Wednesday, November 28, 2018

TerrifiCon 2018, Part Two ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

Here, a bit delayed -- What else is new? -- is the second chapter of my unofficial "report" about this year's Terrificon (or TerrifiCon*) in Connecticut.

First of all, I should explain something to those of you who don't attend conventions, or anywhere else where celebrities show up. Comic creators (as well as other "famous types") generally charge a fee to sign autographs, and set their own rates for said fee.

Right now, for obvious reasons, I'm just going to focus on the practices of comic book creators.

Writers will often sign something for free, or ask for a token payment of as little as one dollar.

Artists generally charge five or ten dollars for their autographs. Why? For a few reasons, actually. Artists are often approached by fans to do sketches of particular characters, and these sketches are time-consuming to draw, but bring in some very good money. Therefore, if one, or two, or thirty people in a row ask for an artist's autograph --  Or, oftentimes a convention-goer will approach an artist or a writer with a good-sized stack of books to sign! -- they're theoretically keeping that artist from drawing a picture that'll fetch him or her big money, so the artists charge the signature-seeker something as a minor compensation. Plus, a lot of fans turn around and sell these autographed books (or whatever else they have the artist sign) for a profit, so I suppose the artist figures, "Why should this fan get something, and I don't get a piece of it?"

(By the way, if you think I over-used the word "artist" in that previous paragraph, it's because it'll be a cold day in Hell when I'll use "drawer" to describe anything other than part of a desk or a bureau.)

As I explained in Part One of my TerrifiCon 2018 posts, there were over a dozen comic writers and comic artists, plus some TV and movie celebrities, from whom I hoped to get a signature or two or three. I brought a printed list of the various writer, artists, and other celebs that I'd "targeted." I also had a relatively small stack of comics with me.

I was fairly lucky. There were only three comic creators that I "missed," one of whom (Keith Giffen) because he'd had a stroke and missed the convention. (I can't find any updates on his condition, in case you're wondering.)

So, to continue with my list of autograph "scores" in no particular order, let me begin with Barbara Friedlander.

Barbara worked for DC Comics during the 1960s. She wrote several stories for their romance titles and, as an editor, actually worked on comics other than DC's romance titles! Barbara was the only guest on a panel moderated by writer Paul Kupperberg (mentioned last time), and shared a few interesting tid-bits about her job at DC Comics, which she left in the late 1960s to get married. (Well, it was the '60s, don'tcha know, and a chance at wedded bliss almost always came before a woman's career.)

I got the impression that Barbara was fairly new to the whole comic convention experience, as opposed to so many of the guests of this convention and so many others.

My main interest in Ms. Friedlander's presentation was to hear about what part she'd played in the creation of a 1960s DC character I'd once followed named "Scooter." The Swing with Scooter comic began with a rather clever storyline. Scooter was an English musician from a hugely successful rock'n'roll band called "The Banshees" who quit the music business and moved to the USA. Put it this way: If the Beatles had been a five-member band -- we're talking about their British Invasion era, not the earlier years when Stu Sutcliffe actually was "the fifth Beatle" -- and Scooter had been that fifth member, it would have fit perfectly with the story presented in Scooter's comic.

The very first issue of Swing with Scooter #1.

Barbara co-created Scooter along with writer Jack Miller and famed comic artist Joe Orlando. She wrote or co-wrote many stories and features in those early issues. And despite what you may have read or may someday read, Swing with Scooter was not just another rip-off of titles published by the Archie Comics Group.

Well, not in the beginning, anyway.

Swing with Scooter #14. I'd given up on the title long before this.

Eventually (and unfortunately), Scooter's stories and artwork (and even the book's logo font, for cryin' out loud) changed to become just another ripoff of Archie. I had stopped reading the title long before then, and was extremely glad to learn that Barbara had left Swing with Scooter (and DC itself) well before the title changed for the worse.

I actually got to meet and speak with Barbara the day after I'd attended her panel. My friend John and I were preparing to enter a room where they'd be holding a panel devoted to Marvel's Black Panther character, and I noticed Barbara speaking with a fan.

John and I had a couple of minutes before the Black Panther panel began, so I got her attention and asked what she charged (if anything) for her signature. I had a copy of Swing with Scooter #1 (shown above) with me that I wanted her to sign later. She said she didn't charge anything, then asked "Why, do some people charge for theirs?" (Things like that are what gave me the impression that she was knew to this whole "convention thing.") I briefly explained that many creators do, and why.

Then I told her I wanted to bring a comic to her table later to have her sign it, and she said "Oh, I don't have a table. I'll just be walking around in the convention hall."

I hesitated before saying "Uhhh, yeah, actually, you do have a table. I've passed it a few times yesterday and today, but obviously, you weren't sitting behind it."

"Oh," she said, turning to a young man who was with her. "We'll have to go find it."

After the Black Panther panel, John and I returned to the main convention hall, and I approached Barbara and that same young man, both of whom were now seated at her table. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that although Barbara was preparing to leave for the day, she had waited just for me because I'd said I had something for her to autograph.

As we chatted, she collected various comics and magazines she'd worked on and loaded them into a briefcase. She really was preparing to leave. We discussed a couple of comic book professionals of the 1960s (and later) whom I knew by reputation, and then I said my goodbyes so she could be on her way.

Another convention guest I met was artist and inker Joe Giella. Joe's career started in the 1940s. He worked for C.C. Beck and later worked for Timely Comics (now Marvel) on Captain America, the Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner. Later he joined DC Comics, where he did the work for which he is most renowned. From the Golden Age and into the Silver Age, he inked characters such as the original Flash, the original Green Lantern, Black Canary, Batman, the Silver Age Green Lantern, and the Silver Age Flash. In fact, Joe is the oldest living Batman artist. (Joe's ninety!)

I do not own a copy of The Flash #123 (shown above), the oh-so-valuable "Flash of Two Worlds" which firmly established the concept of parallel worlds at DC Comics. Then how, you might wonder, did I manage to get the following signature?!?

Quite simple! I cheated. Well, kinda. In the year 2000, DC reprinted that landmark issue as part of their series of "Millennium Editions" and I do own a copy of that, which Joe signed for the (I thought) ridiculously low price of  four dollars.

And here's a treat for you comic trivia mavens! The cover of The Flash #123, published in 1961, has inspired several tribute covers, like the following:

(The "legwork" for the above seven covers was actually done by a guy named Mark Engblom, who runs a fun website called Comic Coverage. Check it out!)

And this fan creation is probably my favorite!

Anyway, did you know that the cover of The Flash #123 was actually based on the cover of a totally unrelated DC title published two years earlier? Here it is:

And now, back to Joe!

Mr. Giella also autographed a "real" Silver Age comic for me, the Giant Flash Annual from 1963 which was and is one of my all-time favorite annuals, as I said here. Joe inked several of the Flash stories reprinted in that incredible issue.

Actually, I was lucky enough to get another classic Silver Age issue signed as well, Green Lantern #16, the 1962 story which introduced the character known as Star Sapphire!

It was really nice to get to meet someone who was involved in the creation of so many comics that I read as a little foxling.

Now, the next encounter I want to tell you about is my meeting with writer (and fellow New Englander) Don McGregor, whose stories I first encountered in the early 1970s. McGregor may be known best as the writer of some incredible, ground-breaking Black Panther stories he did for Marvel Comics in the 1970s, but my favorite of all his works is his run (with artist P. Craig Russell) on Marvel's "Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds" series in Amazing Adventures.

McGregor's style of writing was very wordy -- not that something like that could ever bother me, of course -- and I always felt I was getting my money's worth reading his stories.

Okay, fellow babies, it gets more than a little wordy here – there's that word again, and you're going to see it a lot in the next few paragraphs -- but that's very appropriate, so please don't leave me now!

When I approached Don McGregor's table, he was standing in front of it. He greeted me very briefly, then turned to speak with an artist whose name I unfortunately can't recall. Their conversation lasted quite a while, but I stood a few feet behind Don, waiting patiently because, after all, I had two comics for him to sign. When his conversation ended, he turned and realized I had been waiting. He apologized profusely, walked around to the other side of the table, and sat down. There was no one else in line, so for the next few minutes, his attention was totally on me.

The “Killraven” series was originally called “The War of the Worlds,” as it was based on the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells. Simply put, Wells' story described a failed Martian invasion at the dawn of the 20th century. The Marvel series established that the Martians attacked again roughly 100 years later, and this time, they conquered and enslaved our people. (In 1973 we were safely removed from the 21st century, so creative minds could predict all sorts of things!) Killraven and his band of “Freemen” were part of the resistance, you might say. After a promising start, the series floundered a bit, despite writing by such stalwarts as Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman, and I was on the verge of no longer buying the title.

Then Don McGregor took over the writing chores, and things improved drastically.

McGregor's plotting, characterization, and dialog kept me absolutely enthralled (as they did whenever I encountered his other projects over the years). And my modern-day self suspected – hell, hoped – that Don would be as wordy in person as he was on the printed page.

