Book Review: ‘Kirby: King of Comics’ by Mark Evanier

If you love comics and you’re not a fan of Jack Kirby, you might be an evil alien from Apokolips.

Jack Kirby was the King. While this book actually tells you the tale of how Kirby got this name and how it bothered him, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the King, as far as the art side of comic book creation goes.

He’s a man that’s been around since the beginning of superhero comics and was instrumental in creating dozens of characters that people pay billions of dollars to see on the big screen, several decades later.

I have always loved Jack Kirby and this book is truly invaluable for fans of the man’s work.

The book is a biography but most of the pages are full of Kirby art, throughout his entire career, and this is almost more of an art book than it is a straight biography. But I love that this is really a hybrid of the two, as it’s nice to read the stories behind his creations while also getting to soak in the art associated with it on large pages.

This is a thick, over-sized book that presents Kirby’s work nicely. It feels good in your hands and I know that it is a book that I will always look through for years and years. I may even scan and blow up a lot of the art to make prints for my wall.

What I loved most about this, is it delves deep into Kirby’s life and his work and doesn’t put all of the focus on his time at Marvel and DC. There’s so much here that I wasn’t aware of and a lot of stupendous Kirby concepts and comics that I never knew existed and have never seen until now.

This is a book that all real comic book fans should own.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other biographies of comic book greats, such as Stan Lee’s “Exclesior” and “Will Eisner: A Spirited Life”.

Documentary Review: In Search of Steve Ditko (2007)

Release Date: September 16th, 2007 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Boyd Maclean
Cast: Jonathan Ross (host), Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Mark Millar, John Romita Sr.

Hot Sauce, BBC, 59 Minutes

Review:

In Search of Steve Ditko was a one hour documentary special hosted by Jonathan Ross in 2007. It aired on one of the BBC channels but I’m not sure which one. I’ve had a DVD-R of it for a decade though and I figured I should revisit it, especially since Ditko passed, earlier this year.

Also, it’s on YouTube, so anyone can watch it if they want to.

The purpose of this documentary was two fold.

First, Ross wanted to do a biography piece on Ditko and interviewed a lot of other iconic creators to talk about him.

Second, Ross wanted to track down Ditko and meet him, possibly for an interview, but mostly to express his love of the man’s work.

While Ross does get to meet his hero, it happens off camera and we don’t get to see the reclusive Ditko appear. I’m fine with that even if others may be let down, as I believe in respecting the man’s privacy. And if you love Ditko, this is still a fine retrospective on his career and his influence on the comic book medium.

There are some great interviews here with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Mark Millar, John Romita Sr. and even Stan Lee, who discusses who should get the credit for creating Spider-Man.

All in all, this was a good watch and for fans of Ditko, this is a nice, quick rundown of the importance of his work in comics.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries like The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 1 – Spotlight on Todd McFarlane (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 1 Episodes, 50 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t have all of these VHS tapes when I was a kid but I did have a lot of them. Luckily for me, and all of you, these are on YouTube. I’ve wanted to revisit these for ages but I haven’t had a working VCR since the Bush II administration.

I was going to review the series as a whole. However, after watching the first episode, which featured Stan Lee interviewing Todd McFarlane, I felt that each episode probably deserves its own review.

This was great to see, twenty-seven years later, as I’m no longer twelve and I had a much greater appreciation of this now than I did back then.

First of all, it was fantastic seeing Stan Lee, still with some youthful vigor, interviewing Todd McFarlane and discussing art techniques and the history of the business, as well as Todd’s career.

It’s pretty clear that Todd would have been a great teacher, as he shows the how and why he employs the techniques he does. For those wanting to get into drawing comics, this is a pretty valuable tool and I’m assuming the other episodes in this series are too. That’s actually why I bought a half dozen of these back in the early ’90s.

All in all, I liked hearing Todd and Stan share stories of the comic industry. Watching them shoot the shit for an hour was a lot of fun.

McFarlane is one of the all-time greats and what makes this even more interesting, is that it came out when he was transitioning away from Marvel and Spider-Man and just gearing up to establish Image Comics and his greatest creation, Spawn.

I really enjoyed this episode and I hope the others live up to the precedent set with this first one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Documentary Review: Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask (1996)

Release Date: 1996
Directed by: Bret Wood (uncredited)
Written by: Bret Wood

Kino International, 75 Minutes

Review:

Lon Chaney Sr. was really the first horror icon. So his story is quite an interesting one.

This documentary does a decent job of giving context to Chaney’s work and a bit about his life.

However, like many older documentaries about old school Hollywood legends, this doesn’t do much to excite you about its subject or that subject’s body or work.

This is more academic and informative than it is exciting. I feel like film history documentaries have gotten much better in the last decade or so. At least, much better than the slew of ’90s PBS style documentaries that I grew up with.

I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing this film, as I enjoyed it and found a lot of it interesting but it was pretty dry and relied on playing old footage too much.

