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Monday, March 31, 2008

Comics Legend Mort Walker

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Mort Walker is the most popular and prolific cartoonist in history, although no single comic strip earned him that amazing honor.

Born in El Dorado, Kansas in 1923 and raised in Kansas City, Walker received only a handful of art lessons before finding work as an editor for Dell Publications. But it was his service in the infantry during WW II that would ignite his creative juices. That's when that lazy, no-good goof-off Beetle Bailey enlisted in Walker's army of bumbling officers and sexy secretaries.

Walker had already established himself as a gag cartoonist for magazines when, in 1950, Beetle became the first of his many successful comic strips. In fact, Beetle originally debuted as "Spider" in The Saturday Evening Post magazine.

It wasn't long before others would join the ranks.

Walker also wrote Hi and Lois (1954-- ), a gentle family strip that often reverses the nuances and cliches of earlier strips.

Mort's and Jerry Dumas' Sam's Strip (1961-'63) lovingly poked fun at the history, icons and characters in other comic strips.

Walker also wrote Mrs. Fitz's Flats, and wrote and drew the funny animals of Boner's Ark starting in 1968.

He won the Reuben Award for Beetle in 1953, wrote several children's books, was an editor for Hallmark greeting cards and produced advertising art. He also founded the Museum of Cartoon Art in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Walker's work has appeared in: Comics Reading Library (King, #s 2, 3, 11, 13, 1973-'79); Giant Comic Album (King, 1972); Beetle Bailey (Western & various publishers, 1952-'80); Beetle Bailey (Harvey Comics 1992-- ); Hi & Lois (Deli 4- Color #s 683, 775, 955; Charlton, 1969-'71) and Sarge Snorkel (Charlton, 1976).

Many anthology collections of Hi & Lois, Beetle Bailey and Sam's Strip have been published.

Mort Walker's work is highly recommended. Some older titles are expensive and difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are best sources. Prices vary; shop around for the best values.

Michael Vance

Comic Book Amalgams

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

In 1996, the crossover series Marvel vs. DC spawned twelve issues of "Amalgam Comics" in which the superheroes and villains of two publishers merged. Now a new group of twelve very different issues has appeared. Their quality is uneven and there are contradictions with the first 1996 series.

The two best issues are Challengers of the Fantastic and Thorion of the New Asgods. All original sources stem from the work of artist Jack Kirby (DC's Challengers of the Unknown and Marvel's Fantastic Four titles form the first hybrid; DC's Orion of the New Gods character merges with Marvel's Thor titles.). There is a fundamental strength in Kirby's concepts regardless of the publisher.

The Challengers story involves a confrontation with Galactiac (villains Galactacus and Brainiac) and ends with an impending attack from villain Dr. Doomsday. The outcome of such a battle would be interesting. The most interesting variation in this story is Ben "Rocky" Grimm whose conversion into the superhero The Thing is significantly different from Kirby's original version.

The Thorion story suffers from an unfortunate name as its only major flaw. This new story seems very faithful to Kirby and embraces his race of Celestials from Marvel's Eternals title.

Little can be said in defense of Lobo the Duck or Generation Hex. Even avid fans of the original characters will find this hard to accept.

The other eight titles have several good points. DC's Sgt. Rock soldier now leads Marvel's Howling Commandos in support of Amalgam's Super Soldier (Superman/Captain America). Iron Man merges with Green Lantern to become Iron Lantern. Marvel's Brood and DC's Brother Blood merge to fight the X-Patrol ("X- Men" plus "Doom Patrol").

If there are future Amalgams, tighter editorial control in needed. There is potential for some good storytelling.

Oklahoma Cartoonists Collection Pictures

Take a gander at some great Action Figure Museum and O.C.C. photos on this Flikr site. You'll be glad you did!