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.