If you are a big fan of the man’s work, this is worth a look but if I’m being frank, I wish someone in the modern era would work on a documentary worthy of the man’s stature.

Also, no trailers are available that I can embed here, so I put something cooler at the bottom.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other biographical documentaries on Chaney, as well as other legends of the silent era. There are a ton of documentaries like this one.

Talking Pulp: The Loss of FilmStruck Is Depressing

I have been a subscriber to FilmStruck pretty much since it’s inception. So the news that it is closing up shop this week is very depressing and also unsettling. But I’m here to explain why this terrible reality is an absolute tragedy for those of us who love the art of filmmaking and the incredibly diverse history of motion pictures.

FilmStruck was a collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and the people behind The Criterion Collection. It’s a great streaming service for true film lovers. It has featured true cinematic classics, foreign gems and lots of great indie films going back as far as the earliest motion pictures.

The service was broken into two subscription tiers. The lowest priced one gave you FilmStruck’s selections of films while the higher priced tier gave you The Criterion Collection add-on. I always paid for the higher tier, as $10.99 a month is much cheaper than what it would cost to buy a single Criterion Blu-ray. In fact, three months of The Criterion Channel was about equal to one Blu-ray.

What also made the Criterion add-on great, is that it didn’t just give you Criterion versions of the movies but you got a lot of the extras, documentaries and interviews along with it. You also got a lot of videos where movie experts and historians talk about some of these great films and their impact.

FilmStruck also did a stupendous job in curating their offerings and always bringing in new stuff while featuring specific directors, actors, cinematographers, etc. It truly celebrated the great art of filmmaking and film history. If you absolutely love motion pictures, there just isn’t a better streaming service than this.

In fact, a large bulk of what I review on Talking Pulp (and formerly Cinespiria) are movies that I have watched with FilmStruck. I’m a pretty big film aficionado and FilmStruck has been a spectacular educational resource for me, as I always try to delve deeper into history, varying genres and geographical regions. Without FilmStruck, I probably wouldn’t have come to discover many films that I have grown to love.

I know I’m not alone, as I meet new film aficionados almost daily and FilmStruck has helped to educate many of us, as we all love to explore the dark recesses of film history.

Unfortunately, FilmStruck is going away due to corporate mergers, new owners analyzing the books and them deciding that FilmStruck just isn’t profitable enough. If that’s the case, it’s something I would gladly pay more money to keep. But in the corporate world, decisions are rash and the cultural importance of something is often times overlooked for profit. I’m very much a capitalist and I get that it’s all about the bottom line but some things are bigger than the value of the dollar.

Film history is history. It is also art and art is pretty damn important.

Thousands of people seem to agree with me, as a petition was created to save FilmStruck. 50,000 signatures were needed and the petition exceeded that and then upped the number to 75,000, which it is still building towards. However, the new owners of FilmStruck don’t seem to care about that, as the service is still going down on November 29th, 2018.

It’s depressing and it’s tragic. I wish that this was something that could be saved and that the people at the top of the food chain saw this as something with real value in a world where movies are getting worse and art itself is being watered down and washed away in just about every medium.

Film is powerful but maybe it’s not powerful enough anymore.

That being said, The Criterion Collection has announced that they are creating their own service in the wake of all this. It won’t quite be FilmStruck but as long as it has access to the same Criterion content we’ve gotten with this great service, then it should also be worth every penny.

Sadly, we will have to wait until the first quarter of next year and in the meantime, there really isn’t a streaming service for true film aficionados.

This is a dark time, as watching Netflix original movies isn’t how I want to spend my free time, but I guess there is a silver lining on the horizon.

And who knows, maybe once that ball is rolling, The Criterion Channel can start working with TCM again.

Only time will tell how this plays out but for now, this is a great loss to the film world.

I will truly miss FilmStruck and I can’t thank the people behind it enough for giving film fans something marvelous, invaluable and treasured.

Talking Pulp: Stan Lee is Gone but His Legacy is Immortal – How He Impacted Me

It’s been a few days since Stan Lee passed away. The Internet is full of tributes to the man but I really needed some time to process it and to reflect on his life before writing about what Stan meant to me.

Stan Lee had an immense impact on me and to be honest, that’s an understatement. Alongside George Lucas, Lee was responsible for creating a vast mythos that was instrumental in shaping my life. I would say that Lee had an even larger impact than Lucas’ Star Wars, which was the biggest thing in the world to a kid of the ’80s.

Lee eclipsed Lucas because by the time I discovered his creations, Marvel had already expanded into a universe much larger than what Star Wars was or would ever be.

Stan the Man created more characters and things that I grew to care about than any other great creator throughout the history of time. Maybe that’s because of the time I grew up in or because I was just drawn to comics, being that I’ve been an artist and a writer since I could hold a pencil.

My very first Marvel experience came in the form of television, as I became a huge fan of the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon, which ran from 1981 to 1983. I was four years-old in ’83 and I probably discovered the show right at it’s end but it would go on to be replayed beyond its cancellation.

