Thursday, January 21, 2010

Navy Jones Fights Undersea Terrorism--from Science Comics#2--plus Diner News Galore!

Salutations, dear lovers of the panelological arts! I write this amidst a hurly-burly of smoke, water and a great deal of running about.

You see, Dorrie's Diner has just suffered its first cruel blow of fate. And just as it was going like gang-breakers!
Worry not, dear companions--we're not down from the count! We've just been forced to purchase a new restaurant-grade microwave oven.

The culprit: Dorrie's delicate, satisfying Turkey-Jerky Swiss-Cheese Souffle. There is little on this globe to match its smooth yet smoky flavor. But its delicate, lighter-than-clouds "mouth appeal" depends on a final two-minute trip in the microwave oven.

The $3,000 restaurant-grade microwave we have installed (thank goodness for warranties! We shall get a replacement free of charge, shipping included) has a most confusing interface. If one wishes to heat an entree for two minutes, one must depress the numbers thusly:
A simple confusion of digits, and one might accidentally program the machine to cook for twenty minutes, not two. 'Tis what happened.

I realize that I've started in the middle--but there has been so very much afoot here at Maison Moray that I scarcely know just whence to commence. Thus, I have not been able to devote any time to my dear and near "blog."

I hope to make up for lost days here. As was my promise, I continue to offer golden gems from the startling, scintillating Science Comics--perhaps my single favorite comic-book series of them all!

First, the good news:

Dorrie's Down-Home Diner successfully opened for business on January 13th. We chose that day as a publicity "gag," since many believe the 13th day to be a bad omen for business.

Pearl Kruger, the local restaurant critic for the Courier-Express, was among those awaiting the first opening of our doors. She and Dorrie are "thicker than thieves," and we were tacitly assured a stellar critique in the local paper.

Here 'tis, in full:

Dorrie wept with joy when the newspaper with this raving review arrived. It was as if the heavens above deemed her supreme happiness for all her hard work!

Raphael has become one of the Diner's many assets. He possesses a great personal charm--an aspect of his character not clearly seen by myself 'til now.

He is quick with a smile, and is a skillful composer of kitchen orders. As well, he has proven a quick study. From the stack of precious Golden Age comic books I gave him recently, he has gleaned a number of charming colloquialisms, with which he avails upon Dorrie's happy customers.

"Wot'll it be, youse mugs?" he is often heard to say, when approaching new diners with his order pad. Exclamations of "Yikes!," "Jimminies!" and "Yowp!" are uttered as he presents customers with their beverages and entrees.

Raphael broke up the house when Police Chief Earl Smothers visited the Diner yesterday. His alarmed cry of "Cheezit-- da cops!" made everyone (even Smothers!) burst out in joyous laughter.

As well, his approach to collecting the bill from sated diners has its rococo charm. "C'mon, youse yeggs--cough up da dough, 'afore I get rough on yez!" Raphael is a large part of our humble "mom and pop" bistro's "hip" charms.

Aside from smoke damage to the curtains, and a thoroughly scorched glass warming tray, the Diner is none the worse from today's blaze.

'Tis now I must confess: 'twas I who mis-punched those fateful digits! In the bustle of orders and chit-chat, the souffle was forgotten about as it cooked--and cooked--and cooked.

The entree burst into flames--with sufficient force to blow the oven's double-seal door off its hinges. Fragments of flaming jerky, strewn with skin-scalding melted cheese, peppered the counter and the ceiling.

Thank heavens no one was hurt by this flying, flaming debris! We could have been law-suited out of business!

I am banished to my study while the firemen clean up the damage and remove the destroyed oven. While I feel sheepish, I take relief in knowing that no lives were harmed, and that the accident has not incurred more financial hardship upon us.

While "serving my time," I recalled this dear blog, and my commitment to the ongoing presentation of my panelological treasures.

Back into the second issue of Science Comics I dip my cup. 'Tis my thrill to present to you "Navy Undersea Jones." I grudgingly consulted the "Big Comic-Book Database," in search of the artist of this stunning story.

As they would have it, this is the work of a Bert Whitman. His bold poster-like pages, repetition of imagery, and literally explosive final page mark this as a high water-mark in early American panelology.

If this is the Bert Whitman I'm thinking of, I have an anecdote about him. I shall save it as a dessert to this "main entree" of magic.

Full-page battle scenes! Stunning usage of negative spaces! A finale worthy of a Picasso! This "Navy Undersea Jones" story offers lovers of the paneled art everything that is good about the form.

I would dearly love to create some diagrammatics for certain pages here, as I did for last post's "Cosmic Carson" tale. Alas, this computer lacks "Photo Shop," and I am powerless to make such a display here. Suffice to say that Bert Whitman shared with George Tuska an undying love for the use of extreme negative space.

If this is, indeed the Bert Whitman I know of, this story carries a particular irony. You see, Whitman was terrified of water--even bath water! His nickname amongst his peers was "Bathless Bertie."

Poor Whitman had good cause for his hydrophobia. As a child, he was trapped in a Model A which plunged off a bridge in Michigan and plummeted into the icy waters of Lake Huron. The child was left unattended in the car due to a flat tire. His father trudged off, through the biting winter winds, to fetch a replacement inner tube.

As it was cold, the boy wisely rolled up all the windows, as tightly as possible. He did this mainly to draw on the windows with his fingers. His exhalations, of course, fogged up the glass. Even as a tot, Whitman had a facility for drawing.

He entertained himself drawing his funny-page favorites, such as Happy Hooligan, Alphonse and Gaston and Abie the Agent, blissfully unaware of what was to come.

A produce truck, its driver blinded by a piece of cardboard blown onto his windowscreen, smashed into the Model A containing the tot. The car fell off the side of the bridge and sunk to the bottom of the treacherous lake.

'Twas sheer luck that a tow barge, returning from a mission, arrived on the scene. With the aid of a police diver, the Model A was fished from the deathly water within the hour. Young Whitman was alive and well--albeit in a state of shock from both the experience and the intense cold of the briny depths.

It took Whitman years to recover from his shock. In this time, he honed his artistic skills. His greatest ambition was to have his own newspaper comic-strip feature.

Over and over, he created features, submitted them to syndicates, and had them soundly rejected. Out of desperation, he joined the Iger comics shop, and produced remarkable panelological work for various Fox Comics titles.

"Navy Undersea Jones" took great trepidation for Whitman to accept. He had to confront and relive the terrors of his childhood with each panel. Yet he threw himself into his work with relish. As you can see, he did not flinch from his duty, and he did his level best to entertain and to astound.

By this time, Whitman's hydrophobia was so advanced that he was bathed, once a week, by a hypnotist. The hypnotist would place him in a deep sleep. Then, a special nurse would clean him from head to toe. Whitman would not awake until he had been towel-dried and dressed in fresh clothing.

Because of his hydrophobia, Whitman was deemed unsuitable for military service in World War II. In 1943, he realized his lifelong dream. His comic-strip "El Diablo," about a masked cowboy avenger on the Brazilian Pampas, was accepted by the McClure Syndicate.

38 newspapers had signed on for this thrilling adventure strip. Life looked rosy for him at last!

To celebrate, he took his fiancee to Coney Island for a day of celebration. There, fate and irony combined to create tragedy. While chewing on a piece of salt-water taffy, Whitman swallowed the wrong way. The thick taffy stuck in his windpipe. Within minutes, he was dead.

Bert Whitman was buried in the Mojave Desert, as far away from water as his survivors could arrange. We shall never know what heights of panelology he might have scaled with his "El Diablo!" I doubt it could have surpassed the stunning work he achieved on the story with which I present you today.

I must go now. Dorrie has appeared, bearing a dish of Mallow-Fudge Melt. She informs me that everything is all well and good. Thus, I end today's post with a sigh of relief. See you soon--of this I assure you, my friends of the paneled arts!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Merry New Year! Special Post: The Wonders of Science--Science Comics, That Is!

Friends, a bright new year is upon us. I am a bit errant in my greetings to you all. Blame it on my "Christmas presents!"

Yes, I had a fine accumulation of panelological gems awaiting me on St. Nick's morn! More than I had expected, in fact. Dorrie had to literally pry me away from my new treasures for Christmas dinner.

I had a bad case of "the jitters"--not only from Dorrie's inimitable Velvet Fog Cocoa, but from the sheer overwhelm of visual and verbal wonders that spilled forth from those golden sheaves of vintage panels and pages!

Most stunning of the many pulp-paper baubles on my docket were several long-desired issues of the early Fox Features comic magazine, Science Comics. This noble effort was a heroic failure. Talk about being too good for the market--and of being ahead of one's own time!

The features in this magazine were simply too advanced, too liberal in their daring use of the nascent comic magazine medium, to "click" with the public. Your "Joe Average" could understand the simplistic "Superman." He could "get" the thuggish thrills of the "Bat-Man." He even craved the alleged charms of "Captain Marvel."

These were features aimed at the masses. They took little concentration to enjoy. Though still hailed as classics of pioneering panelology, they leave little to satisfy or provoke the 21st century reader.

This "crowd pleaser" attitude certainly affected the most popular of the Fox Features characters. The exploits of The Blue Beetle, Samson and such, while top sellers of their day, now seem rather flaccid and dull to my eyes.

Of course, as you know I have always championed the "little guy," the "second banana," and "the undertow." I strongly feel--and I believe I'm right--that the lesser-known material is always of a higher jib, a choicer cut, than the "big guys."

Case in point: Michael Griffith's stunning episode of "Cosmic Carson," from issue #2 of Science Comics. The artwork, here, is by a young panelologist named George Tuska.

What fun he has with the medium of the comic magazine page! There is a joy of life that jumps from each thrilling frame. Modern panelologists still have much to learn from the pioneers such as Tuska.

I'll refrain from my usual report of goings-on until after today's story. I can't wait for you to revel in the stylistic stunts of "Cosmic Carson!"

Did your jaw drop when you espied the fifth page of this story? Rightfully so! Said page sent me into a "trance state" On Christmas morn!

Back in the heyday of the comic magazine "fan zine," I often published a special feature I called "Anatomy of A Page." It is far easier to attempt this formal study on the Internet.

When I published the original series in Panelological Pleasures and Panelologist's Pride, my two major "self-pubbers," as we old-timers once called them. I was unable to reproduce the pages in questions.

Thus, exhaustive verbal descriptions of the page were required of the writer--in these cases, that scribe being myself! I wore out many a hectograph stencil with these necessarily lengthy recitations of the page elements.

Via the marvelous tool that is "Photo Shop," I have been able to prove that bygone adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

In the diagrammed "autopsy" of Tuska's handiwork below, I believe I have sufficed in locating, identifying and cataloging the stunning and daring carnival of visual events contained on that single page...

I doubt that even the great William Eisner, in his prime, could have done so many things with a humble panelological page. The daring of youth! The innovation of those who ignore the old tropes of "It can't be done!" and "Impossible!"

Young Tuska split the comic magazine page in two with a bolt of creative lightning!

Now, I have studied a bit of "art theory," and I understand the concepts of "positive space" and "negative space." Notice how stunningly these conceits are flaunted here.

The "lightning bolt" of the panel gutters is echoed in the similarly electric charge of what I call "Occupation Points"--events of vital interest and significance to the reader. Note the downward sweep from Cosmic Carson's face to the burst, in the second panel, in which Carson's first meets the cragged face of villain "The Skull!"

Tuska's "Lightning Line" of decisive action guides our eyes through what, in lesser hands, might merely be an inept misuse of the comic magazine page. We, the audience, know exactly WHERE to look--and WHY to look there.

Parallel to this creative "bolt" is an arrow-like slant, which highlights the Powerful Flow of the Narrative Event--in this case, Cosmic Carson's bursting of his bonds, and his punch to The Skull.

I believe that my indicators of Positive and Negative Space are self-explanatory.

Is this page not unlike a familiar religious icon-- the yin yang symbol?


Compare the two images--and see for yourself! I wish not to "beat the pony" by over-explaining or over-analyzing. Too much of that has been done by my fellow panelological professors.

In coming posts, I shall exhibit more panelological wonders from my newly acquired Science Comics issues. Rest assured--thrills beyond comprehension await!

And now, for those of you so interested, I shall recount some recent events. 'Tis quaint--I never intended for this "blog" to be so much about my daily doings! It just happened, like the man said.

I'm pleased, friends, that you find my humble liveaday events of such interest. I trust that I shalln't overstay my welcome with these domestic recountings.

Work on Dorrie's Diner continues unabated in the new year. Carpenters invaded our home in the last week of December. Much hammering, buzzing, thudding and gruff hooliganism surrounded me in the last week of my holiday.

Such rough types are truly "the salt of this earth." Without them, would we have houses? Would we enjoy the conveniences of modern life? No sir! We would live out of doors, and still forage for food and water. Perhaps we might still brandish clubs.

'Tis supreme irony, then, that those would erect our domiciles so resemble the cavemen of ancient history!

Despite their rough language, these "barkers" had little bite. I did take exception to one builder's careless appraisal of my panelological acquisitions. As I paused to fetch a fresh glass of Vernor's ginger ale, said brute man-handled a early issue of Target Comics.

Had I not executed top speed to stop his actions, this ruffian would have FOLDED BACK THE COVERS and GOTTEN DIRT AND GREASE all over the interior pages!

"We'll have none of that, sir!" I cried. In the nick of time, I snatched the precious Target from his rugged hands and returned it to its protective envelope.

"What's the problem, dude? It's just a [blankety-blank] funny book!" the brute cried, in complaint.

"And I suppose," I uttered in reply, "those are just [blankety-blank] boards and nails you're using!"

The miscreant shrugged. "[Expletive], yeah, they're [expletive] boards an' [expletive]! So whut?"

Friends, I am not prone to physical violence, but I nearly struck this Gorgon in overalls! Instead, I gathered my new acquisitions and retreated to my den.

Later, one of the thugs committed an act of emesis on our front porch! Said fellow had complained of being "hung over like a [expletive] pig" all day. 'Twas a sad coda to a day of genuine progress for Dorrie's project.

But, in a true "silver lining" of a moment, Dorrie bade "Raydon" to mop up the outpour. How that gay blade grumbled in protest! Yet, I must admit, he did a superb job of elimating stain, spillage and odor. Should his design "racket" hit a reef, "Raydon" has a promising career ahead as a custodian!

In "otros palabros" (that is Spanish for 'other news'), young Raphael visited our household the day after Christmas. Upon his arrival, I proudly presented him with my hand-picked gift.

Dorrie brought the lad a hot mug of Velvet Fog, which he thoroughly enjoyed as he nervously unwrapped his gift parcel. "Revistas!" he cried with surprise. Raphael sniffed the bronzed vintage newsprint. He smiled. "¡Estos son revistas muy viejos, Señor Mason!"

Raphael apologized with a smile. "By this I mean... these are very aged! They must be quite rare!"

"They are yours to enjoy, Raphael," I said with warmth. "It would appear you are already a student of--did you call them 'revisas?'"

"Revistas, Señor Mason! And, si, I am most fond of these! They are most popular in my home town!"

I explained that this gift was twofold: both as an expression of my warmth and friendship for young Vazquez, and as an educational aid. "By reading these stories, you shall develop more of an ear for American speech. I sincerely feel these, er, revistas will enable you to better take your rightful place in American society!"

Tears formed in Raphael's eyes. Then he reached across the coffee table and hugged me. "You are truly my friend," he said.

Raphael stayed for dinner. Many times he asked Dorrie if such foodstuffs were to be served at her imminent bistro. Her positive answers further delighted him. "I will bring all my friends and relatives to dine here!"

Thus, there is new hope in the horizon for this youth. I trust it shall be a positive experience--one that enables him to find his American destiny!

My return to work on Monday was dreary. The sky opened up and rain poured mercilessly upon my fellow commuters. I welcomed the escape from the construction brutes and from "Raydon." I still had much back-work to collate, approve and file.

My team members looked haggard and gaunt. Unlike my quiet, contemplative New Year's Eve, theirs were ribald, distaff and, from their piquant descriptions, violently emetic as well.

Ah, the follies of youth! When I hear such tales of debauchery, I take comfort in my advancing years, and in the calm of my life. 2010 promises to be another year of panelological pleasures and life contentment for myself.

May it be thus for you, my internet friends!

I shall return soon with more gilded offerings from the pages of Science Comics!