Category Archives: Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: Now It Can Be Told! – “I Was the Alien Superman!”

Columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

While you’re still enjoying your trick or treat treasures, here’s a rare installment of Scott Shaw!’s Now It Can Be Told that reveals a particularly memorable Halloween that changed the way Scott thought about comics forever!

Now It Can Be Told is a web-comic Scott creates as part of the web-collective Act-I-Vate. This story never appeared online though, and was first seen in Streetwise, an anthology of autobiographical stories published by TwoMorrows Publishing in 2000.

Click the comic for a closer view.

Scroll to the bottom for a better look at the classic comic that inspired Scott’s costume.

World’s Finest Comics #105 was published by DC Comics in late 1959 and featured cover art by legendary Superman artist Curt Swan. The cover story was written by Bill Finger, the uncredited co-creator of Batman and other related characters, and drawn by Dick Sprang who defined the look of Batman for twenty years starting in the mid-1940s.

World’s Finest Comics #105 (November 1959)

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become…The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for Ka-Boom. He’s currently writing and drawing on the first Annoying Orange graphic novel – split with Mike Kazaleh – for Papercutz.

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: The “Secret Origin” of San Diego’s Comic-Con International

Columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

This article originally appeared on Jim Hill Media in 2005. With the October 19th debut of San Diego Comic Fest, an event intended to bring back the original feel and spirit of Comic-Con in the 1970s, we thought it was a perfect occasion to revisit the origins of North America’s biggest celebration of comic books: Comic-Con International.

From July 14th through 17th [2005], the city of San Diego will once again play host to Comic-Con International. Over the years, I’ve read and overheard a number of accounts relating how the annual event — once known as the “San Diego Comic-Con” — came into existence in the first place. Well, I was one of the small group of people who were there at the very start, and I’m one of the only remaining original organizers still involved with SoCal’s annual media-fest. So, to the best of my memory, here are the actual events — as I experienced them — which led to the formation of what has become the nation’s biggest annual geek-gathering of its type.

Growing up in San Diego, I was lucky enough to become friends with a few similarly-inclined young weirdos during my junior high and high school years in the 1960s. These included: Greg Bear (who’s since become a Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer); John Pound (who’s since become a well-known fantasy painter and humorous illustrator who’s created hundreds of images for Topps Cards’ infamous “Garbage Pail Kids” trading cards); and Roger Freedman (who’s since become an award-winning physics professor and textbook author who teaches college courses on “Science Fiction for Scientists”). Other members of our oddball gang were H.P. Lovecraft aficionado Dave Clark and actor and horror movie maven/actor “Bilzo” Richardson. Working together, we formed our own “Underground Film Society,” we published hand-lettered mimeographed fanzines with goofy titles like Worlds of Wow and Fan Attic and we occasionally ventured northward to Los Angeles for visits to Forrest J Ackerman’s fabled “Ackermansion”. There, we first met “big name” fans like Donald F. Glut and Bill and Beverly Warren, their names already familiar to us through Forry’s classic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. These contacts led to attending my first convention, BayCon, the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention, held in Berkeley, California. There, my pals Greg and Dave and I met fellow fans (some soon to become pros) like Larry Ivie, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Rob and Jeff Gluckson, and Keith Tucker. Remember, this was 1968 Berkeley; I can’t imagine a more mind-blowing introduction to fandom-at-large. And after BayCon 68, nothing seemed the same to our little fan contingent from San Diego.

Back in San Diego, we soon fell in with publisher/retailer Ken Krueger (an attendee of the very first “scientifiction” convention held in 1939, officially making him a member of the elite-if-obscure group known as “First Fandom”) and collectible book dealer John Hull. We formed our own sci-fi fan club, “The ProFanests” (the group consisted of pros and fans and we were certainly profane at times), quaffed beer and ate raw hamburger cocktails (don’t ask) and hung out at Ken’s flyblown Ocean Beach bookstore where we discussed the latest batch of “Ace Doubles” with the walk-in locals who frequented the place.

At that same time, I was working as a floor clerk at the newly opened B. Dalton, Bookseller retail store in San Diego’s then-newly-opened Fashion Valley shopping center. (To my impressionable eyes, it seemed like a very sophisticated bookshop; I was particularly fascinated by the shop’s window-display of a pyramid of paperbacks of Grove Press’ adaptation of the controversial, semi-pornographic Swedish art-film I Am Curious (Yellow).) One night, a fellow named Bob Sourke came in, looking for a then-current series of Prince Valiant reprints thinly disguised as children’s books. When he learned I was an aspiring cartoonist and general funnybook fiend, Bob invited me to a get-together of comic book fans he knew. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was always interested in meeting other people who loved comics and cartooning.

A few weeks later, I showed up for the informal meeting at a small apartment one Sunday afternoon. There, I met San Diego’s “other” fan group, which included: Shel Dorf (then in his mid-thirties and recently relocated from Detroit, where he was one of the organizers of its “Triple Fan Fair“), Richard Alf (a local teenager who was one of the first — and most successful — mail-order back-issue comics dealers), and other fans, including Bill Lund, Mike Towry, Barry Alfonso, and the aforementioned Bob Sourke. Shel was running a slideshow of Golden Age comic books covers. (I recall his expression of surprise when I, a mere teenage hippie, correctly identified a vintage cover as having been drawn by Bernard Baily.)

The San Diego Five-String Mob by Jack Kirby (from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, 1971)

In 1969, Shel arranged trips for many of us to visit cartoonist Jack Kirby and his wife Roz at their home in Thousand Oaks, California. (The warmth, hospitality, generosity and interest that the Kirbys showed us cannot possibly be overstated; Jack mentored me over the next three decades, until his death in 1994.) That’s where we met Jack’s assistants (and my friends now for over three decades) Mark Evanier and Steve and Gary Sherman. During one visit, Jack even volunteered to give five of us — Bill Lund, Mike Towry, Roger Freedman, John Pound, Barry Alfonso and myself — cameo roles in an issue of one of the “Fourth World” comics he’d recently begun doing for DC. Sure enough, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen No. 144 (December, 1972) introduced “The San Diego Five-String Mob”, a rock band of evil assassins from the Darkseid-ruled planet, Apokolips, sent to Earth gunning for the Man Of Steel! (One of us, Barry Alfonso actually inspired two different Kirby creations: the Five-Stringers’ “Barri-Boy,” and later, “Klarion The Witchboy” in The Demon. Recently, Klarion received his own comic book series and the real Barry received a Grammy Award for his CD liner notes!)

By that time, most of my group of high school fan-friends, the ProFanests and Shel’s group had become amalgamated into the ever-growing social blob that was San Diego’s core of funnybook fandom. It wasn’t long before we decided to stage our very first one-day comic convention. (San Diego’s Mission Valley had already hosted the WesterCon science fiction convention a few years earlier.) We all eagerly agreed that a comic book convention was just what we — and San Diego — needed.

(Strangely enough, it never occurred to any of us that — since in those days, the majority of the talents involved in the comic book industry lived in or near New York City — San Diego was the perfect place to combine business and pleasure, and to take a tax-deductible family vacation, to boot!)

We plunged blindly ahead. Shel Dorf provided his list of professional contacts and potential guests, Richard Alf provided the vital seed-money for our initial operating expenses, and Ken Krueger provided his valuable savvy and know-how from a lifetime in fandom, conventions, publishing, and retail sales. The rest of us provided the raw enthusiasm to do whatever it took to get the con off the ground and running, if not flying. As for my role in the proceedings, I served as one of the first con’s five committee chairmen and designed the convention’s first logos and drew its advertising posters. I also hosted many of our early con-planning meetings on the patio at my parents’ house in the College Grove area. (Hey, I was only 17 or so at the time!)

Shel enlisted our first pro guests for both the March one-day mini-con and August’s first, full-blown, three-day “San Diego Comic-Con”: Forry Ackerman, Mike Royer, Jack Kirby, Ray Bradbury, San Diego Evening Tribune editorial cartoonist Bob Stevens, and science fiction author A. E. Van Vogt. That first con, held in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, was, for its day, a rousing success. (The U.S. Grant Hotel wasn’t the snazziest of venues, but it was the only one made available to us; in fact, no other hotel in town was willing to risk hosting an event that would garner such a low bar-attendance. Fortunately, we had Ken and Shel to sign the contract; the rest of us were under-age!) Other than young Jackie Estrada (now co-publisher of Exhibit A Press and administrator of the prestigious Eisner Awards), the only females attending the 300-attendee event were fans’ mothers!

