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More “Dots & Dashes”

So, by the age of thirteen I would sit in class in eighth grade and I would send code to myself by the hour, as I’m reading something—say, a geography book—I wouldn’t read it, I would send it to myself.  I’d actually hear it in my head.  The dots and dashes of the words.  As a CW man, it got to the point when all of my world was bound by the sound of this language.

I was heading toward getting an amateur radio license, which had become an unbelievable hang up for me.  I would carry my technical question-and-answer manual with me in every book I had.  I’d be sitting in a study hall, supposed to be studying history, and stuck in there was my orange and black Q and A book, and I’m constantly thinking, ask yourself as if you didn’t know it:  What is voltage regulation?  Give me a definition of poor voltage regulation and a definition of good voltage regulation.  And what percentage of deviation in voltage regulation is allowable under the law?

All the rest of the kids around me were living such an innocent world.  They were going to movies and watching cowboy pictures, and I was concentrating on voltage regulation.  I was concentrating on:  Give the technical difference between a Class C amplifier from a Class B1 amplifier.  Which is the more efficient?  Why is a Class C amplifier used in RF applications and a Class AB amplifier is not used in RF applications?

It just began to pack my head all the time.  At night I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep and I would hear in my head endless coded groups floating in out of the air around me.  I’d hear commas for no given reason.  How would you like to spend an hour in bed quietly trying to go to sleep and you’re hung up on the sound of a semi-colon?  That, friends, is fanaticism.



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 La La Land

Los Angeles has never interested me. It’s a land of goofy fads, Beach Boys adolescent sun and serf and sand, and the sidewalk where celebrities stick their hands in wet cement. It does have, nearby, David, a lifelong friend I hadn’t seen in decades, and his wife. Eventually, they’d take me to see a special Picasso exhibit, the Getty Museum, Venice, and a place to dip my big toe in the Pacific.

I was visiting La La Land, all expenses paid, on a Museum business trip to study a traveling exhibit I’d be designing for our museum. I’d stay with my good friend David and his family.

But, to be sure I’d see two important sites, as I got in the taxi upon arriving in La La, I asked the driver to take me to those places before he dropped me off where I’d be staying.


Eventually the driver found Simon Rodia’s

Watts Towers and he waited while I  looked.


Then the driver got me to

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House.



From the Hollyhock garden, unexpectedly,

distantly, I saw the SIGN!


I hadn’t cared to see it but I couldn’t un-see it.

Besides, I admit, I am also a tourist.

Yes, some of us ARTSY folk are New York snobs.




JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–HAM RADIO & (89) ARTSY Sculpted Landscapes

If anybody else had introduced me to short wave and to code, CW, I’d have said, “Aw, come on.  What’re you talking about?”  But because this guy played basketball (In Indiana, incidentally, basketball not only is a major religion, it is the major religion.  All others sort of fade off down into the distance—Baptist, Catholic, and of that religion I can only say that there are people who are major priests of that religion).  A recognized center is like a bishop—he’s near the Pope.  The next ones are forwards.  Forwards have a certain romantic quality about them.  Then there is the guard, who, to me, is the most romantic of basketball players.  He generally brings it up from the back court and sets the play.  So here was Laurence, a recognized comer, man.  He was a top freshman forward and was going to be in varsity next year.  He was already approaching the god-status as a freshman.

The fact that he sat there and he talked on the radio—with code—knocked me out of the box.  So I began to get into this thing.  And it began to obsess me.  I must say I understand religious fanatics.  Once you’ve been a fanatic, you can understand a fanatic.  You can’t talk a fanatic out of being a fanatic.  There’s no conceivable way.  It envelops you.




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Sculpted Landscapes—Golf Links

An unexpected pleasure for me, is my recent discovery of a special kind of golf course called “links.” Most courses seemed designed by bulldozing most of the landscape and smoothing it out for well-mowed grass of “fairway” and “green,” the natural “roughs” only allowed to survive along the edges, where golfers fear to go.


(Nature ground down and 

mowed into a green-striped cloth-imitation.) 

But a special kind of course, based in Scotland, the land that created golf, is situated between arable land and sea—the link between them where (because of the sandy nature of the earth there, I believe) crops won’t easily grow.

Thus, the design accommodates itself into these primitive-appearing landscapes where groomed grass becomes an integrated part of the rough and nearly untouched primeval growth. There is an accommodation, a fusion between Mother Nature and Man’s Hand. The land, even the grass-covered part, is irregular, crude nature not altogether subdued. The wind is strong, the carved out sand traps reinforced like ancient fortifications to prevent them from sifting away into themselves.



Golfers of all skill-levels, from beginners to top professionals, tend to find these playing fields recalcitrant because of their unexpected, inhospitably dystopian incivility. On the rare occasions when I watch on television, it’s not to see the play, it’s to admire the designer elegantly working with–and not against–nature. The British Open is played on links. It’s a joint activity played in a creation where expert humans interact with a stylized, slightly rough-hewn, and robustly alive nature.


(I’ve never in my life played golf.)




Dots and Dashes

“Once Morse code gets hold of your soul, buddy,

it gets ahold of your soul and gnaws at it and never lets go.”

Here I am, a kid, I’m twelve years old and I’m a tenderfoot in Troop 41.  I was in the moose patrol.  Laurence was our patrol leader.  The troop met in the gym, and hanging from both ends were basketball hoops.  Laurence would come in early.  He was on the freshman basketball team.  The rest of us came in with our knots and stuff.  Laurence was out there practicing fade-away push shots.  Wow, was he cool!  We tenderfoots, me and Schwartz and Flick were all impressed by Laurence.

So one night we were coming home from the Scout meeting and Schwartz says the following, which I did not know at the time was to change my life.  Schwartz said, “Hey, can you guys stay out about a half an hour late?”

I said, “What for?”

“Laurence has invited me over to see his short wave set.”

I said, “Short wave?  What’s that?”

“Laurence invited any of the kids in the troop to watch him work his short wave set.”

Wow, anything Laurence did had a certain golden aura about it, so I said, “Yeah, I’d love to go.”

So that night me and Schwartz and Flick went to Laurence’s house and there were three or four other kids from the troop. He had a room with all his high school trophies there.  He had a silver basketball, great stuff.  He had a flag up there, he had a sweater from the old school he went to where he won his last letter.  Oh wow!

And there in his room he had what I thought was “a short wave set.”  But now I realize that what he had was a ham station.  He was an amateur.  I thought he was going to sit there and talk on this thing.  But he had a key, like you see in the movies when the ship is sinking and they’re sending out the SOS.  Out of this loudspeaker came this fantastic sound—beeps and stuff.  And Laurence was sitting there writing it down.  My god!  And from that moment I have never turned back.



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Morphos in Rio Amazonas

I have many fond memories of my four months in Peru in 1980, living and working on a Fulbright Grant, teaching a course on exhibit design in Spanish at their national museum of archeology and anthropology, and helping with some of their exhibit projects. I enjoyed interacting with the Peruvian people and getting to know a bit of Lima and other parts of the country. I spent time in the former Inca capital of Cuzco, spent three days and nights at Machu Picchu, flew over the Nazca Lines in a three-seater plane that had no working altimeter or gas gauge, and had a life-and-literature-changing time in the Amazon.

Returning to New York, I brought back many souvenirs, including a pinned morpho butterfly in a two-sided glass box that provided a view of the top of the wings, and also the bottom side.


Blue Morphos are not really blue. The effect of their shiny blue comes from the tiny scales on the wing tops that have ridges that reflect blue light. It’s said that when predator birds are attracted by the intense blue, the morpho closes its wings, hiding the blue and revealing the underside brown that, appearing to be a mere dead leaf falling, discourages the predator’s interest–and the morpho escapes. So, really, I don’t know if the blue is real or unreal, but, to the morpho, it has real importance.

I also brought back my infatuation with the young woman I spent just two days with in the Amazon. Also back home in New York I spent much of my free time for the next several years writing of that passion in a true/fiction, self-published novel for which I designed my own cover: Rio Amazonas.

In my Rio Amazonas, I intersperse true bits of my Amazonian adventure with fictional chapters that are influenced by those events in my life, in the climactic ending, the morpho plays a major role. The protagonist (not coincidentally, a museum exhibit designer as I was at the time), a timid fellow out-maneuvered by prestigious American museum scientists studying Peruvian cultures, finally possesses the young woman of his fantasies as they escape from Indian warriors and float downstream toward safety. I call myself Ernest and I call her Darcy Denby. The morphos, blue iridescence aglow, swarm around their small inflatable boat where they lie, love-enthralled.

I really did meet and travel to the Amazon with a young Canadian woman I’d met in Lima. We flew to the Amazon city of Iquitos where we had separate bedrooms. That night, as I looked out my screened-in window, there was a small salamander flat on the outside of the screen with a street light shining through it.  I could see the little animal’s red beating heart as I thought of my Darci. I really did have fantasies about her. The next day we rode in a four-seat tour company’s boat up the Amazon and spent an somewhat authentic day and night in a tourist hut.

But, in real life the sexual dream never did come true. Such conscious ironies, with their unhappy realities, have bedeviled and inspired novelists of every ilk. Hemingway failed to win his army nurse after his World War I injury on the Italian front, but he used her as the model for his heroine in A Farewell to Arms.  At the end, she fictionally dies in childbirth. My fantasy woman has the ecstatic pleasure of floating down the Amazon to a happiness-ever-after with the heroic protagonist (me) in her arms.



Left: Hemingway with his real army nurse,

Agnes von Kurowsky, “Catherine” in AFTA.

Right: The real “Darcy Denby” in our tourist

hut in the Amazon.



Helen Hays and Garry Cooper in the Hemingway movie.

“Darcy Denby” in the Amazon, crossing a bridge, her back to me

on the cover I designed for my fiction.

Text near the end of Rio Amazonas:

FICTION: Let’s pretend. Blue morphos….Two travelers, E. and D. will flow swiftly deeper into unknown jungle toward the wide River itself….Blue paradise clouds of morphos glittering ahead, flecks of flickering blue wings shining and flashing in clusters, shimmering flights, flowing, filling air in iridescent sheets; flights of angels….

TRUE: I am obsessed with a moment she had her back to me. We were on our jungle walk, she ahead of me and thus facing away; about to move deeper into the undergrowth; suspended above an abyss and stepping across a simple log bridge: this is my Rio Amazonas. Some say that souls are caught in photos: surreptitiously I captured her in a Kodachrome.

In New York I had the slide enlarged to a color print. I cropped the print, overlaying it with my carefully designed title and author, and had that book cover mockup color-Xeroxed. Now at my desk, with colored pencils, I work on this photocopy, enhancing the image’s hues closer to my graphic design’s desire. And thus with it—and with her—I have my will: I have my equivalent.

Ah,  yes,  isn’t  fiction  wonderful ?




JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–HAM RADIO & (87) ARTSY Graphic Novels Part 9


Interest in ham radio begins for Shepherd in grammar school and extends throughout his life. He comments on the air that, “I became, at the age of ten, totally, maniacally, and for life I might point out, completely skulled out by amateur radio.” Shepherd several times speaks on the air about his love of ham radio.    He says that in high school, it led to his being chosen to announce a sports program—his first experience with broadcast radio.  In these stories he tells about becoming obsessed, getting his ham license, how lightning strikes—and engaging in the ultimate speed-contest, in which he learns an important life-lesson.

His knowledge of ham radio undoubtedly leads to his placement in the Signal Corps during World War II.  He would eventually broadcast from Cincinnati and Philadelphia, and then New York City. As an adult he would publicly promote amateur radio and speak at several amateur radio conventions.  Even after leaving his career in broadcast radio, at home he would continue his nightly communications on amateur radio for the rest of his life.

