Monday, October 15, 2007

Vincent Bartilucci - 1975

sgVincent Bartilucci "Like many LLCF's(life-long comic fans), I can't recall the first comic book I ever owned. Comics seemed to be part of my little kid landscape for as far back as I can remember. Not many, mind you, at least not at first. A few Superman titles, a Batman, or two, some Thors, and four or five issues of Ironman. No doubt, Mom and Dad bought them to encourage me to read which, I gather, is also a fairly common experience among LLCF's. They worked. I read 'em over and over again, running to my parents or older sister for help on words like radiation and verily.

Around the time I was 6, two wonderful things happened to young Vincent Paul Bartilucci, budding comics fan. The first wonderful thing was the broadcast in the New York area of a show called The Super-Heroes. The Super-Heroes was a syndicated program that packaged together the DC super-heroes cartoons produced by Filmation in the late sixties and the Wild, Wild West-inspired Lone Ranger shorts created by Halas and Batchelor in 1966. The second wonderful thing was the three-foot high, above-ground pool that my parents purchased for our backyard. Those two events are forever linked in my comic book-addled mind. They became the basis for my obsession, an obsession our host, Mr. Kelly, shares.

The Super-Heroes was broadcast every afternoon on Channel 5 in New York. Each episode would lead off with a DC cartoon, typically a Superman adventure but occasionally they’d swap in a Superboy tale. Then there’d be a Batman short; one of those Bat-cartoons that had a cliff-hanger in the middle, an imitation of the live-action show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Sometimes, a neat Lone Ranger adventure would follow. Other times it would be a story featuring Flash, Green Lantern, or some other DC hero. The show would close with another DC cartoon. I loved all those guys but I soon became enamored of the hero batting clean-up. Yes, you guessed it; almost every episode of The Super-Heroes ended with an adventure starring the 'swift and powerful monarch of the ocean', Aquaman!

That entire summer, I'd play in the pool all morning. Then I'd climb out, dry off, eat lunch, and read comics until it was time for The Super-Heroes. After the show, I’d run back out to the pool where I was the 'swift and powerful' Aquaman! My Styrofoam tube served double duty as Storm, my faithful seahorse mount, and any number of Aqua-villains. I fought Black Manta over possession of a magic trident(the pool skimmer), prevented Queen Vassa from blowing up a bridge(the pool ladder), and saved Aqualad(my Styrofoam tube in a gutsy breakout performance) who had been trapped by the Brain in an underground cave(the hose to the water filter). For three glorious months I was Aquaman every single day, the current episode of The Super-Heroes coloring my adventure du jour. Naturally, I asked my parents for an Aquaman comic book. Only one problem: the year. It was 1973 and there were no Aquaman comics on the newsstands.

But my folks, God bless 'em, they tried. They soon realized that the only place Aquaman was appearing with any regularity was in the pages of the Justice League of America. So, that's the title they scoured the stands for. I eagerly devoured those books. But they weren't the starring vehicles for the Sea King for which I really hungered. In the autumn, when it became too cool outside to swim, I was extremely sad. This sadness was partially alleviated by the premiere of the first season of The Super Friends. There was my guy, Aquaman, in all new adventures alongside Superman, Batman and Robin, and Wonder Woman. How cool! Sure, he looked and sounded a little different from what I was used to, but it was still Aquaman. With The Super-Heroes on Monday thru Friday and The Super Friends on Saturday, Sunday was the only non-Aquaman day of the week. Kind of an Aqua-Sabbath!

At the end of that school year, as a reward for my excellent grades, my mother bought me the Mego Aquaman figure. I was in heaven! There were two shows on TV featuring my favorite hero. I had an action figure of my favorite hero. And I was facing another summer splashing around the pool pretending to be my favorite hero. There was one thing missing--I still didn't have a comic book starring my favorite hero. The few panels that Aquaman would get in the pages of JLA just weren't cutting it. Heck, he wasn't even in some issues! I came to the conclusion that despite the TV appearances and the posable plastic effigy, Aquaman wasn't that popular. Somehow, that made me love him even more.

