Friday in the Embassy

This happens to me a lot. Maybe it happens to you too.

Most of the people I know are not terribly interested in comics.... or old SF television shows, or pulp magazine characters, or the Wold Newton family tree, or any of the other fannish hobbies I have. I was fortunate enough to find a girl that shares a great many of those interests and marry her -- but really, apart from Julie, the people in my life are just not plugged into that stuff. The closest people we know who speak fluent Geek are Mike, in Kent, and Kurt, who lives in Tacoma. Quite a ways away from us, really, and both of them we 'met' through the internet, without which our paths might never have crossed.

So what generally happens is that, for the people around us, Julie and I are the Geek Ambassadors. Not a week goes by that I don't get asked something like, "What was the name of that show with Dack Rambo as that Zorro guy?" or "Wasn't there a Justice League cartoon in the 60's, too? I mean, before Super Friends?" or "I had this comic once when I was a kid, it was kind of weird, not Superman or Batman, it was this Conan-type guy running around with a blind kid and his dog. What was that?"

The scary thing is that I almost always know the answer. Sword of Justice, starring Dack Rambo as vigilante-by-night Jack Cole, ran one season on NBC in 1978.

Yeah, the Justice League was one of the short-subject cartoons rotating through the Superman-Aquaman Hour in 1968, along with other DC stalwarts Flash, Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Teen Titans.

Hercules Unbound, DC book that came out in the late 70's from Gerry Conway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and Wally Wood.

Actually, it's not scary... it's mostly kind of sad.

Julie is getting to where she's almost as good at this as me, but more often she'll come home and say something like, "Alfonso swears up and down that there was a Smallville show on before the one on the WB. Was there?"

Well, sort of. If you count Superboy, the syndicated series with John Haymes Newton (later Gerard Christopher) and Stacy Haiduk that the Salkinds produced in their effort to milk the last dime out of their Super-rights after Supergirl tanked. But all of you already knew this, hell, it just came out on DVD.

I'd bet all of you already knew it anyway. Probably at least half of you could have rattled off those answers as quickly as me, and I'll bet someone out there is gearing up to point out that Walt Simonson also worked on the DC Hercules and that really, the Salkind Superboy shouldn't count as a proto-Smallville because the action mostly took place in a city setting... and so on. It's what we do.

What brought it to mind, though, is that this last week, I finally got around to reading something I'd wanted to for years and it all came about because of this geek-ambassador thing.

We were at an evening class at church, and our pastor asked what was new. I explained that I'd had a little field trip for my cartooning students to a local comics show that was a bit of a bust as a field trip, hardly any turnout at all, but I'd done a little shopping so it wasn't a total loss.

"What did you get?"

"Tarzan, mostly." I shrugged and grinned.

"Really!" The reverend perked up. "Tarzan comics? I have a mental picture... I know this from when I was young, it's on the tip of my tongue... Johnny Weissmuller? Was he the first Tarzan?"

I couldn't help myself. It's a reflex. Maybe a disease. "No, in movies that was a man named Elmo Lincoln... we have it on DVD at the house, actually, Julie gave it to me for Christmas."

My bride, who was sitting a couple of feet away, giggled and drew an imaginary score mark in the air. I flushed. "But yes, Weissmuller probably was the most famous guy to play him. These comics, though, I wanted because Joe Kubert drew them. Kubert's probably one of the cartoonists I admire the most in comics. He's had an amazing career."

"What makes you say that?" One of the things I like about our pastor is that Sharon is endlessly curious about everything and everyone; she has a busy, restless intellect. My admiration of Joe Kubert's career had caught her interest and by now a couple of the others at the table were listening too.

"Well, for one thing, he made his rep in comics largely without doing too many superheroes. Kubert specialized in macho, two-fisted adventure stuff. Sgt. Rock, Tarzan, characters like that. And he founded a school, the only accredited school for comics and cartooning in fact, and he's continuing to produce work today that's widely regarded as top-of-the-line. Won a bunch of awards not too long ago for a book about the conflict in Sarajevo... a true story, a documentary, done in comics form."

"That sounds really interesting," Sharon said, and meant it. "A while ago someone gave me a comic -- well, not a comic, it was a real book, a paperback, but it was in comic-strip form --"

This is what the uninitiated say when they mean 'graphic novel.'

"--only it was all about the Holy Land, the things going on over there. It was really quite extraordinary. I ended up sending it along to a friend of mine living over there."

"Palestine?" I guessed. It really wasn't much of a guess. The documentary OGN genre's a pretty short list. There's Kubert and there's Joe Sacco and that's about it.

"Yes! That was it!" Sharon beamed, and added, "The Sarajevo one sounds interesting too, I'd like to see it some day."

So when I saw Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo on Amazon for cheap the other day, I bought it, thinking I'd pass it along to the reverend. Well, it arrived yesterday, and since I'd read about it for years but never actually READ it, I glanced through it and was instantly entranced.

This is really a magnificent book, deserving of every award it's gotten. I had a vague idea that it was about refugees in Sarajevo during the war, but it's far more personal than that.

What I did not know was that Ervin Rustemagic, whose story Kubert gives us in this book, was a comics guy. He was a publisher in Sarajevo, the founder of Strip Art Features. He KNEW Kubert. And as things in Bosnia slowly went to hell, Rustemagic would send updates on his office fax to Joe and Muriel Kubert, a running diary of the horrors they endured. As Kubert says himself in the introduction, cartooning is what he knows, it's how he enters the world. And Joe Kubert made himself a promise then, as this was happening, that he would document these terrors the war inflicted on his friend Ervin the only way he knew how -- through comics -- and present them to the world and MAKE people pay attention.

Fax From Sarajevo is the result, the promise kept. It is a truly amazing piece of work and it is vintage Kubert from start to finish. Just as a piece of visual art the book is a masterwork. The compelling story, and the fact that it's true, raises it to greatness. This is a reviewer's nightmare of a book to write about, because really all there is to say is, "It's good. Buy it. Read it."

So. It's good. Buy it. Read it. I'm glad I did. About time this post in the geek embassy's good for something. Otherwise I probably would have continued to put off reading this book as "one of the things I'll get to someday" and never do. Except now I have to buy another one, damn it.

See you next week.

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