“ B O R N
W I L D ”
I S S U E !
10 ber 20
SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL • Bruce Jones’ & Brent Anderson’s KA-ZAR • Larry Hama’s BARBARIANS Plus: BEOWULF • CLAW • CONAN • KORG • RED SONJA • and RIMA, THE JUNGLE GIRL
Shanna the She-Devil TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Volume 1, Number 43 September 2010 Celebrating the Best Comics of the '70s, '80s, and Beyond!
The Retro Comics Experience!
EDITOR Michael Eury PUBLISHER John Morrow DESIGNER Rich J. Fowlks COVER ARTIST Frank Cho COVER COLORIST Glenn Whitmore COVER DESIGNER Michael Kronenberg
BACK SEAT DRIVER: Editorial by Michael Eury . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
PROOFREADERS John Morrow and Eric Nolen-Weathington
FLASHBACK: Shanna: And a Jungle Queen is Born! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 Shanna creator Carole Seuling is joined by a host of Marvel superstars in this look back at our cover star’s past
Bruce Jones Gerard Jones Joe Kubert Michael Lopez Aaron Lopresti Andy Mangels Doc Magnus Don Mangus Jim Manner Marvel Comics David Michelinie Al Milgrom Brian K. Morris Nightscream Phil Noto Steven Alan Payne Jason Pearson Paul Renaud Stephane Roux Rose Rummel-Eury Alex Segura Carole Seuling Jim Shooter Gail Simone Louise Simonson Anthony Snyder Chris Stevens Aaron Sultan Roy Thomas Michael Uslan John Wells Gary Whitson Barry Windsor-Smith Bill Wray
ART GALLERY: Shanna the She-Devil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 Pinups and sketches by Byrne, Hitch, Lopresti, Noto, Pearson, Renaud, Roux, and Chris Stevens PRO2PRO: Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson’s Ka-Zar the Savage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 Revisit this 1980s fan-favorite series with its writer and artist OFF MY CHEST: Was Conan a Racist? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 A guest editorial by Grailpages author Steven Alan Payne FLASHBACK: Rima, the Jungle Girl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31 From novel to radio to comics to Super Friends cartoons, Rima is no Tarzan clone BEYOND CAPES: Red Sonja: Feminist Icon or Woman Warrior? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41 Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith reflect upon this Conan spin-off’s popularity; with bonus Frank Thorne art FLASHBACK: Korg: 70,000 B.C. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .47 Pat Boyette’s artwork made this little-known Hanna-Barbera TV comic a must-read FLASHBACK: The Chronicles of Claw the Unconquered . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 Featuring all-new interviews with co-creators David Michelinie and Ernie Chan BEYOND CAPES: Beowulf’s Short, Strange Trip . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61 Media mogul Michael Uslan remembers his “Wyrdest Barbarian” series BACKSTAGE PASS: (Red) Sonja Con . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .69 Did you attend this 1976 Sonja-spotlighting event? INTERVIEW: Larry Hama: The Barbarian Go-To Guy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .71 The comics jack-of-all-trades spills his guts on his wild and wonderful career BACK TALK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .77 Reader feedback on “Cat People” issue #40 and more BACK ISSUE™ is published 8 times a year by TwoMorrows Publishing, 10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614. Michael Eury, Editor. John Morrow, Publisher. Editorial Office: BACK ISSUE, c/o Michael Eury, Editor, 118 Edgewood Avenue NE, Concord, NC 28025. Email: email@example.com. Six-issue subscriptions: $60 Standard US, $85 Canada, $107 Surface International. Please send subscription orders and funds to TwoMorrows, NOT to the editorial office. Cover art by Frank Cho. Shanna the She-Devil TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc.. All Rights Reserved. All characters are © their respective companies. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial matter © 2010 Michael Eury and TwoMorrows Publishing. BACK ISSUE is a TM of TwoMorrows Publishing. ISSN 1932-6904. Printed in Canada. FIRST PRINTING. Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 1
A Bill Wray-delineated black jungle queen commission done at Oakland’s Wonder Con in 1996. From the collection of Jerry Boyd.
SPECIAL THANKS Jim Amash Brent Eric Anderson Mike Aragona Mark Arnold Richard Arndt Michael Aushenker Brian Azzarello Jason Motes Bowles Jerry Boyd Royd Burgoyne Jarrod Buttery John Byrne April Campbell-Jones Pete Carlsson Dewey Cassell Ernie Chan Gerry Conway Howard Leroy Davis DC Comics Mark DiFruscio Chuck Dixon Danny Fingeroth Angela Fowlks Ron Frantz Mike Friedrich Peter B. Gillis Grand Comic-Book Database Paul Gulacy Larry Hama Heritage Comics Auctions Bryan Hitch Indiana University
Oh, Man, uh … it’s Shanna Marvel’s She-Devil without a sword, as remarkably rendered by Michael Lopez. From the collection of Royd Burgoyne. © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.
Wow. Just look at that cover. That may well be the reason you picked up this magazine, so it’s worth taking another look. Just put your thumb on this page and come back; go on—we’ll still be here. Pretty cool, huh? Frank Cho does indeed draw beautiful women and he definitely seems to have a soft spot for the jungle-girl genre. But, wait … sorry, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
THE COMING OF SHANNA
In his introductions to his 1977 book, The Superhero Women, Stan Lee wrote, “Towards the end of 1972, I was really determined to feature as many females as possible in our Marvel roster of headliners.” This is discussed in more detail when Roy Thomas
interviewed Lee in issue #2 of Comic Book Artist (Summer 1998). Thomas asked, “I’ve heard that there was a great dropoff in female readers in the early ’70s. We came up with three strips for which you made up the names and concepts: Shanna the She-Devil, Night Nurse, and The Claws of the Cat. Were we trying to woo the female readers back?” “Yes,” confirmed Lee, “and also to appeal to the male readers who liked looking at pretty girls.” Neither could remember whose idea it was but female writers were asked to script each book. Thomas asked Carole Seuling to write Shanna the She-Devil. The delightful Ms. Seuling was only too happy to answer some questions about her creation (and spill a few secrets about the Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 3
Cool for Cats Shanna and her furry companions make the scene in Shanna the She-Devil #1 (Dec. 1972), featuring this senses-staggering Steranko cover! © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.
esteemed editor of our sister publication Alter Ego). details: Dr Shanna O’Hara was a veterinarian, ecologist, “Roy was the one who asked me to write Shanna,” and environmental specialist for the Manhattan Seuling recalls. “I had done a few articles for Municipal Zoo. In peak physical condition, fanzines earlier, though not his. I knew Shanna had turned down a place on the Roy from the time he arrived in New US Olympic Gymnastics Team to work York because he had been buying with and study the great cats. from and corresponding with my Awakened by a phone call one horrible, ex-husband, Phil Seuling, and he life-altering evening, she rushes to actually spent his first few nights in her workplace to find all her charges New York City sleeping on the floor shot in their habitats by a sniper. of Phil’s office. My instructions were No one had since dared enter the to make [Shanna] someone who African Plains exhibit—“A wounded would fit in with the times and also lion or leopard is a killer!” Desperate was a little more prone to violence to determine if any of the animals than Sheena or the other jungle under her care had survived, queens of the past.” Shanna leaps into the enclosure carole seuling Indeed, Shanna O’Hara, from without hesitation. Miraculously, the outset, was a strong, modern Julani, the leopard Shanna had reared woman. Issue #1 (Dec. 1972) establishes our heroine, from a cub, staggers wounded from the bushes. in the African jungle flanked by her two loyal leopards, Recognizing her adored foster mother, Julani moves thwarting poachers. A flashback fills in Shanna’s forward and licks Shanna’s hand. However, in a devastating miscalculation, a zoo guard, fearing for Shanna’s safety, shoots Julani, killing her instantly. “I invented her backstory, and the environmental angle came from my living just a few blocks from the New York City Aquarium, where some of the animals died from being fed trash by visitors,” Seuling describes. “The year before Shanna came out, there had been a zoo massacre, though not in New York as far as I remember. The idea of pushing environmentalism in a comic was all mine, though Marvel has never been anti-environment and has come to espouse some pretty liberal causes, in a way.” The tragedy echoes Shanna’s childhood. Growing up in Africa, Shanna remembers how her father, panicked by the thought of a stalking leopard, fired wildly into the bushes. Shanna tried to stop him but was too late—her own mother was shot and killed. After the zoo massacre, Shanna roils, “My mother dead … my father hiding somewhere in Africa, seeking strength from a whiskey bottle … and now, even my work…. The cats … the leopards, the only creatures with whom I could find oneness … murdered without a thought! All of them dead … save two….” There is a ray of optimism amidst the tragedy: Julani’s new cubs had been in the zoo’s hospital during the shootings. On her way home Shanna is threatened by a mugger—whom she overpowers easily—but who reinforces her deteriorating view of our so-called civilization. Propitiously, the next day, the zoo director proposes that Shanna return the cubs to the wild. A delighted Shanna travels to Dahomey (now the African country Benin) with Julani’s cubs, Ina and Biri. The story reveals: “And Shanna, wearing Julani’s pelt for sight-scent recognition with the cubs, came to realize she was like these creatures: Swift, strong! She found herself becoming a jungle creature, a leopard woman … Shanna the She-Devil!” Seuling muses, “The leopards had Yoruba names, Ina meaning ‘bright’ and Biri meaning ‘black.’ I named my cats after them. More than one veterinarian was a bit puzzled.” The first issue hits all the marks, convincingly explaining how and why a red-headed Caucasian woman is running around Africa in a leopard-skin swimsuit, and introducing two of the most unique and visually spectacular supporting characters in comics of the time. Also introduced was Game Warden (and
4 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
You’re guaranteed to go ape over this sizzling selection of pinups of our cover star by some of comics’ finest artists. All images hail from the collection of Royd Burgoyne, to whom we extend our deepest gratitude. Shanna TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
10 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 11
Although Ka-Zar, a pulp character very much in the vein of Tarzan, was introduced in Marvel Comics #1 (Oct. 1939), the version fans are most familiar with is that of Lord Kevin Plunder, introduced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in The Uncanny X-Men #10 (Mar. 1965), whose “Savage Land”—hidden beneath Antarctica—had the extra danger of being a prehistoric jungle, complete with dinosaurs. Astonishing Tales (Aug. 1970–Oct. 1973) had adventures in both the Savage Land and New York City, with Ka-Zar battling villains from mad gods to Kraven the Hunter to A.I.M. Ka-Zar the city-swinging hero, super soldier, or secret agent did not really work. Even for a fan like me, it was a little difficult to suspend disbelief long enough to accept a jungle man alongside S.H.I.E.L.D. fighting A.I.M. Ka-Zar [Lord of the Hidden Jungle] (Jan. 1974– Feb. 1977) picked up where Astonishing left off by bringing Ka-Zar back to the Savage Land and adding to the cast Shanna the She-Devil. At first, Ka-Zar seemed to be more of the primitive “Me, Ka-Zar!” mindset, but when Gerry Conway picked up the writing chores with #6 (Nov. 1974), a much more intelligent Ka-Zar emerged. Unfortunately, many of the stories felt like they were written for Conan and based on tales from the Bible. Writer Doug Moench took over with #11 (Oct. 1975) and brought everyone to the brink of war with invaders from another dimension. The series ended before the storyline did, and scribe Chris Claremont wrapped it up in Uncanny X-Men #115–116 (Nov.–Dec. 1978). It wasn’t until writer Bruce Jones and illustrator Brent Anderson kicked off Ka-Zar the Savage (Apr. 1981) that the true potential of the character began to shine. After three years of silence, readers were introduced to a new, more “mature” Ka-Zar. Brooding, introspective, at times a little defeatist, this was definitely a character reborn. He now had a depth heretofore unseen and the fans loved it! Ka-Zar the Savage #1 ends with an incredible bang as Ka-Zar comes face to face with the “rules” of a civilization where he won’t ever fit in, and he realizes it’s best to live “savagely” and be true to yourself than to live in a world of rules and conformity that only ends up strangling you. The series seemed to be more about sharing an insight, or growing a character, than simply “telling a story.” There was a social commentary or a reflection/contemplation of life going on in between the panels of those magical pages. In an attempt to learn a bit more about how this series came to be, I spent some time chatting with Bruce and Brent, the men who created so much of the Savage Land’s rich history. With the use of modern technology, we stepped through the mists of time and rediscovered the prehistoric world of Lord Kevin Plunder. – Mike Aragona
Life in the Savage Land Plate No. 1 from artist Brent Anderson’s astounding 1982 Ka-Zar Portfolio (and don’t overlook Zabu in the upper right of the image). Courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.
16 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
MIKE ARAGONA: Thanks again for agreeing to do this! I’ve been looking forward to chatting with the both of you from the day I had that first issue in my hands. BRENT ERIC ANDERSON: Wasn’t that during the last millennium? Hey, Bruce, do you remember anything about this “Ka-Zar” thing Mike is referring to?? BRUCE JONES: I don’t remember anybody named Ka-Zar, but I just got a comp issue from Marvel called Favorite Pet Tricks or something like that which includes two stories about some beast called Zabu. Ring a bell? ANDERSON: Zabu? Zabu? I remember a Z-bu, but I think we had to change the pronunciation of his name. Could that be the Zabu to whom you are referring? JONES: Not sure—this one has a major incisor problem. ANDERSON: Fangs a lot! [laughter] ARAGONA: I understand this was a while ago, but I’d like to know more about that historical moment in time. Bruce, how did this series come to be yours? Brent, Ka-Zar was your first regular series. How did that come about? Did you feel any kind of pressure? ANDERSON: In 1979, the same year I returned to New York City to break into the comics industry the second time, Louise Jones [later Simonson] was a new editor up at Marvel. She had come from Warren Publishing (Creepy, Eerie, etc.) and the resurrection of Ka-Zar as a monthly title was one of her first editorial assignments. This was to protect the Ka-Zar trademark since it had been a number of years since the character had been published under its own title. I believe, and someone correct me if I’m wrong, the original creative team was to have been Bill Mantlo [writer] and John Buscema [artist]. Weezie had brought Bruce Jones with her from Warren and ultimately offered the title to him. I don’t know when my name came up to replace Buscema. Bruce, do you know? Anyway, the deadlines inherent of a monthly series did concern me at the time, yes. JONES: No, you were already on board, Brent, when Weezie offered me the job. Thank God. ANDERSON: No, thank Bruce! ARAGONA: Can you clarify something for me? I know Louise “Weezie” Jones was born Mary Louise Alexander and is now Louise Simonson after her marriage to Walt Simonson. Wikipedia states that she was known as Louise Jones after her marriage to Jeff Jones. Any relation? JONES: No relation to me except for being good friends. Jeff was the first artist of our little group I met when I first moved to New York, followed by Bernie Wrightson and Michael Kaluta. We all sort of hung around together at Jeff and Weezie’s apartment. ARAGONA: Thanks. Did the two of you (Bruce and Brent) know each other prior to the series? ANDERSON: I knew of Bruce’s work, of course, having enjoyed his writing and artwork during my developmental years (I was 16 and Bruce was, uh … 17), but I didn’t actually meet him face to face until he came to New York to meet me around our collaboration on Ka-Zar. ARAGONA: Bruce, anything else you can add about the assignment? How did it come to be assigned to you? JONES: As Brent said, Weezie sort of brought me along with her from the Warren books. It was a wake-up call, like going from almost total creative freedom and control to the … uh, Marvel way. Never did figure out what that was. I think Brent carried the whole damn book; Brent and Weezie. I was just in
Web of Horror #3 (Apr. 1970) for Major Magazines, writing and drawing the six-page story “Point Of View”
Ka-Zar / Creepy / Eerie / Conan / Red Sonja / Silverheels / Pathways to Fantasy / Twisted Tales / Alien Worlds / Somerset Holmes / Rip in Time / Freakshow / The Incredible Hulk
Work in Progress:
Major announcement coming soon about a project that will make fans of the old Pacific Comics happy!
bruce jones Photo courtesy of Bruce Jones.
Battlestar Galactica #21 (Nov. 1980)
The X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills / Ka-Zar / Somerset Holmes / Strikeforce: Morituri / Astro City
Works in Progress:
Astro City: The Dark Age / Astro City: The Silver Agent
brent eric anderson Caricature by Brent Anderson.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 17
Behind the Scenes Brent Anderson’s developmental sketches realizing some of the characters, locales, and weapons of the Savage Land. Courtesy of the artist. Art © Brent Anderson. Ka-Zar © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.
there dodging shots from [Jim] Shooter. The only thing I was left totally alone on was “Tales of Zabu” because, again, nobody expected the book to sell, really. I think they went into cardiac arrest when it did. ANDERSON: Yeah, considering it was to be the directsale test of a book doing well on the newsstands! We lost a considerable amount of sales when the book went direct-sale only. It’s ironic you felt the most freedom on “Tales of Zabu,” since you and April [Jones’ wife] seemed to forget the old boy even existed in the regular series and kept leaving him out of the scripts! There, there, big kitty, they still love you, too. ARAGONA: Direct sales began with issue #10 (Jan. 1982), and—as a reader—I thought it must have been a healthy experiment since the series lasted another 24 issues. What were you told as creators in regard to both the approach (and using Ka-Zar) and the findings? Bruce, could you also please expand on what you mean by “dodging shots from Shooter”? ANDERSON: My understanding at the time was Marvel wanted to move three books to direct-sales only as an experiment in marketing directly to the comics retailers. The three books chosen were Moon Knight, which had strong direct-market sales; Micronauts, which was pretty evenly split between newsstand sales [and direct sales]; and Ka-Zar, which had much stronger newsstand sales than through the direct market. The direct market sales improved for all three books, so it was a successful experiment for Marvel, but Ka-Zar’s sales through the direct market never made up for the loss in newsstand sales. This directly impacted the royalty incentives Marvel paid out on the book, so the experiment cost us money. Anything to add, Bruce?
18 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
JONES: Nothing to add except that I think the directmarket move pissed all of us off a bit. Actually, I was joshing about dodging Shooter. He never gave me any trouble at all, mainly due, I suspect, to the little actual contact I had with him. Weezie was the one who took all the guff from the front office. Also, I was usually miles away in either Kansas City or San Diego packaging Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds, Somerset Holmes, etc. for Pacific Comics, dragging Brent into anything I could whenever I could. ARAGONA: I’d like to talk a little about one of the other creative highlights of the series: the land of Pangea. Bruce, was Pangea fleshed out in your mind when you gave Brent the story or did his work help solidify it or make it “real” to you? Did you have a kind of “map” of what (or who) existed in Pangea and how the readers would be introduced to them? JONES: Basically what I was given on the Ka-Zar assignment was that his and Shanna’s environment was “lost,” primitive, and had remnants of prehistoric times. Also (for reasons that elude me) it was to be set in the South Pole. I picked Pangea because it was a real place, a supercontinent that existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras about 25 million years ago. All this was from Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift. What Marvel wanted was dinosaurs and sabertooths, even if the two species didn’t co-exist in real history. They were simply trying to hang on to a copyright. They didn’t really care what I wrote and Brent drew so long as it was exciting and visually romantic. Neither Louise Jones nor I had much interest in producing a second-rate Tarzan, so that’s how this so-called urbane élan in Ka-Zar’s character came about. In other words, a smart, even intellectual guy
Steven Alan Payne
Like many who clung from issue #1 to Marvel Comics’ Conan the Barbarian comic book which premiered in 1970, I had been a fan of the character since the late 1960s’ reprinting of the original Robert E. Howard tales. The path had already been beaten by Bantam Books, that served up hot-selling 95-cent reprints of the Lester Dent (nom de plume: Kenneth Robeson) Doc Savage and Avenger pulps. Sensing a good thing, failing Lancer Books issued a concurrent release of the Howard Conan tales, and the L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter posthumous collaborations, with some pretty amazing Frazetta covers slapped onto them. I was hooked from day one. I was also repelled. This character from an age where distrust of your fellow man and fear of the unfamiliar was not paranoia but sound, defensive reasoning, often teetered on the brink of being something ugly. Being African American, I found the explicit and implicit racism a manifestation of everything that had limited me, and all that I railed against. It was an ugly reminder of the sensibilities that made my father’s life harder than it should have been, and made my mother fearful at times for her children. And there it was, in fantasy form, this Teutonic Nazi raging through his world with the power of life and death on the edge of his sword, decapitating, disemboweling, and venting a whole zeitgeist of rage on a race. Yet when brought to comic books, as a result of skillful writing, Conan never fell into the abyss. No mean feat, given the source material. Robert E. Howard was a storyteller. His writing style may not have the introspective clarity of a Don DeLillo, but he could compellingly spin a yarn and deliver a phrase that could chill to the bone. Conan’s world was a barbaric one, where kingdoms were formed out of fear of their neighbor, and trust was an often fatal weakness. Prejudice was simply common sense. Howard’s tales’ habitual and demeaning reference to Blacks was as insane beasts, cannibals, and leering lechers. In tales like “Shadows in Zamboula” or “The Vale of Lost Women,” or his opus, “The Queen of the Black Coast,” Blacks were there to lend the “barbaric splendor” at best, or at worse be the inhuman monsters slavering before the helpless, or sometimes bending to the dominating White female. To his credit, writer Roy Thomas kept the Conan comic-book adaptations true to the flavor of the original stories, in all their color, vibrancy, barbarism, chauvinism, and, yes, racism, while ameliorating the more offensive elements in a manner that didn’t dampen the stories’ intent or flow. Thomas had an Olympic-level sense of balance as he keep intact Conan’s world—the chief element that separated Howard’s barbarian from any of a hundred other bare-chested pre-historic swordsmen—while not offending the sensibilities of a world just coming to grips with its heterogeneous legacy. Marvel Comics in the 1960s had, in small and large ways, done a lot to distinguish itself as being ahead of the curve in racial awareness. Steve Ditko’s inclusion of Black characters in panel backgrounds of The Amazing Spider-Man—as police officers, as fellow students at Peter Parker’s school—were small gestures, but noteworthy for their casualness. And on the big side of the scale, how about the Black Panther, who, in his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52, took the FF to a sound defeat. The Panther was a liberal’s “missing link,” this cobbled-together Piltdown Man. He was the African Black, untouched by White genes, who was the equal of any White man. He was the justification of the civil-rights struggle. And he was the moral backbone that made Marvel Comics more than just another comic-book company.
Conan’s Equal Detail from the John Buscema/Tony DeZuniga cover to Conan the Barbarian #84 (Mar. 1978) with its side-by-side depiction of Conan and one of the few significant Black characters to cross his path, Zula, introduced not just a Black companion for the Cimmerian, but a swordsman described as Conan’s equal. © 2010 Conan Properties.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 29
Readers who were buying comic books back in the 1970s might regard Rima, the Jungle Girl as a female Tarzan clone published by DC Comics. Others might remember Rima as a Sheena-meetsDr. Dolittle guest-star on Saturday morning’s All-New Super Friends Hour. True, Rima—the exotic white woman who communicated with animals, the “Daughter of the Didi” who terrified natives in the South America jungle where she lived—was both a DC Super-Star and a Hanna-Barbera Super Friend. Yet most fans who read her short-lived, seven-issue mid-1970s comic or viewed her three cartoon appearances had no inkling of the character’s rich history. Nor did they realize that this “jungle girl” actually predated the legendary, loinclothed Ape Man these fans presumed she mimicked.
GREEN MANSIONS ARE THE PLACE TO BE
Rima debuted in the novel Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest, written by W. H. (William Henry) Hudson (1841–1922) and first published in 1904 (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan first saw print in 1912). A naturalist with a passion for birds, Hudson relocated from his homeland of Argentina to the United Kingdom in the late 1860s and soon became an author of ornithological texts, South American ecological studies, and wilderness-based dramatic novels. Set in Venezuela in the 1840s, Hudson’s Green Mansions concerns Abel, a sophisticate-turned-revolutionary whose failed coup attempt in Caracas forced him to seek refuge in the forest to escape execution. Trading on his wits, this white outsider fraternizes with a tribe of jungle people and settles among them. Abel seems content to idle away his days strumming his guitar, giving the children fencing lessons, and charming the natives— he is a man with no country and no ambition. He is intrigued, however, by the locals’ fear of the “Daughter of the Didi,” a supposedly supernatural woman with control over fauna. The natives refuse to venture into the jungle where this creature purportedly resides. His curiosity piqued, Abel strolls into that very forest, where he is mesmerized by exotic bird calls which fill the air. He catches a glimpse of what appears to be the teenage girl we would soon come to know as Rima. Hudson describes Abel’s first sighting of Rima thusly in Chapter Five: “It was a human being—a girl form, reclining on the moss among the ferns and herbage, near the roots of a small tree. One arm was doubled behind her neck to rest upon, while the other arm was held extended before her, the hand raised towards a small brown bird perched on a pendulous twig just beyond its reach. She appeared to be playing with the bird, possibly amusing herself by trying
Daughter of the Didi Rima, the Jungle Girl in a 1991 pencil sketch by the artist who made her famous in the mid-1970s, Nestor Redondo. Art scan courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). Rima TM & © DC Entertainment.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 31
Rima’s First Comic-Book Appearance (right) Alex Blum’s painted artwork to the cover of Classics Illustrated #90 (Dec. 1951), adapting Green Mansions, and (left) the splash page to that issue, introducing the cast. © 1951 Gilberton Company, Inc.
to entice it on to her hand; and the hand appeared to which made it appear somewhat vague and distant, tempt it greatly, for it persistently hopped up and down, and a greenish grey seemed the prevailing colour.” turning rapidly about this way and that, flirting its While Hudson’s Green Mansions predated wings and tail, and always appearing just on Vladmir Nabokov’s Lolita by some five the point of dropping on to her finger.” decades, the fascination of Abel— Hudson’s Rima is not the statuesque of unknown age but clearly a grown Amazon who would populate the DC man—with this seductive nymph is at Universe in the 1970s: She was first alarming to the contemporary “small, not above four feet six or reader (Nabokov’s Lolita, incidentally, seven inches in height, in figure slim, was 14). One must remember, with delicately shaped little hands though, that during the era in which and feet.” The voyeur Abel continues Green Mansions was written, Mayto assess Rima’s looks: “Her hair was December marriages were still common, very wonderful; it was loose and as adult men often took as brides abundant, and seemed wavy or teenage girls and young women in curly, falling in a cloud on her their child-bearing prime. w. h. hudson shoulders and arms. Dark it Abel braves an encounter with this appeared, but the precise tint was vision, stepping out of the brush to interdeterminable, as was that of her skin, which looked greet her—and is bitten by a venomous coral snake, neither brown nor white. Altogether, near to me as she protecting Rima by striking what it thought to be an actually was, there was a kind of mistiness in the figure attack against her. Stumbling into unconsciousness as the toxin takes hold, Abel later awakens in a hut. He meets an old man named Nuflo, who calls himself Rima’s grandfather, and learns that he was saved by the girl called Rima. Each member of this unlikely trio is an outcast: Abel, the nomad; Rima, the fetching oddity whose empathy with birds and wildlife defies logic; and Nuflo, a reformed bandit who has dedicated himself to caring for the girl he has taken under his wing. Together, they form an unorthodox family as Abel becomes intoxicated with both the ethereal Rima and the lush environment of “green mansions” in which she resides. Any initial discomfort one might have experienced over Abel’s preoccupation with Rima quickly fades, as Hudson’s lyrical romance entrances the reader. He writes, in the first person through Abel, that Rima’s pigmentation “would be almost impossible to describe, so greatly did it vary with every change of mood— and the moods were many and transient—and with
32 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
A steel bikini. What else could Conan possibly call it as Red Sonja stood before him in The Savage Sword of Conan #1. She was a welcome sight—indeed, most men would enjoy the sight of the red-haired Hyrkanian—and Red Sonja’s timely appearance had rescued the Cimmerian from the wrong end of a sword during a brawl in Zamorra’s City of Thieves. But this wasn’t the same Red Sonja that Conan remembered from Makkalet in Conan the Barbarian #24 (Mar. 1973), when they stole into a sorcerer’s tower on a thieves’ errand to retrieve a serpent tiara. The woman before him had tossed aside her more practical garb as a sword-for-hire in favor of this—steel bikini… It was an outfit that meshed Victoria’s Secret with a Nemedian blacksmith’s shop, but left little to the imagination when considering her feminine charms. Her leather gloves and boots covered more of her body than this armor, and yet it would be the garb that would in the years to come define Red Sonja as much as her fiery red hair.
SHE-DEVIL WITH A SWORD
This new Red Sonja enjoyed a coming-out party in the first issue of Savage Sword of Conan in August 1974. This black-and-white magazine cashed in on the popularity of Conan during the early 1970s, but it featured almost as many pages devoted to Red Sonja as it did to the Cimmerian. The magazine included one of the first portrayals of Red Sonja in what would become her famous steel bikini. The pinup page had been submitted by Esteban Maroto—a Spanish-born artist known best for his work in the Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella magazines. Another pinup of Red Sonja in a steel bikini had appeared earlier, in February 1974, in Savage Tales #3— and it quickly found favor with editor Roy Thomas. “I’m not sure what I had in mind when I was first thinking of Red Sonja,” Roy Thomas says. “I was not real wild for her chainmail shirt and hot pants that Barry [Windsor-Smith] had given her. Esteban had sent in his drawing of her, and I liked it so much that I gave him an entire Red Sonja story to do.” Roy Thomas gave penciling honors to Esteban Maroto for the first solo appearance of the “She-Devil with a Sword” in a story titled simply “Red Sonja.” The story appeared in Savage Sword of Conan #1 and featured lavish pencils and inks that combined the talents of Maroto, Neal Adams, and Ernie Chua. The story built on her character and reinforced the roy thomas theme that Red Sonja was any
Sonja by Boris Detail from Boris Vallejo’s painting for the paperback cover Red Sonja #3: When Hell Laughs (Ace, 1982). Art courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). Red Sonja ® Red Sonja LLC.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 41
Skin Games (below left) Sonja’s wearing her steel bikini in this undated sketch from Pablo Marcos (courtesy of Heritage). Barry Windsor-Smith’s interpretation of the character (center) reveals much less flesh, as seen in this detail from the cover of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #24 (Mar. 1973).
man’s equal, as one character in the story noted, “Red Sonja’s made a vow that no man ever shall touch her, save one who’s defeated her in battle.” The story was published in the 1970s, during the height of the Women’s Movement. Red Sonja found herself balanced on a delicate fence—on one side, she was a character who boasted an inner strength that rivaled any man’s; on the other, her depiction as a scantily clad warrior was cheesecake eye candy for the mostly male audience that comprised comics fandom at the time. Thomas acknowledges that it was a “bit of a problem” trying to balance the display of Red Sonja’s feminine attributes with her warrior skills. “It wasn’t very practical,” Thomas says, “but Red Sonja had a mystical origin that gave her a little extra power … it was always a little mysterious how she acquired her skills.
Red Sonja ® Red Sonja LLC. Conan © Conan Properties.
42 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
“Here is a woman who is very sexy, and she wears very little armor that’s not really going to protect her if it needed to,” Thomas says. “It was kind of defiant, but symbolic. It showed off her beauty, but at the same time, you knew that if a man would reach out in desire of her, she would cut off their hand.” This unattainable temptation would be developed throughout the inaugural issue of Savage Sword of Conan and in later comic-book appearances. It was inspired by Roy Thomas’ reading of the play On Baile’s Strand by W. B. Yeats, which included a reference to a character named Aoife, a red-haired warrior queen who would allow no man to bed her unless they first defeated her in combat. On Baile’s Strand appeared in the 1903 book In the Seven Woods and explained how Queen Aoife had been bested in combat by the hero Cuchulain. Their tragic union led to the birth of a son, who would later be sent by Aoife to challenge Cuchulain in combat. The story of Red Sonja in The Savage Sword of Conan, by Thomas and Maroto, borrowed on this theme, as one character notes, “Red Sonja’s made a vow that no man ever shall touch her,
One of the most bizarre shows ever to come out of Hanna-Barbera Productions was its live-action caveman action-adventure show called Korg: 70,000 B.C.— bizarre for reasons including the fact that it was live action. Although Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had dabbled with live-action shows prior to Korg, most notably with The Banana Splits, Korg was the first live-action show from Hanna-Barbera to be completely dramatic and follow a single narrative. Loosely based on The Waltons, Korg told the story of caveman Korg and his family as they struggled to make ends meet in caveman times. It was sort of a serious attempt at The Flintstones! Curiously, the show debuted at the same time as Hanna-Barbera’s fully animated Valley of the Dinosaurs. Hanna-Barbera presumably couldn’t decide whether to do an animated or live-action show set in prehistoric times, so why not do both? Apart from the prehistoric setting, the two shows are very dissimilar. (Hanna-Barbera did dabble further into live-action material with less than spectacular results, including The Skatebirds and a 1979 theatrical film called C.H.O.M.P.S., starring Valerie Bertinelli. None of these are very memorable.)
FROM TV TO COMICS
Korg was filmed in the hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in California, in the spring and summer of 1974—and, coincidentally, only a couple of miles from my boyhood home at the time. As a six-year-old, I was fascinated that a show could be filmed so close to my house. Even though Hollywood was nearby, it was still a good 30 miles away. The completed show was nothing much, to be honest, but some folks have fond memories of it. Korg was supposed to be educational, based on the best research about Neanderthal life available at the time. Korg aired on ABC-TV from September 7, 1974 through August 31, 1975. There were 16 episodes produced and the show was not renewed for a second season. Episode titles include: “Magic Claws,” “The Guide,” “Exile,” “Eclipse,” “Trapped,” “Story of Lumi,” “Moving Rock,” “Beach People,” “Running Fight,” “The Ancient One,” “Tor’s First Hunt,” “The Hill People,” “The River,” “The Web,” “Picture Maker,” and “Ree & the Wolf.” Korg starred Jim Malinda as Korg. Bill Ewing was Bok, his best friend. Naomi Pollack portrayed Mara, Korg’s wife. Christoper Man was Tane, Korg’s eldest son. Charles Morteo was Tor, Korg’s youngest son. Janelle Pransky was Ree, Korg’s daughter, and Eileen Deetz portrayed Sala, another friend of the family. Veteran character actor Burgess Meredith, best known
Man vs. Dinosaur Cover paintings by the too-often-overlooked Pat Boyette make Charlton Comics’ Korg: 70,000 B.C. a visual treat. Cover to issue #3 (Oct. 1975) courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). © 1975 Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 47
Man vs. Man A rocky altercation on Boyette’s cover to Korg #2 (Aug. 1975). Original cover painting courtesy of Heritage. © 1975 Hanna-Barbera Productions.
