Jul 25, 2010

Congratulations to The Bill Finger and Eisner Hall of Fame Awards Winners!

The Eisner Awards have come and gone, but I'm happy to say that the recipients of the Bill Finger Award for Achievement in Comic Book Writing and the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 made me smile as it was coming up live on Newsarama. I figure I'd give a brief history lesson here for each of the inductees.

The Bill Finger Award for Achievement in Comic Book Writing is given yearly to two writers - one living and one deceased -in honor of the late, great Bill Finger - more on him tomorrow.

The first recipient of the Bill Finger Award this year was the late Otto Binder, and chances are you've never heard of him. Binder was the lead writer of Captain Marvel Adventures in the Golden Age, and of course, as I've said many times on this blog before, Captain Marvel was quite probably the most successful property of the Golden Age. Binder wrote over half of the entire Marvel Family saga, and created a lot of the famous Marvel Family characters, such as Mary Marvel, Uncle Dudley, Tawky Tawny, Black Adam, and Mr. Mind. That also makes him the writer of the original "Monster Society of Evil" saga, which is the first long-running storyline in comic books. There weren't many properties back then with such a diverse world - only Carl Barks' work on Donald Duck was as prolific.

Later on, Binder wrote Superman and created, among other things, Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, Lucy Lane, Krypto the Superdog, and, oh yeah - Supergirl.

Otto Binder was one of the true most influential forces in comics.

Gary Friedrich wrote a bunch of comics and even won an Alley Award for his work on Sgt. Rock and the Howling Commandos! But he'd probably be best known (as well known as a Bill Finger Award recipient could be, at least) as one of the co-creators of Ghost Rider. Though there's some disagreement as to who between him and Mike Ploog actually came up with the idea of the flaming skull head, Ghost Rider was a huge property in the 70s and 90s - when it even had spinoffs such as Johnny Blaze's own series. Only someone who grew up in the 70s can tell me for sure how huge Ghost Rider actually was. How about it, folks? (That's an invitation to leave a comment.)

Congratulations to Binder and Friedrich for well-deserved recognition!

The Hall of Fame Class of 2010 was headlined by two judges' choice awards. The first one was Burne Hogarth, known mainly for his work on the Tarzan newspaper strip of the Golden Age:

As well as for his very influential handbook, Dynamic Figure Drawing:

The other judges' choice for the Hall of Fame this year was Bob Montana, which made me wonder what in the world took so long? Bob Montana was the creator of Archie.

And I know Archie tends to get a bad rap, like it's not "really" comics, or it's too "stupid," or whatever, but the plain and simple fact is that Archie Comics has entertained people of all ages for the last seventy years while remaining largely unchanged. It's gone through a bunch of surface changes, but the storytelling style and general effect is the same as it was when Bob Montana was drawing it! Who else can say that? It's an achievement is what it is.

The awards then moved on to those elected into the Hall of Fame this year. The first one elected was Steve Gerber, master writer of a bunch of cult hits, most notably Howard the Duck, which is much, much better than its movie version. It's subversive and fun, and Gerber was treated for it in such a way that would actually make him eligible for the Finger Award. Howard the Duck had such a satirical bite and a strong cult following that he was actually a mock candidate in the 1976 Presidential Elections - the first after Watergate.

Here's a video of his campaign press kit.

The second elected inductee was someone who means a lot to me, and that's Dick Giordano. I said everything I could about Giordano in my eulogy for him here, so I won't repeat it. Instead, I'll just repost what I've always thought was the perfect splash page.

The third elected inductee was Michael Kaluta, a very elaborate comics artist who isn't as prolific as some of these other inductees, but yes, his work is gorgeous. He's known for his cover work, as well as his work on some 70s horror titles. (Neil Gaiman fans will be interested to know that he created Eve, the horror comic host who became a regular Sandman character.) Still, he's likely best known for his work on The Shadow, reviving the pulp hero for DC Comics in the 70s and Marvel Comics in the 80s.

The final elected inductee was Mort Weisinger, who co-created both Aquaman and Green Arrow, but is most well-known for being the main editor of the Superman comics at the time Otto Binder was writing it. His tenure as editor saw the introduction of many concepts (many of them by Otto Binder), including Supergirl, Krypto, the Phantom Zone, and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

It is under the editorial tenure of Weisinger that the trappings that made Superman one of my favorite superheroes emerged. For someone like me, who grew up on John Byrne's very serious take on Superman (where Superman had telekinetic powers when he was flying, and he needed an oxygen mask in space), discovering the Silver Age version was like a doorway into a much greater fantasy land. Superman could fly in space! He had all these friends who could fly in space! He could create robots! He had a home in the Arctic that he could open with a big giant key! He had a city in a bottle! He had a pet dog who could also fly! Weisinger's run on Superman always was a highlight for me - Superhero comics should be fun, and I'll always thank Binder and Weisinger for all these rich concepts that made it so that Superman was more than just a guy who could punch really hard. It was evocative of a very strong sense of wonder.



The Professor said...

An excellent collection of creators! I'm most tickled by Otto Binder. He's definitely one of my favorites, that has suffered---I think---from being at the wrong company at the wrong time. His work on Captain Marvel was some of the best in the Golden Age; but then DC beats Fawcett in the long run and Shazam! fades. Similarly his work at DC was brilliant and is still a lot of fun to read; but of course this was just a bit before Marvel exploded and DC lost a lot of cache.

Plus Kaluta and Hogarth, two of my heroes. This is just an all-star list of recipients/inductees.

Duy Tano said...

Prof, you should've seen my face when the names were coming up in the live feed. I couldn't wipe the big grin off it. I thought it was so cool.

What I think is odd is that Binder was actually inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004 (along with, among others, Jules Feiffer and Jerry Robinson), and he's just now getting the Finger Award. I mean, I'm glad that he gets both awards, but the sequence seems backwards to me.

The Professor said...

So ... you ask ... How huge was Ghost Rider in the 1970s?

I don't have any actual data; I was definitely a kid-buying-comics in the 1970s and not somebody who looked at "the industry". So I have no way to stand back and be objective. Still, it's clear to me that Ghost Rider was huge.

I am sure that most comics sold at that time, by a huge margin, were the standard Marvel superhero books. But those weren't the most interesting ones. The ones that got me and and my friends to say "cool" were the DC war books and the various supernatural books. On the Marvel side there was Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night, and lots of other stuff floating around like Son of Satan. It was definitely Ghost Rider at the top of that heap, though.

The reason Ghost Rider was so gripping is the same as it always is in comics. Even then the superhero genre was doing a huge amount of recycling of standard ideas. After 3 or 4 years of reading Spider-man, you begin to wonder if you really need the next issue. Then comes Ghost Rider, a comic with a gripping visual side, whose focus was primarily on redemption. Now that was different and it was certainly interesting ...

Duy Tano said...

I think that we kids who bought comics in the 90s felt the same way about Spawn. All of a sudden, it was a redemption thing and it involved devils and was definitely very visually gripping. (Never mind that it's all mostly unreadable the more you grow up.)

Oddly, everyone thinks of Spawn as a general confluence of McFarlane's Spider-Man/Venom ideas, but if one looks at it, his origin is almost exactly the same as Ghost Rider's. Which I guess would make sense.

And of course, even in the 90s, Ghost Rider was huge. I remember a whole line of comics Marvel did called "Spirits of Vengeance," headlined by Ghost Rider and Johnny Blaze. The longhaired, unshaven, motorcycle-riding look was definitely the thing back then.

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