Welcome to a SUPER issue of the Playhouse Comics Club! (The image above is a detail from the cover of Action Comics #243 [1958], featuring pencils by Curt Swan and inking by Stan Kaye, and starring a very different Superman!)

 

We begin with the return of First Second’s Sketch School, as cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks appears on the YouTube show to draw two characters from One Year at Ellsmere, her book about a (possibly) haunted boarding school. Other recent episodes of Sketch School have featured Carey Pietsch chatting about her Adventure Zone series of graphic novels (loosely based on the role-playing podcast of the same name) while doodling Zone characters Hurley and Sloane, and Brian “Box” Brown drawing Andre the Giant—from his biographical comic about the famed wrestler and actor—alongside the diminutive lead from Brown’s book Child Star.

 

Between 1941 and 1943, animators Max and Dave Fleischer produced seventeen Superman shorts that are considered some of the best cartoons in the history of American animation. The Fleischer cartoons also helped to establish Superman as a universal pop-culture figure, on the scale of Mickey Mouse or Tintin. Because copyright has run out on these cartoons, they are widely available to watch on YouTube for free. I would recommend starting with The Bulleteers (1941), which has just been gorgeously restored by computer-savvy fan José Argumedo. Warning: there’s blazing guns and punches and exploding buildings in these Superman cartoons, but no graphic violence, and are appropriate for kids who watch Marvel animation and movies.

 

 

The PBS Kids website is loaded with games, activities, and videos for the youngest readers and viewers, featuring characters from the channel’s popular shows for children. (A generous sample of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, for example, begins here: press the → button below the picture to go to a different episode.) There’s also a separate but affiliated PBS Parents site, where guardians can find suggestions “on raising children, planning birthday parties & kids activities.” And since the quarantine, PBS has produced a daily newsletter that offers more activities and suggestions for at-home learning.

 

We’ve talked before about the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at the Ohio State University. As well as being the best research library for comics in the United States, the Billy also mounts ambitious exhibitions of original cartoon art, at least in normal times. Like many other museums during the pandemic, the Billy is closed. But the Museum has assembled a virtual exhibit titled “40 Years / 40 Stories,” featuring “stories about the cartoons and comics themselves” and “the people who collected them and their impact on the audience that read them.” The introduction to the show is here; start exploring individual stories here. (This image is from “Superduperman,” a parody of Superman published in MAD #4 and discussed in the Billy Ireland exhibit.)

 

He’s not a household name even among households of comics fans, but in this Superman-centric issue of the Playhouse Comics Club, Curt Swan deserves a mention. Born in 1920 (happy centennial birthday!), Swan grew up in Minneapolis, fought in World War II, and settled near New York City after the war, where he became a staff cartoonist at DC Comics for almost four decades. During the 1960s, he became DC’s main Superman artist; his clean, attractive penciling created the the version of the Superman Family characters (Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, etc.) I grew up with, along with other Baby Boomers. Below are some comic book covers and images from the influential career of Curt Swan.

 

 

This weekly blog post is written and compiled by Craig Fischer. To send along recommendations, ideas, and comments, contact Craig at craig_fschr@yahoo.com [.]

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