THE LES DANIELS BLOG TOUR: Getting Graphic: What Les Daniels Did (and Meant) for Comic Books
Guest Blog by Matt Bechtel of Necon E-Books Our host today, Christopher Golden, has been amazing in his support of our Blog Tour and has gone out of his way to help promote the entire endeavor. Accordingly, he shared a link via his Facebook account to one of our previous articles about The Don Sebastian Chronicles; the following exchange comes directly from the comments he received — (Name Withheld): The Les Daniels who wrote Comix? Chris: Yes sir. He was an excellent novelist. (Name Withheld): I did not know that. I’ll check out his novels. With that lead in, The Les Daniels Blog Tour officially pivots today and takes a look at one of Les’ other passions that came to define his legacy — comic books. The masthead of Les Daniels’ Official Web Site (www.lesdaniels.com) describes him as a “Horror Author and Comic Book Historian,” and while writers such as Poe, Lovecraft and Stoker obviously beat him to the former distinction, Les Daniels was the first person who ever deserved to be called the latter. With the publication of Comix: A History of Comic Books in America in 1971, Les was the first writer to ever truly study comic books — their history, their art, and their impact — in a critical, literary manner. As its dust jacket declares, Comix tells “the story of how comic books captured the imagination of millions and became an American institution, and whether or not they deserved to.” Moreover, Comix also features a staggering array of full comic stories. “No snippets,” its dust jacket brags. “Where else can one find in the same volume such divergent personalities as the Old Witch and Donald Duck, or Captain America and Those Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers?” Covering everything from the largest publishers to underground comics, this tome is more than just a treasure trove; it’s arguably the work most responsible for influencing the perception of comics as art. I would be remiss if I did not give proper due to Les’ collaborator on Comix, the venerable John Peck of Mad Peck Studios. In short, Les did the words and John handled the graphics, and the artistic presentation of Comix is a large part of what makes it such a wonder. Of course, that’s befitting of its subject matter, as comics are created by seamlessly weaving words and pictures. Along those lines, I’m afraid I must make a confession — after Les’ passing, Necon E-Books contacted both his estate and Mad Peck Studios about publishing a digital edition of Comix. Despite everyone’s enthusiasm regarding the project, well … let’s just say, we’re still working on it, because those very full comic stories which make Comix so special also make it a bear to reproduce. Sure, we could omit those materials and just republish Les’ text, saving ourselves countless hours and the hassle of securing rights from their copyright holders, but that honestly seems like sacrilege to me. Comix is, in and of itself, a work of art; as such, I would never feel comfortable in compromising Les’ and John’s amazing presentation of their work. Twenty years (and The Don Sebastian Chronicles) later, Les returned his learned eye to the world of comics when he penned Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics. More astoundingly, in my opinion, was the comic book history he would write four years later — DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes. Please take a moment and let that sink in; almost immediately after writing the definitive history of Marvel comics, DC Comics hired Les Daniels to do the same for them. This would be akin to Burger King hiring the same hamburger expert to write their “History of the Whopper” who had just written ‘The History of the Big Mac” for McDonald’s. It’s simply unheard of … unless you’re Les Daniels, and your knowledge, insight, and talent in writing on the subject is so great that the two largest competitors in the field each require (and respect) your credibility so much that your expertise trumps their competition. DC wasn’t done with Les, however, as they subsequently hired him to write the definitive histories of their three biggest heroes in succession — Superman (1998), Batman (1999) and Wonder Woman (2000). Les’ works regarding comic books led to one of my favorite, yet bittersweet, stories. After he passed, a local policewoman was pointed to his Rolodex in search of contact information for his next of kin. The young lady’s face dropped as she scanned through the names it contained, which included Lynda Carter (star of the late-70’s TV show Wonder Woman), Michael Keaton (the title character of Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman), and Stan Lee (and if I have to tell you who Stan Lee is, you really shouldn’t even be reading this article!). Dumbstruck, she turned to Les’ friends who were present and simply asked, “Who WAS this guy?” He was Les Daniels — probably the finest critical mind and greatest friend the comic book and graphic novel art form will ever know. Just a friendly reminder — The Complete Don Sebastian Chronicles are now available as e-books at http://neconebooks.com, so please order your copies today!