Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Insect Asides, Part Two ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post (UPDATED)

A 1985 photo of Paul Howley, with an Insect Man
action figure that somebody customized  on his shoulder!

If you missed Part One of this series about That's Entertainment and its very own superhero, Insect Man, you can read it here!

When Paul Howley and I agreed that I would write the Insect Man story in Insect Man's Weird Tales #95, I vowed to research the hell out of Insect Man, plus his friends, enemies, and other affiliated superheroes... You name it!

Before I continue, I want to briefly clarify a section of this story. At the time of IMWT #95's publication, I don't think I was yet a full-time employee at That's Entertainment. But that's not really important to this multi-part "Comical Wednesday" post.

Paul hadn't drawn an issue of Insect Man since the mid-1970s, but he was going to tackle my script. I was excited. Since the very early 1980s, I'd done various commercial writing jobs, and been published, too, but this would be my first comic book script. I'd played around with writing comic stories in the past, but never completed one, never submitted one, and (obviously) never published one.

I mentioned "research[ing] the hell out of Insect Man" above. Luckily for me, Paul had saved every single issue of every single title produced by his "Blue Lock" comic company, starting in 1965. I sat down at a table in Paul's store -- I'm pretty sure he wouldn't take the chance of having me bring these one-of-a-kind items home to read them, nor did I blame him! -- and read them all, taking copious notes as I did so!

I wrote down first appearances of various characters, listed various plot points, and began thinking of how I was going to carry on this twenty year legacy. As far as I was concerned, most of the stories Paul had written had "really" happened, and could potentially be referred to in my upcoming storylines. Some were predictably outlandish, having been written by a young adolescent, and I decided that I could alter or otherwise explain them sufficiently to satisfy an audience of teenagers and adults. Only rarely did I decide a story was apocryphal, like, for instance, the story where Insect Man defeated a giant monster who was terrorizing the city by dropping an atomic bomb on him. Yep, right in the middle of "Cirrus City," Insect Man's stomping grounds during the '60s and '70s. (In my own Insect Man stories, I always assumed that IM had made the move from Cirrus City to Worcester during his years of inactivity.)

My celebrated memory failed me this time. I wanted to use a panel I remembered from the mid-1960s that referred to dropping an atomic bomb on a super-villain  in the middle of a city, but after days of wracking my brain for the title and issue number in question, I came up with nothing! I knew it was a Marvel comic, and I was pretty darned sure it was a Stan Lee quote, but I had to call upon the Silver Age knowledge of Shar, author of the Panelocity blog which I've touted before. Thanks, Shar!

From Amazing Spider-Man #43, script by Stan Lee, art by John Romita, Sr.


I already had a handful of recent stories from others, picking up where the 1970s stories left off. For years, Insect Man had fought a worldwide terrorist organization called SKULL, lead by a villain called The Mummy. And yes, this nutcase actually dressed as a mummy, presumably at all hours of the day and night. In answer to SKULL, the U.S. government had created a huge organization called -- what else? -- Counter-SKULL.

It was the realization that SKULL still existed in 1985 that led the "gub'mint" to reactivate Counter-SKULL. Counter-SKULL convinced Insect Man to come out of retirement. Little had been done about using old members of Insect Man's supporting cast, so my options were pretty much open. I did inherit a plotline which had Insect Man feeling pain whenever he changed from human to insect, or vice versa. I began working on why this would happen, and how I could "fix" it.

My first order of business was to bring back Insect Man's kid sidekick from the 1960s. (One of the primary reasons kid sidekicks -- like Robin, Bucky, and scores of others -- were created in the first place was so the main hero wouldn't have to be talking to himself all the time. I wanted Insect Man's former partner back in action for the same reason.) His name was Greg Nile, who operated in the superheroic guise of Kid Secret. Back then he was an adolescent. After a handful of years, he had quit the costumed hero game to devote more time to high school Insect Man hadn't seen him for fifteen years... and don't forget, in the "Insect Man Universe," characters actually aged. That meant that now, Greg Nile was around thirty years old.

I plotted and began scripting the story. I planned a cover blurb using a handful of cliched, overused comic book descriptions, like "senses-shattering," "pulse-pounding," "awe-inspiring," and "gut-wrenching," but had the words partially obscured by Insect Man himself. He was covering almost all of the name "Kid Secret," too. I'm funny like that. And just for the hell of it, I chose a line from the Marcie Blane song "Bobby's Girl" as my title.

I proudly gave the script, entitled "You're Not a Kid Anymore," to Paul.

I don't recall exactly when Paul told me that he wouldn't be drawing my script, after all. He'd decided that his artwork wasn't good enough. Instead, he'd given my story to another customer at That's Entertainment, some guy I'd never met before named Ken Carson.

I didn't see Ken's artwork until the book was already printed. That meant that I'd be "stuck" with the result.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw this:


That cover was a very good omen, I thought, and as it turned out, I was right!

More next week.

Thanks for your time.

Insect Man, Insect Man's Weird Tales, and all related characters and titles are copyright © Paul B. Howley.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Hey, Remember My "Short Shorts" and "David'Z RantZ?" So Do I!

It would have been so easy to do a Google image search and find photos of women wearing short
shorts -- I mean, try not to -- but hey, I hate being predictable, and most of my readers are women, so...

*  *  *  *  *

1.  Quite a Production...


Have you noticed that movies have gotten longer and longer during the past few years? Most of 'em used to be somewhere around ninety minutes, or ranging up to about two hours, right? But lately? Two-and-a-half hours, three hours, four hours...! You probably think that's because the plots are getting more and more complicated, or otherwise crowded, but no!

I figured it out. The extra time is being taken up by all those freakin' production companies being credited before the start of films today!


"Such-and-Such Studios, in association with These Guys, and Those Guys, and Dem Guys, and... Oh, who gives a f***?!? Can we please show the movie now?!? We've been looking at production company logos for half a freakin' hour!"

So... That's the real reason. No, it is! Trust me.

*  *  *  *  *

2. Put THAT in Your Pipe and Smoke It!



Speaking of movies, I'm old enough to remember when the MPAA-supplied film ratings told what the rating was, butnot why it was G, PG (which had previously been GP, and had been M before that), R, or X. (Fifty years ago, there were no such ratings as PG-13 and NC-17, by the way.)

Now, of course a film's rating is almost always accompanied by the reason or reasons the film received said rating. And I think that's usually a good idea. There are some parents who think it's bad to show a woman topless, but perfectly okay to show somebody's head getting blown off (in which case the character would truly be "topless," but I digress). Some parents feel the opposite way. Sex is okay, but violence? Not so much.

Modern films' ratings also warn prospective viewers if a movie contains one or more rape scenes. This has been the case since people in general stopped thinking of rape scenes as being nothing more than a form of sex scene, and started thinking of rape as being an act of violence. And in the case of filmed rape depictions, I have a friend who is a survivor of being raped on two separate occasions, and she reacts very strongly and adversely to such scenes.

I must admit that I always smile whenever I'm warned that a film "contains language." Oh, does it? So, what, are you telling me that it's not a silent film?!?

But when it comes to warnings, I think it's a tad overdone when they warn you that the movie you're about to see has one or more scenes of people smoking cigarettes.

Well, gee, this movie is set during World War II, at a time when anyone who wanted to be "hep" or "cool" or "sophisticated" smoked. Men... women... children... dogs... 

I've heard of several instances where films and other media have rewritten history in order to remove any depiction of smoking where it belongs or otherwise occurred. (And if you really want a longer discussion of this subject, go to the blog of writer Ken Levine, and read this post, as well as the comments!)

But my biggest objection to the warning that a film contains scenes of people smoking is that anyone, of any age, can be doing nothing more than walking down a street in their hometown and actually see people smoking. Chances are, during a casual walk, you won't get to see someone's head being blown off (thankfully) or see a topless woman (unfortunately).

Actually, it almost always bothers me when the filmmakers impose modern-day sensibilities on any period piece. It's perfectly fine with me if characters in a movie that's set in 1876 talk about "redskins" who can't handle their "fire water." I do not want to see that same film refer to Native Americans with a substance abuse problem.


*  *  *  *  *

3. Return of the Grammar Nazi!


No, no, no! This illustration alone does not make this a "Comical Wednesday" post!

Just a brief rant about words I'm seeing used interchangeably lately:

"Past" and "passed"

"Who's" and "whose"

"Paid" and "payed"

And last, but far from least: One adult female is a "woman," while two or more adult females, collectively, are "women." I am so f***ing sick of seeing one adult female described as a "women!" I mean, WTF, people!!!

And if you don't know the difference between the two words in any of the above examples, before you use them, LOOK THEM UP!!!

*  *  *  *  *


4. "Lovin It?" Not so much...


I went to the McDonald's drive-through today, and as I sat at the second window watching everybody else's order get lined up, waiting for those cars behind me, the person who'd handed me my iced coffee asked me to pull forward and wait for them to bring out the food portion of my order. Three or four minutes later, a pleasant young lady came out with... the wrong order. It took yet another three or four minutes for them to bring out the right order.

Since then, I've been wracking my brain trying to remember the official name of the little cards McDonald's used to give out to dissatisfied customers. I searched online for a few minutes to establish that they still give them out, but I couldn't locate the technical name, so I gave up.

Little, petty things like that realllly get to me! (As you regular readers have probably noticed by now.)

I actually worked for McDonald's (very briefly) as an assistant manager almost forty years ago. I was paid $200 a week, which was fairly good money, except for the fact that it was a salaried position, and if you looked at the hours I actually worked in the average week, I was probably making something well below that era's minimum wage.

Anyway, back then the management kept a bunch of those cards available. Each of us on the management team carried a few in his wallet at all times. Just in case.

As I said, I don't remember the official name for those cards.

We called them the "We F***ed Up Cards."

Uhhh... I hope you didn't read all that waiting for some hilarious finish. I was just venting.

That's what this whole post is about today, pretty much.

Hence the "David'Z RantZ" designation.

*  *  *  *  *

5. Just Another Definition.


And finally... Don't forget, folks, a "cynic" is where you dump the dirty dishes.


Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Insect Asides, Part One ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

Chandler Street was the location of Worcester's That's Entertainment until 1992.

My initial attempts at writing scripts for comic books were unpaid efforts, and this was before the internet. Nowadays, it seems like almost everyone is expected to do creative work for free.

But I digress.

In 1985, I was working for That's Entertainment, self-described as "New England's Pop Culture Emporium." Many people would probably describe T.E. as "a comic shop," and leave it at that, but in truth, it is so much more.

The owner of That's Entertainment was (and is) Paul Howley, who'd been selling old comic books since the early 1970s. (Paul has been telling his very interesting life story on a blog called My Life With Comic Books: A History of a Comic Store since 2009.) He opened T.E. in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1980.

It wasn't long before I discovered That's Entertainment (while on my way to Worcester's only other comic shop, as it happens), when I spotted a sign saying "We Buy Comic Books, Records, and Baseball Cards" or words to that effect. That's Entertainment was then selling mainly new and old comic books, LPs and 45s, sports and non-sports trading cards, and role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. I wasn't at all interested in role-playing games or sports cards, but I was a big fan of both comics and music, so this new store was perfect for me. I journeyed for half an hour (each way) to and from Worcester roughly once a week to buy the new comic titles and "fill holes" in my back issue collection.

Eventually, I started working part-time for Paul. T.E. had a full-time employee named Steve, who eventually left to open a store of his own. At that point, I became a full-time employee, which placed me in charge whenever Paul himself wasn't there.

One of T.E.'s little projects at the time was a "fanzine" (an amateur comic book) called Insect Man's Weird Tales. It was an eight-page, photocopied, 5" x 8" comic book printed in black & white.

The IMWT title had actually begun (under the simpler title of Insect Man) back in 1965. Insect Man (real name Rex Mason) wore a ring that enabled him to change to whatever insect he chose. Actually, he could also change to arachnids (such as spiders), as well as other "lower life forms."

