Friday, November 30, 2007

Vincent Bartilucci - 1976

sg Vincent Bartilucci I can't be certain, but I think the Battle of the Century made the evening newscast. After all, if Superman battling Spider-Man isn't the very definition of newsworthy, I don't know what is. Not that, at the age of ten, I was regularly watching the evening newscast.

No, one of my parents must have alerted me to the fact that there might be something of interest mentioned during that long, boring hour of television. Or maybe there was a mention in the newspaper that my folks clued me into. However it happened, I'm pretty sure that I knew about the big DC/Marvel crossover prior to seeing any ads for the treasury in a comic.

Yep, I knew about it and I wanted, needed, coveted--is coveted too strong a word?--that comic like no other. It's actually kind of strange since I was never a huge fan of either character. Oh, I've read some great Superman stories in my time and some superb Spidey tales, as well. But, regarding the characters themselves, I've always been fairly apathetic. The reasons are unimportant. Suffice to say that of the two, I guess I understood Superman's appeal a bit more than Spidey's. There is something very attractive about the biggest, the strongest, and the first of anything. It wasn't attractive to me, mind you. But I could see why the Man of Steel was so many kids' favorite hero.

Spider-Man, on the other hand, just baffled me. He certainly wasn't cooler than IronMan, Thor, Captain America, or the FF(give me a break, I was a ten year old boy!) Nope, he just whined more. Yet, he had three comics--Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, and Marvel Tales--and before 1976 was over he'd have a third--Peter Parker, The Spectacular You-Know-Who. It wasn't until I read reprints of the original run of stories by Lee and Ditko that I began to understand Spidey's, or should I say Peter Parker's, charm. But that Peter disappeared when Ditko left the book and I've never connected with the whiny male model who took his place.

So, if I was backing either character in the big face-off, I'd have to say it was Superman by default. Regardless of my apathy for the principle participants, I still knew "cool" when I heard it and, boy, did that comic sound cool! I remember trying to figure out how Superman wouldn't win the fight in one panel. I arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Mxyzptlk must be involved. But which one of Spidey's villains would be working with Mxy? Man, I had to get that comic!

When I saw the ads featuring that great, iconic cover, "coveted" definitely entered the picture. I looked for that comic every time I went to Clearview Stationery. In other words, every time my mother needed to visit that particular strip mall. In other, other words, not nearly often enough. Why couldn't my mom understand that I needed to go to Clearview two or three times a week at a minimum so I wouldn't miss the Battle of the Century?

By the time February arrived, I knew I had missed out on the coolest, most important comic book event of all time. My mood was just shy of inconsolable. Even the week off from school smack dab in the middle of the month was no consolation because I couldn't spend that week tracking down the one that got away. Instead, my family was driving from our home on Long Island to upstate New York to visit relatives.

My dad wanted to get an early start on the drive so we hit the road bleary-eyed at about 5:30 in the morning. As we reached the expressway, my mother handed me a large paper bag. Within the bag were Action Comics #438, Justice League of America #129...and the Superman Vs. the Amazing Spider-Man Treasury! To say I freaked out is to put it mildly. Apparently, my dad had picked the comics and the treasury up at a newsstand in Penn Station and had hid them from me until the trip. I dove into the treasury immediately even though it was still a little too dark to actually read it! Luthor! Doc Ock! A ray to make Spider-Man the equal of Superman, at least temporarily! Wow!

The drive was a long one. When I finally finished reading the epic meeting 'tween Supes and Spidey, I read the JLA(bummer ending) and Action(first half of a two part story of which I've never read the second half). Then I reread the treasury. When we arrived at our destination, I left the comics in the car--I couldn't risk anything happening to them.

A week later, on the ride home I read the treasury again. The story was just as thrilling the third time around. About halfway home we stopped for breakfast at a roadside restaurant that might have been a Howard Johnson's. It definitely had that HoJo feel to it. Next to the cashier was a small two-tiered magazine rack with, among other things, comics. You'd run into comics in the strangest places in the 1970's! As my father paid for our meal, I quickly rifled thru a group of titles I had never seen before. There were comics featuring Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, and a host of other funny animal cartoon characters. Nothing this super-hero loving kid wanted anything to do with.

sgI did find two intriguing covers in the bunch. One featured a pair of American Indians(the accepted term of the day) in what looked like the Land of the Lost. The other showed a white man and a black man, both armed with spears, side-by-side next to a line of portholes. Neither one was a super-hero comic but the painted covers--something I had never seen before--looked so exotic. I snatched them up and dug out my four bits.

The comics in question were Turok, Son of Stone #93 and The Brothers of the Spear #11, the first, heck, the only Gold Key comics of my youth. Both comics were unlike anything I had read before. I loved 'em. The Brothers of the Spear issue, in particular, held a certain fascination for me, mainly because the white character's name was Dan-el. Obviously, this was a bastardization of the name Daniel, but at the time I was ready to make the connection to another, more famous "el". Maybe Dan was the long lost second cousin of Kal whose spaceship landed in Africa and who, as a baby, was inadvertently exposed to whichever kryptonite robbed Kryptonians of their powers. Sure it was a silly idea. Like I said, I was ten.

sgBack on Long Island, I looked for more issues of Turok and The Brother of the Spear but I never found any. A store at the local mall, Newberry's(sort of a 5 and Dime with delusions of grandeur), carried some of the funny animal Gold Key / Whitman / Western titles but I didn't see any of the adventure titles there except for the Buck Rogers movie tie-ins a few years later. A while back, I purchased the entire run of The Brothers of the Spear on eBay and it is a nifty little series. I understand that it was a back-up in the pages of Gold Key's Tarzan comic for years prior to receiving its own title. I'll have to track those issues down someday.

