Friday, December 31, 2010

White Christmas Aftermath

Well, since we might not get any more snow this winter, I figured I should post a few shots of the minor little Christmas storm. It was nice. I'd never witnessed a white Christmas before. You guys who see them all of the time are probably jaded by it all. But we here in the deep South rarely see it. In fact, I think it had been almost fifty years since it had happened here in Charlotte.

The view outside our back door while the snow was still coming down the morning of December 26.

Looking out the front door around the same time.

December 27, getting ready to leave for work. Sun just rising, celestial bodies still visible in the sky.

The snow was already beginning to thin out, despite the cold. I think some of it was sublimating...just fading directly to gas.

Pat, one of my supervisors, spreading salt over the ice so that we laborers don't bust our asses getting to our vehicles.

Ward, one of my co-workers, taking some stuff to his vehicle, moving gingerly over a thin sheen of ice.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

From Mr. Lennon and Mr. Ochs:

I know. The holiday is over. But let's not forget the words of reformed Ebenezer Scrooge: "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach..."

Not all men are monsters:



Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I've seen some unintentionally gay comic book covers before, but this one is near the top of the heap!

"What do they want?" Indeed.

Lavender and Lace.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Recently I had the chance to see Benicio Del Toro's performance as Che Guevara in the film CHE, directed by Steven Soderbergh. It's quite a good movie and I can recommend it. Benicio Del Toro has become one of my favorite actors in the past ten years or so, and he did a wonderful job in this movie.

I know that it's the business of film producers to create imitations of reality. Or to create fantasies that seem real.

However, more than anything else, I was struck by his resemblance to the martyred revolutionary that he portrayed in the film. Nothing spells it out so well as photographs. Here are two:

Che Guevara

Del Toro as Guevra

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mr. Ditko and Mr. Kirby

December has been a good month for my burgeoning comic collection. One of the items I picked up was an EC science fiction comic. Way back when, I had a really good EC collection. Several hundred books strong. But, as with everything else I owned in my youth, I sold them off to survive or to pay medical bills. Since I'd had so many EC comics in my day I really had no terrible hunger to replace them. However, never say never.

When I was buying some old DC comics for a friend, I wanted to buy some more stuff from the dealer who was helping me out and write him a check with a nice round number on it. So I kept searching through his stock, looking for some more books to add to the stack. Finally, I noticed that he had a Weird Fantasy #11 which has a classic atomic bomb cover and was in really nice shape, so we came to an agreement on the price and I nabbed it. Will I buy more EC comics to go with this one? Yes.

Outside of doing my best to finish assembling all of the Steve Ditko created/written/illustrated issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (this being Amazing Fantasy 15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1-38), one of my collecting projects has been to buy up a set of all of Mr. Ditko's 1950s work for various titles. I've been really lucky this year in grabbing many of his early books, including a lot of the per-hero titles he did for Marvel Comics shortly before Mr. Ditko and Jack Kirby created and illustrated (and wrote) the various superheroes that would cement Marvel Comics as the preeminent publisher of comic books in the USA.
So here are just a few of those books that I was able to purchase in the closing month of 2010:

Journey Into Mystery #81. This was two issues from when Jack Kirby would create and introduce his superhero version of the character Thor, who is about to become the star of a major motion picture. Created wholly by Jack Kirby, no matter what else you may hear or read.

Journey Into Mystery #80. Lots of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko art.

One of the amazing things about Ditko is that he was often given the task of creating an entire book that was, essentially, an illustrated anthology. This book was a prime example of what he would do in his struggle to support himself in an industry not known for paying a living wage. This comic book is almost entirely illustrated by Ditko, with only a single one-page story on the last page possibly not being by him. His signature isn't on it, but it's possible that he did the layouts. But the other five stories in the comic are all by Mr. Ditko. And even though Charlton Comics (the publisher of this title) was not known for paying a fair page rate, Steve Ditko did not spare any effort to breathe life into each of the tales here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Sometimes Carole and I travel somewhere that we both like, but which we both feel that there will be little or no chance of ever returning. One spot that remains foremost in my mind of such a place is Shired Island, a county park in Florida.

One thing about Florida is that, despite the rampant development and explosion of urban sprawl in much of the state, there are still tracts of rural land where Mankind has been slow to exploit or destroy the natural ebb and flow of Nature. I like visiting these spots in Florida. You can drive along two-lane roads lined with forests, or surrounded by swamps and marsh. These places bear no sign of damage other than that simple road cutting through the bush, or marked by an occasional house or farm, perhaps a single sandy track leading off through the pine scrub and palmetto.

Back in the Spring of 2009 we took our travel trailer down to the central west coast of Florida to hit some of the first magnitude springs we'd never seen. Unfortunately for us, our visit coincided with a tremendous flood along the Suwanee River which inundated many of those springs and caused them to go "black"--that is, the crystal clear spring flows were blotted out by the dark, tannin-rich waters of the Suwanee, rendering them invisible and impossible to swim.

After one of our spring trips was wrecked by the flood, we went on a day-long journey to explore other areas. We had been hearing of a spot called Shired Island from other folk we'd met while snorkeling and canoeing. So we got out our maps and hooked up the Tom Tom and decided to find this place. And we did. It was, as they say, out in the Boonies. It was, for us, a little slice of peace and quiet.

Classic rural Florida, the park is stranded out at the very end of a long two-lane road that fires itself out through the scrubland and down toward a point of palm-dotted shore where the Gulf of Mexico nibbles away at the state of Florida. We found what we'd been hearing about: a county-run park with more to it than we had been expecting. There at the end of the road we found a very small campground that provides each site with a covered and raised picnic pad and even hookups for your RV or travel trailer. There right on the beach you can park your trailer and look out on the Gulf and watch the waves or just sit and listen to the crush of water against the sand.

We both found the isolation of the place to be soothing. Both of us would love to return there with our little Casita in tow, our canoe on the truck, and with the time on our hands to sit and enjoy the place. But it's one of those spots that we quite like and which the realities of Life have likely dictated that we'll never see again.

Maybe so, maybe not.

Addendum: Apparently Forbes Magazine listed Shired Island Beach as the single most polluted beach in the USA.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pre-Christmas Celebration

We had our holiday celebration on Friday instead of Saturday. This was because Carole had to work on Saturday so it was our only chance to go to Carole's mom's place to get together with her and have a nice dinner and exchange presents. As we do every Christmas Eve, we also watched the George C. Scott version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I know everyone has their favorite movie version of that story, but to my way of thinking, none of the others come anywhere near touching the effectiveness of the one with George C. Scott, Edward Woodward, David Warner, and Susannah York.

I think that version was originally made for TV, which is even more astonishing to me as it was so highly produced and polished. I never get tired of watching it and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes (for all the right reasons).

This was a particularly fun Christmas for us. It was the first time I've ever felt financially secure enough to buy something really frivolous for Carole. As I consider any jewelery purchase to be completely and totally frivolous, that has never been something I've ever felt comfortable about buying. At least no jewelry that's expensive. This year, though, flush with cash from various writing projects, I did just that, and paid cash for a nice ring for Carole. It felt good to be able to do that.

My very tiny family. Carole, Andy, and Faye.

Me and Carole. (Don't ask about the high waters.)

What passed for our Christmas tree this year.

My pre-dinner snack. Port wine cheese, salami, sausage balls, and moscato wine. We went through three bottles of wine.

Carole opens the ring. She was very happy.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Gale Norton was Scum

The main difference between Democrats and Republicans is that genuine environmental protections and anti-pollution environmental regulations are actually promoted and pushed when Democrats are in charge. When Republicans control the government, the thing you can count on is environmental rape and allowing corporations to do as they please.

I was very pleased to read this today.

Not only was new wilderness discouraged during the illegitimate Bush administration, the horrid skank in charge of the Interior and our parks, forests, and wild lands was actually a Libertarian sack of shit who thought of Nature as just something to exploit. Well, now that illegitimate so-called "President" is gone and his pet monster in the Interior is also history. May they both rot.

A monster as ugly on the outside as it is on the inside.

I always thought Gale Norton looked like a Ferengi, who were designed by the Trek folk to be the ultimate capitalist/Libertarian scum. It was fitting that Gale Norton resemble these filthy intergalactic worms.

Gale Norton was scum.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pre-hero Marvels

"Pre-hero Marvels". Now there's a totally esoteric term that only a die-hard comic book fan could decipher.

What it refers to are comic books published by the firm known as Marvel Comics before they started doing super-hero books. Until roughly 1961, with the publication of the FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Marvel was earning its place on the newsstand shelves by putting out science-fiction, fantasy, horror, western, and quasi-romance comics. Superhero comics, which had been very popular some years before, had fallen into the doldrums and Marvel wasn't publishing any superhero titles. That was reserved almost exclusively for DC Comics which was still doing okay with its long-time mainstays Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.

But calling them "pre-hero Marvels" isn't even quite correct itself. For Marvel Comics wasn't--technically speaking--even called Marvel Comics in the very early 1960s. It had first appeared as a company called Timely Comics, then became Atlas Comics during most of the 1950s. After that, it went through a series of varying corporate names until, finally, settling on Marvel Comics when they returned to publishing superhero tales.

When I was a kid I enjoyed the pre-hero Marvel titles. It wasn't because of the stories, really, which were derivative in nature and which were also pretty much retreads every issue. The stories were largely either straight up monster tales pitting a regular guy against a huge monster who was either supernatural or an alien or a mutant. The regular guy would always defeat the giant monster by the end of the story. Some stories were riffs on old pulp tales that had been copied, the comic book editor fairly sure that the offended writer was either dead or wasn't reading comic books.

So it wasn't the stories themselves, really, that attracted me.

What floored me then, as now, was the artwork. And most of the artwork for those late 50s and very early 60s Marvel monster comics was created almost exclusively by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko with occasional stories being done by the likes of Don Heck and Dick Ayers. All during the early history of Timely/Atlas/Marvel, the editor-in-chief (Stan Lee) would corral one or two artists upon whom he came to depend as the workhorses that kept the company in the black and Lee with gainful employment. This was his main task--making sure his uncle (who owned the company) was happy enough with the bottom line to keep the presses going and Lee's paycheck regular. This was not easy to do, and the company had come close to being closed down several times. It was only Lee's ability to keep an ear to the ground to detect what was popular enough to sell on the stands that provided Marvel with the impetus to remain profitable.

So for a number of years, Marvel's bread-and-butter were the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror titles being produced solidly and with great imagination by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. These books, since they were the ones printed just prior to Marvel's breakout superhero titles, are known today as the "pre-hero Marvels".

Since I loved them as a kid, they satisfy my need to have items of nostalgia around me as I get older. Plus, I think they're good investment quality collectibles. And I've been picking them up as I can over the past months.

Here, then, are two of my recent purchases:

Amazing Adventures #2. This title later went on to become Amazing Adult Fantasy, which went on to become the Amazing Spider-Man.

Amazing Adventures #6. The final Silver Age appearance of Dr. Droom, who was, arguably, Marvel's first superhero.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I rarely see a great movie. Last night, I did.

It's called WINTER'S BONE. Directed by Debra Granik and based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. The novel is unknown to me, but I'm going to find a copy to read it. And then I'm going to hunt for more work by the author. The film starred a young woman I'd never seen, Jennifer Lawrence, who was great, absolutely great.

Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly.

Here's one of the official online synopses that I found:

With an absent father and a withdrawn and depressed mother, 17 year-old Ree Dolly keeps her family together in a dirt poor rural area. She’s taken aback however when the local Sheriff tells her that her father put up their house as collateral for his bail and unless he shows up for his trial in a week’s time, they will lose it all.

She knows her father is involved in the local drug trade and manufactures crystal meth but anywhere she goes the message is the same: stay out of it and stop poking your nose in other people’s business. She refuses to listen, even after her father’s brother, Teardrop, tells her he’s probably been killed.

She pushes on, putting her own life in danger, for the sake of her family until the truth, or enough of it, is revealed.

