Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Late Great Irwin Hasen: DC's Last Golden Age Artist

Irwin Hasen, the legendary artist who created DC Comics superhero Wildcat with writer Bill Finger and created the comic strip Dondi with Gus Edson, died March 13 2015 at the age of 96. According to comic book writer and comic book historian Michael Uslan, Irwin Hasen was DC Comics' last surviving artist from the Golden Age of Comic Books.

Irwin Hasen was born in Manhattan on July 8 1918. He attended DeWitt Clinton High New York City. Immediately upon graduating high school he enrolled at the National Academy of Design, one of the oldest and most prestigious art schools in the nation. While attending the National Academy of design he sold drawings of prize fighters to the Madison Square Garden Corporation. Mr. Hasen's drawings would then be printed in various newspapers and magazines. After attending the National Academy of Design for three years, he enrolled in the Art Students League of New York.

Irwin Hasen began his comic book career freelancing for such comic book packagers as  Harry "A" Chesler,  Bert Whitman, and Funnies Inc. During this time he did work for such comic book publishers as Holyoke (where he contributed to Green Hornet Comics), Tem Publishing (for whom he created the character of Cat-Man), and MLJ Comics (for whom he created The Fox with writer Joe Blair--MLJ would later become Archie Comics). After freelancing for a time Irwin Hasen went to work for  All-American Publications, one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics. There he became the first artist to regularly draw Green Lantern following co-creator Martin Nodell. It was also at All-American Publications that he created Wildcat with writer Bill Finger (who also co-created Batman). Wildcat was prize fighter Ted Grant, who became a superhero to clear his name after being wrongly accused of a crime. Wildcat would prove to be one of All-American's more popular heroes and has continued to play a significant role in DC Comics to this day.

During World War II Irwin Hasen served as a prison guard  in the United States Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He edited the Fort Dix Post, as well as wrote the comic strip Sgt. Round-Step O'Malley and columns for the paper. He even set the type himself. Mr. Hasen would later say that it was his proudest achievement.

Following the war Irwin Hasen returned to work for All-American Publications, during which time it merged with sister company National Comics (publisher of Superman, Batman, et. al.) to form National Periodical Publications, essentially the modern day DC Comics. He once more drew Green Lantern stories, as well as stories for The Flash, Johnny Thunder, and the Justice Society of America. Working on the Justice Society of America feature he was the only artist to illustrate an entire issue of All-Star Comics (#39, February 1948). He co-created several supervillains, including Green Lantern foe Sportsmaster (with writer John Broome), Green Lantern foe Icicle (with writer Robert Kanigher), and Justice Society opponent Per Degaton (with writer John Broome). He also drew several covers while at All-American/National Periodical Publications, including covers for All-American Comics, All-Star Comics, Green Lantern, Sensation Comics, and Wonder Woman.

While working at All-American Publications Irwin Hasen drew The Goldbergs, a comic strip based on the popular radio show of the same name, that was published in The New York Post from 1944 to 1945. It was in 1954 that Irwin Hasen, as a member of the National Caroonists Society, went on a USO tour of Korea along with five other cartoonists, among them Gus Edson (creator of The Gumps). Messrs. Edison and Hasen struck up a friendship during the trip. The two of them then created the long running comic strip Dondi.

Dondi centred on a five year old Italian orphan of World War II who was taken in by two American soldiers (Ted Wills and Whitey McGowan). The boy had no memory of his parents or even his own name, but took the name "Dondi" after a Red Cross worker referred to him as "a dandy boy". Gus Edson wrote the strip and Iriwn Hasen illustrated it until Mr. Edson's death in 1966. Afterwards Irwin Hasen both illustrated Dondi and wrote its scripts with Bob Oksner providing help with the plots.

Dondi proved very popular. At its peak it appeared in over 100 major newspapers. In 1961 a film based on the comic strip was released. Unfortunately the film is often counted among the worst ever made and failed at the box office. Fortunately the film did not hurt the comic strip at all. In all Dondi ran for nearly 31 years. Having debuted on September 25 1955, it ended its run on June 8 1986.

Following the demise of Dondi Mr. Hasen became a familiar figure at comic book conventions. In 2009 he published a memoir, Loverboy An Irwin Hasen Story PB. Dan Makara directed a documentary short, Irwin: A New York Story, in which the nonagenarian discussed his work and his life. It debuted in 2010.

Ultimately it must be said that Irwin Hasen was not only the last of DC Comic's major artists from the Golden Age, but also one the best artists of all time. He had a clear, crisp style that at the same time did not sacrifice detail. Indeed, his work on the various All-American titles look more like something one might see in the better newspaper comic strips of the time. At the time perhaps only Alex Toth and Joe Kubert could match Irwin Hasen as an artist.

Of course, beyond Irwin Hasen's talent as an artist there is also the fact that he co-created characters with lasting appeal. Wildcat would prove to be one of the most popular characters at All-American Publications, one who has managed to survive well into the 21st Century. Indeed, the character even made his live action television debut last year in an episode of Arrow. The various supervillains that Mr. Hasen co-created (Sportsmaster, Icicle, Per Degaton, and so on ) would also prove to have lasting power. When National Periodical Publications brought back the Golden Age versions of The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, and so on in the Sixties, they brought back the supervilllains as well. Per Degaton alone would continue to appear well into the Naughts. Beyond his work in comic books, it must be pointed out that Dondi ran for a little over three decades, much longer than many comic strips. Compilations of the Dondi comic strips are still being published to this day. Ultimately Irwin Hasen proved to be not only one of the longest living artists of the Golden Age, but one of the most successful. He created some lasting characters and later transitioned into a newspaper comic strip where he also created a character with a good deal of longevity.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Simpsons Creator Sam Simon R.I.P.

Television writer and producer Sam Simon, who co-created The Simpsons with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, died on March 8 2015 at the age of 59. The cause was cancer.

Sam Simon was born on June 6 1955 in Los Angeles, California. He spent his childhood in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He attended Stanford University in Stanford, California. While there he worked as a cartoonist on the school newspaper. While he was attending Stanford he also worked as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. Following graduation he worked as a storyboard artist at Filmation. It was at Filmation that he received his first credit as a writer, on episodes of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle in 1979.

It was in 1982 that he broke into writing for live action, prime time situation comedies, writing episodes of Barney Miller and Best of the West in 1982. In the Eighties he went onto write episodes of Taxi, Cheers, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and The Tracey Ullman Show. He served as executive story editor on Taxi from 1981 to 1982 and a producer on Cheers from 1984 to 1985. He was an executive producer on The Tracy Ullman Show. It was on The Tracy Ullman Show that the Simpsons themselves originated in bumpers (segments aired before and after commercial breaks) created for the show by Matt Groening, creator of the comic strip Life in Hell. The characters proved so popular that they graduated from bumpers to their own segments during the show. Eventually the characters proved so popular that it was decided to spin them off into their own half hour series, The Simpsons.

While Matt Groening created the five main characters on the show (Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge, and Maggie), it was Sam Simon who developed much of  the world of the Simpsons (namely, the city of Springfield), as well as many of show's central characters ( Mr. Burns, Dr. Hibbert, Chief Wiggum, and yet others). It was Sam Simon who assembled the show's first team of writers. He has often been credited with setting the tone for the show and as well as giving the seies its sensibility, making The Simpsons essentially a sitcom whose comedy grew out of the characters. Sam Simon's involvement with The Simpsons was such that he was not only credited as one of the show's creators and executive producers, but also character designer, creative consultant, and creative supervisor. He wa also responsible for a good deal of writing on the show.

Unfortunately Sam Simon did not get along particularly well with either Matt Groening or James L. Brooks. As a result he left the show in 1993. In leaving the show he received a deal in which he got a portion of the show's profits every year, as well as an executive producer credit even though he was no longer with the show. In the end. this made him a very wealthy man.

