Too, Can Be A Super-Artist!
Elsewhere, I've looked
at the back-up tale from Superman #211 (Nov 1968),
a quirky 7-pager that claimed the cover honors despite its
brevity and position in the back of the book. Now all is
explained as we consider the issue's lead feature, "You,
Too, Can Be A Super-Artist," a longer and even sillier
story that fails the "cover-worthiness" test by
offering not a single plot development that might conceivably
sell a book, and precious few that don't strain credulity
past the breaking point.
Writer (and artist, just not here) Frank Robbins
starts us off at the Daily Planet, where Jimmy Olsen
is completing an assignment for a correspondence course
in cartooning (and while we're on the subject, the art for
this story is provided by Ross Andru).
Yes, Jimmy, but the point is you're doing it on company
time. Snippy little pup, isn't he?
Readers of the period would have been familiar with this
sort of thing, thanks to ads offering fame and fortune to
young artists who could duplicate intricate, challenging
line art like this portrait of Tippy the Turtle.
Coincidentally, an aspiring young cartoonist named Tony
Van Dyck is waiting in the Planet's outer office,
hoping to meet with the comics editor. As the editor is
out sick, Clark Kent agrees to review the
kid's portfolio, which includes a strip called "Super-Ape."
As it happens, Tony's art is lousy, and when Clark asks
where he studied, Tony produces a diploma from the "E.M.M.
(Every Man a Michelangelo) School of Art," the same
school Jimmy's enrolled in.
On a hunch, Clark submits his own application to the school,
using his left hand to deliberately create the worst drawing
he can. Sure enough, he receives an acceptance letter praising
the "extreme promise shown in your entry sketch"
and asking for $50 up front as a down-payment on a 6-month
Smelling a rat, Clark changes to Superman and spies on
the school with his x-ray vision. His suspicions are quickly
Showing up at the school for some in-person lessons, Clark
is given a smock and beret and directed to copy a portrait
of Superman. Instead, for some odd reason, he uses his x-ray
vision to create a self-portrait in his Clark Kent guise:
The writing here is very confusing. It's unclear whether
Clark is simply using his x-ray vision to see his reflection
and paint a portrait based on that, or if those "light
rays" going "through the wall" are somehow
burning a photo-realistic image onto the canvas. (Also,
why when told to paint Superman would he paint himself?
Maybe he should just add the label, "Superman in his
Secret ID" at the bottom). Anyway, the instructor is
wildly enthusiastic about the results, and asks Clark to
repeat his feat by copying a reproduction of the "Mona
Lisa". This time he uses his telescopic vision to do
the job, and again it's unclear whether he's painting or
performing some kind of "magic vision" trick.
The director of the school marvels, "It looks like
a perfect copy of the reproduction..."
and the instructor corrects him: "A copy...of...the
reproduction? It is exactly like the original!
The patina...the glazes over the subtle underpainting...everything!"
Now Clark is awarded a private studio and directed to reproduce
Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" and Rembrandt's "Night
Watch." Whatever trick he used to copy the "Mona
Lisa" isn't good enough for this assignment ("There
are certain secrets I must know...that
only the artists themselves can tell me!"), so Clark
changes to Superman and travels back in time.
Our hero emerges from the time stream in 1759, only to
be caught in the tale of Haley's Comet, which apparently
has a rainbow-like quality (having missed it myself, I'll
take Frank Robbins' word for it). "Hurtling through
the intense wave-length of the blue spectrum,
the Man of Might emerges," conveniently on the same
block where Thomas Gainsborough lives.
Though he doesn't realize it yet, Superman has been de-aged
to Superboy, and his skin has been turned blue. This inspires
Gainsborough, who has him pose for a painting...
"Obviously I cannot use your features," explains
the artist. "Who would believe an all BLUE
boy?" Just to review, then: Gainsborough can
paint a perfect representation of period clothing when his
model is actually wearing spandex and a cape, and he can
add realistic flora in the background purely from memory,
but it's totally beyond him to substitute flesh tones for
light blue when painting his model's face? Riiiiight...
Now it's back into the time-barrier and on to the year
1682 to visit Rembrandt Van Rijn. By happy
coincidence (ahem) this coincides with another visit from
Haley's Comet and, passing this time through the entire
spectrum of its blazing tail, Superman douses himself in
all the other colors while avoiding the blue, thus restoring
his skin to its normal appearance. Of course. (Note to scientists:
the comet-rainbow is "created by the condensation-reaction
to [the comet's] fiery path across the heavens." ).
He's also back to adult size ("I'll never know what
mysterious forces caused those size changes!" he thinks,
and all things considered, I think I like "oh well,
who knows?" better than Robbins' "scientific explanations."
It will come as no great shock to learn Superman just happens
to run into Rembrandt, who makes him one of the figures
in "Night Watch." Now it's back to 1968 and the
E.M.M. art school, where Clark finishes perfect copies of
the two assigned paintings. Later, the director of the art
school stages a series of deliberately botched, highly publicized
"robbery" attempts at the museums housing the
real "Mona Lisa," "Night Watch" and
"Blue Boy," and tries to convince a shady buyer
that Clark's fakes are the originals, which he says were
in fact successfully stolen and replaced with forgeries.
Just then, however, Clark Kent shows up with the police
to ruin the party:
Clark points out the errors he deliberately committed in
each painting: the "Mona Lisa" is "signed"
by Leonardo DaVinci (who never signed his paintings), a
figure in "Night Watch" has been given a bongo
instead of a military drum, and "Blue Boy" holds
his hat in the wrong hand. "Captain," he says
to the ranking policeman on the scene, "We have enough
here to convict these gentlemen! Be sure and return the
money from their con game to the students, too!"
Happy endings all around as young Tony Van Dyck, the aspiring
artist, is told that his "Super Ape" strip will
be running on the Planet's comics page after all. As it
turns out, his art may be lousy, but his writing is terrific.
This story is so nutty it would make even Bob Haney ask
WTF? What exactly does Clark think the art school staff
will be charged with? Selling duplicates of famous paintings?
That's hardly illegal. Forgery? He just announced to the
police that he's the forger. And as he points out, no serious
buyer would be fooled by the fakes, anyway. As "sting"
operations go, this one's a total misfire.
I guess the "villains" could be arrested for
orchestrating those failed "art heists" at the
museums (which happen off-panel, so I don't know if they
involved breaking and entering, or what), but if Clark hadn't
presented himself as a master forger and planted the idea
in the first place, these guys might have been content to
run their penny-ante "art school" scam forever.
Even then, "scam" is a relative term: they get
their money, so they're happy; the "artists" get
a diploma, so they're happy. Where's the crime? Granted
their grads are unlikely to ever get a job as artists, but
if you went around arresting every school administrator
who handed out diplomas to unqualified graduates, the entire
U.S. educational system would collapse.
This one starts out promisingly, but soon goes south for
me. As comic masterpieces go, it's less "Mona Lisa"
than "Dogs Playing Poker." Personally, I think
I'd have preferred Tony's "Super Ape" comic.