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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Comics Legend Rube Goldberg - From 2001


There is a wealth of entertaining comics besides The X-Men. One of the greatest comics creators was also a founding father of the art form.

Rube Goldberg was born in 1883. At twenty-one (1904), his sports and editorial cartoons were already being published in various California newspapers. Before he would lay down his pen, he would create dozens of Sunday and daily comic strips, found the National Cartoonist Society and the Famous Artists Cartoon School, and leave a legacy that remains unequaled today.

Boob McNutt (1915-’34) is his best remembered Sunday-only strip. It began as a showcase for low-brow humor based on societal observation, and evolved into a comic adventure.

Most of his short-lived strips were full of kinetic energy and drawn in a scratchy style that added much visual humor to his observations about life. But his amazing inventions based on a falling domino flow of action and reaction remain unique to this day.


Passing man (A) slips on banana peel (B) causing him to fall on rake (C). As handle of rake rises it throws horseshoe (D) onto rope (E) which sags, thereby tilting sprinkling can (F). Water (G) saturates mop (H). Pickle terrier (I) thinks it is raining, gets up to run into house and upsets sign (J) throwing it against non-tipping cigar ash receiver (K) which causes it to swing back and forth and swish the mop against window pane, wiping it clean.
If man breaks his neck by fall move away before cop arrives.


As example, a boy throws a ball that bounces off a man’s head and breaks an aquarium suspended from the ceiling. Its water pours down a sluice that turns a waterwheel that animates a knife that cuts a string suspending a boot. The boot kicks a frog....etc. and etc. and etc.

Rube Goldberg won the Pulitzer prize in 1948 and helped produce the first issue of Feature Funnies in 1937. He died in 1970. His only comic book work was Side Show (1940-’44, Quality).

Books by Goldberg included: Foolish Questions, Chasing the Blues, Seeing History at Close Range, Is There a Doctor in the House?, The Rube Goldberg Plan for the Post-War World, Rube Goldberg’s Guide to Europe, How to Remove the Cotton from a Bottle of Aspirin, and I Made My Bed.

The work of Rube Goldberg is highly recommended for all ages.

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Billy De Beck - From 2001


“Where did you get those gu-gu-googly eyes?” asked the popular novelty song. Why, from cartoonist B-B-B-Billy De Beck, silly.

Born in 1890 in Chicago, Billy De Beck graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts located there, and was cartooning by 1910. His comic strip Barney Google and Spark Plug premiered in June 1919 in the San Francisco Herald-Examiner.

Barney Google was characterized as a hen-pecked husband with an eye for sports, but grew into a big city rascal and dapper dresser by the late 1920s. After a bony race horse named Spark Plug, joined the cast (1922), the strip changed titles. It would do so again when Barney met his popular hillbilly friend Snuffy Smith (1934).

At first, Barney Google was an icon of the rakish, hand-to-mouth, noisy, “common man” of the 1920s. De Beck even added a dash of Paris expatriate to Barney from the popular novels of Ernest Hemingway. But the wide-eyed character slowly turned to backwoods hillbilly humor with the introduction of Snuffy Smith in the early ‘30s. Smith was an escape for De Beck’s readers from the Great Depression that had crushed the exuberance from the ‘20s.



The cartoonist’s distinctive but simple art was of the “big-foot” abstract style that has dominated the American comic strip from The Katzenjammer Kids to today’s Hagar the Horrible.

De Beck’s comic book work included: Barney Google & Snuffy Smith (Dell, 1942-’43; 4 Color #19, ‘42; 4 Color #40, ‘44; Large Feature Comic #11, ‘43; Gold Key #4; ‘64); Barney Google and Snuffy Smith (Charlton, 1970-’71); Barney Google and Spark Plug (Cupples & Leon, pre-comic book anthology, 1923-’28); Comic Monthly # 4 & 11 (Embee. 1922), Giant Comic Album (King, 1972).



De Beck died in 1942. The strip was continued by Fred Lasswell. De Beck’s work in highly recommended.

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Kenneth Bald - From 2001


"He ain't visually heavy; he's my brother," commented comics artist Fred Sled.

Okay, there is no Fred Sled, and the quote is an invented pun. But it would have been true if said about the polished style of comics pioneer and artist, Kenneth Bald.

Born in 1920, Bald began his career designing or "laying-out" comic book pages at the Binder Shop (1941-'43) where he was promoted to Art Director. He also worked at the Sangor Shop, and on Capt. Marvel superhero titles in the mid-1950s at the Beck-Costanza Shop. Bald also drew the comic strips Judd Saxon (1957-'62), and Dark Shadows (1971-'72).

As comics art aficionados know, not only the visual elements in each panel on a comics page, but the arrangement of the panels on the page carries the illusion of weight. A black blob seems of more substance than an equal area of white.

Among the most accomplished practitioners of realistic art, Bald's style is best described as beautifully balanced. The "weight" of his panels and pages seemed perfectly placed. Esthetically pleasing. Commercial.



Those thinking the word "commercial" insulting should rethink. The broad sweep of his rare talent made Bald equally at home drawing a romance, horror or superhero title with the style needed for each genre.

Bald was also as adept at delineating buildings as babes, muscles as monsters, and stories as covers, a versatility badly missing in many comics artists today.

Bald's comics work included: Capt. Marvel, Mr. Scarlet, Bullet-man,(1942-'45, Fawcett); Fighting Yank, Doc Strange (1942, Pines); Blackstone, Doc Savage (1942-'43, St. & Smith); Black Owl (1942, Prize); Capt. Battle (1942, Gleason), Millie, Willie, Cindy (1946-50, Marvel), covers, love war and western titles (1948-'52, ACG). A collection of his Dark Shadows strips is available from Ken Pierce Books. The work of Kenneth Bald is highly recommended.

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Ross Andru - From 2001


Ross Andru earned a well-deserved but sometimes overlooked star in the pantheon of comic book and strip artists for his memorable penciling on occasionally less than outstanding characters.

Born in 1925, Andru attended the Music and Arts High School in New York City, and the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, before embarking on his career in comics in the 1950s.




His most revered work at DC Comics was his many issues as penciller for Mike Esposito's inks on Wonder Woman. These stories were steeped in mythology and centered on the super-heroine's years on Paradise Island as a child and teenager. At the time, Wonder Woman comics targeted young girls as their potential audience, and were full of a whimsy and simple joy rare in comic books and reminiscent of children's novels.

The artist's Spider-Man work at Marvel Comics was grounded in the traditions of super hero comic books: adventure and the dramatic battle of good and evil. Andru drew cityscapes and super-villains with the same ease as tropical islands and mermen, and he left his mark as one of the best to draw the world famous cast of the wall-crawling teenager.



Whatever his subject, Ross Andru's pencils were clean, bold and technically beyond criticism. Based on a realistic depiction of the world, his style was instantly recognizable. No superfluous line was added to a panel, and his internal logic and visual storytelling were flawless, dramatic and entertaining. Among his comic book credits are: Wonder Woman, G. I. Joe, Suicide Squad, Metal Men, Sea Devils, Rip Hunter, Superman-Batman, Trigger Twins, Losers (DC Comics, '58--?); X-Men, Spiderman, Defenders, Kull, Gullivar Jones, Shanna, Doc Savage (Marvel, '67--?); and pencils for the publishers Ziff-Davis ('51), Pines (c'52-'54), Hillman ('52) and Skywalk ('71-72).

Andru died in 1993.

The work of Ross Andru is highly recommended.

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance