Monday, February 15, 2010

"Dynamo" from Science Comics 2--plus a real-life superhero in our midst!

Salutations, my four-color friends!

I trust you have had a pleasant "valentine's day." Thankfully, Dorrie's Diner is closed on Sundays--despite great demands that we be open "eight days a week."

Dorrie's church commitments make it impossible for the Diner to operate on Sundays. After her services, we had our traditional Valentine breakfast (heart-shaped waffles with strawberry syrup and whipped cream) and a Scrabble championship.

I'm proud to say that I finally won a match! Only by sheer luck. Dorrie had foolishly retained two V tiles--the hardest, by far, to rid one's self of--and the eight points she lost, added to my score, gave me the winning hand--by a mere three points.

Anyone could learn from Dorrie's skills of strategy. I am but a "lamb in the slaughter" when pitted against her in Scrabble.

Afterwards, Dorrie became absorbed in a "Murder, She Wrote" episode, and I attended to my neglected communiques from the outside world.

Among them was a letter from my old comic magazine comrade, Wallace "Sparks" Spinkle. As this missive worries me somewhat, I'll share it with you here, friends:


Hot cha! Have I got a scoop for your blog!

How'd you like to interview the world's first real-life super-hero? Hint: he's someone you know. Double hint: he's the guy who wrote this letter!

Yep--I've taken the plunge into crime-fighting! It's been on my "to-do list" since, oh, 1961. Never quite got around to it. Seemed too complicated--like too much trouble. Where the hell was I gonna find sleeping gas capsules, a Batarang, a secret cave, and those giant computers?

But fate has its own plans for us all, bud. Here's what happened:

I'm allowed to take a stroll twice a day. They know I'm a reliable character, and where else do I have to go, anyways?

It's chilly here at night, so I wear a blue wool cap and a Pepsi sweatshirt I won in a raffle. There I was, just taking my evening constitutional--

when danger struck!

Three teenage hoodlums were kicking a Coke machine. With every kick, a free can of soda tumbled down--and into their thieving little hands. The brats weren't even drinking the stuff. Just shaking the cans up good, then spraying each other with the soda!

Something had to be done.

"You kids stop that!" I shouted.

They looked up, startled. Soda dripped from their pimpled faces.

"That's right! I'm givin' you ten seconds to clear out of here."

"Or what?" The boys' beefy ring-leader, a thug in a letterman's jacket, sneered at me.

"Or this," I cried. I lifted my sweat-shirt to show them my surgical scars.

That did it! Those punks cleared out like a pack of scared kittens.

I had stopped crime from happening!

They had left one can of unopened soda in the machine. I figured I might need it for evidence, so I took it along. (Sad to report that I drank the evidence, but I've saved the can, just in case.)

Since that fateful night, I've converted my knit cap into a face mask. (I have to wear my reading glasses over the mask, because I can't see for squat at night.)

I make my nightly "rounds." My mask hidden under my sweatshirt, I walk past the night staff. Little do they realize I live a double life.

Turning the corner, I take off my specs, put on the mask (and the glasses) and make my nightly patrol.

So far, I've only seen one crime--a guy running a red light. I got his license plate number and called it in to the cops.

Yes, "Super Senior" is on the prowl for crime! Tell you what, Mason--it's every bit as exciting as our favorite comic-mag stories. Moreso, because it's happening in real life!

I encourage you to consider making your own costume and patrolling your own neighborhood. I'm sure there's crime afoot, and a guy like you could stop those punks far better than I.

PS: Enclosed is a drawing I did the other day. My nephew Brock fancies himself a cartoonist, and I thought we'd put together a "tie-in" comic mag. This is my concept for the front cover. I think it'll sell like hotcakes!

Speaking of hotcakes, sounds like you and the missus are peddling plenty of those via your new bistro! "Super Senior" may have to make a special pit-stop there. That is, if they'll let me out of this nut-bin!

Heroically yours,

You can well imagine the worry this missive has caused me. Moreso, the accompanying sketch, reproduced below:

Friends, it is one thing to enjoy the exploits of our favorite panelological heroes. 'Tis another to take their actions into the workaday world. "Sparks" has plenty of pep, but he's older than I, and all alone in the world.

"We should do something," Dorrie agreed when I showed her the letter and drawing.

We cannot have him committed--he is already in the "nut bin," to use his own colorful colloquialism. It's clear that he needs more guidance and understanding than he is currently being given.

Dorrie and I are considering the option of inviting "Sparks" to stay with us, pending his acceptance into the retirement community my father resides in. It is a bit of a burden, taking one more into an already-crowded household. Perhaps Wallace can be of use in the cafe.

Heaven knows, the man needs something to do--a focus for all his intense energy. Just knowing that he wanders the streets of his town--in a mask!--at night brings me worry. Last night, my usually restful sleep was frequently broken by nightmares.

To calm myself, in the still of the night, I crept out into the living room. By flashlight, I read the following story, from my precious Science Comics #2. It helped me find peace. Thus, I share it now with you...

Harold Weber, talented writer-artist of "Dynamo," infuses this familiar, albeit lively early costumed-hero adventure with a curious finis: the gold-plating of a group of criminal thugs!

One would assume they have been slaughtered via this process, as explained in the "Wikapedia:"

Gold plating is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold on the surface of other metal, most often copper or silver.

Gold plating is often used in electronics, to provide a corrosion-resistant electrically conductive layer on copper, typically in electrical connectors and printed circuit boards. With direct gold-on-copper plating, the copper atoms have the tendency to diffuse through the gold layer, causing tarnishing of its surface and formation of an oxide/sulfide layer. A layer of a suitable barrier metal, usually nickel, has therefore to be deposited on the copper substrate, forming a copper-nickel-gold sandwich.

Metals may also be coated with gold for ornamental purposes, using a number of different processes usually referred to as gilding.

It would seem fatal to the human nervous system to be thus gold-plated.

I am suddenly significantly less comforted by this panelological escapade! I am, indeed, troubled, friends.

Our restaurant runs like a Swiss watch--with Dorrie's impeccable cuisine, Raphael's high-profile customer service, and my astute financial management and cash register operation. Dare we introduce a "wild card" to this delicate balance? Would "Sparks" fit into this regime--or would he prove its downfall?

Again, I beseech you kind readers for your "two cent worth" of opinion. And, as ever, my sincere thanks for your perusal of this humble forum.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wild Thrills From Science Comics 6: "Marga the Panther Woman!" -- with important P.S. added!

Friends, let it be said that your encouragements and kind accolades genuinely touch my heart and soul. They have been a beacon in the fog for myself, during a time of chaos and change.

I wish I could "post" here everyday, to better satisfy my faithful, kind readership. But there is much at stake to keep me away from my beloved panelology this new year!

Biggest news first: I have been retired from the "insurance game!"

I was offered a handsome early retirement package from my employers. They are among the many businesses affected by the "downsizery" of the American economy. Let's call a spade a spade--it's a Depression, folks!

My former employers referred to the very generous offer as a "severe package." In that it was severely good fortune for me to accept it, I concur.

You shalln't hear me singing that old "standard," "Brother, Can You Spare Some Change?" The sum they offered was startlingly large. As well, my full medical benefits will continue unabated for the next two years.

At last--at long last I have the bulk of my day to devote to the pursuit of panelology! Ye olde eBay purchases shall have to "downsize" a bit. But not entirely! I have worked out a budget, and it seems that, with my investments and stocks, I can afford around $1,000 a year to spend, free and clear, on vintage comic magazines.

Truth told? The job was merely a meaning to an end. Just a place to go and pass the hours. My heart was never in that line of work. Meaningless amortizations! Tax tables of maddening inscrutability! Triplicate forms with their flesh-endangering staples! Let the "young bucks" have all that "malarkey!" I've served my time--I'm now a free man!

Well, not entirely "free." Dorrie's Diner has been surprisingly and consistently popular. So much so that the "missus" has asked me aboard, to serve as ersatz manager and cashier. 'Tis a charming place to spend the day, and our 8 AM to 3 PM schedule allots the later afternoon and evening hours for the study of panelologic art.

Raphael has flowered in his role as maitre'd to our bistro. He has grown a magnificent moustache--something like that sported by Geraldo Rivera in his television heyday. He greets each customer, familiar or first-timer, with a dramatic bow and a sweeping gesture of his extended right arm, ushering them with warmth and welcome to our humble eatery.

This dramatic gesture only met with tragedy once--when Raphael did not see the elderly sister of ex-mayor Mervin Johnson. Poor Darlene (better-known as "Li'l Pea"), whose vision has been dimmed by cruel time, did not see Raphael's sweeping arm coming towards her. Because her forehead is exactly the height of Raphael's elbow, he did not see her, either.

His flat palm hit "Li'l Pea" directly on her cheek. This sent her glasses flying into a diner's soup. Her top dentures skidded into the kitchen area, where it pinged against the metal mop bucket. No harm was done. I honestly do not think Mrs. Johnson even noticed the blow--or, perhaps, not even felt it.

The accident made the morning paper (on the last page of the Local News section). "BISTRO WAITER SLAPS EX-MAYOR JOHNSON'S KIN" was a headline that made all of us at the Diner cringe. Yet no one criticized Raphael--or the rest of the crew--for this mishap.

In fact, "Li'l Pea" has become a daily customer to the Diner. She especially loves Dorrie's Mediterranean Fish Stick Salad. (Dorrie must liquify it in her restaurant-grade Cuisinart blender so that Mrs. Johnson can consume it with ease.)

Raphael has become increasingly conversant in American "slang" lingo, to the growing delight of our patronage. "Hey Rube!" is a typical greeting to our diners, along with such "crowd-pleasers" as "Wot'll yez have?" and "Reach, you rats! I'm takin' you in!"

The supply and demand of a cafe, even one as humble as ours, is as exacting as my former job any day. Without vital food ingredients, delivered fresh on a daily basis, our goose is cooked--if you'll allow the pun. Thus, Raphael and I are charged to make a daily "shopping run."

We do not shop at the traditional grocery store. No sir! As genuine restaurateurs, we are allowed access to wholesale food suppliers. Our main source is Shakey's Grocery Guild, which is in a seemingly sinister industrial road on the edge of town.

Within a gigantic galvanized tin quonset, amidst the roar of massive freezer cases, the foodstuffs to feed a nation of diners is sold for surprisingly affordable prices. Fellows named "Bud" and "Grumpy" vend these secret wares. They are a hard-nosed lot, and one must approach them on their terms.

I have found Raphael's adopted patois most engaging to these wholesalers. "Wot's fer sale, youse mugs?" gained us entree to what "Grumpy" called "the good meats." The squinting, perpetually bitter-looking balding man let us into a locked meat freezer. "If half th' rest'rants in this town knew about this here room, they'd be on us like white on rice," he said.

"Grumpy" then slammed the heavy door shut on the freezing room--stranding us inside its sub-zero climes! By the time our plight dawned on us, the old man was far away. Raphael tried to call the outside world with his "celled phone," but there was no reception. We simply had to wait 10 minutes before the wizened gnome returned to open the door.

He looked surprised to find us within the frosty tomb. "You guys again!" he exclaimed.

We retreated with a sufficient stock of beef, chicken and pork to serve our public for one more day of business. Such trials befall the "little men" of business each day, in every town!

I am glad we can now serve "the good meats" to our customers. I shudder to consider the quality of the meats we acquired from Shakey's Grocery Guild prior to this incident!

One must purchase common ingredients in bulk. Several of Dorrie's recipes involve large portions of tomato catsup. Thus, we buy our "ketchup" not in pint bottles, but in ten-pound plastic drums.

Eggs are purchased in quantities of 12 dozen--enough for Paul Bunyan's breakfast! Sugar, flour, rice and other "staples" come in fat burlap sacks, as do salt and pepper. But without these bulk portions, our business is doomed to failure. For of what use is a restaurant that cannot deliver on the promises of its menu?

In what passes for my spare time, I still peruse the golden gains of my recent holiday comic magazine acquisitions. Thrills and surprises still issue forth from these mellowed, time-bronzed pages!

Again I dip my cup from the seemingly eternal well that is Science Comics. From issue 6 of this tragically short-lived magazine, I choose today's tale--a sterling and shocking episode of "Marga, the Panther Woman!" It is a supreme achievement of Burl Whitacre--among the few Golden-Aged comic book creators who is still alive and active as an artist! Read on, dear friend...

Even at the time of its 1940 publication, Burl Whitacre's work spoke of older eras. Born in 1896, Whitacre can boast of being alive during three centuries. By 1912, Whitacre was an accomplished wood engraver. He supplied "lino cuts" for various small town newspapers in his home state of Missouri.

The primitive but striking look he perfected in his "lino cuts" translated easily into the tools of the panelologist's trade. There is something of the America of the 19th century in his florid, arresting compositions, and in his blunt but forceful ink-work.

Whitacre was out of comic magazines by 1942--for different reasons than most of his peers. Too old to serve in the Second World War, Whitacre quit the field to become a Franciscan monk.

As he later wrote in his memoirs, Always an Artist:

In my line of work, I drew terror every day. For the newspapers, it was killings, muggings, wars, diseases. For the "funny books," it was fangs, claws, blood, monsters, fiends and vixens.

I had to draw--get me? My hands couldn't rest long on a piece of paper. Faced with a woodblock and a set of cutting tools, I ached to carve an image into being.

But all these visions of cruelty--I could bear them no longer! I searched and searched for a means in which to put my gifts to a higher use.

I read an article in the paper about a monastery in northern California where the monks still did illuminated manuscripts. Here was a way to satisfy that itchy feeling! To always have a need for my fingers to grasp a creative tool and draw--draw--draw!

In the midst of brutal war, I became a monk, and withdrew from the world. It brought me a peace I felt from head to toe... a peace that renews itself every morning, no matter whether I am working on a golden curlicue of a holy document, or lettering the signs for a bake sale. It is all good work. It is the work I intend to continue until my dying day.

That day has yet to come. At age 114, Whitacre still works each day in the monastery. His flowing, elegant illuminated manuscripts have been showcased in art museums--while his bake-sale, rummage-sale and "NO PARKING HERE" signs are highly coveted by collectors of "outsider art." (For those not in the know, that means artwork that was intended to be posted and viewed outside. Weather conditions being what they are, this 'outsider art' seldom survives. Hence, its great value to collectors.)

Whitacre may have felt ashamed of his bloody, brutal work for the comic magazines, but one cannot deny its flair, excitement and eye-appeal. In this panelologist's humble opinion, Whitacre's work puts that of the highly over-rated Fletcher Hanks to shame.

On that note, I must end this happy missive. My apologies for the infrequency of these "blog" efforts. I shall do my best to assure that you do not have such a long wait between "posts" in the future.

Until next time, bless you all, my four-color friends, and may wisdom and calm guide your steps!

POST SCRIPT!!! I have just been informed, from my comrade in panelology Paul Timey (I deeply apologize for mis-spelling your name in past posts, sir), of a delightful new site--another of these "blogs"--entitled Comic Book Attic.

These fellows have a terrific idea for bringing the panelologic art to the computer. I shall most certainly be in contact with them directly, to bring forth a couple of my dream projects: The Complete Shock Gibson, The Complete Pyroman, and The Quality Humor Filler Pages of Bernard Dibble. In the meantime, friends, I urge you to peruse their "blog" and see for yourself!