Wednesday, January 8, 2014

In Appreciation

I thought I’d break tradition this time out and pay tribute to the person who first spurred my interest in comic books: my brother John. John is seven years older than me, and was buying comics before I was born. I can't remember a time when comics weren't in the house. When I was a tyke John was buying Marvel’s on a regular basis, particularly the superhero line. John didn't only buy Marvel's though, he also purchased DC (John particularly liked group titles such as Challengers of the Unknown, Doom Patrol and Blackhawk);Gold Key, Charlton, Tower and Archie’s “Mighty Comics” line.


 FF #20 may well be my introduction to Jack Kirby's art. It was the earliest issue in John's collection, and while I wouldn't describe the art as pretty, it had a rough around the edges quality that held my attention. Inside, equally ominous characters like the Watcher awaited, and I was hooked. Kirby pencils; George Roussos inks; Artie Simek letters and likely Stan Goldberg colors. Fantastic Four # 20, November 1963. 


John started his Spider-Man collection with # 3, and how could this scene not get a child's attention? Ditko's odd-looking hero and mysterious villain was - again - more than likely my first exposure to Ditko's individualistic style. His faces, figures and scenes all had a distinctive personality, and to this day Ditko's work remains an ongoing source of study and appreciation. Amazing Spider-Man # 3, July 1963, Steve Ditko art, Artie Simek letters, Stan G colors?


 The first issue of Suspense John had, if memory serves me correctly (and my memory is usually better than John's) has no Iron-Man on the cover! Instead we have an inset of Tony Stark putting his suit on, while the villain attacks. Perhaps not the most dynamic of covers, but with a certain charm. Kirby pencils; Dick Ayers inks; Artie Simek letters; Stan G colors? Tales of Suspense # 46, October 1963

 Before I could read I would stare at the covers and interior artwork by the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood. In 1966, at the age of six, I began reading the stories and they had me hooked, particularly Stan Lee’s writing, with it’s touches of humor and drama; and the sense of enthusiasm he was capable of transmitting to the printed page. The continued stories were a real thrill, especially to a child, when 30 days seemed like an eternity. You could pick up a DC at almost anytime and enjoy it on its own merits, but continued stories were rare in that period. Marvel, with its cliffhanger endings and sub-plots were addictive - you HAD to buy the next issue to find out what happened, and John rarely missed an issue.

With little publicity and no news outside of  promotional ads and bullpen pages, there was an immediacy to buying new comics that is hard to describe. Every week we would travel to various newsstands and candy stores in the neighborhood (no comic shops then), either separately or together, to pick up the latest comics. As I got older John and I both discovered fanzines and subscribed to the Comic Reader and the Buyers Guide. We would discuss the new books coming out, what titles were getting cancelled and our favorite writers and artists. John also took me to my first comic book convention, probably in 1970. It was a Phil Seuling Con, but all I remember are tables full of comics and lots of people. We came home with a shopping bag of comics, which we had to sneak into our house lest our parents find and confiscate them.


John has always enjoyed team books, including the Challengers. This is one of the earliest issues I recall. Bob Brown pencils; Brown inks? Challengers of the Unknown # 42, February-March 1965. Image from the GCD.


 Charlton's were not always easy to find in our neck of the woods, Brooklyn in the 1960's, although they might pop up in a dusty corner of John's Bargain Store (a variety store akin to the 99 cent stores of today). Some of John's acquisitions were Blue Beetle, Capt. Atom and Thunderbolt. Distribution improved in the early 1970's and John bought many of Charlton's Ghost line, particularly those with covers by Steve Ditko. Thunderbolt # 1, January 1966. Pete Morisi art.


Archie Comics blatantly copied Marvel's corner design with their short-lived "Mighty Comics Group", which reportedly infuriated Marvel's publisher, Martin Goodman. I have a soft spot for the quirky "Mighty Heroes" mainly due to Paul Reinman's artwork. Cover art by the aforementioned Reinman, from Fly Man # 36, March 1966 


The brilliant artistry of Wally Wood was an immediate attention getter to John and Nick C. Wood cover to Dynamo # 2, March 1967

John was also instrumental in starting my love for comics’ history. Come Christmas or my birthday John would give me gifts such as Steranko’s History of the Comics and Superman and Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s, hardcover books reprinting early exploits of the heroes. I began to relish learning about writers, artists, publishers and all that came before: the Timely era, DC, Fawcett and Captain Marvel, EC and many others. I still have those books in my collection, as well as a beat-up (but treasured) paperback of All in Color for a Dime (which my Mom bought for me). As I got older I returned the favor and bought comic related books for John, and we always shared our stuff (and still do, even though he likes to give me a hard time whenever I raid his collection!)
                                           

It was wonderful to read the early stories of Superman and Batman at a time when reprints were scarce. Superman from the 30's to the 70's, which I may have received in Christmas of 1970. 

Older brothers can be a pain in the neck sometimes, but not only did John buy and share all his comics when I was a little runt, he instilled a deep interest in movies. Although John is a huge sci-fi fan, he appreciates all types of movies, and that diversity could be seen on Television, where crime, western, comedy and dramas were available, as well as old serials and shorts like Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. We also had great old cartoons like the Fleischer's Popeye cartoons. Back in the pre-VCR/DVD days you had to stay awake at night to see a particular movie – you never knew when it would air again. Local television in NY showed plenty of horror and sci-fi - from Universal classics to Roger Corman low budget thrills. We saw them all, when we weren't reading about them in the pages of Famous Monsters and Castle of Frankenstein.


 The opening to WPIX-Channel 11's Chiller Theater program, the source of many childhood thrills and chills!  


