Kids Stuff > Literature
Connected Community. People like to be connected these days. They would rather have the ear at the pulse of time to be informed early about new development that may influence their personal career planning, receive insider tips on another financial crisis endangering their speculative investments, debate first signs of a political turnaround that will leave no stone on another or simply share an opinion on a brand new game console that just hit the market. Social networking both goes traditional and virtual ways, as meeting each other in person is often replaced by a chat with the web-slinging global online community. When you speak of "the net" you clearly refer to the internet, not a spider's web in a dusty household in your more or less friendly neighbourhood. Over time you may build your personal "Network Neighbourhood", a number of interconnections in your social environment, similar to the Windows-system control panel function of same name that allows you to browse and set up your computer network. The following thoughts I had put online on the very first version of our website more than ten years ago. Even though they are not very unique and not especially well written, there is this cold shiver running down my spine, whenever I dare revisiting them:
Netz der Zeit. Surft man friedlich durch's weltweite Netzwerk, wiederum ursprünglich eine militärische Entwicklung, erinnert man sich unweigerlich an eine Zeit in den 70'ern, als man aus anderen Gründen mit einem Netz zu tun hatte. Geht man Jahre danach dazu über, die Schätze von damals gedanklich hervorzukramen und zu sichten, findet man allerlei verschüttete Erinnerung wieder. Dabei geht es nicht um eine Geschichte von Erfolg & Ruhm, sondern die anfangs schlichte Erzählung eines Außenseiters mit alltäglichen Problemen, besonderen Kräften und einem gewissen Hang zu Verantwortung. Insgeheim freut einen der kommerzielle Erfolg durch einen mehrfach verschobenen aber nicht aufgehobenen Film. Und doch ist es mehr diese einfache Erinnerung an ein im Gras Liegen und an ein Staunen, als man als Kind in einem Heftchen erstmals eine Geschichte zweier Tiermenschen außerhalb der griechischen Mythologie las, eines Vogelmannes und einer vermenschlichten Spinne. Und so hat die nachfolgende Aufarbeitung vor einigen Jahren Freude gemacht. Viel Spaß bei einer Reise zurück in die verlorene Jugend…
Web of Time. When surfing peacefully through the worldwide web, yet in its roots another military invention, one couldn't help remembering a time in the 70's, when the net had been a topic to a few people for a completely different reason. Drifting thoughts, digging out forgotten treasures of the past again after all those years, may unravel lots of buried memories. This would not just be about another tale of fame & fortune, but a simple story to start with, the adventures of an outsider with common day-to-day problems, special powers and a certain tendency to responsibility. One may be happy on the inside and pleased with the commercial success of the often postponed but never completly cancelled film production. And yet it is more a simple memory from childhood days of lying in the grass in amazement, when for the first time reading a booklet with a story of two creatures that were half-man-half-beast, a bird man and a human arachnid, outside of Greek mythology. And so the following review brought back a glimpse of the same happiness, when it was compiled a couple years ago. Enjoy a trip back to a long lost youth...
Movie Madness: Cartoon meets Cinematography
Fascination or Bore. The heroes discussed here are taken from films, which are regarded as milestones of entertainment by some, while appearing totally irrelevant to others (probably to the vast majority). Obviously, the difference lies in the perspective of the spectator. When seen through the dim eyes of the adult (or wanna-be grown up) a slight smile might rush over the distorted face. Combined with the spirit and enthusiasm of a kid though, they open the doors to new exciting worlds, which are ready to be discovered. And many would give a lot to get this spirit back - memorizing events and sharing with the own kids is a possible approach. The movie industry probably realized many of the below mentioned film projects based on strictly financial considerations, but what would all that be without the open mouth and those wide eyes following every single movement on the silver screen?
Animated Amusement. Let us look back to a silent, black and white Felix the Cat animation in 1919, which was soon to be bypassed by a talking Mickey Mouse in 1928. With Oscar awarded "Snow White" in 1937 Disney started dominating the market, a position it held and even transferred into the computer age thanks to cooperation with Pixar, resulting in masterworks like "Toy Story" (1995) or "Finding Nemo" (2003). The Fleischer cartoons did a good job in making "Popeye" 1936 eat spinach and not a bird, nor a plane, but "Superman" 1942 fly. And Hanna Barbera brought back the Stone Age to the living room by creating "The Flintstones", 1960's first prime time cartoon series on TV. The first Japan imports in the 1970's included "Vicky", "Maja the Bee" and "Heidi" with her big, round eyes, a possible expression of Far Eastern perception of the Western world. Who knew then that this would lead to shows with digitizing pocket monsters ("Pokemon", "Digimon") and "Yu-Gi-Oh" trading card characters?
Live Action Interpretation. But there is more, there are live action shows based on strips, actors in long johns, sometimes in campy sometimes in unforgettable performances bringing those two-dimensional drawings to life. An early example is a series of "Flash Gordon" episodes, starring Buster Crabbe, shown in movie theatres as early as 1936. It went the other way round with "Tarzan", where the novel and following movies with Romania born Johnny Weissmuller lead to a Sunday strip interpretation in US newspapers. In a similar way in 1967 "The Planet of the Apes" and in 1977 "Star Wars" should provide such picturesque elements, the comic book industry just could not ignore either. We also remember Richard Wagner dominating a "Prince Valiant" movie in 1954, one in the genre of medieval tales as retold in other "illustrated classics" like "Ivanhoe" and "Knights of the Round Table", both starring Robert Taylor, and the earlier "Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn. But we also think of those first campy superhero shows on TV including Adam West as a very colourful "Batman" with a slight belly in 1966. American superhero TV shows of the mid-1970's included "The Hulk" (Bill Bixby) or "Wonder Woman" (Linda Carter) and "Sound of Music"-kid Nicolas Hammond as "Spider-Man", the latter also shooting his fish nets in three feature films, which were hastily compiled from TV episodes.
Flying Long Johns. A milestone of entertainment was not as much jungle queen "Sheena" (Tanya Roberts), but Christopher Reeve making believe that a man could fly as "Superman" in 1978, shortly after "Star Wars" had entered the scene. "Flash Gordon", the original SciFi-inspiration played by Sam J. Johnes, was to follow shortly, but even with Queen's outstanding soundtrack it was lacking success and not sequeled despite the movie's open end. If colourful Flash marked the beginning of the 1980's, Tim Burton's dark interpretation of "Batman" marked their end, and for the first time produced something similar to a commercial hype on the metier and in the related toy industry. The 1990's saw a number of European productions. "Price Valiant" featured Stephen Moyer in the title role, "Asterix" starred Gerard Depardieu as overweight stone mason Obelix and Terence Hill - with creator Morris' blessing - tried his luck as the lonesome cowboy "Lucky Luke". Playing in a different league, American live remakes of cartoons included the extremely successful "101 Dalmatians" Disney movie with cruel-looking Glenn Close and "The Flintstones" with yaba-daba-doo screaming John Goodman. While "The Phantom" flopped big time, despite Walking Ghost Billy Zane teaming up with no one else but Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Make Mine Marvel: Hollywood Heroes at Last
Men in Web. At the same time "Men in Black" boomed, which was based on an idea in parallel sold to Hollywood and Malibu Comics. As did Marvel's vampire hunter "Blade" with Wesley Snipes. Brian Singer's "X-Men" followed in 1999, and the mutants did not only rescue the Marvel Corporation from bankruptcy but also opened the door for more and more characters from the House of Ideas to hit the box office. Sam Raimi's 2002 interpretation of the web slinging loser "Spider-Man" became one of the biggest blockbusters ever, maybe for combining the director's passion for the character as a kid with up to date CGI technology. Early followers included the "Hulk" - better animated than "Shrek" - and the lower-budget but more brutal "Punisher", designed as bitter mixture between Sergio Leone-Western and Rambo parody. Composing a scene in a movie, as if it was right out of a book, is usually hard to accomplish. "Spider-Man 2" depicted one of those moments, featuring... a trash can! In the meantime, DC woke up and let "Batman" and all the others return. Next to come were more characters, sequels and spin offs, until the movie industry would realize that a break is necessary in order to have success with the same pattern again. The first enthusiasm gone there is always reorientation. Sometimes less is more.
Comrades' Hand Squeeze. Even Hollywood had finally adopted the motto "Make Mine Marvel" and one by one discovered these deeply human heroes with a weak spot. Apart from the late success on the silver screen, the story of the human arachnid had always been the legend of a notorious loser. Which was never more obvious than in a mid-1970's crossover, when Superman himself stepped down to meet the ol' webhead. The long awaited team-up with the Marvel showcase hero once more outlined the superiority of his DC counterpart. In a panel following the greeting scene among Supey and Spidey, popularly used to advertise the event, the human arachnid would sigh: "And let's not shake again, till after I get a titanium steel hand! Ouch!" The episode somehow came to mind, as our kids picked up an alternative for "high five" at school: "Flippers, comrades - Flosse, Genosse!"
Iron Uncle of Anubis. While my boy collected "Iron Man 2" movie merchandising, made a speech about the golden avenger at school and explored a video game with the armored hero, my daughter followed the Belgian/German cult kids TV show "House of Anubis", where in episode 84 Felix' roommate Magnus would read the classic tale of Peter Parker's parents, a revellation when it was first published. For Supie, Spidey, Donald, Mickey and all the other major "toons" used to have one more thing in common: Every major character grew up with an uncle, aunt or foster parent. They had nephews or nieces but no children of their own, a phenomenon known as "Uncleing" (in German: "Veronkelung"). Stories with kids and their parents were avoided, so that young readers wouldn't get the idea to ask questions about reproduction. However, 5 or 6 years into the book, the Spidey creators decided that it was time to break with the same tradition and told the tragic tale of Peter Parker's parents...
Incredible Ulk: Incomprehensible Humbug
Everyman Escapade. Being in Spain for a project, years ago, at a newspaper stand in front of the hotel we discovered a faded issue of "Super Lopez" on display: A comic book spoof on Superman, an everyman hero with one of the most common Spanish family names. At that time a colleague with the same last name saved the day for us. As he jumped in for an ill key project team member, he quickly earned himself the nick name Super Lopez for the rescue. Half a decade later, we met again in the US and went out bowling together. As he was leading, the name change in the electronic score board would surprise him, as a reactivation of the old joke among us. The actual cartoon character was created as early as 1973 by Juan Lopez Fernandez, in short calling himself Jan. While a mid 1980's German translation had renamed "Super Lopez" to "Super Meier", one of his adventures contained a parody on the "The Incredible Hulk" - in German called "Der Unglaubliche Ulk", referring to an incredible josh or practical joke. In the Spanish original the anti-smog spoof would go by the name "La Incredible Maza", meaning mace or club. In variation of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, air pollution had turned an elderly guy into a monster, a heavy opponent of emissions by cars, factories and cigarette smoke, an early day green activist. But smelling a flower could calm him down again so that he got back to normal, whatever could be considered normal...
Incomprehensible Gibberish. Being in Austria at school, years ago, I would ask teachers an unspeakable question, which I had discovered in a spoof on a TV discussion. It provided a good example for expressing things in the most complicated way, in order to appear highly competent, while ignoring that we might become highly incomprehensible. As several top-class experts analyzed the disappearance of a friendly neighbourhood, enclosed memorable question stood out in their pseudo-scientific conversation.
However, the above is a back-translation of the German version, while the English original apparently read:
So much for translating the un-translatable. In a first reaction, the addressed talk show participant informed that he'd rather not answer that. Being questioned further, whether this was because of its possible impact on their viewers, he would admit: "No, because I don't understand the question!"
Kids and their passions: Spider-Kid and young Mary Jane.
In front of the movies and wearing a H&M shirt with artwork from the pages of ASM 66/67.
The Fiji islands provide background for a little boy looking up to his swinging heroes, while time slips like sand through his fingers.
Origins of Confusion: Lost in Translation
Passion Rules. There is the confusing story of German translations of a comic book, which is, thanks to a certain blockbuster, quite popular these days. A picture shows my boy, happily lying on the floor after just finding a green goblin toy, a couple months before the movie came out. Sent in for a contest, it got elected "Artweb of the Week", whatever honour that means, and published with the caption "Kinder und Ihre Leidenschaften - Kids and their passions".
Cheap Pulp Novel Start. Talking about "incomprehensible", what comes to mind is the German publication history of Marvel Comics, which can be rightly attributed "more than confusing". As the Marvel Universe set out to conquer foreign countries, first steps on the German speaking market were taken in the second half of the 1960's by the image magazine publishing house "Bildschriftenverlag", a National Periodical subsidiary. Various heroes were combined in BSV's collective "Hit Comics" series, which for cost saving reasons was produced in black & white print on rough sandpaper together with the Dutch "Hip Comics" series. Individual episodes of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (including the first German print of the eponymous "Galactus"-saga), the Avengers, the X-Men and others were published in rather chaotic order.
Nuff Said What? Editorial staff at the time did not yet have the necessary language skills, which led to several bloopers in the German text (e.g. "Das sagte Nuff" for "'Nuff said"). Rumour has it that missing translations were filled in by the typesetter. Additionally, it was common practice to introduce quite silly name translations of the main protagonists and their opponents ("Eisenmann/Der Eiserne" for Iron Man etc.). However, rigid Germanization helped the understanding of the average young reader, who usually wasn't fluent in the English language back then. The acquisition by Warner resulted in a seamless take-over of the German "Hit" production by the Williams publishing house in the early 1970's. Each hero got his own colourful and sometimes short-lived series with obscure new numbering.
