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


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!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Tale of the Tail--I Am Back In Hospital! Plus "Atom Blake, the Boy Wizard" from "Wow Comics" #2

Friedns, it hab been far too long snice last we met. I wirte these words from a hospital bed! It is dififclut to type on my laptop. But try I shall to endeavor to achieve this goal. For you, my firndrs, are dear and near to me—tho’ I may nvevr meet you in person, we are brothers of the art panelologic!

I have been in room 343 of the Emberton Memroial Mecidal Center for two weeks now. And, no, dear reader, ‘twas not a bout of the gout, as they might quip. ‘Tis a most exotic ailment that afflicts me! I have a broken coccyx! You may well call this “The Tale of THe Tail!”

‘Twas a pleasant night in Novebmer… the air was mild and csirp, with the woodsy smell of the autumn season. Typically, Raphael mops the Diner on Thusrday nights. He has always done it—nveer having been asked, never having apparently voltuneered for the task. He does artful work with a mop, bucket and his “mezcla de mezcla especial”—in relatiy a blend of Comet, Clorox, Pine-Sol and parsley flakes. 

There—I have managed to ring for a nurse, and get this bed-table adjusted! What a difference this makes1 Now I shall try to be a more mindful tpyist. 

On this fateful Thursday, Raphael had to leave immediately upon closing—he referred, throughout the day, to a “special errand” and, to be sure, seemed pre-occupied. His heart was apparently not in his usually zestful role of maître d’ for Dorrie’s Diner. He merely waved in new visitors, as would a grade school crossing guard, and let them meander to any apparently open spot.

Among one such group were a party of toddlers, from a nearby daycare center. A pair of harried, frazzled young adults accompanied them. There was much talk of “an ice-cream treat,” the mere mentoin of which whipped this wee group into a frenzy.

One child had a mesh sack filled with those “Hot Wheel” cars that have been so polupar for so many years. His sole focus was on these tiny stylized autos. An endless array of motor sounds—all quite convincing—issued forth from his young lungs. Several times, I cringed in anticipation of the sudden impact of a truck into the vulnerable North Wing of the Diner, which faces a very busy, frantic State Road.

Much ice cream was messily consumed, and the sated babes bobbled out the door. The dnier suddenly seemed quiet—as they say in old war movies, “a little too quiet.”

Shortly thereafter, patrons complained of “that sticky floor.” One surprised elder gentleman tapped me on the shoulder several times, to get my attention, then told me. “Almost lost my shoe. Something should be done, sir. Something should be done!”

As foot-traffic commenced, during the dinner hour, the floor became more of a hazard. Thursday nights the Diner tupically entertains a group of Whist players. They bring their own cards, a great deal of boisterous good spirit, and several bags of pistachio nuts, still in their sturdy shells. 

Their card games are “fast and furious,” and tend to shoo other customers out. Fortnately, these Whist-ers have big appetites, mostly for desserts, and tend to run up a sizable bill at night’s end. They kept Raphael “hopping” with constant requests for coffee refills, crème brulee re-orders, and such.

The slapping of the cards, the crackling of nut shells, and the constant murmur of their voices has become a Diner ritual on Thursdays. I was, truth told, anxious for the day to end.  I had a “four day weekend” commencing on that Friday, and was eager to spend some “quality time” at the “New Pantheon,” the better to reconnect with you kind friends and share some four-color jewels from the “vault.”

In such a mood, I tend to daydream, and disconnect from the humdrum world around me. I was lost in a reverie of my discovery of a significant new Fox Features title, Hi-Tension Comics (which, alas, does not exist). Such “visions” are fairly common to me, and inevitably result in confusion and disappointment, as I rifle through my archives in the “Pantheon” only to realize the title I seek is not in this plane of reality.

You see, I have my spiritual side, too! Are we not all complex beings?

Finally, the Whist fest came to an end. The bill was paid, and the entourage of “gamers” went to their abodes to dream of another Thursday. Upon their departure, I discovered a startling admixture of expended nut shells and the crispy, brittle candy-like toppings of crème burlee in small mounds on the floor.

