Tuesday Afternoon Potpourri: HeroesCon Addenda and the Death of a Former Rival

Next week’s Summer Term finish line is in sight, and there’s interesting stuff afoot, so why not take a little time for potpourri?

***

I spent a significant part of the previous post talking about the T-shirts I buy from World of Strange — specifically a shirt with a reproduction of Lee Elias’s cover of Chamber of Chills #19, published by Harvey Comics in 1953 (and adapted for the sleeve of a seminal punk rock single). Most notably, I mentioned that there was a copy of that particular comic for sale at HeroesCon this past weekend — for $6900.

But as it turned out, the story continued. After writing that blog post, I went out to get dinner at a nearby sub shop — the Spawn had filled up on popcorn at the movie, and preferred to remain in our room, talking to the Main Squeeze. Walking back to the hotel, I encountered a group of four people, one of whom said, “Cool shirt.”

I thanked them, and asked if they were there for the convention. They were, so I mentioned the presence of the comic in question — and its price.

“What was its condition?” they asked.

“About 4.5.” (This was an accidental exaggeration — looking back at my photo, the comic was graded at 4.1.)

“Huh. We’ve got about 15 copies of that one at home.” One of the women showed me a picture on her phone of a slew of CoC 19s, some in plastic and graded, others not so. It dawned on me that I was looking at at least 100 grand in comics that these folks had in storage at home. I was impressed. They were nice folks, and we talked another minute or two before heading on our separate paths. And as I walked the last block or so back to the hotel, I thought of Lee Elias, and how his work had been singled out for opprobrium by Fredric Wertham during the comic-related moral panic of the 50s. Now it seems to be a touchstone for comic fans, punk rockers, and a variety of folks in between, commanding a significant price in the bargain.

But every age has its moral panics — I’ve lived through the ones over role-playing games and hard rock, for example, and we’re seeing another one as we speak, in the form of the Woke-opalypse. I wonder what the T-shirts will look like in 40 years.

***

As we headed home on Sunday, the Spawn and I decided to have our first meal at one of our favorite burger joints. We got there at 11:27; it opened three minutes later. Another family was waiting at the door when we got there — a dad, mom, teen son and daughter. The father asked us if the place was any good, and from his accent, it was quite clear that they were from even farther from the area than the Spawn and I were. Then I noticed the son’s sweatshirt, from a baseball team in Andover, MA. I assured them that they had made a good decision.

As the door opened, I noticed the back of the boy’s shirt. It had a uniform number, and a name: “SACCO.”

“I hope you don’t have a teammate named Vanzetti,” I said. I don’t know if they didn’t hear me (they were from the right part of the country, after all), if they didn’t get the allusion, or if they just chose to ignore me, but I hope they liked their burgers, anyway — the Spawn and I certainly liked ours.

***

After we got home and I had taken care of school stuff for my Monday classes, I settled down with John K. Snyder III’s graphic novel adaptation of LB’s Eight Million Ways to Die. Of course, adapting novels into sequential art is nothing new — Classics Illustrated did it for decades — but recent years have enhanced the prestige of this particular ekphrastic form, and Snyder’s work does nothing to change that.

The essential elements and characters of Block’s mid-70s, gritty NYC remain in place; Snyder trims a bit — dialogue between Scudder  and Elaine, for example — but no more than the change from a good-sized novel to a 130-page comic requires. Snyder’s dextrous handling of light and shade suit both the overall genre and Scudder’s particular status as a man in between — jobs, worlds, life decisions — who is unsure where (or even if) he will land.

The grids on most of the pages are busy — with panels of differing widths and frequency on each line of the page — without being distracting or difficult to follow. While the effect is reminiscent of quick cuts in a film, it serves the idea of the novel’s disordered world rather than turning into the “Hey, look at me” imposition of a director who wants to remind us that he’s an auteur. This is to Snyder’s credit.

His visual rendition of the characters is smart and reasonable, never lapsing into the grotesquerie of Frank Miller’s Sin City or the heavily stylized work of the late Darwyn Cooke’s takes on the Parker novels. Even though I don’t visualize Scudder or Danny Boy Bell quite as Snyder presents them, I can certainly accept them as forms of the characters, rather like actors playing actual people.

In short, Snyder’s adaptation of Block’s work captures the sense, the mood, and the plot of the novel, while offering the visual textures inherent in the translation to another medium. It’s an honorable take on the book, and an expansion of an audience’s conversation with the story. Recommended.

***

And speaking of mysteries, here’s a reminder that Real City will be hosting the return of Mystery in the Midlands, where I’ll be appearing both on a panel and in a Master Class on humor in crime fiction. You can register here, and I’d be delighted to see you there!

***

As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I spent six years in the magazine business in between my rounds of grad school. During my time as a journo, there were two Cincinnati-based publishers. Both were family-owned businesses, and both published a variety of specialty magazines. ST Publications, where I worked, specialized in publications for the signage and retail design industries (now lumped together under the aegis of “visual communications.”) It has an interesting history, having spun off of Billboard magazine, and among other titles, the company publishes a magazine founded by L. Frank Baum, who (it is claimed) had file drawers marked “A-N”… and “O-Z.” The company has moved to the burbs north of downtown, but when I worked there, it was a few blocks from the Ohio River.

The other company in town was F+W Publications, best known as the publishers of Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market, but who also published a wide variety of titles for niche markets. We weren’t in direct competition with them (although there was a little bit of rivalry between the design-oriented mags for which I worked and F+W’s HOW), but it wasn’t unknown for folks at one company to cross town to the other on occasion — the head guy of our book division had held a similar position at F+W for a time. Meanwhile, the lead singer of one of my bands married the scion of the family that owned F+W. We’d hear occasional gossip about their company (and rumors about things like in-house masseurs and fancy break rooms), and I imagine it probably worked both ways.

Meanwhile, one of the highlights of each fall for me was connected to F+W. The company owned its own warehouse space, and would sponsor inventory reduction sales each year. My dad and I would go over on a designated night and buy stacks of books on topics that interested us. In Dad’s case, it was fine arts stuff; the company published The Artist’s Magazine. I, meanwhile, dove into the how-to and marketing books for aspiring writers — including Lawrence Block, whose Writing the Novel I read well before I knew any of his mystery work. Dad and I would drive back to Kentucky and make sure the books were wrapped for receipt at Christmas. I still have nearly all of them. One-stop shopping. (ST published books as well, but the company’s focus on its market segment kept it from putting out the sort of public interest titles that F+W did; we needed no such clearance sales.)

But despite both companies having proud histories, F+W has fallen on difficult times in recent years, and recently went through something pretty close to liquidation. Today, I ran across an article from Jane Friedman, who arrived at F+W about the same time I left ST. She offers some insight into the firm’s decline:

It would be easy to characterize F+W as yet another victim of a declining print or advertising market, or a changing consumer landscape where Big Tech again conquers legacy media. But as a former employee of the company for 12 years, I believe that’s a simplistic and incorrect reading of the outcome. It took some work to sink F+W and, perhaps most tragically, bankruptcy was never an inevitable fate.

Admittedly, I had some personal interest in reading the piece. However, I think there may be some lessons for anyone with an interest in how people can screw up a good thing.

***

All right; I think it’s about time for dinner, so I’ll wrap this one up. So here’s a little music to tide you over. Formerly based in Philly (or as they called it, “Psychedelphia”) but now out west, The Asteroid No. 4 has been doing its spacey psych for a couple of decades now. This is one of their early cuts, and I’ve always liked it, probably because I’m a sucker for the line “There is a girl who makes the smell of death seem sweet.” Maybe you’ll like it, too.

See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

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