A look at the career of comics artist Jim Aparo.

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.