The Lurker From Beyond Makes A Great Cover

It’s the month of Halloween again and I’m going back to the Werewolf By Night series from Marvel Comics to look at another great comic book cover. (The first great cover I looked at back in 2016 was issue #26 of this same series. Click here to read that one.) This month’s example is the cover of the eighth issue, dated August, 1973.

The illustrator is the great Mike Ploog, who was the main artist for the first few issues of the Werewolf series. The interior art for this issue was done by Werner Roth, a capable artist who does a good job with the story, but I would loved to have seen how Ploog would have illustrated it. Judging by the cover, Krogg would have been even more menacing.

The cover is reminiscent of the old monster comics by Stan Lee and the great Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Those comics also featured some menace with a playful name such as Groot, Sporr, Rommbu, and Fin Fang Foom. The names would often be followed by a subtitle like “the thing that could not die” or “his very name made men tremble” or “the creature from nowhere”. So dramatic.

Well, in this issue we meet Krogg! The Lurker from Beyond! Chilling!

Werner Roth’s version of Krogg. Good, but it doesn’t have quite the same menace as Ploog’s.

Ploog’s art, which he penciled and inked it, just leaps right off the page at the reader. The werewolf has a real sense of movement. I just love how Ploog drew the werewolf. The flaming breath of the lurker from beyond makes a nice splash that throws the flames and words right at us. Those words, done by either Morrie Kuramoto or Danny Crespi (comics.org credits both), look great and have that 1950s sci-fi movie feel.

There is a bit of misleading going on on the cover. Tethered to the tree, just behind Krogg, we see a “damsel in distress”. There are a couple things about this inclusion. One is the reader looking at the cover might think Krogg is defending the woman from the werewolf. I mean, he is a werewolf. But he is the hero. And Krogg is the rather arrogant and very talkative villain. (Talk about monologuing! Yeesh!)

The second thing is that the reader might be confused when reading the book. There is no damsel in distress. Just a battle between our hero and Krogg. Krogg is a demon of some sort that cannot be see by humans unless he possesses an animal or human. Since the werewolf was already possessed by the spirit of a wolf, he had to use a bunny rabbit to create a body that could be seen. While not all wolfed out, Jack Russell had accidentally loosed Krogg from the underground prison he had been kept in for generations. Way to go, Jack.

Not to worry, the werewolf re-imprisons the demonic villain.

Or does he?

It’s a great cover!

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Can You Draw Lil’ Normie: A Tribute To Norman Truman

“Do you like to draw, or paint, or maybe just sketch and doodle?”

That is how the president of the Art Instruction Schools, Tom Stuart, greeted viewers in a 1990s television ad intended to attract budding artists to sign up for at-home art courses. Courses meant to forge the dabblings of their hobbies into finely honed marketable skills for the world of commercial art. Its most famous alum is Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.

The mail correspondence art school was founded in 1914 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where it operated until it closed its doors in 2018. It was famous for its many, many print ads challenging doodlers to duplicate simple pencil drawings to be sent in for evaluation. There were cute animals including Cuddles the Puppy, Tiny the Mouse, Cubby the Bear, and Tippy the Turtle. They also had human characters to draw, such as The Pirate, The Cowboy, The Musketeer, The Leprechaun, and an assortment of lovely ladies. All were in profile. All were simple enough drawings, but were you up to the challenge? Could you have what it takes for a career in commercial art?

When I was in the sixth grade, I gave it my best attempt to reproduce Spunky the Donkey. The results were pretty good for a 12 year old. (Although, my memory of the drawing was it was done in 1974. However, my mother’s handwriting on the drawing says in was 1976. I’m not gonna argue with Mom’s handwriting.) I didn’t submit the drawing to the school.

My grade school attempt.

Like most kids, I liked to draw. And sometime in the third grade, I began to notice I could draw better than most the rest of the kids I knew. Oh, why be humble? In grade school, few of my classmates could draw as well as I could. None could draw better. It would be the same in high school.

Being better at drawing than my peers was something that spurred me to draw more and more. Drawing more and more got me better at it and that kept me drawing and that kept me getting better. Sort of a snowball effect. I ended up going to art school after I graduated high school, where I was humbled by other students who could also draw really well. A few were better than me.

