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Friday, September 26, 2008

Who's Who of American Comic Books by Jerry Bails

Who's Who of American Comic Books: 1928-1999/free on your computer/created by Jerry Bails and lots of associate fans.

Type the above title into your browser or click, and here
is what you will find on the home page:

"On November 23, 2006, the "Father Of Comic Book Fandom" and creator of this database, Jerry Bails, passed away in his sleep. This website remains a continued tribute to his efforts at making sure that those who helped create our favorite four-color medium are given the credit that they richly deserve."

In addition to this introduction, you'll find the most comprehensive listing of American cartoonists and their work ever compiled.

It wasn't always so.

The Who's Who of American Comic Books was originally published as a series of magazines. If you can find a set today, buy them. They are rare indeed. I am blessed to own a set, and have used it as a source of information when writing Suspended Animation for almost twenty years.

That list of cartoonists and their work includes an artist's or writer's birthday and deathday, his education, the comics titles he worked on and the dates they appeared, and comics related work like comic strips, advertising, prose books, movie posters, and much more.

This list is so comprehensive that I'd guess one could spend years reading without finishing it. It is unparalleled and unsurpassed in the world of comics.

It is difficult to imagine a serious fan of comics who would not find hours of enjoyment here. In fact, no matter how great a comics scholar, there is something surprising and new on almost every page.

That aforementioned home page finishes with: "Thank you Jerry Bails; may the rest of us in comic fandom continue to do your example proud."


This wonderful resource receives the highest recommendation.

Review by Michael Vance

Check out Dark Corridor #1 for two Michael Vance short stories at

Creature Tech - From 2002

Reanimated by the burial shroud of Christ, a madman attempts a plan begun 150 years ago, ravaging Earth with gigantic eels from outer space. Ying to his yang, Dr. Ong is an apostate preacher and scientist employed at Creature Tech, a clandestine research facility. With an oddball assortment of symbiotic monsters, rednecks, and a giant praying mantis, Ong plays out an exciting adventure of faith and self-revelation as Earth "hangs in the balance". So reads the interior cover-flap of an astonishing new graphic novel, Creature Tech by Doug TenNapel.

But this graphic novel is much more than plot.

No plot twist or character offered is wildly original, but Tech is a wonderful amalgam of influences melded into a singular, original, and entertaining style. As example, the creature that attaches itself to Ong is similar to the monster that attaches itself to faces in the movie Alien. The relationship in Tech, however, is much more complicated.

Better still, Ong and cast are quirky, fully developed people who act and speak naturally in an unnatural world. Fully developed includes that rarest of human aspects in comics, God. Those potential readers who choose to not buy Tech because of religion will only cheat themselves.

Better still again, the simple, minimalist art sifts Will Eisner and Alex Toth and a handful of European styles into a flour that is wholly TenNapel. Using thick, bold lines and large areas of white and black to heighten contrast, Creature Tech looks like an episode of The Spirit costarring Bugs Bunny.

Comics don't get much better than this, and the only disappointment (perish the thought) is the possibility there might not be a second volume. Creature Tech is very highly recommended for all but young children.

Creature Tech/200 pgs. & $14.95 from Top Shelf/available at comic book shops and

Review by Michael Vance

The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby - From 2002

The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby/$18.95 & 126 pages from Fantagraphics/Kirby art and various writers/sold in comic shops and by mail at

Jack Kirby was the essence of jump-in-your-face comic books, the most widely imitated and influential superhero artist, and the most prolifically creative man in the history of the art form.

A short list of his accomplishments must include the co-creation of Captain America, the launching of romance comics, his dynamic storytelling style, and the creation or co-creation of most of the characters published by Marvel Comics.

The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby presents a balanced overview of Kirby with several interviews and essays on his life and career, as well as a wealth of art, mostly from his Marvel days as a freelancer. These prose portraits do much to dispel the myth by Kirby fans that he created the universe (it can get that bad), and from his detracters that he was a hack (it can get that bad).

Most comics fans either hate or love the man.

This volume also recounts the ugly tale of Kirby's dispute with the company that he helped to establish as the premier comics publisher in the world. In his sixties, the cartoonist asked for the return of his original artwork that numbered around 10,000 pages. Marvel refused to do so without Kirby signing a harsh legal document to protect the company from having to share any character ownership with the creator. This was not a new policy, but the continuation of an old arrangement that was common with all publishers.

In most cases, that policy continues to be the shame of the industry today.

Did Kirby win? You'll have to read the book. And anyone interested in Jack Kirby, the early days of comics, or a look at the business end of the shtick must own this marvelous work.

The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby is highly recommended.

Review by Michael Vance

Atmospherics - From 2002

Atmospherics, published by Avatar Press, Inc., 48 pages, $5.95.

Alien abductions and cattle mutilations. You'd have thought, by now, that most of us would have heard all we wanted about such things. I mean, after all, the X-Files program is over and done with. So, what could possibly possess me to even review a comic with such fare, much less speak well of it? Well, a good story, along with fantastic artwork would be an excellent start. The comic? Atmospherics, a graphic novel by writer Warren Ellis, and artist Ken Meyer, Jr.

Now, this is not your typical alien-abduction story. Thanks to Ellis, it actually manages to pose a decent mystery, keeping the reader guessing right to the end. The main character, Bridget Rhinehart, goes from seemingly frazzled sole survivor of a slaughtered township, to possible drug-abuser, to possible murderer. But which one is accurate?

The entire story takes place in an interrogation room, where Bridget is grilled by a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This shadowy figure questions, cajoles and intimidates her, as he seeks to arrive at the "truth" about what happened in the small town. The result makes for a real page-turner with a definite chill factor. The most creative part of the story, however, is the truth about the aliens.

What, you think I'm going to TELL you? You'll have to find out for yourself.

Meyer's artwork has a very realistic quality to it. And, though his work doesn't get showcased in the sense of vast setting changes, his talent for character expressions lends as much to the entertainment value of this story as Ellis' writing.

He is also one of those very accomplished black-and-white artists I enjoy so much. Those who refuse to read comic material due to lack of color are punishing themselves when they pass up work like this.

Atmospherics is recommended for adults and older teens, due to some language and intense situations. Find it at comic shops, comic conventions, or online catalogs.

Review by Mark Allen

Astronauts in Trouble - From 2002

Three reporters land the assignment of a lifetime; to follow the richest man on earth on his trip to the moon to establish a permanent base and mining colony. Due to the potentially deadly actions of eco-terrorists, however, the trip commences prematurely with said reporters in tow.

Upon landing, it is discovered that things are not as they seem, and the very rich and benevolent Ishmael Hayes may not be as..., well, benevolent, as he seems.
This is not the set-up for a sci-fi story of aliens and flying saucers. Rather, it is the plot to an intriguing story that, refreshingly, may have more to do with science than fiction.

Astronauts in Trouble, by writer Larry Young and artists Matt Smith and Charlie Adlard, reads like a novel-to-comic story, and I mean that in a good way. Perhaps one of the most intelligently-written comics I've ever read, Astronauts in Trouble contains humor, suspense, action, and even a few twists and turns in just the right places. It also has some of the best real-life dialogue a reader could hope for; the characters sound like real people, not cardboard cutouts. These qualities combine to make this story one of the most pleasing reads in comics today.

The only thing that might distract is the black-and-white art of Matt Smith. I tend to think his work would look much better colored, or even inked with thicker lines. Without either, the art comes off as very one-dimensional.

Adlard takes over for the last couple of issues, and does a better job at "fleshing out" the art. Considering very few comic artists today can do stellar black-and-white work, however, the effort is highly commendable, as is the project overall.

Astronauts in Trouble is recommended for all ages, though the complex content will probably appeal more to teens and adults. It can be found at your local comic shop, or online at

Astronauts in Trouble
trade paperback, published by Ait Planet Lar, 144 pages, $12.95.

Review by Mark Allen

American Century - From 2002

There are basically two ways to live. You can be selfless and make life better by trying to overcome personal flaws that hurt people, or you can be selfish and make life more wretched by wallowing in activities that hurt every-one. Most people do a bit of both.

The comic book American Century wallows in selfish.

"The daily grind of post-war America was grinding Harry Block beneath its heel," reads an opening caption that sets this title's stage and tone. "So Harry stepped out and reinvented himself…. He left his marriage, his job and his troubles, choosing instead to live his new and improved life as Harry Kraft, a no-nonsense Joe with his own set of rules."

So Harry responds to a world that grinds him beneath its heel by grinding it beneath his boot. How noble.

Huh? you query. Try the following rewrite from a different view.

The responsibilities of earning a living and being a husband and citizen were hard, so Harry abandoned them, deserting his wife and breaking his vows, mooching off of society and skirting his troubles, choosing instead to live for no one but Harry who had his own rules.

So, thinks Harry, since life is terrible, let's make it worse. Life, after all, is all about Harry.

Yeah, yeah, this little slice of nasty life is technically well written and certainly well drawn. But, unlike most reviewers who think content above criticism, this one offers this comment on the content of American Century: raspberries.

Or, if my comment were written by this comic book's creative team: @#@!*%@*!!!&%@ (*%@#!!!!!!!!

Because of profanity, perversity, nihilism and just plain nastiness, the "Suggested for mature readers" on the cover of this issue is misleading. American Century is for immature readers.

American Century #14/$2.50 & 22 pgs., Vertigo (DC) Comics/words: Howard Chaykin and David Tischman; pencils: Louke Ross/sold at comics shops and by mail at

Review by Michael Vance