Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hey Kids! Wants You

sg I don't spend a lot of time worrying about how popular any of my blogs are--I do them mostly to entertain myself, and I'm grateful even if just one other person reads what I'm doing--but despite that I do thoroughly enjoy all the comments and contributions I get.

But I happen to go looking the other day, and I see that Hey Kids! Comics' hits are up--way up. This blogs gets almost as many hits as my most popular one, The Aquaman Shrine, even though the Shrine has been around since October 2006 and has been mentioned in Entertainment Weekly and other stuff. Somehow, Hey Kids! has managed to attract nearly as big an audience, all by its lonesome.

I assume that's because of the quality of stories presented here--I'm absolutely thrilled at the stuff sent to me--the passion, the warmth on display in these stories make me realize my initial assumption about the site--that many people feel the same away about comics as I do--was correct. But I had no idea people's stories would be so well written and compelling.

But I have noticed that the stories tend to come from a small handful of folks, a tiny fraction of the audience that I know is out there. So I think its a good time to mention again that this blog takes stories from anyone--Hey Kids! is a not a "closed shop"--and the wider, most divergent POVs we have, the better.

So if anyone reading this has a story they'd like to share(even if it's appeared somewhere else, like another blog) please feel free to email me at know we'd all like to read them!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

George Rears - 1975

sg George Rears "The Thrift Shop"--Back issues didn't exist when I started reading comics. Or at least, not in my little world. From 1974-1978 I lived in West Berlin, Germany with only the US exchange book store that sold new comics. That is it. Nothing else. except on occasional, The Thrift Shop. For anyone who has lived on a military base, you know what I mean. For others, I need to provide a quick definition:

Thrift Shop: Volunteer run store found on military bases that allows users to consign items for sale. Often used by incoming families to buy goods when they arrive on a new base and by outgoing families to get rid of goods to make weight allowance when they move away.

The cool thing is, due to the transient nature of the military population, the stuff in the thrift shop usually wasn't that old. That was key for an eight year old scavenging for toys. However, the coolest thing is that occasionally families would dump their comics in the thrift shop prior to moving, since comics added "unnecessary" weight when moving, and families were only allowed a certain number of pounds to ship.
To my young eyes, the world of comics started in 1974. Nothing else could have happened before, since I hadn't seen it. I remember my brother showed me these mysterious, ancient books when he found some at the Thrift Shop, and it opened up a new world for me: Why isn't Wonder Woman wearing a costume...(Get your mind out of the gutter, she was wearing a white jump suit.)..When did Supergirl (my first crush) have her own comic? Why isn't Batman in these issues of World's Finest? I didn't pick up any of them, as I was saving my money for the newer stuff. The logic of an 8 year old: The newer stuff must be better.

I did start asking a lot of questions, though. My brother, seven years older than me, bore the brunt of most of these questions. He explained why Supergirl was, in theory, more powerful than Superman (Superman had half his power drained in Superman #233 by the sand creature) and why Hawkman had left the Justice League (All of Thanagar had suffered from an Equalizer disease). He even tried to explain Earth X to me, but I wasn't quite ready for that. I understood Parallel Earths with numbers (Earth 1, Earth 2, and Earth 3), but this letter thing was too much.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate these older books, and I started prowling the thrift shop for new (or I should say, old) comics. You never knew when they would show up, but when they did, it seemed like everybody found out at once and converged on the place (It was probably just three kids, but my memories keep telling me it was hordes of children). Over time, though less hidden treasures were found, as the typical stay for a family was around three years, and we were getting closer to that day ourselves.

As an older, more discriminating fan, my brother collected Superman--probably due to the Julius Schwartz edited revamp in 1970. Being the annoying young brother, I went with Action Comics--the Superman stories weren't as good, but the backups rocked.

