Golden Age Showcase: Spy Smasher

Sigh, so we can all agree that these last couple of months have been pretty crappy right?

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I’m not going to go into any great detail on this matter, you can watch the news for that, but I will say that if the heroes that I write about in this blog were alive and around today…I’d think they would be very disappointed.

I thought this would be a good place to put the picture of Captain America punching Hitler, but I thought this one would be more apropos.

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Thank you Superman.

The sad truth is that the reality of the situation is, and always has been, complicated.  While these comic books were created to provide a morale boost to the men and women fighting against fascism,

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fascism had a very real presence in America since it became a thing.

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Yes, those are swastikas next to the American flag and a picture of George Washington.  This is a picture from 1938 at a Nazi rally in New York.  This was a thing right up to the point where we started fighting the Nazis.

One of the things that we’ve been seeing in a lot of these Golden Age comics are superheroes who don’t go off to Europe to fight the Nazis, they find plenty of them here.  While there was a war to fight across the ocean a comic book hero could always find a spy ring, saboteurs, or enemy agents hiding around with plans to disable the war effort.

Maybe the heroes saw that there were other threats that were much closer to home, or maybe they just wanted to save money on air travel.

Either way, let’s dive into some escapism and talk about a hero who held down the home front against the scourge of Nazi spies: the eloquently named Spy Smasher.

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Origin and Career

Spy Smasher was first published by Fawcett Comics and was created by Bill Parker and C.C Beck, the two men who originally created Captain Marvel.

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The hero made his first appearance in Whiz Comics #2 in February of 1940, an issue that was actually the first issue of the Whiz Comics title and has one of the most iconic covers in comic book history.

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The story starts off with a literal bang, someone is sabotaging American military vessels.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

Wait, $20 million dollars for an aircraft carrier?  What a bargain!

Naturally this worries a lot of very powerful men in Washington, and one man decides to share potentially dangerous information with his daughter and fiancee.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

Nazi spies in America?  Preposterous!

Meanwhile, the spies themselves have been busy and decide to steal plans for a mine laying ship, only to be foiled by the timely arrival of the Spy Smasher.  They are led by a fairly creepy individual known as “The Mask”.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

The hero manages to pursue the villains in his Gyrosub.  This is a vehicle that serves as a helicopter, an airplane, speedboat, a submarine, and a completely ridiculous looking vehicle.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

Eat your heart out Batmobile!

Long story short, the hero winds up defeating the spies, even though the main villain escapes.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

The day is saved and the plans are returned.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #2

In a fairly ballsy move, the creators didn’t reveal the identity of the Spy Smasher in the first issue.  In fact, they didn’t reveal the secret identity of the Spy Smasher for most of his stories.  Sure, it may have been a clever marketing ploy, but even children would have thought it was weird that Spy Smasher and Alan Armstrong were never in the same panel together, and how Alan disappeared whenever there was trouble, or how Spy Smasher had a strange fascination with the woman who was Alan’s fiancee.

Spy Smasher was Alan Armstrong is what I’m trying to say.

It turned out that Spy Smasher’s battles with his arch nemesis the Mask turned him into a pretty popular hero.  He was so popular that he actually had a crossover with Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics #16 where he turned evil and tries to hypnotize the hero into doing his bidding.

Comic Book Cover For Whiz Comics #16

But it’s okay because it turned out that it had all been a ploy by the Mask to hypnotize and brainwash the now dead Mask to do his bidding.

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Spy Smasher continued to have a career after the war, although he did change his name to Crime Smasher to fit with the times.

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So what happened?

Alan Armstrong remained a popular staple of Fawcett Comics, right up to the point where they were forced to stop publishing comics in 1953 after losing a lawsuit to DC Comics that claimed they had ripped off Superman.

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While Captain Marvel would go on to have a pretty successful career (he’s called Shazam! now due to copyright issues) Spy Smasher fell by the wayside.  I guess when there are just no more spies to smash you don’t really have a future.  Why they didn’t decide to use him to hunt Soviet spies is beyond me.

