FROM FRIENDLY GHOSTS TO GAMMA RAYS, NO. 100!
How It Began….
If you were to travel back in time over three years ago to 2009, you wouldn’t have seen a column for all-age comics called From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays. In fact, ComicAttack.Net wouldn’t appear on the web until that fall, and From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays would join the site as a bi-weekly column starting on December 11, 2009. Before that I was just a director, writer, and artist on the regional theater scene (and still am). A production of Moliere’s The Learned Ladies would happen in 2008, directed by Andy Liegl. I had recently directed Andy in a Halloween-themed cabaret, and he was now directing a production himself. He knew I sculpted masks from clay and asked me to design and sculpt the Comedia Del Arte style masks for his production, as well as help out since my next directing gig wasn’t for a few months. I gladly took the job, and between runs of the show I would read comic books in the theater. I’d look over and there Andy was, reading comics, too. Thus birthed our eternal conversation about comics.
A year later, Andy was back in my region, visiting from L.A., and came to my multi-award nominated production of The Rocky Horror Show, where he gave me a business card that read ComicAttack.Net which he just launched and asked me to write for. Over the next few weeks we’d talk. “Well I already have a DC guy” or “I already have a manga girl” he’d say. “Okay, what about a column for all-ages stuff? I think it could be on an upswing.” Andy told me to think of name and get cracking. Over the past three years, my prediction has proven right. At first all-ages titles seemed to be rocky on their come back push into the marketplace, but in just 3 years they’ve made quite a come back in coolness; heck, we had to go from bi-weekly to weekly to keep up with the lot. So that’s how it began. 100 columns later we’re still here, and I look forward to writing up my thoughts on them for a hundred more for you, friendly reader. Thanks for sticking with us. With that, I invited a few guests from the industry to write about their favorite all-age titles as part of this special milestone column, so please join Jeremy Whitley, Chris Houghton, Shaun McLaughlin, Shane Houghton, and Matt Whitlock as they share some of their favorites with us today!
Creators talking about one of their favorite all-ages creations…
Jeremy Whitley on Runaways
I picked up Y: The Last Man on the recommendation of a friend and notorious comic book geek. The book was so amazing that I was driven to look for other books by this author I’d never read before, Brian K Vaughan. Then, something embarrassing happened.
I like to think, being a comic book writer, that I pay attention to the creators I’m reading. However, a few years back I had been looking for a series of books to get a younger brother in law of mine who hated reading but loved comics. That same comic book geek has pointed me toward some digest size trades of a book called Runaways.
I like to think that I’m not a jerk, but I have to admit to a history of being dismissive of things that come in digest size. Runaways was the book that taught me that that was a mistake. I picked up the books and had to forego some of the pricier trades that I had been looking at for myself. Later that night I needed something to read and found myself thumbing through Runaways. What I discovered there was actually my first love affair with Brian K Vaughan. Runaways is the story of a group of average teenage kids whose rich parents are all members of the same club. Every so often the parents meet to discuss business and the kids are stowed away somewhere in the halls of the house to play together. This time though, these kids are finally tired of being subjected to each other. They don’t like one another and end up staging a breakout. However, things don’t go quite as planned. They get turned around and end up witnessing their parents’ meeting. A meeting that ends in human sacrifice.
The teens discover that their parents are the leaders of an evil organization called “The Pride”. Beyond that, they all have extensive criminal histories and most of them have superpowers. Appalled by their parents behavior, the kids decide to run away. What follows is one of the most amazing, albeit it incomplete, stories of self-discovery, self-determination, and making your own family that I’ve ever read. It’s an all ages book that deals with all the triumph and tribulation of learning those things about yourself both wonderful and horrible that all of us must learn eventually. Whether you glow all the colors of the rainbow, bleed magic, or have a pet dinosaur this book has something to say to you.
Now, as embarrassed as I was that I had been reading Mr. Vaughan’s work all along without knowing it, I have a good excuse. I gave those books to the brother in law they were meant for. Then I bought the next group of digests and gave him those as well. Then I bought myself a set, which I promptly gave to my sister in law. I even bought a few more which eventually found their way into my brother’s hands. You see, my excuse for not realizing that BKV had written the first few volumes of Runaways is this: when I read a good comic, I bag it, board it, and put it in my longbox. When I read a great comic, I can’t stop myself from sharing it. When it’s as good as Runaways, there’s no excuse for letting it build up dust on the shelf.
– Jeremy Whitley is writer of the Eisner-nominated comic Princeless
Shane Houghton on Bone
Jeff Smith’s incredibly epic and hilarious series Bone has been a favorite of mine ever since I first discovered it in Disney Adventures. For the young’uns out there who have never heard of Disney Adventures, it was a super cool digest-sized magazine that had silly articles, fun interviews, tips on how to prank your friends, and of course, comics! Bone was serialized in color for the first time in Disney Adventures and it set me up for a lifelong curiosity and love for Bone.
I was immediately captivated by the cute and kind everyman, Fone Bone, his hilarious all white cartoony-looking family members, and his heroic, awesome, and *ahem* beautiful human friends. The first part of Bone I saw in Disney Adventures is a scene between Fone and some very terrifying monsters known as the Rat Creatures. Now as a kid, I was a pretty big scaredy pants. I once cried to my mom when I found out I would soon become a teenager, and as we all know, once you become a teenager, you mutate into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I liked being a kid and mutating sounded spooky! So what I’m saying is, Jeff Smith drew these Rat Creatures SCARY! They’re gross and hairy and full of teeth and lifeless eyes! But what prevented me from slamming my digest magazine and running under my blankets was Jeff Smith’s incredible ability to write the most interesting and captivating characters. Sure, these ultra scary Rat Creatures were talking about eating Fone Bone, but they were also debating about HOW to eat him. Baking him into a quiche was a popular choice. They also bickered about one of the Rat Creatures calling the other one fat. These monsters had opinions and most strangely… FEELINGS! Hey, I had feelings! I was offended when people called me fat! It was the first time I had related to a monster on a human level and therefore ended up liking the bad guys.
