Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thank You, Mr. Crumb, Part 2

2008: I’m standing before ten framed pages of a story entitled Patton, a trenchant, visceral, graphically brave and liberating cavalcade of cartooning by underground icon Robert Crumb. Originally published in 1985, in the eleventh issue of the seminal comic book Zap, this sensitive telling of the turbulent and violent life of legendary bluesman Charlie Patton, is hanging on a white wall in one of the large back room galleries of Seattle’s Frye Art Museum. It is merely one small part of R. Crumb’s Underground, the impressively complete retrospective of the cartoonist’s career, which came to a close this past Sunday, April 27th, after a successful ninety-three days, up to a thousand people having passed through the noted institution’s doors most Saturdays and Sundays.
     As I marvel at the art displayed before me, my head begins to spin, making me feel as if I’m back in the summer heat of Western Pennsylvania, reliving my self-education in the art of cartooning. The 17” x 22” sheets of Bristol board Crumb used to create Patton are marked with what I feel are some of the most effective drawings of his career. This is the real “good stuff” I decide, smiling to myself, recalling my Crumb-entwined origin, feeling the rush of the intervening years, how appearing in two issues of Kitchen Sink's Buzz led to a bound collection of my A Sleepyhead Tale strip from Fantagraphics Books (Crumb’s own publisher) and a subsequent quarterly series, Whotnot!, followed by nearly a dozen other books and comics from a variety of publishers. And how, in 1994, at the behest of my editor, Fantagraphics co-owner Gary Groth, I took a train across the country to Seattle, the city in which I have lived and worked for the past fourteen years. Though my cartooning output has steadily depreciated over that time, due to both financial and personal considerations, I have always kept my brush in the inkpot, the driving ambitions of my younger days never having completely left me, something I am now reminded of, standing amidst such a wealth of significant cartoon art. 

I’ve spent some two hours, this Saturday afternoon in mid-April, absorbed in the collection, my final return to a show I first viewed on January 26th, its preview night. 
     I am enthralled with the Patton art. This is what I had been hoping to find in such an exhaustive exhibit of arguably the world’s best living cartoonist; comic book pages that rise above their traditional, restrictive, print-ready trappings, graphic art that survives the formality of its museum crucifixion. What is perhaps most striking about this mid-career tour de force is that Crumb has eschewed his usual employment of dense cross-hatching, the turn-of-the-century style most readily recognizable with his art, instead throwing himself into a field of solid black shading and silhouette, evoking a look that in some ways reminds me of the late 1930s and 40s work of Milton Caniff, creator of Terry and The Pirates. Crumb seems to have lost himself in the story, no small feat for a man who has built his career, and its subsequent celebrity, on parading every wrinkle and fold of a prickly id, making himself a literal Woody Allen of the inkpot set. But with Patton, he has become a character actor, suppressing his own identity for the sake of a vivid narrative, the areas of solid ink adding an unprecedented weight to the figures and settings. 
     I find it leagues ahead of earlier work like Fritz The Cat, a comically violent parody of the Disney milieu that, though clearly designed along different ambition, pales when I compare it to Patton’s stoic tale of real murder and mayhem. 
     It brings to light the disappointing fact that I find much of Crumb’s other work to be somewhat static in this environment. Like much of the original comic book art I have experienced in similar settings, it may be expertly functional, but fails to reach beyond the perimeters of its form. Beads of perspiration and bulging eyes are indeed highly effective tools of visual communication, and offer a playful counterpoint to much of Crumb’s heavier, darker bouts of self-degradation, but they are merely narrative glyphs when compared to the gravitas of images like the last panel on PG. 2 of Patton, where the artist portrays the fatigued, forlorn musician, his guitar heavy upon his shoulder, walking like a dead man through the world he once knew, a world all but gone, destroyed by the great Mississippi flood of 1927. 
     It is an amazing, sad, and quietly devastating image, one that pulls upon all of Crumb’s storytelling mettle, but avoids the adopted, old school, slapstick cliché that permeates much of his work.
     This consideration of the impact cartoon pages can have, when framed and hung on a wall, was one of my major points of contemplation upon first viewing the show. I must admit, though I kept it to myself, I came away from the preview with a taste of disappointment, something I am sure will put me in a very small minority among those who have visited the collection. This sense of disillusion did not stem from the exhibit itself, which I feel is a well-designed and successful overview of Crumb’s career, views I’ve previously evoked in an article written for the Beacon Hill News on Feb. 1st. Rather, my disenchantment arose from seeing, for the very first time, the original art to images I was intimately familiar with on the printed page. 
     As a practicing cartoonist, I was thrilled to see how dense the ink appeared, how sparingly Crumb employed correction fluid, how delicate the cross-hatching was, how close to print-size he’d drawn much of his earlier work. Playing the pulp detective, I noted he often pasted-on his showcase and title lettering (indicating a lack of confidence in this discipline, or just another facet of the man’s well-documented, general neurosis?). I also observed how he seemed to be drawing on whatever paper was available during the various stages of his long career, from an abundant rash of graph paper pages throughout 1968, to a literal tear through a spiral sketch pad during the late 70s, a time when he was, perhaps, most out-of-favor and forgotten, certainly in the United States. 
     This was all fascinating to speculate upon, but I was looking, even expecting, to find something else, a force, a sense of the sheer verisimilitude his best narratives effect in their printed form, comics that have thrilled and inspired me for so many years. I literally wanted to be knocked out of my socks, great, greasy beads of sweat ejaculating from my brow, my pupils touching my brain. Ironically, I only derived this result from viewing the inversely naturalistic Patton.
     I left the show, mulling this over, finding it hard not to feel a little bit “had”, if only in the sense that Crumb’s own, oft-quoted, self-dismissive comment “It’s just lines on paper, folks” was now ringing wickedly and ironically true. 
     Carrying this thought with me for the next few days, I couldn’t help but turn my ear when I came across the following quote from cartoonist Jim Woodring: “Seeing that exhibit silenced a gong that's been ringing in my head for 45 years.” I wondered if Mr. Woodring, in his deceptively obtuse manner, hadn’t meant this as a critical observation. Perhaps he had, in fact, been inferring the very personal disappointment I was feeling, a thing we all, of course, experience, to varying degree, when encountering that which has heretofore only been legend. I pointedly haven’t asked him, wishing not “to apply form and time” to his intriguing, elusive remark (to paraphrase a wise observer from a previous posting).

Many of these concerns still fresh in my mind, I recently arranged a chat with the Frye’s head curator,
Robin Held. I asked her thoughts on the relationship cartoon art might have with the traditional viewer of museum art, imagining, even as I spoke, that stereotypical urban sophisticate, readily kneading his whiskered chin in rumination as he stands before a heavily-framed canvas from one the “masters”. 
     Surprising me, by echoing my own, unspoken feelings, Held opined that comics are, in essence, “made for private viewing, on a bus, a couch, it being a personal experience” and how “potentially distancing hanging it on a wall might seem.” It was this very insight that led her to creating the effective, and amusingly ironic, reading area, an alcove adjoining the exhibit, one that features a wonderfully Archie Bunkeresque mustard and brown, plaid couch, accompanied by a standing lamp, both preceded by a coffee table casually strewn with Crumb’s comics and book collections. No mere prop, it is purposed to be a place to excuse oneself from the museum setting, to sit down and experience Crumb’s work in its intended form. Held explained how she “wanted to create an environment where that relationship with the form was in evidence”, which she feels the couch accomplished, along with the books availability in the gift shop “adding to that natural connection with the printed form of the work”. I couldn’t help but notice how utilized the comics on the coffee table appear, their covers bent back, their pages ruffled, just as the couch cushions sit rumpled, forced into the springs, making it all look like more than one shared living room from my past, where no one housemate feels compelled to straighten up. Which brings me to my observations on the crowd, at this, my last afternoon with R. Crumb’s Underground.

I was eager to witness how the greater public, those not familiar with Crumb, or underground comics, would behave when confronted by such potentially offensive works as How To Have Fun with A Strong Girl, Crumb’s notorious illustrated essay, featuring some of his most graphic portrayals of sex, starring himself, and a seemingly somnambulistic girl. 
     First, I watched a couple, both in their twenties, showing no hesitation as they approached the twelve large, individually-framed pages, the woman apparently the most comfortable, stooping low and close to the art, reading every word. Next I witnessed an older couple, both perhaps in their late fifties. The woman stood back, never getting closer than five feet from the art, her arms crossed stiffly. She soon became impatient with her husband, who had been standing about two feet from the art, craning his neck to investigate, a look of the hunted about him, as if he expected to be caught any moment, doing something that was clearly wrong. His wife sighed deeply, before setting off to meet the next offensive barrage, clearly a visitor to the rose garden who hadn’t considered the predominance of thorns. The moment her husband realized he was alone, he inched forward, having one last, better look, before backing off, quickly following his “better” half. I wondered if they’d ever discuss what they’d seen; Crumb’s nerdy, haggard self-depiction, climbing atop the sleepy, giant girl, in order to force his engorged penis into her mouth. 
     According to Held, even some at the Frye were uncomfortable with Strong Girl, a situation necessitating a inter-staff meeting to discuss reactions to the piece. Knowing this, I had to grin a short while later, when I found the following remark in the public comment book, functionally placed on a pedestal among the art. Addressed to Crumb himself, it read: I don’t think you’ll ever read any of this. However, if you someday do, know that you pissed off a fair number of very reserved Seattleites.
     Having less than fifteen minutes to go before closing time, I stood by the comment book, surveying the crowd still milling about, hearing nervous laughter and titters, seeing a few men of Crumb’s generation, sporting grey ponytails, smiling knowingly as they wander from piece to piece, clearly lost in personal recollection. I spot one female attendee who seems to have literally walked right out of one of Crumb’s panels, walking her
Rubenesque form like a badge of pride. 
     Held commented that many girls, women, who had come through the exhibit, were clearly being empowered by Crumb’s representation of strongly-built females, as noted by comments in the book like You can draw me anytime, though I thought This show makes me wish I had more powerful thighs was perhaps more telling. I find the whole positive spin on this a bit willfully idealistic, in that the women in Crumb’s cartoons are the manifestations of an obsessive and patently unhealthy fixation, one readily acknowledged by Crumb himself. Nevertheless, as Held stated, it was encouraging to see such a broad cross-section of the public taking in the art. 
     She also explained how pleasantly surprised she was at the “multi-variance the images offered”, how many different interpretations the public was able to glean from them. Which brings me back to my own feelings about the effectiveness of cartoon art in such a setting, making me realize that my view is perhaps something of a special case, one that could only possibly be held by the very few of us who can honestly list cartoonist for an occupation on our tax forms.
     It’s sometimes easy to forget that most people do not regularly deal with a working vocabulary that makes commonplace phrases like “word balloons” and “spotting your blacks”. The cartooning profession is a peculiar lot to find oneself in, one which more often than not requires an equally peculiar individual, be it during the form’s early twentieth century infancy, the heady rush of the 1960s, 1989, or today. It can be a very lonely discipline, requiring an inordinate amount of the practitioner’s time. For most, the demands are many, the rewards few. Those who do it claim they have no say in the matter, that it is a calling, a compulsion. It was clearly an obsession I too felt, back in those humid days of the late 80s, imagining myself on that sunset drive in the cartoon jalopy, sitting between Robert Crumb and
Bud Fisher, watching Crumb reach behind the rumble seat to produce a bulging, untidy envelope…

