Gil Kane Strikes Again

For the third time, Gil Kane makes an appearance in my monthly look at great comic book covers series. And how could he not? Mr Kane was one of the greatest comic book illustrators of all time and his covers were consistently fantastic. And this month’s installment is just another example of why he was the master of the comic book cover.

In 1971, beginning with the cover date of November, Marvel Comics decided to change the layout of their covers. Instead of an illustration framed by the edge of the book itself, it was decided to draw a box or a frame on the cover in which the illustration would be placed. It was an experiment that lasted a little over a year. From what I can find, the art-in-a-box cover design went for, at least, a 14 issue run, but some titles went longer.

I didn’t find any reason given for why Marvel’s editors decided to try this experiment. I’m just speculating here, but I think was to be able to break the frame and make the art pop off the page. After all, you can’t break the frame if it is the edge of the comic. Although not all did, most of the covers that I looked at took advantage of this design element.

And, boy! Does this month’s cover break the frame!

It’s the March 1972 issue of Creatures On The Loose (#16). Take a look:

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Isn’t that awesome?

Not only does the cover benefit from Kane’s drawing mastery, but his design takes full advantage of breaking the frame. However, he is doing more than just giving the illusion of three dimensionality, as in the case of Gulliver Jones’ arm and the handle of the bad guy’s spear at the top of the frame. His blue baddie at the bottom of the page elevates this cover to a masterpiece by expanding the scene to what is going on off of the page itself. The viewer has become immersed in the scene.

Kane does this by using the look over the shoulder pose and the appearance of the blue baddie giving a battle cry. This gives the indication that there may be a whole horde of baddies charging in to do battle with our hero. Just maybe not all blue.

It is so awe-inspiring when I see an artist do such great story-telling with simple placement, pose, and the direction of a character’s eyes.

Absolutely brilliant. Gil Kane scores again.

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10 Excellent Alternative Albums From 1980…

I am continuing with my love of the alternative rock/pop music of my youth with the year 1980. 1980 was a pretty good year for alternative music, having so many excellent debut releases. In fact, half of this list is made up of first albums. You might disagree as to my rankings, but this is my list which, I admit, is completely subjective. Your results may vary.

So far, I’ve covered 1979 and 1985 each on their own. And I did a combo top ten pulled from the second half of the 1980s. Just in case you are keeping track.

Here’s my list for 1980:

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10) In Combo – The Suburbs Part of that first wave of punk, New Wave, DIY bands from the 80s’ alternative music capitol, Minneapolis, The Suburbs are difficult to categorize. Staccato guitars, throbbing basslines, cascading keyboards, driving drums and inscrutable lyrics fill this fantastically slamdanceable debut album. These guys were a blast to see play live.

Favorite track: Cows

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9) New Clear Days – The Vapors Thought by most to be a One Hit Wonder, which they pretty much are, The Vapors did produce plenty of catchy guitar-driven tunes on this their debut album. Of course, there’s their one hit – Turning Japanese – but there are a few other highlights including News At Ten, Spring Collection, and Sixty Second Interval.

Favorite track: Waiting For The Weekend

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8) Crocodiles – Echo & The Bunnymen This is the third debut album on my list so far and it also is pretty damn good. Hailing from The Beatles‘ hometown, Echo & the Bunnymen had a sound more akin to The Doors. But, don’t hold that against them. They could produce aggressive punk songs such as title track and more arty tracks as demonstrated by Villiers Terrace. And they could craft a mighty good pop song such as my favorite track on the album.

Favorite track: Rescue

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7) End Of The Century – Ramones This is the godfathers of punk meets the genius of Motown album. The original punk rockers teamed up with producer Phil Spector creating a more lush sounding version of their high-powered punk. Stand out tracks include Rock’n’Roll High School, Chinese Rock, and the cover of The Ronnettes classic Baby, I Love You.

Favorite track: Do You Remember Rock’n’Roll Radio?

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6) Remain In Light – Talking Heads Picked by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of the decade, Remain In Light had Talking Heads teamed once again with producer Brian Eno. The band continued to explore African rhythms and worked with other musical artists including Nona Hendyrx, Adrian Belew, and Robert Palmer.

Favorite track: Once In A Lifetime

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5) Peter Gabriel (Melt) – Peter Gabriel On this, the third of his four self-titled albums (fans called this one Melt due to the album cover artwork), Gabriel continued to craft artful pop and rock songs, inching closer to the highly successful pop sound realized on his fifth solo album, So. Much like Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel brought in several talented musicians to help record this album, including Paul Weller, Dave Gregory, Robert Fripp, and, former Genesis bandmate, Phil Collins.

Favorite track: Games Without Frontiers

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4) Sound Affects – The Jam Intentionally spelled incorrectly to indicate the title is an action rather than a thing, this fifth release by the UK Mods introduced a funkier and heavier bass sound, as on Pretty Green and Start!, and a smattering of horns on the track Dream Time.

