Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Holiday Highlights, Local "Occupiers" and Chemical Flea-Men! "Doctor Hormonr" from Popular Comics 58, 1940
I'm sure you've perused the news media and seen accounts of the various "Occupy" movements. Something about 99 per cent of something, and I believe they're after the missing 1 per cent. Seems like something from an old Republic Pictures "chapter play" to me. But I assume there are bigger stakes at hand.
Believe it or not, we have had our own "Occupy" movement here! True, it consists of 11 bedraggled, unbathed young men and women. They have pitched five tents on the lawn of Mayor Miggins--who, I suspect, has had not a moment of peace since this gaggle of scruffy children "occupied" his prime Kentucky blue grass! (He has it imported from that fair state, via squares of sod and grass, each August.)
We are far, far away from Wall Street and its high-stress concerns here, but the hand of political actisivm is felt nonetheless. These 11 "occupiers" have made Dorrie's Diner a sort of second home. My goodness, how these "young folk" can talk--lecture, more accurately. And how they can eat!
All of them seem named after something found outdoors--Leaf, Loam, Shallot and Cloud are four names I've learned. Gone, I suppose, are the days of Harry, Sheldon and Frank! But, then again, this i s the 21st century we live in--not the past!
You might not think me a political thinker. 'Tis true, my thoughts run more to the halcyon pages of my beloved comic magazines of yore. But I keep my finger on the pluse of the new events. This trend goes back to my teen days. You've heard me speak of the musical duo of Mason and Rusty here. True, our repertoire did lean heavily on that of our idols, Peter and Gordon, but we did include a couple of "messager" songs, as those were popular with our peers. I still recall our Peter and Gordon-styled version of "Masters of War." We did it with a softer, bossa nova style of rhythm. Arranged for two voices in harmony, it always went over well.
We, of course, also sang "Eve of Destruction." I never could get all the words sussed out on that one. Some thing about bodies floating--it still puzzles me, when the original tune plays on my "oldies" radio station. We just mumbled through that part, but it, too, cheered our classmates.
Back to the present, friends. I'm somewhat impressed that the fire of politics still finds root in the hearts of the young. But I recall that I, at this age, bathed, shaved and changed clothes with far greater frequency. I have attempted to pass on these pearls of wisdom to our "Occupy 11," as they drift in and out of the Diner (which is parallel to their "tent city" on Mayor Miggins' front lawn).
Alas, the good mayor has temporarily abstained from his twice-a-week visits to our little eatery. Whenever he shows his head outside his home, much like the groundhog on his day, he is assaulted with shouts, grunts and the expert heavings of small moist things. I pity Mr. Miggins--he is a just, fair, good-natured fellow, and I have always experienced him as being the champion of "the under guy."
Yet, ironically, these youthful crusaders of justice won't given an established "do-gooder" the chance to speak his piece. Truth told, we shall all be glad when this "occupation" is over, and these young lions find something else with which to "occupy" their spare time!
The "11," as the local newspaper has dubbed them, are inordinately fond of the ever-popular "Sloppy Doe" sandwich. Dorrie and I decided to offer a "Protester's Special." Anyone presently living in a tent, within our fair city limits, is entitled to one of these massive, fragrant, dripping sandwiches for one dollar.
As said, these hungry youth tend ot "occupy" the Diner, guitars and notebooks in tow. I've impressed them with my special arrangement of "Masters of War," sung occapella to their slack-jawed surprise. Few of them sing! They mostly huddle in a grubby group, while one lazily strums assorted chords over and over again.
Thanksgiving was a clandestine affair this year--held in secret at the Diner. Truth told, there were two versions of the meal. The one at the Diner featured a streamlined but pleasing spread, including Dorrie's knockout "Fruity Cola Bird" and her "Megaplex Pudding Cake," which features six flavors of pudding, encased in six complementary flavors of fluffy cake.
Prior to this meal, we had a sham dinner at home. It consisted of turkey bologna, bread, American cheese, and a small tray of crackers. This was for the benefit of a certain certain Golden Age cartoonist (initials B.K.). Dorrie has made clear her abiding dislike of Brad Kolger, and has told him that he has worn out his welcome. He is advised to get into his motor home and find another place of residence.
This has caused a rift between Dorrie and myself. To be honest, Mr. Kolger has not proved the fountain of panelological wisdom "Sparks" and I might have hoped for. Some of his anecdotes seem a mite suspicious to me! You know well what a stickler I am for accuarcy. Facts, proven and measured, interest me. Mr. Kolger's imagination is evidently still keen, but our food bills have sky-rocketed. Due to his chronic weight gains, we've even had to purchase new pants for him. Otherwise, he wanders about in soiled boxer shorts and a bathrobe, 24-7.
'Twas while trying to verify one of Mr. Kolger's wilder claims that I came across the name of Bob Bugg. No, he isn't a "funny animal" character! Mr. Bugg was an overlooked, uniquely inspired creator of the Golden Panelological Era. I'd all but forgotten his work until a comment by Mr. Kolger sparked my memory.
I couldn't recall the magazine in which Mr. Bugg's work appeared. I thought it to be one of the Fox titles, or a Nedor publication. An exhaustive search of my holdings from these imprints revealed nothing--although "Sparks" and I did spend several happy hours reading from these vintage issues. Let the protests of man wail and moan. Let controversy cry out. None of these can dim the brilliant, shimmering light of the "people's art" of panelology!
Finally, in an act of desperation, I rifled through a box of minor Dell Comics titles. 'Twas then that this issue of Poplar Comics literally leaped out at me. Its protective bag had an air pocket in it that caused it to shoot out of a stack and land, face-up, on my lap. Immediately, I espied the name of Mr. Bugg's magnum opus: DR. HORMONE!
I've some interesting background material on the strip and its creator. But first, please prepare yourself emotionally for a sutnning burst of panelological art!!
Roach's time in the panelological field was short but sweet. His career began with a bang--his car collided with that of editor Oskar Lebeck in a Manhattan parking lot, one day in 1939. Roach had just--unsuccessfully--attempted to find work with the Harry Chesler studio. Down to his last two dollars, Roach was despondent, and failed to look in his rear-view mirror. Bang! He smashed editor Lebeck's rear fender.
The impact of the accident unsecured Roach's portfolio. Sample comic-book pages spilled all over the interior of his car. An angry Lebeck, having surveyed the damage done, saw these pages and immediately forgot his fury. For he was in need of his own "Superman"--at any cost!
Lebeck's concern oversaw a series of comic magazines that were old news in 1939. They existed before the arrival of the paenlological super-hero, and consisted of reprintings from popular newspaper comic strips. These had sold extraordinarily well throughout the middle to late 1930s, but with the arrival of a circus of costumed men of might, the fickle buying public turned away from Lebeck's offerings. He had to act--and fast!
Lebeck offered Roach a job on the spot. He put him to work, in that pay parking lot, on the creation of a new, vibrant super-character. Roach's favorite novel was H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. He'd long had a notion that a good guy version of the feared Moreau might prove a comic-strip sensation.
The possibilities were many: via scientific genius, and a series of experimental injections, his Hormone could change man to beast, insect or bird--and back again. It hadn't been done in comics until then. Roach knew he was onto a "sure thing."
Overnight, Roach created a dozen potential features for Lebeck's perusal. He was less enthusiastic about his other ideas. He clearly wanted "Dr. Hormone" to lead the pack--and it did!
Lebeck was intrigued by the idea of a scientific genius who was sane, instead of mad, and who helped America, rather than harm it. Dell's other super-hero entries, such as "Phantasmo," "The Owl" and "Marvel Man," had failed to "grab" the comic book-buying audience as Lebeck had dearly wished.
Roach wrote and drew "Dr. Hormone" with his heart on his sleeve, and his ear on the pulse of current world events. As said earlier, he could see, all too well, the imminent specter of war on our peaceful American landscape. Only by preparing America's impressionable youth for the onset of chaos and destruction could we be ready to face this hitherto-unseen foe, he believed.
The feature debuted with issue 54 of opular Comics, and ran for the next several issues. Alas, Roach was too much the prophet, and his message was too strong for young minds to take. The feature expired many months before America's entry into the Second World War.
Unsurprisingly, Roach volunteered for the military before "the day that will live in infamy." Alas, he was, by then, a chronic sufferer of hiccups. The attacks would come late at night, and force him away from the drawing board. He tried every "folk remedy" in the book, but the accursed hiccups plagued him without cease. (He later discovered they were due to an allergy to dijon mustard, which he consumed voraciously.)
Because of Roach's medical problem, he was deemed unsuited for military service. He continued in comics, penning features as diverse as "Ellery Queen" and "Rocky Hall, Jungle Stalker." One late feature, "The Safety Hasp," chronicled the doings of a super-powered night watchman who "made the rounds" of the criminal underworld.
"The Safety Hasp" was accepted by Everett Arnold, publisher of Quality Comics, to begin publication in his Crack Comics title in early 1943. 'Twas then that tragedy struck a panelological genius. By this time, he had learned of his mustard allergy, and that it was the source of his frequent hiccup attacks. Roach craved the spicy condiment, knowing full well of its hazards to his health.
One warm spring evening, having consumed three "red hots" slathered with dijon mustard, Roach descended into the subway, to take a train home. As a packed rail car approached, Roach suffered a violent attack of the hiccups. He lost his balance, and fell in front of the speeding subway car. A potential genius of the comic arts was lost to us that sad day in 1943.
In this, the finest of Roach's "Hormone" tales, he applies his character's genius to the unlikely form of the common household pest, the flea. Roach was a champion of insect rights, and felt that fleas, spiders and even his namesake deserved fair treatment in this "land of opportunity."
Were Herschel Roach still alive, I imagine he'd be out there, living in a tent, occupying America with his political fervor. As a tribute to these unbathed, inarticulate youth crusaders, I dedicate this "Dr. Hormone" saga.
Well, 'tis time to "feed the occupiers," so end this post I must. I trust your Thanksgiving was peaceful and pleasant. May this holiday season shower you with warmth and kindness!
Monday, October 3, 2011
Life becomes richer, yet more complex, the older I get. Our restaurant thrives in its new "rerto" location--not so new, truthfully! The site has been occupted by Dorrie's Diner for six months now. At last, the scent of "Sloppy Doe" has all but vanished from our humble household. In its stead is the cloying tangle of "Febreze" odors.
As "Sparks" Spinkle, my comrade, puts it in his earthy terms: "More tang here than in a New Orleans cat-house!" All of us have had a late occurence of hay fever, with much sneezing and fast liquidation of tissues the norm.
Abd, as you may have intuited by today's title, a certain Golden Age panelologist still resides in out home. Oh, how I curse the day I invited Bradley Kolger into our adobe! Never have I known a human being so capable of sheer, relentless EATING!
Mr. Kolger has put on considerable weight since joining our extended family. He looks like a little Buddha. His frequent garb of a bathrobe and striped boxing shorts only adds to this effect.
As I write, in teh safety of the New Pantheon (thank the heavens for its existence!) I picture him seated on the living room couch, happily munching away on his favorite afternoon snack. Alternating on a large serving plate are stalks of celery filled with peanut butter or Cheez-Whiz. Liberally spirnkled atop the peanut-butter stalks are small nonpareil candies. Atop the cheese-stalks is a garnish of garlic salt.
I shudder to recall the sounds of his grazing. First, a steady, march-like crunching, decorated with his unconscious sighs. Then, a ritual licking of each digit on the hand that held the stalk: POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! Five perfect cartoon sound-effects, delivered with cringing precision. Then, after a hearty clearing of the throat, the death-march crunch-munch resumes.
I will give Mr. Kolger his due: he has been willing to sit for hours of interviews. His stories about the creators of the Golden Age of Panelology are fascinating, ribald and complex. I hope to have them published in book form soon. Perhaps the next "post" here will consist of highlights from his memoirs. There is an anecdote about Charles Sultan and Rudy Palais that is a side-splitter--I can't wait to share it with you! (Teaser: it involves pigeons and a pencil sharpener.)
I am also pleased to announce that Mr. Kolger has resumed his craft as a panelologist. In collaboration with "Sparks," he is apparently at work on a "Super-Senior" graphic novel! I admit some growing cynicism at Mr. Kolger's claims that he has completed "over 100 pages." "Sparks" assures me the work exists, and that it's good. "Gee, but it's a corker, if I do say so myself--and I do!" my friend is fond of boasting.
Have I seen one single page? Nay, not a line! This household's answer to Simon and Kirby wish their work to remain unseen until the entire work is completed. "Sparks" did "leak" the graphic novel's working title the other day: They Call Him...Super-Senior--A Man The Whole World Needs! I presume the last half is a sub-title. Otherwise, 'twould be hard to fit all that hyperbole on a single page!
How is my dear spouse weathering the presence of Mr. Kolger, you might ask? Answer: not well, not well at all. Were we both not so occupied with the success-story of the Diner, I imagine we would be seeing some counsellor or psychiatrist by now.
Mr. Kolger makes his presence constantly known. His habits are those of the seasoned bachelor--of one not used to the constant presence of other people. Though he is an engaging and sometimes-charming fellow, he has his quirks. "Burp-talk" is perhaps the biggest point of contention, from Dorrie's POV. Mr. Kolger consumes a great deal of diet ginger ale, and uses the carbonation build-up to speak entire sentences in the form of a common burp.
The man has talent in this area, to be sure. It is rather uncanny to have a long reply rendered in the buzzing tones of gastric release! Being a fellow male, I don't mind it (much), but it drives the "little missus" wild with exasperation.
Dorrie laid down the law last Thursday, after one such exhalation from Mr. Kolger. "You. Are. Not. To. Do. This. At. Our. Table. Again," she said, her forehead crimson with rage. He apologized immediately, and has since confined his "burp-talk" to the inner sanctum of our guest room.
Said location is where Mr. Kolger purveys another of his creations: "banjo-humming." This effect is achieved by 1) humming and 2) running one's index finger up and down over one's lips while humming. Once again, I admit the effect is impressive, but even "Sparks" has taken issue with this musical habit, and has called him the carpet for it!
"Sparks," Mr. Kolger and myself share a fondness for the disturbing television serial "Breaking Bad." Monday nights find us seated in the living room, sweating our way through each new episode. "Sparks" reacts to the mis-steps of Walter White by sitting with his knees folded up, held by his hands in "cannonball dive" position, and uttering "OH, gee! OH, gee!" Mr. Kolger slaps his forehead, and offers Mr. White counsel that he, a fictional character, cannot possibly hear, or benefit from.
We all agree that "Breaking Bad" makes us each feel much better about his own life. Not that I have much to regret, at present (save one very obvious and ill-advised decision!)
In other news: Raphael has become a local media celebrity! Channel Six NewsTeam members descended on our restaurant, ostensibly to do a "local color" piece on the bistro. So taken were they with Raphael's Latin charm that the story became all about him. I learned harrowing details of Raphael's life that shocked and moved me. It only confirms the faith in my decision to become his mentor.
Since the broadcast, Raphael now has a twice-weekly berth on Channel Six's Evening Journal Review (a glorified news program, despite its lofty title). Raphael is interviewed by the show's hosts on a variety of surprise subjects, including world events (in which he is surprisingly savvy!)
Needless to say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. His public appeal translates into consumer faithfulness for Dorrie's Diner. To our surprise, he has not asked for a raise, nor displayed other "tells" of a swollen ego. Sweet, dear, down-to-earth Raphael! Dorrie and I plan to increase his salary in November, as a sort of "early Christmas" for him.
Not everyone patronizes this "blog" for my small-town chit-chat. I know that many of you are eager to get on with the show. Well, here it is--and what a show!
I was reminded of the brilliance of today's twin offering when Box 7-C fell off the shelf last week, sppoking me out of a year's growth! This, the 20th issue of Cat-man Comics, literally fell at my feet. The Holyoke comics titles are a mixed lot, at best, with inspiration, overblown grandeur and tedium mingling 'midst each issue of every publication.
First, here's a bloodthirsty scene of Nazi strangulation by the titular hero of the title. Notice the glee with which it is drawn!
'Tis not the Cat-man's exploits you'll see today! As is typical, the back-up features far outshine the main attraction! "Ragman" is a haunting, eerie and moody feature, created, written and drawn by Herman Browner. This is perhaps the single greatest installment of the series. Browner's skill at creating and sustaming a mood is most impressive. Notice, throughout, the role of the Afro-American "Tiny," who is billed as "Ragman's Faithful Helper." There is a touching, true-life coda to this story, which you'll read at tale's end, below.
As said at story's beginning, "Ragman" was created, written and drawn by Mr. Browner. You'll notice I did not mention the lettering. Friends, Browner was a gifted illiterate. He had immense talent as a panelological renderer, as you'll no doubt attest, but the man could not read or write in any language.
Browner lived in constant shame and fear because of this learning disability. The man tried--and tried--to learn how to read, but claimed "the letters get so mixed up it hurts!" It is believed that Browner suffered from reverse dyslexia, in which, through the afflicted viewer's eyes, the columns of text are a hopeless jumble.
Sharing Browner's secret was Manhattan janitor Roscoe "Tiny" Pearl, a seemingly lowly broom-artist who held three college degrees! "Tiny" helped translate Browner's panel-by-panel concepts into literate English. With a deft hand, Pearl neatly lettered each tale, with no one the wiser.
Browner's ruse wa ssuccessful for years--until one day in 1948, when he was arrested at a midtown Manhattan bank. Browner was merely attempting to deposit a paycheck, which had a typographical error. The check read "two hudnred and fitfy dollars" instead of two hundred and fifty.
Browner had to publicly admit his illiteracy when questioned by the police. He was ousted from comic book work as a result of that confession. Remarkably, Browner went on to greater success as a sign painter! With "Tiny" by his side, dictating each word and letter, Browner was soon among Manhattan's elite "window and card men"--a position he proudly held until his 1963 death. Browner never did learn to read!
Up next is a riveting tale of "The Hood," by the team of A. Cornwall and Richard Thresher. (Don't be deceived by the "Al Mandel" on the Hood's cape. That was, in fact, the garment's name!)
Little is known about Richard Thresher, due to his over-identification with his creation, The Hood. Thresher wore a mask, night and day, exactly like the Hood's own cowl. His reason for such outlandish garb? Sinus problems! Thresher claimed that wearing the mask helped relieve painful sinus pressure, which plagued him throughout h is adult life.
From an interview I did with Arthur Cornwall, in 1974:
Tell me about the artist on "The Hood," Richard Thresher...
Heh heh! What a kook! We all called him "The Hoodlum," which he hated! Made him want to spit nails. I used to bring scripts over to his apartment in Greenwich Village. Even on the hottest summer day, he'd have that fool mask on.
That thing got dirtier and dirtier as time went on. We'd sometimes go out to eat, and he'd lift the bottom part of the mask up with a knife, and shovel in food with his fork. He was a pretty good artist, but he had bad aim. Over the years, that thing got caked with gravy, syrup, coffee stains, ketchup and whatnot. But he wouldn't take it off! Not even alone at home.
What became of Mr. Thresher?
He was declared 4-F in World War II, but they finally drafted him into the Korean War. Lord knows how he made it through basic training, with that thing on his face, but he did. Last I heard of him, he was a layout artist for Filmation Studios, out in Hollywood. I'll bet he still has that darned thing on to this day!
I found Mr. Cornwall a rather bitter, vindictive fellow, with many harsh comments about his colleagues and rivals. To be honest, Cornwall's scripts are the worst aspect of "The Hood." Despite his eccentricities, Thresher showed a certain dramatic flair in his artwork. I particularly enjoying spotting his blacks. They are all over each page, and delivered with confidence.
Well, friends, the clock tells me that it's almost time for "Breaking Bad." 'Tis time to join my comrades at home. I'm almost afraid to watch!
Sunday, July 3, 2011
The ew location for "Dorrie's Diner" has taken off like a skyrocket--an apt metaphor for the approachig Fourth of July weekend. Our sales and patronage have tripled since the move. The chage has done us all well. The household finally no longer smells of the "Sloppy Doe" sauce, and whe Dorrie ad I are home, we are well and truly HOME.
Ad I thought I was retired! This "second career" has absorbed more of my time ad energy tha I ever reckoned. So little time for panelology anymore--witness my crimial neglect of this blog!
But if I had little time for my passion--what with all the accounting, hosting and cash-registering required of me--my passon did not forget me! IT literally walked in the doors of Dorrie's Diner one afternoon in late May, in the form of Brad Kolger. His ame may not ring an alarm, but to the more refined, studied panelologist, such as myself, his is a name to savor.
I would not have recognized this man as the panelological giat he was, when he walked into the restaurant. He was wearing well-worn clothes, with a fishig hat, loaded with old, rusted baits, and a hungry look in his eyes.
He sat down in a booth and ordered profusely from our menu. Raphael could scarcely keep up with him! After takig the man's order, Raphael came up to me. In a confidetial whisper, he showed me the order--for five different entrees, plus salad, dessert and french fries--and said with concer: "Senor Mason, this man cannot possibly consume so many platters!"
But consume he did, ad with relish. He ordered a cup of coffee to go with his Creamy Cinnamon Pie, finished his repast with abundant satisfactio, and then motioned for the bill. It was almost thirty dollars total.
The man approached the counter and left this crude sketch as payment:
A wave of shock passed through me as I held this drawing. Here before me--this humble figure--was one of the "lost greats" of comicdom's "Golded Age!" He hurried to the door. "Stop, sir!" I called out.
He cringed, shrugged his shoulders and took off his hat. "I didn't think it would go over. So where's the kitchen?"
"Sir," I said, with evidet reverence. "You are Brad Kolger--creator of 'Nightshade,' the feature seen in late issues of Amazing-Man Comics?"
Agaim, he shurgged. "Guilty as charged." Then his face took on a quizzical hue. "How in the hell did you know that?"
"I, sir, am a panelologist. In my realm, yours is an admired name. You are always welcome here."
Kolger looked up at me. "No kidding?"
"I could not jest about such important things, sir."
"Well, in that case..."
Kolger ordered a few more items from the menu, and ate them with great relish, "on the house." At one poit, he looked up from his feasting and again shrugged his shoulders. "It's my metabolism. I'm 87 years old, but I still eat like I'm 27!"
"Mr. Kolger," I asked, "are you... homeless?"
"Hardly!" he replied. "I got my camper. Long as my pension checks keep coming, I'm free to tootle all over the place..."
With some argumentation, a persuasive case was made for Mr. Kolger to take temporary residence in our newly-regained spare room (that of the former home bistro space.) I could not let pass this rare opportunity to interview one of the last surviving creators of the finest age of panelology!
To those unfamiliar with the work of Brad Kolger, here is his "Nightshade" story from issue 24 of Amazing-Man Comics:
'Tis a remarkable tale. Just as fascinating is the real-life story of its creator. "Sparks" Spinkle and myself sat down wtih Mr. Kolger in our home on July 5th and captured this exclusive iterview with a living leged of panelology.
MM: Mr. Kolger, you certainly were in the right place at the right time! It’s a pleasure to be able to interview you about your career in panelology.
SS: Comic books. Funny books. All in color for a dime.
BK: Jesus, that was a long time ago. Hey, do you happen to have any softer pillows? The ones on that bed are kind of hard.
MM: I’ll ask my wife when she returns home.
So, please, tell our readership about your work in the comic magazines.
BK: Jesus, I was all of 17 years old when I started doing those stories. Just out of high school. I was always good with a pencil and a pen. I won some art contests in high school. I went to Burl Madison High School of the Arts and Sciences. It was in Flatbush.
MM: I haven’t heard of that school before. Did any other notable cartoonists attend it?
BK: You heard of Mike Roy?
SS: He did The Saint comic strip.
BK: That’s him. That guy had the worst gas! Nobody wanted to sit near him after lunch. That guy could clear a room in 10 seconds. I wonder how his assistants stood it!
MM: I see.
BK: Of course, now they have that Prilosec. I take it. It’s a miracle drug. I haven’t cut one in six months.
SS: Cut one? That’s a corker!
MM: Yes. [pause] Please tell our readership how you broke into the comic book field.
BK: Remember “Hoot” Gibson? The movie cowboy?
BK: They had this big national “Draw ‘Hoot’ Gibson” contest. The winner got an internship with King Features Syndicate. They were thinking about a “Hoot” Gibson comic strip.
Anyway, I was pretty slick with a brush, and I decided I was going to do a life-size portrait of old “Hoot.” I got the dope on how tall he was at the public library. Then I did a six-foot portrait—really, more of a caricature—of Gibson. I spent hours on it. I wanted that internship bad. Anything to get out of the family business.
SS: What was that business?
BK: We jarred raw sewage. Farmers would buy it in the winter. Manure would just freeze solid when it got cold. We had seven sizes of jars. The smallest was called a “boomer,” and the biggest was called a “spotter.” It was a terrible business. The stench in the summer was unbearable.
So I figured a life drawing pictures was a bed of roses. I guess it was.
MM: Did you win the contest?
BK: Yep! The judges almost went for a painting done by this English girl. She had horrible breath. Must have eaten onions three times a day. I always kept my mouth clean.
Nothing came of the “Hoot” Gibson comic strip. They had me draw up three weeks of sample strips. Fellow named Craig Maxwell wrote them. He had “Hoot” dropped in the African jungle, as a G-man. “Hoot” disguised himself as a gorilla and was on the trail of some poachers who had stolen these top-secret blueprints.
It was a good story, but Gibson wouldn’t stand for being drawn in a gorilla outfit. It made him see red! He told King Features to go screw themselves. And that was that.
But I had these terrific samples, and I took them around to all these comic book publishers. King Features liked me work, but told me to come back when I was 21. When you’re 17, that’s like a million years. So I took these sample strips everywhere. National liked them, but said they were full up.
MM: How did you wind up working for Centaur Publications?
BK: Just walked in their office, showed them my strips, and lied about my age. Said I was 20, and they bought it.
Their editor wanted a knock-off of “The Shadow.” That radio show was really popular, and some other company did a comic book version. They asked me, point blank, to do a rip-off of “The Shadow.” They said I could do anything I wanted in the stories, as long as it was just like “The Shadow.”
SS: Did you know Mart Bailey?
BK: Bart Bailey? No…
SS: No, no, MART Bailey.
BK: (thinks) No.
What were we talking about?
MM: The creation of “Nightshade,” your first and most successful feature in comic books.
BK: Yeah, yeah. I walked down to the subway station, and it was late afternoon, and thee sun made all the shadows really long. I took a look at those and I said, “Eureka! That’s it!”
SS: Those were your exact words?
BK: I guess. Why is that important?
SS: Did you know Ed Dobrotka?
SS: Ed Dobrotka. D-O-B-R…
BK: Uh, yeah. He kept pigeons on his roof. He raced ‘em. Made more money from that than he did on comic books, I’ll tell you that!
MM: I salute you on your ingenious solution to a troublesome dilemma.
MM: Er, your creative approach to “Nightshade.” It’s among the most imaginative concepts in early panelology.
BK: There you go with that word again! Sounds like a disease.
Yeah, I had to put my own spin on it. So I dressed him up like a hoity-toity dude. People used to wear those white suits in summer. That was the opposite of his black shadow. I thought it was pretty clever.
I did the first story over the weekend. Took it into Centaur Monday afternoon. They weren’t thrilled with it, to tell you the truth. They really wanted something looked just like Lamont Cranston. But they had a hole in an issue of Mr. Amazing—
BK: Why does the name matter? What matters is, they bought the story. Paid me $125.00 on the spot. That was a lot of money in those days.
I enjoyed doing that series. I was sad when Centaur folded up their shop. The owner committed suicide. He had run up this gigantic tab at a Chinese restaurant, and he couldn’t pay it.
MM: Where did you work after Centaur?
BK: I tried to work for Victor Fox for a few months. The bastard never paid me! What an asshole…
MM: Er, let’s keep this talk family friendly…
BK: Call a spade a spade. The guy was a schmuck! He fancied himself a ballroom dancer. At five sharp every afternoon, he’d drop the needle on this scratchy recording of “Dancing in the Dark.” Then he’d appear, in top hat and tails, and tap dance on top of the drawing boards in the art bullpen. And if you had a page on your desk, it’d have footprints all over it.
We got him good one day. Everyone loosened the table tops on their boards. That bastard came tappety-tapping along, and he ended up in the hospital with two bruised knees. That, and the not getting paid part, was enough for me. I left an unfinished story on my board. Just walked out one day at quitting time.
MM: What happened after that?
BK: Uncle Sam came calling. The minute I turned 18, I got my draft notice. I was just getting established in comic books! National took another look at my portfolio. They wanted me to take over a couple of small features. One was called “The Robot Man.” The other was “Mr. Terrific.” How different my life would have been if I hadn’t gotten drafted!
MM: Where did you serve?
BK: Some bunghole in Kansas. I never went overseas. Hell, I never went anywhere. I painted signs and posters for three years. I also did girlie drawings on the side for the other guys. That got pretty lucrative.
SS: Did you know Arthur Cazeneuve?
BK: Why do you keep asking me these questions? Who are you, anyway?
MM: Please, gentlemen, let’s stay on our task. Did you return to comics after the war?
BK: Sort of.
MM: How is that?
BK: I never made it back to New York. One of my sergeants worked for the National Undertaker’s Association. They had a monthly trade magazine called “The Casket.” I was hired as art director. I did a monthly comic strip. Three pages in every issue. It was all about the business of undertaking.
I created a character called Mr. Tallow. He ran a small funeral home. He was just an average American businessman trying to do a good job. He had an overbearing wife, Sweetie, and a couple of inept assistants. There was also Miss Flotsam, the organist. She had a wig that never stayed on. She’d start to play, and the darn thing would fly off!
MM: How long did this feature last?
BK: Oh, Lord. I started it in 1947, and retired in 1987. Jesus—40 years! It was quite popular in the funeral home trade. I’d go to conventions, and when it was known that the creator of “Mr. Tallow” was there, brother, that was all she wrote!
They put out a hardback book collection of the strips in 1967. “Twenty Years With Mr. Tallow,” they called it. It was over 400 pages! Just try and find that one now. I wish I still had a copy.
MM: Do you retain any of your original artwork, sir?
BK: Nope. It all burned up in 1993. Lost my house in a big fire. I lost everything. That was when I decided to hit the road. Bought my home on wheels and set out to see America.
(picks up the copy of Amazing-Man Comics #24 and peruses it) Gee, this isn’t bad stuff for a 17 year-old. I had kind of a style going then. The character’s hat was a bitch to draw over and over. I could never get it right. But he had to wear that damned hat! Otherwise, he wasn’t a rip off of “The Shadow.” They wanted that hat in every single panel!
MM: So, “Nightshade” was your only comic book creation, then?
BK: Thanks to Uncle Sam, yes.
MM: Do you have any stories—any memories of your peers in the comic book business of the early 1940s?
BK: (chuckles) Brother, where do I start? You ever hear of a fellow named Fletcher Hanks?
MM: Oh, yes. He is held in high esteem in these quarters.
BK: That guy was an out and out lush! I met him when he got kicked out of the comic book field completely. He worked for Victor Fox, too. He hated to work in the bullpen, because A, he couldn’t drink, and B, Fox would tease him about his shoe size.
SS: Shoe size?
BK: Shoe size. Fletcher had huge feet! He was a big bruiser, but his dogs were outsized. He wore size 17 shoes. They looked like big loaves of bread! Fox ribbed him non-stop about those feet. “Big Foot,” he called him. Fox had a little song he’d sing when he passed by Fletcher’s drawing table. Something like “Big foot, big foot, is it true what the ladies say about you?” It made some reference to Fletcher’s manhood being small.
MM: What happened between Mr. Hanks and Mr. Fox?
BK: Oh, lord, Fletcher finally cornered Fox and beat the living crap out of him! We had to pull him back before he killed the guy. When a drunk gets mad, you can’t control him. We walked Fletcher out of the building and told him to go home. And no one ever saw him again. I heard he was a Bowery bum.
SS: Did you know Vernon Henkel?
BK: Now there’s a name I recognize! Vernon could never find a pair of pants that fit him right. They’d either sag in the seat, or they’d ride up too high. Poor guy was in a constant state of discomfort.
He was the best “Monopoly” player I ever met. He got so good no one would play the game with him. It really got him down in his later years.
Anything else I can tell you?
MM: I think that’s sufficient for now. Thank you for sharing your memories with all of us.
BK: I’m going to my room now. Could I have a sandwich and some chips?
MM: I suppose so.
BK: Just make ‘em and bring ‘em to my room. Don’t bother to knock. (stops to look at the “Nightshade” story once more) I should have kept at it. That war ruined a lot of good things. Well, get me that sandwich, OK?
MM: That I shall do!
* * *
Mr. Kolger remains our guest, and shows no signs of movig on. I do hope we can encourage this sleeping giat to return to panelology once more! In the meantime, our food bill has increased. For such a small man, Mr. Kolger can certainly eat.
Before I wrap up today's edition, here is an update. I suppose you recall the local scandal involving the theft of two letters from the Public Library. The theft remains unsolved, but an even greater mystery has sprung from the event. In the dead of night, someone filled in the missing spaces with two Ms. The sign now reads PubMic Mibrary. The new letters were welded on with great skill. I suppose we shall all get accustomed to the sight of it.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
A New Beginning--And Another Case For "Super-Senior!" All This And "Buzz Crandall of the Space Patrol," Too!
Those who recalled the team of "Bob Jordan" did so with a smile. Colton and Menger were inveterate practical jokers. They were admired by Jerry Iger for their ability to churn out stories, like this one, in a single afternoon. So fast were they that they foudn themselves with time over their hands. And t hose idle hands were, indeed, the devil's tool.
Friday, January 14, 2011
To all my dearest friends on the InterNet:
Belated Merry New Year!
I regret my continued infrequency on this “blog.” It cannot be helped. The continued, growing success of “Dorrie’s Diner” has, quite literally, transformed my life.
No longer am I the carefree, devil-may-care retired panelologist. I have a new career—one seemingly thrust upon me by the cavalcades of fate, but a role I have come to cherish, and to take seriously.
Friends, the bistro business can be a thankless grind. We exist to serve one of mankind’s base needs—the desire to eat. When you or I are hungry, our concerns of wealth, fame or art go out the window. All that matters is setting down to a good, solid meal—and consuming same to our satisfaction.
Thus, we as expectant eaters do not necessarily represent hhumankind at its zenith. The hungry Hono Sapiens can be grouchy, cross, gruff or impatient. Show me the food, he seems to say, and then we shall conduct ourselves with civility.
Case in point: Thursdays have become “Sloppy Doe Day” at the Diner. Sloppy Doe, you say? Yes, it’s Dorrie’s inspired take on the juicy barbecued meat sandwich. Dorrie uses ground turkey, in place of the traditional beef (it’s healthier, yes, but it’s also quite cheaper than cow meat), and plants cubes of tantalizing swiss cheese into the mix.
Those who know to ask for it can receive it “fuerte style,” with a legion of finely diced jalapeno chunks, or “a la Norwegian,” in which the sandwich is served refrigerated.
Needless to day, Thursdays are boom business days at the Diner. Seemingly, no one in a ten-mile radius can resist the siren song of these two-fisted sandwiches. All day long, I hear the spatter of oozing saucy meat, as it is squeezed out of the bread and trickles onto the diner’s plates, our laminated tablecloths, or to the floor. The latter poses a slippery hazard which only builds as the day grows longer. By closing time, the slick tile floor is as deadly as an ice field.
But I difress. Our Thursday customers are a ravenous lot. I expect they awake with visions of “Sloppy Doe” sandwiches, drizzling and tangy, hot and punguent. By lunch time, these folks have worked themselves into a mood. They slam the door open, scowling and tense. “Where’s a table?” they demand. “And bring me an extra bib!”
To handle a “Sloppy Doe” is to risk the welfare of one’s clothes. Each bite sends tendrils of juicy, blood-red sauce onto the eater’s face, hands, shirt, pants and shoes. Thus, in order to sustain a robust business, we have purchased several thousand disposable “body bibs” from a New Jersey wholesaler.
These “body bibs” are not unlike those travel bags one uses for suits and other garments on hangers. The user steps into the “body bib” and then zips it up to his or her chin. Their arms exit through one-size-fits-most arm holes. They then don arm-length paper gloves, which we purchased from a supply house in Oregon. MMM MMM!, they read. WHERE’S THE CHOW? Apparently, there is a national need for pre-printed food gloves. We are part of that chain of supply and demand.
Raphael is in charge of helping the infirm and elderly don their “Body Bibs,” and of making sure they remove them after their meal. The bibs have no legs, and sated patrons have attempted to leave the premises hopping like some giant earthworm in an old cartoon.
It bears repeating: our Thursday patrons are a cross lot! Until the sandwiches appear before them, they seem capable of homicide. Their heavy fists pound the tables. Napkins and toothpicks are nervously removed from their dispensers and destroyed via fidgeting. The air is a chaos of tuneless humming and whistling. These fine folks are here to eat, and they want their sandwiches in the worst way!
All I can do is smile and serve. We use no menus on Thursdays. No other entrees need be prepared.
The Diner resembles a bloody battlefield after closing on Thursday afternoon. Silently, grimly, Raphael, Katrice and I clean up the aftermath. The pile of used, discarded “body bibs” and those merrily-printed food gloves is enormous. I have a special “Thursday suit” that I wear to dispose of them. Into extra-large garbage sacks they go. Those are loaded into the Prius and chauffered to the city dump.
The car reeks of “Sloppy Doe” scent for the next several days. Needless to say, none of us who work at “Dorrie’s Diner” have any desire to bite into one of those popular sandwiches! Raphael has come to resent the Thursday sandwiches. He puts on a brave face, as he helps the elderly into their body bibs and watches our patrons plow into the drizzling slabs of bread, sauce and meat.
Under his breath, he spoke a truth in his native tongue:
Lo inútil y sucio…
Enough of that topic! I thank you for letting me get that out of my chest.
What of Christmas, you may ask? I sorely regret not continuing my annual tradition of the holiday super-posting. I was laid up with an ear infection for the entire holiday week. I know not where it came from, but it so affected my sense of balance that I could not walk. I could manage a stagger to and from the bathroom or kitchen, but that was it.
I did spend Christmas Day out of bed, but stayed in my pajamas, robe and slippers the entire time. We had a small, pleasant holiday meal, with “Sparks” Spinkle, Raphael, Katrice and Burt Liffler. “Ray-Don” and his “companion” were out of town, to attend some family event in Illinois.
I asked Raphael about his friend, Henri, who, as you’ll recall, partook of our memorable Thanksgiving soiree. Raphael’s normally jolly mood grew dark, and he picked at his food. “It is best, Senor Moray, if we don’t speak of Henri today…” No more was, or could be, said of the subject.
Raphael soon brightened again (and who could not, given the lavish spread set before them by my dear wife?). Afterwards, we gathered in the living room for an exchange of gifts. For Raphael, I prepared another package of vintage “revistas,” which he accepted with glee. Dorrie got Katrice a gift certificate to Ross Dress-for-Less, which I think she appreciated.
My purchase for Dorrie was a year’s subscription to a local spa, where she can go anytime to be massaged, steamed, lotioned and sit under a sun lamp with cucumber slices over her eyes. Women love that sort of thing, and Dorrie is no exception.
“Sparks” insisted that we not “go to any fuss and bother” over him. Having a home, he said, “is enough gift for me.” Nonetheless, I purchased a new Pepsi sweatshirt for him. His prior one had gotten mildewed from being stored under the front steps. This is actually a “hoodey” shirt, complete with a kangaroo-like pouch in the front. I am sure this garb will be described in the local press for years to come.
As for myself? I had a pleasing pile of vintage comic magazines, accrued over the year and salted away by Dorrie. I tend to forget what I’ve purchased, so the gala end result is always a pleasant surprise. My panelological needs grow fewer as the years pass, but no less meaningful.
By far, the crown gem of this lot was a beautiful copy of Sure-Fire Comics number three—on the top of my want list for years! This magazine represents the early peak of the panelological art, friends—each and every story is a blazing gem!
I’ve only time to post one tale from this splendid tome. And here ‘tis—Agent X, The Phantom Fed, as written and drawn by Burt Guthries. Enjoy, friends, and drink deeply of this vintage brew!
I shall give you a few moments to collect yourself, in the wake of this blinding tale of brilliance. How I gaped and gasped as I first read it! You see, we experienced panelologists expect little of these non-superhero features in early comic magazines. They were, by and large, holdovers from a timid, pre-heroic age of popular fiction. They continued mainly because editors were lazy, and simply wished to fill the pages of their publications as effortlessly as possible.
But what of the creators who continued these lesser features, watching on the sidelines as their peers depicted the fantastic realms of heroism and fantasy? Simply put, they believed in their work and its worth.
Burt Guthries was a reluctant panelologist, but a voracious one. His career began in the 1910s, as a sports illustrator and courtroom sketch artist for several New York and Newark daily papers. Guthries, a clasically trained portrait artist, had embedded in himself the perfectionist tendencies of a schooled fine artist. As a result, he could be painfully slow.
Guthries was fired from one Gotham paper during the landmark trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the kidnapper of aviator Charles Lindbergh's child. Guthries spent so much time on a finely detailed portrait of the fingerprint expert that he missed capturing images of Hauptmann, the case's judges and attorneys, or Lindbergh himself.
Guthries drifted to the pulps in the 1920s, where he had to learn to work faster. He developed a technique in which he pencilled with his left hand and inked with his right. This allowed him to double his work-rate—and thus match the speed of the average artist.
As pulps began to experimentally feature original comics material, Gurthies transitioned to the arts panelological in the 1930s. His knack for drawing people, cars and buildings made him a success in this burgeoning field.
Guthries stuck with the genre of G-men, T-men and Federal agents. As he perfected his two-hand technique, he became the "go-to man" for this type of filler material. "Blake Barton," "Trump Tolliver," "G-Man Garson" and "Treasury Squad" poured from his drafting table.
Scorned by his younger, less skilled colleagues, Guthries preferred to work at home, where he could prepare his minor tales in peace. He scoured the headlines for material. In the 1930s, there were plenty of federal-man antics on the newspaper page.
One March, 1940 story particularly intrigued him. It told of G-man Chet Weldon, who donned a bear skin, at a remote hunting lodge, to startle and capture wanted racketeer Butch Maddron. Weldon's "bear scare" created a sensation in the world of government agencies, and was much-imitated. Agents donned the skins of wildcats, lions, tigers and other man-sized animals to entrap and baffle wanted criminals.
Thus, Guthries' fact-based tale, which you have just read, is really not so fantastic. All its elements are viable, believable and feasible. Their hearty combination—somewhat like the vivid array of ingredients in a "Sloppy Doe"!—creates a superb blend of the factual and the fantastic.
Alas, Guthries' masterpiece was ignored. It was wedged into the back half of this comic magazine (although it received second-billing on the cover!) and overwhelmed by the phantasmagorical exploits of its co-inhabitants. It would prove among Guthries' final panelological works.
Sometime in 1941, Guthries quit the comic magazine "racket" and became a full-time fine artist. He specialized in harbor scenes. This passion—and his latent perfectionism—cost him his life. One spring morning in 1948, Guthries set up his easel and chair on the precarious cliffs overlooking the harbors of Maine. The scene he painted was to depict a weathered lighthouse, with a sun-withered rowboat.
The intricate textures so intrigued Guthries (who worked with binoculars) that he ignored the beginnings of a landslide. The artist, and his final work, were overwhelmed by seismic irregularities. He was inextricably buried under deep mounds of shifted earth and rock. His final, nearly-completed work lay, safe and sound, atop his final resting place. Unfinished Lighthouse and Old Boat is regarded as a masterwork of quiet, understated realism. You may find it elsewhere on the InterNet.
Well, friends, I must return home. It's getting late, and I've enjoyed my visit to the New Pantheon. 'Tis time to file my new treasures and enjoy an evening meal. Who knows what panelological thrills this new year holds for us all? In the meantime, may health and joy be yours in every way!