Paul created the character when he was about ten years old, and "became" the character when he and his friends played superhero. Paul also drew each issue (as well as several spin-off titles!) of an Insect Man comic book (on what we then called "math paper") for several years, until finally abandoning it in the mid-1970s.

Yep, this is the cover to Paul Howley's Insect Man #1, from 1965! The "Blue Lock" credited as publisher was young
Paul's variation of the Gold Key comic company of that era. And that chin has kind of a Jay Leno look, dunnit?

Insect Man's Weird Tales had resumed "publication" before I began working for Paul, and its numbering began at #82, since Paul's last issue had been #81. But at first, there was no "Insect Man" in sight in the revived title. Instead there was a trilogy of stories featuring a super-team called The Defensors, followed by a three-parter featuring a character named Psyclone.

With issue #88, however, writer/artist Larry Young decided to bring Insect Man back to his old stomping grounds. Young designed a rather impressive new costume for the revived superhero. The story established that Insect Man had been retired for ten or eleven years, and I believe it was Paul Howley's idea to age Insect Man in "real time," meaning that Rex Mason was now about forty years old.

Check out the upper left-hand corner of this issue. I have no idea what the expression "White Knight" refers to.
I can only assume it was a Larry Young "thing." And please note that the price tag, issue number, and date
are contained in an "H" (for Howley), spoofing the "M" that Marvel Comics was using during that period.

You may notice that Insect Man's outfit resembles Green Lantern Guy Gardner's costume (shown below). Well, Insect Man's came first!


Larry only did one issue before other writers and artists, such as Chris Coleman, Dan Courtney, Holly Basiner, and others worked on the book. Their efforts brought Insect Man's Weird Tales up to issue #94.

I don't recall the exact conversation Paul and I had which established that I would write #95, and Paul himself would draw it, but that's exactly what happened.

Well... almost.

See you next week, fellow babies, and thanks for your time.

Insect ManInsect Man's Weird Tales, and all related characters and titles are copyright © Paul B. Howley.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Pome #5: Brief Visit (Originally Posted on 3/11/2011)


BRIEF VISIT

I've swallowed many a bitter fruit,
Served by you,
With a smile I always trusted to be sincere.

I ignore the whispers behind my back
And once again make the journey to see you.
My smile mirrors your own as you stand before me,
To greet me,
Your "I love you" hanging beside your head
Like a word balloon in a comic strip.

I reach out to touch what I think is you.
Too late, I realize that it isn't you at all
(At least, not the "you" I'd hoped to see again
After all this time!),
But instead, a false sheet of stiff paper
Bearing your image.

As the beckoning, deceitful photograph of you
Collapses and tumbles to the ground,
Taking its "I love you"
And all of my hopes with it,
I feel the cold and familiar steel
Of the knife -- your knife -- as it strikes my back.

Saved yet again by my calluses!
I'm toughened, but never hardened, you see.
I grant myself few limitations
But have the sense to see them where they exist.
I am honestly, truly content
To enjoy the beauty
Of life's many rainbows
Without ever expecting or demanding
A pot of gold at their end.

Your blade falls, broken and useless.
I step forward, never looking back to see the real you.
Instead, I glance downward wistfully,
Looking at your false but loving image,
Which lies crumpled on the ground
Along with so many cherished memories from the past.

I step around the life-size photograph.
(Around it, but not upon it.)
Then, as always,
I continue walking along my private path.

Same time next year, my dear one?

*  *  *  *  *

To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, "Sometimes a poem is only a poem."

Every so often, I'll write a short story or a poem which has absolutely nothing to do with my personal life, but one or more of my readers infer(s) that it does. So, just for the record, let me state that at the moment, I am on fairly good terms with all of my friends, relatives, and loved ones.

Again, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, "Sometimes a poem is only a poem."

The copyrighted illustration at the top of the page is a papercut by the immensely talented Suzy Taylor at Folk Art Papercuts, and is used with her very gracious permission! A perusal of her site and her intricate creations will surely impress you, as it did me.

