Two Great Covers For Independence Day

Alex Ross rocks! He is one of the most impressive artists of the modern age of comic books. And of all time. His work in watercolors is so real and yet fantastical at the same time. There are other artists who have followed his example, but to my eyes Ross is the best of them.

His approach to comic book storytelling is to make it real. It’s clear he uses models to create those beautiful pages and covers. His characters look as though they could really exist. Their costumes have creases and folds as they certainly would if actual people donned those outfits to fight crime. They aren’t essentially naked with their costumes painted on them as is the traditional approach of most comic book art.

Now, which of his many amazing covers do I focus on today? Well, today America celebrates its independence, so let’s look at the covers he produced for the two-part treasury edition series for DC Comics’ now defunct Vertigo line called U.S. (or Uncle Sam). Ross also produced the interior art and gave some plot assistance for the series written by Steve Darnall.

The first issue was infuriating to me as I read it when the series was released in 1997. The character Sam had forgotten his identity as he explored America’s dark history trying to regain a sense of who he is. I was infuriated by the focus on the terrible aspects of America’s history. I was uncomfortable being forced to face those ugly truths about America’s past and, sadly, its present. But that was the point. The reader was supposed to be uncomfortable.

With part two, Darnall and Ross explored what is good about America. The progress it had made and the hope of a greater future. The story embraced the message of Pres. Bill Clinton in his first inaugural speech when he said, “There is nothing wrong with America cannot be cured by what is right with America.” My fury dissipated. I realized the ugliness of my country needed to be confronted and fixed. America’s challenges are still there and our work is never done.

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So, let’s look at those covers:

Part one shows a down and out Sam. His clothes are tattered. He looks as though he’s been beaten down. And he’s being walked over by Americans who are just ignoring his plight.

Sam is reaching out to the reader, pleading for help. There appear to be a few coins indifferently dropped by the passersby. “Oh, look at the poor old fellow, down on his luck. Here’s a couple pennies.”

That gesture might assuage some of their guilt, but will it do any more than that? The people will shrug. “I gotta get to work. I’ve done what I can. He can get a job.”

But is that what the reader will do? Sam is reaching to you, he’s looking you right in the eyes. Can you casually pass him by?

239642Issue number two has Sam finding his way, his purpose again. He’s ready to face the challenges that beset America, both external and internal.

Ross uses flames to show the power and passion renewed in Sam’s heart. Sam is once again looking the reader in the eye. Do we feel charged with the same passion to do all that we can? Or do we feel the accusation that we as Americans haven’t done our part? That we haven’t done enough? Can we brave the flames as Sam is doing?

Both covers have that soft watercolor look of which Alex Ross is a master. It’s subtle and lifelike. And he challenges the reader by having Sam looking unflinchingly directly at the “camera”. Sam is looking right at us. He’s challenging us.

He’s not about to blink. Will we?

Happy Fourth of July!

Packing Peanuts!

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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 iTunes.

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Ten Years And Two Days Ago

Writer’s note: This is taken from my personal blog at dimland.com. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years (and two days) since Farrah Fawcett left the world. The following piece was written the day she died. I have revised it slightly.

Farrah Fawcett lost her long battle with cancer today. She was just 62. She left the world far too soon.

When Farrah burst on the scene in 1976 on the very popular television series Charlie’s Angels, a crime series featuring the adventures of three female private detectives, I was about 12 years-old. I had had a crush or two on girls my age, but…WHAM! There was Farrah. I was captivated. I was smitten. That hair, that smile, those two protrusions in the red bathing suit… Ahem.

Farrah was the first woman that I fell in love with. She became my girl. I was obsessed. I collected her posters and magazines featuring articles about her. I cut photos of her out of newspapers. In fact, collecting images of Farrah became my passion. My corner of the bedroom I shared with my younger brother became a virtual shrine to a woman I would never meet. I still have most of that collection packed away somewhere.

I remember an uncle of mine telling my mother that, at the very least, my Farrah obsession confirmed I wasn’t gay. Why that mattered to my uncle, I was never quite sure. How questionable was my behavior toward the opposite sex that my uncle would be relieved by my love for Farrah? I was only 12. Come on! Besides, why should anyone care?

My obsession with Farrah lasted well into high school. I had drawn several portraits of her, read one of her unofficial biographies, I even wrote a biographical paper on her for a writing class during my senior year. For a time, I took to adding a little FF to my signature on my drawings. It stood for “Farrah Freak”, which is what fellow classmates took to calling me.

(Incidentally, the paper I wrote about Farrah was to be given three grades: one for research, one for composition, and one for grammar. I received three As on the paper. My teacher spotted me in the cafeteria on the day the graded papers were to be returned, she told me she could tell I really liked my subject. I wish I had held onto that paper. It would be nice to read it now.)

The years and my obsession passed. I became more interested in women I actually knew. (Although I wasn’t any luckier with them than I would have been with Farrah. Oh, woe was me. I’m married now, so I had some success.) It’s strange but I didn’t go to her movies. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because many were so poorly reviewed that I didn’t want to see my girl humiliated. I did watch her triumphant performance in the made for TV movie The Burning Bed and her not so triumphant performance in the made for the garbage heap Cannonball Run.

However, my obsession had ended. I had long since dropped the FF from my signature. I had moved on.

Occasionally, I would note some of her doings with mild interest. Such as her very short-lived TV sit-com with Ryan O’Neal, Good Sports; her appearance on Arsenio Hall’s show during which I remember thinking her legs looked damn good; her less than flattering appearance on David Letterman’s show; her two nude photo layouts in Playboy (ok, the Playboy stuff was a bit more than mildly interesting), but the feeling wasn’t the same. The crush was gone.

Then came the cancer. She seemed to handle it well. She was going to fight it with everything she had. And she fought hard. In the end, as will happen to us all, death claimed her.

Now, I feel just a little bit older, a little bit emptier, a little bit lonelier. A big part of my youth is gone. I will miss Farrah Fawcett, she was my first girl.

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Update: As most of you probably know, pop music icon Michael Jackson also died later that same day. Farrah had been the biggest female sex symbol of the latter half of the 1970s. She had cemented her place along side other legendary female sex symbols (Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch, etc.), but because Jackson was considered the bigger star at the time, Farrah quickly dropped from the conversation. Her death became an “oh, yeah, she died, too” segment on the news. The TV networks did give her some attention, but the King Of Pop stole her moment.

And I will always hold that against him.

Packing Peanuts!

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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 iTunes.

You Know What’s A Really Good Movie About A Big Fish And Three Fellows Trying To Kill It?

MV5BMmVmODY1MzEtYTMwZC00MzNhLWFkNDMtZjAwM2EwODUxZTA5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR76,0,630,1200_AL_Of course, you do. It’s Jaws (1975). The blockbuster hit that made director Steven Spielberg a star. The blockbuster hit that was better than the book it was based on. The blockbuster hit that showed Hollywood that summer wasn’t a dead zone for movies. Jaws changed Hollywood almost as much as a little space opera movie would two years later.

I read the Peter Benchley novel after I had seen the movie in the summer of 1975. It took me a while to finish it and, I gotta tell you, I don’t remember much about the book other than two things that came as a shock to my then ten year-old mind. (Perhaps I was a little older than ten. It did take quite a while for me to get through it.)

One story element I remember is there was an affair between the characters of Police Chief Brody’s wife and marine biologist Matt Hooper. An affair? How would there have been time for that? But what shocked me was Benchley included a sex scene involving the two characters, in which Mrs. Brody had to remind young Mr. Hooper that she was there, too. I guess Matt wasn’t the most attentive lover.

The other moment I can recall from the book that wasn’t included in the movie came during the climactic battle between Capt. Quint and the shark. At one point, the shark breached the water. It came completely out and flipped all the way over the undersized fishing boat – the Orca. I recall Quint shouting at the shark, “I can see your…” Well, let’s just say Quint could tell his adversary was male.

Thinking back on these items also has me shocked my mother allowed me to read it at such a tender age.

It was the summer of 1975. I was nine years-old. And I, like so many other people that summer, was hankerin’ to see the movie. It was rated PG, and the advertising was stressing the film might be too intense for younger viewers.

What a great marketing gimmick. Even though it was true, the movie did get very intense, making such a statement in the ads did two things: It warned parents, so the producers could be a little safer against criticism about the effect of the intensity on children. And it worked as a challenge. A dare to get people to see it. Are you brave enough?

One Sunday that summer, Mom and Dad piled us kids, all four of us, into the family station wagon. “We’re going to see Jaws!”

“Yay!”

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Well, that was the intent. However, when Dad pulled into the parking lot of the local movie house and he saw the line of people stretching from the ticket counter all the way out of the theater and down the block, and when he saw the sign saying the showtime we were trying to get was sold out, he turned the car around. “Sorry, kids, we’ll have to try again in a week or two.’

“Awwww.”

The day came. We were going to see the biggest movie of the year, a cultural phenomenon. Then, as we waited for the theater to start seating, I started to worry the movie might be too intense for me. I got a little panicky. Dad brought me into the men’s room, put a little cold water on my face, and gently reassured me that it was just a movie, nothing I would see would really be happening. And I could sit right next to him, so I had nothing to worry about.

The pep talk worked. I calmed down and experienced the greatest movie of my life to that point. I found sharks to be endlessly fascinating after that. I began drawing sharks. In fifth grade art class, I painted the movie poster (just the shark, I wasn’t that interested in naked ladies… yet) on a small, flat rock for a class project. Unfortunately, I believe that object has been lost to the ages. I even constructed a shark from construction paper, glue, tape, and paint. I remember it really impressed my dad. It, too, is gone.

The movie, in case you don’t know, centers on the small island town of Amity. Amity, as the mayor makes plainly clear, is a summer town that relies on summer dollars from summer tourists, who come to swim in the ocean. Should something happen to keep summer visitors and their money away, Amity’s businesses, restaurants, and hotels could suffer bankruptcy.

Unfortunately, a big, old 25-foot long Great White shark doesn’t give a rip about Amity’s bottom line. It’s discovered human meat and it likes it.

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Victims begin to pile up to the point at which the mayor (Murray Hamilton) can no longer live in denial. He authorizes funding of an expedition of Quint (Robert Shaw), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) to catch and kill the menace.

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It is one of the all time great movies. It’s both a monster movie and an action/adventure movie. It gets super intense (the scene involving two locals, a chain, a dock, and a pot roast comes to mind), but it’s also super fun. It has one of the best monologues ever captured on film – Quint’s telling of the tragedy of the USS Indianapolis in World War II. “I’ll never put on a life jacket again.”

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And the film has three great characters to watch: Chief Brody, the outsider who had had it with the sky high crime rate in New York City and desired the quiet simplicity of Amity island. Matt Hooper, a young and intense, but funny, marine biologist excited by the notion of encountering such a fish. And Capt. Quint, the colorful if salty fisherman who combines menace and charm deftly. The chemistry between the three actors is undeniable. We care about them and we want to be with them. Well, up until the shark beats the crap out of the Orca anyway.

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Sure, the animatronic shark doesn’t look very real. So what. It was the best that could be done at the time. Besides, the legendary technical problems of the shark made for a better movie. Spielberg had to use the “less is more” approach, which made the menacing shark even more menacing. If the robotic shark had worked better it would have gotten more camera time and the movie would have suffered. Just think of the sequels.

On second thought, ignore the sequels. Let’s all agree that none of them ever happened. There’s only one Jaws.

It is fantastic summer viewing. If you’ve never seen it or if it’s been a while since you have, now is a great time to watch it.

Packing Peanuts!

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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 iTunes.

 

Wait! Don Heck Drew This?!

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I checked two sources to confirm that Don Heck provided the pencils to this month’s great cover – Captain Marvel #5 (September, 1968). It’s his work. And it’s great.

It just doesn’t look like his style. It looks more like Gene Colan’s work. Colan had drawn the first four covers and interiors of the series, then Dandy Don Heck took over with this issue. My guess is that Heck was instructed to draw like Colan. It’s my understanding that that was a common practice in those days. A new artist would be instructed to draw like the previous artist so as to keep the continuity going, but then the new artist would be allowed to gradually let their own style come through.

Don Heck’s work gets knocked by some comic book fans as not being as dynamic as Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. And I think that is a somewhat fair criticism, but what Heck brought to the comics he drew was a stronger sense of realism. His characters may have seemed a bit stiff and static, but his anatomy drawing was much more accurate. And his action sequences were good. Just maybe not as page popping as Kirby and Ditko.

