I am the author of Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox, a geeky mother of two boys, and an Instructional Specialist. My main focus is on the modern American superhero and I am particularly interested in multiplatform storytelling bridging comics and television studies.
I was all set to write another Missing Works blog post (The next one will be a comic!), but February was a fascinating month in a lot of specific ways and it seemed important to ruminate on what feels like a cultural moment. As such, this month’s post is a bit of a hodgepodge with a running theme of female empowerment through love and support.
I suppose this theme kicked off with Birds of Prey.
I walked out of the theater feeling like it was a fun action movie with a diverse cast of strong women at its center and it had accomplished the goals it set out for itself. That said, the more I let it sit in the back of my mind, the more I realized how much I loved about it. Hearing Harley Quinn sound like the extremely intelligent badass that she is would have been enough for me, but the plethora of easter eggs, the fight choreography, the overall aesthetics, and the hair tie scene made the movie beyond worth watching. I am still listening to a couple songs from the soundtrack too!
While there were naysayers, I was hardly the only one who thought the movie was doing something important. I was beyond tickled when I walked into a Writing 97 classroom and heard a female student in the back of the room telling the other people at her table how impactful it was for her to see women learn to help other women, depend on other women, and support other women. I could feel a shift in the air as people around me urged others to see the movie too.
And you better believe I bought a pack of hair ties to put in my goodie box at the Anti-Valentine’s Day Girl Power Pop-up event at Radar Toys
The day following our event was Valentine’s Day and boy was it a big one in the comics world with the sixth issue of X-Men and final issue of the Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy series taking their representations of queer love in drastically directions. On one hand, we see the queer coded relationship between Mystique and Destiny being made explicitly a part of the Marvel canon. On the other, we have DC straightwashing the relationship between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Adding insult to injury, DC used Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy in their Valentine’s Day marketing when they released a new statue to cash in on the couple on the same day they put out a tweet depicting a seemingly frustrated-with-love Harley Quinn alone in a bath tub for #SinglesAwarenessDay. Fans are justifiably upset.
Quickly, #HarleyKissingIvy (created by Deedee Elms) started trending as shippers provided droves of queer coded moments from their relationship along with fan art showing just how much of a power couple they are to their fans.
Once again, just one day later, yet another hashtag supporting a queer cast of characters, including Harley Quinn, came out. While still successful, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey did not do as well as anticipated. Hoping to encourage potential movie goers to support the female led action movie, #ReasonsToSupportBoP served as a way for fans to share why it was so impactful.
Whether it is true or not, I find it fascinating how people were countering these extortions with comments that Birds of Prey didn’t make as much money because a male audience doesn’t want to watch a movie that isn’t targeted explicitly to them and that the female audience just isn’t there in the same way as the male audience is. The people tweeting about how men don’t want to watch the movie highlight the way that some cis straight men seemingly struggle to cross identify with women because they have been given less opportunity to practice that skill. Male leads are still an overwhelming norm, thus being put in a position where they don’t see themselves on the screen could cause those folks a certain level of discomfort. Additionally, it seems worth remembering that women don’t have as much free money to spend given they make less than men and items designed for women often cost more.
Another big talked about moment in relation to the depiction of women this month came when Tom King hinted that Catwoman might be pregnant by sharing a tweet showing her very pregnant and still in her costume. There was something kismet about the fact I was working on a piece about pregnant superheroes in the Marvelverse at the time.
In my short piece, I chronologically explored depictions of normal pregnancies. Starting in 1967/1968, we see a restrictive view that showcases the ways in which traditional women of the time did not have the same kind of agency in their lives as we enjoy now. By 1985, women had the collective power to be much more brazen, but, when it came right down to it, the assumption that men know better still seeps in. Skipping ahead to 2014, we see women’s embodiment becoming a subject that can be explored instead of hidden along side an understanding that a woman’s body comes with the ability to make choices about said body.
Just in case people want to argue my comic selections are out of date and that times have already changed for the better, The “flexibility” of Catwoman’s costume and the fact that she is out “prowling” while pregnant were both very much at discussion in the replies.
We may not know what this storyline will bring, but, according to my research, seeing her on the prowl in her costume bodes well for her… the fact that things don’t tend to go well for the younger members in the Batfam and the fact that people probably want start writing stories for Helena Wayne as soon as possible still gives me pause though.
Interesting to note that #WomenOnPanels started in February of last year…
This February, female love and support rose to the forefront of our comics culture in a big way. There will inevitably continue to be growing pains as our modes of expression are expanded to include a wider range of perspectives; however, we do keep seeing progress being made.
Even if the only result of these hashtag movements is increased visibility, that is still a win in my book. At the very lease, we are showcasing love by example. And, in our increasingly divided culture, I am always going to choose the side of love.
Perhaps we will one day look back and say that a women’s movement started with something as seemingly simple as #Galantines…
After a few time-sensitive events required a brief pause, we once again return to our previously scheduled series featuring some of the works that didn’t quite make it into Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox. For Part 1, I looked at a short story, so it seemed like a natural extension to talk about one of the novels Gardner Fox wrote.
What I would have talked about:
This hardcover western shows almost a reversal of Red Wolf in that our main character is a blonde hair blue-eyed white man raised by the Kiowa. The plot of the story kicks off with Amos Carty agreeing to an escort mission. In repayment of a debt to the outlaw Morgan Chance, Carty must take his soon to be married sister, Kate Chance, to a Ranch in Chessboard. Of course, the mission is perilous thanks to some rival outlaws, but our stalwart hero is more than capable thanks to the skills he developed as a youth.
As problematic as this premise might seem at first, Fox treats American history and folklore just the same as he does when writing about any other cultural touchstone. Carty’s Native American based upbringing does get mentioned a fair amount, and not always in a positive manner, but, Carty’s life choices come from being an outsider more than any other factor. His main characteristics include being an honorable and self-sufficient man who chooses to live off the land because he rejects most of modern society. His main motivation throughout the tale is simply to move out to a little cabin and essentially retire. While that motivation changes a little bit towards the end of the book, the character himself remains stable.
One of the things that is most striking about this book is just how repetitive it is. This could be seen as a negative, but it provides a certain rhythm that mirrors the life of the man we are following. Case in point, much of the repetition we get are in Carty’s thoughts as he reasserts or reassesses the choices he has made that led him to his preferred lifestyle. There is something almost poetic about this structure.
Finally, Carty is yet another entry in Fox’s canon that showcases the way he creates space for less toxic forms of masculinity. Carty is often put in positions where his responses run counter to some of the toxicity often found in the conventions of the western genre. Like many cowboys before him, Carty considers a drink, and even a round with a prostitute, but he never actually partakes. He asks for milk instead.Further, he is respectful of Kate and her ability to cook better than he can. Fox encourages the reader to respect her as well when she stops to gather herbs that are unrecognizable to Carty along their journey to Chessboard.
Why did I want to talk about it?
First of all, this book serves as a touchstone for Gardner Fox’s popularity as a novelist. I found more newspaper coverage for Fox’s westerns than his work in any other genre. It even made the news when, in 1978, Carty was put in library circulation. Amusingly, it was the only Gardner Fox book held at the library closest to me. I had to check it out.
Reading Carty quickly became one of my favorite experiences during that part of my research. What made reading that library book so exciting is the evidence left behind by its previous readers, such as several underlined words with questions marks above them. One example of an underlined word that I even had to look up was kak. For those who don’t know, it means saddle. Fox could have just used saddle, but kak better conveys the casual slang Fox thought a cowboy was more likely to use, thus showing his love of research as well as highlighting the in-group and out-group of his perceived audience. Given how much effort he put into his word choices, I can just imagine Fox happily chuckling knowing that his readers may have to reach for a dictionary and learn a new word after picking up this particular western novel.
Where in the book it would have gone?
It would have fit in with my discussion of Fox’s later western works near the end of chapter thirteen. After my discussion of Red Wolf and before I brought Leon Fox back into the story. A big emphasis in the story is how self-reliant Carty is and this is one of the things that made me realize Fox knew a fair amount about outdoor survival. One of the most obvious places he could have learned these skills would be his father who grew up rural and returned to that lifestyle in his later years.
Why it was put on the chopping block?
While it would have fit in nicely with the content described above, narratively speaking, the book was released in 1977. The content above took place in the late 60s. Additionally, it wasn’t adding anything new because I was able to talk about the role his father might have had without specifically mentioning Carty thanks to the westerns I had already brought up in chapter thirteen.
I am shocked that a first book written by a no-name about somebody most people have never heard of would make it on such a list. At the same time, I’m touched to learn that one of the reasons that my book made the list was because of all the nice things people have been saying about it. According to BookAuthority’s “Frequently asked questions:”
Books that were chosen to be featured on BookAuthority are ranked (#1, #2…) based on their star rating.
The star rating for each book is calculated using a sophisticated algorithm, taking into account signals such as:
✔ Public mentions of the book
✔ Recommendations, ratings and reviews
✔ Analyzing user behavior and sentiment
✔ Sales history and velocity
✔ Book age, information and editions
In other words, it is the passion and support of the comic community that is bringing Gardner Fox’s contributions to light. It has been an honor to bring his story into our cultural milieu once again, but you are the ones helping keep it there.
In thanks and celebration, I decided to put off the next entry of my Missing Works mini-series one more month in order to open up December’s blog post for an interview with all my supporters!! To do this, I took to social media and offered to let each supporter ask up to three questions. The results of this open approach are as follows:
1) What is your view on comics as an educational tool, especially for English language learners, delayed, or disabled readers?
The idea that comics somehow stunt readers’ abilities is well refuted at this point; however, this bias persists in some circles. My personal view is that any form of reading is a valid form of reading and comics, in particular, can be an excellent educational tool. Increasingly, comics are making their way into textbooks and I have seen more and more textbooks that are completely in comic book format. Japan has been ahead of the curve on this with many of their textbooks and manuals taking the form of manga. Another place in the world where I see this conversation coming up is in Mexico. I have heard multiple stories, some first hand, about people learning both English and Spanish from reading comics in their home towns.
The same reasons that language learners find comics particularly helpful are also at work for delayed readers. Comics can enable a reader to understand the major points being made even if they don’t understand all the words on the page because the images provide context clues. This not only increases reader comprehension but also makes it more likely they will finish the book and earn that sense of accomplishment that will keep them reading. This is in contrast to big blocks of text that can sometimes be hard to read and might even be overwhelming for some people dealing with visual impairments or other issues such as ADD.
That said, comics can actually pose increased difficulty in some circumstances. Thankfully, there ways to make comics more accessible to these groups. One example I recently saw was a program Lane Community College’s Center for Accessible Resources uses to isolate the parts of the page according to perceived importance and puts them in what the program assumes to be the most efficient reading order. This feels like one of the fields of study that is really picking up steam.
2) How do you think we should discuss societal changes when reading comics from different periods?
Sweeping uncomfortable parts of our history under the rug doesn’t help anybody. In fact, I think it is more problematic to pretend that we have always been “woke” so to speak. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” To erase or censor comics that shine a light on the injustices that were once normalized is also an erasure of the pain that was caused by those injustices. And that pain is important to process and understand in order for us to truly move forward. This is why I believe that contextualization is so key.
If it were up to me, I would leave older comics the way they are and include in-depth disclaimers to preface problematic material with relevant information that might help the reader understand the social climate that produced the work at hand and the ways in which our society has since changed. That way, a wider range of readers can be ready to join these kinds of discussions with a basic toolkit in hand.
3) I am combining a couple of questions here. One person wanted to know if Fox’s writing had an effect on Denny O’Neil and another wanted me to discuss the “1968 talent purge at DC Comics” in further detail.
Ah yes, the little talked about Writer’s Strike. This attempt at unionizing had several starting points with the primary being when it was discovered that some writers and artists were getting paid more than others. As news of this imbalance spread, a group of writers decided to try and negotiate for better treatment. This group included Gardner Fox, Bill Finger, France Herron, Otto Binder, and Arnold Drake. Further, as DC began reprinting stories without giving their creators royalties, John Broome felt like DC was flat out stealing from him. The members of the group believed their demands for medical insurance, fair pay, and a retirement plan were fair under the circumstances. Still, after what happened during the first attempt at unionization during the 50s, there was a strong fear that those involved would be blacklisted and kicked out of the company. Sadly, it was a common belief at the time that writers were interchangeable, so artists felt that risk more acutely. The only artists that participated in the cause at all were Mort Meskin, Carmine Infantino, and, thanks to Otto Binder, Kurt Schaffenberger.
As expected, DC president Jack Liebowitz did not approve of the group’s demands. Bob Haney did get the two dollar pay raise he wanted; however, the opportunities to see the results of that raise were diminished as writing assignments began to be passed over to other, mostly younger, writers. One of these writers was Dennis “Denny” O’Neil.
Knowing now that he was essentially a scab, O’Neil has said he isn’t sure what he would have done had he been aware of the full situation because he needed the money at the time. Regardless, he was a perfect choice to write the JLA title after Fox was “pushed out” because they both wrote about relevant social issues. Some of this may have come from their mutual Catholic backgrounds. I would have to do some digging to find out if O’Neil ever explicitly talked about Fox being any kind of influence on him, but one would have to assume that O’Neil was at least reading some of Fox’s work before he stepped into his shoes. After all, one must know the rules in order to break them in the right ways and that is arguably what he did during his Justice Leauge run. It might also be fair to assume O’Neil didn’t think Fox went far enough in his explorations of social issues because Fox was not one to forcefully rock the boat and believed that the story itself should always be at the forefront.
4) Can you ask Gardner Fox if he can come to my mother’s house this weekend to play cribbage?
Ummm….. Gardner Fox did love to play games… I suppose there are some ways I could try and reach out to him. I would need to know a lot more about your mother though…
5) Have you ever thought of doing a podcast of your own? I think a lot of us would listen.
I actually did have a podcast for a little while! My cohost was @Dodgy86inthemix and it was called Grappling with the Graphic. It focused on using comics as a way of talking about real-life issues. We even had @AaronMeyers on as a guest to talk about how he collects comics in a healthy manner. That episode, unfortunately, never aired and the podcast as a whole was eventually abandoned. As much as I loved the project, there is no hope for a continuation of it because I have since cut ties with Comic Crusaders. (If you really need to know about the fallout, you can read about it here: As a part of Sirens of Sequentials, I have popped on The Siren’s Call a couple of times, but podcasting has been put on a back burner for now. If that ever changes, I will most certainly let you all know.
6) Do you aspire to write a comic book, either independently produced or for an established publisher?
That’s a good question… I’ve written a few comic scripts and found it very enjoyable. Creative writing is something I hope to find the opportunity to do more of in the coming years… Just maybe I have been talking to an enthusiastic illustrator about this possibility, but it feels a little early to say more than that.
7) If you could write a Golden Age Character, who would it be?
It would be really fun to write a Hawkgirl series in the same style as the Lois Lane comics of today. Behind the scenes, both of these women are doing a lot of work! I would love to write about Hawkgirl uncovering the mystery and saving the day alongside Hawkman instead of the way their stories are usually depicted. While we do get a fair amount of that in those Golden Age stories, a simple shift in the main perspective might yield some intriguing results that could become a veritable playground.
8) Is there a Silver Age story arc that you would like to see revisited?
That’s a really hard question!! And one many comic creators have clearly taken seriously. One of my favorite examples of that is “The Secret Spell” by Gerry Conway, which delves more into the backstory of Zatanna and her father Zatara. When I met him at last year’s Rose City Comic Con, he described it as a fun one to write. Maybe a third entry into the Solomon Grundy saga told across All-Star #33 and Showcase #55?
9) What comics writer today (in your opinion, of course) best carries on the spirit of Gardner Fox?
This was something that has been brought up before. Working backward, @HaikuFictionDJU first pondered if Gardner Fox was the Neil Gaiman of the Golden Age. I hadn’t considered it before, but, as I stated then, there are a fair amount of similarities. They both write in a wide range of genres, use archaic and mythological touchstones, and produce a mix of novels and comics. Surprisingly, @neilhimself actually responded to my tweet detailing this comparison! Gaiman stated, “Well Gardner Fox was definitely one of the first writers to really impinge on me. A JLA/JSA crossover when I was 6…” (6:09 PM · Apr 1, 2019). Sounds like he is carrying on the spirit of Gardner Fox to me!
10) Which is heaven on Earth to taste, Brownie batter, Yellow Cake batter or the corn syrup from a Mego Elastic Hulk?
The trickster is revealed!! If Mr. Cimino here wants to taste the goo that comes out of one of his prized Mego Elastic Hulks, that’s his choice. I’m going to go with Brownie batter myself. In fact, I think I am going to bring that heaven down to Earth when I get done with this here soon…
11) For this last question, I am once again combining a few submissions because they seem to be pushing for a similar response: who will be the subject for my next biography?!?
Bill Schelly’s death impacted me in some pretty big ways. I cite him three times in Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox! Before his death, I was at a point where I wasn’t sure I really wanted to take on such a large project again, but then it felt like a void opened up in front of me. I kept thinking about all the comic greats he could have written about and how those greats might not have their stories told now… After they have given us so much, I couldn’t just walk away from them. So, I started putting together a list.
People like Bill Finger have already gotten a major spotlight put on them and I would rather put my time and attention toward those who need it more. In response to who the next-most-worthy “Forgotten All Star” might be, if twitter buzz is any kind of indicator, my answer is Roy Thomas! I really can’t say more than that…
After searching my heart, I realized I already knew who I wanted to put in the spotlight: the father of comic fandom himself: Jerry Bails.
When looking at who would be the most important figure to bring into today’s discussions, Jerry Bails becomes an obvious choice for me. Without his work, comic scholarship as we know it might not even exist. Several of his projects were ahead of his time and they made it possible for others to follow his path and do academic work on comics as well. Not only do I see this as an opportunity to break down the boundaries between comic fandom and scholarship, but I have also read a lot of his personal letters already and I feel the kind of emotional attachment to him that makes me want to spend the time needed to write a book on the little known luminary.
As we move into this next year, I will continue to focus on Gardner Fox, but I will also be digging into research mode as I work to share the story of Jerry Bails now too. Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. I hope we will be on this journey together for a long time to come ❤️
Extra shout outs and thanks go out to @mschwach, @Elastic_Hulk, @spiderbob007, @traitken, and @msnyds1 for providing me the meaty questions to dig into.
Because I have received multiple requests for a list of all the interviews I’ve done, I figured I should take the time to try and catalog all the times Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox has been talked about in lieu of writing a new blog post for this month. Look for the second entry in my Missing Works mini-series next month!
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking through this list. First off, it is a living document. This means that I will continue to add entries as things come out listing the most recent on top. And second, not everything is included. For example, my radio appearances on Pint O’ Comics and on Koop’s The Pull List, the latter with the amazing Bryan Spaulding, are no longer available, so they cannot be listed. I also chose not to include the Bleeding Cool published comments Roy Thomas made about my book because they were already made public here. You can read them in my blog post for August 2019.
In consideration of the fact this was a requested list, I am pinning this at the top of my Twitter feed (@JenniferDeRoss), thus enabling people to do a quick glance whenever they feel the need.
As somebody who has been on the other side of the table, so to speak, I truly appreciate how much work goes into all these interviews and reviews. Every single person involved in the creation process reflected in the linked items above deserves a big thank you.
If you are reading through this and wanting to do something with me yourself, please feel free to reach out! Also, If I missed something, please drop a link to it in the comments and I will add it in.
With a canon as large as Gardner Fox’s, I had to put a lot of thought into each work I included in Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox. As such, I thought it would be fun to write some blog posts about the works that didn’t quite make it into the biography.
For the first entry in this new blog series, I am spotlighting one of Fox’s pulp magazine stories.
What I would have talked about:
“Vassals of the Lode-Star” begins with a legend, much like he would do in a large amount of his comic work.Also similar to his comic work is Fox asserting that Thor’s astral projection isn’t witchcraft, but science. He explains any disbelief as being the same as the way that atoms have always existed despite the fact that the Romans didn’t know they did. (This sounds just like something that a very different Thor would eventually assert.) He also uses the same sort of third-person style he used in “Weirds of the Woodcarver” to introduce the setting along with the same kind of spontaneous traveling between universes and time. Unfortunately, the same distanced and mysterious style that worked for him in the horror tale doesn’t help him here.
The protagonist is an Oregon lumberman and football player who must rescue the princess, learn the secret of the rebel universe, and defeat villains along the way. Surprisingly, most of the latter are androids. Suffice it to say, it is a hodgepodge of science fiction and fantasy. What is probably the most interesting part of this is the fact that the main villain, named Aava, is silica-based, which is the information Thor Masterson needed to defeat him. Fans of Adam Strange, in particular, will find this familiar and it shows that Fox was already thinking through these types of scientifically influenced plot devices.
Another highlight is the way it twists the pulp reader’s expectations of chauvinism. Fox kicks off what is perhaps one of my favorite examples of this kind of twist in Fox’s canon when Thor calls the purple-eyed beauty he encounters “sweet stuff.” First, Fox makes it worse when Thor says that she, “like a woman” ignored all but one thing when she attempts to repeat what he said. However, after that assumption based comment, we learn that she was actually rejecting his sexism and insisting on him calling her by her name: Karola (4). She didn’t even need to know English to recognize the sexist way he was positioning himself. This is then followed by her openly objectifying him while he flushes a little. Even though it does sometimes fall into the very tropes Fox is undermining, the story plays with genre conventions and that moment is key in giving her more agency.
Overall, while the story feels just a little too convenient and doesn’t always make sense (yes, it does include that Viking ship on the cover), there are a lot of concepts Fox would later revisit making it a noteworthy entry.
Why did I want to talk about it?
First off, the protagonist came from the same state I wrote the book in and this formed one of only two connections I found to Oregon. This was something I was tracking because his archive is located here. The other connection is a fan letter written by a University of Oregon “senior of English Literature.” I really wanted to find a reason to bring up that letter given its unique journey, ending where it may have been started.
Also, showing his growing name recognition, it is an early example of Fox being featured on the cover!
Where in the book it would have gone?
That was part of the problem. My first instinct was to write it into Chapter 9 to build on the narrative that Julius Schwartz proved to be just as good of an agent as he was an editor for Gardner Fox, but it didn’t fit there given the chapter’s focus on the censorship that came from the Comics Code Authority. I could have gone back and added it in Chapter 8 where I focused my discussion of his pulp magazine writing, but…
Why it was put on the chopping block?
The biggest reason was that it wasn’t really adding anything new to the throughline. The inclusion of my analysis of “Weirds of the Woodcarver” (1944) was more important given it was the first example of his pulp magazine work and it had already set the stage for my discussion of his science fiction work in the 60s. It didn’t make sense to jump forward in time just to mention another story that would have only been mentioned for its similar stage setting. Also, because Fox had a tendency to return to the same toolbox, I was still able to talk about the same motifs that I found notable in “Vassals of the Lode-Star” without its inclusion.
Fox, Gardner. “Vassals of the Lode-Star.” Planet Stories vol. 3, no. 7, 1947, pp. 5-34.
In the 90s, I became an avid magazine reader. Looking back, I can see that I was interested in seeing other ways of living and learning about what the general populous cared about. Like many, I was attempting to solidify my own identity within the constellation of various interests available to me as I stepped into the larger world around me. This became a problem because I had trouble recycling the magazines I had already read. I did not want to replicate my father’s behavior. (Because the lack of running water made our bathroom non-functional, my biological father kept his collection of National Geographics in the bathtub. It was full.) The solution came when my grandmother found some three-hole punched collection sleeves. I took them home and cut out the various articles etc. that seemed worth keeping and placed them in a binder. Recently, the binder found its way back into my life when it was found by my step father. It has been a fascinating way of getting to know my teenage self and I’m glad to report that many of my passions then have moved forward with me into my adult life.
While the strategy worked for awhile, the size requirements soon felt limiting. Slowly but surely, my magazine curating turned to collaging. Over the years, my collaging has grown and developed with me. I now use them as a way of processing the moments or events that feel formative to who I am becoming or seem worth marking as a point in my life worth remembering. My first step in making a collage is skimming through the pages of various kinds of magazines looking for what words or images pop out to me as I think about whatever my current inspiration is. As such, it helps me figure out what I think and how I feel about that current inspiration. For example. The piece set as the featured image was one I made while completing my undergrad. A few of my biggest takeaways from that collage was embracing that I had to sometimes put myself first to succeed academically, learning that it is important to know/accept my limits, and understanding that the best way to learn is by keeping an open and questioning mindset.
This method of processing is hardly unique. One example of a comic creator who engages in this kind of practice is Lynda Barry. One of the more unique features of One Hundred Demons is the inclusion of scrapbook like collages through which she reconstructs her difficult childhood. Susan Kertley makes the argument that this form allows Barry to challenge perceptions of truth and history by both revealing and concealing her sense of self. Kertley explains: “These shaped and constructed images of Barry’s life focus on girlhood as meditated though her memory and her skills as a writer and an artist, suggesting a vision that stresses an archival record of personal history…” (148). It is almost as if Barry is trying to reconstruct a temporal item, much like my binder, through which she could could have told a narrative representing that time in her life from that time in her life.Barry would start with the drawing of a demon using sumi painting techniques to try and capture the spirit of a particular emotion. From there, she would ask herself many questions to help draw out the most she could from her memories such as: What was going on before that emotion was felt? Who else was there? What were they doing?… Once she felt she had enough archival information from those memories, she would write the comic. Finally, she made collages out of scrapbook like materials featuring items she felt best exemplified the emotion that particular demon represented (152). Barry invites the reader to look at the individual pieces provided in order to form a more complete narrative for each demon than could be told by comic strip alone. Both comics and collages manipulate a juxtaposition of words and pictures to convey a larger meaning that would not be possible if utilizing only one or the other.
I bring all of this up because I have decided to start a new collage related to my writing of Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox. I am not sure how long it will take, but I will post the final results here. In the meantime, I will also be working on a series of blog posts that will cover some of his comics, short stories, or novels that didn’t make it into the book for various reasons. My goal is to try and get a new blog post out about once a month again. In other words, there’s still a lot more exploring on my horizon.
Kertley, Susan E., “Scrapbooking the Self: “Autobifictionalography”in One Hundred Demons.”Lynda Barry: Girlhood though the Looking Glass. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. 148-178. Print.
The last few years have brought so much change in my life and I am so very thankful for all of the people who have been there to help me along. With your help, Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox has finally been released out in the world. I am in awe of how many people who have not just supported me but have gone out of their way to spread the word. In four years, I have gone from nervously emailing Roy Thomas for the first time to Robert Venditti, Tom King, John Wesley Shipp, and even Neil Gaiman showing up in my notifications. People have literally put their feet to the pavement for this book. Not only that, the last week has been filled with people excited enough to read about Gardner Fox’s life that they are sharing pictures of #ForgottenAllStar as their copies arrive. My favorite of these so far is the one Aaron Meyers gave me permission to use as the featured image for this post. It feels like the story of Gardner Fox is getting to the right people: the people who care about Gardner Fox getting the attention he deserves.
Of all these people, Roy Thomas has been the biggest advocate and I could never fully express to him just how thankful I am. In a closed Facebook group, he requested John Cimino post the following message and also gave me permission to share it with all of you:
A few years ago, a young woman named Jennifer DeRoss (I believe she was a graduate student at the time) contacted me for advice and information related to work she was doing related to the life and career of Gardner F. Fox. Fox, of course, was an early friend and mentor to me in the comics field… for instance, it was he who gave me the name and address of a young college professor named Dr. Jerry G. Bails in Detroit who had recently purchased his bound volumes of early All-Star Comics (of which Fox had written #3 through #34, to establish DC’s iconic and important Justice Society of America), and who a few years later forwarded editor Julius Schwartz’ invitation to try my hand at an early Elongated Man story for Detective Comics. Far beyond that, Fox was one of the most important comicbook writers ever, part of a pantheon that includes Jerry Siegel and Bills Finger, Everett, and Parker.
Having once nurtured thoughts of myself writing a bio of “Gar” (as Jerry Bails and I used to address him in letters back in the early 1960s), I was as encouraging and helpful to Jennifer as I could be. Now, she has turned her research into Gardner Fox: The Forgotten All-Star, from Pulp Hero Press, the first book ever written about the scripter and co-creator of the Flash, Hawkman (twice!), Dr. Fate, the Justice Society of America, the (Silver Age) Atom, and the Justice League of America–and of various other characters, both at DC and elsewhere–and it’s a very welcome one. Fans of the comics medium, particularly of super-heroes, should embrace it, as well.
Gardner started out as a fantasy and science-fiction fan (and history buff) who became a lawyer. But, by a stoke of luck (for us, as well as for him) a childhood friendship with Vin Sullivan–who later became first the DC editor who made the decisions to publish first Superman, then Batman, then a co-founder of Columbia Comics, and later still of his own company, Magazine Enterprises–led to Fox’s becoming the second writer of Zatara the Master Magician in Action Comics (after the initial story, probably written by originating artist Fred Guardineer), and soon one of the primary writers for the DC-related company All-American Comics, under M.C. Gaines and his editor Sheldon Moldoff. At times it’s not strictly known whether he wrote the first story of a given hero or merely came aboard with the second to point the character in the right direction (such disputes exist with regard to Sandman, Starman, the Face, Skyman, and the cowboy Ghost Rider drawn by Dick Ayers, at the very least); but in any event he became one of the most important and sought-after writers in the field. He also co-created Moon Girl, the attempt by Gaines to re-create the success of his and W.M. Marston’s Wonder Woman at Gaines’ latter-’40s fledgling company, EC Comics. In later years, after he and other veteran writers like Finger, Arnold Drake, et al., were pushed out of DC as that company flailed about trying to catch in a bottle the same kind of lightning Stan Lee had found, Stan and I were happy to give Gardner a sort of safe harbor at Marvel, where he briefly wrote the adventures of Dr. Strange and Red Wolf as well as a number of mystery and fantasy stories before deciding that he was uncomfortable utilizing the “Marvel method” of scripting, and he mostly retired from comics–but continued to write the historical, fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery novels that had been his sideline for a number of years.
To partake of Jennifer DeRoss’ bird’s-eye view of the career of Gardner Fox is, in a very real sense, to scan the landscape of the comicbook industry itself, from its super-heroic transformation beginning in the late 1930s through the end of the Silver Age in which he was so crucial and instrumental. Many of today’s comics fans, even those who admire such concepts as Flash, Hawkman, the Atom, Dr. Fate, and the two all-important super-hero groups he co-created, are unaware of his centrality. Jennifer’s fine book is an important first step in remedying that error.
Hello everybody! I just received the proof copy of Forgotten All-Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox!!! In celebration of the moment, I thought I would share another three-panel strip. This one is about the moment, in 2016, when I decided I was going to see this project all the way to the end. Considering the fact that I had only just completed my first term in the Master’s program, I was trepidatious. Thankfully, every time I had the opportunity to work on the biography, I was more and more certain that it was something I needed to see through.
After I realized I had 1,500 followers on Twitter, I put out a poll offering a series of rewards to thank the people who have chosen to join me on this journey. The winning option happened to be a three-panel comic strip and a follower suggested that I make the strip about a moment I discovered something about Gardner Fox that really threw me for a loop. I thought this was a fun challenge, but struggled to come up with something that could be condensed into a three-panel narrative. A day or so later, the perfect idea dawned on me: I would show the day, while I was still researching Gardner Fox’s scrapbook, that the light struck a page I was looking at in a way that revealed something unexpected. I had been looking for academically inclined annotations, but I found something a little more personal instead.
While less known than his superhero work, Fox’s canon contains multiple sword and sorcery tales, from comic stories about Crom the Barbarian to his novels featuring the likes of Kothar and Kyrik. For this post, it is important to mention that Fox also wrote stories about the barbarian warrior named Niall of the Far Travels, found in Dragon magazine, the official Dungeons & Dragons magazine put out by Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). As popular as it is, Dungeons & Dragons was not the only game put out by TSR. When doing research for my biography of the man, I was surprised to learn that Gardner Fox created a board game through the company. Titled Warlocks and Warriors, it is a recognizable part of the Fox canon with its escort mission, locations, and character options. As such, the playing of it allows one to step inside a Foxian sword and sorcery story making it a unique look at how potboiler plot points can be constructed into a narrative.
Released in 1977, it is a fairly simple game on the surface, but there are enough innovations to keep it interesting. Much like Dungeons & Dragons, the events of the game are determined by the rolling of dice. In order to win, the player must be in possession of the princess pawn, after having traveled from the seaport to the castle, and visited each of the four square adventure locations on the map along the way. The accompanying context for this objective is recognizably Fox with its vague similarities to his other works in the genre as well as the comic-friendly alliteration:
“This exciting game enables the players, either as Warlocks or as Warriors, to use magical enchantments and superb swordplay to escort the beautiful princess Sharanna from the seaport to her castle. The King has promised half his kingdom to the one who can successfully return his daughter to him.”
The decision to play as either a Warlock or a Warrior has the biggest impact on the overall gameplay. It is technically not a required part of the game, but I can’t imagine anybody playing without the optional rules because the rules accompanying the differing roles make the game far more interactive and fun. The Warlock may add one spot to their dice when fighting in a duel, but only if the dual takes place on a round space with a star on it. Additionally, they are able to use a spell when they land on a space with a star on it. That means that the player role-playing as a Warlock can make another player to move one, two, or three spaces in any direction. In comparison, during a duel, Warriors can add one spot to their dice total so long as the space on which they are located doesn’t have a star on it, which is the large majority of them. Although I enjoy the cohesiveness of the mechanics and the overall theme in this context, I find the way in which the game’s mechanics mesh with the context of the princess pawn troubling.
A lot of Gardner Fox’s work is surprisingly progressive when it comes to the treatment of women; however, this game strikes me as rather sexist in multiple ways. Some of this can be understood as an extension of the sexism common within the sword and sorcery genre itself. That said, this feels more like a lack of thought about how the game mechanics literally objectify the only female-identified pawn, which just happens to be white, a color often symbolizing innocence or purity. Anytime more than one player is on a round space, both players “duel” by rolling the two dice and whoever has the highest number wins. Duels are the only way to seize the princess from another player. Additionally, the game starts with a roll of the two dice, and whoever shows the highest number begins by taking possession of the princess. In short, it is the only pawn that doesn’t represent a player, the players duel to take possession of her, and a player cannot win the game without owning her. Fox’s stories paint the women his heroes rescue as fairly capable and intelligent on their own, but the game leaves no opportunity to show that. There is no hint of consent or agency. None of this is helped by the use of male pronouns throughout the game manual, which was common at the time and supposedly considered gender neutral.
By far, the most interesting, and enjoyable, part of the game is the ease of narration made possible through the dice rolls prompted by the four square locations: The Lost Dungeon, Ancient Ruins, Demon Maze, and Dragons Lair. As one moves from square location to square location, the results of the dice role inform the way the player views their effectiveness as either a Warlock or Warrior. These results are made up of common plot points that occur in pulp sword and sorcery tales. In other words, The existents, or the actors and settings of the story, are determined by the board, pieces, and game manual; however, the events, or actions and happenings, are randomized and supplemented by the player’s imagination. For an example of how this functions, my youngest son played as a Warrior, but, each time he came to a square space, his dice rolls revealed that he wasn’t the best warrior out there. He wandered lost in the Demon Maze, was “injured by a falling stone” in the Ancient Ruins, and got stuck trying to roll a 7 to defeat the Elemental in The Lost Dungeon. By the time he got to the Dragon’s Lair, we simply didn’t believe “By brilliant swordplay, you force the dragon to retreat.” Many jokes ensued through a combining of the roll of 7 with the roll of 8 or 12, where the dragon is asleep and the player can simply leave the lair. We decided that his “brilliant swordplay” was simply waiting for the dragon to fall asleep, as was made contextually viable from the reading of the other result, and then sneaking into the lair to chop its head off. It can still be considered “brilliant,” but it fit the narrative we had constructed about the character my youngest was playing. I may have purchased this game for research purposes, but this opportunity for creative storytelling has encouraged us to play it more than a few times already.
Overall, even though Warlocks and Warriors wouldn’t be a particularly notable game were it not for its creator, it is still an interesting touchstone from the era where role-playing games were first getting their big start. The more creativity you bring to the game playing experience, the more fun you will have with it. Essentially, the game allows players to step into the boots of heroes like Kothar, Kyrik, or Niall in a somewhat randomized Chose Your Own Adventure-like tale. The way the gameplay functions makes the players of the game designers of their own narrative; therefore, they can themselves become narrative architects just as much as Gardner Fox was when creating the game. Even with the problematic princess mechanic, which is actually quite rewarding if the player ignores its more troubling aspects, it is a fun game. More than that, selling the game put Gardner Fox in the right place, at the right time, for a what-could-have-been story for the ages.
Game Design: Gardner Fox
Development: Brian Blume and James Ward
Graphics: David Sutherland, Brian Blume, and Gardner Fox.