Today is actor Jay North's birthday. North is best known for playing Dennis the Menace on TV. I met him a few years back when Sainted Wife Barb and I took him and Jon "Lassie's Timmy" Provost out to dinner after their appearance at an event in Columbus, Ohio. Provost and his wife - the lovely, talented Laurie Jacobson - are two of my favorite people. I don't know North as well, but he was a charming and intelligent guy. Definitely good people. In honor of North's birthday, today's ALPHA AND OMEGA spotlight falls on the original Dennis the Menace comic, launched by Standard Publications in August of 1953.
Cartoonist Hank Ketcham's daily Dennis the Menace panel made its debut on March 12, 1951. Within a year, it was appearing in a hundred newspapers. A year later, a paperback collection sold over 120,000 copies. The comic book enjoyed similar success.
After 14 issues at Standard and another 17 published by Pines, Dennis moved to Fawcett. DENNIS THE MENACE #166 [November, 1979] was the last issue of that series, but the DENNIS THE MENACE POCKET FULL OF FUN digests continued to appear through March, 1980. From 1953 through 1980, Standard/Pines/Fawcett published just under 500 different Dennis comic books.
Dennis the Menace made a brief return to comic books, courtesy of Marvel Comics. Their first issue was dated November, 1981, but the series only ran for a year, ending with DENNIS THE MENACE #13 [November, 1982]. During that brief period, Marvel also published three Dennis digests.
Today, both the Dennis the Menace daily panel and Sunday comic strip still enjoy great success. Ketcham's original panels are now being reprinted in classy hardcover collections by those swell guys at Fantagraphics Books. But, as terrific as those collections are, I wish the original comic books could also find their way back into print. They were among the best comics of the 1950s and 1960s, essential reading for those of us who grew up during those pivotal decades. I'd love to read them again.
LIGHTNING ROUND REVIEWS
Reviews of Marvel's ANNIHILATION/CIVIL WAR and DC's INFINITE CRISIS/ONE YEAR LATER will resume next week, but there are lots of other comics, books, and magazines to cover as well.
HANK KETCHAM'S COMPLETE DENNIS THE MENACE 1953-1954: VOLUME 2 [Fantagraphics; $24.95] delivers a devastatingly large bang for your bucks. The beautifully designed hardcover is just under six inches wide, about six-and-a-half inches high, and over two inches thick. Its 650 pages present two full years of comic panels as well as "Hank Ketcham, Stylist Supreme," an introduction by noted comics historian R.C. Harvey. There's nothing I can say about Ketcham's crisp, energetic, inviting, and masterful work that Harvey doesn't say better, but I do offer that this book is thoroughly delightful from start to finish. Every cartoon put a smile on my face; some of them had me laughing out loud. On our usual scale, it earns the full five out of five Tonys.
There's something fundamentally wrong about a comics industry that doesn't have new issues of Richie Rich and Casper and Sad Sack comic books in it. However, thanks to editor/publisher/writer Mark Arnold, we have THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES [$4.50] to remind us what we're missing. In THFT #64, the most recent issue, Arnold gives us a smattering of Harvey news, a look at Harvey characters that never saw print, a history and review of the Jerry Lewis SAD SACK movie, and fun columns by Christopher E. Barat, Joe Torcivia, and Quentin Clem. The 20-page fanzine is a bit pricey, but you're not going to find material like this anywhere else. That earns it a respectable three Tonys. For ordering information, go to:
Collectors Press publishes compact collections of wonderful images from our pop culture past. In JEEPERS PEEPERS! A GALLERY OF AMERICAN PIN-UP ART [$14.95], we get 250+ paintings of captivating, sexy, and surprisingly innocent beauties, rendered by some of the best pin-up artists of all time. The informative introduction by New York gallery owner Louis K. Meisel sets the stage for a parade of glamour girls, sportswomen, seaside sirens, Indian princesses, and homespun honeys. The represented artists include Gil Elvgren (whose 1948 painting graces the cover), Rolf Armstrong, Zoe Mozert, and others, including one 1962 painting by comics artist Jay Scott Pike. It's a fun book - I recommend enjoying it a section or two at a time - and portable enough to travel with you almost anywhere. It earns four Tonys.
