Friday, April 23, 2010


Friends, a broken man writes these words you now read. Terror, desperation, sorrow, anger and a gaping, deep pain wrack my frail mortal frame.

No, it is not illness. Nor is it the death of a loved one. To the outward world--to the fools and gadflies who dabble in the mere surface of life, all is seemingly well here. Dorrie's Diner continues to flourish. Our competition, Ngo's Snak-Shak, suffered a dreadful but poetic end several days ago. The turncoat, Pearl Kroger, nearly died of botulism after her third meal at the Snak-Shak.

With the weight of the Courier-Express upon them--as the paper's star reviewer lay in a comatose state of partial paralysis--the godless jackals were escorted to the county line and told where to go.

Their pitiful "shak" was burned to the ground, in an eerie recurrence of the original fire that gutted the Herbevaux estate, on that very spot, many years prior. I doubt our fair town shall see the likes of those rascals again!

If only this were the most of my woes. Oh, friends, I can conceal the sad facts no longer.

My comic book collection has been stolen!

Not all of it, I am fortunate to say. Thanks to "Sparks" Spinkle's custodianship of the Pantheon, several hundred of my choicest panelological gems were safe and sound inside the house. Carefully stored in sealed mylar bags, tucked into neat acid-free storage boxes, around 600 of my "babies" were either in "Sparks"' room, or in my "den."

'Tis some small consolation. But when you consider the vastness of my collection--in excess of 40,000 comic magazines!--600 is, as they say, a mere "dropped bucket."

The scoundrels struck as the Snak-Shak was being burnt to the ground. An effluvium of local residents gathered around the garish, reeking "Shak" with axes, tiki-torches and gasoline. It became something of a block party. All gathered to cheer on the lapping red flames. Off-duty firemen stood at the ready with CO2 devices, in case the fire grew too frenzied.

Oh, it was joy. We sang, and danced, and consumed S'mores and deliciously charred marshmallows on sticks. I quickly re-arranged the letters on my sign-on-wheels to read:


It took three of those heavy-duty orange extension cords to stretch down the street, but the sign, with its tinkling strains of Scott Joplin's "Entertainer," proved a big "hit" with the crowd.
That is, until general consensus dictated that the sign be shut off. "I can't stand that tune anymore," one young man cried. Fearing mob violence--for a crowd stoked by the roaring flames of destruction are capable of riot!--I unplugged the sign.

I had to enlist the aid of several young "turks" to help push the sign back up the street. It is, understandably, rather heavy. The street takes a considerable incline, and I feared I might lose control of the leviathan, only to see it soar into the rapid traffic of East Shepherd Street, where it would be quickly smashed to bits, and the likely cause of several violent deaths!

It was not 'til mid-day, the next day, that I noticed the theft. Oh, dear friends, my day had gone so swimmingly to that point! Our diner did a roaring breakfast trade. Dorrie's Mango-Froth French-Toast English Muffins, served open-faced with brandy-flavored syrup, are so popular we can't keep the mango flavoring on hand.

We'd just about wrapped up the lunch period. I sensed a lull in business, and ducked out to catch a breath of crisp spring air.

Put yourself in my shoes, friend. I so innocently rolled open the sliding glass doors... walked out into the patio area of the backyard... narrowly missed banging my right knee on our gas grill... looked up into the mellow, sunny afternoon... and then, as always, my gaze went out, fondly, to the Pantheon, that humble gatherum of all that is good and kind in the world...

only to see the hasp broken--the lock gone--and the doors yawning open!

Only a few sad remnants lined the floor of the Pantheon (hereafter, the Former Pantheon, as its security has been inexorably breached for all time). Among them was my incomplete copy of Speed Comics #1.

The thugs had left behind a few long-boxes of "cartoon critter" and romance comics--remnants of Marilou's bygone collection. Obviously, these wretched near-do-wells were "in the know" of the most desirable panelological "goodies" hidden in the Former Pantheon.

Otherwise, thousands of the comic magazines I have so fervently gathered, since my induction to the hobby, and art form, in the 1950s, were, plain and simply, gone!

Naturally, a catastrophe of this stripe soon became part of the public record:

I won't pretend that I am blind to the condescending tone of this article. The Courier-Express reporters clearly have thicker fish to fry. Had it been a collection of beer cans, or hot rods, the story would be taken seriously, and would have appeared on the front page of the paper. (This piece was buried on the seventh page of the B section, "Local Things," right beside the "Jumble" puzzle game.)

You'll note that I concealed the fact that some 600 comic magazines remain in my safe-keeping. Although Dorrie chided me for this lack of full disclosure, I did not want these psychotic vandals to pay me a return visit in the night.

I have compiled a list of suspects. I'm not at liberty to name names at this moment, but I shall drop some hints. Might it have been a man who is fond of gym shorts as his chosen attire--a man given to long soliloquies? Or might it have been a mincing "designer" who has been firmly but politely banished from our premises?

Or--more sinisterly--might it have been some of the shadowy folk who manned the rival "Snak-Shak?" Surely those sinister foes would bear a grudge against Dorrie's Diner. Their spies might have easily infiltrated our home. Or, perhaps, they heard tell of "the old man with the funny books," as children in this neighborhood are given to call me.

I trust you will forgive me for not presenting a panelological tale in today's "post." I am fortunate to still retain the core of my collection--632 of the finest treasures from my "A-list," plus another 487 from Marilou's holdings (which, admittedly, fall outside my general areas of panelological interest, but possess sublime sentimental value).

I withheld another nugget of information from the "coppers." Since childhood, I have "branded" my cherished comic magazines with a secret symbol, the meaning of which is known only to me. Said symbol is inscribed, with a #1 pencil, somewhere on the margins of the pages of every comic magazine in my collection.

Here 'tis:

MJM-- for Mason James Moray. An insignificant mark to the unschooled eye. Yet this mark, combined with my exhaustive ledgers of the Former Pantheon's holdings, may yet save the day for my cherished comic magazines!

Do not let my apparent calm disarm you, friend. I have cried bitter tears over this loss. By day, I am, as those musical Platters once sang, "the greatest pretender." To our clientele, I am jolly, robust, chipper Mason--friend to all, man of good cheer and a glib word. But inside, knives of terror rip my soul with each breath I draw.

If the person or persons who stole the greater part of my collection should, by chance, be readers of this "blog," let me stop for a moment to address them.

Fiends! Filthy rats! How dare you deprive me of my life's work? Thugs! Plebeian apes! What care you for the panelological arts? My hatred for you is only exceeded by my pity for your pathetic, mangled souls. You are the scum of the scum of the scum of the earth! May you experience one eternity of pain in your wretched souls for each of the precious comic magazines you have thieved! May the spectre of poverty, despair and illness dog your steps to the end of your cancerous, vulgar days!

My pardons, if such bold and forthright language should shock you, my dear, innocent, panelologically inclined brethren. But consider if such a fate should occur to you. Would you not feel this same welling-up of wrath and bile?

Please hold me in your prayers. Despite the terror which clenches my heart with each miserable ticking second of the clock, I feel a faint but compelling sense of comfort. I know that this--my life's work--shall not be in vain! I am assured that my "babies" will return to the fold, none the worse for their unexpected adventure.

(Side note: should any local "costumed crime fighters" care to investigate this case further, please note that I have removed the board I recently nailed to the crawl-space beneath the front porch. Feel free to don your action costumes and rescue my panelological treasures!)

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Bozo The Robot" from Smash Comics 22--Plus The Continued Menace of the Snak-Shak

Before we get too far today, friends, here is a word from Mr. Wallace Spinkle, from his own hand:

I trust this will square us for Wallace's recent unauthorized posting here, and that we can continue onward, as friends, colleagues and fellow scholars. This does not abate the worrisome issue of "Super Senior." This problem has, if anything, worsened. Read the following newspaper article and you'll see what I mean:

I'm no fool. It has been blatantly evident that "Sparks" has enlisted Raphael as his crime-fighting "boy wonder!" The two of them have been seen whispering during work hours. As well, Raphael has excused himself, mysteriously, several times in the past two weeks.

As well, a roll of reflective tape, which I use for the corners of my comics boxes, so that I won't bump into them at night, in the darkness of the Pantheon, is missing!

Raphael is a legal adult, and does not live in my home. Thus, I have no authority over him. I fear that I, of all people, have led him down this primrose path--first with the gift of vintage "revistas" for the holidays, and secondly, by his continued exposure to the highly influential "Sparks."

The nightly thumping and bumping under the front porch is easily explained: it is the sounds of "Sparks" and Raphael readying themselves for an evening of alleged crime-fighting!

Perhaps this is just a phase they are both going through. Perhaps I ought to just let sleeping ducks lie, and let them get this urge to protect and avenge out of their collective systems!

As if I haven't enough worries on my mind! Aided by the glowing review of the despicable turncoat, Pearl Kruger, Ngo's Snak-Shak continues to rob us of customers, among them the young and ignorant, who prefer to sacrifice their vitality and health for a so-called "bargain," rather than fortify themselves with a wholesome, full-bodied and hygenic meal at Dorrie's Diner.

"For shame! For shame!" I have shouted to some of these youths, as they walk across our lawn, a greasy paper plate clutched in their hands. But nothing I can say or do will deter them from making their ill-informed choices. Let them await the emergency room, clutching instead their stomachs, as they endure the agony of food poison!

We have our faithful "regulars," and many of them have kindly brought friends and relatives to savor the culinary joys of Dorrie's menu. We are, by no means, in danger of "tanking," as the saying goes. Given time, the health inspectors will render that horrid "shak" null and void--mark my words!

When "Sparks" is not out fighting crime, he has reaffirmed my historical high opinion of his skills and insights as a panelologist. 'Twas he who suggested the story for today's post. I had forgotten, I confess, of the bold, unremitting brilliance of "Bozo the Robot." Here is an outstanding entry in this long-running series, which had considerable competition in its flagship title, Smash Comics, against the likes of Louis Fine, John Cole, Vernon Henkel, and other accomplished penmen.

I have some poignant information about the creative team behind "Bozo," which I'll share with you after you've savored this remarkable gem of panelology.

"Wayne Reid," as may well be obvious, was a pen name that encompassed two remarkably dedicated comic book artists-writers. Wayne Prescott, the series' artist, was legally blind. Reid Merck, confined to a wheelchair, was paralyzed from the waist down.

The two shared a garret near Central Park, where they created their "Bozo" stories in seclusion. I was fortunate to interview Merck, towards the end of his life. I asked him about the creative process behind "Bozo." Here are excerpts from that precious interview:

MM: Mr. Prescott was the artist on the "Bozo" series, correct?

Reid Merck: Yes, that's right.

But, earlier, you said that Prescott was legally blind...

That's correct.

How, then, could he have achieved such a high level of comic book artistry? Surely you are pulling my leg, sir...

I can't pull anything, son. I just sit here.

I beg your pardon, sir. No offense was intended...

And none taken, son. I don't blame you for doubting me. It was a crazy situation. Taxing on my nerves, too. I can't believe we worked so hard--and so long--on those damned stories.

How on earth was Mr. Prescott able to draw those stories, then?

Simple. He put his hand on the paper and I told him where--and how--to move his hand. "Up about an inch, to the right," I'd say. "Make a small circle... good... now move over a little and make another." That' s how he would draw Bozo's round eyes, for example.

With the aid of letterer/border artist "Skeet" Walburn, Prescott and Merck were able to put the finishing touches on their unique artwork:

Walburn would come over, and I'd tell him what to put in the balloons and the boxes. He was fast. He could predict my sentences before I'd finish saying them. It got so that I just shut up and let him do most of the writing. They were always my ideas, the stories, but if he was so eager to finish the sentences, then, by all means, let him do the hard work...

Wasn't this system time-consuming for you both?

Aw, it would take us about a month, working eight hours a day, to get one of those "Bozo" stories done. But what the hell else were we going to do--go see a movie? Go out for a walk? Son, it was something to do. It passed the time. And, from what I understand, kids got a kick out of our work. I was sad when (Busy) Arnold canceled the feature. It broke Wayne's heart. He just wasted away after that.

Indeed, Wayne Prescott passed away in the fall of 1943, a few months after the final appearance of Bozo and his human partner, Hugh Hazzard, in Smash Comics #41.

As for Merck, he joined the OSS, where his skills at decoding flowered:

Oh, boy, I was in on some stuff I still can't talk about. Things that would have made me run for the hills--if I could get out of this damned chair! But I couldn't. I'm glad we got those bastards dealt with. I'll say this--we came close, for a couple of hours in 1945, to surrendering to those rats.

After the war, Merck became a mystery author. His long-running series of "Clip" Perkins paperback novels, which include the now-famous Hell is a Lonely Place (1966), remain in print to this day--outliving their creator, who passed away days after my chance interview of October, 1976.

The glories of panelology are many. It is an art form in which the disabled, as well as the healthy, can flourish--or flounder. The printed page, with its bright, primitive colors, knows no infirmities, no boundaries. Let us always remember and savor this insight.

On that inspirational note, I bid you a good day, and good luck. I shall meet with you, via this "blog," again very soon.