Friday, November 7, 2014

Why I Hate this Cover by Frank Frazetta

I was recently discussing the great covers that used to grace books back in the 1960s & 70s. There was a raw energy to the painting style back then that seems lost to me under the slick and polished covers that grace books today.

And this cover by Frank Frazetta came to mind.

Now, I love Frazetta's work in general. I think he's one of the great artists of the 60s & 70s. He drew a lot of great comics and painted a lot of great book covers, including a LOT of Tarzan covers. In short, he's one of the premier fantasy cover artists of the previous century, and his work is rightly revered by many.

But I hate this cover. I really do.

This is a dramatic image, I won't deny that. The pose, the menace, the sense of restrained energy about to burst loose.. it's all there. Even though it's a bit dark and monochromatic, i can't argue with the artistry in this image. But I still think it's the worst cover ever.

Here's Why
This short novel opens with a young thief stealing a girl's jewelry from a wealthy house. He then hooks up with some hobos who try to rob him, but is saved by another hobo and -- on the run -- they take refuge in a house. And then spooky stuff starts to happen: someone was murdered there years ago, they find a body in the house, and a girl is tossed out of a speeding car outside, and there are creepy noises coming from the basement. Growls and chains... oh my! Whatever could it be? I dunno? Maybe it's A BIG BROWN BEAR?
There's a complete plot here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oakdale_Affair

And that's why I think this is the worst cover ever because it reveals the answer to the mystery that occupies about half the book. This is akin to doing a cover for Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" and showing twelve people with knives standing over the body.

And this brings to mind several times in the Silver Age (and later) when the cover art of a comic revealed something important inside the story. I'm trying to remember specifics, but I clearly recall this happening in the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, as well as in an issue of Batman (or Detective Comics). Can any of you guys think of specific examples where the cover revealed the identity of a character that the writer was trying to hide?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014: Afterlife with Archie

This year, to celebrate one of my favorite holidays, I decided to create a large display in my yard based on my favorite comic book, AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE. To this end, I created a graveyard complete with tombstones for all the members of The Archies, and even created a life-sized figure of Jughead as the King of the Zombies!


Here it is by the light of day...
It is roped off with purple lights. The backdrop is painted plywood.
Since I took this photo, I have added a shelf to the back of the
wall so I can rest two pumpkins on it.


And at night it comes alive with black light.

Not even poor Betty could escape.

The two pumpkins up front rest on a small "brick" wall.


Looks like our boy's been eating ribs... but whose?


There are four black lights used to illuminate the scene.


And Jughead is lit from within

I got the Jughead mask as Halloween Express for about $20.
The rest of the pieces came from a Dollar Store, including the hands,
lights inside the hands (just strings of orange mini lights)
and the night light inside Juggie's head.



My Wife carved these "Funkins" a few years ago. Slowly but surely, we add
a new on each year. I'll actually pull out a lot more tonight when the
Trick-or-Treaters start making their rounds.

The tombstones are made of two flat Coke cartons that are duct taped
together and then painted with black paint for daylight, and
highlighted with glow-in-the-dark paint for night.

Almost everything here is custom made I did buy the Jughead mask (and, of course, all the paints, lights and plastic body parts), but the rest were created by me. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the display, although there are a few additional touches I'd like to add. But, the boils and ghouls will be here this evening, so the Riverdale sign and other touches will have to wait until next year.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Comics: Archie & the Gang as Superheroes

I was browsing through my Archie comics the other day and came across some fun reprints of the 1960s SUPERHERO versions of the Archie Characters. These were created back when superheroes were finally coming back into the mainstream consciousness after the drought of the 1950s.

For those of you who don't know, superheroes all but vanished during that decade: only the BIG THREE maintained constant publication from their halcyon days of the Golden Era that was the 1940s: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Other heroes did pop up here and there, but the magic was gone. Even Captain Marvel (who once outsold Superman and moved a million comics a month) had hung up his cape (mostly due to a lawsuit from DC, but even if not for that, his glory days were also gone).

But 1956 changed that. The new version of THE FLASH revived interest by updating an old hero for a new age. Within 10 years, superhero mania swept the nation, especially when the Batman TV show became a monster hit in 1966.

Even the Archie gang was swept up in this super fever.

In October 1965, both Archie and Betty gained super powers: Archie got them in Life With Archie #44 and the girl next door acquired hers in Betty & Veronica #118. I personally didn't read these until the 1970s when they started reprinting these stories in their digest comics. I loved them, especially the Pureheart stories because they toyed around with the idea that they could actually be happening in the major continuity; every time Archie called on the "PH Factor" to activate his powers, it scrambled the memories of everyone around him, including himself, so he wasn't sure if these were real adventures or just daydreams.

The first Pureheart issue was illustrated by one of the underrated Archie artists, Bob White. Bob didn't acquire the following of Dan DeCarlo or Samm Schwartz, but he definitely captured the zany villains and absurd fun of these stories.

Copyright 1965 Archie Comics

I'm showing Super Teen's first appearance here, drawn by the incomparable Dan DeCarlo, but I'm actually showing the second appearance of PH because it's a better cover, AND it introduces his nemesis, EVILHEART (who is none other than Reggie Mantle). Of course, Jughead would soon follow with CAPTAIN HERO. It would actually take until 1995 before Veronica would get in on the game and get her own super identity as... Miss Vanity.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Ultra Update: The project in a nutshell

I realize that I haven't been exactly clear about what's going on here. So here it is:

  • About 30 years ago (among other things), I created a superhero called ULTRA.
  • I sent rough sketches to Steve Addlesee, who refined my initial costume ideas and did some concept art for me (check the last post for two of the images from the character design phase).
  • I then wrote a 20-page story and Steve penciled and lettered it. I may or may not have done some layouts/breakdowns for this story.
  • I then had some trouble finding someone to ink it. Ken Holden, Jr. inked the first 5 pages, then dropped the project due to other commitments.
  • Andrew Peopy (who was a teenager at the time and has since gone on to become an award-winning artist) inked the first 11 pages before dropping it (it's also possible that he never got the second half of the story -- I'm not sure).
  • I then got distracted with other things -- being the president of the Collectors' Club, going to college, dating, etc. All the usual things encountered by guys in their early 20s.
  • So I dropped the project. It's been sitting in my files, unfinished and unseen for about 30 years.
  • I recently went through my files and found a LOT of cool stuff.
  • So, I've decided to reactivate my old fanzine label, MELEE PUBLICATIONS, and print/reprint some of this old material.
  • I've contacted both Steve and Andrew, and they both gave me their blessings on this project. And they will receive royalties from each issue sold.
In future updates, I'll fill you in on the clean-up process for the artwork, and some of the other zines I'll be printing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ultra Busts Out in COLOR!

This may sound odd, but when I created Ultra 30+ years ago, I never really thought of her in color. I was pretty sure she was a redhead, but since I was working in b&w line art, I designed the costume to look good in b&w. Back then, color was prohibitively expensive for a small press publisher to use, so it really didn't cross my mind.

Of course, nowadays we have cheap Print On Demand color, and the Web is a cornucopia of color. It's everywhere. In fact, the only people using black and white on the Web are doing so to be artsy (and even then, most of them use pops of color for emphasis and drama).

But I digress.

Now that I'm going to reprint ULTRA in this modern era, that means I need to figure out what she looks like in color. And, I must admit, that's proving to be a challenge.  You see, I really like the idea of gold boots and wrist bands. I also know she's a redhead. So, of course, that moves me toward green as her costume color. Um... high yellow boots and a green outfit? Sound like anyone's favorite female mutant with a fiery bird motif? Yup. It would be very easy to have her look like Phoenix.

Which is something I don't want.

So, Right now I'm taking suggestions (my old buddy Eric C. suggested I glam her up with metallic colors and some greens, purples, and so forth. I like it, but I'm not sure it's exactly the look I'm going for.  

Ultra Color Concepts. If you have any suggestions, send 'em in!

 I also took Eric's advice about making the trunks and vest purple. I actually kind of like that (as you can see above, I extended that to the trim on the boots). I'm considering adding it to the wrist bands. I like the orange, but it reminds me a bit too much of when Nova Kane had super powers in the old E-Man comics. It's also a little too Aquaman for me. But -- well -- it does kind of work. 

If you have any suggestions for her costume colors, send 'em in. If I use your idea, I'll send you a free PDF of the comic when it comes out.


Ultra will soon appear in a full-size comic book, FANZINE FLASHBACK: ULTRA #1. It features a 20 page story penciled by Steven R. Addlesee and the first 11 pages were inked by a teenaged Andrew Pepoy. For project and ordering info, visit us at: www.meleepublications.com

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ultra is Coming!

Illustration by Steven R. Addlesee, created Sept. 1982
Copyright 1982, 2014 Mike Mitchell

Here's a little glimpse at what I'm working on next! If you blow this up to full size, you'll see that I did NOT draw this. It was created based on original sketches and ideas that I sent to the incomperable Steven R. Addlesee waaaaay back in 1982! Yup.

I was just out of high school, and must stop before I call myself a "fresh-faced kid," because, if I recall correctly, I was rocking a serious boy-stache back them. Yup. That bit of under-nose hair all guys think makes them look older when they're at that age. And, of course, it really just looks silly.

But I digress.

Back then, and for several years after, I self published comic books and magazines. I created this superhero and sent the very rough concepts to Steve (we knew each other through the auspices of the Collectors' Club, which is a group of people who collect & enjoy comics) and he created the stunning b&w inked illustration you see above.

I added the color to make her "pop" in this image.

Stay tuned for a big announcement next week!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Galaxy Prime Art 16: So Long, and Thanks for All the Art!

Last week, I started telling you about the differences between Word Processors and Page Design programs. Now it's time to dig a little deeper.

Word Processors: You should write your text in a word processor. It has automatic spell check, automatic grammar check, and should help you do simple formatting like lists and tables (if your work requires it). It should also let you import images and set margins nicely. The main strength, though, comes from the tools that let you write quickly, outline if you need it (hopefully automatically, if you've been using Title and Header styles). It should also automatically generate your Table of Contents, have footers & headers. But mainly, it should be there to help you write quickly and clearly.

Page Design: This software is for after you've written your novel or book or whatever. It usually does not have automatic spelling or grammar checking (and often, it does not check grammar at all). That's not its job. It is supposed to help you create uniform pages with left/right headers & footers. It should let you adjust the spacing of your text, both horizontally and vertically. If you have a font that looks tight at small sizes (or you are printing it over a dark background), you can take complete control of the letter spacing to add 5% spacing between each letter. You can easily add a different title page, like the one above.And it handles spreads (left/right facing pages) much better than MS Word ever dreamed of doing -- see the example below.

GP, pg. 84 - 85 

Page design software handles styles in a similar way to Word and Open Office: You define them beforehand and then just put your cursor in a paragraph and then click on the appropriate style from the list. Bingo! The text is formatted correctly. Another great thing about Page Design software is that you define boxes/content holders in which to put your elements. In the cases above, I placed an image box at the bottom of the page, imported the image of the air car, and then added another small box for the caption. The text automatically flowed around the image. The same is true of the table on the next page. This sort of design only takes seconds to add to a page. Yes, you can do similar things in Word and Open Office, but the layouts are not stable, and unless you know exactly what you're doing, the tables and images will flow along with the text, causing weird page breaks and formatting problems.

Text handling is where the page design software really shines. As I said above, you can compress or expand text and control exactly how much space to put between lines. This is a powerful tool to help you with type fitting. How many times have you had a paragraph that is just two or three words too long, so it creates a new page that will be 98% blank? With the type tools in these programs, you can compress a few paragraphs (or just single lines) to imperceptibly suck space out between letters so that those few errant words wind up on the previous page, thus eliminating that extra blank page. This is the most invaluable tool in the typesetter's arsenal. And yes, it does it better than Word, Word Perfect, or any of those other programs.

GP, pg. 184 - 185 

Finally, if you are going to have your book professionally printed, it handles bleeds (ink running off the edge of the paper) and color with more precision. Galaxy Prime had a bleed on almost each and every page of the book.To do this, the actual size of the each page was 8.75 x 11.25 inches. After printing, it was trimmed to a standard 8.5 x 11 size. The design tools in InDesign (which I used to create GP) gave me the control and power I needed to create a solid, exciting, and professionally typeset book.


Earth Re-entry in 3... 2... 1...
I think this concludes our trip to GALAXY PRIME. Although I might do a few more illustrations or covers for future projects, I've moved on to other work and different genres. Before we move on, though, I would like to remind you that this is a really fun Role Playing Game, and it is available from Amazon.com. BTW: My work on this book is finished, so I don't get any money for suggesting it. It's just that if you're looking for a good RPG, I think you'll enjoy this one. Also, if you go to the Amazon site and click the "Look Inside" arrow above the photo of the cover, you can look at more pages from the book and see how I worked with Amy Fanning's incredible artwork as I integrated them into my page design.

I had a blast on this project, and I thank James Shade for letting me take full charge of the editing and design of this book so I could make something we could both be proud of.

Pleasant travels, spacefarers!