The third time I looked at Mark Sparacio's LIBERTY GIRL #1 [Heroic Publishing; $3.25] cover, just prior to writing this mini-review, I realized that the title heroine is a ringer for Allison Hannigan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame. It's a good look for the all-American super-heroine. Inside the issue, writer/publisher Dennis Mallonee teams with Sparacio for a 25-page introduction to Liberty Girl, the first part of a story which clues readers in on LG's World War II adventures and brings her into the present amidst time distortion and other unearthly phenomena. It's a solid effort all around. Backing up the lead tale is a 3-page feature on the Icicle by Mallonee and artist Ciro Napolitano; it's a quick and entertaining way to acquaint readers with yet another character in the Heroic pantheon. This one earns three Tonys.
The splash page narrations make my teeth hurt, but, once you get past those, you'll find the four stories in MARVEL ADVENTURES: SPIDER-MAN VOL.3: DOOM WITH A VIEW DIGEST [$6.99] entertaining fare for readers of all ages. The digest reprints MARVEL ADVENTURES: SPIDER-MAN #9-12 by Sean McKeever and Mike Norton, stories wherein our teen wall-crawler goes up against the likes of Doctor Doom, Mysterio, the Mad Thinker, and Nightmare. "Make Mine Mysterio" is the best of the four - it features a classmate of Peter Parker who is also his rival in selling photos to J. Jonah Jameson, but all of the stories are quite readable. The title is aimed at the younger reader, but this child of the Silver Age enjoyed it, too. It earns three Tonys.
Look for more lightning-round reviews tomorrow.
DC Comics appears uninterested in pursuing a Black Lightning movie - you'd have to ask them why - but that doesn't stop fans of my creation from asking me who I'd like to see portray Jeff Pierce should such a film ever be made. It's not something I often think about because, at present, at least, it wouldn't be my call even if a movie was being pursued. But, since you asked...
He's the brilliant actor who plays Dr. Preston Burke on Grey's Anatomy. He has a commanding presence without overselling it. The admiration and respect shown his character is a natural consequence of who that character is and how he conducts himself. Physically, he's handsome and athletic. All of these would be required for him to bring Jeff Pierce to cinematic life.
What really sold me on Washington, though, was when TV GUIDE [June 19-25] quoted his wife, Jenisa, in their annual list of TV's sexiest men:
He has a gorgeous physique, but what really makes my heart go pitter-patter is his generosity. Recently, he traced his ancestry back to Sierra Leone in Africa. He decided to travel there with a film crew. He took along a doctor and got Nike to donate tennis shoes and soccer balls, and a medical organization to give penicillin. He's also interested in the plight of the African-American. A few years ago, he noticed the only parts he was being offered were as hoodlums. He made a decision to stop portraying negative stereotypes, even though it meant not working for a while. He believes that what you do comes back to you, and he's very clear about he wants to leave behind for his children. I'm so proud of him.
Washington's decision on what kind of characters he would play is what sealed the deal for me.
Jefferson Pierce was created to be a positive role model. He is not a perfect man, but he always tries to live up to his ideals. He would never follow authority blindly. He'd never be an absentee parent. He'd never kill in cold blood. He's a genuinely moral man who believes in a forgiving and loving God.
Though he has no family of his own - he was an only child and his brief marriage to Lynn Stewart did not produce children - Jeff does build families around him. At the schools where he's taught, in the original Outsiders, and in the Cleveland neighborhood where my last Black Lightning stories were set.
I believe Washington would "get" Jeff Pierce, both as an actor and as a man. I think he'd do a superb job bringing the character to life as I have always envisioned him.
Isaiah Washington is who I'd like to see as Black Lightning in a movie. Further questions about such a movie should be addressed to DC Comics. For now.
Months back, after the nominations for the 2006 EISNER AWARDS were announced, I ran four weeks of questions asking you to vote on the nominees. In yesterday's TOT, I ran the first batch of results from our unofficial voting and saw how your choices compared to the actual winners. You were an impressive five-for-six.
I'm asking you to vote on both the biggest news to come out of this year's Comic-Con International and the news which was the most personally exciting for you. These questions will be active until sometime after midnight Monday night, at which point they will be replaced by new questions.
TRAVELS WITH JUSTIN
Justin, the wondrous web-wizard who makes my column possible, will be attending WIZARD WORLD CHICAGO, August 3-6, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. If you should see him there, be sure to say "hi" and thank him for all his hard work on this feature and on World Famous Comics. For information on the convention, go here:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: