Category Archives: comic books

How Did We Know What Was Going On Back Then?

My wife and I were driving down the road today talking about various things when we got to discussing making a “junk journal” for the kids. I have a lot of crazy stuff that I have held onto through the years. Some of it looks like nothing to the untrained eye, but to those in the know, there are stories and history in these various items. I have an old pill tin that my dad carried around with him. I have a pocket knife that he won for my mom and that she carried around with her from then on. To my kids these items are just a small green tin and a pocket knife. They don’t understand the family history attached to these pieces. I also have books and toys that have a special place in my life or DVDs that are out of print and worth a pretty penny. These are things the kids need to know before boxing all this stuff up and taking it to Goodwill after they put me six feet under.

The fact of the matter is that none of them have the attention span to remember everything about all of this mess. There’s also the problem with me forgetting lots of details as well. For example, I can’t remember what it was that Dad used to carry in that tiny pill tin. I remember Mom telling me about it, but I can’t remember the full story. Since Mom passed away several years ago I can’t ask her any longer. My sister or my cousin might remember, but I need to get the facts down where the kids can find it when my time finally comes to an end. Of course they will also have to wait for my wife to pass before they truly get to run free with my things but never the less.

So in the midst of this conversation I mentioned to my wife about how certain toys were special to me growing up. The Mego Planet of the Apes action figures were some of my favorites. I had the full set of them and their accessories. Most of the expensive pieces were Christmas gifts left under the tree by Santa or given to me by my Aunt EI. The actual figures however were ones that I got at Kmart and Murphy’s Mart and Hecks department stores. There were two waves of the action figures as I recall. The first batch was based on the movie. The second batch was based on the television series. I still remember playing at my Aunt Tress’ one day as a kid, and it just came to me that the new figures should be out. One of my cousins might have seen them and mentioned it or it might just have been a psychic premonition, but I begged me mom to stop on the way home. She agreed to stop and sure enough there they were.

When the Kenner Star Wars action figures actually came out (my mom refused to buy me the Early Bird IOU that was offered) we just ran into them in the store. I think the first ones we bought might have actually come from Krogers grocery store in Saint Albans. The thing was, I didn’t have the Internet to tell me these things were coming out. We didn’t have toy magazines to prepare us for new toys and toy lines. We found out the old-fashioned way; we bumped into them.

Sometimes I learned about new toys by ads in my comic books. I remember the big two page spread for the Haunted Mansion action model kids or the Strange Change models. I recall ads for Evel Knievel, the Six Million Dollar Man, and lots of different cars and bikes like Hot Wheels and Matchbox. Today kids and collectors know exactly when each wave of the new action figures are going to start shipping. They know which figures are going to be hard to locate and eBay helps make that search easier as well. Some how this just doesn’t seem as exciting as going into the toy department and finding the new additions to the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes model kit line. Silly as it sounds, I think I liked our way best.

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Don’t Forget To Remember What You Don’t Want To Forget

I remember a lot of what it was like when I was growing up. Oh sure I’ve forgotten a lot of it as well, but there are plenty of things that were just as basic as remembering to breathe. If I needed a quick bit of change, I would scour the neighborhood for discarded pop bottles. Each bottle would get you a dime which was enough money to make a phone call. Two bottles would pay for a comic book. I think Slurpees were fifty cents each, so five bottles would send you rocketing toward brain freeze if you so desired.

I also knew how to add, multiply, subtract, and divide. I could spell most of the words I could speak. School actually taught us these things along with history, state capitals, and other boring facts that we didn’t want to learn but did anyway. I loved books and movies, so I also learned who wrote what books and who directed which films. We didn’t have the Internet and the IMDB, so if I wanted to make a checklist of all of the Godzilla films, I had to know which books to look up the information and then memorize them. Same for the kids that lived on sports scores or music or what ever their field of interest was.

There were always certain films that I would read about and want to see. It started with Disney films, then monster movies, then Woody Allen films, then Oscar winners, and then various films important to the history of cinema like Battleship Potemkin or Citizen Kane. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in any of this with my son’s generation. Comic books have been replaced by video games. Spelling has been replaced by spell check or just ignored completely. Math was no longer important to them once pocket calculators became cheap and of course now the calculators are antiques replaced by computers and smart phones.

Sometimes I wonder what has replaced all of the information that we used to have to remember. People don’t have to memorize phone numbers, their phones memorize the numbers for them. People don’t have to know where to go look something up because a search engine will do that for them. With all of the free memory space available to today’s generation what do they choose to remember? Video game button combinations. Somewhere my remaining aging brain cells are crying.

Our Computers Were Cardboard With Magic Marker Lights

When I was a kid one of my favorite toys was a computer. It had all the world’s knowledge at its beck and call and could hold intelligent and witty conversations with you. It could do all of that provided that you remembered to turn on your imagination. My computer was actually a part from a plastic model kit of a giant insect attacking a city.

I don’t recall which insect kit it came from as there were four or five different ones and I had them all at one point. The kits included a cardboard backdrop and were really pretty cool. They were also pretty fragile. Some insects had very thin plastic legs. Some of the destroyed cityscapes included downed electrical towers with plastic latticework and thin plastic power lines. Thin and plastic usually meant easily broken. My killer bugs were soon consigned to the trash heaps or sold off in a yard sale to make money to buy more toys and model kits, but this one little plastic building had survived and to my child’s brain looked an awful lot like what I thought a computer should look like. Not the modern laptop or tower system mind you, but the old room size units that had to be fed data on punch cards and reel to reel tape. That was what a computer looked like.

I called this hand-sized chunk of plastic HAAL, like HAL from 2001, but with an extra A. HAAL stood for Hydral Any Answer Litrox. I think I had heard the word hydraulic which inspired the Hydral part and Litrox came from a package that contained a watch I wore at the time. It might have been the name of the company for all I know. HAAL wasn’t the only computer I had a kid either. There were the computers that powered my spaceship. In a previous life they had been shoe boxes, but I added colored lights and switches with magic markers. I had an R2 unit that was an old bucket with a piece of paper wrapped around it and designs drawn on it. I was working on it with a friend and we hoped to make it look just like the one in Star Wars. Sadly it never happened.

I’m not sure why these old computers came to mind today, but I couldn’t help but share them. I think I still have HAAL around here somewhere. I also have all of the old HAAL comic strips that I wrote and drew based on this hunk of plastic. Today kids share YouTube videos and other digital media, but back when I was in junior high school my friends and I all wrote and drew our own comic strips and comic books. I probably created over 100 different HAAL strips. One day the school art teachers took a fellow artist and me to meet a true local cartoonist. We both took some of our work with us. One of the things I took was a collection of HAAL strips. The artist looked over our work and when he got to HAAL he looked at it and commented, “That doesn’t actually look like a computer. It looks more like a building.” Damn it. I forgot to turn on the imagination switch before I showed them to him.

When I Used to Get Sick

I have been struggling with the flu for the last few days. It hit me late Wednesday night or technically early Thursday morning. At first I didn’t know it was the flu. My doctor had just changed my medicines and I was sure that was it. Or maybe it was something I ate. I had eaten some of Lays new Sriracha flavored chips and surely that was the culprit if not the meds. I checked my blood sugar and it was up. That had to be the answer. My diabetes was making me vomit my insides out. My wife being much calmer and well-reasoned, stuck a thermometer in my mouth and informed me that I had a temperature of 100 degrees. You don’t get a fever with high sugar, bad food, or new medicines. You get a fever with a virus.

When I was a kid the thought of getting sick didn’t bother me. If I was too sick to go to school, Mom called and told them I wouldn’t be there. If I needed to go to the doctor, Mom bundled me up and drove me to the doctor. If I stayed at home, Mom would fix me foods that my stomach would handle and that would comfort me. Usually this was toast with butter, or after I got to feeling a little better, peanut butter. One food that I always wanted when I was sick and that no one could understand why I would want was pizza. Not just any pizza, Geno’s frozen pizza or any of the other rather bland frozen pizzas on a crust that doesn’t so much pass for a bread product, but as an edible form of cardboard. She would top this off with 7-Up, ginger ale, or Coke. I got a lot of Coke over crushed ice also.

If Mom did have to take me to the doctor’s office, she would usually pick me up a few comic books to read on the way home, and I could usually get her to buy me a model kit as well. The model kit would give me something to do and take my mind off of my sick tummy. At least that’s what it was supposed to do. Often times I would get frustrated when certain parts didn’t fit together properly and it would backfire by making me more upset and agitated.

As an adult I can be on my deathbed and I still have to call in to work and tell them I won’t be there. I don’t feel like breathing, but I have to go through a 10,000 question automated system to alert work that I’m not coming in. Oh and if you do that three times in a 90 day period there will be severe consequences (unless they are FMLA covered). I do have a wonderful wife that always pulls through for me when I get hit by the flu bug. She fixes me food and makes sure I stay hydrated. But my body has decided that it no longer wants cardboard pizza on a sick stomach. Baked chicken and baked potatoes all just lightly seasoned tends to stay down best now.

