Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cheery Christmas! A Fantastic Feast of Panelological Pleasure, Concocted With Care For You, From Your "Uncle Mason!"

O joyous Noel! O time of Christmas!

The actual day of joy is yet to come as I write these words. I shall be "up to my ears" in festivity and frolic on Christmas Day, so I've prepared this humble present to you, my beloved audience, well ahead of time!

Christmas and vintage comic books are entwined, in my heart, like roses on a Parisian fence. The hobby has its occasional thorns, to be sure. But, in my experience, panelology has been nothing but roses--one graceful, exotic bloom upon another.

Indeed, is the comic magazine not unlike a flower? Both are sheathed in the brightest of hues. Both exude a certain alluring fragance. And both, inside, contain much to nourish both heart and soul.

Unlike flowers, which wither and die, comic magazines grow older, but, with careful storage and "tender lovely care," they will outlive us all.

Today I present a buoyant bouquet of pure panelological pleasure! Three wondrous tales of fantasy and adventure! Tales that range from the wildest of imaginative fantasy to the most penetrating of ground-level realism! This, friends, is what panelology is all about. The thrills! The spills! The crooks! The heroes!

The raw emotion that leaps from the pulpy printed pages of these delectable bygone comic magazines!

Talk about your diamonds in the roughage!

As I did not include any news bulletins in my last post, I'll give a brief synopsis of recent events now. I don't wish to delay your immersion in four-colored joy, so I'll keep it short and sweet.

1) plans for the home-restaurant continue unabated. "Dorrie's Deep-Dish Diner" is the current title. Bert Liffler has rendered a charming caricature of "the missus" on his hand-painted signage.

2) "Raydon" is banished from my home after 5 PM. Dorrie may well need this strumpet to help plan her "chic" visuals, but I'll not have him braying at my every move! A man deserves to enjoy his cookies in restful retreat!

3) Dorrie and Raphael have met! Furthermore, she approves of him as her wait-staff. She feels that "the international touch" will be just right for our "let it all hang down" philosophy. All are welcome to our humble bistro!

To that end, I took young Vazquez clothes-shopping. He wished to purchase his raiments at a second hand store called "Snatch 'em Shack," but I insisted that we buy new off the rack garb.

We went to the South Ramp Mall, where, at Kesslinger's Family Store, suitable slacks, shirts, socks and dress shoes were found for my young ward. Raphael looked like "a million bucks" in his new "duds," and since that time he has "cleaned his action up."

He sports a neater hair-style, and his overall cleaner demeanor (I'm a poet!) suits him well indeed.

We have Raphael on a weekly retainer of fifty dollars, pending the bistro's opening day, which, if all goes well, shall occur on January 22.

4) Charlie or Chuckie has been let go at work. And guess who filled his shoes? A remorseful Jim R. He looks a bit ashen-faced. and tends to keep to himself. It is implicitly understood that the scanner is mine, and mine it shall remain. He is allowed usage of the device, after a polite inquiry as to its availability.

5) I have prepared a special gift package for Raphael. It contains one dozen "dupe" copies of Golden Age super-hero comic magazines. He has shown some interest in panelology. It is my hope that, by reading these publications, he shall become more conversant in colloquial American English. I firmly believe these "mags" will be morale-boosting and will enable him to do his job as best he can!

That's "all the news that fits to print" for now. I'm eager to get to the matter of today's "triple feature!"

The giving and enjoyment of panelological gems is part and parcel of the Yuleday experience for me. Lo, for many decades comic magazines and Christmas have gone hand in hand in the Moray household.

Although Dorrie is indifferent, at best, to my cherished comic magazines (due to paper allergies, as you may recall), she does understand their importance to me. She abets me in a little holiday ritual I've done for years.

I buy vintage comic magazines constantly, via auction lists, through trusted long-time dealers, and, on occasion, from Ebay. Tempting as it is to rip new parcels open (carefully, mind you!) and immediately savor their contents, I now entrust every third package to "the missus."

Throughout the year, she unwraps the new comic magazines and immediately places them in giftwrap. She is an expert at hiding things; that, wedded to my inevitable day-to-day forgetfulness, makes for an impressive stash of panelological pleasure, come Christmas Day.

I have purchased a great deal of cutlery, silverware, china and other essential items for Dorrie's restaurant. That is my big holiday gift to her this year.

Practical sort that she is, Dorrie will have a nice selection of new dress shirts, ties, socks and slacks to spice up my wardrobe. The real star of the show will be 2009's pile of "layaway comics."

I spend Christmas Day in slippers, pajamas and robe, curled up on the couch with a mug of Dorrie's special Velvet Fog Cocoa (soon to be served at her Diner!) and my new acquisitions. It's a splendid day for me. Christmas dinner does eventually intervene, and, afterwards, Dorrie takes me to cleaners with a rousing Scrabble match.

I believe that we shall have Mr. Liffler, from next door, over for pie and coffee on Christmas evening. I wonder if he shall wear his trademark gym shorts even on Christ's birthday? We shall soon see.

Here, for your enjoyment, are three of my favorite "finds" from 2008's "layaway program." Thus, I hope to share some true panelological pleasure with you on this day of days.

So wear your fuzziest slippers; nestle in your bushiest robe; and enjoy the finest the Pantheon has to offer!

First selection today: "Steel Sterling," from the rare second issue of Zip Comics, published in 1939. This tale exemplifies the free-wheeling early panelological styles I most dearly love. No rigid formulas governed the creation of these pioneering stories.

From "liquid fire" rays to angered polar bears, from prison riots to stirring sea-battles, this tale brims to overflowing with a plethora of graphic wonders!

"Steel Sterling" was a popular contender to the super-hero throne in 1939 and 1940. His fame was such that he was a successful write-in candidate for Iowa's gubernatorial election of 1940. The fictional Sterling got more votes than Henry Hennessey and Carl Bellings, the real-life contenders. (Bellings came in second, and, by default, became Iowa Governor later that year.)

Carl Bellings: He Lost To Steel Sterling!


We switch gears, friends, from the all-out fantasy of "Steel Sterling" to the subdued social realism of "The Blue Circle."

This tale, from the second issue of the character's short-lived magazine, dates from 1945. This period found many comics in the doldrums. It is not my favorite era of the comic magazine.

The cover does not feature the titular hero of the magazine! As with all great experiments, "The Blue Circle" was given a lower berth, in favor of what its publishers assumed would be the most salable material within the book's pages.

Yet gems appeared, like faint rays probing the fog of a haunted harbor. "The Blue Circle" was one of the most appealing "rays" of this panelological "dark age."

Writer Mark Reasoner wanted to create an "everyman" crime-fighter--one without super powers, or an outlandish costume. His scripts for "The Blue Circle" were autobiographical.

Reasoner fashioned a costume exactly like The Blue Circle's own, from a hooded winter coat, a dress shirt and a pair of work pants. He prowled the streets of Waukeegan at night, in search of civic corruption.

The young writer never found any graft or nepotism on Waukeegan's dark streets. He did prevent a holdup, and save a few drunk drivers from an early grave.

Reasoner came out of these experiences determined he had the most valid conception yet for a panelological crime-fighter.

Artist Walt Harris proved an able partner for Reasoner. He, too, sought to capture a low-key realism on the comic book page. Harris shared Reasoner's sense of civic injustice. They sought to make "The Blue Circle" a realistic inspiration for small-town youth who wished to make, and don, a simple costume and seek out malfeasance in their midst.

Be warned: this is not a wild tale of careening fantasy! This is stark social realism at its most sobering.

I interviewed Reasoner in 1974, shortly before his death. I'll excerpt a few choice passages after this story.

Now, as promised, some excerpts from my interview with the real-life "Blue Circle," Mark Jerome Reasoner.

MASON MORAY: As I understand it, you did indeed preview your idea in real life...

MARK REASONER: Yep. Except I called myself "The Night Terror." Not that anyone ever asked me who I was.

What motivated you to become a real-life costumed crime-fighter?

Well, I tell you. You'd read the papers, and hear about graft, crooked doings in City Hall, and such. It seemed to be happening everywhere in those days.

Uh huh.

And someone had to try to take action. I liked the idea of the "masked avenger." But, let's face it. Those costumes the characters wore in the comics must have cost them a million dollars! And who could sew that well and be a crime-fighter?

I just put together some of my regular work clothes. It's what I figured a real-life "superman" would want to wear.

I take it your "Night Terror" garb was similar to that of The Blue Circle's...

Exactly the same! Except the hood was a darker blue on the original. That hood itched like hell. I tore the lining out of a winter coat to make it. There were these rough seams run along the top. They scratched me like a kitten!

Did you have any triumphs as "The Night Terror?"

Stopped one pickpocket. And I pulled a couple of drunks out of their cars. They would have died in a ditch otherwise.

I met my future wife while I was in costume. She was coming out of a show. It was late at night. I put the fear of God into her, I guess. But she asked me out on a date.

As "The Night Terror?"

Well, yes. She wouldn't have anything to do with me as Mark Reasoner.

How long did you maintain this double-identity?

Two weeks. We went to the movies and such, with me in that get-up. You couldn't hear for beans with that hood on. Then, one night, the itching got too much, and I took off the hood. Becky--my wife-to-be--was sure surprised when she learned who was really under that hood. But she got over it, and I was persistent. Sooner or later, it was all right with her.

Do you, perchance, still retain the "Night Terror" garb?

Nope. My mother threw out the costume when she cleaned the attic. I just gave it up, then and there. But I had enough experience to write "The Blue Circle." And I still got the girl! Who says crime-fighting doesn't pay?


We return to the realms of wildest fantasy with the final, stunning episode of "Blue Blaze," from the fourth issue of Mystic Comics, published in 1940. This tale, as some of my office-mates might describe it, is a "real wild ride." Make sure your seat belt is fastened!

Series creator "Harry Douglas" is an utter mystery to myself, and to fellow panelological historians. [Specious information circulates that the feature was produced by the team of Harry Ramsey and either Douglas Grant or Douglas Ryan. This is utter fantasy, friends--both men, when interviewed, denied any knowledge or participation in the feature!]

No photographs exist of the man, Nor is it known when--and where--he lived or died.

He sent his first "Blue Blaze" story, unsolicited, to publisher Martin Goodman. Goodman liked what he saw--bold, easily-reproduced graphics, wild fantastic themes, international intrigue and hairy orange trolls. He published the story, and three subsequent episodes, in his new anthology title, Mystic Comics.

After the premiere issue went to press, Goodman realized he had no contact information for the creator! No name or address was written on the back of the original art boards, as was customary in the "trade." And the story's brown paper wrapper had been long discarded.

A month later, another "Blue Blaze" story appeared in the Timely Comics offices. This time, Goodman and his young assistant Stanley Leiber, checked the package for a possible return address. There was none! Just one word, written in red ink--"Fifty."

The creator never contacted Goodman--or anyone at Timely--with a request for payment. Yet he continued to produce "Blue Blaze" stories--literally by the bushel-load!

One Monday morning, Goodman arrived at his office to find 37 packages--each with a full-length, original "Blue Blaze" tale inside of them! The artwork was rendered on top-of-the-line illustration board.

The stories grew longer and more complex. It became apparent that they were intended as chapters in a leviathan comics "novel." Whomever "Harry Douglas" was, money was clearly no object.

I have, for decades, theorized about the promised "Vampire of Doom" episode. It did not see print. Perhaps this story marked the sea-change in "Harry Douglas"' work.

As the "Blue Blaze" stories continued to arrive, unsolicited and in increasing volume, in Goodman's office, their content became increasingly erotic, violent and unprintable. Thousands of pages of story and art flooded the Timely offices.

Full frontal male nudity and scenes of intense graphic violence, including lovingly rendered human viscera, filled these unrequested pages.

On each brown-paper parcel, in red ink, would be hand-written one word. Perhaps, had these wrappers been saved, the seemingly random words might have revealed a clue about the identity or intentions of "Harry Douglas." Stan Leiber (better-known as the phenomenal "Stan Lee") once recalled to me:

Oh, gee, pal, well that was a long time ago! I don't know. They were just regular words. Word-words. Y'know, like "tree," "night," "flesh." We had no idea. These things just kept coming in the office. After a couple of years, no one bothered to read 'em anymore. They just piled up!

And then one day, in 1951, they stopped arriving.

By then, Timely's inventory of "Blue Blaze" stories filled a large storage closet. Goodman and Leiber didn't have the heart to throw them away. The super-hero craze had long since waned--even if the stories were publishable, they had no commercial appeal.

Most of these pages were given away at office "smokers" or flipped over for practical use by other Timely staff artists.

To ensure that the near-pornographic imagery of "Douglas"'s work did not see print, large black Xs were painted over his unwanted work. To this day, one can occasionally find a re-used "Blaze" original. When located, these pages are treasured by panelological gourmets. Some collectors have attempted to reconstruct the pages, minus the X marks.

"Harry Douglas" appears to have been a mad genius of the comic magazine. Perhaps he is still alive. No one can say for certain. Via today's story, it is evident that "Douglas" was an unusual, unpredictable force in early comic magazine history.

So there it is. The first holiday feast of the wondrous Panelological Pantheon! I hope you leave this feast sated and charmed. I'll be back in the New Year with more news and more glinting gems from the heart and soul of the Pantheon!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Public Apology To My Readers

Friends, it is with heavy heart that I write the following words. I have suffered the "dark time of the soul" these past few days. But I must speak, and face my own failings.

At the same time, the words of my father, Austin Moray, ring loudly in my head:


In this time of sorrow, I ventured out to the Nightflower Fens Rest Home, where my father now resides. Humbly I went to seek his counsel.

He has a cozy cottage to himself (the Home is a converted highway motel that dates from the 1940s). From the parking lot could be heard his booming voice, in concert with a radio broadcast of a football game:


Although it was a chilly day, my father remains a "fresh air fiend." He had his screen door open. The volume of the radio was such that my meek tappings could not be heard.

In truth, it was hard to get a sonic purchase on the flimsy pine-and-aluminum door frame. It tended to mildly rattle, rather than produce a crisp knocking sound.

After ten minutes, I elected to forcibly enter the cottage. (The screen door was unlocked, which aided my attempts.)

My dear dad sat in a faded maroon armchair. A pint can of Diet Mountain Dew, clutched in his left hand, was visible.


"Father," I said, in my loudest civil speaking voice. "It's Mason, your son."

The can of soft drink fell to the floor as my father bolted in surprise. "WHOA! YOU COULD GIVE A FELLA HEART TROUBLE SNEAKIN' AROUND THAT WAY!"

The game was almost over. Out of deference to my father, I waited 'til its conclusion. Then we spoke.

Long story shortened: I confessed that I had made a public fool of myself. I had gotten my own research notes mixed-up and had presented correct facts--but attributed to the wrong individual!

As well, I noted my sorrow that accurate attempts to transcribe the Latin American dialect of my ward, Raphael Vazquez, had offended my readership. One of my "Followers," a seemingly nice Spanish fellow named Gabriel, elected to leave my blog--on account of this linguistic malfeasance, I would presume.


I explained what a "blog" is, and after much discussion, my points were finally made clear to my father.


He paused for a sip of Diet Mountain Dew (which, mysteriously, is now officially shortened to "MTN DEW" on the packaging) and continued.


It was time for my father's nightly TV "holy trinity"-- Matlock, The Rockford Files and Hazel--so I bid him adieu.

And, armed with his words of support and encouragement, I humbly state to you the following:

I, Mason James Moray, made a public error. Due to my poor penmanship of the 1960s and early 1970s, my research notes of those years are difficult for me to clearly read today.

I went to a corrective writing school in 1975, and under the supervision of Dr. Charles Fennell, I realigned my pen-hold and hand-position. I now can boast handwriting of uncommon clarity. I am forever thankful to Dr. Fennell and his "14-Zone Method."

Friends, Martin Filchock was NOT a part of the controversial "Out-Doorist" artistic movement. He was, indeed, the creator of "Fire Man" and other fine panelological features of comic books' "Gilded Age."

The artist in my notes was Marvin Pilchmore. Mr. Pilchmore was, indeed, a vital part of the "Out-Doorist" group. He did create panelological features. Among them was "Wire-Man," a clever variation on the DC Comics feature "Air Wave."

Pilchmore's character was given the powers of the telegraph. He could travel via electrical impulses, over telegraph wires. He had the clever gimmick of addressing his villains thusly: "Okay, Mattigan, you're all washed up! Stop!"

Or: "Here's where you hit my big fist with your little chin! Stop!"

"Wire-Man," clever though it was, never saw print in the United States. I have never seen printed copies of the stories. They appeared in an obscure Canadian weekly supplement to a Catholic magazine for boys, The Guiding Lamp.

Mr. Pilchmore appeared at the 1970 ExcitaCon in Cincinatti, Ohio, where he displayed his charming original art boards for the first "Wire-Man" tale. His asking price for the entire story's art was 45 dollars--a king's ransom in those bygone days! How I wish I had gambled my bankroll on those exquisite originals.

I took some Polariod pictures of the artwork, but given my malformed, unsteady penmanship, I also took a poor, shaky picture. Thus, all that remains on the snapshot is a blur of white paper and blue-black linework. 'Tis a sad loss to panelological history.

I am delighted to hear of Mr. Filchock's successful career in Christian Science, and of his other panelological achievements. I wish him well in his future career. I apologize for the confusion. Were you to peruse my 1970 notes, you might just as easily make the same error as did I.

Now, as to the other matter: I meant no offense. I am something of a student of linguistics--albeit unlicensed and untutored. I take great joy in the rich variety of pronunciations and voicings of we human beings.

If I have offended any Latin Americans with my sincere attempt at honest transcription, I deeply apologize and regret the hurts I have caused you. From his moment on, any reportage of Raphael's dialogue will be written in "The Kingly English," just as I describe the words of Anglo-Saxons and Caucasians.

I further regret that I have no story to share with you today. I felt that it was important to "claim the air" and I hope you will allow me my humanity, and forgive a well-meaning panelologist for the poor penmanship--and sincere transcription--of his past.

That said, I must also take mention of an apparent enemy in my midst. This fellow complained at great length about me on his blog. I shall be gentleman enough not to name names, or blogs. Let us just say that I shall not be wearing my "beach hat" anytime soon!

That quip aside, I must sincerely state that, as the Ink Spots once sang, "To Each His Own." Live and let live, sir. Although I do not entirely approve of your approach to the study of comic book stories, or, to use the official term, "panelology," I feel that there is room for everyone, and their opinions--regardless of their strength or conviction.

Let us strive to create a rich tapestry of panelological offerings, and not enmire one another in petty squabbles.

I rest my case.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Restaurant News--plus "Fire Man" from Liberty Scouts #3 (August, 1941 - Comic Corporation of America)

Friends, let it be said, loud and clear: there is no ceasing a woman's will. Once her plans are set in motion, no man (or men!) can stand in her way.

Dorrie got her permit! Due to the curious half-residential, half-business zoning of our lot, she is allowed to use the area comprising the guest bedroom (once the Pantheon's indoor residence) for her bistro scheme.

Since our kitchen boasts restaurant-grade refrigeration and "food prep" areas, Dorrie is permitted to use said room to prepare and cook her meals. A waiter (and there is choice news in this department!) with sufficient hygiene training will be able to cross our living room and navigate a brief hallway to bring the food orders from kitchen to consumer.

Dorrie's early holiday gift (and show of support) from myself is the endowment of a set of restaurant-grade linen tablecloths, chrome napkin dispensers, food-grade eating implements (24 sets each of salad fork, entree fork, dessert spoon, entree spoon, steak knife, butter knife and entree knife) and the printing and lamination of one dozen full-color, two-sided menus.

As well, quite by happenstance, I have procured a wait-person for Dorrie's bistro-to-be. He is a figure who I've mentioned here in prior posts. Perhaps you recall Raphael Vazquez: he who sold me the current Pantheon structure; he who was last seen shyly touting farm-fresh curds by the roadside.

The bashful Latino lad was spotted waggling a coffin-shaped sign by another bleak intersection. Raphael moved the sign in such a befuddling manner that I could not read its message until he set the placard down to scratch an itch on his upper back.

The sign read:


I brought my "Prias" to a scuddering stop and hobbled out of the car. "Raphael!" I cried. "It's Mr. Moray! I have a job for you!"

Raphael smiled--for the first time since he'd sold me the defective Pantheon--and discarded the "night bean" sign.

A laundry truck, its driver surprised by Raphael's sudden move, applied his brakes but ran over the sign, which perished into so much waste paper and firewood.

"You got a yob for me?" the lad asked, incredulous.

"Not at this precise moment," I replied. "But forthcoming is a bistro position for you--if you are interested!"

Over coffee and donuts at Mr. Twister's Crullers, down the street, Raphael and I became re-acquainted, and I described Dorrie's plans for an in-home restaurant--several times, in fact.

My young ward could not be convinced this was anything but a ribald jest. He laughed so hard that cruller fragments fell from his mouth. "A rest'rant in your house? Meester Mason, that ees seely!"

"Perhaps," I sighed, "but it is my wife's will, and there is no stopping it."

"Eef my mudder start a rest'rant een my home, my fodder keeck her good een dee rear."

"My boy, America is a more civilized land than you think. Here, even the least sane notions, if backed with enough money, can quickly become reality."

Raphael shook his head. "Ees no yoke, Meester Mason?"

"It is the gospel truth, lad. Shall you work for us?"

Raphael chewed on his cinnamon-doused pastry. "Ees... ees thees yob one wheech pay moanies?"

I beamed in encouragement. "It is, indeed. As well, you shall be fed each day you work."

"When do I estart, Señor Mason?"

"Shortly, my friend. In the meantime, have you a telephone? Can I call you when the time has come to start work?"

"Sí, tengo un teléfono portátil," he answered in his native tongue. He revealed one of those "celled phones" which are all the rage amongst today's youth. "I mean, I have thee cell telephone, Señor Mason."

"Your bi-linguality will be an asset to our bistro, lad," I said. "Now, if you will give me your telephone number..."

With ball-point pen, and with great effort, Raphael inscribed his number upon a fresh napkin. He also penned his name; this is where I learned of his last name (Vazquez) and his present height (5'8"). I suppose this is a Hispanic custom--to provide such measurements along with one's contact information.

I could scarcely wait to spring this "news flash" upon my "better half." But I had to earn my day's bread before I could make this relevation.

Our office is currently undergoing a protracted audit. This is due to a blunder of inexperience done by "Chuckie" or "Charlie." Somehow, breaking every rule in the book, this young salesman peddled the same insurance account to three successive signees--simply due to his failure to reset a simple document on his "lapped-top" computer.

The youngster is no crook--he lacks the savvy to fleece a "sucker." He is simply mentally idle, and lazy to boot. He will have his fingers slapped, and he must suffer through the sheer tedium of an audit.

This leaves me with little to do at "the shop" except fuss about with the unfiled, unregistered documents that accumulated during my medical leave. I pay a brief visit to The Pantheon each morning, before I leave for work. Therein, I select a few vintage treasures to scan at work.

'Twas thus the source for today's panelological presentation. More about that anon.

But I must continue my narrative. I am plagued in my home by a sassy interior designer. He calls himself "Raydon." He is in his 20s, I suppose. He has one of the most curious hair-stylings I have ever seen. As well, his eyebrows have been tweezed, re-shaped and colored in the style of a Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, circa 1950.

Heaven help us all--he is Dorrie's chosen designer for the restaurant. Its current title is either my punny suggestion, "Maison Moray," or the more down-home "Dorrie's Diner."

Our inquisitive neighbor, Burt Liffler, is a former professional sign-painter. Somehow, he caught wind of "the wife"'s scheme, and, over the past week, has crafted any number of slickly rendered signs, utilizing both potential names for the bistro-to-be.

One of them (an early effort) featured a none-too-flattering caricature of yours truly. He had the idea that the restaurant was of my creation. Dorrie guided him in the right direction.

I applaud Mister Liffler's efforts: they occupy all his waking time not spent at his school, and make my daily forays to The Pantheon less risky.

Were only the same true for the high-strung "Raydon." Dorrie found him at her church, where he plays the organ and sings alto in the mixed choir.

I see no evidence of religion in "Raydon"'s life, but Dorrie assures me he is amongst the more devout of the church's attendees.

This incumbent designer is inordinately fond of two phrases, both which pepper his utterances more often than actual words of conversation. These oft-heard statements are: "Snap!" and "No, you ditten!"

What is the meaning of these quips? I shall demonstrate...

As "Raydon" and Dorrie postulated color schemes for the bistro, I sat nearby, studying some mid-war issues of Feature Comics and enjoying a plate of Reduced Fat Hydrox cookies, with a glass of vanilla-flavored soy milk.

I am a devotee of cookie-dunking. Over the years, I have mastered the art of sufficiently soaking a cookie with milk that it can reach my mouth before it breaks off and falls to the bottom of the milk glass.

Alas, I suffered one of my rare failures as "Raydon" stared at me. His eyebrows unnerved me, I will confess. The cookie broke off. Half of it bobbed lazily in the now-browned soy milk.

"Snap!" "Raydon" laughed and pointed at my mishap.

I realized that the cookie portion was still sufficiently solid--due to its creme filling--to be removed by hand and consumed. I elected to ignore "Raydon"'s inane utterance, and fished the cookie from the milk.

As I popped the soy-sodden morsel in my mouth, "Raydon" looked at me with amazement--his coy eyebrows arched--and cried out: "No, you ditten!"

I restrained my irritation. One cookie rolled off the plate and landed on the floor. "Snap!" again issued from the flibbertigibbet's mouth.

I retrieved the cookie--still in edible shape--and guided it to my mouth. My eyes and "Raydon"'s maintained constant contact as I ate the cookie.

"Raydon" gasped and again cried, "No, you ditten!"

Friends, I dare not return home until well past dinner-time. Dorrie will be irked at having to re-warm her cooking, but it's better I face her displeasure than be battered by the mindless chitter-chat of this ersatz "designer."

Thus, I write tonight's post in the solemn darkness of the otherwise-deserted office. For your reading pleasure, I present a seldom-seen gem from the obscure title Liberty Scouts. This hero, cleverly named "Fire Man," inexplicably failed to ignite public fancy.

I believe you shall deem his exploits most worthy of consideration. Here is one of "Fire Man"'s finest tales, from the third issue of this ill-fated comic magazine:

Series writer/artist Martin Filchock was a pioneering naturalist. That is to say, he lived out of doors--under which circumstances he produced his innovative panelological narratives. Mr. Filchock made his home in the trees and bushes of Manhattan's Central Park.

He was part of a pre-war art movement known as "The Out-Doorists," which had such fine-art luminaries as Dover Payne, Ferd Russlinger and Raoul Delacroux amongst their ranks.

These young creators felt that the enclosure of buildings hampered the cosmic rays of creative impulse (called, by this group, "Creimp") that inspired them to their assorted arts.

Thus, young writers, painters, sculptors, engravers and, yes, panelologists plied their creative trade without shelter, as you and I know it.

Martin Filchock attempted to create super-heroes based on the astrological factions. His "Air-Man" and "Water Man" failed to see publication. With "Fire Man," Filchock had an undeniable "smash" concept.

Filchock was heavily influenced by motion pictures, although he could not bear to remain inside a theatre for the duration of a film. Thus, his influence came from fleeting snatches of movies he tried to attend in earnest.

It was said that, after a half hour, Filchock would begin to sweat and stir in his seat. His murmuring and constant scratching disturbed other cinema patrons. It was inevitable that he be escorted from the theatre premises by an usher--or that he dash out into the street of his own volition. "No Creimp!" he'd be heard to shout. "No Creimp!"

No one knows what happened to Martin Filchock. His stories simply ceased to appear in Liberty Scouts. His editors never saw him fully dressed, and in his latter days, his clothing usually consisted of an artistically-applied wrap of newspaper to legally cloak his nudity.

The Out-Doorists quickly fell out of favor with the art-going public, as their work shunned themes of country and patriotism--anathema to flag-waving 1940s America.

Most Out-Doorist artworks perished in a legendary downpour of September, 1943, in which Central Park was flooded. As recently as 1991, newly discovered Out-Doorist masterpieces--such as Russlinger's fatalistic wood carving Nestle Road IV--have been discovered by intrigued urban archaeologists.

As the only Out-Doorist to influence panelology, Martin Filchock has earned a place amongst the immortals of The Panelological Pantheon. Even tho' his work is little-known in the 21st century, his visual innovations, dynamic narratives and his heroes' child-like gratefulness to the women in their life (they are frequently seen selecting greeting cards and chocolates for their female companions in Filchock's stories) mark his comic book creations as something sublime and haunting.

My stomach grumbles with hunger. I wonder if I dare return home. Wish me well, dear friends. I await our next convergence.

Oh--one more question. Perhaps some amongst you are linguists. Raphael added this mysterious phrase to his napkin. What might it mean? Here it is...

Señor Mason, necesito los pantalones.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Mars" Mason in: "Now--For Uranus!" from Speed Comics 10, 1940--Plus Big News!

Brother Tumry, how prescient your words have proved! Tho' limned with condescending intent (as though I, a home-owning adult, would turn to the likes of Power Nelson for serious advice!), your basic idea has come remarkably true.

My home may soon become a restaurant! And we may soon have an employee!

How shall I begin this byzantine tale? I suppose it's best to start where it started--with an ultimatum, delivered 'neath the stark overhead lights of our kitchen, from Dorrie herself:

"Who do you love more: me, or those--comic books?"

This came at a moment in which I was prepared to make a health sacrifice, and request a few of Dorrie's Double-Dipped Fudge Mocha Meringue Bars. I'd had a clean bill of health for the past two weeks, and felt I could brook a sublime treat or two without doing much harm.

'Twas as this loving request prepared to issue from my lips that the "little woman" threw down the gauntlet.And with such a searing question! How could any lifelong panelologist truly answer that query--or explain their motives and needs?

One might as well ask: "Whom do you love more: oxygen or myself?"

But her question was fated to remain unanswered. Before my stunning, trembling lips could summon or form words of reply, Dorrie spoke.

"Sit," she said, pointing to the breakfast nook table.

I'm a sensible man; I sat. She poured a tall glass of chocolate milk-shake, fresh from the blender. She set it before me. "Drink," she commanded.

Friends, you who have not tasted one of Dorrie's milk-shakes---you I pity. Though my heart raced with uncertainty, the velvet solace of the creamy, chocolate-infused beverage soothed my uncertain soul.

"That doctor is trying to tear us apart," Dorrie said. "You've always loved my cooking. I've enjoyed every treat I've ever made for you. Even the midnight snacks! They--they gave me something to do... and now that's gone..."

I began to uncontrollably guzzle the divine "shake," and soon emptied my glass. Without thinking, I held the drained vessel up for a refill.

Without thinking, Dorrie refilled the cup.

Such is the core of our relationship: the provider and the provided; the manufacturer and the consumer. I knew that to drink the second glass was to tempt fate--and foot. But I knew I had to do it--and that I had to hear out my spouse in her moment of crisis.

I'll spare you a transcript of the speech I received, and concentrate on the highlights:

a) Dorrie loathes Dr. Doynter, and distrusts him

b) Dorrie has a need to cook, bake and broil; she described it as "her
life's blood"

c) Dorrie has allergy issues with my cherished comic magazines! She
does not inherently loathe the art-form of panelology--'tis the molds
and allergens trapped within their time-goldened pages that poses a
problem. (At last--the truth is out!)

d) If "that doctor" won't let me eat "the food I love," then Dorrie
demands the right to make foodstuffs--and to have someone appreciative
enjoy them.

Sensing a pause, I attempted to inject levity. "Perhaps," I quipped, "you might turn our guest room into a bistro of some sort--say, 'Dorrie's Diner,' or 'Maison Moray...'"

Dorrie's eyes brightened like the summer sun. "Oh, Mace!" She hugged me, tears brimming in her eyes. "You understand! Why--that's a wonderful idea! We have those garden tables in storage... all we'll need is some chairs, and table-cloths--and menus! Yes, menus..."

With that, Dorrie left the kitchen and sat on the living-room couch, yellow legal pad and pencil in hand. For hours, she muttered to herself, writing down entree names, pairing items, erasing and re-writing, laughing as she delighted in her fresh ideas...

It reminded me of bygone days, wherein I sat, pad and pencil in hand, and constructed definitive content listings of Golden Age comic magazines. These became an invaluable aid to me--and to my fellow panelologists. I had them professionally printed, and for years, they provided a second income for me.

I had, earlier that day, come across one of the few unsold copies of my magnum opus, The Cross-Indexed, Creator and Feature-Themed Guide to Speed Comics. This 112-page opus took me almost nine months of painstaking study to compile.

As a result of this, I recalled a feature in Speed Comics that had, indeed, brought me a good deal of "ribbing" years back. You'll understand why upon immediate sight of its "splash" panel.

The next morning, as I prepared for my return to the office, she by-passed me, as I ate bran flakes with skim milk and briefly perused the morning newspaper. "I'm off for the permit," she said, a smile in her voice.

"Permit," I repeated. Then it all became clear: Dorrie was hell-bent on realizing her dream of a home restaurant! I chuckled as I chewed the healthful bran. Surely civic zoning laws would not permit a place of business to be conducted in a residence!

Dorrie's exuberance was endearing, but I feared she would hit the brick wall of red tape before I settled into my desk at the office.

You may recall a comment I made on the expected condition of my desk, upon my return to the office. I'm sad to say that prophesy was highly accurate.

As I entered the office, briefcase in hand, the new employee (Charlie? Chuckie?) looked at me, startled. "Mister Murray! We thought you were still in the hospital!"

I glanced at my desk. It was a mound of waste and neglect. Heaped atop it were:

31 flattened "Funyuns" sacks
14 assorted car, truck and taxidermy magazines
the remnants of an egg-salad sandwich, on a paper plate
a replica of the Constitution, printed on parchment paper
several half-worked "Jumble" newspaper puzzles
4 photos of Amelia Earhart, printed from an internet search
two Illinois license plates, dated 1988

"We were doin' some cleanin'," Charlie or Chuckie said, as he gestured to my desk. "This was a, a..."

"Staging area," a man named Roy said. "Staging area."

"We'll clean it up, Mr. Murray," Charlie said, penitence in his adolescent voice.

I chatted with the district manager as the errant lads cleaned their debris off my desk. He asked about my experience with gout, and I informed him the bulk of the story--all of which my faithful readers and followers know by heart.

Before I knew it, it was lunch time. My fellow "team members" had hastily organized a "welcome back Mister Murray" lunch event at the nearby Sizzle Stop, a steak and salad place across the highway.

Moments before we left, en masse, my phone jangled. It was Dorrie. "Mace! I got the permit! They're sending a health inspector out today!"

"They'll allow us to run a bistro in our home?"

"Turns out half our lot is zoned for commercial use! Mace, the dividing line runs right through our living room!"

"You're sure about this?"

Dorrie giggled. "Of course!"

"By that I mean: you're sure you want to open our home to hungry strangers? What about our private life? I don't want to come home to..."

"I'm just going to serve lunch. It will be a great second income for us. We can use the extra money, Mace..."

I sighed audibly. I'd only suggested this scheme as a mood-lightener. I had (and have) mixed feelings about the very idea.

"What we need now is a waiter," Dorrie said.

Thus, this new chapter in my spouse's life has been put on temporary hold. We await the stern inspection of the Health Department. Then comes the search for a responsible, amiable wait-person to serve our horde of ravenous malingerers.

Friends, I dearly hope Dorrie's mad scheme will be foiled! It pains me to say this! In the meantime, as my health improves, I shall keep a low profile, and pray all this blows over, like an ill wind.

Post script: I somehow wound up paying for my own "welcome back" luncheon. Well, 'tis the thought that matters.

Today's story is unrelated to the current themes of change and chaos in my life. I'd thought of selecting a story that had to do with restaurants and food, but I had Speed Comics "in the brain," and I made a furtive late-night visit to The Pantheon.

Mister Liffler's lights were out. I carefully unlocked and entered The Pantheon. The fates were kind to me. My Speeds are in box V-7, which is on the top layer of Row Four, in the front.

In mere momemts, I held the issue containing today's fanciful tale of inter-galactic postal adventure. Our hero's name was often used as an unrequested nick-name by my fellow panelologists for myself, in the 1960s and '70s. It is to those departed, disenfranchised and dislocated comrades of the comic magazine that I dedicate today's rousing tale.

Inter-planetary intrigue! Threaded heat-rays! Monsters soothed by ice on the North Pole! This entry of "'Mars' Mason" is amongst the finest of the long-running series.

As with many pioneering panelological features, "'Mars'" was conducted under the umbrella of a pen-name. "Glen Ross" was, in reality, four people: Sam GLandzky, Emeril ENright, Budd ROgan and FerriS Skelton. (I've taken the liberty of making it obvious where the pen-name was derived.)

These four fellows drew "'Mars' Mason" from a remote Forest Station outposts in Wyoming and Nebraska! The young rangers discovered comic magazines, and developed a quick passion for them. Each man worked solo at a different forest outpost. Glandzky was the series' writer.

He penned his "Mason" scripts on the back of forest reports. They were sent, via horseback messenger, to penciller Enright. Once his sketches were complete, a Native American traveled 32 miles on foot to deliver the pages to inker Rogan. Finally, the pages were mailed to letterer/firefighter Skelton. His was the final responsibility of shipping the completed tales to Harvey Comics' Fourth Avenue offices in Manhattan.

The four men never met in person. They never saw one another. Their sole mode of contact was via short-wave radio. They had originally attempted to craft a comic-magazine feature about a forest ranger--only to have this "sore-fire" idea nixed!

At the time, a craze for stories of mail delivery caused many comic magazine publishers to create their own "postman" feature. Alas, these series were typically set in the Old West, or in small-town America. "Glen Ross" had a genuinely clever scheme--send the postman to the far reaches of outer space!

The feature ended when Skelton was suddenly fired from his ranger position. He had been falsifying his tax records to save money. Alas, news of Skelton's departure did not reach the other three creators for 18 months. In that time, they wrote and drew another 15 "Mason" episodes, destined never to see the light of day.

It is believed these unpublished stories were burned by Skelton's unwitting successor. No one knows for certain what happened to these unlettered episodes. The secret died with Skelton, who was killed in the Pacific Theater in 1945.

The roots of panelology teem with sad tales such as this one. We can only be thankful that we have the handful of "'Mars' Mason" stories to enjoy--and cherish!

Future entries in this "blog" shall, no doubt, teem with drama themselves. Your humble host may be rubbing elbows with America's hungry!

Well, it's almost quitting time here at the office. I almost dread returning home...but I must summon the courage to see what my dear spouse is cooking up--quite literally!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Power Nelson in "Project: Radium!" from Prize Comics #3, 1940

Life is, indeed, like a book. As one chapter ends, a new one begins. Themes mesh and meld and blur together, and only in retrospect can we look up from the murk of our liveaday lives and see these transitions with any clarity.

Hurrah! I am "back on my own true feet" again! Traces of pain still plague the gouted foot. But the "digital phase compressor" was removed today. Dr. Doynter gruffly approved of my foot's condition.

He did, however, issue me a bit of a dressing-down. It stuck to my memory, and, thus, I repeat it here:

"Go on. Return to your desserts and buttery toast. Guzzle your half-and-half. Eat slices of moist cake and pie. See if I care. But, mark my words, Mr. Moray, you are lining your coffin with a shroud of saturated fats and sweets! If your life is at all precious to you, attempt to eat roughage. Try to eat the occasional vegetable. I can't do it for you. I wish I could. I... wish... I... could..."

With those words, he patted me on the right knee, sighed, and left the examination room without his eyes meeting mine.

I sat in that claustrophobic room for two hours--literally afraid to move. Dr. Doynter's words haunted me. Was I, indeed, killing myself with kindness? Was each dessert spoon, in reality, a saber of death for me?

The gloom of autumn had already darkened the afternoon sky as I hobbled out to my "loaner" car, a "green-friendly" vehicle called, I believe, the Priapus. It is a metallic bug of a car. It runs, in part, on electricity! Will wonders ne'er cease?

To my delight, the local "oldies" station chose that moment to play a "three-fer" of Peter and Gordon--easily my favorite of the "British Invaders" of the mid-1960s. Oh, how I idolized those harmonizing lads in those days! I was something of a dead-ringer for "Peter"--albeit a bit more heavy-set.

In fact, I formed a duet with a high-school friend, Russ "Rusty" Gortner. "Mason and Rusty" never got beyond a couple of high-school talent contests, but we enjoyed our attempts to re-create the delightful sounds of our English idols.

A wave of melancholy crossed my soul as I drove home. A tear rolled down my cheek whilst the sweet strains of "Nobody I Know" played over the radio. Perhaps I had mortality on my mind. The doctor's words stuck with me. As well, I realized I hadn't seen "Rusty" in over 30 years. For all I know, he could be dead and buried.

How many friends, teachers, celebrities have I outlived? And who amongst those demogratical groups shall outlive me?

To cheer myself, I quickly thought of the names of 10 pioneer panelologists. Last on the list was Richard Sprang. I hadn't thought of Mr. Sprang in years. He is best-known for his popular berth on the "Batman" feature of the 1950s.

His work was quite slick and sleek by that time--at the expense of much of his artistic and panelological "soul." I thought back to his earliest work in the comic-magazine medium. Today's remarkable tale came immediately to mind.

The trouble was, my early issues of Prize Comics are in box W-21. To get to these panelological gems would mean an hour of strenuous lifting, moving, sorting and yet more lifting.

I prefer that my trips to "The Pantheon" be short and sweet. Should I linger too long in my backyard, I risk attracting the attention of Burt Liffler, my well-meaning next-door neighbor.

Mr. Liffler is the coach of a local middle-school basketball team. He lives alone, and is, I assume, a widower. Perhaps he has never married! Whatever the case, he is desperately in search of human contact and attention.

Once I am seen, I can rarely escape without 90 minutes of small-talk. The poor man! So alone in this world! He wears shorts every day of the year, and tends to overdo his cologne. I can smell Burt Liffler before I see him.

This is, sometimes, a boon. If I am able to catch the scent of his cologne in time, I can quickly slide shut the doors of The Pantheon, with myself inside the structure.

When this happens, I am in for a long wait. Mr. Liffler is content to spend a solid hour calling out my name: "Mason? Are you there? Mason? Is that you?" Over and over and over again! It is exhausting.

As well, Mr. Liffler typically wears his coach's whistle at all times. Perhaps out of instinct, or habit, he will punctuate his pathetic calls with pert bursts from that whistle.

I feel like a heel for avoiding Mr. Liffler. But he is in too much need. I don't mind a chat of, say, 15 minutes' duration with him. But he fails to understand that I might "have a life" and, thusly, need to go back into my house.

This very scenario played out this evening. I simply had to lay my hands on the early Prizes, Burt Liffler be damned!

I must move four layers of archival boxes, then another three, to obtain access to box W-21. It is nigh impossible to achieve this goal without a great deal of thumping and bumping. The boxes' pounding against the metallic walls of "The Pantheon" are a clarion call to the lonely soul of Mr. (or, should I say, Mister?) Liffler.

Before I could prepare myself, I heard that loathsome whistle blow. "Mason?" Then a silence. "Is that you out here in the dark?"

I sighed and steeled myself for the worst: "Yes, Mister Liffler, it is I."

"Oh, call me Burt. We're neighbors."

"Burt. Yes, I am here."

Three-quarters of an hour later, having gone through such topics as the price of oranges, sock repair, poor cable reception, a sale on cement and pottery at a local hardware store, a knee injury of his star player, and its comparisons to my recent attack of gout, his disappointment in a new brand of soda pop, the death of a beloved middle-school janitor and something about the phenomenon of "Howard, the Combined Kitten" (the latter which he found on the Internet), his telephone rang.

"Oh, dear, I'm expecting this call. I've got to go." And off went lonesome Mister Liffler.

I could scarcely believe my luck, nor properly count my blessings. I had been spared a good hour of additional small-talk!

My main difficulty in our "friendship" is that I am seldom allowed more than two syllables of response. Liffler clearly enjoys the gift of speech. As "groucho" of the Marx Brothers might have quipped, he was vaccinated with a radio!

I held in my hands the third issue of Prize. It is my profound pleasure to share this early gem by Richard Sprang with you today. It's quite a hair-raising tale, so hold onto your seats and hats!

The majesty of "Power Nelson" never seemed brighter than in this superlative story. In its 15 breathless pages, Richard Sprang crafted a panelological pleasure of epic scale.

I hope you don't mind if I cut short my post-story analysis today. I have one more item of concern. I haven't discussed it with anyone else--yet. I open my heart to you, my esteemed readers.

Should I seek "help" for my wife, Dorrie? She is, of late, given to wandering around the kitchen, day and night, muttering to herself as she consults cook-books and pretends to prepare her justly famous treats and goodies.

These episodes occur usually after I have dozed off. I am a light sleeper, and the clanks and creaks of her nocturnal kitchen activity easily rouse me.

More than once, I have stumbled down the hallway and peered into the kitchen, to see my wife measuring imaginary draughts of flour, sugar and salt; stirring pretend batches of frosting and batter; bringing unseen pots of water to an alleged boil.

During daylight hours, Dorrie is her old self. She has recovered, it would seem, from the embarrassment of her attempted "trial seperation." Is this night-time secret behavior something worthy of my concern? Or is she just "bowling off steam" while she awaits my full return to health?

Again, I am sorry to cut short my comments on today's panelological presentation. I feel that each of you is my friend, though we have not met in person. I solicit your opinion: what am I to do?

Awaiting your counsel, I remain your friend,

Mason Moray