After leaving The Simpsons Mr. Simon created the short lived series Phenom and co-created the short lived George Carlin Show with George Carlin. He wrote episodes of Sibs as well as the feature film The Super. He served as a creative consultant and executive producer on The Drew Carey Show. He later served as an executive consultant on Anger Management. He also started directing television, directing episodes of The George Carlin Show, Friends, the American version of Men Behaving Badly, Norm, The Michael Richards Show, The Drew Carey Show, and Anger Management.

Later in his life Sam Simon also became active with various charities. He created the Sam Simon Foundation, which is dedicated to rescuing and training homeless dogs as service dogs. He also served on the board of Save the Children. He supported the ocean conservation organisation the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as well.

Sam Simon participated in the the World Series of Poker every year between 2007 and 2011, as well as other poker events.

Although for many years it was rarely acknowledged, there can be no doubt that Sam Simon was responsible for a good deal of The Simpsons as we know it. It was largely Mr. Simon who shaped the show and gave the show its sensibility. Many of the characters on the show, as well as many of the running gags (such as Mr. Burns's assistant Smithers) were developed by Sam Simon. He also gathered together the show's original team of writers. In the first three years of The Simpsons there was very little that of the show that was not touched by Sam Simon in some way, from character design to writing. To a large degree Sam Simon was responsible for the success of the show. While he was gone by what might be considered the Golden Age of The Simpsons (roughly 1994 to 1997), it was he who set the stage for it.

Of course, Sam Simon worked on more shows than The Simpsons. He wrote several episodes of Taxi, Cheers, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and The Tracy Ullman Show, episodes which number among the best of their respective series. He won Emmys for his work as a producer on The Tracey Ullman Show and The Simpsons, and was nominated for an Emmy for The Garry Shandling Show. While he was reportedly not the easiest person to work with (at least according to George Carlin, Matt Groening, and James L. Brooks), there can be no doubt that he was a very good television writer and producer. Indeed, he was responsible for a good deal of classic television in the Eighties and Nineties.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Late Great Sir Terry Pratchett

Fantasy novelist, humorist, and satirist Sir Terry Pratchett died today at the age of 66. He was best known for his "Discworld" series. In 2007 he was diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's disease,  posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). The cause of Sir Terry's death was a chest infection combined with the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

Terence David John Pratchett was born on April 28 1948 in the village of Penn, which is located near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. It was his grandmother who interested him in the works of H. G. Wells, Richard Crompton, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a lad he also developed an interest in science fiction, as well as astronomy. He attended  High Wycombe Technical High School in Buckinghamshire. His first short story,"The Hades Business", was published in the school paper when he was 13. He left school at age 17 to go to work for the Bucks Free Press in High Wycombe. He later worked for the Western Daily Press and the Bath Chronicle.

It was in 1971 that his first book, The Carpet People, was published. It was followed by The Dark Side of the Sun in 1976 and Strata in 1981. It was in 1983 that the first novel in the "Discworld" series, The Colour of Magic, was published. That same year he went to work for the Central Electricity Generating Board as a press officer. The first three Discworld novels (after The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic was published in 1986 and Equal Rites in 1987) proved successful enough that he was able to leave the Central Electricity Generating Board to take up writing full time. Ultimately the "Discworld" series and Sir Terry's other works would prove so popular that he became the most widely read British author until he was overtaken by J. K. Rowling. In the end forty "Discworld" novels would be published during Sir Terry Pratchett's lifetime with a final novel, The Shepherd's Crown, to be published this September.

Sir Terry Pratchett also wrote several works outside of his "Discworld" series. In 1989 the first book in the "Nome Trilogy", Truckers, was published. It was followed by Diggers and Wings in 1990. In 1992 he published the first book in the "Johnny Maxwell" trilogy, Only You Can Save Mankind. It was followed by Johnny and the Dead in 1993 and Johnny and the Bomb in 1996. With Stephen Baxter he wrote the "Long Earth" series, consisting of the books The Long Earth (2012), The Long War (2012), and The Long Mars (2014), with the book The Long Utopia to be published this June. He co-wrote the novel Good Omens with Neil Gaiman, which was published in 1990. He also wrote the books Nation (published in 2008) and Dodger (published in 2012).

