Saturday, January 25, 2014

SELLING THE SAURIAN SIZZLE

In 1966, Gold Key Comics released this one-shot Doc Savage comic book. The book, an adaptation of THE THOUSAND HEADED MAN (a great story by the way and one which I've recently re-read), was intended to cash on to the proposed but never made Doc Savage film that would have starred Chuck Connors in the title role. The cover art for this comic is by the great James Bama and is taken from the Bantam paperback reprint of THOUSAND HEADED MAN. It's a great image (Bama was incapable of painting something bad) but the interior artwork did not live up to the promise of that dynamic cover shot. 

The artwork was by Jack Sparling, who was, in my estimation, one of the weakest artists of the Silver Age. Sparling must have been a very fast penciller and he must have been willing to work cheap because his work appears in a number of titles from a variety of publishers throughout the '60s and '70s. He may have been a great guy in real life but his artwork always disappointed me. When he was inked by Vince Colletta (as was often the case), the results were down right horrific. Since this Doc Savage comic was produced by Gold Key Comics, can you imagine what it would have looked like if someone like Russ Manning or Dan Spiegle had drawn it instead of Sparling? Alas, it was not to be. But the inferior artwork does not negate the fact that the Gold Key DOC SAVAGE is a highly collectible item for fans of the Man of Bronze. I've got a copy in my collection and I'm not turning it loose.

This is an example of what I call "selling the sizzle and not the steak". Here's my most recent encounter with this phenomenon.

 

Frank Miller, one of the all-time great comic book artists in my estimation, provided the cover art for one issue of JURASSIC PARK: REDEMPTION,  a recent mini-series produced by IDW. The collected edition of the series sports Miller's art on the cover and features a cover gallery that includes work by such stellar artists as Arthur Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Paul Pope, Tom Yeates and the incomparable Bill Stout (who is, in my opinion, the greatest living dinosaur artist). All of these men produced great cover images for this series and it's a shame that none of them did the actual artwork in any of the issues collected here.

Instead, we get the work of Nate Van Dyke. I was unfamiliar with Mr. Van Dyke's work prior to seeing it in JP: REDEMPTION (which I got in a trade with my fellow comic book collector Blake Long). When I first flipped through the book, I thought the art was by Howard Chaykin. Boy, would that have been something! Instead we get Van Dyke occasionally channelling Chaykin but falling oh-so-far short of that man's ability and talent. Van Dyke's work is awkward and stiff and his characters are ill-proportioned and oddly angular. His men all have the tendency to look alike. He draws dinos okay (after all, that's the only reason anyone buys any JURASSIC PARK comic book) but his layouts, storytelling, figure work and action scenes are all severely lacking.

The ponderous script by Bob Schreck doesn't help much. In this umpteenth iteration of JP, Tim and Lexie, the two kids from the first adventure, are now adults, each involved in their own separate corporate ventures. There's another live dinosaur theme park, this one located in, of all places, Glen Rose, Texas. I've been to Glen Rose. There's a great dinosaur themed state park there that has some magnificent tracks and footprints in the riverbed along with T-Rex and Brontosaurus statues left over from the 1964 World's Fair.

The story crams too many characters (who, as drawn by Van Dyke, all tend to look alike), too many narrative threads and too slow a pace to make the eventual pay off really succeed. When you get to the end of this mess, you're left wondering if this trip was really worth it.

I love dinosaurs and I'd love to read a full length comic book story or mini-series about those marvelous creatures illustrated by any of the cover artists whose work is on display in the back pages of this volume. Instead, I got a story illustrated by Nate Van Dyke who may become the Jack Sparling of the 21st century.

The sizzle was great but the steak was too tough.

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