Friday, October 8, 2010

"Flagman and Rusty" from Captain Aero Comics--Plus News Updates of Home and Life

I apologize, dear subscriber, for the long silence since my lsat post. To be blunt, events in my life have not been ideal of late. The month of September was one of much suffering. "Sparks" continues to have ill health.

The last week of September was a dark one for us all. My dear friend nearly perished of his health problems. You will recall that "Sparks" was suffering from a collapsed lung. As it turned out, the red and blue ticking, hissing machine that he was hooked up to had something weirdly wrong with it. It was full of Brach's "Neopolitan Sundae" candies!

Apparently, someone at the hospital used the inner hatch of the contraption to store their snacks. On-the-job eating is expressly forbidden at Emberton Memorial Emergency Medical Centre Pavillion. Thus, this person (likely an intern) hoarded his or her snacks deep in the bowels of this seldom-used machine! (It has a 1966 copyright on it--the machine, that is... not the candies.)

You'll recall that I reported a loud ticking noise--so persistent that it interfered with my sleep. Those 'ticks' were the candies, being bounced around inside the high pressure of the machine's inner chambers! Each fevered breath of "Sparks" sent these sticky rectangles caroming madly around. Finally, one of them became unwrapped, through the sheer force of impact. The rogue "Sundae" was forced through the high-pressure breathing duct. It lodged in "Sparks"' throat.

At 4 AM one morning, I awoke to a cacophony of squeaks, thumps and gasps. I sensed something was wrong with my friend and kindred spirit. I rushed into "Sparks"' room to find him purple-faced, contorting like a freshly hooked trout!

In my previous job, as insurance claims adjuster, I was officially trained in "CPR" for the office. Thus, I knew at once that the purple coloration was choking-related. I recalled the "Himlich Manuever" and quickly dislodged the tri-colored block from my friend's throat.

"Get me out of this monkey house," "Sparks" weakly gasped. Sadly, I could not find the opening to the accursed device's hatch. I did notice a large OFF button, and duly pressed it. "Sparks" immediately began to feel better. At his request, I got him a glass of buttermilk and sat with him, to be sure he was truly among the living.

There was no point in going back to sleep. Thus, "Sparks" and I greeted the dawn together. As is constant with our long friendship, the subject of panelology quickly surfaced. "Sparks" has been combing some of my panelological treasures for "forgotten diamonds." He had perused a run of Captain Aero comic magazines, in search of same. Among the lackluster Holyoke line of magazines, it did not yield much of interest.

Until issue 11. Hidden in the back of the magazine was an obscure hero, in his equally shrouded wartime adventure. I find, in general, a lack of interest in wartime comic magazines. The jingoism of the war agenda reduced the universe of boundless fantasy to a drab simulacrum of real life. How disappointed 1940s readers must have been by this change!

The Period of Greatness in panelology, for me, extends from 1937 to 1942. In those six years, the comic magazine was born, struggled through its growing pains, and soared to sublime heights in 1939 and 1940. Because of publishing schedule lags, the impact of the Pearl Harbor attack--and America's plunge into combat--did not immediately surface in the pages of our comic magazines. But by 1942's end, almost all the fantasy and imagination had been bruited out of panelology. Nazi dictators replaced the phantoms, monsters and scientific fiends who so genuinely embodied evil and so menaced the righteous crusaders of good.

The loss was palpable, and to my viewpoint, permanent. Although I do find some mild enjoyment in post-war comic magazines, it is a decidedly muted thrill. Thus, my post-1942 magazines are place-holders, rather than treasures.

Still, some imaginations couldn't be curdled by world events. Every now and again, a little zircon would emerge from pulp pages that once bore diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Today's brief offering is one such synthetic diamond on paper.

"This one's a corker, Mace," "Sparks" croaked. He insisted I read the story out loud. As I read, he cackled, chortled and applauded the story's events. Immediately, I knew I must make this the next sharing on this "blog."

Later that day, as I attempted to total the day's receipts (Raphael's cashiering still leaves much to be desired, although his steadfastness, personal charm and appeal continue to make our little bistro successful), Dorrie came up to me with a newspaper. She looked upset, her face paled.

