Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lynn Johnson's Freelance Work

Around the time For Better or For Worse was struggling towards an inconclusive ending to its long-running soap opera-ish comic, Lynn Johnson was branching out her artistic cartoony skills for other informative books, two of which are available on her site.  Leaving Home, a College introduction using Michael Patterson reprise in his Zonker Harris mode minus the distinctive goatee, and a Learn Spanish book for some reason.

It's well known that before she garnered fame with her famous strip, she ventured out with a collection of 101 comics inspired by waiting on her doctor's table that would later be known as David, We're Pregnant!  The first draft had rough elements suck as sketchy artwork and swearing, which was toned down and revised in the later family-friendly versions.  Prior to that, her only experience with being an outlet for humour was with providing medical illustrative material for McMaster University, only one of which appeared in a Comics Journal interview.  The only othe shared artwork was when Lynn later paid tribute to her roots in the form of a card  .She's often remarked that students who studied her amusing illustrations could remember the material much easier than students who were deprived of her talents. Learning medicine just to see these cartoons is a pretty wrong motivation to become a doctor, and hopefully these samples will be made public not posthumously.

But these attempts at outsourcing material aren't the only instance where the famed cartoonist lent her services to another writer.

Early in her career when she was still starting out, she provided some handy illustrations to humour columnist Gary Lautens.  He was a Canadian journalist who talked about his family in the 60's until his untimely death from a heart attack in 1992.  Her artwork appeared in the pages of Take my Family Please! and No Sex Please... We're Married.  His stuff was quite popular with Canadian readers, and when he died, they felt they'd lost a friend.  Despite his past accomplishments (over 10,000 written articles), he remains virtually unknown today, and his books are sadly out of print.  Coincidentally enough, the Lautens family donated his private papers to McMaster University, the very same school that Lynn Johnson started working.  There must be a connection there or something.

In addition to being influenced by Peanuts, Aislin and Doug Wright, we can now add Gary Lautens to the list.  Indeed, some of his writings clearly influenced her strips, and there are certainly several instances that are deliberately lifted from the man.

I have to admit, when I first saw these books, the first thing I did was flip through to look at the drawings first, then force myself to actually read the relevant text.  It's not easy to go from pictures to words, especially if the images and text don't match on the same page, and it's not helped if the prose isn't as funny as it thinks it is.

Your humour may vary, and some of the jokes and scenarios may fall flat since they may not be as timeless as one thinks.  One major fault that FBOFW did in trying to remain current with reruns was to try to pretend that these were taking place in a timeless moment when there are countless artifacts and background details that just screams '80s.  Updating the text doesn't work when you're talking about Boy George or Michael Jackson.  Hardly anybody watches TVs that aren't flatscreen, save for a few nostalgia seekers who prefer the company of manually changing channels by hand.

This is especially evident in this elaborate essay that gives more credit to Lynn's widening her worldview by having her characters move to exotic locations instead of remaining in a static hometown environment.
I was more interested in the cartoons that accompanied the piece than actually reading the lengthy point-form ridden essay.  Hopefully, if you pay more attention to the drawings and not the written stuff, then you won't notice how shoddily written the prepared piece is.  If you skimmed over this sentence in favor of the amusing cartoons in this post, then it means it's working!

But this wasn't the only instance where she lent her artwork for a writer.  Lynn Johnson also applied her talents to There's a Worm in my Apple, by Sheena Baker, a teacher Lynn was friends with.  Like the Gary Lautens books, Worm is filled with amusing anecdotes while teaching grade school children, but in bite-sized segments for easier digestion.

This book is even more obscure than the previously mentioned items, and its surprising that Lynn Johnson hasn't taken the time to publicize her earlier stuff, given how much she likes talking about her past.  This is the kind of stuff that would appeal to long-time fans seeking out past material of her previous artwork when it was still funny.

There's a conflicting conundrum where in order for a writer to become respected, they need to be doing serious work to gain foothold in the literary field.  Problem is, if you come from a place of humour, you're going to lose your audience just to favor curry with the select few whose opinions really "matter".  Is it any coincidence that when Steven Spielberg started listening to his detractors and produced serious material starting with Schindler's List, he became less popular with moviegoers, even as he was winning Academy Awards?  The last "fun" movie he made I can think of recently (that I've seen) is the memorable Catch Me if you Can.  (The Terminal fails with the tacked-on love interest)  When Gary Lautens tried to introduce serious elements into his family anecdotes, his readers backlashed saying they wanted to hear the funny stuff, since they had the rest of the paper to handle depressing stuff.  The man complied, since he knew when to listen.

Too bad Lynn Johnson didn't have anybody brave enough to tell her that her comic was declining in later years to the point it became a chore to read.  Since then, I've entered a death pact with my sister - if, at any time, either one of us recognizes that our current work is unsatisfactory to our high aspirations, and the other is unwilling to admit or acknowledge it, we have permission to stop the other by all means necessary before our work gets sullied even further.  Better to be remembered for our high points than our gradual decline.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Treasure Trove!

A few days ago while browsing a second-hand gaming shop that was selling a bunch of Nintendo Power magazines, I was hoping to find either the earliest or last issues, when buried within the promotional material, I came across an amazing find that had me hyperventilating in a gasping reaction that must've sucked out all the oxygen out of the room.  I found a bunch of old Gazette Comics for sale.

I'd had dreams where I was scavenging somebody's basement or bargain bins and finding the very newspaper comics I'd been yearning to find more of all my life, and always woke up depressed once I found out the reality.  Faced with this find, I forced myself to calm down and test myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.  Once I made sure this wasn't an elaborately designed fantasy, I went to work sorting through the comics to check for any duplicates I already had, keeping a wary eye on my growing pile to make sure no one would dare snatch my valuable prize away from me when I wasn't looking.  (Not that anybody seemed interested in what I was doing anyways)
Interesting how the theme is different between the two.
Compare this scheme with one that appears later...
I'd given up any hope of ever finding any more of these valuable treasures, especially at this late date, so seeing these old familiar comics was nothing short of stumbling into a secondhand clothing store and finding an old family heirloom.

I was so excited that when I paid at the register, I didn't even bother to count my change.  That might not seem much to you, but it was a major defining moment in my life.  The whole trip home, I kept envisioning images of horrendous disasters happening to me, which would've surely spoiled these newfound treasures and all my attempts at sharing these comics would go to naught.  As is the case for the curse of paranoiacs, nothing bad happened to me along the way.  Not even a hint of a sudden downpour or a car driving dangerously in my blind spot.  Obviously the forces that were conspiring against me weren't paying attention that day.

These new old comics predated my current collection, and had a few familiar titles such as Heathcliff and The Lockhorns, as well as some forgettable comics like CatFish and Lolly.  The early Gazette comics also had Jack Kirby's adaption of Disney's Black Hole.  Sadly, many of the prior and subsequent pages are lost, which may be one reason why our mysterious benefactor decided to dump the majority of these comics.  I'm completely missing the entirety of 1981, but since there were adaptions of The Watcher in the Woods, The Last Flight of Noah's Ark, Condorman, and The Devil and Max Devlin, I'm probably not missing much.

I'd never really questioned the design of these newspaper Sunday comics, when they were in the exact format of regular comic books.  Only now while browsing these old comics did I realize that it was in conjunction to the Newspaper version of S-hero comics, Spider-Man, Superman and The Incredible Hulk.

Years later when they moved away from the serious stuff and focused more on childish family-friendly funny material, they changed the content but kept the design until mid-1987 when they reverted back to a more conventional newspaper style.  It was disappointing in more ways than one, because in addition to losing a consistent layout, several comics no longer had the throwaway panels that made the comics such a pleasure to read, and they were packaged in a flimsier format compared to their previous version.  It's also why finding newspaper comics after that date is somewhat of an uphill struggle, because they don't fit the typical size of a regular comic book, and wouldn't be found in a comic bargain bin.

Not that I had much success in finding these there in the first place.  Back when these newspaper comics were plentiful, I once went to a comic shop to see how much an extra copy I had was worth.  The answer was not much.  There wasn't much of a market for these things, especially since they didn't come with a price tag, and were unavailable in a regular collector's market.

Among the newest worthy comics were some more copied Wizard of Id comics...
See what I mean?

...and another Hager in his castle...

...and a few Hermans that were missing from the early Sunday collections, particularly one that was present on the cover, but excluded for some reason.

Amazing as it sounds, there were actually past times where I came across Gazette comics that weren't mine, and passed up the chance to acquire them.

The very first time was when I was in Grade school, and noticed a few select comics holed away in a cupboard of the lunch room, along with Johnny Crow's Garden, Snow White and Rose Red, a dinosaur book that was bloody violent, and an insane French comic about a racecar driver being plagued by a rival wanting to sabotage him.  (There might've been a waterfall involved)  Wanting to find these books again was what inspired me to learn how to be a librarian, so I could find comic stuff without embarrassing myself by asking.  (Look in section 741.59 if there isn't a Graphic Novel section.  You're welcome)  If I'd had the selfishness and courage to actually take these comics home with me, I might've saved myself some trauma of "if only" later down the road.

The second time was when I was a garage sale, and actually saw some comics bundled together for sale.  The only thing that stopped me from succumbing to temptation was the fact it was encased in plastic, and the only visible cover was an issue I already had.  I saw no need to purchase a bunch of comics I already had, and was too intimidated to talk to the owner to try to negotiate the price down, so that too was lost to the sands of time.  When I got a similar offer at a comic/card convention years later, this time I didn't hesitate to jump to the bargain, even if it meant buying more issues I already had.

For the third missed attempt, I never actually saw the comics in question, but it was when I came across a worthy second-hand comicbook store that stored not only old European comics, but also acquired new ones at discount rates.  Seeing their impressive collection of old Spirou magazines, I asked by chance if the owner happened to have any old Gazette comics lying around.  Turns out he'd actually HAD the comics I'd wanted, but threw them away two years ago, when he was unable to sell any of his stock.  If only he'd held on a little longer...

There was another minor point where I passed up another old Gazette comic, but it was in a ratty secondhand comic shop where the back issues were so slipshod and disorganized that they weren't even packed in bargain bins - they were pilled on tables everywhere, with no discernible filling system evident.  It was a real challenge to find anything there, and when I found the item in question, it was so ratty and filled with comics I had no fond recollection of, so I declined to purchase it.  (Besides, the hefty price scared me off)  So finding these comics in excellent condition was nothing short of a miracle.  The old adage of one man's trash being another man's treasure was never truer than that day.

What's especially amazing to me is that even though I hadn't seen these comics in years, I was still able to remember how some of them "sounded" when I re-read them the second time, by only focusing on the pictures and not the combination of image and text.  It certainly reads a lot differently once you understand what the heck's going on.

An added bonus was more of Pat Brady's (Rose is Rose) debut comic, Graves Inc., one of the first comics I ever wrote about, and never thought I would have a follow-up to.

One thing that's apparent - this is obviously not a conductive working environment, and Pat Brady really enjoyed drawing looming buildings.  Below is the largest group shot of the major characters of Graves, though for some reason, Margie the cigarette-holder lady isn't among them.  It's too bad - I would've liked to see one of the women holding up their business cards.

The workers at Graves Inc. are so accustomed to going out on ledges that they've become immune to the terror of heights and falling.  In fact, falling might be considered something of a relief to them.

I slightly modified this one to show the Vice President, (he replaced Dr. Cutter, who never appeared in any of the comics I have) who looks visibly nervous, and fits the theme better than the medical doctor did.  From what little I can gleam from this sample here, he's generally clueless about the going-ons in his company and little more than a figurehead.

Pat Brady excelled more at showing his character's imaginations, which can be seen from Margie's Illusions of Grandeur here, but the comic still felt more mean-spirited even back in the era of greed, and was eventually replaced by the more easygoing humour of Duffy.

I've saved the best for last.  One of my greatest regrets was that I was missing my personal copy of this particular Sunday as seen here:

When U.S. Acres was brought back to life on a spinoff Garfield link, the image was recoloured to the best of their recollection.

Now, here for the first time in years is the ACTUAL comic as it first appeared, and it's akin to a psychedelic colourist's nightmare.

So yeah, the original certainly was quite far-fetched, affecting Orson's entire body.  They certainly did their best to capture what must've been in the original, but they were quite off the mark.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bomb Scared

The apprehension of the remaining suspect of the Boston Marathon Massacre bombers means the public can rest a little easy now.  Whether domestic or foreign, their underlying message by putting their explosives at the end of the race was plainly clear: strive hard to accomplish your goal and you will be punished for your efforts.  Obviously, the fact that racers are continuing to do their jogging regardless of the risks means that their intended threat failed to do the job.  The fact that there hasn't been a terrorist attack in America in a little over a decade is quite an accomplishment in itself.

However, their intimidation tactics has had adverse effects elsewhere.  My Dad went to a busy intersection of the Fairview shopping mall to have his windshield fixed.  It was a minor repair which would've normally taken half an hour that became a harrowing experience that took much longer than expected.  He dropped his car off at the garage when he was stalled with what looked like an consecutive attack or copycat crime.  There was a suspicious package near the shopping mall where he was located, which necessitated some dispersion and crowd control in order to prevent a panic and reduce unintended harm.  This was a busy intersection nearby a bus terminal with loads of people moving in and out all the time.  Not to mention the package was next to the fuel pumps, so if there was ever a potential target for massive damage, it would be a primal place to strike.

It was just his bad luck that his car just happened to be inside the blast range.  If there was any consolation, other clients who'd had their cars repaired couldn't take their fancy vehicles out because of the risks involved.  If he'd gone earlier that day, or went yesterday to pick up the parts, he could've come back easily, no problem.  It was just incredibly bad timing that he happened to choose that particular time to be there.  The bomb squad approached the offending item, sending their robot defusing device ahead expecting the worst...

...and it turned out to be a false alarm.  Naturally, the Boston Marathon bombing has raised tensions up here.  It turned out to be nothing after all, but it still could've turned out to be much worse.

My dad is something of an overly cautious man, always warning me in a patronizing voice to "Beeee CAREFUL" for anything, no matter how mundane.  Whether it's carrying all the groceries from the car in one trip or leaving fragile silverware near the edge of the counter, there's never a moment where he disapproves of my time-saving tactics.  His philosophy clashes with mine because he also has a habit of always taking more than enough time in order to figure out the best way to tackle a project, or get ready to leave somewhere.  I've always found it much faster (and sanity-saving) if I just went ahead and did these requests myself instead of waiting for him to do it.  So it's a little bit of Schadenfreude that he managed to get a small taste of what I'd've had to cope from the man himself.

But this wasn't the only incident that affected my family.  My brother-in-law was also stalled at the Lionel-Groulx metro because of an unattended thermos found there.  He always drove there so he could park his car, making it easy to go to work.  But he couldn't even get to his regular parking spot because traffic was ensnared to a crawl.  To make matters worse, he couldn't even go out and take the metro because the metro station was likewise under threat and closed to the public.  My sister also faced a similar hurdle and was forced to take the scenic route bus to go to work.  Pretty much everybody got to experience Rush hour traffic before the day had even started, making everybody late until the offending object was taken care of and reduced from potential threat to false alarm.  It may have turned out to be nothing, but it still struck a little too close to home.

Yet despite these scary setbacks, joggers haven't been deterred from these unsettling developments.  The London Marathon is still underway, which is understandable given their resolve.  When London suffered the 7/7 Subway bombing, the terrorists must've been aggravated when the citizens went back to their normal way of life with nary much cause for complaint.  A few days after, they aired an old movie that seemed to have relevant correlations with current events - Terry Gilliam's Brazil.  Especially since the opening scene started off with a senseless bombing.

While it would be considered bad taste to take advantage of horrific accidents before the public has taken time to even absorb what's just happened, research has shown that reliving traumatic events can actually be reassuring rather than repressing those memories by pretending they didn't happen.  Traumatized kids cope with their trauma by drawing pictures of horrific scenes in an effort to better understand what they've gone through.  They're not doing it to get attention or be shocking - they're trying to rationalize the events in their heads until it makes sense.

When the Twin Towers fell, all footage from movies and TV shows that implied damage done to buildings (like The Lone gunman or The Simpsons) were taken off the air so they wouldn't offend otherwise sensitive viewers.  It's hard to imagine, but the day-long thriller show 24 almost didn't happen because the opening episode focused on a mid-air plane explosion.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and it was able to release its unblemished violence in all its glory.  It was exactly the kind of show that would've appealed to the public wanting a cathartic release from the current tensions that were happening then.  Too bad the plot for continuing episodes and seasons weren't as strong in their later output for building up natural tension instead of reverting back to that old standby of "making it up as you go along", since there were quite a few stinkers along the way.

Of all the movies that's been inspired by terrorism, the ambitious commercial-free Path to 9/11 is sadly absent, solely because it dares to put Bill Clinton's lack of foresight in a negative light.  (As if only George Bush Jr. was to blame)  At the time, watching the whole thing in one sitting was a lot to take in, and I didn't bother taping, because I missed the beginning, confident that such an ambitious project would be later available on DVD where I could watch at my leisure.  But it's been just as long, and there hasn't been any detailed release date scheduled yet, even though Clinton's no longer in the riding.  The best way to deal with these things is to accept that they've happened and move on.

