1983: Ms. Tree

Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Adventures (1983) #1-3, Ms. Tree (1983) #4-9 by Max Allan Collins, Terry Beatty, et al.

The first Ms. Tree storyline had been serialised in Eclipse magazine, and now that it had its own comic book, I had expected the episodic structure to change a bit.

But now, we instead get two or three eight page instalments per issue.

The first three issues are printed on newsprint… and these are perhaps the last three issues Eclipse printed this way before going to nice paper stock throughout its line of comics? I guess the next few days on this blog will telll…

Frank Miller does a few of these two-page “pin-ups” the first few issues. They’re kinda nice, but are a bit dashed off, I’d say.

Beatty’s artwork improves over the issues, and improves a lot from the Eclipse magazine days. Beatty was about 24 at the time, I think?

But it’s not like he ever got, like, you know… Good. All his characters have these impossibly big and blocky faces that have the separate features flowing around without connecting to anything. In one, Ms. Tree’s mouth is half as long as the nose, in another, a quarter as long. Floating in a sea of face.

There’s a slew of back-up features in these books, like these bleedin’ Mike Mist Minute Mist-Eries (gah). This one is of particular interest: It’s a dig at The Comics Journal who had published a number of less-than-flattering reviews of Collins/Beatty (which had then resulted in a rebuttal from Collins with more snide commentaries from Gary Groth and Kim Thompson following on).

So here you have editor “Roth” (Gary Groth), the editor of The Comics Enquirer, which “regularly attacked comics and their creators” being killed.

“Jim Ronson” (Kim Thompson) tries to pin the murder on “Gene Delaney” (Dean Mullaney), but Mike Mist cleverly figures out that Thompson, I mean “Ronson” was behind the murder, in the typical Mike Mist fashion of relying on obscure trivia and logical fallacies:

As usual in these Mist-eries, there’s no evidence, circumstantial or not, that ties the killer to the act.

But: “Ha, ha.” I guess that showed Groth not to mess with Collins!

Collins explains in the letters column that they wanted to call the comic “Ms. Tree”, while the publisher insisted on “Thrilling Detective Adventures”, so they settled on “Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Adventures”.

Trina Robbins and Barb Rausch, both comic book artists, write in to say that they’re quite enjoying Ms. Tree, especially the clear storytelling. And it’s a good point: Ms. Tree has no confusing layouts or splashy special effects: It just plods along. Both Robbins and Rausch draw in generally this tradition, but they’re so much better artists than Beatty is that they makes this work for them.

There’s about eight pages of the horrible back-up feature called The Scythe in most issues. It’s written by Eclipse co-owner Dean Mullaney and with artwork by Ellis Goodson, I think it says here (the printing is rather bad). It’s virtually unreadable and painfully amateurish.

Nice to see some properly romantic scenes.

Wat! Deni Sim pops up with a fan letter, which I think is kinda fun, since she took over as the publisher eight issues later.

Max Allan Collins calls Modesty Blaise “a bit butch”, which reminded me of this hilarious song by Gretchen Phillips:

The feud continues! Miaow!

In the third issue we get the first monthly Eclipse editorial, which is a tradition that would continue for many years. These usually aren’t very interesting, though, and often bear the imprint of being typed in haste just before the deadline.

With issue four, we switch to nice paper that can hold ink and stuff. It’s a distinct improvement, and seems to inspire Beatty to put in backgrounds more often than he’s done until now.

There’s some pushback on the “butch” thing, fortunately.

Collins explains that having the same structure in both of the first Ms. Tree serials is a feature, not a bug. In the first one, Ms. Tree has sex with a guy who turns out to be the murderer, while in the second one, Ms. Tree turns out to have sex with a guy who turns out to be the murderer… BUT THIS ONE WORKS FOR ANOTHER GUY SO IT”S TOTALLY SURPRISING!

Makes sense.