One day, the Be-all, end-all hit. I guess a long term resident must have moved. It was eerie. I had seen books for sale at twenty cents, and then there were these exotic books that went for a quarter (from the 1971 DC failed expansion experiment). This time though, there were 15 cent books and 12 cent books! I furiously looked through these books--comic history before my eyes. It was like heaven. Except for one problem: While I was looking, other people were buying. All I have to show (or not show) for the whole event is an image ingrained in my brain of Superman #174. It's funny, though, in my memory, Clark is hanging on the other side of the cover, and I picture a bigger clock. To this day, I still do not know what happens in this issue.

I don't think I ever bought a book from the Thrift Shop in Germany, but I learned a lot. I think exposure to those earlier books gave me a sense of history--and dare I say it--continuity that I would not have had if I had just read newer books as they came off the shelf.

This wasn't my last encounter with Thrift Shops, tough...eventually, when I returned to the States, the Fort Dix Thrift Shop would play a big role in learning to appreciate Marvel Comics, but that is a story for another time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Vincent Bartilucci - 1980

sg Vincent Bartilucci Like most of the folks who visit this and Rob Kelly's other fine blogs, comic books were a huge part of my childhood. No big shock, right? But for me, comics also served as an important signifier of the end of that childhood. Or, at least, a certain part of it.

I guess the best place to start this tale is with my birthday. As a kid, I loved my birthday. Again, no big shock. A party, cake, presents; what’s not to love? But little Vinnie had a few other reasons to believe his birthday was extra-special. For one thing, I was born on November 1st.

All the good Catholics out there will recognize that date as All Saint's Day, a holy day of obligation. For grades 1 thru 8, I attended Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School. Y'see where I'm going with this, don't you? OLM, like all Catholic schools, was closed on All Saint's Day so I always had off on my birthday! Sure, I had to go to church in the morning but, c'mon--an hour in mass or seven hours in class? Which would you prefer?

And the extra-specialness doesn't end there.Thanks to the 1976 DC Calendar, I discovered that I shared a birthday with an actual DC hero! Yep, November 1st is also the birthday of Roy Harper aka Speedy, young ward of Green Arrow! Sure, it would've been even cooler if I shared the day with Aquaman or one of his extended family but it was still pretty neat. I looked at all the blank squares on that calendar--days when nothing "important" happened--and I felt really lucky to share my special day with a "real" super-hero.

Being just shy of two months before Christmas, my birthday was also a decent indication of what goodies might show up under the tree on the morning of December 25th. For example, one birthday I received action figures of Cornelius and the Soldier Ape from Mego's Planet of the Apes line. That Christmas, Santa brought me Zira, Dr. Zaius, and the PotA Treehouse playset. Another year, the Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk Megos were my birthday gift while on Christmas Scotty, McCoy, Uhura, the Klingon, and the Enterprise bridge playset arrived!

My birthdays (and Christmases) were about Megos, GI Joes (the 12 inch guy with fuzzy hair and Kung Fu grip), Power Records, and the like. But, we all grow older and, sometime between my twelfth and thirteenth birthday, things changed.

Y'see, 1979 was the year of the great purge. I was twelve years old. I'd be a full-fledged teenager before the end of the year. My parents decided that I no longer needed my Megos and Joes and Power Records and other "childish things." Oh, don't get me wrong. My toys weren't savagely ripped from my clutches and tossed in an incinerator while my folks laughed evilly and I wailed in despair. Nope, most of my stuff was given away to a younger cousin and, to be honest, I was kind of okay with it.

I mentioned on Rob's Power Records site how I hid the Werewolf by Night book and record set amongst my comics so I could keep it. I guess I would have liked to hold on to more of those book and record sets I owned but I didn't mind too much. I knew Kirk, Cornelius, and all the rest were going to a good home. And, thankfully, my comic books were not a part of the bargain.

