Let's Talk Comics

 
 
Ronin Ro's Tales to Astonish
 
Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
I have re-opened a book I read a couple of years ago about my favourite artist Jack Kirby.
 
Tales to Astonish, by Ronin Ro (Bloomsbury, 296 pages, $14.95) is quite the story about Jack's life from the rough-and-tumble gang fights of Manhattan's Lower East Side, to getting frostbite while fighting Nazis during the Second World War.
 
It's a little dry - just the facts, ma’am - but it's a story I think worth reading again. There's a comforting aspect to it and reading the old war stories yet again is like enjoying a late cup of hot coffee on a cold winter night.
 
In the recent past, quite a few books have been written about the early days of the comic business. There's a common theme that runs through it, how artists and writers got ripped off while the companies made lots of money.
 
But it's a delicate business that is susceptible to market changes and interests. One month, they've got money pouring out of their pockets, the next month they're broke.
 
It's expected as the geeks who read comics are now adults, some in positions of power within the cultural world. And the art form is finally being accepted as a legitimate form of story telling.
 
Thus. all the super-heroes making it to the Silver Screen and television in the past decade or so and much more are expected in the future.
 
Among the other books written about the four-colour business is a gem called Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, by Gerard Jones (Basic Books, 384 pages, $19.95). It is a fascinating look at the early days of comics and the mob’s role in incubating the fledgling industry.
 
Both books also focused on a significant problem of the era, that of artists and creators not getting their fair share, or the ability of retaining ownership of the characters they created.
 
Ro captures the era when he quotes one of the greatest artists, John Romita, Sr., who lamented about his son John Jr. wanting to be a comic artist: Oh, dear son avoid a career in a business that “was always a year from extinction …”
 
“Because frankly, I never made money until the last five years I was in the business. Up until then, I worked much too hard for too many hours and made too little money,” Romita told Ro.
 
Nevertheless, John Jr. became a success in a field that now pays its creators fairly well.
 
In Tales, Kirby's life story ends with finally getting acknowledgement of his role in the creations at Marvel we all now know and love, including the Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, the Avengers and even Spider-Man.
 
Kirby also got a sizable number of his drawings back. His ideas are now interwoven in American pop culture story telling.
 
Jones weaves the story of Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel, creators of possibly America’s greatest folk tale, throughout his book. The duo waged a protracted, but eventually successful, fight against DC Comics for their roles in the creation of Superman and for a fair share of the profits - easily into the millions - they generated.
•••
Follow up: The auction of a small, but great once-in-a-generation find of Canadian-printed Marvel comics is partially up and running on the Heritage Auctions website.
 
Mike Kowalchuk twigged that a small collection of Golden Age comics he had stored in a box since the 1940s could be valuable after reading a column or two in Wayback Times.
 
Last edition, the Times told his story and about his two prize possessions, a black-and-white Captain America and a black-and-white Marvel Mystery Comics, both considered rare.
 
The Cap book is now “slabbed” and was assigned a 2.5 Good Plus condition grade by a third party. Heritage (visit www.ha.com and search for Captain America under comics) describes the book as being “ultra-rare,” and a previous sale of a Good condition book brought in $6,000.
 
The Marvel Mystery doesn't appear to be up for sale yet.
 
And the rest of the collection is pretty amazing as well, including a run of Bat-Man comics and Crime and Punishment among others. They are expected to be put up later, as well.
 
The only thing Kowalchuk says he might keep is the 8-by-10 colour poster of Free Lance, a Canadian comic superhero from the 1940s, he mailed away for and received from publisher Anglo-American.
 
A Wayback Times reader, a fan of Canadian comics and especially Free Lance, offered to buy it.
 
“It is the only remaining piece of my collection and have not decided what to do with it,” Kowalchuk says.
 
Next column: A prized collection unvovered
 
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
 
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
 
 
 
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