He did not disappoint me.

Finding only one to bring, out of all the Killraven stories, was difficult. There were two issues that stood out, and I finally narrowed it down to one:

I gave him the above-shown issue of Amazing Adventures, spouting a few words about how much I enjoyed the series, and rather than just saying “thank you” and signing the damned thing, he looked at me and asked “Why did you choose this issue?”

Like he cared.

Cuz he did care.

I explained that the issue I'd brought to him had the satisfactory resolution of a handful of plotlines, et cetera, et cetera.

The story in question contained a sub-plot involving a group of people making a pilgrimage of sorts to worship at the foot of a giant metal archway. At the story's conclusion, that archway ended up being revealed as the remains of a 20th century McDonald's! Don was referring to that when he signed my book, as shown below.

I had one other comic for him to sign. In 1984 and 1985, Don and legendary comic artist Gene Colan (1926-2011) produced two four-issue mini-series featuring a 1930s detective named Nathaniel Dusk. Issue #3 of Nathaniel Dusk II ended on a “cliff-hanger.” Dusk was locked in a steam room, and the heat setting for said steam room was set high enough to fry Dusk in a matter of minutes. The beginning of issue #4 told how he got out of this fix.

Another writer might have spent two, maybe three pages showing how the hero extricated himself from his predicament. Don took twelve pages. Twelve. And he made it interesting. No, scratch that. He made it riveting!

I told him that over the years, I have bought literally thousands of comics, and parted with most of them at one time or another. Sometimes I'll buy one or more a second time, years later. There are even books I currently own which I've owned three different times.

However, as I told Don McGregor, I've had my original copy of Nathaniel Dusk II #4 since it first came out in 1985. And when I said that, he launched into the “story behind the story” of the steam room, as it were.

Wordy? Oh, you bet. And I loved it. I loved it so much, in fact, that I'll even forgive him for twice writing my name as “Dave” rather than “David.” That should show you what a nice guy I can be.

It was only much later that I figuratively kicked myself after realizing that I had forgotten to tell him how much I'd enjoyed his work on Topps Comics' Zorro series back in the '90s! And Zorro was one of my role models!

Next Wednesday: Part Three of my Terrificon experiences, where I describe meeting several artists (and one amazing writer/artist) involved in some of the many comic book stories about Thanos, the main baddie in last spring's blockbuster film, Avengers: Infinity War!

Thanks for your time.

P.S. ~~ COMING SOON! (Watch for it!) A Re-Posting of One of the Best (and Longest) Stories I Ever Posted on This Blog!

*Even their own website doesn't seem to know!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

STAN LEE, 1922-2018, R.I.P. ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

I've had several friends contact me recently about the death of yet another comic book legend, the one and only Stan Lee. Most assumed I'd already heard, while a few simply asked if I had. But all of them know that I'm a fan of comic books (and comic strips as well), not to mention pop culture in general, and so they knew that his death must have affected me in some way.

How could it not?

The fact that most of these friends were not comic book readers now, nor in many cases, ever, says quite a lot about how important Stan was in the creation or co-creation of countless well-known characters that have indelibly etched themselves in our world's pop culture.

Heh. Reading that last paragraph, I'll admit it sounds rather overstated. But it's not.

 Stan with his wife Joan, who predeceased him.

 Stan with unidentified fan. Heh.

Stan in front of many books which he wrote, as well as many he did not.

Stan and Roy Thomas.

Since I'm not about to launch another lengthy multi-parter like my recent Insect Man series, I will not even attempt an actual biography of the man who gave us –- either singly or with one or more collaborators –- such heroes, villains, teams, and supporting characters as Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four (Well, three of them, anyway!*), Nick Fury, the Black Panther, the Avengers, the Inhumans, Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom, Dr. Octopus (Uhhh, what the %$#!& is the fixation with doctors here?!?), the Green Goblin, Magneto, Loki, Baron Zemo, Groot (yes, that Groot), Kraven the Hunter, Kang, the Mandarin, the Puppet Master, the Lizard, the Sentinels, Stilt Man, the Owl, Gwen Stacy, Rick Jones, Wyatt Wingfoot, Aunt May Parker, Mary Jane Watson, Ant Man, Odin, the Mole Man, Mr. Hyde, the Grey Gargoyle, the Watcher, and scores of others, including a monster called – I swear – Fin Fang Foom! And I just gave you a partial list of Marvel characters from the 1960s!

