Truthfully? I didn’t think I could do it.
But this is the 52nd installment of “Hatcher’s Friday thing,” more or less, and that makes it roughly a year ago this week that Cronin sent me a note saying something like, I think you don’t get to actually write about comics enough at CBR. You should come and write for the blog. He was all ‘hey, no pressure, we have a dozen guys who never post anything’ about it, which meant that clearly, any pressure to get it done would have to be self-inflicted: I knew I would never get anything done without a deadline, so I blurted out “How about something every Friday?” before I gave myself a chance to talk myself out of it, and here we are.
He had no idea how he had hit me right where I live. I was coming off a ten-year stint doing the movie column for With magazine the month before Cronin came nosing around.
I didn’t miss working for the magazine that much. I’d said pretty much everything I had to say there; ten years is a good run, and I even got to recommend my successor, which is something not a lot of editors would allow. But I discovered that I really missed having a regular column. Cronin asked me to do this on the very day that I had said something to Julie like, “I wish I had a column gig where it didn’t always have to be movies.”
And this was about COMICS, nobody’d ever asked me to write about comics before. Though that didn’t stop me from doing it every so often; no true fan ever can keep his opinion to himself for any length of time. I think Brian got the idea from a long-winded post I’d done on CBR’s forums somewhere about Steve Gerber and the Defenders, or something like that.
Anyway, I was interested in doing it and in seeing if I could manage something once a week. Amazingly (well, it amazes ME) though I haven’t always actually gotten it posted on the actual Friday, I’ve made it every weekend at least, and only ‘went reprint’ once. Even more amazingly, it’s always fun. I really like doing this.
I know that seems like a ‘duh!’ realization to have. But I think we sometimes forget, those of us that write criticism, to stop and take a moment to remember what a treat it is to ramble on about whatever our particular pop culture obsession might be… and get PAID for it. (Granted, split however many ways we’re splitting it here — did we ever figure that out? — it’s not a whole lot and I think we were talking about sending it to ACTOR or something anyway.) But we do get paid, we’re professional critics, damn it.
What’s fun about it? Lots of things. But probably the biggest thing is that you don’t find out what you really think about something until you write about it.
Case in point: I remember in the 1970’s we were all obsessed with comics, especially superhero comics, being “taken seriously.”
Well, we won. We got exactly what we asked for. We have articles all over the mainstream press talking about how grown-up superheroes are, we’ve got Heroes dominating the television airwaves, we’ve got bestselling novelists and screenwriters and celebs lining up to write comics for DC and Marvel (Jeez, I remember when it was a big deal that Lost In Space‘s Bill Mumy did The Comet Man.) And I keep thinking that, y’know, all of us in the 70’s and 80’s bellowing about how Important! and Literary! and SERIOUS! superheroes should be… we were idiots. That’s the kind of thinking that gets you a rapist on the JLA satellite. I loved Watchmen as much as everyone else did, but even in 1986 I knew I didn’t want the League or the Avengers done that way… but I couldn’t have told you the REASON it felt wrong before doing the column about it. It’s one of those things you have to work out by setting it out in print.
On the lighter side, I also re-discovered how much I love certain kinds of comics, things I hadn’t given that much thought to in recent years until writing about them. It can get expensive sometimes, since the reminiscence often sparks a buying spree. A year ago I didn’t have any of the Marvel black-and-white line of books… now I’ve got three short boxes full of them. Finally got to see how the original White Tiger got it all worked out with the Sons of the Tiger, not to mention swooning over the old Roy Thomas/John Buscema Savage Sword of Conan all over again.
It’s almost getting to be a routine, writing some reminiscence piece and getting all excited and checking eBay or Amazon to see if the books are available anywhere. Thank God what gets written here doesn’t seem to have any influence on how people price those books. They could really put the boots to me if they’d realized how excited I was to clean up on three different incarnations of Ka-Zar by winning this particular eBay lot… as it was I was only out ten bucks including shipping.
One of the interesting things I’ve found out is that I’ve come to appreciate books I used to think of as also-rans. I used to really snoot Gold Key books but the more I see of them the more I fall in love. I suppose part of it’s the thrill of the hunt — I have just enough collector in me to enjoy tracking down comics that are rarities, though I almost never put anything in mylar and I go after everything I buy with the intention of reading it and enjoying it. Still, scoring a weird old out-of-print Gold Key book is a lot bigger thrill than it used to be.
However, it was researching for the column that led me to figure out exactly who it was that worked on those great old stories that I enjoyed so. I loved the original Doom Patrol and I loved Dark Shadows, but it was only buckling down for an article here that got me to put it together that it was Arnold Drake who wrote both of them and what’s going on is that I probably just like Arnold Drake’s comics.
It’s also a treat to discover that I’m not the only one who likes this stuff. Just in the last couple of weeks I probably have had the most fun since I started this gig, writing about the old pulp magazines and other superhero prototypes; and I am astonished and delighted at how many people seemed to respond to that.
Not to mention all the great web pages and fan sites I came across, just looking stuff up. That was one of those “God bless the internet” kind of moments. Allow me to plug a couple of those here: apart from all the historical things I’ve found there that ended up in columns over the last year, the Wold Newton site is a source of endless hours of entertainment, as are ERBzine, the Lone Ranger fan club, and ThePulp.net.
And of course the job would be a million times harder without the invaluable work done by all the fine volunteers at the Grand Comics Database. You all rock.
Speaking of those bless-the-internet moments, at the risk of sounding like Sally Field at the Oscars, I have to say I’m continually astonished and delighted just at how many people actually READ this thing. Whether it’s the guy in Hamburg that is interested in pulp magazines, or the Audrey Hepburn fan that was tickled to discover that the character of Rima in Green Mansions eventually morphed into a Super Friend, I am grateful to you all.
It’s especially overwhelming when it turns out that some comics pro I admire stopped by to take a look and said nice things. I am too aw-shucks embarrassed to list those moments but there have been several, and when they happen, I admit that I squeal like a schoolgirl with delight. It’s also been a treat actually meeting some of my fellow comics bloggers at local shows and so on — hello Heidi, hello Laura — and I hope to get to do more of that in the coming months as well.
The down side of this, of course, is when you say something stupid and thousands of people see it before you can fix it, and there are always at least a hundred of you willing to let me know how stupid it is, bless your little OCD hearts. I’ve been pretty lucky there… mostly typos or things I neglected to mention, nothing that ever really blew up in my face. But ever since I goofed up the credits on JLA: Age of Wonder and the WRITER of that book had to point it out, I’ve tried to be extra EXTRA careful about that.
I did miss a fairly big one a couple of weeks ago, and my only excuse is that I had no idea it existed. But apparently there was another Richard Wentworth Spider in the comics besides Tim Truman’s for Eclipse — this one from Don McGregor and Gene Colan, published by Vanguard. I knew McGregor had some kind of involvement with some kind of Spider revival, but it just slipped my mind.
Anyway, we’ll see if it is any good, because I scored a cheap copy off eBay a few days ago. (Write the column, do the eBay search-n-scrounge, drop five to ten bucks on something cool. That’s my rhythm now.)
See you next week…. and the week after, and so on and so forth, for as long as I can manage. I may be old but I’ve got stamina. We’re just getting started.
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