* * *

Ham radio stories to come.



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Wallace Wood Self-portrait

The artists who wrote and illustrated the EC line of comics, including MAD Comic (later, Mad Magazine), were far beyond any other comic artists in their sophistication, wit, and graphic style. These included Wallace Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Al Williamson, and others. The prestige awarded these artists in their field by their peers and media was echoed by their young fans, and is shown in the comics themselves by the signing of the artists’ names  in the first panel of their illustrated stories. All comic art here is by Wood.

My favorite EC artist was Wallace (Wally) Wood, who, as did the others, drew covers as well as entire stories, and also wrote some of his own illustrated work. Enthusiasts enjoyed the varied styles of the artists, and EC did a series of one-page bios of major artists on the inside front covers. Naturally, I have the Wood bio. Here is the final page of a self-referential story, “My World”:


“My World” in Weird Science 11/12, 1953

Wood was regarded by many as the best artist for EC and best comic book artist ever. There are numerous tributes in books, magazines, websites, etc. Recently, while researching for my essay on Wood and others, I encountered a book of over 300 illustrated pages filled with anecdotes and tributes to Wood. (A new and more elaborate format of that book with color illustrations is being published in two volumes.)


EC war comics included stories about the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean War, and other conflicts. Wood, in his work for these, also did well-researched stories about much older wars. Also, his wide-ranging mind led to not only science fiction itself, but a Mad comic parody of that form:



A Wood Sci-Fi Cover and Opening Page of his Mad Parody of the Form.

[Note the age-discolored paper of the “Weird Science” cover

from my collection, now over 60 years old.]

EC artists did a variety of graphic art projects before, during, and after work with EC. Among Wally Wood’s projects was his witzend, founded by him, a critically acclaimed comic showcasing some of the best artists of the era, and a series of his about a sexy young thing named “Sally Forth.” Of special interest to Jean Shepherd enthusiasts is that in his only appearance in Mad Magazine, April, 1957, Wood did the art, the first page shown here.


A co-worker of mine had met Wally Wood and invited him, along with me and others, to a cocktail party at her apartment. I brought along his EC back-of-the-cover bio and he inscribed it to me as we chatted.

WWood bio 5&6 52 Two.FTales issue

RIP, Wallace Wood.



JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–April Fooled & (86) ARTSY Graphic Novels Part 7

Do you know that not more than a year ago, I was visiting Hammond, I was walking down the street, and who came out of the A and P, looking even more high-octane than ever before—Patty Remaley.  My first thought was, don’t even notice her.  But she looked at me and said, “Why, Jean, how are you?”  She remembered me!  My god, there’s still hope!

I said, “Hi.  Gee, Patty Remaley, how are you?”

She said, “How are you?”  She said, “Why, you’ve grown.”

I said, “Heh, you know, heh, those things happen. The sun hits you and you grow.”

We stood there for a minute.  I thought—should I pour it all out?  Then I said, no, no, I’m a grownup man.  I said, “Good seeing you, Patty.”

She said, “Do you still have that red corduroy hat?”

I said, “Yeah.”

And we walked our separate ways.  April Fool’s Day.

So “April Fooled” (as I’ve titled it) is the story Shepherd used,

in a recorded audio from a decade past,

to end his WOR broadcast career after 21 years.

Yes, he was unhappy.

One can only wonder exactly what he felt

as that story played:

“Why have they done this to me?”





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Around the time when Congress was beginning to complain about “sex-and-violence in comics,” and a book appeared, Seduction of the Innocent, decrying the influence of comics, I believe that EC Comics got worried, and, with the staff of witty writer/artists, came up with Mad, which would appeal to the same more advanced adolescent minds. (A few years into it as a comic, Mad changed format and, for me, lost some of its wit and much of its visual art. It became Mad Magazine, so it could no longer be persecuted as a “comic.” It was still funny, but less witty as it continued its burlesque of modern American culture. I kept up my subscription to beyond issue 100.)


