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Remembering Grandpa Travis

You may not know this about me, but I come from a comics family.

My great grandfather was one of the first editors to screw a cartoonist, for example, and we're still all kind of proud of him. It's a lot to live up to. The family estate was built on land bought with money that rightfully belonged to the BRINGING UP FATHER guy. We all laugh about that sometimes. The chair I'm sitting on could put the guy who created BLONDIE's kids through college.

Also, my great Aunt Meg was the model for Phantom Lady, although in the pictures we have where she's modeling for the artist, she's always tied up with a ball gag in her mouth. When I first saw a Phantom Lady comic, I was really stunned to find out that she could talk, let alone stand up straight.

But I think we were all MOST proud of Grandpa Travis, who wrote over twelve million stories for various publishers under nearly fifty pen names. It was Grandpa Travis who said, "Let's have this 'Superman' character hit people a lot!" and "I don't like the name 'Lackspittle'. Let's call this guy 'Jughead!'"

It was Grandpa Travis who, in his younger days, figured out that comics would be better if they were printed on paper, rather than huge slabs of granite. Grandpa was responsible for the first grossly unfair racial stereotype in comics, and it was Grandpa Travis who, when comics suffered their first real sales slump, immediately jumped ship to write the outcomes for rigged game shows. But comics were always his first real love. Comics and tattoos.

Grandpa could be a crotchety ol' coot. He once told me that the only comics he wouldn't write were CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED, cause, in his words, "kids don't like that highbrow crap!". Then he playfully locked me in the cellar for "giving him sass" when all I said was that it was time for my medication. But we all loved him. I don't like dark, enclosed places anymore and I sleep with the light on, and if I just even SEE a rat I faint, but that doesn't change how I feel about that wonderful, senile old cuss.

Sometimes, I sort of marvel at his achievements. I mean, on his BEST DAY, Mark Waid couldn't write more than six or seven comics. Grandpa Travis once wrote an entire issue of Star Spangled War Stories on the pillowcase of a prostitute he'd befriended only minutes earlier. Twelve million stories he wrote. And not a crossover in the batch, unless you count the "unofficial" teamups in his Tijuana Bibles. Let's see any of today's topwriters make a story with Tarzan and Olive Oyl hold your interest.

Grandpa Travis doesn't have much use for the comics of today. I went to visit him in the hospital recently, partly because I just love this old man and the fanciful, magical way he tells stories of a simpler time in comics, and partly because if he dies with no will, I get squat. I remember asking him what he thought of Superman today, and he said, "He's a sissy! They're ALL sissies! Jesus, look at this thing on my ass...is that a bedsore or did I sit on my custard?"

Seeing him all helpless and skinny and awful-smelling, it's comforting to remember a time, back when I was a child, when at least he wasn't skinny. And, continent or not, the man could tell spooky stories.

My sisters and I would all sit on the porch of Grandpa's cabin, us in our nightgowns with our bowls of hardtack and scrapple and big cool glass of cabbage juice, and Grandpa in his favorite rocking chair, smoking his corn cob pipe and drinking hard liquor in a huge pirate head mug. "Grandpa!", we'd all shout, not too loudly cause he was always well-armed, "Tell us a story of the olden days of comics!"

"No. You young'uns clear off the porch and leave your pore ol' grandpa to his drinkin'."

But we'd played this game many times before. For all his bluster, he enjoyed spinning yarns, and everyone with any sense had long since stopped listening. I knew how to prompt him into a fine old tale, however. Eyes aglow, I asked the one question I knew he couldn't resist. "Grandpa...tell again how it smelt...", I pleaded.

He fixed me with his good eye, and said, "Ya want to hear that again, huh? Well, let me tell ya, missy. In those days,", we'd supress a delighted shiver, "a comic book company wasn't a nice, hygenic-like place. No, not at all..."

He leaned in closer...so close we could smell his truss..."In those days, DC Comics was called National Periodical Publications, and it was run out of a disreputable brothel in the seediest part of what's now called New York City. When ya opened those doors with the little drawing of Superman on them, it smelled like the firey furnaces o' Hell, no mistake. The scent of cheap sex and crushed dreams was overpowering. Many a grizzled freelancer would soil themselves on the spot, and that was AFORE they hired Left Handed Jimmy, the meanest bouncer in town.

"If'n ya had written a script, and ya wanted yer check, ya had ta knife-fight Jimmy afore they'd give it to ya, and even THEN it'd be so covered with blood and filth that sometimes the bank wouldn't cash it. If the world had a black heart in those days, DC COMICS was it. It was a place designed by Satan himself for the sole purpose of shrinking your testicles to the size of malnourished raisins..."

We weren't sure what "testicles" were, but we knew this whole raisin business was bad news...we'd shudder dutifully at his description - and then, invariably, we'd ask about creator's rights, "What about creator's rights, Grandpa? Did creators have rights in those days?", we'd ask, innocently.

Grandpa would hock up a big wad of phlegm, enjoying his moment, and say, "Oh, yeah. We had rights. We had the right to mop up our own blood if we asked for a raise! I remember one guy, nice fella, created the Red Tornado, I think...he asked for an advance on some scripts he'd written for FOX AND CROW, and they found him..."

"STUFFED IN THE LAUNDRY CHUTE!!", we all squealed, delightedly. We'd heard this story many times.

"Ah, ya mischief-makin' pixies! You'll be the death o' me!", Grandpa said with a grin full of broken teeth he got during an aborted strike attempt. Then we'd all give him a big hug and he's send us off to bed.

Those were special times. All of which brings me back to why I came to visit my Grandpa in the hospital in the first place, which was to ask him about the Siegel/DC Superman ownership deal since he was THERE, and could maybe answer some questions.

But unfortunately, Grandpa's fallen fast asleep. So I guess we'll ALL have to wait to get those answers.

Anyway, I asked the nurse, and apparantly, it wasn't custard.

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