Jeff Smith fills his incredibly huge and entertaining series full of characters like the Rat Creatures. Everyone from Ted the Leaf to The Red Dragon are fully fleshed out characters with unique personalities full of admirable traits, humor, and relatable flaws. The series ends as well, which I like, and clocks in an a gargantuan 1332 hilarious and awesome pages.
That Jeff Smith sure knows how to tell a story.
Shaun McLaughlin on That Wilkin Boy
I wanna talk about a forgotten Archie franchise. That Wilkin Boy exists now as reprints in Jughead digests, but it was its own title during the Archie heyday of the Archie line that followed the Filmation television series and “The Archies” band. It ran for 52 issues between 1968 and 1982.
Blissfully set in the 1970s neverland town of Midvale, the boy of the title is Bingo Wilkin, handsome cousin of Jughead Jones. Where Archie, despite the clothing changes, exits forever in a 1950s world, Bingo seems more rooted in the 70s and was probably considered more “relevant”. But 40 years on, it has the same charm of the Archie titles. Bingo, his friends and his band (because a garage band was de rigueur) are clean-cut hippies, idealized, buffed to a sheen but not saccharine. A panel of the Archies playing always brought The Lettermen, The Beau Brummels or Gerry Lewis and the Playboys to mind – slick but ultimately bubble gum. The Bingo seems to be more Tommy James and the Shondells, or maybe even the pre-packaged family safe-Beatles of Yellow Submarine. Still bubble-gum, but you might get some cool trading cards with it.
And the stories – Bingo is Archie, but at least a better-looking hipper Archie. You could imagine two girls going for Bingo. But largely there’s only one: His next-door hippie-chick neighbor Samantha with her musclehead father. While I spent a lot of time wondering what both Betty AND Veronica saw in Archie, I never had those thoughts about Bingo – I just wanted to know how I could cultivate those skills. Though now, as a father myself, I fear my Bingo days are behind me and I’m a little too comfortable as the musclehead father.
So I became a That Wilkin Boy character. Just too late. And not the one I was aiming for.
-Shaun McLaughlin has written numerous comics including Aquaman and Jonny Quest, TV shows such as Pinky and The Brain and Batman Beyond, as well as being a playwright and professor.
Chris Houghton on Calvin and Hobbes
I remember the first time I read Calvin and Hobbes. I was probably around 7 years old and our family was all sitting around the breakfast table laughing at the latest C&H strip. I was confused. I read the comics every day before school but I never bothered to read “Calvin” (as our apparently lazy family referred to it as). What a strip! Not only was it unbelievably funny but ever better, it was real. The situations were real, the emotions were real. Calvin was real. Hobbes was absolutely real. From there on, it was and is still my favorite comic strip. My brothers and I collected as many of the book collections as we could. Any collections I didn’t have access to at my house, I could simply read them at my best friend, Brian’s house. (Brian was a mutual big time fan and not only did he have all of the collections but his family kept a few of them in the bathroom next to the toilet for reading- genius! Strangely enough, Brian’s toilet is also the place where I first discovered MAD magazine but I digress…)
Uncle Scrooge writer/artist Don Rosa and I have something in common: we both grew up dreaming to someday carry on the legacy of our heroes from Santa Rosa, California. For me, it was Charles M. Schulz, and for Rosa, it was Disney comic legend Carl Barks.
I collected all the Disney titles from Gladstone Comics in the 80’s, but Rosa’s stories were by far my favorite. To prefer the civil-engineering-major Rosa over animation-vet Barks is like saying you prefer the Monkees over the Beatles, but Rosa’s stories are easily the funniest of any Disney comic artist ever. Hilarious Easter eggs are hidden in virtually every insanely-detailed panel– you can read his stories a dozen times and discover a new gag each time. Rosa’s writing is edgier, his art deviates from Disney’s ‘house-style’, and the end result is as close to a MAD Magazine comic as Disney will ever get. After all, Rosa often insisted he drew Scrooge comics, not Disney comics. His obsession with Barks’ stories border on Rain Man status. Barks peppered his Scrooge stories with throwaway lines hinting at Scrooge’s tall-tale history- often incongruous and never meant to be looked at under a historical microscope. But that’s just what Rosa did. In his masterpiece, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, he weaves a multitude of these Barks nuggets into a linear, Eisner Award-winning adventure of epic proportions.
Recently, Rosa made national news when it was discovered that one of his old Scrooge stories eerily resembled the plot to the newly-released Inception. I doubt this was anything but a coincidence, but it doesn’t surprise me. All of Don Rosa’s stories are so inventive and entertaining, any one of them would make a great Hollywood blockbuster. My favorite Rosa story, “Last Sled To Dawson,” has a great Back To The Future feel to it.
When I finally had the great honor to finally meet Rosa this year at the Emerald City Comic Con, he told me he got his start by writing to the Disney studio, proclaiming it was his “manifest destiny” to do an Uncle Scrooge story. As we talked, I couldn’t help notice his little, round spectacles and long white locks poking out from behind his neck looked very Scrooge-like. I was reminded of the ending to Black Swan– when Natalie Portman literally transforms into the subject of her art- and wondered if he was exactly right about that whole manifest destiny thing.