Huh. Eclipse are giving out a “color chart”? I tried looking on ebay to see whether anybody’s selling it, but apparently not. I wander what it is…

The number of people killed in each Ms. Tree issue is staggering.

The Scythe is wrapped up as a text piece instead of dragging it all out as a comic.

Frank Miller stops doing the detective pin-ups and Mike Grell takes over and interprets the remit a bit more literally.

We get an explanation for how they do the artwork. Beatty does the layouts, then Gary Kato does the pencils and lettering, and then Beatty pencils the faces and inks everything.

The final issues is a Mike Mist/Ms. Tree team-up, and… It’s like you’d expect.

Deni Sim at Aardvark-Vanaheim took over Ms. Tree at this point. In a news item in The Comics Journal, Eclipse publisher Dean Mullaney says that he dumped Ms. Tree because it didn’t sell enough. Ms. Tree writer Max Allan Collins said that their contract with Eclipse was over, and he shopped Ms. Tree around, and Aardvark-Vanaheim came up with the best offer.

Reality differs, I guess.

I was apparently a fan of Ms. Tree as a kid, because I found a pretty much complete run of the remaining Ms. Tree issues (and there’s a lot of them) in the Aardvark-Vanaheim short box. They’re done in duotone: Printed in black-and-white with one accent colour, usually a shade of red, but it varies. I think it’s a look that suits Beatty’s artwork better than full colour.

Deni Sim kept Ms. Tree when she left Aarvark-Vanaheim and continued to publish it under the Renegade Press banner. When that went under in the late 80s, it then moved to DC Comics for a handful of years.

Collins has also published some Ms. Tree novels, which I have not read.

1983: Scorpio Rose

Scorpio Rose (1983) #1-2 by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers et al.

Eclipse’s first three issue mini series. (Yes.)

Steve Englehart opens with a very upbeat text explaining how the options have opened up for freelancers (like him) who no longer have to be beholden to editors at Marvel. “They never broke faith with anyone” he says about the Mullaney brothers (who own Eclipse Comics).

Mullaney, on his side of the page, announces that this is Eclipse’s first Baxter paper publication.

As for Scorpio Rose itself…

It’s nicely drawn, I guess?

Is that a very early colour hold, or was it standard industry practice at the time? We’re talking 1983 here… I can’t quite remember.

The backup’s written by Frank Lauria and is a much livelier story. It’s not, like, good or anything, but it has a couple of entertaining scenes.

So much time passed between the first two issues that letters had time to arrive, and not everybody were impressed by Scorpio Rose’s rape origin.

On the other hand:

Additionally, unlike the rapefantasies enacted upon other heroines, this one serves a purpose, for the intercourse confers on Rosa a vampire-like immortality; the unending life of a “dead soul.” This, in part, is her motive for altruistically protecting the world from occult fill the black void where my light should be.

Quoth Gene Phillips from Comics Journal 82.

Reading this book I found my mind wandering to the odd binding Eclipse was using these years. It’s a normal 32-page floppy, so there are staples in the middle (between page 16 and 17). But what’s unusual is that there’s also glue involved: the inner one millimetre of page 14 and 15 (and 18 and 19) are glued together. This increases the durability, I guess, but it also means that those pages refuse to lie flat, which is such an incredible inconvenience when snapping pics of the pages!

The nerve!

Oh, right… as you may have noticed, there’s only two issues in this three issue mini series.

Blockquoth Steve Englehart:

Marshall was involved in some non-comics situations at the time, and after doing the first two issues, he got extremely delayed reaching the third, going months past the deadline. By the time he gave me something to work with, I’d decided that third issue was better off being the legendary “one-that-never-came out” than the “one-that-arrived-as-an-anticlimax.” Not putting out a book was unheard of then – but I still think it was the right thing to do.

So… er… that’s some reasoning.

But he included it in the first volume of the collected Coyote? Uhm… OK…

Englehart took his Coyote back to Marvel/Epic soon after this debacle, but without Michael Marshall on art.

