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!

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