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In Time for the Show

Today on the site, Frank M. Young talks to comics scholar and prolific biographer Bill Schelly about his latest book subject, the publisher James Warren.

He was a very social guy. He wanted to be around people; he had lots of friends whom he’d invite to his house out at the beach; he didn’t isolate himself. He did that later, in the 1980s, when the magazines were struggling, and he was dealing with some demons of his own. He could have done a great deal to prevent the collapse of his company. Bill Dubay said, later, that if Warren had made the effort, he could have saved the magazines.

But times were changing. The newsstand distribution system was falling apart, and that was what Jim knew. He had been involved with Phil Seuling from the ground floor of the direct market, but he still needed newsstand distribution for his magazines. He saw that was going away. His survival would depend on whether the direct market would have supported his magazines or not. There are things he might have done to address these challenges, but he chose not to, and the book explains why.

Once you start looking into a person’s life, you begin to realize why things happened the way they did. For example, with Harvey Kurtzman, people say, “If he’d just stuck with Mad magazine, he could have become a millionaire.” He could have become Al Feldstein, who stuck with the magazine for many years and became independently wealthy. But Harvey Kurtzman could never have done what Al Feldstein did. Kurtzman would have never wanted the magazine to remain the same year after year, decade after decade. He would have always been trying to change it, and evolve it, and would have probably self-destructed at some point.

We certainly wish our heroes, like Kurtzman, didn’t have to face such great adversity in later years. In Warren’s case, he came out of it and today has a good life. He dealt with depression and some other physical issues, but he’s still with us. His mother lived to 104, so Jim, who turns 90 next year, may well be with us for a long time, and I hope he is.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles.
Tobias Carroll talks to Mark Alan Stamaty.

My parents were both gag cartoonists, and so I grew up reading single panel gag cartoons. They had a whole bunch of collections of them and then I’d see the magazines of that day they had. So there was that and there was reading comics – Little Lulu, Dennis the Menace, whatever. And then when I was 14 the thing that really expanded my world was seeing Sick, Sick, Sick by Jules Feiffer. Which was a revelation to me, because I had, like I said, my parents did single panel gag cartoons, but that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I realized, especially seeing Jules’s work, that I wanted to do narratives, and he really exploded the possibilities of that.

When I started doing MacDoodle St., I had been doing children’s books mostly at that point and I wanted to really play with the form as loosely as I could. I wanted to innovate, I wanted to hopefully bring something to it that I hadn’t seen, that I didn’t know. So it was really like, this is a great form, what else can it be?

Rosemarie Anner talks to Flash Gordon artist Bob Fujitani.

Fujitani worked alongside such legendary giants as Will Eisner and Nick Cardy. It was a grind, he admits, even later when he did most of his work at home. It sometimes took three people to complete an illustrative comic strip: writer, artist, letterer. Fujitani would get the text from the writer and do the artwork to accompany the words. Then he and his wife, Ruth, also a painter, would drive “over the Tappan Zee Bridge and down 9W to letterer Ben Oda’s house.” Oda would open the door in a cloud of cigarette smoke, Fujitani remembers, laughing heartily at the memory. It was Oda’s job to fit in texts in the “speech balloons,” working in the spaces left in the drawings done by Fujitani.

—News. The New York Times ingenuously writes about the launch of a new comics publisher devoted to developing potential film and media properties.

It’s an approach reminiscent of old Hollywood. “The model here really is the old United Artists model, where people who are actually doing the creative have ownership, control and decision-making power over the work that they’re doing,” said Bill Jemas, a former vice president of Marvel who is the chief executive and publisher of AWA. Joining him at the helm are Axel Alonso, a former editor in chief at Marvel, as chief creative officer and Jonathan F. Miller as chairman. Miller helped broker a deal in 2017 between the comic book writer Mark Millar and Netflix, which bought his library of characters for development on the streaming service. Jemas and Alonso say the first of AWA’s titles will arrive some time this fall.

—Misc. The cartoonist (and former TCJ columnist) Julia Gfrörer has launched a Patreon.


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