“What you got there, Crummy?” asks Fisher, his cigar dancing at the corner of his mouth.
     “Ahhh – just a bunch of lines on paper!” Crumb replies dismissively, holding the envelope over the passing road.
     “Lines on paper?” inquires Elzie Segar, his eyes on the way ahead.
     Roy Crane, sitting beside Segar, turns to regard me with a steely look. “Bob's got the baton,” he says. “It’s his turn – that’s the next generation in his hands.”
     “Whose got bad glands?”asks Jack Kirby, absent-mindedly toying with the door ashtray. Everyone just ignores him.
     “What you gonna do with it, Crummy?” Fisher presses, reaching across me, stretching for Crumb’s arm.
     “Ahh, what does it matter what I do with it? I told you – it’s just lines.”
     “There’s something written on that brick,” offers George Herriman, popping up behind me, having been asleep in the rumble seat. “Sez “THE GOOD STUFF” – I think.”
     “The good stuff?” Fisher queries, swiping for the envelope, which is now dangling precariously between Crumb’s thumb and forefinger.
     “Go on, Bob, we’re almost there, get your pitching arm in order,” declares Crane, pointing to a small, red building, suddenly appearing on the horizon. I see a sign outside. It reads: Cotati Volunteer Fire Department. “Hit the doormat, Dimaggio, the kid’s counting on you!” he urges, giving me another look, his eye softening.
     “On account of WHOSE glue?” 
     “NOW, Bob, NOW!” cries Crane, as we rumble by the firehouse. 
     Crumb sighs, lets the package fly and turns to me, not checking to see if he hit his target. Crane lets out a victorious hoot. Herriman pats Crumb on the back. Segar turns about in his seat for the first time, catching my eye, nodding in Crumb’s direction.
     “Well, what do you say to Mr. Crumb, kid?”
     I stare at my hands, suddenly feeling quite shy. “Thank you, Mr. Crumb,” I manage, keeping my eyes on my lap. “Thank you very much.”
     Crane coughs loudly. “You’re damn right you thank him, kid!” he exclaims, waving goodbye to the little firehouse, with a theatrical flair. “He’s just done you the favor of your life!”
     I grin sheepishly, looking up to catch Crumb’s eye, his usual jaundiced glare evaporating for the briefest of moments. “Just lines on paper – just lines on paper,” he yawns.
     I lean back, closing my eyes, noticing a buzzing sound, growing in my ear. 
     “Cicada time,” chuckles Herriman, pulling a pine needle from my hair. “My very favorite time of the year.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

How The Hulk Got Me on the Radio or Dear Hulk, I Love You, But Maybe This Whole Thing Just Isn’t Working

I love you, Hulk.
     I love how easily you smash through the divisional barriers of our “puny media”.

love you, Hulk.

love how you bound from the blogging epicenter of Boing Boing, to the far reaches of Pacific Northwest talk radio, your seismic leaps upsetting all reason, giving audience to the simple story of Wendy Wilson, a shy, thirteen year-old boy’s comic book siren.

really love you, Hulk.

really love how you force me to perpetuate the grammatically clumsy “got me” theme to yet another post title, how your noisy internet rampage has found the ear of Seattle’s KIRO 710 AM, and Jennifer Andrews and Luke Burbank (is that your real name, Luke?), the folks behind Too Beautiful To Live, the nightly, 7-10 buffet of culture and whimsy. Do you realize they're crazy enough to have me on the air throughout this week, at 7:30, telling, once again, our cheap tale of newsprint debauchery, the sordid love triangle of a boy, a girl, and a gamma-poisoned monster. OK, sorry, I meant “misunderstood” gamma-poisoned monster.

     I think, Hulk, I think that I might actually be falling
in love with you.


     Are you listening to me? That “in” is really important. Do you know what it means? It means I’m going to start making
demands of you, Hulk, it – it means I need you to be attentive, it means I need you to stop seeing Wendy Wilson.


     Don’t you
dare pick up that backyard, Hulk, I just MOWED it!
     Look, Hulk, I’m WAY over Wendy, her black eyes, her black hair, her slim, lovely shape, she’s just a meal ticket now, big guy, a beautiful, exotic, brown-limbed (stay with me, I’m still working under that assumption) meal ticket that’s going to make us FAMOUS. Honest she is.
Hmm? Oh – right – well, OK – so
you’re already kind of famous. What’s that? Which one of us doesn’t have a multi-million dollar movie coming out later this summer? Oh, nice, Hulk, way to GO, making a thirteen year-old kid feel like a miserable wastrel of society. Good job you don’t have any kids, you insensitive, radioactive, upright, bipedal spinach farm! I love you!

     Seriously, Hulk, Wendy's going to make you even more famous, she’ll make you forget all about having to share a trailer with Edward Norton, I promise she will.


     I didn’t mean what I said about preferring it when you become Bruce Banner, really, I swear I didn’t. Doesn’t the fact that I never answered Wendy Wilson’s letter mean
anything to you? What does Wendy have that’s so great anyway? Bracelets? Necklaces? Her “Gibbs Brother’s” records? Come on, Hulk, she’s just using you anyway, I hope you realize that.

     What was that?

     You think
I’m using you? Hah! You make me laugh, you really do. You know what? I don’t need this kind of treatment. Go back to your 30¢ hovel, you great, green galoot – I’m finished with this whole affair!
     Well, almost. First I’ve got to polish my impressive speaking voice for tonight’s “big show”. I think this Jennifer lady kind of likes me. No,
seriously, she does.

Love Always - Jeremy

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thank You, Mr. Crumb, Part 1

1989: It’s early July, a typical mid-summer day in rural Western Pennsylvania, cicadas are slicing the muggy air, their shrill, metallic wing-song guitar to the bass growling of a dozen mowers, while, high above, chickadees and chickarees do battle, a pained orchestra of squeals and squawks issuing from the waving wall of conifers that line three sides of the tidy garden I am standing in, leaning into the shade of a large oak, staring at a postcard I've just pulled from my parent's mailbox. It's from Aline Kominsky-Crumb, cartoonist and wife of Robert Crumb, the king of underground comix. 
     I've recently moved back into my parent’s house, a semi-occasional event, one customarily preceded by a year or two in the city of Pittsburgh, living in artistic poverty, scraping together rent and food money with a variety of unusual jobs. I've fumigated mushroom-strewn, flea-infested slum apartments, posed clothesless before university art students, appeared at wine and cheese functions dressed as a nine-foot tall puppet of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, ridden a messenger bike, emptied cans of cigarette ash and carbon paper, scrubbed toilets, sold records, painted horrible murals at health spas (one featuring a bench-pressing Hulk, no less), and loitered about downtown dressed as a clown. I even held a short-lived stint as staff illustrator for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A sundry of ultimately miserable gigs, activities that crushed and hardened a young heart.
     Having endured yet another run through this odd gauntlet of servitude, broken in both pocket and spirit, I literally headed for the hills, the rolling, thickly-wooded, glacial cuts of Northern Butler County, rural territory among which I’d spent most of my teenage years. Successfully turning twelve months of lunch breaks into a crash course in cartooning, immersing myself in numerous old books on the classic American cartoonists; Roy Crane,
Elzie Segar, and Bud Fisher, among others, I'm now determined to focus on a career in the great inky art, the only thing I can contemplate doing for the rest of my life.
     I’d made my first step towards this goal earlier that year, in April, when the editor of the San Diego Reader had accepted half a dozen strips I’d prospectively mailed her way. These appeared under the banner “A Sleepyhead Tale”, containing quasi-humorous, mostly surreal depictions of my actual dreams. Hesitant, but serviceable, they nonetheless proved popular enough with San Diegans to land me a regular weekly feature, one which ran for almost four years, picking up a few precious additional papers as it went.
     The note Aline Kominsky-Crumb has scrawled across the back of the postcard expresses interest in running a handful of my A Sleepyhead Tale strips in the next issue of Weirdo, Crumb’s infamous and influential cartoon “scrapbook”, a publication both revered and reviled for his generously catholic editorial policy. I'm to be included in issue #27, which Robert and Aline are co-editing.
     I am, understandably, ecstatic at this news. Here is recognition from the “man”, R. Crumb, the
godfather of alternative cartooning.

