Friday, November 30, 2012

100 Years

Last time out, I talked about Edgar Rice Burroughs and my love of his creations, Tarzan and the Warlord of Mars. both of those characters were first published in 1912. A quick pass by the calculator verifies my math... both characters turn 100 years old this year.

There aren't that many characters that have such lengthy pedigrees. I think there are a couple of factors for that. One is the medium. Getting new generations to read a book that you loved in your childhood is much more difficult than getting them to watch a TV show that you're nostalgic about. The medium of our entertainment has changed so drastically in the last 100 years, I have to think that we'll see more and more characters outlasting normal lifespans. And the cycles starting. Properties that were popular in the eighties like GI Joe, Transformers, and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles are seeing new life now that the kids that enjoyed them so much twenty-five years ago are parents themselves with money to spend and memories to share.

Another factor that can help a character last through the generations is change. I've talked about this before with the saga of Buck Rogers ( and how change is difficult for that particular character. I've briefly touched on that with Superman.

The change in Superman has been well and thoroughly documented before. But in case you're unaware, let me explain. During his debut in the 1930's, Superman was very anti-establishment and a hero of the poor and suppressed. In the 1940's Superman fought Nazis and war saboteurs. In the 1950's he was very much an establishment figure and a duly deputized member of law enforcement. The 1960's saw slow change for Superman and he suffered for it, quickly gaining a reputation as a tired old hero of former generations. In the 1970's his popularity surged again with the Superman movie. In the 1980's he and his alter-ego Clark Kent were completely rebooted, all their history jettisoned, and they were re-imagined for a 1980's older teen audience. In the 1990's, Superman died, came back, grew a mullet, changed powers, and did absolutely everything to stay relevant.

The point is that the most enduring characters, especially those backed by money making corporations, are always changing. Superman, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man, and more.

I read a line recently (I apologize, but I can't find the original material) that suggested the story of Tarzan only works in 1912. The thought is that in today's day and age with how much our jungles have been explored and with our current technology that the story of Tarzan is just not believable.

Come to think of it, I haven't seen many versions of Dracula that cast him in a modern-day environment. There have been plenty of updated retellings of the story, but most of them cast the character in the era in which he was originally imagined. Nevertheless, the character proves to be too popular to fade away.

I remember seeing Roy Rogers old television show for the first time with my father-in-law. There was a jeep! The famous western cowboy was set in the modern day 1950's! This really surprised me, as I thought of all western characters being from the old west era. Seeing Roy ride Trigger next to his sidekick in a jeep was a little unsettling for me.

In the 1940's, there was a series of Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and set in the modern day. The first time I saw Sherlock Holmes fighting to stop Nazi plots, I was a little unsettled. It seemed odd and out of place, but ultimately worked. And it was obviously very natural for the audiences of the time.

Part of the reason Superman sees change so much is that he has seen continuous, unbroken publication every month since his first appearance in 1938. Few characters have this advantage and even fewer mediums offer that kind of opportunity. So to comics fans, change in characters is nothing new.

But could you picture Tarzan with an GPS? Dracula being discovered because his image doesn't appear on an iPhone screen? Sherlock Holmes fighting modern day killers and criminals?


P.S. And yes, I know all those things have happened. That's part of the point.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Edgar Rice Burroughs

As I may have mentioned before, and you may have picked up from my subtleties, I don’t read many books. I read constantly, just not many books. And the books I do read are somewhat dated.

Loaded on my iPad for reading at some point are a couple of books on the history of comics, the complete Sherlock Holmes, the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft, the collected Allan Quartermain, the complete works of Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan), some of the original James Bond novels, and pulp stories of the Shadow and Doc Savage. So as you can see, when I do stretch into genres and mediums other than super-hero comic books, I don’t exactly stretch very far.

One of the books on my iPad that I’ve been enjoying the most is the collected works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. If you don’t know, Burroughs created Tarzan. He also created John Carter, Warlord of Mars and other characters. But Tarzan is the one that has been rooted into our consciousness as part of the greater American mythology.

I’ve always kind of taken Tarzan for granted. As a kid, I remember the adults at a party tuning the TV set into an old black-and-white Tarzan movie in order to keep me still and quiet and out-of-the-way. As it turns out, the movie didn’t hold my interest as much as my buddy’s Millennium Falcon toy ship and the promise of science fiction adventure.

I vividly remember the Tarzan Filmation cartoon from 1977. I loved that cartoon and it ran for a few years. I even had a t-shirt with an image of that particular version of Tarzan. Although I can find no evidence that the t-shirt ever existed outside of my memory. I remember running and playing and yelling and pretending to be Tarzan. And I vividly remember the mechanics of the animation techniques used by Filmation and how much of the same movements were used by Captain Kirk, Batman, Lone Ranger, and Flash Gordon during their Filmation cartoons. I believe the Filmation studio had the greatest of respect for these time-honored characters, and that sense of respect is something I latched onto at an early age.

A couple of years ago I bought the collected works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and read the first Tarzan novel on my iPad. It was the first time I had ever read the original work, although I had been wanting to read it for awhile. Reading the novel really caught me off guard. With a property like Tarzan that has been told and re-told and re-told in movies, comics, television, and radio dramas, you don’t really expect to be caught off guard by the original work. Yet it was different from any version I had ever seen, and it was expressly violent. I can definitely see why it was so popular and why it has continued to be popular even through to today.

Another character Burroughs created is John Carter, Warlord of Mars. Tarzan has had a definite and lasting impact on our culture. And so has the John Carter character, although his effect is much less obvious. You can stop anyone in the street and they’ll know about Tarzan. Not so much the Warlord of Mars, although he did have a major motion picture earlier this year. The effect that John Carter has primarily had has been as inspiration for other works. Most famously notable is as one of the inspirations for Star Wars. In reading his adventures, you’ll find themes and situations very familiar to your 2012 self that would have been alien, fresh and new when reading the novels in 1912.

I’ve read the first two novels starring John Carter, the Warlord of Mars. And I was very impressed. For me, the work was definitely edge of your seat high style adventure.

I talk a lot about works like Tarzan and Warlord of Mars being ‘important’ and having a ‘lasting impact on our culture’. Even as I write that, I’m not entirely sure what I mean by it. I do feel that these characters and others are important to us on a cultural level. But even as I say that, my Grandmother appears on my shoulder in phantom form and reminds me that not everyone gives a hoot about such flights of fantasy. I guess for me the importance is twofold. The first aspect is how these characters have generated other characters and stories through powerful inspiration. Tarzan, Dracula, Superman, and Sherlock Holmes inspired entire genres of imitators.

The other aspect of importance, in my opinion, is the building of a shared culture. I feel that using these characters, I can connect with others on a certain level. Even if not directly, I can use their meaning to me to explore what’s important to someone else. As a devout comic book collector and character historian, I’m highly aware that no one I work with or hang out with really wants to talk about all that. But I do know that they must have something that’s important to them that they do want to talk about. And many times it’s exploring those avenues where I can find a connection.

So tell me, what cartoon’s did you watch as a kid?


Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas in the 1940's

I've have this odd association between Christmas time and the 1940's. It's hard to say exactly why, or when it started. And I've often wondered if others experience a similar effect.

For awhile, whenever I saw a black and white movie it would make me feel a little Christmasy. And in reading about history, I would wonder how those people and those cultures celebrated that time of the year. It's as if my brain uses the Christmas holiday, or the various variations, as a common ground with which to relate to those other people and other cultures.

The reason I wonder if this feeling is shared or local to my head is that I'm most guilty of doing it with comic books. The Golden Age of comics, from 1938 to about 1953. For the longest time, whenever I read one of these older stories it would feel Christmasy to me even if the story had nothing to do with Christmas.

The reason for this is easily discernible. Christmas reprints. Comic books have a long history of casting their characters in Christmassy settings and situations in the month of December. When I was a boy, two Christmases in a row I got the large Treasury editions of Christmas with the Super-Heroes in my stocking from Santa. I read and re-read and re-read these comics until they were threadbare. They consisted mostly of reprinted stories from the forties. I guess these multiple readings created the association in my head between old comics and Christmas.

The need to relate to people through their celebration of the holiday and the constant presence of super heroes in my life kinda combined in my head. I think the Christmas entertainment I enjoy most is the kind that takes a set of characters that you enjoy year round and showcases them in a Christmas setting. The Christmas episode of Magnum P.I. I always loved the holiday episodes of That 70's Show. The Christmas Jack Benny episodes. And, of course, the Star Wars Christmas special. something that I've never had the bravery or strength of character to get all the way through.

At some point the feeling switched. I started reading and enjoying so much various entertainment from that era that I no longer associated the 1940's with Christmas. But I still associate Christmas with the 1940's.

I think one of the reasons that I associate Christmas with the 1940's and 1950's with Christmas is that it's really a holiday driven by nostalgia. Growing up, we became familiar with the movies and traditions of our parents, who were experiencing the holiday through their own nostalgia. Constantly playing It's a Wonderful Life and listening to Bing Crosby. Even as adults, we've started to overly our own childhood nostalgia onto our kids. How many of you have played Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer or the Charlie Brown Christmas special for your children? Perhaps when they are our age, they'll associate the holiday with the seventies.

Which is.... awesome.

I got a Space 1999 Eagle ship with figures one year. Nothing's more seventies than that.

In closing, it's time to lay another one of my quirky obsessions down on you. We talked about Christmas comics already. Well, a few years ago I became consumed with the idea of cataloging out the Christmas stories in comics. I started a spreadsheet, natch. And catalogued all the stories I could think of or find in my box of Christmas comics. Then I hit the wonderful Grand Comics Database at and searched for any story title containing "Christmas", "Holiday", or "Santa Claus". I've built quite the least, but it's no where near complete and I'm still finding and adding stories.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Collecting T-Shirts

As I’ve spoken about before, I’ve mostly stopped collecting physical objects. Mostly. At any rate, the collecting of physical objects is WAY down from years previous.

So why do I keep buying t-shirts with super heroes on them?

I have no idea, really. There is no practical reason. I’ve never been a snappy dresser, never really been a t-shirt guy. Clothes have always been an annoying necessity for me, not things to adorn myself with or use to draw attention. In my college and bachelor years, I wore whatever I could get for cheap at K-Mart or Wal-Mart that would actually fit me. This was before they made all these super hero t-shirts readily available on the internet and in my size: GM (Gigantic Mutant).

There’s the vague idea that hipsters might think it’s cool to have some obscure comic character on their chest. But me? I love the obscure comic character. That’s why he’s on my chest. But…. But… it’s not exactly as if I spend the day looking at my chest.

My Aunt Melodee has noticed this less-than-redeemable habit of mine. She’s been quick to point out in whispery fashion to my cousins “Look Look…. I told you he would wear something comic booky.”

Yes, she used the word “comic booky”. I’m sure she just meant ‘weird’.

I also have no need for posters anymore. I have a metric ton of comic book posters, but not exactly a wealth of wall space. So while we’re slowly building the addition with what will eventually be my new comic book room, I don’t know yet if I plan to put up any posters. I DO have an excellent Aquaman fathead I got as a Christmas present one year and I’ll definitely be putting that up. But posters? I don’t know yet. Haven’t decided. Maybe I’ll get one or two frames and put up framed posters of just my favorites. Or maybe I’ll set up a rotation schedule and change the posters out periodically. I’ll need a spreadsheet. And an iPhone reminder….

… you see the problem.

One of the reasons I don’t feel the need for posters anymore is because I have a computer. I set the screen saver to a particular file location I have on my computer and it cycles through the comic book images I’ve stored up over the years. No need for a poster when I have a multitude of favorite images scrolling by on the computer screen.

So why the t-shirts?

Perhaps the image I’m sporting is not for me. Perhaps I’m subconsciously wearing these things for other people. What am I saying to the world?

“I like Batman”?

“I’m unique because I have a Mr Miracle t-shirt and you’ve probably never even heard of him”?

“If you’re a young, attractive female please don’t consider me worthy mating material because not only am I married with kids but I can’t dress myself as if I’m a normal human adult male”?

“I need a walk-on part on Big Bang Theory”?

My wife hates the t-shirts. She pretends she doesn’t and everything’s good, but she’s clearly not a fan. The only thing she hates more is the Flash wallet my sister got for me last Christmas. She also used to hate that I read comics in the doctor’s office waiting room. She hates any indication I outwardly make that marks me as not the most socially acceptable dude on the planet.

SO PLEASE… if you have any insight into this behavioral anomaly at all, lay it on me. My wife and I are desperately looking for a cure.


P.S. I can hear my father now… “Stop buying the shirts, idiot.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jack Benny and the Two Thanksgivings

Thanksgiving. So starts the time of the year when I REALLY start to get nostalgic for times that I never lived in. I'll explain that by starting with Jack Benny and the two Thanksgivings.

I was on the treadmill at the gym listening to Jack Benny radio shows, as per usual. The cast was telling jokes about the two Thanksgivings this year. Huh? What? Jack was debating how to best use this situation in order to save some money and still come out looking generous. Huh? Two Thanksgivings?

I learned from the cast that the President, Franklin Roosevelt at the time, had changed the date of Thanksgiving. Furthermore, despite this Presidential decree many families were still celebrating the old date for the Holiday.

So I hit Wikipedia to learn some more.  It's kind of an ironic story. Apparently, in 1939 Thanksgiving was landing on November 30th. The Thanksgiving tradition until then had been to celebrate the holiday on the last Thursday of the month. The retail community was complaining because this would put the holiday too late into the year to properly kick off the Christmas shopping season. And with the depression on, retailers needed to get every little bit of help they could get.

And... get this... it was considered wrong to decorate and start selling Christmas product before Thanksgiving.



Lemme repeat that from a different angle. Retailers in 1939 were so concerned about sales that they actually lobbied to have the holiday moved, rather than show bad taste and start decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving.


This is a beautiful way of learning about history and the differences in our culture through entertainment.

My buddy Larry Lineberry always complains loudly whenever we see Christmas decorations up too early. Complains to the point of wanting to boycott the store. I always brushed him off about this, thinking that the viewpoint was naive. Retailers in this day and age would do absolutely anything to increase sales, and there's very little we can do to stop that juggernaut.

But back then, it was considered bad taste to decorate before Thanksgiving. I love it. Larry would love it.

Jack Benny was famous for his holiday broadcasts. He gives Easter and the Easter parade a slight mention. But he always seems to have a Halloween party, everyone comes over for Thanksgiving, his Christmas shopping episodes are classics and well remembered, and I love his New Year's episodes where he closes out the old year and greats the new one.

My own Thanksgivings don't really seem to stick out in my memory. When I was a kid, we made it a point to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade every year. Mom would buy comics for me and coloring books for my sisters to keep us occupied and out of her way while she prepared the Thanksgiving feast. So there are some fond feelings and traditions that I do follow.

My own children won't sit still for Macy's parade. They get bored out of their mind and end up wandering off. So most Thanksgiving mornings, I end up sitting and watching the parade alone while everyone else is off doing their own thing.

But I usually have some Christmas themed comics sitting in my lap while the parade is on.

...more on that later.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Royal Threads

This summer for the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Queen Elizabeth II made what is considered her first acting appearance by appearing with Daniel Craig as James Bond in a short six minute sketch promoting the new Bond movie Skyfall. The sketch was about Bond escorting the Queen to the Olympics via helicopter.

You can catch that here:

Princess Diana died on August 31st, 1997. I remember being extremely angry about it, as the news said it was a senseless car crash caused by a chase with the paparazzi. The idea of that still makes me angry. When it happened, Lorie and I were in the months before our wedding and undergoing preparations. Marriage and responsibility and commitment were high on my mind at the time.

In July of 1981 we were at Ocean City, New Jersey with my grandparents, aunts and uncles on my father's side. My mother made such a big deal about getting up in the middle of the night to watch the Royal Wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Di. I didn't really quite understand it at the time. But my mom was excited so I was excited. Plus... we were at Ocean City. So everything was perfect. When I got up that morning, Mom had been crying. Not sad or upset, but the girly kind of tears that women like my mother are likely to burst into during fairy tale weddings.

I was on the treadmill at the gym on Friday listening to the Jack Benny broadcast from December 5th, 1948. During the broadcast, Mary turned to Jack and told him that Princess Elizabeth had called. Jack got all excited until he learned that it was to refuse his offer of a diaper service.

"Why are you running a diaper service anyway?"

"I grew out of them and realized I had all these diapers that were just going to waste. So..."

Queen Elizabeth didn't ascend until 1953. In fact, hers was the first coronation that was televised. So in December of 1948 she was still a princess. Not only that, but Prince Charles was born on November 14, 1948, just a few short weeks before the broadcast.

I feel no connection to the Royal Family at all. Yet it's neat to see them intertwine through history and make themselves into benchmarks of life and entertainment. They have staying power much more than any celebrity or politician. Comedians start making jokes as soon as they're born, we celebrate their marriages, judge their divorces, and mourn their deaths. And when they stroll out to see the opening of the 2012 Olympics, the crowd in London goes absolutely freaking crazy; more so for the queen than for the fictional super-spy from fifty years of movie-making. They’re part of our culture.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Collecting Cars

I’ve never really understood collecting things other than comics and toys. I’ve had some dalliances with other hobbies, most notably in my childhood when my parents desperately tried to widen my narrow range of interests and turn me into a real human being.

Football? No. Try as I might, it just seems pointless to me. No real stakes.

Collecting stamps? Difficult to see the appeal. As an adult, I can maybe appreciate the history behind…. Oh Heavens I just got bored even typing that out.

Coins? Nope.

My wife collects depression era glass. This I find interesting. It’s obviously not for me, but I think that it’s neat that she does it. She’s picked a pattern that she likes. She ‘inherited’ the hobby from her mother. It has its origins in a time period I’m highly interested in. There’s an actual goal to fight for. And it all ends up in a fancy display. So yeah, there’s that.

But that’s girly.

Now collecting toy cars is not girly. I’ve crossed paths with Hot Wheels collectors a couple of times in my hobby days. They seem to be a tad more intense than your usual comic and toy collector. Directly after the one Toy Fair I attended in New York one February I was approached by a toy car collector on the street who offered me fifty bucks for a toy car that Mattel had been handing out to Toy Fair attendees. I didn’t give mine up, but instead took it home to Lorie where she put it on eBay and got quite a bit more for it. So yeah… those people seem a little intense.

I never really understood toy cars, nor my attraction to them. As a kid in the seventies, I had a brief phase where I got really into cars. Put them all in a car case, pestered my mom for more and ‘played cars’ with the other kids in the neighborhood. But the WHOLE TIME I was searching for some point. Are we really just pushing a car around a road that we made in the dirt? Where was the action? Where was the intrigue?

One of my earliest signs of obsessive compulsiveness was centered on toy cars. I was on the porch of our New Hampshire house with my box of cars and the neighborhood kids. It was my porch and my cars; therefore it was my rules in how we picked who got what cars and what scenario we would play out. I kept switching the rules for how we would pick our cars. So much so that the other kids revolted and left to go play at someone else’s house. As an adult I realize it was the act of organization that I was enjoying and not so much the actual play.

I was ten.

Of course… there WERE some cars that I completely understood as a kid.

The history of toy car companies goes back a ways. Hot Wheels hit the scene in 1968 and proved to be so popular they changed the way toy cars were made. Matchbox is probably the closest runner up, and they’ve been making toys since 1953. Corgi was always the company I remember as a kid, as they made the super-hero cars I ended up loving so much. They’re an England based company and have been in the business since 1933. And then there’s Dinky. Dinky makes die-cast metal toys and has been around since 1901. In the seventies, they made the Enterprise.

I got this from Santa one year for Christmas. We moved around so much that I don’t have many of my childhood toys. But I have this little beauty. As an adult, it’s one of the more treasured pieces of the collection. I remember even as a kid being fascinated with its construction.

That might be what attracts me so much to the toy cars. The engineering. The lines and metal and simple functionality.

I could stare at this Batmobile all day.

Currently, they make super-hero cars in three different ways. There’s the model of something actually seen in the comics:

Or movies:

And then there’s something that the hero would never actually drive, but the design is inspired by the character:

And then there’s just a car with the hero’s picture on it:

As an adult, I’ve been able to slim my collecting hobbies down to the bare bones. I don’t buy physical comics anymore, just digital. I’ve stopped toy collecting, except for the occasional Aquaman or Hawkman figure. Or maybe the rare impulse purchase if I actually go to Target. I don’t buy DVD’s anymore, as I prefer to stream things through Netflix where possible and buy digitally through iTunes when I want to. The act of minimalizing the physical things in my life is pleasant. One of the things I continue to buy are super hero cars. They’re small, relatively inexpensive, they don’t get produced often, and they’re great to display.

Which, I think, is the point for all those toy car collectors. The display.

Alex arranged this last one at my request. Ugh. I take no responsibility for the chaos and lack of architectural design. I'll speak with him.