First impressions

February 25, 2010

As I stated in a previous post, Gil Kane was a huge influence, and almost single handedly responsible for my professional pursuit. Recently, I discovered he’s even more at fault, than I first thought. In addition to this, I uncovered why I lean toward the styles, and artists, that I do. For that, you can blame Power Records.

These “read-along” comics were packaged with a 45 rpm record (that’s a small vinyl disc that we old people placed on a gramophone to listen to), and were probably my first experiences ever with comic books. Basically, they were just comics that sync’d up with a recorded radio play of the same story. Most were either based on comic characters or popular movie/television properties of the time. The biggest of these were Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Six Million Dollar Man, and Space 1999, but there were others, even Kojak. The last of which I’m not so sure was really that interesting to 6 year olds, but hey- who am I to judge.

Who loves ya, baby?

As a kid I owned several of these “Power” records, and my brother had some as well, but I think I stole most of his, so really they all ended up being mine. We had Star Trek, Space 1999, Frankenstein, Hulk, and Captain America, but the ones I loved most were my copies of Batman “Stacked Cards”, and my two Spider-Man stories “Mark of the Wolf-Man” and “Invasion of the Dinosaur Men”. Having recently found some blogs that are dedicated to these old “read-alongs” I’ve discovered that a lot of the covers were drawn by Neal Adams. For those that don’t know, Mr. Adams was one of the most important comic artists in early 70s for a lot of reasons; some to do with the rights of artists in the comic industry, but a lot to do with his dynamic page layouts and his, almost, photo realistic style.

Other stories were drawn by the great Ross Andru, and one of the Spidey comics was at least partially drawn by – you guessed it- Gil Kane. So from my earliest days, these gentlemen were influencing my tastes and approach on comics, without my even knowing it. They established my love, and affinity, for more realistic comic art. From proper anatomy, perspective, establishing shots, facial expressions, camera angles, and composition, to simple body posturing. It didn’t stop there, as the others comic records I had were also drawn in realistic styles because they were based on shows with specific actors. Star Trek, Space 1999, and the Bionic Man all had to achieve some level of realism because of the likenesses they had to maintain. No one wanted to see Star Trek without Shatner as Kirk and Nimoy as Spock…

I'm sick of your half-breed interference!

or Martin Landau as Commander Koenig…

Anyone else wonder what happened to Earth's oceans when we moved?

or Lee Majors as Steve Austin.

A man barely alive- but still singing "Sweet Jaime"

So a lot of how I thought comics were supposed to look were a direct result to these comic/records. It didn’t hurt that a lot of them were being illustrated by some of the best in the industry, like Neal Adams. One of my favorite heroes back then was Batman. Over the years that waned, but at the time he was the biggest for several reasons…

A) He was in my favorite cartoon- The Super Friends

B) His utility belt- wanting to like what my dad liked, Batman was the kid friendly version of James Bond- (who my dad thought was super-cool)

C) There was a live action Batman TV show- reruns, but I didn’t know that then.

D) My brother liked Marvel– so screw that- I loved DC!

Needless to say, when I got this Batman Power Record– I listened to it about 50 billion times!

In the game of life- the Joker is WILD!

I examined the art in it over, and over, and over. I burned it into my brain. It was awesome, and so many of the images are still rattling around in the back of my head. Anyone who knows my work can tell you I love backgrounds, and I never shy away from establishing shots. Overhead angles, worms eye shots, subtle facial expressions, anatomy, and hand gestures are all things that I got, unknowingly, from Neal Adams. Later I would come back to him with a more discerning eye, and I would study his page layouts from his runs on Deadman and Green Lantern. The way he directed an eye around a page is still something I aspire to. In this book though, he kept it simple, elegant, and amazing.
Establishing shots, worms eye, close ups, overhead angle- all of it- perfect.

The things he drew looked like their real-life counterparts, not overly stylized, chrome plated boxes pretending to be tanks or buildings (the difference I often couldn’t decide) unlike other artists. No, you knew when Neal was drawing a car, lamp, office furniture, plane, suits, or anything for that matter. His street scenes told you if you needed to carry a gun, or go for a picnic. His people were real, and you knew their heritage at a glance, not by the color of the skin, but from their facial features. He could capture likenesses quickly, and still keep the energy or their personalities. This made their acts of heroism believable, even when you would normally be screaming “No way!”.  After all, he even drew Superman fighting Muhammed Ali !

Float like a Kryptonian!

That’s another post. No, back to the point, he established those artistic appreciations in my head for the rest of my life. Even when I got out of comics for those few years, until Gil Kane pulled me back in, it was Neal’s basis in realistic drawing that kick started my appreciation for the comic arts. However, it’s true that I didn’t know Neal from Norm for years to come. The seeds were planted, but I didn’t know the names, and Ross Andru is just as responsible if we want to be honest. Really though, the culprits are the people at Power Records; those comics, with the whacky sound effects, melodramatic voice acting, and catchy stock music tracks, were adventures that kept me busy for hours. I’ve grown since then, I feel like I can love stylized images as well as realistic ones, but those Power records were the foundation. It’s always amazes me how things we see and love as kids creep out in our adulthood. The stuff that became the focus of our childhood changes how we see the world from then on. I know those Power records were a huge influence on me, as I still have mine today. Granted I don’t have a record player anymore, but thanks to the wonderful guys at Power Records Plaza I’m able to listen to them again. It’s embarrassing, but I still know all the words, and can even tell you where the skips were in my old 45s. I can’t remember crap from high school chemistry, but I can tell you that the Joker was the captain of the swimming team at Arkham. Wanna race? Here goes! (If you catch that reference- you’re a geek too.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: