Thursday, February 4, 2016

Secret Origins

The Amalga-Mates: The World's First (and Second) Siamese Twin Superheroes!
Part 4
by Terence E. Hanley

In his review of May 15, 2012, comic book writer, collector, and fan Tony Isabella wrote:
My specific quibble on the second issue [of Five Star Comics] revolves around the Amalga-Mates. Beside being pretty sure "Siamese twins" is now considered an insensitive/offensive term, the story was poorly done and seemed to mock its heroes. The [Five Star] collective should be a bit more choosy in what it publishes in this anthology.
Mr. Isabella isn't the first and won't be the last to assume that Siamese twins is an insensitive or offensive term. If you ask the question on the Internet--"Is the term Siamese twins offensive?"--you'll find plenty of people who say, "Yes." There are, of course, people who are looking everywhere for offense, especially in regards to racial, national, and ethnic categories. They are determined to be offended. Their determination is certain to pay off. There are also people who have fallen into political correctness. They're afraid of making any untoward reference to race, nationality, or ethnicity. Phrases like "getting your Irish up" or "Welshing on a bet" are verboten. They have probably decided that the term Siamese twins, because it refers to nationality--thus indirectly to what they call race--falls into the same category, like calling someone with Down syndrome a "mongoloid" or referring to people from East Asia as "Oriental." They don't understand the origin of the term and that it has nothing to do with any particular group--unless you consider a pair of brothers who became internationally famous simply because their bodies were congenitally joined to be a group. (1)

Chang and Eng Bunker (they adopted the surname while in the United States) were born on May 11, 1811, on a houseboat in the river village of Meklong, west of Bangkok in what was then called Siam. Their father, Ti-eye, was Chinese, while their mother, Nok, was three-quarters Chinese and one-quarter Siamese. The twins were born entangled in each other. When they were untangled, it was discovered that they were bound at the breast by a fleshy ligament between them. Neither the locals nor the people of the greater part of Siam had seen such a thing before. Because of the nationality of the twins' parents, Chang and Eng were first referred to as "the Chinese twins."

Chang and Eng grew up strong and able. They learned to walk, run, play, swim, and handle a boat together. Chang, the twin on the twins' own left, was an inch shorter but "was the dominant member of the two and the more quick-tempered," wrote their biographers, Irving and Amy Wallace. "Eng," on the twins' own right, "was more agreeable, compliant, and docile." (The Two: A Biography, 1978, p. 24) Nonetheless, the two fought, though only once in childhood, until their mother "reasoned with them, [explaining] that their condition made any more fights impossible." (p. 24)

In 1824, Robert Hunter, a Scottish trader, met the boys while they were engaged in selling duck eggs in Meklong. He became acquainted with the whole family and conceived of the possibility of taking the Chinese twins on a tour of the West, where he would exhibit them as a curiosity to paying crowds. Finally, after seven years' delay, on April 1, 1829, Chang and Eng embarked on the American vessel Sachem for Boston. They arrived four and half months later, on August 16, 1829. Thus their careers and lives in the West began. They would never again see their mother or their homeland.

In their shared career, Chang and Eng traveled throughout the United States and in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, and Cuba, drawing large crowds and earning large receipts. On June 1, 1832, having reached majority, they went out on their own as performers and exhibitors. Called "the Siamese Double Boys," "the Siamese boys," or "the Siamese youths," Chang and Eng called themselves "Siamese Twins" in a letter written in 1832. If the term is offensive, then the offense began with the original Siamese twins.

In 1839, the Siamese Twins traveled to Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Then only twenty-eight years old, they had been on the road for more than a decade. It was time, they decided, to retire from the public eye and settle down. They bought a store and a farm and on April 13, 1843, married a pair of sisters, Sarah "Sallie" Yates, wife of Eng, and Adelaide "Addie" Yates, wife of Chang. From those marriages issued twenty-one children. Chang, the dominant brother, bested his twin by one.

Although they were Whigs, Chang and Eng kept slaves, twenty-eight in all by 1860. "The Siamese Twins were rumored to be hard on their slaves," wrote the Wallaces, "sometimes whipping them." (p. 192) Christopher Bunker, Chang's oldest son, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was captured by Union forces in August 1864. (2) Eng's son, Stephen Bunker, also served and was supposed to have been a prisoner of war as well. Both men survived the war.

Having lost a good part of their wealth (i.e., their slaves) in the war and its aftermath, the Siamese Twins went on tour again beginning in November 1865, traveling in the United States and Europe. They returned to North Carolina in 1870 knowing they would never travel again. By then they had lived in Mount Airy for many years, and that's where they died, at home, on the morning of January 17, 1874, Chang first, followed by Eng about two hours later. Although physicians thought them to have been surgically separable in life, a postmortem examination determined that "the twins' lives would unquestionably have been endangered from shock and subsequent inflammation" had they been so separated. (Quoted in Wallace and Wallace, p. 324) Their headstone reads, in part:

Siamese Twins - Chang and Eng
Born in Siam

Again, if the term is offensive, then the makers of the twins' own headstone, and the twins' own families, are among the offenders.

Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace closed their 1978 biography of Chang and Eng Bunker with a list of artifacts remaining from their lives. "But something more significant remains," the Wallaces wrote. "In the dictionaries of the world lies their immortality:
Siamese Twins. 1. congenitally united twins . . . 2. any twins joined together in any manner."
The Wallaces concluded with words that the habitually offended and politically correct might consider:
     They have become a part of the language, every language. With the birth of any Siamese twins anywhere, the Siamese Twins are resurrected in memory.
     In North Carolina, they sleep their eternal sleep together. In the world, they live, perhaps forever. (p. 339)
Notes
(1) None of this is to imply or suggest that Tony Isabella is looking for offense or is politically correct. It's obvious that his reference to the supposed offensiveness of the term Siamese twins is only an aside and was not his main point. I met Mr. Isabella at PulpFest in 2014 and in the short time I talked to him, he impressed me as a regular, down-to-earth, friendly kind of guy. I also don't want anything I have written here to lead anyone to think that we at Five Star Comics have any bones to pick with Mr. Isabella because of his review. He made a legitimate criticism of "The Case of the Nutcase," and it's something we take seriously. The story has its problems. We hope we will be more careful in our choices in the future, just Tony Isabella advised.
(2) Christopher Bunker served under Brigadier General John McCausland in his invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1864. As a prisoner of war, Bunker was held at Camp Chase, now partly a cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, the city in which the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (S.P.A.C.E.) and PulpFest are held every year. After the war, General McCausland retired to a large farm, "Grape Hill," near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, which, as we all know, is the home of Mothman and a family named Gibeaut.

Further Reading
  • The Two: A Biography by Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978).
  • The Mystery and Lore of Monsters by C.J.S. Thompson (New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1968).
  • A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural by Maurice Bessy (Feltham, Middelsex, UK: The Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1964), "Conjunction of Opposites," etc., pp. 119-124.

The original Siamese Twins, Eng and Chang, in a portrait by Larry Blake.

Art copyright 2016 Larry Blake
Original text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 1, 2016

Secret Origins

The Amalga-Mates: The World's First (and Second) Siamese Twin Superheroes!
Part 3
by Terence E. Hanley

Hemi and Semi are identical twins, of course, but as they say, their powers are fraternal. Hemi has one super power, his super strength. Semi's powers are more varied, but they're  random. He doesn't know what they will be, when they will show up, or how long they will last. One minute, he can fly, the next, he has the power of the Porcupine and is covered with spines made of pure adamandantium! The twins could easily be surgically separated, but their powers derive from the connection between them. If they were separated from each other, they would be diminished. There might be a lesson in that for all of us.

Reaction to The Amalga-Mates has been mixed. Some readers liked "The Case of the Nutcase." In his letter of comment in Five Star Comics #3, Rob Marsh called it "rich with goofy humor and silly slapstick." The late Don Ensign, on the other hand, considered it "rather self-conscious" and "sophomoric." Comic book writer, collector, and fan Tony Isabella reviewed Five Star Comics #2 and the first part of "The Case of the Nutcase" on his blog, called, appropriately enough, Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing (May 15, 2012). He wrote, in part:
My specific quibble on the second issue revolves around the Amalga-Mates. Beside being pretty sure "Siamese twins" is now considered an insensitive/offensive term, the story was poorly done and seemed to mock its heroes.  The collective should be a bit more choosy in what it publishes in this anthology.
I agree with Mr. Isabella that Part One could have been better, but in conceiving of the characters and writing the script, I didn't intend to mock them at all. Instead, I wanted to poke fun at superheroes, comic book fans, the comic book business, and the conventions of comic book storytelling. I should have done a better job of it, of course. I wouldn't be explaining myself now if I had. (I have heard that if you're explaining, you're losing. I guess I'm losing.) I regret that "The Case of the Nutcase" comes off as mocking its protagonists. I think Part Two is kinder to them and more to the point.

With The Amalga-Mates, I also wanted to poke fun at people in general as they are confronted by Siamese twins. The speaker in the opening of Part One makes a lame joke about the twins accepting the gift of the acorns on behalf--"Get it, on be-half?" he says--of the city. The reporter, Chelsea Brittany, describes The Amalga-Mates as a "new superhero, with two bodies and two heads," never understanding that she is talking about two distinct people who just happen to be conjoined. My intent is to show that Siamese twins, though they may look different, are simply human beings, and they have everything in common with the rest of us. Beyond that, if anyone else can be a superhero, why not a Siamese twin or twins? As for the quibble that Siamese twins is considered an insensitive or offensive term--I'll write about that in the last part of this series.

To be concluded . . .


Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 29, 2016

Secret Origins

The Amalga-Mates: The World's First (and Second) Siamese Twin Superheroes!
Part 2
by Terence E. Hanley

Tim Corrigan penciled and lettered the first part of "The Case of the Nutcase" for Five Star Comics #2, published in Spring 2012. Larry Blake, Gary Gibeaut, and I, calling ourselves "Many Hands," inked it in February, shortly before publication. At about that time or a little after, Larry penciled the second part of the story and sent it to Tim for his letters and inks. Tim was fast and finished the job in short order, but we didn't get around to publishing Part Two until Spring 2013 in Five Star Comics #3. The script on both parts was mine, with changes and additions made by Tim Corrigan.

Each part of "The Case of the Nutcase" has a different look to it. You would expect that, knowing that different artists worked at different tasks on each part. For example, Tim used a fine pen for his inking of Part Two. His touch was light. That lightness of touch was helped by Larry's use of drawing board measuring about 11 x 16 inches. That gave Tim plenty of room to work. Larry's penciled art is about 10 x 15 inches, a standard size for comic book pages. Comic book publishers of course reduce their pages by about one-third for printing, thereby sharpening the image and making fine lines even finer. That's standard practice in Five Star Comics, too, and it improved the look of Tim's already very fine inking.

Tim, on the other hand, used board measuring 8-1/2 x 11 inches for Part One. His original art is about 7 x 10-1/2 inches. In other words, the original art is not much bigger than the printed size, which is about 6-1/8 x 9-1/8 inches. As I understand it, Tim always worked fairly small. That tendency is probably explained by the fact that, when he was a kid, Tim was unaware of the concept of photomechanical reduction. He thought artists worked at the size their art was printed. Maybe Tim's light touch was a result of working in smaller dimensions. If so, maybe we should thank childlike naïveté for the many fine lines that flowed from Tim's pen. For what it's worth, Franklin Booth (1874-1948) made pen-and-ink drawings that looked like engravings because, like Tim, he thought the artists of his childhood drew that way. He didn't know that the illustrations he saw in books, magazines, and newspapers at the time were printed from engraved blocks of wood.

Tim's small drawing paper on Part One was good for his own purposes, but it posed a challenge for us as his inkers. The surface of the paper Tim used is fairly glossy, too. It doesn't take a pen line very well, and the pencils are hard to erase. Also, we were rushed (as comic book artists so often are), and we didn't do what we would have considered our best work. In the end, Larry, Gary, and I are responsible for the coarse and heavy look of Part One of "The Case of the Nutcase." The gray tones I added using Photoshop--a first for me--only added to its heaviness. As you might guess, I prefer the look of Part Two to Part One, and I think the story in the second half works better as well.

About midway between the publication of the two parts of "The Case of the Nutcase," Tim Corrigan announced his retirement from comics and small press. That was in November 2012. I wonder now if "The Case of the Nutcase," Part Two, was Tim's last published comic book story. In any case, in retiring, Tim wanted to spend more time on his music and with his family. Last summer, on August 22, 2015, Tim died unexpectedly at his home in New York. He was only sixty-four years old.

Tim was Irish and I am Irish. He looked like he could have been one of my dad's brothers. I like to think that we had a shared heritage, not only going back to the Emerald Isle but also to a childhood love of the comics. He was funny, easygoing, good-natured, enthusiastic about comics, and supportive of other artists and of small press in general. Invariably dressed in a flannel shirt, with a long, gray ponytail down his back and glasses perched on the end of his nose, he liked to roll his own cigarettes and devour popsicles, one after another. He read a comic book I drew when I was about ten years old and, perhaps remembering his own childhood of drawing comics, treated it with tenderness. He called it charming. We might say the same thing of Tim Corrigan.

To be continued . . .

The first page of "The Case of the Nutcase," Part One, from Five Star Comics #2. Tim Corrigan penciled and lettered the story, while Larry Blake, Gary Gibeaut, and Terence Hanley inked it.

A page from "The Case of the Nutcase" Part Two, from Five Star Comics #3. Once again, Tim lettered the story, but those are his inks over Larry Blake's pencils. Note the fineness and precision of Tim's line. I meant "The Case of the Nutcase" to be a send-up of superhero comics, but that doesn't really come out until Part Two and the sequence about The Fantabulous Five . . . minus one, the unfortunate Human Scorch, who "died tragically in issue number 748," a "landmark issue" of "The World's Greatest Comic Book."

Art copyright 2012, 2016 Larry Blake, Tim Corrigan, Gary Gibeaut, and Terence Hanley
Script copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley
Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Secret Origins

The Amalga-Mates: The World's First (and Second) Siamese Twin Superheroes!
Part 1
by Terence E. Hanley

Five Star Comics began in 2011 as an anthology of Golden Age comic book characters that are now in the public domain. Our first issue included stories of Moth Man, Silver Streak, Marvel Maid, Flip Falcon, and Cave Girl. With our second issue, we began telling stories of our own original characters, first of which were a pair of Siamese twin brothers, code-named The Amalga-Mates. Their identities are secret. (That's part of the fun.) When they aren't fighting crime, the two are millionaire philanthropists Hemsworth V. Hemsworth (pun intended) and Semyon Hemsworth. For short, they call each other Hemi and Semi (more puns intended).

Hemi and Semi came into my imagination in a way I can't explain exactly. There they remained until a Saturday afternoon in April 2011, when Larry Blake introduced me to Tim Corrigan at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (S.P.A.C.E.) in Columbus, Ohio. Larry had shown Tim some of my work. I felt honored when Tim asked if I wanted to collaborate with him on a story. I said yes, but I didn't know what we would do for a collaboration. He said think about it, so I thought about it as I drove home that evening. The idea came to me as I was driving, one I had sketched three months before. The next morning I drove back to Columbus for the second day of S.P.A.C.E. When I saw Tim, I told him of my idea for a story about Siamese twin superheroes. "No one has ever done it before," I explained. "There's a good reason for that," he laughed, with tears coming into his eyes. But he agreed to it and asked me to send him a  script.

Things get away from us. Nearly six months passed before I mailed a script to Tim in November 2011. He called me on the day he received it. He had just finished reading it and was laughing again. Anyone who knew Tim knew his laugh and his great sense of humor. He liked the script and told me he would start drawing.

Tim and I agreed that our story of the world's first Siamese twin superheroes would be a true collaboration. Although I had written the script, I wanted him to feel free to add to it or make changes. One change came out just right. I had tentatively called my heroes "The Titanic Twins." "That's kind of a weak name," I admitted in a letter to him. Tim came up with something better, and that's how Hemi and Semi became The Amalga-Mates. Tim also changed the title of the first story from my original "Nuts to the Nut" to "The Case of the Nutcase." Tim was a great maker of signs, logos, titles, and sound effects. (For evidence of that, consider the "GA-JEEZ" and "SHAZEAMPPP!" on page 28 of FSC #2.) The Amalga-Mates main title is his creation alone.

Tim was a fast worker. Not long after the new year, 2012, began, he called to tell me that he was working on the story, but that he couldn't make it fit into ten pages, which was about what I had envisioned. He sounded a little worried. I confess that I get a little long-winded in my stories, and I always underestimate the number of comic book pages it takes to tell a story. I was just learning then. I still don't have a formula down. At the time I thought one page of script would equal about one page of a comic book story. Now I know that it's more like two to three pages of comic book story per page of script. Anyway, I told Tim that we could break the story roughly in half, run the first half in Five Star Comics #2 and the second half in issue #3. He sounded relieved.

Not that there was any reason to worry. Tim finished the penciling and lettering of Part One of "The Case of the Nutcase" in February 2012. Larry Blake, Gary Gibeaut, and I collaborated on the inking (I was supposed to have done the inking on my own), and the story went to print in time for S.P.A.C.E. in April 2012. I suppose it's only fitting that a story about Siamese twins would have two halves. The second half would have to wait until Five Star Comics #3.

To be continued . . .

The first drawing of the characters that would become The Amalga-Mates, by Terence E. Hanley, January 26, 2011. The drawing in black came first. Note that the twins have just two legs and that their arms are conjoined. The smaller drawing in green came next and is about how Hemi and Semi turned out in the end. In case you're keeping track of these things, The Amalga-Mates were born on today's date five years ago, so, Happy Birthday, Hemi and Semi!
My first finished drawing of the twins, from 2011. I sent a copy of this drawing to Tim Corrigan as a character sheet. As you can see, The Amalga-Mates wear masks so no one will know their true identities.

Hemi and Semi have distinct personalities. The easiest way to show that, I thought, was to draw them with different hairstyles. (How else are you going to tell them apart?) That difference shows up in this drawing, but in the final comic book story, the difference is even more pronounced, as Hemi (on the viewer's left) has dark hair, while Semi (on the viewer's right) has blond hair. So how do Siamese twins, which are by definition identical, have different-colored hair? Does one color his hair? Does the other bleach his? These are questions for another day.

To set them apart a little more, I was going to make one of the brothers a little more savvy than the other. In my original script, that was Hemi, the leader and the twin on his own right. Tim had other ideas. He made Semi, the brother on the twin's own left, at least an equal to Hemi, and maybe a little smarter. I asked myself why Tim had made that change. Then it occurred to me. Tim was left-handed. 

Art and text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

C.C. Beck and the Deadly Sins

C.C. Beck (1910-1989) is best known for his stories in Fawcett comic books of the 1940s and '50s, including Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, and Ibis the Invincible. He lived long enough to become a "crusty curmudgeon" and wrote a column of that title in The Comics Journal. He also corresponded with a group of friends, comic book fans, and professional writers and editors, a group who called themselves The Critical Circle. In its autumn issue of 2000, the magazine Alter Ego published a previously unpublished essay by Beck entitled "The Seven Deadly Sins of Comics Creators." In his opinion, they are:
  1. Not Staying within the Limits of the Medium
  2. Revealing [the] Presence of the Creators
  3. Overdoing the Job
  4. Losing Control
  5. Tastelessness
  6. Pandering
  7. Breaking the Rules
Beck was and is a widely admired artist. His Captain Marvel stories from the 1940s are considered classics. They were so good, in fact, that Fawcett, for a time, represented one possible paradigm for the future of comic books in America. Instead, Fawcett was sued out of business, and eventually all comic books, for better or worse, became Marvelized.

The point is that C.C. Beck, even if he was a self-proclaimed "crusty curmudgeon," knew what he was talking about when it came to comic books. His warning against committing the seven deadly sins should be taken seriously. I'll quote from just two as he describes them:
Sin Number Five: Tastelessness
     The general public has very little knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. It has practically no taste; it will accept almost anything that is presented to it, no matter how bad it is or how poorly it is made.
     Nobody can change the public, which has always been this way. The best thing that can be done is not to offer the public things which are in bad taste and which degrade both the public and the producers of products. Writers and artists should be able to tell bad writing and art from good, even though their public (and sometimes their publishers) can't. . . .
Sin Number Six: Pandering 
     Some comic book publishers believe in giving readers anything they think they want. . . .
     Catering to the tastes of the lowest members of society . . . is what makes civilizations go down the drain. History proves this; when literature and art start to degenerate, it's a sign that the public is not getting what it needs but what it needs least: pandering to the wants of the lowest, most mindless of its members.
Beck was obviously conservative in his views, not necessarily politically conservative, but at least culturally conservative. We could take his words as those of a curmudgeon, a grouch, a crank, or a guy sitting on his porch saying, "Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!" You can decide for yourself whether there is wisdom in what he wrote or something else. But I think he was on to something, and though I didn't read his essay until after we had begun publishing Five Star Comics, I think we, the six original creators, had a sense that he was right. It's why we decided against the tastelessness, violence, gore, misogyny, nihilism, and amorality or moral relativism of contemporary culture in making our comic book. We may sometimes miss the mark, but that isn't because we aren't shooting for good writing, good art, and a positive and uplifting tone. Our comics, like each one of us, is a work in progress.

Original text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Colony of the Black Bat

The Black Bat, like most of the characters in Five Star Comics, is a Golden Age character in the public domain. The difference is that The Black Bat is not from the Golden Age of comic books but from the pulp magazines of the 1930s through the 1950s. Other pulp characters have been adapted to comic books. The Shadow, drawn by Michael William Kaluta for DC Comics in 1973-1974, is a notable example. Matt Marshall's adaptation for Five Star Comics #2 is perhaps unique for its halftone art and its Prince Valiant-like narrative. The Black Bat has appeared in other comic books, though, and will no doubt go on appearing for a long time to come. It's a popular and intriguing character with fans all over the world. Those fans include a blogger who goes by the designation TSOG. TSOG hails from Ontario, Canada, and writes a number of blogs, including The Colony of the Black Bat, about all things black and batty. You can read his blog by clicking here. TSOG has written about the Five Star Comics version of The Black Bat twice, first on May 12, 2013, then again on May 26, 2013. That was awhile ago, but we thought you would like to know. Besides, TSOG's blog is as thorough as you can hope for. It even includes German covers from the 1970s. So click and start reading today.

Copyright 2016 Five Star Comics

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Point Pleasant on the Edge of Darkwood Forest

Point Pleasant, West Virginia, is a small city but rich in history and folklore. It is the site of what some people consider the first battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Point Pleasant (also called the Battle of Kanahaw), which took place on October 10, 1774, between Virginia militiamen and a force of American Indians under Chief Cornstalk. The Shawnee chief and his warriors were defeated in the battle. Long after his execution by his American captors in 1777, people claimed that Cornstalk had pronounced a curse upon white men. The first sightings of Mothman in 1966 and the collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967 are said by some to be the fulfillment of Cornstalk's Curse.

Point Pleasant has other claims to fame. Karl Probst, designer of the Jeep, was born there. Brigadier General John McCausland of the Confederate army lived and died there. Few in America know it, but Point Pleasant also lies at the edge of the la Foresta di Darkwood--in English, Darkwood Forest, a creation of an Italian writer named Sergio Bonelli and the setting of Bonelli's long-running comic book feature Zagor.

Born in Milan, Italy, on December 2, 1932, Bonelli was the son of a writer, Gian Luigi Bonelli (1908-2001). To avoid confusion, the younger Bonelli adopted a nom de plume, Guido Nolitta. He began his career as a writer of comic book stories in 1957. In 1961, he created, with artist Gallieno Ferri (b. 1929), the comic book character Zagor. As Guido Nolitta, Bonelli wrote nearly all of the Zagor scripts, from Zagor #1, dated June 15, 1961, to Zagor #187, published in 1980.

Zagor, created by writer Guido Nolitta (Sergio Bonelli) and artist Gallieno Ferri for the character's self-titled comic book, published since 1961 by Sergio Bonelli Editore.

Zagor is an adventurer on the American frontier of the early 1800s. Like James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking, he inhabits a romantic world that never was. Clad in blue pants and a red, sleeveless shirt emblazoned with a yellow and black insignia, Zagor has the look of a superhero. Agile, strong, and indefatigable, he runs, jumps, swings, paddles, shoots, and punches his way across a fantastic landscape inhabited not only by woodland Indians and white frontiersmen but also by cowboys, cavalrymen, a tribe of uomini pipistrello--Batmen--and even a Ming the Merciless-like villain named Marcus. Zagor's sidekick is Felipe Cayetano Lopez Martinez y Gonzales, nicknamed Cico (pronounced Chico), a short, round, mustachioed Mexican in a green suit, string tie, and sombrero. (He's in the second and third panels of the comic book story below.) A comic character in the mold of Sancho Panza and the Cisco Kid's sidekick, Pancho, Cico is often in need of rescuing.

In 2012, the Italian firm I Fumetti di Repubblica-L'Espresso published the first volume in the collected adventures of Zagor. The first story in that collection is called "La foresta degli agguati," or "The Forest of the Traps." The first page appears below:


And what are the first words of that story? None other than the name of the town cursed by Cornstalk and visited in the 1960s by Mothman--Point Pleasant, West Virginia! The caption, freely translated, reads:
Point Pleasant, a small cluster of huts, a necessary staging place for all shipments going upriver to Fort Henry and Fort Pitt . . .
Fort Henry and Fort Pitt were real places. Residents of and visitors to Point Pleasant can attest that it's a real place, as well. As for the forest, Signor Nolitta confessed:
No, Darkwood [the forest of the title] does not exist; I have made it up myself. And I would add that I have invented it only little by little (in fact, in the first issues, the idea was only hinted at) as it became more and more necessary to have Zagor act in a "closed" setting but at the same time "open" to all possibilities of adventure.
In 1964, Guido Nolitta gave Zagor's forest home a proper name. He called it "la Foresta di Darkwood"--Darkwood Forest--and located it in the area of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. (West Virginia did not become a state until 1863, of course, but compared to Signor Nolitta's other anachronisms, that one is pretty mild.) The artist Cortez mapped the forest:


Despite the fact that Zagor's first comic book adventure began in Point Pleasant, that "little cluster of huts," as it was described, lies beyond the bounds of the forest as mapped by Cortez. In fact, it's outside the red circle drawn on the map, in the second loop of the Ohio River below and to the left of Darkwood Forest. Never mind that, though. Point Pleasant is where we meet first Cico, then, somewhere along the Ohio River, the hero Zagor.

In later adventures, Guido Nolitta populated Darkwood Forest with mad scientists, vampires and vampiresses, medieval knights, prehistoric men, and fantastic creatures. In 1966, another fantastic creature visited Point Pleasant. I wonder if that creature--Mothman--is a remnant of the strange and mysterious Foresta di Darkwood.

Sergio Bonelli, aka Guido Nolitta, died on September 26, 2011, in Monza, Italy.

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley