Saturday, May 31, 2008

Confessions of a Comic Strip Terrorist, Part Two, Friends Of the Webbed Legend

Dear Editor,
Regarding the expulsion of Donald Duck from the comics pages of the Butler Eagle: We have waited long enough! Appease the silent majority by returning Donald to his rightful place. The city of Butler has not been the same since old Don was evicted, an ill wind blows down Main Street, hear its plea.
The Growing Numbers of F.O.W.L., Butler Chapter

Catching my breath, I drop the letter into the dark bin, listening for its envelope to hit bottom. I’ve just pedaled some six miles to this particular street corner, one adjacent to a huddle of miserable-looking, red-brick buildings situated at the north east end of Butler, a tired precinct of “spit an’ comb” barbers, moribund five & dimes, and deer skinning boutiques. Pushing away from the mailbox, casting a steady eye about me, I reassure myself I haven’t been seen. Reaching the curb, the front wheel of my bicycle hitting the road with a pleasing thud, I begin to head for home, my mission accomplished.

It is late summer,
1990. I am twenty six years old, the sole member of a secret terroristic organization known as Friends Of the Webbed Legend, an affiliation that places me alongside such notorious agencies of change as The Weathermen and The Black Panther Party, the only difference being that F.O.W.L. is dedicated to reinstating change to the comics page of a daily regional newspaper, not the social and political climate of the western world. That paper, The Butler Eagle, is still helmed by the editor who, some ten years earlier, published, and subsequently possessed, my own comic strip, Flip Rhodun. F.O.W.L. is, in part, my revenge on this philanthropic thief, my method of toying with the sacred structure of provincial journalism.
     I’d begun some two months prior, penning my first letter of protest and outrage, mere days after
Donald Duck had been replaced by Geech, a generally uninspired look at small town life created by the late Jerry Bittle. The Duck strip was an anonymous vehicle of the Disney Corporation, the sort of capitalist beacon a militant cabal like F.O.W.L. should have stood in defiance of, and yet, here I was, championing this faceless cartoon, claiming to admire its classic simplicity, demanding its return through a series of letters to the editor, each increasing the urgency of the matter, issued with a more strident tone.
     It is patently obvious that
Donald Duck has become a surrogate for Flip Rhodun. It is the rising face of a decade-old grievance, a grudge that will take me to rare extremes as I attempt to spare the bird the axe.
     At first, I simply sign my communications with the F.O.W.L. acronym, claiming no allegiance, or affiliation, with Disney. At least one a week appears in print. Soon, desiring to more deeply insert my fabrication into the workings of the paper and its community, I begin to craft responses to my own letters, crediting them to equally make-believe inhabitants of Butler, and the greater Pittsburgh area, colorful locals like Dom and Tam Diggs,
married truck drivers who profess their love for the famous duck, even asking to join F.O.W.L.
     To authenticate this expanding skullduggery, I bicycle some twenty-odd miles, posting the Diggs’ letters where the postmark will stand scrutiny. It isn’t long before I’m pedaling about the county, dropping my “feathered missives” with increasing frequency, spreading my editorial terror. Many never make it to print, but each is an integral chapter in my story, helping to realize the world I am creating.
     As F.O.W.L.’s demands become more urgent, now appearing on “official” photo-copied stationary, letters from actual supporters begin to crop up, more than one following the cryptic literary bent of my own, taking an even more strident tone, threatening to cancel their subscriptions and boycott the paper.
     I have quickly become Dr. Frankenstein, F.O.W.L.
my duck-shaped monster. The only way to stop what I have created, it seems, is for the editor to capitulate and return the sailor-suited drake. This would have been a perfect end to my tale, but, alas, it is not to be. Donald, like Flip before him, is never again to grace the pages of the Eagle. The Friends Of the Webbed Legend fails to meet its sworn objective.

Eventually, I cease the letter-writing, my sympathizers following suit. The ink-stained campaign of public influence quickly fades from view, even as a very different crusade of coercion captures the attention of the country,
George Herbert Bush pointing to his vinegary lips, American tanks rolling into Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein testing his former benefactor’s will by annexing the oil depot known as Kuwait.
     As the vicious heart of a nation reveals itself,
grandmothers calling for blood, a small city in Western Pennsylvania simultaneously succumbs to the iron-fisted rule of a newspaper tyrant, an editor who sees fit to banish a webbed legend from its cultural diet.
     Wisely recognizing that my days as a comic strip master of terror are over, I bid the rascally fowl adieu, unaware that my little exercise in media manipulation will one day come in handy, when I am to venture fresh escapades of literary deception, letting my mind run in wild new places, but that is yet another story, for another time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Confessions of a Comic Strip Terrorist, Part One, “Flip'ed Out” (A Prelude)

It was early summer, 1981. I was a seventeen year-old high school graduate, living near the small Western Pennsylvania city of Butler.
     Named for
Major General Richard Butler, a loser in the 1791 Battle of the Wabash River (the worst defeat in U.S. military history), it was a faded, but proud, no-nonsense, predominantly white, working class municipality, birthplace of the Bantam Jeep, the first all-steel railroad car, professional wrestler Big John Studd, and Bret Michaels, lead singer for the rock band Poison. A community steeped in the legacy of its manufacturing past, it was left brewing in its current economic woes. Its main street, imaginatively named Main Street, was less than two miles long, an impoverished stretch of vacant storefronts and dying businesses, buttressed on one end with patriotic car dealerships, the other with an aging steel bridge straddling the second most polluted river in North America. Situated in the middle of this grim gauntlet of collapsing commerce was the Butler Eagle Building, its beaux-arts, white stone eagles perched in testament to past prosperity. The Butler Eagle, one of the few family-owned newspapers in the United States, was a highly-functioning organ of an otherwise expiring system, an eighty year-old daily boasting a circulation of nearly twenty two thousand. It was within these austere walls of parochial journalism that I was to sow the seeds of my future reign of domestic terror.
     There I was, on a warm May afternoon, sitting in the editor’s office, perspiring nervously, trussed up in an uncomfortably over-sized tweed wool suit, a copy of that morning’s paper poised unopened on my knee, a cup of unwanted black coffee shaking in my hands. “We’re going to give you
Bud Blake’s spot,” the wide-faced and balding, chummy editor explained, slipping into his wide desk drawer the two large pieces of construction board upon which I’d mounted the initial twelve episodes of my masterwork, a daily comic strip entitled Flip Rhodun, one featuring the adventures of a wise-cracking space marine in the 23rd century. “That’s Tiger you’re replacing, you understand,” smiled the editor. “You’ll be on subordination, a trial arrangement. Being printed alone is quite an honor for a young man like yourself.” I simply nodded, my cup clinking on its saucer. One clumsy, sweaty handshake later, I’d naively agreed with the spendthrift, small-time baron of the fourth estate that my first contribution to the history of cartooning was worth more to the people of Butler than me, thus depriving myself the compensation due the creator of a daily comic strip in one of America’s long-standing regional newspapers. For the next eight weeks I gave him the entirety of my creative self, providing a new strip every Monday through Saturday, receiving not a dime for my effort.
     My indentured servitude going smoothly, I was more than happy, despite the fact that the transition from teenage doodler to one of America’s “premiere men of the funny pages” was not quite the
bonanza of social mobility I had imagined it would be. What attention it aroused among my peers was negligible. I continued turning out my amateurish strips, perpetually bewildered to find them printed each and every day, sitting beside the likes of Broom Hilda, B.C., Mark Trail, and Blondie, until, all of a sudden, at the beginning of my second “story arc”, I was unceremoniously dumped, booted at the urging of two angry letters from purported fans of Mr. Bud Blake. The ride was over, my first career in non-profit cartooning had been cut short. I was so unworthy of my former publisher’s attention, I found it impossible to even retrieve the original art to my forty-odd strips, the editor’s office, and its complimentary coffee and papers, now seemingly closed to me forever. I was locked out, forgotten, washed-up, an inkpot has-been at the ripe old age of seventeen.
     Not surprisingly, the experience changed me.
     Acquiring a sense of injustice, I soon grew to realize how I’d been utilized by the machinery of an industry that existed, quite literally, to improve its own circulation. I was the “local boy made good” who was quickly made to disappear.
 I’d entered that regal building an innocent, aspiring boy cartoonist, but I’d left, almost two months later, a man with a grudge, another artist who’d faced the inevitable sparsity of a newspaperman’s soul.
     Carrying the sting of this marketplace baptism with me, I strode into the maw of the capitalist system, regularly confronting new villains and fresh adversity, biding my time, secretly plotting revenge as I methodically empowered myself with knowledge that would serve me well, a decade down the road, when I would return to the hallowed halls of
The Butler Eagle, this time armed, transformed into a diabolical, terroristic mastermind.
To Be Continued

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Art of Interaction, Seattle's Cultural Black Eye

If cities were cartoons, if their personalities were engineered by cartoonists, I would put extroverted metropolises like New York City, Baltimore, and Chicago, firmly in the hands of Roy Crane and Elzie Segar, the creators of Captain Easy and Popeye, two of the most pugnacious characters in the annals of comics history.
     A city like
Seattle, on the other hand, could only be the creation of a contemporary creator like Daniel Clowes or Adrian Tomine, that modern breed of cartoonist whose characters generally think the majority of their interactions, contemplating action and confrontation, rather than actually encountering it.
     I was recently reminded of this diametrical difference between North America’s urban clusters when I was accosted by three burly, bearded toughs, shanghaied on the city docks,
pummeled silly in a hovering cloud of dust, arms and legs flitting about me like mosquitoes, the air blue with spirited cursing, lovingly-drawn skulls and crossbones, daggers, and little bottles of poison hanging over me, all this dynamic interaction leaving me with a battered, bruised noggin’ and popsicle stick, plus a black eye as perfectly splendid in form as anything the funny pages can offer. Really. Honest. It happened.
     OK, I’ll admit, I’m
lying. I wasn’t actually roughed up by tuffs. That sort of thing happens in Hoboken, not the “comfy slipper” of urbanity we call Seattle. The truth is I received my multi-hued blemishes and muscle aches after foolishly attempting to pull on a pair of gloves, speeding down a nighttime street while riding my bicycle, the sort of prank better men than me would have accomplished with aplomb. No Buster Keaton am I. Nevertheless, my tell-tale black eye was brilliantly in evidence the next morning, growing and shifting as the hours and days passed, migrating like an epidermal oil spill, closely followed by the cuts and swelling, all forming a very “cartoony” picture, to say the least.
     Having had my moment of pulpy interaction, seeing stars, my hat and glasses flying off my head, no less, I proceeded about my business in the Emerald City, this demure town I have called home for some fourteen years. I visited the bank, the grocery store, the post office, the zoo, the bicycle shop, the tavern, even the optometrist, and not once was I asked about my royal shiner, my splendiferous shanty,
my gorgeous goog. Not even a subtle hint or polite whisper did I receive. The fine, reserved gentry of Seattle simply avoided it altogether, as if it didn’t even exist. It was a systemic politeness, a courtesy unchecked, a decorum gone mad I decided, after a full week facing this deafening aphonia. I appreciate tact, of course, and don’t wish to have complete strangers poking me in the eye on a regular basis, but this stony wall of avoidance was a bit too much. It made me wonder if Seattleites have any comical spirit at all. What are they so afraid of, I had to wonder.
     Even in a fatgiued municipality like
Pittsburgh, my previous haunting ground, where economic realty has taken the wind out of many a once-vociferous windbag, I would have been on the butt end of at least one good ribbing from a stranger. “Whatcha doo, buddy? Slip in the pisser? Try kissin’ a keyhole? Wake up on the wrong side of yer Granma? Haw, haw, haw.” It would have been downright unfriendly not to have been greeted, at least once in the afternoon, by such a comment. But Seattle had nothing to offer, not even a mundane “I hope the other guy’s eating hospital food.” Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zero.
Jet City ain’t go no zip in its lip, I tell ya. Can this town really be so twisted up in its liberal identity that it’s taken all of the fun out of the inherently comical mishaps of life? Are we so afraid of coming off as something less than a politically correct model of civility and sensitivity that we’ve lost our whimsy, our spirit, our sense of humor? Really, how bad could the truth be, how terrible, how absolutely awful that it makes a city, one known for pointing out the elephant in the room, both political and social, clam up like kids before a broken window? Was it presumed that I’d lost a fight, the subsequent embarrassment having placed me on the teetering edge of suicidal recourse? Or perhaps my wife or girlfriend had given me my “purple mouse” with an impressively-aimed remote, on account of me insisting we watch David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things in lieu of America’s Next Top Model. Maybe I did try to kiss a keyhole (meaning I caught my eye with the doorknob, for those of you who didn’t quite get that one). Or, geez, maybe I really was punched by a loved one or family member, the two being mutually exclusive in such an event. As they say in the “less-enlightened” territories, folks, shit happens, you just have to learn to roll with it. Anyone who has ever been through great adversity or grief knows how precious humor and laughter is, knows that acknowledgement, even in the form of a little teasing, is far better than uneasy silence.

My parents lived through Hitler’s bombardment of England. When I ask them about it they never fail to laugh at the memories; my mother’s father, Papa to me, with his ill-fitting helmet and unwieldy rifle, waddling off up the nettle-lined country hillocks to defend the Queen’s soil, his corn-addled feet the pride of the Home Guard, even as my mother shielded herself under the kitchen table, only a candle for light, German “doodlebugs” shaking the roof of the little farmhouse as they shattered the heavens, on their way to an explosive collision with the buildings and people of London. My father finds great humor in how inadequately prepared Britain was for Hitler’s forces, how easy it would have been, he claims, for the Germans to have crossed the Channel and have taken another sovereign nation, poor Papa not being much to object if they had. Anguish, horror, tragedy, these are the birthplaces of comedy, as any true cartoonist or comedian knows. Even the term doodlebug points to this, the comical moniker having stemmed from the sound the loose shrapnel made as it whirled about inside the Fuhrer’s missiles of destruction.

A man with a black eye wanders into a bar, see? The barkeep gives him one look and reaches out and slugs him in the other eye. “Whot you do that for?” cries the man, sprawled on his keister beneath the bar, blinking like a raccoon. “Saving,” replies the bartender. “Savin’?” asks the man, hugging a stool as he staggers to his feet. “Savin’ whot?” “Saving me the trouble,” grins the keep. “And saving you the cost of a few beers.”

You see, Seattle, you just need to loosen up a little bit. By all means, be sincere, be concerned for the welfare of others, take note of the injustices and inequalities of life, of our plundering civilization and its cadre of rubes and charlatans, and do your good deeds, please, but don’t forget where comedy comes from, don’t suppress that laugh when misfortune offers its moments of slapstick, because it’s going to, whether you like it or not. The news on the front page might well be a crying shame, and most usually is, but that’s why they put the funny pages in the back, to give you some relief. The next time you come across someone with a nice shiner, at least grin and offer them a consoling “Ouch, that’s gotta hurt!” What are they going to do? Punch you in the eye?

(In fond memory of Mike Royko, 1932-1997, a writer who knew when to laugh, and what to laugh at.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Held Walt Whitman in My Arms

I held Walt Whitman in my arms that day I first found him, sequestered within the dirty, dusky confines of an antique mall located in a turn-of-the-century feed barn in the tiny borough of Harmony, Pennsylvania, a settlement founded in 1804 by German pietist Johann Georg Rapp.
     It was spring and he was lying on his back, held fast beneath an overbearing
 J. Edgar Hoover, his spine abutting that of a haggard-looking Vincent Van Gogh. He came cheaply, costing me less than I would shell out for a decent road map today. They all, in fact, came easily, and so I took them, Walter, Edgar, and Vincent, cradling them against my chest, atop nameless others, carrying them from the barn, into the daylight of a time they would never know, a world where, perhaps, their individual wounds of repression and guilt and torment would be allowed some healing. I brought them home, opened them up, and let them into my life, each for a different reason, each serving a purpose of their own.
     Of all my new companions, I soon grew most enamored of the old man, the poet with the haywire, paper-white beard, the sleepy, morning eyes,
the quietly devilish crook of a nose. I sought not to judge him, only to show respect for the effort he put forth in building a life from nothing more substantial than his own muse, but what I subsequently learned of his nature lead me to question and challenge him, just as I had done his moral counterpart, Herbert George Wells, some half dozen years before, when I found the father of modern science fiction coupling with tawdry imposters on a greasy metal shelf in Pittsburgh. For every hour of fading day that Whitman pondered the lines of the hands upon his lap, secretly picturing those of another, Wells was dragging his adulterous carriage across numerous bed chambers, letting loose his boisterous seed, a discharge of genius and pomposity.
There's old H.G. Wells,
lying in bed
with his new housekeeper, hot squid by their side,
glowing with pride,
flushed with exhaustion” – Robyn Hitchcock, from his song “Victorian Squid”.
     This was
1990, a time of encroaching moral repression in the rural township in which I lived. Even though the evangelical Christian crusaders of The Moral Majority had all but dissolved their organization by the time George Herbert Bush stepped into the White House, there was a righteous fever in the air about my community, a heated desire to vanquish all heathen urges, America’s puritan heart reasserting itself at the end of the century.
     These signs of a “Babylonian collapse” materialized themselves as a small, concrete-block building on the old highway running directly south to Pittsburgh. This bunker-like structure held our township’s very first
adult book shop. It didn’t take long for a local, torch-wielding mob to form, gathered about the fervent ministrations of a local man of the cloth. Soon, they had the police making regular raids upon the tiny business, eventually arresting the tending clerk for selling immoral materials, a nefarious charge stemming from recently-drawn anti-obscenity laws. It didn’t seem to bother any of the moralist vigilantes that the individual who took the brunt of their attack, who spent more than a few months in prison, was a fifty eight year-old grandmother.
    Angered and frustrated by these events, I one day noticed a new billboard, appointed roadside prominence not more than two miles from where the now-shuttered bookstore stood. It was part of a national campaign designed to humiliate the “users” of pornography, to shame those who, through personal and societal circumstance, sought to facilitate their natural sexual compulsions the only way available to them: through magazines and films. One tag line of this witch hunt, “
Real Men Don’t Use Porn”, was emphasized with a line-up of stern-looking women, Olympic Gold Medalist Jackie Joyner Kersee among them, all standing shoulder-to-shoulder, looking out from the gaudy tableau of outdoor signage, giving all who passed by the reproachful stare of a shocked and disapproving schoolmarm. This atmosphere of moral turgidity swirling about me, I immersed myself in the book which was resting atop the tall pile I’d exited the dark antiques emporium with that late spring day; Walt Whitman, A Life, by the masterful biographer, Justin Kaplan.
     An astonishingly intimate and admiringly thorough account of the life of America’s “poet of democracy”, this 432 page volume led to my reading and absorbing all I could of Whitman, revisiting the weathered paperback copy of Leaves of Grass I’d had since my early teens, steeping myself in what I soon realized was an ultimately sad and repressed existence, Whitman never being able to make tactile his longing for the young men who accompanied him on his various literary pursuits and undertakings. His was a desire uncorked, passion left to simmer and boil its way into the very heart of his poetry, those magnificent, earthy,
delicately-rooted plots of verse that evoke so much of what he dared not speak with his tongue. It was only a matter of time before these fascinating realizations found their way into my cartooning.
     I began in
1993, with “Walt Whitman’s Super-Hero Daydream”, appearing in the first issue of Whotnot!, my quarterly comic from Fantagraphics. Here I offered a coy commentary on Whitman’s self-repression, as viewed through the lens of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s infamous Seduction of the Innocent, his investigation of the “morally-unhinged” comic book industry, harbinger to the 1954 Senate Committee Hearings to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, and the industry’s formation of its own dubious Comic Code Authority. It was a cartoon I was later informed had been enjoyed so much by a literature professor at Auckland University that he’d photocopied and enlarged it, displaying it on his classroom wall. The next Whitman piece I felt compelled to create was entitled “Young Walt Sees A Skull With Hair On It”, a somber, one-page rumination on the poet’s early career in journalism, a cartoon I shelved, deciding it wasn’t appropriate for the tone of Whotnot! I next utilized Whitman in 1994, featuring him as one of four sad sack bards in “Poetry Does Not Pay”, a centerpiece from Whotnot! #4, the last issue of the series. This was a four-page parody of the pre-Wertham crime comic milieu, specifically the title Crime Does Not Pay and its strident, righteous tone, one ironically echoed in the “Real Men Don’t Use Porn” campaign. A year later, I eventually found a home for “Young Walt”, placing it in the first issue of my new series, A World Of Trouble, published by Black Eye Productions.
     It was this story in particular that recently caught the interest of
Robert A. Emmons Jr., Associate Director of the Honors College at Rutgers University-Camden, and a teacher of film, media studies, and comics history. As a regular contributor to the respected online academic journal, Mickle Street Review, a quarterly publication dedicated to the study and illumination of Walt Whitman’s work and life, Emmons has written a exceptionally thorough examination of the three above-mentioned cartoons and my work-born relationship with the man who is held by many to be America’s foremost poet of the emotional, that ever-confounding and fascinating junction of what we call the brain and the heart. I recommend visiting Mickle Street Review Issue 19/20: Sights and Sounds, where you will find Emmon’s insightful piece, as well as many other fascinating articles upon the influential poet.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Letters From Hell, You Dig?

All of the attention garnered by my post, that concerning Wendy Wilson and the letter she sent to me back in 1977, has inspired me to investigate other saved ephemera in my dusty morgue of curiosities, notably publications that feature letters from readers. Filing through a great variety, everything from a 1939 issue of Popular Mechanics, to British, soccer-themed comic books from the 60s, to the March 1970 issue of Aramco World Magazine, featuring Nabil Fawzi, the Saudi Arabian Superman, I eventually came across one periodical, the letters of which I found to be astonishingly rich, missives steeped in the linguistic, social and geo-political nuances of their time, magnificent cultural blips that flippantly, but strikingly, mark the epoch of an era we know as the Vietnam War.
     The publication in question is the July
1970 issue of Hot Rod Cartoons, a magazine-sized comic book title that was published from 1965-1974, by the Patterson Publishing Company of Los Angeles. This is an item from my own youth, part of an accidental, and temporary, divergence in my reading habits, one resulting from confusion on my mother’s part when confronted with an extensively-stocked magazine stand, intending to buy her sick, bed-ridden son something with which to ease the boredom. It was the first issue of Hot Rod Cartoons I had ever experienced.
     It wasn’t that I didn’t like cars. Quite the contrary. I had as many
Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars as anyone on the block, perhaps more. I made models of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme’s famous dragster, I incessantly drew “souped-up” hot rods belching clouds of smoke. I was, like most boys my age, of the general mind that cars were pretty darn cool things. What made me unfamiliar with Hot Rod Cartoons (and its sister title, Car Toons) was its strange, off-putting nature. The content of the stories being cars, and the people who drive and race them (often at the same time), made for narratives built entirely around a mature populace. There was hardly a child to be found within their pages. But, unlike Marvel or DC, and their ever-growing litany of super hero titles, these were cartoons of a familiar, pedestrian nature, mainly featuring grown men tinkering with their garaged hot rods or troublesome, driveway-devouring jalopies. They were speaking directly to car enthusiasts. They were, in essence, comics for adults, or near-adults, an all but unique thing on the American landscape of the early 1970s.
     The end of the war still some three years away, it isn’t hard to imagine copies of
Hot Rod Cartoons stuffed into the mud-caked field packs and ammo belts of young GIs, the Camaro and Charger fans mired in that wretched mess. It is their letters I’ve come across, numerous pages of them, the editors of HRC apparently recognizing the extraordinary lot of the majority of their readership, posting these war-scene missives as a public service, a newsprint bulletin board, a means by which the torn, and tired, and homesick, could share an unquestioning love for their cars and their girls, those universally-held, potent reminders of a world they had been so irrevocably removed from.
     Contemplating the fascinating variance of public correspondence, while reflecting on my own past experiences in this realm, and the recent rash of blogging comments and e-mail communications I have been receiving, I thought it might be illuminating to take a look back, some thirty-eight years, to a time when computers weighed as much as
Chevy, and were about as big. The following selection of letters comes from the very issue of Hot Rod Cartoons I disappointedly flipped through that long day home from school, a seven year-old whose cognizance of the reality of war extended no farther than the tiny bandages he’d wrap about his G.I. Joe, daringly pricking his own finger to draw blood in order to authenticate his soldier’s wounds.
     In order to make things a bit more interesting, I’ve fabricated a small percentage of the letters. It’s up to you to see if you can enter the mindset of these young writers, and the epoch of their times, enough that you might be able to spot the
forgeries. The list of fakes can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the right hand side column. But let me warn you, it isn’t going to be easy, for the actual letters are often as surreal and obtuse as anything I, or anyone, could imagine.
     NOTE: In keeping with the spirit of the times, I have included the full names and mainly military addresses, just as they were printed, feeling that if all were “cool” with it then, they wouldn’t mind now. My apologies to any who aren’t. I’ve left in any grammatical slang, but have attempted to fix all misspellings. It seems that good proofreaders were hard to find in 1970. Perhaps they were all in the fields and jungles of the
Indochina Peninsula, desperately trying to cover over someone else’s mistakes.

I’m a grunt in Vietnam. I’m the guy who finds the bunkers, pursues the enemy, captures the village, crosses the swamps, and kills the mosquitoes. I’m also the guy most people have seemed to forgotten. I’m infantry all the way. I found your cool mag one day (in the middle of nowhere). So, here I am. I’ll write to anyone – male or female, 5 to 500 years old.
551-78-8210 1st Cav. Div. (AM) Co. D, 5th BN, 7th Cav. APO San Fran., CA 96490

I’m 22 and in the hospital for wounds I received in Vietnam. I dig V.W.’s and Fords. Split window Volks are especially my bag, ’54 and below. Any gals 16-1600, none older please, care to write?
Dewitt Hospital 2-A, Fort Belvoir, VA 22060

Air Force, that’s me, dropping the Uncle Sam everywhere I go. Over here for the Nam and thinking about my ‘Vette back stateside. Reading Hot Rod and Toons every chance I get, but bustin’ merits and tradin’ cigs ain’t much of a life. In dig on anyone, especially gals, who knows a Ford’s place on the road is the shoulder, dig? Write and I’ll reply, guaranteed.
129-96-8003 Box 9447 APO San Francisco, CA 93623

Isn’t there any way you can keep them little kids from writing in and giving a bunch of bologna about what tuff cars they got and how they drag everybody around? Personally, I groove on Fords and V.W.’s. Last but not least, all I want to say is “shame” on all you guys that write in and beg a bunch of weird girls to send you letters, just so you’ll be getting something in the mail.
4900 W. 17th Ave. Denver, CO 80204

I think your magazine is great. I am a 17 year old girl, and I would like to write to boys 18 and over, from anywhere.
185 Victorial Rd., Oulton Broad, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England

I want to let everyone back home know that dragsters in the muck over here don’t have any chutes. It’s all straight racin’, you don’t stop until you drop. Pappy, I’m homesick and miss the girls from Cuyahoga. Write this schmuck and make it better, alright?
G-3 Combat Operations C USASATR, Fort Devens, Mass. 01433

We’re just a couple of slap-dillin’-slobbies just skitchen yore rag. Durin’ our eyeballin’ session we taught about having a couple of skibby gails type friends who rubersap Fords and need Chevies to Live & Love. Help! We need scribbles from dolls!
U.S.N. Hospital, Pavillion 13, Newport, RI 02840

I’m a G.I. from Florida. And I’m not having much mail coming my way. Any gals from 8 to 80, dumb, deaf, or crazy and would like to write, I’ll be sure to answer your letters. I’m 18 years old and dig fast cars. Any of you gals like Chevy’s?
263-96-4332 4th Ord. Co. APO New York, N.Y. 09059

What a wild scene, Pappy! I’m an amateur racer and my plugs are shot! What’s a guy supposed to do to get a subscription to your groovy mag? I’m finished with Uncle Sam but track work is hard to find. Would appreciate a gurl with a home I can settle into, no steady place currently for this bug-slapper from Kentucky. I’m 27 and like them younger. Believe in the truth and I’m yours, baby.
c/o R.C.W.H Shelbyville Hwy. Murfreesboro, Tenn. 37130

Hey, you Mini-T Dropout; what’s the bad scene with the subscriptions gig? Like I’m heading for the Great Big War soon, and then what do I do, huh Brain? You gotta help me, Pappy. A couple of well chosen words for Ford people: You had better write your will, baby, Chevy rules! Any girls, please write. Especially Debbie from Tampa, Fla.
Box 5094 Homestead A.F.B., Fla. 33030

How goes the world? I was just setting here in my sand bagged underground bunker at F.S.B. JANE (Fire Support Base) in the middle of the jungle, killing you’d never guess, FLIES! Hoping that maybe you’d print a thank you note for the November ish of HRC. In reply to my ad I got 133 replies. Unfortunately, though, one nice looking chick that’s a movie star forgot her address. I don’t even know her name. But she lives in Hollywood Hills, California. Any girl type out there wanta write to a PFC in the Artillery that’ stuck out in the boonies right near Cam Boonies? If I can’t answer it, I’ll find someone who can.
C. Btry. 6/27th ARTY APO San Francisco, CA 96221

I’m a Mopar lover from way back, but what I miss more than those big hemi’s are the big beautiful girls that I seem to remember from back home. Memories are all I have left. Would appreciate any sweet young thing who would devote a few minutes of her precious time to refresh my memories. I’m from Indianapolis, Ind. But regretfully, have been in Germany for about a year.
Box 64436CSG AF 68114787, APO New York 09132

To put it straight, I’m out here in Nam and need some LETTERS!
19 TASS Bx 11205 APO San Francisco, CA 96227

Friday, May 2, 2008

Answer Me Back Real Soon

Note: This will be my final post directly concerning Wendy Wilson, the girl from Jamaica, the girl who came into my life, some thirty-one years ago, through the letters page of The Incredible Hulk, a girl whose romantically-potent letter I was afraid to answer. If you are not familiar with the story, please read my postings of April 25th and April 28th, where you will find links to many of the places this innocent little story traveled, growing tangents as it traversed the electronic byways of the internet, finally bringing me to the world of radio, specifically KIRO 710 AM’s Too Beautiful To Live, where, this very evening at 7:30 I am scheduled to offer a farewell commentary on my long ago, paper-bound affair with a girl named Wendy Wilson.
     In a way, I suppose I’ll miss Wendy. How can I now ever truly forget my high-achieving mystery girl from the islands, the future ground hostess and professional singer, her black hair and black eyes, her “lovely built with slim shape”, or was that “slim built with lovely shape”? Does it really matter? We’ve moved on now, we’re both theoretically touching the middle of our existence, the current of life having carried us so far from the late
1970’s, those long, endless days when a boy and a girl could wile away the hours, reading comic books and writing letters, imagining possible futures, offering up gift lists, craftily positioning themselves for marriage into an American family, dreaming of a future in that fabled land of opportunity, where the roads are gold and the jewelry shops never close, where men are men and have the courage to answer the letters from strange girls. Ah, the innocence of youth, where ever has it gone?
     To bring some sense of closure to this strangely-protracted relationship, one I inadvertently renewed while entering the world of blogging, let us travel back to those idyllic, adolescent afternoons, and imagine a different course was taken. Let’s pretend I had the courage and curiosity to have penned a reply to Wendy’s letter. Let us witness the correspondence of a thirteen year-old boy named Jeremy, a boy who appreciated those rare, quiet moments in the life of
The Incredible Hulk.
     A weird kid, I know, but I guess he was Wendy’s type.

Hi Wendy,
     I am cool. It was neat to get your letter. I think you read my name in The
Hulk. It was my first published letter. I wrote to Marvel Two-in-One and Ghost Rider too but they didn’t print those ones. I told them they ruined Ghost Rider when they changed him from a chopper to a racing motorcycle. What comics do you read? I guess you read Hulk because you saw my letter in it. Do you read Marvel and DC, or just Marvel? I mostly read Marvel these days, but still collect some DCs, but only if they're good, like Secret Society of Super-Villains.
     I started becoming a collector just a few months ago. Comic collectors collect comics for trade and sale and also to try to get every one. Do you have collectors in Jamaica? The DC titles I collect now are because I got their #1s and decided to begin collecting all of them. It’s fun, though sometimes it isn’t easy. I had
Steel The Indestructible Man #1 but missed #2 at the newsstand where I go on Wednesdays to get new comics. My brother is going to the prom with the girl who works there. She lets me go in the back and open the packages of new comics before anyone else. But I still didn’t get Steel #2 because she didn’t get it either. She says it’s up to the distributor to send them but they didn’t. Anyway, I finally got it because my dad had a business trip and found it in a coffee shop at the airport. He got two of them, one for me and one for my little sister. She started collecting when I did but didn’t even like comics before. She only collects Steel The Indestructible Man, Firestorm, and Howard the Duck. I think she’s just copying me. She doesn’t write to letters pages or anything like I do. She couldn’t walk for a while because her knees were growing wrong and she had to have cortisone shots in them and stayed home from school. I had to stay with her because my grandfather died and he lives in England and my mum had to go there for the funeral and my dad was away on business. We had soup and sandwiches on the living room couch and made paper airplanes, the coolest ones in the world, that my art teacher showed me how to make. We drew our favorite heroes on them and then had a contest to see whose could fly farthest across the living room. I had to fetch every one we threw because my sister couldn’t get up, but I didn’t mind. It was fun. Her best plane was Spider-Woman. She likes Spider-Woman too.
     Anyway, this is my letter back to you. I live in Western Pennsylvania. We have big cornfields everywhere and raccoons and wild turkeys and giant vultures that eat dead things on the road. I play soccer on a local team. I used to live in Strathblaine, Scotland, GB, where we played soccer all the time, but we called it football. Do you play soccer in Jamaica? I have black hair like you, but it’s shorter, I think, because I’m a boy. I also run and race my bike. My dad and big brother and little sister all race our bikes. We travel hundreds of miles and usually miss school part of Fridays and Mondays during racing season. On TV I like
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Man From Atlantis, Gemini Man, Lucan , The Return of Captain Nemo and sometimes The Hulk, but it isn’t as good as the comic. The Hulk on TV is too small and not really very strong. I do art and writing for my hobbies and will be a comic book artist and/or writer when I am older, also I will have an inground swimming pool and my own zoo that’s just for insects. I got an ant farm for being brave when I got my tooth out in three pieces, but the bottom came loose and all the sand trickled down into my book of The World of Military Tanks and Machinery, because that’s where my ant farm was sitting on top of. The sand made the pages go all brown and sticky. My dad says it was because the ant’s poop in the sand, but I was mad it happened. I have a Planet of the Apes garbage can. It’s from the TV show, not the movies, but they cancelled the show when I was still liking it. For music I like T Rex, Procol Harum, Sweet, Elvis Presley, The Lemon Pipers, Boris Pickett, The Beatles, Frankenstein by Edgar Winter Group and Disco Duck. I also like my big brother’s records of Deep Purple, but he always stays in his room so I can’t get them.
     Well, this is my first letter. I hope you like it and write back. I didn’t put a picture in because I didn’t tell my mum and dad I was writing to you and they have all our school photographs in their closet where I can’t get them.
     From, Jeremy

PS  I like your slim built with lovely shape.