Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Tale of the Tail--I Am Back In Hospital! Plus "Atom Blake, the Boy Wizard" from "Wow Comics" #2

Friedns, it hab been far too long snice last we met. I wirte these words from a hospital bed! It is dififclut to type on my laptop. But try I shall to endeavor to achieve this goal. For you, my firndrs, are dear and near to me—tho’ I may nvevr meet you in person, we are brothers of the art panelologic!

I have been in room 343 of the Emberton Memroial Mecidal Center for two weeks now. And, no, dear reader, ‘twas not a bout of the gout, as they might quip. ‘Tis a most exotic ailment that afflicts me! I have a broken coccyx! You may well call this “The Tale of THe Tail!”

‘Twas a pleasant night in Novebmer… the air was mild and csirp, with the woodsy smell of the autumn season. Typically, Raphael mops the Diner on Thusrday nights. He has always done it—nveer having been asked, never having apparently voltuneered for the task. He does artful work with a mop, bucket and his “mezcla de mezcla especial”—in relatiy a blend of Comet, Clorox, Pine-Sol and parsley flakes. 

There—I have managed to ring for a nurse, and get this bed-table adjusted! What a difference this makes1 Now I shall try to be a more mindful tpyist. 

On this fateful Thursday, Raphael had to leave immediately upon closing—he referred, throughout the day, to a “special errand” and, to be sure, seemed pre-occupied. His heart was apparently not in his usually zestful role of maître d’ for Dorrie’s Diner. He merely waved in new visitors, as would a grade school crossing guard, and let them meander to any apparently open spot.

Among one such group were a party of toddlers, from a nearby daycare center. A pair of harried, frazzled young adults accompanied them. There was much talk of “an ice-cream treat,” the mere mentoin of which whipped this wee group into a frenzy.

One child had a mesh sack filled with those “Hot Wheel” cars that have been so polupar for so many years. His sole focus was on these tiny stylized autos. An endless array of motor sounds—all quite convincing—issued forth from his young lungs. Several times, I cringed in anticipation of the sudden impact of a truck into the vulnerable North Wing of the Diner, which faces a very busy, frantic State Road.

Much ice cream was messily consumed, and the sated babes bobbled out the door. The dnier suddenly seemed quiet—as they say in old war movies, “a little too quiet.”

Shortly thereafter, patrons complained of “that sticky floor.” One surprised elder gentleman tapped me on the shoulder several times, to get my attention, then told me. “Almost lost my shoe. Something should be done, sir. Something should be done!”

As foot-traffic commenced, during the dinner hour, the floor became more of a hazard. Thursday nights the Diner tupically entertains a group of Whist players. They bring their own cards, a great deal of boisterous good spirit, and several bags of pistachio nuts, still in their sturdy shells. 

Their card games are “fast and furious,” and tend to shoo other customers out. Fortnately, these Whist-ers have big appetites, mostly for desserts, and tend to run up a sizable bill at night’s end. They kept Raphael “hopping” with constant requests for coffee refills, crème brulee re-orders, and such.

The slapping of the cards, the crackling of nut shells, and the constant murmur of their voices has become a Diner ritual on Thursdays. I was, truth told, anxious for the day to end.  I had a “four day weekend” commencing on that Friday, and was eager to spend some “quality time” at the “New Pantheon,” the better to reconnect with you kind friends and share some four-color jewels from the “vault.”

In such a mood, I tend to daydream, and disconnect from the humdrum world around me. I was lost in a reverie of my discovery of a significant new Fox Features title, Hi-Tension Comics (which, alas, does not exist). Such “visions” are fairly common to me, and inevitably result in confusion and disappointment, as I rifle through my archives in the “Pantheon” only to realize the title I seek is not in this plane of reality.

You see, I have my spiritual side, too! Are we not all complex beings?

Finally, the Whist fest came to an end. The bill was paid, and the entourage of “gamers” went to their abodes to dream of another Thursday. Upon their departure, I discovered a startling admixture of expended nut shells and the crispy, brittle candy-like toppings of crème burlee in small mounds on the floor.

Coffee and whipped cream spills aggravated this catastrophe. On top of the down-trodden, adhesive remnants of the ice-cream, from earlier that day, the floor was a disaster area.

As I pondered this dire situation, Raphael bid me a cheerful goodnight. He was dressed in a 1940s style pin-stripe suit, complete with fedora. In one hand he carried a Whitman’s Sampler. In the other, a well-worn suitcase. “See you soon amigo!” he cried with delight as he “hit the road.”

The accountancy of the day’s “take” was a consumptive nightmare that even I, the seasoned CPA, could barely fathom. One hour of intense “number crunching” and the receipts were tallied, and the books balanced. At last I could retire for the day!

Then I realized the floor must be attended to!

With a deep sigh, I plodded into the back storeroom. I wheeled out the mop bucket, and fashioned my own blend of Comet, Clorox and Pine-Sol. I could not find a container of parsley flakes, so I substituted some ground nutmeg.

Before the mopping proper could commence, I had to sweep, chisel and otherwise bodily remove the more three-dimensonal aspects of the floor’s contents. My friends, those pistachio shells were almost ankle-high under the table! I had to use a metal dustpan to chip away at the brulee accumulation. I must have swept up 100,000 expended nut shells that night… which stressed my lower back critically, preparing me for my incumbent calamity.

Having removed the worst of the debris, the mopping wsa a mere formality. It took several “passes” to render the floor walkable and clean. The pungent blend of cleaning products tore at my nostrils. Sweat beaded on my weary brow. And then, finally, the dire task was done!

Oh, how weary I was. I am no spring chicken! My lower back creaked as I stood up. I wheeled the mop bucket to the darkest recesses of the backroom, and left it for Katrice to empty. (She will empty any open container of liquid she encounters, as I have discovered when lifting a once-full mug of coffee to my lips, only to find its contents gone.)

I wiped my brow, gathered myself together, and doused the Diner’s lights. The deposit could wait ‘til the morning!

Then, as I approached the door, my right foot met with one of those accursed “How Wheels” cars. Zip! I left the ground. I scrambled to regain control of my footing. Then my left foot encountered a pistachio nut, forgotten from the Whist players! Zoom! Again I lunged, my right foot once again connecting with the “Hot Wheels” toy. Down went McGinty—er, Moray! 

I fell with a thud on my tail-bone. The impact loosened a flock of laminated Diner menus. These rained upon my head in a dull shower.

Oddly, I felt no pain. Rather, a curious relief washed over me. I was off my feet. I stared up at the darkened ceiling, and then thought it best to close my eyes, to regain my composure for the trip home…

“Hey, fella,” a coarse voice said. Something hard tapped at my shoe. “Let’s see some ID, fella.”

I had dozed! I woke with anxiety, and saw a policeman hovering above me. “Wh-where am I…”

“Better come with me and sleep it off, fella…”

“I beg your pardon! I am the owner—rather, co-owner—of this establishment. If you’ll permit me to rise to my feet…”

And then, dear reader, my heartache (or backache!) began. As Officer Rutledge, the fellow who tapped my shoe and roused me, later informed me, I fainted as I attempted to stand tall. An ambulance was called, and I rushed to Emberton Memorial.

I was informed that I had broken an un-needed bone—that of the coccyx, or the “tail bone.” Like the appendix, there is not need for it in our daily lives, and yet it has persisted throughout time in our bodies. Curious thing, science!

The doctor said that I would be bed-ridden for at least a fortnight. My legs were slightly elevated, to reduce pressure to the broken coccyx, and a special pillow (which was changed five times a day) further cushioned the bruised bone, the better to speed its healing. My lower back was encased in a curious lattice-work of plaster, medical tape and some type of medical plastic.

Needless to say, I was to enjoy a much longer holiday than anticipated!

My first visitor was my compadre in things panelological, “Sparks” Spinkle. He looked woebegone. “Back in the saddle again, eh, Mace?” he said with a weak grin.

“I’m not dying, I assure you. Wipe that sad look off your face,” I said with good cheer. “I may be trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, but I’m in good spirits overall.”

We talked, just chit-chat between friends, and in the course of our meanderings I mentioned my desire to spend some serious time at the “New Pantheon,” studying the art of panelology and perhaps making some notes towards my forthcoming encyclopedic history of the Golden Age of the American comic magazine. (But more on that later.)

“Uh huh,” “Sparks” repeated, nodding gravely. “Mm hm.” He held  his chin in his hand, deep in thought. 

“Mace, where are your keys?”

“Wherever my personal belonging are. I awoke in this room. I assume they were taken care of…”

As I spoke, “Sparks” opened drawers and cabinets. I finally heard a muffled “A-ha!” and a muted jingle. 
Then, a clunk as he dropped the keys. Then another jingle, another clunk, and some soft cursing. “Slippery fellas!”

“Sparks” looked sheepish. “Long story short. You tell me what comics you wanna study; me an’ Raphael will go an’ get ‘em an’ bring ‘em here for ya!”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that…”

“I… in… SIST!” was my friend’s fervent reply.

Once “Sparks” has an idea in his head, there is no stoppage of it. One might better hope to contain a tsunami in a paper cup. Calmly, I explained that this room had limited space, and that much leeway must be given for the various doctors, aides and nurses to do their important work. Thus, I limited him to one long-box. 

At random, I chose R-11. I could not recall its contents precisely, so it would be a delight to peruse its 100 bagged and boarded treasures.

“Better write that one down, Mace…”

“I have no pen or pencil. R-11. Just remember that. R-11.”

“R-11… R-11…” “Sparks” wandered out of the room. “Be back soon,” he said in the hallway.

As I am wont to do when in bed, I dozed off. How deep my sleep was, I cannot fathom. A familiar scent roused me from the arms of Morpheus. So rich, so pungent, such a warm and woodsy aroma…

Vintage pulp paper! Like a child on Christmas morn, I opened my eyes…

The room was filling to capacity with choice gems from my archives. Several long-boxes dominated the room, plus armfuls of loose issues, all protected by their museum-quality bags and boards.

“Forgot what box you wanted, Mace, so we brought ya a whole bunch. Take your pick.”

“Si, Senor Mason, Haga su elección!” Raphael grinned from behind a stack of vintage treasures. A few of them slipped off the pile and scuddered towards the floor. I grimaced as would a man in pain.

“Gentlemen, I asked for one long box. That is all this room will accommodate.”

“Sorry, Mace, I kinda got carried away.” A male nurse entered the room, assessed the labyrinth of panelology, and became instantly indignant. “What’s all this s***?” he cried.

“It shall be cleared out, sir, it shall be cleared out.” To “Sparks” and Raphael, I quietly, kindly stated: “Leave one long box. Please return everything else to the Pantheon. I thank you for your kind effort.”

“Aw…” “Sparks” looked deflated. “Well, which box, Mace? It’s your shootin’ match.”

“Any box will do. I am not particular. That one there,” I said, pointing to a longbox situated within arm’s reach of my bed.

“Hokey dokey,” “Sparks” said with great reluctance. “But don’t come cryin’ to me when you get bored…”

Ay, que lastima,” Raphael sighed under his breath. He regathered the loose stack of magazines and left the room.

I heard a myriad of plop-plop-plop sounds in the hallway. Following them was the skid and clank of medical equipment. Voices of confusion filled the corridor. Finally, a sheepish “Sparks” re-entered my room. “We got a casualty, Mace.” He held up a mangled issue of Jughead, circa 1953. “She’s still intact, just a little… dented.”

“No great loss,” I assured him.

The remainder of my treasures were carefully removed from the room. I cannot assess the safety of their journey back to the vault. I am, understandably, somewhat anxious to be well again, so that I may assure myself they did not suffer the fate of that lone Jughead.

It took my friends three trips to successfully remove the excess magazines. It occured to me that my scanner might prove a helpful tool while I rested in thsi room. Thus, before their third trip, I diligently requested that my scanning device (and power cords) be brought to my room. Fortunately, the alert Raphael "grakked" my request and assured me all components would be imported to my bedside.

Thus, I am able to share a seldom-seen treasure from a most unlikely source.

I am not an enthusiast of the Fawcett comic magazines. Their assembly-line production, to my eyes, renders them lifeless and moot. But in the earliest issues of their various flagship titles, some brave souls dared to buck the system and produce tales of fantasy on their own.

Such a rare gem is Russell G. Gorson's "Atom Blake, the Boy Wizard." seldom have such complex motifs of science fiction been so lovingly presented within borders and balloons. Please take time to read this story. I will, of course, have some "commentary" on this unique tale.

What, upon first reading, seems merely a knockabout boy's adventure, is, in fact, a deeply felt, deeply encoded parable of the suffering of the Albanian peoples during the first World War. Russell G. Gorson was the pen-name of Fisnik Gazmend, a refugee from that forbidding regoin. 

During the first War, many Albanians were imprisoned by the Kaiser's army, and forced to abandon their homes and careers to perform manual labor. Young Gazmend and his family, former stock-brokers of considerable wealth, were stripped of their status and clothes and put to work as miners. 

The subterranean caves in which they worked are remarkably realized as the wastes of the planet Mercury in this story. To a child of wealth, suddenly removed from his home and given a pick-ax, Hessians barking foreign commands to him, he might as well have been on Mercury!

Gazmend was separated from his parents, whom he assumed he might never see again. This trauma resonates through all his panelological work. It is, one might say, his central theme. Gazmend escaped Albania, was rescued by British troops, and eventually obtained passage on a boat to America. 

Once in our country, Gazmend began to realize his destiny as a comic book creator. Of course, he would have to wait until the late 1930s to ply his craft. In the meantime, he found work as a sign-painter, a roofer, a trainer of gazelles and as a math teacher.

Like many refugees of Europe, he sensed the threat of the Second World War, and was compelled to warn young readers of the fate he suffered. His serious autobiographical accounts were shunned by New York publishers. Gazmend was seriously "ahead of the curve ball" in this regard.

Harry Hornfeld, an assistant editor at Fawcett, liked Gazmend's work, knew of his back story, and wanted to help. "Change them Krauts to monsters, an' you'll have somethin' we can publish" was his sage advice.

Gazmend redrew a portion of his 650-page autobiographical story, Jeta ime i mjerimit të pafund ("My Life Of Unending Misery") as the first installment of "Atom Blake." It was immediately accepted for a new Fawcett title, Wow Comics. Later installments held less of his life's story, and more of stock fantasy elements.

Gazmend patiently waited out the war, and in 1947 he was able to return to his homeland. Remarkably, his parents were still alive and in good health. Jeta ime i mjerimit të pafund was still in Gazmend's possession, but it found no publishers. Its images held too many sitll-raw memories for the Albanian peoples.

Sadly, this early masterpiece of autobiographical comic book work seems to be lost. Perhaps it shall surface someday in an Albanian attic. It is not known what became of Gazmend upon his return to the homeland. One hopes--dearly--that he had a happy life, even though under the iron fist of Communist rule.


You will recall that, earlier in this missive, I dropped something of a "bomb shell." Yes, friends, I am at work on a 1000-page definitive critical overview and history of the Golden Era of The Art Panelologic: 1937-1942. (That is, indeed, the working title of this tome.) This book shall be my legacy, as it will contan the fruits of my many years of research and insight. I hope it shall be finished in the next few months. 

I am eager to be released from the hospital so that I might begin work on this volume in earnest. The constant beeps, clicks and hisses of this room are mightily distracting.

If Dcotor Milligan's estimate is correct, I should be home in time for Christmas. I hope to end the year with a rousing Yuletide treat, as has become a tradition of kind on this bolg. Until then, rest well, friends, and watch your coccyx!