Friday, October 29, 2010

"Take Us Out of Orbit, Mr. Sulu, and Don't Spare the Horses"

From Star Trek #9 (Gold Key Comics, February 1971):

"Imagine, Mr. Spock -- a computer capable of attracting and recording the brainwaves -- the very thoughts of every famous person in Earth's history! It has recorded all of that history on these punch cards."

Punch cards? PUNCH CARDS??


The future just ain't what it used to be.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where's Wein?

Once upon a time, there was Fantasy Kingdom, a little comic book store in a town called East Meadow, NY. It was run by a jolly old soul named Keith Mallow. It was my main source of comics when I was a student at Hofstra University. It was there that I got one of the more unusual items in my collection.

Fantasy Kingdom was a frequent host of book signing events. One bright, sunny day in 1980, the guests of honor were DC Comics writers Marv Wolfman, Bob Rozakis, and Len Wein, and artist Alex Saviuk. It was a fun afternoon. My most vivid memory of it is Marv tossing a pen in the air with an exasperated look on his face when I mentioned that Ultra the Multi-Alien was one of my favorite superheroes.

As a regular customer, I got a special souvenir of that day, which I am sharing with you. Keith had Alex illustrate the event on a ditto master. (Remember dittos? If you were a student before 1980, before bulk photocopying was affordable, then you ought to recall their weird purple ink and intoxicating alcoholic scent.) He ran off several copies, and the next week gave them out to people who had been there. After thirty years, my copy is a bit faded and yellowed, but I cleaned it up to show it to you here. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

The store window didn't really say "Free -- Cheap -- Easy" and the guy at the register wasn't napping, but other than that, most of the scene is as I remember it. There were several customers who showed up in costume, including a skinny Superman (who did resemble a young Christopher Reeve), a senior Lone Ranger, a pretty cute Storm, Moon Knight, and a guy in a gorilla suit. I don't remember if there were any extraterrestrials there, or if they were a product of Alex's imagination.

I don't remember seeing Plastic Man, but there was a minor debate over who was the better character, him or the Elongated Man. Marv settled the issue by declaring that the two aren't really comparable. Elongated Man only stretches, while Plas is primarily a shape-changer.

Len Wein arrived late, so Alex squeezed him in under the table between Marv and Bob, anticipating the "Where's Waldo?" books by seven years. In the real world, they found him a chair.

The bearded chap in the dark suit on the left is Keith Mallow himself. Keith was probably dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, but Bob and Alex had recently used him as the model for a character named "Mallo, Keeper of the Cosmic Balance" in a two-part Atom story in Action Comics #515 and DC Comics Presents #30, so Alex drew him as Mallo here. He looks a bit like Abel from House of Secrets.

Like many other comic shops of the 1980s, Fantasy Kingdom is long gone. There's now a hair salon in its old location. But it was a fun place to hang out while it lasted.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Museum With Character

Last week, I had the long-overdue pleasure of visiting the Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire, CT. The museum has been in existence since 1997, but I only learned about it a few months ago.

The Museum consists of two buildings: the Gallery, where hundreds of animation cels and cartoon-themed paintings are on display; and the Museum itself, which contains two stories of glass-enclosed toys, books, magazines, lunchboxes, Pez dispensers, and other products that should have anyone over the age of thirty muttering "I used to have one of those" more than once.

No photography is allowed inside either building, but the grounds outside are decorated with over two dozen murals and life-sized cutouts of cartoon characters that you can pose alongside.

I used to enjoy visiting the National Cartoon Museum in Rye Brook, NY, before it relocated to Boca Raton, FL, and later closed. The Barker Museum is a different, though equally enjoyable, experience. The NCM was comic strip and comic book oriented, with a huge collection of original artwork. The Barker Museum focuses more on toys and products based on comic and cartoon characters. It has no original comic-strip or -book artwork on display, though the Gallery does include a few framed prints of Peanuts strips by Charles Schulz. There are perhaps a half-dozen comic books on display in the Museum, notably a Famous First Edition reprint of Action Comics #1, which I discussed in a previous post.

Not only fictional characters are recognized here. There is also a large number of toys and items depicting real-life characters, like George Burns, Carol Channing, Dean Martin, and others. The Museum also boasts of its exhibits on the California Raisins and Celebriducks (a line of rubber ducks caricaturing familar faces from show business and politics), which I'd never heard of before.

I especially enjoyed seeing a corner devoted to Myron Waldman, an animator for the Fleischer Studios in the 1930s and '40s, who worked on the Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman cartoons, as well as a newspaper comic strip called Happy the Humbug. Myron used to live three miles away from me on Long Island, and was the subject of my first column in Hogan's Alley Magazine #12 in 2004.

The closest thing that I have to a criticism of the Barker Museum is that it's too tightly packed. Herb and Gloria Barker could spread their collection over twice the floor space, and it would still feel crowded. The story I was told is that Herb was a nostalgia buff whose collection grew too big for the house, so at Gloria's urging, he moved it out and put it on display. (Now I have an idea about what to do with my collection when it outgrows the basement.) The Barkers also own a company that manufactures promotional products. My friend, Merrill, works for a company that does business with them, and I found out about the Museum from her.

The museum is located on 1188 Highland Ave. in Cheshire, CT, about midway between Hartford and New Haven, six miles west of Route 91. You can take a virtual tour by watching the video on their website, but it's not as good as being there.

On the right, Bugs Bunny faces down Yosemite Sam; on the left, Baba Looey watches as Quick Draw McGraw faces down himself.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto, with their horses, Silver and Scout