Longtime "Bloggers" may recall my memories of high-school friend, Russ "Rusty" Gortner. "Rusty" was an admirer of the British Invasion duo of "Peter and Gordon." In fact, we fashioned our own musical "act" based on them, called "Mason and Rusty." We were both caught in the thrall of "Bealtemania" and immediately learned how to strum a guitar. We also attempted to grow our hair out. It took much careful combing to hide our hair growth from parents and teachers.

"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. After high school, we inevitably drifted apart. "Rusty" was drafted, and did three tours of duty in Vietnam. I kept in touch with him via postcards and the rare international phone call. But by 1973, "Rusty" was out of touch.

I always wondered what happened to my friend of times bygone. Well, on that afternoon, I found out. The newspaper reported "Rusty"'s death in an interstate trucking accident. Embittered by foot problems he gained in the war, "Rusty" became a truck driver. Coast-to-coast treks were his stock in trade. According to the article, hauling livestock was his specialty.

"Rusty" died as he worked. Driving a truckload of quail into Fresno (for eventual consumption at the popular chain of family restaurants, "Quail Hut"), he lost control of his "big rig" and tumbled down a steep desert chasm. "Rusty" died in the desert sun. None of the quail died in the accident. They scattered into the desert, spared from death on the dinner plate.

As said, I was long out of touch with "Rusty," but his memory stood within me. It was hard to know what--or how--to feel. Yet sadness gripped me. Then the truth of panelology again struck like lightning. The irony shall be immediately evident upon your perusal of the first frame of this graphic adventure. Read on, dear visitor...

One hesitates to assign too much significance to any post-1942 panelological piece. Yet this unknown, un-appreciated "Flagman and Rusty" conveys the breathless sense of wonder--and abandon--that categorized comic magazine stories from the Period of Greatness.

Writer/artist Herman Tesh labored anonymously in the back pages of many comic magazines. His colleagues teasingly nick-named him "Bookback" as his work never graced the front pages of any publication. Tesh was responsible for dozens of minor features such as "Little Otto," "Mazurka the Mystic," "Bob Mifflin, Air Ace" and the single-page filler features "Officer McBeat" and "Orchestral Ollie." Tesh was equally adept in realism and cartoon comedy, and often created 40 to 50 pages of published material each month.

Tesh never signed his name to his work, never won any awards, and is not cited as an influence of any contemporary panelologists. Yet the Herman Teshes of the world were the backbone of the comic magazine industry. Without Tesh and his ilk, publishers would have run short of material, and probably resorted to reprints and longer text pieces.

As is overwhelmingly evident, Tesh understood what made for a "good read." I delight in his whimsical approach to the deadly-serious war propaganda. His Hitler and Mussolini are chucklesome characters-- a far cry from the murderous tyrants they were in reality. Tesh was ahead of the curve in his use of a killer gorilla.

This theme is, perhaps, Tesh's lasting legacy to the art panelologic. Prior to Tesh, the gorilla was merely a comical figure in panelology. Tesh made this primate a hairy threat to hero and heroine alike. I detect a tongue planted firmly in cheek through this "Flagman" tale--yet it never backs away from thrills and derring-do.

Now that "Sparks" is doing better, I've urged him to explore more post-1942 magazines. Perhaps he will unearth more surprises such as this piece.

By the way, we found 113 "Neopolitan Sundae" candies, a sack full of "Butterscotch Discs" and several issues of Jet magazine inside "Sparks"' breathing apparatus. The Jets were all 1975 issues. Perhaps the candies were of similar vintage. "Sparks" insisted on keeping the candies in his room. I suspect he has been snacking on them himself. To each his own, as it is said...


  1. Welcome back, Mason.
    Spark's rescue at your hands, and the reference to the "Quail Hut" restaurant chain (I'll have to look into those next time I'm out west) make this a fascinating glimpse into your extraordinary life.

  2. Mr. Mason, are you aware that the 1975-76 run of Jet published a rather risque comic strip called "Apple of My Thigh?" Since your interests in comics don't seem to extend past 1942, you probably don't know about this strip, which featured full-bosomed ebony maidens eluding lustful farmers. I mention this because your posting reminded me that the strip was signed "H. Tesh." Coincidence? I THINK NOT!!!