This is why I was surprised to learn that Don Heck had drawn this cover. I had assumed it was Gene Colan. But, when I was entering stock into the online catalog for Nostalgia Zone and I was adding information about the issue, I saw it was Heck who was given the credit for the drawing. And that’s why I had to check a second source.

It is his work.

And this page pops! It shows that Don could produce some quite dramatic and dynamic art. There’s the straining muscles of our hero, the stretching blue goop or whatever that stuff is, and the joyfully malevolent expression on the Metazoid’s face that all add up to a really great cover. I also like the coloring of the page, even though I was never very impressed with Captain Marvel’s original white and green costume.

Don Heck really cooks on this great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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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 iTunes.

How To Make A Great Cover, Unless Under Deadline

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In 1978, Stan Lee and John Buscema published How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way in an effort to teach young aspiring comic book artists how to draw comic books. It is an excellent, if dated, tutorial covering all aspects of creating exciting, pulse-pounding action that will leap off the page. How to draw figures, how to draw faces, how to make objects look real are covered along with page layout, composition, inking techniques, and how to create drama and the best action sequences. All in less than 160 pages.

My copy, acquired from a local library (I don’t remember if it was purchased or taken out and never returned – I hate to think what the late charges might be), has been well-thumbed, I can tell you.

I will focus on one chapter of this book in particular. I have a reason for this focus which will become apparent later.

It’s chapter eleven – The Comicbook Cover!

As an example, Stan and John focus on a cover of Nova (#12 – August, 1977). It was drawn by Buscema and, of course, it’s pretty damn good. (Hey, it’s by John Buscema. He was one of the masters.) Still, there were a few steps to go through before settling on the final design. A few quick sketches were produced using all the elements called for by the editor: Nova and guest-star Spider-Man are about to do battle in a library, in which we can see an incapacitated civilian.

 

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Stan breaks down the reasoning why the first three sketches were rejected before accepting the fourth design. One had the characters of Nova and Spider-Man too small in the design. Another had the star of the book with his back to the reader. And the third, would have also been nice to not have Spidey’s back to the reader.

Ugh! Editors. So hard to please.

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Eventually, a design was agreed upon and Buscema got to work, along with inker Frank Giacoia, producing the final piece.

The intent of this chapter is to show how important it is to create an exciting, engaging, and eye-catching cover. As Stan puts it:

“As you can imagine, the cover is probably the single most important page in any comicbook. If it catches your eye and intrigues you, there’s a chance you may buy the magazine. If it doesn’t cause you to pick it up, it means one lost sale.

“Consequently, more thought and more work go into the cover than any other page.”

It’s true. As a kid, I would mainly buy comic books based solely on their covers.

Well, the other day I was working at the comic book store (Nostalgia Zone in Minneapolis), going through inventory, seeing which books were needed for the online catalog. I came across a cover that made me pause. I stopped and showed it to the store manager. I asked, “What the hell happened here?”

Now, let me be clear. I mean no disrespect to the artists involved: Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson. Both have produced plenty of fine comic book art, including many covers.

However, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #17 (1983) looks… Well, it looks dashed off. It’s almost as though the cover wasn’t even thought about until just as the book was going to press.

Editor: “Oh, crap! We need a cover! Ed! Klaus! Draw Spidey! Stat!”

Five minutes later…

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“Ummmm. Sigh… Well! That will have to do. Run it.”

I can’t imagine this cover went through any of the process that cover of Nova went through. My guess is they were hard up against deadline and just needed a drawing of Spider-Man for the cover. Which seems strange as it’s an annual. I was always under the assumption that annuals, since they only come out once a year, have more time to produce.

But you know the old saying about assumptions. “When you make an assumption you make an ass of you and… mption?”

That can’t be right.

Packing Peanuts!

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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 iTunes.

An Age-Old Obsession

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns. This time with a tribute to model kits, and a familiar to many of us tale of when Moms just want things to be clean. No matter what the cost. And the joy of discovering that at least part of our childhoods can be relived.

When I was a kid, I spent many weekends and vacations in the San Bernardino Mountains of California with my good friend Doug Anderson. His folks had a cabin at Green Valley Lake, just a few miles as the crow flies from Big Bear Lake if you’re at all familiar with the area. The summers harbor especially fond memories because we used to build plastic model kits to pass the time, mostly battleships and aircraft carriers and old planes, lovingly painted in all shades of gunmetal grey, painstakingly adorned with colorful decals and meticulously glued with Testors plastic cement.

Little did I know this little hobby would ingrain itself into my being, later to well up in spades as the years progressed.

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The military craft gave way to my discovery of funky vehicles like Monogram’s Red Baron with its sheeny, chrome metal rooftop. And Tom Daniels’ Pie Wagon, that “cherry pie-haulin’ rod show stopper” as well as his tricked out Beer Wagon with kegs of brew in tow. Then I got into Star Trek models – The iconic starship Enterprise, Klingon warships, more. And that transitioned to other science fiction fare.

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Somewhere along the way I discovered Aurora Monster model kits: Godzilla, Frankenstein, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, along with all the others. Needless to say, as a home grown monster loving kid, I was in heaven. And they had glow in the dark versions, too!?! How cool was that?

All through these years my building and painting skills improved and, for a kid, I got pretty good. I proudly displayed my efforts on shelves in my bedroom, beaming with pride and pointing out the finer details of my efforts to anyone interested.

And then? The hobby died inside me. More exactingly, it died because of my mother.

She’d been in my room one day while I was at school and decided to clean all my models. Apparently, they had gathered dust beyond her approval. You can only imagine the end result: Wheels lay by the sides of cars, snagged off by dust rags catching some intricate detail. Impulse engines slumped half-cocked off their supports on my spaceships. The skeletal arm of The Forgotten Prisoner beside him on the ground. Those chrome shift levers on car dashboards were broken in two, three, four pieces, beyond reconstruction. Up and down Godzilla’s dorsal fin, chunks were missing. Parts of models were strewn everywhere. But … they were carefully placed beside each respective model so I could repair them. (How thoughtful of her.)

But it didn’t matter. The damage had been done. I was crushed. Devastated. I’m pretty certain I shed a tear.

I tried to fix them. But when a kit has been broken where it’s not meant to be, it’s almost impossible to make it anew once more. (Yes, I had skills… but they weren’t that advanced.)

And then I made a decision. I didn’t want to look up at those shelves any longer and gaze at the woeful shape my models were in. I chucked them all, each and every one of them, directly into the trash. My modeling days were over. (I kept the cool glow in the dark pieces of the monster kits though as reminders.) And that was the end of it.

I was angry with my mother for a month at least thereafter.

Fast forward to about 25 years ago …

I was at a KB Toy Store (which no longer exists) and I stumbled on AMT’s “Gigantics” kits, glorious dioramas of radiation-washed creatures wrecking havoc on towns and their townsfolk. Something inside me stirred. I noted a monstrous scorpion in front of a building, people fleeing in horror. Wow! A deadly tarantula crushing cars as if they were toys. Spiffy! A menacing mantis atop train tracks, waiting for the inevitable. Neat-O! A horrifying wasp descending on a carnival. Nifty! My imaginative kid sense of adventure kicked into gear as if it had never abandoned me, never realized the pain and torment of my ruined kits all those many years ago. Best of all, I was a free man, I no longer lived beneath my mother’s roof. If I wanted, I could build models, encase them in dust-free enclosures and display them safely without fear of Pledge or Swiffer! Zounds!

I scooped up two of each kit, because they were massively discounted and because I could. I was giddy and euphoric in my discovery.

And it didn’t stop there …

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At a garage sale one Saturday afternoon, I hit upon a Testors Weird-Ohs Hodad, a goofy-looking beach bum model reminiscent of my “Odd Rods” collector cards. It was complete, came in its original box and it called to me. A minute later – with a mere couple dollars exchanging hands with its seller – it was mine.

More models came gushing forth. The Incredible Hulk. Superman. Captain America. A few old antique cars. I stored them all lovingly to be put together at some later date.

Last year I joined a Facebook group of Aurora model enthusiasts who built and posted their wares for all to gander at. It was in this group I was reacquainted with the Aurora monster vehicles, goofy imaginings of mostly Universal monster modes of transport, kits I’d long forgotten. As a kid those kits were the epitome of modeling to me. And now, here in the group, there were collectors who owned and built them and displayed them in all their cheesy glory! I needed them! I wanted them!

That’s when my longings of old turned into realisms, courtesy of a couple “enablers” I acquainted myself with in the groups. They initiated (and continue to be) contributors to my collecting obsession, “plastic model kit acquisition mania.”

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One gentleman just happened to be selling a particular monster vehicle, The Mummy’s Chariot. I reached out to him and asked if he could acquire others. “I just might be able to do that,” he mentioned. Long story short, he provided me not only The Mummy’s Chariot but ALL the monster vehicles I once longed for: Dracula’s Dragster, Frankenstein’s Flivver, Wolf Man’s Wagon, Godzilla’s Go Cart and, finally, King Kong’s Thronester. Score!

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The other gentlemen got me going on the Aurora monster models, most of which I had as a kid but destroyed by dear old mom. Some were the original Aurora kits, some Polar Lights kits. One of the first I remember getting from him was The Bride Of Frankenstein, long sought after but, until recently, never possessed. Now? It’s mine … along with many others.

Present Day Confession: I have yet to build any of these kits. I am currently hording them until such time I can give them the love and attention they deserve. And that day will come.

But at the procurement rate with which these kits seem to be making their way into my hands (and with relative ease), I find myself suddenly overwhelmed with a small horde of models waiting in the wings. (And I haven’t even begun to mention the many resin kits I’ve acquired: Too Much Coffee Man, a Creature From The Black Lagoon tribute kit, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, ad nauseum.) Overwhelmed because, you know… “Life” and all its needful necessities and responsibilities get in the way of doing what we really want to do.

But one day, soon… I’ll sit down and carefully trim plastic parts from their trees, whittle away the flash, test place each part where it needs to go, sand and score and paint where necessary and marvel at the final finished product, over and over again. All with the fondness of the kid mind inside me, satisfied I’ve finally realized a few dreams come true, once and again.

And in the event I don’t have the time? They’ll certainly be handed down to my progeny. Who will no doubt think me insane for collecting such rubbish. And who just may toss them in with other items at criminally discounted price points at some estate sale of all my wares and collections and obsessions and oddities.

Wherein I will haunt them relentlessly to the end of their days for having done so…

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

The Reason M*A*S*H Became Two Different Shows

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M*A*S*H the comedy/drama.

A recent episode of the Stuck In The 80s podcast got me thinking about the legendary television series M*A*S*H (1972-1983). The podcast hosts and guests discussed TV series finales that occurred in or just after the 1980s and still pack a punch. One of the finales discussed was the one that brought M*A*S*H to an end. It still holds the record as the most watched series finale in television history. Nearly 106 million viewers tuned in to see the characters they knew so well say, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

Any discussion of M*A*S*H, a series set in an army hospital camp during the Korean War, inevitably comes around to noting that what started as a sit-com became awfully serious through its long run. By the time the show came to its conclusion, it barely resembled a comedy. On television the tradition was (and still is) sit-coms are 30 minutes long, dramas are an hour. M*A*S*H bucked that tradition. Sure, there were still some comedic elements (and that silly laugh track), but the dramatic moments made up more and more of the show.

After all, it was a show about doctors and nurses trying to save the lives of wounded soldiers during a war. Drama was always going to be there. But as the show progressed, so did the seriousness.

Now, I may be reinventing the wheel here and stating something someone smarter than me has already expressed, but…

What occurred to me while thinking back on this landmark show was that it can almost be pinpointed to when M*A*S*H went from a comedy with some drama to a drama with some comedy. I was able to pin it to the departure of one character.

It wasn’t Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). His leaving the show did provide an extremely shocking and dramatic moment that reminded viewers there was a war going on. It wasn’t Trapper John (Wayne Rogers), who was just gone. Hawkeye (Alan Alda) had returned from leave to find his best friend was discharged and couldn’t stay to say goodbye. (That may have been the reason Hawkeye so needed B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell), Trapper’s replacement who became Hawkeye’s closest friend, to say goodbye during the series’ final episode.) It wasn’t Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burgoff). By the time Radar was sent home, the series had already become more of a drama.

No, it was none of them. I think the series turned serious after the departure of Maj. Frank Burns (Larry Linville).

Linville left the series in 1978. He said he had done all he could with his character and felt it was time to move on. Far be it for me to dispute the man’s stated reason for leaving, but I don’t think he was given much of a chance to do much with his character. Most of the main characters were given a chance to grow. To change. Frank was not.

Radar was able to mature. It was a little sad to see him lose his innocence, but we watched him grow up to the point that when he departed he poignantly left behind his beloved Teddy bear. Cpl. Klinger (Jamie Farr), still wanting out of the army, ditched the dresses and became a valuable replacement of Radar as company clerk. Maj. Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit) went from an object of both derision and desire as “Hot Lips” to a woman and an officer worthy of respect and friendship as Margaret.

But Frank Burns was virtually the same character when the show first aired in 1972 to when he departed in 1978. He was a cartoonish foil to Hawkeye, Trapper, and, later, B.J. He wasn’t allowed many opportunities to be a sympathetic human being. If he had been, the treatment he received would have been looked on as cruel, as it eventually did with Margaret when she started to show her humanity.

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M*A*S*H the drama/comedy.

And I think the cartoonishness of Frank Burns kept the show in the comedy/drama vein. When he was gone and replaced by the more nuanced character, Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers), the show then flipped to the drama/comedy side.

However, there were two moments in which Frank was allowed a limited amount of growth. At least, temporary growth.

In the first season, in the episode titled Sticky Wicket, Hawkeye, who had frequently publicly disparaged Frank’s ability as a surgeon, was particularly critical of Frank early in the episode. Over the top even. And that was the intent of the writers, because Hawkeye then had a patient go bad on him. The patient should have been recovering, but something was wrong. Hawkeye obsessed on the case, becoming quite a jerk to all around him in the process. He was certain he had done everything right. He hadn’t missed anything. He couldn’t have.

This gave Maj. Burns the opportunity to turn the tables on his rival. “Oh, the great Dr. Perfect isn’t so perfect after all.” Or something like that. Actually, he dug in really deep. Of course, Frank’s taunting was not accepted by the other characters (or the audience) as easily as Hawkeye’s taunting. That’s how it was supposed to be. Hawkeye is our hero, while Frank is the cartoonish foil.

But, this did set up a moment of human kindness, sympathy, and growth for the otherwise two-dimensional character.

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Hawkeye had a moment of clarity. He realized he needed to open that patient up again to see if he was right. Maybe he did miss something. And there it was, some shrapnel damage that was hidden by the sigmoid colon. Frank had been observing the operation. When he saw the damage he said, “Anybody could have missed that.” Hawkeye glanced over his shoulder and humbly replied, “Thanks, Frank.”

It was a good moment of growth for Frank, but he was back to cartoonish foil the next episode.

Another moment of humanizing Frank came late in his run on the series. It was the episode titled Margaret’s Engagement which aired in 1976. As the title suggests, Margaret had gotten engaged while on leave in Tokyo. This came as quite a blow to Frank, who had been romantically involved with Margaret since the show began. He had hoped that since he was already married, they could still continue their affair. Margaret made it clear their relationship was over.

Frank snapped. He went a little crazy and tried to impressed his lost love with what a great soldier he could be. He didn’t sleep. He couldn’t think straight. Until Radar came to the rescue by giving Frank the opportunity to talk to his mother. That helped. Good work, Radar.

With his senses more or less returned to normal (normal for Frank), the show gave him a surprising attaboy moment. While in the mess tent with B.J. and Hawkeye, Frank was well within earshot of Margaret excitedly gushing about the manliness of her fiance. Even Frank’s two best frenemies thought she was out of line in her insensitivity toward her former lover.

That’s when Frank suggested to Hawkeye that the two of them hit the town that night. They should grab a couple nurses and whoop it up. In fact, Frank said there was a particular nurse who had been giving him the eye and tonight might be her lucky night. Hawkeye was bemused but played along. Margaret was less accommodating.

She said to Frank, “She’s a little young for you, isn’t she, Maj. Burns?”

Frank’s reply, “I don’t know… I thought a little youth might be nice for a change.”

Maj. Houlihan realizing she had just been insulted left in a huff.

Frank then said, “I really got her on that one, didn’t I?”

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A shared laugh and a sense of camaraderie that lasts until the end credits roll.

Both Hawkeye and B.J. were impressed and really appreciated the moment.

So, M*A*S*H was two shows. Whether you prefer the comedy/drama or the drama/comedy you have Maj. Frank Burns to thank.

Special thanks goes to The Monster M*A*S*H Wiki website. Much of the information I share in this article came from that site. It is a treasure trove of M*A*S*H facts.

Packing Peanuts!

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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 iTunes.