In the fall of 1996, I started working as a production artist at Cold Side Silkscreening in Minneapolis. (It’s still there. In fact, my wife is working there now as their staff artist.) That’s when I met Norman Truman.

Cold Side was filled with interesting characters, but Norman was in a category all his own. He was a punk rocker. Yes, there were other punks there, but Norman stood out. He was covered from (literally) the top of his head on down to his feet in tattoos. He also had piercing in loads of places. So, I’m told. I didn’t know him that well.

Norman in the shirt that never was, but should have been.

He had the appearance of someone scary. Someone to avoid. He might be violent. In fact, he was quite the opposite.

Sometime in the late ’90s, a group of us from Cold Side, Norman included, obtained tickets to see the reunited Godfathers of Goth – Bauhaus. While waiting for the band to take the stage, I spotted a couple of my art school classmates. I went of over to say hello. I was greeted by an enthusiastic “Dim!” (I got the nickname Dim at art school.) I sat with them to visit for a few minutes.

As we waxed on nostalgically about the art school days and what we were doing now, one friend was distracted and pointed out to the other, “Look! That dude has tattoos on his face!” I looked over and saw it was Norman. I said, “Oh, yeah. That’s Norman. I’m here with him. I work with him. He’s a really nice guy.”

And he was a really nice guy.

As, I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, Norman is no longer with us. He died in early August, after a sudden and brief illness at the age of 54. I know he had asthma. It was a serious condition for him and it may have been a contributing factor. But, I don’t know the actual cause of death.

Flyer art for Bob Murderer’s Memorial

In June of this year, Norman had reached out to me to do some artwork for a flyer promoting a two night punk rock concert event to honor another former Cold Sider who had recently died. It was for Bob Murderer (not his real name, duh), who had died after battling cancer for sometime. Bob’s death was a sad occasion, but Norman’s was a shock. Bob’s friends knew he was sick and they had time to come to grips with that. We didn’t have that with Norman.

I finished the art for Bob’s flyer and sent it to Norman. He was thrilled with it and planned to give the original to Bob’s longtime girlfriend. I gave him some advice on framing the art and how to preserve it. He thanked me for the heads up.

That was the last private text chat Norman and I would ever have. A couple week’s later yet another former Cold Sider texted me to tell me that Norman was in a coma. A week later our friend Norman succumbed to his illness.

A sketch by me done in May, 2020.

The outpouring of love for Norman on social media was incredible. From the moment the news went out that he was very ill, people who knew him sent their sincere wishes for his recovery. They sent messages of love and support to his wife, his family, and to each other. When the heartbreaking news came pictures, drawings, and endless stories of Norman’s kindness, his openness, his dedication to his friends, his family, his wife, and to punk rock filled my Facebook page. It was incredible! There are still memories being shared.

I shared whatever photos my wife and I had. I shared some memories. And I shared the drawing you see at the top of this blog. It was inspired by the Art Instruction Schools’ “Draw Me” challenges. While I was working in Cold Side’s art department in those early days, a co-worker suggested I come up with one based on Norman. That’s what I came up with. It would have made a great shirt. Why wasn’t it made?

Dear reader, you may not have known him, but in the Twin Cities’ DIY Punk scene Norman Truman was a legend. And if you had known him, you would have loved him. Everyone did.

Punk Forever, Forever Punk.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Schoolhouse Rock Rocked (Mostly)

ABC Television

Back in the early days of my childhood, it could not be overemphasized how important Saturday morning television programming was to us kids. Each year, sometime in late summer, the networks would run their prime-time specials previewing their Saturday morning line-ups for that fall. Those programs built excitement for the upcoming season and they softened the blow of the impending school year. Here’s NBC’s 1974 preview show.

Much of the programming seems awfully silly to me now, but when I was a kid I was enthralled. I know I’m gonna sound like an old man here, but kids today are missing out on the excitement of anticipation for the Saturday morning cartoon shows. See? I sound like an old man.

In 1973, ABC debuted a series of interstitial cartoons meant to educate as well as entertain. It was Schoolhouse Rock! And we kids loved them. (Well, most of them.) They were three minute long cartoons, played during ad breaks or between shows, featuring songs that taught about math, history, grammar, science, etc. They were the brainchild of ad man David McCall. McCall noticed his son was having trouble with math, and yet knew all the words to the pop songs of the day. McCall thought that maybe school lessons set to catchy tunes might help his and other kids learn.

In 1971, McCall recruited Bob Dorough, a musician and songwriter, to write a math lesson song, which became Three Is A Magic Number. Tom Yohe, who worked with McCall at the same ad agency, drew up some illustrations to go along with the song. Next thing you know, they were creating a whole series of songs to animate and put on television.

Some of the episodes haven’t aged very well (Elbow Room especially, despite still having a good tune), but most still pack a delightful punch.

And now a break from the blog for a brief rant…

There he is! Little Twelvetoes!

Schoolhouse Rock! also taught me the concept of overkill. As I recall, certain episodes became very popular indeed and started getting played with much higher frequency. One in particular.

Each time I would see the Schoolhouse Rock! intro, I would plead for one of the less frequently played, but much liked by me, installments:

“Little Twelvetoes! Little Twelvetoes! Little Twelvetoes!” I would repeat as I waited to see which would play.

(I liked Little Twelvetoes. It had a mysterious and somewhat creepy vibe. Sort of an early X-Files thing.)

But, no. It would be Conjunction Junction. Again!

Again?! Sigh.

Or, maybe, Figure Eight.

Both were excellent, but they were seriously overplayed.

Rant over. Now back to the blog.

So, what were my favorites? I thought you would never ask.

As I look through the list on Wikipedia, I’m noticing how many I really like that were written, many of which were also performed, by Lynn Ahrens. In no particular order, some of my faves by Ahrens include: A Noun Is A Person Place Or Thing, Interjections!, No More Kings, Interplanet Janet, Fireworks (sung by Grady Tate), and The Preamble.

There’s one that was written by George Newall and sung by Blossom Dearie that I would put in my top three: Unpack Your Adjectives.

I love the art style of I Got Six.

But, it was Bob Dorough who has the most episodes to his credit and the most of my favorites. I’ve already mentioned the first of all the Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons, Three Is A Magic Number and that mysterious alien Little Twelvetoes. Add to those the following (unless otherwise noted all of these were sung by Dorough): My Hero Zero, I Got Six (sung by Grady Tate), Figure Eight (sung by Blossom Dearie), Ready Or Not Here I Come, Sufferin’ Till Suffrage (sung by Essra Mohawk), and the bestest of them all – Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here.

Tom Yohe’s simple illustration style was excellent. I especially like his work on I Got Six. The sketchy yet disciplined linework over a white background and limited use of color is brilliant. There may be some eyebrow raising moments in there, what with the harem and the “prince” character and all, but it was 1973 and people were still learning. Heck, we’re still learning today.

How’s that spelled?

The initial run of Schoolhouse Rock! was from 1973 until 1984. The series returned to Saturday mornings in 1994 with a selection of the originals and eight new episodes, including one called Walkin’ On Wall Street. That one has an amusing typo that slipped by everyone. There’s a shot featuring a newsstand. Look at the picture. Can you spot the error?

In 1993, the series was taken to the stage with the production called Schoolhouse Rock Live! Then in 1996, a tribute album featuring ’90s’ alternative artists’ covers titled Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks. And in 2009, Schoolhouse Rock! released several new episodes direct to DVD covering topics related to the environment called Schoolhouse Rock! Earth.

But my heart belongs to the Schoolhouse Rock! that ruled the 1970s.

“Darn! That’s the end.”

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share..

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

It’s A Trope, But Not A Bad One

Thor #169 – October, 1969

For this month’s great comic book cover I’m going with one that is a bit of a trope.

I don’t know if there is a technical term, one used in the business, but I’m calling it the “cutout character”. What I mean by that is the artist decided to not draw a particular character while still including them on the cover. The artist merely draws an outline with the white of the page filling the space.

We have seen many covers through the years that have used this design device. There is a black version of this cover trope, in which the artist chooses to fill the outline of the character with flat black, creating a kind of shadow effect. Let’s call that the “black hole character”. (Maybe I’ll look for one of those for a future great cover.)

This month’s entry has another bit of a trope. It uses interior scenes, either from the same or previous issues, as a background collage. There is a variant of this trope which shows the cover has a “hole” torn out of it revealing the art of the first page inside.

The cutout drawing of Galactus with Thor flying out of the white space was done by Marvel Comics workhorse John Romita. Romita wasn’t as flashy as Jack Kirby or John Buscema or Steve Ditko, but I would say he was almost as instrumental as those great artists in establishing how comic book art should look. And he did a lot of work for Marvel. He not only drew many, many covers and stories, he would also make corrections or changes on many, many covers drawn by other artists. He would change a character pose, maybe add a character, or he might just change the face or a hand. Whatever was believed necessary to make the cover look its best.

That simple cutout drawing of Galactus is so impressive. With Romita showing the threatening power of the godlike villain with a simple outline surrounding the white space along with the Jack Kirby background collage, it all adds up to one great cover. So what if it is a trope? Or two?

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share..

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Flame On A Great Cover

Sorry for not writing in a while. I just ended up taking most of December and all of January off. I have no excuse. No explanation, other than just needing a break.

But let’s get back to it with a great cover. This one caught my eye when I was filing away new arrivals at Nostalgia Zone.

It is Fantastic Four #353 (June 1991) which was drawn and inked by Walt Simonson, whose simple linear style is instantly recognizable. His use of line is very disciplined, especially when compared to the big flashy artists of the 90s comics boom. Some of those other artists were all about the lines and lots of them.

When I look at Simonson’s work it’s hard for me to link him to any influences he might have had. There’s some Jack Kirby in there, but what comic book artist doesn’t have some of the King in their style? Maybe a hint of Joe Kubert and more than a little Joe Staton, but Simonson, to my eyes, is his own artist.

This particular cover shows how well Walt used his lines. The Human Torch is drawn in the classic flame-on look, which is all about the lines and Simonson uses them so effectively in defining the form of our hot-headed hero. Even the motion burst straight lines of the background work.

I love the sharp angle turns of the Torch’s trailing flames. The sharp angles give the impression he is moving at a much greater velocity than the typical rounded paths drawn by other artists. It is a subtle effect that really works.

And there is the expertly handled force perspective. The Torch pops right off the page. He is flying directly at us! It all looks right, too. From the exaggerated hand to that tiny foot. It’s not always to easiest thing to do to draw in forced perspective. There are other fine artists who can struggle to make it look right. Walt makes it look right.

Let’s not forget Simonson’s famous signature, which might be the best in comic books.

That’s a great signature and this is a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share..

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Another Wonder Woman Great Cover

She’s not tied up this time, but there she is being dominated by men. Again.

Well, this issue of Wonder Woman (#176) was published in June 1968 and the male dominated world of comic books was trying to get a handle on the Women’s Movement. However, I’m certain Wonder Woman was able to defeat the Triple Stars, the rather disturbing looking fellows surrounding her as she has a moment of doubt. (Spoiler: I took a peak inside. She kicks their butts.)

Artist Irv Novick, who drew and inked this great cover, uses the through the legs composition, which is not all that uncommon in comic book cover design. Why the first cover I wrote about on this blog (Werewolf By Night, #26, February 1975) used that composition very effectively. It was drawn by Gil Kane after all, so of course it is great.

So the composition works well and I like the way Wonder Woman is drawn. Novick’s anatomy drawing is great and I love that heavy black outline of her left arm. That heavy line seems to root her right to the ground.

But what really strikes me when I look at the cover are the faces of those two Triple Stars. The big smiles appear frozen in place. But, those eyes. Look at those eyes. It’s those eyes that makes those fellows so disturbing. They look like demented versions of Superman. I don’t want to know what is on their minds. And all the menace is achieved with those frozen smiles and those evil, evil eyes.

It’s a great cover that gives me the creeps.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share..

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Thank You!

It’s been one hell of a year, hasn’t it? Social unrest, political strife, economic upheavals, and a global pandemic.

Yep. A hell of a year.

Even so, I want to take a moment to acknowledge my gratitude to those who are so important to Nostalgia Zone.

There’s the staff. Starting with Chris, the owner, who stayed in the store through the three days and nights of protests and riots that came within blocks of our building last summer. I’m not sure what he would have been able to do had the rioters turned their attention to the store, but there he was, willing to go down with the ship. He’s been doing his best to keep up with the online orders and replenish our stock.