Ad for the first issue of MAD Comic,

on the back of the front cover

of a late 1952 Two-Fisted Tales.


Mad art issue cover 4.1955

Covers of Mad‘s first issue and its “art” issue of 4/1955

Mad captivated a certain strata of youngsters who had a higher-than-average interest in words and ideas (including myself, I blushingly note.) As I put it in the intro to my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!:

As a kid in the higher reaches of grammar school and early high school, I had the good fortune, along with countless others, to encounter Mad comics, which opened a kid’s eyes by making fun of our culture’s assumptions, clichés, fads, fancies, and popular arts—just at an age when a kid first begins to realize (but has not yet fully articulated) that the world constructed by parents and other adults has inconsistencies. In college I found Jean Shepherd.

Mad stories were quirky, funny, ironic, and usually made fun of the usual kid “comics” and other cultural items seldom criticized by mainstream adults–or even most kids.


For example, in “Blobs!” by Mad artist Wally Wood, one sees the future, in which everything is done for people to the extent that they can no longer even move around by themselves. One character worries that they will be in big trouble if the main machine that does everything breaks. His friend says it will never happen. At the end, the main machine breaks and the two are flung out of their motor-driven seats and are seen, upside down on the floor, conscious, but not mobile. A spider casually spins a web from one of their noses.




JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–April Fooled & (85) ARTSY Graphic Novels Part 6

Humiliated before the entire world.  They heard!  I couldn’t figure out why they did it to me.  Why did they do this to me?  And then I heard Schwartz: “April Fool’s Day!  Wawawa.”  I’ve been had.  Ahhhhhg!  You know, to this day I don’t know whether Patty Remaley ever heard about it.  But she couldn’t possibly not have heard.  She was also part of that little, hardy band of searches after truth, after culture.  Oh, some nights early in the spring, when I’m walking through Central Park looking at those beds of flowers and I see those friendly little tulips looking up with their tongues sticking out at me and the sun shining down over General Sherman’s statue and all the pigeons are flapping around doing what pigeons always do around statues, I can hear those fiendish cackles.  And I can say one thing.  Patty Remaley never mentioned that insane episode out of my checkered life.  Never.

I couldn’t figure out why they did it to me.

Why did they do this to me?

[It’s no wonder that Shepherd,

with the humiliation of being asked to leave

with several other long-time WOR broadcasters,

used this audio instead of doing a live broadcast on his last show,

April Fools Day, 1977.]



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EC COMICS–not Graphic Novels but

“Graphic Short Stories”

(my invented name for them) 

Most all comics in my grammar school and high school days were simple-minded, for little kids (an audience of childish, mindless, kids.): Mickey Mouse and Superman, or those sexy horror comics of interest to many young teenage boys. Then, somehow, I discovered EC comics, (Entertaining Comics) which were well-drawn, artistic, each artist having his own style and approach to a tale, and containing in their stories a goodly amount of intelligence and usually an O. Henry ending—irony and a moral.

Early EC Comics included two war-content titles, Two-Fisted Tales, and Frontline Combat; two sci-fi types, Weird Science, and Weird Fantasy; and three horror types, Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear, plus some even more gory titles I usually avoided. Most all of these  have been republished in fancy, hardcover volumes for serious collectors who like to hearken back to their wet-behind-the-ears interest in the finer things in life (i. e. us nerds.). This series of creative, artistic comics, even had its own serious, quality fanzine and I still have a few of these. The name comes from words spoken by an alien species in an issue:


WoodCover0002 5&6 52


twofistedtales752 EC comics were not graphic novels, but, because of their artistic and literary attributes, they belong in the same context, so they are, in my invented term, “graphic short stories.” As an example of the ironic content, a science fiction story involved a man in love with a young woman. Being married, he couldn’t legally be with her, but had to hide his lover. He put her in cryogenic cold storage, and as part of a space-program, had himself and her shipped to another planet that was being colonized. As he lifted her out of storage to revive her, he tripped and dropped her body, which shattered into millions of frozen bits. END. Not high art/literature, but it caught the imagination of youngsters not used to such “literature” and ironic content. This sci-fi story, as were many other EC stories, was titled with a play on words=”THE TRIP.”

