October 18, 2017
October 15, 2017
Selected Spy Vibe Posts: Johnny Sokko 50th, Interview: Trina Robbins, Eddie Izzard, The Prisoner Capt Scarlet 50th, Hugh Hefner R.I.P., Jack Good R.I.P., Interview: Shaken Not Stirred, Callan 50th, Spy Vibe Radio 7, The Prisoner 50th Event, Spy-Fi Event, Kaho Aso 007, Two Million, Bo Diddley, Carnaby Pop, Le Carre Events, Billy Bragg Skiffle, Elvis 68, Jack Kirby The Prisoner, Casino Royale Concert, Review: The Prisoner Vol 2, Interview: The Prisoner Essential Guide, Maud Russell Mottisfont, Spy Vibe Radio 4, Batman Gallants, Adam West R.I.P., Village Triangle, Roger Moore R.I.P., Spy Vibe Radio 3, Sgt Pepper 50th, Satanik Kriminal OST, 60s Overdrive, Make Love in London, Spy Vibe Radio 2, Spy Vibe Radio 1, James Bond Strips, Propaganda Mabuse, Interview: Police Surgeon, XTC Avengers, 1966 Pep Spies, Batman Book Interview, Exclusive Fleming Interview, Avengers Comic Strips, Robert Vaughn RIP, UNCLE Fashions, Thunderbirds Are Pop!, Interview: Spy Film Guide, Lost Avengers Found, The Callan File, Mission Impossible 50th, Green Hornet 50th, Star Trek 50th, Portmeirion Photography 1, Filming the Prisoner, Gaiman McGinnins Project, Ian Fleming Grave, Revolver at 50, Karen Romanko Interview, Mod Tales 2, Umbrella Man: Patrick Macnee, New Beatles Film, The Curious Camera, Esterel Fashion 1966, Exclusive Ian Ogilvy Interview, 007 Tribute Covers, The Phantom Avon novels return, Ian Fleming Festival, Argoman Design, Sylvia Anderson R.I.P., Ken Adam R.I.P., George Martin R.I.P., The New Avengers Comics, The Phantom at 80, 007 Manga, Avengerworld Book, Diana Rigg Auto Show, The Prisoner Audio Drama Review.
October 14, 2017
What is the show about? Join me for a brief tour: The Earth is invaded by a terrorist group called Big Fire (Gargoyle in the US), led by Emperor Guillotine, who commands his minions of henchman and captured scientists (who make monsters- natch!) from his ship beneath the ocean. Enter Johnny Sokko (Daisuke Kusama in Japan), who meets up with a dashing young man, Jerry Mano (Juro Minami in Japan), on a cruise ship. Johnny discovers that Jerry is, in fact, Agent U3 for a top-secret peacekeeping organization called Unicorn! Jerry’s cover is blown when his pen starts ringing. (oops! sounds like Get Smart). Jerry extends an antenna and contacts his boss at HQ- a rather colorful version of U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. The ship is attacked by a giant sea monster, and our two heroes find themselves castaways on a beach and captured by the alien terrorists. The baddies in Johnny Sokko are designed with a wonderful mix of elements to portray their evil intent- black berets, sunglasses, Nazi salutes, and sci-fi makeup. Jerry and Johnny break free and an intense gunfight ensues that would never been seen in a US-produced kid’s show. Jerry even uses a guard as a shield! The poor henchman doesn’t stand a chance and his pals riddle him with bullets. Even Johnny is armed with a pistol and looks super heroic, despite his tiny shorts. I think the necktie adds some authority!
The series is fast-paced and fun. Jerry and Johnny race through corridors and down an elevator, where they discover the Giant Robot and a scientist who has been held prisoner to do Guillotine’s bidding. The man gives Johnny the robot’s control-watch. In James Bond fashion, the heroes blow up the secret lair and shoot it out on the beach. When things get desperate Jerry reminds the kid that he now possesses the watch that controls the robot. The boy flips open the top, makes his first commands, and a franchise is born! Johnny is brought into Unicorn as Agent U7, and joins the secret fight against the alien terrorists. It's interesting to note that as this series was winding down, Gerry Anderson was recruiting another young boy (in puppet form) for a new sic-spy program called Joe 90.
It was interesting to talk with my friend, translator Fred Schodt (Astro Boy) about the violence that we see in Japanese pop culture. There is an edge to the storytelling, seen even in live-action and animated shows from the early 1960s, which remains compelling for American viewers. Johnny Quest may have been cool and dangerous for its time, but imagine if Johnny Quest, like Sokko, had been allowed to carry a pistol and command a giant robot! In Japan there is generally a greater distinction between fantasy and reality, which is how creators in Japan have generally explained the graphic tone of their content. They didn’t have a Dr. Wertham, for example, leading a Congressional charge that comics were inciting youth to violence. Fred Schodt agreed, and added that Japan’s low crime rate, gun control, and overall group-sensitivity in the culture would help maintain a boundary between fantasy and what can be expected to happen in real life. But as Japan experiences more of the kind of violence that happens in the US, he added, maybe those lines will blur and the graphic tone will become an issue.
Now, back to that giant robot. What kid would root for a powerful mascot armed with super gadgets? While the secret agents in the show are talking into their pen communicators and shooting it out with baddies, Johnny’s robot has quite an arsenal at his disposal: Finger Missiles, Back Missile, Bazooka Cannon (which fires out of the top of the robot's head), Eye Ray/Beams, Flamethrower (from his mouth) and Electrocution Wires. Don't mess with Johnny. If you are a fan of Japanese monsters, heroes, and toys (and love spies!), Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot (Giant Robot) is a fantastic adventure! Learn more about the series here. Related posts: Skyers 5, U.N.C.L.E. Japanese Editions, James Bond Japanese Editions, Ian Fleming's Japan, Green Hornet Manga, U.N.C.L.E. and Batman Manga, Spies Robots & Monsters, Spies Robots & Monsters II, Marine Boy, Interview: Kevin Dart's Powerpuff Girls.