1982: Destroyer Duck

Destroyer Duck (1982) #1-7 by Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby, Alfredo Alcala et al.

The first issue of this series is a benefit book for Gerber’s suit against Marvel over the ownership of Howard the Duck. Gerber refused to sign any work-for-hire contracts with Marvel, and wanted his creation back. Marvel didn’t quite agree. If I remember correctly, the suit was finally settled some years later with … secret results, but Marvel kept the ownership, anyway.

So here we have a satire over Marvel (in particular) and large corporations (in general) illustrated by another creator who was in legal squabbles with Marvel at the time, Jack Kirby.

WE MAKE PRODUCT.

Kirby’s artwork is quite Kirbyish… But I’m not sure that’s the best duck face Kirby could have drawn, though.

This is Eclipse’s first standard-sized colour comic book, and it’s printed on newsprint. It’s not really a very satisfying object to behold: Everything is muddy and indistinct.

The storyline is basically that Destroyer Duck’s duck friend goes to our dimension and is then eviscerated by an evil corporation. (Yes, that’s Howard the Duck.) Destroyer Duck then wants revenge, and … things happen.

Character and design wise, Kirby basically reuses a lot of his older designs (especially from the Fourth World era) with a few tweaks here and there.

Since this is a benefit book, you’d assume that you’d get dozens of people rallying to fill the rest of the pages, but there’s just a handful of brave ones, none of whom are particularly Marvel-affiliated. Here’s part of a fun Shary Flenniken two-pager, for instance.

And good old Sergio Aragones, who would go on to release Groo through Marvel/Epic, contributes a story. I think the connection is probably through Mark Evanier, who helps with scripting Groo, and who was also Kirby’s assistant at one point…

People didn’t rock the boat much in the early 80s: If Marvel was mad at you, you’d lose jobs.

Gerber writes a thank-you page where he explains the point of the publication.

The rest of the issues are printed on much nicer (“Baxter”) paper, which allow the colour to pop more.

Here we see some of that Gerber satire. That’s company man “Cogburn”, who’s supposed to be Marvel artist John Byrne, who had said in an interview that he, yes, was a company man. So it’s not really much of a … stretch…

Those nose-picking terrorists are Arabs. See? Gerber’s ahead of the times.

The backup feature for the six remaining issues is “Starling” by Superman creator (!) Jerry Siegel and Val Mayerik. And, yes, it’s about an alien that lands on Earth… but this time he just impregnates a woman and flies off, and the rest of the series is about his progeny.

It’s a bit on the grisly side for the Superman creator, you’d have thought…

“At least six more issues.” It turned out to be exactly that, so we’ll played.

Eclipse brags about having a lot more colours than anybody else, because they also have 75% screens. I find stuff like that fascinating. Yes, I know.

I assume this is Dean Mullaney writing about how he has no sour grapes towards some of the people Eclipse has published who have decided to go back to Marvel/Epic’s clutches: Marvel was scared enough by this exodus to Eclipse (and some other independent publishers) by some high-profile creators that they set up the Epic imprint where the creators retained the copyright to the things they created.

But Mullaney isn’t bitter at all.

I haven’t included a lot of Kirby artwork in this blog article, because I don’t really have much to say about it… I don’t think it’s Kirby’s best. It’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t really have that exuberant lunacy that some of his more inspired layouts have.

Gerber weighs in on his work in Destroyer Duck and is dissatisfied.

I found this a bit amusing. Eclipse solicits letters from people about what stuff’s important. Is it the paper stock or is it the artist?

Sometimes you think that Gerber’s satire is a bit heavy handed…

… but Gerber can be pretty amusing.

And totally off the chain. That’s the new Ayatollah in Iran, Pahkmani, grinding up his parents and eating them like Pac-Man.

It makes you go “hm”.

“Hm, what does the inside of Gerber’s brain sound like.”

Oh-uh! A clever reader picks up on the clever John Byrne/Cogburn thing. Gerber splats out the vowels so that he doesn’t get sued.