My involvement with the convention continued. Its second year, saddled with the exhausting title of “The San Diego Golden State Comic-Con” (>Phew!<), the growing event was held on the campus of the University Of California At San Diego, and the one after that was hosted by the Sheraton Hotel located on San Diego’s Shelter Island. Then the con moved to downtown San Diego, with its exhibition hall at the Community Concourse, and with lodging and most of the programming at the nearby El Cortez Hotel (the swimming pool of which was often clouded with fan-dispensed shark repellant.) It was early during this period that the convention’s committee wisely voted to apply for a “not-for-profit” business status. Years later, the San Diego Comic-Con finally relocated to its current venue, San Diego’s ocean-side Convention Center. (In fact, this will be the first year in which the con estimated to have a total attendance near 100,000 people — will occupy the entire available space of the Convention Center; from now on, there’s nowhere to extend its domain — except upwards!) Now known as “Comic-Con International” (a name that oughtta keep San Diego’s tourist bureau in a continual state of cooperative fear), the little 300-person basement-gathering has grown, over the past thirty-seven years, into the United States’ largest event of its kind. In fact, it’s San Diego’s single biggest annual tourist event, its presence accompanied by a mind-blowing ballyhoo of TV and radio ads, street-banners and bus-posters.

Of course, the term “Comic-Con” doesn’t even begin to describe the diversity of SDCCI’s wall-to-wall programming. Aside from comic books, the convention’s schedule includes events devoted to contemporary comic books (and their creators), vintage comic books (and their creators), original artwork (from both categories), science fiction and fantasy literature, animation (both domestic and foreign), genre television shows, pulp magazines, weaponry (both real and faux), genre theatrical (and direct-to-DVD) films, role-playing games, action figures, vintage toys, old time radio shows, video games, glamour art, costumes — and, oh, I give up (in much the same way I’m now forced to give up my hopes of navigating the con’s entire exhibit hall.) Let’s just say that, if a topic is considered to be somewhat dispensable and silly in real life, chances are, it’s considered to be of primary importance at SDCCI.

Over the past thirty-seven years, some of my personal high points at the con have included: hosting the Inkpot Awards presentations, where I was able to shake the hands of so many notable creators; meeting cartoonists for the first time who would become some of my best friends, including Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, Dan Nakrosis, Mike Kazaleh, Dave Thorne, William Stout, Bill Morrison, Batton Lash and Don Dougherty, among many others; performing on-stage during the con masquerade with “Raoul Duke And His All-Human Orchestra”; befriending Sam Glanzman, the artist behind one of my childhood’s favorite comic books, Dell’s Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle; presenting my Oddball Comics slideshow over the last four decades; and introducing our infant son Kirby to his namesake, Jack Kirby.

As for the low points? Being told, as an aspiring cartoonist, by Neal Adams to “give it up”? (Years later, he swears he was just kidding — and supposedly said the same thing to Frank Miller!) Getting physically threatened by a muscle-bound contestant who was furious that, while hosting the annual masquerade, I dared refer to his costume of the mighty Thor’s immortal enemy, the Destroyer as “the Michelin Man”? (Hey, he really did look like he was made out of radial tires!) Or perhaps it was facing an angry crowd of blood-donors who were misinformed that I’d do a complimentary drawing for each and every one of them? (For the life of me, I can’t possibly think of a less appropriate time or place to donate blood than at a funnybook convention.) Considering that I’ve attended every single day of every single San Diego Comic-Con — International and otherwise — that really ain’t such a bad track record.

(Y’know, William Shatner was right — I’ve really gotta get a life.)

As I look back at those early days of the Comic-Con and attempt to compare them to its current incarnation, I’m stymied — there’s really no comparison at all! As I mentioned, attendance is huge, and bigger with every coming year. (I understand that the staff of the world-famous San Diego Zoo is justifiably jealous, they no longer can boast having the town’s largest collection of exotic critters.) If comic book sales reflected this sort of public interest, the funnybook industry would be booming (which, by all counts — except those of the publishers’ PR flacks — definitely ain’t.) At times — usually on Saturdays — its exhibit hall’s aisles are jammed with shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian gridlock, and there’s “standing room only” for many of the con’s individual programs upstairs. The con’s also become surprisingly diverse, with Kevin Smith-lookalike males barely outnumbering the females. (Where, oh where were you when I was 19, single and desperate for the companionship of a cute girl-geek?) Even entire families visit the con; in fact, some of their kids have literally grown up there, attending every year of their young lives!) By now, Hollywood’s presence is unavoidable; it’s hard to walk a few yards without tripping over Angelina Jolie or Keanu Reeves or a full-scale model of the Millennium Falcon. In general, big business seems to exert amazing influence over the convention — why else would otherwise intelligent individuals stand in line for hours on end for the privilege of purchasing a special, limited “variant edition” of a Muppet toy? Among all of these conspicuous displays of marketing and branding, old comic books and their fans seem to have actually become something of a minority at this crowded “comic-con.” Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed by all the Hollywood hype and corporate chest-beating, I can’t help but miss the heady days of the U.S. Grant’s moldering basement. But when I consider that Comic-Con International allows me the opportunity to reconnect with friends I’ve known for decades, at the world’s biggest “class reunion,” it’s easy to shrug off whatever misgivings I may foster regarding the con’s ever-mutating size and tone.

Still, there remain two aspects of the convention that haven’t changed an iota. Despite advancements in the field, convention-hall food is just as rotten and overpriced as ever. And, as before, approximately one out of every thirty convention-goers seems to allocate their personal budgets toward the purchase of comic books rather than items of personal hygiene. (One of these days, I’m gonna invent “collectible deodorant” and make a financial killing — while simultaneously earning the undying thanks of the other four-fifths of the crowd. But with my luck, the buyers will probably refuse to remove my collectible deodorants from their wrappers to actually use it so they can keep ’em in minty-fresh mint condition!)

Due to the initial efforts of Richard, Shel, Ken and all of the others who worked on that first San Diego Comic-Con committee — as well as the hundreds of people who’ve served on all the San Diego con committees ever since then — Comic-Con International has become the biggest and best celebration of cartoonery in the United States. I’ll always be justifiably proud of the small part I had in its inception, over thirty-seven years ago.

So, who’s got a nice copy of DC’s Showcase No. 71 (November – December, 1967) — featuring “The Maniaks” and guest-starring Woody Allen — for sale, cheap?

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become…The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for Ka-Boom. He’s currently writing and drawing on the first Annoying Orange graphic novel – split with Mike Kazaleh – for Papercutz. Scott will be a guest at the San Diego Comic Fest. And he finally found a nice copy of DC’s Showcase No. 71.

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: Ten More-Or-Less Current, More-Or-Less Mainstream Funnybooks That I Actually More-Or-Less Enjoy – And Why!

Columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

“Ten More-Or-Less Current, More-Or-Less Mainstream Funnybooks That I Actually More-Or-Less Enjoy – And Why!”

By Scott Shaw!

It may surprise some of you that I still read current comic books. Since writing and drawing allegedly humorous comic books is one aspect of my career as a cartoonist, it’s a matter of keeping up with the competition when it comes to reading funnybooks that are actually funny. But I also dig other genres, too. I’ll admit, I don’t purchase many new comics anymore, but between those I buy, borrow or browse at the local comic book emporiums, I’ve compiled this list of those I can recommend.

I’ll start with a few superhero series I dig, since that genre still seems to dominate the racks. Let’s face it, most superhero comics adhere to that old unwritten rule: “Create the illusion of change without ever changing anything for long.” Instead, the fun of the Marvel Universe – much more than DC’s dour, drab and depressing “New 52” – is in how the playing pieces are moved around in new and interesting ways.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, et al.

Marvel’s Fantastic Four will always be my favorite superhero title and I’ll buy it as long as Marvel keeps publishing it. That dedication is due to my first reading it back when Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Chic Stone, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers and others made sure that it really was “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” Since those first hundred-or-so issues of Fantastic Four, the series’ quality has been wildly up, down and all over the place, but rarely approaching the compelling “sense of wonder” and fun that the Kirby/Lee team achieved. Most of those assigned to the title over the years seem to be attempting to re-create stories from those first hundred issues… and they never seem to quite “get” it. The current version plays with many of those classic elements – the Inhumans, Doctor Doom, Atlantis, the Kree, Annihilus and the Negative Zone, etc. – but writer Jonathan Hickman and rotating artists Steve Epting, Ron Garney, Barry Kitson and others seem more interested in telling new sense of wonder stories with them, even if I’m the one who sometimes winds up wondering exactly what is going on in Hickman and company’s sparely presented storytelling. At least I feel like I’m reading new exploits of the FF, not more rehashes. (Speaking of the FF, that Hickman-written spin-off – featuring the young members of the Future Foundation, overseen by a civilized version of Dragon Man – is a tougher read, especially due to some extremely off-putting artwork by Juan Bobillo.)

