Author Archives: Todd

And Then I Read: DARK HORSE PRESENTS 33

DHP33Image © Dark Horse Comics.

Keeping things brief this time. “Cruel Biology” begins a four parter that’s an interesting mix of “Catch-22″ and a horror movie, set on a remote Pacific island scouting outpost. I like the art more than the story of “Integer City,” but not a bad read. Brendan McCarthy’s psychedelic art and colors on “The Deleted” really brighten up this issue, but the story so far is somewhat predictable: drop a guy into the middle of a war he doesn’t understand and see what happens. A new “Mister X” serial by Dean Motter begins: stylish, classy noir. I read this issue out of order, so the “Nexus” chapter here is second to the conclusion, and it’s a strange a ride as ever. On the other hand, the first chapter of “Mr. Monster and the Brain Bats of Venus” helps me understand what I’d read in the second chapter already. Michael T. Gilbert’s art and story are frenetic and full of energy at all times, not to mention good fun. “Saint George” concludes in this issue with more nice art and a pretty good story. “The Many Murders of Miss Cranbourne” proves that you can do all new Agatha Christie Miss Marple stories in comics form. I don’t love it, but it’s worth a read. “Kill Me!” is a convoluted time travel story that concludes here. I like the idea of it, but the plot lost me.

In general, not a bad issue. Recommended.

And Then I Read: ASTRO CITY 15

AC15Image © Juke Box Productions.

The conclusion of the two-part story of Ellie Jimson, the somewhat simple and gullible robotics mastermind, reveals a back story of a partnership that went wrong, and perhaps why Ellie is as she is. It reminded me a bit of the back story of Reed Richards and Dr. Doom, but is quite entertaining and satisfying in its own right. The art is great, too, of course.

Recommended.

NYCC 2014 with Gaspar Saladino and friends

ShowEntranceThis past Thursday, Oct. 9th, I arrived at the Jacob Javits Center on the west side of New York City around 1 PM and got my pro pass to the New York Comic Con. I’d hoped to get there sooner, but traffic delays between my home in southern New Jersey and my mom’s place closer to the city held me up. Another hour by train from her place brought me to New York’s Penn Station, a 20 minute walk from the con. Before even entering the show I needed to meet Shelly Bond and others for lunch at a nearby restaurant to discuss an upcoming project. That was fun, but got me back to the show around 3 PM. Then I was able to do some scouting and planning for the primary reason I was there: meeting up with my friend and inspiration, lettering master Gaspar Saladino on Friday.

I hadn’t seen Gaspar in person for about 30 years, but we keep in touch by phone, and last August he called me with surprising news. He had decided he wanted to attend the New York Comic Con this year, which would be his first comics convention EVER after more than 60 years in the business. Gaspar began working for DC Comics as a letterer in late 1949. Gaspar always tells people he started in 1951, but in a three-part article beginning HERE I believe I tracked down his first DC lettering work in ROMANCE TRAIL #5 cover-dated March-April 1950, which must have been done in 1949. His most recent work for DC was some cover lettering for the BATMAN ’66 title in 2013. I was surprised Gaspar wanted to go, I know he’d been invited to other cons and turned them down, but when he said he wanted to meet me there so we could go through the con together, I was delighted. I told him I’d see if I could get us passes. In a few days I had pro passes for Gaspar, his son-in-law Mitch, and myself courtesy of Andrew Marino at DC Comics Talent Relations, and as the show was already mostly sold out, we owe him thanks for that! Gaspar is elderly and not in the best of health, though he still sounds great on the phone and his mind is sharp. He told me his son-in-law Mitch would drive him to the show, and after some discussion with Mitch, we agreed they would bring a wheelchair for Gaspar, as we weren’t sure how much walking he could do. So, on Thursday at the show, I scouted out where the wheelchair elevators were, and planned out several places in the show where I thought Gaspar could meet people he knew and that knew him. I also put the word out among fellow letterers from my generation and later, ones I knew were fans of Gaspar’s work, to see if they’d like to join us. Many wanted to, and a half dozen planned to be there Friday.

AlexJayOne person I ran into at the show Thursday was Alex Jay, a terrific logo designer in the 1980s-90s for DC, Marvel, and other companies, another person I hadn’t seen in person in decades, though we also keep in touch mainly by email. In addition to being a top-notch designer, Alex is an excellent researcher, and he’s often helped me with my blog posts covering comics history, so it was great to reconnect in person. Alex wanted to join our Gaspar group on Friday, too.

WetaSmaugI did a quick walk around the show, enjoying displays like the Weta Smaug sculpture towering over the 35th street entrance…

Abrams…and chatted with friends and work partners like Charlie Kochman at Abrams. He and art director Chad Beckerman (above) had hired me to letter the cover titles on their handsome new book “The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio,” and they had early samples on display. Looks great. That’s Joe Simon’s son Jim in the background, nice to meet him, too.

DCBatIt took a while to find the DC Comics area, it was on the lower level at the southeast corner, outside the main exhibit hall. The large bat in the window was my first clue…

BatCostumes…and DC’s display focused on the 75th anniversary of Batman with statues of the various Batman movie costumes. Unfortunately I could only find one DC staffer I knew there, though I did chat with Andrew Pepoy and other friends.

BobChapmanNext to DC’s area was Bob Chapman’s Graffiti Designs. It was kind of odd to see Bob in New York, as I usually see him in San Diego, but he wanted to show me a new book he’s produced collecting Batman stories with art by Kelley Jones, in the very large size pioneered by IDW’s Artist Editions, and reproducing detailed scans of the original art for as many pages as could be found. It looks terrific, and as I lettered the stories, I’ll be getting a copy when it’s released, thanks to Bob. Then I had to leave the show at 5 PM to get back for a dinner date with my Mom in New Jersey.

RobinsOrzMarshallKlein

I arrived back at the con Friday around 11 AM. The first person I met up for our Gaspar group was letterer Clem Robins, at left above. Clem also keeps in touch with Gaspar regularly by phone, and like me, cites Gaspar as a major influence in his work. Soon we were joined by letterer Tom Orzechowski, next to Clem above, another veteran (in the business since 1973) and David Marshall. David has only lettered his own self-published work, but we’ve become friends on Facebook, and he wanted to join us. Clem and Tom traveled from Ohio, and David from Boston to join the group of Gaspar admirers. Oh, and that’s me at the right. We spent some time talking and looking around the con until I heard from Mitch by phone that he and Gaspar were parked and on the way to the show. Then we went outside to meet them.

KleinRobinsMarshallOrzGasparWhen Gaspar (at right) arrived, we shared warm greetings and brought he and Mitch inside to get their show passes. Gaspar was in good spirits and glad to see us. He was able to walk with a cane some of the time, and when he got tired, he used the wheelchair Mitch had brought. (And I don’t seem to have a photo of Mitch, sorry to say.) We brought Gaspar to the DC area, but again I wasn’t able to find any DC staffers I knew to introduce him, so we continued on to the main exhibit hall.

GasparAdamsThere was one person in the main hall that I knew would enjoy seeing Gaspar, and that was Neal Adams. Gaspar worked with Neal on many projects for DC and elsewhere, and they saw each other often in the early days at the DC offices. Neal had some good stories for us. He said, when he was first at DC around 1967 they wanted him to do Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis stories, and to letter them “I wanted that Gaspar guy.” He felt Gaspar’s work had the bounce and personality that would work best for humor. In a few years Gaspar was lettering most of the covers for DC, including Neal’s, and plenty of stories like Neal’s “Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali” tabloid comic. Then Neal told us there was one job he did with Gaspar that the lettering master DIDN’T want his name on, and asked if we could guess what that might be. We couldn’t, so he told us. It was the “Son O’ God” stories for NATIONAL LAMPOON, a hilarious but shocking send-up of Jesus and Christianity. Neal said, “everyone involved with those stories was Roman Catholic,” and he finally talked Gaspar into putting his name on the work.

Denny O'NeilWe made our way to Artist’s Alley, where Gaspar enjoyed talking to writer Denny O’Neil about their work together…

Rubinstein…and artists like Joe Rubinstein, above, Joe Staton and others.

ChaykinHoward Chaykin enjoyed seeing Gaspar, and quickly got into stories about Gil Kane and Alex Toth, both of whom Gaspar worked with in their early days at DC.

EliopGasparWe found letterer Chris Eliopoulos at the table he shared with artist Erik Larsen, and Chris was thrilled to meet Gaspar, as I think you might see in his expression here. We stood there for a while chatting and getting pictures.

