Friday, July 4, 2014

ISAAC ASIMOV on THE FOUR STANZAS OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM

In March of 1991, the writer Isaac Asimov shared the following:

I have a weakness--I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our national anthem.

The words are difficult and the tune is almost impossible, but frequently when I'm taking a shower I sing it with as much power and emotion as I can. It shakes me up every time. I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem--all four stanzas. This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and distracting.

"Thanks, Herb," I said.

"That's all right," he said. "It was at the request of the kitchen staff."

I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all four stanzas. Let me tell you, those people had never heard it before--or had never really listened. I got a standing ovation. But it was not me; it was the anthem.

More recently, while conducting a seminar, I told my students the story of the anthem and sang all four stanzas. Again there was a wild ovation and prolonged applause. And again, it was the anthem and not me. So now let me tell you how it came to be written.

In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country. Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war. 

At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent the message "We have met the enemy and they are ours." However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession. Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the United States, launching a three-pronged attack. The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England. The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west. The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York. If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.

The British reached the American coast, and on August 24, 1814, took Washington, D. C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort. On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait.

It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start. As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying. But toward morning the bombardment ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.

As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over, "Can you see the flag?" After it was all finished, Key wrote a four stanza poem telling the events of the night. Called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," it was published in newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted that the words fit an old English tune called "To Anacreon in Heaven"--a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For obvious reasons, Key's work became known as "The Star Spangled Banner," and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States.

Now that you know the story, here are the words. Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key:

Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

"Ramparts," in case you don't know, are the protective walls or other elevations that surround a fort. The first stanza asks a question. The second gives an answer:

On the shore, dimly seen
thro' the mist of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host
in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze,
o'er the towering steep.
As it fitfully blows,
half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam
of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected,
now shines on the stream
'Tis the star-spangled banner.
Oh! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave!

"The towering steep" is again, the ramparts. The bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing more but sail away, their mission a failure.

In the third stanza, I feel Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key probably was in no mood to act otherwise. During World War II, when the British were our staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here it is:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be sung more slowly than the other three and with even deeper feeling:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation,
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n - rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause is just,
And this be our motto--"In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears. And don't let them ever take it away.

Isaac Asimov, March 1991

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Inkwell Awards 2014 Winners and Hall Of Fame

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Inkwell Awards Announces Their 2014 Winners And Hall Of Fame Recipients

(New Bedford, MA/USA—June 21, 2013): The Inkwell Awards ("The Inkwells"), a non-profit advocacy for comic-book inking and inkers, has announced the results of its seventh annual awards for excellence in the art form in 2013.

After nominees were chosen by a separate and independent Nomination Committee, voting via live ballot at their website ran from April 15-30 with almost 2,000 ballots being turned in. One winner was chosen in each of five categories targeting the exceptional work of ink artists from American-based interior comic book work cover-dated 2013. Separately, the Inkwells internally selected the two recipients of the annual Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award. All recipients were contacted May 1st and some invited artists attended the fourth live awards ceremony at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC on Saturday, June 21st. The winners and categories are:

FAVORITE INKER AWARD: Norm Rapmund (Action Comics, Ravagers, Teen Titans, Justice League of America, Nightwing, Superman). 

Rapmund took the winner's slot with 46% of the vote to runner-up Wade von Grawbadger (All-New X-men, Green Lantern, Legion Lost), who finished with 14%. Norm was a 2010 Most-Adaptable Award runner-up nominee and in 2008 he was a runner-up nominee in both the FAVORITE INKER (MODERN) and FAVORITE EMBELLISHER/FINISHER (MODERN) categories.

MOST-ADAPTABLE AWARD: Walden Wong (Wolverine & the X-Men, Batwoman, Catwoman, Scarlet Spider, Wolverine Max, X-Treme X-Men).

Wong had never even been a nominee on previous Inkwell Awards ballots, but this year he took 53% of the vote, besting the 13% for three-time recipient Scott Hanna (Avengers Assemble, Green Lantern Corp, Iron Man, Team 7, Supergirl, Teen Titans, X-men, Legion Lost)

PROPS AWARD (inker deserving of more attention): Walden Wong pulled far ahead of the competition with 49%, beating Richard Friend (Forever Evil, Justice League of America, Green Lantern, Legion Lost) who finished second with 18%.

The S.P.A.M.I. AWARD (Small Press And Mainstream Independent): Andrew Pepoy (Simpsons Comics, Simpsons Illustrated, Simpsons One-Shot Wonders, Danger Girl: Trinity). 

Pepoy emerged from an initial three-way tie with 21%, edging out Stefano Gaudiano (Walking Dead, Bloodshot, Lazarus) with 20% and Cliff Rathburn (Invincible, Super Dinosaur, Walking Dead) with 17%. Andrew was also a 2009 PROPS AWARD nominee.

ALL-IN-ONE AWARD (artist who pencils and inks their own work): Stan Sakai (47 Ronin, DHP, Mouse Guard). 

Sakai was in the lead by a wide margin throughout the race, ending with 27% of the votes. Runners-up were Chris Samnee (Adventures of Superman, Batman Black & White, Daredevil) with 20% and Fiona Staples (Batman Beyond, Saga), who fell only five votes shy of second place to finish third. 


THE JOE SINNOTT HALL OF FAME AWARD:  Joe Simon and Tom Palmer (with Frank Giacoia as runner-up). 

Following last year's change in protocol, this award was again handled internally by the Hall of Fame Nomination Committee, made up of core committee members, former committee members, contributors, ambassadors and other HoF award recipients. The other nominees chosen were Dan Adkins, Violet Barclay (aka Valerie Smith), John Beatty, Tony Dezuniga, Frank Giacoia, Bob McLeod, Mike Royer, Josef Rubenstein, and Bernie Wrightson. The late Joe Simon (Captain America Comics, Adventure Comics, Boy Commandos, Black Magic, Young Romance, Boys' Ranch, Fighting American, Adventures Of The Fly, Prez, Sick magazine) was a Hall of Fame nominee for the last three years and Tom Palmer (Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Tomb Of Dracula, The Avengers, X-Men, Kick Ass, Marvel Zombies) both a runner-up nominee for the last three years and a nominee in 2009.

Joe Sinnott, the award’s namesake and first recipient, made the following statement: “I couldn't have been more pleased when I learned that we had elected Joe Simon and Tom Palmer as our selections to the 2014 Inkwell Awards Hall Of Fame.

"Joe of course was a favorite of mine way back in the early 1940s when I was just about 14 and an early fan of what was something new, comic books. Joe really enhanced Kirby's pencils whether it was on the Boy Commandos, Captain America or even the great romance books that they did. I only regret that Joe, who passed away in 2011 won't be with us to accept his well-deserved award.

"As for Tom Palmer, I can't say enough about him. We all know what a great artist he is in his own right and someone I would want to ink my pencils if I was still penciling. Like all great inkers, he not only pleases the penciller but he makes their great work even better than it really is. 

"Again, what a combo to be entering our Hall of Fame together - Joe and Tom, truly two of the greats.”

Tom Palmer said in a statement, “I want to express my gratitude to the Inkwell membership and staff along with the many fans who voted for me this year. I sincerely appreciate their recognition...It is indeed an honor receiving such a prestigious award, having the name of one of my heroes attached to it only makes it much more rewarding.”

Writer/editor Steve Saffel spoke for the Joe Simon Estate and accepted Simon's posthumous award on their behalf. Writer Ron Garney spoke for Tom Palmer who could not attend and accepted his trophy for him.

Eisner-award-winning artist Bill Sienkiewicz was the awards ceremony's Guest of Honor. Inkwell Awards founder and director Bob Almond served as ceremony host, aided by spokesmodel Ms. Inkwell, portrayed this year by both Anna White and Laura Beihl, who served as co-hostesses. 2012 S.P.A.M.I. award recipient Dexter Vines acted as Presenter and Saffel and Garney were the guest speakers. Retired committee members Jim Tournas and Sarah L. Covert were each presented with a Silver Inkwell Award for their time served. Mike Hoskin received the same for five years of service on the Nomination Committee. 
More details such as other nominees and the winners’ acceptance speeches can be found at the Inkwell Awards website.
The Inkwell Awards is an official 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public and promote the art form of comic-book inking, as well as annually recognize and award the best ink artists and their work. Now in its seventh year, the organization is overseen by a committee of industry professionals and assisted by various professional ambassadors and numerous contributors. They sponsor the Dave Simons Inkwell Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Kubert School and host the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Steve Ditko is Alive and Well and...

It's funny how people react when you tell them you know Steve Ditko. Their eyes sort of pop out, or they go slack jawed. It isn't necessarily pretty.

I've had those reactions for years and years, when all I ever did was have a correspondence with the venerable and clearly legendary artist. And then I saw that same reaction today when discussing Ditko with artist Bob Wiacek, who clearly knows Steve better than I do. Only this time, it was my jaw that unhinged.

So, anyway, I called Steve this afternoon to say hello, and it was a brief conversation but rewarding. His mind is sharp and he's fascinating and we didn't even talk about Ayn Rand.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chuck Dixon Bemoans the Liberal Blacklist. And Tony Isabella.

Chuck Dixon
The writer Chuck Dixon, well known for his gritty comic book work, and someone I happen to like quite a lot, recently teamed up with writer Paul Rivoche for a Wall Street Journal piece entitled “How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman: A graphic tale of modern comic books’ descent into moral relativism.” Among other things, their piece decries the treatment of conservative comics creators—a breed at least as endangered these days as Sumatran Tigers.

Is their outcry an attempt to get right-wing readers to purchase their recent adaptation of Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man? Sure. Why not? And if that’s the case, is their argument any less valid?

Tony Isabella thinks so.

“Chuck Dixon is being willfully dishonest in his attempt to plug his new book,” writes Isabella in a post entitled “Dishonest Dixon” over at Harlan Ellison’s website.

As people have pointed out elsewhere, there are a lot of reasons why comics’ writers (and artists) find themselves without work or as much work as they'd like or the kind of work they'd like.

If there were an overwhelming anti-conservative bias in comics, Bill Willingham and Ethan Van Scriver would not be two of the most sought-after creators in comics...and Dixon's liberal counterparts like myself and Mike W. Barr would have more work than they could handle.

A significant portion of Dixon's work on DC and Marvel heroes violates the very morality whose lack he decries in his whiny little essay. I don't put much stock in his claims. But, then, facts do have a well-known liberal bias.

For those of you unfamiliar with their accomplishments, Chuck Dixon was among the better Batman writers of the last quarter century (see his work on Detective Comics). Chuck and artist Graham Nolan co-created the villain Bane, too, while his Marvel work included long, impressive runs on The Punisher and Savage Sword of Conan.

Tony Isabella
Tony Isabella was an editor and writer at Marvel whose work in the 1970s included Ghost Rider, Captain America and Daredevil. He left Marvel to join DC in 1977 where he created and scripted Black Lightning and has generously contributed on more than one occasion to projects I’ve been involved in. And his frothing hatred of Republicans—at least as far as anyone perusing his daily Facebook posts would surmise—appears as limitless as Galactus’s hunger.

“Was Tony ever told he should not send in pitches because of his political beliefs?” Chuck responded in an email to me. “Were editors ever threatened with termination for putting his name on a proposal? Was he ever denied work because he refused to apologize to an editor over a political disagreement?

“My experience is my experience,” Chuck continues. “I cannot explain why Bill [Willingham] and Ethan [Van Scriver] continue to get work. I only know why I was denied work.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Aardwolf Publishing to release Dave Cockrum's Final FUTURIANS

Contributed art from Ray Lago
Dave Cockrum’s final, never-before-seen FUTURIANS story has everything you loved about Dave’s X-Men work—and more. But Aardwolf Publishing wasn’t satisfied just assembling a sensational graphic novel scripted and penciled by Cockrum, and inked by his X-Men collaborator Bob Wiacek—we also recruited the industry’s royalty to create pin-ups, write-ups, and signed and remarqued bookplates: Neal Adams, Neil Gaiman, Jim Lee, Ray Lago, Ricardo Vilagran, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Bill Sienkiewicz, Walt Simonson, Mark Wheatley, Mark McKenna, and Mike “Bru-Hed” Pascale are just some of the sensational team adding many delicious extras to this project, which also sees the professional return of Paty Cockrum (Amazing Spider-Man, Claws of the Cat) on colors.

Pre-order the hard copy graphic novel now and receive the expanded digital version FREE. You will also have exclusive opportunities to purchase inexpensive original art and signed bookplates from our all-star team--as well as Dave's personal items (his pen, his sword, his personal file copy of X-Men #94).

U.S. Price for THE FUTURIANS RETURN is $25.00 (customers outside of the U.S. will be billed for additional shipping). You can even ask Aardwolf to reserve the book for just $10.00. Are we good guys or what?

To participate in this special pre-Kickstarter offer, PayPal your reserve money to sales@aardwolfpublishing.com and note “Futurians Reserve.”


Monday, May 26, 2014

Harlan Ellison At 80 Is...

…still the guy I turn to in a pinch, still the finest writer many of you have never read because of the evanescent nature of popular culture (so hop to it!), and still the finest writer *I* have ever read after a half century of plodding about on this planet reading everything.

…the man who said, "The chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sell-out and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore."

...a singular force of nature, the consummate bar raiser, Kryptonite to the forces of Bullshit, and my friend.

All love and respect on your 80th birthday, sensei.

Cliff

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Dillashaw Beats Barao Like a Rented Mule

T.J. Dillashaw plants Renan Barao
T.J. Dillashaw delivered the single most impressive win I've ever seen last nighty as he overcame ridiculous Vegas odds against him and knocked out Renan Barao to win the title.

But this was no ordinary win.

All fight fans understand that when you're up four rounds to nothing in a five-round outing, you really don't have to do much more than survive the 5th. But Dillashaw's the real deal. He continued to take chances. This was a fight to the finish, and that's what we saw.

Barao (who was 32-1 in his MMA career, and 7-0 in his UFC career) has been called the current, best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. So what does that make T.J., who beat him like a rented mule?
Standing or on the ground, Dillashaw dominated Barao

Ready for a change of pace? See my recent post on the amazing Oneta Bobbett who is helping abuse victims.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Oneta Bobbett: Rebuilding the Abused

Oneta Bobbett: Committed to helping others.

I’m delighted to know Oneta Bobbett, a courageous and dedicated advocate for survivors of domestic violence. Ten years ago, Onetta helped found Jaden’s Ladder to assist victims with life-enhancing programs and the kind of support that builds confidence in former victims while fostering self-reliance.

A former beauty pageant winner, Oneta says was thrilled to represent the State of New Hampshire, where she was raised, in the Mrs. United States pageant. But today, it's all about her family and helping others.

“I named Jaden’s Ladder after my son Jaden,” Oneta told me. “The name Jaden means ‘God has heard.’ He hears when we cry out and we have to hear those crying out. It’s important to maintain a commitment to mankind—especially those in trouble—and to help people in the times of their greatest needs.”

Oneta’s commitment to others comes from personal experiences. On her website, she explains that she had once found herself in an abusive relationship. The experience left her with filled with doubt and confusion, asking herself what she had done wrong to land her in such a situation.

Eventually her boyfriend and long-time friend became her worst enemy. Her abuser, the man she thought she loved, beat and choked her. It was then that she believed she'd lose her life to his hands. Luckily, on that day, Oneta's sister was anxiously trying to contact her and sent police to her house when she felt "something was wrong". From that day on, Oneta vowed to get stronger and make better choices in life.

Oneta Bobbett’s commitment 10 years ago has made a difference in people’s lives ever since. And that’s what it’s all about.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Seth's Son Wants Daddy to Live Forever. Let's Help.

Please take the 10 minutes to register as a bone marrow donor. I did. It was painless, effortless and one day I might get the call allowing me to save someone's parent... or child.

I know Seth. He's a good guy. We have to save him. And by registering you're increasing the chances for all Lukemia victims.


Share this message please. People from the same background as Seth will have the greatest likelihood of being a match.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What’s Stan Lee Really Worth? Neal Adams?

I contacted Stan Lee this morning.

I was reaching out because the artist Dick Ayers passed away on Sunday and another very fine artist and friend Neal Adams called me this morning out of concern. I hope he won't mind my mentioning this.

“Do you know Dick’s widow’s situation?” Neal asked. I told him I didn’t. And when we hung up I thought about how genuine and special Neal is. He has a busy studio to run and deadlines to meet and his own family concerns, and he avoids funerals like one would the Third Pandemic. But he’s always the first to inquire regarding the welfare of the widow and the family—and the first to organize help if needed.

I didn’t know Dick Ayers. I was a fan, of course, and I purchased several drawings from him over the years, which I treasure. He was a nice man, a happy man, and a fine artist. Dick and I would sit and chat at conventions, but we weren’t pals. But Neal’s example has been kicking me into action for most of my adult life. So I made some inquiries.

Stan Lee was the first to reply. I received a return email within moments of my query to him (at 7:30 California time).

What’s the big deal? Lots of folks are up early and return email and phone messages. Nearly 23% do it within a reasonable amount of time, according to a study never conducted at the University of Michigan.

Stan will be 92 in December. And he has more going on than most three people you know. And he’s wealthier than the 20 richest people you've ever known all together. But he always responds immediately, and he's always been available to help with matters big and small when I've asked. And I've asked plenty.

Call it solid time management. Call it three-quarters of a century of professionalism. Or maybe Stan's parents just raised him right.

Neal Adams and Stan Lee.
Websites and magazine writers often to speculate regarding celebrity bank accounts. There are people who like to count other people’s money. Go figure.

As for Dick Ayer’s widow, Stan didn't know her situation either. But if she’s in trouble, there’s people who will help.

So what’s Stan Lee worth? Neal Adams? It has nothing to do with money.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Voting Opens for The Inkwell Awards

The following press release is courtesy of artist Bob Almond, director of the Inkwell Awards. Want to participate? Visit http://www.inkwellawards.com Bob can be reached at dmralmond@gmail.com

(New Bedford, MA/USA—April 14, 2013) The Inkwell Awards, a non-profit organization devoted to educating and promoting the art of inking, invites the public to vote for the industry's best of the past year. The official public ballot will be available on the Inkwell Awards' homepage from April 15 through April 30. Voting is open to everyone, whether fans or professional peers. The winners will be announced at the live awards ceremony at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC June 20-22 on Saturday the 21st at 12:30 pm. 
As with last year, the ballot will still list the nominees for the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame lifetime achievement award, which were chosen by the internal and separate Hall of Fame Nomination Committee (made up of the core committee, former committee members, ambassadors, contributors and existing Hall of Fame award recipients). To avoid a “popularity contest” where recent names have more influence than past masters, the two winners have been chosen by the HoF Nomination Committee rather than the public and will be announced at the ceremony. Current nominees are listed as a courtesy. Past Hall of Fame award recipients include Joe Sinnott, Terry Austin & Dick Giordano, Klaus Janson & Al Williamson, Wallace Wood & Kevin Nowlan, Mark McKenna & Scott Williams, and last year, Dick Ayers & Murphy Anderson. 
“We’re so excited for this event, where everyone’s hard work will pay off and the best of the best ink artists and their work will be recognized,” said Bob Almond, founder and director of The Inkwell Awards (AKA "The Inkwells"). "Inkers have their own fans and followers, and often go unsung or glossed over in traditional awards events. Ours caters specifically to ink artists and allows several to be recognized and appreciated in various categories.” 
Ballots and instructions can be viewed at The Inkwells' web site beginning on tax day, April 15. A direct link will additionally be posted on their Facebook group page, where people may also ask any questions. 
The Inkwell Awards is an official 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and promote the art form of comic-book inking, as well as annually recognize and award the best ink artists and their work. Now in its seventh year, the organization is overseen by a committee of industry professionals and assisted by various professional ambassadors and numerous contributors. They sponsor the Dave Simons Inkwell Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Kubert School and host the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Gift that Keeps Giving from Artie Simek



Sensei Carlos Varon—my long-distance dobro from Legend Shotokan (thanks to our shared O’Sensei Richard Lenchus)—recently contacted me with a generous gift of comics and related books. When I asked him how he stumbled upon this little treasure trove, he told me they were once a gift from Artie Simek.

Sadly, you have to be a certain age, and a certain type of fan, to get goose flesh when the name Artie Simek is mentioned. But I certainly did.

Born on January 6, 1916, Arthur “Artie” Simek was what folks once called a calligrapher and what comics jargon calls a letterer. Starting with Timely (Marvel’s precursor) in the 1940’s, Artie didn’t receive his first confirmed credits until years later on both a 12-page Batman-Superman story in World’s Finest #91 as well as in Batman #112 (both in 1957). He went on to letter DC’s Showcase and House of Secrets, then shows up in 1959 on Marvel’s Kid Colt, Outlaw


Along with Sam Rosen, Artie was one of Marvel’s two principal letterers: The two hand lettered the word balloons and sound effects in nearly every seminal Marvel title, and likely designed many logos. If you ever hold a Fantastic Four #1 in your hands, those are Artie’s letters. His last lettering job was on Giant-Size Defenders #5 (July 1975). He died while working on the book.

Sensei Carlos Varon grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, NY. One Halloween, he and a few of his friends knocked on a door and shouted “trick or treat!”  “Imagine my surprise to get a comic book,” write Carlos. “How cool was that?” The other kids seemed a little disappointed in getting a book and not candy, but Carlos was thrilled—and Artie Simek saw that in his face. “He invited me into his home,” said Carlos, who was instantly amazed to see the many drawings and an active art board. “I can still recall the pile of comics and storyboards on display. He told me he worked on Marvel Comics as a letterer and I was not sure about that, but he took the time to explain and even offered me a few of his full-size storyboards. As a dumb, young kid, I said no thank you. Boy was I na├»ve!”

But over time, Simek gave young Carlos a number of books that he had worked on. “My collection really grew from that visit,” says Sensei Varon.

And now mine has, thanks to Carlos’ generous gift.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Artie, but my friend Gene Colan once described him as “a real Norman Rockwell character. Artie Simek could play the spoons. He'd have two spoons in his hand, and he would flip them around, they would bop up against each other, and before you knew it, there was a melody there. He was wonderful.”


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Harlan Ellison Gives Comic Book Babylon a Rave Review

On a certain level, I've been waiting 35 years for the letter I received last week from Harlan Ellison regarding my latest book. He writes (and I am ossified to read):
I found COMIC BOOK BABYLON an imperial hoot. Have now read it three times, and Susan has read it once. It takes me time to read it, because every name you drop, every anecdote you tell, sparks drift-rememberances of my own...and I pause...and I think...and I smile or frown. It is an Aladin's treasure cavern of piquant down-low and memory. It is--as you well know, you schmachler--one helluva book! And I am dead-chuft to be in it. As always, you are a mensch and a Solid Brother! All love from us here in the Trembling Terrain, to all of you there in the Apple Vicinity. Yer pal, Harlan
If you haven't ordered COMIC BOOK BABYLON yet, I urge you to do so. AardwolfPublishing continues to offer the hardcopy with a guarantee of delighted or your money back. It's also selling fairly well via Amazon for the Kindle, but I make pennies on that and, let's be honest: holding a book in your hands is nicer than holding a Kindle.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's Will Eisner's Birthday.


Born on this day in 1917, Will Eisner is someone I'd have missed had my own heroes not informed me of his importance. Singing hosannas of one sort or another to the previous generation of creative pioneers is one of the obligations that writers and artists share, as far as I'm concerned. Ripping techniques alone is hardly homage.

Mark Ellis, the excellent writer of modern pulp fiction and come-back quips, who I've grown fond of, summed it up (and brought the date to my attention) on his Facebook post:

WILL EISNER [was] a man who was just as influential in both the art and business of comics as Jack Kirby. Although he was justly famous as the creator of THE SPIRIT, Will was a a true pioneer...he continued to explore and expand the parameters of comics storytelling. He's credited with creating the term of "graphic novel".

According to Will, he coined the term on the fly, and had no idea he was basically creating a new publishing category.
Me? I touched Will several times. The first occasion was a chance meeting in San Diego, where famed bookseller Bud Plant introduced us. The next time was when Harlan Ellison put us together on the phone because Aardwolf was seeking the perfect cover artist for a project.

I have no anecdotes beyond some very strange things that occurred later at Will's memorial service (which I've detailed in "Four Days at the Races" in my book ComicBook Babylon). I was just grateful to know Will for the the five or six total minutes that I received. You'd have been, too.

Friday, February 21, 2014

When Will People Start Dropping *My* Name?


Adam-Troy Castro, the excellent writer of numerous Hugo-, Nebula- and Stoker-nominated SF and horror tales (to say nothing of four Spider-Man novels) has a review of my ComicBook Babylon in the forthcoming issue of SCI FI (out in about 60 days). He was kind enough to share the generous review with me which said, among other things:

Much of [Meth's book] deals with the shameful neglect many of the four-color field’s most important creators experienced when health or fashion no longer smiled on them… There are many illustrations by Michael Netzer, who manages to capture not just the physical appearances, but also the personalities, of the luminaries under discussion.

Meth… doesn’t mince words. If he admires somebody, he is unsparing in his praise; if he considers somebody a jackass or a momser or a shnorrer, he puts his mockery on the page.
If you haven't ordered the book yet, Aardwolf Publishing now has signed physical copies. And Amazon is still giving away selling the digital version for just 99-cents so there's no excuse not to read it. And someone whispered to me that Marvel is none to happy about it.

In other news, Michael Netzer and I are teaming up again for a 5-page story in the forthcoming Jewish Comix Anthology. The project will also include work from Robert Crumb, Joe Kubert, Harvey Pekar, Art Spiegelman, and Will Eisner. It was a genuine honor to be invited into this prestigious collection. If you’d like to take a look at or participate in their Kickstarter (and I hope you do), click here.







Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Worst Good Rats’ Show I Ever Attended

Mickey could play and chew gum at the same time.
The first Good Rats show I attended was during the abysmal days of the Carter administration. My pals and I hitch-hiked down Rt. 46 to Dizzy Duncan’s in Parsippany, NJ, a standing-room-only affair that we were legally too young to walk into, but if one didn’t know how to shimmy up the drainpipe and slip in through the torn shingles on the roof their street their cred was dead zero. I was 16 and looked 14 and recall trying to suck the beer out of my baseball cap after some mook in biker's garb spilled a Budweiser on my head. I stood by the stage, my nose as high as guitarist John Gatto’s heels, and got a gander of Mickey Marchello, whose bird's nest of a beard and obviously mad eyes made him look like La Barbe bleue. Front and center, Peppi Marchello was screaming, “I’m a Mean Mother.” It was love at first sight citing.
Stefan Marchello, Long Island's
new godfather.

Nearly four decades later, I’ve stopped counting how many Rats’ shows I’ve been to. It’s like trying to remember all of your kid’s birthdays. Blame it on good living. And the worst Good Rats’ show I’ve ever attended? No such animal. They were all primal events. This is a family affair, boys and girls, as in Manson meets Adams.

What am I talking about? Come see for yourself. My pal Peppi sings with the angels now but his boy Stefan is still doing it and rumor has it brother Gene Marchello will be guest soaring on lead guitar and dueling vocals at the upcoming show at the Tap Room at the Somerset Hills Hotel, 200 Liberty Corner Road, Warren, NJ, on March 21.

Double your money back if not satisfied. Just take it up with the management.

Artists' rendering. Have you seen these men?




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Comics' Soft White Underbelly

I've had warm and generous responses to Comic Book Babylon since its release as an e-book for the Kindle and other platforms. Want one? Visit Amazon by clicking here.

The physical paperback can be purchased from Aardwolf Publishing. Visit the Aardwolf site if you'd like one. There are still signed/#'d copies available.

This blog entry will be a repository of links for press about the book. Thus:


The Real Heroes and Villains in Comic Books is an in-depth review from the excellent writer Bob Duggan at BigThink.com

You Might Come to Comic Book Babylon for the scandal, but you'll stay for the people is an insightful review from Jack Abramowitz on ComicsBulletin.com

Bob Layton on Meth is an interview courtesy of Westfield Comics.

Dan Jurgens on Meth is an interview courtesy of BleedingCool.com

Pop Culture Hounding Cliff Meth is a podcast on BleedingCool via Chris Thompson - a long and fun broadcast interview

The Comic Book Babylon Facebook page (join us!)

Booksteve Reviews Comic Book Bablyon

Observing Comic Book Babylon: Cliff Meth Speaks for the Old Guard (courtesy of FanboyPlanet.com)

Review of Comic Book Babylon at MyReviewer.com

LibraryThing Review of Comic Book Babylon