Tag Archives: comic books

Strange Matter

Link to today’s strip

A strange and sudden change of pace Sunday strip featuring no one’s favorite Komix Korner employees discussing the quantum properties of comic book or something…meh. Sometimes these comic book geek gags go right over my head and I’m not really in the mood to research this crap right now. Sure beats watching someone open and read mail, though.

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La-bore Day

While we’re waiting for today’s strip to drop, I’d like to add my kudos to the many kudos directed at comicbookharriet for taking Batiuk to the woodshed on a daily basis for the last three (!) weeks, and in the process, educating all of us about some real-life women heroes of the comics.

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Sympathy for the Devil.

Today’s strip

As usual, Sunday’s strip wasn’t available for preview. I’m actually hoping we get a comic cover of some kind. Anything to actually showcase the fictional artwork of the fictional woman we’re supposed to be honoring.

I’m going to give Tom Batiuk the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think he intended this arc as some completely hollow awards grab. Epicus said it best in a comment from earlier this week, “I think he does these idiotic stories to give himself something to mention during his annual puff-piece interview in the Canton Daily Bugle’s “Lifestyles” Sunday supplement.”

I would add to this that I think Batiuk sees himself as a man with a platform to bring attention to real life issues, and historical injustices. And while a part of him may be doing this for the ego-stroking self-importance, I want to honestly believe that there is also a part of him that genuinely desires to, in his own tiny way, examine the problems in our world by putting them in his. Those occasional Funky-goes-AA-to-rant-about-global-warming, and Funky-wanders-through-an-abandoned-house-and-ponders-mortality, arcs seem to come from real anxieties about our world, and the nature of his art, his legacy, and being forgotten.

The problem is that Batiuk goes for the easiest answers. The most comfortable soap boxes. And has shown himself unwilling or unable to do the minimum of research required to keep himself from spouting out popular narratives that are unsubstantiated and unverified.

The women I’ve been reading about all week were diverse, their viewpoints were diverse, and their experiences were likewise different. Most importantly, their experiences were complex. They struggled with deadlines, business cycles, and plain old artwork, more than they ever struggled with sexual harassment. Yet Batiuk has given us two weeks of a conversation framed almost entirely around men.

If Ruby Lith was meant to be the avatar for the experiences of these women then, I’m sorry Tom, you have done them a gross disservice. You chose to portray their struggles through a bitter old harpy who would rather talk about the men who done her wrong than her own accomplishments. Tom, these people were artists. They were not cardboard dolls for you to act out your white-knight fantasies with.

Well, that’s it for me for now! Our glorious leader, TF Hackett, will be taking over on Monday. Many, MANY, thanks to him and Epicus for letting me take this blog in a more serious direction for a couple weeks. I promise that zany sarcasm is still definitely on the menu the next time I’m in the driver’s seat, so those of you bored or unimpressed with the Grampa Google assisted history lesson need not worry.

But, thanks so much to everyone who left warm and enthusiastic comments over this arc. It meant so much to me that you all were so supportive in my obsessive nit-picking and interested in learning about the awesome Golden and Silver Age artists Ruby Lith should have been based on.

Until next time!

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I Like My Coffee Like I Like My Women. Bitter. Tainted. Washed Up.

Link to today’s strip

That must be one of those ultra hipster coffee shops that adds CBD oil to the ‘special’ brew, because Mindy in panel 3 is baked out of her skull. And the sapphic undertones come back in full force as Ruby leers at Mindy and confesses she wishes that she were young again, and Mindy, grinning, labels her a ‘girl’, promising to make her fantasy reality.

And it is Batiukian in the extreme that Ruby’s protest of her ‘coffee girl’ duties was passive aggressive and petty. If he wanted Ruby to be a real crusader, she would have flat out refused to fulfill the chauvinistic expectations of the men around her. But no, she was miserable, remained miserable, and now wishes she had been born in a different decade because her own was unabated misery.

I’ve read so many compelling interviews this week, interviews with Lily Renee, Valerie (Violet) Barclay, Ramona Fradon, and Marie Severin. You know what these women wanted to talk about? What they got passionate talking about? Art. Writing. Their Work.

They didn’t want to spend hours complaining about how every man in their life was a miserable bastard. We’ve seen one picture of one character Ruby Lith drew. We know more about all the men who ruined her life than the art that was supposedly her passion.

An interesting interview with Fradon started this way.

Bradley: I suppose one of the first questions you get hit with is: Was it hard to be a woman in the comic industry? Did the guys treat you poorly, etc.? But I also know you haven’t had a negative thing to say about that aspect, and that’s awesome, so let’s skip that part, and talk about the work.

You like mysteries. So do we. Please tell us about working on House of Mystery with Joe Orlando. Is there a standout story for you from that period? Also, what other mystery-type books did you get to work with?

Ramona:

    Thanks for not asking me that.

As for the mysteries, I enjoyed working with Joe Orlando. He was a great editor. He was more interested in the art work than other editors I had and he taught me a lot, especially about inking. The mysteries were written very melodramatically and I preferred working on them more than the superheroes.

She enjoyed working with a man. A man who was a ‘great editor’ who pushed her to do even better work. Please stop asking her the same tired questions about her presumed persecution. Ask her about her ART. Ask her about her CHARACTERS. Let her know that you care about her contribution because she is a great comics artist in her own right, not because her sex makes her a curiosity.

Bradley: As cool as Metamorpho is himself, I’m a big Sapphire fan. I really think Sapphire Stagg is one of the hottest chicks in comics. Is there some Ramona in Sapphire?

Ramona: Of course Sapphire was me.

Bradley: Just fun to hear you say it.
Another goofy character you worked on was Plastic Man. Was there any key difference, enjoyment, or advantage between working on Metamorpho vs. Plastic Man?

Ramona: Plastic Man was fun in a different way. His stories were satirical and he was a total goof, while Metamorpho was sexy and involved a lot of interaction among the characters. I enjoyed them both but in different ways.

Bradley: Metamorpho sexy? You really are Sapphire!

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Bullpen Bullsh*t

Today’s strip.

Don’t know why I bothered updating this, it’s just a boring restatement of same boring theme of the entire week. I really wish I could pin Batiuk down and demand his sources for this storyline. I want the biographies, the interviews, heck the Wikipedia articles, he’s read. Because if he’s basing this on Lily Renee, fine, she was a teenage immigrant stuck in an office with strange men who made things uncomfortable for her. But telling this narrative as the prototypical experience does a disservice to the careers of Marie Severin, Toni Blum, and all the other women who managed pleasant working relationships with their editors and coworkers.

Here’s a little view into a sexist, patriarchal, art-jail of EC Comics where Marie Severin was an invisible colorist: harassed, underpaid, and unappreciated.

Was [artist] Al Williamson pretty demanding?

No. I didn’t want him to commit suicide because … You know what we did to him one time? Because I’m bad like that, I had this disappearing ink. You know in those days we did dopy things. You wore glasses with eyes. And Al Williamson would come in with his artwork like it was his child. I mean he killed himself on it. He was young and enthusiastic. It was wonderful. Great stuff. He brought it in and I was out to get him. So, Al Feldstein said something to me. We had it all planned and I threw it on his shirt and I said, “Don’t you talk to me like that!”

He said, “Are you crazy?!” Everybody wore white shirts in those days, everybody. And I walked out of the room.

And Bill is going, “Ah hahahah.” [Laughter.]

And Al is saying, “She’s crazy, she’s lost her mind.” As he’s talking it’s disappearing. And Bill is going, “Ah ha ha ha ha,” and it was still wet. When he looked down it was gone.

So when Williamson came in, they got his work and Al went, “Oops, oh my God!”

And Williamson went “Oh! Oh! [Laughter] You’ve killed my child!”

Did Al laugh when he realized that his art wasn’t hurt?

Oh yeah, but it took him 10 minutes, ’cause he was ready for an ambulance. ’Cause any of these guys, they really worked. Everybody worked hard on their stuff but Al especially. He was the baby and he brought in his stuff late. Very late. [Laughs.]