Needless to say the treat of getting a comic book or a model kit for being a good boy at the doctor’s office doesn’t happen anymore either. For one thing, I would have to buy them for myself since I’m also the one that would end up driving myself to the doctor’s office (unless I’m really bad and we have to try and catch my son before he goes to work). And also because neither comic books or model kits are as easy to find (or as cheap) as they were back in the late sixties/early seventies.

I’m not sure who in their right mind gets nostalgic for the sick days of their youth, but compared to the sick days of adulthood, I’d trade for them in a heartbeat.

Don’t Throw That Out

There was a comedian on The Bob & Tom Show awhile back that commented on how Hoarders and American Pickers are two sides of the same coin. They both feature people going into people’s homes where they kept everything and never threw anything out. On the one show they talk about how sick these people are and that they need help while on the other show they talk about how amazing these people are and how they are preserving rare bits of the past. My wife sometimes accuses me of being a hoarder while I think of myself more as preserving the past. The thing is, every time I give in to her and throw something out, I always end up regretting it. It’s been that way all my life.

Now let me be clear. I do not have a house that you can’t walk through with stacks of empty milk cartons and half eaten peanut butter sandwiches stacked from floor to ceiling. I do however have a large collection of books, magazines, toys, DVDs and CDs. I also have a collection of candy bar wrappers. Okay, that one may seem a bit strange, but hear me out. As a child I used to love going to 7-11 and buying candy bars. One of my favorites was the original Marathon bar. One of my fondest memories of my years going to National Education Center’s National Institute of Technology was going to the Ben Franklin’s next door and buying a candy bar for break. I was quite fond of the Mars bar. Neither of these candies are produced any longer, and as I watched more and more limited edition candy bars come and go like the inside out Reese’s Cup, I decided to save some of the wrappers. I began by carefully removing the candy and then placing the wrapper in an old photo album. I’m a little behind in placing some of my wrappers into the photo albums, but one day I will. And while this may sound like the collection of a mad man, it’s actually pretty cool in my opinion. I love seeing how M&Ms have tried all these new flavors and promotions over the last few years. There’s a crispy M&M wrapper, a white chocolate M&M wrapper done for one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, ogre sized M&Ms for one of the Shrek films, raspberry, orange, candy corn, and all sorts of other specialty flavors.
MandM

My wife has tried to convince me (half jokingly) to throw the old wrappers away, but to me they are little pieces of art. Also I know as soon as I do, I will immediately regret it. I used to have several years worth of Entertainment Weekly and in an effort to cut back on the amount of stuff I have, I agreed to throw them out. They were magazines and they were for the most part written to recap the entertainment news of a particular week. Why would I ever want to refer back to them. About two months later I was cursing the decision as I tried my best to locate an article they had done on scenes that had been cut or altered in Fantasia only to realize that issue was one of the ones that got pitched. I ended up buying most of the issues back through eBay. A similar thing apparently happened with some old composition notebooks I used to have. These books contained a listing and mini review for every film I had seen from around 1976 until 1982. They told where I saw it, when I saw it, and who I saw it with as well. I would love to have them to look back over now, but I think they got tossed during one of our moves. There is still hope that they may be packed in one of the books in the attic that we haven’t moved over to the new house yet. The only thing for certain is that I will never replace them on eBay.

I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to throw out stuff like this, but it is. I have successfully pitched some magazines without any regrets (Esquire, Interview, Radio Electronics), but then I have regrets over purges of other magazines from as far back as Junior High. I have made some horrible trades for things I was really excited about at the time. I traded a Mego Star Trek Enterprise play set for a daybill style ad for Futureworld and I traded a stack of old EC comics for the first appearance of the Swamp Thing. I sold a huge collection of Fantastic Four comics for far less than I should have to help finance a trip to Canada back in High School (and then ended up not going on the trip because I didn’t get enough money) and sold some Aurora Monsters of the Movies model kits for money to buy some Doctor Who paperbacks at a science fiction convention.

So I have a collection of lots of useless geegaws that mean nothing to most people, but they still mean something to me. I have my original 1978 Star Wars calendar in the original mailing carton it was sold in. It will never be 1978 again, but for me there is a tiny bit of the magic from that wonderful time in my life trapped inside those pages. It contains the fuel that lights 1000 memories of my childhood. How could I possibly part with that?

We Had Two Things As Kids

My son grew up in a world with 24/7 cartoons and video games. My daughter was able to add the Internet to her childhood toolkit. When I was a kid we only had cartoons on Saturday morning and perhaps an hour or so early on other mornings and an hour or so with Mister Cartoon after school. Video games, home systems that is, wouldn’t come along until High School. As for the Internet, we were years away from even bulletin boards, much less full-blown websites. We basically had two things as kids: books and our imaginations.

Now don’t get me wrong, we had toys. We had G.I. Joe, Mego, Shogun Warriors, Micronauts, Aurora model kits, and all sorts of other playthings. The difference is that our toys didn’t do anything unless you used your imagination. We could make Biotron fly and Mazinga battle Godzilla, but only through the art of pretending. For those of you too young to understand what this means, we would hold our little Micronaut up in the air and make flying noises with our mouths as we did loops or went running out in a playground with the toy held out and held high. We would take our figures, one in each hand, and have them do battle with one another by beating the two pieces of plastic against each other. One hand would hold the attacking toy while the other hand-held the toy that about to get hit. After a thunderous blow, the other toy would be lifted up and retaliate. Sometimes both hands would move the two toys at each other simultaneously causing both of them to go flying backwards. All sound effects were created by us, and the outcome of the battle was whatever storyline we wanted to tell. Unless one of the toys broke. Then we improvised. “Oh no, Johnny West hit G.I. Joe so hard that his arms both flew off.”

Model kits also required us to use our imaginations, but they did have instruction sheets. I loved figure kits. One of my friends loved car models. Another friend had tons of dinosaur models. You would get a cardboard box with a gorgeous painting of what the kit should look like on the front. Sometimes the sides had actual pictures of professionally assembled and painted kits. When you opened the box there were plastic trees with little numbered parts on them. Usually they were all molded in a single color, normally the dominant color of the figure. The Wolfman would be in brown. Godzilla would be in dark green. Some kits had additional glow in the dark parts or they had clear or chromed parts, especially for cars.

I kept my Aurora kits on my dresser or on a shelf in my closet. In the closet, the glow in the dark parts would light up when I shut the closet door. My friend with all of the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes kits had a special wooden platform in his basement. His dad had made it for him so he could connect their bases and set them up on display like a prehistoric train set. He used to pretend that at bedtime he could talk to them on a toy walkie-talkie that he had. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and swore that one day, I would fix up something like that for myself.

The other thing we had, as I stated, was books. We had comic books, paperbacks, and magazines. Back then everybody seemed to sell comic books. You could buy them at the drug store, the newsstand, bus stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, department stores, and other places as well. I had lots of comics, but it wasn’t until I picked up Kamandi #9 while on vacation at King’s Island that I became a true collector. The front cover showed these people in a hot air balloon fighting giant bats. It looked so amazing that I had to buy it. I bought it, read it, and decided that I would have to find the next issue when it came out. Since I had never seen this book before, I assumed that I was holding the first issue. When I got home, I was shocked to find issue #8 at my local 7-11 (which was literally open from 7 AM until 11 PM at the time). When I realized that I had actually missed the first seven issues, I was shocked and devastated, but I kept looking for them. Eventually I ordered the missing issues from an ad I found for back issues comics by mail. I still have every issue of Kamandi to this day.

We also had paperback books and magazines to entertain us. I’ve mentioned all the monster magazines that I used to buy, but there were other mags as well. Car Toons and Surf Toons featured cartoons about cars and surfing. Marvel and Warren publishing both had black and white comic magazines and there were numerous humor magazines as well. Mad is still around, but there was also Sick, Cracked, Crazy, and the National Lampoon. The Lampoon was a bit more adult, but I still managed to get almost every issue from around #96 up and a local newsagent even sold me a huge collection of back issues which included the very first issue.

Paperbacks also entertained us as kids, and at a fairly bargain rate. I picked up all of the Planet of the Apes books for between 50 and 95 cents each. I also had a bunch of superhero books, Star Trek fotonovels, and other titles. Two of my prized possessions at the time were a pair of oversized hardcovers dedicated to talking solely about horror movies. I always wanted a copy of the Ray Harryhausen Scrapbook, but it was too expensive at the time. I finally picked up a copy years later at a used bookstore and I replaced my copies of the two horror movie books (as well as a third one I picked up later) off eBay. I don’t know why I had gotten rid of my copies in the first place, but I was glad to have them back.

Childhood Dreams

I recently found a box of papers that I thought had been lost in one of my moves throughout the years. It contained some small books from grade school book fairs that I had adored, some pamphlets from early trips to Illinois to visit my sister and her family, a paper bag from King’s Island when the characters on the bag were Scooby Doo, The Funky Phantom, Hair Bear, and Dick Dastardly, and other childhood treasures including a notebook full of old Virtue of Vera Valiant comic strips that I had clipped from the Charleston Daily Mail. The crown jewel in this box was my very first scrapbook.

My mom had bought me a large notebook at either Hecks or Arlens or G.C.Murphy. It featured a typical late 60s early 70s age of Aquarius design of the sun with the signs of the zodiac circling it. I had initially taken pen to blank paper and drawn a bunch of pictures in it. I must not have been too thrilled with these pictures because I soon began covering them up with movie advertisements from the Charleston Gazette. Many of these were ads for Disney movies that I had seen or wanted to see. There’s a cartoony looking drawing of Buddy Hackett staring lovingly at Herbie, the Volkswagen, in an ad for Disney’s new movie The Love Bug. Another ad touts “The Greatest Adventure Of Them All” over a drawing of a pirate attack from Walt Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson in Technicolor Panavision (Starts Wednesday at the Kearse).

There are lots of non Disney ads as well. Cougar Country (In Color) was Coming Soon one ad exclaimed. Another ad promised “The Greatest Hunting and Fishing Spectacular Ever Filmed” in an ad for The Outdoorsman (Now! at the Capitol). Yet another ad touts the “Authentic True-To-Life Adventure” of North Country (In Color). Apparently in 1971 it was still necessary to advertise the fact that your film was in color. As you can tell most of the movies I was interested in were about animals. I remember when my mom took me to see The Outdoorsman, she was afraid I would be upset about all of the animals that were being shot and killed by the big game hunters, but for some reason I didn’t pay any attention to that. I just liked seeing the big horn sheep and the bears.

Not all of the ads were for films that I got to see. I have an ad I clipped for K. Gordon Murray’s Rumpelstiltskin that I don’t recall seeing in theaters or anywhere else for that matter. There’s also a pair of ads for the double feature of Sssssss and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (one for its run at the Valley Drive In and one for its run at the Trail Drive In). I loved monsters almost as much as animals, but there was zero chance of Mom taking me to see these movies even though they were both rated PG.

What’s amazing to me is the number of movies that you hear nothing about anymore as well as the number of theaters that I had forgotten existed. Browns Theater in Cabin Creek? Not a clue, but there it is alongside the Marmet (in Marmet) and the Roxy (in Clendenin) under the more prominent Kearse and Cinema 21 in another larger ad for North Country (Now Showing! One Week Only! In Color!). Does anyone else remember Hang Your Hat On The Wind? or Smith starring Glenn Ford? And where can I find a copy of Journey to the Beginning of Time with its “Authentic Re-creation of Prehistoric Times” not just in color but “In Full Color”?

Of course just like Facebook is not only pictures of cats, my scrapbook was not just movie ads. There were pictures of animals, celebrities I liked (or had at least heard of), obituaries for classmates that died way too young, and other items. There is a wonderful ad from Kmart for Halloween costumes during their “Million Dollar Discount Sale”. You could buy a pirate or a bunny for only 87 cents. If you wanted to dress up like Major Matt Mason or one of the Banana Splits however, it would set you back almost double that; $1.67.

The scrapbook also became the repository for the pictures off of my old Aurora monster models. I was keeping all of my old model boxes, crushed down flat and under my mattress. Mom thought I was crazy for saving them and they were starting to create a bulge in the mattress as well. She convinced me to soak the pictures off of the cardboard and glue them into my scrapbook. Eventually I gave up on trying to soak them off and just glued cardboard and all into my scrapbook.

Not only is this scrapbbook a wonderful trip down memory lane for me, but it reminds me of how much things have changed since I was a kid. They don’t make movies like Cougar Country, North Country, or The Ra Expeditions any longer. At least not with the frequency they made them back then. There are no more drive-ins and no stand-alone theaters in the area. There are more screens, but they are all located in four buildings. Newspapers don’t publish huge ads for new movies with artwork. Movie companies no longer try and produce art style posters for their films. Photoshop has killed the modern one-sheet in most cases. Figure models like the Aurora monster model kits are a thing of the past except for higher priced specialty kits from Moebius and other similar companies. And if you want to buy one of these kits, you won’t find it in your local Walmart or Target. Even the hobby shops have a very limited selection if they have any at all.

Of course one other stumbling block to a scrapbook like this is the slow death of print media. The Gazette and Daily Mail are both still around, but they just aren’t the same as they were. I miss the old days when I would wake up on a cold morning, crawl out of bed in my footie pajamas and plop down in the living room floor in front of our gas fireplace with the morning paper and a bowl of cereal. I started out just looking at the movie ads, but I soon started reading the comics. By junior high I had ditched the footie pajamas for pajamas and slippers and had started reading James Dent’s column The Gazetteer along with Ann Landers. By high school I was actually reading the news as well. I loved to read, and much of that was thanks to the morning newspaper, a family that read to me as a baby, and comic books (which is a topic for another post).