Kingstone Media Christian Comics, A Review

101 questions Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

101 questions Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

I recently had the pleasure of discovering a brand new line of Christian comics that completely caught me by surprise. I do not impress easily and not only does this series impress me, it completely blows me away!! First, I’d like to discuss their “201 Questions” title. This book covers 15 topics that could be described as “paranormal” (but isn’t the entire Bible paranormal after all?) in that it deals with subjects like angels, demons, aliens/UFO’s, ghosts, dinosaurs, the Nephilim, and others. These are all subjects I’ve studied on my own and these are all subjects that I’ve discovered that most Christians wont even discuss and will even take a step back from you and give you a strange look if you even bring them up. This is why this book completely caught me by surprise. Not only does this book tackle these on the fringe subjects but it’s come to the same conclusions I have. I have also read many books by Christian authors on these topics and it’s such a breathe of fresh air to read a book about them that doesn’t delve into kooky convoluted conspiracy theories about the Bohemian Grove or 9/11 “truthers”. This book simply takes the entry and provides you with a simple cliff notes version of what the Bible says about the subject and provides you the scriptural verses at the bottom of each page where you can look it up yourself. I’m glad someone has done a book like this where these topics are made simple for those who know little or nothing about them and can then open up the discussion for more. I also look forward to further issues in this series and will be recommending it to all of my friends.

Kingstone Bible Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

Kingstone Bible Cover, Copyright Kingstone, All Rights Reserved.

I also picked up their Kingstone Bible. This book collects six smaller issues into a larger volume and it appears that they are doing an even more expanded compendium in the future. Like the “101 Questions”, this Bible provides the Scriptural references at the bottom of each page which is something I always find helpful with comic book Bibles. I own several of them and this one has something different to it that I enjoy more than the rest. I also, wholeheartedly recommend it to both Christians and non-Believers who are curious what the Bible is really about but are unwilling to actually crack one open. This might make it easier for them to go to the source material once they have a general understanding of what they’re reading. Since I’ve grown up reading the Bible my whole life it’s sometimes easy to forget that many people have not and that makes it difficult for them to read or comprehend the old style English.

Both books have very strong and dynamic artwork and, in many cases, it’s among the best I’ve ever seen in a Christian comic. The Bible book is an anthology of several different artists but I actually prefer this because it makes each story distinct and stand out from each other visually. I also give them points for not going overboard in the 3-D coloring of the pages as so many modern comics frequently do. They’ve kept the artwork in the traditional realms of the comic book graphic and this should be applauded.

I read that Kingstone Comics hopes to become the Marvel Comics of the Christian Community and I wish them luck! In the meantime, I’ll be back for me and hope you will give them a chance too.

You can visit their website at http://kingstonecomics.com/

The Wonderful Wizard of Ed

John Ritter as L. Frank Baum

The Dreamer of Oz, Copyright Hanna-Barbera Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Last week I posted about America’s Forgotten Fairyland, the marvelous land of Oz. This week I’m going to build upon that foundation and discuss how I fit into the story.

I first became aware of L. Frank Baum and his wonderful works through the 1990 NBC Movie of the Week, “The Dreamer of Oz”. This was the first of those made for TV special effects event films that NBC would become famous for all through the 90’s (“Gulliver’s Travels”, “Merlin”, “The Tenth Kingdom”, Etc…) but it wasn’t produced by Hallmark Entertainment and The Jim Henson Company as many of those were but was made by Hanna-Barbera. Although it only had a scant amount of effects scenes this was clearly the vehicle to see if much more elaborate productions were even possible as this was the first time CGI, models, and composite computer technology had ever been attempted on a television budget before. The film starred John Ritter in the title role with Annette O’Toole as his supportive wife Maude, and Rue McClanahan as his mother in law Matilda Gauge. The film features a script by frequent “Twilight Zone” writer Richard Matheson and was critically acclaimed and proved to be so popular that it re-aired for a few years ever Christmas season. Ritter shines in this performance and if he didn’t win an Emmy for his portrayal then it is a tremendous shame. It was because of that film I began to look at some of the Oz books. When people ask me what my favorite Oz film is I always cite this one because it’s the story of L. Frank Baum and it first got me interested in the Oz books and what could be more important than that? My school library only had copies of the first two Oz books, however, but their copy of “Marvelous Land” had a plot synopsis for the remaining books. It was then that I really first became aware that Oz was a series.

John Ritter as L. Frank Baum

The Dreamer of Oz, Copyright Hanna-Barbera Productions, All Rights Reserved.

John Ritter & Annette O'Toole as L. Frank and Maude Baum

The Dreamer of Oz, Copyright Hanna-Barbera Productions, All Rights Reserved

I never watched the MGM movie much growing up but I remember it being around. I remember the big to-do over the 50th anniversary in 1989. I remember Oz film tie-ins being a staple at Media Play and Suncoast Video. I remember the film airing on CBS every year too but I rarely watched it. There was also the 1985 Disney film “Return to Oz”. I think I first saw that on PBS in the early 90’s. It scared the crap out of me when I was younger than that just from the bits and pieces I’d seen before that. I do remember my 4th grade teacher having a sticker box that had Return to Oz stickers in it and I always picked those because I had stickers of Denslow’s Oz art at home and I’d mix the characters up together in my sticker album.

The Wizard of Oz Copyright MGM, All Rights Reserved.

The Wizard of Oz Copyright MGM, All Rights Reserved.

I also remember renting the anime version from one of the first video rental places in the early 80’s but I haven’t seen it since. I also used to watch the Cinar animated Oz series based on the first few books in the series when it aired on HBO in the early 90’s. I haven’t seen them since either but it must have made a lasting impression on me. Probably the one Oz film I watched the most was the “Thanksgiving in Oz” special that was written by acclaimed writer and my hero Romeo Muller and produced by Fred Wolf. I picked up the novelization online of this special, titled “The Green Gobbler of Oz”, when I was in high school. Among the first DVD’s I ever bought were the old WB release of “The Wizard of Oz” and I picked up “Return to Oz” a few months later at KMart.

Return to Oz, Copyright Filmation, All Rights Reserved.

Return to Oz, Copyright Filmation, All Rights Reserved.

When I began to write my own stories some people began to compare my writing style to that of Mr. Baum. In the summer of 2002 when my first printed novel, “Jill Chill & the Baron of Glacier Mountain” (it was the second novel I’d written) was getting ready for press I began to pick up the Oz books at my local Barnes & Noble and read them during the down time at my job manning the ticket booth of the local Drive-In Theater. Unfortunately my B&N only carried the first six books so my excursion into Oz ended there. These are among the most important things I ever bought in my life as it would turn out. A few years later I picked up the book “The World of Oz” at a comic con in Rochester, NY and that rekindled my interest. Written to coincide with the 1985 Disney film “Return to Oz”, the book is a great overview of the entire Oz phenomenon up to that point and although it‘s a brief book I find myself returning to it for reference every now and then. I always love to learn about the story behind the story no matter what it is and Oz is the ultimate man behind the curtain tale.

Jill Chill & The Christmas Star Cover, Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Jill Chill & The Christmas Star Cover, Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

In 2006 I ordered the remaining Oz books by L. Frank Baum from Amazon.com (Hey, that even rhymes! 😀 ) But although there are nice hardcover reprints out there they edit out content and make them politically correct. I believe in reading books unedited as the author intended them to be. The author may revise their work while alive, everyone from Charles Dickens to J.R.R. Tolkien have done that, but once they’re silenced by death the work should be as they last left it and meant it to be. The Dover Editions of the Oz books are a nice affordable way to get all of the Baum books, averaging out to about $10.00 a book and they don’t change a word. If you want to get into the Oz series it’s the best way to go. Plus they look great next to my Narnia, Tolkien, and King Arthur books on the shelf. 😀 Dover also prints most of Baum‘s other books and they‘re all about the same format size so if you really want to get into Baum this is my preferred way to go. Because I so enjoyed these Oz books and wanted to get people interested in them again for a time I’d even considered doing my own Oz book since I’d been told so often that my own writing style is so similar but nothing ever worked out.

In the spring of 2011 I found myself starting over in many ways just as L. Frank Baum had when he became an author and once more Oz found me again. At the time I was thinking about how to present the library of titles that I had completed years ago and have been sitting on for all of this time. I found myself in a used book story and came upon a storybook where Baum’s text and W.W. Denslow’s illustrations for “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” had been edited down to 60 pages and I began to think about doing that with some of my novels since we were currently living in an economy where people were less likely to spend money on a novel than they had been a few years prior.

My curiosity in Oz had also been perked up again and I found my way onto one of the Oz internet forums. I forget what originally brought me there but through the conversations I learned about a book of paper dolls that had been produced back in Baum’s day and had recently been reprinted. As an Oz buff I wanted to get a copy and I was also interested as I had just bought a substantial amount of character artwork from my illustrator and was looking for ways to return my investment and a paper doll book seemed like a novel idea. I didn’t have the money to buy a copy of the book but I traded the person who restored and reprinted it a copy of my comic book “Jill Chill & the Christmas Star” for one. To my surprise I was asked if I’d ever consider writing stories for The International Wizard of Oz Fan Club. This was just one of those God events in my life because I had only began thinking about Oz again because I found that book and I only traded a “Jill Chill” comic book because I was strapped for cash. You never know when these sorts of things will happen either and it just goes to show that even when you’re going through a poverty stretch it can be a blessing in disquise otherwise I’d have never been given this opportunity.

"The Love-Bug of Oz" by Ed McCray, Copyright Ed McCray Productions, Story & Artwork All Rights Reserved.

The Wizard of Oz from “The Love-Bug of Oz” by Ed McCray, Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

That summer I set to work on figuring out what my “Oz” stories would be like. Because Oz has no set Bible of continuity my approach has been to treat it like a comic book. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s Warner Bros. Animation produced a series of animated TV shows based on the DC Comics characters. To many people those are the definitive versions of these characters. What they did was boil down each character to their essence and not worry about continuity found in the comics. The result was a hybrid of each character that had aspects of all versions. This has been my approach to the Oz characters. My ultimate goal is to get people interested in them again so that they’ll read the original Oz books. Each of my stories comes out of defining who each character is and plugging them into a particular scenario and building stories around that.

Glinda the Good Witch of the South from "The Love-Bug of Oz" Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Glinda the Good Witch of the South from “The Love-Bug of Oz” Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

My take on the Baum characters was so well received I was asked to consider doing the same for the Thompson Oz characters. I had never read any of the Ruth Plumly Thompson Oz books because they’re difficult to find and I’d read bad things about them. I was sent a copy of “The Silver Princess in Oz” and I was VERY impressed. It’s a very well written fantasy novel appropriate for all ages and it captures what it’s like to be a young boy and like a girl perfectly well. Within a few days I even had a story in mind with those characters as well. Last fall I began to track down as many of her other Oz books and they’re just as good as L. Frank Baum’s fantasy works. The Thompson Oz is just another flavor of a familiar brand kind of like Coke and Vanilla Coke.

Professor Woggle-Bug from "The Love-Bug of Oz" Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Professor Woggle-Bug from “The Love-Bug of Oz” Story & Artwork Copyright Ed McCray Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Over the past few months I’ve been illustrating my first story, “The Love-Bug of Oz” for “Oziana”. As far as I know it will be in the 2013 edition and I recently found out that it will be just in time for a new Disney Oz film so people will be thinking about Oz. Perhaps for once in my life my timing is right. 😀 I’m going to attempt to contribute at least one new story to the publication each year for the foreseeable future as my schedule permits. I may even do a cover for them at some point. What I desire to do with my Oz work is to not only tell entertaining stories with these beloved characters from America’s forgotten fairyland but to also shine a spotlight on the earlier works in hopes that more people will read them and let these characters live once more. I’ve been greatly enjoying my little excursions into Oz on these expeditions to bring back the finest Oz stories I can tell.

Ed & Jill Chill at the 2003 Pittsburgh Toy Show

Ed & Jill Chill at the 2003 Pittsburgh Toy Show

So now I find myself part of the Oz story too and I didn’t even have to journey down the fabled yellow brick road or need a pair of silver shoes or a magic belt to get me there, it found me. It has been a joy to be a part of America’s favorite albeit forgotten fairyland. To be a part of this glorious Oz legacy and asked to come into it has been a tremendous honor and I take this mantle very seriously. I hope my stories are well received and succeed in drawing attention back to the original books. For me it has been very exciting to help make characters live again who have been hidden by the sands of time for so many generations. I’m especially looking forward to breathing life into the Thompson Oz characters again because many of them have laid dormant since the time she used them which is a shame. I can promise that my first Thompson inspired Oz story will star Planetty the Silver Princess, Randy the Purple Prince, Kabumpo the elegant elephant, Thun the thunder colt, in addition to some of Baum’s beloved characters.

Return to Oz Copyright Walt Disney Productions, All Rights Reserved.

Return to Oz Copyright Walt Disney Productions, All Rights Reserved.

I’ll be sure to post any Oz updates I have on this blog between the other topics I cover so if this interests you be sure to check in. My favorite part of the whole experience is that now I can sign my stationary “The Wonderful Wizard of Ed”. See you on the yellow brick road on the other side of that rainbow. Along the way we might even regain those silver shoes (not ruby slippers) that Dorothy lost on her original visit.

Oz the Great & Powerful, Copyright Walt Disney Pictures, All Rights Reserved.

Why Do Superheroes Wear Their Underwear Over Their Pants?

Batman Logo

Batman Logo, Copyright DC Comics, All Rights Reserved.

Batman may be the most popular of the DC Comics characters but I wonder how commonly known it is that Batman is really a knockoff of Zorro and The Shadow? Ever see the Disney version of Zorro? It’s straight from the original pulp novels of the early 1900’s. Zorro is a rich playboy who returns home from a long trip abroad just like Batman. Upon his return he becomes a caped crusader who roams the streets and rooftops of California at night. His base of operation is from a cave beneath his expansive mansion that is accessed through a grandfather clock in the house, just like Batman (For real, that’s how he enters the Batcave.) The only one in on his secret is his butler (just like Batman.) And that’s just a short list of the similarities but the cave is an awfully big one.

The Shadow, Copyright Condé Nast Publications, All Rights Reserved.

The Shadow, Copyright Condé Nast Publications, All Rights Reserved.

Zorro Logo, Copyright Zorro Productions, Inc., All Rights Reserved.

The Shadow was a very popular radio character in the 1930’s most notably voiced by Orson Welles. Once again it tells the story of a rich playboy who roams the world on a 10 year journey in Asia where he trained with monks and yogis (just like Batman…) and he returns home to the city to fight crime as a caped crusader. The Shadow’s Rogue’s Gallery is a lot like Batman’s but the one property that’s most common with Batman in this regard is Dick Tracy. The Shadow has a secret society of friends who aid him in his quest to fight crime (much like Batman has several friends he turns to as Batman to help him out.) There’s other similarities as well but there’s just a few. I actually enjoy The Shadow very much. There was a pretty good Shadow movie in 1994 starring Alec Baldwin. It’s not great but it’s not bad and what a great comeuppance for a villain!

By the way, one of the best comic book movies ever is “The Rocketeer”. For a film that bombed it’s a fairly solid motion picture. Of course it has a lot of inspiration from the old Republic Serials and things but it’s not a bad movie at all. Usually films that bomb like that one did are really bad but it’s a pleasant gem. The first “Hellboy” was pretty enjoyable too and, of course, the first few “Spiderman’s” were great. I never cared for the “Batman” or “Superman” films. I never saw any of those until my 20’s and my opinions of them have caused seem deeply seeded anger from some of the people I’ve shared them with.

First I think they have the wrong Lois Lane. She looks like a trailer trash meth addict. They needed someone like Marion from “Indiana Jones” because Lois was always a spunky woman and Marion was spunky. This is where the film falls flat to me. The new film coming out next year has Amy Adams as Lois and I think that might work. She usually shines in everything she does. But anyway, what it comes down to after that is Christopher Reeve is a lousy Superman. (No one beats George Reeves. Sorry. That‘s who that character was from his inception. Not some girly man.) So what that he later got paralyzed. He looks like a scrawny mannequin through most of them and everyone knows that Superman is a more beefy built guy. (Look at the comic books) They actually turned Superman scrawny in the comic so he’d look more like Christopher Reeves.

Vintage Circus Strongman Poster

Superman Ad, Copyright DC Comics, All Rights Reserved.

Interesting fact, do you know why superheroes wear their underwear outside of their pants? It’s not because they’re making some crazy fashion statement. It’s because they were based on Circus Strongmen. Superman was the first and a lot of those who came later were knockoffs on Superman. It is interesting to me that DC Comics seized several of these superheroes away through legal action like Captain Marvel by claiming they owned all superheroes because they coined the term while at the same time Batman was busy knocking off Zorro and The Shadow. Even Superman is very Flash Gordon like of a character with undertones of Doc Savage. Both Superman and Doc Savage had a North Pole arctic retreat packed with artifacts and mementos of their illustrious adventures called “The Fortress of Solitude”. I wonder how that slipped by with no legal challenges…

Popeye the Sailor, Copyright King Features Syndicate, All Rights Reserved.

Popeye the Sailor, Copyright King Features Syndicate, All Rights Reserved.

I find it fascinating where characters come from and to unearth forgotten characters from previous generations. Popeye is another fun character from the past. Think about how jacked-up of a concept he is too. He’s an old, toothless, one-eyed guy who smokes a pipe and beats the crap out of people. His girlfriend is about the homeliest woman in comics and his best friend has a fetish for hamburgers and would sell him out for one. If you have never read the original Segar comic strips I highly recommend the recent 6 volume set of collecteds. There’s some really crazy stuff in them. One of my favorites is a 2 part Sunday Strip where the Jewish peddler Geisel is tired of Wimpy stealing hamburgers and hides rat poison in a burger and KILLS WIMPY!! And this was the SUNDAY comic geared to kids!! Imagine if someone did that today. The Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons are great too. One of my favorites is called “Fightin’ Pals” where Bluto gets lost in the jungle and Popeye misses getting the crap beat out of him so he goes to find him. The cartoon ends with Bluto reviving a sickly Popeye with a can of spinach and the two joyfully pound the crap out of each other. What a crazy idea for a cartoon! And yet no kids imitated this stuff. It’s sad that people now censor this old historical stuff like that.

Pulp adventure stories are a whole forgotten genre just waiting to be rediscovered. Dr. Syn/The Scarecrow, Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, John Carter, Doc Savage, and the Shadow are all popular characters who have originated from this genre. There were juvenile series that are in the same mode too like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. A lot of this stuff you can’t even find reprinted anymore but a lot of our current popular characters are based on these earlier efforts. Indiana Jones and Star Wars famously come from the Saturday Morning Serials made by Republic Pictures. Indy is very much a pulp character like Doc Savage and Star Wars falls into that same category as Flash Gordon. If George Lucas ever makes that third trilogy of Star Wars movies he should make it artistically look like the retro 1930’s-50’s look of the Flash Gordon fare. That way he can explain how the past depicted in the new trilogy is very modern while the original trilogy is like the 1970’s. The answer; fashion is evolving backwards in that galaxy far, far away, but I digress.

King Solomon famously said there’s nothing new under the sun and this is especially true when one analyzes the history of various popular characters like this. Everything is a riff off from something else whether it’s a particular genre, a remake of an original property, or an outright imitation. There really are no new ideas. There’s only novel wars to retell a preexisting idea. Look at all of the different versions of comic book characters that are out there. I’m not an avid comic book reader but I’m aware of some of the variations not to mention competing heroes with similar abilities and everyone has a favorite. When you can bend and twist officially recognized versions of a character and it still can be that same character it’s only a few nudges to make a new character. I often ask myself when I’m seeing the similarities between Zorro and Batman or Superman and Flash Gordon at what point does it go from an imitation to a new conception. Whenever a new animated film comes out Good Times Home Video always has a knock off title to coincide with the release of the big budget film. Although I don’t know if Good Times was behind it my favorite title for a knock off I’ve ever seen is “Ratatoing” Oh, my! Even the beloved Universal Monster The Creature from the Black Lagoon is just a re-imagining of King Kong story and all.

 

All content, unless otherwise noted, copyright Ed McCray, All Rights Reserved.