A look at the career of comics artist Jim Aparo.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Aparo on the Web: The Spectre

At The Bronze Age of Blogs, Pete Doree treats us today to "The Wrath of the Spectre". Pete offers up some well-deserved praise for the Orlando/Fleischer/Aparo/Carley run from the 1970's in Adventure Comics, and serves up scans of the first installment for your reading pleasure. I was struck by this comment of Pete's:
[Aparo's] art also had the 'cool' factor, something indefinable that only Gil Kane's could match. Every one of his characters somehow just looked unspeakably cool, like the greatest Rat Pack movie never made.
Well said, Pete! Anyone who's seen Jim's rendition of the Spectre's alter ego, Detective Jim Corrigan, would probably agree. Corrigan wasn't the only stylish and suave gentleman to grace Jim's pages--I'd add his renditions of Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen and Scott Free to the Aparo "Rat Pack", just for starters.

Elsewhere on the web, the Groovy Agents serves up Brave & Bold #116, a team-up of Batman and the Spectre that ran contemporaneous to the Spectre solo series that Pete samples (see above).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Wreck of a Cover!

Here's a look at one of the few comics missing from my own Jim Aparo collection, the cover to Charlton's Grand Prix #31, from 1970. Nearing the end of his stint at Charlton, Jim supplied this smashing piece of art. To the best of my knowledge, it was Jim's only contribution to the racing comics genre (Charlton, I believe, was the only publisher of American color comics still exploiting the subject by the 1970's). That's Jim's distinctive lettering on the "Last Chance" title, by the way. Charlton was often quite happy to let Jim letter his covers (not the logo, of course), unlike DC, which was far pickier about its cover text. I've usually found that comics artists struggled--often unsuccessfully--when they tried to convey the speed and excitement of racing. Depicting a crack-up like this obviously makes the job a lot easier, with the wheels spinning off the axle and comics-style impact explosion, but I especially love the way Aparo incorporated his trademark landscape tilt to add dynamicism to an already-energetic design. I'll bet the Charlton editors wished they'd assigned Jim a few more of these kinds of jobs after seeing what he turned in here.
Jim would revisit the race tracks a time or two in his career at DC, although not in comics devoted specifically to the genre. Typical of the comics vets of his generation, he could and would draw anything he was assigned to draw, any setting, any time, any genre. And as evidenced by this terrific piece, he usually drew it very, very well.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Something Very Different

Here's a sketch Jim did in his retirement years for a commision job of Sherlock Holmes! Well, he was a DC comics character, I suppose, appearing in one issue of his own comic as well as in Batman and in The Brave and The Bold Special (in an issue with a Jim Aparo cover)! But Jim never got to draw any of those issues. Click it to see it big!
Holmes underwent a surge in popularity in the early 70's, when Jim Aparo was in his prime. I was a big Holmes fan as well as a comics fan, so I really love this piece!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Phantom Stranger Collectible Card, 1993

Our friend rob! at the Phantom Stranger blog has posted a 2006 trading card featuring the Phantom Stranger today. That reminded me of this little gem (which I do believe rob! has missed; I'll have to mention this to him!):

Here we see the front and back of a 1993 card released by Skybox, with pencils and inks by Jim Aparo. I'm not sure what set this is from, but it's #118 out of 150. This particular card was signed by Jim at a comics show in Connecticut. There's not a whole lot to say about it: Tannarak was miscolored, unfortunately. It's a classic representation of the Stranger in an interesting "sinister costume party."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Zip Tyro

Steven "Booksteve" Thompson spotlights Jim Aparo's Zip Tyro strips in a new post at his Hooray for Wally Wood blog. Like many comic book artists of his day, Jim longed to break in to the newspaper adventure strips, and "Zip Tyro" was one of a few of his attempts to do so. ZT was a traditional outer space science fiction adventure, with rockets and space stations and dashing astronauts, and it seems like it should have had a good shot at syndication in the mid-1960's, when America was in love with the space program.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Green Aparo

Back when I was producing the print version of the Jim Aparo Fan Club Newsletter, Jim sent me an exclusive heads-up that he was about to take over the art on Green Arrow as of issue #81. It was (to me, anyway) an unexpected reassignment, but it wasn't one that I objected to. Jim had done some good work on the character in Brave & Bold, and had done one of the few Green Arrow solo covers during that long stretch between his Golden Age days in More Fun Comics and Mike Grell's Green Arrow: The Long Bow Hunters miniseries:
Jim informed me that his inker on this one was to be Gerry Fernandez, and that this guy was Eduardo Barretto's brother-in-law.
Fernandez brought a very different feel to Jim's pencils, and even after all these years, I haven't quite decided whether or not I really like Gerry's inks on Jim.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Savograns Ads from Popular Science

From 1965 issues of Popular Science magazine comes a bigger selection of these ads from Jim Aparo's pre-comics career (long-time Fan Club readers will recall the first post on this blog was one of these Savograns ads, courtesy of Red Oak Kid!).Well, R.O.K. was thoughtful enough to point out an online source for reading these magazines in their entirety! And there's lots of fun stuff besides these nifty Aparo ads.
If you're interested, you can start with this page featuring Jim's ad from the February 1965 issue.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wander over to Diversions of the Groovy Kind...

...where the Groovy Agent has posted the debut installment of Wander, the Western/science fiction/comedy that Jim Aparo drew for Charlton's Cheyenne Kid comic book back in the late 60's. If you've never seen this one, trust me, don't miss it! Jim was a really good artist for westerns! He didn't do many western comics besides the first several installments of this one: a few other jobs for other Charlton comics, and an Outlaw episode in All-Star Western at DC (reprinted in Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Volume 1).

I don't know who has the rights to Wander now. It is probably one of the properties that Roger Broughton purchased when Charlton closed shop. Too bad that in today's Golden Age of Comic Book Reprints nifty Charlton properties like this aren't being packaged.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jim Aparo and The Phantom Stranger

If you're like me, and I know I am, you've been following the Phantom Stranger blog where rob! has been leading us through every single appearance of the Phantom Stranger, from his first comic book in the 50's up to, presumably, the current day. The blog holds obvious interest for any Aparo fan, since Jim made such a mark on the character--many would say he owned the character! Despite following artists Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams, both of whom are known for establishing definitive looks for the characters they worked on, it's Jim's version that seemed to have the most resonance and durability. I've been thinking about that as I've been following the aforementioned blog, which is currently spotlighting the Stranger's appearances during the 1990's. At this point in time, the Phantom Stranger's "costume" had been revised, based on a new look designed by Guy Davis. This design ditched the cape with the high folded collar for, well, a trench coat, and swapped the swinging medallion for a glowing, well, thing on his chest, traded the white gloves for black ones, traded the white turtleneck a plain shirt, and exchanged the sporty, 50s-era hat for a silly looking flat-brimmed model.
It doesn't sound like too drastic a change, in text, but looking through the examples on rob!'s blog, you can see how it really takes the zing out of the character's visual impact, and how the new design was, apparently (and surprisingly), no less difficult for more modern artists to draw.
But PS may have been a challenge even if he'd remained in a cape, although I can't help but think rendering his suit in solid blacks would have hidden a lot of poor attempts at drawing real-world mens' formal fashion. In particular, few artists of the 90's onward seem capable of drawing convincing mens' hats. The early PS artists of the 60's and 70's (Aparo, Neal Adams, Bill Draut) all had a good grasp on drawing street clothes, not in small part, I am sure, to their experiences in advertising and in the ubiquity of civilian garb in comics of that era. And of course, the fact that mens' dress hats were actually still in style when they learned their craft.
I made the claim that Jim's version is the definitive one. Although Jim's version followed Neal Adams' redesign very closely (the turtleneck, the medallion, the collared cape), it was a single daring innovation that Aparo contributed that made all the difference to me.
When Bill Draut began drawing the 60's revival, he emphasised shadows over the Stranger's eyes, although he still frequently showed those eyes, inside the shadow. Adams adopted the convention of drawing the character's eyes as solid white shapes, glowing from the shadows of his hat brim, much like the Spectre's eyes glowed under his cowl.
Jim continued this approach for a while (and continued it on the covers), but after a few issues, he took it a step further: the shadows swallowed the eyes entirely in an inky blackness. No longer could readers misconstrue (as some have admitted) that the Phantom Stranger was wearing a domino mask under his hat. Instead, there was that eerie, eternal night cast over his face. The conceit may have seemed unlikely to some readers, but I found it haunting, and richly symbolic of the Stranger's mystery and ultimate unknowability. No matter how hard we try, we are prevented from connecting with this enigmatic hero on the most instinctively direct level.
I called this move "daring", and it was. Consider: when Jim began doing this, writer Len Wein had begun humanizing the character, giving him a love interest in Cassandra Craft, with more emotion-charged plots and physical danger. And in the midst of this, Jim Aparo willing gives up one of the artist's primary means of conveying emotion: the eyes!
And yet Jim never appeared to struggle with that choice. The Stranger's emotions, when on display, were unmistakeable, and in those trademark moments of inscrutible grimness, those blackened eyes made the images all the more effective. Even when the Stranger would lose his hat, Jim found ways to make the unlikely shadows still work.
But not all artists are up to the challenges Jim could tackle, and as others took on the character, they invariably fell back to using the easy glowing white eyes (or, more disappointing, actually showing the character's eyes: I recall being hugely disappointed in Romeo Tanghal for giving us a straight-on look under the brim in a DC Superstars that came out soon after the cancellation of the Stranger's own comic.
And so I tip my hat to Jim Aparo for his visual definition of one of my favorite characters. Only I'm tipping my hat down, so you can't see my eyes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Egyptian Aparo

Indulge me--I'm an Egyptian buff. I've been studying learning how to read Middle Egyptian (the language of the familiar hieroglyphs) for a couple of years now, and it's been a fun hobby to pursue. So it occurred to me that it might be fun to visit the occasions that Jim had to evoke the land of the Pharaohs. Four covers came immediately to mind:
The Phantom #32:

Our friend Scott has warned us about this issue: "Not even Aparo can save this one." Maybe not, but it's really cool seeing the design of the Pharaoh Phantom here. By 2009, comics fans have seen countless translations of their favorite heroes' costumes into period garb: pirate Batman, western Wonder Woman, barbarian Superman, post-Medieval Marvels, but this is surely one of the earliest whole-hearted attempts. Yeah, the World's Finest team made plenty of costume changes in their time travels, but those were always minor adjustments, like putting feathers on the cowl of "Indian Chief Batman" or a fur cloak over the familiar costume to depict "Caveman Superman."

The Brave and the Bold #112:

Y'know what else we've seen a zillion times by 2009? Other comics artists' renditions of Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters. But with this issue, Jim Aparo becomes the first artist other than Kirby to tackle The World's Greatest Escape Artist, Scott Free, Mr. Miracle. And an exceptionally fine job it was, too! Not much Egyptian content on this cover, other than the sarcophagus and the vault reminiscent of pyramid interiors, but I sure love those poses, even at the unfortunately reduced size necessitated by the 100-page size.

Batman and the Outsiders #17 and 18:
"BATO" and its Batman-less followup had more than its share of unusual and innovative eyecatching covers. With member Metamorpho's roots in Egyptian (he gained his powers and his unfortunate appearance from exposure to a mythical "Orb of Ra" hidden inside a pyramid), writer Mike W. Barr had a good opportunity to send the gang to ancient Egypt, in a sequence that gave Jim the opportunity to produce these two winners:

Most of the hieroglyphs on #17 are authentic, although chosen mostly at random, so they don't say anything meaningful so far as I can tell. Obvious exceptions are the "bat" and the "lightning" glyphs. My favorite touch is Jim's resurrection of one of his old signatures, the "JA" in an oval. In Middle Egyptian, characters were enclosed in an oval like this (a "cartouche") only when writing the names of gods and pharaohs. And Aparo is certainly comic book royalty!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Grooviest Cover Artist of All Time?

Our pal, the Groovy Agent, has tallied the results of his poll for Favorite Groovy Age Cover Artist, and the winner is...
(Not much of a surprise, is it?)
GA's spotlighting a few of his favorites over there at his highly-recommended blog.
In celebration, I'm posting one of my favorites, the relatively unknown cover of DC's Weird Mystery Tales #4:
This one appeals to me not just because of the nifty composition and the great coloring, but I love that tentacle-waving monster, being a big Lovecraft fan myself! I make up a really cool story to go along with this one, mixing Cthulhu mythos with earthy crime...I bet my story's better than the one in this comic (I have a copy, but I don't remember if there's actually a cover-related story in this issue...we all know how often these spooky comic covers were unrelated to anything inside.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ghostly Tales #79

Here's a lovely Charlton cover that they reused a time or two. One thing interesting about Jim's Charlton covers is that they often had him do the lettering, too, while at DC, they generally did not. This is Jim's lettering (well, below the logo, anyway), and I've always felt that his lettering was integral to his style, making this cover all the better. The lightning-streaked sky is something he would use again many a time, and the grassy lawn has technical hallmarks you'll also find in a lot of his works. I really like the way the scruffy ink lines add texture to the tombstone, too. This was good training for his upcoming work on Phantom Stranger, with all its lightning, capes, and spooky settings.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Flash Poster

This was a poster I saw in a comics shop in Memphis in the early 80's: a Jim Aparo Flash. The dealer didn't know anything about it, but he had it up on the wall and sold it to me. I still haven't tracked down its complete explanation, but I know it was one of a series of four promotional posters of DC characters. One of those might have been an Aparo Aquaman.
As far as I can determine, the art was original for this production, rather than cribbed from a previously-published source. I've got to admit, Aparo wasn't at his best doing The Flash: the motion lines are a bit silly-looking, and the pose isn't nearly dynamic enough. But you know, posters like this played by different rules than, say, cover art. The important thing was giving a good look at the character and his costume, and conveying the premise of his powers. And the costume alone is so eye-catching that this makes for a pretty snappy-looking piece of art, especially at large size.
[In the comments, Scott detects that this is in fact recycled art, from Brave & Bold #151. How did I miss that all these years?]

Aparo's Aquaman Aester Agg at Gorilla Daze!