And then Gerber announces that he (and Kirby) are leaving Destroyer Duck. Whaaa?

The next issue’s indicia mentions Gerber/Kirby/Eclipse as the copyright holders, but doesn’t mention the creators of the issue (Buzz Dixon and Gary Kato) at all. Wouldn’t it be ironic if this issue was made under work-for-hire conditions?

Don’t you think?

Buzz Dixon is a much less zany writer than Gerber. Here we have zombies… or Democratic candidates…

Oh, I see. Buzz Dixon is a Republican.

The two Dixon/Kato issues are pretty dire. The seventh issue has a pretty spiffy Frank Miller cover, though.

I don’t think this ever happened?

Gerber announces that Destroyer Duck is cancelled, and performs so mea culpas. He was late with his scripts because he cared so much, etc.

The letters column winds towards its end and Gerber tries to bow out on a positive note, but:

Dean Mullaney (the publisher) gets the last word. And is pretty harsh: “The initial creator did not live up to his promises.” I assume that’s Steve Gerber he’s referring to and not Jack Kirby.

♪ It’s like a comic book set up to help a creator with his fight against his publisher being talked over by the new publisher in that same book. ♪

Join us on the refrain!

♪ Don’t you think? ♪

Destroyer Duck has never been reprinted.

1982: Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton (1982) #1 by Don McGregor et al.

Apparently Don McGregor is a big fan of Buster Keaton and wanted to do a magazine about him:

And this was the result: It’s magazine sized and on shiny paper.

But for some reason or other, they got Michael Caine to pose for the picture on the inside cover.

Anyway! The first third of this mag is a biographical sketch drawn by Bill Hogarth.

Quite a bit of it deals with Keaton’s stunts and innovative film trickery, which makes it all the more frustrating that McGregor doesn’t really explain the trick shoots beyond showing a drawing of that camera… as if that explains anything. Are there several lenses? Several films? One lens that slides? What?

Then there’s a couple of interviews…

And the rest of the magazine features still shoots from Keaton’s pictures.

I’m still not sure why this magazine exists. Did they think they were going to get rich off of the lucrative Buster Keaton rabid fan base market?

¯_(ツ)_/¯

1981: The Price

The Price (1981) #1 by Jim Starlin

Starlin worked for Marvel throughout the seventies, creating writing and drawing various stuff and creating a slew of characters. But he wasn’t quite the Marvel refugee the other people who created the earliest Eclipse books were (Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, etc): Marvel had already found a place for him at Epic Illustrated.

Where the first part of The Metamorphosis Odyssey was serialised.

This part of that Odyssey was published as a 48 page magazine on similar paper stock as the Eclipse magazine. So it’s a cheaper-feeling package than, say, the Sabre graphic novel that Eclipse published a few years earlier.

Why Starlin published this book with Eclipse instead of with Marvel/Epic is something I’ve been unable to google.

The artwork on some of these pages look quite like as if they’d been painted on canvas, but I guess that’s not the case, really. Instead it must be some kind of textured paper, I guess?

Starlin works from photo reference for his characters, I guess?

There’s isn’t all that much to this book storywise. You have the evil guy explaining to his henchman all his motivations for his actions…

… and our hero guesses those motivations (in the very next panel), so we get the reason for the eeevil guy’s actions once again. Then random stuff of not much importance happens, and our hero gains his super-powers. The end.

But I’ve gotta mention this demon. Yes, that’s a cat-headed demon. Isn’t he fearsome?

The drawing to the right there is a perfect rendering of a picture of a cat, but what is the monstrosity to the left? It’s a well-rendered torso of a guy, with a too-small puma head?

Starlin never finds the correct way to place a cat’s head on a man’s body, and the neck length and size ratio varies wildly.

After a few pages, the shifting head/body ratio derangement field starts to affect the other characters, too.

Oh, miaow.

Starlin went back to Marvel/Epic with his Odyssey and published a graphic novel and a standard-size comic book series that wrapped up the storyline. (I think I read it all as a teenager. It’s not that exciting, if I remember correctly.)

