Archive - May 2003

May 31st, 2003

There's no joy in Metsville tonight--OR Remulak, for that matter. David Cone retired yesterday.

For those of you who may not remember, Cone was the 40-year-old baseball pitcher who sat out all of last season, only to attempt an improbable comeback with one of his old teams--MY team--the New York Mets during spring training. Surprising most everyone, Cone won himself a job in the Mets starting rotation as the team headed north to open the 2003 season. Five days in, he provided what likely will be the most memorable evening in what amounts to yet another unrelentingly dreary Mets campaign when he worked 5 shutout innings against the Montreal Expos. In his first appearance since 2001, his magical performance earned him a win. Sadly, it would be the last of his distinguished career.

Cone needed 7 "W"s to notch a nice even 200 victories, but after 3 subsequent losses, an arthritic hip consigned him to the disabled list. He spent several weeks working himself back into shape, pitching in small portions of several minor league games as part of his rehab, but when he was finally reactivated earlier this week, he'd lost his place in the rotation. The plan now was to work in relief. Fine. He did just that against the Phillies Wednesday evening late in a game the Mets were--not surprisingly--being roundly whomped in. Cone allowed a solo home run in two innings, not faring all that badly, considering, but as he later told reporters, it was the day after that did him in. The extreme difficulty he had in merely getting out of bed and limping off to the bathroom the following morning is what truly determined the future for him--his baseball career was over.

I found all this out when I turned on the Mets game Friday night (the club had asked him to take a day and sleep on his decision, but the extra 24 hours did nothing to deter him from his original course of action). I admit to have been mildly shocked and more than a little saddened at the news. For one thing, I really wished I'd've watched what turned out to be his finally stint on the mound a tad bit closer--I was at the drawing board at the time, and didn't pay all that much attention to what was, by then, a clearly lost cause. If I'd only known the added significance those two frames would take on a short 48 hours later?...

As I've stated previously, I'm not at all accustomed to becoming overly emotional regarding the comings and goings of professional ballplayers--despite evidence to the contrary--but there's always a few exceptions, and Cone was definitely one of them (about the only other two I can think of are fellow Met star starters, Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden--guess I have a soft spot for top-notch hurlers, huh?). If you've never witnessed a David Cone interview, well, he's pretty far from what you'd imagine a big money jock to be like, I assure you. The guy's articulate, funny, and self-effacing. He sorta reminds me of a Bob Costa's type, only--cheap joke alert!--taller. In fact, there's a very good chance he'll make broadcasting his next career, and believe me, the field would be lucky to have him. You just couldn't help but like the guy. He was one of the few players I ever followed extensively when he left the friendly confines of Shea Stadium, which says a lot: usually, when they take that Mets uniform off, players are dead to me. Metaphorically speaking, of course! (…and no, that pun WASN'T intentional! Sometimes they just...happen.)

In a final fitting bit of irony, Cone's abrupt retirement opened up a spot on the active roster for 42-year-old relief pitcher John Franco. Due to extensive arm surgery, the long time Mets reliever himself hadn't pitched since the end of 2001. Returning after the extended absence, Franco provided what little there was to cheer about in yet another discouraging Mets defeat last night by pitching a scoreless inning in relief, earning a deservedly warm ovation from the New York fans. That was nice, but my joy was tempered with the reality of Cone's situation. The man who inspired his followers in the stands to don cone shaped headgear--Coneheads, like on SNL, get it?--was finally and definitely through. You might say David Cone's once-fairytale like comeback had a grim--not Grimm--ending. Okay, YOU probably wouldn't, but I just did...

Good luck to you, Coney, and thanks for the memories!! (...Am I detecting an insidious pattern here? After all, in baseball, 40 is almost 100 in Hope years!?!...)

May 30th, 2003

Hope you all had a fine Bob Hope centennial yesterday! If you somehow missed it, well, you've got yourself quite a wait until the next one rolls around, friend! But I wanna tell ya...

I accomplished pretty much everything I planned to do as detailed in the previous entry: listened to half a dozen radio shows, viewed the commemorative NBC special, listened to Bob's song stylings, read a 1962 issue of THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE illustrated by the estimable Mort Drucker, and capped the evening off by watching the hilarious "Road To Bali"--all in about a 25 hour period!?! Whew! Talk about being Hope-full!?! Again, I wanna tell ya...

What I DIDN'T see was wife Dolores and the kids jawing with Larry King. Apparently, some new, rather gruesome evidence came out regarding the latest "Crime of the Century", the unfortunate Laci Peterson case, and the Hope celebration was summarily bumped. More important to CNN was having this latest sliver of information discussed ad nausea by the usual group of experts. Folks, I realize that all we were likely to see was a puff piece, with Larry lobbing softball queries to the Hope clan, but c'mon, a comedy legend doesn't turn 100 every day!?! Could we just ease off on this frantic forensic minutia blanket coverage for a lousy sixty minutes to salute a man who provided the world with decades of positivity and not use it as an excuse for Dr. Michael Baden to drone on and on about his grisly occupation? Bah. I guess not.

Otherwise, monitoring the three news networks, I believe they gave Bob his due, reporting his age-worthy achievement with satisfying regularity. My pal Rocco even notes that he was awoken by the dulcet tones of Bob crooning his theme song, "Thanks For the Memories", drifting in over his radio alarm clock--and this from an ordinarily rock ready station!?! Nice.

I DID feel it was somewhat disappointing that the late night guys--Jay, Dave, Conan, and Jimmy--all chose to take this week off. Subsequently, none of them were available to make proper note of the occasion on last evening's broadcasts. Inasmuch as they all pretty much owe their careers--or, at least, the template for it--to the birthday boy, that amounted to bad timing, something Mr. Hope never suffered from.

Another observation--nearly every report I managed to catch was reported, mostly, in the past tense. Sure, I know, I know-- Bob's not likely to make a comeback at this point, but hearing everybody--newscasters, friends, associates--all speak of him as if he was already…gulp...dead, well, it kinda tempered the celebratory mood, y'know?

Still, I had a ball immersing myself in Hopemania while I happily toiled away at the drawing board, successfully--ta da!--completing my current assignment. A bit of irony there: whilst marking the Hope centennial, I myself was finishing up my two page contribution to the special anniversary issue of what they usta call the "World's Greatest Comic Magazine", FANTASTIC FOUR#500!! Since the FF was launched some forty plus years back, that would make Bob about 1200 issues old in Fantastic Four years, right?...

I've gotta thank the fella who's undoubtedly my favorite current editor, the learned Tom Brevoort, for giving me the delightful opportunity to be a part of this very special edition. And I'm doubly pleased to share with you a portion of a missive that came in from fellow Hopester and Hall of Fame editor, Jim Salicrup! Jim, would you mind telling us a little about YOUR (very) recent activities?...

Since May 29th is my birthday as well, I'm certainly aware of the 100th B-Day of My Favorite Comedy Star. Did you see the special NBC put together on Hope last month? They did a great job. I bet I'm the only kid on my block with an autographed BOB HOPE comicbook!

As if that wasn't cool enough, I also share my B-Day with John F. Kennedy. Yesterday, I attended a book signing for daughter Caroline Kennedy's new book, "A Patriot's Handbook," which is one wonderful book for the whole family -- I give it two thumbs up! I told her I was buying her book as my present to myself and -- here it comes -- Caroline wished me a Happy Birthday!

A final B-Day note, my brother gave me the new Beatles Anthology DVD and I'm as happy as can be.

Who knew? Not one, not two, but THREE of the twentieth's centuries greatest men, all born on the same day!! NOT the same year, I'm reasonably certain, but quite the mystical coincidence regardless. Happy belated birthday, Jim!! I realize it's not quite the same as if it were emanating from the likes of a Caroline Kennedy, but hey, it's put forth in all due sincerity! Wait'll YOUR hundredth--are we ever gonna have fun!!

(Oh, and I left Jim's mention of the Beatles DVD in so as to provide myself with an opportunity to note the recent news that 60 year old Sir Paul and his child bride--relatively speaking, of course--are expecting a bouncing bundle of joy! Congrats, Macca--if Tony Randall, James Doohan, and Anthony Quinn can sire even later in the game, why not the apparently still cute Beatle? And if it's a boy, tell me--how's "Bob" sound to you?...)

But that's all I wanna tell ya--for today!

May 29th, 2003
...and really, who BETTER to teach tolerance to the teenage ruffians of the world than that well regarded magistrate of morality, Bob Hope himself?

Of course, when DC Comics ran this note-worthy public service ad within their pages, the man once known as "Leslie" was a mere lad of 61! That was way, way back in the year 1964, and unless you're new to this site, you've probably got a pretty decent idea what today is! Yup, it's Bob Hope's one-hundredth birthday!! Running this curious little PSA--delightfully delineated by the sublime Bob Oksner--is my small contribution to the worldwide festivities! Best wishes to you, Bob, and here's to as many more as you can possibly manage!

Myself, well, I've got a full day of Hope planned--I'll start with that special I've been saving for just this moment, the one NBC ran back on Easter (those of you with the Bravo Network, look for a re-broadcast this evening if it escaped you earlier). Then, since I have some deadlines that I absolutely must meet (Hi, Tom!), I'll content myself with listening to several CDs containing the many musical moods of ol' ski nose, and as I continue to slave over a hot drawing board, I'll further amuse myself with as many Bob Hope radio broadcasts as I can stand, delivered to me via mp3s over my handy-dandy DVD player!! Eventually, with an acceptable amount of work done, I'll flip on Larry King Live over at CNN to see Dolores and the "kids" yammer to ol' suspender-breath about their estimable relation. Maybe I'll even read one of Bob's old official DC comics-a Drucker issue, perhaps. Finally, I'll end the day with a Road picture, pleasantly if reluctantly concluding my own private celebration! (...And no, my family will NOT be taking part--they consider this plan of action as peculiar as most of you out there no doubt do!?! Hey, what can I say--comedy icons only turn 100 once, y'know?...)

Maybe we'll dig deeper into my ongoing Bob Hope obsession another time, but for now, let's all just toast the long-lived comic for the many laughs he's provided each and every one of us, and of course--break into song here, why don'tcha?-- thank him for the memories!! C'mon--don't be a grouch! Get into the proper mood this day of all days and seek yourself out some Bob! After all, this is one day NONE of us should be Hopeless!!

May 22nd, 2003

No, folks, I haven't abandoned you, but traditionally, May is a VERY busy month hereabouts, and this year is no exception!

Girl Scout camping trips, Soccer tournaments, school concerts, upcoming finals, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, and perhaps most exciting of all, Bob Hope's centennial!! Add to that all the season finales spewing out of the tube, and perhaps, most importantly, several deadlines that are looming over me, and you'll get a clue as to why I've been a bit negligent over here at the site in recent days. Once I get my pages finished and safely sent off to their new homes, I'll certainly be back at the keyboard on a more regular basis. I'll even tell you where you can find them funny pages once they get the stamp of approval, okay?

Then we'll have time to talk about "24", "Buffy", some comics, new and old, and of course, my ongoing obsession with the Beatles, dig? Got some new cover redos to show you as well. Soon. Promise.

Finally, bear in mind, it's now merely a week until the aforementioned Mr. Hope achieves the aforementioned century mark, and we're SURE to celebrate the occasion here at, so stay with me on the Road to 100, won't you?...

May 16th, 2003

A few further reflections on my Romita ramblings:

Okay, sure, I was devastated, down, and depressed about the departure of Ditko, but I knew that, in my heart of hearts, Jazzy Johnny had nothing to do with the move. This wasn't any sort of palace coup, after all. Thinking back a little more clearly, I recall a genuine effort on my part to get on board with the new regime, and you know what? I pretty much did. The first year or so of Romita's tenure on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was, for the most part, exemplary. True, I was never overly enamored with that John Jameson generic astronaut tale, and the Rhino never--you should pardon the expression--bowled me over. Still, that initial Green Goblin two-parter was a bona fide classic, and there's a three-issue sequence involving Kraven, the new Vulture, a sprained appendage, and a snow covered cityscape that was nearly as memorable as most anything Ditko did on the feature. In retrospect, I really shouldn't have made myself out to've been so down on the new recruit.

Where he lost me was later on, and the circumstances were as much--if not MORE-- Stan's fault as they were Romita's. After all, Stan was the one who assigned some sloppy inkers to finish John's pencils. Either that, or he worked Romita so hard that it was necessary for the ostensible Spidey artist to work off the layouts of others, or conversely, provide layouts to be finished by others. While a lot of very talented artists became involved in this Spidery strew--Buscema, Heck, Mooney and Gil Kane amongst them--the final result was an unavoidable watering down of the attractive style Ditko's successor had firmly established in his first year on the job.

Additionally--and this is a criticism I have of Marvel post-1965 overall--the stories went on far too long. Tales that would've merited two issues tops in Ditko's era were meandering through four, five, and even six issues!! Marvel's sense of fun began to erode somewhat as well, with everything delivered with an unnecessary gravity. No, to me, 1964 will always be my favorite year of Marvel's books, followed closely by 1963. 1965 was okay, but after that? Well, they look good from this vantage point, but they seemed somehow disappointing when I lived through them. All these disparate factors--plus, surprise! I was growing up!--may've contributed to my unfair assessment of John the elder. I now realize the error of my ways, but felt the need to clarify my position and explain that in actuality, I wasn't totally against the new guy early on. Which is not to say seeing Steve Ditko draw Spider-Man again isn't be one of the great unfulfilled desires of my life, but in it's unlikely stead, I've chosen to appreciate what we have, dig? And y'know, I REALLY like that John junior fella, but that's a whole 'nother conversation!...

On other matters, I'm delighted to see the WB came to their senses and renewed "Angel" for another year. If it HAD come to an end, though, this season's finale would've provided for a classy exit. Besides giving the operatives a whole new palette to paint with, the "Stella Dallas"-like shot of Angel lurking outside the window of the home where his emotionally bereft son was mystically plopped into, blissfully enjoying the family nurturing he'd never experienced in his short, brutal existence, was effectively touching. Of course, since dad's coming back in the fall, one imagines Conner's happiness will be short-lived, but hey, you can't have everything, right?...

Looking over the announced fall schedules, I actually did pretty well this renewal season. Outside of the planned departure of the mighty "Buffy"--and the unfortunate earlier yank of the promising "Firefly"--I find myself shedding tears over only one, not wholly unexpected, cancellation. Sure, I'll miss the "Futurama", but the way Fox treated it over the years, it's probably just as well it's put out of it's misery. And the overdo canning of "Sabrina" puts us all out of OUR misery! "Watching Ellie" was so much more fun done on tape while cleverly attempting to do comedy inside of the first season's real-time gimmick (a restrictive but intriguing format they adhered to in a far stricter manner than Fox's more widely ballyhooed "24" ever did). As it was in its' current incarnation, it was just another sitcom, albeit a better than average one. "Andy Richter Controls The Universe"--now THAT was a decidedly superior one, and the sole show I'll truly miss when it disappears from this season's slate of the handpicked Hembeck video schedule. Ah well, new stuff's a comin'--there'll ALWAYS be something good to watch. It's just a matter of finding it.

And speaking of "24", as I was above--one more thrill packed hour to go! I know better than to attempt to take this show with any great degree of seriousness anymore--after all, just HOW much dire situations can one man stumble into in a single 24 hour period? You buy into it for the first, oh, 7 or 8 hours, and then you slowly realize the absurdity of it all as the shocks are piled on, relentlessly, one after the other!! It's the "Perils of Pauline" with LOTSA blood--and this season, torture--but by gosh, it's still compelling!! It's nowhere near the best show I watch, but it IS the one I watch just as soon as I possibly can! (My policy is to view all my regular programs on tape so as to not be distracted by the inevitable distractions--Hi, Julie!!) Expect a full wrap-up after the (undoubtedly) shock-filled finale next week. In the meantime, one observation about this week's episode, okay?

It's 6 AM. Somewhere around 1AM, Kiefer Sutherland had to fight his way past Tony Almeada to get out of CTU's custody. When Tony got back on his feet, he started using a pair of crutches. Since they contributed nothing story wise over the next several hours, one came to suspect the actor himself hurt his ankle somehow, and the producers were obligated to work his injury into the script. Fine. But suddenly, this past Tuesday night, our hero had dispensed with the crutches altogether, though a slight limp remains to betray his erstwhile condition!?! Huh? Folks, there's only two hours to go--couldn't we please remain consistent? Who ever heard of a leg injury so severe that it necessitates the usage of crutches but then clears up in, oh, 4 or 5 hours? Geez, no wonder some folks mock this show!! (Hi, Rocco!!) I certainly hope we see Tony running around in next week's (undeniably) explosive climax, or else there's no legitimate reason for the miraculous cure and it's just another silly continuity screw-up!!

Lastly, let me remind you it's now less than two weeks until Bob Hope's 100th birthday--have YOU gotten your gift yet? If not, perhaps it's time for to hop off onto The Road To The Mall!!...

May 15th, 2003

Unlikely as it may seem in retrospect, when the Beatles first conquered America back in '64, my first favorite mop-top was George. Why? Well, the fact that my middle name is ALSO George may have influenced my choice heavily, but I soon wised up. Ultimately, I wound up alternating my allegiance between the more prominent John and Paul, leaning towards the witty one in the early days and the cute one during the latter stages.

And Ringo? Well, the beloved drummer with the prominent proboscis spent some small amount time as my favorite Beatle as well. Specifically, his hold on that purely honorific title lasted for approximately two hours three years ago this very day! That's when the latest edition of that traveling hits package known as the All-Starr Band sidled into town allowing me, after watching from afar for nearly four decades, the opportunity to see my very first Beatle in the flesh!

Yes, years before April 21st was designated forevermore to be known as Paul McCartney Day hereabouts, May 15th was awarded the appellation of "Ringo Day"--two whole years before, in fact!!

And here's the odd thing--as wonderful as that McCartney concert was--and you have only to scroll back a bit to refresh your memory as to my enthusiastic impressions of THAT evening--the Ringo show provided me with a single bigger thrill, if not nearly as sustained a period of musical bliss! Y'see, it was a smaller venue, a shorter drive, and a closer seat to be had at the All-Starr program, and, my gosh, it WAS my first Beatle, y'know? The assembled band of sorta-superstars took their spots on stage, with the main man waiting just off behind the curtains. Lynn, Rocco, Julie and I waited eagerly for his entrance (okay, Julie didn't really care much, one way or the other, but we dragged her along nonetheless--some day she'll thank us! Except, we'll probably be dead. Anyway...) The familiar opening chords to "It Don't Come Easy' suddenly came out over the massive speakers, and the support acts gathered around their mikes to harmonize the title chorus, leaving the audience to await in anticipation for the imminent arrival of the Starr himself, due to soon chime in with his distinctive vocals as the number gathered unstoppable momentum! And yeah, sure enough, there walking out onto center stage, arms aloft, flashing duel peace signs, was a BEATLE! The thrill I felt at that precise moment was overwhelming--though don't worry, I wasn't gonna faint or anything! Surprisingly, when I first glimpsed Paul two years later, as big a rush as that was, the jolt of personal electricity running through my Beatle sensitive frame wasn't quite as palpable, even though Macca's a bit further up on the Beatles food chain, dig?...

No matter. It was quite a concert, with Ringo doing all of his big songs--"With A Little Help From My Friends", "Yellow Submarine", "Photograph", et al--while being ably spelled by the likes of Jack Bruce and Eric Carmen (among others), delivering their own chart-toppers like "Sunshine Of Your Love", "White Room", "All By Myself" and the awe-inspiring Raspberries classic, "Go All The Way"!! If Ringo went out on tour with the Roundheads, the conglomeration he's assembled for his last few Mark Hudson-produced studio CDs, it'd surely make for a satisfying show, but this radio friendly hits revue that he's taken on the road for over a decade now is also an attractive way to go. It allows for substantial variety, for one thing, as he continually mixes up his musical mates. Go to see the Beatle--get Peter Frampton as a bonus!! Heck, I'd happily go again, even if the rumors of Air Supply joining up on the next go-round actually were true! (Thankfully, they're not...)

So I think I'll celebrate Ringo Day by spinning his latest, "Ringo Rama"--a good, solid disc, though somehow not quite as strong as the previous "Vertical Man" project with mostly the same players--then maybe dip into some of the live recordings issued from earlier All-Starr Bands (ironically, the group we saw is the ONLY one not represented with a full disc in the Ringo CD catalog!?! Anyone out there got a bootleg?) I'll give the high-water mark" Ringo" album a listen, and probably "Sentimental Journey" as well, the before-its'-time assemblage of standards Ringo released while still officially a Beatle. I'll most likely skip the country album, however, and some of the ones he recorded when he was drunk. Those are MY "No-No Song"s!

And to finish things off? How else--with Lorne Greene crooning "Ringo"!! Remember, it don't come easy--either on the docks of Liverpool OR in the verdant fields of the Ponderosa!?!...

May 14th, 2003

Didja hear me? I was on the radio! Of course, you might've missed it, since it was limited to the Albany, New York listening area--AND the broadcast was 25 years ago!?!...

Back in those days, we were living in the Troy area while Lynn got her Masters at R.P.I. and I pursued my ever-meandering cartooning career. After some initial success getting my stuff printed in the fan press, and then in a collection from Eclipse Enterprises, I fell in with some folks at a comics store located in nearby Albany: Fantaco. Tom Skulan, the head honcho, had some publishing ambitions, and as it eventually turned out, issued several of my books over the next few years. I became good friends with the entire group up there--Mitch Cohn, Roger Green, and the talented cartoonist, Raoul Vezina, who doubled as counter-man when he wasn't dreaming up the antics of that lovable rat, Smilin' Ed, a character who'd go on to star in several of his own Fantaco backed publications.

Before the novelty of having me constantly around began to wear out on the regular customers, the Fantaco folks lined me up to do several in-store appearances, usually coinciding with one of my fresh-off-the-presses collections of cartoons. Sitting behind a table, I got to meet an awful lot of nice people, not the least of which was this kid, ten years my junior, who everybody at the store already seemed to know and like. That's how I met my long-time pal, Rocco Nigro.

At that point, our friendship amounted to little more than a passing acquaintance. Not long after, Tom hooked up me and Raoul with the local radio station, getting us a shot on their regular Sunday night call-in talk show. We went on and had a generally good time, yammering about comics, about ourselves, and, of course, about Fantaco. Somewhere there survives an audiotape of the scintillating experience, but for the life of me, don't ask me to locate it!! I'd have a better shot at the proverbial bean in the haystack! There's really only ONE thing I remember from the events of that night--a very confused caller!

You know the kind--they start to say something, then abruptly stop, prompting the host to implore the caller to turn down his or her radio. No need to wait and listen to hear one's own golden tones, y'see, as there's a (usually) seven second delay, instituted for the safety of broadcasters everywhere. Otherwise, the public might possibly hear bad words uttered by malcontents, and good golly gosh, we couldn't have that, now could we? But that wasn't our problem this particular Sunday evening, as our caller started and stopped his commentary several times, causing our exasperated host to eventually abandon our befuddled listener and his attempts to spit out his query despite several admonition's to turn down his radio. Raoul, the host and I all just looked at each other and laughed--what was THAT all about, we wondered?

The next day we found out. It was Rocco!! He had a fairly logical explanation for his actions, which--wouldn't you know it?--I've totally forgotten over the intervening decades. But take my word for it, folks, he had a really good reason for wreaking havoc on the airwaves that night--honest. However, that never prevented me from kidding him about the debacle!

Time marched on. Sadly, the talented Mr. Vezina left us all too soon. Over the years, I've drifted away from the rest of the Fantaco gang, but not Rocco. We've been good friends for over 25 years now--that is, assuming he's not steamed at me for bringing this old personal chestnut out into the light of day! He continues to be a rabid comics fan, and a generous one as well--he often lets he read vintage issues from the fifties and sixties that I'm just too cheap to hunt down the way he does! This despite the fact that several of his books have become virtual hostages in my hot little hands--you'll get that Joe Sinnott illoed Beatles book back someday, this I swear, buddy!!

Today is Rocco's birthday, y'see, and I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank him for being a great friend for such a long time--if I've got another quarter century in me (here's hoping!), I have little doubt we'll still be getting together every month or so, pouring over all his latest purchases or some of my own golden oldies--and while I may never be able to convince him of the glory and greatness of either Karen Carpenter's pipes or Fox's none stop thrill ride," 24", I know we'll always be pals!

In conclusion, I have but two final things to say:

"Happy Birthday, Rocco!"

...And, of course. "PLEASE TURN DOWN YOUR RADIO!!"...

May 12th, 2003

I'll admit it--my first reaction when I yanked the new edition of THE COMICS JOURNAL out of it's mailing envelope the other day was, "ANOTHER one? Another John Romita interview?!?" Pardon my query, but hadn't we covered this ground before--several times?

Romita Senior was subject to the ol' Q and A in past issues of Roy Thomas's ALTER EGO, my old buddy Matt Poslusny's late lamented COMIC BOOK PROFILES, several times in Jon Cooke's COMIC BOOK ARTIST, and in a nice little compilation of his past work put out by Marvel themselves a few years back--what could interviewer Tom Spurgeon possibly draw forth that hasn't been drawn forth previously? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit...

It seems that with each and every subsequent interview, Jazzy Johnny--as Stan chose to call him--becomes more forthright, more self-analytical, and more thoughtful regarding the ever-nebulous process of creation itself! Plus, he's a fella who's not reluctant to call 'em as he sees 'em. Sure, he mostly only has good things to say about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but he's not afraid to point out some of their shortcomings as well. And as for the likes of long-time DC editor/writer Robert Kanigher, well, it ain't a pretty picture, Silver Age fans!?! Jim Shooter? Marvel's true Jekyll and Hyde, according to Romita. He fostered a wonderfully nurturing atmosphere at Marvel during his initial days as Editor-In-Chief, and then, virtually over one fateful--if not specific--night, things veered in the exact opposite direction, a very disheartening development for loyal troops like Romita. Most of his true venom, though, is reserved for the worst thing that ever happened to Marvel: Ron Perelman's devastating tenure at the top. But, excepting perhaps that last example, none of this is said with noticeable malice, and Romita turns as much criticism towards himself as anybody else that one could hardly label this discussion as being mean-spirited.

Don't get me wrong--it's mostly positive stuff. Hearing Romita joyously relive a George Tuska crime story he read at the age of ten is a truly wondrous moment, clearly demonstrating the life-long love and affection John has invested in the comics medium for over half a century. Despite the number of taped talking sessions the veteran artist has participated in in recent years, none of the answers are delivered by rote, and in fact, entirely fresh avenues are explored right alongside old favorites that are generously spiced up with fresh nuances. While we may've heard of the pivotal day a young Romita spent with the tragically doomed yet immensely talented artist Joe Maneely, listening to him describe it as one of the most important days of his entire life gives the familiar tale an added gravity. And as far as shocking new revelations go, well, I'd NEVER before come across anything concerning a strip Stan and John were hired to produce for PLAYBOY in the early seventies, a strip, as it turned out, John just couldn't bring himself to illustrate. It makes for a funny, almost endearing, little anecdote, showing another side of not only the interviewer's subject, but co-conspirator Lee as well! And--yup--there's an accompanying illustration!! Put that tongue back next to your gums, True Believer, and seek out a copy of TCJ #252 if you feel the urgent need to see nekkid Romita babes for yourself!!

Unlike a lot of folks growing up with the comics of the sixties and seventies, I feel compelled to admit that I was never much of a John Romita fan during those halcyon days. In the past decade, partially as a result of this continuing series of revealing talks in addition to a more mature reassessment of the work itself, I've come to revise my opinion considerably, realizing I never truly gave the gent a fair shake. There were primarily two reasons for my reticence regarding Romita, the first of which had to do with his seemingly omnipresent tampering with other artists work when he became the de-facto Marvel art director in the late sixties. He in fact addresses this very situation in the course of his chat with Spurgeon, asking sheepishly if Tom had ever seen the embarrassing--his word--Barry Smith CONAN covers with the Romita faces on them!? People--like good ol' teenage Fred--criticized him for being an egomaniac, but in actuality, it was all done at Stan's behest!?! As an artist, it always galled me to see someone come in and redraw the work of another artist, especially if I preferred the work of the tamperee over that of the tamperer, which, considering the OTHER grudge I childishly held against Romita, was generally the case. Now that I know the truth, I'd like to apologize to the Jazzy One, and send all my resentments Stan's way (except, of course, I can't, Stan being just too dang lovable and all!!...)

That other major failing of Romita's? Simple. He wasn't Ditko. Despite that glaringly obvious fact, he had the nerve to try and REPLACE Ditko!?! In my twelve year old mind, it just couldn't be done, at least not on Spider-Man. Oddly, I've never felt a lick of resentment towards any of the many artists who succeeded Steve Ditko on the Dr. Strange feature, even going so far as to consider several interpretations of the Mystical Mage on a virtual par with his creator's initial tenure (Colan/Palmer, Rogers/Austin, Brunner/Giordano, to name but the three most prominent) That's probably because, as singular a vision as Ditko's Strange work was, the character and the stories he was featured in lacked for me the close-to-the-bone emotional resonance the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man stories sparkled with. I may've said it before, but it bears repeating here--there's never been a super-hero series that I have as closely identified with as Ditko's Spider-Man, and when Steve abandoned his spawn, it was a devastating blow to my pre-teen sensibilities!! Sounds silly, I know, but it was how I felt. And then here comes this Romita interloper, attempting to carry on? Hah! Good luck buddy--I'm sure not rooting for you!

The ironic thing was that before I was aware of Ditko's imminent abdication, the newly (re)hired Romita featured Spidey guesting in what was then his regular assignment, DAREDEVIL. And you know what? I clearly recall thinking that this new guy did a pretty good job drawing the notoriously difficult Webhead, something that seemed to elude even the magnificent Kirby himself!?! But when it became more than a cross-over for Romita, I reverted to the clichéd petulant comics' fan, and at best begrudgingly accepted his work on what was once my favorite title (thank Odin Stan Lee was still scripting things!...) Y'know, despite following the legendary Wally Wood on DD, I was more than willing to give his Man Without Fear a fair chance. After all, who really expected the mercurial Wood to stay put on one title for very long? If John Romita had continued on with Daredevil--or maybe the Hulk or Captain America, two early assignments that he also handled more than capably-- who knows? Maybe I would've developed into a big Romita fan, enjoying his obvious strengths and virtues instead of continually lamenting, if only sub-consciously, his deficiencies, which essentially boiled down to simply not being Ditko?...

Sometimes people burden themselves with stupidly inexcusable prejudices, denying themselves positive experiences in lieu of holding onto their ill-considered negative assumptions. I'm happy to say I've finally come around to seeing John Romita for what he is: a very talented cartoonist and a well-spoken, committed proponent of the comics medium! No, he's not Steve Ditko, but just like there's only one Steve Ditko, there's only one John Romita, and that's good enough for me!!

(...What's that? There IS another John Romita?? Oh, geez, now I'm gonna haveta figure out another ending for this piece!?! Sigh. Check back tomorrow--maybe I'll have it posted...)

May 5th, 2003

I did something last night, something I'm a little embarrassed to admit, actually. But c'mon, everyone does it, EVERYONE! Yeah, that's right--I Googled myself! Got a problem with that? And don't try telling me you've never done it because I know you have!

Oh, I try not to do it too often, I assure you. Fact is, outside of checking the top several listings on recent occasions primarily to see how the new web-site is stacking up against Neil Polowin's "Hembeck Files" page--still second, but gaining on ya, pal!--it's been quite a while since I dipped deep into the listings. Yesterday, for some reason, I felt the inexplicable urge to take that long trip down the scroll and see just what I'd come up with.

Mostly, I came across my name in listings for comics that, not surprisingly, have my name in them. Links to Neil's site also accounts for a hefty percentage of my Google real estate. Additionally, while there appears to be a German scientist and an American software engineer out there sharing the Hembeck name, Neil's got both of THEM beat, too!

Anyway, amongst that morass of comics' listings, an occasional surprise rears its happy head unexpectedly, and I came across one I thought might be fun to share with you readers. Y'see, there's a seven page vintage, barely-ever-seen, strip by yours truly out in cyber-space, and I figured it just might be possible that you'd like to take a peek. Okay, okay, I'll admit it--it's my lazy way of providing you with more Hembeck--not the German scientific kind, mind you--without having to actually do any of the scanning and what not, but hey, we STILL got fun, dig?

Twenty years ago last month, I was a guest at a con in upstate New York put on by The Rochester Fantasy Fans. Actually, I was...ahem... MORE than a mere guest--I was the star of a special video production of my very own "Dateline: @#%$" feature!! The group planned to air it as an episode of their regular public access television program. Yes, folks, it was "Wayne's World" for comics' geeks!! Only it wasn't some impromptu, ad-libbed interview type thing. Uh uh. It was a fully scripted segment, and of course, I was the one who fully scripted it. What the fine folks over at the Astron site are offering for your perusal is my so-called shooting script. Hastily drawn on typing paper--because really, WHO was ever gonna see it, hmm?--it nonetheless packs a few chuckles and gives a fair indication of this long-forgotten video oddity. Besides myself several local fans appear in full costumed regalia, with the script geared specifically towards their availability: Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and as Supergirl, the lovely Murial Hyles-Bailey. A photo of this cape bedecked lass is included over at the site, but it's from a con appearance, not the video-taping. There are no pics of me or the other two characters--probably a GOOD thing--but feel free to check out the Kara Zor-El look alike. Just remember: don't ogle--Google...

Under the astute direction of a fella known as Zonker Harris--that's the only name he'd give me, this I swear-- the whole thing turned out rather nicely. For years and years afterwards, I'd force a viewing, requested or not, upon anybody even vaguely interested in comics and who got anywhere near our TV set!! Over the past decade, however, the tape has been all but forgotten--why, our 12 year old daughter Julie's never even seen it!?! Considering she's at a particularly sarcastic age currently, (that's my girlie!) maybe now's not the best time for a family screening, y'know? And as for the rest of you, go check out the printed version, and maybe someday I'll consider peddling video copies! All the coinage that's bound to flow in is sure to buy me a comic or two, I betcha! (...But three? Doubtful...)

May 3rd, 2003

I hope that those of you who appreciate the graphic story medium have been out and about today, haunting the proper venues, loading up with goodies on this, the second annual Free Comic Book Day!! Enjoy your four-color treasures, folks, but please keep this salient fact in mind--here at, EVERY day is Free Comic Book Day!!

Yup, if you've got the proper connections, we've got the words and the pictures! And it'll cost you nary a cent, not a single nickel, plugged or otherwise! However, those of you given to sharing your largesse, I humbly resubmit for your approval the information that, yes, we do indeed have a Donation button! If you feel so inclined, it'd be mucho appreciated, oh generous ones! (...geez, and you thought those begathons on PBS were annoying!?!...)

Didja see Stan Lee with Jimmy Kimmel last night? Stan looked and sounded pretty sprightly for a gent his age--luckily, he maneuvered down those steps and onto the set without tripping, unlike some of the show's previous guests! I was a bit disappointed with the interview, though, since Kimmel had ballyhooed it by professing, both the evening before and earlier in that self-same show, just how much of a fan of Stan's he'd always been and what a genuine thrill having him on as a guest was. Then, when he finally gets the Marvel maven in the chair opposite him, he completely misses several of Stan's playfully sarcastic replies, taking them at face value and thus deflating their humor entirely. Worse, at one point Jimmy makes the uninitiated's most common mistake, assuming Stan was an artist as well as a writer. Quickly disabused of that notion, Kimmel jumps in with his follow-up comment before Stan's able to name some of the talented artists who've clearly helped make him who he is today. He did manage to get out the names of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby when the host mistakenly suggests that Captain America was the first Lee creation, thankfully.

And then things veered off onto Stan's latest creation, the Pamela Anderson voiced cartoon, Stripperella!?! The name pretty much says it all, but that didn't prevent the discussion from lurching into areas best left unspoken. Pardon me, gang, but hearing an elderly Stan Lee advance the notion of good clean sex was a bit, well, cringe inducing to say the least. It DID provide Kimmel with an opening for a well-timed Viagra quip, however, so I guess all wasn't for naught! Who'd a thought watching Yoko Ono crawling around in a big black bag with Conan would've been more entertaining than watching the founder of Marvel Comics give his well rehearsed spiel over network airwaves? Oh well, at least no attempt was made by this week's dubious co-host, Mr. Crossing Over himself, John Edward, to use the opportunity to reunite the legendary team of Lee and Kirby one last time....

Of course, maybe most of your didn't get home in time to catch the show, since I'm sure a lot of you were out at your local multiplexes. Yup, the big sequel was finally released May 2nd, and just like the rest of you, I'm anxious to see it. However, we had other plans last night and were unable to attend the premiere. Ah well, I'm sure "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" will still be playing for weeks and weeks to come!! We'll surely get around to it, cuz rest assured, we're ALL big Hillary Duff fans hereabouts, comprende? And maybe, soon after, we'll take some time out to check out that new X-Men flick as well...

Have no fear, though--our evening's activity was somehow comics-related, if only peripherally. Lynn, Julie and I attended a Junior High production of "Annie"! Just call me Mr. First-Nighter! While both the ladies of the house had seen both the film and Disney TV versions of this popular musical, it was, surprisingly, my first viewing of this venerable production--and hey, what better way to first experience a stage classic than in the hands of seventh and eighth grade amateurs, hmm?

Actually, the kids did a pretty good job, though I'd venture there was only one outstanding talent up there on that stage, and it wasn't Annie, adequate though she was. The girl essaying the Miss Hannigan role clearly knew how to perform her role with a rare intensity, singing with knowing nuance, and just generally taking command of the proceedings when given the chance. Through no fault of their own, the rest of the cast went about their duties pretty much in her shadow. Can't fault them for lack of conviction, however--you know many other pre-teen boys who'd shave their heads to play Daddy Warbucks?? Yes, we were close enough to tell for certain--the lad indeed sacrificed his locks for his art! Leapin' lizards, as the saying goes!

And leapin' Sandy as well. Annie's faithful pooch had his role substantially trimmed from his days on Broadway. Called out on stage early on, the canine thespian was jumping, licking, and panting all over his red-wigged co-star as she valiantly tried to deliver her big number, "Tomorrow", for the first time. Shortly thereafter, the dog is let loose and never seen again, the only reference coming when the cops bring Annie back to the Orphanage, a line of dialog inserted to indicate that the mutt had run away. Nobody acted very upset about it, I must say...

A young fella Julie was pretty good friends with in the second grade--he even came to her birthday party that year--took on the impressive role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and performed it with just the right amount of command and self-depreciation. Julie and the junior FDR have drifted apart over the years, but geez, who knew? You don't wanna be kicking the Prez to the curb, child o' mine, dig?...

May 2nd, 2003

Does Larry King still do that column of his in USA Today? You know, the one where he strings together a series of non-sequiters and then gets a paycheck? Well, even if he doesn't, I'm gonna borrow the format and see where it leads me--though sadly, the bank doesn't seem to be a primary destination...

The funniest "Road" movie: "Road To Bali"; the least funny "Road" movie: "Road To Perdition"....Just remember, if there'd been no war, we never would've seen the Dixie Chicks nekkid....It's official: I LOVE the new "Dragnet"....People say Moore and Kirby never worked together, but they're forgetting about GARRY Moore and DURWARD Kirby, now aren't they?...Raking leaves is my least favorite yard chore....One of the most woefully under-appreciated writer/artist's in comics' history is the magnificent Johnny Craig...."Wild Honey Pie" was the lamest track the Beatles ever recorded....

I've coined a new word to describe the N.Y Mets 2003 season: flopeat...Being a huge Who fan doesn't necessarily preclude one from digging the Guess Who....Joe E. Ross's "Oo! Oo!" is the greatest comedic catch phrase in history. Runner up: "I pity the fool!"...Bad as he was, Saddam Hussein's moustache wasn't nearly as menacing as Hitler's....A revamped Vegas Revue starring Siegfried and Roy Thomas would only appeal to die-hard comics fans, and even that's not a safe bet....I was a night owl until we had a kid; now I just wish I was...Shemp is my favorite Stooge, Costello is my favorite Abbott & Costello, but although I don't have a preferred Ritz Brother, I sure do LOVE them tasty little crackers!...

When Carmine left the Flash, it was almost as devastating to me as when Ditko ditched Spidey. Almost....I've never been nude in public. Unless now counts....Whatever happened to Dan Ackroyd's brother, Peter?....I can never hear "My Sharona" enough times....NBC's "The West Wing" is so popular, I'm surprised the network hasn't come up with a spin-off called "The East Wing"...I don't much like to play video games....I once named one of our cats after Mets legend Mookie Wilson...When I was a kid, I collected DCs; now I collect CDs...Bob Elliot's son Chris is substantially funnier than Jerry Lewis' kid, Gary, though the latter has a better singing voice...If the sun didn't come up this morning, we'd all be in trouble...

Question: was there ever anybody cuter than Jane Fonda in "Cat Ballou"? Answer: no....We own a rabbit named Romeo. I wanted to call him "Jack Bunny", but none of Julie's friends got it....When Soupy Sales told us kids, "Remember, gang, two wrongs don't make a right, but two Wrights once made an airplane" he endeared himself to me for life....My favorite musical is "West Side Story"....I like bright colors....Every fan out there will happily tell you they've met a real-life version of "The Simpsons" Comic Book Guy, but what brave soul will admit to BEING that guy?? ("Worst squib ever...")...The Amish are the only ethnic group you can safely make fun of because, hey, how will they ever know?...I never confused Abbie Hoffman with Dustin Hoffman, but I once thought Clark Gable and Betty Grable were somehow linked...If Andy Richter really did control the universe, then he'd be able to save his hilarious sitcom from imminent cancellation...

Much as I love 'im, it's my fondest desire to outlive Bob Hope....If it stays on the air long enough, will "Smallville" eventually morph into "Metropolis"?....Don't laugh: "Little Lulu" was the greatest comic book ever published....Frank Sutton was an unsung comedic genius....I like Jimmy Kimmel, I like his show, but I haven't cared all that much for most of his co-hosts....Kids today!...I'm impressed at the ability of the correspondents over at the Fox News Channel to repeatedly say, "Fair and Balanced" without ever giggling. Or only rarely....Would Don Rickles be where he is today if he'd called his targets "tennis rackets"?...Growing up as a big fan of "Sgt. Bilko", "Beetle Bailey", and "Gomer Pyle" dampened my enthusiasm for joining the Military. Oh, that plus a little thing called the Viet Nam War....I don't know diddley about cars, but in the words of Abbie Hoffman, I'm an excellent driver!.....

Stan Lee is going to be on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" tonight, while Yoko One is visiting Conan--take your pick, and I'll be back with some more coherent thoughts soon!

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