Allan Harvey at Gorilla Daze highlights a classic Aparo panel from Aquaman #50, in which Jim integrated the names of several of his peers in the panelologic profession into the background. One name--"Pike"--is listed twice, by accident. In demonstration of Jim's characteristic loyalty to his employer, the writers, artists, and editors are all folks known for their DC work. Jim had plenty of appreciation for the fine folks at Marvel, who tried a time or two to woo him away, but he would have felt it highly inappropriate to plaster names like Kirby and Buscema into a DC book at a time when they weren't doing any jobs there. I asked Jim about this panel because I was confused by the inclusion of "Barr" in this panel. The only person I could think of was Mike W. Barr, his partner on Batman and the Outsiders. That was the only name Jim could think of at the time, too, but I pointed out to him that Barr was not a professional at the time--he might not even have been letterhacking yet, then. We remained stumped. It was only later that I concluded Jim had probably been tipping his hat to science fiction artist George Barr, who had done a few jobs for DC around that time and therefore qualified. Jim might have been a particular fan of Barr's SF book cover and magazine work, since he was a science fiction buff, and assumed that Barr would eventually have a larger role in the comic book industry than he ever went on to actually have.
In the comments, reader Scott suggests that Aparo intended to salute Ken Barr, not George Barr. I believe Scott is correct, and I think I had come to that same conclusion before, but in putting this post together, could only think of George Barr. I knew it was someone who'd been known for cover paintings, and who had done some war comics for DC. I found some comics credits for George, but not war comics, and figured I just wasn't finding those elusive few credits. Ken did far, far more comic book work than George ever did, including some of my favorite covers for the Marvel black and white magazines in the 1970's, and was active at DC when Aparo drew this page, making him the much more appropriate fit. Thanks for the correction, Scott!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Playful Signatures

Before we dive into a look at Jim Aparo's evolving signatures, let's take a quick look at a couple of examples where he got a little playful with the way he signed his covers.
First, here's The Brave and the Bold #152, starring Batman and The Atom:
Now look a little closer at the signature, down there to the right of the UPC box:
Cute, hunh?
And next, let's turn to Weird War Tales #53:
War comics were not a genre Jim delved into very often; aside from some war-themed team-ups in B&B, this is about it! Jim was supposed to do a backup for Blackhawk when Mark Evanier was writing it, but it didn't happen. I'd have enjoyed seeing him play in the battlefield more often: he certainly had the devotion to research that would have yielded convincing results.
Come back soon to see "A Survey of Signatures", where we examine Jim's more familiar marks!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #17

In those early days of his career at Charlton Comics, Aparo did many stories for their spooky comics, including The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves. Here's the first page from his story in issue 17. What I find interesting about this page is how Aparo seems to be working hard to maintain artist Pat Boyette's interpretation of the title character, so much so that a quick glimpse at a thumbnail might lead one to guess that this was a Boyette story (that title lettering--"Place of Honor"--may be a major contributor to this impression: it doesn't look very Aparoesque, does it? And it does look much like Boyette's lettering--Pat, like Jim, did his own lettering usually!).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Red Tornado!

Batman Rogues by Aparo and Stelfreeze

Easily overlooked among the multitude of Batman specials published throughout the 1990's and20 00's, here's a pinup from one of them--sorry, but I can't even remember which one--with Brian Stelfreeze rendering Jim's pencils in ink. DC tried a few different ways to update the look of Aparo's work to appeal to the newer aesthetics, and I think this was one of the more successful attempts. Stelfreeze took a subtractive approach to the job, focusing on Jim's composition, which I much prefer to alternatives such as DC's frequent pairing of Aparo and Bill Sienkiewicz late in Jim's career, or the painfully over-rendered teaming of Aparo and inker Sal Velluto in a Batman "Secret Files" special. Maybe we should take a look at the worst of Aparo soon, and I'll share some images of that atrocity.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Comic Book Legends Revealed!

Welcome to any and all who've visited JAFC from Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed
This week, Brian's spotlighting the rescripted Aparo Aquaman story that I showcased here a while back. I'm delighted that Brian found this tale worth sharing. I read Comic Book Legends Revealed every Friday, and you should, too!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Groovy Agent brings you...The Prankster!

Our pal the Groovy Agent has posted scans of the one and only installment of "The Prankster", an Aparo-drawn backup feature from an issue of Charlton's Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.
This wacky sci-fi superhero is fondly remembered by those who have read this (unfortunately) never-continued debut. Jim was a huge science fiction fan, and I think he always wanted to do a lot more in the genre than he had the chance to do at DC. Alas, this was not one of the features DC purchased from Charlton, so it may be that we'll never see the Prankster's return (but then, without O'Neill and Aparo executing the pages, do we really even want to?). Go give it a look-see, and bookmark GA's site for ongoing comics fun!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Death In The Family Cards

In 1994, DC teamed with Skybox to release yet another set of "collectible" cards, this time featuring scenes from the Batman story "A Death In The Family", the infamous story that documented what turned out to be, thanks to the final votes in a telephone tally, the murder of the second Robin, Jason Todd, at the hands of The Joker. Jim Aparo was the artist on the comic book version of that story, but for the card set, a number of different artists contributed. But Jim was invited to participate, recreating some key scenes from the story with inker Dick Giordano, the guy who hired Aparo for his first comic book job way back in the mid 60's at Charlton Comics. By today's standards, the colors here look a little garish, and, with Jim edging toward retirement, it wasn't his sharpest work, but there are at least a couple of pretty nifty renditions in this handful of scenes--I rather like the bottom tier here. Jim was approaching his retirement years, and his figure work was starting to look rather stiff and awkward. I always prefer to see Jim's work in panel-to-panel continuity, though, rather than individual images. Given the format and size restrictions--and the sometimes less-than-dynamic content required, I think we can be lenient with the less-effective samples from this set.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A New Aparo Cover on the Stands!

