Monday, December 31, 2012

Mountain Snow!

Since it rarely snows here in Charlotte anymore, I like to head for the mountains of North Carolina if I can find the time. It does still snow in our high country, but some years not even very much there. Last year was a notoriously lousy one for snowfall in the Carolina mountains. I only got one chance to hike in the snow in the mountains during the past winter.

When Carole and I realized that the mountains were getting hit with a major snowstorm (high elevations only) we decided to head up that way since we both had Sunday off. We got up very early, went and had breakfast at a Waffle House, and then hit the road for the big mountains.

You can say what you like about the mountains of the South. We don't have a lot of what amount to impressive vertical scenery here, but there is some of it that stacks up favorably with the big sky country of the west. The higher ridges of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are genuinely impressive. There is enough elevation, in fact, to create disparate climatic zones between the bases of these mountains and the summits. We do have some honest-to-gosh mountains here.

One of the easiest to access monster peaks for us are the Grandfather Mountain/Roan Mountain systems. Both of these mountains qualify as genuine massif. They stand apart from the ridges around them, and they dominate the skyline for quite some distance. Winter weather hits these ridges with some fierce conditions, and we were hoping for the best as we headed toward them.

When we passed Grandather/Tanawha, we were rewarded with a view of a mountain socked in with heavy snow and rime ice. We weren't headed for the top of that one, but we realized in short order that we would be seeing some decent snowfall when we got to the Roan highlands. How much snow, we weren't sure.

Passing across the NC/TN border, we headed for Roan Mountain State Park. We noticed a couple of herds of whitetail deer, but when we stopped to take their photo they got spooked and headed off at some speed. I reckon they're still skittish from hunting season. From there, we headed up the incline of 19E for Carver's Gap where we would stop and have lunch and then hop out to take photos and do some hiking.

We were stunned by the beauty of Winter's harsh gift when we pulled in to the parking  area at Carver's Gap. All of the trees were coated in snow and rime ice. The place was ablaze in ivory. The sky was cobalt blue, the temperature in the mid-teens, the wind racing around us, the sun glaring down. There were other people in the Gap also. Some were just there to snap some photos, but others were there with kids to go sledding, to hike, to backpack, and to cross-country ski. It was a grad day for all of this.

After our packed lunch, we got out and played in the snow. It was far deeper than I would have guess. When we ventured into the forest to hike we encountered thigh-deep snow with drifts five to six feet in height! Carole and I took pictures and then it was time for me to hike to the summit of Round Bald where I hoped to take in the views from more than 5,800 feet.

Tanawha, also known as Grandfather Mountain.

The Grandfather massif.

Rime ice and sunshine.
 On the summit. Raging wind and tremendous cold.

On the summit. COLD!!! COLD, I SAY!

Icy panorama on the Appalachian Trail.

When we hit the forest, we found DEEP snow!

Beauty everywhere we looked.


Waves of mountains.

Spruce transformed into sculptures of rime ice.

Hiking down from Round Bald.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


After several years of collecting, I've completed my initial run of The Amazing Spider-Man. This most iconic of all superhero characters was created by, plotted by, written by, and illustrated by Steve Ditko. Spider-Man/Peter Parker completely and utterly captured my imagination when I was a kid unlike any other comic book character, (with the possible exception of Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four).

Having spent my early years as the son of parents who owned used bookstores stacked high with old comic books, I got to grow up reading vast numbers of them. Even though I had the pick of the mass that publishers had produced for America's red-blooded kids, Spider-Man was my favorite. And Ditko's work on that book remains the best that the superhero genre has ever offered.

Since Ditko left the book and character he created with #38 of the title, I have no desire to own any copies done after his exit. And so my collection consists of all of the issues of Amazing Spider-Man from the beginning to the terminus of Ditko's time.

It hasn't been terribly easy to fill in the collection. But now it's done. The whole run that I set out to purchase are all in my possession. The guy I bought the issues from knows how I feel about Stan Lee. When he got ready to show me the books, he said, "I'm sorry, but the first issue is autographed by Stan Lee." I bought it anyway.


Back cover of #1.


Back cover of #2.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Vulnerable Critters

The little critters of nature. They don't know that they're ugly.

Some of these photos were taken with the worst digital camera I ever owned--a small Samsung. It was awful, but I bought it when we were out in the middle of nowhere and our main camera had broken (the one I had dropped off a 50-foot waterfall two years before). You do what you have to do.

Hermit crab, near Panama City, Florida.

This little raccoon was casing the campsite trying to figure out how to steal food from us. This was just as he was giving up the fight and leaving. He had been stationed on a branch above us trying to get an angle.

