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Quick Blips on the Mental Radar

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Shorter items, noted as the leaves keep a’falling outside my window …

Finished October with a few days of intensive research at Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Always a pleasant experience, and this time was no exception. You can read more about the junket by clicking the Blog feature at

One of life’s sad twists and turns struck me the other day. My oldest and dearest friends, friends of some thirty-five years, are the friends I found through our shared interest in comics. Eight of us grew from teenagers to middle-agers together, regularly staying in touch even as we geographically scattered across four different northeastern states, getting together as time and tide permitted. The sad twist that occurred to me? Four of our number have had comics work of one sort or another published within the past year, yet none of us show any signs of reading or commenting upon the others’ work. Had we had this type of success in younger days, we’d have been cheering one another on and dissecting each release, but the passage of the years has saturated our comics sensibilities, so we’re pleased for one another (I like to think), but we’re too busy dealing with Life and racing the next deadline to offer the sort of pats on the back we deserve. So let me publicly do what I can to correct this shortfall by noting that Lee Weeks is a justly-praised artist whose work is taking on a new vigor as he does his first work in more than a decade for DC Comics on a certain Man of Steel —  Dave Naybor’s multi-volume graphic novel Walking Christendom continues to amuse and enlighten and can be found here ( –“Freder’s” comics and many other projects can be viewed at and are at last beginning to earn him praise and an audience that is long overdue. I recommend their work and commend them all, saying: W*E*L*L D*O*N*E, I’m proud to be your friend and delighted by your accomplishments!

Preparing to host Thanksgiving for the New England contingent of my family. Much to do, much to do …

This has been a fine year for meeting other comics professionals. It was a genuine pleasure to shake hands for the first time with Jeff Smith, Andy Runton, Joe Staton (and his writing partner,. Mike Curtis), Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Tom Palmer, and Fred Hembeck. Also great to renew acquaintances with folks such as John Romita Sr. and Denis Kitchen.

It’s also been an unusually active year in terms of long-distance travel. You’ll pardon me, perhaps, if I hope for a 2015 that includes less time in airports and more time at home!

Depite the woes of the local Boston Red Sox, this baseball season had much to recommend it, including an exciting postseason that reminded us why sports are the true “reality viewing,” as Big Team after Big Team was knocked out of competition by the two wildcard underdogs, the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. All the statistics and pre-game analysis doesn’t matter, because anything can happen before twenty-seven outs (or, in other sports, before forty-eight or sixty minutes) are recorded …

Finally, given the infrequency of my visits to this space, should this be my final posting for 2014, here’s wishing any and all who read this a Happy Thanksgiving, a Happy Christmas or other similar holiday, and an especially happy 2015!


Written by cnwl1

November 8, 2014 at 4:17 pm

A Sad State of Affairs

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Here comes what passes, for me, as a rant …

Several weeks ago I did what I thought was a good deed — I packaged up extra copies of several of our Library of American Comics volumes and brought them to the two Public Libraries in my immediate vicinity. In each case I walked in, politely introduced myself, gave a twenty or thirty second elevator speech about LOAC and what we do, and told them I wanted to donate some of our recent releases. In each case, the reaction was — shall we be kind and say? — underwhelming.

At the first Public Library the person at the desk looked at the books, up at me, then back at the books, and had she been sucking on a sour persimmon she might have looked slightly less pleased than she did at that moment. She grudgingly pulled them a bit closer to her side of the desk, mumbled something might have been a “Thank you,” then turned away from me without another word. At the second Public Library the reception was, if anything, even chillier. “We may not want these books,” the scarecrow behind the desk said to me. “we’ll have to review them, and if it turns out we don’t want them, is it all right if we put them into our next Library Book Sale?”

So, let’s recap: I’m coming to these establishments not as a raging egomaniac, and I’m not shoving old, well-thumbed, dog-eared books their way — I’m being polite. I’m coming to them with a smile on my face, and I’m presenting each of them with over two hundred fifty dollars worth of brand-spanking-new, shiny, hot-off-the-press volumes. At a point in history when we’re supposedly clamoring for all-ages material, here comes a batch of titles that fill that bill, produced in part by a local professional, and all it generates is sneers.

This experience makes me now publicly ask a question that’s been building for awhile now: When did the persons who make their living working with books start hating books? Yes, I’m talking to you, librarians, and to you, bookstore employees. What the haitch-ee-double-toothpicks? How can we expect kids to foster a love for books if you’re showing them this snot-nosed attitude whenever they visit your establishments? How can we keep adults reading if you interact with them in ways that indicate you’d rather be sucking down bon-bons on the couch while CSI reruns flicker across your TV screen, or sneaking off to the break room to play some brain-dead game on your so-called smartphone? I’m not asking you to act like Pollyanna to every belligerent customer who accosts you. I am suggesting you could act professionally, especially when dealing with another professional who is part of the overall profession that allows you to cash your paycheck on a regular basis.

It would be wrong for me to tar every librarian and bookseller with the same brush — I’m sure there are many knowledgeable, upbeat, helpful, enthusiastic librarians and booksellers in communities all over the country. If you are one of them, pat yourself on the back, because you are doing Good Work and you are seemingly part of an ever-shrinking tribe. I applaud you, and I wish you lived and worked in my community. Since you do not, you can bet your sweet bippy I’ve donated my last book to either of my local Public Libraries. I’ll contact the local hospitals, schools, and even retirement homes, working toward a simple goal: to find one or more places that will accept my occasional donated books with a smile and a “Thanks” that sounds sincere.

Is that really too much to ask …?

Written by cnwl1

May 16, 2014 at 2:31 am

Perfect Storytelling

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As my year-end gift to anyone who reads these e-pistles, here’s a quick examination of as perfect a little gem of story construction as you’ll ever find, a 1964 hit from country music legend Lefty Frizzell written by Bill Anderson (himself a country star of no small popularity) and Don Wayne. Since the song is still likely protected, I’ll resist publishing the lyrics here, but other sites — like this one,—lefty-frizzell-14966.html — have them readily available for you to check out, and the song itself is can be heard here:

Regardless of your love or hate of 1960s country music, a look at the lyrics should impress anyone with an interest in story construction. Consider:

) The hero is introduced and described in the first verse. He’s a working-class guy, which makes him a sympathetic character.

) In the second verse, the hero’s problem and his antagonist are both introduced. “Love thwarted” is a theme that’s captivated audiences since before Shakespearean times, so the situation further resonates with the audience.

) Hero sets about solving his problem in the third verse. We feel his struggles, we see him working toward a solution.

) Fourth verse: eureka! The breakthrough that allows us to move along toward the climax of the story.

) The final meeting between hero and antagonist occurs in the fifth verse. The antagonist’s greed, so nakedly on display, makes him seem even more dispicable than he was when we last encountered him.

) And then comes the sixth verse, with its final twist that provides the _real_ punch that makes this such a sublime little tale — evil gets its comeuppance, True Love prevails, all in an unexpected manner. A most satisfying climax and anti-climax, all delivered in four compact lines, with a two-line outro that allows the song to end gracefully and tie up the tale in a big red ribbon.

One may say, “Intro — problem — resolution; beginning — middle — end; too old school for me!” I’d caution, however, in these days when so many stories fail at the finish line, either delivering endings that are unsatisfying or so predictable the audience sees them coming by the halfway mark, that it’s no small feat to produce a successful story using those tried-and-true mechanics. The struggling “artsy” writer may wish to prove he can kick it old school and compete with Bill Anderson and Don Wayne before embarking on some elaborate, and ultimately unsuccessful, flight of fancy.