Spy Smasher would go on to have a limited career, barely used but not forgotten.  One of his most notable appearances was in the excellent tv show Justice League Unlimited where he appeared in the opening of the episode “Patriot Act”,

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and in Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey series she introduced a character named Katarina Armstrong, a highly skilled global anti terrorism agent with a costume that was heavily inspired by the original Spy Smasher.

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While she looks like Spy Smasher and has his last name, any potential relationship the two may have had is not revealed.

In many ways Spy Smasher had the same career trajectory that a lot of Golden Age superheroes had.  He was popular in the 1940’s and while he fell by the wayside after the comics industry crashed, he was fondly remembered by those who knew and would go on to be an influence for the superheroes of the future.

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If you ask me it’s a crying shame that nobody uses him any more, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind coming out of retirement to fight a few more Nazi spies on American soil.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Emet Comics

Normally on this blog, we talk about a single comic book project that is trying to get funded through a site like Kickstarter or Patreon.  However, today we’re going to do something a bit different.  Instead of looking at a single project we’re going to be looking at an entire company called Emet Comics.

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Emet Comics is a Los Angeles based comic book publisher that focuses on comic books written and drawn by female creators about female characters.

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They have a relatively small, but incredibly diverse, line up of titles that include everything from science fiction to slice of life stories.

One series of note, this March they completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to continue production of a title called Fresh Romance, a romance comic anthology they had acquired from a publisher called Rosy Press after it shut down in 2014.

So technically this blog post still falls within the bounds of its original purview, it’s just about a comic that has already been funded.

Emet Comics website: http://www.emetcomics.com/

Why I like this company

Because I reached out to the head of Emet Comics, a wonderful lady by the name of Maytal Gilboa, and instead of either passing me off to an assistant or simply ignoring me she took time out of her day to actually talk to me about her work, and motivations.

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Mrs. Gilboa got her start in Hollywood as a development executive and as a leading voice in Hollywood for the advancement of women in executive positions.  She founded Emet Comics in 2015 and has been steadily growing and expanding a network of highly capable female talent as a way to draw more attention to female creators and to empower women by creating better role models in fiction and in its creation.

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Long story short, she knows her stuff.

While empowering women is a noble goal but one thing that Mrs. Gilboa made very clear during the time we talked was that she was an entrepreneur and this is a business venture.  It’s worth mentioning that Emet Comics does have an open submissions policy for female creators and female driven stories, which points towards a company policy that favors new ideas and expansion.

You can find the submissions page here

Now, I know from personal experience that this kind of work isn’t easy.  You have to manage your artists, make sure the website is in working order, find new and interesting ways to get people engaged with your product and paying attention, and if you’re creating something yourself?  Then you have to do all of that while cranking out an original story on a fairly regular basis.

For me, it’s exhausting…and all I do is write a couple of blogs and produce a webcomic!

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So what we have here is a company run by a capable, dedicated, and highly motivated founder with a clear cut mission and an ever expanding library of books and creators.

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I think I might have a new role model.

Why you should donate/be on the lookout for their books

We all know how the cutthroat, knuckle dragging, razor thin profit margin world of comic book publishing is dominated by male creators.  While that does need to change I’m not going to focus on that.  Instead, I’m going to talk about another buzzword that’s been floating around the comic book world for some time now: diversity.

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It’s a pretty powerful word.  In fact, it’s such a powerful word that there are some people who infamously said that diversity is the thing that’s actually killing established companies like Marvel Comics.

That is simply not true.  It’s not diversity that is hurting sales, it’s a lack of diversity (and a handful of other things but we don’t have time for that right now).  But not just in the racial or sexual identity of its characters, it’s the lack of diversity in the types of stories that are being told.

Want historical proof?  During the Golden Age of Comics, a time in comic book history where comic books were sold to boys and girls, publishers put out all sorts of books from superheros,

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to crime comics,

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to romance comics.

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It was this diversity of content that allowed the budding comic book industry make a tidy profit and become a pop culture phenomenon.

Today we have an industry that is dominated by a core group of superheroes owned by two companies that dominate over two thirds of the market.

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One could be forgiven for growing weary of the endless parade of costumed vigilantes.

Granted, there are a growing number of comics and comic book publishers who are branching out, but in an industry that is dominated by male creators creating stories for a male audience I would like to make the argument that if the comic book industry wants to survive, publishers need to start finding new stories and new audiences.

