Match to Flame 4
posted on September 23, 2015
The dentist visit wasn’t a total loss, because by the end of the afternoon I had acquired my first comic book. Our dentist, who obviously was no fool, used to give my sister and me a prescription for an ice cream cone at the end of our exams. The scrip was worth a dime at the drugstore on the corner. That day, as we stood at the ice cream counter, my dad said we could buy anything we wanted. I had him repeat that so there would be no question as to exactly what had been said, and then I responded, “I want one of those,” pointing at the comics spinner rack. I left that afternoon with my very first comic book, a copy of Tom Corbett Space Cadet. To help cement the deal, I had pointed out to my dad that I was allowed to watch Tom Corbett on TV, so the comic book must, by extension, be okay as well. Besides, my dad had specifically said, “Anything you want . . .”
Inside that Tom Corbett, I saw my future, and, inspired and empowered, I began buying comics whenever the opportunity presented itself. When the monthlong wait between issues became too much to bear, I began writing and drawing my own comics to bridge the gap. When I wasn’t creating cartoons, I was working on my novel. I had a little green notebook in which I chronicled my western opus The Arizona Ranger. Its portability allowed me to take it with me on our forced marches every Sunday to visit relatives in Akron, which we had been doing since my dad’s job had taken our family about an hour away to North Eaton. While the adults talked and the cousins played baseball, I’d find a corner somewhere to work on my story. Occasionally, someone would ask to read what I was writing and would comment approvingly, but mostly I was simply regarded as a curiosity.
*From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One
Match to Flame 3
posted on September 1, 2015
I’ve long had a theory that there’s a certain golden window of opportunity when you’re wide open and vulnerable to falling under the magic spell of an art form or a sport or almost any other type of pursuit. Had I been exposed to DeBussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” at that golden moment, I might have become a composer . . . or a painter, had I seen Monet’s luminous Rouen Cathedral paintings. Instead, I walked into that elementary school auditorium and straight into The Phantom Empire. Years later, reading a biography of the comics artist Murphy Anderson, I saw that he also mentioned The Phantom Empire as an influence. Apparently, if you were of a certain bent, that baby was right in your wheelhouse.
The clincher came when I got my hands on my first comic book. My dad always deflected my early attempts to buy comic books when I’d spot them on the drugstore spinner racks by saying they were too violent. However, one day on a visit to our family dentist, there they were—scattered across a table in his waiting room. My eye was caught by a Hopalong Cassidy cover that showed Hoppy on horseback riding after two bandits escaping on rocking horses. Rocking horses! Now, I had seen Hopalong Cassidy on television, but never like this. Once again it was the juxtaposition of the real and the fantastic that captured my imagination. I just had to know what was going on there. Unfortunately, I was ushered in to see the dentist before I could read it and find how the writer resolved that seemingly insoluble conundrum. (I wasn’t to see that book again until many years later at a comics convention when there it was, just as I’d remembered it. It was late in the con weekend, and the dealer, a purveyor of only western comics, had obviously not been selling too many. I saw an opportunity to pick up that holy grail book at a reasonably inexpensive price. Unfortunately, as I was thinking that thought, I heard myself saying aloud, “I don’t believe it! I’ve been looking for this book my whole life!” The dealer was kind enough to at least let me keep my wallet.)
* From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Vol. One
Match to Flame 1
posted on August 4, 2015
It was September 1970, and I was a week away from having my bluff called. From the time I’d seen my first comic strip, I’d been telling anyone who’d listen that I was going to have a comic in the newspaper one day. At my high school prom, I told my future wife that I was going to be a cartoonist, and she replied that I’d outgrow that when I matured. Fooled her on both counts. But in that halcyon fall, in seven days, I was going to have to put up or shut up: The following Tuesday, on the Teen- Age page of the Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio, a new comic panel was going to make its debut, a panel about teens written and drawn by yours truly. My first published cartoon in a real bona fide newspaper. It had to be good, because that only happens once.
Now, a teen strip was, frankly, the last thing I ever thought I’d do, or ever want to do. My comic strip tastes had been shaped early on by the comics that my dad would read to me from the Akron Beacon Journal and, later, by the pulp sensibilities of comic books. I was in awe of the grandeur of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, the otherworld beauty of Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon Sunday strips, and the total bravura insanity of Chet Gould’s Dick Tracy. Even at that tender age, I was already formulating a plan, because I knew that when the time came to take shot, I wanted to do stuff like that.
* From the introduction to The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume One