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For some, the only price for comic books that seems right is twelve cents.

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This post is dedicated to Jack Kirby, comic-book artist extraordinaire, who had an astonishingly prolific career. He was the John Henry, Steel Drivin’ Man of comics. And sometimes, and sometimes disparagingly, he was referred to by his colleagues as “Jack the Hack.”

The thing about Hackwork, though, is that it is deadline-driven. Comic books as published in America during most of Kirby’s career HAD to come out once a month, every month, without fail. And the better you were, the more demand for your work there was, and the more deadlines you had. Sometimes the deadlines were so many and so crushing that the quality of work suffered.

Writer Harlan Ellison, whose prolificity was legend, wrote “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” a story about the insidiousness of deadlines. Introducing the story in one of his antholgies, he quoted a mogul saying, “I don’t care if it’s GOOD, as long as it’s Tuesday!”

And in the intro to Phoenix Without Ashes, the novel of the Starlost he co-wrote with Edward Bryant, Jr., he told us about something Charles Beaumont told him when he moved to Hollywood, which was that attaining success in Hollywood was like climbing an enormous mountain of cow flop, in order to pluck one perfect rose from the summit–but, alas, after you have made that hideous climb, you have lost the sense of smell.

So this post is also dedicated to all hard-working people who dive in and get it done, day after week after month after year after decade. I want to specifically mention two Facebook friends of mine. One is Tom Orzechowski, who as letterer/calligrapher for the Uncanny X-Men and other mutant-related titles, and whatever else they threw at him, maintained a consistently high level of quality, of artistry, in his work. The other is my work colleague LaShawna Douglas-Muhammad, who worked her way up from line cook to manager for SSP America with class, determination, and sheer hard work. Tom and Shawna are two of my heroes and role models.

HACK Work

Have a Deadline!!! Don’t be sloW
Ah–your Hand flies to & frO
Crank & fizz like PerrieR
KIRBYESQUE IS A-OK

Edit/Add, 6:48 PM: After a text conversation with the hyperkinetic creator of AMAZING ARIZONA COMICS, Russ Kazmierczak, who’s done mountains of quality deadline-driven work of his own, including multiple stints of producing an ENTIRE ISSUE of his fine publication in a mere 24 HOURS, I want to emphasize that the concepts of “hackwork” and “s/he’s a hack” have been often unfairly applied to dedicated, hard-working creatives. Prolificity often results in quality of work much higher than may be attained by waiting for inspiration to strike. Olympic hopefuls realize that being the best means punching that workout timeclock with consistency and high frequency, rain or shine, feel great or feel awful, “in a relationship” or “just got dumped.” It is a quality of Champions.

 

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The final vignette concerns Santa Claus’s psychic tussle with a mysterious menace who appears to be Native American. This staredown may have only one survivor.

There was more to my cover design than the four drawings I’ve posted. I embedded them in a template that includes the masthead/logo of AMAZING ARIZONA COMICS, and I also added a title and subtitle at the bottom, reading “SUMMER ALBUM ISSUE/featuring SPEED CAMERON, SANTA CLAUS, and their Friends & Foes.” Since AAC is Russ’s brainchild, I’ve encouraged him to make any changes to my drawings, design or title that he wishes. I frankly don’t know how the finished product is going to look–but I can hardly wait to find out.

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The story so far in Vignette 3: That despicable canine cad, Archie Wawa, has used cuffs as coercion to shanghai June Monsoon into a milkshake date at the 5 & Diner. Archie appears, and is, unpleased at the arrival of June’s friend and champion, Speed Cameron.

NOTE: The 5 & Diner is a popular 50s-style soda-fountain-type diner, variously located in the Valley of the Sun. Pictures of James Dean, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, the Life Magazine cover showing a movie audience wearing 3D glasses, and loads of other memorabilia festoon their 16th Street/Colter location. My daughter Kate and I have been known to pop over there for cherry Cokes and burgers in the middle of the night, though it’s been a long time. I wish I were there right now.

ANOTHER NOTE: These images of vignette panels I’ve been posting were not scanned, but badly photographed for expedience’s sake on the day I sent Russ my cover design. I know Russ and his superstar colorist brother Kyle have a challenge ahead of them, finishing and colorizing my design, but they will be working from the scanned originals and not these unholy photoimages, thank Goodness.

My Karaoke Fanboy friend, Russ Kazmierczak, Jr., asked me months ago to be his featured artist for the cover of the August issue of AMAZING ARIZONA COMICS. The plan solidified when he did a 24-hour drawing stint in a storefront window in downtown Glendale (my home town!), and used those 24 hours to draw the August issue. I asked him what the deadline was, and he said two weeks would be fine. Twelve days later I met my self-imposed Thursday-Midnight deadline, giving Russ two days of wiggle room.

The story is of four vignettes, so my design of the August cover includes four panels, each relevant to a vignette. Without further ado, and with Russ’s kind permission to post before release (“It’s not NASA secrets, after all,” he said with a karaoke sidelong grin), here is a panel from Vignette 1. Santa Claus has unmasked a Hobgoblinesque troublemaker, only to find a normal, befuddled guy under the mask, who had been possessed by the hot and dire villain Heatstroke. I was fairly faithful to the source, adding an incoming, dashing Speed Cameron.

