Savage, looking just like Lee Marvin on the cover of his only issue. Artist: Robert Foster.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Adventure House Press
First Appeared: 1968
Creator: Gil Kane
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Like many cartoonists, Gil Kane (Green Lantern, Star Hawkins) put some effort into raising the standards of his chosen profession, as rendered in poorly-printed, pamphlet-like American comic books. He wasn't as successful at it as Harvey Kurtzman (Alfred E. Neuman, Little Annie Fanny), whose work first appeared as chalk drawings on the sidewalk but eventually progressed to hardcover books …

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… on slick paper, complete with dust jacket — but he did manage to break out of the funnybook ghetto from time to time. His first foray into more prestigious media was His Name Is … Savage, which debuted with a cover date of June, 1968.

In terms of format, Kurtzman had anticipated Savage (no relation) (him either) by more than a decade, by moving Mad magazine in the same direction. At first, the format had been a hallmark of Mad-like humor, but Warren Publications' Creepy, Vampirella and the like had already made the innovation of publishing serious stories in that form.

It's also been called innovative because it was supposedly one of the first graphic novels. But for one thing, at 40 story pages it was a fairly flimsy "novel"; and for another, only the phrase "graphic novel" was new — the form had been around for years. Milt Gross's He Done Her Wrong is only one example of an earlier one.

The content, too, wasn't stunningly original, tho it was certainly rendered more than competently. It was just a spy thriller about a dastardly plot being foiled by a flamboyant hero. Even Savage's face was modeled after actor Lee Marvin (a fact which Marvin gave no evidence of having noticed). To the casual reader, in fact, nothing about it was new, not even the mind-numbing violence (Kane made liberal use of his freedom from The Comics Code Authority), which was reminiscent of pre-Code comic books, particularly those of Fox Feature Syndicate.

Where it pioneered was in creator ownership, something few comic book writers and artists had even aspired to before. Like his later Blackmark, Kane worked on it in his spare time. When it was ready to present to a publisher, he didn't even try Marvel, DC and the other traditional publishers. (It should be noted that while Kane was the dominant force behind the creation of His Name Is … Savage, he did have assistance. Archie Goodwin (Manhunter, Secret Agent Corrigan) wrote the script to Kane's plot, and Robert Foster (a commercial artist with few connections to comics) painted the cover.)

Kane's colleague, cartoonist Manny Stallman (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Adventures of the Big Boy) also helped, by using his own industry contacts to help Kane arrange for a magazine distributor to underwrite Kane's Adventure House Press. Adventure House existed for the purpose of getting this project into print.

Allegedly, existing publishers had some objection to sharing their turf with a maverick, even one whose practices were to become common within a few years. Also, Kane had problems finding a printer. Other problems at the distributor level caused 90% of copies not to reach the stands. Whether there's a connection — who can say? But these problems killed the magazine, which found a good level of acceptance with the public, or at least those of the public who ever saw it. Only one issue was published.

High interest, plus low distribution, is a recipe for a collectors' item — and His Name Is … Savage quickly became one. Fantagraphics Books (Prince Valiant, Red Barry) alleviated the demand by reprinting it in 1982 under the title Gil Kane's Savage. But Kane redrew it slightly, at least to the extent of altering it so its hero's face no longer looked exactly like that of a living actor. Fantagraphics revisited the character in 1986 with a four-page story, plus the cover, in the first issue of its anthology title, Anything Goes (which also contained stories about Flaming Carrot, Mr. Monster and more).

Toward the end of the following decade, plans were made for Dark Horse Comics (Concrete, The Mask) to publish a Savage limited-series comic book, scripted by Steven Grant (Whisper, Bob Violence). But those ended with Kane's death on January 31, 2000.


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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Gil Kane.