Coffee and whipped cream spills aggravated this catastrophe. On top of the down-trodden, adhesive remnants of the ice-cream, from earlier that day, the floor was a disaster area.

As I pondered this dire situation, Raphael bid me a cheerful goodnight. He was dressed in a 1940s style pin-stripe suit, complete with fedora. In one hand he carried a Whitman’s Sampler. In the other, a well-worn suitcase. “See you soon amigo!” he cried with delight as he “hit the road.”

The accountancy of the day’s “take” was a consumptive nightmare that even I, the seasoned CPA, could barely fathom. One hour of intense “number crunching” and the receipts were tallied, and the books balanced. At last I could retire for the day!

Then I realized the floor must be attended to!

With a deep sigh, I plodded into the back storeroom. I wheeled out the mop bucket, and fashioned my own blend of Comet, Clorox and Pine-Sol. I could not find a container of parsley flakes, so I substituted some ground nutmeg.

Before the mopping proper could commence, I had to sweep, chisel and otherwise bodily remove the more three-dimensonal aspects of the floor’s contents. My friends, those pistachio shells were almost ankle-high under the table! I had to use a metal dustpan to chip away at the brulee accumulation. I must have swept up 100,000 expended nut shells that night… which stressed my lower back critically, preparing me for my incumbent calamity.

Having removed the worst of the debris, the mopping wsa a mere formality. It took several “passes” to render the floor walkable and clean. The pungent blend of cleaning products tore at my nostrils. Sweat beaded on my weary brow. And then, finally, the dire task was done!

Oh, how weary I was. I am no spring chicken! My lower back creaked as I stood up. I wheeled the mop bucket to the darkest recesses of the backroom, and left it for Katrice to empty. (She will empty any open container of liquid she encounters, as I have discovered when lifting a once-full mug of coffee to my lips, only to find its contents gone.)

I wiped my brow, gathered myself together, and doused the Diner’s lights. The deposit could wait ‘til the morning!

Then, as I approached the door, my right foot met with one of those accursed “How Wheels” cars. Zip! I left the ground. I scrambled to regain control of my footing. Then my left foot encountered a pistachio nut, forgotten from the Whist players! Zoom! Again I lunged, my right foot once again connecting with the “Hot Wheels” toy. Down went McGinty—er, Moray! 

I fell with a thud on my tail-bone. The impact loosened a flock of laminated Diner menus. These rained upon my head in a dull shower.

Oddly, I felt no pain. Rather, a curious relief washed over me. I was off my feet. I stared up at the darkened ceiling, and then thought it best to close my eyes, to regain my composure for the trip home…

“Hey, fella,” a coarse voice said. Something hard tapped at my shoe. “Let’s see some ID, fella.”

I had dozed! I woke with anxiety, and saw a policeman hovering above me. “Wh-where am I…”

“Better come with me and sleep it off, fella…”

“I beg your pardon! I am the owner—rather, co-owner—of this establishment. If you’ll permit me to rise to my feet…”

And then, dear reader, my heartache (or backache!) began. As Officer Rutledge, the fellow who tapped my shoe and roused me, later informed me, I fainted as I attempted to stand tall. An ambulance was called, and I rushed to Emberton Memorial.

I was informed that I had broken an un-needed bone—that of the coccyx, or the “tail bone.” Like the appendix, there is not need for it in our daily lives, and yet it has persisted throughout time in our bodies. Curious thing, science!

The doctor said that I would be bed-ridden for at least a fortnight. My legs were slightly elevated, to reduce pressure to the broken coccyx, and a special pillow (which was changed five times a day) further cushioned the bruised bone, the better to speed its healing. My lower back was encased in a curious lattice-work of plaster, medical tape and some type of medical plastic.

Needless to say, I was to enjoy a much longer holiday than anticipated!

My first visitor was my compadre in things panelological, “Sparks” Spinkle. He looked woebegone. “Back in the saddle again, eh, Mace?” he said with a weak grin.