Cormorant doing his cormorant thing. Cedar Key, Florida.

I'd never thought of the Brown pelican as particularly colorful until I stopped to look at this one in Cedar Key, Florida.

Box tortoise on the trail to Little Lost Cove Cliffs here in North Caorlina.

Taken with the crappy Samsung. White tail fawn. Big Spring National Park, Missouri.

Doe in Manatee Spring State Park, Florida.

Ground squirrel in Joshua Tree National Park, California. At about 5,000 feet above sea level.

Red-winged blackbird, Panama City, Florida.

This Suwanee River slider was laying eggs in the sand at Wakulla State Park, Florida.

Some kind of evil looking caterpillar on a rock along the Appalachian Trail near McAfee Knob, in Virginia.
Lizard. De Leon Springs State Park, Florida.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


The old Strange Tales title at Marvel Comics was an anthology book. In the days before superheroes took over it featured weird tales, mainly told by the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Dick Ayers right before the super-folk dominated.

After superheroes came along the title remained an anthology book. First with the Human Torch getting the feature story, followed by weird tales by Jack and Steve that were still in inventory and needed to be moved out (since Goodman had already paid to have them written and illustrated).

At some point, though, it was decided that the Torch (created by Carl Burgos, stolen by Marvel Comics) just couldn't support his own title and he was replaced by Nick Fury and Doctor Strange. Fury was created by Jack Kirby and Doctor Strange was created by Steve Ditko. 

Of the two characters, I've never heard if anyone proved one way or the other who was the more popular. However, from what I have read in various journalist sources, Dr. Strange was the hit on college campuses where Marvel's comic sales were being pumped up. Those kids were digging the surrealistic imagery being imagined by the strait-laced Steve Ditko. They assumed he must be doing some heavy drugs. Of course nothing could have been further from the truth.

And one thing I have wondered about constantly over the years was why Doctor Strange never got full-cover billing on the title, especially if he was the most popular character in the book. It bore his freaking name, for Pete's sake! And yet, all he could manage was a cover blurb or a secondary illustration from time to time. Never the main cover. And the only time Strange got a full-cover treatment by Ditko was on issue #147 which was Ditko's last, and which was cobbled together by the production staff from interior Ditko illustrations. It was not really a Ditko cover. Not in the truest sense.

I've always figured the fact that Doctor Strange was never given full space on the cover because of malice from Stan Lee ("editor") and Martin Goodman (publisher). I've never checked, but it could be that Ditko had pushed the plotting credits issue first on the Doctor Strange series and then on Spider-Man. I first noted Ditko's credits there as plotting the stories before I noticed it on Spider-Man. Either way, I feel keeping Ditko's baby off the cover of the book was a way of making  him pay for the affront of asking for credit for work he was doing. How dare he?!

People ask why Kirby continued to work at Marvel after Ditko walked away. Well, Kirby had bills to pay and a family to support. Ditko did, too, I reckon, but he was made of sterner stuff. Also, Kirby was given the run of the shop, so to speak. His covers were everywhere, dominating the company. Covers paid well. They paid the mortgage. Paid for groceries. For health care. Kept clothes on the backs of the wife and kids.

Ditko didn't give a shit. Ditko did his work. He just didn't get the covers for Doctor Strange.

My copy of STRANGE TALES #135.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pomes. Bullwinkle and Kerouac.

Now and again I'll buy an old comic book for no good reason. I guess I bought this one because I loved the Bullwinkle cartoons when I was a kid. And I love the Bullwinkle cartoons now. Jay Ward was one of the most talented animators to work in the days of what we call "limited animation". This was when it was just way too expensive to produce cartoons with old full animation. It's a very labor intensive product to have animators drawing and inking and coloring so many cels per minute of cartoon. So animators had to make do with less. What the best of them lacked in fluid animation they made up for by telling good yarns and drawing exceptionally funny characters.

Enter Jay Ward. His cartoons are funny to everyone. Kids laugh at them. Grownups laugh at them. He was exceptional at slipping in-jokes past the censors. Among the creations of his studio were, of course, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Crusader Rabbit, Dudley Do Right, George of the Jungle, Tom Slick, Super Chicken, and (my favorite) Roger Ramjet.

I picked up this comic on a whim. I'd never seen one--or had seen it so long ago that I'd forgotten about it. Mainly, I was curious if the writing was going to be similar to that of the cartoon. There must have been some input from Jay Ward Productions, because the stories are indeed quite funny. The kind of thing I'd expect to have seen and heard in a Jay Ward cartoon.

