The House is Haunted.

It’s Halloween and time for shivers of excitement. Ghouls, ghosts, goblins, witches and their black cats, bats flying and skeletons dancing in graveyards–Trick or Treat?

The Batman. © respective holders.

Comic books are filled with superheroes fighting monsters and dark forces and pulp fiction has more than its share of heroes and damsels in distress in all kinds of noir situations. To celebrate Halloween here are some of my favorite real life heroes and their contributions to the genre.

What would Halloween be without bats flying around so its perfect to talk about the great Superhero Batman. From the very beginning he had a dark side to him that was different from that of Superman. Superman suffered early childhood tragedy and carries that within but there is something dark and brooding about Batman that is eternally attractive. My favorite Batman, Michael Uslan, the producer of the Batman films has written a wonderful biography entitled The Boy Who Loved Batman found here at Amazon.

The Boy Who Loved Batman. © respective holders

It’s not only a good read but a beautifully designed book as well. Besides the biographical elements of the story there are all kinds of extras–great photos, sidebars with comic book history–not surprising as Michael is the first person to teach comic book history at the university level. He has the chops of a good comic book historian since he’s been collecting and reading comics almost his entire life and all of us who toil in that realm have been fortunate to access his generosity.

Michael Uslan from TFA blog. © respective holders.

Another thing I love about the way the book is designed is its interactive nature. You don’t have to start at the beginning if you’re a mavericky type. It’s one of those very tempting books that you can’t resist flipping around and going back and forth to things because there is so much to check out. I also appreciated the highly amusing grown-up tone of the book. Michael doesn’t mince words about his experiences in Hollywood and the book is worth its weight in gold for anyone who has stars in their eyes in that department. Having said that, The Boy Who Loved Batman is full of the positive energy and enthusiasm that Michael emanates. You’ll get a fascinating picture of how the Batman movies came to be and how they’ve evolved. It’s much more than a simple biography of Michael’s life but an inspiring book for anyone who dreams large.

If you’re in Manhattan on December 7th you can go to the terrific Mid-Town Comics store at 7 pm and get Michael to sign your book!

Speaking of dreams, another one of my favorite guys is launching his dreams and I’m a big fan. It might seem strange to those who carry on the old Marvel vs DC scenario (which at best is pretty non-existent) that I would champion Marvel in any way. So be it. Last year Jason Goodman, grandson of Martin Goodman, founder of Marvel Comics and I were introduced to one another via email. We began a lively correspondence and I learned about Jason’s dream of reviving Atlas Comics which his grandfather started after Marvel. Jason sent me some of the first comics among them Grim Ghost and since I am also a big fan of Tony Isabella’s I’d love to talk about Jason’s work and Grim Ghost in particular for our Trick or Treat.

Grim Ghost #3. © respective holders

Besides being an incredibly nice guy, I think Jason is a super hero for his foray into publishing. Like all the best of the comic book pioneers he has a vision and he’s making it happen. Both our grandfathers would be proud of him! We finally met at New York Comic Con this year and you can see how much we like one another. Check out all the new Atlas titles and learn more about what Jason is doing here.

Granddaughter of DC and Grandson of Marvel: Super!! Photo: Jason Goodman.

Grim Ghost is scary but in the best kind of comic book way. What I like about the Grim Ghost revival is that the story line is easy to follow and intriguing. It’s mysterious but you don’t feel left out or lost because you haven’t been reading it for the last 50 years. Stephen Susco and Tony Isabella are the writers. Tony wrote for the original Grim Ghost so it really helps the continuity here and if you don’t know Tony’s writing you’re in for a treat as he is a fun and adventurous writer.

Tony Isabella at NYCC. Photo by NWNB

The art work is enticing and draws you into the story. Kelley Jones, the artist is known for his love of horror so it’s a perfect fit. What I particularly like about Kelley’s artwork is that it is not overdrawn like so many of today’s comics which can make one dizzy. I haven’t read all six issues yet but the covers for #5 and #6 are calling me to find out more! This is a perfect Halloween Treat. Scare yourself in the best way!

Ghost Stories edited by John Locke. © respective holders.

Finally, if you really want to scare yourself you need to read John Locke’s wonderful reprints of the pulp Ghost Stories. John is a tremendous pulp historian. He never met an obscure clue he couldn’t resist tracking down. He’s also a very clean writer and his facts move the story along. John’s dry martini wit adds to the pleasure of reading the history of these pulp magazines as well as the rather interesting life of the publisher, Bernarr Macfadden, a health nut who made his money from True Story and the entire True Story genre. What is important about the history of these pulps is the clear connection between popular culture today with vampires and zombies, et al and the public interest in what was referred to as “the occult” in the popular fiction of the early pulps.

Ghost Stories edited by John Locke. © respective holders.

The other aspect of John’s pulp histories that I enjoy is the way he makes the entire period come alive with all the historical nuances. You get a real sense of the writers, editors and publishers and the kinds of lives they led. If you love old movies and history of the 1920′s, 30′s and 40′s you’ll love any of John’s books which you can find here. I managed to scare myself nicely with the stories that were chosen for this two volume set. Well, okay some of them are amusing as well but I was forewarned about a few and thus being a serious scaredy cat steered clear. For those of you unafraid to follow The Dark Knight or Grim Ghost into hell you’re welcome to the entirety.

Have fun! Boo!!!

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How I Spent My Summer: Cowboys and Plagues in Comics

Everyone who loves comics is talking about the DC reboot. I immediately thought of cowboy boots, especially my favorite pair I had as a child when I was into comics and Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Little Lulu and the like. It’s a classic fifties nostalgic pov. When I was a little girl watching George Reeves fly across the black and white TV set I knew my grandfather had something to do with Superman but no longer owned it and that no one was really sure how that happened or why. It’s 50 some odd years later and the official story isn’t the full story. I’m closer to discovering the truth more than most have been able to do and I’m looking forward to getting that story out.

George Reeves as Superman. From tvparty.com. ©Respective holders.

I don’t have a financial stake in whether DC gets it right with the reboot or not. It’s just a matter of pride since it was my grandfather’s creative ideas that started the whole thing. I also enjoy seeing talented friends get decent work in mainstream comics whether it’s DC or Marvel or a graphic novel or something else. My comic book knowledge has a huge gap in it from about the end of the fifties till around the year 2000 with the exception of the underground comix of the late 60′s so I’m not the person who can talk about all the changes of each character and all the rationalizations for same.

I’m not going to give a review here either. It would take entirely too long and really there are better men than me to do such a thing. I was really looking forward to the reboot in order to reconnect with the material so I’m trusting that eventually the kinks will be worked out–like the incredibly kinky and overtly sexist material that comes across as still attempting to hit the same tired old demographic. I wish DC would recognize that in the publishing industry it is women who buy books and keep brand loyalty. You don’t have to skew everything in that direction but how about a few in the midst of 52. And how about a few that are appropriate for children. I thought that was the whole point–to bring in a larger pool of readers. Everyone would like for DC to succeed so hopefully they’ll pay attention to some of the excellent and thoughtful critiques out there. Here is my favorite graphic critique re Starfire.

My boots were walking all over this summer and at the end of the summer I attended a couple of events to support friends who do good work in comics. In addition, a couple of friends deserve note for their most recent artistic endeavors.

Speaking of boots, the effervescent and irreverent Mr. Terence Griep has a real nice pair of boots for his wrestling outfit as the professional wrestling villain, The SpiderBaby. Terence, a wonderful writer and one of those few people who can make me laugh out loud, regularly writes for DC’s Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? He just recently landed the perfect writing gig with DC contributing the script for “Danger Drive,” appearing in Batman 80-Page Giant 2011 #1, a comic book anthology published by DC.

The Amazing Mr. Griep aka The SpiderBaby.

“When other writers tell stories of larger-than-life, spandex-clad figures engaged in battles of Good Versus Evil, they’re engaged in fiction,” Griep asserts.  “When I tell such stories, I’m continuing an autobiography.” You heard it here!

You can track down a copy of the anthology by going to the Comic Shop Locator site here. And why do we have to “track” down copies of comic books? Big sigh.

I always enjoy Terence’s regular column for Prism Comics, an organization that supports LGBT comics, fans and creators. Here’s a link to one of his latest columns about the DC 52. You’ll see what I mean by better men than me.

Saturday Mornings: Art by Garry Black. Photo. NWNB

Another one of my favorite Good Comic Book guys in white hats is Lawrence Klein. Lawrence founded the Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art in Manhattan. It’s a great organization and in early August I saw a wonderful panel there which I’ll comment on below. These days Lawrence, one of my Berkshire neighbors continues his good deeds every summer through the auspices of Storefront Artist Project. He organizes the very popular Cartoon and Comic Art Comes Alive series with lots of events which are family friendly and boy do we need more of those! This year’s featured artist was Garry Black and here are a few pics from the opening of his exhibit entitled Saturday Mornings: The Paintings of Garry Black. I enjoyed meeting Garry and his art work is not only great fun but beautifully executed.

Artist Garry Black. photo NWN Brown.

Art by Garry Black. photo NWNBrown

The good guys in white hats at MoCCA had a fantastic exhibit this spring and summer curated by Denis Kitchen and Danny Fingeroth entitled “Will Eisner’s New York: From The Spirit to the Modern Graphic Novel.” If you don’t know about MoCCA or haven’t been, do yourself a favor and check it out. I have seen some fascinating panels and great exhibits there. They also have a series of ongoing classes with some of the best names in comic and cartoon art. You can also become a member and get discounts as well as special invites to events. If you love comic art this is the place to be.

Ellen Abramowitz, Jim Salicrup. Photo. NWNB

I was there on August 4th for a panel on Will Eisner entitled “Will Eisner’s Evolution” hosted by one of my favorite guys, Danny Fingeroth who has written a number of books. I’m reading Superman on the Couch right now and love Disguised as Clark Kent. Danny is one of the great comic book philosophers and always manages wonderful panels. The panelists were N. C. Christopher Couch, also a favorite guy, a marvelous writer and comic book historian. His latest book is Jerome Robinson: Ambassador of Comics and it’s a wonderful book as well. I finally got to meet Denny O’Neil, who wrote and edited for both Marvel and DC. He is a sophisticated writer (and thinker) especially noted for stories in The Shadow and The Question among many other titles. Besides being a comic book treasure he is a lovely man. And finally the remaining panelist was David Hadju.