In another story, an Earth man astronaut lands on an inhabited planet somewhere and finds that the humans are medically primitive so people die of the simplest diseases. He cures them with his medicines, the people thinking it must be magic–godlike. In later years the astronaut, then having been tortured and killed, people think he had performed miracles so he became god to them–reminiscent of the story of Jesus. Again, with a play on words, the title=”HE WALKED AMONG US.” I don’t know if the publisher received protest mail. These are but two of the scores of well-drawn, sophisticated tales  ending ironically. (Very sophisticated for us still wet-behind-the-ears nerds who had begun having an interest in art and literature.)


By Matt Groening in his former,

fantastic, cartoon strip, Life in Hell.

Still view-able by googling and in book-compilations.

(Now he’s better known for doing TV’s The Simpsons.)

Oh, there is so much more to come!



JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–April Fooled & (84) ARTSY Graphic Novels Part 5

And I got about five feet from the steps when the denouement occurred.  I heard from somewhere, off in the middle distance, a fiendish cackle.  “Heeheeheehee! Such a fantastic person Heeheehee!  I love you wawawawa!” And it was coming from under somebody’s porch!  It was coming from under Patty Remaley’s porch!  I heard “Heeheehee Patty Remaley, I love you wawawa.”  I looked and I saw all the tulips growing up there and beginning to blossom.  (This, by the way, is why I always hated tulips ever since.  I used to like tulips when I was a simple, unspoiled person of five.  But after that moment, tulips had another connotation.)  I looked through the tulips and I could see hordes of evil, fiendish eyes peering out from under Patty Remaley’s porch!  They heard!

And that cackling rose in volume!  I was a buffoon!  You’ve all seen Charlie Chaplin, but have you ever wondered how it felt to be that buffoon?  I don’t mean Charlie Chaplin playing him, I mean being him!  I was walking down the street, my feet going out sideways, and I could hear the “Heeheeheeheewawawa.  Oh, what a beautiful red hat you got wawa.”  Schwartz and Flick and Bruner and Jack Robinson and Grover Dill and Farkas, the whole damn bunch!  It was the entire crowd from sixth grade, all of them.  “Heeheeheeheewawawa.



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Graphic Novels

There is so much more to show and say about graphic novels. I’ve got hundreds of them in dozens of styles by dozens of known and unknown creators. Not all styles of artwork would appeal to everybody. I am attracted to some not because they are pretty, but because they stretch the limits of visual presentation and mental framework in ways I find intriguing.

Shatter, by Mchael Saenz & Peter Gillis, published in book form in 1988, claims to be the first sci-fi “comic produced by computer.” Enlarging this page better reveals the computer graphics.


The most bizarre and quirky example in graphic novels that I’ve come across  is Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld, described in its subtitle as “A most peculiar comic book experience.”.


Two “Beanworld” pages from different issues.

(Most of the various images from this comic series are

as strange and different as these.)

My apologies to all the numberless creators of fine graphic novels

not mentioned in my incomplete survey.

I carry on, with my continuing artsys,

in a comic, but relevant, variation on the foregoing.



JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–April Fooled & (83) ARTSY Graphic Novels Part 4

Patty Remaley says, “Jean Shepherd, mother.  Tell him we don’t want any seeds.”

I say, “I’m not here for seeds.  Tell Patty I’m…I’m here…I…”

Mrs. Remaley says, “Yes?”

“Well, …I’m…here!”

“Patty, he says he’s here!”

And Patty says, “Tell him I’ll see him in school tomorrow—or something.  What does he want?”

What does he want!  I don’t know what to say to Mrs. Remaley.  I say, “Well, tell Pattie that, an…I want to ask her if she got…ah…the third problem in arithmetic?”  It is all I could think of.

Patty says, “Yes, the answer is thirty-two.”