Below is a picture Marie drew and colored in 2004 of the EC Comics staff as they were in the 50’s. Look how she drew those chauvisinstic boors who either ignored her or made her life hell.

a poor invisible woman, maligned by her peers

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Herstory of Herassment.

Link to today’s strip

Stuckfunkian commenter Scott Lovrine guessed last week that Ruby Lith may be based on Ramona Fradon, who worked on Aquaman and Metamorpho. The visual resemblance is very strong both in the past and currently. But from my research Ramona didn’t time in ‘the bullpen.’

I believe that Marie Severin and I were the only women drawing superheroes at the time [50’s]. It’s funny that she was drawing Sub-Mariner while I was drawing Aquaman. People always used to ask me if I knew her, but I didn’t meet her until years later, at a convention. I didn’t work in a bullpen like Marie did so, aside from being uncomfortable with male fantasies and the violent subject matter. I never really experienced what it was like being the only woman working in a man’s world.

Marie, who did work in an office with men, talked more about feeling slightly isolated or left out rather than harassed. The only story I could find her recounting was a male college blowing on the back of her neck.

In that case, comics have always been a rather male dominated field, and you, like Ramona [Fradon] are one of the two reigning queens. How many other women were there at Marvel at the time doing art, and did you ever have any problems with “the Bullpen” or anything like that?

MS: Not really, the guys, they say that women gossip, well networking is male gossip, and they “networked” all the time. But, just like we wouldn’t want a guy when we were sitting around talking about somebody’s shoes, or a certain eyeliner, they weren’t interested in having a woman around, and sure, I’d have lunch with them once in a while, but the conversations were always male; it was just normal. So, you’re sort of out of it. I didn’t have any real problems.

But that brings us to Lily Renee. If Batiuk wants to claim that Ruby Lith is based on any one woman, Lily Renee is the option that closest fits his ‘narrative’. And she also has a physical resemblance.

Lily Renee worked in the 40’s as a penciler and inker for Fiction House. She was Jewish, from Vienna, and had immigrated alone, at the age of 14, first to England then the United States to escape the Nazis. When her parents joined her a couple years later she took up a job in comics to help support her family. The men in the office teased her, tried to teach her dirty words in English, and drew nudes in the margins of the work she was supposed to ink. But she wasn’t the only woman working in the office. There were many women working for Fiction House at the time, and she was on good terms with most of them. She would regularly go out for lunch with Fran Hopper, and at one point, she lived with artist Ruth Atkinson for about a year.

Unlike Batiuk’s fantasy Ruby Lith though, Lily just did it for the money, and after leaving the comics industry in 1949, went to work on other things; illustrating children’s books, writing plays, and working in fashion.

So, big surprise, sometimes it was uncomfortable being a woman in a office predominated by men. Sometimes the women were ‘left out’, sometimes the women were teased. Sometimes it led to much drama that weren’t black-and-white cases of sexual harassment. The inker Violet Barclay, by her own admission, flirted with men in the office leading to acrimonious feelings and love triangles.

Barclay’s complicated relationship with benefactor Mike Sekowsky — who bestowed expensive gifts on her even after his marriage to Joanne Latta — caused friction in the Timely bullpen, which she left in 1949. As she later described the office environment,

“Mike was a very good human being. Everybody at Timely liked Mike. Nobody like me because they thought I was doing a number on him. Which was true. World War II was on and there were no men around, so I just killed time with him. Everybody, Dave Gantz especially, picked up on that. … [Mike] once tried to get me fired over my fling with [Timely artist] George Klein. Mike went to Stan Lee and said, ‘Stan, I want her fired, and if she doesn’t get fired, I’m going to quit’. Well, you couldn’t ever tell Stan Lee what to do. Stan said, ‘Well, Mike, it’s been nice knowing you’.”

Not all sexual harassers got off scott free either. Toni Blum, who worked for Quality Comics in the 40’s, was treated respectfully there except for an incident between two male artists, wherein one punched another in the face. As historian Denis Kitchen wrote, “[George] Tuska, like [Will] Eisner, had a crush on office mate Toni Blum but was too shy to make his move. The actual provocation that inflamed Tuska, Eisner privately said, was [Bob] Powell’s loud assertion that he ‘could f**k [Toni Blum] anytime’ he wanted. After decking Powell, Tuska stood over his prostrate coworker and in a voice Eisner described as Lon Chaney Jr. in Of Mice and Men said, ‘You shouldn’t ought to have said that, Bob.'”

