Category Archives: Know Thy History

Know Thy History: Tintin

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When The Adventures of Tintin movie opened in America on 2011, the general public consensus around these parts was, “Whaaa—-? Who—?” I mean, I’d heard of TinTin… but that’s because I took French in high school, and knowledge of the charming boy reporter is pretty much taught in Week 2. Unless you think I’m joking about the American reaction to Tintin, Box Office Mojo reports on the numbers: despite having Steven Spielberg as director, it debuted at #5 and took in $9 Million on opening weekend. Domestically, it brought in $77 million overall. By comparison, the already much forgotten Meet The Robinsons debuted with $25 Million on opening weekend with a $97 million total take.

Fortunately, Spielberg could count on another audience: pretty much the rest of the world. Almost 80% of the profit came from non-American audiences, bringing the total take to $373 million. It’s pretty respectable. Personally, I thought the movie was fine. There were cool moments here and there — like the crash landing in the desert and the crazy chase scene through the crowded streets — but most of the movie I’ve already forgotten.

Still, this bodes well for Spielberg’s plans. He’d heard about Tintin when a review compared it to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Georges Remi, a.k.a. Herge, was the creator of Tintin, and he was likewise a fan of Indiana Jones. The two had planned to meet in 1983 to do a Tintin movie together, but before the meeting date, Herge had passed away. (Herge’s widow, though, decided to give Spielberg the filming rights.) However, nothing seemed to work out. Spielberg was dissatisfied with the progress (working on the Indiana Jones sequels instead), and eventually the rights were passed from one owner to another. However, the Herge Foundation only trusted Spielberg to make a faithful adaptation. With fellow Tintin fan Peter Jackson on board, the movie finally came together. Spielberg had planned ahead for two movies, and a third may yet be on the way.

So what is it about Tintin that captured the imagination of two high-profile film directors?

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Know Thy History: Annie

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Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie is one of those comic strips whose reputation in other media has eclipsed its original incarnation. The strip began in 1924 after debuting in the New York Daily News. Following the story of a naive young vagabond and her weird-looking dog named Sandy, Annie rose in popularity until it became the most popular comic strip in 1937 according to Fortune magazine.

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The formula was simple: Annie got into some trouble with some malefactors, and her guardian, the famously bald-headed “Daddy” Warbucks, would swoop in to save the day. Rinse. Repeat. Still, for a very innocent strip, Little Orphan Annie made some powerful enemies thanks to Harold Gray’s brand of politics. Such as opponents of child labor. Hey, you lazy kids! Why don’t you go out and get a job like Annie, that little sweetheart?

Annie really did have a very colorful career. She fought gangsters and challenged crooked politicians. She commanded her own commando unit, which sounds crazy until you figure that Annie had a heck of a left hook. Also, in one instance, Annie blew up a Nazi sub. According to Susan Houston:

Her first mission is dramatic enough for any child on the home front longing for a real adventure. She and her friend Panda find a hidden U-boat in a nearby cove, and manage to drag a floating mine to dash against the hull and blow it up.

Hardcore.

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Little Orphan Annie ended only a few years ago in 2010. Apparently our bright-haired moppet was left stranded in captivity on the very last strip. Also, she was wearing jeans and her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, a pretty transparent attempt at trying to modernize the character.  It’s kinda like trying to put Mickey Mouse in baggy pants and a hoodie, though:  the red frock and the clown wig is so iconic that anything else is not very Annie.  (Fortunately, she was still rocking those blank, soulless eyes right to the end.)  Hilariously, “Daddy” Warbucks declares her dead. The very last panel of Annie reads, “And this is where we leave our Annie. For Now—” Seriously, that’s probably one of the most depressing ways for a strip to end. Even Brenda Starr got to retire with dignity.

Her disappearance was referred to in Dick Tracy this year, where it’s implied that “Daddy” Warbucks may enlist the great detective’s help in trying to find her.

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Annie was an orphan who lived in Dickensian squalor until she’s adopted by the Warbuckses. (For those of you who are only familiar with her later incarnations, she was initially taken in by a Mrs. Warbucks as a publicity stunt.) Mr. Warbucks would take a shining on the girl, and soon he would be known as “Daddy.” Eventually, Annie would be globe trotting and going on adventures, while “Daddy” would be doing stuff like faking his death because f*** you, FDR! You and your New Deal are the death of America.

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Know Thy History: Teen Titans

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It happens every single time. There’s a new interpretation of a superhero out… but it’s totally different from what we’ve seen before! We grumble, whine, and complain about how the new directors are pandering to the terrible sensibilities of kids these days, ignoring the elements that made these heroes so beloved in the first place. But you owe to to yourself to step back a little. Dig up the source material and really look at it. Read the first issue encased in that anthology series, or even that first self-titled comic, and ask yourself: isn’t this always what Bob Haney and Nick Cardy intended?

That’s right, I’m talking about Teen Titans Go! It’s positioned in the enviable task of following up the highly well regarded Young Justice series. The way fans are going after it, it’s like … well, it’s like when the original Teen Titans cartoon debuted in the shadow of the much beloved Justice League series. (Teen Titans eventually became a well loved franchise in its own right, hence this new series which follows the character design of the original but is geared at a much younger age set.)

Yet, while the first episode of Teen Titans Go! follows “the team on a trip across the globe to find legendary sandwich ingredients”, you gotta realize that the original Teen Titans? They were pretty far out, man.

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Know Thy History: Hot Wheels

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Webcomic authors! It’s time to ditch the t-shirt based revenue business model and roll with the diecast tiny car models. It’s the future!

Know Thy History: Aquaman

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“Aquaman’s not lame anymore!”

