Thursday, June 7, 2012

Travels Galore--plus "The Eye," by two different artists, from the same issue of Detective Eye comics, 1940

Salutations, friends, neighbors and countrymen! I have returned from an extensive tour of our fine continent—almost from sea to sea!

‘Twas a taxing odyssey, at times, but scarcely was it less than rewariding. My first voyage you read of last time on this blog. My father and I took a “road trip,” the better to spend some “quality” time as “father and son” together. Dad, though of advanced years and diminished hearing, is as robust as ever. And, friends, he requires no amplification. Seldom has a human being been gifted with such a resounding thorax, such a majestic sound-box, as dear old “Dad.”

Dorrie wisely insisted I purchase some “Noize-Off” industrial-strength ear plugs. This was perhaps the best buy I’ve made since my bargain win of the rare Our Flag Comics #1 on eBay. I seldom brag, but I must “toot my honr” here… I won said purchase for a mere 19.43! the other Bidders were clearly “sleeping at the wheel” on that day.

But I digress. These flesh-colored ear devices were alleged, on the plastic sack in which they are sold, to “slaughter unwanted noize!” I suppose there is some significant distinction between “noise” with an s and “noize” with a z. Regardless, the plugs helped tone down the volume on “Pops” to a level of normal, courteous conversation. The down side—and is there not always one, friends?—was that they also greatly reduced other sounds, such as the horns and screeching brakes of oncoming motorists.

It took such intense concentration to focus on my father’s now-muffled voice that I seldom heard the “tells” of my fellow travelers. We wound up in a ditch, to my everlasting chagrin, outside of Wheeling, West Virginia. The “Prius” was wedged at about a 60 degree angle for a little over an hour, as the AAA service was exceptionally slow to respond to my distress call. (Thank heavens I had charged the cellular phone sufficiently!)

Why, you may ask, were we outside of Wheeling, West Virginia? Dear old “dad” wished to travel down “memory lane” on our s pecial father-son voyage. As he put it:


 I’d had “Pop” prepare a “top ten” list of places from his past he most wished to see. (With the stipulation that these spots remain close to the Eastern seaboard, and be no more than two days’ drive inland.) I scanned in his list, and share it with you now:

Seven of his choices no longer existed. Honey’s Bowling Den was shuttered in 1981. In its place was a small correctional facility! “Dad” chuckled at the inherent irony. “BET THEY JUST PUT BARS ON THE WINDOWS AND PAINTED THE THING GRAY,” he commented. “THERE WAS SOME SHADY TYPES USED TO POP IN THAT PLACE.”

I suggested the site of the IBM plant, where he spent a significant chunk of his working career, but he demurred. “SEEN ENOUGH OF THAT SPOT TO LAST ME A WHILE. STILL REMEMBER THE TREES AND SHRUBS. THE CANDY MACHINE ON THE FOURTH FLOOR. NOPE, SEEN ENOUGH OF THAT SPOT, SON!”

“1767 Fletcher Lane” was still standing, and brought back a flash of forgotten memory. This was the house where I was born! We lived there until I was five, and I only recognized it from its appearance as a backdrop to some home movies and blurry snapshots of that era. “SHE’S STILL STANDING PROUD,” my “pater” commented. “WONDER IF THE CRAPPER STILL HISSES FOR AN HOUR AFTER YOU FLUSH ‘ER?”

I wittily suggested that perhaps we might stop to check. “SAY, THAT’S A GOOD IDEA, MACE!” my father said. 20 minutes of curbside debate ensued; I on the “don’t knock on the door and ask to visit the restroom” side, and he holding the “WHAT THE HECK? CAN’T HURT TO ASK” position.

You might guess which side won out. The elderly widow was perhaps startled to see these two road-weary figures at her door. My father introduced himself as “A FELLA WHO USED TO LIVE HERE, ROUND ABOUT 1950, ’51.” The woman kindly invited us in. For all she knew, we might have been escaped lunatics, or encyclopedia salesmen!

“JUST GONNA VISIT THE HEAD FOR A SEC,” my father said. The woman held her hands over her ears and winced at my father’s volume. She asked me to sit with her in the living room. After a minute, a great flush issued from the rest room, followed by a minute of metallic jiggling. An audible, rumbling hiss echoed from the back hall. Shortly, my father returned, and joined us in the living room.


The woman uncovered her ears. She appeared a bit disoriented. “Y-yes, I reckon I will…”

I explained (in a normal tone of voice) the nature of our trip, and that this was my first home. She brightened considerably. “Well then, you shall have lunch here, just as you once did.” Despite my polite protestations, she went into the kitchen. She returned shortly with a pile of olive loaf and pimento loaf sandwiches, spread with Durkee’s Special Sauce, and a pot of weak but welcome coffee.

As we dined, I attempted to control the conversation, the better to spare our elderly host’s ear drums. But “dad” had many questions. “HANK LEVINE STILL LIVE NEXT DOOR?... DOES THAT PAPER BOY STILL THROW THE DURNED SUNDAY PAPER ON THE ROOF?...CAN YOU STILL HEAR BERT JENKINS SNORE?”—and so on. All these people were, of course, long gone, and the questions simply bewildered the poor woman.

Finally, she cleared her throat. “W-well, I’ve got my shows to watch.” She interlaced her fingers, as if to pray, and smiled weakly but hopefully at us.

“THINK SHE WANTS US TO VAMOOSE,” my father said.

On that ear-splitting note, we exited my first abode, and returned to the road.

‘Twas good that only three of these places still existed. Elsewise, our week-long foray might have lasted a month. I was scheduled to travel to the Pacific Northwest with Dorrie, to attend a series of independent restaurateur seminars in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and Boise, Idaho. I attended solely out of spousal support. Those endless talks invited Morpheus mightily! Alas, the insistent elbowings of my "lady" assured that my eyes would remain open throughout these calcifying "seminars."

While in Seattle, I responded to an invitation sent months ago by John Gill, who is a fellow “blogger” with a site called “The Trick Coin.” I saw nothing about numismatics anywhere on his “blog,” but it is nonetheless worth a visit or two. (I hope this "linker" will work for you! If not, please let me know.)

John also creates a “pog-cast” for the Internet. Apparently it is some sort of interview program. That was the basis of his invitation.

While Dorrie attended a recipe seminar at the downtown “W” hotel, I visited Mr. Gull’s humble abode, which is surrounded by hospitals and roaring ambulances. Amidst this sonic chaos, I was interviewed for his “pog-cast.” We spoke mainly of my “blog” and of my accomplishments as a panelologist. If you have a few moments, and wish to hear me speak, please visit “The Trick Coin” where the entire program is archived.

And, when you listen, friends, worry not! None of those sirens were to do with Dorrie or the seminar, which passed quite peacefully and in a good spirit of democracy.

Dorrie returned from the seminars abuzz with new ideas for the Diner. She had a notion to christen the northeast sector as “Peking Corner,” and serve Asian cuisine there, and there only.

It is night-impossible to dissuade "the little missus" from an idea, once her mind is set. I tried to suggest that having one distant corner of our diner devoted to Asian fare might puzzle our elderly regular customers. The "sit where you want" policy we have strived to create would be shattered by this small change.

As  is, the idea is "on hold" while a possible menu is prepared. Perhaps the idea will just whisk away, as do many of "the wife"'s bolder notions. Time will tell.

I am no fan of air travel! The seats are painfully uncomfortable, and my ears are ill-prepared to withstand the pressure changes of the climate-controlled cabin. 'Tis fine to be back on terra firma, in the places I know and love.

And, of course, in the proximity of the New Pantheon, with its stockpile of treasures. On a brief visit, to check the smell of the place (pickle and chip scents gone; blueberry Febreze scent rather overwhelming) I opened an archival box, closed my eyes, and reached in. This fabulous artifact was my reward:

This fascinating publication boasts several worthy features, but 'tis a unique twist given its titular character that comprises this post. "The Eye" is among the most godlike of the early panelological creations. Indeed, there is a solemn religious aspect to the feature. The "Eye" is simply that--a floating, disembodied (and rather angry looking) ocular orb. Its mission  is the elimination of evil-doing.

Since it is an eye, and cannot operate machinery, ring doorbells, write letters, et al, "The Eye" must seek  out the aid of corporeal individuals--"ordinary Joes" such as you or I. 'Twas an eerie, unusual notion for a panelological figure.

In a fittingly peculiar twist, two different writer-artists helmed "The Eye"-- creator Frank Thomas and one Mark Schneider. There is, as usual, a fascinating (if somewhat tragic) story behind why these two men presented their differing takes on the "Eye," under the same covers of a comic magazine. I shall relate this after you absorb these two stories. The first is Schneider's; the second, Thomas'.

There are, in fact, TWO episodes of "The Eye" by Frank Thomas in this magazine. I have selected the second, and best, of these efforts:

As is immediately evident, the styles of "Mark Schneider" and Frank Thomas are significantly different. Each aspect of the panelological art--from lettering to the "spotting of blacks" (and I see many throughout both stories) could not be different.

Brace yourself--these two stories were created by the same man!

Frank Thomas, throughout his long career in comic magazines, was certainly a "workaholic." He lived to put pen and brush to illustration board, and to plot his many panelological tales, which included "cartoon critter" exploits for various Dell titles and several ventures into the costumed-hero genre.

In his waking life, Thomas was driven to succeed, although often frustrated by his limitations as a draftsman. He tried hard to imitate the realism of modern artists such as Milton Caniff and Alex Ramyond, but could only create a passable imitation. Thomas' real skill lay in creating softer, more "cartoony" characters. The hard edges of comics realism were seemingly not for him!

But at night, another personality emerged. Thomas was a chronic sleep-walker, and had been so since his childhood. So used was he to his regular noctural excursions that neither he, nor his family, friends and loved ones, gave it a second thought.

If the waking Frank Thomas was a "workaholic," his sleepy-time alter-ego was a "workamaniac," if I may coin a new word. "Mark Schneider," as this alter-ego called himself, was a more accomplished cartoonist, and a devil-may-care jack of all trades. "Schneider" would tune neighbors' cars, paint their houses, fix their roofs, build fences and chicken coops for them--and, if reports are to be believed, "Schneider" once installed a 20-foot flagpole, weighing over 200 pounds, and flying the flag of Prussia, in a distant neighbor's back yard!

When not creating home improvements, or flying a Piper Cub airplane, "Schneider" joined his waking self's love of the comics medium. As Thomas said in a 1965 interview:

I had no idea this was going on. I always woke up, you know, feeling tired. Saw the doctor many times. He couldn't come up with an answer. And the funny thing--I'd find these "Eye" stories on the front seat of my car. Had a '39 Chrysler Royal at the time. Never could tell when these things would show up. A whole story, penciled, inked and lettered! I never met this Schneider fellow. Assumed it was the editor's doings. It wasn't until I underwent hypnosis that I learned this Schneider character was me! I wish I could have collected his paychecks for these darn stories--"he" sure worked hard on 'em!

Hypnosis cured Thomas of this nocturnal double-life in 1955. From then on, Thomas religiously slept 10 hours a night, and continued his panelological career full-speed.

From that same interview, here are his thoughts on "The Eye:"

I remembered a saying my mother had. She'd tell me to always be good, because somewhere, an eye was watching me. I was inclined to be a bit of a rascal--always getting into the cookies--and this was her way to keep me in line. I used to lay up nights, scared to death of that eye. Thinking, 'I bet he's looking at me right now. I wonder what he thinks of me.'

Well, as I grew older, I forgot about this business, but I still had this feeling that something was going on while I slept. And that, of course, was this Schneider fellow, who I was at night. Boy, could that fellow draw! 

He actually came up with the concept for "The Eye." He left the first story on the seat of my Royal, wrapped in red ribbon, with the card attached that read "From A Friend." His idea was really good--and, boy, did it scare the hide off of me, when I remembered the story my mother used to tell me. I figured, 'if this scared me when I was boy, I'll bet it'll excite the children of today!' 

And I was right. "The Eye" was a big hit. I had to drop it when [Oskar] Lebeck hired me at Western. I tried to revive it for some of his titles, but it wasn't the same. And I was happier doing the bee series. Those were nice little stories for a change.

"The bee series" is Thomas' long-running "Billy and Bonnie Bee," which did indeed delight children for several years, and remains among the high points of the "cartoon critter" genre.

"Mark Schneider" illustrated some other comic magazine features before he disappeared from the panelological realm in the mid-1940s. It appears that "Schneider" wrote medical journals, pulp detective thrillers, and instruction manuals until his official hypnosis-cessation in 1955. His vanishment from comics art was a loss to the genre,

Well, this has proved an unusually long posting for me. I confess I'm tired. The couch--and a nap--beckons. I trust that I've no "Mark Schneider" to run colossal errands while I sleep! May your rest be free of highly active alter-egos as well, my friends!