Happy New Year, and Happy Writing —

Written by cnwl1

December 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot …

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As readers in this space can tell, I’m not much of an avid blogger. Shame on me, I suppose, in this world if “iPads,” “iPhones,” “iPods,” and (as the last episode of The Prisoner puts it) “I — I — I — I!”, that I prefer to spend my precious writing time telling stories about others rather than nattering on about myself. Some may have noticed that I don’t Facebook, I don’t Twitter … I don’t think that my every little move is all that interesting, nor do I feel an overpowering urge to chronicle my life for all to see. I’m rather a private person, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be. Your mileage may vary, and that’s certainly OK — as long as you accept that it’s also OK when my mileage varies from yours.

That preamble out of the way, a few musings and notes you may find of interest as we prepare to say goodbye to Old Man 2012 and say hello to Baby 2013 …

ITEM! If my blog space is too often unoccupied, it’s because I’ve been mighty busy this year helping to line up a batch of good 2013 reading through The Library of American Comics. At

    you can see the year begins with Li’l Abner Volume 5, in which I have a fun essay about Al Capp, the goings-on in War-years Dogpatch, and the true arrival of the one-and-only Fearless Fosdick! February/March brings us two projects near-&-dear to my heart: the conclusion of my biographies of both Alex Toth (in Genius, Illustrated) and Jack Kent (in King Aroo Volume 2). Then it’s adventure with Milton Caniff and Steve Canyon in April — and more still to come, including a delightful excursion into Cliff Sterrett’s life in Ogunquit, Maine that will accompany our first collection of Polly and Her Pals daily comic strips, a lively third volume in our Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim series, and readers will enjoy the art, photos, and facts I’ve unearthed while examining the George McManus Papers at UCLA in my article for our next Bringing Up Father release.

    Sheesh — with a workload like that, who has time to write blog entries?

    ITEM! Another reason I don’t blog more often probably has to do with the constantly-shifting state of the cyber-world. When I came to this site today to create a new blog entry, I sighed a discouraged sigh when I discovered the interface has radically changed since my last visit, and having to get used to the “feel” of the site all over again sucked time and effort out of my life I really didn’t want to spend. Add in a message that said I needed to download a new version of “Silverlight” (whatever that is) but the attempt to do the download failed, and well, just *sigh*. I think I got here to pen these words more through sheer stubborness than an ease-of-use the new-look interface bestowed upon me.

    T he latest, really radical redesign of iTunes software was similarly discouraging to me — I just want to be able to buy music and quickly drop it/manage it on my iPod, I don’t want to have to re-learn an interface and get “iCloud” shoved down my throat and waste time re-learning something I had already learned. I grow dismayed with what seems to be increasingly-large amounts of time folks spend simply fiddling with technology; I know I’m convinced there are much better ways to spend my valuable free time!

    ITEM! How one thought begets another …

    I visited the Locus “Upcoming Books” site (, an invaluable resource for tracking what your favorite SF/fantasy authors have in the pipeline. That made me think of the days when I could visit my local Borders and scan the latest issue of Locus, and how the “Forthcoming Books” issues would make me sit down in the cafe with scratch paper and pen, jotting down future books I’d make a point of purchasing.

    That made me think of the fact Borders has been out of business for three or four years now, which has left many Northeastern cities like mine with Barnes & Noble the only bookseller in the game. And when I go into B&N these days, I see too much floor space devoted to kids’ toys and board games and tchotchkas, space that was once given over to, you know — books.

    And that made me think of something I wrote for the website Cortland Review more than a decade ago. Click, if you will, and read the four short paragraphs labeled “The Superstore Booksellers.” I think my observations from waaaay back then remain pretty close to the bulls-eye …

    ITEM! Here in New England we are just a couple hours away, as I type, from receiving more snow, making this a good day to hunker down and Get Stuff Done (like writing this blog entry, I suppose). We also have slightly more than sixty hours of 2012 remaining. Like most years it’s had its good parts, and they have been good indeed, yet for too many of my friends and loved ones it’s been a year or struggle, one they won’t be sorry to see shuffle into the mists of history. For them — for you — and for all of us, here are my sincere wishes for a Happy New Year and a brighter, better 2013!

    Written by cnwl1

    December 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm