Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reading on my Lunch Break

I've read a lot of books on the history of comics in America. A lot. In fact, whenever I get a new book on the history of comics, I'm slightly curious as to whether I'll learn anything new.

Recently, as part of my efforts to 'trim the fat' of the collection, I decided to donate the books I have on the history of comics to the local library. It seemed like a good idea to help along anyone that might have similar interests. I collected the books together and was slightly surprised to find out I had twenty. Twenty books on the history of comics. I was rather comical struggling down the street and up the library steps with that stack. The Martinsburg Public Library has zero parking.

I have a rule that on my lunch breaks at work, I'll read 'for realsies' books. Books with more words than pictures. That's how I ended up reading the Steve Jobs biography last summer. And the Edgar Rice Burroughs stuff and H. Rider Haggard and some dalliances with H.P. Lovecraft and the Tina Fey biography Bossypants. All read during my lunch breaks at work.

The other day, I was reading at work with my feet up in my guest chair and content to be in a different head space for a few minutes. A co-worker that I don't really talk to all that much walked by my cube and stopped.

"Reading, huh." He asked me. "Reading comics?" My cube is covered in toys and trappings of the typical comic book enthusiast. So my hobby is no secret.

"No no... " I answered. "Real book this time."

"Oh yeah?" He strained at interest. "Whatchya reading this time?"

"It's a biography of Bill Everett. A comic book creator from the Golden Age of comics."

"... "

"He created the Sub-Mariner for Marvel comics." I felt the need to press on. "Interesting dude. Lived most of his life as an alcoholic and died of a heart attack."

"...." my co-worker wasn't exactly sure how to take this conversation to a satisfying exit. "You uh..." he waived a finger over my cube "You really get into this stuff. I mean... like... DEEP into this stuff."

"Yeah." I grinned. I have a private rule about not giving people too much information when they didn't ask for it. "I suppose I do."

He paused for a minute. Shifted from one leg to the other, and said: "I like music."

"Yeah?" I nodded. "Music's good."

"Yeah. I like it." He nodded back. "I guess we all have our own things."

"Yeah." I kept nodding.

"Well enjoy your book."

He walked off.

I smiled and went back to reading. I even learned a few things I didn't know before! About Bill Everett and the Sub-Mariner. Not about music or human interaction.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Justin Bieber in 1970

I've talked before about enjoying newspaper comic strips of yesteryear. I currently subscribe to two daily newspaper strip 'services'. DailyInk and GoComics. DailyInk is a crappy, mismanaged, terrible website with many faults. But their offerings of vintage strips far exceeds their closest competitor. GoComics is an excellent, smooth running website, but their vintage content isn't all that great. They're catching up, though.

I use GoComics to read today's newspaper strip offerings, of course. But it's more important to me for their vintage content. They currently re-run Little Orphan Annie from the early 2000's, which actually was a high point for the strip's action content. They re-run Tarzan strips and are currently up to 1964. They've even begun running classic Dilbert strips, which are much less polished than contemporary Dilbert but sometimes end up being more off-the-wall funny.

GoComics is where I go to get a daily dose of Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbs, and Foxtrot as if they were being published today.

GoComics recently added another vintage strip to their offerings that I snapped up and added to my daily feed. The strip is called Emmy Lou by Marty Links and has started out with strips from 1970. The strip is a one panel, one liner strip mostly about the idiosyncrasies of teenage girls. I've quickly grown to love the strip for it's fashion and it's references. It's a perfect example of getting to know a culture through the entertainment medium of the day.

Which is why I was so jarred to find this as the daily offering on February 14th:

This is... interesting.

The strip is obviously from 1970. The girl's fashions are obviously dated. The phrase 'go steady' is even used. So... Justin Bieber? Huh? Wha??

The message boards that GoComics offers attached to this particular comic exploded in controversy. Perhaps 'exploded' is a major exaggeration, but let's say my fellow enthusiasts for the newspaper strips of yesteryear NOTICED THE CHANGE. Some were quite upset. Some took it as a personal challenge to figure out what the original teenage object of obsession was. David Cassady was my own guess, and that was offered up by several message board posters. As were Davy Jones, Bobby Sherman, Mick Jagger, and even one Jim Morrison.

An individual billing himself as "Marty's Son-in-law" popped on the boards to answer the controversy with a good nature and good humor. He explained that the original celebrity mentioned in the strip has passed away. So rather than let things get awkward, they edited the strip. Last minute decision. He offered a clue as to the original's identity; "He liked racing and eggs".

Paul Newman! 50 eggs. Cool Hand Luke. 50 eggs. I hate eggs.

Marty's Son-in-law happily acknowledged that the edit was probably a mistake and it won't happen again. Which is good. And I'm certainly not writing this to condemn him. I'm just happy to have the strip offered daily! It's quickly become one of my favorites.

But the edit has risen in me the need to point out the struggle publishers have with offerings things up from past decades. I'm always whining and moaning about 'lost art' and the entertainment offerings from our past. But anyone looking to publish the original Mandrake the Magician strips from the 1930's, as wonderful, action-packed, and gorgeously illustrated as they are, would swiftly run into trouble with a strong undercurrent of racism.

Think about that for a minute. It was common and no big deal back then. We learned our lesson and are struggling into the future. But where is our responsibility to the past?

What if I spark an interest in my son's for the comic strips of the 1930's using Alex Raymond's groundbreaking work on Flash Gordon? And loving it so much, my son starts picking up other strips from that same time period. Without the maturity and education needed in order to enjoy this material while acknowledging the time period it was created in, my son could swiftly pick up words he shouldn't or even become de-sensitized to certain situations. And racism is just the tip of the iceberg. You should see how the women are treated!

So... where is our responsibility? The VERY LAST thing I want to see is classic Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician fade into obscurity. But the material carries a lot of baggage with it.

The thought makes the Paul Newman versus Justin Bieber situation seem quaint.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Rack Toys and Plaid Stallions

I recently bought a book! An actual, physical book that existed in the real world. As loathe as I am to do that anymore, I felt that the individual responsible for this book deserves every freaking penny he can get.

The book is called "Rack Toys: Cheap, Crazed Playthings". And the individual responsible, Brian Heiler, is the operator of one my favorite daily websites. Plaid Stallions.

Plaid Stallions, as you may already know, is a website devoted to love of the 1970's. The main method of displaying this love is through catalogues. The website points out some of the more ridiculous aspects of our culture in the 1970's by reflecting that culture through the catalogues that we used to shop and buy things before the internet made that sort of shopping obsolete. It's exactly what my own blog is all about. Reflections of the culture of a specific time through a certain medium. Only Mr. Heiler shows true inovation in choosing the medium of catalogues.

My friends and co-workers are constantly plagued by my sending them links of the more hilarious posts from Plaid Stallions. Reactions vary. My buddy Steve gets a quick giggle. My buddy Larry is so sick of hearing about the seventies that he won't click the links anymore. My buddy Theresa, about twenty years younger than I am, shows shock and awe at the fashions. Often asking me "Did you wear stuff like this back then?"

To which I answer... "No. I was never that cool."

Fashion Mockery.

The Rack Toys book is pure devoted love for the cheap plastic toys that were sold as impulse items in grocery stores, convenience stores, and drug stores. Many of these items were licensed items sporting images of super heroes or Star Trek characters, hence my love for the material.

The book is a display, more than a formal discussion about the nature of these things. But once you pour through the display, I honestly don't know how much more discussion is necessary. I will tell you that I kept the book on my desk for a week. And during a few of my "anti-smoke breaks", I would flip through it. With a big, stupid grin on my face.

Would I recommend this book? If you read my blog because you're my Mom, then no. I wouldn't recommend the book to you. But if you come to my blog to wallow in my love of 'nerd culture', then yes. The book will make you happy down to your toes.

And even Aquaman gets an appearance.

Rack Toys


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cutting Comics in College

Some memories of my childhood are crystal clear. I can remember events, circumstances, relationships, nuances, perspectives, comics, TV shows, books, road trips, houses, playgrounds, schools and more with crystal clarity.

My memories of my college years are blurry and quick and diluted. I can't summon those nearly as well. And the blurriness can't be attributed to alcohol or drugs, as I just wasn't that kind of guy. There might be a scientific reason for this lack of clarity concerning these years, but I think it's part-and-parcel with the arrogance of being at that age.

So I'm going to try to punch through that blurry curtain today so I can tell you a story.

The first time I quit comics was in the Spring of 1988. I was graduating college and moving away. Not only was I going off to college in West Chester, Pennsylvania, but my parents were moving out of our home in Fairfax, VA to attend my father's next Air Force assignment in South Dakota. There truly was no going home again.

I can barely remember this time. And I know almost nothing about what my parents and sisters may have been going through. All I can remember is my own extremely narrow viewpoint. I remember that all I cared about was my friends, girlfriend, and social concerns. My thoughts certainly weren't on grades or the future or who I would be in the next five years. It was a different Chuck entirely.

The decision to quit comics was a purposeful one. I don't remember all the factors. I remember not being really thrilled with what was going on with the DC Characters at the time. I remember feeling peer pressure that I was too old for such things. I remember my parents vigorously supporting the decision to give up comics. I remember my Father's advice... "Just re-read the ones you already have." I remember not knowing if there was a comic book store in the town I was moving too. (Pre-internet days.) I remember being worried about getting a job in order to afford the rent I would have to pay to my Grandparents, who I would be living with, and gas money to come back occasionally and visit my girlfriend and my gang of guy friends.

There were four titles that I still enjoyed enough that I didn't want to let them go. I ordered subscriptions to these titles, and set it up so they would be mailed to my new address at my Grandmother's house. THE PLAN WAS... that these four titles would be my only link to comics. And in a year's time when the subscription was up I would re-evaluate the need to re-up the subscriptions.

Plans, plans, plans.

As an adult looking back, I can't help but think how stupid this was.

I was moving. Headed from high school to college. Losing my friends and my girl friend, at least their proximity. Living in a new place with a new job with a new school reality and with no friends and family. I should have been looking for anchors, not looking to cast more away.

And yet, it should be obvious to everyone that my plans did not work. I remember sitting in my grandparents house bored out of my mind. Quite obviously depressed and headed towards the worst semester of what would be a lackluster college career. And like a drug addict or alcoholic, I turned to what I knew would make me happy. At least temporarily, until I needed a new 'fix'. And one comic, or picking up one new title to follow, was never enough.

It was the beginnings of a bad behavioral pattern. Miserable? Go buy comics. Something bad happened? Go buy even more comics. Class not going so well? Cut it and head to the comic store. No comics left to buy? Pick up some new toys.

The 1990's were rough for many reasons. And as an adult looking back I see an unhealthy addict looking to fill a void of unhappiness using methods that I felt were harmless but were in actuality setting bad reality-avoidance behavior patterns that would stay with me for years. Until I was adult enough, mature enough, to understand more about myself and my place in the world.

I'm not saying I never have unhappy moments anymore. Quite the opposite is true. But I do feel that I'm armed well enough to understand the best ways to handle those moments. And I certainly don't spend money to fill a void anymore. I have other, more healthy methods for wrestling with these concerns. They don't always work, but I know enough now to know that hopping on the internet and winning an eBay auction will be the worst kind of quick fix that won't do a damn thing to help.

The kid that couldn't see outside of his own immediate concerns is now the adult that tries his best to stay hyper-aware of what's going on around him. And I've begun to try to focus this awareness internally.

Is this what getting old is about?


Monday, February 18, 2013

Six Million Dollar Adulthood

Last Friday, I wrote about the Six Million Dollar Man and my childhood memories of the TV show. I threw in some thoughts comparing the ideas of watching TV shows together as a family in the seventies and watching them separately today. I fretted and hemmed and hawed about what effect this 'in house cultural difference' would have on the kids. But I neglected to tell you that there are some shows that we watch together with the kids. With ALL the kids. For instance...

...we watch the Six Million Dollar Man.

I'm sure none of you regular readers of this blog are surprised by this plot twist. But yes, I did acquire the complete series and I did take the pains to load them up on the Apple TV. So that any episode is readily available with a couple clicks of the beautiful silvery remote.

The kids and I have been watching the show on and off for years. We started it when Lorie was working at Best Buy in the evenings and we were on our own. These days when we watch an episode, it's together as a family and under Lorie's extreme protest. During any given episode, she can be found to be playing Sims or Jurassic Park on her iPad mini.

The kids love the show, of course. Alex is six now, which as I mentioned before was my age during the show's original heyday. So there's some symmetry here. When we first started watching the show, all three kids would play bionics. With youngest Alex calling it 'bionic Steve' or 'the six dollar man'. They would run in slow motion in the yard or in the hallway and fight each other, sometimes arguing over who was 'Good Steve' and who was 'Bad Steve' and who was mind controlled and who wasn't and even which arm was bionic and which one was normal. I laughed at Katie's reasoning of being a female version of Colonel Steve Austin. I didn't tell her about Jamie Summers until it happened on the show itself. I preferred to keep it a secret and watch things unfold for them as they had for me thirty-some years earlier.

Needless to say, the introduction of Jamie Summers was a big hit. And then the revelation that she had her own show was even more exciting.

It's been sort of a joy for me. And I think this particular feeling at it's root is universal for fathers. The need to share something with your kids that meant so much to you when you were young. With something like Star Wars, which is probably the biggest case of "I gotta share with my kids", our culture gets in the way. There are current day movies and cartoons and playground experiences that can dilute the link between father and son when sharing those characters. Same with Batman or Star Trek. But with something like Six Million Dollar Man or even Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, or Flash Gordon the pickings are so slim for modern day interpretations that the experience can be a controlled link.

However, sometimes that can backfire.

Our latest viewing happened a few days ago. We watching an episode called 'Nightmare in the Sky'. The original air date was September 26th, 1976, and it was from season four of the show. It guest starred popular character actor Dana Elcar. It also guest starred Farrah Fawcett herself in her second appearance on the show playing the character of Major Kelly Wood. A fellow pilot and semi-love interest for Steve.

Alex watched intently.

Katie was confused. Who was this big-haired woman? What do you mean they were married in real life? What about Jamie? What about Jamie Summers? GET THIS WOMAN AWAY FROM STEVE!!

Ashton was... Ashton was very much a teenager for the whole thing. While years ago he very much enjoyed the show, today he kept making derogatory comments under his breath and unhelpful side slanders. He commented on the special effects and the outfits. He didn't like Steve's cheesy little season four mustache. He made sure we were clear that he would rather watch Eureka, which is a modern day show that we do enjoy together. And I made sure he was clear that if he kept running his mouth I would throw him outside.

He did enjoy Farrah, though. That much was obvious. Some things are eternal.

As I'm setting up my new comic book sanctuary, I have very few things with the Six Million Dollar Man on them. An old Christmas record. And one beat-up toy with missing pieces, no outfit and busted bionic working mechanism. But he's in his old spaceship/bionic monitoring station. I had that when I was a kid. And now I have it again as an adult. Proudly displayed under glass.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Six Million Dollar Childhood

One of my many loves is the Six Million Dollar Man. I have many strong memories and passions that carried over from childhood. The squinty, open shirt, wide-collared Lee Majors portrayal of Col. Steve Austin seems to be particularly strong with me as an adult. I think one of the reasons is that I went a good portion of my life without the show or any version of it. Unlike Star Trek. So it's almost as if I'm rediscovering the show as an adult. And rediscovering how fond I was of the show in the mid-1970's.

The show started in January of 1974 and lasted until Spring of 1978. Which means that part of the show's allure for me is it's pre-Robyn-ness. My baby sister Robyn was born in November of 1977 when we lived in Plattsburgh, New York. So it's not actually the fact of being without Robyn, but it's the idea that this was the proto-Dill family that loved the show. The early childhood stages of living in Texas, and not having an infant sister to contend with. We watched the show as a family. I do remember that. And ever time Steve Austin would climb into a plane my mother would check with my father for Air Force accuracy.

His answer fell into two ranges: "yep" and "nope".

I remember being jaw-droppingly stunned at Steve's fight with mechanized monster Bigfoot. I remember the horror of Maskatron, when that villain removed his face and revealed the circuitry underneath I was just as shocked as the rest of America. I remember the excitement of the Bionic Woman. I added Jamie Summers to my harem of imaginary wives, along with Daphne and Black Canary. I remember knowing who Farrah Fawcett was because she was married to Lee Majors and not because she was one of Charlie's Angels. We weren't allowed to watch that show.

In the heyday of the Six Million Dollar Man TV show, I was around six to seven years old. One of the things that strikes me is that I'm positive we watched this show together, as a family. It was a prime time show that my parents felt comfortable watching with a six-year-old. Can you think of any prime time shows today that you would watch with a kid that young? Certainly there may be some, but I can't think of any. Even our favorite sitcoms are too racy and deal with themes just too adult for us to sit down and enjoy with our youngest son Alex. And now my three kids have this set of shows that they watch and enjoy that I think are primarily made by Nickelodeon or Disney TV. "Good Luck Charlie", "Hannah Montanna", "Shake it Up", "Drake and Josh", and "Wizards of Waverly Place". I've seen a few episodes just so I can know what the kids are watching. But Lorie and I do not sit down and watch these shows with our kids as family time.

Our cultures are different. Between the enabling technology and the show content, our TV influences are completely different. Two or more separate sets of developmental culture in the same house. How will that effect us differently than the culture I experienced as a kid?

To my foggy childhood memory, EVERYONE was obsessed with the show back then. All my school friends, my family, and certainly the approved licensed merchandise makers. I didn't have the Six Million Dollar Man lunch box. But I DID have the Viewmaster reels and several records for my tiny toy record player. I remember clearly the evening when we went to the toy store to get me the Six Million Dollar Man action figure. I played with that thing CONSTANTLY. I had that figure before I had any of my super-hero or Star Trek Mego dolls. It was just Steve Austin and GI Joe.

The best thing about loving the Six Million Dollar Man wasn't the comics or the records or the action figures... it was by far the school yard play.

We had entire afternoons where everyone was bionic. Everyone was running in slow motion, wrestling off giant Northwestern Sasquatch space creatures, slow motion fist fights, slow motion fake jumps, slow motion 'looking far across the playground'. And the sound effects! Everyone was going 'Dah nuh nuh nuh nuh' under their breath when they weren't humming the theme song.

The only drawback to playing Steve Austin was that you couldn't incorporate the Wonder Woman twirl-change to go from being ordinary mortal to super-powered altruistic knight. Heaven help you if you were caught doing the WW spin-change on the playground.

It felt like a shared culture. It continues to feel like a shared culture. Mention the show to anyone over forty and you'll see the look of recognition light up their face. And when I slow-motion run past my bosses open office door going "Dah nuh nuh nuh nuh", the light chuckle lets me know she knows exactly what foolishness I'm up to.

Now if I could only lift this car with one arm...


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Love it or List it

My wife Lorie doesn’t listen to radio shows from the 1940’s or watch TV shows from the 1970’s or read comic books from the 1960's or obsess on things like music spreadsheets and playlist orders. My wife does annoyingly practical things, like live in the present.

My wife works on the addition. Has for years. As far as I know, that’s what she does for fun now. Works on our house addition. Heaven only knows what she’ll do when we actually finish the thing. OH! And she watches HGTV. Lots and lots of HGTV.

One of the shows she watches on HGTV is “Love it or List it”. I think the show’s a reality show where one person tries to find a beleaguered home-owning couple a new home while the other person tries to show the home-owner what can be done with their existing home. At the end of the show the home-owner has to decide whether or not to “Love it or List it”.

MY problem is this: the kids. They’re so trained from birth to flock to a television set that’s on that it no longer matters what the show is actually about. So while Katie has the will to pull herself away from a show she has no interest in, neither Ashton nor Alex has shown this particular super power. They’ll sit in front of the TV for hours no matter what’s on.

I call the TV the ‘stupid-maker’. My Grandmother used to call it the “Idiot Box”.

The other day I was dutifully going through my nightly list of Daddy-follow-ups and caught my six-year-old son Alex sitting in front of the TV in a stupor. "Alex, time for shower!"

"AaaawwwaAAAAaaah!" He moaned.

"Get your pajamas, get your butt to the bathroom, and get naked!"

"Yes sir." He trudged off.

Fifteen minutes later Lorie paused her show to check on him while I worked with the older kids on other stuff. Just as she put a hand on the bathroom door, he barreled out. Half-dressed and pulling his pajama top on over his still-soaking head.

"Mommy! Mommy!" he cried out.

"Yes. Alex I'm right here." Lorie was startled. "What is it?"

"Did they love it or list it?"


Lorie stood there giggling. I stood there fuming. And Alex stood there dripping.

Definitely too much TV around here.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Jodi Foster on SNL

When talking about entertainment acting as time machines, I haven't really spent a lot of time talking about Saturday Night Live. Probably one of the most effective time machines in our tool box.

Matt Rusnak was the one that introduced me to Saturday Night Live in the 1980's. Of course. You may remember Matt from former blogs such as this. Matt was largely responsible for pulling my teenage head out of my ass and showing me that the world is bigger than a stack of comic books. At some point, I'll tell you about the horror movie nights in Clifton.

Saturday Night Live has several different elements that make it an effective time machine. First, it started in 1975 and has aired every year since then. That gives us thirty-eight seasons of the show. Second, many of the players on SNL have gone on to be stars in their own right, which makes SNL a microscope through which to examine what made these people special in the first place. Third, the show is a cultural touchstone. The fact that it's filmed live and not six months in advance gives it an edge to staying extremely culturally in-the-now. The fourth element that makes it an effective time machine is the Weekend Update section of the show. The fake newsroom format reports actual news with a humorous spin and has been the most popular part of the show since SNL began.

All the seasons are currently available on Netflix. I've been slowly working my way through from the beginning. I'm only in the second season, but I love the thing so much. Lorie won't watch it with me, though. So progress is slow.

Last Saturday afternoon I finished the broadcast from November 27th, 1976. The special guest was Jodi Foster. That alone was the most interesting thing about the show. She was fourteen years old.

Foster was already a very experienced actress and obviously popular, but to see her here at what felt like before the bulk of her career was interesting. There's a scene where she plays a smitten school girl with Dan Ackroyd as her uncomfortable teacher. But it doesn't work completely because there's a part of my brain saying "THAT'S JODI FREAKING FOSTER!" She's no smitten school girl.

It was pleasant, seeing her before the eighties and everything that she would go through in her adult years.

And then there was the musical guest. In dark, terrifying contrast with the fresh-faced beginnings of Jodi Foster was Brian Wilson, former front man and creative force behind the 1960's Beach Boys.

I had recently been studying the history of the Beach Boys in my desperate search to find a band even half as interesting as the Beatles. The Beach Boys discography spirals into descent after Brian Wilson left in 1967. His last hit before that drama was Good Vibrations. And he sang that here on SNL in 1976. As the last segment of the show. Alone on stage sitting at the piano.

It was painful, terrible, a horrible performance of a song that all of us know so well. And the fact that it was being performed by the main originator of the song made the experience just so embarrassing. Lorie actually called out from the kitchen demanding to know what the "crap I was watching" was. It was Wilson's third performance of the show, and it felt like last second filler material that the show is famous for in it's final half hour.

Some other elements of the show that get me are the original 'Not Ready for Prime Time' players. Bill Murray still hasn't been added to the cast and Chevy Chase has just left in order to move to Hollywood and try to capitalize on his stardom. I find Gilda Radner magnetic. She keeps popping up through this particular episode with the ongoing joke that she doesn't have much of a role in this show. From my perspective, the roles that she usually filled were young naive silly girls. And with Jodi Foster there, well... not much for Gilda. She still worked herself in at several opportunities. And you can see why she was a star. And then you remember she died twenty-four years ago and you ache right down to your toes.

Garret Morris is fun to watch. Matt and I used to always marvel at him because we knew him the least of all the original cast. "What ever happened to that guy?" Matt would ask rhetorically. Currently, he's a welcome addition to a sitcom Lorie and I watch called Two Broke Girls. But he's old. In this episode of SNL he's given a song to sing towards the end. It's a funeral dirge for King Kong. The song is played for laughs, but Garret Morris performs it expertly. Belting out strong chords as if he was born to be broadway singer, not stage comedian.

1976. Jodi Foster young and bouncy and engaging and fun and fresh and full of future. Brian Wilson, old and drug addled and torn down and burnt out and full of a bright past. The Saturday Night Live time machine.


Friday, February 8, 2013


I often find myself making poorly-constructed jokes about fighting crime cross country in a Winnebago. More often than not, no one knows what I’m talking about and everyone just goes about their business as if I had said nothing. There are some comic book friends of mine that think I’m referencing the famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow road trip of the late sixties. (If you don’t get the reference, well... you’re just not happening.) However, if you read my meta-text closely, you’ll find I’m referencing something else entirely.

The reference is to the Saturday morning TV show Shazam, which ran from 1974 to 1977. It starred Michael Gray and his terrific hair as a young Billy Batson. In case you don’t know, Billy has a magic word. Billy can shout “Shazam” and instantly change into the super-hero Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was played originally by Jackson Bostwick, and replaced unceremoniously by John Davey in 1975 because of Hollywood-crappyness. But most creepy of all, Billy traveled the country in his Winnebago with an older character named “Mentor”, played by Les Tremayne. Mentor? Mentor? I guess it was too difficult for the writers to come up with a better name.

It’s hard for me to explain just how important this TV show was to kid culture of the mid-seventies. I can tell you that as a six year old in the seventies, I noticed NONE of the show's flaws or shortcomings. We ran around on the playground playing Captain Marvel just as much as we played Six Million Dollar Man. (More on that to come)

It seems sort of odd for an American animation company to lock down the rights to a show and then make a live-action version geared towards Saturday morning kiddies. But it really wasn’t all that odd. Hollywood had been producing these sorts of things since the 1950’s and Space Patrol, among others. Just because cartoons were the bulk of Saturday morning in the seventies doesn’t mean there weren’t some live-action gems. Shazam and sister-show Isis were two of the biggest hits to come from Saturday morning live action programming.

I had the Underoos. I wore them to school. My shirt became out-of-place during wrestling lessons in gym and everyone saw I was wearing Shazam Underoos and started singing “Underoos are fun to wear”. It’s for this reason that I make sure my shirt never becomes untucked at work, lest my co-workers see what I have on underneath.

I used to think my love of the character Captain Marvel and everything that goes with him came from the giant treasury editions I had that reprinted a few of his adventures from the 1940’s. Santa put them in my stocking a couple years in a row and I clearly remember spending hours examining every glorious panel.

But as much as I love those old comics, it’s not where my love of the character Captain Marvel comes from. It’s this show. This cheaply made, perfectly executed, cheesy old seventies Saturday morning TV show. It’s the lightning thrill of watching Billy and his incredible hair tear out of the Winnebago, run into a field, and call out the magic word. Yes, it was just that simple. The essential elements of the Captain Marvel character captured more perfectly than they have been since the character's heyday in the 1940’s.

Boy sees trouble. Boy uses magic word (oftentimes with drama-inducing last minute timing). Boy changes to super-powered man.

The show recently became available on DVD in its entirety directly through Warner Bros. I bought it, of course. And I’ve been watching it with my six-year-old in the evenings when he comes home from school with no tallies for the day. Lorie sits nearby, playing games on her iPad mini and pretending not to watch and occasionally making derogatory comments about the show’s unpolished nature. But I don’t mind.

After the episode ends, I tackle Alex. We wrestle around on the couch and I restrain his arms. He struggles, and uses his best dramatic voice. “Just… .got… to… use… magic… word! (gasp)… (pause)…. SHAZAM!”

He explodes out of my grip and starts beating me on the chest.

I love it so.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ashton at the Gym

My 13-year-old son Ashton has joined our gym.

Lorie and I have been going to the Wellness Center which is affiliated with the hospital she works at for almost a year now. Before that, we were going to Gold’s. We’re believers in regular exercise, and the kids have been exercising since each of them turned 4.

Ashton has been doing three sets of push-ups for me for nine years. Lately, he starts with one set of 25 knuckle push-ups, and his other two sets are flat hand at 30 push-ups.

I had been wrestling with when exactly he would be ready to exercise on his own or join a gym or perhaps start using weights. You hear different things about when they can start, but really it boils down to the person and their mindset. If they’re ready, they’ll be into it.

A couple of weeks ago Ashton started going past his Daddy-set goals for push-ups. One day his three sets were 30-35-40. The next exercise session he went 30-40-50. This infuriated his six-year-old brother, who considers the two of them to be in competition.

But once Ashton started showing a willingness to push himself, I knew he was beyond Daddy-regulation and ready to join the gym.

He signed up eagerly. He was actually a little excited about it. The personal trainers there assessed him, designed a routine for him, showed him how to use the electronic key, and turned him loose.

Last week was the first time we went to the gym when Ashton was there to work out on his own and not meet with a personal trainer. I split off from him and went about my normal routine; occasionally looking around to see where he was and if he was still doing okay. He was moving from treadmill to stationary bike to weights to rowing machine all on his own.

I finished my two sets of cardio and moved into the weight area. As I was moving from one machine to the next, I passed my son. That’s kind of an odd feeling. Anyway, he was at one machine struggling with how to adjust the seat. So I stopped to help him out.

I waited patiently for him to acknowledge my presence, which he did not.

I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up, ear buds still in and iPod still blaring. I waited for him to pause his music and remove his ear buds, which he did not.

I motioned for him to ditch the ear buds. He did so reluctantly.

“What.” He grunted at me.

“Do you need a hand with that?” I asked.

“No.” He grunted at me.

“You sure?” I pressed.

“Yeah.” He grunted at me.

In case you’re not aware, I’m not really used to be talked to like this. Especially not by one of my own kids. But I want the gym thing to be a pleasant experience and I want to treat him like he’s a real person and all that crap.

I watched him spin the knob to adjust the seat. I suggested he pull instead of spin. He pulled and the seat dropped. He straightened and stared at me, waiting for me to leave.

“We good?” I asked.

“Yeah.” He grunted at me. Putting the ear buds back in.

So…. Yeah.

My 13-year-old son Ashton has joined our gym.

Have I mentioned he’s a teenager now?


Monday, February 4, 2013


I don't know anything about radios. I've heard about and actually met some collector's who's 'object of passion' is the radio and they go about collecting antique radios. That's not me. I didn't even have a car radio in my first car, as my sister is keen to point out. But I do love old radio shows from the 1940's and take pride in my membership on And I definitely know about sentiment and attaching value to physical objects.

This is my 1940's floor radio. I got it for free. Lorie had been looking for something like this for me for my new comic sanctuary. So she jumped at the chance when it popped up on a freecycler's Yahoo group. In my jaded opinion, it's the only good thing that's come from freecycler's.

The radio is a Firestone Air Chief, model # S-7404-1, and was most likely produced in 1940. You can check out more about the radio at this wonderful website. ( And I'm positive, without a doubt, that somebody at some point sat on the floor in front of this thing listening to old radio shows.

It does power on, but doesn't bring in any radio stations. That's just fine with me, as I have ZERO desire to hear modern radio out of this thing.

This is my Grandmother's radio. She passed away in May of 2011. I spoke at her funeral and it wasn't the easiest of things for me to do. I didn't really realize how close I felt to her until she was gone. Recently, I helped move my Grandfather into an assisted living facility and part of the job was to figure out what to do with an apartment full of stuff. Including my Grandmother's room, which had gone largely untouched since her passing. There were piles for Goodwill and piles of things that couldn't possibly go to Goodwill. I asked my Cool Aunt Melodee if she wouldn't mind if I took the radio.

It's a Sony Bass Reflex system, model # ICF-9580W, and was most likely produced sometime in the early seventies. The minimum research I've done leads me to believe that at the time it was sold, it was a top-of-the-line radio. I believe it, because it's a very solid and heavy piece. You can see more details about it here. (

Last night as I was setting the radio up in the new comic sanctuary, I plugged it in, flipped it on, and tuned in a radio station. My son Ashton was shocked. "I can't believe this thing still works!" he exclaimed. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that this thing would work. My Grandmother would not have kept it if it didn't work.

That's the thing about my Grandmother. She and I seemed like polar opposites. She would look at this and think "it's just an old radio, why keep it". She would even see me as silly and wasteful for indulging in the sentiment. But... the fact that I can look at it and glean so much of her from it makes it useful for me. The fact that it was top of the line and she chose it. The fact that it still works and I knew that before even turning it on. And the fact that she would think it was silly that I wanted it. It's like she's there with me teasing me about it at that moment. The Phantom Grandmother on my shoulder.

Last in the line of radios for me to drone on about is this:

It's mine. It's the clock/alarm radio I got for Christmas in 1981 when we lived in Montgomery, Alabama. This is the radio that woke me up every morning from 1981 all the way to 2004 when it started to act up and not be so reliable. This thing collects dust like nothing I've ever owned. All those little tiny circles in the top may have looked cool at production time, but there's dust in there that I haven't been able to get out since early 1982; when I distinctly remember listening to Pac-Man Fever and Freeze Frame on this radio.

It's one of those rare belongings I had from my childhood. This being unique in that it's practical use is the reason it's still with me. Unlike my Superman bean bag chair, which saw the end of it's practical use in 1977.

Each of these radios will be displayed in my new comic sanctuary when the whole thing is set up. So come over! Check it out. Sip coffee from our kuerig machine, sit on my couch in the reading nook flanked by old time radio while listening to 1940's music from my iPod and reading old comics on the iPad. Comic book hipster.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Comic Sanctuary

In fall of 1997, Lorie and I got married and I moved into the small house she bought in Martinburg, WV the year previous. Moving has been a pain for me ever since my college years because my comic book and toy collection had been steadily growing for quite awhile. Never more so than during my pre-Lorie bachelor years. We identified a small room in the back of the house as my new 'comic book sanctuary' and I set everything up.

Lorie's matron of honor, upon seeing my comic book sanctuary for the first time, uttered the immortal words: "I wouldn't marry him."

The idea here is this: why do some men feel the need to carve out their own room in the house? Their "man space". It's not just for comic geeks; it's for computer people and hunters and fitness freaks and sports idiots. Even the ladies like to have their version of their own space in the house. For some women it's a scrapbooking nook. For my mother it's the entire kitchen, if not the house itself. For my wife if it's anything it's the 'workbench' area, which is wherever her tools are currently lying around.

When I moved in the idea of the comic sanctuary was in part having my own hobby space and in part just having storage space. Much of my stuff ended up getting sold off or stored in a closet during that year. I didn't care at the time and I don't care now. It was a good move, even if the collection ended up being in the tiniest room of the house.

In late 2005 and early 2006, our limited efforts at finding a bigger house were proving fruitless. I was working full time and Lorie was mostly doing day care jobs. So she was heading up the project of finding something that would fit the family. After some discussion and some planning, we decided to build an addition to the house. Not just any addition, but a massive, two-story monstrosity that would double the size of our current house. It was Lorie's dream project. We arranged the proper loans and contractors and everything and decided to get what we wanted, NOT necessarily what we could afford at that moment. We would have the contractors put in the shell and start finishing it out ourselves as time and money were made available. Construction work began on the addition in summer of 2006. We had just become a family of five and desperately needed the hope of future space.

In 2009, Ashton was nine, Katie was eight, and Alex was three. We still weren't any closer to actually being able to use the house addition. Ashton and Katie were sharing a room and Alex had a small bed in our room. The situation was becoming more and more inappropriate by the day. I decided to lose the comic book sanctuary. It wasn't an easy decision, and I discussed it with no one. I couldn't discuss it with anyone. It had to be my thing; my responsibility. So one day, I grabbed a box and started packing up while the rest of the family watched in stunned silence.

The major part of the collection was boxed up moved out to an unfinished room in the addition. Lorie quickly got to work on a bunk bed that she had gotten through her wheeling and dealing. And soon Katie had her own room and Ashton and Alex took up shop in the bunk bed between two towers of comic book long boxes in the smallest room in the house.

It was the right thing to do.

In the fall of 2012 the finishing pieces of the addition finally started to fall into place. Lorie, who has been busting her butt on this project for years, finally finished off the flooring in the sun room, master bedroom, and new comic book sanctuary. We were actually able to use the sun room as a place of escape and quiet morning zen over Thanksgiving. And we had two Christmas trees this year; one in the living room and one in the sun room.

What I like best about the sun room is the feeling of minimalism. I don't really want anything in there other than furniture. I want to take in with me a few things for while I'm in there, and then take them back out with me when I'm done. It's clean, empty, peaceful, and focused. It's glorious in its minimalism.

Part of the fall's projects was for me to move every long box full of comics into a hidden closet under the addition stairs. Stacked neatly and out of the way, the long boxes fill that small space and no longer seem to be in our way. Ashton and Alex were very glad to have the two stacks out of their room.

In fall of 2011, I went completely digital with my comic reading, downloading new comics every Wednesday onto my iPad using the Comixology app. I love it. I no longer have to worry about driving to the comic store, spending a boatload of money and being tempted by the stock of the store, bagging, boarding, storing, filing and the never ending struggle of moving comic book long boxes. Time spent on maintenance for the physical collection had overtaken time spent actually reading comic books. Now, the physical part of the collection is in a dusty, unused closet under the stairs and my steps are much lighter for it. The digital comics I read and care about go with me everywhere I go. It’s the best part of the future.

In January 2013, Lorie started the final push of completing the addition and I went upstairs and started the project of the all-new, all-different comic book sanctuary. The first step was to move all the boxes of collection pieces into the huge closet that's in the comic book sanctuary. This left the main room free for cleaning and furniture arrangement. Next was to move stuff that still remained from the closet in the boy’s room into the closet of the new sanctuary. I moved in a couple of display cases, a couch, some bookcases, and proudly displayed my 1941 floor radio.

As I worked on this, thoughts occur. Thoughts constantly beleaguer my brain. I had spent 20 years accumulating stuff. And during this consolidation and clean up, found stuff that I hadn't laid eyes on in the 15 years that I've lived here. What was the use in that? I obviously wasn't missing it.

I've been enjoying the minimalism of the sun room and the efficiency of digital comics so much that it was time to start thinking about setting up the new sanctuary for the current and future Chuck, rather than the Chuck-of-excess that existed ten years ago. It was time to reduce.

My entertainment is completely digital now and I want it that way. I don't even buy DVD's or CD's anymore, much less comics. There's no attractiveness in clutter, and I've felt that way about the collection for a long time. I remember clearly sitting in the old comic book sanctuary before digital comics feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the size of an out-of-control collection that never seemed to stop growing. Now there can be efficiency in choosing what to read, watch, and listen to because it's all in files moving around portable devices, rather than clunky physical objects prone to damage, loss, fire, flood, disaster, and the practical reality of housing an entire family in one house. And recent lessons in the accumulation of collection pieces has taught me the value in being selective in purchases rather than jumping at buying something because I may never see it again. Plus, I no longer feel the void of unhappiness that I did in my bachelor years. A void I tried to fill with meaningless purchases.

So, I'm going to slim my displays. I'll only be displaying what's truly important to me. I won't be holding onto things in boxes hidden in closets just so that I can say I have them. There will be no more Mego dolls shoved out of the way because I need to set up the latest display of accumulated action figures hot off the shelves at Wal-Mart. There will be focus in the collection brought in the same way as it's been introduced in my reading and music. Not minimalism, not maximalism... just focus.

That’s the long-term goal, anyway. Watching Lorie work on this addition for six years has taught me that something worth working towards doesn't have to happen right away.