Archive - May 2007
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May 29th, 2007
For years, folks have been asking me just exactly how I happened to come up with that wacky little ol' style of mine, and for years, I've been giving them various explanations--all plausible, none true.

Truth is, I stole my cartooning approach from this...
Don't believe I lifted my style from the cover of a 1973 issue of THE COMIC READER? Okay, maybe you don't, and maybe I don't (the honest truth is that I was pulling your leg in the opening, friends)--but you know who DID believe I appropriated the above style for my own?

The guy who drew it!

Yup, it's true. Fact is, it was among the very first things he said to me--or more specifically, accused me of--shortly after I'd introduced myself to him at a late-seventies NY comics convention.

The artist in question?

Jim Salicrup.

(Or, as 'zine publisher Paul Levitz credited him inside the pages of TCR, "Jim Salacrup"...)

It took me a few seconds, I'll admit, but I eventually realized he was giving me the business and just goofing.

It'd be several more years before he'd be in the position to hire me, but ever since the newly minted editor of MARVEL AGE engaged me to contribute a regular comic strip in each issue, we've had a long, fruitful relationship working together. Besides MARVEL AGE, Jim Salicrup was the one who gave me an opportunity to cobble together several features for various SPIDER-MAN ANNUALS one summer, which led to the creation of "Petey, the Adventures of Peter Parker WAAAAY before He Became Spider-Man", probably my favorite assignment of all time. I got to do that semi-regularly in the back pages of MARVEL TALES, following several Hembeck "Spider-Ham" stories. He also snuck me into the VISION AND SCARLET WITCH limited series, a few of the initial issues of WHAT THE?, oversaw the final. published version of FRED HEMBECK DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, as well as the MARVEL AGE Best Of collection, FRED HEMBECK $ELL$ THE MARVEL UNIVERSE!

(A few things never quite came to pass, unfortunately: there were tentative plans to finally print the story intended for third issue of the late sixties SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN magazine, and Jim wanted me to put together a short cartoon style introduction to this (still?) never printed Stan Lee/Marie Severin collaboration, "The TV Terror". Don't remember exactly what happened there--too bad though, as i sure woulda liked to have seen that one, with or without my own participation!...)

And when he left Marvel, Jim didn't forget yours truly. I created Mr. Mumbo Jumbo to take up the rear in an issue of SATAN'S SIX while he was head honcho over at Topps. Later, when Stan Lee Media was on the top of the heap back in 2000, Jim edited a weekly cyber strip of mine. Through no fault of his own (or Stan's, for that matter), none of the nine or so finished (and fully paid for, thankfully) pieces ever saw the light of day before that little house of cards collapsed.

Jim's at Papercutz now, and apparently, neither of the copyright owners of either The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew fancy their fictional charges with squiggly knees, but the firm's recent acquisition of that glorious old EC moniker, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, gives me hope. After all, once that's a roaring success, it's only a matter of time until they latch onto PANIC, and then, well, Jim'll surely know who to call, you betcha!!

But besides being a wonderful guy to work with over the last few decades, Jim's been a good friend, too--even if we have spent precious few moments actually sharing the same air space! Last summer's visit to the MoCCA Arts Festival (of which you can read much more about here) was an unforgettable experience, primarily due to Jim's squiring of daughter Julie and myself around the Big Apple that memorable day! Thanks Jim--we had a blast!

By now, you may be wondering--WHY the tribute? Why all the fuss for the man some call (but never me, nosirree, never me) "Jim Sauerkraut"?

And, as Der Bingle most likely said to ol' Ski-nose on May 29th, 1953, "Here's to 50 more!"

(And you DO know I didn't steal your art style, don'tcha Jim? I would never do that to you, no way, uh uh...

Actually, I stole it from Scott Shaw!

Hey, but I wanna tell ya...)
May 26th, 2007
On Thursday, I received an email from my buddy, Roger Green, pointing out that the very next day would mark the 30th anniversary of the very first "Star Wars" flick hitting the nation's movie screens. It was clear he was prodding me to mark the occasion somehow here on my blog, but as I told him in a return message, I had nothing of the sort planned, and there was nothing he could do to FORCE me!

Haw haw...

I've been a little bit busy, friends, and the above is about the best I can manage hereabouts currently, but if you wanna read some really nifty stuff, be advised that over at "Last of the Spinner Rack Junkies" (maybe THE coolest name of all the comics related websites), Chance Fiveash (whose own moniker reminds one of a mysterious (but heroic) character straight out of a noirish Eisner "Spirit" episode) has posted three new choice Golden Age stories, rarely seen classics from out of the ink wells of Shelly Mayer, Klaus Nordling, and Jack Kirby! Now, THAT' S comics!

And if you're still looking for something illuminating to read, check out Dan Best's narrowly focused interview with Alan Kupperberg regarding his work on Marvel's eighties era WHAT IF? series. The under appreciated artist (including, I'll admit shamefacedly, by myself in times past) discusses his work process, offers latter day reactions to various drawings, and throws in the occasional anecdote and observation, including a less than generous opinion of a long-time King-bashing Marvel employee. Fascinating stuff.

That's all for now!
May 22nd, 2007
Not to pile on, but...

Okay, okay--so the sixth season of "24" was hardly the program's finest hour--or day--but I'd hardly peg it as the video abomination that so many others are proclaiming it.

Things started out with--you should pardon the expression--a bang, but when you nuke a town only a few miles outside L.A. at the end of hour four, well, there's not much you can do to top THAT, y'know? But once Paul McCrane breathed his last (hour seven, I'm thinking), everything began to slide. Even so, in some ways, I thought that the overall story this time around seemed to be tighter plotted than in the past, with each isolated act having ramifications that actually appeared to be part of a bigger picture rather than the occasional slap-dash, make it up as we go along quality of even the best of past seasons. The problem was (and yes, I know I'm hardly the first one to point this out) that too many of the plot turns had a nagging familiarity to them. I wonder though--would someone totally unfamiliar with the show judge it nearly as harshly as long-time devoted fans almost unanimously are ? Sure, it was no season five, but hey...

(And even that beloved season had its jaw-droppingly stupid story turns--remember when CTU bigwig Sean Astin lost his security pass when he snuck out into that alley to give his junkie sister some cash and got jumped for his trouble--AND THEN DIDN'T TELL ANYONE? Poor Edgar's blood--among that of many, many others--was on that li'l Hobbitt's hands...)

This season, too many episodes seemed compartmentalized, standing almost totally on their own. The sole Jean Smart episode and the silly "Rain Man" hours come immediately to mind. I didn't at all like the way President Logan was dispatched--it was all shock value, with hardly any logic. Geez, Martha never seemed that crazy LAST year (and she STILL hasn't shared a scene with Jack).

D.B.Woodside was great as Wayne Palmer, the President's conniving brother, and then, a few season's later, as a revenge-seeking sibling. But as a true blue Chief Exec? Not so much. And what happened to Ricky Schroeder? He was introed as a real nail-chewing hard ass, but within a couple of hours, he'd lost that edge entirely, turning into a Teddy bear.

I did like the way Jack's family dropped off stage for a chunk of the day, only to return for the scenario's final hours. It made the whole thing seem more cohesive. Whether we cared all that much about nephew Josh Bauer is another thing entirely, however...

The big dramatic sequence? Milo's death. Not nearly on the same level as Edgar's demise, it still made for a heart-stopping moment. (And hey, what was with Milo's mysteriously vanishing brother in last night's episode? Kinda spooky...)

Powers Boothe did a decent job as the power-hungry Veep who finds out getting what he wishes for ain't all it's cracked up to be, and Jimmy Cromwell nicely shook off his Stretch Cunningham past playing the bad dad. Of course, at the end of the day, we still didn't really know WHY he did all those nasty things he did, except that he was, well, EVIL, dig? And even though she'd been up for 36 straight hours (doesn't anybody ever sleep on this show?), I've watched enough soap operas to know that when a women collapses on a TV show, they're pregnant. Who's' the daddy, Chloe--Milo or your ex? Or maybe the frisky VP?...

So when it all ended--Philip Bauer dead, the Chinese guy in custody (which surprised me, I'll admit--I pegged him for dead, dead, dead), the war with Russia averted, Bill and Karen pardoned, Josh saved--there was Jack, screaming at the dad of his erstwhile gal pal--and brain-drained--Audrey only to ultimately walk out onto the patio just as the 6 AM dawn breaks, apparently contemplating ending it all by jumping off the terrace and into the waves below. And then the show slowly fades to black. Season over.

Yeah, not all that memorable, I know. Still, look at it this way--every other show out there (including the comedies) have the advantage of ending their season's with a big cliffhanger, enticing viewers to come back in the fall. By it's very nature, "24" can't do this (or if they do, it has to be done very carefully, as they did last May when they had Jack captured by the Chinese in the waning moments). After staying with a storyline for 24 episodes, viewers would rightly feel cheated if the whole thing ends without some proper closure. So more often than not, we get this sort of finish (remember Jack crying? Now, THAT was a classic...). The way things go on this show, more often than not, the climax is anti-climatic. It's not the destination,y'see, but how you get there.

That said, the good news is that the producers have heard the outcry, and promise that next year, things will be vastly different. Maybe even no CTU, which should make for a welcome breath of fresh air. I for one will be watching--and as long as Chloe's baby isn't kidnapped by an aging Nazi war criminal, I'll keep right on watching!!
May 21st, 2007
As always, my two favorite weekends of the baseball season are the ones that host the Subway Series match-ups between the Mets and the Yankees, and the past three days worth of games were no exception to that rule. Of course, the fact that my Metsies won two of the three contests didn't hurt any. Still, a sweep sure woulda been nice...

In a nutshell, the National Leaguers won the first faceoff on Endy Chavez's first home run of the season, a two run shot off Yankee ace, Andy Pettite, coming one pitch after squaring around to bunt, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 advantage, a score winning pitcher (and baseline leaping) Oliver Perez made stand up.

in game two, Chavez again figured in a crucial play, breaking one of the finger's on Yankee's rookie starter de jour on the game's ninth pitch with a wicked comebaker to the mound, causing the snake-bitten Bronx Bombers to summon unexpected bullpen help in the very first inning with no one out and two men on base. It went downhill from there, and though the Yanks made a game out of it after the Mets' Tom Glavine left the mound in the later innings, the Mets never relinquished the lead they established in the opening frame, winning on a wet and nasty day, 10-7 (Glavine's 295th overall).

The third game shoulda been a gimme, with the NL pitcher of April, John Maine, facing yet another rookie--the seventh to start a game for the perennial AL champs this beleaguered season--but hey, it ain't April anymore, and one of the true beauties of baseball is that, on any given day, any team can beat any other team, no matter how the thing looks on paper. Yankees 6, Mets 2.

Now its back to the regular schedule--the Mets holding a two and a half game lead over the second place Braves, the Yankees looking up at division leading Boston from a ten and a half game hole--and we'll meet here again in July for three more games at Yankee Stadium! See ya then, sports fans!
May 17th, 2007
Question for Mr. Ditko--if this guy is telling the truth...
..then just who exactly is THIS dude?...
(Top illo courtesy of the recently released ATLAS ERA TALES OF SUSPENSE MARVEL MASTERWORKS--which, amusingly, I just now noticed, designates the ten issues included therein on its table of contents page each as from "Tales To Astonish", NOT "Tales Of Suspense"! Someone forgot to change the template from the LAST Atlas Era reprint apparently! And to be specific, this alien cousin (twice removed, natch) of Two-Face could be found in issue eight from 1960--17 whole years before that DC pretender to the name moseyed along!...)
May 14th, 2007
When Julie was four years old and we still lived in Kingston, she attended a local pre-school. Each day around 2:30, they'd bring her home on one of those half-size yellow school buses--not a van, but a scaled down version of the standard sorta bus we're all used to seeing. The driver would pull up right in front of our house, and more often than not, I'd board the vehicle so as to better help my little girl off safely.

Now, early in the semester, Lynn's knee was suddenly in dire need of replacement surgery--a whole 'nother story--so after going under the knife, she naturally kept off her feet as much as possible. That pretty much meant I was the only parent the kids on Julie's bus ever saw coming out to get her.

We lived about half the distance from my long-time buddy, Rocco Nigro, as we do these days, so back then, his visits were more frequent. Julie got to know him pretty well because of this, and became quite fond of him. If she knew he was coming over the next day, she'd get pretty excited. So, invariably, I'd bring him outside with me to greet Julie as she got off the bus.

One day, after Rocco had already stopped over several times the previous month, he was there yet again as it came time for me to take Julie off the bus. As he stood outside on the sidewalk, I climbed the steps, smiled and greeted the driver, and then headed for where my young daughter was seated. I was pretty familiar with the rest of the kids on the bus, so I said hi to them as well.

One little boy by the name of Joshua didn't bother to return my salutation. Instead, he looked out the window at my buddy waiting for us, then looked at me, then back at Rocco, and finally, back at me. His face grew quizzical.

"Are you two mens?"


it took me a second to realize what he had just asked me, but it soon dawned on me: this precocious little four-year old had just wondered aloud if Rocco was my same-sex life-partner!!

"No, no--just a friend, Josh, Julie's mom has a bad knee so she can't come out to the bus, but she's in there--trust me!", I replied.

And with that, I whisked my pre-schooler off the bus, both amazed AND amused at the line of questioning I was getting from a virtual toddler! Lemme tell ya, people, Art Linkletter was SO right!...

I share this with you today as means of commemorating good friend--but NOT same-sex life-partner (though were I predisposed in that direction, I'm sure he'd make a swell one...)--Rocco Nigro's birthday!

Happy birthday, ol' bud!

(The above drawing was done by 15 year old Julie last June while on a train trip--another form of mass transportation--as we headed down to NYC. Rocco's lovely gal pal, Kara, was with us, and I'm just betting that if an older, wiser--but still suspicious--Joshua suddenly turned up in the seat behind us, he probably would've asked her, "Lady, are you the beard for those two mens?"...)
May 11th, 2007
Whenever I root around downstairs in search of something, the odds are always good that I'll find an unexpected treasure or two along the way.

Whether this creased page carelessly clipped out of the Sunday Daily News from way back in July, 1973 qualifies, well, that's up to you.
True, the piece is continued on another page, long since lost, and sure, the first letters on the left side's captions have been snipped off, but hey, you still get to catch a glimpse of the legendary Phil Seuling presiding over one of his trend-setting comics conventions! Not only that, but you can also witness a pair of future industry pros all decked out in gaudy costumes (including our ersatz Alan Scott there.WHO is he? Well, for one, the Shadow knows...). And did I mention the 14 year old girl in her award-winning Vampirella outfit?

Gee, maybe that's ALL I need to mention, y'know?...
May 7th, 2007
Here are some intriguing (but random) images I've recently stumbled across while reading various collections of classic comics' material. Out of context, these things look mighty, mighty odd, so I'll say no more--feast yer eyes!...
Oh, and in case you're wondering, no, I haven't seen "Spider-Man 3" yet--and it's not cuz I'm waiting to carpool with Mark Evanier either! No, May is always an EXTREMELY busy month for my daughter, and especially this year, with Julie being a high school junior and all. Since this is a film the whole Hembeck family wants to see (some members more than others, true, but still ...), we're just gonna have to put off that trip to the movies for now. Probably get to it by early June--I'll be sure and get back to you all later with my impressions after we finally see it. In the meantime, mum's the word on plot details, okay, friends?

(But if I find out there's even a mention of radioactive spider-semen, I ain't goin'!....)
May 3rd, 2007
Got a minute?

Then why not join Cartoon Fred and his very special guest, the always incredible Hulk, for the all-new ONE-HUNDREDTH episode of The Fred Hembeck Show!!

(Oh, and dig this--the big green guy drank maybe a little TOO much champagne at the after-party, and well, you can just GUESS what happened next...

Uh huh, that's right: Hulk smashed!....)
May 2nd, 2007
You might call this one "A Tale Of Two Boxes"...

I've told this story before, but just to review: after getting my enthusiastic approval with a sample issue of SPOOKY, THE TUFF LITTLE GHOST, my dad brought home a large cardboard box full of comic books that a co-worker was attempting to unload. The year was 1959. i was six.

Aside from a stray issue each of WORLD'S FINEST and JIMMY OLSEN, the contents of that bountiful box was made up entirely of what can only be described as kiddie comics, with a marked preponderance of Harvey and Dell titles. DENNIS THE MENACE was in there as well, and although their were several issues of Archie's SUPER DUCK, there were no issues starring Riverdale's most famous teenager.

Well, not as a teenager, anyway...
Several years later, as I approached my teens--and was heavily under the sway of the Silver Age super-hero comics of the day--I made the ill-advised decision to rid myself of almost all of the "childish" books found in that original box o' goodies.

But not my LITTLE ARCHIES. Uh uh--no way. I still have, to this day, issues 10, 11, and 12 from that long-ago delivery (as well as plenty of the ones that followed, the initial few picked up by my dear old grandmother at her Little Freddy's urging--thanks Nanny!..).

And why not? These are wonderful comics, vividly capturing the sense of mysterious excitement associated with a carefree childhood experienced in a semi-rural area, combined with a sharp wit and just enough heart-tugging sentimentality to make these fifties-era tales timeless. The main reason for the success of what could otherwise have been an uninspired knock-off of the then red-hot Dennis The Menace franchise was--and is--the fine, vastly underrated (but not by ME) work of writer/artist Bob Bolling.

Bob Bolling. Y'know, it didn't even occur to me until I began to compose this piece in my head, but Bob was the first REAL cartoonist's name that I learned--the MUTT AND JEFF comics I inherited were credited to Bud Fisher, and you can well imagine WHO received sole billing on the Disney comics included, but "Bob Bolling" was the very first honest-to-gosh creator who actually created the very comics I was reading that I knew by name. Lucky me, because he was--and like I said, IS--a truly terrific one.

And somewhat amazingly, forty-eight years after that first box of comics arrived at my doorstep containing the work of Mr. Bolling, ANOTHER box of funnybooks landed outside on my welcome mat a mere two days back, including this inside...
A NEW book-length Little Archie adventure, written and illoed by Bob Bolling (and nicely inked by everybody's friend, the unabashed Jim Amash)--WOW!!

(Y'see, I get my comics shipped to me once a month from the fine folks at MEC Comics, as I have for many a year. They've recently moved into a new location--good luck, Robert!--but happily took along their thirty percent discount with them. Contact Robert Pilk here for more details. But anyway, after getting a heads up from noted Little Archie scholar, Gary Brown, about the imminent publication of this latest Bolling masterpiece as part of this year's Free Comic Book Day celebration, I eagerly requested that Robert scare up a copy for me, which he very kindly did! Gracias, amigo!...)

Aside from from Joe Kubert's recent SGT. ROCK series, I can't think of ANYONE else besides Bob Bolling who's so closely associated with a comic that was on the stands (or in a box) way back in 1959--and is STILL overseeing the four-color antics of their fictional charges! Lemme tell ya, finding an all-new Little Archie escapade masterminded by the talented Mr. Bolling is sorta like sipping a smoothie from the Fountain of Youth! "The Legend of the Lost Lagoon" doesn't disappoint--it hits all the right notes. There's wide-eyed awe-inspiring mystery, innocent romance, the wonders of nature, and--a Bolling trademark--several groan-inducing puns! Y'know, this comic was so much fun, I'd've gladly PAID for it!

But I didn't have to--and neither do YOU! Take my advice--if you leave the house for no other reason this weekend for Free Comic Book Day, this special edition of LITTLE ARCHIE is reason enough! To paraphrase Little Betty Cooper when she spied a blue heron in Loon Lake, "What are you wading for?"...
May 1st, 2007
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend another one of those star-studded little lunches my buddy, Terry Austin, has been organizing of late.

Besides Terry, myself, and our other old pal, Rocco Nigro, we were graced with the presence of Joe Staton, Professor Herb Trimpe, and more Sinnotts than you can shake a stick at: Joltin' Joe himself, as well as son Mark, his wife, and their two kids!

As I was the last to arrive (I was all of five minutes late! Five lousy minutes!), I was roundly mocked, razzed, and belittled upon my arrival! Hey, THAT'LL teach me. And a day before I planned to embark on my self-imposed, "no kidding around, I'm really gonna lose some weight this time" diet, WHERE do you think we dined? A Chinese buffet!! I didn't overeat--honest (at least, given the circumstances, not nearly as much as usual...).

Not a whole lot to report, just a pleasant time had by all. Erin, Joe's granddaughter, told some intriguing tales of a novel she's writing where--not unlike one of those fantasy yarns her grand dad drew back in the fifties for Stan Lee--life began to eerily imitate art! Her mom and brother Trevor backed up her tales of these amazing coincidences--very strange stuff...

The banner headline? That would have to be, after some recent health scares, legendary Marvel inker Joe Sinnott looks to have recovered very nicely--much to everyone's delight.

In the end, books were signed, egg rolls were eaten, and stories were swapped. Another fun get-together, and I'm already looking forward to the next one! And trust me--I'll be on time!...

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