Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Friday, May 10, 2013
Last time “To Be Continued...” introduced Bart Hill, the Original superhero to go by the name of “Daredevil”, published not by Marvel Comics, but by Lev Gleason Publications. So with him around how did Marvel create their more famous, latter-day hero?

In 1982 when the team of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson were pumping new life into Marvel’s blind superhero, a company called Fantaco Enterprises produced a oneshot magazine called The Daredevil Chronicles, about the Marvel hero, but Lev Gleason’s Daredevil was featured on both the first and the last interior pages of artwork. The second appearance, containing a comparison and contrast between Bart Hill and Marvel’s Daredevil, Matt Murdock, revealed that Gleason’s Daredevil Comics achieved a peak circulation of six million copies per month. By way of comparison according to G.B. Hecht’s 2003 “Marvel Circulation Analysis”, the House of Ideas’ namesake crusader’s peak circulation in the 1960s was under 300,000 and although the Miller/ Janson run brought sales up above 250,000 again, by the dawn of the new millennium, sales of Daredevil‘s comics were peaking at 100,000 but often dropped to well below half that.

Does that sound counter-intuitive? Isn’t the comicbook industry bigger now than it has ever been? Yes and no. The industry itself is bigger, yes. Hollywood surely wouldn’t have bet the 1940s equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars on comic properties at the time. Even the successful Batman & Robin, Captain Marvel and Captain America movie serials were of a comparatively small budget. While comics cost a good bit more to produce now, they cost exponentially more to buy than they did in the ‘40s.

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Tuesday, Apr 30, 2013
To Be Continued...” explores aspects of Graphic Literature and Comic Art to connect the none-too-obvious links and histories found in comics. This week we focus on the superhero named Daredevil... but it's not the Marvel Comics hero you know.

Happy Comic Book Day, True Believers. You all know about Daredevil right? He’s the superhero with a disability who uses his special skills and handheld weapon to fly above the city and punish criminals. He’s the one who started out in a largely yellow costume in his first appearance, but soon shifted the mostly red look that he’s most recognized for.

Yeah, you know Daredevil. And if you’re a true comicbook fan you know that his secret identity is… Bart Hill.

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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013
When we last left "To Be Continued..." we discussed the history, cinema and saga of Miyamoto Usagi, from Stan Sakai's most famous work, but what are the most noteworthy stories in that continuing saga?

Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo may star a bunny rabbit as cute as any in the old “funny animal” subgenre of comicbooks from days gone by, but Miyamoto Usagi is not a joke. Based on the ancient Japanese pictorials (that also featured pre-Manga wide-eyed animals in serious situations) and the life and writings of Miyamoto Musashi, Usagi’s stories take equal inspiration from Japanese cinema and mythology.
Surprisingly, some of the best Usagi stories have revolved around creator Stan Sakai’s own vast imagination, as well as direct historical accounts of the Edo period of Japan.
Ancient Japanese legends tell the story of the famed Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugii, the “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven”. This artifact represents one third of the treasured Imperial Regalia of Japan. Alongside the mirror Yata no Kagami (representing Wisdom) and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama (representing Benevolence), the sword represents Valor. Eventually the “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven” received a name change to Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi or, in English: “Grasscutter”.

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Tuesday, Apr 9, 2013
Previously we introduced Stan Sakai's Miyamoto Usagi, the "Rabbit Bodyguard" who travels the landscape of ancient Japan, supported by a cast of anthropomorphic animal characters, but Usagi didn't start as a "cute bunny" with a martial arts mean-streak. This ronin was all Samurai, all the time, as informed by Japanese legend as by Japanese cinema.

Who is this rabbit ronin star of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo? That answer goes back hundreds of years to a man who was a contemporary of William Shakespeare’s, though he lived on the other side of the world. Miyamoto Musashi (also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke and Niten Dōraku) was the author of Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) a tactical and philosophical strategy guide that is still studied today as a guide to business (amongst other things). He was also the founder of his own style of swordsmanship (called “Niten-ryū”) and a wandering ronin (masterless samurai) whose adventures spawned legends that became film and television sagas, remaining popular to this day. Even in Musashi’s own day there were pictorial texts that told his tales in a format not unlike today’s comicbooks.

This artwork may well have been the inspiration for Japanese American Stan Sakai to create his own comicbook based on the life of Musashi. This proposed manga was to focus on the real history of the historical (and quite human) Musashi, until Sakai playfully redrew his version of the ronin as a bunny rabbit with a top knot comprised of his black hair-covered ears. Sakai found the image too compelling to abandon and (after a drawing revision that left the rabbit’s fur all white) Miyamoto became Usagi, a roamin’ ronin with Musashi’s history, but a free background with which to create Sakai’s own world. Still, Japanese films continued to influence Sakai’s gridded page.

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Monday, Apr 1, 2013
While the resurgence in popularity of the uncolored gridded page is often traced back to the surprise success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (1984), many of the comics that benefitted from the wave that erupted in the wake of the Turtles were already in publication with cult followings of their own…

Dave Sim’s Cerebus the Aardvark started its decades-long self-published run in 1977 and Grendel’s initially inauspicious bow came the year before the Renaissance artist namesake reptile warriors hit the shops. Initially a parody of Marvel’s mutant comics (which were becoming all the rage) as well as Frank Miller’s work on Ronin and Daredevil and even Cerebus himself, the Turtles spawned spoofs of their own like Karate Kreatures and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. Along with Cerebus, Grendel and the other black and white precursors and followers of the TMNT phenomenon, another black and white martial arts cute animal began to hack and slash his way into the comicbook collective in the form of Miyamoto Usagi, the focal character of writer-artist Stan Sakai’s comicbook Usagi Yojimbo.

However, Usagi was neither an imitation of the Turtles, nor a spinoff of their title. In the 1980s, however, this was an easy mistake to make. More than once Usagi guest-starred in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comicbook (and the four brothers from that title returned the favor when they visited Usagi’s own). Usagi appeared in two episodes of the 1987 Turtles animated series and no less than seven episodes of their 2003 cartoon show. The first ever commercially released Usagi Yojimbo toys were part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure line (a tie in with the 1987 cartoon).

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