Danny F, Chris C, David H. Photo NWNB

I was very interested in what David would have to say. He did not present a very nice picture of the Major in his book The Ten Cent Plague and I was curious to find out how that came to be because it is obvious that David is a very smart guy. He’s also an excellent writer and The Ten Cent Plague is full of great stories and an astute look at one of the aspects of the demise of comic books through the misguided notions of censorship. I’m here to say that David redeemed himself. He’s a bit of a Devil’s Advocate, which I like and doesn’t always toe the party line. I don’t want to write some family hagiography of my grandfather so I am truly interested in learning as much as I can from diverse points of view. I really enjoyed David’s participation on the panel. It was a lively, fascinating back and forth between all the guys and as usual I learned a lot.

Denny O'Neil and guys. Photo. NWNB

Since the summer is really gone for good this weekend with the freaky snow storm just before Halloween, I’m changing my cowboy boots for snow boots.

Tomorrow as my Halloween Trick or Treat I’m going to talk about another group of guys I like a lot–Jason Goodman, grandson of Marvel founder Martin Goodman and his newly revived Atlas Comics particularly Grim Ghost written by the unstoppable Tony Isabella. Of course, Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without bats and Batman himself, Michael Uslan who has a new biography entitled The Boy Who Loved Batman. And in the pulp department, that amazing pulp scholar John Locke who has reprints of stories from the pulp, Ghost Stories. Some of them were too scary for me to read!

 

 

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How I Spent My Summer–Part 3: Pulpfest 2011

Dark clouds filled the sky. As I drove on the winding mountain road I had a bad feeling that I should have followed my instincts about traveling this way. Rain began to fall and huge trucks roared past spraying the windshield making it harder to see. With night falling the rain came down in sheets. Several times traffic came to a complete halt as red and blue lights flashed up ahead.  Accident? Road washed out? We inched along.

I finally arrived in Columbus, Ohio late that night with the rain at a drizzle. I pulled into the hotel on the outskirts of town in the midst of an industrial area with little signs of life anywhere. I went in and a few people milled about in the lobby but the restaurant was closed and everything had an air of slight abandonment. The night clerk mumbled the directions to help me find my room in the rambling conference center. I finally made my way upstairs and into my room which was large and had all the creature comforts. I began to cheer up once I’d settled in, put on some music and had a glass of wine. It was a fitting beginning to my first Pulpfest.

© Respective holders.

After the appropriate dark and stormy night of my arrival, the next day dawned sunny and bright as it was meant to do and I made my way to the enormous conference room filled with dealers and afficianados of Pulp Fiction. Welcome to Pulpfest 2011. A lot of people assume Pulp Fiction stories are all similar to Quentin Tarantino’s movie full of sleaze and violence. That is certainly part of the genre and there is purple prose and formulaic writing in some of the series under house names but that just adds to the fun. However as a popular medium for readers that began sometime in the 1890′s and still has new writers today, Pulp Fiction, for those who don’t know, is filled with adventure tales ranging from ghost stories to pirates to medieval romances to westerns, spies, detectives, science fiction and more. Just about any type of story that has an air of danger and derring do and requires a hero and many a heroine can be found in Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction has often been relegated to “popular” writing as if that’s a bad thing. There are many well known writers and plenty of unknown writers who could and did tell some entertaining tales in the pulps. As far as I’m concerned the pulps are one of the unsung truly American art forms.

One of the characteristics I have noticed among the pulpsters is an often ironic sense along with the kind of wit that stems from being wordsmiths who read tons of material–high and low. Perhaps people who love the pulps are influenced by that sense of irony that seems to emanate from so many of the pulp stories either in the hero’s station in life or poor judgment at getting himself into a fix. From what I’ve read many of the writers themselves had a pretty sardonic view from their seat at the publishing table.

Mike Chomko, Ed Hulse and Jack Cullers some of the organizers of Pulpfest welcomed me and like the good party hosts they are immediately starting introducing me around. Mike and Ed very kindly invited me to attend Pulpfest 2011 and speak about my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. I was to be on a panel with several other granddaughters of pulp writers aptly titled “Granddaughters of the Pulps.” Mike is a well-respected dealer and historian of Pulp Fiction, Jack is also a dealer whose specialty is westerns and Ed is the editor of Blood n Thunder and the writer of several books like the excellent Blood n Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps. This is a bare minimum of what these guys do. Check out the link and learn more about them and the other swell people who help make this happen.

© Blood n Thunder

Most of the people who attend Pulp events tend to be male so having three women–all granddaughters of pulp writers on a panel and all actively researching their grandfathers’ lives and works is quite a phenomena. I was really looking forward to meeting the other two panelists, Laurie Powers and Karen Davis Cunningham and I wasn’t disappointed.

The irrepressible Miss Powers © BMA studios.

Laurie has already achieved some of the things I’m still in process with so it was helpful to talk with her about what she’s gone through in her work. Her grandfather, Paul Powers, like mine wrote for many of the pulps and wrote in a variety of genres. Laurie was fortunate to discover a memoir that he wrote which she edited and that is now published entitled Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street. She’s also just edited some of his western stories called Riding the Pulp Trail. Both of these books are very nicely done with great covers. I came home with Pulp Writer and I’ve ordered Riding the Pulp Trail. The link will take you to Laurie’s friendly blog and from there you can buy these two books or go immediately to Amazon. The excellent pulp sleuth Matt Moring at Altus Press published Riding the Pulp Trail and you can go to their web site for this and other terrific pulp related books.

© respective holders.

While MWN’s output seems to be in the mid-100′s for the Pulp genre and Laurie thinks her grandfather’s is about 400, Karen Davis Cunningham has the real challenge. Her grandfather, Frederick Davis wrote literally thousands of pulps, some movie scripts and a whole lot more under his own name as well as numerous pseudonyms in the US and Great Britain. His main genre was detective stories but like all good pulp writers he was able to write in various modes. It’s a good thing Karen is such an excellent researcher having started her professional life as a lawyer and continuing as a professor at Kent State. Karen has been doing this a lot longer than Laurie or me so it was great to learn from her experiences.

I spent most of Friday catching up with people I already knew such as John Gunnison at Adventure House. I bought some beautiful pulps from John who as always has some of the best grade pulps anywhere. Click on the link for John’s publishing house where you will find among other things reprints of some very hard to find pulps. Rick Hall whom I met at Rich Harvey’s Pulp Convention in Bordentown, New Jersey also helped me in my probably never-ending quest as well. David Saunders, one of my favorite pulp guys was there with lush cards made from some of his father’s, Norman Saunders, pulp covers. David has edited several gorgeous books about pulp artists including his dad, Norman and H J Ward. He is also my go to guy for crossover pulp/comic information.

© respective holders

 

I finally got to meet John Locke in person. We’ve been corresponding for a while and he’s an incredible researcher. I think he knows just about everything there is to know about the pulps and he’s extraordinarily generous. Among many other books John has published is his wonderfully romantic book Pulp Fictioneers. It’s an excellent way to learn about pulps in general as there are snapshots of the various aspects of the medium put together by John’s dogged research and astute editing hand. There are sad, funny, ironic stories and articles that taken together present a whole picture of the life of the writers, artists, editors and publishers that inhabited this world. It’s practically cinematic in the way it reads which is the way good pulp fiction should be. You can tell I love this book. Here’s the link to buy it.

© Respective holders.

Being around a mostly male contingency in comics and pulps is a nice spot for observation and there are several things that I noticed in this group. One is the heroic nature of most of the guys along with some pretty darn good manners. This we like. The other thing hand in hand with good manners is that everyone is very civil–if someone has a bad habit or two or three, everyone sort of shrugs and laughs it off. They’re also pretty good about watching out for you as well.

I wonder if it’s being so immersed in the pulps or my own romantic lens but everyone seems to lean towards a pulp type. The Big Hearted, strong guy who’s willing to go over the wall first, a lot of smart, wise-cracking detective type guys, The Master Sleuth, suave, cool and mysterious, a few absent-minded mad scientists with a couple of professors thrown into the mix, the odd Peter Lorre type here and there, the cheerful open-faced hero who’s ready for action at the drop of a hat, not to mention a few cowboys. You know who you are.

On Friday evening David Saunders gave a great talk entitled Wild American Pulp Artists–Emery Clarke, Robert Harris and Milton Luros. David is a major force in providing recognition for so many of the pulp artists and his talk as always was not only fun but enlightening. David is no slouch in the research department as I am well aware from all the great suggestions and advice he has generously handed off to me. From the very beginning of my search for MWN’s work in pulps I was drawn to the pulp covers and illustrations featuring artists like V.E. Pyles who often did the covers for MWN pulps as well as inside illustrations. When I was a young girl on the Alabama Gulf Coast I spent many summer hours on my grandparents’ back porch immersed in old copies of The Saturday Evening Post from the 20′s and 30′s reading P.G. Wodehouse and others. Perhaps that’s where I fell in love with magazines and their wonderful illustrations.

Friday evening was also our panel and I was nervous. I’m so used to being very careful about anything I say in the comic book world that I’m always anxious getting up in front of people to talk about the Major. It probably comes from the ugly divorce that went down between MWN and DC. MWN got painted as the bad parent. Kind of weird when you look at who walked away with the house and the car and was pretty nasty to some of the kids to boot. In the pulp world there doesn’t seem to be baggage along those lines.

Karen, Ed getting us started, Me and Laurie © BMA Studios.

Certainly the high profile aspect of the Major’s life has to do with his foray into comics and it is a big piece of the story but the unifying theme for me throughout his life is that of a writer. According to the aunts and uncle, he wrote almost every single day of his life and always had a designated place to write no matter where they lived or how–grandly or not. I knew that he was a writer even as a young child when my mother first showed me an article he had written in a UN journal. I can remember being thrilled to see his byline since publishing and writing are very much a part of my mother’s family as well. My mother has always been a writer, editor and publisher and walking into a printer’s shop with that metallic inky smell makes me feel at home. It’s in my blood from both sides of the gene pool. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love MWN’s pulp fiction.

NWNB holding forth on MWN © BMA Studios.