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Your Cheatin’ Heart

Link to today’s strip

No, sorry Baby Ruthie and Tommy Batiuk. Sad, yes, but not ‘true.’ And having a character say, “Sad, but true.” to add truthiness to this dubious story of sexism in early comics is worse than disingenuous. You are willfully furthering a narrative that seems plausible without any real facts behind it because you like the message. You’re Mason Locke Weems, making up the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, and sticking it in a biography.

That last panel is really a hoot though. Batiuk’s bumbling dialogue makes it sound like Ruth’s hubby was really into polyamory, with three wives and two mistresses simultaneously. Hey, Ruthie, you know who else had two wives and two mistresses? Jacob the patriarch! Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Mindy meanwhile looks like she’s about to bolt. She’s leaning waaaay away from Ruth now, like bitterness is a disease and she’s afraid to catch it.

The ‘truthiness’ of Ruth’s statement in panel two is partially contingent on when she started working. During WWII there was an uptick on women working comic books to make up for the men who were at war. So that might have been when the editor was ‘in a pinch.’

The unrealistic statement is that Ruth would be expected to stop working when she got married. All the women I looked at didn’t stop working when they got married, some started working married, but many stopped working when they had kids. Women like Dorothy Woolfolk and Ramona Fradon returned to comics once their kids were older. Other women found different careers in illustration, like children’s books, magazines. You know, Batiuk, not every comic creator is a massively passionate fan of the genre, some just did it for the money for a while and then moved on.

Ramona Fradon did love working on comics though, and went back to it when her daughter was in school. I found a great interview with her from the 2016 issue of the Comic Book Creator Magazine. This might be a long quote, but I think it speaks volumes about what it was actually like being a married mother in comics.

CBC: So “Aquaman” was just boring?
Ramona: Well, yes. I hate to say it.
CBC: Did you hate it so much that you used raising a daughter as an excuse to quit or you really had to?
Ramona: Well, she was two then, hanging on my knee, and I’d be trying to meet deadlines. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t continue to do that.
CBC: Did you have to stay up late often? What did you do?
Ramona: I would, of course, wait ’til the deadline was looming. What did
I do? I went crazy. And the poor little thing. We used to drop pencils and
crayons—Dana [her husband], too—on the floor and she’d be down there coloring, you
know? [laughs]
CBC: That’s what mommy’s doing, right?
Ramona: She has told me she liked that! But it wasn’t fair to her. I
couldn’t keep doing it. If I had been faster it would have been one thing, but
I wasn’t.
CBC: Did you really need the money?
Ramona: No, but my mother used to say, “Don’t do what I did.” She gave
up her work. She wanted to be an artist, too. So I had it stuck in my mind
that because we got left high and dry I figured somehow I had to keep
working no matter what, even though I wasn’t making any real money. But it
was something, you know.
CBC: So did your husband have a studio in the house?
Ramona: Yes.
CBC: So you were both there during weekdays? Did you interact with
each other at all?

Ramona: Oh, sure. We weren’t in the same space—I had a little studio
and he was up in the attic studio—but, yes, we were both there and we’d
eat lunch together and we’d work around the place.
CBC: Were you friends?
Ramona: Yes, we were.
CBC: It’s probably about a year, year-and-a-half that you just worked
raising Amy, right?

Ramona: No, it was seven years! I waited ’til she was in school. I hadn’t
planned to go back, but I was getting a little restless just being a housewife.
And then one day Roy Thomas called me and asked me if I wanted to do a
story.
CBC: So the Metamorpho thing was just an anomaly?
Ramona: Yes. I just did that to help George out, to get it started.
CBC: Right. So then you went back to child-rearing. Were you just planning, “That was the last thing I will do in comics”? Was that the thought?
Ramona: I didn’t have any plan. I never do.
CBC: Just day by day?
Ramona: [Laughs] So this wave came along and I got on it when Roy
called me.

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