But the whole process left me wondering about my birthday. Specifically, what should I ask for? Heck, what did I even want now that "childish things" were no longer an option? I've never been a big sports fan so sports related gear, usually a good all-ages choice of gift for a boy, was out. It would be a few more years before books and music became my standard birthday requests. I was stumped. Then I remembered that my comic books had survived the great purge. Maybe I could ask for a subscription to one of my favorite comic books.

As I recall, I was a little nervous bringing up the idea with my parents. Just because my comic books hadn't been given away didn’t necessarily mean my folks didn't consider them "childish things." Maybe they only let me keep my collection because they thought it might be worth something one day. (As opposed to my Megos, Joes, etc. - oh, if they only knew!) Maybe the mere act of asking for a subscription to a comic book would remind them of these "childish things" that had survived the purge and I'd be forbidden to "bring another comic book into this house!" Okay, my parents weren’t like that...but did I really want to chance it?

When my mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I put her off--I told her I wasn't sure and that I'd think about it. And I kept putting her off and putting her off while I screwed up my courage to ask for that subscription. Finally, about a week before the big day, I broached the subject with my mother. She gave me one of her "are you sure that’s what you want?" looks, the same look she gave me years before when I chose the Mego Aquaman over the Superman for my "Good Report Card" reward. I assured her that a subscription to one of my favorite comic book series was the only present that I wanted for my birthday, honest and for true.

After considering the cost involved, she decided that my birthday present would be two subscriptions. How cool was mom?!?!? Ah, but what titles did I want "delivered flat in a protective wrapper right to my door"? I quickly decided that both of the subscriptions would be for Marvel comics. Not that I liked Marvel more than DC, mind you. If anything, I've always considered myself more of a DC guy. It just seemed at the time that the DC series I collected showed up with more frequency at Clearview Stationary Store, my comic emporium of choice, than some of the Marvel ones.

Sure, DC's Justice League of America and Marvel's Fantastic Four were equally easy to come by. But when I did miss an issue of a series I collected it was, almost invariably, a Marvel title. I figured I should use the subscriptions for those scarcer series from Marvel that I just couldn't bear to miss.

One of my favorite Marvel comics at the time was The Uncanny X-Men, with its ensemble cast of flawed characters. Years before it became the sales juggernaut it is today (no pun intended), The Uncanny X-Men was a series that I had a devil of a time finding at the newsstands. Even scarcer was Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. I'm not even certain how I became hooked on that series it was so difficult to track down. But it seemed sophisticated and mature and I loved it. I'm sure I wasn't aware of it at the time but thinking on it now I may have chosen those two titles for my subscriptions because they were so "grown-up". Considering the circumstances, it would have made sense.

Anyway, those were my choices; The Uncanny X-Men and Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. I photocopied a subscription ad from one of my Marvel comics, my mom made out a check, and we mailed 'em off.

And I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

If memory serves, I didn't receive the first issue of either of my subscriptions before January or February of the following year. Checking the dates, the first X-Men of my sub was probably #132 while my first Shang Chi was most likely #87. By that time Christmas had come and gone, a "grown-up" Christmas marked by an absence of Megos and Power Records.

sgThings were most assuredly different. Things were different in the comic book world, too. My X-Men subscription encompassed the Dark Phoenix Saga. I remember buying The Uncanny X-Men #137 on the newsstand because I didn't know if my sub would include double-sized issues. I can recall reading that issue in my backyard on a bright summer day and being completely devastated. When my subscription copy arrived I read it again and was devastated all over again--it was that good.

Shang Chi was its usual brilliant, heady stuff. But, near the end of my sub, Doug Moench, Mike Zeck, and Gene Day really outdid themselves. Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu #98 was a stand-alone issue about a martial artist who comes to town to challenge "the great Shang Chi". It's also, in a way, a rumination on the price of fame. It's one of my absolute favorite comic stories, definitely top 20 material. Maybe top 10.

Those two titles, The Uncanny X-Men and Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, are, in my mind, forever linked to the bittersweet feeling of growing up. Yep, after November 1st, 1979, my birthdays were different because, well, I was different.

I wasn't a kid anymore but, obviously, I wasn't an adult either. I was in that confusing purgatory called the teen years--a long stretch of road where you're not sure who you are or where you're going. And that rapidly growing dot on the horizon? You don't know whether to rush to greet it or run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

'80 and '81 brought much more difficult trials than a mere Mego-less birthday. And more of my childhood slipped away. I discovered that running as fast as I can in the opposite direction wasn't really an option, after all. And it all started with my thirteenth birthday and my first comic book subscriptions.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Vincent Bartilucci - 1987

sg Vincent Bartilucci File this one under "Hey, Young Adults! Comics!"

It's February, 1987 and I'm 20 years old. Valentine's Day is fast approaching and, for the first time in my short life, I'll actually have a girlfriend on the 14th!

I've got two tickets for me and my gal to see Peter Murphy at the Ritz in New York City on Cupid's big day. It's the first solo tour for the former front man of Bauhaus and I'm completely psyched for the show.

New York City. One of the founding fathers of Goth. A pretty girl on my arm. Oh, yeah, I'm freakin' cool.

I'm also flat broke.

I'm not sure why I'm broke. I'm working a full-time job and going to college at night. School is cheap. So is rent. I'm not paying a mortgage or supporting a drug habit. I am, however, addicted to both comic books and vinyl. Oh, get your minds out of the gutter. I mean vinyl as in record albums. I'm buying lots of comics and lots of records. I suppose that's why I'm broke. Oh, and I bought the concert tickets.

So, my gal and I are going to see Peter Murphy in the city on Valentine's Day and I've got no money for train tickets, no money for cab fare, no money for dinner before the show, and God forbid she wants a t-shirt! But I'm not entirely without resources. I've got comic books.

Comic books can sell for some hefty prices, right? I've known that fact for years. Heck, I've even got an Overstreet Guide or two. But I don't buy comics as investments. Nah, I read them and then I save them to read again. Every comic I buy becomes part of my collection. I've never sold any comics. I've never so much as traded a comic away. Sure, I've lost some comics along the way. Kids lose all sorts of things. But if a dozen of my comics went MIA, that'd be a lot. The figure is probably closer to single digits. I've got almost every comic I've ever bought or was ever given to me. I don't want to sell any.

Reluctantly, I pull out a selection of comics that I figure are hot sellers--some copies of The Uncanny X-Men circa The Dark Phoenix Saga, a couple of issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, and DC Comics Presents #26, the one with the free preview of The New Teen Titans. I figure this last one alone will net me $40-$50, easy. It's also really hard to part with. The X-Men are duplicate copies from when I had my subscription and the Spider-Man issues are nothing special. I'd rather not sell any of them but that DC Comics Presents? Wow. I love that series. And that's a great issue even without the New Teen Titans preview. Oh, well, you gotta do what you gotta do. But where to sell them?

About 20 minutes from my house is a fairly large used book and magazine store. They have about a quarter of their considerable floor space devoted to back issues of comics. Strung across the ceiling are clotheslines and attached to the clotheslines with clothespins are a few comics and copies of Sports Illustrated. These prized items are in thick plastic bags with corrugated cardboard cut up from old boxes used as backing boards. They all sport ridiculous price tags. The vast majority of back issues, however, are packed into several large wooden tables that appear as if they were actually built for just this job.

I very rarely buy any comics here; only when I'm really desperate for a missing back issue. For one thing, most of the lesser priced comics are stuck in plastic bags the thickness and consistency of the bags supermarkets supply in their produce aisles. I swear they are slick and sticky at the same time. How is that even possible? And nine times out of ten the books reek of marijuana. Once, I purchased a copy of Saga of the Swamp-Thing there and it gave me a contact high. I'm not even kidding. Also, there is a back room partitioned off from the rest of the store by an old drab curtain behind which, I presume, is a selection of more "adult" items. The whole store has a really creepy vibe. So, like I said, only when I'm desperate.