Books in Sir Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" series have been adapted to television. Hogfather was adapted in 2006, followed by adaptations of  The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic in 2008, and Going Postal in 2010.  Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music were adapted as cel animation series in 1996. Truckers was adapted as a stop motion animation series in 1992. .Johnny and the Dead was adapted as series in 1995.A number of the "Discworld" books have been adapted as radio plays, and Steve Jackson games came out with a "Discworld" supplements for their Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS). They were written by Sir Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters.

Sir Terry continued his childhood interest in astronomy and had his own observatory in his back garden. He was also interested in computers and was among the first authors to be active on the Internet. He was  fascinated by natural science as well. He was  trustee for the Orangutan Foundation UK. Following his diagnosis he played a large role in raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease.

Sir Terry was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen on February 18 2009 at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. He took the accolade with his usual humour, saying afterwards, "You can't ask a fantasy writer not to want a knighthood. You know, for two pins I'd get myself a horse and a sword."

When The Colour of Magic was first published in 1983 the fantasy genre was largely dominated by imitators of either J. R. R. Tolkien or Robert E. Howard. In contrast the "Discworld" series was starkly original, liberally borrowing from the long history of fantasy literature while at the same time presenting readers with a world that was new and different from any in the genre before. With the "Discworld" series Sir Terry parodied many of the conventions of the genre, spoofing J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and other classic fantasy writers. He was also able to use the series as a means to address contemporary issues in a way previous fantasy books had not. In the end Sir Terry Pratchett's blend of fantasy, humour, parody, and satire would become popular with audiences well beyond those who usually read fantasy. A very good case can be made that the "Discworld" series paved the way for such more recent fantasy writers such as J. K. Rowling and Eoin Colfer.

If news of Sir Terry Pratchett's death has been met with an outpouring of grief as only a few authors are, however, it was not simply because he was a great author. To his fans he was always very approachable and he always made time for them. Those who had the opportunity to meet him always spoke of his warmth and kindness. As might be expected he was known for his humour, which could be self deprecating at times. He was known to wear a t-shirt to conventions which read, "“Tolkien’s dead, JK Rowling said 'No,' Philip Pullman couldn’t make it. Hi. I’m Terry Pratchett.” In the end, however, Sir Terry was a substitute for no one. He was a most singular individual, a talented writer who remained approachable to his fans and always cared about them. If Sir Terry Pratchett is mourned by so many, it is perhaps because he was not simply a talented author, but a true gentleman as well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Animator Jeff Hale Passes On

A still from "Thank You Mask Man"
Animator Jeff Hale, who directed the classic Lenny Bruce short "Thank You Mask Man" and worked on everything from Sesame Street to Heavy Metal (1981, died in late February at the age of 92.

Jeff Hale was born on January 5 1923 in Margate, Kent. He took up drawing as a teenager while in hospital, and later graduated from the Royal College of Art in London. He started his career at William Larkin and Company. In 1954 he co-founded the commercial animation studio Biographic Films with William Larkin, Bob Godfrey, and Keith Learner. In 1956 he moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where he joined Phillips-Gutkin and Associates. It was in 1959 that he went to work for the National Film Board in Montreal, making short segments for Canadian television. In late Fifties and the Sixties he directed the shorts "Hors-d'oeuvre" (1960), "Pot-pourri "(1962), "Christmas Cracker" (1962), and "The Great Toy Robbery" (1963).

It was in 1964 that he moved to San Francisco, California. It was in 1966 that he founded Imagination Inc.  with John Magnuson and Walt Kramer. As part of Imagination Inc. Mr. Hale worked on a good deal of the animation for Sesame Street for the next few decades.

