAZOR”S EDGE. In both of these books, you’ll find a good dose of psychological horror, dinosaurs and half-naked women (some of Jones’ favorite subject matter).



The Secret Place was a real standout for me. While it tends to be more wordy than the usual Jones piece, the narration really draws you in similarly to a classic Al Feldstein story. The big difference here though is the subject matter. The idea of a youth as an outsider who may be prone to violence is a topic more relevant now than ever. I love the twist at the end that appears so unexpectedly.



If you enjoyed this story, be sure to search for some of those PC gems from the 80’s. You won’t be disappointed. And more recently, is Bruce’s collaboration with Berni Wrightson: Freak Show, published by Image comics. All of these stories maintain a heightened level of suspense. Other graphic novels include Somerset Holmes (Eclipse) and ARENA (Marvel). Bruce also wrote several episodes of the Hitchhiker (a horror anthology for HBO, that are now on DVD. Check those out too…you’ll enjoy seeing how well Jones’ writing translates to film.



I wish Bruce still drew comics (well maybe he still does, but in secret!). I don’t blame him if he’s not though, he certainly seems to have his hands full with writing projects recently. Still, for the record, as an artist Bruce is tops in my book. It’s rare that such a skilled artist had this much technical ability that amounted to, in my opinion, a true elevation of the horror comic into something worthy of respect for a more mature audience than just children. I don’t think I’m alone in these thoughts. In the 80’s several of these stories were reprinted in hardcover volumes and translated into French. Here’s hoping that at least he still has a cult following there!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Henry Scarpelli and Glenn in Hollywood







Glenn Scarpelli in Hollywood “Get the Picture”
Written and Drawn by Henry Scarpelli
From Laugh #387, 1985 Archie Comics.


One of the more oddball items in Archie’s history. The story behind this is that Henry Scarpelli’s son was a minor teen idol at the time. He had appeared in episodes of One Day At A Time, The Love Boat and Amazing Stories. Scarpelli, an experienced cartoonist who was drawing more typical Archie pages, came up with the idea of doing a feature based on his son’s celebrity status. He did three of these stories (that I know of) which appeared in the following issues from 1985: Archie’s TV Laugh Out #100, Laugh Comics #386 & 387. This one is from issue #387. Notice that the art style fits in with the Archie oeuvre, but there are definite distinctions that make it a stand-out. First off is the large, bulbous noses and the sometimes more realistic features (the blonde guy on page 1 and the celebrity caricatures on page 4). Second, is the fact that while this strip proposes to star Glenn, it really features the photographer character as the protagonist. What I find so amusing about this is, when do you see a comic in Archie that focuses on a bald, overweight guy? I love the way this character appears to move. Check him out with his leg jutting up into the air on page two and three…it’s a real hoot. But what made me laugh the most was the caricature at the bottom of page 4. Is that supposed to be Brook Shields (in her one and only comic book appearance)? Even Mr. Weatherby never got this type of attention!



Scarpelli was later assigned to work on the Archie newspaper strip, where he has cranked out little jokes in strip form for years. But why not a revival of Glenn Scarpelli in Hollywood? What, you’ve never heard of him either? Oh, well…

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Black Hood by Dan Spiegle











From Black Hood, Vol. 1, No. 2, August 1983. Published by Red Circle. Story by Carbonaro. Scripting by Margopolis. Art by Dan Spiegle. Color by B. Grossman.
This story precedes, and is in many ways similar to, the series Crossfire that Spiegle would begin illustrating in 1984. That series, superbly written by Mark Evanier, lasted 24 issues and had three spin-off titles (Crossfire and Rainbow, WhoDunnit? and Hollywood SuperStars). Around this time, Spiegle was also illustrating several titles for DC including the Brave and the Bold, Elvira's House of Mystery and BlackHawk. One of the comics medium's most skilled storytellers, Spiegle has had a long , successful career illustrating all types of comic book stories. He has adapted many Disney films into comics (published by Dell and Marvel). Additonally, he had a long run illustrating the syndicated strip Hopalong Cassidy. Additional work includes Classics Illustrated titles, Terry and the Pirates, the Space Family Robinson series, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, Scooby Doo, Mickey Mouse, Johnny Quest, Jonah Hex, Korak, Tragg and the Sky Gods, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Maverick, the Twilight Zone and NUMEROUS OTHERS!
The revival of the Black Hood character lasted only three issues, but was illustrated by a host of classy illustraors includng Alex Toth and Pat Boyette. In some ways he resembles your typical 40's pulp hero. However, in the end, we find a grimmer character who is not completely opposed to violence.
This short story demonstrates Spiegle's versatile talent. While the story begins like a romance strip, it ends with an exciting action sequence. The transition is flawless. Spiegle has that rare ability to render his characters realistically while never forgetting to include a sense of caricature. His figures never appear stiff or posed due to his cinematic approach. Always viewing his scenes from different angles and organizing the pages with innovative designs, he seems completely in control. With some cartoonists, this approach would only bring confusion. Spiegle's story is clear and easy to read.
Page one begins with a beautiful splash panel that introduces us to the characters and sets up a conflict. The antique shop works as a metaphor that romance for this character is a trifle relic of the past. IF we doubted this, the title CANDLE IN THE WIND, only acts as a reminder!
Page two and three are great examples of how Spiegle can set a series of panels in a single room while avoiding repeated imagery.
Page four has an interesting montage technique to show the passing of time in this budding romance. Can you hear the melodramatic music in the background? Then the action begins with a shot through the window! Notice how the characters never seem to be standing still. The wide panel and blue coloring of the bottom panel, give us that claustrophobic mood that is perfectly suited to this scene.
Page five begins with a nice romance interlude that leaves the details up to our imagination. After the close up of the kiss, we back away to a silhouetted embrace. Sometimes seeing less is more...nicely done!
Page six develops the story further with some drama in the courtroom. Spiegle creates a nasty villain with Geovelli. Just look at his expression in the top right hand corner; how could you possibly like this guy?
On Page seven, Spiegle switches to a wide screen approach. Notice the variety of perspectives that we are viewing this single hit and run incident from. Viewed from inside the car, from the front, from behind, the moment after the impact and finally the fateful moment. This adds to the tension and drama.
On page eight and nine, The Black Hood is propelled into action. Here is where things get really visually exciting. Spiegle doesn't take any shortcuts here. The motorcyle, street and car are drawn with the utmost detail, making this chase believable. The sound effects and long panels on page nine brilliantly accentuate the illusion of movement and impact.
Our conclusion on page ten shows the Black Hood making his final decision. What sort of hero is he? The prolonged decision to shoot leaves some of this interpretation open to the reader. On the one hand, we see Black hood as the quintessential tough guy, on the other, we see him with a tear dripping down his face. Who is this masked man? Not exactly Superman, that's for sure.
Spiegle has succeeded here in creating a believable hero. If you enjoyed this piece, check out Spiegle's collaboration with Mark Evanier from Eclipse comic. Crossfire is, in my opinion, his best work. Like this Black Hood piece it has a lot of heroic and pulp-inspired action. Still, the heart of the story rests in a realistic setting that never overshadows the humanity and vulternability of it's characters.
One of the most prolific, versatile and talented cartoonists in the field, Dan Spiegle is truly a creator to be celebrated!

"Daddy and the Pie" by Alex Toth










From UFO and Alien Comix #1. Published by Warren Publishing, 1977. editor Nicola Cuti. Story by Bill DuBay. Art by Alex Toth. One of Toth's most memorable pieces.
Alex toth is most well known for being a master of storytelling composition using simple black and white artwork. His characters are never too detailed. While his designs are simplified, his artwork is always bold and extremely effective. The use of wash here, adds another depth to Toth's pages and he would use this technique for many of the stories that he illustrated for Warren.
The longest work he did for this company, Bravo for Adventure (serialized in The Rook) was a piece that Toth wrote himself. It was later published as a stand alone book by Dragon Lady Press. It's a stunning piece that evokes Toth's loves for fighter planes and a nostalgic bygone era of Errol Flynn type heroics.
While Toth was a more than effective writer, I have a preference for the tales he illustrated written by others. To me, Toth's artwork is most memorable when it accompanies a simple story. In the rare case of DADDY AND THE PIE, this is not an adventure story, but the story of an unusual relationship. Toth had a lot of experience illustrating romance tales and this story combines that sensibility within a science-fiction framework. Keep in mind that this was published years before Steven Spielberg directed ET.
PIE is the perfect character for Toth. His artwork makes the strange, alien creature appear both innocent and friendly. I love how Toth slowly reveals this character. We really don't get a good look at him until the bottom of page 2.
The nighttime setting with frost outside creates a stunning contrast and sets the mysterious, yet somewhat cozy mood. Similarly, Pie's eyes are dark like the night while his skin appears as soft and delicate as the snow. For me, page 4 works best as we peek in on these characters through a window. The use of lighting here is masterful.

Wallace Wood: I Wonder Who's Squeezing Her Now?








Brilliant Comic published in 1986 by Renegade Press. From Murder #3 (Robin Snyder's Revolver #12), October Issue. "I Wonder Who's Squeezing Her Now?" by Wally Wood with Nick Cuti & Ernie Colon.

A very dark adult story of suburban frustration and infidelity. Wood originally created this strip with the intention of publishing it in his Witzend magazine. Nick Cuti and Ernie Colon were his assistants at the time in his Long Island studio. I believe the title character Bill, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to comics writer Bill DuBay.
Wood is generally regarded as being one of the greatest American comic book artists of all time. He is well-remembered for his detailed science-fiction stories for EC and later for Mad magazine. He was also the editor at Tower Comics where he created the THUNDERAGENT line of comics. Throughout the 60's and 70's he drew hundreds of stories for Marvel and DC and Gold Key.
While mainly working in the mainstream, Wood was an inspiration to a generation of Underground cartoonists. I Wonder Who's Squeezing Her is a great example of Wood at his peek artistic ability, creating work for an "Adults Only" audience. His other R-rated strips, such as Cannon, are more campy and less serious in tone. There seems to be some underlying honesty and harshness to this strip. It is both disturbing and effective...I'm not sure I've seen anything else quite like it.
In the late 70's Wood began drawing X-rated comics and also self-published a Graphic Novel entitled King of the World. King of the World was to be part of a trilogy; a sort of lifelong project based on characters he had created during his youth.
Definitely one of the most prolific cartoonists of all time, Wood suffered from depression and mood swings. When his health began to decline, he was no longer able to maintain the tight drawing style he was known for. Eventually, he committed suicide. For more information on Wood's life, I recommend the book Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood, edited by Bhob Stewart. This was published in 2003 by TwoMorrows Press and includes a collection of articles on Wood. This includes some insiteful remarks by Bill Pearson, one of Wood's closest friends.
While definitely not for everyone, Who's Squeezing Her Now, shows Wood at his tortured best.
Macho guys and shapely women take part in a stark drama that feels as though we are viewing it in 3-D. Never have characters rendered in this manner appeared this lonely and desperate. Wood's panels are more than just compositions, they are a window into a fully-realized world.
On the top of page 2, Bill looks out the window of the train and instead of seeing his reflection, he views both his fantasies and nightmares. A combination of stark black and white, collage and zip-a-tone draws the reader into Wood's private world as never before.