48 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
“I climbed out of the abyss of naked barbarism to the throne and in that climb I spilt my blood as freely as I spilt that of others. If either of us has the right to rule men, by Crom, it is I!” — The Scarlet Citadel (1933) Thus spake Conan, the Cimmerian. Hither came Robert E. Howard’s most savage of heroes, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet. Born in the pages of the pulp magazine Weird Tales in December of 1932, the barbarianking named Conan cut a bloody swath through the standard conventions of fantasy literature, and claimed for his heavy brow an iron crown, as king of the nascent genre that would decades later come to be known as “sword-and-sorcery.” Such was the impact of Howard’s wild-hearted adventurer that it is almost impossible to discuss any of the various sword and sorcery heroes that followed in his wake—be it Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria, or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser—without first considering them in relation to Conan. Accordingly, the same might also be said for the slew of “savage heroes” that stormed the gates of the comics world following the tremendous success of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comic-book series, launched in 1970 by creators Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. With sales reaching an estimated 200,000-to-300,000 range during the height of that title’s popularity, Conan’s four-color chronicles ignited a veritable stampede of bare-chested barbarians and wilding warriors across the entire medium, typified by such books as Mighty Samson and Dagar the Invincible from Gold Key, or Wulf the Barbarian and Ironjaw from Atlas/Seaboard. [For a further exploration of Conan’s history in comics, see the exceptional three-part series “Sword-and-Sorcery in the Comics” appearing in Alter Ego #80 (Part 1), #83 (Part 2) and #92 (Part 3), all available at the TwoMorrows website.]
DC COMICS’ ADVENTURE LINE
Not to be outdone by the competition, DC Comics effectively launched an entire line of books to answer this challenge from Conan, which DC touted as its “all-new adventure line” and counted among its number Joe Kubert’s Tor, Mike Grell’s Warlord, Kong the Untamed, Beowulf: Dragon Slayer, Claw the Unconquered, and Stalker. While none of these books would succeed in mounting a serious threat to Conan’s preeminence as comicdom’s überbarbarian, DC’s efforts did result in a diverse stable of fantasy-oriented characters that remain a part of the company’s profile to this day, whereas Marvel would eventually relinquish its publishing rights to Conan in 2000. Yet among the above collection of spear-toting cavemen
The Claw Clan Artist Ernie Chan’s promotional art for Claw the Unconquered, introducing the swordand-sorcery series’ cast. Courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). TM & © DC Entertainment.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 51
of an initial cancellation that was subsequently reversed. Further complicating matters is the fact that another two issues, #13 and 14, never officially saw print, but did earn inclusion in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade #1, an in-house collection of story material that was scrapped before publication when DC initiated a massive purge of its lower-selling titles in a move that has infamously come to be known as “the DC Implosion” of 1978.
The Coming of Claw (left) The titular titan’s first appearance, on page 1 of Claw the Unconquered #1 (May–June 1975), written by David Michelinie and drawn by Ernie Chua (Chan). Courtesy of Heritage. (right) The issue #1 cover. TM & © DC Entertainment.
and savage swordsmen, it remains Claw the Unconquered, created by writer David Michelinie and illustrated by artist Ernie Chan (nee Chua), that most strongly evokes the spirit of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian and mostly clearly exemplifies DC’s efforts to emulate its success. Those efforts were clearly on display in the promotional material used for Claw the Unconquered at the time, as demonstrated in the publisher’s own fanzine, The Amazing World of DC Comics #3 (Nov. 1974). “The first couple of months of 1975 will see eleven new DC series on the stands,” the fanzine announced. “So here’s a sneak peek at the shape of things to come,” it teased, introducing Claw the Unconquered thusly: “He dwells in a land beyond time—born either before eternity or after it has ceased to matter. His deformed hand marks him as a target for a world full of bounty-hunters, wizards, and dangers as yet unchronicled. Prepare yourself for sword-&-sorcery mixed with high fantasy and join the latest barbarian hero to enter comics. Editor Joe Orlando has put two of his top talents on this assignment: writer David Michelinie (Swamp Thing) and artist Ernie Chua, who brings a wealth of experience from inking a Certain Other Noteworthy Adventurer (Not published by us).” Premiering with Claw the Unconquered #1 (June 1975), the series ran for only 12 issues, but lasted for over three years in actual time due to an 18-month delay between issues #9 (Oct. 1976) and 10 (May 1978), this the result
52 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
THE WORLD OF CLAW
No less complex is the story of Claw the Unconquered himself, which begins in the fantasy realm of Pytharia, and focuses on a barbarian named Valcan, who has earned the sobriquet of “Claw” thanks to a misshapen right hand that he hides beneath a crimson gauntlet. Unbeknownst to Claw, who has no memory of his past, his father had been cursed with the same talon-like deformity, and was murdered because of it by the evil King Occulas of the Yellow Eye, ruler of Pytharia. Years earlier, a prophecy forewarned Occulas that his reign would be threatened by “the Hand of Justice” in the form of a dragon-like claw. Hence Occulas of the Yellow Eye did order the assassination of Claw’s dragonpawed father, not realizing that the man’s infant son Valcan had been born with the same disfigurement. Eventually Occulas learns of Valcan’s existence and places a generous bounty on the barbarian’s head, prompting every cutthroat and fortune-seeker throughout the realm to turn their avaricious blades against Claw, unawares. After a series of bitter betrayals at the hands of a buxom barmaid, a golden-skinned priestess, and a silvermaned centauress, the world-weary Claw eventually finds true friendship in the company of an affable adventurer named Ghilkyn, Prince of the Thousand Hills. Together Claw and Ghilkyn undertake a heroic quest for the mystic sword “Moonthorn” in an effort to defeat a colossal
Epic poems telling tales of heroes fighting monsters are rife in the collective world mythologies, but very few of those heroes are Danish or Swedish, and fewer still have been examined with quite as much scholarly study and debate as the Geat hero known as Beowulf. Although the original manuscripts featuring the poem date from between the 8th and 11th centuries— and the story itself is set in the 5th century—it was in the 20th century that DC Comics brought the battling hero to four-color life. And while the Anglo-Saxon poem found Beowulf battling the monster Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and an unnamed dragon, the comics would see the thickly hewn Geat battling Wyrd, the God of Fate, aliens, and Satan, the “Dragon-Lord of the Underworld”!