Jim Aparo fans will want to rush to their local comics shops this week and pick up a copy of Alter Ego #84, Roy Thomas's fine comics fanzine. The cover features what is purported to be Jim's final drawing of some of his signature characters, Aquaman, Mera and Aqualad, fronting a terrific interview with Jim's frequent collaborator in the 60's and 70's, Steve Skeates. The article includes several scans of Aparo's work with Skeates, including pages from Charlton mystery stories (including a particular favorite of mine, "The Mist"), Thane of Bagarth, and Aquaman.
If your comics shop doesn't carry this magazine (it should!), you can order it directly from publisher TwoMorrows via the link above. And while you're at their website, you might as well read this interview with Jim Aparo, from an earlier issue of Comic Book Artist, another great magazine that the company used to publish.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Unpublished Detective Comics #481 Cover, featuring Batman and Hawkman

As promised, here's my other example of excellent but unpublished cover art. From Detective Comics, scheduled for issue 481:

Why was this one never used? In this case, it's fairly easy to deduce DC's decision. With issue 481, 'Tec was suddenly merged with the recently-cancelled Batman Family, expanding from a then-standard 50 cent format to a jumbo "Dollar Comic". The merged series featured characters from the Batman family exclusively, so Hawkman was dropped. The nifty little Hawkman shot (Jim did a great Carter Hall!) would have had to go, but that's far from the only problem preventing the use of this cover. As a Dollar Comic, 481 had lots of extra features: Robin, Batgirl, Man-Bat, and a second Batman yarn. DC needed some cover space to advertise these new additions to the contents, and there's just not enough available space on Jim's cover to fit it in. DC replaced it with the jam-packed Michael Kaluta Jim Starlin (thanks for the correction, Groovy Agent!) cover on the right. Just look at all the additional blurbage, the cameos, and the Marshall Rogers panel--that's a lot of cover real estate. They could have simply reduced Jim's artwork--they'd done that back when Brave and Bold was a Super-Spectacular, to make room for shots from the reprint backups, but I think most comics fans would agree that that reduction really hurt the impact of the art. And Jim's original for this issue was a pretty detailed rendering which would have suffered significantly (Note that Kaluta Starlin, with less space for the main image, went with a far simpler design: Batman and a skull). And thus, alas, DC had to scrap a heckuva good cover. Nowadays, with generic pin-up covers in vogue, covers are frequently so generic that they could be slapped onto any issue at all, but Jim's art was too tied to the actual contents of the comic, as was expected back then, to be useful, say, on the next issue of the standard-format Batman comic book. And thus, into a drawer it went, until after entering the original art market in the Internet age, it finally emerged into the light at last.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Unpublished Dynamic Classics #2 Cover, featuring the Phantom Stranger and Manhunter

Here's an unused cover from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. This was originally intended for Dynamic Classics, a reprint anthology that was cancelled in the infamous "DC Implosion". That comic, which was cancelled after a single issue, was scheduled to reprint the entire Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson "Manhunter" in individual installments, with different lead features in each issue. This issue would have featured a reprint from one of Jim's Phantom Stranger issues, and he got to revisit the story with this nifty cover (I apologize for the quality; CCC scans always look awful, but there's enough left that one can see this would have been a really fine-looking cover). Unfortunately, DC was left with nowhere it could use this unpublished piece, since the "split-screen" image would only be appropriate for that particular reprint. About 15 years ago, Chris Khalaf asked around at DC and was informed that there were very few unused Aparo covers in the files; DC usually managed to find a home for everything he turned in. I've got another real winner of an unpublished cover coming up later, and those are the only two I know of right now.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pogs by Aparo

POGS! I don't honestly have much to say about these. To my thinking, pogs were one of the stupidest "collectibles" ever perpetrated on the gullible kids of the early 90s. In case you missed the craze, pogs originated as a sort of prize available under the caps of a brand of mixed fruit juice (hence the acronymic name, from the words 'passion fruit', 'orange', and 'guava') popular, I believe, in Pacific island states. Pogs are small cardboard disks with a picture on them. There was a simple game associated with them, which involved stacking your pogs, flipping a special disk at the stack, and then scooping up those pogs which landed face down (or maybe it was face up--I saw my nephews playing the game once, but I forgot the very simple rules). The game reduced trading to a game of (mostly) chance between kids who'd pool their pogs into the stack. Or something like that...I've already admitted that I thought the whole thing was pretty stupid, haven't I?
Sensing that the collectible card craze was waning, comics publishers joined in on the pog craze, pumping out tons of pogs with comic book connections. I didn't care much for the card craze, either (although we'll see some cards soon with exclusive Aparo artwork), but at least they were a little better at depicting an actual story, given the larger size (and a complete collection).
DC put out a series of pogs spotlighting the then-recent story in which villain Bane broke Batman's back, and Jim Aparo was one of those whose art was featured. I'm not very impressed with the selections, including an unattractively-drawn Poison Ivy and a bizarre scene of Robin cutting Azrael's hair! It's not clear from the scan, but the Bane pog (#B2) was a "chase pog" (Please don't get me started on "chase" collectibles!): it has a metallic-looking background on an otherwise ordinary cardboard disk. (NOTE: As noted in the comments, the art on the Bane pog is from the talented Graham Nolan, not Jim Aparo!)
It's not Aparo at his best, but it's something that many Aparo fans would never even have thought of looking for, now that the pog is (so far as I can tell) extinct.
And that's ok with me, since I've got my Aparo pogs.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Jim Aparo Fan Club Presidents meet...Jim Aparo!

