Sunday, January 28, 2007

Proselytize for Comics!

Of course we all read and enjoy comic books, but do you take it upon yourself to spread the word to others in some way? There are many opportunities for us to share the wonder of comics with those who are not (yet) as deeply involved with the little gems as we are.

Years and years and years ago while a high school student, I worked on Saturdays at a fast food restaurant owned by my brother Ken. The restaurant's name at first was Joker's Hot Dogs, later upgraded to Joker's Barbecue House (but don't worry, they still had hot dogs). Either way, you hear the "Joker's" part, right? Well, just about then, DC Comics decided to publish a Joker comic book. I arranged with Mr. Joe Sarno (who was my Comic Book Guy for twenty-nine years until he closed his retail shop a couple of years ago) to purchase a full case of The Joker #1 upon its publication. My brother approved the deal, and copies of that comic book were given away while they lasted to customers of the restaurant.

Years and years ago while a college student, I did my semester of student teaching at Prospect High School in beautiful Mount Prospect, Illinois. Of course I was very involved with the day-to-day responsibilities of writing lesson plans and grading homework papers, but I looked beyond the everyday. In conjunction with Mr. Ron Joy, my supervising teacher, I established a Comic Book Club at the school! The group met on an irregular basis to chat about comics, but that was not enough for me. For a couple of years by that time, I had been a semi-regular customer of Moondog's Comics (itself located in Mount Prospect). I arranged with Gary Colabuono, the owner of Moondog's, for the members of the PHS Comic Book Club to receive a 10% discount on all their purchases at his store.

Years ago but all grown up, I decided I was tired of giving out stale candy for Halloween. Why not give out Comic Books instead, I thought. So that's what I've done for quite a while now, and it's really a treat for me when I hear the costumed kids going down the stairs saying, "Ooooo, comics!" The first couple of years my supply of giveaways was donated to me by Joe Sarno after he stamped Comic Kingdom and its address on the first page of each comic. Then Marvel and DC went ahead and published their handful of comics with cover prices of 10 cents and even (gulp) 9 cents. Thinking ahead I bought those issues in bulk, and I still have hundreds of copies of those Batman and Superman and Fantastic Four issues. They will serve me for many Halloweens yet to come, and I invite each of you to hop onto the Comics-for-Halloween bandwagon.

What else can you do? Well, Free Comic Book Day is coming in a couple of months on May 5. Did your newspaper publish an article about it last year? If not you could write the paper a letter to inform them of the event, which is certainly a feel-good story that they would love to report about. Likewise you could write to or call your local radio channels and local television news outlets. I'm sure the FCBD people do a great job getting themselves known, but some help from little guys like you and me could never hurt.

Pssst. The secret word is comics; pass it on. And keep passing it on until it's no longer a secret!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

An Experiment in the Hayfamzone, Part One

The character of Jonah Hex first appeared in issue 10 of All-Star Western in 1972. That comic book changed its name to Weird Western Tales with issue 12 and Jonah Hex was featured through issue 38 when he would spin off into his own comic book while the anchor spot WWT would be turned over to Scalphunter.

The title of the letter column in Weird Western Tales was, of all things, "Weird Western Mails." The new Jonah Hex comic book would be needing a title for its own letter column (yes kids, practically every comic had a letters page in the old days!). Soomebody wrote in and suggested the very organic "Via Pony Express" and the editor inaugurated that as the lettercol title immediately. Now, do you suppose you are acquainted with this title-suggester? YES, YOU ARE! IT WAS ME!

When DC Comics Presents was starting up and featuring Superman team-ups with other heroes every issue, I wrote in to suggest "Star Spangled Salvos" as a nod to a great Golden Age anthology superhero title. The editor did not take my suggestion on that one but should have, as my proposal was much better than what wound up getting picked (although I have by this time forgotten what that was, without regret).

Anyway, my point is that I used to write letters to the editors of comics in my younger days. You can find letters by me printed in Rampaging Hulk issues 13 and 15, and in Unknown Soldier 233, and in Unexpected 196, and in a handful of others. There was something I liked better than writing letters to the editor, though, and that was writing letters to artists. Let me give you an example.

When DC Super-Stars #12 came out in late 1976, it floored me. It featured a Superboy story and cover drawn by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, and it was stunningly beautiful. The team of Swan and Anderson is one of my favorite penciller/inker pairings in all of comics history (although I can't stop myself from self-interrupting to tell you that my TOP favorite art team of all time is Jack Kirby and Mike Royer), but they hadn't worked together for about three years at that time. And Curt Swan hadn't drawn any covers at all for five or more years previous. So for a couple of reasons I was crazy about that issue. Click here if you'd like a reminder of what that Superboy cover looked like, but be sure to come right back!

Instead of just writing a letter to the editor to say how great I thought everything was about that issue, I decided to write to Curt Swan himself! I gushed and gushed and wrote how I wished he would draw covers regularly again. I addressed the letter to Mr. Swan in care of DC Comics, and proceeded to go about my business.

I don't think I had written with the expectation of being written back to; I think I just wanted to let a fine artisan know that his craftsmanship was not only appreciated but highly valued. It turned out that in fact Mr. Swan did write back to me, and I could tell from his missive that he was a very kind man. He graciously thanked me for the lavish praise I had heaped upon him, and he explained that cutting back to drawing very few covers had been his choice because otherwise he would have to regularly travel into New York City from his home (which I think I recall was in Connecticut) and he preferred not to do that. This fine letter from this wonderful gentleman was delightfully hand-printed in comics-appropriate all-capital letters, and I unfold it and read it every few years as a special treat for myself.

Hold on tight now as we fast-forward to the present day.

Here in the Hayfamzone Blog, a bottomless reservoir of positivity, we try to make a point of highlighting the best and brightest to be found in comics in our humble little articles. And lately I've started thinking, why not inform the best and brightest that they've been made a point of? So I like to print a hard copy of an article and send it to the individual(s) that I spoke highly of in that article. Is this a bad thing? Isn't this pretty much the same intention as when I wrote my letter to Mr. Curt Swan?

Imagine my surprise then when one of these recent Hayfamzone Letters was returned to me in the sense of "Return to Sender." I had addressed the letter to an individual in care of the company that the individual currently works for exclusively. Instead of forwarding this harmless little letter to the appropriate party, however, someone on the receiving end took a big black marker and darkened out the entire name and address area of the envelope; my return address sticker and the postage stamp were the only pieces of information left unobscured by Marker-Crazy, and the essentially-refused piece of mail was returned to me.

Just for good fun and potential blogability I'm going to send my Hayfamzone Letter to this individual again, although this time more pointedly than just in care of a company. Will it be delivered this time, or will blackouts once again rule the day? Forgive me for not specifying any details yet, but I will report back to you in the future and spill every bean at that time. Wish me well!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Can You Hear Me Now?

WBEZ at 91.5 FM is the public radio channel serving the Chicago area. Since roughly forever, WBEZ has broadcast a mostly-talk format during the daylight hours and jazz music overnight. Just in this past week, however, WBEZ has done away with the overnight jazz to refocus itself as an almost-entirely-talk format 24 hours each day. There has been a minor outcry in the city about this changeover, and the station itself estimates that it is alienating about 40,000 nighttime listeners. I have never once tuned in to that overnight jazz programming, but a Sunday afternoon program that I've listened to regularly for the past couple of years is also being affected.

I've made it a point to be in the car either going to or coming from someplace during the timeframe of noon to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoons because that was when a WBEZ music program hosted by Dick Buckley has aired. It featured classics by the likes of Duke Ellington from the dawn of the jazz era, and the show was always peppered with knowing anecdotes and insightful background information by the delightfully gravel-voiced Mr. Buckley. I was grateful to read in newspaper accounts that Mr. Buckley's show would not be cancelled in the wake of the new WBEZ Master Plan, although it would shrink to one hour from three.

This past Sunday afternoon, there I was in the car, and I tuned in to WBEZ at about 1:15 p.m. In place of Dick Buckley's great voice enlightening me about the history of music, there was some whiny-voiced individual talking about the history of radio and how he had come to hate hearing Gilbert O'Sullivan's Alone Again, Naturally on his transistor radio as a youth. Huh? When a station break came I thought there would be a program announcement clarifying whether Dick Buckley's hour was yet to be heard at 2:00 p.m. or whether interested listeners should be sure to tune in at noon the following Sunday to hear the show, but there was no such announcement. At that point I got out of the car to go into some store.

I returned to the car shortly after 2:00 p.m. and was gratified to hear the pleasantly gravelly voice I had been hoping to hear. A little more constrictive, but on future Sundays I will plan to be in the car in the timeframe between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Curious to hear it yourself? WBEZ does stream live and if you click here I'll take you to their website. Listening in on Mr. Buckley is like getting a tuition-free seminar in the history of music (although, being a public radio station, WBEZ would not turn down any dabs of tuition you might offer up). Mr. Buckley's talks about music are as educational and enjoyable as reading Dave Kehr write about movies, and you can do that if you click here.

Whoa, you say! You though this was your beloved comicblog, right? Well keep right on reading, pardner!

That newfangled radio show I heard in the erstwhile Dick Buckley timeslot did not exclusively feature the whiny guy lamenting his memories of transistor radios. It pulled back and widened its focus to a more general history of radio broadcasting. The show played a recording from the earliest days of radio in which the announcer said it wasn't known how far their signal was travelling, and he requested that listeners receiving the transmission call in to let their location be known. And this is our transfer point back into comicblog territory...

A great blog I've been following since I stumbled across it a couple of months ago is the Simon and Kirby site maintained by Mr. Harry Mendryk. Of course we're all fans of the great Jack Kirby, and Mr. Mendryk's articles are spectacularly informative and well-written. In fact one of his recent revelations is so fascinating that I will be devoting an entire future blog entry to it! You can visit the Simon and Kirby website yourself by clicking here.

It was on Mr. Mendryk's site that I learned that this week has been designated as De-Lurking Week (and please pardon me for taking it upon myself to insert that hyphen). The idea is that bloggers toil away relentlessly without getting much feedback, so how about if for one week all of us blog-readers go out of our way to give a little feedback to whichever blogs we frequent? Nice idea!

Here at the Hayfamzone Blog we have heretofore received exactly one thimbleful of posted comments, and now we've got our catchers mitts on and are ready and waiting to receive more. If you go to the Simon and Kirby blog you can see that Mr. Mendryk recieved about a dozen responses after he put out the call. In the spirit of the internet being a web, let me share with you the links to the blogs where Mr. Mendryk first found out about De-Lurking Week; they are Pharyngula and Afarensis.

Okay, your turn!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hayfamzone Visits Newsarama!

Yes, you read that title correctly: Hayfamzone Visits Newsarama! What could it mean? Such mystery! Doesn't it evoke in you the same great expectations you had when you first heard the title Superman vs. Spider-Man? Or The Uncanny X-Men And The New Teen Titans? Well, don't get your hopes up too high because today's blogging tidbit might just a few notches below those two epics on the momentousness scale. I'll spill the details shortly, but first let's rewind the old dial just about thirty years.

In November of 1976, DC Comics inaugurated a toll-free phone number for fans to call. It may have been called the Direct Currents Hotline, but my memory is murky (and the only reason I'm stating the month and year with some confidence is because I found that information posted on a very interesting website entitled DC Timeline). Once a week a new recorded message was ready to be heard. Somebody different every week would read off the latest news scoops, but my memory is REALLY blurry. I'm fairly sure I remember that Julius Schwartz and Paul Levitz and Joe Orlando all took a turn, but if anyone kept a list of the message-readers I hope you will please share that list! I believe the Hotline lasted at least three months, and DC discontinued it because it was getting too many calls. The Hotline was replaced by a monthly fold-out pamphlet mailing that lasted about a year.

What's with all the thirty-year-old blah-blah, you chirp? Just a little lesson, grasshopper, about how difficult it was to gather information in the pre-internet age. Things are so much easier now!
Newsarama is a great resource for comics fans, and I am pleased to maintain it as a permanent link right here on this page. I don't even mind telling you that I keep as the home page on my office computer.

Well, those who register on the Newsarama website are able to post responses to the online articles that appear there. Usually I just read the artcles and move on but this week, for only the second time ever, I posted a response! It had to do with an article about DC Comics 52 and you can read that article if you click here. My response is #73 in the list and you can get to it by scrolling down this page.

So that was my little visit to Newsarama this week.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Routine Maintenance in the Hayfamzone

Happy New Year!

Yes, that was a cool wind you heard whistling through the castle. And in place of the nova-bright bath of fluorescence, a precious few candles at isolated outposts. Though the hayfamzone in its entirety has been intentionally dark these past two weeks, still there are some odds and ends bellowing to be thrown against the wall.

All four of the hyperlinks in the "Links" section of this page now work properly. If you tried one of the links when I first added them to the page and were discouraged after being sent nowhere, please try again! You are but one click away from seeing my beautiful Jack Kirby artwork or even some artwork that I drew myself back in the day. And of course you'll want to regularly check my current ebay auctions; new items will be listed in a day or two if they haven't been already!

Did you ever click into the hayfamzone and get accosted by a digital version of the song Linus and Lucy? Well, that was my fault. SORRY ABOUT THAT! I was trying to simulate for you the experience I had when I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum and they had that song playing in the background. Interent professional Charlie Meyerson suggested that I turn off the music, and I definitely am able to heed good advice. Anyone else with good advice for me, please write!

Last week I wrote how I had paged through the new Spirit #1 and had seen the beautiful artwork and color. Maybe you wondered why I hadn't mentioned the story. The answer is simple enough: as of my last posting I had yet to read the story. I was afraid to read it. I set that comic book aside in a pile of its own for a week or ten days, shuddering to think that it might be a Crash and Burn Moment for DC Comics and the world of comics in general. I hold the Spirit in high reverence, and other attempts by modern day artists to capture the essence of The Spirit had been less than memorable. The time I had been dreading came last week, and I nervously sat down to read the new comic that I already knew was beautiful to look at. Those of you who have already read the issue won't be startled as I exclaim that THE STORY IS EXCELLENT! I needn't have worried! Darwyn Cooke was absolutely the perfect choice to helm this rejuvenation of The Spirit, and the gentleman has even more solidly cemented himself in my mind as a Modern Day Master of Comic Books.

I mentioned also last week about the brilliance of the coloring by Dave Stewart gracing that superb Spirit story. I meant to add that another of my favorite colorists is Lee Loughridge. So amazing is the craftsmanship of Mr. Loughridge that I have been known to buy comics he colored just so I could luxuriate in the hues.

Oh, and I have another Gift from the Hayfamzone for you. It's not a valuable hyperlink like my earlier presents, but rather a great comic book recommendation. If you're not reading DC's Mystery in Space, please take this paragraph as an emphatic encouragement to amend your ways. It is one of the best written current comics, and the artwork is among the best also. Not only does his dialogue sparkle, but writer Jim Starlin earns even higher marks for one of the most cleverly constructed of current comic stories. You see, each issue has two parallel but somewhat-related stories (one featuring (Captain) Comet and the other featuring The Weird drawn by Starlin himself), and in an issue or two the two tracks will converge. It's a limited series, so time's running out!

That just about empties my bag of Odds and Ends. So, you ask, what does 2007 hold in store for the hayfamzone? I hope you'll keep checking back here every week and we'll find out together.