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One More Friday at the Tipping Point

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about that moment when you go from being mildly interested in something to becoming a fan, and listing a few different times that moment happened for me. And this week we have one more set of them, and oddly enough, I came to each one through an unexpected, back-door route.

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Star Trek: My old friend Joe drops by the blog once or twice a year to twit me about how, back when we were in high school, I used to nag him to watch Star Trek and check out David Gerrold’s books on the subject.

In my defense, they ARE really good books.

Since he did it again last week, it reminded me of how I stumbled across Star Trek myself.

In 1969, I was just barely old enough to notice Star Trek‘s final season on NBC, when it was on at ten PM Friday nights. I was only seven years old, and staying up to watch it was out of the question; my parents would never have allowed that… but when it hit syndication in 1970, I would see it in the afternoons on our local station, KPTV. Usually around five or six in the evening. I watched it, but I was still a little young for it, and sometimes it was hard for me to follow.

And sometimes, like when Charlie X telekinetically melted that girl's face off, it freaked me RIGHT THE HELL OUT.

So eventually when KPTV decided to quit running it, I was okay with it. If someone had asked my nine-year-old self what I thought of Star Trek then, I’d have probably responded with, Oh, you know, it was all right, but really, it wasn’t a patch on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

If the ENTERPRISE had been equipped with a vehicle as badass as the Flying Sub, that might have swayed me.

No, it wasn’t until junior high school that I fell, and fell hard, for Star Trek. In the same school library where I found Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage and Nestor Redondo’s Dracula, I stumbled across the first James Blish paperback collection of short stories adapted from the aired episodes.

James Bama really sold me with his cover art, even if he DID accidentally depict the Enterprise shuttlecraft bay as being on fire.

It was James Blish’s tidy, comfortable prose that hooked me. Since it was a book, the difficult stuff was easier for me to sort through. I could stop to look up hard words and so on… and also, it just was hitting me at the right time. I’d discovered there was a whole world of science fiction and pulp paperbacks out there working basically the same fantastic-adventure turf I’d already fallen in love with, reading comics and watching genre television. So when I’d see more Trek paperbacks on the spinner rack at the grocery store and I was feeling flush, I’d buy one.

These were the first two I bought. I remember it vividly-- I was excited to see that there were more books in the series than the one I'd found at school.

I really dug the cover art on these, too; I liked Bama’s painting on the first one quite a bit, but my favorites were the ones by Lou Feck.

I especially liked the originality he brought to it. It was recognizably Star Trek, still, but it looked so much more awesome in Feck’s paintings than I remembered it being on TV.

And he wasn’t particularly interested in capturing likenesses, either.

It may have offended Trekkie purists but the cover art on those books was a big selling point for me, I was very annoyed when the series changed artists with Star Trek 9.

I never actually knew who Lou Feck was until I started writing this and looked him up on the internet… turns out he worked on a lot of other cool stuff too.

Here he is illustrating Robert E. Howard and also the original magazine publication of an Ian Fleming James Bond story... it was originally titled BERLIN ESCAPE but you probably know it as THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

So it was a combination of Lou Feck’s cool cover art and James Blish’s writing that turned me into a Trekkie. When KPTV decided to rerun it in the early evenings again in the mid-seventies, I was ready for it by then. Been a fan ever since.

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The Phantom: Amazingly, I did not get interested in the Ghost Who Walks through comics. Our local newspaper didn’t carry the syndicated strip, and the comic book version from Charlton didn’t do that much for me when I first saw it in the early 1970s…. it looked tepid compared to the Neal Adams and Jack Kirby stuff happening at DC and Marvel.

No, it wasn’t until 1976, when Philip Jose Farmer and Doc Savage awakened my interest in pulp paperback adventure. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. The Shadow, the Spider, the Avenger, I was on board for all of it.

Whatever happened to awesome paperback cover art, anyway?

And that was right around the time Avon started publishing a series of Phantom prose novels– most of them ghosted by Ron Goulart under a couple of different pen names, and all of them with magnificent cover paintings from Gold Key cover workhorse George Wilson.

These novels are still my favorite Phantom stories, I think. You never really get over your first love.

Those novels got me interested enough to give the Charlton comic book version another chance, and as it happened, that was right when the wonderful Don Newton was just hitting his stride on the book.

I loved Don Newton's work on Batman, but really, I think I loved his Phantom even more.

My first issue was #74, a tale of the Phantom of 1776. (We were coming up on America’s Bicentennial, which was a Big Deal in early 1976.)

The Phantom never looked better than when Newton was doing it. Seriously.

At that point I was sold. Unfortunately, Charlton’s Phantom was canceled soon after that, and Don Newton moved on– to DC and Batman as it happens, and that worked out well.

But I miss his Phantom still. I’ve picked up every subsequent try at the Ghost Who Walks from other publishers since then. Some of them have been really well-done; I liked the DC version quite a bit.

Apparently I was the only one. But I thought both the Peter David miniseries and the short-lived Mark Verheiden ongoing were terrific.

Marvel did a mini-series that was okay. And the current books from Moonstone, both comics and prose, are a great deal of fun.

These were pretty good... but not DON NEWTON good. That's my standard for the Phantom.

But none of them really have captured the magic that Newton’s version had for me. That’s my personal gold standard for comic books about the Phantom, and that and the novels are what made me a fan.

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And there you have it. Once again, I’ll remind you that me and my students are tabling in Artist’s Alley this weekend at the Emerald City Comic-Con. Tables B-12 and B-13, the endcap on the second row in from the front.

Here's Tiffany, Aja, and Katrina laughing over something a customer said, and next to Tiffany you can see my 6th-graders Hina, Cal and Miles are sketching like mad.

So far it’s been shaping up to be a terrific show and even though I’m almost completely exhausted, it’s one of the most fun conventions we’ve ever been to, I think. So do come and see us if you’re in town.

….and if you can’t, well, I’ll see you back here next week.

11 Comments

I’m just watching Star Trek for the first time now. Somehow I’ve avoided it (not on purpose) all my life. It’s a fascinating mix of neat stories, bad acting, and a variety of methods to deal with budget constraints. It’s just so darn lovable.

I got interested in the Phantom through the Mark Verheiden series. It was also the series that made me appreciate Luke McDonnell’s art. I didn’t really like his JLA stuff, but his art on the Phantom blew me away.

I too enjoyed the DC Phantom you mentioned. Those came out just when I was first getting into comics.

BTW – I love reading your posts, but they make me extremely jealous. I’m a year older than you, but I did not start reading for pleasure until I was an adult in college. I was big into Sherlock Holmes at the time (I miss Jeremy Brett). My best friend called me to say that his local comic shop had some Holmes comic books. I had never heard of a “Comic Shop.” I went to check out the Holmes he mentioned and picked up a few other comics. The rest is history. Through comics I discovered many other interests and became a fan of many things I would never have known of. Ted McKeever led me to discover Franz Kafka. Bill Sienkiewicz led to me discover my favorite artist, Gustav Klimpt. Batman led me to discover the Shadow and the Spider, which led me further into the world of the pulps. Mignola led me to discover and love H.P. Lovecraft. So on and so on. I now own over 8000 comics, graphic novels, and prose books.

As I said, I get very jealous when I read your work. I wish I had discovered these things as you did, at an early age. I think of the 20 or so years I missed out on all this stuff and it makes me sick. Better late than never though.

Keep writing these kinds of articles so I can retro-live vicariously through your book-filled childdhood.

P.S. – Both you and Greg Burgas have prompted me to seek out other writers, artists, and characters. I appreciate that more than you know.

Don, we ALL miss Jeremy Brett. Thanks for the kind words!

I don’t always comment, but I read every one of these and I just wanted to throw in you consistently do a great job. It astounds me how much pop culture consumption you’ve done; it seems like several lifetimes worth. Yet you still seem to have a very full, rich and vibrant life in the real world too, currently and throughout your life. That’s very cool. Are you a very fast reader by any chance?

Greg,

I’ve really enjoyed this series of articles – of course, I do tend to enjoy all your columns – but what I really wanted to comment on was your throw away question: Whatever happened to awesome cover art, anyway? Yes! What did happen to awesome cover art? The art on those Phantom covers is eye-catching (I happen to own two of them so I might be prejudiced) and sets the tone for the story. Today’s covers seem really sterile in comparison. Does no one paint these days?

I also miss the taglines they used to print on the covers: “Kane leads the avenging forces of a sorcerss linked with the devils of the deep” and “Sun-drenched Crete beckons to pleasure seekers. But there is danger lurking in its ancient hills…” Or, one of my favorites “A novel of Elizabethan England – when love was wanton, life was violent, and the New World held fabulous treasures for any man who dared to claim them.” I find lines like that far more interesting than a quote from another author or reviewer.

Can’t wait to read to read about your time at Emerald City.

Actually, I didn’t have to be nagged to watch Star Trek. Because of my OCD, I HAD to watch all of them. It was like “Save the Whales…Collect the Entire Set!” One of the places I need to go during this lifetime is Vasquez Rocks…where CAPTAIN KIRK FOUGHT THE GORN.

Greg, you really, really, REALLY need to read some original Phantom. :)

If I had some spare copies of the Frew comics, I’d send you some Falk/Moore/McCoy/Barry. Absolutely brilliant.

And some of the recent artists have been great as well. Graham Nolan, Paul Ryan, Eduardo Barreto and Terry Beatty….Though the Tony DePaul scripts are a bit bland.

KPTV – man, I discovered so much great (and, admittedly, not so great) television from that station, back in the days when most of its programming was syndicated shows, cartoons and old movies.
And as for Don Newton’s Phantom, I’m pining for a nice reprint collection, along with everything else Newton did for Charlton – I think all of that material could fit into one nice volume…
Anyway, Greg, thanks (yet again) for a great series of columns. And I’m glad the convention is going well for you and your students.

I don’t always comment, but I read every one of these and I just wanted to throw in you consistently do a great job. It astounds me how much pop culture consumption you’ve done; it seems like several lifetimes worth.

Just the one. But pop culture is pretty light, it goes down easy, so you really can get through a lot of it very quickly if your private life is unencumbered in the evenings. Julie and I don’t have children of our own and that really is where the vast, VAST majority of time goes for people our age. But we can do as we please whenever and so we usually can watch a movie or something in the evenings, read a while before bed. It adds up.

Yet you still seem to have a very full, rich and vibrant life in the real world too, currently and throughout your life. That’s very cool. Are you a very fast reader by any chance?

I am, but here is the great secret to getting through many books and comics — NOT DRIVING. For most of my life I was a bus commuter. Always rode the bus to work, giving me AT LEAST ninety minutes a day to read. Couple that with being a moderately fast reader and it’s usually a book every two days. These days I have the car most of the time so it actually takes me quite a bit longer to get through stuff, which is why the Shelf of Shame has ballooned up so.

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