At the convention in Chicago, July 5, 1992, Chris Khalaf, Jim Aparo, and Mike Gallaher meet for the first time. We must have spent about 16 hours chatting with Jim over the course of the convention, gathering all sorts of great stories, seeing his artwork in progress, introducing him to Grass Green for the first time, man, just so many great memories of hanging out with our favorite artist and finding him to be one of the sweetest, gracious guys you could imagine. At that time, Jim wasn't known for appearing at a lot of conventions, other than yearly appearances at a small Hartford convention, so Chris and I considered ourselves fortunate to meet up with him in Chicago (we were also fortunate that, for some strange reason, Jim wasn't swamped with fans, giving us lots of opportunities to hang out with him!).

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Last Monkees!

After only three 2-page stories in their pop music magazine Teen Tunes, Charlton apparently lost the license for official Monkees comics to Dell, who were about to begin a short run of four-color Monkees comic books with art by, I believe, Jose Delbo. Charlton saved the best for last, though, as Jim Aparo was teamed with Steve Skeates, writer, to produce this mini-masterpiece. In Skeates' only job as Monkees scripter, he challenged himself to use as many titles of Monkees songs in the script as he could fit. How many can you spot?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Texas Rangers

And another not yet now in my collection: Jim's cover for Charlton's Texas Rangers #72. Jim didn't contribute any interior art for this one. What's interesting here is that Charlton's now letting Jim do the lettering on the cover. He didn't have that latitude at DC, but Charlton let him do quite a lot of cover blurbs. Jim was an ace letterer, and the effect usually worked quite well when he was allowed to fill in the text.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Career Girl Romances

Here's an Aparo job so rare that it's not in my collection...yet! Career Girl Romances #40 has an Aparo cover and an 8-page story illustrated by Jim.
Our cover girl here strikes me as very reminiscent of the girls that John Romita used to draw when he was one of DC's primary romance artists...and, for that matter, when he was drawing groovy chicks like Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson on Spider-Man! The jazzy backing musicians, though, are a bit more in the Aparo style.
This one's from 1967, during Jim's first year in the comic book business, toiling away at Charlton. At this stage, Aparo's line work is delicate, which was generally expected of artists on romance comics. The inking is, in fact, barely recognizable as Jim's, but he was doing what was expected as he started to make his way in the business.
Note that he's drawn a left-handed guitarist here...I wonder if he was working from some photo reference of a lefty, or whether he just opted for a figure that better suited the cover composition? Whatever the case, I've got to give him credit for drawing a more convincing guitarist than many comics artists of the era that attempted to depict musicians. The microphone position is a little off, and the drum kit is sparse, but over all, it's a good stab at drawing a combo with a sexy girl singer, don't you think?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Don Maitz?

Don Maitz is a fantasy artist of significant renown, perhaps most famous for illustrating the pirate on Captain Morgan rum.
Chris Khalaf told me back in 1991 that Maitz had supposedly done work as an assistant to Jim Aparo in the 70s. When Chris and I met Jim for the first time in 1992, we asked him about this rumor.
Jim confirmed that he knew Maitz, and that Maitz had visited his studio when Maitz was a greenhorn, but quite strongly declared that Maitz had never served as an assistant. According to Jim, the only person that ever touched his art (other than meddlers at DC that very occasionally fiddled with what he turned in) was his wife, who occasionally wielded a brush to fill in blacks. I couldn't resist telling him about Dave Sim's comments about how he had allowed his wife to do the same on some early issues of Cerebus, with disappointing results. I told him how it was plainly obvious which pages Sim's wife had "blacked", and he was a little bit flabbergasted at my insistence that, yes, having a non-artist spot blacks could yield very bad results. Maybe Jim was just better at specifying black spots in the pencil art than the young Sim was, because I couldn't begin to guess on which pages Julieann Aparo splashed ink.
And yes, Jim Aparo knew very well who Dave Sim was...I was quite surprised to learn how familiar he was with all of the talents working in the burgeoning comics business of the 80s and 90s. He was certainly not out of touch with the new blood that was expanding the boundaries of comics. Jim was a sharp fellow, who paid close attention to the art form.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The History of the DC Universe Poster