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Helpful Jesse" (Originally Posted on 11/11/2009)

Here's another re-posting from late 2009. This time, it's a story, not a poem.

Most people "got it," but one person totally misinterpreted it.

Let's see how you do.

Thanks for your time.

* * * * *

HELPFUL  JESSE


Jesse Adams, Jr. had just finished an extremely busy day. He'd coordinated all his class schedules, bought the few remaining books he'd needed, and even made time for a little clothes shopping at a nearby thrift store.

Freshman year at Newbury College in Massachusetts promised to be overwhelming.

His errands done for the day, Jesse headed for his new home, the two-room off-campus apartment in Brookline which his father, a young but moderately-successful lawyer, had arranged for him. As he reached in his pocket for the key, he remembered that his neighbor across the hall, Sharon, had it. Today was the day his new telephone service was supposed to have been connected, and Sharon had graciously agreed to let the phone installer in to do his work.

Jesse's knock brought Sharon, an older but still-attractive blonde woman, to the door. "Oh, hi, Jesse!" she exclaimed, happy to see him.

"Hey, Sharon, everything go according to plan with the phone today?"

"Oh, sure. Let me go find your key," she said, leaving him at the door while suiting her actions to her words.

Once inside his apartment, Jesse dropped a few packages unceremoniously onto a recliner and headed for the kitchen counter.

There sat his prized possession, an early touch-tone telephone from the mid-1960s. Jesse owned a cell phone, of course, but this antique was a special thing! He had bought it at a flea market roughly a year ago and -- with help from his brother -- had painstakingly altered it to work with modern telephone outlets. Other than that adjustment, it still looked as it had more than forty years ago. It was even missing the * and # keys, which hadn't yet been included as features at the time of this phone's creation!

Even as Jesse reached into his wallet for his new telephone number, as provided by the phone company, the antique telephone rang!

That's odd, thought Jesse. Who the hell has this number already?

"Hello," said Jesse. There was no reply. "Hello?" he repeated.

"Who's this, man?" said a lazy-sounding voice.

"You called me, so tell me who you are."

"Don't hassle me, man. Just get Sunshine to the phone."

"Sunshine? Nobody by that name here." Not that I'd admit it if there were, thought Jesse. Sunshine! Geez!

More to himself than to Jesse, the man exclaimed, "Wow, man, I can't believe she's shackin' up with someone else already!"

"She's not 'shacking up' with me! She doesn't live here. I don't even know her."

"Stop messin' with my head, man!"

"I'm not! Look, you've obviously dialed the wrong number..." It suddenly, absurdly occurred to Jesse that after nearly fifty years of touch-tone technology, nobody had yet come up with a word to replace the erroneous "dial."

"No way, man. You think I'm high or somethin'?"

"I hadn't even considered that. Until now."

"Well, unconsider it, man! Right now, I'm as straight as Dick Nixon."

Unconsider? Is that even a word? Jesse wondered, as the man began slowly and sarcastically reciting the number he'd called.

"6-1-7..." he began, stating the area code, "7-5-4..." Jesse waited patiently until finally, the man had given him the remaining four numbers.

"Okay, that is my number, but I just had it installed today. When was the last time you called this chick?"

"Less than a week ago, man, right after me'n'my old lady split."

"Split? You broke up?"

"Well, yeah, man. And she's still got my albums. And my bong."

"Your albums? You mean, like LPs?"

"What else could I mean, man?"

"Sorry, I just have a thing for old stuff... Anyway, it's none of my business, but... why don't you just cut your losses and get on with your life? That's usually best, after someone dumps you."

There was a long pause. "She didn't 'dump' me, man, I dumped her."

"Oh. Then this really is all about the LPs... and your bong?"

"No, man, I..." For some strange reason, the man was evidently mellowing toward Jesse. And Jesse was feeling somewhat concerned about this archaic-sounding guy as well. "I only dumped her because I got vibes she was gonna dump me." "What 'vibes?' What did she do, or say?"

