Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Dynamic Man and Dynamic Boy"-- from Dynamic Comics 23-- 1947 (!)

Warm salutations, friends and countrymen! Dorrie's Diner has revised its hours. We now open at 9 AM and close at 3:30 PM. This affords me more time to devote to my beloved panelology than I've had in eons!
As well, "Sparks," now that he is dis-connected to the mysterious breathing apparatus, has bounced back considerably. He is still weak, and Dr. Denner advises him to stick to bed-rest. This edict could not be harder for a human being to follow!
"Sparks" earned his nick-name. He has always been an "on the move" type of fellow. Quick on his feet, quick-witted, and, to be honest, nervous!
As long as I've known him, he's rarely been in repose. His mealtime habit, unchanged through the decades, is to rock back and forth, rapidly, while humming "Over There," as he shovels down the food on his plate. "Over There" will cease for half-muttered exclamations such as "Gee! Good chow!," "Hits... the... spot!" and "Crunchy!"
"Sparks" will typically finish a meal--plate almost licked clean!--before I, or anyone at the table, has made a significant dent in their dishes. Once he is done, "Sparks" makes eye-contact with me, claps his hands (loudly!) and shouts, "Ho-kay, Macey! Let's get at them comics!"
I cannot help but blush when he does this "bit." It is a thorn in Dorrie's heel. She considers the ultimate complement to her cooking to have someone linger lovingly over every bite. I have learned (the hard way!) to chew slowly, and to make an "Mmmm-MMM!" response--somewhat similar to Andy Griffin's on the old "Ritz Crackers" TV commercials.
That one civility has kept ours a happy marriage all these years. The best part is that those responses are rarely forced. Dorrie is one heck of a fine chef! She insists on serving green vegetables, but I eat them, as I know they're good for me.
After Sunday dinner, "Sparks" insisted that we spend the evening at the New Pantheon. "Mace, we've just gotta go there! Tonight! No kiddin'!"
"But, 'Sparks,'" I countered, "Dr. Denner's orders... you're suppoposed to stay in bed--"
"Bull cookies!" was "Sparks"' response. "We've got work to do!"
Dorrie was disappointed, but agreed with me that it would be good to get him out of the house for a few hours. We took along a new portable "Breath-Pak" device. It is like a rucksack--worn on the user's shoulders, with a face-mask and clear plastic tubes that can easily be attached in case a burst of fresh oxygen is required.
"Sparks" insists on wearing the face-mask, which somewhat muffles his speech and distorts it. Thus, most of what I hear form him is "Buzz buzzaty buzz... bz zmm?" In the car, "sparks" rocks back and forth, patting his thighs in a fast rhythm and buzzing old favorites suchas "Mountain of Love," "God Bless America" and "Lollipop." As I said, he's an active sort!
We arrived at the New Pantheon. "Open the door, boy, open that door!" "Sparks" barked. He was uncommonly eager to get inside!
I hadn't switched on the lights, and already he dashed for Boxes 3-W through 7-W... the miscellaneous publishers holdings. Many of the comic magazines in these boxes are post-1942, and thus of less interest to me. But "Sparks" is noting if not surprising, and he did not fail with his inquisitive, searching nature once again.
"A-HAAA!" he cried (the cry more of a buzzing "Z-HZZZZ!" through his mask). He held up a copy of Dynamic Comics. I did not recognize it. I recall buying these with great excitement. Due to their 68-page count, I assumed they were pre-1942. Alas, this was a ploy for a small publisher--Harry Chesler--to carve a niche in the over-crowded post-war comic magazine market. While all other magazines trimmed down to 36 or 52 pages, Chesler chose the pre-war standard.
To be fair, these magazines were a hodge-podge of old and new material. Some of it is surprisingly good; some is shoddy and amateurish.
"Zzs zs za zun, Zace! Zzs Zs ZIT!" "Sparks" cried out.
He opened the cover and demanded that I read the very story I breathlessly presetn to you today. Ready yourself, dear friends... 'tis truly a golden surprise from the post-war era!

In view of today's "gay rights movement," one can long for the days when innocent tales such as this could be read without irony or interpretation. Many costumed comic book heroes do indeed appear "home-erotic" in the light of the 21st century. Their chiseled physiques, tight-fitting costumes and provocative names are fuel for the fire of modern irony.
It would surprise some of these modern smirkers to realize that, indeed, some of the 1940s' super-heroes were, indeed, intended to be "gay" or "lebsian" in their orientation. In their highly coded, metaphoric manner, certain of these features were beacons of hope and reason to the hidden, cloistered souls in small towns and big cities who dared to embrace "the forbidden love."
Dynamic Man was the brain-child of Hess Merrill, a playwright, gardener and (some have claimed) gigolo who turned to the comic magazines for pocket money.
Merrill had created a rash of similar characters in the 1940s, for various small publishers--many of them never printed. Merrill's "MO" was to take an exciting adjective, add "Man" and "Boy" to it, and craft a colorful tale of crime and punishment.
Thrilling Man, Exciting Boy, Magnificent Lad, Surprising Man, Aggressive Boy, Energetic Man, Intense Lad--these, and more, were the creation of Hess Merrill. While Merrill was no great shakes as a writer (his tales are highly formulaic and prosaic), he always included a couple of "tells"--as a sort of silent signature to his work.
Each of Merrill's stories has a scene just liek this one:
This is nothing if not a coded message to the cloistered "gays" of 1940s America! In their daily lives, they also faced such a crisis. What if their "secret identities" were discovered? Was there a "Dymanic Man" living next door to you--or was he your postman, your green-grocer, your ship's chandler?
Merrill's other significant "tell" was to conclude his stories with a scene of his heroic couple bathing or showering--and being interrupted by a third party, as seen here:

In a 1977 interview for Thrust! magazine, Merrill spoke briefly--and cryptically--of this ritualistic "tick":

I felt that the act of bathing--naked, soapy, active--was a sign to my fellow lurkers that they were indeed clean, proper, fit entities for a modern world. It was the world, its sad little self, who failed to take heed of this obvious truth. Poor world; I pity you so...

Merrill predictably drifted into the twilight world of "adult fiction" in the 1960s. These themes of his panelological work continued, unabated, in his fiction. Merrill made a niche of himself during the "camp" craze of 1966 with a series of tongue-in-cheek super-hero spoofs.

Merrill wrote each of these books under a different pen-name. Thus, they are resoundingly difficult to track down. I had the good fortune to acquire my lone Merrill adult novel, Wham! Pow! It's Vigorous Man!, at a Girl Scouts rummage sale in Idaho, some 20 years ago.

Here are the closing paragraphs of this "Kurt Weedon" novel, copyrighted 1968:

Vigorous Man peeled off his sweat-soaked costume. How tight it was! It left nothing to the imagination. And, yes, there was indeed plenty to reveal!

"What an adventure," Vigorous Man sighed. "I can't wait to get to bed..."

"I'm with you," Vigorous Lad muttered. He removed his mask and tossed it into the growing pile of sweaty, glistening fabric.

"Bet I can get undressed before you can!" Vigorous Man laughed.

"You've lost that bet," said Vigorous Boy. He slowly peeled off his colorful tights...

The warm water of the shower felt like a million heavens. How taxing, how strenuous were their actions in saving Townville! Yet a long, hot shower, with his faithful crime-fighting partner, was the ultimate reward for their manly feats of derring-do...

"Soap my back?" asked Vigorous Boy.

"All that and more!" quipped Vigorous Man. He lathered his young ward's shoulders, and massaged his rippling shoulders, slowly, lovingly...

Then the door opened. It was Sgt. O'Flannery--flabby, jowly, in need of a shave, smelling of corned beef. "Ah--there you are! Fine work, fellows. Fine work!"

"Sgt. O'Flannery! Holy potatoes!" cried Vigorous Boy. "W-we can explain..."

"Ah, 'tis nothin' t' explain, me lads... nothin' t' explain... I'll leave ye t' yer foine washin', noo."

O' Flannery tipped his hat and exited.

"We've just got to get a lock for our front door," Vigorous Boy sighed.

"I'll put up a barricade," Vigorous Man quipped.

"Brother, we'll need it!" They both laughed, a long lusty and sudsy laugh.

Hess Merrill died in 1981. Had he lived, I truly believe his ground-breaking trance-gender stories would be hailed by progressives. Instead, they linger in their own cloistered twilight... in the yellowing pages of obscure, unwanted comic magazines.

I am, without a doubt, heterosexual. But as a panelologist, I vividly understand what it is like to be outside the margins of acceptable society. What it means to be thought a fool, a coward, and an eccentric!

Needless to say, "Sparks" Spinkle has struck vintage gold once again! I've a good mind to let him rummage through the "W" series boxes. I hope to present other unearthed gems via his tireless discoveries!

POST-SCRIPT: As a reward for this outstanding "find," I allowed "Sparks" 15 minutes of crime-fighting in the downtown retail area. We discovered an arsonist, another parking meter cheater, and several litterers. Without leaving the car, "Sparks" put them in their place with a bracing lecture. They stopped in their tracks. Litterers properly disposed of their trash; the arsonist stopped to stamp out his cigarette butt; the meter cheater ran into the night.

"We've done good tonight, Mace," sighed "Sparks," as he replaced his breathing face-mask. "Ze've zun zood zoonight."

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Flagman and Rusty" from Captain Aero Comics--Plus News Updates of Home and Life

I apologize, dear subscriber, for the long silence since my lsat post. To be blunt, events in my life have not been ideal of late. The month of September was one of much suffering. "Sparks" continues to have ill health.

The last week of September was a dark one for us all. My dear friend nearly perished of his health problems. You will recall that "Sparks" was suffering from a collapsed lung. As it turned out, the red and blue ticking, hissing machine that he was hooked up to had something weirdly wrong with it. It was full of Brach's "Neopolitan Sundae" candies!

Apparently, someone at the hospital used the inner hatch of the contraption to store their snacks. On-the-job eating is expressly forbidden at Emberton Memorial Emergency Medical Centre Pavillion. Thus, this person (likely an intern) hoarded his or her snacks deep in the bowels of this seldom-used machine! (It has a 1966 copyright on it--the machine, that is... not the candies.)

You'll recall that I reported a loud ticking noise--so persistent that it interfered with my sleep. Those 'ticks' were the candies, being bounced around inside the high pressure of the machine's inner chambers! Each fevered breath of "Sparks" sent these sticky rectangles caroming madly around. Finally, one of them became unwrapped, through the sheer force of impact. The rogue "Sundae" was forced through the high-pressure breathing duct. It lodged in "Sparks"' throat.

At 4 AM one morning, I awoke to a cacophony of squeaks, thumps and gasps. I sensed something was wrong with my friend and kindred spirit. I rushed into "Sparks"' room to find him purple-faced, contorting like a freshly hooked trout!

In my previous job, as insurance claims adjuster, I was officially trained in "CPR" for the office. Thus, I knew at once that the purple coloration was choking-related. I recalled the "Himlich Manuever" and quickly dislodged the tri-colored block from my friend's throat.

"Get me out of this monkey house," "Sparks" weakly gasped. Sadly, I could not find the opening to the accursed device's hatch. I did notice a large OFF button, and duly pressed it. "Sparks" immediately began to feel better. At his request, I got him a glass of buttermilk and sat with him, to be sure he was truly among the living.

There was no point in going back to sleep. Thus, "Sparks" and I greeted the dawn together. As is constant with our long friendship, the subject of panelology quickly surfaced. "Sparks" has been combing some of my panelological treasures for "forgotten diamonds." He had perused a run of Captain Aero comic magazines, in search of same. Among the lackluster Holyoke line of magazines, it did not yield much of interest.

Until issue 11. Hidden in the back of the magazine was an obscure hero, in his equally shrouded wartime adventure. I find, in general, a lack of interest in wartime comic magazines. The jingoism of the war agenda reduced the universe of boundless fantasy to a drab simulacrum of real life. How disappointed 1940s readers must have been by this change!

The Period of Greatness in panelology, for me, extends from 1937 to 1942. In those six years, the comic magazine was born, struggled through its growing pains, and soared to sublime heights in 1939 and 1940. Because of publishing schedule lags, the impact of the Pearl Harbor attack--and America's plunge into combat--did not immediately surface in the pages of our comic magazines. But by 1942's end, almost all the fantasy and imagination had been bruited out of panelology. Nazi dictators replaced the phantoms, monsters and scientific fiends who so genuinely embodied evil and so menaced the righteous crusaders of good.

The loss was palpable, and to my viewpoint, permanent. Although I do find some mild enjoyment in post-war comic magazines, it is a decidedly muted thrill. Thus, my post-1942 magazines are place-holders, rather than treasures.

Still, some imaginations couldn't be curdled by world events. Every now and again, a little zircon would emerge from pulp pages that once bore diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Today's brief offering is one such synthetic diamond on paper.

"This one's a corker, Mace," "Sparks" croaked. He insisted I read the story out loud. As I read, he cackled, chortled and applauded the story's events. Immediately, I knew I must make this the next sharing on this "blog."

Later that day, as I attempted to total the day's receipts (Raphael's cashiering still leaves much to be desired, although his steadfastness, personal charm and appeal continue to make our little bistro successful), Dorrie came up to me with a newspaper. She looked upset, her face paled.

Longtime "Bloggers" may recall my memories of high-school friend, Russ "Rusty" Gortner. "Rusty" was an admirer of the British Invasion duo of "Peter and Gordon." In fact, we fashioned our own musical "act" based on them, called "Mason and Rusty." We were both caught in the thrall of "Bealtemania" and immediately learned how to strum a guitar. We also attempted to grow our hair out. It took much careful combing to hide our hair growth from parents and teachers.

"Mason and Rusty" never got beyond a couple of high-school talent contests, but we enjoyed our attempts to re-create the delightful sounds of our English idols. After high school, we inevitably drifted apart. "Rusty" was drafted, and did three tours of duty in Vietnam. I kept in touch with him via postcards and the rare international phone call. But by 1973, "Rusty" was out of touch.

I always wondered what happened to my friend of times bygone. Well, on that afternoon, I found out. The newspaper reported "Rusty"'s death in an interstate trucking accident. Embittered by foot problems he gained in the war, "Rusty" became a truck driver. Coast-to-coast treks were his stock in trade. According to the article, hauling livestock was his specialty.

"Rusty" died as he worked. Driving a truckload of quail into Fresno (for eventual consumption at the popular chain of family restaurants, "Quail Hut"), he lost control of his "big rig" and tumbled down a steep desert chasm. "Rusty" died in the desert sun. None of the quail died in the accident. They scattered into the desert, spared from death on the dinner plate.

As said, I was long out of touch with "Rusty," but his memory stood within me. It was hard to know what--or how--to feel. Yet sadness gripped me. Then the truth of panelology again struck like lightning. The irony shall be immediately evident upon your perusal of the first frame of this graphic adventure. Read on, dear visitor...

One hesitates to assign too much significance to any post-1942 panelological piece. Yet this unknown, un-appreciated "Flagman and Rusty" conveys the breathless sense of wonder--and abandon--that categorized comic magazine stories from the Period of Greatness.

Writer/artist Herman Tesh labored anonymously in the back pages of many comic magazines. His colleagues teasingly nick-named him "Bookback" as his work never graced the front pages of any publication. Tesh was responsible for dozens of minor features such as "Little Otto," "Mazurka the Mystic," "Bob Mifflin, Air Ace" and the single-page filler features "Officer McBeat" and "Orchestral Ollie." Tesh was equally adept in realism and cartoon comedy, and often created 40 to 50 pages of published material each month.

Tesh never signed his name to his work, never won any awards, and is not cited as an influence of any contemporary panelologists. Yet the Herman Teshes of the world were the backbone of the comic magazine industry. Without Tesh and his ilk, publishers would have run short of material, and probably resorted to reprints and longer text pieces.

As is overwhelmingly evident, Tesh understood what made for a "good read." I delight in his whimsical approach to the deadly-serious war propaganda. His Hitler and Mussolini are chucklesome characters-- a far cry from the murderous tyrants they were in reality. Tesh was ahead of the curve in his use of a killer gorilla.

This theme is, perhaps, Tesh's lasting legacy to the art panelologic. Prior to Tesh, the gorilla was merely a comical figure in panelology. Tesh made this primate a hairy threat to hero and heroine alike. I detect a tongue planted firmly in cheek through this "Flagman" tale--yet it never backs away from thrills and derring-do.

Now that "Sparks" is doing better, I've urged him to explore more post-1942 magazines. Perhaps he will unearth more surprises such as this piece.

By the way, we found 113 "Neopolitan Sundae" candies, a sack full of "Butterscotch Discs" and several issues of Jet magazine inside "Sparks"' breathing apparatus. The Jets were all 1975 issues. Perhaps the candies were of similar vintage. "Sparks" insisted on keeping the candies in his room. I suspect he has been snacking on them himself. To each his own, as it is said...