Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wandering Star Goes Subterranean

A while back, I grumbled about the folks at Wandering Star who released two volumes of an ultra-expensive (multi-hundred dollar) slipcased set of Conan hardcovers, then took the check from Random House and sold them the rights to all three volumes without ever releasing the third matching slipcased set.

Well, I still don't think very much of Wandering Star and their inability to follow through on their commitments to their collectors, but I'm pleased to report that another publishing company, Subterranean Press, has worked out an arrangement to continue the Robert E. Howard series of deluxe hardcovers. Alas, their first release isn't the missing Conan Volume Three; instead, it's a King Kull volume. But I'm hoping that the Conan volume makes the schedule soon; it'd be nice to see someone find a cure for Wandering Star's Conanitis Interruptus.

Finding Finding Amanda

Turned on the TV when I got home and discovered that my DirecTV DVR had recorded a film called Finding Amanda. Didn't remember it at first, then I realized what it was. Mark Cuban's HDNet periodically airs feature films a few days before they open in theaters; this is one of them, a dark comedy with Matthew Broderick, Maura Tierney, and Brittany Snow. I like Matthew Broderick okay, have little patience for Maura Tierney, but Brittany Snow... now here's one of the most endearing young actresses in years. She was the bright spot in American Dreams, a mixed-quality series about life in the early 1960s; like Sandra Bullock in her early years, she has an engaging appeal that makes you like her almost instantly.

The film? Adequate but nothing great; its saving grace is Snow's ability to bring charm to a role that in otherwise would have been largely unlikeable.

And I gotta admit, I do like this idea of showing movies in HD a few days before they show up in theaters. Thanks, Mr. Cuban!

Targeting Crime

This evening seemed so mundane when I left home at about 7pm to make a quick run to Target for some bird seed.

I had made my purchase and was on my way out of the store; a young woman with several things in her cart approached the doors at the same time I did, so I paused to let her out. We were parked near one another, so we walked in the same direction.

As I walked to the car, I noticed a black SUV with four late high school/early college age people hanging around it; the thing was, they were sort of talking to each other but spending a lot more time watching people. I made eye contact with one of them--a shirtless athletic-looking fellow--twice, and that struck me as odd. People talking to friends usually look at one another, not at all the people in the parking lot.

As I got in my car, they got in their SUV and began backing out. When I looked in my rear-view mirror, though, I saw that they had stopped again, and the shirtless fellow had gotten out of the car. A second later, he's running full-speed towards the woman who had exited the store before me; he pushed at her, grabbed her purse, and took off running around the side of the store.

Meanwhile, his friends were so busy watching their purse-thief pal that they didn't notice that I had immediately turned around and pulled up just behind them at an angle to get their license number. When they noticed me, the girl who was driving hit the gas to get out of there; I already had the license number, though.

I drove up to the victim. "Are you okay?

"Yes..." She was confused and a little panicked.

"Were they friends of yours?" I wanted to be sure this wasn't some friends goofing around.

"No, they stole--"

"I saw it; I'm calling 911 now." I had already dialed the numbers; I hit send, and five seconds later I'm on the phone with the operator, telling her what had happened and giving the full license number, a description of the vehicle, and a description of the occupants.

Less than five minutes later, Cobb County Police officers and detectives responded in a most impressive show of efficiency and concern. They had the description of the vehicle and the license plate out there; the vehicle was registered to a nearby address, and they had officers dispatched there and also had issued an alert for the vehicle.

The woman was visiting family; she lived in Singapore, and was confused and upset. "It happened so fast," she said. "I thought I was all alone. I didn't know what to do. You were like an angel," she kept saying. I was touched by her hyperbole, and saddened that something like this would mar her visit with her family. She used my phone to call her relatives; they soon drove up to wait with her, confused and concerned and angry. They tried to keep their composure, though, for her sake.

Less than thirty minutes later, an officer had pulled the vehicle over. Arrests were made, and it appeared that the victim was on the way to recovering most of her belongings. She was amazed. "I never thought something so bad could turn out good," she said. As the stress of what had happened began to catch up with her, she started to cry a little. "Thank you so much. This would have been awful if you hadn't been there."

There isn't much you can say to that except, "Glad I could help."

I hope her night got better.

And I hope the night got a lot worse for the four thieves who ruined this woman's evening...

Just Gotta Get Away?...

Today, among the many other topics that come up in conversation during a typical day at Dr. No's, the subject of vacations arose. I am aware that my view of vacations is in the minority (of course, I'm nevertheless convinced I'm right!...), but I think the whole concept of vacations is greatly overrated.

The popular view is that a vacation is a sort of necessity in order to restore oneself; I frequently hear people lamenting "I haven't had a vacation in ---- (insert period of months or years)" as if it's some sign of deprivation. I don't agree with the view at all; the idea that one must have prolonged periods of time away from work ignores the fact that most of us have periods away from work on a regular basis... even if it's just a day or two here or a day or two there.

While vacation's root is "vacate," as in "to leave unoccupied," I also find contradictory this idea that one can only rest and relax by expending a great deal of time and money to go somewhere away from home for a prolonged period of time. I'm not saying that travel is bad per se, but that the idea that travel is a prerequisite for vacation is ill-considered; more often than not, the travel that's associated with vacations is hectic, costly, stress-inducing, and not particularly relaxing.

Equally odd to me is the idea that time spent away from home (where most of us have surroundd us with things we enjoy, and have access to more entertainment and amusement than anyone would have ever dreamed of a couple of decades ago) is somehow of higher quality than time spent at home. Yes, there can be an enjoyment in seeing other places--but there is also a significant amount of inconvenience as well.

Many who lament the lack of a vacation actually are lamenting the fact that, when they had time off, they didn't use it in the way that they would like to use it to qualify as a vacation. Somehow, the very concept of "vacation" seems to mandate that it can only be valid if spent in specific ways and/or in specific places.

We constantly enjoy brief vacations--moments or hours or days--when we are able to get away from the things we don't enjoy and focus on the things we do. Those moments qualify as vacation after vacation so long as we recognize them as such; instead, we too often wish away all of those relaxing moments by begrudging the fact that they're not spent doing something else. We "go without the meat, and curse the bread," to borrow from Edwin Arlington Robinson, not realizing that there is much to be enjoyed in our lives as they exist right now.

I know that my parents weren't the only ones who chided me as a chld for "wishing my life away" when in September I'd start wishing that Christmas was here. I didn't fully see it then, but I do now--in creating the idea that only Christmas was celebratory enough, I overlooked a thousand daily pleasures that I might have appreciated were I focused on those moments and not on the illusory concept of happiness that I had associated only with Christmas.

Too often, our fervent wish for vacations leads us to overlook the myriad of opportunities that we have every day to "get away from it all"...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How Time Flies...

Tonight, I wrapped up the last bits for Comic Shop News #1099 and began doing some work for CSN #1100. Such is the nature of a weekly: I never have a clean break between issues, because while I'm finalizing the material for one issue, I'm organizing info and sending out questions for the next and making arrangements for cover stories for the issue after that... There is no time when I can truly say "I'm finished for the week" and take a few days off before I start on the next issue; weeklies just don't work that way.

Nice round numbers like 1100 give rise to a little rumination; basically, that means that I've been writing Comic Shop News for a tad over twenty-one years now. That's more than two decades of weekly production with no missed deadlines--and with no off weeks. When you produce a weekly, there's no vacation as such; the best you can do is to try to do most of your work a week ahead, so that you only have to do late-breaking and/or last minute work the week that the issue goes to press.

As I told Neil Marks of Virgin during a chat yesterday, "If I weren't doing this for Comic Shop News, I'd still be tracking down info on comics--but instead of being a reporter, I'd just be that crazy fan who keeps bugging everyone." That's the best part of Comic Shop News: it gives me a professional reason to cater to my incessant desire for more information.

I mentioned last year that I was surprised to find several key issues of Comic Shop News saved in Mom and Dad's scrapbooks; it never occurred to me that my parents might have actually been pleased that I was making a living doing things that I enjoyed so much, like owning a comic shop and publishing a fanzine that makes some money. I don't know if they still remember those high school years when I was doing apazines and writing letters of comment and contributing pieces to other fanzines--and I don't know if they ever imagined way back then that I'd find a way to do this on a weekly basis for a larger readership than the average issue of the Rome News-Tribune.

1100 issues. Who'da thunk it? Certainly not me!...


If you haven't checked out Marvel's Thor relaunch by writer J. Michael Strazcynski, I strongly rcommend that you give it a try; the book offers a distinctive reinterpretation of Lee and Kirby's Thor, re-establishing Asgard right in the middle of the US. It's surprising, unpredictable, and stylish.

But it has one problem.

This book has some of the worst lettering I've ever seen. Oh, the craft itself is fine--but the font, which is designed to have a slightly Teutonic, slightly Scandinavian, slightly Anglo-Saxon look, is confoundingly difficult to read. It doesn't scan well, and it actually slows down the flow of the story. I know it's a stylistic choice by Marvel's editorial staff to have the letterer use this style, but it strikes me as the wrong choice. Lettering should never become a barrier to reading; it's the ultimate case of style over function.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Strike Out

I'm seeing more articles indicating that an actors' strike is looming, and that it might have as devastating an effect on network television as last year's writers' strike did. I'm even more pessimistic; if there's an actors' strike as widespread and long-lasting as last year's writers' strike, I think it might initiate a major network move away from scripted shows towards even more reality television. The networks haven't moved back into the profit range after the losses from last year's strike; a second strike of that significance might earn actors more money, but it could be a pyrrhic victory if they also destroy their opportunities to earn a living.

I'm glad I'm not a network executive right now...

Journalistic Jigsaw Puzzle

Just finished putting together an extremely long article on the upcoming Tori Amos-inspired comics anthology Comic Book Tattoo; the piece will appear in Comic Shop News #1099, in stores 7/10. I had long interviews with editor Rantz Hoseley and with Tori Amos to work with; the challenge was assembling them into a single piece.

I've always viewed putting together this sort of article as a lot like assembling a jigsaw puzzle; each answer is a distinct piece, but the arrangement of those pieces determines the appeal of the assemblage. When everything comes together just right, I begin to really feel that the story is coalescing--and in this case, the story came together even better than I initially anticipated.

A normal CSN cover story is 1500-1600 words; this piece ran 5500, and that was with two edits. And I think that it offers a lot of insight into the editor, the artist, and the scope of the anthology. I always enjoy what I do with Comic Shop News, but some pieces really click for me--and this was one of them.

I'm pretty lucky--there aren't too many people who get to do what they enjoy and make money at it at the same time!

UN-Surprising Revelations

Is anyone surprised by these revelations by the UN's purported nuclear watchdog Muhammad Al-Baradei, made on the Al-Arabiya network this past weekend?

Iran has the capability to produce a nuclear weapon within six months to one year. "It would ned this period to produce a weapon, and to obtain highly-enriched uranium in sufficient quantities for a single nuclear weapon," Al-Baradei said.

And "If military force is used, I would conclude that there is no mechanism left for me to defend," El-Baradai added. "I always think of resigning in the event of a military strike."

So let's see if we have this straight: Iran is potentially six months away from a completed nuclear weapon in spite of the IAEA's useless oversight, but if anyone dares to do anything about it militarily, the inept El-Baradei will resign?

Quel dommage...

Everything's Better With Light Sabers In It

I have nothing more to say. You'll have to click here to check it out for yourself. (And bear in mind that I'm only previewing one of almost a dozen light-sabered gems here...)


Over on his blog, Charles talked about his recent trip to Santa Fe and how it left him with a bit of wanderlust. Wish I could say that my last trip to Austin, back in February, had the same effect on me--but every time I fly somewhere, it makes me that much less eager to fly ever again.

I used to love to fly hither and yon; at one point in the 80s/early 90s, Susan and I participated in an Eastern Airlines promotion (I believe it was Eastern, anyway) in which a different city would be chosen as the weekend destination each week, and you could fly there for a bargain price if you were willing to travel on the spur of the moment. Lots of fun, but that was at a time when the airlines seemed to genuinely desire the business of travelers, and they made the experience pleasant.

Air travel nowadays seems to be managed by the same people who designed the DMV driver's licensing system; it's laborious, unaccommodating, and uncomfortable. A two hour flight becomes an eight hour ordeal when everything else is factored in; seating is intolerably cramped and poorly designed; and worst of all, there's absolutely no appreciation for passengers and their business.

I wish Atlanta had major rail service to other cities--but once again, Atlanta is sorely lacking as a major city. So I'm stuck with flying if the destination is too far to comfortably travel by car. I love the idea of going somewhere else, but I hate the process of getting there by air; I'd generally prefer not to go at all if getting there requires flying.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All in the Family

Have I mentioned that my nephew Cole and his wife Christy are expecting their second child? Current plans call for Oliver to get Kim's old room and the new baby to get my old room--but if the new addition to the family is a girl, then I'm going to lobby for a change of room arrangements, just to carry forward the boy's room-girl's room tradition.

I haven't been up to Rome since Kim's birthday, and haven't seen the old Marchmont house since November; I'm eager to see what Cole and Christy have done with it, but I'm also apprehensive about imposing on them. Maybe I'll get up there sometime in the next month or so and take a look, if it works with their schedule; I'm feeling a yearning to revisit Rome, which is why I'm tentatively planning to go to the West Rome High School reunion on July 12th. That might be a good day to stop by, if it works with their schedule.

I guess I'll always have mixed emotions about the old home place; I'm very happy that it's a wonderful home for Cole, Christy, and Oliver (and the upcoming fourth member of the family), but it seems odd to think that it'll never be Mom and Dad's home--the place where I grew up and could always drop in unannounced--again.

Things change...

Dante's Epic Career

Since the last post, I got a couple of e-mails letting me know that, while Ron Dante's music career has been pretty low-profile since the days of the Archies and the Cuff Links, he is not only still performing and recording (you can order his past two discs from him at, but he has also been quite active as a producer, working with Cher, Pat Benatar, and Barry Manilow. The decades-themed Manilow 50s, 60s, and 70s discs are produced by Dante (correction: I've subsequently learned that while Dante produced the early Manilow albums, he only contributed vocals to the 60s and 70s albums), and he even contributes backing vocals on some of the 60s and 70s tracks. It's nothing compared to the pop wonderment that is "Tracy," but it's nice to know that talent continues to express itself over the decades.

Desert Island Discs

Someone recently asked me to compile my top ten Desert Island Discs list. (For those not familiar with the concept, this is ten albums/discs you'd most want to have to listen to over and over again if you were stuck on a desert island). I'm firmly convinced that the time period of the music on the list often says a great deal about the age of the listener; a derivation of Harlan Ellison's "golden age" theory (the golden age of almost anything dates to about the time you were thirteen to eighteen) almost always seems to apply.

So here are my ten Desert Island Discs--and I've tried to minimize the "Best of" compilations, although a couple made the list because they were the albums I listened to most by those artists.

(1) Abbey Road - The Beatles
(2) Tracy - The Cuff Links
(3) Ball - Iron Butterfly
(4) If I Could Only Remember My Name - David Crosby
(5) All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
(6) Association's Greatest Hits - The Association
(7) Camelot - Soundtrack
(8) Crosby Stills & Nash - you can figure out who
(9) Through the Past Darkly - The Rolling Stones
(10) Let It Be - The Beatles

And there you have it--I think every one of them came out between 1968 and 1971 with the exception of the Camelot soundtrack. And I would have been 15 to 18 during those years...

And yes, I may very well be the only person in the world who'd put the Cuff Links album on his Desert Island Discs list--but I love the harmonies and the counterpoint on that album! If the voice of the Cuff Links sound familiar, it's Ron Dante, who was the lead vocalist on all the Archie's hits. He is, in fact, every voice on the Cuff Links album. It's a wonderful vocal tour de force by a man whose name never actually appears on the album!

Taken with Taken

Okay, I'm about six years late, but I finally watched the SciFi miniseries Taken, a Steven Spielberg production. It's a massive twenty-hour tale of multiple generations of families impacted by UFO-related abductions; in some ways, it's a darker look at themes that Spielberg touched on in ET, but in other ways it seems almost a complementary piece to the USA Network series The 4400.

Was it good? Yes, but I'm not sure it needed twenty hours to tell its tale. Even so, it was the best made-for-SciFi-project I've seen (if you've watched much of SciFi's programming, though, you realize that's a left-handed compliment at best). Since Spielberg was only an executive producer of the series, there's little of his influence to be seen in the final production. Some themes are familiar, but others--most notably the lack of importance in human nature and the lack of value of humanity in the cosmic picture--seem to almost counter his message in ET. And the aliens themselves, while rarely seen, are neither benign or benevolent.

It's an ambitious series, though, and it's one that seems to transcend the mired-in-genre formula that typifies most of SciFi's programming. If they turned out more work of this caliber, perhaps they'd be able to shake the grade-B rep that the network has maintained over the years.

Stormy Weather

For those who don't keep up with Southeastern US weather, I'll mention that we're still suffering from a drought here in north Georgia. Last year was an extreme drought, while this year is only a severe drought. There's a difference of degree, but the ultimate result is that we haven't yet recovered from the severe drought of 2007, and as a result this area is undergoing watering restrictions and some lakes are significantly below normal pool.

Drought is a funny thing; we measure it by year, but if you take a slightly bigger picture, the situation looks far less dire. For the ten years from 1998-2008, we are actually above normal rainfall; four of those years were at least a foot above normal.

And it's also measured on a regional basis, which may not reflect locality. I keep a rain gauge here at the house, so I can say with certainty that my immediate area is only 2" below normal rainfall. However, the official records indicate that this region (including my neighborhood) is 13" below normal.

Officially, we have had less than 3/4" of rain in June. So far, I've had 3.3" of rain in June, including 2" last Saturday and 1" spread out over two rainstorms yesterday. But because that rain didn't happen to fall at the one site used as an official weather station, it didn't count.

I don't know why we don't move to a more sophisticated system of multiple weather stations across the region, which are then averaged out to produce the data for the region. It seems like far too little data is being used to compile regional measurements that are then used to make regional decisions.

Then again, there might be a reason for the minimal data. A lot of this region's water problems are due to horrible water management, abominably maintained infrastructure, a lack of reservoirs, and the like; it's probably far easier to use minimal data to support drought restrictions than it is to actually admit that regardless of rainfall amounts we really don't have the water capabilities to support the growth that has occurred in this region over the past decade or so.

At least the local rainfall has been sufficient that my lawn and trees look relatively healthy even though no outside sprinkler use is permitted; even when there was no drought, I tried to go through the entire summer without using sprinklers. That wasn't always possible, but in at least six of the twelve years that we've lived in this house, I've never turned the sprinklers on--and in four other years, I've used them for fewer than ten waterings annually during the entire season. I've never been one to waste water, and I've always remembered that our lawn at our prior house did pretty well in wet years and dry years alike, even though we didn't have any sprinkler system there.

Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout History

I tend to leave one of the tuners on the basement TV set to the History Channel, which means that I tend to watch segments of a lot of History Channel programming while I'm exercising. If it looks good, I'll tell the DVR to record the whole show--if not, then at least I've gotten a few little nuggets of info on one subject or another.

This means that I've watched a couple of hundred hours of History Channel programming in the past six or eight months (since I had both tuners on the DirecTV unit activated), and I've gradually determined what's wrong with the History Channel.

These guys have absolutely no sense of validity. They present every fad topic, from UFOs to Mayan Doomsday Predictions to Nostradamus to global warming, as if it's absolute wholly verified truth with no possibility of an alternative viewpoint. This isn't history, it's programming wikipedia style, with noone challenging unproven "facts" or offering valid alternative points of view.

This morning, for example, I caught the last 20 minutes or so of a program on the Mayan prophecy that the world will end on December 21, 2012. The slant of the whole program was that the Mayans were brilliant astronomers and scientists whose prophecies quite frequently turned out to be accurate. (Of course, this was supported by statements along the lines of "the 9/11 attacks were obviously forecast in the lines "And then bad things will occur, and people will be startled." You know--the sort of vague "prophecy" that people love to point to when they're trying to prove Nostradamus' prophetic skills.) At no point during this program did anyone point out that this sophisticated culture routinely practiced human sacrifice, that their medical knowledge was crude, resulting in disfigurement and early death, or that they failed to correctly predict the future in any way that could save their own culture. No, we're supposed to believe that because "the sun will align with the center of the Milky Way in 2012," the world is doomed just like the Mayans forecast.

(Doesn't the sun always align with the center of the Milky Way, by the way? I mean, you can draw a straight line between any two points, right? I presume they were trying to say that the Earth, the sun, and the center of the Milky Way would be in alignment... but this is the sort of pseudo-knowledge that the History Channel pumps out regularly.)

Why does this matter? Because the Mayans said that their primal god, the First Father, was beheaded in a bit of ball-game trickery when he was invited into the center of the galaxy a long time ago. Now how's that for hard science?...

I have more respect for the Smithsonian Channel, which tends to be more accurate; the Science Channel is modestly better, although it has some boneheaded programming, too. But the History Channel is about as fair a representation of historic information and its validity as Jerry Springer is a valid form of interpersonal counseling.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


In case you haven't heard, the House has passed by an overwhelming margin a copyright-related bill that dramatically increases penalties for piracy and copyright infringement. (You can read all about it here... but be warned--there's nothing but bad news.)

What we have here is a group of purchased representatives (paid for by the MPAA, the RIAA, and other organizations) passing laws they more than likely have never read because they've hear that "they protect copyrights." What these provisions actually do is make criminals of more Americans than Prohibition ever did. Have you ever borrowed a CD from a friend and ripped a copy of it? You're a pirate under this law, and they could issue civil penalties, seize your computer equipment, and possibly even more. Have you ever given someone a copy of a TV show that you had recorded? Same problem. Ever made a copy of a copyrighted chart, a book, or a piece of art? Ditto. Ever downloaded a TV show or a comic book or a piece of music? Piracy.

So long as Congress continues to let advocacy groups like the RIAA or the MPAA write the laws, our copyright system will only get more broken. I saw a proposal recently that said that all ISPs should be forced to add a $5-$10 monthly charge to all internet service that would be a copyright fee; this would be pooled and distributed among copyright holders, and that would allow users to download what they want with no fear of copyright infringement retribution.

Would such a system work? I don't know--but I do know that it's the product of someone thinking in the right direction. I'm only hoping that the Senate shows more wisdom than the House and votes against this bill right away; we need representatives and Senators who are finding a way to adjust the system to benefit copyright holders and the citizens, not to create a draconian system that creates a criminal in virtually every home with a TV or an MP3 player or a computer.

Ebay: No Safe Harbor

There was a time when I considered eBay to be one of the most reputable and equitable online marketplaces. Buyers and sellers seemed to be treated fairly, the site seemed to be well-policed, and the feedback system made it easy for users to police the sites, protecting their fellow buyers and sellers from disreputable eBayers.

Not any more. eBay is the equivalent of a dark parking lot just after midnight; the guy who's meeting you there may very well be honest, but you're probably best off assuming he isn't.

I'm not sure when eBay lost control of its integrity and its reputation, but the simple truth is the site if now rife with merchants selling illegal merchandise (or no merchandise at all), buyers who use the one-sided feedback system to blackmail merchants, and an eBay management that cares about nothing other than raking off its share of the cash. I've seen a noted decline in the accuracy of descriptions of items I have bought from eBay recently; I continue to hear stories from friends about the merchandise that didn't arrive and the months of disputes to try to get their money back through eBay's front operation, Paypal; and the end result is that I will not even consider selling merchandise on eBay any longer, and rarely consider buying merchandise there.

I used to do eBay searches every couple of days, just checking for items that I might want; now I rarely go to the site more than once or twice a month, and even then I feel sullied by the process.

I'd love to see someone come up with a reputable replacement for the disreputable thing that eBay has become... although I admit that I'd hate to the one who had to design such a replacement.

Until then, I pretty much consider eBay a risky trip through a bad neighborhood...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twenty)

My parents knew that I liked what little bit of Beatles music I had heard, so Mom reminded me on multiple occasions that the group was appearing on Ed Sullivan. Of course, we usually watched Ed Sullivan as a family anyway; there was always an act or two that I found moderately entertaining, there was something that would appeal to my parents, and Kim enjoyed the puppet shows or the acrobats or whatever (hey, she wasn't quite three years old at the time!...).

So I was there in front of the television when the group performed their first number--and rather than starting with their hit "I Want to Hold Your Hand," they chose instead to kick off the show with "All My Loving." I hadn't heard the song prior to that performance, but it didn't matter--from the opening chords and the first harmonies, I was hooked. I sat enthralled through that performance and the othe four songs they performed that evening. One of the songs they performed, "Til There Was You," was a number I had heard before... but not the way they did it. While they didn't radically alter the arrangement of the song, they added a vitality that was energizing in a totally different way.

And their appearance--the way they shared a mike, the tightness of the harmonies, the looks on their faces as if they were having the times of their lives--it was captivating. I was hooked. I had to own that album.

It took me almost a month to save up the $3.34 plus tax that the nearby Redford Five and Ten was charging for Meet the Beatles. Every day, Phil and I would walk the short distance from his house to West End Shopping Center, where I'd scan the Redford racks to make sure they still had a copy. I knew it was going to be mine, once I could set aside enough money. I even passed on a couple of ACG comics (their books were entertaining, but they were always B level entertainment, to be purchased only when there was a surplus of cash) and a model kit to help me reach the magic number of $3.45 (tax was 3% back then, and I had quickly learned the break points so that I could calculate the exact cost of each purchase before it was rung in... I never wanted to find myself a penny or two short).

Phil was luckier; he had mentioned to his parents that he wanted the Beatles album, so they bought it for him in late February, while I was still scrabbling for cash.

The thing was, they bought the wrong album.

Phil had said he wanted "the Beatles album," so his parents had stopped at Murphy's on Broad Street, where they saw an album by the Beatles. So what it if was on VeeJay records rather than Capitol? So what if it didn't have most of their hits on it? It was "the Beatles album," wasn't it?

So Phil and I would spend a few minutes every morning before school listening to his copy of Introducing the Beatles, and marvelling at the fact that there was this entire record of songs that we'd never heard of before. And within a couple of weeks, we had memorized every chord change, ever harmony, every rough spot. I soon settled on my favorites--"Anna," "Twist and Shout," and the driving "I Saw Her Standing There." (Phil's version of the album was the second edition, although we didn't know it at the time--it had "Ask Me Why" and "Please Please Me" on it rather than "Love Me Do" and "From Me to You," both of which were on the original release.)

When I saved up sufficient money to buy the record in early March (sorry, Kimberly--you got no birthday present from me that year! It was the Beatles' fault, honest!), I was thrilled to have a new album of hits to listen to--one that included the songs I had heard on the radio and had so enjoyed on the Ed Sullivan show. But I felt a little bit cheated, because one song--"I Saw Her Standing There"--was on Phil's album, too. It was like buying a comic that included a reprint of a story you already had--you were glad to get the new material, but couldn't help but feel disappointed there wasn't more.

We were also confused that one record was one VeeJay and one was on Capitol. The matter was further complicated when we bought the singles for "From Me To You"/"Love Me Do" and "She Loves You"/"I'll Get You," we saw that the former was on the familiar VeeJay label, while the latter was on the Swan label. What was the deal here? Two albums, two singles, and three different record labels? It was like finding Superman comics published by DC, Marvel, and Charlton!

Then a trip to the Record Shop on Broad Street revealed yet another Beatles single that we hadn't heard of--"My Bonnie" backed with "The Saints"--and this one was on yet another label, MGM Records. And it didn't even sound particularly Beatles-esque!

Of course, we didn't realize that a lot of this material actually predated the Meet the Beatles album; it would be a while before the American music magazines would clue us in on the group's history, allowing us to understand why everything was spread out on so many labels.

I was running low on cash for comics because I was spending it all on Beatles records!

Thankfully, Dad had a solution. Our lawn, which had been very slow to fill in once we had sprigged the front yard with bermuda, had finally begun to look lawn-like... and with spring approaching, Dad decided I was old enough to begin cutting grass for extra money. Add that to my $1.05 weekly allowance, and I could afford records and comics and cards and model kits once again.

I will always associate those early Beatles albums with Marvel Comics in particular, since that's what Phil and I read and re-read as we played those albums over and over and over again. The music and the comics became inexorably linked in my mind, and to this day I see one when I hear the other and vice versa.

(And I came to appreciate the robust sound of my copy of Meet the Beatles far more than the thinner sound of Phil's Introducing the Beatles. I had no idea that the deeper, more resonant sound was due to Dave Dexter, a Capitol A&R man who felt that the records needed some extra bass and reverb to give them a fuller "wall of sound" that would come through on the low-quality AM radio frequencies. It worked; I got to know those fuller remixed American versions so completely that when I heard the British versions a couple of decades later, they almost sounded like outtakes because they were so sonically Spartan compared to the versions I had grown up with.)

Book 'Em, Danno

From a list compiled by LibraryThing, here are the hundred or so books most marked as unread. I've added bold to the ones I've read, and italics to the ones I've read in excerpt or started and abandoned due to failings on my part or on the part of the author (Silmarillion falls into the latter category).

Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: A novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian: a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Poisonwood Bible
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
To the Lighthouse
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Dune (how I finished it, I'll never know...)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes: A memoir
The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States: 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
The Scarlet Letter
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
On the Road
The Catcher in the Rye
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
White Teeth
In Cold Blood
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Bear in mind that I was an English major and a teacher for over a quarter century, so some of these I read professionally, so to speak...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans...

...aft gang a'gley and all that.

Normally, I'd be on the road to the FedEx Freight hub by now to pick up this week's shipments of comics. Alas, that journey has been postponed for about six hours. I suspected there was trouble when I logged into the FedEx Freight site and saw that my shipment had left Memphis at 11pm yesterday and at 5am this morning. A phone call verified that the report was correct: our shipment left last night, but the truck broke down about an hour and a half out of Memphis and had to be towed back (not sure why they didn't just dispatch another truck and transfer the trailer over to the new truck rather than towing it all the way back to Memphis, but I'm not the guy driving those trucks, so there's a lot about freight hauling I don't know). By the time all was done, the truck didn't pull out the second time until 5 this morning, so we shouldn't expect our shipment any earlier than 2 this afternoon.

Every now and then, you need a schedule shake-up just to break the routine...

Proof Positive

There is no better proof than this that Obama lacks what it takes to be President: the man is a confessed tobacco addict who has returned to his addiction on multiple occasions in recent months, according to this AP story. Yep, he's a relapsed drug addict.

As if his frequently demonstrated lack of ethics and judgment weren't indication enough that he'd be a bad President, this is the clincher. If a man lacks the wisdom and self-control to make the right decisions regarding his own personal health and welfare, then why in the world would I ever want to trust him with the health and welfare of millions of Americans?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Walkabout (Three Miles Twice a Day)

Ten things I particularly enjoy about walking during the summer (in no particular order):

(1) Walking on the concrete curb for prolonged periods without falling off (It's irresistible... I have to do it for at least one segment of my walk every day)

(2) The familiar fragrance of new-mown grass, sweet and alluring

(3) Rescuing wayward earthworms from the sidewalk (I always wonder what they tell their little earthworm friends: "I was just crawling along, and then something came out of the sky and lifted me up, and the next thing I know I was back home in the dirt!")

(4) Petting all the friendly dogs I have gotten to know over the past nine summers (Sable, Chester, Chelsea, Sandy, and Rudy in particular--they seem genuinely happy to see me each and every time, and never get tired of a scratch behind the ears)

(5) Plotting my path through the sea of sunshine to those enticing islands of shade

(6) Witnessing the intensity, vitality, and joy of young children at play, discovering the myriad joys that each of us discovered in childhood summers past

(7) Catching the brief glimpse of blue-tailed lizards scurrying for cool, secluded shelter from the summer heat

(8) Marvelling at the huge, billowing clouds that stand in white contrast to the brilliantly blue sky the day after a summer rainstorm

(9) Finding volunteer plants growing from every crevice and nook, and realizing just for a moment the unceasing, pervasive tenacity of life

(10) Without even thinking about it, finding oneself avoiding stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, just because

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Life in Four Colors (Part 19)

The fall of 1963 will always be marked in my mind--and in the minds of all of us who were old enough to know what was going on--by the assassination of President Kennedy in November. I remember most of that day quite well; we were outside, playing (or doing what passed for PE) at the area near the band practice field and the basketball goals near the corner of Shorter Avenue and Redmond Road. We were called back in early, and we didn't know why until we got back into the room. They told us that President Kennedy had been shot; I don't believe that they told us at that time that he was dead, and I'm not sure that they even knew then. Remember, this was 1963; there were no televisions or radios in the classroom, so no one had that level of instant access that we take for granted nowadays.

We understood that this was an important thing, but I don't believe that any of us ten-year-olds understood just how important it was. We began to feel the impact of the event more fully by observing the reactions of the adults around us--their sorrow, their confusion, their anxiety, their tears.

When I got home that day, my Mom was there but my Dad wasn't; even though he was a sports editor and didn't normally work with national non-sports news, the importance of the day's events had caused the Rome News-Tribune to keep everyone at work. The newspaper put out at least two editions that day--and that's one of the only days I recall when the paper went to press twice on the same day. That, too, told me that something very important had happened.

And of course, television made it clear to us just how important it was. For the first time I could remember, all programming was pre-empted for coverage of the President's assassination and the subsequent events over the next three days. "All" may sound more far-reaching than it was, since there was no cable television in 1963, and the only channels we received were the ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates from Atlanta and Chattanooga. But all programming on all of those channels was pre-empted for round-the-clock coverage, which also said to me "Important Things Are Happening."

I watched some of the programming; I remember being frustrated that some of my favorite morning and evening shows were replaced by the coverage, and I couldn't fully comprehend why they felt that it was necessary to do so. Kennedy was dead, I knew--but not airing my favorite shows made no sense to me. I didn't understand then the significance of a Presidential assassination, and the importance for all to see a smooth transition of government at this moment of crisis.

I also remember seeing the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby; I was actually watching television at that time, and neither my mother nor I were sure what we had seen. "Did that man shoot him?" I asked. Mom said that it looked like he did, but maybe that's not what happened; moments later, it became clear that was exactly what had happened. And the world seemed even more incomprehensible at that point.

I remember the funeral. I remember the solemn faces of the adults around me, and the sense that things weren't right with the world.

I like to think that the world was a more reasonable place then. Many of the adults I came into contact with through my parents or through school were not Kennedy supporters--but I never once heard jokes or derision or mockery of what had happened, nor did I ever hear any words of condescension or condemnation for Kennedy at that time. Regardless of political affiliation, we were Americans, and our President had been killed; I began to see that this was something much larger than I had ever envisioned before, and I was sad because so many others (whose judgment I respected, even when I didn't understand it) were sad.

Our world was reset at that point; every one of us old enough to remember that day will always, I suspect, have a fascination with Kennedy's assassination because it was such a pivotal event. There are few occurrences that leave the world a measurably different place before and after; the Kennedy assassination was one.

Had this been a comic book, the Presidential assassination would have led to superheroic efforts to track down the assassin, bring him to justice, and restore a sense of justice and right to America. But this wasn't a comic book. The answers weren't coming easy, and that left everyone even more worried, even more confused, even more shaken. And I, along with every fifth grader in my class, knew that the world would never be wholly the same.


The time from the President's assassination and burial until Christmas that year passed slowly; the holiday season unfolded like always, but the shadow of the dead President muted the Christmas lights and muffled the holiday sounds just a bit. For me, Christmas was good--as it always was, since my parents had always created lavish Christmases for me and for Kimberly, even when they had little money left over for themselves. I remember getting every Aurora monster model kit that I didn't already have, along with the only Testor's paint set that I ever owned. I usually bought individual square bottles of Testor's paint, but I could never save up enough money for that prepackaged array of colors. My parents gave me those paints that year, and I was even more excited than I was the first time I got a 64-crayon box of Crayolas. Unfortunately, monsters found themselves rather garishly clad for the first few post-Christmas weeks...

I also got comic books, books, a number of toys, and a Vacuform kit. The Vacuform was an intriguing toy; It was a heating element wit a series of metal molds and flat plastic squares. When the metal molds were placed on the unit and heated, an armature swung the plastic over the heated molds; pumping the vacuum device in the unit would pull the heated plastic in, making it follow the contours of the metal, creating a number of plastic toys that could then be glued, painted, and displayed. In effect, it was a small-scale plastic model making kit.

To this day, I can recall the remarkably distinctive smell of the heating plastic; I suspect I still have burn scars on the sides of my fingers from the dozens of times I clumsily touched the wrong place on the machine while working with the plastic. In retrospect, I have to wonder what toymaker thought that young kids and extremely hot metal was a good idea; but in the Christmas of 1963, I thought it was one of the most brilliant toys in history.

I was never particularly good at Vacuform casting and assembly, however, mostly because of my impatience. I was never willing to keep working at the vacuum pump to ensure the most precise detail; instead, I would watch until the plastic sheet had more or less assumed the form of the mold, then would eagerly pop the assembly up and remove the heated square of plastic to see how it looked. The loss of detail never really bothered me, though; these were toys that I had made, and that meant that they were good enough.

And it was one day in mid-January 1964, when I was sitting on the hardwood floor of my room playing with my Vacuform, that I first heard the sounds of the Beatles on the radio. I had heard about the Beatles before that time; Phil Patterson's sister had said something about them, but neither Phil nor I knew exactly what she was talking about. When the radio DJ mentioned that they were about to play a song by the Beatles, I paid attention.

What I heard was unlike anything I had heard on the radio before. The sound was engaging and infectious in a way that music had never been before. It's not that I hadn't liked music previously; I was constantly listening to music, and my family frequently insisted that I had learned to sing "Tom Dooley" and "Sixteen Tons" almost as soon as I learned to speak. But there was no music that I had felt was my music... at least, not until that moment. When I heard the Beatles, I knew that this was my music--and I knew that I wanted to hear more.

A week ot so later, my parents mentioned that they had read that the Beatles would be making an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in early February. Surely they were confused; Ed Sullivan was a program devoted to entertainment that would appeal to my parents, not to me. And my parents didn't seem like the target audience for the Beatles. But they assured me that they were correct, and I knew that I had to see this show.

So on February 9th, I was one of the 70 million who were enthralled by the Fab Four's first prime-time television appearance.

Father's Day

Today is the first Father's Day since Dad's death.

Last year, we went to Rome for Father's Day and took Dad to Longhorn's for lunch (he loved their chicken tenders). Afterwards, the family went back to Dad's house where we enjoyed a relaxing hour or two of conversation. When I got home, I called Dad and talked for about thirty minutes; I specifically wanted to tell him how much he had inspired me and what a wonderful father he had been, and to let him know how proud I was of all that he had done. I knew then that Dad was beginning to have problems with early stage Alzheimer's, and I wanted to have that conversation while he was alert enough to understand how important he was to me.

Dad was moved; his voice hesitated with emotion when he responded to me. I knew that he truly understood the depth of my love for him; Dad has trouble expressing that sort of feeling, and his voice stumbled a little bit as he replied.

I'm so thankful that we had that conversation. I had no idea that there would be no future Father's Days to allow me the opportunity--at least, not face to face. I still talk to Dad (and to Mom) every day, but I no longer have the joy of hearing their responses.

Happy Father's Day, Dad--and thanks again for being the best father that anyone could want!


As I wrote in my last entry, I consider a blog as an online analog of the old apazine. In fact, my blog here has the same title as my first apazine--not much'a nothin'.

In the Myriad discussion group, a member lamented that the group itself seemed a rather pale imitation of the livelier apa in its glory days. As I remarked to him there, I don't see the two as doing the same thing. A discussion group like this is more akin to a random natter entry here, a brief news update there, and the occasional comment on another post; it simply doesn't allow participants the opportunity to create a more polished product akin to a fanzine or even a blog. The closest that we could come to that would be a "blog ring" where we all interlinked to one another's blogs and made a point to post comments (akin to mailing comments) on what one another had written. I follow the blogs of a few former Myriad members currently, and I see that as much closer to what Myriad was.

Another possibility for an even more true-to-form apa would be an electronic apa that required each member to create a PDF file of his/her contribution by a set deadline, then e-mail or upload that contribution to a central site where members could download it and read it on their screens or print it out for their perusal. It would give almost every benefit of an apa--physical control of formatting, incorporation of imagery, etc.--and still maintain the set page form, but it would eliminate the expense of postage (moving large quantities of paper back and forth was costly, and has become moreso nowadays).

The great thing about a group or a blog, though, is that it requires no time from an Official Editor (and I know how much time that can take up, since Susan and I were cOE's of Myriad for several years in the early 1970s). Even an electronic apa would probably require some sort of Official Editor to manage/maintain the FTP site, handle the distribution of the PDFs or the mailing of "announcements of availability," maintain membership lists to weed out the inactive or disinterested, etc.

Is there a need for apas any more, or are they for the most part outdated remnants of a pre-internet society? The fact that so few active apa participants from years past are doing anything with the format now leads to me to believe the latter is the case...

All the Myriad Ways

A conversation thread in an online group recently brought to mind the fact that Myriad (an amateur press alliance of which I was a part for almost a decade and a half) is about to commemorate its fortieth anniversary.

(While I don't do anything with apas nowadays, I have maintained all along that this blog is essentially an online apazine. An apa, or amateur press alliance, was a publication comprised of individually produced and printed publications on matters of interest to the author and the other members; each member would prepare enough copies for the membership and forward those to an Official Editor or Central Mailer who would compile them and send each member one copy of every member's publication. I have often said that it was my years of fanzine and apazine production that directly transitioned to my production of Comic Shop News--which is sort of like a fanzine, only it makes a profit!)

Stven Carlberg (at the time he still spelled it Steven) first began corresponding with me about the possibility of launching a new apa in June of 1968; he was in the comics apa CAPA-Alpha and had encouraged me to get on the waitlist there, but he wanted an apa that offered all of us more opportunity to discuss other matters.

In mid-June, he said he was interested in trying to establish a new apa called Myriad (for obvious reasons); he had invited a number of contacts he had made through his fledgling fanzine publication ventures. I was one of the charter members, as was my good friend (and fellow Rome, GA, resident) Gary Steele.

Stven decided on early August as the deadline date for the first issue; in July, I began work on the first issue of not much'a nothin', which I prepared on ditto masters that I subsequently mailed to Stven to have printed (at the time, I had no way of printing my own apazines; within a few months, though, Gary and I would acquire a hectograph kit, a ditto machine, and a mimeograph (these were the days when all three could be purchased not only at most office supply stores, but could be ordered through the Sears catalog), and we would have all the tools necessary to print our own apazines, fanzines, and other things (including a short-lived underground newspaper for our high school).

I received the first Myriad mailing in late August, shortly after I had begun my sophomore year of high school. It was a slender mailing, but I still remember the excitement and enthusiasm as I opened that envelope and saw the product of everyone's efforts, prepared under Stven's guidance. The membership list was initially slight, as was the pagecount, but within a year or so Myriad would become a sort of de facto adjunct to SFPA, offering newer fans a more gregarious and open venue to establish themselves in print.

So while the 40th anniversary won't officially be here for another two months, the fortieth anniversary of Myriad's conception is here right now!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


The next two days are dual anniversary days for Susan and me. Tomorrow, we will have been married for 37 years; Monday, we will have known one another for 40 years.

Most of you probably know the story, so I won't bore you with the details, but here's the short version: Susan had a letter of comment in Batman #197, I believe it was; I noticed that the address was listed as Cedartown, Georgia, where my grandmother lived. So on June 15th, 1968, I called the only Hendrix listings in Cedartown, asking if Susan was there; my third call reached the right Hendrix, and we had our first conversation on that day.

We would have gotten married on June 16th, 1971, but the 16th was a Wednesday that year, and the church where we were married had services on Wednesdays, so we pushed it ahead one day to Tuesday, June 15th, 1971. That's why there are two anniversaries one day apart.

(We didn't actually meet on that day; in fact, it would be a couple of months later before Susan and I would actually arrange to meet during one of my visits to Cedartown. But that first contact was the crucial one... thankfully, she was at home that day and took my call, because I'm not sure if I would have gotten up the nerve to call back on another day if I hadn't reached her that day!)

A Life in Four Colors (Part Eighteen)

While I spent my fourth grade year at the old, run-down, poorly equipped Elm Street Elementary, my fifth grade year began with my relocation to West Rome High School.

No, I didn't skip several grades.

West Rome was a booming community in the 1960's, and that meant that more classrooms were needed; construction was underway on West End Elementary, but the facility wasn't completed when the 1963-64 school year began, so my class (and several other classes) were located in the south end of West Rome High School for my fifth grade year. (Ironically, I'd be back in almost the very same spot two years later when I began junior high.)

There was something that seemed almost privileged about attending elementary school in a high school facility--it was like we were advanced students. Of course, the faculty and administration took steps to ensure that the little kids and the big kids rarely crossed paths, but at least we were at the big kid school!

Even better, Phil Patterson had an older sister who attended West Rome High, and we were allowed to ride to school with her on most days. So I'd get up, eat breakfast, get ready, and either walk or ride my bike to Phil's house on Watson Street, where we'd read comics, play, talk about monster models, climb the large tree on the north side of Phil's house, or walk across the railroad tracks just north of Phil's house to sneak into the construction area near the water tower. This wouldn't last very long, of course, before Phil's sister was ready to leave, begrudgingly offering us a ride to school in her white Plymouth Valiant (I knew very little about cars at this time, but I can picture the vehicle so clearly and I'm almost sure it was a Valiant). All in all, his sister was most tolerant of two noisy ten-year-old boys; she'd even stop at the small grocery store at the corner of N. Elm and Lavender Drive. While the store didn't carry comics, it did carry a great selection of trading cards, so Phil and I would often pick up a pack of Topps Universal Monster Cards on our way.

I spent more and more time with Phil, trading comics and reading comics and even writing and drawing our own comics. We would alternately spend the night with one another on weekends; we would play in the woods above my house or at the construction site above Phil's house (where there was always a veritable mountain of sand and another of gravel... it's a wonder we weren't buried alive in the stuff, considering how often we climbed those piles when no one was looking). And while we both enjoyed all sorts of comics, our tastes began to gravitate strongly in the direction of Marvel by late 1963.

Marvel had found the perfect way to appeal to readers like us: they were creating a sense of community through their bullpen notes, through Stan's self-effacing messages, and through their letters columns. Their heroes operated in the same world, where they occasionally crossed paths with one another; that gave Marvel a distinctive feel. But their writers and artists operated in the same world as me and Phil and their other readers, and that made them seem accessible and real to us. It was that sense of community that made so many readers my age gradually succumb to the pressure to "make mine Marvel," as Stan alliteratively phrased it.

I didn't know of anyone who could possibly complete a collection of DC Comics; most of their books had been going on for decades, or so it seemed (I would find out later that some titles, like Flash, had actually relaunched with #105, and that would give me a beginning point to collect that particular character), and I couldn't imagine anyone having a complete Batman or a complete Superman. Even a complete Justice League seemed problematic; one simply didn't run across the early issues very frequently, and I had no idea at this time that one might be able to actually mail order the books from a purveyor of out-of-print comics.

But a complete Marvel Comics superhero collection? That was not only do-able, but it didn't even seem that impossible. In late 1963, Marvel had published a couple of years worth of Fantastic Four, some Hulk, a few Amazing Spider-Man (including the elusive Amazing Fantasy #15, which I had but Phil didn't), a few Iron Man and Thor and Ant-Man and Human Torch stories in various Marvel anthology titles, and a couple of new series--X-Men and Avengers. Even a collector my age, with limited funds, had a real shot at owning every single Marvel superhero comic (okay, I didn't know anything about the Timely 1950's superhero books, or the Golden Age stuff... but none of that was officially labelled as a part of the Marvel Age of Comics, so it didn't really count). I liked Marvel, and they seemed to like me and readers like me, gauging from their acceptance and enthusiasm as displayed in their letters columns and text pieces. Heck, they even seemed to share our love for comics! They were adult versions of us!

Phil and I were totally caught up in Marvelmania. We hunted down elusive issues, we read books that in one another's collections that the other didn't own, we made up our own stories of Spidey and the FF, and we engaged in a lot of "what if" speculation. We still picked up other non-Marvel books, but the excitement wasn't there; it was Marvel that had the magic as far as we were concerned.

And so it continued through the fifth grade... well, until early 1964, anyway, when we began hearing a lot of talk about this new British musical group. The radio kept playing music by this group, and both Phil and I liked it. And come February 1964, we would find the Beatles almost as magical as Marvel Comics.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Life in Four Colors (Part Seventeen)

While I had a new comic buddy and had made a couple of more comic friends, much of my fourth grade year was a period of individual adjustment. A new school, a new house, a new friend... they pretty much reshaped my world, and I had to get used to that.

One thing that Mom and Dad did to help me feel at home was to refurnish my room. And rather than just picking my furniture, as they had in the past, they actually let me go with them and pick out the furniture for myself. Of course, Mom and Dad had already done a preliminary recon run to the furniture store, and they had some ideas... including a bunk bed.

And as far as I was concerned, a bunk bed was the most remarkable piece of furniture ever made.

My parents had a good reason to suggest a bunk bed; my room was relatively small (just slightly larger than 8' x 10' with a small 24" deep entry alcove and a fair-sized closet), and a large bed would have left very little room to move at all. However, my parents also knew that I liked to have friends spend the night with me on the weekend, so I'd need to have room for them to sleep. So bunk beds were ideal.

Even better, my bunk bed had a small desk at one end of the bed, along with a couple of shelves. I had a place to work, to draw, to do my homework, to assemble model kits--it was true multipurpose furniture, and I loved it.

I spent some time deciding which level would be mind. Initially, I thought I'd prefer the top bunk, but there were two problems. First, I have a slight fear of heights, and that left me slightly uncomfortable when I slept in the top bunk. Worse, though, was my fear of spiders... and our new house, built in what was previously heavily wooded land, was home to more spiders than I ever would have imagined... and those spiders loved making their home at the junction of wall and ceiling. Now when I was sleeping at normal level, that put them far away from me... but when I was on the top bunk, I could touch the ceiling... and that put me within contact range of the spiders. During the daytime, I could see if there was a spider there... but once the lights were out, I had no idea where the spiders were.

So the top bunk quickly became the guest bunk, and I made the bottom bunk my own. Sleeping with a mattress and frame over me and a shelf with a radio on it just above my head was akin to having my own sanctum; I had a window to my left for ventilation (the Marchmont house didn't have central air conditioning until years after I moved out and got married, and the only wall-mounted unit was in the living room, where it supplied some coolness for the living room and kitchen area, so we used fans and open windows to make the summer tolerable), so the bottom bunk never felt stagnant or closed-in. I spent many hours listening to the radio while reading comics on that bed; when I felt inspired by a comic I had read, I would climb out of bed, go to my desk where I kept an ample supply of newsprint trimmed to standard paper size for Dad to use as typing paper when he worked at home, and I'd begin to draw comics of my own. I felt like I had everything: beds for me and a guest, a daytime upper bunk I could lounge on, my own "sleeping chamber," a small dresser, and a closet large enough to boxes of comics books. I even had a small record player of my own, and I had a few records--not many, but I wasn't that interested in music in 1962 or 1963.

I didn't have a television in my room--that wouldn't come until 1964--so the radio was my window to the outside world. It was a large gray plastic box radio with knobs on the left front and a round speaker grid on the right; the tuning dials lit up slightly, but not enough to illuminate the room to any real degree. In fact, if I draped a comic book over the radio, I could block the light entirely--a trick I learned early on when I wanted to listen to the radio very faintly without my parents noticing that it was on.

I would go to bed at 9:30, and I'd lie there, dozing and listening to the murmuring conversation of my parents in the other end of the house as it blended with the sounds from the large console television in the living room. "The other end of the house" sounds more distant than it actually was--the space from my doorway to the television was only twenty feet or so, since the television was just at the other end of a short hallway, facing into our living room. (And unlike many whose "living room" was the one room where no one was allowed to live, our living room was the hub of our evening family time; we were all there every night, watching television together and talking and laughing and reading and building memories in a thousand different insignificant ways).

Then, after a while, I'd turn on the radio and tune the AM dial to a distant station. I knew where the Rome stations were, and I'd make a point not to tune to them; I wanted to hear a voice from another state, from halfway across the country--and sometimes from beyond our borders. I'd find a Spanish-language station and listen to it for a while, even when though I couldn't understand it; there was something fascinating about a signal that travelled across hundreds or thousands of miles to my room. I'd often go to sleep to the radio, and I'd have to wake up during the night to turn it off lest Mom find it on when she came in the next morning to awaken me for school.

I had also begun doing some other tasks to earn extra money--cutting the grass, raking leaves, all the usual childhood things--in order to supplement my allowance. The extra money made it possible for me to spend 98¢ plus tax for an Aurora monster model, 25¢ plus tax for a Famous Monsters of Filmland, a nickel a pack for Universal Monster trading cards, and still have a dollar or more left to support my comics reading and a dime or so for ice cream two or three times a week. At 12¢ a comic, I generally tried to budget at least $1 a week to ensure that I got a minimum of eight new comics per week; often I'd spend more than that if I could find tasks to earn the extra money.

And of course, every six weeks I'd get a report card, and I'd learned the value of A's and B's; an A was worth a dime, a B was worth a nickel, and that meant more comics or more monster models or more trading cards or more ice cream--or ideally more of all of them. The reward program worked like a charm for me; I always worked for straight A's in order to maximize my report card money, although I'd usually pick up at least one B along the way. Never ever got a C or lower, though, because they weren't worth anything financially.

My own room, my own furniture, my own radio... these were things I didn't have before we moved to Marchmont, and it made me feel like I was really growing up. And as I settled into life at Elm Street School (where I would ultimately spend only my fourth grade year), I was very happy with our new home, where I felt like we had everything that I could ask for.

By the time the fourth grade came to an end, I rarely thought about Garden Lakes any more; West Rome was my home. I didn't even mind it when they told me, at the end of the school year, that I'd be going to the new West End Elementary School next year. My friend Phil was going there as well, so I didn't have to find a new comics buddy.

It's a good thing I had a comics buddy, too--because the rest of 1963 and 1964 were going to be remarkable in their impact on my life.

Back to the Basics

For the past few weeks, as I've mentioned previously, I've been sorting through the bookshelves, pulling out books that I no longer value as much as I value the space that they occupy. There's nothing wrong with the books in question, mind you--but I don't have to have them in these editions. Many of the books are signed limited edition volumes, long out of print, including books by Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Moebius, Ray Bradbury, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Moore, and others.

The thing is, I bought them signed, and I don't have an emotional attachment to them. I have some signed items that I cherish, because I watched the person sign it to me. And I've come to realize that, in many cases, it's the memory, not the book itself, that holds all the value.

So From Hell goes back to the store to find a home with someone who'll appreciate the signed limited edition more than me. Same for several Sin City books. I'm also parting with a lot of collected editions of more recent material that I've enjoyed on multiple occasions--but I no longer have to have that particular package, since I have a comic shop and can pick up a collection of most of this stuff at any point that I want to reread it.

So far, I've managed to clear off more than twenty linear feet of books. What I have discovered in the process, though, is that there are some books that remain valuable to me on a personal level; not only did I not get rid of them, I even put some effort into organizing them and flipping through them again. Marvel Masterworks... DC Archives... Robert E. Howard... H.P. Lovecraft... Doc Savage books... Ballantine Adult Fantasy... Clark Ashton Smith... the Shadow...

Yes, I see the trend, too. Most of these are books that enthralled me as a child and a teenager, and they haven't lost that sense of wonder. I wouldn't dream of giving up my Howard books, even though I have the Conan stories in about six different forms. I'd never get rid of the Doc Savage books, even though I know that some of the latter books are pretty weak. And I can spend an afternoon perusing classic runs of Flash or Green Lantern or Fantastic Four or Spider-Man or Thor or Justice League...

Who knows? A few years down the line, some of those books may be the next to lose their homes... but I doubt it. I think the memories are so valuable to me that I'll always find a space for them on my shelves... and in my mind... and in my heart.