Over the decades John and I have devoured countless books on directors, actors, producers and studios, learning about the history of movies from the silent era to the present day.


James Cagney, a favorite actor that we grew up watching on television


And of course, television was part of our childhood. Dark Shadows was a supernatural soap-opera that had something in common with comics – it was continued and had ongoing sub-plots (along with vampires, witches and werewolves) so we were hooked. At six years old I was completely taken by Batman on TV, but there was much to enjoy for kids and teenagers, including Star Trek, Wild Wild West, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and many others. Not all hold up in later viewings, but they were fun for their time.


Dark Shadows had its own comic book series from Gold Key beginning in the late 1960's. While vampires were not allowed by the Comics Code until the 1970's, Gold Key was not part of the Code and could present Barnabas and company. A nicely designed and hued cover photo of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins and David Hennesy as David Collins, Dark Shadows # 6, August 1970. 

John also loves music, particularly rock n roll, so I listened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, the Turtles, the Young Rascals, the Doors, Cream and many others that I still enjoy, all on 45 rpm records. And all the while we listened to and appreciated the singers and musicians of an earlier era, since folks like Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante and Tony Bennett sang and preformed on variety shows, sometimes introducing the rock acts we enjoyed. It was a period when everything was not compartmentalized as it is today.

So, to John, who celebrates his birthday today, I thank you for instilling a life-long passion for comic books, which we continue to enjoy, but also for the movies, music and television programs which we've shared throughout our lives. Although our tastes diverge in places, we still laugh and have fun talking about a great many things (when we’re not yelling at each other!) and isn't that something to be thankful for? (Now I hope you don''t expect to get a Birthday present ALONG with all this praise!!)   

9 comments:

Doc V. said...

Hey John! The happiest of birthdays! From one Yancy Streeter to another!

And Nick? Personally I like the creeping hand Chiller Theater opening better!! "Chiller!!!!!"

Nick Caputo said...

Doc,

I like the five finger hand too, but I was so tired from trying to post on a Timely-Atlas-Comics blog by a "Michael J. Vassallo" that I forgot to use the later opening!

Kid said...

And here's to Nick's brother, John, without whom one of the most popular posts on my blog might not have existed. Happy Birthday. John - and many more of 'em.

Barry Pearl said...

Happy Birthday, John!!!!!!

joey2027 said...

I have a question for you, if you don't mind. We all know what went on the "A" side of the single, but, from your experience, what went on the B-side?

(I'm asking because 45's weren't quite in my orbit as a kid growing up in the 70's,that's when I was a teenager, I relied on the radio mostly)

Was it always the second best song that a band had on hand at the time?

Was the B-side a song the band hoped would hit with an audience?

Was it a song no one cared much about that was placed on the B? The theory being that no fan was ever going to turn the 45 over because they loved listening to the hit over an over? Also, a band wouldn't have to wait to have two hits to come out with a 45 if they just filled space on the 45's other side.

As you can tell, I have heard some explanations. I'm curious what you thought most often when you flipped the 45 over from the A-Side and read what was on the B?

I just listened to a part of revolution number 9 while I was typing this (can't listen to the whole thing) -it's only there so I have a complete White Album, honest!.

I wonder if that was ever on a B-side for the Beatles?

Thanks!

Nick Caputo said...

Joey,

My understanding is that the A side was what the studio considered would be the popular song, and the B side the less popular.

I'm sure there were various differences between the ideas of the studio and the artists, but I know my brother and I used to listen to both sides of a 45, and sometimes the B side was more entertaining than the hit!

An interesting bit of minutiae is that B/W stood for "back with" so the flip side was the B/W side.

The Beatles had a "lesser" side as well. For instance Paperback Writer's B side was "Rain", a nice song, but nowhere near as popular as the title song.

joey2027 said...

Thanks!

One of the questions I also had was whether the sale of the A-side had the intended side effect of creating a hit of the B-side song. Your example of the Beatles song Paperback Writer s hints that B-Sides weren't effected by the sales of the more popular A-side.

(I also wonder if trackers like Billboard ignored the B-sides in terms of numbers or if songs like “Rain” could have crept up into the top forty due to number of copies sold of the 45 altogether?). Was there some one that was actually watching those kinds of trends?

In any case the reminiscence was much appreciated!

One of the drawbacks of 45's when I was buying records was that they were about a third of the price of an album ( I can't recall what the actual price was but records on sale weren't too much more as far as price) and at the time records averaged more than one hit on them so they were a better deal.

There were also more songs on an album that ignored the length of 2 minutes and 30 seconds that a 45 demanded, give or take a few seconds here or there.

In addition we were all nuts for new technologies like 8 Tracks and cassettes!

Thanks again and Happy New Year to you and your brother John and to every one!

Joe Y

Nick Caputo said...

Joey,

It's great discussing this stuff, although I wish I knew more. I'm fascinated by the questions. I don't recall any B sides becoming hits, although I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, and I would guess that someone was keeping track of interest in the B side.

Growing un in the mid-1960's my brother John usually bought 45's, which were then cheaper than an entire album (39 or 49 cents?) I'll ask John and get back to you. By the later 60s he had some more money to spend and began buying albums such as Sgt. Pepper, Jimmi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin. We never had 8 Tracks for some reason, but cassettes were popular, and later I recorded my own home made compilations. I still have a record player and listen to my collection from time to time. Gotta love vinyl.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and a very Happy New Year to you!

Michael N. said...

Love the Chiller Theater opening. I've been trying to find the '60s Chiller Theater opening for channel 10 in Columbus, Ohio for decades. If anyone's seen it online, please post a link.