Wednesday, November 28, 2007

P. Craig Russell's Art Collection

Filmmaker Wayne Alan Howard is working on a P. Craig Russell documentary. There is a clip on youtube that has Craig giving an insightful tour of his art collection and discussing a number of pieces. I especially enjoyed his comments on Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy strips and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy pages. Do yourself a favor and click here to see it. The finished film promises to be something special.

Also, if any of you are fans of American Splendor, Wayne has posted a number of shorts featuring the legendary Toby. You can check them out here. It’s really great stuff.

Then go and visit Craig’s wonderful website, found here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hold The Ham

Back in the early 90s I was still in New York City and making my living as a comic art dealer. One day I got a call from an editor at Marvel Comics who was trying to help a young freelancer find an agent to sell his originals. The artist was new to comics and didn’t know the ins and outs of the business. The editor, wanting to help a raw newbie out, contacted Al Williamson (whom he had worked with) to see if he could recommend a dealer that would treat the guy right. Al suggested me, which was why I got the call. The editor spoke in glowing terms of the artist; he had a lot of potential, if he worked hard he could make a name for himself. I told the editor I’d be happy to look at his work and said “What’s this kids name?” The editor replied, “Stan Drake.” A bit surprised, I asked if he had ever met the young Mr. Drake in person or if their dealings were exclusively on the phone and through the mail. It was the latter. Which made sense. For those of you who have never heard of the great Stan Drake, he began his career a number of years before I, or his editor, were born. But, while Mr. Marvel may not have been up on his comic history, his heart was very much in the right place.

Which reminds me of a story from roughly the same time, one that peripherally involves Stan Drake. I was meeting a fellow comic art dealer by the name of Al Czarnecki. Al is one of the good guys in comic art, a straight shooter. Anyway, Al had bought 600 Heart of Juliet Jones strips and asked if I would be interested in going in for half. It’s not every day you are offered 300 Stan Drake strips at a good price so I readily accepted. The plan was for Al to come in from New Jersey with the art and we would meet at a local Brew & Burger to have lunch and finalize the deal. A Brew and Burger, for those who have never been to one, is pretty much what it sounds like: A coffee shop with dark wood.

So Al and I meet at B & B, both armed with portfolios, and sit down in a roomy booth—the better to spread out big piles of art. The waiter comes over to take our order and Al goes first. When it’s my turn I ask for a grilled cheese sandwich with fries. At the time I was a vegetarian, had been for about a year and a half after reading a book called Diet For A New America. Not being a salad guy this was pretty much my default diner meal. Should be pretty simple, never had a problem with it before or after. Except this time the waiter says “We don’t do that.” I look up at him, not getting what he means, and ask what they don’t do. He says “Grilled cheese sandwiches, we don’t do that.” I laugh and say something along the lines of “Come on, it’s a grilled cheese sandwich.” Again, he says no, they don’t do that. So I open up the menu and scan the sandwich listings. Finding what I want I say, “Give me the grilled ham and cheese…” I waited a beat as he dutifully scribbled it down “…hold the ham.” I swear, he nearly doubled over. He raised his voice and said emphatically “We don’t do that!” He then went into this odd little tirade saying he had traveled all over the world, he had been to France and eaten butter on sandwiches—whatever that meant. I felt like I had wandered into an outtake from Five Easy Pieces. I looked at him and said, “Just go over to the cook and give him the order, he’ll make it.” Brew & Burger had one of those traditional diner set-ups, an open view to the kitchen and the spinning wheel where tickets are hung. Our server indignantly marches over to the wheel and says in a voice that got louder as he spoke “There’s some guy out here who wants a grilled ham and cheese…WITHOUT THE HAM!!” To which the cook evenly replies, “A grilled cheese sandwich, no problem.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

My Brilliant Criminal Career Part Three

After leaving Lenny and New Orleans behind me I started making my way north towards home. On the trip up, I planned to visit a friend who lived in Grand Bay Alabama. His name was John and around this time he would be moving to California and then getting married. Unfortunately, while I had his address, I didn’t have his phone number with me; not knowing the exact timetable for his plans it was a 50/50 proposition whether he would still be there.

I got a lift to Grand Bay and asked directions at a gas station to John’s address. It was about five miles, but the day was nice and I was young. An hour and a half later I knocked on the front door of his house but there was no answer. A neighbor confirmed he had moved the previous week. There was nothing to do but start that long walk back to the highway.

On the way I stopped at a little store, not much more than a shack, and bought a seven ounce bottle of Coke and a pack of peanuts. I enjoyed my snack while walking and when done, since there were no trashcans to be found, I stuck both in my pocket. Nearing the highway I noticed a sound and looked back; about 20 feet behind was a police car, matching my pace and slowly following me. There was nothing to do but keep on walking.

Shortly we came to the Stuckey’s that sat by the highway. If you’ve been to the south you’ve been to a Stuckey’s Pecan Candy Shoppe. I walked into the parking lot and threw away the trash that had been sitting in my back pocket for the last hour. Which, of course, prompted screeching tires and sirens. As the dust settled, three enormous cops exited the vehicle, pulling their pants up as they did. The first of the trio asked “what you throwing in that trash can, boy?” to which I replied “trash.” When further quizzed on the details I gave a more accurate accounting. The second cop then inspected the evidence and said, “He’s right, Slim.” The last one asked if I knew there was a three-cent deposit on the bottle. I told him he could have it. The first cop wanted to know why I didn’t “just throw it in the street like everybody else?” I don’t remember what I said but they were the words of an idealistic youth spouting off about the environment. That was the final straw; he said, “You got five minutes to get out of my state.”

I walked to the highway, looking back to see if my friends would come and arrest me for hitchhiking. Apparently they were more interested in my leaving than for me to become a guest of the county. After a few minutes a car stopped and, even though there was purple shag carpeting and chicken bones sewn on the ceiling, I got in. But only until the next exit, where I eventually found a more comfortable ride, free of dead poultry. A couple of days later I was back home.

These last three blogs have concentrated on a thin slice of my long ago trip to New Orleans. The wider pie was something wonderful. Like the first time I had grits in what must have been the worlds biggest truck stop; or walking down Bourbon street at the height of Mardi Gras festivities, throwing beads at girls on veranda’s; completely by accident coming across the warehouse housing all the beautiful floats for the parades and sneaking in to explore. These are all cherished memories that I won’t share now; but if you run across me at a show sometime feel free to ask—I’d be happy to relive them for you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Brilliant Criminal Career Part Two

It took about an hour to make my way over to the part of town where I was staying. After getting off the bus I walked through deserted streets, stopping at a 24-hour market to get a drink; I was parched. Back outside, Gatorade in hand, my night was finally coming to an end. Or so I thought.

Now on the same block as the house, I noticed a police car driving slowly in the opposite direction. Suddenly everything was screeching tires and flashing lights. Apparently they took note of me also. As the patrol car came to a rest on the sidewalk in front of me, two officers crouched behind their doors with drawn guns pointed at me. Arms and Gatorade raised, I asked what I did. While being handcuffed and put in the backseat they told me it was illegal to have an open glass bottle on a public street. If only I had the foresight to drink my Gatorade from a plain paper bag. So once again I found myself en route to central booking. The cop in the passenger seat asked me where I was from. I told him New York and he turned back in his seat and muttered “Goddamn Yankee werewolves coming down here and ruining our Mardi Gras.” Back I went to the Ticketron lines, with presumably a different crowd of customers standing with me, once again waiting to pay $50 bail to get out. I didn’t bother making a phone call this time.

There was a baseball player in the 1930s named Johnny Vander Meer who holds what I believe is the only baseball record that will never be broken. People can talk all they want of great batting and pitching records. Someday Joe Dimaggio’s consecutive game hitting streak will fall. But no one will ever break Johnny Vander Meer’s record of two consecutive no-hitters. You know why? Because to break it someone would have to throw three consecutive no-hitters. Which just ain’t gonna happen. And this is how I used to look at being arrested twice in one day; it could never be surpassed because to break that record you would need to be arrested three times in one day--and how the Hell could that happen? I have since learned that this is not as uncommon as one might think. Go figure. So maybe Mr. Vander Meer should be looking over his shoulder after all.

By the time I got back to their house the sun was coming up. We couldn’t raise the $500 for a bail bond to get him out so he sat in jail through Fat Tuesday, which is the big day of Mardi Gras. I showed up for my court appearance indigent as only an 18 year old can be. When the judge called my name I stood up and walked forward. My friend was brought out and he stood next to me, wearing handcuffs and in obvious pain. We both pled not guilty and a trial date was set for the following month. Before Mr. 49 Chevy was taken back to jail I told him I would come back to testify on his behalf, tell the court what really happened. He looked at me with none of the bravado from days earlier. He said he was afraid they would hurt him, maybe even kill him, if he tried to press charges; he wanted to drop it and get on with his life. After he was taken back to the lockup I saw the bailiff to get paperwork for the new court date. I remember telling him I would return to fight the charges against me. He looked at me like someone who had seen way too many people who just didn’t understand the world. He said “Kid, are you crazy? If you don’t come back they’ll just fine you the $50 bail you already paid and it’ll be done.” Of course he was right but it took a while to sink in.

As I was heading towards the door I heard my name called for the second time that morning in the court—I had completely forgotten about my big Gatorade caper. I turned to face the judge again. He looked down on me with some disdain and said in an annoyed voice “you again?” Finally, inexplicably, when I told him my story reason actually prevailed; he said it was an antiquated statute for which it was ridiculous to be arrested. He threw the case out. 24 hours later, between me, Lenny and his girlfriend, we were finally able to raise the $500 to get a bail bond and spring the Chevy man.

A couple of days later Lenny and I left New Orleans, and for reasons I can’t recall we went in different directions. He was heading west and I was going home, to New York. Once again I was standing on a road with my thumb out in search of a ride, this time by myself. I was looking forward to an uneventful trip home. Yeah, right.

Final chapter goes up on Friday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Brilliant Criminal Career Part One

Okay, I warned you. This is the first of several completely non-comics related posts. Read at your own risk.

In 1981, when I was 18, my friend Lenny and I hitchhiked to New Orleans from New York City to attend the Mardi Gras. It was a cold January and we decided we needed to enjoy some warmer climes. Most of the journey was courtesy of a long-haul trucker that stopped for us near Newark Airport. In between dozing off at the wheel he would regale us with stories of sex-crazed college girls he supposedly had brief affairs with when he’d pick them up hitchhiking. I remember he offered to let us crash in the back of his cab but neither Lenny nor I wanted to risk falling asleep for fear he would as well. More than once we had to grab the wheel as he drifted off to dreamland.

He dropped us off on the outskirts of New Orleans and our thumbs went out one more time, searching for that home stretch ride. It came in the form of a 1949 red Chevy pickup truck. I’m not a car guy but this was a thing of beauty. We climbed into the back and started off towards downtown. On the way, our benefactor asked where we were from. When I told him we’d hitched down from New York for the Mardi Gras he asked if we had a place to stay. We told him no and, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, he offered us a place to stay, which we happily accepted. Lenny and I enjoyed the company of our new friends (whose names sadly escape me after all this time) for the better part of a week. They were nice people, not very well off, who freely opened their home to us and shared what they had.

At some point I wound up in the middle of the French Quarter, a day or two before Fat Tuesday, with Mr. 49 Chevy. We were enjoying ourselves, just driving around, until his truck developed engine trouble. We stalled out in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, so we get out to push it off to the side. As we maneuver the vehicle towards the curb, three cops standing in front of a hotel on the corner start calling out for us to “get that piece of shit” out of the road.

Now, I’m from New York, I’ve seen my share of incidents involving the police. My instincts generally tell me to keep a civil tone when speaking to law enforcement types, and never to yell at them. Unfortunately my friend wasn’t quite as discreet. His reaction to their verbal abuse was to yell back, in an equally obnoxious manner. Oh, did I mention both of us had hair below our shoulders? I guess it was guilt by proximity because the next thing I know we are being handcuffed and arrested.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Rather than take us to the patrol car parked next to them, the three members of New Orleans finest bring us into the hotel. We get hauled along to the elevator and taken down to the garage. Okay, I think, their car is parked there. Except they walk us over to the attendants office and knock on the door. When it opens three pairs of eyes look out, taking in the motley crew before them. Then, without a word, the three vacate the office and the five of us go in.

To say I was scared wouldn’t quite describe it. There was a sense of dread that only deepened as I was shoved into a chair off to the corner and my none-too-bright chum once again started to mouth off to the cops. He got about three words out before the first nightstick hit him in the head. The beating must have gone on for a minute or two but it felt much longer. At one point one of the boys in blue poked me in the back of the head with a pen and asked if I wanted some of this. “No, officer” I replied.

Several minutes later I was escorted out of the room, followed by my friend who was dragged. We were tossed into the patrol car that we passed earlier and taken to central booking. I had never been arrested before so I had no idea what to expect. When we arrived we were split up; I was placed in a line that reminded me of a ticketron, one of those places where you buy concert tickets. There were more than a dozen windows with long queues stemming from each. In the front of each line was a payphone; I was told I could make a call. I had the 50 bucks in my pocket so I could make bail; I didn’t need to call anyone to get me out. But when faced with such a surreal situation I needed to share the moment with someone. I called my friend Sonja and had a short but funny chat with her. I then paid my bail and was given information on when and where I should report to court, in three days time. I was being charged with being drunk and disorderly. Which, given the situation, seemed appropriate; I hadn’t had a drink all day. Mr. 49 Chevy, I was told, was being held on $5,000 bail; His charges were longer than mine, it seems he broke three of his ribs while resisting arrest.

When I was finally released it was close to midnight. I got on a bus and started back to my friend’s house.

Part two goes up tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2007

American Idol Heidi

I love Heidi McDonald. She’s smart, funny, and a good person. She also may be the one person on Earth who can make my singing voice sound good. My dog cried when I played this. If you don’t believe me click here.

Send your write-in votes now!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Michael Moorcock: Found in Translation

A few years ago I had the good fortune to work with Michael Moorcock and Jerry Ordway on a Tom Strong story. While it’s always a pleasure to have Jerry draw any comic, it was a special treat to have Michael write it. His stories really hit me as a teenager, especially Behold The Man, which I read at just the right age for it to make a lasting impression.

Michael and I enjoyed several friendly chats during the course of our working relationship, mostly about old comics. On one such occasion he told me a wonderful story of his unofficial stint as writer of the Tarzan newspaper strip, and how he entered into a creative partnership with the likes of Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth--the catch being it was a full 10-20 odd years after those strips initially saw print.

I sent Michael an e-mail recently asking if he would mind recounting that tale again for me so I could share it on this blog. He graciously agreed and forwarded a fine remembrance of the events that would lead to this most unusual collaboration, the details of which begin here:

In the mid-to-late 1950s I was working on Tarzan Adventures in the UK. The magazine was fronted every week by a Tarzan strip reprinted from both daily and Sunday newspaper strips bought from, as I recall, Universal Features Syndicate. I was a great fan of both Foster's and Hogarth's Tarzan but absolutely hated Rex Maxon's, so I did everything I could not to buy Maxon-drawn strips. Eventually the time came when we ran out of available Hogarth (we'd never run Foster for some reason) material and I begged the syndicate for some older Foster or Hogarth material. None was available. The plates from which we worked had been destroyed in an incendiary attack during World War 2.

Wasn't there ANYTHING we could use, I asked the Syndicate chief in London. He was sorry, he said, but the only plates still known to exist were in Spanish. My publisher shrugged his shoulders. "Well, that's that," he told me. "It's got to be Maxon or nothing." I was desperate not to use Maxon. I was seventeen years old and at that time had only been to France for a few weeks and never traveled anywhere else, nor spoken any other language, but desperation made me come up with a lie. "Oh, I speak Spanish," I told him, "It would be nothing for me to take those plates and translate them into English." He was surprised, but agreed, and the plates were duly delivered.

I didn't speak a single word of Spanish and would have been hard put in those days to tell you what 'Hola!' meant. So all I had to work with were the strips themselves and make a guess at what the Spanish meant. I also had to work very quickly, since we were on a weekly schedule. For the fun of it, I also decided to use the names of friends in the science fiction community, which is how you can easily tell which strips are by me and which by the original writer--my story lines, of course, are also subtly different, but they also carry characters like the evil Benford twins (Greg and Jim Benford were then teenagers living with their military dad in Germany), Ken Bulmer, Lars Helander, Ron Bennett and various other well-known UK SF writers and fanzine fans of the day.

Tarzan as originally published

I ran these 'translations' for as long as the Spanish plates kept coming--essentially covering the period where Foster was reaching the end of his work on Tarzan and Hogarth was taking over. Eventually, I left the magazine and the new editor (an octogenarian who had been my assistant and strongly disapproved of most of my policies, which was to run text sword and sorcery stories and new ERB-type strips by Jim Cawthorn) had no such preferences. As I recall, I was delivering one of the last of my 'translations' after I had gone to work for Fleetway and to my surprise saw Cawthorn artwork in the guy's wastepaper basket. Tugging it out, I saw that a couple of my fantasy stories were still attached to the artwork. The new editor told me that 'healthy boys' didn't want that kind of trash. Out went Rakhir, Warrior Priest of Phum and in came 'Jock the Engine Driver' (or some such). Maxon returned. A few months later, to mixed emotions, I heard that the magazine's circulation had slumped and Tarzan was axed. Clearly, not enough healthy boys to support it.

Tarzan as scripted by Michael Moorcock

I think there are examples comparing the original text and my text still available in the image vault of my website, Moorcock's Miscellany. My Spanish hasn't improved a great deal since then but I'm still available for translation work in any language you choose--so long as the artist is Foster, Hogarth or some other artist I admire. And if you don't mind your own name turning up somewhere in the story.

Michael Moorcock

Michael is right; the above comparisons were taken from his fine website, which you can visit by clicking here. And if anyone happens to have copies of the reworked versions I would love to see scans of them.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sam Phone Home

A couple of Sunday’s ago Amanda was out for the day and I was watching the boys. We had a nice time, first running a few errands and then going out to lunch. At 3:00 or so we came home and I settled in with the newspaper while Alex and Sam went upstairs to play and watch cartoons. A couple of hours later I realized that my reading hadn’t been interrupted by any crashes or screams from upstairs. Naturally I became concerned.

I went up to check on them. We have an open area on the second floor that we use as a playroom. Alex was sitting on the floor contentedly watching a DVD. But Sam was nowhere in sight. Usually they are pretty inseparable, Sam sticks to his older brother like glue and Alex includes Sam in most of his shenanigans. I asked Alex if he knew where Sam was and he said he hadn’t seen him in a while. Curious where he got off to I started looking around for him.

I went into their room, no luck. Next stop was our bedroom, followed by the Bathrooms and then the closets. Now I was starting to get a little anxious. I searched around the upstairs, checking every room. No sign of him. I rushed downstairs—maybe he snuck down and I somehow didn’t notice. Nope, he wasn’t on the first floor either. Now I was worried. I hurried to the front door; it was still locked, thank God.

As I headed back up the stairs I was greatly relieved to hear Alex call out “Daddy, I found him.” When I got to the top I looked around but still didn’t see him. Alex, standing in the middle of their playroom, lifted up his arm and pointed. There, in plain sight, was Sam; the little guy had climbed into a toy storage bin filled with some of their stuffed animals and fallen asleep. He was quietly snoring away, no doubt dreaming of Reese’s Pieces, as I settled down with Alex to watch cartoons.