Archive - December 2004

Who Fred? Links-a-Plenty!
December 31st, 2004

I found this newspaper clipping--sent to me by my mother-in-law back in August of 2003--while cleaning stuff up around here (hence the unfortunate yellowing over on one side--please excuse).

The accompanying article focuses on the then-current show in NYC's Whitney Museum, "The American Effect: A Look At How America Is Seen By Artists Around The World". The above tableau is but one provocative piece provided by 47 different artists from 47 different countries (but the only one pictured with the Associated Press article). Entitled "Nursing Home", these three-dimensional models of a group of not-so-super senior citizens was the work of a Gilles Barbier. Yes, folks, it was the exhibition's French entry!

To quote the Blackhawk's Andre, "Zoot alloors, mon ami!"...


I was saddened to read of the passing of original New York Met Rod Kanehl at age 70 earlier today.

He was already out of the game by the time I first began following the team back in 1966, as his entire Major League baseball career spanned a mere three seasons with the Mets, the last being 1964. The unvarnished truth is, a majority of the bench players in the majors today have probably already compiled more impressive lifetime stats than what Kanehl managed to amass, but his combination of unbridled willingness to run through fences to catch balls if necessary, to play seven different positions (all save pitcher and catcher), and maybe, most importantly, to be in the right place at the right time, has ensured that the legend of "Hot Rod" Kanehl will always live on, along with the likes of those other lovable losers, "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry, "Choo Choo" Coleman, and the rest of the motley group of aging stars and castoffs that the National League saddled Casey Stengel with that record breaking--120 losses, still unmatched--inaugural season.

No, I never saw him play, but c'mon--how can you NOT love a guy nick-named "Hot Rod"? It's odd to miss someone whose feats you never actually experienced, I know, but in this case, yeah, I'm gonna miss the guy...


The whole tsunami thing is almost too horrendous to comprehend, isn't it? Do what you can to help, even if it's just some meager pittance of a contribution like ours. It'll never be enough, but it'll be a start...


As promised, the asterisks have been removed from the Links section, save for the dozen NEW links I've just posted for all you lucky folks.

Have a safe evening, everyone..
December 30th, 2004
If you haven't bought these two books already in 2004, let your first New Year's resolution for 2005 be to pick them both up--and pronto!!...
Anybody who's spent any small amount of time here at the site has a pretty good idea how I feel about Bob Bolling's LITTLE ARCHIE and John Stanley (with Irving Tripp)'s LITTLE LULU comics--they rank right up there in my top five favorite series of all time, and I'm convinced that they're amongst the best the medium has ever had to offer, period. So, how could I NOT wholeheartedly recommend these recent--and very welcome--reprintings of this pair of oft overlooked gems from the past?

Oh, they're not perfect--what is?--but for only $9.95 for the black and white LITTLE LULU volume--and a buck more for the full color LITTLE ARCHIE one--you won't feel cheated, believe me. My gripes--minimal though they are--basically amount to the lack of color and cover repros in the LULU volume, and the lack of story diversity in the ARCHIE one. But, you get a full seven, 64 page issues of Ms. Moppet's timeless antics (curiously, numbers 6-12--maybe the folks at Dark Horse didn't want to scare away new readers by printing the comparatively cruder earlier efforts right off the bat?...), making for a generous--if unfortunately unnumbered--amount of pages in this, the first of what is happily planned to be an ongoing series of volumes covering ALL of Stanley and Tripp's rich and extensive output. Be advised--these just ain't for the girlies, fellas! This is the REAL deal! So if you don't know LULU, well, now's your chance--what're ya waitin' for?

The slimmer LITTLE ARCHIE volume contains only 90 story pages, but the reproduction, coloring, and paper are suitably top-notch (interesting revisionism--Archie's mom, whose hair had turned white by the time he'd reached his wild teen years, was originally portrayed as a blonde when these LITTLE ARCHIE comics first saw print, but is now seen sporting a full mane of orange hair herein. Maybe there were concerns about that carrot-topped milkman who popped up from time to time in the old books, and the Archie folks merely wanted to put any scurrilous rumors to rest!!) (Joking!).

My main problem is that the editorial focus is too narrowly set on, as the full title of the tome would have it, THE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE ARCHIE. Everyone of those treasured double-sized issues of yore would feature some high flying fantastic action yarn, sure, but there'd ALSO be a hefty chunk of kid gang comedy, and, more often than not, a wonderful example of heart-tugging sentimentality. These aspects of Bolling's palette are sadly missing, and their absence do do a disservice to showcasing the full range of his bountiful talents. And outside of Little Jughead appearing in a pair of tales--mostly as an incidental character--no other familiar characters, save for the Andrews elders, turn up. Without Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Moose, and especially Bob's own creation, Little Ambrose, things just seem somehow...incomplete.

That said, what there is, is choice. The truly classic "On Mars" episode opens the book, and we also get two run-ins with Mad Doctor Doom and Chester, pirates, time-travel, gorillas, and the incredible shrunken REALLY Little Archie! All the stories come from the 1961-1965 period, and Bolling's draftsmanship is at a definite peak during this era, which will come as a surprise to some folks who mistakenly associate "funny" comics with simplified art styles. Aided by his always strong storytelling and quietly sly sense of humor, this collection makes for a pleasantly breezy read. (And, at Bob's behest, old pal--and Little Archie fan par excellence--Gary Brown does a nice job ghost-writing the introduction.)

More of these would be most welcome. So do your part--BUY a copy! I'd love to see "The Long Walk" preserved in something other than my old, beat up and brittle issue of LITTLE ARCHIE from some forty-odd years ago, y'know?

Now, if only someone would publish a DENNIS THE MENACE collection by Toole and Wiseman. Sigh--I can DREAM, can't I?...
December 29th, 2004
A few words of thanks to Mark Evanier, Tom Spurgeon, Dorian Wright, Bill Sherman, Laura Gjovaag, and the gent who got there first before anybody else, Mike Sterling, for their generous links to last weeks' festive “Many, Many, (ad infinitum) Faces of Santa”-Clausabration featured here at the site! My sincerest appreciation for your kind support in getting word out, friends--we had ourselves quite the spike in visitors because of it!

(Oh, and if you checked that visual survey early on, you've might've missed two after-the-fact additions, as I awoke in a cold sweat the very night after posting it, the realization that there was a Bizarro Santa that I had inexplicably overlooked suddenly hitting me! Needless to say, he joined the troupe the very next morning. Fact is, the whole thing was assembled at the last minute, and quite a few worthy St. Nick's were unfortunately ignored. Be advised that I'll be amassing more Santa scans, and quietly adding them as 2005 progresses, with the hope that, when the Jolly Fat Fellow closes out next year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, I'll be able to proudly announce that I've doubled—perhaps even tripled!—the number of Santas on that page! Ah yes, overkill—there's nothing quite like it!...)

Y'know, I don't do much linkblogging here at, but it's not from any lack of interest in the comics blogosphere, that's for sure! It's just that others do it so much better, and the stuff I tend to write doesn't usually lend itself to including links. Which makes me all the more grateful for the specific electronic referrals I've gotten in the recent past (aside from the various blogroll inclusions--which I value highly as well, don't get me wrong...) from—besides the group mentioned above—Johnny Bacardi, Noah Smith, Mag and H at The Comic Treadmill, Neilalien, Scott at Polite Dissent, Bob at The Jack Kirby Blog, and the much missed Steve Wintle (Thursdays just aren't the same without his Free Comic Book Day selections...). Every time this site gets a link, well, it's a little like when a bell rings in “It's A Wonderful Life”! THIS Clarence humbly thanks each and every one of you for any and all wings you may've helped him earn!

As you're all no doubt well aware, this site doesn't afford readers the luxury of leaving comments the way so many other blogs do. This wasn't a conscious decision on our part when we constructed this page two years back, please understand, but just one less thing to worry about, since Lynn pretty much built this thing from the ground up herself (and really, people, another big hand for my brilliant wife, okay?...). Now, certainly there are times when I regret the absence of a comments area, but then I soon realize that, geez Louise, I'd be even MORE obsessed with this page than I already am, so maybe--just maybe—it's better that we don't have one, y'know? Besides, that leaves to ME the fun-filled task of spreading comments hither and yon around the Internet! And, in that capacity, over the past year, besides those fine, fine individuals listed above, I've had opportunity to leave a few well chosen words at the sites of the likes of Otto's Coffee Shop, Tom the Dog, Nik Dirga, Greg Gatlin, Chris Karath, Dave Puckett, M.J. Norton, Heidi MacDonald, Ken Lowery, and even Christopher Priest! (I've exchanged email with Mark Hale, Alex Segura, Jr., and Alan David Doane, but don't believe I've actually posted anything on their sites, though I could be wrong...)

Which is not to say I've been able to get through to EVERYONE as easily as I may've liked. There are several sites whose comments sections insist that the potential commentator somehow register before leaving a li'l pearl of wisdom, and try as I might—and I'm still pretty computer illiterate, if truth be known—I've yet to succeed in doing so! I wrote directly to Scott Saavedra to circumvent this problem when he launched his swell site, and thus managed to get my message across (and receive a nice plug from Scott in the process, happily), but I haven't always been so persistent. So let me just say, hey, David Fiore, I was all geared up to explain to you just why early Marvel Kirby was so great, but I couldn't. And Will Pfiefer, I wanted to tell you that I shared your obsession with Jerry Lewis, and expound on that great Lewis bio that came out a few years ago—but I couldn't! And Tony Collett—I wanted to make some good-natured but darkly shaded wisecrack about the unlikely and unfortunate coincidence of your wife's birthday being December 7th and your wedding anniversary falling on September 11th—BUT I COULDN'T!! Just know that I wanted to, okay gang? And that you weren't the only ones...

No, I can't honestly say that I read every blog every day. There's only so many hours in the day, folks (24, last I checked...). Sure, there are some I keep a closer eye on than others, but if you're listed on my links page, odds are I do check in at least periodically. After all, you've all been SUCH a big help to me in so many, MANY ways! Case in point—my monthly shipment arrived today from MEC Comics, and included within was my very own copy of IDENTITY CRISIS #7—a book I no longer have any need to read! Cuz I know who did it!! I TRIED to avoid finding out, really I did, but it proved to be impossible. Ah well, you take the good with the bad, I guess. And happily, there's so much more good to be had with you crazy kids (and I do mean “kids”, as far too may of you are, gulp, half my age and less. Luckily, I match most of you on the maturity level so it all sorta equals out in the end...).

Just yesterday, I pointed my old pal, Joe Staton, towards Mike Sterling's always entertaining “Progessive Ruin” site because Mike dug up a copy of the Charles Barkley comic Joe had illustrated back in the nineties—and really, how much press does THAT thing get these days? Finding the site via my links page listing, Joe wrote back that he was amazed at just how many comics blogs there were! It really IS quite an impressive showing, and I'm happy to find myself in the middle—or maybe just a little off to the side, with the older folks—of such a fine and varied group of individuals. Not everyone who checks out this page visits the blogs, I realize, but—and at the risk of sending some of my readers off, never to return--I suggest you give 'em a try.

Anyway, thank you, blog-buddies, for your support in the past, and I hope to warrant continued support from you in the future. Needless to say, if I've overlooked anybody in this reverential run-down, the oversite was inadvertent, and you have my deepest and humblest apologies.

And, in case you're wondering, no--I have absolutely NO plans to run for public office. It just SOUNDS that way...
December 28th, 2004
I first came face to face with Stan Lee a little over forty-two years ago now. Well, not face to face, EXACTLY...
FANTASTIC FOUR #10 (cover dated January, 1963, but as per usual, on sale a few months earlier) was personally my fifth exposure to the already revered FF, but when I first saw that cover, I confess to being even more excited than usual. Oh sure, the news that Dr. Doom had returned was worthy of some small jubilation on my part, but mostly it was that riveting ruby red Artie Simek lettered arrow/caption pointing to the pair of seemingly non-descript fellows in the lower left-hand corner of the cover, the ones speaking with the heavily outlined word balloons, that REALLY got my little nine-year old heart a-pumping faster!
It said “In this epic issue! Surprise follows surprise as you actually meet Lee and Kirby in the story!!”

(Oh, and it ALSO said, “Plus: A gorgeous Pin-up of the Invisible Girl!”, but like I said, I was nine years old, and the prospect of gazing on the visages of Stan and Jack for the very first time easily trumped the very notion of eyeballing a glamour shot of Sue Storm. Kids, y'know?...)

Funny thing, though—overcome by what would ultimately amount to a fleeting sense of modesty, we readers never actually do get to stare Lee and Kirby eye to eye, as each and every shot of the pair is illustrated in such a way as to somehow cleverly—and sometimes, not so cleverly—avoid showing their faces.
A veritable pair of mystery men, were Lee and Kirby, apparently.

The panel in which the habitually shy Victor Von Doom reveals his true countenance to the horrified craftsmen, causing them to recoil in raw, unbridled fear—and, ironically, to cover their OWN faces in the process—might be the absolute height in the annals of enigmatic illustrations.

Or, it might not...

Their introductory illo showcases not only Jack's limitless imagination, but Stan's keen editorial judgement as well.
We Marvel fans never did get to see the mustachioed False-Face ever again after Kirby unsuccessfully proposed his usage this one time (...though wasn't there a minor Fourth World character named “Phalsefaze”? No? Gee, y'know, I coulda sworn...). Of course, after good ol' Doc Doom subsequently strolled in, all the pair's concerns over involving the FF in a ripping good yarn suddenly flew out the window.
The events that follow--Doom using Lee and Kirby to lure Reed Richards into his evil trap under the pretext of an emergency editorial meeting with the comics' creators—are, let's face it, a bit questionable if you look at the big picture. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—betraying the FF? That's SOME way to make your pulp paper debut, lemme tell ya!
Man, it's sure a good thing Reed eventually overcame Doom's mind-swap scheme, and apparently forgave the duo their indiscretion, or who knows--the folks over at Archie Comics may've wound up chronicling the adventures of the World's Greatest Super Team instead! (...which probably would've been GREAT news for the teen-aged Johnny Storm, but not necessarily for us readers...)

Well, we all saw a LOT more of Stan—and Jack, too—in the years that followed, and there's a very special reason why I'm bringing this all up today. Y'see, we comics fans are lucky—while everyone else celebrates a mere two holidays the last week of every year, we funnybook fanciers get to rejoice in THREE landmark days because—yup, you guessed it, True Believer!--today is Stan Lee's birthday!

So let's all take a moment to wish The Man a Happy Birthday!! I'm not sure exactly HOW old Marvel's Fearless Leader IS today—from the looks of 'im, I'd have to say, oh, late fifties, early sixties—but I'm sure all you folks out there will gladly join me in wishing him many, many more! (And let's hope he doesn't retire when he hits 65!...)

So, in honor of Stan, today let's all face front, hang loose, and, at every possible opportunity, shout “Excelsior!”!

And remember, there's still No-Time to get your No-Gifts into the mails! Stan will surely appreciate the sentiment, No-Doubt!...
December 27th, 2004
Back in 1968, Marvel tried marketing a gag cartoon magazine called GROOVY, published in the standard comic book format, with a special emphasis on the "happening" celebrities of those ever changin' times--all without either the benefit of the Marvel brand OR the approval of the Comics Code Authority.

It lasted all of three issues.

Being the true-blue Marvel Maniac that I was, I bought myself a copy of the first issue (it may not've sported the Marvel logo, but it DID receive the requisite publicity publisher Martin Goodman no doubt demanded in the Bullpen Bulletins pages of the era).

Not particularly impressed with the product--certainly not enough to spare the additional twelve cents every other month--I never bought another issue. Apparently, not many other people did, either...
The word "Marvel" never appears anywhere in the indicia, and in fact, the publisher credited is Goodman's once and future favorite name, "Atlas Magazines". And another thing totally missing from GROOVY was Stan Lee.

With a splash page like THIS--and I DO mean "splash page"--you'd have to figure good ol' Stan dodged a bullet by avoiding seeing his name emblazoned--even in a mere honorary capacity--on the credit's roster...
The gags don't get a whole lot racier than the one above, so they'd hardly appeal to the audience used to the pocket-sized girlie digests of the day, but were a shade too tasteless for the comic book buyers of the time as well, so GROOVY tried to find its own niche by including photos and--remarkably--jokes from the emerging counter-cultural icons of the late sixties.

The cover of the first issue promises the readers "Freak-Out Funnies" from "Mamas & Papas", "Bob Dylan", "The Monkees", and "Dick Smothers".

Here's a few examples of these delightful bon mots, each presumably supplied directly to the editorial staff of GROOVY from these globe-trotting international super-stars of the day...
Yup, LSD quips were all the rage in '68, as you can well see!

And it's comforting to suppose that Barry Whitman--NOT, after all, the most famous of Hermits--had a long and healthy career writing one-liners for Vegas stand-ups long after Peter Noone broke up the group. ("Hey, didja hear the one about Mrs. Brown's lovely daughter?...")
Looking through the book for the first time in decades, I was pretty amused by this oddball notion of Catskills-type humor being attributed to the rebellious long-haired singing idols of the day--and then it hit me: WHERE'S Bob?

I scoured the issue from cover to cover, several times over, but no Dylan. Despite the cover pledge, the presence of the enigmatic Mr. Zimmerman was nowhere to be found. And then, staring at this page, I suddenly realized something that had never occurred to me before: that blank space hovering in-between Dick Smothers and Johnny Rivers contributions to GROOVY (and above the grainy photo of the Mamas and the Papas) wasn't merely a slab of high falutin' negative space, nosirree, but undoubtedly the area where Bob Dylan's anecdote had once been scheduled to appear, before the Marvel--I mean, the ATLAS--lawyers got cold feet and thought better of publishing something under Dylan's name without his express permission.
What was it? Why was it squelched? Who's to say--who, save for the Man himself? Perhaps the author of the recently released "Chronicles, Volume 1" will tell the story of Dylan versus GROOVY magazine in some later collection of his ongoing series of non-chronological reminiscences, say in, "Chronicles, Volume 87" , A/K/A, "We Should All Live So Long"?...

Something happened here, but we'll never know what it was, will we. Mr. Jones?...
December 26th, 2004
...So there it was, late afternoon on Christmas Day. Dinner had all been eaten, Grandma and Uncle Bob had already left, and the house was reasonably quiet, save for only the faint strains of this season's final Holiday tunes drifting in from the other room. Time then for me to scan in my prize acquisition of the day--so as to share it with you all, natch--but as I neared completion of my happy task of adding the SpongeBob Uno game visuals to my ever growing image library, daughter Julie came bounding into the room, equipped with a silly smile and a crazy glimmer shining in her eyes.

"Hey, dad, when you're finished there, I wanna try something..."

Before I could ask what, she'd stuck her whole head in the scanner, and after wife Lynn, being the closest thing we have to the voice of reason hereabouts, allayed my initial fears concerning this peculiar procedure, we, um, proceeded.

THIS is what we got third time out...
Yup, it's true--everyone's got WAY too much time on their hands during Christmas break!...

Eventually, Julie convinced me to stick MY coconut into the bright and ever shifting light of the scanner, and here's an edited portion of how THAT went...
Sorry if the above image induces any nightmares. I don't usually look like that--honest.

So, that's it for now--I'll be back tomorrow with some slightly more substantial content. The key word being "slightly"...

(And just exactly HOW much did you pay to get in, hmm? Until we start charging for this wonderment. let's try and keep the complaints to a minimum, shall we? Thanks.)

(...after all, you wouldn't want to get on the bad side of THAT guy, would you? Brrrr...)
December 25th, 2004
...and I sure hope the REST of you were lucky enough this morning to find what you were looking for under the Christmas tree, too!...
December 24th, 2004
December 23rd, 2004
It started out, as things often do here at, as a modest notion: I'd scan in various Santa heads taken from some of my old comics and magazines, and post them at "Fred Sez" as a small Christmas treat. Say, oh, six or eight illustrations. "The Many Faces Of Santa Claus" I'd call it...

Well, that was the ORIGINAL idea. The way things eventually turned out, I decided it best to devote an entirely separate page to my ever expanding Santa survey (one that will be permanently accessible from the "More" contents page), and change the title slightly...

So, here's the link. I cordially invite you all to go check out "The Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, Many, MANY Faces Of Santa Claus!"

But be warned--you might want to pack a lunch!(I suggest the Turkey and Razzleberry dressing sandwich, on rye...)
December 22nd, 2004
The other day, while literally trimming our now truncated Christmas tree for the fourth time--and all by myself, as everybody else was way past weary of the job--I was listening to The Brian Setzer Orchestra's cookin' "Boogie Woogie Christmas" CD. As I was casually hanging bulbs on the remaining branches, group leader Setzer's duet with Ann-Margret, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" began to play, and I had a sudden realization:

People, this AIN'T a Christmas Carol!

Written by Frank Loesser for the Esther Williams/Ricardo Montalban/Red Skelton film, "Neptune's Daughter", it hit number 3 on the Billboard charts shortly thereafter for Margeret Whiting and Johnny Mercer, this being back in 1949. Since then, it's become a standard, including a well-known version by Dean Martin (and anonymous accompanists), and was featured prominently in the recent movie, "Elf". The ditty is turning up on more and more holiday records these days, but I listened closely as I was draping beads, and friends, I'm here to give you the lowdown--there's nary a mention, or even an allusion to Christmas--or any OTHER holiday, for that matter--in the tune's lyrics. The only thing it has in common with Christmas is the weather, and it wouldn't even share that if you were singing it in, for instance, California!..

No, what I finally understood was that, this clever little duet that's increasingly being paired up alongside ancient religious carols on Christmas themed releases, is nothing more or less than the saga of a desperately horny guy attempting to use a nasty storm to his advantage, using it as a convenient excuse to convince his coyly reluctant, possibly inexperienced, girlfriend to stay over his place, and, if he's really, REALLY convincing, get her to sleep with him in the process! And I DON'T mean the kind of "sleeping" Santa sees you doing, gang! (...unless that old guy's a pervert, too!...)

"Round young virgins"? These days, they're not ALL found in "Silent Night", apparently...
December 21st, 2004
No, I WON'T be discussing SpongeBob SquarePants here today--mainly because I went to great lengths about him over at Tom Spurgeon's nifty "Comics Reporter" yesterday!

And for those of you who can stand it, here's the link.

(Who'll be next? Heidi's "Beat"? Dorian's "Postmodern Barney"? Or maybe Laura's "Blogitty-Blog-Blog-Blog"? After all, is my SpongeBob all that much different from her Aquaman, I ask you?
Maybe someday we'll debate that very point, but for now, if your blog has a comments section--beware! You never can tell WHERE the Bikini Bottom booster will strike next!...)

(And if you're completely unfamiliar with the show, no, that's not me being a pervert--Bikini Bottom is where Bob and his pals live! This is all good clean fun, folks. Hey--would you expect anything ELSE from a sponge?...)
December 20th, 2004
When it comes to holiday-themed covers, some designs are timeless, as these two covers--published a decade apart, in 1955 and 1965--aptly prove...
...then, there are SOME covers that were clearly a mistake the first time around, the only possible excuse for THIS one being that it virtually screams out "1969", the year it was conceived, very possibly through a thick--and possibly even purplish--haze...
December 19th, 2004

That's how this story ends. How it begins is with me, Lynn, and Julie going out to buy a Christmas tree Friday night...

It was a little later in the season than usual for us, and though there seemed to be plenty of plucked pines to choose from, most of the ones in our modest price range (the twenty buck category--the fifteen dollar ones were already long gone) were either too small and/or misshapen. But then we spied one that looked to have a fairly pleasing shape, even if it DID seem a bit on the...large side.

After mulling it over, it was ultimately determined to be our best choice, so we stuck a little over half of it in our trunk, leaving the rest to wag in the wind as we drove home, hoping the entire time driving back that we'd still have a tree with us when we arrived.

We did. And not only was it big, but it was slowly beginning to dawn on me exactly how heavy it was--and I believe the proper term would've been, "very"...

Lynn assembled our old metal base, and we struggled to center our tree equally between the four screws before turning them and, thus, securing the trunk. Mission finally accomplished, it was then time to take Julie off to meet up with some friends, delaying the trimming until Saturday. That was fine, as we were pretty worn out already, just getting things to this point.

When we returned home later, Julie noticed something distressing--several of the base's feet were off the floor, and the tree began to teeter. I ran off, getting some small pieces of cardboard to shove under the feet to steady it, a solution that worked as a stop-gap, but we all knew that we'd have to rejigger things completely the next morning.

Which we did. With much consternation, as we unscrewed the base, and tried, over and over again, to get the trunk centered just SO. Eventually, we got it to where we were satisfied, but we still needed some cardboard to even the feet. Apparently, the great weight off the tree had pressed down on the center of the base so far that it now went BELOW the level of the feet. Still, we thought we had the situation licked.


More trouble--using three lengths of lights, it wasn't until two were wrapped around the upper reaches of the tree that we suddenly realized that we needed the string we strung first to plug into the wall down below--so, up on the step stool I went, precariously stripping them off, and then tediously wrapping them around all over again. The festive "Ho ho ho's" of the day soon had more than a few colorful four letter phrases mixed in with them, lemme tall ya...

Later that afternoon--this was such a big job, it was done in shifts--we finally put the bulbs, beads, icicles, Santas, and all the other sort of holiday what-not we'd been accumulating for over twenty years up on our massive tree. All seemed well.

Then, late Sunday afternoon, while I was downstairs, STILL sorting through my bottomless pit of stuff, Lynn shouted down to me,

"Fred, the tree's fallen over!"

I sprinted up the stairs, and there, sure enough, was our magnificent pine, face down on the carpet, shattered glass bulbs strewn all around in front of it. I stood transfixed by the sorry spectacle for a few seconds, but then went directly to the scene of the accident, picked up the tree, holding it as Lynn and Julie scurried about, sweeping up the debris, and salvaging what they could. HOW did this happen, I asked, but there was no real answer--Julie, who'd hosted her pal Courtney the night before on one of her seemingly weekly sleepovers, was sitting quietly in front of the tube with her friend. playing video games. There'd been no running around, no sudden moves, nothing that would seem to precipitate the collapse of the Christmas tree--nothing, that is, except for its own excessive weight...

Various courses of action were proposed as the clean-up continued, with some of the suggestions bordering on the frantic side. The whole notion of the Christmas season was "Bah Humbugged!!" by dear Lynn, and while I tried to calm her frayed nerves, I can't say I blamed her one whit for her attitude at that particular moment. Only Courtney kept her cool, looking up ever so briefly from her video game as we three struggled with the unruly pine. (And they say those games are bad for kids! Seems to me they do a fine job of teaching concentration!...)

Not long after, her mom came to pick Courtney up to go home, and I got out the saw and took about a foot and a half off the bottom of the now horizontal tree. A quick trip to the local Home Depot bagged us a new, far more modern base for the now truncated tree (and, in the only break we caught, was happily on sale at fifty per cent off!...).

Well, it's up--again. It's secure--for sure. The lights are on--the right way, this time. And the remaining bulbs get hung, hopefully for the last time, tomorrow. They were all pretty generic--save one: a New York Mets bulb Lynn gave me back before we were even hitched. And you know what? It survived! I'm taking that as a GOOD omen for the next baseball season, sports fans...

It was like the scene out of a Chevy Chase movie--which, frankly, is no way to live your life. But as Lynn pointed out, in this, our own personal year of ever mounting household disasters, what more fitting way to finish it out than having our Christmas tree come crashing down? At least nothing else was destroyed when it fell over--it could've been much worse had it fell in any of the other three directions, hitting either the CD rack, some of my books, or (...gulp...) the wood stove. The LIT wood stove...

One can only wonder what's in store for us on New Year's Eve. I'm thinking, y'know, if there was any feasible way of dropping that ball on US, well, Dick Clark--Regis Philbin--WHOEVER!!--they'd probably do it, just because...
December 18th, 2004
Y'know, for somebody who sometimes labors under the grandiose illusion that he knows pretty much everything there is to know about the popular music scene (at least, up through the eighties), I can occasionally be ambushed by the blatantly obvious...
This particular example of my ignorance has its origins back around 1990, at the time when we first switched over to the then new-fangled CD technology for our tunes. Amongst the first dozen CDs purchased was a single disc collection of the immortal Roy Orbison's greatest hits. They were all there: “Crying”, “Running Scared”, “Dream Baby”, “Blue Bayou”, “It's Over”, and the the Big O's last monster chart-topper (and, back in 1964, one of the very first non-Beatle's 45s I ever plunked 49 cents down for), the anthemic “Oh, Pretty Woman”.
Quite the conglomeration of operatic pop rock, lemme tell ya--BUT included in the remaining number of tracks was one in particular that stuck out like a sore thumb, one saddled with an overtly saccharine production style, and a tepidly sing-songish melody to boot, something I'd never heard before, something called “Pretty Paper”...

No, it DIDN'T grow on me, but I put up with it, if only to enjoy the otherwise plentiful gems featured on this aural assemblage. Then, much to my surprise, that following holiday season, this heretofore unknown ditty (at least, unknown to ME...), began turning up in a dismayingly regular rotation on my favorite radio station's near month long Christmas celebration! Huh. It was a Christmas song! Who knew? I'd never really bothered to listen to the words all that closely before—and even if I had, it's not readily apparent that the lyrics pertain to December 25th. There's no funkyness between mommy and the big fat man in the red suit, nor any sordid tales of inter-species reindeer discrimination, the likes of which would surely serve to instantly tip the listener off, just the saga of the various pitfalls of wrapping gifts for someone who just dumped you. So, resigned to hearing Roy warble his least greatest hit (at least, to MY ears) repeatedly each winter, I accepted the status quo, and put the whole matter out of my mind for over a decade.

Until the cover versions began appearing.
There's one on this year's new Chris Isaak Christmas disc--which doesn't come as much of a surprise, to be honest, as Isaak is one singer who's clearly been influenced by Orbison. No, what really caught my attention was the version that turned up on country superstar Kenny Chesney's “All I Want For Christmas” compilation (a disc I recently bought for daughter Julie, who's currently gone ga-ga for the C&W hunk. That's right: it's a strange and crooked path leading from the Spice Girls, various boy bands, Britney and Christina, Avril Lavigne, Limp Bizkit, goth metal, Eminem, and (strangest of all) Michael Jackson, to finally arrive, unexpectedly, at Nashville's' beefcake division—but, as Peter David might say (pat. pending), I digress...).
Now, I'm not all that familiar with the vocal stylings of young Mr. Chesney, but I immediately recognized the voice of the fellow duetting alongside him on this version of "Pretty Paper": the unmistakable Willie Nelson...

Although this was my first ever listen to the CD, an overwhelming sense of deja vu accompanied the pair's vocalizing, but I couldn't quite figure out why. Oddly enough—and purely by chance--I found out why not long after that very same afternoon.
I'd chosen, totally at random, to give Carly Simon's 2002 release, “Christmas Is Almost Here”, its first (and maybe last) spin for the season. Sitting at the drawing board, working away, my head suddenly popped up in a mixture of surprise and belated recognition as the ninth track of Ms. Simon's CD began.

It was “Pretty Paper”. And again, it was a duet--with Willie Nelson...
My first thoughts were, “Gee, I wonder if it's the exact same track? Maybe Willie has some sorta racket going, like where he rents out his portion of the vocal to various performers, singers putting themselves together a holiday collection and looking desperately for a marquee name, something to give their seasonal enterprise a little extra glitz? Sounds plausible. After all, Willie could probably use the regular infusion of cash, as I hear tell a lot of his money, um, goes up in smoke. So, I wondered if I Googled “Willie Nelson Pretty Paper”, I'd find further collaborations on this particular tune with the likes of Nelly, Hoobastank, Ashley, Jessica, AND O.J. Simpson, not to mention Alvin and the Chipmunks--and maybe even a parody side recorded with Weird Al Yankovic called (uh huh) “Poopy Paper”? )
Well, I listened to Carly and Kenny back to back, and no, they're NOT merely working with the same exact Willie track. And, uh uh, no additional duets turned up when I did my Google search, just mere minutes before sitting down to write about this once-curious coincidence. Nope—but you know what I DID discover?

Willie Nelson WROTE “Pretty Paper”!?!

Mmmm—songwriting royalties!

“Hey there, hot-shot pop star, wanna sing my song? I'll help you with it if you'd like—people love the superstar duets, y'know?...”
No WONDER he kept insinuating his way into these rapidly proliferating “Pretty Paper” pairings—to quote Homer Simpson, “D'oh!” I KNEW Willie was a prolific songwriter back in the sixties before he hit it big as a performer, writing such fine standards as “Crazy”, and “Funny (How Time Slips Away)” (perhaps the best version of which was recorded not long back by Linda Rondstadt and the aforementioned Mr. Simpson—Homer, that is. Really.), but I didn't realize what should have become increasingly obvious—he penned “Pretty Paper”.

Well, that'll sure teach me—there's still a WHOLE lot left for me to learn! And everytime I stumble across another intriguing morsel of show biz minutia, watch out, people! Because, before long, in an effort to share my latest discovery with you all, I'm sure to be, (paraphrasing Willie now) on the 'net again!
December 17th, 2004
It's official: Pedro Martinez is now a New York Met.

After seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox, during the most recent of which the Cooperstown-bound hurler played his part in helping that storied franchise FINALLY defeat the near-century long Curse of the Bambino, emerging triumphant in 2003's memorable baseball post season, he's opted to leave the friendly confines of Fenway Park--for the prospect of doing his level best to keep the Mets out of last place!...

Y'know, ever since New York's National League representative's fell to the crosstown Yankees in the hard-fought 2000 World Series, it seems that the best time to be a Mets fan has been in the dead of winter. After all, that's when the team acquired future Hall Of Famer Roberto Alomar back in 2001, with prodigious slugger Mo Vaughn following not too long afterwards. Then, in the 2002 off-season, A) two former, now fully matured Mets returned to the fold: slugger Jeromy Burnitz and speedster Roger Cedeno, B) a new skipper, Art Howe, fresh off of guiding his former team, the Oakland A's, to multiple post season berths, was signed to a long-term contract to do the same in New York, and C) perhaps most impressively, two-time Cy Young award winner Tom Glavine joined the team, hoping to continue in his personal quest to amass 300 career victories, taking the Mets along for the ride. Last year, the Mets merely signed Kaz Matsui, thought to be the best shortstop—and most appealing available free agent--in ALL of Japanese baseball.

Yup, those were SOME winters, people! We Mets fans approached each subsequent Opening Day with the firm belief that, for sure, THIS was going to be our year! After all, HOW could the team fail? C'mon--just look at the sort of talent we had at our disposal?...

What DID happen? The team went right INTO the disposal--two last place finishes, and one near miss. Alomar played less like a Hall of Famer and more like a utility infielder—and not a very good one at that. Vaughn did hit some massive shots, admittedly, but spent most of his year and an half in New York nursing debilitating injuries on the disabled list, eventually forced to all but officially retire due to a very nasty arthritic knee (...but just so long as big Mo doesn't utter the phrase “I'm done” within earshot of any Mets officials, he's still considered “active”, and thus, eligible to take home all that BIG money the Mets promised when they signed him to a mutli-year deal. Nice, huh?...). Burnitz and Cedeno were busts, and Matsui made the lackluster play of Alomar look inspired by comparison. Glavine had his worst season since his long-ago rookie campaign for the Mets his first year out, and though he improved somewhat last year—and to be fair, he pitched strongly in a lot of games that were either blown by the bullpen after he left with a lead, or featured virtually no hitting from his anemic teammates—that one-time dream of him chalking up 300 victories has to be fading. And Howe? Gone—and how!

Fact is, only Glavine and Matsui remain as ghosts of Christmases past (well, and the truly intangible—but costly--presence of Vaughn as well, I suppose...), and one can only hope the addition of a quality player like Pedro is what FINALLY turns this ship around. I'd like to believe it will, honestly I would, but based upon the unfortunate track record the Mets' gaudy winter signings have thus far established early in this new century, I've decided not get TOO enthusiastic over Martinez's signing. Hey, if it works, great. If it doesn't, well, there'll be no need to revive me with the smelling salts, because I for one--unfortunately--WON'T be shocked...

Look, there'll always be some attractive--if fading—super-star NEXT winter willing to take some of the Mets' plentiful moolah, all in exchange for the very real possibility of seeing his career rapidly—and oft-times, inexplicably--deteriorate while toiling in the cavernous environs of Shea Stadium. There always is.

Pedro shouldn't worry overmuch, though. After being pasted around by the Yankees several times last season, the always unpredictable pitcher memorably referred to the Bronx Bombers as “my daddies”. Well, with all the cash THAT other New York franchise is eagerly shovelling in his direction, his future is set.

You might just say that the Mets are, in fact, his SUGAR daddies...
December 16th, 2004
Back in 1965, feeling I had outgrown the majority of my humor comics, I purged my collection of virtually all my Harvey, Dell, and Gold Keys, and probably a good two-thirds of my Archies as well. It was a mistake, sure, but at least I had enough sense to hold onto the cream of my so-called "kiddie books"--Barks' Ducks, Stanley's Lulu, Bolling's Little Archie, Toole and Wiseman's Dennis, as well as a handful of issues that just plain made me laugh. Like, for instance, the March, 1964 issue of ARCHIE, number 144.

The lead story, "The Cheer Leader", has never failed to at least elicit a smile from me, and it made me laugh right out loud on more than one occasion. I wasn't alone, either--my next door neighbor, John, was also particularly fond of this amusing little episode. This despite the fact that, even living in such close proximity to ol' fanboy Fred, he never developed much of a proclivity for the four color medium.

But he sure liked THIS one!

(I now present you with the story's three panel opening salvo, although the splash was cropped so as to better line up with the following frames--pardon the editing, people, but trust me, you'll STILL get the point....)

Yup, stupidity ALWAYS works!

Especially when, such as in this instance, it's presented with a modicum of panache by such talented individuals as the vastly underrated cartoonist, Harry Lucey, and the sadly anonymous author of this six page laff-fest (most likely either one of two long-time Riverdale raconteurs, Frank Doyle or George Gladir)!

Just look at that subtle--yet broad!--body language employed by master craftsman Lucey to maximize the proud idiocy exhibited by Archie and Reggie's at their latest brainless brainstorm. The unsuspecting Miss Grundy reacts with a flustered resignation to the capper of their childish stunt in the third panel, with Lucey again capturing the humor of the moment perfectly. And, OH!, the expressions on the two teen's faces in that last illo!! Alfred E. Newman sports the visage of a Rhodes scholar in comparison, I tell ya!...

And it's not just the art, as the rest of the story is pretty darn funny: in nutshell, principal Weatherbee is the only one not amused by Archie's antics. Miss Grundy actually finds the whole notion pretty funny, and when the Bee later encounters a group of his faculty, led by Professor Flutesnoot, gleefully mimicking young Andrew's silly shout out, he's more than a tad bit dismayed.

His ire rises exponentially as he in turn finds the halls of Riverdale High rampant with this new form of dopiness--Betty and Veronica are next to give it a go, then Jughead! Clearly steaming, Mr. Weatherbee stalks off, seeking refuge in his office, so the ever annoying Reggie enlists the girls to join Archie and him, the plan being to serenade their principal with a loud and lusty recitation of their charmless cheer while standing right outside his door.

In unison, they all happily shout, "Gimme a "D"!"

--At which point, and equally happy Weatherbee immediately pops out of his office and says, "I'd be HAPPY to!"

In the next panel, as the school's head honcho instructs a somewhat chagrined Miss Grundy, "Your book--see that they get the "D" that they asked for", the four students stand shocked and mortified, their (already paltry, for the most part) grade averages suddenly shrinking right before their very eyes.

It's a clever ending to a story based on the premise that kids like to say and do stupid things--and they certainly weren't wrong about THAT! Look, I've read a LOT of comics in my time, but I've never patrolled the city at night looking for evildoers, nor fended off alien invaders, or ever even been fought over by a gorgeous blonde and an equally beautiful brunette (...probably got a better shot against those little green men from way, way out there, sadly...), but I HAVE performed the "DUH" cheer! Oh, you betcha! Okay,okay--maybe not in school--I'm not THAT dumb. But certainly out in the backyard with my buddies, and, yeah, on more than one occasion, too (albeit, not lately--honest...).

So let's see--I got rid of a lot of my "funny" comics back in '65 cuz I felt they were too childish, but THIS one I held onto!?!

Somehow, that's just plain ironic, isn't it?

"Gimme an "I"!

"Gimme an "R"!

"Gimme an--oh. Okay. I'll give it a rest. Seeya all next time!...
December 15th, 2004
We all have big regrets in our lives, and small ones, too.

Well, this isn't the sorta blog that delves too deeply into the psyche, so we're not gonna discuss any of those alluded to big ones here anytime soon, but as for the SMALL ones--THAT'S a different story altogether...

I was never a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking--that sure DOES border on a big regret, doesn't it? And the thing was, I was THERE! I was as loyal a Marvel fan as you could find when Stan and the Bullpen gang launched their convivial little fan club back in 1964--and it only cost a buck! (...which was worth a whole lot more in those days, true, but still...) The thing was,my parents didn't have a checking account (they didn't believe in such new-fangled concepts, y'see), wouldn't send cash through the mail, and the very notion of convincing them to pick up a money order for me was decidedly unlikely, so I just resigned myself to waiting for the right moment to come sometime down the road before I could somehow garner my own membership in this enviable and august organization.

Like I said, that time never actually came. And then, when I'd finally mastered the fine art of taping quarters to index cards and sending them safely through the mail, joining the M.M.M.S. was already a moot point. Gone. Done. Finished. It'd been casually superseded by the more commercially oriented Marvelmania merchandising outlet.Oh, I bought a few posters (STERANKO!), and got an issue of the club zine, as well as their catalog (the cover of which I posted here back at the beginning of the month), but it somehow wasn't quite the same. My interest in company sponsored fan activity was running very low during the late sixties, as I'd just discovered honest to gosh, real comics fanzines, and their freewheeling honesty and enthusiasm more than made up for any lack of polish they exhibited, so my minimal involvement with Marvelmania has NEVER been a regret, large OR small...

Then came college, my pal Charlie Johnson, and FOOM. In Charlie, I had the first honest to gosh died in the wool Marvelite to blather with about even the smallest nuances of our mutual obsession--AND someone who actually DID join the M.M.M.S. several years earlier, before we met!! So naturally, the first thing I had my new found college buddy do when he visited my house was bring his M.M.M.S. paraphernalia along, most especially the legendary flexi-disc! This little piece of black cardboard featured Stan Lee and the whole batty Bullpen up to some very lame but nonetheless entirely endearing comedic hijinx (save for the ever elusive Steve Ditko, of course)! What a monkey off my back THAT was! To FINALLY hear it, after years of tortured speculation over the recording's mysterious contents! Whew! And shortly thereafter, it was in this fevered atmosphere that Marvel launched their NEXT great fan club, the aforementioned FOOM!!

Like I said, I was attending college at the time, but considering the high level of anticipation I felt, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the initial membership kit in the mail, well, you could've easily pegged me for a kid ten years younger! I was reliving the experience I'd missed out on nearly a decade earlier, and I was actually giddy at the prospect of becoming a member of FOOM!! Especially satisfying was being inducted (i.e., sending in a check covering the fee) along with my good pal Charlie. I can't say for sure about Mr. J, but I proudly carried my FOOM membership card in my wallet for years and years afterwards! Hey, college chicks dig FOOM members! (Okay, maybe not, but it sure was a nice fantasy, y'know?...)

This little trip down memory lane was instigated by an email I received after I ran that Marvelmania cover a few weeks ago from a fellow by the name of John Firehammer. John maintains an expansive site suitably named "This Is Pop!", but he wanted to point me in particular towards an impressive section called the "Mighty Marvelmania Museum", wherein you can view evocative photos of all the M.M.M.S., Marvelmania, and FOOM chatchkis, as well as other Marvel merchandise from the fabled firm's first fantastic decade. Short of getting another listen to that flexi-disc, this'll pretty much give you a pretty decent idea of the whole experience. You may not be Bob Hope, John, but thanks for the memories anyway! (AND the photo up top that I, um, borrowed...)

(Oh, and I should mention that you'll be able to check out another Jack Kirby Marvelmainia cover by going here. I'd never seen this one at all before, and can't help but wonder whether it's yet another Kirby self-inked piece? Mark Evanier would know--and, speaking of Mark, he correctly pointed out to me that, in my December 10th entry concerning Jack's solo stint on the FANTASY MASTERPIECES cover I spotlighted, that illustration was far from the only time that Kirby inked his own stuff for publisher Martin Goodman, as I stated. I MEANT to put a qualifier on the end of the sentence in question, indicating that to merely cover the period of time since the advent of the Marvel Universe, as I knew full well there was every good chance that he'd inked some of his own western, war and what-have-yous during the previous several decades--but I didn't. Imagine that--me writing a sentence that was, for once, too SHORT!?!

But even then, I was wrong, because, as Mark has pointed out in the past, Jack had inked the cover of FANTASTIC FOUR #7, and in fact, drew the likeness of Mr. Fantastic up on the billboard to resemble HIMSELF, however unconsciously! And then there's the murky matter of the curious credits of AVENGERS #4, featuring the triumphant return of perhaps Jack's most enduring (co) creation, Captain America, sans inking credits--but folks, that's a whole 'NOTHER can of pastrami!

Right about now, I think it 's about time I go check out some vintage--and nutty--Marvel bumper stickers! Won't you please come join me?...)
December 14th, 2004
The very first rapper?

Although there are plenty candidates available and ready to take credit for this singular historical distinction, here's a name that may not've yet entered the mix:

Art Carney.
That's right, culture lovers--the very same man who made Ed Norton the greatest second banana to ever flicker across a television tube was blessed with many OTHER talents as well...

Back in 1954, he ventured into a recording studio, and, backed only by a drummer, cut a reading of Clement Clarke Moore's immortal ""Twas The Night Before Christmas", reciting the poem's stanza's in the style of the then-fashionable Beat poets--and a half century later, I'll be darned if it doesn't sound just like rap (only without all the swearing, natch)!
This ISN'T haiku, people, but still, the ersatz sewer dweller manages to spit out the entire piece in a very impressive two minutes and twelve seconds, slowing down from his feverish bebop inspired delivery only for the poems' final line, when he adopts a suitably fatherly tone to warmly deliver old St. Nick's parting message to all the cool cats and cuddly kittens out there in dreamland!

It's quite the masterful performance, one I don't think I'll ever tire of.

You can find it on "Jingle Bell Swing", a 1998 jazz-themed compilation from the Columbia/Legacy label. There's lotsa other good stuff to be found on it as well--comics fans might be interested in a 1962 recording of Walt ("Pogo") Kellys' "Deck Us All With Boston Charlie" by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, one of your, um, lesser covered holiday classics. Louis Prima, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis--you can't go wrong with this one, jazzbos, but the TRUE highlight remains the inspired combination of C.C.Moore reinventing the myth of Santa Claus while MC Art Con Carney creates hip hop!!

To, like, quote Art's ad lib at a key moment during his frantic recitation:

December 13th, 2004
I've gone on record several times in the past stating my sincere belief that legendary funnyman, Bob Hope, was, when called upon, more than merely a passable vocalist, but in fact, had a very pleasing way with a tune. I'm not changing my stance, mind you, but I AM modifying it—that declaration would only cover the material he recorded while he was younger. You know—like up until his mid-eighties?...
“Hopes For The Holidays” was a collection of Christmas songs released in 1994, when Bob was a not-so-sprightly 91, and wife Dolores was only a few years younger. With daughter Linda Hope the Executive Producer, it resembles nothing less than the aural equivalent of one of Bob's latter day holiday specials. If you ever watched one, you'd never forget it, as they were extremely difficult to sit through, as you waited, with an odd combination of boredom and trepidation, for the (as the years wore on ever briefer) appearance put in by main attraction during the show's waning moments.
Bob gets a little more exposure than that on this disc, but it's mainly Dolores' show. I vividly recall flipping through the channels one night and stumbling across Mrs. Hope sitting across from Larry King the winter this CD first hit the shelves. She was quite literally beaming, as she'd long ago cast aside her own show biz aspirations in favor of supporting her husband's thriving career, but now, FINALLY, she was putting herself back out onto the marketplace! The way she was talking to Larry, she clearly saw this as her big, big break. I just had to sit there and sadly shake my head—an eighty year old warbler, qualifying for the Grammy's “Best New Artist” category. Yeah, THAT'S what's moving product these days! Poor, misguided old woman...

Well, sir, I then forgot all about this curious little CD until about two years later when, at my local “Media Play” outlet I came across a copy—actually, about a dozen copies—jammed unceremoniously in amongst their lowest of the low priced bargain CDs, going for the paltry sum of a buck. Well, it may've been July, but I figured there's no point in waiting until the last moment, so I quickly grabbed me a copy, before they were all snatched up! (..they never were, as it turned out, but hey, how was I supposed to know that?...)

The 14 tracks included are a mixture of the familiar, the new, and the overtly religious, the latter not a surprising direction for things to take as Bob's missus was—and is--well known as a very strict Catholic. Surprisingly, she sings these tunes with a voice that belies her advanced age, and with all the glitzy, seventies era MOR production touches, sweeping and swooping choral groups barrelling in to do the REAL heavy lifting on several key tracks, you'd almost never know the lead participants in this misbegotten enterprise were born only shortly after the invention of the automobile—until, that is, Bob chimes in...

The ballad, “I'll Be Home For Christmas” is handled as a solo by Bob, and it gains a certain amount of emotional energy almost by default from his clearly fragile pipes, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable to listen to. He and Dolores make their way through a passable duet of “Silver Bells”--a song originally introduced to the public in one of Bob's more celebrated films, “The Lemon Drop Kid”--causing a minimum of despair on the part of the listener, but it's when Bob finds his vocal talents added onto tunes almost as a sound effect, well, THAT'S when things get mighty weird!...

Odd enough is the traditional “Deck The Halls”, wherein Dolores and a youthful vocal group is left to handle the bulk of the singing, leaving Bob to literally croak out, acapella-like, the famed “Fa la la la la la, la la la” bit at the end of each chorus, but that's just a warm-up. There's this new song called “Jack Frost”, y'see, one that the Hopes apparently, um, hoped to promote as a new holiday standard. That's fairly easily surmised as it's one of only two selections whose lyrics they chose to include in the thin booklet that accompanied the CD (the other is a ballad that ends the song-cycle written by the disc's official producer, Nick Perito, called “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever”, aka “I'm Just Glad This Is Over”...).

“Jack Frost” is an upbeat, story-based ditty, obviously crafted in hopes of being the next “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, but unfortunately, coming nowhere even close. After several expository stanzas, sung by Dolores and the assembled studio musicians, the song's repetitive chorus bursts forth, with the erstwhile refugees from “Up With People” handling the “Jack Frost” calls, and Bob, in the glamour role of the title protagonist, the responses.

Here's the last three chorus's, all coming at the end of the tune. Try to imagine a ninety year old Bob Hope talk-singing each line's final statement—and believe me, folks, it STILL won't be as peculiar as actually hearing it!!

Jack Frost, Jack Frost—You called?
Jack Frost, Jack Frost—I'm here
Jack Frost, Jack Frost—That's me
He's cold as ice—but he so nice

Jack Frost, Jack Frost—You rang?
Jack Frost, Jack Frost—What now?
Jack Frost, Jack frost—In person
He's cold as ice—but he is nice

Jack Frost, Jack Frost—That's me
Jack Frost, Jack Frost—I'm cool
Jack Frost, Jack Frost—Uh huh
He's cold as ice—but he's so nice

As written by Geoffrey Clarkson (who, just coincidentally, did the piano arrangements for these sessions) and Lee Hale, I can't help but chuckle ruefully as Bob warbles, “You rang?”, trying in vain to figure out where exactly the composers nicked that particular phrase—from Maynard G. Krebs or Lurch?...

After the initial spin, I've always had enough consideration for the other members of the Hembeck household to NEVER play this disc when anyone else is home. Fact is, I sometimes skip it entirely during the holiday season, as it's not exactly cheerful, especially to an old Hope-ifile like yours truly. But then, it occurred to me that it might make for an interesting subject to write up here in the blog, so, today I dusted it off, took it out of the case, put it into the deck, and listened to it for the first time in quite a number of years.

And y'know, this is ONE memory I'll pass on thanking Bob for, if you don't mind...
December 12th, 2004
Fresh links today.

Seventeen. Yeah, I know--small potatoes. But with new Blogs from Tom Peyer and Mike Gold--and sites devoted to Walter Lantz and Chuck Jones--there should be enough reason for you to click on over and check 'em out. This time through, the new additions are designated by a
** to best help you differentiate them from the not-quite-as-recently-added red and green ones. Remember, all the asterisks come down as of January 1st of 2005. And speaking of which...

As of New Year's Day, I'll be upping the price I charge for character commissions (Classic Cover Redos remain unaffected for now). The fee for a single character is currently a rock-bottom, can't-be-beat, "Crazy Freddie"-like price of $25, with any additional characters costing $10 each, at least for the first two (after which, let the negotiations begin).

Well, come 2005, the charge will be a still bargainlicious $35, with the subsequent two characters $15 dollars each. Whereas Batman and Robin have, up until now, cost the Bob Kane fanciers amongst you a paltry $35 (plus $10 postage and handling, natch), in just a few short weeks, the very same Dynamic Duo will set you back a whole $50 (plus the P&H fee), a still more than reasonable price, I'd like to think.

Why am I doing this, you ask? Simple--to get more money! Gosh, isn't that pretty evident? But seriously, I've come to realize that I'd been under-pricing the character illos, and feel this slight increase--still a great value, shoppers!--will be a fair price for one and all.

But then, why am I telling you this NOW, slightly two weeks before the ghost of Guy Lombardo comes back to haunt us all once again? Simple, friends--in time to announce a year end sale (of sorts)! That's right--if you contact me AND deliver payment before the stroke of midnight on the 31st of this month, you can still get a hand-made Hembeck original of the character of your choice at the current bargain price! Sure, the drawings won't be ready until at least January, it's fair to say, but by jumping on this offer now, the discriminating art collector can save a few bucks, and then perhaps even buy some decent food for his--or her--family! (And we STILL have some fine Classic Cover Redos available for your consideration--check out the Sales page for all the details.)

Pardon the hard sell. Guess I've just been overcome by the Spirit Of Christmas...
December 11th, 2004
Every year, sometime round abouts Thanksgiving, a big ol' smile crosses my face when I once again am hit with THIS realization:

“Oboy! NOW I can starting playing all my Christmas CDs!”

Near simultaneously, a look of shared pain plays across the visages of both Lynn and Julie, when they in turn realize the inevitable:

“Oh no—now Fred is going to start playing ALL his Christmas CDs!?!...”

For me, it all started back in the Fall of 1965. After the Beatles arrival on American shores a year and a half earlier, I'd become totally enamored with the pop music scene, and while not tuned in with my ear glued to the AM radio, spun selected hits of the day (i.e., the few I could afford to buy) on our cheap little portable turntable whenever given the chance. But Dave Clark 5 LPs and chart-topping singles by the Four Seasons, Peter and Gordon, and the Supremes just weren't enough to get me through the holiday season, y'know, so I asked my parents if maybe I could buy the family a few Christmas albums the make the season even more festive? (..and NOT those one dollar cheapies my dad seemed to favor, but instead music by performers one had actually HEAR of--even though each of THEIR discs would retail for the stiff price of, ahem, $2.98 each...)

Well, eventually they gave in to my not unreasonable request, and I was provided with just enough cash to pick out three albums. The melodies on the triad I chose that long-ago afternoon still personifies the season more for me than most anything else this side of “Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol”, and there hasn't been a year since when I haven't spun each one at least once during the month of December (albeit nowadays in the ever popular CD format), and usually, many more times than that.
Those initial, beloved seasonal collections were “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, “Holiday Sing Along With Mitch” by (who else?) Mitch Miller and the Gang, and “The Beach Boys Christmas Album”. Over the next year or so, we wound up with Christmas LPs by Gene Autry, Lawrence Welk, Brenda Lee, Kate Smith, Mario Lanza, and a special Woolworths' compilation that featured, among others, Burl Ives and Simon and Garfunkel(doing a traditional tune that I've yet to see turn up on any of their revamped CDs, by the way...), but it was these three albums I kept coming back to again and again whenever I felt the need for a jolt of holiday spirit.
And why not? They're classics, each and every one of them. The ever-so-smooth crooning of the masterful—and unique--Nat King Cole was the perfect match for Mel Torme' and Robert Wells' “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire), quite simply, in my mind, the single greatest combination of singer and song in the entire realm of seasonal recordings! (...just barely eking out that honor from der Bingle and his immortal take of Irving Berlin's “White Christmas”--it was a tough call, admittedly, but after careful consideration, I'm giving this one to the King, not to Bing...). The rest of this lushly orchestrated LP is made up entirely of traditional material, performed with Cole's typical ease, making for a very classy package—and one that, aside from a few well earned shekels sent off to Mel and Bob, eliminated the need for the suits in charge to pay out any other songwriting royalties whatsoever! High-toned AND cheap—what record executive wouldn't consider THAT the perfect Christmas gift? To THEMSELVES, I mean...

Then there's Mitch Miller and the Gang. Their record is virtually ALL secular songs—Rudolph, Frosty, both Jingle AND Silver Bells, “Sleigh Ride”, and the like (years later, I picked up a companion CD of ol' Mitch and the group belting out traditional hymns, but take my word for it, it ain't nearly as much fun...). Those younger folks reading this may not remember Mitch (though he's still with us, now in his nineties), but the one-time Columbia Records bigwig had quite the career leading large choral groups in upbeat sing alongs back in the early sixties, selling lots of vinyl, and helming a successful weekly TV program, with some very distinct (and easily parodied) arm motions and the (then) most famous goatee in the world assuring his celebrity.
Three comments about this LP. First off, perhaps due the enormity of his chorus, this record always seemed a couple of notches LOUDER than any other contemporary LP. I'd be sitting there, reading a comic (natch), half-listening to the concert disc of Cream's “Wheel's Of Fire”, and then—WHOMP--Mitch would drop down onto the turntable, and I'd scramble frantically to run over and turn down the volume because, geez, it was just so gosh darn LOUD!?!...
Secondly, I'd bet anybody with even a passing knowledge of Christmas tunes would instantly recognize 12 of the 13 titles included on the cover. And the OTHER one? Something called “Must Be Santa”, a totally unfamiliar ditty patterned after the relentlessly repeating motif of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” (ALSO included herein, though thankfully, on the album's flip side—back, that is, when there WAS more than one side!...). This repetitive knock-off concerned itself with more modern gifts than the now outdated (and generally hard to come by) seven swans a swimming. It was, if possible, even MORE annoying than the always tiresome “Twelve Days...”, with the high-pitched voice of someone imitating a whiny kid in amongst the chorus only making its simple sing-songy melody even that much more unbearable.

There were times that, yes, I would hastily get up and lift the needle, dropping it onto the next track post-haste. I could only speculate WHY this obscure composition made it onto the set list, with the most likely explanation being Mitch owed the tune's writer's, H. Moore and B. Fredericks, a whole LOTTA money! (Yes, I HAVE heard another version of this long reviled ditty on another disc in recent years, no doubt from someone who also grew up with Mitch Miller's original playing over and over AND over in their poor muddled minds...)

And thirdly, speaking of music publishing, each of these “Sing Along” collections came with about a dozen LP sized sheets included, helpfully providing all the lyrics for the selections on the accompanying record so one could, well, sing along. This one was no exception—except when it came to “White Christmas”. Instead of the words to that number, there was instead a short note (going entirely from memory here—no such sheets (even little ones) came with the CD reissue), saying in effect, there's certainly no need for us to include the words to THIS, the greatest holiday anthem of them all, since EVERYBODY surely knows it by heart by now!! Well, that seemed like quite the compliment to Irving Berlin back when I first read those words, but I've since come to realize that ol' Irv and his publishers probably wanted more moolah than Columbia was willing to shell out for the rights to the lyrics, and so they deftly circumvented the problem by praising a composer they were no doubt muttering swear words under their breath at all the while! “Merry #@$%ing Christmas, Irv—love, Mitch”...

(Furthermore, one holiday season, Henry Heisenbuttel—the proprietor of the establishment where I purchased my comics—organized a Christmas sing along down at the local firehouse. When he handed out freshly typed up lyric sheets for the evenings participants to use, when it came to the closing selection—“White Christmas”--wouldn't you know it, the words were AWOL! And HIS explanation was worded EXACTLY the same way as the more esteemed Sing Along leader, Mr. Miller, worded his! Suspicious? Yeah, you might say that—and no, I DON'T recall if Mr. H led us all in a rousing rendition of “Must Be Santa”. SOME childhood traumas you just bury entirely, dig?...)
Then there's “The Beach Boys Christmas Album”, half of which contains original Brian Wilson rock and roll numbers geared toward the holidays, possessing all the magic and excitement of the groups rich “I Get Around” period. You've ALL heard “Little Saint Nick” by now, sure, but “The Man With All The Toys” and the forlorn “Merry Christmas, Baby” are definite keepers as well.

The rest of the LP is filled out with standards and traditional songs, all lushly arranged for a full orchestra, with producer Brian in full command of his ensemble's magnificent voices. But there IS one thing about the record that's bothered me pretty much ever since the very first time I plopped the platter onto the spinning turntable, and it concerns the album's final track...
As the boys harmonize their li'l hearts out on that most hoary of all chestnuts, “Auld Lang Syne”, drummer Dennis Wilson steps up to the microphone mid-way through, and on behalf of his brothers, his cousin, and Al Jardine, thanks all the Beach Boy fans who bought this record. A fine sentiment, unquestionably, but it's the manner in which it's delivered that's always baffled me. A couple of sentences into his sincere little speech, he utters this puzzling line, “...and if you happen to be listening to this album right now...”, which leads me to wonder—just when ELSE would one get an earful of Denny reciting these words? There's no if—we ARE listening, or we wouldn't hear this message, right? It's kinda like a twist on that old saying about the tree falling in the forest: If Dennis Wilson thanks fans and no one's listening, does he really mean it?

(And to top things off, Dennis actually stumbles over a key word, and says, “hap-happen”, and for some reason, they just left his flub in!?! What—they didn't have time for another take? Or was this perhaps the best the rarely heard from (but resident hunk nonetheless) Denny could manage, and we've been listening to take 76 or so all these years? When we WERE listening to it, that is...)

Well, there you have it—the origins of my preoccupation with Christmas music. I'll have more about this topic in the coming days, and if you hap-happen to be reading this right now, I'll hope you join me for further tales of the tunes!...
December 10th, 2004
Recently, while responding to an email that I sent him on an entirely different topic (one not relevant to today's discussion), Mark Evanier tossed out this tasty little kernel of information...
By the way: The Jack Kirby cover to the Marvelmania catalog you posted was inked by a fellow named Jack Kirby, a few months before he ever met Mike Royer.
Jack Kirby--doing his own inking! After all these years, I still find that whole notion to be...unsettling somehow. Not that the work is substandard in any way--that's not it at all. It's just that I've always had this image of Jack furiously churning out a staggering number of pages a day--a month!--a year!!--figuring he'd only stop ever-so-briefly (and reluctantly) to sharpen those magic pencils of his. Bringing this one-man whirlwind of production to a screeching halt, all merely to go over to a dark corner of his studio to pick up a lonely, dusty old brush, dip it into a weathered ink bottle, and actually FINISH up a drawing? Any OTHER cartoonist, sure. With Kirby, WHY? WHY was he slowing down? Somehow it was just plain unthinkable. After all, how many books could he have pencilled just in the time he spent rinsing out this rarely employed art equipment of his?

Okay, okay--I know this sounds kinda crazy. Sorry. It's a way of thinking that's been deeply ingrained in me for so many years now, going back (not surprisingly) to when I was a kid. Y'see, I first saw Jack's art in a Marvel Comic in 1962, and it wasn't until a whole four years later that I even knew he COULD ink!! (Well, being the genius that he was, obviously he was more than capable of embellishing his own pencils, but I was just a dumb kid at the time-- back then, you had to SHOW me for me to believe something...)

And when Kirby finally DID get around to it, it was no small deal, either, even being written up in the "Bullpen Bulletins" page for the event it clearly was...
You heard Stan (or whoever was ghosting the promo page back in '66)--take a good look, cuz the likes of it you ain't gonna see anytime again soon! And as best I can recall, there never were any other covers--and certainly no interior pages--credited to Jack and Jack alone during his sixties' tenure at Marvel.

This all came rushing back to me when I received Mark's note. I couldn't even begin to tell you about anything else that was featured on that "Bullpen Bulletins" page, nor anything concerning the actual stories included in that singular issue of FANTASY MASTERPIECES, but by golly, I instantly recalled the fanfare--muted though it may've been--surrounding Jack Kirby's only known trip to the inkwell for publisher Martin Goodman.

Yeah. I know. The things I got stuck in my head...
What's that? You can't quite get a proper gander at ol' Star Spangled Steve and Irritable Ivan dancing the Knuckle Cha Cha? I hear ya, people. Check out the enlarged detail below for a better look...
Nice, huh? Jack Kirby--doing his own inking. Wow. The mind STILL boggles...

But, um, it always sorta somehow kinda looked like Frank Giacoia's work to me, you know? Not that'd I'd EVER doubt something I read in the "Bullpen Bulletins", mind you. Just an observation...
December 9th, 2004
Trawling through the detritus, I've once again discovered some potentially interesting, well, detritus. See if you don't agree...
I've eaten there. Their cheeseburgers are pretty good, their fries are crisp and tasty, and their club sandwiches are better than average.

But take it from yours truly (and say it right along with me, won't you, boys and girls?...), they make a GREAT Ceasar's Salad!

(And ice cream is served only by the scoop, natch!...)
December 8th, 2004
Last Sunday, Lynn, Julie and I hopped into our car and drove for little over an hour to friendly Saugerties, New York, all for an opportunity to visit with one of that quaint little burg's most celebrated citizens, ink-wielding embellishing legend—and swell penciller, to boot—Joltin' Joe Sinnott himself!

And we were hardly alone—an impressive cluster of the region's cartooning contingent gladly unlocked their shackles and escaped from their drawing boards--if only for a few hours--to pay tribute to gentleman Joe, and purchase copies of his freshly minted “Joe Sinnott Sketchbook Vol.1”, the publication that the heralded comics biz veteran was on hand to sell and sign, sitting behind a table at the town's local literary emporium, the Booktrader.
Now, a great deal of the credit for the afternoon's activities—which included a LARGE group dinner following the two and a half hour signature session—has to go to my good pal, Terry Austin, who essentially got the word out. Besides my happy little family and Terry, Dan Green, Todd Dezago, Joe and Hilarie Staton, Rocco Nigro, and Peter Clapper--accompanied by five year old son, George--were all on hand. Scott Kress of Catskill Comics—who produced the book for the Sinnotts—was there as well, though he and his wife unfortunately had to leave early. And, of course, Joe's wife Betty and son Mark were present and accounted for, as were Mark's wife, Belinda, and offspring Erin and Trevor. Yup, the place was just swarming with Sinnotts!

Joe Sinnott, Dan Green, Todd Dezago, Joe Staton, standing;
Terry Austin, Fred Hembeck, far shorter than you ever suspected...
While I manage to stay in fairly decent contact with friends Terry and Rocco, most of these other folks I rarely get a chance to see much of these days, so it was a real treat to spend a little time with each of them, even in the quasi-claustrophobic confines of the relatively tiny used book outlet! And as a welcome additional bonus, it turned out Joe wasn't the only author signing that Sunday afternoon, as he was sharing the table with another old friend of ours, Anita Barbour.
Anita had never met Joe before, but back when the Wrightson's still lived in the area, both her and husband Spider could regularly be found in attendance at the frequent parties Bernie and Michelle threw. In fact, back some 15 years now, there was even, for a while, a weekly figure drawing class held in Bernie's studio, and Anita—along with myself, Joe Staton, Joe Chido, and, of course, Mr. W—was among the regular participants. With Bernie relocating to the West Coast, there hadn't been all that many chances to encounter the Barbours in recent times—until signing Sunday in Saugerties, that is...

Anita Barbour, Julie, and me again
(Julie's undoubtedly thinking as her mom snaps the picture, "Oh, mammy, let me at that Origami!" Or, maybe not...)
Anita was promoting her latest tome, “Easy Origami Ornaments”, a fascinating step-by-step guide that she both wrote and illustrated, utilizing her own clever designs almost exclusively.
Origami, as you folks most likely know, is the art of folding paper into representations of various objects—animal, plant, AND mineral—and while I realize the idea of creasing paper is anathema to most of you comic book collectors who visit this site, think of it this way, fanboys: haven't you ever read a comic that just made you SO mad that you wanted to tear it up into little itsy-bitsy pieces, right there on the spot? Well, why not turn it into an example of beautiful origami instead? After all, that way, at least it'll be good for SOMETHING!!
(And if that little bit of off-kilter reasoning doesn't quite sell you, well, consider this—there's surely someone in your life who'd benefit from such a book, and Christmas IS coming up, so why not go directly to the publisher and order a copy—or zip on over to Anita's own webpage to take a peek at some samples?
I can tell you this: Tuesday afternoon, Julie and her buddy Deanna spent several hours—QUIET hours!--making their way through merely the opening volleys of Anita's deftly designed instructional manual, with definite plans to dip further into the subsequent pages-- which to me constitutes a glowing endorsement of the book's effectiveness, AND a vast improvement over their chasing our poor beleaguered kitty around the house, as they were doing just moments before Anita's activities thankfully calmed them down!..)

The Barbours
Well, like I said, the afternoon was mostly filled with good-natured small talk/shop talk: how've you been, what's new, what are you working on these days, which editor's stabbed you in the back lately?--that sorta thing.

Terry Austin, Joe Sinnott, Fred Hembeck--
two pretty terrific artists, and friend...
Unfortunately, one never gets to speak as much as one might want to the featured guest at these things, as Joe was signing steadily and reminiscing with long-time friends from his life-long home town, including several of his WWII comrades!

Mark Sinnott, your friendly neighborhood chest crawler, and me
Happily, though, this gave me a few extra minutes to chat with Mark Sinnott, who's every bit as nice a guy as his widely-regarded dad is. Mark—with technical assistance from Belinda—is, in fact, the one who's primarily responsible for the elder Sinnott's nifty webpage, as well as being instrumental in assembling this first of hopefully many more sketchbook compilations, and, as always, I enjoyed talking with him, especially about the Mets prospects for next season (which look pretty good—but don't they always in the dead of winter?...)

(And while we're on the subject—no, NOT the Mets, the Sketchbook-- now might be a terrific time to direct you over to the Sinnott's page so that you can purchase your very own autographed copy of the booklet—and when you do, tell 'em Fred sent ya! Just because...)

And there I am, getting reacquainted with my old neighbors, Joe and Hilarie Staton. Yes, Joe, F-Man is back!..

Sinnott and Son! (..say, wasn't that a Redd Foxx sitcom back in the seventies?...)
Yessir, a fine time was had by all, and there's not much more to say (do you REALLY need to know that I ordered the Souvlaki for dinner? I didn't think so...), save for the following, slightly off-topic anecdote...

The day before, daughter Julie had spent all afternoon at the local mall, Christmas shopping. Besides school friends and her relatives (i.e., US...), she picked up a VERY special gift for little George, and was delighted to hear that his dad was gonna bring him over to the signing. Once at the restaurant, she made sure to sit next to her five-year old friend, and proudly gave him his gift: a VHS tape featuring a half-dozen SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons! Peter, Karen, and George, y'see, don't get Nickelodeon, and Julie very much wanted to share the wonder that is SpongeBob with the little guy (while George HAD heard of the character, he hadn't as yet seen any of his animated escapades).

As the gathering finally broke up around 6, Julie, in her own inimitable manner, pestered Peter into agreeing to send off an email regarding George's reaction to the tape as soon as humanly possible, and not two hours later the following arrived via the magic of the computer...

Julie: You have unleased SpongeBob on my first born, and now he is under your control! Curse you and your evil purveyor of mind control. Sapping him of all free will and all independent thought. But seriously, I've never seen him take to a new video so quickly. He loves it!!-Peter, Karen, & George

Thus ended a memorable AND satisfying day, as what began with a pleasant visit with a Marvel Comics legend, and then included the renewal of half-a-dozen friendships, wound up happily with the world's most entertaining sponge making yet another acolyte! Nice job, Julie—now, how about you go see if you can cobble yourself up a Origami Squidward, okay?

That, it seems, was ONE design Anita somehow managed to overlook...

December 7th, 2004
Sifting through the accumulated morass, as I have been the past several days, will occasionally produce some lost, well, "treasure" might be too strong a word, but something like this...
Silly, huh?

Heh, heh--well, who amongst you HASN'T done something goofy like that when you were a kid, huh? Let's face it--when I got this card at the comics store (on the flip side is an ad for the first issue of SOLO AVENGERS, starring Hawkeye) (...snif...Hawkeye...), there was no way I could POSSIBLY resist drawing myself into the blank "photo" box, and proudly sign on as an adjunct of sorts to Earth's Mightiest Heroes!

Kids! Hah!

(...Of course, SOLO AVENGERS debuted in 1987, so I wasn't, um, exactly all THAT young at the time. Age is only a state of mind, y'know--maturity, too...

Oops--gotta go--I hear the Bat-Phone ringing!...)
December 6th, 2004
Veteran comics scripter Bob Haney passed away recently at the age of 78. He's perhaps best well known for a three decade stint helming a wide variety of titles for DC Comics, commencing in the mid-fifties. For a more detailed overview of his lengthy career, I once again direct you to Mark Evanier's page for one of Mark's typically well-researched obituaries. It's just a shame there's been so many of them lately...

As for myself, when it comes to the subject of Bob Haney (a man I never personally met), I confess to being somewhat conflicted. He was an active—though rarely credited—scribe when I first began reading DC Comics back in 1961, and without even knowing who was responsible, I enjoyed a great many of his stories in those early years. I was particularly fond of a pair of decidedly offbeat protagonists, Metamorpho and Eclipso, whose course's he charted roundabouts mid-decade.
But, soon after, a couple of outside factors intruded, and inexorably colored my assessment of Haney's work from that point on, with the tremendous critical--AND commercial--success of Stan Lee's casually glib conversational scripting style being the most obvious. It didn't take more than a handful of those nascent Marvel Comics to make me an acolyte for life...

The other was the tsunami-like cultural upheaval the entire country experienced as the sixties turned into the seventies, the sort of heretofore unprecedented radical shift in tastes that seemingly reduced whatever was considered tres' contemporary in late 1963 to be hopelessly out of date by 1967, a mere four short years later. Stan managed to catch the wave and ride it out, but most of the folks filling in the word balloons for DC's proud—if suddenly stodgy—corral of characters, sadly, did not.

Bob Haney was amongst this group, and I was at just the right age to find the ersatz hipster lingo he inserted freely into his otherwise fine TEEN TITANS scripts to be, well, excruciating. Even METAMORPHO suffered from this ill-conceived attempt at sounding "with it". Both these books soon came to an end, before they could amass too daunting a number of issues, but it was Haney's subsequent long-standing tenure on the Batman team-ups found within the pages of BRAVE AND THE BOLD that had me, more often than not, gnashing my teeth.

Y'see, by the early to mid-seventies, EVERYONE producing super-hero comics--Marvel or DC--was following the Stan Lee template. Everyone, that is, except Bob Haney. Abetted no doubt by editor Murray Boltinoff, in an era when all other adventure series paid at least some small lip service to the concept of a company wide continuity—another of Marvel's key selling points—Haney would align the Caped Crusader with the various other DC icons, occasionally--but blithely--directing the legion of rotating costars to act wildly out of character. Even Batman himself wasn't immune to this seemingly cavalier attitude, behaving in ways totally foreign to his by then established persona.

Bear in mind, yours truly was attending college in those days, and longed for the poor put-upon comics medium to gain a smidgen more respect than it generally engendered (something I'm still hoping for...), and it struck me that these silly team-ups—despite being beautifully illustrated by Jim Aparo—certainly weren't helping matters any. I was, if the truth be known, your typical know-it-all geeky fanboy, equipped with the requisite set of blinders, the type that prevents one from seeing things the way they REALLY were.

Sure, Haney was out of step with the rest of the field at the time. So was Jack Kirby, particularly when he ventured back to Marvel during the mid-seventies and wrote his own scripts. Even a legend like The King was open to a lot of abuse—much of it from past admirers--simply because he was telling stories the way he wanted to, and not in the cookie-cutter method popular at the moment. Time has proven those latter day tales to be far more entertaining than a lot of what was then accepted as the norm of the day, and I think, looking back, the same can be said of a decent proportion of Haney's later work as well.
Just take a look at the story in BRAVE AND THE BOLD #124 (January 1976) teaming up Batman and Sgt. Rock, but whose plot, in actuality, hinges totally on the actions of pulp paper versions of Haney, Aparo, and Boltinoff! Never mind that, thirty years after the end of WWII, the Darknight Detective shouldn't need the aid of an aging non-com to solve a case, and never mind that, at one point, we find Batman sitting behind the wheel of a police car, driving off in pursuit of the baddies—even though we all know full well the man generally employs his OWN snazzy custom built transportation. Nuh uh—it's the mind-bending inclusion of the real-life creators that gives this episode its particularly blatant “huh?” factor...
Briefly, the bad guys grab the pages from artist Aparo, and are about to force him to draw Batman meeting a nasty end at the hands of Sgt. Rock, when the resourceful penciller escapes, goes on the run, and keeps in contact as best he can with scribe Haney, all so as to illustrate the tale's events as they were MEANT to be, NOT the way the gun-toting terrorists want him too. Naturally, all turns out for the best by the last page, but not before one's head begins to throb due to the unanswered questions concerning how these two diverse set of realities managed to both coexist and effect the way events play out in each other's realm! Something like this would've received a nicely satisfying pseudo-scientific explanation in a Julie Schwartz comic, and Marvel would've dealt with an analogous trip crossing the reality bridge deftly, utilizing a bit of the old tongue-in-cheek. The underlying premise of this Haney tale remains, however, totally unexplained.
Those kind of things used to bother me. A lot. But you know what? When I sat down and reread that story earlier today, pretty much what I experienced first and foremost was a rollicking adventure yarn—one with a few inside gags, sure, but one that still raced ahead with all the speed of a charging bull, gleefully sweeping the more casual reader (i.e., one not overly obsessed with comic book minutia) along for the joy ride! Fact is, over the past several months, I've noticed the work of Bob Haney being championed by a growing—and vocal—group of thoughtful comics bloggers, each and every one of them at least ten (and some close to...choke...thirty) years my junior.

Obviously, few of these folks were buying Bob Haney's books off the racks, and those that were, were young enough not be as jaded--nor carrying as much baggage--as I was when he embarked on his monumental B&B run. They're able to read the stories and appreciate them just for what they were: STORIES, not some small piece in a big puzzle, the way the rest of us continuity freaks saw even the most mediocre episode of even the most marginal character in the scheme's of the twin Marvel and DC Universe's in those days.
Bob Haney simply didn't do continuity, and I foolishly resented him for that. Bob Haney just wrote the most exciting, entertaining stories he was capable of at the time, and considering the length of his tour of duty with DC, he must've been more than a little successful.

Look, let's be honest: Bob Haney's never gonna to rank real high on my list of favorite comic book wordsmiths, as these personal prejudices of mine are just too firmly ingrained. Clearly, he wasn't Stan Lee. But at a time when everybody else was trying to BE Stan Lee, he didn't follow the crowd, and chose instead to stay true to merely being Bob Haney.

Check out the resume—it certainly worked for him, didn't it?...
December 5th, 2004
TV GUIDE'S gone all multiple again this week. And no, I DIDN'T buy the Princess Di cover--go here and all will be explained...
December 4th, 2004
During my current round of tidying, I purely by chance stumbled upon this memorable cover from back in 2000.

Now, I'd promised myself that I'd lay off the snarky comments about the Prez, but looking at that headline, I just couldn't help thinking, why couldn't it have been THESE guys that got "Disassembled"?

I mean, I'm not suggesting that the Scarlet Witch go all Hawkeye on 'em, but geez...
December 3rd, 2004
Been spending a lot of time over the last few days--with many, many more ahead of me--straightening out all the various papers, books, CDs, and assorted crapola that's been inexorably accumulating in our house over the past several years, and believe me, it's no easy task! (...though, of course, I have no one to blame but myself...)

Because of my finally tackling this long-overdue clean-up operation, posting will most likely be light in these parts over the next few days. The good news (and no, wise guy--THAT isn't the good news!...) is that I've unexpectedly unearthed several long missing gems from the collection in the process. For instance, there was a very special feature I was desperately searching for so as to share it with you all on opening day of this past baseball season back in April, but to no #@$%ing avail. Well, I found it!--and you're all gonna LOVE it, no foolin', even those of you who don't know the difference between the Hulk and Jason Giambi (hint: the Hulk is the green one). Naturally, however, I'm saving it for NEXT season's gala, steroid-free opening day ceremonies, but don't you worry--April be here before you realize it, and I promise to do my best not to misplace it in the meantime, honest!

I also came across some mildly interesting pieces of my own art as well, stuff I plan to soon share with you over in another section of the site. You'll be alerted at the proper time, never fear. In the meanwhile, I was personally very, very excited to stumble across the special drawing below. I've alluded to it several times in the past--most recently on last November 21st after seeing a certain big-screen blockbuster...
Yup, this was that fabled drawing of SpongeBob SquarePants that I quickly scrawled on a cheesy piece of paper with a thick lined marker, all while looking up at a frozen frame halted on my VCR and grinning out at me from my TV set.

For those of you who came in late, this was the quasi-legendary picture I eagerly cobbled together so as to better acquaint my volleyball buddies with this character I had been going on and on about during the past several weeks. As the Nickelodeon icon-in-waiting was only a few short months old at the time, there were no images of the bright yellow fellow in general circulation--it was up to me to produce my own instructional illustration in an attempt to remedy their woeful (some might say blissful) ignorance.

I know I've said it before, but it bear's repeating: just think--there once was a world where there were no images--none whatsoever--of SpongeBob SquarePants to be found ANYWHERE!! Brr--I think we all remember what a cold and dreary world THAT was...

So, y'see, THIS was how Jim Starlin, Terry Austin--and a dozen other really nice people, too--first encountered the little guy. And you know what? Not a single one of them went on to become a fan! At all! Yipes--maybe my drawing was a bit too hasty, and a little too casual with the details? Or maybe it really, really needed color...

Whatever. In any event, I consider it to be of some small measure of historical importance (...real, REAL small...), as I''d be willing to bet that. outside of the talented folks who actually worked on the show itself, yours truly produced the very first outside portrait of a future sea-based superstar!!

(...okay. probably not, but a guy's gotta have his dreams, y'know?...)
December 2nd, 2004
As sort of an addendum to the previous posting concerning the late Irwin Donenfeld and his propensity for instructing the DC editorial staff to repeat successful cover motifs--gorillas, dinosaurs, big-headed future men--time and again, well, there WERE certain failed concepts that clearly didn't work the first time, and thus were never seen again.

Thanks to Greg Gatlin's "Raw Feed" sharing this late fifties cover of STRANGE ADVENTURES with us--a book I'd never, ever encountered before, but it only took the quickest of glimpses to make my jaw drop--we have prime evidence that not EVERYTHING the DC braintrust came up with in those days managed to move their books briskly off the racks.

Menacing apes are one thing, after all, but what kid REALLY wants to deal with the notion of homicidal snowmen??

December 2nd, 2004
I started buying DC Comics back in 1961, and by the time this infamous issue of SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN (#98, December 1966) was released, I considered myself something of an expert on the Man of Steel's publishers.

By then, I well knew the difference between a Julius Schwartz edited title and one presided over by Jack Schiff. I knew I'd only find Joe Kubert and Russ Heath artwork in one of Bob Kanigher's war titles, and that if I wanted George Papp or Jim Mooney, the Weisinger Superman family line would be the place to find 'em.
Why, I'd even deduced that the fellow who drew those snappy little half-page filler cartoons like "Casey the Cop" and "Super Turtle", Henry Boltinoff, was in fact somehow related to the editor of BLACKHAWK, Murray Boltinoff himself! Yup, I was quite the learned student of funnybook history, even then. I knew ALL the important people toiling behind the scenes at my second favorite comics company--or at least I thought I did...

I didn't know Irwin Donenfeld.

Oh, I'd seen the name. Along with Jack Liebowitz, it turned up regularly in those "Statement Of Ownership" accountings the comics were once obliged to run annually, buried off under one of Boltinoff's fillers (Henry's, not Murray). I paid this Donenfeld fellow little mind--after all, I never saw his name in any story credits, nor mentioned in any capacity in any of the era's flourishing letter columns. Just some faceless executive, I blithely figured, giving the man little more thought--he surely didn't have anything to do with the comics themselves.


His father, Harry, started the company, and by the time he was in his late teens, Irwin was overseeing the line's editorial direction, a position he went on to hold for little over twenty years, until he was forced out circa 1970 when the business finally changed hands, several years after its founder's death. Irwin, y'see, essentially decided what DC would publish, and worked very hard to determine just what made his books sell, focusing almost exclusively on their covers. Once he had sales reports proving that, say, a gorilla gave a certain title a noticeable sales spike, well, the monkeys were literally let out of their cages, and all sorts of apes found their way onto a multitude of Silver Age DC Comics covers proving it! Dinosaurs made for prime cover lures--and big-headed freaks from the future, too, thanks to Donenfeld's arcane research. So, we had Kanigher's combat happy Joes fighting "The War That Time Forgot" on Dinosaur Island, Schwartz's heroes continuously encountering adversarial gorillas, and Weisinger's crew repeatedly finding themselves evolved--albeit only temporarily--into super-smart, super-bald precursors of mankind's tomorrow. All the things you rarely--if ever--saw lurking in the books published by my favorite comics company, Marvel Comics...

Which led, I suppose, to the younger Donenfeld's most serious editorial misstep--the checkerboard pattern that, to this day, makes little over a year's worth of DC comics--the ENTIRE line, mind you--still difficult for me to look at. Worse yet was the "hip" moniker the DC brass saddled their dubious design decision with: Go-Go Checks! Aargh! I was 12 when the books began sporting this institutionalized eye-sore, and young as I was, I still was old enough to know that this was anything but a "happening" idea. For years, I often wondered just whose misguided notion these Go-Go checks were anyway?...

I found out only a few years ago, when, much to my surprise, Irwin Donenfeld unexpectedly surfaced in the fan press, first in an interview in Jon Cooke's fine COMIC ARTIST magazine, and not long after, as part of a San Diego Comicon panel transcription (ably presided over by Mark Evanier, natch), published in Roy Thomas's equally fine ALTER EGO mag. I admit to being more than a little shocked at first--here was a name from the long distant past, one I didn't recall ever hearing much about in the intervening decades, one that, frankly, I didn't even think was still amongst us. Perhaps because I had no real familiarity with his background, I found these wide-ranging--but not nearly long enough--discussions to be all the more fascinating, if at times, a little hard to swallow on a minor--or major--point here and there. I mean, did they REALLY adopt the "DC" symbol at the officially christened "National Periodical Publications" outfit not to salute their oldest regular title, DETECTIVE COMICS, as the stock story always went, but instead to acknowledge that, when all was said and done, these were actually DONENFELD Comics? I confess to being somewhat doubtful at first to this bold assertion, but the more I thought about it, well, I can't say it didn't make a certain sort of sense.

And THEN he went and owned up to creating Go-Go Checks--and in fact, seemed even to be PROUD of the idea! Still!! Well, what's a respectful interviewer to do? This man presided over a LOT of history, and had launched the second great age of the comics with his decision to publish the SHOWCASE title, the one that begat the modern day Flash, and thus, everything that came after it? So, he somehow thought that putting small black and white squares atop his comics covers was--and still IS--a nifty idea. No need to hassle the old fellow. He did more than enough in his day to offset THAT particular error in judgement...

And now, as you've probably already heard, Irwin Donenfeld has left us, passing away at age 78 (you can find more details concerning his career, as well as some keen personal observations from one of his friendly interrogators, Mark Evanier, by going here). The man had a pretty far-reaching impact on my childhood--at least, when it came to comic books--only, I had absolutely NO clue at the time. Because of his past anonymity, I may not have the emotional attachment to an "Irwin Donenfeld" that I might have for a more familiar name from my younger years, but that doesn't mean I can't salute the job the man did, and appreciate the important role he had in the medium's early history. I'm grateful he got a chance to go on the record several times in recent years, and only regret that we didn't hear more from him.

And so, the next time I stumble upon an old issue of TOMAHAWK, its cover emblazoned with the image of the buck-skinned Frontier Fighter leading a group of gorilla rangers into battle with a T Rex, as all the while, a bulbous headed man from the future lurks in the shadows, I'll smile and think of Irwin, knowing that after spying a scene like THAT, I'd most definitely buy that comic.

And THAT, I think, would surely make Irwin smile...
December 1, 2004
Back in the late sixties, after the M.M.M.S., and before FOOM, Marvel briefly had a fan club/memorabilia racket up and running that went by the name of Marvelmania. Unlike both earlier and later attempts at cultivating a mail order operation precipitated on their loyal reader's insatiable hunger for product featuring their beloved four-color demi-gods, editor Stan Lee in this particular instance farmed out most of the responsibilities to an outside organization. By all accounts that I've read, it didn't go particularly well...

As big a Bullpen junkie as I was in those halcyon days, I only ever wound up with a single issue of the black and white MARVELMANIA fan magazine, and the above glitzy--if slim--full color catalog (and yes, it CAME with those three-ring binder holes already punched in it--like I was REALLY gonna take it in to school and sell my friends on the idea of shelling out cash for some swell Steranko Captain America posters! Uh uh--NOT in the tenth grade, people...). I decided to run it here partially because I don't think I've ever seen this late initial-Marvel Era drawing by prime universe artistic architect, Jack Kirby (with Mike Royer inks...maybe?) turn up anywhere else before--and partially as an excuse to point you to a site where you can see PLENTY of Kirby art!

I'm talking about "The Kirby Comics Blog", naturally.

This delightful site has been up for several months now, already featuring over 100 clear, bright, and generally bombastic scans of both covers and pages in its short history, culled all the way from the very beginning right on up to near the end of the decade's spanning career of the only man who'll EVER be known--and rightly so--as The King of Comics. Efficiently run by an individual who, as best I can determine, goes solely by the moniker "Bob", the near daily postings offer concise--and occasionally incisive--commentary, but let's face it, the main attraction is all that gorgeous artwork!

Friend Bob in no super-hero snob either, as he well knows there was a LOT more to Kirby that just the colorful fellows in the gaudy get-ups, as he sprinkles his blog with generous samplings of western, crime, romance, and horror art from the cigar-chomping cartoonist's back pages. Why, the most recent entry spotlights a rarely seen page Jack did for the Classics Illustrated line early in that fateful year of 1961--and to ratchet up the interest factor yet another notch, Bob offers a unique "before and after" feature, wherein we get to see the panel as published, contrasted against Jack's original version, brought to light only after a paste over on the original art page was peeled off. Fascinating stuff.

Yeah, you'll get to see a nice variety of the King's work over at Bob's cyber-shrine, but so far, no sign of the MARVELMANIA CLUB CATALOG. Hey, why should BOB have all the fun?? (But you're more than welcome to lift it, pal. If Marvel doesn't mind, I sure don't!...)

While we're speaking of web-sites, let me point you once again in the direction of Tom Spurgeon's fine "The Comics Reporter" page, this time to a specific entry. While cruising the net the other night, I came upon his listing of the "Top 100 Comics Works of the 20th Century"--and perhaps more importantly, his impassioned plea asking readers to send in their own thoughts on said list for eventual publication on site. Well, folks, HOW could I possibly resist an invitation like THAT? Tom was gracious enough (or was that just plain desperate enough?...) to post my wee-hour ruminations, and if you'd like to read something by me that fails to mention SpongeBob SquarePants even once, just go here (but not before you check The List itself, please--first things first, after all).

Of course, I come off as a mere piker by comparison to "The Comic Treadmill"s H, whose stamina in reviewing the ENTIRE contents of the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE recently published listing of "16, 000 Comics You NEED To Have" borders on the superhuman!! That's right, folks--16, 000! Our man H keeps his comments short, true, but that's still one monumental undertaking, all making for some tasty food for thought, so you might do well to go check the Treadmill's November 18th entry out when you get a chance. It's sure easier than actually READING all those comics, y'know.

Me? I just do lists of silly TV characters.

Hey, it's a start...

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