Friday, March 23, 2012

Gone In a Flash

Prince Valiant ended this past week its stealth Flash Gordon appearance. The man Aleta calls "St. George" has just helped Valiant and company defeat a large golem when he announces his amnesia is gone, he remembers his name and where he's from...

An enjoyable fun romp without over-staying its welcome.

So, it's a bit appropriate also to lift up the life of one man who has done quite a bit for fans of comic strips, cartoons, and comic books. Without his work as editor and historian, it's doubtful I'd be aware of the great art that Dan Barry did on Flash Gordon, would have come to appreciate the wackiness of Krazy Kat, or discovered the world of Barnaby by Johnson Crockett whom I solely knew as the creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon. Never warmed up to Modesty Blaise though.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been quite a few deaths of creators. Don Markstein whose passing was announced March 11th was not a comic creator, but a historian. I first encountered his name when I started regularly reading "Comics Revue" that he edited and co-created with Rick Norwood. When I started reading Revue, it was mainly devoted to story strips but it printed both current and old strips. So, it would run Sy Barry's Phantom, Lieber Spider-man, Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Infantino on Batman alongside Dan Barry's Flash Gordon, McDonnell's Modesty Blaise, classic Gasoline Alley, etc. Over time as many of the current adventure strips failed to hang on, it focused more and more on the classic strips. I was overjoyed when they started Roy Crane's Buzz Sawyer strip. More a Cap'n Easy fan myself, but his artwork wows me regardless. Then Russ Manning's lush Tarzan strips. Wow.

The magazine took a hit when Diamond decided to only carry books that earned so much profit margin, causing them to change the way they were published and their pricing structure if they wanted to still be listed. Something to keep in mind when you're talking about the high price of comics, it's not just the publishers that dictate that price, Diamond's actions affected the pricing structure of quite a few independents.

For fandom, Don's big contribution was his site Toonopedia. It's scope encompassed comic strips, cartoons and comic book characters of all types and eras. Each article was well researched, giving you insight into the lives of the creators, publishers and context of the times as well as the influence different ones might have had on the larger genre. It was almost always interesting to read, a smorgasbord of information and characters. The only limitation seemed to be whatever struck Markstein's fancy at the time. One week might be an article on Flying Jenny and the next article be Eek! The Cat. The articles were informative but also unabashedly from his own point of view, he let you know how he felt about the art, quality, or viability of a character. I differed in point of view of whether a character like Peacemaker was a hero or not (I'm on the pro side) and he had a stubborness in listing all of the Quality characters as having been bought and owned by DC despite the lack of evidence in that regard.

Apart from enjoyment, Toonopedia was often became the first place I looked to verify a date or some information on a DC or Marvel character and was definitely an influence on me and my site, sometimes imparting leads of some obscure character worth tracking down. It was some time after I had been aware of the site before I made the connection of where I had heard Markstein's name before ie in the pages of "Comics Revue" that I had been getting for some years.

It's sad to think there are no more updates to his site, no little seen or forgotten gem uncovered or maybe new appreciation given to a character or concept otherwise written off. I wish his family well. His presence and love for the media will be missed.

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