Dark Avengers by Jeff Parker, et al.

That moving-around-playing-pieces has been an enjoyable part of Marvel’s Thunderbolts since its inception back in 1997 by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley. Writer Jeff Parker and a variety of artists have been the latest folks on the series for the last few years and their approach to crafting the ongoing adventures of multiple teams of bad guys – both rehabilitated and otherwise – all overseen by Luke Cage, has been a lot of fun. Twists, turns and double-crosses abound, with the team’s headquarters unanchored in the time stream to complicate matters. (This lost-in-time wrinkle provided an amusingly uneasy team-up with Captain America and the Invaders during WWII.) In recent months, the book has been re-titled Dark Avengers after Norman Osborn’s team of badass stand-ins for some of the heroic Avengers’ stalwarts. By comparison, Luke’s team almost seems like the good guys they pretend to be. The unexpected arrival of Dr. Doom (direct from Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch‘s “realistic” stint on Fantastic Four from a few years back) is yet another player sure to challenge the small-time supervillains’ internal politics. To my knowledge, this is the only series focusing on bad guys that’s lasted so long and it deserves to hold the record over such lame and lesser attempts such as DC’s Secret Society Of Super Villains or Marvel’s Super Villain Team-Up. But whether his book is called Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers, Jeff Parker provides a lot of evil fun.

Popeye by Roger Langridge and Ken Wheaton

Over the years I’ve heard or read a variety of arguments before and against the categorization of Elzie Segar’s “Popeye The Sailor” as the first modern superhero. (You’ve gotta admit that the notion of a tough-with-his-fists human male who gains phenomenal super-strength after ingesting a special substance and who is utterly unkillable 24/7/365 certainly sounds like a superhero!) Depending on my mood, I could easily support either stance, but one thing is constant: I love Popeye and he’s one of my all-time favorite characters, especially his original incarnation in Segar’s Thimble Theater syndicated comic strip. My first exposures to the sailor man was in Fleischer Studios’ animated “Popeye” cartoon shorts and Bud Sagendorf’s stories for Dell’s Popeye comic book and I love those, too, but IDW’s version is modeled on Segar’s original. Writer Roger Langridge (Snarked!) really captures the delightfully peculiar personalities and voices of Segar’s Popeye, Olive Oyl, J. Wellington Wimpy, the Sea Hag and the rest of the cast. So far, the second issue, featuring terrific art by Ken Wheaton, has been my favorite, but I’ve liked ‘em all a lot.

Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen

Then there’s Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon for Image Comics. Erik insists that his character is anything but a superhero, but the strip reads like a 1970s Marvel comic as interpreted by a talented underground cartoonist under the influence of Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and some killer acid. Although Savage Dragon started out as a typical Image book (after all, Erik’s one of the publisher’s original founders and its former publisher), after a few years, Erik found his muse and ever since, the one thing you can count on from Savage Dragon is that the characters, stories and tone can turn on a dime. You never know what to expect from Savage Dragon and Erik rarely disappoints.  Standouts have been (for me, at least): a long story arc in tribute to Kirby’s Kamandi; a honeymoon sequence that was originally conceived as a pitch for a Savage Dragon syndicated comic strip; a galaxy-conquering despot who looks like a cute little toy; a male Captain Marvel-esque superhero whose secret identity has been both a woman and an infant; a decidedly non-jolly green giant Osama bin Laden; an unauthorized appearance by the fabulous, furry Freak Brothers; and of course, Erik’s legendarily offensive “Don’t FUCK with God!” page. Now you see why I always pick up every issue of Savage Dragon; who knows what I might miss!

All-Star Western by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat

And although it’s not an actual superhero title, DC’s All-Star Western starring the latest iteration of “Jonah Hex” by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat certainly depends on Batman for its central concept. This series explores the Gotham City of the mid-19th Century by dropping the disfigured and morally raw Civil War vet into the middle of it. (I assume the inspiration was the 1970 TV series McCloud starring Dennis Weaver.) Anyway, Jonah has been summoned by Dr. Amadeus Arkham (founder of Arkham Asylum) to solve a chain of serial killings. Along the way he runs afoul of Gotham’s Mayor Cobblepot (an ancestor of the Penguin) and even plummets into the caverns beneath what will someday become the real estate that Wayne is built upon! It’s a fascinating look at a retrofitted version of Gotham City, and Gray and Palmiotti have long proven their skill in writing Jonah Hex over the last few years. Moritat, last seen on the DC’s “First Wave” version of The Spirit, does a good job, although he needs to learn how to draw more than one look for a woman’s face. There’s also been a number of solid backup stories with a general Western setting, including “El Diablo” drawn by Jordi Bernet, “The Barbary Ghost” drawn by Phil Winslade, “Bat Lash” drawn by José Luis Garcia-López (!), “Nighthawk/Cinnamon” and “Terrence Thirteen”. I know I’m not the only comic book pro who considers All-Star Western – edited by Joey Cavalieri – to be the best of DC’s “New 52” by a wide margin.

Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai

Stan Sakai has been writing and drawing his Usagi Yojimbo for over twenty years and yet there are still a few people out there who dismiss it because it features talking animals. Dark Horse has been publishing Usagi Yojimbo for a large part of that time, and as his many awards verify, Stan just keeps getting better and better. Over the years, I’ve drawn my fair share of “funny animal” comics and during that time, I’ve heard the term “anthropomorphic” comics bandied about. I’m still not certain I completely understand the difference, but I can acknowledge that Usagi Yojimbo is definitely more “anthropomorphic” than “funny animal”  and that Stan has become a master of subtlety as well as action, of nuance as well as the written word. However, we won’t be seeing any new issues of Usagi Yojimbo for a while, because Stan is temporarily putting his Ronin rabbit aside to concentrate on the upcoming 47 Samurai, a limited series written by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson and starring a cast of historical humans. I’ve only seen a few pages but I think that it’s some of the most impressive work I’ve ever seen Stan draw and he rises to the challenge beautifully. I think that 47 Samurai is going to change a lot of minds regarding Usagi Yojimbo.

Ghostbusters by Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening

IDW’s ongoing Ghostbusters series has one foot in action, one foot in horror and one foot in comedy. (Three feet? Hey, what did you expect?) There have been quite a few stabs at adapting the ghost busting gang from the 1984 and 1989 films, but frankly, their quality has been all over the ectometer. But I think that this version has finally nailed it. First of all, Erik Burnham’s scripts have been terrific, with interesting new situations and crackling and clever dialog that’s extremely faithful to the specific on-screen personas of Bill Murray as “Dr. Peter Venkman”, Harold Ramis as “Dr.  Egon Spengler”, Dan Aykroyd as “Dr. Raymond Stantz” and Ernie Hudson as “Winston Zeddemore”. These stories have been so well-done that I could easily see them as the basis for new Ghostbusters films, animated series or video games. (As if!) And speaking of animation, I’ve got a sneaking hunch that the series’ artist, Dan Schoening, has a background in that field, because his representations of the cast, while not actually caricatures of the property’s key actors, evoke them well enough to be instantly recognizable. Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening really “get” Ghostbusters and it shows. I think that this funnybook iteration of Ghostbusters is about as good as it can get, possibly even equal to Evan Dorkin’s legendary run on Marvel’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book… and as the guy who suggested BATECB to the Eisner judging committee, that’s really saying a lot.

Kevin Keller by Dan Parent

Archie’s Kevin Keller by Dan Parent has gotten a ton of press due to the fact that it’s the first funnybook from “America’s most wholesome comic book publisher” to star an openly gay teenager. But outside of the gay press I’ve seen few if any reviews that point out that it’s genuinely a lot of fun. Now that such longtime Archie Comics creators as George Gladir, Stan Goldberg and Bob Bolling are rarely (if ever) given any new assignments, Dan Parent is arguably the company’s top creator in terms of writing and drawing the classic Archie characters with authority and appeal. Kevin Keller is no exception to that, especially when Dan wrings funny situations born of Veronica’s frustration that a cute, hip kid like Kevin Keller isn’t straight. But to Dan’s credit, the issue of Kevin’s gayness isn’t the only basis for his stories. But what I’ve especially dug about Kevin has been Dan’s terrific alternative covers for every issue of the ongoing series. Just as he drew for the initial Kevin mini-series, each one pays homage to the great Archie styles and themes of the past. One in particular that I love features Kevin – dressed as the old school Archie Andrews of the ‘40s and ‘50s – shrugging to the reader as if saying, “Can you believe how crazy-acting these straight teenagers are?”

Reed Gunther by Shane and Chris Houghton

Image’s Reed Gunther by Shane and Chris Houghton just finished up its initial 10-issue run but it’s not too late to pick up the two trade paperbacks that reprint the whole wonderful thing. I’m not a particular fan of westerns, so it’s kinda odd that I’ve got two of ‘em on this list, but if you think that All-Star Western sounds unusual, check out Reed Gunther. Reed is a roving cowboy who’s a magnet for trouble, much the same as James Garner’s private eye character in the classic 1970s TV series, The Rockford Files… except that Jim Rockford never had a grown grizzly bear for a best friend and steed. That’s right, thanks to Sterling, Reed is the Old West’s first (and only) bear-riding cowboy. Accompanied by the beautiful tomboy Starla, Reed become snared in an eldritch mystery of increasingly Lovecraftian nature and proportions… but instead of being terrifying, these monster-filled tales are hilarious! I can’t quite put a finger on why, but Reed Gunther somehow reminds me of European comic albums starring characters like Asterix, Tin Tin and Lucky Luke – and that can’t possibly be a bad thing, right? The maddeningly young and gifted Houghton brothers are currently turning their attentions to a new project, but they promise to return to Reed Gunther someday. Meanwhile, don’t miss the chance to savor Reed’s memorable first story arc.

Sergio Aragonés Funnies by Sergio Aragonés

Sergio Aragonés is arguable the World’s Greatest Living Cartoonist, and Bongo ComicsSergio Aragonés Funnies is, in my opinion, the best thing he’s done lately in a career that’s chock-full of “best things”… and I don’t write that just because El Maestro included a cameo appearance by Yours Truly on the cover of Sergio Aragonés Funnies No 1. Every issue includes a few short genre stories, a handful of puzzles and games, a pantomime gag or two and best of all, at least one (often two) autobiographical stories from Sergio’s amazing life – all written and drawn by Sergio himself! Unlike most of his other material, Sergio’s autobiographical pieces aren’t necessarily intended to be funny; many time they’re more poignant than you’d expect. His work for Mad and Groo The Wanderer has always been wonderful stuff, but these stories are special, even for him. (Let’s face it, Sergio’s one of the only cartoonists who’s ever had a life interesting enough to chronicle in funnybook form.) Sergio Aragonés Funnies has been on a temporary hiatus due to a passing problem with El Maestro’s back, but Sergio’s been on the mend for a while now – if anything, he’s doing even better than ever – and has jumped back into producing this now-bimonthly, Bill Morrison-edited series with a vengeance. So keep your eyes peeled for Sergio Aragonés Funnies No. 8, coming soon!

The Knight Life: Chivalry Ain’t Dead by Keith Knight

And finally, Keith Knight is one of the most talented and prolific cartoonists I know – I gobble up his stuff like junk food that’s actually good for me – yet he’s the only creator on this list that hasn’t done any actual comic books, but I’m gonna add it to my recommendations anyway. (Hey, it’s my list, my column and I’ll make and break the rules if I feel like it; consider it a bonus from me to you.) Fortunately for us, Keith’s The Knight Life (an autobiographical daily syndicated comic strip), The K Chronicles (his longtime autobiographical weekly comic strip) and (Th)ink (his weekly panel feature) have all been collected in a variety of reprint books published by Keith himself. Keith’s writing is hip, funny and smart, his drawing style reminds of Harvey Kurtzman’s (although he swears the Mad creator isn’t a particular influence) and his outlook on racial relations  and humanity in general encompasses everything from sweetly cheerful (“Life’s Little Victories”) to hopelessly pessimistic. Visit Keith at kchronicles.com, read a healthy sampling of his stuff and order any and all of his books – Chivalry Ain’t Dead (The Knight Life), The Incredible Cuteness Of Being (The K Chronicles) and Too Small To Fail (Th)ink) are his latest – I promise you won’t regret it.

Not that any of my recommendations mean much in the greater scheme of things, but most (if not all) of these titles absolutely deserve better sales figures, so by all means, if what I’ve written here intrigues you, please, check ‘em out!

All I ask is that you leave a copy of each comic for me.

— Scott Shaw!

Next up: How and why I grew to love and embrace the once-reviled term “funnybook”!

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become…The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for Ka-Boom. He’s currently writing and drawing on the first Annoying Orange graphic novel – split with Mike Kazaleh – for Papercutz.

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: What Is it About That Little Blue Hedgehog That Girls Love So Much?

Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

What Is It About That Little Blue Hedgehog That Girls Love So Much?

By Scott Shaw!

San Diego’s 42nd Annual Comic-Con-International came and went a few weeks ago and I’m finally settling back into my normal routine, which includes writing this column. As always, the massive event was a lot of fun and fortunately – since I’ve never missed a single day of Comic-Con since its inception, I oughtta know what I’m talking about – it seemed to lack that dread Day Of The Locust vibe I sometimes get overwhelmed by there. I had an especially good time at Gilbert (Wonder Wart-Hog; The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) Shelton’s drawing demonstration for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Gilbert’s one of my biggest influences) and (as always) really enjoyed participating in Quick Draw! with Mark Evanier (The Garfield Show; Crossfire), Sergio Aragonés (Mad magazine; Groo The Wanderer) (looking feistier than ever) and our terrific guest-drawer, the great Keith Knight (The Knight Life; (th)ink; The K Chronicles), and my “Sex, Drugs And Rock ‘N’ Roll” edition of Oddball Comics Live! drew a very appreciative, SRO audience.

But oddly enough, none of those were the high point of my SDCC1 ’12 experience…

Sonic the Hedgehog #0 by Michael Gallagher and Scott Shaw!

One day during the convention, during a rare quiet moment at my exhibit hall table, a young lady from Rhode Island named Jade approached me. After confirming my identity, Jade – who seemed strangely emotional about meeting me – revealed that, although she still looked like a teenager (and Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’s P.J. Soles), she was in fact 29 years old and was a high school art teacher who was also a fine artist. So why was she so excited to meet an old cartoonist like me? Well, it turned out that the issues of the first Sonic The Hedgehog miniseries I drew back in the early 1990s for Archie Comics are what inspired her to become an artist and, in turn, inspire her students to follow their own creative muses. Jade then went on to explain to me exactly why she loved my Sonic stories so much – the expressions, posing, staging and sense of appeal — and it quickly became obvious that she knew what she was talking about in regards to my approach to cartooning in general and that speedy blue hedgehog in particular. One aspect that particularly pleased me was that Jade didn’t care for the manga/anime-style Sonic; she dug my version because she thought it was a warmer, more traditional approach. To say I was floored would be an understatement, and I immediately envied Jade’s students for having such a smart, sweet and passionate teacher. I drew a nice color shot of Sonic zooming along that she could show to her classes.

Yeah, I’m one of those guys who believes in “passing it on”. With professional cartoonists such as Gene Hazelton (The Flintstones syndicated comic strip), Bernie Lansky (Seventeen, a syndicated comic panel) and Jack Kirby, how could I not want to keep their positive energy rolling with a new generation of young cartoonists?

Sonic the Hedgehog #1 by Michael Gallagher and Scott Shaw!

But beyond meeting Jade, I also saw a few other young female cartoonists at SDCCI ’12, all who seem to share as an inspiration, those issues of Sonic The Hedgehog I drew back in the early 1990s. I enjoyed my stint on Sonic, but I never would have guessed that it had an effect on certain readers until only recently. One of them, Heather, is by now off to college on a full scholarship to study to become a brain surgeon. (When you’re a cranky old cartoonist, it never hurts to have a fan who’s also a brain surgeon!)

But I’m still humble enough to know that I didn’t create Sonic, I was just the first person to draw funnybook stories starring the little blue speedster. (Sonic The Hedgehog was co-created by Japanese video game designers Hirokazu Yasuhara and Yuji Naka over twenty years ago.)

So what is it about Sonic that makes him so appealing? I was drawn to the character because his design reminded me of Felix The Cat, one of the most enduring cartoon characters ever. Like Astro Boy, Sonic is cute but not too cute. He’s a series of circles and ovals but has some pointy angles; Sonic has super-speed but his limbs are still of the “rubber hose” variety, like many early animated cartoon characters. Between his pleasing design and his cocky attitude, boys seem to like Sonic as much as girls do.  But as I can now attest, some girls and young women don’t consider Sonic to be just another video game character; to them, he’s an icon.

Sonic the Hedgehog #2 by Michael Gallagher and Scott Shaw!

Archie Comics has done quite well with its Sonic The Hedgehog ongoing comic book (at 239 issues and counting; it’s by far the longest-running comic book series based on a video game) and a variety of Sonic The Hedgehog spin-off titles, including: Sonic & Knuckles; Sonic The Hedgehog Archives; Sonic The Hedgehog Firsts; Sonic Legacy; Sonic The Hedgehog Triple Trouble Special; Sonic The Hedgehog, The Beginning; Sonic The Hedgehog: In Your Face! Special; Sonic Universe; Sonic Vs. Knuckles “Battle Royal” Special; Sonic X; Sonic’s Friendly Nemesis Knuckles; Sonic Quest: Death Egg Saga; Super Sonic VS. Hyper Knuckles; and a number of original Free Comic Book Day special giveaway editions of Sonic. In fact, Sonic The Hedgehog has been Archie Comics’ best-selling comic book series for quite a while, and the first issue of the first Sonic mini-series (No. 0, which I drew) had a special 16-page giveaway edition that was printed in the millions of copies and distributed to Toys “R” Us toy stores. Holy hedgehogs, that’s a lotta funnybooks!

(In an attempt to catch a similar bolt of lightning in a bottle, Archie Comics has been publishing a Mega Man comic book series for a year or so, but let’s face facts, the Mega Man video game franchise doesn’t seem to have remotely as many followers as Sonic does.)

So, if Sonic is such a popular character – especially with young females – why aren’t there more comic books out there that contain similar, perhaps original, non-video-game-derived material? Aren’t other comic book publishers aware of the phenomenal success that Archie has had with Sonic The Hedgehog for nearly twenty years? If you boil down Sonic to his basics, he’s a “funny animal”, a genre of humor that was a solid-selling staple of the comic book industry for well over three decades but one that withered and died with the exit of Western Publishing from comics in the mid 1970s. If comic book publishers are still interested in providing content to attract young female readers, perhaps the genre of funny animals deserves revisiting.

Disney’s Perry The Platypus Comics, anyone?

— Scott Shaw!

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange photo-animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become… The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for KaBOOM!

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: Why I Don’t Dig Most Superhero Movies! >Gasp!<

Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

Why I Don’t Dig Most Superhero Movies! >Gasp!<

By Scott Shaw!

Back in prehistoric times – you probably know ‘em as “The Silver Age Of Comics” – when there were no superhero movies, comic book letter columns often ran letters suggesting which then-current actors would be suitable for casting in the roles of various superheroes. Most of us had seen the Adventures of Superman  television series (1952 – 1958) – and at one of San Diego’s many naval base theaters I saw a single chapter of one of those Commando Cody serials (the inspiration for Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer) – so the notion of a motion picture starring a superhero didn’t seem impossible…

Except that, for me, at least, the concept of a live action superhero movie wasn’t something I was particularly anxious to see. I’d seen a 1943 Superman theatrical short, “The Underground World” on Channel 6’s cartoon show hosted by “Uncle Russ” – and that immediately convinced me that when it came to funnybook superheroes, animation was the best way to approach this sort of material (even though I was unable to convince my chums at Rowan Elementary School that the cartoon I’d watched existed at all!)

You see, I always dug the fact that, in comic books, superheroes were intentionally exaggerated characters who could routinely accomplish outrageous, unbelievable super-deeds. I never wondered what it would look like if superheroes were “real”; they were un-real and that was the way I liked ‘em: imaginary characters doing impossible things. I already had my fill of “real” in everyday life. (Yeah, I explained this in greater detail in last month’s Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist column. If you haven’t read it, go read it now right here. Don’t fret, I’ll wait for you.)

That said, I find that most live-action superhero movies actually diminish the long-underwear-and-capes crowd. No human physiognomy can possibly duplicate the musculature, foreshortening and poses of characters drawn by such “extreme” cartoonists as Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and Steve Ditko, among many others. And when it comes to depicting an awe-inspiring character like Galactus, as in 2007’s Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the audience gets a vague computer-generated effect. (On the other hand, the only thing the makers of that unfortunate sequel did right was the CG depiction of Norrin Radd; the gimmick of the character’s skin becoming tarnished as he loses “the power cosmic” was not only clever, it was something that would have been nearly impossible to pull off in the pages of a four-color funnybook.) In other words, the human body and CG special effects can possibly duplicate – or even come close to – what I love about comic books.

Another thing I dislike about most superhero films is the apparent necessity of spending one-third to one-half of their lengths to establishing the starring character with a “secret origin”. Sure, the audience might not know the specifics of a character’s back story, but they certainly know who the lead super-character is if they’ve already bought their ticket, popcorn and soda. Such famous characters’ origins are anything but secret! Can’t the origins be told along the way or in a flashback well within the body of the film? Or better yet, do it like it was in 1996’s The Phantom. (More on that in a few paragraphs!) The linear method, with a hero’s (or villain’s) origin taking up the entire beginning of the film reminds me of many 1950s monster movies in which we know what monster is behind the mysterious destruction, disappearances and deaths long before any of the characters because we saw the ads and poster first! In other words, it’s padding, pure and simple. The fact that the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man movie will once again retell the origin of the web-spinner is so superfluous, it makes me want to skip seeing the film altogether.

And what is it about Hollywood’s fascination with the “dark” side of superheroes? Tim Burton started that trend with his Batman film (1989), but I assume that was Warner Bros.’ intention in hiring the wunderkind to separate the dramatic Dark Knight from the lingering public association with the campy treatment the Caped Crusader received in ABC’s Batman TV series (1966 – 1968). But ever since then, most superhero movies have displayed similar dark tones, if not even darker. Superhero films don’t have to be silly or dead serious, folks; there’s plenty of other approaches in between the two extremes. But it should surprise no one reading this column that I’d much rather watch Cartoon Networks’ late, lamented Batman: The Brave and the Bold teaming up with the likes of Kamandi and B’wana Beast than Christian Bale’s The Dark Knight Rises featuring Bane, a bulky supervillain who looks like one of those idiots who compete in the Guinness Book of World Records’ category of “most cigarettes smoked at one time”. Sheesh.

Oh, I almost forgot… There are waaaaay too many effin’ superhero movies. There, I said it, O’ True Believers. Deal with it.

But to demonstrate that I don’t hate all superhero flicks, here’s a list of my favorite superhero theatrical movies so far (a baker’s dozen plus a runner-up) and why I dig ‘em so much:

RUNNER-UP: The Green Hornet (2011)

I know that this film was very unpopular with fans, but I thought that it followed a unique logic: if a goofy, wealthy and pudgy young playboy decides to become a superhero, it stands to reason that he’ll become a goofy, wealthy and pudgy young superhero, which is exactly what Seth Rogan does in this movie. And although there are a few cringe-inducing sequences in The Green Hornet (the fast-action make-out in the garage and that fight between Britt Reid (Rogan) and Kato (the quite appropriate Jay Chou) that seems to go on longer than the fight in John Carpenter’s They Live) I think that director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Be Kind Rewind) did a great job handling an action movie, especially with a death-trap via heavy construction equipment that bury our heroes inside their extremely cool battle-car, the “Black Beauty”. But my real reason for including The Green Hornet here is a brilliantly directed scene that takes place toward the end of the movie. In it, as a befuddled Britt Reid struggles to connect a number of seemingly random crimes, director Gondry takes us inside the crime fighter’s mind, using animation to show how he manages to piece together the various elements into a now obvious crime wave. I’ve never seen this sort of visual shorthand used in any other movie, but as a cartoonist, I absolutely loved it.

NO. 13: Blankman (1994)

Although by most accounts an embarrassment, I like the fact that this comedy’s lead character, ultra-nerdy inventor-without-a-budget Darryl Walker (played by Damon Wayans in full-throttle geek mode) has what I consider to be by far the best-ever motivation to become a costumed superhero: Darryl’s read enough comic books to think it’s a cool and lofty goal. Additionally, I dig the casting of Jason Alexander as the publisher of a particularly lowbrow tabloid newspaper (remember them?) and Jon Polito as an obnoxious-but-deadly mobster. Also, don’t miss Blankman’s hilariously shoddy R2D2-esque robot assistant, J-5 (as in “Jackson Five”). And finally, the story builds to a fight scene that’s a clever parody of similar sequences in ABC’s Batman TV series. And speaking of which…

NO. 12: Batman: The Movie (1966)

Essentially a bigger-budget, all-star feature length version of ABC’s Batman TV series, Batman (as it was originally titled; “The Movie” was added for the DVD and Blu-Ray editions) was made to exploit the phenomenal national response to the first season of the TV show. Although the iconic presence of Julie Newmar’s Catwoman is missing (The Time Tunnel’s Lee Merriweather attempts to fill the role here), the art direction, the costumes, the set design and the animated sound effects are all here, making Batman: The Movie one of the two feature films to most successfully capture the look of a Silver Age comic book. (The other one’s the movie based on Topps’ infamous set of trading cards, Mars Attacks, directed by Tim Burton.) For decades after viewing Batman during its theatrical release, I was ambivalent about the campy approach of this Leslie H. Martinson-directed film, which is even more comedic than the TV series it’s based upon, but after my son Kirby wore out two VHS tapes of Batman while watching them back when he was a little, how can I help but love it? (My second-hand affection for this movie even accidentally led to my contributing an interview to the exclusive bonus material for Batman: The Movie’s Blu-Ray disc conducted in the wake of doing the same for a DVD set of the first season of Hanna-Barbera’s Richie Rich cartoon series, upon which I worked as a layout supervisor!) Yo ho!