     My head spinning, I stride about the garden, reading the card over and over, the hum of the cicada now just an echo to my own wing-song of victory. I‘ve
made it, I think giddily, seeing myself heading straight to the top of my chosen profession. A few weeks of perseverance in the clammy studio I’d arranged in my parent’s basement, struggling with a pen, quickly migrating to brush, dutifully attempting to master my chosen craft, and here I was, ready to take my place in the back seat of an imagined balloon-tired jalopy, one driven by Elzie Segar, creator of Popeye. I'd soon be finding myself cavorting, smoking stogies with co-passengers like Roy Crane, Bud Fischer, George Herriman, Jack Kirby, and Mr. Robert Crumb himself, all of us legends in our field, all jammed together, happily bouncing along, headed towards a brilliant cartoon sunset.
     “JER-A-MEE!” comes a sudden, shrill cry, instantly splintering the divine, shattering the stained-glass panels of my four-color daydream. “MY
     “Sorry!” I quickly reply, pocketing the postcard, my brain still racing down that funny paper pathway. I’ve walked right across my mother’s vegetable garden, a minor calamity I should have taken as the first sign of a less-than-smooth ride ahead, for it seems fate has other plans for this rookie ink-slinger.

     It isn’t long before I find myself in the dreary waiting room of expectation, every day looking for another card, word on the imminent publication of
Weirdo #27, but none arrives. The endless, muggy days crawl by, turning into weeks, soon a month, and still no news. Disappointment begins to gather about me, great grey bulkheads, burying my hopes in their shadow.
     Being an all but penniless twenty three year-old, holding neither a driver’s license nor the money to travel, I am stuck in the wholly uncultured northern fringes of the American rust belt, my only connection to the greater art and cartooning world coming in the form of a subscription to the popular trade publication,
The Comics Journal. It’s here, in late summer, that I read the crushing report of the Crumb’s sudden termination of Weirdo and their own flight to the hills, those of rural, Southern France.
     This news leaves me a wreck, a
Schleprock of my own ambitious overdrive, carrying the thunderous, yellowy-green skies of August with me, my heart as heavy as the humidity that seems to cling to the entire world. Nevertheless, having a weekly strip to produce, I carry on, reluctantly bidding farewell to the far-reaching boundaries of my own hope. 
     It isn’t until late fall of that same year that I find myself racing back to those outer reaches of aspiration.

     I receive a phone call, from a friendly-sounding gentleman who introduces himself as “a volunteer fireman and amateur cartoonist from Cotati, California”. His name is
Mark Landman and he’s contacted me after having been sent a thick envelope, a bulging, paper pierogi of cartoons, marked on the outside with a concise “THE GOOD STUFF”. It was from Robert Crumb. Inside were photocopies of all the comics he’d had set aside for that final, fatal, aborted issue of Weirdo. This strange, trans-Atlantic offering had arrived on Mark’s doorstep due to the fact that he’d recently been corralled, by publisher Denis Kitchen, into editing a new comics anthology, a Weirdo surrogate to be named Buzz. Two pages will be set aside for my work, putting me in the company of artists like Daniel Clowes, Jim Woodring, and Drew Friedman, along with Mark’s own pioneering, computer-drawn strips.
     My heart rejoices. The cicada are humming again, even buzzing, you might say. I can make out the snowy peaks of Hope, breaking the horizon. My mind racing, I rush to catch up with that speeding jalopy…

“Slow down, Mr. Segar, I just lost my hat!” I cry, bounding into the back seat, finding myself  shoulder-to-shoulder with Robert Crumb. 
     “Hat schmat, kid, thank yer lucky stars spinach-brain here saw you in time to slow down,” comes a gruff reply. I look to the front, to see Roy Crane, the creator of Wash Tubbs and Cap’n Easy. “Well, are you going to thank the man or not?” he asks. 
     My mind still reeling from the news of my imminent publication, I turn nervously to Crumb, barely whispering, “Thank you, Mr. Crumb, thank you very much.” 
     Crane shakes his head. “What are you thanking that low-brow hippie for?” he grunts, pointedly ignoring any reply I might have in me. 
     But I don’t care, I think to myself, I’m on my way, I’m really on my way!

Wendy Wilson, Comic Book Siren, or How The Hulk Almost Got Me Laid

Hulk #208 was different. I like the idea of Hulk becoming Bruce Banner again and living like a normal person. It’s a nice change from all of that violence with different villains coming and attacking Hulk.
     That was the extent of my first letter published in a “real” comic book, real meaning Marvel, sometimes DC. Anything else was fairly contemptible to the thirteen year-old connoisseur of the form I considered myself to be, back in those halcyon days of the mid 1970s. I was a “true believer”, a pocket money-offering pilgrim to the mighty
Marvel Comics Group, a division of Cadence Industries Corporation.
     The first acknowledgement of this privileged arrangement was the above incisive commentary, written to the editor of
Green Skin’s Grab Bag, the appropriately-titled letter’s page column of The Incredible Hulk. It was the June, 1977 issue, #212, the first appearance of Frank Payne, the super villain known as The Constrictor. Of course, I had to look this up on the internet. I mean, it’s been a few years, I’ve moved on from my comic book relationship.
     Sorry, Hulk, I guess I just outgrew you. Or maybe you changed. It’s hard to say, but the truth is I’m not a nerd anymore, at least not the comic book-reading variety. Really, I’m not. Besides, this little story isn’t about gamma-irradiated giants and costumed bad guys, it’s about a girl.
     Yes. That’s right. You heard me. A GIRL.
told you I wasn’t a nerd anymore.
     Her name was
Wendy Wilson. That’s her actual name, I haven’t changed it to protect anyone’s supposed innocence. I actually don’t believe there was anything innocent about my affair with Wendy, not on either end.
     Wendy lived in Kingston, Jamaica. Her letter arrived in early August, just a few weeks after I’d first discovered my name and address had become a part of the Marvel Universe. Her envelope, a delicate, soft, airmail blue, cut like a cyclone through my introverted, adolescent existence, spewing a flurry of feminine considerations. She told me of her eyes.
Black eyes, she said, with a poetic force beyond her years. She told me of her hair. Black hair, she teased. She told me of her body. Slim build, with lovely shape, she smiled, seeming to literally breathe from the lightly-scented, decorative note paper, stationary that featured an illustration, in the lower left-hand corner, of two Keane-styled children, a boy and a girl, dressed respectively in overalls and a petticoat, tromping barefoot through a pasture of bright daisies. This idyllic drawing was accompanied by a script-written quote: “We’re not the only ones in love… we just think we are”, to which Wendy had coyly added Remember m, remember e, put them together and remember me. She went on to inform me she was, in no uncertain terms, a very pretty and attractive girl, very romantic and fun-loving. She told me her favorite sports were lawn tennis, table tennis, and basket ball (two words in Jamaica, apparently). She told me her ambition was to become an airline stewardess, “otherwise known as a ground hostess”. She told me that, in her spare time, she would be a singer.
     Nearly twelve months my senior, Wendy was, in essence, a fourteen year-old siren, a rock I’d gladly have smashed into, ultimately perishing of starvation, thirst, and delirium. In my already-fevered imagination, one fed on the hyperbole of Smilin’ Stan Lee and the voluptuous curves of
Jack Kirby (the curves of his female characters, not his), I saw Wendy calling me onward, urging me to leave my 25¢ vessel, a flimsy, pulp-hewn, four-color yacht held together by staples, to join her, to lose myself in her smooth, brown limbs.
     Were they, in fact, brown? I’ll never know, but I saw them that way, it helped fulfill the fantasy of a shy, white kid living in rural Pennsylvania. It also did wonders helping me forget the frustration I was currently feeling concerning the lack of focus in David Anthony Kraft’s writing on
The Defenders (that’s one for the nerds out there – hey, fellas? – your mom’s calling you, her walker’s stuck in that gap on the porch again).
     Wendy’s amazing letter continued. My exotic new pen pal princess informed me that she was crowned 1977 Queen of the Year, at Queen’s High School (that seemed a bit too convenient somehow), that she won a medal for singing and acting, that her favorite gifts were rings, bracelets and necklaces, that her favorite singers were
The Jackson 5, Donny and Marie, Olivia Newton John, Johnny Mathis, Debbie Boone, and The Gibbs Brothers (not the Bee Gees in Jamaica, apparently). She also told me her favorite TV shows were Starsky & Hutch, Switch, Happy Days, Little House on The Prairie (that explains the note paper), Medical Center, Family and, inexplicably, something called Testimony of Two Men, which we didn’t get in America.