The entire Odyssey has been reprinted, but not in a single volume, for some reason or other.

1981: Eclipse, the Magazine

Eclipse, the Magazine (1981) #1-8 edited by Dean Mullaney

This is Eclipse Comics’ first periodical: The Eclipse magazine (although it’s just called “Eclipse”).

The editor (and co-owner of Eclipse Enterprises) Dean Mullaney explains what the anthology is going to be about without saying “it’s like Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated, but in black and white and on cheaper paper”. Marshall Rogers was apparently central in herding artists to the magazine.

(To digress a bit, I had almost forgotten that “portfolios” was a big thing in the late 70s/early 80s. I think I just bought one as a child (from Bud Plant), and was a bit perplexed when I got it: “Just a bunch of drawings? Huh?!? What’s the point of that!” It must have been the general response of the non-hippie population, too, because they petered out as a category…)

Anyway! The magazine: We basically get everybody who’s already been involved with Eclipse so far, so it’s dominated by ex-Marvel creators. Here we have an early Foozle story presented as “the first half of a 19 page story”… but then we get all 19 pages in this issue. Perhaps production was a bit hurried? I dunno.

It’s an entertaining piece of sf action humour fluff, but lines like that makes me wonder whether there’s been any previous Foozle strips. A quick google gives me nothing.

But apart from the wall-to-wall ex-Marvelites, we also get a wonderful short strip by Howard Cruse! How incongruous!

After reading that panel, I had to check. *phew* Still OK.

P. Craig Russell makes a reproduced-from-pencils appearance… which isn’t reproduced very well.

We also have the first Ms. Tree story by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty. I was expecting this to be really boring and corny (after reading that Mike Mist thing), and it turns out to be mostly just corny. It’s a competently told mystery. And the artwork is … there. See? It’s there.

I do have a compulsion to try to swipe that lock of hair off of her chin, though. I mostly resisted by trying to picture Beatty drawing those horrid bangs over and over and over… *feather* *feather* *feather*

Poor guy.

But what did the critics think?

Blockquoth Carter Scholz from The Comics Journal 65:

All seven of its features display, in some measure, the unconscious lapses of taste so common to this form. But each fails in a slightly different way, so the tedium that is usual in this kind of a production is somewhat mitigated. At least it is not the same error over and over.

I guess it’s a success!

See? The best selling first issue of an alternative comics magazine ever published. Of course, all other comics magazines have probably not been true alternative comics magazines (or Scotsmen).

Steve Leialoha pops in with a exceedingly well-drawn fun little thing.

The artistic approaches throughout Eclipse’s run varies quite a lot. For instance Ken Steacy illustrates a text (about dying and stuff), but somehow the magazine feels quite cohesive. Perhaps because it’s anchored by some continuing strips (Coyote, Ms. Tree and Dope), but also because all the pieces are strongly narrative and vary in tone only between the elegiac and the humorous.

The second issue includes a “poster”, which is the same image as the cover, but printed on non-shiny stock, and which is followed by three blank pages (in the centerfold). That’s a really weird decision. Surely they could have gotten two pages printed for the same amount?

Anyway, Trina Robbins starts her adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s Dope, which continues for the rest of the run of the magazine. A suivre indeed.

Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik (also Marvel people) contributes a horror story. A letter writer says that it would have been more suited for a Warren magazine, but I’m not so sure. The first half is all about censorship (in TV, this time, instead of comics), which is a Gerber bug-a-boo. The second part is straight-up horrific horror, though, which goes way beyond the call of duty.

Rick Geary! Is there anything as wonderful as seeing a Rick Geary panel of a cupboard? It’s just so … bubbly.

Marshall Rogers buys all the zip-a-tone patterns ever made and pastes them all onto the page. It’s kinda neat.

