Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friends, I Am Back From The Dead...Quite Literally!

Sometime on the evening of July 2 of this year, I awoke in the Special Care Unit of Emberton Memorial Medical Center. I heard my dear wife Dorrie's voice as my eyes focused. I did not recognize her for a few dismal moments.

And then I spoke: "Wh... where have I been?"

"Oh, Mace," my wife said, tears rolling down her cheek.

It was all explained to me. I had suffered a severe emotional and nervous breakdown. I still have not gotten "the awful truth," but I have been able to piece together the basic story.

After the death of my friend and colleague, "Sparks" Spinkle, I simply "lossed my marbles." I apparently ranted and raved all over town, and, in a moment of pique, wrote the prior entry to this blog.

None of this happened! There is no Culley Harbin. That is the brand name of a leaf blower in my garage. There are no other panelologists of note in this town.

A gentle-voiced therapist, Dr. Drithers, who has been assigned me case, has subjected me to hours of interrogation, as I shiver in my inadequate hospital gown. In his eyes, my attachment to "your hobby," as he calls it, and the loss of "a significant participator in your hobby," as he calls "Sparks," was simply too much for me. That, combined with the loss of our restaurant location, and the ongoing issues with the business, sent me "across the edge."

This is the first time I have had access to the Internet since I iwrote that last entry, ladies and gentlemen. I read it in horror and amazement. Although I must say the essay on "Red" Holmdale iis not half-bad! I may include it in my... oh dear, I had best not mention "the book" here again. Lest those threatening notices appear here.

Those death-threats also aggravated my condition, according to Dr. Drithers. "No one with a... hobby... wishes to see it threatened, or it being the source of a death sentence."

The doctor campaigned endlessly for me to give up "my hobby" and attempt a "regular life, with regular interests," but I soundly pooh-poohed this treasonable talk.

I am home on a trail basis, as my emotional and mental progress have been deemed "significant" by Drithers and by my regular physician. Each step I take, each day I awake, seems fragile, distant, dissimilar. This is the first moment I have had to sit in silence and address you, my gone-but-never-forgotten friends of the Internet.

"Your hobby." Blasphemy! To quote Norman Bates, from the Hitchcock film The Birds, "it's more than a hobby." A hobby is something I equate with balsa wood and airplane glue... with mindless tasks meant to soothe, not edify. Fussing about with paper airplanes! Kites! Let any man, woman or child who is satisfied with such small efforts be welcome to them.

My life study of the art form of panelology is no more a "hobby" than a toaster is a machine gun! More positive events have occured to me BECAUSE of "my hobby" than if I lived "a regular life, with regular interests."

I am sorry to burden you with my troubles, but I feel somewhat ashamed of my "spell." Apparently, there are several newspaper accounts of my actions. I am too mortified to read them. Best to just let bygones be bygones.

I miss "Sparks," but I must accept the cold hard facts that he is gone. There is no one to take his plpace. I spend more time with Dorrie, and we have become closer than anytime in our long marriage. As a show of support, she faithfully paid the monthly rent on the New Pantheon, and inspected its premises weekly to assure the climate was considerate to the vintage newsprint, and that no rodents or harmful insects were "taking up roots" in the longboxes, etc.

I hacve lost a friend, but I have gained a wife. Dorrie says she understands the importance of my devotion to the art panelologic. She encourages me to resume work on "the book," although it is clear I am far from that  point at the present.

With great irony, I now go outdoors to remove autumn leaves from our deck, using the Culley Harbin Lectro-Jet leaf blower. With this note, I shall consider the events leading up to today closed, past history, and promise to forge ahead stronger than ever in my pursuit of the ultimate study of penalology.

Monday, June 9, 2014

My 50th Posting! Grand Day! Meet My New Colleague, Culley Harbin! All This, And "Vapo Man" Too!

This is my fiftieth (50th) posting on this fine forum. It has not proven an "easy" post to complete.

Friends, I am still in a "funk" over the passing of my dear friend ahd colleague "Sparks" Spinkle. Truth told, I battled with the idea of ceasing this "bolg" and perhaps taking a rest from my efforts to preserve panelological history.

Business has stablized at the new, mobile version of Dorrie's Diner, where we seem to be a lunchtime hit with the locals, and with students from a nearby community college. Apparently there are many courses in welding. A common sight in our lunch line are grease-smeared, apron-clad welders-in-training. They have hearty appetites, and, due to their aporns, may eat recklessly, with no fear of "shirt issues."
'Twas Dorrie herself who nudged me one night last week. "Mace," she said, looking over her reading glasses (a crossword in mid-completion), "it's been ages since you went to your little place." (NOTE: "Little place" is Dorrie's "euphonium" for the NEW PANTHEON, my top-secret, climate-controlled vault of panelological treasure and the home of my as-yet-incomplete magnum opus, THE GOLDEN ERA OF THE ART PANELOLOGIC: 1937-1942.)

Friends, as you may have noted, certain low cowards have issued several death threats to me, via their vile, insidious comments in my past postings on this blog, because of my work on this massive tome. This I say to them, in all sincerity:
Fiends! I dare you to shed your cowardly raiments and face me in person! What right have you to threaten me and my loved ones? HA! You can do nothing--NOTHING! Lest I further lose my gentlemanly bearings, I must bite my tongue... except to challenge you cringing ywllow curs to speak to me face-to-face!

There--the gantlet has been thrown. And now back to more pleasant topics. On Dorrie's suggestion, I ventured out in the pleasant late-spring evening, warmed up the Prios, and drove the leaf-dappled streets of my town to the storage facility that houses the NEW PANTHEON.

And on that evening, life changed for the better, friends. 'Twas there I met a kindred soul.

I left the freight elevator, headed for the NEW PANTHRON, when my highly sensitive "beezer" detected the tang, the nutty, rich fragrance that can only be that of the pre-1950 American comics magazine. My heart leaped! Had the NEW PANTHEON been breached? Nae, I said, as I espied the padlock that held yonder door tight.

Before I could re-calibrate, I heard a mild epithet, sounds of struggle, and then a series of gentle, riffling plop-plop-plops. More mild epithets ("Fish sticks!" was one of them), I heard grunting and yet more plop-plop-plops.

Curiosity could not be suppressed! I approached the one open door on the floor and saw a sight that made my heart further race! It was a pile of vintage comic magazines--mostly late Chesler titles such as RED SEAL COMICS, PUNCH and SCOOP. An embarrassed young man, clearly startled by my presence, startled with fright as he turned to face me.

His pale, under-nourished face was flushed, and his glasses sat crooked on the bridge of his nose, below a mop of brown hair. "It's okay," he said, as he wiped his hands on his sweater vest.

"Vintage comic magazines. From the imprint of Harry 'A' Chesler. Some fascinating titles there."

Again he startled. "You know what these are?"

I smiled wryly. "Yes, son, I believe I do." I stepped back to survey the scene within his storage unit. He had several long boxes of what I assumed to contain other vintage comic magazines. In the back of the unit sat a desk, lit by a lone lamp, and flanked by an office chair and a lap-top computer.

"My name is Mason Moray. Have you a moment, sir?" I extended my hand. The youth looked upset, but reluctantly shook my "paw."

"Just trying to index a few things here," he said, as if out of breath.

"A fellow panelologist! In this, of all places!" I exclaimed.

"Pana-what?" He corrected the askew tilt of his glasses.

"Follow me," I advised. Fishing for my keys,  I approached the NEW OPANTHEON, unhasped the lock, and opened the door. I flipped on the lights and the full splendor of the room alit.

"Holy fudge!" the youth gasped. His eyes took in the place--its dynamic murals, its stacks of data, its mighty racks of indexed comic magazines--and, friends, I felt he might keel over on the spot.

He regained his composure, and, goggle eyed, offered his hand. "Culley Harbin. That's my name."

As you know, 'tis impossible for students of the art panelologic to chat idly. We engaged in a four-hour discussion, illustrated with frequent forays to both our archives, aided with some Internet searches (at which young Harbin is a "whiz").

We differed in opinion many times--as do many people, Harbin clings to the insistence that the supposedly "major" creators are the best, and he often seemed quite baffled as to my own likes and dislikes--but, friends, a bond was forged on that cool psring night.

In the course of our long conversation, we revealed information about our lives. I told him about my residency at Dorrie's Diner. He, in turn, disclosed his current position as "information indexer" at the Walter Duff Public Library (which, by the way, did replace those confusing "M"s with new "L"s, albeit with new white plastic letters, noticeably smaller and shinier than their forebearers).

We agreed to meet again one night the next week. Soon thereafter, Culley made a meek appearance at the Diner, where he enjoyed a Bacon-Blast Burger-Dog. That weekend, I visited the Duff Library to catch Culley on his home-turf.

At the checkout desk, I inquired about their "information indexer." The librarian, a polite Asian woman, looked askance at me from behind her over-sized glasses. I mentioned Mister Harbin's name and she laughed. "He's just a book shelver. You'll find him out in the stacks."

I scanned the aisles of shelved tomes. In the non-fiction area, at the mid-700s, I found him, browsing a book that I soon recognized as one by Joseph Kubert. Culley riffled through the pages, shook his head, and said, to himself, "Too heroic. Too durned heroic." He sighed at shoved the book into its rightful place on the shelf.

I faintly cleared my throat. "Mister Harbin, I presume," I said. Culley started, dislodging some books from the shelved cart-on-wheels that was his mobile work-station. "Mr. Morry," he said, placing wrong emphasis on the last syllable of my surname.

"Mor-RAY," I corrected, "like the sea creature. How are you, friend?"

"Indexing information," he said with an embarrassed shrug. He seemed ashamed of his position as a book shelver. We chatted, and I did my best to interject a couple of compliments--such as his peerless adherence to the Dewey Decimal system, which requires an exacting eye and great focus to utilize properly.

Amidst all this, I made Culley an offer. "I conduct a blog about my findings and studies in the realm of the panelological art. Perhaps you have seen it."

Culley thought long and hard, and then confessed: "No. I haven't."

I invited him to peruse the "blog" and, as well, to contribute to it as a fellow peer in the history and cataloging of panelologica Americana, if he so wished. He said he'd have a look at the "blog" and "get back to me."

After that, I didn't see, or hear from, Culley for awhile. On the few occasions I had to visit the NEW PANTHEON, I found his storage space locked and dark. I wondered: had I done or said something to offend this well-meaning youth?

Heaven knows, I am out of touch with the younger generation. They inhabit a realm that would have seemed pure "sci-fic" to my generation, in the prime of its youth. To us, the portable, monophonic cassette recorder, and the Polariod camera, were "high teck." Only the rich owned television remote controls. And long-distance phone calls were both unwieldy and expensive.

The only "web sites" found, in my days of youth, were those in the darkest recesses of one's basement. Those were "accessed" with one quick swing of a well-aimed broom.

Much to my surprise, a large manila envelope leaned against the door of the NEW PANTHRON, with a type-written note attached:

To Mister Moray,



I am sorry I haven't visited recently. Inside this envelope you will see why. I hope this essay meets with your approval. Please return the original comic magazine after you have scanned pages 28-34.



Please let me know what you think.



Culley


Here, without alteration, is the debut essay of my protege, Culley Habrin. While I am astonished, and challenged, by some of the assertions of his text, I see in him great potential, and I hope you will agree that his "two pence" are a valuable "asset" to Panelological Pantheon:

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THE ACHING ABYSS OF "RED" HOLMDALE
An Analysis and Appreciation by Culley Harbin

Herbert William Holmdale was a big man. Big in size, big in stature and big in legend. Good natured, brash and inclined towards practical jokes, Holmdale was known as "Red." The appellation did not stem from the hue of his hair, as some contrarians might believe. Rather, it stemmed from his tendency to have a tomato-bright handkerchief in his pocket at all times.

"You'd always know when 'Red' was in town," fellow free-lancer Fred Guardineer once said. "You'd hear him laughing and humming, chewing gum, and blowing his nose. He'd be hunched over his drawing board like the Phantom of the Opera at his organ. Just drawing away."1

Holmdale is best-known for his humorous features, rendered in a bulbous, primitive style that resembles the artwork of a rural roadside barbecue stand. His clunky but cheerful character construction, combined with such devices as "flying sweat drops," colloquialisms and agitated lettering schemes, brought a fresh angle to the overworked school of humor features for the American comic magazine (or book).
TOP: The most typically-seen side of "Red" Holmdale were his lumpen, primitive humorous comic strips, such as this example from The MLJ title Pep Comics; BOTTOM: Splash page detail from "Dave Lance," Exposed no. 5.
A dark side looms through the entirety of Holmdale's work, which encompassed a wide swath of publishers, from Timely to Fawcett to MLJ. This side was most compellingly seen in a macabre humor series entitled Gloomy Gus The Dispossessed Ghost. The comics historian Frank M. Young has written about this piece, and I highly recommend his essay, "The Enigma of 'Red' Holmdale and 'Gloomy Gus.'"

A lesser-known avenue of Holmdale's work resides in his non-humor efforts. Judging by the grotesque, primitive figures of Holmdale's humorous pieces, one would judge him lacking in artistic skill. Like his colleague Basil Wolverton, Holmdale was a frustrated realist who seldom had the forum to convey his hidden skills as a stylized, vigorous renderer of the recognizable human form in cartoon contours.

Like Wolverton's non-humor work, Holmdale's probably appears primitive at first glance. Lacking in the arduous pen technique of Wolverton, Holmdale used bold, if crude lines to put across his characters and their emotions--the latter usually dark in nature.

Unbeknownst to the fans of "It Shouldn't Happen To A Dog!" or "Willie the Wise-Guy," Holmdale had a passion for shocking small-town crimes. It has been suggested, by writer Rick Collier, that Holmdale was part of a murder in Illinois sometime in the 1920s.2

Despite the writer's allegations3, nothing was conclusively proven. But Holmdale's fascination comes horribly forth in what is probably his most impressive and haunting work for the comics, "The Widow of Death," first published in Underworld Comics issue 3 (D. S. Publications, 1948). Capable of provoking nightmares, this shocking piece shows a path sadly not taken in earnest by the writer-artist.



As it has been written, "the devil is in the details." And the details of  "The Widow of Death" hold us helpless and complicit as its bloody events unfold--not unlike the layers of shredded skin, bone and flesh that are the poor souls who bear the brutal brunt of Belle Guiness.

Compare Holmdale's eight-page account to this factual history on Wikipedia (read it here) and you will ascertain, and see, that, while the artist-writer compresses the facts, makes presumptive choices, and glamorizes the monstrous real-life Guiness, he essentially conveys, in a series of crushing images, the facts of the case efficiently and passionately.

Perhaps Holmdale had heard the details of this horrifying, century-old case in his childhood. His rendition has, in it, something somewhat akin to that of a folk tale, passed down through the generations. Heaven knows, the real-life account is sufficiently chilling to unsettle, and profoundly affect, a young listener.

Holmdale contributed several other serious, usually gruesome, crime stories to the D.S. line of publications. While there is an undeniable sort of flair to some of them, none completely haunt the reader as does "The Widow of Death."

Two close second-place entries in the Holmdale pantheon are found in issue six of the D.S. magazine Underworld. I reproduce their opening (or splash) pages here, for your edification:


I appreciate this opportunity to publicly air my interest in the work of this unjustly ignored creator of comic magazine stories. I trust this essay has not been an imposition upon your time.

1 Guardineer, Fred, "An Interview With Fred Guardineer," Galactic Convulsions issue 7, fanzine published 1976.
2 Collier, William, Pillagers of the Prairie State, World Class Books, 1954
3 
For those unable to obtain this regionally-published, rather obscure volume, the author indicts Holmdale in a modern-day version of the Medieval "highwayman" scheme. According to the book, Holmdale was part-owner and/or cashier of an obscure rural gas station that made fatal "marks" of its unwary customers. The actual murderer/crooks, Walton James Fallon and Michael "Mick" McMahon, were arrested, tried, and executed in 1927 for their heinous, and regrettable, crimes.
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Well, folks, young Harbin might seem a hard "act to follow," especially with those foot-notes--a touch I never thought to add to my own panelological musings! But I feel compelled to "step up the plate" with a humble offering of my own. Perhaps my tastes are less "intellectual" than that of my youthful colleague, but I believe they will offer their own fascinations and add to the discussion ongoing in which comic magazines are no longer considered the "low feeders" of the popular culture world.

My goals, in this installment, are perhaps more "academic" than my legion of fans and followers might be let to expect. But it addresses a serious concern that pervades the final sveven chapters of my in-the-works magnum opus.

The gradual decomposition of the American comic magazine, due to the real-life threat of the Second World War, hangs thematically over my book like a dark zepellin. The slow, sad downward spiral towards "jingoism" and away from "phantasy realms" was a change the American comic magazine would never fully recover from.

Some of the more coarse, less artistically-inclined contributors to the comic magazines clung to the political and patriotical fervor incited by this new wave of red-white-and-blue "freedom fighters."

For the more advanced creators--the "dreamers," as William Eisner named them in one of his late works--this new flag-waving slant was simply a burden to be borne out, for the course of what all hoped was a short and insignificant war.

Sam Gilman was a significant second-tier "dreamer," with the misfortune to have left the panelological scene as this woebegone shift occurred. His "Vapo Man," a contribution to a hastily-assembled, topical comic magazine entitled Man of War Comics, displays the bridge from early inspiration to wartime hostility to chilling effect. Friends, this is not a good piece of work, despite Gilman's most valiant efforts.






An energetic, and some would say gifted storyteller, Gilman was most at home in the knockabout world of a good, solid detective yarn, or a playful costumed-hero fantasia. While the concept of a "Vapo Man" seems ingenious at first sight, the character's shoddy handling soon becomes a source of depression to this reader and student. The faults are numerous:

NO ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH AN ORIGIN: The character is not even properly introduced to us! He simply appears, and goes into battle mode.

NO EXPLANATION OF HIS POWERS: As might be ascertained from his name, "Vaop Man" is capable of producing a vapor, or fog, that serves to confound and disorient his foes. All well and good. But from whence does this extraordinary ability come? From a muttered oath? A magic ring? Special socks and shoes? Without this necessary, and some would say, basic, grounding in reality, no character can truly convince his or her readership.

NO NARRATIVE TO SPEAK OF: No matter how "farly flung" the early and prime panelology could be, its flights of fancy were always grounded in a recognizable NARRATIVE. A story, to be precise. Cause and effect! Beginning, middle and end! It is a small thing to ask of any comic magazine's contents. Yet "Vapo Man" fails to deliver even in this smallest and most essential manner. 'Tis merely several pages of fisticuffs and explosions, with good meeting bad, and nothing more.

This sort of drivel would soon infest all comic magazines, leading up to the unbearable year of 1944--the "black hole of Calcutta" of the panelologic arts. I have often contemplated the burning of all 1944-dated comic magazines in my holdings. That is, of course, absurd. But the thought has crossed this writer's sage mind more than twice!

Pity poor Samuel Gilman! Also known as "Steve Gilman," this creator began his short panelologic career in 1939, for the various titles published by Centaur Publications. His works got off to a promising start, with rousing tales starring the likes of "Dan Dennis, FBI," "The Masked Marvel" and even "A-Man the Amazing Man."

Somewhat like Martin Filchock, Gilman's work was both primitive and lively. Given time, and experience, his work might have blossomed. But, just as the military agenda interfered with Gilman's creative work, it tampered with--and unfortunately ended--his life. Gilman was drafted in early 1942, and given two weeks' reprieve to hastily finish several stories due to publishers. He worked 'round the clock, mostly to provide some money for his ailing, elderly mother.

He was shipped off to New Jersey for basic training, and then sent out to the battlefields. He was one of the hundreds who perished on "C-Day," the oft-overlooked "dress rehearsal" for the more popular and legendary "D-Day."

There were, in fact, no enemy forces present on "C-Day." This "sham battle" pitted two batallions against each other, in an attempt for military planners to determine the timing of a land invasion from the sea. (Hence the name of this so-called battle.)

As Alvin Hoffer denotes, in his heartbreaking account of the maneuver, from his book Secret Battles of WW II: Unknown and Unsung, the battle was to be fought with "blank" ammunition, including "grenades" that simply released a cloud of baking powder. Unfortunately, the poorly mimeographed bulletin was blurred, due to a spilled soft drink, and that vital information that the grenades be harmless was rendered illegible.

The weapons-makers simply shipped crates of highly "active" grenades to this seemingly benign test-battle. All other "ammunition" was, indeed, blank, as that portion of the memo was intact. (How, or why, the suppliers failed to see the discrepancy, is lost to time.)

All those participating in "C-Day" were encouraged to hurtle handfuls of these supposedly inert grenades, so that their velocity could be measured by primitive radar and motion-detection equipment. Instead of gathering helpful data, the event quickly became a gruesome bloodbath. As Hoffer grimly states:

So thoroughly did these grenades do their efficient work--these talismans of casual death--that no one survived the explosive assault. From dogface private to well-intentioned scientist and statistician to war reporter, all lost their lives on that regrettable day. The matter was quickly swept under the rug by top Army brass, and its existence was suppressed until 1971, when papers relating to the planning of the "C-Day" event were accidentally leaked by custodian Hugh Garlin.

"C-Day" is still scoffed at by some war historians--dismissed as "conspiracy theory" or as a tall tale created by bored GIs on patrol--but it was established, via those rediscovered boxes of paperwork, found by the custodian while conducting a routine sub-basement sweeping, that Gilman was assigned to this sham-battle. Did it happen? Was it all a dream? And what of Samuel Gilman?

I am a patriotic American, but I readily acknowledge that there is much to be ashamed of in our country's history. "Vapo Man" may be a pathetic footnote in panelology, but the loss of its creator is no laughing matter. 

I apologize for the negativity of this report. I merely use it to illustrate certain difficulties I face, while shaping my masterwork of research and history. There are many heartaches amidst the triumphs, of the Great Age Panelological.

But I shan't dwell on the sadness long. There is much joy to behold in this artform's colorful, rampant history. There are side-splitting stories I long to share with you, culled from my interviews of yore. But they must wait until the book itself is completed and released!

Speaking of "release," I must end this massive missive now, as the Diner is due to close, and I must tally the day's receipts and supervise the clean-up. As with comics, reality is always bound to intrude upon the color and adventure of life.

Please let us know what you think of Mr. Harbin's essay. Do you wish to see more of his work featured herein? Or should the lad branch out on his own domain? We await your reactions and (I hope) praise! Until next we meet, my warmest wishes for your health and happiness.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rest Well, Fair Friend: A Tribute To Wallace "Sparks" Spinkle (1933-2014)



Friends, I am certain you’ve wondered of my whereabouts these past few months. I’ve often intended to “post” here, as this is my forum to the world at large. But, truth told, there hasn’t been time. I am sure you will understand once you’ve read the following.
A deadly hush has settled over our house since the passing of “Sparks” Spinkle. Truth told, I knew this was coming, but I could not imagine it happening. “Sparks” was a human dynamo—constantly “on the move,” whether it be indexing my panelological archives at the New Pantheon, serving as a one-man advertisement for “Dorrie’s Diner,” sharing beloved movies, cartoons and TV shows with me in the den, or just talking—mostly about our shared passion of comic magazines, but also about the weather, politics, history and recent meals.
“Sparks” passed on January 29th, but only now can I bring myself to write these words. To know “Sparks” was to love him—albeit the latter could take longer with certain people. Dear Dorrie, who at first found him an “odd bird,” grew to appreciate and like him. He was of constant help around the house. As Dorrie said the other day, “before a glass could fall to the floor and break, he was there with the broom.”
I have had to put on hold my panelological passions, over the past several months, as I and Dorrie have cared for “Sparks”’ health in our home. A great variety of wheezing, clacking, thrumming medical instruments filled our guest bedroom. In part, their absence accounts for this awful silence as I write these words today.

“Sparks” was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last October. He took the news in stride. “They can take your pancreas,” he said, “but darned if they can take your soul!” We were both deep in work for my sadly-postponed magnum opus, The Golden Era of the Art Panelologic: 1937 to 1942, when the news came, as a follow-up to a seemingly innocent physical “check up.”

Dr. Doynter caught the cancer in its earliest stages, and immediate treatments were applied to the area. In these treatments, “Sparks” was hooked up to a machine right out of a treasured issue of Science Comics, circa 1939, for three hours daily. What this vast machine did, I still do not know, but it enabled him to live a normal life for the other 21 hours of each day.
And live he did! Despite my constant council against it, “Sparks” continued his spree as “Super Senior,” patrolling the streets of our fair hamlet by night. Most of his forays were unexceptional, but he did prevent a carefully-planned robbery of a fur vault. Armed with his harmless-but-irksome aerosol cans of “Puppy Uh-Uh” and “Kitty No-Go,” he ventured downtown one November night, in search of after-hours parking meter violations.
A sudden flashlight beam attracted his attention and he crept into a nearby alleyway. There, he heard a volley of hushed voices. Down the alley he went, and through a door that had been jimmied open.  A group of 11 professional criminals were at work in the basement of Feller’s Jewel And Fur Box, our area’s leading store of such luxuries.
Their evident intent was to break into Feller’s un-alarmed fur vault, rob it of its morbid resources, and then burrow into the jewelry store to rob it of its riches.
Apparently, all was not well with this band of thieves. As “Sparks” later related to me, “two of ‘em was arguing about how they’d split the money. One guy, he wanted more than the others, and they had words about it. Started duking it out, right then and there. And, brother, that’s when I called the cops.”
Using a phone in the basement, “Super Senior” phoned in a tip to local police. Within minutes, the law had arrived. The fist-fight was in full swing, and it took the police three tries to get the attention of the thieves. All 11 were arrested. The police publicly thanked the “civic minded citizen” who informed them of this crime.
Had the thieves “gotten away with it,” they might have stolen three million dollars’ worth of assorted baubles and furs. All have been imprisoned. A court order demanded that Sid Feller install an alarm system for his fur storage vault.
“Sparks” did not claim boastful credit for this triumph. “Heck, anybody with two legs an’ a set of eyes coulda spotted it,” he said. Dorrie made a special victory meal to celebrate this, the final annal in the casebook of “Super Senior.”
It should, by all rights, have been the final annal. But, despite his assurances that he would no longer don the Pepsi sweatshirt, “Sparks” snuck out, one rainy December night, to do a brief street patrol. A light winter drizzle turned into an unexpected downpour, and my dear friend was drenched to the bone. He returned home and failed to properly dry himself off. He complained of respiratory discomfort the next evening.
Not even Dorrie’s “Jewish Penicillin” could help him. Pneumonia set in immediately. From that moment on, “Sparks” never again left his bed.
Despite this, he demanded that we continue on the book project. I spent many days seated beside him, in my office chair, as we examined fragile vintage comic magazines to determine their authors and artists. “Sparks” had an encyclopedia of panelological knowledge in his head. The loss of that “data base” is inestimable.
Each day, “Sparks” was, obviously, a bit weaker, but his vigor for life kept him going, to the bitter end. In his last days, he ate an inordinate amount of “Pecan Sandies” cookies. They were his favorites, and we could not deny him this death-bed treat. Dorrie and I are still finding mounds of the cookies’ brittle crumbs around the house. His appetite for them was insatiable.
I was with “Sparks” in his last moments on this earth. Dorrie could not be there; she had to run our restaurant, which continues in its “food truck” capacity, quite successfully. It is so much easier to operate than a “brick and mortal” establishment. But more of that matter another time.
“Sparks” took my hand and said these unforgettable words to me:

Mace, you’re a pip. Best pal a guy could ever have. You and the missus have made these last coupla years the best ones of my life. Now, don’t get all blubbery, Mace. You got to promise me you’ll keep up the good work. Keep these stories and comics alive. It’s up to you. Promise me you’ll finish that book.

I promised him. He smiled and squeezed my hand. “That’s a boy. Now how ‘bout a Sandie?”
I turned to the container of Pecan Sandies. One cookie remained. I removed it and turned around to give it to him. Feebly, he grasped it. I helped him guide it to his mouth. He bit down on the “Sandie” as he breathed his last.
It had been a “blue Christmas” in the Moray household, due to “Sparks”’ illness, but he insisted we celebrate the holidays with the ritual opening of my safeguarded eBay purchases. How he quivered with anxiousness as I opened each parcel! How he beamed with joy as we examined each new addition to the New Pantheon!
One unlikely purchase truly sparked “Sparks”’ interest—a copy of Manhunt Comics #6, from the impossibly late date of 1948. “Sparks” and I consider the Manhunt title to be the final vestige of panelological greatness—one last burst of the primal energy that made “the comics” so vivid, so vital.
Of especial interest was Fred Guardineer’s “Space Ace” feature. “Sparks” read the story on the spot, and pronounced it “the corker to end all corkers.” Thus, in memory to Wallace “Sparks” Spinkle, and to his ever-lasting legacy on the fine art of panelology, I present this “corker” for your enjoyment. Read it, and think of “Sparks.” His work—and words—shall never be forgotten.

And this I promise you, friend—despite death threats, despite the heartache I feel, I SHALL complete and publish my book. Verily, my comrade, I shall make you proud!

I shall resume regular posting here shortly. I want to keep the “good word” alive and well, for those of us who still believe.





Saturday, September 7, 2013

Oh Glory Day--Mine Book Has Arrived! All This, And More Thrills, From Science Comics! Plus Restaurnat News

No, dear friends, 'tis not a dream... 'this not a hoax! 'Tis not yet complete, but I felt compelled to share this thrilling cover image for my nearly-half-completed tome on our favorite topic!

Designed by our local asthete, "Ray-Don," this cover encapsulates all I hold near and dear to my quiverng breast. There are a couple of small refinements (or "tweeks" as my deisgner calls them) to "smooth on out," but I feel 'tis ready enough to share with you, my friends, my world!

As I continue work on the book, I fnd the page count continues to grow. Friends, this tome could indeed top 4000 pages, least I contain myself and include onlt the most essential and relevant information.When next I post here, I hope to have a "pre view" of the contents. Since so much of my research material is top-secret, and known only to me, I feel that this book will collide onto the scene of panelological history withthe immediacy and power of Halley's Comet!

'Tis immodest of me to proclaim, but I feel this volume will forever change how we view comic magazines, their creators, and their almighty capred crusader heroes!

I would like to solicit feedback from you, friends, on this cover design. Please be honest--do not spare me with your feelings, good or bad! One thing I wonder: ought the cover to have more heroic figures 'pon its fair face? Or would that make it too "active?" Do the colors please you? And the typographic "fints"? Be brutally honest Your opinions will only make this a better publication!!!

And now onto recent news "flashes":

Concerned about losing our patronage, Dorrie (with the suprising suggestion of mute Katrice) has come up with a creative solution. Perhaps you have heard of the new phenomoenon of the "food truck." 'Tis rather a "meals on wheels" for the non-elderly. The older amongst us will recall the food wagons that once serviced hungry working men during the nation's many lunch hours.

This is a twist on that old trope. Instead of day-old egg salad sandwiches, bagged cookies and such, "Dorrie's Diner II" offers a short list of the spouse's most famed concoctions. Famished passersby can easily read the six-foot laminated menu board, choose their favorites, and within moments, the mouth-tempting entree will be theirs to enjoy!

Raphael no longer has the maitre'd/waiter roles, in this transitional state, so he is our grandest promoter. Standing by Highway 11B, dressed in eye-catching colors, he waves and waggles an arrow-shaped sign in one hand, and a checkered flag (seen at the "victory line" of an auto race) in the other. Raphael has a different, and surprising costume, for each day! Yesterday, he dressed as a Frank Buck, "Bring 'em Back Alive" type jungle adventurer. Today, he wears a 1950s prom dress, with a blonde wig and make-up to match.

His creative flair keeps the mobile diner hopping. Dorrie and Katrice work by the grill. The bulk of their work is done early in the day. With six items on our menu (plus three desserts, fries, and such), the "women-folk" prepare large quantities of each entree. When a customer places an order, they need merely heat up a portion on the grill and viola! An almost instant, gournet-quality meal, for a reasonable price!

I take orders and tender cash. (We cannot accept debit cards; we accept checks from those we know and trust). Since our menu is so spartan, my shout of "a number four!" or "let's have two fives, ladies" is easily communicated to the culinary brain-trust.

It is hot inside that vehicle! I have learned to wear only T-shirt and boxer shorts during my sweaty shifts in the "Diner II." No one can see that I'm only semi-dressed. That is, save for one misfortunate Wednesday last week.

Raphael had determined that one of our rear wheels was a bit loose. The body of the mobile diner was prone to rock a bit during windy days. The rocking and shivering sometimes proved worrisome, but never so much that I cared to check on the wheel's state.

Due to public demand, we offered large basins of various condiments and sauces, each with its own stainless steel ladel. Our ever-popular "Sloppy Does" tend to be decorated with additional, and sometimes unapt, complimentary doses of ketchup, sweet relish and such. These basins, each with a tight-fitting lid, can be sealed easily at the close of each business days, and stored in our "on-site" refrigerator to await another day's service.

Sounds convenient, eh? And yes, for a spell, it was "just the ticket" for our eager enjoyers. That sweet spell was intruded upon one calm August afternoon, as a Boy Scout troop appeared, rabid with hunger after a nature hike.

Orders for "Sloppy Does" and "Bacon Blast Burger-Dogs" flew thick and fast, as the khaki-clad boys surrounded the vehicle. Unbeknownst to us all, two mischevious older Scouts took it upon themselves to "repair" the loose wheel.

In doing so, they "accidentally" loosened the tire which, at a downward angle, easily slid off its axis. Soon, we all became aware of a constant gentle rocking-and-rolling. Peals of eager laughter was heard. Finally, after one dreadful shudder, I heard multiple voices shout, "RUN!"

With that, the Diner tipped forward--it lurched, to be more precise. With the lurch, the basins of sauce emptied upon the trouble-prone scouts--a fitting punishment, in retrospect. The sauce-doused boys were still hungry enough to wolf down their sandwiches. Their scoutmaster gave me a sly, knowing smile as he paid the troop's bill.

The loss of our condiments  (and the wheel) caused us to close shop for two days. The wheel proved impossible to restore on our own, so a tow-truck from Hank's Gas-n-"Go" was summoned. The mobile diner was righted, and the wheel restored.

The combination of sweet and spicy sauces had attracted a swarm of crazed hornets. Our lives were in clear danger! We closed the van and returned the next morning with several sacks of "Kitty Litter." The pummeled clay absorbed most of the saucy damage. The ground was littered with the corpses of over-sated hornets. They had died in a state of rapture!

Order has since been restored, and the open basins replaced with quart-size pump bottles, which are chained to the counter of the van's opening. 'Tis just as well. What good fortune that, say, the mayor of our fair town, or one of its prominent social "queen bees," was not at the order window in that fateful moment.

Remarkably, all the entrees on the grill had not moved one iota! Dorrie's food is rib-sticking nutrition.

Now that stories of the "home front" have been exhausted, onto more pressing matters.

I'm sure you all have many questions about my forthcoming tome. Indeed, I, myself, have myriad quandaries about the project. Am I saying too much? Too little? Is my focus biased, rather than objcetive? These are reasonable concerns for any man of letters, or any historian.

After four decades of constant research, I am still stunned to find new "nuggets of wisdom" in areas where I felt there was no more to be known. Recent research has given me a great "back story" on the life and work of "Lester Raye" (real name: Larry Estee). I'll save these facts as a sort of "teaser" for my upcoming book. I am proud of my chapter on the Fox title Science Comics, which is titled "A Pinnacle Rare." Seldom did the golden age of panelology aspire to greater heights; seldom were such heights so suddenly, heartlessly dashed to oblivion.

"The Eagle" is a prime example of the comic-magazine feature that blossomed, and too soon withered into a sere nullity, as the war-drums of 1941 beat loudly. Here, for the benefit of you, my dear friend and colleague, is the finest hour of this feature. Savor each panel; prepare to be amazed!









As more astute readers will realize, "Lester Raye" was an anagram of the talened-but-overlooked Larry Estee. Born in 1911, Estee had no formal art training. Indeed, he had never considered drawing or art before he lucked into a job with the then-successful comic book empire of Victor Fox.

"I always liked pictures," Estee said in his lone 1969 interview. "But I figured they had some sort of device that made them up. I didn't realize that living people did these things," Estee was hired as a messenger for Victor Fox. "He loved to send what he called 'living telegrams.' Sometimes, you'd have to sing them to a popular tune. I had a good clear tenor voice, and that got me the job."

Fox's "living telegrams" typically consisted of mean-spirited taunts to rival publishers. "I'd have to walk into [Martin] Goodman's shop, or [Harry] Chesler's, and tell them how successful Victor was, and how much the ladies liked him, how nice his shoes were--that sort of thing. It didn't exactly make me popular. One time, I got hit with a T-square, right on the noggin! I still feel a bump from when that happened."

Quickly realizing his potential fate, Estee was determined to improve his status with Fox. "I told him I could draw pretty swell, and he bought it.I had really gotten Irving Donenfield one afternoon, with a downright nasty singing telegram from Fox, and he [Fox] was in such a good mood that  he hired me as an artist. He sent me home with a script and some drawing paper."

Despite no formal art training--or any prior inclination to so much as doodle--Estee fearlessly illustrated "The Eagle," which was to be the lead feature in the sixth issue of Science Comics. "It wasn't that hard," Estee boasted. "Heck, half the fellows Fox hired were winos, dummies, or worse. If they could do it, I could do it."

Through sheer force of will--augmented by "copying the funnies, which everyone else did"--Estee completed the story over a long weekend. The fungus monster, which features so boldly in the tale, was inspired by his mother's house-coat! "She had this ugly old green robe, worn out, with these flowers--I guess that's what they were--on it, She wore that thing night and day, so she was my first model! She didn't even realize it. She never even asked what I was doing in the kitchen with ink and a drawing board. She kissed me when I brought home the paycheck."

Estee's artwork became more polished, as 1940 wore on, but it also lost some of its excitement. He soon developed a professional style that ensured him a long career with the Fox company. "It was just a job with me. I didn't care a whit about the stories. They were usually the same damn thing over and over. Just crap. But I did them. At one point, Victor gave me a raise to six dollars a page! That was a great day. I still think about it."

Estee was drafted in early 1943, and he saw military action in Italy. "I didn't even think about comic books in the Army. I was too busy dodging bullets to care! We all did."

Upon his return to civilian life, in 1947, Estee took advantage of his status as one of "The Big One's" fighting men. "They had a law then, you could go back to where you used to work, and they would fire someone who didn't serve, right there on the spot, and give you his job. Well, that's what I did. The guy was in the middle of a story and they sent him packing. I finished the thing. I was a little rusty at first."

Estee was a mainstray of Fox's lurid crime, romance and teen humor titles through 1950. "By that time, I got tired of the business. The stories were dirty, and when people found out how I earned my money, they wouldn't speak to me. I was married then, and had a family to think of." With pressure from blue-nosed censors looming, the comic book industry was in peril.

Estee left at the right time--and changed careers in a surprinsing way. "I became a tight wire walker for Bregmann's Circus. It was a little company that toured the coastal Northeast. They ran an ad in the paper and I just showed up. I got pretty good doing that stuff, and the kids loved it."

But a "carney's life" was not to Estee's liking. "Those folks made the comic book boys look like priests! Swearing, drinking, gambling--and I was a pretty innocent kid!"

Thus, Estee again switched careers. "I saw an article about rocket science, and thought, 'what the heck, I bet I can do it.' And sure enough, the government hired me!" Estee was a member of the team that designed various Apollo space missions. "I'm in the history books! Who knew, back when I was drawing 'The Eagle,' that I'd be sending a man into space? I've had good luck, and I admit it."

Estee died a happy man in 1979--in a rare occurence for the business of panelology. He failed to note one achievement of which anyone would be proud. Given that Estee was a  modest man, it's understandable that he might have overlooked this one feat of his life. Recent research has revealed that he held a 1970 patent on an automatic, touch-sensitive dispenser for paper towels--that commonly seen in restrooms around the world.

If you don't have to touch a crank, or push a button, to receive clean paper towels in public, you're using "the Estee model," as they're called in the field of mechanical service devices. Estee lost the claim to his idea in a 1971 poker game, and others profited highly from his ahead-of-its-time concept. Such is life, and such is business. One man's dreams are most typically another man's fortune.

POST-SCRIPT: It has been brought to my attention that anonymous threats have been made to me, via the "comments" section of this "blog." I demand that the perpetrator of this heinous misdeed show his or her face, and apologize at once! Apokogies to the rest of you for this airing of my "soiled laundry," but I must ask that this people (or peoples) cease and desist at once. There are authorities and punishments for such seditious acts, as you certainly must realize!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Life's Dear Dreams... "Up In Smoke"

'Tis with great sorrow that I return to the bloggnhg scene. This article, from the local newspaper, tells the story with grea t clarity:

This dreadful night still reverbates in my thoughts. I am every so grateful that none of us was hurt, and that, yes indeed, we were "insured up the yazoo," thanks to the relentless advice of our next-door neighbor, Burt Liffler. It was imperative that we doubly insure our home, during the time that "Dorrie's Diner" occupied its first spot.

When we moved to what we thought our permanent location, the insurance contract was transferred, with additional "riders" to accomodate the bistro's placement in an actual, "standing-alone" place of business.

We are awaiting the red-tape of the insurance inspector's paperwork to "wrap up," but we have been assured that we will be nobly recompensed. It  has been intimated to myself, in a "hush-hush" private communique, that our payment may exceed the amount of money we have put into both incarnations of the "Diner."

So rest assured, dear friends, that we are not in "the harmed way." Rather, we are on "comfy street," despite the horrors that still occasionally jolt us out of a sound night's sleep.

We are each thankful for what didn't occur. Dorrie is relieved that no one was in the Diner when the accursed fire occured. I am, of course, glad of that too. 'Tis double relief for me. That fateful night, I had almost forgotten to fetch a parcel of precious comic magazines that had sat 'neath the front counter for a few weeks.

Among the items in the archival quality box were several issues of what I consider the ne plus ultra of the Age Panelological--the Fox Features title, Science Comics.  It was, quite simply, too good to be true. While more pedestrian Fox titles flourished, Science was axed after eight mere issues.

There will not, I'm sad to say, be any panelological gems in today's posting. I  have been so busy with research and organization for my ongoing book project that any time spent with comic magazines has been devoted to their close scrutiny and study.

While "taking a breather," I stopped by my local comics emporium, Killer Comix!, and chatted with its owner, Bart Jaffney. In our talk, my passionate testimony of the wonders of Science Comics moved him to demand an audience with the rare issues. He assured me he would purchase a new pair of Farrago Research Gloves (the finest handling gloves for contact with aging acidic papers), and examine them in my presence.

Poor Bart! He spent 15 minutes paging through four issues. He uttered an occasional "huh!" or "huh?" before adjudging them as "pretty cool." I could tell he was just humoring me, and that his modern comic magazines, which he vends by the carload, had blurred his vision for the better things.

I cannot criticize him. It would be as if I had asked a steady consumer of store-brand grape "pop" to tender his opinion of subtle fine wines. They might seem bitter and unpleasant to his palate, so used to carbonation and the chemical artistry of the grape flavoring.

Similarly, were you to place a platter of fine Sherpa cusine before me, I might moodily pick at it, perhaps taste the corner of one seasoned potato, and deem it "okay." We all have different tastes, and bless the world for this!

Dorrie and I have been in coupled counselling. We are part of a group entitled "Survivors of Fire: A Healing Community." The group meets twice weekly in the "Bronson Room" of Chip's Broiler, a fine-dining establishment located downtown. The leader of the group, Melinda Marx, speaks in a softly lulling voice that puts me under within 15 minutes' time.

Parking is iffy, and I am often rudely awakened with a nudge of "the wife"'s elbow and asked for my input. I personally am no survivor of fire--I stood within 300 feet of the blaze, in my bathrobe and house slippers, but that, to me, does not comprise "survival."

Were there a group entitled "Observers of Fire," I might more boldly partake of the twice-weekly event. It seems helpful for Dorrie, as she seems very upset at the demise of the Diner. Perhaps I take the events too much in stride, as a panelologist.

We "men of the page" are accustomed to the dashing of dreams. That lone issue that would complete a run remains just out of reach; one cup of water, coffee or cola can destroy a prized periodical in a second's time; if abused in their first years of life, these comic magazines are slowly dying, browning and flaking away before our eyes. We are, thus, more incliged to "wax philosophical" about loss and tragedy.

The world gives... and it also takes away. But it does keep giving. As a result of the fire, we will  be able to take a vacation to Lake Tahoe. There, Dorrie will sunbathe, dip herself in the chilling waters of the great deep Lake, and play volleyball with complete strangers. I will relax in air-conditioned splendor, as I continue my ongoing research for my magnum "opus."

As well, I have been alloted 3,000 dollars in "madness money," to invest in more vintage comic magazines. I plan to purchase replacement copies and condition upgrades of several key issues in the New Pantheon.

It just happens that a comic-book convention will be held near Lake Tahoe, on the weekend of the eight-day stay we have booked. I hope to acquire some of these gems in-person. I am accustomed to ebAy, and find it a suitable conduit for new purchases. Still, nothing can replace the thrill of a first-hand "find." The sudden sight of its bright colors, its alluring protective sheath, the shock of its hand-lettered price tag,and the resultant "dickering" with its vendor, are all near and dear to my heart and soul.

While revisiting some of my early "Fanzine" efforts of the 1960s, I encountered this poem I wrote, at age 19. Its sentiments are as true to me now as they were in 1970, when I first penned it. (At the bottom of the page is the end of the last interview with , who was an inker of Western comic magazines in his final days.)


I fully intend to comtinue this blog, and after our return from Lake Tahoe, I shall no doubt have much news to report. For one thing, we've entrusted the household to "Sparks" for the duration of our vacation. I trust this structure will still be standing upon our return!






Saturday, March 2, 2013

"The Black Orchid"-- and the stunning story of its creators, Albert and Florence Magarian, from the enigmatic Tops Comic Book

Friends,

Greetings and salutations! I seem doomed to begin these "posts" with an apology for my protracted absence. However, this time it is kustified.

I have been recovering from my "nasty spill" of late last year, while also working with efreveish intensity on my masterwork royale: The Golden Art of The Era Panelologic: 1937-1942. My original estimate of a trifling 1,000 pages now seems too modest. Indeed, this tome may well encompass 5,000 pages of fact, history and great comic book work from these six most golden years.

I trawl through a lifetime of research, interviews, doscuments and other facts to achieve this goal. It is my hope that this long-overdue book shall be taught in universities and other institutes of higher learning, and live long past my brief stay on this "mortal coil."

I am oft made keenly aware of material that falls beyond the scope of my "tome," but which still intrigues me, as it contains the essence of the art panelologic. Great works succeeded the "golden six" years of my book. Thus, I feel an urgency to share it here, while "the iron" is "hot."

In 1979, I acquired a most unusual comic book publication. So unique is its format that I had, indeed, forgotten I had it! It was stored, page by page, in a series of archival rice-paper envelopes, tucked in the middle of box W-3.

This book is the stuff of which dreams are made. There is a bit of intriguing history behind its publisher. The humbly named Consolidated Book Publishers were what one might wisely call a "journeyman press."

Their presses rolled night and day, printing everything from newspapers to banners to coloring books to restaurant menus. Their Apex Laminaster 2200 gave them the "edge" to succeed in printing any documents that needed protection, via a laminated cover.

By 1943, the comic book boom was duly noted by even the least likely sources. Due to "the war," comic magazines were the preferred reqding matter of our boys overseas. In their shell-shocked state, great work sof literature were beyond the grasp of "our fighting forces." Whereas, the immediacy, impact and power of the panelological page spoke directly to their needs and hopes.

Thus, Consolidated hoped to join the comic-book boom. It was seen as "the right thing to do," and a patriotic gesture of solidarity towards "our boys."

In-between a large run of laminated menus for a railroad line, they attempted to publish their first, fledgling effort in the comic magazine realm: Tops Comics. At a bonus 128-page size, the brick-like booklet would be shipped overseas and dropped, by parachute, into the theater of Pacific war. Copies, of course, would be sold "state-side" at news stands, but the idea was to give "the boys" a solid selection of thrills and laughs--the latter served up with a ream of "little moron jokes" and the detective spoof of "Dikky Dinkerton."

Due to a misunderstanding of the press operator, the entire run of Tops Comics was accidentally printed on laminated menu paper. Thus, one 128-page issue weighed some 14 pounds, and had a girth of nearly one foot! This was deemed unwise to ship overseas (altho' its laminate would have aptly protected it from the humidity and grime of the Padific Theater).

To make the matter worse, after the loss of revenue in waste from this printing mishap, newsdealers refused to carry the bulky, slippery product. One bundled "issue" broke loose in a Minneapolis hotel on a rainy afternoon. Its loose, laminated pages caused 11 slipping accidents, including one severe head trauma.

The resultant bad publicity ("Mother, 32, Whacks Noggin in Minn Hotel--Blames So-Called 'Comic Magazine' For Fall," read one national headline) temporarily derailed Consolidated Book Publishers. The pages languished in a dank warehouse until 1979, when Kurt Bolton discovered them and first distributed them to interested "fans." I was among the first to receive this parcel of musty, yellowing-but-cleanable comics history.

I pried one page apart, out of curiosity, and found that a perfectly-preserved printed page awaited beneath. I eventually separated all 128 pages from their time-worn plastic prisons. Since then, they have remained in their special envelopes, safe from sunlight or other damanging agents--and, until late last night, from my memory!

Most intriguing of the features accidentally printed on crisp cardstock, in a variety of color options, is "the Black Orchid," the creation of one of the most unique family teams in comicdom-- Albert and Florence Magarian. I shall tell their astounding tale after you have immersed yourself in the uniquely doom-laden, tense world of "The Black Orchid!"
























Stunned, eh? I know well the feeling. Now, onto the matter of the creative team behind these stories. One would assume, from the credit of Albert and Florence Magarian, that these creators were husband and wife--rather like the Berenstain family of those charming children's books. Brace yourself for one of the weirdest stories in panelology.

Albert and Florence Magarian were Siamese twins!

According to this website, Siamese twins tend to be of the same gender. Given the endless quirks and quadrants of our DNA, it's no wonder that this roll of the genetic dice rendered a boy/girl co-joined birth. Albert and Florence were born in 1919 in the Bronx. From infancy, both children demonstrated an artistic bent. As one family story recounts, their uncle Farrell witnessed the tots each absorbed in a different creative action. While Albert doodled on the living room wall with a grease crayon, Margaret strained to play the keys of the family's out-of-tune spinet piano.

Due to a public outcry against Siamese twins in the 1920s, the Magarians were home-schooled, and seldom, if ever, left their home. In isolation, the brother and sister both turned to drawing. Each excelled in a different area. Margaret, the twin on the left (if viewing from their point of view) was a gifted draftswoman, with a sensitivity to contour and dimension. Albert, on the right, excelled at painting and fine-lined rendering.

If ever a team was literally born to create comic book material, it was the Magarians!

From 1939 to 1967, Albert and Florence Magarian created some 11,000 pages of comic book story and art. They fearlessly embraced all genres, and astounded editors with their elegant work--and, most impressively, with the speed in which they delivered finished stories.

Given an assignment by messenger, a script could be "turned about" in a matter of hours (if it were, say, a teenage humor piece) or days (if a more complex Western, war or historial tale).

The Magarians never met any of their employers. Their communication was by telegram and telephone. Farrell Safkarian, the afore-mentioned uncle, was interviwed by myself in 1981, and offered these revealing glimpses into a truly hidden life:

FS: They never left that two-bedroom apartment. Maybe once, in '52, when Albert had to have a root canal. The headaches got to them both, you see.

MM: Did you ever see them at work?


FS: (laughs) When DIDN'T they work? Night and day, they was at that [drawing] board. She sketched in the figures, you see, with her left hand. Albert had the pen and brush ready. He'd be finishing a drawing while she was still sketching it!

MM: Twas true teamwork, then.

FS: It had to be. They were like a married couple. Got on one another's nerves all the time. Albert smoked cigars. Margaret hated the smell. And she had a habit of humming the same tune, over and over, for hours at a time. Boy, would they yell! And fuss! The walls were splattered with ink, from Albert throwin' the bottles at Margaret. Only he could never hit her. She was too close. But those walls, boy. You could smell india Ink the minute you walked in there.

MM: Did you see them often?

FS: I was their errand boy! Got them groceries, went to the publisher's offices and got scripts. That was before they started to write their own stuff. And, of course, I took the big boards in for 'em.

MM: Boards?

FS: The pictures. They did 'em on these big papers. Looked like boards to me. All wrapped up. I don't know who wrapped 'em. But they were always wrapped in butcher paper and tied with twine. Really neat knots.

MM: What else did you do for them?

FS: Changed the radio stations. Albert loved the dramatic programs. I also went to see movies for 'em.

MM: Indeed?

FS: I'd see the picture, memorize the story, and tell 'em about it. I guess they wanted ideas for their comic books.

MM: What did you think of their work?

FS: (laughs) Aw, it was just for kids. I never looked at it. Was always surprised how well they got paid to do that stuff.

MM: Well, sir, there are many who declare this 'kid stuff' to be the thing of artistry.

FS: (laughs) There's one born every minute...

MM: Did Albert and Florence ever meet with their publishers?

FS: Nope. Never left that flat. They were afraid that if the world knew about 'em, bein' joined at the hip, that they'd lose their jobs. They spent their entire life in that apartment. Come spring and summer, I'd move their table by the window. When it got cold, we set it up near the radiator.

Albert was a sleepwalker...

MM: You don't say!

FS: I just did. He'd get up at night, walk around the rooms, out like a light. Margaret got used to it. She had me get her one of those miner's hats--you know, with the light on the top. At least she could read while Albert did his business. Then he'd get right back into bed like nothing happened. (laughs)

They were something else!


Indeed, their uncle's summation still proves apt. Albert and Florence Magarian, though they lived behind a curtain of shame, and distanced themselves from society, ironically helped influence the tastes of that tempting outside world. How they must have longed to join the throngs on the street beneath their window! How alluring must those gentle spring zephyrs have been! Yet they never dared expose themselves to the world.

Yet they did bear their souls through the medium of panelology. And for this, we remain ever thankful.

I am sorry not to have on offer any musings from my own personal life in this edition of the "bolg." My main priority is to present these forgotten works of the art panelologic. Perhaps I might best pursue a second "blog," strictly devoted to a diary of my daily comigs and goings. What think you?

Until next time, my comrades of the comic magazine!