Insider Gazette Take-Off. Despite its literal hit potential, the former underground production remained an insider tip and print runs of 20 to 30,000 copies per issue did not meet the expectations of the American licensor, who was used to numbers for the English books beyond the 500,000 mark. And so the German production, in the mid-seventies running under the logo "Superheroes", was suddenly cancelled without warning. But the Williams publishing house undertook an immediate re-launch, beginning all over with the heroes' origin stories: A fresh new start with an enthusiastic German "Mighty Marvel Team" and Stan Lee's personal "Excelsior" in its first issues. Although targeting an older audience between 12 and 20 years (as in the US), the exemplary publication with ironic editorials, increased word balloons (for the longer German dialogue texts) and traditional "Marvel style"-hand lettering mainly reached 8 to 12 year old readers. Over time, sales figures demanded a reduction of the program to the highest grossing formats "Die Raecher/The Avengers", "Die Fantastischen Vier/The Fantastic Four" and "Die Spinne/The Spider".
Superhuman Concurrence. Slowly but surely, Marvels were being pushed out of the market by Ehapa's expanding DC program, which was colourfully printed on glossy paper with easily understandable text in typeset letters and inexpensive "super volume" album reprints. While the concurrence's bi-weekly Superman/Batman magazine sold 180 to 350,000 copies, the local Spider-Man series reached between 74 and 100,000 in its best days. It was suspended last from the German Marvel program, shortly after the controversial issue with the tragic death of Gwen Stacy, as Williams was unable to submit the requested annual guarantee payment for the continuation of the license. Famous last words marked the end of an era: "And we also have to bid farewell to the Spider, for as the Green Goblin has already said: This is the end of Spider-Man! Don't be sad, fans, for sure at some point we will see each other again."
Tale of Success: Niche to Mass Marketing and back
Mass Product Flying High. The 1980's saw a shift to the Condor publishing group, which explicitly targeted a fairly young audience. A more affordable pocket book format was circulated in large numbers of 80 to 120,000 copies by issue, available at any well-stocked newspaper stand. Flagship of the mass production was once more the best-selling "Spider"-magazine, which was accompanied by albums and pocket books.
Child Friendly Edition. Occasionally, Condor retouched artwork, if it appeared too violent, and omitted issues that guest-starred a mercenary called the Punisher to prevent censorship by the Federal Agency for the Examination of Media Harmful to Minors. With growing popularity, also "Die Gruppe X/The X-Men" received its own magazine. Other treats were the first German translation of many Annuals and Summer Specials that had been previously left out, among them the long-awaited revelation about Peter Parker's parents. All in all, the program did a good job in catching up with up to four parallel American series at a time. Later highlights included the first German publication of the graphic novels "The Death of Captain Marvel" and "Parallel Lives" as well as the story arc "Kraven's Last Hunt", although it ran through different formats.
Mass Marketing. Despite later criticism for "non-Marvel-style" production, significant dialogue text reduction and permanent struggle with chronological story-telling, the time period definitely helped to widely establish the Marvel brand in the German speaking countries. Backed by the launch of Marvel cartoons on the private TV-channel RTL in the early 1990's, Condor kept the flag waving during the "dark age", a decade without broad-scale superhero books on the German market that had followed the cancellation of Ehapa's DC program in the mid 1980's. After the withdrawal of licensing rights by the American Marvel Corporation, Condor had to announce the suspension of its entire Marvel program after "20 years and the publication of several hundred comic magazines, paperbacks, albums and special editions."
Special Interest Magazine Landing. In the late 1990's the Italian Panini Group stepped in, which had been mostly known for issuing Soccer World Cup sticker collections so far. After its acquisition by Marvel Corporation it took over publication under the trademark of "Marvel Germany" during the lengthy Scarlet Spider-"Clone Saga", which in the US had turned away long-term fans and caused a drop of in US sales volume by 60 percent below the 250,000 mark (of Cain). Initial print runs for the new German "Spider-Man"-book were estimated around 60,000. Running several high quality magazines in parallel, such as "X-Men" and "Wolverine" to begin with (with frequent re-launches), additional paper back and slip case editions dealt with unpublished superhero series and classic story arcs, among them the previously omitted "Secret Wars" and the "missing year" of Spider-Man stories, filling the gap between earlier Willams and Condor publications. Cross-over events from "Onslaught" to "Civil War" rounded off the program. Next the DC license was taken over from Dino Entertainment, which had issued the Man of Steel and the mega event "DC versus Marvel".
Next Generation: Movie, Game and Toy Business. However, times had changed and so had readers' interests. While the new millennium saw millions of viewers follow Spidey's adventures on the silver screen, sales of the corresponding English book went down below 100,000 copies, despite the attempt to counteract by rejuvenating the character and promising a "Brand New Day". The German book, now targeting a core audience of 12 to 29 year old boys, would print maybe 16,000 copies, mostly sold at station kiosks and in dedicated comic shops. All in all, following a quite clumsy start with their books running through various local publishing programs, over time, Marvel's finest have earned a permanent position in the global market. Irrespective the general decline of the comic book format, they represent an established brand in the toy business, video games and film industry.
Anyway, here is more on the Marvel style.