Emet Comics is a new comic book publisher that has made it their mission to destroy many of the long held assumptions about women in the comic book industry, even if they wind up being the only ones who do it.  They have new and different creators telling new and different stories across new and different genres.  It is the right publisher, doing the right thing, at the right time and more than worthy of your attention and money.

Emet Comics website: http://www.emetcomics.com/

Golden Age Showcase: Atomic Tot

So I just discovered Rick and Morty last night.

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It’s a good show, a bit dark, bleak, and incredibly pessimistic.

I bring this up because it provides a direct contrast with my love of superheroes.

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Yes they’re bright, colorful, and probably have no place in modern society but that’s not the point.

Superheroes are supposed to be titans of morality and/or walking metaphors that can solve all their problems by punching them or blasting them with energy rays.  Sure, sometimes they may a bit more complicated and complex, but in the end that’s what they are.

Superheroes did the right thing, ate their vegetables, said their prayers, and told little Timmy that doing the right thing came first, no matter what.  They were uncomplicated lessons in morality for kids in an uncertain and dangerous time and that is something that the Golden Age of Comics did better than almost anyone else.

So let’s talk about a superhero named Atomic Tot, who was a superhero that was unquestionably for the kids,

Tom Tot undergoes his amazing transformation. Artist: probably Ernie Hart.

and kind of dropped the ball in that regard.

Origin and Career

Atomic Tot made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ All Humor Comics #1 in September of 1946.

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That joke on the cover of the issue?  That’s as good as they would get.

He was created by comic book writer and artist, Ernie Hart.  While I can’t find a picture of him, I can tell you that his most famous creation was the famous Super Rabbit for Quality Comics.

Pssh, the idea of talking anthropomorphic animals is so lame.  Who could possibly make any money off of that?

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Anyway, before Atomic Tot got his name he was originally known as “Mitymite”, the weakling son of a poor peasant living in a land being terrorized by an evil giant.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

Yes the captions are in rhyme, to explain why I don’t have time.

Mitymite grows up wishing to meet this princess, but is blocked by the wicked giant.  Humiliated, he swears revenge.

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So what does he do?  Does he subject himself to strange experiments?  Find a magical artifact?  Nope!  He eats his cereal and works out.

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Wheaties would love this guy.

Naturally he defeats the giant, by tossing him out a window…presumably to his death.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #1

However, it turns out the princess isn’t all she cracks up to be and Mitymite acts like a total dick and abandons her.

It’s worth mentioning that he looks like he’s only six year old.

Mitymite was given a modern update in the very next issue.  His new name was Atomic Tot and he got an alter ego of Tom Tot.

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His second adventure saw him stopping an evil scientist that was kidnapping children and turning them into monkeys.  Why?  To sell them to the zoo of course.

Comic Book Cover For All Humor Comics #2

How does he do that and wouldn’t it make more sense to sell them to laboratories as test specimens?  I don’t know and the comic doesn’t care.

It’s worth mentioning that Atomic Tot could be incredibly cruel to his enemies.  He even threatened to turn the scientist into a monkey if he didn’t help return the kids.

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Atomic Tot would go on to have five more stories just like this one.  There really isn’t anything else to say.

So what happened?

For some strange reason, Atomic Tot did not survive past the 1940’s.

Why he didn’t last long is a real mystery.

For some bizarre reason, Atomic Tot wasn’t fondly remembered enough to get a reworking in modern comics either, although he did make an appearance in an anthology title called Not Forgotten which was successfully funded through Kickstarter a few months ago.

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The anthology has a website, it’s pretty interesting stuff and worth checking out.

Atomic Tot is a superhero boiled down to its most basic essence.  There is no complicated backstory, no surprising plot twist about his parents, not horrifying life event that inspired him to become a superhero.  He’s just a kid who has the ability to do great things and decides to use his talents for good.

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Huh, come to think of it…that is pretty boring.  Maybe all this straight laced morality isn’t quite for me than.

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Golden Age Showcase: Amazing Man

Well, last week was fun but I think it’s time for a return to form.  Let’s talk about an obscure comic book hero from an obscure comic book publisher who had more of an impact on the world of comics than he had any right to have.

Today we’re talking about the aptly named Amazing Man.

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Origin and Career

Amazing Man was one of the greatest and most noteworthy heroes to come out of a small publisher called Centaur Publishing, mostly because he was created by comic book super creator Bill Everett.

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Centaur was a spin off company created by two former employees of National Allied Publications, the company that would eventually become DC Comics.

They were actually one of the first comic book publishing companies in American history and in 1939 they debuted Amazing Man in the creatively named Amazing Man Comics #5.

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Now, I’ve seen some covers created by some of the greatest comic book talent and while this one isn’t as colorful or as action packed as most of them, it certainly does a hell of a lot to pique my interest.

In traditional Golden Age fashion, his backstory is explained in one page.  When he was a baby he was adopted by a group of monks and trained to be their instrument.

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

I love how they call him an “ultra man” and how a group of Tibetan monks look so pale and white.

The monks put him through a battery of tests, Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

I honestly don’t know which one I think is more awesome.

Almost as a side note, one of the monks injects him with a serum that turns him into a green mist.

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Why? How?  Who cares!

He goes out into the world and stops his first crime by uncovering a conspiracy by a greedy railroad president to wreck his trains but not before our hero uses his unexplained powers of telepathy to boost a moving train over a washed out bridge.

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It’s like the movie Speed, only with trains instead of buses.

It’s presumed that the President of the railroad company did it for insurance money, but the reason is never given and the story ends with the criminal committing suicide rather than being captured.

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There was an interesting plot point revealed early on that actually managed to separate the Amazing Man from the competition.  Early in the series it was revealed that one of the monks from The Amazing Man’s home turned out to be evil.

The monk’s name was “The Great Question” and he had the ability to control Amazing Man telepathically,

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What’s really interesting is that Everett didn’t shy away from violence, showing people getting beaten and even shot.

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The battle between Amazing Man and the Great Question would become the defining conflict of the series until it was cancelled in 1942.  Most of the adventures were pretty run of the mill, if it weren’t for the glorious covers that were featured on almost all of the issues.

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So what happened?

One of the defining traits of comic book publishers during the Golden Age was that, with the exception of Marvel and Detective Comics, a lot of them wound up either going out of business or folded into other publications.

Centaur Publications is a rather unique story because it’s shelf life was even shorter than most of its competitors.

Thanks to a bad distribution deal the company went out of business in 1942, they didn’t even get to see the end of the war.

Someone must have remembered them, because in 1992 a good portion of their characters were revived by another comic book publisher called Malibu Comics.

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Amazing Man was part of the revival and he found himself part of a superhero group known as the Protectors,

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complete with all the trappings and glorious excess that was a hallmark of superheroes in the 1990’s.

In a sad twist of fate, Malibu Comics would suffer the same fate as Centaur.  They fell victim to the skulduggery surrounding the comic book industry of the 1990’s and were bought out by Marvel in 1994.

Amazing Man would make another appearance in Dynamite’s Project Superpowers title,

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but what’s really interesting is how his legacy managed to live on in Marvel Comics itself.

John Aman would make an appearance in the Invincible Iron Fist #12 in 2008.

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Marvel kept the name, the ability to change into a glowing green mist, and his mystical connections to Tibetan culture by having him become the “Prince of Orphans” and being charged with hunting down a character named Orson Randall, the man who was the Iron Fist superhero before Danny Rand took over.

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Long story short, Orson and Aman are originally enemies but wind up fighting for the same side when Aman learns that his employers lied to him about their plans for their city and Earth.

The Prince of Orphans would also make appearances in Secret Avengers,

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the Marvel event comic Fear Itself, where he had to fight a possessed Iron Fist in order to save the universe, and most recently as an antagonist in the 2012 Defenders series.

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So what we have here is a revamped Golden Age superhero with ties to Tibetan mysticism, who is a brilliant martial artist who can turn himself into a green mist, and who winds up being a sort of assassin for the same mystical city that created Iron Fist.  Now, I don’t want to put thoughts in anyone’s head, but don’t you think a guy with a cool power set would be perfect for a certain set of shows on a tiny little network like say…Netflix?

