Friday, May 30, 2008

Tori Adore?

There's a tempest in a teapot regarding Tori Amos and an anthology of comics stories based on her work. The book, Comic Book Tattoo, is being released in trade paperback, hardcover, and limited edition hardcover in July; none of the editions will feature Tori Amos's name anywhere on the front cover, according to the editor.

When asked why, I've been told through middlemen that the editor has indicated that some, such as Warren Ellis, have advised him that Tori Amos is too polarizing a figure and that her name would work against his interest. I haven't asked the editor if that's true, because I don't have his contact info; I have no reason to doubt the report, though, since the source is citing contemporaneous correspondence regarding the subject.

So I'm left with a couple of questions. First off, if it is true, why is the editor going to the trouble of producing a Tori Amos project if he's too ashamed to promote the artistic connection on the front cover? Second, why is he trying to sell it to me (and other comics retailers) via the Tori Amos link if he's going to fail to promote it to our customers? Third, why is Warren Ellis (the only person cited by name) trying to convince the editor that Tori Amos is some sort of musical pariah?

And most importantly of all, what the heck has Tori Amos ever done that makes her a polarizing source of controversy? Lots of folks like her music; some don't. I can't find anything that indicates that she at all deserves a Michael Jackson comparison; when I asked the writer what he was talking about, he sidestepped the question entirely.

Anyone have any idea what this purported controversy is? Anyone have any idea why an editor would think enough of a musician to assemble a comics anthology based on her work, but would be ashamed or afraid to put her name on it? And lastly, does anyone have any theories how Tori Amos might feel if she knew that her name was intentionally being left off the front cover of a book licensed from her music... a book for which the editor is charging a hefty $150 a copy for the 1000 copies that Tori signed?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Wednesday Is Tuesday This Week

Today is another Monday holiday (Memorial Day, for those of you who don't keep up with US holidays), and that means that my usually-routine week is once again thrown off by 24 hours.

Most weeks of the year, Brett and I drive to the FedEx Freight warehouse in Conley, GA, on Tuesday morning to pick up and begin processing our comics shipment. We do the counts, the bar codes, etc., and get everything prepared to go on sale when we open on Wednesday.

However, Monday holidays push everything back by one day. My Tuesday becomes a sort of "holding pattern" day; my normal Tuesday routines are pushed back to Wednesday; the comics that would normally go on sale on Wednesday are held back until Thursday; and for some unexplained reason, about 10% of the money that we would normally take in during the week just seems to vanish as our customer spend a portion of their entertainment budget on something else because we didn't have new comics on the day they thought we should have new comics.

I used to get much more bothered by this than I do now. Rather than letting it bother me, I just try to adjust orders accordingly and hope this will be the Monday-holiday-week that breaks the pattern.

The oddest part of all this is trying to figure out what to do with my Tuesday. Since the week is so regimented normally, having an extra day with no assigned duties seems almost surreal.

What a Bring Down

Saw in the news this morning that Jimmy Carter is attempting to encourage the European Union to break with the US and ignore the Palestinian boycott. Can't say I'm surprised by anything Carter does; whenever I hear the man make one outrageous statement after another, I just remind myself of this:

Jimmy Carter was a disastrous governor for Georgia and was the most misguided, inept, ineffective President our nation has seen in my lifetime. There's nothing he can do to improve his own dismal standing, so his only hope is to work against every other US President in hopes of making each of them look as bad as Carter was. And he's willing to do anything, even if it's treasonous, in order to accomplish that goal.

Getting a Leg Up

For the first time in over three months, I actually managed to sleep all the way through the night without being awakened by muscle pains in my right leg. I'm taking that as a sign that the statin-related problems that began in mid-February are beginning to fade--and that's great news indeed, since the improvement is continuing even though I am on another statin, Crestor, and have been for two weeks.

Still not totally back to normal, mind you--I still feel the muscle pain after exercise and still get some muscle cramps when I stand still for a few minutes--but I'm very happy to see movement in the right direction, at least!

Raising the Bar

While there's a real trend towards iconoclastic, irreverent, confrontational, reactionary characters in fiction today, there are still a few characters from contemporary popular culture that I see as true role models. These are folks I'd be glad to know in the real world--and while they don't exist, we'd all be a little bit better off if they did. And now, without further ado, the Top Five:

5. Chloe Sullivan - No one could ask for a better friend than Chloe—loyal, reliable, indomitable, compassionate, selfless, she is the defined by her empathy and devotion to those who are close to her. She may not be the star of Smallville, but she's certainly the show's heart.

4. Earl Hickey - Earl is the rogue redeemed, a simple man whose moment of enlightenment led him to abandon selfishness and dedicate himself to restoring a karmic balance. This season almost strayed from the formula that defines Earl; thankfully, someone realized that they were about to entirely lose the focus and charm of the character, so they returned to the show's roots in the season finale. Earl's most endearing trait is his unyielding dedication to his brother; not only is he his brother's keeper, but he is happy with the responsibility.

3. Hank Hill - In a medium where most television fathers are dolts, fools, or adversaries to the rest of their family, Hank is a refreshing flashback to the days of Rob Petrie, Ward Cleaver, and Steve Douglas. He's a man who truly cares about his wife and his son, and never forgets them. Even when it becomes clear that Bobby isn't going to turn out to be the man that Hank had hoped he would be, his love for his son is unyielding. He tolerates his friends' imperfections without condemnation; rather than try to browbeat others around him into following his rules, he leads by example.

2. Captain America - Forget the current storyline; no matter what Marvel says, there's only one Captain America, and that's Steve Rogers. He's a man out of time, and perhaps that's why he typifies timeless values. Steve Rogers is an apolitical epitome of what America should be--caring, concerned, devoted, and driven by his own ethos.

1. Superman - The most admirable man in popular culture is still an alien from Krypton. Kal-El typifies every quality that a human would hope to find in others and in himself; in many ways, he is the superheroic Christ, a savior in the physical sense over and over again and at the same time a spiritual redeemer who brings out the best in almost everyone who comes into contact with him. You just know that you'd be a better person if you could spend some time in his company...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Remembering Rory

A friend of mine, Rory Root, died early this week due to surgical complications. Most of you didn't know Rory, who owned a greatly respected comic shop in San Francisco; I never saw Rory's shop, but I have heard good things about it from many who have.

I've known Rory for years, because we tend to cross paths at DC retailer meetings, and before that we would see one another at distributor conferences and the like. Rory was enthusiastic, dedicated, intellectual, eclectic, and multi-talented; we shared many of the same interests in books, in SF, in music, and (of course) in comics.

We also shared some health problems, and Rory had told me just a few months ago in Austin that he was making real efforts to improve his health. "Growing up is tough, isn't it?" he said to me with a laugh as we shared dinner and conversation.

Yes, growing up is tough... and loss is tougher.

I didn't speak to Rory as much as I'd like, but we frequently "conversed" in various forums online; I will miss his insightful observations, his even-tempered commentary, and his optimism.

But most of all, I'll miss him.

... I'm not afraid of death; we've met before, and I know there's nothing there to fear. I don't hate death, because I've seen the comfort he has brought to those in unending pain and suffering. I'm jealous of death, though, because so many who I have known and loved now spend all their time with him, and I miss them so...

Unsound Decision

Today I got a call from a salesperson at the Lexus dealership; I had mentioned to him a while back that I had passed on the Lexus RX350, going with the Acura MDX instead, because they didn't have a model on the lot that included the deluxe Mark Levinson sound system with DVD-Audio playback.

Well, he had one today--a 2009 model.

I dropped by after dinner and checked it out; there are some features in the RX350 that sound appealing, and I figured I'd take advantage of the chance to draw a legitimate comparison in the two vehicles' advanced sound systems. To prepare, I chose four discs: a DTS version of McCartney's Band on the Run (there's a remarkably clear acoustic guitar that rings amazingly clear on "Mamumia" and a resonating bass line in "Let Me Roll It" that's great for testing a surround system), a DVD-Audio of Seal's Greatest Hits ("Kiss from a Rose" and "Fly Like an Eagle" have strong instrumental separation and some wonderful harmonics), a deluxe gold CD of Crosby Stills & Nash (the most un-murky version of this album thus far released, although all of them sound more muffled than they should), and a DVD video of "Mamumia" taken from McCartney's hits DVD.

There was no comparison.

The Acura has amazing presence, precise instrument placement, and distinctive, crisp sound from each speaker; the instruments differentiate themselves just like they would if you were surrounded by the musicians.

The Lexus? Mush. There was a lot of sound coming from all directions, but there was no distinctive placement, no defined separation of sound. It was just a swirling miasma of noise that actually detracted from the music. The best results came from the Seal DVD-Audio, but even it lacked the clear precision of the same disc in the Acura.

The DTS McCartney disc was a disaster. The Lexus read it only as a CD, and it reproduced it only in two-channel sound with no distinct rear channels at all.

The CD? Muffled and boomy, no matter how I rebalanced the bass, treble, and midrange.

The DVD-Video? The sound wasn't too bad, but it still lacked the ringing highs of a well recorded acoustic guitar. (One advantage to the Lexus: its six-disc changer plays back DVD-Video as well as DVD-Audio, while Acura continues to foolishly disable the audio tracks from a DVD-Video in their six-disc changer; I have to use the separate DVD-Video player for the rear entertainment system in order to get the 5.1 surround to work. It's functional, but it would be nice to not have to change players and settings to hear a DVD-V's sound track.)

I guess it was good news, all considered. Now I don't have to pay $10k or so to upgrade the Acura.

And I know that I still have the best rolling sound system possible for surround playback, and that makes me appreciate the MDX all the more.

There's no comparsion.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

...At Last

It's funny how some books make such an impression that even a rereading thirty-five years later is a moving experience. Willis Conover's Lovecraft at Last is just such a book.

Conover was a fifteen year old boy when he began corresponding with H.P. Lovecraft; it was a correspondence that would continue for a little more than a year, ending with the Lovecraft's death. Conover saved his correspondence with Lovecraft for decades, ultimately sharing it with the world in this book. But he didn't just transcribe the text; he reproduced letters and notes and postcards and evenelopes written in HPL's own hand, even working with the publisher to come up with just the proper blend of ink that would capture the distinctive blue-black tone of Lovecraft's written missives.

It's an amazing book that opens a friendship for the world to see; there's no particular reason for Lovecraft and this teenage boy to have become such avid correspondents and good friends, but it's obvious that the friendship meant a great deal to both. The correspondence is far-reaching and fascinating, presenting HPL's views on a number of subjects--but most of all, the book reminds us of the permanence of friendship, and how it can survive long after the friends are gone.

The book ends with a note from Lovecraft's aunt, sharing the somber news that her nephew had passed away. By the time you reach that final page, you understand just how devastating that letter must have been to Conover; he says nothing after that because he doesn't have to.

Books of letters are often a bit dry; this book, however, brings both Lovecraft and Conover to life on the page. I understand the book has been reprinted; while the reprint might not have been prepared with the same loving attention to ink-color detail, etc., as the original Carrolton & Clark edition, it's still going to have the same emotional impact. I can't recommend it enough.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Few More Photos...

Kim and Phil actually have a moment to grab something to drink before phase two of the wedding kicks in...

Kim and Phil with his family, who came over from England for the wedding.

Frank did indeed play for almost an hour in the spring sun while wearing a black suit and a bowler... and he survived! The man is indomitable and versatile--who else could have worked in Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and a bit of Perry Como's "Hot Diggety" into his playlist?

Yeah, the whole group was there later on that afternoon, but I really liked this shot of Frank...

...Meet Kim Wilson

Here's a picture of Kimberly and Phil Wilson, with Phil's brother in the background (and you can tell these guys are brothers as soon as you look at them, can't you?). The wedding was perfect, the weather was cooperative, the music (much of it supplied by my multi-talented cousin, Frank Moates, solo and with his group) was great, and the food was outstanding. What more can one ask for?

Wedding Day

My sister, Kimberly, is getting married to Phil Wilson today; the two of them are very happy together. Phil helped her to get through one of the most difficult times of her life last summer when Dad died, and I know that sort of experience can be a "test of fire" for any relationship. This is the first of two weddings coming up for the family this year; Jess and Adam are getting married in September, so Jess and Kim have been doing a lot of mutual wedding planning, shopping, etc.

It's no secret that I'm not a big fan of weddings, even though I'm very happy for the couple; the good news is, I don't actually have to be in this one. I just get to watch and celebrate, so that makes it much better.

Only wish that Mom and Dad could be here to celebrate as well...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Worst Drug Name of the Year

Did no one read the name of this drug aloud? The drug is intended to help with certain gastro-intestinal problems.

Its name? Aciphex.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part 47

This week's calorie-laden guilty pleasure: chocolate peanut butter no bake cookies from Kroger. These are the mass-market version of the chocolate-oatmeal-drop cookies that Mom used to make that I loved so very much (Susan has subsequently tracked down the recipe and has made 'em for me a time or two, for which I am exceedingly grateful). The cookies are akin to a fudge with uncooked oatmeal stirred in to give it body and texture; they're heavy, very dense, and very chocolate-laden... the peanut butter is barely noticeable, in fact, and I'd gladly forego it for a darker cocoa flavor if I had the choice. They have 180 calories per cookie, so I limit myself to one per day... but believe me, if I were going to splurge, I can think of few things I'd be more willing to splurge on than these (okay, a coconut cake... but after that...).

Monday, May 05, 2008

Best Commencement Speech Ever

P.J. O'Rourke does it again. Some of the best advice anyone can offer graduates... or anyone else. And I particularly like the "religious extremist" part. Read it here.

The Epitome of Sportsmanship

I don't like sports.

But this story is so moving that it deserves to be read by everyone, sports fan or not.

Opening Doors

I have spent the past few days listening to the DVD-Audio surround sound mixes of the six studio albums recorded by the Doors. I was never a fan of the Doors in the 1960s or the 1970s; while I liked some songs, I didn't care for the group as a whole. However, my indifference to their music was counterbalanced by my love for well-done 5.1 surround DVD-Audio sound; once the entire studio ouevre was offered in DVD-A, I had to pick it up.

Now that I've listened to each album all the way through more than once, I offer ten wholly biased observations regarding the Doors:

(1) They wanted to be a blues band. I never realized that, since none of their hits reflect that sound, but on every album they include bluesy cuts that leave no doubt of their abiding love for the blues.

(2) Jim Morrison, in spite of his sensitive image, most often fell into a Hank Williams Jr. rowdy growl as his normal vocal style. It surprised me, based on the image he tried to convey in life as a Rimbaud-influenced poet; his vocals don't match.

(3) John Densmore is an amazing drummer. I was actually impressed by Ray Manzarek's keyboard work (some of his organ work can convey Iron Butterfly and Elton John in the same song, which is pretty amazing, and his electric piano intro to "Riders in the Storm" remains one of the most evocative segments of rock music) and Robby Krieger's guitar, but Densmore's drumming is superlative. The DVD-Audio really shows off his work; the drums are crisp and meaty at the same time, making it clear just how much his performance carries some of the songs.

(4) Lyrically, Morrison was generally awful, but he could turn a brilliant phrase. I expected more; I had heard how Morrison was a brilliant rock poet, and I expected to be dazzled by his phrasing and imagery. What I heard, for the most part, were embarrassingly bad lyrics that rely on dreary rhyme, pretentious phrasing, and shock value; when he tries to be more sensitive or poetic, it's often lyrically discordant and unfocused. "L.A. Woman" has some inspired bits, all in all the song fails because Morrison has a distinct inability to develop a metaphor into a conceit; he gets off track and loses focus. Ironically, "L.A. Woman" is followed by one of the worst pieces of garbage the Doors ever put on tape, "L'America," which reminds the listener just how unfocused and hit-or-miss Morrison's talents could be.

(5) I've heard some songs, including "Light My Fire," at the wrong speed for so long that they sounded weird when I heard them at the right speed. The liner notes explain how bad equipment was to blame for tape drag that made most of that album run too slow; it's been corrected. After a few listenings of the remixed DVD-Audio, it sounds right now, but it took a while to adjust.

(6) Morrison was a vocal showman who was, in some ways, a precursor to performers like Meat Loaf. As I listen to his over-the-top performances, I realize how often he compensated for limited range with vocal pyrotechnics and melodrama.

(7) The Doors loved heavy repetition, both lyrically and musically. Many of their songs hammer the same musical and/or lyrical phrasing home again and again; they're not the only group to do this, of course, but I'm not an avid fan of that approach.

(8) There is no great Doors album--at least, no great studio album from the six they completed before Morrison's death. The greatest hits packages prove that the whole can be much greater than the sum of its parts.

(9) The Doors really should have continued without Morrison. While his persona made him the star of the group, the other three were far too talented to let the group end with his passing.

(10) Early Doors albums are only moderately improved by surround sound, but the latter albums, with more complex arrangements and production, sound so much better in 5.1 sound that I was unable to finish listening to them all the way through in simple stereo after having heard the surround mixes. Soft Parade is the first album to really benefit from 5.1 surround; the mix leaps at you aggressively and assertively. Morrison Hotel is almost as strong, while L.A. Woman benefits most of all; the 5.1 mix on the aforementioned "Riders in the Storm" makes the song truly haunting in its beauty.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Another Generation Lost

The leading figure of the third generation of the Burroughs family died on April 30th. Danton Burroughs, the son of illustator John Coleman Burroughs and the grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs, passed on in Tarzana, California, the town named after his father's most famous literary creation.

Danton had become the keeper of the Burroughs legacy, overseeing ERB Inc. and working to preserve what his grandfather had created. I only wish that Danton had been able to leave this world knowing that all of his grandfather's works were in print; the absence of the bulk of ERB's canon from bookstores everywhere is a solemn commentary on the state of popular adventure/fantasy fiction today.

I didn't have many contacts with Danton, but I've talked to those who did deal with him professionally, and they said that he was passionately devoted to protecting and preserving what his grandfather had created; he worked diligently to prevent it from being cheapened by second-rate licensors or sub-standard publishers.

A couple of years ago, when Steve Saffel was still at Random House, I asked him why the Burrough material wasn't back in print, alongside the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. He said that there had been talk of issuing definitive editions of all the ERB books, corrected from the author's manuscripts, but nothing had come of it because Random House just didn't think it would sell enough to make it worth the investment. Contrast that with the 1960s and the 1970s, when Ace and Ballantine made fortunes from the release of every major and minor contribution to the Burroughs canon, and you understand the sad state of popular fiction publishing today...

(The photo, by the way, shows Danton with a hand-carved replica of John Carter's sword--a replica carved by Danton's father, John Coleman Burroughs.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Life in Four Colors (Part Sixteen)

Now that I had a comic book buddy at Elm Street, I felt more at home. As it turned out, though, there was more than one comic book fan at Elm Street, although it took me a while to learn about the others. And as it turned out, we would have more than comics in common...

Phil and I were great friends, alternately spending the night at one another's house, trading comics, and swapping stories (along with doing all the other things that boys do, like riding bikes all over the neighborhood, playing in the nearby construction area near the water tower that was only a few hundred yards from Phil's house, and wandering through the woods near my house, where we had discovered a wonderful creek with a steep bank perfectly suited for playing army or superheroes or any other games that helped us to while away the afternoon). For some reason unclear to me now, it seemed that I could have only one good friend at a time. Since Phil was my best friend in the fourth grade, my acquaintance with John Ball and Gary Steele remained more casual. It would be two more years before John and I would become comic book buddies, and almost four more years before Gary Steele would become one of the closest friends I would ever know.

Phil and I enjoyed talking comics with both Gary and John, but we didn't spend any time with them after school. I never traded comics with either of them during my Elm Street years, either; it seemed that each of us had become collectors at about the same time, and that meant that none of us had any comics we particularly wanted to trade. The collecting bug had hit all of us at the same time, I guess.

During those conversations, it was Gary Steele who first made me aware of another collecting bug that would perfectly complement my interest in comics. Our conversations had turned to monster movies, which I had discovered thanks to Bestoink Dooley's Big Movie Shocker every Friday night at 11:30 pm on WAGA, Channel 5, out of Atlanta. I loved the old Universal films featuring Bela Lugosi as Dracula; Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and the Mummy; and Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman (I even loved the later films, with Lugosi or Chaney or Glenn Strange filling in as Frankenstein's monster).

"I got a Frankenstein model kit," Gary told us. I didn't know what he was talking about, but I wanted to know all about it. I had never owned a model kit, and wasn't sure what it was--but it involved monsters, so it had to be something good.

And Gary Steele turned me on to Aurora monster models--and from there, into Famous Monsters of Filmland and Topps' monster trading cards. It was a good thing that my allowance had increased somewhat, because I now had new passions to consume my disposable income.

Aurora's model kits were iconic representations of some of Universal's greatest monsters, cast in appropriate colors of plastic--Dracula in black, Frankenstein in muted gray-green, the Creature from the Black Lagoon in an instense sea-green, and so on. Each depicted the monster in a dramatic pose; once assembled, they could be painted to convey the full intensity of the horrifying creature. The kits were relatively simple, the manufacturing was adequate enough that all the parts more or less fit together, and they were small enough to make them perfect for decorating a young boy's room. And of course, I had to have them all.

Even better, there was a magazine devoted to the monster movies--and to those like me who loved them. Jim Warren was the publisher, and Forrest J. Ackerman was the editor; Forry, as he was known, approached the horror classics with an irreverent, pun-heavy wit that was instantly addictive. He loved all the films--the obscure and the famous, the classics and the low-budget duds--and he devoted space to both films and television shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.

Topps' monster cards had the same sort of irreverent wit, adding clever captions to stills taken from some of horror's best known films, along with a shot or two from some lesser efforts. The cards seemed to perfectly complement the magazine--and both of them were perfectly suited for comics readers like me who still enjoyed monster and SF stories in the pages of various comics from ACG, DC, Charlton, and even Marvel.

Phil was as taken with monster models as I was, and before too long we were all engaged in friendly competitions as we purchased the same kits and each of us painted it to the best of our nine and ten year old abilities. But it wasn't a competition as such; it was sheer joy, bringing black and white horror classics into full color three dimensionality, and I could spend hours painting and repainting my model kits, trying to perfect each one (and hoping to match the level of sophistication and customization I saw in some of the photos in Famous Monsters, where Forry would occasionally showcase a reader's monster model efforts).

Model kits, monster magazines, trading cards, comic books... it's a wonder I ever had enough money to support my growing number of collecting habits!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Make Me Smile

Lots of folks like television dramas, but I think that television's greatest contribution to popular culture is the half-hour situation comedy.

Maybe it's because the first shows that made impressions on me were sitcoms--shows like I'm Dickens, He's Fenster, or Car 54, Where Are You, or Dobie Gillis, or Leave It To Beaver, or The Flintstones. Susan loves to watch police procedurals and legal dramas and ensemble-cast prime time soaps and the like, but I'd rather watch even a mediocre sitcom than a drama.

As a sitcom aficionado, I am particularly sadded when a sitcom loses the delicate balance of sit and com that once made it successful.

I used to love Scrubs and The Office and My Name Is Earl; they were clever, they were unpredictable, and they could be counted on for lotsa laughs.

Somewhere along the way, though, the writers and directors and producers lost their focus. The first show to fail was Scrubs. The laughs became fewer and fewer, the clever became clichéd, and the attempts at absurd farce seemed embarrassing and forced. Even the actors seemed to notice; they began going through the motions, as if they were just as uncomfortable as the viewers.

Then The Office made the mistake of thinking that we really wanted to get to know these characters as people, to become involved in their lives; to see them change and mature. They forgot the importance of the situation: viewers want situational stability so that they can see how the stories develop within that framework. Some of the jokes elicited a wince, not a laugh; when you get to know characters too much, their situations don't seem as funny.

And now, My Name Is Earl has for an entire season abandoned the gimmick that made the show such a success: a ne'er-do-well-hick-on-a-karmic-mission. Suddenly, Earl's in prison, karma has passed him by, his low-rent lifestyle has collapsed; it was no more funny than it would have been to see the Three Stooges arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for assault & battery and disorderly conduct.

I still watch all three shows, and there are still funny moments in each of them; but currently, none of the shows is truly funny, and none of them seems to be moving in the right direction. I keep hoping that the writers, possibly re-energized after a strike, will turn things around... but I don't have a great deal of hope.

A Life in Four Colors (Part Fifteen)

August of 1962 marked the beginning of the fourth grade for me... and it also marked the first time in my admittedly brief history as a student that I was attending school somewhere other than Garden Lakes Elementary.

Garden Lakes was a relatively new school when I started there in 1959; as a result, the facilities were new, the furniture was new, the books were new, the equipment was new... I had come to assume that this was the way every school was furnished and operated.

Then came my first day at Elm Street.

Elm Street was an old, somewhat worn-around-the-edges school that seemed to be long past its prime. The classrooms were cramped and dreary; the textbooks were old and overused; the playground was inadequate and undersized; the curriculum was unchallenging and rigid. I felt like I was in some sort of mock school that emphasized form and structure over content.

I knew very few people there, although many of them knew one another. They had gone to school for three years prior; I was the new kid. I wasn't the only new kid, of course; West Rome was a growing area at the time, with lots of families moving into new homes in the area, so there were others like me... but I was the only fourth grader there from Garden Lakes, so I felt particularly alone.

Mrs. Cook, my teacher, was a stern by-the-numbers instructor who seemed to love two things: magic squares (a mathematical puzzle/tool for instruction) and handwriting drills. Over and over again, we did magic squares and we practiced our handwriting. Since I was left-handed and Mrs. Cook insisted that we use fountain pens, I inevitably smeared the not-dried ink as my hand dragged across the cursive characters that we inscribed on tablet paper over and over and over again. Mrs. Cook tried briefly to get me to use my right hand instead, but that was such a dismal failure that she abandoned that course of action quickly.

For some reason, Mrs. Cook also liked the song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport," which we sang in class on many occasions; eventually, when she thought we were good enough, she had the principal listen over the intercom as we sang the song. We finished; there was a prolonged silence, then the box on the wall said "thank you." It seemed surreal to me then, and it seems just as surreal now, forty-six years later.

Geography, reading, science--they were all repeats of things that I had done in the third grade at Garden Lakes. I was bored, and within a month I was sneaking a comic book or two to school so that I would have something to read during recess (since the playground was so small, there wasn't enough room for everyone to play at once, so I found it easier to sit off to the side and read comics).

I had pulled out one of my comics--an issue of Justice League of America--when another student walked up to me, plopped down next to me, and said "I really like that one." He then mentioned the "When Gravity Went Wild" story from JLA #5, and I knew he was telling the truth--he really did like it, and he knew something about comics.

His name was Phil Patterson, and he became my best friend at Elm Street almost instantly.

Phil was a little bit heavier than me--he wasn't fat, but he was "stocky" in the way that parents like to describe kids who could benefit from dropping ten pounds or so. I wasn't athletic because my wretched eyesight had stopped me from developing an interest in sports since I couldn't see the action more than five feet away from me; Phil wasn't athletic because no one ever gave him the chance.

Every recess, Phil and I would talk; we liked the same comics, we both had collections, and we both liked to draw. I learned that Phil lived not that very far from me; I could walk to the end of my street, head up Paris Drive, turn left on Conn Street to Burnett Ferry, and then cross Shorter Avenue at the light to Watson Street; Phil's house was the second house on the left, less than a fifteen minute walk--and only about a six minute bike ride.

Within a couple of weeks, I had gotten permission to go to Phil's house after school; he wanted me to come see his comics, so I walked with him to his house. His collection was a bit less diverse than mine--he seemed to enjoy superhero books but nothing else--but there were enough duplications that we could talk for hours about stories we had both read, and we could play our favorite "what if" games, speculating what might have happened had certain story events worked out differently.

I also met Phil's mother--a pleasant woman, but one of the most protective parents I had ever seen. Phil's parents were older than my parents; he had an older sister, but somehow his parents seemed far more protective of Phil than of his sister. Every ten or fifteen minutes, she would check in on us to see what we were doing; that pattern continued for the duration of our friendship.

Phil's house made an impression on me that is vivid to this day. To get to his room, you had to go up a flight of stairs; the stairs came up into the middle of the upstairs area (I believe the room was finished out in what was once an attic), with narrow hallway-like passaged on either side that extended to another closet and storage area on the floor above the foot of the stairs on the first floor. The space in front of the floor was Phil's room, and I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. My room was bright, small--9 feet by 11 feet--and had little privacy, since it was directly across the hall from my parents' bedroom. Phil's room was expansive, isolated, and slightly dark. It was a comic book fan's sanctum sanctorum, and I wanted a room just like it.

I learned later that Phil's family had something else that I had heard about but had never previously seen: a fallout shelter. A real honest-to-gosh carefully constructed and stocked fallout shelter. I only got to look inside it once, in Phil's company, and I don't think his parents ever knew that he showed it to me, but I know he was proud of it. Had it been my family's fallout shelter, I would have been proud, too; it was like having your own very small Bat-Cave!

Suddenly Elm Street Elementary wasn't so bad...

I Forgot

Hey, Steve Martin said it was a great excuse...

Okay, I didn't really forget. But I did get busy sorting through books and dumping stuff that I didn't want any longer (you'll remember that I talked about this a couple of weeks ago, so you had warning!...), and that ate up a lot of spare time. Then I got busy re-reading some of my favorite Marvel books from the 1960s in the Omnibus volumes that I brought home from my office at the store (hey, I didn't say that I wouldn't fill in some of those bookshelf holes with other stuff!), and enjoying not only the stories but also the wonderful letters columns that created that sense of fannish community that I so enjoyed at the time. Next thing you know, a week has passed and I haven't been to the ol' blog once!

I'm back now. I think I'll be around for a few days. If I turn out to be wrong, just remember: no purchase, no refund!