Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friends, I Am Back From The Dead...Quite Literally!

Sometime on the evening of July 2 of this year, I awoke in the Special Care Unit of Emberton Memorial Medical Center. I heard my dear wife Dorrie's voice as my eyes focused. I did not recognize her for a few dismal moments.

And then I spoke: "Wh... where have I been?"

"Oh, Mace," my wife said, tears rolling down her cheek.

It was all explained to me. I had suffered a severe emotional and nervous breakdown. I still have not gotten "the awful truth," but I have been able to piece together the basic story.

After the death of my friend and colleague, "Sparks" Spinkle, I simply "lossed my marbles." I apparently ranted and raved all over town, and, in a moment of pique, wrote the prior entry to this blog.

None of this happened! There is no Culley Harbin. That is the brand name of a leaf blower in my garage. There are no other panelologists of note in this town.

A gentle-voiced therapist, Dr. Drithers, who has been assigned me case, has subjected me to hours of interrogation, as I shiver in my inadequate hospital gown. In his eyes, my attachment to "your hobby," as he calls it, and the loss of "a significant participator in your hobby," as he calls "Sparks," was simply too much for me. That, combined with the loss of our restaurant location, and the ongoing issues with the business, sent me "across the edge."

This is the first time I have had access to the Internet since I iwrote that last entry, ladies and gentlemen. I read it in horror and amazement. Although I must say the essay on "Red" Holmdale iis not half-bad! I may include it in my... oh dear, I had best not mention "the book" here again. Lest those threatening notices appear here.

Those death-threats also aggravated my condition, according to Dr. Drithers. "No one with a... hobby... wishes to see it threatened, or it being the source of a death sentence."

The doctor campaigned endlessly for me to give up "my hobby" and attempt a "regular life, with regular interests," but I soundly pooh-poohed this treasonable talk.

I am home on a trail basis, as my emotional and mental progress have been deemed "significant" by Drithers and by my regular physician. Each step I take, each day I awake, seems fragile, distant, dissimilar. This is the first moment I have had to sit in silence and address you, my gone-but-never-forgotten friends of the Internet.

"Your hobby." Blasphemy! To quote Norman Bates, from the Hitchcock film The Birds, "it's more than a hobby." A hobby is something I equate with balsa wood and airplane glue... with mindless tasks meant to soothe, not edify. Fussing about with paper airplanes! Kites! Let any man, woman or child who is satisfied with such small efforts be welcome to them.

My life study of the art form of panelology is no more a "hobby" than a toaster is a machine gun! More positive events have occured to me BECAUSE of "my hobby" than if I lived "a regular life, with regular interests."

I am sorry to burden you with my troubles, but I feel somewhat ashamed of my "spell." Apparently, there are several newspaper accounts of my actions. I am too mortified to read them. Best to just let bygones be bygones.

I miss "Sparks," but I must accept the cold hard facts that he is gone. There is no one to take his plpace. I spend more time with Dorrie, and we have become closer than anytime in our long marriage. As a show of support, she faithfully paid the monthly rent on the New Pantheon, and inspected its premises weekly to assure the climate was considerate to the vintage newsprint, and that no rodents or harmful insects were "taking up roots" in the longboxes, etc.

I hacve lost a friend, but I have gained a wife. Dorrie says she understands the importance of my devotion to the art panelologic. She encourages me to resume work on "the book," although it is clear I am far from that  point at the present.

With great irony, I now go outdoors to remove autumn leaves from our deck, using the Culley Harbin Lectro-Jet leaf blower. With this note, I shall consider the events leading up to today closed, past history, and promise to forge ahead stronger than ever in my pursuit of the ultimate study of penalology.

Monday, June 9, 2014

My 50th Posting! Grand Day! Meet My New Colleague, Culley Harbin! All This, And "Vapo Man" Too!

This is my fiftieth (50th) posting on this fine forum. It has not proven an "easy" post to complete.

Friends, I am still in a "funk" over the passing of my dear friend ahd colleague "Sparks" Spinkle. Truth told, I battled with the idea of ceasing this "bolg" and perhaps taking a rest from my efforts to preserve panelological history.

Business has stablized at the new, mobile version of Dorrie's Diner, where we seem to be a lunchtime hit with the locals, and with students from a nearby community college. Apparently there are many courses in welding. A common sight in our lunch line are grease-smeared, apron-clad welders-in-training. They have hearty appetites, and, due to their aporns, may eat recklessly, with no fear of "shirt issues."
'Twas Dorrie herself who nudged me one night last week. "Mace," she said, looking over her reading glasses (a crossword in mid-completion), "it's been ages since you went to your little place." (NOTE: "Little place" is Dorrie's "euphonium" for the NEW PANTHEON, my top-secret, climate-controlled vault of panelological treasure and the home of my as-yet-incomplete magnum opus, THE GOLDEN ERA OF THE ART PANELOLOGIC: 1937-1942.)

Friends, as you may have noted, certain low cowards have issued several death threats to me, via their vile, insidious comments in my past postings on this blog, because of my work on this massive tome. This I say to them, in all sincerity:
Fiends! I dare you to shed your cowardly raiments and face me in person! What right have you to threaten me and my loved ones? HA! You can do nothing--NOTHING! Lest I further lose my gentlemanly bearings, I must bite my tongue... except to challenge you cringing ywllow curs to speak to me face-to-face!

There--the gantlet has been thrown. And now back to more pleasant topics. On Dorrie's suggestion, I ventured out in the pleasant late-spring evening, warmed up the Prios, and drove the leaf-dappled streets of my town to the storage facility that houses the NEW PANTHEON.

And on that evening, life changed for the better, friends. 'Twas there I met a kindred soul.

I left the freight elevator, headed for the NEW PANTHRON, when my highly sensitive "beezer" detected the tang, the nutty, rich fragrance that can only be that of the pre-1950 American comics magazine. My heart leaped! Had the NEW PANTHEON been breached? Nae, I said, as I espied the padlock that held yonder door tight.

Before I could re-calibrate, I heard a mild epithet, sounds of struggle, and then a series of gentle, riffling plop-plop-plops. More mild epithets ("Fish sticks!" was one of them), I heard grunting and yet more plop-plop-plops.

Curiosity could not be suppressed! I approached the one open door on the floor and saw a sight that made my heart further race! It was a pile of vintage comic magazines--mostly late Chesler titles such as RED SEAL COMICS, PUNCH and SCOOP. An embarrassed young man, clearly startled by my presence, startled with fright as he turned to face me.

His pale, under-nourished face was flushed, and his glasses sat crooked on the bridge of his nose, below a mop of brown hair. "It's okay," he said, as he wiped his hands on his sweater vest.

"Vintage comic magazines. From the imprint of Harry 'A' Chesler. Some fascinating titles there."

Again he startled. "You know what these are?"

I smiled wryly. "Yes, son, I believe I do." I stepped back to survey the scene within his storage unit. He had several long boxes of what I assumed to contain other vintage comic magazines. In the back of the unit sat a desk, lit by a lone lamp, and flanked by an office chair and a lap-top computer.

"My name is Mason Moray. Have you a moment, sir?" I extended my hand. The youth looked upset, but reluctantly shook my "paw."

"Just trying to index a few things here," he said, as if out of breath.

"A fellow panelologist! In this, of all places!" I exclaimed.

"Pana-what?" He corrected the askew tilt of his glasses.

"Follow me," I advised. Fishing for my keys,  I approached the NEW OPANTHEON, unhasped the lock, and opened the door. I flipped on the lights and the full splendor of the room alit.

"Holy fudge!" the youth gasped. His eyes took in the place--its dynamic murals, its stacks of data, its mighty racks of indexed comic magazines--and, friends, I felt he might keel over on the spot.

He regained his composure, and, goggle eyed, offered his hand. "Culley Harbin. That's my name."

As you know, 'tis impossible for students of the art panelologic to chat idly. We engaged in a four-hour discussion, illustrated with frequent forays to both our archives, aided with some Internet searches (at which young Harbin is a "whiz").

We differed in opinion many times--as do many people, Harbin clings to the insistence that the supposedly "major" creators are the best, and he often seemed quite baffled as to my own likes and dislikes--but, friends, a bond was forged on that cool psring night.

In the course of our long conversation, we revealed information about our lives. I told him about my residency at Dorrie's Diner. He, in turn, disclosed his current position as "information indexer" at the Walter Duff Public Library (which, by the way, did replace those confusing "M"s with new "L"s, albeit with new white plastic letters, noticeably smaller and shinier than their forebearers).

We agreed to meet again one night the next week. Soon thereafter, Culley made a meek appearance at the Diner, where he enjoyed a Bacon-Blast Burger-Dog. That weekend, I visited the Duff Library to catch Culley on his home-turf.

At the checkout desk, I inquired about their "information indexer." The librarian, a polite Asian woman, looked askance at me from behind her over-sized glasses. I mentioned Mister Harbin's name and she laughed. "He's just a book shelver. You'll find him out in the stacks."

I scanned the aisles of shelved tomes. In the non-fiction area, at the mid-700s, I found him, browsing a book that I soon recognized as one by Joseph Kubert. Culley riffled through the pages, shook his head, and said, to himself, "Too heroic. Too durned heroic." He sighed at shoved the book into its rightful place on the shelf.

I faintly cleared my throat. "Mister Harbin, I presume," I said. Culley started, dislodging some books from the shelved cart-on-wheels that was his mobile work-station. "Mr. Morry," he said, placing wrong emphasis on the last syllable of my surname.

"Mor-RAY," I corrected, "like the sea creature. How are you, friend?"

"Indexing information," he said with an embarrassed shrug. He seemed ashamed of his position as a book shelver. We chatted, and I did my best to interject a couple of compliments--such as his peerless adherence to the Dewey Decimal system, which requires an exacting eye and great focus to utilize properly.

Amidst all this, I made Culley an offer. "I conduct a blog about my findings and studies in the realm of the panelological art. Perhaps you have seen it."

Culley thought long and hard, and then confessed: "No. I haven't."

I invited him to peruse the "blog" and, as well, to contribute to it as a fellow peer in the history and cataloging of panelologica Americana, if he so wished. He said he'd have a look at the "blog" and "get back to me."

After that, I didn't see, or hear from, Culley for awhile. On the few occasions I had to visit the NEW PANTHEON, I found his storage space locked and dark. I wondered: had I done or said something to offend this well-meaning youth?

Heaven knows, I am out of touch with the younger generation. They inhabit a realm that would have seemed pure "sci-fic" to my generation, in the prime of its youth. To us, the portable, monophonic cassette recorder, and the Polariod camera, were "high teck." Only the rich owned television remote controls. And long-distance phone calls were both unwieldy and expensive.

The only "web sites" found, in my days of youth, were those in the darkest recesses of one's basement. Those were "accessed" with one quick swing of a well-aimed broom.

Much to my surprise, a large manila envelope leaned against the door of the NEW PANTHRON, with a type-written note attached:

To Mister Moray,

I am sorry I haven't visited recently. Inside this envelope you will see why. I hope this essay meets with your approval. Please return the original comic magazine after you have scanned pages 28-34.

Please let me know what you think.


Here, without alteration, is the debut essay of my protege, Culley Habrin. While I am astonished, and challenged, by some of the assertions of his text, I see in him great potential, and I hope you will agree that his "two pence" are a valuable "asset" to Panelological Pantheon:


An Analysis and Appreciation by Culley Harbin

Herbert William Holmdale was a big man. Big in size, big in stature and big in legend. Good natured, brash and inclined towards practical jokes, Holmdale was known as "Red." The appellation did not stem from the hue of his hair, as some contrarians might believe. Rather, it stemmed from his tendency to have a tomato-bright handkerchief in his pocket at all times.

"You'd always know when 'Red' was in town," fellow free-lancer Fred Guardineer once said. "You'd hear him laughing and humming, chewing gum, and blowing his nose. He'd be hunched over his drawing board like the Phantom of the Opera at his organ. Just drawing away."1

Holmdale is best-known for his humorous features, rendered in a bulbous, primitive style that resembles the artwork of a rural roadside barbecue stand. His clunky but cheerful character construction, combined with such devices as "flying sweat drops," colloquialisms and agitated lettering schemes, brought a fresh angle to the overworked school of humor features for the American comic magazine (or book).
TOP: The most typically-seen side of "Red" Holmdale were his lumpen, primitive humorous comic strips, such as this example from The MLJ title Pep Comics; BOTTOM: Splash page detail from "Dave Lance," Exposed no. 5.
A dark side looms through the entirety of Holmdale's work, which encompassed a wide swath of publishers, from Timely to Fawcett to MLJ. This side was most compellingly seen in a macabre humor series entitled Gloomy Gus The Dispossessed Ghost. The comics historian Frank M. Young has written about this piece, and I highly recommend his essay, "The Enigma of 'Red' Holmdale and 'Gloomy Gus.'"

A lesser-known avenue of Holmdale's work resides in his non-humor efforts. Judging by the grotesque, primitive figures of Holmdale's humorous pieces, one would judge him lacking in artistic skill. Like his colleague Basil Wolverton, Holmdale was a frustrated realist who seldom had the forum to convey his hidden skills as a stylized, vigorous renderer of the recognizable human form in cartoon contours.

Like Wolverton's non-humor work, Holmdale's probably appears primitive at first glance. Lacking in the arduous pen technique of Wolverton, Holmdale used bold, if crude lines to put across his characters and their emotions--the latter usually dark in nature.

Unbeknownst to the fans of "It Shouldn't Happen To A Dog!" or "Willie the Wise-Guy," Holmdale had a passion for shocking small-town crimes. It has been suggested, by writer Rick Collier, that Holmdale was part of a murder in Illinois sometime in the 1920s.2

Despite the writer's allegations3, nothing was conclusively proven. But Holmdale's fascination comes horribly forth in what is probably his most impressive and haunting work for the comics, "The Widow of Death," first published in Underworld Comics issue 3 (D. S. Publications, 1948). Capable of provoking nightmares, this shocking piece shows a path sadly not taken in earnest by the writer-artist.

As it has been written, "the devil is in the details." And the details of  "The Widow of Death" hold us helpless and complicit as its bloody events unfold--not unlike the layers of shredded skin, bone and flesh that are the poor souls who bear the brutal brunt of Belle Guiness.

Compare Holmdale's eight-page account to this factual history on Wikipedia (read it here) and you will ascertain, and see, that, while the artist-writer compresses the facts, makes presumptive choices, and glamorizes the monstrous real-life Guiness, he essentially conveys, in a series of crushing images, the facts of the case efficiently and passionately.

Perhaps Holmdale had heard the details of this horrifying, century-old case in his childhood. His rendition has, in it, something somewhat akin to that of a folk tale, passed down through the generations. Heaven knows, the real-life account is sufficiently chilling to unsettle, and profoundly affect, a young listener.

Holmdale contributed several other serious, usually gruesome, crime stories to the D.S. line of publications. While there is an undeniable sort of flair to some of them, none completely haunt the reader as does "The Widow of Death."

Two close second-place entries in the Holmdale pantheon are found in issue six of the D.S. magazine Underworld. I reproduce their opening (or splash) pages here, for your edification:

I appreciate this opportunity to publicly air my interest in the work of this unjustly ignored creator of comic magazine stories. I trust this essay has not been an imposition upon your time.

1 Guardineer, Fred, "An Interview With Fred Guardineer," Galactic Convulsions issue 7, fanzine published 1976.
2 Collier, William, Pillagers of the Prairie State, World Class Books, 1954
For those unable to obtain this regionally-published, rather obscure volume, the author indicts Holmdale in a modern-day version of the Medieval "highwayman" scheme. According to the book, Holmdale was part-owner and/or cashier of an obscure rural gas station that made fatal "marks" of its unwary customers. The actual murderer/crooks, Walton James Fallon and Michael "Mick" McMahon, were arrested, tried, and executed in 1927 for their heinous, and regrettable, crimes.
Well, folks, young Harbin might seem a hard "act to follow," especially with those foot-notes--a touch I never thought to add to my own panelological musings! But I feel compelled to "step up the plate" with a humble offering of my own. Perhaps my tastes are less "intellectual" than that of my youthful colleague, but I believe they will offer their own fascinations and add to the discussion ongoing in which comic magazines are no longer considered the "low feeders" of the popular culture world.

My goals, in this installment, are perhaps more "academic" than my legion of fans and followers might be let to expect. But it addresses a serious concern that pervades the final sveven chapters of my in-the-works magnum opus.

The gradual decomposition of the American comic magazine, due to the real-life threat of the Second World War, hangs thematically over my book like a dark zepellin. The slow, sad downward spiral towards "jingoism" and away from "phantasy realms" was a change the American comic magazine would never fully recover from.

Some of the more coarse, less artistically-inclined contributors to the comic magazines clung to the political and patriotical fervor incited by this new wave of red-white-and-blue "freedom fighters."

For the more advanced creators--the "dreamers," as William Eisner named them in one of his late works--this new flag-waving slant was simply a burden to be borne out, for the course of what all hoped was a short and insignificant war.

Sam Gilman was a significant second-tier "dreamer," with the misfortune to have left the panelological scene as this woebegone shift occurred. His "Vapo Man," a contribution to a hastily-assembled, topical comic magazine entitled Man of War Comics, displays the bridge from early inspiration to wartime hostility to chilling effect. Friends, this is not a good piece of work, despite Gilman's most valiant efforts.

An energetic, and some would say gifted storyteller, Gilman was most at home in the knockabout world of a good, solid detective yarn, or a playful costumed-hero fantasia. While the concept of a "Vapo Man" seems ingenious at first sight, the character's shoddy handling soon becomes a source of depression to this reader and student. The faults are numerous:

NO ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH AN ORIGIN: The character is not even properly introduced to us! He simply appears, and goes into battle mode.

NO EXPLANATION OF HIS POWERS: As might be ascertained from his name, "Vaop Man" is capable of producing a vapor, or fog, that serves to confound and disorient his foes. All well and good. But from whence does this extraordinary ability come? From a muttered oath? A magic ring? Special socks and shoes? Without this necessary, and some would say, basic, grounding in reality, no character can truly convince his or her readership.

NO NARRATIVE TO SPEAK OF: No matter how "farly flung" the early and prime panelology could be, its flights of fancy were always grounded in a recognizable NARRATIVE. A story, to be precise. Cause and effect! Beginning, middle and end! It is a small thing to ask of any comic magazine's contents. Yet "Vapo Man" fails to deliver even in this smallest and most essential manner. 'Tis merely several pages of fisticuffs and explosions, with good meeting bad, and nothing more.

This sort of drivel would soon infest all comic magazines, leading up to the unbearable year of 1944--the "black hole of Calcutta" of the panelologic arts. I have often contemplated the burning of all 1944-dated comic magazines in my holdings. That is, of course, absurd. But the thought has crossed this writer's sage mind more than twice!

Pity poor Samuel Gilman! Also known as "Steve Gilman," this creator began his short panelologic career in 1939, for the various titles published by Centaur Publications. His works got off to a promising start, with rousing tales starring the likes of "Dan Dennis, FBI," "The Masked Marvel" and even "A-Man the Amazing Man."

Somewhat like Martin Filchock, Gilman's work was both primitive and lively. Given time, and experience, his work might have blossomed. But, just as the military agenda interfered with Gilman's creative work, it tampered with--and unfortunately ended--his life. Gilman was drafted in early 1942, and given two weeks' reprieve to hastily finish several stories due to publishers. He worked 'round the clock, mostly to provide some money for his ailing, elderly mother.

He was shipped off to New Jersey for basic training, and then sent out to the battlefields. He was one of the hundreds who perished on "C-Day," the oft-overlooked "dress rehearsal" for the more popular and legendary "D-Day."

There were, in fact, no enemy forces present on "C-Day." This "sham battle" pitted two batallions against each other, in an attempt for military planners to determine the timing of a land invasion from the sea. (Hence the name of this so-called battle.)

As Alvin Hoffer denotes, in his heartbreaking account of the maneuver, from his book Secret Battles of WW II: Unknown and Unsung, the battle was to be fought with "blank" ammunition, including "grenades" that simply released a cloud of baking powder. Unfortunately, the poorly mimeographed bulletin was blurred, due to a spilled soft drink, and that vital information that the grenades be harmless was rendered illegible.

The weapons-makers simply shipped crates of highly "active" grenades to this seemingly benign test-battle. All other "ammunition" was, indeed, blank, as that portion of the memo was intact. (How, or why, the suppliers failed to see the discrepancy, is lost to time.)

All those participating in "C-Day" were encouraged to hurtle handfuls of these supposedly inert grenades, so that their velocity could be measured by primitive radar and motion-detection equipment. Instead of gathering helpful data, the event quickly became a gruesome bloodbath. As Hoffer grimly states:

So thoroughly did these grenades do their efficient work--these talismans of casual death--that no one survived the explosive assault. From dogface private to well-intentioned scientist and statistician to war reporter, all lost their lives on that regrettable day. The matter was quickly swept under the rug by top Army brass, and its existence was suppressed until 1971, when papers relating to the planning of the "C-Day" event were accidentally leaked by custodian Hugh Garlin.

"C-Day" is still scoffed at by some war historians--dismissed as "conspiracy theory" or as a tall tale created by bored GIs on patrol--but it was established, via those rediscovered boxes of paperwork, found by the custodian while conducting a routine sub-basement sweeping, that Gilman was assigned to this sham-battle. Did it happen? Was it all a dream? And what of Samuel Gilman?

I am a patriotic American, but I readily acknowledge that there is much to be ashamed of in our country's history. "Vapo Man" may be a pathetic footnote in panelology, but the loss of its creator is no laughing matter. 

I apologize for the negativity of this report. I merely use it to illustrate certain difficulties I face, while shaping my masterwork of research and history. There are many heartaches amidst the triumphs, of the Great Age Panelological.

But I shan't dwell on the sadness long. There is much joy to behold in this artform's colorful, rampant history. There are side-splitting stories I long to share with you, culled from my interviews of yore. But they must wait until the book itself is completed and released!

Speaking of "release," I must end this massive missive now, as the Diner is due to close, and I must tally the day's receipts and supervise the clean-up. As with comics, reality is always bound to intrude upon the color and adventure of life.

Please let us know what you think of Mr. Harbin's essay. Do you wish to see more of his work featured herein? Or should the lad branch out on his own domain? We await your reactions and (I hope) praise! Until next we meet, my warmest wishes for your health and happiness.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rest Well, Fair Friend: A Tribute To Wallace "Sparks" Spinkle (1933-2014)

Friends, I am certain you’ve wondered of my whereabouts these past few months. I’ve often intended to “post” here, as this is my forum to the world at large. But, truth told, there hasn’t been time. I am sure you will understand once you’ve read the following.
A deadly hush has settled over our house since the passing of “Sparks” Spinkle. Truth told, I knew this was coming, but I could not imagine it happening. “Sparks” was a human dynamo—constantly “on the move,” whether it be indexing my panelological archives at the New Pantheon, serving as a one-man advertisement for “Dorrie’s Diner,” sharing beloved movies, cartoons and TV shows with me in the den, or just talking—mostly about our shared passion of comic magazines, but also about the weather, politics, history and recent meals.
“Sparks” passed on January 29th, but only now can I bring myself to write these words. To know “Sparks” was to love him—albeit the latter could take longer with certain people. Dear Dorrie, who at first found him an “odd bird,” grew to appreciate and like him. He was of constant help around the house. As Dorrie said the other day, “before a glass could fall to the floor and break, he was there with the broom.”
I have had to put on hold my panelological passions, over the past several months, as I and Dorrie have cared for “Sparks”’ health in our home. A great variety of wheezing, clacking, thrumming medical instruments filled our guest bedroom. In part, their absence accounts for this awful silence as I write these words today.

“Sparks” was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last October. He took the news in stride. “They can take your pancreas,” he said, “but darned if they can take your soul!” We were both deep in work for my sadly-postponed magnum opus, The Golden Era of the Art Panelologic: 1937 to 1942, when the news came, as a follow-up to a seemingly innocent physical “check up.”

Dr. Doynter caught the cancer in its earliest stages, and immediate treatments were applied to the area. In these treatments, “Sparks” was hooked up to a machine right out of a treasured issue of Science Comics, circa 1939, for three hours daily. What this vast machine did, I still do not know, but it enabled him to live a normal life for the other 21 hours of each day.
And live he did! Despite my constant council against it, “Sparks” continued his spree as “Super Senior,” patrolling the streets of our fair hamlet by night. Most of his forays were unexceptional, but he did prevent a carefully-planned robbery of a fur vault. Armed with his harmless-but-irksome aerosol cans of “Puppy Uh-Uh” and “Kitty No-Go,” he ventured downtown one November night, in search of after-hours parking meter violations.
A sudden flashlight beam attracted his attention and he crept into a nearby alleyway. There, he heard a volley of hushed voices. Down the alley he went, and through a door that had been jimmied open.  A group of 11 professional criminals were at work in the basement of Feller’s Jewel And Fur Box, our area’s leading store of such luxuries.
Their evident intent was to break into Feller’s un-alarmed fur vault, rob it of its morbid resources, and then burrow into the jewelry store to rob it of its riches.
Apparently, all was not well with this band of thieves. As “Sparks” later related to me, “two of ‘em was arguing about how they’d split the money. One guy, he wanted more than the others, and they had words about it. Started duking it out, right then and there. And, brother, that’s when I called the cops.”
Using a phone in the basement, “Super Senior” phoned in a tip to local police. Within minutes, the law had arrived. The fist-fight was in full swing, and it took the police three tries to get the attention of the thieves. All 11 were arrested. The police publicly thanked the “civic minded citizen” who informed them of this crime.
Had the thieves “gotten away with it,” they might have stolen three million dollars’ worth of assorted baubles and furs. All have been imprisoned. A court order demanded that Sid Feller install an alarm system for his fur storage vault.
“Sparks” did not claim boastful credit for this triumph. “Heck, anybody with two legs an’ a set of eyes coulda spotted it,” he said. Dorrie made a special victory meal to celebrate this, the final annal in the casebook of “Super Senior.”
It should, by all rights, have been the final annal. But, despite his assurances that he would no longer don the Pepsi sweatshirt, “Sparks” snuck out, one rainy December night, to do a brief street patrol. A light winter drizzle turned into an unexpected downpour, and my dear friend was drenched to the bone. He returned home and failed to properly dry himself off. He complained of respiratory discomfort the next evening.
Not even Dorrie’s “Jewish Penicillin” could help him. Pneumonia set in immediately. From that moment on, “Sparks” never again left his bed.
Despite this, he demanded that we continue on the book project. I spent many days seated beside him, in my office chair, as we examined fragile vintage comic magazines to determine their authors and artists. “Sparks” had an encyclopedia of panelological knowledge in his head. The loss of that “data base” is inestimable.
Each day, “Sparks” was, obviously, a bit weaker, but his vigor for life kept him going, to the bitter end. In his last days, he ate an inordinate amount of “Pecan Sandies” cookies. They were his favorites, and we could not deny him this death-bed treat. Dorrie and I are still finding mounds of the cookies’ brittle crumbs around the house. His appetite for them was insatiable.
I was with “Sparks” in his last moments on this earth. Dorrie could not be there; she had to run our restaurant, which continues in its “food truck” capacity, quite successfully. It is so much easier to operate than a “brick and mortal” establishment. But more of that matter another time.
“Sparks” took my hand and said these unforgettable words to me:

Mace, you’re a pip. Best pal a guy could ever have. You and the missus have made these last coupla years the best ones of my life. Now, don’t get all blubbery, Mace. You got to promise me you’ll keep up the good work. Keep these stories and comics alive. It’s up to you. Promise me you’ll finish that book.

I promised him. He smiled and squeezed my hand. “That’s a boy. Now how ‘bout a Sandie?”
I turned to the container of Pecan Sandies. One cookie remained. I removed it and turned around to give it to him. Feebly, he grasped it. I helped him guide it to his mouth. He bit down on the “Sandie” as he breathed his last.
It had been a “blue Christmas” in the Moray household, due to “Sparks”’ illness, but he insisted we celebrate the holidays with the ritual opening of my safeguarded eBay purchases. How he quivered with anxiousness as I opened each parcel! How he beamed with joy as we examined each new addition to the New Pantheon!
One unlikely purchase truly sparked “Sparks”’ interest—a copy of Manhunt Comics #6, from the impossibly late date of 1948. “Sparks” and I consider the Manhunt title to be the final vestige of panelological greatness—one last burst of the primal energy that made “the comics” so vivid, so vital.
Of especial interest was Fred Guardineer’s “Space Ace” feature. “Sparks” read the story on the spot, and pronounced it “the corker to end all corkers.” Thus, in memory to Wallace “Sparks” Spinkle, and to his ever-lasting legacy on the fine art of panelology, I present this “corker” for your enjoyment. Read it, and think of “Sparks.” His work—and words—shall never be forgotten.

And this I promise you, friend—despite death threats, despite the heartache I feel, I SHALL complete and publish my book. Verily, my comrade, I shall make you proud!

I shall resume regular posting here shortly. I want to keep the “good word” alive and well, for those of us who still believe.