NO. 11: Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)

According to the FF’s co-creator Smilin’ Stan Lee, this extremely low-budget movie was never intended to be released, a fact unknown to its crew and cast. Apparently, it was made (but as planned, never released) only because Germany’s Constantin Film Produktion – the studio that then owned the rights to make a Fantastic Four movie – would have lost that opportunity if it did not begin production by a certain date. Whatever the circumstances, this film’s cheesy production values actually work in its favor, tying it to the cheapie sci-fi and monster movies of the 1950s, an obvious source of inspiration to Smilin’ Stan and Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby in the stirrings of the Marvel universe. Check out some of the covers for the early issues of Fantastic Four funnybooks; it’s no accident that they greatly resemble the posters for such then-recent drive-in movie fare like Invasion of the Saucer Men, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, War of the Colossal Beast and their ilk!

NO. 9: The Phantom (1996)

This high-quality production amply demonstrates that it’s not at all necessary to “camp it up” in a superhero film; if you successfully (and faithfully) translate a comic book property – or, in this case a comic strip property, although cartoonist Lee Falk’s Phantom has starred in hundreds of comic books here and especially abroad – the tone of happy adventure should come across as being just campy enough. (Although in this case, Treat Williams does portray The Phantom’s gleeful villain by chewing its gorgeous scenery non-stop.) But the very best thing about The Phantom is how it begins, with a five-minutes-or-less intro that begins with “For those who came in late…”, immediately recapping the purple-clad jungle hero’s back-story, his generational history and his mission statement… and that’s all the secret origin that the film’s Australian director Simon Wincer felt the audience needed! How frickin’ refreshing is that?!? And since the Phantom (although American in origin) has been Australia’s Number One favorite comic character for decades, it becomes immediately obvious that Mr. Wincer digs the character – nicely played by Billy Zane – as much or more than his fellow Aussies. And The Phantom gets extra points for including the great Patrick McGoohan (Secret Agent; The Prisoner) in its cast as the Phantom’s ghostly father!

NO. 8: The Specials (2000)

Rob Lowe (as “The Weasel”), Thomas Hayden Church (as “The Strobe”) and Jamie Kennedy (as “Amok”) star in this story of “the sixth or seventh best superhero team in the world” but features precious little special effects-assisted (CG or otherwise) superheroics whatsoever! Instead, The Specials focuses on the team’s internal politics, sexual liaisons and competition to see who can get the juiciest licensing deal for their action figure. The polar opposite of the typical summer superhero blockbuster, The Specials is utterly unique and highly recommended by this cranky comic book cartoonist.

NO. 7: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Since this is a sequel, we  thankfully don’t have to suffer through another superhero origin. Even better, the origin story that is included is that of Dr. Otto Octavius, AKA villainous Doctor Octopus (wonderfully portrayed by Alfred Molina) who is actually much more interesting and likable than his funnybook counterpart. For that matter, even his mechanical arms have personality to spare!

NO. 6: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Hey, it’s a full-length animated feature film by the same talented folks – writers Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko and Michael Reaves and directors Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm, Kevin Altieri, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur and Dan Riba, among others – behind Warner Bros. Animation’s industry-altering cartoon show Batman: The Animated Series. Do I need to state any more than that? Well, perhaps I should add that the voice of the legendary Dick Miller (Little Shop of Horrors; Bucket of Blood; Not of This Earth) is on the soundtrack! Woo hoo!

NO. 5: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Set during World War II – which instantly makes the premise infinitely easier to accept – this is the exception that proves the rule about superhero origins in films. When puny patriot Steve Rogers (how could this possibly be the same Chris Evans who played the Human Torch in those tediously mediocre Fantastic Four films?) voluntarily chooses to climb into Dr. Erskine’s transmogrifying device – not to kill Nazis but because Steve doesn’t like bullies – we realize he’s already a hero. As much fun as the rest of the movie is, Cap’s origin story is the heart of the film. And as bonuses, we get a look at the original Golden Age Human Torch on display at the World’s Fair and a cameo appearance by Dum-Dum Dugan and the rest of the Howling Commandos (albeit minus Nick Fury!).

NO. 4: Superman (1941)

Remember “You will believe a man can fly!”, the line used to promote 1978’s Superman, the seminal superhero film that every person this side of Krypton – except me – loved? Well, I didn’t believe it, just as I never believed that the Man of Steel could somehow turn back time. (I’m not just being picky; Superman’s inability to change the past was one of the primary “rules” of all those Mort Weisinger-edited super-comics I read as a kid.) The only part of the entire film that I actually dig is when Superman prevents The Flying Newsroom helicopter from crashing, so sue me. But the original seventeen Superman cartoon shorts produced by Fleischer Studios and their successor Famous Studios from 1941 to 1943? Those I love, and I know I’m not alone. Hey, there would never have been a Batman: The Animated Series – nor umpteen other superhero cartoons – if not for those incredibly influential Superman shorts. They may not have much in the way of character development, but when it comes to showing how cool superheroes can be, they’re still the ones to beat (with the possible exception of my  No.1 pick, below. No peeking!)

NO. 3: The Avengers (2012)

Okay, who doesn’t dig The Avengers? It took a while for me to get around to seeing the movie, and although I was skeptical despite everyone’s rave reviews, I’ve gotta admit I enjoyed it. The best things about The Avengers were, in my opinion: 1.) The film showed how much fun superheroes can and should be. Thank you, Joss Whedon. 2.) Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was finally the version of Ol’ Jade-Jaws that we’ve all been waiting for. 3.) Tony Stark asking Bruce Banner if his method of avoiding Hulking out was “a big bag of weed”. That may be the single greatest alibi of all time: “Yes, officer, I am in possession of this big bag of weed, but it’s to prevent me from Hulking out!” I can’t wait to test it. 4. Loki calling the Black Widow “a mewling quim” – an antiquated form of the despised-by-every-female “C-U-Next-Tuesday word”. 5. The lack of credits at the front end of the film. 6. The shawarma scene that followed the movie’s end credits!

NO. 2: Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)

For decades, a debate has raged around the famous sailor man: is he or is he not a superhero? (Of course, Popeye’s opinion is “I yam what I yam!) Even though he doesn’t wear a colorful costume nor maintain a secret identity, I’d say that any super-strong, do-gooding human being who can’t be killed (a fact repeatedly established by his creator, cartoonist Elzie C. Segar) certainly qualifies as a superhero. Of course, he has been one of my favorite comic strip, comic book and animated cartoon characters for over half a century, so I may be a wee bit prejudiced, but since this is my list and not yours, I’m treating him as a superhero and that’s that. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is one of the Fleischer Studio’s masterpieces, a cartoon tour de force that not only stars Popeye, Olive Oyl and J. Wellington Wimpy, it also feature Bluto in the role of Sindbad, the top dog on an island populated by hundreds of monsters, wild animals and giant mythical creatures. Despite the odds, Popeye emerges triumphant, and even sings a few songs along the way. This animated “featurette” – longer than a short but much shorter than a feature film – also includes some jaw-dropping dimensional effects that pre-date CG wizardry by many decades. In general, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor compresses all of the over-the-top action and excitement of most modern superhero movies into a mere 16 minutes. Well, blow me down, what could possibly be better than that? Well, how about…

NO. 1: The Incredibles (2004)

For my money, superhero movies just don’t get any better than this. It’s got all the action and fun of my favorite comic books. (Fantastic Four, anyone?) It’s got dozens of original characters, yet there isn’t a single origin story in sight. It introduces a world where superheroes not only exist, they all know each other and interact to a degree that none of the Marvel or DC universes have on film to date. It’s a family comedy about a super-powered family, yet it’s built on a solid and somewhat grim premise about what it’s like to be middle-aged, in a marriage gone stale and on the downhill side of your career. How many other superhero movies can boast those universal themes? The Incredibles features elements of design, style and pop culture that were at their peak in 1964 (the early Marvel Comics universe; Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Secret Agent 007 in Goldfinger (complete with a John Barry-esque score); Hanna-Barbera’s Jonny Quest, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s “Supermarionation”, etc.), yet it’s not considered to be a “retro” movie. It’s wildly exaggerated, but has moments that display a subtlety that animation rarely exhibits. Thank you, Brad Bird. Thank you, Pixar. Once again, you’ve shown us that even in a blockbuster of a superhero movie, it’s the story that matters most, even if we’ve never seen its stars before or since. I can’t imagine a better superhero movie in existence.