That's the basic premise and true as far as it goes. But this movie was just an amazing representation of the poor rural people I knew for most of my childhood. Every actor in this movie was used to maximum effect by the director and cinematographer. You can see the hard life etched into each face--even youthful ones as relatively unscathed by time and experience as that of the hero of the tale, Ree Dolly. At only 17 she already appears worn and tired, if unscarred and unlined by the approaching wreck of life in the Ozarks hill country.

John Hawkes as "Teardrop", Ree's uncle and older brother of her missing father.

The movie, of course, is effective because it rings so true. The man who penned the tale lives in those Missouri ridges and valleys and knows the folk who exist there. And I can tell you the situations and the reactions of those humans are also true. They are little different from the folk among whom I lived in my own parts of the rural south, whether in the lowlands of the coastal plains or the mountains of Appalachia. Wherever you go and find poverty, these people are there.

One overriding image in the film was of the women of this community. The men are like poltergeists, waiting in the background and only there to inflict or to do violence. It's the women who stand as a buffer between authority and the men, between conflicts and their males, between these male gods and the mad world they have created.

If I've met a more effective hero than Ree Dolly in a work of fiction I don't recall this character. The story is a great one, told on a small scale, but a classic quest for all of the claustrophobia of the tiny, grimy, dangerous environs in which Ree is forced to journey.

One of the few moments of compassion that Ree experiences from a man during an attempt to enlist in the armed forces. Portrayed by Russell Schalk. I suspect that this guy is an actual Army recruiter because he surely made me believe it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Great Show

As usual, Dave and Rick did a great job putting on a fun comic show. Spent time with my pals Budd Root, Andy Smith (the comic book artists, not my son), Eric & Royce Thrower, and I bought some neat old comics and sold a decent amount of my novels and did an online interview. All in all the day was a lot of fun and I had a great time!

The show was pretty darned crowded for most of the day.

Star Wars fans!

Being interviewed for online magazine.

Star Trek fan!

Another Star Wars fan! Cool!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


THIS is where I'll be tomorrow.

Hope to find some nice back issues and to sell some copies of THE FLOCK and promote THE LIVING END.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Great Big Trees

Almost two years ago I hooked up with some of the guys from the Eastern Native Tree Society (now The Native Tree Society) for a day-long hike through our newest addition to our National Park system, Congaree National Park. It was once a National Monument but was tacked on to our National Parks--the government agency that I consider the greatest thing our nation has ever done for its citizens.

Congaree is an exceptional place. It has a truly vast and comprehensive tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forests that are relatively intact. You can tramp around in there for many miles while all around you are forest that have probably never felt the bite of the woodsman's axe. I've heard that some parts of the big forest were selectively logged for exceptionally valuable timber such as bald cypress, but even with these trees you can find some truly old groves.

One thing about this place is that I would definitely not recommend a trip there in warmer weather. I went on a very cold March morning when the day greeted us with frost and a hard freeze. It warmed up a tad as the day progressed, but because of the cold we were spared the ravages of the swarms of mosquitoes and hordes of ticks that the park is well known for. As it was, we never saw any of these nasty creepy bloodsuckers and were rewarded with a walk through an enormous and stunning old growth forest.

Since I haven't posted any notes or photos from this hike since shortly after it happened, I figured I drag some of the images out of the etherbox and show them around.

The facilities in the park are pretty good. Lots of bridges and raised boardwalks for when the water is up and the Congaree River is flooding the swamps and lowlands. We didn't have to deal with such things, it having been normally dry when we went.

Typical forest of bald cypress with the forest floor alive with cypress "knees".

Another solid bridge along the way.

You can see a party of kayakers coming down the creek as we crossed on a bridge. I've been told that the most impressive cypress trees are accessed only with the use of a canoe or kayak.

Here I am with the world's champion Loblolly pine.

This forest will make you feel appropriately small.

Everywhere we hiked we found champion-caliber trees.

Puny human!

I stand between an oak and a pine, feeling that Mother Nature runs the show.

A "walking tree". This one a cypress. Created when sapling rise from a fallen nursery log. After many years, the nursery log rots away, leaving a newer tree with root system straddling the space once filled by the nursery log.