     By now, you’ve more than likely deduced that Wendy’s seemingly out-of-the-blue declaration of romantic union was, in fact, nothing more than a crazed plea from a raving, island nation lunatic.
     Well, okay, perhaps it was really just a young girl dreaming, fancying herself capable of landing a gullible, younger man, an inhabitant of the all-powerful
United States of America. Reading an A-lost title like the Hulk, I clearly came from a rich, well-established family. Regardless of my current address, we’d obviously be vacationing in daddy's summer home in Nantucket.
     Still, whatever her intent, I was lost at sea, clueless as to how and why I was on the receiving end of such interest, awash in a terrifying mix of fear and lust, two words I only knew from comic books.
     Hi Jeremy, How are you? her missive began. As for me, I am cool. This is my first letter to you and I have seen your name in the magazine.
     The magazine?
What magazine, I asked, curled on my bed, secretively reading her letter for the twentieth time. What was this crazy, Jamaican girl talking about? I’m not in any magazine!
     Then it hit me.
     The Incredible Hulk #212. The first appearance of Frank Payne, The Constrictor, a cover by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chan, the very issue that heralded my short-lived run as an overly-effusive comic book letter writer. I quickly ramped it up from this nervously concise debut, in the weeks to come finding myself rhapsodizing ineloquently to Chris Claremont about the “emotional power” of The Man-Thing mythos, then digging at the editors of Mike Grell’s The Warlord for causing me to become so enraptured by the storyline that I let my bowl of Rice Krispies go soggy while reading in bed – true story, I swear.
     Ah, to live again the life of a teenage comic book fan, to so lovingly sculpt my little communiqués, posting them with the hopes that people I didn’t know might verify their existence by reading them, perhaps even to comment upon them. Sigh. How desperately
quaint we were, not so long ago. How much we’ve all changed. But, please forgive me, I’m completely forgetting my lustful longing for Wendy Wilson.
     How could I do
     I’m sorry, Wendy, I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I’ll buy you a bracelet, tomorrow, before you jet in from your Tokyo layover, to join the cast of
Switch, on stage at Radio City Music Hall. Man, that Eddie Albert can sing.
     But, seriously, I’m talking about Wendy Wilson here. Wendy, the girl who offered herself to me, body and gift list. Wendy, the girl who helped fuel my budding interest in the partly-veiled nooks and crannies of the female body (I love you, Alfredo Alcala) I was able to glimpse in the “mature” black & white comics magazines I was just beginning to sneak into the house.
Wendy. Wendy Wilson. 5 ft, 3 inches tall, weighing 115 lbs. Can you ever forgive me for not responding to your letter, Wendy?
     You have to understand. I was thirteen, I was scared, I was still reading
Super Friends for Christ’s sake! I just wasn’t ready for you.
     Look, I’ll be honest, I was a virgin. One embarrassingly brief letter to
The Incredible Hulk was not the experience you were looking for. I know that now, I suppose I knew that then, but things have changed.
     Wendy, my crowned queen of the stewardess lounge, my sweet, dark, table-tennis nymph, I’ve grown, I really have. My letters found their emotional power in the murky swamps and the soggy cereal of an adolescent ride that has brought me to this, my very first blog post. I’m a MAN now, Wendy, a man who is ready to buy you rings, and necklaces, and Gibbs Brothers records, and run barefoot with you through the daisies. Wendy?
     Wendy Wilson? Are you out there?
     Write sometime, OK?
     You can be coy about it, tell me you ran into my blog by chance. You needn’t admit you’re really a lonely, frustrated, attractive, forty-something, Hulk-reading, singing, Jamaican stewardess, who found me while
Googling “kinky green stuff” on a Friday night. I was listed right beneath nude composting. Nothing to be ashamed of.
     Just let me know you’re out there, that’s all I ask.
     Whatever happens, regardless of if we’re ever to meet, regardless of if I ever have a chance to show you all that Mike Grell taught me about romancing a beautiful, scantly-clad woman, high atop a prehistoric tree, promise me, Wendy, promise me you’ll remember one thing.
     Remember m. Remember e. Put them together, baby, and remember me.
     And answer back real soon, OK?
     Love -