FROM FOLKLORE TO FUNNYBOOKS
The DC Comics version of Beowulf was created in 1974 by Michael Uslan, a young member of the DC staff who had already amassed an impressive background in the comic-book field. In addition to having an immense personal collection (over 25,000 comics), he had taught a controversial and publicity-generating class on comics— “The Comic Book in Society”—for the Experimental Curriculum program at the Indiana University School of Law–Bloomington. By 1974, Uslan became one of DC’s “Junior Woodchucks,” alongside Bob Rozakis, Jack C. Harris, Paul Levitz, Carl Gafford, Anthony Tollin, and other fans who were “turning pro” in an industry of which they grew up dreaming they could become part. Uslan wrote for the Amazing World of DC Comics fanzine, and worked as an assistant to Sol Harrison, answering kids’ fan mail (often writing as Batman or Superman). He eventually scripted his first comics story, for DC’s The Shadow #9 (Feb.–Mar. 1975), before getting a bigger break—his own series named Beowulf. “I was deeply into educational uses of comic books,” Uslan notes today, “and thus, using Beowulf, conceptually, came out of all of that, and that was tied into getting my Master’s Degree. I was working on a program at DC, using Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to teach English-as-a-secondlanguage students how to read through specially designed comics; teaching learning-disabled children how to read through specially designed comics called Edugraphics that we were putting together and, in fact, sold to the New York City Board of Education at the time. I was in college, so my mindset was toward the academic.” He got his chance as DC decided to expand into the realm of barbarian heroes, following the lead of Marvel, which was experiencing fantastic success with Conan the Barbarian. “DC decided they were going to expand in this Conan arena since Marvel had success with it,” Uslan says. “So all around the same time was Warlord, Claw the Unconquered, Stalker, Beowulf, Kong the Untamed,
Beowulf Cometh! Detail from the cover of Beowulf #1 (Apr.– May 1975). Illustrated by Ricardo Villamonte. TM & © DC Entertainment.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 61
From the Comicmobile to Comic Media Mogul Michael Uslan, the one-time DC “Woodchuck” and writer of DC’s Beowulf. Photo courtesy of Indiana University.
and I know I’m missing a few others. I wanted to separate out Beowulf from everything else. I wanted to play with every different type of mish-mosh of mythology. At that time, there were some really, really cool very-’70s [novels] out like Chariots of the Gods, and I wanted to incorporate that stuff in. There was a reawakening of interest in Dracula—people were starting to look at the legend behind Dracula—and I wanted to put that stuff in. I even put in some of my own Jewish background into some of it. John Gardner’s [novel] Grendel was a huge influence on it. I mean, we were all over the map with it, trying different directions and shaking things up and trying to be very, very unconventional with it, and I think we were.” The unconventional nature of the resulting comic led to some consternation among older DC staffers. “If I truly wanted to do an educational, academic comic-book version, it would have been done as a Classics Illustrated, as opposed to an ongoing DC series that fit in with Stalker, Claw the Unconquered, Starfire, and Kong the Untamed. But that’s certainly not what we were doing. And then why use Beowulf at all? Well, you use it because it was a brand, and as I told Sol Harrison and Carmine Infantino, ‘Look, every kid in North America has had to read Beowulf. It’s part of the curriculum and they know the core story. So why not use the character that is going to have some degree of name recognition as opposed to simply Starfire or Claw or Kong?’ And they agreed with that.” Uslan worked under editor Denny O’Neil and assistant editor Allan Asherman, though he credits Asherman as being his daily liaison. “Allan was my comrade-in-arms from the beginning. We were fellow Woodchucks.” Uslan did the first designs for Beowulf, coming up with his most distinctive feature: “I did an original sketch, coming up with the idea of that helmet made out of a skull.” He asked fellow law student John Onoda to do a color sketch fleshing out the character. “He did a beautiful color drawing that really brought Beowulf to life and I sent a copy of that drawing for them to use as the model for it. I really wanted that helmet of kind of like the skull of a mythological creature on his head. It was something like a minotaur.”
PROBLEMS BEHIND THE SCENES
The first issue of Beowulf was cover-dated Apr.–May 1975, and for Uslan, there were some surprises. Peruvian artist Ricardo Villamonte did not speak English well and had to have Uslan’s scripts translated for him. This resulted in what Uslan jokingly refers to as “many, many, many interpretive problems that occurred which were nightmarish continuity issues.” Among them was the script referring to a “blonde-haired barbarian” in a book that showed the northern hero as a redhead. Run-ins with the Comics Code also meant censorship. Uslan notes that he still has the original artwork to the cover of #1, “and Nan-Zee’s outfit had to be redrawn. I have the original artwork on which basically Ricardo Villamonte drew her with pasties. That was unacceptable and had to be modified for the cover.”
The Adventures Begin Beowulf readies for his battle with Grendel as the scantily clad Nan-Zee takes on the Comics Code. Page 1 of Beowulf #1. TM & © DC Entertainment.
62 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
The decade of the ’70s is remembered for a lot of things—leisure suits, and sideburns, and disco balls. And one scale-mail bikini. Marvel Comics adapted several of the characters of sword-and-sorcery author Robert E. Howard into comicbook stories, including Kull, Conan, and the fiery redhead with a sword, Red Sonja. Sonja first appeared in issue #23 of Conan the Barbarian, written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith, but when the “SheDevil With A Sword” got her own book, it was Frank Thorne who defined the character for a generation of fans. Just as the ’70s were a period of growth in the popularity of sword-and-sorcery comics, it also saw a rise in the number of comic-book conventions. Phil Seuling held his first New York Comic Art Convention in 1968, and in 1970, Shel Dorf began what would become the San Diego Comic-Con [now known as Comic-Con International]. The major comicbook publishers also briefly joined the craze. Marvel Comics held conventions in 1975 and 1976, and DC Comics held a convention of its own in 1976. So, in some respects, it wasn’t unusual when Rich Greene and Howard Leroy Davis, together with several of their friends, decided to form the Delaware Valley Comic Art Associates and hold a convention in the Philadelphia area. What was unusual was that they chose to focus their first convention on a single comicbook character—Red Sonja. The first annual Delaware Valley Comicart Convention, honoring Red Sonja—otherwise known as “Sonja Con”— was held on Saturday, November 20, and Sunday, November 21, 1976, at the Travelodge in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Advertisements for the convention appeared in Comics Buyer’s Guide, as well as locally. Sonja Con included all of the characteristics of a great convention. There was a dealer’s room, a cartoon and film room, door prizes, an auction, panel discussions, and even a fencing demonstration. Special guests included Roy Thomas and Frank Thorne, as well as Dick Giordano, Ernie Chan, Joe Staton, Fred Fredericks, and Dave Cockrum, all of whom signed autographs and did sketches for fans. Giordano, who had inked John Buscema’s pencils of Sonja in Conan and illustrated her first appearance in Marvel Feature, conducted reviews of fan and amateur artwork both days of the convention. And then there was the Red Sonja lookalike contest. A couple of months earlier, on September 11, 1976, Frank Thorne appeared at Lily Langtry’s Saloon and Eating Place in Sayreville, New Jersey, for the debut of the “Ballad of Red Sonja,” a song written by fans Mike and Sal Caputo and performed by Kurt Gresham. Thorne summoned forth “Red Sonja” in dramatic style and out
Sing Along with Sonja (top) Cover of the Sonja Con program, with Frank Thorne art. (bottom) Thorne (left, with mic), Angelique Trouvere (as Red Sonja), and Kurt Gresham at Lily Langtry’s, Spetember 11, 1976. Red Sonja ® Red Sonja LLC.
Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 69
All covers © Marvel Characters, Inc.
In July of 2009, at the first annual Asian-American Comicon in New York, Larry Hama received the convention’s inaugural career award. Such industry recognition was long overdue. Since the 1970s, Hama, a lifelong Manhattanite, has been a comic-book renaissance man: writer, editor, penciler, inker, and creator (not to mention an actor, musician, and martial artist outside of the comics industry). But don’t call this multi-hyphenate a writer or an artist: “I’m a storyteller,” Hama tells BACK ISSUE. And with this interview, I will forever associate Hama with Art Clokey, creator of the Gumby universe. Why? Well, just prior to part one of our conversation, I received word from WildCard Ink publisher Mel Smith, who holds the Gumby license in comics, that Clokey had passed away on January 8, 2010, at the age of 88. Now, you might ask what this has to do with Hama, the writer/artist best known for the masculine, testosteroneloaded exploits of Wolverine, Venom, and G. I. Joe. Well, you might be surprised to learn who Hama’s favorite cartoonist is and which comics genre he adores the most. If you’re looking for a dissection of G. I. Joe, this is not that piece [for that, see BACK ISSUE #16]. And for an in-depth look on his year (1975, to be precise) at Atlas/ Seaboard, I recommend Comic Book Artist #16 (TwoMorrows, 2001). My goal here is to touch on Hama’s less-documented work, which includes (appropriately) some “born to be wild” barbarism. – Michael Aushenker
conducted on January 9 and Marc h 7, 2010
MICHAEL AUSHENKER: I hear that when you attended Manhattan's High School of Art and Design, one of your instructors was the legendary EC Comics artist Bernard Krigstein. Were you cognizant of his work? LARRY HAMA: I had no idea who Krigstein was. There was a friend of mine named John Smith. He knew who Krigstein was immediately. AUSHENKER: What was he like? HAMA: He was one of the best art-school teachers I ever had. He didn’t tell you how to do it. He wasn’t a constructionist or anything. He had a way to make you produce. The primary thing that the teacher of any of this stuff did was to deconstruct the procrastination. [laughs] We had to hand in a sketchbook every week and he graded it. One week, I handed in my sketchbook and it had only one sketch in it and he called me to the mat on it and I said, “I spent all week long on this sketch.” He said, “You have to do hundreds of sucky ones before you can do the good ones. Get those sucky ones out of the way.” It was his way of saying your stuff isn’t precious. AUSHENKER: Did Krigstein ever talk about his own comics or use them as examples? HAMA: No. Never talked about it. The reason he went into teaching was because he wanted to paint. AUSHENKER: You’ve worn so many hats in the industry. You are one of the few people I can think of who has worked in so many departments at Marvel and DC. You and Al Milgrom. What was your entry into comics? HAMA: I was a penciler. I drew for National Lampoon and other places before I got my first comics, which were sort of like stepping down. [laughs] I did a lot of advertising art. I situated myself as a storyteller. I even had a lettering rate. I don’t think Al Milgrom had a lettering rate. [laughs] I also had a coloring rate. AUSHENKER: Did you grow up reading comics? HAMA: I was not a major comic-book fan. I had comics the way every kid in the 1950s had comics. Comics, baseball cards. I never thought of a career in comics until I had a career in comics. [laughs] Born to be Wild Issue
BACK ISSUE • 71
TM & © DC Entertainment.
My high-school classmate, Ralph Reese, who had become an assistant to Wally Wood, helped me get a similar job at Wood's Manhattan studio. AUSHENKER: Can you talk about working with the great Wally Wood? HAMA: This was in 1972. Wally was working at the time on Sally Forth and Cannon. It was an awful lot of work and he didn’t work fast. AUSHENKER: Did it have to do with Wood’s reported alcoholism? HAMA: Not really. He could ink pretty fast. It was not the alcohol but his internal attitude. He was immobilized by lack of confidence… It’s a [classic artistic] dichotomy, being really insecure and arrogant and confident. They’re fighting each other all the time inside you. If you let the arrogance and confidence take over, you can get some work done. [laughs] AUSHENKER: How old were you at the time? HAMA: I was in my early 20s, Wood must have been in his 40s or 50s. I’d look for references, do some tracing. We swapped writing chores. I’d be working on Cannon and I would write one story arc and switch over to Sally Forth and then he’d write Cannon. But I lettered the stuff. AUSHENKER: From Wood’s studio, you went on to work at Neal Adams’ Continuity Associates, where your contemporaries included Frank Brunner and Bernie Wrightson. This seems like the opposite experience of working for Wood. Adams was a rising superstar. HAMA: I had gone to high school with Frank Brunner. It was this storied high school. Neal had gone to the same high school. So did Dick Giordano and Gil Kane and, afterwards, Joe Rubinstein and Joe Jusko.
Brunner and Wrightson worked there [at Continuity], but I wasn’t working with them. They were rotating crews in there. Russ Heath was there, Dick Giordano was there originally, even Sergio Aragonés was there for while. There was quite a range of people there. In the back room, there was Marshall Rogers, Greg Theakston, Ralph Reese, Carl Potts, Joe Rubinstein. It was a lot of fun. It was sort of this hub. People dropped in all the time—Wrightson, Michael Kaluta. You could stop by and hang out. Neal was running a commercial-art studio— the comics were sort of a sideline. What we did was storyboards, animatics, comps. With the comics, we’d get seven, eight people inking on it. I became part of this gang of inkers called the “Crusty Bunkers.” Neal did more of the heads and somehow bound it all together. I’d been in underground comix way before. Vaughn Bodé used to edit a paper called Gothic Blimpworks, put out by Trina Robbins and Kim Deitch. Vaughn was connected with that. It was sort like a Sunday funnies, [featuring artists such as] Art Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, Wrightson, Kaluta. [Hama also worked on Drool #1 in 1972, seen below.] AUSHENKER: So how did you wind up at DC? HAMA: Through Neal. He got everybody’s foot in the door. My first story was an eight-page horror story for DC and the way I got it was that Neal agreed to ink it. It was a story involving a sinister ventriloquist dummy for Secrets of Sinister House. I was a very lucky boy. [Hama’s first penciling job—“Losing His Head!”— appeared in Secrets of Sinister House #10 (Mar. 1973). He was inked by Neal Adams and Rich Buckler.] The first three people to ink my work were Wally Wood, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano. AUSHENKER: It’s probably been downhill ever since. [laughs] Like Orson Welles, starting out with Citizen Kane and winding up doing wine commercials. HAMA: I wouldn’t mind doing wine commercials. [laughs] AUSHENKER: You made your debut at Marvel tackling Iron Fist in Marvel Premiere. Was this assigned to you because of your interest in martial arts?
“Axe-Murderers” comic strip in Castle of Frankenstein magazine (1967)
National Lampoon / assisting Wally Wood / Continuity Associates (as one of the “Crusty Bunkers” inkers) / Iron Fist in Marvel Premiere / Wulf the Barbarian / Bucky O’Hare / DC and Marvel editor / Crazy magazine / G. I. Joe / Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja / Wolverine / Punisher War Zone / Generation X / Barack the Barabarian
Work in Progress:
LARRY HAMA Photo by Nightscream, at Midtown Comics Times Square, May 23, 2009.
72 • BACK ISSUE • Born to be Wild Issue
© 1972 Co. & Sons.
G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero reboot for IDW
Jungle and barbarian characters that are “Born To Be Wild”! Shanna fans will be bedazzled by a star-studded line-up of creators who tell all...