I remember vividly, the day that I saw the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends episode that featured the X-Men. I immediately fell in love with those characters and it wasn’t long before I had issues of The Uncanny X-Men in my hands. Then there was The Amazing Spider-Man and my first mega event, Secret Wars. Everything branched out from that but it was the foundation of Stan’s creations that brought me to a fantasy world where I could escape and spend my time.

Marvel was the first comic book company I discovered and even though I loved DC Comics’ Batman more than any other comic book character, I spent 90 percent of my time reading Marvel over DC. I was fascinated by the X-Men, I loved Spider-Man and his large rogues gallery. I really got into Captain America, dug the hell out of Iron Man and followed all versions of the Avengers teams from the mid-’80s and onward.

I was very aware of who Stan Lee was, as he was always a prominent figure in comics and his name was in the credits of nearly every Marvel book, if not all of them back then. When I would see Stan do interviews or pop up in other places, it was always a treat. He had charisma and an infectious personality. He was wise, creative and fatherly but in a way that was way cooler than any dad on Planet Earth.

When the Marvel Comics trading cards came out my first year of middle school, all the boys I knew were trying their damnedest to collect the full set. This was my first experience in trading cards with friends and a lot of the sixth grade boys at my school started becoming a bit of a club or community. Collecting these cards educated us on Marvel history and led us down new avenues with new characters and major stories to check out. We started trading and lending out comics. It was a really cool time to be a kid, especially for one that loved superhero comics.

By the way, my favorite Marvel trading card was always the Stan Lee one from the first series.

When you think about all the things that Stan Lee created and then take into account the scale of what those creations have become in pop culture, he may be the most prolific, successful and inspiring writer of his generation. Most of his creations are beloved and many of them have become big business in film, television and video games. Not to mention toys, trinkets and just about anything you can throw the Hulk or Thor’s mug on.

Stan Lee’s work has generated billions of dollars in revenue. It’s damn near impossible to find anyone who doesn’t know at least one of Lee’s creations.

I’ve seen Stan Lee in person but I never got to speak with him. But regardless of that, I always felt close to the man, as did many fans. He seemed accessible and he always seemed to love the people as much as they loved him. He always had his best face on, publicly, and I’ve never met a fan that had a bad experience in meeting him.

Stan Lee’s passing wasn’t unexpected. I think that everyone knew it was coming in the near future based off of the loss of his wife and the terrible things he went through since then but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hit me like a dagger to the gut.

I don’t usually get down or upset about celebrity deaths. Sure, there are people that I know I’ll miss and dwelling on their deaths is a downer but Stan’s death was different. Stan was a major part of my life.

Without Stan, I might not have discovered comics in quite the same way and I probably wouldn’t have such a passionate love for them that didn’t just end in childhood but has carried over into adulthood.

Without Stan, I probably wouldn’t have ever drawn my own comics as a kid. By the time I was in 7th and 8th grade, I had formed my own company with some friends and we were putting out comics regularly, first selling them to other school kids and then kids from other schools we didn’t even know. I loved that time in my life and it was Stan that guided me to that great place. Plus, his book, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way was my bible during this period of creative exploration.

Without Stan, I may have walked away from comics. However, he was always a presence in the industry and every time I saw him trucking along, putting out new projects and popping up in movies, it always brought me back to that place where I always felt most comfortable. Stan Lee was like a piece of home for me, a dear relative that lives far away but pops back up into my life every so often.

A world without Stan Lee just doesn’t seem like a world I want to live in. I don’t mean that to sound depressing but he was always a beacon of light and enthusiasm, exuding positivity and imagination. The world is truly missing something great without Stan Lee in it.

But we all have to do what Stan Lee would want us to do. Move forward, live life and try to be the best version of ourself, everyday.

Documentary Review: Future Shock: The Story of 2000 A.D. (2014)

Release Date: September 21st, 2014 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Paul Goodwin
Cast: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Dan Abnett, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland, Dave Gibbons, Scott Ian, Karl Urban, Nacho Vigalondo, various

Deviant Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I don’t know if I’m just burnt out on these type of documentaries but this one didn’t keep my attention.

Reason being, it didn’t tell a story, really. It did go through the history of 2000 A.D. but everything was done in a heavily edited interview format. There was no narration and this felt kind of disorganized.

Being an American and not as familiar with this comic as someone from the UK, I was hoping for a good, comprehensive history on this. It probably works well for UK fans but Stateside I felt like it missed the mark.

Granted, it was cool seeing a bunch of creators, whose work I love, talking about 2000 A.D. with a lot of passion. I liked seeing the bits on Judge Dread and the stufff involving Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. Their two cents are always worth the price of admission when it comes to talking about comics of the past.

Still, even though this was full of people I wanted to hear from, it was quite long for what this needed to be and for how it was presented.

Maybe get some narration, organize the sections a bit better and tell a more cohesive story.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries of the last few years.