Ed Hulse was an excellent moderator and asked us thoughtful probing questions eliciting intelligent and heartfelt answers from the ladies and I trust from me as well. I started to relax as I realized people were genuinely interested and no one was sitting there ready to pounce on some minute bit of history I might have wrong. Listening to Karen’s amazing tale of how she discovered her grandfather’s pulp career and the continuing discovery of his prolific output resonated with me and with Laurie as well. Laurie has a somewhat similar story to mine in being separated from her family due to divorce and discovering her grandfather’s pulp career as an adult. My story differs, of course, in the whole comic book adventure added to the mix. What came across to me and I think everyone there was how much we all love the pulps and our dedication to honoring our grandfathers’ careers as writers. There was some talk of the panel appearing on YouTube at some point and if so, I’ll provide a link. It was a nice moment to be there and talk about the work I’ve been doing for such a long time in front of an appreciative audience. People seemed pretty excited and happy afterwards. Many thanks to Ed and Karen and Laurie for helping to make this so special.

On Saturday with the panel behind me, I felt like I could really relax and attend to the “list.” And I did the usual walking up and down the aisles and looking through box after box. I came away with a treasure trove. It’s a good thing I drove because there is no way I would have gotten it all in an overhead bin. Besides all the pulps I bought, people gave me pulps, books, reprints–this is a generous and kind group of people and I felt like it was Christmas. I have been looking for an Argosy that is the last in a serial of six and yes, dear reader, I found it. That was a happy moment. Ed found a Top-Notch for me with MWN’s story “The House of Fang Gow” which also became a comic in New Fun#1. The creation is often mistakenly attributed to someone else but as is clear from the story in February 1933, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson is the creator. It was a day full of discoveries and adventures. Steve Kennedy, the art dealer and I found one another and had a long talk about our mutual interests to my enlightenment of course. I look forward to catching up with him on the East Coast.

To top it off, one of my favorite comic book guys, Tony Isabella appeared on the scene. We’ve only corresponded so it was lovely to meet him in person. Tony was one of the first people in the comic book world to acknowledge that the derogatory stories of MWN that have been perpetuated might not be true. So you can understand why I’m partial to him but that’s not all–Tony is one of those people who can make me laugh out loud and he’s absolutely fearless. He calls um as he sees um. Tony’s career is the usual varied and fascinating career having worked with Stan Lee and that gentleman editor and publisher Roy Thomas at Marvel among others and he’s also been at DC where he created Black Lightning. He’s owned a comic shop and written novels and he has a blog about comics and life. Anything he writes is funny and straight to the point and you can read it here. You’ll love him too.

The unsinkable Tony Isabella and me © BMA Studios.

Saturday evening Professor Garyn Roberts gave a fascinating talk on Steampunk in the Days of Dime Novels and the Pulp Magazines. His knowledgeable and humorous talk was much too short and we could have all listened to more. Then the talented Mr. Hulse once again showed his ability as a moderator and knowledgable pulpster in moderating a panel on Walter B. Gibson and the Shadow. Anthony Tollin, Randy Cox and Will Murray all contributed their expertise since all of them worked with Gibson and have written books about him and The Shadow. As you can imagine everyone was looking forward to this and it was fascinating to hear the different points of view about Gibson and his work. Will has written numerous books and is the literary agent for Lester Dent of the Doc Savage novels and oh so much more. Will’s career is prolific and you can read a little about it here. I have been corresponding with Will for some time and so it was great to meet him in person. Will and I don’t quite see eye to eye on the grandfather’s career in comics but we respect one another’s scholarship and I trust Will’s encyclopedic knowledge of the pulps. This was another panel that could have gone on much longer with the enthusiasm and interest from the audience.

Anthony, Ed, Randy and Will © BMA Studios.

Hanging out with the guys in the evening and chatting easily about pulps was part of the fun and I met so many people with their own great stories to tell. The hospitality fare was classic guy stuff–beer and chips–and believing firmly in “don’t complain, procure,” after the first such evening I searched out the local high end grocery and came back with wine, cheese, crackers, fruit and mineral water. If you’re going to hang out with guys, you know what the deal is. Bring your own tablecloth. They don’t mind at all.

John Locke with some of his titles © BMA Studios.

There were other interesting panels, fun people like John Wooley and Stephen Haffner, great dealers like Scott Edwards of Dearly Departed Books, the dashing Mechem duo of Girasol Collectables and of course the renowned pulpster Doug Ellis, readings by some of the new pulpsters–much too much for me to do it all so I’m looking forward to more next year.

The ever wonderful David Saunders and me © BMA Studios.

I had a hard time tearing myself away on Sunday, saying good-bye to everyone and getting those last few words of avuncular advice from David Saunders. I really appreciated everyone’s kindness and generosity. A special big thank you to Ed Hulse who is a prince among men. And of course, there was the last pulp to be purchased before getting back on the winding road. This time I listened to my intuition and took what appeared to be the longer road home but was actually the easiest and most pleasant drive through the summer afternoon into a clear starry evening along the Great Lake. It was an excellent Pulpfest Adventure.

Stay tuned for the last installment of How I Spent My Summer: Cowboys and Plagues in Comics.

 

 

 

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How I Spent My Summer–Part 2: Comic Con

In the spring everyone starts to ask–”Are you going to Comic Con?” Even if you don’t go, you have to talk about it because it’s so important to the industry. A lot of people have a love/hate relationship with San Diego Comic Con. It’s a gigantic free wheeling circus of an event but there are always the complaints that the comics themselves don’t seem to be as front and center as the movies, TV shows, games and toys. Being late to the party I don’t notice that so much as I’m mostly focused on the comics and can barely keep up with that. The rest of the hoopla is a scenic background for me.

 

I love cruising down the aisles and seeing incredible new talent like The Strangler Brothers (Judge Leverich, Josh Frankovich, Melinda Davidson) as well as favorite artists like Keith Knight and beautiful work like that of James Sturm’s Market Day. In the midst of all the hordes of people you create pockets of intimacy and visit with the friends you correspond with during the year and then you finally get time to talk and hang out in real time. The panels on the comics are always enlightening with people like Howard Cruse, Gerard Jones, Michael Uslan and Jerry Robinson among many others. It’s extra wonderful in San Diego with gorgeous weather and the Pacific Ocean right before you. And I’ll give a shameless plug for Jackie Estrada who does a phenomenal job. If you don’t believe me attend some other comic events who shall not be named and compare your experience.

 

It was impossible for me to attend SDCC this year with my southern gothic adventure not yet at an end and then a quick turn around to head out to Pulpfest. I missed seeing everyone and I was especially sorry not to be there for Roy Thomas’s Eisner Award and induction into The Hall of Fame. I can’t imagine that anyone reading this post doesn’t know a thousand times more about Roy than I do but here goes just in case. Roy Thomas is one of the great guys of comics. He was at DC for about a week under the infamous Mort Weisinger and then had the foresight to write Stan Lee who promptly hired him for Marvel. Roy has a ton of stories about that period working with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Denny O’Neil–another of the great treasures of comics–and many more. Roy worked as a writer on all the comic books and characters you all know and love—Nick Fury, Avengers, Doctor Strange, X-Men, Conan the Barbarian, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man among others. He eventually became editor-in-chief at Marvel. In 1981 he went back to DC where he wrote for Wonder Woman and Justice League of America among others. See what I mean, the guy has written for just about every important comic book character created. What a career. This is just a bare bones sketch and there are books as well.

 

 

In 1964 prior to all the Marvel/DC work Roy became an editor for the fanzine Alter Ego and in one of those odd twists of fate that’s where he is now having been part of the re-launch of Alter Ego in 1999 published by TwoMorrows Publishing. If you care about comic book history you should be reading Alter Ego. They do an amazing job of chronicling the history of the comic book especially in interviews with the people who made the history.

Here’s where my story intersects with Roy. In 2008 after Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was awarded a posthumous Eisner Award, John Morrow and Roy Thomas decided to devote practically an entire issue of Alter Ego to the Major with interviews of family members, photos and other archival material. The ace reporter Jim Amash was to do the interviews and I, lucky, lucky girl got the unbelievable opportunity to work with the great comic book writer and editor Roy Thomas coordinating our side of the project. Being the Candide of Comic Books I didn’t have much of a clue who Roy was nor did I know much about his distinguished background in comics. Like every writer who has a story, Roy represented the editor I had to deal with to make sure the story I wanted to tell got told. Meanwhile I was buried in organizing archival material and photos, trying to figure out IP issues between the hard won research and the need to inform–not to mention handling family members and their various issues. I did not come away unscathed and without Roy’s support it would not have turned out so well.

Cover of AlterEgo magazine, August 2009.

Besides Jim Amash who is the Super Hero of reporters and interviewers and John Morrow, a superb and hard working publisher toiling in a difficult vineyard, Roy Thomas is not only a top-notch editor and a fine artist the way he envisions each magazine, but he is also, in every sense of the phrase, a scholar and a gentleman. I could not have asked for the magazine to be any better than it was—that cover alone was a knockout—and so much was due to Roy’s talent and expertise. He was kind and patient with me and even listened to ideas that I had such as using cousin Ian’s interview with Creig Flessel, one of the early artists for Action Comics who worked for MWN.

Ian’s wife Erin discovered Creig Flessel at the assisted living facility where her grandmother had been living. Ian then volunteered to interview Creig and having a vested interest I dispatched a list of questions that I wanted to ask. I was concerned that I wouldn’t make it to the West Coast in time to interview Creig myself and unfortunately I was right. Thank goodness for Ian’s interview. Since Ian has worked on various magazines on the editing and writing side for quite some time it’s not surprising that he turned in great copy and besides–he does have the dna.

Roy generously made me feel that I was a contributor and I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t say how much fun I had working with Roy and the constant communicating back and forth. It took about a year from the idea to the finished issue and even as we got down to the wire Roy never flinched and continued his calm approach. Once the last t was crossed and I realized it was over, I was genuinely sorry. When you work in media that requires a collaborative approach sometimes things can end in fisticuffs or frosty silences. This was one of those experiences where I was elated and it all happened under the direction of Roy Thomas, comic book emeritus. I consider myself fortunate to have had this working experience and of course, I learned a lot. You can add me to the legion of fans. Roy Thomas’s Eisner Award is well deserved on all counts— creativity, enormous contribution to the industry and role model for those who come after. Many, many congratulations to you, Roy. I wish I’d been there.

 

 

Speaking of I wish I’d been there here’s a link to a post that I found out about from one of the discussion boards I’m on. The discussion was entitled I wish I’d been there. The blog is called DC Women Kicking Ass and you gotta love that. It’s a great post and well worth the time to read. Here’s the short hand. Evidently a young woman dressed as Batgirl went to many of the DC panels at SDCC and being astonished at seeing no women on the panels and the poor representation of women in the new line-up she asked a legitimate question—Where are the women? She kept asking it over and over at panels until finally there was a tense moment and a somewhat rude response. In all fairness you never know why someone loses his cool. We’ve all done it.

 

Batgirl’s appearance at SDCC has gotten a lot of play throughout the web and must have finally hit a nerve with DC. Apparently they are rethinking some of what they intend to do by adding more women creators and looking at the new line-up from the standpoint of including more women. Here’s a link. So far Wonder Woman has been given short shrift from that ghastly new outfit to the supposed TV series that moved somewhere off the planet so I don’t have a lot of hope. If DC can’t do right by WW then I don’t see how it’s going to work for other female characters. And sloppy token gestures are not going to do it. Strong well-written and well-drawn characters and good stories are the name of the game. Here’s a hint guys, according to most publishing industry statistics the female gender is doing the most buying and they’re loyal. Come on DC, you can do so much better. We’re all rooting for you to do the right thing. Stay tuned.

 

Although I wish I had been at SDCC in real life, I’m happy to say I was there in my own way or rather “the Major” was there, which is the whole point. Last fall J.C. Vaughn of Gemstone Publishing asked if I would write an article for The 41st Overstreet Guide to Comics about the Major—a sort of reintroduction of just who MWN is and what he’s noted for in the comic book industry. Robert Overstreet is one of a handful of guys who knows comics from Action to Yellow Kid and he’s been putting out the invaluable Overstreet Guide for 41 years. That’s quite an accomplishment. I had the pleasure of meeting Bob last year and getting to talk with him a little about his ongoing work. The Overstreet Guide usually comes out during SDCC so I was anxious to get my copy and see how the article looked. It arrived the first week in August, just after Comic Con and to my surprise contained a lovely letter from Bob Overstreet letting me know that Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson had been inducted into the Overstreet Hall of Fame. I cannot thank the guys at Diamond and Gemstone enough especially Steve Geppi, J.C. Vaughn and the incomparable Robert Overstreet. Everything was beautifully done. I was thrilled at the way the article looked and I’m glad that people who attended Comic Con had the opportunity to read about the man who was one of the founders of the industry.

Thanks to Bob, J.C. and Steve I had fun at this year’s Comic Con in spite of not being there. See you next year!

Stay tuned for Part 3 of “How I Spent My Summer: Pulpfest 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How I Spent My Summer–Part 1: Who are Your People?

In comic books it’s always good to start with the origin story so let’s begin at the beginning of Major Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson’s life in Greeneville, Tennessee and his schooling at Manlius Military Academy in upstate New York.

Most of the time I feel like a detective searching for clues and a lot of times it is the boring work of sifting through piles of information to suddenly discover something that clicks with some other piece of information and then a few more pieces of the puzzle come into view. Late last summer in my ongoing search into Grandfather Nick’s life and work I made the journey to Manlius Pebble Hill School on my way to do research at the library at Syracuse University. I had phoned Manlius several times trying to get information but they didn’t seem to have much information from the earlier years after the school merged with Pebble Hill. I decided to give it one more shot since I was going to be in the area at the University. The library at Syracuse for those of you who don’t know has excellent Street and Smith pulp fiction archives. It was fun looking at the files and getting a glimpse of the personalities and the way business was conducted back in the heyday of the pulps. It made the reality of the writers and their work come alive among the minutiae of payment cards and editor’s notes.

MWN attended Manlius Military Academy in 1909-1911 when he was about 19-21 years of age. At that time it was a prestigious military school run by the renowned General William Verbeck whose father had been a Dutch missionary to Japan and ended up as a political advisor to Emperor Meiji during the mid-to late 1800′s. I knew from family lore that MWN had excelled at Manlius graduating in 2 years instead of the usual 4 but it didn’t really hit me until I visited the school how much of an influence Manlius had upon my grandfather.

Manlius is now a coed prep school but it is one of those places where the impression of history seems to hang in the air and General Verbeck’s leadership still resides in the foundation. Walking around the campus I got that feeling you get occasionally that surpasses brick and mortar of a spirit that is able to survive from one generation to the next. My father Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Jr. attended the school just before he went into the army during WWII and uncle Douglas Wheeler-Nicholson attended for about a year as well and has the tales to prove it.

Maureen Anderson, the alumni director welcomed me warmly and went out of her way to help me in my research. She gave me a tour of the school and did find some records encompassing the Major’s time spent at Manlius. It was so poignant to see Grandfather Nick at that point of becoming—before any of life’s events touched him as an adult out in the larger world. Hearing the history of Manlius from Maureen especially that of General Verbeck and his family and in the midst of reading some of MWN’s pulp fiction adventure stories based on his adventures in the military I got a real sense of where the idealism that was so much a part of MWN’s character had been shaped and formed.

From Rootsweb Onondaga County Postcards © respective holders.

Maureen asked me if I would contribute a few words about the Major for the alumni publication coming out in the spring of 2011 and I was more than glad to do so after all her generosity. Since I have been on the Gulf Coast for over 4 months I didn’t see the article until I arrived back home in the Berkshires in mid-July. Maureen and everyone involved did a beautiful job and I was impressed with the professional appearance of the publication. I appreciate the inclusion of this tribute to Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson especially as it was from the school he loved so well.

While I was down south I got an interesting phone call from Bob Hurley, a reporter for The Greeneville Sun, a newspaper in Greeneville, Tennessee where the Major always indicated he was born. I say indicated because although he usually wrote Greeneville, Tennessee on all official documents there is no other documentation such as a birth record. There are no birth records in that part of Tennessee for the early 1890’s, the US census records from 1890 were destroyed in a fire and the local newspapers are missing those dates—a perfect storm of mystery.

Apparently a syndicated insert appearing recently in The Greeneville Sun included a little tidbit about Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson the inventor of the modern comic book stating he was from Greeneville. I later realized that it was taken almost word for word off the website and most of it my own words. This is why one of my cousins who has high standing in the academic world and is wise to the ways of the internet has cautioned me about what I put on the web. After one or two mishaps I realized how right she is so most of my information is general and can be passed on. It’s a good thing that this information got picked up because it helped to get the word out there and that’s the whole point.

In the Greeneville area the item about the Major took everyone by surprise. East Tennessee is small town America where most everyone knows everyone and no one had ever heard of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. MWN’s father died when MWN was very young. With her brother and sister gone from the area and her parents deceased and now losing a husband and a young daughter MWN’s mother took her small children and left the area eventually ending up in Portland, Oregon. After her remarriage and name change the traces of the family seemed to disappear from East Tennessee.

Bob Hurley’s easy-going southern manner hides a very enterprising and astute journalist and he was immediately on the trail. He found one relative who had been in correspondence with a local genealogist but wasn’t able to get much information. Eventually he spoke to Don Miller the librarian at the Elmer Cox Genealogy library in Greeneville. Just to show what a great librarian Don is, Don remembered my visit to the library about 5 or more years ago and even had my email and home phone number tucked away.

I can’t say enough kind things about Don. He was one of the historians who got me started in the right direction in my search. Among other things Don found great-grandmother Antoinette’s marriage record to her first husband. He is professional to the core and passionate about his work. Don is also incredibly intuitive which comes from being grounded in the years of research that he has done about the history of Greeneville and the surrounding area.

When Bob finally tracked me down at the beach we were both excited at the connection. I filled him in on as many details of the Major’s early life and ancestry as I could as well as MWN’s later adventures. Bob let me know that he was planning to do an article and wondered if by any chance I might come back to Greeneville soon. He is very persuasive and managed to talk me into taking a little bit of a jaunt out of my usual route back to the northeast. It seemed to be a good opportunity to let people in the area know about the Major and possibly help add to more information. If you get the sense that Bob is a charming character you would be right. I’m so glad I let him persuade me because I had a fabulous time. Meeting friendly, interested people from the area made it especially nice as other times I’ve been to East Tennessee I’ve wandered around on my own.

Washington College Academy

I love to drive, especially on the back roads, so I thoroughly enjoyed driving across South Carolina from the lowlands of Charleston where I had been visiting friends and head into the mountains. I believe that until you walk on your ancestors’ bones, as it were, by walking on the land they walked upon, you can’t get a complete sense of your history. After the intense heat of the Gulf Coast and Charleston it was pleasantly cool in Highlands, North Carolina where I spent that night with another of my far-flung southern friends. I headed out the next morning to Greeneville, which is just a few hours away over the next mountain ridge and met Bob. We had a grand time driving around in his huge chariot of a truck to many of the places I had been on several earlier visits. It would be hard not to have a grand time with Bob as your tour guide. We went to Broylesville, a small community settled by some of the ancestors, Urbana Cemetery in Limestone and Washington College Academy, a beautiful setting and the site of an early school. Through an internet search cousin Ian Wheeler-Nicholson discovered our great, great grandmother Sarah Wheeler’s grave near there at the old Salem Cemetery and that was one of the places I went the first time I visited several years ago. As I noted to the family after my initial trip the cemetery is on a rise of a hill with views of fields across the way, apple trees and horses munching on the grass, tails flicking. In the distance are the blue ridges of the higher mountains of the Appalachians. It’s easy to see why my ancestors loved it so much.

Old Salem Cemetery

Back at the library in Greeneville Don Miller and I enjoyed reconnecting especially as I’ve done much more research and between us we worked out the possibilities of MWN being born in Greeneville, Tennessee for certain. I’ve found records at the National Archives in Washington, DC relating to the whereabouts of great, great grandfather, Christopher Wheeler, MWN’s grandfather, practicing medicine in Greeneville and where he died in 1893. That information along with additional clues and Don’s impeccable knowledge made him confident that MWN was indeed born in Greeneville. I’ll take that as a definite unless something else turns up.

Sarah Wheeler

It was also nice to meet Rev. Casey Nicholson who is a big comic book fan and was very excited about MWN being from Greeneville. I know it sounds funny that a Reverend loves his comics but Casey is not your typical Presbyterian minister but then again perhaps he is. He’s young and with the strong ethical values he has it probably relates well to the concept of a Justice League. And of course, he’s knowledgeable about his comics. We aren’t related through the Nicholson side but with his family being in the area for a long time like most southerners we can probably find a connection somewhere.

I just received Bob’s wonderful full page splash on the Major in The Greeneville Sun and it’s a fun read. He did a great job of introducing MWN to his readers and hopefully someone will respond to the request for more information. I’m deeply appreciative of the interest from Manlius and Greeneville, two important places in MWN’s early life. Since cousin Ian and his wife Erin are about to bring forth the newest member of the clan it seems fitting to celebrate our ancestors and look forward to the next generation.

On a personal note I’m happy to say that I finally succeeded in wrassling the blog away from the hosts without the mosts. I confess that I had to resort to professional help. Thank you a thousand times Evan. This is the first post from the new digs. Hopefully we’ll manage to ransom the website out in one or more pieces and be back in top form. There’s a lot to show and tell.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of How I Spent my Summer.

 

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Funny Business

Almost everyone is in agreement that the Major was not a good businessman. I’m not necessarily buying that. Especially after laboring through the legal documents (600 legal pages) concerning the takeover of MWN’s publishing business by Donenfeld and Liebowitz. Thanks to a good friend who is a retired Federal attorney we have gone through all the documents line by line to make sure I understand what happened and when. My friend translated the legalese into plain English for me and caught all sorts of interesting tidbits that I would have missed. For my part I was able to catch things that she didn’t because I knew the players and a good bit of the background. I can tell you that practically everything I’ve read up to this point is either missing important information, has the dates and timing wrong or is just plain hearsay and doesn’t have a grain of truth in it. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my good friend for taking the time to go over these documents in such a painstaking manner. She thought it was fun! After my head stopped spinning from the legal jargon I did too. Girls do know how to have fun.

 

Besides the new revelations for the comic history books I’ve gotten a pretty good view of MWN’s skills as a businessman. He had all the necessary ingredients for an entrepeneur: charm and the ability to sell his product, an extraordinary vision and the skills to recognize talent and manage the troops. His problem was, that during the Depression–a very difficult period for attempting to do anything innovative without a lot of cash–he ran up against some guys who had plenty of cash to make their own rules. It’s ironic that the Justice League is based on quite a few injustices.

It’s also clear from the legal documents that the Major did not have an eye for the details of accounting. Many very successful businessmen aren’t the best accountants but usually they’re careful to either partner with one, i.e. Donenfeld and Liebowitz or they hire them. It’s not unusual for a highly successful businessman to bankrupt a couple of times–Donald Trump, anyone. For that matter, Donenfeld himself went bankrupt a few times and then sold his titles back to himself in a new company leaving the writers and artists in the lurch for their pay. The only reason no one has ever called him a bad businessman is because he got away with it or did he? Perhaps the whole Dickensian lawsuit of the Siegels and Shusters vs. DC is the gigantic tsunami of karma emanating from the late 30′s that exhibits poor judgment at the very least and possibly something much worst.

 

It wouldn’t be a good story if MWN was simply a victim and he wasn’t. Once he realized what was going on he did his best to fend off the dogs by pulling a few stunts himself but it was much too late to save the day. The Major also lacked the other ingredient that often seems to go with highly successful people–complete and total lack of compassion, an almost psychotic need to succeed at any cost. That’s certainly not true of every successful person but it’s a trait that clearly exists in some. The Major had a code of honor that wouldn’t allow him to go down that road.

Some people might call that a fault, not me. The two bad business traits of MWN that stand out in the legal documents–and my attorney friend agrees–are a kind of romantic idealism in not facing up to the reality of the sort of people with whom he was in business and the lack of attention to details. That is often the way with very creative people and Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was a highly creative person with a prolific lifetime output.

I can understand and sympathize. It’s not easy to keep up with running a business and churning out creative product. And for those of us in the female category we have the added onus of doing it all while dancing backwards in heels a la Ginger Rogers.

respective copyright holders

I’m looking forward to finally getting all this research out in the world. In the meantime details have to be attended to in order to tidy up a few things so the Major and I are moving. For far too long I’ve been struggling with dysfunctional outsourced technical support for this site with everything from being hacked at least twice and having the site hijacked once as a gateway for one of the most popular activities on the internet. The email has been spammed out of control mostly from Eastern Europe–yes, you Cyrillic Boy with your various thrilling offers and your sterling comments. No matter how far up the Byzantine phone tree I go and no matter how long I spend on the phone with “Robert” or “Anne” it is never resolved.

I have wasted enormous amounts of time–entire afternoons have been whiled away in this fun international exchange. I’m no jingoist but our new lodgings are in the U. S. of A. and the phone is answered by people in their own language with the added plus that they don’t sound like robots from some far away planet reading a script. Thanks for your patience while we pack up and move outta here. We’ll have a housewarming in our new digs soon. Ta.

respective holders.

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The Major’s Salon

In my epic journey (well, after about 12 years or so, I get to call it that) searching for clues to Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s extraordinary life and work I’ve come across some incredibly talented people with accompanying rapier wits. I have naturally longed to get us all around the proverbial table. I have a genetic propensity from both sides of my family for gathering groups to sit around a dining table partaking of huge repasts and drinking copious amounts of vino veritas all the while encouraging the tossing of bon mots about everything from the latest political insanity to the newest movie, book, song, artiste, etc. There have been wonderful moments in my dining room with the exception of those occasional events where someone has dramatically exited in high dudgeon or various pieces of crockery or glassware ended up in shards. As the resident Southern Belle whose dishes are my dowery I do not look kindly on the latter.

© respective holders. From Moongem Comics blog.

At times the various social media that we participate in can be similar to a big dinner party. Recently one of my favorite artists, Batton Lash, he of Supernatural Law posted a video from YouTube put together by Eric Powell, of Goon comics about the sad state of the comic book industry. As Batton so aptly put it, the video was not for children or the namby-pamby. I can’t post a link because it has been removed but you might be able to see it here on ComicsAlliance. And I’ll repeat Batton’s admonition–it is not for the squeamish. It is a fairly graphic depiction of what I assume is Powell’s point of view of what happens in the comic book industry to the truly creative. Fortunately I cannot comment on the insider politics and people because my only knowledge of insider comic book politics is from the 1930′s. Although I had a namby-pamby reaction to the crudity of the message and in all honesty I’m too much of a girl to read the beautifully drawn but very scary Goon on a regular basis I thought the video was quite provocative as it was meant to be and it certainly got people thinking and talking.

It reminded me that the Major, one of the founding fathers of the industry, had a very strong vision for comics and that the man’s entire life was a constant hum of creativity. If he were alive today I’m pretty sure he’d be the first one to come up with new ideas for comic books. The corporate comics world feeds a lot of people and thank goodness for that but it never hurts to refresh the creative well and it can help their bottom line as well. One need go no further than the medium of film and the periodic influx from independent filmmakers that revitalizes that industry. Perhaps the comic book industry could use more opportunity and economic platforms for independents to be able to bring fresh ideas to the table. DC’s Vertigo imprint and Archie’s new story themes and gay character is a good example of what is possible but there could be a whole lot more. All you have to do to get a picture of the tremendous amount of talent out there is show up for the annual MoCCA Festival (this year’s is April 9-10). It’s awe-inspiring and cheering to see an entire armory full of creator owned comic books.

 

The Major’s ideas for comic books developed over the years from his very first publishing efforts syndicating comics for newspapers in 1925 to the comic books themselves in 1934–New Fun, Adventure and Detective Comics. MWN clearly thought about encouraging the public to read and think by publishing strips of Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe and even works from Edgar Allan Poe and Emile Zola along with the usual fare. Later when he began the comic books he once again published Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, IvanhoeShe by Rider Haggard and discussions of history like the Battle of Hastings in Magic Crystal of History in the very same comic books as Slam Bradley and Federal Men. Aunt Toni and uncle Douglas firmly believed that MWN had a vision of providing some intellectual meat along with the trifles and from everything I’ve pieced together that appears to be true. So it seems fitting to encourage thoughtful discourse in honor of those early ideals for comic books as envisioned by the Major. It’s my firm belief that it’s important to know your history whether it’s your personal history, history of your people or your particular field because it gives you a strong foundation to stand on and from which you can soar.

© respective holders. From Jon Berk Collection.

If I were Robert Redford I’d start my own Sundance for Comics. With that in mind I’ve asked some of the scholars and gentlemen who write, teach, talk and create comics to make their thoughts known and start some lively conversation in an old-fashioned salon on the Major’s Fan Page on Facebook. We’ll be talking about various aspects of comics from a somewhat more thoughtful point of view than just how much we all love comics or to show off our knowledge of minutiae. If there are any ladies who have written about comics and want to join in, you know where to find me.

Our first guest is Terrance Griep. I’m going to let Terrance speak for himself because I love the way he writes. He’s been sharing his wonderful missives about comics and super heroes with me for a while and besides being very smart he makes me laugh out loud. I don’t think there is any way I can explain Terrance adequately so I’ll let him introduce himself. Here’s Terrance in his own words and then jump on over to the Major’s Fan Page and click on to Discussions where Terrance’s very funny and brilliant thoughts will be available. Chime in, use your wits and chat away but by all means remember this is a salon not a saloon. You can be provocative but no smashing glassware. If you’re like me and new to all this you’ll enjoy listening and learning and by all means ask a thoughtful question. Let’s all have More Fun!

May I introduce the fabulous Mr Griep to you all:

“Prism Comics is a non-profit organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) creators, stories, characters, and readers in the comics industry.

During the day, Terrance Griep drudges as a mild-mannered reporter, kind’a: he’s written nonfiction for magazines ranging from The Advocate to Star Trek Monthly. For them (and others), he’s interviewed such pop culture luminaries as Cliver Barker, John Waters, and ex-NFLer, Esera Tuaolo. Terrance writes comic books, as well, contributing to the canons of DC’s Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and, most often, Scooby-Doo. Further, he’s written for Image Comics and myriad other companies. He also co-hosts a Minneapolis-based current events television program called The Spectator.

After sunset, Terrance assumes the persona of professional wrestling heel, Tommy “The SpiderBaby” Saturday, whose misadventures have been chronicled by Out Magazine, Wrestling Now and Then, The Outfield Magazine, Jazma Online, and City Pages Weekly, which named him Wrestler of the Year for 2009.

His only hobby is sleeping.”

The Amazing Mr. Griep aka The SpiderBaby.

Editor’s note: See what I mean! See you over on the Fan Page. Here’s your click.