I say, “Oh, thanks…ah…ah…”

Mrs. Remaley says, “Is that all, little boy?”


“Well, bye.”

I say “Bye.”  It is the first time I’ve noticed that my corduroy hat weighs seventy-two pounds.  It is hanging down over my ears and I am sweating in it.  I say, “Bye” again, and Mrs. Remaley closes the door.

I turned and I looked out, and the sun was coming down through the trees and I saw that Sherman Williams Paint sign and the Warren G. Harding School off in the distance, and in the windows all the paper cutouts kids in kindergarten had made.

And I walked across the porch and went down the steps and I had the feeling that Patty Remaley was looking through the curtains at me.  What do you do?



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Graphic Novels Part 4

Frank Miller, well known for his violent work, has expanded into movies such as his Sin City. His graphic novel Sin City is a visually dramatic book all in black and white. The film derived from it does a good job–only in the beginning–replicating the dramatic b & w effect used throughout the book.


Ted McKeever has done a number of works tending to depict unattractively drawn people in frequently strikingly colored environments.

ARTSY Ted Mc single panel

This is a single panel from a page by McKeever.

I’ve been so taken with this image that,

when I met him at a store appearance,

he signed the image for me in the comic.

David Mark. This artist uses innumerable graphic styles in the same comic issue, creating powerful effects. Four separate pages from Kabuki below.



Harvey Pekar, author of American Splendor, with his wife, are the subjects of the biographical film of that name staring Paul Giamatti.  In the series of graphic novels, almost all with the same name, Harvey’s subject is the various circumstances of what he considers his own very ordinary life. He is referred to as a pioneer of the the autobiographical form of graphic novels. He’s definitely the creator of graphic novels, but what‘s different about his work is that he cannot draw. He does page layouts with rudimentary stick figures and then contracts various comic book artists to work with him on the finished pages. Robert Crumb, a longtime friend, did some art for Pekar’s works.

At a comic convention, I sought out Harvey’s booth because I’d heard that he was a Jean Shepherd enthusiast. We met and I discussed  Shepherd with him and his wife–and sometimes collaborator–Joyce Brabner. I bought one of his books from him. While Harvey watched and sold more books, Joyce and I grabbed  a couple of chairs and sat for an hour talking about Shepherd. She volunteered to try to find a stash of audios of his earliest New York broadcasts–the holy grail for Shep enthusiasts. (Ultimately the quest was unsuccessful.) To demonstrate her enthusiasm for Shepherd’s work, she handed me her CD earpiece–she was playing  his re-broadcasts, which she listened to on their business trips.


R. Crumb’s cover art above.

Below, Paul Giamatti as Harvey, and Harvey.


Harvey died recently.

pekar bobblehead1



JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–April Fooled & (82) ARTSY Graphic Novels part 3




“….stirring dull roots

with spring rain….”

Believe me, there are no more beautiful months than April.  April is not only the cruelest month, it is the most dangerous month.  April gives people the idea that it’s a new year.  Because it is April, things are going to be different this year.  People believe that they’re actually going to buy those fantastic Bermuda shorts.  Every day they are going to be at Jones Beach.  They’re going to utilize every minute.  Already, some of the warm days have slipped by and you have done nothing.  That should be a clue.  You’re letting it squeeze through your fingers again!  But the trouble with April is that it is a cruel month and it is a beautiful month and a dangerous month.

But I didn’t know any of that in those days.  To me, April is the month you sold seeds.  You had Arbor Day and that kind of stuff.

The sun is trickling down on Cleveland Street and bouncing off roofs.  And you can see the Sherwin Williams Paint sign glowing because they had just repainted it.  The big globe and the big can of paint pouring over the top, and it says, COVERS THE EARTH.  We always played behind the paint sign, and the sun was hanging over it.  And I am all excited, knocking on Patty Remaley’s door.

I knock.  I knock again and then I hear something stirring inside.  People moving around.  I knock again and the door opens, and of course my first thought is to say, “I have brought you nasturtium seeds,” because that’s what I always did when people opened doors.

