Sunday, December 5, 2010

Zebra-Man vs. the Human Frog, from Pocket Comics, 1941--plus more news of life and home!

Salutations, my fellow patrons of the printed panel and page! 'Tis too long, far too long, since last we visited. The sands of time do tend to get in one's eyes, as blown by the fickle winds of fate, eh?

With Dorrie's deft assemblage of her classic Turkey-gouda-pineapple stack sandwich, the last of our Thanksgiving "bird" was done at lunchtime. Dorrie marinates the turkey in two liters of Royal Crown Cola, mixed with one pouch of unsweetened fruit punch-flavored Kool-Aid, and then pressure-roasts it. The result is main course and dessert, all in one dish. Of course, we enjoy pumpkin pie, yams with mini-marshmallows, apple pie and such.

We set a festive table, with many guests. "Sparks" was there, looking somewhat better than when last I reported. Raphael and his friend, Henri, whom he says is from his hometown (but who speaks in a French Canadian accent!), Dorrie's half-sister Stephanie, Burt Liffler from next door (dressed in long pants for the first time in memory), Ray-Don and his "room-mate" Clifton, and Jim R., from my former job, joined us for the meal.

"Sparks" had to have his meal blenderized, as his system is still delicate. He insisted that Dorrie blend everything together. "It's a meal in a glass!" he commented between each lusty sip.

The meal went peacefully until Stephanie was seized with panic. "My bag!" she cried, as she sat up from the table, startled, in mid-chew. "It has my new clarinet in it! Oh, lord..."

Stephanie was certain she had left her shoulder-bag in the taxi in which she arrived at our doorstep. A panicked hour or two passed, in which repeated attempts were made to find the driver of the cab she took. To add to the suspense, the cabbie's radio was either off or broken. Apparently, he picked up numerous rogue fares from those who are stranded en route to, or from, their holiday festivities.

Stephanie was assured by the cab dispatcher that all lost items are brought into the main cab depot and held in a locked lost and found. She feigned calm, but I could see right through it. Her worry cast a black cloud over the rest of the evening.

Dorrie lightened the mood of the room by challenging all of the rest of us, as a team, against her in a titanic match of Scrabble. Stephanie was non comptos mentos from all her worry. The remainder of us gamely took on Dorrie. (That is, with the exception of Jim R., who begged off due to a "hot date.")

Raphael's friend, Henri, proved a most formidable opponent for "the missus." He brought the game to a momentary standstill with his daring play of the word ILLUMINERS. Dorrie challenged the word, which would have earned our team 89 points, as it was both a "bingo" and a Triple Word Score.

Henri claimed it was a word that meant "lamp-lighters," in reference to the trade of olden days. Back and forth the argument pulsed. I was anxious, as we had drawn the Z and Q tiles, as a result of this play, and were set to play QUETZAL as our next smash move.

I had to drive to the New Pantheon, go to an online dictionary website, seek the word ILLUMINERS, and return home. Of course, as I immediately discovered, there was no such word!

Before I shut down the computer, I took note of an accumulation of comic magazines atop my desk space. Friends, I think of you, and of this "blot," every day, and wish I had the time and space to make daily posts. I regret these long lapses, when the duties of life take their toll. Why, I was not able to spend precious time in my sanctum for THE ENTIRE WEEK before Thanksgiving!

Business at the Diner has continued to grow. Dorrie has had to hire an assistant chef--a mute young woman whose name, I believe, is Katrice. As she is mute (albeit extremely bright), she cannot repeat Dorrie's recipes to the world at large. Katrice has the unfortunate habit of sneaking up behind me, silent as a Sioux, and tapping me on the shoulder. I believe my life expectancy has been shortened by at least 11 months due to several of these incidents. I have learned not to over-react, and therefore not bruise her sensitive feelings.

