Part One ~~ The 1960s
The very first character -- a superhero --- that I remember creating was "Lobster Man," a rather unimaginative sort who popped into my head when I was about five or six years old. Someday, I'll tell you more about him. But not now.
The very first story spawned by my young mind was the now-painfully-recalled tale of "The Grandson of Dracula," which made its almost-debut a year or two after Lobster Man's creation. Only a few paragraphs of the story were ever actually written down (by my mom, no less), and only parts of it were plotted, as well And if you're a glutton for punishment and want to know more about the story, all I can remember at this late date are two plot points:
- The main character's father -- the Son of Dracula, natch! -- was briefly mentioned at the beginning of the story. He was an American soldier in World War II, who was unceremoniously staked right in his foxhole by another American soldier who'd discovered his true identity. Swear to God.
- The climactic battle which resulted in the death of Drac's Grandson -- I don't recall ever having given him a real name -- took place atop the uppermost tracks of a freakin' roller coaster. Again, I swear to God.
- A Frankenstein mask (Of course it made no sense, but my "costumes" were assembled from whatever I had around the house!).
- A pajama top designed to look like a gaudy sportcoat (It had wide red, white, and blue horizontal stripes, and IIRC, red lapels.).
- A wooden ski pole as a "weapon." I don't know why I used a ski pole rather than one of the zillion toy guns I owned. Maybe it was more in keeping with the superheroes, who didn't kill. Captain America had a shield, not a gun. Thor had a hammer, not a gun. And so on.
- Lord knows what else.
It wasn't Red Raven, either. He came very slightly later, when I was about seven. (Yup, that's another tease, for another time. Sorry.)
I went through a lot of phases when I was a little
kid. I had to, as a sort of coping mechanism for the fact that I didn't have too many neighbors my own age. What I did have was a sister who was six years my elder. She and I didn't play together very much. I remember two games we played a lot, however:
- "Jocko" was what we called the game where my sister played a young girl who owned a monkey named Jocko. I, of course, was Jocko. Yay.
- "Chicken Hawk" was what we called it whenever we would ride our horses -- real horses, I should add -- to various imaginary farms, warning all the farmers to lock up their chickens because the dreaded chicken hawks were coming! Swear to God. Damned chicken hawks never even showed up. (Chickenshit was more like it, apparently!) And obviously, since it was our game, they could have shown any time we wanted them to, and I dimly recall at least one time when I suggested to my sister that such a confrontation was necessary for the sake of an exciting storyline... but no. She controlled these stories. No wonder I wanted to be a writer as I grew older, so I could be in control of the story.
Something else that I had, which was ten times better than neighbors and a damned sister any day of the week, was 4.7 acres of mostly fields, with some surrounding woods... added to an over-active imagination.
When I wasn't in the house watching television or reading, I was usually outside in the field -- my father often instructed me to "go outside and play with yourself" [sic], which was about as racy as the humor got in my house during the sixties -- and that gave me leave to play on one of the two huge wagons we had on our property.
When I say "wagons," I'm not talking about the "little red wagon" variety. Nope. We had two full-sized wagons. One was similar to the old "covered wagon" you'd see in all the TV and movie Westerns... but without the cover -- or metal "ribbing" -- itself. The other was a "tilt-cart," kind of a forerunner of the dumptruck. Both were ancient, and starting to rot.
Potential death-traps, in other words. The perfect playground accessories.
There was no such thing as a "child-proofed" anything in my day. I guess they figured that if you survived all the scrapes, gashes, broken bones, concussions, and the like which you were bound to encounter while growing up, it was God's way of showing the world that He'd meant for you to make it to adulthood all along!
(Hey, not bad. I just managed to combine "intelligent design" with evolution's "survival of the fittest" angle.)
But hey, I'm still digressin' my ass off here, so what's say we only stay stuck in the '60s long enough to say that, in reference to the above photograph:
- Somewhere in the back of my childish mind, I must have been pretending that the green monster toy -- The Great Garloo, by Marx -- was a gigantic figure in his and my "reality." Otherwise, I would've been a pretty crummy superhero to attack something smaller than myself... and with a damned ski pole as a weapon, no less.
- Again, I really have no idea who or what I was supposed to be in the above photo.
Part Two ~~ The 1980s
During the mid-1980s, I was working at a store called That's Entertainment, in Worcester, Massachusetts, which sold comic books, records, sports & non-sports trading cards, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and the like... and just about anything else one could call a collectible. (Can you say "milk bottles," boys'n'girls? Sure you can.) TE's owner (and Jerry Seinfeld lookalike), Paul Howley, was a shrewd businessman trapped inside the body of a "kid" who refused to completely grow up, at least where it concerned things he didn't have to act like an adult to accomplish.
I certainly hope that doesn't sound like an insult. It's meant as the exact opposite. "What I'm trying to say in this awkward way" (Sorry, old Rod Stewart line!) is that Paul generally didn't take things too seriously, which made him a really fun person to deal with, work for, etc.
(One example: Paul used to take a perverse delight in telling people "I sell funnybooks for a living." My personal view was that he purposely used the term "funnybooks" to good-naturedly thumb his nose at those who took the comic book hobby too much to heart. You know, like the oft-seen geek-made-good characters in movies and TV nowadays, who make constant, all-too-serious references to "graphic literature?" That type of person would positively cringe at a term like "funnybooks.")
In fact, it was the last Day Job -- notice I did not use my usual "Crappy Day Job" designation -- which I actually enjoyed going to "work" at.
During my stint at TE, the so-called "black & white boom" -- spearheaded by the fluke success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- hit the comic book market. All of a sudden, anybody who had -- or whose dad had -- two or three thousand dollars to spare could become a comic book publisher. ("Could," and, in far too many unfortunate cases, did.)
Paul and I were both at the store one day, talking about an old TV show we'd both enjoyed as kids during the 1960s. It was a program called The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
According to Paul's recollection of that day, I was the one who asked aloud why none of the comic companies -- many of which had nostalgic licensed projects in the works -- were doing a revival of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series.
Paul and I suddenly became the 1980s equivalents of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, with their old "Hey, kids! Let's put on a show!" exuberance. (I'll leave it to you to decide which of us was Mickey, and which of us was Judy... !) It was decided that That's Entertainment would secure the rights to publish a Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic.
(I am greatly over-simplifying this story! Lord, am I ever! If you want all the dirty details, you can start here.)
Anyway, the decision was eventually made that the U.N.C.L.E. series would feature stories by various writers and artists. Several submissions were... umm... submitted. There was even a sheet of photocopied sketches -- not original art -- and an accompanying cover letter from comics legend Dick Ayers!
Ayers had been working in comics for almost forty years, and had helped usher in the so-called "Marvel Age of Comics" in the 1960s. Personally, I'd particularly enjoyed his work on two Marvel titles, Ghost Rider (a Western character, not the motorcyclist with the flaming skull that came later) and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.
The "fanboy" within me asked Paul if I could keep the letter and the drawings, and he said yes. I "filed" the two pages somewhere and more or less forgot about them...
For about six years, anyway...
* * * * *
That's all you get this week, gang. Sorry! Next week, Chapter Two (including "Part Three," in my quest to confuse everyone!), which is all about Dick Ayers, myself, and the creation of AERO!
Thanks for your time.
Thanks for your time.