The last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about that moment when you go from being mildly interested in something to becoming a fan, and listing a few different times that moment happened for me. And this week we have one more set of them, and oddly enough, I came to each one through an unexpected, back-door route.
Star Trek: My old friend Joe drops by the blog once or twice a year to twit me about how, back when we were in high school, I used to nag him to watch Star Trek and check out David Gerrold’s books on the subject.
Since he did it again last week, it reminded me of how I stumbled across Star Trek myself.
In 1969, I was just barely old enough to notice Star Trek‘s final season on NBC, when it was on at ten PM Friday nights. I was only seven years old, and staying up to watch it was out of the question; my parents would never have allowed that… but when it hit syndication in 1970, I would see it in the afternoons on our local station, KPTV. Usually around five or six in the evening. I watched it, but I was still a little young for it, and sometimes it was hard for me to follow.
So eventually when KPTV decided to quit running it, I was okay with it. If someone had asked my nine-year-old self what I thought of Star Trek then, I’d have probably responded with, Oh, you know, it was all right, but really, it wasn’t a patch on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
No, it wasn’t until junior high school that I fell, and fell hard, for Star Trek. In the same school library where I found Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage and Nestor Redondo’s Dracula, I stumbled across the first James Blish paperback collection of short stories adapted from the aired episodes.
It was James Blish’s tidy, comfortable prose that hooked me. Since it was a book, the difficult stuff was easier for me to sort through. I could stop to look up hard words and so on… and also, it just was hitting me at the right time. I’d discovered there was a whole world of science fiction and pulp paperbacks out there working basically the same fantastic-adventure turf I’d already fallen in love with, reading comics and watching genre television. So when I’d see more Trek paperbacks on the spinner rack at the grocery store and I was feeling flush, I’d buy one.
I really dug the cover art on these, too; I liked Bama’s painting on the first one quite a bit, but my favorites were the ones by Lou Feck.
I especially liked the originality he brought to it. It was recognizably Star Trek, still, but it looked so much more awesome in Feck’s paintings than I remembered it being on TV.
And he wasn’t particularly interested in capturing likenesses, either.
It may have offended Trekkie purists but the cover art on those books was a big selling point for me, I was very annoyed when the series changed artists with Star Trek 9.
I never actually knew who Lou Feck was until I started writing this and looked him up on the internet… turns out he worked on a lot of other cool stuff too.
So it was a combination of Lou Feck’s cool cover art and James Blish’s writing that turned me into a Trekkie. When KPTV decided to rerun it in the early evenings again in the mid-seventies, I was ready for it by then. Been a fan ever since.
The Phantom: Amazingly, I did not get interested in the Ghost Who Walks through comics. Our local newspaper didn’t carry the syndicated strip, and the comic book version from Charlton didn’t do that much for me when I first saw it in the early 1970s…. it looked tepid compared to the Neal Adams and Jack Kirby stuff happening at DC and Marvel.
No, it wasn’t until 1976, when Philip Jose Farmer and Doc Savage awakened my interest in pulp paperback adventure. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. The Shadow, the Spider, the Avenger, I was on board for all of it.
And that was right around the time Avon started publishing a series of Phantom prose novels– most of them ghosted by Ron Goulart under a couple of different pen names, and all of them with magnificent cover paintings from Gold Key cover workhorse George Wilson.
Those novels got me interested enough to give the Charlton comic book version another chance, and as it happened, that was right when the wonderful Don Newton was just hitting his stride on the book.
My first issue was #74, a tale of the Phantom of 1776. (We were coming up on America’s Bicentennial, which was a Big Deal in early 1976.)
At that point I was sold. Unfortunately, Charlton’s Phantom was canceled soon after that, and Don Newton moved on– to DC and Batman as it happens, and that worked out well.
But I miss his Phantom still. I’ve picked up every subsequent try at the Ghost Who Walks from other publishers since then. Some of them have been really well-done; I liked the DC version quite a bit.
Marvel did a mini-series that was okay. And the current books from Moonstone, both comics and prose, are a great deal of fun.
But none of them really have captured the magic that Newton’s version had for me. That’s my personal gold standard for comic books about the Phantom, and that and the novels are what made me a fan.
And there you have it. Once again, I’ll remind you that me and my students are tabling in Artist’s Alley this weekend at the Emerald City Comic-Con. Tables B-12 and B-13, the endcap on the second row in from the front.
So far it’s been shaping up to be a terrific show and even though I’m almost completely exhausted, it’s one of the most fun conventions we’ve ever been to, I think. So do come and see us if you’re in town.
….and if you can’t, well, I’ll see you back here next week.