Friday, April 2, 2010

"Bozo The Robot" from Smash Comics 22--Plus The Continued Menace of the Snak-Shak

Before we get too far today, friends, here is a word from Mr. Wallace Spinkle, from his own hand:

I trust this will square us for Wallace's recent unauthorized posting here, and that we can continue onward, as friends, colleagues and fellow scholars. This does not abate the worrisome issue of "Super Senior." This problem has, if anything, worsened. Read the following newspaper article and you'll see what I mean:

I'm no fool. It has been blatantly evident that "Sparks" has enlisted Raphael as his crime-fighting "boy wonder!" The two of them have been seen whispering during work hours. As well, Raphael has excused himself, mysteriously, several times in the past two weeks.

As well, a roll of reflective tape, which I use for the corners of my comics boxes, so that I won't bump into them at night, in the darkness of the Pantheon, is missing!

Raphael is a legal adult, and does not live in my home. Thus, I have no authority over him. I fear that I, of all people, have led him down this primrose path--first with the gift of vintage "revistas" for the holidays, and secondly, by his continued exposure to the highly influential "Sparks."

The nightly thumping and bumping under the front porch is easily explained: it is the sounds of "Sparks" and Raphael readying themselves for an evening of alleged crime-fighting!

Perhaps this is just a phase they are both going through. Perhaps I ought to just let sleeping ducks lie, and let them get this urge to protect and avenge out of their collective systems!

As if I haven't enough worries on my mind! Aided by the glowing review of the despicable turncoat, Pearl Kruger, Ngo's Snak-Shak continues to rob us of customers, among them the young and ignorant, who prefer to sacrifice their vitality and health for a so-called "bargain," rather than fortify themselves with a wholesome, full-bodied and hygenic meal at Dorrie's Diner.

"For shame! For shame!" I have shouted to some of these youths, as they walk across our lawn, a greasy paper plate clutched in their hands. But nothing I can say or do will deter them from making their ill-informed choices. Let them await the emergency room, clutching instead their stomachs, as they endure the agony of food poison!

We have our faithful "regulars," and many of them have kindly brought friends and relatives to savor the culinary joys of Dorrie's menu. We are, by no means, in danger of "tanking," as the saying goes. Given time, the health inspectors will render that horrid "shak" null and void--mark my words!

When "Sparks" is not out fighting crime, he has reaffirmed my historical high opinion of his skills and insights as a panelologist. 'Twas he who suggested the story for today's post. I had forgotten, I confess, of the bold, unremitting brilliance of "Bozo the Robot." Here is an outstanding entry in this long-running series, which had considerable competition in its flagship title, Smash Comics, against the likes of Louis Fine, John Cole, Vernon Henkel, and other accomplished penmen.

I have some poignant information about the creative team behind "Bozo," which I'll share with you after you've savored this remarkable gem of panelology.

"Wayne Reid," as may well be obvious, was a pen name that encompassed two remarkably dedicated comic book artists-writers. Wayne Prescott, the series' artist, was legally blind. Reid Merck, confined to a wheelchair, was paralyzed from the waist down.

The two shared a garret near Central Park, where they created their "Bozo" stories in seclusion. I was fortunate to interview Merck, towards the end of his life. I asked him about the creative process behind "Bozo." Here are excerpts from that precious interview:

MM: Mr. Prescott was the artist on the "Bozo" series, correct?

Reid Merck: Yes, that's right.

But, earlier, you said that Prescott was legally blind...

That's correct.

How, then, could he have achieved such a high level of comic book artistry? Surely you are pulling my leg, sir...

I can't pull anything, son. I just sit here.

I beg your pardon, sir. No offense was intended...

And none taken, son. I don't blame you for doubting me. It was a crazy situation. Taxing on my nerves, too. I can't believe we worked so hard--and so long--on those damned stories.

How on earth was Mr. Prescott able to draw those stories, then?

Simple. He put his hand on the paper and I told him where--and how--to move his hand. "Up about an inch, to the right," I'd say. "Make a small circle... good... now move over a little and make another." That' s how he would draw Bozo's round eyes, for example.

With the aid of letterer/border artist "Skeet" Walburn, Prescott and Merck were able to put the finishing touches on their unique artwork:

Walburn would come over, and I'd tell him what to put in the balloons and the boxes. He was fast. He could predict my sentences before I'd finish saying them. It got so that I just shut up and let him do most of the writing. They were always my ideas, the stories, but if he was so eager to finish the sentences, then, by all means, let him do the hard work...

Wasn't this system time-consuming for you both?

Aw, it would take us about a month, working eight hours a day, to get one of those "Bozo" stories done. But what the hell else were we going to do--go see a movie? Go out for a walk? Son, it was something to do. It passed the time. And, from what I understand, kids got a kick out of our work. I was sad when (Busy) Arnold canceled the feature. It broke Wayne's heart. He just wasted away after that.

Indeed, Wayne Prescott passed away in the fall of 1943, a few months after the final appearance of Bozo and his human partner, Hugh Hazzard, in Smash Comics #41.

As for Merck, he joined the OSS, where his skills at decoding flowered:

Oh, boy, I was in on some stuff I still can't talk about. Things that would have made me run for the hills--if I could get out of this damned chair! But I couldn't. I'm glad we got those bastards dealt with. I'll say this--we came close, for a couple of hours in 1945, to surrendering to those rats.

After the war, Merck became a mystery author. His long-running series of "Clip" Perkins paperback novels, which include the now-famous Hell is a Lonely Place (1966), remain in print to this day--outliving their creator, who passed away days after my chance interview of October, 1976.

The glories of panelology are many. It is an art form in which the disabled, as well as the healthy, can flourish--or flounder. The printed page, with its bright, primitive colors, knows no infirmities, no boundaries. Let us always remember and savor this insight.

On that inspirational note, I bid you a good day, and good luck. I shall meet with you, via this "blog," again very soon.

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