It's in pretty good condition, and I'm glad I picked it up. I only paid a few dollars for it. Into the collection it goes.

Even the back covers of many Dell Comic books had simple stories on them.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Family Christmas

We took it easy the past two days. Did much of nothing. Communed with the family. Ate much good food. Watched movies. Relaxed.

Gifts on Christmas Eve under the little Christmas tree.

Monday, December 24, 2012

EXTRA! EC Tries to Survive!

There needs to be several volumes of a good and comprehensive history of EC Comics. It probably produced the finest quality comic stories of any commercial publisher the business ever had. Fronted by William Gaines, he led a small number of fine editors who assembled the best artists and writers who were then floating around the industry. The reputation of the company is today legendary. Indeed, the reputation of the company in its finest days was also legendary...but not in a good way.

For EC was infamous in the eyes of the mundane public. It was singled out for a number of reasons and by a number of sources as one of the worst influences on then-modern American youth. Attacks from all sides eventually succeeded in taking the company to its knees, and it only survived by reducing itself to a single title and by fleeing the comic book format and going to magazine format as Mad Magazine. The move eventually made Gaines the single most wealthy publisher in the US. But the rest of the company faded away and became the legend.

For a brief time after the forces of evil had beaten down the comics industry, EC tried several methods to cooperate with the newly-formed Comics Code Authority and to circumvent the Authority. Gaines and his editors produced a line of more family-friendly comics, while at the same time moving a few titles to magazine size and avoiding the Code entirely. However, despite a few heroic efforts, the new lines failed. The fans who had so adored the gritty, cutting stories EC had provided just did not appreciate the pablum the company was reduced to offering, and those fans abandoned EC.

Today I got one of these later efforts by the publisher to try to spark the same electrical charge they'd generated with titles like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and HAUNT OF FEAR, and WEIRD SCIENCE-FANTASY, etc. These new ones, though, were pedestrian books with no shock endings and almost no violence and not really much in the way of tension. The titles, while a noble effort, failed.

EXTRA was just such a comic book. It featured stories about investigative reporters digging to find the answers to crooked deals and violent crimes (which are never shown, or referred to in the mildest of terminology). Gone was the gore of the old EC. Vanished was the sarcasm and the tone of fatal irony. EC's bosses tried, but they failed. And their enemies laughed. Having cut off their own noses, they laughed.

My copy of EXTRA #3, cover art by the great Johnny Craig.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bummer, Jack!

When I was a kid I totally freaked out trying to get my hands on a copy of Fantastic Four #25. I was already a huge Jack Kirby/Marvel Comics fan and had heard about the issue, but had never been able to land a copy in my dad's store or warehouse. It just wasn't in there for some reason. I really wanted to see Ben Grimm and the Hulk fight it out and have the world know once and for all that Ben Grimm was the toughest of the two.

Finally....FINALLY my dad got in a run of Fantastic Four that included issue #25. (At the time, issue #67 or so would have been the current issue.) I put it in a bag with a stack of other comics I wanted to read and brought them home from my parents' bookstore. And I was in super-hero heaven! Jack Kirby knew how to write a great battle story! It was what I had been expecting and hoping to read...except that Ben Grimm lost to the Hulk. And it wasn't a TKO, either. The Hulk beat him fair and square and the outcome was a definite loss for Grimm.

However, the issue ended on a very dramatic note with Ben Grimm swearing that he was going to find the Hulk (who was terrorizing New York) and beat him. All I had to do was find issue #26! It hadn't been in the run my dad had picked up, so I was forced to wait. It took a few weeks, but at last he bought a big stack of comics with a copy of FF #26. I didn't even wait to take it home to read but sat down behind the counter and read then and there.

And man was I bummed out!

It was a rip! The issue does seem to begin where the last issue left off, with Ben and the Hulk continuing their monstrous fist fight. But this was no rematch between Grimm and the Hulk! It was mainly a free-for-all comedy when the Avengers showed up to take the Hulk back under their wing. I will assume Kirby was trying to recreate some of the wackiness of the movie IT'S A MAD, MAD,MAD, MAD WORLD, because that all I could compare it to while I was reading it. Gone was that final dramatic panel from FF #25. Drama, this was not! In fact, the Hulk and Ben don't even really get to fight in issue #26! They come close, but a steel girder gets in the way, and then the Avengers muck up the works.

Still, it was a comic by Jack Kirby, and while it wasn't what I had expected, it was still a lot of fun. And of course I have a copy in my collection these days, and I take it out and recall what it was like to read it that first time in my parents' used bookstore in Atlanta GA in 1967.

My copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #26 (Written and illustrated by Jack Kirby).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Do You Really Need to Take This Trip?

Almost every comic collector I know carries a want-list around with him. This is, of course, the smart thing to do. Because my collection is relatively small and centered on a limited axis, I've never written up a comprehensive want list. However, a couple of recent things have made me decide to create a decent list.

I do collect EC Comics in a small way. I only pick them up occasionally, and only when I can get a really good deal on the book. Thus, my collection of EC comics is rather small. No need, really, for a want list. But a little over a month ago I managed to do something that I would have thought most improbable:

I bought an EC comic book that I already have! It's a great book and I won't have any trouble selling it or trading it away, but just the fact that I bought a book that I already had when I don't own that many of the title (or even that publisher)...well, it made me realize I need that list. And soon.

Because this week I came very close to buying another comic I already have in my collection: TUROK #6. This book has a most memorable cover and an even more memorable scene. It has a giant gorilla on the cover and in the story! How could I NOT recall that I already have that issue? Well, I had forgotten that I own it, and came with a lizard's whisker of buying another copy. That I don't need.

And that was it. I've already started work on a comprehensive want list.

Whoa! I almost bought this book when I already had this perfectly good copy!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


In the old days I used to collect original comic art. After a while I got out of that hobby and sold off all of my artwork. It was a weird business. So much artwork was basically stolen from the artists, mainly by the publishers. A few people--notably Neal Adams--tried to do something about all of that stolen art, but eventually even he had to surrender and call it a day.

Sometimes even other comic book artists would steal from their fellows.

I used to know of a certain inker (who will here remain nameless) who would lightbox pencilled pages that he liked and ink them and turn them in as the originals to the publisher (one of the big two). The pencil artists he'd been hired to ink--as far as I heard--never suspected a thing (the inker was pretty good at supplanting the originals without anyone noticing). The upshot? Said inker had original un-inked pencil pages by some of the best in the business that he would use to trade and sell without the initial artists ever knowing what was going on.

I discovered this when I bought some pages from this inker, thinking I was getting artwork done by a certain well-known pencil artist. The pencil art was, of course, still in the possession of said inker, who later sold the raw, un-inked pencils for a considerable sum.

Just one of the reasons I got out of comic art collecting.

Since I sold this piece a couple of weeks ago, I have only a few pages of art remaining. I bought this one from an agent dealing directly with the artist (Willam Van Horn--to my way of thinking the best Disney comics artist around these days).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Old Tradition

For many years Carole, Andy, and I used to ride up to the mountains of North Carolina to a choose and cut tree farm to get our Christmas tree. This was always a very important and fun trip for us. Most of the time we'd encounter snow, but a few of the years we got a taste of hellish global warming and the weather would be absolutely hot.

But after Andy grew up the trips to the mountain to get a tree seemed less important and less fun. So in 2010 we stopped going to the high country to find a tree and just got an artificial one.

I sure do miss those trips and the excitement of going to find a tree, preferably in the snow.

This was the last time we went up to Sparta NC to find a tree, and this is the tree we got. It was December 19, 2009 and the mountains had just been delivered a decent snowstorm.

I'm pretty sure this is the 2008 tree. That's our cat Sophie strolling by.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Strange Rocks

Some weird rocks I encountered on a hike to the summit of Flat Top Mountain in Virginia. It's one of the famous "Peaks of Otter" along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

"Hey! Put those back the way you found them!"

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wilderness Wound

When I was spending two weeks in the Colorado wilderness in September, I walked into a dry branch while searching for a suitable tree to hang my food for the night (you'd better use a "bear bag" when in such a place, or face the consequences). Said branch rammed into the cartilage in my right ear. Much pain, much gushing of blood. As best I could I cleaned out the wound and disinfected it. This happened first night in the wilderness. Over the course of the following eight days the wound scabbed over and began to heal.
Two weeks after arriving back home, after the wound was reduced to just a small bit of scar tissue, it suddenly welled up red and full of pus. Carole lanced it for me and...out came a chunk of wood as big as a fingernail. Not the size of a piece of a fingernail. No. As big as a whole fingernail.

Yep. Gross.

This was the wound a few days after the incident. I didn't know it then, but there was a huge chunk of Engelmann spruce wood lodged in the cartilage of my ear. It would emerge three weeks later.
In addition to the ear injury, I also got a small cut on my left index finger. The third night in the wilderness I was putting up my tent. It was cold, damp, and sleet was falling. So I was in something of a hurry to get my tent assembled so that I could get my down bag unpacked and myself into it to warm up and relax.

As I was fitting a tent pole into the fly, I pinched the skin on my left index finger between the grommet and the aluminum pole. Looking at it, there was just a slight irritation but not a visible wound. Later, once I was in my tent I took a second look and washed the finger with an alcohol swab, put some ointment on it, and an adhesive bandage.

The next morning the insignificant bit of pinching was now a noticeable wound. Just a tiny cut, but it was no longer just a point of pinched skin. I washed with water and swabbed it with alcohol again, put on more antibiotic ointment and a bandage.

Over the course of the next few days, the insignificant cut began to deepen and widen until it was an almost perfect red circle reaching deep into the dermis. I could look down into the wound and it did not look good. Also, my finger was throbbing and slightly inflamed. No amount of washing and bandaging seemed to do any good. I was a bit concerned.

On the last morning in the Weminuche I boiled up a pot of water and scrubbed my hands completely, using a cloth to scrub the wound as best I could, lathering on the soap and applying more alcohol to the cut. We were heading back to the train to take us to civilization, so if it didn't improve, I'd have access to a clinic if it came to that.

However, after one night back in town the cut quickly began to heal. Just having access to a hot shower and more air (we went from averaging 11,000 feet above sea level to 6,000 feet back in Durango) meant that the cut could heal more effectively. In no time at all the nasty-looking circle of angry tissue had closed up and was healing.

Having experienced this little bit of difficulty with small wounds in the wilderness, with limited ability to deal with them, I know in no uncertain terms that human beings would wither quickly if suddenly denied the luxuries to which we've become accustomed. I'm surprised we lasted long enough to discover the technology that has allowed us to wreck Mother Earth.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Comic Book Show Today

I went to the Charlotte Comicon today. It's a local one-day show that's always a lot of fun. The costume contest was especially good this time. I also completed my Amazing Spider-Man collection by nabbing the last two issues I needed.

Amazing Spider-Man #1

Amazing Spider-Man #2

The Joker needs no introduction.

This gentleman was dressed as Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin.

Gandalf the Gray and Bilbo Baggins were in attendance, also.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Last Snow Hike

It has been over a year since I've seen snow here in North Carolina. It has snowed since the last time I was able to experience the stuff, just not when and where I've been present. So the last time I was able to hike in the snow here in North Carolina was January 16, 2012.

Because of the effects of human-caused global warming, it just doesn't snow here in North Carolina all that often. There was a time, of course, when it snowed a lot here in my current state of residence. But not anymore. The companies who make sure that we get so much of our energy needs from oil, coal, and natural gas have seen to it that there are no other options. Things are just going to get worse as far as our climate is concerned.

So, in honor of that last time I was able to hike in snow here in my own state of North Carolina, here are a few photographs from that hike on Tanawha, also known as Grandfather Mountain.

This part of Tanawha/Grandfather Mountain is called "The Boone Bowl" and is thought to be one of the few glacial cirques formed in the southern Appalachians. The scientific jury is still out on whether or not it's a glacial cirque, but having seen plenty of them now in my experience as a hiker and backpacker, it sure does look like one.

Two of my hiking pals, Bob Johnson and Andy Kunkle.

View from one side of the "Boone Bowl".

Fresh, soft, dry snow.

What ya call yer powder. Light, fluffy powder.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Later Ditko Years at Charlton

Some of the toughest Ditko items to find are actually some of the books he created later in his career. Steve Ditko worked for decades for Charlton Comics. The page rates there were far lower than with other companies, but the work was steady for him and so he kept at it, working for Charlton when other artists of his caliber would not have done so.

Most of the work he did for Charlton in the 1980s was very different from the kinds of things he had illustrated earlier in his career. Gone was the detail and the obvious expenditure of great labor into his pages. He still showed a definite brilliance for layout and continuity, but he was just doing a draftsman's job at this point and, to me, the heart was not there.

He could still shine brilliantly when he wanted to, but by and large this was just work to pay the bills, and you don't see much in the way of inspiration in the artwork that he did for Charlton during this stretch.

Still, it's Ditko, and just about anything he did is worth looking at, and worth having in my collection.

This book just has a Ditko cover, with no accompanying story by him.

This cover is a busy one and, to me, quite captivating. It strikes me as the kind of thing that would have been rejected in his days working under editor Stan Lee at Marvel, but which passed muster at the less exacting editorial oversight at Charlton.

Reminiscent of the kind of monster Ditko would cook up for Goodman in the old days at pre-hero Marvel.

And occasionally the kind of thing that reminded me of the work of Ditko's youth.