Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"The Bullet"--and a rare interview with panelologist/fine artist R. E. Butts!

Well! I have been "Blogged!" Yes, sir, this flattering, if bewildering write-up of my humble efforts appeared today! Here is the URAL to read it:

Now onto today's very special post. I was asked by one of my followers, "Mr. Moray, you attended many of the early 'comic-cons' in the 1960s and 1970s. Did you meet any of the early 'Golden Age' cartoonists? Were you ever able to interview any 'lost legends' for your fanzines?"

I'm happy to give a resounding answer of "yes!" to both questions.

In those halcyon days of panelology, I met and spoke with, among others, the following giants of the artform: Jack Kirby, Carl Burgos, William Everett, Robert Powell, William Eisner, Martin Nodell, Joseph Kubert, C. C. Beck, Vernon Henkel... oh, how the list could rattle on!

Friends, you have no idea of the ease with which an eager young disciple of the panelologic arts could encounter the geniuses who brought our four-color dreams to the printed and inked page!

I managed to do interviews with many of these "key figures" for my best-known fanzine, "Panelological Pleasures."

However, the most rewarding--and fascinating--"Golden Age" artist I had the fortune to encounter was not one whose name might be found in household chat. Richard Evelyn Buttram, A.K.A. "R. E. Butts," never attended any of those bygone "comic-cons." Nor did he receive any of the acclaim that even the least talented craftsman of 1940s panelology might have received, had he simply wandered into the rooms in which said "comic-con" was conducted.

I met Mr. Buttram whilst attending the 1969 Big Apple Comicon. It was my first trip to New York City. I was eager to take in all the sights. At age 22, my curiosity knew no bounds.

Having spent several hours in the sweaty confines of the dealer's rooms at the Big Apple event, I deemed it provident to wander outside and get some fresh air--the latter merely a turn of phrase in smoggy, grimy Gotham.

I strolled into the East Village--then a haven of "beatniks," "yippies" and bohemian artists. I had heard much about the "expresso pads" of the Village, and wanted to sample this "hip" beverage. Friends, it turned out to be plain old coffee--albeit served in a tiny cup!

It was good coffee, tho'. On a crisp autumn afternoon, as I squinted in the sunlight, I chanced upon an outdoor exhibition of paintings. Their creator was a tall, grey-haired man, wearing a striped sweatshirt and a derby hat, just like those worn by Hardy and Laurel in their screen comedy classics.

I had on hand a formidable stack of comic magazines--treasures newly acquired from the confines of the dealers' room. Said pamphlets caught the eye of the elderly painter. Atop the stack was the very issue of Amazing Mystery Funnies from which today's special selection is found.

"Lord God!" the artist sighed. "What memories that brings back!" He pointed to the comic magazine in question.

"Did you read this magazine when it was new?" I innocently asked.

"Read it? Hell, son, I drew for it!" He snatched the precious magazine from my hands and deftly paged through it. He then held up the "splash page" to "The Bullet." He cleared his throat. "Son, that's me. 'R. E. Butts.' That was my pen name for the funny books."

You'll appreciate that I found my heart in my throat. So suddenly, so unexpectedly--here was a "forgotten man" of the "funny book" era!

"You were a panelologist?" I asked, fighting an urge to stutter.

"Speak sense, son! I drew for the funnies! But that was 30 years ago... I've gotten into the fine art racket. Done OK by it, too."

At the time, I was preparing the first issue of my fan-zine, and still "at sea" for a cover feature. I was thunderstruck with a sudden gleaning: here was my interview subject--a man who worked "behind the scenes" and could "tell it like it was" for my curious readership!

"Sir," I blurted out, "might I interview you for my fanzine?"

"Interview?" His brow wrinkled with the effort of thought. "What's it pay?"

At the time, I was naive. It seemed apt, to me, that such talented creators, indeed, should receive pay in exchange for telling of their experiences in the panelological universe.

"Er--would fifty dollars be enough?"

Mr. Buttram's eyebrows appreciably raised. "Hmm... you'd better make it sixty."

I opened my wallet. There were four twenty-dollar bills within. This would seriously hamper my further involvement, as a buyer, in the Big Apple Comicon. But how many of my fellow "fans" could boast that they had bought, with their hard-earned money, a genuine slice of panelological history?

I agreed at once. Mr. Buttram invited me to interview him at his studio that evening at the unearthly hour of midnight! He wrote down his address and said he'd expect me there at the stroke of twelve.

As a token of good faith, I paid him the $60 in advance.

Friends, I was on Cloud Nine! I wandered back to the "con" when another thought struck like lightning. How in the heavens would I record the imminent interview for posterity? At the time, tape recorders were still in the realm of wealth. "Ordinary Joes" such as myself did not have such devices at their constant beck and call.

However, a friend at the "con" owed me both money and a favor. I collected on both.

His name was Wallace "Sparks" Spinkle. "Sparks," may he rest in peace, was a pioneer of panelological fandom. His fan-zines Realms of Tomorrow and Power Blast Phenomenon! set a standard for journalism and ethics seldom equalled, even today.

"Sparks" Spinkle had a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. I borrowed it from him to conduct the interview. "Sparks" also repaid me 30 dollars he'd borrowed from me, in order to purchase a copy of Action Comics #1. I'd advised him against its purchase.

Talking horse sense, it seemed that one might do better to buy 30--or even 60--comic magazines, for that price, rather than put "all of one's eggs into the basket." "Sparks" was dead-set on acquiring this over-rated piece of panelology.

To my surprise, he'd turned around and resold it--within five minutes--for 50 dollars. P.T. Barnum was right, it seemed! "Sparks" had earned 20 dollars with no effort whatsoever.

I'm sure "Sparks" does cart-wheels in his grave when he thinks how much that comic magazine would fetch in these 21st century times!

To prepare for the interview, I read the story Mr. Buttram had indicated as his work. To put yourself in the frame of mind I shared, in the hours before my interview, here is said story:

You will admit that 'R. E. Butts' had a unique visual and textual panelology style. Indeed, there would be much to discuss. Here was a phantom figure of the dawn age of the comic magazine!

Midnight found me examining a dank basement apartment, fronted by a coal-black hallway. I heard things skitter in the bottomless dark around me. Finally, I found a door, and rapped against it.

"What?" a thick-sounding voice muttered from within.

I announced myself, and recapped our meeting, earlier that afternoon. "Oh yeah," the voice slurred.

A great number of locks slid, clicked and cracked. Finally, the door eased open, and a gentle, orange-hued light mingled with the jet-black of the hallway. I saw that those skittering things were rats! I was truly in the heart of the city.

Mr. Buttram invited me inside. His was a typical "artist's loft"--strewn with paintings, art supplies, underwear, cereal boxes, empty liquor bottles, and, in an eccentric touch, the near-deafening tick of a thousand wind-up alarm clocks.

Said clocks were everywhere--they blanketed every flat surface, and all were set to a different time! On a time-worn "hi fi," genuine "bee-bop" jazz music played in the background.

"D'you bring the money, son?" Mr. Buttram asked.

"But, sir, I paid you this afternoon--in full!"

His face tellingly reddened. "Yes, I recall that you did." He cleared space on a frayed, stained sofa-bed and invited me to sit.

I switched on the tape recorder, my heart beating in time with the myriad alarm clocks clucking and clittering all about me. I was about to conduct my first interview!

Here it is, as it appeared in my maiden effort of panelological commentary, Strange Oddysey #1, which saw print in early 1971.

"They Wanted Me To Draw That Way!"
"R. E. Butts" in the Dawn of Comic Magazines
interview by Mason J. Moray

"It paid the bills," says Richard E. Buttram, as he takes a "drag" from a green bottle of "night train," here in the dark heart of Gotham. The "it" referred to is panelology; the speaker, now a classically-trained artist of fine paintings, is likely unknown to you by his given name.

Try out "R. E. Butts" for size! Yes, this bohemian gentleman, sitting at midnight in his squalid "pad," is the man who created some of the earliest panelological presentations, primarly for the long-departed Centaur Press--launching pad of many a comic-magazine career.

When asked how he entered the panelological "scene," Buttram is modest. "I knew a guy. He knew a guy. It was like that. I needed work. My paintings weren't selling. I couldn't cut it as a magazine illustrator. I didn't have the discipline to hack it.

"I'd seen these 'funny books' around town. It seemed like kid's play to me. I figured, 'get in for a few months,' you know, crap out some stuff, sell it, and then get out of it. And that's exactly what I did."

And, thus, our interview began proper.

Do you have any remembrances of the halcyon days of panelology?


What was it like to work in comic books in the late 1930s?

Aw, it was just a bunch of guys in a room, drawing and kidding around. It was something to do, you know...

What was your inspiration in creating The Bullet? Its panelological stylings are quite unorthodox, even for this pioneering period...

Kid, you need to talk English. I just made this crap up as I did it. "Fill seven pages," the editor told me. You heard of "Uncle Joe?"

No, sir. Who--

"Uncle Joe" Holstein. The biggest crap-slinger on Manhattan Island. All talk and no action! Just try and get him to put money in your hand! You'd have to be that magician guy. Oh, what was his name?



Yarko the Great?

Huh? No! It doesn't matter. Nothing mattered, except for two things. Two... things. One: draw the crap. Whatever it is; it didn't matter. Just draw the crap. Two: Get the money. That was the hard part.

Thank God the war came on. The Merchant Marines paid a hell of a lot better than "Uncle Joe." I didn't mind getting shot at. I was making real money in the war!

I saw your exhibit of paintings today in the Eastern Village. Are all of those recent works?

Some of 'em. Some of 'em have been kicking around since the '50s. Tourists buy 'em, mostly. I've sold some to hotels.

What did you like most about working in comics?

The paycheck. When I got it.

What was the worst part of working in comics at the time?

The worst? I'll tell you the worst. You could be [expletive] Michael Anjelo. You could draw like a [expletive], paint the [expletive] Sisteen Chapel ceiling. But when you worked for the funnies, all that went out the window.

You bring that funny book with you?

Yes. Here it--

Yeah, just look at this. [points to several drawings on the page] They wanted me to draw that way!

I remember; I brought in this job to "Uncle Joe." He chewed on a piece of leather. I think it was part of a wallet. Always chewing on that damned thing.

"Uncle Joe" looked at my lead page. [points to drawing of a character's head on page one of story] "OK," he said, "I'll let you have that one. One good drawing. The rest of this--you gotta re-do it!"

Of course, I was shocked. "Re-do it? Why you [expletive]! This is good work!"

I'll never forget get. "Uncle Joe" chewed on that wallet piece, sucked on it, and put his finger tips together, like that game, this is the church, open the door and look at the people? You know that one?

No, sir.

Well, no matter. He patted those fat fingers back and forth. Back and forth. "We don't encourage our artists to draw well. We don't want our artists to slow down on that fancy stuff. We need to get these out the door quick."

Long story short--I had to re-draw all the faces--and do 'em badly! He made me sit in a closet and put Chinese White all over the good drawings. He stood over my shoulder. Anytime I started to draw well, he'd chuckle and say, "Uh uh uh! That's too good."

So this "Uncle Joe" wanted you to draw poorly?

That's the long and short of it!

Is that enough? What else you want to know?

What other features did you create for the comic magazines?

Oh, that was a long time ago. Let me think... [sighs] It all starts to blur together when you get to be my age, son...

Aw, hell. "Tack Dixon." That ring any bells?

No, sir.

"Tack Dixon." He was a prize-fighter who hunted cannibals in Africa. That was one. "Five Deuces;" that was an airplane feature. "Cochita of Laredo." She was a Mexican detective. Imagine that--a Mexican woman who's a dick!

Who were some of your favorite artists in pan-- er, in comics at the time?

Tell you the truth, son, I never even looked at the things. I just did my pages, took 'em in, and tried to tough it out 'til that fat [expletive] paid me off.

Then the war came on. I signed up before the last bombs had hit Pearl Harbor. I'd rather go to war than struggle on in this nonsense. That was the last I saw of comic books. Never looked back.

I see.

That's what I'd do if I were you, son. Turn your back on the whole sorry business. Learn a trade. Don't fool with this bunk. It's just a--

[Our interview was rudely interrupted by the simultaneous ringing of a hundred alarm clocks. Your correspondent nearly leaped out of his skin at that moment.]

Well, friends, that was the interview. It was nearly three in the morning when I shut off the tape recorder and gathered myself to leave.

I'll never forget what happened next. Mr. Buttram looked at me. "You know, it's nice of you to look me up, talk to me about this baloney. I don't mean to sound like an old grump."

He reached, without looking, to a stack of framed paintings that leaned against a wall. He grabbed two and insisted I take them. "I want you to feel like you got something good for your money."

"R. E. Butts" saw me to the door. I found myself alone on the eerily silent streets of the East Village, two oil paintings in my arms, along with "Sparks" Spinkle's tape recorder and the very comic magazine from which today's tale originated.

I still own those paintings today. They hang in our home. I took pictures of them so that I can share them with you today.

"Hat Lady" by R. E. Buttram, c. 1960

"Pretty Scenery" by R. E. Buttram, c. 1967

I never heard of, nor saw, "R. E. Butts" again. Each time I visited Gotham, I frequented the East Village, in the hopes of sighting this panelological legend. It was as if he never existed.

Yet, every day, when I pass by these paintings in my home, I'm reminded of this artist whose pioneering efforts helped to build a panelological empire. This post is dedicated to you, Mr. Richard Evelyn Buttram.

Your work was not in vain. Not in the realms of the Pantheon!

Until next time, I remain your humble friend and servant. Good day.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"The Madhouse Murder Mystery"--and a personal story of tragedy

Friday night, I left on an annual business trip. That is, to say, what I tell "the missus" each September 25th.

In truth, I withhold a dark secret of my past. It troubles me so that I don't know exactly what to do. Thus, I feel now is the time to "put my cards on the table" in this safety-zone.

I trust you will not judge me, dear reader. If you do, I beseech you to look deep into your heart, and dwell on past experiences of your life. Perhaps you will understand why I have made certain choices.

Dorrie is my second wife. Ours is, by and large, a marriage of convenience. I met Dorrie in 1991, while en route to an underwriters' seminar in Minneapolis. She was a desk clerk for TWA's Minneapolis outlet. It was a case of "like at first sight."

We courted via letters and long distance calls (this was in the very early 1990s, before the Internet would have facilitated such a long-distance romance).

Within six months, I'd offered a marriage proposal.

Neither of us harbored any illusions. We each wanted the same thing: a person with whom we could agreeably share the ins and outs of our daily routine existence. A companion, someone to fill the deadly emptying silences that can haunt a bachelor house or apartment.

We were wed, in a simple courthouse ceremony, in March of 1992. I had purchased our current residence a few years earlier. At that time, The Pantheon had its place of pride in the room that is now my study.

I am genuinely fond of Dorrie. Altho' I dearly wish she would accept my panelological side, she is, by and large, kind-spirited, generous, intelligent and, in so many ways, a calming influence on my life.

Each year, on September 25, I pack my bags and head to the "Tri-States Insurance Adjusters Guild Seminar." Don't bother to look that up on "Goggle"-- it is a fiction. It disguises a journey I feel I must make, on each September 25th, for the remainder of my days.

On that day, I drive 282 miles, to visit the cemetery where my first wife and my only son rest the eternal sleep.

Dorrie knows nothing of this. To her knowledge, I am a late bloomer--a man who was caught up in his career (and "hobby") to the exclusion of domestic life and romance. My life, before Dorrie, was simply spent alone, absorbed in work and panelology.

If only I could tell her... but I fear she would not understand, nor respond properly. We have been together for 17 years now. It is far too late, I fear, to spring such a huge piece of my past history upon her lap.

I met my first wife, Marilou, at a comic-book convention in New York City. The year: 1970. I was 24, and already deep into the realms of paneolology. Those, my friends, were the golden days of this pursuit. At this "con," for less than 50 dollars, I acquired significant runs of The Bouncer, Blue Circle Comics, Star-Spangled Comics (which feature the stunning humor-adventure of "Penniless Palmer"), and a few tantalizing odds and ends--including the very comic magazine I feature today's offering from.

Marilou was that rarest of things--a female panelologist. Her realms of devotion were in the archiving of romance, "cartoon critter" comics, 1950s humor and horror titles, and, as many were besotten of at the time, the comics of the "Marvel Age."

Friends, it was like a romantic motion picture. In the cramped, sweaty rooms of this convention, amidst pudgy, seizing hands, crowded about musty piles of vintage treasures, Marilou and myself kept crossing paths.

Each time, we both smiled, acknowledged one another, and asked simple questions:

"What are you looking for?"

"Is that your foot?"

"May I see that issue of Super-Mystery Comics when you're done with it?"

And so on. Innocent requests, made with mutual respect.

With each meeting, aspects of Marilou's charms began to dawn upon me. 'Til that time, my attempts in the "dating world" had been just that--attempts. They had always ended in failure and unpleasantness for me.

For one thing, the time and expense required of obtaining and sustaining a "steady date" were enormous, even back then. I chuckle now in remembrance of how little an "evening out" cost, circa 1967. But when that same money could just as easily be put towards a towering stack of panelological gems from a quarter-century earlier, the latter most frequently won out.

None of the women in my life could embrace or understand my panelological needs. One deluded woman took it upon herself to "surprise me." Obtaining the spare key to my apartment, she quite innocently elected to hurl my panelological archives into the alleyway.

Neatly tied with twine, 29 large bundles of my treasures just barely escaped the onslaught of the garbage truck. I had to literally throw myself upon the bundles (careful not to further damage them) until I could communicate with the sanitation crew.

For a five-dollar tip, one gentleman of the "garbage force" helped me return the precious booklets to my rooms. Thankfully, none of them were harmed, save a few torn covers.

Needless to say, that burgeoning romance died cold that day.

My fate was sealed when, unable to sleep, I had left my room in the YMCA, where I lodged for the convention weekend, with a small but potent stack of panelological "finds."

I located an all-night drug store with a luncheonette. They say New York is "the city that doesn't rest," and, friends, this is indeed true.

Over a favorite late-night combo of mine--a "patty melt" sandwich and a chocolate malted--I pondered the contents of an early 1939 issue of Amazing Mystery Funnies--the very item from which today's "special treat" is reproduced.

I'd just taken a sip of the cold malted, and was guiding the warm sandwich half to my mouth when I heard her voice: "Mind some company, mister?"

'Twas Marilou. She had purchased the same snack combination as had I! Kismet! Fate! She, too, held a stack of vintage comics--assorted Young Romance issues. I instantly recognized the solid handiwork of Jack Kirby and Joseph Simon.

"Did you know that the creator of 'Tuk the Cave Boy' and 'Solar Legion' was responsible for those romance comics?" I said, fighting back a stammer.

Her eyes widened. "Really? I thought the artist was just copying Jack Kirby." She sat down and perused one of the covers. "By George, you're right! You have a good eye."

"I, madam, am a panelologist." We shook hands and exchanged introductions. Marilou lived in Winston-Salem, where she worked as an elementary school art teacher. At the time, I was at the start of my first career--the assistant manager of a popular bowling alley in Dothan, Alabama.

We stayed up past dawn, walking the streets of The Big Apple, talking about panelology, life, philosophy, music--the usual topics borne of a new romance.

Over breakfast at a pancake house, I silently realized that I was smitten with this young woman--and that she and I were destined to live as one.

It would be three years before that realization became reality. Those years were consumed with meetings at comic conventions, constant letters, phone calls and panelological "care packages." I scoured the backwaters of the Southeast for key missing issues of the sundry titles she sought.

Marilou, in turn, coaxed some exceptional needs from my want-list. She had a knack for finding superb examples of these missing issues. She also located "upgrades" for several titles of interest to me.

At a Wonder-Con in 1973, I finally "popped the question," over the warbling harmonies of a barbershop quartet, singing in a Stuckey's pizzeria. I can't recall what it was I said, but I'll never forget Marilou's smiling rejoinder: "What took you so long, you big goof?"

Our wedding took place that November. It was a proud moment for my parents, and, I assume, for hers as well. Though we both wanted a panelological-themed wedding, we submitted to our elders' wishes for a more conventional ceremony.

Friends, we spent our wedding night reading from a significant run of Sensation Comics--a title we co-collected--that I unearthed in a barn-like junk shop I discovered, en route to the church.

I admit I arrived at my wedding dishevelled, sweaty and dusty. Yet proud! For the piddling sum of $45, I had acquired 93 issues of Sensation, all in sterling condition.

Oh, ours was not a chaste union--not by any means! We'd both agreed that love could be expressed just as easily through the shared joy of comic magazines as through the involved, oft-exhausting coupling of human bodies.

But such coupling did occur--and often. We rented a ranch house in St. Louis, Missouri--a convenient mid-point 'twixt her folks and mine. Here was housed our remarkable twin archive of panelology. It was a truly happy home. And, just as in the Fats Domino classic "My Blue Heaven," baby soon made three.

Marilou gave birth to a bouncing baby boy on January 23, 1975. We named him Jacob, in honor of Jack Kirby, whose birth name was Jacob Kurtzberg. The tot's middle name, Austin, honored my father. This continued a tradition. My middle name, James, was the name of my father's father.

Jacob grew up steeped in panelology. His was a healthy mixture of athletics and comic magazines. Marilou was a superb mother, and a vivacious wife. Together, we edited and produced a popular fan-zine you may have heard of: Panelologist's Pride.

It seemed that my life's dreams had magically coalesced. Hobby and househould joined as one. Truly, it was my personal blue heaven.

Then came the day of September 26, 1981. A day I shall never forget.

On the evening of September 25th, I was the keynote speaker at a small comic-con in Pennsylvania.

Marilou couldn't attend until the next day--a Saturday--due to the obligations of her teaching work.

I drove to Allentown alone on the morning of the 25th. I'd just received a bonus from work, and was champing at the bit to fill some holes on my want-list.

The night before, my presentation-- a slide-show (remember the Kodak Carousel?) on my pet theme--super-heroes without secret identities-- was fondly received by a small but buoyant crowd.

I awoke the next morn with the "contact high" of recognition and acclaim. I was sad Marilou couldn't see it, nor Jacob--he loved to see his "old man" take center stage.

While I dawdled over an omelet, Marilou and Jacob were well on their way to Allentown's Ramada Inn, home of this panelological gatherum. I anticipated a day at the dealer tables, haggling over needed diamonds for my archives--my wife and child by my side.

It was on a winding stretch of Highway 309, outside of Center Valley, that events conspired to permanently alter my life.

Incident #1: a farmer, in an attempt to neaten a slaughterhouse, accidentally severed a telephone wire. This shorted out the system for the entire Center Valley. For 14 hours, the area was without telephone access.

Incident #2: an ancient pick-up truck, laden with 20 50-gallon canisters of fresh butter, left a local dairy farm, to its intended destination of a "farmer's market" in nearby Coopersburg.

Incident #3: a group of amateur ornithologists, in search of the elusive yellow-throated Vireo, had parked their Volkswagen van on the shoulder of Highway 309. They neglected to note that some signage blocked the view of their parked van to oncoming motorists.

Here is what happened: the dairy farmer sneezed at a crucial bend in the road. He lost control of his truck, due to its poorly repaired brakes.

The truck collided with the Volkswagen van. On impact, the flimsy latch of the truck's back door flew open. The large containers of fresh butter spilled out on Highway 309. The farmer received serious head concussions; the ornithologists were so deeply absorbed in their pursuit that they did not hear the accident, nor know of it 'til returning to their vehicle, which had, by then, been impounded.

The farmer revived and staggered toward a nearby farmhouse, in order to report the accident. Of course, the news could not reach authorities. There was no telephone service.

Close to 1,000 gallons of butter coated Highway 309. The road was a bright golden death-trap.

At approximately 10:26 AM--as I was inquiring as to the price of a needed issue of More Fun Comics--my dear Marilou, and darling boy Jacob, traveling over the speed limit to attend the convention--took that same blind curve and skidded, at 70 MPH, across a vast thick field of butter.

Butter-such a pleasure when applied to hot corn on the cob! So enjoyable on a fresh slice of toasted whole-wheat bread! Who would ever consider it an agent of death?

Yet, on that morning, it took the lives to two precious souls. Marilou could not control the car--she had no traction, due to the extensive spread of butter on the smooth blacktop of the pavement. She, Jacob, and our Dodge Dart, burst into flames as they struck a thick old-growth tree on the left side of the highway.

The coroner ruled that their death was instant, and painless. It was of meager comfort to me, when the news awaited me on my return to St. Louis.

At the con, I'd wondered where Marilou and Jacob were. They had missed out on a lot of fun. I even had a surprise for them. I purchased a large lot of assorted "cartoon critter" comics from the 1940s and '50s, certain that several holes in Marilou's "want list" might be filled from this heap of pulp-paper.

Marilou was never to see those comic magazines--nor any other.

I was left with a gaping maw in my life. Panelology kept me going through several dark years. I retained my spirit of collecting--perhaps to overzealousness--as a balm for the unspeakable pain each new day brought to my world.

I quit my job, after the insurance settlement arrived, and spent three years as a vagabond. Living in motels and motor courts! Scouring rummage sales and antique stores and attics for rare treasures! Doing it all for the memory of Marilou.

I finally sold the St. Louis house, and transferred the future contents of The Pantheon to dry storage. As my coffers began to deplete, I revived an old career option--insurance adjustment--and took two years of community college courses. I was certified, and obtained the position I still hold today by 1989.

Marilou and Jacob are buried, side by side, in a secluded cemetery in St. Louis. I wish the groundskeepers would take better care of the place. My first task, upon approaching the final resting place of my first family, is to pull up weeds and remove soft-drink cans and Fritos sacks and such from the stones.

Then, on bended knee, I perform an annual ritual. I place, in a sealed Mylar bag, with archival backing board, one selection from Marilou's holdings in a special slide-down slot affixed to her headstone.

Jacob enjoyed tales of the unearthly and unfathomable. Upon his stone is rested a vintage horror or "sci-fi" comic magazine that he had found and collected in his short time on this earth.

I paid a stone mason handsomely to engrave Marilou's name in the same "font" as used on the logo of Young Romance; Jacob's name is sculpted in the style of the EC "New Trend" titles he so enjoyed. (Like myself, he was an early reader.)

It is obvious that someone--perhaps a lonely wandering panelologist--comes and removes these admittedly valuable comic magazines after my visit. So be it. But, for a time, my first family is reunited with an artifact of our great shared passion.

I compose these words at the office, where I sit alone. To Dorrie's knowledge, I am at the closing day of the conference, and perhaps just now checking out of my hotel room, the sooner to make the trip homeward.

Someday, Dorrie. Someday I shall tell you. I hope I have not waited too long. I hope my story shall not be a burden, when and if it is told.

In honor of Marilou, I present today the very story I perused, over the patty melt sandwich, when my dear first wife and I began our enchanted time together.

Fittingly, this is a morbid, somewhat primitive story, filled with dread and rife with graveyard imagery. I shall forego my usual "post mortem" comments. I feel that this sinister tale speaks for itself.

One quick note: as with the "Mister Midnite" tale posted here recently, this macabre short story is published in limited hues. Several pages offer a stunning use of mere black and white--the better to render the growing sense of mounting horror evoked in its unforgettable pages.

Until our next meeting, friends, I bid you "adeiu." I hope you understand me, and do not condemn or criticize me.

And worry not: I shall be home soon, eating one of Dorrie's rib-sticking meals, and content that I do, indeed, have someone to turn to in life's darkest hour.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mr. Justice Battles "The Radium Corpse!" from "Jackpot Comics" #9, 1942

Second-best is better than the rest.
-- Austin Moray

The above-quoted saying was one that issued from my father's lips, loudly and clearly enunciated, some hundreds of times over the span of my childhood. Even today, when visited at the Nightflower Fens Retirement Community, where he resides, my "dear old dad" will express this deeply-held conviction at the drop of a hat.

This Moray family philosophy has, in its own way, deeply affected me in my life choices. It has also given me an ever-renewable gift: the awareness, and ability to appreciate, the "second-banana" items strewn across our path in each and every day of our lives.

But first: a news update. Big changes at work! Jim R___________ has suddenly, violently resigned from his position! And guess who now controls the cherished office scanner?

Your first guess is correct, friends. Sitting right next to me at my desk (where I compose this post, right 'neath the eyes of my "team members") is the all-powerful Hewlett Packard ScanJet 2100 C. It awaits my beck and call, night or day, rain or shine.

How it happened:

Considerable tension has existed in our office for the past several months. Apparently, Jim R________ and Donald F________ have both sought the romantic attention of a waitress at the nearby Red Robin resturant. Her name, if I heard it correctly (and, trust me, I heard it hundreds of time amidst the grating office chit-chat), is "Gabbie."

It would appear that Donald F________ was first to obtain access to Gabbie's "hidden charms." Though departed Jim R_______ was the next in line, our heroine proved to embody the old saying, "kiss and tell."

As I have heard 'midst the grape vines, "Gabbie" casually mentioned her prior tryst with Donald F______ after a hot "petting session" with Jim R_______. This occured on a Saturday night.

Jim R_______ stewed over this news the remainder of the weekend. Come Monday morning, he was in a lethal frame of mind.

Donald F_______ was, of course, blissfully innocent of the outcome of his rival's romantic meanderings. He approached the noticeably glowering, dark Jim R______ to ask for the use of his stapler.

There were words. "So 'Gabbie' isn't enough for you, you ******* thief? Now it's my ******** stapler you want?" With these words, Jim R_______ doused Donald F______ with the remnants of his now-tepid "coffee latte."

He then attempted to mortally wound his rival with the stapler. However, the device lacked velocity sufficient to puncture Donald F_______. As poor Jim R______ squeezed the trigger, a shower of staples fell wanly on the carpeted floor.

Our "team leader" witnessed this outburst, and immediately called Jim R_____ into his office. 'Neath the "leader"'s door, harsh words were heard, largely from Jim R_____'s mouth. Ten minutes later, he stormed out of the "leader"'s office and out the front door.

He has not returned since.

Yesterday, I inquired with our "leader" concerning the scanner. His exact reply:

"Y'know, Mason, I honestly don't care. Just take it. No one else in the office ever uses it."

You are wrong, dear "leader," you are wrong. This employee shall use it... and use it well.

As you will see in today's posting, I have dramatically improved the quality of my scans. I would appreciate your honest feedback re: the "look and feel" of today's offering. Is it better than before? Or do you prefer the earlier "look and feel?"

Today's offering is what my acquaintance and fellow panelologist Ronald Goulart would proudly call a "second-banana" feature. "Mr. Justice" was clearly patterned on the more popular and better-known "DC" feature, "The Spectre."

As my father would note, quite audibly, often times the "knock off" version exceeds the original in quality.

My childhood was spent amongst the "second banana" products of our American culture. Other families drove Chryslers and Chevrolets; my father proudly steered a Kaiser-Fraser automobile, well into the 1970s.

Our neighbors drank Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola on hot summer days. We enjoyed Double-Cola and "store brand" beverages.

My father was a "whiz" at locating these "off-brands." He would often drive miles and miles out of his way to obtain them. I was his frequent "co-pilot" on these trips.

As we would pass our neighborhood grocers, my father would sneer and shout, over the engine of the Kaiser-Fraser: "See those places? I feel sorry for the saps who shop there. They don't know what they're missing!"

Twenty or thirty miles later, we would approach an admittedly sinister-looking shopping mart, usually in the middle of nowhere. "Aahhh," my "dad" would say, sometimes literally wringing his hands. "This is more like it!"

Once inside, he would shop for "Maxton House" coffee, "Hans" baked beans, "Tune" soap, "Bardin" milk, and a plentitude of "near-miss" products. These were the products with which I was familiar, throughout my childhood.

I did not have my first genuine Coca-Cola until I was 19!

At the checkout line, my dad would treat me to a "Hirsey" chocolate bar. All the way home, he crowed, delightedly, about all the money he had saved. As we stopped to refill the gas tank, which easily emptied out on these "road trips," he positively beamed with pride.

To this day, I prefer the "off-brands" to the "name brands." I suppose it's just force of habit. When the situation calls, I can force myself to consume a cup of Folger's Coffee (Mom and Dad drank Nolger's), or enjoy a package of Lay's Potato Chips (our preferred brand was May's).

This way of thinking has influenced my decisions in panelology. It has taught me to "expect the unexpected" amongst the myriad of lesser-known, "knock-off" titles and characters.

"Mr. Justice" approached the popularity of its obvious inspiration, "The Spectre," for a time in the early 1940s. I find Mr. Justice entirely more pleasant and convincing. His powder blue sits better with me than the Spectre's dead white and dark green "motif."

I'm sure you will find this story thrilling, surprising and entertaining. I calculate that I've read this tale some 150 times. I have owned this comic magazine since first finding it in a used book shop in 1955. I believe there remain grease stains from some May's Potato Chips in the margins of the pages. (Alas, I was merely an avid consumer, and not a true panelologist, back in those halcyon days of yore...)

Thrills! Chills! Horrors of science! Mankind's responsibility in the usage of nuclear materials gives "The Radium Corpse" a surprisingly modern "edge" when read today.

In the 1960s and 1970s, we Americans lived in constant fear that the "Reds" would "drop their payload" on our important cities, and doom us all in a nightmare wave of radioactive dust. I'm sure that "the Commies" feared a like attack from our "big guns."

I still remember, with a vivid sense of horror, the dreaded "cubano missile crisis" of 1963. One could hear the "doomsday clock" tick a few seconds short of anhillation on those dark, tense days.

We now have to fear the madmen of the Orient. Some of them have been stock-piling their own arsenal of doom for decades. They would be all too willing to "rub us out" if their inscrutable mood should deem the action so. My hope is that they are sufficiently distrzcted to avoid contact with "the big red button."

"The Radium Corpse" brings the horrors of radiation to the home-front. Who would not shiver in fear at the sight of the poor, twisted title creature? Or house contempt for misguided Professor Stimes, creator of said monstrosity?

This story lays bare on the table the shocking lack of security in our penal system. When a "crack-pot" scientist can obtain access to an executed criminal on "Death Row," via an easily-obtained blueprint layout of the prison he is housed in, then I ask you: how safe are any of us? Some 60 years later, this story still vibrates with urgency and revelance.

As you may have noted by now, I have a fondness for super-heroes whose public identities lack the traditional "secret identity." Thank "Mr. Justice" for this! I find his abandonment of the expected cliches to still be highly refreshing and innovative.

I believe the closing frame of this panelological gem bears review. Mr. Justice's words still ring with deep truth:

'Tis chilling to consider the irony these very words might hold for poor Jim R_______. If only he had left well enough alone! If only, indeed, dear friend, we can all leave well enough alone!

Until next time, I remain your devoted friend in panelology, Mason James Moray.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Strongman: Thus, A Hero Is Born!" From "Crash Comics Adventures" #1

It seems that, already, I have my detractors--individuals who are, like me, attempting to span the yawning chasms of panelology, but at cross-purposes.

One complaint I have received is that I focus on stories other than the "hit" or "lead" feature in my treasured comic magazines.

Today I choose to break that trend--a habit scarcely formed. I cannot promise I shall abandon the presentation of these "lesser" or, as one brash critic inferred, "filler" items. For they, to my taste, are whence the very heart, soul, and throb of life is found in the art-form of panelology.

If that weren't enough, the story I shall showcase today is one of the first "graphic novels."

Now, I know there are many among us who pooh-pooh this admittedly silly term: is not all of panelology worthy of comparison to so-called "serious literature?" Does it not evoke the same emotions--stirrings of the soul, inspiration, tears, anger and joy--as those books we were all forced to read, at one time or another?

Admittedly, I haven't devoted time to reading the works of William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, James Michener or the other great novelists I keep hearing about. Quite honestly, I would have a hard time believing any of their words could match the feats of the panelological masters, at their best.

The oft-vollied charge against comics--that they are "trash"--is only made by those who have never immersed themselves in the waters of the art-form. And, perhaps, if those nay-sayers were to read some of the really great, expansive works--such as the very story you're about to savor--they would find themselves changed man and women.

No more would we feel the need to skulk in the shadows of civilization. We--all of us--would march proudly in the streets, unashamed to let the world know that we are panelologists!

Before today's epic story, some personal news:

Saturday night, I spotted Raphael--he who sold me The Pantheon, and assured me of his everlasting fidelity to said structure! He is still in the area.

Dorrie made up her weekly grocery list, and dispatched me to purchase each and every item therein. She prefers that I do our grocering at "Value Pantry," a sprawling mart set deep in a vast parking-lot on the edge of the city limits. Unbeknownst to her, a panelology shop also shares this expansive strip mall. Thus, I prefer to embark on the shopping trip earlier in the day.

Alas, Dorrie dawdled with her list, and I had to sacrifice a trip to Killer Komix! (that is the store's regrettable name), which closes promptly at six on weekends.

Rarely has Bart J________, the proprietor of Killer Komix!, anything to sell of great interest to me, but I have made a few finds there in my time, and I relish the prospect of a visit to his environs.

The shop's windows were long darkened by the time my Nova approached Value Pantry's sea of asphalt. I had to drive with supreme care. We have, I declare, become a nation of nattering chatter-boxes! Always jabbering on our "celled phones," and especially so when combined with the reckless, sub-standard driving techniques I see on such shameful and everlasting display.

I was forced to honk my horn--seven times!--at a giggling group of teen-agers insistent on driving while carrying on heaven knows what type of inane conversation.

In my youth, our home had a party line--one shared by 11 other families on our block. Thus, we abided by a rule that no telephone conversation could exceed 90 seconds, except in the case of a certified emergency.

Alas, two area "spinsters," Miss Montgomery and Miss Bordner, chose to invent an endless array of alleged crises--the better to prolong their vituperative brand of gossip.

Whenever I dared to silently lift the heavy telephone receiver, and hold it up to my ear, I heard reports that made my brain burn, and my face turn beet-red. I learned things I'll never forget about the heights and depressing depths of the human experience from the idle gossip of those loghorreaic spinsters.

My telephone conversations, at home, were strictly monitured by my father, Austin Moray. He had purchased a 90-second timer. Upon my first syllable of speech, he would engage the timer. It had a loud, echoing tick. I learned to speak swiftly, and to state my business and elicit a response.

If I exceeded the 90-second limit, I was rewarded with a loud, grating buzz that lasted a full minute. It could not be silenced, once started.

I confess that I found that timer and took it with me one morning as I left for school. I hurled the timer down a trash-strewn ravine. As it bounced and rolled down the steep grade, its deafening buzz sounded one last time.

It rolled out onto Highway 31, where it was instantly crushed by a freight truck.

Oh, I see I've pulled out the soapbox again! Dorrie would love this.

I had something of importance to report. Let me go back and read what I have written.

Oh, yes. I spotted Raphael. The poor lad was alone, slumped against a desolate, deserted bus stop. Although it was sufficiently chilly for me to need a jacket, the boy was dressed as if for a scorching summer day. He wore nothing but a tank-top and a very short pair of "cut-offs."

He appeared nervous, as if looking for someone... or as if waiting for someone. A car stopped beside him. He leaned into the window to consult with the driver. Perhaps the man was offering him a ride into town.

Distracted as he was, Raphael did not see me enter the parking lot.

Dorrie was, as ever, anxious for her groceries, so I hastened into the store. I thought I might engage him in conversation on my way home. Perhaps, if the unfortunate waif still needed a ride, I could return him to town, where he could dress more appropriately for the weather.

Dorrie's shopping lists are byzantine by their very nature. It is rare I am able to compile a full selection of her needs in less than an hour.

The check-out lines were long, and tediously slow. 'Twas then that I thought of the story you shall soon read--of its epic scope, its daring graphic virtuosity, and of its fearless, tireless hero. It was a pleasant way to pass the time.

Of course, Raphael was long gone by the time I motored away from Value Pantry. Perhaps the bus he waited for so anxiously had finally arrived. I hope to see him again soon, and have him make good on his promise.

There has been no evident tampering with The Pantheon's breached area since my last report. I am, all the same, eager to repair the damage, so I can truly sleep "the good sleep" at night.

Dorrie had a pleasant surprise waiting for me. Fresh from the oven was another of her cuisine specialties, "Crispy Quesadilla Cheese-cake." It is somewhat like a quiche, yet with a bold South-of-the-border flavor. (She uses a standard graham-cracker crust, as one would utilize when making a dessert cheese cake. Thus the dish's enigmatic title.)

In my study, at all times, are 25 selections from the Pantheon. Dorrie dozed with her knitting after our meal. I tiptoed into the study and quietly removed my treasured copy of Crash Comics Adventures #1.

I am blessed to be endowed with the ownership of this innovative, pioneering gem of panelology. It is a glorious remnant of the wild and woolly early years of the American comic magazine. Before the big War loomed large on our landscape, America was at play in its panelology.

The wildest flights of imagination--the boldest dreams mankind dared to express... these bounded in the careening, multi-hued frames of the dime comic magazine.

Among the most innovative and fearless of these early companies was the Holyoke Press. Unlike DC, Quality, Timely, or other rival companies, Holyoke favored unusually long, complex adventure sagas in their small but influential brace of publications.

According to my research notes, the Holyoke line was edited by one Thomas "Huck" Hartwell, a veteran journalist and dance-band leader who got into comics on a whim. Hartwell, you see, was also a veteran card player. He loved poker like no other man, past or present.

He "broke the bank" at a hotel card game. One of his beaten opponents had put the fledgling Holyoke Press "on the table." It became Hartwell's that night.

Hartwell suffered from chronic heart-burn, which kept him up nights. To ease his system, he often took long walks in the quiet of the city streets.

In his privately published memoirs, What A Life--But It Was Mine!, Hartwell recounts a moment of epiphany that bode well for we panelologists:

Searing pain throttled through my gut. I felt those digestive acids roiling like an angry sea. Not even the cool night air could soothe my pain.

Some swell magazine man I was! So far, the Holyoke concern was just a big bust. Our existing magazines, such as
Modern Knitting, Historic Cross-words and Thrills of Medicine were selling like lead balloons. Our book-keeper bought red ink by the gallon--that is, before I had to let him go.

I stood before the Third Avenue "el" tracks. A thought came to me: why not end it all? I had no loved ones, no one who mattered. I was just an old newshound with a bum tummy. A back-dated baton-waver with lumbago. A graying-at-the-temples card sharp with a bucket full of bills.

I saw the train in the distance. How quick it could be over! Just lay down on the tracks and let the 3:03 take care of my problems.

Then I saw it. Across the tracks stood a brightly-lit all night news-stand. On display was a color-choked array of new and unusual magazines.

I had to cross Third Avenue and see what these were!

They were "funny books"-- comic magazines! They'd just started this racket. G-men and China-men and flying fools! Daring exploits framed by speed-streaked modernistic titles! This was the answer to my prayers!

The 3:03 speeded by, and I was still alive and kicking! I bought a dollar's worth of these pulp-smelling pamphlets and a new day was born...

Among Hartwell's first efforts in the panelological field was this debut issue of Crash Comics Adventures. It had to be a "big deal," the better to complete with the over-rated but popular Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, et al.

The lead feature had to make history! Hartwell turned to The Funnies Factory, a packager of comic magazine features.

It's proven nigh impossible to obtain much information on the Funnies Factory concern. It operated from a studio flat in the Bronx, and had in its employ up to 75 people at the height of the comic-book boom.

A single blurry snapshot, which I was once privileged to see, reveals a sea of drafting tables, with little or no "wiggle room." Figures sit hunched over these tables, each laboring on a half-completed comic book page.

A large, stern man in a black suit with matching derby stands, hands crossed, in front of the tables.

It's rumored that The Funnies Factory could turn out a 68-page comic magazine in less than two hours. In exchange for their work, the young artists were allowed to live at their assigned drafting tables.

The Funnies Factory burned to the ground on the night of October 8, 1941. It was truly the end of an era. Many promising young panelological masters passed away in that regrettable blaze.

In a notebook from the 1960s, I have these five names written down, in a notation on the "Strongman" feature: Crantz-Brannigan-Copeland-Stewart-Fuchs. This would appear to be the creative team that brought life to "Strongman." It may be that this quintet was among the unfortunates who died in the 1941 fire.

Here, then, is Strongman's rare original appearance. It's quite a long tale, so consider reading it in two or three sittings.

If you are at all like me, I gather you are speechless. You have just witnessed true panelological brilliance!

I must first address the innovative visual elements of this novel-length tale. Before the great Jack Kirby...

(Yes, I dare to call him by his nick-name! I met Mr. Kirby at several comic book conventions in the 1970s and '80s, and once treated him to a lobster dinner, where he beseeched me to call him "Jack." Here, then, is an instance in which I am entitled to use the familiar when addressing or discussing a panelological master.)

...embarked on his series of bold, galvanizing page layouts, a similar effect had been achieved--and, arguably, bettered-- by The Funnies Factory.

How these five boys came upon this bold notion, the world shall never know. How such inspiration--such lyrical imagery--came to them, as they toiled under the presumably stern eye of the man in black, speaks to the virtue of the human spirit.

When I peruse these pages, a tear comes to the corner of my eyes.

How hard they worked--and yet how effortless and simple the results appear! The story literally looks as if it were created in a matter of minutes. Given the set-up of The Funnies Factory, it may well have been. But the combined inspiration and experience of the Crantz-Brannigan-Copeland-Stewart-Fuchs team added up to years of time and talent.

There must have been magic in the air of that Bronx studio apartment.

"Strongman" ingeniously and cannily blends aspects of the popular "Superman" and "Batman" features. How clever of the quintet to make this super-powerful student of secret yogi exercises an idle, monocle-wearing playboy, Percy Van Helton!

Who among us, seeing Percy in his tuxeoded finery, would ever suspect him of being the omniscient Strongman?

This story's narrative is so dense and dizzying that even I, having read it many times, could not properly summarize its events here. Suffice to say that the tale goes from brilliant "set piece" to brilliant "set piece."

Particularly vivid is Strongman's transformation from his lackadaisical secret identity. He chooses to tear his clothes off his body to reveal his action costume. (Said costume vaguely reminds me of Raphael's rather skimpy outfit, at the bus stop by Value Pantry.)

The action shifts from a lush penthouse to treachery at sea, never remitting for a single moment. It seems, to me, as if the young quintet of creators wanted each inch of each frame to bear more thrills and narrative sophistication than the law would allow.

This bold, free-wheeling approach would intensify during the regrettably brief run of "Strongman"'s adventures. For Crash Comics Adventures would perish after its fourth issue.

While highly influential to such recognized masters as John Cole, Jack Kirby, William Eisner and Louis K. Fine, "Strongman" is all but forgotten to modern panelologists--save those us of blessed with the ownership of a rare, fragile copy.

It is my highest honor to present this story to you today.

I am certain my detractors will have their arch comments at the ready. I am prepared--altho' reluctant--to engage in verbal battles. As the fellow in the California riots once famously said, can't we all just be friends?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Of Monsters, Midgets and Miracles:" "Mister Midnite," from "Silver Streak Comics" #2, 1939

Friends, consider the simple squirrel. Adorable, is he not? He scampers down our sun-lit streets, leaps through trees like a furry acrobat, accepts treats and peanuts from our very palms in public parks.

Yes, we all love squirrels. All but one. And, friends, that "one" is no other than myself.

It all began so sweetly, so innocently. You see, today I had the run of the office to myself. As I am a claims adjuster, and not a sales representative, I am what they term "self-directed." Truth is, I usually have little to do. Thus, each morning I saunter to the Pantheon--my goal to select a treasure or two from my reserves.

A Golden-Age comic book fits conveniently within the realms of the standard manila business folder. None of my "team members" have the slightest clue that I am enjoying, let us say, a classic issue of Mystery Men Comics, rather than amortizing a tax table.

Today was to be splendid. The other employees of the concern--all sales representatives and managers--were to be sent to a Ramada Inn, across town, to attend a day-long seminar entitled "Hey! Let's Stick Together!"

The apparent end-result of this seminar is to encourage "team members" to speak with a civil tongue, and to refrain from physically striking each other--all in the name of "good clean fun."

The office would be empty. Just me, my beloved comic magazines, and Jim R________'s coveted scanner.

The keys on my ring jingled brightly in the morning air. I unlocked the Pantheon, slid its doors open, and...

there it was.

A squirrel!

Perched atop box L-2. Having pried the lid off of box L-3. And clutching, in its no-doubt diseased claws and paws, my copy of Silver Streak Comics #2!

I braced myself against the threshold of the Pantheon's entryway. The squirrel and I had what they might call a "Mexican stand-off." For seeming hours, the two of us stood, silent, motionless...each other's eyes locked in a gauntlet of tension.

Questions ricocheted in my head:

How had the squirrel penetrated the protective layers of the Pantheon?

How long had the dreaded rodent breached the Pantheon's security?

Why had the squirrel chosen that particular comic magazine?

How was I going to get him out of the Pantheon?

Squirrels, being rodents, are known carriers of rabies and other harmful diseases. I did not wish to provoke the creature into a fit of anger. Naturally, we were both anxious--the intruder and the intruded-upon, in an unexpected encounter.

A leaf rake, propped against the side of the Pantheon, suddenly found itself in my hands. "Shoo, now!" I heard my voice say, as if from a great distance, and from the bottom of a deep well. "Get, get! Drop my comic magazine! Now, shoo..."

I swung the rake violently in the air, describing an unfinished trapezoid. The squirrel bolted in panic and fear. My hope was to remove him from the Pantheon, and then to enter it, and determine the source of his unwarranted entry.

Instead, the rodent ran in chaotic circles, around and around the Pantheon's interior. As he dashed, in sheer terror, his bowels relieved themselves--in astonishing volume!

A fascinating fact of nature revealed itself: the "leavings" of a squirrel are not soft and spreadable, as are those of most mammals. They manifest themselves in hard, round brown spheres that recall the "Cocoa Puffs" cereal of my youth. I watched, at first in dread, and then relief, as these harmless pellets merely bounced off the archival storage boxes. They did no harm!

Finally, the panicked rodent made a desperate leap for freedom. He literally flew out the threshold of the Pantheon and scampered up the nearby elm three.

He was gone, and my comic magazines were safe--unharmed. Or were they?

I made a quick but thorough examination of the 116 boxes that represent the holdings of the Pantheon. All but L-3 were unmolested. The copy of Silver Streak was safe and sound, atop box J-5. The rodent had not been able to remove it from its protective archival PVC storage bag.

Assured that my treasures were again safe, I scoured the Pantheon for the beast's port of entry. Quickly, I espied it: a loose section of vinyl, where the bolts had been poorly fastened. Evidence of tooth marks abounded at the breach. Apparently, this poor deluded creature had spent considerable time gnawing his way into the "Achilles' Heel" of my almighty Pantheon!

Fury overcame me. I did not wish to upset "the missus" with my anger--for one thing, she would dismiss it as sheer folly--so I propped the rake against the breached area, locked the now-compromised Pantheon, and headed for my Dodge Dart.

Curse the fates--I had neglected to warm it up! It came to jerky life. I was in too great a hurry to wait for its morning ritual. Together, we lurched down the street, Silver Streak #2 and myself. Our destination: the Home Depot on Delaware Drive East!

I recalled, clear as day, the salesman from whom I'd purchased the pantheon. A young man named Raphael--at least, so his name-tag read. He appeared, at first, sinister, but, gradually, he won my trust. By sale's end, we shook hands, cordially acknowledged each other, were seemingly now acquaintances, if not friends.

Raphael's final words rang in my head: "You have any problems with that shed, you call me, OK?"

Well, Raphael, I did have problems with that "shed," and I shall call on you.

"Raphael! Where is Raphael?" I said, as the automatic doors parted, like the Red Sea. I gestured to another of the Depot's cashiers. She regarded my querulously.

"Huh?" [She chewed gum--a great fragrant wad of it--as she spoke.]

"I need to speak with a fellow named Raphael--at once! It's urgent!"

The cashier thought. And chewed. And thought.

"Raphael, he don't work here no more. He quit...when was it, Caitlin?"

A young blonde cashier, in excessive facial make-up, shook her head. "Like, three months ago?"

"Where," I interrupted, "can I find him?"

Both cashiers shrugged their shoulders in unison. The gum-bearing cashier popped a bubble as she shrugged.

"May I see a manager, please?"

The blonde cashier reluctantly pressed a green button. It made an unpleasant buzz. She spoke something unintelligible into a telephone. It blasted over loud-speakers.

Finally, a harried-looking man of about 30 arrived. I'll spare you the dreadfully prolonged transcript of our conversation. Long story short: "Raphael," if that indeed was his name, was irresponsible, frequently late for work, and suspected of theft of several candy bars. His resignation was an undisguised blessing to all parties concerned.

His words now rang hollow in my dejected mind: You have any problems with that shed, you call me, OK?

There was now no one to call--no one to turn to.

Were I to inform Dorrie, she might sympathize. Most likely, she would lecture me on the follies of a man my age having an interest in such foolish things. My fellow "team members" would react as if I'd spilled a cup of water in the ocean.

You, dear reader--you understand. And I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for navigating this mass of verbiage before you.

I assure you--the "good stuff" is in short order!

I made a temporary patch of the breached area, with the help of silver duct tape and two extra-strength yard-waste sacks. As a final flourish, I leaned the rake against the repaired spot. I double-dog-dare that reckless rodent to invade my Pantheon again!

Upon my arrival to the tomb-silent office, I opened and examined my Silver Streak #2. It is the only issue of this title that I own. Other issues are more highly prized by my fellow panelologists. They contain early examples of the work of John Cole, who became famous for a feature called "The Plastic Man."

I enjoy John Cole's work--it is quite entertaining--but I feel much has been said about his contributions to panelology. I understand another kindred spirit has engaged a rival "blog" solely devoted to John Cole's fine work. More power to him, I say!

Today, I have the unbridled joy of bringing to you a stunning panelological narrative featuring "Mister Midnite." This is an example, to my eyes, of just what "comic books" can achieve, in the hands of a truly ambitious, gifted storyteller. My research on this title credits one Morris Dudley as the writer, and one Brett Forsythe as contributing the art.

Consider the first page of this story--this is the Dudley/Forsythe team at the top of their game. This, friends, is what panelology is all about! Read--and savor!

I admit I am still encountering problems with Jim R_________'s scanner. No mention of "miffling" today--yet the scans appear fuzzy and degraded. All the same, I feel the majesty of this tale comes shining through loud and clear.

I admire so much of this dramatic narrative. Dudley/Forsythe's uncanny use of a single color is striking. In an era when most comic magazines proudly boasted "all in color for a dime!," some panelology creators sought to bend the rules. What better way to showcase the stark, unremitting brutality of Dudley's suspenseful prose? Of Forsythe's bold, fearless artwork?

How wise of them not to drape the urgent horror and heroics of their tale with a candyland of distracting colors!

The imagery of this fast-paced story truly deserves the adjective of "nightmarish." The "Little Men," with their horrid agenda to "try to rid the Earth of all beautiful women!" The dread "Noman" -- the monster slave with blank eyes! The mood of impending doom and destruction! And the salvation of the dapperly attired defender of justice, Mister Midnite!

Dudley truly understood the importance of an honorable hero, amidst an ocean of danger and deceit. The mere idea of an inhuman race, bent to rob the waking world of all its visual beauty...this chilling plot needs the interruption of a capable man of action!

And that we have here, in abundance. Rarely has heroism been, well, so heroically rendered as from the fount of Forsythe's brush and pen!

I feel that I have said enough, earlier in today's post. As well, some pieces of panelology speak far better on their own than anything I might have to say.

I simply feel fortunate to own this story--and to share it with you, my dear friends and countrymen in the Pantheon of panelology! Until next time, I remain your friend and kindred spirit, Mason Moray.