And yet, ever since that day, Superhero comics have become increasingly desponsive and pessimistic in the light of Government laws reflecting their new reality, when they should've been avoiding such worldviews.  When you start introducing realistic concepts in a fantasy setting, the formative structure begins to break down.  For all their attempts at making their stories Serious Business, they've forgotten that they're essentially an entertainment industry, and all their attempts at making their comic paperbacks relevant are alienating a larger audience from enjoying their properties,which are finding new life in the movie theaters than the comic page. The clumsy Spider-Man tribute nonetheless, they haven't really come to terms with what's happened on their home soil.  As far as I know, only Ex Machina has addressed the use of the Twin Towers iconic imagery, and only in an after-the-fact manner, though Jack has also noted their absence as well, in a more obvert way.

Even attempting to make light of 9/11 is basically addressing the white elephant in the room.  It's a sensitive topic no one wants to be the first to touch.  The Japanese coped with the Nuclear Bomb by implanting tons of nuclear explosions in their comics and movies.  Americans haven't really had a chance to cope with their loss of the twin towers since they haven't exactly made a move to own up to their loss.  It's understandably difficult to bring up the subject without resorting to overt commentary.  But that can be chalked up to a lack of imagination, in a similar vein to the claim that flat TV screens and rectangular cellphones don't have as much personality as the old-school devices.  L from Death Note was able to enfuse plenty of personality through his delicate use of holding phones with just his fingertips alone.  There can be just as much emphasis on snapping a cellphone close as there is for slamming a phone receiver down.

To get past the hurdle of an outside plane flying into a building, why not have a plane crash into a buildingside from the inside?  (We're talking about a very large building here, where you'd need taxis just to be able to reach the next isle) That's what I mean when I'm talking about lack of imagination.

To push this story idea further, the citizens would be living their peaceful lives day-to-day inside what would amount to a biospherical dome with nary a concern for their lives until their world is rocked from an unexpected accident (whether by sabotage or design) that causes a crack to appear in their unobtrusive world.  The resulting panic and chaos of the accident would break them out of their indifference and make them more aware that there's a bigger world out there.  How they react to the news that everybody outside their sheltered zone is already painfully aware of is the driving force behind potential ideas that'll happen later on.  At their most basic, all stories are essentially metaphors.

That's how to hurt their cause - by undermining their efforts, and terrorists hate being laughed at, when they want to be taken seriously.  After all, if you can't laugh at your own misfortunes, what's the point of living?

Monday, April 15, 2013

That Time of Year

It's that time of year again where cartoonists make fun of the IRS, reasonably the only time that they can safely gang up on government without fear of them breathing down their necks.  At least for those that have a wide circulation of over 1,000 readers.  Otherwise, they'd be in BIG trouble.
This seems legitimate.
This seems appropriate.
This seems reasonable.

Friday, April 12, 2013

This Pen is Damned!

At the end of Joe Ollmann's collection of short stories This Will All End in Tears, along with the annotations was a note about the kind of pen that he used to draw these comics.  Normally, this in-depth background description of pen models would be nothing short of boring, appealing only to artists and their ilk, but somehow, he managed to make it sound interesting.

However, this wry dry description was nowhere near as humourous or interesting as the longer short story (now there's an oxymoron) he did for the horror anthology Monster Island 3.

I've been hoping that after he published his newest book Mid-Life, there would be another collection of his short stories that he'd done for various books and magazines, but so far, one hasn't been forthcoming.  In light of that oversight, here's the story in its entirety free of any commentary.  Needless to say, the title alone should provide some very interesting search results.

More after the cut, due to bad language.

Monday, April 8, 2013


The Simpsons may be using their characters to recreate Akira, but they're not the first American attempt to parody the classic Manga.  That feat was accomplished much earlier, back when Marvel still had the license and westernized it in a flipped colourized form.  Nowadays, that kind of practice would be considered sacrilegious, but their production quality was remarkably high considering the amount of detail.  While other properties would've been content to keep colour details to a minimum, reducing crowd scenes to a similar pattern scheme, entire buildings were individualized with tinted windows reflecting the sunlight.