Thinking about Superman Vs. Spider-Man and those Gold Key comics led me to consider some of the pluses to being a comics fan in the 21st century. When DC and Marvel released JLA/Avengers, I never doubted that I'd get a copy of each issue from my local comic shop, Collector's Kingdom. If a new title strikes my fancy like The Brothers of the Spear did all those years ago, the guys at Collector's make sure that any new issues are pulled for me. And between my friends at Collector's, my monthly Previews mag, and the internet, I know darn near everything that's coming out. Nope, I never miss a thing.

But, on the minus side, I don't run into "intriguing" or "exotic" comics in "the strangest places" anymore. And that's kind of a shame.

Post Script 1: A few days after our trip, I must have left my copy of Superman Vs. Spider-Man on the living room table. After dinner that night, my father turned to me and said, "so, Superman almost killed Spider-man, huh?" My jaw dropped. Of course, he was referring to the sequence in the comic when, after taking a pummeling from a super-charged Spider-Man for several pages, Superman has finally had enough and throws a punch at ol' Webhead's webbed head. Supes realizes almost immediately that his punch could kill Spidey so he pulls back at the last second. But the air pressure from the punch is enough to send Spidey flying in a glorious, splash page kind of way. Now, I don't know if my dad had just scanned a few random pages of the comic or if he read the whole story, but I started discussing it with him like he'd done the latter. For a long time, he listened like he was interested. He probably wished he hadn't said anything.

Post Script 2: During one of my many rereads of the treasury, I accidentally made a small tear in one of the pages making Superman Vs. Spider-Man the first comic that I ever tried to repair with tape. The less said the better.

Post Script 3: I mentioned this trip upstate to my older sister recently and she insisted that it occurred in February of 1975 almost a full year before the Superman Vs. Spider-Man Treasury hit the stands. Wait...what? So, I went online and, sure enough, Turok, Son of Stone #93 and The Brothers of the Spear #11 were both released at the very end of 1974. I guess it's possible that my sister is mistaken and that those Gold Key comics sat on the shelves for over a year. Or it's possible that I received the Superman Vs. Spider-Man Treasury (and JLA #129 and Action #438) the following year in conjunction with a different trip--hey sis, when did we go to Disneyworld?

To heck with it. I like my timeline better than reality, anyway!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Naked City - 1962

sg This still from a particularly historic episode of the TV series The Naked City was sent to me by my pal Tony Isabella.

I didn't have a post for today, so his timing couldn't have been better! Tony, did I ever tell you you're my hero?(and not just for that photo of
you and Angelique Trouvere!)

sgThis moment is so ridiculously historic that it seems like it's a fake, yet it's not. I don't care what these two actors made for the day, had they turned around and taken just those two books from the set, they could've retired early.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Memories, M*A*S*H - 1982

sg Rob Kelly A few weeks ago, Trace and I were watching the M*A*S*H reruns they show on Nick at Nite, and this episode from the 11th season--"Run For the Money"--came on, and I just happened to be working on this blog at the same time.

It was like a thunderclap went off in my head--all the memories I had of watching this episode when it first aired in 1982 came flooding back to me. It's not like I haven't seen this(and every other) episode five thousand times since, but maybe it was the combo of the two at the exact same moment that made the connection for me.

The main(or "A") plot is about Father Mulcahy running a race to win money for the orphange, but it was the "B" story that really hit me.

A wounded solider, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, arrives, and we find out he stutters. His comrades deride him for it, even after the M*A*S*H doctors tell them to knock it off. We see that this constant berating has left the solider, named Palmer(played by actor Phil Brock), insecure and painfully shy.

Dr.Winchester(played of course by David Ogden Steirs) befriends him, going out of his way to be friendly to young man. He is perplexed by this, and we in the audience are too, knowing what we know of Winchester.

Throughout the episode, we see that the Palmer reads comic books, and there are a couple of brief glimpses of them as he rests in his cot(we never get a good enough shot to see what any of them are).

Winchester takes him in another room and talks to him about his shyness and how he shouldn't let stuttering hold him back. During this wonderful sequence, Winchester reveals that he, too reads(present tense!) comic books, like Captain Marvel! "You read Captain Marvel, too?" Palmer asks incredulously. "Ever since he was a Non-Com!" replies Winchester.

Winchester shows Palmer his(Palmer's) personnel file, revealing an above-average IQ, and names several accomplished people who also stutter, like Winston Churchill. He tries to convince Palmer that he is smart enough to tackle other forms of literature, and gives him a leather-bound copy of Moby Dick. "I read the Classic comic book" Palmer jokingly replies.

With this, Palmer seems more sure of himself, realizing that his stutter is not some symptom of unintelligence, and is grateful to Winchester. He asks why he is doing this, but Winchester dodges the question and takes him back to his bunk. Later we see the doctor lay in his cot, drinking a cup of tea and his listens to an recorded letter from his sister Honoria. It's here we discover that his cultured, erudite sister stutters too.

The effect this episode had on me was enormous. As I've mentioned before, growing up I didn't see comics in the popular culture too much--you didn't see a lot of TV or movie characters read them--so when they showed up it was a big deal. Seeing them mentioned on TV, and on my all-time favorite show(then and now) was just so thrilling to my eleven-year-old mind.

I remember being shocked--shocked!--that the high-class, brilliant Charles Emerson Winchester(the third!) read comics, and even though I knew it was fiction it made me feel a little less sheepish about it. I was already on my way to being way ahead in English and Spelling in school, and my parents chalked that up to all the comic book reading I did as a kid.

And though I never stuttered, it always seemed like a particularly cruel affliction. I talk--a lot(and I have five daily blogs to prove it!)--so not being able to communicate easily would be Hell on Earth to me. Seeing a guy retreat into the world of comic books, and then having them be the thing that Winchester connects with him over, had a sizeable impact on me. Yet I never quite realized how big an impact until just last week.

When I got the idea for this post, I decided to try and talk to the people who wrote it. As you can see from the first screen shot, this episode was written by Elias Davis and David Pollack, with an additional story credit by B.J.Hunnicutt himself, Mike Farrell!

Well, I found that Mr.Farrell has a website, so I emailed him asking about the episode. I got a response the next day(!), from either him or(more likely) his duly-designated webmaster telling me to try Davis and Pollock. How the heck do I do that?

Luckily, I'm friends with
Ken Levine, another M*A*S*H writer(I can't believe I get to write that sentence!) so I asked him if he could hook me up with either of them. Ken helpfully fwd'd my email to David Pollock who wrote me later that day! Wait a minute--I grew up watching M*A*S*H, idolizing the geniuses who put the show together, and I'm trading emails with two of the writers in the same day? Hello, what wonderful planet am I now on?

Anyway, I asked David if he had any specific memories of how the comic book angle got into the show. I knew it was a long shot(we are talking almost twenty-five years ago now), and David let me know that he didn't have any particularly amazing story; most likely the plot was hatched in the writer's room, each of the staff throwing out a little bit here and there until they has a complete story. (My dream that David would tell me he was sitting at home by a window, trying to come up with a story, when all of a sudden a comic book came flying through his window and he goes "A-ha! Comic books!" was for naught.)

David did tell me "
As it turns out, Elias and I won an award for that particular episode from the National Stuttering Association back in 2002. In fact, a clip was shown at their annual convention."

They certainly deserved it, because it's a fine examination of the issue, not to mention just a damn good episode. And it resonated with me, and continues to, all these years later.

And while I know he didn't need the money, I hope Winchester kept all his comics; they'd be worth a fortune by now.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hey Girls! Comics!

sg ...this seems so, so long ago--young girls reading comics.

And there being comics for them to read...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Russell Burbage - 1975

sgRussell Burbage In the spring of 1975 I was only nine years old. More importantly, I had only been reading comics for about a year, and most of those were JLA. For all intents and purposes, I was still pretty green behind the gills when it came to certain comic book conventions.

For example, I hadn't realized yet that death traps were(almost) never fatal. Sure, in the story preceeding this one five JLAers are "killed" by Kanjar Ro and I knew that they hadn't really bought it, but this time was different. In JLA 120-121, Superman and the Flash were part of the group that had been "killed." Even by that point I *knew* that they, Batman, and Wonder Woman were indestructible. I guess I kind of thought that those characters who didn't have their own series were still vulnerable.

So if it had been only Black Canary and the Elongated Man who had been shot by Kanjar Ro, I would have found it one hundred times more dramatic. This time, however, it was only one character who had died: Aquaman! And I had read enough JLA letter pages to know that Aquaman was not one of the most popular members. I can still remember the shock I felt when I pulled my copy of JLA 122 out of the subscription shipping label. I thought, Could this, really, be the death of Aquaman!? Notice that he isn't featured in the Roll Call across the top of the cover, either! "No, no, no!" I thought, flattening out the crease down the middle of the comic before diving into the story.

As soon as I got into it, my heart sank: it turned out that Dr. Light was behind the whole thing. At the time, he was still a deadly force to be reckoned with(this was several years before his New Teen Titans silliness). Up through page ten of this eighteen-page story it appeared that the JLA really was getting knocked off, one by one! Not to give too much away, but Aquaman is caught in an explosion of a lantern fish as he swims away from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. To my nine year old mind, full-panel explosions had to be fatal…didn't they???

You probably guessed that Aquaman didn't really die in this story. On page eleven, when the JLA arrives to capture Dr. Light and he says, "Well, atleast Aquaman is still dead," I nearly let out a little hooray of my own when The Sea King suddenly shows up fine! Not only was he fine, but he gets to explain how he had managed to save almost the whole JLA from Dr. Light's traps all by himself!(Something Batman, the big show-off, tended to do!) By the end of this story I had such a huge smile on my face like you wouldn't believe. How could anyone who reads this issue think Aquaman didn't belong in the JLA???

Aquaman had some great lines in this issue, too, saying, "A booby trap….and I was supposed to be the booby!", calling Superman "old buddy," explaining that lantern fish aren’t found in the Arctic, and my all-time favorite, his reference to the song, "Let Me Call You Sweet Heart," I think of every time I hear that song, "I have a few nastier names for you, crud!"

Of course, re-reading it years later it doesn't stand up quite as well as I would have hoped. The plot is pretty convoluted and out-right contrived, but still, you couldn't have told that to the nine-year old boy who had just learned not to believe everything he saw on the cover of a comic book.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hey Yogi! 3-D!

sg Not to be outdone, now we have baseball hall of famer(and avid comic reader, according to legend) Yogi Berra enjoying the very same comic from yesterday's post! Sockamagee!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hey Kids! 3-D!

sg This is a photo I've seen in a bunch of different places--hard to find a more iconic 1950s shot than this!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Steve Martin/"Born Standing Up"

sg "I loved comic books; especially the funny ones, like Little Lulu--and man oh man, if Uncle Scrooge was in the latest episode of Donald Duck, I was in heaven."--Steve Martin, from his new biography Born Standing Up

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hey Kids! Thanks!

sg Rob Kelly This blog is of course all about beloved childhood memories of comics; but just yesterday I had an experience that I'm sure will resonate with me just as strongly as any I had as a kid.

My pal Paul Kupperberg is writing a book about DC's classic Showcase title, which will be published by TwoMorrows. Not only is he a fan of the legendary book, he actually wrote some issues of it, so he has a unique perspective on the title.

Anyway, he asked me awhile back if I would be willing to contribute to one of the chapters, about three characters who, after long careers of being support characters, got their own Showcase tryouts and soon after their own series: Lois Lane, Aquaman, and Tommy Tomorrow.

I of course said yes; I was honored that Paul would ask me to contribute to one of his projects, not to mention that the book itself just sounds cool, the kind of thing I'd want to read anyway.

So while I was going over Paul's outline for the book last night, I came across this sentence: "The Showcase Companion is written by Paul Kupperberg (who also scripted four issues of the 1977 Showcase revival), with contributions from former DC staffers and/or comics historians Bob Greenberger, Bob Rozakis, Brian Morris, John Wells, Jim Beard, and Rob Kelly."

Whoa, whoa...wait a minute. Me? A Comics Historian? While I admit I've done my best to examine the histories of the subjects my blogs cover, I never would've thought to consider myself worthy of such a title, and it literally left me speechless when I read it. Having a comics pro whose work I grew up reading call me a "Comics Historian" means more to me than any half-dozen magazines that have featured my artwork. It was the first thing I told Darlin' Tracy when she came home that night, and I couldn't stop talking about it on our nightly walk.

So while this blog is about fond memories, I'm taking a moment here on Thanksgiving to say "thanks" to every single one of you who has taken the time to read what I've been doing, leave a comment, or write an email to say how much you enjoy what I do. It means the world to me--much more than I ever could have imagined--and to think that none of this was in my life a little more than a year ago simply astonishes me.

For someone who grew up obsessed with comics, then went to the Kubert School to learn how to do them, being at all in that world just seemed like a dream too good to be true. And when it dawned on me that my work would lead me down a different path, and that I would always just be an observer in the comics world, it was a disappointment, sure, but I moved on.

But just in the last year, I've gotten to talk to--and in some cases make friends with--people like Mark Evanier, Joe Staton, Bob Rozakis, Erik Larsen, Tom Yeates, Rich Buckler, Ken Landgraf, John Morrow, Craig Hamilton, Steve Skeates, Tad Williams, Shawn McManus, Jim Calafiore, Norman Alden, Dan Mishkin, Nick Cuti, Joe Jusko, Chris Ryall, Angelique Trouvere, Paul Karasik, and of course Mr. Kupperberg, and to me its all just so amazing. I'm so lucky I stumbled my way into this and now I love it. And if all of you weren't reading what I was doing, no one else would really care, either.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Inflatable Hulk - late 1970s

sg Rob Kelly My pal Brian has been doing some wonderful work collecting photos and memories of various live, "event" appearances of superheroes over at his blog Plaid Stallions, but the one memory I've never been able to confirm with anyone else was one featuring the Hulk.

I have a distinct memory of going to the mall with my Dad(this was when we lived in Pennsylvania, so it would be sometime before 1979) and there was promoted an appearance by the Hulk!

Except the Hulk they had was not a guy from the local gym painted green, but a giant, inflatable version that pretty much...just stood there(this pic is not the one I'm thinking of, but it was the closest thing I could find). From what I remember, it stood something like twenty to thirty feet high!

Even as a kid, I knew that it was just a big balloon, essentially, and not the "real" Hulk, so I wasn't interested in getting a picture taken or even getting a closer look. But dammit, I know I saw it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

George Rears - 1980

sg George Rears The recent discussion of El Dorado by Rob has made me think back to my first ever visit to a comic book store...which if memory serves, is the aforementioned El Dorado comics...

By the age of thirteen, I was a now a seasoned comic book collecting veteran...I had lived through the DC explosion, and then the DC implosion. I was experiencing classic Marvel tales through the Dreaded Deadline Doom that was forcing reprints in every other Marvel book in the late 70's. I was there for the DC rebirth when George Perez and Marv Wolfman brought DC back from the brink of death with The New Teen Titans. One thing this old wizened, yet newly christened teenager comic aficionado, had yet to experience, though, was a comic book store.

I always remember seeing those ads in the comic books for comic books stores. My favorite was for Mile High Comics. They must have been good, because they had two full pages. Unfortunately, I lived nowhere near Denver, so I wouldn't be making any trips to that store. However, I had just recently moved to New Jersey, and figured there must be one nearby. It wasn't long before I found a guy who liked comics as much as me--except he was a Marvel guy. More importantly though--he actually knew where a comic book store was. It wasn't long before we were planning a trip there. I remember washing my sister's car in exchange for a ride; a ritual that would become quite common the next few years.

When I first got to the store, I was impressed--but disappointed. I had seen back issues before in an old books store. Granted, the comic book store had a better selection...yet what really frustrated me were the new comics.

I looked up on the wall...all these comics that were a full month ahead of what was on the newsstand! It should have been paradise. My own personal Shangri-la! But no, this know-it-all's first reaction was "Look at it--they are all Whitman editions--they are all worthless reprints!"

So what is the source of this idiotic conclusion? In the mid 70s, DC and Marvel put UPC codes on their books. Meanwhile, with the growth of comic book stores, an increasing amount of fraud was going on as comic books stores where ripping off the covers of their heavily discounted non-returnable books and sending them in as newsstand versions for a full refund. The publishers soon got wise, and created a different cover for comic books stores. Marvel put a diamond on the price tag, and along with DC, put either a character head shot (Spidey) or a trademark ("DC: Where the Action is") in the UPC box.

These covers ended up looking very similar to reprint editions packaged by the Whitman group--who would reprint books, bag them and sell them at discount stores. Having been "burned" by buying the Whitman books, I was not going to be fooled by this comic book store that was buying nothing but Whitman editions.

Apparently, this genius of a kid never wondered how all the Whitman reprint editions managed to get out prior to the original editions on the newsstand. It took me about 6 months to finally buy one of the books--after a whole bunch of therapy and counseling.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chris Franklin - 1984

sg Chris Franklin "Green Arrow has a beard now?"

My dad asked me this question as he looked over my shoulder at some point, circa 1979 or so. What I was looking at isn't quite clear, but I imagine it was either a World's Finest, or a JLA, or maybe even a Brave and the Bold issue. I of course responded "Yeeeaaaah", and was then given quite the education.

"Back when I was a kid, he was clean-shaven. And he had a boy that ran around with him. He dressed like him, but wore red. I can't think of his name. And they had a car, and a plane...just like Batman and Robin". As my Dad blurted all of this out, I tried to wrap my 4-year old brain around it. Green Arrow was like Batman? Since when?

I believed my Dad, but had no evidence to support his claims. I tucked the knowledge into the back of my brain and went on about my business, impressed that my Dad even knew who GA was. I just assumed my father only knew of the big guns who made it onto TV, Superman, Batman, WW, Captain Marvel, etc.

Boy was I surprised when I picked up a copy of DC Special Series #23, Feb. 1981. That World's Finest Digest contained as story that introduced me to a clean-shaven Green Arrow and his sidekick, Speedy. MY DAD WAS RIGHT!!!

After that, I felt like GA and Speedy were family friends. Old pals of my Dad. I got one of those suction arrow and bow kits and was constantly both Green Arrow and Speedy for awhile. Over the years I would discover that my Dad also knew some of the other Golden Age heroes, like Jay Garrick and Alan Scott. I had already encountered those two in the 70s JSA revival in All-Star and Adventure Comics, but knowing my Dad read their adventures as a kid made me appreciate them much more. Its an appreciation that lasts to this day.

I think this is what started my love of the Earth Two characters, and made me a fan of Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron series. My favorite moment of that series came in issue #31, where the full membership of the Squadron finally meets. Therein was assembled almost every DC and Quality mystery man(and woman) of the time. I remember getting that issue on the way home from school. We had been dismissed early due to snow, so I got to pour over the pages for hours after my Mom had brought me home.

When my Dad arrived, I practically assaulted him, begging to know if he remembered Sargon the Sorcerer and The Whip. We went through them one by one. He didn't know most of them beyond the main guys, but the memory of looking at the comic with him still sticks with me today. Its why its still one of my favorite comics of all time.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Steve Englehart/Comic Book Artist #18

sg I frequently re-read the old issues of TwoMorrows' Comic Book Artist magazine, it was such a fine, in-depth publication.

I was just going back over issue #18--the "Cosmic Comics of the 1970s", featuring interviews with people like Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Al Milgrom, Frank Brunner, and...Steve Englehart.

These two sections are clips from that interview with Steve, where he talks about re-discovering comics, via the new books from the upstart Marvel Comics. Like a lot of his generation, Steve had pretty much given up on comics and then discovered a whole new approach coming from the House of Ideas.

So until I can someday get a tale or two directly from the legendary comics scribe, I thought it'd be fun to run these!


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hey Kids! Rock Stars! - 1982

sg Two very unusual comic book appearances in MTV videos, if you can believe it--the Clash's "Rock the Casbah", where we have Joe Strummer(R.I.P.) reading the DC Dick Tracy treasury comic, of all things!

Even more unusual was Duran Duran's "Rio" video of the guys in the band that's not Simon LeBon reading an issue of Charlton's Fighting Army. Charlton. This video probably got the company more exposure than every comic they ever printed, combined.

Strange coincidence: both videos debuted in 1982. That issue of Army is contemporary(its #157), but that Dick Tracy comic was seven years old by the time the Clash shot the video. Was it from someone's personal collection?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Steve Spatucci - 1976

sg Steve Spatucci When I was six, my dad took me into his work for a very special occasion--Batman!

He was a manager in the Electronics Department of Two Guys, a New York/New Jersey department store that existed from the late 70's to the mid 80's. Besides being a manager at the store, he was also a photographer--so he had plenty of gear on hand to capture the moment when I met my hero.

My memories of that day are somewhat shaky, but they’ve been bolstered by many family recountings. I remember my dad not telling me why I was going into work with him--it was a big surprise. When I got to the store, he pointed to a line of kids and parents, and at the head of the line was the Caped Crusader himself! My heart leaped with excitement and joy--I had no idea Batman made these kinds of appearances.

I didn't have to wait in the line, however--because of my dad’s position in the store--and, as I later learned--he'd been the one to schedule Batman for his appearance--I would be having a private meeting with Batman after he'd finished his public appearance. I felt a little guilty that I'd be getting more facetime than all the other kids...but not guilty enough to decline the opportunity of a lifetime--I was no fool.

I waited in a cramped back office, simultaneously nervous, excited and terrified to meet my hero in close quarters. My dad set up a camera, tripod and light, chuckling the whole time as he prepped me for the meeting. "He’s going to come through the door in a couple minutes, Stevie! Are you ready?!" I was and I wasn’t--but the door opened, and in he walked.

In retrospect, his look was pretty close to the image I held from the television series--my strongest memory was the blue satin of his costume--it was so saturated, my eyes almost couldn't take it. He was tall, and if not muscular, appropriately built for the look of the costume(and probably a bit more in shape than Adam West in his latter days portraying the hero). I think I quickly decided that, though he wasn’t "the real" Batman, he was definitely a close proximity--probably a hand-selected emissary to fight crime and greet shoppers when his mentor was otherwise occupied.

In looking at the photos now, I can see the cowl could have been better fitted, and the points on his gloves were kind of flimsy--little details I didn’t notice or care about at the time. He was friendly in a goofy kind of way, and my dad had us strike various poses as he took a battery of photos. The awkward handshake was my dad's idea, and the buck-toothed smile on my face must have been purely inspired by the moment--I've never seen that grin in another picture of myself before or since.

I'm sure my dad knew he was planting a memory in my head that would always stick with me, and he really seemed to get a kick out of it--especially when he'd remember that day years later. "You should have seen the look on your face when he walked through that door!"--I'm sure it looked just about as giddy and triumphant as it does in the photos.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Order Now! - 1982

sg Rob Kelly Continuing our theme of damaging fragile old comics, here's yet another ad(from Justice League of America #25) I felt compelled to fill out the order form for, yet never had any intention of sending it in. What the hell is wrong with this kid?

(start begging code):hey, if anyone reading this has been thinking of writing something up and sending it in, now would be a really good time to do it. (/end begging)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Hope It's Not Too Late! - 1982

sg Rob Kelly This ad ran in a 1963 issue of Justice League of America; at the time it was the cheapest, oldest issue of the book I could afford. To an eleven-year old, 1963 seemed like Ancient Egypt.

...but as you can see, that didn't stop me from filling out the order form, which confuses me on several levels:
1)As I mentioned, the comic book was nineteen years old; I was a dumb kid, but not that dumb
2)I had no money
3)I never liked war toys anyway!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What's The Frequency, Howard? - late 70s

sg I saw this photo referred to on Occasional Superheroine(who was, in turn, linking to this site) featuring R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck at the comic book store he worked at, circa the late 1970s.

I'm sure this job prepared Buck well for his future career as a Big-Time Rock Star--the fame, the thrills, the groupies; all the things that come with working at a comic book store.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Time Machine - 1982

sgRob Kelly One of the most magical things about visiting my first comic shop(the aforementioned "El Dorado" in Cherry Hiil, NJ) was getting to see for the first time, in person, tons and tons of old comics. Sure, seeing covers of old books in the Overstreet Price Guide was nice, but it was a revelation to see some for real.

One of the things I would occasionally do is just search out the oldest comic I could get for the money I had, which wasn't much after buying my regular books like Justice League, Star Wars, and Brave and the Bold, etc.

But one time I came across this comic, and even though I couldn't open it up to look at it, this cover pretty much gives you all the info you need to mentally carbon-date it.

Once I got it home, it felt like I had taken a trip back in time--to 1945, to be exact--and even though the content bored me to tears(it was mostly stories about football--I used comics to get away from stuff like sports, for pete's sake!) it was still an amazing read. It was the first of many, many purchases I would make in my life, exploring the world of comics that existed before I picked up my first book.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Comics & Punishment, Part 2 - 1982

sgRob Kelly Continuing with yesterday's theme, my friend Steve and I bought this book off the newsstands in 1982. One look at the cover can tell you it was not the typical comic book fare for an eleven-year old(and Steve was even younger!)--the graphic violence, the, er, pneumatic heroine center-stage...this was no issue of Spidey Super Stories.

We didn't realize how different this was until we got back to my house and saw, just in the first story alone, frontal male nudity, topless women galore, a man having sex with a naked woman with the head of an ant(!), and, on the final page, the hero performing an act I would only learn about much, much later in my life.

We slammed the book shut as if we were drug dealers and the ATM had just banged on the door. Unfortunately, you couldn't flush a Warren down the toilet.

We talked for a while what exactly to do, since we know that if either of us was caught with this thing, it would mean some huge form of punishment, to say nothing of the embarassment of your parents having to discuss, in any form, sex. Ick.

I got stuck with "holding", since I was older and there was even less privacy in my friend's house. Later, after he left, I dared look further, and there was even more to worry about--Frank Thorne's gorgeous "Ghita" strip, which in this installment featured the heroine having sex on the opening page and some other woman with six breasts. Oh, lord--six times the trouble.

Eventually, after sucessfully hiding it for a while, I decided it wasn't worth the trouble and gave it to a friend; I can't remember who but he's probably still grounded.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Comics & Punishment - 1984

sgRob Kelly The first thing I always think of when I see these three issues of JLA(#s 225-227, a three-part story) is how I got them.

Sometime in 1984, I obviously did something very, very bad, because I was punished by my parents by not being allowed any comics for three months. I don't even remember what it was I did, but for my parents to hit me so squarely where I lived, it must have been bad. Hmm, I don't recall...did I ever kill a guy?

Anyway, this was 1984, just before I started going to a comics store regularly(the one I've mentioned before, called "El Dorado", had closed down by this time), so comics were still pretty much a gotta-get-em-now commodity. If I missed an issue, it was for all intents and purposes gone forever.

