Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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My life as a publisher

Sunday, April 10th, 2022

The pages of the next issue of Woof just weren’t flowing well. On some pages, the graphics were bumping up harshly against other graphics. On other pages, whole vistas of white space held just a tiny carryover paragraph of text — what would fill the rest? The freshly transferred press-apply lettering (ah, Letraset) was peeling in more than one place, and I suddenly had a flash of insight that I’d completely forgotten to mention more than one important thing — like my playwriting workshop! — that was relevant to one story and that presented a real signup opportunity! I also wondered: Was it permissible on one page to run a list of names of subscribers whose addresses I’d lost? “Have you seen these people?” might be the headline, in the hopes that others would know them and would contact them.

As I paged through the mockups, all of them lovingly crafted by hand, with rubber-cemented columns of type and illustrations, and lots of Liquid Paper applied, I wondered if I could fit in any more comics from Rich Roesberg. I’d already used the good ones, but I still had that white space, and I could dig further into my archives of “just in case” illos from him.

I wasn’t even sure the pages were flowing correctly. Where was page 20? I turned to the small staff helping me — two other people I now can’t identify — and shrieked, “Who laid this out?!?!?”

The answer, of course, was ME.

Then I woke up, my heart thrumming, my mind churning, scrambling desperately to figure out what I was going to write to fill that white space.

Gradually, as light started filtering into my bedroom from the sun rising outside, it dawned on me that there was no new issue of Woof, and that there would be no new issue of Woof, and that there had been no new issue of Woof in more than 40 years.

My publishing empire was no more.

It had started in my adolescence, with Amazing Comix, a fanzine about comics that I published out of my parents’ basement using a hectographic printing system. “Printing system” while, technically true, is putting it kindly. With a hectograph “machine” (ha!), one would create an original on a master, carefully imprint that negatively on a tray of jelly, then lay each individual copy of a blank piece of paper onto that tray of jelly, pulling up a positive imprint. This is a process still used for making temporary tattoos, it’s long obsolete for printing on paper, but, in its heyday was, as Wikipedia notes, useful for printing “small runs of school classroom test papers, church newsletters and science fiction fanzines.” I don’t remember from which of those sources I learned this process, but somehow I got a hold of a hectograph kit and started printing fanzines. The hectograph was cheap and easy, yes, and thrilling as a way to launch the publishing empire of a kid in the 1970s. It was also messy, printed everything in lavender ink, and would sometimes leave globs of jelly on the pages, which I’d carefully try to pluck or scrape off.

You may wonder, “Why use hectograph and not, say, Xeroxing?” Well, in the mid-1970s, black-and-white Xerox copying cost 25 cents a copy. That was in 1970s money, when a full 32-page comic book in glorious color on newsprint with a glossy cover cost between 25¢ and 35¢. Xerox copying cost the equivalent of $1.25 a page. (I share this as a reminder for those who think that prices go only up. I also share that the first computer printer I bought, which printed on 4″-wide strips of what was like aluminum foil, circa 1980 cost an astonishing $800. Nowadays you can get a printer for about free because they just want to sell you the ink.

I don’t remember how many issues of Amazing Comix I put out, and no, I’m not going to look right now, and I don’t know how many copies, either. Given the tedium of the process, I’m thinking I might have done 100, which makes my constant monitoring of the fanzine history sites on Facebook, in the hopes that one of my old publications will turn up, ludicrous. Still, I did have readers, and contributors, and I may have done six or seven issues. I can’t remember. Somewhat fewer than 10. My contributors and included writers and artists around the U.S., and England (!), and so did my readers. One of the readers who became a contributor was a gentleman named Richard F., who was active military, and who came to visit me when he was on leave. There we were, in my parents’ basement, me at age 14 and he at around 27, were he gifted me with $40 to help with publishing some upcoming issues; when I demurred, he said that if I didn’t take it, he’d just “spend it on whores.”

So you see, publishing was an educational endeavor for me, too.

Prior to the publishing wing of my enterprises, I had started a comic-book retailing company, Dungeon Ventures (again, because it was run out of my parents’ basement — and thank God for basements!). I had talked a local bank into giving me a checking account by lying to them, saying it was a “Christmas club account.” A Christmas club account was where someone would save money to buy Christmas presents at the end of the year (and, I add, with the insight of an adult, the bank would gather interest without paying any out). Once I had the “Christmas club account,” I ordered checks in the name of Dungeon Ventures. Now that I was a publisher, I had business cards made with my name on them, the company name, and “Publishers/Retails in Comics.” The card is a blur of mixed messages — bad company name, having nothing to do with Dungeons & Dragons, with which it was constantly confused; publishers and retailers; poor branding — but, still, it screamed “legitimacy” when your main facial feature was acne.

At that point, while in high school and running my comic-book business (now with a slightly older business partner I’d met through the pages of a comic-book letters column) and working 20 hours a week at The Atlantic City Press taking classified ads over the phone and gloriously exploring the world of teenage girls, I started adding titles to the publishing house. I don’t remember the second one (wow) or if it even got off the ground, but I do remember the next three. One was Axes, a rock-and-roll newspaper with professional newspaper printing and actual distribution and ad sales that was distributed around southern New Jersey, mostly to record shops and clubs. One was the aforementioned Woof, which was a Xeroxed (!) humor publication, and one was the ill-fated Screw Iran Coloring Book, for which Rolling Stone rejected my ad buy because they thought I was trying to capitalize on the hostage situation in Iran — an understandable but questionable ethical leap from them, considering the flagrantly illegal sex-and-drugs ware they were admitting into their ad pages. For the full story of the Screw Iran Coloring Book, look here, then here. (And if you want to order one because they’re highly collectible, let me know, because I’ve got a few left — and Dan Stumpf, I still need to send you yours!)

Axes lasted three issues, not being the first new publication to collapse due to advertising and distribution problems. I also did several comics catalogs, cheerily illustrated by Roesberg (who remains my favorite cartoonist) and in my files somewhere. And then I stop publishing at some point during college, when to work writing and editing for the Gannett newspaper chain, then became a copy editor and production editor at the not-cleverly renamed Press of Atlantic City, then moved out here to Los Angeles to go to grad school.

Where I re-emerged as a publisher, putting out 75 issues of The L.A.. Gang Bang, a ‘zine about the personal lives of four transplants (myself and my roommates) to Los Angeles. In all the hubbub of the 1990s zine craze, we got somewhat known for it, were frequently reviewed in other publications, had hundreds (hundreds!) of subscribers and readers in the U.S. and Europe, got written up in the Los Angeles Times, and didn’t get a book deal out of it (as others did) because I was either distracted or stupid. Or both.

The L.A. Gang Bang wrapped up 28 years ago and, with it, my publishing career. I did put together seven or 10 bound copies of samples from my work, which I called Wrench and distributed to close friends and family members, but that also was in the neighborhood of 30 years ago. And we self-published our programs at Moving Arts during the 10 years I was artistic director (with intros written by me), but I stepped down 21 years ago.

After all this time, there’s something I miss about being a publisher. I loved putting together the issues. I loved going to the mailbox and seeing what subscriptions had arrived, and what letters of comments, and how much money. I loved the smell of it all, even of the funky hectograph ink and jelly. Even after awakening, fully awakening, I thought: Maybe I could do another issue of Woof. The 40th anniversary next issue. In time for my 60th. Because I miss publishing.

And then I realized that my publishing career has actually continued. Because I’ve been publishing this blog since 2004.

Things I had as a teenager that I don’t have now

Saturday, May 22nd, 2021

In response to a question on Twitter:

  • Virginity
  • A copy of Fantastic Four #1
  • Funky teen boy smell
  • Naïveté
  • A redhead girlfriend
  • A Renault Le Car
  • A job at the Atlantic City Press
  • A basement
  • A rotary phone
  • A girlfriend’s broken-off fingernail preserved in a plastic bag hanging on my wall
  • An interest in reading science fiction
  • The belief that Salvador Dali was a great artist
  • An interest in reading Gore Vidal
  • Excitement about the movie “Caligula”
  • Sixty to eighty years ahead of me
  • Living aunts, uncles, and father
  • The belief that the kids at school really mattered
  • Mononucleosis

The end-of-the-month post

Friday, April 30th, 2021

So, no, I can’t end April with only one post. So here we are, with the end-of-the-month post.

I remember the years when I used to post here every day. Maybe I’ll get back to that. If it gives you any comfort* — because I’m sure you no doubt want comforting about what I’m up to — I will tell you that I’ve been very productive during our little global pandemic.

I wrote three full-length plays**, and one of them is headed into production now with an opening targeted for June. (More about that soon.)

I also devoted a lot of time to listening to, and interacting with, and researching even more about, the world’s greatest rock band.*** Time well-spent indeed!

I bought about eleventy-billion more glorious old moldering comic books from the 1940s through 1980s and carefully curated them right into my collection.

And I’ve been doing a lot-lot-lot of reading, and I’ve been working on some exciting projects and initiatives at my company, and I’ve even occasionally had friends over to sit in the back yard and smoke cigars and drink bourbon and talk about writing and the theatre.

And somewhere in all that, I went and got vaccinated. I hope you do that too, if you haven’t already.

And we’ve had lots of repair work done around the house and yard, even up until today, and even more scheduled, and… ugh.

I thought I’d just catch you up somewhat obliquely on some of these things before May hits us smack in the face in the morning. And at some point — perhaps this weekend? — I’ll write one of the two longish posts that have been floating around in my head for literally months now, one of which I’ve actually written notes for, and one of which I’ve taken a photo for. The former one involves the Bee Gees, while the latter one involves Philip K. Dick and Adam Strange.

Stay tuned!

* It actually gives me comfort, as someone raised very German Lutheran, and therefore tied to work. Work is my joy. My people, when we die, say, “I wish I’d worked more.”

** When asked how many of his plays were full-length, Edward Albee famously replied, “All of them.” (Even his 10-page ones.) But in this particular case, I mean a running time of 75-120 minutes.

*** Pere Ubu, of course! There’s always something great going on over here!

The post I was going to write

Sunday, April 4th, 2021

This isn’t the post I was going to write.

The post I was going to write was going to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and would be thematically unified.

But this isn’t that.

When I was at the gym earlier, I had a different post in mind to be writing right now. But even as I think about that, what I’m really thinking is this:  Dear God, it felt glorious to be back at the gym! Hooray for reopened gyms! No this wasn’t the gym that had shit in the showers  — I quit that gym — this is the new gym, new to me and new to everyone, that had to close last year because you-know-why. And now it’s reopened, because you-know-what is subsiding. I was so happy to step across that threshold that if they’d charged a “convenience fee” at the door I just would’ve handed it over. I had a terrific workout, admittedly far superior to the one accomplishable in the setup in my garage, and thanked everybody there on the way out.

The gym’s been open for a week. Why did I wait? Well, on Friday morning, I got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The tradeoff:  You only have to go once (perfect for me, because I’m generally impatient), but the reported incidence of side effects is greater. Then, very late Friday night, I started to feel strange. Like, somehow I couldn’t make any sense of what was happening in “Godzilla versus Kong,” and I mean even more than the “plot” and “dialogue.” When the big battle ended with them joining forces against a common enemy — so unexpected! — and I was trundling off to bed, I started shivering hard, and then had a very flu-like not-great time all night, resulting in my not feeling great on Saturday. I don’t think I could even tell you what I did on Saturday. Oh, wait, I finished one game of Civilization VI (playing Trajan) and then immediately started another as Saladin. That was about what I could accomplish.

But today? Today I sprang awake, ready to do stuff! Like:  get over to that gym! Finally put things away, for God’s sake! And write a perhaps-one-day-print-worthy blog entry, something with pith and insight and clever word play. (This is what I aspire to, anyway.)

Four minutes before I got home from my workout, my wife texted me to say that “the painter” that I didn’t know would be coming would be at our house any minute now and did I want to talk to him. I suspected even then that she meant, “Do you want to grill and flambé him?” because that’s how she thinks I go about hiring contractors. That’s not my method at all. I just want to know what we’re getting, what our options are, how long it’ll last and for God’s sake how much it’s going to cost. I did take a liking to Robert, who spent a cool two hours on Easter Sunday detailing for us his 43-year-history as a house painter, starting with his emigration from Korea, then work in Colorado Springs, followed by Texas, and since 1987 Southern California. At age 29, he realized that he needed a wife “to cook and keep house” and so he got married. (At age 25, I got a wife because I liked her company. But people’s reasons vary.) He also volunteered that Koreans are reliable and hard-working. I actually think that many (most?) people are reliable and hard-working irrespective of nationality, but I may be in the minority on this one. Robert (not his birth name) will be getting me a bid, and we’ll see what it looks like.

(At one point, the post I was going to write was a litany of household improvements and repairs. I was already tallying it in my head:  the tree service was $4225, the plumbing was about $2,000, the new dishwasher and sink came in just under $1,000, the new fence will be $8,000 to $15,000, lord knows how much Robert will want… maybe I’m lucky and his kids’ college is already paid for. But I decided that I’d rather not think about it, let alone write about it.) 

Danny from the neighborhood also came over. Danny from the neighborhood is a short solidly built man originally from the nation below us who worked for the studios for years. I’ve been watching in fascination the past two weeks as he erected and stained a new fence on the property across the street. I’ve seen many, many fences in my life, around this country and in others, and Danny’s fence may be the nicest-looking one I’ve seen. So I called him over to give us an estimate on ours. The last bid we got was that $8,000-$15,000 one, and you would be right if you sense my hesitation at contracting that fellow, but it’s immaterial because he never returned our calls afterward anyway. The other unspoken pandemic problem:  finding available contractors. So many people have turned to home improvement as entertainment in lieu of actually going anywhere and doing anything that these guys are booked up.

By the time Robert and Danny left, two-and-a-half hours had slipped by. So it seemed like time to pull out some of that wine we bought last week on that tour of wineries.

Free tip:  If you ever want to get into the habit of spending a lot more money, one great way to go is to finally discover the difference between shitty wine and good wine. Shitty wine can be had for less than ten bucks, and sometimes for as little as two or three bucks. Our local liquor store ran a sale on cases of Spanish wine at $1.99 a bottle because it wasn’t moving, and most of it was corked. That is, after you could even get it open, and that would be with destroying the cork, the wine inside was bad. Meanwhile, the fabulous wine that rolls down your gullet and reminds you that there is love and light in the world, and that other delights await you? That wine costs many multiples of the cheap shitty wine. How do I know that? Because now I’ve bought it. And now that I’ve bought it, it’s already proving difficult going back to the cheap shitty wine.

After that one glass of the delectable pricey wine today, I switched back to water. Really trying to make this bottle last….

After that, I took our two neurotic uncontrollable dogs for a nice long walk. On that walk, I thought a lot about the post I was going to write. Now it was going to be about wine. As I watched the male dog urinate at length on his favorite bush, I wondered if I’d made a mistake sampling really good wine. Just how much was this going to cost me? Were we going to be offering this to guests?  I was balancing these questions against my impulse to go online and order a case of that one red of which we already have only one bottle left!

When the dogs and I got home from our walk and our run, I decided that I didn’t want to think about the wines either and I certainly didn’t want to write about them and that’s when I pulled the water out of the refrigerator.

Next project, after dinner, in this day of projects:  putting hundreds of comic books safely and securely into plastic bags with nice firm acid-free cardboard backings in them, and then organizing them in their storage boxes. Noted:  these boxes of comics have gotten a lot heavier over the past 40 years.  They certainly didn’t weigh this much when I was 18!

And then, because it’s Sunday night and that’s when you’ll find the best auctions ending, going on eBay to source more of these heavy comic books. And then, also because it’s Sunday night and that’s one of my nights to clean up the kitchen, cleaning up the kitchen.

So now it’s almost 11 p.m. and no, I’m not going to write the post I was going to write. What am I going to do? Do some reading, and probably get back to Civilization VI and converting the German cities to my religion; no, Frederick Barbarossa doesn’t like it, but if wants to do something about it, hey, have at it, pal.

Tomorrow’s another day. Maybe then I’ll write the better post.

Book return

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

One night last week, after about 20 years, I had a guy I know over for drinks and cigars and to talk about theatre and writing and books and music.

One thing about the pandemic: Suddenly we both had time. The social options normally available have telescoped down into almost nothing.

We already knew we had some things in common: We’re both playwrights and stage directors, we’ve both done work with Moving Arts (which is how we know each other), I’ve seen his plays and he’s seen mine, we both have wives and kids, and we both live in Burbank — within walking distance of each other. I learned the latter fact some time last year when he told me that whenever he’s at his kids’ school, he sees the fundraising tile my wife and I sponsored some years ago. More recently, he and his wife bought one too, so that’s something else we have in common.

Over the course of two-and-a-half hours in my back yard under a glowing patio heater and during half a bottle of bourbon, we took turns shooting references at each other that, yep, the other would actually get. When I compared the Stan Lee / Jack Kirby dynamic with the Edison / Tesla dynamic, both of them revolving around a genius largely unrecognized during his life, he was armed and ready with the tragic details of Tesla’s last years. We shared our admiration for the work of Ayad Akhtar. When we wandered into music, and the role of noise, and John Cage, and I inevitably brought up Pere Ubu, and he offered his love of their songs as songs, and then added Wire, I just about fell over. How often can one find someone equally capable of discussing Marvel comics, brilliant 19th century inventors, particular contemporary playwrights, semi-obscure postpunk bands, the practice of being a writer, Fran Lebowitz, and, especially dozens and dozens of books you’ve read?

What are the odds of this, and with regard to the books in particular? Not to put too fine a point on it, but it takes time to read a book. Most Americans read four books a year. In 2020, I read 33 books; my average is 26 books a year (I just checked; thank you, GoodReads), which I think is pathetic. Although it’s possible to read 100 books a year, distractions like eating and sleeping and other functions get in the way. So finding that you’ve both read Paul Auster and Joan Didion and Julian Barnes and Cormac McCarthy and Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth and some of the Russians and Fitzgerald and Hemingway and on and on while also having all those other interests in common is a bit… disconcerting. Wasn’t the final grandmaster chess tournament in “Queen’s Gambit” like this?

It did turn out, though, that there were two books I’d read and heartily endorsed that he hadn’t read, and two that he swore by that I hadn’t read. The next day, still thrilled and knocked off-kilter by the experience of having someone walk over to my house and have that sort of conversation with me over bourbon and cigars for almost three hours, I went on Amazon and sent him the two books I love that he hadn’t read: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

He texted me two days later to thank me and to say that he’d already gobbled down the Barnes book, adding a few salient points about it. And then the other day, when I opened my front door to see why my annoying dogs were raising high holy hell this time, I found a package from Amazon on my own doorstep: He had sent me the two I hadn’t read, pictured above.

After I read these, we’ll have four more books we can discuss. And this time, we won’t wait 20 years. We’ve already set the date.

Not comical

Monday, July 27th, 2020

Last week, I did not feel great. Was, in fact, partially laid up here and there for days. Stomach virus? Or: was it weighing on me that Comic-Con was canceled?

To give you a sense of the role of Comic-Con in my life: I’ve been married to my wife only one year longer than I’ve been married to Comic-Con. Comic-Con and I have been an item since July, 1988; I got married the previous Halloween, so there’s not even a full year between these two anniversaries. Not celebrating the one felt wrong.

Oh, to be sure there was “Comic-Con @ Home,” in which the people behind the Con put together digital versions of what they could of the Con. And I give huge props to the very nice people who run Comic-Con for making the effort. Untold millions of people who’d wanted to attend for years and years (and years) were finally able to get some semblance of Comic-Con (even though that semblance essentially boiled down to watching prerecorded videos of people talking about comic books and, I guess, other, lesser, pop culture).

I too partook.

  1. I watched a panel covering the debate over who deserves what credit for the Marvel Age of Comics, Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. (On which panel former Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth, who worked with Stan, said the intellectual property was jointly created, but the brand was all Stan. He gets points from me re the brand statement — the way covers were designed and written with blurbs seemingly ripped from the sort of movie posters young people couldn’t resist in the 1960s, and the way the urgent, melodramatic dialogue separated the entire line from, say, the assembly line monotony of Justice League of America dialogue, in which every character, whether Batman or Wonder Woman, had all the personality of See Spot Run, Run Run Run — but re the IP, i.e., the characters and storylines, I’d have to point out that Kirby did that for decades before Stan, and also for decades after Stan, and Stan was part of that only with Kirby. Kirby invented whole genres of comics that are now generating billions of dollars of revenue, while Stan was succeeding mostly at promotion.)
  2. I started watching a panel on the recently deceased Denny O’Neil, one of the most influential comics writers. I knew Denny when I was much younger (as I wrote about here), and although I knew he wasn’t well these past few years, his death still felt like a shock, like another part of my own history slipping away. (One advantage of Comic-Con @ Home: I can watch the rest later.)
  3. And I completely loved the latest iteration of Scott Shaw!’s “Oddball Comics” slideshow. I’ve seen this presentation of the strangest, wackiest, lewdest, most just-plain wrong comics almost every year for 30 years, and can testify that this year was the best presentation ever. (Here, judge for yourself.)

But what made that so completely hilarious? Yes — Scott’s clever deadpan narration. And all the new books slotted in this year. But also: I was a little down in the dumps about not having a physical Comic-Con to go to — and so enlisted my friends Paul and Joe, who also love Scott’s show, and the three of us watched it at the same time and group-texted throughout. So: For those 80 minutes at least we had a more vibrant simulacrum of Comic-Con.

Because without driving down in a vehicle stuffed with friends and suitcases, and a suite we’d all be staying in, and cigars, and drinks and poker in the room, and meals around San Diego, and laughing our fool asses off for five days… it just wasn’t Comic-Con. I congratulate the Comic-Con organizers for making their best attempt, and they accomplished a lot, and a lot of people, including me, are grateful. Moreover, they made the entire affair free.

But it wasn’t Comic-Con.

The other thing I missed about the Comic-Con that wasn’t? Getting to spend hours pawing through thousands of glorious moldering old comic books. So I decided to pull out 15 of my own long boxes (about a third of my collection — er, “investment,” in case my wife reads this) and “reorganize” them.

Which not only made me feel physically better — but enabled me to make a list of the comics I’m going to look for at the 2021 Comic-Con. In person.

Actual Comic-Con at Home

Breaking with tradition

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

Any other year, I and between three and eight pals would now be tumbling out of a tightly packed minivan and into Comic-Con down in San Diego. But, this isn’t just any year. No, this is the year of the pandemic, when the Con is virtual (and, let’s face it, not really “the Con”) and I’m posting this blog from my bedroom. Insert sad-face here.

It is nice to see, though, that the convention center is missing us, too. Comic-Con has been held at the “new” convention center since 1991, so my relationship with the Con, which I started attending annually in 1988 predates that of the convention center. I hope we’re just taking a breather here and this isn’t the end of the relationship. I gather that the convention center feels the same way — hence this video.

Yes, I’ll attend some virtual panels. (At the very least, Scott Shaw!’s Oddball Comics presentation, tomorrow at noon.) And I recognize, in all fairness, that at least this year all eleventy billion people who’d like to go to the Con can finally get in. And although I can’t paw through hundreds of thousands of delicious decades-old comic-books at the Con, I did receive a couple dozen in the mail today courtesy of my pursuits on eBay. But what about poker parties in our hotel room? The virtual Con has no way to make up for that annual tradition!

What’s next

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

This weekend, as with most weekends recently, has been consumed with straightening up my comic-book collection and working on my new play. I’m slowly running out of thousands of old comic books that still need to be paired with nice plastic bags and boards and carefully slid into comics storage boxes, and I also may finally be running out of ways to rewrite the same 119 pages, at least in a way that theoretically improves upon them. I’ve already got more delicious rotting old comic books on their way to my house, courtesy of eBay and Mercari, and at some point I suppose this play will be done.

This morning I had a very nice surprise on the weekly Pere Ubu live show on Patreon when the band’s manager, the smart and very talented Kiersty Boon, sang me happy birthday, which even earned a nod from David Thomas. Again, a nice surprise. If you’re not on the Ubu Patreon platform yet, you’re going to want to watch that and much here, so here’s the link. Earlier in the week, I had posted on Facebook that all I wanted for my birthday was a new-new Pere Ubu album (a new one having just come out a month or so ago), at which a fellow fan and friend remonstrated, “Oi, Lee! You’re such a greedy boy!” But on the show, Kiersty and David announced that there is now indeed a new-new Pere Ubu album available for download, proving yet again that when you want something, you should put that want out into the universe in order for it to happen. In retrospect, I wish I had wanted Donald Trump out of office for my birthday.

While doing my self-appointed chores today (laundry; work on play; straighten up more comics; complete the online Sudoku Mega; pick more avocados from our tree for my wife to barter at work), I still found time to take on a bunch of objectivists, libertarians and crackpots on the Facebook page dedicated to the late Steve Ditko, best known as co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and as an acolyte of Ayn Rand. The thread started when someone posted a lunkhead op-ed claiming that the nation had met its ruin because we weren’t adhering to the most extreme sort of religious evangelism, and equating protesters with rioters (never mind that the nation was founded protesters who rioted, and that most of us who have protested several times in our lives have never once rioted). When, finally, after much back-and-forth between myself and several other people posting, the original author admitted that he’d never even read the thing he linked to, for which he then got eviscerated by others, I declared victory and left the discussion. But not before one of the commenters assured us all that if he were in charge, this rebellion would be put down fast! I offered that Google could provide driving directions, should he gather the momentum, and that in the meantime he should beware paper cuts while reading those old comics.

Whenever I finish a TV show or movie or book, I get an email from Netflix or Goodreads asking me “What’s next?” Y’know what, guys? When I know, you’ll know. Let’s just leave it at that. Especially in 2020, no one knows what’s next.

Joe Sinnott, R.I.P.

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

I was sad to learn this morning that Joe Sinnott had died. He was 93, and that’s a reasonable amount of time for anyone, but he touched my young life and left a lasting impression, not just as the premier inker on “Fantastic Four,” but also in my one personal encounter with him.

When I was 11, I met both Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott at the same table at Phil Seuling’s comics convention in NYC. I told that story near the bottom of this longish blog post three years ago, and how awed I was to meet Kirby — and how very kind Mr. Sinnott was to me. 

This was one of the most meaningful encounters of my life — the only time in my life I’ve been awed in anyone’s presence, matched with a moment of incredible kindness and attentiveness from his artistic partner. These guys were heroes to the men my age who were boys back then.

Later, I’ll update this post with the sketch Mr. Sinnott did for me.

Con-viviality

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Comic-Con was only four days — July 17th through the 21st — but it was even more excitingly overpowering, so much so that I took a week off blogging just to recuperate. Sure, I had plans to post things here during the Con, but I’m not sure how I would have done that. The event was stuffed — overstuffed! — with things competing for my attention (which isn’t unusual, even though this was the 50th anniversary celebration), so finding the time would have been challenge enough. Add in the fact that, as tracked by my phone, I walked seven to eight miles a day and did it on five or six hours of sleep each night, and you get a frenetic pace that fully required some recovery time.

(Plus, I was pretty busy when I got back.)

A few highlights:

  • Finding many excellent Silver Age and Bronze Age comics at reader’s prices. What qualifies to me as a “reader’s price”? Under the current cover price of (gasp) $3.99. I found lots of great old comics in $2 bins, half-price bins, and even, sometimes, for a buck each. Awesome sauce!
  • Seeing “Shazam!” the first night we got there. It was loads of fun and laugh-out-loud funny, Zachary Levi’s enthusiasm in the role was catchy, and it rather faithfully built on the source material while in plot points and in tone. A real joy.
  • Catching the documentary “Closer Than We Think,” about futurist artist and industrial designer Arthur Radebaugh. I’d never heard of Radebaugh, whose sleek designs and stunning artwork of the 1930s and 1940s made me jump online to buy a book of it… only to discover that no book of his work exists. Somebody:  Go collect this stuff into a book! In the meantime, you can see some of it here.
  • Getting to talk with Eddie Campbell, a comics writer and artist I follow (From Hell; The Playwright; Bacchus) and picking up his new book
  • Hearing comics great Jim Steranko take an hour to share three anecdotes — but one of them was pure brilliance, from his years as an escape artist, when he came up with what promised to be his greatest stunt:  escaping from a moving ferris wheel. Let’s just say that when he was rotated to the top, 80 feet up in the air, he got out of the coiled ropes a little early. “And what happened?” someone asked. “I fell,” he said. Luckily, one of the bucket cars on the wheel caught him after about 15 feet, purely by chance.

I got to see lots of other great things — Scott Shaw!’s “Oddball Comics” slideshow, which never disappoints; the “Quick Draw” live sketch event; lots of clever costumes; and the sheer amazement of my 15-year-old great nephew at his first Comic-Con experience, both at the excitement in the convention center and the near-pandemonium spilling onto all the streets of San Diego for about a square mile — but here, bar none, was my favorite bit of Comic-Con this year:

David Rosing (NASA JPL Mars Sample Return system engineer), Shonte J. Tucker (JPL thermal engineer), Kobie Boykins (JPL Mechatronics Engineer), and Laura Kerber (NASA JPL Mars research scientist) discuss how they go boldly where there’s no one around to fix it. Hear stories from the trenches of the heartbreaks, close calls, and adventures of real-life solar system exploration on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Q&A session following.

Yeah… no. That in no way conveys what the panel really was. Here’s what the panel really was:  government-funded scientists giddy with excitement about all the cool stuff they’re working on for the moon, Mars, and beyond, and what those new discoveries and possibilities might mean for us, all of it positive.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to hear government-funded scientists beside themselves with glee about science and what we’re learning every day, and about their hope for the future.

So I decided to get up and tell them that.

I got to the microphone and said, “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be here in a room with scientists who are so excited about the future. Usually it’s not you guys in the headlines — instead it’s the anti-science guys from the government. So:  thank you. I’m really glad you’re here!”

That elicited big cheers and applause from the room, which was packed with about 200 people feeling exactly the way I did about it. We were all cheering the scientists.

Then Dr. Rosing noted what a good investment science is, and how careful they are with how they spend taxpayer money.

“Oh, I’m happy to have you get my tax money,” I said. “It’s the other guys I don’t want to fund!”

More cheers and applause from the crowd for that.

As much as I loved the comic-book part of it, and all the costumes, and the great time with family and friends, hearing Dr. Laura Kerber excitedly pitch just how much we’re going to learn when she finally gets to launch her project exploring the deepest part of the moon in a crater so vast it’s wider than a football field and deep enough to accommodate Big Ben… well… that’s something I’m going to remember. If it’ll help, I’ll gladly send her $20 to help with Project: Crater Diver.