(Over the next few weeks, I do plan to write a few more blog posts about Stan... But none of them will be labeled as Part Two or Three or whatever. Just more stand-alone articles.)

By the way, two quick notes here about that list above:

1. When I say Lee created or co-created Thor, Loki, Odin, and other characters (unnamed here) who obviously came from Norse mythology, I only mean that he had a hand in the crafting of Marvel's versions of these characters.

2. You may have noticed the admission of one major Marvel hero, one major Marvel villain, and even one major Marvel hero/villain, namely Captain America, Cap's bitter enemy the Red Skull, and Prince Namor (better known as the Sub-Mariner) respectively. Well, before Lee even came on board at what was then (“then” being the late 1930s and early 1940s) called Timely Comics, Subby was created by artist/writer Bill Everett, and both Captain America and the Red Skull were created by the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. In fact, the teen-aged Stan Lee's very first story was published in Captain America Comics #3!

Anyway, as told here, I hadn't been reading very long before I discovered Marvel Comics. In other words, I hadn't been reading very long before I discovered Stan Lee and his writing. It may not be apparent in the stuff I write, but his writing was an inescapable influence on my own, and, dare I say it, some of the actual attitudes that I live by to this day.

My first Marvel comic.

I'll bet Bill Maher would have gotten a chuckle out of my saying that Lee's writing influenced me as a person. Maher recently wrote a brief but highly controversial article about Stan Lee, which many have interpreted as a personal attack on Stan. I've read it – and no, I'm not going to link to it – and I see it more as an “attack” on those who, like myself, lament and make a fuss about the passing of someone who created stories purportedly meant for kids. Maher's piece seemed to make fun of all the men (and women) who still enjoy so-called “kid stuff” in any way shape, or form.

(I wonder if Bill Maher, as an adult, has ever visited Disneyland or Disney World? I do know that he frequented Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, which was pretty much the same thing.)

If you've bothered to follow any of the obituaries flooding the airwaves and the internet, you're reading articles which give the man either too much credit for his accomplishments, or not enough. It depends on the sources various writers turned to in order to write their articles, and in some cases, whether or not said writer had a particular “angle” he or she wanted to espouse.

You're probably going to read (or maybe you've already read) that Stan was a prolific genius who created practically everybody who appeared in the Marvel Comics of the 1960s. On the other hand, you may hear that he was just a glory-grabbing company man who signed his name to everything and took credit for the hard work mostly done by artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and so many others.

Neither extreme is true, of course. Such black and white portrayals rarely are. And a lot of comic history is uncertain, relying on the memories of participants in said history whose memories may be faulty. (Stan himself always said he had a bad memory.) Also, most of the men and women who created comics in the Golden Age and even early Silver Age are now gone.

Two or three years ago, I had a conversation with my friend and former writing partner, Skip Simpson, in which Skip informed me (and I'm paraphrasing, of course) that “Stan Lee is so over-rated. All he did was write dialog for the stories and characters Marvel's artists created. Then he took most of the credit.”

Well, forgive me a moment of arrogance, but my reply was basically along the lines of “You've read one book about the entire history of Marvel Comics, and you want to tell me some 'new' details about Marvel and Stan Lee? Really? Seriously?” (And yes, I even discerned which book Skip had read, but I'm not going to link to that, either!)

Long before he became the guy who appeared in all the Marvel films, and even before Stan became the figurehead and public “face” of Marvel Comics, I knew Stan the writer/editor. (Okay, when I say “I knew Stan” I'm not being literal. Never met the man. But by reading so many of his stories – hundreds, at least – I felt like I kinda/sorta knew him, at least a little bit.)

During my so-called formative years, I experienced and/or read about the little innovations Stan Lee brought to the comic medium as a writer and editor. Just two examples, then I'll shut up for today:

1. Back in the mid-1960s, Stan had to personally communicate with Marvel's printer so they would stop coloring Gabe Jones (an African-American who appeared in  Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos) like just another Caucasian. He also used Gabe (and other characters from minority groups) as the focus for various stories that spoke against racial prejudice, religious intolerance, and other forms of ethnic-based hatred. More on that some other time.

2. Stan fought the Comics Code Authority in the early 1970s because they refused to permit any mention of recreational drug use, even to say that drugs were bad. Stan asked, "Then how do we reach these kids?" and when the CCA stood their ground, so did he. He published a trio of Spider-Man stories without that precious Comics Code seal of approval.

Over the years, eclipsed by the image of the ever-smiling company mascot (if I may use the term “mascot” so cavalierly) who didn't take himself too seriously, some of Stan Lee's more courageous stands have been downplayed, if not outright forgotten.

