Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yarko's Master Speaks: An Interview with William Eisner, 1969

Greetings, friends of panelology! I regret that nearly half a month has passed since my last "posting."

It seems my gout has not significantly improved. My physician, Dr. Doynter, insists that my ureic acid levels are still dangerously high.

I have been sticking to the "microbot" diet he suggested--for the most part. Dorrie made a mocha fudge meringue pie the other night, and I couldn't resist two slices. Talk about the devil in disguise! I've asked Dorrie not to tempt me with her tastebud-bursting treats. She so loves to make sweets and rich goodies... I can't deny her the homemaker's joy of her kitchen concoctions.

On the other hand, I am powerless in their compulsive thrall.

Dorrie is, at present, baking for an upcoming church rummage sale. The heavenly scents of butterscotch brownies, double-dipped fudge bars, and her breath-taking Strawberry Sea-Foam waft through our humble home.

I've locked myself in our study, where I write this episode on a "laptopper" computer I have borrowed from the office. My gout has unfortunately restricted my movement in the world. But I'm still of able mind, if not able body. Thus, I do much of my work at home.

You know, it's a comfortable routine. Dorrie's coffee is far, far better than the brew we drink at the office. And it is much easier to take an afternoon nap at home. Part of me--dare I say it?--wishes my gout would never quite heal!

Yet part of me decries this as balderdash--rot--nonsense! I want to be well again. My vigor for panelology still drives me to hurtle forward, ever in search of the inspirational gems hidden 'neath the yellowing pulp pages of vintage comic magazines.

But today is a day of rest--and of reflection. Thus, I delve into my own past for our posting.

I have been asked repeatedly about the legendary interviews I conducted for various fan-zines in the 1960s and 1970s. I was fortunate to be there when the old masters of panelology were still walking amongst us. For the price of a hot dog, a pretzel or a gin and tonic, various greats would happily sit and reminisce, whilst my borrowed tape recorders captured their timeless talk for the ages.

I vividly recall the interview you are about to experience. It was a humble and great pleasure to speak with the famed William Eisner in New York City, on Sunday, March 13th, 1969, in downtown Manhattan. I was there to visit some fellow panelology buffs, and, on a dare, I dialed Mr. Eisner's number (then found in the common white page phone directory) and asked him to be interviewed.

I fully expected to be told to "get lost, kid!" To my delight, Mr. Eisner agreed to meet with me. "I love to talk about the old days," he said, a smile in his voice.

I only wish that someone had accompanied me, with a camera, to commemorate the event. Not that the photograph would have seen print. In those simpler times, our fan-zines were printed at home, on a foul-smelling hectographic press.

My thumbs bore the purple ink of the hectographic drum for years and years. The fumes of the ink sometimes threatened to knock me unconscious. Drops of sweat from my brow decorated many a page that went "to press" in the basement of the bowling alley (of which I, you'll recall, was assistant manager).

An occasional spot of blood might also touch those paper pages--paper cuts were amongst the frequent hazards of us pioneering "zineists." The same went for staple punctures. These wounds could easily become infected. Frank Fitzgerald, publisher of Wow Bang and Star Spangled Heroes, lost both his thumbs from infected staple wounds. He died a broken man in 1973.

Here, then, from the debut issue of Panelologist's Pride, is the interview of interviews with a man some might contend to be the true "king of comic magazines"--William Eisner!

The time: Sunday morning, 11:15 AM.

The place: a booth of the venerable "Snack Shoppe," in the prestigious outer lobby of the Waldorf-Lipkin Hotel, itself a nexus of the heart of Manhattan.

The objective: to obtain an interview with one of the greats of our panelological realms--William E. Eisner!

Your reporter sat nervously at the table, awaiting the entrance of true royalty. To make myself conspicuous, I sat beside a thick stack of classic Eisner panelology: various issues of WONDERWORLD COMICS, which contained Eisner's true masterwork--YARKO THE GREAT, MASTER OF MAGIC!

Though Mr. Eisner is perhaps better-known for his long-running popular success, THE SPIRIT, I feel that more than enough has been said about this admittedly clever but over-rated effort. It was about Eisner's earlier, more experimental work that I felt compelled to discuss with its creator. I only hoped that the great Mr. Eisner shared some of my appreciation for his own work.

Our conversation began after we shook hands, and we both ordered breakfast specials. From the start, it was evident that he recognized his old handiwork. Held in my own hands was WONDERWORLD COMICS #4--the home of one of Eisner's most fully-realized panelological masterworks.

WILLIAM E. EISNER: (gesturing to comic magazine) Haven't seen that old thing in years and years...

MASON MORAY: Sir, I knew you would recognize it! That is why I chose it as my calling card.

Well, you could have picked a better one! (laughs) Boy, we worked so hard on those things...

Yes. They are clearly labors of love.

(laughs) We were learning on the job! You see, we just batted those stories out. Lou Fine, Bob Powell, George Tuska--we were all kids, so excited to be doing what we were doing. We had so much left to learn...

Fine was great, right out of the starting gate. Man, could that boy draw! You know, when I went in the service, he took over my baby...

I wasn't aware you had children, Mr. Eisner.

(laughs) No, no! I mean THE SPIRIT. I always referred to it as "my baby." You see, I owned the feature. I was one of the first fellows in the field to retain the copyright on his work.

I'm aware that you are somewhat proud of THE SPIRIT. It did very well for you in the comics marketplace.

Well, yes, it did. I had all the fronts covered. You see, it got its start as a newspaper supplement. We sold a newspaper comic book to several prominent Sunday papers. And then we had it as a daily strip for a few years.

Meanwhile, Busy Arnold, over at Quality Comics, licensed the feature to reprint in his comic magazines. And then later, of course, Fiction House got the license for a bit. I didn't like what they did with it that much.

And then, you know, Harvey Comics had a little run with it a few years back. I thought it would sell better, but I guess the timing was off. I'm sure today's college kids would find THE SPIRIT of some interest.

Well, people tend to like what is popular--and THE SPIRIT was popular.

But today I'd like to focus on your really strong work in the panelological form...

Beg pardon?

Panelology. The study of the comic strip or comic magazine.

Panelology? Whew--that's real tongue-twister.

What would you and your colleagues have called this artform, back in its golden era?

Aw, you know--comics, mags, books, monthlies, quarterlies, four-color jobbies. We had a lot of "inside" lingo that we kind of made up on the fly.

(gesturing to WONDERWORLD COMICS #4) So what atrocities did I commit in that particular "mag?"

(paging through it) Oh, yes. "Yarko the Great." (sighs) Well, Fox wanted a magician feature, and by God, we gave him one. Victor Fox--I'm sure you've heard stories about him.

No, sir. But his comic magazines speak for themselves.

(laughs heartily) Oh, do they ever! You know, he really thought he was the king of comics! I'm sure he was in the rackets.

You know, he used to wear a grass skirt around the office. Like the Hawaiian hula girls wore. He'd march around his place, with this damned grass skirt over his business suit, and shout, "I'm the King! The blankety-blank King of Comics!"

He was obsessed with this product he'd dreamed up. I'm serious--it came to him in a dream. It was a soft-drink called--oh, hell. Kubla Khan Cola?

KOOBA COLA. Many a panelologist has dreamed of tasting it...

Kooba Cola! That's it! The crazy thing was--it never existed! Outside of his dreams, this crap wasn't real.

But he featured it on his covers! He ran regular advertisements for the beverage for years...

Fox was a sneak. He thought that if he advertised it, and got a lot of orders for it, he could take the money and run.

But no one wanted it. He never got one single order for Kooba Cola. That's probably for the best. He would have wound up in jail!

Fascinating, Mr. Eisner! You've given me a real "scoop" with this information!

Do you recall anything else about Mr. Fox? He is a real mystery figure in panelology...

(sighs) He was a mystery figure to everyone! It was a mystery he didn't get himself fitted for a cement overcoat!

He sure got me in some hot water! Are you familiar with WONDER MAN?

I once paid a man five dollars to read the story.

Wow! I don't think I made five cents off it! You know, Donenfeld and his cronies took us to court over that one. They claimed it was a rip-off of their SUPERMAN. Which it was--but that's what Fox told us to do. "Make me one of those blankety-blank Supermans!"

You see, Fox would just buy comic books from us, outright. He didn't care what went into them. I could have put in 68 pages of dancing dwarves. As long as it was camera-ready and printable, Fox would've run it.

But this one time, I bowed to pressure, and did something that really went against my ethics. I hated doing WONDER MAN. I suppose it shows in the published story. I couldn't sleep while I worked on that one. I'd wake up in the middle of night in a panic: "What if this thing takes off? What if I'm stuck doing WONDER MAN the rest of my life?"

Of course, that wasn't the case. We only ran that one story, and then the ax fell. And guess who got sweet-talked into appearing in court? Not "King" Fox. No sir, I took the stand and got my knuckles rapped. I had a kind of black mark on me for awhile. If it hadn't been for THE SPIRIT, I don't think I would have lasted in comics.

That's how YARKO was created. We had a contract for the second issue of WONDER COMICS, and SOMETHING had to be the cover feature.

One night I wrote down a list of the types of characters that comic magazines had, and ones they hadn't. Donenfeld had a magician feature already--ZATARA. Freddy Guardineer did that one. Zatara was a take-off of MANDRAKE--an obvious rip-off. So I felt safe in creating another magician. No one could sue me, because everyone else already had a knock-off magician feature!

YARKO was a means to an end.

Some, sir, would disagree...

You've got to be kidding! This was just make-work. Something to fill pages. A way for us to learn how to properly harness this medium of the comic mags.

It's been said that a creator is, by far, the least judge of his or her work...

Who said that?

I read it somewhere. It may have been Norman Mailer.


In other words, a creator may have a soft spot for certain ideas that might not be their strongest work. Whereas ideas they consider weak may have more effect on others... such is the case with YARKO.

YARKO was strictly one-dimensional stuff. Now, you take THE SPIRIT... that was where I feel my abilities as a storyteller, and as a cartoonist, began to solidify. I had high ambitions for THE SPIRIT.

We were seeing films like CITIZEN KANE, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, STAGECOACH, HIS GIRL FRIDAY... the look and feel of these landmark movies left a deep impression on us all. Everyone was trying to out-Welles Welles in our comic book stories.

In my humble opinion, THE SPIRIT was a means to an end. A pleasant enough feature, yes. And its success was a boon to you. It was a real crowd pleaser.

I'm sad that it took you away from your more personal, and, to me, fulfilling works in panelology...

You're really serious, aren't you?

YARKO is your obvious masterpiece. Everything you did in THE SPIRIT had already been accomplished in YARKO. In my opinion.

{Eisner looks around} This is a gag, huh? What, am I on CANDID CAMERA? Ha ha ha! You fellas got me! OK, you can come out now... (Eisner gets up from table, looks under booths, behind counter, wanders outside restaurant...)

Mr. Eisner returned to the restaurant some 10 minutes later. He looked flushed and sweaty--and most unhappy.

There weren't any cameras.

No, sir, just myself and my tape recorder...

(Eisner sits down) You mean you're serious? You really like YARKO more than THE SPIRIT?

Quite honestly--yes. YARKO, WONDER MAN, ESPIONAGE, UNCLE SAM, THE DOLL MAN--all superior creations to the over-rated SPIRIT.

Tell me why. Seriously--I'd love to know why you feel this way.

Sir, it is my opinion that THE SPIRIT weighted down your sense of imagination. While undeniably skillful in its approach, and pleasing to the eye, THE SPIRIT was earthbound, where YARKO and his brethren dared to reach for the skies--and fulfill the dreams of young readers.

(gesturing to closing panel of story) Yet you found a place for realism in YARKO. I've always quite appreciated the conclusion of this story. Here, you have a heroic figure--far more powerful than any mere mortal--and yet he feels warmth for the young woman.

I only wish THE SPIRIT had such moments of human interest.

Another instance I would cite is at the conclusion of the WONDER MAN story, in which Wonder Man kisses the unconscious woman he has rescued. It is a genuinely daring moment--one that expanded the boundaries of the panelological form.

I don't condemn you, Mr. Eisner. THE SPIRIT was your "bread and butter" feature. It paid the bills. It kept you going through the 1940s. And it was liked by many who read it.

It had a large regular readership. It was in several big papers. They begged us not to shut it down. But it was going stale. That's why we folded it in late '52. I'd done all I felt I could do with the feature. And I didn't want it continued. I'd seen what happened when less inspired creators took over a feature. It's heartbreaking.

I want to make sure I'm getting you correctly. You honestly prefer THE SPIRIT to all your other panelological works.

Yes. All my other panelol--works in comics were just a dress rehearsal for THE SPIRIT. You've expressed your opinion--I'll express mine.

Are we done?

I must confess I am disappointed by our discussion, Mr. Eisner. I wish you the very best.

Well, I didn't mean to disappoint you, kid. You have some funny ideas about comics.

One last question, if I may.

You might as well.

Any hopes of a YARKO revival? With the growing popularity of Marvel Comics' DOCTOR STRANGE--an obvious knock-off of your early work--I believe a revived YARKO would capture the imagination of comic magazine readers in the same--

I've got a headache. I need to go.

Good luck to you and your fan magazine.

(to waitress) He's covering the check.

With those words, Mr. Eisner left the Snack Shoppe. He remains an enigma, a figure as dark and shadowy as the pen-and-ink figures that fill the panels of his variegated creations. I hope he will change his mind about the YARKO revival. He is missing a sure bet, in this humble writer/interviewer's opinion.

So many years have passed since that interview. I felt frustrated about it, at the time. Truth told, I was reluctant to "run it" as the head feature of my first significant publication. But reader response was strong. Letters, pro and con (mostly the latter) filled the columns of future issues for a year or so.

With all due respect to the deceased, I still feel Mr. Eisner was wrong about his life's work. While THE SPIRIT has paled, and lost its appeal in the years since 1969, YARKO's strengths have only increased. Never did Mr. Eisner's brilliance shine more brightly than in this regrettably short-lived series.

Here is the very YARKO story we discussed in our all-too-brief interview. I'm sure you will acknowledge it as the work of greatness is truly is.

My foot has begun to throb. I had best eat a carrot. I hope to be back sooner than later.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"TNT Todd" and "Sparks" Spinkle: A "Dynamite" Combination!

The wonders of this Internet never fail to astound me. As I have composed the postings of this "blog," many's the time I've mused to myself: "If only we'd had this device back in the glory days of panelological fandom!"

You see, friends, back in the 1960s and '70s, all our correspondence had to be done by letter. Oh, an occasional long-distance call was fair game, but they were reserved for precious events and notable moments.

Thus, a panelological friendship would have to withstand days, weeks or even months of silence. The Post Office did the best it could. But it took time to ferry those letters, postcards and packages to and fro.

Over the years, I've lost touch with many of my panelological cronies of yore. Some have passed away. Some have gotten out of the hobby. Some have found religion a suitable replacement for comic magazines. Some got married and had children. Some went to prison.

We "old great mares" of panelology are showing our age. For those of us capable of climbing aboard the technology bandwagon, the benefits of the "Net" are self-evident. Sadly, I'd assumed that some of my chums of fandom were lost at sea, never to be heard from again.

You may recall that I mentioned one of the great panelologists of the golden 1960s, Wallace "Sparks" Spinkle, in a recent posting. "Sparks" was the original "Da Vinci Man" of fandom. He could write, edit, draw, staple and even mail his own fan-zines. "Sparks" was a tireless crusader for the advocacy of panelology.

I'd last seen him in 1985, at the FantastiCon in Montpelier, Idaho. Time had taken its toll on "Sparks," as it does to us all. His once wafter-thin frame had filled out considerably. His wavy head of brown hair was now thinning and flecked with grey. But the energy was still there.

"Sparks" had an especial fondness for younger fans of panelology, and he spent much of the '85 FantastiCon seeking them out. He'd stand behind them as they inevitably oohed and aahed over the latest from Marvel and DC. "Don't read that crap!" he'd shout, as he snatched the comic magazine from their hands. To the "dealer" who sold said comic magazines, "Sparks" would cluck his tongue. "Shame, shame, sir! Selling this swill to impressionable youth!"

"Sparks," ever-prepared, carried a stack of coverless "reader" comics from the Golden Age in a plastic grocery sack. "Here," he'd say, as he reached into his "goodie bag." "Try reading a real comic magazine!"

Of course, most of the tots he ambushed would simply leave his panelological gifts on the floor of the dealer room. But every once in awhile, a youngster would "see the light" and be converted to the true deep ways of panelology.

That was the last time I saw "Sparks" Spinkle. We exchanged a few letters, but by the 1990s, he had disappeared. My letters to him came back stamped "ADRESSEE NOT FOUND" or "HOUSE DOES NOT EXIST."

It began to worry me. Were we all just so much drifting wood in the sea of life now? The once-united "big wigs" of panelological fandom were scattered to the four winds. It took a great deal of the fun out of the hobby for me. Were my passion for comic magazines not so strong, I might have "dropped out" of the field and regressed to collecting bottles, matchbooks or baseball cards. I shudder at the very thought!

As said earlier, the Internet is a wonderful thing. Word has spread of my "blog," and with those words have come reconnections with past peers of panelology. Foremost amongst them, I'm proud to say, is a certain Wallace Spinkle.

I'm sure "Sparks" would not object if I quote his e-mail in its entirety. It is vintage "Sparks," and proof that his is still a vital and vibrant passion for panelology.

Mason, you old hound dog!

I bet you thought I was pushing up daisies by now! Who was that jerk who said, "ain't it funny how time slips away?" It's funny as a god-damned crutch, that's how funny it is!

First off: I'm fine. I've got "three hots and a cot." I've been a good boy, so they let me have comic books in here--and my own computer!

Whoa, Spinkle. Back up. Mason isn't in the know. What'm I talking about?

Buddy, your old pal is in the nut house. I've been here since '95. My back-stabbing step-brats ushered me in this "rest home" after they got tired of me spending their inheritance money on old funny books and creeping around my house, which they wanted to get their greasy, filthy mitts on ASAP!

Well, all it took was one sharpie lawyer and a ton of red tape, and I'd been deep-sixed out of my castle and placed in this very nice, very clean and very DULL coo-coo condo! Land sakes, my blood was aboil back when all this was new.

It was the principle of the thing that felt like bamboo 'neath my fingernails. Those ungrateful little snots just wanted me out of the way, so they could fight over my estate. I guess they figured I'd be dead soon, or declared loco.

But you know what? The docs here said I was as sane as they were. I passed all their tests with flying colors. It looked like I was going to be right back home, lickety split, and if those thieving little crap-hounds didn't like it, they could lump it!

Guess what? Red tape won! According to the law, the little darlings had to come and claim me, sign some papers, and escort me back home for the ruling to be legal. Guess what again? It's been 13 years and I haven't heard boo from either one of 'em.

But the best revenge is living well. I'm living proof of that! I can't leave this loco lodge due to the law, but I regained control of my estate--and, most importantly, my comic books!

Had 'em shipped here via UPS. Of course, no one else in this funny farm is sane enough to read anything. Their eyes are spinning clockwise from all the medicines they pump into 'em. So I'm still an army of one. It do get dull, from time to time, but one must do the best one can.

The other day, I was surfing around on the internet, when lo and behold! Whose ugly mug did I see? Holy cow, Mason, you've put on the pounds! But, then again, haven't we all? Golly, it's terrific to hear the ol' Maceroonie poundin' the panelological pulpit again!

Great picks, my friend. You're doing what I tried to do, back in the day. Push the good stuff under people's noses. Just get 'em to read it, and they'll see the light.

You're doing the good work, my man. I thought I'd contribute a little something for the cause. Remember that issue of
Keen Detective Funnies I gypped you out of, back in '77? Well, it has a honey of a story called "TNT Todd." I've scanned it for you. If these danged attachments are attached, you can run it on your li'l ole pan-fried pantheon and wow 'em all over again!

All right, buddy... you haven't got rid o' me yet! Run this story, and I'll see if I can get a furlough from this hoo-hah hostel someday. We've got a lotta catching up to do!

Yours, until the cows come home,
Wally S.

And, indeed, attached were the six pages of this classic 1940 tale of "TNT Todd." Old "Sparks" wasn't kidding. He conned me out of this rare issue at the 1977 SolarCon in Winnetka. I'd found it in a box of romance comic magazines, all priced at a mere dollar.

I considered it the "Score of scores" of this particular con. That is, until "Sparks" caught sight of it. "You've got to let me have it, Mace!" He said this over and over, several times a minute, for over a half hour. It wore heavily on my browsing concentration. To save myself a million dollars' worth of misery, I let him buy the comic magazine from me for 10 dollars. I'd made a small profit, and I could rest assured for the remainder of the con that I'd have peace and quiet.

And, speak of the devil, peace and quiet is what the doctor ordered, the better for my gout to recede. I've kept up the healthy, "microbot" diet of vegetables, whole grains and such, the best I can. My foot has begun to throb, so I must regrettably sign off for now.

For once, I'll let a remarkable panelological gem speak for itself! The work of writer Dennis "Denny" Porter and artist Dix Davenport, this story is just the thing that so thrilled we elder panelological "fans" back in the happy bygone days of the 1960s and '70s.

Interesting fact: the Porter/Davenport team were too poor to afford an office space. They created their panelological classics while riding New York subway lines. From one end of Manhattan Island to the other they rode, hour after hour, Porter with his portable typewriter, and Davenport with his bread-board, ink eraser and brushes.

I interviewed Porter and Davenport briefly in 1971. Alas, I can't lay my hands on the published interview. I do recall them claiming that those non-stop subway rides gave their work a "sense of pure energy."

Dennis Porter later became a prison warden--and Davenport was among his many convicts! Despite this, they remained the best of friends, and even collaborated on a long-running comic strip for the prison newspaper.

They don't make 'em like "TNT Todd" anymore! Nor did they save the mold that cast "Sparks" Spinkle! Hurrah for them both!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Of Fever, Fantasy and Flight: "Red Hawk" Fights The Axis in "The Carnival of Courage!"

Greetings, my faithful friends!

My august apologies for such a long pause between postings here. 'Twas not intentional--it was medical!

I had been having pain in my feet for the last couple of weeks. It was not sufficient to cripple me, but I did find myself hobbling from home to office, in and out of The Pantheon, and on various spouse-instigated "missions of mercy."

This issue came to a crisis this past Friday night. Dorrie made another of her delectable pieces de resistance: Mushroom Double Sour-Cream Five-Cheese Nachos.

Few foodstuffs can boast such a mouth-watering array of delightful ingredients. I admit I ate more than my fill of this manna. It always pleases Dorrie so when I enjoy her cuisine efforts.

After dessert (banana-caramel cream pie with real whipped cream, topped with diced macadamia nuts), I settled in my den to select some future candidates for showcasing in this blog.

When the clock struck 10, I began to feel searing, agonizing pain to my right foot. It hurt when I breathed; it hurt when I held my breath.

Finally, I cried out to my wife: "Dorrie... I need a doctor!"

Dorrie doesn't drive often, but she rose to the call of duty on that gloomy night. We sped to the nearby Walter Murvis Memorial Medical Center's emergency room. There, 'midst the moaning and groaning of other ailers, we sat until 2 AM.

The doctor's prognosis was mercifully quick: I had the gout!

The physician said my uraic acid levels were "through the roof" and it was "no wonder" that I was in such pain.

The first thing he asked me was pertaining to my diet. Did you know that the foods you eat can make your foot hurt?

The upshot of it all is that Dorrie's delicious recipes are a tad too rich for my system. I am "getting up there in years;" I'm the first to admit it. The doctor's stern advice: I am to avoid rich foods for the next month, and to eat vegetables whenever possible, drink plenty of water, and, as my pain subsides, engage in regular physical exercise.

I am not quite up to speed on that last assignment. But I am following doctor's orders on the other two. To my pleasant surprise, certain vegetables are quite palatable. Did you know that broccoli, lightly steamed, is quite delicious? The same can be said for carrots, and even for that old standby of "Pop Eye," spinach.

Although I still cannot do without my morning "slug from the mug" (that's coffee, to you non-drinkers), I supplement those soothing brown sips with fresh, crisp draughts of tap water.

I am able to drive without excessive pain, after some of the swelling to my right foot has receded. Today I happily embarked on my first errand for the "missus" in some days.

She requested some Halloween decorations from the "Big Buy" store on Lancaster Bridge Parkway. Having assured her that I was "up to it," I warmed up the trusty Chevy Nova and hit the road.

Along the way, a curious sight caught my eye. It was a slender, sad-looking soul dancing by the roadside--in a loose, checkerboard-patterned costume! The garb was neither a jumpsuit nor a clown's costume--but something in-between.

Held in his jittery hands was a coffin-shaped sign that read "COTTAGE CHEESE HERE."

In the back of an adjacent parking lot was a farmer's truck. Some agrarian vended his home-made cottage cheese, fresh from the farm! I was tempted, but I recalled the doctor's orders. Altho' cottage cheese is a "health food," it is on my "must to avoid" list until I again pass muster with my physician.

Do you know who was in those indecipherable "duds"? Raphael!

Once I recognized him, I went 'round the block and approached him cautiously.

I rolled down the passenger's seat window of the Nova. "Raphael! Is that you?"

The lad stared at me, shock and bewilderment in his eyes. He did not recognize me!

"I guess so," he meekly replied.

"It's your friend, Mason! Don't you remember me, son?"

Raphael stared at me, scrutinizing me, but no light of accord came into his dark eyes. "Nuh uh."

I felt my heart sink a bit. Surely he must recall his solemn oath of fealty to me! But perhaps times have been hard on the lad.

I did not want to dicker with him. I simply smiled, nodded my head, and said, "The Home Depot. The storage shed."

That did it. "Yeah, I 'member you. Hey, listen, I can't talk here."

With perfect timing, a man in overalls ran towards the boy, belligerence in his ruddy face. "Stop wagging your tongue and start waving that sign, boy!"

Raphael shuddered in fear. "I gotta go." The farmer immediately berated Raphael. His choice of words was coarse, as befitted his rural background.

I had no choice but to drive on to "Big Buy."

I am glad to know that Raphael is gainfully employed, albeit in a line of work without much dignity. Perhaps the farmer's sales are healthy, and my young ward is making ends meets. In these hard economical times, that's the best I can hope for anyone.

Last night I had a disturbing dream. One that haunts me so, I feel compelled to share it with you. I am no artist, but I carefully re-created an image from this vision--or is it a nightmare? Read on and see...

In the dream, I was back at the hospital, for my follow-up appointment. Doctor Doynter had me sit in a gleaming white room. The room was empty, save for an examination table and a large "flattened screen" television.

I waited for what seemed an eternity. Finally, Dr. Doynter appeared. Held in his hands was a large plastic jug--at least three gallons, I'd wager. This translucent cask was filled with a light pink liquid.

"Mr. Moray, we need to run a test on you." He handed me the jug. For its size, it was astonishingly light. I hefted it, and the syrupy liquid gently sloshed within.

Dr. Doynter switched on the television. Its giant screen hummed. On it appeared the word: DEGUSSING. "In a moment," the doctor said, "a series of images will appear on this screen. I want you to drink the liquid in that bottle until you see the image of Mickey Mouse. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Doctor."

"Do not stop drinking until you have seen Mickey Mouse. Otherwise, the tests will fail. Get ready..."

I unscrewed the cap to the jug. I lifted it to my mouth as a battery of rapid-fire images shot on the screen. The liquid was sweet, yet salty--with, indeed, the consistency of a soothing syrup.

The images on-screen were all of "cartoon critters" I recognized from my collection. The Fox and The Crow! The Ginch! Heckle and Jeckle! Pudgy Pig! More images than I can recollect or tell!

Yet each one was instantly recognizable. I kept drinking and drinking. I felt my insides filling up with this pink liquid. I watched the screen... and then, at last, I saw the image of Mickey Mouse--so recognizable and universal!

I pulled the jug away and gasped for sweet oxygen.

"Why in the world did you stop?" was the doctor's cross rejoinder.

"But," I said, panting, "I saw him. I s-saw Mickey Mouse."

"No, you didn't," Dr. Doynter said, dissaproval rampant across his face. "I'll show you what you really saw."

With a remote control, he "freeze-framed" the image I'd thought was that Disney icon. This is my crude drawing of the vision. I am no artist, but I believe this is an accurate rendition:

This image was fleshy-pink, save for the white eyes and red tongue. Mickey with his ears removed!

Dr. Doynter laughed and laughed. "No one ever gets that right!" he said. "You're not the first, and you won't be the last!"

He turned to his nurse. "Get this guy out of here." Then he left the room, and, in real life, my eyes parted wide open.

I drew the above picture on a scratch pad in the bathroom. I brought it into work, along with today's featured panelological presentation, to scan on the office scanner, which still remains in my possession.

We have a new sales "team member" at the office. His name is Charles J___________. He has insisted I call him "Charley," with an "e." He is a young, raffish go-getter, festooned with all sorts of modern gadgets, including one of those "blue stone" telephones, which permanently rests in his right ear.

Aside from some grating personal affectations--e.g., his constant referral to his automobile as his "zoom-zoom," and to young women as "hoes" (that latter one completely baffles me: of all the gardening tools to use as a metaphor, I would not associate a garden hoe with a female. I might consider a watering can, as it is in a woman's nature to nurture and help the male to grow and flourish. I have suggested that he make this substitution. He is as baffled by my metaphor as am I by his. So be it.), he is a good-natured rascal. I hope he will restore stability to our "playing field."

But enough of this non-panelological patter! Let us get down to business. Here, today, is a gem of warfaring realism, from the Second World War. The source: Blazing Comics issue 5, published in 1944.

I was born in 1946, and have never seen the battlefields of war. I consider myself fortunate indeed.

My father, Austin Moray, was a file-clerk for the Air Force during "The Big One." Although he never handled a gun, nor bayonetted an Axis spy, he had a lion's share of exciting tales about his wartime escapades. It is to him that I dedicate this story.

Unique for the comic magazines of the war, the following feature, "Red Hawk," depicts a Native American (or Indian) as a trusted fighter pilot for the Air Force. I find this kind gesture to the "red man" touching. My father knew some "Native Americans" and deemed them pleasant, intelligent peoples.

Here, then, is war hero "Red Hawk," fighting with flight in the war against evil.

Rich in wartime detail, "The Carnival of Courage" offers the "red man" a unique berth in panelology. Here, for once, we have an intelligent, talented, capable "Indian." He can fly a sophisticated jet plane. He can "down the Japs" and take orders as good as any other soldier.

My father once told me that, while the war was on, racism and hatred knew no takers. All Americans, regardless of their skin tone, were as one in their fight to keep liberty and freedom alive.

A few years ago, I showed this very story to my father--this was right before he went into the retirement center. He still worked--as a night guard at a supermarket--and still drove a pickup truck.

"Son, that's the way it really was," my father mused, as he turned the time-faded pulp pages. "This is Air Force life as I remember it!" Then he paused, in reflection, and put the comic magazine down. "Who'd of ever thought," he said, "that's we'd be driving their cars--instead of ours?" He shook his head at the irony of his own statement.

In the years since this story was published, we have forgiven Japan and Germany for their crimes of intolerance and destruction. We now eat their foods, drive their cars, and watch their motion pictures. All is well with us.

If I have offended any of my large Japanese contingent with this posting of this tale, please regard it as symptomatic of its era. Everyone in American wanted to "slap the Japs" back then. "Slant eyes," "buck toothed snake" and "yellow rat" were standard nick-names for those sons of Nippon. It was a time when all panelological heroes--even the "cartoon critters"--did their bit to eliminate the "rotten Japs" from the earth.

This is no longer the case, of course. Nor would we address Germans as "Krauts," "Nutzies" and "stinking ungodly Huns." The world is a better place now. Even if its current crop of comic magazines leave much to be desired, we have advanced as a people, and as a culture.

Stories such as this serve as a potent reminder of bygone days. I feel "Red Hawk" remains a visionary character. There is still ample room in our armed forces for Native Americans to fly fighter planes! They would save on uniforms, for one thing. As a tax payer, I am out for every "cut corner" I can find. If our air aces should go shirtless, so be it. As long as they're defending this great country of ours.

I must get home. Dorrie has waiting for me a spinach salad with buttermilk ranch dressing, bacon bits and shredded cheddar cheese. Yes, I'm beginning to enjoy this new regime of health and good nutrition.

'Til we next meet--may the skies be clear for your flight through life!