I have heard this refrain a thousand times. I imagine I will hear it a a thousand times more. It’s usually when writers try to “cool up” Aquaman. Oh, look, Aquaman’s badass now! Not that lame dude from the Superfriends who rode on a seahorse! Or the walking punchline from the Robot Chicken sketches!

Love him! LOVE HIM!

The first time I heard it was during Peter David’s run, where Aquaman lost a hand and replaced it with a hook. Then there was the time my favorite fantasy author, Tad Williams, wrote a bunch of Aquaman stories. And then there was the animated Justice League version. And then the Geoff Johns version where Aquaman is defying the public perception that he’s lame. I imagine it was being said when Aquaman was named leader of the all new, all different, and much maligned Justice League Detroit.

Most recently, people are saying it with regards to the Aquaman of the Injustice fighting game, where he attacks his enemies with sharks. (“Oh, man! They got eaten by sharks! Aquaman’s not lame anymore!”)

Here’s the thing, though. That phrase, “Aquaman’s not lame anymore”? It’s sorta like “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Just by saying it, you’re reminding yourself that, hey, there are quite a few lame elements to the Aquaman character. And then you’re back to square one again.

This is why my favorite version of Aquaman is the guy who ruled the Seven Seas during the Silver Age.

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Know Thy History: Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, and the Disney Ducks

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They ride tall ships to the far away,
and see the long ago.
They walk where fabled people trod,
and Yetis trod the snow.

They meet the folks who live on stars,
and find them much like us,
With food and love and happiness
the things they most discuss.

The world is full of clans and cults
abuzz as angry bees,
And Junior Woodchucks snapping jeers
at Littlest Chickadees.

The ducks show us that part of life
is to forgive a slight.
That black eyes given in revenge
keep hatred burning bright.

So when our walks in sun or shade
pass graveyards filled by wars,
It’s nice to stop and read of ducks
whose battles leave no scars.

To read of ducks who parody
our vain attempts at glory,
They don’t exist, but somehow leave
us glad we bought their story.

That poem was written by the man known by the world as the Good Duck Artist: Carl Barks. Donald Duck may have been created by the late, great Walt Disney, but it can be argued — very successfully, in fact — that he didn’t come into his own until Carl Barks wrote stories about him. More importantly, Carl Barks is the creator of Donald Duck’s wealthy uncle: a self-made duck with a top hat and tiny pince-nez glasses named Scrooge McDuck.

The world of race cars, lasers, and aeroplanes would never be the same again.

(Incidentally, much of my info for this piece  comes straight from the Wikipedia entry on Carl Barks, which is super detailed.  I have a feeling Don Rosa wrote it.)

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Know Thy History: Pogo

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Not many newspaper funnies characters have a.) campaigned for president in the real world (and not the in-universe cartoon world), and b.) actually started a student riot. I know what you’re saying. “El Santo, you silly goose. Garfield the cat and Garfield the president were two different characters! And that lasagna-inspired student riot in 1873 was totally unrelated.”

But see, I’m not talking about Garfield. I’m talking about Walt Kelly’s Pogo.
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These days, webcomic creators trying to drum up business by emblazoning T-shirts with catchphrases. For Walt Kelly, that would’ve been kid’s play. His marketing tactics were far more ambitious. Such as, say, using the 1952 American presidential elections to sell books. In those days, the candidate to beat was Dwight Eisenhower. His infamous slogan — “I Like Ike” — was printed on a ton of buttons.

Kelly followed in kind. He launched a button of his own with the phrase “I Go Pogo.” The publicity stunt was a huge success. (Hey, kids, if you think that your generation invented irony, this is what your grandparents were wearing on their jackets.) Papers gave out 2 million Pogo buttons. Kelly hit the bookstores and campuses, selling books and urging people to vote. He sold 100,000 Pogo books.

Things went a little off the rails when Kelly made a stop at Harvard, though. In an incident that somehow wasn’t written by Dan Harmon, an “I Go Pogo” rally turned into a full blown student riot. The cause? A delayed flight that prevented Kelly from showing time, and 1,600 restless students.

Even when Kelly finally did show up, his speech was interrupted by students racing each other on pogo sticks. The entire riot was masterminded by the editor of the school newspaper (The Harvard Crimson), Laurence D. Salvadore. In a rather Jeff-Winger-esque description, he is recalled as wearing “silk chartreuse socks” and his success with the ladies. Salvadore apparently picked up Kelly, but decided to hang out with him at a nearby bar, fully intending to cause the absence that would escalate things to riot levels. It’s kind of insane that the plan actually worked. Hey, remember the days when cartoonists were such rock stars that people would cause public disturbances if they didn’t show up?

Sorta makes multiple episodes about blanket forts seem tame and believable by comparison.

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Know Thy History: Vibe

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I have a feeling that the Justice League Detroit era wouldn’t have been quite so roundly mocked if it weren’t for the fact that they were moving to Detroit. For years, the team had been opening out of a satellite from space. They consisted of an all-star super team from DC Comics, which included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern.

And then, in 1984, it was time to shake things up. Super teams staffed with the World’s Finest was suddenly out of vogue. What was cool? Tight knit teams high on the soap opera. Teams like the uncanny X-Men, and to a lesser extent the Team Titans. Team comics were for B-list characters to shine!

So… One fateful day, Aquaman exploited a loophole in the Justice League constitution. Using his power as one of the founding members to disband the team whenever he wanted, the King Of Atlantis decided that the old Justice League of America was no more… and a new one would take its place. One that wouldn’t be based in the lofty confines of space … but rather in an abandoned warehouse in Detroit.

Incidentally, it’s later revealed that Aquaman dissolved the old Justice League because he was having problems with his wife. Yup, this incarnation of the Justice League was pretty much DOA.

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