There is Mrs. Remaley.  Who, by the way, was an exact duplicate of Patty Remale only more so.  Boy, she was a high-octane lady!

Mrs. Remaley looks out at me and says, “Yes?”  This is not going according to script.  Right away, because I had gotten a note from Patty Remaley saying that mamma Remale would not be here and that the two of us would have an idyllic afternoon making fudge.  Mrs. Remaley says, “Yes?”

“Ah…is Patty home?”

“Who shall I say is calling/”

“Ah…”  I figure that Patty is now in some room of the subterranean caverns of the Remaley house, dying of unrequited love, probably back there sweating bullets and thinking of this magnificent human being in the red corduroy cap.

I say, “Ah…would you tell Patty that I’m here?”

“Who are you?”


And then I hear Patty in the next room, one of the rare times that I actually heard her voice when it wasn’t dripping with sarcasm.  I hear her say, “Mother, who’s out there?  Is somebody asking for me?”

Mrs. Remaley turns and says one of the worst things that’s ever been said about me, ever.  She says, “Yes, Patty, there’s some little kid here.”

Some little kid.

“Who is it?”

Mrs. Remaley turns to me and says, “Who are you?”

“Tell her Jean’s here.”

There’s a dead silence because obviously Patty heard this.

Patty says, “Jean?  Jean who?”

Mrs. Remaley says, “What’s your last name, little boy?”

I say, “Jean Shepherd.”

This is really what happened.  All this became a legend and a myth in Northern Indiana.  Today folk singers are singing about this.  It was of these awful moments in history.  Like Casey Jones riding ol’ ninety-eight to this disaster.



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Graphic Novels Part 3

Eric Droocker. often uses a flat and wordless style, as heir to earlier woodblock book artists such as Frans Massereel and Lynd Ward who produced numerous graphic novels without words before there was a term for them.

ARTSY Drooker



Other artists have also used wordless or almost wordless forms, such as Milt Gross and Peter Kalberkamp:


Inexpensive paperback reprint and two-page sequence showing the two main

characters, who had been separated and who,

because of the FATE sign, ironically remain apart

(until the happy ending),

in a witty use of a word in this “wordless” Great American Novel.



Apparently Kalberkamp’s only creative work in this field,

Mea Culpa is a large-format, thick volume

in strong, black-and-white imagery

Peter Kuper attracted my attention with a comic-book format version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. He works in black and white as well as color. His most prominent style involves his elaborate stencil-and-airbrush technique. Much of his work involves social protest. For a while he also created editorial art for The New York Times, Time magazine, and The New Yorker. A reviewer commented: “Kuper is that rare creature, a graphic novelist who has managed to weather changing fortunes of the comic-book industry…by relentlessly diversifying his work.” Below is the Jungle cover and various individual images from other works.

ARTSY Kuper theJungle0002

ARTSY Kuper page 10004

Chris Ware, whose best-known work is Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth, a visual delight, especially for its elegant color, but whose subject matter always seems to consist of slow-moving, sad, downers. Too damn unrelievedly depressing for me to pursue further. Cover & four pages.




Art Spiegelman, whose three-volume Maus won a Special Pulitzer Prize, is most peoples’ only contact with the genre. (Many mistakenly believe that the book initiated the field of graphic novels). The book portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. His style is a simple pictorial one, but careful viewing reveals his subtle use of various graphic techniques that amplify his ideas. A very good example is, within the context of his human/animal conceit (in his bio/autobiographic Maus) of using mice to represent his father and other Jewish inmates of Nazi concentration camps, the Nazis depicted as cats, he shows himself at his drawing board wearing the artifice of a mouse-mask. This is bluntly unavoidable as a metaphor, but so well conceived. Oh, and those annoying flies buzzing around him–it must be more than ironic coincidence that of those flies in every panel, three in the page’s final image conjoin to appear like the sad face of all his relatives and fellow Jews–yes–a ghostly mouse. Their history, in spirit, occupies the very air he breathes.