I'm desperate.

I take a deep breath, enter the store, and approach the counter. It's one of those massive store counters that you have to climb up a flight of stairs to sit behind. At the counter is a bored looking man in his 60's. I ask if he's buying comics today. He asks what I've got to sell as he climbs down from his perch. I hand him the small stack of comics, my precious DCCP on top. He looks through them and, without referring to a price guide or even consulting some handwritten store policy, he makes me an offer.

Happy Meal, anyone?

Seriously, I'm stunned by how little he's willing to give me for these primo titles. It's The Uncanny X-Men! It's The Amazing Spider-Man! It's the issue of DC Comics Presents with the first @#$%ing appearance of The New Teen Titans, a comic book that I don't even want to sell but that I included in the offer because I "knew" it'd net me a goodly sum!

The bored man must see the look of confusion on my face because he launches into a mini-economics lesson. Sure, he could pay me a decent amount for the comics and then mark 'em way up. And they might all sell tomorrow. Or they might sit in his store for ages gathering dust. His "decent amount" could be tied up in stock that won't move. Because this second scenario is a very real possibility, he can only pay me what one might find in the cushions of an average-sized sofa.

I politely decline the offer and walk out with my comics. I'm no richer but a little wiser.

February the 13th, I hit my dad up for $40.00. He loans me $80. I'll have money for our train tickets and a cab to and from the Ritz. I'll even have money for a concert t-shirt and dinner. If we just hit a diner after the show, that is.

At the show, she declines a t-shirt. I buy one for myself.

A few years later I do go ahead and sell some comics under much the same circumstances--girlfriend(different girl this time), big event(our one year anniversary), and a profound lack of funds(again, no clue why). Oh, what a man will do for love. The comics I sell aren't the same ones I offered up previously, though. The first Punisher mini-series and a few other "hot" items net me $100. Much less than they're worth. But, hey, I've got a date.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

George Rears - 1980

sg George Rears The month on the cover says November, which implies a later summer, 1980 release. However, I remember this as a Fall issue…

I had turned thirteen that summer, and was finally getting used to living in my new town. I was still addicted to comic books, but I was still a DC guy in the world of Marvel Zombies.

The only thing I liked about the Marvel books was George Perez (I hadn’t discovered John Byrne on X-Men yet), and he had just came over to do The New Teen Titans. Having loved his run on Avengers, I could only dream about what George Perez would do with the Justice League. My favorite artist on my favorite book. That would be a combo.

The ironic thing about the whole thing is that I believe Justice League was my favorite book partly because it had the same artist on it from when I had started reading comics until then: Dick Dillin. Grell had left Legion, Novick was off of the Flash, Swan was doing Superman--but who else could do Superman other than Curt Swan? Historically, I now realize Aparo had still been on Brave and the Bold during the six years previous, though I wasn't buying it at the time--so let's not ruin the story.

So I'm riding in the car up to West Point New York, and I flip open the JLA 184, and wow. George Perez. Drawing the Justice League. And Darkseid. I couldn't believe it. I was all smiles as I read the book the first time. I was just as happy the second. Then about 15 minutes prior to arriving I started to read the letter page. Dick Dillin had died.
I felt guilty. Here I was enjoying this issue, totally oblivious to the circumstances that had caused it. This wasn't just a fill-in issue, or even just a creative change. Dick Dillin, the guy who told me stories every month for the past six years, would tell no more tales.

I remember being depressed that whole day. I also remember not being able to tell my parents why--they would never understand the closeness I felt to a person I had never met, talked to, or written to. The guilt went away, after a while. But I think part of my childhood died on that trip. Not only because the last connection to being a six-year-old discovering comics was gone, but rather because of a lesson learned: Be careful, sometimes you do get what you wish for.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tales of the Spinner Rack, Part 3

Rob Kelly This is my spinner rack, and the story of how I got it.