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Let’s all eat cake

Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was born January 7, 1890 marking this year, 2011 as the 121st anniversary of his birth. He often listed his place of birth as Greeneville, Tennessee, the county seat of Greene County in East Tennessee. More than likely he was born at home in the Jonesborough/Johnson City area some 30 or so miles north of Greeneville. East Tennessee is a beautiful rugged area in the Appalachian Mountains home to Daniel Boone and Andrew Johnson the 17th President of the United States. MWN’s grandfather, Christopher Wheeler settled there at the end of the Civil War and went into practice as a physician with Matthew Mahoney with whom he also started the Jonesborough Herald and Review, a newspaper still in existence. MWN wrote about the deep impression his grandfather made upon him as a very young child and romanticized his background in several of his earlier adventure stories. Christopher Wheeler was apparently a good horseman, riding horseback through the Tennessee hills to attend to his patients. His daughter, Antoinette, MWN’s mother, was also a writer and journalist so it is not surprising that MWN’s first job out of high school would be as a reporter for The Evening Telegram in Portland, Oregon where the family moved at the turn of the last century.

In 1909 MWN was admitted to Manlius Military Academy, a prestigious feeder school for the U.S. Army. He graduated with honors in 2 years instead of the usual 4 and began his military career in 1911 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Cavalry continuing to follow his heritage in the military and horsemanship. That career ended in the last few days of 1922 preceded by a dramatic court martial and an assassination attempt. In between those events MWN served on the US/Mexican border under General Pershing chasing bandits–Pancho Villa, the revolutionary probably among them. He commanded Troop K of the renowned African-American Buffalo soldiers. He then served in the Philippines at Camp Stotsenburg where there were still remnants of the Muslim Moros fighting in the jungles meanwhile training his men in machine gun practice so that world records were broken. In leisure time he played polo and excelled at that as well. In 1915 he went into Military Intelligence.

Written permission required for use.

His post in 1917 as military attaché to the Japanese Embassy in Khabarovsk in Siberia placed him once again in a unique position to view historic world events. The Major as he came to be called in later life was in the midst of the Bolshevik revolution and saw first-hand the Cossack chiefs who switched allegiance depending on the value to be gained. He was witness as well to the strategies and movements of troops of the Chinese, Japanese and Bolshevik revolutionaries. He wrote many stories about this extraordinary time in world history some of which are thinly veiled real life accounts. Although he had admiration for the horsemanship of the Cossacks he found their treatment of the peasants abhorrent and almost all his stories contain somewhat graphic depictions of the Cossack cruelty. When armistice occurred at the end of WWI he was transferred to France and was eventually sent to the Ecole Superior in Paris. He was later attached to the London Embassy and the American Cavalry on the Rhine.

©respective holders

In 1920 while still in the Army in Paris he met and married Elsa Karolina Bjoerkbom, a beautiful Swedish woman of aristocratic background. He proposed to her at the Eiffel Tower and to keep everything in fairy tale alignment they were married in the Kaiser’s Chapel, Church of the Palace in Coblenz, Germany under the crossed swords of his fellow officers. Sometime during this period in Europe MWN became increasingly frustrated by Army bureaucracy and by the end of 1921 he was in a battle royale with the US Army over what he termed Prussianism in the Army. He wrote a letter to President Harding in August 1921 and the attempted assassination upon his life at Fort Dix in November 1921 indicated he had struck a nerve somewhere in that vast bureaucracy just as his comrade Colonel Billy Mitchell did during the same period. While he was recovering from the wounds at Walter Reed Hospital a court martial ensued. He was acquitted of all charges with the exception of the published letter to Harding and was discharged in very late December of 1922.

MWN published his first book in 1922, Modern Cavalry and he began writing adventure stories for the pulps, most based on his own exploits in the military. The earliest story I’ve found so far is in McClure’s Magazine, August 1924. He went on to write at least 117 short stories, serials, novellas and novels appearing in 142 editions of 32 magazine titles. That doesn’t include the reprints, the foreign editions, (some in Spanish as well as English) nor the pseudonyms of which there are at least 2. There were also 2 hard cover mystery novels and at least 2 paperbacks. MWN’s non-fiction includes Modern Cavalry and during WWII, 3 well-received hard cover books of political and military writing as well as numerous articles in Harpers and Look among others. His writing career spanned most of his adult life from approximately 1922-1956.

Written permission required for use.

In addition to his writing he also had two significant publishing ventures. In 1925 he published short pieces and comic strips for syndication. MWN wrote many of the scripts and Robert Louis Stevenson scholars count him as the first person to produce RLS in comic strip format and the first person to produce RLS in a comic book. He hired well-know writers and artists but was unable to financially support his creative ideas and a year or so later turned back to writing for the pulps.

In 1928 to 1930 with his growing family now consisting of 4 children, he returned to France where the family had an apartment in Paris and rented an ancient chateau in Vic sur Aisnes north of Paris. With the onset of the Great Depression the family was forced to return to the US and a 5th child was born. By 1933 he had begun work on his new venture—comic books with all original scripts and art work. He published New Fun and More Fun soon hiring Siegel and Shuster as well as Bob Kane among others and created Action Comics and Detective Comics–DC–based on the pulps he knew and loved. There are several excellent earlier attempts at original comic books but it is Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson who established the modern comic book pretty much as we know it today. It was his vision and ability to recognize talent and hire many of the people that are honored as the pioneers of this truly American artform. The Major created the template that enabled this fledgling industry to survive. He had all the ingredients of the entrepreneur—the vision, the drive and the creativity. What he lacked was a basic understanding of the details of business. Like so many creative people he simply was not a businessman.

© respective holders. From Jon Berk Collection.

Unfortunately he was not wise in his choice of business partners–Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz who had a history of amassing product and companies in a somewhat ruthless manner. By 1938 against the backdrop of the financial difficulties of the Great Depression he was forced under controversial circumstances from the company he founded. It took him some time to recover from this terrible blow and the loss of the character that he believed in so passionately–Superman. He then went on to write non-fiction books and continued writing for the pulps.

In the latter part of his life on a trip to Sweden he discovered several formulas for industrial paint applications, purchased them and returned to the states to develop them. Like the proverbial dad from an early television sitcom, the Major spent the beginning years of the 1950’s teaching himself basic chemistry and cooking up the formulas in the family kitchen. This frequently resulted in low comedy with explosions and black soot everywhere. However, like everything else in his life he persisted until he prevailed and eventually attracted the interest of a Wall Street consortium. After agonizing over the contractual details, at the last minute, perhaps due to what happened with his comic book venture he walked away and refused to sign.

He appeared to have no regrets about the choices in his life, seemed not to be bitter and lived out his days surrounded by his family with his wife, Elsa whom he adored at his side. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson died in September of 1965. His life was a continual quest and much of his writing is based on his own adventures. He loved history and carefully researched his stories based on historical events including the Crusades and Middle Ages. Even now some 60-70 years later that research holds up under scholarly scrutiny.

The Major c. 1948 in Sweden. © Finn Andreen.

Ron Goulart said of him that he faded away like many an old soldier. Fortunately that is no longer true. The above is a bare outline of the rich life my grandfather lived. The family myth is only a backdrop. It is  the details all based on solid methodical research that bring the picture to life. I’m very proud of my grandfather’s talent as a writer and his amazing contributions to modern popular culture. Every hard won fact adds to the epic story of this extraordinary man, a prolific creative artist who lived a life of great adventure. Happy Birthday, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, we salute you.

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Saint Nick’s Naughty and Nice List–a 4-part serial

Although there were a few family members who had grand visions that DC was going to canonize the Major in the recent documentary on the 75 years of DC, Secret Origin, yours truly was not among them. I’m just relieved that DC/WB included him and were nice! Thank you again, Sean and Mac.

Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was called Nick at least by the time he was attending Manlius Military Academy in upstate New York. Several items in the yearbook from 1911 identify him with that nickname. Evidently he was also known for being quite elegant in his dress, once again disproving the French boulevardier’s cape and hat story. Sorry about that Gerard.

Here’s how I came to share a “nick” name with the illustrious grandfather. At birth I was given an unwieldly name four times as long as I was, encrusted with the ancient European connections from both sides of the various ancestors. Left in the care of my southern maternal grandparents since both my parents were in New York, (it’s complicated) Granddaddy Pickens who named everything and everybody in his own dry way immediately referred to me as the Wheeler-Nick. This promptly got shortened to Nick and Nicky and that’s what I’ve been called my entire life no matter which gentleman came along and attached his name to mine. Although I am an ardent champion of Grandfather Nick’s creative energy I know he wasn’t a saint and since I’m pretty clear I’m not a saint we’ll leave it to the real Saint Nick to imbue his spirit forthwith for the season.

Santa's Reality © respective holders

The following is all about giving fun to someone else. Wasn’t that the idea for comics in the first place? None other than Pete Marston, son of William Moulton Marston of Wonder Woman fame recently stated that he felt the Major was well aware of how important it was to cheer people up in bad times. I’d like to think that is so.

Giving is a two-way street. If you purchase from the heroes and heroines toiling away in publishing as the publishers, creators, writers and artists you give them a gift as well and believe me, they deserve it!  One of the things I love about comics and pulps is that almost every one of the incredibly prolific and creative people I’ve met is fun and unbelievably nice.

So fellow procrastinators and harried over-worked bohemians–take heart! It’s not too late to get things together for the seasonal gift-giving. You know you’re going to buy at least a few gifts even if you’re pinching pennies so think about spending them wisely and well. I’ve left out some of the obvious gift choices because they’re being touted non-stop by the giant machine of hyperbole. Herewith the Un-saint Nick’s quirky list of books, pulps and comic books for all those who’ve been Naughty or Nice. You know very well who and what you are.

Part One–Big Art Books and Collections

Grab anything from The Library of American Comics run by two incredibly talented guys—Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell. Check out this photo of them at the IDW booth from NY Comic Con 2010. The Library of American Comics provides archival editions of newspaper comic strips. The books are all beautifully accomplished and award winning productions. With everything from Blondie to Rip Kirby you’ll find something here for everyone on your list. Clicky on the pic to go right on over to their gorgeous site with Bruce’s informative and fun blog as an added bonus. I love these guys.

© The Library of American Comics

This book Shazam by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear grabbed my eye in The Bookloft, one of our favorite local independent bookstores. I want this book myself so I know you will too. How can anyone resist anything that the extraordinarily talented Chip Kidd puts his hand to? Only his nibs Mr. Kidd could get away with entitling a book Shazam and he has the plaid pants to prove it. You know where to click.

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The prolific (in more ways than one) Craig Yoe is also represented at IDW with beautiful books. I keep talking about his book on Milt Gross which has a perfect combination of artwork and prose to keep you entertained for hours. Craig also just finished a book on Frankenstein that is sure to be great fun. Mr. Yoe turns out so many amazing books on comics that it is hard to keep up. Check out his site for more beautiful graphic books on comics.

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David Saunders whom I’ve just discovered and written about in a previous post is so talented and his beautiful art books on the pulps are on a par with anything out there. His father Norman Saunders was a great pulp artist and I love David’s heartfelt book about him. David’s newest book is on H. J. Ward another of the great pulp artists. David has some terrific yarns about Ward when he worked for Donenfeld in the Spicy pulp department. It’s all done with beautifully reproduced artwork. The click will take you to the publisher’s site.

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The multi-talented Denis Kitchen, one of the grand oldish men of underground comics–hard to believe old and underground comics could be in the same phrase–seems to be everywhere these days talking about his incredible adventures. Denis won an Eisner at this year’s Comic Con for his beautiful book on Harvey Kurtzman and he has his own book The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen. If you have a chance to hear Denis speak I would not miss this opportunity to hear first hand about the underground world of artists like Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb not to mention the inimitable Will Eisner and all the great tales Denis has of his life in comics.

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For kid friendly browsing you can’t go wrong at Papercutz run by another of the great gentlemen publishers, Jim Salicrup. I have one of their Nancy Drew graphic novels that I love. There are tons of options here to please the finickiest non-adult person on your list. And if you’re still not sure, get a gift certificate and let Mr. or Miz Picky do his/her own shopping. Their books are high quality at great prices.

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And don’t forget the classics like Comic Book Culture: An Illustrated History. This beautiful book by Ron Goulart is one of the first books I purchased about the comics. It is still a great book with striking artwork and well-written prose. Ron’s knowledge of this genre is first-hand as he knew and befriended so many of the early pioneers of the game. His stories are often original source material so you need this book if you’re at all serious about your comics’ history.

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If you want a splurge or you want to woo someone (hint, hint)–anything remotely affordable by the astoundingly gifted Steranko will do the trick. I had a hard time choosing a representative piece of artwork. The man is so talented in a variety of genres. Here’s a link to a wonderful site (The Drawings of Steranko) that also provides lots of links like Amazon where you can do your Santa Claus deal. Steranko rates in my book as the Maestro.

© Jim Steranko/respective holders

I’m placing Archie Comics here in the big book department but they are also Affordable Luxury. For Archie’s big book, Archie Marries… Michael Uslan and Stan Goldberg have created this luxurious book featuring all new stories about Archie and the gang. Michael took the idea of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken and applied it to Archie and Veronica and Betty. It’s a huge hit and you’ll want this book. I do. If you catch Mr. Uslan as he flies hither and yon and get him to sign your book, Santa will get a well-deserved big smooch.

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Finally I’m including the venerable Bobs here. Robert Beerbohm’s online bookstore BLB Books has thousands of affordable collectible comic books but he also has plenty of splurges for the serious collector on your list. I bought a nice Wonder Woman for one of my few gal pals who is into comics that was very reasonable but I saw plenty of others of the drool only category. If I were you I would email Bob and communicate with him directly if you’re planning on investment grade presents. Best to get knowledgeable advice from those in the know and Bob is your man.

The other venerable Robert is Overstreet. His 40th Overstreet’s Guide just came out. That’s a phenomenal accomplishment and Bob’s your man here as well. The Overstreet Guide is for the person on your list who is serious about collecting comics and you might want one for yourself too. Published by Gemstone Publishing with scholar and gentleman, JC Vaughn at the helm, you can find new and back issues of their prolific output for fans and collectors from their various publications which also fits nicely in the Affordable Luxury department.

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Part Two: Must Have Books by Writers and Artists

I’ve put various links onto the pics such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble or the publisher’s site but you should also visit your local independent bookstores and comic book stores. You can check out a few comic book stores listed here on the blog with links. Abrams seems to have quite a few of my favorite books on comics but the top of the list has to be Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics by Christopher Couch. Christopher is a dedicated writer who loves his subject matter. The book was written in collaboration with Jerry Robinson who is not only a gentleman in every sense of the word but has been a champion of artists’ rights thus the Ambassador title. This wonderful book filled with great illustrations is a fount of information about Jerry’s amazing career in comics. For those of you who are Batman aficiaonados you need this book.

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Danny Fingeroth has wonderful how-to books with TwoMorrows press (see Affordable Luxury) that are excellent choices but my favorite of his is Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero published by Continuum. It is a deeply intelligent book that gives you a much greater understanding of the contribution of Jewish immigrants to the comic book industry and Danny’s thoughts on how that came about. I truly loved this book and it made me appreciate even more what a smart and talented guy our Danny happens to be.

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Of course, Gerard Jones should be on your list. His book Men of Tomorrow is a classic even if he did get the information wrong about the Major. I’m not holding it against him because there is so much information in here that sheds light on the entire industry and how it evolved although I’m not so sure evolved is the best word here. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating—what I especially like about MOT is the way Gerard places everything within historical context. It makes a big difference in one’s understanding of the rise of this hugely popular cultural phenomena. Gerard also has other wonderful books on pop culture like Killing Monsters, The Beaver Papers and Honey I’m Home among many others which you can find on his very own Amazon page.

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Howard Cruse is a dear friend so if you don’t know his work you may suspect my gushing. However, my 80ish grand dame of a mother-in-law whose usual bedside table reading consists of Jane Austen and the latest literary environmental guru has pronounced Howard’s graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby as one of the best books she’s ever read. So there you have it. Howard’s beautifully written and beautifully drawn book about being gay in the segregated south has just been re-issued by Vertigo (an imprint of DC) with a haunting new cover by Howard and an intro by Alison Bechdel of Dykes to Watch out For (another book that’s on my personal Santa list). I never go against anything the grande dame pronounces and neither should you if you know what’s good for you.

The new cover.© Howard Cruse

My dream team would be a collaboration between Marc Rosenthal artist extraordinaire and one of my favorite writers, Tom DeHaven. Marc’s art is reminiscent of a much earlier style that has an updated graphic look. Marc and I agree that some of the newer graphic novels and comics are simply dizzying to look at in the style of a Baz Lurman film at his most indulgent–Vertigo meets Moulin Rouge.

© Marc Rosenthal

I’ve gone on about Tom DeHaven’s writing before. He writes like one of the heroes of the 30′s and 40′s–clean and sharp and takes you right there. His latest book on Superman called Superman, Our Hero on Earth is quite simply wonderful. I’m in the midst of reading his earlier fiction books, It’s Superman, Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies and Funny Papers and they are sublime. More about that in the spring. If you know what’s good for you, track down these books and get them now before they cannot be got. I’ve helped you out with links.

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Speaking of Supermen, if you want to encourage someone to be a lot smarter about comics then you should check out Mel Gordon and Tom Andrae’s latest book on Siegel and Shuster, Funnyman. It’s all about their Jewish hero Funnyman which I vaguely knew about and this book is a must read to get a broader picture of Siegel and Shuster and their careers. Knowing Tom and having heard Mel speak you can be assured it will not only be smart but a great read.

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Finally, if you want to be au courant and on the cutting edge I’d check out Batton Lash’s fabulous comics Supernatural Law. They are beautifully drawn and the stories are great–absolutely hysterically funny! Batton is right up there with the best of the best and you would be wise to be collecting him right this minute. Buy his book on Amazon or get the comics from Exhibit A Press. Get several and you’ll be a super hero/heroine. And you can even like Supernatural Law on the Facebook. Better do it fast or you’ll be trailing behind the in-the-know crowd.

© Batton Lash

Part Three: Affordable Luxury

Adventure House as I’ve noted before is run by one of the gurus of pulps, John Gunnison. He has a huge selection of reprints and books about the pulps. They’re all enticing and in affordable price ranges. You’re going to get lost looking at everything so have fun wandering the stacks. John also has periodic auctions for serious buyers and again, I would communicate with him if you get to the investment level. You could just about do one-stop shopping here for your pulp enthusiasts but you don’t want to miss Bold Venture Press or Blood ‘n’ Thunder.

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Blood ‘n’ Thunder Publications run by the knowledgeable Ed Hulse has back issues and the current issues are very affordable and quite handsome magazines about the pulps. I’m currently reading Ed’s Blood n Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps which is top-notch. Even though I’ve been collecting for a while, I needed some guidance and this is the right place to start. You can find these at the Adventure House site.

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Bold Venture Press is also a favorite site with reprints and books about the pulps. Rich Harvey promotes the art of gorgeous graphics and my favorite man about town, Jim Steranko is represented there as well with his illustrations in Compliments of the Domino Lady. I absolutely adore the book featured below, Deadly Dames edited by Gary Lovisi-”Sometimes the last man standing is a woman…” You know exactly who needs this book.

© Bold Venture Press

I am also a big fan of the upstart publishing group I Know Joe Kimpel. My pal Mario Van Buren is there and they have a variety of new works in a variety of price ranges. You should check them out if you want to know what’s going on with upcoming younger artists cause you don’t want to be left out of the loop. Ditto The Strangler Brothers with fantastic artwork by Melinda Davidson and delightfully weird stories by Judge Leverich and Josh Frankovich.

TwoMorrows Publishing run by two superb southern gentlemen—John Morrow, publisher and Roy Thomas, editor emeritus glorious is the perfect one stop shopping. They have a ton of books by everyone we all know and love which are very reasonably priced and aimed for those who want to learn more—count me in. Besides the current issues they also have back issues of Alter Ego, which are collectors’ items in themselves with great articles by among others, the renowned punster, kindly curmudgeon Jim Amash about anyone who is or was anyone in comics. We love them cause they did such a knock out job on helping people learn more about the Major and his contributions to comic books in issue #88 which you can still obtain. Here’s your clicky pic.

© TwoMorrows Publishing

Speaking of Sir Roy Thomas you should check out his book The All-Star Companion, Vol. 4. I’m definitely going to because it “features, along with other info about the Justice Society and Roy’s 1980s revision of it, an article on M.C. Gaines’ International Crime Patrol of the late 1940s.” Roy, like the true gentleman he is, never goes on about himself. So if he tells you something you best jump on that bandwagon because it is for your benefit. Roy is one of the legends of comics so you won’t go wrong with anything that has his name upon it.

© TwoMorrows Publishing

I managed to track down a couple of paperbacks written by the renowned Max Allan Collins. They may be out of print but you can still find them and they’re not hard on the pocket book. I love these books as they have some passing connection to my passion. The detective is none other than the son of the founder of “CD” Comics, “the Colonel.” The first murder A Killing in Comics is a fictionalized version of the fracas around just who owns Superman-oops-Wonder Guy. Donny Harrison the publisher of Americana Comics gets impaled on a birthday cake knife. Need I say more. I’m just envious that I didn’t write these myself. There are at least one or two people in the comics industry who deserve a writer’s take on their justice league desserts!

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And once again, in the kid-friendly department Archie Comics led by Nancy Silberkleit, Jon Goldwater and Victor Gorelick are doing a truly amazing job with their latest comics. They’ve got some of the best writers and artists around like Alex Simmons, Jim Amash, Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz among others with the heroic Mike Pell at the editorial helm. You can buy online, buy a subscription, buy books. There are several different age groups here that you can buy for including adults who love the nostalgia. It won’t break the bank and what a pleasure to give and of course, receive.

© Archie Comics

I also ran across City of Spies, this fantastic graphic novel in The Bookloft and although it is aimed for the pre-teen or tween set I immediately wanted it for myself. Don’t go there! Santa’s helper dually took note so I’m hoping that I can be good all the way up to the 25th in order to get one in my stocking hung by the chimney with care. The artwork by Pascal Dizin is beautiful and the writing by veteran screen and mystery writers Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan seems like great fun.

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I won myself at least 3 big gold stars for gifting Chris Hart’s book on Drawing Vampires: Gothic Creatures of the Night to my family favorite 13 year old. She was in ecstasy and for the moment I was the most wonderful person in the world. You can be one too if you check out any of his books for kids (and I suppose adults as well) teaching them how to draw Manga and other popular styles.

© Chris Hart

And there you have it. Remember to click on the pics and solve all your Santa Claus problems immediately. Stay tuned for the final installment, which reveals how Santa goes Buddhist to extol those who have been nice and dole out karma to those who have been super naughty.

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My real life pulp adventure

Breathlessly I jumped in the roadster knowing that time was running out if I was going to make it to the rendezvous that would change my life. Sailing past the mean streets of the City with its hustlers and dreamers I made it–well–just in the Nick of time.

yeah, you. © respective holders.

Okay, that’s not exactly what happened. I took the trusty green hornet subaru and drove down on a gorgeous fall day to the  Pulp Convention in Bordentown, New Jersey. It was thrilling, full of action and adventure and top-notch and I found a room full of some of the best names in pulp. Everyone was schmoozing, going through boxes and bins of everything from Adventure to Western Romance. I jumped right  in amidst the throng with my list in my hand searching for that elusive Argosy to complete the serial. I will find it, I will. Kneeling on the floor with other aficionados going through various bargain boxes I said “how do you dos” with the usual nice crowd. I quickly realized what an amateur I am when I saw guys with far more organized lists than mine in some kind of mysterious color code and a couple of guys with I-Pads who strolled up to dealers’ tables and tapped the screen bringing covers in all their vivid forms floating to the surface. Now that is some serious hi-tech collecting.

Rich Harvey, Bold Venture Press © BMA Studios.

Rich Harvey from Bold Venture Press had promised me that this would be an intimate atmosphere but with the best of the best and he was right on all counts—great pulp selections and great people who really know their pulps. Rich confessed to me that he thought I was a guy. I always forget that with a name like Nicky that you could be either gender and since I hang out in comics and pulps not to mention military history, which are all pretty much a guy thing, there is that automatic assumption. It’s funny when people have corresponded with me and then meet me in person and have a startled expression. At first I thought it was my southern accent. Guess not. Rich did a terrific job organizing this event and very kindly made sure that I met everyone. Here is a link to Rich’s site with all kinds of wonderful books on the pulps. I love his sense of graphic style.

Blood n Thunder. © respective holders.

Rich told me that I had to meet Ed Hulse who publishes a magazine called Blood ‘n’ Thunder. Ed was bemused at my excitement but kindly indulgent. I was happy to see his book about collecting pulps—The Blood N Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps right in front of me. I have been looking at this book online and thinking I should obtain a copy so I did immediately. Let the shopping begin! This is one of the great things about being a girl who loves the pulps. You can shop with complete exhilaration and the guys don’t mind your excitement. I’m so happy to have met Ed who is very knowledgeable and I will be pestering him in the future. Here is the link to his beautiful magazine on the pulps. The covers are nice and slick and the illustrations are as attractive as they should be. Having met Ed you can bet there is great content as well and I’m looking forward to catching up on these. I’ve started reading the B nT Guide to Collecting Pulps and I’m already wiser for it. Ed gives basic information about the genre, some of the important people in the pulps and even how to care for and manage your collection. This is an aspect that particularly appeals to me. The book is written in a fun style and adheres to the “real pulp” definition of His Nibs John Gunnison.

David Saunders with H.J. Ward rediscovered depiction of Superman. © BMA

I had a great time talking to David Saunders. David is well, just lovely. He’s funny and smart and knows his pulps and his comics as well. His father, Norman Saunders for those of you who don’t know was one of the great illustrators of the pulps. David has created a wonderful tribute to his father’s art and passion and you can find out more about Norman Saunders and his art here.

© BMA Studios.

David who is an artist himself also publishes books on pulps and illustrators and his latest is on H.J. Ward. Ward is another of the amazing artists of pulps who influenced our visual understanding of some of the great heroes of popular culture like The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger and our old friend Superman. David told me some fascinating stories about Ward’s experiences working for Harry Donenfeld and confirmed my own understanding of what that was like. Here is a link to this beautiful book.

© BMA Studios

David also had a copy of the new book by Paul Levitz on the 75 years of DC. If any of you have anything to do with Psychology then you probably know about C. G. Jung’s famous The Red Book, which the Jung family finally permitted to be published recently. It is huge, no I mean really huge and more like a library table book than a coffee table book. Imagine my surprise upon seeing that  75 Years of DC Comics is approximately the same size as The Red Book. I had only seen it in image form online, not in real life and oh my goodness. Do not attempt to buy this book alone. You will need assistance unless you’re a strong guy like Paul Levitz in this photo here. David and I discovered we had all sorts of things to chat about with one another so I’m looking forward to continuing our conversation. Buy David’s beautiful books. I mean it.

From Pandora Books Ltd. © respective holders.

I also had a nice time speaking with Richard Hall whose specialty is James Hendryx. When he first started talking to me I had one of those crazy brain waves—where am I, who am I kind of thing and I couldn’t quite understand why he was collecting Jimmy Hendrix’s writing. I had a hard time envisioning Jimmy Hendrix with his guitar and head band sitting at a desk writing stories for the pulps, no less! Oh please, you’ve never had a moment like that?  It took a minute or two and then thankfully from somewhere in the hard drive of my brain a vision of a pulp cover with James Hendryx on it floated to the surface and I got back into the right time and space. So Richard, if you’re wondering why I had such an odd expression on my face, now you know.

Erica and his fedora. © BMA Studios.

It was great fun speaking to Eric Renderking Fisk of The Fedora Chronicles. Eric had the requisite fedora and he was bowlered over when I told him that the Major always wore one in the colder seasons. I promised Eric I would show him this wonderful photo of MWN taken by Swedish cousin Finn Andreen in Sweden circa 1948-49. Sean Welch and Mac Carter liked it so much they used it in the DC documentary that just came out. (It’s a family photo and in copyright so please ask before using. Thanks.) It certainly belies the French Boulevardier’s cape and hat story, doesn’t it? No offense to Gerard Jones who now knows better.

The Major c. 1948 in Sweden. © Finn Andreen.

The Fedora Chronicles are wonderfully quirky with lots of great stories and radio shows. Eric interviewed me and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to him. He doesn’t ask the usual pat questions but really makes you think about what you’re talking about. Here is their site so you can find out all about the mysterious Fedora.

Of course, the exquisite man of the hour was Jim Steranko. Just the other day Danny Fingeroth posted some of his comic book work on Facebook and all the smart guys chimed in with astute comments on his style and his influence on all that came after. His work is so clean and clear and grabs you immediately. I think I’m at least at the point where I can recognize his style. Danny, don’t test me—yet. If you want to know more you can start here. I was thrilled to chat with Mr. Steranko. He is probably one of a handful of people who really knows the Major’s work thoroughly and admires it. For that alone I am completely smitten with him. But when you add Signore Steranko’s incredible career, his talent not just in comics but other genres and his dapper charming self well what more do you want? I warned him I was going to gush. See that’s the other good thing about being a girl in the midst of all this.

From the drawings of Jim Steranko.com. © Steranko/respective holders.

I  fell in love with my grandfather’s pulp fiction when I searched it out for the first time in the mid 1990′s. I kept trying to convince members of my family how good it was but like so many of my grandfather’s critics who have never actually read any of his work, they assumed it was not up to snuff because it’s “pulp fiction.” Conversing with someone as revered as Jim Steranko and have him not only agree with my love and respect of my grandfather’s writing and also have him pass on his knowledge and understanding from his point of view–well, you have no idea how much it means. Thank you so much Maestro Steranko.

From NWNB collection. © respective holders.

Last but not least I did some serious shopping at my pulp guru’s house—Adventure House that is. Wow, John Gunnison has the most amazing collections of vfg/fg (very/fine grade) pulps. I won’t reveal the excess that occurred but suffice it to say I’ll be standing at the copy machine for a while. I copy everything and put them back in their wrappers and store them in a secret underground bunker. That way I can read them over and over and not worry about the crumbling paper and spines but you already knew that, didn’t you. Here is John’s wonderful site with all things pulp—pulps, reprints and books about the pulps.

My pulp fiction guru, John Gunnison of Adventure House. © BMA Studios.

The only person missing who would have made it the perfect day was John Locke but he insists on being on the West Coast so I’ll just have to wait. There were lots of other terrific dealers there and an incredible array of goods and everyone who was tearing down the aisles like me seemed really, really happy. For the most part pulps are reasonable to collect and the dealers and collectors are nice guys who enjoy themselves. Really, I cannot believe how incredibly nice these guys are. They’re the best. Rich, thank you so much for including me. It was Big Fun!

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