Y’know, I’m more than a little surprised that I have such good things to say about so many superhero movies after all, even if many of ‘em aren’t the ones that show up on other folks’ lists of favorites. I’ll bet that there are at least a few entries on my list that you weren’t even aware of, right?

But here’s something that’s really got me stymied: the onetime young and perky Gidget and The Flying Nun cast as Aunt May Parker in this month’s upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man?

Aw, c’mon, say it ain’t so, Sally Field!

(And in the unlikely chance that I actually survive the almost-upon-us San Diego Comic-Con International, I’ll see you back here next month with more cranky comments!)

— Scott Shaw!

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange photo-animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become… The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for KaBOOM!

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: Cartoony Comic Books – Threat or Menace?

Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

Cartoony Comic Books – Threat or Menace?

By Scott Shaw!

Back in the late 1980s, when he was drawing such titles as DC’s Doom Patrol and Marvel’s Punisher, I ran into Savage Dragon creator-to-be Erik Larsen at a San Diego Comic-Con, where I complimented him on his “cartoony” drawing style. But instead of accepting my kudos, Erik – never the sort of person to mince words – made a sour expression on his face and said something to the effect of “Actually, I’m trying as hard as I can to dump that style. It’s costing me work!” Fortunately, Erik eventually changed his mind, and that’s why Savage Dragon is one of my favorite funnybooks – even when it’s deadly serious, it’s delightfully outrageous, exaggerated and somewhat ridiculous looking. It’s just what I dig in a superhero comic, which in my opinion should look outrageous, exaggerated and somewhat ridiculous – just like the concept of brightly costumed flying men, super-strong women and wall-walking whatchamacallits.

I recently had dinner with a fellow cartoonist whose work I’ve admired for a long time, Joe Staton. Joe’s one of those rare cartoonists who has drawn everything from Green Lantern to E-Man to Scooby-Doo and all with equal expertise. We discussed our styles, both of which share a humorous bent. He explained that his current gig, drawing the syndicated Dick Tracy comic strip written by Mike Curtis, was the perfect assignment. Not only was Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould his original inspiration to become a cartoonist, but Joe was also getting more than a bit tired of dialing back the cartoony-ness of his style when drawing superheroes and the like. The audience for those comics apparently prefers a darkly photorealistic approach over “light ‘n’ fun”. With Dick Tracy, Joe can get paid for drawing what he loves to draw – and he does it damn well, too.

Savage Dragon #179 by Erik Larsen

Both of these stories about cartoonists whose careers both included stretches in which they were forced to draw much “straighter” than they’d have preferred — have happy endings. And those just don’t happen nearly often enough, at least not often enough for the funnybook industry. But then, I’m a cartoonist.

Back when I was growing up, nearly all comic books and comic strips were drawn in “cartoony” styles, no matter how dead serious their storylines could get. Here are just a few my favorite cartoonists who drew “straight” material in decidedly less-than-serious styles: Dick Sprang (his square-jawed, Dick Tracy-esqe Batman and giant typewriters); Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (of their work on Metal Men, Wonder Woman and “The War That Time Forgot” in Star Spangled War Stories, cartoonist Evan Dorkin once observed that Andru and Esposito’s characters all looked “insane”); Jack Cole (his Plastic Man was equal parts superhero and humor strip while his crime and horror stories were only slightly less outrageous); Steve Ditko (The Amazing Spider-Man, “Dr. Strange” in Strange Tales, Blue Beetle and The Creeper – all cool, all weird, all cartoony as hell); Ramona Fradon (her “Aquaman” in Adventure Comics was cartoony but warmly beautiful, her Metamorpho was the only version that worked visually); Jack Davis (his style was as much at home on straight horror in EC’s Tales From The Crypt as it was in Mad); Mike Sekowsky (his Justice League Of America featured the widest Superman ever); Marie and John Severin (this sister-and-brother act was known for comedy but produced Marvel’s wonderful Kull The Conqueror together); and Jack Kirby (whose resumé spanned every style and genre – from Captain America to “Earl The Rich Rabbit” – while always remaining uniquely himself).

In fact, I’ll never forget the smile that spread across Jack’s face, sometime during my first visit to his home, when I told him that he was my favorite cartoonist. And to most of us who turn blank pages into stories and artwork, “cartoonist” is the label we prefer. After all, we write and draw cartoons. I’ll even bet that Hal Foster – whose Prince Valiant syndicated Sunday strip was about as realistic as any famous funnies pages feature ever – referred to himself as a “cartoonist”. (Hey, Foster was a dues-paying member of the National Cartoonists Society for many years.)

Dick Tracy by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis

But then, in the mid-to-late 1960s, Neal Adams came along. Although Neal’s first published comic book work appeared in an issue of Archie’s Joke Book, he had a background in the sophisticated comics-format ads of the fabled Johnstone and Cushing ad agency and the Ben Casey syndicated comic strip. After drawing a slew of Superman-related covers for DC editor Mort Weisinger, Neal went on to stellar gigs on “Deadman” in Strange Adventures, “Batman” in Detective Comics, X-Men and The Avengers. Suddenly, everyone was raving about how “realistic” Neal’s style was. By the time Jack Kirby’s first “Fourth World” comics debuted at DC, the “King Of Comics” found himself sharing his position of industry importance with Neal Adams.

So, what is “realistic”, anyway?

Well, it sure ain’t Neal Adams’ drawing style. Neal’s art is impeccably executed, but it’s an idealization of reality as seen through a perspective from Madison Avenue. The work of the great Russ Heath is certainly a bit more realistic, but Russ’ approach to drawing – even at age 85 (!) – is still too fastidious to be considered realistic. I suppose Alex Ross’ work is about as “realistic” as comic books get… but his dynamic poses, staging and compositions are anything but everyday. And isn’t “realistic” supposed to reflect the “real world”? But one thing’s for sure: ever since Neal Adams entered the world of comic books, the ability to draw in a “realistic” style has been the goal of many – in my opinion, too many – comic book artists. (Please note that I avoided using the word “cartoonist”.)

A few years ago, I displayed my work at the Long Beach Comic-Con and the pro set up at the table next to me was a talented young guy named Joshua Middleton (NYX, Superman/Shazam: First Thunder, many covers). I’ll admit I was unfamiliar with his artwork, but after witnessing the rabid demand for his originals, I studied up on Josh and his approach to drawing comic book art. My impression is that he shoots specific photographs that relate to the scripts he illustrates, uses PhotoShop to trace them, adds backgrounds and props, inks the tracings and, with his impeccable color sense, paints each image digitally. If that’s not accurate (and it may not be, considering my aversion to technology), I apologize to Mr. Middleton, but the final result is some very impressive “realistic” art, even if the pages of original artwork that Josh was selling hand-over-fist to an eager following did resemble extremely well-drawn coloring book art.

Sergio Aragonés Funnies #5 by Sergio Aragonés

Here’s the big issue I don’t understand. How come the average person out there is resistant to reading a “straight” comic book like Watchmen, Marvels or The Rocketeer but loves humorous comic strips like Peanuts, Calvin And Hobbes or Mutts? And how come faithful comic book readers’ tastes seem to be the opposite, flocking to the straight stuff yet shunning the funny stuff like the plague? (I’ll never forget the year that Keith Giffen, J. M. Matteis and Kevin McGuire’s Justice League Of America received an Eisner Award nomination for “Best Humorous Series”. Sheesh!) If the world of comic books paralleled the real world, Bongo’s Sergio Aragonés Funnies would be America’s best-selling comic book – and deservedly so, since it’s written and drawn by the World’s Best Cartoonist – instead of being a mere niche title!

Are the vast majority of modern comic books going for a dark and/or photorealistic approach to storytelling because their publishers think they’re competing with the various live-action films? Or instead, are they trying to attract the attention of live-action filmmakers?

Fortunately, there are a few cartoonists left who “get” it. Kyle Baker (The Bakers, Special Forces and Deadpool Max), Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show, Thor The Mighty, Snarked! and Popeye) and Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier, Richard Stark’s Parker and now, Before Watchmen) – and the aforementioned Erik Larsen and Sergio Aragonés are all delivering comic book stories with a much welcome (for me, at least) cartoony touch.

Maybe some of them can answer this question better than I can: since when was a flying man any more “realistic” than a talking duck?

– SS!

Next up: “Why I Don’t Dig Superhero Movies!”

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become… The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for KaBOOM!

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: How I Became a Comic Book Reader, a Comic Book Collector…

Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.