Another summer of cartoons and pool-based aquatic adventure passed by. And then another year of school with a Mego in June as a reward for good grades. Captain America this time, if I recall.

Yes, it was June again. June of 1975. I was 8 years old. I'd be 9 that November. And I guess my parents decided it was time I learned a little something about money. So, I was given a few household chores to do over the summer. In return I would receive the princely sum of one dollar, American, per week. To be honest, they weren't all that strict about enforcing the chores part of the transaction. To them, allowance day was more about learning lessons on the value of things.

Lessons like, if Vinnie spends all his money on candy over the weekend he won't have any left for that balsa wood glider he sees in the store on Monday. I still remember the feel of that dollar bill as my father placed it in my hand. Obviously, my eight-year-old mind couldn't grasp the rite of passage that buck signified. But I did feel different with that dollar, my dollar, in my pocket. The next weekend, my mother made a trip to the local shopping center and I asked to accompany her so that I might check out the comic books on display at The Clearview Stationary store, my comics Mecca of choice. And there it was...Adventure Comics #441 starring Aquaman. I snapped it up(the only copy!) and turned to my mother. 'This one, Mom! It’s got Aquaman!' I nearly shouted. 'If you want that one you can buy it with your allowance. Do you have your money with you?' she asked. Do I have my money with me? Are you insane?! Of course, I do! That 'first allowance dollar' went everywhere with me!

I took the comic up to the counter and asked the owner of the store if they'd be getting any more Aquaman comic books in, a move that surprised my mother to no end; shy, quiet kid that I was. The store owner, a tall, thin man who would see me spending my allowance in his store for years to come, replied that the company that sent him his comics didn't always send him what he ordered. He'd order Aquaman comics but he might not get them. But that noncommittal answer couldn't dampen(dampen...I made a funny!) my spirits. I had a comic book about Aquaman. Only about Aquaman. I read it about a dozen times over that weekend.

God, I love that issue of Adventure Comics. Reading it as an adult, it's a rather lackluster story with a silly scuba-wearing pirate. But I still love it. It was the beginning of what I consider the best run of stories about DC's Marine Marvel, comics that I would hunt down every two months as if my life depended on it. Oh, I missed a few issues, but any holes in that run were plugged at my first convention when I was eleven.

That issue was also the first comic I remember owning that was drawn by the late, great Jim Aparo, who would become my favorite comic artist of all time. A few years back I got the chance to meet Jim Aparo at a comics convention in NYC. I brought two things with me to get signed by the legend; my cover art to Adventure Comics #450(the Weather Wizard issue) and a copy of Adventure Comics #441. I shook his hand and blurted out something like, 'Mr. Aparo, you're the best ever!' He signed the comic and the art--he gave a funny fake grimace when I said my name was 'Bartilucci' and signed both pieces ''To Vinnie 'B'''. Then he signed my friend Rob's copy of Adventure #452. I would have loved to talk with him some more but there was a huge stack of The Brave & Bold comics that someone had plopped down next to him and he felt obligated to sign each one. No matter, I got to shake his hand. The hand that drew Adventure Comics #441.

My very first Aquaman comic. And the very first comic I ever bought with my own money."


Plaidstallions said...

That "Super Heroes" TV package had a hand in inspiring Mego to produce the World's Greatest Superheroes in the first place. Bless you Filmation...

Anonymous said...

Amen! I loved those Filmation cartoons. Superman, Batman, and Aquaman looked like they'd been designed by Swan, Infantino, and Cardy, respectively.

Unknown said...

Oh, Vinny, I can't believe the sharp memory you have. If Only I were so lucky to remember my own childhood. My first comic was the Fantastic Four... Jack Kirby... but which issue I forget ;-)