Here's a bit of Aparo work that's not especially easy to come by. The History of the DC Universe was a two-issue prestige format miniseries published after Crisis on Infinite Earths, laying out the post-Crisis history of, well, the DC Universe. The miniseries was compiled into a hardback--back when it was exceedingly unusual for DC to publish hardbacks--and the hardback added a "jam" poster featuring a variety of characters drawn by different DC artists, with many of the artists asked to draw a character that they were especially associated with. Aparo was, naturally, one of those asked to contribute, adding the Phantom Stranger to the assembly of heroes in this fold-out. Despite being the Aparo fan that I am, I had to resist shelling out the bucks for this compilation, having bought the miniseries. I picked up a copy eventually, just so that I could have this (somewhat) rare piece of Aparo's published art. If you missed out, here's your chance to look over a terrific All-Star work. And it's a fun test of your art-spotting eye to match the artists' signatures to their contributions: Can you spot Dave Stevens' character? Dan Spiegle's? Gilbert Hernandez's?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Don't miss Aparofan's Aparo commissions!

Mike Middleton (a.k.a. Aparofan) has posted some commisioned drawings that Jim did for him, including Batman, Spectre, Phantom Stranger, Green Arrow, and Aquaman. Check them out here, and visit Mike's blog frequently; there's always good stuff to see there!

Heroes Against Hunger

This page was pencilled by Sal Amendola, who did a few stories for DC back in the 70's, and inked by Jim Aparo. It's from "Heroes Against Hunger", DC's contribution to the African hunger fundraising effort of the 80's. I think Jim and Sal were a pretty compatible pair, but Sal did very little work, and is largely forgotten. It's worth another look, anyway. Kinda weird to see eyes in an Aparo Batman, though, isn't it?

A trivia quiz excerpt...

Back in 2007, I included the following question on a trivia quiz on the comicbookresources.com classic comics forum:
7. Jim Aparo drew many covers for DC. Mark “yes” or “no” indicating whether he did or did not draw at least one cover for each of these series:

a. Flash
b. Weird War Tales
c. Weird Mystery Tales
d. Legion of Super-Heroes
e. Showcase
f. Secrets of Haunted House
g. Metal Men
i. Robin II
k. Green Arrow
l. Ghosts
m. DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest
n. Limited Collectors Edition

In previous installments here, we've seen that you should answers "yes" to (a) Flash and (d) Legion of Super-Heroes...but can you answer the rest of them correctly?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

So what kinda name is "Aparo", anyway?

For those who are curious about the name, it is, in fact, Italian. A lot of Italian-Americans rose to prominence in the comic book business in the 50's and 60's: Dick Giordano, Joe Giella, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta, Mike Esposito, Tony Tallarico, Art Capello, Frank Chiaramonte, Rocke Mastroserio...it's a long list! Aparo's certainly a worthy fellow to these many fine contributors to the comic book art form.
"Aparo" is of Sicilian origin, from aparu, an occupational name meaning "beekeeper".

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Flash #311

Jim did a lot of covers for DC, but was drafted to do only one cover for The Flash--issue 311, shown here. It's not the best Flash cover ever, but he was constrained by having to depict the Flash, err, constrained. But I like the little slices of history, and the trademark "anxiety rays" emanating from Barry's head! (Actually, a lot of comics artists used this effect, but I've noticed many readers associating this particularly with Jim Aparo's work. It's never seemed such a hallmark of his art to me, but it does seem to crop up a lot!)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Where Can You Buy Jim Aparo's Original Art?

Your first stop should be http://www.theartistschoice.com/aparo.htm

That's the site of Spencer Beck, Jim's long-time art agent. The pages Spencer has for sale--and there are many!--are sold on behalf of Jim's estate, so, although they may be of more recent vintage, profits are going to his wife Julieann instead of just to a dealer. There's a great variety of pages available at prices as low as $20, so go browsing and bring home some original Aparo art!

The Adventurers' Club at Diversions of the Groovy Kind

Now on display at the highly-recommended blog "Diversions of the Groovy Kind" are scans of both installments that Aparo drew for "The Adventurers' Club, an interesting short-run feature during an experimental phase of Adventure Comics in the early 1970s:
Jim was, in my opinion, at the peak of his skills around this time, and these rarely-seen tales are of the same artistic quality as his Spectre and Phantom Stranger jobs. They're unlikely to be reprinted, so go take a look!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Teen Tunes #4: More Monkees!

As promised, here's the Monkees story from the very rare Teen Tunes #4. These are from Jim Aparo's personal collection, which he shared with me to make copies from back in 1992. Steve Skeates was the writer for this two-pager which appeared in a black and white music magazine from Charlton back in 1967. More great caricature work from Jim in his humor mode! The writer for this installment is unknown, but the upcoming, final episode is a special treat from Steve Skeates. Until then, enjoy this one!
Click to enlarge:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stern Wheeler at Dave Karlen's Original Art Blog

From Dave Karlen's Original Art Blog:

How many artists do you know that would draw a daily strip for free just to get the publicity? Well that is exactly what illustrator Jim Aparo did for The Hartford Times back in March of 1963.

