Monday, June 27, 2011

Madonna Loves Dr. Strange - 1981

While doing some research for the Hey Kids, Comics! book, I found this surprising picture--Madonna (pre-fame) smooching a copy of Dr. Strange #45!

This pic is most likely from around late 1980 or early 1981, just a few years before Madge hit it big, to say the least. I wonder what the impetus for this photo could have been???

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Night (Force) & Day" - Rob Kelly

I mentioned in one of my very first Hey Kids! posts that one of the more under-appreciated thrills of reading comics back when I was a kid was the uncertainty of what you'd find.

To people who have only ever bought their comics via comic shops, the whole idea of not knowing what books would be carried must seem annoying at best, most likely Completely Unacceptable. But that's what kids my age (and older) put up with--no matter how many different newsstands, candy stores, and supermarkets you got your comics at, no one place carried every title you wanted to read.

Even then, there was a more than decent chance that you'd miss an issue--and Lord help you if you turned to one of the clerks who worked there for help: there were much better ways for Pops or Gramps or whomever to earn fifty cents; no way was he going to go look in the back to see if he had any more of DC Two-In-One or whatever ("But that's not the name of...")

But, despite all that, there was the sheer fun, the joy of discovery, when you suddenly saw a book you had never come across before. Amid all your old friends (Superman, Spider-Man, Archie, Casper, etc.), here was something brand-new, unexplored...maybe even a little dangerous?

For me, one of those times was in 1982, when I was comics shopping at one of the many grubby newsstands that populated the area surrounding Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pennsylvania mountain area known as the Poconos. My parents and I vacationed there every year, the same time (two weeks in mid-August), and one of the great parts about the trip was how I would gorge myself on comics...bringing them back to the house, sitting on the porch that looked out over the lake, glass of (fill-in name of sugary beverage I was addicted to that week) at my side, became one of my all-time favorite vacation rituals.

Living via an allowance-based economy, I tended to stick to the books I knew I loved: Justice League of America, Brave and the Bold, Batman, Star Wars, The Incredible Hulk, All-Star Squadron. But in those days at the lake, I sometimes was handed a little more scratch to take care of my comics itch.

It was one of those days when, while scanning the racks of yet another gas station/newsstand rest stop, I saw this:
Night Force? What the heck is Night Force?!?

I had never seen this book before, but the cover leaped off the stands at me: the superb layout, the mysterious, shadowy figures, the eye-popping colors (magenta?!?). I simply had to buy it.

And buy it I did. I brought it home, and slotted it at the bottom of my pile, lest the book not live up to its captivating cover. As I worked my way through the books (the JLA, the JSA, and the All-Star Squadron vs. Per Degaton, Part 3!, Batman vs. The Joker again, hey, cool cover on this month's World's Finest) I started to grow almost...scared at what I was about to find inside the covers of this Night Force book. I mean, did you see that cover?

I made sure to read the book while it was still daylight out. Since our cabin was somewhat remote, and we had no real communication with the outside world other than a radio (not even a phone), the idea of reading this book while the nearby bats flew and crickets chirped was just a little too much for me to bear.

I would love to say that, after reading the story therein ("Eyes"), I became a rabid Night Force fan, quickly adding the book to my mental "must buy" list, but that's not what happened. No...actually, I found myself a little disappointed and confused: Marv Wolfman's story (of which this was but a chapter) was just a little too much for my then 11-year-old mind, weaned as I was on more traditional superhero fisticuffs. Night Force's moody character-driven story just didn't click with me.

But I never, never forgot the art, by Gene Colan. I was of course familiar with the man's work, having seen it in numerous other DC and Marvel books. But here, with its unfamiliar characters and setting, the art seemed to take on a whole other feeling, one of mystery and dread. This book didn't seem to exist in the traditional DC Universe, and that meant all bets were off: anything could happen, and the only thing I could be sure about was that the JLA was not going to show up to make everything okay.

And so while Night Force, as a comic, didn't quite live up to the hype I built up in my mind during the five or six-mile drive back to the cabin, the art, and especially the cover, lodged itself into my brain, and never left. And even though I eventually got rid of almost all my comics once I went to college, I held on to this one. I still have it to this day.

I thought of this book when I heard the sad news that Gene Colan had passed away today. I never met Mr. Colan, never had the chance to shove this book in his face at a con and babble about how much it meant to me. And while a billion other comic book images have come and gone, this one took up permanent residence in the part of my brain...the part that gets just a little bit scared when night falls. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thank you, Gene Colan.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

1952 Newsstand

Another iconic "Kids Reading Comics" shot; this time its from around December 1951; which is when the center comic (Girls' Romances #13, cover by Alex Toth) was on sale!