I don't remember when I got the idea I could--nay, needed--a genuine comic book spinner rack, but it must have layed dormant in my mind for a while, because when I saw the opportunity present itself, a whole plan popped into my head.

As I've mentioned before on several of my blogs, one of the newsstands I grew up buying comics at was Voorhees News & Tobacco, located in (you guessed it) Voorhees, NJ. It was one of those old-timey, cigar-smelling, porn-mags-in-the-back places, and they carried way more comics(even some of the digests, and even some Charltons! Charltons!) than my local 7-11s did, so anytime I knew my Dad would be going by there I begged him to stop and let me check it out.

Of course, once I discovered comic book shops, the newsstands trips died out, but over the years, VN&T remained(but as my friend
Doug Slack, who also grew up buying comics there, once said, "a shadow of its former self"). In fact, it's still there to this day:
Anyway, I was in there once about five years ago, and saw that they still carried comics, but no longer on the wooden racks along with the other publications. No, they were all on their own spinner racks.

Problem was, like most newsstands, their comic sales had slowed to a trickle. The store had three identical spinner racks, dusty and ignored, with maybe thirty comics spread over all three. The books, spines bent, hung over the front of each wire rack. A sad, pathetic sight.

When I saw this, I immediately figured--hey, I wonder if they'd part with one of these? It's not like they're using them. So as I wandered the store, I hatched a plan.

At the counter, I inquired about maybe buying one of them, and the guy at the counter told me to come back tomorrow and ask the manager. Easy, and better for me, too, since it gave me time to work out my story.

Now, normally I am--or try, at least--to be truthful in all aspects of my daily life. Not because I'm all virtuous or anything, I've found it just makes life easier. But I figured this time I needed a story, because it might seem odd for some shop owner if a customer came in and started asking to buy fixtures--"I'd like one spinner rack, and, oh, what are you doing with that deli counter?"

So when I came back, and I told the owner that a friend of mine in Ohio(had several, so this part was true) was opening his own newsstand/coffee shop(totally made up) and he was going to carry comics, and had wanted an old-timey type comics rack, but couldn't find one (this part was partly true, in that I had done some research and found that while DC and Marvel used to provide vendors with racks, that custom died out a long time ago).

I figured telling the guy the store was in Ohio was solid because it eliminated any feeling he might have of competition. And by saying it was for nostalgia's sake(which was true, since that's why I wanted it) gave it an extra level of harmlessness.

He thought about it for a second, and said "$50?" and I immediately said yes(I probably said "Yes!!"). I layed the money--cash--on him, and grabbed the nicest one and walked about, not before taking the comics off of it, and placing them on the remaining two racks, which made them look better, since they were now more full. I was performing a public service!

I took it home, lovingly cleaned it, and filled it with comics. Oh, how I loved it--the old-timey sign, the shrieking squeak you get from turning it, the way it bent whatever comics I put into it.

Ever since I moved in with Trace, I've had to put it into storage because now that her dining room is my studio there's simply no room for it. But one day we'll get a bigger house, and I'll put this baby out and it will again take its place as my favorite studio ornament...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Captain Action Returns to Save a 40 Year-Old Virgin"

sg Larry Siegel In 1968 I met a new superhero: Captain Action. His manly, yet concerned features, stretchy pants and counter-clockwise chest emblem captured my seven year-old's attention. His gun and lightening-shaped sword--yes, sword--kept my fascination.

I fondly remember being taken by my mom after school one day to the toy store near the bowling alley at "The Willingboro Plaza". We went into the unkempt store, toys and model boxes stacked to the ceiling, and we bought Captain Action along with his arch enemy, the blue skinned, Dr. Evil. That's right. There was a Dr. Evil before Austin Powers. This one had bug eyes and an exposed brain, which was covered by a GI Joe-like face mask. A competitive shot at Hasbro, I wonder?

Anyway, I got home, opened the boxes and played and played and played.

Then, much to my surprise and delight, I found Captain Action comic books in the rack at the nearby 7-11. I only got two of them and later found out that they only produced five. Somehow, I was the only kid in the neighborhood that had anything related to Captain Action (and Dr. Evil). I learned to keep my thrill over Captain Action to myself when the playground shop talk turned to the discussion of cool toys and super heroes. At my friends' houses, we'd play GI Joes and destroy various accouterments and throw dirt bombs at the action heroes(and each other). That was fun.

But at my house, mostly on my own, it was intergalactic mayhem, ray gun wounds and vicious miniature swordplay. Take that, Dr. Evil! A lightening sword cut to your ewy-gooey right hemisphere. I made the comic book come to life, all while creating panel after panel of unscripted adventures.

As the years passed, and the inevitable moves from house to dorm rooms to apartments to my own houses took place, I lost touch with Captain Action. In fact, I forgot all about him. But then, three years ago while in the theater watching Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin I saw the scene in his apartment with all his action figures. There, on the shelf, looking scrawny and anachronistic was my Captain Action. He lives!

I remember urgently whispering to my wife, "There’s Captain Action!" to which she said, "Wuh?"

Oh, how few of us there must be.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Holy Cutie-Pie!

sg I don't run too many People Reading Comics photos anymore, because they're actually pretty hard to find! But then I remembered this one, and luckily its all over the internets.

Could Yvonne Craig have been any damn cuter? And obviously a good sport.

Many years later I got to meet Ms.Craig at a comic con, where she was as sweet as could be. I told her how much as Batgirl she meant to me, and she was polite and thankful even though I had to have been the fifteen-thousandth guy to tell her that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Steve Spatucci - 1975

sg Steve Spatucci When I was five years old, my favorite shirt was, without a doubt--my prized Batman comic shirt! I'm happy to say I have a few large photos of me in the shirt, preserving the panels to the point of readability.

To be truthful, though, that's more than this garment deserves--I have no idea which company produced it, but it featured an all-blue (even the face) Batman, and an equally color-saturated Robin fighting a duo of villains that I'm no longer able to decipher.

From what I can see in the photo, one villain is wearing a green suit with a bluish metal cap, and the other is simply on fire. My memory may be failing me on this, but I recall thinking "I don't know these bad guys--they must have made them up just for the shirt!" Color is the dominant element here--everything is bright and bold, and--not surprsingly--the dialogue is Adam West-era winceble. I can make out "Must watch that spike!" and "Your army of thugs won't stop me!" when I really look at the photo up close.

My biggest frustration, and this I remember clearly from way back in 1975, was that the panels were repeated around the shirt and didn't form a readable comic story! My grandparents would humor me, pretending to read my "comic book shirt" while walking around me--but I knew the panels didn't create a satisfying or complete story. I remember thinking, "This shirt could have made adults like comics just as much as kids--if they only did a better job!"

Oh well. It made me feel loyal to comics, and that was a great feeling. And if nothing more, it may have
served to distract one or two people from the dorkish seventies home-made bowl cut my parents had given me.

And I realize as I write this, I have a big Batman logo shirt on. Some things never change...but the bowl cut is gone.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Neal Patterson - 1978

sgNeal Patterson Summer 1978 - By the late 70s, one of those new-fangled comic book stores opened near my house, and it quickly became my favorite hang out.

Not only did the owner carry new and back-issue comics, he also sold second-hand books, feeding my voracious teenage need for reading material. With the shop running successfully, the owner decided to spread his wings and host a three-day comic book convention. Boasting a huge dealers room, the convention would also feature an auction of rare comic-book art and memorabilia, and special guest speaker Neal Adams!