October 11, 2017
As women and families across the country march today in support of equality and fundamental rights, I'd like to share this interview I did with Trina Robbins a while back. And as I gear up for another annual writers festival, I find the whole story timely! It's been a super busy time here in the Spy Vibe lair. I'm co-running another writers festival and the past couple of weeks have been filled with planning, meetings, and preparing materials and presentations. The goal of the festival is to bring in writers from across disciplines into the classrooms so that every English class is exposed to writers and their craft. Kids get to hear about careers, process, and hopefully experience sparks that will inspire their own journeys of expression. The big event for me was running an all-school assembly that focussed on comics and writer/artists who bring elements of activism to their work. Cartoonist Nomi Kane talked about her work at the Charles Schulz Studio and making her own political cartoons. And Trina Robbins gave us an overview of how Wonder Woman has reflected society and gender roles over the decades and she talked about some of the stories she's written- most notably The Once and Future Story about domestic violence. In celebration of the event, here is a lengthy interview I once did with Trina. She touches on many of our favorite characters, so I hope you will enjoy! Trina Robbins is a writer, historian, editor, activist, and artist. Making her start in the underground comix scene, she has written for notable characters like Honey West, T.H.E. Cat, The Phantom, Captain Midnight, and Wonder Woman. She has also published extensively about the history of women cartoonists and recently compiled two volumes of the classic adventure strip Miss Fury for IDW. Her graphic novels for young readers include Lily Renee: Escape Artist, Bessie Coleman: Daring Stunt Pilot, Hedy Lamar and a Secret Communication System, and the Chicagoland Detective Agency series. Her most recent works are Pretty Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013, Babes in Arms, and The Complete Wimmen's Comix. She was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2013. Trina and I contributed to a recent documentary film called Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines and graciously made time to chat with me about some of the great lady spies and detectives, about reading Pulps as a kid, and about how changing gender roles have been reflected in pop culture.
When it came time for you to write Honey West for Moonstone, what were some of the character elements or story conventions you wanted to make sure to include?
The Emma Peel episodes of The Avengers came to the US in March 1966 and the earlier episodes, starring Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, aired later in the US. Did you follow the show?
Speaking of fashion and strong independent women, I put together a 'fashion show' yesterday to spotlight catsuits. In the introduction to this promo collage I wrote, "Before this style became hyper-sexualized with exaggerated physicality and shiny latex, it was the original design for cool athletic lady detectives, jewel thieves, and spies. From a time when women in pop culture could be erotic by being strong, characters didn't have to play the card of sexual availability- too often, as Gloria Steinem has pointed out, the only game in town for women to claim power. Figures like Irma Vepp (Les Vampires/1915), Miss Fury (1940s), Cathy Gale (The Avengers/1964), Mrs Peel (The Avengers/1965), Honey West (1965), Marianne Faithful (Girl On a Motorcycle/1968)), and Catwoman (1966) below show us a far more nuanced possibility. Lady Spy Vibers never settle for less!"
I completely agree with you! It breaks my heart to see what these gorillas have done to the wonderful Miss Fury. No, she is not “holding up” in these badly written and badly drawn new books, and my Miss Fury and the REAL Miss Fury will always be the original Tarpe Mills’ Miss Fury. Trina, what do you think male writers usually get wrong when they try to write strong heroines?
It isn’t so much the writer as the artist. How can a woman be strong and in control when her back is broken or in real life the weight of her breasts would make her fall forward onto her face? And let’s not talk about running in high heels!
To illustrate our points, here is a collage I put together of some of the new Miss Fury comic covers. With apologies to some readers, these are quite grotesque. Dynamite produces many variant covers, not all as offensive as this, but the overall design and vibe is consistent. This is the image of an independent action heroine? It makes me sad for any boy or girl who sees these images of this heroine and has to struggle to reconcile the message being communicated. I guess I prefer my heroes and heroines to be role models.
Trina contributed an appreciation to the Brenda Starr collection below by Hermes Press. Hermes has also published collections of The Phantom, Roy Rogers, Buck Rogers, Terry and Pirates, Johnny Hazard, and many Gold Key comic reprint editions.
Here are some images you might enjoy from the Pulps and early comics. Talk about strong independent heroines!
Tell me about your series Chicagoland Detective Agency. Are you bringing in elements from the Pulps to new readers?
Looking at a character really marketed to girls, were you able to bring new depth to Matell’s BARBIE when you wrote a comic for Marvel in the 90s?
Well, of course one of the most interesting (out of many!) is the story of Lily Renee, who drew gorgeous adventure strips, most starring beautiful heroines, for Fiction House comics during WWII. Her life was right out of a comic book. She was a Jewish teenager in Vienna in 1938 when the Nazis marched in, and she escaped to England the following year, had many adventures, finally winding up in NY, drawing for Fiction House. My favorite of her strips is Senorita Rio, about a Brazilian actress and nightclub entertainer who was really a spy for the secret service. So I wrote a graphic novel about her, called Lily Renee, Escape artist. Check it out, it’s aimed at kids but grownups like it too.
In your praise for Lily Renee, you’ve mentioned Fiction House was turning out great material in the 1940s that included “jungle girls, girl reporters and aviatrixes and girl detectives and girl spies.” Were these reoccurring characters? Who were those cool ladies?
We’ve talked about many of the great female action figures, from Emma Peel to Honey West and Miss Fury. If you could invite one of these characters to lunch, who would it be?
Lastly, if you were an international spy or diabolical mastermind, what would your secret lair be?