Kaz! What are you doing here! I mean, except being funny. Editor Dean Mullaney displays a quirky and perhaps uncompromising sense of taste. I mean, how many people who showed up for the ex-Marvel gang would appreciate formal punk tomfoolery like this?

And speaking of ex-Marvel, Don McGregor & Gene Colan’s Ragamuffins string of featurettes starts up, and they’re kinda cute. But as they’re shooting Colan’s artwork from his pencils rather inexpertly, it’s less satisfying than it should be.

Mullaney explains, again, that Eclipse (the magazine) is a black-and-white version of Epic Illustrated and Heavy Metal, but on cheaper paper. I think.

All the contributors to the magazine are American except Hunt Emerson, who shows up for about half the issues with some really funny stuff. I lol-ed out loud a few times.

Rick Geary! Has anybody ever analysed just what it is that makes his artwork so irresistible? I think it has something to do with his linework that’s so bulbuous: Instead of going thick/thin, he goes thick/thick/nothing. So instead of having thinner lines between the heaver bits, he just has nothing… His lines pause a bit before resuming their ballooning paths…

Michael William Kaluta pops in with a single, very untypical piece. I would not have guessed that that’s a Kaluta drawing.

Harsh critique on the letters page.

Whaaa? Peter Kuper? That’s a Peter Kuper drawing? It looks nothing like it. Perhaps it’s a different Peter Kuper?

Sue Cavey illustrates a Harvey Pekar story, and I think she does an incredible job. It’s perfectly suited to Pekar’s wistful and nostalgic story. I love Pekar’s work, and this is a very strong piece.

Not everything in the anthology is as notable… or not as notable in a positive sense. This Tom Sutton/Don McGregor tale of jilted young love is as cringeworthy as you’d expect.

And then it’s over! Not because they’re shutting down, exactly, but because they’re transitioning to a smaller, colourful format. And they mention that they’re switching to “Baxter paper” how many times? It was a thing back then.

I’ve really enjoyed spending half a day reading this anthology. Each issue is 64 pages, which gives you a satisfying chunk to relate to. There’s enough room to drop the odd 20-page piece into the mix without crowding everything else out, and if there’s a couple of dud pieces (and there are), you’re more willing to overlook that because there’s all these other swell comics in here.

Or at least I am. Carter Scholz wasn’t.

1981: The Mike Mist Minute Mist-Eries

The Mike Mist Minute Mist-Eries (1981) #1 by Max Collins and Terry Beatty

This is Eclipse Comics’ first smaller sized publication. It’s not quite standard American comic book size: It’s slightly wider than normal.

And it’s a puzzling thing for Eclipse to publish (apart from the mystery of whether it’s “minute” as in the time unit or whether these are really small mysteries. Like that minute maid). It’s a reprint of portions of Collons’ self-syndicated newspaper comics page, and they are, indeed, small mysteries where you have to turn the page over to read the solution. Did you guess it? Here, I’ll help, so you don’t have to turn that phone 180 degrees:

Cobwebs don’t burn!

Half of these mysteries rely on “external knowledge” like that, and…

… the other half have all of the clues in the strip itself.

But… but… even so, why is the lawyer the culprit here anyway?

(Beatty’s artwork isn’t as stuff as it would later become, I think. It has a slightly cartooney feel that he’d shed later.)

As the strips progress, they become increasingly obscure:

Yes. Thirty a page. If this is what counts as evidence in the US, that explains a lot.

A couple of complete comics pages are also reprinted here, and as Collins says in the introduction, the Minute Mist-eries are the best of the bunch!

Avert your eyes from the rest! Avert! Horrors within!

Oh, Collins doesn’t even know whether the cobweb thing is real…

*sigh*

But what did The Comics Journal think?

The Mike Mist Minute Mist-Eries is a mediocre work manufactured by two men of mediocre talent. As such, it should be ignored.

Blockquoth Mike Valerio from issue 67.

Collins and Beatty went on to publish Ms. Tree through Eclipse, as we’ll see later in this blog, unfortunately…