1986: Portia Prinz of the Glamazons

Portia Prinz of the Glamazons (1986) #1-6 by Richard Howell.

With the black and white boom had almost gone bust by this time (comics store would start going bankrupt hand over foot over the next six months), Eclipse was apparently still gearing up production. But since this was published in December 1986, it means that it had been solicited in October, when it was still in full swing.

Or perhaps it had nothing to do with that at all, but was a project Eclipse genuinely believed in. The introduction in the first issue is by Wendy and Richard Pini, the creator and editor (respectively) of Elfquest. They explain that Howell had created and self-published Portia Prinz in the 70s, and that both cat ⊕ yronwode and Dean Mullaney, the editor-in-chief and publisher (respectively) of Eclipse, had been supporters of the series back then.

What they don’t do, however, is explain whether this is a reprint of the old series or a continuation. Reading it, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher: There are all these characters, some with funny names but most without, and they engage in endless witty repartee (some of which is funny), and it’s like we’re joining a party midway. Who are all these people? What are they talking about?

If it’s a reprint, they obviously didn’t start at the beginning, and if it’s a continuation, it’s a really, really weird way of introducing a new readership to the series.

Visually, it’s rather cluttered, especially with them all talking so much. My eyes skidder around a lot, but it’s certainly readable…

… and amusing. Some of the many, many, many puns and jokes land. I mean, I don’t think I laughed out loud at any point, but I certainly smiled a lot.

And when the puns get too terrible, the characters point that out, too.

Still: Ouch. That pun should get a prize for something.

The first issue is a self-contained quest, where Portia Prinz visits several literary hells, Dante (seen here), Sartre and Milton. Yes, it’s pretentious, but in a fun way.

And, oy vey, Howell has certainly mapped out the Glamazon world well.

Aha! In the second issue, we get a hint that this is new material. Vol II!

And Vol I!

And then Howell graciously tells us what’s what: The first issue (and the framing story in the second issue) is new material, and then there’s going to be almost three issues of reprints, and then two new issues at the end, finishing the story begun in the 70s.

After doing some subsequent research on the googles, it seems like there were five issues of the self-published series in the 70s. The first two (?) issues are not being reprinted, but we’re getting #3-5 here. In total? Or with bits left out? Howell doesn’t say, and the googles don’t do nothing.

The 70s Howell isn’t very different from the 80s Howell. His women look even more like chipmunks back then, though (I tried measuring some of their heads to find if any of them actually had heads that were wider than tall, but he squeaked by… just…), and he experimented more with weird angles…

… that he didn’t quite pull off all the time. (We’re looking at the pair from above here.) But I’m all for experimentation. And he uses the washes thoughtfully.

There are flashbacks in these issues that he draws in a cruder style. Are these taken from older work, by any chance? But, yeah… Not immediately obvious what’s going on here, but that’s a hat.

Eclipse was pushing this graphic novel a lot around this time, and I wondered whether I’d missed it when gathering material for this blog series. But apparently not: This is the only web page on all the googles that contain the phrase “Georgia Tom and The Gang”. Well, now there’s two, I guess.

It’s not the first time Eclipse did heavy advertising for comics they never published.

But back to the Glamazons: While it’s basically a soap opera, it has a plot filled with conspiracy and mischief, and I found myself surprisingly engaged in the storyline by the third issue. I can totally see why this is a book that people remembered from the 70s and were excited to have come back.

Carol Kalish? Wasn’t she in the marketing department at DC Comics? Hm… Oh, Wikipedia seems to say that they were married or something.

I bought these comics used, and for some unfathomable reason this page was dog-eared. I guess that’s just one of life’s many unexplainable mysteries.

The reproduction of the older material is very nicely done, but there’s one single page that looks like shit. Did they shoot it from the printed comic book or something?

Golly! Right again!

That face made me get my ruler out again, but no, the head really is higher than it’s wide. Only just, though.

Optical illusion.

But, man, those are some big cheeks.

In the final stretch of reprinted comics, there’s a handful of pages that are like this: Some panels haven’t been inked. Are these previously unpublished pages? That Howell didn’t ink back then so he didn’t do that now, either? Or did they just forget?

The backmatter is silent on the issue.

And then we’ve reached the new comics, and Howell starts with a recap of the previous issues, which seems rather unnecessary, since we’ve just read them. But perhaps he did that to catch people up who’ve only read it in the 70s and are only picking up the two new issues.

Which is nice of him.

The two new issues double down on the soap opera aspect of the series.

But also ties up the plot neatly. Unfortunately, it does so by having the villain infodumping on her victims (as villains are apt to do). It’s tedious in the extreme, and getting through the final issue was a chore.

Mark Evanier provides an afterword where he takes the credit for the book existing. He’d been told that the Eclipse people “were looking for something special to publish in black-and-white-format?” Oh, well. Seems like my guess that this publication was more prompted by the black-and-white boom than any lingering yearnings on Mullaney’s part to see how Glamazons ended was correct.

Man, I’m so right about everything these days.

Evanier says that he’d bet that the Portia Prinz back issues would increase in value over the years. Let’s check!

First of all: They use “Kalish” as a selling point? For co-plotting half of one issue? Wat.

But second of all: Seems like Evanier was right! The original cover price for these six issues was $12, and you’d have to pay $15 (including shipping) to buy them from Amazon now!

Inflation-adjusted, though, it doesn’t seem like the bet really paid off.

I was unable to find any contemporary critique of Portia Prinz in the Comics Journal index, and the googles doesn’t seem to yield much, either.

There’s this, which is my least favourite kind of writing about art (a plot recap), but this seems more interesting:

It takes time to develop the skills necessary to tell stories with very great brevity. and Portia Prinz came early in his career. Whatever the reason, her stories were unusually text-heavy, and readers praised them because they were also unusually heavy on intellectual content, with discussion of the nuances and implications of its many allusions forming a major portion of the verbiage.

Richard Howell went on to have a long and successful career in comics, both working for mainstream super-hero comics, as well as starting his own company. Portia Prinz has never been reprinted or collected, though.

One thought on “1986: Portia Prinz of the Glamazons”

  1. I used to buy comics at “The Million Year Picnic” in Harvard Square, Cambridge MA back in the ’70’s when Howell worked there. I would see him sketching away behind the checkout counter and remember being amazed at how quickly and agilely he drew. I bought some if the early issues of “Portia Prinz” based solely on that, I think. I once mentioned to someone in passing that I knew who he was and they said, “Oh, has he put you in his comic yet?” That helped me make more sense of the comic, which I also found perplexing sometimes. I’m assuming that it was full of all sorts of inside jokes that most people (me included) would not get.


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