I practically learned how to read with Batman comic books and, in the early 70s, Neal Adams was the Batman artist (he also had a great first name). I desperately wanted to see the man whom I thought was a true god among comic artists. Trouble was, as a 13 year old, I needed transportation to the show, and after dragging my dad to a science-fiction convention a few months earlier, he was not too keen on subjecting himself to another geek fest. After some negotiating, I managed to finagle a ride with a kid from school whose dad was taking him. I didn't particularly like the kid, but at least I could go to the show.

We went on the first day, and I immediately had bad feelings about the event. The dealers room was big with lots of dealers on hand, but the place was noticeably devoid of comic fans. I soon found out that the guy who was put in charge of the money for the event ran off with the cash, leaving nothing with which to promote the show. Not only that, my friend the comic store owner was left holding the bag, with no money to even pay Neal Adams for his appearance. In an amazing act of generosity, however, Mr. Adams agreed to appear without payment provided his travel expenses were covered.

I was relieved that he would appear, until I found out that he was arriving on Sunday as sort of the capper to the show. I had shown up on the wrong day, and the only thing I could do was spend all my money on comic books and hang around with a kid I didn't even like very much. At least I didn't have to fight my way through crowds to look at all the comics.

I had pushed the mediocre experience to the back of my mind when, that Saturday night, I got a call from Al, one of my older comic book friends. He told me that he and I could get into the show for free on Sunday if we watched the table of one of his comic dealer friends. I'd get to see and hear Neal Adams in person after all! I jumped at the chance and went to Al's house early the next morning. We piled into the comic dealer's van, making room for ourselves amid the boxes of comics, and headed for the show.

When we arrived, Al and I unloaded the books and started setting up at the designated table. Soon, however, I noticed Al's friend having a heated argument with one of the show organizers. Turned out, the table was actually bought by another dealer but, because the show had been such a wash out, he had lent the table to Al's friend for the day to sell some of his comics. Since this was only a verbal agreement, the organizer was not aware of it and was telling him to pack up and get out. The argument steadily escalated and threats of physical violence were made.

"Al, I don't want to be in the middle of this," I said, thinking that my plan to see Neal Adams would end with me in the county jail.

Al laughed at me. "These guys know each other from way back. They do this stuff all the time."

Which turned out to be true, since the argument was eventually settled and we were able to use the table for the day. Al, who was always mildly larcenous, disappeared and left me to man the table by myself. I went back to work, digging out stacks of Golden Age comic books from the bottom of large boxes.

"Good morning," said a chipper male voice from behind me.

I looked up from the box and saw a man with a striking shock of black hair looming over me. I immediately recognized the smiling face as Neal Adams! Looking dapper in his khakis and blue blazer, he appeared exactly like his self-portrait used in so many DC publications.

"How are you?" he added.

I babbled something; I'm not sure what. I was in total awe. The man who brought Batman to life for me even more than Adam West was asking how I was. It was only an instant, and he quickly moved on to greet the other dealers, but my spirits were suddenly buoyed. The stress from that ridiculous argument moments earlier had evaporated, and I was now so thrilled that I had come.

Since Al had stuck me with the table while he worked the room, I couldn't go see Neal Adams when he did his Q&A, but his mic was piped into the p.a. system, so I was able to hear him while I watched over the comics no one wanted to buy. In those couple of hours, he talked about his whole career up to that time, from the early years with Archie Comics to his fights with management over ownership of his work to the impetus of changing Batman's personna in the wake of the t.v. show. This was all new to my thirteen-year-old ears, and I developed even more of a respect for the man.

The comic show eventually ended with a sad whimper. The turnout was poor. The dealers were angry. The comic store owner who initiated the event never hosted another one. But I got to see and hear Neal Adams, so to me, it was all worth it. The sad footnote to the whole thing was that, at that point in my collecting life, I didn't own any Neal Adams comics for him to sign. A few months later, however, I got a box of comics from a family friend who was cleaning out her house. Included in the collection were several Neal Adams' Batmans and the Green Lantern/Green Arrow "Speedy on drugs" issue. Life is all about timing, I suppose.