Raphael's recent purchase of a wrist calculator (worn like a watch!) has improved his cashiering skills enormously. Each day, our till has the same overage or shortage: 37 cents. It no longer surprises anyone. If it is an overage, it goes into the tip bucket, to be split by Raphael and Katrice. If not, 37 cents comes out of the tip bucket.

Where was I? Oh, yes, this "bog" and my commitments. I have prepared a small stack of choice panelological gems with which to assail you in this and future posts.

Today's selection was borne of a common occurrence, as I root through boxes B-44 and B-45. My holdings of a curious series of "half-size" comics resides in these archival boxes. As a fascinating side-street of the panelological world, such titles as Nickel Comics and Pocket Comics are also a bothersome item for serious students and accumulators, such as myself.

They so easily lodge into corners of the boxes, fall on their sides, or slide underneath a regular organized stack of comic magazines. After having pulled my copy of Pocket Comics #4 from such a position many times, I opted to remove it, and its pint-sized brethren, and place them in a shoe box. Though it lacks the grandeur of the archival storage boxes that hold my other panelological gems, they are a proud, if dimunituve, part of the Pantheon.

I couldn't resist examining the elfin booklet, and soon settled in to read its 100 pages of colorful content from cover to cover. I confess that I fell asleep--'tis the fault of the endorphins in turkey! I awoke two hours later, disoriented, the tiny Pocket Comics perched on my chin. I recalled, with a start, the mission that had sent me here!

I could not, of course, find that dubious word on the online dictionary. Oh, my friends, I was in the dog house! I pictured our guests tapping their collective toes in smoldering fury. I meekly tucked the Pocket Comics into my coat pocket--how aptly named the book! It fits perfectly!--and motored home to "taste my medicine."

Imagine my surprise to approach the Moray residence and see an ambulance on our front lawn, its crimson lights silently throbbing! I left the Pruis in mid-street and dashed inside.

Friends, Stephanie had suffered a minor "attack," borne of her anxiety over the missing clarinet! She was now recovered, and laid groaning theatrically on the living room couch. Beside her stood "Sparks," who hovered like a worried owl, tsk-tsking and pacing the length of the sofa.

Dorrie had served the ambulance folks a late plate of Thanksgiving cheer. They sang their praises of Dorrie's Fruity Cola Bird (her name for the recipe) and her mashed potatoes, which are infused with canned green peas and small pieces of salted waffle batter.

Apparently, Burt Liffler had gone back home, to shed his un-natural long pants and return to his preferred gymnastic shorts.

Raphael and Henri dozed before a vintage episode of Hazel on TV. I do not know the whereabouts of Ray-Don or Clifton. I assume that they, too, tired of the wait and returned to their condominium for an evening's frolic.

"There is no such word as ILLUMINERS," I told Dorrie.

"I figured as much," she said.

"Stephanie... is she--"

"Oh, she'll snap out of it. She always does. This is just her way of getting attention."

The medical men finished their plates. Dorrie called out, in a voice clear as a Swiss sky: "There's pie!" A drowsy Raphael and Henri stumbled into the living room. "Sparks" looked longingly at the blender in the kitchen.

Yes, friends, there was pie. Dorrie's imagination has ne'er manifested itself so boldly as in her 3-in-1 Holiday Pie. Imagine, friends... one large pie with two smaller ones baked inside. A culinary equivalent to those little Russian dolls that all stack together.

The outer layer is a mince pie. The second layer is pumpkin. The third, and smallest, inner layer is a delightfully tart apple cinnamon pie. One would think that such distinct and rich flavors might cancel one another out. It is far from the truth! Each forkful combines the sweet, the savory and the tart. One mouthful is enough to make one wish each and every day could be Thanksgiving.

"Sparks" had his piece pureed, and sipped it with glee. "Wow!" he exclaimed with each slurp. "Hot dog!"

Dorrie made coffee. We all had the serene feeling of a lovely holiday. Despite Stephanie's low moans, all was well in the Moray household.

Then the police showed up. Apparently, it is a minor infraction of the law to leave one's car in the middle of the street! I sheepishly brushed pie crumbs off my chest and loped outside to park the car properly.

Laughter and a chorus of "Mm-MMs!" greeted my return. Yes, the "boys of blue" had cuaght wind of Dorrie's 3-in-1 pie, and took a pause from duty to enjoy a heaping slice.

"Oh boy," "Sparks" cackled. "All we need now is the Coast Guard!"

I did, I confess, glance at the front door. I do now know what a Coast Guard member might look like, but that would have been their cue to come marching inside. They did not.

Dorrie took on the police and ambulance staff in an epic Scrabble match. Her need for the game had been thwarted earlier. "Sparks" and I retired to my den to examine the issue of Pocket Comics. 'Twas then that today's story leapt out at me. Friends, this is a perfect example of the rewards of panelology. Within a book that most collectors regard as a nuisance, due to its odd size, resided this gripping, atmospheric, staggering tale. Prepare yourself--and I hope you have a slice of your favorite pie on hand! As they say, "it's going to be a ride!"

As you may have guessed, "Ellery King" is not the real name of the creator of "The Zebra." A team of three men produced "The Zebra." Writer Zeb Mullins had known the life of the "jail bird." Many arrests for littering had him in and out of "the stir" in the 1920s and '30s.

Mullins had long nursed the idea of a costumed crime-fighter who was, in real life, an ex-convict. He initially sought to call the character "Barman." Artist Sid Klensky pointed out that this was the title of a tavern-keeper, and, as such, would not be suitable for a crime-fighter.

John Creighton, a court stenographer who was friends of the Mullins-Klensky team, quipped that a character with black and white stripes might as well be called "Zebra-Man!"

This attempted joke turned into reality. Mullins and Klensky were convinced that the future of panelology lay in these experimental pint-size magazines. They prepared "The Zebra" speficically for Pocket Comics. Editor Grant Meehan approved of the feature, and the creative team was off to a flying start!

Creighton, who neither wrote or drew, was a vital member of the creative process. His role was to sit in an office chair and review each page of script. He would then apply this keen eye to Klensky's artwork. Some might call this "micro-management" today, but it assured that the "Zebra" tales were among the most striking--and impressive--features of Pocket Comics.

Carnivorous plants--sent by mail or messenger--would prove to be staple of Zeb Mullins' comic book stories. Time and again, in Mullins' world, a mysterious messenger--or cheerful postman--deposits a dangerous meat-eating plant (or the seed of such a plant, as seen in this tale) on the doorsteps of heroes and villains alike.

Mullins attempted to develop a newspaper comic strip, in a humorous style, along these lines. No examples are known to exist, but suffice it to say the concept was soundly rejected. Mullins became religious in the late 1950s and disappeared from the ranks of the panelological.

His concept was borne out in 1977, with the newspaper debut of Flip and Flytrap, a slyly humorous comic strip about a lonely bachelor and his talking carnivorous plant. As you know, the concept has sired TV series, several movies, and a startling number of hardcover novels. The series' creator, Ned Hempstead, did not know of Mullins' work. Few do, outside the bravest ranks of we panelologists.

The next time you encounter a carnivorous plant, or a simple seed, delivered by post office or messenger, in a vintage comic magazine, you can rest assured that it is the work of Zeb Mullins.

Few panelological gems can boast a finale as brilliant as this "Zebra" tale. What a stirring moment of utter realism! I should imagine that it would be difficult, in real life, for a costumed crime-fighter to separate his secret identity from his costumed one. To show up in the office of one's secret identity, and request to see one's self, is a metaphorical wrinkle worthy of the finest literature. Which, as we know, is exactly what our beloved panelology so often is!

P. S. Stephanie, who tends to mis-remember things, had (A) not brought her bag with her and (B) did not actually own a new clarinet. She had been thinking about it, and had a Selmer catalog open to the clarinets page. Dorrie mentioned that this is one reason who Stephanie is seldom invited to family events.