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My thanks again to Russ for recruiting my involvement in his Magnum Opus. It is a privilege and an honor!

As my friend and event credentials benefactor Russ “Karaoke Fanboy” Kazmierczak and I strolled into the exhibitor’s area of the 2015 Phoenix Comicon, one of the first things we saw was a banner at one of the choicest tables, close to the entryway. On the left side of the banner was the image of the head of a man of indeterminate years, tanned to perfection, with evangelist’s hair and a Gary Player grin. JIM STERANKO was in two lines in italicized caps across the right side.

“Looks like he’s had some work done,” I said to Russ.

“Looks like the BANNER’S had a lot of work done,” Russ replied. And we laughed. Meanwhile, my reaction to the prospect of meeting one of the legends of the comic-book world was setting in.

Jim Steranko, escapist and card sharp, was the writer and penciler of an amazing succession of NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. segments in the late 60’s. It can be argued that if not for the popularity of those ’60s Nick Furys, Samuel L. Jackson would never have had occasion to put on an eyepatch. Certainly Steranko’s innovative comic-book continuity storytelling, which included movie-storyboarded jump-cuts and psychedelic effects, influenced countless artists. Even Neal Adams, himself a titan of the field, did a DEADMAN panel wherein the energy rays coming up from an abyss, if looked at with the paper almost on its edge, formed the phrase “Hey, a Jim Steranko effect.”

Before I could worry about whether the REAL Steranko was going to show, or a mere salesperson of his, THERE HE WAS, magnificent hair, powder-blue retro/leisure suit, and all. He had placed an array of prints of his artwork on his table. One series was of cheesecake pinups girls, in the tastefully nude Alberto Vargas style, in superhero costume. These were going for $5 each. Bargain!

Russ was urging me to say hello to the man Stan Lee called “Jaunty Jim.” I was a combination of too shy and too afraid to act like a gushing fanboy. So Russ, a calm, poised, NONgushing fanboy, chatted Steranko up a bit, first asking if he’d mind signing the posters he was buying. Steranko put a “Lemme put it to you like this” expression on his face and picked up and pointed to the placard that indicated that his signature bumped up the price $10. (Neither of us had the money; in fact, Russ was using his last few dollars to buy a poster for me, since I was totally broke.) Then Russ handed over the money, all singles, and asked if we could have a picture with him. Steranko demurred, saying his only exception to the no-pictures rule was for gorgeous, hot females. We didn’t qualify.

Now comes the REAL story. Russ Kazmierczak is the creator and life-force of AMAZING ARIZONA COMICS. He’s cranked out at least ten issues of a mix of superhero tales and regional satire involving local bigshots, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Governor Jan Brewer. His first superhero, Speed Cameron, has super-speed, somehow by virtue of the fact that his DNA has been commingled with that of a…speed camera. (Ticketing of speeding drivers via automated motion-capture cameras is a local, and controversial, phenomenon.) Russ uses Arizona as the backdrop of his stories, giving his growing but still tragically small fan-base the thrill of recognition of such locales as the Phoenix Melrose district.

Here’s the man himself, perusing He-Man, one of his favorite superheroes when he was growing up.

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And here’s the man himself being interviewed by KTAR radio personalities Mike Russell (in Captain Morgan garb) and Pamela Hughes (a STAR WARS storm trooper, with a probably-unnecessarily modified breastplate). If you were lucky enough to be tuned in to 92.3 at 9:12am on Friday, May 29, you heard Russ more than holding his own against these two.

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At Phoenix Comicon 2015 Russ shares booth space with “Ali-Kat’s Curiosities.” He’ll be there all day today, May 30, and tomorrow the 31st as well. So if you’re in downtown Phoenix, and strolling by the Convention Center, any time between now and Sunday evening, I urge you to find your way to Russ’s booth/world. You will see people who have gone to extraordinary lengths to look both good and superheroic, like this chap:

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You may well see a local legend of incredible longevity, Dave Pratt, making people dance with his radio ways just as he’s done for the last 30 years. You may even see Steranko, who will be happy to sell you something. But what you’ll tell your grandchildren years hence is that you met and talked to the one and only Karaoke Fanboy, Russ Kazmierczak, Jr.

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g. bowers, agent of ARROYO (alternate reality rectangles of youth ordained)

the funnies, to answer no question,
like NANCY and PEANUTS and such,
made windows to buttress the bastion
a kid needs to starsky his hutch.

in book form were comics like X-MEN
and BATMAN and HERBY and PEP
realities strange as a henchman
DICK TRACY would trace and–nab?–yep!

some funnies were crack-us-up laughable:
UNfunny but suited for sneering,
some wisecracking dialogue affable,
some action distractive-to-veering.

some artists belonged in asylums,
and some of their work in the Louvre,
some classics were seek-ems-&-buy-ems,
some stuff from the Sixties a grouvre.

the best should be well-wrapped in plastic
and kept from acidity’s harm;
leave stretching to Mister Fantastic;
seek Scarlet[t] (Johansson? Witch?) charm.

the kid in us all is eternal.
the youth is within to arrange;
it’s true just as Springtime is vernal;
just DOCTOR with touches of STRANGE.

(Afterverse note: I admit to a strong Silver Age Marvel bias.)