Monday, June 30, 2014

For Immediate Release

Preview of Rob Hanes Adventures #15 Now Available

Issue Scheduled for Release this Summer


In advance of the release later this summer of Rob Hanes Adventures #15, WCG Comics has released a preview of the new issue at its website at wcgcomics.com. (Scroll down to see the pages or click here for the slideshow. A PDF of the preview—with word balloons—is also available at WCG's digital download page.)

In the story, “Just Another Gilded Age,” globetrotting Justice International troubleshooter Rob Hanes is hired to investigate the mysterious death of a German engineer who was consulting on the construction of a high-speech bullet train in China. But in the course of his investigation, Rob uncovers corruption that reaches up into the highest levels of the ruling establishment. Inspired in part by real life scandals that have recently rocked the country and made international headlines, the story features the kind of intrigue, mystery and topicality that have made Rob Hanes Adventures a favorite among fans of classic high adventure.

Set in the modern day, the long-running indie series continues the tradition of the classic adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer — with dashes of light-hearted humor reminiscent of Will Eisner's Spirit. Readers and fans alike have lauded Rob Hanes Adventures for updatingf the classic adventure strip genre for modern day audiences.

Every issue of Rob Hanes Adventures is self-contained. All back issues are still available, including issues 1–14 and two trade paperback collections of earlier work, Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 0 and the Rob Hanes Archives. For more information about the series, previews and to purchase back issues, visit the WCG Comics website at wcgcomics.com.

Over the years, Rob Hanes Adventures has been reviewed, spotlighted and featured in numerous respected comics industry news publications and websites, including the Comics Buyer’s Guide, Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and Bleeding Cool. The series also was featured at wired.com and included in 1000 Comic Books You Must Read by Tony Isabella (Krause Publications, 2009).

The year 2014 marks WCG’s 20th anniversary publishing. The company also makes its 11th consecutive appearance as an exhibitor at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con and its 17th overall in July. More details about the 20th anniversary celebration and WCG’s Comic-Con appearance will be made available soon.

For more information about WCG Comics, visit wcgcomics.com or facebook.com/rhadventures.

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To see the images below as a slideshow, click here.



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Monday, June 16, 2014

REVIEW: Genius, Animated

Just released is the third and final volume of the oversized illustrated biography of cartoonist Alex Toth, Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth.

I’ve written about Toth extensively and reviewed the first volume of this handsome series here. Though Toth is not well known by the general public, within the industry he is remembered as a true “artist’s artist,” one of the most admired and influential cartoonists in both the comics and television animation industries. (He was even the subject of an extensive and comprehensive documentary, “Simplicity: The Art and Life of Alex Toth,” which I reviewed here). Adding to Toth’s mythos was his dark, surly and tortured personality that broke friendships and relationships on what seemed to be the smallest of provocations. Yet it’s a testament to how much the artist and his work were revered that he remained someone fellow artists continued to reach out to and publishers wished to work with. Any lesser artist would have never been able to repair the many bridges he burned over his lifetime. Driven to attain perfection in his art and his life by setting impossibly high standards, he was his own worst critic and could be equally hard on others (as I can attest to in some of the correspondence I’ve received from him!)

This last volume concludes what is surely one of the finest and most ambitious art biographies of any cartoonist to date. Measuring approximately 13” x 9.5”, these lavish volumes tell Toth’s personal history in his own words—as well as those of colleagues and family (who cooperated with the author)—and includes extensive reprints of his art (original, printed and unpublished), full stories, photographs, etc. The book includes numerous reminiscences and tributes from contemporaries and modern masters.

The first volume, Genius, Isolated (2011, reviewed here), focuses on Toth’s early years, through the 1950s, when he was a journeyman cartoonist. Though much of this work was for romance comics for small publishers, it was during this time that his art style and philosophy jelled and others began taking notice.

The second volume, Genius, Illustrated (2013), covers his work from the 1960s, through his death in 2006. During this period, Toth settled in California, where he continued working as a freelance cartoonist and dabbled a bit in Hollywood. In his later years, he remained an admired talent, but the volatile Toth worked sporadically and only on his own terms. (The closest he came to a signature work was his outstanding Bravo for Adventure, which captured all his interests and tastes. But sadly, he only produced two full Bravo stories.) He became a recluse in his Hollywood Hills home after the death of his last wife, Guyla, who was his lifeline into the everyday world, though younger artists who admired him continued to seek out his friendship and mentorship, and contemporaries tried to remain in touch. Towards the end, Toth found a measure of peace, reconciling with many old friends with whom he had become estranged over the years.

The third and final volume, Genius, Animated, released earlier this month is an addendum of sorts to the first two volumes that covered the span of his life. This final volume exclusively covers his work in television animation, beginning in the 1960s and ‘70s, where he worked on some of the most seminal television animated shows of the era, including Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Scooby-Doo, Super Friends, and many more. The fact that this whole volume is focused on his animation work is a tribute to his influence in the industry.

Character model sheet for Jonny Quest
Though Toth’s work was primarily with Hanna Barbera, he worked for many companies. As in the comic-book industry, Toth could be difficult to work with, but he was indispensable, particularly at Hanna Barbera which benefited greatly from his ability to sell the networks on a series because he could quickly convey a concept, story and character through his presentation art. Aside from presentation art, Toth was a sophisticated storyboard artist and outstanding at character and set design. Plus, his photographic memory enabled him to work at a good clip.

Given the quality of Saturday morning animation during that time—they were done quickly and cheaply, and many of the artists simply did not have the talent to adequately translate Toth’s work to the small screen—Toth was likely working at a quality level far beyond what was necessary or could be affordably or realistically replicated with limited animation. Nevertheless, the strength of his design work shone through well enough that it inspired a new generation of animators who grew up on his animation work and revered Toth before they even realized he was responsible for it. These artists would eventually enter the animation (and comics) industry themselves and bring new vitality to the medium. The first and most prominent of these was Batman: The Animated Series, which many fans credit as remaining one of the best Batman adaptations of any medium. The critical and commercial success of the series launched and spun off a whole slew of high-quality animated television in the genre. Toth, himself, was a fan and became friends with many of the animators associated with the series.

One interesting sidenote: In 1996, a massive collection of Toth’s animation work, including model sheets and storyboards, were published in a book called Alex Toth: By Design. Some of the pieces included in this book appear in Genius, Animated. I was fortunate to snag a copy when it first appeared and, like many artists, it has become an invaluable resource and inspiration for me in my own character design work for my comic-book series, Rob Hanes Adventures. The book is no longer in print and remains highly prized—a used copy goes for $250 or more. Though I haven’t confirmed it, my understanding is that the book did not get proper permission to reprint the pieces included in the collection, especially since they involve well known characters and properties. (Model sheets used to be considered useless and nothing more than fit for the trashbin after they were used.) Which doubly makes this book a valued part of my comics-related book collection.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

REVIEWS: Buz Sawyer, Vol. 3


This is the first of two reviews I’ll be doing of recently-released oversized artbooks I’ve purchased: Buz Sawyer Vol. 3: Typhoons And Honeymoons (Vol. 3) by Roy Crane and the third and final volume of the Alex Toth biography, Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth.

Buz Sawyer Vol. 3: Typhoons And Honeymoons (Vol. 3)

Back in 2011, Fantagraphics Books launched its planned compilation of seminal cartoonist Roy Crane’s classic adventure comic strip, Buz Sawyer, which ran from 1943 to 1989 (Crane died in 1977 and was lasted credited on the strip in 1979). This third volume in the series collects the strips from July 1947 to July 1949. Crane is a seminal figure in newspaper comic strip history because he was among the first cartoonists to introduce cliff-hanger style adventure into what until Crane had been a standard low-brow, gag-a-day medium.

I’ve written several times about Crane’s legacy and his influence on my own work, most notably here. Though Crane may not have quite reached the popularity and heights of his adventure strip contemporaries like Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon) or Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), his work was much respected by his peers. Cartoonists as diverse as Caniff and Charles Schulz (Peanuts) have credited Crane as an important direct influence. Crane may have been ultimately surpassed by artists who took the adventure strip genre to a higher level in sophistication and realism. But beneath a deceptively simple cartoony art style, Crane nevertheless remained second to none as a draughtsman, able to capture atmosphere, place, and time of day with great effectiveness. As I mentioned in my earlier appreciation linked above, Crane’s work reflected solid mid-Western American values and a vibrancy that was not easily replicated.

Crane cemented his reputation with an earlier series, Wash Tubbs, which began as a classic big-foot humor strip in 1924 and evolved into what is considered among the first adventure strips. The turning point of the series came with the introduction of two-fisted soldier-of-fortune Captain Easy, who soon relegated Wash to second banana status. The strip was eventually re-named Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy.


Crane left the strip in 1943 during the middle of World War II to create Buz Sawyer, a somewhat more traditional adventure strip (the strip also gave him ownership of his own characters). Though Sawyer was a solid piece of work (in fact, I personally prefer Buz Sawyer to Wash Tubbs), Crane was already well established—a new school of cartoonists led by Caniff and Raymond were now the cutting edge and building on the foundatoin Crane had put in place. (I have read several Buz Sawyer stories from the 1960s and found the strip as vibrant and well done as ever, even this late into its run.)

When the strip began during wartime, Buz was a naval pilot in the Pacific, based on an aircraft carrier. In the post war, he became a globetrotting troubleshooter for private industry and, during the strip’s later years, a naval intelligence officer.

A great example of Crane's draughtsmanship
Though this is the third volume of the series, it’s the first of the new compilation I’ve purchased – primarily because I already own the earlier strips in prior collections. The third volume has Buz working for Frontier Oil, preventing a revolution in South America, facing off against an international fixer Harry Sparrow and his henchman Hammerhead Gool. I was also surprised to see Crane marry off his lead character so early in the strip’s run, only about four years in — surprised because the normal convention for such series is to keep the characters footloose and far from being settled down, to keep readers in suspense. Clearly, Crane thought the idea of a married adventurer would lead to fresh storylines and challenges.

A couple of other observations about this collection….

Like most comic-strip artists, Crane used assistants. Indeed, Crane had several who were very fine artists in their own right and, compared to some other strips I’ve seen, I’ve rarely seen any inconsistency or lapse in quality in Crane’s work. So it was interesting to see in this volume a series of strips, from late August to early September 1948, which clearly was the work of another artist and one who fell short of Crane’s usual high standards.

The introduction by series editor Rick Norwood also offers some interesting insights into Crane the man, quoting extensively from a letter that Crane included with the art and personal papers he donated to Syracuse University.

While Crane is justly proud of his achievements and self-effacing, he also comes off as defensive and even a bit petty in his writings. Crane clearly was not a master of self-promotion as his better known and ultimately more successful rivals, particularly Caniff and Raymond. As such, Crane used these writings to set the record straight and show he established many of the conventions of the adventure strip and how other artists stole from ideas and characters. (Including Caniff! He even points out that he was the first to show nudityah, those pre-code days!)

Although Crane’s points are well taken, they nevertheless expose a measure of professional insecurity and competitiveness over his more successful peers. (Indeed, for all his complaints over stolen ideas, I always felt that the introduction of the female character of “Sultry” into Buz Sawyer, who briefly cameos in this volume, was an obvious-but-rather watered-down attempt to capture what Caniff had achieved with his larger-than-life Dragon Lady.) Written in retirement near the end of his life, Crane’s writings also reflect some weariness over the grind of producing a comic strip and questions whether his dedication to the strip was worth it.

It is invaluable record to have Crane’s thoughts, comments and remembrances in writing and in his own words. But I must admit they were also a bit deflating and disappointing.

To most everyday people who are familiar with the work of Charles Schulz and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Milton Caniff, Crane is relatively unknown. Nevertheless, as the continued collections of his work shows — including Wash Tubbs in a 17-volume collection published in the 1980s and early ‘90s, and prior collections of that strip and of Buz Sawyer, including the present compilation — the power of Crane’s work and achievements can  speak for themselves. His work has clearly stood the test of time, remaining fondly remembered and in print for future generations, highly respected by comics fans and aficionados.

A review of Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth, will follow soon. It's notable that Toth was a huge admirer of Crane, and though Toth was often praised as following the footsteps of Milton Caniff, his philosophy of cartooning was actually much closer in approach and style to Crane.