"She didn't say nothin', but she was, like, always pushin' me away whenever I tried to make it with her. She'd tell me not to touch her boobs, 'cause they were sore..."

"TMI, dude."

"Huh?"

"Too much information. Anyway, go on."

"Or she'd have a headache... And the mornings were, like, the worst bummer, man. I'd try to get cuddly and she'd jump off the mattress and run to the bathroom to puke! I was literally makin' her sick, man, you dig?"

"And those are the reasons why you assumed she wanted to break up with you? Headaches, sore breasts, and morning sickness? You dork, it sounds like she's pregnant!"

There was a long pause before the other man spoke again. And, as he had earlier, he spoke more to himself than to Jesse. "Pregnant. Pregnant. Far out."

"Look... What's your name, anyway?"

"Huh? Oh, nobody calls me by my real name, man. Everybody just calls me M.C." He laughed softly. "You know, like the MC5?"

Whoever or whatever that means, thought Jesse. "Look, M.C., if you still care about this Sunshine, and it certainly appears that you do, hang up this damned phone and go to her." Jesse thought for a second. "Umm... You do have a car, don't you?"

"I got a VW van, man." Of course, thought Jesse. And I'll bet there's a bumper sticker from the 1969 Woodstock Festival on it, too. "She's about an hour away from me, but I'll make it. And hey, man..."

"What?"

"What's your name?"

"Jesse."

"Like Jesse James? Far out. Look, man, if she is pregnant, and it's a boy... I'm gonna name it after you, man!"

The two men said their goodbyes. Jesse hung up, feeling rather pleased with himself.

He called his parents' number.

"Hello," said his father, answering after only two rings.

"Hey there, Jesse, Senior! It's me, Jesse, Junior!" he said brightly. "I just got my new phone connected."

"Your old phone, you mean," teased his father.

"Well, yeah," the younger Jesse agreed, "but you know what I meant. I was just calling to give you my new number."

"I've got it now, on my caller ID screen. I'm writing it... Oh, wow."

"Oh, wow what?"

"The number they've given you is the same number I had when I was a little boy! Right down to the area code, in fact."

"The area code? How is that possible? I'm in 617, but you were raised in 508, where you and mom live now!"

Referring to his home town of Worcester, the elder Jesse said, "Actually, it wasn't 508 then. When I was a child, the population of Massachusetts was quite smaller than it is now. There were only two area codes for the state then. Worcester was in 617. The western part of the state -- like Holyoke, where your Grandpa Morton came from -- was 413. 508 didn't even exist until... Well, I don't remember the exact year, but it was shortly before you were born."

Jesse laughed. "You crack me up when you do that."

"When I do what?"

"Start explaining things in detail like you're filming a documentary! How has Mom put up with you all these years?" he joked.

"She likes it. In fact, she finds it sexy!"

"Ew. The thought of you, Mom, and the word 'sexy' is just TMI."

"Oh, stop. So tell me, what's new? How are you adjusting, so far?" Jesse (the son) started regaling Jesse (the father) with his day-to-day activities, leading up to the strange phone call of a few minutes earlier.

"And this character said his girlfriend's name was 'Sunshine,' did he?"

"Yup. I thought all the hippies were Grandpa's age. How'd I wind up with one who sounded like a relative kid?"

"Not sure. But I swear, half the women back then must have had 'Sunshine' or 'Sunflower' for a nickname! In fact, even your own Grandma Irene was nicknamed Sunshine! I remember hearing her called that when I was a toddler."

All of a sudden, half a dozen details came together in young Jesse's mind. The hippie on the telephone who called himself "M.C." and his odd references. The whole area code thing. Grandma Irene's "Sunshine" nickname years earlier. "Holy...! Dad, can I call you back?"

"Sure. Why?"

"I have to call Grandpa Morton."

"Fine, but... Again, why?"

"Well, for one thing..." Jesse began enigmatically, staring with an almost awed expression at his amazing little antique telephone, "I just remembered that Grandpa Morton's middle name is Charles... which starts with a C..."

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