Too bad that level of quality wasn't applied to the parody, which reverted back to its usual colour scheme, which appeared in the pages of Marvel's What The--?! magazine, a comic title that's notoriously difficult to find online, since search engines typically ignore common words.

Following First Comics' Lone Wolf & cub model, the individual Manga chapters of Akira were packaged in a large batch amount (64 pages at a time) allowing for a longer reading experience that would be impossible to appreciate in a shorter format.  Even so, the lack of natural chapter-ending cliffhangers made it notoriously difficult to jump directly into the story, even if you'd started from the beginning.  Not to mention characters didn't bother recapping the plot mid-story made it difficult to follow the breakneck plot.  As a result, recap and character sheet pages were introduced at the beginning of every issue, long before such things became a regular feature in modern-day comics.

Something I miss is the use of bolded names to make the main characters stand out during the plot description.  Obviously, I never bothered to read these until I'd already had the previous issue in question so I could understand what the heck they were talking about.  The recap page had more text than the main comic itself, but also helped clear up some confusion of what was going on all this time.
Some of these characters don't appear in the story.
Don't be disappointed if they don't show up.
Obviously, Manga was still in its infancy when being introduced to an American audience, so it's understandable that the current perception back then would've been somewhat skewed.  In short, don't expect too much of a faithful adaption of the original, but more of a tongue-in-cheek tribute.  (With gratuitously ugly artwork, warts and all)

Believe it or not, this is pretty much a faithful rendition of what happens in the first volume of Akira.

What comes up in the next page is something I'll be going on at length later.

There's something that Oliver Chin of Viz's marketing mentioned in a Going Global article about female customers; "It's funny how adults change their habits as they get older.  Most boys dream about attracting swarms of girls.  Why don't more men (i.e. comic retailers) want to attract female customers?"  The ironic part is that once Manga started becoming popular, men who'd been leering at bikini-clad Superheroines began resenting the new crowd of women intruding their private lairs and expressed open hostility towards the new fanbase for liking the wrong kinds of comics.  That, and  these women weren't model celebrities entering their stores.  Then once SuperHero movies like Thor and The Avengers started gaining a female audience, fanboys started complaining that women were only getting into comics because they were becoming mainstream in their acceptance, and claimed that women were getting interested in their heroes for the wrong reasons.  (As opposed to the right reasons?  What are those?)  There's just no pleasing some people.

Of course, I've only heard about this second-hand.  I've never seen that kind of No Girls Allowed mentality here.  But then, I'm deaf and male, so that might influence my perceptions.

What was extremely striking about Akira (other than the lush Winsor McCay backgrounds) was the fact that the characters with psychic powers didn't needlessly exposition their abilities at every given opportunity.  When I first read it (around the 2nd volume) I kept waiting for someone to explain their perfectly obvious powers, and was amazed that they never got around to it.  I knew what I was seeing, but wanted someone to clarify it for me, which must've been frustrating for comic fans used to having everything spoonfed to them.  Since then, I've grown used to not having clear-cut answers for everything, and enjoy having puzzling scenes that'll reward their deeper meaning upon rereading.

Something else I don't appreciate about modern comics is the constant use of captions to identify the location where the current event is taking place.  Most likely, this practice is influenced by Hollywood scripts where the setting is always in question, when it should be the characters themselves who should provide the clues.  The good guys will be at one consistent spot, while the bad guys will be plotting elsewhere.  It shouldn't be this difficult for the reader to figure things out themselves.

What The--?! was basically Marvel's version of MAD, only with their own pipeline to producing parodies of their existing comic lines, which was how they could afford to have their characters make appearances in these panels.  Also, Doctor DOOM wearing a nurse's dress is somehow more disturbing in written form than in reality.
What ruins this parody from being a classic is the ending.  And it's not the lame Akira reveal that does it - it's what comes after.  (The wonky word balloon placement for the last two panels don't help either)

The perplexing final panel was explained on the comments forum of the defunct Scansdaily post these images came from.  In addition to guest stars from Marvel comics, there would also be biting commentary from writers, artists and editors from the Marvel Bullpen inserted in these stories.  The result is just as jarring as what's present here.  There's a busload of in-jokes that I'm not privy to, and I've always been wary of office politics, so I can't help you much here I'm afraid.  At least this should help clear up much of the confusion this conclusion would otherwise portray.