And Dave, who although he hasn’t stepped foot in the store since the pandemic forced a shutdown in March, has been working behind the scenes to help keep us going. And, I must say, the store doesn’t feel right without him. Personally, I miss Dave very much. We’ve been friends since 1996 and seeing him each Saturday was something that made my week. Every week. I haven’t seen Dave since March.

Then there is the new guy – Joe. Joe has been helping to organize the store and make room in the basement. (Oh, if you could see that basement! Joe is a saint!) He’s been pushing hard on our eBay sales and getting some good response there. Keep checking eBay, folks, Joe posts new items as often as he can.

And some thanks should go to Michael, who has occasionally helped out with the blog whenever I feel tapped for ideas. I know the blog has been a bit sparse since the pandemic took hold. I still try to get at least two out a month and Michael’s help has been greatly appreciated.

Most of all, we need to thank our customers. You guys have been great. We’ve had to close up once again to in store traffic, because the Covid is just spiking too high these days. Chris had been opening the store on weekends the last couple of months, but, with the current surge in cases here in Minnesota, he felt it would be too dangerous to staff and customers to allow in store business.

We all know a comic book and collectables store needs to be browsed. That’s its main appeal. People need to be able to sift through the boxes and shelves to find those missing items to fill the holes in their collections; or to find those treasures they didn’t know they had to have until it was in front of their eyes. But, with this pandemic, it’s just too risky.

We are still online, though. You can visit Nostalgia Zone from the safety of your home and browse through our catalog and make purchases. You can have your order mailed or you can arrange to pick it up at the store.

So, to all our longtime customers – Thank you so much for your business. We can’t say it enough just how much we appreciate you all.

To all our new customers – Thank you for checking us out and we look forward to making Nostalgia Zone your go to store for all those treasures you just gotta have.

2020 has been a hell of a year. We have high hopes that a vaccine will soon be available and we can get back to seeing you all in the store in 2021.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to see Dave again.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stay safe! Wear a mask!

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

A Timely Great Cover

Published in July of this year by Harper Collins is this month’s great cover.

It is issue number one of the limited series Action Presidents, the humorously told true stories of four of America’s greatest presidents. The series includes Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and our first president, and the subject of this month’s cover, George Washington.

Of course, all our presidents were human, so they were flawed men, but each featured in this series had a certain greatness which helped form and propel this country. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all of America’s presidents.

Washington set the template and the high standard of the office. He stepped down twice from positions of power. First, when he resigned his command of an army which had just won a revolution. And, then a second time, after serving two four year terms as this nation’s first chief executive, setting the two term limit that lasted until Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, first elected in 1932 and reelected three more times. Washington’s willingness to stand down from such power might be the most remarkable aspect of his character.

Let’s look at the cover.

Created by artist Ryan Dunlavey, I suspect it was digitally produced. Yes, I prefer the old school of hand drawn and inked comic art, but digital has its place. And in something as cartoony as this cover digital works really well. The cartooniness of the art helps sell the telling of the stories in a humorous way.

The simplicity of the art is fun and effective. I love the bold line of that popping from the page fist. And the sternness of Pres. Washington’s expression brings to mind Sam Eagle, one of my favorite characters from The Muppet Show.

I think it’s great.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

It’s Still Our National Pastime! Fight Me!

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with his take on America’s game.

Aaaaaaaaaaaah, Baseball.

Remember baseball, “The National Pastime” … ???

Of course you do! You were watching it earlier this week! Whassamatta, you?!? Are you really so forgetful you can’t even recall watching the awe and wonder of the post-season throughout October, the exciting World Series that just concluded earlier in the week? You don’t … !???!? I have a hard time believing that …

But … where was I?

Oh, yeah … Baseball: The National Pastime. (And don’t get me started saying baseball is no longer the country’s The National Pastime, that football and basketball have supplanted baseball’s reign. That’s an entirely different argument, one YOU WILL LOSE. Besides, I’m trying to talk about something of meaning and substance here… so back off and let me blather. yeesh All these interruptions.)

Baseball: The National Pastime. Where the glories and foibles of the game are publicly committed on field in front of thousands of fans (well, except during this particular abbreviated year, 2020, The Year Of The Covid) and celebrated and/or vilified to the Nth degree, each and every season come the spring and for the next 6 months.

Baseball in the Year Of The Covid.

Baseball: The National Pastime. Where you can go to any of 162 games during the season (again, except for this year) and kick back and relax with a hotdog and a Coke (or, preferably, a beer) and a bag full of peanuts and a tray stuffed with nachos dripping cheese sauce on your knees and not enough napkins to mop up your mess, all the while cheering and booing the plays of the game, letting them fade away the problems of the day if only for a few hours. Where sentimentality and wistfulness come flooding back to mind as you see a player make that double play or as that home run goes screaming into the left field bleachers.

Good gordness, Baseball is great. And it has been since its inception in the 1860s. And it still IS great, right on up to its current iteration, culminating in an unprecedented post-season yielding a bevy of outstanding contests.

My baseball memories – while not quite going back to the 19th Century – began in the 1970s with my father forcing me to try out for Little League. I distinctly recall gushing tears to seemingly no end about those tryouts. I simply did not want to play the game. But my father was steadfast and unmoving with regard to my situation. I was damned well going to play baseball, he told me. And I was going to like it. He was the father, I was the son. I didn’t really have a say in the matter.

I was a chunky hunk of goof, awkward as all get-out. But, as with most things, you gotta learn sometime.

Luckily, I had one saving grace: I had some power behind me in my swing. My first coach recognized that. He did what he could teaching me the fundamentals of baseball and, in between shining the bench with my butt, I was stuck in right field for a season where I would get in the least amount of trouble. That first year was barely tolerable. But I had to admit: By the end of my “rookie year” I was warming up to the sport somewhat.

When did it finally sink in? When did I finally get won over by baseball? During one particular, defining moment.

Toward the end of my initial season I shuffled up to the plate during one game. It was the bottom of the 9th inning, the score tied with two outs. It was gearing up to be another effort in futility, where I would most likely strike out. Again. And, if I did, the game would be over, ending in a tie after 5 innings. (Remember, it was Little League.) But my coach and my teammates were rooting me on, doing their best to psyche me up to keep the inning going somehow. At some point I told myself the plate appearance would be over soon enough and I could go home. So, I mentally pulled myself together, took a couple practice swings and walked up to the plate.

I don’t know what the count was seconds later but I do remember I was down to my last strike. And when it came it came at me impossibly fast. All I could do was close my eyes and swing my bat.

During that swing there was no sound, I heard nothing. There was no feeling in my hands. My eyes were jammed shut so tightly phosphenes pinpricked the blackness of my inner eyelids. All I could recall was the bat having wrapped around me, that swing completed.

And afterward, that’s when a flood of noise assaulted me, shocked me back to life and out of my void. My coach was screaming at me, the umpire behind me was telling me to get going. I had struck out, again …

… but …

No, I had not struck out. My coach was screaming at me with a smile a mile wide. The umpire was telling me to get going, to head out around the bases. That’s when I realized the bleachers behind my team were alive with clapping, cheering parents and kids.

Because I had just smashed a game-winning home run over the outfield fence. My first home run ever. I was in a daze as I trotted around the bases. But, as I rounded them, it dawned on me this home run thing was pretty cool. And as I stepped on home plate as the game winning run, I realized this baseball thing wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was pretty great.

That plate appearance, that home run, that feeling initiated and cemented my life-long love affair with baseball, something I continue to be adamant and vocal and passionate about to this very day.

Since that time and for 40 years I have been a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. A rabid, card-carrying “I bleed Dodger Blue!” aficionado come hell or high water, year in and year out, through the good times and the bad. (And there have definitely been a lot more good times with this storied ball club than bad.) And I continue to be a fan, despite the fact I moved to El Dorado County in the middle of California the better part of 10 years ago to a relatively small city known as “Hangtown” where there is a very opinionated contingent of devotees of the San Francisco Giants baseball team and their God-awful, clownish orange and black uniforms.

And this year, two thousand twenty? The Year Of The Covid with all its mask wearing and physical isolation and hurt feelings and nose thumbing at political correctness and nation-wide fire devastation and riots and political chicanery hasn’t harvested much in the way of anything to be proud of.

But it did offer up an outstanding baseball post-season, not to mention the first World Championship to the Los Angeles Dodgers ball club in 32 years.

And if the country ever needed a good cheering up after the year we’ve had, what better way than courtesy of its National Pastime?

Thanks, Michael! Michael is often forced to contribute to Nostalgia Zone under the threat of exposing numerous undesirable skeletons lurking in his closet he’d rather not have to explain. However, he would be more than happy to go a few rounds with you on why baseball continues to be our National Pastime.

Images used under Fair Use.

Sad News About The Amazing Randi

I never met the man, but a friend was able to get this autographed photo for me.

I’m a skeptic. That means if you present me with a choice of explanations for an evangelical, faith-healing preacher’s ability to spout, seemingly out of nowhere, personal information about desperate people hoping for miracle cures as being: A) the preacher is hearing the voice of God, or B) his wife is speaking to him through an earpiece reading from information cards filled out by the faithful – I’m going to pick the latter.

And a person who has had a big, big influence on my embracing of scientific skepticism died just this week.

That person is James The Amazing Randi.

You may be skeptical, but that’s Randi hanging out with Richie and the gang.

Randi was a brilliant man who had never finished high school, but was awarded the MacArthur “genius” grant. He was a master conjurer (his preferred term to magician) and a fantastic escape artist. He gained world fame as an entertainer with a flair for the dramatic. Why, he even ended up on an episode of Happy Days as himself.

Much like one of his heroes, Harry Houdini, Randi became more and more disturbed by the con artists and charlatans who preyed on people’s gullibility and lack of skill detecting fraud and trickery. So, like Houdini, the diminutive conjurer threw himself into the task of rooting out the fakes and teaching the public of the importance of critical thinking and skepticism. He even had a lesson or two for scientists who believed they couldn’t be fooled. But as Randi has said, “No matter how smart or well-educated you are, you can be deceived.”

A short list of his greatest hits in skeptical activism include ’70’s spoon-bending sensation Uri Geller’s failure on The Tonight Show (I mentioned that incident in a blog earlier this month), exposing TV evangelist and faith-healer Peter Popoff’s use of an earpiece to fool his congregation, the Alpha Project, and a hoax Randi set up to demonstrate the gullibility and journalistic laziness of the news media with fake channeler (that’s a redundancy) Carlos.

Randi has made numerous appearances on the Tonight Show hosted by his friend Johnny Carson to demonstrate all manner of chicanery. One particularly amusing appearance had him showing how tricksters perform psychic surgery. Psychic surgeons claim to be able to reach into their patients’ bodies and extract cancers and whatever bad stuff might be in there, all without anesthesia or leaving a scar. Well, Randi saw through the tricks and showed the audience what was really happening.

I should be careful. Randi would never say he was 100% sure of the methods the con artists were using. It might be possible Geller or others like him really have superpowers. However, it’s highly unlikely and Randi would demonstrate how someone with the skills of a magician, but no magical powers, can produce the same effects. So, with the two choices of magical powers or a magician’s tricks, which would you choose to explain the feats?

But Randi didn’t limit himself to television appearances, he would give talks on skepticism and explain the iffiness of such ideas as ESP, chiropractic, and homeopathy. He would often start his lectures by downing an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills. Well, don’t worry. Since homeopathic “medicine” contains no active ingredients, Randi was just taking a handful of sugar pills. He didn’t even yawn.

Randi was also a prolific writer. Along with the numerous articles for skeptical magazines, including his regular column ‘Twas Brillig for Skeptic Magazine, he has written several books casting his skeptical eye on the aforementioned Uri Geller, faith-healers, Nostradamus, and many other topics. His seminal book Flim Flam is a must have for any critical thinker’s bookshelf.

There was also his organization the James Randi Educational Foundation created to further the cause of skepticism and science promotion. And, let’s not forget, there was the Million Dollar Challenge. A challenge that started as on offer of one thousand dollars, and grew to a cool mil with a generous donation, to be given to anyone who could prove paranormal abilities under test conditions. Conditions that were agreed to by the challenger before the test began. No one has ever earned the prize.

Phew! All that accomplished by one man whose desire to entertain people grew into a need to educate. What a man. What a legacy.

To learn more about James Randi check out the documentary An Honest Liar.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.