In the Seventies he directed the short "Thank You Mask Man" (1971), which utilised a comedy routine by the late Lenny Bruce that parodied The Lone Ranger and Tonto. While the short met with controversy on its first release (to the point that many theatres would not book it), it would later find an audience, particularly after it had been aired several times on the USA Network show Night Flight. In the Seventies Mr. Hale also directed the short "Why We Tell the Truth, or No More Squareburgers in Straightalk" and served as animator on the TV shows The New Shmoo and The Flintstone Comedy Show.

In the Eighties Jeff Hale directed episodes of G.I. Joe: The Revenge of Cobra and the TV movie My Little Pony: Escape from Catrina. He served as an animator on the feature film Heavy Metal (1981), the TV movie Stanley, the Ugly Duckling (1982), and the TV specials Here Comes Garfield, Peter and the Magic Egg, and What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?. He also worked a an animator on the TV shows The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, The Transformers, and Muppet Babies. In the Nineties he worked on the TV show Garfield and Friends.

Mr. Hale retired to Talent, Oregon where he continued to sell his paintings and drawings.

Jeff Hale was one of the most talented animators to emerge during the Fifties and Sixties. He had a very basic style, so much so that it was sometimes nearly primitive (as with "Thank You Mask Man" and some of the animation he did for Sesame Street). Over a long career he worked in nearly every medium of animation there was. He created award winning theatrical shorts, worked on feature films, worked on television commercials, worked on television specials, and worked on Saturday morning cartoons on television. He was both prolific and talented. While his may not be a household name, Jeff Hale will always be remembered by fans of animation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Famous People Born On and Famous Events That Happened on March 10

Today is my birthday. There was a time when I did not really appreciate being born on March 10. I knew I was born on the birthdays of Chuck Norris, Sharon Stone, and Shannon Tweed, but other than that I did not think anything important really happened on the day. Fortunately, through the miracle of the internet, I learned I was wrong.

First, there were a lot of cool people born on March 10, including:

Nancy Cunard was a writer and political activist. She fought both fascism and racism in her career. She also had a relationship with Aldous Huxley and inspired some of his novels.

Character actor Sam Jaffe appeared in such films as Lost Horizon, Gunga Din, The Asphalt Jungle, and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

 Richard Haydn appeared in And Then There Were None, Forever Amber, and Young Frankenstein.

Robert Llewellyn, who plays the android Kryten in one of my favourite shows, Red Dwarf. He has also written nine books!

This is one of my favourite people with whom I share my birthday, Jon Hamm. He plays Don Draper on my favourite show currently on the air, Mad Men. Aside from sharing a birthday and being devilishly handsome, Mr. Hamm and I have a few other things in common. Namely, we were both born in Missouri. In fact, he even lived in Columbia while attending the University of Missouri.

Olivia Wilde played Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley on House and has appeared in such films as  Tron: Legacy, Cowboys & Aliens, and Her. I've interacted with her on a few social networks over the years and she seems really nice.

Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean is probably the most famous music star born on March 10. Here's Jan & Dean's song "Dead Man's Curve"

Last but not least, one of my favourite people in the whole wide world and a dear friend, actress Scarlett O'Neil shares my birthday!

There were a lot more famous people born on March 10, but I haven't room here to list them all. There were a few important, pop culture related events that happened today, all of them music related except for one.

It was today in 1958 that Big Records released the second single (after "Hey, Schoolgirl"), "Our Song", by a duo called Tom and Jerry. They'd later become famous by their given surnames, Simon & Garfunkel.

It was also today in 1964 that Simon & Garfunkel recorded the original, acoustic version of "Sounds of Silence"

And it was today in 1973 that my favourite Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon, was released. Here from that album is "Brain Damage"/"Eclipse"

According to Marvel.Com, it was on March 10 1963 that Tales of Suspense #39 was published. It is significant as the first appearance of Iron Man (which sort of makes Tony Stark my birthday twin).

Anyhow, it would appear that my assumptions when I was younger were wrong. A lot did happen on March 10! I fully recommend researching who was born and what happened on your birthday. You might be surprised at what did happen.