Not by me.

Thanks for your time.

Goodbye, Stan.

*Stan Lee and Jack Kirby co-created Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl (later the Invisible Woman), and the Thing. However, the Human Torch was created by Carl Burgos... although “human” was a misnomer for an android superbeing! The Torch's 1960s Johnny Storm persona was developed by Lee and Kirby.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Unofficial Biography (Originally Posted on 11/16/2011, Edited and Expanded)

(Most of what appear to be photographs in the following post are actually cave paintings. Yes, they're that old. Just sayin'.)

Many years ago -- many, many, many years ago, fellow babies -- on this very date, a foxling was born in a building many referred to by a brand new word: "hospital."

The fox-child was precocious, to say the least. To the doctor whose hand smacked the newborn baby's pink buttocks, the child said "You do that again, and I'll run you over as soon as I get my first tricycle." There is also an unsubstantiated report that the young lad inappropriately touched at least one of the hospital's prettier nurses.

The following photos cave paintings are not in strict chronological order!

In the above shot, the boy's older sister restrains him
from chasing after an attractive young married woman.

Sister Kathy has a "Boy, this is fake, but I don't wanna tip off my liddle
brudda!" look on her face. "Liddle brudda," I must say, looks kinda stoned.

Remember this coat...

Mom sure could get her money's worth when it came to clothing!

The not-yet-Silver Fox had early, solid crushes on at least two of the young girls pictured. Susan (top left), Linda (roughly
in the center of the middle row), and -- maybe -- Sharon (bottom left, right next to him). And I can still name almost every kid shown!

"Stick with me, baby, I'm goin' places!" (Note the unscripted hand-holding!)

Making nice with an alien invader on Christmas Day!

The alliance fell apart, however, when the lad joined the ranks of the superheroes!

"Sam" would have to do until the Fox grew old enough to ride The Lone Ranger's Silver, or Zorro's Tornado!

"I'll remember you, sucker. And someday..." (A private joke for my 2011 readers)

What a charmer!

Every year we'd stay at my Uncle Al's shack cottage on Cape Cod.

Don't ask. No, really. Don't ask.

I was nine-and-a-half here. The puppy is "Freddie," named after the lead singer of the 1960s
British Invasion group Freddie and the Dreamers, even though our Freddie was a female.

A brief stumbling block on the young superhero's road to fame!

Don't ask. No, really. Don't ask.

Uncle Ebeneezer in "The Ransom of Red Chief"

Dressed as a 1950s-style "greaser" for "Dippy Day," a high
school tradition every April 1st. This is from 1974, senior year.

"School's... out... for... ever!"

First band, the stupidly-named SHUDR.

Second, much better band. No groupies due to first fiancée.

Wonder what the song was...

Los Angeles, 1982, traveling in the footsteps of Jim Morrison, kinda/sorta...

26th birthday, 1982. The Doors. Of course.

"Put the camera down and come over here..."

"Now will you put the damned camera down?"

Hallowe'en, mid 1980s

In recent years, illustrations have largely replaced actual photographs. I could do a whole post on the story
behind this one. Our bakery transferred Emily's sketch to a going-away cake when I quit Shaw's Supermarket in 2000.

In recent years, illustrations have largely replaced actual photographs. (Welcome to South Park!)

In recent years, illustrations have largely replaced actual photographs. (Right, Pat?)

As I've said somewhere before, "In recent years, illustrations have
largely replaced actual photographs." (Sketch by Skip Simpson.)

Not sure how this ominously-lit Polaroid sneaked in here...

*  *  *  *  *

The changing
Of sunlight to moonlight
Reflections of my life
Oh how they fill my eyes
The greetings
Of people in trouble
Reflections of my life
Oh how they fill my eyes
All my sorrows
Sad tomorrows
Take me back to my own home
All my cryings
Feel I'm dying, dying
Take me back to my own home
I'm changing, arranging I'm changing,
I'm changing everything
Oh, everything around me
The world is a bad place
A bad place, a terrible place to live
Oh, but I don't wanna die
All my sorrows
Sad tomorrows
Take me back to my own home
All my cryings
Feel I'm dying, dying
Take me back to my own home
All my sorrows
Sad tomorrows
Take me back to my own home

* * * * * 

So sorry if you feel like I lured you here under false pretenses, folks! Thanks for attending my birthday party, fellow babies, and thanks for your time!

P.S. ~~ COMING SOON! (Watch for it!) A Re-Posting of One of the Best (and Longest) Stories I Ever Posted on This Blog!
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