Dave proceeds to give a brief rundown of the short run of Aparo's newspaper strip Stern Wheeler. The strip's definitely a rarity, since it was only published in a single newspaper for a few months nearly half a century(!) ago, but it's not completely unavailable for today's fans. A small publisher called "Spotlight Comics" published a single issue of reprints in the black and white boom of the late 80's. (They also published an excerpt in another comic called L. T. Caper. You'll only want that if you can't find the Stern Wheeler comic itself, unless you get a kick out of amateurish 80's-style vanity comic books.)
But lucky for you, it's not that difficult to obtain: Mile High Comics lists it for only $1.75 (cover price!) in near mint. That's a steal, if you ask me! Too bad the company didn't last long enough to reprint the entire run. Recommended for Aparo fans and lovers of classic style newspaper adventure strips.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some Links to Aparo Tributes

Obviously, from the sites and blogs I've linked to previously, I'm not the first to devote webspace to the works of Jim Aparo. Here are some other tributes to Jim that have appeared online in the past:
Comics Should Be Good! posted a tribute to Jim on the 2nd anniversary of his death. This article also links to a nice tribute, with some good images, from Eric Weems here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Robby Reed Looks at Aparo's Phantom Comics

Jim Aparo's Phantom covered on the sensational, but now-defunct www.dialbforblog. This has been a favorite blog for a long time, with nearly 500 installments for you to enjoy, but this one, a focus on Jim's work on Charlton's The Phantom comic, is of particular interest. I'll be sharing some of my thoughts on this series one of these days, but for now, check out what Robby thinks!

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Phantom Stranger Blog!

As you might expect, you'll find more than a few Aparo-related posts at iamthephantomstranger.blogspot.com, a site specializing in the comic book appearances of The Phantom Stranger, a classic character on whom Jim Aparo left his very distinct mark. Your host "rob!" offers up a hefty dose of art samples from the Stranger's catalog, and with Aparo having done more PS work than anyone else, you'll see plenty of full-color scans to admire.
It's my opinion that Aparo was at the peak of his skills when he was drawing Phantom Stranger. Anyone who's not familiar with his work on this title--which until the recent volumes of Showcase Presents were not especially easy to come by--really ought to sample it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Blog I've Added to the List

Hey, how could I resist a blog called aparofan.blogspot.com, a.k.a. Aparofan's World of Comics ?
The focus is wider than this blog, as blogger Mike Middleton covers lots and lots of comics greats, but he has many posts devoted to the work of Jim Aparo scattered throughout the archives. Treat yourself to a look around there, whydontcha?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Nice Caricature of Jim...

...found during some web surfing. It's by an artist named "Bira", on a blog that appears to be in Portuguese--I don't know if the artist is Brazilian or Portuguese or, perhaps, some other nationality (although the text of the cartoon is in English, so maybe the drawing originated somewhere else?). It seems to have been posted just after Jim's death in 2005.

Jim Aparo at ilustrasite.blogspot.com

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bond...James Bond

Another cover from The Comic Reader (issue 180), this time a back cover. Aparo does Bond.
Back in the 70's, there was a bit of a stir with rumors that James Bond was coming to American comics (I don't count the "Doctor No" issue of Showcase, which reprinted a British Classics Illustrated. That was a really awful comic book, with none of the panache of the 60's film series.) If there had been a Bond comic back then, Aparo might arguably have been
the best choice for the job, though. I'm sure he would have loved that assignment!

Finally, Teen Tunes #3: The Monkees!

Yes, in Teen Tunes #3, Miss Bikini Luv was replaced by The Monkees in the 2-page black & white comics section of Charlton's pop music magazine! While this is obviously an officially-licensed appearance, Charlton didn't hold on to the rights for long. After three 2-page stories in this and the following couple of issues, The Monkees moved on to a new comic book from a different publisher: Dell Comics published 17 issues starring the Pre-Fab Four starting in 1967. No offense to Dell artist Jose Delbo, but I think very few fans would disagree that Charlton's writer (unknown) and artist Jim Aparo did the better job at translating Davy, Mickie, Peter, and Mike onto the comic book page. Dig Jim's terrific caricatures and manic cartoonery! Could Jim handle humor comics? Judging from this, I can only say "I'm A Believer"!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Aparo in the 30th Century!

Here's an interesting cover with Jim Aparo art that's easily overlooked: Legion of Super-Heroes #300. Easily overlooked because it's a "jam cover": different artists contributed different characters to the picture. Aparo was a curious choice to participate, since he couldn't really be considered one of the classic Legion artists; he had illustrated two earlier covers for the series, and he was probably assigned those only because DC didn't have a job ready for him when he showed up in the New York offices on a particular day.
But which character did he draw on this cover? Can you spot the Aparo figure? Here's a hint: it's a character he had drawn for a different series just a month earlier!

Friday, January 9, 2009

More Bikini Luv from Teen Tunes!

And here's the story from the second issue of Teen Tunes. Miss Bikini Luv returns for her final spotlight in the pop music magazine, before being replaced by a surprise feature, coming soon to this blog! But for now, enjoy Jim Aparo at his cartoony best (click to view each page!):


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