This Month’s Great Cover

I have to admit Steve Ditko isn’t one of my favorite artists. He was very good, but his style just didn’t speak to me. In my opinion, his style didn’t work all that well in the superhero genre. It was better suited for the monster/horror and sci-fi/fantasy genres. But he did find his niche when he drew Doctor Strange stories. He could freely combine his weird and unique style to its fullest effect in those books.

But, despite my somewhat non-fondness of his art, Ditko certainly belongs in the company of the great and influential artists of comic books. Why his design of the Spider-Man costume alone puts him in the Comic Book Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing. (There should be a Comic Book Hall of Fame.)

As I said, I never really warmed up to his style, but dawgoneit! I dig this month’s cover!

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I love it!

It’s the first issue of Charlton‘s monster/sci-fi/horror/fantasy series Haunted, first published in 1971. See? The genres for which Ditko was best suited. Am I right or am I right?

I think this is one of the most eye-catching covers in all of comic bookdom. This is due mainly to the use of negative space. There’s so much white on the cover. The masterful use of line weight, the varying thick and thin, is so simple and yet so dramatic. And the whole effect has me thinking of those masks worn by the unknown wrestlers of yore.

Also, using the eyes and mouth to preview the three stories to be found within, all of which were penciled and inked by Ditko, is a terrific use of design.

I think this cover is a brilliant combination of cartooning and design, and it must have jumped off the newsstands.

Packing Peanuts!

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A Great Teacher. An Iffy Book.

I’m a skeptic. Being a skeptic, I try to think critically about extraordinary claims. I want to assess the strength of the evidence for such claims before I accept their veracity. I’m highly doubtful of ghosts, psychics, ancient aliens, cupping, Futzuki pads, homeopathy, etc.; but, if you show me good evidence for their existence or efficacy, I’m willing to stop doubting.

This blog isn’t about skepticism. It’s about looking back fondly at the past. After all, Warehouse Find is the official blog of Nostalgia Zone, a store dealing in old comic books and toys and other fun stuff from the past. I normally save my skeptical observations for my blog at dimland.com and my internet radio show/podcast Dimland Radio. (Yes, I know, shameless plugs.)

However, earlier this week a junior high school school friend of mine and I reminisced about a teacher of ours who had a profound influence on us. I credit this teacher with setting me on the path to skepticism and critical thinking.

His name was Roy Raymond and he was my junior high English teacher. Don’t ask which grade, because I can’t remember. Anyway, he was an excellent teacher as well as a funny one. He liked to claim both his first and last names translated to royalty or king or some such. He told jokes and allowed his students to do the same.

Although it didn’t hurt, his being funny didn’t make him a great teacher.

He was able to make his students feel comfortable and receptive to learning. He challenged us. He made us think.

And when it came to reading the classic American novel Of Mice And Men written by John Steinbeck, he did something I think was an example of brilliant crowd handling. He read the book to us in class, but before he did he had a little talk with us. He said he intended to read it as written. He wasn’t going to gloss over any of the swear words and racial epithets. He believed to do so would lessen the impact of what Steinbeck was trying to say.

That’s when Mr. Raymond did the brilliant part. He told his class that he believed we were old enough and mature enough to understand context. And telling us that stroked our egos a little and got us to minimize the shock or giggling when our teacher said a swear word or the N word. Brilliant crowd handling. And it’s a great book.

Another book that’s not nearly as great factored into an important lesson taught to me by Mr. Raymond.

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Since the fourth grade, I have owned a fascinating little book which I purchased through the Scholastic book program for a mere 35 cents. It was author C.B. Colby’s collection of weird, creepy, and mysterious tales of ghosts, haunted houses, disappearing people, lost treasures, and many other bizarre occurrences titled Strangely Enough! Its cover suggested the short stories within might all be true by asking, “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?”

In my youthful gullibility, I believed these stories to be true. Many of them included names of people and towns. And some had dates for the mysterious happenings. Dates! These must be real! No one would make up names and dates!

I was so convinced, I took a pen to the cover to draw an arrow to the words “Fact” and “Real.” You can see the arrows in the close-up image of the cover of my well-worn copy below.

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Oh, and look that cover. So good. There were other printings of this book with other cover designs, but this is the one I like. It’s a terrific illustration that so completely captures the tone of the book. Just look at that green hazy night, those black and dormant trees, and that figure racing through the night. Is it a witch? A devil? A lunatic? A frightened villager? And is that ball lightening in the sky? Or, maybe, a flying saucer?

I was very taken by this book and I wanted Mr. Raymond’s opinion of it. He had encouraged his students to read and share with him what we were reading, so I handed Strangely Enough! to him. I told him the stories seemed to be true and that there were names and dates and everything. He took it and had a look.

When he returned this most favoritest book of mine to me, he burst my bubble as gently as he could. He explained that these stories couldn’t be simply accepted as true just because some gave names and dates. He told me that most readers wouldn’t bother researching the stories to see if the names and dates were real and that the author knows that. He also explained the “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?” questions were part of a gimmick to give the stories a little more impact.

I was a bit crestfallen that Mr. Raymond didn’t validate my opinion of the book, but I didn’t resent him for it. I didn’t react by doubling down and believing the stories even more. I didn’t accuse my teacher of having a closed mind. Instead, my mind opened. I didn’t quite understand at the time, at least not consciously, that Mr. Raymond was essentially telling me, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

I see that now. And I have learned that Strangely Enough! is mostly urban legends – apocryphal tales meant to warn and thrill readers. Some stories might actually be based on real events, but are told through the filter of mystery-mongering. A more rational explanation was likely available, but the author preferred to go with the mystery.

Mr. Raymond is no longer with us. I don’t know exactly when he shuffled off this mortal coil, but I will always fondly remember him. And I will be eternally grateful for his helping me to think critically and not be so gullible.

Thank you, Mr. Raymond!

Appreciate your great teachers and give them your thanks.

Packing Peanuts!

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Moms – Increasing The Rarity Of Valuable Items Since…

The other day, while waiting in the check-out line at Walgreen’s, I became part of a conversation about the ways people would light their Christmas trees back when we were kids. Back in the Stone Age. Actually, one way in particular. The cashier was describing the lighted, rotating color wheel that would project colors on the tree or house or whatever you would aim it at. They still exist, but the customer ahead of me had never heard of them.

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I chimed in to say that I was pretty sure I had one at home. One from the Stone Age that used to belong to my wife’s parents and was in the basement somewhere. I should maybe see it I can dig it out and set it up for some bonus lighting on Christmas Eve.

The conversation continued as it became my turn to make my purchases. The cashier marveled at all the things we got rid of over the years. “If only we’d kept them. We’d be millionaires,” she lamented wistfully.

Um, well, unless we got rid of those Matisse originals stuffed in the back of the closet for so long, being potential millionaires would be a stretch. Perhaps she meant we’d feel like a million bucks to be able to still connect with an object from our past. Yeah, I don’t think she meant that either.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about how we lose our treasured items from our youth. Most of us simply outgrow the toys we prized so highly. We decided money would be more valuable at the moment and sold those items at garage sales. Maybe we were less monetarily motivated and gave our treasures to Goodwill. Maybe Mom got sick and damn tired of our room being such a mess…

Oh, yeah. The Great Toy Purge of 1976. (Or thereabout.)

I shared a room with my younger brother in those days. My brother was more of the unkempt sort than I was when it came to the cleanliness of our room. However, I wasn’t exactly Felix Unger. And one day, Mom had had enough. We hadn’t heeded her warnings to get that room clean or else!

“Or else what?” we shrugged to each other. “What’s she gonna do? Throw everything away? Riiiight.”

Well, that’s exactly what she did. She finally snapped and began scooping up our toys that had been so carelessly strewn about our room. Then out into the trash it all went. All of it. She really did it. Trip after trip, our collection of toys disappeared.

Then, she turned and eyed my box of comic books.

“NO!” I cried, “Not my comic books! Mom! Pleeeeaaase!

And, much like a soldier leaping onto a live grenade to save his comrades, I threw myself in harm’s way to save my precious comic books. My look of terror quickly turned into a sneer of defiance, “Do what you will with my toys, woman! But you shall not lay a finger on my comic books! Not one step closer if you value your life!”

Mom hesitated. The tension of this standoff could be cut with a knife.

She gave it some thought and finally capitulated, “No, your comic books shall not be touched. They are put away where they belong, which is what I wanted to be done with your toys. And I would suggest you bag and back them with Mylar bags and acid free backing boards, if you want to keep them in good condition.”

I’m not sure she actually said that last part.

Anyway, as the day waned with her boys still whimpering over the purge of their toys, Mom’s heart softened. “All right,” she said, “I may have overreacted a little, but I hope you boys have learned I’m serious when I say you need to put your toys away. You may go out to the trash and retrieve one toy.”

I don’t recall which item my brother rescued, but I grabbed out my Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces.

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Oh, he was a cool toy. He came with a wig, mustaches, warts, scars, two extra noses, sideburns, fangs, eyeglasses, etc. You could make him look so many different ways. Like a thousand different ways!

I cut a window in his box and covered it with plastic wrap, so that when he was boxed up he could still see out. I used put Hugo in his box, looking out the window I made for him, and I’d zoom him around as though his box was a rocket ship. Boy, did I like that toy.

Do I still have Hugo?

Nah. I gave him away.

Packing Peanuts!

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10 Great Alternative Albums From The Second Half Of The ’80s

I have previously written about some of the great alternative albums from the years 1979 and 1985, this time I will pull ten excellent albums from 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989. I know you’re asking why I don’t dedicate a blog to ten albums from each of those years. Well, it’s because the alt music of those years just didn’t have the same appeal for me, making it difficult to come up with ten for each year. Perhaps I became more focused on certain artists, so newer ones got short shrift. I don’t know.

The second half of the ’80s, a time just prior to the music industry discovering a way to market this music, saw Nirvana‘s first album Bleach (1989) released. The seed was sown, but it would be another couple of years and the smell of spirited teens before punk or alternative or modern rock or whatever you call it began to earn big money in the States.

Enough of my prattling, here’s my list:

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10) 54-40 – 54-40 (1986) Hailing from British Columbia, Canada 54-40 was a group of socially conscious, leftist rockers. This album has plenty of that big ’80s drum sound echoing throughout, but they still manage some tender moments such as on I Go Blind, a song that was a charting success when covered by the terribly bland Hootie & the Blowfish. Other stand out tracks include Me Island, the funky I Wanna Know, and Take My Hand.

Favorite track : Baby Ran

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9) Mind Bomb – The The (1989) The The had mainly consisted of singer/songwriter/musician Matt Johnson until just prior to recording this album. He then formed a band which included the legendary Johnny Marr, former guitarist of the ’80s alternative icons, The Smiths. On Mind Bomb, Johnson takes a critical look at world religions. The album’s first track Good Morning Beautiful opens with the Islamic call to prayer and then has Johnson asking listeners a series of questions to challenge whose voice we are heeding. Sinead O’Connor lends her dynamic vocals to the duet Kingdom Of Rain.

Favorite track: The Beat(en) Generation

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8) A Bell Is A Cup…Until It Is Struck – Wire (1988) I was tempted to go with The Ideal Copy (1987) which has the excellent song Ahead, but this album works better for me as a complete project. There’s a cool smoothness to their blend of guitars, keyboards, and vocals, especially so on the opening track Silk Skin Paws.

Favorite track: Kidney Bingos

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7) Fisherman’s Blues – The Waterboys (1988) I really, really like this album. It’s a more folksy, Celtic effort than their previous horn-filled albums. Strings replace the horns on this time around for a fine effect. The album feels traditional, but there is only one traditional song – When Will We Be Married. And there is a cover of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing which works very well in this mix, despite my general dislike of Van Morrison songs. I guess when sung by someone else the songs are more agreeable to me.

Favorite track: And A Bang On The Ear

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6) Animal Boy – Ramones (1986) This is my favorite of the Ramones‘ ’80s releases. The production might be a little slicker than their ’70s output, but it’s still a Ramones album with tracks such as Apeman Hop, Eat That Rat, and Crummy Stuff. The opening track, Somebody Put Something In My Drink, features Joey Ramone at his growling best.

Favorite track (tie): My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg) and Something To Believe In

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5) Pleased To Meet Me – The Replacements (1987) This is the first Replacements album after the departure of original lead guitarist Bob Stinson. Another guitarist hadn’t been found yet; so, while Tommy Stinson, Luther Dickinson, and Alex Chilton each lent a hand, it’s Paul Westerberg who does most the guitar playing. I particularly like the guitar sound on the song The Ledge. I don’t know if it’s Westerberg or Chilton, but it’s great. This album also includes the longingly sad Skyway, which soon became a singalong favorite at their shows. How my favorite track never became a number one hit on the American pop charts, I’ll never know.

Favorite track: Can’t Hardly Wait

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4) Psonic Psunspot – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1987) The Dukes’ follow-up to their classic mini-LP 25 O’Clock (1985) is a continuation of their homage to the eclectic sounds of ’60s pop. You can hear echos of The Byrds, Cream, The Hollies, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles all in there. And the band was also quite generous to other musical acts. The Dukes allowed their guitars to be used to record the number one album on this list. Wink, wink, nod, nod.

Favorite track: Brainiac’s Daughter

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3) Heyday – The Church (1986) This is The Church‘s fourth album, which sees the band’s always guitar-driven sound becoming more ethereal and mid-tempo. Heyday also saw the introduction of horns on the rocking Tantalized. And Steve Kilby’s voice is at its best, especially on the opening track Myrrh.

Favorite track: Disenchanted

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2) Doolittle – Pixies (1989) Oh, man, did I dig this album when it came out. One night when hanging out with friends, we were going to head off to some other location and more than one person was driving. A friend won the battle as to which car I would ride in when he told me he would be playing Doolittle. The choice was easy! Pixies were honing their sound on this album, making it more accessible to a wider audience, while still holding onto their angry, artsy, punkish roots. There’s lots of screaming by Black Francis, but also lots of catchy hooks.

Favorite track: Here Comes Your Man

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1) Skylarking – XTC (1986) My favorite album by my second favorite band. (You know WHO my favorite is, don’t you?) The first pressing did not include their first hit in the States – Dear God. That was one of the two B-side songs of the single Grass. But radio DJs liked it and played it into a hit and onto the album’s second pressing it went. I bought the first pressing, which was the first new XTC album I bought since discovering them a year or two earlier. The album is filled with pop music gems including: Summer’s Cauldron/Grass (the opening two songs that were actually played together while recording); That’s Really Super, Supergirl; The Meeting Place; and Season’s Cycle.

Favorite track: Earn Enough For Us

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“Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie!”

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Christmas is coming again, so I thought I’d reminisce a little about one of my favorite holiday movies: A Christmas Story (1983).

I didn’t see this movie until many, many years after it was released. It was in the mid to late 90s, when I was listening to a couple of talk radio show hosts praising this now holiday classic, that it first time it came to my attention. My curiosity peaked, I sought it out. Finding it wasn’t too difficult, because by that time television had turned it into a holiday programming staple.

“Oh, did you miss it? Change the channel. Someone else will be playing it.”

Television was great at taking modestly successfully theatrical releases and turning them into required viewing classics. It’s A Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz are two fine examples of television’s influence. A Christmas Story may be the most recent film to have television help it along in that way.

The story is set in pre-World War II Indiana and is viewed from young Ralphie Parker’s perspective as he attempts to influence his parents, terrifically portrayed by Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, into giving him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. But Mrs. Parker insists they are dangerous and that he’ll shoot his eye out. That’s a recurring phrase in the film. Adults were so worried about kids losing their eyes.

The movie is based on semi-autobiographical stories written by Jean Shepherd. Shepherd is the film’s narrator as the adult version of Ralphie relating this story of his youth. And he is wonderful. There’s a twinkle in the man’s eye, which you can clearly hear in his voice. The man can tell a story!

Although I grew up in a different era than what is shown in the film, the universality of the story – anticipating Christmas, coveted gift items, loving (if somewhat scary) parents, school, teachers, weird gifts from relatives, bullies, friends, and flagpoles –  appeals to my nostalgic feelings for my days as a kid. The way Ralphie feels about Christmas reflects the way I felt. And Ralphie’s fantasies, although silly and over-the-top, are good fun.

By far, my favorite character is Old Man Parker. He makes the film. McGavin is just so good as Ralphie’s furnace-fighting, foul-mouthed, major award-winning, gruff, but loving and lovable dad. Old Man Parker is the key to this movie, if he’s wrong the movie just doesn’t make it. And McGavin nails it.

His gruffness is all just bluster. He loves his wife and his boys. We see it in his reaction to the wife and kids bellowing out Jingle Bells on the drive home from getting their Christmas tree. Sure, he rolls his eyes, but there is love in there. We see it in Old Man Parker’s subtle smirk as he sends his oldest son back into the car after an unsuccessful attempt to help change a tire. An attempt that had young Ralphie accidentally drop an F bomb in front of his father for the first time. Hence the smirk. We also see it as the old man is almost as excited as Ralphie when… Oh, but that would be a spoiler.

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“Oh, wow!”

And, of course, there is the leg lamp!

I just love this movie. I watch it every year and remember all those wonderful Christmases from my youth.

Hard to believe the director of this classic, Bob Clark, also directed Porky’s.

Packing Peanuts!

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Here’s this month’s great cover…

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Look at that! Isn’t it wonderful?

This month’s great cover in comic book history comes from the September 1991 issue of Marvel Comics Presents (#84) featuring one of Marvel Comics’ premiere superheroes: Wolverine. The artist behind this masterpiece is Barry Windsor-Smith. He did everything on it – pencils, inks, and color.

Windsor-Smith started working for Marvel in the late 60s, because Stan Lee liked his Jack Kirby-like way of drawing. But, Windsor-Smith soon began to develop his own signature style. Like most comic book artists, he improved greatly upon his early efforts the more he worked. Unlike some comic book artists, he just kept getting better and better and better. Some of the great artists would reach a plateau and then their work began to slip. Not Windsor-Smith. At least not yet. This month’s cover was done more than twenty years after he started in the industry.

We see a blood-spattered Wolverine with his claws partially retracted. He looks peaceful, yet terribly weary. He seems to be, not just exhausted from the completion of a pitched battle, but totally done in by a lifetime of pitched battles. Has he had enough?

What also strikes me about this cover is its sophistication. This isn’t a typical cover of a super-hero heroically battling some super-villain or coming to the rescue of some citizen in imminent peril. This cover is deep with nuance and complexity. This ain’t just some kid’s throw away when finished reading super-hero fantasy. This is art.

I should note I hadn’t seen this comic book when it came out in 1991. I wasn’t buying this title then. I didn’t know this cover existed. In fact, I spotted it for the first time fairly recently when putting away inventory at Nostalgia Zone’s warehouse and I was quite impressed. I made note to include this cover in my great covers series.

And I was in for another surprise! When I searched for an image of the cover today, I discovered the artwork was a wraparound piece. When I spotted that I was even more stunned by the beauty Barry Windsor-Smith had wrought.

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This was the cover I was expecting to find. It’s still a powerful masterpiece.

Bravo, sir!

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Where the hell is the parade?!

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Allow me to complain just a bit.

But first, know this: Memory is not video tape. We may think we remember something vividly, but as the events we’re remembering recede into the past our recollections are influenced by other people’s stories of the events, we conflate unrelated events with the ones we are remembering, and so on. When we tell someone about a memory, our brains are recreating the story of that memory, not putting in a video tape and pressing play. Memories can’t help but change over time.

That said, remember when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was shown on television? Those were the days. The bands would play, the floats would float, and the massive balloon characters would… also float. It would be two or three hours of just watching the parade go by. Ahhhh.

“But, Jim,” you say, “the parade is still shown each year on television. In fact, it’s shown on CBS and NBC!” Sure, but it seems the parade is just coincidental, a backdrop for announcers who don’t appear to have ever announced anything before. Now the parade just helps to transition between the multiple interviews of the networks’ stars talking about the shows they are in or Broadway performers talking about their plays. They’ll cut to performances from hit musicals or pop and country artists. And I just saw a Pillsbury sponsored baking demonstration using, what else?, Pillsbury dough. As I write this, CBS is showing an extended ad for a website from which you can buy overstock items.

Where the hell is the parade?!

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NBC’s idea of parade coverage.

I will say CBS does show something of the parade. NBC just plants their cameras outside of Macy’s showing pretty much nothing but production numbers. So, if musicals and production numbers are your thing, watch NBC not show the parade.

Ugh, what’s a curmudgeon to do?

Well, let me relate my favorite memory of the parade. Remembering what I said about memory not being video tape, I’m still certain I have this right.

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The parade continues the tradition of ending with Santa Claus arriving at Macy’s, but waaaay back in the day Santa used to climb down from his sleigh/float and walk into the legendary department store. It was such an exciting capper to the parade.

One year, as the parade came to an end, Santa made his way into Macy’s while his pants made their way to his ankles. Whoops! Talk about wardrobe malfunction! I remember my dad and I sharing a special father/son bonding moment over Santa’s embarrassment.

The next year saw the new tradition of Ol’ Saint Nick just staying in his sleigh as the credits rolled.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Packing Peanuts!

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