“I’m not dying, I assure you. Wipe that sad look off your face,” I said with good cheer. “I may be trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, but I’m in good spirits overall.”

We talked, just chit-chat between friends, and in the course of our meanderings I mentioned my desire to spend some serious time at the “New Pantheon,” studying the art of panelology and perhaps making some notes towards my forthcoming encyclopedic history of the Golden Age of the American comic magazine. (But more on that later.)

“Uh huh,” “Sparks” repeated, nodding gravely. “Mm hm.” He held  his chin in his hand, deep in thought. 

“Mace, where are your keys?”

“Wherever my personal belonging are. I awoke in this room. I assume they were taken care of…”

As I spoke, “Sparks” opened drawers and cabinets. I finally heard a muffled “A-ha!” and a muted jingle. 
Then, a clunk as he dropped the keys. Then another jingle, another clunk, and some soft cursing. “Slippery fellas!”

“Sparks” looked sheepish. “Long story short. You tell me what comics you wanna study; me an’ Raphael will go an’ get ‘em an’ bring ‘em here for ya!”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that…”

“I… in… SIST!” was my friend’s fervent reply.

Once “Sparks” has an idea in his head, there is no stoppage of it. One might better hope to contain a tsunami in a paper cup. Calmly, I explained that this room had limited space, and that much leeway must be given for the various doctors, aides and nurses to do their important work. Thus, I limited him to one long-box. 

At random, I chose R-11. I could not recall its contents precisely, so it would be a delight to peruse its 100 bagged and boarded treasures.

“Better write that one down, Mace…”

“I have no pen or pencil. R-11. Just remember that. R-11.”

“R-11… R-11…” “Sparks” wandered out of the room. “Be back soon,” he said in the hallway.

As I am wont to do when in bed, I dozed off. How deep my sleep was, I cannot fathom. A familiar scent roused me from the arms of Morpheus. So rich, so pungent, such a warm and woodsy aroma…

Vintage pulp paper! Like a child on Christmas morn, I opened my eyes…

The room was filling to capacity with choice gems from my archives. Several long-boxes dominated the room, plus armfuls of loose issues, all protected by their museum-quality bags and boards.

“Forgot what box you wanted, Mace, so we brought ya a whole bunch. Take your pick.”

“Si, Senor Mason, Haga su elección!” Raphael grinned from behind a stack of vintage treasures. A few of them slipped off the pile and scuddered towards the floor. I grimaced as would a man in pain.

“Gentlemen, I asked for one long box. That is all this room will accommodate.”

“Sorry, Mace, I kinda got carried away.” A male nurse entered the room, assessed the labyrinth of panelology, and became instantly indignant. “What’s all this s***?” he cried.

“It shall be cleared out, sir, it shall be cleared out.” To “Sparks” and Raphael, I quietly, kindly stated: “Leave one long box. Please return everything else to the Pantheon. I thank you for your kind effort.”

“Aw…” “Sparks” looked deflated. “Well, which box, Mace? It’s your shootin’ match.”

“Any box will do. I am not particular. That one there,” I said, pointing to a longbox situated within arm’s reach of my bed.

“Hokey dokey,” “Sparks” said with great reluctance. “But don’t come cryin’ to me when you get bored…”

Ay, que lastima,” Raphael sighed under his breath. He regathered the loose stack of magazines and left the room.

I heard a myriad of plop-plop-plop sounds in the hallway. Following them was the skid and clank of medical equipment. Voices of confusion filled the corridor. Finally, a sheepish “Sparks” re-entered my room. “We got a casualty, Mace.” He held up a mangled issue of Jughead, circa 1953. “She’s still intact, just a little… dented.”

“No great loss,” I assured him.

The remainder of my treasures were carefully removed from the room. I cannot assess the safety of their journey back to the vault. I am, understandably, somewhat anxious to be well again, so that I may assure myself they did not suffer the fate of that lone Jughead.

It took my friends three trips to successfully remove the excess magazines. It occured to me that my scanner might prove a helpful tool while I rested in thsi room. Thus, before their third trip, I diligently requested that my scanning device (and power cords) be brought to my room. Fortunately, the alert Raphael "grakked" my request and assured me all components would be imported to my bedside.

Thus, I am able to share a seldom-seen treasure from a most unlikely source.

I am not an enthusiast of the Fawcett comic magazines. Their assembly-line production, to my eyes, renders them lifeless and moot. But in the earliest issues of their various flagship titles, some brave souls dared to buck the system and produce tales of fantasy on their own.

Such a rare gem is Russell G. Gorson's "Atom Blake, the Boy Wizard." seldom have such complex motifs of science fiction been so lovingly presented within borders and balloons. Please take time to read this story. I will, of course, have some "commentary" on this unique tale.

What, upon first reading, seems merely a knockabout boy's adventure, is, in fact, a deeply felt, deeply encoded parable of the suffering of the Albanian peoples during the first World War. Russell G. Gorson was the pen-name of Fisnik Gazmend, a refugee from that forbidding regoin. 

During the first War, many Albanians were imprisoned by the Kaiser's army, and forced to abandon their homes and careers to perform manual labor. Young Gazmend and his family, former stock-brokers of considerable wealth, were stripped of their status and clothes and put to work as miners. 

The subterranean caves in which they worked are remarkably realized as the wastes of the planet Mercury in this story. To a child of wealth, suddenly removed from his home and given a pick-ax, Hessians barking foreign commands to him, he might as well have been on Mercury!

Gazmend was separated from his parents, whom he assumed he might never see again. This trauma resonates through all his panelological work. It is, one might say, his central theme. Gazmend escaped Albania, was rescued by British troops, and eventually obtained passage on a boat to America. 

Once in our country, Gazmend began to realize his destiny as a comic book creator. Of course, he would have to wait until the late 1930s to ply his craft. In the meantime, he found work as a sign-painter, a roofer, a trainer of gazelles and as a math teacher.

Like many refugees of Europe, he sensed the threat of the Second World War, and was compelled to warn young readers of the fate he suffered. His serious autobiographical accounts were shunned by New York publishers. Gazmend was seriously "ahead of the curve ball" in this regard.

Harry Hornfeld, an assistant editor at Fawcett, liked Gazmend's work, knew of his back story, and wanted to help. "Change them Krauts to monsters, an' you'll have somethin' we can publish" was his sage advice.

Gazmend redrew a portion of his 650-page autobiographical story, Jeta ime i mjerimit të pafund ("My Life Of Unending Misery") as the first installment of "Atom Blake." It was immediately accepted for a new Fawcett title, Wow Comics. Later installments held less of his life's story, and more of stock fantasy elements.

Gazmend patiently waited out the war, and in 1947 he was able to return to his homeland. Remarkably, his parents were still alive and in good health. Jeta ime i mjerimit të pafund was still in Gazmend's possession, but it found no publishers. Its images held too many sitll-raw memories for the Albanian peoples.

Sadly, this early masterpiece of autobiographical comic book work seems to be lost. Perhaps it shall surface someday in an Albanian attic. It is not known what became of Gazmend upon his return to the homeland. One hopes--dearly--that he had a happy life, even though under the iron fist of Communist rule.


You will recall that, earlier in this missive, I dropped something of a "bomb shell." Yes, friends, I am at work on a 1000-page definitive critical overview and history of the Golden Era of The Art Panelologic: 1937-1942. (That is, indeed, the working title of this tome.) This book shall be my legacy, as it will contan the fruits of my many years of research and insight. I hope it shall be finished in the next few months. 

I am eager to be released from the hospital so that I might begin work on this volume in earnest. The constant beeps, clicks and hisses of this room are mightily distracting.

If Dcotor Milligan's estimate is correct, I should be home in time for Christmas. I hope to end the year with a rousing Yuletide treat, as has become a tradition of kind on this bolg. Until then, rest well, friends, and watch your coccyx!