That was bad enough--to be denied my regular buys like Brave and the Bold, Star Wars, All-Star Squadron, etc., but the thought of not keeping up with the JLA--my all-time favorite comic title, then and now--was simply too much to bear. So I paid my childhood friend Steve to buy each issue that came out for the length of the punishment, as well as store them for me(my parents--especially my Mom--was so sharp she probably would've noticed any new comics suddently materializing in the house).

Like I said, the Great Comic Book Draught of '84 lasted three months. So when it was over, Steve handed me these three issues, and I read them all in one sitting. The comics were--and are--ok, nothing special, but at the time they read like The Spirit.

Friday, November 9, 2007

"There Must Be Some Filth in Here...I'll Find It!"

sgThis blog is respectfully not dedicated to Dr. Frederic Wertham.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Brian Heiler - 1978

sgBrian Heiler I was never the healthiest kid in the world and when I managed to get sick on top of it, it usually meant me being bed-ridden for a week or more. Such was the case in 1978 when I came down with the flu.

My father was self-employed and rarely home during the weekdays, his time was out on the road making sales calls to the thousands of "Mom and Pop" convenience stores across the province. On Friday nights, he would call before he got home and with me being sick, my mother said "Can you bring Brian a new comic?"

Hours later, my snow covered father came into my bedroom with what had to be ten bucks worth of comics. Archie, Spider-Man, Disney characters, Bugs Bunny and especially memorable was this issue of Gold Key's Star Trek. This was the stuff of my dreams, before that day, comics came one at a time or the odd three packs but this, was a comic orgy.

It made me wonder at the time, if I was sicker than my parents were letting on but most likely my Dad just had a good week. The stack of comics was noticeably Gold Key heavy and that would make sense to me years later when I discovered that my dad used to have a pretty amazing comic book collection as a youth, with a real penchant for Turok.

Everything about that memory is vivid to me; I especially remember the feeling of those cold comics being dropped into my warm lap.

Nowadays, I find myself doing the same thing with my son, except he's more of a DC guy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Neal Snow, Part 2 - 1976

sgNeal Snow Thirty years is a long time to wait...

...but thanks to Skygal[Neal's missus--ed.], I don't have to wait any longer.

Back in the day(1976 to be precise) I was fortunate enough to have these two superhero poster puzzles (I'm the shorter and fair-haired crumb-snatcher in the pics). Well, one day in 1978, I came home from school to find them missing. My pops decided to throw out the puzzles and replace them with some lame-o NFL posters, due to my big brothers insistence. I was heartbroken.

And now, after several missed opportunities in finding these...they are mine again.

I's a li'l goofy to get this excited about puzzles...but I could care less.

Once me and the future missus get a place together, these bad boys are getting framed and put up in whatever room becomes our library.

Update: Since this was written, we've purchased the Spider-Man and Evel Knievel Aurora puzzles...dang, they're huge!

Update 2: Neal just sent me this, a shot of the Spidey puzzle in its full glory!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Neal Snow - 1980

sgThese awesome photos were generously sent in by Neal Snow.

Photo 1:Empire Strikes Back treasury comic, Spidey curtains...what else do you need?

Photo 2:Any of us(and/or our parents)can recognize this scene...the wreckage left behind after a long session of playing with your toys(Millennium Falcon), reading comics(Dazzler ...Dazzler?), and sleeping on our Spider-Man pillow.

As Neal puts it: "
If it wasn't for my dad's habit of photographing my bedroom when I let it get messy(he thought it would humiliate me into keeping it clean) I would have forgotten about most of the crap I had as a kid. And yes, I used to read Dazzler. Hey, I was only eight."

Fair enough. Thanks Neal!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tales From the Newsstand

sgI was out running errands Sunday afternoon, and I remembered that I was very near one of the last old-timey newsstands that are around anymore. I make it a point that, whenever I'm in the area, I stop in and buy a comic or two.

I did so again this time(the name of the place is "Let's Be Newsy"; classic), and the place really is like the classic newsstands of old--small, dimly-lit, smells like tobacco, with racks and racks of magazines, comics on the bottom rows.

They didn't have too many, but I picked up a bunch of books for my girlfriend's niece--Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, Betty, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, as well as the final issue of Disney Adventures.

After the friendly older lady at the counter rung me up, I broke through my normal shyness and said "You know, I don't live that close to here, but every time I'm in the area I make it a point to stop in here and buy some comics, since you're one of the few places that still do."

The woman seemed delighted at that, and said she'd tell the owner and that he'd be happy to hear it. Will it increase his comic order? Probably not, but at least he'll know that someone still does appreciate the fact that he still carries comics.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Raaarrrr....Comics Good!" - 1945

sgThis is another photo of Frankenstein actor Glenn Strange reading some comics, this time the Sunday Funnies.

The photo comes from It's Alive, film historian Greg Mank's superb book on the Frankenstein movies(sadly and criminally oop). According to Mank, that earlier photo that has been widely reproduced wasn't just a publicity or gag photo--Strange really loved comics, read them all the time, and this second photo backs that up.

Wow, he was Frankenstein, a cowboy, and loved to read comics. Glenn Strange sounded like a fun guy, didn't he?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

"Nah, This Will Never Work" - 1939

sgThis historic photo ran on the last page of DC's awesome Batman: Cover to Cover book.

There's no photo credits anywhere in the book, and no indication this has been Photoshoped to make it Historic--if it is a fake, it's a really good fake.

But it seems just too good for it to be real, doesn't it? I mean, who would've thought to take a picture of a kid reading a comic book, with the comic being the focus of the image?

Maybe this photo was taken just a few years later, by the time Batman had become famous but before it occurred to anyone a silly comic book would be worth anything, ever. If so--be gentle with that book, kid, it'll send your kids to college!

Friday, November 2, 2007

George Rears - 1974

sgGeorge Rears Kids don't like change. Maybe the "change you spend in a 7/11" change is cool, but not the “Pack your bags, we're moving to Germany" change. To my older brothers and sisters, we were setting out on a new adventure. To a six-year-old finishing first grade, however, going to a country where English is a foreign language meant isolation, or so I thought.

We arrived in West Berlin in May of 1974. Since there were only a few weeks left of school, I didn't have to enroll in my new school. What could be better than not having to go to school for three weeks for a six year old? Well it turns out, just about anything. Being new to the area, and having no school to meet people, I would have to wait for the summer to meet friends.

Television wasn't much of an option--Armed Forces Network had one channel (black and white!) that aired only soap operas during the day. So how did I get to spend time? Shopping with my Mom at the Post Exchange (PX).

There's something magically simple about living near a military base. You want to get a haircut; you go to a place labeled
"Barber Shop". You want to go to get something to eat, you go to the Cafeteria. If you parent's car needs gas, there is a great place to go called "Gas Station". Well, I discovered a place called "Book Store".

My older brother had the unenviable task of watching me one day while my mother was shopping. Rather than hang around the cafeteria, my brother dragged me to a bookstore(or should I say the
"Book Store"). Like any 13-year old watching a 6-year old, he quickly dumped me off in front of these colorful periodicals, so that he could check out the more "mature" fare in the science fiction section.

Needless to say the comics in front of me caught my interest. The thing that immediately grabbed me was this phrase "Still Only 20 cents"...having been given one dollar to entertain myself, I quickly became a fan of the "Line of DC Super-Stars" rather than those expensive Marvel comics that would yield only 4 books for my dollar allowance. My brother, still a comic fan himself at his
"advanced" age bought these even more expensive books. Sixty cents for 100 pages! If only I had that money to throw around. It would be two years before I ever bought a giant-sized book.

I remember quite vividly what I bought that day, which is kind of amazing, since I can't remember what I had for dinner last night. Superman 276, Superboy(and the Legion of Super Heroes) 203, Adventure 434, Wonder Woman 213, and Flash 228. Having finished shopping, off we went on the long walk home. I remember reading all these books. But what I really remember is re-reading Flash 228 over and over again. Here was this comic book writer guy who actually got to meet the characters he wrote about! People were going to parallel Earths! Cool villains that walk on air! The lead character shows up late all the time! Exclamation points! Everywhere! How cool was that!

Anyway, they say the Golden Age of Comics is when you are 8 years old. I turned seven that August and was just entering my golden age. The rest of the summer was a blur. I remember meeting lots of new friends that summer (one thing army brats learn to do is to make new friends quickly), but no friends would I get to know as well as Nick Cardy, Irv Novick, Jim Aparo, Curt Swan, Dick Dillin(yes, I would read my brother's high priced Justice Leagues--sometimes even with his permission), and Jack Kirby. I actually never met any of them, but they spoke to me every month, or at least eight times a year.

Another thing army brats did when living overseas was to try to get their hands on any piece of Americana they could. Any new kid moving on to the block from the states would be a target for us. You needed to get the new kid quick, before he found out how much he could get for the Ma Kent Slurpee cup in a trade. We would chase after Baseball Cards, Wacky Packages, and Dynamite! Magazine, but for me, it was all about comic books.

To this date, when I see any books from the years when I lived in Germany, I remember not only the story, but silly anecdotes surrounding either the purchase or reading of the comics. I can recall a beautiful day in the park riding a bicycle punctuated by reading a story of Batman fighting Catwoman. I remember Superman being turned into crystal while I was in a church playground. I remember the anticipation as I turned every page of Superman 300, as the world of the year 2001 was revealed before my eyes. I remember arguing with my brother about Chicago when Kamandi discovered the remains of the town...I think I thought the city was spelled "Chicargo" and I was adamant that the guy who wrote the story made a mistake. Silly me, Jack Kirby never made a mistake. Except for the Green Team. However that’s another story...

We returned to the United States in 1978, and once again it was time to deal with change. Ironically, the DC Implosion forced me to try Marvel books (which were now cheaper than the DC books), which actually helped me meet all sorts of new friends--Marvel Zombies. They were cool, but did any of their favorite writers cross dimensions and meet their characters? I didn’t think so.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tales of the Spinner Rack

sgIt takes a special kind of fan to want to own his own genuine comic book spinner rack, and then an even more special one to actually go out and get one!

This beauty is owned by my pal
Kevin Barber, and as you can see its filled with all kinds of four-color delights--Justice League of America, Flash, The Defenders, Marvel Two-In-One, The Avengers, even Super-Team Family! And who knows what wonders lay in store on the other two sides.

Also obvious is that this little corner of Kevin's house is a virtual comic book mecca, with statues, a Super Friends lunchbox, those cool mini-books featuring classic Superman and Batman covers, a book on Peanuts, and even some treasury comics sitting alongside the rack on the bookshelf. Hoo hah!

I have a spinner rack too, but unlike Kevin's, its in storage, bereft of any comics for the time being. It's good to know I'm not the only one out there obsessed enough to want one. Thanks Kevin!