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All I’m saying is that there’s a lot of history to go back on here, and while I haven’t gotten around to watching the Iron Fist show on Netflix, everything I’ve heard tells me that they could use something a bit more…amazing.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Drawing Blood

Normally this blog is reserved for obscure, small time artists and creators looking to fund a project that would have a very difficult time getting attention from a major publisher.  That’s the spirit in which sites like Kickstarter were created and it’s a spirit that we appreciate and aspire to.

However, today is the day where we attempt to sell out in a blatant attempt to gain more views and popularity.

Today we’re looking at a project called Drawing Blood.  It’s a biographical graphic novel detailing the rise and fall of a humble comic book creator named Shane Bookman.  The project is headed by Kevin Eastman, David Avallone, and Ben Bishop.

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As of the time of writing the project has already reached over $40,000 of it’s $75,000 goal and ends in 24 days.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2073065927/kevin-eastmans-drawing-blood-vol-1-a-graphic-novel/description

Why I like it

I like it because it’s a biography about indie comic book legend Shane Bookman and his journey from the highest highs of success to the lowest lows of fame and fortune.

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What, you’re telling me that you’ve never heard of Shane Bookman?  The creator of the 1992 hit comic “Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls”?

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You know, the comic that started off as a darkly humorous parody of the grim and gritty comic books of the time and was spun off into a merchandise and tv empire that remains a pop culture phenomenon to this day?  In fact, it was so successful that there are rumors there will be a big budget action movie produced by some super Hollywood director named Daniel Flay, who really likes explosions and movie series with a seemingly infinite number of sequels.

Ok, so you probably know that Shane Bookman doesn’t exist.  In fact, those of you in the know probably recognized what this project actually is when you saw who was creating it.

For those of you who don’t know, Kevin Eastman is one of the co creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,

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You know, the comic that started off as a darkly humorous parody of the grim and gritty comic books of the time and was spun off into a merchandise and tv empire that remains a pop culture phenomenon to this day and has been turned into another Michael Bay reboot that will probably churn out sequels until the day we die.

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Drawing Blood was created to be a fictitious, semi autobiographical, darkly comedic look at the creation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the rise and fall of a great artist.  It looks like it’s going to be grim, dark, violent, and promises to go behind the scenes of the creation of one of the most famous and popular comics of recent memory.

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I love this sort of stuff.  Call me weird but there are few things more satisfying than watching a success story pan out with all the trials, tribulations, thrills, chills, and potential for violence.

Why you should donate

Because being a comic book creator is hard, and while a select few creators do get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and create characters and stories that are enjoyed by millions of people,

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there are hundreds, if not thousands more men and women who put their heart and soul into their work and got screwed out of their righteously deserved credit.

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Ok sure, Alan Moore isn’t the best example but when it comes to talking about creators getting nothing for their work (although while he has made a lot of money you could make a strong case for him getting shafted by watching Hollywood butcher some of his greatest work like V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) but the comic book world is a special case when it comes to the discussion of creator’s rights and credit.

In the very beginning comic book artists and writers didn’t own anything they created.  Their work belonged to the companies that employed them and the only money many o them would see from their creations would be the page rate they received on a work for hire basis.

This is why legends such as Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster,

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who created the iconic Superman had to sue Warner Brothers in the 1970’s for the credit and recognition they justly deserved, and why Shuster died in debt.

The struggle of the creator for the rights and recognition to their work is a long and often tragic tale and it’s problems are still being worked out and argued over today.

Some creators, such as the founders of of Image Comics,

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have made it possible for creators to have greater control over their work and how it’s used, but it’s still a sensitive and complex issue that’s still being talked about.

I bring all this up because I think that a project like Drawing Blood is important to this discussion.  Audiences see the end result of the hard work and sacrifice that goes into creating stories and characters, but not a lot of people pay attention to the stuff that really goes on behind the scenes.

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Sometimes the creation of a story is just as import as the actual story itself, and if a project like Drawing Blood can draw more attention to the world behind the story than it is a story worth reading.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2073065927/kevin-eastmans-drawing-blood-vol-1-a-graphic-novel/description