Category Archives: X-Men

X is for X-Men


X-Men is a very popular comic book published by Marvel Comics. Actually, the idea of X-Men now means a series of comic book titles with an interlocking directory of characters. It’s so popular that it has help create three movies* with name stars such as Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) and Halle Berry (Storm) [pictured above] and Ian McKellen (Magneto) [pictured below]. These are shots from the premiere of the first film.

If you look at The Marvel Encyclopedia, updated and expanded foe 2009, which I just happened to take out of the library last week, you’ll find no fewer than 110 references to X-Men in the index; that does not count the seven pages, in the 400-page book, describing the X-Men directly.

But it’s not its successful nature per se that interests me. Rather, it’s…well, let me explain.

The X-Men were introduced to the world in 1963, the same year as the supergroup known as the Avengers. The premise of the creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was that the characters had certain extraordinary (X-tra ordinary) powers at birth, though they weren’t always manifested immediately. They were mutants, outcasts from society. Yet the group, founded by Charles XAVIER, a/k/a Professor X, was sworn to protect those who feared and hated them, trying to bring peaceful coexistence between “ordinary” humans and mutants.

However, the book, by the same creative team that had created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and many, many others, was a bit of a bust. Definitely second-tier in the pantheon of comic book characters. Perhaps the theme of minorities persecuted by a majority was a little bit too “on the nose” for comic book fans of the time.

In fact, for about five years the book was essentially canceled, though reprints were released as X-Men 67-93.

Then a new group was developed in 1975 that was more international in scope, and they didn’t all have those boring yellow and blue jump suits. Others can talk about the particulars of the great success of the revised entity. I want to tell you that, as a comic book fan, I was shocked by both how well the re-envisioning worked and how well it caught on with the public.

Think of the movie Rocky. Better still, think of singer Susan Boyle, from which nothing was expected, yet the judges were gobsmacked by her voice. If that weren’t enough, her debut album sold 700,000 units in the first week in the United States alone and another 500,000 the following week. Such was the success of the X-Men.

So much so that when I worked at a comic book store called FantaCo in the 1980s, and we decided to to a magazine about a comic book group, naturally we picked X-Men. I really wanted to edited it, not just because of my affection for the then-current incarnation, but because I loved the rags-to-riches nature of the title. I write about this at length here, with a little bit of follow-up here.

But as Nik from SpatulaForum writes: “Unfortunately, the ‘X-Men brand’ has been so utterly diluted in the years since by endless spin-offs, impossibly complicated continuity and everything from movies to action figures to beach towels that it’s hard to forget how simple and revolutionary they once seemed.” It’s interesting that the teen artists of Kids of Survival chose to use the X-Men, a run of 1968 episodes of the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, totally unaltered beyond being placed as the canvas, as their choice, rather than the more up-to-date versions, in their artistic expression.


Here is a picture of my good friend Fred Hembeck’s rendition of the X-Men. You can find more of his work here.

*Yes, I know there’s also a Wolverine film. Len Wein, who helped created Wolverine in Hulk #181, talks about the character here and here.

SOLD OUT, Part 5 by John Hebert

Before I get to John’s rellections, a couple comics-related things:
1. Len Wein, creator of, among many other things, X-Men staples such as Wolverine, Storm, and Nightcrawler, had a house fire, as I’ve mentioned. Here’s info for the Let’s Restore Len Wein’s Comic Book Collection Project. Contact Evanier before sending anything.
2. Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday, May 2; hope it doesn’t interfere with the Kentucky Derby. In all likelihood, I’ll go to Earthworld in Albany, as usual, get a bunch of free stuff for the kid and for me, and end up buying something i didn’t know I wanted.

Now, back to John, after I show you his X-Men 100 swipe homage with a circus strongman, Rowdy Roddy Piper, every guy who ever worked at an amusement park in the 80’s, and me.

I was a penciling fool- working and reworking pages here and there all that summer of 1986, getting the then-girlfriend to letter and dying to get to the inks. I’d been very fearful of inking my first book because I didn’t think I could ever be much of an inker. When I’d started trying to bust into the biz in earnest a couple of years before, I’d decided that penciling was a little too complicated so I thought to break in as an inker first and learn from whomever I’d inked and go from there. This brainstorm lasted just about a month- or the time it took for me to @*%*&^ up my copy of the Marvel Tryout Book and then be told by Zeck that my inks sucked, but that my pencil work had potential, so I’d gone with it.

Anyway, I’d shortly have to put my brush handle where my mouth had been. Once I’d penciled the entire comic, we’d all set a date where Tom, Roger, she-who-was-not-to-be-ignored, as well as FantaCo stalwarts Matt Mattick, Hank Jansen, and Joelle Michalkiewicz and myself would sit down, spread all of the pages out on the floor of the back office and take the “SOLD OUT!” experience in before committing it to ink, deciding what worked and what didn’t, what needed to be punched up and where we needed to tone bits down. It was a bit frustrating, to say the least. While almost everyone agreed that it was a very tight piece of effort, there was always a bit of niggling back and forth where everybody but one person would just love something, but that one detail bothered that one person which seemed to corrupt the entire apple cart and then we’d rework the damned thing until somebody else wasn’t happy and then…..Suddenly, at some point, after a very long day in the back office and losing the daylight, we staggered out into the early autumn evening clutching the bulging manila folder of pages ready to be committed to ink. My moment of truth had arrived.

One of Tom’s primary requirements for the artist was that he or she could draw a reasonably realistic turtle and hamster.

I’d put everything into the pencils, to the point where I needed to go to ink just to stir up the old creative juices with a change of technique. Even though I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good inker and with the additional weight of the fear of screwing it all up with bad inks, I think I did a pretty darn serviceable job- especially on the first half of the book when my energy level was high and I was interested, and in fact, thrilled to be doing something other than penciling. I did a really broad John Beatty type brush style throughout most of the book with a swatch of Jerry Ordway and a ton of zip-a-tone tossed in for good measure and just enjoyed the Hell out of most of the experience, but before long, I was tiring of inking as well, especially after we’d begun making last, last-minute changes as I was going along, sometimes scrapping panels after they’d been committed to ink and making me feel like a rat in a maze.

Our deadline was fast approaching too, as was Halloween when we’d hoped to have the book on the shelves, the girlfriend and I went into overdrive, always expecting the project done “the next week”, then still spinning our creative tires in the not-so-creative sand and shooting for the following week. It finally came down to the very cold day before Halloween of 1986, when I, having been up for something like 26 hours, leaned over the drawing board in my humble, yet tastefully appointed studio, forcing myself to ink those last few pesky panels that I’d put off inking for various pointless reasons for so long. The edict had come down from Tom Skulan – the book had to be done THAT DAY!!!! We’d already missed one scheduled press day and it was not to happen again.

The girlfriend had shown up at around 8 a.m. and we’d torn into the unfinished pages immediately, determined to deliver the entire finished book to FantaCo by noon for one more final “look-over” be various staff-eyes, and then we were to drive the entire project out to the printing plant in Gloversville, NY, some 90 minutes away. I was so tried and ragged by that point that I didn’t think I’d make it and longed for the peaceful reassurance of the void I was sure to encounter as I’d fall asleep at the wheel and swing the Camaro in front of a speeding semi on the Thruway…..”Don’t bother calling an ambulance Ferdie- he was a funny book artist, now he’s road pizza!”

So, we made it into the store at around one in the afternoon and dropped the packet of pages on Skulan’s desk, ready for criticism and a very, very long nap. Tom and Raj were the primary editors now, going over every panel and page, never missing a misspelling or uninked eye on some tiny figure in the background that no one would ever notice, but we fixed everything right there in the back room where it had all begun just a few, short, holy mackerel- it was, like FIVE months earlier, what was I thinking?!?!? Anyway, thankfully, most of the required changes were of the lettering variety and she-who-must-not-have-been ignored took care of them with white out and a couple of markers while I slipped closer and closer towards comatose while sitting on that very cold, uninsulated office floor. That cold and the aching in my joints were the only things keeping me awake, but somehow, it was finally done and the time had come to drive the darned book to the printer. The pages were lashed together in a large shiny orange folder and away we went, towards the beginning of the rest of my life, the world’s smallest Pontiac dealership, and the embarrassment of being photographed in a skirt on a busy Albany street.

To be CONCLUDED!

John Hebert
***
Miss Marvel, Mister Roger, Miss Lydia, May 3, 2008, Earthworld


ROG

(Local) music, music, music, mostly

Before that, though, I should note the passing of someone I met only once, Dave Cockrum, who died this week. The cover pictured is for the X-Men Chronicles, published by FantaCo in the early 1980s. As editor of the publication, I arranged with Dave, the artist who helped revive the X-Men, to have the cover drawn and sent up to us. Unfortunately, Dave got a little behind. So I took a train from Albany to NYC, to the Marvel offices, and met Dave. He gave me the painted cover – WHICH WAS STILL WET! He was very pleasant and apologetic. I carried the cover carefully on the subway back to the train station, then back up to Albany.

Read more about Dave here (November 26) and here.
***
As part of the Victorian Stroll in downtown Troy, St. Paul’s Choir and guest singers [including me] will once again perform Messiah, DECEMBER 3 at 4 o’clock. It should last until about 5:30 p.m.
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I’d probably cast out of my church choir if I didn’t mention that we’re doing our annual VESPERS service:

The Chancel choir and orchestra of First Presbyterian Church, 362 State Street, Albany, under the direction of Victor Klimash, will perform Mozart’s Vesperae de Dominica as part of an Advent Vespers service on Sunday, December 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Soloists include Deborah Rocco, soprano, Fiona McKinney, alto, Paul D’Arcy, tenor,
and Allan Kirk, bass . In addition, the orchestra will play two Symphonies de Noel by Michel-Richard de Lalande. For further information, call the church at 449-7332 or check the website at http://www.firstpresalbany.org/index.html.

The program is free. Parking available on the street or in Washington Park.
***
The 15-year old daughter – a girl I’ve known all of her life – of an old friend of mine plays the French Horn for the Empire State Youth Orchestra. On Thursday December 7 a portion of any purchase one makes at the Wolf Road Barnes & Noble will be donated to ESYO. You’ll need a voucher, and I’ll e-mail one to you.
***
Emmanuel Baptist Church, 275 State St., Albany announces a holiday concert, “The Three Divas of Christmas”, featuring local vocalists, Bienvenida Baez, my bud Deborah Rocco, and Alaina Warren Zachary accompanied by Michael Clement. It will be held December 16, 7:30 p.m. A reception will follow. Suggested donation is $15 plus a non-perishable item for the food pantry. 465-5161

This is a benefit for the renovation of Emmanuel Baptist Church. An urban church, nearly 175 years old with a gothic, cathedral-like structure, Emmanuel is creating a very different worship space and a new designated space for the FOCUS Interfaith Food Pantry which is housed at the church.
***
Finally, The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilts will be on display in Albany at the Empire State Plaza from today through Friday. The display is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27th, Tuesday, Nov. 28th and Thursday, Nov. 30; from 9 a.m. to 8 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 29th; and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1, 2006. This display is a partnership of the New York State Department of Health, the Capital Region of the NAMES Project and HIV/AIDS Community-Based Organizations. The display is part of observances for World AIDS Day, December 1, 2006. I’ll be working on Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. this year.