THE HERO WITH A CODE

Welcome back to new and improved The Vintage Inkwell Academy (TVIA). Grab your favorite drink, circle ’round the fire and tip your hat to everyone. Before we start, I want to turn your attention to some friends of ours, Comic Book Plus and The Digital Comic Museum. If you don’t know about ‘em and you’re into this type of stuff, then you need to get acquainted with them but quick. They are the best resources for FREE Platinum and Golden-Age comics, pulps and much more from all around the globe. Also, I want to extend huge thanks to Troy Hendricks for all his great behind the scenes web work when the blog and sister site Ingenuity Studios first started.

A WONDEROUS NEW WORLD IN BRILLIANT MULTI-COLOUR 

I’m your host The Ghost Man, which is a name that I did not spin up for myself. Someone long ago gave it to me on account of some particular work I was doing. So I thought it was appropriate and it stuck ever since. I’ll give you more details on its origin in a future post, once I get to know you all a wee bit better. 

So, where does my history with comic books begin? My first exposure to any comics when I was as a very young child was from seeing a big picture of Spider-Man by John Romita in the Sunday New York Times. After excitedly questioning my parents, they wised me up about comic books and more importantly, where to get them. I grew up a native New Yorker on the upper West Side of the glorious borough of Manhattan in New York City. That day I remember dropping everything and racing down to the local candy store. After being overwhelmed at the sight of so many epic colorful comics to choose from, I finally settled on two older issues of Thor and Spider-Man comics, both costing 12 cents each. I do recall loving the art, but hating the boring and inexplicable Shakespearian dialogue in Thor and never bought any more after. It made zero sense that a Norse god would ever speak like that, much like how some movies had Romans or Nazis ridiculously speaking with English accents. 

After these two issues, I went back for more as a brand new comic book frontier opened up. Ever after, my brother and I ran through shoppes, drug stores, candy stores and newsstands regularly reading, buying and collecting issues and discovering new ones. It was the 1970’s, and the bold coloured worlds of Marvel, DC, Charlton and Atlas offered endless adventures. It seemed that almost every other day, there was something brand new — some wild new hero or comic book cover that commanded your attention. If it was interesting and compelling, I bought it and I was rarely if ever disappointed, apart from Thor. Anything with Steve Ditko’s or Jack Kirby’s art in it, I bought without thinking twice. Sometime later, we stumbled upon Phil Seuling’s comic book conventions and there, my brother and I got to see and meet the actual artists from the comics that we read and collected. I spent enthralled and amazed hours watching anime from Japan and old American cartoons on-screen there. It was there I met the legendary Will Eisner and first saw Max Fleischer’s Superman that I never even knew existed.

Typical news stand from 1975, and when I was a young child, this is one of the main places you bought new comics. I fondly remember buying many of these diversely creative titles. Such an overwhelming selection that you could hardly choose from them all! Sadly, this is not at all the case today.

One day suddenly, my dad summarily banned comic books without reason from the house, but it didn’t slow or stop me. I simply smuggled them in my socks or stashed them in a number of clever spots until I could retrieve them. He just didn’t get it, I HAD to have these comic books. To me, they were something priceless, something sacred. They were my escape, my moral compass calibrator and my how to be a hero instruction guide. Comic books were my​ cool uncle, my wise teacher and my fascinating best pal who never let me down, all in one. 

Those days, you were swept up in fantastic tales unfolding in bold, vibrant color. You were enthralled by story-lines that thrilled you and artwork that blew you away. Magnificent page after page created by artisans dedicated to their craft. It was truly a world of wonder that pulled you in. It gave you a cozy, homey feeling that just made all things right, and left an impression on you that lasts forever. Those comics fired you up and inspired you. It took the heroism that you virtually experienced and internalised it to compel you to BECOME that very character. You took on your version of that hero’s bravery, their righteousness and their moral code. YOU became a defender of freedom and a protector of the defenceless. 

Since I was a child, I was absolutely captivated by Golden-Age comics, after first learning of them in Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965) and Les Daniel’s Comix, A History of Comic Books in America (1971). No, I’m not that old, I actually picked them up in NYC at my neighborhood bookstore years later in the closeout section.

The excellent book The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. This was my first exposure to the world of Golden-Age comics and their fascinating heroes.

Comix A History of Comic Books in America by Les Daniels. Another remarkable book chock full of greatness and my first introduction to both Plastic Man and The Blackhawks.

The Golden-Age comics took the medium to a whole new level and I took to it like a fish to water. My immediate favourites were Blackhawk, Plastic Man, The Spectre, Captain America, the early adventures of The Bat-Man and especially The Sub-Mariner. From there, I sought out and devoured anything that had Platinum and Golden-age comic book or old comic strip reprints. Sometimes the art was primitive, but I even loved that, as they were packed with an atmospheric, simple, earnestly driven and packed with creative imagination. They emanate a raw, organic charm, urgency and wonderment that submerged you into that era. Sometimes you’d hit a gold mine, and get your hands on a Blackhawk by Reed Crandall, a Black Condor or The Ray by Lou Fine, a Captain Marvel Jr. by Mac Raboy and be absolutely blown away by the utterly outstanding illustrative draftsmanship without par. This took the story to a whole new scale and raised the bar of the art form. Characters exploded off the page — there was mood, intensity and real drama. These published artifacts were a solace and when I read these books it felt like being near the hearth of a fireplace. It was a heroic call to a simpler time and a place where mighty heroes and justice lived and that took a hold of me. 

Magnificent work from my prime illustrative influence Lou Fine on The Ray from Quality's Smash Comics #26. Feel that capture of energy, the incredible fluid acrobatic motion. All brilliantly executed with an anatomical technical expertise and definitive grasp of the figure in motion.

Lou FineReed Crandall, Bill Everett and Mac Raboy are among my deepest influences, along with a good many more for differing reasons. These four artistic titans in particular are absolutely top shelf to me. Their phenomenal artistic rendering has set the bar for elevating the artistic level of comics and producing unparalleled masterpieces. Looking into the sources of their art educational backgrounds led me to the works of Michelangelo, J.C. Leyendecker, Dean CornwellN.C. WyethWilliam de Leftwich Dodge and Norman Lindsay

In my training in illustration, I always tried to make my way to the educational wellspring of what made these men the best of the best. I looked further into who taught and inspired them, then acquired and bought books from which to learn their techniques. These and other brilliant comic works and cartoons, compelled me to draw from an early age. It began my long and arduous journey towards producing my own works based upon the inspiration they provided. The principles and vibrancy of the core values absorbed from those pages were instilled in me.

A short vintage cartoon to encourage artists enrolled in cartoonist course training to keep at it. To ignore detractors and ill-wishers, knowing the hard work will eventually pay off.

THE VIRTUOUS HERO WITH THE UNBREAKABLE CODE

Solemnly as he vows upon his enemy's skull, Christopher Walker develops the persona of The Phantom, 'The Ghost Who Walks'. Thus he commits himself and his future offspring to act as generational soldiers sworn into a never-ending battle against injustice and evil.

Nothing prepared me for my first experience seeing Golden-Age characters for the first time. It was also the Golden-Age comic books that introduced me to another love, the pulps! As good as the comics were, they were an evolution of the pulps that were hard, gritty, noir novelettes. The heroes there didn’t play any games, the villains were diabolically horrific and you were drawn into their life and death battles. The crimes were epic, twisted and fraught with sadistic menace. With odds seemingly overwhelming, the valiant heroes fought their way to victory with sheer determination, fortitude and resolve. They were uniquely different, clever and bold, delivering justice in a way that bonded itself to my core. 

These were larger than life heroes steeled with honorable and virtuous character. Men and women who had strict codes they lived by, with ethics and morality etched in stone. They never tolerated any forms of evil or injustice (except ignorant racial stereotypes) and often made solemn vows to crush evil and rid the world of it. They committed their lives to their sacred missions, fighting against all odds to make the world a better place for the common man. They didn’t bargain or reason with murderous psychopathic villains, they sometimes simply and resolutely killed them. Those Lucifer infused villains were utterly unredeemable, sick until their very end, monsters. They had to pay for their murderous crimes and they all had it coming in spades. 

Panel excerpt from The Bat-Man story “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” from Detective Comics #27. The story illustrates just how merciless and resolute The early Bat-Man was in dealing with the criminal underworld.

It was never about heroes dealing death to these demons just for the hell of it. The stories were written to establish an iconic ideal where justice denied and thwarted in real life, always won out by story’s end. It provided satisfaction and relief to long suffering people and taught the youth about right and wrong. About standing up and fighting for what’s true and right with every fiber of your being. Readers returned again and again to see mythic and dedicated costumed figures wage their selfless and unceasing war against crime. They were noble saviours born of fire and grit, who challenged the wicked, delivered steadfast justice and rescued the innocent from hardships. 

To the wide-open eyes and minds of youth, these characters of principle were role models on paper. Teaching the youth to fearlessly stand up and fight for the underdog and challenge injustice wherever you saw it. To rise boldly and resiliently, defending the weak and oppressed with your tenacity, talents and strength. This hero was a man of action, whose personal code of honor and moral rectitude was his shield. This was mythic storytelling very much on par with legendary heroic tales from the ancient world.

This panel from Blue Ribbon Comics #9 shows Mr. Justice in action, valiantly pledging his new life to fight oppression and vanquish injustice. 

Some heroes followed a personal moral code, which was a simple, memorable, and effective guide they lived by. The code set an ethical standard for them, and encouraged others to adhere and follow it through leading by example:

PULP HERO DOC SAVAGE'S CODE

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man. 

Pulp’s master detective Nick Carter’s was a straightforward, “Keep your mind, your body, and your conscience clean”. Impressed and inspired by both of these, I created a variation of my own years ago. I hung a printed copy at eye-level near my front entrance door to view every time I left the house each day. It was my own personal code to strive to live by and read as follows:

THE CODE OF THE GHOST MAN​ 

Keep your mind, your body, and your conscience clean.
Let me strive every moment of my life to making myself better to surpass my abilities daily.
Let me hold fast to my code, my honour and moral rectitude.
Let me stay the course of the righteous and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice.
May I take all my lessons and challenges with a smile,
without bitterness nor loss of courage.
Let me humble myself to my place in the universe and transcend my limitations.
Grant me the capacity to realise my weaknesses and to retain the knowledge to see and judge the creeping shadow of evil.
Let me do right to the innocent and harm no one undeservingly.

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