LetteringGangSoon we’d added a few more to Gaspar’s Posse, and here’s a photo of the entire group: Chris Eliopolous in front, and lined up left to right are Alex Jay, Clem Robins, Gaspar Saladino, Todd Klein, David Marshall, another lettering veteran Janice Chiang, and Tom Orzechowski. We had such a great time that the con staff had to eventually come and tell us to stop blocking the aisle.

WeinBusiekWhile we were in Artist’s Alley I chatted with writer Kurt Busiek about an upcoming project, and he also enjoyed meeting Gaspar. In the background of this picture is Len Wein who was about to pass us by when I called him over to say hi.

GasparWeinA moment later Len’s jaw dropped when he saw the man with us who had lettered his legendary first run on SWAMP THING. It was really funny was when Gaspar started berating Len for all the extra work Len had given him on that book, the first one where the main character had not one but several special balloon styles. But they were both surprised and glad to see each other, as I think you can see in the photo.

By around 4 PM we were tired and we left the con to get a meal at a nearby diner I had checked out Thursday as a likely spot. Seven of us: myself, Clem, Gaspar, Mitch, Tom, Alex and David enjoyed another hour of stories, conversation and laughter before I had to head back to New Jersey and everyone went their separate ways. What a wonderful day, never to be forgotten. Thanks to everyone who participated!

And Then I Read: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK Volume 1

GBVol1Image © Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell.

Here is a new graphic adaptation by one of my favorite artists, P. Craig Russell of the award-winning book by Neil Gaiman. I loved every page and panel. Russell did the adaptation script and layouts, had them hand-lettered by ace veteran Rick Parker, then passed chapters on to an excellent group of artists to finish in their own styles, an approach with gives the chapters a little stylistic variety without drifting too far from Craig’s vision. Colorist Lovern Kindzierski pulls it all together nicely, and the result is a treat in all respects.

The story begins with a gruesome murder of an entire family in small-town England, all but the baby, who has a tendency to wander off. The toddler wanders into a nearby graveyard where the ghosts in residence (and a few others) agree to take him in and raise him. Bod (short for Nobody) Owens has perhaps the most unusual upbringing in modern literature since Mowgli and Tarzan, and there’s definitely a nod by Gaiman to the former Kipling stories here, but with lots of unique magic and wonder.

I have to admit I feel a little left out. I lettered the last such adaptation (of Gaiman’s Coraline), but at the time Craig wanted the pages lettered on the art, and I wasn’t able to do that. Too time consuming for me now that I’m no longer hand-lettering regularly, and out of practice. Rick Parker has done an excellent job for them, and I’m sure everyone who eventually buys a page of original art from this project will also be happy to have the lettering on it.

Volume 2 is just out in shops now, I believe, and I’m looking forward to that, too. I would have preferred the effort in one volume, but publishing full-color comics is an expensive business, and I understand the need of the publisher to go the two volume route. I imagine there will be a one-volume version later.

Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: RICHARD STARK’S PARKER, SLAYGROUND

ParkerSlaygroundImage © Darwyn Cooke, Estate of Donald E. Westlake and IDW.

I generally prefer character driven stories over plot-driven ones, but there are exceptions. Certain kinds of thrillers, mysteries and crime stories with intricate plots that play out like clockwork revealing one clever turn after another, have their own special appeal, and this is one of those. It’s the fourth Parker adaptation by Darwyn Cooke, and he’s found the subject and series just right for him, clearly. The art is deceptively simple, in two colors: black and pearly blue-gray for most of the book, with a short section in black and orange at the end. It’s redolent of the 1950s, even though it takes place in 1969, but in an old-fashioned amusement park closed for the winter. Parker has been part of a armored car robbery that went bad, ending in a getaway car crash, but he’s escaped into the park with a large bag of cash. Trouble is, both police and local gangsters saw him go in, and Parker soon discovers there’s no other way out than over the front gate. With apparent calm resolution he sets about preparing the “slayground” for one-man combat. You know you’re in for a clever plot when you get to the fold-out map of the park, and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s little character development in this volume, the least of the series so far, but it doesn’t matter, you’ll keep turning the pages to see what Parker has planned for his opponents next.

Recommended.