Archive - February 2005
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February 28th, 2005
Wow--that was one fast Oscar telecast! It was all over by 11:40, Eastern time, and I can't recall the last time things finished up even five minutes before midnight! And the whole thing LOOKED good too--I really liked the set, with the perfectly cued overhead shots of the floor monitors, as well as the strategically arranged bank of television screens on the ceiling. Flashy AND functional.

Chris Rock? Not bad. I'm not a particularly big fan of his--and I would've preferred encore stints from either Steve Martin or Billy Crystal--but he was way, way better than Whoopi Goldberg, who, quite frankly I've never gotten, period. The monolog had its moments, but I think maybe my favorite quip of the night was when he introduced Tim Robbins, saying something along the lines of "he dazzles us with his acting when he's not boring us with his politics". And, to his credit, Robbins took the podium wearing a big smile, one that DIDN'T appear forced. Think what you will about his beliefs, the guy has always come across as likable. Which brings us, naturally, to Sean Penn...

Is there a bigger star out there who seems as UNlikable as Penn? Maybe Rock's jabs at Jude Law at the top of the show weren't his finest bits of repartee, but they hardly demanded a sobering response from the opposition while the telecast was still in progress. As it was though, on a night with few surprises, and little true spontaneity, Penn's misguided defense of his fellow thespian may've well been the most telling words uttered all evening. What a total maroon...

As for the innovations in presenting the awards either to nominees lined up on stage, or venturing into the audience to hand them out, well, I felt they were BOTH tacky solutions for saving time. That said, I felt going into the audience was the lesser of the two evils because at least you got to associate the names of the nominees with the actual people as the camera went from seat to seat as their names were read. The poor schmoes on the stage got one quick group pan--BEFORE their names were read, so good luck figuring out who was who! Look, maybe people ARE just tuning in for the movie stars, but if you're going to include the behind-the-scene folks, don't demean them. Feh. I hope things return to the status quo next year.

One thing that DID save time was the elimination of stars like Meryl Streep coming out, five separate times during the broadcast, and reading a short synopsis of one of the nominated Best Pictures, and then showing us a clip. That had to've saved 10 minutes, maybe even 15, what with the sashaying across the stage and all--and we certainly saw enough excepts from said films during the leadup to handing out the Acting Awards. Let's keep THIS innovation, okay, movie people?

Mark Evanier has already pointed out that the Academy overlooked Sandra Dee and Alan King during their annual memorial tribute montage, and during this morning's "Live With Regis And Kelly" telecast, Kelly Ripa rightly chastised the organization for neglecting her former co-star, Ruth Warrick. While Warrick may've spent the last thirty plus years toilng on ABC's "All My Children" soap, she DID play Orson Welles' wife in "Citizen Kane", no small thing, I'd like to think. Just because you go from associating with Charles Foster Kane to Erica Kane doesn't mean your should be ignored. y'know...

(And geez, Mickey Rooney. How long before he goes from the audience to the montage? Geez...)

Since I didn't see ANY of the nominated films--save for "Spider-Man 2"--I had very little invested emotionally as regards to the eventual winners and losers. It would've been nice to see Annette Bening, Martin Scorsese, and especially Alan Alda win, but hey, better luck next time, folks. On a personal note, Oscar night usually entails me perched in front of the tube, all by my lonesome--Lynn got tired of the spectacle ages ago, I'm afraid--but this year I had company. Daughter Julie--who may've watched five or ten random minutes in past years--surprised me by settling in not quite mid-way through, and sticking it out until the very end. Aside from her repeated sarcastic jabs at Johnny Depp (her best friend thinks he's hot, and she plain doesn't see it), she made a fun companion for the festivities. But, as alluded to the other day, she wasn't the ONLY one...

I spent the commercial breaks running off to the bathroom, getting snacks, and switching back and forth between Gary Sassaman's and Tom the Dog's live Oscar blogging, and it was almost like they were in the room with me! Almost. Of course, about an hour in, it became obvious Tom was TiVoing the show, so he soon fell behind the events unfolding in live time, while Gary was only seconds behind what I was seeing up there on my TV screen. Both of 'em got off plenty of good lines, and covered more ground than I could ever hope to here, in my meager tardy day-after report. But you can still relive the vicarious thrill of witnessing two men, both clearly befuddled at the very notion of Beyonce singing not one, not two, but fully three of the five nominated songs by hitting the links above! And then being beaten by Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana--oye como WHA?

And that, friends, wraps up things here for another year! Drive safely!
February 27th, 2005
Recently, I received a fairly long missive from Noah Smith, whose fun-filled weblog, "Baggy Pants And Bravado", I've recommended on more than one occasion in the past (and will continue to do so in the future--in fact, here's his well-considered thoughts concerning what he thinks the third Spider-Man movie SHOULD be). A substantial portion of his email dealt with my pair of recent SNL/John Byrne postings, easily two of his favorite subjects (I fully expect Noah to be the "Weekend Update" head-writer before the decade's out), but it was the heart-pounding heretofore unrevealed info included in his very last paragraph that set my trusty Scoop-sense a-tingling...

Speaking of letters pages, I don't think I've ever mentioned this to you, but did you know we've both contributed to PETER PORKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-HAM? Yep, see when I was 9, inspired, I think by that one issue you drew, I wrote a fairly incomprehensible letter to the book in which I suggested that they parody SECRET WARS as SECRET FURS. Despite its weirdness, they ran the letter ... twice actually, which gives you some idea of how many letters SPIDER-HAM used to get ... and eventually did run a SECRET FURS backup feature. I like to think that was my first, and thus far, only "freelance" job with Marvel. The fact that SPIDER-HAM was canceled after that issue ... I like to think it's not my fault.

Sure enough, a quick glance at the lettercol in PETER PORKER #5 (January 1986) reveals the following...
And sure enough, the letters page a mere two issues later would run the exact same letter--except that THIS time the folks at Marvel chose to include Noah's FULL address!?! The better to send later royalty checks to, no doubt..
Not that any ever actually ARRIVED, huh, pal? Truth to tell, the back-up features in that book sported the sort of names MOST clever nine-year olds could've dreamt up: Fantastic Fur, Nick Furry, agent of S.H.E.E.P., Silver Squirrel, Goose Rider, Croak and Badger, X-Bugs, Deerdevil, and--my favorite--Ant Ant!!(Y'know--instead of an Ant MAN, he's an ant! An Ant ANT! Get it? Well, I thought it was funny...)

Still, I salute you, Noah--and if the SPIDER-HAM book had lasted just a little bit longer, I'll just bet you would've come up with the definitive sequel:
"Secret Furs 2"!!

(Hey, don't knock it, folks--they paid Shooter big bucks to slap a "2" on HIS brainchild! Why not give the kid some credit, too?)

(I wasn't above hopping on this pun-fueled gravy train myself, y'know. I even submitted the layouts for a proposed Brother Voodog tail--er, TALE. In return, I got a deafening silence, but the preliminaries have been posted here on site for awhile now, so check it out if you're so disposed. The story's a HOWL, if I do say so myself...)
Although he has had, to the best of my knowledge, nothing whatsoever to do with Spider-Ham, another of my very favorite bloggers will be dealing with plenty of ham later this evening.

That's right, Gary Sassaman's "Innocent Bystander" will be Oscar-blogging LIVE tonight!! I don't know about you, but I'LL eagerly be hitting my refresh button during each and every commercial break!

Man! Technology sure has made sitting alone, lump-like on your couch more exciting than ever, hasn't it?

(EDIT: By the way, I also see that my pal, Tom The Dog, will be live Oscar-blogging! Oh, it's a virtual embarrassment of riches, I tell ya! My mouse is gonna be on the move!...)

All kidding aside (...well, most, anyway), Gary's site has, in just a few short months, rapidly become one of my very favorites.
Well written, covering a wide range of pop-cultural topics--movies, TV, music, even the occasional comics commentary--what I find perhaps most appealing is that Gary doesn't stint on retelling key anecdotes from his own life. That he manages to do so in a manner that oft times moves the reader via his ability to provide his reminiscences with a powerful emotional wallop, well, it makes for postings that, once read, aren't soon forgotten.

Take a look at this tangled tale that wove a young mother and her toddler into Gary's orbit, and the story's choke-inducing coda. The saga of
the Pittsburgh Comix Club. A nice tribute to his late Grandfather (coincidentally, my middle name--which like Gary's is George--ALSO came from my granddad! Hardly a cosmic coincidence, granted, but this IS my blog after all , so...) His own trials and tribulations getting his much missed "Innocent Bystander" comic published. Tales of the wild, the wacky, the poignant in local news coverage. And a pair of swell postings regaling the immortal virtues of Chester Gould's "Dick Tracy"--here's one, here's the other!

And that's only scratching the surface--there's LOTS more! Both Gary AND Noah's blogs are well worth your time, so go take a look if you haven't already.

Of course, every time I think of the title of Gary's page, a joke no one else but me has EVER found the least bit funny comes immediately to mind:

"Didja hear about the new offshoot of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the folks who don't want to get nearly as deeply involved?

They're called Jehovah's Bystanders!"

I'm here all week folks!

(...and after THAT, some of you might likely add, "unfortunately"...)
February 26th, 2005
The panel above was lifted from my four page contribution to Sonic Publishing's first trade paperback collection of TALES OF THE TERMINAL DINER, a little tale called "Hero Sandwich".

The brainchild of Ron and Justine Fontes (and that's Ron's crisp lettering you see up there, if you were wondering why it suddenly seemed so unusually legible, by the by), the popularly priced anthology offers up 14 fun-filled fantasy stories squeezed into 96 pages for a mere $9.95!!
Happily, the book's been getting its share of attention lately, and you can read an informative interview with the creative couple who dreamed up the back story that proved to be--you should pardon the expression--the diner's foundation over at Comic Book Resources. At the same time, you can also get a closer look at several of the collection's interior pages, including (ahem) one of mine!

It's a fun book, and I'd heartily recommend you give it a try--especially if you're looking to, um, sink your teeth into something different!

And I would've phrased it just that way even if vampires WEREN'T somehow involved in the shenanigans--honest!
On another matter entirely, there was an article that ran in The New York Times the other day, one primarily dealing with the way the producers of "Smallville" had chosen to deal with the death of Christopher Reeve, the former "Superman" actor who'd appeared in a pair of earlier episodes.

In the course of enumerating the demonstrable propensity the "Smallville" bigwigs have for slyly saluting various past facets of the Kryptonian's long-established mythos, the following paragraph--specifically, the last line--caught my attention:

Some of the references to past Superman stories have been as obvious as the casting of Mr. Reeve. Others, like a line in Swann's first episode referring to him as a "man of tomorrow," Superman's nickname in the comics, might register as a vague memory for viewers. Still others, like the fact that Mr. Reeve's character was named after Curt Swan, an artist for the "Superman" comics from the mid-1950's to the 1980's, are strictly for geeks only.


And this was in the Times, NOT the Post.

It's an interesting piece despite the author's obvious prejudices--here's the link to read the whole thing if you're at all curious.

Well, that's it for now--see all you geeks next time!
February 25th, 2005
We here at like to mark every occasion, salute every holiday, note every anniversary.

Sometimes--as with this year's expanded Valentine's Day coverage, we get a mite carried away. So much so, in fact, that we made it almost to the end of February without properly addressing Black History Month! But, better late than never...

HOW to contribute to this learning experience, I wondered? Finally, I decided merely to share my personal experience with you, and talk a little bit about the very first African-American comics characters I encountered growing up as a little white kid in the early sixties.

As you might well imagine, there weren't many black folks to be found inside the pages of those pre-March on Washington era comic books, but the first place my memory took me was back to the debut issue of Marvel's SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, which hit the stands in the early months of 1963. One of said Commandos was Gabe Jones, the first ongoing black character to appear in the still nascent Marvel Universe.

Only, I pulled out my original copy of that issue to scan in Gabe's section on the book's introductory two-page splash, only to make an incredible discovery:

Gabe was WHITE!?!
Take a look at the accompanying illustration--that's fellow Howler (and Italian-American singing idol) Dino Manelli's elbow sneaking its way into Gabe's shot. Examine the crooner's arm closely, people, compare it to the shade of the man holding the horn, and then you tell me--they're the same color, aren't they?

What happened? Stan clearly knew Gabe's racial make-up when he wrote him, and I'm sure Jack knew he was a black man when he drew him. Why, I'm reasonably certain that even the colorist--Stan Goldberg, most likely--was well aware of the proper Dr. Martin's necessary to proclaim Private Jones individuality. So, you know what I think happened? I'm betting it was one of those little old ladies the companies used to employ to prepare their comics' color separations.

"Look, Matilda--those crazy comic book people got REAL careless this time! My goodness--it almost looks like they want this fellow to have a darker tint, you know--like a colored person? But that can't be right--everyone knows there are no colored people in the comics. I'll just go ahead and fix it for them--I'm sure they'll be real happy I didn't let THAT mistake get through!!..."

(Pardon the antiquated terminology, but we ARE talking late 1962 here, y'know...)

Well, even though Gabe saw very little action in that first issue, he eventually went on to become one of the most popular of Sgt. Fury's battlefield buddies, and was among the privileged few to follow him on up through the decades, ultimately becoming one of the key S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents after the latter day Fury took over the spy organization.

And pigment wise, well, let's just say he and Michael Jackson went in opposite directions, and leave it at that.

But, straining my cranium even harder, I soon realized Gabe WASN'T the first African-American I'd encountered in the comics. A full three years earlier--maybe four--I read a couple of key issues of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED.

One was their adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's historic 1852 novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin"...
Before we get to that particular story, first a few words about CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED in general.

They scared me.

Compared to the sunny Harvey and Dell comics I was used to at that point--this was when I was a mere lad of 6 or 7, and not yet fully aware of the DC and Atlas titles out there, bear in mind--the dark and overly delineated artwork looked to be from another century, and the stories themselves, though greatly watered down from their sources, included what ALL the great classics did--DEATH, and lots of it!

(I touched on this topic in pictorial form in an episode of my "Little Freddy" strip, and you might want to check that out if you haven't had a chance to previously. Essentially, my kindly old grandmother was the one buying me all the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATEDs--I never bought any for myself--thinking she'd be exposing a youngster to the underpinnings of great literature. Instead, most (though not all) of her well-intentioned purchases wound up just creeping me out!...)

Quite a few of the original CI's that were cobbled together in the comic's industry's earliest days were subsequently redrawn in a brighter, more modern manner in the late fifties, but not all of them. Case in point: "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

According to this CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED website, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was originally published in 1943, and was never overhauled. The stiff and archaic appearing linework provided by an artist named Rolland Livingstone near two decades before I had a chance to read it was the only pulp paper pictures the Civil War-inciting saga was ever to know. To my younger self--and even still now--the drawings look as if they actually could've been done during that era, and at age seven, I found that very notion unsettling.

I also learned that seven full pages had been eliminated from the 1943 version by the time 1960 rolled around, what with ALL comic books reducing their page counts in the interim years. Perhaps that's why the story seemed a bit disjointed--and the Cabin in the title totally absent from the action--when I sat down to read it for the first time in over forty years last night...

(And no, I'd never actually read the original, but oddly enough, it was one of several books ninth-grader Julie was assigned to read this fall for her English class in the new school she's going to, along with "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn", "Ragtime", "The Joy Luck Club", "The God Of Small Things", and "My Antonia"--and that was six more books than she was obligated to read during the entirety of her two-year tenure in our local public school junior high, one of several motivating factors for her change of scene, but that'a topic for ANOTHER time. And no, she didn't READ the comic book version, though I DID offer to let her peruse it after she'd successfully completed her paperback, mainly as an aid in assisting her prepare for testing. True to past form, Julie pooh-poohed the comics, and managed just fine without it. For the record, while she found some of it needlessly repetitive and overly talky, she enjoyed the book for the most part, as there was plenty of engaging melodrama to draw readers in. I'll say!...)

Let's see if I can give this to you as succinctly as possible...

Uncle Tom is an older, beloved slave on a plantation in Kentucky. When his owner gets into difficult financial straights, he has no choice but to sell Tom to an auctioneer, with the provision that he be appraised of just who purchases Tom, so that, once his money troubles are behind him, he can go out and buy back Tom. This of course, sounds awful to a modern audience, but in the story, this fellow's clearly one of the GOOD GUYS!?!

While Tom goes off to the auction, there's a side plot concerning a less accommodating woman slave, who instead runs off to avoid being put up for sale. In trying to escape her pursuers, she has to cross a raging river, breathlessly stepping from one chunk of ice to another in a desperate effort to make it to the other side--all the while holding her infant child in her arms! This sequence was made famous on stage and silent movie versions of Beecher Stowe's book, and rightfully so--it's an unforgettable image. Too bad the comic devotes a mere four tepidly rendered panels to perhaps the single most visually unique passage in the whole tome.
On the way to auction via steamboat, Tom befriends a beautiful blonde child named Eva--and after he dives overboard to save her from drowning, her grateful father buys Tom, and brings him back to his even more impressive plantation--which is only fitting, because, if anything, he's an even NICER guy than Tom's original owner!

One of the chores given to the wise and patient Tom is teaching a little wild child by the name of Topsy to read--AND to have a positive image of herself. Naturally, this is happily accomplished in a matter of panels.
But tragedy soon rears its ugly head, when lovable little Eva collapses, and, despite the prayers of everyone, white and black alike, is soon taken off to a better place by a couple of rather unique travel agents...
Folks, THAT sequence scared the living bejeezus outta me!!

I couldn't have been all that much older than that cute little girl when I first read those panels, and it was all just so--have I used the term "unsettling" already? Well, pardon me for repeating myself, but that's the word that fits it to a tee. At that age, whatever passing thoughts about death I'd had generally concerned older people--WAY older. Little kids like me didn't croak. And certainly none of my comic book friends--Dennis, Lulu, Tubby, Dot, Audrey, and all the rest (let's just leave Casper out of this discussion for a moment, okay?..)--none of THEM was ever in any danger of taking the nap that never ends! But here, in THIS comic book, that was the last we were ever going to see of the sweet Little Eva! Brrr. And just eyeball that overly symbolic send off! Geez--all of sudden, I'm afraid of angels!

Well, back during that first read through, I didn't quite comprehend how much the plot turned on the youngster's sad demise, but now I found myself suitably impressed with the twisted plot machinations the author surrounded the event with. Had she been alive today, Miss Harriet would've made a fine contemporary writer--of SOAP OPERAS!!

Follow me here: on her deathbed, Eva makes her daddy promise to free Tom if anything should happen to her, and good to his word, shortly after the funeral, the plantation owner informs the grateful slave that he plans to make good on his pledge to his late daughter. He'll sign the necessary papers tomorrow.

Uh oh...

First though, it's off to the local cafe for a whiskey. Been a rough day, after all. It was gonna get rougher. Trying to stop a knife fight between two other bar patrons, Tom's owner is accidentally stabbed. To death. And his widow--who'd been portrayed as little more than a vain, selfish, self-absorbed woman, has absolutely no intentions of honoring her late husband's promise to Tom. In fact, she sells the plantation and all the slaves right quick, and for old Tom, the third time is definitely NOT the charm.

Tom's new owner? A fellow with a name you might recognize: Simon Legree.

Yup, THAT Simon Legree. I'll confess that, until I read through my copy of CI the other night, I didn't quite realize that the by-now-generically familiar name had originated within the pages of "Uncle Tom's Cabin", but reading on, he certainly managed to live up to all expectations. Beatings, whippings, the "N" word tossed around casually, filthy living conditions--Tom and his fellow put-upon slaves had to endure all this and more as Legree worked them to the bone in the hopes of making as much money as possible from their dawn to dusk toiling.
Which is not to say escape attempts weren't made. Two younger female slaves in fact hatched a plan to hide in the main house's attic, and then run off disguised as ghosts, knowing full well that Legree possessed an overwhelming fear of the supernatural.

That's sadistic Simon there, flanked by his favored henchmen, Quimbo and Sambo. Yes, that was their names--don't blame ME.

(And yup, even though it's clear that those are only pretend ghosts, that's ANOTHER panel that indelibly etched itself into poor Little Freddy's defenseless noggin! Thanks, grandma...)
Well. old Legree isn't TOTALLY stupid, and eventually figures out that the two women have escaped. He calls in Tom and badgers him relentlessly to give up the whereabouts of the pair, but the proud slave refuses to share any information with his cruel taskmaster.
As you might imagine, that stance didn't go over so well with the heartless Legree, and the hapless Tom is soon fatally bludgeoned by the irate overseer.

In a rare nod to taste, the panel that precedes the one over to the side merely pictures shadows of Legree's raised weapon over the head of his cowering victim, bathed symbolically in blood-drenched hues of red.

And then, the evil Legree stalks off, satisfied that he'd dealt out a sickening sort of justice.
Time for the story to take one last soap-like turn. As Tom lies on the ground, only moments away from death, who should show up but the son of Tom's original owner. Seems as if his dad had passed on, but now that the family is financially flush again, he's there to buy Tom back.

Simon Legree chuckles nastily at the notion, and then offers to let him have Tom for nothing--after all, even he doesn't charge for DEAD slaves!...
The stunned man runs over to the fast expiring Tom, cradles him in his arms, and hears his final words.

(The artwork in this panel reminds me of the work of Guy Colwell, who wrote and drew a series of undergrounds in the late sixties called INNER CITY ROMANCE COMICS, as well as DOLL in the late eighties and early nineties--wonder if that's just a coincidence, or if he was influenced in his depiction of African-American characters by reading this comic around the same time I did?...)
After Tom dies, the outraged son of his former owner punches Simon Legree in the jaw, and then returns home, ultimately deciding to free ALL his slaves--and then delivers an uplifting speech concerning the need to abolish slavery worldwide, just to put the icing on the metaphorical cake.

The end.

The message comes through loud and clear--slavery was bad, really, REALLY bad. Not exactly front page news in 1960--now, a comic about the evils of the era's Jim Crow laws, THAT would've been ground-breaking. Didn't happen, of course...

"Uncle Tom's Cabin" is a tricky book to adapt, even more so now than back in 1943. Obviously, its author was well meaning in her sincere condemnation of the practice of slavery, but without historical context--this really WAS a bold gesture back in 1852--a lot of the relationships between the black characters and the otherwise well-meaning folks who just happen to OWN them, well, they come off as unavoidably patronizing. And the pairing of the little blond curly-haired cutie with the large noble Negro? Hey, how was Ms. Beecher Stowe to know she was writing the template for just about every other Shirley Temple movie ever filmed?

Anyway, it was fascinating revisiting this comic after so many years (via a coverless copy picked up at a convention about ten years back--there's no date on it, but I'm betting it's an even later printing than my original copy, as the printing quality has gone noticeably downhill from the ones Gran bought me off the stands--my apologies for the muddiness of some of the scans.)

The other CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED that prominently featured a black American--also a slave--was their adaptation of Mark Twain's "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn"

Unlike my other CI, this one featured updated artwork, issued in 1956, and credited, at the CI website, to well-known inker Frank Giacoia. Inasmuch as Giacoia did very little pencilling in his career--and most of what he "did" was ghosted--I'd wager some OTHER folks had their hand(s) in this art job. My first inclination is to finger Mike Sekowsky as the true penciller, but it may well've been either Manny Stallman, John Guinta, Sy Barry--or someone else altogether. It's a little hard to say definitively.

What is easy to see is that this art job, though hardly inspired, was also of the pleasant, non-threatening variety, made popular--if not necessarily by choice--by the advent of the Comics Code mid-decade. (CI didn't subscribe to the Code, but I'm sure they weren't totally ignorant of it, either...)

I'm not gonna put you through a retelling of the escapades Huck and Jim had in Twain's classic. I'll merely point out that, yup, here was ANOTHER great American novel yours truly never got around to reading (hey, I had comic books to read--there's only so much time in the day, y'know...), and that my daughter, who DID read it, didn't like it much, finding the erstwhile Clemens' over-reliance on dialect making the story near indecipherable at times.

There WAS one short sequence from the comic version that's stuck with me ever since I first read it at a tender age, though--honest to gosh, I'm not kidding here--and I reproduce it for you directly below...
But I think it best we leave a more in-depth discussion of this for the upcoming annual National Cross-Dressing Week, don'tcha think?

(That's when--third week in August? Check your calendars. folks--and fellas, prepare your frocks!...)
February 24th, 2005
Last night, I watched a tape of that “Saturday Night Live:The First 5 Years” special that was on recently. I'd almost skipped the thing entirely, figuring it'd be little more than just another clip show, with maybe a few wacky anecdotes woven in to give it the appearance of a retrospective, but after noting that a surprising amount of positive critical reaction was being directed its way before it even aired, I decided to take a chance that it wouldn't merely be a needless rehash of SNL's long-ago glory days, so I taped it.

I'm glad I did.

It was more of a documentary--a true oral history, actually--than a facile showbizzy celebration. For the most part, the comedy clips served to illustrate the various interviewees points, and not the other way around, with the commentary used as tepid justification for dragging out well-worn clips. And for a product emanating from a big-time television network intended for prime time—during sweeps, no less--it was refreshingly frank. The visual style employed was impressive as well, flashy without being needlessly dizzying. When it was over, though I felt they managed to touch all of their major bases, I was still left wanting more.

(And really, just WHEN is Jane Curtin gonna get over her Greta Garbo complex when it comes to SNL? Well, at least she's consistent—that photo above was scanned in from a 1979 trade paperback issued by ROLLING STONE, collecting all their previously published SNL-related material between two covers. And naturally, each cast member is afforded his or her own individual profile—except Jane. Across from a standard publicity photo of the actress, it simply says under her name, “Does not give interviews”. Nope, just does cheesy sitcoms...) (Okay, OKAY—so I watched “Kate and Allie” for years—so sue me. I never went anywhere NEAR “3rd Rock”, though...)

It was important that the show give the birth of SNL context, which I believe it did, admirably. Without having actually lived through those times, it's probably difficult for viewers who've grown up with the sort of freewheeling comedy that you can find all over the airwaves these days to grasp the truly ground-breaking nature of those early shows. As for myself, well, I jumped on board somewhere around the fourth show (though I have vague memories of catching a few moments here and there of the initial three airings, all without quite understanding that a revolution was taking place before my eyes). Once hooked in, though, it quickly became what they call appointment television nowadays, and you can just imagine what THAT meant for a bunch of college students gathered around an old black and white TV set each weekend, gleefully anticipating just which boundaries would be battered down this week!

Well, watching SNL with my roommates and our various lady friends soon became a ritual at our off-campus digs, and as usual, given my nature, I took things perhaps a step further than the rest. Fact is, I believe that between that fourth show and getting our first VCR in the spring of 1983, I only ever missed two shows! That's what? Eight years? Not that my social life was totally nonexistent during those years (the fact that Lynn and I were already together at the time, however, allowed me to avoid any unnecessary late night weekend dating, as well as beg her indulgence for my little, um, quirks—a practice that, truth to tell, continues on to this very day...), but we always somehow managed to be home (or SOMEWHERE) in front of a tube tuned to NBC by 11:30 each Saturday night. (Hey, we could always paint the town when they scheduled a repeat—I wasn't TOTALLY unreasonable, after all...)

One of those missed episodes came when I broke down and agreed to attend a party, but inasmuch as it was a show hosted by Blondie's Debbie Harry during the early Joe Piscopo era (“I'm from Jersey—are you from Jersey?”), I wasn't all that perturbed at the not-quite-Sophie's-like choice that I made. (Although, I sure am glad I didn't skip the very NEXT week's Charlene Tilton-hosted affair, as that was the one where Charles Rocket almost killed the show for good with an infamous ad-lib....)

The OTHER instance was an entirely different story, however—it was their legendarily awful live Sunday prime time broadcast from New Orleans' Mardi Gras from 1976! The snowballing popularity of the program was such that they were given this unprecedented opportunity to strut their stuff in front of a whole new audience that evening, but NOT in front of one of their earliest, oldest, and most enthusiastic boosters--I had to work that night!

I was still in Buffalo, y'see. living with my college roommates, but unlike my buddies--and Lynn, too, who were all two years younger than me—I'd graduated, and was working as a stock-boy at the local Bells supermarket while I basically waited for everyone else (okay, okay--primarily my wife-to-be) to finish up. That particular night, I got stuck with the overnight shift, stocking shelves. Normally, no big deal, but THIS particular Sunday, I was distraught. I'd REALLY been looking forward to this special broadcast ever since it had been announced, but try as I might, I couldn't weasel out of my box toting obligations. I clearly recall watching the first ten or so minutes of the show, and then bidding Rick, Steve, and all the rest a sad farewell—a REAL sad one. Oh well, I thought, trying to console myself with a TV truism, they're bound to rerun the episode in the show's traditional late night slot come the summer..


That broadcast apparently was a disaster of mythical proportions—which only made missing it all the MORE heartrending! About a year back, I finally read an in-depth recounting of everything that went wrong that night in New Orleans, published, I believe, in a Louisiana newspaper (accessed on line, probably via an Evanier supplied link, the exact one of which I can't seem to find at the moment), but watching the short-but-not-totally-unsubstantial excerpts included on the special last night is still about as close as I've ever gotten to seeing that sole Sunday night episode of “Saturday Night”. Sigh...

Of course, after ponying up for our first VCR a few short years later, I figured there'd never again be the need to fret about missing an episode of SNL. In fact, aided by this new freeing bit of technology, there was no actual need to watch it either live OR on Saturday night, and I confess, I rarely did. It was rough going for awhile there when the original cast—and producer Lorne Michaels—left in the spring of 1980, but I'm nothing if not loyal. I continued to watch faithfully, if not always as enthusiastically as in the past. Finally, though, it happened--I'd had enough.

I wasn't particularly enjoying the show early in 1984—that season's cast featured the likes of Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger, Tim Kazurinsky, and Julia Louis-Drefuss, talented individuals who nonetheless lacked that indefinable spark necessary to make SNL shine week in and week out—and with the announced host for the May 5th broadcast being Barry Bostwick, well, THAT bit of news did little to assuage my very real fear that the episode would most likely be near comedy free. (And no, my memory isn't THAT good--pertinent info was found at this expansive Saturday Night Live website.) So I made an agonizing decision to not only not watch, but not to tape the show either. It was time to get the SNL monkey off my back, and what better time to free the chimp from the chump than with an episode featuring an actor—previously best known for playing the straight man in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”--who likely got the nod to host merely so as to promote his upcoming miniseries recounting the life of George Washington, with him trussed up in powdered wig number one? No, I concluded, this was the PERFECT time to abandon the no-longer-all-that-glorious SNL, and I felt pretty darn good about my decision.

Until Monday morning.

It started like any other day. I got up, went downstairs, had a quick bite to eat, did some chores, sat down to do a little drawing, and when 10 o'clock rolled around, went over and turned on the radio. It was during this time period, y'see, that my beloved comedic mentor, Soupy Sales, hosted himself a four hour, weekday program on New York's WNBC 66 AM radio station. It was a casual mixture of old jokes, skits, specialty songs, listener call-ins, the very occasional actual record, and, of course, a daily dose of small-talk bantering between the star of the show and Ray, his designated radio sidekick. It wasn't edgy, but it was fun—and more importantly, it was Soupy! I think by now, you all know in how much esteem I hold Mr. Sales—enough that I'd be willing to listen to the occasionally less than stellar reception and put up with the interminable commercials, tuning in as often as possible, just to get a daily dose of Soupy's shtick.

Try and imagine my reaction, then, when, after the show's opening theme, Ray began his daily chat with Soupy by saying, “Hey, boss—I caught you on Saturday Night Live the other night! You were sensational!!”

WHAT? Soupy was on SNL?

It was as if I'd been kicked in the stomach. The Soupster, it came out, had made a very well-received cameo on the Bostwick-hosted show—I believe a pie was involved as well—and I had missed it!. Purposefully. And y'know, they never reran THAT one either, at least not during the same season. I'd literally fantasized about seeing Soupy host SNL in those early days (don't laugh), and while this wasn't quite that dream come true, realistically, it was gonna be about as close as we were ever likely to get.

I learned an important lesson that Monday morning. I've seen every episode since—and I'm STILL waiting for Soupy's follow-up appearance! Frankly, I'm getting a mite discouraged...

I don't regret my subsequent undying allegiance (aka, compulsive obsessiveness). The casts over the years have generally been more entertaining than that fallow mid-eighties assemblage, and there's usually SOMETHING funny on each episode. In fact, I contend that current cast member Amy Poehler is among the most talented and funniest people that the show has employed in its astonishingly lengthy run, and reason enough to tune in each week. That episode a few weeks back, the one that kicked off with her and Tina Fey playing the Bush twins on their father's second Inauguration Day, featured Amy as the centerpiece of most of the sketches, and, not coincidentally, was one of the funniest ninety minutes that SNL's broadcast in years. Why this woman isn't a big movie star yet, I'm not quite sure, but the Cineplex's loss is clearly NBC's gain.

But there's never been anything quite like those first five years, has there? If you missed the special first time around, don't worry about hoping for a rerun—word is there'll be a DVD along shortly, and with extra footage to boot! Exactly what, I'm not sure, but I'm not betting the house on that elusive Jane Curtin grilling.Me, I'd happily settle for more of that Mardi Gras travesty—please?...
February 23rd, 2005
Anybody who knows anything about the X-Men knows THAT cover--John Byrne and Terry Austin's classic UNCANNY X-MEN 141 frontispiece from 1980.

Well, I was recently commissioned by a swell fellow by the name of Shaun Crowell to redo that iconic illustration in my own, um, offbeat style--but you won't find it here. Nope--though Shaun DID post it over at The John Byrne Forum, and then kindly provided me with this link. I invite the curious, the bored,, and those of you with way too much time on your hands to go check it out.
If you take a closer look, you might notice the single alteration Mr. Crowell requested (besides the de riguer squiggly knees, I mean): he wanted me to include a likeness good ol JB in place of Colossus on the background wanted poster, and left the descriptive status--apprehended, maimed, stone cold dead, et al--up to me, though his hopes were for something on the witty side. Did I meet his stated goal? Well, like I said, go look, and you can judge for yourself.

And speaking of judging, (now, THERE'S a transition for you...) that sorta brings up the matter of said message board's master. Because, lemme tell ya, it sure seems that if there's one thing EVERY comics fan on the Internet has an opinion of, it's John Byrne! I actually began to ponder this situation a few days back, even before I learned Shaun intended to post my redo at the home of its original artist's virtual stomping ground. What happened was, a day after posting the FantaCo recollections here on the blog of my old compatriot, Roger Green, I received the following note from him as a P.S. of sorts...

BTW, I can't remember who was supposed to do the Spidey cover, but we waited and waited, discovered it was not coming (arrgh!!), contacted John Byrne pretty much in desperation at the 11th hour, and Byrne whipped it out in no time. (I'm sure we promoted the cover as by whatever artist we had originally commissioned, but having to "settle" for a Byrne cover was NOT a problem, unlike the Kirby conundrum.) I never met the man, but I always appreciated his kindness and professionalism, not to mention his speed!

You hear so-called Byrne horror stories all the time, but after reading that, it occurred to me that it might be a pleasant change for everyone to run a nice Johnny B anecdote for a change. Unlike Roger, I HAVE met John, and though we haven't so much as spoken in over a decade now--a brief flurry of emails exchanged about a year and a half back being our only communication--there was a period in the eighties and on up into the early nineties when we seemed to run into each other frequently, and I've gotta tell ya, he was always extremely friendly and gracious towards me. In fact, as I may've mentioned before, he was one of only two artists who voluntarily and with absolutely no prodding from yours truly (honest!) freely gave me the pages of artwork they'd done over my layouts for the FANTASTIC FOUR ROAST (the other kind soul being the princely Frank Miller), and I've always been suitably impressed by that kind act of generosity. (And no, you WON'T be finding ANY of those pages turning up on eBay anytime soon, I can guarantee that!...)

That noted, I'm well aware John has a propensity for saying things that cause people conniptions. Hey look, I certainly don't agree with everything he says--not even close--and yeah, on occasion, pulled out of context, his comments may look especially dubious. Put 'em back where they belong, and sometimes that helps, and sometimes it doesn't--but that's okay. John has strong opinions. John's ALWAYS had strong opinions. That's just his personality--some folks bend more than others, and I think John inadvertently aggravates some people because he's staunchly rock-solid in his stances (me, well, I'm like a palm tree doing the hula in a hurricane, but it takes all kinds, don't it now?...)

So, the next time you read the latest quote celebre' from friend Byrne pinging back and forth across the Net--one that may make you, well, scratch your head--I suggest you reserve your misdirected rage for a more worthy target, take a deep breath, shake your head slightly if you must, but then muster a knowing smile and give him a break . He's a good guy--a mite stubborn in his beliefs, maybe, but a decent enough fellow overall. Look, if we got mad at everyone we didn't agree with, this whole crazy world would be filled with nothing but war and strife, and... um...well, anyway...

At worst--and I say this with tongue planted firmly in keyboard--you might describe John Byrne with perhaps the wisest words ever to find their way into one of the Shangri-Las old tunes ( no, it WASN'T "Leader Of The Pack"...), "He's good-bad, but he's not evil"!

That's right, Marvel Maniacs--JB is NOT Dr. Doom, but more like Stan and Jack's Sub-Mariner, sans the stare-inducing ears. Like Namor, he may agitate folks upon occasion, but also like the sea monarch, not only is his heart in the right place, but he fills out a set of green swim trunks mighty, mighty fine-like! (Or, at least he does in my fevered imagination--but that's just between you and me, okay?....)

Well, moving on quickly, while we're traveling elsewhere across the virtual expanse in quest of fresh doses of Hembeck art, here's a link courtesy of Chris Elam, spotlighting my version of two of his very own characters, Jet Phoenix and Green Wyvern, done as a commission about a year ago. Yessir, friends, you got yourself a self-generated character--AND the necessary scratch, natch--and they too can wind up looking as silly as any of the big-time Marvel and DC icons I've put my pen to in the past, as Chris can well attest to.

Finally, if you wanna read some more of my ramblings still, be advised that I posted a new entry yesterday over on this site's sister Beatles' Blog, dealing this time around with a decades old rumored Paul McCartney/Herb Alpert connection.

"Huh?", you say.

Well, you know the drill--go see for yourself! Don't worry--it's a quick trip...
February 22nd, 2005
It was early 1968. I was a bored ninth grader sitting in study hall one day, and of course, I wasn't studying.

Instead, me and a few other fellows were sitting around, totally enthralled as this one kid regaled us with a lurid recounting of only the most depraved parts of a book he'd just finished reading, one focusing on the world's most infamous motorcycle gang. Maybe the most intriguing part of the sordid tale he wove for us was that the volume's author wasn't just your standard removed and on high commentator-type, but had actually rode with the illicit organization in order to tell their highly-charged saga in a more unbiased and truthful manner.

Well, it must've been one heckuva sales job, because not too long after, I went out and plunked down ninety-five cents for my own copy.

The book was "Hell's Angels" by Hunter S. Thompson.
The writing was a revelation. The back cover blurb called it "Superb and terrifying", and it was all that and more. Listen, I had no immediate plans to hop on a motorcycle anytime soon--and still haven't--but I'll admit to a certain inexplicable interest with some of the darker aspects of our society, and back in '68, the Angels were right up top of that list. Amazingly, though, the author managed to portray these outlaws with a real humanity, the one quality generally lacking in all other previous press reports concerning the leather-jacketed gang members. But be assured this was no misguided valentine--just when you felt yourself being seductively sucked into the world of the outlaw and their so-called code of honor, our man on the scene would unflinchingly chronicle an appalling act of brutality so vividly that it would cause any built up sympathy for the Angels to instantly evaporate.

Which is probably why the the group beat Thompson up as a means of ending their mutual affiliation. Made for a swell ending, though...

It was--and, I suspect, remains--a powerful book, and I got so much more out of reading it than I ever could've imagined, listening to a hormonal retelling of The Good Parts that long ago morning in the Longwood High cafeteria. That was my introduction to Hunter S. Thompson.

Understand, of course, that he wasn't REALLY "Hunter S. Thompson" yet--that would come a few short years later in the pages of ROLLING STONE, back when that magazine was simultaneously exhilarating, dangerous, AND important. Stuck out on rural Long Island, with my comic books and quiet little life, those early issues of RS provided me my sole connection to the burgeoning counterculture of the day, a movement that both fascinated and scared me. I eagerly read each and every bi-weekly issue from cover to cover--even the ads--and then, the REALLY good stuff, over again! Is it any wonder that when Thompson finally arrived in its pages, his writing would have a tremendous effect on me?

Okay, I'll admit, I never quite got all that "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" stuff. I tend to read everything too literally, y'see, and by the time I'd figured out that not all of the incidents reported therein by the alleged narrator were to be taken at face value, I was way TOO confused! But the political reporting he did for RS--THAT was another matter entirely. That resonated with me in a way the standard political reportage of the day never could've. It was a rough time for the country, remember--especially if you were young. The egregious excesses of the Nixon era virtually demanded someone like Thompson. Because someone needed to not only stand up and say the emperor was naked, but that he had a damn ugly body, too! And, oh, was Thompson ever the master at spewing out bile in a highly individualistic--and near poetic--manner. He called it "Gonzo journalism", and I couldn't get enough of it. I wasn't alone...

Eventually, though, Nixon resigned, and there just didn't seem to be any other targets around worthy of Thompson's scathing pit-bull like attacks. He continued to write for ROLLING STONE, sporadically at best over the years, but somehow it just wasn't the same for me. Having safely grown up and escaped Nixon's deadly draft, maybe I didn't NEED someone like Hunter S. Thompson standing in front of the King's Imperial Palace, screaming obscenities on my behalf anymore. As I aged, my level of institutionalized outrage dropped. It happens. When that rare day came that Thompson showed up with a fresh piece of Gonzo goodness in the pages of the now-clearly-establishment RS, odds were decent that I wouldn't even read it. Nothing deliberate, mind you--time just becomes somehow shorter as you grow older--and besides, in general, it didn't seem to be anything I hadn't read before, back in the days when it would've truly MEANT something to me...

My most recent memories of the writer stem, oddly enough, from television. He appeared several times as a guest on "Late Night With Conan O' Brien"--always, wisely, in the show's final slot. He was NOT a tube-friendly personality--combine the occasional inaudible mumbling with his seeming steadfast refusal to provide anything but long. rambling answers to the most rudimentary of queries, and you had potential train-wreck TV every time. Still, the host clearly seemed to have great respect for the man--he'd've had to, to invite him back more than once, given his performance...

Best of all was what I believe to have been Thompson's final appearance on the show. This time, Conan went to him, and, on the writer's home turf, the crew filmed a piece that they later edited together to far more satisfying effect than the studio Q&A's. The gist of the bit? O'Brien learning to shoot from the well-known gun-fancier...

And that's where the story ends, doesn't it? With a gun. There are probably more details to be revealed in the days ahead, but for now, the headline is, "Hunter S Thompson Dead, By His Own Hand". Who knows the reasons why, but let's face it--a complete surprise it wasn't, sad as the news may've been to absorb at first.

He had quite the career, though--after suffering that beating by the outlaw motorcycle gang, the one that so titillated a group of thrill hungry teenage boys, he went on to invent an entirely new form of reporting; become the basis for one of the most popular characters in the most successful new, post-1970 syndicated newspaper comic strip; get to see himself (or his thinly veiled analog) portrayed by both Bill Murray AND Johnny Depp in not one, but TWO movies adapting his work--and so what if they were both critical AND commercial turkeys? Who'd've ever thought someone would even attempt to make films from his writings back when his prose was still dripping fresh ink off of the ROLLING STONE printing presses? Above and beyond the writing, quite the set of accomplishments for a scribe who wasn't exactly going out and winning 'em over on publicity junkets, comprende?

And then there was the writing. Oh yeah, the writing! Look, while I may not have followed his later period religiously, that doesn't for one minute negate the importance--and the personal influence--his searing white-hot verbiage had on me back when he first captured the attention of the world.

That Hunter S Thompson will be missed is obvious. That he won't soon be forgotten--well, that's for certain.
February 21st, 2005
Hey, he's got MY vote!!
...even to those of you who aren't all that happy WITH the President!!..

(And y'know, in this particular instance, I think I'd prefer that the man in the Oval Office be the one operating under an alias, NOT the Lex Luthor-lookalike in the Press Room, dig?...)

We have some new links to share with you. I'd like to thank fellow Betty Brant-fancier, Chris Elam, for sending me directions to the sites of artists Mike Royer, Mort Todd, Rich Buckler, and that previously elusive Jim Valentino address! Thanks, Chris--you're one of the good guys!

Elsewise, yours truly, um, lifted a pair of links from Mike Sterling (Robin Hood comics stories and a nifty UFO comics cover gallery) and from Mike Norton (an archive of vintage Marvel Bullpen Bulletin Pages, AND the actual theme song recording for the Merry Marvel Marching Society--go listen! It's a hoot and a half! Now, if only that fabled flexi-disc starring good ol' Stan, King Jack, and the rest of the bewildered Bullpen was available somewhere on the net, we'd REALLY be in business. Sigh...)--danke, Mike and Mike! (Say, wasn't that a show on Nickelodeon a few years back?...)

Aside from a link to a site cataloging recorded cover versions--open to the Beatles section, natch--provided by FantaCo alumnus and good chum, Roger Green, I found the rest on my own. Look, I'm not gonna do double duty, folks--if you're interested, they're a mere click away on our Links page(s), and they all have a darker red
** next to them so as to differentiate them from the other recent new additions. (And no bloggers this time, sorry--but probably next time, when I go through the various entrants in the "100 Things I yada yada yada...", and add some of the newies to the roll call--and please note that I DO continue to add to that still growing listing under our February 15th entry, so if I've missed anybody, let me know, okay?)

Well, that's about all for now, so go do something patriotic on this President's Day, wouldja? Y'know, like, go buy something you don't need--just so long as it's on sale!

Abe would be SO proud, honest...
February 20th, 2005
Several days ago, I made the following statement regarding live recordings:

..and the all-time champ, "The Who: Live At Leeds" (original, expanded single disc, OR the expanded double disc version--any and all will do! Forget the Stones--the Who ARE the world's greatest rock and roll band! Listen to this and try and tell me otherwise, just TRY!...) .

Soon after, the following missive (Subject line: "Paint it black, you devils!") arrived from regular correspondent, Craig Smith...
Ah Fred,

How can you issue such a challenge and not expect me to pick up my dueling pistols? I submit "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!" is the greatest live album of all time. True, "Live at Leeds" delivers the goods especially on side one but that "Tommy" medley on the flipside is rambling and uninspired. Also, what really negates the feel of a great live album is the way they reduced the audience noise between takes. Kee-rist, it sounds like they're delivering maximum R&B at a golf tournament!

But there's not denying this is the album Daltrey really comes into his own as a vocalist. Listen to all the pre - Leeds records and Roger has a pleasant almost gentle voice. During and after Leeds it's all balls-out swagger. I wonder if he took professional singing lessons around that time? But Leeds does show how effective a power trio could be with Townshend switching from rhythm to lead guitar with the greatest of ease.

But "Ya-Yas" is the sound of a terrific band at the absolute height of its powers with the fresh addition of Mick Taylor making everyone else work that much harder to keep up...and they do so splendidly! I think the live versions of "Stray Cat Blues", "Love in Vain" and especially "Sympathy for the Devil" blows the doors off the originals and those were all great songs in the first place. And as for the audience being into it who can forget the shouts of "God Damn!" from that one lone stoned fan during "Midnight Rambler"?

Okay, "Little Queenie" was one Chuck Berry song too many for this collection but everything else is Stoned Gold!

So "Leeds" is third for me with the second being side one of the terrific "Live Peace in Toronto 1969" by The Plastic Ono Band. Never before or since have the stoned and jet-lagged rocked so well.

- Craig
I'm sticking with my top three, Craig, but I'll happily grant "Ya-Yas" slot number four on that specific scoreboard. My problem with the Stones is that they seem to churn out a live album every time they go on tour--and over the last forty years, they've gone on a LOT of tours! And until fairly recently, pretty much the same set list of songs would turn up on each inevitable release. Recent years have seen a shift away from that tiresome predictability (such as their latest, 2004's two CD "Live Licks", which featured an entire disc worth of tunes rarely performed in concert. Nice move, Mick--we not only get the 56th live take of "Brown Sugar', but the very first of "Rocks Off" as well!)

But that's all beside your point, isn't it, Craig? You're talking about the Stones at their absolute peak--no debate there--coming off their two best albums, "Beggar's Banquet" and "Let It Bleed', and in the days BEFORE they became the dubious darlings of the glitteratti. They were still the Rolling Stones then--they didn't just play 'em on TV!

I've always considered "Sympathy For The Devil" from "BB" to be the perfect Stones recording, and was taken aback by your assertion that the live take trumped it! Well, I got MY "Ya-Ya's" out last night, and gave it a spin. Look, while I'm not about to second THAT emotion, listening to it with your fresh perspective in mind, I DID hear a powerful energy running through the stage version that is underplayed--if not entirely absent--on the original, more subtly sinister recording. Apples and oranges, friend--and if you don't mind, I'll have a bite of BOTH!!

"Ya-Ya's" audience certainly IS part of the act, no denying it. I hadn't ever really noticed the low audio on the crowd at Leeds, but as I generally find TOO much clapping, hooting, and whistling to be an unwanted distraction on these aural souvenirs, I tend to prefer that ALL my favorite rockers haul along the ol' reel to reel machines when they play the Bob Hope Invitational! But I wanna tell ya...

As far as the "Tommy" medley being "rambling and uninspired"--no! NO!! NO!!! I've adored all fifteen minutes and twenty four exhilarating seconds of their expansive "My Generation" performance ever since I bought my LP copy of "Live At Leeds" back in 1970. In fact, here's one of the pivotal reasons why I prefer The Who to The Rolling Stones--their unmatched improvisational chops! True, they generally stick to a standard set list, but there's always that time during their shows--usually towards the end--where, following Townshend's lead, they just go off, each riffing with an energetic creativity that always surprises and never disappoints, ending in a sonic explosion--I LOVE that unpredictability!

And maybe another reason I cast my vote for The Who as The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band (aside from the fact that I've always mildly resented the fact that the Stones started calling THEMSELVES that back in the early seventies to hype their tours, and it was repeated so often that it just fell into common parlance, without a true vote EVER being taken) is that, frankly, I just enjoy their SONGS more. Again with the fruit analogy, uh huh--but it's an easy choice for me. I find pretty much everything Pete Townshend has written over the years--with or without the group--able to hold my interest, and usually keenly at that. Can't say the same about Mick and Keith, unfortunately (though their run of singles, 1964-1971, is perfectly stunning, and are truer classics than most of The Who's pre-"Tommy" 45rpm releases, "I Can See For Miles" and most especially "My Generation" excepted...)

As for "Live Peace In Toronto", well, to my way of thinking, it was always way too short for me to truly consider it a legitimate contender in the Live Album Cham-peen Sweepstakes (and no, I only ever flipped it over to play the Yoko side two or three times back in its day, not being all that fond of the woman's oeurve--OR her shriek...)

Huh--would you listen to the two of us, Craig? To the younger folks out there, we probably sound like our parents did to us, arguing over the relative merits of the Glenn Miller Band versus the Benny Goodman Orchestra! Yes. children, we're OLD--just like Pete and Mick. Beats the alternative taken by Brian and Keith, though (not to mention Brian Keith, also...).

(And by the way--no contest: Benny Goodman beats Glenn Miller, hands down. Now, up against fellow clarinet player/band leader Artie Shaw, well, THAT'S not a contest not so easily determined. And before I lose what little audience I still have left, I'm not even gonna TRY! Instead, I'll just--as the kids used to say--"23 Skidoo!"...)
February 19th, 2005
Pretty wild looking artwork, eh?

It was done by a fellow who toiled in obscurity, working in the comics field during the late forties and into the early fifties, before finally fleeing the biz entirely. I was totally unfamiliar with his work, but my buddy Rocco, who collects all sorts of books from that era, was excited to find an article profiling this hitherto unidentified craftsman--who he'd admired in many of his musty treasures--in the latest issue of THE COMICS JOURNAL, number 265, and then excitedly clued me into it.

Said artists name?

Harry Anderson.
No, not THAT guy.

There had to have been PLENTY of "Harry Andersons" roaming this big old land of ours, and they weren't ALL on "Night Court", y'know..
THIS Harry gets the full treatment from TCJ. True, the text piece by noted comics historian, Jim Vadeboncoeur, is tantalizingly brief, clocking in at a mere two pages, but it nonetheless manages to squeeze in all the necessary biographical info--AND adds one of those "Truth is stranger than fiction" anecdotes direct from the piece's author's own experience to boot!

Most delightfully, along with four examples of cover art, the editors at TCJ lovingly reproduce four complete stories--28 pages worth--masterfully illustrated by Anderson from his early fifties heyday at Atlas Comics (or Timely, or Marvel, or WHATEVER they were called that particular week): "Murder Stalks The Bowery", "Death Row", "Coin Of Killers", and, as pictured above, the wonderfully lurid "Blood Brothers"!

The artwork is a revelation, and the scripts, while hardly of award winning caliber, are grimly competent, and brutally evocative of the pre-Wertham fascination the field held for cringe-inducing crime parables. Oh, in the end, the bad guys never get out alive, but they certainly manage to indiscriminately wipe out an astounding amount of innocents on their way to their just rewards. lemme tell ya! And then there's the squirm-inducing matter of the two brothers fighting over that poor chair bound girl--but I think I'll let you all discover the depraved twists and turns THAT grim little fairy tale takes for yourselves!...
Anderson's style suggests a combination of Graham Ingels mixed in with that OTHER Marvel mainstay, Bill Everett. Those thugs over there (NEITHER affiliated in any way whatsoever with MY friend Rocco, I assure you--just an amazing coincidence!) look like they could've easily been a part of The Fixer's gang, stepping right out of the pages of DAREDEVIL #1! Just imagine if Harry Anderson had been called in to take over that title with its second issue after Everett bailed, instead of Joe Orlando and Vinnie Colletta--THAT would've been one smooth transition!
Instead, it was Anderson who bailed on the whole notion of drawing comic books, a full decade before Stan Lee unleashed his blind crime-fighter on the reading public. Too bad, as the man appeared to be an impressive stylist, one with a firm grasp of the dramatic--an impression that, with only a handful of his pages to savor, came through almost immediately.

For more information on the old, pre-Marvel Age Comics, let me recommend you check out the expansive Atlas Tales website.

And if, by chance, some other undiscovered artist turns up named "John Larroquette", well, THIS time, I'm betting on a connection!...
February 18th, 2005
After I posted my Valentine's Day homage to the lovely Betty Brant, I received several interesting messages. The first that I'd like to share with you comes from the gent who edited the magazine that first housed that very strip, my old friend, Roger Green, who starts his missive off by repeating a comment I made that day in the blog...

"Back in 1982, the folks at Fantaco Enterprises issued a series of officially sanctioned fanzines based on several Marvel properties, one of which was the SPIDER-MAN CHRONICLES. edited by my good pal, Roger Green (Hi, Roger!)."

Hi, yourself!

But the "sanctioned" part is a bit more complicated.

I did the X-Men Chronicles, which was not sanctioned, but as a fanzine, didn't need to be. Of course, we didn't use the Marvel logo. But Marvel apparently liked the product, contacted us and they gave us permission to use the Marvel logos.

Then, simultaneously, Mitch (Cohn) did DD, and I did FF. After these, Marvel took away its blessing (and some tall person made some noise about legal action).

So, Mitch's Avengers and my Spidey (published a couple months apart) were not sanctioned, and didn't use the Marvel logos.

And, why is that, you may ask.

Jack Kirby.

More specifically, I had called Jack Kirby and asked to set up an interview about the FF, and (I thought) he had agreed. So we advertised that fact in the "upcoming issue" info that we sent to the distributors (Diamond, Seagate, Capital, etc.)

On the designated day, I call Jack. He won't talk about the FF. He won't talk about Marvel Comics AT ALL. He'll only talk about his then-current products with DC (I can dig out the issue and mail the interview to you, if you'd like).

So, I had this DC-related interview in a Marvel-related comic book. What to do, what to do. I (undoubtedly in consultation with Tom and probably Mitch) decided to go with the interview we had.

In hindsight, I'm not sure I would have done the same thing. On the other hand, I think of the situation like Michael Jackson doing songs from Thriller (a Columbia/Epic product) on a Motown 25 special around that same time period - if that's what he wants to do, if that's the only way to get him, then let's do it.

The Motown decision helped catapult the moonwalking Jackson's Thriller to great commercial and critical heights. The FantaCo decision nearly got us sued.
True enough, Roger, but at least, no one from FantaCo ever went on trial for saying, "Hey Kids! Comics!" maybe a TAD bit too aggressively, if you get my meaning, dig?...

As you can plainly see, l have my copies of both the FF and Spidey CHRONICLES close at hand (each sporting swell John Byrne covers, collectors!). I was only a hired hand in terms of my input into these publications, contributing a few scant pages to each, but I certainly came into the shop often enough to recall the rock and a hard place the Jack Kirby interview had inadvertently put you.

Since it was advertised, you pretty much HAD to run whatever Jack gave you (it was a Pacific project he was focused on, by the way, not a DC book--but after 23 years, I think you're allowed the slip), if only to keep FantaCo's promise to the buying public. And Jack, well, considering the whole nasty situation between him and Marvel at the time, why WOULD he want to talk about the Fantastic Four and potentially put more money into his estranged employer's pockets?

Though, in retrospect, while it isn't a very satisfying solution--this WASN'T the CAPTAIN VICTORY CHRONICLES, after all--I've gotta admire you both. As frustrated as you may've been, you acceded to his wishes, and dutifully talked up his new project. And Jack? Hey, he didn't even HAVE to talk to you, once the specifics of your potential discussion became clear to him, y'know! But he was too classy to back out once he'd agreed to the piece, so thanks to your mutual patience, the FF CHRONICLES did indeed have itself a Jack Kirby interview.

Maybe not the one people were expecting, sure, but...

Anyway, that little trip down memory lane--or was it Central Avenue?--was mucho appreciated, and thanks for taking a few minutes away from diaper changing duties and dashing off that note! Now quick--warm up the bottle for baby Lydia! You got yourself a whole NEW chronicles series right there, pal!...

And on the related subject of Betty Brant, we also heard from the man who draws up ALL the briefs for the splendid SUPERNATURAL LAW series, the talented and delightful Batton Lash, who had this to say...

Just wanted to drop you a line and say thanks for posting what might be my all-time favorite moment in comics--Peter and Betty by the desk! Even at the tender age of nine (when I first read Spider-Man #7), the scene hit a nerve. In fact, every "personal" moment in my strip is inspired by the light-hearted and intimate nuance of that scene. Definitely an influence!

I knew you learned yourself good SOMEWHERE, Bat--guess your timing was luckier that Will Pfiefers, huh? (See yesterday's entry, oh those of you who came in late...)

And speaking of yesterday, I did something I've NEVER done here on the site before--I changed a portion of it!

Okay, it was only the last line, but the reasons are two-fold: One) Every time I goof on that current Spider-Man/Gwen Stacy/Green Goblin storyline (YOU know the one), a story I've never read, and probably never WILL read, my good buddy Jim Salicrup chastises me by tossing lines at me like, "I think it was Rascally Roy Thomas who once said something like, "Even the New York Times waits till they actually see a movie before reviewing it.", and I must shamefacedly admit he makes a good point. Look, I was tired last night, and went for a cheap, easy gag to finish things up, but the truth is, I HAD a different capper in mind, but it momentarily slipped my mind, which is reason Two for the change--I got a BETTER finish! (...well. maybe..).

Anyway, just so you don't have to read the whole thing over again, here it is:

And when you get right down to it, Gary, I've gotta admit I may've, um, overreacted to the whole situation a bit, y'know? It really wasn't THAT big a deal , after all. I mean, it's not like they killed off Betty Brant, right?

(...But if you ever hear anything along THOSE lines, I want to be notified immediately! And you can tell Jim that , too..)

Now, here's something you HAVE seen at the site, though--me plugging one of my buddies' enterprises! Today, we're offering you a peek at Jim's apparel--no, NOT Jim Aparo, Jim's apparel! Friend Salicrup, you see, has himself a site hawking various "Monster Girlfriend" clothing items!

"Huh?", you say. Well, go take a look. You might find something absolutely perfect for that night out on the town you've been meaning to take for eons now.

Clothing at first. But (melodramatic foreshadowing), NOT a last! (No, not from US--stick with me, and soon enough, all will become clear, if a bit... Karazee...)
February 17th, 2005
You might recall that just a few short days ago, I whined mercilessly about having the big secret that resided beneath that very cover blown months before it hit the stands back in 1973, due to an all too informative bit of news reporting residing in the pages of the second issue of Jim Steranko's COMIXSCENE.

I'd always sorta held good ol' Jim responsible--but now, the TRUE perp steps forward to tell us HIS side of the story. Let's let editor emeritus Gary Brown tell it to you in his own words...

Hey Fred,

You know, as you get older, nothing is worse than to be drawn back to something you wrote or said 20-30 years ago and try to figure out why you wrote or said it that way.
But in the case of Comixscene reporting the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin in such a quick and uncomplicated manner, I do I have the answer.

By the way, I did write that passage, so I'm the one to blame or pat on the back..

First, we always held the news page(s) until the last, so we could get in the latest stuff, making reviews and articles our first concern. So, there wasn't a lot of time to "flesh out" the BIG news items when they came in -- unless they were so spectacular that we had to hold the publication (which never happened). As I recall I got them to Jim a matter of a day or two before the deadline and they rushed them into print. Remember, there were no PCs around at the time.

And, that was all I knew at the time -- that these two characters would "die."

Second, I distinctly recall writing this with my fannish tongue-in-cheek, since as we know they kill characters in comic books ALL the time. So, as far as I was concerned, this was another "let's kill so-and-so this month to boost sales" ploy.

And, I was sort of right. Green Goblin came back in numerous forms over the years -- and, more recently, the "death" of Gwen Stacy has been called into question.

To be honest, I never thought the death of Gwen Stacy was all that big of a deal in the Spider-Man chronicles, other than it got him out of a complicated situation and let them write him again as a frustrated super-hero for a while. Not everyone agrees with me, and I will admit that the fact Gwen has supposedly stayed dead all these years, shows that either Marvel meant it when they killed her off or they just didn't know how to bring her back.

And you know, I never did ask Jim who Scorpio was, either. Not that he would have told me, of course, but it would have been cool to know.


Thanks, Gary--I think it would've been cool just working with Steranko! Of all the creators I've admired over the years--and as you can imagine, there've been PLENTY--during his heyday, Jim Steranko was the ONLY one I held in Beatles-like, rock-star awe! Which is not to say, in the long run, he STILL resides on the top of my personal popularity heap--cuz, meaning no slight, he doesn't--but at his peak, WHOA!!--he positively dazzled me. Must've been those white suits he wore to all the Cons--the man had Travolta scooped by half a decade at least!

And speaking of scoops, I appreciate you sharing your thinking behind running that item. I'd agree with you that revealing the potential demise of a bad guy isn't much of a shocker--they always DO come back, don't they?--but I still feel the Gwen Stacy spoiler was needlessly explicit. You were trying to beat deadlines, though, and perhaps, having read as many Mort Weisinger comics as you surely had, no doubt you felt you had darn good reason to feel dubious at the very notion of the reported girlfriend offing. Hey, there had been no true precedent in comics for such an extreme action at the time, at least, for one that had truly stuck, so, who can really blame you?

Anyway, appreciate the background, Gary. Now, if you could only just clue us as to how your boss managed to keep those suits of his SO sparkling white?...
Mr Brown wasn't the only reader out there to share a noteworthy recollection of that legendarily infamous SPIDER-MAN sequence. The noted comics scribe, Will Pfiefer--he of the garish and groovily entertaining "X-Ray Spex" blog--emailed me to mildly refute my exaggerated askance at his including those horrid, horrid DC Go-Go Checks as part of his own "100 Items Derived From Comics That I Love List" (sorry, Will---I'm not getting off THAT horse anytime soon!), and then casually added the following intriguing anecdote to the mix.

Having gotten his permission to share it with you, folks, try THIS one on for size...
One thing I did experience as it hit the stands was that Spider-Man comic you discussed right after in the FRED SEZ entry, with the death of the Green Goblin. That, in fact was the FIRST comic I ever remember reading. It was, what, 1973, so I was probably 5 or 6 years old, and mom bought it for me to read on a trip to Grandma's. Let's remember all the wonderful, child-appropriate entertainment in that issue: dead girlfriend, dead super-villain, Harry Osborne whacked out on acid, everyone in New York mad at Spider-Man for one reason or another...yep, perfect for a five year old. If anyone ever asks what warped my little mind, I can point to that comic and say "Mom did it!" (And I'll never stop thanking her, either!)

And in his followup note, he was quick to reiterate...

I stress, though that the issue I read featured the death of the Green Goblin -- Gwen herself was already dead, which I think makes it an even more depressing issue. I think all I knew of Spider-Man at this point came from those great, strange'60s cartoons, which though pretty bizarre in their own right, didn't approach the depths of that issue.

Wow. They say every comic is, potentially, someone's very first comic. I never really thought of THAT landmark issue in those particular terms, though--the mind boggles! Geez--what would I'VE made of such depressingly melodramatic events at such a tender age? Poor Will--just look at him now, all grown up and WRITING comics! Sure hope HE'S not throwing anybody's girlfriends off any bridges--after all, isn't that how this whole devilish cycle manages to perpetuate itself?

Seriously, thanks Will (and Gary)--I'm sure readers enjoyed hearing someone else hold court, leaving me to keep my standard blathering to a comparative minimum. Your comments are always welcome hereabouts!

And when you get right down to it, Gary, I've gotta admit I may've, um, overreacted to the whole situation a bit, y'know? It really wasn't THAT big a deal , after all. I mean, it's not like they killed off Betty Brant, right?

(...But if you ever hear anything along THOSE lines, I want to be notified immediatedly! And you can tell Jim that , too...)
February 16th, 2005
This has been a pretty amazing month here at the blog.

You might recall the February 5th entry wherein I waxed all enthusiastic-like about the upcoming Englehart/Rogers/Austin reunion limited series, THE DARK DETECTIVE, after getting a sneak peek at a buncha pages from my buddy Terry over lunch a few days earlier.

Well, now I get word from Terry that, specifically because of that particular write-up, the three creators have been invited to attend a big, Batman-themed con in New York City, one taking place the very same weekend that the new Bat-film debuts this coming June! And while that's not such a big deal for Mr. Upstate New York-Austin, Steve and Marshall will be flying in from California (and, there's no getting around it--boy, will their arms be TIRED!). According to Terry, upon hearing about my part in his unexpected travel plans, the estimable Englehart requested--nay, DEMANDED--I show my furry face at said event as well!! It's been a while since I attended a con, folks, but hey, how can I say "No" the THAT? (I won't be a guest, per se, dig--just a guy walking around, taking it all in, enjoying myself, and maybe even meeting a few of YOU fine folks in the deal. More details as we get closer to the date, NYC denizens...)

I was always a big fan of Steve's--to my way of thinking, it was a three part process: first, Stan Lee created a whole new way of writing costumed character comics; then, Roy Thomas refined that approach; and finally, Steve Englehart perfected it. Sure, that's a simplistic way of looking at things--and we all know that the art of comics' writing has gone through further radical transformations due to the influence the British writers have had on the form in the ensuing years--but I STILL cherish the Englehart written runs on CAPTAIN AMERICA, AVENGERS, DOCTOR STRANGE, GREEN LANTERN and--yup--JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA more than any others, either before or since.

So it should be fun to see Steve again. The thing is, I used to chat him up at the early seventies NYC cons that I attended in the days before I got into the biz, but never actually told him my name back then. Fact is, I've only ever spoken to him once --and very briefly at that--in all the time subsequent to my lurching into my (ahem) brilliant career in funnybooks. Wonder if he'll make the connection?..

Well, in the meantime, I think I'll go spend some time over at the Steve Englehart website. If you haven't checked it out, I strongly suggest you investigate--Steve's annotated virtually EVERYTHING he's ever written, and even offers up scripts for unpublished comics for sale! Hmm--maybe I should take a closer look into THAT. After all, I always DID wonder how SCORPIO ROSE ended...

Changing gears for a moment, let me again send out kudos to all you folks who posted your "100 Things you Love/Cherish/Adore/Sorta Like, at Least a Little About Comics" countdowns! I'm so overwhelmed by the sheer widespread participation that, well, I feel a little bit like The Whos' Roger Daltry did after starring in Ken Russell's "Tommy"--I too am suffering from "Listomania"!!! (That gag's for Tom the Dog--and just where is YOUR contribution, Fido?...)

I'm keeping a tally of the entrants in the post below, and I'll continue to add to it whenever I discover a new list. If I missed anyone, my apologies--feel free to contact me, and I'll happily add you to the group, okay?

Y'know, a little while ago, as the lists began piling up, I ran into the other room and, with a sense of giddy amazement, told Lynn the extent of what I'd inadvertently set into motion.

"Great", she said, "Now you're not just wasting YOUR time on the Internet, you're wasting everyone ELSE'S too!!"

We do what we can...
February 15th, 2005
Back in late 1979, while we were still living in Troy, New York, Lynn, myself, and pair of our friends--Mitch, and his girlfriend, Terry-- went to see Steven Spielberg's homefront based wartime comedy, "1941", shortly after it came out--and before all the bad reviews began to pile up precipitously.
We were lucky enough to view this epic-sized farce in a cavernous picture palace located over in nearby Albany. It was the sort of venue totally antithetical to today's tiny, box-like multi-plexes, and sadly, it's the sort of movie theater you rarely ever find any more. But back then, it was just a matter of course for us to see the latest flicks in such a sprawling and luxurious environment.

We arrived early, and went as far down front as we could stand--maybe the fourth or fifth row. Moving in to the middle of that row's seats, we sat down, and awaited the beginning of the picture. Slowly but surely, a crowd began to file in, but, as it turned out, nobody else felt the need to sit as close to the screen as we did, and so they all wound up sitting behind us. I turned and looked around just before the lights went down, and was impressed with the number of people who'd shown up. True, it wasn't a sellout, but considering the number of seats available, there were probably enough customers there to fill up several of today's multiplex shoe-boxes, and then some.

Finally, the lights dimmed, and the screen soon lit up. The projector beamed images of some fellow on a motorcycle, riding around, all artsy-like, in the desert, up on the canvas screen . Now, the rest of the people in the theater may've thought they were merely seeing a trailer for an upcoming feature, but I immediately recognized it for what it was (mainly because I had seen it a week or so earlier prior to another movie):


These days, they play twenty minutes of ads pushing everything from soft drinks to lousy cable TV mini-series before they even dim the lights (oh, the horror, the horror!...), but back in 1979, the very notion of running a commercial before a movie that wasn't a bona fide coming attraction was, well, practically a treasonous act!

And so, I began to boo.

Not all that loudly, but with just enough volume to amuse my pal Mitch. Generally, I'm not one to make myself known in such a brazen manner whilst out in public, but, well, you know what can happen when guys get together! And besides, I was honestly and truly outraged--the cinema was supposed to be a safe refuge from the crass commercialism of television. We didn't need to have a motorcycle hawked to us as we anxiously awaited the beginning of our cinematic experience! (Okay,okay, so it was "1941"--I'm talking the principal of the thing here, y'know?..)

Fifteen, twenty seconds in, as I continued to boo, the people behind us--and they were ALL behind us, remember--finally began to clue into the fact that this was indeed a commercial up there on the screen being thrust at us, and slowly at first, they too began to boo. By the time the ninety second spot had reached its conclusion, the ENTIRE audience had joined in, causing a loud cascading wave of self-righteous vocal disapproval to wash through the enormous theater and down over me--the guy who had inadvertantly started it all! I'll never forget the surprising sense of power I felt at that precise moment. My completely spontaneous actions had caused an unexpected but forceful reaction from the rest of the people in that theater, one that I NEVER anticipated. It was a strangely gratifying moment--and a bit of a scary one, too. I've never quite experienced anything like it in all the years since.

Until, that is, today.

Last week, in preparation for yesterday's Valentine Day's feature, I was rooting around through my old artwork, and I came across a pile of "Dateline:@#$%!" strips that I did in the mid-eighties. For any number of reasons, I consider the majority of them to be decidedly inferior to the ones I produced at the outset of my career in the seventies, or the ones from the late nineties that I'd mostly been posting recently. But, paging through them, I found a handful that I figured I could semi-comfortably foist on you folks at some point. Amongst them were a couple that had been broken down into one hundred panels--a format I had utilized once before, though in that instance, for a single, continuing monolog. I had little memory of the impetus for the first one hundred--and I revealed the unusual circumstances surrounding the second when I posted 'em--but the odds are, I needed to crank out a strip for "The Buyers Guide", and the notion of just dashing off a hundred things I liked about the field probably seemed like a real easy way to get a page done, pronto-like!

Twenty two years later, I posted it here at the site, and didn't think much more about it. Believe me, there have been plenty of times when I've excitedly put stuff up, just waiting for the links to start appearing, only to endure the metaphorical sound of crickets chirping across the Internet. But THIS--this was just another page added to the mix, killing time until I could get something REALLY significant together.

And maybe that's where it would've ended, too, if it weren't for--as he put it to me in an email--the "Svengali-like effect" the piece had over Alan David Doane. He made his OWN list, only he made it as flashy as the computer wizardry available to him would allow! And maybe THAT'S where it would've ended, too, if it weren't for Mike Sterling challenging all the other residents of the comics corner of the realm of Blogovia (yes, I'm trying to coin a new term--so sue me...) to show THEIR love--and on Valentines Day, too, no less!

We had a few early entrants into the arena, which I told you about the other day, but color me overwhelmed when I went down the comics blog roll yesterday and found, in no particular order, the following participants showering their affection (no booing HERE!) on some of their favorite funny-books...

Nik Dirga (Spatula Forum)
Beacoup Kevin (It's Got Disco Potential)
Scott (Polite Dissent)
Mike Norton (Miraclo Miles)
Mag and H (The Comic Treadmill)--two separate lists!
David Allen Jones (The Johnny Bacardi Show)
Tony Collett (Mah Two Cents)--a second list of 99 to go with his original 100
John Jakala (The Low Road)
Ed Cunard (The Low Road)
Dr.Sordid (The Word On the Street)--who I fully suspect isn't a REAL doctor at all, by the way...
J Donelson (The Pickytarian)
Ian Brill (Brill Building)
David Carter (Yet Another Comics Blog)
Bob (Jack Kirby Blog)--illustrated
Michele Catalano (A Small Victory)
Fochsenhirt ( A Bluegrass Blog)
Steve Pheley (Gutterninja)
Evan Cantrell (Chipped Ham Productions)
David Welsh (Precocious Curmudgeon)
Bill Doughtry (Trusty Plinko Stick)--who got ambitious and made a list of 110
Shane Bailey (Near Mint Heroes)-part one, featuring 10 images, with more to come; as promised: Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 and Part 5 and
Bill Sherman (Pop Culture Gadabout)
Logan Polk (House Of Free Comics!!)
Dave Puckett (Elmo's Junction)
d dee
Chris Brown (Chris "Lefty" Brown's Corner)
Rick Geerling (Eat More People)
Bob (Four Realities)
R. Davies (Crisis On Infinite Smurfs)
Ken Cuperus (Revoltin'Developments)
Franklin Harris (Franklin's Findings 2.1)
Jim Henley (Unqualified Offerings)
Dave Lartigue (Legomancer)
Charles W (Afraid Of The Light)
Greg Burgas (Delenda Est Carthago)
Noah Smith (Baggy Pants And Bravado)
David Fiore (Motime Like The Present)--who gives us but one item, but it's a goodie..
John Firehammer (This Is Pop!)--who presents an illustrated list of the Top 10 things about comics that he misses...
Gary Sassaman (Innocent Bystander)--ha! Just kidding, Gary! (I'm gonna earn that smack in the kisser yet...)
Lyle (Crocodile Caucus)
Ken Lowery Presents Ringworld
Eve Tushnet 1-25, 26-50
Casey (The Only Blog That Matters)
Stephen David Wark (Eventually Clever)
Nat (IContemplate)
Alex Knapp (Heretical Ideas)
Captain Comics Roundtable
Talk About
Lang Thompson (The Funhouse Journal)--THAT was the love, and now here's 83 Things He DOESN'T Like About Comics
DougBot (The Giant Fighting Robot Report)
Eliot Johnson (Train of Thought)
Bjorn Wederhake (Comicgate)
Rob B (Rob's Blog o'Stuff)
Jason (It's A Psychobilly COMIC RIOT!!!)
Juana Moore-Overmyer (Clea's Cave)
David Norman (Clandestine Critic)
Tom Collins (Tom The Dog--NOT The Drink!)
David Cutler (The Fortress Of Blogitude)
The Joe Rice Media Review
Layne (And Plus...)
Dav (Broken Glass Makes Me Laugh)
JK (Trash Heap)
Jeremy P. Bushnell (Raccoon Notes&Scavengings)
Douglas Wolk (Lacunae)
Immelda Alty (Love Manga)
Otto's Coffe Shop
Havy (Trade Whore)
Marc Mason (Comics Waiting Room)
Scott Cederlund (View From The Cheap Seats) Here's the first 100, and here's an additional 100
Kevin Melrose (Thought Balloons)
Will Pfiefer (X-Ray Spex)
Gordon (Blog THIS, Pal!)
Mike Sterling (Progressive Ruin)--every entry a link, and quite a few entries consisting of multiple links!
Tom Spurgeon (The Comics Reporter)--1,000 entries! Yow!!
Dorian Wright (postmodernbarney)--who offers up a list of 100 things about comics that sort of ANNOY him, for both your amusement and consideration...

..and, coming full circle. Alan David Doane has offered up a series of annotations for HIS hundred! You hear that' people--now YOU'VE gotta annotate your choices, too! Get with it!

For those of you who saw fit to include moi in your listings, I'm humbly grateful for your sincere attempt to weasel your way into my good graces! And for those of you who resisted the urge to type my name onto your lists, I salute your willingness to turn a blind eye and not be unduly influenced by my pivotal part in all this, choosing instead to vote your conscience.

AND I hope you appreciate the link you got above, because you're not likely to see another one HERE anytime soon, that's for sure!...

As a certain canine hand puppet might say, "I keed, I keed!"

Honestly, thanks! This has been way too cool!. Y'know, I'm not sure if I'm going to revisit and update my list or not. I'll probably just leave things the way they are--no need to spoil the moment, after all (, having to sit through "1941",..).

I think the fact that the list asked for 100 things you love about comics, NOT the 100 you think are the BEST things about comics, or even your own top 100 favorite things, is what made it so much fun. You could easily put Jack Kirby right up next to Superman Peanut Butter, and it'd be perfectly okay. The casually random nature of the listings made it entertaining to not only compile, but to read everyone else's lists as well.

So, all that's left to do--after the annotations are finished, of course--is to go through ALL the various lists and see which names came up the most often! Alan, how about it?



Sigh--I guess even Svengali ain't what he USED to be...
February 14th, 2005
When I was a kid, every super hero had a girl friend (and Wonder Woman had Steve Trevor). Sometimes--as in the case of Adam Strange and Alanna--these couples constantly professed undying devotion to one another. Sometimes--like Iris West and Barry Allen--their relationships appeared to be little more than casual dating between folks capable of only limited amounts of passion. And sometimes--as in the twisted triangle that was Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Superman--one person was relentlessly suspicious of the other, all the while with good reason, only to be constantly humiliated on the grounds that she'd be taught some sort of lesson by her combination paramour and tormentor.

THIS, friends, was the state of romance in the world of adventure comics back when I dove in, feet first, circa 1961!

Even the ARCHIE line of comics, their whole premise based on the dating antics of America's typical teens, ultimately dealt more with issues of competition and superficial attraction than they did with anything faintly resembling REAL emotions (the only exceptions being several memorable LITTLE ARCHIE episodes written and drawn by Bob Bolling, but we'll take a closer look at them some other time...),

The way things operated back then, characters were in love because it said so in the captions floating over their four-color tinted heads, not because the readers were ever shown any tangible evidence as to how they may've arrived at that point. And that's pretty much the way it went in those days.

Until this unusual sequence brought the seventh issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to a unique conclusion in 1963...
No,THAT certainly wasn't the way a typical Superman story would end, that's for doggone sure!

"Daily Bugle" publisher J. Jonah Jameson's secretary, Betty Brant, had been casually introduced three issues earlier, and within a few short months, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko had convincingly paired off the always put upon Peter Parker with this worldly working girl! And after all those times Lois belittled the bespeckled Kent, it was just breathtakingly satisfying for readers to witness the glasses-wearing nerd--who STILL couldn't get a date with any of the girls in his high school class--being pursued by someone like Betty! There was NO competition, NO secret identity issues, NONE of that crap--just an honest attraction between a pair of appealing yet flawed characters.

That perfect moment above didn't last, of course. As ground-breaking as this relationship was, it WAS still comics after all. Competition DID rear its ugly head, and identity issues DID surface, though in a far more tragic manner than the likes Superman and his DC brethren ever had to deal with.

Back in 1982, the folks at Fantaco Enterprises issued a series of officially sanctioned fanzines based on several Marvel properties, one of which was the SPIDER-MAN CHRONICLES. edited by my good pal, Roger Green (Hi, Roger!). My contribution to that issue was the following...

"The Betty Brant Chronicles" (1982)

This three page feature from Fantaco Enterprises' SPIDER-MAN CHRONICLES tells the tale of the star-crossed love affair between Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson's secretary by distilling all the pertinent panels from the pages of classic issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN into one long sequence, redrawing the Steve Ditko (and John Romita) pictures in the Hembeck style, keeping the Stan Lee dialog intact, and adding my own narrative captions to tie the whole package together. To my way of thinking, it was the first believable romance to ever appear within the same pages as the antics of a guy wearing a funny outfit.

(And to just deviate from the script for a moment and briefly dwell on matters of style--MY style. I honestly don't know what I was thinking in the eighties. I'd developed a perfectly decent inking style at the outset of my career by utilizing a series of mechanical pens, each with tips of varying widths, to embellish my pencils with. Why then the ill-fated attempts at using a brush, even sorrier results from cheap 79 cent Flair pens, and THIS strip, finished with a crowquill-like pen, and inked hastily in the hopes of affecting an aura of spontaneity? Thanks to the liberal use of zip-a-tone, and occasional blind luck, I think this works better than most of my other dubious deviations, but still, what was I thinking? I'm back on the pens these days, and for the most part, that's where I plan to stay. And now, back to our regular dissertation,already in progress..)

In all my time reading comics, the Parker/Brant romance was quite honestly the only one I ever TRULY cared about. As the years went along, and first Gwen Stacy, and then Mary Jane Watson supposedly won the heart of our wall-crawling hero, well, good for him, I thought--but it sure didn't mean a whole lot to me. To me, there was ONLY Betty Brant, and when her pairing with Parker slowly crumbled before my unbelieving eyes--because, once hooked up, comic book heroes NEVER broke up with their girls, please understand--it pretty much broke my heart. Silly, huh? But truer than you might be able to comprehend, peculiar as that might seem.

As much as the portion of the page above beautifully illustrated the joy of romantic discovery, the panel below--published in the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #30, only a little more than two short years later--all too bittersweetly portrayed the wrenching emptiness that arrives when that self-same relationship withers and dies..., um, Happy Valentine's Day, everybody...
February 13th, 2005
Several more entertaining lists of "100 Things I Love About Comics" have turned up, this time courtesy of Will Pfiefer and Gordon (and an amusing cop-out from Dave Puckett as well--what? You didn't like Kirby's last two and a half issues, Dave?..)

Amongst the many annotated observations provided by Gordon ("Blog THIS, Pal!") that particularly caught my fancy was this one concerning the still-missed SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE: "The Golden Age as written by Raymond Chandler". So true, sweetheart. He also offers an amusingly appropriate description of good ol' Stan! (Although, frankly, I have my doubts about the true necessity of number 21...)

Will Pfiefer's peppers HIS list with lots and lots of fondly recalled Silver Age silliness over at his "X-Ray Spex" blog, but inasmuch as he's quite a bit younger than yours truly, he didn't actually get to experience most of these pivotal funny-book shenanigans during their day like I did. Generally, I'd consider myself to be the lucky one in that regard, but let me state the following--as someone who was entering those awkward early teen years back in the mid-sixties, a time when even my closest pals openly mocked me for being (as far as they knew) the last known comic book reader of to have reached such an advanced age, DC's ill-conceived "Go-Go Checks" did absolutely NOTHING to help this sorry situation! And, in fact, probably made things WORSE!! They may represent campy fun to you young 'uns , but to those of us who had to endure their presence on the spinner-racks back in the day, they're a nightmare in black and white, and believe me, the only list they'd make for US is "The Seven Levels Of Comic Book Hell!"

(Excuse me while I take my meds...)

But otherwise, real nifty list. Particularly liked the one about Ditko and those split Spidey/Parker mug panels--oh baby you just gotta love THOSE!!

If I missed any body, my apologies.

And tomorrow, Mike Sterling! Yee-hah! No pressure, Mike, no pressure--but remember, we're ALL looking forward to your list!...
February 13th, 2005
...of course, not ALL of Spidey's relationships have worked out quite as well as they might've...
(Um, concerning that slightly over-reaching word balloon pointing towards the webbed one, you might want to scroll down and check the illos accompanying yesterday's entry for blatantly contradictory evidence. Hey, look, the guy was clearly stressed out when he said it--it's understandable...)

All of which leads us to the following appropriate "Dateline:@#$%!" episode. Now, there's a few additional points I'd like to share with you, but they'd make far more sense if you peruse the cartoon strip first, So--if you'd kindly take a look and then come briskly back?...

"Who REALLY Killed Gwen Stacy?" (1998)

Some say it was the beast that killed the beauty, but I have OTHER notions about who actually put the kibosh on Spider-Man's blonde-tressed ladylove. Odds are, the perp has an airtight alibi, but I still know who I blame!...

Okay--are you back? Good. Hope the strip's lettering didn't drive you TOO crazy--it was straight, sure; it was clear, you bet; it just didn't have any breathing room whatsoever between the lines! Geez. Someday I'm going to bore you all with an extensive navel-gazing-like examination of the various stages my lettering has gone through over the years, and take the opportunity to fully explain my decidedly unorthodox and always evolving techniques (Hah! Let's see Alan David Doane do something with THAT!!), but not today. Lucky you....

I just wanna ask again, what the heck was Steranko THINKING when he ran the following item in the second issue of his COMIXSCENE zine, huh? WHAT?...
To this day, I remember the stunned reaction I had to reading that news item far more clearly than I did of actually reading the story in question--apparently, the term "spoiler" wasn't yet coined at that point, though there's a fairly decent chance THIS is the very thing that caused it to come into widespread use!

And looking a bit closer at the masthead, I recently noticed that the name directly below Steranko ("Publisher and Executive Editor") is that of my ol' buddy--and long-time comics aficionado--Gary Brown! Gary's credited as the editor of COMIXSCENE, but I just can't picture him so casually revealing the biggest bombshell to hit the, um, comics scene in such a blase manner, y'know? I'm aware that Gary has been known to check things out here at ye olde blog from time to time, and friend, if you have any information you'd be willing--or ABLE--to share with us about the circumstances behind this suspense siphoning scoop, it'd be MUCH appreciated. (Or did Jim make you all sign "non-disclosure" documents?)

Okay, maybe it doesn't quite rival the mystery of Deep Throat's true identity, but I STILL want to know why Steranko wouldn't tell us "Who Is Scorpio?", but this--THIS he tells us!?!

And you thought SPIDEY was upset? Yeesh...
February 12th, 2005
We have us a WINNER! Yes, the ringer's bell has been rung! Mike Sterling--he of Progressive Ruin fame--has correctly identified the 1983 one-shot, OBNOXIO THE CLOWN VS. THE X-MEN as being the item falsely showered with admiration in my second collection of "100 Things I Love About Comics" (mainly because, coincidentally enough, I saw its publication as a sure sign of Marvel's OWN progressive ruin!)

Mike 'fesses up to ACTUALLY having a modicum of fondness for this oddball item. Featuring the nihilistic--but heavily made-up--star of a long-running series that originated in Marvel's black and white CRAZY satire mag, I can sort of see his point--especially viewed two decades on.
Not that I'm about to nominate it for TRUE enshrinement in a top 199, mind you, but I think it was more what this book represented than its actual execution that drew my hopelessly naive fanboy ire back when I first assembled that strip (the very same year it hit the racks, so it was an easy, cheap, and current target). Considering some of the avenues Marvel has driven down in the many years since, one almost longs for a high-toned OBNOXIO ARCHIVES edition in their misguided place(s).


So, congrats, Mike! And thanks to everyone else who played along. I'm shocked, however, at the number of folks who were CERTAIN Superman Peanut Butter was the ringer. NO! NO!! I LOVED Superman Peanut Butter! I bought my first jar as a novelty, sure, but after that, I kept buying it by choice! I even have a Superman Peanut Butter Tee shirt I received through the mail by amassing enough labels--THAT'S the sort of devotion Peter Pan NEVER got from me!. And yes, I STILL have a few empty glass jars downstairs, each with the nifty ":S" symbol emblazoned on their tops--but holding only faint memories (and a phantom whiff or two) of the taste treat that once waited happily within. It was a sad day when production of that creamy delight came to a halt, FAR sadder than the day they mercifully pulled the plug on Mr. T Cereal ("I pity the fools who ate THAT stuff!"--which would've included yours truly. Once.)

In other news, I'm happy to see Tony Collett offer his own two cents regarding the big 100 listing over at Mah Two Cents! Thanks for playing, Tony, and thanks for including me! You can't see me right now, but I'm blushing!

And now there's word that John Ostrander--whose run on THE SPECTRE with Tom Mandrake would've definitely made my list, had it only been published ten years later--now has a blog! Great! Welcome, sir! And--YIPES!!--a freshly minted Tim Truman site, too! You surely can't be grim, Jack, with THESE guys joining the ranks of Blogovia! (And thanks to David Fiore for the tip--anxiously awaiting YOUR list, Dave! Lemme just say that I too would include Gruenwald's SQUADRON SUPREME on any updated list I'D make, as I suspect you would).

That's all for now. The Many Loves of Spider-Man, part two, coming up tomorrow--don't miss it!
February 12th, 2005
And now, folks, in honor of the upcoming Valentine's Day, we're going to embark on a dreamy three day celebration--utilizing several appropriate strips carefully extracted from the ever-dwindling Hembeck archives--focusing on the most romantic fella to don a garish outfit this side of Johnny Depp in full pirate drag, your friendly--and I mean really, REALLY friendly--neighborhood Spider-Man!

That's right--Spider-Man. Who'd you think I was gonna say--Superman? Puh-lease. Aside from the whole essentially non-issue of Lana Lang--and the manufactured tragedies of his star-crossed liaisons with Lori Lemaris and Lyla Lerrol notwithstanding--he's been paired off with the same lady friend, Lois Lane, since his very first adventure!?! Nice, sure--but more than somewhat boring for the reader, y'know? With Peter Parker, though, we just never really knew exactly what sort of unexpected twists and turns his personal life was going to take at any given time, especially in the early days, making for a MUCH more enriching reading experience.

Towards that end, then, allow me to re-present the following three page full color featurette...

"Spider-Man Reveals: The 25 Most Important Women In My Life" (SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL#9, 1989) (Rick Parker, letterer; Jim Salicrup, editor; colorist unknown)

In an attempt to give their annuals the sort of sizzle the earliest Marvel giant editions had at their outset in the early sixties, the 1989 collections each spotlighted one long story, and then backed it with a selection of short features focusing on a variety of fun-filled tangents, hoping to duplicate some of that halcyon razzle-dazzle. Happily, editor Salicrup employed me to provide several such pieces, and once you read the title above, the gist of this one's pretty self-explanatory. I should note that, up until the time of this annual's publication, I'd read pretty much EVERY Spider-Man comic that had been previously issued, so I knew what I was talking about, and compiled this survey with a reasoned confidence (translation: I was in full scale geek mode in those days!). Oddly enough, I haven't read all that many Spidey books in the years since, but up to and including 1989, you can color me expert! (Though, in rereading this feature before posting it today, I sheepishly found that there are a half dozen lovelies I have little or no recollection of at this late date! Huh--who'd a thought I'd ever forget any of THIS stuff?...)

And hats off to the great Rick Parker, who certainly wasn't paid nearly enough to letter the daunting conglomerations of words I laughingly labeled captions! He's a swell cartoonist himself, friends--go to Rick Parker's own website and see for yourself!

Those then were the ladies in Spidey's life--and this is and remains THE lady..:
C'mon--if ever there was a time to get stupid and buy TWO copies of the same comic just to get different covers, THIS was it! Both Romita Senior illos are gems, but call me old fashioned--I prefer the Parker one. Giant Lizards just have NO place at weddings to my way of thinking--case closed!..

Well, I sure hope you enjoyed today's list. I'm more than a little startled at the life my old "100 Favorite Things About Comics" strip has taken on, primarily due to, first, Alan David Doane's inspired take on the concept, and now, via Mike Sterling's enthusiastic call for ALL bloggers to take a shot at the notion! Geez, who knew when I dug that 22 year old piece out from the bottom of the drawer and ran it through the scanner THIS would happen? (And, of course, I'm eagerly looking forward to Mike's selection (which, I think it's safe to say, will feature good ol' Swamp Thing fairly prominently...)

As for me, well, I guess I've already made MY list, huh? Maybe I should try ANOTHER tack--y'know, something like "The 100 Things I HATE About Comics"?

And if anyone's insulted, not to worry--I'll just blame it all on that OTHER "Fred Hembeck", the one I told you about a few days back! And I've already got ONE selection on this page here somewhere--I'd better get cracking on the other 99!...
February 11th, 2005--STILL
Yes, it's the rarest of the rare--a hat trick! THREE posts on the very same day! Blame Tom The Dog (who, by the way, DOESN'T know what I don't like--he emailed me earlier today with a WAY wrong guess on the ringer! Take a shot, people--the honor of being the first to identify the single dubious entry in my second hundred comics goodies listing is still up for grabs! Quick--someone alert the media!). Not long after getting his note, I decided to look in on his blog, and lo and behold, what should I find but a challenge to yours truly lurking a ways down the page! Yup, it's that musical meme that's been going around the net. So, Tom, here you go...

1. Total amount of music files on your computer:

Um, I just recently put my hand-pumped Victrola in storage, and finally started to get comfortable with these new-fangled CD thingies--don't confuse an old person with questions like this! NEXT!

2. The last CD you bought was:

"Heart and Soul" by Joe Cocker. Look, I LIKE the guy, but this is only the second time in his entire career that I picked up one of his discs when it could truthfully be considered his latest. The first time was way back in 1969, when his second album--featuring versions of "Something" and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window"--was released virtually the same time "Abbey Road" was. Then, like now, I LOVES me my Beatles' covers, preferably good ones (which Cocker's usually are). The NEW CD features--you guessed it--his takes on "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Jealous Guy", a pair of tunes Paul and John originally issued way back while Joe's second album was still fresh! He got a little behind in his cover work, it seems! (Adding to the allure, Best Buy was selling it for $9.99 the day it, ahem, dropped (ain't I the hipster with the lingo?), AND it featured some other selections that intrigued me as well: "What's Going On", "I (Who Have Nothing)", and even Madonna's "Love Don't Live Here Anymore"). It's a pretty good, if not great record. If you like Cocker and/or cover versions, I'd recommend it.

3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

"Bear Melt", the long, meandering--and glorious--jam that ends Jefferson Airplane's electrifying live recording, " Bless It's Pointed Little Head", one of the three greatest live albums in all of rock history (well, at least I think so...), the other two being "The Allman Brothers Band: The Fillmore Concerts" (the original OR the expanded version), and the all-time champ, "The Who: Live At Leeds" (original, expanded single disc, OR the expanded double disc version--any and all will do! Forget the Stones--the Who ARE the world's greatest rock and roll band! Listen to this and try and tell me otherwise, just TRY!...)

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

"All My Loving" by the Beatles, because every time I hear it, it's 1964 all over again.

"Add Some Music To Your Day" by the Beach Boys. This isn't necessarily either my favorite Beach Boy composition OR track, but the way the words and the admittedly cornball production touches combine to somehow impart the mystical allure of music, both aurally and lyrically, particularly as the number swells toward its magnificently uplifting conclusion, well, my buttons are pushed EVERY single time, and I'm left with a lump in my throat the size of something one of Brian's cats invariably left in that legendary sandbox of his!

"Sing, Sing, Sing" by the Benny Goodman Orchestra. This extended instrumental workout from 1937 not only swings harder and more relentlessly than most anything else from its all too often overlooked era, but, thanks to Gene Krupa's intense drumming, this piece rocks with the best of them, too! The fact that this recording is STILL often used to sell stuff to today's TV audiences is, in its own backhanded way, an acknowledgement of its pure timelessness. I just LOVE listening to it, and after eight minutes plus, I'm ALWAYS left wanting more.

"The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)" by Nat King Cole. Simply the greatest evocation of that happiest of all seasons in this modern world of ours, sung and orchestrated with such impeccable taste, that I've NEVER heard anyone say a single bad thing about this classic recording. Sorry, Bing and Irving--nice try, but the prize goes to Nat, Mel, and Robert! (And honestly, did I REALLY need to add the sub-title in the parentheses up top there? Like you wouldn't know which ditty I was discussing, huh?...)

"Tommy" by the Who. I'm cheating a bit here--but that's okay: there ARE no rules on the Internet, right? Besides, this whole crazy thing could easily be viewed as one long. looong song, weaving its way in and out through any number of variations. It's naively pretentious, simultaneously nonsensical AND deep, and played and sung with such rivetting conviction, that its no wonder that I've been completely under its spell since I first received it as a Christmas gift back in 1969! ("Mommy, what does "Fiddle About" mean?...)
5. Who are you going to pass this stick to? (3 persons) and why?

Don Simpson, cuz he's new in town, and I want him to feel welcome; Noah Smith , because he needs to come over to this side of Blogovia more often; and Gary Sassaman, because I want to see if he lists Chico's piano playing, Harpo's harp solos--or BOTH!!

And as an aside to the canine-like Tom: up until just a few months ago, the Barenaked Ladies were merely a cute name for a rock group that I was vaguely familiar with--THEN I listened to their greatest hits collection! NOW I'm a total devotee, happily pairing their "Be My Yoko Ono" with "Oh Yoko" on my homemade, snarky mix CDs! Ain't I the card?

Well, that's all for today. Break it up--there's no more to see here. Go home to your families. We'll be back soon enough, don't worry...
February 11th, 2005
Just a few days ago, we posted a couple of strips here on the site that purported to name one hundred things I liked about comics--at least, at the time way back in 1983 when I composed these two pieces (one entry was, as you might recall, included as, a ringer--and STILL unidentified, I might add). Well, it seems my hastily scrawled little featurette has, all these years later, inspired Alan David Doane to likewise compile his own personal recitation of goodies, only instead of relying on crudely drawn ADD heads, he utilized all available computer wizardry--short of flash animation--to illustrate HIS comics countdown, and folks, it looks absolutely AMAZING! 100 Things Alan David Doane LOVES About Comics--GO! And Alan, thanks for not only taking my modest little notion several levels upwards on the "dazzling" scale--but for including ME amongst its number as well! (...or, am I, gulp, YOUR purposely planted "ringer"? Not that you indicated that there WAS one, but...)

And a quick follow-up to the very last post. When I was blithely snooping around in other people's business (hey, it's the Internet--what do you expect?), I quoted you comrade Mark Evanier's not unimpressive showing on the Alexa ranking's as coming in at number 226, 035. Well, turns out that was only for his POVonline site. My original inclination was to check his daily blog, NewsFromME, separately, but wife Lynn assured me that, no, they were both part of the same listing, and there was no need to investigate further. Well, I've learned over the years that it's always best to listen to people who are clearly smarter than me--and in this case, there's just NO contest. Still, I wondered...

So, I just checked.

Number 104, 130, with a bullet!

Put 'em both together, and they hold position 330, 165! (Wait, that doesn't seem right somehow, does it?...). Anyway, to answer the age old question, "Did I err?", yup!

But now that things are all put to rights, will someone PLEASE pass me the cheese dip?...
February 11th, 2005
WE'RE NUMBER 939,990!!!
That's where ranks in terms of Internet site traffic, as measured by, and friends, we couldn't be prouder! We're absolutely TICKLED to have actually made it into the top one million sites!

What happened was Lynn came across this statistical webpage in her far-ranging travels across the web, and, out of natural curiosity, checked out her hubby's ranking in the overall picture. People, when she called me in and broke the news that I'd somehow snuck in amongst the one million most visited sites on the Whole World Wide Web, well, let's just say there wasn't a dry eye left in the house! You like me, you REALLY like me!! (Okay, okay--maybe not as much as those 939, 989 OTHER sites, but hey, I'll take what I can get...)

Of course, then it was time for ME to nose around for a bit of compare and contrast. Not surprisingly. enviable Mark Evanier's showing was considerably higher up on the virtual Internet totem pole, currently residing at the comparatively lofty position of number 226, 035. Good going, Mark! We all love ya!

And then I chose, almost at random, one of my other favorite blogs--and one I really should've plugged a lot sooner than this--Nik Dirga's fine page of pop culture potpourri, "Spatula Forum", curious as to where a relatively more recent addition to the web might turn up.

Number 121.

Huh? Like I said, it's a very nicely done page, but...number 121?

Okay, Nik--here's the deal. These Alexa folks count your umbrella site, ALL the personal web pages contained therein--as a single unit, whereas Mark and I each reign over pages that exist as separate worlds completely unto themselves, and are thus not unlike a couple of Cyclops being measured up against a series of multi-headed hydras, all competing to see who racks up greater sunglass's sales! Yes, folks, statistics CAN be deceptive--so what else is new?

Look, I rarely spend time examining site stats, to be perfectly honest. Still, I'm happy to report that we HAVE been making a slow but steady climb upwards of late, and while it may be quite a while before we crack the top HALF million, at least I now have a concrete goal to focus my otherwise woebegone existence on.

And all because my eyes drank in--yup--a magic Alexa!..
February 10th, 2005
Well, after just over two fun-filled years on the web, it FINALLY happened--the dark side of the Net has come up and bit me firmly on the butt!...

When I got up this morning and checked my email, I found one awaiting me with the deceptively innocuous subject line of "Reviewing the Reviewer". I was soon totally taken aback as I began to read what this particular correspondent had to say. He declared that he was shocked to read some comments I'd made about his website, and that he'd never consider posting such a nasty critique of someone else's work--and then proceeded to take a few unflattering swipes at ME!

Nice way to start the day, eh?

Unnerved, but still totally clueless as to the specifics of his complaints, I went on over to this here site, and hastily scrolled down the last two months worth of my blog, looking to see if I'd inadvertently been unreasonably snotty whilst posting my series of featured links. Nope--why, I didn't even goof all that much on that Presidential Action Figures page, so I remained baffled at my new-found antagonist's very real outrage. I then went back and examined his note a little bit closer than I had originally, and caught a key fact I'd missed the first time around: said slam appeared not on my very own site, but under the auspices of a public Internet forum, one devoted to local film production.

Uh oh.

I'd never even HEARD of, much less been to, this particular corner of the web. With the help of Lynn, we Googled our way to not only my correspondent's site, but soon found the offending remark regarding said site posted on the forum. Turns out this fellow worked at Marvel for several years--back during the period when I really wasn't paying as much attention to things as I once had, though his name HAD seemed vaguely familiar--but had since moved from comics into film, using his site to successfully promote his talents (storyboarding, et al) in the highly competitive movie field. And then, one day, he's pleasantly scanning the aforementioned forum, and--BAM!--stumbles across a short, one line, tersely written, casually nasty dismissal of his work--and it was signed "Fred Hembeck"!

Now, anybody who knows me realizes that it couldn't POSSIBLY have been me who posted that unnecessarily cruel assessment of his work.

C'mon--me, write a TERSE sentence? Hah--fat chance of THAT ever happening!...

But yeah, it WASN'T me. Initially I was relieved--I was happy that I HADN'T written anything rotten enough to ignite the sort of ire this fellow (quite rightly) showed. But then I quickly realized that--oh, crap--there's someone out there using MY name, saying Rao knows what, slagging all SORTS of people, and putting an unattractive stain on my reputation in the process.

Well, I contacted the injured party, and explained the situation as I saw it to him (in far less detail, sure, but with the heads up that I planned to write the whole sorry saga up on my blog later in the day). He very graciously wrote back and offered me his sincerest apology, an apology I'm more than happy to accept. I decided not to use his actual name in the retelling, (nor his exact words. either), as I didn't want anyone to somehow get the idea that he was in any way a bad guy. He wasn't. He was a victim. I was a victim. Someone--he thought it was me, and why not?--gratuitously attacked his professional reputation in the very geographical area where he makes his living, giving him every right to be annoyed big time, and wail into his (alleged) defamer with both barrels blazing. I fully understood the hurt and rage that prompted him to spew out a few choice retaliatory remarks my way, for which I can't truly blame him.

Except, like I said, it WASN'T me.

It was somebody PRETENDING to be me. And if that person is by chance reading this now, I'd like to make a simple request:

Stop it. Please.

Look, if you want to go around making rancid remarks about people anonymously on the Internet, be my guest. I don't have a whole lot of respect for that sort of behavior, true, but there are any number of nonsensical pseudonyms you can hide safely behind without dragging some poor unsuspecting schlemiel like ME into your childish games, dig? (Hmm--is the handle "Weezle72" taken, I wonder?...)

And just to let the rest of you know--I haven't been active on ANY message boards or the like since a flurry of activity on the "Oddball Comics Message Board" (yes, I know--how appropriate) in early '04. I just don't have the time. So, if you run across some untoward comments somewhere purported to be from a "Fred Hembeck", they're NOT from me (especially if they're SHORT...). I'm no angel, people--I've been known to make the snarkily sarcastic observation about someone or something on occasion, but never without reasonable motivation, and never in such a blatantly nasty manner as my (now) new friend had to suffer. (For the record, while he may not be Alex Ross--and oh, did I mention? I'm not Dave Stevens, either--I found the work at his site to be quite pleasing and definitely professional. And guess what? He uses his OWN name, too!...)

Much more pleasant was a note I received later in the day from the fabulous Jim Engel, happy to see his name included in the pair of strip's listing 199 things I liked about comics (back in 1983) that I posted yesterday. Glad to make someone SMILE today, buddy boy! In fact, Jim pointed out that he's on board with me concerning 102 of those 199 reasons--though he left to my imagination the areas in which we two part ways.

What can I say--I guess he's just one of those people who HATES Jack Kirby, y'know? Hey, there's always one...

(That's a JOKE, folks--something "Fred Hembeck" might say seriously, but NOT Fred Hembeck. Accept no substitutes--please!...)
February 10th, 2005
We have a two-parter for you today, one rife with not only inside comics biz intrigue but a riddle purposefully planted as well. Read on...

"100 Swell Things About Comics" (1983)

Dividing my blank page into a hundred tiny panels, I easily scribbled in that daunting number of reasons for my everlasting affection for the comics medium--and all pretty much off the top of my head, too. Though compiled back in 1983, I'd still stand by the majority of my picks to this very day (my enthusiasm for several of the independent companies named may've waned significantly over the years--the break they represented from the long-standing Marvel/DC monopoly was, ultimately, their REAL attraction) (and, yes, I STILL have fond memories of the Pasko/Yeates run on SWAMP THING--remember, at the time I put this together, I didn't know Alan Moore from BENJAMIN Moore!...). As I admit at the bottom of the page, I assembled this rather haphazardly, but that admission didn't prevent a surprising piece of mail from soon making its way to me...

"99 More Nifty Things About Comics" (1983)

Not long after the previous strip was published, a short if not particularly sweet letter arrived from a fairly tenured comics pro saying, in effect, "I've put in all these years in the field, and I don't even crack your top one hundred?". Oops. It was an inadvertent oversight on my part, though frankly, it was also probably due partially to the fact that I had stronger feelings for material he'd worked on earlier in his career than what he'd been doing currently. Well, to rectify this sorry situation, I sat down and threw together ANOTHER list, including a series of the affronted pro's greatest hits. Not to give it away, but you might be able to figure out just WHO I'm talking about by taking a close look at the wink-wink, nudge-nudge-like expressions on cartoon Fred's face. While this is indeed the first time I'm revealing my true motivation for doing this particular strip, I did explicitly try to make things interesting by throwing in a single ringer and challenging my readers to figure out the one thing listed on that page that I really DIDN'T like. The dare remains--can you guess?.

So, put on your thinking caps, kiddies, and get to it--you've got yourselves a mystery to solve! The first correct answer will receive--my congratulations! (What--you want prizes? Then buy yourself a box of "Cracker Jacks", bud--we AIN'T getting rich around here, sad to say...)
And, as promised, I've added 19 new links, including one that I only became aware of between the time I put together yesterday's entry and then today's, "The Less Said The Better", a brand new blog emanating from the estimable cartoonist and creator of Megaton Man, the always fascinating Don Simpson!

Welcome to a strange little world I like to call Blogovia, Don--I'm sure you'll make a valuable addition to its ever growing ranks!

(And, oh grandma, what big TEETH you have!...)
February 9th, 2005
Let's dip into my well of never reprinted early eighties episodes for today's "Dateline:@#$%!" goodie, shall we?..

"Grey Matters--And So Does Money!" (1983)

This was an example of a series of projected potpourri strips I'd hoped to eventually use to assemble a nice little collection of miscellaneous funny-book factoids, but...never quite happened. Enjoy this one anyway...
As for links, well, let me state right here that it's my intention to, in the very near future, post over a dozen new destinations on my links-ravaganza, divided just about equally between bloggers and artists. But I thought I'd take this opportunity to point you towards one in particular here today: "Blog THIS, Pal", overseen by someone going only by the name of "Gordon" (not unlike Cher, Sting, Madonna, or Screech...).

Have I chosen to spotlight this page because the mildly mysterious Gordon runs by far the best written, the most keenly analytical, and the most outrageously funny entry amongst my crop of upcoming additions?

Well, no.

I mean, it's a GOOD site, don't get me wrong, but I'm giving friend Gordo the royal treatment simply because, without me even being previously aware of his presence on the web (let's give the boys at "The Comic Treadmill" proper credit for bringing him to our attention), he nonetheless joined in on my shameless ego-fest back on January 30th, and, playing right along, wished me a happy birthday! Why, he EVEN offered to bake me a cake! Hey, thanks, G!

And, 'Don, when you finally DO send me that cake, don't worry, I don't have ANY intentions of actually eating it. Nope--I'll instead go the Smallville-citizen-at-Superboy's-farewell-party-route, and keep it safely and sentimentally under a glass display case for now and all time! (...assuming the mice don't get to it, of course...)

Thanks, my **snif** blog brother!

Now, everyone--go! Blog THAT, pals!...
February 8th, 2005
Not surprisingly, the upcoming sixth issue of Jon Cooke's excellent COMIC BOOK ARTIST magazine will serve as a tribute to the late Will Eisner. In casting about for some sort of fresh angle to hook my own "Dateline:@#$%!" contribution onto, I came across a generally overlooked fact concerning the sixties era re-emergence of the legendary cartoonist's iconic character, The Spirit.

(And no, I'm doing something entirely different, but still wanted to share this with you in addition to what I have planned for CBA...)

Most comics readers of my generation first encountered the Wildwood Cemetery based crime-fighter in one of three places:
In late 1965, within the pages of Jules Feiffer's "The Great Comic Book Heroes"; a new story done exclusively for the New York Herald Tribune Sunday magazine in early spring of '66; or most pervasively, in the two Harvey Comics Giant issues that hit the stands that very same summer. But some of you may be surprised to learn that the actual FIRST reprinting of the Eisner classic appeared beneath the provocative cover pictured above, in the pages of the February 1962 edition of the Harvey Kurtzman edited, Jim Warren published, B&W, difficult-to-categorize satire series, HELP! (Volume 2, number 1).

Here's the relevant blurb (presumably written by Kurtzman) found on the opening editorial page...
And by way of introducing a reprint of "Sand Saref" (second installment), someone (again, probably editor Harvey) offered this prescient assessment of the artist's work (though note the perhaps overly picky comments about certain aspects of Eisner's drawing--that Kurtzman always WAS the incorrigible perfectionist, wasn't he?...)
(By the way, you can click on the above image to make it larger, and thus, more readable. Hey--we're learning ALL sorts of tricks on this website these days!...)

This issue of HELP! hit the stands late in 1961, and no, eight year old Little Freddy didn't buy his copy off the rack--certainly, not with a cover like THAT! Fact, is, I NEVER picked up a HELP! during it's days as an ongoing concern. It was only some years later--around '68 or '69--when I'd gotten deeply into comics fandom, and thus had access to the back issue market via mail order that I got ahold of this little-known landmark issue (one that ALSO featured the justly famous "Goodman Beaver Goes Playboy" episode by Kurtzman and Will Elder, the story that got the bigwigs over at Archie Comics all in a decades-long snit). I was never much for buying old comics through the mail, truth to tell, but when I saw an ad featuring a warehouse find of this HELP!, a later 1964 giant edition reprinting their best photo fumettis, AND both issue of Kurtzman's lavishly produced TRUMP magazine, all for the ridiculous price of something like $5 (okay, it MAY'VE been as much as $10, but still...), I jumped at it! True, the TRUMPs had their titles stripped off, but at those rock-bottom prices, even back then, it was quite the sweet deal!

So, anyway, the next time a middle-aged funny-book fancier tells you he (or she) discovered the joys of Will Eisner's Spirit thanks to a Harvey reprint, don't be so quick to jump to any sort of conclusions--you might think to pause for a moment and ask...

"WHICH Harvey?"...
February 7th, 2005
I'm not a football fan, but I AM a Beatles fan, so click where necessary to read my reaction to Sir Paul McCartney's Half Time Show.

And what's wrong with that, I'd like to know?...
February 6th, 2005
THE MOST EXCITING PUBLISHING EVENT OF 2005!!! least, here in stately Hembeck Manor.

Yup, renowned COMIC BOOK ARTIST head honcho, Jon Cooke, has devoted an entire issue--nay, an entire DOUBLE issue!--of his self-published COMIC BOOK ARTIST BULLPEN magazine to none other than yours truly, and I've gotta tell ya, gang, I'm honored, humbled, and just flat out happy to be able to hold such an exquisitely assembled collection of my quirky cartoons in my hot little hands!

Paper...I REMEMBER paper...
So, should you be either A) a big fan of mine, or B) a true glutton for punishment, I couldn't recommend a better periodical for you to purchase, one that'd very easily serve the dual purposes of BOTH those needs. Besides far more art that I would've ever imagined he'd be able to comfortably squeeze into 40 pages, editor-man Jon conducted an interview with me that--according to his own calculations--runs a breath-siphoning 23,000 words!! And people, not only did I say most of them, I had to copy-edit them--TWICE!! So buy a copy, will ya? After all, why should I be the only one who has to suffer?...

But seriously, friends, (yes, we invoke the "but seriously" clause around here occasionally), Jon did a TREMENDOUS job putting this thing together, and though there are certainly a lot of my goodies on display here at the site, I supplied Jon with a ton of art that has yet to make its way online, so even if you've explored every nook and cranny of, there's plenty of surprises to be found in this issue of the BULLPEN. And if you're STILL on the fence, bear this in mind: while the regular COMIC BOOK ARTIST itself is being published by Top Shelf, this spin-off zine is being issued by Jon's own, family based company, RetroHouse Press.

That's right, people--Jon Cooke has invested his children's lunch money in a magazine about ME! Don't make those poor children pay the grim price for their father's muddle-headed decisions--buy a copy so that the poor little tykes don't go hungry! And, fellow fanboys, if we can just keep the magazine an ongoing proposition, eventually the esteemed Mr. Cooke will get around to that exhaustive Myron Fass tribute we've ALL been longing for!...

So, c'mon. Send Jon eight bucks, and ask for CBA BULLPEN 5/6. Don't be looking for it at the corner comic book store--it's available only via the mail order route. The address is RetroHouse Press, P.O. Box 204, West Kingston, RI 02892-0204. Make your check or money order out to "RetroHouse Press" (U.S. funds only, please), and that'll be $8 U.S.,$10 Canada, or $12 International (I hear tell I'm big with the sheep farmers in New Zealand...).

And remember, if you order before midnight tonight, well, Jon'll just get your money all that much sooner, won't he?

("...are we having bread with our gruel tonight father? Oh, my, but what a treat! Once that Hembeck thing starts selling like hotcakes, who knows? We might actually be able to AFFORD hotcakes!?!...)
February 5th, 2005's only a matter of time, now!!
People, let's be honest here--this is probably the LAST place on the whole World Wide Web you'd think to go if you were in search of any sort of topical nugget of news. And I sure wouldn't blame you none. For example, the illustration above was culled from the pages of the legendary Batman episode entitled "The Laughing Fish", and it originally appeared in the February 1978 issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, so obviously, there's no scoop to be had there.

But wait! Soon, they'll be back together--Batman, Silver St. Cloud, and that towel! (Okay, okay--NOT the towel.) (And, um, I DO mean NOT the towel, fellas!...)
Maybe more importantly, the folks in charge of reuniting these star-crossed lovers are the very same ones responsible for introducing the pair to each other in the first place, way, way back in the late seventies: scripter Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers, inker Terry Austin, and letterer John Workman.

Oh, you've heard about that already? How it's called THE DARK DETECTIVE, and how two issues apiece of this highly anticipated six issue limited series will hit your local comic book store this coming May, June, and July? You say you knew all that?


Well then, I guess the main thing I want to tell you is this:

I've been lucky enough to see black and white copies of the first three and a half issues, and I ain't lyin' to you when I say it looks downright SPECTACULAR!!

Here's what happened: I had lunch a few days ago with my old buddy, Terry Austin. That's right, the very same Terry Austin given the task of embellishing the aforementioned project. I hadn't seen Terry in the flesh since we both attended Joe Sinnott's signing session early last December. Y'see, in years past, we'd ordinarily get together regularly to play our weekly game of volleyball, but due to a new and ongoing set of maddening bureaucratic circumstances involving the venue where we've played for decades now (yup, we're old!), the game has been on forced hiatus since last September, with, unfortunately, no end currently in sight. Someday I'll fill you in on the situation, but suffice to say, I hadn't seen my ink-stained pal in quite awhile before we met for a little shopping and lunch last Tuesday. (Yes, men shop, too--especially if they're pop culture enthusiasts like the two of us (aka "suckers for bright shiny objects"). We both picked up our own copies of the newly minted, prematurely cancelled, "Wonderfalls" complete series DVD set, and I grabbed me one of those new Joe Cocker CDs as well. Be assured there were absolutely NO visits to any shoe stores involved...)

So eventually, we wound up at the local Red Lobster, and sat down to have a leisurely lunch. Various stories of a gossipy nature were copiously exchanged (yes, men do that, too--ESPECIALLY, I've found, if they work in the comics biz!...), and then finally, after the waitress towed away all our now empty plates, I piped up-- "Lemme see those pages you brought along, buddy boy!"

Terry smiled and proudly pulled the B&W copies out of the large envelope that he'd carried in with him (they were the same size as the original artwork), and handed them across the table to me.


They were GORGEOUS! All six covers, and three and a half completed issues worth--pure panelogical magic. Rogers' pencils exuded as much inspiration and inventiveness as they did (**gulp**) a quarter-century back, and Terry's inks? They appeared even crisper and more authoritative than they did during the team's first go-round. Simply put, the artwork will NOT disappoint those of us who harbor fond memories of the ground-breaking original arc, and should still be sufficiently impressive enough to grab ahold of the attention of young folks who missed things way back when (you know the group--those wee tykes, the ones now in their thirties?...).

The story? Well, in some respects, it's hard to say, since I purposely flipped through Terry's daunting pile of copies relatively quickly--I want to enjoy the experience of reading this series when it comes out without knowing key plot points in advance (Yes, gang--I AM going to read it! And considering my current track record with fresh four color releases, that intention alone makes an important statement...), so I didn't look TOO closely at the activities deftly illustrated on the pages in front of me as they literally flew by. But two things make me feel optimistic about the script--even just giving it a rapid-fire glance, I saw several classic villains working their macabre magic in manners appropriately unique--and witnessed PLENTY of intriguing interpersonal activities staged between the male and female leads of the piece, whether they were emotionally charged dialog sequences, or, um, y'know, OTHER stuff...

Without towels...

Plus, Terry LIKES it! Believe me when I tell you that's never, ever a given. Whether it's something he's working on, or the latest critical darling to enrapture the ninety-nine per cent of the field, if Terry doesn't like it, he'll tell you so--and in no uncertain terms, too! (Not that he's without his inexplicable blind spots--SpongeBob comes immediately to mind, for instance...) But he's been nothing but sanguine about both the writing and pencilling on this project from the get-go, so that's GOTTA mean something! Look, he's a hard man to please, and if he's pleased, well then, a pushover like me or you will probably be absolutely ECSTATIC!!

So, don't be wary--this is the real deal. Steve, Marshall, Terry and John are putting this together as a bona fide team (in fact, the first three gents are making several con appearances together come this April and May--check your local listings for more details). Bearing in mind that I've not read the books involved, and with all due respect to my old friend, JB, this ISN'T a sham reunion like the trumpeted pairing of Chris Claremont and John Byrne on that recent JLA story arc. After all was said and done--and meeting with mostly poor reviews, as best I can tell--it was revealed that John merely turned in his fully plotted pencils to DC without a clue as to who'd eventually be filling in the balloons. DC editorial's notion of choosing his old X-MEN partner for the job was clearly a cash grabbing publicity stunt, first and foremost, and a true collaboration, way, way last (it's even been reported that the two never actually spoke while working on the series). (And as much as I love Jerry Ordway--and I DO--shouldn't Terry have inked that job, if only to've completed the ruse? I sure think so...).

No, THE DARK DETECTIVE--which will certainly sell its share of copies solely based on the legend of its predecessor, true--seems to be so much more than just a calculated exercise in profitable nostalgia. When these four guys produced that memorable DETECTIVE COMICS run late 1977 and into 1978, there hadn't been one of those truly revolutionary Denny O'Neil/ Neal Adams Batman stories in what at that time seemed an eternity, and Gotham's Late Night Lurker had complacently settled into an unending series of competently produced--but totally forgettable--adventures. It took a quartet of virtual industry neophytes (okay, okay--Steve had an impressive body of Marvel work under his belt, sure, but his DC dance-card was practically empty), armed with a youthful enthusiasm, no ingrained set of "rules" to subconsciously hold them back, and--oh yeah--huge ladlefuls of talent, to remind everyone just how GOOD a character Batman could be again!

And now, decades later, rifling through all these pages, the one feeling I DIDN'T get from looking at them was that they were casually cranked out by some past their prime craftsman, hoping to exploit former triumphs for a few shekels and maybe a handful of middling notices. No, what I saw was the work of a group of older, wiser, and above all, proud creators, ones who want the world to know that, hey, Batman's come a long, LOOONG way since the last time we had him in our grasp, but remember: we're the ones who pointed him in that direction, and--despite all the top-flight talent who've taken their shot at him in the intervening time--WE'RE still a team to be reckoned with! Best I can tell, NO ONE'S on autopilot here, friends! Just men on a mission--and I ain't talkin' about the fellas in the funny outfits, folks!...

Suitably bowled over, I handed Terry back the pages. And that's when things got even BETTER--

Yup--Terry PAID for lunch!!

It was a birthday thing, y'see. Our get together took place only a couple of days after I blatantly--and yes, somewhat egotistically--announced to the world at large the all-important news of my special, special day. However, as I've indicated several times in the past, Terry doesn't own a computer--and might never own one, to hear him tell it--and, as he'll be the first to tell you, possesses a rotten memory to boot, so he only became aware of my birthday from talking to our mutual pal, Bill Alger, on the phone a day earlier (you really SHOULD check out Bill's snarkily hilarious web-comic, "June", if you haven't already--but please, ONLY if you're not faint of heart!). So, I thanked Terry for his gracious generosity then, and I'm thanking Bill for his well-timed date-dropping now--without you, Bill, I probably would've had to pay for my own meal! Thanks for the lunch, bud! And to think, it didn't even cost you a cent!

Oh, and what did I HAVE, you wonder?

Why, "The Laughing Fish and Chips", of course!...
February 4th, 2005
Am I the only one who thinks this guy has way, WAY too much power?...
February 3rd, 2005
Here's a "Dateline:@#$%!" strip that I'll wager EVERY comics reader will identify with, at least a little...

"Pronouncing The Names of Comics Characters--A Hit Or Mxy Proposition"


Sure, EVERYONE had their own difficulties figuring out how to say the name of Superman's pint-sized mystical nemesis, but I didn't let MY ignorance stop there! Uh uh--here are just a few of my decidedly unique interpretations of some otherwise seemingly straight forward names. Yup, even Brainiac...

And your link today? Howabout that very first Brainiac story? And just for fun, read my strip first, and THEN use MY pronunciation of ol' greenskin whilst perusing this certified Silver Age classic!

February 2nd, 2005
A few weeks back, when word of Johnny Carson's passing initially hit the news, I sat down and wrote pretty much the first thing that came into my head regarding my feelings towards the now late Late Night Host, and as can happen in times of such haste, though the emotions may ring true, the facts, well the facts aren't always entirely, y'know, FACTUAL?...

I had a bad feeling about some of my muddled memories, particularity the "Celebrity In A Sack" anecdote.
In my faulty recollection, I had Johnny phoning in to Jay, offering some free advice regarding one of the new guy's lackluster comedy bits.


Several days ago, a diligent reader by the name of David Goehner wrote in with some detailed corrections. Here's a portion of that letter:

...two corrections regarding your recent Carson essay. I figure you might at least want to correct this first one, lest some other people pick up your mistake, start repeating it, and causing it to enter into the status of erroneous TV myth. When Carson was on the phone and made that gibe about Leno's "Celebrity in a Sack" routine, that was definitely, definitely, definitely with David Letterman on CBS's "Late Show." I don't remember what else Carson said during that phone call with Letterman, but I've long remembered Carson's slam about Leno's "Celebrity in a Sack" bit. Carson never made such a call with Jay (at least as far as I know, since I'm a devoted Letterman fan going back to his NBC morning show ... which is why I know the "Celebrity in a Sack" slam was part of a phone call he had with Letterman).

Yup--it all comes back to me now. That WAS on Letterman. My confusion was borne out of the fact that I was a regular viewer of both programs in those days (thanks to the miracle of videotape), and thus saw both Leno's goofy skit and Johnny's subsequent offhand derision of same a night or so later on "The Late Show".

Now, for reasons I'll explain anon, I'm gonna edit out David's next paragraph, and then continue on with his final one:

Correction #2: When Carson was interviewed by Letterman and brought out his own cardboard desk, that was waaayy back in the NBC "Late Night" days, long before Carson ever announced his retirement. Again, this was another one of the times when Dave's crew was in California for the week. (I think the same week that the great Chris Elliott did a character called "the Laid-Back Guy"). By the way, most of America found out about Johnny's retirement during a later, New York, appearance on Letterman's NBC show.... sans cardboard desk.

Before I had a chance to post these ever so helpful corrections, David Letterman, finally back from a weeklong vacation, had the opportunity to put together his own heartfelt tribute to Carson, and soon after it aired, another note from David Goehner arrived:

Hey Fred--

After just watching Letterman's show a few minutes ago (as I think you might have), I have to submit some correction to MY OWN corrections that I sent you a few days ago regarding Carson's post-retirement late night TV appearances. (Hope I make it in time before you post anything from my earlier message!)

Basically, I had the order of Johnny's three appearances on Dave's CBS "Late Show" in the wrong order. I'd have bet Floyd R. Turbo's plaid jacket that Johnny's first "Late Show" appearance was that cameo shot of Carson driving the car in the pre-taped comedy bit while Dave was in California. (My flawed memory was -- back when I'd seen that -- that the satisfying thought occurred to me that Letterman had beaten Leno to being the first to get Carson on his own show after Johnny'd left "The Tonight Show.") While Letterman -did- beat Leno -- and, in fact, was the only one of the two to ever get Carson on his show -- it was that "Celebrity In A Sack" phone call that marked Johnny's first appearance on Letterman's CBS show.

Thankfully, Monday's "Late Show" included the original airdates of the clips, so here is the (real) correct order:

#1: Nov. 11, 1993 (a year and a half after he'd left "The Tonight Show") -- Johnny's phone call with Dave on CBS's "Late Show." This was the conversation where Johnny made that jab about the "Celebrity In A Sack" bit that Leno had been doing. (Although, THAT part of the conversation wasn't included in the clip that was shown Monday night. Wish they had run the entire segment, since it's probably the closest thing to being the final TV interview Carson ever did.)

#2: Monday, May 9, 1994 -- The pre-taped comedy bit done during the first night of a week of shows in California where Johnny drives past Dave and Paul while they're having car trouble.

#3: Friday, May 13, 1994 -- At the end of the week of California shows, Johnny shows up to hand Dave the Top 10 list, sits behind Dave's desk, and ALMOST says something before deciding against it and just walking back out. What was -not- explained when this clip was run on Monday night's tribute show was that this was part of a running gag that Letterman had been doing all week while in California. Every night, Dave would announce that that night's Top 10 list was going to be delivered by Johnny Carson. And every night ... some OTHER celebrity would come out (and I -think- the name "Johnny Carson" might've also been displayed on the screen each time). One night it was Calvert DeForest (the artist formerly known as Larry "Bud" Melman). I remember thinking that week that they'd probably end the gag by having Johnny ACTUALLY SHOW UP on the last night. Sure enough!

Letterman's tribute show Monday night listed the date of the fold-out cardboard desk gag (also done during a week of shows in California) as May 16, 1985, back in the first few years of the "Late Night" era at NBC. Monday's show also included a "Late Night" clip from May 2, 1990, with Carson and Letterman shown split screen talking on the phone. Odd, though, that the tribute clips did NOT include Carson's announcement of his retirement during an unannounced walk-on appearance on Letterman's "Late Night", which I think would've been around May of 1991. (Hey, there's that month again!)

Sheesh. I feel like I'm channelling Mark Evanier with all this recollection of Letterman's TV shows....
You could do worse channeling, David--like the gal psychic on that new NBC show maybe? (Although, truth is, I hear "Medium" is the rare show that's well done.) (...sorry...)

Anyway, much thanks for your perspective and more reliable memory, David--it's sincerely appreciated! (By the way, I eliminated the section of David's first message wherein he got the sequence of the Carson/Letterman cross-overs slightly mixed up. Hey, the guy's only human, y'know...)

Myself, I enjoyed Letterman's tribute quite a bit. Knowing full well what the hour was going to be focusing on, I confess to have been initially confused by Dave's choice to open the show with what I assumed was a conventional monolog. Ah, but it wasn't, and when Letterman revealed that each and every one of the preceding gags had, in fact, been written for him in recent months by Johnny Carson, well, there wasn't a dry eye in THIS house, lemme tell ya! Nicely done.

I'll end this examination of Late Night Talk Fests past with this mildly macabre observation: since we lost Steve Allen back in 2000, and then Jack Paar a few years ago, and now Johnny, bear in mind that means there ARE no more "former hosts of "The Tonight Show" around, now are there?

Somewhere, Joey Bishop is laughing.

Or, more likely, cringing...
February 1st, 2005
As you might be aware, we occasionally do a little something here at the site called Classic Cover Redos. Well, I have a NEW one for you today--though, honestly, it's qualifies more as a "Curiosity" than a "Classic"--and to add to the confusion, it's not even posted HERE at!

An explanation? Well, Mag and H, the two guiding lights behind "The Comic Treadmill"--a real swell blog--are also engaged in an indomitable battle of wills, one that ultimately revolves around a single issue of the long-running IRON MAN series, number 157.


Go. Read about their bilious bout of one-ups-manship, and--incidentally--take a gander at MY version of the aforementioned comic's cover while you're there.

(And in case you're wondering why I, an innocent third party, would get himself involved in their near blood feud, it boils down to a simple misunderstanding--y'see, I thought H wanted me to make SMORES for him!! Guess THAT'LL teach me not to try reading my email without my glasses!...)

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