In Review: Hey Kids! Comics! #4

What went on behind closed doors is now open. You think you can handle it?

The cover: A letter from Editor Paul Abarth of Manhattan Magazine has come to Francis Edson telling him “the comic book samples you submitted were more appropriate for filling the kids’ table at a barber shop than auditioning for our publication.” Beneath the open letter are Edson’s pages next to a cup of coffee. This cover by Don Cameron shows the reader what artists endure in trying to branch out to other publishers. What a slap in the face. Overall grade: A

The story: Following the format of previous issues, writer Howard Chaykin begins this installment in 1945 with Benita meeting the Third Assistant Fiction Editor at Midtown, Victor Heindel. He hits on her, asking her out for lunch or dinner to “discuss our personal and professional futures together”. Elsewhere, Bob Rose is getting some lip from Brian Callanan who’s interrupting his writing. Things aren’t going well for Ted Whitman either, who stops at a news stand to read another’s comic and gets grief from the owner. A skyscraper is then revealed to show three different publishers in the building jointly rejecting an unseen individual. The end of this decade has the identity of the unlucky creator revealed in a painful way. 1955 has one of the leads joining another working for the same company, with both being unhappy. A night time gathering shows one supporting character taking issue with another’s actions. 1965 has Bob Rose continuing Verve’s climb, while one of the leads is subtly accused of some nefarious acquisitions. Plus, a notorious cartoon begins that’s groan worthy. In 2001 there’s another funeral where the leads rightfully grouse that a popular film mined their work. That last page, though. Ouch, Mr. Chaykin. I remember hearing stories about the latter half of this issue, but I’m really curious about the events from the fifties. These true fictional tales are undeniably readable. Overall grade: A

The art: Howard Chaykin the artist continues to impress. The characters age as the reader progresses through the book, giving an air of realism to the change in times, and the locations are stunners. The first page has a beautiful exterior for Midtown and Benita is gorgeous, even if her future husband does look like a conman. The second page has a terrific layout showing Rose hard at work with the text he’s typing appearing in practically in every panel, accompanied by the iconic lost sounds of such a device. Whitman’s face that ends the third page is a heartbreaker. Pages of three horizontal panels have been a hallmark of this series and the first one appears on Page 4, with the logo of the publisher on the far left of each panel, a spectacular building in the middle serving as the background, and each of the publishers on the far right. This is a great way to show rapid rejection. The audience behind Ray and Dolores is terrific: Chaykin could have focused just on the speaking characters, but by including the audience the scene is much more real. Page 6 repeats the format of 4 with, again, terrific results. I love the trails of smoke shown in 1955; this was before my time, but I’m old enough to remember everyone smoking in my childhood. There’s a certain similarity of Mike’s nose to something else that suited his character well and tipped off what he would do later. I also love that the first three pages in ’55 follow the same format to show that nothing is really different at any publishing house. The action on Page 12 is realistic and shocking, with the first panel on the page largely hiding the events  from the reader. This makes perfect sense, given this is how the leads would witness its occurrence. Rose’s pages in ’65 show his rise to a wide audience and how others are shocked that no one else really knows the man. The character in the second panel on 13 could be set in the modern day, sadly. The storyboard panels atop four pages are horrendously illustrated, perfectly matching the actual cartoon they’re lampooning. The images of the speakers when paired with the dialogue were perfect. I love the clothes worn by the leads at the convention. There is also credit at the end of the book given to Calvin Nye for digital effects, with additional material by Jed Dougherty, Ramon Torrez, & Ken Bruzenak. What each did specifically, I don’t know. What I do know is this book looks good. Overall grade: A

The colors: Wil Quintana does a slick job with the colors. The book opens with Victor talking with Benita as shown through some windows and there’s a nice blue tint to them to show the reader the windows. The violets that Benita is wearing are beautiful, being a perfect match for her eyes. The dark colors surrounding Bob as he works on Page 2 allow him and Brian to stand out on the page, plus they suggest that nothing matters to Bob but his work. Notice on the next page that when Ted tries to defend himself to the news stand owner the background goes an uncomfortable pink, suggesting his distress. The violets used on 5 are wonderful, with the highlights capturing what it’s like to attend a Broadway show. These violets return in 2001 at a theater. Nice use of parallelism through colors. Notice how the bright pinks return to the highlight the rejections on 6. Colors become brighter in the 1955, with even the workplaces brighter. Darker colors appear on 10 at the start of a gathering and shocking reds appear on 12. Bob Rose’s shock of white hair makes him an eye catcher on every page and panel he appears. The loud colors on two of the trio’s colors in 2001 are outstanding. The sedate colors used on the final page make the proceedings authentic. Overall grade: A

The letters: The text of this issue is created by Ken Bruzenak who crafts scene settings (the dates), narration, dialogue, sounds, signage, storyboard text, and the three word tease for next issue. I’m continually impressed with how Bruzenak has the scene settings resemble the font of the decades they represent. The narration contains lower case letters, something rarely seen in comics, suggesting that the reader is looking through someone’s personal notes. There’s a major scream in this issue and I like how it’s composed to follow the person projecting it. Overall grade: A

“An Important Message from Powerhouse”: Only two pages long and illustrated by Walter Simonson, lettered by John Workman, and colored by Paul Mounts this packs a punch. Powerhouse is telling his readers, kids, to pull together because “We’re all brothers — and don’t you forget it…” What the hero says after this made me gasp, and then smile at what this quickie is telling readers about the comic book industry. Wow. Great in every way. Overall grade: A

Further Untold Tales of Comics! “Hey Kids! Free Comics!”: This one pager focuses on a group of artists that started their own company with one member doing some specific actions at a convention. I actually saw something like this go down at the San Diego Comic-Con in the late 1980s. Overall grade: A

The final line: You’ve got to have heart to make it in the comic book industry and Howard Chaykin shows how the business ripped it out of some people. These fictional retellings show the reality of working in the biz and how it changed over sixty years. What went on behind closed doors is now open. Read this if you think you can handle it. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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