Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vincent Bartilucci - 1981

sg Vincent Bartilucci - "He must be a poor creature that does not often repeat himself. Imagine the author of the excellent piece of advice, 'Know thyself,' never alluding to that sentiment again..."

That's Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. writing in...well, to be honest, I don't really know where that quote originated (in the words of Eddie Izzard, "I'm very thinly read.") A quick search on the 'net tells me it's part of a longer passage from Holmes' The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table published in 1858.

But I've never read that work. I lifted it from a book by P.J. O'Rourke--even my borrowed wisdom is second hand. Holmes' words, by way of O'Rourke, have been part of my "official" e-mail signature for the last few years. I guess I'm always hoping that it will somehow excuse my habit of rambling on and on, making the same point over and over again.

No doubt, this was not Mr. Holmes intent. But he's not around to denounce my usage so I'm keeping it. From time to time I latch onto a piece of purloined profundity like this and twist it to my own purpose. Which brings us to The Brave and the Bold #177.

According to Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics, The Brave and the Bold #177, cover-dated August 1981, went on sale May 21st of that year. But I really didn't need Mike and his wonderful site to tell me that. I remember the spring of 1981 very distinctly. Y'see, on June 12 of '81, my mother passed away following her second open heart surgery. She was 43 years old.

My mom was sick for as far back as I can remember. She underwent her first open heart surgery when I was too young to really understand what was going on--'70 or '71, I think it was. After that, every couple of years she'd be back in the hospital. As an adult, I think about what she and my father must have gone through and I am amazed at their courage and love. My mother was a good person and a great mom and I'm thankful for every year that God allowed her to remain in my life.

"Hey Vin," I hear you ask, "what does all this depressing stuff have to do with B&B #177?" I'm getting there, I'm getting there.

I didn't handle my mother's death very well. In my defense, I was only 14 and 14-year olds don't handle anything well. I was your typical sullen teenager, the hero of my own personal tragedy. Only I had an "excuse" for my behavior. My mother had died, after all. I knew I'd never get an answer as to why this horrible thing had happened to my family. But I kept searching for something to hold onto, something that made sense, something beyond the meager answers provided by well-meaning people who couldn't possibly understand how much pain I was in. Shortly after my mother's death I reread The Brave and the Bold #177 and this silly piece of newsprint became very important to me.

The main feature in B&B #177 is a Batman and Elongated Man team-up called The Hangman Club Murders. This tale, written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by Jim Aparo, is a murder mystery wherein the Dark Knight Detective and the Stretchable Sleuth attempt to uncover who is killing the members of the philanthropic Hangman Club before the culprit strikes again. It's the kind of nifty little story that we just don't see anymore--very well-done but hardly important continuity-wise. It's very important to me, however, because of an exchange between the Caped Crusader and the Ductile Detective that occurs on page 8.

By page 8, both the founder of the Hangman Club and its accountant have already been murdered. Batman and Elongated Man compare notes at Bruce Wayne's penthouse apartment before setting out for a night of crime-solving and, well, I'll let you read the page yourself. (That's the original art, btw. When I had the opportunity to purchase this page a couple of years back I jumped at the chance.)
Ladies and gentlemen, Alfred Pennyworth, the coolest supporting character in comics, bar none.

It's a wonderful bit of character work from Barr and he is to be commended for high-lighting a rarely seen facet of Ralph Dibny's personality. It's easy forget that those awful jokes are Ralph's armor; his protection in a sometimes brutal world.

To my 14 year old mind that sentiment, "And if I laugh at any mortal thing...", seemed so profound. I took Byron's words as my personal motto, my license to deal with this crummy life in whatever way I saw fit. That decision didn't always net the best results. I became a little bit self-destructive for a few years there. Oh, I never did anything really terrible--I was either too smart or too cowardly to get myself into any serious trouble. But the crap I did pull caused my dad more than a few sleepless nights, I'm sure. I hope he knows how sorry I am about that.

Now, over a quarter of a century later, I still have a soft spot in my heart for this comic book. I guess, if I said that The Brave and the Bold #177 helped me through the loss of my mother, I'd be overstating the case. The truth is, I had a very forgiving family and a great group of friends who kept me for going too far astray. If I am in any way a well-adjusted adult, the credit goes to the people in my life who did not give up on me. It would be wrong to equate their love and understanding with a bit of ink and paper.

What I can say is this: when I was hurting and every word of comfort seemed hollow and false, I found something that sounded true in the pages of B&B #177.

Thank you, Lord Byron. And thank you, Mike W. Barr.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

George Rears - 1974

George Rears - 1974

Comic books and travel go hand in hand. I guess comics were kind of like The Nintendo DS and Gameboys of the latter part of the 20th Century. Any long trip was usually preceded with the gathering of the comics to bring along for the ride. Even now, before I travel for business, I make sure I have a trade paperback for the plane.

In Berlin, Germany, where I spent my comic book formative years, collecting comics was tough. There were very few outlets to pick up American comics. There was the book store at the Post Exchange, but as I think back, there was one other place--The American train station. During the heart of the cold war, West Berlin was cut off from the rest of the West by the Iron Curtain, and travel to the West was extremely limited.

One of the ways for Americans to travel was something called the "Duty Train". The Duty Train was a sleeper train that took Americans soldiers and their families from West Berlin to Frankfurt overnight. A lot of kids thought it was cool because you got to travel through East Germany and see the "commies". A lot of kids thought it was cool because you got to "camp out" on a train.
I thought it was cool because they had a newsstand at the train station that was a week ahead in putting out their comics (we were a few weeks behind the US due to shipping distances--man the internet would have rocked back then). I don't know why there books were early--perhaps they were shipped via train, and they would unload them immediately?

The few occasions we took the train, I would always make a point of checking out all the comics. My most vivid memory: I discovered that DC was raising their prices to $.25 at the train station...I recall the shock to my system to discover that not only did the really cool red "Still Only 20 cents" become a stark black "The very best 25 cents", but Superman was changing his Secret Identity to Chris Delbart (Superman 283)! All in one month! So much for knowing one's own future--time travel was highly overrated.

The other way to leave West Berlin was via a single highway. The US military strongly urged Americans to pair up, so in case of any problems, one car could drive ahead and inform authorities ahead. As we left Checkpoint Bravo (Trivia time: Checkpoint Charlie took you from West Berlin to East Berlin. Checkpoint Bravo went from West Berlin to East Germany--End of Trivia Time).

On our first trip out of West Berlin, my Dad gave me the important job of watching to ensure the car behind us had no issues. For this task, I would be compensated a whole dollar. That would be in addition to my allowance, by the way. So for the next two hours I sat in the back seat of the car, looking out the back window, making sure my fellow American made it to Helmstedt, West Germany safely!

Needless to say, I did my little bit for the Cold War, and both cars arrived safely in West Germany. Now flush with cash, I took my windfall and headed for the American newsstand. Not realizing I was acting as the poster child for rampant American consumerism, I spent my entire dollar on one book Limited Collectors’ Edition C-31, affectionately known to most people as "That Superman tabloid from 1974 with that beautiful painted cover of what looks to be a Joe Shuster Superman".

As to be expected, I don't remember much from the book. Although, I also don't remember much else from that trip, since the rest that weekend, instead of looking out the window seeing Europe unfold before me, I read Superman stories over and over. This was one of my first experiences with reprints, and I was fascinated with the different style that Superman was portrayed in.

Two things I remember from this book is this really awesome map of a Superman theme park which was "planned" from Metropolis, Illinois. That looked real cool...also, there was a Diorama that you could cut out and create a 3-D Superman scene. I believe that diorama was the first instance of the collector winning out over the kid--I never did it cut it out.

About two years ago I traveled back to Berlin to see what it was like with no wall. I guess I don't have to mention that I brought comics. I didn't bring a trade paperback of a fancy graphic novel, though. I brought a few books from 1974, proudly emblazoned "Still only 20 cents". This time, I guess, I was hoping to go back in time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rick Phillips - 1967

sgRick Phillips I was first introduced to Plastic Man around 1966 or '67. My Dad had a part-time job selling second hand comic books in local stores. One of the stores was (I hope I spell the name right) Knapmeyer's Drug Store.

They sold new comics there as well as the older books that my Dad put in. He and my Mom would package them 3 books to a package and sell them as 3 books for 39 cents. It was a pretty good deal back then and a fantastic deal today if you could find it.

I was usually with my Dad when he did his deliveries. One day Mr. Knapmeyer was talking to my Dad in the parking lot of his drug store. I guess I looked kind of bored. Mr. Knapmeyer looked at my Dad and asked him if I liked comic books. He told him I did and he went back into the store. I asked Dad why he left. He said I think he went to get you something. Out he came with a new issue of Plastic Man. This was a pleasant surprise to be given this gift from a man I hardly knew.

Now this was the first time I ever saw Plastic Man and I have loved him since. I couldn't read at the time so I was years later when I found out this was really Plastic Man Jr. and not the real Plas. Over the years I did read other stories of the original Plastic Man and his pal Woozy. The best to me have always been written and drawn by Jack Cole. Others attempted to be that good but rarely came close.

The worst of the bunch is my first connection with Plas. However that moment has been kept near and dear to my heart. I don't know if the issue above is the one I was first given but I believe it is.

Not too long after that Mr. Knapmeyer retired and left the store to one of his sons. That son tried to see how fast I could answer a math problem once when I was at the store. Now how fast did I answer? Not at all. It was a situation that normally I could have given him the answer but when put on the spot I blanked out. A few years later he sold the store as he graduate law school and became a respected attorney. The building was torn down to widen the street and to build a used car lot on next to it.

A few months ago I found out that I worked with Mr. Knapmeyer's daughter-in-law. I told her these two stories as I thought she would want to know. She liked hearing how nice her Father-in-law was to me and the second story could have been her husband or her brother-in-law.

When I described him to her and said he became a lawyer she said it was her brother-in-law. The sad part is that both of them are now dead. The Father died not long after he retired and the son died a few years ago. Still these two men who were local merchants touched my heart and gave me some fond memories. People need to remember they are providing more then service they are providing memories. I hope I see them some day in Heaven.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I Am "It"

"Tag--now it is you who are it."

I have been tagged by one of those internet memes
by my pal Pierre, of Frankensteinia fame, where I have to turn to the nearest book, turn to page 123, locate the fifth sentence, and then post the next three sentences on your blog, and then tag five other people.

Like Pierre, normally I don't go in for these things, but this one sounded different and weird, and in any case I find it hard to turn down Pierre, since I'm afraid he'd send The Monster down to Jersey after me.

So here goes:

The nearest book: Universal Horrors, Second Edition, by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, and John Brunas

Sentences: By January, the reliable John L. Balderston was commissioned to write an original treatment with a finished script by William Hurlbut (who penned 1930's The Cat Creeps) and mystery writer Edmund Pearson.

(The latter contribution's appears to be negligible as his name doesn't appear on the official credits.)

With the crucial casting of Boris Karloff and Colin Clive secure, the studio turned to Valerie Hobson, whom the studio was working heavily, for the role of Elizabeth. weird is it that the chapter from the book I happened to see first is about The Bride of Frankenstein?

Anyway, now I'm supposed to "tag" five other people whose blogs I like, so here goes:

Adama of Dispatches From The Arrowcave

Brian of Plaid Stallions

Charles of Electorama

Swinebread of Atomic Romance

Siskoid of Siskoid's Blog of Geekery

...ok, fellas, have at it!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hey Kids, Boobs! - 1981/1996

sg Rob Kelly I haven't written a piece for Hey Kids! in a while, and since I've always had this story in the back of my head, I figured it was time I jotted it down.

It doesn't involve comics, per se, other than the fact that it concerns the Swamp Thing movie, based of course on the classic Wein/Wrightson comics of the 1970s.

Anyway, back when I was a wee lad, my Dad took my sister and I to see a movie about every other week, and it was during this time around--around 1980 til about 1984 or so--we saw every cool movie out there. You name it--the Star Wars movies, the Star Treks, Raiders, Flash Gordon, even Conan the Barbarian and Swamp Thing.

Its these last two that I'm concerned with today, since this was the time before the PG-13 rating, so an astonishing amount of adult material got slapped with a PG rating. Since they were based on comics, that was all I needed to know to want to see them, and probably the main consideration as to why my Dad took us to them. Family entertainment!

Cut to: 1996. I'm working full-time at Movies Unlimited, a video store in Cherry Hill, NJ. Aside from wondering how three years of art school led to this, I at times liked the job. I had been made Assistant Manager (not Assistant to the Manager, thank you very much), and since the store was more Obsessive Movie Fan-friendly than the Blockbuster across the street (filled with its dead-eyed customers and employees, to whom Star Wars was an old movie), the staff was a fun bunch and the nights I was in charge I liked to make sure we had as much fun as possible.

To that end, we would have theme nights--or even weeks--over the store's video monitors. We tried to come up with bizarre--yet appropriate for public consumption--choices, since we thought it was beneath our extensive movie expertise to show the latest "feel good hit of the summer." One week it was Planet of the Apes week, where we showed the Apes films in order. We did Snake Week, outer space week, Dukes of Hazzard Thursdays, etc.

So one night in the middle of our Comic Book Week, I was rummaging through the shelves trying to find something to put on. Then I came across--Swamp Thing! Wow, I hadn't seen that in years! Rated PG? Perfect!

I put the tape in, and went back to work, probably putting little red stickers over all the naughty parts on the porn boxes, only occasionally looking up at the monitor. Wow, that Swamp Thing suit is pretty that a zipper I see on the back?

Anyway, as I'm putting boxes back on the shelves, I hear a few gasps, and one of the other employees calls my name. I turn to see what they want, and catch this on the monitors:
What the hell?!? What's a nude scene doing in a movie my Dad took me to?!?

I dropped the boxes, ran over, and popped the tape out. I couldn't believe it--I had completely forgotten that there's an actual nude scene in Swamp Thing. I mean, I guess that's a lot of the reason the pneumatic Adrienne Barbeau got hired in movies like this, but it still seems amazing to me there was a time when a movie adapted from a (quasi-)superhero comic book could have a nude scene in it.

I had so retrofitted my memory, that I simply assumed any movie my Dad purposely took me to must be ok for public viewing. But I had forgotten how different movies were, not all that long ago.

Luckily, no customer saw it--at least the ones who did didn't complain--so we moved right on to Doc Savage or something, and no one was the wiser.

Except me. In that moment, and ever since, my Dad has seemed just that much cooler to me.