How I Became A Comic Book Reader, A Comic Book Collector, A Comic Book Fanboy, A Comic Book Convention Organizer, A Comic Book Character, An Underground Comix Book Creator, A Comic Book Cosplayer, A Comic Book Retailer, A Comic Book Professional… And A Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist!

I was born in 1951. I assume it wasn’t with an overly moist funnybook clutched in one of my tiny pink fists, but with me, you never know.

Approximately three years later, I began to teach myself how to read using comic books. Their mysterious combinations of words and pictures proved irresistible to me, and I became determined to unlock their delicious secret.  Somehow, I vaguely remember an issue of Dell ComicsWoody Woodpecker was responsible for my big breakthrough moment.

Now I was a comic book reader.

My childhood occurred roughly during child psychologist and author (Seduction of the Innocent, 1953) Dr. Fredric Wertham’s war on comic books. His theory was that comic books caused juvenile delinquency because every juvenile delinquent he’d ever interviewed had read comic books. (By that reasoning, milk also caused juvenile delinquency!) Decades later, I asked my elderly mother why they bought me so many “funnybooks” in such times, but her only response was, “They seemed to be really important to you.” Yep, that’s me, all right, then and now.

CBS Television Presents Tom Terrific!

Not long after I turned five, I was hospitalized for a tonsillectomy, a childhood rite of passage in those days. It meant that, for at least three or four days (and scary nights), I was away from my parents and my home in a children’s ward with dozens of  young strangers. The only good things about the rather traumatic experience were all the ice cream and the huge pile of funnybooks that my folks brought me. I still remember a few of the titles in that tower of pulp: Dennis the Menace, Mighty Mouse, Zippy the Chimp, Tom Terrific, Captain Kangaroo (strange, to my knowledge, my parents were never stockholders in CBS); and my first-ever “realistic” comic book, an issue of Superboy, cover-featuring “The One-Man Baseball Team!,” probably the first and last time I ever cared much about sports. One thing was certain; I’d never received so many new funnybooks at the same time in my young life. Soon, I owned a lot of funnybooks, so many, in fact, that I had to sort them into small stacks: funny ones featuring comic strip and animated cartoon characters; exciting ones featuring Superman and Batman and Congorilla and, of course, the scary yet cool ones featuring lots of monsters! That’s when I realized I was not just a comic book reader.

Now I was a comic book reader and a comic book collector.

Early on, I decided that I wanted to be a cartoonist, primarily due to the influences of Dr. Seuss (The King’s Stilts, McElligot’s PoolIf I Ran the Zoo), Jay Ward (Rocky and His Friends), William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Ruff and Reddy, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey) — and from comic books, Sam Glanzman’s Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle and George Gladir and Orlando Busino’s Tales Calculated to Drive You Bats.

Tales of Suspense by Jack Kirby

I saw my first Jack Kirby-drawn comic book story around then. It was either in DC ComicsSecret Origins No. 1 (featuring a reprint of approximately half of the origin of the Challengers of the Unknown) or Marvel ComicsTales of Suspense No. 11. (If it was the latter, my mother made me put it back on the rack because she thought the story “I Created Sporr, the Thing That Could Not Die!” looked like it would give me nightmares and instructed me to purchase a nice and safe Space Mouse funnybook instead. (Decades later, I got revenge on her by naming her only grandson after the cartoonist who drew “Sporr”!)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I loved many four-color gems of the Silver Age of Comic Books, many of which featured dinosaurs and/or talking purple gorillas on their front covers. I’m sure that this was when my tastes in Oddball Comics began to develop.

In the middle of 1961, I saw most comics go from a dime to 12¢, except for Dell Comics, which jumped to 15¢. The moment when I was told that I was a nickel short of the cover price of the latest issue of Daffy Duck was one of the most traumatic events of my young life. And even though DC Comics published on the inside of the front cover of all of their comics a full-page apology/explanation for their price hike to 12¢, my ability to perform mental mathematics has never been the same.

In 1964, I had my first letter to a comic book editor published; it was in DC’s Challengers of the Unknown No. 40 and I was suggesting a sequel to issue No. 35’s “War Against the Moon-Beast”. I even sent editor Murray Boltinoff a color sketch of a revived version of that ol’ moon-beastie that was more than slightly influenced by the makeup in the 1958 monster movie, War of the Colossal Beast. (Geez, was I a nerd, or what?) That same year, I finally jumped on board with the early Marvel superheroes a little more than two years into their existence. My first purchase was Fantastic Four No. 29 and that entire run of issues by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee on FF has remained my favorite superhero comic book series ever since.

I was lucky to attend junior high and high school with a surprising number of fellow geeks, weirdos and nerds, many of whom followed their instincts to become writers, artists, scientists and booksellers. In 1968, two of those friends and I attended my first fan convention, the 26th annual World Science Fiction Convention, AKA WorldCon and BayCon, in Berkeley, California. Being surrounded by nearly 1,500 oddballs that shared my interests and outlook was a transforming experience, to say the least.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector and a comic book fanboy.

Feds 'n' Heads by Gilbert Shelton

Later that year, I bought my first underground comix in 1968, Gilbert Shelton’s Feds ‘n’ Heads. I had already loved Gilbert’s “Wonder Wart-Hog” in Shelton’s Help! and Drag Cartoons, and the short-lived Wonder Wart-Hog Magazine, but I found his “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” to be even funnier, with some of the best timing on the printed page ever seen in funnybooks. Joining Jack Kirby, Gilbert Shelton became my second primary inspiration as an aspiring cartoonist.

Along with some of my high school buddies and some other fans, I was one of the kids who organized the first San Diego Mini-Con in March, 1970. This directly led to the San Diego Comic-Con in August, 1970. Over the next few years, my involvement with what would eventually grow to become San Diego’s Comic-Con International, I met dozens of fans, retailers and professional writers, artists and editors, many of whom are still my friends. In fact, more than 43 years after that first mini-con, I’ve attended every day of every year of the San Diego Comic-Con and proud of it. I’ve really got to get a life.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy and a comic book convention organizer.

I met Jack Kirby in 1971. He seemed pleased when I told him that he was my favorite cartoonist. Not “artist”, “cartoonist”. Almost immediately, Jack offered to transform my friends and I into characters in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen No. 144 (December, 1971); we became “The San Diego Five String Mob,” assassins disguised as a rock band, summoned from Apokolips to Earth on a mission to bump off Superman.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer and a comic book character.

Gory Stories Quarterly with Scott Shaw!'s The Turd

My first professional sale to a comic book was “The Turd” in Ken Krueger’s Gory Stories Quarterly No. 2 ½, published by Shroud Press in 1972. Ken was a longtime fan, retailer and publisher, as well as being one of Comic-Con’s founders, but he was also willing to pay me – a kid whose cartoons had only appeared in school newspapers and fanzines – for my story about a sewer monster made of living feces.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character and an underground comix book creator.

In the summer of 1972, I attended the 30th annual WorldCon in Los Angeles. There, I was awarded a special award for a masquerade costume I made out of eighteen pounds of peanut butter, based on my character, “The Turd”.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator and a comic book cosplayer.

In 1975, I moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, where I became the manager of the comic book store American Comic Book Company in Studio City. I even set up my art studio in one the shop’s back rooms, so I could create new comic book stories when I wasn’t selling old ones.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator, a comic book cosplayer and a comic book retailer.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw!

The next year, I met Marvel Comics editor Roy Thomas at the ACBC, and he asked me to write and draw a back-up story for Marvel’s What If? No. 8, “What If the Spider Had Been Bitten By a Radioactive Human?” (My late, great friend Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer, helped me out on a few panels; the difference between our styles is obvious.) This eventually led to Roy and I co-creating Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! for DC Comics a few years later… and surprisingly, it didn’t hurt Dave’s career a bit.

Now I was a comic book reader, a comic book collector, a comic book fanboy, a comic book convention organizer, a comic book character, an underground comix book creator, a comic book cosplayer, a comic book retailer and a comic book professional… and I’ve worked as the latter for more than forty years now, on an assortment of characters for a variety of publishers.

So why have I gone to the trouble of informing you of my history in the wacky world of funnybooks? Well, when my friend Corey Blake asked me to contribute a regular column for The Comics Observer, it occurred to me, “Why not? I’ve already done everything else related to comic books!”

I suppose this is just my way of letting you know that, although my  new column here “Confessions Of A Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist!” will be a forum for me to rant, rave, observe and criticize the art and business of comic books, it won’t come from an uninformed opinion.

After all, I’ve earned the right to be a crazy old coot, dammit.

I’ll see all of you back here next month for some of that ranting and raving I promised.

— SS!

Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show.

Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist is © 2012 Scott Shaw!