What with our beachfront art studio gearing up for the big Alki Beach Art Fair this weekend, and your humble servant hip-deep in trying to get my youthful cartoonists' exhibit pulled together for the shindig, along with another zillion art-festival-related chores, well, I've had a horribly busy couple of weeks. (Note to potential volunteers -- never, ever, shoot off your big mouth to the person in charge about what a volunteer effortÂ "should" be accomplishing, unless you are prepared to back it up with actual efforts of your own.)
So once again this is going to be a bits-and-pieces kind of Friday. A little of this, a little of that. And we'll hope it adds up to a column.
News out of San Diego that I enjoyed the most? Without question, it was reading that Ramona Fradon had made the Hall of Fame. I have loved her work since I was just a little fella; her Aquaman was always 'my' Aquaman, even more than Nick Cardy's or Jim Aparo's.
I enjoyed her work even more on the original Metamorpho, where she could cut loose and be funnier. Her characters were always wonderful actors -- even Java the Neanderthal had a face capable of conveying subtle emotion when Ramona Fradon was drawing him. I have always thought her style was the most delightful blend of caricature and straight-up superheroing I've ever seen -- I prefer her approach to what you see from guys like Jack Cole or C.C. Beck, even. Yeah, I said it.
She is also one of the kindest, pleasantest people you could ever hope to meet at a convention. I always made it a point to stop by her table in Artist's Alley when I was at Comic-Con, just to admire the pencilled fan commissions-in-progress she had lying around. Lots of Aquaman, lots of Metamorpho, of course, but every once in a while you'd see her working on some non-superhero thing that really showed her range. The one year I was in San Diego and had enough money to actually be able to afford original art it was her table I made a beeline for, and I ended up with one of her Brenda Starr original daily strips that I used in class for years afterwards as a demonstration piece.
And now she's finally in the Eisner Hall of Fame and it's about goddamn time. Congratulations to her and I'm delighted it happened while she was here to enjoy it, unlike some of the other Hall of Famers. Rock on, Ramona!
I was also very pleased to hear about the restoration of Superman II with Christopher Reeve. That remains probably the closest film incarnation to what I think of as the 'real' Superman: nerdy Clark, tragically lonely Superman, Kryptonian villains, the Phantom Zone, a super-fistfight in downtown Metropolis, all that stuff.
I had heard about this, so I don't know that it really counts as news... but it WAS news just how MUCH restoration they are doing. Apparently the 'Donner cut' goes all the way back to the original story structure as envisioned by Mario Puzo: act one is Krypton and Smallville, act two is Superman vs. Luthor, act three is Superman vs. the Kryptonian crminials; and the overarcing story is Superman and Lois. When the Salkinds first embarked upon the project, they decided early on that the story would be cut in half and they would make two movies. But it was always meant to be one long story. And according to Donner's comments in San Diego, as well as a friend of mine who got to see an advance copy, it really WAS much more of a single story than we ever realized. This restored DVD isn't going to just have the deleted scenes tucked back in like the 'enhanced special edition' DVD of the first Reeve movie. This Donner cut is going to really be a new story, including, I'm told, a new ending. I'm very excited. Screw the Frank Miller Spirit, this is the one I want to see.
Of course, like all fans, when I say the 'real' Superman, what I mean is 'my' Superman. I like Lois & Clark quite a bit, I loved the Bruce Timm cartoon, even Smallville has its moments, but, you know... that's the new guy. MY Superman is a little more old-school: not quite dating back to the Weisinger era, though I was devoted to the 80-page Giants reprinting that stuff and learned most of my Superman mythology from them.
Incidentally, looking at that great old Silver Age cover up there, an odd thought occurs to me. If you ask someone if they know anything about Superman, they generally know these three things: that he masquerades as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, that he's in love with Lois Lane... and that his chief adversary is evil genius Lex Luthor.
So here is what I am wondering. How does the man on the street know Luthor's a genius? Most of them know Superman from the movies or TV... and on film, Lex is never a genius. Certainly not a genius scientist. A lot of the time, he's kind of stupid. The closest we get to an actual genius Luthor is Michael Rosenbaum in the television show Smallville, but even there, he's not much for science. He has people he pays for that stuff.
That's a shame. I miss having a Luthor who was a genius scientist, one smart enough and tough enough to give a Kryptonian a real fight. Just as the 70's post-Weisinger Supes is 'my' Superman, that bald arrogant scientific sociopath is 'my' Luthor, and he could mop the floor with every one of those pretenders we see on the screen. Even Clancy Brown's from the cartoon. I have to admit that the All-Star version looks a bit like mine, and I was thrilled to see that, but so far that's hardly been more than a walk-on.
You know, for a guy whose answer to "Superman or Batman?" was always "Batman, duh," I spend an awful lot of time thinking about Superman. Oh well.
As long as I'm on the subject of Superman, again, allow me to say that I could not have arranged a more perfect how-to demonstration of a really good married-superhero story than the little one-issue gem from Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco that was Superman #654. That's how it's done, whiny comic-book writers who are always sniveling about how a marriage takes all the tension out of a story.
Dammit, I really am more of a Batman guy, but this effort charmed the socks off me. And my wife enjoyed it too. Well done, fellas. And thanks for putting it out so soon after my column on the subject, too.
That's about all I have time for this week, folks. Except to say that if you happen to be in the Seattle area this weekend and are trying to think of something to do, you could do worse than to drop by the Alki Beach Art Festival.
The cartooning class will have a table, and in addition to that, my most enterprising student ever, Rachel, will have a booth of her own, doing caricatures. And of course there's all sorts of arts and crafts booths, and bands playing, and food, and, hey, it's the beach in July, for crying out loud, what's not to love? It's all to raise funds for the art school we run out of the beachfront studio, so it's even for a good cause. Chances are I'll either be in the studio's open house exhibit bragging on my students and giving away copies of our convention ashcan, or doing sketches for people in the kids' tent; come by and say hello if you're in town.
See you next week.