Friday, August 17, 2007

The one-L lama, he's a priest

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of comic book artist Mike Wieringo, who, as noted in this space on Monday, passed suddenly and unexpectedly from this life earlier this week. The comics industry desperately needs a few dozen more talents like him.

From my earliest days as a comics reader, I have been fascinated with the so-called Golden Age of comics — that period beginning in the late 1930s and continuing into the early 1950s when superhero comics as we know them today first evolved. When I was a kid, there weren't as many avenues for obtaining old comics as there are now — not that I could have afforded them anyway — but I devoured reprint stories from the classic period whenever I could find them. Through reprints, I first discovered the glorious artwork of Lou Fine on The Ray and The Black Condor, Mac Raboy on Captain Marvel Jr. and The Green Lama, Lee Elias on the original Black Cat, and of course, Will Eisner on The Spirit. I also read voraciously any books I could find on comics history, especially Dick Lupoff's All in Color for a Dime and Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes.

My obsession with all things Golden Age is reflected in this Common Elements scenario, which brings together the aforementioned Green Lama and Marvel's master of the mystic arts, Dr. Strange. The artist here is James Ritchey III, whose 32-page unpublished story, The Green Lama: Man of Strength, can be viewed on his ComicSpace page.

The Green Lama was an intriguing character, not only because he gained his superheroic powers in a Tibetan lamasery — as did Dr. Strange; thus, the "common element" between the two — but also because he was one of the earliest positive, reasonably accurate portrayals of a practicing Buddhist in American popular culture. Created by author Kendell Crossen in 1940, the Lama first appeared in a pulp magazine, Double Detective, as a takeoff on the then-popular hero The Shadow. The Lama soon made his way into comics, where he starred in his own series in Prize Comics throughout the early '40s. Crossen, who wrote the character's comic book adventures in addition to the pulp novellas, scrupulously researched the Buddhist faith and wove its precepts and vernacular into his stories.

Recently, comics publisher Dynamite Entertainment announced an upcoming series entitled Superpowers, which will resurrect a slew of Golden Age heroes, including the Green Lama. Superstar artist Alex Ross and writer Jim Krueger will helm the series. I'm eager to see how this project will develop. I'll bet Dr. Strange is, too.

As Ogden Nash once wrote:
The one-L lama, he's a priest.
The two-L llama, he's a beast.
But I will bet a silk pajama
There isn't any three-L lllama.
And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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