Saturday, January 13, 2007

Number 81

An Alter Ego For The 21st Century

The first comics fanzine I ever saw — the first fanzine I ever saw— was Mike Britt's Squatront #2 in 1959. It was produced on a spirit duplicator (a "ditto machine") in purple ink on white paper. It was an EC fanzine and yet I knew nothing about EC. It had articles on EC artists who were second-tier, like George Roussos or Sid Check. Never mind I really didn't even know anything about the first tier artists. It had an article on Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist I'd never heard of. (I found out in that article that Jules Feiffer didn't care much for Mad Magazine and he thought Harvey Kurtzman could have been a great cartoonist if he'd stuck to it.) I read and re-read that issue of Squa Tront to shreds and it's 40 years gone from my collection, but I've never forgotten it.

Fast forward a couple of years to 1961 and in the mail I got a complimentary copy of something called Alter Ego #1. It had some articles about some Golden Age comics called The Justice Society Of America, and a wonderful (to me, anyway) comic-style satire of The Justice League Of America called "The Bestest Society Of America," by a young teacher named Roy Thomas.

Along with the comics I was reading at the time those two fanzines led me down the path to today, sitting at the keyboard of my computer, writing this blog. The fanzines of today, many of them, like Pappy's, are produced in cyberspace, floating out there in some sort of Never-Never Land of technology I can't seem to completely understand.

The old fanzine style, the print fanzine, still lives in some form or another, though. I just bought a group of issues of the new Alter Ego, which is the spiritual, as well as the titular, descendent of that purple-printed fanzine I got in the mail 45 years ago. Roy Thomas, who was co-editor, with the late Jerry Bails, of the original Alter Ego, is an editor of this incarnation as well.

The two issues I was most interested in of the current series were numbers 61 and 62, both still available at the publisher, Twomorrows. I bought them because of their interesting and scholarly history of one of the more interesting comic book publishers of both the Golden and Silver ages of comics, ACG. Mike Vance, who created the comic strip, "Holiday Out," wrote the articles. They detail how the American Comics Group grew from the B.W. Sangor art shop, which packaged comic books for publishers.

Despite Bill Gaines' "admission" to the Senate Subcommittee hearings on comic books that he created horror comic books, ACG actually published the first line of horror comics with Adventures Into The Unknown, which ran for twenty years as both a non-code and then code-approved comic book. During that time many artists went through the company, but only one editor, and that was Richard E. Hughes. During the post-code era he wrote almost all, or maybe it was all, of the stories that appeared in both Adventures Into The Unknown and its companion, Forbidden Worlds.

The ACG comics hold a great deal of nostalgia for me, because at one point in the late 1950s they were my favorites, right before I got swayed to DC by that original ditto'd Alter Ego!

Current issues of Alter Ego are printed in black ink on newsprint paper. They aren't slick. They don't need to be. What's important to me is the information. I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm really interested in the kind of arcane knowledge this magazine gives me about the old-time comic book business. Maybe it's my obsessive compulsive disorder that gives me interest in the comic book business as well as comic book creators. Whatever. I'm very happy with these issues.

And they aren't the only issues that are great. You could just about pick one and find something of great interest to a Golden Age Comics fan.

Alter Ego and I have been companions a long time. You might say we've grown up together. And Alter Ego has aged much better than I.

Graphics are excellent. Every page is well-designed with lots of pictures for emphasis. After all, this is a visual medium they are reporting on. Click on pictures for full-size images.

1 comment:

Bob Andelman said...

You might enjoy this Mr. Media podcast interview with cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who talks about the new collection of his comic strips from the Village Voice, getting his start with Will Eisner on The Spirit, his plays (Little Murders), his movies (Carnal Knowledge, Popeye), the Disney musical adaptation of The Man in the Ceiling, and his forthcoming memoirs.