Favorite track: That’s Entertainment

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3) Pretenders – Pretenders Another fantastic debut album, one of the best ever, enters the list. Chrissie Hynde’s vocals and attitude were a breathe of fresh air in the male dominated world of rock music. Tough (Precious, Tattooed Love Boys) and tender (Kid, Lovers Of Today) describe this album. Awesome also describes it.

Favorite track: Brass In Pocket

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2) Underwater Moonlight – The Soft Boys This band was introduced to me by a DJ spinning records for the radio station on the Beloit College campus. She told me and two of my friends as we watched her work that The Soft Boys were a brilliant band and that we had to check them out. She was right. Led by British surrealist rocker Robyn Hitchcock, this album is great from start to finish. Catchy tunes, soaring guitars, tight harmonies, and some pretty odd lyrics make this debut so irresistible.

Favorite track: Queen Of Eyes

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1) Black Sea – XTC It’s no secret this criminally underappreciated band from Swindon, England is one of my most favorite in all of rock/pop music. And this was the first album of theirs that I had ever heard. A harder, more straight forward rocking album than their previous releases, Black Sea still has loads of great hooks and pop melodies. The opening track Respectable Street was the first XTC song I ever heard and I loved it instantly. I cannot over-stress just how good I think this album is. It is well deserving of being number one on this list.

Favorite track: Towers Of London

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I Didn’t Like Curious George

Note: This is another post pulled from my blog at dimland.com. It has been updated, revised, and corrected. And, yes, I know George is a chimpanzee. It’s just more fun to say monkey.
Back before my 13 year-old son had attained school age, like most parents, I ended up watching plenty of children’s programming with him. Programming I would otherwise never watch. I know it’s for kids. And I know anything is possible in cartoonland, but some of the stuff he watched really drove me crazy.
My wife and I had our son watch the children’s’ programming available on PBS and a few of the shows were pretty good. I liked Fetch, Arthur, and, especially, Word Girl. Word Girl was particularly good because the producers realized that adults would be watching with their kids, so why not entertain them, too?
There was one program, however, that consistently got under my skin. It was Curious George. What world does this monkey live in? Believe me, I would try to suspend my disbelief, but it got so difficult when George caused so much damage. He flooded the apartment building he lived in, he stole the other tenants’ recyclable containers before the items had even been used, he splashed paint all over an empty apartment. And he never got in trouble! The Man in the Yellow Hat, George’s owner, must have been worth millions or had quite the insurance policy to cover all the damage his monkey did.

In the show, people don’t realize George is a monkey. Well, they do, but they treat him as though he is human. In one rather excruciating episode, George finds himself in a department store that has a candy counter run by an incredibly stupid woman. Naturally, she and George hit it off.

By the way, Mr. Yellow Hat is constantly leaving George on his own, even though he should know that any time George is left alone, mayhem ensues.

Well, the candy counter owner realizes that she’s running low on inventory, so she leaves George (a monkey!) in charge and traipses off, in the middle of the day, to get more candy. Shouldn’t she have realized she was running low on inventory earlier? Can’t she temporarily close the candy counter? Can’t she have the candy delivered?

Nope, she leaves the monkey in charge.

What had been a slow day at the candy counter suddenly becomes very busy, now that the human has left. Do any of the customers find it unusual that there is a monkey waiting on them? Do any of them consider that the monkey, being a monkey, may have difficulty comprehending their orders? Of course not!

George makes a huge mess of the candy counter and ends up giving away almost all the candy. Somehow the moronic humans thought he was giving away free samples. But what was George to do? He’s a monkey.

The numbskull candy seller finally returns. She sees her station in shambles and realizes that George (a monkey!) had given away so many free samples that, even if she sells all that is left, she won’t be able to afford new inventory. She’ll have to go out of business.

George is sorry and says something in monkey language. I think it translates to, “What did you expect, dumbass? You left your business in the care of a monkey!”

This is PBS cartoonland, after all, so nothing really bad happens. Somehow, despite her certainty of bankruptcy, she gets so many new customers, because of George giving away all those free samples, that she stays in business. I don’t know how she managed that. She said she wouldn’t be able to stay in business even if she sold all of the candy, so what gives? Were her new customers big tippers? Talk about voodoo economics.

Thinking back on those cartoons, one of the biggest problems I had with the PBS kids’ shows was the fact that no one ever really gets in trouble. With the exception of Arthur, on which the kids get grounded or some other consequence for carelessness or bad behavior, PBS cartoon characters are always just forgiven when they say they’re sorry. “Oh, that’s OK. It was an accident.”

My wife said that she thought PBS was more concerned that kids understand they should apologize for mistakes or bad behavior. I agree that is important, but it’s also important that kids learn that careless or bad behavior may result in loss of privileges or trust. Why adjust your behavior if all you have to do is say sorry and all is forgiven?

But, in Curious George’s case, what can you do? He’s a monkey!

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How Did Star Trek: TNG Survive That First Season?

Note: Much of the following was pulled from my blog at dimland.com. It has been updated, revised, and corrected.

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I recently discovered the podcast The Greatest Generation. No, it’s not about that generation of Americans of which Tom Brokaw is so fond. It’s a podcast focusing on the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series (1987 – 1994). It’s hosted by two fellows, Ben Harrison and Adam Pranica, who are a bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about the greatest of all the Star Trek series. Yes, I’m including the original series. Oh, yeah. I went there.

I’ve been watching Star Trek: TNG on Netflix a lot lately and it’s really obvious that the series wasn’t very good when it started.  In fact, much of that first season wasn’t any better than the lousiest episodes of the original series. And that original series could get really lousy, see The Way To Eden, for example. I mean – space hippies? Seriously?! Was that Roddenberry’s idea to get the happening youth culture interested in the show?

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I’m sure this role was prominently placed on actor Charles Napier’s resume.

During most of the first season, the whole cast looked and sounded uncomfortable, especially when you compare them to how they seemed as the series progressed. By the third season, when I first started watching, the cast had better writers and a much better understanding of their characters. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) had grown a beard for season two (although he never lost that walking as if he had a board up his back), Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) became less bombastic, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) had his Klingon make-up improve, Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) finally got her hair under control, Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) had been killed off, and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) was less annoying and would, also, soon be written off the show. These were all among the character improvements.

Along with the acting, writing, and character development, many other aspects of the show improved as it became more popular and profitable. Some of those other improvements included better costumes and production values. I had heard that the cast wasn’t very happy with the costumes early on. Apparently, they were too tight and itchy. That may have contributed to the awkward acting in that first season. The set lighting was improved. And the surfaces of alien planets looked a lot less like the sound stages used in the original series.

Viewers of the first season were treated to some pretty awful storylines and dialogue. In an early episode we were introduced to Lore (Brent Spiner) , the evil “brother” of Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner). The producers wasted little time before using the evil twin cliché by having Lore behaving suspiciously and Data seeming conflicted. Lt. Yar, the Enterprise’s chief of security, asked Captain Picard if he could still trust Data. Picard said he could and then admonished the rest of the bridge crew about Yar’s question being a “perfectly legitimate security question.” Picard’s outburst seemed strange to me as I thought his senior bridge crew would already know that. Then Yar reacted like a blushing school girl. This rough and tumble, tough as nails Star Fleet officer was bashfully smiling and batting her eyes at Picard’s vote of confidence. Oh, brother.

In another episode, this one featuring Q (possibly the most interesting character of that first season) offering Riker the powers of the Q Continuum, a group of nearly omnipotent beings. John de Lancie, the actor who plays Q, still hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the character. He had moments of overacting, but he was still interesting. Anyway, he zapped a few members of the bridge crew to the surface of a sound stage where they were menaced by what Worf referred to as “savage animal things.” Really? “Savage animal things?” The writers couldn’t come up with something better than that?

Then there was Wesley Crusher, the 14 year-old son of the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). Wesley was probably the fans’ least favorite character. (He was mine anyway.) When Wesley wasn’t looking stupid or grinning ear-to-ear, he was saving the day. He must have saved the ship half a dozen times that first season alone.

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Lookin’ dumb there, Wes.

Wesley even suffered the not-now-I’m-too-busy-to-hear-your-vitally-important-information-because-you-are-only-a-child brush off on more than one occasion. This would happen despite Wesley’s track record of saving the day and the fact that a time traveling alien said Welsey was the next Newton/Einstein/Solock phenom. The phenom element, fortunately, was never fulfilled by the series for Wesley, although that alien did return a few seasons later.

There were a few interesting moments and developments in that first season, however. The Q and the android Data were interesting. Yar and Data having sex was… intriguing. And Patrick Stewart had some good moments of acting to balance out his more over-the-top moments. The episode with Q and the savage animal things had Picard verbally sparring with his godlike adversary, in which Star Trek‘s greatest captain delivered an impassioned speech quoting Hamlet. It’s a fine moment for both actors, but especially for Stewart. And that’s not surprising given his background as a Shakespearean actor. The scene was right in his wheelhouse.

One episode late in that first season did something rather ballsy, I thought. One of the main characters was killed about 15 minutes into the show. It was Lt. Tascha Yar. Her death was unceremonious. She was part of an away team confronted by a powerful and malevolent entity who just killed her when she attempted to walk past him. The entity cast her aside and she was dead. Just like that. Cut to commercial.

The ballsiness was somewhat diminished when, at the end of that episode, the main bridge crew all gathered on the holodeck where they watched a prerecorded message from their fallen crewmate. It was her chance to say goodbye to each of the cast… er… crew members. But, why would she have made such a recording? Her character couldn’t have been more than 28 years-old and she’s making farewell holo-images for her crewmates? It would have been better to have the main characters gather on the bridge or in 10 Forward to talk about their lost comrade. But then Denise Crosby wouldn’t have had her big goodbye moment, something I’m sure the show’s producers had to do to get her agree to be killed off so early in the episode.

Still, I like the series. But I didn’t watch it until it was in its third season. For some reason, I wasn’t interested. When I finally did tune in, the series had really gotten rolling. Which is fortunate, because had I watched the series when it began, I might not have stayed with it for very long.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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